Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Ponder: the majesty of the God of the immaculate present

"The modern no longer knows what a throne is, how one sits on a throne, how one thrones.  Looking back, we encounter the mighty throning depicted in Egyptian sculpture.  We find it again in early Greek art, and (Christianized) in the mosaics of the first Christian centuries and in the stone figures of the opening middle ages.  Then it vanishes.  Personages no longer throne--they merely sit.  And even the sitting becomes more and more restless.  The ancient throning was not stiff--its movement lay in the potential power of the figure, in its stillness, intensity...Sitting has become careless, a flighty interim between coming and going.  Something at the root of our lives has changed.
When we ask a man today what he considers life, the answer will always be more or less the same: Life is tension, flinging oneself toward a goal; it is creation and destruction and new creation.  It is that which rushes and foments, streams and storms.  Thus the modern finds it difficult to realize that also the omnipresent present is life; intensity of gathered forces; powers that vibrate in stillness.
When he considers God, he thinks of the restlessly creative one.  Indeed, he is inclined to see the Maker himself in an unending process of becoming that arches from an infinitely distant past to an infinitely distant future.  The God of the pure present, immutable, realizing himself in the reality of his existence, does not appeal to him.  And when he hears of an eternal life in which all meaning is to fulfill itself, he is likely to grow uncomfortable: what does one do with an existence in which 'nothing happens'?  The throne stands for the majesty of the God of the immaculate present.  It stands for him who lives in eternal stillness, who in all the timeless simplicity of his will created, sustains, and reigns over all things.  Before his countenance, earthly toil and struggle is but passageway, and their claim to be genuine life superlative nonsense."

Romano Guardini, The Lord (1954), 487-488

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

In Remembrance

“This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord.”
Exodus 12:14

The Exodus story is one of the Bible’s most vivid and dramatic narratives.  The wickedness of Pharaoh, the steadfast courage of Moses, the horrors of the plagues, the spectacle of the the Red Sea’s high waves, frozen in place—they almost seem, to us to demand a screenplay.  There have been plenty of Exodus movies, from Cecil DeMille’s great 1956 epic The Ten Commandments, to the animated Prince of Egypt, a favorite in our household.  Earlier this week, I asked my sons if they knew about the ten plagues, and was very impressed when they could reel off all ten of them.  “Did you cover that in Sunday School?” I asked.  “No dad,” came the response—"it’s in the movie.”

I didn’t ask them if they had been reading about the Exodus directly from the Bible. But if they had tried, they would have found a story paced quite differently from any film I’ve seen.[1]  It’s not that the filmmakers need to invent lots of episodes.  All the powerful stuff comes right off the pages.  It’s that they usually leave out much of what the Book of Exodus actually says. 

Friday, September 8, 2017

Ponder: "whatever you are drawn to in following God's will"

"A brother asked a hermit, “Tell me something good that I may do it and live by it.” The hermit said, “God alone knows what is good. But I have heard that one of the hermits asked the great Nesteros, who was a friend of Antony, ‘What good work shall I do?’ and he replied, ‘Surely all works please God equally? Scripture says, Abraham was hospitable and God was with him; Elijah loved quiet and God was with him; David was humble and God was with him.’ So whatever you find you are drawn to in following God’s will, do it and let your heart be at peace."
From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, qtd. in Stephen Freeman, "Having then Gifts Differing."  (2010)

Friday, September 1, 2017

Ponder: true justice is the fruit of bounty

"A curious thing happens to the spokesman of justice in this parable.  He is accused of envy.  What a reply to one convinced that he has suffered an injustice!  Instead of hearing as he expected, that untamperable right will be restored, he must learn that his real motive for intervening was inferior!  Yet if we accept Scripture as God's holy word, we learn a strange rule about human nature: that when it becomes necessary to invoke justice, that irreproachable value and crystalline motive, almost always something is rotten in Denmark.  To often 'justice' is used as a mask for quite different things.

Human justice is highly problematical.  It is something a man should strive for but not lean upon.  Perhaps we come closest to the true sense of the New Testament if we say that genuine justice is not the beginning but the end, and the other justice so pompously displayed as the fundament of morality is a dubious thing.  True justice is the fruit of bounty, and practicable by man only after he has been initiated into the school of divine love where he has learned to see people as they really are, himself included.  Before one can be just, one must learn to love."

Romano Guardini, The Lord (1954), 261.

Ponder: the spacious dome of mercy

"Justice is good.  It is the foundation of existence.  But there is something higher than justice, the bountiful widening of the heart to mercy.  Justice is clear, but one step further and it becomes cold.  Mercy is genuine, heartfelt; when backed by character, it warms and redeems.  Justice regulates, orders existence; mercy creates.  Justice satisfies the mind that all is as it should be, but from mercy leaps the joy of creative life.  That is why it is written that heaven rejoices more over one sinner who repents than over a hundred just who have no need of it.  High above all the stupidity and evil of mankind arches the spacious dome of mercy."

Romano Guardini, The Lord (1954), 259.

Ponder: God's word through the lips of man

"He who insists on hearing God himself shows that what he really desires is not to believe, but to know; not to obey, but to react to his own experience.  It is entirely fitting and proper that man hear his God through his fellow men, for all lives are inextricably interwoven into the one great community of human existence.  No one life is self-sufficient.  My existence draws on the core of my being but simultaneously on others in order to exist.  Plantlike, we sprout from our own seed, but we grow by feeding upon other growth.  In the same way, we arrive at truth through personal recognition; the 'ingredients' which go into that recognition, however, are brought us by others.  Man is humanity's way to God, and it befits us that God's word personally penetrate each of our hearts, but that it be brought to us by others.  God's word through the lips of man: that is the law of our religious life."

Romano Guardini, The Lord (1954), 251.