Arts and the Spirit

I sit in front of the modern equivalent of the blank sheet, the bane of a writer’s existence. (Or a would-be writer’s existence.)

What is behind the human compulsion to create? The creative urge certainly has its source in the Genesis story where God made humanity in his image and likeness. God picked up an earthy substance and breathed into it, sending God’s very essence into that unlikely, homely form.  No, it had no form to begin with; it was, literally, just a lump. God, as the first artist, took something material and transformed it into what we ultimately recognize as and name Beauty.

It’s a challenge to see human beings as a work of art, given all the terror and destruction that humans have learned ever since that first experiment in Eden. But humans must be congratulated for having recognized that they and their surroundings were beautiful. This was such an important discovery that they carried it with them after being expelled from the Garden. Carried it with them as a supreme comfort to soothe and enlighten them in that dystopian life resulting from God’s curse. Think of how shocked they must have been at their first gropings at making something, just like the great Creator God had done and was still doing. 

How did those first human-artists get started in their creative process? Could they have been inspired by seeing all that banal material surrounding them? It was said that when Michelangelo first looked at a piece of marble, he saw within it a figure, a person or an element from nature that was locked within the marble. His task was to set that being free so that others could gaze upon the figure and see it as he, Michelangelo, saw it.

Other early humans needed to share the story of their exploits with their tribal family, resulting in basic pictures of where they had been, what they had seen and what deeds were enacted. Again, there was some kind of spiritual element, a thing-ness that they perceived and that was capable of demonstrating and communicating important deeds.

Eventually, perhaps, they found branches within a dead tree that produced a variety of sounds when the autumn wind blew through their hollow center. They were empty tubes of the same substance as the tree, but that unseen (therefore “spiritual”) power created whole symphonies of feelings: festive, melancholic, strident, militant, tender, soothing, cacophonous — on and on, infinitely variable. Somehow, this created sound-thing once again resulted in a merging of matter and spirit, a transformation of the commonplace into the incomparable soul substance. Or was it the other way around?

Words must have been the last substance to have been transformed, spiritualized. Scripture once again spoke the undreamable reality of THE WORD that we know as the Son of God, as God made Man, the Spirit of God becoming the unthinkable Word that gave utterance to all that was or could be created.

The arts have been given to us orphaned humans so that we might be drawn closer to the reality of being eternally joined to the Father-Creator, Son-Human and Spirit-Beauty.

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Haiku: Spirit as Muse


Silent hymn of love.
Soft wind through hollow branches,
Heart-found holiness.

Transfiguration of Christ; Transformation of Christians

This post was first published on this feast day in 2017.

For me, the narrative of the Transfiguration of Jesus is one of the most mysterious in the Gospels.

At the top of Mount Tabor, Peter, James and John were allowed a vision of Jesus in the company of major Old Testament prophets, Moses and Elijah. His position at their center, along with the command of the Father to listen to him, emphasized Jesus’ authority and supreme holiness. No wonder the apostles were astonished and wanted to stay there indefinitely! They had already, through Peter, announced their belief that Jesus was the promised one of God, the Messiah. The Transfiguration vision cemented that belief.

But there is another aspect to this vision that touches us personally.

Jesus, fully human and fully divine, allowed his apostles to observe his divinity. What they were also observing (but weren’t yet ready to understand) was their own eventual transformation into the very image of the divine, since through Christ we are made children and heirs of the Father.

Why did Jesus tell the Apostles to say nothing about this event until after his Resurrection? Could it be because they were far from understanding or accepting so bold a concept as our own divinization? We needed the spiritual strength and insight that would be offered to us only after the Resurrection and the Pentecost.

Are we ready even now?

The late Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner said, “[t]he Christian of the future will be a mystic, or he will not exist at all.” Mysticism, he wrote, is “a genuine experience of God emerging from the very heart of our existence.”

