Sunday, April 20, 2014

He is Risen and I am Moving


Cathedral of Santa Barbara, Kutna Hora, Czech Republic

A glorious Easter day today in Prague, sunny, crisp, clear and a little cool (ooops it just started to rain). Yesterday, I took a bus ride to one of my favorite spots  nearby, the historic town of Kutna Hora, a Unesco World Heritage Site. It's a one hour and forty minute bumpy ride on the local bus, free for me because of my 70+ age, and it stops at every little village on the 60 kilometer country road to what is (for myself at least) the most mystical town in the Czech Republic. The area around its grand cathedral, Jesuit college and silver mine breathes a spiritual atmosphere of profound peace and presence. It is a palpable presence that invades the soul, but only if you are receptive to receiving it. If you come in 'tourist mode,' determined to rush about and see this and that, checking off that and this on your list of must see sites, then most probably the mystical bride will not reveal her face to you.  But if you are in a romantic and contemplative mode, then most likely the mystery will reveal herself. Above all, she reveals her countenance at night, when the cathedral is illuminated and the ancient lamps on the crooked cobblestone lanes of Old Town are turned on - and one stops for an exoctic drink at the San Barbara Pub or a jazz concert at the local Blues Cafe down the street. I can't explain the powerful spiritual presence here, but others have been caught up in it's spell as well, so I'm not alone. Most of the tourists feel obligated to visit the famous Ossuary, with piles of bones arranged in bizarre formations and decorations, including a glimmering, goulish candelabra = testifying to the wacky sense of humor of some medieval monks. 

The Sedlec Ossuary, Kutna Hora

But my advice is to skip it. While it's a bizarre and curious site, it gives off an aura of ancient dust and emptiness, and is not at all inspiring to the soul. Instead head for the cathedral, but at a quiet, leisurely pace, inhaling the deep peace and calm. Walk around the Cathedral, sit on one of the benches gazing at the wooded hill and park across the valley, listen to the hooting of the little train that scoots along the riverside down below, then take a quick look inside the church. Afterwards, take the meandering path behind the church walls down into the valley itself and walk along the stream to the stone bridge that crosses over into two lovely community parks. Turn around and gaze back at the cathedral on the hill and say a pray to St. Barbara, the patron saint of miners. 

Interior of St. Barbara's Cathedral, Kutna Hora


Construction on the great cathedral was begun in 1388, but because of many interruptions, among them war, pestilence, numerous changes of religion (sigh) and lack of money St. Barbara's wasn't actually completed until 1905. And even then, it wasn't really 'completed,' only half completed. The town folks decided they had had enough after 500 plus years of delay, so they stopped construction when the building was half its projected length, slapped on a superb organ in the loft, a final wall with a grand doorway and left the rest of the property as a park. This is why the building looks so weirdly truncated. But the peace of the place is undeniable and testifies to a spiritual presence capable of renewing the soul, a peace that transcends and ignores all the petty scandals of official Catholicism, leaving them far behind in the wake of its serenity. It was a perfect place for me to spend Easter Eve in the year 2014.

Famed Jesuit College, Kutna Hora

Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a free organ and trumpet concert in the little nearby church of St. John Nepomok, the famous Czech martyr who (if you believe the legends, since the Protestants think he is a Jesuit made concoction without historical foundation), who was drowned in the river Vltava by King Wenceslaus for refusing to divulge the secrets of the confessional of the Queen. The King was eager to hear any tales of infidelity. The concert was magnificent, trumpets and organ and vibrations ascending into the heavens. I floated out of the little church, wandered over to St. Barbara's, sat for a while on a bench gazing at the green wooded hill beyond, then said a rosary and took the return bus home. Holy Easter Eve.

St. John Nepomok's Church, Kutna Hora

Today, I've been looking (again) at properties in the San Francisco Bay Area, because I'm feeling the call of the spirit to make a return home at some point in the near future. This has been an ongoing call for some months now, and after many hours of prayer and reflection, I'm starting to take it seriously. However, it's coupled with a corresponding interior movement to Barcelona, leaving me to believe I will be traveling back and forth between both places - or three places, if we include Prague, or four places, if I included Chiang Mai, Thailand.

1770 Pacific Avenue, San Francisco, one block from Van Ness

At the moment, I'm looking at a condo in the Pacific Heights area at 1770 Pacific Avenue, one block from my boyhood home. Pacific Heights - further down the street - is the most exclusive area of  San Francisco, with mansions and estates and sweeping views of San Francisco Bay. But like all areas of the super rich, it has a certain stuffy, sterile, closed-in atmosphere, not at all like the colorful neighborhoods of Fillmore, the Haight or Union Street, which have a 'lived in' feel to them. As a boy, I always found the Heights to be terribly closed in and boring, whereas my own neighborhood right on the doorstep of the Heights was lively, fun and interesting, as well as being a short walk to the very lively Polk Street and its two movie theaters, The Polk and the Alhambra. The property I'm looking at, however, is in the 'middle class' area of Pacific Avenue, one block from my boyhood home at 1855 Pacific Avenue. My parents rented a one bedroom apartment in this building, apartment 303 on the top floor. If memory serves me right, they first rented it before I was born at the outrageous rental price of $150 per month, or was it $300, I can't recall. Here is a photo of the building today, and it delights my soul to see that the little neighborhood market is still in operation, still with the same white and black tiles at the entrance way with the words, "Avenue Food Market." 

