Observation – August 5th, 2020, Wednesday

The scent of garlic and curry the apartment

 

I made a pot of lentils

 

For the first time in weeks the air conditioner is silent

 

The windows are open for a cross breeze

 

A dappled light comes in through the east windows

 

Filtered through the green leaves

 

Kitty is complaining about the taste of medicine in her food

 

The dry and dusty chondroitin that helps her with her joints

Alexander Solzhenitsyn – Author, Nobel Laureate

Solzhenitsyn is the greatest Russian author of all time, even greater than the master Dostoyevsky, and believe me when I say it, this is not a trifling estimation.

 

I first encountered his classic novella, A day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich when I was in my late teens. It was just a little book, it could be read in an afternoon, but it was heavy and it was deep.

 

In my early twenties I was still heavily involved with reading other parts of the Russian cannon and I was slow to get to Solzhenitsyn’s other writings, like the famous Gulag Archipelago for which he won the Nobel Prize in Literature, when I came to it, I found it life changing.

 

Solzhenitsyn thought of the Archipelago as more of an exercise in journalism than literature, he was surprised by how well it was received, though he should not have been because its principle achievement, was to personalize the gulag experience which he was able to do because he himself had been a victim of it.

 

He put a human face on all of that collected suffering which touched the lives of every citizen of Russia and the Soviet Union, in one way or another.

 

Solzhenitsyn was born in Russia, in 1918 just after the Bolshevik Revolution. He served in the Russian Army during World War II. In 1944 he was decorated for valor in combat, and Awarded the Order of the Red Star, but in 1945 he arrested for saying derogatory things about the government in his personal letters to a friend, after which he spent eight years in the gulags.

 

Surviving World War II and the Russian gulags is itself a heroic feat, and his status as a Nobel Laureate is another thing that marks him as a person of significance, but what makes Solzhenitsyn a hero is his insight into human nature and his profound ability to communicate that insight through the power of prose.

 

In my late twenties and early thirties I began to read other books by him, October 1914, and The First Circle. I was awed by the way in which he could present the myriad of forces; sociatal, intellectual, spiritual and emotional that comprise an individual’s motivations, and shape their intentions, he portrayed the movement of those currents in a way that made poetry out of the lives of characters…even the most ordinary lives, even the most heinous and cruel, and because he was so adept at humanizing the characters in his novels, he allowed his reader to expand their own view of the world so that it included his, and the reader is made a better person for having read him.

 

Solzheinitsyn

 

Given First – 2020.08.03

Michelangelo de Caravaggio – Artist

I was a teenager when I discovered Caravaggio.

Beginning in the seventh grade, when I was twelve years old, I spent a great deal time immersing myself art, wandering the halls of the Minneapolis Institute, our grand museum, when I should have been in school. There are none of Caravaggio’s work in the MIA’s permanent collection, but there was enough from the late renaissance to enable me to be conversant with those masters who were the precursors of his style.

I did not encounter Caravaggio there, I encountered him at my neighborhood art-house cinema, the Uptown Theatre at Hennepin Avenue and Lagoon.

It was the 1986 film by Derek Jarman, starring Nigel Terry, Tilda Swinton and Sean Bean that made me aware of his work and influence.

It was a lovely movie, somewhat surreal, and it familiarized me with Caravaggio’s great achievements in the history of painting, the foremost being his mastery of foreshortening, which allowed his images to leap from the canvass, and in the second place his development of the  chiaroscuro style, the sheer beauty of bringing light from the darkness which was his signature.

In 1990 I stood in front of a Carvaggio canvas for the first time. I was at the Chicago Institute of Arts and I was amazed at the dramatic realism in his work.

From that point forward if somebody were to ask me who my favorite painter is, I would say Caravaggio, without hesitation.

The more I learned about this masterful artist the more this remained true.

The 1986 film captured a great deal of his story, including the character of his life, its irreverent nature, which endeared me to him.

It wasn’t until I took an art history class as an undergraduate student at the University of Saint Thomas, in 1995, that I discovered what a rebellious spirit he had, and for that spirit I consider him a man of heroic stature.

As an artist his principle patron was the Church, and the most common subjects he was commissioned to paint were scenes of religious devotion.

He was imprisoned for his depiction of The Death of the Virgin, because he used as his model the bloating corpse of a prostitute he had fished from the river, painting Mary in a state of corruption and decay, which was an act of heresy because Mary was considered to be inviolate and incorruptible, even in death.

When he was commissioned to paint the Conversion of Saint Paul, seventy-five percent of the canvass he painted was taken up by the ass of the horse Paul fell from when he was blinded on the road to Damascus.

It was another great joke Caravaggio played on his patron, for which he is now well loved.

