ON THE ANNIVERSARY OF MOZART’S DEATH: WHY CATHOLIC?

I frequently get asked “Why Catholic?” by diverse self-proclaimed demographics; Evangelical Protestants, Rad Trads, and that sector of atheists who can be just as either/or in thinking as religious fundamentalists.  I can think of no more apt and meaningful a symbol than Mozart as an initial gateway as a response to that question, although there is more to it than that.

My introduction to artmusic was at a young age and while I started off with the standards (i.e. Beethoven and Wagner), by my late teens and early twenties, I was venturing into the more modern terrain of Bruckner, Mahler, Debussy, Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Bartok, Boulez, Xenakis, Feldman, and Nono. At 55, I’ve gone back primarily to the one constant throughout my life; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I have no greater love in music than Mozart, but he is merely music to the degree that the Grand Canyon is merely a rock. It’s no accident that theologians Karl Barth and Hans Kung, along with the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, wrote extensively on Mozart. The famous film on Mozart seems to pooh pooh his religiosity. It’s an excellent film that otherwise drops the ball on that and errs in denying us a vital and profound dimension to Mozart and his art. Barth, a Protestant, struggled and was baffled by Mozart’s passionate Catholicism and disdain for Protestantism (a disdain that Michelangelo shared), which prompted a loving and respectful laugh from Merton and Kung. Perhaps the film (and the play it was based off) failed to look at Mozart’s devotion due to being sidetracked by his excesses and surface immorality (the composer of Don Giovanni did know of what he wrote). Yet, despite his personal shortcomings, what we find in Mozart’s music and letters is a deeply ethical voice (ethics ((the Golden Rule)) being different than morals). He was consistently frustrated by his inability to financially provide for his children and wife, who he loved and was devoted to sacramentally, but through it all he did what he was here to do in his brief life; There has never been a more aesthetically Catholic composer. Mozart was Catholic in that he was stubbornly focused, despite the ugliness in people and life that threatened to engulf him, to create a world of immeasurably profound beauty. I relate or aspire to that, which is perhaps why, as I am middle-aged, I spend much time with the beauty of Mozart. He had the authentic pulse of Catholicism in that he could not penetrate the status quo and a deeper Catholicism is radically removed from bourgeoisie precepts. Rad Trads tend to speak through a dualistic model rather than a unitive model, which is what Catholicism actually is. Like super patriots (another cult) and extremist right-wingers (btw, non-religious radical right are even worse than the religious right), they will inevitably suggest leaving the Church when not in agreement with them. No, because to do so would inevitably confirm that it is their Church alone.

Some of the greatest Catholic artists were, in fact, renegades (Caravaggio, Paul Gauguin, Gustav Mahler, Gerard Manly Hopkins, and Flannery O’ Connor being examples) producing work of shattering beauty. Charlie Chaplin, Luis Bunuel, Pablo Picasso, and Pierre Boulez were self-proclaimed atheists. Yet, the Vatican declared Chaplin’s Tramp as the most religious of all cinematic figures. Neither Orson Welles nor Andrei Tarkovsky accepted Bunuel’s claim, and rightly assessed him as a deeply religious filmmaker. Belatedly, art historians are seeing the depth of Picasso’s religiosity in his work. Boulez was often at his most inspired in responses to his familial Catholicism (i.e. Rituel and Repons). It was these artists who left the earliest and most lasting impressions on me; impressions in which I found an identification point. Often, I have defensively stated that I am Catholic because I am an artist, not vice versa. Yet, I also recall a comment made by my late aunt Greta, who upon learning that I had converted, said (to my Father), “You won’t understand this, but your son was born Catholic.” She may have had a point because even though she took me to my first Catholic parish, my world was already filled with the artists above, because they were brothers and sisters to me.

The remainder of this amounts to an unpacking, in part, because my novel, Brother Cobweb is going to be published next April. When I first submitted the novel (which turned out to be a rough draft… many thanks to my editor) I attached the usual synopsis, along with intro and was frank in saying: “I took a pair of brass knuckles to the Midwestern religious right evangelical church.” One potential publisher wrote back (after reading), “no, not brass knuckles, you napalmed them.”

Of course, we all tend to make quick either/or assumptions and I’ve often found that the predictable dull assumption that I receive, from a quick glance at the novel synopsis or the Brother Cobweb character that I perform (at the House of Shadows) or some of my art, is that I’m an extreme leftist atheist.

No. Because both belief and unbelief are ultimately abstractions for me. I resist both words and the implications they are saddled with. Too, whether we admit it or not, most of us are both progressive and conservative in areas, so those categories are given to extremisms and are rendered hopelessly two-dimensional.

I refer to some of my art, although by no means all of it, as trench theology; a holding to accountability, akin to the statement made by the Catholic theologian Karl Rahner: “The number one cause of atheism is Christians. Those who proclaim Him with their mouths, but deny Him with their actions is what an unbelieving world finds unbelievable.” I repeatedly had that reaction myself long before I ever heard of Rahner. As an early teen, my mother’s evangelical church forced me to read the gospels and, with me, it was the biggest mistake they made because this man who people call Christ that I discovered in the Gospels; that was not them. Worse, through their actions, abuses, and verbiage, they had kept Him from me. Him, I am all about. I wasn’t at first, despising the hackneyed picture of Him as a thug whose followers I had to dumb down to in order to survive. Due to the intensity of their tactics and relentless hypocrisies, that caricature of him was ingrained, and even after plunging into the gospels myself, it took decades of struggling, which included a period of atheism, to eradicate the parody.

