It's gotten warm enough to linger in the park when I walk the neighbor's dog. So I started doing Tai Chi again a couple days ago. The Chinese symbols above stand for Tai Chi Chuan ("supreme ultimate fist").
I had forgotten one of the movements in the routine I learned years ago, but I found it online (with pictures).
I still have the sandals I used two years ago (when I walked from Chicago to New York City and back). I made them from truck tires, using a design I found online and saws and chisels from the shop here. Here's how they look:
Though I made a few adjustments. After about the first ten miles, I took off the tab at the heel because it was rubbing (and it's really not necessary). And I just added a used pair of leather insoles with some arch support and padding. That makes them much more comfortable. And should also be easier on my socks, so they last longer. The sandals have already lasted about 1200 miles and I expect them to carry me through this summer as well.
He has kept my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
and my feet from stumbling;
I will walk in the presence of the Lord
in the land of the living. (Ps 116.8-9)
There were great celebrations here for Easter. Heather and I went to the vigil Saturday night at the Catholic church, then to the Mennonite church Sunday morning. I enjoyed them both.
But something in the resurrection play Sunday morning left me disturbed. There was a scene, after Jesus is buried, where Peter is telling the others that he wants to go back to Galilee. He is discouraged and confused. And very nervous. The Romans have just killed their leader (who they thought was the Messiah) and the local Jewish leaders and public opinion are against them. He thinks it's best if they get out of Jerusalem.
Then the next morning they hear that Jesus is alive.
I can sense how incredible that would feel. But then I look around at the context in which this story is told. A bunch of middle-class suburbanites having a yearly religious celebration and a big meal afterwards. Big difference. A scene like that makes Christianity seem boring.
Which it definitely should not be. The first Easter was certainly not boring (terrifying is more like it: "And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid" Mk 16.8). This is the kind of description of Christianity I like to hear:
"I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!Revolutionary Christianity, that's what I want to live.
"...Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; for henceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three..." (Lk 12.49, 51-52)
It feels about time for a walk. I've mapped out a possible route, starting in Akron, OH, then going up to Cleveland (visiting Catholic Worker houses in both places). Then west to Ann Arbor to visit friends and family. And southwest all the way to where Heather plans to spend the summer, at Plow Creek farm in Tiskilwa, IL. We'll be leaving here at the beginning of June.
Thursday night Heather and I washed each other's feet and prayed and had communion together. One of the things I mentioned in prayer was how alone Jesus was during this time. I'm reminded of these lines:
Then all the disciples forsook him and fled. (Mt 26.56)I've heard people say that Jesus suffered certain things for us, so that we won't have to. Usually they're speaking of persecution or poverty: Jesus was poor so we can be "blessed" (materially wealthy); Jesus was mistreated so Christianity would conquer and we can be comfortable, respected Christians... I think that's obviously false. Jesus promised that his disciples would be persecuted (if they were faithful to him). And he taught them that the poor are blessed, that they should sell all and give, even their last two cents.
Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mk 15.34)
But one thing that I think Jesus did bear for us (so we don't have to) is that utter loneliness. Being completely isolated from others and even from God. Jesus suffered to unite us with God, and so also make us one with others who are one with God. Not that we experience this all the time. I've often felt completely alone in a room full of people who call themselves Christians. But he made it possible and promised that "I am with you always," and we can encounter him again and again in those faithful ones he puts in our path. We need never experience utter abandonment.
Jesus died to give us himself and his people.
Christ of St. John of the Cross (1951; Spanish)
St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art
When I was AWOL, walking around Great Britain, I stayed in Glasgow and happened to visit the St. Mungo Museum. I walked around a corner and was stunned by this huge painting. Now it's one of my favorites. It's based on some sketches John of the Cross made from a vision.
Dali didn't paint any nails in Jesus' hands and feet. I thought of that during our Good Friday service here, when I saw this quote by Catherine of Siena:
"For nails would not have held God-and-Man fast to the Cross, had love not held Him there."
