Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Catching up...

From early October: I took a walk along the Jordan River (in Utah, not the Holy Land), so grateful to be near a body of running water after 2.5 years of living in California's drought. This hymn sprung to mind, and I had the good sense to jot it down.

Water's Edge

Today I prayed by the water's edge
and sang to my Creator, Lover God.
Into my heart I invited Him
to rest his head
and sing His songs to me.

I asked Him for his grace and strength
that I may suffer with and for his Son
the realities of life worth living
the path of merciful outpouring,
emptying myself
that I may be filled with Him alone.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Advent: Waiting with a restless heart

Life in a new city, a new job, a new home - all of this and more have kept me occupied and not blogging. The third week of Advent is well under way, and in a week's time, I'll be on a plane headed to the Land Where I Was Birthed for Christmas and New Year's Eve. Not only will I be visiting my dear family and friends, I will also be continuing my discernment by staying overnight at the Carmel in Concord, NH, and visiting with the Poor Clares of Boston, located in Jamaica Plain. (Incidentally, Jamaica Plain is where my parents first settled when they moved from Elmira, NY to Boston back in the early '50s.)

A few words on the full-time job I've held since August - I'm the Office Manager for Mt. Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Salt Lake City, UT, working for the Catholic Diocese of SLC. Certainly not rocket science, but definitely a ministry - in more ways than I would've thought. I've come to see and know a deeper vein of human experience and suffering: the grieving, the poor, our veterans, gang members and their families, folks without a whole lot of education, immigrants, and people just trying to get by. This experience has been (and continues to be) extremely humbling, and I've learned (am learning) more about myself than I thought possible. I've been so ingrained in academia and academic pursuits - not that there's anything wrong with them! But as a person who feels called to pray incessantly (which is part of the Carmelite charism), I needed to see and know these people. What I found at my last job as a writing tutor at Azusa Pacific University were people working their butts off to improve their lives and the lives of others. Now I'm seeing people who may not have the opportunity for education, who may be poor or rich, but who are nonetheless living out their lives in the best way they can, sometimes in the face of tremendous odds. I am humbled and blessed to serve them.

In this job, the Holy Spirit has also blessed me with some very painful realizations about myself. Control. I've written about it before, but here it has become a daily experience of having what I think is control wrenched from my hands. I finally realized how attached I was to my "story," to the ways in which I've kept myself locked in an unending power struggle with reality. A struggle which the enemy was all too keen on reinforcing. In a moment of anger and frustration at a circumstance that I felt was making me look bad, a circumstance not at all in my control, I felt the gentle insistence of Jesus, asking me, begging me to give it to Him. Oh how I wanted to keep that injured, off-put, angry, self-righteous stance intact for my ego to feel warranted! "If I let this go, I'll cease to exist!" was somehow the whispered lie that I'd come to believe at some point in my life; a lie that has festered and formed layers of scar tissue throughout the decades. 

But Jesus, He loves me so much that he wouldn't let up. In the moment, eyes closed, jaw set, I felt the melting start... and slowly I opened my heart and with the Spirit of Wisdom to lead me, I gave it to Him.

Nothing has been the same since. It was a quiet yet life-changing moment of sheer grace. Nothing in me was able to do this on my own. I'm weak. I want to reinforce the Story of Me over and over again. God is constantly luring me into letting that false self go, giving it to Christ to be healed. I want to live free in Him! 

I've become a huge fan of St. Augustine recently. His own struggle with his intellect as well as his "fleshly passions" seem to reflect much of my own. The Augustinians take as their symbol the heart with an arrow and flames, because St. Augustine was a man of the heart, after the heart of God. I totally dig this!

"You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you."        - St. Augustine of Hippo

Please pray for my discernment, or if you're not the praying type, send me some good thoughts, please. I feel in my deepest knowing that I am close to the truth of where God is leading me. I have made a wonderful connection with the Bishop of SLC, who has blessed the personal vows of obedience, poverty and chastity which I made myself over two and a half years ago. This is one step closer to my goal of living consecrated life. 

I will be keeping you all in my prayers for a safe, peaceful, blessed Christmas, a  Happy Hanukah, and however many other religious feasts there may be! My next post will likely be in the new year, so Happy New Year to you as well.

God bless!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

St. Therese and St. Francis

It's late (for me), and I'm tired, but I wanted to jot a few thoughts down.

On Oct. 1 we celebrated St. Therese, and three days later on the fourth, we celebrated St. Francis. I sometimes wonder if I'm called to Franciscan spirituality. Is there such a thing as a Franciscan/Carmelite hybrid community? If there is one, please sign me up.

Here in Utah, and at my job at the cemetery, I am surrounded by God's beautiful creation. I constantly hear Him calling me to "come outside and play (or pray)!" This has been the case since I was a child scampering in the trees and dashing through puddles in our yard on the South Shore. These days, I am quite literally living the vow of "Lady Poverty" I took 2 years ago (as well as obedience to God's will, and a celibate life of inclusive love). I live for daily Mass, for spending just a few moments with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament every morning. Honestly, I couldn't get through my days without Him. St. Clare was extremely devoted to the Eucharist, and Adoration is a part of the Poor Clare charism... it does make me think and wonder, because all of this is very Franciscan, you see.

This past Saturday, on St. Francis' feast day, I was standing at the front door talking with a neighbor friend, and out of the blue, a HUSKY came loping up the steps and jaunted into the house like he owned the place. He went into the kitchen, looked around, then returned to the living room. His human came immediately bounding up the steps to grab him with muttered apologies. But really... what are the chances of a random Husky wandering into your living room?
St. Francis tames the wolf

On the night of St. Therese's feast day, after the Mass and procession at my parish (St. Therese in Midvale), I came out to my car to find a dead battery. 

There have been little nudges over the last 2 years that whisper Francis and Clare, but the louder voice seems to have been dear St. Therese. So who knows. I'm not going anywhere else at the moment; God has given me a real ministry in bereavement and cemetery management.

More on that soon - I promise! In the meantime, please join me in praying for vocations to all charisms, all forms of consecrated life, to marriage, and to single life -- all the variety of lifewalks that God has created to bear fruit.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A season for everything

I have consciously decided not to blog for the last few weeks, because my life took a left turn that I didn't see coming, and I really wanted to see where I ended up before chronicling any sort of epic (or debacle, depending upon the outcome). Because God has blessed me, it's been epic, but anything but a debacle.

Dig it: I am now the (full time) Office Manager at Mount Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Yes, Utah. Land of "Mormanity" as my friend PJ called it. I'm working for the Catholic Diocese here, and today was my first day on the job. Everything turned around so quickly, I'm still a little disoriented. Here's the timeline:

Aug 5 = realized I wouldn't see a paycheck from the Part Time Job #2 until Oct 1 even though I'd have started working on Aug 25. Hours at Part Time Job #1 had been cut to 12 per week for the rest of the summer. I emailed Sarah, my dear former roommate who now works on Simon's Cat over in London town (she's a 2D animator). I basically said, "I don't know what to do. God is taking away, He's make a space, but for what?"