I recently read an article in which the writer took some bishops to task and he conjectured that they do know the words of Christ. Now, I am hardly a sola scriptura kind of guy and when you hear that phrase: “The Bible came out of the Church. The Church did not come out of the Bible,” it’s true and that’s a historical fact. Cardinal Newman added, “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.” That’s an authentic statement as well, but as Paul Harvey used to say, “And now the rest of the story.” Because even the Church came out of something and I’m not referring per se to our Semitic origins, although we should be astutely aware and respectful of that. Rather, I am referring to what the Gospel According to John says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Church sprang from Christ and Christ was Word.

Let’s divorce ourselves for a moment from all that redemption language because far too many use it as a crutch to justify not Living it and a Word has to be Living. In his short sojourn on this planet, Christ said a lot of Words and it is a scandal that those Words are not Living in the hearts, minds, and Spirit of so many who profess him, but He also predicted this. How can one profess Him and yet not abide by what He taught, or heed His warning? Matthew twenty five is clear: “I was hungry and you did not feed me, I was thirsty and you did not give me drink. I was an immigrant and you did not take me in. I was naked and you did not clothe me: sick and in prison and you did not give me medicine and visit me.’ And they asked Him, ‘when did we do this to thee?’ and he replied, ‘ Amen, I say to you, when you did it not to the least of these, neither did you do it to me.” Yet, over the years, I have heard alleged Christians attempt to spin doctor that with a vapid, “well, he meant members of the Church.” Mind you also, these tend to be Christians who mantle the facade of taking everything at face value… until it becomes a mirror. These self-professed Christians will go to any length in order to weasel out of Matthew 25 and, despite what they claim, they are far more atheistic in practice than any atheist.

No, we cannot dodge or spin doctor Matthew 25, the Beatitudes, the Good Samaritan, the Golden Rule, the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, the story of the Rich young ruler, His discourses on turning the other cheek, paying taxes, the Prodigal Son, His encounters with the adulteress, the Samaritan woman at the well, the Centurion and his pais, the prostitute who washed His feet, or His Mother’s Magnificat and cling to a perverse and farcical prosperity gospel, bigotries, sexism, or judgments.

Now, the next paint-by-number spin doctoring would be to claim that such a critical tone is in itself judgmental. Perhaps, but we need to recall that Christ did not condemn the adulteress. The thief by his side was, theoretically speaking, the first Christian. As a matter of fact, the only sins that Christ consistently called out were hypocrisy and avarice and he judged judgmentalism. When reflecting on that, I am reminded of the deist philosopher Jacques Ellul and his assertion that morality is often seen today through a solely erroneous patristic filter because the lucid portrait we receive of the Gospel’s Christ is that he was as maternal as he was paternal. His Beatitudes read as if spoken by the offspring of the woman who authored the Magnificat. He was influenced by Her, obeyed Her at Cana, just as He obeyed His Father in the Garden, which renders some Protestant disrespect (and often contempt) for Her as tragic and nonsensical.  We can no more separate Christ from His Mother than we can separate Him from His Father. Christ is unique among religious figures in that He treated women on a plane equal to men. In the gospel narrative, Post-Resurrection, He chose to reveal Himself first to a woman. No First Testament figure, or even Buddha, viewed women as equals to men. How then did Christianity get this so wrong?

With the Reformation, Protestants, across the board, threw out the Mother in their diminishment of Her, along with the female saints, thus rendering the Holy Family a dysfunctional one. The argument might be (and is frequently) made that some Protestant sects do have women clergy. That is true and should be commended, but clergy come and go. Symbols remain and it’s far more important and influential to retain those symbols.

Even the Post-Vatican II Church has slipped in this to a degree. In the name of ecumenicism, it has subdued the Maternal images. It did so out of sensitivity to Protestantism because nothing is more provocative than the maternal, especially here in the States. However, that is sloppy ecumenicism; holstering one of our most defining and edifying spiritual colors. Far too many post-Vatican II churches have lost the identity of the maternal and without the pronounced maternal, it is an anemic temple. Indeed, one would be pressed to feel it a temple at all because in the place of that is something akin to a bland basketball court where one can no longer walk in on a given Sunday and behold a Sea of Rosaries. The Rosary is a prism of the Christ consciousness and without it, we lose a vital facet of Him.

Regarding Christ Himself; it is becoming increasingly common among fundamentalist atheists to deny even His historical existence. They will often point to narrative “errors” in the Gospels, along with vignettes that clearly utilized preexisting folklore symbology (i.e. the shepherd). My first response to that will echo the late (and vastly underrated) Fr. Andrew Greeley who, upon hearing the venerable biblical scholar Raymond E. Brown debating with Hans Kung over the historicity of a gospel passage, Greeley asked: “Who cares?” Greeley, like Thomas Merton and Cardinal Newman, had the pulse of the Catholic imagination. Too, we have to realize that the way people wrote then is not beholding to our rules of writing. For us, it is either historical or myth, non-fiction or fiction. It has to be an A-Z linear narrative. That is not the way ancient writers penned narratives. It was common to mix historical with folklore, myth, symbology, metaphors, and poetry into a single narrative. Yes, there are inconsistences in the light of face value literalness, despite what biblical inerrancy advocates dishonestly claim. Gospels will describe certain incidents differently. For instance, one describes two possessed men and a lake. Another describes one possessed man and a river. If anything, that actually lends credence to something historical behind it; like two witnesses to an auto accident recalling details differently. We’ve all heard the asinine response, “Sometimes, you just gotta believe,” followed by “It was Holy Spirit inspired.” Even the Spirit has to be filtered through human hands and those replies do not wash, especially (and understandably) with each succeeding generation, who is less apt to dumb down. Pat Robertson, of all people, warned his followers, “If you continue to deny evolution, you’re going to lose your children.” They will not heed his warning and will lose them. Yes, they are that ignorant.

