Friday, November 25, 2011

Hollow Hearts Made to be Filled

Six hundred years before the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, Isaiah was dreaming. In a very modern sounding lament, he was yearning for a glimpse of the glory of the “old days” when God was more, shall we say, visible: "Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for, such as they had not heard of from of old." (Isaiah 63) Isaiah yearns for God to be present in his time of exile and expectation. “For you have hidden your face from us...” 

Isaiah longs, as we all still do, for the veil to be pulled back; for Divinity to reveal itself to humanity. Little could he dream that soon Divinity would actually conceal itself in humanity! If he only knew what God was about to do! The Author will enter His own Story, and the Potter Himself become clay! 

Isaiah’s classic image of God as the Potter and we the clay has a very incarnational feel to it. And a feel of mystery too. Imagining ourselves as clay means we cannot see, we can only feel. We feel the Master’s touch, feel in our “earthen vessels” the movement of the Master’s hands: the pinch that stings, the pressure that simplifies and smoothes out our lumps. If we yield to Him, we sense in our very being the delicate shaping and reshaping of His hands. Through life’s experiences, it is the fine-tuning of Him making us His masterpiece. 

This is Advent, the expectation of the great art our Father will make of us if we just let Him spin the potter’s wheel, grafting spirit and flesh into Nature’s finest creation. So let us let Him whirl us about in this workshop. This messy, dusty workshop of sanctity. And let’s watch the excess of layered clay be stripped from us, and let’s be emptied, made hollow for His purposes. Hollow vessels so designed to be so filled with His Word, His love! 

“No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait..."
- Isaiah 63

First posted in the TOB Institute newsletter:

Sunday, November 13, 2011

TOB Symposium in Rome!

What a gift that the message of love, truth, and beauty regarding the human body and God's plan is reaching the masses. A wonderful conference was just held in Rome and I pray the results will be fruitful!

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The Libyan Sybil and the Longing for Christ

I was beginning my second year of college in the late 80‘s when the restoration of the Sistine Chapel ceiling was coming to a close. It had taken nearly a decade to clean the famous frescoes of Michelangelo (he had painted them in just four years). The restoration brought a brilliance to his work that had not been seen for literally centuries. Roughly half a millennium of accumulated dust, grime, and black smoke from candles had drifted up and smeared nearly three hundred figures in that vaulted firmament. What the restorers found beneath the shadows of all those years was so astounding, so bright and blazing with color, that some actually objected to the project. “You're ruining his masterwork! You're changing Michelangelo’s images! Leave it the way it is! It's a part of history now, why change it?” 

But Pope John Paul II felt otherwise. Wipe away the dirt, remove the loincloths that later, prudish artists had put over the glory of the naked bodies Michelangelo was inspired to paint. The Pope called the ceiling a “shrine to the Theology of the Body.” (Historical Man must recall his Origins, as any TOB student knows!)

The Libyan Sybil, pictured above, is one of my favorite figures on the ceiling. The word Sybil means “prophetess” or “seer” - they were women in the ancient Greek world, dwelling in the temples and holy places, who supposedly read the signs of nature and foresaw the future. In Michelangelo’s work she hovers alongside the Prophets and Patriarchs of the Old Testament, showing us how God speaks to and through all cultures in powerful ways, leading all to the altar, all to Jesus. 
So often in the culture at large, the human body comes to us in distorted images, sound bytes, and scenes from films. The media covers over what God made bright and beautiful, darkening it and distorting it. Deep down, we know it needs a restoration. This beautiful figure of a woman was not painted to stimulate lust, but love and longing. Her exquisite form turns in a graceful glance away from a scroll with its words of pagan wisdom to face the altar far below where Wisdom Itself took flesh. 
As a young student of the arts in the late 80‘s and early 90’s, first seeing this restored beauty, the Sybil, the Woman, I felt drawn into something mysterious. She was inviting me, pointing with the very language of her body to something bigger than herself, stronger than my own desires, to something much deeper than the satisfaction of the sensual appetite. But it was in fact her beauty that led me to quench a spiritual hunger for God, the Source of all Beauty. From the sign to the sacrament to the soul of the reality. Give yourself a gift today; visit the online Vatican collection of these restored images and drink in their grace and beauty. They point to the Love that shaped the world, and they can reshape our own vision too!


Originally written for the TOB Institute newsletter.

The Musical Mysticism of Trevor Hall

“Love all, serve all, and create no sorrow.”
- Trevor Hall

God speaks in every language and to every heart through the visible world and through Sacred Scripture. But all of the universe cannot contain the Divine Whirlwind of His Trinitarian Love; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For humanity, the sacraments are our access point, our invitation into this Mystery of Forever Love, of the Exhilarating Mystery of the Divine Other. But God is not bound to those sacraments; He can work outside of them. The Eucharist is absolutely the source and summit of the faith, but it also shoots off tiny waves and streams of life-giving water that trickle into everything and can draw everyone back to that source.

