Nov 30, 2010


John McNeill has just posted a very moving Advent reflection at his blog, Spiritual Transformation. 
In his reflection, John gives thanks for the many gifts of the Holy Spirit, both within his own life and ministry and within the Church as a whole. Among these 'gifts,' John posits the fallibility of Church leaders, because it is through the providential design of so many fallible decisions that Catholics are being weaned away from a childish dependence on external authority. What is noteworthy about John's attitude is it's deep wisdom and spirituality. Instead of lamenting the present state of disarray within the church and the corruption of its leadership, he gives abundant thanks, seeing in the human folly of absurd decisions and official positions, the guiding hand of the Holy Spirit, detaching us from an inappropriate and immature addiction to external authority. Among the many fallible decisions one could cite, I would place the Pope's  recent comments on condoms in a soon to be published book, together with the flurry of commentary and clarification that has followed. While it appears to be a small chink in the wall, shifting perception away from the previous intransigent position, and giving the general impression that at long last the Catholic Church is tentatively approving some use of condoms in extreme situations (prostitution and HIV), the absurdity of this very minor concession only makes the fallibility of the overall position abundantly clear. In fact, this subtle shift makes the fallibility of Church authority even more evident than the previous absolute, intransigent prohibition, at least for persons of reasonable maturity, wisdom and understanding.  Church 'authority' now stands revealed as woefully inconsistent and out of touch with reality, particularly when we consider the tens of thousands of African women who have lost their lives to HIV because of the Church's intransigent position on condoms. To fully appreciate the horrible consequences of this position, read this open statement posted at Bridget Mary's blog, 

Yet despite the immense suffering, as well as the staggering criminal irresponsibility of the official Church in this regard,  we must still give thanks in a spirit of humble joy and trust, but  our heartfelt gratitude does not preclude prophetic protest at the injustices of fallible authority.  In light of the situation in Africa, the only appropriate response to the Pope's recent  'concession,' is one of outrage and shame. Far too little and far, far too late. Outrage, however, must not give way to bitterness. Our gratitude for the trials of the spirit reminds us that we are not alone, the Spirit guides the Church, and decisions that cause consternation and pain are 'permitted' by the Spirit for deeply mysterious and providential reasons. It reminds me of the comment made many years ago by a very holy scripture scholar, Father Edward Malatesta, S.J. He told his class in the Gospel of St. John during the  1968 summer session in Theology at the University of San Francisco that when he heard the news of Humanae Vitae (published days before on July 25th), he took a walk outside the Jesuit compound overlooking San Francisco bay and gave thanks to God and the Holy Spirit. He gave thanks in joy, he said, because: The Church is born in suffering.

In this same spirit of gratitude for the gifts of the Spirit and for the trials that purify us as a community I offer these selections from Father McNeill's reflection. You can read the entire reflection here.

I believe a new form of adult, mature spirituality is rapidly replacing the immature dependence in spiritual life on external authority. Jesus predicted that maturing process at the last supper when he told the apostles 'it is necessary that I go away for the Spirit to come to you"! So too our dependence on external authoity must give way to a dependence on the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts....

I believe that Jesus was expressing a basic law governing human growth into spiritual maturity. As humans, we must grow from dependence on external authority to dependence on an authority that dwells within us. To achieve that growth we need fallible authorities. If our parents had been infallible we could never develop into mature adults making our own decisions and taking responsibility for them....

Thank God that Church authorities have proved so fallible. The result has been a maturing of the people of God. This began when the Vatican fumbled the issue of birth control, forcing millions of Catholic to exercise their freedom of conscience, make their own decisions and take responsibility for them. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is what the present Pope is against when he decries moral relativism. ....

One of the greatest beneficiaries of the fallibility of church authorities has been the LGBT Catholic community. We came to realize early on that we could not accept and obey Church teaching on homosexuality without destroying ourselves physically, psychologically and spirituality. Consequently, as a matter of survival we had to take distance from Church teaching, develop our freedom of conscience and learn to hear what the Spirit of God is saying to us through our experience. The result has been that the LGBT community is leading the way to transform the Catholic Church into a Church of the Holy Spirit....

“The stone the builders rejected has become the corner stone! This is the Lord’s doing and it is amazing in our eyes.” THANK YOU!! 


Nov 24, 2010

Illumination, Light, Wisdom:Needed Now More Than Ever

Fom Spirituality and Practice comes a review of a recent film on the life of Hildegard von Bingen. Interestingly enough, Roger Ebert (whom I read regularly for film criticism) sees her as totally self deceived in her visions. But then, of course, he doesn't believe in mystical experiences, psychic phenomenon or 'life after death.' You can read his review here.

With all of the commotion being generated by Pope Benedict's recent comments on condoms, I felt a reminder was due of the sources of true wisdom and insight, and of how frequently these qualities come to us from the fringes and margins.

Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen
Directed by Margarethe von Trotta
Zeitgeist Films 10/10 Feature Film
Not Rated

Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179) stands out as one of the most visionary and incredibly gifted spiritual women of all time. She was an abbess and founder of a Benedictine religious community; a teacher and preacher; a composer of music and the creator of an avant-garde morality play; a poet and artist; an herbalist and pharmacist; and a sensitive recipient of God-sent visions with insights about the Bible and the natural world. Yet for 800 years her ministry and the magnificent sweep of her talents and abilities went largely unknown. It is only recently, thanks to the rising tide of interest in women's spirituality, that her story has come into the light of day.

In his book Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen, Matthew Fox lists eight reasons why this visionary speaks so poignantly to spiritual seekers of our time:

1. She was a woman in a patriarchal culture with a male-run church who had to work hard to be heard and have her wisdom and insights taken seriously.
2. Hildegard was a lover of the natural world and an ecologist of the first order who also was enchanted by the wonders of science.
3. She demonstrated a respect for the multiple mysteries of the human spirit and a "psychic cosmology" that honors the interdependence of all things.
4. Hildegard pioneered a mysticism open to other religions and ways of life.
5. She inspired other sisters and monks to work for the revival of Christianity and to follow their own paths with courage and hope.
6. Hildegard was a scout, seeking new territory with her ecological consciousness and respect for plants, animals, rocks, and trees.
7. She was a lover of learning with a holistic education practice and a theology in process.
8. Hildegard was a healer who broke down the walls between science and religion, the mind and the body, men and women, matter and spirit.

Fox ends his tribute to this twelfth-century wonder-worker with the following question:

"Has there ever been a time in human history or the history of the planet when illumination, light, and wisdom, were needed more than now? Can anyone be better equipped to lead us than the neglected one, St. Hildegard, who in fact defines the ultimate act of illumination as compassion?"

We tip our hats to the German film director and screenwriter Margarethe von Trotta (Marianne and Juliane, Rosa Luxemburg, Rosenstrasse), the creative force behind Vision — a soul-stirring and daring drama, which is admirably carried by the immensely gifted actress Barbara Sukowa in the role of Hildegard. Shot in the medieval cloisters in the German countryside, the film uses music written by Hildegard of Bingen as part of the score.

As we watched the life of this extraordinary woman unfold before our eyes, we tried to remember what inner strength it took to express creativity, to stand by a vision scorned by others, to follow conscience when things seemed to be collapsing all around.

At the age of eight, Hildegard's parents give her to the anchoress Jutta of Sponheim (Lena Stolze) for instruction. (In Christianity, an anchoress is a woman who chooses to withdraw into a solitary life of prayer and mortification.) Living in a home attached to the monastery of Disibodenberg, Jutta has a daughter who resents Hildegard's intrusion and is jealous of her connection with her mother. Both girls are lectured on the sin of envy and the healing powers of love, and 30 years later, both have become nuns in a small monastic community. When Jutta dies, her body reveals the marks of flagellation and self-castigation. Hildegard is chosen to be her successor.

Shortly after taking on the duties of prioress, Hildegard's visions intensify — usually accompanied by body breakdowns due to the power of her encounters with a "Living Light." Hildegard describes these mystical experiences to Volmar (Heino Ferch), her monk friend, who takes the matter to the Abbot of Disibodenberg (Alexander Held). At first this rigid chauvinist is skeptical about Hildegard's visions, but he changes his mind when he sees them as bringing more pilgrims to the monastery and more contributions from wealthy Germans. When some prestigious priests and theologians question Hildegard about her visions, they are distressed to learn that she is wakeful and alert when she receives them, and they are convinced that God would not lower himself to grant special conversations and teachings to a woman. Luckily, Hildegard's visions are declared orthodox by Bernard of Clairvaux and the Archbishop of Mainz, and Volmar is appointed to transcribe the messages from God.

In a series of small but effective vignettes, we are treated to examples of this extraordinary Benedictine nun's protean interests and talents. For example: Hildegard outside with the nuns, training them in the herbal capacities of plants; her love of learning in her joyous response to Volmar's gift of books filled with the latest knowledge; or her excitement studying the findings of philosophers and scientists. The same enthusiasm ripples through her artistic creations — as a musical composer and the creator of a musical morality play about an encounter between the soul and the Devil. In each of these adventures Hildegard of Bingen speaks to our times with her actions.

As more nuns flock to her, Hildegard receives a Divine message directing her to move to Rupertsberg near Bingen. The Abbot of Disibodenberg opposes the move but is outmaneuvered by the Archbishop of Mainz and a wealthy woman who has brought her young daughter Richardis (Hannah Herzsprung) to join the community. This newcomer wins Hildegard's attention and loyalty with her ability to read and serve as another recorder of her visions. Richardis vows that she has no other reason for living than to be in Hildegard's presence, and eventually this relationship reveals Hildegard's selfish nature and her attachment to this young devotee. Every saint has a shadow side and this film wisely exposes Hildegard's.