It does not matter how much of a given gospel narrative really happened (which is one of the most sophomoric of questions). What matters is the point behind it, to see it contextually and as a part of the whole. All the time we see questionable characters using a passage, divorced from what came before or after, to justify their agenda. A good way to gauge a Christ passage is to ask oneself, does it coincide with his sayings, teachings, and themes elsewhere? If it does not, then we are forced to dive contextually deeper. We may find that Christ is indeed consistent, but he is no simpleton, despite claims made by some that the bible is easy to understand. That is called denial. No it is not an easy or satisfying read and even His apostles complained, asking Him to be more straightforward, less allegorical. He had none of that, chastised them their laziness, and made them work for it.

Still, we can debate for half of forever on how much is real or historicity. I went through periods where I did. However, a few things kept coming back; this Man Christ was conceived out of wedlock (a death sentence at the time), was born in poverty, never traveled (that we know of) more than 100 miles past the place of His birth, never wrote a word, died in poverty, in His thirties, and was executed as a criminal (the only major religious figure to be murdered). The odds that we would still be talking about him 2,000 years later are virtually impossible, unless there’s something to it. If we are honest, we have to admit, since we are not eyewitnesses, that we don’t fully know, but faith, so to speak, lies in recognizing that there has to be something to it.

Why hold onto it? Because He is the most remarkable of all models, inspiring the likes of such diverse mystics as Paul, Augustine, Francis, Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, the Little Flower, and Martin Luther King. In that phrase; fully man and fully God we find a connection to Christ’ two rules: Love God with all your heart, love your fellow man as yourself. They are inseparable. He had human complexities. We can turn to the man who spoke of The Least of These, the man who said, Leave her alone, the forgiver of the adulteress, His disregard for money, and, if we divorced all this from Him historically, we would likely label him a liberal today. However, we can also look at His discourses on the sanctity of Life and marriage, along with his ironclad rejection of divorce and would label him a conservative. The historical or gospel Christ never heard the terms liberal and conservative. Nor would he have wasted time on our silly labels. His law was consistent : unconditional Love and so, yes, He would be anti-guns (turn the other cheek), pro-immigration, anti-war, anti-divorce, anti-abortion, anti-narcissism, anti-unfettered Capitalism (Acts 2-5), pro-health care and he would reiterate, “for those who harm these little ones, it would be better had they never been born” and he would be consistent, as he was on this planet, in calling out the judges (plank meet splinter).

Again, people will take a passage out of context to dispute what He said, to pervert it in order to justify their failure to practice what they preach. Recall though that Paul’s attitude, when confronted by scripture thumpers of the period, was, “You can quote scripture all you want. I don’t care. I am about Christ.” Christ never said, “Worship Me.” He said : “Follow Me” AKA “Do as I Do.” Paul’s attitude is one to model, even in how we approach Paul, or at least the Paul of the first seven letters (I agree with modern biblical scholars that these are likely the only authentic Paul).

For those who complain about Pope Francis being political, one need only dive into scripture to refute those smoke screens because John the Baptist was political, Jesus of Nazareth was political (and he messed with the money system, which is what got Him killed), Paul was political. These were the original social justice warriors. Whoever thought that being an advocate of social justice would be considered a slur?  I call them smoke screens because that is what they are and accusations are used against this pope, usually with the yawn-inducing comment, “why isn’t he preaching Jesus instead of involving himself in politics and World affairs?” Of course, we never heard Francis’ critics complain when his two predecessors did the same. Because, like those models above, Francis is living it by being part of this world, aspiring to be a caretaker. The reason for those accusations are oh so diaphanous, except to the most dishonest. Most of what Francis teaches and speaks has been taught before, but his language is new and contemporary. It should be. At the end of John, we hear the phrase, “Go and spread the Good News.” News is always new and nothing provokes rad trads more than something new. It provokes them because they have put an ism (traditionalism) above the Word. They have made a cult of it and will usually quote Pius (not Christ) to justify their cultism. I belonged to a Facebook group that was overtaken by rad trads and they were (rightly) criticizing Pope Francis’ handling of the abuse crisis, but they were taking it to the point of labeling him a heretic. When I spoke up and reminded them that he inherited this mess from his predecessors, they became evasive and threw a blanket over it. Not appeasing them, I pressed on and directly asked why they had not criticized JPII and BXVI to the disrespectful degree they do Francis. I’ll give credit where credit is due I suppose because they were honest when they said that they let JPII and BXVI off the hook because they were traditional enough and therefore not heretics. They would not afford Francis this because he was (in their words) a modernist. So, I asked: “In other words, if a pope is traditional enough for you, you will sweep the abuse under the rug?” They flat out answered, “Yes.” I think I was booted out the same day (and put that on my resume of accomplishments).

So, Why then the Church?

Because the Word said: “Even the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” Time and again, people have proclaimed the death of the Church, only to discover that is a premature obituary. We can (rightly) point to the abusers (God knows I have), but with the awareness that the gates of Hell often come from within and it has been that way from day one. All  Christ’ apostles denied Him and fell short. One betrayed Him. If we were to deny Christ, the religion, and the Church due to countless Judases, then the religion would not have survived the physical life of Christ. The Reformation would have been theoretically necessary, if the reformers had not merely repeated the same mistakes, even surpassing the mistakes of their models. We see it still today with 40,000 plus Protestant denominations and New Age groups (who tend to bandy about that vapid ‘we’re spiritual not religious trendy catchphrase) being as guilty of tribalism and ethical bankruptcy as those they have long criticized (perhaps even more so. Anne Rice, who did leave the Church, once said ‘The Catholic Church is the only church that strives for holiness, which is why it falls down so much.’) Although it will not look like it to those on the outside, there is an edifiying freedom in the structure of the Church, even when we, as individuals  and members of its body, find ourselves at odds with those who deem themselves our shepherds (and to them, I would counter that Beethoven’s Fidelio and Mozart’s sense of intimacy convey the importance of the individual over the structure while being children of the structure).

