St Augustine for Christmas Day

“My mouth will utter praise of the Lord, of the Lord through whom all things have been made and who has been made amidst all things; who is the Revealer of His Father, Creator of His Mother; who is the Son of God from His Father without a mother, the Son of Man through His mother without a father.

He is as great as the Day of Angels, and as small as a day in the life of men;

He is the Word of God before all ages, and the Word made flesh at the destined time.

Maker of the sun, He is made beneath the sun.

Disposing all the ages from the bosom of the Father, He consecrates this very day in the womb of His mother.

In His Father He abides; from His mother He goes forth. Creator of heaven and earth, under the heavens He was born upon earth.

Wise beyond all speech, as a speechless child, He is wise. Filling the whole world, He lies in a manger. Ruling the stars, He nurses at His mother’s breast. He is great in the form of God and small in the form of a servant, so much so that His greatness is not diminished by His smallness, nor His smallness concealed by His greatness.

For when He assumed a human body, He did not forsake divine works. He did not cease to be concerned mightily from one end of the universe to the other, and to order all things delightfully, when, having clothed Himself in the fragility of flesh, he was received into, not confined in, the Virgin’s womb. So that, while the food of wisdom was not taken away fromm the angels, we were to taste how sweet is the Lord.”

Wishing you all a happy and blessed Christmas.


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William Stringfellow writes that John the Baptist is the voice of Advent. The one crying out in the wilderness, one last shout before the morning

Stringfellow’s Imposters of God begins with this insight:


Nothing seems more bewildering to a person outside the Church about those inside the Church than the contrast between how Christians behave in society and what Christians do in the sanctuary. 

This contrast is not, I suspect, just taken for granted by outsiders as evidence of the hypocrisy of professed Christians. It is not simply that Christians do not practice what is preached and neglect to authenticate worship by witness. The non-churchmen is, I suggest, much more bewildered by the difficulty of discerning either connection or consistency between social action and liturgical event. The two apparently represent not only distinguishable but altogether separate realms: the former deals with ethics, the latter with aesthetics; the first is empirical, the second theatrical; the one is mundane, the other quaint. For the stranger to the Church, to whom the churchman appears to act in the marketplace much the same as everybody else, the straightforward and cogent explanation is that these peculiar sanctuary activities are sentimentally significant—as habit, tradition or superstition—but otherwise irrelevant, superfluous and ineffectual.

More or less secretly, or at least quietly, legions of church people suffer this same sort of bewilderment. If these people sense any relationship between practical life and sacramental experience, it is tenuous, illusive and visceral: a felt connection, a matter not readily elucidated, a spooky thing. On occasion, when a priest or preacher goes forth from the sanctuary to affirm in the world what is celebrated at the altar, he is usually ridiculed for meddling in affairs outside his vocation. Or when, in the midst of worship, a pastor ventures to be articulate about the relationship between ethics and sacraments, his effort is apt to be regarded as an intrusion defiling the congregation’s ears. (pp. xxi–xxii)

hope tomorrow has multiple intrusions

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Moment of incarnation

I collected this strange group of quotes related to my own search for light in darkness, belonging, hope, and humanity.

Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.
— T.H. White

The first chapter of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Silmarillion, the prequel to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, bears a striking resemblance to the opening chapter of the Book of Genesis and has some affinity to the Prologue of John’s Gospel. It’s a magnificent portrayal of creation, but the key instrument in fashioning the world is not the Word, as in John’s Prologue, rather music. God, Illuvitar in Tolkien’s telling, proposes a musical theme to the angels and invites them to weave harmonies of their own to embellish the original theme. Unbeknown to them, the harmonies they weave, or the disharmonies in the case of Melkor, the Satanic angel, turn out to be musical renderings of realities played out in the history of the material world: They are, in effect, blueprints and foreshadowings of creation’s future. The things that stand out in Tolkien’s creation myth are God’s absolute mastery over all the music, and, therefore, all creation, and His patience and generosity in permitting lesser beings than Himself to share in the work of creation.

