The color of reading

Emotion colors perception wonderfully.  The same aspen tree, with the same white bark and the same golden leaves fluttering in the same wind, is one tree to the moonstruck lover, another tree to the poet in search of joy, and still a third to the dismal soul doubting whether life has meaning.  The same sensory input offers either a happy companion, or a wistful finger pointing to another realm, or a bleached-out bit of wood. Continue reading “The color of reading”

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The Strange Ending of Mark’s Gospel

[This is the third in a three-part series on Mark’s Gospel.  The other parts are 1. Hearing Mark’s Gospel and 2. The Strange Beginning of Mark’s Gospel.]

While Mark’s beginning is strange to those who think about it carefully, his ending is strange to anyone who reads.  In the oldest and best manuscripts, Mark’s Gospel ends like this:

And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.

That’s it.  No meeting the resurrected Jesus, no moment of glory, not even a moment when the petrified women actually tell someone what happened.  “They were afraid”—and the curtains drop.

The longer ending printed in our Bibles was written very, very early on, so early that it is canonical and considered an inspired text in its own right.  But the very fact that the longer ending is so ancient demonstrates that even the earliest Church found Mark’s ending strange.  No resurrection scene?  We gotta fix that.

For Mark, however, it made sense.  And I have a theory about how. Continue reading “The Strange Ending of Mark’s Gospel”

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The Strange Beginning of Mark’s Gospel

[This is the second in a three-part series on Mark’s Gospel.  The other parts are 1. Hearing Mark’s Gospel and 3. The Strange Ending of Mark’s Gospel.]

The first verse of Mark’s Gospel poses a question.  “The beginning of the gospel,” it says, “of Jesus Christ the son of God.”  Of course this is the beginning:  it’s the first verse, after all.  But Mark goes out of his way to insist that this right here, this thing he is about to say, is “the beginning of the gospel.”  This is where the story starts.

What is even more curious, Mark then begins his gospel from a point no one else would choose.  Matthew and Luke start with Jesus’ conception and infancy, and John takes us back to Jesus’ pre-existence with the Father before time began.  I have asked groups of students to outline what they would put in their ideal gospel, and every group has shown the same inclination to seek out roots:  they want a gospel that tells more about Jesus’ childhood, or more about Mary’s family, or more about Joseph, or more about the eternal life of the Trinity.  Everyone thinks the gospel story should somehow introduce us to Jesus by explaining his background.

But Mark insists that “the beginning of the gospel” is Jesus’ baptism under John the Baptist.  After introducing John the Baptist, Mark has Jesus simply show up, without explanation, and then the heavens are torn open, the Spirit descends, and the voice says, “This is my beloved son.”

Why is this scene so important, so pivotal, that this and no other is “the beginning of the gospel”?  Mark gives us seven clues: Continue reading “The Strange Beginning of Mark’s Gospel”

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Hearing Mark’s Gospel

[This is the first in a three-part series on Mark’s Gospel.  The other parts are 2. The Strange Beginning of Mark’s Gospel and 3. The Strange Ending of Mark’s Gospel.]

Over the past two weeks, I have led four groups through an intensive four-day introduction to Mark’s Gospel.  We looked at how Mark presents Jesus’ geographical movements, the development of characters, the structure of the story, and the peculiar “shorter ending” of Mark.  The high point of the class was a read-aloud of the whole text.

Most Christians did not own a copy of the Bible prior to the invention of the printing press.  Manuscript copies had in fact become more common in the centuries leading up to that point, but in the early Church owning even one book of the Bible was rare.  Mark’s original congregation would normally have experienced his Gospel by hearing it.

So, I figure, why not recreate the read-aloud experience for my students?  It only takes about an hour and fifteen minutes.  Their reactions were fascinating: Continue reading “Hearing Mark’s Gospel”

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Christian Hunters: A Meditation on Psalm 8

WCC students get to take a hunter safety course with our fantastic Game and Fish Commission team.  Recently, the College asked me to give a talk that would tie the hunter education component in with the students’ Catholic faith. Continue reading “Christian Hunters: A Meditation on Psalm 8”

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Funny things happen when you try lectio divina

By chance, a senior at WCC saw me in the office hallway yesterday and hailed me down. Would I be able to tell him anything about the book of Hosea?

Lectio DivinaA good teacher never just answers the question, but asks more questions to find out what was behind the question. As it turned out, this student was inspired by my recent lecture, by the earlier lecture by Tim Gray, and by a chance exchange with another professor—inspired, he said, to read the Bible as addressed personally to him. In other words, he had begun to practice lectio divina. Continue reading “Funny things happen when you try lectio divina”

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At least we’re not running from the Antichrist

In the office of readings for yesterday, Jacinta noticed how Paul says that “we were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children” (1Thess 2:7; cf. Isaiah 66:12). He doesn’t say “as a nursing child with its mother,” she commented, because nursing children abuse their mothers constantly, pinching and smacking and even biting the body that feeds them. This, my friends, is the domestic violence no one is talking about.