We must indeed hold the hypocrisy, the I, Me, Mine narcissism, and materialism to accountability and there is nothing hypocrites hate more than their hypocrisy exposed. They will, at best, ignore being called out. At worst, they will prepare the fire and stake. Yet, we are guilty ourselves if we do not hold them and ourselves accountable (as scripture says). When we fail to do so, we are complicit in creating prodigals through our neglect, indifference, and abuses. We keep Christ from them. We are seeing it more and more. Millennials are, to a broad degree, rejecting religion. A priest I once knew said that a Satanic theology transforms Christ into the quintessential Pharisee, making him so pedestaled, so pretty, so perfect that no one can touch him (or his Church). It is easy to be seduced by such false tinseled beauty. To a large degree, we were and our successors see and find our actions repugnant.

Rahner said: “the future Christian will be a mystic or he will not be Christian at all.” He was right and that is vital. So too is trench theology. Both are essential to an authentic Catholic path.

Hence, my contribution called Brother Cobweb and why I am Catholic.

SEA OF ROSARIES: Our Lady Of Guadalupe: A Woman Clothed In The Sun (and the Dragon of Chaos)

Our Lady of Guadalupe: A Woman Clothed In The Sun (and The Dragon of Chaos) © 2018 Alfred Eaker

Duns Scotus (Thomas Merton)

Striking like lightning to the quick of the real world
Scotus has mined all ranges to their deepest veins:
But where, oh, on what blazing mountain of theology
And in what Sinai’s furnace
Did God refine the gold?

Who ruled those arguments in their triumphant order
And armed them with their strict celestial light?
See the lance-lightning, blade-gliter, banner-progress
As love advances, company by company
In sunlit teams his clean embattled reasons,

Until the firmament, with high heavenly marvel
Views in our crystal souls her blue embodiment,
Unfurls a thousand flags above our heads –
It is the music of Our Lady’s army!

For Scotus is her theologian,
Nor has there ever been a braver chivalry than his
precision.
His thoughts are skies of cloudless peace
Bright as the vesture of her grand aurora
Filled with the rising Christ.

But we, a weak, suspicious generation,
Loving emotion, hating prayer,
We are not worthy of his wisdom.
Creeping like beasts between the mountain’s feet
We look for laws in the Arabian dust.
We have no notion of his freedom

Whose acts despise the chains of choice and passion.
We have no love for his beautitude
Whose act renounces motion:
Whose love flies home forever
As silver as felicity,
Working and quiet in the dancelight of an everlasting
arrow.

Lady, the image of whose heaven
Sings in the might of Scotus’ reasoning:
There is no line of his that has not blazed your glory
in the schools,
Though in dark words, without romance,
Calling us to swear you our liege.

Language was far too puny for his great theology:
But, oh! His thought strode through those words
Bright as the conquering Christ
Between the clouds His enemies:
And in the clearing storm and Sinai’s dying thunder
Scotus comes out, and shakes his golden locks
And sings like the African sun.

Jesus of Nazareth: A First Century Harry Potter

Jesus raising the dead with a wand, Roman catacomb, 3rd century)

(Photo: Jesus raising the dead with a wand, Roman catacomb, 3rd century)

When J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books hit the shelves and became a global hit, American fundamentalist Christians took note and reacted with a loud fear, demonization, and astoundingly idiotic condemnation that was rare even for their various denominational demographics.  There is perhaps nothing more threatening than rival mythology, especially when its well publicized and successful. Protestations and calls to ban the books were followed by entire websites devoted to instructing Christians how to respond to witchcraft and demonology as pop phenomenon. It backfired and the Potter juggernaut paved right over all that evangelical silliness. With the films that followed, Rowling became the most successful franchise since Disney. Given their way, these Western, allegedly Christian sects would have certainly have mounted a belated sequel to the Salem Witch Trials. Alas, pesky secular laws predominantly douse homegrown puritan torches and minimize imitation of Isis-styled iconoclasm, which hardly negates in-house suspicion of and aggression toward imagery, such as detailed here:

https://frjustinbelitzteachings.wordpress.com/2016/06/02/an-isis-like-iconoclastic-spirit-in-our-own-walling-off-our-lady-and-erasing-the-holy-in-north-denver-our-lady-of-guadalupe-parish/

4th century Raising of Lazarus Fresco (Christ with magic wand) Catacomb cubiculum O, Rome

(Photo:  4th century Raising of Lazarus Fresco ((Christ with magic wand)) Catacomb cubiculum O, Rome)

Although the display of overwrought evangelical histrionics reached a new, modern height with the opening of the Harry Potter universe, their pop paranoia is nothing new. For those of us old enough to remember, the same demographics were issuing warnings about Superman, who they saw as a rival to their Lord and Savior (the mythological underpinnings of the DC character were undoubtedly inspired by Christ origin Gospel narratives).

In A Search For Solitude, Journals 1952-1960, Thomas Merton lists “distrust and rejection of emotional symbolism of art,” as an unfortunate tenet of contemporary Western Christianity.

Earlier, in Run To The Mountains. Journals 1939-1941, ” Merton wrote:  “It is one of the singular disgraces attached to Catholics as a social group that they, who once nourished with their Faith and their Love of God the finest culture the world ever saw, are now content with absolutely the worst art, the worst writing, the worst music, the worst everything that has ever made anybody throw up. All this, far from being caused by their Faith, only weakens and ruins their Faith. It is something of a Middle Class culture which is poisoning the Faith instead of slaking our thirst to honor God. And those who cannot distinguish what is bourgeoisie, in what they believe, from what is Christian are crucifying God all over again with their trivial, complacent ignorance and bad taste and materialism and injustice.”