Caravaggio

Given First – 2020.07.18

The Feast of Saint Benedict

I attended graduate school at a Benedictine university, Saint John’s in Collegeville, Minnesota. It is located on the grounds of the largest Benedictine congregation in the world; I studied theology there: Church History and Systematics.

 

The monastery at Saint John’s was home to Godfrey Dieckmann, whose liturgical reform movement in the early to mid-twentieth century had significant influence on the Second Vatican Council and changed the way worship is conducted, and the celebration of the mass throughout the world.

 

His reforms represented a return to the practices of the early Christians and the ante-nicene era.

 

While I was at Saint John’s I taught world religions at the preparatory school, I wrote my master’s thesis on the topic of universal salvation, which elicited a great deal of interest from my teachers and classmates, and my work was well regarded.

 

I took courses on medieval monastic history, monastic spirituality and one course specifically related to the Rule of Saint Benedict, from which I have taken one of the phrases that I use most often in my ongoing theological work.

 

Obsculta!

 

Which means listen!

 

It is a phrase which I use interchangeably with: Be mindful!

 

Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Benedict, who purportedly lived between the late fifth-century and the mid sixth-century CE.

 

 

Be mindful.

 

What we know of the life of Saint Benedict comes mostly from the writing of Saint Pope Gregory the first, or Gregory the Great. It is not exactly a biography but rather a reflection on the idealized life of an abbot, most of which is a fiction written c. 593 CE.

 

Nevertheless, Benedict, real or imagined, produced a Rule (a guide for community living) that became the basis of western monasticism.

 

Benedicts Rule, enjoins the monk to a life of poverty, chastity and obedience, a commitment to work, and a studious, meditative reflection on the psalms.

 

The life of Benedict, and the writing attributed to him has influenced the lives of thousands upon millions of people.

 

I am one of them, and I am thankful for Gregory who had the temerity to invent such a person who was noble in his humility.

 

Benedict

 

Given First 07.11.2020

Independence Day – A Holiday Reflection

I have always loved the fourth of July; the mid-summer holiday, the nostalgic look back at the victories of the Continental Soldiers, the American revolutionaries who threw off the yoke of tyranny and the oppression of kings.

 

I loved it.

 

I loved it uncritically as a child.

 

I loved it without thought or question, and a part of me still does.

 

As I grew older and learned more about the real history of the revolutionary war, the real politics of the founders, the philosophies that drove them, the numerous ways in which they were morally and ethically compromised (compromised is too light of a word), compromised by war mongering and profiteering, compromised by slave-holding and the exclusion of women from governance; compromised by religious intolerance and a greed that drove them against the First People, as I learned more about these historical-truths it became self-evident that the nation was founded on a carefully balanced set of ideals that the founders themselves did not have the courage to live up to.

 

America was founded on a compact of lies.

 

The preamble to the constitution states that all people are created equal, that all people inherently possess rights which we cannot be separated from, the foremost of which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

 

We hold these truths to be self-evident that these rights are inalienable, or so we are told. We are told that these rights do not derive from government, they derive from God, the creator of the universe, God the creator of every person in it, these rights do not belong to us because we are Americans, they belong to us because we are human beings and the American purpose is to defend those rights, both within our borders and around the world.

 

We have only ever paid lip service to these ideals. It was never more than wishful thinking, and today within our own borders we are trampling all over these rights, rights which belong to everyone, including, the immigrant and the alien among us, including our black and brown skinned sisters and brothers, including the working poor, and the homeless and everyone struggling to get by.

 

Instead of welcoming and protecting and sheltering the poor and the disenfranchised who have come to us for asylum, we are imprisoning them, denying them due process, dehumanizing them, abusing them, and it is breaking my heart.

 

Instead of protecting and serving the citizenry we are paying huge sums of money to police forces that kill the people with gross prejudice and criminal discrimination.

 

We have always failed to live up to our ideals.

 

The expression of these self-evident truths in the Declaration of Independence, and its codification in law in the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, did not at the same time abolish the institutions of slavery, give women the right to own land, to vote and other modes of self-determination, neither did it not outlaw wars of aggression against the sovereign nations of the First People. These self-evident truths, these inalienable rights, did not prevent the United States of America from entering a campaign of genocide and extermination against them.

 

The founders applied these principles to themselves and their “peers,” they used those principles to justify their separation from the dominion of the kings of England, they used these principles to protect their property after the War of Independence had been won, but they refused to extend these principles to everyone within the aegis of American power; we continue to live with those failures today.

 

The 4th of July is Independence Day, it is a day to celebrate our freedom, and our victory in the Revolutionary War, there is much to celebrate in that.

 

I am a veteran, I know that war and battle create many opportunities for selflessness and displays of courage that most human beings cannot help but admire and applaud, even though the antecedents of war and the causes of conflict are always unjust, morally vacant and abhorrent.