Heather and I have been spending a lot of time and effort working out emotional issues between us and learning to understand each other better. She's better at it than me. But I'm beginning to understand how important it is and how it can help us both individually and as a couple.
I'm overwhelmed, though, by how complex and subtle our emotional and psychological lives are. Even if a person happens to be very sensitive and skilled at sorting those issues out, it seems like we could only get to know a few people intimately enough to really help them in an informed, intentional way. Most people we meet, we can't hope to delve deep enough.
But there are other ways to reach people deeply, I think. Yesterday I read this favorite passage about Jesus as a baby (Lk 2.34-35):
Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,
"Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel,
and for a sign that is spoken against
(and a sword will pierce through your own soul also),
that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed."
Just by being "a sign that is spoken against," Jesus helped reveal the thoughts of many hearts. By the way people responded to Jesus (with his challenging, provocative life) they showed what was in their hearts, how they stood in relation to God. Hopefully they showed it to themselves. But Jesus didn't have to get to know them intimately, or sort through all their issues, to reveal what was deepest and most important in them.
In an on old journal I wrote about how the poor also do this (but this would also apply to other weakness and vulnerability as well, especially if it is taken on voluntarily):
Often most of us don't even meet a poor person, because society pushes the poor out of sight. But the poor, because they are vulnerable and easily ignored, are lightning rods for bad treatment (or mercy). So they usually bring out the tendencies in us that otherwise remain hidden. It's not only about how we treat one poor person. The way we treat the poor shows how we also treat our family, co-workers, neighbors, etc.; though with them, we probably use more diplomacy. Because they can retaliate. What an encounter with the poor offers us is a glimpse into our own soul. Which is exactly why they appear so often in Jesus' parables and sayings--they give us a glimpse into our soul.I hope I can continue to find ways to be (with Jesus) "a sign that is spoken against... that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed."
[The next day:]
I was thinking of parables where the poor appear to make the secrets of the heart known (like Jesus, also a poor man): The Sheep and Goats, and The Rich Man and Lazarus, obviously. But also The Good Samaritan; the man left by the side of the road is poor and wounded. And The Unmerciful Servant, who has been forgiven much, yet demands repayment from another who can't pay the small sum he owes (a relatively poor man).
Remembering my thoughts from when I started walking five years ago (about what I expected for my life), I went back to read those old journal entries. Here's a section that seems like a good synopsis:
Christ said "Follow me." He offered us the example of his earthly--very human--life, as well as his teaching. Much is obvious about his life: his compassion, self-sacrifice, humility, fearlessness. And these are all manifestations of the love of God that he clearly displayed. But one aspect of that love, a very big and challenging one, is often overlooked. It is obvious, and stands in marked contrast to the worldly practices of modern society, but--perhaps because it is such a challenging contrast--we do not see it. I think it is best summarized in the directions Jesus gave to his disciples as he sent them out: "You received without paying, give without pay."(Mt 10.8) Freely you have received, freely give. That is such a basic truth of love that it is assumed without question in our love-relationships: parent-child, husband-wife, brother-sister. If those we love are in need, we give to them of what we have, without any expectation of restitution. The disciples lived this, following Jesus' example. They realized that God had been overwhelmingly generous with them and had sent them to love their neighbor. Generosity and love were to be the standards of all interactions with others.
But the world's standards, even in 'Christian' nations, are far different. Almost all human interaction is governed by the laws of business; we constantly strike 'deals' with one another. Only our closest family and friends (those we really love?) are exempt. The majority of human encounters--at least for anyone who spends the large part of their day at work or school--are limited by the other person's ability to 'pay.' Think of the boss-employee relationship, customer-merchant, public servant-taxpayer. Do these people act towards the other based on love? We'd like to think so. But it's difficult to accept this given the fact that if the 'other' did not have the money to pay, the employee/merchant/public servant would not provide their services. Then the 'other' would be to them as a stranger. Is this love? It is certainly not how Jesus lived.
