Contemplative thoughts upon returning from Israel

Love never fails. 

But where there are prophecies, they will cease; 
where there are tongues, they will be stilled; 
where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 

For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 
but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears... 

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; 
then we shall see face to face. 
Now I know in part;
then I shall know fully,
even as I am fully known.

- Corinthians 13:8-10, 12 (NIV)

This is the passage in my weekly email from Contemplative Outreach (Fr. Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O.), the organization that's bringing back contemplative prayer, a Christian version of meditation that finds its roots in the practices of the Desert Fathers.

Israel was an emotional trip for me, particularly the stunning Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth. The cult of Mary is one of the few redeeming features of Catholicism (not the Church) for me: the archetype of the God-mother in all its facets of Earth - fertility, birth, nurture, care, comfort, sacrifice, sorrow, fortitude... I use the pietà as a Twitter background image for that reason. 

In the imagery around Mary contributed by countries all over the world lies an otherworldly quietude and grace. It points towards the yearning for the indwelling spirit, the program for divine transformation we each carry within us. This is the Secret of Secrets: the mother's love for her child.

Below is the image contributed by Japan:


The other overwhelmingly emotional bit was our visit to the Western Wall. Rare are the places where you can sense such deep loss and sorrow. It opens the heart. 

The flip-side of Israel was the elevation of holy sites to a sort of Golden Calf idolatry. It echoes the worst of Christian literalism, the narrative overshadowing an ill-interpreted message. 

But I also sense that my contempt for the Church following the Pennsylvania report and the ongoing gay/trad civil war may blind me to the deep connection that others feel to Christians throughout the ages. 

And so we touched the Stone Handprint in Jerusalem (Via Dolorosa V) and felt a bit of that, too. 

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