Wednesday, October 29, 2014

How Green Tomatoes Made Me Think Of Original Sin, the Eucharist, and Hope

Not mine, but mine look just like that.
I was making green tomato pickles the other day, a new experiment forced by a motherload of small green tomatoes and a dying sun.  Green tomatoes are humble little creatures, to put it mildly.  I love them fried, but these were too tiny to fry in nice big slices.  So I got on the internet and voila: green tomato pickle recipes.

That's when things got theological.

(Admittedly, with me, it doesn't take much.)

I pulled out ingredients in this recipe to make rag tag leftover inedible fruits into something my hungry kids would eat, and the first ingredient: water with salt.  In our case, blessed salt.  Hmmm.

Add the washed inedible throwaway fruit.  Some peppercorns and garlic cloves for a kick.

Then throw in a generous number of mustard seeds.  As in "The kingdom of heaven is like."

Submerge fruit.  Cover.  Wait.

Aha. Transformation.

When we are baptized--submerged--with the water and exorcised with the salt, the kingdom of God is introduced.  It is tiny, perfect, round like a mustard seed.  But seeds don't stay seeds.  They change things.

In the case of the green tomato, something stunted becomes something wonderful--crunchy, tart, well-loved.

In the case of us...maybe we're still waiting to find out.  But reminding ourselves that we humble, stunted with sin creatures are submerged in God's transforming work, for his Kingdom, is a good thing.  We take on flavor of the salt, the water, the Kingdom.  Until one day, we are fully changed.


One thing I haven't talked about regarding the Theology of the Body is eating.  There is a lot to work with there, too.  Emily Stimpson addresses food and eating and sacramentality in These Beautiful Bones, and Mary DeTurris Poust doesn't address John Paul II's Theology of the Body perspective explicitly, but does excellent reflection on the subject of defining true desires in Cravings: a Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image, and God.  The end of a blog post is not the place begin considering that huge subject.  But the same week, while I'm making pickles, there is a mission at a local parish, and I attend.  It is on eucharistic adoration (and what I was able to attend was great).  The two priests giving the mission gave talks on the theology of eucharistic adoration, how to pray with Scripture at adoration, the saints' recourse to it, etc.

But one piece of it struck me hard, and it was this: "Why does anyone think it is crazy that our Lord would veil himself through the appearance of bread?  He wants to save us from our first parents' choice to eat veiled death!  He does this crazy thing to tempt us to take in life, for life, eternal life.  He gives himself to us in the most natural manner we can accept--almost everyone on earth knows how to eat.  It is a necessity.  We must eat to live.  He needs to give us the medicine of veiled Life, the veiled Christ.  There is no trickery.  He tells us flat out: This is my body; this is my blood.  There was little trickery for Adam and Eve: they knew what they were doing was wrong, God said they would die is they ate it.  The veil is no trick at all, but it is a bit of a test: do you believe God's word or not?  In the Gospel of John, chapter 6, Jesus announces "I am the true bread, come down from heaven...whoever eats this bread will live forever."  And people grumbled, disciples left Jesus (keep in mind this comes right after the multiplication of the loaves and Jesus walking on water--and some left anyway)--and Jesus turns to the twelve, and asks 'will you also leave?'"

It was the one word from the Son of God that some could not trust...could not handle the mystery of it...God wants to give you life, wants to save you from an inheritance of death,  But you will have to trust him and eat what he points to--his body and blood, true bread and true drink.

Angels can't do that.  They are entirely spiritual beings.  But humans can.  It is a gift of our embodiment, that we can share in God in this act of communion and trust.

Well, back to the stunted green tomatoes, rescued from the creeping frost.  The green tomatoes aren't veiled anything...just an extended metaphor of an overly theological cook.  But trust God to transform.  What looks hopeless may change remarkably with water, salt, and the Kingdom of God tucked into it.  The Lord indeed works in mysterious ways.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Teaching college/seminary theology next semester? Need a ToB book?

I was politely reminded by my own campus bookstore that book lists for Spring courses are due at the end of this month.


If you are in the same boat, I humbly ask you if you want to consider using Theology of the Body, Extended.  I'm a teacher at heart--and this book was created to contribute to a conversation, but also for classroom use.  The first chapter is an introductory review of the literature--mostly, what makes John Paul II's Theology of the Body "tick"--and the next chapters consider what it would look like to apply ToB insights to the foundational human experiences of giving birth, living impaired, and dying.  It is a theological anthropology with a definite pastoral edge for those teaching seminarians or pastoral theologians, and the tone is "readable academic" enough to be used in a college level theology course.

The book has also been of real interest to those working in the Theology of Disability and those doing hospice work.

