Sunday, December 29, 2019

Off the train, get off!

Blessed Franz Jagerstaater

Below is an excerpt from Daniel Berrigan's meditation -- Meditation on a Martyr, in Tribute to Franz Jagerstatter -- on the occasion of Jagerstaater's Beatification in 2007. 

Read the whole thing HERE

When asked how he could resist Hitler when his own bishops were telling him not to, Jagerstaater said that "they had not been give the grace to see ... "

Was he right in refusing to board the train, and others, who consented and climbed aboard, desperately wrong ? 
Maybe. But this is cold comfort, this proving something, 
he the winner, they the losers. 
Let us say rather, some of the passengers, since his death have undergone a change of heart, stepped down from this train. 
They have come on an insight, not a comforting one, but salutary. The quality of his Christianity; and their own. 
The difference; but also, through him, the possibility.  
The possibility of - faith. Bedrock. Faith in the living God. 
And of necessity; no more faith placed in the idolatrous state, the hideous 'fatherland', the 'volk'.   
That ragged solitary figure trudging alongside the train -he beckons them. 
Off the train, get off !   

To speak of today; it is no longer Hitler's death train we ride, the train of the living dead. Or is it ? 
It is. The same train. Only, if possible (it is possible), longer, faster, cheaper. On schedule, every hour on the hour, speedy and cheap and - unimaginally lethal. An image of life in the world. A ghost train still bound, mad as march weather, for hell. On earth.

Friday, December 27, 2019

his own life flows forth from the mystery of God

Alfred Delp painted in 1939 by his brother-in-law Fritz Kern, who was killed in Crimea in 1941. 
"God is personally here in our midst. ... This is the hidden and holy burden of all the experiences we undergo … 
And man will discover that he is living God's life within himself, in his very heart's core, 
proving the truth of the words of great and intuitive men like Eckhart, St. Augustine and the rest.   
He will arrive at a state of perception in which he realizes that the Supreme Being actually resides within him.   
He will find himself and regain faith in his own dignity, his mission and his purpose in life precisely to the extent that he grasps the idea of his own life flowing forth within him from the mystery of God … 
"Only when a man arrives at that state of mastery and freedom can he breathe freely.   
The world and life itself then owe him nothing for he lives with every fibre of his being… " (pp. 39-40)
- Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, 1963 Herder and Herder New York
See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Christmas is the mystery of contact with God

"Christmas is the mystery of contact with God, fundamentally and actually." (p. 72)
- Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, 1963 Herder and Herder New York
See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Whose small Heart bleeds with infinite fire

Harlan Hubbard woodcut

When the white stars talk together like sisters
And when the winter hills
Raise their grand semblance in the freezing night,
Somewhere one window
Bleeds like the brown eye of an open forge.

Hills, stars,
White stars that stand above the eastern stable,
Look down and offer Him
The dim adoring light of your belief,
Whose small Heart bleeds with infinite fire.

Shall not this Child
(When we shall hear the bells of His amazing voice)
Conquer the winter of our hateful century?

And when His lady Mother leans upon the crib,
Lo, with what rapiers
Those two loves fence and flame their brilliancy!

Here in this straw lie planned the fires
That will melt all of our sufferings:
He is our Lamb, our holocaust!

And one by one the shepherds, with their snowy feet,
Stamp and shake out their hats upon the stable dirt,
And one by one kneel down to look upon their Life.

-Thomas Merton, "A Christmas Card", Figures for an Apocalypse, p. 79

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

the darkness is enough

Photograph: During Christmas services in the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, Palestine, by the American Colony Jerusalem Photo Department, between 1934 and 1939.

“Your brightness is my darkness.
I know nothing of You and, by myself,
I cannot even imagine how to go about knowing You.
If I imagine You, I am mistaken.
If I understand You, I am deluded.
If I am conscious and certain I know You, I am crazy.
The darkness is enough.”

—Thomas Merton, prayer before midnight mass at Christmas, 1941.

