Bold, Frankincense, and Myrrh

Camel Caravan

“There!”
“Where?”
“Out there! See?”
“Oh, now I do. In the East.”
“Yes. That cloud of dust.”
“That’s a caravan, isn’t it, Aziz?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Tell Nathan to go into town, and tell them a caravan is coming. It looks large.”

*****

“There must be twenty camels.”
“And, look! They have horses!”
“Hmmm… that’s not something you see every day. Not around here.”

*****

Adoration of the Magi Gaspare Diziani 1718 Oil on Canvas Museum of Fine Arts Budapest

“We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” … and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:2b, 11 NABRE)

*****

That’s bold.

“Hi. You don’t know us. But…uh… we saw a star… Um… It’s been kind of a long trip…”
”Two years, really…”
”Yeah, two years.”
”Can we see him? Your son?”

That’s a vision, and a true belief, and a solid faith that what you’re doing is exactly what you’re supposed to be doing.

That’s the kind of bold I want. Magi bold. Keeping after the task at hand, not being dissuaded. Following the star. Even when it gets tiresome. And it does get tiresome.

Bold is what keeps you going.

*****

If there’s one thing I’m pretty dismal at, it’s being prepared for unexpected company. Oh, I’ll do the best I can, but it’s not like I’ve got an extra casserole in the freezer and can put fresh sheets on the bed in a twinkling. They’ll be lucky if I have a cold beverage.

But we never hear that Joseph was ill at ease around these pagan shamans. We don’t read that Mary was ambivalent about having foreign dignitaries dandle her boy on their knees.

And the gifts. Let’s not forget the gifts. Oh, they had probably seen the frankincense before, at the temple. We do know that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth was married to a priest, so it’s very likely that Mary and Joseph were frequent visitors to the temple (at least, as frequently as their schedule allowed). At that time, village women were accustomed to preparing the dead for burial, so maybe Mary had seen myrrh before. And yes, if they had been to the temple, they had obviously seen gold. But touched it? Even the little coffer of gold that we see in most paintings would’ve been enough gold to set them up for life. And then some.

But they remain unruffled. They don’t say, “Oh, you shouldn’t have.” Or, “Oh, this is too much.”

They are gracious, and welcoming, and take everything in stride.

That’s bold. Mary bold.

That’s the kind of “yes, life, I’m taking what you’re offering, even though it’s about the most outlandish thing possible” attitude that I want this year.

Ready to take on whatever wise men are coming.

Who knows? Maybe they’ll even have gifts!

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Five Minute Friday: Afraid

5-minute-friday-1Let’s just put the cards on the table right at the beginning and play this hand open, okay? I’m a Christian, and I’m a Catholic (although there’s plenty of people who think that never the twain shall meet, they’re obviously wrong). So, I’ll probably get all up in your face about Jesus, or Mass, or Mary at some point, which you may or may not like. And because of that, you may or may not like me.

That’s the scary part. I’m often afraid that people don’t like me. (I’m actually afraid of a lot of things. Don’t let’s go there, okay?) I’m afraid they’ll think I’m a lunatic who, indeed, would be better served by being on medication. Probably a lot.

But if there’s one thing I’m not afraid of, it’s God. As you can see from my previous post, I’m certainly not afraid to take on the Creator of the Universe in a giant, tear-stained-face, foot-stamping, roll-on-the-floor-in-a-fit-of-toddler-like-temper-tantrum blather that, frankly, often leaves me exhausted.

But then we’re cool.

Because the other thing I’m not afraid of is that He’s going to love me less for it.

Nope.

Not gonna happen.

I posted this on Facebook and Twitter the other day, and I really believe it:

God loves each of us so much. There’s not a single thing you or I can do to make God love us more. Or less. Realizing that will set us free!

*****

What’s Five Minute Friday?