Aug 6 = Sarah emailed back with a crazy plan: go live with (her) Mom and Dad in SLC where they are both connected in the diocese and can no doubt help me get a job here. They would help me out with room/board until I got my feet under me here, and they will provide a spiritual community that I've been craving ever since Sarah moved out last September.

I said, "yes?" and before I knew it, I had a welcome email from her father and mother, and a job interview over the phone set up for the very next day.

I decided I was going to move no matter what happened with the job at the cemetery. So I did. Donated stuff, boxed stuff, planned how to stuff my car with my junk, and said my tearful farewells to SoCal.

Aug 28 =  My good friend Tanya and I left at 4 a.m. and arrived 7:30 p.m. local time. Phew! The car did great, and so did we.

Sept 4 = I interviewed with the diocese hiring committee last Wed. after the cemetery director had already decided that I'm the one for the job (have to follow protocol, you know).

Sept 11 = Here I am, in my new job, which is beyond any expectations I could've had in a million years. Everything fell together so sublimely that if I had it all planned to the detail, I couldn't have done better. This is when a person says, "God, you must know what you're doing."

Indeed He does.

Working for a cemetery? Yes, it's a beautiful ministry that I wouldn't have chosen myself, but it's such a good fit for my skills and my natural inclinations, and the perks are amazing. Aside from having full benefits, I work in an office with the Director who likes natural light instead of overhead lights, and an open window and a ceiling fan instead of AC. He and the guys who work here (the Crew) planted a garden just outside the office where overgrown shrubs used to be. Tomatoes, zucchini, herbs, sunflowers. I get to walk the park-like grounds any time I like. And I get to drive the John Deere. Bwahahaha!

Today a woman came in looking for her father's grave; she'd never met him, and found out from a sibling that he's buried here. I used my new knowledge of how things are laid out and organized here, and I helped her. She said before leaving the office that we could never know how much this means to her. That's why I'm here, why God has placed me here: to bless me, and to bless others through my work and ministry.

My dear sisters in Carmel are excited for me to start this new venture, which will enable me to become debt free so that I can apply for entrance when the time comes. I cannot believe the amount of support and happy thoughts and prayers I have received. I am all the more motivated to do God's will and build God's Reign. Amen, Alleluia!

More soon - don't want to overwhelm one post. New parish, new ministry, huge garden at home, 2 cats who are adorbs, a new extended family. Pictures to come as well!

Last thought: never ever give up on God. God will never give up on you. Keep thanking God for all that you have, and praise Him for giving you all that you need. Open yourself up to receiving His Love. His Love is everything, does everything, heals everything.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Life in Carmel...and returning to life "out here"

I started writing this while I was in Carmel for my three week live-in...

Anyone who thinks that living in a monastery is like being on vacation with nothing to do but gaze at the sky (or one's navel) and float piously down polished hallways and golden garden paths has never lived in a monastery. That being said, the hallways are pretty well polished, and while the garden paths aren't without tufts of grass and dried leaves, they are beautiful to behold.

Keeping up an 88-year old monastery is hard work, and despite the physical limitations of several of the older sisters, things get done. There is help, of course, with regular workmen to do the heavy duty stuff like tree-trimming and painting, but by and large, these women live in community with each other, with God as their center, and hard work is part of the package. This is no house of laziness or effete living.

I've been here almost two weeks, with one week and a half left to go. I've settled in fairly easily and quickly, which is a good sign, as they say. I love praying the Liturgy of the Hours with my sisters here, and the time set aside for mental prayer (contemplative prayer) and spiritual reading as part of the day is an incredible blessing. Despite the manual labor that is required of this life, the focus on prayer and loving God is what this life is about at its core. 

There is a balance that this particular monastery has achieved between the solitary life in prayer, mealtimes, and personal interests and community life in prayer, mealtimes, and recreation. Every Carmelite monastery will strike this balance in a slightly different way. For me, the Carmel of the Trinity seems to catch the wave at the perfect moment, allowing the heightened suspension between heaven and earth.

Part of the personal development and formation of each sister is spiritual reading, and there is a library that can sustain that for decades. Their library is rich in everything from natural sciences to philosophy to religion (with a heavy emphasis on mystical spirituality and Carmelite spirituality, as you'd expect). There is also a computer with internet access that is shared by the sisters (each with her own login). A few of the sisters have their own computers, depending on the work for which she is responsible.

Some of the jobs that the sisters do here, aside from the cleaning and cooking: answering mail, keeping up the bulletin boards with emails and phone messages requesting prayers, maintaining an internet presence through the website and Twitter, librarian, vocation director, prioress and sub-prioress, and filling orders for communion hosts that are packaged from wholesale bulk and distributed to churches and other communities. The cooking schedule rotates between sisters for supper, and most breakfasts and lunches (dinner) are "pick up." 

The sisters receive news magazines such as TIME, as well as religious magazines from different ends of the Catholic spectrum, and the daily papers. They also watch the news on TV and of course can watch news and special reports on news websites. The main apostolate of a Carmelite monastery is intercessory prayer, so it's imperative to know what is happening in the world. They are informed about the society in which they live, and are not by any stretch cut off from the world in that sense. 

Nevertheless, Carmelites do live in a cloister. They may receive visits from their family and friends, but the sisters don't go out of the monastery except for Carmelite Association meetings or other business, specific family reasons, doctors appointments, necessary banking or extra grocery shopping (groceries are delivered weekly), voting, or jury duty. 

There definitely is a difference between out there and in here, but it's not easy to express. I felt the difference in a sublime sort of spiritual pulse when I crossed the threshold on my first day and entered the enclosure from the front hallway. I could immediately sense this was a different space, a consecrated and holy place, and in some way it seemed to me, more alive, more "real" in some way. It seemed to welcome me, as if my arrival was a long-awaited homecoming.

It took me about five days to let go of the world I'd just left. The intensity of my last week at work with final exams and last-minute free lance work had me burning the candle at both ends for several days before coming to do my live-in. It was like going from 90 to zero in a heartbeat, and I had the feeling of mental and emotional vertigo for a few days. But then, God be praised, the whirlwind feeling abated, and I was able to sink into a little bit of the depth of life that is present here in Carmel. Just enough to breathe and feel the true presence of Jesus Christ in my heart like never before - magnified and more intimate.

Daily Mass and saying the Divine Office is a privilege. I am aware that some people, even some religious, don't believe in the value of praying the Divine Office/Liturgy of the Hours. I think that they are missing out on a precious experience of daily formation, expressing the heart of the people of God, and the heart of God. This, combined with daily personal prayer, is for me the best way to live life for God and for the world that is starving for grace and Divine Love. Others are called differently, of course; nonetheless, the Liturgy of the Hours hasn't been around for a few hundred years (in various forms) for nothing. 

