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Building Altars, Digging Wells

April 15, 2011 3 comments

Abraham lives life en route.

He lives in between.

In between the encounters with the Lord.
In between the encounters with kings.
In between the promise of the son and the arrival of the son.

Life is mostly waiting in between.

His life is a travel journal. Always moving. Looking. Searching. Longing for a city, for the place of promise.

Just around the next corner. And the next. And the next. The holy city of God is always just out of reach. Just beyond humanity’s grasp.

He wanders and waits.

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy once said of his time served in World War 1 that most people don’t realize the single greatest struggle of the soldier: boredom. In the war to end all wars, Huessy says vast amounts of time waiting. Waiting for orders. Waiting to move forward. Waiting.

What to do?

Remember back to the hot August summer days of childhood when the neighbors were gone on vacation. No one to play. A long hot day of waiting.

Life sometimes feels like that long hot day.

In the soul-sucking heat of that day, Abraham does what he has to do to survive. He builds altars and digs wells.

When life is stretched so very thin and human frailty becomes so very real, Abraham builds altars. He worships the One who took him from beyond the river. Worship is like breathing.

For the good God sustains his beloved people, and all we can do is lift up hands and offer thanksgiving.

Breathe in, breathe out.

Every breath is gift.

Breath in, breathe out.

The way may be unclear. The days may seem long and hot. The promise may seem long in coming. But the simple gift of breath continues.

Breathe in, breathe out.

In the waiting, in the long pause, Abraham worships. He becomes living song unto the One God who rescued him from the world that was collapsing under its own decadent blindness.

Abraham, the friend of God, believes, trusts, awaits the coming of the faithful One. While he waits, he digs wells.

Come and drink.

Beneath the desert runs a river of life. Abraham drinks the sweet water of that river and refreshes all those who live under his care.

Come and drink.

In the soul choking dryness of stark landscapes, water is life. So the people gather at the wells. The well becomes the center of the community.

Come and drink.

Long before his three guests, Father Abraham plays host to many a thirsty wayfaring one.

Come and drink

He wanders. He worships. He waters the dry land and the dry people.

We are Abraham’s children. We’ve been caught up into Christ. And yet, we still wander across fierce landscapes.

When the heat burns deep into our soul, let us not grow faint, but fall back into Love. Let us breathe the fresh air of praise and drink the sweet cup of communion.

Moon and Summer Hours

July 6, 2010 Leave a comment

Sam Rockwell in Moon

Last Friday I enjoyed a double feature, watching Moon and Summer Hours. On the surface, both films seem like worlds apart–literally. With nods to 2001 Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, Solaris and a host of other sci-fi greats, Moon tells the story of relationship, survival and sacrifice through one’s struggle to survive a lonely outpost on the the moon. By contrast, Summer Hours follows the intimate interactions of French siblings as they eat and talk amidst a collection of fine art and thriving plants.

I enjoy watching two films at a time. The similarities and variations in the films raise questions that I might not have noticed in isolation.

So to paraphrase Tertullian’s biting question, “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?, ” I wonder aloud, “What does Moon have to do with Summer Hours?” in response, I offer a few thoughts below. Just a warning before you proceed, there are spoilers in my post. So if you haven’t seen the films and want to be surprised, you might bypass my comments.

Moon
Moon opens with commercial promising an abundance of energy for almost all people on the planet to enjoy. As it turns out, the moon provides a source of harvestable energy the planet Earth. Cut to Sam Bell, running on a treadmill with his playful, “Wake Me When It’s Quitting Time” t-shirt. As it turns out, it is almost quitting time.

Sam (Sam Rockwell) is at the end of a three-year commitment, and he’s about to wake up. There’s something about working alone for three years (and no live feed from earth), that is about to drive Sam crazy. From the bright white interior of the moonstation, the videos from earth, to the stark blackness outside the moonstation, many of the images in Moon communicate isolation.

His only companion is the moonstation robot, GERTY, who expresses his feelings via a mini-monitor with emoticons. Sam records his work and his mental state on the videocam. He is weary and ready for home. “Three years is too long for this commitment.”

On a routine mission, Sam crashes in the side of a Helium-3 harvester. We join the disorientation of Sam as he awakes in the recovery room and wonder alongside him, “How did he get there?”

