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    The Feast of the Beheading of St. John the Forerunner

    Saturday, August 29, 2009, 8:48 AM [General]


    I would like to direct you to several images of the Beheading of St. John the Forerunner of Christ, whose Feast we honor today.


    I.  Caravaggio (1571-1610), [1608] "The Beheading of St. John the Baptist"


    Painted in 1608
    Oil on canvas, 361 x 520 cm
    May be viewed at Saint John Museum, La Valletta, Malta


    To see this painting on the web, visit the following URL, which I accessed on 29 AUG 09: -->


    ...also, consider the following website: -->

    The website is


    The artist painted this work on the island of Malta, where the painting resides to this day.

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    II. BOTTICELLI, Sandro (1445-1510):
    Salome with the Head of St John the Baptist

    Painted circa 1488
    Tempera on panel, 21 x 40,5 cm
    You may view this painting in the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy (source below)


    Click on the following URL for an excellent image of this painting, which I accessed on 29 AUG 09: -->


    Notice the satisfied appearance on Salome's face, and Salome's proportionately smaller head size. Salome appears to be in a rush with John's severed head on the platter.

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    III. Finally, click on the following URL to visit a Byzantine icon of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist:


    The URL, above, leads to a Byzantine icon depicting the beheading of St. John the Baptist. Note that a young woman, dressed in the color of the martyrs, readies a basket to receive the severed head of the Forerunner. The girl's hair is braided; around the circumference of her temples she wears a golden diadem, which depicts the reward for the witness of Christ.  Study the face of St. John, observing the calm appearance to his eyes in particular, and his apparent gaze in the direction of the red-dressed assistant. The eyes of the assistant are turned down and to the left, in the direction of her left hand, which supports the basket. Her attention is to her duty, and not the falling sword.

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    True Confessions -- an ancient literary genre

    Friday, August 28, 2009, 3:08 PM [General]

    Yesterday, the 28th day of August, marked the Feast Day among Roman Christians and their progeny for St. Augustine of Hippo. His philosophical and theological text, Confessions, served several purposes in Christian apologetics and evangelism from the start.


    One advantage was the honesty of the author, who recounted his disobedient behavior prior to active conversion to Christ after completing post-secondary studies. St. Augustine later served as a bishop over the diocese of Hippo, in what today is Algeria. But long before his ordination to the presbyterate and elevation to episcopal office, Augustine was a carouser, occasionally drunk in public, and a cad. He tells all in the Confessions.


    Augustine is identified as a great Church Father by the West--associated with Rome, but he has received the title Blessed Augustine by vast numbers of Eastern Christians. The lower respect among Eastern Christians requires attention to such themes as Augustine's heterodox treatment of sin, human cooperation in salvation, and the so-called atonement theory of Christ's sacrifice--to name a few.


    Martin Luther, 16th-century German reformer was professed in the Congregation of St. Augustine, whose monks followed the cenobitic rule of Augustine. Luther was well acquainted with Pauline and Petrine scriptural sources about faith and grace that fell on fallow ground during excesses of the post-Charlemagne papacies. To this day, the only cenobitic monastery of Lutherans in the USA is dedicated to St. Augustine of Hippo. St. Augustine's House and the Congregation of the Servants of Christ is located in Oxford, Michigan--about 60 mile northwest of Detroit.

    Icon writer: Nancy Oliphant

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    Doubts amid Faith

    Wednesday, August 26, 2009, 10:36 PM [General]

    I believe in all things seen and unseen. The Nicene Creed.

    During the first and second Ecumenical Councils of the ancient Church, the Nicene Creed was composed. The Nicene Creed appeared in the early to mid-4th century CE. A line from the Creed, "I believe in all things seen and unseen," is the topic of this post.


    Pan ahead hundreds of years to the late 1950's. My family piled into its '58 Chevy Biscayne coupe headed to a drive-in movie. Mom and Dad took the front seats, and the three kids were restless in the back seat. I remember the topic of conversation turned to God. Not sure about exactly what we discussed, my Dad posed a question that left a lasting impression on me.


    "Eddie," he asked, "how can you be sure that God exists?" The question hit me hard. I felt sick all of sudden, like someone punched my stomach full force. The wind was knocked out of me, and I remember stuttering something. Soon my Mom came to my aid. My father did not pursue the question, but I remember that family outing to a drive-in theatre as the first time that I experienced doubt concerning God and unseen things.


    Doubt might well be the opposite of belief. For example, doubt--as antonym of belief--accompanies what the Apostle Thomas voiced about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Seeing is believing--to paraphrase Thomas (John 20: 19-31), which earned him the epithet "Doubting Thomas."


    But I have grown to respect my doubts. Doubts are necessary for me to walk by faith in relationship to the Holy Trinity. When asked now about what the "unseen things" of the Creed are, I usually answer that they are my doubts. I cannot see my doubts, but I believe they exist.


