Medieval Lay Mystics

Christian History magazine is back with a new issue I thought many of you would be interested to check out, the latest issue is titled “Medieval Lay Mystics”.

Christian History Institute (CHI), publisher of Christian History magazine (CHM), announces its latest issue, titled: “Medieval Lay Mystics”. The entire issue explores a mysterious question for many Christians, historians and scholars – What did it look like and what did it feel like to be a medieval Christian?

Spanning four vivid centuries, from 1000 to 1473, CHM issue #127 takes an in-depth look at the lives of notable medieval mystics, especially those who were not ordained clergy.

By the twelfth century devout women, monks and hermits came out of seclusion to preach and minister to others, proclaiming the gospel in local languages so that common people could understand it. They called on both fellow laypeople and clergy to repent and enter a genuine relationship with Christ. This spiritual process, culminating in an inner, mystical union became known as mysticism.

Scholars agree, that around the twelfth century, a variety of forces led to a cultural and spiritual renewal among those living outside formal religious institutions and traditions. First by thousands, then by the tens of thousands, common people responded to the gospel. Thirsty for a vital Christian life, they fostered devotional lifestyles, joining various movements of piety and service to others that offered opportunities to grow spiritually.

Three centuries before the Reformation, scholars began to also translate the Bible into local languages. Outdoor preaching became common and itinerant preachers traveled across Europe calling people to a life of repentance. This led to 300 years of repeated revival movements and waves of spiritual renewal across Western Europe leading up to the Reformation, which began around 1500.

“People from these movements penned timeless devotional classics, many still popular, writing of their desire to reach a mystical oneness with the Christ they loved,” said the managing editor of Christian History, Jennifer Woodruff Tait. “Here, I think, is the point where we can connect their lives with ours. We both desire to learn how to be more devoted to Jesus.”

CH issue #127, contains 7 features and 4 shorter side-bar articles; a chronology time-line; an archive of rare art-work & photos; a ‘letter to the editor’ section and an extensive reading list compiled by the CHM editorial staff.

I read the issue and found it an interesting, worthwhile read. What’s great is, you can read this issue, all their past issues, and access all sorts of other resources for FREE on their website! You can find it all here.

The Devil and Father Amorth

The Orchard will release “The Devil and Father Amorth” theatrically in New York and Los Angeles On April 20th.

Years after he changed the landscape of American filmmaking with 1973’s “The Exorcist”, director, co-writer and legendary storyteller William Friedkin moves from fiction to fact with his new documentary, “The Devil and Father Amorth”. What began as a brief conversation between Friedkin and Father Gabrielle Amorth – the head Exorcist for the Diocese of Rome for over 30 years – as two professionals who knew of each other’s work soon transformed into an once-in-a- lifetime opportunity, as Amorth agreed Friedkin could film an exorcism ceremony. It would be the ninth exorcism for a painfully afflicted woman, Cristina (a pseudonym), who had already been under Father Amorth’s care – and it would be filmed by Friedkin alone, with no other crew allowed, no light other than the natural light in the room and a small digital camera-and-mic unit that could capture the ritual and its revelations.

Combining the startling and singular footage from Cristina’s exorcism with interviews from priests and psychologists, neurosurgeons and non-believers, Friedkin guides us on a journey into the twilight world between the boundaries of what we know and what we don’t with a singular and startling guide in the form of the urbane, charming and self-deprecatingly funny Father Amorth, a man who laughs in the face of the Devil both figuratively and literally. Combining Friedkin’s past memories and present observations with archival footage and new interviews – as well as also presenting what may be the only real exorcism ceremony captured on film – “The Devil and Father Amorth” is a startling and surprising story of the religion, the ritual and the real-world victims involved in possession and exorcism.

Food & Faith

As most of you know by know, I’m quite the fan of food and learning about religion. That’s why when Christian History Magazine emailed me about their latest issue I was pretty intrigued and wanted to share it with you. The issue is “Faith & Food, 2000 Years of Feasting and Fasting”.

As they explain:
This issue is packed with tid-bits of information about foods mentioned in the Bible and Christianity’s holiest meal, the Lord’s Supper. Many more meals and meal traditions have been documented, among them: potlucks and fellowship meals, soup kitchens and church gardens, Christian cookbooks and Christian diets, the temperance movement, feasting, fasting and practices of hospitality.