Sam begins waking up to the fact that he’s not Sam. We follow Sam as he clambers across the moonstation like a baby learning to walk. He IS a baby learning to walk. He eventually discovers and rescues the other Sam, dying in the crashed moon vehicle. We puzzle alongside him, as he realizes the other Sam looks like him, has his memories and claims to be the real Sam.

The Sams gradually awake to the realization they are but clones of the original Sam, and that many more clones stand ready to replace them after a three-year interval. GERTY assists Sam in this discovery when he learns to ask GERTY the right questions.
The film turns into a beautiful exploration of Blade Runner’s question, “What does it mean to be human?” We watch the two Sam’s struggle with the bitter reality of their predicament, we also witness genuine human compassion and self-sacrifice. Sam Rockwell offers a stunning portrait of inner angst, the human tenacity of struggle for life, companionship and the tenderness between two humans.

Summer Hours

Summer Hours
Unlike the harsh visual contrast throughout Moon, Summer Hours is a visually soft film that captures the organic unity between humans and their creations in the midst of a welcoming landscape of plants and flowers and trees.

Instead of one person and one machine, we are immersed into an extended family of grandmother, children, grandchildren and a housekeeper. The film opens to children playing and running through a lush, green landscape. They are full of life, laughter and play.

Their parents reminisce, toast to life and celebrate the birthday of their mother Helene. They give her three gifts: a Philips cordless phone set, a soft afghan, and the first press of a book featuring the collection of art she has preserved during her life. Helene discusses the art collection with her son Frederic and encourages him to oversee that sale of this collection once she is gone.

After the children and their families leaves, Helene sits looking at her new phone in the twilight. This scene fades out like other key transitions in the film: the light gives way to shadows and then darkness. We since the day is ended for Helene, and it has.

As the light rises on a new, Helene is gone, and the children are deciding the fate of her estate. The film follows the gentle tension between Frederic who wants to preserve the art collection and the estate, and the other two siblings who prefer to sell it.

Life is Transition
While both films differ in style, substance and setting, I think they both explore the challenge of transition or change from different angles. Moon reveals a world that has tried to use clones instead of people to power their moonstation. Yet the clones are always trapped in a three-year interval, and they are exterminated after three-years.

Those who manage the moonstation have tried to create an endless three-year cycle to power their programs. In one sense, Moon is a sci-fi film about using technology to stop or resist change. The clones are expendable.

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy suggested that when the parent refuses to speak to their child (the new generation) and chooses to preserve only the past, they have become decadent. Decadence always requires the sacrifice of the next generation.

This world has come up with a convenient form of sacrifice: clones. One problem. The clones awake to this dark truth, and like all humans fight to live. But I would suggest that it is not the drive to live that ultimately reveals their humanity.

Both Sams struggle with this threat to their existence. Yet instead of viewing one another as competitors for survival, they discover companionship. They play ping-pong together. They share their duplicates memories with one another. And ultimately both men are willing to sacrifice themselves for the other.

In the end, the older Sam convinces the younger Sam to escape to earth while he sacrifices his dreams and hopes of survival. As the film ends, a reporter’s voice talks about the newly arrived clone on planet earth, and there is a sense that the old Sam has sacrificed his life to change the future.

In this act, he fulfills what Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy suggests is the power of change, the willingness to die/sacrifice to create the future.

While Summer Hours tells a tale about art and family and French culture, it is also telling a tale about change. In the first scene, children are running across the lawn and through different settings. They are in transition.

Virtually ever scene shows the main character going through doors, moving around, walking from inside to outside and so on. The film pulses with constant motion of people as well as the continuous interplay of light and shadows across windows panes and more.

The art collection is divided up, sold to private collectors and museums and given to some French museums (to reduce the tax burden). The art pieces that seemed part of the family background are decontextualized in the museum and sadly seem a bit lifeless.

The family is changing. Two of the siblings, Adrienne and Jeremie have chosen to leave France and building lives in America and Asia. Sylvie, Frederic’s daughter, is transitioning from childhood into adulthood. While Frederic seems a bit wistful, he adjusts to the transitions.