Just today I put Matthew on my shoulders to give him some respite from his lowly existence as a crawling infant, and he thanked me by grabbing two handfuls of hair and leaning back for all he was worth. When I yanked him upright, he swiped my glasses off and smacked me on the face.

“Yes, is this 911? I want to report an assault. A nine-month-old boy. Yes ma’am, nine months old. No, you don’t understand, ma’am, this boy—well, fine then!”

God seems to know how to handle these little thugs. Psalm 8:3 says that “Out of the mouths of infants and nurslings you have brought forth praise.” I, on the other hand, have brought forth from the mouths of infants and nurslings Kleenex, carpet bits, old tomato, and bugs.

Jesus says of the final days, “Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days!” Woe then, because that’s when it’ll be bad. Comforting thought. When the baby pinches, smacks, and bites Jacinta, she can think to herself, “Well at least we’re not doing this while we run from the Antichrist!”

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Jesse Tree 6: Ladder

[From the online Jesse Tree.]

A reading from the book of Genesis (28:11-17):

Jacob came to a certain place, and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your descendants; and your descendants shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and by you and your descendants shall all the families of the earth bless themselves. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done that of which I have spoken to you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place; and I did not know it.” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

Jacobs LadderJacob was Abraham’s grandson, but his life did not start smoothly. He fought with his brother, and stole his brother’s blessing by lying to his blind father, and then he ran away because his brother wanted to kill him. One night while he was running away he had an amazing dream. He saw angels going up and down a ladder from heaven to earth, and God appeared and gave him the promises of his grandfather Abraham. Even though Jacob had gotten himself in trouble, God chose him as the one to continue the Advent story. When Jacob woke up he realized that he had slept in a holy place, the place where a ladder reaches from heaven to earth.

Jacob went on to new adventures, but we should stay a Ladder of Divine Ascentwhile and look at that ladder. Wouldn’t you like to have a ladder that you could climb all the way to heaven? One famous person in the Middle Ages said that reading the Bible is a ladder like that. But Advent is also a ladder to heaven: each day of Advent is another rung, and at the top of the ladder we will find Jesus. If you want to climb the ladder of Advent alongside the angels that Jacob saw, then wake up every day waiting for Jesus, prepare for him with little sacrifices and constant prayer—and do your Jesse tree at night!

St. Abraham, pray for us!

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Jesse Tree 5: Ram

[From the online Jesse Tree.]

A reading from the book of Genesis (22:15-18):

The angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore. And your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.”

Abraham lived long, long ago in the city of Ur, where people worshipped the moon and other things as gods. In those days, his name was Abram. But the one true God called Abram to leave his home and travel far, far away to a new land that God would show him, and because Abraham believed God and obeyed him his name was changed to Abraham, which means “father of many nations.”

It seemed like a funny name at the time, because Abraham didn’t have any children. He and his wife were old, and it didn’t seem like they would ever have children. But by a miracle, God gave them a boy named Isaac. Everything seemed fine: Abraham believed God’s promise about the land and about his children, and God had brought him to the land and had given him a child.

RamBut God wanted to push Abraham to be even greater than he was already. He put Abraham through a terrible test by telling him to kill his son Isaac as a sacrifice. How could God give Abraham many descendants if Abraham’s only son were dead? And how could God ask Abraham to kill his own child? But Abraham trusted God even when he didn’t understand. He went to the appointed place, got everything ready, and raised his hand to do what God had said—but suddenly God’s angel called out him and stopped him. He gave him a ram to sacrifice instead of Isaac, which is why today’s ornament is a sheep.

Because Abraham had obeyed him, God promised him not only the land and many descendants, but also that all the nations of the world would be blessed through Abraham’s descendant. With this promise, light dawned over the darkness left by Adam and Eve. God had begun something with Abraham that would become the Advent story we tell every year now.

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Jesse Tree 4: Noah’s Ark

[From the online Jesse Tree.]

A reading from the book of Genesis (6:5-7):

The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the ground, man and beast and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.

When Adam and Eve sinned, something went terribly wrong. It was not just that the world was a sadder place for them. It was not just that now they would have to die someday. Something went terribly wrong inside of them, in their hearts, and all their children were born with darkness in their hearts. Remember that the whole world came from God and was supposed to return to God through Adam and Eve and their children. By the time of Noah, the children of Adam and Eve had become so bad that God decided to send a great flood to destroy the whole world.

Noahs ArkGod warned Noah to build an ark. He told Noah to bring two of every animal into the ark so that the animals would not all be destroyed in the flood. So when the rain poured down and the water rose up even over the mountains, Noah’s family and the animals on the ark were safe, and when the water finally went down and dry land appeared, it was a new day for the world. God promised that he would never again send a flood to destroy the whole world.

But something was still wrong inside the hearts of men. Darkness was still on the earth, and it would grow again.

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