Nightly rehearsal for resurrection

There’s this Jewish prayer I like very much called the Hashkiveinu.

Here’s the text of it:

Lie us down to peace, Adonai our God, and raise us up to life, our king (protector), and spread over us the shelter of your peace, and direct us with good advice before You, and save us for the sake of your name, and look out for us, and keep enemies, plagues swords, famines, and troubles from our midst, and remove Satan from in front of us and from behind us, and cradle us in the shadow of your wings, for You are God who guards us and saves us, for You are God. Our gracious and merciful king (protector). Guard our departure and our arrival to life and to peace, from now and ever more.

Isn’t it remarkable to contemplate being “raised up to life” before falling asleep?

Yes, there is the hope in being raised to “this same life” the following morning. But the prayer is also evocative of being raised to everlasting life. As sleep seems to be a death but actually leads to a new day, so death seems to be an end but leads to resurrection.

Photo: First or second century Jewish tomb at Emmaus in Israel

Wearing your mortality on your sleeve

This evening I attended a brief talk by one of the students in my residence on the particularities of the Orthodox Church. It was an interesting overview and one of the things that caught my attention (because of the photos in his slideshow) was the feature of the clergy wearing black.

Doing a bit of research online afterwards, I found this explanation offered for it:

The color black indicates spiritual poverty – it is historically the easiest and cheapest color to dye fabric with. Moreover, black is a color of mourning and death for the priest, the symbolism is dying to oneself to rise and serve the Lord as well as giving witness of the Kingdom yet to come. Black is associated with sorrow but in the case of priestly robe this color has another symbolic meaning. A black cassock is to remind a priest that he ‘dies to the world’ every day and immerses in eternity. Blackness also symbolizes giving up bright colors and thus giving up what the world brings, its glittering, honors and entertainment. Also, as an Archpriest once pointed out to me, stains are readily visible on black, reminding the priest that he is held to a higher standard. His sins and failings will be more visible and judged harsher, than those of other people. In our very secular world, the wearing of the cassock continues to be a visible sign of belief and of the consecration of one’s life to the service of the Lord and His Church.

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The Valley of the Dry Bones: Genocide and Resurrection

This is a throwback post to my Reflections on Rwanda Genocide Study Trip in May 2012

In May 2012, I travelled on the Reflections on Rwanda program, a two-week trip for Canadian students to visit the Republic of Rwanda and study the genocide that occurred there in 1994. The purpose for studying genocide is to gain insight into human nature through studying the extremes in human action. Listening to the stories of rescuers and survivors prompts me to study the virtues required to affirm the sanctity of human persons.

Confronting profound evil is a difficult experience that challenges my faith. We toured dozens of memorial sites throughout the country. Many of these sites were former churches where people had fled seeking refuge and peace. At each site, we saw hundreds of skulls and bones of victims. Looking at those skulls and bones, I thought about my own skull and my own bones. I thought about how these bones and skulls fall short of truly representing the victims. What the skulls and bones do emphasize is equality, but what they deemphasize is individuality. When I observed a display with rosaries and identity cards among the skulls, it made me think about the dynamism of the life that once animated those bodies that were so violently destroyed.

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A Moment for Anonymous Heroes

I am obsessed with the stories of noble lives and acts of heroism.

In particular, I have been very focused on stories of heroism during the Second World War, particularly in the context of the Holocaust.

I cannot imagine my sustained engagement with the history of the Holocaust if not for the stories of the Righteous Among the Nations, who risked their lives to save Jews, as well as many other stories of courage and martyrdom.

These lights illuminate the darkness, clarify it and, to some modest extent possible, dispel it.

What I have begun thinking about more recently is how many stories of heroism are unknown to us and can never be known.

The stories that we have are a sliver of the humanity that persisted in the most dehumanizing of contexts.

Yet, there are surely many more stories that were snuffed out before they could edify successive generations.

The stories that we do know can help us exercise our imagination about what might have constituted noble and courageous responses in dire circumstances.

Can we let ourselves also be fortified by the confidence that there were also many anonymous heroes?

The facts of their righteousness may be known only to God, but the confidence that they existed can be known to us in hope.

Photo: Wall of Death at Auschwitz

Declaration of Dependence

The other day a friend of mine shared this profound aphorism from Nicolás Gómez Dávila which says:

Death is the unequivocal sign of our dependence.
Our dependence is the unequivocal foundation of our hope.

In 1993, a Canadian Supreme Court judge included the following statement in his decision:

“Although palliative care may be available to ease the pain and other physical discomfort which she will experience, the appellant fears the sedating effects of such drugs and argues, in any event, that they will not prevent the psychological and emotional distress which will result from being in a situation of utter dependence and loss of dignity.”


Here “utter dependence” is conflated with a “loss of dignity”, not the foundation of our hope.

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“Prepare Yourself for An Ordeal”

Fr. Mark Goring, CC of the parish I attended in Ottawa likes to preach often on the first verse of the second chapter of the Book of Sirach which says, “My child, if you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal.”

It is a startling sentence when we stop to think about it because most of the time we go through life trying to prepare ourselves for loving relationships, meaningful successes, a reasonable amount of prosperity, and an abundance of opportunities.

What, if anything, are we doing to prepare ourselves for an ordeal, for tests, for trials?

What young person, on being asked what he or she is doing or hopes to do, will respond that they are preparing themselves to suffer hardships honourably?

And yet, the verse above speaks about “preparing yourself” – not even being prepared simply by God or by circumstances – but intentionally and resolutely preparing yourself for the tests and trials of life that are sure to come.

What difference would it make if we set ourselves up not only for success but for ordeals?

And, what sort of education and training constitute such preparation?

Heschel: “Prepare a spiritual income for old age”

There is a marvellous little essay called “To Grow in Wisdom” in Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book The Insecurity of Freedom: Essays on Human Existence.

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Hope is death’s counterweight

This evening I was reading some of the poetry of Karol Wojtyła and came across a poem called “Hope Reaching Beyond the Limit.”

Take a look at these excerpted lines:

Hope rises in time
from all places subject to death—
hope is its counterweight.
The dying world unveils its life again
in hope.

[…]

But death is the experience of the limit,
it has something of annihilation,
I use hope to detach my own self,
I must tear myself away
to stand above annihilation.
And then from all sides they call and will call out:
“You are mad, Paul, you are mad.” [Acts 26:24]
I wrestle with myself,
with so many others I wrestle for my hope.

We need to exercise our disposition to hope.

Looking forward to the future.
Seeing the possibility of new generations.
Delighting in the glorious unpredictability of human affairs.

Otherwise, the limits of this life can “annihilate” our spirit.

What do you do to stand beyond the limits?

What do you do to wrestle for your hope?

Where are your wounds?

Thanks to a dear friend of mine who recommended this fantastic episode of The Rubin Report in which David Rubin speaks with Bishop Robert Barron and Rabbi David Wolpe about what Easter and Passover teach us about freedom and hope.

I am equally recommending the episode and could not be more impressed by the quality of Jewish-Catholic relations presented in this cordial and substantive conversation.

In the course of the discussion, Rabbi Wolpe says, “This South African author, Alan Paton, has a beautiful scene in one of his novels about a guy who goes to heaven and he comes before God and God says, ‘Where are your wounds?’ And he says, ‘I don’t have any wounds.’ And God says, ‘Why? Was there nothing worth fighting for?'”

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