Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Born Anew

You have been born anew, not from perishable but from imperishable seed, through the living and abiding word of God, for: “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of the field; the grass withers, and the flower wilts; but the word of the Lord remains forever.” This is the word that has been proclaimed to you.  1 Peter 1:23-25

Jesus summoned them and said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Mark 10:42-45


QUERY:      Shall one then return

To the womb of his mother, reborn? 

JESUS:      As you said.  Earth, old basket-born

                        Hard-beaked hen

                        Wants you for egg.

                        I hereby (he scrawled

                        Inside his shell)

                        Attest to my first

                        Will & Testament.

                        I shall go forth

                        Bare assed as a new moon,

                        Stellar as baby Jesus.

                        Everyone’s sight and scandal.

                        Yes & No &

        The vast milky Perhaps between.  

 "Unless the See Falls: Underground" By Rev. Daniel Berrigan, SJ, from Chapter 10, To Dwell in Peace: An Autobiography, p. 241.


The recent passing of Rev. Daniel Berrigan, SJ, the various obituaries inspired me to add his autobiography -- “To Dwell in Peace” -- to my reading list.  The account of his boyhood on the Minnesota Iron Range and in the cold winters of upstate New York introduces us to his parents and five brothers.  His father was a gruff and powerful man in the family although not in civil society.  His mother, though, was the epitome of the humble servant raising her sons in the German and Irish traditions of their ancestors. 

Fr. Dan often remarks how his mother was happy not to be raising a daughter in the harsh conditions of her own life.  Today’s Gospel passage reminds me of the many mothers and grandmothers of that generation who served in silence, passing along a quiet faith to their children. 

My grandmother lived with us, intermittently, for years.  She and my mother had devised a kind of conspiracy of survival.  Busy about some task, they would converse for hours together, always in German, a language that served them, to all intents, as both comfort and cover. 

Against whom?  Against almost everything that, in such times and locales, made up the lives of women…[B]esides bearing large families, [they] washed and ironed clothing by hand, with water drawn from wells or springs or, when we were at the cabin, from a stream nearby.  The water was heated over fires that had to be built and stoked.  And because often as not, the clothing of the men had grit and filth ground into the fabric by their hand labor, the clothing had to be boiled in a copper cauldron, for hours. [i]

No one would mistake the Berrigan childhood for an easy life…add to the fact that the boyhood years were spent living in rustic cabins that were located in northern climates during the hard years of the Great Depression. 

And yet, and yet.  My mother rebelled. She rebelled in her own sweet way and place and time.  Not a leap into the void, but calculated, the results and risks weighed to a farthing. 

It was a slave rebellion.  She created, within the strait limits set by husband and church (she, being a believer, clung to both), a kind of slave culture; within it she breathed free; to its secret place she, on occasion, escaped.[ii]

The prevailing forces of this theological-political power structure forced members of immigrant families into a status quo existence.  Despite this harsh reality, these experiences also formed members of this greatest generation.  It is amazing to consider how and why this environment did not breed more priests, prophets and kings who rebelled in his or her own sweet way like Dan Berrigan and his mother. We certainly could have used more to guide our path on the way to peace.


Who has served in silence in your life? Parents, grandparents, siblings, spouse?  Teachers, coworkers, priests, politicians? 

Who has served in a vocal, prominent leadership role?  Parents, grandparents, siblings, spouse?  Teachers, coworkers, priests, politicians? 

We are not asked to take the seat of honor at the banquet but are asked to be the server like our quiet mothers and grandmothers. When can you next take that role again? 

[i] Berrigan, Daniel L.  To Dwell in Peace: An Autobiography.  New York: Harper & Row, Publishers. 1987.
[ii] Ibid.

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