Boyhood Home 1855 Pacific Avenue, San Francisco

My father was always so irritated when going into this market, because the lady owner was always shortchanging him. It became something of a contest between the two of them, and my mother and I had to listen to Father's rants time after time, over a few pennies. It was a bit funny all the same. And there is the market still in operation, where I used to run in after school to help myself to raspberry popsicles.




Now, I'm looking at property down the street, but not for myself alone. A long time gay friend from my Jesuit days might also occupy one of the bedrooms on his frequent trips in and out of the Bay Area from Thailand. He is currently a practicing psychotherapist in SF, but thinking of returning to Thailand for a teaching post. We will see.

New Residence ? At 1770 Pacific Avenue, San Francisco

Besides the condo in SF, however, I'm also feeling drawn to a condo in Tiburon on the water across the bay, and if this works out, it would be my primary residence, with the SF condo for weekends, for guest visitors to the Bay Area,  and for my friend (since I can't drive at night anymore, because of after effects of double vision. Two glasses of wine and long distance vision becomes a bit of a problem. So if I'm going to SF for a dinner or evening event, I need a place to stay in town.) Of course, I have no idea how I would finance all of this, but the Lord provides and on this Easter Day it feels like he is about to do just that.

Shoreline Park, Tiburon, CA

Finally, I'm looking at apartments in Barcelona in the center of town, rentals, however, as I can't do everything and Barcelona definitely feels like the next stop on the journey of life for this old pensioner. Prague has been wonderful, full of grace, as attested to yesterday's visit to Kutna Hora, but the Spirit breathes where she will - and the winds seem to be taking me to a city on the sea and a township on the bay, water everywhere. 

Seashore in Barcelona

Peace to everyone on this glorious Easter Day. 


Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Great Tribulation


Holy Thursday  Eve

Thanks to William Lindsey at Bilgrimage for the link to a profound meditation by Waldemar Boff,  the brother of Liberation Theologian, Leonardo Boff, entitled


As we enter into the sacred triduum of Holy Week, remembering the paschal mystery of the Lord, who descended into the nether depths of death, darkness and negation before rising to new life on Easter morn, these sobering words of the Boff brothers act as a prophetic call, alerting us to the fact that we on earth as an entire ecological community are heading into the darkness of trial and tribulation, and it is coming "soon." William Lindsey has written some prophetic words on this subject at his blog, with which I concur. There really is no way around this coming transition, in my opinion, given the state of the world, the plundering of human beings and the near universal denial we humans seem to be perpetuating, a simple refusal to see the consequences of our destructive behavior. Ecological, economically, politically, we are coming to the end of one way of life on this planet, and hopefully some of us will help to transition the community to a new way of life beyond catastrophe. Already, as Waldemar says, the seasons are in disarray and we can no longer be sure of summer or winter. Just three days ago here in Prague, after experiencing a significant heat wave for two weeks, Prague was plunged into near zero temperatures with snow in some parts and hail storms in others. My students were stupefied and stared out the window at the hail stones falling onto the playground, something very rarely seen here in the Czech Republic.  Three days later and we were returned to glorious spring weather. This is only a very tiny example of what promises to be major, catastrophic changes in store for us. As I read these prophetic warnings coming at us from prescient figures around the globe, my heart cries out for my very young students, so hopeful, enthusiastic, filled with life and promise and joy. And yet what kind of future awaits them? The deniers rebuke the prophets as negative, nihilistic fanatics and insist that things will continue more or less the same, but that is simply no longer believable. We are headed for a terrible crisis on a global scale unlike anything so far seen on this planet and now is the time for prayful but active preparation. 

Waldemar Boff's reflection on this coming trial is cautiously hopeful without denying the very real suffering that seems to be in store for the human community. 

His opening comments are chilling:

No one knows the day or the hour with certainty. That is because, almost without realizing it, we are already in its midst. But it is coming, with ever greater intensity and clarity. When the great catastrophe occurs, it will appear to be a surprise.
Not withstanding that well documented data point to the inevitability of global changes due to climate, with consequences that scientists are trying to fathom, and that surely will worsen, the economic interests of the great nations and their leaders’ lack of vision keep them from taking the measures necessary to mitigate its effects and adapt their way of living to the Earth’s feverish state.
But he goes on to offer some tentative words of hope and encouragement, not that the trial can be avoided, it cannot, but that remnants of humanity are already being prepared to help make the transition. The Boff brothers with their ecological concerns and movements, and community experiments in Brazil and elsewhere, are living examples of these pockets of wisdom and sanity preparing us for the great divide.
Waldemar again:

