Wednesday, November 30, 2005

This is me lately:

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From the Prophet Amos, chapter 5

[7] O you who turn justice to wormwood,
and cast down righteousness to the earth!
[8] He who made the Plei'ades and Orion,
and turns deep darkness into the morning,
and darkens the day into night,
who calls for the waters of the sea,
and pours them out upon the surface of the earth,
the LORD is his name,
[9] who makes destruction flash forth against the strong,
so that destruction comes upon the fortress.
[10] They hate him who reproves in the gate,
and they abhor him who speaks the truth.
[11] Therefore because you trample upon the poor
and take from him exactions of wheat,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
but you shall not dwell in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
but you shall not drink their wine.

[12] For I know how many are your transgressions,
and how great are your sins --
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
and turn aside the needy in the gate.
[13] Therefore he who is prudent will keep silent in such a time;
for it is an evil time.

[14] Seek good, and not evil,
that you may live;
and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you,
as you have said.
[15] Hate evil, and love good,
and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts,
will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

And this is my friend lately:

From the Apostle Peter (first letter), chapter 4

12: Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you.
13: But rejoice in so far as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
14: If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
15: But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or a wrongdoer, or a mischief-maker;
16: yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God.

17: For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?
18: And "If the righteous man is scarcely saved, where will the impious and sinner appear?"
19: Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will do right and entrust their souls to a faithful Creator.

Please pray for me that the veritable rage I have for seeing justice would not erupt in, er, uncharitable ways.

From the prophet Jeremiah, chapter 20

7: O LORD, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived; thou art stronger than I, and thou hast prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; every one mocks me.
8: For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, "Violence and destruction!" For the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long.
9: If I say, "I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name," there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.

10: For I hear many whispering. Terror is on every side! "Denounce him! Let us denounce him!" say all my familiar friends, watching for my fall. "Perhaps he will be deceived, then we can overcome him, and take our revenge on him."
11: But the LORD is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble, they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten.
12: O LORD of hosts, who triest the righteous, who seest the heart and the mind, let me see thy vengeance upon them, for to thee have I committed my cause.
13: Sing to the LORD; praise the LORD! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers.

May God have mercy on me, a sinner. What a hollow plea from such a hollow man; but He hears it and shall arise, despite me.

Praying with the Cogitator - Part II: Breathing With Your Heart

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Last time, in part I, we took a sojourn through the prayer of palms: a ‘technique’ for systematically opening ourselves, especially in the Mass, to God’s self-opening (i.e., self-revelation) in Christ in the Incarnation.

Now I would like to discuss the first of two closely linked practices. While in my lived spiritual life these two practices function harmoniously and almost inseparably, each should be treated in its own way. The first ‘technique’ (which played a huge role in my ‘newbie-Catholic euphoria’, and which I shall – and I shall! -- share here in God’s good time), I call ‘breathing with your heart’. True to form, I hereby venture yet another would-be neologism and call this first practice ‘cardiopnea’ /kar-dee‘op-nee-uh/. The second ‘technique’, which I discovered only in the last few weeks, so far has no cool name like ‘cardiopnea’, but now is as good a time as any to proffer one (or two): ‘weaving with grace’ or ‘the fireworks of grace’. But we’ll get to that in part III.

As far as breathing with the heart goes, to burst once again any illusory pretence of originality on my part, prayerful ‘breathing with your heart’ has its origins, in my mind, in two widely known prayer disciplines (and two of my favorites!): hesychasm and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Hesychasm, usually linked with ‘The Jesus Prayer’, is a primarily Eastern Christian method of prayer which I first encountered in college reading Henri Nouwen’s _Reaching Out_ (superb book!).
Hesychasm involves rhythmic meditative breathing and postures meant to draw the verbal and mental Jesus Prayer – ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner’ – into the heart, or ‘nous’, so that it becomes an unconscious, undying prayer. Among many other places, you can learn more about this beloved practice in the Russian classic, _The Way of the Pilgrim_.

As for the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, it is based on the mystical revelations Christ gave of Himself to Sr. Faustina (Helena) Kowalska, which she obediently recorded in her almost 700-page diary. Pope John Paul II had a deep love for this form of prayer, particulary since it emphasizes God’s mercy in an increasingly merciless modern world. Using a Rosary, you begin with the basic prayers (Credo, Our Father, Hail Mary, etc.), but then on the large beads, pray, ‘Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.’ Then on the ten decade-beds pray, ‘For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us, and on the whole world.’ Finally, perhaps descending the three lowest Hail Mary beads, pray three times, ‘Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world.’ (Incidentally, the Chaplet is a great way to preserve Catholic identity without scandalizing many Protestants in an ecumenical setting... since it’s mostly ‘free’ of ‘all that Mary stuff’, donchaknow.)

Now, the Chaplet is wonderful enough on its own; neither it nor you nor God need me to ‘enhance’ or ‘endorse’ it. But, I’m willing to say cardiopnea can enhance it – or, at least, praying with my heart enhances me. By ‘heart’ I mean, of course, my spirit, my deepest and most potent self, which is the basic biblical sense of ‘kardia’. Cardiopnea entails synchronizing my breathing with the actions, or ‘pulse’, of my heart-spirit. For example, kneeling before a crucifix, as I pray, ‘For the sake of His sorrowful Passion’, I inhale – thus literally breathing in the Crucified One! As I say, ‘have mercy on us and on the whole world’, I exhale, thus passing His crucified love from myself to others.

Obviously, this is a very imaginative process. But such vividness is, I’m convinced, vital to prayer (at least, vital to prayer before attaining the high mystical levels of ‘blindly seeing’ the ‘dark light’ of God’s ‘bitter comfort’, a la St. John of the Cross). Further, unless you’re a skeptic, cardiopnea is just as little psychological ‘trick’ as the prayer of the palms. Both are concrete, personal ways we may unite ourselves, by using *all* our selves – body, soul, imagination, intellect – to the God Who insists on meeting us in the pervasive embrace of His Holy Spirit. As I inhale, I envision Christ’s sufferings, both ‘back then’ on the Cross and now as our scarred Intercessor. Then, as I exhale, I envision any number of people – real individuals and communities, not just ‘humanity’ – and implore God’s mercy for them. In fact, I dedicate each decade to a particular ‘branch’ of people in my life: first, to my neighbors and neighborhood; next, to my family; third, to my school and co-workers; fourth, to my parish, the Pope and the Church as a whole; finally, to an especially pressing issue, which may vary from day to day. Let me be more specific still: with the words ‘have mercy on us’ I envision myself in union with a particular person (or two) and then with the words ‘and on the whole world’, I imagine the Divine Mercy spreading from that initial relational cluster to the person’s own larger relational spheres. For example, if I imagine my mom and I standing in the cloud of Divine Mercy (‘have mercy on us’), I then imagine that cloud spreading from her to other people I know she knows, say co-workers or neighbors (‘and on the whole world’).

