Saturday, December 20, 2014

Lost in a Sonic Boom

"Giving the speed of sound the slip; has cracked the air like a penny whip."—John Updike

I hate flying, but I love the sound of jets overhead. I love the sounds of interstates when I’m in a motel room in some barren uptown. Like urban fireflies, cigarettes glimmer in the parking lot on a Thursday night when all the salesmen are fast asleep. And I love highways when I wake up on a Greyhound and it is first light in the heart of nowhere, when I’m at a truck stop whose retro-wonder I'd drink in if the bus wasn't leaving and I had more than five minutes to finish breakfast and brush my teeth.

It's a safe feeling, somehow, to be nowhere. And the sound is the only thing that makes it safe, the assurance that there is a plan that everyone else is going too.
I love the military base near me. I could never live there anymore, but I love the sounds it makes at night as a pretty pink sky sweeps away the contrails. I love stepping out of my small and slow life into a place where if I crumpled up and died I would be impossible to differentiate from a lost plastic bag of refuse tipped out across the gutter of some dirt filled wash with creosote and no human faces. Hey, the whole high desert, the residential blankness; the calmness of simply not existing.
To the casual observer I look no different from any other person, just another gray face in a gray world. But to those of us who have endured the forges there will always be an unspoken bond, and I will identify the pale pockmarks of my friends as if they were my own reflections. There is no universal insight magically granted to those who have been raised in the military, but my time there guarantees one thing - I will never be connected with those cold souls who risk nothing and therefore gain nothing.

Hummingbirds emerge in my yard and I wonder where they came from. And I don't finish the thought because I go inside and they evaporate. I am so fleeting, with my spirit chasing the passions I dreamed up, and I tear like roaring jets towards nothing. It feels good to rush toward nothing. But it feels best in the core of that squall, when I hear the rushing all around and I am standing still, flickering like a cigarette and aiming my guts at oblivion.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

It is accomplished

Eucharist and Orders, Fruits of the Spirit

For Holy Thursday 1998 as a part of his preparation for the Holy Year of 2000 John Paul II writes in a letter to his priests:

In tender and mysterious language, the Gospel of John tells the story of the first Holy Thursday, when the Lord, at table with his disciples in the Upper Room, "having loved his own who were in the world, loved them to the end" (13:1). To the end! : until, that is, the institution of the Eucharist, which anticipates not only Good Friday and the sacrifice of the Cross but the entire Paschal mystery. At the Last Supper, Jesus takes bread in his hands and for the first time utters the words of consecration: "This is my body which will be given up for you". Then, over the chalice filled with wine, he proclaims the words of consecration: "This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven," and he adds: "Do this in memory of me". Thus, in the Upper Room and without the shedding of blood, Christ completes the Sacrifice of the New Covenant, which will be accomplished in blood on the following day, when he will say on the Cross: " Consummatum est " - "It is accomplished" ( Jn 19:30).

Eloi, Eloi Lema Sabchthani

Translated this means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" and according to Mark and Matthew this phrase is a citation of the Hebrew or Aramaic text of Psalm 22:1. It is one of several allusions to Psalm 22 in the narratives of the death of Jesus. There are six other utterances from Christ on the cross as noted by the Gospel writers. "I thirst," 1 "Father, forgive them," 2 "Woman, behold your son; here is your mother," 3 "Today you will be with me in Paradise," 4 "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me," 5 " Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit," 6 and "It is accomplished."7

Each evangelist presents the death of Jesus from his own perspective. For Mark, the death of Jesus was the occasion for the unveiling of the messianic secret. Only at the crucifixion could he be acknowledged as the Son of God 8 Mark may have been offsetting the view that exaggerated the miracles as revelations of Christ's divinity. For Matthew, the cross was Israel's rejection of the Messiah. Because of it, God's judgment came upon the nation at the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. 9 For Luke the death of Jesus at Calvary and his following assumption into heaven 10constituted a major crossroad in the account of salvation, launching a new period of the church and its widespread mission. This period would be go on to be covered in the book of Acts.

However the Gospel of John progresses like a pendulum. It opens by proclaiming, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God" Then the story arcs in a descending sweep, as the Word becomes flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. The earliest disciples accepted Jesus cheerfully. They dubbed him as Rabbi, Messiah, Son of God, and King of Israel, and jovially went along with him to Cana's wedding feast. But the pendulum kept on plunging, as people became more and more bewildered, cynical, and unreceptive to Jesus' claims; they charged that he was a blasphemer, tried to stone him, and finally they pulled out all the stops and began plotting his execution. The low point comes in the middle of the gospel, when Jesus' public ministry comes to an end, and it's clear that even though he had presented all of these signs they still refuse to believe. All that is left to do is to throw down the challenge and prove his case. Craig R. Koester explains in his manuscript The Passion and Resurrection According to John:

The Fourth Gospel... portrays the crucifixion as the glorious completion of Jesus' ministry and the fulfillment of God's will. In contrast to the other gospels, John says that Jesus went out "bearing his own cross" (19:17); there is no suggestion that Simon of Cyrene had to help Jesus reach Golgotha. Unlike the other gospels, there is no reference to darkness or mocking at the cross. Instead, the text stresses that the cross brings Jesus' ministry to its telos or "goal." Jesus knows that all is now "accomplished" (telein, 19:28a) and asks for a drink "to accomplish" the scriptures (teleioun, 19:28b). His final words are "It is accomplished" (telein, 19:30). The cross is the completion, not the interruption of Jesus' ministry.