But how can we 'give freely' in this world, given that society does not honor such a standard? Jesus, as well as many of his followers, lived on the generosity of others. Is that the only way? Perhaps not. But following the implications of 'give freely' leads to very few alternatives. One who gives without demanding payment (or even accepting only voluntary donations, which amounts to the same as begging, almost) is likely to be put 'out of business.' They will probably be taken advantage of and will not receive the money they need to own property and acquire food and shelter. One who gives freely will probably discover that many others will not respond in kind. Many people face this reality and conclude that Jesus' ideal of love ('love thy neighbor'--meaning even the stranger, as in 'The Good Samaritan') is impossible to live, at least in our time. I agree that it may not be possible to give freely and own property or have a stable income. But that does not mean it cannot be lived. Jesus still says "Follow me." What 'give freely' does seem to imply is a life of radical faith. It means that I will give to others and not demand payment, recognizing that that will leave me completely dependent on their generosity for my own survival. I have to hope that someone will love me and give freely to me. But this is exactly how Jesus lived: "the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head."(Mt 8.20) "Do not be anxious about what you will eat or drink... for your heavenly Father knows you need them."(Mt 6.25-33) Jesus' life demonstrated the faith in God that he preached. He said: Love your neighbor, and trust in God. That does not mean we will not suffer if we follow him in this way; the disciple is not above the master, and Jesus suffered. But it does describe the pure and holy life of Jesus, which he offered to us as an example. An example of love.
...I am convinced that 'give freely' is a crucial part of Jesus' way of Love. He taught it and lived it--and he bore the consequences of it. It was part of his challenge to the established order, which wanted to keep people subjugated in fear, slaves to the 'necessity' of a wage, not liberated by faith, freely serving one another in love. And so that established order--the 'kingdoms of the world'--retaliated. Just as the world will retaliate today. I believe in the love in people's hearts. I hope in that love. But I also expect that if I follow Jesus and give freely, I will live a life of poverty. I will suffer hunger and cold. I will be despised by some. But so was Jesus. And, especially in the New Testament, the poor are never held in contempt by God; they are the beloved of God. In the best of the Christian tradition, this has been recognized and the poor, especially those who choose poverty for the sake of the gospel, are loved dearly. Also, it is good to be poor, in the sense of minimal needs--simple sustenance--so as to better demonstrate faith, to encourage humility, and to minimize the burden on others. I do not ask another to 'freely give' me security or a salary, only daily bread. I expect to stay poor and am happy to do so, if any might benefit from it. But I see that such poverty (and all the insecurity that goes with it) are inevitable if I attempt to live like Jesus in this sinful world. Am I surprised? The disciple is not greater than the master, and this was exactly how the most perfect Lover lived his life. I see also that his itinerancy, his wandering, also minimized the burden he placed on any one person or family, while also making him available to many. I don't know if this is the only way to live such love as Jesus' in this world. But the world doesn't offer many other options. And this was the way that Jesus chose when he walked among us. I am ever more in awe at the beauty of his example.
...the sinful world "pushes" Jesus' followers towards a life of poverty and exile, the life of persecution that Jesus promised his followers, a life like his own, a life very much like the pilgrimage I have described before. Yet it doesn't seem to be a life that anyone is pushed into. The world offers so many other options... if only the person will consent. If only the follower of Jesus will consent to accept the world's ways--to abandon 'give freely,' for instance, or at least relegate those divine words to occasional, isolated acts of 'charity'--in other words, to cease to follow Jesus, at least for a moment. The world offers many options for security, comfort, stability, even an honored place among the honored. Security, society, and silk sheets, I call it. In this, the world does not push but beckons--just as the devil beckoned Jesus to take up the scepter of "all the kingdoms of the world." But Jesus did not worship the devil. So also, his followers must decline what the world has so generously offered--if the follower will only... stop following. This is no needless asceticism. It seems to be a choice for poverty, for suffering, but it is really a simple choice to follow Jesus, rejecting what Jesus rejected, because of the terms under which it is offered. In this way the world 'pushes' the follower of Jesus out, toward poverty and exile. And once the follower follows Jesus out, then the world, who was so generous and inviting before, is more than willing to heap scorn and hatred on the follower. Just as it did to Jesus. The disciple is not above the master.
