Tuesday, July 29, 2003

From Charming Billy, by Alice McDermott

What a lovely book this is! Here's a passage that resonated:

Their faith, both of them--all of them, I suppose--was no less keen than their suspicion that in the end they might be proven wrong. And their certainty that they would continue to believe anyway.

They were married in March of 1991 . . . At the little church in East Hampton, Most Holy Trinity now, no longer St. Philomena's--the poor woman having been tossed out of the canon of saints in the mid-sixties because some doubt had arisen about whether or not she had actually lived. As if, in that wide-ranging anthology of stories that was the lives of the saints--that was, as well, my father's faith and Billy's and some part of my own--what was actual, as opposed to what was imagined, as opposed to what was believed, made, when you got right down to it, any difference at all.

Monday, July 14, 2003

from Operating Instructions, by Anne Lamott

...the worst thing, worse even than sitting around crying about that inevitable day when my son will leave for college, worse than thinking about whether or not in the meantime to get him those hideous baby shots he probably should have but that some babies die from, worse than the fears I have when I lie awake at 3:00 in the morning (that I won't be able to make enough money and will have to live in a tenement house where the rats will bite our heads while we sleep, or that I will lose my arms in some tragic accident and will have to go to court and diaper my son using only my mouth and feet and the judge won't think I've done a good enough job and will put Sam in a foster home), worse even than the fear I feel whenever a car full of teenagers drives past my house going 200 miles an hour on our sleepy little street, worse than thinking about my son being run over by one of those drunken teenagers, or of his one day becoming one of those teenagers--worse than just about anything else is the agonizing issue of how on earth anyone can bring a child into this world knowing full well that he or she is eventually going to have to go through the seventh and eighth grades. (pp. 9-10)

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Julian of Norwich on prayer

Prayer gives us pleasure in ourselves, and makes us calm and humble, where before we were contentious and troubled. Prayer unites the soul to God; for though the soul is always like God in nature and substance, yet because of sin on our part, it is often in a state which is unlike God. Prayer makes the soul like God; when the soul wills what God wills, it is then in a state like God, as it is like God in nature. And so God teaches us to pray, and to trust firmly that we shall obtain what we pray for, though everything which is done would be done, even if we never prayed for it.

[slightly modified to remove non-inclusive language]

some stuff from Beyond Belief, by Elaine Pagels

Some things that really caught my eye:

A prayer of the apostle Paul (author unknown): "My redeemer, redeem me,for I am yours, one who has come forth from you. You are my mind; bring me forth. You are my treasure; open to me. You are my fulfillment; join me to you!" (p. 100)

From the gospel of Philip: "Faith is our earth, in which we take root; hope is the water through which we are nourished; love is the air through which we grow; gnosis is the light through which we become fully grown." (p. 131)

"Heracleon explains that most Christians tend to take literally the images they find in the Scriptures: they see God as the creator who made this present world, the lawgiver who gave tablets to Moses on Sinai, the divine father who begets Jesus. But those who experience God's presence come to see these traditional images of God for what they are--human creations. One need not reject such images, Heracleon says, since they provide an essential way of pointing toward divine reality that words cannot express; but one may come to see that all religious language--and much other language--consists of such images. Whoever realizes this comes to worship God, as Jesus says, "in spirit and in truth." (p. 163)

"The Secret Book [of John] suggests that the story of Eve's birth from Adam's side speaks of the awakening of [a] spiritual capacity. Instead of simply telling about the origin of woman, this story, symbolically read, shows how the "blessed one above, the Father" (or, in some versions of the text, the "Mother-Father"), feeling compassion for Adam, sent him

'a "helper"--luminous epinoia ["creative" or "inventive" consciousness] which comes out of him, who is called Life [Eve]; and she "helps" the whole creation, by working with him, and by restoring him to his full being, and by showing the way to ascend, the way he came down.'

Thus Eve symbolizes the gift of spiritual understanding, which enables us to reflect--however imperfectly--upon divine reality." (p. 164)

I haven't fully digested this last, which suggests all sorts of things about the relationship between humanity and wisdom, but ultimately it seems to suggest that the "fall" is entirely fortunate, that without Eve, without spiritual understanding, we would not want to be as God--and that that desire, to be as God, knowing good and evil, is a good desire, one that we need, one that ultimately brings us closer to our source, to our true being. I can't go on about this now, but it's really juicy.