The Old Testament scriptures provide further clues to this Johannine perspective. An ordinary observer would assume that the soldiers divide Jesus' clothing and cast lots for his tunic for the sake of their own personal gain. But John explicitly states that these actions fulfill Ps 22:18, indicating that the scene is governed by divine purposes (John 19:23-24). Again, Jesus' words "I thirst" (19:28) could be a simple statement of human need. But John points out that this too accomplishes God's will, since the vinegar fulfills Ps 69:21.

The work of Christ

The phrase the work of Christ it is intended to describe the saving significance of the Christ event or soteriology. The original Christian traditions recorded in Acts does not draw attention to the death of Christ, but addresses the Christ event in its entirety as God's act of salvation. Over the course of time, more exact descriptions were established to understand the implications of Christ's death and it is John who shifts the focus away from the cross and spotlights the revelation that Jesus brings in his earthly life. 11

His death looks on the surface as if to be no more than the occasion when he retuned to the Father from whom he came 12 But this miscalculates the magnitude of Christ's death in the Fourth Gospel. The words and works are all eclipsed by the hour of the passion. 12 When he states, "It is accomplished" Jesus conveys that he has done his part and what happens next, is up to the power and love of God. Earlier in Luke, Jesus gives a hint to his disciples as to the divisions that are to come and uses this phrase for the first time saying, 'I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished.' 13 By the time he repeats the expression again he has been convicted by both the Romans and the Jews and is hanging from the cross. As was customary for the times, a notice is fastened to his cross. It is a charge sheet and every criminal who was crucified received one so that people would know what happens to those who would commit similar crimes. The two greatest charges against humanity at this time are the crimes of defying the rightful authority of God and of trying to set oneself up in the place of God. Jesus has been found guilty of treason and blasphemy.

As Jesus hung from the cross for six hours Luke notes that there was darkness over the land. Vinegar is offered to him for the first time. It is refused and then Jesus accepts the second offering, then John writes that he says, 'it is accomplished or completed or fulfilled —tetelestai. Having spoken his last, Jesus bows his head and hands over his spirit or wind or breath —pneuma.'(John 19:30). Theologian Derek Morphew, in a book on Gnosticism says, "Tetelestai means 'it is accomplished' or 'it is consummated.' Christ was declaring His sacrificial work to be completed."

Despite of all of the confusion, the secrecy and plots, the conspiracies of Herod and the Pharisees to trump up charges and set the stage for the subsequent conviction. Up until this split second, all of the miracles and mysteries lead up to what Jesus would finally complete on the cross. It is the instant where he brings in the new order that he represented by the changing of the water into wine. 14 It is when he makes his flesh accessible for the life of the world, 15 that he heals the blindness of humanity, 16 and that he bestows eternal life. 17

It is also on the cross that all the claims made in his great "I am"s are confirmed. The I ams are the sayings of Jesus that not only raised a lot eyebrows but also goad the community leaders into taking action against him. After saying, "I am the bread of life," Jesus left most of his disciples scratching their heads, grumbling that it was a "hard teaching" that no one could figure it out. After declaring, "I am the good shepherd," many people called him a lunatic, saying he was "raving mad." Finally, John tells his readers, it was when he said, "I am the resurrection and the life," that the case against Jesus was cinched and the chief priests quickly set into motion the judicial wheels that would get Jesus arrested and put to death.

Throughout his gospel John emphasizes that it is because of what is accomplished on the cross that Jesus is the true bread from heaven, 18 that he is the light of the world, 19 the door of the sheep, 20 the good shepherd, 21 the resurrection and the life, 22 the way the truth and the life, 23 and the true vine. 24

Additionally, it is through his accomplishment at the cross that the Spirit-Paraclete is released which leads the Johannine community into all truth. 25 So it was the death of Christ and his glorification that made it possible for the Fourth Gospel to not only ascribe the "I am" sayings to Jesus but to demonstrate that the work of Christ as complete.

In spite of the noticeable concern of the author on the Revelation with the events leading up to the end and with the new heaven and the new earth that lie beyond, the cross for John played a crucial role in salvation history. Later on it would be the central Christological image in Revelation as the Lamb that was slain, along with Jesus' fulfillments of the prophecies in Psalms, that would establish the new covenant with God and determine future course of history.


Fuller, Reginald H. The Oxford Companion to the Bible,(1993) p. 184.

Koester, Craig R. "The Passion and Resurrection According to John"

Accessed May 7, 2005.

Pope John Paul II. Letter of the Holy Father Pope John Paul II to Priests
Accessed May 7, 2005.

