Sunday Homily: Gospel Principles to Heal 9/11 Blindness

Architects & Engineers

Readings for 4th Sunday of Lent: I SAM 16: 1B, 6-7, 10-13A; PS 23: 1-6; EPH 5: 8-14; JN 9: 1-14

The Liturgy of the Word for this fourth Sunday of Lent centralizes the themes of blindness, seeing, light and darkness. For me, those topics raise questions about being sightless in our contemporary culture. With us, it’s a nearly universal condition. In fact, you might say that ours is a culture that actually rewards blindness and punishes those who can see. For instance:

• We “Americans” can’t allow ourselves to even imagine the implications of admitting that a right-wing coup took place in our country in the year 2000 when conservative Supreme Court justices overruled the popular electoral will. So we pretend that was normal. We refuse to see what actually happened.

• Meanwhile, politicians assure their electoral futures by asking us to close our eyes to their own crimes while they highlight those of the enemy du jour. For example, they want us to wring our hands over Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea, while ignoring routine and less warranted U.S. interventions from Grenada to Libya.

• Then there are the climate-change deniers. They refuse to recognize the human causes of climate chaos while reaping billions in profit as the world disintegrates before our sightless eyes.

• Additionally, we allow ourselves to be more easily persuaded by explanations of the CIA and NSA (part of whose acknowledged mission is to deceive) than by whistle-blowers like Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange who simply release what government says about itself. Somehow we’ve been convinced that the official sources have authority and integrity, while the whistle-blowers are suspect.

• Above all, our culture is blind to what our own eyes told us took place on September 11th 2001, when three World Trade Center (WTC) buildings collapsed in demolition style after a few hours of localized fires of quite ordinary intensity as far as such tragic conflagrations go.

I say “above all” because the events of 9/11/01 have truly changed our world and continue to do so. They have been used to justify “works of darkness” like those Paul alludes to in today’s second reading from Ephesians. Though Paul shrinks from even mentioning them by name, today we might say that they include the War on Terrorism itself along with Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, racial profiling, drone warfare, torture, water boarding, rendition, Guantanamo, NSA spying, intrusive airport pat-downs . . . .

It’s all justified by 9/11. Paul implies that no one who performs such works is worthy of belief. They operate in secret and in the dark. “Expose them,” Paul urges.

And what needs to be exposed about 9/11? Clearly it’s the weakness of the “official story” we’ve all memorized so well. It says that in the case of two of the WTC buildings, fires feeding off the planes’ jet fuel caused steel girders to melt or weaken to the breaking point. Higher floors fell on top of lower ones, and the buildings pancaked smoothly to the ground. This explanation is accepted even though fires caused by jet fuel cannot even approach the temperatures necessary for such melt-down.

This is not to mention Trade Center Building # 7 that wasn’t even impacted by an airplane and whose demolition style crumbling remains unexplained to this day. Nor need we mention the testimonies of Scientists for 9/11 Truth, the “group of scientific professionals calling for a new, independent, and scientific investigation of the events of September 11, 2001.”

This is not a claim that the U.S. government was necessarily behind the events of 9/11/01. Rather, what’s called for is addressing unanswered questions posed by the scientists just mentioned as well as by scholars of the stature and theological sensibilities of David Ray Griffin.

Griffin is the Process theologian who has devoted the latest phase of his stellar career to raising consciousness about the need to 9/11’s unanswered questions because of the indisputably key role that the tragedy continues to play in “American” political life. He connects 9/11 directly with Jesus and his Kingdom values. I’m sure that, like me, he would see today’s readings as linked to 9/11 blindness.

In 9/11 context, consider today’s readings one by one. They establish principles for dealing with all official stories, explanations and denials.

The first reading tells us that political considerations like the ones just mentioned are not out-of-place in reflections like this. Samuel’s unlikely selection of David from among older and more “worthy” candidates to rule over Israel reminds us that the All Parent is deeply concerned with politics and just governance. In the political realm, Her ways cannot be dictated by what is apparent to merely human wisdom. They always involve preferential option for the least. God’s habit is to turn cultural perceptions upside-down.