The Transfiguration tells us that our faith must transcend robotic habits. We aren’t meant to spend our earth-years with our eyes half-shut, stumbling through what appears to be a hopeless world. There’s too much that we’re missing if we do not open our hearts to the experience of God of which Rahner speaks.

A constant and growing search for deeper intimacy with Christ and his teachings is what will bring about our transformation into the divine, as Christ showed us and his disciples at the Transfiguration.

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“The days which begin on the feast of the Lord’s transfiguration and end on the threshold of Our Lady’s glorification provide an opportunity for the Christian faithful to reflect on God’s transforming grace at work in their lives, and to seek from the Lord whatever they need to deepen that grace not only in themselves, but indeed in the Church and world.”

These are the opening words of a Transfiguration Novena provided by Father John Colacino of Rochester. If you would like to pray this Novena starting on the Feast of the Transfiguration (August 6) and ending on the eve of the Assumption (August 14), contact me at rosaliekrajci@gmail.com

Creed for a Poor Christian

I came across this recently and want to share it with you.

I can’t understand all the things we’re supposed to believe in, and that bothers me. Most of the things – doctrines, I guess – are found in the Apostle’s Creed, and I get nervous reciting it because I’m not sure if I believe it or not. I do accept and want to practice all the things Jesus taught, especially his “new commandment”:  Love one another as I have loved you.

It’s clear that whoever wrote this was struggling with an intellectual acceptance of some doctrines in our Creed. So I’ve written a kind of poor person’s creed that doesn’t challenge the intellect, but is limited to the basics of what Jesus taught.

Creed for a Poor Christian

*   I believe in the divine Trinity: God the Father Almighty who created all things; Jesus Christ his Son and our Savior; and the Holy Spirit of Love who binds them and us together.

*   I believe in loving my neighbor as myself and as God loves us.

*   I believe in forgiving anyone who causes me pain.

*   I believe in praying for those who hurt me.

*   I believe in the truth of all that Jesus taught and modeled, and that by following his example I build up his Body, i.e., his sacred Presence in this world.

*   I believe that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit live in me at all times, and that I carry the Trinity within me to all I encounter.

*   I believe that Christ lives in every human who lives, has lived, or ever will live in this world.

*   I believe that God desires happiness and unending life for all souls he has created, and that this is why he sent his Son to teach us how to live as his children.

*   I believe that Jesus came so that we might learn how to live in harmony as children of God.

*   I believe that Christ taught what he heard from the Father and that because of these teachings he accepted rejection, cruel treatment and execution, so that we too might learn how to endure suffering and persecution and use them for our transformation into holiness.

*   I believe that, different as we are from one another, all people can and must love one another as we love God, and especially as God loves us.

*   I believe in these articles of faith and that living by them will increase the flow of grace in the world so that all will be at peace with one another.

I believe that the one thing necessary for us is obedience to God’s law of love as taught and exemplified by Christ; that his command is the most important to obey and cherish; and that doing so will draw us into an unending place of joy and love.

Amen.

Worthy?

Looking back at it, it was quite amusing. There we were, my classmate and I, having a serious discussion about which of God’s infinite attributes would “win out,” Mercy or Justice. Today’s reading from Exodus seems related to that sophomoric discussion from my college days. 

In today’s Mass readings (16th Sun. Ordinary), there’s Abraham, politely but persistently bargaining with the Lord about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. [Genesis 18] And not just bargaining. He’s actually instructing the Lord, challenging him to live up to his promise of Mercy. “Surely you wouldn’t think of destroying these wicked cities when there are innocent people among them! Far be it from you!”

How bold! But obviously the Lord knew that Abraham’s argument was futile: there were not even ten good people in the lot, so the Lord kept his plan and destroyed the cities. (Another situation where a human tries but fails to “change God’s mind.”) Unfortunately, the lesson we’re left with is that this kind of justice wins out over Mercy. Apparently, collateral damage didn’t matter to the Lord of the early Hebrews.

