Holy Week Right in the Back Yard

Blog by Sr. Anne Lythgoe, OP

I have written about life in our backyard from time to time, and Holy Week offers another chance to notice the connection between the way we look at the world and the way God sees it.

Actually, full disclosure up front, I’m not a fan of Lent. If it were up to me, we would have one 24-hour period of repentance (not 40 days) at the beginning of Holy Week. Something like the day of Atonement in Jewish tradition.  Forty days seems like too much emphasis on repentance, and not enough on the other half of that coin – Easter Resurrection.  I think it comes from my Philadelphia Catholic upbringing that focused on the “Jesus died for your sins” approach. As a young girl, I could not understand the logic of that approach: when I was not even born yet, Jesus died for my sins, so why was it my fault? I think this is the heart of Catholic guilt. You are to blame even if you weren’t there. And sometimes it takes a lifetime to see it differently.

But I digress.

Every living things knows the dying/rising cycle. I see it in our back yard all the time.  Trees know it. Finches who were once grey and brown, come back to their brilliant golds and yellows. Snow drops and daffodils come back, because they know dying and rising. The grasses, the bees, the hummingbirds, the rose bushes. All know.  They do not focus only on dying or only on rebirth. Winter does not say, “I am more important.” Spring does not say, “I am number one.” Nature is in balance. There is a season for each, a time for each. One leads to the other in an exquisite rhythm.

There is a balance and a beauty in the Holy Week drama when taken as a whole, when we see the complete story, the epic story from beginning to end (which is actually another beginning). So this year, I encourage you to be sure to take it all in as one beautiful, even theatrical, performance of Love.

In Act 1, Jesus prepares his followers for the long journey ahead without his physical presence by giving them the Bread of Life on Holy Thursday, teaching them servant leadership and forgiveness of sin. On Good Friday, Act 2, Jesus gives himself over to misguided and fearful men, in a time of moral and ethical corruption and social chaos. A self-sacrifice without assurances of a happy ending or a last minute rescue.  In Act 3, the fallow waiting of Holy Saturday mimics the dormancy of the winter earth and the quiet time of expectation, of the hidden and mysterious working of God. The bursting forth of the Risen Christ in Act 4, reflects the explosive power of Spring, when all of nature awakens. All of life is changed and God unites our story of salvation with the story of creation.

So when you watch the back yard come back to life, remember that every blade of grass, every bumble bee and songbird is God calling out to you: Alive!

Happy Easter

Posted in News, Wednesday's Word

Creation Bears the Imprint of the Synergy in the Trinity – Introduction

Blog by Sr. Pat Connick, OP

Scientists study various parts of creation, but since our knowledge of creation by this 21st century is so vast, at least compared to what it once was, it has become convenient to split our study of it into disciplines.  As convenient as these divisions are in taming the enormous amount of knowledge, scientia, we have about the universe, the splitting of creation into bits makes its beautiful integrity less obvious.  In this writing, I hope to reclaim a sense of this most wondrous fabric of the universe by examining how the various parts relate to one another and in that relationship how creation reflects its Trinitarian Creator we call God.

Each specialty in science studies a slice of creation, and in each one, we see how the whole made from its parts is more than their simple sum, because of the relationship that exists among them!  What is less obvious is that this pattern occurs in every other science and just like a nested Russian doll, one layer can fit inside the other.  Unlike the nested Russian doll, however, the synergy of coming together produces something new: what is made from the union of the parts has different and more complex properties as well as a potential for providing the building blocks for the next level. Some people call the coming together of the parts holons, to emphasize that the whole is not equal to, but greater than the sum of its parts.

In the coming months, I would like to take you on a “guided tour” through various levels of our universe.  Some of these will be familiar to you, depending on where you have spent your life looking at creation; others will be unfamiliar, even at first perhaps uncomfortable.  Don’t stress…be curious about the unity and the relationships.  Don’t get distracted by the plurality of dialects within the various subdisciplines used to describe this integrative process.  It is all the same process of community reflecting the Trinity as it produces more than a simple addition of the original parts.

