Saturday, February 23, 2008

Father Lawrence Martin Jenco

The recent shootings in DeKalb, Illinois have stirred up all sorts of memories of the time I spent there. One of the most vivid was the time that Father Jenco came to speak at the Newman Center in the early 1990's. Seeing the photos of the stained glass windows there at "N.I.U. Mourns" brought it back to me.

For those not old enough to remember, Father Lawrence Martin (Marty) Jenco was one of the American hostages held in Beirut, Lebanon in the 1980's. He suffered unspeakable torture, along with other hostages, such as Terry Anderson, while he was held at various locations for 564 days, before he was finally released. Father Jenco celebrated mass whenever he could, even if all he had was a pile of dust to consecrate, and he prayed with a rosary he wove out of threads from a sack. After his release, he wrote a book called Bound to Forgive about his experiences as a hostage and how and why he came to forgive those who captured, guarded, and tortured him.

I cannot even begin to describe what it was like to hear him speak. You can get something of a sense of his quiet voice and demeanor from the video (although unfortunately the interviewer cut him off in places he should not have). Also, this excerpt from the epilogue of his book gives some sense of his perspective:
Some people advise me to forgive and forget. They do not realize that this is almost impossible. Jesus, the wounded healer, asks us to forgive, but he does not ask us to forget. That would be amnesia. He does demand we heal our memories.
I don’t believe that forgetting is one of the signs of forgiveness. I forgive, but I remember. I do not forget the pain, the loneliness, the ache, the terrible injustice. But I do not remember it to inflict guilt or some future retribution. Having forgiven, I am liberated. I need no longer be determined by the past. I move into the future free to imagine new possibilities.
and this other part quoted from his book:

"It may be because one guard would kneel on my pancreas with his full weight that I went through acute pancreatitis recently. And I have a 20% hearing loss [due to my treatment in captivity]. There are all kinds of pain we enter into in our lives. But I don't want to lug my pain on so that it becomes the focal point of my history." . . . .
"My history," as he put it, "is much more than 564 days in Lebanon."

(from this sermon on Atonement by Steve Edington).

What was remarkable about listening to Father Jenco in person was how extraordinarily difficult it was for him to recount both what happened and how he came to reach forgiveness. He told us that he was not going to be making many more appearances -- it took so much out of him -- yet he spoke at great length, with no notes. There was nothing sugar-coated or preachy or pretense to somehow have risen above and put aside all that had happened -- it was raw and painful and so deeply full of Christ that it was almost unbearable (as awful as that sounds) to listen to what he said to say.

Some days when I think that there is nothing left of Christianity but bickering over words and concepts, it will be good to remember Father Jenco, who brought Jesus in the flesh to us all that night in DeKalb. It is one of many memories I have deeply embedded in that place.

DeKalb Update

Students are returning to the N.I.U. campus where classes will resume on Monday. Since the shootings occurred on February 14, 2008, I have been following the reports in the local newspaper, The Daily Chronicle. [In one of my past lives, I delivered bundles of their papers to drop-off sites]. They have created a special section of their website entitled "Campus Loss" to collect stories and photos.

Of all the information collected, there has been little that to shed light on why the tragedy occurred. ("Shooter's Motive Still Undetermined"). Meanwhile, two of the victims are still hospitalized and are only listed in "fair" condition.

There have been numerous gatherings, formal and informal, in the community for prayer, silence, and solidarity. Students and staff at Virginia Tech have gathered as well and offered whatever help they can to those at N.I.U.

A couple things caught my eye in reading about how the community has responded over the past ten days. First is how people tend to invent or elaborate tangible ways to grieve and reflect, including candlelight vigils, gatherings, and wearing ribbons. A cynic might wonder at such an outpouring over such a brief burst of violence compared to that which occurs daily in other places around the world. Yet to fail to react with horror and want to stop and mourn and wonder at being left alive would somehow be less than fully human. It seems to take standing, kneeling, whispers, hugs, and flowers and ribbons to carry everyone forward together.

But how awkward is it if one has no religious practices, let alone beliefs, to act it out. I had to smile at the sudden flurry to manufacture ribbons to wear -- red ribbon, the school color, with white Huskies paw prints imprinted, placed on top of a black ribbon. Yet I did so with some understanding of the time when I struggled so with the more Catholic gestures when I began attending an Episcopal church. I knew I did not have to adopt them but I wondered a lot about how and why they were used until I happened to see a t.v. news report of Jackie Kennedy's funeral, with her children, the cousins, and the whole family filing by her casket, each crossing themselves and ending by touching their hand on it. Then it all made perfect sense to me, movement and touching.

Of course in the early days following the tragedy at N.I.U., it was the few religious who remained in town who knew exactly what to do. Kate, a Daily Chronicle photographer, gave a moving account of a church gathering the first night in this blog entry, where she wrote:
I took some photographs with the reserve and respect I would have liked to have if I were one of the worshippers at the church, but it seemed many of the other photographers did not have that personal restriction. As I approached a group of students to learn their names after taking their photos, the last man asked me if I would be interested in praying with them. Without hesitation, I put down my notepad, pen and camera and kneeled beside my fellow DeKalb residents. I felt at that moment, that was exactly where I should have been and I cried. I cried for the victims, I cried for the families and I cried for the students who displayed such conviction to pray and be in the company of fellow mourners that they didn’t mind having a 300mm lens shoved directly in their faces. The students at Wellspring Chapel truly showed courage and pure intent Thursday night and I will forever remember them for their composure and their understanding.
As Mad Priest would say, what a brick that Kate is.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Cantique de Jean Racine

Maitrise du Puy et Choeur Régional

Cantique de Jean Racine by Gabriel Fauré
Verbe, égal au Très-Haut, notre unique espérance,
Jour éternel de la terre et des cieux;
De la paisible nuit nous rompons le silence,
Divin Sauveur, jette sur nous les yeux!