Well, good for me, right? I should point out that cardiopnea need not, and should not, be limited to strictly devotional times. Cardiopnea is not merely a mode of intercessory prayer. It can and should be a general way of ‘processing’ life, inside and outside set prayer times. In fact, I first became aware of cardiopnea on the go, in the world, walking through a college campus, much as I’d run into the Jesus Prayer while reading on a bus in downtown Chicago. Despite how well I works with the Chaplet, only later did I incorporate cardiopnea into my prayer times. Now, when I’m in the world, and when I use the grace waiting for me, I pray with my heart as a general, non-verbal existential ‘posture’. Whenever I take note of my surroundings, whether because they are pleasing or irritating, I seek to breathe them into myself. In one big, broad mystical act of affirmation, I quite literally try to inhale my surroundings – people, objects, moods, ideas – and then exhale them all back to the Father from Whom they came in the order of Providence. Depending how vividly I imagine, I may inhale one person in particular, or may take in the whole scene from my nose to beyond the horizons.

Even now, though, I sigh with frustration; for I know I am selling this practice short. I worry you may think it is only a mental inhalation, like checking off verbal items on an imagined grocery list. But it is more graphic than that, which is, I believe, crucial for its effect. The image I hope you get is that of my breath literally sucking in my surroundings, like a mighty vacuum cleaner unpeeling and lowering a tent and any other loose items into its maw. Imagine a Kansas town bracing for a twister: the tumbleweeds all, well, tumble towards the eye; drying clothes flap on the lines; buckets and rakes clatter down into the maelstrom. Or, for the less cinematic, imagine Grover's classic (for me!) book, The Monster at the End of This Book. The book is drawn as if Grover were inside a 3-D world just behind the pages’ 2-D limits. He wallpapers and paints and hangs things in his world; meanwhile we look into it through the book, waiting for the monster to emerge on the hapless Grover. At the end of the Book, we see Grover peel away our own page to alter his own world. The two worlds interface and his actions seemingly peel ‘our’ book into his world. So it is with cardiopnea. The action of affirming Providence-as-you-find-it is a radical inhalation. The corners of perception bow in towards your heart and the only hope of purifying, redeeming and ‘eternalizing’ them is to bind them as a knot in your heart and expel them like a parcel to God for His safekeeping. Cardiopnea, then, is cathartic in the truest sense of the word.

By inhaling my Umwelt and the people in it, I not only affirm their goodness as gifts from God’s hands, and manifestations of His own Goodness, but also sober myself up, as it were. There is not, or at least, should not be, any dream-world spirituality. Christianity is far too ‘fleshy’, too incarnational for that. By inhaling the pollution and noise and traffic and crowdedness and anonymity – and, let’s not forget, the beauty and wonder! – of my life in Tai1zhong1, I am forced to face my self how and where I really am: humbly, feebly, here, now. Then, by exhaling my Umwelt back to the Father – by sending my dust-wrought ‘earthenness’ to His Heavenliness – I not only lift my heart’s voice in praise, but also admit I can trust my Umwelt in His hands. And, to reiterate, this is not a mere Chicken Soup for the Soul trick; it is a starkly, and sometimes, I admit, unpleasantly, sober way of facing God through the lens of His Providence, in its myriad personal and material refractions. Cardiopnea forbids escape, denial or distortion of life-as-you-find-it (which is to say the only life you have here). By breathing in even the noxious fumes of your life, you insist on integrating them into yourself, of making them a part of you, all in the good hope that God can and will redeem them when you release them to Him (from, bingo! your palms at Mass!). The more haltingly and dryly you inhale, the greater your act of faith is. The deeper you inhale – the farther back you peel the Umwelt – the deeper your love is for what God has brought you to. And why love it? Because God does too. God loves what He’s created enough to introduce you to it; breathing it in is, then, a way to breathe Him in as well.

Finally, let me mention how this practice has deepened my reflections on the Gospels. I’ll ‘out’ my ‘source’ once again here, and proudly: reflecting ‘cardiopnically’ on the Gospels is indebted heavily to my dear St. Ignatius of Loyola. On one level (or, to strain the analogy to near-bursting, in one valve!), as I read the Gospels, I try to breathe in its images, its meanings, its mysteries and, ultimately, its wisdom. On a second, more Ignatian level, I imagine Jesus Himself living cardiopnically. I imagine Him in His encounters: Which feelings or words or looks does He breathe in deeply and warmly? Which of them does He, by contrast, breathe in dolorously, redemptively? The climax of this vision hit me with almost palpable force one day. I imagined the Crucifixion: the summit of divine and human love, melted and perfectly commingled in the crucible of suffering and faith. Seeing cardiopnea as a mystical way to love your Umwelt, and seeing Jesus’ Crucifixion as the summit of love, I linked the two in a staggering way: at the Cross, Jesus inhaled every cubic inch of Creation, bound it up within Himself by the Holy Spirit, and re-committed it to the Father, now in a purified, transformed, redeemed form. Imagine the whole universe caving in to one point like swirling water. Imagine the empty darkness it leaves behind, like a Hollywood matte painting being peeled back. ‘From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land’ (Matthew 27:45). At the Cross, Jesus peeled back all illusions with His mighty breath, His mighty ‘ruach’ (Heb. ‘breath, spirit’).

But then. Three days later. The darkness was swallowed in an even greater light. As Christ emerged from the tomb, a tomb which appeared to swallow Him as finally as He had swallowed the world in a final gasp of crucified love – from this tomb, the Lord emerged to exhale all Creation back to the Father, from His wounds, from His pierced heart, in the power of that same Holy Ruach! For us, today, to pray with our hearts is but to meet Christ in His own death-swallowing, life-giving death and resurrection.

Monday, November 28, 2005

A neologism interlude?

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SINSPIRATION (n.) -- the innovative capacity of fallen humanity to generate ever-new ways to commodify and universalize ever-new forms of sin

But no: Men's Fitness beat me to it, by miles. :o(

A Zen interlude

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(or, in the parlance of Zen, "There is no interlude.")

I read a little Zen book today; and while I must demur at Zen's materialist pantheism; and while I choose not to "get" much out of Zen's koan (illogic) parables, one of them really stuck with me, and now, perhaps, with you too.

One day Matsukomi came to Matura to learn swordsmanship. "I want to be a great swordsman," Matsukomi said. "How long will it take?"

"Ten years," answered Matura.

"Well," replied Matsukomi, "what if I work doubly hard?"

"Thirty years, at least," answered Matura.

"What! Well, what if I work all day every day and spare no energy or expense to train?"

"Seventy years."


"A student in such a rush will never learn anything."

Matsukomi bowed.

For the next three years he worked as a servant, never touching a sword or learning any martial arts. This greatly disappointed him, but he persevered in his duties.

One day, Matura attacked him from behind with his wooden sword, sending Matsukomi to the floor in agony. Day after day, Matura sprang upon Matsukomi with his wooden sword. Over time, however, Matsukomi became like a cat, always on the balls of his feet, full of coiled energy and alertness.