This gospel of redemption, in short, is in the DNA of every great love song! With the lens of faith and the help of grace, when we hear it, and decipher it, and hold fast to what is good, then we can truly “dance to the rhythm of love” in the music of our culture. In the words of St. Paul we “test everything and retain what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21)

Enter Trevor Hall; dreadlocks, tattoos, Buddha beads and all. He was born in South Carolina, grew up in California, and is currently rocking the music scene with his spiritually charged lyrics and reggae beat. Deliriously positive, Trevor’s music rushes over you like a mountain of salt water, then lifts you up and takes you for a ride on the crest of a towering wave. He is also an avid surfer, maybe that’s why his music swells?

To introduce you to his music, I think I'll follow the pattern of the sea. Waves come in sets of three, so here are three samples of his mystic poetry, and I suggest you ride whichever one you catch, or maybe just the one that catches you. 
Wave One: This one is fast and furious, like a wave off the Australian coast; from the song Volume.
"Rush like a river from the highest mountain, drink from the fountain and stop your counting. What kind of wine does he have in his tavern, oh so enchanted and sing like a mad man. Mad with the love of a wife for her husband, child or mother, sister or brother... sing for the Most High, sing for no other. We are all notes in this eternal song, God plays his flute and we all dance along."
- Trevor Hall

St. Theresa of Avila in her commentary on the Song of Songs once spoke this way. She sang of the King's wine cellar, of drinking deeply, and of losing oneself in that intoxicating love of the Divine, the Most High. Here we see the near limitless expanse of divine love opening before us. What a treasure that Trevor has slipstreamed into this mystical way, and in his wake he draws so many fans with him. It blasts a cold, obligatory type of religion out of the water doesn't it? It’s a reminder that we were made above all for love. Merely following the rules doesn’t seem to answer the heart’s deepest yearning, does it?

Wave Two: Bubbly, strong, and playful, like a California tumbler. From the song 31 Flavors.

"Tell me how many songs that I must sing before I can see you in your glory, hear your whole entire story, bathe inside your golden, golden sea?"

- Trevor Hall, 31 Flavors

This verse is a true hymn to love. Streams of praise pour from him and love draws him up and out of himself! It’s hard to say if he is speaking to a woman or to God Himself! I believe it can work on both levels, like the Song of Songs. Blessed John Paul II said that the great Scriptural hymn is not just a praise of human marriage, or only of spiritual union of Israel with God. He said it’s both!

What a blindingly brilliant thing it is to be able to say to another human being, "Come in... look around. The place is yours." What a crazy thing it is to say to another person, (you with all of your sins and weaknesses, they with theirs) "Let's become one. I give you permission. I turn over the key. What's mine is yours and what's yours, I ask of you, let it be mine." And what a greater wonder that Jesus desires this with us in the Eucharist. If any one is scandalized by this Divine intimacy, just read John 6.

Wave Three: Soft and steady, like the waters at Avalon.

I don't want a reason anymore about the one I love, the one I love
I don't want a reason anymore about God above, God above
I just want to melt away, in all His grace. Drift away, into that sacred place
Where there's no more you and me, no more they and we, just unity…

This final wave from the music of singer/songwriter Trevor Hall is the most mystical. In the song Unity he is pushing the very edge of the heart’s reach for meaning in life. For this young man, guitar in hand and poetry in heart, it all boils down to one word; communion. It is powerful to reflect that this is the very same conclusion so many mystics and poets have made, including Blessed John Paul II in his powerful Theology of the Body. The human heart is made for Oneness, for Communion, for Unity.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28

It will be a unity beyond dreams, beyond expectation. When we sprinkle a little holy water on the songs of Trevor Hall, when we see their earthy mysticism purified and proven in the fire of God’s revelation, we learn that Heaven will not be a great fading of humanity into a formless cloud, but a finding of ourselves in Christ. We don’t disappear; we reappear as our true selves! The seed verse of St. Paul in Ephesians 5 will fully blossom; “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

The unity that Trevor sings of and the unity the saints cried out for is hinted at more in marriage than in anything else.
“In this entire world there is not a more perfect, more complete image of God, Unity and Community, than marriage. There is no other human reality which corresponds more, humanly speaking, to that divine mystery.” (Blessed John Paul II, Homily on the Feast of the Holy Family, December 30, 1988)

This truth is out there, on the sea of music and poetry. If we watch the waves (the radio waves), sooner or later one will come along that will take us further out and further into the Mystery than we ever imagined.
This article was originally written and published for Phaith Magazine.

Talking to Your Little Ones About the Big Topic of Sex

A much repeated sentence we hear at our Theology of the Body retreats and courses is "I wish I heard this when I was younger!" ...