 

Always and without exception war represents a failure of human beings to live up to the purpose we were created for.

 

In my heart, I want to celebrate the revolutionaries, their courage, the flag which unifies us as a nation, but I find it difficult. The story of America, beginning on July 4th, is one that has many bright moments, but we are foolish, cold-hearted and ignorant if we do not at the same time recognize the millions of slaves who built our first cities, who farmed the plantations, who established our first industries and the millions of people belonging to sovereign nations that we crushed in our westward expansion, starving and killing them without mercy, displacing them, outlawing their religion and customs, erasing their languages.

 

I find it difficult.

 

Who among us, knowing that history, finds it easy?

 

You would have to be a monster to be unmoved by the tragedies that ensued after the signing of our Declaration.

 

Yesterday Donald Trump held a political rally at Mount Rushmore, a sacred site that was stolen from the First People and carved up into a monument to honor a group of men, who may have been brilliant and wise and courageous, but who were also deeply flawed and guilty of the worst crimes against humanity

 

Donald Trump did it to exacerbate the racial tension that has griped the country in the fourth year of his presidency. He held it there like a cartoon villain, bankrupt and with no good reason to continue, he did it to stroke his ego to cover up the blemish of his incompetence at handling the worst public health crises the country has ever seen.

 

The 4th of July should be a time of soul searching and deep reflection and community, forget about the flag waving and jingoism.

 

Ask yourself what it means to be an American; immigrant, refugee, stolen people, enslaved people, conquered people, vanquished people, and the revolutionary. We are the descendants of them all, the immigrant, the refugee, the stolen, the enslaved, the conquered, the vanquished; we are their children and grandchildren and great grandchildren…we are one people with a common history, and a common set of ideals we should be continuously striving to live up to.

 

We are a great nation, if and only if we remember it all.

 

4th of July

 

Given – 2020.07.04

Given 1st – 2016.07.04

The Feast of Saint’s Peter and Paul, Founders of the Church

Not all Christians celebrate the lives of the Saints, but many do, and today is the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, who after Jesus were the principle founders of the Church.

We celebrate their feast on the day of their ascension, which is most often the day of their death, in the case of Peter and Paul it is the date they were martyred, the day they were killed as enemies of the Roman State.

Their influence on Christian doctrine was greater than Jesus’, more enduring. Paul, through his letters wrote the core pieces of Christian Doctrine, and Peter was the first pope, the Bishop of Rome, and Patriarch of the Latin Church.

Peter and Paul did not always see eye to eye, though Peter bore the title of chief among the disciples, Paul was the greater teacher and more closely approximated the way of Christ.

As I mentioned, Peter is given credit for founding the church of Rome, the lore of the Church tells us that he was its first bishop, this is a myth however, that title was not even in use during Peter’s day.

It is accepted as true that both men were put to death in Rome, martyred there on account of their commitment to the Church and its mission, they were mot put to death so much for the content of their beliefs, but for leading the kind of secretive society that was feared by the emperors of Rome. Christians were perceived as a threat that has to be curtailed.

Paul was a Roman citizen, he travelled broadly throughout the empire and for from his home of Tarsus. He founded many churches in the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor, his letters are the earliest known Christian writings, and though not all of those ascribed to him were written by him, Paul’s actual influence is imeasureable.

A casual observer of history may find this odd because Paul he never met Jesus, and prior to his conversion he was the type of man who would punish other members of his community if they were not properly observing the traditions of his synagogue, Christians were his chief target.

After Paul’s conversion to Christianity he led the mission to the gentiles, opening the teachings of the church to the masses, he made it so that a person did not need to become Jewish first in order to become a Christian.

Peter initially opposed him in this but once their dispute was settled at a meeting in Jerusalem officiated by Jesus’ own brother Saint James, the matter was settled and the gentiles were allowed the full franchise of membership in the community of the blessed.

Peter and Paul

Given First 06.29.2020

The Feast of Saint Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons

Irenaeus served as the bishop of Lugdum (now Lyons), in France. He was born c. 130 CE and died c. 202 CE, serving during the Apostolic era, and he is listed in the ranks of the martyrs of the Church, though the details of martyrdom are unknown.

Irenaeus was a prolific writer. He was connected to the Bishop Polycarp who was himself connected to the Apostle John, making him only three steps removed from the ministry of Jesus.

Irenaeus’ surviving works show how he was deeply committed to the unity of Christian doctrine. He ardently opposed the heretical sects of groups like the loosely affiliated Gnostics, as well as the Montanists, and he was among the first to argue for the doctrine of apostolic succession, positing that a bishop of the church should stand in an unbroken line of succession that goes back to the first apostles.

