San José

Barcelona San Jose

An image of fatherhood for St. Joseph’s day. I picked up this card on a visit to Barcelona. The prayer on the back, which strongly echos the Lord’s Prayer, goes something like this:

“Our Father, I pray thee for my children, your children, that you have given me. Make me sanctify them with my life, my work, my counsel. Let your peace, your love, and your blessing rule in their hearts. May your will be done for them, and not mine, if my will is not as yours.

Help me earn bread for their bodies, teach me to give your nourishment to their souls.

May they love and forgive each other so that you will forgive their weaknesses. Deliver them from all evil, especially from that which they neither see nor fear.

Our Father: let me be a good father.”

Barcelona San Jose reverse

Holy Innocence

Today on the feast of Holy Innocents, I commend to your reading a beautiful post by Eleanor Parker, Clerk of Oxford. You’re likely familiar with Coventry Carol which we sing on this day. Parker expands the resonance of that song wonderfully by showing us the tradition to which it belongs.

She writes, “there are in fact a considerable number of medieval lullabies which share the mood of the Coventry Carol: somewhere between lullaby and lament, full of melancholy and pity for the child being comforted, whether it’s Herod’s victims, the Christ-child, or any human baby born into a weeping world.” Here’s just one stanza of such a lullaby: “Lullay, lullay, little child, child, rest thee a throwe.”

Child, it is a weeping world that thou art comen in;
Thy pour rags prove that well, thy bed made in the bin; [manger]
Cold and hunger thou most endure, as one begot in sin,
And after die upon the tree for love of all mankyn. [mankind]
Lullay, lullay, little child, no wonder that thou cry;
Thou art come among those who shall cause thee to die.

So many thoughts crowd my mind as I meditate on the weeping Christ Child being comforted by his mother. I’m glad that Jesus was not betrayed by family, though he would speak of it. It seems a mercy granted to him and also a truth revealed–a bond of love that survives the crush of a sinful world.

I think about what Parker describes as “the crying child, innocent and uncomprehending, who weeps for no reason – and yet has a reason to weep, though he doesn’t know it, because of the world he has been born into.” I think all the creatures of this world who suffer and do not know why–children, animals, the disabled.

I’m reminded of the Hopkins’ poem “Spring and Fall”

Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

I think that Christ must weep because of the world and for the world; for himself and for us. And I think that compassion, like innocence, is a mystery in a weeping world.

Shadowy faith

Adoration of the Christ Child Gerard van Honthorst c. 1620

Adoration of the Child, Gerard van Honthorst, c. 1620

 

The fact that faith is shadowy is a blessing; it tempers the light to the eye’s weakness and prepares the eye for the light, for it is written: ‘He cleansed their hearts by faith’. Faith therefore does not quench the light but protects it. If you cannot yet grasp the naked truth is it not worthwhile to possess it wrapped in a veil?

 

Bernard of Clairveaux
On the Song of Songs 31.9; CF 7:132
quoted In the School of Love: An Anthology of Early Cistercian Texts. ed. by Edith Scholl, OCSO (Kalamazoo: 2000), p.72.

Moving over the waters

Six Days of Creation (detail) Czech Bible of 1506 Bridwell Library, Southern Methodist University

Six Days of Creation (detail)
Czech Bible of 1506
Bridwell Library, Southern Methodist University

 

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.

 

The other day I happened upon a wonderful exhibit from Bridwell Library’s Special Collections. The First Four Centuries of Printed Bible Illustration presents some outstanding images in glorious, generous detail. (Thank you Bridwell, for making the images large enough to explore!) It’s quite a treat.

This woodcut especially caught my eye–I can’t remember ever having seen a creation image like it. I love the texture of the waters. I love the way God seems strong and active. It’s an image of creative activity where you can imagine why God would rest after six days.

The entire page is a wonder. God’s hands are so expressive; every panel is dynamic, yet balanced.

I find myself feeling grateful. Thankful that such a work has survived the years. Thankful that we live in an age where I discover such treasures on my computer. And thankful that someone was willing to photograph it and share.

Czech Bible, 1506 Bridwell Library, SMU

Czech Bible, 1506
Bridwell Library, SMU
(Click to enlarge image)

Paintings in place – St. Matthew in the Contarelli Chapel

Today I thought I’d share a video from The National Gallery, London. We see so many images in books and on screens–and in galleries. It’s good to be reminded that some paintings have been made for particular spaces and particular points of view.

Caravaggio’s paintings have captured my imagination since my days as a student. He was a complicated person and some of his work is unsettling, but it rewards attention. I hope you enjoy this brief tour of the Contarelli Chapel in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome.

Daily Bread

Gathering Manna German Bible, Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, 17 February 1483 Bridwell Library, SMU

Gathering Manna
German Bible, Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, 1483
Bridwell Library, Southern Methodist University

 

Two things I ask of thee;
    deny them not to me before I die:
 Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
    give me neither poverty nor riches;
    feed me with the food that is needful for me,
 lest I be full, and deny thee,
    and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor, and steal,
    and profane the name of my God.