If you are interested, you can read the first chapter and learn how to buy the book here.  The exam copy policy is here.  And if the book doesn't quite suit for your classroom use, I know Lectio Publishing would be thrilled if you could get your university or seminary library to order the book as a resource for their research.  As a "New Kid on the Block" publisher, they are in the midst of creating those institutional connections.  You could help them out!

Thanks, everyone!

--Susan Windley-Daoust

My Obligatory Synod on the Family Post

A few people have asked me my opinion on the Synod on the Family occurring in Rome this week and next.   I'll admit I have been quiet in part because of being sick with the flu, revising a book, and generally being swamped with work and (ironically!) family.  But...synods do not lend themselves to "breaking news."  It's a time for reflection and consultation, for checking in as a global Church.  While it is truly wonderful that there is a synod currently devoted to this issue, it seems appropriate to me that what I want to say on this subject, I said two years ago...and in more depth in the Theology of the Body, Extended book:

What happens if  we lose the "Family as Sign"?

I would only add one point to that post: the reason so many people want to claim the word family is because it is primordially important.  It is the core social group of our society, and created by God as such.  The reality that people want to name social groups as "families" that stretch (at best) the definition is a backhand way of acknowledging that the idea of family is primordially important, and of high value.  This point gives me sympathy for people who are accused of trying to "hijack" the langauge: they recognize the primordial expression of love and community, and they want it as well.  Maybe not in the best ways.  But, deep down, they recognize the goodness of family.  After all, people who grow up in dysfunctional families usually go to great lengths to create or name a new family (a gang, a school, a clique, a sexual relationship started too young, etc.).

I hope the synod speaks truth in love as to how to recognize the goodness of the sign of the family...and encourages us all to live it honestly, supporting families who are struggling.  There are many, and I would surmise every family struggles at one point.  I hope the synod points to the sign and gives families needed hope, courage, and concrete help in living their vocation as domestic church.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A New Book....

Hello. everyone!  My silence is more than being reflective or generally busy.  I have been writing a new book!  (Explains the circles under my eyes too....)

I'm in the final stages of a draft of what I am calling Giving and Receiving Birth: a spiritual theology of childbirth.  I have my spiritual director hat on, and am offering Catholic women a way to reflect prepare for and reflect upon their childbearing as a sign that points to God.  After all, if the body was created as a "pre-given language of self-giving and fruitfulness," (Waldstein) childbirth is a privileged place to reflect upon our life as we participate in the Holy Spirit.  He is, after all, the Lord and Giver of Life.

I address this in some academic depth in Theology of the Body, Extended...but this is angled more specifically to new mothers.  The book is broken into small chapters meant to serve as daily musings on how to "perceive" the spiritual nature of childbirth, stage by stage, with spiritual exercises and reflections.

To that end, here is a very short reflection that I just cut.  (I cut it because it had been covered elsewhere in the book, and better.) It gives you a flavor of the book to come, with more birth stories to flesh things out.  Enjoy... and anticipate more coming!

Preparing to give birth: how can I pray in and through unexpected complications?This is for women who have not yet given birth, but are using this book to pray through their pregnancy.  Although we’ve spent time considering what the signs of birth look like, according to broad patterns, it’s best to be honest: not all births fit the pattern.  Most do, but some don’t.  What do you do then?

Remember the three spiritual keys in the process: 1) Give God permission to work in your life and relax, 2) Cooperate with God’s intention to realize your motherhood through your body now (be ready to give), and 3) Yield to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  When the birth process seems to throw you a curve ball--the unexpected--it is time to lean on yielding to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

It sounds so easy, but it may not be.  At best these “curve balls” can be confusing and disorienting.  At worst they can be frightening.

Remember these things:
1)      It is wise to ask the Holy Spirit to help your medical team and other supports offer good advice and make good decisions for you and the baby.
2)     Sometimes people pray in a way I call “wrapping prayer”: you ask the Holy Spirit to wrap you and the baby in His protection.  You can imagine this as you like, including being covered in cloak.  You may even bring, or re-purpose, a blanket or shawl to be used in this way, as a reminder.  Scripture has many examples of using clothing as a form of spiritual protection.3)     Often the Holy Spirit is called the Sustainer, and that may be most appropriate now.  Pray, or have your husband or doula pray, for His sustenance and protection.
4)     Listen, or if you cannot listen, have your husband and/or doula listen.  What is the medical team saying?  What are the medical options in moving forward?  You can only make the best decision you can under the circumstances; God and no one else expects any more than that.  You can ask for peace as a sign of a good decision, and often it is given.  But if the decision needs to be made quickly, do it, and leave it in the hands of God.

Whatever happens, God is present.  God loves this child and you.  Whatever happens, that never changes.  He will give you what you most truly need.