Continue reading

IN HONOR OF THOMAS MERTON’S 100TH BIRTHDAY: AN EXCERPT FROM “JUSTIFICATION BY IMAGINATION.” BY ALFRED EAKER

January 31st is the 100th birthday of Thomas Merton. In honor of his centenary, the following is an excerpt from my Master’s Thesis: Justification By Imagination: The Marian  Art Of Thomas Merton. 

The thesis was approved by Drs. Frank Burch Brown, Marti Steussy, and Lorna Shoemaker.

 

Introduction: Opening Merton

 

It is, perhaps, apt that Thomas Merton’s Marian art is primarily concealed—much as the Marian figure is in the gospels. The bulk of Merton’s Marian drawings reside at the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky. Little of that art has been published. To approach it, one must first open Merton: “One hears from others that this is a Sacred Book, takes their word for it, and resolves not to get involved.”[1] Thomas Merton’s own words on the act of opening the Bible can be applied similarly to opening Merton. Over one hundred books and several documentary films have been produced about Thomas Merton since his death in 1968, indicating the extent of his art and influence. The magnitude and immensity of Merton is such that no single interpretation will have the final word on the famed Trappist, whose status as the preeminent Christian monk of the twentieth century, is readily acknowledged, even by his critics. Continue reading

Alfred Eaker : FRANCISCAN ART

Alfred EAKER 'Our Lady Of The Mermaids%22 oil on canvas © 2011 Alfred Eaker“Our LadyOf The Mermaids©2011”Alfred Eaker %22The Annunciation.%22“Annunication”Alfred Eaker %22Pieta%22 2011“Pieta”DIGITAL CAMERA“Shifting Sanctuaries”

DIGITAL CAMERA“Floralia”Alfred Eaker Prelude to a Day of Wonder“Prelude to a day of wonder”

“Stations I-VI”

Alfred Eaker %22Stations VI%22Alfred Eaker %22Stations V%22Alfred Eaker %22Stations IV%22OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlfred Eaker %22STATIONS I.%22A. EAKER Prayer for a perilous descent c.2007 alfred eaker“Prayer for a perilous descent”A. EAKER Escape to a Mysterious Freedom c.2007 alfred eaker“Escape to a mysterious freedom”DIGITAL CAMERA“Blue Fugue”

“La lontananza nostalgica utopica future” (I & II)

A EAKER Risonanze erranti (Resonances wandering)A EAKER Hay que caminar„ soñandoAlfred Eaker 'The Psalmist%22“The Psalmist”

“Modern Spirituality” I – III.  (Mural for St. Vincent de Paul). First is painting of John XXIII walking through the world. The second is Fr. Justin Belitz & Fr. Hilary Ottensmeyer. Third is Our Lady of the Woods.

Alfred Eaker %22Modern Spirituality%22  Detail John XXIII , 2000Alfred Eaker %22Modern Spirituality%22 mural St. Vincent de Paul. Detail Fr. Hilary Ottensmeyer, Fr. Justin BelitzAlfred Eaker %22Our Lady of the Woods%22 1994Alfred Eaker %22christ casting the demons into the Swine%22 1994“Christ casting the demons into the swine” Alfred Eaker Christ' Curse of the Fig Tree“Christ cursing the fig tree”

“Scenes from Brother Cobweb” I-III (from the church I grew up in)

Alfred Eaker %22Dancing before the Lord%22Alfred Eaker %22Spiritual%22 1994Alfred Eaker %22Brother Cobweb%22

The Rejection Of Saul: An Inquiry Into A Pitiless Theology.

The Rejection Of Saul: An Inquiry Into A Pitiless Theology.

“The story of King Saul is, I believe, one of the bible’s uncomfortable stores.”[1] The rejection of Saul is a dynamically spun legend that reveals much in the way of ancient and contemporary biblical narrative, lackadaisical tradition, and theological interpretation.

Rabbinical tradition has often approached the subject of Saul’s rejection with a certain amount of tolerant flexibility and honest scrutiny. However, Christianity has been predominantly consistent in two-dimensional readings of the text, normally mantling a judgmental and hostile attitude towards the figure of King Saul. In his commentary on the Psalms, Augustine’s interpretation of the narrative is ostentatious in his pointed agenda to read the text as a comparative precursor to Christ (David) persecuted by Judas (Saul), “For Saul having been chosen king not to abide, but after the people’s hard and evil heart, having been given for their reproof not for their profit, according to that text of holy Scripture which saith of God, Who maketh a hypocrite man to reign, because of the perverseness of the people: since thereof such sort was Saul, he persecuted David, in whom God was prefiguring the kingdom of eternal salvation, and whom God had chosen to abide in his seed: inasmuch as indeed our King, King of Ages with Whom we are to reign everlasting, was to be from the seed of that same David after the flesh.” [2]

Knowing the tale’s end, with David as precursor to Christ, an Augustine styled reading then goes back to the beginning of the tale making Samuel a type of John the Baptist Figure. Saul comes to first represent Herod in the New Testament King’s enmity with the Baptist. In this reverse reading Saul will eventually also come to represent Judas and the Jews who persecuted Christ.

Genealogical lore names Yeshua bar Yosef as a direct descendent of King David, therefore giving inherently biased motive towards a dishonest, superficial reading of a text that is more complex, and consequently, more interesting than the way that traditional appendage paints the saga.

Antagonism towards the figure of Saul may also be quite revealing in our preferences towards protagonists and gods. To place our heroes on an edified pedestal we must dehumanize them.  David, despite his transparent faults, can indeed be edified because the text places him at an emotional distance to the reader. As Barbara Green states, “We are rather often privy to Saul’s private conversation, so that we know what he aims for and so often misses. Conversely, we rarely have any inside view of David, so that he is presented to us as enigmatic, cards held to his chest much more difficult to appraise.”[3] David, as the Psalmist, is, like Christ, elevated through psychological distancing.

