Saturday, June 27, 2015

Astrophysical Spirituality

  Astrophysical Spirituality

When I was in the fifth grade, I inherited a Boston Globe paper route. I worked it both on Sundays with a red wagon as I covered all the Christian Hill and High School area of my hometown of Norwood, Massachusetts, and on weeknights with the Daily Globe delivery. By means of this income, over the next six years I saved enough money to pay for my entire first year tuition at Northeastern University College of Engineering. That may sound incredible, but the tuition for one full year in 1955-56 was $850.00. Can you believe it?    My second through fifth years there were fully paid for from the salary I earned on my co-op work jobs to which N.U. assigned me . My parents simply could not afford to help unless you consider giving me room and board free for five years pay! I do, thank you Mom and Dad.

My nighttime paper route afforded me another benefit for which my life has been enriched immeasurably. Delivering papers on  cold clear nights gave me a ring side seat to the greatest show in the Universe; the Universe itself. I grew to become a friend to the constellations, the wandering planets, occasionally some shooting stars and even on one occasion a comet. As I beheld them, I wondered what exactly it was I was seeing. I wrote away to Sky and Telescope Magazine and studied the glow-in-the-dark night sky charts until I knew all the Zodiac and the circumpolar sky, and then because I knew these stars, I began to easily discern “strange stars” moving through them which I knew and could identify because of their lack of twinkling and specific color as planets; Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter. I saved up $29.95 and sent away for a small 4” Newtonian reflector telescope which I lugged up to the High School football field on clear nights and saw for the first time in my life the craters on the
Moon, the crescent of Venus, the polar caps on the ruddy Mars, the unbelievable rings of Saturn; and most wonderful of all, I could clearly see the surface of the giant Jupiter, its cloud bands, red spot and the very four moons which Gallileo saw convincing him that they revolved around their planet and consequently we also revolved about the sun, which stirred up all kinds of Church resistance and censure. I was flabbergasted. It made me decide then and there that I wanted to become an astronomer.

In junior high school, I joined the AAVSO [American Association of Variable Star Observers] and I began to travel all by myself by public transportation from my home town into Cambridge and attended the weekly Thursday Night Lectures at Harvard Observatory. My mind was hungry to understand the Universe and its immensity. For the rest of my life, while not indeed becoming an astronomer, my fascination with the subject continued on into my teaching years, helping me to found an Astronomy Club and driving its young members to these same lectures for years. One night, a Harvard Astronomer, Robert Kirshner, gave us the greatest lecture I have ever heard when he broke the news to us that his team of Astronomers at Harvard had just made the greatest discovery in the history of Astrophysics. They discovered that our Universe is not just expanding, but it is accelerating in its expansion requiring a force we have never known to exist.

Our current knowledge indicates that our sun is one star of average proportions. The nearest star to our sun is 3.8 light-years away. That means that light, traveling at a speed of 186,000 miles/second [8.3 minutes from sun to earth] takes 3.8 years to get to us from this next nearest star. These two stars exist in what is called a galaxy, the Milky Way Galaxy, which it is estimated to contain 1011  [100,000,000,000] stars. Our sun is a star 1/3 of the way towards the center of the galaxy which is  100,000 light-years in diameter. It looks something like our nearest neighboring galaxy, The Andromeda Galaxy which is 2,000,000 light years away and is the furthest object visible to the naked eye as a faint hazy patch but which is really the nearby twin of our own galaxy.

Recently, NASA sent a telescope into outer space and took a 3600   video of our own Milky Way Galaxy from within where we are located. We have never been able to see this before because the earth under our feet prevents us from seeing the southern hemisphere’s portion of the Milky Way. Astrophysicists estimate that the total number of other galaxies in the Universe approaches 1010­ ­[10,000,000,000] with the furthest galaxies 13,700,000,000 light-years away from us. In other words, that is the estimated age of the Cosmos. Thus 13.7 billion years ago it is believed that the entire space-time/matter-energy Universe came into existence from a point of no dimensions! How ‘bout them apples!                                           

