Many of us have been privileged to be in the presence of
someone on his or her deathbed. In such a setting we are understandably
concerned about listening to every word that the dying person
is saying and about choosing our own words carefully. It is
with that degree of reverence that we should approach the
Bible: with halting humility.
The language of the Bible is more poetry than prose. It doesn't
so much describe an event historically as it seeks to lead
us into the experience itself. We can change the meanings
of words, but an experience changes us. Good biblical interpretation
finds the balance between words that get us started and encounters,
which are beyond words.
Just before he delivers the Ten Commandments to Moses (Exodus
19), God appears in "a dense cloud" and Mount Sinai is "wrapped
in smoke." Moses is not permitted to see God's face. And yet,
Yahweh speaks to him and gives Moses the word of God. At the
Transfiguration (Matthew 17), Jesus appears to several disciples,
his face shining "like the sun" and his clothes "white as
light." Afterwards Jesus cautions them: "Do not tell the vision..."
In these examples we observe the spiritual tradition that
balances darkness and light, presence and absence, speaking
and silence, seeing everything so well that you do not need
to see anything in particular.
Again and again, the Bible finds the balance between knowing
and not knowing, between using words and having a humility
about words. To read the Bible well, we need to appreciate
that balance and allow the Spirit to stir its meaning for
us. But for most of us in the contemporary West, it is an
uphill struggle. We often prefer to read the Bible literally
and to turn to it for precise answers to our questions.
Ours is a time of such cultural and spiritual change that
the human psyche struggles to handle it all. The September
11 terrorist attack on U.S. soil has shaken us to our core.
No wonder many of us look for certitudes to help ground us.
Without consciously tending to, we seek to make God our private
property by taking biblical language literally and reading
it from our own perspective and our own cultural interpretation.
When we do this, we lapse into a kind of blinding time capsule
that does not enlighten at all. God gives us just enough light
for the next faith-filled step, never a blueprint for all
The well-intended "Jesus Seminar" offers an example. Here
scholars comb through New Testament texts in an effort to
determine if Jesus did say this or that and did or did not
use certain precise words. When we exclusively take that approach,
we lose more than we gain, although I do not deny that it
is often helpful. We risk moving out of sacred space and trivializing
what we haveor might haveexperienced. We risk
declaring victory before we have even struggled. We settle
the agonizing dust by giving ourselves answers, when the raised
dust instead might reveal to us the right question.
Though we often wish it were so, the biblical God is not
a cure-all, a fix for the human paradox or a cosmic answer
man (or answer woman). The God who lives inside of history,
uses it and suffers from it gives us basic truths on which
we can rely. But he doesn't give us all the answers to protect
us from our history. In fact, God leads us into the dilemma
of our lives and invites us into a daring journey that will
always be faith. Always, it seems, God comes to us disguised
as our life.
The Bible offers us hope, but it does not offer an escape
from life. It is in life that we meet God. So very little
in our lives is ever resolved or solved, settled or answered.
There is only the crisis itself, the struggle. The outgrowing
of the need for an answer takes us in the direction of eternal
life. Our God calls us to stay in the strugglestill
wanting to know, but as persons of faith being willing not
to know. All because we can trust the One who does know.
to a RealAudio excerpt from Father Richard Rohr
Great Themes of Scripture, a 10-part audiocassette
series available from St. Anthony Messenger Press, A7090,
Gift of Silence
By Judith Dunlap
In the last 20 years young people have forgotten what
silence sounds like. Those traditional times of quiet (mowing
the lawn, riding a bike) are gone. Youngsters are plugged
into sound. Even we adults can't seem to walk into a room
or ride in the car without turning on a radio or CD player.
Yet we know it is often in the quiet that God speaks to
us. Remember Elijah on that mountaintop? It wasn't in the
wind, fire or earthquake that he heard the Lord. It was
in the silence (1 Kings 19:12).
There is a tradition of prayer in our Church called Lectio
Divina ("holy reading") that includes practiced silence.
It involves four steps: reading (usually from Scripture),
meditating (thinking about or placing yourself in the story),
contemplation (sitting in silence with a word or passage)
and prayer (telling God what the reading meant to you).
Small groups and individuals practice this ancient prayer
form in monasteries and homes. It can be a great way to
pray together as a family.
Gather the family and read a story from Jesus' life. Ask
youngsters how they might feel if they were one of the people
involved. (Make sure you talk about how you would have felt
too.) Pick out a word or two. Tell your children to sit
quietly and repeat the word in their headsnot thinking
about the word, just repeating it. After a minute,
ask everyone to say a short prayer out loud.
Life is different for every generation. There are losses
and gains. This generation seems to have an ever-growing
access to information and a dwindling availability of quiet
time. Helping our children appreciate silence is a gift
they can use all their lives.
For Family Response:
Read the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). Talk about
how you would have felt if you were in the crowd.
Spend a minute in quiet, repeating the phrase "come
down." Take turns praying aloud.
to this month's FAMILY CORNER.