Samuel presents a slightly more difficult dilemma. The emotional range his character is given makes it as hard to sanitize him, as it is to sanitize a prophet who eats locusts in the desert. Samuel falls slightly short of deification, but because of his judge/prophet status, Samuel’s ranking in the context of the fable is that of an unquestionable protagonist, which leads us to Saul. Such is Samuel’s reputation as prophet that the following evaluation is typical in unquestioning evangelical readings, “God saw Saul’s heart and there he saw a Self or My Own Way Ruling. Saul chose the way of the Big I. Saul began to think he was wise enough to decide for himself what was right to do instead of following God’s instructions.” [4] Because the cotemporary idea of preferred story telling demands a tangible villain for essential conflict, Saul is, naturally, demonized.

However, predilection for over-simplified narrative makes for brittle drama. In the arena of religious story telling, that predilection leads to precarious, judgmental religiosity, which fails to give the original authors, and the fathered religious implications, due credit for decidedly progressive anecdote.

When examining the rejection of Saul, Rabbi Moshe Reiss gives an honestly perplexed assessment of Saul’s rejection, “What indeed has Saul done to incur Samuel’s wrath and, according to Samuel, God’s wrath? Samuel had told Saul to wait in Gilgal for seven days for a sacrifice. Could that old request still be valid now, at a desperate stage of a war against the nation’s enemy? If Samuel still held it valid, then more questions arise: Why also critical a point did he wait until the last possible minute to arrive? Saul had waited and Samuel failed to come. When Saul, therefore, went on with the sacrifice, just which of God’s commands did he break? Did not David prepare sacrifices? Did Samuel usurp the priestly position? God does not speak in this chapter. It is only Samuel who is issuing commands. Is he according Divine status to his own orders? Did Samuel, perhaps, deliberately delay his arrival until he was given an excuse to condemn Saul?”[5]

Yet, as David M. Gunn correctly states, the seemingly obvious implications have been muted through Christian blinders, “We see the same negative evaluation of Saul in Christian commentator after commentator. The story of Saul is to be read as a salutary warning. “Let us not be like Saul is the concluding prayer.” [6] In other words, let us not be “too human” like Saul. Rather, let us aspire to the divine-like figure of the prophet Samuel.

Saul’s inherent humility is aroused, even when he is not so clearly in the wrong. Such is the case in Samuel’s second and final rejection of Saul when Saul apparently spares King Agag. Christian tradition has disturbingly ignored Saul’s attempted act of repentance to both God and Samuel. It is a repentance that is refused, which is shocking in Christian portrayals of the divine as being all-forgiving. “Thrust into destructive context by Samuel and his god, Saul is abandoned by prophet and deity. As we meet the god of the tragedy of King Saul we encounter a force whose power is not in question. But it is a distant force, remote and, too often, silent. Appearing in radical discontinuity with his king, in many ways this is a savage god.”[7]

To the objective reader of 1 Samuel, the sadistic nature of the deity is unmistakable in the narrative. Yhwh could simply have removed Saul from the throne. Instead, Yhwh repeatedly violates Saul by inflicting insanity, thereby usurping Saul’s supremacy. This is, literally, the action of a jealous God, which, of course, is quite nonsensical since God himself chose Saul earlier in the text. Clearly, the narrative is the work of multiple writers, with varying priorities, which inevitably renders singular, simplistic interpretation of the drama as absurd.

In marked contrast to an evangelical Christian reading, Jewish artist and author Adam Green takes up an outraged, impassioned defense for the figure of Saul, the underdog. However, Green unfortunately errs by identifying the story as unquestionably historical, which ultimately renders his defense as an alternate, extreme example as he attempts to equate Saul with messianic qualities, “David was a false king-messiah, a traitor, and usurper of the true king-messiah, Saul. The implications are sweeping, for all David’s supposed all royal-messianic descendants, however sincere, have to be false by association. Neither Jewish nor Christian beliefs can easily withstand such a blow.” [8]

While we need not subscribe to such a severe, vicarious theological translation, an unpretentious reading of 1 Samuel can only beneficial. In rendering a perfunctory, judgmental condemnation on the figure of Saul, traditional Christian preaching has unwittingly expressed its intrinsic tendency towards a slip-shod, pitiless theology, which is genuinely troublesome.

Marti Steussy seems sensitively aware of the symbolic importance in the way we read this text when she states, “I would love dearly to be able to say the pre-Axial God of Samuel is a museum piece, a souvenir of a religious outlook that we have left far behind. But religions seldom leave anything behind.”[9]

Bibliography

Augustine  Exposition On The Book Of Psalms. Oxford: John Henry Parker

Publishing, 1848.

Green, Adam King Saul: The True History of the First Messiah. Cambridge:

Lutterworth, 2007

Green, Barbara. King Saul’s Asking. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1989

Gunn, David M The Fate Of King Saul. Sheffield: University of Sheffield, 1980

Steussy, Marti Samuel And His God. South Carolina: University of South Carolina, 2010


[1] Gunn, David M  The Fate Of King Saul. Sheffield: University of Sheffield, 1980 P.9

[2] Augustine  Exposition On The Book Of Psalms. Oxford: John Henry Parker Publishing, 1848. Pp390-391

[3] Green, Barbara. King Saul’s Asking. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1989. p. 18

[4] Seekamp, Gloria. “How Saul Disobeyed God.” Fighting The Giants 2004. Online.

[5] Reiss, Moshe. “Samuel And Saul: A Negative Symbiosis.” Bible Commentator May 2010: MoshReiss.Org. Online.