Articles:
Good food from the good book, A partial primer on biblical foods by the editor

What should Christians cook?, Faith in the kitchen by Jennifer Trafton – Jennifer Trafton, author, artist, creative writing teacher, and former managing editor of Christian History.

The royal way, Feasting or fasting? the constant Christian tension in the public square by Kathleen Mulhern, who teaches Christian formation and church history at Denver Seminary.

Fasting: from the Orthodox front lines, we should consider the spiritual discipline of not eating by Frederica Mathewes-Green, author of Welcome to the Orthodox Church and numerous other books, and frequent essayist and public speaker.

Recipes, recipe suggestions from friends of Christian History by Josh Hale, Barbara J. Hale, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Julie Byrne, Mary Anne Tietjen Byrne, Quita Sauerwein

Everyday substances, heavenly gifts, From the beginning, the holiest Christian meal used everyday food by Andrew McGowan – J. L. Caldwell McFaddin and Rosine B. McFaddin Professor of Anglican Studies and Pastoral Theology and dean of Berkeley Divinity School at Yale. He is the author of Ancient Christian Worship and Ascetic Eucharists.

Eating (and not eating) with the church fathers, Things church fathers said about food compiled by Jennifer Woodruff Tait – Managing editor, Christian History.

Raise a juice box to the temperance movement, Getting unfermented wine from the vineyard by Jennifer Woodruff Tait – Managing editor, Christian History.

What would Jesus buy?, How nineteenth-century Christians transformed our grocery aisles by Matt Forster – freelance author living in Clarkston, Michigan, and a frequent contributor to Christian History.

The sacred duty, a Seventh-day Adventist menu by LaVonne Neff – freelance author and blogger at LivelyDust, raised an Adventist.

From Cana to Jell-O, Christian fellowship meals: feeding the hungry and each other by Barton E. Price – director of the Centers for Academic Success and Achievement at Indiana University–Purdue University Ft. Wayne and teaches history, music, and religious studies.

Welcoming the Stranger, Serving the guest—including with bread by Carmen Acevedo Butcher – lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of Man of Blessing: A Life of St. Benedict.

I haven’t read the entire issue yet, but I’ve read a few articles so far and I find it interesting. The articles are well written and the art is beautiful. Are you interested? Well good news, you can read it for free online at the Christian History Institute’s website! And if you like what you read, you can subscribe with a donation of any amount you choose.

Prison Evangelism

I received an interesting press release that I’d like to share, along with some personal observations. First, let’s take a look at the press release:

Oil industry veteran David Howell is working a rich new harvest field—saving souls and reducing the prison population through a graphic guidebook, allowing public funds to be diverted to other pressing needs.

Mailing copies of his How To Be a Child of God to prisoners for just 54 cents a copy offers a remarkable 7,000-to-1 return on investment, according to Howell. That’s because keeping someone from returning to prison by helping them find new life and hope as a Christian saves around $31,000 a year in incarceration costs.

With a record 2 million-plus people currently behind bars in the United States, Howell now wants to expand the reach of his Prison Evangelism project by distributing an additional 600,000 free copies of How To Be a Child of God to prison chaplains nationwide. Doing so responds to Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 25 for his followers to remember those in prison, who have an extremely high conversion rate when presented with the gospel.

“Imagine the impact we can have, not only on individuals and their families, but on society as a whole, as they find new purpose and power for living and put prison behind them,” Howell said.

Prison Evangelism research on distribution to date shows that one in 10 people who reads the 52-page booklet makes a commitment to Christ. That means if the national campaign saw a similar response and those impacted did not return to prison, the saving to taxpayers would be $2.1 billion annually. Additionally, the reduced inmate population would be equivalent to closing 60 prisons.

The owner of Houston-based pipeline consulting firm Pipeline Equities, who began working in the oil and gas fields as a 14-year-old “roughneck,” Howell has been active in sharing his faith since becoming a Christian in 1984. That decision “turned my life around,” forsaking drinking and wayward living, he said.

Involved in a wide range of other ministries at Houston’s Second Baptist Church, Howell created How To Be a Child of God in 2010 to pass out to people he met. Asked to provide some copies for use in prisons, he was amazed by the response. Letters began to come in from prisoners transformed by what they read. Among them was a man in jail in Midway, Texas, who wrote how the book touched his heart. “This book has been an inspiration to me. It opened my eyes to some great things and I soaked it all up like a sponge. I’ve finally put my life in His hands after all I’ve been through. Now I’m growing spiritually every day,” he said.

