Saturday, 26 November 2005

The great God! He became-a so small!

So, it is Advent! Unfortunately, a bit of winter blues and loneliness (all the worse knowing that winter has not even started as yet, and the cold is already getting to me), have put a damper on my quickness. I am not ready, at the moment, to write of Israel's expectation, the Incarnation, or the church waiting in joyful hope... though I'll get to it eventually. For the moment, I shall share a memory of my days with the friars.

Father Michael was unusually short and slight, but highly expansive, and his gestures tended to be fit for a man the size of Goliath of Gath. Michael was Italian, and had learnt his English from a woman who had a very high, light voice, whom he imitated a bit too well. Consequently, he spoke English (though not his native tongue) in an extremely squeaky voice. The combination of massive gestures and chirping tones gave a general effect of a jumping-jack in an uncharacteristic brown costume.

Michael's warmth and sincerity were enormous as he reminded his congregation, during an Advent sermon, that this was a time when "we have to thank God for the c-u-u-u-te little baby Jesus!" Raising his arms over his head like the risen Messiah, Michael expounded, "The great God!!!" (Hands now at breast height, illustrating the size of an ample newborn.) "He became-a so small!" Michael's sermon continued for a time, with repeated references to the 'great God who became-a so small,' and, though I was biting my lip not to laugh aloud, many of the congregation were moved nearly to tears. (Franciscan theology can be odd at times - but their sermons do stimulate a sense of the vivid.)

I was congratulating myself for not having lapsed into a laughing fit - which would have been most uncomfortable for a highly visible director of music. And all went well until Michael's little voice piped, "Behold-a the lamb of God!"

I may have retained what little was left of my composure had the friar next to me not whispered, "He became-a so small!"

Saturday, 19 November 2005

Perfect Love casts out fear

And Who, after all, is Perfect Love? "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear."

Romantic though I am, I am no idealist when it comes to matters of fear. I know - Augustine would say 'evil has no reality' (and yes, I know what he really meant and who he was refuting), and the most eloquent of preachers would say that, with Christ's resurrection wiping out the fear of death, what is left to fear? Being pragmatic, and also one with a passion for history, I'm afraid I would have to say that even one glance at, for example, what people suffered in Auschwitz would make it plain that there is a great deal to be feared on this earth. Much is of mankind's own doing, of course, but I've been puzzling, since I first learnt of Adam in early childhood, about how God seemed to need to punish the world, then his own son... and, even when Jesus opened the gates of heaven, God did not take away the punishments of living on earth.

I am very grateful for my religious education - the lot of it. Yet I was 'raised' (not at home, where my mother would bring all concerns, with trust, to the Infant of Prague) on a bizarre combination of ideas about divine love. There was no stress on deification, the parousia, transformation. One received the impression that God, with some regret but with respect for their freedom, sent those not his friends to hell. His friends (and the friendlier one got with God, the more one was 'in for it') he sent dreadful sufferings. After all, suffering on earth would mean God's justice could be satisfied, and one would not need all the worse suffering in purgatory or hell.

(Conservative sorts who dislike my minimising the sufferings of the next life would do well to read Pope Benedict's brilliant work, Eschatology, for a superb perspective.)

In a conversation with a dear friend this week, a very simple but profound reflection he made was one which I am sure could be of value to others. The "God who inflicts suffering" (a god of rage, of punishing, of violence at being insulted) is not the real God. As for ourselves, the 'reality' includes the weakness, sinfulness, and so forth - the discouragement, ennui at prayer or work, whatever our weakness is. But God can only be reached in 'reality.' We need to bring Him ourselves, broken as we may be, and recognise the true God, Perfect Love.

My sermon on 'penance is removal of distractions' I shall save for another day, perhaps for Advent. :) I'm weary at the moment.

Thursday, 17 November 2005

I'll pass on 'becoming as little children'

This shall be one of my more irreverent and less intense posts, but may I assure my readers that I am not contradicting the Master in my heading. I've been doing a great deal of exegesis (of the variety where one reads fifteen scholars' treatments of the same passages and eventually wonders who said what...) recently, so I'm not going to go into exegesis mode here. I shall merely express my own, enduring puzzlement about why the 'simple' and 'childlike' are assumed to have an express ticket to holiness. :)

I shall confess that I have no addiction whatever to children. I further believe that Augustine was quite correct in that, if kids do not get into messes as large as those which adults concoct, it is far more because of weakness of limb than of purity of heart. Yet perhaps my very indifference can give me a wider scope of vision. I am not a believer in some sort of 'mystic innocence' on the part of the very young.

I have neither knowledge of nor interest in 'child development' - my thoughts today are of adults who never get past traits which may be excusable in infants but are deplorable in the mature. Children can be exceedingly cruel - they'll mock their closest friends if they sense it will please anyone whose favour they wish to have. They laugh at other people's misfortunes. They are totally centred on themselves, as if the entire world revolved around their own desires. Though they have some rudimentary sense of 'right and wrong,' accompanied by either a need to 'take their punishment' (not that this has the least effect on future deviltry...) or not to be caught, but virtue plays no part in the motivation.

