Everything is Holy Now

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’m presently at the Jesuit Retreat House in OshKosh, directing a directed retreat.

Each day, the directors gather for a team meeting just before lunch. A different person is responsible each day for providing an opening prayer and a subject for sharing.

The other day, one of the Jesuits on the team opened with a song familiar to some of the other team members but not to me: Holy Now, by Peter Mayer. My internet access here is too limited to post a Youtube video of the song, but here are the lyrics:

When I was a boy, each week
On Sunday, we would go to church
And pay attention to the priest
He would read the holy word
And consecrate the holy bread
And everyone would kneel and bow
Today the only difference is
Everything is holy now
Everything, everything
Everything is holy now

When I was in Sunday school
We would learn about the time
Moses split the sea in two
Jesus made the water wine
And I remember feeling sad
That miracles don’t happen still
But now I can’t keep track
‘Cause everything’s a miracle
Everything, Everything
Everything’s a miracle

Wine from water is not so small
But an even better magic trick
Is that anything is here at all
So the challenging thing becomes
Not to look for miracles
But finding where there isn’t one

When holy water was rare at best
It barely wet my fingertips
But now I have to hold my breath
Like I’m swimming in a sea of it
It used to be a world half there
Heaven’s second rate hand-me-down
But I walk it with a reverent air
‘Cause everything is holy now
Everything, everything
Everything is holy now

Read a questioning child’s face
And say it’s not a testament
That’d be very hard to say
See another new morning come
And say it’s not a sacrament
I tell you that it can’t be done

This morning, outside I stood
And saw a little red-winged bird
Shining like a burning bush
Singing like a scripture verse
It made me want to bow my head
I remember when church let out
How things have changed since then
Everything is holy now
It used to be a world half-there
Heaven’s second rate hand-me-down
But I walk it with a reverent air
‘Cause everything is holy now

Ignatian Spirituality is about finding God in all things. As I reflected on this song what came to mind is an expansion of a quote attributed to Albert Einstein: There are two ways to see the world: as though nothing is sacred and as though everything is sacred; as though nothing is a miracle and as though everything is a miracle.

How do you see things?


Small Miracles

My favorite aunt was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in November. That is always a scary diagnosis, but for my family the news was a particularly painful blow – that same disease killed her husband in 1998 and my father (her brother) in 2003. So this is a story to which we know the end….and it is not a “they all lived happly ever after” ending.

My aunt has been undergoing chemo and we have been told the best news we can expect from the periodic scans is that the tumor has not grown. Good news is “no change.” That was indeed the news we got from the prior scans. However, when I called her home to find out the result of the latest scan, I got the impossible news that the tumor has shrunk.

I don’t know what name to give it. Miracle? Scientific/medical breakthrough? Luck of the draw? I don’t know. What I do know is that I’ve been praying, my family has been praying, our friends have been praying. What I do know is that somehow or another, prayers have been answered.

Will the tumor continue to shrink? Will my aunt live longer than if it has not shrunk? Will the chemo continue to help? I don’t know the answers to these or any other questions that may arise.

But whatever happens, I am enormously grateful for the prayers and support of my friends…and I will be grateful for whatever extra time this may give us with a woman who means so much to so many people, not least of all me.

Thank you, Lord. And thank you to all my friends for your love, your prayers and your support.

Why Two Feeding Miracles?

I’m reading a book titled Mission in the Gospels, by R. Geoffrey Harris. In his discussion of Mark’s Gospel, Harris discusses that fact that Mark records two instance of Jesus feeing the multitudes. (Mark 6:30-44 and 8:1-10.) Some scholars suggest that Mark simply inherited two variant account of the same event from different traditions. Harris does not find this a sufficient explanation.

Harris suggests that when one examines the two feeding miracles together, each of which is composed “so carefully, with such deliberate use of different vocabulary and different numbers,” it is clear that Mark had a definite purpose in providing both stories. Harris writes

The first episode takes place on the Jewish (western) side of the lake, while the second takes place on the more Gentile (eastern) side, and follows on from the encounter with the Syrophoenician woman and the healing of the deaf mute.

I confess this is not something that ever occurred to me in reading the two accounts. But the symbolism is powerful when one thinks of Jesus’ encounter with the Syrophoenician woman that takes place between the two accounts of the feeding miracles. When she asks Jesus to heal her child, his first reaction is to say that “it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the little dogs.” In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus adds directly that he has been sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. But the woman persists until Jesus agrees to heal her child.

Some argue that the woman had an effect in Jesus expanding his understanding of his ministry, an argument given some support by the inclusion of two feeding miracles rather than one. In the first miracle, Jesus feeds those on the Jewish side of the lake, those who are described like “sheep without a shepherd,” which Harris suggests is a traditional image for Israel and her leaders. (And there are 12 baskets of leftovers, “as though each Israelite tribe had a little to spare.” In the second miracle, Jesus feeds those on the Gentile side of the lake, with seven loaves and baskets of leftover, which “denote fullness or completeness. With the inclusion of the Gentiles, Jesus’ mission therefore becomes complete….There can be no doubt that [Mark] means to tell his audience that the banqueting feast in the kingdom of God is going to be for both Jews and Gentiles.”

I don’t know how a Scripture scholar would evaluate Harris’ argument, but it is a provocative explanation for something that has caused a lot of people to scratch their heads in wonder. Is there another good explanation for why we have accounts of two feeding miracles?

The Feeding of the Multitude

Today’s Gospel reading is St. Mark’s account of the feeding of the multitude. This is in some ways one of the more difficult miracle stories for the modern mind, yet, interestingly, it is the only miracle story recorded in all four Gospels (and in two of the Gospels – Mark and Matthew – it is recounted twice, albeit in slightly different form).

We are told that Jesus was teaching a large crowd in a deserted place. When Jesus’ disciples tell him to dismiss the crowds so they can go to buy something to eat, Jesus tells them to feed the crowd themselves. They sensibly point out that they lack sufficient resources to buy enough food to feed all those people. When Jesus asks what they have, they tell him they have five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus blessed the loaves and the fish and gave them to his disciples to distribute. Mark tells us “They all ate and were satisfied. And they picked up twelve wicker baskets full of fragments and what was left of the fish. Those who ate of the loaves were five thousand men.”

What happened that day? Did Jesus literally feed thousands with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish? Some scholars suggest that Jesus and his disciples distributed the little food they had and that the crowd was prompted by their example to share what they had, and that the pooled resources were enough to feed everyone. (That explanation resonates with me, as I had an experience in prayer one day while engaged in Ignatian contemplation where that is exactly what I saw.) Others suggest that everyone got merely a morsel, symbolizing the heavenly banquet that was to come.

As I reflected on the passage, I came to the conclusion that the specific explanation doesn’t really matter. We can’t know exactly what happened that day, but it is clear that something happened. People came to hear Jesus and came away fully satisfied – physically and spiritually. They sat listening to him, so wrapped up on what he was teaching that they did not think about their evening meal or where it would come from. (One gets the sense that had the disciples not said anything, the crowds would have just continued to sit there listening to Jesus.) What they received from Jesus was enough to satisfy their hunger.

Ultimately, only Jesus satisfies our hunger….and He does so completely.