Himself, in all his glory
A few surprises and interesting details:
  • Sport, the monastery cat, is one very spoiled, loving kitteh 
  • the toilets/bathrooms are called "humble offices" 
  • Carmelites apparently watch NCIS and Cold Case Files, as well as Doc Martin 
  • not all the nuns wear their habits all the time; when doing gardening or heavy cleaning, some of them wear jeans and t-shirts, or keep on their Habits and leave off their veils. When busy cooking or cleaning, they will often "turn up" their Habit skirts with buttons 
  • some nuns wear bright blue sneakers all the day long under their Habit 
  • coffee perked at 5:30 every morning = I can live here 

Post Script: three weeks after returning "out here"...

Leaving Carmel was one of the most heart-breaking experiences of my life. I did not want to leave. Nevertheless, it was unavoidable. My first week back was atrociously difficult. Explosions of input and information. Noise. A blow out on the way to work (scary no matter where you've been). Even Mass didn't feel right. Nothing felt right. Everything was too fast, even praying a novena with other parishioners. The "reverse culture shock" even after only 3 weeks was intense. But God gave me the grace to eventually ease back into life "outside." It still feels like I'm a "round peg in a square hole" out here, and I am praying that Carmel will accept me. Of course there are challenges and obstacles still to be overcome, but in God's will, all will unfold like a perfect rose.

In the meantime, as always, God calls me to stay with Him in my heart, my Love, and just be with Him here. He calls me to see Him in the faces of all those I meet, to surrender to His powerful Love no matter what my circumstances. That will be true for the rest of my life, whether I enter Carmel or not.
July 16 - Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Pentecost, Holy Trinity, Corpus Christi

My, my, my how time flies. The school year has ended, all my work is done. Tomorrow I leave for two splendid weeks of discernment, living in a Carmelite monastery in San Diego, across these three beautiful feasts of the Church. Can it be true? How did I get here? I hardly know... except to say by the magnificent, grandiose, spoil-me-rotten grace of God. I have specifically been asking to know the Holy Spirit more intimately. Holy Spirit is, to my mind, "the mover and the shaker" in the Trinity. The Father is Creator and Being, Jesus Messiah is Redeemer and Rest, and it is in His Body that I rest. So we have upcoming: Pentecost Sunday, Holy Trinity Sunday, and the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi). In fact it was exactly one year ago on Trinity Sunday that I first went to to the Carmel to visit - Carmel of the Most Holy Trinity.

Come, Holy Spirit, come!
The past year was really rough - those girls got to my heart and I ached and I spilled my guts for them. But in the end, it was worth it. They have now what they didn't have at the beginning of the year: a chance to think and write and create. There were even a few creative writers in the group. At least two of the girls had close calls with self harm. One of them has some significant learning disability and other issues at home. They got As and Bs after starting out the year with Fs. These girls just blew me away. I am in awe of them, and I am humbled that I was given charge of one small part of their academic and precious human lives.

Projects have come and gone in the year since I started teaching them, but I have a larger project, so to speak. That is to say, my life. Where is God leading me? These next two weeks will provide some insight. I am feeling calm and at peace about all of this. The shift inside me since Easter has been tremendous. I would like to share more of it, but right now I do need to hit the hay. Leaving for San Diego at 8:30 a.m. which means I have to have at least one cup of coffee before I hit the road.

I will be keeping a journal while I am there, and when I return, I will actually have time for blogging a bit more in summer, so I can share some of my thoughts and experiences. In the meantime, please pray for me, and I will be praying for you.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Discernment, Mercy, 2 Popes

The journey of discerning God's will for me continues. I still feel the draw to contemplative life, but I question it at the same time. Why? For one thing, I won't know until I actually am able to live the life in some kind of trial/live-in experience. There's still much about this journey that I'm not clear on because I just don't have enough first hand information, and that takes time. I know I want to be a consecrated religious, a little spouse of Jesus. That's about all I know for sure. Carmelite? Love love love Carmelite spirituality. Cloister? Not so sure. Franciscan? Love love love Franciscan spirituality. Active apostolate? Not so sure. I'm starting to understand on some level that what I desire is balance: contemplative and active apostolates in fruitful harmony. 

"St. Francis Starry Night" by Sue Betanzos
See (and buy) more of this artist's work here:

And I feel that above and beyond all the processing and musing and wondering, Yeshua just wants me to lean on Him, alone. That's it. No thought process, musing or wondering necessary. He will lead me where I need to be, He will show me when I am ready. Setting aside my rampant intellectualization and over-thinking is a tough order, but it's what I'm called to do right now: dying to "false self," the part of me that tries to control, thinks it can, and freaks out when it can't. Be patient when I want to hit the gas. Oh, what a teacher our  Lord is!

I found this prayer this morning, the Prayer of Total Offering from St. Francis. It is lovely, succinct, simple (as befits Franciscan spirituality):

May the power of your love, O Lord,
fiery and sweet as honey, 
wean my heart from all that is under heaven,
so that I may die for love of your love,
you who were so good as to die 
for love of my love.

On a related note, today is "Divine Mercy Sunday," which is a devotion to the loving, compassionate mercy of Jesus as directed through his Sacred Heart, poured out upon the world. This devotion was propagated by St. Faustina, to whom Jesus appeared and asked to make known this mercy with veneration of a specific image:

Notice the words at the bottom. 

Also today, we celebrate the canonizations of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII. Pope John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council in 1962 to revitalize and renew our Catholic Church. You can find the documents from Vatican II here. Vatican II established many necessary reforms, among which were approving Mass in local languages, and asking religious orders (of sisters, nuns, monks, friars) to return to the vision and charism of their founding mothers and fathers. Pope John Paul II, among many blessings, gave us the Theology of the Body, which affirms human sexuality as a divinely blessed aspect of human existence, and he was a spiritual guide for his native Poland and the world through the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet Union. Not to be forgotten, it was JPII who formally instituted Divine Mercy Sunday, in response to St. Faustina's message from Jesus.

I more or less grew up with JPII, and I am fond of him, though I am aware that many consider him too conservative, accusing him of trying to reverse the course of reform that Vatican II started. I think the Holy Spirit is in charge, so I'm not too worried. Pope Francis has done a great thing this day, joining these two popes in history and acknowledging them each for their massive contributions to the growth of modern Catholicism, spirituality, and understanding of God's Love. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Alleluia! He is risen!
I really had meant to write more here during Holy Week, but it just didn't end up happening that way. I had taken a day off from work to give me 5 entire days off, and I ended up sleeping for 2 of those days, and then the rest of the time, my heart was full and focused on the Lord, alone. What a blessing, what a way of life! Coming back to one of my jobs this week has been a shock to the system, as it were, and of course next week, both jobs will be in force, so I'm a little nervous about how my system will respond. Silence, stillness, quiet adoration and prayer... these are the ways that let me thrive.

The Lord has showered me with blessings and new insights and understandings that have taken deep root, and they are in essence over shadowing and pushing out the old weeds of fear, anxiety and pride. Slowly, He works in my heart and mind and spirit to show me that I am precious to Him, that my life has meaning beyond what I can see in the immediate present, and that in everything, I am to trust Him. So my prayer in adversity has become "Yeshua, I trust you! Help me to trust." I feel as if He's taught me this prayer Himself, because it is the quickest way to turn from the anxiety and despair that threatens at every turn. 