The excerpt from Paul’s letter to his friends in Ephesus expands that theme. It identifies Jesus precisely as the one who gives sight to “the least” previously living in the darkness of their contemporary culture governed by falsehood, evil and injustice. Paul says that such darkness is exposed and dispelled by Jesus who brings a bright light that makes everything visible and produces all kinds of goodness, truth and justice.

Then in today’s gospel selection, Jesus shows what it means to bring light. He cures a man born blind. John tells the story through a series of seven interviews involving the poor man. In the process, the formerly sightless beggar doesn’t merely regain the physical ability to see. He also obtains an in-sight that helps him stand up to authorities whose “official” interpretations of Jesus’ healing contradict the blind man’s own senses.

The interviews involve Jesus’ disciples, a conversation with the blind man’s neighbors, three exchanges with Pharisees, interrogation of the blind man’s parents, and a final encounter Jesus himself. In the course of the interactions, the story of the blind man’s cure is recounted three times with delightful elements of magic, humor and irony. The repetition is necessary because the Pharisees, the story’s authority figures, refuse to admit that an ordinary person’s act of seeing can reveal more truth than their official theologized denials and a priori explanations.

So the Pharisees try to convince the cured blind man that he’s lying; he wasn’t really blind at all. They try to get the man’s parents to support their allegations. When that doesn’t work, the Pharisees try to discredit Jesus. He’s a sinner, they say, because he doesn’t observe the Sabbath.

But the beggar refuses to cave in. He insists on believing his own senses, especially sight. “I don’t know much about theology,” he repeats, “but I do know that I was blind and now I see.”

Be like the healed blind man, is the message here. Don’t believe the agents of darkness.

Today’s gospel story goes even further with that instruction. It presents Jesus as not merely turning Pharisaic perceptions upside down, but more generally his culture’s blind spots about truth itself. Those convictions are mirrored in the question of Jesus disciples at the beginning of the episode. Along with Jesus, they see the man born blind. So they ask, “Is this man’s condition the result of his own sin or that of his parents?”

By the end of the story Jesus answers their query with a statement worthy of a Zen master. He says that blindness is no sin at all. It’s seeing that’s sinful. To “clarify,” Jesus adds, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.”

In other words, the story is meant to raise the question, what kind of blindness is virtuous and what kind of seeing is sinful? For Jesus, the Pharisees’ claim to clear sightedness is actually blindness. The blind man’s admission that he was formerly blind and that Jesus cured him represents clarity of vision.

With all that in mind, here are the quasi-principles for post 9/11 discernment that today’s readings suggest:

• Sacred Scripture is indeed concerned with political realities.

• From the faith perspective, official explanations are probably false.

• We should not believe those who perform works of darkness.

• Kingdom consciousness turns official “reality” upside-down.

• Those whom dominant culture dismisses as blind probably have clearer insight than their “betters.”

• We should believe what we see with our own eyes regardless of what the agents of darkness tell us.

In a world shaped by our dear “leaders’” entirely suspect account of 9/11, accepting those gospel principles would drive us to join David Ray Griffin and the 9/11 Truth Movement as they call for a new, independent, and scientific investigation of the events of September 11, 2001.

Curing our nation of 9/11 blindness would deprive our masters of a powerful pretext to justify their works of darkness. That deprivation would truly change everything.

Sunday Homily: Pope Francis to Women: The Next Pope Should Be One of You!

Francis Women

Readings for 3rd Sunday of Lent: EX 17:3-7; PS 95: 1-2, 6-9; ROM 5: 1-3, 5-8; JN 4: 5-42. (Parenthetical numbers in today’s homily refer to Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel.)

The Lenten project of my parish in Kentucky has a group of about 25 parishioners studying Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel (JG). All of us have been inspired by its positive tone and its call for “changing everything” (JG 27). We’re encouraged by the words of the text and by what discussion causes to emerge from the spaces between the lines. And we’re finding what the pope says about women to be surprising and hopeful. In fact it suggests that women should run the church from top to bottom!

That’s relevant to today’s gospel reading – the familiar story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. The story says a lot about Jesus and his “preferential option” for women. It also exemplifies once again how the women in Jesus’ life were more perceptive and courageous leaders than the rather dull, timorous men with whom he surrounded himself.

Pope Francis, if not exactly on the same page as Jesus, is only a few paragraphs behind. He might even lag a sentence or two behind his own reasoning processes.