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By Claire and Frank Frost
Twenty-two years after its first release, Francis Ford
Coppola's Apocalypse Now Redux has not lost an ounce
of its impact. Released with additional footage, it transcends
the political-moral struggles of the Vietnam War that first
Today it speaks powerfully to many, even those who are
too young to remember the turmoil of the 60s. Visually stunning,
complex and deeply affecting, this is more than a war movie
and well worth the time and emotional energy it demands.
Several years into the war, Army Special Operations officer
Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) is assigned the task of finding
and removing "with extreme prejudice" American Colonel Walter
Kurtz (Marlon Brando). Willard is warned by the briefing
officers that Kurtz has broken from the authority of the
U.S. Army, gone insane, committed murder and created a native
following, among whom he lives as a god. And so Willard
ventures upriver in a small fishing boat with a handful
of Navy enlisted men in search of Kurtz. Along the way the
young menand we as the audienceare forced to
witness the genuine horrors of war.
But the film is as much about an internal journey as it
is about an expedition into the jungle. Modeled on Joseph
Conrad's Heart of Darkness, it is about the disturbing
and difficult exploration of the self. Characters are confronted
with impossible questions. Captain Willard must decide how
to act in regard to Col. Kurtz, probing his notions of value
and morality. What meaning can an accusation of murder have
amidst the standard atrocities of war? Is violence any worse
than hypocrisy? Can a moral code apply within the chaos
and violence of war, or is judgment impossible, inappropriate?
The soldiers, and we the audience, are forced to look
into the face of seemingly incomprehensible, meaningless
horror and ask: How can this happen? How can I continue
to live in a world where such atrocity is possible? How
can I live with myself, knowing that the capacity to commit
such horrors lives within me?
The film does not provide any easy answers, but the decision
of Willard in the final scene offers hope.
Apocalypse Now Redux restores almost an hour of
footage that was cut from the movie's original release.
Two extended scenesone involving two Playboy bunnies,
the other a French colonial widoware interesting in
that these are the only ones which introduce women to the
action. One scene is disturbing; the other suggests hope.
Both add to the film's considerable length, but they also
add to its impact.
This is a film for mature viewers, artistically, morally
and intellectually. Beautifully shot, scored and imagined,
Apocalypse Now Redux will take you on an unreal journeyinto
the horrors of war, of inhumanity, even into yourself.
eturn to top
SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG
By Judy Ball
St. Margaret of Scotland (1046?-1093)
Once upon a time... The early life of St. Margaret of Scotland
is rich in fairy-tale elements: A refined, cultured, beautiful
young princess brought up in the court of King Stephen in
Hungary meets her future husband, Scottish King Malcolm
III, when she and her family are shipwrecked off the coast
of Scotland. They fall in love, marry at a castle and live
happily ever after.
Margaret's middle and later years were filled with far
more than royal duties, though she took those seriously.
She became the mother of six sons and two daughters. Their
schoolingparticularly their religious educationwas
of special concern to her; David, her youngest son, was
Her energy went far beyond her role as mother. She engaged
in efforts to correct religious abuses common at the time,
including simony and usury. She helped reorganize the Scottish
Church and, with her husband, built a number of parishes.
Margaret also took the time to nourish her own spiritual
life. She was known for her piety and prayerfulness as well
as her austerity. Her concern and energy for the poor knew
no bounds. It is said that during Advent and Lent both she
and her husband fed hundreds of poor people from their own
table. The beggars who flocked to her in public came to
count on her steady generosity.
Margaret of Scotland was a queen who used her power and
position to influence her family, her people, her nation
and her Church. She died four days after her beloved husband
and their oldest son were killed in battle.
The patron saint of Scotland, she was canonized in 1250.
Her feast day is November 16.
When she took office as the eighth president of Ireland
four years ago this month, Mary McAleese embraced the opportunity
to use her authority as leader of a changed and changing
country. As the first president from Northern Ireland (the
Belfast area of Ardoyne, a small Catholic enclave in a mainly
Protestant area), she sees herself as a bridge-builder.
The bridges she hopes to construct, she said at her inauguration,
"require no engineering skills. But they will demand patience,
imagination and courage." Those are the qualities the 50-year-old
mother of three brings to her role as leader of an island
of 5 million people.
One of her strongest commitments as president of Ireland
is to Churchand not only the one in which she was
baptized. In a country that has known so much religious
sectarianism, President McAleese has made it a practice
to attend services at various churches throughout the country,
though she has not always been popular for doing so.
"We love our churches," says the attorney and former television
newscaster. "They are our hearth and home." But, she emphasizes,
"Reconciliation in Christ frees us from anxiety about our
identity. We exist in relation to him, not through comparison
with those who differ from us."
President McAleese hopes that the new millennium brings
to Ireland "a more humble, radical and relevant community
of churches" committed to forgiveness, reconciliation and
love. "We dare to hope for an Ireland where Christians are
at last known by the way they love one another and by the
way they joyfully welcome the stranger as a brother or sister
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The following products can be ordered from St. Anthony
Messenger Press/Franciscan Communications (1-800-488-0488):
Catholic Response to Biblical Fundamentalism" (audiocassette)
the Wisdom of Jesus" (audiocassette)
Overview of the Bible," Scripture From Scratch, Unit I (videocassette)
Mystic: Easing Into Contemplative Prayer (book)
the Bible (book)