Monday, December 23, 2019

the silver threads of God's mystery; let us trust in life

Rainbow Shells Around an Aging Star. The Egg Nebula, located 3,000 light-years away, offers astronomers a special look at the normally invisible dust shells swaddling an older star. These dust layers, extending over one-tenth of a light-year from the star, have an onionskin structure that forms concentric rings around the star. 
NASA / ESA and The Hubble Heritage Team STScI / AURA 
"Whoever is true to life, 
however hard and barren it may be, 
will discover in himself 
fountains of very real refreshment.   
The world will give him more than he ever imagined possible.   
The silver threads of God's mystery 
will begin to sparkle visibly in everything round him 
and there will be a song in his heart.   
His burdens will turn to blessings 
because he recognizes them as coming from God 
and welcomes them as such. … 
"Let us trust in life because this night will pass and a new day will dawn. 
Let us trust in life because we do not have to live through it alone.   
God is with us."  ((p. 69)
- Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, 1963 Herder and Herder New York
See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp

Sunday, December 22, 2019

acute awareness of shrouded mystery

Alfred Delp S.J. 
" … On the fourth Sunday in Advent 
the acute awareness of shrouded mystery 
is deepening for the final hour of darkness 
that heralds the dawn.   
There is an intense awareness of captivity, 
of crippling disability 
and despair, 
but it is already shot through 
with a premonition of the divine grace -- 
the premonition that will soon become certainty." (p. 51)
- Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, 1963 Herder and Herder New York
See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp

Saturday, December 21, 2019

the locks of time, our sepulchre

A Close Encounter. 
This Hubble image from 2013 shows two interacting galaxies. NGC 2936 at top, once a standard spiral galaxy, and NGC 2937 below, a smaller elliptical galaxy. The pairing, known as Arp 142, bears a resemblance to a penguin guarding its egg. The gravitational chaos caused by the close interaction is twisting NGC 2936 and gradually tearing it apart. 
NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team, STScI / AURA

O night of admiration, full of choirs,
O night of deepest praise,
And darkness full of sweet delight! 
What secret and intrepid Visitor 
Has come to raise us from the dead?
He softly springs the locks of time, our sepulchre,
In the foretold encounter.

-Thomas Merton, "The Dark Encounter", Collected Poems, p. 113

Friday, December 20, 2019

a homeless God, without even a number

Alone in the Void. 
In this image, only three nearby stars can be seen (the ones with 'diffraction spikes'), every other object is a distant galaxy. The bright spiral galaxy at center, named MCG+01-02-015, because of its lonely location, is called a 'void galaxy'. 
ESA / Hubble & NASA and N. Gorin, STScI

The shadows fall.  The stars appear.  The birds begin,
     to sleep.
Night embraces the silent half of the earth.
A vagrant, a destitute wanderer with dusty feet, finds his
     way down a new road.
A homeless God, lost in the night, without papers,
     without identification,
without even a number, a frail expendable exile
lies down in desolation under the sweet stars of the world
and entrusts Himself to sleep.

-Thomas Merton,  "Hagia Sophia" IV Sunset, The Hour of Compline, Salve Regina, Collected Poems, p. 369

Thursday, December 19, 2019

a blanket of silence

woodcut by Harlan Hubbard
Advent is a time of waiting, 
     of expectation, 
          of silence.  
Waiting for our Lord to be born. 

A pregnant woman is so happy, 
     so content. 
She lives in such a garment of silence, 
and it is as though she were listening to hear 
     the stir of life within her. 

One always hears the stirring compared to 
     the rustling of a bird in the hand. 
But the intentness with which one awaits such stirring 
     is like nothing so much 
          as a blanket of silence.  

Dorothy Day

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Whoever is nowhere is nobody

A Stellar Shell. This massive bubble in space is the result of gas that is being shocked by the expanding blast wave from a supernova. Called SNR 0509-67.5, the sphere is the visible remnant of a powerful stellar explosion in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small galaxy about 160,000 light-years from Earth.

There is no where in you a paradise that is no place
     and there
You do not enter except without a story.
To enter there is to become unnameable.

Whoever is there is homeless for he has no door     
and no identity
with which to go out and to come in. 

Whoever is nowhere is nobody, and therefore cannot exist     
except as unborn:
No disguise will avail him anything

Such a one is neither lost nor found.

But he who has an address is lost.

They fall, they fall into apartments and are     
     securely established!

