Friday, March 30, 2012

History as Mourning

In the midst of a busy life I'm slowly rereading Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Once again I'm slowly marching my way to Mount Doom with Frodo and Sam, hoping in darkness that a way may be found. I nearly know the books by heart, but it is always a joy to come back to them.

There are many reasons for LOTR success, but one of them is the incredible richness of the world. Tolkien has thought out how the world works, where it is located, what matters, and the whole damn history of the place. When a character references some random event, that event is fully formed in Tolkien's mind. He knows how it all fits together. Out of this richness comes this them of mourning. The world as known by the Elves is irreversibly changing. The way it was, it no longer can be. If the one ring is destroyed, then the power of the elvish rings will diminish, and the elves will fade away, only found in the deep woods. There is sadness attached to this fate. Yes, the ring must be destroyed, but much will be lost. The elves, as immortal creatures uniquely feel this loss, because isn't ancient history, but still a living memory.

It is history as mourning. Not so much because the past was better (in fact it was often worst) but because what was can never be again. Tolkien was speaking at the edge of history. His childhood world was no more and could not be recaptured or re-imagined. He grew up without cars or airplanes or modern communication. These technologies have brought many benefits to humanity, but as Tolkien recognizes they wrought much change. In the modern world communities and communal practices fade away. Relationships that defined a person, become inconveniences that are only dealt with at holidays. In the modern world languages fade into silence, cultures are overcome, and distinctions are blended.

The past wasn't perfect. It was full of pain and hurt, much like the present. But for good and for ill, what it represented is no more.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Words to Remember...

When you read the Bible.

Archbishop Rowan Williams:
Remember you’re not the first people to read the Bible. There’s 20 centuries of people praying and thinking through scripture and passing on their wisdom. That’s what we mean by tradition. It would be wonderful if we could recover a really lively and positive sense of what tradition meant. Not this great weight pressing down on you: “this is how we’ve always done it”, but there’s this great reservoir of experience and wisdom which we’re free to draw on and grow with.
HT: Catholicity and Covenant

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Fear and the Resurrection

Jesus is dead. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome head to the tomb to anoint the body of their so-called Messiah. They had been with Jesus for years now, taking care of him, praying with him, learning from him. He was dead, and so they came to perform their last act of mercy. When they arrived the tomb was open and in the grave a man in white sat, waiting to tell them that Jesus has been raised. The Gospel of Mark then says:
So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
They were afraid. Jesus wasn't supposed to be crucified, but he was. Jesus was supposed to be dead, but he wasn't. Fear struck them. Terror held them. What is this that the dead may walk? They had seen the blind given sight. They knew about the feeding of the thousands. Miracles were performed, even Lazarus stood up.

But this was a different animal. Jesus was dead. They had seen him, his body limp and his spirit broken. They watched while the cross was rudely torn down and the nails pounded out. They followed the procession as Joseph of Arimathea wrapped his body and laid their Lord in a tomb. They saw the stone rolled tight. Jesus was dead.

And now a man in white says he is raised. The possibilities are only now beginning to dawn. Be afraid, Jesus is risen.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What you Have

In our contemporary culture we drive to focus on what we don't have. We don't have the money, the job, the right body, and the 'stuff' to make us happy. Our deprivation, no matter how small, becomes our focus. In the season of Lent we are challenged to acknowledge what we truly hold. What we lack is of dust. But what we really hold is eternal. In Lent we say what we have is not mine, but a gift. I think these thoughts as a see this video below. Patrick and his father understand what they have been given, and the possibilities in that gift.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


In my last post I talked about how this season of Lent reminds us that we have nothing but God. That nothingness brings both fear and hope. Our fear lies in our nakedness before God. What we've done, what we've accomplished means nothing. God sees us as we are.

Yet, God is not bound by time. He sees us as we were, are, and shall be. Because in that nothingness we have hope. It is a hope found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In that hope we know we are resurrected. In that hope we know that we are broken, but also redeemed. Through Jesus God sees us as he intended, fully human in relationship with him.

Out of the nothingness God fashion the possible. We are stripped naked, so we can start anew. With God we are not constrained by what we possess. With God our past is not our destiny.

I Got Nothing

During the season of lent we focus on what we don't have. We recognize our frailties and limitations. Jesus went without food and water for 40 days, giving up what was essential to life. He was carpenter, called by God to be the Messiah. Poor. Broken. Then comes Satan to give Jesus what is his--the kingdoms, the power, the might. Jesus rebukes Satan, reminding him that Jesus's power comes from his Father.

Jesus has nothing, but his father. He is the Son of God, yet broken in the desert wilderness. God is his provider.

And so we have nothing. We may think that we have our friends, but friends may leave you. We may think that we have our family, but families may be broken. We may think we have our car and computer, but stuff is like chaff on a windy day. We may think we have our health, but pain is in this world. We surround ourselves with illusions, thinking we control our fate. That we are smart enough or rich enough or know the right people or our reputations will carry us through. But as the season of Lent reminds, we got nothing, but God. In the throw dice it is God and me. From dust we came and to dust we shall return.