The film is lyrical movement of family and people and even objects in transition. While there is a sense of loss, there is also a sense of hope at the world ahead. In the final scene, Sylvie has a party at the old house before it is sold. Instead of an image of complete teenage debauchery, we see the old house come back to life and people laugh and dance and talk and move all through the house.

The camera follows Sylvie as she wanders through the crowd finding her boyfriend. Soon they are wandering through the fields. She pauses and laments the loss of this house that her grandmother had told her would always be there. Then she and her boyfriend climb over the wall of the estate and playfully run off into the trees.

In both films, the future breaks into the present in unexpected ways. In Summer Hours it is bittersweet, yet playful and lovingly intimate as a family learns to step forward into a new world. In Moon, change means sacrifice and death for one man so that another man could live. Both films continue to play upon my imagination as I think about the pain and joy of stepping into tomorrow.

Catechism and the Power to Speak

May 3, 2010 8 comments

I’ve been lingering in Telford Work’s Brazos Commentary on Deuteronomy. His midrashic style invites slow rumination. He introduced the term “apochesis” when discussing Deuteronomy 4:25. He says,

“The apostasy is not just a failure of parent to catechize their children (cf. 6:7). It is a life of ‘apo-chesis’ in which parents train their children away from purity. Apochesis is endemic in our day when tradition is mistrusted, cultural revolution exalted, experimentation treated as expression, and youth glorified for its own sake.”

Work has adapted the term catachesis. This word comes from an ancient Greek term, katēcheō, meaning “to sound from above”(Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 3, Page 637) or to “teach by word of mouth” (Encyclopedia of Christianity, Vol 1, p 360). Two Greek words from this word, “kata” meaning according to, after, against, in, down (Strongs, 2596) and “echos” meaning sound and sometimes used to speak about the roar of the waves (Strongs, 2279).

This word was originally used as a dramatic term. The actors spoke down from the stage to the audience. The Scripture uses the word to mean instruction in the word or way of Jesus. So the idea of sounding from above captures the sense of an echo the resounds both in our instruction and in our reflection. The Word of Jesus resounds through His people and in His people. This word is instructing, guiding, opening our eyes to the Gospel and the way of the Jesus.

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy says the speech is the power to create the future. Using his understanding of speech, we might see catechism as the way resound the Gospel and thus create the future. We remember, we rehearse, we resound the Gospel. The Gospel is a past historical event in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a present encounter in the Living Person of Jesus Christ we meet in and through the Spirit, and a future kingdom will be fully unveiled in the days to come. It seems to me that catechism capture all three tense: past, present and future. Thus we speak, proclaim, declare Christ is King even in the midst of corrupt and ruling powers.

With this in mind, I return to Work’s use of the word “apothesis.” Work is talking about a generation that choose not to speak, has forgotten to speak, has abandoned the power of speech. Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy wrote in the 1940s that he feared we were entering a “speechless future” (The Christian Future). We live in a world where the prevailing norm is a loss of real speech, words that create the future.

Apothesis seems an apt description to me of a people who have abandoned the future by abandoning the past. They have no power to resound the Word of God and thus they simply make sounds, or as Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy said somewhere, we use words for chatter (from one of his lectures). We are surrounded by chattering voices, sounding off bits of data stripped of vital life. Now more than ever, let us relearn to speak by listening to the Word made Flesh and resounding the Word made Flesh.

Time as Memory and Vision

May 1, 2008 2 comments

Now to continue with the idea of time in our life.

Each person is born on a specific day at a specific time. Additionally, each person has a unique body and lives in the same body until the day she dies. Thus each of us lives in a particular space and a particular time.

When a person dies, we will speak of his lifetime: life-time. No two people share the same lifetime. So we all have a unique time associated with our life.

Now think of a child. The child experiences the world around him through his specific body. At the earliest stages, he’ll experience the care and nurture from his mother, the voice of his mother, the smell of his mother and so on. As his brain develops, he begins to make sense of the world through these experiences.

These experiences become the foundation of memories. By looking backward, we form certain expectations of the present and future. At her first birthday, a child has no expectation or understanding of what is happening. Each year the ritual is repeated. Additionally, the child experiences a repetition of the birthday ritual at birthday’s from other member’s of the family.

