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Archive for November, 2011

Zenit presents an interview with theologian Christopher West, who discusses issues related to the Theology of the Body. West is attempting to speak prophetically to a culture that worships sexuality, to show what’s good about chastity and the celibate life.

Journey in Faith offers a post on “Advent Spirituality,” which focuses on the virtue of patience and waiting for God.

Rod Dreher reflects on Christian aesthetics and the consequences of “ugly ritual,” exploring how good liturgy is better than good theology. A very curious distinction, since ritual has its source in theology. Dreher, of course, isn’t a theologian, so perhaps that explains the curious comment.

L. Cecile Adams discusses how to pray with your children in order to teach them how to encounter God in prayer.

 

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First, make sure to read Matthew Brench’s post “Advent could save Christmas” over at his personal blog Leorningcnihts boc.

Christianity Today discusses “ethical consumption” in an interview with Laura Hartmann, author of the book The Christian Consumer: Living Faithfully in a Fragile World.

Howard Kainz, in First Things, discusses two new books from atheist philosophers who have some agreement with (gasp!) the Intelligent Design movement.

Rick Marschall reflects on an observation about the difference in American and African prayers: Americans pray for burdens to be lifted, while Africans pray for stronger backs.

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Matthew Skinner writes in the Huffington Post about the meaning of Advent in the context of Black Friday.

Carl E. Olson, in Ignatius Insight, provides a reflection on the Scripture readings from Advent 1.

Fr. Gabriel Amorth, the chief exorcist in the Vatican (how does one get that job?), claims that Harry Potter and yoga are Satanic and lead to evil.

George Weigel discusses the greatest overseas mission field ever: Ireland, the land of Guinness.

It appears Rob Bell is leaving his Mars Hill church in Michigan in order to pursue “strategic opportunities,” one of which includes producing a television show with Lost producer Carlton Cuse.

 

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Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.

Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the wine we offer you: fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it will become our spiritual drink.

These words may or may not be familiar to you.  They come out of the new Roman Missal, and are said “quietly” by the Celebrant as he places the bread and wine on the Altar before they are consecrated.  Intended to be prayed privately, it may be said out loud in the absence of music at the Offertory.  While such prayers are not written into our Anglican Prayer Book, many Anglican priests, like myself, find ourselves “quietly” using them as well.  The rest of the congregation only hears them at services that don’t have an Offertory Hymn, when we choose to pray them out loud.  Many priests find these and other similar prayers to help infuse meaning into these acts which we perform so often.  This particular prayer sums up a wonderful Biblical theology of food, work, and offering that is worth our reflection as we continue to digest our Thanksgiving experience.

The form of this prayer goes back to the Jewish Berakhah, a prayer of blessing or praise to God starting “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe…” For the observant Jew, the day is punctuated with such prayers of blessing.  My personal favorite is the blessing for the bathroom. 

Blessed is He who has formed man in wisdom and created in him many orifices and many cavities. It is obvious and known before Your throne of glory that if one of them were to be ruptured or one of them blocked, it would be impossible for a man to survive and stand before You. Blessed are You that heals all flesh and does wonders.

But what of this blessing over this ever-so-special food, over bread and wine that will become the Body and Blood of Christ?

  1. We have received these gifts through God’s goodness.  First, he has given us the earth from which this food has come.  Second, through his goodness wheat and grapes have grown up from the earth by God’s blessing.  We only need to look across this world at the current famine in Africa to remember that such growth is not to be taken for granted.
  2. Both the bread and the wine are also the work of human hands, and are being offered to him.  In one sense, this is also from God.  “It is he who gives you power to get wealth.” (Deut 8:18).  Yet it is also from us… humans took that grain of wheat that grew from the earth, planted it, cultivated it, harvested it, threshed it, milled it, formed dough from it, and baked it into bread.  We have taken the grain and grapes that God has given us, worked with it, and by God’s grace have transformed it into something better: bread and wine.  Now we offer him the fruit of our labors, although we would have nothing to offer apart from his goodness.
  3. Now, in expectation, we speak of what this bread and wine will become: the bread of life and our spiritual drink.  God will take this thing that we offer and will transform it yet again, this time into something that we could never make it: the body and blood of Christ.

