Seduced in Hollywood

Last summer, my wife and I traveled the US West Coast. In Los Angeles, strolling down Hollywood Boulevard, right there ‘in the belly of the beast’, we stumbled upon a young lady offering us… a free prayer. It was a temptation we couldn’t resist. Prayers are possible, anytime, anywhere, for free indeed. You can run out of gas, but never out of grace – ain’t it?

“The Christian may sometimes envy
those who have renounced the cares of the world
for the supposed calm of the desert;
but then those who live in the world
may at any time find within themselves the true desert, where no one enters,
where no one is with you,
but where there is only you and God.”

– St. Augustine of Hippo, 354-430 (from Homilies on the Psalms 38.13).

Beautiful Japan

The Old Testament books of Kings tell the story of the prophet Elijah. At a certain moment, while being haunted by his enemies, Elijah finds himself to be totally disillusioned. He even longs to die. Then the angel of the Lord encourages him, and after a final meal, he sets off on a journey that will last 40 days and nights (his period of ‘Lent’), until he reaches Mount Horeb – the Lord’s mountain. There, in the midst of his despair and loneliness, he catches a glimpse of the tender but steadfast power of Hope. A Hope that is not in tempests, earthquakes or fires, but in a ‘gentle breeze’…

Composer Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy retells this moment in his beautiful oratorio Elias (German text and translation below) – listen to it by clicking the image of the tree:

Der Herr ging vorüber, und ein starker Wind, der die Berge zerriß und die Felsen zerbrach, ging vor dem Herrn her, aber der Herr war nicht im Sturmwind. Der Herr ging vorüber, und die Erde erbebte, und das Meer erbrauste, aber der Herr war nicht im Erdbeben. Und nach dem Erdbeben kam ein Feuer, aber der Herr war nicht im Feuer. Und nach dem Feuer kam ein stilles, sanftes Sausen. Und in dem Säuseln nahte sich der Herr…

Behold, God the Lord passed by! And a mighty wind rent the mountains around, brake in pieces the rocks, brake them before the Lord. But yet the Lord was not in the tempest. Behold, God the Lord passed by! And the sea was upheaved, and the earth was shaken. But yet the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there came a fire. But yet the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there came a still small voice. And in that still voice onward came the Lord…

(From Elias – Oratorium nach Worten des Alten Testaments, op.70, by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy; this part refers to 1 Kings 19:11-12).

Amidst earthquakes and other natural disasters, the Japanese always held on to their refined and subtle cultural traditions. Our thoughts and prayers go to the people of Japan, who suffer from the most terrible earthquake in their recorded history: may they find strength in their own ‘still small voice’…