Répands sur nous le feu de ta grâce puissante,
Que tout l'enfer fuie au son de ta voix;
Dissipe le sommeil d'une âme languissante,
Qui la conduit à l'oubli de tes lois!

O Christ, sois favorable à ce peuple fidèle
Pour te bénir maintenant rassemblé.
Reçois les chants qu'il offre à ta gloire immortelle,
Et de tes dons qu'il retourne comblé!
(source and text of translation)

While this version is not complete, it is the best I could find on YouTube. After having heard the more amateur ones, I'm going to vow to practice much harder the next time we do this. Too late for this year (it was this past Sunday's anthem). I'm no expert, but this clip has the kind of heavenly sounds I at least hear in my head when we are singing it.

Wiki provides this full version here, but I do not think it is as rich as the one above from the du Puy choir.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Like as the Hart

Tonight was choir rehearsal. I love this and cannot get it out of my mind. Please join me and listen to

Herbert Howells' Like as the Hart

Like as the hart desireth the waterbrooks :
so longeth my soul after thee, O God.
My soul is athirst for God, yea, even for the living God :
when shall I come to appear before the presence of God?
My tears have been my meat day and night :
while they daily say unto me, Where is now thy God?

Psalm 42:1-3

Monday, February 18, 2008

In praise of the Non-Allied

Desiderius Erasmus. By Hans Holbein the younger.
Wiki (Source:

I have been thinking about allegiances, of late. There seem to be such deep divisions all around, within the church, at various levels, over in the secular world, especially those between Obama and Clinton supporters, and in the perceptions of the supposed divide between the secular and religious spheres of life, as if people inhabit only one or the other. I find myself often shying away from allegiances of all kinds, partly because I resist being on the inside of any group or cause. This has always been the case with me, and it is an open question (to me, at least) how much of it has to do with my dissecting mind and how much is sheer cantankerousness.

This weekend I did not want to think much about anything, but faced with the excruciating boredom of spending twelve hours in an indoor soccer center 100 miles from home, I went to my bag of books in the car and pulled out Huizinga's Erasmus and the Age of Reformation, the only non-fiction (all I can take in noisy soccer centers) I could find. I bought it before Christmas when helping my daughter look for books on Erasmus to write a book review for European History. She ended up selecting Roland Bainton instead of Huizinga, so I've been carrying the latter around, trying to recall what it was about Erasmus that fascinated me so when I was her age (and incidentally what I enjoyed about reading Huizinga in studying the Middle Ages in college).

Of course this morning I cannot find the passages that caught my eye at the soccer center. I was, however, reminded of how Erasmus was much maligned, both during and after his lifetime, for neither siding firmly with the Lutherans or the Catholics. And, with that in mind, and the recent excerpts from Kant and Locke in the "From Beyond the Grave" series over at The Lead, I offer the following:
But that reserve or fear of directness is not merely a negative quality. It also results from a consciousness of the indefiniteness of the ground of all things, from the awe of the ambiguity of all that is. If Erasmus so often hovers over the borderline between earnestness and mockery, it is not only due to cautiousness, and fear to commit himself. Everywhere he sees the shadings, the blending of the meaning of words. The terms of things are no longer to him, as to the man of the Middle Ages, as crystals mounted in gold, as stars in the firmament. 'I like assertions so little that I would easily take sides with the sceptics wherever it is allowed by the inviolable authority of Holy Scripture and the Church.' 'What is exempt from error? All subtle contentions of theological speculation arise from a dangerous curiosity and lead to impious audacity. What have all the great controversies about the Trinity and the Virgin Mary profited? 'We have defined so much that without danger to our salvation might have remained known or undecided.... The essentials of our religion are peace and unanimity. These can hardly exist unless we make definitions about as few points as possible and leave many questions to individual judgement. Numerous problems are now postponed till the oecumenical Council. It would be much better to put off such questions till the time when the glass shall be removed and the darkness cleared away, and we shall see God face to face.'
Johan Huizanga, Erasmus and the Age of Reformation (E. Hopman, trans.), New York: Dover 2001 (translation published 1957, original work published 1924), at p.116.

And, thanks to to Jane R, whose mind often seems to intersect mine somehow, who brought us all this Night Prayer by Erasmus to start our week:
Lord Jesus Christ,
you are the gentle moon and joyful stars,
and watch over the darkest night.
You are the source of all peace,
reconciling the whole universe to the Father.
You are the source of all rest,
calming troubled hearts,
and bringing sleep to weary bodies.
You are the sweetness that fills our mind with quiet joy,
and can turn the worst nightmares into dreams of heaven.
May I dream of your sweetness,
rest in your arms,
be at one with your Father,
and be comforted in the knowledge
that you always watch over me.
Desiderius Erasmus (1469-1536)

For Clumber