They find themselves in streets.  
They are licensed
To proceed from place to place
They now know their own names
They can name several friends and know
Their own telephones must some time ring.

If all telephones ring at once, 
if all names are shouted at     
     once and
all cars crash at one crossing:
If all cities explode and fly away in dust
Yet identities refuse to be lost.  
There is a name and number     
     for everyone.

There is a definite place for bodies, there are pigeon holes     
     for ashes:
Such security can business buy!

Who would dare to go nameless in so secure a universe?
Yet, to tell the truth, only the nameless are at home in it.

They bear with them in the center of nowhere the unborn     
     flower of nothing:
This is the paradise tree.  
It must remain unseen until words     
     end and arguments are silent.

-Thomas Merton, "The Fall",  In the Dark Before Dawn, pp. 184-185  

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

the Godless man

Fr. Alfred Delp SJ 
"A Godless life is one delivered up to a vast army of kill-joys.   
"When man loses touch with the eternal truths he gets submerged in the weeds that sprout all over the garden of his life. They are senseless trivialities that assume an air of real importance. Though they pretend to have a purpose they are quite futile, and merely add obscurity and confusion to a life which is gradually engulfed in a sort of eternal twilight without light or direction. … 
"Hunted and driven, and bewitched he is no longer master of his own fate, no longer a free man.   
"It is hard enough to meet the ordinary hazards incidental to every existence; but the Godless man has no defenses and is delivered up, bound and disarmed. Left to cope with them in this defenseless fashion he falls back on the excuse that fate is against him and the world is all wrong.    
"He is a failure and it takes very little to keep him bogged down in depression and despair. The world becomes a cheerless place, not worth living in, although there seems to be no way out of it.   
"Or, on the other hand, he may persuade himself that a flippant attitude is the right one to adopt, and he seeks a cheap way out of his troubles by various forms of escapism.  The great illusion begins, the age of noise and mass mentality and organized animation - 'circuses' - for crowds.    
"Till at last the earth begins to quake and underground rumblings, which have been more or less effectively drowned by the surface uproar, imperatively assert themselves.   
"Thunder crashes proclaiming the day of judgement." (pp. 37-38)
- Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, 1963 Herder and Herder New York
See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp

Monday, December 16, 2019

each of us is the midwife of God, each of us

 "Little donkey, on the dusty road" 
A detail from a painting by Huang Zhou (1925-1997) of eight donkeys. Ink on paper.

“Advent Poem” By St. John of the Cross

If you want, the Virgin will come walking down the road 
pregnant with the Holy and say, 
“I need shelter for the night. 
Please take me inside your heart, my time is so close.” 
Then, under the roof of your soul, 
you will witness the sublime intimacy, 
the divine, the Christ, taking birth forever, 
as she grasps your hand for help, 
for each of us is the midwife of God, each of us. 
Yes, there, under the dome of your being, 
does creation come into existence eternally, 
through your womb, dear pilgrim, 
the sacred womb of your soul,
as God grasps our arms for help:
for each of us is His beloved servant never far. 
If you want, the virgin will come walking down the street, 
pregnant with Light, and sing!

Sunday, December 15, 2019

If I could not know You, I would be lost in this darkness

 A nearly perfect ring of hot, blue stars pinwheels about the yellow nucleus of an unusual galaxy known as Hoag's Object.  From the NASA Space Advent Calendar which is HERE.

O great God, Father of all things, Whose infinite light is 
darkness to me, Whose immensity is to me as the void. 
You have called me forth out of Yourself because You love
me in Yourself, and I am a transient expression of Your
inexhaustible and eternal reality.

If I could not know You, I would be lost in this darkness,
I would fall away from You into this void, if You
did not hold me to Yourself in the Heart of Your only
begotten Son.