Proverbs 30: 7-9

 

Thinking well

 

kington-2016-rsz-crop

 

To think well is to serve God in the interior court: To have a mind composed of Divine Thoughts, and set in frame, to be like Him within. To conceive aright and to enjoy the world, is to conceive the Holy Ghost, and to see His Love: which is the Mind of the Father. And this more pleaseth Him than many Worlds, could we create as fair and great as this. For when you are once acquainted with the world, you will find the goodness and wisdom of God so manifest therein, that it was impossible another, or better should be made. Which being made to be enjoyed, nothing can please or serve Him more, than the Soul that enjoys it. For that Soul doth accomplish the end of His desire in Creating it.

 

Thomas Traherne (1636? – 1674), Centuries of Meditation, (First Century, 10).

Other guests to share the feast

Rich Man and Lazarus Holman Pictorial Bible Salesman's sample

Rich Man and Lazarus
Holman Pictorial Bible
Salesman’s sample

 

——–

As we gather at your table,
as we listen to your word,
help us know, O God, your presence;
let our hearts and minds be stirred.
Nourish us with sacred story
till we claim it as our own;
teach us through this holy banquet
how to make Love’s victory known.

Turn our worship into witness
in the sacrament of life;
send us forth to love and serve you,
bringing peace where there is strife.
Give us, Christ, your great compassion
to forgive as you forgave;
may we still behold your image
in the world you died to save.

Gracious Spirit, help us summon
other guests to share that feast
where triumphant Love will welcome
those who had been last and least.
There no more will envy blind us,
nor will pride our peace destroy,
as we join with saints and angels
to repeat the sounding joy.

 

Words: Carl P. Daw, Jr.
Words © 1989 by Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL 60188.

Tune: Raquel by Skinner Chávez-Melo

Special Invitation

I’ve been looking at postcards again.

Here’s one sent by Mrs. Gridley in 1912

rally-day-st-bernard-crop-rsz

 

and a lovely, delicate drawing of children listening to a Rally Day greeting over crystal radio headsets.

rally-day-greeting-crystal-radio-message-g933-crop-rsz

 

And then I found this invitation to a youth group outing with Peter Max-inspired fireworks.

joy-of-christ-broadman-crop-rsz

 

joy-of-christ-broadman-verso-crop-alt-rsz

 

A few traces of the Church’s imagination and practice that happened to catch my eye.

 

Ma Nishtana – What has changed?

Peter's Vision, c.1658-59 Rembrandt Graphische Sammlung, Munich

The Vision of St. Peter, c.1658-59
Rembrandt
Graphische Sammlung, Munich

 

The next day, as they were on their journey and coming near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour.  And he became hungry and desired something to eat; but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heaven opened, and something descending, like a great sheet, let down by four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “No, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.”  And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.”  This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.

Acts 10:9-23

 

There’s more to school than learning your lessons. Half of the work of school is figuring out school, and consciously or unconsciously we all figure out how the system works. If the teacher says it twice, it’s on the test. If you’re asked a question in Sunday School (Formation!) and you don’t know the answer, try “Because he loves us.” The whole enterprise is one of being ready when you are questioned.

Sometimes, to our great relief, the quizzing can simple and transactional (“What is the capital of Nebraska?”), and at other times it’s complicated (“What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?”). In that space before you answer, other questions come to mind: Does the questioner want to know your opinion? Is there a single right answer? Is the question that’s been spoken actually a different question in disguise? What are you really asking? Why are you asking? And if you’re asked something by the all-knowing Deity, then it can really mess with your head.

The Bible is full of stories with uncomfortable questions. Sometimes there’s no answer but to hand the question back to the one who asks:

“Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, thou knowest.” Ezekiel 37: 1-14

 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and whence have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  Revelation 7

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.  John 21: 15-19

People of faith live with questions and search for answers. Most of us expect that someday God will hold us accountable, or at the very least have a serious discussion with us about our spiritual lives. So we read, we think, we discuss, we pray. Reciting our lessons and recounting our history helps us review what we’ve been taught and pass on that knowledge.

Ma nishtana? How is this night different from all other nights?

But what if God wants to teach us something new? How are we to know if we’re to stand firm and recite what we’ve been taught, or stop and open our minds? Lord, lead us not into temptation!

Peter finds himself in this confusing situation during his rooftop vision. He’s given a directive “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” that he takes as a test and a temptation, and so he gives the answer he’s been taught. He speaks the truth he knows.

And that’s when God gives him something new. “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.”  It’s new, but it’s not clear. It’s perplexing. Peter will have to ponder a while. And that’s when Cornelius’ men show up at the gate and the Spirit returns to tell Peter to accompany them.    

It turns out that the lesson is not actually about food or killing or keeping kosher. It’s about people and about grace. “God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.”  God leads Peter, not into temptation, but to a corner and tells him to take the turn.

Scary stuff. It’s hard to know even what kind of test we’re taking, much less what the answer is. Who’s asking? Why are they asking? Is this a trap? If Peter was perplexed and pondering then I suppose we should expect to be too. But somehow we have to be open, ready to be surprised.