[6] Gunn, David M. The Fate Of King Saul. Sheffield: University of Sheffield, 1980. P. 24

[7] Humphries, W.L. From Tragic Hero To Villain: A Study Of The Figure Of Saul And The Development of 1 Samuel. JSOT22 (1982) 95-117

[8] Green, Adam King Saul: The True History of the First Messiah. Cambridge: Lutterworth, 2007.P. 24

[9] Steussy, Marti Samuel And His God. South Carolina: University of South Carolina, 2010.0P.101

MARY AND THE CATHOLIC IMAGINATION: AN IMAGINATIVE GEM

A sublime manifesto. Brief, but no mere trifle. Simultaneously lucid and poetic, Wendy M. Wright’s “Mary and the Catholic Imagination” dips its pen into a desperately needed Sophiastic inkwell.

An excerpt from her introduction:

“I encountered the fascinatingly polymorphous religious symbol and touchingly intimate presence who answers to the name of Mary…She occupies a generous space in the hearts of those who speak tom look to, identify with, implore, honor, and hope in her. In a conceptual world in which sacred presence is powerfully sensed, she is among those presences most poignantly and deeply felt.”

That last line could just as well be applied to this book, a multifaceted, diaphanous gem amongst seemingly countless essays. Wright invites us to cling for dear life to Her image, opening us to “the breath of the spirit to hear the whisper of mercy and conceive of justice in a world where it does not exist.”

This is no touchy feely, Stuart Smalley type of meditation, but a profound, imaginative work of art, which may feed those willing to partake.

The Annunciation, Stations of the Cross, Pieta.

The Annunciation, Stations of the Cross, Pieta.

In The Mary Myth, Andrew Greely writes, ” The Marian symbol is surely one of the most powerful symbols in the Western Tradition. Virtually every major painter from the fifth to the sixteenth century painted at least one Madonna. The Marian paintings and poetry tell us far more about the power and meaning of the Madonna than theology books could possibly portray.  Art is much better at conveying limit-experience than scholarly theology.” [1]

Annunciation

Last year, at the beginning of seminary, I began a series of works on canvas, entitled Stations to parallel my experience. The first three works were completed last year and this year I have painted the fourth through the sixth.

Stations I. Christ is condemned to death.

The point of entryism is the primordial Sophia.  The apophatic Stations rejects the crude violence inherent in subscription to the tyranny of the hyper- realism often associated with the passion narrative.  From Genesis, Sophia’s stream of hallowed pathos manifests in the intricate Magnificat; the second testament’s renowned fiat of relentless communication. The illiterate adolescent Miriam issues her sublime revolt, exalting the destitute, fragmenting the elite. From the womb of her proclamation, the obscure is cultivated. Miriam issues forth the faint beacon; Christus. In the pondering of Miriam’s heart the character of Christus is wistfully seeded. Miriam and Christus, unified in erect clarity, are Sophia’s intimate motif.  The translucent  passion of Christus, endured through the Mother of sorrows, reaps an unequivocal music.

Stations II. Christ is given his cross.

Historical-critical analysis, while having its place, is not a concern in these works. Rather, the meditative Stations reflects John Henry Newman’s “Fact of the Imagination.”  Stations,  lamenting the bankruptcy of theological idiosyncrasy, is the expression of an illegible signpost.  These works, admittedly, subscribe to a type of Zen Catholicism, although there is also resistance in labeling it such, just as an idiosyncratic theology resists attachment to a dogmatic school. In this, the works are post-modern in both theological and artistic expression. For me, the age of theological and artistic schools has passed and is rendered impotent. Subscribing to a particular movement, within the arts or within theology, is as linear, is as institutional as stifling attachment towards a blueprint for doctrinal, patriarchal religion. Sacramental pathos sows freedom in the secular crisis of symbols. Symbolic idea is equated with the incarnation. The artistic theology in these works seeks to simultaneously beautify and inspire discomfort. By jettisoning traditional imagery, the risk of subscribing to a perceived totalitarian atheism runs high. However, the discarding of  solidified imagery and adhering instead to the internal, emotionally organic content inherent in the Stations, breaths an ecumenical expression. Catholicism (iconography), Zen Buddhism (indefinable), Judaism (Genesis heritage), and Protestantism (subduing of concrete imagery) are influentially present within. Prominent in the creative process is Jorunn Okland’s[2] observation that “Symbolic Continuity is fundamental to our culture.” For that reason, both The Annunciation and Pieta serve as “bookends” to the unfolding, journeyed Stations.

Stations III. Christ falls for the first time.

In The Annunciation I painted Mary as a fleshy, ethnic, girlish, peasant youth. In contrast to her fleshiness, is the diaphanous, ethereal milieu in which she is encompassed. This milieu is conveyed with monochromatic, Prussian blues, Pthalo blues, Viridian Hues and Dioxadine Purple. Flowers adorn her, weaving in and out of the fabric of her dress. Behind her is the questioning angel. Fiercely independent, Mary is on the verge of her Yes, her “Let it be done”,  without consulting her family or her betrothed.

STATIONS IV. Christ meets his Mother.

The Pieta is thirty years later in the narrative. Often, the Madonna is painted, at that scene, still young, still unblemished by age. I chose, again, to depict her ethnicity, combined with age. She looks very different here, weathered. She is on the verge of collapse, but, she surrenders herself, her naiveté, to her dead son’s ambitions. Her silence protects her fragile dignity. John the apostle, and Joseph of Arimathea lift the Corpus Christi to Her; the lowly, the woman of whom it was derogatively asked, “Isn’t this the son of Mary?” She, alone, is caught up in a state of contemplation. Rather than the traditional depiction of the Mother physically embracing the son, this Pieta depicts the two worshipers of Christ in the immensely struggled act of lifting the dead son up to the Mother. John and Joseph are worshipers of the Son and so the Son is elevated. However, the Mother is elevated even higher because She has no worshipers. Unlike Her Son, She is completely human and through her full humanity She is thusly edified for us.  A cadmium red rose adorns the lower left corner, symbolic of the rosary. An emotional storm of Dioxadine purple flows through the scene.