A blog-prompt project dreamt up by LisaJo Baker, which you can read about here. The skinny is that you spend five minutes of writing, generally unedited (I correct typos, WAY too OCD not to do that, and set up links), on a prompt that she provides just after midnight via a tweet, then spread the word, and link up. Interested? Join up. Check it out.

 

Stuff Catholics Like: Love Wins (Part I)

If you haven’t already figured it out by some of my earlier blog entries, I’m a Catholic. Depending on which school of thought you fall in, that usually (but not necessarily) makes me one of the following:

Love Wins by Rob BellGiven these possibilities, my review of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived will probably just serve to cement your point of view. In my experience, most people prefer options that reinforce their currently held opinion, regardless of what it is.

When I first ran across this book at the store, my only thought was, “Hey! I didn’t know he’d written another book. Cool!” So I bought it and read it over the course of a couple days. (It’s not a hard book to read, and I could’ve finished it in one sitting, but I was working on another book at the time, which is all too common for me.) I found it well-reasoned, thought provoking, and ultimately, exciting! One of the things I like most about Bell is his willingness to admit that while he might not have all the answers, he’s not afraid to ask the questions.

So imagine my surprise when I posted a brief entry last night mentioning it, and found that there were no less than approximately fifteen thousand separate articles I could’ve used as “Related Articles” that reference this book and the astonishingly strong reactions it’s provoking among some members of the Christian community.

I’ve decided not to reference most of these strong-minded articles. One, because they’re really easy to find on the Internet. Two, because all the ones I’ve read so far completely miss the point of this book, which is, oddly enough, the title.

Because I’m a Catholic, I’m pretty used to being the subject of intense opinion and curiosity. (Maybe it’s because I’m open minded and approachable, and generally come across as an intelligent person with a sense of humor. I don’t know.) There have been people who have asked me, in all honesty and without a hint of sarcasm, why Catholics worship statues. (We don’t.) I know, for a fact, that there are people who believe Catholics worship Satan (we don’t) and are all bound for a justly-deserved hell. (We aren’t. Well, maybe some of us are. But not me. Oops. But not I.) And there are people who believe that if we only accepted Jesus as our personal Savior, we’d finally come to realize that the Protestants are right. (We won’t.) And naturally, there are people who just don’t care about that sort of thing. (I, however, do.)

What’s interesting about most of these reviews is that they seem to completely miss the point of this book. (It really makes me wonder if the writers have actually read Love Wins.) One reviewer basically said that because the book didn’t have copious footnotes and could be read in under two hours, it basically wasn’t worth it, theologically. (Point of reference: the Bible doesn’t actually have any footnotes, and the entire Gospel of John on CD clocks in at only a little more than two hours, and that’s because it’s being read aloud. Hmmm….) Another writer said that if Jesus wasn’t really the only way to get to heaven, and if everyone really does a “get out of jail free” card, then why not live a life of unbridled self-indulgence?

After a thorough reading and re-reading of this book, I can not, for the life of me, see how Bell is saying that what amounts to using people for personal advancement, defrauding the poor, or engaging in wild sexual abandon, is okay with God, and He “lets you in” anyway. What I do see is that Bell’s view of salvation is a lot more expansive than that of a lot of conservative, self-proclaimed Evangelical Christians.

Stay tuned, because I’m nowhere near done with this.

For Crying Out Loud!

Cry out loud

Image by Up Your Ego
via Flickr

We’re not too fond of humiliation in this day and age. And who would be? I’m quite sure people haven’t been fond of humiliation in any age. Needless to say, I experienced some sense of it earlier today and the final upshot is entirely instructive to me.

Without going into too many details, let me say that I think my response was typical. First, I got super mad! “How dare I be treated this way!” Grumbling ensued. Then, I was saddened. “I feel so rejected and hurt.” Crying ensued. Finally, after a couple of hours, I’ve come to my senses. “Why am I so upset? It’s probably nothing! Lots of saintly people are misunderstood–even Jesus! I’m hardly saintly, so why am I carrying on so?” I’m slowly stepping toward acceptance. Relief has ensued.