I have known a number of people who could be classed as 'simple.' In some cases, Francis of Assisi's for example, the simplicity was in one area: Francis had a very uncomplicated (though certainly difficult to practise) view of the Christian life as 'living the gospel' and 'poverty.' It kept this otherwise complex man 'on track' and would lead to holiness - though I dare say that his writings, beautiful as they are, are so terribly simple in a sense that they could be puzzling to those who are somewhat less saintly than the dear man. (This includes the Rule. I think it is no accident that, as a group, the Franciscan Order has had more canonised saints and more prominent heretics than any other.)

But most of the 'simple' are quite narrow of vision. Writers, especially those who used to pen the dreadful 'meditations for Sisters' in the past, always praised the lightness of conscience which the childlike had. I wonder... Is such 'lightness' born of a highly virtuous life, or of not having the inclination to take an honest look at oneself? Children are fickle - many are capable of changing close friends as frequently as they would their shirts. I dare say the 'simple' adults are less inclined to self-examen because they only were interested in pleasing others in the first place. (Whether they slandered Mary to win Anne's favour may not even occur to them.)

The worst deficiency in 'the simple', as I have seen more times than I care to remember, is highly limited vision. Concurrently, they often severely lack compassion. They cannot understand much beyond their own scope of experience - another's pain is incomprehensible, because, for example, how could Suchandsuch be unable to deal with 'this' when 'everybody else' does? A confidence will be shrugged off - or, worse, 'laughed off.'

People who were concerned with obedience (Sisters at the top of the list) often could be 'like the wind,' because they had a concept only of rules - and, if the rules changed, the essence was not considered.

I must meditate on 'unless you become as little children' soon. Of course, we know nothing of Jesus as a child, but, given what a character he had by the age of 12, I would imagine he was a most interesting one... perhaps a child's nature, in his view, was one which accepts total dependence on one's Father.

Thursday, 10 November 2005

Response to the Infrequently Asked Questions

I was one of the "Internet pioneers" - amazing to think that the world of the Web is only ten years old (at least insofar as sites such as mine are concerned.) How well I remember the highly intricate coding in HTML - it could take two hours just to create a table. I am sorry that the sort of beautiful, graphic intense sites I once designed (with the musical backgrounds and slide shows) fell out of favour, replaced by everything black and white and the assumption that people have their browsers set not to display graphics at all.

Yet the worst recent development on the Internet is that, if there is one certainty in life if one has a Web site, it is that one's inbox will be crowded with hundreds of 'spam' messages daily. I cannot understand much of what is behind this. For example, one would think that those looking to sell pornography would send solicitations to those who might be interested (perhaps who participated on forums of the less than dignified nature). I receive such messages almost daily, even for child pornography, when anyone who'd had a look at my site would probably catch on that I'm not likely to be a customer. (Yes, I know how these mailings really are generated... but it irks me nonetheless.)

Consequently, I am very careful about opening mail from people with whom I have no acquaintance. Those who are sending offensive mail often use Subjects such as "about your site." My apologies to those who have sent me serious enquiries if I have never responded.

Now, to answer a few questions which have arisen regularly during recent years. One is why I no longer bestow the award I once gave to sites which had interesting content. First, unless it is very prestigious (I was honoured when I was given such an award from a major newspaper), there is little notice given today to site awards. Yes, it may cause people to click the link, but more often it only leads to their applying for awards for themselves.

More importantly, there were two factors. I was all but deluged with mail from applicants for the award - often hundreds each month - and could not possible keep up with the reviews. Worst of all, I naturally had no way of knowing how a site could change later, and did not have the ability to constantly monitor other people's sites. In one case, I gave the award to a site which seemed purely literary, in the fairy tale genre - it had lovely pictures of the wee folk. I was horrified to learn later that, within the year, it had been replaced by a porn site - as I was advised from one of my visitors who had clicked the link.

Another question now and then is about my locations or professional experience. My essays are mediaeval, true, but the blog is quite open and honest. I wish to be able to write with pure candour, without anyone's thinking (usually wrongly!) "she wrote that because she knows (someone.)" (Indeed, I know a great many people - and, though I am no one prominent, I know my share who are.) I also do not want my writing to be ruined by anyone's thinking "she thinks that because of (take your choice) where she went to school - where she lives - whatever."

As well, because I mention past parish experience, my convent life, and so forth, and do not eliminate negative aspects if I can make a point about spirituality with illustrations from my life, it would be very indiscreet to mention specifics. I can assure my readers that nothing on this site is fiction! (I sometimes have people ask me for the 'where' or 'who' as if to challenge my credibility.) I also am one to guard my privacy - and to not want anyone to get in touch with someone, somewhere, using my name when they may have read it only on the Internet.

I shall add that there are other Elizabeth Melillos out there, none of whom I would know from Adam (or Eve), for whom I've received e-mail inquiries. I have never been a fashion buyer or headhunter - sorry, wrong Elizabeth. I've never been anywhere near California. Someone who insists that I once attended a particular university in Kentucky should be aware that I not only never heard of the place but doubt I could find Kentucky on a map.