 I forgot to mention that back when I was a boy, my mother and dad indicated to me that a very important Reality in our lives was God. We went to Mass every Sunday, confession before first Fridays and abstained from meat on that day. I attended public schools but I was required to attend “Sunday School” on Thursday afternoons at Saint Catherine of Sienna Parish School. I’d like to add that I paid close attention and learned a great deal there, however that would not be true. Actually, when the bell rang for classes, I stayed out on the basketball courts outside of the school and played with the Parochial School kids who didn’t have to go to Thursday classes. I guess I believed in God, but I considered God to be really upset by my attitude and was really going to ream me some day for my pagan ways. Years later, at the completion of my last year at Northeastern, two close friends of mine a year older than me had signed up to be voluntary lay mission teachers in Jamaica, WI, under the supervision of the New England Province of Jesuits. Sounding like the grand world tour I was unable to make, I signed up to go as well. Imagine my surprise when I was accepted for the program and traveled to Above Rocks, Jamaica and met the greatest man I was ever fortunate enough to work for, Father Sylvio Garavaglia, S.J. Three years later I entered a Trappist Monastery in Spencer, Massachusetts. Although I lasted five years there before returning to the world, it was a life changing time where I learned so much more about God. I say about because I was not yet ready to know God personally with faith. That has begun to come late in life I trust. I taught Scripture, Theology, Sexuality, Chemistry, Physics and math in 35 years at a boys’ Catholic high school outside of Boston, and I learned a lot more about God but I still didn't know God in any personal experiential way. I would see other people at prayer and I would assume their posture and try to grind out thoughts about God to which I would say lots and lots of words; mostly, " Forgive me God for being such a mealy mouth faker and for doing all the bad things I enjoy doing." For five years as a monk candidate I witnessed and heard from some of the most saintly people I would ever know. I read books by Thomas Merton and thought that I actually was living a similar life. Nonsense!

Then I left the monastery, got married, we had four children, I became a single Dad , and then I began to understand what life is. It is about failing. It is about needing help. It is worrying about your children, about their children, about being a failure at helping the ones you love and nearly giving up on ever achieving success in this life, and all the time wondering where the hell is this God that's supposed to be loving us? Does this sound familiar? It sounds something like Jesus on the cross , doesn't it? "Father, why have you forsaken me?"
At this point in my life something wonderful happened to me. One day I began to read the earliest written of the four Gospels, Mark, where Jesus opens his mouth and speaks for the very first time and says:"Metanoiete", a Greek word which should have been translated 'Change the way you think', instead of the way Saint Jerome translated it into Latin as "Poenimine"['Repent!']. The entire history of the Church pivoted on that error. To understand what Jesus said and meant to say would have otherwise been translated:"Change the way you think about reality, the present moment is the right time, the Kingdom of God is within you, believe this good news”.

From this time on I began to take seriously the belief that God is within me, closer to me than I am to myself. I no longer considered God to be at the end of the Cosmos somewhere outside me. I began also to believe that God is within every other person as well and that God in us reaches God in the other in this way.  From now on my prayer became real, personal and interior and when I did, all of Jesus' teachings on prayer became my belief.

Just as the entire Cosmos emerged from a point of no dimensions 13.7 billion years ago, God still emerges from the hearts of each and every one of us, God's children. Scientists can try to demand that I prove this from observable data; I say that's like the egg proving that the hen that laid it exists. It is not a question of "perceiving", nor of "conceiving"; but of "believing" first, just like I first believed in God because someone trustworthy told me to, and this is what Jesus, the most trustworthy said, "Believe this good news". 

Now the whole Cosmos means so much more to me than just a big place, it is a Sign of infinite Love and Generosity and Kenosis, a pouring out of oneself for the beloved. That's us.

                                                            Charlie Mc

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Jesus' Keynote Address

                                        Jesus’ Keynote Address
At political or industrial conventions and expositions and at academic conferences, the keynote address or keynote speech is delivered to set the underlying tone and summarize the core message or most important revelation of the event.

For thirty five years after the climactic events of Jesus’ life, the narrative of his life and teachings was presented orally, especially by the kerygma, the proclamation at meals which were a memorial of his meals with his disciples on earth, and especially at the celebration of his Eucharistic meal commemorating his last meal on earth on the night before he died. During these years, Scripture consisted of the Hebrew Scriptures as the New Testament as we call it now, did not exist.