Sarris, Chris. It is Finished Six Hours One Friday
Accessed May 7, 2005

Tiller, Patrick A. The Oxford Companion to the Bible,(1993) p. 184.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

Editorial Page, New York Sun, 1897
We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the
communication below, expressing at the same time
our great gratification that its faithful author is
numbered among the friends of The Sun:
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say
there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, "If you see it
in The Sun, it's so." Please tell me the truth, is
there a Santa Claus?
Virginia O'Hanlon
Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have
been affected by the skepticism of a sceptical age.
They do not believe except they see. They think that
nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their
little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be
men's or children's, are little. In this great
universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his
intellect as compared with the boundless world about him,
as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping
the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.
He exists as certainly as love and generosity and
devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give
to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how
dreary would be the world if there were no Santa
Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias.
There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no
romance to make tolerable this existence. We should
have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The
external light with which childhood fills the world would
be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not
believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire
men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to
catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa
Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees
Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no
Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those
that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever
see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but
that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can
conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen
and unseeable in the world.
You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes
the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the
unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the
united strength of all the strongest men that ever
lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love,
romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture
the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real?
Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus? Thank God he lives and lives
forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times
10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad
the heart of childhood.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!!!
From The People's Almanac, pp. 1358-9.(Public Domain)

Virginia O'Hanlon recalled the events that prompted her letter thirty-six years after it was printed:

"Quite naturally I believed in Santa Claus, for he had
never disappointed me. But when less fortunate little
boys and girls said there wasn't any Santa Claus, I was
filled with doubts. I asked my father, and he was a
little evasive on the subject.

"It was a habit in our family that whenever any

doubts came up as to how to pronounce a word or some
question of historical fact was in doubt, we wrote to
the Question and Answer column in The Sun. Father would
always say, 'If you see it in the The Sun, it's so,'
and that settled the matter.

"Well, I'm just going to write The Sun and find

out the real truth," I said to father.

"He said, 'Go ahead, Virginia. I'm sure The Sun will

give you the right answer, as it always does.' "

Francis P. Church had covered the Civil War for The New York Times and worked for 20 years at The New York Sun , more recently as an anonymous editorial writer. The son of a Baptist minister he usually received the more controversial subjects on the editorial page, in particular those dealing with theology. A sardonic man, Church had for his personal motto, "Endeavour to clear your mind of cant."

"Is there a Santa Claus?" the childish scrawl in the letter asked. At once, Church said he knew that there was no avoiding the question. He had to answer, and it was imperative that he answer truthfully. And so he turned to the task and began his reply which was to become one of the most memorable editorials in newspaper history. Church married shortly after the editorial appeared. He died in April, 1906, leaving no children.

Francis P. Church's editorial, "Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus" originally appeared in the The New York Sun in 1897, more than a hundred years ago, and was reprinted annually until the paper went out of business 1949.

Virginia O'Hanlon grew up to become a teacher and principal for the New York City school system retiring after 47 years. Whenever she received mail about her Santa Claus letter she penned a reply and attached an attractive printed copy of the Church editorial. Virginia O'Hanlon Douglas died on May 13, 1971, at the age of 81, in a nursing home in Valatie, N.Y.

Public domain text


O my grey hairs!
You are truly white as plum blossoms.

In spite of the burden of his medical practice and a young family, Williams published four books of verse, Al Que Quiere! (1917), Kora in Hell (1920), Sour Grapes(1921), and Spring and All (1921), that visibly launched him as America's leading modernist. It was throughout the 1920s and 1930s while Williams labored mainly in anonymity during his stint with Robert McAlmom editing Contact where strong ideas arose to bond the earth with the reality of life. Soon the editors of the short-lived publication insisted that art stem from everyday life.

This celebration of the everyday came in part from a response to archaic forms of expression. Early in the century, poets of the movement known as imagism included many American poets. In addition to Pound and Lowell, H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) and William Carlos Williams–turned from ideas to things. They endeavored successfully to use a detached depiction of objects in the world, an approach that could truly create a deep emotional response in the reader.

Williams' work was frequently published in both Pound's and Amy Lowell's Imagist collections of poetry. Hence his first successful poems adhere essentially to the dictates of Imagism. The poems from this period of his life illustrate Williams steadily fashioning his elastic enjambment modes from the unrefined textile of run of the mill Modernist verse. They expose a gathering of distinctive imagery, alongside his desire to prove that he really values them. Words are used to envision short scenes and vivid objects. From time to time they pay homage to Eastern precedents and the subject of living life, love and the nature of truth and beauty, many of which are encapsulated within the metaphor of fruit. Profoundly influenced by Chinese and Japanese poets, Williams composed verse in which the existence of an object took center stage.

In this manner Williams shapes his response to the forces around him and Spring is no exception. Like summer spiders, an autumn moon or the winter bush warbler of the well seasoned haiku. The poet brings to the reader spring plum blossoms. He does a stunning job of putting such a simple sentence before the reader and allowing the mind's eye to clearly place it in an 8 X 10 mental Rolodex.


Original text: "Spring," Sour Grapes: a Book of Poems (Boston: The Four Seas Company, 1921): 58. York University Library Special Collections 4748.

Selected Poetry of William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

Public domain text taken from The Poets' Corner

William Carlos Williams

Williams' Life and Career