But will this be the end of the biosphere? No. For the just and sensible ones, God will make those days brief, and will not destroy all life on Earth, keeping the promise made to our father Noah. But it is necessary for humans to pass through that tribulation to awaken from their selfishness and recognize that the human being is part of the community of life, and is its main guardian.
What can we do to prepare ourselves for those times? First, we must recognize that we are already living in them. We no longer know when Spring or Fall will come. Nor can we count on the months of cold and warmth. We no longer know when there will be rain or sun. Also, it is important to remain silent, vigilant, and observant, watching for the signs that indicate the acceleration of the processes of change. And above all, it is essential to convert, to change our life habits, undergo personal change, profound and definitive. Only then will we have the moral conditions to ask others to do so. But, as in the time of the prophets, few will listen, some will ridicule and the majority will remain indifferent, allowing themselves all sorts of liberties, as in the times of Noah.
We should also return to our roots, to start over, as repentant humanity has done so many times before, recognizing that we are just creatures, and not the Creator, that we are comrades and not the lords of nature; that to be happy we must necessarily submit to the great laws of life and listen attentively to the voices of our consciences. If we obey those main laws, we will harvest the fruits of the Earth and the joy of the soul. If we disobey them, we will inherit a civilization like that in which we are living now, full of greed, war and sorrow.
Waldemar goes on to offer some simple wise suggestions for survival, which you can read at Leonardo Boff's blog here. But a friend of mine sent me a video recently (the link to which I've misplaced), outlining the worst places to be in the world for the coming upheaval. First on his list was the United States itself, secondly any large urban centers.  And on and on and on. Of course, most people view this stuff and consider it the ravings of lunatic fanatics, end of the world doomsday prophets. Yet these warnings resonate with myself because I've long been spiritually connected to the Marian apparitions of Garabandal and Medjugorje, which seem to be warning of similar trials to come. Waldemar Boff warns that the rich driving their Mercedes Benz' may one day be offering all of their wealth for a simple glass of dirty water. It's a simple image and a devastating symbol or metaphor for what may be upon us sooner than we think. The visionaries of Medjugorje reported seeing visions of human beings crying out from terrible, unquenchable thirst. All of this sounds so terribly depressing and despairing, but I've long believed that these apparitions have arrived precisely to offer some sort of comfort and support during an upcoming period of terrible trial and suffering. People can look back upon these visions and warnings and comfort themselves with the thought that "Heaven and the Spirits anticipated this trial and gave us the guidance to endure them." Which is why perhaps those most in need of this particular kind of comfort have been drawn to the apparitions in the first place. 
And the Boffs may be right. When it comes upon us, it will be sudden. Other wise observers, like former congressman Ron Paul, have been urging Americans to invest in precious metals, and when you listen to his analysis, it sounds quite reasonable, balanced, sane - not at all alarmist or extreme or fanatical, simply a sobering assessment of practical reality beyond denial and delusion. Whatever is coming, and however soon it arrives, now is the time for prayer, penance, sacrifice - and some sobering changes to our lifestyle. Above all, it is a time for the utmost faith and trust. As the Madonna of Medjugorje told the visionaries, "Be prepared to die at any moment, and have complete trust in the mercy of God."

To change tact a little bit and raise the mood as well, in my last posting I commented somewhat tongue in cheek about some of the beautiful homes available in Marin County, one of the most expensive places to live in the United States. What will happen to all of this wealth and all of these privileged folks living in these splendid homes if things go bottoms up in some drastic way? Hard to say, but I was raised in Marin County for most of my boyhood and these are mostly decent people who found themselves situated in this special place and made the most of it. I'm not speaking of the unspeakably rich on Belvedere Island, on their multi million dollar estates. But people like my parents, who were solidly middle class, and only just barely that. My mother was a middle school math teacher and my father, severely handicapped with only one lung, was self-employed. Through hard work and ingenuity, they managed to save and then build from scratch their dream home at 484 Hillside Avenue in Mill Valley. They drew up the plans, purchased the materials, hired the contractors and carpenters and within six months their home was built on a prime piece of real estate high up in the hills on a non country, unpaved dirt road. And yet it was a very simple home, with nothing particularly fancy or luxurious about it, except for the stone fireplace which extended all across one wall, and for its decks facing spectacular valley views. There is no way my parents could have afforded to purchase this house already built. They could only manage by doing it all themselves. Today this house is surrounded by other far more elaborate homes and is valued (assessed by the county of Marin for tax purposes) at $1,400,000, probably the cheapest house on the road. I'm shocked every time I think about this number, but in fact while this number may seem extravagant to anyone living outside the SF Bay  Area, for Marin County this is still 'only' middle class. Try and find any family home for sale in southern Marin for under $500,000. You won't find one. A condo or two, perhaps, for $350,000, but that's as low as it gets. One of the readers of this blog emailed me that in his home state of Kentucky, perfectly adequate 3 bedroom, 3,000 square foot homes can be purchased for  only $60,000. That means for the value of our family home in Mill Valley,  one could possibly buy 23 homes in places in Kentucky. Quite a shocking disparity. Does that make all of the people living in Marin greedy, selfish, capitalists, or corporate criminals and shady bankers, destined for the fires of gehenna when the 'great tribulation' arrives. Will they be selling off all of their assets for a simple glass of dirty water? I think not, though some of the people living in $18,000,000 mansions on Belvedere Island and the Tiburon peninsula probably need a shock and a wake up call. 
I know many of these people in Mill Valley, decent, kind, liberal in outlook, appalled by our foreign wars, alarmed by our abuse of the environment, voting for Obama with enthusiasm, only to feel bitterly betrayed, and doing their best  living  ordinary 'middle class' lives in family homes, whose price tag would both shock and appal Americans living in the Central states. In fact, I know the family living in the beautiful redwood forest home I featured in my previous posting (which is why I featured it, as it's up for sale). Both the mother and father are doctors, with some six children and two 'servants' living in the luxurious guest cottage (who manage the house and grounds). Yet this family has hosted many spiritual retreats and conferences in their expansive home and grounds, including seminars conducted by the renowned Czech psychologist, Stanislav Grof, one of the founders of Transpersonal Psychology and also a Mill Valley resident. They have generously shared these beautiful facilities for many worthwhile events. So one must be careful about rushing to pass judgement, even though sometimes harsh judgements are called for - especially against criminal bankers destroying peoples' lives and paying themselves multi million dollar bonuses, and then erecting gated communities to hide behind, protecting themselves from the wrath of their victims. 
Yet in the end, as the economy crumbles and the environment drastically alters, all of us, guilty and innocent and in between, will be called upon to pass through the great tribulation and suffer the consequences of humanity's irresponsible behavior. I just hope I won't live to see it, but given my parents' longevity (100 years), I've probably got at least another twenty years on this planet before my own transition to the world of the Spirit. Who knows what wonders may ensure in that time. What seems certain, however, is that it will be a time requiring the utmost faith, hope and ingenuity, as people like the Boff brothers in creative alternative communities across the globe prepare the rest of us for the transition to another, more simple, more just and more ecologically sound way of life on this suffering planet. 

Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus Come.
To end:

Here are some photos of the beautiful former residence in Sausalito, Marin County, of renowned Chilean writer, Isabel Allende, cousin to assassinated Chilean president, Salvador Allende, brought down in a US engineered coup on that other infamous 9/11, September 11, 1973.












Monday, April 7, 2014

SWAAG

A bit of whimsy for these dark days - thanks to one of my Czech students, 14 year old Honza.

Not much to cheer about in the Catholic Church these days (see here) or in the world at large, environmental disaster pending, the possibility of WWIII sparked by the crisis in the Ukraine, my own country USA behaving like a psychopathic madman out of control and seeking world hegemony. The Supreme Court puts into law unbridled monetary buying of elections (striking down limits to campaign spending). Victims of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to have their voices ignored, and US citizens targeted unconstitutionally by US drone attacks may not sue for compensation. But as Bill Moyers recently said in response to this SC campaign funds ruling (and referring to the initial rebellion that gave birth to the nation),

When injustice becomes  law, defiance becomes duty. 

That is a clarion call heard on many levels. 

So here in response is latest Justin Bieber look-a-like, Francis the Popus.




Meanwhile, I am looking for homes or condos to buy in the San Francisco Bay Area, even though I don't have the ready money for such a purchase. But here are a few selections that caught my fancy -


Belvedere




Tiburon




Mill Valley






The Tiburon Condo is probably my favorite because (a) its within walking distance of the Tiburon/San Francisco Ferry, Tiburon's famous Main Street, shops, markets and cinemas - perfect for a 70 year old who doesn't want to be completely dependant on a car, and (b) it's the cheapest :) and (c) it has a wonderful sea view alcove in the main bedroom that is perfect for a writer's office. And (d), it has a community pool, as well as two seafood restaurants on the water within five minute walk. OK, I'll take it. 

The two Belvedere Homes are for the snooty rich, but oh my the views.

The magnificent Mill Valley home with gardens is my favorite design, but with four bedrooms and four different living rooms and seven terraces and porches and a fully equipped luxurious guest cottage (and a super big jacuzzi), its a bit large for a single fruity gay grandfather who would only have occasional weekend guests. But Mill Valley is the beautiful Marin village where I grew up, and its become only more trendy and hip since those long ago days of innocence of mine, when I thought the world was good and my country's government protected us and the Catholic Church was only a channel of inestimable grace. My world view has become a bit more nuanced and jaundiced since then, but grace and beauty still prevail, I believe, and some of these fabulous homes for the highly privileged are true works of art. The Mill Valley home is a true hermitage away from the stresses of the world, a rare spiritual retreat. OK, I'll take that one two. Let me call up my broker. 



