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Tom McMahon's "Polar Express" is sort of paused-between-stations today. It's really a continuation of his commentary last week on the meaning of marriage today — where did it come from? He's also got some powerful stuff to say about the changing self-perceptions of women and how that played such a vital part in our changing understanding. He puts forward an interesting view of Jesus portrayed as our archetypal mom and dad — our "first teacher".
In our search for sacraments in the age of technology the uncharted terrain over which our Polar Express has been racing has begun to show signs of the familiar; A Canadian teacher writes about the sacraments in her life, saying, "Church has seven sacraments. God has thousands". Phyllis Pereira lists her favorite 20 in New Catholic Times (www.newcatholictimes.com); among her sacraments Phyllis names hugs, anguish, art, insects, children, work, elderly, marriage, lake/flowers. I might just stop writing this series on sacraments for the age of technology and make my daily meditation on her 20.
In outpost San Jose, Ca. I contemplate the NUNC DIMITTIS (Luke 2:29 … now Lord, you can dismiss your servant…), aware that others internationally have already been aboard the polar express, perhaps far deeper into God's wonder signs. Phyllis says: "I see God where I am". The Editor of New Catholic Times is Ted Schmidt whose great article THE LITTLE FLOCK was carried in Catholica Australia, July 26, 08 [LINK]; I sense a bond of wholesome spirit between Brian Coyne and Ted Schmidt. The Church of Trent is fast moving into the shadows and a glorious resurrection unites the continents; old Europe is dying and a New Jerusalem is being born, a Jesus new life.
Reflections on House and Home from the Middle Ages on…
I promised in article 8 that I would share from my studies of the Middle Ages ideas about house and home. I find the development of the concept of a home in keeping with the evolution of the human appreciation of the signs of God's presence. As I listen and read I began to form a picture of what life was like for the majority of people after the fall of the Roman Empire and the coming of age of industry; roughly speaking we have a period of about seven hundred years during which Europe undergoes a massive change in human living conditions under feudalism and such menaces as the Black Plague. The 95% of women that Stephanie Coontz (Marriage, A History) spoke of as never having a church wedding lived in a house along with her mate, children, and farm animals in the winter; there was one room for all and privacy and intimacy were unknown. The female role was functional, the child bearer who gleans the fields along with her husband and who bakes and churns butter by hand. I have not forgotten my 1950's impression of the role of women when I read Pearl Buck's GOOD EARTH and the new mother planting rice with new born strapped to her back and milk running from her swollen breasts. I am sure she lived in a house, a far cry from today's modern home.
Women's fight for privacy…
Some may think Sigmund Freud invented psychology; I read Freud as one of the great pioneer contributors to our understanding of age old human psychological ideas, such as the gods and goddesses of Greek Olympus; understanding the emotions of fiery Zeus and sexy Aphrodite uncovers the masks we call today human feelings. From the Wikipedia entry: Sigmund Freud [born Shlomo Sigismund Freud (May 6, 1856 – September 23, 1939)], was an Austrian physician who founded the psychoanalytic school of psychology. Freud is best known for his theories of the unconscious mind and the defense mechanism of repression and for creating the clinical practice of psychoanalysis for curing psychopathology through dialogue between a patient and a psychoanalyst. [tmc: One of the great problems of using Freud stems from his being Jewish in Old Catholic Austria and his first patients possibly coming from the State Hospital, female lower class commoners who may have had venereal decease.] His concepts of the unconscious mind and repression can easily be found in the suppressed manner of life of the middle ages peasant, particularly in the power struggle to exist between the Lord Baron and his serfs; often the indentured were owned by a bishop with an army … remember the bishop's hat (miter) is the symbol of the land owner of the 12th century … with those two cloth trailers remnant of the rain coat over the horse's rear.