    Plunging into action, even with doubts unresolved, reflects courage and at least a modicum of faith. If one does something with doubt, especially if the outcome is favorable, then faith grows stronger. Take the Baptism of infants as an example.


    When a priest of Christ plunged my infant body into the waters of Baptism, even he might have had doubts that I might aspirate water in the split-second my head was beneath water. It never happened before that an infant aspirated, but what if it happened that day? Watch a baptismal party sometime. If immersion of the infant is required, you may notice there are faint gasps among adults assembled for the Baptism that later turn into sighs of relief after the baby emerges from beneath the water.


    Born out of the water of Baptism, an eternal life in Christ begins. New life is unseen, just the same. Christians take note of things seen and unseen. Sometimes it happens that we doubt even what is right before our eyes. The disciples of Jesus--no doubt--doubted the Resurrected Christ.


    The Gospel narratives of Christ's Resurrection are evidence that Christ anticipated doubts about things seen and unseen when it came to experience with the Word of God made flesh. Consider these reflections from Homily 71 of His Holiness Leo the Great of Rome [On the Lord's Resurrection-I]: "For to this end He [Christ Jesus] entered when the doors were closed upon the disciples and gave them the Holy Spirit by breathing on them, and after giving them the light of understanding opened the secrets of the Holy Scriptures, and again Himself showed them the wound in the side, the prints of the nails, and all the marks of His most recent Passion, whereby it might be acknowledged that in Him the properties of the divine and human nature remained undivided, and we might in such sort know that the Word was not what the flesh is, as to confess God's only Son to be both Word and flesh" [section III, Homily 71].


    Doubt goes hand-in-glove with Faith in Christ, because the divine and human nature of Christ remain undivided. We see the Word disclosing the flesh, and we see the flesh of Jesus disclosing our Lord Christ. But seeing the undivided nature of Christ one time only may not quell our doubts.


    Repeated exposure to the Resurrected Christ among the close circle of Christ's disicples was necessary to re-confirm in Faith what the five senses, alone, failed to convince. We profess, in other words, "...all that is seen and unseen."


    Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe, said Jesus to Thomas days after the Resurrection, for their happiness does not require repeated confirmation by the five senses. Instead, the blessed are satisfied in Faith for they "...believe in all that is seen and unseen."



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    Meditation: "Select a place that is cool, clean, and quiet."

    Monday, August 24, 2009, 4:15 PM [General]

    The heart of home: "Select a place that is cool, clean, and quiet."

    Eknath Easwaran, Passage Meditation, Nilgiri Press


    Where I grew up in a little town near Dallas, Texas, Mamie Eisenhower and husband, President Ike, modeled a mature and gracious couple for families, just as they represented dedication to families across the nation.

    "American women loved her [Mamie] because they identified with her," according to her biography on the Dwight D. Eisenhower website ( Women, like my mother, appreciated how Mamie could work many hours every day, like any dedicated man in public service. My mom, like Mamie, ran a big operation raising 3 stair-step kids, managing a home on a meager budget, and still looking pretty when my dad returned from work.

    Heroic effort it all took.


    One day when I might have been 5 or 6 years of age, I watched my mom hang curtains in the living room. She measured the curtain rod, drilled holes to secure the rod, and hung new flowery print panels that she spent the prior week sewing on a borrowed Singer sewing machine.


    I felt the living room change right before my eyes. Something peaceful had occurred--something that I call 'beauty.' I knew that I was in the family home, but the family home became something more. Knowing that I was watching beauty unfold, I remarked: "Mama, I think that you can do anything." She was three steps up a ladder at the time.


    Best I recall, mom finished the task and stepped down. She replied, "I think that I can, too. Thank you for saying that." Scrappy kid that I was, I probably went back to throwing Lego's at my younger brother. But the memory painted a mark in a place inside my mind's home, which is ", clean, and quiet."

    That is the place, in spirit, where Easwaran recommends one go to repeat an inspirational passage such as the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. A child recalls a moment of beauty, and locates similar places where beauty is stretched out like handmade curtains to hang his meditations. Children of 5 or 95 years in age need a place at home where they can dive deep for treasures of the heart.


    Where is that place inside your home? Try locating it, if you would, and return every morning to repeat the passage: "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace...".


    I still wonder how mom created "...a place that is cool, clean, and quiet." My wonder twinkles in my eyes (I am the guy with the hat).


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    "That is the mystery of grace: it never comes too late." --Fran├žois Mauriac

    Monday, August 24, 2009, 11:54 AM [General]

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    Early morning is best

    Saturday, August 22, 2009, 8:44 AM [General]

    "Choose a time for meditation when you can sit for half an hour in uninterrupted quiet. Early morning is best, before the activities of the day begin"

    ~ Eknath Easwaran



    Today I would like to discuss an ideal time of day to meditate. Several days prior I introduced practical steps to meditate. The practical steps come from a long line of meditators -- steps that Eknath Easwaran composed in one of his books: Passage Meditation, published by Nilgiri Press ( Easwaran (1910 - 1999) appears in a photo above, taken in the prime of his life.