Since then, Howell has printed and distributed more than 110,000 copies to prison chaplains across the country, including 25,000 in Spanish. The book has been translated into a dozen languages, and turned into a 20-minute online video (www.howtobeachildofgod.com). He has also produced two popular follow-up books in similar style, Seeking God Through Prayer & Meditation and Fully Alive and Finally Free.

Howell credits the impact of the publications, written at a sixth-grade reading level, to their simple language and the emphasis on being transformed by the resurrection power of Jesus Christ. Additionally, as a standalone piece that can be reread and studied by prisoners who may be isolated or have time on their hands, it self-directs the reader into making a commitment to Christ without requiring others’ involvement.

“These are people who have come to an end of themselves, and that is where all of us must come before we are willing to accept the need for a power greater than ourselves,” said Howell.

John Salmon, chaplain at Diboll Correctional Center in Diboll, Tex., said that How To Be a Child of God had been “very popular” with the men there. “They actually read it,” he wrote. “And you know what happens when people expose themselves to the Word of God.”

George Hanson put copies out for chapel services at the Price Daniel Unit in Snyder, Texas, “and they flew out of the door,” he said.

Having poured more than $300,000 of his own money into the project, Howell formed Prison Evangelism as a nonprofit a couple of years ago. Now 77, with three granddaughters and a great-grandson, he said, “I know that this is the reason God is keeping alive, for this project. It is what he designed and created me to do.”

Before deciding to feature this on my site I asked to receive a copy of “How to Be a Child of God” to read for myself. And although I’m not a Christian lass, I found nothing offensive in the book. It’s essentially a simply written book, with full color illustrations, instructing you on how to accept Jesus Christ into your life. The book also has a section about introducing others to Jesus Christ and I liked the part where it said, “we are not seeking to make bad people good, but spiritually dead people alive”. Making sure that they understand that just because a person hasn’t accepted Jesus Christ doesn’t make them a bad person, just different. The focus of the book is on the internal life of the individual, it’s not a vehicle of radicalization.

I think it’s nice that Howell has found something like this to put his energy into. I believe in prison outreach be it through assorted chaplains, yoga and meditation classes, service dog training, or any number of other programs that are out there. Yes prison is a punishment, but it should be a place that offers rehabilitation too.

Prison Evangelism (www.prisonevangelism.com) is a faith-based nonprofit committed to transforming and rehabilitating offenders through the distribution of “How to Be a Child of God” and other evangelistic and discipleship materials designed to help prisoners find new purpose and power in life through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Biblical Conspiracies

I love conspiracy theories. That’s not to say I believe them, but I do love them. I’m not sure why. If you’re like me and enjoy reading conspiracy theories, tell me in the comments why you do. Maybe it will help me figure it out. Anyway, I love me a conspiracy theory and as you might guess from my website, I also love religions. So when the Science Channel folks reached out to me with an advance screener for an upcoming episode of a show called “Biblical Conspiracies” you know I took them up on the offer.

This particular episode, just in time for the Easter/Passover season, is “Biblical Conspiracies: Jesus Family Tomb?” It discusses the controversy of The James Ossuary, a burial bone box that dates to the 1st century, and has on it, an inscription that states, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” Some believe it is a simple forgery, others point out that the names James, Joseph, and Jesus were super common names during that time period, and others think it may have a link to the “Jesus Family Tomb”, discovered in 1980 in Talpiot, a Jerusalem suburb. I don’t want to give too much away, but this episode has plenty of history, science, and yes, conspiracy. It was a good time.

“Biblical Conspiracies: Jesus Family Tomb?” premieres Easter weekend, Saturday, April 15 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Science Channel.

The Seen and Unseen Dimensions of Time

By Carisia H. Switala, MTS

I assume most people are aware of the recent “Voice of an Angel” story reported on the news about an 18-month old girl who was found alive in an overturned car 14 hours after it crashed in a Utah river. The four police officers who rescued the little girl said they heard a woman’s voice calling out for help. However, the girl’s mother died in the crash and there were no other people in the car. The officers really believe something otherworldly took place. Perhaps this story is a good example of the temporal and eternal dimensions of time merging together allowing the mother to call for help from the unseen dimension.

