Sunday quiet?

If I had been slightly more organized this Sunday morning, I would have walked down the hill in quiet solitude to catch a bus into Berkeley.  Instead, I will now hop in my car to make the short pilgrimage to All Souls Parish.  With a bit of preparation, I’ll arrive in a relatively unhurried state of mind.  Should I, however, putter around on my computer any further, I’ll arrive slightly late, wondering why I can’t be prepare myself properly for worship service.  The wheel turns again.

James Wood on the problem of evil

I enjoyed reading James Wood’s essay on the problem of evil in the New Yorker. He captured well at the end of the essay a question I’ve had for a long time, namely, why do we have go through life on earth when we have heaven as the ultimate destination? If it’s the exercise of human free will that enables evil to take hold on earth, how will heaven not be earth redux in which freedom will lead again to a fall? And if heaven is some special place in which freedom is fully consonant with the impossibility of human evil, then why does God put us on earth in the first place? Or maybe we won’t be truly free in heaven at all.

I’ve never seen a satisfactory answer to the question that Wood poses. The essay made me think that it would be a great idea for New College Berkeley or my church First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley to host a class — or at least a talk — on the topic.

Westminster House in the NY Times

It’s nice to see an implicit mention of Westminster House, a Presbyterian campus ministry on whose board I served for six year, in Matters of Faith Find a New Prominence on Campus – New York Times:

    At Harvard, more students are enrolling in religion courses and regularly attending religious services, Professor Gomes said. Presbyterian ministries at Berkeley and Wisconsin have built dormitories to offer spiritual services to students and encourage discussion among different faiths. The seven-story building on the Wisconsin campus, which will house 280 students, is to open in August.

Jesus and Evangelical Power conference

Although I missed most of the Jesus and Evangelical Power conference, held on October 27-29, 2006 at First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, I attended Ruth Padilla DeBorst’s second presentation of Too Close to the US and Too Far From God (mp3). As I noted on the conference blog,
I was intrigued by her comment about how the export of genetically
modified food into her country has driven out a lot of local farming
(since local farmers would have to buy patented seeds). I was looking
for confirmation that I heard her correctly and substantiation of her
claims. Some other commenters followed up, pointing to:

I’m hoping that the blog will soon be restructured to better facilitate
discussion around particular talks. I’m also looking forward to
listening to the talks, which are all available for download as mp3s.

Silences

Yesterday morning, as I meandered from one thought to another, the
words “Be still, and know that I am God” registered on my
consciousness. As I quieted myself, I found a clarity of mind and focus
of action that I am wont to attribute to divine action. Silence on my
part is often a prerequisite for communing with God. What happens
though when God is not be found — or to be heard — when we actively
search for God, whether in quiet or in silence? The theme for
yesterday’s sermon at First Pres Berkeley (based on Job 23)
was precisely such silence of God. Mark Labberton’s sermon induced the
scribbling of a lot of quotes, questions, phrases, pregnant phrases on
my notepad. Let me share a few:

  • Job 23 as a counterpoint to the proverbial wisdom tradition in which you will have a good life if you do right.

  • Job’s friends marshalled all the arguments of proverbial wisdom in an attempt to set Job right.

  • How did Job know that he was righteous? Aren’t we all less than
    righteous? Is that type of righteousness what Job was thinking about?

  • I don’t think that I’ve ever been plunged in the “dark night of the soul”, that Jobian darkness.

  • The silences in Yosujiro Ozu’s films came to my mind. The previous
    day, Laura and I had just seen silences in Ozu, who came to my mind
    because of our seeing Café Lumière,
    Hsiao-hsien Hou’s tribute to Ozu. I found a lot of Hou’s silences
    unbearable, while Ozu’s silences were illuminating. Why is that? Are
    some of God’s silences unbearable while others are illuminating?

  • The choir had just sung Ich harre des Herrn, meine Seele harret, und ich boffe auf sein Wort from Bach’s Cantata 131 (BWV 131) (Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir.) (Out of the depths I cry to thee, o Lord. Lord, hear my voice!). What suitable accompaniment to the day’s sermon.

  • All this reflection makes me once again deeply aware of my own
    acute vulnerability. God does not explain or even justify His silences.
    He provides no satsifying answers other than the ultimate, eventual
    assurance that things will be set right….eventually.

  • In the face of such vulnerability, we need to live in the here and now and live in hope.

  • Jesus provide his own share of odd silences. Eg., with Lazarus, Mary and Martha.

  • In Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, Jesus is ostensibly one of the star
    singers. Yet he doesn’t sing very much. At the beginning, he sings
    beautifully, reassuringly. Then he falls silent very soon into the
    Passion.

  • In the face of global suffering on mind-staggering scale, how can I not expect to suffer too?

  • In silence, we “face the reality of our own mortality” (ML)

  • Milosz expresses the transience of the moment with poignancy. See, for example, Czeslaw Milosz – Poetry: Encounter