But God also 'pushes' the follower of Jesus towards poverty and exile, though in a vastly different way. Not as a temptation, or out of sadism, but out of love. This push is also on account of the sinfulness of the world, but it is not a product of sin. It is God's loving response to our lostness, our confusion, our rebellion. To people in such a state, humility, poverty, generosity, vulnerability, trust, self-sacrifice, are the way of love. These demonstrate God's willingness to suffer for our sin, his willingness to endure our hatred so that we may repent of it, turn, and be forgiven. Not only Jesus' words, but also his life of poverty, exile, wandering, purely preached the gospel of God's love to this sinful world. And those who follow him are also inspired by God's love. That love 'pushes' Jesus' followers to preach the gospel with their lives as Christ did, to be the Body of Christ, incarnating God's call to the world. Jesus incarnated that perfectly. And his life was poverty and exile.
It still is.
Our celebration went well (in some ways better than I'd hoped). I did my best at baking French baguettes, and found Camembert and Boursin cheeses to go with it. Plus wine, mango, dark chocolate Toblerone, and limericks. Here's a sample (Heather was born in Ireland):
In Éire, a woman gave birth,We also took a winding walk around the neighborhood, recalling memorable things that happened at each place. That was good. A reminder for both of us of all we value in our relationship.
relieving herself of her girth.
Then they understood why
she'd let out such a cry:
The wee babe came out reading Wordsworth.
But Heather did feel the need to mention that it's still very uncertain whether we will marry. I didn't want to think about that right then. But it's true.
And it came back to me this morning. I think I've been forgetting that I don't deserve any of this, that it's all a gift, and a very unexpected gift at that. I remember when I first started out walking: I assumed that the road was the only place I could be, that there was nowhere else I could live without paying for it or fighting for it. It seemed like the road was the only place I could completely give my life as a gift. And soon after, I accepted the assumption that I wouldn't get married. I just couldn't imagine any woman who would want to share such a life with me (especially if she wanted a family). What I reasonably expected was a life on the road, alone, with all the hardships of being a poor, homeless stranger in our society. And even then, it seemed worth it to me. Because didn't Jesus endure all this and much more? And call it "blessed"?
But what I found was something much better. I found food and shelter and welcome, all given freely. I found friends among Christians (though certainly not all Christians), and places where I could stay and give my work freely. Here at Reba Place. And later this year at the Catholic Worker house in Champaign. And I found a woman who loves me and dreams of our life together, and who will take steps with me to find out if God will support us as a family. This is more than surprising. Many people (even Christians, even here) have told me it is impossible. But, unexplicably, it's happening.
I'm not surprised that people tell me it's impossible. I'm not shocked that Heather's father warns her that our marriage won't work. Their arguments are very convincing.
What's amazing is that I haven't been stopped yet. It's incredible that I'm sitting here typing on this computer that's not mine, in this warm place that's not mine, wrapped in clothes that were given to me, full of food that was given to me. Thinking about the year ahead as an adventure among the poor with a woman I love. That's amazing. Amazing grace.
I'm very thankful to you, God.
Tomorrow Heather and I are celebrating our first year together, so I've been running around making plans (secret plans...). Should be fun.
I got interested in chant tones yesterday. I learned some when I was with the Dominicans, and still use them occasionally when I pray the Psalms, but they're not very good ones. So I checked out the traditional Gregorian tones for chanting the Psalms. Here's three that I really like and plan to use:
That last one is cool. And it's known as the Tonus Perigrinus, the "wandering tone" (because the second line starts on a different note than the first). A pilgrim tone.