What is most important about Irenaeus’ work is something referred to as the Irenaean theodicy, this is why I lift him up and write about him.

Theodicy is the specific field of theological work devoted to understanding the problem of evil, and its ultimate resolution by God.

The Irenaean theodicy was the leading doctrine in the church up until the time that it was supplanted by Augustine’s teaching on original sin, three centuries later, after which Saint Augustine’s teaching became normative throughout the Christian world.

St. Augustine suggests that creation was made perfect and without blemish, and then there was a fall into sin, which came from nowhere and nothing resulting in a degree of chaos and disorder which completely separates creation from God. Whereas Irenaeus posited that the though the world is fallen it is not wholly fallen, making it so that the breach is not irreparable, putting forward that God’s plan for the resolution of evil is to slowly draw all things to the divine.

For saint Irenaeus the perfection of the created order happens as a process of assimilation, which he calls recapitulation, imagining that each individual-being is on a journey, coming ever closer to God; as we draw near our imperfections fall away.

Irenaeus’ theology, which was never condemned, provides a strong theological grounding for the theology of universal salvation which has persisted as a teaching among Christians from the very beginning of the Church, though only among a stark minority.

Irenaeus

The Feast of Saint John, the Baptist

A Homily

John came, and john bore witness to the light
John, born in darkness as all of us are
John saw the light, shing in the deep night
Comforted by its warmth, John felt it first
Feeling it while he was still in the womb
Kicking in the waters, as the light dawned

John was not a man prone to vanity
You would not have seen him chasing the wind
Like a servant, John harvested honey
Faithful to the way, not puffed up with pride
John was a friend and brother to Jesus
The elder cousin of the messiah

Herald and prophet, man of the desert
John turned to us, saying reflect, repent
He came like an angel, with a pure heart
A divine messenger, pointing the way
The way is not in stillness or silence
The way is a path of service and love

He took on the burden and paid the price
John showed us how to stand against power
He came into the world ahead of Christ
Drawing breath while he listened in the womb
The breath he drew was ruha, the spirit
Holy Sophia filled John with wisdom
.
John lived and breathed, washed in the divine flame
Dipping his cup in the fountain of life
Walking with him, by whom all things were made
John’s path was the way of humility
Obedient, unphased by paradox
Born first, and the first to be sacrificed

He lived by the Jordan, serving the light
Not perplexed, or tempted to turn away
He saw in his cousin the end of night
He made a place for him in the desert
He prepared the way as God’s own herald
Ministering to the sick and grieving

Jesus and John. the Son and the herald
Working together in the name of God
Baptizing all into the way of peace
Bathing their flock in the way, in the light
Keeping to their mission even to death
John showed us the way, turn and be blessed!

John the Baptist

 
From the Gospel According to Mark – 2018.06.22

Kinsei Musashi Miyamoto, and Sensei Clifford “Chick” Moody – Heroes

I first encountered the writings of Musashi when I was eighteen years old.

On the recommendation of a friend I went to a dojo on Selby Avenue and Chatsworth in Saint Paul, the Inner Truth School of Self Defense.

I introduced myself to the Sensei, Clifford “Chick” Moody, asked me what I was doing there, and on the advice of my friend I told him that “I wanted to learn strategy and self-defense.”

I think my response took him by surprise, it sounded a bit formal and it sounded a bit theatrical coming out of my mouth, but his demeanor changed. I think he decided he could take me seriously (at least in the moment).

He asked me to take a seat in the front of the studio to watch a demonstration, and I watched for a while as his students warmed-up.

Sensei moody was ancient already, he had two of his black belts come to the place where I sat, they proceeded to work through a series of blocks and strikes and falls. This gave me an idea of what I could expect the course of training might be at the way place.

At the end of the demonstration he gave me this bit of advice, he told me to read two authors, Carl von Clauswitz, on War, and Miyomoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings.

For the next three years I attended classes at the dojo, three hours a day, five days a week, with one on one training after the regular session on Sundays.

Sensei Moody was a sixth dan, he held black belts and weapons proficiencies in dozens of styles. He taught his own system, which he called Muashi, way of the wind, but its roots were in Okinawan Karate, the hard forms of Goju Ru and Goju Kiyokai, and he taught Ninjitsu.

Sensei Moody’s teachers were the men who first brought Japanese martial arts to the United States like Ron Duncan Jr. and Peter Irving, the children of American servicemen who grew up in Japan after World War II.

There were classes where Sensei would have us sit in sanchin while he read from the Book of Five Rings, the Go Rin No Sho. It was through Sensei Moody that I discovered the greatest practitioner of martial discipline and combat strategy the world has ever known.

Musashi, Kinsei (Saint of the Sword).

musashi-selfportrait