Msgr. Charles Fink, Huntington, NY

But the scientist is possessed by the sense of universal causation. The future, to him, is every whit as necessary and determined as the past. There is nothing divine about morality, it is a purely human affair. His religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection.  Einstein

He rolled wheels of fire down the mountainsides at midnight on what we now call Christmas eve. This was to encourage the sun by example. He kept the yule log burning. containing the life of the sacred tree consumed in the sacred element, fire, from which the sun might be rekindled. He burnt his torches; precursors of our Christmas candles. These and a myriad other things, many of which, in a disguised and softened fashion, still survive as Christmas customs. But in all of them man flung his own desperate courage against the precariousness of his circumstances. Presently. out of the vindication of his faith came his joy, and upon it he built his winter festival. Rev. A. Powell Davies D.D.

Peter, Paul & Mary sing Old Coat
Chorus (after each verse):
Take off your old coat and roll up your sleeves,
Life is a hard road to travel, I believe.
I look to the east, I look to the west,
A youth asking fate to be rewardin’.
But fortune is a blind god, flying through the clouds,
And forgettin’ me on this side of Jordan.

As men, we are all equal in the presence of death.
Publilius Syrus (~100 BC)

Frodo: [after destroying the Ring] I can see the Shire. The Brandywine River. Bag End. The Lights in the Party Tree.
Sam: Rosie Cotton dancing. She had ribbons in her hair. If ever I were to marry someone, it would have been her. It would have been her.
[sits down and begins to cry]
Frodo: [leans over and hugs him] I’m glad to be with you, Samwise Gamgee, here at the end of all things.

All to say there are many places in experience, art, and literature to find expression of light, or the hope/memory of light when we allow the full human experience to come to bear and are not limited to nativity stories.  For me the greatest moment of incarnation in the Biblical narrative is not in the stories of the birth, but much later.  I have always objected to those who jump from manger to Calvary because of neglecting the importance of God among us.

Nevertheless, my own life experience takes me there.  My experience is very often to be in the dark; trusting that light is still real, waiting for it to break forth yet again like a match in a cave — but still in the dark.  So for me the greatest quote of advent seems like it will always be.

Eloi, Eloi, lama sbachthani!

God expressing full humanity which cannot be translated to meaningless cute baby sentimentality — God in the dark, alone — God totally one with us in our humanity.

I can sit in the dark without despair because I meet God and my fellow-man there and light is real even when it cannot be seen.


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Praying for the humanity of us all

How can any of us fully practice a vocation of being human in the face of continued dehumanization of any of us?

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I had to be and to remain whoever I had become as a person before coming there.  To be accepted by others, I must first of all know myself and accept myself wherever I happen to be.  In that way, others are free to be themselves. p. 38

When I first read this I earmarked it.  I liked the affirmation of authenticity, of not being more than one self according to situation.  One of my objections to much church practice is the way we become false selves in the company of other supposedly “triumphant saints.”  But, I have continued to contemplate it.  Stringfellow continued:

To come to Harlem involved, thus, no renunciation of my own past or any part of it.  There was no occasion in Harlem to repudiate anything in my own history and heritage as a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant nor to seek to identify with the people of Harlem, either by attempting to imitate any of them or by urging any of them to imitate me.  What was necessary was just to be myself.

I still appreciate that part of it which is contrary to the missionary urge to proclaim Jesus and one’s own cultural and interpretation of Jesus.  Much harm has been done by taking EuroAmerican-Jesus into other cultures as the one who will change and redeem their deep-rooted ways of life.  Many a Christian traveler has found themselves as well in the temptation to become something other than what they are, claiming Paul’s comments about becoming all things to all men.  I like the way it speaks back to those errors.

And, perhaps I need to read more.  Perhaps the idea is fleshed out more completely in the entirety of the work.  But this part, taken alone, also appears very limited to me by a static view of the self.

When I truly engage someone of another culture, I often find light shining into parts of me I have no wish to cling to; and on parts of them which offer me a different path or paradigm which is attractive.  When I encounter other cultures, I am confronted by the degree to which my culture rests upon the backs of others, that the land I occupy was stolen through bloodshed and deception, and that aspects of divine revelation celebrated in their culture have survived strong efforts at reform or elimination.  I see places in myself where growth is desirable.  I see things in them which need to be celebrated and allowed to shine a bright light deep inside me.

