Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Astrologers & Outsiders

here's scripture to read for Christmas:

Luke 2

4So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
The Shepherds and the Angels
8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ[a] the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."

16So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Prostitutes, embezzlers, Roman soldiers, heretics, lepers, and the general sin-laden population of Palestine are the people Jesus spent much of his time with during his three year stint as a traveling rabbi as recorded in the canonical gospels (should anyone actually read just one of the accounts of Jesus in the New Testament - the four gospels are short and are worth the small amount of time it takes to read even just one of them - go to and just start reading Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John). It seems the Kingdom of God as Jesus reveals is a Kingdom for those who aren't always the 'right' people, or the good people, or the religious people, or the morally excellent people . . . but for people who are . . . opposite to all of that. It seems Jesus points to a kingdom for outsiders?

And should we expect anything different at the beginning of Jesus' life? It's the shepherds (think uneducated, blue-collar, tough bastards who spent most of their time talking to sheep and had little time for daily religious life) and magi (think foreigners from a different kingdom who worshiped a different god and spent a good portion of their time looking at the stars for spiritual signs - a practice expressly forbidden in the Scriptures of Jesus' day) who are the kind of people who end up holding court in Bethlehem in order to pay homage to the child-king (though at different times - the magi were probably with Jesus' family when Jesus was at least two or three).

Outsiders the lot of them.

It seems we have such a hard time wrapping our heads around this theme . . .
We want our God predictable, neat, and nicely wrapped in our theological Christmas packages. We don't want a Kingdom that terrifies us in the middle of the night while we're minding our own business and talking to our sheep.

But it happens anyway - irregardless of what you or I want.

What if the events and the people and the experiences in our lives that we have relegated as being outside the religious sphere (our moral decadence, our irreverence, our secret pain, our addictions, our confusion) are precisely and preposterously what the Kingdom of God sends angels and stars as invitations to - so we can hurry off with the shepherds and join the celebration of a ridiculous birthday in a manger where a teenage mother and a confused refugee father sit amongst animals watching an infant eat, cry, defecate, and cry some more - asking themselves what next?

Indeed may we find ourselves asking the same question - because as for the holy family there were more dreams and visions and journeys soon to come - and all of it required an outsider's apprehension of faith.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Ordinary Heros

So these caught my attention today and thought I'd share them...

Man pulls 7-foot python from toilet

Wed Dec 13, 9:00 PM ET

An Australian wildlife worker pulled a 7-foot python out of a septic tank Wednesday after a plumber found it hiding in a woman's toilet, officials said.

Peter Phillips, a wildlife officer for the Northern Territory's Parks and Wildlife Service, was called to remove the snake after a plumber who was fixing the blocked toilet discovered it curled in the pipes.

"The ... resident originally called a plumber because her toilet was blocked," Phillips said in a statement released by the Northern Territory government. "I arrived to see a large python head peering out of the toilet bowl."

Phillips removed the snake from the septic tank because he said it had grown too big to be pulled straight out of the toilet. The mostly nocturnal Carpet Python had probably taken up temporary residence in the septic tank because it was a good place to hide during the day and hunt for frogs.

"The tank was obviously a great home, because the snake was so fat and healthy it was it difficult to retrieve," he said, adding that the nonpoisonous snake will be released.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

For those who are suffering . . . (wisdom)

This is a recent article from Ron Rolheiser - this article is for some and certainly not for others.


December 3, 2006

During my last years of seminary training, I attended a series of lectures given by a prominent Polish psychologist, Casmir Dabrowski, teaching at the time at the University of Alberta. He had written a number of books around a concept he called "positive disintegration".

Positive disintegration. Isn't that an oxymoron? Isn't disintegration the opposite of growth and happiness?

It would seem not. A canon of wisdom drawn from the scriptures of all the major world religions, mystical literature, philosophy, psychology, and human experience tells us that the journey to maturity and compassion is extremely paradoxical and that mostly we grow by falling apart.

Ancient myths talk about the need sometimes to "descend into the underworld", to live in darkness for a while, to sit in ashes so as to move to a deeper place inside of life; the mystics talk about "dark nights of the soul" as being necessary to bring about maturity; Ignatius of Loyola teaches that there is a place for both "consolation" and "desolation" in our lives; the philosopher, Karl Jaspers, suggests that the journey to full maturity demands that we sometimes journey in "the norm of night" and not just in "the norm of day"; the Jewish scriptures assure us that certain deep things can only happen to the soul when it is helpless and exposed in "the desert" or "the wilderness" and that sometimes, like Jonah, we need to be carried to some place where we'd rather not go "in the dark belly of the whale"; and, perhaps most challenging of all, we see that Jesus was only brought to full compassion through "sweating blood in Gethsemane" and then dying a humiliating death on the cross.

All of these images point to the same deep truth, sometimes in order to grow we must first fall apart, go into the dark, lose our grip on what's normal, enter into a frightening chaos, lose our everyday securities, and be carried in pain to a place where, for all kinds of reasons, we weren't ready to go to on our own.

Why? Isn't there a more pleasant route to maturity?

James Hillman answers this with this image: The best wines have to be aged in cracked, old barrels. And so too the human soul, it mellows, takes on character, and comes to compassion only when there are real cracks, painful ones, in the body and life of the one who carries it. Our successes, he says, bring us glory, while our pain brings us character and compassion. Pain, and sometimes only pain, serves to mellow the soul.

But almost every instinct inside of us resists this wisdom. We don't like living in tension, try at all costs to avoid pain, fear chaos, are ashamed of our humiliations, and panic when our old securities fall away and we are left in the dark, unsure of things. So our natural instinct is to get out of the darkness and tension as quickly as possible, before the pain has had its chance to mellow our souls, purify our hearts, bring us to a deeper level of maturity and compassion, and do its full purifying work within us.

And, sometimes, we are helped in this escape by well-meaning therapists and spiritual directors who don't want to see us in pain and therefore try to cure the situation rather than properly care for the soul inside the situation. They want to restore us to normality and good functioning because, as Thomas Moore puts it, they can't envision us fulfilling our fate and discovering the deeper meaning of our lives.

And so what we need when we are in a "dark night" isn't the well- intentioned sympathy of a friend who wants to rescue us from the pain, but the wisdom of the mystics who tell us: When you lose your securities, when you find yourself in an emotional and spiritual free-fall, when you are in the belly of the whale, let go, detach yourself, let the pain carry you to where it needs to take you, don't resist, rather weep, wail, cry, and put your mouth to the dust, and wait. Just wait. You are like a baby being weaned from its mother's breast and forced to learn a new way of nourishing yourself. Anything you do to stop what's happening will only delay the inevitable, the pain that must be gone through in order come to a new maturity.

Thomas Moore, in a recent book on Dark Nights of the Soul, offers this advice to anyone undergoing this kind of crisis of soul: "Care rather than cure. Organize your life to support the process. You are incubating your soul, not living a heroic adventure. Arrange your life accordingly. Tone it down. Get what comforts you can, but don't move against the process. Concentrate, reflect, think, and talk about your situation seriously with trusted friends."

Or, as Rainer Marie Rilke would advise: "Don't be afraid to suffer, give the heaviness back to the weight of the earth; mountains are heavy, seas are heavy."

Here's the link: