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On Advent 2022 – and St. Andrew…

St. Andrew – Protoklete or “First Apostle” – brought his brother Simon Peter along with him…

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Welcome to “read the Bible – expand your mind:”

The Book of Common Prayer says that by sharing Holy Communion, Christians become “very members incorporate in the mystical body” of Jesus. The words “corporate” and “mystical” are the key. They show that a healthy church has two sides. The often-overlooked “mystical” side asks, “How do I experience God?” This blog will try to answer that.

It has four main themes. The first is that God will accept anyone. (See John 6:37.) The second is that God wants us to live lives of abundance. (John 10:10.) The third is that Jesus wants us to read the Bible with an open mind. As it says in Luke 24:45: “Then He [Jesus] opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” The fourth theme – and most often overlooked – is that God wants us to do even greater miracles than Jesus. (John 14:12.)  

And this thought ties them together:

The best way to live abundantly and do greater miracles than Jesus is: Read, study and apply the Bible with an open mind. For more see the notes or – to expand your mind – see the Intro.

In the meantime:

November 30 is the Feast day for St. Andrew. And depending on the year, the First Sunday of Advent falls either just before or just after that November 30 Feast day. This year the First Sunday of Advent came on November 27, three days after Thanksgiving 2022

There’s more on these two events below – the First Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of the Liturgical year – but first I wanted to check out something called Advent Calendars. Some nice ladies at my local church are extolling the virtues of such calendars, so I thought I’d explore the topic further. (Instead of my usual, “Nah, I’m not interested!”) So here goes:

An Advent calendar is a special calendar used to count down to December 25: The celebration of the Birth of Jesus. The Advent calendar tradition evidently dates back to the 1850s and typically includes 24 doors or boxes to open, one for every day in December leading up to Christmas Day.

One article I ran across said Advent calendars are raking it in while counting it down. It noted that liturgically, advent is the period of preparation for Christmas, and “can be a serious time for reflection, prayer and even fasting.” And indeed, the first advent calendars “from 19th-century Germany offered up a Bible verse each day.” But modern commercialization of Christmas “brought mass-produced calendars for children and enhanced the tradition with chocolate.”

Eventually the calendars evolved into boxes of “delayed-gratification chocolates to help children count down to Santa,” then transmogrified into calendars offering a wide variety of luxury goods like beer and winejewelry“healing” crystalsdog treats, and “Ariana Grande perfume.”

Because that’s what this is really about: Getting people to buy a product that will get them to buy more products. “Having sampled new products in the run up to the holiday, consumers are likely to follow up on their new treats post holiday” [including] “anticipation calendars” to turn every occasion into a prolonged opportunity for multiple gifts, “from graduations to birthdays and anniversaries

Another site – Everything to Know About Advent Calendars – said the most common type is one that has “paper calendar doors and a little piece of chocolate behind each door.” And that the concept “dates back to the 19th century, when German families would mark their doors or walls with a tally mark in chalk to count the days until Christmas.” In the United States, “the popularity of the Advent Calendar didn’t really take off until 1954, when Newsweek published a photo of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s grandchildren holding one,” as shown below.

But now we’re getting really far afield. I hope to write more about Advent in a week or so, and there’s some detail in the Notes, but in the meantime you could check out a post from 2017, On St. Andrew, Advent, and “Prosperity Theology.” Then from the past two years, December 2020, Advent, and a “new beginning,” and Advent 2021 – “Enjoy yourself.” For starters, St. Andrew was one of Jesus’ closest disciples, but few people know much about him.  Which is another way of saying he was pretty important, but that he often gets overlooked:

Andrew was “one of the four disciples closest to Jesus, but he seems to have been the least close of the four… That’s ironic because Andrew was one of the first followers[. In fact,] because he followed Jesus before St. Peter and the others – he is called the Protoklete or ‘First Called’ apostle.”

I’ll write more later about Andrew, Advent and The 12 DAYS of Christmas, but for now:

Happy Advent!

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President Eisenhower‘s grandchildren hold up an Advent Calendar in 1954…

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The upper image is courtesy of Andrew the Apostle – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “‘Saint Andrew the Apostle’by Artus Wolffort.” 

Re: More on Advent. See On St. Andrew, Advent, and “Prosperity Theology.” Then December 2020, Advent, and a “new beginning,” and Advent 2021 – “Enjoy yourself.” One note:

Advent is “a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas.”  The theme of Bible readings is to prepare for the Second Coming while “commemorating the First Coming of Christ at Christmas….”  The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah…  (E.A.)

One of the three posts talked of human life being always risky, filled with wars, pestilence and disaster. But “modern folk” got spoiled a bit, which brought up a review of “The Plague” by Albert Camus:

Being alive always was and will always remain an emergency; it is truly an inescapable “underlying condition…” This is what Camus meant when he talked about the “absurdity” of life. Recognizing this absurdity should lead us not to despair but to a tragicomic redemption, a softening of the heart, a turning away from judgment and moralizing to joy and gratitude.

Thus the “Enjoy yourself.” (It’s later than you think…)

The lower image is courtesy of Everything to Know About Advent Calendars. The caption: “President Eisenhower’s three grandchildren join in an appeal for sales of ‘Little Christmas Town’ Advent calendars by the national Epilepsy League. Holding one of the calendars at Fort Leavenworth are (left to right) Susan, 3; David, 6; and Barbara, 5; children of Major John Eisenhower.
‘Photo by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
.'”

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As noted in the opening blurb, this blog has four main themes. The first is that God will accept anyone. (John 6:37, with the added, “Anyone who comes to Him.”) The second is that God wants us to live abundantly.  (John 10:10.) The third is that we should do greater miracles than Jesus. (John 14:12). A fourth theme: The only way to do all that is read the Bible with an open mind:

…closed-mindedness, or an unwillingness to consider new ideas, can result from the brain’s natural dislike for ambiguity. According to this view, the brain has a “search and destroy” relationship with ambiguity and evidence contradictory to people’s current beliefs tends to make them uncomfortable… Research confirms that belief-discrepant-closed-minded persons have less tolerance for cognitive inconsistency

So in plain words, this blog takes issue with boot-camp Christians. They’re the Biblical literalists who never go “beyond the fundamentals.” But the Bible can offer so much more than their narrow reading can offer…  (Unless you want to stay a Bible buck private all your life…) Now, about “Boot-camp Christians.” See for example, Conservative Christian – “Career buck private?”  The gist of that post is that starting the Bible is like Army Basic Training. You begin by“learning the fundamentals.” But after boot camp, you move on to Advanced Individual Training.” 

http://www.toywonders.com/productcart/pc/catalog/aw30.jpg

However, after boot camp, you move on to Advanced Individual Training. And as noted in “Buck private,” one of this blog’s themes is that if you want to be all that you can be, you need to go on and explore the “mystical side of Bible reading.*” In other words, exploring the mystical side of the Bible helps you “be all that you can be.” See Slogans of the U.S. Army – Wikipedia, re: the recruiting slogan from 1980 to 2001. The related image at left is courtesy of: “toywonders.com/productcart/pc/catalog/aw30.jpg.” 

Re: “mystical.” Originally, mysticism “referred to the Biblical liturgical, spiritual, and contemplative dimensions of early and medieval Christianity.” See Mysticism – Wikipedia, and the post On originalism.  (“That’s what the Bible was originally about!”) See also Christian mysticism – Wikipedia, “In early Christianity the term ‘mystikos’ referred to three dimensions, which soon became intertwined, namely the biblical, the liturgical and the spiritual or contemplative… The third dimension is the contemplative or experiential knowledge of God.” As to that “experiential” aspect, see also Wesleyan Quadrilateral – Wikipedia, on the method of theological reflection with four sources of spiritual development: scripturetradition, reason, and “Christian experience.”

For an explanation of the Daily Office – where “Dorscribe” came from – see What’s a DOR?  

On Thanksgiving 2022 – and “He-e-l-p!”

 John Howland – a Mayflower pilgrim – holding on for dear life in the cold North Atlantic

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I just googled “what’s new for Thanksgiving 2022.” The answer is apparently “not much.” (Which could be a good thing; who needs more excitement?) So, aside from getting stuffed with turkey and fixings, the big news is a full slate of football, college and NFL. (Thanksgiving Football Schedule: Egg Bowl tops Turkey Day marathon: The Egg Bowl has Mississippi State playing “Ole Miss,” along with three NFL games.) So I guess I’ll have to revisit some old posts from the past…

Like Thanksgiving – 2021. Two years before that – meaning before COVID – I posted Thanksgiving 2019. Before that came three earlier posts, on Thanksgivings in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Before that – in 2014 – I posted On the first Thanksgiving – Part I and Part II. That Part II has – I just discovered – some errors that need correcting. The most noticeable is a missing lead painting, showing John Howland, holding on for dear life in the middle of a North Atlantic storm, with only the slenderist of lifelines back to the Mayflower, far off in the distance.

So maybe it’s time to revisit Howland’s story, because he not only survived that “adventure,” he went on to populate America with 2 million descendants. Interestingly, he came over as an indentured servant, but signed the Mayflower Compact in 1620. He went on to serve as trusted assistant to Governor Carver, and in 1621 helped make a treaty with the Sachem Massasoit of the Wampanoag tribe. By 1626 he’d finished his indenture and become a “freeman.” 

In the years after becoming a freeman, Howland “served at various times as selectman, assistant and deputy governor, surveyor of highways, and as member of the fur committee.” And aside from various adventures during the early years of Plymouth Colony, Howland married Elizabeth Tilley. The couple then started what became a dynasty of sorts: 

John and Elizabeth Howland founded one of the three largest Mayflower families and their descendants have been “associated largely with both the ‘Boston Brahmins‘ and Harvard’s ‘intellectual aristocracy’ of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.” American actors Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957), Anthony Perkins (1932-1992), and Alec Baldwin (b. 1958) are counted among Howland’s descendants.

Howland died at the ripe old age of 80, outliving “most of the other male Mayflower passengers.” And left quite a legacy, detailed at Meet John Howland, a lucky Pilgrim who populated America with 2 million descendants. But first he and the other Plymouth Pilgrims had to survive. On the voyage over two people died, and once they arrived in America, “in the space of several months, almost half the passengers perished in the cold, harsh, unfamiliar New England winter.”

I’ve listed the gory details of that first harsh winter, and the First Thanksgiving that followed a year later in 1621. Which brings up the ongoing “need for a reality check every so often:”

102 [Pilgrims] landed in November 1620 [at Plymouth Rock].  Less than half survived the next year.  (To November 1621.)  Of the handful of adult women – 18 in all – only four survived that first winter in the hoped-for “New World…”  The point is this[:  T]he men and women who first settled America paid a high price, so that we could enjoy the privilege of stuffing ourselves into a state of stupor.

So, as we stuff ourselves into a stupor this Thanksgiving, let’s remember that after this national “Splurge Day,” it’ll be time to get back to work. And to remember that when it comes to Jesus:

It is to vigor rather than comfort that you are called.

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And don’t forget to remember those not “home for Thanksgiving…”

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Re: The upper image is courtesy of Meet John Howland, a lucky Pilgrim who populated America with 2 million descendants.

Re: Book of Common Prayer. At page 339.

Re: Howland’s “indenture.” Wikipedia noted that William Bradford, governor of Plymouth Colony for years, “wrote in Of Plymouth Plantation that Howland was a man-servant of John Carver.”

Re: “vigor rather than comfort.” The quote is from Practical Mysticism, by Evelyn Underhill:

Hearing now and again the mysterious piping of the Shepherd, you realize your own perpetual forward movement . . . and so are able to handle life with a surer hand.  Do not suppose from this that your new career is to be perpetually supported by agreeable spiritual contacts, or occupy itself in the mild contemplation of the great world through which you move.  True, it is said of the Shepherd that he carries the lambs in his bosom; but the sheep are expected to walk, and to put up with the bunts and blunders of the flock.  It is to vigor rather than comfort that you are called.  (E.A.)

Ariel Press (1914), at page 177. See also Evelyn Underhill – Wikipedia.

The lower image is courtesy of Norman Rockwell’s Beloved “Home For Thanksgiving” Sells For $4.3 Million to Benefit American Legion Post. The article further noted:

The painting was one of Rockwell’s legendary homecoming pieces painted as war began transitioning to peacetime. For The Saturday Evening Post he painted myriad images of the soldier home from war, including the iconic “Homecoming GI” that appeared in May 1945 and was famously used in the film “Broadcast News.” “Home for Thanksgiving” became so beloved because it showed “the veteran doing K.P. (kitchen patrol) and liking it…

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Between Halloween and Thanksgiving – 2022

“There WAS a man who tried to pressure Jesus into being more political: Judas Iscariot...”

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The one major holiday between Halloween and Thanksgiving is Christ the King Sunday, next November 20. It’s also called the Feast of Christ the King, or “Proper 29” in the church calendar, or the “Last Sunday after Pentecost,” as discussed in the notes. I covered this recently-created Feast Day in the 2015 post, Hitler and Mussolini help create Christ the King Sunday.

Speaking of recently created, it all started in 1925, mostly “Over There” in Europe:

Pope Pius XI instituted The Feast of Christ the King in 1925 [after] the rise of non-Christian dictatorships in Europe…  These dictators often attempted to assert authority over the Church [and] the Feast of Christ the King was instituted during a time when respect for Christ and the Church was waning…  (Emphasis added.)

And speaking of 1925, here’s how that year started: On January 3Benito Mussolini “promised to take charge of restoring order to Italy within forty-eight hours.” (Marking the beginning of his dictatorship.) Aside from Mussolini in Italy, in Russian a new organization was created, TASS, which quickly became a front for the NKVD, later the KGB. (Of Vladimir Putin fame.) And that’s not to mention Adolf Hitler. In July 1925 he published Volume 1 of his personal manifesto Mein Kampf. Also in July, in the United States, 1925 featured a show of strength by a group called the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan held its parade in Washington, and their five million members at the time made it the “largest fraternal organization in the United States.”

In plain words, Pius XI created the Feast of Christ the King in response to world events swirling around him. (Including – but hardly limited to – Hitler, Mussolini, and the KKK.) 

Which brings up the recent U.S. elections and a potential rise in Christian nationalism. The problem: “nationalist governments tend to become authoritarian and oppressive in practice. (See What Is Christian Nationalism?) Or see Christian nationalism isn’t Christianity. It’s spewing hate in ‘the name of Jesus.’ That article said “Christianity is grounded in Christian scriptures where Jesus teaches love, peace, unity and truth. Christian nationalism preaches hatred, violence, separation, and disinformation.” All of which could be problematic for American democracy.

Another problem is that today’s Christian Nationalists get a lot of political power from the fact that their political opponents just don’t know much about the Bible. They can’t tell when the Bible is being misquoted, misused or abused. But that “problem” is also the Achilles’ heel of Christian nationalism. Mostly because Jesus opposed all such “Nationalism.*”

As Garry Wills pointed out, Jesus was above politics. Or as Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Jesus was all about saving souls, even the souls of people who hated Him the most. “I came to save, not to condemn.” Which means He definitely wasn’t into today’s politics. But of course there WAS one man who tried to pressure Jesus into getting more politically involved, into being more of a nationalist. His name was Judas Iscariot.

Getting back to such nationalism and its Achilles’ heel. All this makes a good case for more Americans reading and studying the Bible: Political self-defense. Those who stand for Jesus and against exclusionary “nationalism” can start saying things like, “What part of ‘love your neighbor’ don’t you understand?” Or, “What part of ‘love your enemy‘ don’t you understand?” Or my favorite, 1st John 4:20, “If we say we love God, but hate others, we are liars. For we cannot love God, whom we have not seen, if we do not love others, whom we have seen.” In other words:

Play the “Jesus card:” It’ll drive ’em crazy!

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These guys prompted Pope Pius XI to create “Christ the King Sunday…”

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The upper image is courtesy of Judas Iscariot – Wikipedia. The caption: “‘The Kiss of Judas’ (between 1304 and 1306) by Giotto di Bondone depicts Judas’ identifying kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane.”

Re: Book of Common Prayer. At page 339.

Re: “Last Sunday after Pentecost.” Christ the King Sunday ends one version of “Ordinary Time.” It also bridges the gap between the end of Pentecost season and the start of Advent. (Which leads to Christmas.) In plain words, Ordinary Time refers to two “seasons of the Christian liturgical calendar.” The better known Ordinary Time takes up half the Christian calendar. See On Pentecost – “Happy Birthday, Church!” The better known Ordinary Time begins with Pentecost Sunday, for Catholics. In the Anglican liturgy, it’s known as the Season of Pentecost.

[In] 2015 the Season of Pentecost [ends on] November 28 [Thanksgiving Weekend.  T]he day after that – November 29 – marks … a new liturgical year.

See also Liturgical year – Wikipedia, and an earlier post On the 12 Days of Christmas. They note an alternate “New Year” to the one on January 1: “Advent Sunday is the first day of the liturgical year in the Western Christian churches.” It also marks the start of the season of Advent, and leads to Christmas. See Advent Sunday – Wikipedia, and also Advent – Wikipedia.

I’ll clear things up in future posts at month’s end and December 2022.

The first mention of Christian Nationalism cites Wikipedia. The first non-Wikipedia article on Christian Nationalism is from Christianity Today. See also “Patriotism” vs. “Nationalism”: What’s The Difference? The article noted that while patriotism has a positive connotation, “nationalism” often doesn’t:

[F]ascist regimes have merged the fervor of nationalism with the notions of superiority, especially when it comes to ethnicity and religion. In such contexts, “patriots” can become those who happened to agree with you or look like you, and “traitors” those who do not.

Re: Garry Wills. See his What Jesus Meant. In the paperback, at pages 102-103, in Chapter 6, “Descent into Hell.” The “not of this world” quote is from John 18:36. The “save not condemn” quote is from John 3:17. See also Why Do We Condemn When Jesus Came to Save? – Christianity.

Re: “Love your enemy.” See Matthew 5:44. Or Google “love your neighbor as yourself.” I did that and got four billion, 260 million results. The 1st John 4:20 quote is from the Good News Translation.

The lower image is courtesy of Hitler and Mussolini meet in Rome | History Today

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On Halloween 2022 – and a “Samaritan” update

“A man[,] traveling down from Washington to Richmond, Virginia … was attacked by robbers...” 

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For many people, the fun part of Halloween is being able to think outside the box. I’m not that crazy about Halloween myself, but I do like the part about thinking outside the box. So here goes, an extra added treat for this “All Hallows E’en:” I’m imagining Jesus updating the Parable of the Good Samaritan, as He would tell it today, in this deeply divided country.

“A man was traveling down from Washington D.C. to Richmond, Virginia, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and then went away, leaving him near death. In due course a Christian Evangelical happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed him by on the other side. So too, a Southern Baptist preacher, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

“But a California Liberal, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, took pity on him. He went to him and tended and bandaged his wounds, then put the man in his car, brought him to a nearby Hilton and took care of him. The next day he took out his credit card and paid for two night’s lodging, and told the clerk, ‘Look after him, and when I return, I’ll reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'”

The thing is, the Pharisees in Jesus’ time hated Samaritans as much as today’s Conservatives seem to hate Liberals. (See Hatred Between Jews and Samaritans | Bible.org. Or google “liberal heresy.”) So, I wonder what point Jesus would be making, if He updated the story that way?

Then there’s this: “If God [is] generous with you, He will expect you to serve Him well. But if He has been more than generous, He will expect you to serve Him even better.” (Luke 12:48.)

A reminder for those who have “been given much,” now and in the near future.

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But we were talking about Halloween, which isn’t just one night. It’s part of a three day celebration – a “Triduum” – that begins on “All Hallows E’en.” It then continues into “All Hallows Day” – better known to us as All Saints’ Day – and ends on November 2 with All Souls’ Day. (The term “Hallowe’en” developed from the Old English word for “saint,” halig.) This three-day period is a time to remember the dead, including “martyrssaints, and all faithful departed Christians.” The main day of the three is November 1, what used to be referred to as Hallowmas

Halloween itself started with an old-time belief that evil spirits were most prevalent during the long nights of winter. And those “old-timers” also thought the “barriers between our world and the spirit world” were at their its lowest and most permeable on the night of October 31:

So, those old-time people would wear masks or put on costumes in order to disguise their identities.  The idea was to keep the afterlife “hallows” – ghosts or spirits – from recognizing the people in this, the “material world.”

And about traveling on All Hallows E’en. If you hiked from 11:00 p.m. until midnight, your had to be careful. If your candle kept burning, that was a good omen. (The person holding the candle would be safe in the upcoming winter “season of darkness.”) But if your candle went out, “the omen was bad indeed.” (The thought was that the candle had been blown out by witches…)

Next comes November 1, which honors all saints and martyrs, “known and unknown.” These are special people in the Church. A saint is someone with “an exceptional degree of holiness,” while a martyr is someone “killed because of their testimony of Jesus.” On the other hand, November 2 – All Souls’ Day – honors “all faithful Christians … unknown in the wider fellowship of the church, especially family members and friends.’” In other words, the third day of the Halloween Triduum – November 2, All Souls’ Day – remembers the souls of the largely unknown “dear departed.” Observing Christians typically remember such relatives, and in many churches the following Sunday service includes a memorial for those who died in the past year.

I’ve done a lot of posts on Halloween, and you can see more deep background in posts like The Halloween Triduum – 2019, and On Halloween 2020 – “Scariest ever?” (And links therein.)

 Incidentally, there were some good reasons why Halloween 2020 was the “scariest ever.” (A Halloween Like We’ve Never Seen!) For one thing, there was the ongoing COVID pandemic, as noted in Halloween: CDC says no trick-or-treating amid COVID. Then there was an economic recession – another one? – not to mention an upcoming presidential election. (We still haven’t gotten over that event.) In turn, aside from all that there was a “blue moon:”

With the convergence of a full moon, a blue (Hunter’s) Moon, daylight saving time and Saturday celebrations — plus the unprecedented events of this year — Halloween 2020 will truly be one to remember. 

By the way, to say something happens “once in a blue moon” just means it happens rarely. And here’s hoping a presidential election like the one in 2020 will be equally rare. (Or better yet, never happen again.) And while we’re wishing – and thinking outside the box – here’s hoping that the election after this one will feature civilized discourse and an exchange of thoughtful views, not name-calling, ad hominem attacks, and especially not personal physical violence.

And yes, I am naive, but then so was Jesus. I’m sure He hoped that 2,000 years after He made His Ultimate Sacrifice, we’d all be getting along a lot better than we are now…

Happy Halloween!

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The upper image is courtesy of Good Samaritan Image – Image Results.

Re: Book of Common Prayer. At page 339.

The full “box” link is to Thinking Outside the Box | HuffPost Life:

Thinking outside the box” refers to taking an imaginative approach to solve a problem, as opposed to a rigid, unyielding method that calls to mind a square box. In other words, thinking outside the box is often counterintuitive. Each problem is unique and often can’t be anticipated or tackled with prescribed methods.

Which is pretty much a major theme of this blog…

A note on Luke 12:48. I capitalized all the “he’s and him’s” when the quote referred to God. The original used lower case.

Re: Once in a blue moon: A term “something of a misnomer, because an actual blue moon – that is, the appearance of a second full moon in the same calendar month – occurs once every 32 months or so. Further, the moon can appear blue in color at any time, depending on weather conditions.”

The lower image is courtesy of Blue Moon Image – Image Results.  

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On Luke, James the Just and Halloween…

Coming up, Hallowe’en “Triduum” – but first, St. Luke and James the Just. October 18 and 23…

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Welcome to “read the Bible – expand your mind:”

The Book of Common Prayer* says that by sharing Holy Communion, Christians become “very members incorporate in the mystical body” of Jesus. The words “corporate” and “mystical” are the key. They show that a healthy church has two sides. The often-overlooked “mystical” side asks, “How do I experience God?” This blog will try to answer that.

It has four main themes. The first is that God will accept anyone. (See John 6:37.) The second is that God wants us to live lives of abundance. (John 10:10.) The third is that Jesus wants us to read the Bible with an open mind. As it says in Luke 24:45: “Then He [Jesus] opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” The fourth theme – and most often overlooked – is that God wants us to do even greater miracles than Jesus. (John 14:12.)  

And this thought ties them together:

The best way to live abundantly and do greater miracles than Jesus is: Read, study and apply the Bible with an open mind. For more see the notes or – to expand your mind – see the Intro.

In the meantime:

The last two posts focused on my recent “Camino” hike on the Way of St Francis.

I flew over from Atlanta to Rome on August 27 and came back on September 22. In between I hiked – with my brother and his wife – some 140 miles, from Assisi back to St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, in Rome. I’ll be doing more reviews on the hike-pilgrimage in the future, but as it turns out, the last two weeks of October are full of Feast Days. The two biggies are for St. Luke, on October 18, and October 23 is the Feast for James, brother of Jesus.

But first a note about the big Christian hubbub over “Faith and Works.” See for example, Faith and Works: Reconciling the Two Doctrines – Learn Religions or Faith, Works, and the Apparent Controversy of Paul and James. Briefly, the question is “How do I get to Heaven?” Or, “Can you ‘buy your way into heaven,'” or is it enough just to believe in Jesus?

The controversy came to a boiling point way back in 1517, over the Roman Catholic practice of selling indulgences. The implication became that you could “buy your way into heaven.” The practice became so corrupt – in Martin Luther‘s view – that in 1517 he published his 95 Theses and thus started the Protestant Reformation and all the religious wars that followed.

So, on the one hand you had the implication that you could buy your way into heaven, either by performing good works or by paying out “filthy lucre.” On the other hand you had Martin Luther’s sola fide, “by faith alone.” The implication there was that you could simply express your belief in Jesus, then take it easy for the rest of your life. (See The Just Shall Live by Faith Meaning – Rom 1:17, Gal 3:11, etc.) But as usual, the best answer is “somewhere in the middle.”

I recently found that answer “in the middle” back on October 10, 2022, doing my daily Bible readings. Specifically, in Acts 26:20. And the Bible book Acts of the Apostles is one of the two Bible books written by St. Luke. (Whose Feast Day is October 18.) There are a number of translations for Acts 26:20, but the one I like best is in my DOR book, which uses the Revised Standard Version (RSV). In that version the Apostle Paul tells the people he is addressing that they should “repent and turn to God and perform deeds worthy of their repentance.”

As noted, in John 6:37, Jesus said he would accept anyone who turns to Him. Then there’s Romans 10:9, where the Apostle Paul reiterated that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” No ifs, ands or buts. That’s the “turn to God” part, but it’s not enough to just accept your free gift from Jesus. (Then sit on your spiritual butt for the rest of your life.)

So the better answer is not, either what Paul said, or what James said. You don’t have to choose between them. It’s not an either-or situation. The best answer is both. Or as it says in 2d Corinthians 1:20, “all the promises of God are ‘yes’ in Christ.” Problem solved…

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Anyway, getting back to the October feast days, I covered St. Luke and James, brother of Jesus in 2019’s Saints James, Luke – and the lovelies of Portugal, and other posts listed therein. In turn I noted that James, brother of Jesus is one of several “Jameses” in the New Testament…

About which there seems to be some confusion, not least of all on my part. He’s sometimes confused with James, the son of Zebedee, also called James the Greater, “to distinguish him from James, son of Alphaeus (James the Less) and James the brother of Jesus,” also known as “James the Just.”

It’s easy to confuse the “Brother of Jesus” with “St. James the Greater,” whose feast day is July 25. (Among other differences, James the Greater is the “patron saint of pilgrims,” especially Camino pilgrims.) But the James remembered on October 23 is said to be the author of the Epistle of James. In turn, other New Testament books mention him – the Pauline epistles and Acts of the Apostles – and show him as a key player among the Christians of Jerusalem.

When Paul arrives in Jerusalem to deliver the money he raised for the faithful there, it is to James that he speaks, and it is James who insists that Paul ritually cleanse himself at Herod’s Temple to prove his faith…  Paul describes James as being one of the persons to whom the risen Christ showed himself … and in Galatians 2:9 Paul lists James with Cephas (better known as Peter) and John the Apostle as the three “pillars” of the Church.

There’s also confusion on how he died. “According to Josephus James was stoned to death by Ananus ben Ananus.” But Clement of Alexandria relates that “James was thrown from the pinnacle of the temple, and was beaten to death with a club.” Either way, he was important.

Which is also true of St. Luke.

The noted Catholic writer Garry Wills – in his book What the Gospels Meant – noted that Luke wrote the longest of the four Gospels.  He added that Acts of the Apostles is almost as long, and that these two of Luke’s books together “thus make up a quarter of the New Testament.”  (And they’re longer than all 13 of Paul’s letters.)  He said Luke is rightly considered the most humane of the Gospel writers, and quoted Dante as saying Luke was a “describer of Christ’s kindness.”

Thus Luke’s Gospel was – to Wills and many others – the most beautiful book that ever was.” Which means that Luke’s version of the Jesus story is one to which we should pay special attention.  And especiallto being “humane” and active practitioners of “Christ’s kindness.”

“We could use a lot more of that Christian kindness these days…”

And speaking of Christian kindness – something else we could use a lot more of these days – Luke added some distinctive accounts in version of the Gospel:

Only in Luke do we hear the story of the Prodigal Son welcomed back by the overjoyed father. Only in Luke do we hear the story of the forgiven woman disrupting the feast by washing Jesus’ feet with her tears.  Throughout Luke’s gospel, Jesus takes the side of the sinner who wants to return to God’s mercy…   Reading Luke’s gospel gives a good idea of his character as one who loved the poor, who wanted the door to God’s kingdom opened to all, who respected women, and who saw hope in God’s mercy for everyone.

And finally, see the Collect for St. Luke’s Feast Day, Saturday October 18:  “Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son:  Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal…

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And if the soul doesn’t, the Holy Spirit does

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The upper “witch” image is courtesy of Hail to Dorothy! The Wicked Witch is dead …54disneyreviews.

The full Daily Office readings for October 10, 2022, are: “AM Psalm 1, 2, 3; PM Psalm 4, 7, Micah 7:1-7Acts 26:1-23Luke 8:26-39.” I do those daily readings using “my DOR book.” It’s part of a four-volume set published by Church Publishing Incorporated. (Formerly The Church Hymnal Corporation. See ChurchPublishing.org: Church Publishing Incorporated.) Or for more see What’s a DOR

Re: “Other posts listed therein.” see more detail on St. Luke in Saints Luke, and James of Jerusalem – 2021 or in 2014’s St. Luke – physician, historian, artist, or On St. Luke – 2015. (Or – from 2018 – On Luke and the “rich young man.”)

The lower image is courtesy of Healing Power Image – Image Results. Also re: “Holy Spirit does,” see Romans 8:26, “In the same way the Spirit also comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit himself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express.” That’s from the Good News Translation.

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As noted in the opening blurb, this blog has four main themes. The first is that God will accept anyone. (John 6:37, with the added, “Anyone who comes to Him.”) The second is that God wants us to live abundantly.  (John 10:10.) The third is that we should do greater miracles than Jesus. (John 14:12). A fourth theme: The only way to do all that is read the Bible with an open mind:

…closed-mindedness, or an unwillingness to consider new ideas, can result from the brain’s natural dislike for ambiguity. According to this view, the brain has a “search and destroy” relationship with ambiguity and evidence contradictory to people’s current beliefs tends to make them uncomfortable… Research confirms that belief-discrepant-closed-minded persons have less tolerance for cognitive inconsistency

So in plain words, this blog takes issue with boot-camp Christians. They’re the Biblical literalists who never go “beyond the fundamentals.” But the Bible can offer so much more than their narrow reading can offer…  (Unless you want to stay a Bible buck private all your life…) Now, about “Boot-camp Christians.” See for example, Conservative Christian – “Career buck private?”  The gist of that post is that starting the Bible is like Army Basic Training. You begin by“learning the fundamentals.” But after boot camp, you move on to Advanced Individual Training.” 

http://www.toywonders.com/productcart/pc/catalog/aw30.jpg

However, after boot camp, you move on to Advanced Individual Training. And as noted in “Buck private,” one of this blog’s themes is that if you want to be all that you can be, you need to go on and explore the “mystical side of Bible reading.*” In other words, exploring the mystical side of the Bible helps you “be all that you can be.” See Slogans of the U.S. Army – Wikipedia, re: the recruiting slogan from 1980 to 2001. The related image at left is courtesy of: “toywonders.com/productcart/pc/catalog/aw30.jpg.” 

Re: “mystical.” Originally, mysticism “referred to the Biblical liturgical, spiritual, and contemplative dimensions of early and medieval Christianity.” See Mysticism – Wikipedia, and the post On originalism.  (“That’s what the Bible was originally about!”) See also Christian mysticism – Wikipedia, “In early Christianity the term ‘mystikos’ referred to three dimensions, which soon became intertwined, namely the biblical, the liturgical and the spiritual or contemplative… The third dimension is the contemplative or experiential knowledge of God.” As to that “experiential” aspect, see also Wesleyan Quadrilateral – Wikipedia, on the method of theological reflection with four sources of spiritual development: scripturetradition, reason, and “Christian experience.”

For an explanation of the Daily Office – where “Dorscribe” came from – see What’s a DOR?  

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And finally, some notes for my next post:

Jesus on those so-called Open Borders. Matthew 25:38 is generally translated “when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?” But the better translation from the original Hebrew is alien. As in “”when did we see you an alien and welcome you?” In turn, Matthew 25:43 is properly translated, “I was an alien and you did not welcome me.” Followed by Matthew 25:45-46: “‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

This is in keeping with Exodus 22:21, and Deuteronomy 10:19. Exodus 22:21 reads “You must not exploit a resident alien or oppress him, since you were resident aliens in the land of Egypt.” Deuteronomy 10:19 reads, “You are also to love the resident alien, since you were resident aliens in the land of Egypt.”

From Luke 10:25-37, where a smarmy lawyer wanted to test Jesus and justify himself. When properly recited the Two Great Commandments, including the one to Love Your Neighbor, the lawyer asked, “And who is my neighbor?”

The following is how Jesus might update the parable today:

“A man was going down from Washington D.C. to Richmond, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A Christian Evangelical happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Southern Baptist, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a California Liberal, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man in his car, brought him to a nearby Hilton and took care of him. The next day he took out his credit card and paid for two night’s lodging, and told the hotel clerk, ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

Jesus asked, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

The point is, the Pharisees in Jesus’ time hated Samaritans as much as today’s Conservative Christians hate California Liberals.

الغريبة

Some highlights – Way of St. Francis 2022

A typical switchback, cut-back, whatever, of which there were plenty on “The Way…”

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As noted in the last post (From Jerusalem to Assisi), I flew over to Rome last August 27, a Saturday. On Tuesday, August 30, I took a train up to Assisi and met up with my brother and his wife. On Thursday, September 1, we started hiking back to Rome, via the Way of St Francis.

But not before I got a &^%#$ ticket – costing 30 Euros – for not validating my bus pass, in Assisi. It happened on the ride back from the Basilica of San Francis, at right, on the 31st, but it wasn’t my fault. Two knuckleheads in front of me had trouble making change (or whatever). A long line started forming behind me, so the driver told us – starting with me – to “go to the back of the bus.” That’s where, supposedly, there was another machine to validate your bus ticket.

For whatever reason I didn’t validate the pass, possibly because I didn’t see any such machine. So, when we got back to the train station in Assisi – a short walk from our lodging – an officious-looking official magically appeared and announced the aforementioned fine for failure to validate. I protested long, hard and loud – “but the driver told me to go to the back of the bus!” – but to no avail. It was all, “No comprendo,” or however they say it in Italy.

Not a good start to what was supposed to be a pilgrimage to enlightenment.

But this post is supposed to be about some highlights of the trip, so I’ll move on. Which is another way of saying that now that the project is over, it’s time to start the post-mortems.

For starters, the original proposed route was 154 miles, from Assisi to Rome. Specifically back to St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, in Rome. But after our night spent in Piediluco on September 7, one of our party developed a temporary (GI) health problem. Aside from that, the weather forecast for September 8 was for really heavy rains. So instead of hiking that day we had to take a bus back to Trevi, then a train to Rieti – our destination for Friday, September 9 – then take a bus back to Poggio Bustonne, our reserved lodging for September 8.

That took off the 13.5 mile hike scheduled for that day (9/8/22), which was another good reason for the bus-train-bus alternative. (Along with the really heavy rain.) The net result was to round down our total miles hiked from 154 to 140 miles. Which we did in 18 days, from September 1 to the 18th. But we took days off from hiking on September 4, September 10, and September 15. Of course we didn’t hike on September 8, but that wasn’t what you could call a day off.

That is, the bus-train-bus travel day wasn’t what you could call a day off.

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Some other observations: Much of the Way of St. Francis is like the Appalachian Trail. Except that it’s over, up, down and around the Apennine Mountains, not the Appalachians.

Like the Appalachian Trail, there were many days with very few places to stop for refreshment during the day. It wasn’t that unusual to go a whole day’s hike, of 10 or 12 miles or more, without any of those stops so prevalent on the Camino Frances (French Way). (On the other hand, in Italy you could still always look forward to a hot shower and a cold beer at the end of the day.)

I suppose there’s a chicken-and-egg question here. The Camino Frances is big business. Lots of places to stop and refresh because there are lots of pilgrims hiking. But such a cafe would have a hard time surviving on the Way of St. Francis, because of so few pilgrims. One suggestion to improve things: Construct shelters every five or ten miles, with picnic tables – or one at least – so weary pilgrims could stop and at least put our feet up and our packs down.

Also, my 8th grade math teacher taught us that the shortest distance between two points was a straight line. However, that rule doesn’t apply to the Way of St. Francis. And that led me to wonder, “Why did St. Francis follow this ‘path?‘” Back and forth, up and down, full of zig-zags, switchbacks and cut-backs. And why wouldn’t he take the smoother route along the valley that beckoned down below? (The smooth path that the train takes from Rome up to Assisi.)

As best I can tell, Francis never actually hiked this one path all at once. Instead “the Way” seems to be an amalgam of trips he took during his lifetime, often responding to requests from a nearby village or town, to help out in an emergency. (Including one literal “wolf at the door.”)

Another note: Earlier this summer, before leaving for Rome, I read that Europe was having a severe drought. But we seem to have brought some rain with us, at least in Italy and at least along the Apennines between Assisi and Rome. Which often turned the Trail into a deadly combination of gumbo-like muck, caking around the bottom of your shoes, and slippery-slick rocks and gravel, especially treacherous hiking down one of those many switchbacks or cutbacks.

Which raises the question, “What kind of fool would put himself through such an ordeal?” And that’s a question I found myself asking quite often on the Trail, especially during the early days of the hike. The answer I came up with? The idea on such a trek is to push beyond your limits. To ask yourself at least once a day, “What the heck am I doing here?” Or in my case, “What sane 71-year-old would spend good money just to put himself through all this?”

And then keep going…

On the St. Francis, the hiking is often rugged, rocky, sticky and/or slippery, like after a torrential rain the night before. Zig-zag, east, west, north, south, repeat, up, down, round and around. Whereas on the Camino Frances, once you get past Pamplona you’re heading straight west. It’s much harder to get lost, and there are a lot more friendly locals to help you get back on track.

Another feature of such a pilgrimage, sleeping in a different bed pretty much every night, and having to figure out a different shower set-up every late afternoon. Which made Rome such a great place to reach: Getting to sleep in the same bed four nights in a row.

Then there was our one 15-hour day. There was a mix-up in addresses for our rental. One note said Ferrentillo, the other said Macenano. We passed Macenano in the dark and hiked the extra three miles to Ferrentillo, only to find out the rental was back in Macenano. (The closest I came to crying the whole trip.) By that time it was 10:30 at night, and nobody relished hiking back the 90 minutes or so, in the dark. Fortunately, one of our party approached a group of three local ladies, and through some combination got us a ride back to Macenano, free of charge. That could well be the biggest highlight of the ordeal, seeing how nice Italian people can be.

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There’s more to come in later posts, but this is supposed to be a spiritual blog. On that note, while hiking in Italy I faithfully kept up with my Daily Office Readings. And in September they included three major feast days: Holy Cross Day on September 14, St Matthew, Evangelist on September 21, and St Michael and All Angels, on September 29. You can see a quick take on these feast days at October 2018’s On Holy Cross, Matthew, and Michael – “Archangel.”

That October 2018 post talked about the Book of Common Prayer used by the Episcopal Church, and how it says the idea of purgatory is both a “Romish doctrine” and “repugnant to the Word of God.” On the other hand, there’s the painting below, of the Archangel Michael reaching to save souls in purgatory. Which brings up the fact that without purgatory, your dying day turns out to be a pass-fail test. You’re either in or you’re out.  You either go to heaven or “down, down the down-down way.” But with purgatory you get another chance. 

You get a chance to enter that “intermediate state after physical death,” where some of those “ultimately destined for heaven” can first undergo “purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” Which to me, means another chance of getting to heaven. And who knows, maybe a challenging pilgrimage like my recent hike on the Way of St. Francis is, in its own way, a form of purgatory. And who knows, maybe that hot shower and cold beer at the end of each day’s hike was – in its own way – a metaphor, a foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet to Come. First comes the harsh reality of negotiating the twists and turns of life here on earth, followed by the metaphoric “hot shower and cold beer.”

So the idea of purgatory gives me another chance at that metaphoric “hot shower and cold beer” at the end of my earthly life. Which is why I ended that October 2018 post by saying, “here’s to Michael (archangel), and his reaching out to save souls in purgatory…”

Hey, I’ll take all the help I can get!

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“Archangel Michael reaching to save souls in purgatory . . .”

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I took the top photo, one of many many switchbacks we saw hiking from Arrone to Piediluco, on September 7, 2022. By the way, Piediluco is a swanky resort area, by the Lago (Lake) di Piediluco. So the best fiscally responsible one-night rental option – at the Hotel Miralago, Piediluco – was one room with three beds right next to each other. They had a great breakfast buffet though!

As noted in the last post…” The full title, From Jerusalem to Assisi – 2022.

Re: The bus-pass ticket. In hindsight I can see the logic. An unvalidated pass can be used again for a free ride. (But 30 &^%$# Euros?)

Re: “Post mortem.” The link is to Guide to Post-Mortem in Business: “a process that helps improve projects by identifying what did and didn’t work, and changing organizational processes to incorporate lessons learned. The Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK) refers to this activity as ‘lessons learned.’” Also, according to mors, mortis [f.] M – Latin is Simple Online Dictionary, the plural form of mortem is “mortes,” not “mortems.” (I took two years of Latin in high school.)

Re: The Way of St. Francis as an “amalgam.” See for example The Way of St. Francis: Walking 550 Kilometers Along One of the World’s Greatest Pilgrimages:

St. Francis is said to have taken literally the scripture passage, “preach the good news to all creatures.” My favorite story focuses on the historic town of Gubbio where residents were haunted by a wolf that had developed a taste for human flesh. They begged St. Francis to intervene with the fearsome creature and then were amazed when the wolf sat peacefully at his feet while the two made a bargain.

The bargain: “If the townspeople would feed him daily, the wolf would leave them alone.”

“The closest I came to crying…” Not really, though I was concerned.

Re: Feast days in September. My DOR Lectionary book also included the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, on September 8, the “Christian feast day celebrating the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” For more details see the link.

The lower image is courtesy of the Wikipedia article on St. Michael, captioned, “Guido Reni‘s painting in Santa Maria della Concezione, Rome, 1636 is also reproduced in mosaic at the St. Michael Altar in St. Peter’s Basilica, in the Vatican.”

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From Jerusalem to Assisi – 2022

The Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi – that’s where I hope to be next August 30…

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Next August 27 – a Saturday – I’ll be flying over to Rome. From there I’ll take a train up to Assisi to meet up with my brother and his wife. Then on Thursday, September 1, we’ll start hiking the 154 miles back to Rome, via the Way of St Francis. But first I have some feast days to cover.

The first one is The Transfiguration of Jesus, celebrated back on August 6. I covered that in The Transfiguration – 2020. (Back in “Week 21 of the COVID-19 pandemic.”) The following Monday, August 15, was the Feast of St. Mary the Virgin. I covered this “Mary” in 2019’s St. Mary, “Virgin,” and more on Jerusalem, and the next year in St. Mary, 2020 – and “Walls of Separation.”

Which is where “From Jerusalem to Assisi” comes in. My 2019 pilgrimage to Jerusalem included a side trip to Bethlehem, and in that town – where Jesus was born – we found the “Wall of Separation” discussed below. That is, the 2019 post Mary [and] more on Jerusalem gave some background on this particular feast day. But it also talked at length about my May 2019 pilgrimage to Israel. (Beginning with arriving in Tel Aviv on another Saturday evening and being able to get quickly – and surprisingly – through the “dreaded Israeli security at Ben Gurion airport.”) 

That post covered the Jerusalem visit from our arrival on Saturday night, May 11, to the following Friday, May 17. That’s when we visited the Judean wilderness, the Jordan River and Jericho. I revisited the post the following year in St. Mary, 2020 – and “Walls of Separation.” It covered at greater length our visit to Bethlehem on May 16. The coverage included the ironic if not incongruous “Wall of Separation” that runs through Bethlehem. (Where Jesus was born.)

I say ironic because what some call the Wall of Separation, the powers that be call the “Israeli West Bank barrier.” And there, right next to the Wall, our group stopped at the “Walled Off Hotel.*” For more see Banksy′s hotel with ′the world′s worst view′ opens in Bethlehem:

“With a play on words on the luxury Waldorf Astoria chain, this place is called the Walled Off Hotel, because it was built almost immediately next to Israel’s separation wall in the Palestinian-ruled city where Jesus Christ was born.”

Which of course would be Bethlehem. That’s where Jesus was born and where “God’s love, mercy, righteousness, holiness, compassion, and glory” were expressed in Him. But seeing the Walled-off Hotel in that birthplace, “I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.” And I still don’t.

But there’s another reason to review those two posts. I’m just finishing up a book, “On Mystic Christians – (you know, the real ones?”) Of which more in a future post, but once I finish that book, I plan to start another one, on that May 2019 three-week visit to Jerusalem. (And much of the rest of Israel, including my taste-testing the distinction between Israeli Maccabee Beer, and the also-locally-brewed Taybeh Palestinian beer.) But I also want to start a book on my three hikes on the Camino de Santiago, to include that next one coming up, the Way of St Francis

It just so happens that I wrote about St. Francis back in October 2015, in Saint Teresa of Avila:

“In other words, a mystic is a person who seeks to become ‘one’ with both God and his or her neighbor. Not unlike Francis of Assisi(Who no doubt some contemporaries thought himself was a bit of a weirdo…)

Which brings up two possible foreshadowings. One, my eventually writing a book on Mystic Christians. (“You know, the real ones?”) And a soon-to-be pilgrimage to Assisi and the Way of St Francis. But before closing, let’s get back to those feast days. Or at least the highlights.

Turning first to Mary, 2019’s St. Mary … and more on Jerusalem noted that aside from being the mother of God the Son Incarnate in Christianity, “Mary (Maryam) also has a revered position in Islam, where a whole chapter of the Qur’an is devoted to her.” And millions of Christians consider her to be the most meritorious saint of the Church, as both the Mother of God and the Theotokos. (Literally “Bearer of God.”) On that note, in Renaissance paintings especially, Mary is shown wearing blue. That tradition goes back to Byzantine Empire, to about 500 A.D., “where blue was ‘the colour of an Empress.’” Which seems appropriate…

Going back to the August 6 feast day, the Transfiguration – 2020 post talked about how COVID might be a blessing in disguise. Then it harked back to the Transfiguration – The Greatest Miracle in the World. No less a person than St. Thomas Aquinas considered it The Greatest Miracle because – unlike the other Gospel miracles – this one happened to Jesus. (Making it “unique among those listed in the ‘Canonical gospels.'”) Then too, the episode also transformed the disciples who witnessed the event, and “never forgot what happened that day.” (Which was probably what Jesus intended.) One witness, John, wrote in his gospel, “We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only.” (John 1:14.)  Peter also wrote of it, “We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with Him on the sacred mountain.” (2 Peter 1:16-18.)

And from there they went on to TRANSFORM (Transfigure) the world.

But there’s still a lot of work left for us to do. For one thing, we need to start tearing down the walls that separate us, and turn neighbor against neighbor. (See Divisive walls can be broken down through Jesus for one thoughtful review, with citations to Romans 10:12 and Galatians 3:28, among others.) Then there’s Ephesians 2:14, which reads in the Good News Translation, “For Christ himself has brought us peace by making Jews and Gentiles one people. With his own body he broke down the wall that separated them and kept them enemies.”

So as for my pilgrimage to Rome, Assisi and the Way of St Francis:

Here’s hoping I don’t find any Walls of Separation!

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Bethlehem’s Wall of Separation: “That look about says it all…

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The upper image is courtesy of St Francis Assisi Basilica – Image Results. It is accompanied by an article, Finding Peace and Faith in Assisi by Rick Steves.

In Assisi, my favorite ritual is to sit quietly on the rampart of the medieval fortress high above town. I look down at the basilica dedicated to the saint, then into the valley at the church where Francis and his “Jugglers of God” started the Franciscan order. Hearing the same birdsong that inspired Francis, and tasting the same simple bread, cheese, and wine of Umbria that sustained him, I calm my 21st-century soul and ponder the message of a saint who made the teaching of Jesus so accessible.

Re: Book of Common Prayer. See page 339, under Holy Eucharist:  Rite One:

Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee for that thou dost feed us, in these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favor and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people…

Or see Online Book of Common Prayer. As to “corporate” and “mystic,” it’s like body and soul. Ideally they are a unified whole, but some people lose sight of the one in focusing too much on the other…

Re: The Way of St. Francis. The Via di Francesco website says it is a “route to reach Assisi following in the footsteps of St Francis, whether leaving from the North (La Verna) or the South (Rome).” In our case, we’ll explore Assisi on the afternoon of August 30, after meeting up, then during the day of August 31. Then we’ll head from Assisi back to Rome.

Re: Getting “quickly – and surprisingly – through ‘the dreaded Israeli security.'” A driver from Saint George’s College Jerusalem met our group of nine from my church back in Georgia. We were part of a larger group taking the 14-day Palestine of Jesus course, and in a sense that driver whisking us through Ben Gurion security was a minor miracle in itself.

Re: The Walled Off Hotel link. Be sure to read the Safety Notice, advising that due to current political developments, there is a potential for “increased tension” in the area. And further that the “narco’s [sic] among you” should bear in mind that the UK Foreign Office has advised against joining any demonstrations while visiting the area.

Re: Still a lot of work to do. For more reviews search “Jesus breaks down walls.”

I took the photo of the Wall of Separation, just outside the “Walled Off Hotel.”

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On Mary of Magdala and James the Pilgrim – 2022

 I hope St. James the GreaterPatron Saint of Pilgrims, will guide me this September…

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July 28, 2022 – Last Friday, July 22, was the Feast Day for “Mary from Magdala.” I covered that feast day last year in “Saint” Mary Magdalene – 2021, and the year before in Mary Magdalene, 2020 – and Week 19 of “the Covid.” And just for the record, we are now in Week 124* of the Covid pandemic, with no end in sight. (Plus we now have Monkeypox to worry about.)

Three days after Mary’s feast, Monday, July 25, we remember James, son of Zebedee. He’s one of several New Testament “Jameses,” but he’s also “St. James the Greater.” And this James is the Patron Saint of Pilgrims. As such, he’ll be my patron saint this September when I start an 18-day, 154-mile hike on the Way of St Francis, from Assisi back to Rome.

And speaking of pilgrimages, that post from two years ago, “2020 … Week 19,” talked about an earlier one. That was a four-day canoe pilgrimage on the Missouri River, 115 river miles, from South Sioux City to Omaha Nebraska. That was one of a series of journeys-of-discovery leading to this September’s Way of St Francis. But getting back to Mary Magdalene

St. Augustine called her the “Apostle to the Apostles.” See also Mary … FutureChurch:

Mary of Magdala is perhaps the most maligned and misunderstood figure in early Christianity…  Since the fourth century, she has been portrayed as a prostitute and public sinner…   Paintings, some little more than pious pornography, reinforce the mistaken belief that sexuality, especially female sexuality, is shameful, sinful, and worthy of repentance.  Yet the actual biblical account of Mary of Magdala paints a far different portrait than that of the bare-breasted reformed harlot of Renaissance art. [Emphasis added.]

2015’s Mary Magdalene, “Apostle to the Apostles” noted that this particular Mary – a common name at the time – has long had a rotten reputation. “In Western Christianity, she’s known as ‘repentant prostitute or loose woman,” but the consensus now is that these claims are unfounded.  For one thing, Isaac Asimov said this Mary would be more accurately considered “a cured madwoman rather than a reformed prostitute.” (A subtle distinction.)

Yet – notwithstanding that “sordid past” – it’s clear that Mary Magdalene showed far more courage than the original 11 disciples. (Not counting Judas.) See John 20:1: “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.” Thus the one indisputable fact is that Mary was both the first person to see the empty tomb of Jesus, and one of the first – if not the first – to see the risen Jesus. And that may have accounted for the stories about her “sordid past;” jealous males trying to sully her reputation and cover up their own cowardice.

So her story could be one long pilgrimage to eventually see the risen Jesus. By and through that journey she was able to escape her sordid past and move on to become something greater, the “Apostle to the Apostles.” (A good life-lesson to be sure.) And speaking of pilgrimages, July 25 is the feast day for the Patron Saint of PilgrimsJames, son of Zebedee.

Going back to 2014, On “St. James the Greater” spoke of this James being not only the patron saint of pilgrims. He’s also the patron saint of Spain and Portugal. Which is why the Camino de Santiago* traditionally ends in Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain.

Tradition says that James traveled to Spain to spread the Gospel there:

[T]he Virgin Mary appeared to James on the bank of the Ebro River at Caesaraugusta, while he was preaching the Gospel in Iberia. She appeared upon a pillar, Nuestra Señora del Pilar, and that pillar is conserved and venerated within the present Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar, in Zaragoza, Spain. Following that apparition, St. James returned to Judea, where he was beheaded by King Herod Agrippa I in the year 44.

All of which is well and good, but raises the question: “Why do such a pilgrimage at all?” One answer comes from the book Passages of the Soul: Ritual Today, by James Roose-Evans. The book noted that a healthy sense of ritual “should pervade a healthy society,” but that a big problem in today’s world is that we’ve abandoned many of the rituals that used to help us deal with big change and major trauma. The book added that all true ritual “calls for discipline, patience, perseverance, leading to the discovery of the self within.”

More to the point, the book said a pilgrimage – like an 18-day, 154-mile hike on the Way of St Francis – “may be described as a ritual on the move.” And that such a moving ritual often includes the “raw experience of hunger, cold, lack of sleep.” But through such an experience we can get a sense of our fragility as mere human beings. (Compared with “the majesty and permanence of God” and His creation.) Finally, the book noted that such a pilgrimage can be  “one of the most chastening, but also one of the most liberating” of personal experiences.

So, a month from today (August 27) I’ll be flying to Rome, to get “chastened and liberated…”

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Mary of Magdala – and note the similar pose to James, above…

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The upper image is courtesy of St. James Patron Saint Of Pilgrims – Image Results, and the Catholic Diocese of Calgary. That’s the “Latin Church ecclesiastical territory or diocese of the Catholic Church in AlbertaCanada… Its cathedral episcopal see is St. Mary’s Cathedral, CalgaryAlberta. It is currently led by Bishop William McGrattan.See also Saint James, Patron of Pilgrims (Catholic Education Resource Center).

Week 124 of COVID. (Or 31 months.) That’s according to my calculations, originally set out in St. Philip and St. James – May, 2020. There I explained that, to me, “the pandemic hit full swing – the ‘stuff really hit the fan’ – back on Thursday, March 12,” when the ACC basketball tournament got cancelled, along with other major sports. “So my definition of the ‘First Full Week of the Covid-19 Pandemic’ has it starting on Sunday, March 15 and ending on Saturday the 21st.”

Re: The Way of St. Francis. My brother, his wife and I will fly into Rome at different times, meet up in Assisi, and from there hike “back” to Rome. The 18 days will include three days off, of not hiking, in Spoleto, Rieti, and Montelibretti. The latter is some 32 miles from Vatican City and the end of the hike. For another take on the hike see The Way of St. Francis: Walking 550 Kilometers Along One of the World’s Greatest Pilgrimages.

Re: James’ vision in Spain. Tradition says it happened on January 2, 40 A.D..

Re: Santiago de Compostela. “Iago” is another translation of “James.” As Wikipedia put it, “Santiago is the local Galician evolution of Vulgar Latin Sanctus Iacobus ‘Saint James.””

Re: “Passages of the Soul.” The quotes are from the 1994 Element Books Ltd. edition, at pages 23-25.

The lower image is courtesy of wikipedia.org/wiki/Penitent_Magdalene_(Titian,_1565):

The Penitent Magdalene is a 1565 oil painting by Titian of saint Mary Magdalene, now in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.  Unlike his 1533 version of the same subject, Titian has covered Mary’s nudity and introduced a vase, an open book and a skull as a memento mori.  Its coloring is more mature than the earlier work, using colors harmoni[z]ing with character.  In the background the sky is bathed in the rays of the setting sun, with a dark rock contrasting with the brightly lit figure of Mary.

Also, Titian did a “racier” version in 1533. See Penitent Magdalene (Titian, 1533) – Wikipedia. For more on this Mary see also MARY MAGDALENE, Bible Woman: first witness to Resurrection, and What Did Mary Magdalene look like?

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Catching up from my trip to Dubuque…

Downtown Dubuque, Iowa, as seen from a bluff high above the city…

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I just got back from a 10-day road trip to Dubuque, Iowa. My current lady friend hails from there, and wanted to visit family. (Especially kids, grandkids and a new great-granddaughter.)

I went because I’d never experienced such a lily-white Midwestern Fourth of July. (Not lately anyway, compared to the Black mecca that is the Atlanta Metropolitan Area.) And it was quite an adventure, featuring lots of visits to her family, and my eating way too much food, and getting not nearly enough exercise. (I gained five pounds, and was lucky to limit it to that. One comment at a dinner on the evening of July 4: “That’s all you’re eating?”)

But this blog is about faith and spirituality, so let’s back on track…

To help celebrate the 4th, I went back over some past posts. I came across this, from 2014, On Sunday of the July 4th weekend. I told of another mid-summer trip, taking a train north from New York City to Montreal. On the ride up to the Canadian border I had time to read my passport. That made for some interesting reading, “especially on this holiday weekend,” of July 2014.

Page 1 of the passport said the U.S. Secretary of State personally requested – of “all whom it may concern” – to permit this particular named citizen (me) “to pass without delay or hindrance and in case of need to give all lawful aid and protection.” Which I found pretty impressive. (Especially since I’ll be flying over to Rome on August 27, to hike the Way of St Francis.*)

That was followed by the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, which also made for some impressive reading. (“We the People…”) That was followed by pages topped with pithy quotations about America and the promise of freedom it stands for. (Mostly.) Pages 8-9 are topped by a saying from George Washington, “Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair.

But as I wrote back in 2014, we’ve seen “way too often lately” that the stupid and dishonest can also repair to that standard of freedom. And I’d say that goes at least double for the eight years since 2014. But since this is a Christian blog I’ll take the high ground and quote John Steinbeck on the American July 4th sense of freedom that we celebrate each year:

[T]his I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about.

Which leads to some questions. Like, “Have we maintained that freedom of the mind to take any direction it pleases?” Are we winning or losing the fight against a religion or government that limits or destroys the individual? Which leads to the quote on pages 16-17 of the U.S. passport. Attributed to Teddy Roosevelt, it reads:  “This is a new nation, based on a mighty continent, of endless possibilities.” (Get that? “Endless possibilities.”) All of which led me to quote Ellison Onizuka, the American astronaut who died in the 1986 Space Shuttle disaster:

Every generation has the obligation to free men’s minds for a look at new worlds . . . to look out from a higher plateau than the last generation.

To free people’s minds. To me, that’s what the Bible is all about…

But of course Onizuka could have said – in a slightly different way – “Sing to the Lord a new song.(As it says in Psalm 98:1 and elsewhere.) He could add that you can’t live up to, fulfill or implement either promise – of America’s endless possibilities or those of Jesus – interpreting the Bible or the Constitution in a closed, narrow, “strict” way. So I’d say our duty as Americans – as Christian Americans – is to foster the endless possibilities of both the American Dream and the promises of Jesus. (That in His name we should live a life of spiritual abundance, and do greater miracles than He did.) Which brings up the miracle in the Bible.

To many people, those miracles are “fairy tales,” stumbling blocks like those Paul mentioned in 1st Corinthians 8:9. But the thing to remember is that they are designed to stretch the human mind, to get that mind out of its conservative, keep-things-as-they-are Comfort Zone.

After all, the English people who first settled America were neither conservative nor “keep-things-as-they-are.” They wanted to sing a new song, to experience the endless possibilities in the New World, to “look out from a higher plateau than the last generation.”On that note see Isaiah 40:31, “those who wait upon the LORD will renew their strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.”

It’s your choice America…

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Ellison Onizuka, quoted above on our Fourth of July freedom…

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The upper image is courtesy of Dubuque, Iowa – Wikipedia. The city was named for Julien Dubuque (1762-1810), a Canadian from Champlain, Quebec, who settled near what is now the city. One of the first Europeans to settle in the area, he initially got permission from the Mesquakie Indian tribe to mine the lead in 1788. “Once he had received permission from the Meskwaki to mine lead, Dubuque remained in the area for the rest of his life. He befriended the local Meskwaki chief Peosta – for whom the nearby town of Peosta, Iowa is named.” He is believed to have married Peosta’s daughter.

Re: Book of Common Prayer. See page 339, under Holy Eucharist:  Rite One:

Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee for that thou dost feed us, in these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favor and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people…

Or see The Online Book of Common Prayer.

Re: The Black mecca that is the Atlanta Metropolitan Area. That area that has been my new ome for the past 12 years.

Re: The Way of St. Francis. I’ll meet up with my brother Tom and his wife Carol, and hike the 160-or-so miles from Assisi to Rome.

The Steinbeck quote. See Quote by John Steinbeck: “And this I believe.”

Re: Psalm 98:1. See On singing a NEW song to God, from May 2015. See also Psalm 33:3, Psalm 96:1, and Psalm 149:1.

The Bible readings for July 4 (2014) includes a note about how a group of Anglicans – members of the official state religion of the time – voluntarily gave up their power to guarantee “freedom of religion to people of all religious faiths.” See too The Bible readings for July 4, also from 2014.

Re: “Miracles.” What Is a Miracle according to the Bible? – Bible Answers noted that the most important thing “is not about the miracles themselves but the God who performs them.” But see also Did the Miracles in the Bible Really Happen? – The Honest Skeptic, and/or Are you Skeptical of the Bible Because it Reports Miracles? One quote: “Rather than being a stumbling block, miracles should be expected. If God is who he says he is, then miracles should happen and should be expected.

The Ellison Onizuka quote is on page 28 of my passport. (The ellipses are in the passport original.) Onizuka (1946-1986) was “an American astronaut from KealakekuaKonaHawaii, who successfully flew into space with the Space Shuttle Discovery on STS-51-C. He died in the destruction of the Space Shuttle Challenger, on which he was serving as Mission Specialist for mission STS-51-L. He was the first Asian-American to reach space.” The lower image is courtesy of Wikipedia.

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Catching up from my “Big Apple” trip…

After two weeks in New York City,* including Carnegie Hall, I’m just now “catching up…”

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June 19, 2022 – I just got home from a two-week trip to The Big Apple, New York City. The main reason for the trip? To see my brother and his wife perform – with some other people – at Carnegie Hall, Friday night, June 3. They were part of a concert by the New England Symphonic Ensemble, and their group was listed in the program as “participating choruses.”

My family and I visited other sites as well, in the week after the concert. But during that visit I couldn’t do any updates on this blog. I got back home late last Monday evening, June 13, and am just now catching up. I’m just now getting back to my “rhythm.”

And speaking of getting back into my rhythm, last June 5th was Pentecost Sunday. Last Saturday, June 11, was the Feast Day for St. Barnabas, and last Sunday, June 12, was Trinity Sunday. Which means I have a lot to cover.

As to Pentecost, that’s the 49th day (seventh Sunday) after Easter. It commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit “upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus Christ while they were in Jerusalem celebrating the Feast of Weeks.” (Described in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:1–31.) I covered this special day in Pentecost 2020 – “Learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” (Back when we were “just starting the 12th full week of the COVID-19 pandemic.”)

Pentecost is also known as the Birthday of the Church, as noted in 2015’s Pentecost – “Happy Birthday, Church.” That is, “from an historical point of view, Pentecost is the day on which the church was started.” Pentecost also marks the start of “Ordinary Time,” as it’s called in the Catholic Church. “Ordinary Time” takes up over half the church calendar year. This year that long liturgical season will last until November 27, the First Sunday of Advent.

And what makes Pentecost so special? For the first time in history, God gave power to “all different sorts of people for ministry.” In Old Testament times, “the Spirit was poured out almost exclusively on prophets, priests, and kings.” But on the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit went to “‘all people.’ All would be empowered to minister regardless of their gender, age, or social position.” Which was a pretty radical development.

Moving on to St. Barnabas, he was identified as an apostle – with Paul – in Acts 14:14. He and Paul “successfully evangelized among the ‘God-fearing‘ Gentiles who attended synagogues in various Hellenized cities of Anatolia.” I wrote about him in 2014’s On St. Barnabas:

The apostle and missionary was among Christ’s earliest followers and was responsible for welcoming St. Paul into the Church.  Though not one of the 12 apostles . . . he is traditionally regarded as one of the 72 disciples of Christ and [the] most respected man in the first century Church after the Apostles themselves.

That post noted that Barnabas could be called “the Apostle of Second Chances.” First because he vouched for Paul, after his Damascus Road Experience. (The first Christians knew Paul only as a persecutor and an enemy of the Church.) Barnabas later gave Mark a second chance as well – to go on a missionary journey – even though Paul, in turn, had labeled Mark as “undependable.” As noted in D-Day and St. Barnabas – 2021, “if it hadn’t been for Barnabas’ willingness to give Paul a second chance – Paul, the formerly zealous persecutor of the early Church – he might never have become Christianity’s most important early convert, if not the ‘Founder of Christianity.'”

Then last Sunday, June 12, was Trinity Sunday. That’s a rare feast day in the liturgical year that celebrates “a doctrine instead of an event.”  See also What is the Trinity:

The word “trinity” is a term used to denote the Christian doctrine that God exists as a unity of three distinct persons:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Each of the persons is distinct from the other yet identical in essence.  In other words, each is fully divine in nature, but each is not the totality of the other persons of the Trinity.

Sound confusing? It is, and was, even to a guy as smart as Thomas Jefferson. See for example, On Trinity Sunday (2016) – and more! That post talked about things like God’s timetable being usually quite different than ours, and how “we mere human beings are no more prepared to fully comprehend God than ‘cats are prepared to study calculus.'”

On that note, it also talked about how the “Trinity” was so difficult that even Jefferson couldn’t figure it out. But he – like many of us – fell into a common error: Thinking he could ever “really understand everything there is to know about God.” But like many parts of the Bible, the Trinity is simply beyond our ability to comprehend, fully. “It’s a reality that we may only begin to grasp.” 

On that note too, consider John’s Gospel ending, 21:25: “Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.” Or Psalm 40:5, in various translations, basically saying that God’s wonderful deeds “are more than can be told.” Or see Isaiah 55:8. In the NLT: “’My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,’ says the LORD. ‘And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.'”

All we can do is keep trying to understand God, like a “cat studying calculus…”

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The upper image is courtesy of Carnegie Hall Image – Image Results. It goes with an article, How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall? No, Seriously. | NCPR Newswith lots of background information.

Re: Book of Common Prayer. See page 339, under Holy Eucharist:  Rite One:

Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee for that thou dost feed us, in these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favor and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people…

Or see The Online Book of Common Prayer.

Re: “Two weeks in New York City.” We spent eight days visiting the city, from a base in North Bergen, New Jersey; I took four days driving up there from the “ATL,” and four days driving back home.

Re “Participating choruses.” The phrase in the program was “With participating choruses.” You can click on the near-upper-right “Calendar View” at Official Website | Carnegie Hall.) The chorus in question was The Trey Clegg Singers, Inc. My brother and his wife have sung with “Trey” for years. For more on the visit (as proposed), see Back to New York City – finally, from my companion blog.

Re: Getting back to my “rhythm.” My first wife Karen (who died in 2006) used to say I wasn’t spontaneous enough, I was in too much of a rut. My response was, “It’s not a rut, it’s a rhythm.” See also The Three Biggest Benefits of Good Habits – Top Three Guide, Why Habits are Important: 5 Benefits of Habits, and – for a more “churchy” view – The Benefits of Good Habits | Christian Library.

The lower image is courtesy of Cat Studying Calculus … Image Results. Note that the cat is actually studying physics, not calculus. See also Your Cat Probably Understands Physics – Business Insider.

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