As I write this I recognize a tendency a friend recently warned about to make everything about ourselves.  At the same time, I am the only part of the universe I recognize an ability to control.  My actions have effects on the world.  The acts of others effect me.  And I deal with it all out of the perspective of my personhood.  After nearly a half century of living, that personhood is far more secure than when I moved into Benton Harbor as a fresh college grad.  But, it is still not static, nor do I wish it to be.  Perhaps for Stringfellow, that kind of open personality was natural and within his meaning of staying who he was.  I don’t know.

I will refrain from more for now and read and contemplate more.  But, there is something that both resonates and irritates about the idea of walking into another’s life sphere and leaving us both unchanged.  I celebrate the changes the interaction brings in me, and am honored when others tell me our relationship has been healing or transforming for them as well.  Perhaps the difference is in whether we become more like each other, or more like the selves we are intended to be.

I await the light, (often revealed in other people, places, and cultures), that reveals new possibilities.  peace


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I was thinking today again about Glenn’s Dec 10 post. I reread the passage and then the sections around the excerpt in Kellermann’s book. I’m particularly struck by the phrase that Glenn emphasized in the quote “resurrection is verified where rebellion against the demonic thrives.”, pierced by a vision of faith that calls each of us to live as if we are always in the presence of the incarnate God. Instead I tend to live comfortably alongside the mundane embodiment of the demonic.

A few pages later in A Keeper of the Word, Stringfellow has a conversation with an FBI agent. The agent is pushing him to reveal where the Berrigan’s after their conviction for a particularly pointed anti-war protest in Catonsville. It is one of those moments that had the technology existed, we might all be watching it now on wiki-leaks.

Stringfellow later offered a sermon about his time after Dan Berrigan’s arrest in the home he shared with Anthony Towne. Stringfellow retreated into the Bible where he was “caught up in a dialectic between an experience with the Biblical witness and my everyday existence as a human being.” I have to admit Stringfellow’s retreat into the Bible after having agents bust into his home and arrest a priest for an action of resistance to an unjust war challenges me. I wouldn’t go there, I’d go to anger, frustration, powerless rage, weeks later I might think of the Bible as a place for challenge rather than solace.

The episode of the arrest of Peter and John, as told in Acts, following upon the healing of the lame beggar at the temple gate, sums up the issues:

And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the Temple and hte Sadducees came upon them , annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody… Acts 4:1-3a

I read this and I read it and read it; the most difficult questions of my initiation in Bible study returned: What does “the resurrection from the dead” mean if proclaiming it is cause for arrest? Why is healing a cripple so threatening and provocative to the public authorities? Why should this apparent good work count as a crime? ….

There is a sentimental (and unbiblical) tradition of “Bible stories” in American Christendom that, when coupled with the thriving naivety of Americans toward their own nation, renders it difficult for many citizens, particularly churchfolk, to assimilate the fact that the Christian witness is treated as a criminal offense, even though this is so bluntly and repeatedly reported in New testament texts. (kellermann, 337)

Are we are waiting for the one who invites us into our lives of crime, or the one who enables us to rest comfortably in our special status?

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Conforming to a stereotype

I like the idea of being called to the vocation of being human, seems to take alot of pressure away (maybe I’ve been too focused on the whole concept of career), and that to be ‘Christian’ is not to be ‘religious’. In the section “A Lawyer’s Work”, Stringfellow talks about this and the idea that issues such as justice seemed beneath the sophistication of lawyers. That there was a process of indoctrination to make student’s conform to the stereotype deemed most beneficial to the profession and survival of the institution, its influence and prosperity. He goes further to say that this squelches intelligent opinions and creative impulses and that this demand for conformity can signal a threat of death. Although written in a different time and relating primarily to professions, I can’t help thinking there’s a lot of truth for today and perhaps even a relevance to the church. Has the ‘organisation’ in some places become more of a focus than the values it was formed to uphold? As a member of a church, do I consciously conform to the stereotype, being nicely dressed, never sad or struggling, always agreeing with sermons, opinions of those in authority rather than challenging and using the Bible as a reference point. When talking to new Christians, is there a part of me that tries to show them how to conform, be ‘religious’ instead of encouraging independant thinking, seeking answers, not always assuming the crowd is correct, looking for the truth not the myth. This has reminded me of how God has made us to be creative, to use our minds to seek and focus on him and to enjoy the relationship and adventure that takes us on both within an organised church setting and on a personal level and the important distinction between conformity and unity.

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