Sunday, March 16, 2014

Bishop Gene Robinson prays for Pope Francis

I lifted this article whole (and shamelessly) from The Daily Beast.
For any readers not familiar with Bishop Gene Robinson he is the first openly gay Anglican bishop in the US. 
I love this new pope. I pray for him every day—for his ministry, his safety, and the daunting tasks that lay before him. I like all the connotations of “Francis,” the papal name he took, conjuring the saint whose humility, sympathy for the fragile condition of humankind, and his commitment to the poor still are both exemplary and legendary.
But I am under no illusions that the journey ahead will be easy for this new pope, assuming that he continues to move in the directions he has thus far signaled.  And let’s be clear:  Pope Francis has, so far, only changed the tenor and tone of the voice of the Church he leads. That is no small thing, of course, when most Catholics and non-Catholics alike experienced his predecessor as aloof, hierarchical, and pretentious.
Perhaps most dramatic in that change of tone came in his question, after he was asked about gay priests: “Who am I to judge?” Who indeed?  His immediate predecessors seemed not to hesitate in heaping judgment on homosexuals, women (especially those who made the excruciating decision to have an abortion), the divorced, and a vast array of people who fell short of the Vatican’s moral ideal (exempting at times, of course, members of the Church’s own clergy and hierarchy from those same ideals).
How odd that the leader of the Catholic Church would make big news, espousing an attitude promoted by Jesus of Nazareth himself. Jesus dramatically lived out the command to “judge not,” so why would it be such news when his followers (not to mention the Pope!) would follow in his humble, non-judgmental footsteps?!  It is only a newsworthy development because there had been little evidence of non-judgmental and loving acceptance by his predecessors.
In other words, so far, so good—but it is only a good beginning. The hard work lies ahead: There is more to the Christian enterprise than merely being more kind, more sympathetic.
One of my favorite old sayings goes like this:  “It’s not enough to pull drowning people out of a raging stream; we must walk back upstream, and see who is throwing them in in the first place!”  Charity (pulling people out of whatever raging stream they’re in, like poverty, disease, discrimination, hunger) is a great and cherished tradition. Nothing wrong with it—as far as it goes. In addition to rescue and charity work, people of faith—indeed all who long for justice—must also do the hard, systemic work of changing the systems that cause and trap people in demeaning, dehumanizing conditions in the first place.  Some of those oppressive systems are found in the Church itself! Not just the pope’s church, but my church and every religious community of believers.
If Pope Francis is to be believed in all the kindly pronouncements of his first year (and I do), his good tone should be followed by the tough work of changing the systems of belief, doctrine and religious practice which perpetuate the victimization of those he seeks to serve. It is a small step forward to say of homosexuals, “Who am I to judge?”  Yet the official teaching of the Catholic Church is that homosexuals are “intrinsically disordered.”  Not a lot of wriggle room in that, is there?  That judgment and teaching about LGBT people is the basis for discrimination, rejection and violence the world over. It is fine to verbally decry the ecclesial “circle the wagons” approach to the child sexual abuse exposed in the last two decades, but real commitment to the safety of vulnerable children will require the Church to take steps to value and protect those children over the careers and reputations of its abusing priests.  Positive comments about the contributions of women in and to the Church sound fine, but what is needed is a long, hard look at its entire approach to human sexuality and gender which still treats its female adherents as “less than.”
I do not mean to be uncharitable here, nor naive. Such systemic overhaul of an institution that has existed for the better part of two millennia cannot and will not happen overnight, if it is seriously tried at all. Under the leadership of Pope Francis, the Church may have the best chance at giving it a serious try since the Second Vatican Council under Pope John XXIII.  But the Vatican Curia was there before he was elected pope, and it will be there long after his ministry ends.  There will be resistance to any change, much less the kind of change to which Francis’s humble ways point.  Over the years, we have learned what happens to people who are just too good for us!  But this pope seems to know that sacrifice is part of the deal of living with God.
I hope this pope keeps surprising and delighting us, sitting a boy in his papal chair and allegedly sneaking out of the Vatican at night to work with the homeless!  I hope he continues to show us the mind of Christ by his acts of humility and compassion. I pray that he persists in eschewing luxury and pretension. And I pray that he will stay close to the Son of God he is supposed to represent on earth, despite the institution’s every effort to tame their new leader and rob him of his pizazz.
The Catholic Church is a mighty big ship to turn around, even with a beautiful, charismatic, and inspiring captain at the helm. But God is good, and God will be at Francis’ side as he challenges the Church to live up to its lofty, humble, servant values. Like I said, I pray for him every day.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Czech Catholic priest Tomas Halik wins $1.83 million Templeton Prize

Well, there is much rejoicing in the Czech Catholic Church today (and yesterday when the news first broke).



Father Tomas Halik, ordained a Catholic priest secretly by the underground Church during the Communist years, has been awarded the prestigious (and quite lucrative) Templeton Prize "for his work affirming the spiritual dimension of life." He joins company with the likes of the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. Not bad company indeed. 





I find it interesting that Reuter's report on this bestowal includes a photo of Father Halik in clerical collar, but we in the Czech lands rarely see him so clothed, since he prefers secular garb. In fact he looks far more like an existential philosopher than a cleric and his writings reflect a distinctly non clerical embrace of currents of religious - and atheistic - though far removed from the churchly mentality. For Father Halik, atheism in its current twenty-first century form is to be embraced as the locus of the 'hidden God,' who calls us to discover his Face in the dark places of doubt and unknowing. The unknowable God is not to be found among the smug certitudes of ideologues, whether of the religious right or the atheistic left. Rather the Hidden God is discovered within the anguish of sincere doubters and searchers, who struggle to find the light and for whom the organized institutions of religion obfuscate more than illuminate this search. The secular 'atheist' criticism of organized religion should be seen as a valuable resource in the dialogue over faith, not as an adversary.

Here is a nice short theological summary of his work at FAITH AND THEOLOGY. 

I think Tomáš Halík has produced one of the best and most beautiful responses to the new atheism, in his recent book Patience with God(Doubleday 2009). His argument is that the real difference between faith and atheism is patience. Atheists are not wrong, only impatient. They want to resolve doubt instead of enduring it. Their insistence that the natural world doesn't point to God (or to any necessary meaning) is correct. Their experience of God's absence is a truthful experience, shared also by believers. Faith is not a denial of all this: it is a patient endurance of the ambiguity of the world and the experience of God's absence. Faith is patience with God. Or as Adel Bestavros puts it (in the book's epigraph): patience with others is love, patience with self is hope, patience with God is faith. 



