Friday, May 23, 2014

7 Quick Takes Friday, (vol. 87)

1. I’m leaving today to work to Totus Tuus, a religious education program, this summer. I’ll be in a different parish each week. It’s a crazy-busy schedule, but I’m really hoping that it’s fun and fulfilling.

2. Training is in Alabama, which really messes up my unofficial “don’t head south in summer” rule. I’m expecting heat and humidity. Icky, icky humidity. I miss Scotland.

3. Because my computer threw a temper tantrum yesterday, I won’t be taking my computer with me. That means no blog posts and limited other technological interaction.

4. It’s probably good to have some time away from technology. I’m taking some heavy reading along I’m hoping to get into. I’m really just a novice at philosophy, but I’ll see how far I get with Dostoyevsky and Kierkegaard.

5. Without my computer, that means I can’t do the research I was planning to in anticipation of the fall semester. But again, it’s probably good to take one thing at a time and leave school thoughts for August.

6. Last week was pretty rough with paperwork snags, water-damaged offices, housing problems, and a temperamental computer. It made me really want some hermit time of ice cream and Netflix. Sadly, I only got one day of that for the entire summer. I might need to disappear for a couple weeks in August to recoup. 

7. On a lighter (darker?) note: Although I’ve never actually read Inferno, I love the imagery Dante uses. It’s a shame some people treat it like doctrine more than literature, but still, his descriptions of hell are screaming “made-for-TV.” Which begs the question: why isn’t Dante’s trip through hell already a popular film? In any case, here are the levels of hell in Lego form.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Watching Grace

I love baptisms. I like baptisms with babies, in their frilly white gowns with a gaggle of adults around. I like baptisms with adults, making a mature decision to take baby steps. I like the water, the shells, the cleanliness of it all. I like being part of the community that welcomes our newest member into its fold. I like knowing that I was once that newbie and that the community lived up to its promises to me. I love being a witness to such a powerful ritual and sacrament.

Over the past two Easters, I’ve seen adults baptized into the Catholic faith, and over my life, I’ve been present for several babies and children being baptized at my Protestant church. And it only occurred to me recently that this is sort of backwards from the typical experience: Catholics are traditionally baptized as infants, and a sizeable group of Protestants get baptized as adults. What made me realize this was that I finally got to see my first infant baptism in the Catholic Church.

I went to mass last Saturday expecting the usual, which is the cadre of old, white couples and me, pulling down the average age by a few decades. Everyone has a pew or two to themselves. The small numbers make for a quiet and quick service. We only hit an hour if there are multiple announcements. As it got closer to time for service, I noticed that it was a bit more crowded than usual. It eventually got so crowded that we had to open up the curtains that allow for extra seating. I actually had to share my pew. There were several Hispanic families now, with little kids that, while well-behaved, were much noisier than the regular retirees. That’s when I noticed the baby up front in a white dress and bonnet, the clear indication of impending baptism. I got stoically giddy, which sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s the only kind of giddy my German genes will allow in a public place.

The Spanish mass is usually offered on Sunday afternoons. Bilingual masses are only for Holy Days of Obligation, which means the Hispanic and Anglo communities rarely come together. I was fascinated by the two cultures thrown together, each aware of the other’s worship preferences. The Anglos like a larger personal space and absolute quiet. The Hispanics have a closer sense of personal space, and they talk or let their kids run around or talk during the service. But we were all there for the same purpose, and that trumped the small differences. We jumped between English and Spanish and probably some Spanglish, and everyone followed along well enough. I couldn’t help thinking that the language barrier would be less noticeable if we were all confused by the Latin together.

It felt so nice, like a real diverse, single community, instead of two communities in one space. I was distracted throughout the service, but appreciating the community seemed to be worship as well. After a few years, I’m almost about to go through the motions and responses whether I understand the language or not. I do know the readings were about sheep, which I thought was appropriate for a baptism (because babies bundled up in white look like plump, little lambs).

The baptism itself was nothing new or extraordinary, which is what made it so wonderful. Proud parents and godparents, cute kid, priest trying to get the baby wet without causing it to cry, “in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti” (my Anglo ears only translate Spanish through Latin roots, but it was something like that), the adoring congregation looking on. It’s a ritual performed over a billion times. But it’s beautiful and special and miraculous each time. Repetition doesn’t diminish it, because it’s always a different soul receiving the grace of God. It’s always part of an epic saga about a person’s spiritual journey. Repetition only magnifies the glory, and it makes the community bigger and the pews fuller.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

St. Erconwald

Like I mentioned earlier in the year, I'm still covering saints when they jump out at me, which usually means when I find one with a totally rad name. That means plenty of Anglo-Saxons. Erconwald was born into a noble family in Britain in the seventh century. His father was a pagan king. Erconwald converted to Christianity after meeting St. Mellitus, the first bishop of London.  He then converted and baptized his sister, Ethelburga. 