After some time of this, Matura began training Matsukomi in swordplay proper. And, in little time, Matura became the greatest swordsman of his age.

So it is for me. I must BE here, daily, in the small ways and the big ways, not "up ahead" at my imagined vocation. Pray for me. "A pupil in such a rush never learns anything."

Friday, November 25, 2005

Praying with the Cogitator - Part I: Prayer of the Palms

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As promised, for some time now, I would like to share some tips or insights on prayer, all of which have emerged from, or at least converged with, my own prayer life. Since I find them helpful for my own growth and sanctification, I want to pass them along in the hopes they may be even a little useful in your growth towards Christlikeness. Three provisos.

First, I make no claims to ‘originality’ here. If you recognize any or all this counsel as St. So-and-So’s, or as a basic Some-Order-ite practice, well, praise God He has shared the same gifts with me!

Second, living as we do in a microwave-easy, sound byte age, the age of pop-spirituality, I am very wary of labeling anything spiritually worthwhile a ‘technique’, as if spiritual growth were based on so many market breakthroughs, commodities or insider’s tips. This is why I ‘scare quote’ the word ‘technique’ (and its ilk) throughout this four-part series. There are few, if any, sure-fire ‘tricks’ in the spiritual life (à la ‘name it and claim,’ ‘pray the sinner’s prayer,’ put your hand on the TV,’ etc.).

Third, it may be a needless worry, but I should warn any of my more sensitive readers in advance there may be one or two images or phrases in this series that could scandalize them. You never know. I apologize for that, and ask you to read with a good will. In some case, I use striking images (verbal or visual) to get my point across; in other cases, I use such imagery because it pertains to the topic at hand, a topic which happens to be mature; in still other cases I use strong images to fill us with disgust for sin and strong desire for holiness.

Now, as Dostoyevsky said, to business.

First, as the title suggests, we have the ‘prayer of the palms.’ I usually use this ‘technique’ as a preparation for receiving the Most Blessed Sacrament. It works just as well, however, in any situation when you sense God approaching you or drawing you through changes towards Himself. Recall the precious words the priest says concerning the institution of the Supper (pardon my newbie-Catholic paraphrase): ‘Before His death, a death He freely accepted, Jesus took the bread, etc.’ A death He *freely* accepted. A death to which he *freely opened His life*. Why is this phrase so important? Because Christ’s free acceptance of death, coupled with our free acceptance of Christ, is the crux of the Mass.

On God’s end, the Mass is the Father’s perpetual *free* offering of Himself to sinners in His Son, who, in turn, freely gave Himself for us, by the Holy Spirit, back to His Father. On our side, though, the Mass, and Christian faith in general, entails an equally free self-offering in Christ to the Father by the Holy Spirit. The Mass not only signals, but in fact signally actualizes, the Triune God’s free opening of Himself to us. In opening His hand, or, metonymically, His deepest strength, the Father also opened His hands to release His Son into our midst in the Incarnation. In receiving the Father’s Christ, the Father’s ‘Anointed One’ in the Spirit, in our midst, in the Mass, we must open ourselves – all body, blood, soul and ‘divinizability’! – to Him in all His body, blood, soul and divinity. Here, in the action of opening and receiving, is where the prayer of the palm comes in, as a way of opening ourselves to the Lord we wish to receive.

Imagine your faculties: your will, intellect, imagination, physical energies, emotional center, etc. Now imagine every one your faculties as a hand.
Perhaps they are copies of your own hands; perhaps they are hand-model hands; perhaps they are doughy Mickey Mouse glove hands. However you imagine them, they are your faculties, they are your most personal ‘goods’. I choose the hands because I think they convey so many central features of being human -- flexibility, durability, intricate frailty, violent power, begging, receiving, stealing, offering, touching, pushing, pulling. (Plus, hey, ‘palm’ has better alliteration with ‘prayer’ than other body parts... except maybe ‘pancreas’, hmmm...) Your faculties do things; your hands do things. Your brain is a hand, your eyes are hands, your tongue is a hand, your heart is a hand, and so forth. We are created to open each and every faculty of ourselves to the God from whom all good gifts, including our faculties, come (Jam 1:17). St. Paul tells us to offer our members to God as instruments of righteousness (Romans 6:14). What are our members? They are not only our anatomical parts, but also the dynamic faculties associated with, and in command of, those parts. Eyes are the members of the faculty of sight, ears of the faculty of hearing, and so forth. By imagining opening our anatomical members to God, we are in fact spiritually opening our spiritual ‘powers’ to God, and thus, to use a little Palamite terminology, uniting our powers with His.

Unfortunately, when we sin, we close our ‘hands’ against God’s love. In some cases, our sinful clenching may be aimed as fists against God. In most cases, it is we who suffer from closing in on ourselves. Luther emphasized the nature of sin as being ‘curvatus in se’, curved into itself, perhaps like an ingrown hair or ingrown toenail. This is apt because all three problems – sin, ingrown nails and ingrown hairs – inflict damage upon their own ‘masters’, namely, our selves. (Incidentally, which of the three ingrowths you rank highest speaks volumes about you.) The longer we clench our fists, the more severely cramped and useless our faculties, our whole lives, become. Why do people clench their fists? Either to protect themselves or to harm others. Sin is the same: we sin either to protect ourselves from dangers or to overpower others. In either case, clenching up in sin is an idolatrous action. We clench up with fear in the shadow of idols, so-called gods, when we should instead relax in the will of God. We clench up in aggression in the service of idols. For example, we might lie to protect ourselves from the discomfort of inconvenient truths; or we lie in order to manipulate facts to the detriment of others. Or, as another example, we fornicate in fear of being unloved, or of being less than orgasmically ‘happy’, or of being ‘incomplete’, or of ‘missing out’ – all fears which are but tiny idols farcically pretending to have any stature in comparison to God’s infinite love. Alternatively, we may fornicate to impress our will for pleasure on another ‘object’ of desire, or as a way of getting a lover back, or, most primally, as a way of taking out aggression, albeit genitally, on another person.

But the Eucharist – praise God! – is where God says, ‘Enough!’ To modify a well known aphorism, God’s reign begins where our fists end, and vice versa. The Eucharist, as Calvary-for-us, is where God expels the idols, calls us out of their shadows, and tells us to unclench, to unclench from self-referential fears r from self-referential vendettas. The Mass, as the festival of God’s incipient shalom, is God’s perpetual call to peace: peace for our terrified hearts in a dark and darkening cosmos, and peace on behalf of those we would like to pummel. The Mass is, on the one hand, the perpetual reassurance from God that we can relax and open up, while on the other hand it is His ultimatum to us that we must unclench our blood-stained fists, or they shall only be good ultimately to lock ourselves behind the doors of Hell. This why the Gospel is both, literally, good news – for the oppressed and the meek -- but also bad news – for oppressors and the arrogant. For those who, by God’s grace, remain open to God without sin grave from Mass to Mass, the Eucharist is the chance to open up even wider to Him! By preserving the gifts given from week to week, the holy Christians are open to receive even more graces and embraces into their ever growing, ever more divinized hands!