There are currently two of Father Halik's books available in English translation at the moment, Patience with God being his first and Night of the Confessor its successor. Both are profound and inspiring reads, and their intended readership are those in the shadows on the edge of faith, living more in doubt than in certitude and suffering heartache and confusion over the darkness of institutional religion - which Father Halik describes as one of the paradoxical masks that conceal the 'Hidden God,' the God who hides his face from us in those places where we would most hope to find him. 

http://www.amazon.com/Night-Confessor-Christian-Faith-Uncertainty-ebook/dp/B00540PAIS/ref=pd_sim_b_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=0KMVN4A5YKDMWRNRSH0B


A few of his most salient remarks, which speak for themselves:

Faith - unlike 'natural religiosity' and 'happy-go-lucky' religiosity - is resurrected faith, faith that has to die on the cross, be buried, and rise again - in a new form. This faith is a process - and it is possible for people to find themselves at different phases of this process at different moments of their lives. 

What atheism, religious fundamentalism, and the enthusiasm of a too-facile faith have in common is how quickly they can ride roughshod over the mystery we call God - and that is why I find all three approaches equally unacceptable. 

But there are also people - and the author of this book is one of them - for whom the experience of God's silence and God's hiddenness in this world is the starting point and one of the basic factors of faith itself. (And God seems to be most hidden these days by the crimes and sins of the institutional church, which has become - on the surface at least - far more of an obstacle to be overcome than a conduit of grace or a  facilitator of a living faith.)

We should not ask for the body of Christianity to be freed from the thorn of atheism. That thorn should instead constantly awaken our faith from the complacency of false certainties.

At the very moment of "rift," at that moment of shaken and collapsing certainties, at the very moment of more and more questions and doubts, he showed me his face more clearly than ever before.

If we can understand those who are confronted with a silent, hidden, or distant God - including those who have been led to reject religion because of that experience - it can help us achieve a more mature form of faith than the naive and vulgar theism that is rightly criticized by atheists.

To show atheism not as a lie, but as an incomplete truth? To show living faith not as a set of dusty precepts, but as a path of maturation that even includes valleys of "the silence of God" - but that, unlike the purveyors of "certainties," does not circumvent them or abandon any further research but patiently moves on. 

Faith and atheism are two views of that reality - the hiddenness of God, His transcendence, and His impenetrable mystery; they are two possible interpretations of the same reality, seen from two opposite sides.

When I reflect on the Czech culture of the past two centuries, I find that what is most lively and interesting exists beyond the traditional, official, and institutional ambit of the church. It is possible - particularly among the poets - to find individuals with a considerable spiritual sensibility, but even that tends to have only a tenuous connection with a classical religious tradition. 

The reasons for that detachment (of his Czech culture from traditional religiosity) are clearly deeply rooted in the religious history of our country....The old confession (traditional Catholicism before the advent of the reformist 'protestant, Christianity of Jan Hus) was replanted by means of enthusiastic missionaries, the educational activity of the Jesuits, and the allure of Baroque culture, but also by violence, oppression, and the merciless banishment of those who refused to subscribe to the faith of the victors. (Not to mention the burning at the stake of prominent reformists, the most saintly of whom was the charismatic Jan Has, a man living the Spirit within his being in a manor that rivals Catholicism's greatest heroic saints. To believe in peace and joy - even to the point of being destroyed by the leaders of one's own faith. Much like Joan of Arc. Yet he has yet to receive his due recognition, though John Paul II took a small step in his apology.)

Human pain, even when it is clothed in the armor of militant atheism, is something that Christians must take seriously and treat with respect, because it is "hallowed ground."

And my favorite quote of all:

Many people these days, as we mentioned earlier, try to foist responsibility for the weakness of their own faith onto the church (i.e., the hierarchy, the institution) and become its bitterest critics or frantic reformers of its institutional structures, or alternatively, withdraw from it in frustration. I have already devoted an entire chapter to the church - I really do not underrate it. But I get the impression that its radical critics and its equally agitated apologists resemble each other insofar as they somewhat overrate its importance, particularly of its visible, institutional aspect. If someone "wearies of the church" - which I fully understand sometimes - must this weariness develop into weariness with their faith?

In contraposition to this (the legalized framework of dogmatic systems) are the theologians, mystics, and saints, who demonstrate that following Christ and fulfilling God's will as was illustrated in Christ is not a matter of observing a system of commandments and proscriptions but of the foolishness of love. And they, of course, "collide," as Jesus did, with the defenders of the Law and as Paul did with the founding generation of Christian conservatives and Pharisees. 

In short, God's logic is different from human logic, and people have to experience it as paradox - and paradoxes abound in Jesus' parables and Paul's theology of the cross, faith, and grace. The first will be last and last first; whoever loses his life will find it, to anyone who has more will be given, and from anyone who has not even what he has will be taken away....But there were also many who found  the wide-open door of love and the spirit that wafted through it too risky, and they slowly started to close it by means of legal thinking. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Divinity of Eroticized Masculinity: A South Florida Art Show

Better late than never, as the saying goes. I was asked by Joe Limez of the inspiring News Travels Fast to advertise this very intriguing art show opening tomorrow evening, Wednesday, MARCH 12, at The Art Center, South Florida - USA (of course). But since I've been so tardy in getting to this posting, perhaps the old adage doesn't apply. 