In 666, he founded a Benedictine monastery on an island in the Thames and convent for his sister in Essex. This was partly to help her escape an arranged marriage to a pagan. In 675, he became bishop of London and began working on St. Paul’s. St. Paul’s was adapted from a Londinium pagan temple. Many miracles were attributed to him, both during his life and after his death.

He was confined to a wheelchair for the later part of his life. Erconwald died peacefully at his sister's convent in 693. He was buried at St. Paul’s. In 1087, a fire destroyed the cathedral, but his coffin and remains survived. He was reburied behind the high altar of the new cathedral. His tomb and relics were plundered during the English Reformation.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Council of Chalcedon (451)

St. Leo the Great, author of Leo's Tome

This council was called just a few years after the Council of Ephesus and was held in October of 451. It was primarily an immediate response to the Second Council of Ephesus of 449, also called the Robber Council. The Robber Council was rejected by the East and West, although it is still regarded as valid in Oriental Orthodoxy. 

One of the issues dealt with at the Council of Chalcedon was the nature of Christ. The Robber Council had declared that Christ was a single, divine being. Several bishops at the Chalcedon council maintained that Christ had hypostatic union, a divinity and humanity held in one being. Pope Leo I (later St. Leo the Great and Doctor of the Church) wrote on Christ's nature; his document, called Leo's Tome, was used in the council debates.

The Oriental Orthodox who affirmed the Robber Council rejected this council. This was the first big schism within the Church. Constantinople (New Rome) was declared equal to Rome, making East and West more or less equal.

The council also made a clear statement on the nature of Christ, that he was in hypostatic union. This means Christ is one person but has two natures, God and man simultaneously. There were also several disciplinary statements for the clergy and religious orders. This included forbidding monks or nuns to marry. It also stipulated that a woman must be at least 40 before being ordained deaconess.

The main heresy condemned at this council was really what had been affirmed at the Robber Council and deals with the nature of Christ. Monophysitism states that Christ is one person and has one nature. This is almost the opposite of the Nestorian heresy that was condemned at the First Council of Ephesus just 20 years earlier. Nestorians hold that Christ is two people (God and man at separate times) with two natures. Churches centered in the Church of Alexandria (Coptic Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox) still hold to the Second Council of Ephesus instead of the Council of Chalcedon.

It’s clear that there is still a lot of “figuring it all out” going on, even though the faith is about 400 years old at this point. There are lots of disciplinary rules laid out about how clergy should act and how bishops respect one another’s territory. It also shows the beginning of fragmentation. While the other councils showed that there were wildly different theological views floating about, there was the idea that councils would standardize and unify beliefs. However, the Robber Council, followed immediately by the Council of Chalcedon shows that groups will not always submit to council decisions.

Friday, May 9, 2014

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 86)

1. I’m finally done with classes and papers for the semester! I had a very heavy workload, but I got it done!

2. Last weekend, I went to Folly Beach/Charleston for a bachelorette weekend for one of my oldest and best friends. I had a wonderful time, and while my final papers may have suffered a bit for it, I think it was worth it.

3. One of my papers was on Russian Christian existentialist Nicolai Berdyaev. I’ve really gotten into his writings (and almost understand some of it). I need to get my summer reading list together.

4. Another reading assignment for summer is to look through some scholarly articles and find some ideas for a thesis. I’d like to have a good direction on a topic when I start classes in the fall.

5. With papers done, I have time to get into a few new shows I’ve discovered. The first is Moone Boy. It’s about a boy growing up in western Ireland in the early 1990s. Chris O’Dowd wrote it, and he also plays the boy’s imaginary friend.

6. The other show I’ve really gotten into is A Young Doctor’s Notebook. Daniel Radcliffe plays the young doctor in outer Russia in 1917. Jon Hamm plays the older version of the doctor in 1934 who sometimes talks to his younger self. Clearly I have a thing for comedies where the main character talks to an imaginary, older version of himself. I wonder if Netflix has a category for that yet.

7. Finally, it’s starting to feel like summer here, which means I try to avoid going out between 11 and 4. But on a positive note, I’ve realized I am a morning person, as long as the sun is up. I don’t mind getting up at 5:30 or 6 as long as there is some daylight. It’s too bad that the sun isn’t up that early during most of the school year.