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Posts Tagged ‘Schuntzen Museum Cologne’

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Don’t Get Lost in the Wilderness

”Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?”  So protested the Hebrews in Exodus 17: 3-7.  It wasn’t the first time that they’d cornered Moses with their complaints, and it wouldn’t be the last.  This time it was about the water, and the lack thereof.  Other times it was about the wretched food.  But I think more than anything else it was uncertainty about the future that fed their discontent.  Where in the world were they going?  When would they get there?  Would they ever get there?  Who knew?

Moses felt the stress too, and so it should come as no surprise that he repackaged their complaints and passed them on to God.  “What shall I do with this people?”  Clearly forty years in the desert were no picnic, and even Moses had to wonder how it would end.  Had he known that he would never set foot on the promised land he might have turned around and gone back to Egypt.  But he didn’t.

359E78ED-67A4-40AF-A4BA-DBE6095AEC8FWe all have our moments of uncertainty.  We have our doubts.  We have our spoken and unspoken fears about what will become of us.  And concern for the future can easily transform our days into aimless wandering through a metaphorical desert of our own making.

These moments dog the firmest of believers, but all the same many people are stunned when they realize that the most respected of saints can share the doubts of the ordinary believers.  People should not have been surprised to learn that Mother Theresa wandered through her own spiritual desert, for example; and yet they were.  In her letters and diaries Mother Theresa described long stretches in which God seemed absent from her life.  It left her desolate and spiritually alone;  and yet she kept up her routine of serving the poor and those in their final moments of life.  And in those determined moments she finally glimpsed once again the God who had been beside her all along.

Lent can be our own wandering in the desert.  It’s that planned digression during which we refocus on the source of meaning in our lives.  Are our days pointless?  Do the little decisions that we have to make each day have some purpose or direction, or not?  Lent is when we learn once again that even the baby steps and the smallest of gestures matter — and they matter because we are indeed headed somewhere with our lives.

1F59AAA8-5554-4747-8D70-9325598CC1DDOne of the great ironies of their forty-year trek through the wilderness was likely lost on the Israelites.  Most of them, like Moses — were not destined to set foot into the Holy Land.  But as sad as that may seem, what really matters is that they wasted so many of their days on complaining.  They frittered away the hours, because they never quite realized that the journey has as much meaning as reaching the destination does.

The same is true for us.  Easter is an ultimate goal, but walking with the Lord in the here and the now is when the path to meaning and fulfillment first takes on some clarity.  It’s when we slowly open our eyes to our destiny to be with God.  But we need not wait until Easter for the full vision of the risen Lord.  Why?  Because it’s on the paths of Lent where we discover that the Lord already walks beside us.

NOTES

+On March 24th I make a presentation on The Saint John’s Bible at Saint Philip in the Hills Church in Tucson, AZ.  It was a nice experience, though my only regret was that it had not come a month earlier when it was really cold in Minnesota.  This time I hated to leave, since this weekend the temperatures inched toward 50 degrees for the first time since November.  It was too nice to go.

43E140B2-66D3-4164-B063-6505A387489D+In the popular imagination Lent is a time for the doldrums, matching the dreary pre-spring landscape.  However, there are moments when deliberate breaks come in the liturgical calendar, and mid-March offers three feast days that effectively call a time-out in the season of penance.  On March 17th we celebrated the feast of Saint Patrick, with all the gusto that a once-German community of monks can muster.  On March 19th we celebrated the feast of Saint Joseph, and on March 21st we celebrated one of the two feast days of Saint Benedict.  There can never be enough of the latter in a Benedictine monastery, and so we also celebrate his memory on July 11th.

+March 25th just happens to be the feast of the Annunciation, which once again takes the liturgical focus away from Lent.  At the top of today’s post is a stained-glass panel of the Annunciation, made in the Lower Rhine, in ca. 1520.  Below that is a statue of Our Lady of Sorrows, carved in the Eastern Alps, ca. 1220-1230.  Next is Christ on the Cross, carved in Cologne in ca. 1370.  Finally, the bottom two photos are The Golden Panel from Saint Ursula, made in Cologne ca. 1170.  All of these items are housed today in the Schuntzen Museum in Cologne.

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Buried Talents

Better known for his reliance on nature and agriculture to color his parables, Jesus nonetheless did reference other topics every now and again.  Still, his allusions to the business world are few and far between, and that scarcity makes them all the more remarkable.  Small wonder, then, that his reference to banking in Matthew 25 raised my eyebrows when it showed up in the lectionary for last Saturday.

In that passage Jesus describes a householder who doled out resources to the servants, only to discover that one of them had buried the talents rather than risk losing them.  Jesus concludes with the enigmatic observation that it would be better to put the funds in the bank where they would draw interest rather than sit idly, not accomplishing much of anything for anybody.

37338264-697E-4CC3-93F1-6433C67A8E4BI note the enigma here because in the ancient Hebrew world usury — the charging of interest on a loan — was forbidden.  That ban transferred into the Christian experience, and only in the 13th century did Christian theologians find a way around the prohibition.

So does Jesus condone usury in this case?  Probably not.  But what he is suggesting is the gravity of any situation in which people bury their talents rather than risk using and then losing them.  Nothing justifies such waste, and in this case Jesus might very well be suggesting that it is an offense worse than usury.

Beyond that, I tease out one further inference from the banking world.  A loan from the bank is not a gift.  A loan is never meant to become the personal property of the recipient, and in fact the bank eventually does want its money back.  In the meantime the loan is meant to accomplish something worthwhile.  But it’s definitely not meant to be hidden away to be counted and admired — but not used.

The same is true with any of the talents that God gives to us.  They’re meant to be on loan, in hopes that we will do something useful with them.  They are not meant as gifts to be hoarded as personal property, because they are meant to be used in service to others.

I’m not going to start listing what I think are my own talents, but I will share one exercise that I do now and again to remind myself that I don’t live solely for my own benefit.  One of the easiest expressions of respect and support for others is the simple greeting I can give when I pass them in the hall.  Certainly there are moments when I don’t feel like doing it, but I also know that sometimes even a simple greeting of respect can make all the difference in the world to someone who may be down in the dumps.  That’s when I remind myself that holding back does no good for anyone.  It doesn’t make me a better person, nor does it make me richer.  If the truth be told, I’m actually diminished as a person when I refrain from doing the simple good that I can do.

1A6962AE-CB4D-4139-8471-42C8A7223D23Support for one another is in the power of us all, but it’s only one of the many talents God gives to us.  But that talent only becomes a gift when we give it away.

NOTES

+On September 1st I participated in the wedding of my friend, Pierre Brunel, in San Francisco.  It didn’t quite count as a destination wedding, since it was a practical meeting point for most everyone.  Only 25 of the 165 in attendance were from the Bay Area, while the rest came from France, the east coast of the United States, and Australia.  The bride, Natalie, and Pierre both live in Sydney, Australia, and there they will make their home.

+The other major event of the week was my visit with one of my confreres to the State Fair of Minnesota.  I had not been in years, and visits to the animal barns are my chief interest.  The highlight was the barn that showed newborns, including the lambs in the photo at bottom.

+The three photos above show art housed in the Schuntzen Museum in Cologne.  At top is a panel of stained glass, with John the Baptist at left, ca. 1528, originally in the Charterhouse in Breisgau.  Below that is a carving of John the Baptist, pointing to the Lamb of God, made ca. 1480 by Master Tilman.  Next is another statue, dated ca. 1425, by Hans von Judenburg.  At bottom are some newborn lambs of God, at the State Fair of Minnesota.

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