After years of research, I came to the realization that time is an elusive concept. Most individuals believe that looking at their watch and hurrying to get to work on time is the extent to which this concept is relevant. However, in my opinion, time is so much more than a measurement of sequential events. For many years, philosophers and scientists have been trying to explain time. The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, believed that time is the measurement of change. Whereas Sir Isaac Newton, an influential seventeenth century English physicist and natural philosopher, believed that space was a static container and time was an absolute flow. Newton hypothesized that absolute time exists independently of any observer and moves forward at a steady pace throughout the universe. He also thought that humans perceive ordinary time as a measurement of objects in motion like the sun.

Saint Augustine, an early Christian theologian and philosopher, believed that time was only in the mind and a human invention that cannot be applied to the universe or to God. Augustine’s view was that God existed in a timeless void. However, as the human mind evolved into a thinking machine that applies science to philosophical questions, the idea of relativity introduced the opinion that time is a physical dimension governed by physical laws. This opened up a more expansive view of the world and the universe.

I believe that the ancient idea of eternity, endless time, is a very profound and complex aspect of the subject. What seems like the passage of time in a changing world is but an illusion in a three-dimensional space.

It is difficult for humans to visualize space. The standard human experience of space can be described in terms of three dimensions: width, depth, and height. Once the fourth dimension of time is added to the equation, parallel dimensions and universes become a clearer possibility in a space-time continuum. This advancement in thought and knowledge reveals the endless nature of time and the continuation of life, defusing the idea of a timeless void. It is a perspective that views eternity as endless time, not the absence of time as Saint Augustine suggested.

We measure the passage of time in seconds, minutes, hours, and years, but this doesn’t mean that time flows at a constant rate. Just as the water in a river rushes or slows depending on the size of the channel, time flows at different rates in different places. Einstein believed that the past, present, and future all exist simultaneously. In other words, time is relative. So relativity makes it possible, with the proper technology, such as a very fast spaceship, for one person to experience several days while another person simultaneously experiences only a few hours or minutes.

After I delved into scientific theory, I discovered that the idea of parallel universes in quantum mechanics suggests that all possible quantum events can occur in mutually exclusive histories. These alternate, or parallel, histories would form a branching tree, symbolizing all possible outcomes of any interaction. If all possibilities exist, any paradoxes could be explained by having the paradoxical events happening in different universes. This concept leads to the conclusion that time travel is possible, and a time traveler should certainly end up in a different history than the one he or she started from. Hence, relativity and ancient notions of time variation and parallel universes are very similar.

My research into philosophy, theology and science inspired me to merge scientific and religious views about time into one reality of infinite time. The Bible contains many time-centered passages and reveals eternity to humanity. Science is also on the verge of discovering the possibility of opening up the fourth dimension of time in order to make breakthroughs in time travel. When these two disciplines work together, who knows what incredible insights into the seen and unseen dimensions of the universe will be revealed. The result will most likely be humanity’s inspiration to attain absolute knowledge of the mysteries of eternity.

The new paradigm of time I discerned is endless time. It encompasses the eternal dimension of the universe that allows for infinite life. This dimension contains the unending transformations of nonstop creation. And life doesn’t have to start in the temporal world in order to be infinite because life is eternal and therefore has no starting point. The illusions of the third dimension emanate from a static view of space and time where objects exist and events take place in a linear sequence. Perhaps one day the next brilliant scientist will be able to mathematically prove the existence of eternity.

About Carisia Switala, MTS:
The idea for Carisia Switala’s book “Eternity’s Secret: What the Bible & Science Have to Say About Time” was conceived of several years ago while she was a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School (of which she is holds a Master’s of Theological Studies from). After a strange experience following her mother’s passing-away, Switala finally reached a point where she decided to write a book focusing on the insights and knowledge she had acquired from her scholarly pursuits. She lives with her husband, Lekan Obadeyi, near Washington, D.C. To learn more visit: http://www.carisiaswitala.com/

A Bible Above the Rest

I’m not here to pass judgment. Oh wait, that’s EXACTLY what I’m here to do, since this is a book review. I’ve got to tell you, spoiler alert, that I am duly impressed with the “NIV First-Century Study Bible” with notes by Kent Dobson. Now you may be wondering how does a piece of work like yours truly go about accessing the worth of a Bible? Honestly, I could have just gone by sheer mass. Seriously. If it wouldn’t be some sort of vortex opening super sin, you really could kill a man with the latest hard cover edition. The publisher used thinner than normal paper. Not flimsy or shoddy, just thinner. I would hate to imagine the size and heft if it had been printed with standard paper. The injuries my wrists take just getting out my copy of “Absolute Watchmen” are intense. I would need an assistant to get this off the shelf if they hadn’t taken appropriate measures. Now before you think I didn’t put any thought or consideration into this at all, let me show you that I do know how to do my non-paying job.