The earliest writings which ultimately were made part of the Canon were copies of letters written by Paul to communities of disciples established between 35 AD and 55AD in Asia Minor and Greece. The first writing of the narrative we now call a Gospel, was written between 65 an 75AD, in all likelihood  in Rome to the Jewish-Christians who were a small and fearful community in a time where Rome was waging war in Palestine under the direction of Emperor Nero and the military command of Vespasian.

The text of Mark begins with a description of John the Baptist’s fortelling of a coming leader who will be greater than he. When Jesus enters the narrative it is as an adult who receives John’s baptism and then proceeds to give his opening proclamation in Mark 1:14-16. The Greek text reads as follows:

“ἦλθεν ησος ες τν γαλιλαίαν κηρύσσων τ εαγγέλιον το θεοῦ”
“Then Jesus came from Galilee proclaiming the “good news” from God 
“κα λέγων τι πεπλήρωται καιρς κα γγικεν βασιλεία το θεο· μετανοετε”
and saying, ‘the right time is now, and WITHIN is the Kingdom of God. Change the way you think
  πιστεύετε ν τ εαγγελίῳ”.
 and  believe in this ‘good news’.”

All three other Gospels, Matthew, Luke and John all have a narrative of John the Baptist with Jesus coming to him for baptism but all have chosen  introductions to the narrative which are quite different. Matthew presents an infancy narrative as the Prologue to his account. Luke also presents an infancy and youth account of Jesus’ life quite different from Matthew’s. The Gospel of John, written much later than the two preceding, with an introduction which seems to be a theological  prologue starting with a poem about the logos (Word of God), followed by the baptism account.

Thus Mark’s account seems to present the very first words of Jesus as keynote address; i.e.  “delivered to set the underlying tone and summarize the core message or most important revelation of the event. The most important kerygma of Jesus himself thus seems to be that we should focus on the here and now, and believe that the Kingdom of God is WITHIN us.

When we today hear the words, “Good News”, we immediately think of the total New Testament and the Church and its understanding (Dogma) of who Jesus is, what  his relationship is to God, and what does that mean for us. But Jesus didn’t come from Galilee to tell us about himself and who he was, but rather about the Kingdom of his Father and where we might find it.

Over the first four centuries of the Church, much happened which caused Christianity to develop its own understanding of revelation and pass it on to us.  Some scholars contend that some of the transmission may have introduced error into our understanding and needs correction. Many find errors in the translation of the above keynote address in its translation fro Greek to Latin and the misunderstanding led to a doctrinal evolution not intended by Jesus.

Two of these ‘errors’ involve
          (1) the Greek translation of “
γγικεν” into the Latin as
               ‘appropinquavit’ [English: ‘drawn near, approaching’]  and    (2) the Greek translation of ‘μετανοε
τε’  into the Latin as
               ‘poenitemini’  [ English: ‘Repent!’].


When Mark’s Gospel has the Greek word “
γγικεν” [“heggiken”] to describe where the Kingdom of God is to be found, the translation of the word has several possible meanings. From Liddell and Scott, the first three meanings stem from the Greek:

The first comes from the Greek ‘εγγυς’  meaning “nigh, at hand, near (spatially) with a secondary, temporal meaning of “near(in time)”.  J.P.Meier in his classic “The Marginal Jew” (p. 423-434) discusses at length the meaning of this word as it applies to the Kingdom of God. Meier describes this saying as a “sphinx” whose ambiguity can be taken two ways: (1) the kingdom of God is coming (future eschatology) or (2) the kingdom of God is already here (realized eschatology). Meier continues:

“…the literal translation of the verse must read “the kingdom of God has drawn near in the sense that the act of drawing near is now over and done with and the kingdom is now in a state of having drawn near. But does this unwieldy paraphrase mean that the kingdom is now here or simply that it has drawn so close and become so imminent that it is “at the door” – or, to use another image, that it is like a train just about to pull into the station, i.e., “the train is here” (a favorite, if curious, metaphor among modern commentators)? 
 Obviously, it is very difficult to draw a fine line here because of the very nature of this spatial and temporal metaphor… It is not surprising, therefore, that proponents of both realized and future eschatology can find these texts to support their interpretation of   'Ηγγικεν.(p.433)