Over the years, the child begins to expect a birthday party, a cake, presents and all the other associations of the birthday. In fact, the child will look to the future at an upcoming birthday, anticipating the festivities to come. As the child looks back to past birthdays and forward to a future birthday, the child will ask her parents for a gift. The child will ask her parents for a party. The child may say things like, “I’m four-and-a-half.”

By looking back and looking forward, the child responds by speaking and acting in certain ways. Thus time (the child’s time that includes both past and future) gives birth to thoughts and actions in space. Another way we might speak of the past and future for a child or any specific person is to speak of memory (past) and vision (future).

All of us move between memory and vision. Memory and vision defines the time of each particular person. As we look back and look forward, we make sense of the world. Because we each have a different set of experiences and expectations, we make sense of the world in different ways, or we live in different times.

Compare a young man and an older man. The young man has fewer memories, fewer disappointments, fewer failures. He is more flexible both in mind and body. In this sense, the young man has more energy for ideas and action. Thus he is an idealist. He lives in “ideal times.”

The older man has known crisis. He has watched dreams die and expectations go awry. He has seen friends make wrong choices or he himself has made poor choices. While he may understand the world better than the young man and he may have learned great lessons from his mistakes, he is not as flexible as the young (not in mind or body). He lives in “experienced times.”

The young man and the older man may have difficulty communicating or even speaking the same language (using the same words to mean different things). The young man may say, “I am always going to have passion and I am not ever going to compromise.” The older man may say, “You simply don’t understand the ways of the world.” They are living in different times.

Now I multiply this small picture across a community, a nation, a world of people. People live in different times. As a result, they understand and act on symbols (words and more) in different ways. While each person lives in a unique time, they may share enough similarities with other people to be put into a group.

We might speak of the group in terms of nationality (American, German, Chinese) or we might group by economic class (poor, middle class, rich). Each grouping implies a degree of shared times that allows people within the group to communicate and cooperate in specific ways.

More later.

What’s the Time on Your Life Clock?

When you need to know the time, you might look at your life instead of your wrist. We’ve become so conditioned by the wristwatch, that we’ve really lost our ability to know the time. We may be able to recite the hour of the day, but I’m afraid we may have know idea how to read the time and the times.

Yesterday, I considered how a calendar might begin to help us understand time and the movement of people through time. Today I want to specifically consider time in the life of a person. Our life has its own time. Thus we can speak of a person’s lifetime. We have a specific birth time and will have a specific death time. Between those two points in time, we live through many different sets of time.

Instead of simply thinking of seconds, minutes and hours, we might think of other ways to define time. For instance, we mark each day as a specific measurement of time, and then we associate meaning with specific days. People will say things like, “I hate Mondays.” Or “Friday is finally here.” We group Friday afternoon, Saturday and Sunday together and define that unit of time as the weekend.

We mark the passing of years. Each year we celebrate with a birthday. In one sense, every time we pass a time marker the world around us changes. We change our words, our clothes, and even our relations. At a basic level, we change our words. I am 43, but after my next birthday I’ll refer to myself as 44. So we measure changes in years. Then again, decades are even more significant. So people will often reserve special celebrations for the changing of decades such as 20, 30, 40, 50 and so on.

But not all are units of time are equal sets (like the minute and hour of the watch). We look at a person’s life and may divide by time segments such as infancy, childhood, adolescence, teenager, young adult, middle age, and so on. Each of these time units (or epochs) might be used to explain other epochs. For example, the epoch of childhood might be used to explain the teenage period. We may explain a teenager’s poor or unusual behavior by pointing back to their childhood. We looking back to an earlier epoch to understand a current epoch.

But we can also look forward to a future epoch to help understand the present. A teenager might look to the future and dream of being a doctor as an adult. The future epoch will give the teenager direction for study and preparation in the present.

While I’ve used years and development terms (adolescence, teenager, etc) as time designations, there are many more in each person’s life. We might measure life from job to job. Or before marriage and after marriage. All these ways of thinking about world during our lives, provide filters for meaning. Our times help us to define or find meaning in the world. Now there is another way to think about time within a person’s life: memory and vision.

From Clocks to Calendars

April 30, 2008 2 comments

If I ask a person, “What time is it?” Normally they will respond with an answer that includes hour and minutes such as, “It’s 5:45.” The clock and the watch have trained us to think of time in terms of minutes and hours. While we don’t normally count time in terms of the second hand, our watches usually provide us with the ability to count seconds as well.