In fact, I am convinced that I am no different from anyone else in experiencing anxiety and despair. The  only difference is in intensity and in how people choose to deal with those "demons," if you will. It's easy to escape from anxiety and stress by becoming absorbed into the things of the world, even the things which are of themselves perfectly harmless, but which can nonetheless lure us away from His Heart, the true source of help, comfort, and transformation.

I'm into transformation. And it's Resurrection season, y'all, so it's a good time to talk about transformation. I am coming to understand, in some small way, that it is WE who are "transubstantiated" into union with Christ. That's the point of it all, I believe. Being good people and being kind to one another, being generous and forgiving - YES. But it's more than just good works; we are meant to be one with Messiah and with each other, as He said in his final discourse before the Crucifixion in John 14: 15-21 (NRSVCE) 

15 “If you love me, you will keep[f] my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,[g] to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in[h] you.18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” 
And in John 15: 4-5, He tells us:
Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (NRSVCE)
Jesus/Yeshua invites us into oneness, to follow Him not just in our actions (externally) but in our hearts (interiorly). As I've discovered all to painfully well (and yet continuously let go of and have to rediscover), I can do nothing without Him; in other words, I fall again and again and only by clinging to Him am I able to get up, keep on going, and do better when the bell rings in the next round.

In this Easter Octave, I am going to Mass every morning, in the hopes that once the insanity kicks in full swing next week, I'll have a morning routine to follow. I dread the exhaustion that comes from working 10 hours a day, driving 1.5 hours and getting home after 9:00, but once again, if I ask Jesus to be with me, to share in my fatigue and experience, I know the time will be blessed for me and for those whom I serve.

I completely identify with the disciples who Jesus met on the Road to Emmaus, who we read about in today's Gospel. They didn't understand that Jesus had to die and rise again to fulfill the Father's will. In deed, they were thinking with "human logic," that it was good while it lasted, but the prophet wasn't, couldn't have been, the Messiah, because he was crucified - a most shameful, hideous death. Jesus walked with them, and they didn't recognize Him, because their minds were focused on the natural, that is to say, the "possible." It was only when He broke bread with them that they recognized Him - in the Eucharist - and believed. Believing in the supernatural isn't something we do easily. Believing that God became a human, lived with us, then died to our collective and individual sins, then rose again to bring us to God's glory... yeah, it's a stretch! Unless you ask to be made strong in your faith. "Jesus, I trust You. Help me to trust!" (Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!) 

He is with us always, as He promised, transforming us and our lives. He has risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Riding it out: earthquakes, powerlessness, and God

If you've looked at the news in the last two weeks, besides Putin, Syria, Obamacare's deadline, the missing Malaysian jet and ocean full of garbage, the horrific mudslide in Washington, the Twitter campaign for #CancelColbert, and other important items, you may have noticed that California's earthquake "drought" is over. If only it were the water drought that's over. In all fairness, it's better to have several smaller earthquakes to release pressure than to have it all pop at once. Even so...

I'm sure there's some post-modern theory as to why
humans created a theme park ride about "The Big One."
(Universal Studios "Earthquake!" ride)

The three moderate earthquakes of the last 2 weeks are more than enough for yours truly. There is something surreal and wrong about the earth and the building you're in moving under your feet. The violent shaking, creaking, swinging, rumbling is the most horrific experience of my life, other than my own parents' deaths. I'm not exaggerating. I know these quakes have been relatively small, compared to the Northridge temblor and other more devastating quakes, but it seems that I am an earthquake wimp. 

Dude. Why do I live in SoCal?

Oh yeah, it's cause the Spirit led me here, I cannot tolerate cold, and I love having spring in February. Also, palm trees, mountains, ocean, sunshine, absence of salt damage on my car. 

But as always, I look at the events of life through a lens that asks "What can I learn from this?" 

Apart from my roommate and I getting serious about creating an earthquake kit (she's from Toronto, so she understands this panic-stricken response), there is another word that describes my immediate reaction to an earthquake in progress: Powerlessness.

I actually went on that Earthquake ride back in '91 at Universal Studios, Fla. I hated every second. I had a massive panic attack, the likes of which I'd never known. I literally had to close my eyes and focus on breathing until it was over. Then, outside in the humid Orlando sun, I told my friends I just needed to sit for a good 30 minutes to recover. They thought I was nuts.

In the real thing, I'm almost as panicked. My palms go sweaty, the blood drains (to where, I have no idea), the breaths become short, the knees turn to water.

What's happening is a classic panic response. Why? Because 1.) This is really a new thing for me and my brain doesn't know how to process it, and 2.) I, and everyone else affected, am totally powerless to do anything but ride it out (no pun intended).

In an earthquake, you are literally trapped by the earth. You cannot escape. You cannot make it stop. You have no idea when it will end. You have no idea if it will get stronger before it stops. You. Are. Powerless.

Isn't this really a metaphor for our lives? Yes, we can certainly take measures to do what we're supposed to do -- stock up on water, flashlights, and food/drop and cover/get a job/get married/make informed decisions based on the information at hand -- but we really have no idea what's coming, and when it hits, we feel like we have no recourse. A spouse leaves, a parent dies, a lay off happens, a debilitating accident happens... on and on; you can fill in the blanks, can't you?

So what do we do when things surprise us, bad things, horrific things? I don't have all the answers. The only answer I have is to cling to the One who can help me sort it out, make the best of it, and who ultimately has me in His Hand. I pray mightily to trust God, and I ask Him to help me through the aftermath.

During Lent, we're asked to go inward, to examine our consciences, repent, deny certain aspects of the outward life that may be distracting us from what's calling to us deep inside - the pure Love of God. Giving our powerlessness to Him, as Jesus did on the cross, is not only "good" for us, but it is a mark of our deep, abiding love for Him. It's a gift, in other words. God thirsts for our love, for our trust. 

In the moments of powerlessness, Jesus gives us opportunities to lean on Him, trust Him, and love Him. By riding through the dark nights, trusting that He has never and will never abandon us, we will grow in love, and with grace, we will be able to share that love with His people, our brothers and sisters who are also suffering in their powerlessness.

Monday, March 24, 2014

A New View

The weekend with the Carmelites was restful, but at the same time, intensive (as discernment often is). I went into the weekend hoping to "learn" and "more deeply understand" my vocation. I was disappointed in these expectations. Which is to say, I got out of the weekend exactly what I needed to!


My focus right now needs to be on the here and now. Is God calling me to Carmel? He very well might be. But right now I can't enter. It's not time, I have stuff to do, and I also have to build relationship with the Carmel I hope to enter. So many things are accomplished at once: I work, pay off debt, serve the Kingdom, build relationships with the Sisters, allow them to know me and me to know them, and of course I continue writing and above all, deepening my prayer and spiritual life.

At first, I felt like I came away from the weekend with more question marks, but then I realized that I'd been driving 110 mph with my hand white-knuckling the steering wheel while I demanded through clenched teeth, "Jesus, show me where I'm going!"
Jesus: "Um. It doesn't work that way..." 
Me:  "Whaddyamean it doesn't work this way. Look, I'm driving, you tell me where to go. It's that simple!  Right?  We're doing this, right?"
(hits speed bump going 110 mph) 
Jesus: "Move over."

