Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year's resolution?

Merry Christmas everyone!  Remember, it's Christmas until the Ave Regina Caelorum replaces the Alma Redemptoris Mater ;-) (that's 02 Feb, Candlemas!)
 Christmas is my favorite liturgical season, but over the past few years I've often been yanked away from the liturgies by travel, family demands, and sometimes even work. That's likely to continue for a few years at least, and I'm starting to face the fact head-on and cope.  The ancient Jews certainly did: synagogue life and perhaps even an entirely new theology grew out of the experience of exile in Babylon, with only the rubble of a temple awaiting them in Jerusalem.  God not specific to a place becomes God everywhere, even God in oneself.  Yet this doesn't satisfy in the same way that place-centered ritual does. 

"I rejoiced when they said unto me, 'Let us go to the house of the LORD.' And now our feet are standing within your gates, Jerusalem" (Ps. 122:1-2).  How sweet that sounds!  I've often been lucky to live either next to or within a short drive of a church where liturgies were celebrated regularly.  My favorite place was up in the choir loft, my favorite clothes choir robes, my favorite smell the lingering odor of incense and faint candle smoke, and my favorite way to worship singing.  This was for many years, in fact, the only way I could manage to pray meaningfully. 

I still have great opportunities to sing and participate in other ways liturgically, but that may not last long.  Part of the way I've been preparing for that is to avoid bad experiences with prayer in the past, where my mind was alone with itself (maybe it just seemed that way) and left to wander in dark valleys.  As my beliefs have evolved, I feel more comfortable about developing something of a "home liturgical life," rather than dragging along a miserable kneeling existence in exile.  In that context, I appreciated Jason Miller's post on drawing deeper meaning from the Christmas story.  Ritual draws its meaning from theology, and Theosis via Incarnation is a great theological basis for ritual actions in place and time. 

I'm afraid of losing meaning in ritual and turning it into something escapist, and I'm also afraid of my own lack of discipline in keeping habits -- especially when those habits involve conflicts and balancing responsibilities with loved ones and other things.  I'm not sure if the habit of a New Year's resolution is always good, but if I had one for the coming year, that would be it.  I really want to pick myself up and keep a habit like this, that's not externally driven, and that I can feel comfortable defending if it needs defending.  I'm hoping also that the practice of "defending my own" will help me defend other good things I'd like to do in the world, but haven't felt free to do for a while.

Woah, that's like the first intentionally vague, self-helpy post I've written in a dreadfully long while!  Hope it's not oppressively annoying ;-)  I really have nothing to complain about, compared with some blog friends I know who are really struggling materially, emotionally, _and_ spiritually.  Being blessed with many choices really isn't a bad thing!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The power of the alphabet, part 2

On the commute to work this morning, I was thinking about my last post, on the "power of the alphabet."  Both Kabbalists and more orthodox readers of Scripture describe language as created with the universe, and the means by which the universe was created.  Before the creation event, existence is called a "formless void" -- in some sense, perhaps only because no language exists by which to describe it.  Names of the Divine, then, would not predate creation; we cannot address It in words in Its "original state," but only as a creating Being.

It's interesting that we as humans share in that power to create with language.  This point never strikes me more than when I think about the computer scientist's task of writing an interpreter or compiler for a programming language: here, language is turned in on itself, and abstraction and expressive power increase.  It's no coincidence that the bane of many an MIT undergraduate, the textbook "Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs," has a wizard on its cover!