Featured Image: Simon Vouet (France, Paris, 1590-1649), Model for Altarpiece in St. Peter’s, Italy, Rome, 1625, oil on canvas 16 x 24 1/4 in. (40.64 x 61.6 cm). The Ciechanowiecki Collection, Gift of The Ahmanson Foundation, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
By John P. Walsh
THE FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT 2015 – November 29, 2015.
I finished watching “Field of Dreams” last night, a film I had not seen before. Starring Kevin Costner, it is a good film about, one might say, the intersection of reality and fantasy on the American landscape – or maybe simply the intersection of what are different realities. As Costner’s character Ray Kinsella hears voices to build a baseball field on his low-income Iowa farm, he is promised that “If you build it, he will come.” In this case, the “he” is Kinsella’s own late father John who had played baseball as a young man, got old too quickly, and then died soon after he and a teenage Ray had a falling out over the 1919 Chicago “Black” Sox team. A late-1980’s Ray, now married with a family, still thinks about his truncated relationship with his father – and the film asks whether it is possible for John Kinsella to meet a grown-up Ray on his “field of dreams.” Ray never doubts his voices but is also never sure what they mean except when he tries to connect the dots by traveling sometimes across long distances of place and time to meet the people for whom the answers most matter. Ray’s efforts lead to surprising, mysterious and ultimately fulfilling encounters for those who come to play on his field of dreams – or are there to watch.
THE SECOND SUNDAY IN ADVENT 2015 – December 6, 2015.
Bede Griffiths (1906-1993), Catholic English monk and known as Swami Dayananda (“bliss of compassion”) because of his life’s work in the Christian Ashram Movement and role in the development of dialogue between Christianity and Hinduism said in an interview: “I feel that in the Christian view, which I share, the body is of very great importance. There is a tendency in certain forms of Hinduism, certainly, to think that the purpose of spiritual exercises is to get beyond the body. But in my understanding, the human being is body, soul, spirit, and it is an integrated whole. Body and soul – the body is dependent upon and integrated with soul, and body and soul are dependent upon and integrated in spirit. The body is part of the wholeness of the human being. And that’s why incarnation is very important. God enters the psycho-physical realm and assumes it and doesn’t discard it. And at the resurrection the body is not discarded, it is assumed into the life with the soul and the spirit. I think the place of the body is a significant part of the Christian contribution. It is the total human being which is to enter into the life of the spirit.”
SOURCE: Marvin Barrett, “The Silent Guide,” Parabola, v.xi, no. 1.
THE THIRD SUNDAY IN ADVENT 2015 – December 13, 2015.
There is a drive in today’s society to be singular, intimate, and well known in a society that is, paradoxically, not only vast and impersonal, but incredibly common and conventional. Seeking to be “authentic” in the public domain, we are simultaneously less secure about the people we meet there. We often don’t know our next door neighbor and yet presume intimacy with a wider world. Taking this premise to be intimate and authentic into a vast and alien society―and one has to peruse the internet for five minutes to witness such revelations ― is the modern age’s new growth industry. Yet there remains less flashy moments of behavior regarding the private self in the public space. Such is, for instance, the thriving language of love: the raised eyebrow; a dropped glove; a rush to light his or her cigarette. Each small well-timed gesture or inflection of voice raises the romantic ante without any loss of boundaries between the private self and public space. These cues are found in many venues, although absconded by the tactical importance of self-image (interchangeable, often) striving for immediate intimacy – a glimpse of the inner self, the cult of personality – in the public arena. Fashion changes clothes with the seasons in a modern-age attempt to convey private personality (“taste”) in the public square. In this social model, it is important to take the world by storm – and each and every time so that the proverbially costumed yet exposed private self does not disintegrate before public scrutiny – or is even destroyed by it.
Clothing perhaps provides the richest metaphor of the dilemma for the private self and public space – it serves those seeking to make hyperbole of their private personality (and fluctuating nature thereof) – and those seeking to downplay and even hide it. In a world of omnipresent security cameras and airport pat downs, the latter traditional notion of clothing to exclude public encroachment on the private (and trustingly sacred) self appears to be increasingly gone with the wind. But at Christmas, the use of clothes in a sacred context is important. In the Gospel of Luke the angel tells the shepherds: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
In the Bible a major teaching tradition is that when one discovers the Divine Presence – for God makes every attempt to self-disclose – the moment of recognition is akin to not only putting on a new garment but one that is tailored to that individual’s exact requirements. The Divine garment endows the person with a specific sense of dignity and (private) self-awareness―a sacred and highly personal investiture that turns the modern notion of the private-as-public self on its head. This rule of clothes extends to John the Baptist – a figure who is important in both Christianity (saint and prophet) and perhaps surprisingly in Islam (a prophet) – and is described coming out of the wilderness wearing “a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3). When God “dresses” humanity in the divine image something is expected of them in ways other than the modern idea of a new image or appeal. It is an inner and private change which takes on a significantly different meaning than one more public role.
SOURCES: Richard Sennett, The Fall of Public Man, W.W. Norton, 1976; Joseph Wolf, “Divine Clothing,” Parabola, v.xix, no. 3.
THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT 2015 – December 20, 2015.
While being homeless as an adult is a harsh test, to be homeless as a child may or may not be worse but society’s often sincere striving to make it scarce or nonexistent is painfully incomplete. In this year’s presidential campaigns so far we hear rhetoric from candidates of both major parties about the safety and security of the American people and mostly in regard to burgeoning terrorists that threaten bodily harm. But each night – including tonight – according to Feeding America over 15 million American children go to bed hungry. Where is the matching outcry in our politics for their bodily safety and security? Hunger is defined as the uneasy or painful sensation caused by want of food as well as an exhausted condition caused by want of food. Proper nutrition is vital to the growth and development of children who are the future of our country. Today there are 74 million children in the United States (an all-time high according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation) and yet 20% of them are food-insecure. These children go to bed hungry at night. Yet in a land of plenty, more than 2 in 3 adult Americans are considered to be overweight or obese. While there’s no direct link, can it be safely said that there is at least some over-consumption of food stuffs by hundreds of millions of Americans that might voluntarily and generously be shared, even possibly sacrificed, to help feed 15 million food-insecure American children? Unfortunately extremes of food injustice are not confined to Christmas-time but each day of the year.
Definition of hunger – Oxford English Dictionary, 1971.
©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.