Before I explain, recall today’s gospel episode.

Jesus finds himself in Samaria among “those people” the Jews hated. Since the reasons for the hatred were located in Israel’s distant past, many Jews probably remained foggy about the exact reasons for their anti-Samaritanism. No matter: they had no doubts that Samaritans were despicable. [Just to remind you: Samaritans were the ones in Israel’s Northern Kingdom who seven centuries earlier had intermarried with Assyrian occupiers. Like “collaborators” everywhere, Samaritans were considered unpatriotic traitors. Religiously they were seen as enemies of God – apostates who had accommodated their religious beliefs to those of foreign occupation forces. (Grudges connected with foreign occupation and religion die hard.)]

In any case, in today’s gospel we have the counter-cultural Jesus once again on the social margins transgressing his people’s most cherished taboos. It’s not bad enough that he is in Samaria at all. He’s there conversing alone with a woman, and a Samaritan woman at that! (What kind of self-respecting rabbi would do either?) And besides, it’s a loose woman who’s his partner in conversation. She has a shady past that continues to darken her life. She’s been married five times and is currently living with a man without benefit of wedlock.

Yet the compassionate Jesus eschews moralism and instead of scolding chooses this marginal woman to reveal his identity in ways more direct than to his male disciples. With no word of reproach, he tells her clearly, “I am the Messiah, the source of ‘living water’ that quenches thirst forever.” After her literalist failures to grasp Jesus’ spiritual imagery, the woman finally “gets it.” She calls her neighbors and shares the good news: “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?”

In sharing her good news, the Samaritan woman not only illustrates the privileged position of women in early Christian traditions (like the Gospel of John), she epitomizes as well the corresponding “missionary” role that Pope Francis centralizes in the Apostolic Exhortation that my friends and I have been discussing during Lent. There we find that, following Jesus, Pope Francis expresses a “preferential option” for women. He even suggests that women should be in charge before male priests and bishops.

I know; I know . . . You’re probably thinking, “But aren’t women the weak point of the pope’s ‘Exhortation?’”

True: that’s what everyone said immediately following its publication last November. Commentators said that Francis simply endorsed the position of his two conservative predecessors and excluded women from the priesthood. That said it all, they declared. It’s right there in black and white: the exclusively male priesthood is not open to discussion (104).

But there was more – lots more.

That is, while Francis’ rather wishful (and, of course, impossible) thinking clearly says “the reservation of the priesthood to males . . . is not a question open to discussion” (104), his prohibition actually downgrades the priesthood and bishops in the process, while raising to unprecedented heights the position of women precisely as women.

The pope’s reasoning runs like this:

1. Why should women consider the priesthood so important? After all, it’s just one ecclesiastical function among others. That function is simply to “administer the sacrament of the Eucharist.” Apart from that, the priest has no real power or special dignity (104).

2. Real Christian power and dignity come from baptism, not from ordination – or in the pope’s words: “The ministerial priesthood is one means employed by Jesus for the service of his people, yet our great dignity derives from baptism, which is accessible to all.” These words pull priests off their traditional pedestals and return them to the rank and file of “the People of God” along with other servants of their peers.

3. Even more, according to the pope, women enjoy a dignity above bishops simply in virtue of their gender. The pope sets the stage for this conclusion by stating, “Indeed, a woman, Mary, is more important than the bishops” (104).

4. Moreover, Mary “is the icon of womanhood” itself (285). That is, by looking at her, we see the idealized position that women should occupy – above both priests and bishops.

5. According to Francis, this realization opens the door to women assuming unprecedentedly powerful positions in the church.

6. He writes, “. . . we need to create still broader opportunities for more incisive female presence in the church (103). So he urges “pastors and theologians . . . to recognize more fully what this entails with regard to the possible role of women in decision-making in different areas of the Church’s life” (104).

As one of those theologians the pope references, I suggest that his words in other parts of his Exhortation direct us to put women in charge of the church as a whole – including the papacy itself. After all:

• “The church is a mother, and . . . she preaches in the same way that a mother speaks to her child” (139). (Why then expect men to preach like a woman?)

• The faith of the church is like Mary’s womb (285). (This means that faith nourishes Christians in a uniquely feminine way.)

