This Square Peg Finds Its Place at Last

(I thought the end of the year an appropriate time to share this poem I penned.   It is all poetically true, and as we come to the last day of the year, it is apropos too.   Some think death too morbid a subject to ever be addressed, but as a priest I do funerals and so think about death.  Besides, as Jorge Luis Borges wrote, “All it takes to die is to be alive.”  Mercutio in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet after being stabbed by a sword is asked if the wound is serious, he replies, “No, ’tis not so deep as a well nor as wide as a church door; ‘ Tis enough,’ twill serve.  Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man.” I guess if the Bard can poetically spar and parry with death while having a bit of fun with it, I can as well.   I had to memorize that Shakespearean line in 9th grade – 43 years ago – and finally decided to put it to use.  Mrs. Russell should be proud that her efforts to force us to memorize things has not been forgotten.)

This Square Peg Finds Its Place at Last

Through time across earth’s face

I sojourned to find that place

In which I might fit, but no.

It’s the last place I want to go.

A place for rest, not recreation

My final worldly destination.

Though in life I found no place on earth

Where I fit in since my time of birth.

There is a place to call my own

Wherein I’ll rest my weary bone.

That place some time ago was booked

Reserved but the date was yet overlooked.

The fees for the lot were gravely paid

As were the wages by the one they slayed.

In life my soul found no rest or peace in sin,

The end is where the square peg at last fits in.

The Incarnation of God

“The pivotal event in the salvation of the cosmos is the Incarnation of Christ. The Word through whom all things were made becomes part of his own creation, and, as Paul Evdokimov says, this event ‘has introduced the whole of nature into the work of salvation’. From the human point of view, the coming of Christ undoes the Fall and restores the human race to its intended path; but this fall-redemption arc must be seen as a subsection of the greater arc stretching from creation to deification. The Incarnation is not primarily a remedy for something gone wrong; it inaugurates the union between God and his creation for which all things were created.

The cosmic dimension of salvation is clearly expressed in Orthodox worship. The rejoicing of all creation at Christ’s birth, the sanctification of water at his baptism, the darkening of the sun at the crucifixion as ‘all things suffer with the Creator of all’ – these are not mere literary devices. They signal the intimate connections between the work of creation and the work of bringing what is created into union with God in Christ.” (Elizabeth Theokritoff in The Cambridge Companion to Orthodox Christian Theology, pg. 69)

Jesus & Augustus, Christ & Caesar (III)

As an addendum to the blogs Jesus & Augustus, Christ & Caesar (I) and Jesus & Augustus, Christ & Caesar (II), I offer two hymns from the Christmas services of the Orthodox Church.  In those two blogs I pointed out that the Nativity of Christ narratives in the Gospels according to Sts. Matthew and Luke were written not merely to record historical event but also to sound a challenge to the religious and imperial claims of the Roman Empire.  The Christian Gospel was confronting the false claims of imperial religion and power and placing the entire Roman Empire within the context of the Gospel and the Kingdom of God (note in the hymn below Augustus reigned alone ON EARTH, but not in heaven.  Augustus like any man lives only on earth and is answerable to God).  For the Gospel writers, the Roman Empire was not the context of the story of the birth of Christ, rather the Empire was being shown to be temporary and passing away.  That was a pretty bold claim for a religion that was completely disrespected by the imperial government and by pagan philosophers.

WHEN AUGUSTUS REIGNED ALONE UPON EARTH,

THE MANY KINGDOMS OF MANKIND CAME TO END;

AND WHEN YOU WERE MADE MAN OF THE PURE VIRGIN,

THE MANY GODS OF IDOLATRY WERE DESTROYED.

THE CITIES OF THE WORLD PASSED UNDER ONE SINGLE RULE;

AND THE NATIONS CAME TO BELIEVE IN ONE SOVEREIGN GODHEAD.

THE PEOPLES WERE ENROLLED BY THE DECREE OF CAESAR;

AND WE, THE FAITHFUL, WERE ENROLLED IN THE NAME OF THE GODHEAD,

WHEN YOU, OUR GOD, WERE MADE MAN.//

GREAT IS YOUR MERCY:  GLORY TO YOU!

(Vespers of Christmas)

In other words with the birth of Christ, it is the nations of the earth which stand under God’s judgment rather than the foundling religion of Christianity being under the judgment of the Roman Empire.  The conversion of the Emperor Constantine and the embrace of Christianity by the Roman Empire is nothing short of miraculous.  The Christians had no armies, yet they defeated the region’s only superpower.   Christianity did not represent ideas compatible with Roman values, but rather challenged them.  Surely, some of the Gospel claims about Christ are already found in pagan religions and in the claims of the Empire about the Emperor.  But Christianity does not take the pagan and imperial stories and add more gods and miracles to its Gospel.  Rather it claims an exclusive truth to the Gospel and displaces all of the pagan and imperial claims with the Gospel.

OBEDIENT TO THE DECREE OF CAESAR,

YOU WERE ENROLLED AMONG HIS SERVANTS, O CHRIST,

SETTING US FREE WHO WERE SERVANTS OF THE ENEMY AND SIN.

SHARING WHOLLY IN OUR POVERTY,

YOUR HAVE MADE OUR CLAY DIVINE THROUGH YOUR UNION AND PARTICIPATION IN IT.

(Matins of Christmas)

Christians respected the notion of rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, but then claimed even Caesar answers to God.