While this is one way of thinking about time, it has actually limited our field of sight by reducing the vast ways we should think about time. We think we are managing minute blocks of time, so we scribble on our calendars and PDAs and Blackberrys, 30 minute meetings, 60 minutes meetings, and so on. But the idea of time management is much more ancient than trying to follow a hectic schedule that may or may not have any lasting sginificance.

A better way to think about time and time management might be in terms of calendar instead of clock. Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy suggested that if you want to understand people from a given point in history, you should look at their calendars. What days and weeks do they observe as significant?

Calendars teach us that for over several millenia, people have counted time in terms of significant points in time. They associated meaning with specific points in time. For example, two of the oldest points in time that people have counted are the spring and fall equinox. Planting and harvest are activities that took place during these events, but the activity is hinged with significance beyond simple survival.

The spring and fall equinox were “times” to exercise tribal memory. Consider Halloween. This ancient holiday has had different names and manifestations, but it has consistently remained a time for remembering. The idea of dressing as skeletons or ghouls would be a connection with some Celtic traditions of looking back to ancestors or spirits that have not freely entered into rest.

So the calendar provides a way of remembering. In the church, the liturgical calendar is rooted in memory. Not simply memory as thoughts but memory as action. We remember the birth of Christ by certain activities. We mark the memory. We build a monument in time: a memorial. This memorial serves as a reminder for who we are and the community that helps to define us.

As long as we are limited by minutes and hours, we do not have the ability to really see time: past and future. This infatuation with measuring and controlling small bits of time, limits our ability to really understand who we are, where we are and what we are supposed to do. As a result, we become slaves to the urgency of the moment. And in one sense, time then becomes captive to space.

We search for significance in timeless space such as nicer cars, bigger houses, more stuff. Without the weightiness of time, this stuff is empty. Simply look at the latest foible of some rich and foolish to see the emptiness of lots of stuff with no weighty significance of time.

A healthier understanding of time moves between the past and the future through memorials. By looking back and forth, we might begin to see larger epochs of time. We might think in terms of years, decades and even centuries. Our grasp of time and our call to act in time will move us beyond actions that benefit us in this moment, this hour, this minute. Rather, we learn to act in ways that anticipate, and create a future that extends far beyond us.

Obviously, this way of thinking and acting is not appealing if I need immediate satisfaction. If I am in fact a slave of space, and I want my moment in the sun now, I will not see any value in acting in ways that benefit the future or in some ways complete the past.

But if I want to act and speak in ways that are rooted in the weightiness of time, I must rethink the way I approach time and the way I respond. To help us better understand where we are and what we are to do, we can draw from Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s cross of reality and think in terms of moving in four directions: past, future, inner and outward. These four directions encompass time and space.

To think more about the relation of time and human, I will write the next post on life-time.

Relationships, Houses and the Tabernacle

April 29, 2008 Leave a comment

doug and kelly house

We can begin to think more about how space and time intersect by considering the Tabernacle.

There are three areas related to the tabernacle: outer court, Holy Place, and Holy of Holies. The Israelites can come to the outer court, but only priests can enter the Holy Place. And only the High Priest can enter the Holy of Holies at specific times and according to specific rules. The Holy Place is veiled from the eyes of those who are not priests, and the Holy of Holies is veiled from everyone except the High Priest.

Now consider a house. We build walls around a set a relationships we call family. Family members can freely come and go from the house, but the house may be locked to those outside the family. We put a solid veil or a door between the outside world and the inhabitants of the home.

The door represents more than a physical barrier. The relationships within the home are veiled to the outside world. Within the sacredness of family, there are guarded memories, conversations, and stories. The space of the house represents a sacred placed for shared relationships or shared time. Inviting someone to pass through the outer veil is an honor. By inviting them into our space, we are inviting them at one level into our shared time.

The dinner table might be likened to the Holy Place. At the dinner table, we eat (break bread) and drink (pour wine). The bread and the wine (or whatever the meal) becomes a point of contact for sharing space and time together.