NIV stands for New International Version. According to the Preface, “The complete NIV Bible was first published in 1978. It was a completely new translation made by over a hundred scholars working directly from the best available Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts. The translators came from the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, giving the translation an international scope. They were from many denominations and churches – including Anglican, Assemblies of God, Baptist, Brethren, Christian Reformed, Church of Christ, Evangelical Covenant, Evangelical Free, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Nazarene, Presbyterian, Wesleyan, and others. This breadth of denominational and theological perspective helped to safeguard the translation from sectarian bias.”

The even created a committee to keep up on biblical scholarship and to those ends the NIV Bible has been revised twice. The latest copy available builds on those revisions and reflects the latest effort to best translate international scholarship to English. That kind of work impresses me. But then, just in case their efforts to be as neutral and throrough in their interpretation as possible slips up, that’s where Kent Dobson comes in.

Dobson lived and studied in Israel where he earned a Masters Degree in History and Geography of the First Temple Period from Jerusalem University College. He also studied Comparative Religion at the Rothburg International School of Hebrew University. And Dobson provides all kinds of notes throughout the Old and New Testament and each Book has an introduction that provides outside context to the religious text you’re about to read. I know this is going to sound stupid, but I’m still going to say it, someone could really use this to study the Bible!

An important reason to not only have outside context notes as well as the best attempt at neutral translation can be found with everyone’s much loved Leviticus 18:22 which gets bandied about as the Biblical argument against homosexuality. “The NIV First-Century Study Bible” says:

Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.

However when we go to the note it is revealed that, “Most of the Old Testament information about homosexuality is in the context of either rape or ritual prostitution. The Bible associates homosexuality with Canaanite depravity and cultic pagan worship. A clear break from Canaanite practices is a major theme in Leviticus, from dietary restrictions to sexual relations.

That’s a bit different, eh? And it’s there, thanks to the addition of Kent Dobson’s notes.

It’s not every day a gal is asked to assess the worth of a Bible, and I have to say, I never really thought I would find that much here to set it apart. Yet as they say, “The Lord (in this case) works in mysterious ways” and I’m sitting here with a Bible I’m pretty enthusiastic about reading. Who knew?

If you find yourself in the market for a Bible for spiritual or academic reasons, I heartily recommend the “NIV First-Century Study Bible”.

Bible Verses By Heart

I received word about an iTunes app that I thought some of you might be interested in.

Penguin, creators of the popular “Poems by Heart” app, launches “Bible Verses by Heart”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: The Bible is the most important book for millions of Christians around the world, but it’s also a classic work of literature. Now, Penguin Random House is proud to launch “Bible Verses by Heart”, an app that will appeal not only to the faithful, but to those who view the Bible as literature and want to better understand the extent to which the “Good Book” permeates our culture and values.

Inspired by the successful” Poems by Heart from Penguin Classics” app—which has more than 30,000 active users a month, has been downloaded over 412,000 times, and is one of only six educational apps recognized as an “App Store Best of 2013”—“Bible Verses By Heart” is a beautiful, intuitive app designed to help readers memorize key passages from the Bible. Joel Fotinos, a licensed minister and the publisher of Tarcher Books, a Penguin Random House imprint, was hugely influential in determining the app’s 20 passages, which were gathered from the Old Testament, the New Testament, as well as Psalms and Proverbs.

“We wanted ‘Bible Verses by Heart’ to appeal not only to people who love the Bible and want to memorize key scriptures, but also to casual readers interested in knowing more about it—i.e., those who see the Bible referenced in literature, the news, and in popular culture, and would like a better understanding of the Bible’s verses, selections, and stories,” said Fotinos. “We narrowed down the selections to what I jokingly call “The Bible’s Greatest Hits” – meaning those passages that would have the greatest recognition and that fit within the guidelines we had set.”