    Mornings present opportunities to start things off fresh. Rightly appreciated, mornings bathe each task in the light of a new day. This bath of light, which returns daily, washes clean any residue or stain that might have soiled us in days gone by. As the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow observed about mornings:


    Each morning sees some task begin, Each evening sees it close; Something attempted, something done, Has earned a night's repose


    The poet identifies sleep as a reward for work that one finishes. We spend the reward well when we rest well. Rest, therefore, is similar to food. Both rest and food come to us members of the Creation when we finish our tasks: "...something done." Another British poet, William Blake, summarizes the tasks according to times of day: “Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night.


    Therefore, performance of tasks becomes synchronized with the rhythm of our days. In particular, meditation -- as an integral task of every day -- fits the rhythm of mornings. The "fit" compares with the feel of a made-to-measure suit. Ateliers measure parts of the human frame before making made-to-measure suits. An atelier not only provides measured garments to fit, but also specific fabrics and colors that the customer prefers. However, there is a third element from the atelier's craft, sadly eroded by the fast pace of modern life, which is just as important as accurate measurements and fabric selections. In the third element, atelier and customer exchange time in the rhythm of selecting fabrics, taking measurements, and discussing design.


    Meditation requires an exchange of time -- a right time of day --  that we dedicate to repeating a passage such as the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi or one of the Psalms. For example, Psalm 23, better known as "The Lord is my Shepherd," offers another inspirational passage suitable to meditation in the morning.


    Mornings are an ideal time for 30 minutes of uninterrupted meditation. But we must dedicate time from our schedules. Come the end of the day, assuming that regular morning meditation is a staple of practice, we will repose with:

    • less anxiety, 
    • fewer regrets
    • increased peace of mind, and
    • sustained gratitude to the Lord of Love.


    Test it yourself. You are the best judge of what works. I suggest that we bring all of our attention to morning meditation, and discover not death but life in the words of an inspirational passage, as Emily Dickinson writes: "A word is dead when it is said, some say. I say it just begins to live that day."

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    Qui cantat, bis orat -- just hum along if you don't know the words

    Friday, August 21, 2009, 11:55 PM [General]

    Qui (bene) cantat, bis orat -- The one who sings well, prays twice.

    Popular sources for this quote attribute it to Augustine of Hippo (St. Augustine of Hippo among Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, and many others; Blessed Augustine among Orthodox Christians).


    Augustine was born in Thagaste (modern-day Algeria) and reposed in Christ in the year 430 in the colonia of Hippo (Hippo Regius -- Annaba. Algeria today), where he served as bishop for a little over 30 years. Hippo today remains a "titular See," which means there is no bishop in office over the diocese and little chance of an appointment anytime soon.


    [More information about Annaba, Algeria can be found at: Exploring this site will deepen appreciation for urban life among 350,000 city residents today.]

    As for the quote--Qui (bene) cantat, bis orat--it is not clear from manuscripts whether Augustine wrote it. I offer a likely alternative to the quote, and then explore a theme of transforming a song, which occurs when a song is directed to the Holy Trinity.


    Blessed Augustine actually had this to say in CCL 39:


    † Qui enim cantat laudem, non solum laudat, sed etiam hilariter laudat; qui cantat laudem, non solum cantat, sed et amat eum quem cantat. In laude confitentis est praedicatio, in cantico amantis affectio.

    [My translation] † The one who sings praise, not only praises, but also praises joyfully; the one who sings praise, not only sings, but also loves Him for whom he sings. In the praise by one who confesses (the Divine Being), praise [actually] is a public profession; and in the song of the lover is affection (for the Beloved) [emphasis mine].


    Confession (confitentis) and public profession (praedicatio) each transform praise (egkauksaomai-Greek; laude-Latin) from the sense of one lauding the glory to God, to a mystical union with God in song. Song advances love between the divine Beloved and the singer, such that God sings His praise through us. I reach this conclusion by the progression of the quote from what we might call mere repetition of verse and melody into spiritual song that unites two lovers in mutual affection.


    Songs of praise increase desire for union and reunion with the Holy Trinity. Therefore, the one who sings well, prays twice. This is good medicine for the soul, just as we sing together Psalm 98:

    Sing a new song to the LORD, who has done marvelous deeds, Whose right hand and holy arm have won the victory.
    The LORD has made his victory known; has revealed his triumph for the nations to see, has remembered faithful love toward the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
    Shout with joy to the LORD, all the earth; break into song; sing praise.
    Sing praise to the LORD with the harp, with the harp and melodious song.
    With trumpets and the sound of the horn shout with joy to the King, the LORD.
    Let the sea and what fills it resound, the world and those who dwell there.
    Let the rivers clap their hands, the mountains shout with them for joy,
    Before the LORD who comes, who comes to govern the earth, To govern the world with justice and the peoples with fairness.