Even for those of us who do not remain open handed towards God, and who must open ourselves with the wedge of repentance, there is hope. This practice completely reorients me as what I am: a beggar always promised gifts, a child never left unfed by his Father. In every level of my being, the Mass becomes what it is in the first place: pure gift. Incidentally, insofar as the whole Mass one big runway up to the Eucharist, followed by the dénouement of our commission as renewed and reborn apostles, the two phrases I latch onto as the peak of my Eucharistic reception are: ‘Look not on our sins, O Lord, but on the faith of Your Church,’ and ‘I am not worthy to receive You, O Lord, but only say the word, and I shall be healed.’ Man, these set me aflame every time I hear them! Despite our return to closed fists, God calls us to do the small task of *opening* ourselves, which is where ‘my’ prayer of the palm ‘technique’ comes in. When I use this prayer, I imagine each faculty uncurling itself -- sometimes eagerly, other times hesitantly, slowly, sorely -- as I get ready to receive the Holy Gifts. ‘My mind, O Lord, I open to You. My eyes, O Lord, I open to You. My heart, O Lord, I open to You. My [to be frank] genitality, O Lord, I open to You. My entire body [unfolding as one large empty palm awaiting the grace God promises] I open to You, O Lord.’ And so forth.

Ultimately, this prayer should lead to a total relinquishment of our self-possession, whether from the cloying grips of ego that hold in the imagined spotlight, or the darker, colder grip of insecurity that holds us back from the core of the Gospel: at the center of existence is love, for Existence Himself is Love. Far from a mere internal, psychological ‘trick’ for ‘enriching’ your experience of the Mass, this prayer signals the larger sacramental truth of the whole ‘Mass-event’. The prayer of the palms is meant not simply to ‘warm us up’ to God, but in fact to align with what truly and really happens before us on God’s part. Christ, once, opened His hands to the world in a free offering to the Father. Now, in the hands of the priest, He opens them again to ‘our’ world. As Jesus said in John 12, when He is lifted up, He will draw all people to Himself. Calvary was the cataclysmic and unrepeatable ‘anchoring’ of grace into the cosmos; the Mass is now the repeated 'perfusion' of that saving event. It is God’s action, both then and now. Our only role is to receive or reject Christ, to reject Him with nails back onto the Cross or receive Him afresh down from it in order to be resurrected in the tomb of our hearts. To pray with your palms, then, is but to meet God’s own hands – dare I say ‘give Him some skin’? -- in His own prevenient sacramental advances. Far from a mere psychological ‘trick’ praying this way is to concretely, systematically, freely and mystically link yourself to the central drama of life, perhaps even to insert yourself, by grace, as a new link in the immeasurable chain of God’s love once anchored at Calvary. To ‘let yourself go’ and approach the altar in the Mass is to relinquish fears of self-sufficiency, and insufficiency, to respond to the great dare that is Christianity: despite our fears wounds and sins, the God Himself chooses to meet us, to heal us, to feed us. Will we open our faculties?

One ‘faculty’ I didn’t consider opening until more recently is my future. Now, however, I try to open this ‘faculty’, this mode of volitional power, to God by imaging my whole self – in the totality of my memories, wounds, hopes, fears and present situations – stretching prostrate before God into a future I grant only Him to know for me. Of course, it now dawns on me that opening our future to Christ in the Eucharist is but one dimension of the cosmos which, having been redeemed by Him, now in fact resides in Christ.

15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
(Col 1:15-20)
35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written:

"For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."

37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Romans 8:35-39)

The Eucharist is the feast of the Incarnation, and therefore makes everyday not just this or that Saint’s feast day, but rather, God’s daily jubilee banquet (wherein a certain Saint is but the emcee, as it were, for that day). The Mass may celebrate it, but what is the Incarnation? It is God’s total immersion of Himself as Love into our fallen world as Beloved. His self-immersion is redemptive of all creation; it touches and transfigures every dimension of reality – both time and space as well as super-time and super-space. ‘The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof!’ says Psalm 24:1. The Eucharist, then, is our portion of this Cosmic Feast. In consuming (quite literally!) the Host of the Feast, He extends us beyond ourselves into a total harmony with the rest of His redeemed territory, both personal and temporal, both superpersonal and supratemporal.

Hence, opening the ‘palm’ of our future to God is but our share of unclenching into the temporal dimensions of Redemption. The Eucharist connects us to the *past* by virtue (Latin, virtus = power) of its *memorial* dimension. It connects us to the *present* by virtue of the sensual *immediacy* of the liturgy and what concrete situations, pressures, feelings, ailments, etc. we bring with us up to the Offering. Finally, the Eucharist connects us to the *future* not only by filling us with *anticipation* to receive the Lord in each temporal Mass, but also by pressing yet more deeply into us the marks of Christ, the fruit of His Holy Spirit, as our spiritual deposit for the *eschatological* Feast of His Return (cf. 2 Cor 1:22, 5:5; Eph 1:14; Rev 22:1-5).

So much for the temporal aspects of the Mass and our prayer of the palm. What of its personal, ‘horizontal’ dimensions? Again, as man is a personal and social being, the Eucharist grasps both dimensions for our total redemption. Jesus sent his Apostles to be fishers of men and as their successors celebrate the Mass, men are fished into the Kingdom, caught as it were by the mouth with the hook of grace that we swallow with, and as, the Eucharist. In this way, the Eucharist draws us in personally. Just as our hands move multidirectionally, so too the prayer of the palm, like all Christian prayer, must work multidirectionally. We must not simply open our palms *upward to God*, and not only *downward into ourselves* with sober humility, but also *outward* in loving openness to our *neighbor*. To pray the prayer of the palm is to open to God; to open to the ‘you’ He created; and to open to the ‘them’ for whom He also died. Interestingly, the same word St. Paul uses in Romans 6 about our (personal) members, he uses elsewhere to describe our collective, mystical union with each other in Christ (cf. Rom 12; 1 Cor 12; Eph 4:25)! By giving our members, our powers, our faculties, to Christ in the Eucharist, He in effect *returns us to each other* so that those same powers, now divinized and transfigured *in Him*, may be put to mutual service in the church. By celebrating the Feast with others – by freely biting the same Hook as they do – we are redeemed in a social, communal, opened way. As we freely and collectively enter the Net of God’s love, we are all raised up to the Cross as co-sufferers, co-offerings, with Christ *and* with each other. We go from being 'curvatus in se' to 'curvatus in Deum et in aliam' (curved into God and others). Perhaps the prayer of the palms can help you appreciate this truth. Try it; maybe even let me know.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Got meme?