To thee, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in thee I trust,
let me not be put to shame;
let not my enemies exult over me.
Yea, let none that wait for thee be put to shame...
Let not those who hope in thee be put to shame through me,
O Lord GOD of hosts;
let not those who seek thee be brought to dishonor through me,
O God of Israel.
I will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving...
Let the oppressed see it and be glad;
you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
For the LORD hears the needy...
(from Psalms 25 and 69)
We didn't have a camera with us in France, but a friend took a few pictures with his cell phone. Here we're standing above one of Heather's favorite places when she was growing up, a lake with a rugged, fortified island which she named "Innisfree" (from a Yeats poem). I agreed it's a magical, inspiring place.
Our visit with Heather's parents went very well. We liked each other and got to talk a lot and even argued pretty well. They liked the Catholic Worker plan for the fall. And Heather and I submitted to their objections about us walking together before we are married (though I still think we could do it now, I don't mind waiting). I will still walk this summer; Heather will take some extended retreat time. Which I think is a great idea.
But one major difficulty remained after our visit. The morning we were leaving, Heather's father felt that it was important to make his feelings clear (which we both appreciated). He said that if we did get married he would accept it and love me as a son. But then he said that he didn't think Heather should marry me. For one clear reason: He didn't think I was committed to being a provider; I wasn't willing to do whatever was necessary to fulfill that responsibility (such as getting a job to make money).
I have to say I can't blame him much. His concerns are completely understandable and very important (and most people would agree with his judgment here). I have worries along these same lines myself. But I also think this is important enough to take a stand, even if it means risking our chance of being married. In a way, I'm relieved that his resistance is on this point (rather than minor disagreements or personality clashes). I expect resistance on this--if it didn't appear, I would think I was not being clear or I was not being taken seriously.
I also understand that trying to live by giving and receiving gifts seems impossible, that living like Jesus did seems absurd for a family. I can't deny the impossiblity of it (though I do think I can show that it is closer to Jesus' own life and teaching). I can't prove to Heather that we can do it. I may very well lose her over this. And yet:
"I believe nevertheless that I shall get her, in virtue, that is, of the absurd, in virtue of the fact that with God all things are possible."
One afternoon in France, Heather and I sat in a cafe looking out at the Alps and reading to each other from Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling. These passages stood out especially:
Now we will let the knight of faith appear.... He makes exactly the same movements as the other knight ["of infinite resignation"], infinitely renounces claim to the love which is the content of his life, he is reconciled in pain; but then occurs the prodigy, he makes still another movement more wonderful than all, for he says, "I believe nevertheless that I shall get her, in virtue, that is, of the absurd, in virtue of the fact that with God all things are possible." The absurd is not one of the factors which can be discriminated within the proper compass of the understanding: it is not identical with the improbable, the unexpected, the unforeseen. At the moment when the knight made the act of resignation he was convinced, humanly speaking, of the impossibility. ...This is quite as clear to the knight of faith, so the only thing that can save him is the absurd, and this he grasps by faith.
...A paradoxical and humble courage is required to grasp the whole of the temporal by virtue of the absurd, and this is the courage of faith. By faith Abraham did not renounce his claim upon Isaac, but by faith he got Isaac. By virtue of resignation that rich young man should have given away everything, but then when he had done that, the knight of faith should have said to him, "By virtue of the absurd thou shalt get every penny back again. Canst thou believe that?" [Reminds me of Mk 10.27-30]
...It is about the temporal, the finite, everything turns in this case. I am able by my own strength to renounce everything, and then to find peace and repose in pain. ...By my own strength I am able to give up the princess, and I shall not become a grumbler, but shall find joy and repose in my pain; but by my own strength I am not able to get her again...
But by faith, says that marvellous knight, by faith I shall get her in virtue of the absurd.