As we eat and drink in the presence of one another, we begin to discard veils. If wine is present, it can help accentuate the removing of veils/inhibitions. As we let down our guard (our veils), we begin to speak.

Around the meal, we tell stories. We share the highlights of our day. We recall memories. We dream together. We think out loud. The dinner table is place of the gathered tribe where people (both in the ancient past and in our current world), learn identity, connect to a family, learn proper social behavior, learn patterns and rituals that will shape their memories and dreams for the rest of their lives.

The dinner table extends beyond the family (tribe) and is a place of forming treaties between tribes. Thus the dinner table has been a place for negotiating great decisions like marriage, peace, business and friendship.

Beyond the dinner table, there is one other room that bears an even weightier sense of the sacred: the bedroom. The bedroom is an exclusive place of protection for only the husband and the wife. Behind the veil of the bedroom door, the couple removes all veils (both physical and emotional).

The physical veil is easy to remove and comes off on the wedding night. But the emotional veils guard such precious secrets that they take years to removed. And unfortunately, some couples never develop the trust of vulnerability required to begin remove these inner emotional veils.

Removing a veil leaves a person naked and completely vulnerable. Isaiah experiences the intensity of such exposure in his vision of the Holy God. A similar (though much less invasive) exposure happens between a husband and a wife.

This removing of veils binds memories and dreams together in a way that makes the couple both physically and emotionally one. The bedroom can be a great gift of healing and transformation when properly guarded, allowing for deep vulnerability, deep trust and deep shared time.

The husband and wife relationship gives a glimpse of the relation between the person and God. By the Spirit (through Jesus), the veils are removed one-by-one as we grow from glory-to-glory. Eventually we will truly behold Him with unveiled face—and we will be changed, glorified in the light of His love.

Without the Spirit’s grace of gently unveiling, exposing and transforming, the glory of the unveiled soul would be painful and terrifying much like Isaiah’s encounter and the encounter of the Israelites on the side of Mt. Sinai. This unveiling exposes our weaknesses, our sins, our absolute need for mercy and grace. Without mercy and grace, it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of a living God.

Thus the gift of a home begins to help us understand how space becomes a place which serves time: the sharing of memories and dreams and the essential mystery that forms us as unique persons.

Relationship Requires Space and Time

April 27, 2008 Leave a comment

Relationship with another human being does not exist in abstraction. It requires space and time. By reflecting on relationship, we may begin to better understand our relation to space and time.

Think of a marriage. The relationship begins and is cultivated in specific places and specific times. There are times and places where an intimate relationship bonds, and these might be thought of as sacred space and sacred time.

Sacred time might include a family meal, soft conversations in the bedroom, and even sleeping together (resting unguarded in one another’s presence). These sacred times occur in specific places like the dinner table and the bedroom. In a house, some rooms carry more weightiness due to history of cultivating relationships in these rooms.

The same activity may or may not enhance intimacy, depending on the participation of the people. Sometimes when my wife and I watch a movie, I sit on my recliner and she lays on the couch. During the film, I may also divert attention to my laptop to check my email. Or we might watch the film sitting together on the couch, sharing the experience in a more intentional way. The dynamic of shared time and space changes based on how we participate.

I would suggest that the element of intentional intimacy is located within time. Dumitru Stăniloa suggested that time is the interval between the offer of love and the reciprocation of that offer. Intimacy is not something that exists within a space but rather it is something that the people choose to do within that space. They choose to spend time together. We don’t speak of “spending space together” but “spending time together.” (I’ll share more on time and intimacy later.)

By choosing to use a space in a way that enhances our time together, we invest that space with greater significance. A house should be built in a way that accentuates the time we spend together. If we choose to use large spaces within our houses for private experiences such as bathrooms and walk-in closets, we may be suggesting by our use of space that our personal space is more valuable than our relational space. The shape and size of the spaces/rooms within a home and the objects within those rooms (furniture and decor) can all communicate stories or ideas that reflect the values of those who occupy those rooms.

So the content of our spaces and the uses of our spaces reflect the value we place on the times or shared relationships within those spaces. We’ve heard the saying, “A house does not make a home.” This statement reinforces that idea that a place to live, eat, and sleep may not always be a place where people forge intimate relationships.

On my next post, I’ll try to consider “How is a home like a tabernacle?”

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