In other news... I've adopted a new domain for this blog. Soon, very soon, "Fredinthecan" will be no more. You can find this blog at  Please share with friends and family!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Sad commentary, call to write

I'm at school right now, subbing for a religion class of Senior girls. I decided to conduct a little informal research in the form of an oral questionnaire. There are 34 girls in this class today, and of those 34, only one had heard of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Then I explained to them what the image was, and most of then nodded as if they'd seen the image before. I asked them if they knew anything about it. Only this one girl could respond. Here's what she said:
Oh, isn't that where there is blood and water coming out? The water is because wasn't he given nasty water to drink? And the blood.... symbolizes something else.
I asked them where they had seen this image. Almost unanimously, they reported that they'd seen it at their grandmother's home. Many of these girls are being raised by their grandmothers, in fact, so it only shows that religious art and symbols, while present, may mean nothing to them.

I didn't lecture them on the Sacred Heart of Jesus, but I encouraged them to ask their grandmothers about this devotion.

I am saddened, but I am also emboldened in my desire to write a book that renews the devotion of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for young women. I have already 58 pages written, but these pages need some significant work, by far. 

Perhaps this is where my gift of writing needs to be focused, rather than fiction and tales of the imagination. There's plenty of fiction and tales of the imagination in the world. As far as my research has shown, there is not much in the way of Catholic devotion aimed specifically at teenage/20s girls/women that isn't focused on Purity.

I talked to a publishing rep at the L.A. Congress last weekend, and she expressed some interest in this project. Perhaps God's been telling me all along where He wants my gifts to be placed. I've just been too distracted by my own imagination to hear Him.


This weekend, I will be staying with the Carmelites of San Diego for my third visit. I am still feeling this calling, but I also hear other "voices"... should I be a teacher? how much should I invest in having a writing career? I am not even sure what kind of writing it is I feel most drawn to. Whatever it is I write, I want to build the Kingdom of God, not serve my own myopic purposes. This is a time of clarifying and refining, and I need your prayers, so if you're the praying kind, please give a shout out for me, 'kay?

Church of the Carmelite monastery in San Diego
My only prayer is that God's will be done in and through me. Feeling joy with what I'm doing is an indication that I am fulfilling part of my purpose here (as it is with everyone!). I feel like I can teach and write m'okay fine. But the thing that really makes me want to get up and go is prayer. Most people think of prayer as kneeling with hands poised in prayer position, eyes to heaven, reciting a rosary. It can be that, of course. But in a very real way, prayer can be every moment, every thought, every action of our lives, whether taking a shower, watering the plants, delivering a lecture, tutoring a student with a research paper. You get the idea.

However, I also believe in intercessory prayer, and I believe it is the #1 Gift God has given me, above the gifts of writing and teaching. If this is true, Carmel may be the home for me. I've started devouring news articles and I constantly am looking for ways and times and people to pray for.  I have a leather-bound journal that houses an on-going list of people and situations I've been asked or feel moved to pray for. But what about my other gifts? The gifts of teaching and writing can be expressed in hundreds of ways, too, so I am aware that these gifts would certainly not be thrown away were I to enter Carmel. And that addresses a point that has been raised by several people along the way - wouldn't you be throwing away your degrees/abilities to do these things? In short, the answer is 'no, I wouldn't!'

Nevertheless, I am still in the process, on the journey, of discerning what God is truly calling me to. He's led me this far, and He continues to lead me. This weekend, I hope to hear and discern more clearly.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Religious Education Congress 2014

This year's theme was 'Hope: A World Afire!'

I'm winding down the weekend after an intense two days at the Religious Education Congress (Friday and Saturday). I only went for two of the three days, mainly because I needed my one day to stay home and gear up for the coming week. I day tripped to Anaheim for the event, which was more of a challenge with Friday traffic both going and coming home, but I definitely feel the 'conference high' even with the commuting and not making it for the last day (which was today). 

The sessions I chose back in December and got into (I had to choose my top 3 for each period) seemed to interlock with an ever-unfolding message of forgiveness, reconciliation and God's Love. In fact, it would appear that this Lent, the journey I'm taking with Yeshua is one of forgiveness. 


I arrived frazzled from rush hour and Disneyland traffic (the Anaheim Convention Center is across the street from California Adventure Park), then hit the crowd of 25,000 Catholics registering and picking up their name tags. I wondered if this is how it felt in Jerusalem on Passover in the time of Yeshua.

The view from the third floor balcony of the Anaheim Convention Center

First Period Session:  Temptation, Suffering, and Forgiveness. Dr. Greer Gordon spoke on the need for letting go of resentment, and the relationship between resentment and suffering. She challenged us to give our resentment up to the Holy Spirit to heal, to acknowledge where we are stuck, and she pinned down those self-righteous Catholics who seem to resent the poor and/or the commandment Yeshua and our current Pontiff give us to take care of our brothers and sisters. I think she was a little harsh with that, but I know the social justice movement is very passionate about that issue, and I could tell it came from a very good place. This was the perfect "getting my feet wet" session, and right off I was faced with the notion of acknowledging resentments and forgiving those I resent. So who do you suppose I resent more than anyone?

Second Period Session:  Was supposed to be held by Fr. Richard Fragomeni, but he was apparently too ill to travel, so Dr. Paul Ford graciously took his place. The title of the session was Divination: The invitation of the Eucharist to Communion of Life and Love with God. Dr. Ford took us on a journey through the Mass itself, pointing out how time is fluid as we pass from present to past (reading the Word) to future (Eucharist - the Wedding Supper in heaven) and back to present. In his talk, he was witty and surprised me with his candid invitation for us to come "dressed up" to Mass so that we can "take it all off" at Communion. Of course he was speaking metaphorically, but the idea of the veil being lifted to be united with Christ in Communion is nothing new under the sun. Eucharist is about Union. 

At the time of transubstantiation in the Mass, we the congregation are being offered to the Father as a living sacrfice in union with the Son, and it is through this union that we are, in a sense, transubstantiated - divinized. Further, Dr. Ford made the connection that in our daily lives, every flat surface is an altar where we can offer ourselves as living sacrifices to the Father - our desk, tub, bed, keyboard, dashboard, etc., and offer ourselves for everyone. This is about transformation of our daily lives into the Kingdom of God. 

He also encouraged us after Communion to recognize that Yeshua (Jesus) is beside us, like the Bridegroom next to the bride at the wedding (in mystical theology, the soul is feminine, the bride, as in Song of Songs). So there you are, sitting with God. Talk to Him. Listen to Him.

After that invigorating talk, I had a lovely lunch with my colleagues at the high school where I teach. Tuna sandwiches, chips, cookies, fruit, water, all on the sunroof of the Hilton.

Then came the highlight of the entire day.

