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.

+     +     +

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.

+     +     +

“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. 

🎵🎵
O Lord, I am not now worthy . . .

The Fatal Tree

Programmed to send me papal news alerts, my smartphone recently notified me that Pope Francis had approved a new translation for a significant part of the Our Father. Our English translation prays: “. . . and lead us not into temptation.” This is not consistent, says the Pope,  with what Jesus taught us about his Father. Pope Francis has changed that phrase to “. . . and do not let us fall into temptation.”

Thanks be to God for having sent us Jesus so that we could soar above the God of Genesis, the God of tests, threats, and even second guessing as in the following passage:

Yahweh God caused to spring up from the soil every kind of tree, enticing to look at and good to eat, with the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the middle of the garden. . . Yahweh God gave the man this admonition, “You may eat indeed of all the trees in the garden. But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you are not to eat, for on the day you eat of it you shall most surely die.

This narration unfortunately presents us with a Divinity who is deliberately setting up his first humans for a fall. One more example of how scripture, though divinely inspired, cannot be literally true in the light of what Jesus taught us about the nature of God.

First, the forbidden tree is designed to be like all the others: enticing and nutritious. Second, the Divinity places it right in the middle of the garden where Adam (and later, Eve) can’t help but run into it at every turn. Third, why would the Divinity allow the serpent into what was supposed to be an ideal garden?

Last and most puzzling is that having created humans in his image, Divinity endowed them with intelligence, along with its handmaidens, imagination and curiosity. Wouldn’t it be a good thing to know the difference between good and evil so we could choose appropriately?

Good and evil, right and wrong. This dualistic thinking, according to Richard Rohr, OFM, has produced untold miseries among humans. In a recent meditation from his blog, Father Rohr writes:

The dualistic mind, upon which most of us were taught to rely, is simply incapable of the task of creating unity. It automatically divides reality into binary opposites . . .
“Really good” thinking then becomes devising a strong argument for our side’s superiority versus another country, race, group, political party, or religion. It seems we must have our other!  (Center for Action and Contemplation, June 2, 2019)

Back to the creation story, what does the Lord say to himself at the end of each day’s creation?
               God saw that it was good.

Everything that God made he saw as good. If God made it, there was no way it could be bad. Could evil be in the eye of the beholder?

After centuries of spiritual evolution, we still ponder the issue of evil in our world. Here are strong statements from three holy Christians, giving us an insightful perspective about the coexistence of good and evil.

Julian of Norwich, Revelations
We are securely protected through love, in joy and sorrow, by the goodness of God. . . . All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

St. Paul, Romans 8:28
We know that all things work together unto good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Thérèse of Lisieux
Everything is a grace!

To hear them, it sounds as if they are unaware of the real presence of evil. Rather, what they’re saying is, “Yes, evil exists. But that doesn’t mean that it must triumph! These three saints know how to confront evil, certain as they are of God’s faithful and loving providence.

True, we have shut ourselves out of Eden, this good place, where ignorance had truly been bliss. In our pride, we claim to possess the secret of the good. In the arrogance of our presumed knowledge, we set ourselves up as the Supreme Judge of what is right and what is wrong. Mostly, we find ourselves in the right and others in the wrong. No longer is everything good.

Thus was division, dis-unity, born. From division came wars, oppression, and even a divinity who takes sides as we pray for enemies to be slaughtered and for ourselves to be given the means to slaughter them. We have made for ourselves a god who has our same  biases.

In the Beatitudes, however, Jesus teaches us how we can transcend a variety of negatives and use them as keys to the kingdom of God. The poor will be given the kingdom . . . the meek will inherit the earth . . . the merciful (forgiving) will receive mercy.

Can evil be transformed into good? Hardly. Can we escape evil? Not while on this planet.

Instead, by allowing God to nurture his presence in us, we are enabled to find greater intimacy with God, even in the presence of evil. Accepting God’s grace which is his life in us, all things – even evils – can truly work together unto good.

What might have been a fatal error, in Christ has become a happy fault.