It wouldn't be until the 1800's that women would begin to express themselves and seek privacy and love in the intimacy of what would become a private home, with a private room for herself and her husband. The institutional Roman Church may claim that reverence for the Virgin Mary brought about the dignity of the female. This I doubt as I consider the confusing concept of virgin-mother and the awareness that Susan B. Anthony has a U.S. coin in her honor for her courageous efforts for women's rights. The image of the half bare breasted woman storming the barricades during the French Revolution is not there for pornographic amusement; the female is fighting for freedom and her own home. The hunter-gatherer society began to fade when the woman wanted a more permanent place to live; there seems to be a constant battle between us males (still hunter/warriors) and the homemaker. What a loss when the RC continues to ace out women; like Susan B … they are coming!
History is replete with the story of good -vs- evil. I saw it clearly during my teen years as my widowed mother made for us a secure home filled with love; my mother's way of love was total expenditure of energy for the other. I witnessed her terror as my older brothers were drafted into military service to serve in World War Two. 2295 15th Street was not a house; it was a home and deep are my archetypes of warmth, protection and security and selfless love and sacrifice. Driving to San Francisco I pass the National Cemetery with its row upon row of ten/hundred thousand white marble headstones. As military chaplain I stood graveside for a hundred during the Vietnam crisis, today still stunned by the mystery of early meaningless death … this for another time … for now the imaginative picture of the "thousand" headstones being like the "million" sacramental signs with which the Creator has doted our world. We are blind not to see God's generosity, perhaps substituting something manmade that outshines the simplicity of God's simple sacramentalism. We/I are woefully unobservant and greatly ungrateful. I am aware that I live in an age of opportunity, a time to shift from a distant God to One close by — an intimate Lover. I need reread Michael Morwood's GOD IS NEAR. Jesus is one of God's human sign painters.
Jesus — the first teacher — wearer of the gender mask of mom or dad…
I prize greatly the role of teacher and I dangle before my imagination the words of THE KING AND I: "By your students you'll be taught" The first teacher of Christianity was Jesus himself; read again Emmaus, Luke 24 as this teacher of mysteries catches up with the "first" post-resurrection disciples (people who learn). Jesus continues to be the only teacher, filtering mysteriously in and out of the lives of those who will meet to discuss his way; this post-resurrection Jesus wears 10,000 masks (persona = Greek theater mask = disguises), he being easily spotted by gentleness, forgiveness, love, and understanding. I care little if Jesus were married to Magdalene for I accept him as wearing the gender mask of mom or dad, those sacramental human fixtures of daily life who so often receive no recognition for their grace; our Creator recognizes while religious institutions undervalue.
Perhaps God has made "him/her/it" self too simple for us to recognize easily; there is a Buddhist Monastery in Marin County (across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco) where high powered CEOs retreat for weekends to loose themselves in the glories of creation. I need not cross the Golden Gate Bridge, having only to sit still in my flowered back yard and take a few minutes to image the Polar Express racing right through my own home and my search for how I can discover a more godly presence in my wife and myself in this state we call marriage.
Hey mon … and womon! Today did the Polar Express ever leave the station? … maybe not but the challenge is on to look at my own marriage and that graceful opportunity to let God flower. Our first son was prepared for marriage by a celibate priest and I am curious as to what they use today of that instruction as parents of two tots. Second son will marry in Asian Tea ceremony before this is sent out from Australia; Phuong is Buddhist and Tommy non committed to institution. I see them entering a sacred experience; I sense they both have seen sacred signs in their early families of origin and the lives of many. When Tommy came down the birth canal on that Easter Sunday morning of 1979 and Dr. Nola handed him to me I knew I had sacramental godliness in my hands; Tommy's presence was far more sacred than the oil with which the bishop anointed my hands at ordination. No hand will be raised to bless their marriage; I see them blessed by the God presence in people who surround them. Canadian Phyllis can say 20 is the number and I will push that ten thousand fold.
I thank you, generous Creator.
Tom McMahon, San Jose, your humble son who is grateful for the gift of life and your sacred signs of Presence. HOLY GOD WE PRAISE THY NAME! 29/07/2008
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What are your thoughts on this commentary?