The question one might ask here is “How close is ηγγίκεν ?
In the Gospel of Luke, which already had as one source Mark, we see a reitteration of the curiosity concerning the kingdom of God.
“ and being questioned by the Pharisees about when the
 kingdom of God is coming, (Jesus) answered them and said,
‘The kingdom of God comes not with observation, nor will
 anyone say ‘Look, here it is, or there.’   For the kingdom of
 God is within you [εντος υμων εστιν]”. (Lk. 17:20-21)

JP Meier (p.424) regards this text of Luke as another fraught with difficulty. He refers to the critic John Dominic Crossan as accepting this text as indicating that the author presents Jesus as proclaiming that the kingdom of God is already present (Realized Eschatology). Meier believes the text is more unclear than this.
Still, the most common meaning of “entos” is “within”, and
 in the past—from the patristic period through the Middle
 Ages into the early modern period—most interpreters
 preferred this “interiorization” and “spiritualization” of 
 Jesus’ saying:  “Do not look for a visible, spectacular, cosmic
 coming of the kingdom, for the kingdom is already present in
 your hearts.”

Meier does not accept this belief and goes on to say:
“…no matter what stage of the NT tradition is being
 considered, the idea of the kingdom of God as a purely
 interior, invisible,  present spiritual state of individual
 hearts is a foreign intrusion. It is at home in 2nd-Century
 Christian Gnosticis (so the Gospel of Thomas, sayings 3, 51 
 and 113;  19th Century German liberal Protestantism, and
 some 20-th century American quests for the historical
 Jesus), ...and perhaps me,  but not in the canonical Gospels in general or Luke in particular"(P.426-427)…
Another early source which seems to share this notion of interiority is to be found in some of Paul’s earliest letters.
“…for it was given to me for you to fulfill the Word of God,
 the mystery hidden from the ages and the generations but
 now was manifested to his holy ones, to whom God wished to
 make known what is the riches of the glory of the secret who is Christ  in you, [“εν υμιν”] the hope of glory” 
                                                                          (Colossians 1:25-27)

The comment of the JBC (55:20) by Joseph A. Grassi, M.M., is that:
his inner presence in the community of believers all
 over the world is already a guarantee of a future
 community in glory.”

Paul puts strongest emphasis on this belief on the interiority of the kingdom of God, i.e. Christ, when he writes:
“Test yourselves if you wish to be in the faith, prove it, or do
  you not perceive that Christ Jesus [“εν υμιν”] is in    
 you.”                                                                            (2Cor. 13:5)

There can be little doubt that “in” means “within” in these last examples. Thus it seems that there was the firm belief at the time of earliest teachings, disregarding  Gnosticism, Protestantism and the modern quests for the historical Jesus aside, there seems to be a belief in the interiority of the “kingdom” as an early test of Christian faith, but that the passage of time seems to have raised doubts dogmatically that this teaching should be taken literally. Perhaps this is why Jesus so often referred to the faith of little children favorably as compared to the its lacking in the unbelieving scholars.(cf. 1Cor. 1:18-2:26; Mk.10:13-16)

There can be little doubt that as time passed, a heresy label began to be applied by the Church to any literal translation which would indicate that the Kingdom of God was WITHIN the believer. In place of this understanding, the early Church began to emphasize the “coming” aspect of the Kingdom in what would be termed future and coming Kingdom to be expected with the “coming” Kingdom  of God and of Jesus, i.e., the second coming.” Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians recognizes the tension between the understanding of when the Kingdom was coming.

 “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” [1Th 5:1-2]

Years later Paul wrote to these Thessalonians to correct their misunderstandings:

 “As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our being gathered together to him, we beg you brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the Day of the Lord has already come.” [2Th 2:2]

The distinction between the two are referred to as “Realized Eschatology” and “Future Eschatology”. As the growing Church wrestled with this difference, the later works arrived at a belief that it was both, i.e., already here and also not yet fully here. What this seems to be is an attempt to proclaim an event in time, and the same event in eternity.