Fotinos then ran the passages by a tough set of critics—a pair of nuns from a well-known Christian monastic community. The result: a collection that draws from five different translations and encompasses everything from 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 and Genesis 1:1-2:3 to Psalm 40:1-17 (A Prayer for Help) and Judges 5:1-31 (Song of Deborah).

“Since these are poetic selections, we weren’t trying to create a ‘Cliff’s Notes’ version. Nor did we want to choose only inspiring verses,” said Fotinos. “Rather, we picked selections that would add to a person’s Bible literacy. When someone memorizes these passages, they gain a greater appreciation of how pervasive these verses are in our culture. Eventually we hope to record and include more selections from the Bible to keep this project expanding and evolving.”

“Bible Verses by Heart” is free to download, and comes with three free passages, with 21 more available for in-app purchase. As users progress through five stages of difficulty, they are rewarded with high scores and Game Center Achievements. They also have the ability to record and share their own recitals via email and SoundCloud. The app was designed and developed by inkle, who also designed “Poems by Heart from Penguin Classics”.

“The Bible Verses by Heart” app is available for download for iPhone or iPad via iTunes. Click to read more about the “Bible Verses by Heart” app on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/bible-verses-by-heart/id925083573?mt=8

Now because I’m like this, and I know a bunch of you would be curious too, I checked with the public relations person for this project to find out exactly which Bibles these verses were coming from. As many of us know, that can make a real difference. It turns out it’s pretty diverse. “Bible Verses by Heart” uses passages from the King James Version, New King James Version, New American Standard, New Revised Standard Version, and the Contemporary English Version.

‘Twas the Night Before Hanukkah

I learned of an interesting exhibit going on at the National Museum of Jewish American History that I thought was fun and interesting. Something that those of you in Philadelphia may want to check out this holiday season.

The history of Hanukkah and Christmas songs and the Jewish musicians, artists, and songwriters who wrote and performed them is the focus of the National Museum of American Jewish History’s newest installation, ‘Twas the Night Before Hanukkah, opening November 4, 2014. The installation combines a cozy living room setting with modern technology to deliver a compelling story about the blending of the American and Jewish musical season, the soundtracks of religious holidays, and the musical standards we know today.

Featuring well-known artists such as Irving Berlin, Benny Goodman, Bob Dylan, the Ramones, and Lou Reed, as well as Christmas gems by the likes of Jewish salsa giant Larry Harlow, and Jewish stage and screen icons Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson, this multimedia installation will set to music American Jewish efforts to invent, re-invent, and celebrate a season marked by family, gift-giving, food traditions, and well-loved music—across multiple faiths.

“The Christmas music industry, as a quintessentially American enterprise, provided a way for Jewish songwriters, many of them immigrants or children of immigrants, to feel American. By showing how an outsider community can enter mainstream American culture, Christmas songs highlight a classic American Jewish narrative,” says Ivy Weingram, associate curator of NMAJH and co-curator of ‘Twas.

In a gallery styled as a cozy living room, visitors will be able to enjoy interactive song and video platforms, as well as images of holiday-related artifacts from the Museum’s collection of 30,000 objects, delivered on curated iPads accompanied by text and graphics of holiday celebrations. In addition to the audio visual component of the installation, visitors will have hands-on access to record albums, a wide selection of books on American popular music and Jewish history, and kids’ toys and books.

A ‘Twas-themed self-guided tour highlighting holiday-related objects in the permanent collection will also be available.

The installation is inspired by the critically-acclaimed 2012 music compilation produced by the Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation, which draws on jazz, folk, rap, Latin, and Klezmer musical styles. “At the Idelsohn Society, our goal has always been re-examining the Jewish-American musical past in new contemporary contexts,” says Idelsohn co-founder, Josh Kun. “Collaborating with NMAJH offers a rare opportunity to do this in a premier Museum setting where these songs and their commentaries on Jewish life, identity, and ritual will take on new meanings with new publics.”

‘Twas the Night Before Hanukkah will build on the cutting-edge interactive media for which the Museum has been widely recognized. This family-friendly, seasonal installation will run through March 1 and is designed to be enjoyed by visitors of all backgrounds.

For those of you who are interested, I have the “‘Twas the Night Before Hanukkah” musical compilation CD in the “I Recommend” widget on the site here. It’s also available for download through Amazon.