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A meme has been making its way through St. Blog's Parish. I picked up on it at Mark Shea's CAEI and read a couple others, but was really gripped by the idea at Michael Liccione's always solid Sacramentum Vitae. Mike's confession was so riveting, so gutsy, so humbling, that I felt the urge to try it myself.

Since, however, no one has memed the lowly Cogitator, he takes upon himself to 'tag' himself for confession.

They say confession is good for the soul. Because I agree, I post the following. Seeing these things ‘in print’ makes me face them as well as humbling me in the virtual sight of my neighbor. So...

I confess that...

I love books more than people.

I buy books to feel better.

these disordered affections can be verified by looking at my credit card statement.

I often feel angry and depressed if I come home and find an expected Amazon box has still not arrived.

I think my becoming a priest might save the Church.

I am a moral hero on paper, but a coward in person.

I expect, almost from the first meeting, that most relationships will end, fizzling away into meaningless civility or sheer nothingness.

my fatalism about relationships sometimes makes small talk and social gatherings painfully boring for me.

I get angry, sometimes seething, almost every day, at least once, in Taiwan traffic.

I sometimes daydream about hurting people to assert my boundaries or to teach them a lesson.

I don’t know how to handle my anger – feeling trapped under it as under thick, wet quilts.

I like being late so people have to run on my time.

I am afraid of making a firm vocational decision and instead prefer to hold as many cards as I can, 'just in case'.

I am afraid of knowing, definitively, God’s will for me (i.e., I am all but terrified of doing the Ignatian Exercises this Chinese New Year).

I repress God's clearest urgings in prayer, 'in the desert', in order to enjoy normal daily life 'in the light'.

I am afraid of admitting I do, in fact, know God's will for me.

I sometimes wish I could forget the last two-four years and just return to my seemingly simpler pre-Catholic, pre-Taiwan, pre-teacher life.

I sometimes wish something cataclysmic or tragic would happen, just to relieve me 'from the outside' of the horrible responsibility of making a decision.

I resent people who easily and happily enter into their vocations (especially marriage).

I distrust happiness for myself, resent happy ‘domesticated’ people, and often envy hedonists.

I think rest and pleasure are for weak, pudgy, ‘suburban’ people.

I sometimes want to ‘steal’ God’s omniscience more than I desire to partake of His other, ‘lesser’ gifts.

hearing the continual waves of news about friends and colleagues getting married and having children irritates and depresses me.

I look down on slow, thoughtful speakers as dull and mushy.

I get irritated if people do not or cannot follow my train of thought (both its content and speed) in conversation.

after over two years in Taiwan, I have developed a bias against Japanese people as greedy, perverted and arrogant.

I often lust after Taiwanese women in passing.

I frequently palpate my muscles to check how badly I’m atrophying.

I am very often repulsed by theology and philosophy.

I generally consider 'up-to-date' news 'analysis' (esp. as on most blogs, and esp. about politics) asinine, ostentatious, transient and fickle.

I often shrug my shoulders listlessly at the notion of 'advanced studies'.

I very often prefer the dark solace of mystical prayer, simple faith and the unreflective company of people in total silence.

I am often inclined to think of people who don't read as beneath me.

I feel helplessly torn between my desires for, on the one hand, study and academic dialogue and, on the other, simple earthy communion with the poor, sick and unlettered.

I cuss under my breath all the time.

I often neglect writing to friends and family so I can ‘tweak’ my blog instead.

I have dallied many times on my announced FCA posts.

I wish I could forget - lobotomize, in fact - many of my experiences and relationships so I could 'move on' with my own decisions, regardless of how they affect others.

I am afraid to cry as often as the urge comes to me (e.g., when leading a Bible study, teaching or talking with my dear students, greeting friends, etc.).

I will lie, or at least suppress the truth, to maintain shallow harmony (at work or among friends).

I loathe having to deal with money and resent my sizable medical debts as a burden on 'my future'.

my chronic allergy problems (e.g., runny nose, a dry, sticky throat, habitual throat-clearing, itchy, watery eyes, etc.) sometimes infuriate me, sometimes to the verge of helpless tears.

writing some of these things is really embarrassing, particularly when they ruin my finely crafted veneer of maturity, wisdom and poise.

writing this was not pleasant – too much light.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Why a duck stuffed with borrowed logic?

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I wanted to get a couple things straight, on the record, to make it all real nice and googlable like.

1) Recently I was talking with a buddy about some confusing, in fact distressing, managerial actions at my school. He shrugged it off by saying, 'Well, you can't expect too much. It's Chinese, and therefore by definition illogical.' I replied, quite matter-of-factly, 'Funny you should say that. "Logic" is a borrow word, you know.' My buddy doesn't study Chinese; I do. And I learned almost as soon as I got to Taiwan that the Chinese word for 'logic' is but a phonetic translation: luójí. For me, having dealt with Chinese culture for only a few months then, the implications were curious at worst and humorous at best. For my buddy, however, who's been here around five years, this was a sheer epiphany. 'Ohhhhhhh! Of couuurrse! Logic is a borrow word! They had to take the word from English cuz they didn't have a word for it until like the nineteenth century! Everything makes sense now.'

Logic is a borrow word.

I leave it to the reader to judge the quality of my buddy's epiphany; for my part, you'll notice, I do not deny it. Moving on. Quickly.

2) Scouring through my Chinese-English dictionary a few days ago during a free period, I stumbled upon perhaps the most useful phrase a foreign teacher could know while trying to teach in Taiwan, or any other heavily Chinese setting. I was looking up the word 'fill in [a blank form]' (tiánbiǎo) and wanted to know how or when else to use tián ('fill'). Scanning down the options, my eyes stoped at the final, noticeably lengthy entry: tiányā. The first meaning is 'to overfeed and under-exercise ducks in order make their flesh more tender and sweet', presumably a technique used to create China's famous 'Peking duck' delights. The second meaning? 'To teach students any and all information needed to test (into a higher level or school).' In other words, to teach by 'stuffing the duck.'

Just as my buddy had his epiphany with luójí, so I had my epiphany with 'stuffing the duck'. No wonder my kids are unused to independent creative activites! No wonder my teaching is always at risk of being subjugated by students, parents and administrators to yield better grades on more tests! China's entire educational system -- as a matter of historical fact, even if my experience weren't probative enough -- is based on stuffing the duck! It is as if scales have fallen from my eyes, or as if The Matrix has finally been cracked and I can behold the real world, warts and all, in stark, numbing honesty. I am not a teacher.

I am here to stuff the duck.

Strangely, the fatalistic mediocrity of it is almost liberating. To all would-be teachers, I declare: Do not fear stuffing the duck; do not fight stuffing the duck; just quack (with convincing 'English noises') and all will be well.

(Of course, in the words of the inimitable Groucho, 'Why a duck?')

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Is it even worth my time, or yours,...

0 comment(s) mention I have been having PC troubles?

I guess it was.

Stay tuned.