Hildegard of Bingen as depicted in Vision shows us how to respond to God's direct communications, to stand up for our faith, to take risks, to love learning, to express our creativity, to stay connected and close to nature, and to honor the ocean of mysteries of life and love that we live in. We hope that you will see yourself as a soul companion to Hildegard of Bingen and let her energy and spirit open your heart to fresh possibilities.

Nov 22, 2010

Nov 18, 2010


Haven't been posting for a while because I'm just finishing up a drama production -  of Noel Coward's delightfully sunny comedy, Hay Fever. We had our opening performance last night and the young cast was really quite brilliant. One walks away from such an experience feeling positive about the world and about young people in general and about their futures. If only life could always be like this. Going to do Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa in the Spring.

Nov 7, 2010

50 Very Insightful Blog Posts on GLBTQ Spirituality

I was just sent this very interesting link to 'Theology Degrees Online,' which lists 50 interesting articles of interest for GLBTQ people at various blogs around the blog-sphere.

What I found most interesting about the list were the number of articles devoted to gay struggles within Zen, Hindu, Jewish Orthodox, Tibetan Buddhist, Muslim, Mormon, Native American spiritual communities. Nearly every spiritual/religious community you can think of has been represented on the list. Very inspiring and well worth checking out. Here is the opening statement:

At first glance, one would assume that religion and spirituality gels little with the GLBTQ community and their associated quest for Civil Rights. Considering the very vocal opposition by many prominent religious figures and marginalization of ANY members who do not conform to very regimented expectations, that mindset is certainly understandable. However, polls have shown a growing acceptance of GLBTQ individuals in different houses of worship – and the numbers only continue to climb. The more one researches the subject of the relationship between homosexuality, bisexuality, transsexuality, transgender and religion, the more one unearths a diverse number of opinions, meditations, hardships and practices…no difference from heterosexuals, really. The following blog posts provide some excellent insight on how these men and women have approached their religious beliefs in order to find solace, peace of mind and acceptance. Contrary to popular belief, it can be done.

My favorite article: Feminist activists find inner peace in Thailand at MS. Magazine blog.

Nov 1, 2010

Yet Another Progressive Bids Farewell

Prickly Pear, the author of the blog, Far From Rome, has just posted a very moving statement on his blog announcing that he has finally decided to stop participating in the sacramental life of the church. Even though this has been my own path for over twenty five years (though I celebrate the Eucharist privately among friends), it still made me very sad for the present state of the Church. However, I had to remind myself of my own experience of peace and joy on the margins and my firm belief that the Spirit is 'permitting' the present disarray of the Church for her own mysterious and life-giving reasons. We are being led beyond the boundaries into the wilderness of faith. You can read Prickly Pear's statement here.

There is a movement underway here and I'm convinced its a movement of the Holy Spirit - showing us in such lives that the 'sacramental life of the church' (and I would include the Eucharist) can continue, flourish and survive outside the present formal obediential structures of the Roman institution (though this was not exactly Prickly Pear's intent in his statement, I'm enlarging here). Many of us are being called to witness to the life of the Spirit independent of the institution. When it is healthy, it can be an enormous help, but it is not an Absolute entity that is essential to the spiritual journey. When it becomes unhealthy, it becomes a danger - to young gay persons especially. The great Catholic tradition, however, is another matter, and here as well I feel many of us are being given the calling to maintain the living flame of this tradition in the wilderness of a very dark time. I have been doing this in peace and joy for twenty five years because 'outside' the doors is precisely where I encountered the living Risen Eucharistic Christ in my life. Occasionally, I stop in for a formal ceremony in Church, because I do miss the reverence and dignity a beautiful church can give the celebration of the Eucharist. But on every such occasion, I've been reminded interiorly that being a formal part of the institution is simply not my vocation. In other words, it doesn't seem to have been a conscious, deliberate, rational decision on my part, but more one of interior guidance and inspiration, for which troubling matters of conscience acted as a confirmation of the inspiration to move outside the boundaries, but not it's primary cause. One responds to the inspiration, of course, with a free act of will and trustful surrender, but the inspiration is wiser than we are and more far seeing than all of our rational motives. The Spirit is ahead of us on this one, way ahead. The bottom line for myself: peace and joy and the living face of the Beloved are found outside the door, not within the formal chamber of the church. And since so many of us are feeling this, what then is the Spirit saying by this powerful witnessing movement? We cannot claim credit for it ourselves, something very significant and powerful is being messaged here about the very nature of institutional religion. Peace, joy and love in the Spirit flourish on the margins of belief.