That is, until Jesus came with his message of a liberally merciful Father. We are so ready to punish. It usually helps us feel holier than those other wretches. We can’t understand God wanting to spare sinners, like the woman caught in adultery. The Gospel is full of God being “unfair,” but his brand of perceived unfairness is most often aimed at people who know and admit they’re sinners. No matter what they’ve done, they’re forgiven. 

Saint Paul’s letter to the Colossians (also read this morning) has this to say on the issue of our sin:

Even when you were dead in your transgressions. . . he brought you to life along with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions. He obliterated the bond against us, with its legal claims, which was opposed to us; he also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross.

Do I read this correctly? Is St. Paul saying that even though we broke the rules (the bond with its legal claims), Christ erased it all by nailing it, with him, to the cross? Again, St. Paul writes these uplifting words to the Romans (Chapter 5):

Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

It’s time.

It’s time to realize that it’s not a matter of our being “worthy.” Once God’s Mercy is experienced, we can’t help but let God take us over completely. 

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O Lord, I am not now worthy . . .

Presence

A friend asked me why I hadn’t posted anything in a while. I squarely put the blame on an absent Muse. I’ve certainly been trying! So she (the Muse) decided to show up today, suggesting a topic that we’ve written about before: Presence.

It all started when a fellow blogger linked his readers to a talk on YouTube given by Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now. When I checked my book-case, that book was still there, but only half read.

I watched a number of Tolle’s brief but substantive talks, covering topics that plague virtually all of us: depression, negativity, anxiety, anger, etc. Difficulties arise when the mind – frequently our own worst enemy – dwells on past hurts, issues, events that disturb our peace. We keep replaying these old news reels, thus keeping them alive to hurt us over and over again. Thoughts about the future can be a joyful exercise but are problematic when they produce anxiety or fear. Tolle proposes that these negative states can be tamed by learning to live in the NOW. The NOW, after all, is the only thing we have: the past is gone; the future is unknowable.Tolle definitely has made a new fan of me.

However, after seeing the Mass readings for today (16th Sunday of Ordinary Time), the reality dawned on me that what Tolle teaches is most helpful, but not really new. This is not to denigrate either Tolle or what he teaches, because we all need to hear the same thing repeated at different times, in different words, to different audiences in different eras. This morning, for example, we heard the stunning passage from Paul’s letter to the Colossians. He imparts the “mystery hidden from all ages, now, finally revealed to all. This is the mystery of Christ in you.” Christ’s miraculous presence in us.

This is the work of our divinization as we take on the mind and attitude of Christ.

 This is the Presence of grace. Even better: the divine Presence of the Divine Christ.

Some are fortunate to have found this ongoing presence of Christ within, so that everything they do, say, hear, teach, comes from that Presence. Here are just three persons who were given the grace to exemplify what it means to live in the Presence, with Christ in them:

  • St. Ignatius: Ignatian spirituality is rooted in the conviction that God is active, personal, and—above all—present to us. We don’t have to withdraw from the world into a quiet place in order to find God. God’s footprints can be found everywhere—in our work and our relationships, in our family and friends, in our sorrows and joys, in the sublime beauty of nature and in the mundane details of our daily lives. It’s often said that Ignatian spirituality trains us to “find God in all things.”
  • Brother Lawrence, Carmelite monk, Practitioner of God’s presence: “It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.”
  • J.P. deCaussade, S.J.: Author of Sacrament of the Present Moment (also known as Abandonment to Divine Providence), and spiritual director to nuns of the Visitation. He counseled them that the smallest deeds, even outside of prayer, were transformative when performed in union with Christ.

Jesus, of course, lets us know how to find peace in all that we do. In today’s Gospel, he tells Martha that her anxiety, not her chores, is what keeps her from finding joy in Christ. Mary, sitting quietly at the feet of her guest, is fully and peacefully connected with him. They are both present to each other. — How easy!