Third Period Session:  Praying with Scripture by Fr. James Martin. Fr. Martin is a well-known Jesuit priest and theologian with a flair for social media. He's written scores of books, including his latest Jesus: A Pilgrimage and the Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. He is also the official chaplain of the Colbert Report. Fr. Martin led us through two Ignatian forms of prayer: lectio divina and a type of imaginative prayer where you imagine yourself IN a scene from scripture, letting the Holy Spirit lead your senses and interactions within the scene. 

The passage he chose for us to place ourselves in was the scene of the loaves and fishes, where Yeshua multiplies the fish and bread for thousands to eat. Since I pray like this often, I had no trouble entering into the scene myself, but the results of the prayer floored me completely. 

I ended up with a "two parter" meditation, first as myself in the scene, and then as Philip. I knew immediately what this was about: His calling me to Himself in a religious vocation, and His gentle chiding about my worries concerning student loan debt holding me back from this vocation. I won't get into a lot of detail here, but it's sufficient to say that this meditation was a very strong message of AFFIRMATION and a call to simply do what He asks, giving what I have to give, and trusting that he will do the rest. Amen!

After the session with Fr. Martin, I more or less made a beeline to where he was to be signing books. I didn't drag my heels, but I also didn't knock anyone over getting down there. I waited in a moderately short line and had my few moments with the man, himself to sign my book. I even told him briefly of my mediation. He was warm and thanked me for sharing my little story. Whatta guy.

Fr. Jim Martin and yours truly with his new book
When I left, the line snaked around and around toward the doors to the Exhibition Hall! From there I tweeted and emailed this photo to a few people, then I grabbed some dinner before everything shut down at 5:00. I should've stayed for one of the several Masses that were being said at 5:15, but I was feeling antsy about getting on the road before the worst of the rush hour was in full force, so I headed home.


Much less traffic on a Saturday morning, but a huge line getting into the parking structure. I flipped on the radio just to ease my jitters, and the song that came on was one I'd never heard before. The lyrics blew me away, considering the themes that were flowering throughout the conference in my own heart. The song is called "Make Me Lonely," by the Sidewalk Prophets. I was going to write more about it here, but I will wait for a separate blog post. For now it's enough to say that this song is all about recognizing that the suffering God allows us to experience is a kind of refining fire that draws us back to Him. Again with the refining fire motif this Lent.


Fourth Period Session: Scandalous Love: You can't get away from a love that won't let you go by Rev. Terry Hershey. Hershey is an amazingly down to earth, funny, insightful speaker. Oh, and he's Episcopalian, a fact which I love because he may as well be Catholic, which infers that we are all one Church despite our divisions. Oh, and a nod to my friends at St. Jude's in Burbank - I got his narthex joke because of my time spent at an Anglican church. Anyway, his impassioned presentation centered around that scandalous scene in Luke's Gospel where the sinful woman crashes a pharisee's party to weep at Yeshua's feet, wash them with her tears, dry them with her hair, then kiss and anoint them with perfume. This was an unbelievable act of intimacy and vulnerability. Yeshua rebukes the pharisee, Simon, who of course is bent out of shape about her presence, her actions, and Yeshua's seeming ignorance of "what kind of woman she is." But more than that, Yeshua invites us to be that woman - no shame, no walls, only love poured out for Love. 

Rev. Hershey had us move into pairs or groups of 3 or 4 to discuss what labels we use for ourselves that keep us from experiencing the Love of Messiah, and also to explore how grace is poured out to us continually in an invitation to experience this love. His thesis was that most of us don't even recognize or see that grace when it is poured out on us, because we use our labels to keep ourselves shut off.

The woman I was paired with, Darlene from Arizona, turned to me and immediately told me that in her culture (Native American) everyone is constantly affirmed by elders from birth through death with the phrase "shiwah shiyazhe" which loosely translated means "my child." She said it with such purpose, looking into my eyes, that I knew this WAS grace immediately flowing from God through her to me, a blessing. God telling me "you are my child, you are mine." 

This is part of my journey - the journey of forgiveness of myself, the affirmation that not only has He called me for a special purpose (as God does EVERY person on the planet), but that I do not need to feel ashamed for anything I've done in the past, because I am His child. His playful little child.

Fountains in front of the Convention Center
Fifth Period Session: Attuning Ourselves to the Fire, the Heartbeat of Christ: Exploring a Rich Mystical Image. As you can imagine from the title, this session is right up my alley. Rev. Ronald Rolheiser is another prolific author and theologian, but unlike Fr. Martin, his public persona is much more subdued. Nevertheless, I took the most notes during his talk. It was almost like being in graduate school again. I wondered if my cartridge fountain pen would run out of ink by the middle of the presentation. 

Rev. Rolheiser spoke about the Gospel of John, the mystical Gospel, in which the beloved disciple lays his head on the breast of Messiah after the supper. There is so much imagery, symbolism and meaning embedded in the gesture that it's impossible to delve into it all here in this limited format. The main idea, though, in reading the Gospel of John is that WE are invited to be that beloved disciple. Rolheiser also spoke about Mary of Magdala as the bride from the Song of Songs, seeking her Beloved, and finding Him on Easter morning, and how again we are invited to be as she is. So there are multiple ways to enter into the text and experience the depths of the mystical text. And yes, if it all sounds erotic, it most definitely is (as the Song of Songs most certainly is). As Rev. Rolheiser said, "mystics love eros."

To examine how to live out this Gospel, Rolheiser zeroed in on the two questions of the Gospel: In the first chapter, the would-be disciples of Messiah ask "Where do you live?" and instead of answering, Jesus answers "Come and see," and leads them on the journey of his ministry and their becoming. At the end of the Gospel, when Mary of Magdala sees Him in the garden (here Rolheiser reminds us what gardens are... places where lovers meet), she doesn't recognize him and thinks him to be the gardner.  He asks here "What are you looking for?" She answers that if he's taken the body of her Master, to please give it to her. Then he says her name, "Mary." She now knows who He is and who she is: she is His. 

And so, we are meant to go through our lives letting Yeshua show us where God lives (in ourselves, in others, in situations, in sunsets, in tears...) and then we are to show Yeshua were we live - where we hurt, where we need to be healed. In other words, to be vulnerable.  When we do, we allow Him to enter in and free us from the mourning and loss of sin. Because we are already forgiven, now the healing must happen, and when we realize we are resurrected WITH HIM, we live a new life.

Oh, there was a LOT more to his talk, but I need to be brief. After I finish Fr. Martin's book, I will be picking up Rev. Rolheiser's new book, Sacred Fire - A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity, in which he writes among other things about John's Gospel and Mary of Magdala. When I went up to him to ask him if he had a book upon which the talk was based, he appeared almost shy, and said the talk was really cobbled together from many shorter pieces he'd written, but then almost as an after-thought he suggested his book. 

At that point in the afternoon, I was filled to capacity. I needed to take some down time, so I skipped the sixth period and instead went to the Sacred Space chapel and sat with the Blessed Sacrament for awhile. It was an incredible experience to feel the love in that room - people's love for God, and God's love for us. It was almost tangible. One of the most memorable few moments of the entire weekend.