• “. . . (E)very Christian is . . . a bride of God’s word, a mother of Christ, his daughter and sister . . .” (285). (“Every Christian!” Is it possible to issue a clearer invitation to men – including the hierarchy – to recognize their own feminine qualities so essential to Christian identity? And who can better exemplify and evoke those qualities than women leaders?)

• The “female genius” (with its “sensitivity, intuition and other distinctive skill sets”) equips women more than men to be the out-going missionaries the pope’s Exhortation centralizes (103).

• And since “missionary outreach is paradigmatic for all the Church’s activity” (15), it seems that women “more than men” are uniquely equipped to embody the essence of what the church should be doing in the world.

My conclusion from all of this is simple. Regarding women, Pope Francis is far more radical than most realize (perhaps including himself). In fact, Francis’ “preferential option for women” actually mirrors Jesus’ choice expressed so fully in today’s gospel. There Jesus chooses a woman as an apostle (“one sent”) and preacher. Her simple words referencing her own uniquely feminine experience (“everything I’ve ever done”) persuade her village neighbors to meet Jesus and spend time with him. They then draw their own conclusions. They say, “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves . . .”

All of this indicates that truly following the rabbi from Nazareth means thinking for ourselves and moving even beyond the pope’s perception of his words’ implications. Those words imply that the church and its mission are more feminine than masculine. They suggest that if only men (because of their physical resemblance to Jesus) can perform the newly demoted function of priest, then women’s physical resemblance to Mary uniquely qualifies them for offices “more important than the bishops.”

In the church hierarchy, what’s above a bishop? A cardinal, of course. And the pope is always drawn from the College of Cardinals. Hmm . . . .

Move over, Francis, make way for Pope FrancEs THE FIRST!

Sunday Homily: Is Liberation Theology Obsolete? Insights of the Enlightened Jesus

Enlightened Jesus

Readings for 2nd Sunday of Lent: GN 12:1-4A; PS 33: 4-5, 18-19, 20, 22; 2 TM 1: 8B-10; MT 17: 1-9

Have you ever gone through a period when you profoundly question how you’re spending your life? I’m thinking especially about suspicions that you might not be giving enough attention to your interior life – to your enlightenment.

Today’s gospel reading about Jesus’ transfiguration before his friends on a mountaintop with Moses and Elijah raises the issue. Matthew’s account presents a literally en-lightened Jesus. He’s suddenly filled with light. His face shines like the sun; his garments become white as snow. The story points towards enlightenment as the purpose of life with all other matters being secondary. . . .

Personally, Jesus’ transfiguration makes me wonder about all the things I do that distract me from the pursuit of personal enlightenment — distractions from meditation, my mantra, and the other spiritual disciplines the Great Masters tell us are necessary to attain union with God..

I’ll get back to that in a moment.

But let me contextualize my reflections by confessing my own recurring doubts about finding myself on mistaken path of activism. I mean lately I’ve been wondering if in my thinking, teaching and writing I’m too concerned with politics, economics, and issues of oppression and liberation – too influenced, perhaps, by liberation theology. In fact, over the past six months those wonderings have been surfacing with renewed intensity.

I blame it on India.

And why not? Four months spent in such an exotic atmosphere with its sea of people, intense traffic, dime-a-dozen gurus, wild auto-rickshaws, cows on the street, colorful temples, poverty, spicy food, and wonderfully kind people will raise questions about everything.

On top of that there was yoga every day, past life review, learning prana yama (breath control), and living inter-generationally with my daughter, her husband and three children under five. All of that can cause one to question everything.

Above all, a ten day silent Vipassana retreat with its strict “noble silence,” and 10 hours of meditation each day (100 hours in 10 days) will do the trick. So – to repeat – I find myself questioning everything, including all the things I’ve held important in life. I question what I’ve taught my students over my forty years in the college classroom – you know, about economic systems, on the history of colonialism, liberation theology, and the development of the Jesus tradition.

By the way, I am back teaching again. (That’s been my principal form of activism all my life.) And suddenly my life threatens to become very busy, involved, and outward-turned. Oh, right now it’s not nearly the way it was when I was teaching full time. Currently I teach a two-hour class on Monday, and then I have a day off. Wednesdays there’s another two-hour class followed by four days off. That’s not so bad at all, I’m sure you agree. The point is, however, that teaching has me back on campus.

