Monday, February 21, 2011

A Good Story

Someone recently loaned me the book 'Christ the Lord - The Road to Cana', by Ann Rice. It is one of those stories of Biblical times, in which the author starts with the scripture account, then imagines what happened between events and between the lines. All of that becomes the material for the novel.

The story is not densely packed, and that is both its strength and its weakness. It is easy to follow. And you meet a very human Jesus as he becomes aware of who he is, and what the Father is asking him to do. His tender affection for young Avigail, whom everyone expected he would marry, is touching, and reassures the reader that he truly did have all those emotions. His response to his mother at the wedding feast, when she manipulated him into performing his first miracle, is humorous in a divine kind of way!

But the scene that was especially well done is that of Jesus' confrontation with Satan in the desert. It is not the temptations delivered in three terse sentences, but a long discussion, a battle of wits. Satan makes a good case about the plight the Jewish people have been in for centuries, about how they will continue to be swallowed up by their enemies, and about how they are looking for a deliverer. Then the temptation: "Not the simplest victory is accomplished unless I'm part of it. ...... Worship me and I will show you what is mine. I will give you the victory of which your prophets sang."

The sales job is very very good!

Jesus answer is wonderful: "You're the Prince of the Lie. And this is the lie: that you and the Lord God are equal, locked in combat with one another. That has never been so."

This is not scripture, to be sure. But as, for example, with the novel "The Shack", the author makes a contribution nonetheless. We are given a frame of reference for our own imaginings - and we most surely do have them. For me, that temptation scene shows Jesus, weak with hunger in the desert, engaging in a mighty battle. He is not the wooden figure who issues three super human responses. I relate to that because my battles are often mighty also, and I frequently lose. This story both affirms what I already believe about Jesus' power, and at the same time reassures me that the response asked of us in temptation is not a stretch that is beyond us. We do not have to despair, no matter how bad things get.

Postscript: note to Mary. Thank you for your message! Would love to continue with the dialogue, even meet at St. Paul's if you are in this area.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A shout out to the Sisters!

It has happened to me before, so I should know by now. You simply cannot outdo women religious in hospitality and generosity. My most recent encounter with that kind of gift-giving was time I spent over a period of three days, talking to the Religious Hospitalers of St. Joseph here in Kingston.

That community is discerning, as are many religious communities, how their mission and their charism are going to be lived in a world of decreasing numbers and aging members.

I thought I was to do the giving, but instead I came away so humbled by what they gave me. The sung blessing over me and my wife before we left, will stay with me always. The cheerfulness, the laughter, the camaraderie were reminders of the beauty of community life, even in the face of uncertainty. They were also reminders that ministry never ends, never takes a rest. I felt ministered to, and I go away feeling a bit more intentional about doing the same to others. The opportunities to be Christ to other people are not limited to formal structures or to liturgical celebrations. They are everywhere. In that sense, something I said to the group seems even more compelling now: the mission and the charism of this community may evolve in their manifestation, but they will never be outdated. The world desperately needs what the members have to offer. Every moment of the day. Thanks, Sisters! We will try to live up to your wonderful example.