    Psalm 98: Viderunt omnes, gradual in mode 5 (Liber Usualis, No.409; GR. 33), Tonus Peregrinus--Naxos recording, sample at "Classical" using the following URL:

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    When is tolerance not a good idea to practice?

    Friday, August 21, 2009, 6:20 PM [General]

    Several learners were avid debaters in a workshop that I facilitated on the topic of "The Ethics of Tolerance." I asked the participants to break into small groups to discuss the question: "When is tolerance not a good idea to practice?"


    In one group there were teachers, homemakers, members of the clergy, a few town council members, a nurse, and an attorney. The debate was well underway before I casually entered the circle to listen in. One of the teachers in the group was, in his words, "...fed up with all this talk about tolerance," claiming that tolerance had supplanted good sense when it came to classroom discipline. The teacher believed that he had been forced to lower academic standards to comply with the school district's "...restrictive definition of tolerance."


    A Lutheran pastor, a middle-age woman wearing a clerical shirt, asked him to elaborate. The teacher related a couple of events when he corrected written assignments, and later learned some students claimed that their use of 'text-speak' should receive comparable rewards to those who adhered to rules of grammar and syntax. Branded "intolerant" by students using 'text-speak,' the school's administration intervened. Administrators wanted to know how the teacher's standards in grading reflected the spirit of an ethical principle in the school's charter.


    The ethical principle to guide review was:

    Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world's cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. It is fostered by knowledge, openness,communication, and freedom of thought, conscience and belief. Tolerance is harmony in difference. It is not only a moral duty, it is also a political and legal requirement. Tolerance, the virtue that makes peace possible, contributes to the replacement of the culture of war by a culture of peace.

    Article 1 (verbatim) from the Declaration of Principles on Tolerance
    Proclaimed and signed by the Member States of UNESCO on 16 November 1995


    The small group's debate favored the teacher's standards over a goulash type of  tolerance. However, one group member posed a question that the group could not resolve in the time allotted.


    How should teachers appreciate the diverse ideas that students entertain using 'text-speak'?


    I added the following quote to my journal later the same day. "Put the argument into a concrete shape, into an image, some hard phrase, round and solid as a ball, which they can see and handle and carry home with them, and the cause is half won" -- Ralph Waldo Emerson.


    Or as St. Francis of Assisi prayed: "O divine Master, ...grant that I might not so much seek to be understood as to understand."

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    Which option for health care should the USA mandate?

    Thursday, August 20, 2009, 8:17 PM [General]

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    Meditating on the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

    Thursday, August 20, 2009, 5:27 PM [General]

    Many members of Beliefnet are familiar with the writings of Eknath Easwaran (pronounced: EESH-run). For those not familiar, you may visit the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation website:


    The mission of the Blue Mountain Center and its publishing arm, Nilgiri Press, is to share the insights into meditation practice, which Easwaran published as books, DVD's, and audio CD's. The materials are priced in an affordable range in the on-line store provided by the website.


    To begin meditation on a passage, Easwaran recommends that one memorize the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. From the first chapter of his book, Meditation, Easwaran summarizes the form of meditation that he follows.


    "Here is a brief summary of the form of meditation I follow:


    • Choose a time for meditation when you can sit for half an hour in uninterrupted quiet. Early morning is best, before the activities of the day begin. If you want to meditate more, add half an hour in the evening, but please do not meditate for longer periods without personal guidance from an experienced teacher. Select a place that is cool, clean, and quiet. Sit with your back and head erect, on the floor or on a straight-backed chair.


    • Close your eyes and begin to go slowly, in your mind, through the words of a simple, positive, inspirational passage from one of the world’s great spiritual traditions. (Remember, you become what you meditate on.) I recommend beginning with the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.


    • You will find it helpful to keep adding to your repertoire so that the passages you meditate on do not grow stale. My books God Makes the Rivers to Flow and Timeless Wisdom contain many other passages that I recommend, drawn from many traditions.


    • While you are meditating, do not follow any association of ideas or allow your mind to reflect on the meaning of the words. If you are giving your full attention to each word, the meaning cannot help sinking in.


    • When distractions come, do not resist them, but give more attention to the words of the passage. If your mind strays from the passage entirely, bring it back gently to the beginning and start again.


    • Resolve to have your meditation every day – however full your schedule, whatever interruptions threaten, whether you are sick or well."


    I will address each of these components in future journal entries. But, for now, let us all pray that we may become instruments of God's peace.

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