For those who might actually be in South Florida tomorrow evening at 7pm, here is the news article with info from the Miami Herald

What is most interesting about this  conversation, especially for readers of this blog, is that the focus is on divinized images of the Male, with conversations being led by feminist scholars about gender, power and divinity. The images alone are provocative and intriguing, combining traditional Christian iconography = the Crucified, the Sacred Heart, the Wounded Savior = with potent male sexuality. I'd be really interested to hear what feminist and queer theory woman scholars have to say about this exhibition, given the long history of oppression of women at the hands of men deeply attached to their own exclusive image of desexualized divinity. This looks like quite a different take on the divinization of the male, doing what traditional Catholicism has found next to impossible - the open, honest fusion of the sexual and the mystical. No obfuscation, no repression, no denial. 

See the full article below:


In His Own Likeness:
ArtCenter Provokes Examination of Gender, Power and Divinity
with Images of Eroticized Masculinity
 
ArtCenter’s new exhibition, In His Own Likeness, showcases diverse media (photography, sculpture, painting and video) of four Latin American artists who illuminate  the subject matter of gender and its relationship with power and divinity.

The artists are from Guatemala, Mexico and Cuba and include ArtCenter/South Florida resident artist Othón Castañeda, visiting artist Eny Roland with Rocío García and Mario Santizo.  The exhibition is currently on view through March 16 at the Richard Shack Gallery, 800 Lincoln Road. A conversation about gender with the curator Marivi Véliz and special guests will be presented onsite on March 12, at 7:00 p.m.
Eny Roland (Guatemala), La Resureccion from Fabrica de Santos series, 2013

To curate this exhibition, ArtCenter invited Marivi Véliz, a contemporary art lecturer specializing in Central and Latin American Art who moved to Miami last year. This is her first exhibition in the United States. Véliz is originally from Santa Clara, Cuba with experience curating and lecturing throughout Guatemala, Nicaragua, Brazil, El Salvador and Honduras. In recent years, her focus has been gender studies.  

The show aims to reaffirm existence as equally divine through its diversity and its complexities. The images of eroticized men allude to the tradition of defining God as masculine and thereby associating power to the male gender. This in turn addresses how masculinity can unfold, how it can express itself, and even lose all meaning through sex. 
Mario Santizo (Guatemala), La Venganza series, 2013

"With this new exhibition I wanted to address eroticism and masculinity from my own perspective - as a woman," said Marivi Véliz. "I wanted to create a platform to view gender complexities through male sexual expression."


Roc
ío García (Cuba), from her series Very Very Light ... and Very Oscuro: Un Policia con Alzheimer, 2009

 "The photographs, video, painting and sculpture work together - and individually - to show how male sexuality can be expressed beyond the hetero norm that has traditionally defined the 'rules' of gender roles," adds Véliz
. 


Othón Castañeda (Mexico), Staging Desire (large-scale sculptural installation), 2014

"I really wanted to boldly open a dialogue about sex, to launch this issue onto the public sphere, and break old patterns by reinforcing images of men built around eroticism, since historically this process has usually been inverted." 
Eny Roland (Guatemala), Sangrado Corazon from Dulce Mortificacion series, 2013

About the Artists:
Othón Castañeda trained as an architect at Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosí in México. His work explores sexuality and body references by removing common preconceptions and associations, and transforming them into semi-abstract shapes and forms. For In His Own Likeness, Castaneda premieresStaging Desire, a large-scale sculptural installation.
Rocío García was born in Santa Clara, Cuba. She received a Master in Fine Arts at the Repin Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, Russia. Internationally acclaimed, Garcia began working with erotic themes in the early 90s and mostly paints men in sexual tensions. Her work for this exhibition is an acrylic on canvas, from her 2009 series Very, Very Light … and Very Oscurco: Un Policia con Alzheimer
Eny Roland is a self-taught artist who began his career in Guatemala City as a photojournalist and progressively found himself working with portraiture and urban photography. His photographs combine kitsch, pop, religion, and eroticism. For this exhibition, his 2012 video Blow Job en el Cinema is an homage to Andy Warhol’s 1964 underground film Blow Job. Additionally, Roland has three 2013 prints in the exhibition.

watch the video here:

Mario Santizo  was born in Zaragoza, Chimaltenango, Guatemala. He studied at La Escuela Nacional de Artes Plasticas “Rafael Rodriguez Padilla.” He has worked in staged photography since 2006 and is the subject of his own photos. His work focuses on masculinity, sexuality, religion and art history. For In His Own Likeness, Santizo’s six photographic prints are from his 2013 Vengeance series, a reinterpretation of theHierarchies of Intimacy photo series by Luis Gonzalez Palma.

    

Mario Santizo (Guatemala), from La Venganza series, 2013


Media Contacts:
News Travels Fast: Jose Lima & William Spring
► 305/910-7762  ► editorial@newstravelsfast.biz


About ArtCenter/South Florida
The cultural epicenter of South Beach's Lincoln Road, ArtCenter/South Florida welcomes more than 100,000 visitors every year and is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2014.