Good news! First, I did get some sensitivity training, so my computer now thinks I'm 'PC' enough to work with. Second, three of my announced big projects -- prayer tips from the Cogitator (a.k.a. Sir Teach-A-Lot, a.k.a. Teacher Silk, a.k.a. me), my series on 'simplifying' Chinese, and my series on population issues -- are all on the verge of finally seeing the light of day at FCA! Once these are out of the way, I can work much more quickly through my personal anecdotes and photos, and then hopefully finalize my last three big series: 1) on confession and sacramentalism, 2) on historical Jesus issues and 3) on the ideology of pro-abortionists. Write it down! Tell your friends! Bring your pets!

Alas, some of my proposed 'TO DO' topics (like the Assumption and Mariology, or the issue of merit), will likely get shelved for a season. Why? I will soon begin a distance Master's degree in theology (from, and am therefore intent on 'downsizing' FCA's demands in my life.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Secular Catholicism

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+ the liturgical year is usurped by 'season sales'; our rhythms become commercial and consumerist rather than penitential and evanglical

+ confession is usurped by 'real TV' (Jerry Springer, etc.); vulnerable authenticity is no longer seen as a pathway to the God of mercy, but a shortcut to the god of Mammon

+ worship is usurped by musical concerts; When's the last time you raised your voice or your hands to God? To your favorite CD or performer?

+ icons and saints are usurped by fashion trinkets, market idols and comic heroes (e.g., the 'i am what i am' Puma shoes; car commercial showing a man outrace death; etc.)

+ the drama of the liturgy is replaced by the drama of the cinema (and the 'sinema'); We may easily spend more time browsing the pen section of a stationery store than we do adoring the Blessed Sacrament, before, during or after Mass.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Highly linkable

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I ran across this cool "Black Catholic Information Mall" and wanted to pass it along to any interested readers. I think solidarity like this within the Church is great (as long as it doesn't become cliquish and insular, of course). The Church's unity is strengthened, and in fact, defined by its multiplicity. A oneness in truth does not negate a plurality of truth-seekers, just as oneness of meaning does not negate a harmony of many different voices. The truth rises on the chorus of faith, while the chorus can only hang together on the axis of truth.

I wonder, does Africa have a patron saint, like Europe has Sts. Benedict, Bridget, Catherine, Cyril & Methodius and Teresa Benedicta of the Cross? For that matter, does Asia? (Obviously, I could Google it etc., but I'm curious to hear from readers about this sort of thing.)

"Chinese made simple?" A preview

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I announced a few weeks ago I had a Eureka moment about simplifying and modernizing Chinese (see linked post, at bottom). Well, I recently blasted out my whole proposal, punctuated with the musings of an incipient Sinophile (moi). It's about 4000 words long, peppered with Chinese characters, Romanized Mandarin and my own neologisms (this absurd preemption notwithstanding), so I have decided to have pity on youse guys and post it in smaller segments over the coming week or so. (Gee willickers, I can feel my readers' excitment building around the world already.) Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Quantum potes, tantum aude

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"As much as you are able, that much dare."

Apparently a quote from one of St. Thomas Aquinas' eucharistic hymns. Read it in Aidan Nichols's _The Thought of Benedict XVI_, which is a *superb* book.

The above quote locks in with another quote from one of my patron saints, Ignatius of Loyola:

"There are very few people who realise what God would make of them if they abandoned themselves into his hands, and let themselves be formed by his grace. A thick and shapeless tree-trunk would never believe that it could become a statue, admired as a miracle of sculpture, and would never submit itself to the chisel of the sculptor, who sees by its genius, what he can make of it. Many people who we see now scarcely live as Christians, do not understand that they could become saints, if they would let themselves be formed by the grace of God, and if they did not ruin his plans by resisting the work he wants to do."

(Bartoli, D., Histoire de Saint Ignace et de l'origine de la Compagnie de Jésus, 3rd ed., 2 v. [Brussels, 1852]. Translation of the original Italian of 1650. 2:255)

Cogs turning, clicking, time slipping, dripping, heart beating, panting... Tired, but hopeful, and "peaced"...

Sunday, November 6, 2005

My very own Jesuit Hono[u]r Roll!

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Thumbing my nose at the widespread anti-Jesuitry in St. Blog's parish, and the Catholicism-I-Know generally, I have decided (with Credo's permission) to add a Jesuit Honor Roll to my sidebar. Two things tipped my hand to add the Roll. First, Credo said I could.

Second, I attended a Mass yesterday at Fu Ren University in Xin Zhuang; yesterday, November 5th, was the feast of All Saints and Blesseds of the Society of Jesus. It was really something. Not fruit-loopy, as, I admit, I slightly worried "those Jesuits" might let it be. Simultaneously Gregorian and modern (male chanting harmony plus overhead songs and a subdued electric guitar). The fathers were old, very old, most of them, but they exuded such jolly fraternal joy!

Before Mass, I made confession with a Jesuit, which, I must say, was one of the best confessions I've ever experienced. I smiled despite myself as the priest counseled me about "movements" and "sensations" of the soul. "This is Jesuit theology, as if straight from St. Ignatius," I said to myself, "right before my closed eyes!" Anyway, it was a real pleasure to enjoy such nice company (plus, there was a free meal afterward!). Adding the Honor Roll today seems reassuringly "meet" under the aegis of Providence.

At any rate, the criteria for making the list are 1) be a Jesuit, 2) persevere as a Jesuit, 3) at the very least, not actively promulgate grave doubts, heresies or scandals as a Jesuit, 4) work, preach, teach or write in a Christ-honoring, Ignatian way and about issues I find interesting and/or honorable, and 5) reach my blogging radar. Fr. Walling, for example, whom I met this weekend at Fu Ren, has been serving in China/Taiwan for decades, and directs retreats at the Manresa Center in Jing Shan; so not only do I respect his legacy but also know him personally -- in fact, he may well lead me through the Exercises this Chinese New Year!

The bottom line criterion for Jesuit honor? Is there any question?

"Ad majorem Dei gloriam!"

Over time, I want to tweak, correct or expand the links, but here is the list as it stands now:

  • Fr. John Hardon, S.J. (R.I.P.) [more]

  • Fr. Greg Jordan, S.J. [more]

  • Fr. James Schall, S.J. [more 1, 2]

  • Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J. [more]

  • Fr. Paul Mankowski, S.J. [more]

  • Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J. [more]

  • Fr. Joe Koterski, S.J.

  • Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J.

  • Fr. Paul Shaughnessy, S.J.

  • Fr. John Kavanaugh, S.J.

  • Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J.

  • Fr. Jim Kubicki, S.J.

  • Fr. Ron Tacelli, S.J. [ more]

  • Fr. Richard Hermes, S.J.

  • Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J.

  • Fr. John Conley, S.J.

  • Fr. Edwin F. Healy, S.J.

  • Fr. Tom King, S.J.

  • Fr. Ray Gawronski, S.J.

  • Fr. Bill Kurz, S.J.