I just wish I could get to the last step without having gone through the first two! Maybe it’ll be easier next time, though given my history, I’m a little doubtful. I’m just grateful that I didn’t lose my temper and say something nasty, which is very tempting. Or worse, grumble and whine in the background, which is even more tempting and a far worse choice. Having waited a while, I’m glad I did.

Religious Enthusiasm

Jacinta Marto, Lucia dos Santos, and Francisco MartoI can’t help it sometimes… I read something about Jesus and how He has done so much for us and loves us, and then I get excited and enter a season of religious enthusiasm! Unfortunately, I usually get discouraged by my inability to actually be a good person.

Lately, I’ve been inspired by reading about the apparitions of the Virgin Mary at Fatima, Portugal, in 1917. Marian apparitions have long interested me (maybe fascinated is a better term), and these are no exception. In fact, I learned about them when I was a very little girl, so they’re probably my favorite.

The Catholic Church does not officially recognize all apparitions as authentic, and no Catholic is actually required to believe in them. But honestly, if the Blessed Mother appeared to me, and asked me to pray more, would I turn her down? No. Of course not. And I certainly do believe that she appeared to these three children, and there is nothing about her message that is weird or impossible to do. Her requests:

If you’re not Catholic, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about for the last three items. It could be that you don’t know about Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Mine looks like this one!this, even if you are Catholic. For more information on these requests, you might try a place called The World Apostolate of Fatima, U.S.A., which is a clearing house for all things Fatima. (There are many web sites about Fatima, from the orthodox to the nonsensical. I will not make any other recommendations.)

Six little requests. So easy to do! So why don’t I? Is it unrealistic? No. Too hard for ordinary people? No. Peculiar to the time and place? No. Am I just too lazy? Probably. And I feel guilty about that.

Fortunately, God is very merciful. He loves it when we brush ourselves off and try again. And so does His mother!

Mysterious, All Right

Because I said so!Not be be confused with a song by U2, there’s a hymn dating from 1774 by William Cowper, “God Moves in s Mysterious Way,” and I’m not sure if it’s possible to have penned a more accurate statement. I can’t figure God out, no matter how much time I spend thinking about it. Mysterious, indeed!

I know, I know… Why does He do this? That? The other thing? In the Book of Isaiah (Chapter 55, verses 8 and 9), we read: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.” Furthermore, in the Book of Job, Chapters 38-42 are one long rant to Job by God to Job detailing God’s omniscience and Job’s lack thereof. So, I’ve been hearing that all my life. But that doesn’t stop my thinking about it.

Of course, I’d rather have a God that I can’t figure out than one I can. “Oy vey, I wish God were more like Aunt Jean!” is something I can’t imagine saying. (Even if my Aunt Jean is more of what I imagine Jesus to be like than anyone else I know.) It’s a lot easier to deal with a God who is love, and the definition of all that is good and holy, and has our best interests at heart than one like, say, Zeus or Apollo.

I’m always reading a variety of things that run the gamut from romance novels to theology. (If that’s not running the gamut, I no longer understand the definition of that phrase.) I have lots of interests, spend time in nature, and know a great many people. Maybe I just spend more time pondering than other people do, but the littlest things will have me considering the workings of the Almighty.

Oh, I’m not talking about the old, routine, “Why does a good God permit evil?” question. The answer is right there. He permits it. That’s entirely different from liking it. He obviously didn’t create robots!

I’m more inclined to think things like, “God, what’s Your plan for me? Am I doing this life right? If I am, or even if I’m not, can You give me a sign?” Another thought is, “God, why do You not smite the wicked? I understand free will, but why wait until after their death to make them pay?” How about, “I’m a nice person, God, why do I have to suffer? I’m failing to see the larger picture here. I’m a little weak in the trust area about this.”