Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Rebuilding Zion (These Are the Hands We're Given ...)

August 30, 2016

"For the LORD will rebuild Zion and appear in his glory."
~Psalm 102:16

   At age 2, Zion Harvey lost his hands and feet to a life-threatening infection. Doctors at the Philadelphia Children's Hospital performed the first bilateral pediatric hand transplant in the summer of 2015. 

1 Year Later ...

     This story made me think of the lyrical refrain from that old Genesis song, "Land of Confusion."

This is the world we live in
And these are the hands we're given
Use them and let's start trying
To make it a place worth living in

     The song is about the fear, chaos, and existential despair of the 1980's Cold War era yet contained a powerful message of humanistic hope. If previous generations have failed to live up to their own ideals (which they have), surely it is the duty of future generations to succeed where their predecessors failed. The sins of the fathers are like vast amounts of toxic waste haphazardly buried in the earth, seeping into the water table, ensuring that that which might have been harvested as good fruit will instead be the vilest poison imaginable. 

      I think the Philadelphia Children's Hospital chose wisely. 





Monday, August 22, 2016

The Confession

August 22, 2016

Portentous graffiti inside a confessional booth tucked backstage of the chapel area in the abandoned Northville Regional Psychiatric Hospital.
source: http://www.trover.com/d/ODwJ-northville-michigan  (posted 1 year ago)

     If you're wondering about the above image, I almost went with something staid and conventional: an ornately carved wooden confessional booth, evoking "High Church" Catholicism. I browsed Google and found a few very nice images, but nothing that would convey the pathology, dysfunction, and turmoil of 21st century life. No, what I want is to highlight the raggedness, the wretchedness of our lives below the line of despair. The Northville Regional Psychiatric Hospital is an abandoned building in Detroit MI, opened in 1952 and closed down fifty years later due to the Reagan Administration's universal defunding of mental health services. It is said to be haunted. The photograph you see above was taken in the hospital's chapel area. The red graffiti seems to mock the dereliction of that place as well as the notion of a personal God desiring reconciliation and reunification with His wayward children.

     The Spirit of the Age (secular post-modernity in this case) decrees that we all ought to be our own confessors, and that any confession booth we occupy for said purpose should feature a kinder, wiser version of ourselves on the other side of the lattice. But without the Holy Spirit, who will convict us of our sins? The moral and cultural relativity of our day has replaced the confession booth with a Hollywood-style vanity mirror. It is a mirror whose incandescent bulbs are often dark, its glass cracked or dirty or even opaque with filth as would denote a 21st century society so disinterested in soul-searching. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The True Word

August 10, 2016

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God."
     ~John 1:1

     The earthly institution of Christianity is but the crudest approximation of the eternal Kingdom of Heaven. The Bible is the closest we can come to the Living Word of God while stranded here on the shore of immanence. The other shore, the transcendent far shore, cannot be bridged from where we stand. It hides from us from behind a veil and a symbol, glimmering from within the impenetrable dark cloud of unknowing. The far shore unfolds delicately like a lotus flower, blooming inside the heart of the Gospel. The True Word is not a book nor the paper on which it's printed, nor the symbols stamped into that paper. It does not properly exist as a physical object in three-dimensional space. In the beginning, the Word already existed. 
     He is a transcendental Father, whose divine exhalations inspire men to speak, write, and act for His name's sake. Since God is the ontological root of existence itself, the Alpha and Omega, He is the only one who is not empty. Emptiness is a property of all created phenomena. Things conditioned by and contingent on other things for their existence have no independent existence of their own and are thus "empty." 
     The treachery of images (that famous Rene Magritte painting) also extends to symbols. Supernaturally transcendent realities will never be adequately reduced to symbols. Symbols, like the letters of the sentence you are now reading, always signify something other than themselves. Their referents are easily understood. In Simulations and Simulcra (1981), Jean Baudrillard proposes a theological dilemma that was of course inevitable:
     “But what if God himself can be simulated, that is to say can be reduced to signs that constitute faith? Then the whole system becomes weightless, it is no longer anything but a gigantic simulacrum - not unreal, but simulacrum, that is to say never exchanged for the real, but exchanged for itself, in an uninterrupted circuit without reference or circumference...” 

     Lead me from the unreal to the Real
     Lead me from the darkness to the Light
     Lead me from the temporary to the Eternal
     ~The Pavana Mantra, from the Upanishads


Monday, August 1, 2016

Harrowing Experience

July 31, 2016

"Christ in Limbo"
~a Hieronymous Bosch Follower
c. 1450-1516

     "He who does not descend into hell while he is still alive runs a great risk of going there after he is dead." 
     ~St. Philip of Neri

     How does one descend into hell while he is still alive? How is it even physically possible to go there without being incinerated?  At a glance, this is a nonsensical and quite morbid idea. It's the kind of thing that has driven people away from organized religion in droves. It's vexatious to the churchgoer, but to the beloved of God it is what makes the Good News so incredibly good! He who does not descend into hell *in spirit* while he is still alive does not understand the urgency of salvation, or why the Lamb of God was slain. We, the purchased, should know what it cost to buy us back from hell. So what does it profit, this beautiful heresy of universal salvation? Money in the collection plate, warm bodies in the pews, feel-good sermons, well-heeled pastors. Also, a congregation that cannot digest solid food and will never reach maturity in Christ.

     Not until we are at a place of total despair, desolation, and defeat can we appreciate what it means to cry out to God for the rescue of our souls. Until we are in our hearts staring into the abyss of hell with the beckoning voices of demons in our ear, we won't comprehend the significance of total surrender. We won't understand just what it is we are surrendering. Utter humiliation, utter debasement, the pride of life consumed in the unquenchable fire of His holiness.  During this life, the soil of a Christian's heart is upturned and plowed over so to increase its fecundity. Good fruit will grow in good soil. 

     When was the last time you had a harrowing experience?

Our Shadows, Our Selves

"Like my shadow, I am and I am not." ~Rumi       God shows us what moves in the darkness so we might flee int...