So a couple of weeks ago, one of the deans saw me there walking across Berea’s quadrangle. He thought, “There’s the man I’ve been looking for.” And pretty soon he’s asking me about directing and administering a prison project Berea’s been asked to join.” (It’s the “Bard Prison Initiative” which offers college degrees to inmates.) The dean asked me if I’d be interested.

I said yes. And now I find myself recruiting Berea teachers to take part – helping prisoners in the Northpoint Training Center/Prison in Danville Kentucky to obtain a Berea College degree. So I’m back organizing and attending meetings. True: it’s a wonderful opportunity in so many ways. But it’s filling up my plate which had become delightfully manageable after I retired from Berea College and stopped my teaching in Costa Rica.

What about meditation then, I wonder? What about the pursuit of enlightenment as (at my age) I’m increasingly aware that the moment of death getting closer and closer? Will new responsibilities distract me from such concerns?

Once again, my questions are intensified by what I learned about Jesus specifically in India. There people kept telling me that during his “hidden life” or “lost years,” Jesus had spent time on the subcontinent. They said that between the ages of 12 and 30, Jesus traveled to India and studied under Buddhist masters who schooled him in the ways of Gautama who lived 500 years earlier.

Though virtually no Christian scholars give such tales any credence, many Indian spiritual guides simply take it for granted that Jesus’ time in India. They even point to documents discovered in a Tibetan monastery that offer “proof” of Jesus’ years there.

Even apart from such evidence they ask: how else can we explain Jesus’ teachings about divine sonship and identity with the “Lord of All”? After all, those teachings agree with the tenets of Indian mysticism, viz. (1) that there’s a spark of the divine within us all, (2) that such divinity can be realized (i.e. expressed in life), (3) that it is the purpose of life to do so, and (4) that once we see the divine spark within ourselves we inevitably recognize it as well in every other human being and in all creatures of the earth.

Though I agree with the literal contrary opinions of the scholars just mentioned, I also believe that Jesus did, in a sense, travel to India. He did so, I’d say, in the way that all mystics travel the world – by tuning into the Universal Spirit in whom we live and move and have our being. That Spirit leads mystics wherever they find themselves to reach the same conclusions about the divine that resides within us all. It’s as though they all sat at the Buddha’s feet – or at the feet of the Enlightened Jesus – without ever leaving home. In that sense, Jesus did indeed travel to India.

And that brings me to today’s gospel and the answer it holds to questions about how to invest one’s life – and about the obsolescence of liberation theology. In the gospel, Peter, James and John find themselves at the feet of the enlightened Jesus. They’re on the ground prostrated. But significantly, Moses and Elijah are there too.

That last element (the presence of Moses and Elijah) answers (I think) my question about balancing activism and the pursuit of enlightenment. The two prophetic giants represent the entire Hebrew Tradition: “The Law” (Moses) and “The Prophets” (Elijah).

Moses was the great liberator who led a slave rebellion against Egypt’s pharaoh 1200 years before the birth of Jesus. Like Jesus and his companions, Moses ascended a mountain to receive God’s revelation. Elijah was the 9th century BCE prophet who specialized in speaking truth to power. Both Jesus and his mentor, John the Baptist, were considered reincarnations of Elijah.

Jesus “conversing” with Moses and Elijah represents the conviction of the early church that a strong continuity existed between the Jewish Testament’s “old story” and the new one embodied in the Enlightened Jesus.

Accordingly, Jesus was the new liberating Moses. His law of love and compassion epitomized the fulfillment of Sinai’s covenant. Jesus was the new courageous Elijah – uncompromising in his siding with the poor – the widows, orphans, and immigrants.