-Thomas Merton,  Thoughts in Solitude, p. 71

Saturday, December 14, 2019

you have no key

Meat hooks from which Fr. Delp was hung on February 2, 1945
"Sooner or later we all make the discovery that human beings are subject to prohibitions and restraints that are even harsher, more irksome and more inexorable than the limitations of nature. 
 The liturgy calls this imprisonment -- a word we often use very glibly, for only those who have actually suffered it can have any idea of the effect it has on one's inner nature.   
The man who has had a taste of prison life knows what it means to be shut up in a narrow cell, his wrists fettered, his mind occupied with a thousand depressing thoughts as he visualizes the flag of freedom drooping forgotten in some obscure corner.  Again and again his hopes rise only to fall back into despair when the steps of the warder approach or the key grates harshly in the lock.  Then dreams fade into reality and it all seems hopeless.   
Again and again you come back to the same point -- you have no key, and even if you had there is no keyhole on the inside of a prison door.  And the window is barred and it is so high up you can't even look out.  Unless someone from the outside comes to set you free there can be no end to your misery -- all the will power in the world makes no difference.  The facts clamor for recognition."  (pp. 45-46)
- Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, 1963 Herder and Herder New York
See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp

Friday, December 13, 2019

what manner of man originated this idea of a happier life beyond death?

Harlan Hubbard woodcut
To arise in the frosty morning at the point of daybreak, climb the
hill and cut wood, while the sky lightens above the soaring trees;
to eat this wholesome, sweet food, to use my body, hands and
mind at the endless work I have to do; to read by the firelight,
to sleep warm and snug; all this shared and enjoyed by my 
loving partner -- what manner of man originated this
idea of a happier life beyond death?
Harlan Hubbard Journal, December 12, 1955

embracing beauty

Credit...Reiner Bajo/Fox Searchlight Pictures
This is what I reach for in my own life. Thank you Blessed Franz Jaegarstaater for showing the way.

The arresting visual beauty of “A Hidden Life,” which was shot by Joerg Widmer, is essential to its own argument, and to Franz’s ethical and spiritual rebuttal to the concerns of his persecutors and would-be allies. 
The film is an affirmation of its hero’s holiness, a chronicle of goodness and suffering that is both moving and mysterious. ... 
Franz Jägerstätter’s defiance of evil is moving and inspiring, and I wish I understood it better.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Who could live without this grace?

Harlan Hubbard Woodcut

Man's life on this earth -- who has the courage to face it?  Yet there are
the trees,  against the dark sky, black bare trees, springing from the
earth to flower, swaying in the wind, the low moan of the wind.
Who could live without this grace?
Harlan Hubbard Journal, December 17, 1964

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

as one of us

Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, sailing
"There has always been a lot of misunderstanding about the feast of the nativity. Superficial familiarity, sentimental crib-making and so on have to some extent distorted our view of the stupendous event the feast commemorates … 
"To be honest I too long to be able to breathe again, to be relieved of my troubles … The question that applies to the whole world applies to me personally and concretely on this feast of the Nativity.  Is there anything different about celebrating Mass here in this narrow cell where prayers are said and tears are shed and God is known, believed in and called upon? At stated hours the key grates in the lock and my wrists are put back into handcuffs; at stated hours they are taken off -- that goes on day after day, monotonously, without variation. Where does the breathing again which God makes possible come in? And the waiting and waiting for relief -- how long? And to what end? … 
"We ought to remember we are approaching the feast of God-made-man, not of man rendered divine. The divine mystery takes place on earth and follows the natural course of earthly events. As the epistle so emphatically states:  according to the flesh - from the seed of David. It cannot be interpreted any other way,  It is an indisputable but incomprehensible fact that God enters our homes, our existence, not only like us but actually as one of us. That is the unfathomable mystery.  From this point on the Son is absorbed by history, his fate becomes part of history and history's fate is his fate. In the darkest cells and the loneliest prisons we can meet hims; he is continually on the high roads and in the lanes." (p. 63)
- Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, 1963 Herder and Herder New York
See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

the one thing greater than glory is weakness, nothingness, poverty

Herbig-Haro 110 is a geyser of hot gas from a newborn star that splashes up against and ricochets from the dense core of a cloud of molecular hydrogen. This image was taken with Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys in 2004 and 2005 and the Wide Field Camera 3 in April 2011.
(NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team, STScI/AURA)

From the NASA Space Advent Calendar which is HERE.

God enters into His creation,
Through her wise answer, through her obedient 
through the sweet yielding consent of Sophia,
God enters without publicity into the city 
     of rapacious men.