The mission of ArtCenter/South Florida is to support the artists and advance the knowledge and practice of contemporary arts and culture in South Florida.

ArtCenter creates opportunities for experimentation and innovation, and encourages the exchange of ideas across cultures through residencies, exhibitions, outreach and education.

Since its founding in 1984, ArtCenter has been home to more than 1,000 resident artists. ArtCenter also offers over 100 studio and artist development classes per year at its South Beach location and satellite venues. More information is available at 305/674-8278 and artcentersf.org.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

From Catholic Nun to Worshipper of the Divine Feminine: The Journey of Meinrad Craighead




There's a very good reason why the male hierarchs of the Catholic Church (and the Orthodox Church) fear women and need to keep them in their place, as humble servants of the divine male, passive and submissive. Because if they let these uppity women get one foot in the door (women priests, Cardinals), they will not only dismantle the entire structure of male governance and control from top to bottom. They will also implode from within the entire mythos of the  Divine Male God as the only image of the divine, upon which sacral male superiority rests (no disrespect intended to the Mystery of the Divinized Jesus, one of us calling us to become one like him.) Hence, the significance of the remarkable spiritual journey of one of Catholicism's most interesting women mystics, artist Meinrad Craighead. See the preview below of the remarkable documentary video about her. Notice the spiritual/religious images throughout her house and on her little altar, none of them of the Man Jesus, many of them from different religious traditions and from nature herself. 





video


Meinrad has never disavowed her Catholic identity, though she has moved far beyond the worship of the Man Jesus and now embraces and worships the Divine Mother manifested throughout nature. It's an astonishing harmony she has managed to achieve, through prayer, reflection and life experience, between her traditional Catholic upbringing and training and the very special place to which she has been led in the Spirit.



As she says in the chapter devoted to her in the wonderful little book by Anne Bancroft, Weavers of Wisdom: Women Mystics of the Twentieth Century: (which is unfortunately out of print)

Throughout half a lifetime of Christian worship my secret worship of God the Mother has been the sure ground of my spirituality. The participation in her body, in the natural symbols and rhythms of all organic life, and the actualization of her symbols in my life as an artist, have been a steadfast protection against the negative patriarchal values of Christianity, the faith I still profess. Like many other women who choose to reinvest their Christian heritage rather than abandon it, my spirituality is sustained by a commitment to a personal vision that affirms woman as an authentic image of the Divine and enlightens, informs and enriches the orthodox image of the transcendent Father God. 



A woman sheds blood from her body and from her spirit. Memories stir and incubate; they are remembered, reformed and animated into imagery. Whether we are weaving tissue in the womb or imagery in the soul, our work is sexual; the work on conception, gestation and birth. Our spirituality should centre on the affirmation of our female sexuality in its seasons of cyclic change. Our feminine existence is connected to the metamorphoses of nature; the pure potential of water, the transformative power of blood, the seasonal rhythms of the earth, the cycles of lunar dark and light. 




In solitude our intuitions of an indwelling personal God Spirit are confirmed, the Mothergod who never withdraws from us and whose presence is our existence and the life of all that is. Her unveiled glory is too great for us to behold; she hides her face. But we find her face in reflection, in sacred guises, mediated through the natural, the desire to receive with animation those messages carried through our nervous senses and the will to focus their energy and transform it into worship. 

Taken from The Feminist Mystic (also, alas, out of print)

Although Meinrad is keen to avoid direct criticism of a patriarchal spiritual tradition, when questioned directly about its effect on our psyche, she replies: 'Of course, it has completely stolen our birthright. However, that leads to political talk. Obviously we live in the Western world and we know the paradigm of the patriarchal 'Father' who looks after everything. The priority of the males in the house crosses over into the East and will probably be with us for as long as we can imagine into the future, but there is a place where it doesn't matter. If you are following your intuition, if you are smart enough, silent enough and together enough, you are going to be OK because you can do that sifting and throwing out. Not a throwing out because of anger, as in "Oh, this has destroyed me", leaving you angry all the time, but a honing down of what is meaningful to you. I only speak from the point of view of an artist; if I were a politician, perhaps I would speak differently. I've never thought in terms of 'fixing' society. I've had this narrow road that I've been able to stay in and lead a holistic life. If you are following your intuition you will ipso facto lead a holistic life. The thread to follow is always ahead of you - if you are really following that in the deepest way, you're not going to get lost, you're going to get nearer and nearer to your own center.'

What's remarkable about this statement: Meinrad's avoidance of bitter anger and criticism of the Church, somewhat like Philomena of the now famous film. She simply and peacefully goes about her way, giving witness to a "place where it doesn't matter." What a wonderful phrase, which I'd like to use as a title of a book someday.




See NCR's 2008 article on Meinrad, Art and Spirituality: In The Name of the Mother

Also check out the Facebook page of The Meinrad Craighead Documentary Project for many interesting links.

"Instinctively I knew that this private vision needed protecting; my identity, my very life depended upon its integrity. But as she guided me as an artist, illuminating my imagination, her presence in my life could not really be veiled. She erupted in my imagery. And it is as an artist that I am compelled to reveal this secret life we have shared for nearly fifty years." --The Mother's Songs, Meinrad Craighead