As both the new Moses and Elijah reincarnated, the transfigured and enlightened Jesus insists on the indispensability of activism informed by transforming spirituality. And he does so in the face of acute knowledge about his fast-approaching premature death. (Jesus references that in the concluding words in today’s gospel episode: “Tell no one of this vision until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”)

What can all of that mean for us today – on this second Sunday in Lent? I think it means:

• We have to learn from Indian masters and the East in general about the importance of seeking enlightenment through cultivation of the interior life. There’s a “division of labor” among the world’s Great Religious Traditions. India’s contribution about spirituality is far better developed than the West’s and Christianity’s. The Enlightened Jesus (fresh from his own trip to India) calls us to daily meditation this Lent. There’s no other way to enlightenment.
• At the same time, Jesus’ conversation with Moses and Elijah highlights Christianity’s part in the global division of humanity’s search for the divine. Side with the poor; take on their cause as your own. Do what you can (by way of phone calls, contributions, lobbying, and teaching) to stop the deportation of immigrants, to restore food stamps and unemployment benefits for the hungry and jobless – to see the world from the margins and periphery. The message is something like that.
• Finally, Jesus’ ever-present awareness of “the prophet script” requiring his own early death reminds us that the work of following our Master can never stop – there’s no retirement from it. The proximity or remoteness of death offers no excuse to relax.

Working without ceasing to change ourselves and the world is the very purpose of life. Jesus’ transfiguration, I believe, suggests all of that.

Sunday Homily: Academy Awards, “Gravity,” Lent, and Rebirth


Readings for First Sunday in Lent: GN 2:7-9, 3:1-7; PS 51: 3-6, 12-13, 17; ROM 5: 12-19; MT 4: 1-11.

Today is the first Sunday of Lent. A week ago, Hollywood presented its 2014 Academy Awards. Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” won seven Oscars. I think his story and today’s reading about Jesus’ desert retreat are connected.

Lent actually started last Wednesday when many of us put ashes on our forehead to remind us of our approaching death. All of us, the ashes told us, come from the dirt and are rushing headlong towards the grave, whether we consider ourselves “believers” or not. Our world (at least for us as individuals) is ending. That’s simply a law of nature – as inescapable as gravity. It can’t be avoided. With time running out, Lent reminds us, the moment to change – to appropriate our basically divine nature – is now. Jesus’ vision quest in the desert shows the way.

So does “Gravity.” In fact, it’s possible to see the film as mirroring the experience of Jesus during his own “Lent” in the desert depicted in this morning’s gospel selection.

To begin with, both stories are completely symbolic. Both have their protagonists reliving the history of their people. Both show us the path to liberation. It leads from self-centeredness to God-consciousness. As such, both the account of Jesus in the desert and of Sandra Bullock’s character in “Gravity” represent summonses to either grow up here and now or suffer the consequences.

Think about “Gravity” in those terms. Here’s how the film’s publicity describes the plot:

“Director Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity stars Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone, a scientist on a space shuttle mission headed by astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney), a talkative, charismatic leader full of colorful stories that he shares with his crewmates as well as mission control. As the two are on a space walk, debris hits the area where they are working, and soon the pair finds themselves detached from their ship and stranded in space. While figuring out what steps they can take to save themselves, Stone grapples with a painful past that makes her consider giving up altogether.”

Without giving too much away, the film can be understood as mirroring the current plight of Mother Earth, the United States and the human species. It’s about our highly technological and artificial way of life and its inevitable destruction by the very laws of nature. It reminds unaware, “spaced out” people to “return home” and live in accordance with our true identity as earth creatures respectful of nature’s laws.

In “Gravity,” Sandra Bullock plays that spaced out American I mentioned. She’s an astronaut. As a medical engineer, she’s a trained healer whose job in NASA is to maintain a basically unsustainable way of life in outer space. To begin with, however she’s totally saddened and distracted by her personal problems. Specifically, she’s still in mourning for her lost daughter who died from an unexplained fall at the age of four. Interestingly, her daughter died conforming to the law of gravity which Dr. Stone’s “mission” requires her to defy.

The point is that Dr. Stone’s mission (like her daughter’s brief life) is doomed by inescapable natural laws. Entropy causes the systems she maintains to run down and demand periodic, extremely costly “missions” like the one she is on. At the same time inertia insures that the inevitable waste produced by the space enterprises will double back to seal the projects’ doom according to the law governing colliding bodies.

In that situation, Dr. Stone becomes the image of an alienated woman called by circumstances to wake up and accept her true divine nature as a healing goddess – as the embodiment of Mother Earth. As such she must return to the larger Divine Mother; she must return to earth and appropriate her own vocation to embody that Mother’s presence.