Christ was Born that You might Live

“O man, for thy sake was Christ born, and the Son of God came that He might make thee to live; He became a babe, He became a child, and He became a man, being (at the same time) God in His Nature, and the Son of God. He Who was the Lawgiver became a reader, and He took the Book in the synagogue, and read, saying, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, and therefore He hath anointed Me, and hath sent Me to preach the Gospel to the poor ’ (St. Luke 4:18).”  (The Paradise of the Holy Fathers, Volume 2, pg. 243)

2011 Christmas Blogs now Available as PDF

Although they weren’t a threaded series of blogs, all of my blogs related to the theme of Christmas, the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, are now available as one PDF.

Since some readers prefer reading them in the PDF format as one document rather than searching through all of the blogs on this site, you can find them as one document at  2011 Christmas Blogs (PDF).  They are placed in the chronological order of when they were originally posted as blogs.

You can find a list of all of my blog series which are now available as PDFs with the appropriate links at Blog Series Available as PDFs.

Besides finding it as a PDF, you can also find my 2009 Christmas Blog series beginning at 12 Quotes for Christmas.

Also available as one PDF are my 2010 Christmas Blogs.

Santa & Facts, Jesus & Truth

“The professor began the lecture by inquiring, ‘How many of you believed in Santa Claus when you were young?’  Every hand was raised, including that of the professor.  Then the professor asked: ‘Who believes in Santa Claus today?’  Only one hand remained in the air, that of the professor.  The students appeared puzzled until the professor explained that the point of the Santa Claus story was that it is good to be good.

Many today could be called fact fundamentalists: if something didn’t happen, it isn’t true.  They have lost the ability to hear stories as true stories whose truth does not depend on their historical factuality.  Some stories look like historical accounts, but their meaning is found at the level of metaphor.  And so it is with the parables in Mark’s Gospel.”  (Dennis Sweetland, “Parable in Mark”, THE BIBLE TODAY, November/December 2011, p 353)

Some of the Church Fathers felt Genesis was theology in the guise of narrative.  Truth is found not only in fact but also in parable, aphorisms, metaphors, fables, poetry and sometimes in wit.  Our modern tendency as believers to over emphasize literal fact as the only way truth can be expressed causes us to undervalue the parables and Scriptural narratives.   Our Lord Jesus Himself read the book of Jonah as prophecy regarding the three day burial and resurrection.  To read the story only as a historical event misses the very purpose which Christ makes of the story.   The birth of Christ is told as story, but it expresses the theology of the incarnation.  To overly focus only on the literal facts in the text would cause us to miss some of the major theological points of the story and its challenge to the Roman empire’s claims and to pagan religious claims.

The story of Santa like the story of George Washington and the cherry tree are fictional, yet they can offer us truth about what it important and good.

Sweetland concluded his article with these words:

“When all is said and done, those who understand how parables function could say: We don’t know if these events happened exactly this way or not, but we know that these stories are true.” (p 358)

Singing Therapy Helps Stroke Victims Speak Again

I found both fascinating and very moving the NPR story Singing Therapy Helps Stroke Victims Speak Again which I listened to as I drove to the church this morning.  I sat in the car after arriving at the church to finish listening to the story.

As the story title implies researches are looking to use “melodic intonation therapy” to help stroke victims who have lost speech to regain speech through first having them sing.  Apparently while speech is controlled in the left brain hemisphere, singing involves the entire brain, and so stroke victims who have lost the use of their left brain hemisphere can still sing even if they can’t speak.

The story also focuses on a 16 year old girl, Laurel F. who suffered a devasting stroke at the age of 11.  Doctors concluded she would never be able to speak again.  But miraculously through a singing therapy, Laurel’s speech has returned and she is back in school.   As Laurel puts it:  “I’m singing in my head and talking out loud without singing. I do it, like, really quick.”

The story is amazing and well worth reading or listening to as a podcast.

Fortuitously for many others, Laurel has a twin sister and doctors are able to compare through brain imaging Laurel’s brain to her twin sister’s – both her damaged brain as well as the regrowth and repairs of the brain that have taken place through the music therapy.  This allows researchers to better understand what is happening to the brain and how the therapy might work.

A miraculous story for the Christmas season.  Thanks be to God.

Christmas Greetings (2011)

Dear Friends, Fellow Christians, and All Readers of My Blog,

Christ is born!           Glorify Him!

In the beginning God said, “Let there be…..”    And it all came to be just as He said.

God’s Word is creative, life giving, powerful, and fruitful, causing existence itself and all that is, was or will be.

Christmas, the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, is also about the powerful Word of God.

In Christ, so scripture witnesses, the Word of God, which brought the world into existence, suddenly and unexpectedly further entered into the universe, not as an idea, as wisdom, or as reason, but as a human being.  The word took flesh and dwelt among us (John 1).  It is the new beginning of creation.

At Christmas we celebrate God’s Word taking on new meaning; for the Word of God no longer is merely that which creates the world, or speaks to the world.   Now in the Nativity of God’s Son the Word has become part of the world, and becomes ever more accessible to us.  Christmas is the feast of God recreating His creation through His incarnate Word.

We don’t have to reach into the distant past to hear this voice of God – into Genesis, the beginning of time or even into the prophets.   When the Word became flesh, it also entered into history, into our history and became present for us eternally.  We encounter God’s word in our daily lives as Christians, not just in the bible, or in saints and icons, but in the Bread and Wine become the Body and Blood, and in our fellow Christian; for we are the Church, members of the Body of Christ, the Word become flesh.   The Word of God is not distant in the heavens, but is present in our hearts, in our lives and the lives of our fellow Christians.  This is the incarnation, transfiguring and transforming the entire world and all the people in it.

Wishing you and your families a blessed Christmas celebration.  Peace on earth and goodwill to all.

Fr. Ted

See and hear A beautiful Arabic Christmas Hymn  (sung in Arabic with English subtitles).

See and hear a wonderful Serbian Christmas Carol (in Serbian):