What are these various levels?  How many are there?  Today’s blog begins with a simple catalogue, not necessarily complete, of various types of scientists and what they study:

  • Particle physicists study particles of the smallest types, like quarks, and how they combine to form the nuclei of atoms.
  • Chemists study atoms and how they form smaller molecules by their interactions.
  • Biochemists study larger biomolecules and chemical cycles that occur in organelles and cells.
  • Histologists study how whole cells operate and how they come together to make tissues.
  • Anatomists and physiologists study how tissues make up the organs which make up the systems in the body, and how they operate.
  • Microbiologists study how the smallest living creatures live, move and are alive.
  • Zoologists and botanists study not only organisms in their entirety, but collectives of organisms, like herds, as well.
  • Ecologists study relationships within local ecosystems and regional biomes.
  • Meteorologists study short-term weather patterns; oceanographers, the composition, life in and currents of the oceans; geologists, how rock emerges from the mantle, is transformed by weather and pressure, and then subtends back into the mantle. Each studies the Earth as a whole.
  • Climate scientists study the rhythms of long-term weather patterns on Earth, and how these rhythms are affected by the rhythms of the solar system.
  • Astronomers study the solar system itself and galaxies, even clusters of galaxies.
  • Cosmologists study the universe: its beginning and how it has evolved and is evolving.

In the coming monthly installments of the blog, I propose a guided tour of what synergies and interactions a scientist might see within his/her specific discipline, but not necessarily in the above order.  My hope is that we will all begin to see more clearly just how close God is to us, at every level of the universe, no matter where we are!   We may even understand more deeply how where we are informs us about Whose we are, and how what we do in our own communities reflects God’s own Self too.  All aboard!

 

Posted in Wednesday's Word

Hate Groups

Sr. Pat Thomas, OP
Blog by Sr. Pat Thomas, OP

The Southern Poverty Law Center did its homework once again and found that there are 1,020 active hate groups operating in the United States.

1,020 organized groups exist because their members hate something or someone. Seriously? That is 1,020 organized groups with who knows how many members whose purpose for existing is to show their hate for something or someone. That is a whole lot of hate. What do they hate? Avocados? Spinach? Dogs or cats? I think not. Most of the time it is human beings: people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, Muslims, Native Americans; anyone who is not white, not Christian and  not born here in America. Not sure why Native Americans have a hate group against them. Oh well, life is a mystery.

Most recently, we have seen the hate shown to the Muslim community in New Zealand, and here in America there have been videos from college campuses (not from the 1970s or 80s but today) where students are in blackface, have nooses hanging from doorways, show swastikas on walls. Hate is alive and well.

As a Dominican Sister of Peace, it would be a little ironic for me to belong to a hate group but wouldn’t it be OK to hate the haters? Probably not, and you all know why. People of the Gospels live under the mantle of Love thy neighbor as you would love your self. So I guess that if you hate your self, then a hate group would be the perfect fit.

Posted in News, Wednesday's Word

You, You’re Us!

Blog by Sr. Anne Lythgoe, OP

Have you followed the news last week? Terrorism has struck New Zealand, a beautiful small country that looks just like Ireland in many places: rolling green hills alive with herds of sheep.

Because I spent a month there a number of years ago, and loved every minute of the trip, I felt very keenly the pain of the terrorist attack that killed 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch.

I was struck by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s words: “You, you’re us!” when responding to the senseless violence against the Muslim community there.  She covered her head as a sign of respect when embracing a Muslim woman, while visiting those grieving people. Good people who committed no crime and who only sought a peaceful and productive life.

Her leadership in this horrendous moment is a sign of courage and strength to all of us, no matter our faith tradition. Her instinctive sensitivity to the community and courage to act to protect her citizens from harm holds up a higher way.  Good must be our response to evil. Compassion must be our response to loss. When evil seems to prevail, good must come from our actions.  Bad action must be met with good action.

The other day, the Gospel reading we prayed with was from Luke:

Jesus said to his disciples: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”

In hearing it, I imagined that Jesus was aware of the laws of karma: that is, when you send good energy out into the universe, it comes back to you in some other good form.