She crowns Him not with what is glorious,
but with what is greater than glory:
the one thing greater than glory is weakness, nothingness,

She sends the infinitely Rich and Powerful One forth
as poor and helpless,
in His mission of inexpressible mercy,
to die for us on the Cross.

-Thomas Merton,  "To the Immaculate Virgin on a Winter Night", Collected Poems, pp. 218-219

Monday, December 9, 2019

Advent: when the ladder climbing stops we are ready to gather around the manger

From VISUAL THEOLOGY - Seeing God in All Things, by David Perry

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God  (Isaiah 40:1)

Alexandra Bircken’s site-specific installation Deflated Bodies in the Hepworth Gallery, Wakefield, forms part of her Eskalation 2014 exhibition. As Curator Eleanor Clayton says: "Five ladders run up the gallery walls, spanning eight metres to reach the sunlight spilling down from an unseen source. On the ladders are multiple figures, male and female, made of cloth sewn to real-person specifications and covered in black latex. The work is theatrical, presenting a scene that longs for a narrative.”

For me, transfixed and awe-struck by the raw power of this extraordinary piece of art, Advent is that narrative. The deflated figures and the ladders which beguile them express so immediately, so vividly and so accessibly the whole panorama of human folly, frailty and failure which the Advent texts speak out of and into with such clarity and conviction.

Take the following image as a starting point and ponder all those points of connection with the texts at the heart of Advent. Reflect on the heartfelt truth that it portrays.

This is how Advent always begins. In the place where everything seems lost; where the human condition is experienced at its most starkly bleak. It is only within this manger of dread, desolation and despair that Christmas makes sense. Only there can we feel its new born warmth for ourselves and cradle its living truth in our arms. Nowhere else. God invites us to journey into our darkness on the strength of a promise, daring to believe that the incarnation of love will become real in the wombspace of our fragile faith.

This is always a collective endeavour. In Advent we travel for ourselves and we travel for the sake of others, always these two held together as one redefining purpose. The dread, desolation and despair may not be our own this time around, but it will be somebody’s truth, somewhere very close and somewhere far away. Advent is the great collectiviser of God’s economy: our imagined separation from the desperate plight of others is destroyed by the inclusive ardour of the divine will which places the manger where we would be least inclined to welcome it as gift.

To me Deflated Bodies provides an holistic visualisation of the narrative trajectories of human being along which Advent leads us and into which Christmas speaks. Here are the people of the prophets. Here is all the agony, angst and ennui out of which the Old Testament gives testimony to God’s alternative world view and the passionate single-minded creativity with which God pursues it through people of faith. Here is all the deflated misery of the human soul.

Here too are the ladder-like temptations, false promises, misguided schemes and malevolent strategies which lead us astray and set us against each other. Here also is the politics of the ladder constructors which promises the world to everyone, yet delivers misery to the many. The 1% who climb to the top do so at the cost of the 99% who lie strewn in their wake, deflated, empty, and abandoned to their fate.

In the face of such injustice and harm the Bible prophetically kicks away the ladders and gives the lie to seductions of ladder climbing and ladder making. Seen through a biblical lens Alexandra Bircken’s Deflated Bodies portrays the horrific cost and the appalling waste of the thinking which blighted our world then and which continues to do so now. It makes plain all that God desires us to subvert and overthrow.

Looking at these deflated figures pitifully draped across the ladders and hanging forlorn from the rungs one is brought face to face with everything that breaks the heart of God. Here are the ones that Jesus came to save.

Here are the lost, damaged and dispirited ones who gathered around the manger on the strength of a promise.

And to those who have made it to the top, who sit aloof from the carnage below them, Advent brings them down to earth and challenges them to repent of the cost of their privilege and power and to recognise that they too are in fact deflated as people and diminished by every empty life that lies behind them on their way up.

 No more should women and men, our sisters and brothers, hang limp and lifeless in our midst from the rungs of oppression and exploitation which God is always doing so much to tear down. This is the narrative of hope and life which takes shape in the darkness and which calls us to the heart of Christmas again. For our own sake and for the sake of others it is a journey we simply have to make. When the ladder climbing stops we are ready to gather around the manger.


  Kelly Latimore Icon "You have made us together, you have made us one and many, you have placed me here in the midst as witness, as aw...