Become a Companion on Christ’s Journey: Bonaventure and Infant Mysteries in The Tree of Life

SAMSUNGIn The Tree of Life, St. Bonaventure meditatively traces the mystery that is the life of Jesus as it appears in the New Testament.  This Franciscan – a scholar-peer to Thomas Aquinas at the University of Paris, religious superior/minister general who dealt with often arguing brothers in Christ, and mystic (perhaps in self defense!) – in this text enters the events of Jesus’ life with a poetic imagination.  He brings his readers along for the journey, rich in sensory images.

[Some might say such imaginative reflection is Ignatian… ah!  As Ewert Cousins notes in the foreword of the Classics of Western Spirituality volume on Bonaventure:  “Bonaventure’s The Tree of Life is in many respects a forerunner of Ignatian meditation, in both its subject matter and its techniques.”  As often happens, the saints inform one another – whether or not they are aware.  The Spirit blows where she wills!]

So, if you want in 2014 to enter into the life of the Gospel Jesus more fully through meditation that opens to contemplation, The Tree of Life might be something you might consider reading slowly.  In almost every reflection on the life of Jesus, there are inserted prayers or pleas or imperatives to the reader.  Today, I offer you a taste of portions of the text as it reflects on the Epiphany and Presentation of Jesus in the temple.


Jesus Shown to the Magi

When the Lord was born in Bethlehem of Judah, a star appeared to the Magi in the east and with its brightness showed them the way to the home of the humble King.

Do not now turn away
from the brilliance of that star in the east
which guides you.
Become a companion of the holy kings….
With gold, frankincense and myrrh,
venerate Christ the King
as true God and man.
Together with the first fruits of the Gentiles to be called to faith,
adore, confess and praise
this humble God
lying in a manger.
And thus, warned in a dream
not to follow Herod’s pride,
you will return to your country
in the footsteps
of the humble Christ.

Jesus Submissive to the Law

It was not enough for the teacher of perfect humility, who was equal to the Father in all things, to submit himself to the humble Virgin. He must submit himself also to the Law….  presented to God in the temple and that an offering should be given for him in the presence o the just who were rejoicing.

Rejoice, then,
with that blessed old man and the aged Anna;
walk forth
to meet the mother and Child.
Let love overcome your bashfulness;
let affection dispel your fear.
Receive the Infant
in your arms
and say with the bride:
I took hold of him
and would not let him go.
(Song of Songs 3:4)
Dance with the holy old man
and sing with him…

– Excerpts from The Tree of Life, 6/7

Listed below are the words/phrases that catch at my heart as I type and listen today. Which ones catch at yours?

do not now turn away

guides you

become a companion of the holy kings

humble God

return to your country in the footsteps of the humble Christ

walk forth

let love overcome


would not let him go



Categories: Christmas, Franciscan, Mystics | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Year’s Eve: Hildegard, the Word, God’s Maternal Love, and Repentance

In less than four hours, our time zone will flip over to 2014.  January 1st symbolically holds hopes and fears, energy and trepidation, for many.  It is a natural beginning, just as today – the 31st of December – is a natural ending.  What have been the flavors of the year past for you, for me?  What do we seek in the year about to begin?  Is there a cultural message that, whatever it holds, we must pull ourselves along or up or over hurdles or around obstacles with new-year-will-power all on our own?  What gives me more will power tomorrow than I had today?

Julie Morgenstern, organizing guru and author, is wise as she writes of organizing our lives being more than re-packaging or re-ordering the contents.  In her work, she suggests viewing the present forward as the next chapter of our lives, for which we should determine the key theme.  And then we should ‘pack’ for that journey/chapter, letting go of stuff, time commitments and attitudes that don’t match with the theme we are entering.  It’s a great bit of wisdom (and may be helpful to some of us to truly re-order, as she puts it, from the inside out).

Though change takes more than a calendar flipping forward, markers llike New Year’s Eve and Day can provide motivation to access our truest desires and see if there can be movement in areas of our lives.  This is terrific, and we should all discern these steps – changes for health, for holiness, for wholeness, for virtue, for service, for compassion and solidarity with others.  Such discernment can bring us to an awareness of what has not been of sufficient priority in our lives.  It’s an end of the holidays-end of the year examen.  Can you and I repent?

SAMSUNGIn the spirit of these days of celebrating the Christmas season, note these words of wisdom:

Through the fountain-fullness of the Word
came the embrace of God’s maternal love,
which nourishes us into life,
is our help in perils,
and — as a most profound and gentle love –
opens us for repentance.

Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias II, 2, 4


* cover art of Hildegard: Prophet of the Classic Christ, Crossroads

On New Year’s Eve, I recommend looking at our lives through the arms of the embrace of God’s maternal love, as described by Hildegard.  Only from there can I (and maybe you?) safely contemplate the invitations to change and awareness and maturity and virtue that we need not attempt alone.  Spiritual formation and growth is not a western culture individual fix-yourself-up kit.  It is seeing from God’s loving view and letting it open us to repentance, and to unending mercy.

It heartens me that Pope Francis’ underlying orientation seems to be toward speaking to our age of mercy. His motto – “Miserando atque eligendo”, meaning lowly but chosen – tells us how he sees himself, and invites us to the same self-seeing.  We are lowly.  We are chosen.  We are seen.  We are given mercy over and over, flowing from love.

At the local YMCA, regulars speak about how crazy the locker room area is in January.  “But, no worries, it’s just the New Year’s crowd,” quickly follows.  “They’ll be gone soon.”  Cynical?  Maybe.  Often accurate to some degree.  And it makes me wonder.

Can our thinking about the New Year be rooted in what Hildegard offers us in looking at the Incarnation Mystery?  As we rest still by that manger and listen, perhaps we find our rootedness (stable-ity?) in recollecting the fountain-fullness of God’s love which is our help always, and is gentle and profound.  Any ‘resolution’ might best find root first in re-knowing (yes, re-collecting!) over and over, through practice, the truth of this vision.  We might then be open to a mercy that opens us up to repentance.

Check out these words from Wikipedia on the etymology of repentance/to repent (bold, mine) :

“In the New Testament, the word translated as ‘repentance’ is the Greek word μετάνοια (metanoia), “after/behind one’s mind”, which is a compound word of the preposition ‘meta’ (after, with), and the verb ‘noeo’ (to perceive, to think, the result of perceiving or observing). In this compound word the preposition combines the two meanings of time and change, which may be denoted by ‘after’ and ‘different’; so that the whole compound means: ‘to think differently after’. Metanoia is therefore primarily an after-thought, different from the former thought; a change of mind accompanied by regret and change of conduct, “change of mind and heart”, or, “change of consciousness”.

Be with the Holy Family, be with the maternal love of God, be with the baby Jesus, know the love that is the help in all our peril — and THEN see what the ‘after thought’ might be.  For some of us, the being with may prove to be the best and most important first step.  And telling others of this love, a joyful evangelization.  And living it, service and justice.  And change may then be more than a January “till we run out of steam” event. It’s not our steam.  Our fuel, our food, is the manger, where we feed.  It continues in the Eucharist we share. Be fed, and move to after thought, repentance, metanoia only motivated by love.  By Love.

Happy New Year’s Eve!


Categories: Change, Christmas, Mystics, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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