This prayer reminds us that we are collaborators with God in his work of creation.  He has given us this world and filled us with the grace to care for it and develop it, turning potentials into beautiful realities as we turn grain into bread and grapes into wine.  Trees are made into tables, ore is made into great buildings and valuable tools, the list goes on.  Yet, try as we may, nothing our efforts create is eternal; our work in itself can never fulfill our deepest desires.

However, there is one way in which our labors can be eternal; we can offer them to God.  In fact, the Book of Revelation suggests to us that the glory and honor of the nations, the fruit of our labor that we treasure so dearly, will indeed be in the Heavenly City.  “The kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day- and there will be no night there.  They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.”  (Rev 21:24-26).  What value is it to bring the glory of the nations, things that are subject to decay, into an eternal city, unless these things also are transformed and made eternal?  Unless God takes the work of human hands and once again makes it something better?

If this is true, then this bread and wine that we offer to God in Eucharist are a token of the entire creation, and the work we have done to create them are a token of all human labor… efforts that can only be brought to perfection if we place them back in the hands of God.

So, in this Berakhah, we bless the Lord for 3 graces:

  1. Giving us this earth and bringing forth growth from it.
  2. Giving us the ability to share his creative work, transforming this creation in so many ways.
  3. Giving us hope that the fruit of our work, when offered to God, is actually eternally significant.

With this in mind, “whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”  (Col 3:23).

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David Zahl has an interesting piece in Christianity Today entitled “The Gospel According to Jim Hensen” in honor of the new Muppets movie.

David Lahti, an evolutionary biologist, finds a material use for Calvinism and the old time religion: namely, knocking humanity out of its complacency in order to reach its evolutionary ideal.

Boston University professor Stephen Prothero has an amusing piece dispelling the notion that Puritans were Puritanical. Our forbears loved two things our (allegedly) godless society loves: beer and sex. Beer and sex? The Puritans sound like a fun group.

Anticipating a less than ideal Thanksgiving? Fr. James Martin offers a primer on how to survive Turkey Day.

The Round-up will be taking the next two days off for Thanksgiving. We hope everyone enjoys their Turkey Day.

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In First Things, Elizabeth Scalia is exasperated with the Christian emphasis on “being nice.” She wants a little snark in her spirituality.

Jennifer A. Marshall, in Christianity Today, cries out to single women who can’t find any good men: “Don’t give up on marriage!

Good Reads provides a poem by C. S. Lewis mocking the deification of evolution by secular society.

 

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The readings for the final Sunday in our church year, Christ the King, were full of references to shepherds, sheep, kings, and the Rider called  “Faithful and True.” It was easy to take these thoughts into our morning Atrium time. Silence and large thoughts with small children can be comfortable; after all, wondering how Jesus could be both a Shepherd and a King is a hefty matter. As usual, after prayer, we went to work.

Busy children worked with an array of materials: the liturgical calendar, the more complicated vocabulary for items at the Altar (e.g. corporal, ciborium!), our geography works that show the cities and regions in the land of Israel. We thought about the coming of Advent next week, where the visit of the angel took place, and what news would be shared. I noticed one child returning again to a favorite work, the Good Shepherd and the sheepfold. The last time we pondered that parable and read together  “the sheep don’t follow the voice of a stranger;  they run away from a stranger because they don’t know his voice,”  he offered his view: “They run back to God.”

But the already rich morning was capped for me at our prayer time. Not only it is wonderful to watch children offer respectful silence while others pray, it is a joy to hear their thanksgivings. As I thought about their litany of thanks, I also considered the “order” in which they were named.  Random? Perhaps.  But it was still a joy to be thankful for “families, toys, food, Jesus, the Church.”  I am grateful the children are thankful for the Church,  in whom they are full members already. After that thanksgiving, it was a small step to also be thankful for cranberries, as the Spirit moved someone to declare, and we could all agree and sing, “Thank you Lord, for everything.”

Amen.

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