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Retirement

I have been asked by my Bishop to write a book on the history of the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama in preparation for its 40th Anniversary.  Time consuming and detail oriented, it is quite a task for the deadline of June 1st of this year.  Needless to say, it looks like it could be quite a while before I am able to post again, as I would most likely resume my graduate work immediately after finishing the book.

It’d been a good run, and exciting; but it appears that I will have to retire this blog, at least for a while.  Thank you for all the wonderful comments and compliments.

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Just some info…

I have received a few emails inquiring as to my whereabouts.  I am still here, knee deep in parsing the German in Martin Buber’s made-up words for my thesis.  Fun.

Posting will begin again somewhat shortly

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Looking and Seeing

Current research in how the brain works leads toward the understanding that the principle function of the brain is to act as a filter, deciphering what is the most important of all the information being taken in, and bringing that to the fore of our attention; so much that we hardly notice, if at all, the other sounds bombarding us. This makes sense to me, because with all the car horns beeping outside, regularly, how is it that we notice immediately the pizza delivery we were waiting for? With all the concurrent conversations in a restaurant, the clash of plates being carried, the “ambient” music, the sound of footsteps and silverware, how is it that we are able to focus on the person speaking? While we are in a conversation with someone, we still hear our name mentioned from across the room. Commercials on television are broadcast louder than the show we are watching, for a reason. In the end, though, it is we who decide what is important to pay attention to. Hence the escape cell phones offer.

As with all the information passing through our hearing, so with our vision. There are a lot of things we look at during the day, and a lot of different things we see. Of all these, how much do we notice?

There is an active seeing, and a passive seeing. We “watch” television, because we are watching all the activities occurring on the screen in front of us. There is absolutely nothing we are doing, unless we call the number and order that “ab-crusher” that will change our lives forever. But we ordered it while doing nothing, and an object at rest tends to stay at rest.

The passivity of watching creeps into our daily life in ways we may be unaware: we may be driving today much less than we are actually watching images pass in front of the windshield. Why else would we grab our cell phone and put our lives in danger as we look for something “to do”?

The activity of seeing includes the desire to notice. We see many flowers in the day, but do we notice them? We desire God’s intimate interest in our lives, but do we look for where He might have inserted Himself to help shape us in His image? In order for us to notice something, we have to look for it. In order for us to look for something, we have to consider it so important that we are fairly diligent about it. But this takes filtering out all the other “noises” that make a stab at our attention.

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John of the Cross

To reach satisfaction in all
desire its possession in nothing.
To come to possession in all
desire the possession of nothing.
To arrive at being all
desire to be nothing.
To come to the knowledge of all
desire the knowledge of nothing.
To come to the pleasure you have not
you must go by the way in which you enjoy not.
To come to the knowledge you have not
you must go by the way in which you know not.
To come to the possession you have not
you must go by the way in which you possess not.
To come by the what you are not
you must go by a way in which you are not.
When you turn toward something
you cease to cast yourself upon the all.
For to go from all to the all
you must deny yourself of all in all.
And when you come to the possession of the all
you must possess it without wanting anything.
Because if you desire to have something in all
your treasure in God is not purely your all.”

No one says it any better.  Saint John of the Cross  (1542-1591).  But why is it just so darned difficult?

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Individuality

A lot of import is made of the notion of “individuality.” We are already, without effort, individuals, because we each have our own perspective on the world around us. We have all been shaped by our relations, experiences, education, family background, depth of faith, etc., and since the experience of each one of us is very different from the person next to us, so is the manner in which we perceive and react.

However, there is also within us the need to belong. We are communitarian in nature, and we cannot escape the fact that we absolutely need one another. Even when a priest celebrates Mass alone in a chapel, it is not a solitary Mass because that concept simply does not exist: although he may be alone, the Mass by definition is a community event tied in to every Mass celebrated. A lone missionary teaches catechism, then goes back to a community; a single sister in a convent prepares sandwiches for the homeless; a Carthusian monk prays for us, and we for him. There is no forced individuality in the Christian faith.

But we still look for ways to high-light our individuality; and still we cannot, effectively. Young people wear a baseball cap as an expression of their person, but ask someone as the ultimate expression of his individuality to wear a beret instead, and he will not. No one else is, so he cannot. Tattoos are often seen as an expression of individuality as well, but walking into a tattoo parlor one is inundated with options of designs from which to choose. So even “self expression” is a communal event. There is the goth look; the grunge look; the hippie look; etc.. We can be outside the norm as long as others are there as well. So are we ever, really, separate from one another?  Are we ever outside the norm, especially if everyone else also wants to be?

There is no escaping the fact that we form community, and we need each other.

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In the English language, when we want to clarify information to make something more precise, we add an an adjective, an adverb, a noun or a pronoun. For example, “I ran 5 miles today,” or “She painted it blue.” These serve to qualify what we are saying, clearing away all other options that might confuse or misinform the other person. They are, by definition, highly exclusive. In other words, they narrow down for the sake of clarity, that we “did not run four miles or six miles today, but only five;” or “she didn’t paint it red or black, but blue.”

This is a very useful device when we want to be understood, but there may also be a bit of danger involved: the highly exclusive nature of clarification strongly hints at the exclusion of other things.

As in language, so in faith.

To say, “I love him,” or “I love her,” contains within itself the understanding that we are high-lighting someone, taking them out of the crowd, and focusing on them. It is, by definition, exclusive; it is as if we are saying, “I love him, but her I don’t like.” In other words, there are people out there who give us the joy of knowing them — those are the ones we love. For those who cost us energy and frustration, those are the ones we don’t.” Although we may never say exactly those words, how much we cherish the joy of human interaction speaks volumes. To qualify to whom we show love, is not to love: we may simply be enjoying how those particular people make us feel about ourselves. It may actually be a bit selfish.

A funny thing happens when our prayer life is strong (think: the saints). When we are united with the Source of Love Itself, we share in His love, and therefore are able to Love all and equally. Barring relationship with God, our love becomes particularized and based on the categories we set for happiness.

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Divining Sustenance

There are two ways in which Christ appeared to us physically: in body, and in food.

He came in bodily form in order to teach us, to pray for and with us, to comfort us, maybe to laugh both with and at us, to listen to us and to cry both with us and for us. There is a very strong element of friendship running throughout His entire ministry among us. He also came in bodily form to give us the mandate to follow him “to the ends of the earth,” both literally and figuratively.

He came in the form of food that we may have the Divine Sustenance to do just that.

It seem to me that because these two forms have been graced in ways we could never comprehend, by “indwelling,” as it were, of the very presence of God, then we ought to shower a holy respect and reverence for each of them. Of the body, people of faith can easily understand; but what about reverence for food? Well, we can’t have one without the other. A body without food is not long for this world, and food without a body to cultivate it and consume it is not food: it is simply a plant or animal without relation.

So the quality of what we consume, the reverence with which we approach dinner, and the communal aspect of family gathered, all matter a great deal. They are, in a reflected way, the foundational elements of both the physical and the spiritual life. If the Kingdom of Heaven is represented for us as a Eucharistic Banquet, why is fast food so popular today? Does there exist a parallel between how we approach food, and how we approach our relationship with God?  What could the popularity of cooking shows tell us about all this?

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