  • Fr. David Meconi, S.J.

  • Fr. Dick Tomasek, S.J.

  • Fr. Al Winshman, S.J.

  • Paul Cardinal Shan Kuo-hsi, S.J.
    more 1, 2]

  • Fr. James Chevedden, S.J.

  • Fr. Norman Walling, S.J. [more]

  • Ignatius Cardinal Pin-Mei Kung, S.J. (R.I.P.)

  • Archbishop Tang Yee-Ming, S.J. (R.I.P.)

  • Fr. Martin McDermott, S.J.

  • Fr. Edward A. Oakes, S.J.

  • Fr. Brian E. Daley, S.J.

  • Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J.

  • Fr. Louis Aldrich, S.J.
  • Friday, November 4, 2005

    The creative wisdom of God

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    [A passing reflection, to be elaborated "later"...]

    In discussions of evolution, teleology, order, transcendence, etc., too much emphasis is placed on order, as if ordered systems were themselves sufficient created signs of the Divine Glory. While Darwinists argue order is but a circumstance of random physical processes, which in turn are further ordered for the symbiotic good of gene-propagating organisms, theists often simply say the order of creation is inconceivable apart from special creation. As a theist, I do, of course, agree with the latter -- but with a qualifier. Intuitively and inductively, creation’s order clearly points to an Orderer, to some kind of supervenient “patternizing” Mens in the cosmos.

    But what of creation’s diversity and adaptive randomness? What of the apparent commonness of traditionally "human" capabilities, like emotion, construction, planning, medicating, etc? Is order, by itself, enough to point us to God? Yes -- but the great risk of leaning as much probative weight on "order, order, order!" as intelligent designists do is that we can too easily see creation as an intricate object, rather than as a vital, dynamic *creature*. By focusing on the order of creation, we risk draining it of its dynamic teleology and making all that ordered beauty just a massive deist wristwatch, running unattended in perfect precision. This, the risk of intelligent design (neo-Paleyism) devolving into deism, is much of Edward Oakes's, SJ, critique of ID (cf. his "Newman, Yes; Paley, No" and a correspondence between Oakes and various readers, both in First Things).

    What, then, should fill the gap hyper-design theory makes? Wisdom. A major biblical theme besides God's goodness ordered in the ordered goodness of creation is his immanent Wisdom (Heb., hokhmah, Grk., sophia) which animates creation even at the individual level (a la Job, He summons the eagle, guides the bear to food, etc.). God's wisdom is an immanent principle of concretized, individual goodness which manifests in social and symbiotic competition and cooperation. We cannot simply look at creation as a *static* bearer of glory (vis a vis "irreducibly complex order"), but rather, we must couple the witness of fixed order with that of creative wisdom, even in "the lowlier creatures". Hence, recognizing cognitive rudiments in apes, dolphins, etc. does little to erase God, or His creative providence, since He, as the fount of Wisdom, is their creator too, and they must reflect at least some of Him.

    Surprisingly, order is not biblical or transcendent *enough*. Paradoxically, order is not teleological *enough*. Rather, we must consider the whole cosmos' pervasive, dynamic "orderliness", ie., its constant tendency to move into greater complexity, to forge connections out of fragments, even through phases of massive disorder. Wisdom is the dynamic principle in created things, from the microcellular to the macro-systems' level, which propels them to adapt and readjust their teleology. Analyzing the usefulness (or, teleology, purpose, etc.) of various things -- by the name "order" -- is insufficient; we must also grapple with the relentless purposefulness of all created reality -- by the name of "wisdom". This is not a "God of the gaps" fix, either. it is, rather, the only adequate way to explain the universe's teleological "trending". Naturalism is inadequate for the riddle of cosmic (or biological) "drivenness", since the bare minimum telos of any entity according to naturalism is to perform a function based on its form. As metaphysically discrete entities, in a world free of metaphysical "essential differences", "universal markers", "species", etc., objects in naturalism have no transcendent "motive" for adapting and harmonizing. On two counts, naturalism fails to explain causation, the "tightness" of which most naturalists, ironically, claim proves there is no need and no philosophical "room" for God. First, there is the problem of independent causation. The second problem is that of "causal entropy."

    In the first case, because each physical entity lacks any internal, supraphysical telos or "will", and therefore can only be acted upon by external impulses (energy), there is no explaining why or how a thing *itself* moves *itself*. Since its motive energy depends on external impulses, an object cannot move or change *based on its own properties* (and energy-state). Purely naturalistic entities lack an internal "tension" and therefore lack independent efficacy. Unfortunately for a naturalistic account of reality, this means that even the object A that needs to motivate object B cannot generate that B-motivating action without itself receiving an impulse (say, from C). But this is absurd, since we see objects move others objects; hence naturalism is unfit for explaining independent motion and, in turn, relative causation. The same internal "causal emptiness" we see in discrete causal "small-sets" (eg., A-B-C) applies to the whole "large-set" of causal relations (ie., the whole universe). Just as no object can motivate itself, so the universe cannot motivate itself *even if we assume it is eternal*.

    In the second case, because an object can motivate an object at lower energy (inertia), there follows a downward spiral of energy in a closed, strictly natural system. If A has X units of energy, it can influence B, which has only X-less units of energy. But then A loses some of its causal energy and thus awaits a higher-energy impulse (from, say, C). Alas, even what little energy B has gained from A's motivation, it too immediately loses by influencing D. And we must not imagine A, B, C, etc as floating billiard balls in the ether. Rather, these letters signify every possible physical entity in the "causal current" of the universe. Even if we imagine many small entities clustering into an "energy system", which could retro-influence individually larger entities, we must face the fact that the whole universe itself, as a massive energy-system, is the whole time "fighting against" total entropy at its every level and at all its "borders". Hence, unless there is an infinite source of energy "at the top" to "refuel" all the lesser energy-entities, they will all eventually wind down to a sort of zero-state inertia. Of course, assuming the universe is strictly confined to the physical level, positing an infinite source of energy in this closed system would "flood the pipes" and *all* things would be infinitely energized. (Incidentally, this is analogous to the problem Kant saw in a supposedly infinite universe: an infinite number of stars in an infinite universe would be infinitely bright, which is contrary to all observation.) This not being the case, naturalism cannot explain how a set of finitely energized entities can motivate anything in an enduringly bilateral (ie., higher and lower energy-state) way. Theism, however, admits the universe is not limited to its physical causal sets, and therefore can receive higher physical energy by way of a higher metaphysical power.

    "Wisdom cosmology", then, is not naturalistic. On the other hand, the idea of wisdom helping things run "to the best of their ability" is not deist. God is not absent from creation, at any level, but he is also not the occasionalist tinkerer, ever winding the clock, oiling the gears and editing the genetic manuscript. Precisely in the "selfish" adaptations of myriad creatures we see God's wisdom at work, even if it is only we humans who are (or can be) conscious of this immanent wisdom. Acknowledging the wisdom of God in creation (and creations) give as much room to natural autonomy as Christianity (or real observation, for that matter) can allow. At the same time, "wisdom biology" helps us envision how God's supreme and secret wisdom (or purpose), shrouded in the darkness of unapproachable light, coordinates all the lower wisdoms in all lower beings. Wisdom allows for true concrete, adaptive, creative, cooperative freedom on the part of creatures, while still protecting the doctrine of God's "self-glorifying" providence.