Think about it: the Bullock character is a “Stone” – the earthiest identification possible. She’s a doctor. She’s an astronaut. In all three identities, she’s out of her element. She’s floating in a weightless atmosphere that has caused her to deny her gravity-governed essence. In addition, like the earth itself, her oxygen supply is threatened. And that, of course, is painful and repulsive. Or as she herself puts it, “I hate space.”

“Gravity’s” story unfolds to display Dr. Stone’s healing efforts to reconnect with earth despite the obstacles working against her. In the process, like Jesus in today’s Gospel, she shows us all the way home from our own alienation and destructive way of life.

Dr. Stone’s way home involves not only using the personal tragedy of her daughter’s death to work in her favor. It also means crossing the Ganges and being blessed by the Buddha. She must also overcome her own ethnocentrism and xenophobia relative to her country’s designated “enemies” (the Russians and Chinese). Her return would have been impossible without an international space platform, a Russian Soyez module and a Chinese Shenzhou space capsule.

Finally, Dr. Stone needs to be “born again,” reliving the entire evolutionary process taking her through human astral origins to earth where she’s plunged into deep baptismal waters. With great effort, she throws off her old identity in the form of her astronaut’s survival gear. In the process, she encounters fish, amphibians and other pre-human life forms in the evolutionary chain. Finally freed of her past, on all fours, Dr. Stone emerges onto Eden’s shore. As a reborn Eve – as Mother Earth – she straightens up and walks forward into a new life. Her final words in the film are “Thank you.”

There’s a similar plot in today’s Gospel – lived out by Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth. Like Dr. Stone in relation to “America,” Jesus reflects the experience of his Jewish compatriots. They passed forty years in the desert enduring temptation the whole time. Jesus in Matthew’s account passes forty days there. His response to temptation rescues and redeems the collective history of his similarly tempted people more than a thousand years earlier.

Jesus’ first temptation is ego-centric – to feed himself by turning stones into bread. His second temptation is ethnocentric – connected with the temple and the quasi-magical attributes accorded the structure by his Jewish contemporaries. Jesus’ final temptation is world-centric – to exercise dominion of “all the nations of the world.” By rejecting all three, Jesus symbolically achieves cosmic-consciousness. The story ends with his being ministered to by angels.

As in “Gravity,” Jesus’ vision quest in the desert maps out our Lenten path. It leads from self-centeredness to cosmic consciousness of unity with the One in whom we live and move and have our being. The path cannot be traveled without struggle. Its goal cannot be achieved without breaking free from selfishness, xenophobia, and the arrogance of life in an imperial center whose ways are unsustainable and far removed from its evolutionary roots. That’s the point of Lent’s prayerfulness, penance, fasting, and abstinence.

Practically speaking returning home during Lent – realizing our True Self being transformed like Jesus and Dr. Stone – might mean:

• Renewing our prayer life. Even unbelievers can do this. How? I recommend reading Eknath Easwaran’s Passage Meditation to find out. Yes, meditate each day during Lent. It will bring you into contact with your True Self. (And, I predict, you won’t stop at the end of 40 days – it’s that life-transforming.)
• Abstaining from fast food and reclaiming the kitchen. Leave behind for forty days the typically chemicalized, fatty, sugar-hyped American diet, and perhaps experiment with vegetarianism. That seems far more beneficial than traditional “fast and abstinence.”
• Shopping locally and refusing to set foot in any of the Big Boxes during Lent’s 40 days. Think of it as homage to Jesus’ counter-cultural resort to the desert or as Dr. Stone’s leaving behind that artificial life in outer space.
• To escape ethnocentrism and imperial sway,adopting as your news source OpEdNews and/or Al Jazzera rather than the New York Times.
• Resolving each day to actually respond to one of those many appeals we all receive to make phone calls and write letters to our “representatives” in Congress.
• In the “Comment” space below, share other suggestions.

Yes, it’s Lent once again. Like Dr. Ryan Stone, we faced up to our origins in dust last Ash Wednesday. A good Lent which leaves behind selfishness, ethnocentrism and allegiance to empire will also allow us to utter her sincere “Thank You” on Easter as we rise from our knees transformed.