After that I finally had a chance to check out the Exhibit Hall. It was absolutely teeming, so I had to put aside my East Coast "jammer" through the crowd mode (to use a roller derby reference) and just go with the flow. I spoke with a few people I knew, including my spiritual director who was there with her order, the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master. Finally, I wound down and headed outside for some needed fresh air. I decided to go to the Contemplative Mass at 5:15, and it was perfection.

I had in mind the parts of the Mass and the "time travel" that Dr. Ford had elucidated in his talk, which deepened the experience. Mind you, this was a Mass for hundreds of people in one space (maybe more - I'm a poor evaluator of these kinds of things). What a blessing it was to worship with so many brothers and sisters. And my Communion Meditation was clear (the time I spent sitting next to the Bridegroom, again to borrow Dr. Ford's image)...

The "Big Picture"

I have been moving through these last two years awash in God's untamed Love, but unable to truly receive all He is giving me - the thousands of blessings large and small - because deep inside there is a feeling of not being worthy of the Gift. The person I needed to forgive, the person I resented, was myself. My mistakes. My errors. The past. All being exploited to keep me from recognizing grace where it lives in my life. 

The labels I've used for myself have most definitely been preventing me from receiving the Gifts in full. This is how and why I tend to see past the multitude of amazing things in front of me to focus on the dark smudge on the horizon that may or may not be bad news coming. This is how I feel God in prayer and know Him in my heart, and yet often fail to see Him in the loving touch, voice, generosity and laughter of my community of friends and loved ones, of opportunities and situations that allow them to touch me, and me to touch them. I am grateful for these things and people, but I don't necessarily see them as being GOD'S GRACE calling me deeper into the Body of Christ. And consequently, I can't see MYSELF as God's grace in other people's lives.

I've lived most of my life feeling isolated and shut off from others, which might surprise some people, but perhaps it shouldn't surprise them too much. It's a thing I do. I've always done it. But with the healing of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of Yeshua, I am coming more and more fully into Communion.

This experience at Congress was more than just learning new stuff and chatting with famous theologians. Early this morning, I woke up to an email from my dear former roommate, who having chatted with me last week during her stay about my travails and concerns, suggested that I wasn't seeing the "big picture" of what God has been and is doing in my life. She was 100% correct, and her comments helped me to put it all together, that is, everything that came to me throughout the weekend in the talks, the quiet moments, the music, even the impromptu meet-ups with some of my nun and sister friends. I am feeling refreshed and revivified, and I am feeling hopeful. A hope fueled by grace and love, not wishes or wanting. A hope because I am Resurrected with Messiah. I am Loved despite what I've done, what I do, what I will do, and I am called to be His no matter what - that's my identity. That's grace.

Hope: A World Afire!

And that, my friends, is one long blog post. If you made it to the end, congratulations. And thank you for being God's grace in my life. I hope something here has inspired you - read one of the books or authors I've mentioned, and please open yourself to the journey that God is calling you on this Lent.

Bella luna over Anaheim

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Not preaching to the choir: A response to the film “Son of God”

“Son of God,” produced by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett and directed by Christopher Spencer, was an enormous disappointment. Despite some strong performances, including Darwin Shaw (Peter) and Sebastian Knapp (John the Evangelist), it wasn’t even close to being the greatest Jesus movie of all time, and in fact, it wasn’t even a good movie. Not only was it shallow, disconnected, and self-important, it neglected to show a crucial aspect of Jesus’ saving ministry: relationship. Jesus had and has relationships with us, and with the Father, and he invites us into his intimate relationship with the Father. Nowhere did this crucial element of his life and teaching appear in this film. 

The-who-what-where-in-the-what-now? (Trying to make sense of this movie)
The episodes of Jesus’ ministry were never connected with who Jesus was as a person, and characters were drawn with neither depth nor passion. They came and went with no explanation and with no real connection to him or to each other. Several characters were introduced and then abruptly dropped (Martha and Lazarus) or mentioned without us having seen them (John the Baptist), such that we didn’t know and didn’t care about them at all. Mary Magdalene was apparently combined/conflated with Mary of Bethany, which reveals poor attention to detail and scripture (not to mention lazy writing).

The Jesus of the New Testament spent his time teaching, healing, ministering, and offering mercy to those that his culture considered ‘undesireable.’ As he, himself, said, “But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Matt 9:13). Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to see Jesus among the ‘undesirables’ except for one scene when he calls Levi/Matthew the tax collector to follow him, but this was a one-off scene. Jesus teaching and living at the fringe of acceptable behavior and institutions was merely suggested, not shown in a way that lets the audience understand his purpose. Thus the figure of Jesus comes off as two-dimensional. Many of Jesus’ words from the Gospels are even put into the mouths of interchangeable disciple characters, and the delivery is so flat that they don’t carry any weight.

Morgado offered us a charismatic screen presence, and as such was adequate as Jesus, but he could have been stunning with the right script and direction. As to the critique that he’s a “too sexy” Jesus, that’s only one aspect of what bothers me about this film. There's an excellent commentary on that issue here. For me the issue is more that he’s a “too white” Jesus. Not Morgado’s fault that he’s white, obviously; the blame for this casting falls squarely on the shoulders of the producers. 

Co-producer Roma Downey as Mary the Mother of Jesus was simply the wrong woman for the job. She doesn’t pull off the illusion for a moment; it is impossible to suspend disbelief. (I had an easier time with Harvey Kietel as Judas in “Last Temptation of Christ,” and I actually appreciate that film.) Her presence in “Son of God” was distracting at best, and at worst, it detracted from any potential emotional on-screen resonance between Jesus and his mother. The producer who stars in her own film with so many close ups smacks of trying to jump start a career, not honoring the Mother of God.

The disjointedness of scenes was undeniably a huge problem with this movie. Structurally, it felt like the writers took a bunch of stories from the Gospels and threw darts to decide which ones to include. The editing felt amateurish in places, with jump cuts and poor continuity. Perhaps they didn’t have a script supervisor, or didn’t get enough coverage, or maybe they just didn’t care. Pacing was uneven, and some of the cutaways left the audience hanging at what could’ve been emotionally impactful moments. Many of these problems can be traced to the fact that the film was edited down from a much longer made-for-TV movie, which also indicates multiple layers of decision making. This is never the best environment for filmmaking, so once again, we need to turn to the producers.

Ah, the producers…
The producers’ promotional machine for “Son of God” was a grass roots juggernaut that pushed opening weekend sales up to $9.4 mil, past The Lego Movie, to capture the #2 spot for the weekend. Church groups bought up and continue to buy up bundles of tickets, which has helped these numbers considerably. Some would say this is a major victory for Christians in media/Hollywood/pop culture. There is some room for this argument, to be sure. Getting something noticed on the big screen that’s of a spiritual bent and not about guns, sexual violence, or dick-and-fart jokes really is something to be excited about. And the (purchasing) power of organized grassroots efforts cannot be denied; film marketing ain’t what it used to be. Yet the question must be asked: is this image of the non-relational Jesus actually who the producers and supporters of the film believe in? Furthermore, we need to inquire into their agenda for presenting this “plastic” image of Messiah.