Meister Eckhart on Mindful Meditation

By Matthew Fox

Meister Eckhart was a late-thirteenth- and early-fourteenth-century preacher and mystic, yet like Rumi and Hafiz, he remains relevant today. He speaks to so many and touches people’s hearts. In this short excerpt from his new book “Meister Eckhart: A Mystic Warrior for Our Times”, bestselling author Matthew Fox shares his insights on letting go.

How do we get to that silence, to that Source of all things? Meister Eckhart calls on the story of Jacob in Genesis (28:20): “‘Jacob the patriarch came to a certain place and wanted to rest in the evening, when the sun had gone down.’…He says: ‘To a place’; he does not name it. The place is God. God has no name of His own, and is the place and position of all things and is the natural place of all creatures.” We commune with the Godhead, which is natural for us: “The Godhead alone is the place of the soul, and is nameless….‘Jacob rested in that place,’ which is nameless. By not being named, it is named. When the soul comes to the nameless place, it takes its rest. There, where all things have been God in God, the soul rests. That place of the soul which is God is nameless. I say God is unspoken.” It is in repose, at night, in silence, that God’s love burns the hottest. “In a God-loving soul it is evening. There is nothing there but repose, where a person is thoroughly penetrated and made illuminated with divine love….The soul remains in the light of God and in the silence of pure repose, and that is evening: then it is hottest in the divine love.” Darkness holds its special power and its special attraction. God likes a no-place, a no-where, and the soul wants to commune with God there as well. “As long as the soul is anywhere, it is not in the greatest of God which is nowhere.” After all, “God is nowhere….God is not here or there, neither in time or place.” Christ, too, is to be found there in a place of nothingness. “Where is Christ sitting? He is sitting nowhere. Whoever seeks him anywhere will not find him. His smallest part is everywhere, his highest part is nowhere.”

The journey is a journey inward, for that is where the human spirit is most at home and so too is God. Eckhart says, “God is a being who always lives in the innermost. Therefore the spirit is always searching within. But the will goes outward toward what it loves.”

How do we go about this journey inward to a nameless and unknown place? Eckhart says, “The Word lies hidden in the soul, unknown and unheard unless room is made for it in the ground of hearing, otherwise it is not heard. All voices and sounds must cease and there must be pure stillness within, a still silence.” To meditate is to collect ourselves. “The soul must be collected and drawn up straight and must be a spirit. There God works and there all works are pleasing to God. No work ever pleases God unless it is wrought there.” We learn to focus, for “the more the soul is collected, the narrower it is, and the narrower it is, the wider.” Great things happen in this place of silence, which is “the doorway of God’s house….In the silence and peace…there God speaks in the soul and utters Himself completely in the soul. There the Father begets His Son and has such delight in the Word and is so fond of it, that He never ceases to utter the Word all the time, that is to say beyond time.”

The journey inward into the dark and silence is a trip into simplicity, Eckhart says, a letting go of all things — all forms and images and memories — into the “essential mind of God, of which the pure and naked power is understanding, which the masters term receptive. Now mark my words! It is only above all this that the soul grasps the pure absoluteness of free being, which has no location, which neither receives nor gives: it is bare ‘beingness’ that has been stripped of all being and all beingness. There it takes hold of God as in the ground of His being, where He is beyond all being.” One lets go of all desire, which is so “far reaching” and measureless. “All that understanding can grasp, all that desire can desire, that is not God. Where understanding and desire end, there it is dark, and there God shines.” The Word of God is heard there, for “to hear this Word in the Father (where all is stillness), a person must be quite quiet and wholly free from all images and from all forms. Indeed, a person ought to be so true to God that nothing whatever can gladden or sadden him or her. She should take all things in God, just as they are there.” Then God will do the work and humans need only not resist. “If only the soul would stay within, all things would be present to it.” Solitude is tasted, for there the soul “must be alone as God is alone.”

About Matthew Fox:
Matthew Fox is the author of over 30 books including “The Hidden Spirituality of Men”, “Christian Mystics”, and most recently “Meister Eckhart”. A preeminent scholar and popularizer of Western mysticism, he became an Episcopal priest after being expelled from the Catholic Church by Cardinal Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI. You can visit him at http://www.matthewfox.org.

Excerpted from the book “Meister Eckhart: A Mystic Warrior for Our Times” ©2014 by Matthew Fox. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com