According to the basic Sanskrit definition of karma, it simply means “action”.  Laws of karma (there are 12 of them) are all about the positive or negative valence of our words, thoughts, and deeds. In essence, everything we do creates a corresponding energy that comes back to us in some form or another.  A good action creates good karma, as does good intent. A bad action creates bad karma, as does bad intent. This concept is in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and other traditions that originated in India, and various schools in each of these tradition.

Every human heart is geared to this exchange and balance of good, no matter what tradition you come from. This is not revolutionary. Normal people want to be treated with respect and want to be generous toward others. Jesus holds up to us the basic laws of human decency and takes it further.  Do good even in the absence of good; do good even in the face of evil.

Prime Minister Ardern says to the Muslim community: You belong to us, you are us. There is no separation, we are one. Terrorism, racism seeks division, violence, and hate. Her courageous response was not to simply say, what a horrible thing has happened. She has put claim to her citizens, we are together, you are us and we will not let the evil of this act separate us from one another.

May it be so everywhere.

Posted in News, Wednesday's Word

Are we in a State of Grace?  Does the Holy Spirit Sit for portraits?

Blog by Sr. Janet Schlichting

These two questions are bouncing around together as I struggle with a collage about the Spirit of peace. It started with some decorative renditions of doves of peace, and these are almost complete—I’m sending a couple examples along. This labor of design has been absorbing and I’m happy with them. But I’ve been trying to find an arrangement, a background-foreground interaction to create movement in order to convey a Spirit surprising and unfettered. And it hasn’t happened. I’ve played with all kinds of letters and patterns and shapes and materials to get both “Spirit in pose” and “Spirit-on-the-fly” connected in one visual whole.

I have been at this for a whole year. This labor has at long last given rise to a revelation: I’ve been trying to make two different collages out of one. The first idea,the doves of peace, is far from the experience of Spirit that I had hoped to convey. Now it is clear: one cannot bring to vision the essence of Spirit in static portraits. The searching eye/heart must be led into blurred quickness, shimmering, gusting, blazing, cascading….

Not long ago I attended a funeral. Inside the booklet was an admonition about who was permitted to receive communion, reminding non-Catholics that they could not approach unless they were seeking a blessing, and Catholics that they had to be in the State of Grace.

Grace—a state?  As in unchanging? Stable? Something we hold carefully within ourselves, a garden perhaps, or a reflecting pool, a holy emptiness found somewhere beneath our ribs, something that needs a regular refill?

And here of course, is my Spirit-puzzle in a different dimension. Grace is not a state (apologies to Thomas Aquinas and Greek philosophy). It is impossible to “have” it or “contain” it. Grace moves in and through us, an ongoing happening, a shared adventure with others, building, bonding, giving and receiving, stretching and reaching out.

The science of the universe is a revelation of constant change in a  vastness of time and space so huge, so ancient, so expansive. Those who study the tiniest of things have discovered worlds beyond imagining on an infinitesimal scale—neurons, cells, molecules, viruses, DNA. Physicists have split the atom into tiny moving parts. The Big Bang, the beginning, was an explosive trillionth of a second, a  bursting forth of particles of energy which crashed into each other and sizzled into the basic chemistry of the universe which over billions of years became the birthing clouds of stars and the building blocks of every element of our precious earth and our amazing selves.

There is an ever-recurring mystery here. It is mobility, not stability, that underlies and supports the matter-ing we are and which surrounds us.

All is grace, suffused by grace, abounding and transforming, alive in our bodies and our communities, in every dying and blossoming anew. And moving in it all is the Spirit of Creator and Christ, that mysterious pushing and pulling and longing and yearning that throbs in our veins and erupts in our voices of praise and witness to the call of a divine Mover. And we will be carried by the grace which swirls in the galaxies and in every human heart, pledging a future whose dimensions are beyond all imagining, a vast gathering into the Christ.

I have another collage taking shape. The doves of peace aren’t going anywhere. I’ve enjoyed the process and I will finish and frame them. But this work- in- waiting demands dynamism, fire, and wind, getting into the flow. And even if I finish it to my own satisfaction, it will be so limited a conveyance of the Holy that I  wonder both why I bother and why I can’t wait to start in again. Veni, Creator Spiritus!

Posted in News, Wednesday's Word