Stations V. Simone of Cyrene carries the cross.

The language of the icon is an ambiguous presence in Stations. The emotional symbology from “Mary’s Stations of the Cross” was latently in thinking, colors, brush work and organic form from those two “bookends. The works have an intentional Debussian feel, no doubt enhanced by the fact that I listened to much of  Debussy’s later music, along with the music of  the Second Viennese School, Morton Feldman and Luigi Nono, during the painting process.

STATIONS VI. Veronica wipes the face of Christ.

Andrew Greeley writes, “She guides us to see ultimate reality not only as creating, organizing, directing, planning, bringing to completion but also tenderly caring, seductively attracting, passionately inspiring and gently healing.” [3]

Greeley sees, in this devotion, an imaginative attitude that is not confined to the limits of dogma or that faction of “creepy” Mariology. “Mary has been a prisoner to creeps far too often.” he writes. Greeley relates an amusing, supposedly true story in which Heidegger was “caught” genuflecting at a festival of Our Lady. Heidegger was incredulously asked if he wasn’t an atheist, to which the philosopher replied, “a rationalist like you wouldn’t understand.”

A Marian spirituality surfaced amazingly fast in early Christendom. “The early Christians were far more casual about the similarities between Mary and the pagan goddesses.” However, Greely believes he, like the early Christian, is far more interested in the differences between Mary and those pagan deities, rather than the similarities.

Leonardo Boff  is considerably more weary in regards to using mythological Marian terminology and he focuses primarily on finding valid edification through historicity. In The Maternal Face of God Boff writes, “There is a danger of reducing Mariology to modifications of archaic mythologies. Historically, God did not choose a princess. God was not taken by the beauty of Athena, but the plain visage of a destitute woman. The Holy Spirit chose a fragile woman of poverty  to be the living temple of God.  Mary did not give birth in a royal palace, but was surrounded by beasts. The Mariology of exaltation must know what it is exalting: concrete, humble realities. It must extract the divine transparency that hides in the lowly, it must uncover the depth that is concealed in the humble. God the eternal mother is totally historicized in Mary ” [4]

The tragically short-lived John Paul I wrote, “God is Father, but above that, God is mother.” Greely concurs with an explanation of his view for the symbol, ” I am not discussing Mary as a person, but I am discussing God who is revealed to us through Mary.”

Boff sums up the hidden historicity of Mary, “The historical figure of Mary is very much hidden, much like a hidden pearl in an out-of-the-way place.” [5]But, this does allow much in the way for an imaginative projection of our personalized imagery into creative expression, which is why, for myself, the Marian image is the boundlessly expansive conduit for an idiosyncratic theology of artistry.

PIETA


[1] page 120

[2]  Blessed One: Protestant Perspectives on Mary.

[3] The Mary Myth. Page 20.

[4] page 125-126.

[5] page 108.

Fr. Justin Belitz O.F.M. Success:Full Relating (Spirituality for the 21st Century and Beyond) Australia Retreat

Fr. Justin Belitz O.F.M.. The above are images from his retreat at the Infant Jesus Parish in Morley Western Australia, April 2010. In March, 2011 Fr. Justin returned to the parish for a follow up retreat.

Fr. Justin’s retreat centers around the teaching of his latest book, Success:Full  Relating. This is Fr. Justin’s third book in the success series. It is a guide to successful life goals and relationships. Success:Full Relating is also the most theological of his books, outlining the matriarchal/creation model of spirituality and the patriarchal/ fall/redemption model. Fr. Justin’s approach is lucid, optimistic, and inspiring.

Fr. Justin will be celebrating his 50th jubilee as a Franciscan priest this summer.   He promotes interfaith expression, practical theology and renewal in the model of Augustine of the Retractions, John XXIII, The Little Flower, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Fr. Justin is a licensed teacher of the Silva Method but here he gives us the Justin Method. Justin’s method incorporates Franciscan spirituality, the Silva Method and a lifetime of experience into a celebration of life, love, art, and spirit.

MODERN SPIRITUALITY

Fr. Justin Belitz and Fr. Hilary Ottensmeyer

From 1999 to 2000, I painted a mural, in oils, for St. Vincent De Paul client food choice pantry in Indianapolis, having been commissioned by Carolyn Reifel, who was the director of that facility. It took nearly a year. The mural was a donation btw, and we followed that with an art auction. Numerous local and national artists donated their work(s) to the auction in an effort to raise funds for the pantry.  The mural spanned several walls, on  dry wall. I began the mural with images of two priests who were and are still considerable influences in my life; Fr. Justin Belitz O.F.M and Fr. Hilary Ottensmeyer O.S.B.

Fr. Hilary, who had introduced me to Fr. Justin, passed away a mere two weeks after completion of the mural in 2000. I was blessed by his being able to see the completed mural before he passed this temporary coil.

The above are some images and a Nuvo article I came across. One note about the article: It seems to indicate that the auction was not well attended. While we did not have the turn out we had hoped for, over the course of the evening it was indeed fairly well attended and we raised enough money to feed one hundred families for a year.

Tapping back into my thinking from twelve years ago, I entitled the mural “Modern Spirituality” from the mindset of a post Vatican II Catholicism and an ecumenical, inter-faith spirit.

Fr. Justin Belitz and Fr. Hilary Ottensemeyer are representative of that post Vatican II Spirituality. Their images graced several walls of the mural, as did images of Mother Teresa, Pope John XXIII, Our Lady, Gauatama Buddha, and scenes from a charismatic, protestant church service.

Now, twelve years later, I am attaining my Masters of Theological Studies at Christian Theological Seminary.