    Thursday, November 3, 2005

    The Pattern of Atonement -- a review

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    [from my Amazon review]

    This short series of lectures by the English philosopher, H.A. Hodges, offer a pleasant jaunt through the thickets of (almost exclusively Western) soteriology. As a philosopher, Hodges's prose and expression was refreshingly lucid and precise. (It was also kind of funny for me imagining hearing an English philosopher lecture on this subject today, let alone with such personal ardor.) But as a lecturer, transcribing spoken notes, I was annoyed more than once to see quotes without citations, thus crippling my exploration of this or that other thinker's words. Hodges embodies the Anglican via media in his lectures, "neither too hot nor too cold." For example, he cites St. John of the Cross on the divinizing "mystical union" (theopoiesis) that is true Christian faith; and then cites Calvin and Luther on the cognitive, personal immediacy of "saving faith" which Catholic (and Orthodox) theology tends to muffle. He cites the Anglican articles with approval … only later to forego commenting on one of its "bewildering" articles (#27). :o)

    This book was a gift to me (via mail) from a Byzantine Catholic history professor; he described it as an irenic outline of the biblical atonement -- "but it has teeth". For, while Hodges takes fault Trent with "a certain confusion of terms", he does ultimately argue the Tridentine formulation is superior to any Reformed theory of soteriology. Of course, balnced as he is in the (chimerical) via media, Hodges is right to admit the more extreme doctrines of radical justification by faith alone, doctrines which collapse salvation into justification and “the rest” into “pious comforts”, are not truly representative of Protestant life; the Protestant sensus fidelium has a remarkable tendency to act as if Trent were right and salvation is not “complete” or “assured” without serious growth in holiness.

    Nevertheless (via media again!) since he has worries about the efficacy of infant baptism (IB) and how it negates (for him) the absolute biblical need for *personal faith* on the part of the baptized, he argues from Calvin that the only meaningful basis for IB is its status as a pledge (and expected promise) into which the child must grow. I found this strange for two reasons. First, Hodges’s final thought is a suggestion that Catholic sacramentology realizes the Reformed emphasis on God’s absolute, “preemptive” sovereignty (apart form our efforts) perhaps better, and certainly no worse, than Reformed theology itself. Hence, while Hodges does grant Baptism, in some fashion, genuinely incorporates even children into Christ, I was surprised and disappointed he didn’t “try harder” to justify (no pun intended) IB from the perspective of God’s sacramental sovereignty.

    Second, I felt Hodges dodged all too easily the idea that the child is imbued with faith, hope and love (by Baptism) *on account of his family’s/community’s faith*. In this, Hodge let his individualist-personalized Protestant biases show, which extremely frustrating in an otherwise very balanced work.

    Is it really so bizarre or “unbiblical” to believe God recreates us as monergistically (as in IB) as He did/does as in creation? Is it so unbiblical to believe baptism, the new circumcision (Col 2:11-12), can and is applied as “impersonally” as the old?

    Is it so unbiblical to believe baptism, as the water supporting the new ark of salvation (1 Pet 3:20-21), applies just as well to babies now as Noah’s ark saved babies (and animals!) that were brought into it then?

    Is it really so incredible the waters of baptism save babies now just as well as the divided waters of Moses saved infants out of Egypt then?

    Is it so unbiblical to believe God receives us best into His Kingdom when we enter just as the little children met Jesus (ie., were CARRIED BY OTHERS to Him; Lk 18:15-16)?

    Is it so unbiblical to believe others’ faith may “substituted” for our own when we realize this is precisely how the paralytic lowered on the mat was healed (ie., when Jesus his FRIEND’S faith; Mth 9:2)?

    Is it really so unbiblical to believe even the most synergistically accepted, personalistically embraced adult baptism is itself but an adoption and endowment conditioned by our synergistic efforts in holiness (cf. Rom 6)?

    Is it really so “un-Pauline” to believe the community’s faith extends to, supports and even generates our own “personal faith” when St. Paul wrote of baptism (in plural Greek) to whole faith communities? Indeed, an action of the Christian community is fundamentally an action of Christ working and being formed in it (cf. I Cor 12:6; Php 2:13; Gal 4:19, 1 Thes 2:13; etc.).

    Baptism is the death of our old nature and the birth in us of a new nature – the death of Old Adam and the birth in us of New Adam – and the last I checked, when a family dies (in a fire, a car crash, etc.), it matters little that the children didn’t “choose” to drive. Baptism is a death and death is any equal opportunity “consumer,” regardless of age, nationality or maturity level. So is Baptism, but a consumer of death and a "recycler" into life.

    I dwell on this point so lengthily because, as I said, Hodges recalcitrance about what I shall call “suprapersonal faith” was a real low spot in _The Pattern of Atonement_ and needs to be addressed.

    Tuesday, November 1, 2005

    Woot! A good Jesuit!

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    While I do hate strumming the strings of that Catholic blogosphere canard -- "oy, the Jesuits are all rotten... 'Jesuits -- again'..." -- I admit, very sadly, it has too much of a basis in reality. Whole swaths of the Society, especially in Europe and North America, are just cracked, semi-, would-be-, and outright-heteredox. Hence (or nevertheless?) I always take the chance to highlight "good Jesuits" and was reminded of a fellow Catholic blogger's Jesuit hono[u]r roll today (check out the links on his sidebar, too).

    Consider this story about a good Jesuit, right here in my neck of the woods: Taiwan Jesuit Defends Video Depicting Abortion

    The video was produced by leading former US abortionist turned pro-life activist, Dr. Bernard Nathanson, as part of his many efforts to undo the damage of the abortion movement. The images left some girls with nightmares, which triggered the criticism. The video is produced and distributed by the Catholic Church.

    In response to the public outcry, Fr. Louis Aldrich, SJ, rector of the theological seminary at Fu-Jen Catholic University near Taipei, held a press conference last week [late April 2004 -- EBB]. ...

    He described how the Church's position on sex outside of marriage and opposition to abortion was never much in the public interest before now. Fr. Aldrich described how the video has inspired young women to have greater respect for their own bodies, the Taiwan Church News said. He said that many young people have entered into a pledge with their partners to abstain from sexual relations before marriage as a result.

    He encouraged teachers to preview the video before presenting it to students, to be better able to prepare them psychologically for what is portrayed. Fr. Aldrich encouraged teachers to use the video as an opportunity to explain how abortion is harmful to women's health. He even encourages classes to take field trips to a hospital obstetrics department to cement for youth the reality that abortion kills babies.