January Journal, Third Sunday after Epiphany

Mount_Diablo_from_Quarry_Hill_in_Shell_Ridge_Open_SpaceThere was a mighty rushing wind that whirled around our house this last week. The whoosh was ferocious as though a roaring lion were breathing upon our hillside at the base of Mount Diablo. I thought how nature was not always gentle, kind, and caring about humanity but ran on a course of its own. Our house was in the middle of that course, it seemed. Would we be blown into the sea?

I thought of Pentecost and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, like a mighty wind.

Hurricanes and tornadoes must sound like that. It’s nature beyond our control, and that which we cannot control is scary.

I thought too how God’s anger could be like that wind – his anger at our slaughter of the unborn at the whim of convenience, our demand for control of events, bodies, time, future.

And yet we have little control at the end of the day, each day, when the sun sets and darkness falls, and we are dependent upon something called the grid for light. We stack candles and matches in closets and drawers and hoard batteries to feed flashlights. Our phones go dead. Electric wires atop poles running through the hills crash into dry grass and forest, setting them ablaze, turning wind into fire (Big Sur fire still burning). We have little control.

And yet, what we do have control over, or at least bits of control, we are responsible for. We have control over what we say and do to a limited degree. We have control over our loves and hates. We have control over our vote, who we desire to represent us in these United States. We have control over law and order, or at least we can control our own support or lack thereof. 

With control comes responsibility. With responsibility comes guilt. With guilt comes the anger of God.

THE DYING CITIZEN.HANSON.COVERI believe it was Victor Davis Hanson who wrote (probably in his recent excellent book The Dying Citizen) that with false victimhood (and who is not a victim today?) comes denial of responsibility. Guilt is washed away when you are a victim, or at least guilt is explained or excused.

I knew a priest some years ago who was a professional victim. I noticed it right away, for he tended to whine and bemoan his difficult childhood, so I proceeded warily. For blaming others for your sins, either directly or indirectly, is a dangerous game to play. When he was finally exposed as a serial liar and sexual predator, I thought back to the times he may have been lying about common friends, slandering them, to make him look good in a bid for our sympathy. But he was convincing and we credulous. We wanted to believe him. In hindsight, I should have seen it all coming, but didn’t, and was blindsided by the turn of events soon to come that would expose him. Today, we have no idea what was true and what was false in our conversations. And we have learned that we too were slandered by him in handwringing conversations with others. He played us all and, I believe, still does.

It is tempting to play the victim, for it smooths the rough edges of our soul, hides the guilt. It is a powerful tool.

Many women see themselves as victims when they become pregnant. They think they have a right to end this tiny miracle of a life just beginning. But they don’t have this right, and they have fallen into the blame game of victimhood.

No one has the right to take another person’s life, let alone murder an innocent person, a baby, born or unborn.

Many brave souls marched in the cold this weekend as they have annually, announcing their commitment to these innocent children. “Stop the killing,” they cry, hoping the court will overturn Roe v. Wade and abortion on demand. America has the stain of sixty-two million abortions in the last fifty years, three generations gone with the flash of a blade. For this to be legal, written into law, is a horrendous shame. It ranks of… evil.

God is angry and should be. Our God is a God of life. He created those innocent ones. He feels the blade with them. He weeps on their cross.

WEDDING AT CANAI thought about this, this morning in the Berkeley chapel, that our God is a God of Life. We celebrated the first miracle of Christ, the turning of water into wine at a wedding feast in Cana in Galilee. The simplicity and need of the act touches me. Had Mary seen him do these things before? She says to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you to do.” She says to her son, “They have no more wine.” And so Our Lord remedies the situation, turning 150 gallon vats of water into “the best wine,” as the master of the feast says later.

It is a homely miracle, a sort of kitchen miracle. He did not save lives or stop a ship from sinking or walk on the water, not yet. He supplies wine when it runs out. He does so at a wedding feast, a sacramental celebration, and so celebrates marriage itself.

It reminds me how our God is a God of seemingly small things, not only big things. We are small things. Babies are small things. Our God is a God who knows when a sparrow falls. As my bishop of blessed memory said, “Nothing is wasted.” In God’s economy, everything we do and think and believe is known by him, marked by him. He knows the hairs on our head, or in my case, lack of hairs on my head. I remember this glorious smallness when I think I am not good enough, not loving enough, not successful enough, when publishers turn me down with form letters saying “It doesn’t work for us.” I remember that “nothing is wasted, nothing is lost.”

And so we clean out our hearts of every little grimy sin we see, so that we can receive absolution, become clean enough to receive him, the Real Presence of Christ into our bodies.

Michelangelo CreationThe Cana miracle reflects the living God of all creation, for to turn one substance into another is no small thing, yet is a small thing for him. He charges matter with life, with atoms forming substance. We call this a sacrament and, in the sacrament of the Eucharist atoms of bread and wine become charged with his life. They become “the real substance of things unseen.”

Of these matters we can only say they are a mystery. We are too small to understand fully. But we know enough to say these matters are true, real, and miraculous everyday occurrences.

The natural world breathes the breath of God upon us. We are his children, the work of his hands. He knew us in the womb; he knew us when we breathed our first breath and took our first steps. Nothing is lost; nothing wasted. And for this we celebrate in a chapel on a windy morning in Berkeley. We celebrate life itself, for this life conquers death.

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