Now there is a difficulty in accepting the meaning of “The kingdom of God is within you” in the literal sense since human comprehension has to deal with empirical facts being experienced and then the mind forms a concept based on that experience. In all likelihood however, the word “within” is most readily understood in the spatial sense, or even in the temporal sense of “coming soon”. But what Jesus was saying was something never heard before. Something the human mind never conceived before, and that was his ‘good news’, brand new revelation. For hundreds of thousands of years, mankind had been seeking an Ultimate Power in the world outside himself, for help, salvation, comfort etc.. Now along comes this man with the news that the God mankind seeks is WITHIN. This is very difficult news to accept and because of Jesus' teaching, many chose to leave him. Is this not the predominant response of those who listened to Jesus but could not believe what he told them to believe.


The second word which helps to make us understand this new message and which has perhaps undergone a similar mistranslation is the Greek word  “μετανοίετε” [“metanoiete”] . In the Latin Vulgate, the Greek was translated into the Latin “poenimine!”, which means “Repent!” To repent means “to be sorry for ones’ sins”.

The question arises, if this constitutes Jesus’ first words to his would-be followers then it presumes them to be sinners before they can come to Jesus and be his followers.  From this meaning arose centuries of dogmatic theology involving Original Sin, its cause and its consequences, and thousands of years of ascetical theology which was focused on Justification, Atonement and penitential behaviour. The Pelagian controversy, the traditions of the desert, the semi-Pelagian disputes, Sinfulness, Baianism, Jansenism and Justification by Works versus Faith etc… Martin Luther, Calvinism, Irish Catholicism, Abbe de Rance and the Trappist life and Catholic/Protestant wars in Europe and Ireland/England all were in a large way the result of the mistranslation of “metanoiete”.

In the Rule of Saint Benedict, monks are asked to make vows of Stability, Obedience and Conversatio Mores. The first two vows are easily understood. First, to live in one place, a monastery, so as to avoid escaping into other environments as soon as the first starts to become tedious or even painful- as was the cross to Jesus. Second, to hand over your most precious possession, your self-will, in obedience to the Abbot and the Community visibly, and to God ultimately as did Jesus as he prayed, “not my will, but Thy Will be done.” The third vow, not well understood over the past 1400 years even by monastic theologians, might well have the same meaning as did the original understanding of “metanoiete”. It meant to “Change the way you think”, from a rational “reality is out there, to the message of the good news of Jesus, “The Kingdom is in here,i.e., within you.

In a fascinating study written in 1896, Treadwell Walden [The Great Meaning of Metanoia]writes:[p. xii]

          “…the fundamental principle enunciated by “Metanoia” in the outset of the Gospel was profound enough to be the underlying and prevailing idea of the New Testament from beginning to end, and to suggest to suggest the application of this interpretative potency to the teaching of Christ and his apostles.

The importance of the word “Metanoiete” correctly translated can be seen by the contrary when and if the word is translated as “Repent!” Instead of
            “Change the way  you think (about reality)”.

This can be seen by the centuries of emphasis placed upon the doctrine of Original Sin, and of the teachings on the importance of penitential deeds to just prepare oneself for acceptability as a follower of Jesus.

When seen as the latter translation, then the emphasis is on how we have been seeking God in the wrong direction, and that we must change the way we think and realize the interiority of the Kingdom of God. This “Metanoia” is meant to be a call to an awakening of our inner most self, and the dawning realization that God is closer to us than we are to our selves. If we wish to pray to Jesus’ and our “Abba”, we can “go into our inner room and pray to our Father in secret”, i.e., we do not need to use lots of external signs and words to talk to a distant Father, but our Father is within us in good times and in bad, and not in consequence of our doing some extraordinary actions to prepare ourselves. But how can we believe this? Only because Jesus told us to at the end of his keynote:

                           "Believe THIS 'good news"
and Jesus is trustworthy. 

Thus the Latin translation of the Greek “metanoiete” to the Latin“poenitemini”, has done a great disservice to the original “good news” of Jesus himself, and turned his original intention into the “worrisome news” of “Repent!”, and this interpretation continued to be embellished by centuries of Ascetical theology.

The traditions of the Eastern Church however, based on the Greek text, developed a Spiritual Theology of interior prayer as evidenced by the ancient Philokalia and the history of the Desert Fathers, Saint Basil and the Russian Mystics.

The recent movements of Eastern Spirituality and the Christian Centering Prayer Movement, seem to be going a long way to recovering the initial intentions of Jesus as shown in the earliest texts of the N.T.

                                                                            Charlie Mc