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon." [greed/debasing material wealth] (Matt 6:24)

One might ask whether the movie was positioned as nothing more than a cash cow for the producers after the success of their TV mini-series based on the Bible. Did they really pay attention to how they were depicting their Savior? How much attention was there to the script and direction that controlled this image? Or were they just drumming up as much expectation and ticket sales as possible without attention to the film they were producing? It’s big, it’s epic, it has familiar names and places if you are a Christian or know anything about Christianity. But does it really tell the story, does it really help the individual to know who Jesus is/was on Earth? And what about those who don’t believe? They see this film, they scoff at Roma Downey’s obvious placement, they get lost in the editing of unconnected vignettes, and they see Jesus’ hair blowing in the wind. What kind of Messiah are they being presented with?

Where’s my Jesus?
I don’t pretend to know Downey and Burnett’s motivations or intentions, but I do call them into question. All I can say for sure is that I find their film to be devoid of anyone truly resembling the Messiah, the Anointed One of God who came to set us free from the shackles of our limited understanding of self and other, to give us eternal Life, freeing us from the wages of sin.

Where did “their” Messiah eat with the sinners, explaining to real people in a context they could understand what the Kingdom of Heaven really is? How did their Messiah create relationships with people who most of his society discarded as sub-human? He had his little band of followers, and he preached to crowds, but where is the Son of Man who defended and rejoiced and cried and laughed with his fellow human beings as he taught them how to love by being love? I didn’t see that Messiah at all. In this film, I saw a plastic Jesus, smiling and healing, moving through crowds of people, but not connecting with them. I saw nothing that would encourage his followers today to touch the lives of others and participate in the Kingdom right now, right here.

"Who are all these people?"
Evangelizing can be a beautiful thing, but there is more to it than proclamation. There is the doing and the praying and the being. Jesus is the perfection of what we call “contemplative in action,” but we don’t get to see this aspect of him: the part of Jesus that needed to rest, to commune with the Father. In fact, I can’t recall him really talking about his relationship with the Father much at all, except for the Crucifixion dialogue and the Garden of Gethsemane (and let’s face it, Ted Neeley did that better).

Which brings me back to my very first point: this film doesn’t show Jesus living in relationship with the Father or with others, nor does it present his invitation to us to participate directly and intimately in relationship with each other and with the Trinity.

Red Alert
The most notably disturbing scene of “Son of God” is near the end, with Peter suddenly having his own personal epiphany about the Resurrection and then “instituting” the Eucharist on the spur of the moment. The problem isn’t that this scene is extra-Biblical. Rather, the danger is its suggestion that individuals cannot have a relationship with Messiah without a pastor or priest as the intermediary.

Priests and pastors have a necessary function, of course, but this scene clearly posits Peter as the only one who “gets it,” running the show while everyone else just sits around like passive stumps (even though Mary Magdalene has already seen the Risen Lord and everyone thought she was nuts, hello!).

I get that it was supposed to be Eucharistic, but we don’t need to see Peter doing this action because Jesus Messiah already did it! What we needed was to see Peter struggling to forgive himself, then being forgiven by the Resurrected Jesus, and then being told “Feed my lambs...tend my sheep…feed my sheep.” The priest or pastor is to be a caretaker of the flock, not the middle man/woman between them and God.

A friend of mine also pointed out that this scene smacked of “magical thinking,” which is that if we do this particular thing, God will do what we demand because of that action. Peter breaks bread and drinks wine, and visually, we’re told that it’s only because of that performance that Jesus shows up, instead of unexpectedly in their midst at a time of his own choosing as the Gospel presents it. The Eucharist as practiced by Catholics is made as an offering to God, not a magical ritual that demands God’s presence. God’s will is his own and is not dependent upon actions we take or demands we make, and in his wisdom, he knows when to “show up” and how best to help us in the moment! This scene, to me, borders on heretical for these reasons. I know, strong words. But my point stands.

Dang, girl, did you like anything about this movie? Well, yes, there were a few things.
  • Jesus meekly taking the cross, kissing it, lying on it without being forced to ~ like a lamb to the slaughter. The Lamb of God. Accepting his cross because of his love for us.
  • Cross-cutting the Passover lamb being slaughtered with his Passion.
  • Cross-cutting Jesus praying in the Garden, priests praying in the Temple, Romans praying to their gods – although as with most other things in the film, the meaning was lost because it was so disconnected. (Sorry, this is supposed to be the list of what I liked.)
  • Jesus being surprised at the visions and flashes of insight, especially the scene after the Last Supper where Peter says he’ll die for Jesus. Jesus embraces him, feeling relieved and supported that his friend is going to stick by him, until he has the vision of Peter denying him three times. Then, when Peter does deny him, they are both knocked to the ground by the Roman guards, and there is the eye contact – Jesus still loving Peter, Peter realizing what he’s just done to his Rabbi.  But again, more could’ve been done with this aspect of Jesus’ human/divine love.
  • Pilate’s wife having the dream about Jesus and begging Pilate not to kill him.
  • Jesus getting into Peter’s boat at the beginning, paired with the later scene of Jesus asking Peter to step out of the boat to walk on water with him.
  • John the Evangelist telling the story, and the bit of Revelation at the end. But if we see John, it should be The Gospel of John, which it most definitely wasn’t.
  • Everyone had dirty fingernails. Realistic detail.
  • I liked that Mary Magdalene was there the entire time, close by Jesus, and that there was no talk of her having been a prostitute (though her earrings and deep red costume colors were suggestive). However, I was highly irritated that she had nothing to do or say that was worthwhile, other than her expression of faith when the other disciples were squabbling, but again, that was never rounded out or connected to her vision of the Risen Messiah, which would’ve been powerful. Instead, it ended up as a throw-away line.
  • Morgado’s ability to be gentle yet powerful in the few scenes that allowed him to do something meaningful.

…and…that’s all I got
I really wanted to like this film, but the inaccuracies, poor story telling, "candied" Jesus with only a few sparkling moments thanks to the charisma of Morgado, and Roma Downey’s conceited casting of herself put this at the bottom of my list of films, Christian or otherwise, that I would ever recommend to anyone. In fact, it’s not even on the list. I call into question their motivations for releasing such a poorly made film with such problematic theology and Christology.

Given this fact, I am troubled that a sizable group of Christian moviegoers are taking this in and spitting it out with two thumbs up, uncritically acclaiming it. Are they accepting this plastic Messiah figure as their own, one who doesn’t challenge them to be the more, to be in relationship? That’s a sobering thought. Another troubling aspect of this is that for Christian h8ers, the film and its fawning fans only seem to bolster the ‘dumb Creationists who can’t think for themselves’ stereotype that does not represent Catholicism or Christianity as a whole, and certainly not how God leads us to understand the world in which we live or the creations of humankind (that is to say, with our emotional and intellectual intelligence). 

I leave off with a little prayer that God will bring good things out of this film, despite its many shortcomings, and/or that it’ll be a flash in the pan, soon forgotten. Heaven knows, we have more important things to be focused on in this world.