philosophy

The Yet Empty Stable

by Howard Hain

 

There’s a little stable not too far from here.

It sits in a church that has seen better days.

The parish is poor and the people seem to disappear.

But a few persistent peasants won’t stay away.

I love it there.

The priest is wonderfully uncertain.

He is afraid of God.

He instinctively bows his head at the mention of the name.

He knows how little he is in front of the great star.

I imagine he was involved in setting the stable.

It is a good size, on the relative little-stable scale.

It is surrounded by ever-green branches.

Probably snipped from the few Douglas Firs placed around the altar and yet to be trimmed.

The stable itself is composed of wood.

A little wooden railing crosses half the front.

A single string of clear lights threads through the branches laid upon the miniature roof.

They are yet to be lit.

I love it there.

I kneel before the empty scene.

For as of yet, not a creature or prop is present.

Not an ox or a goat, not a piece of hay or plank of fencing.

Not even a feeding trough that is to be turned into a crib.

No visible sign of Joseph and Mary, nor a distant “hee-haw” of a very tired donkey.

I wonder if I could get involved.

Perhaps I could slip into the scene.

There’s a darkened corner on the lower left.

In the back, against the wall.

I could hide myself within the stable.

Before anyone else arrives.

I don’t think they would mind.

I’d only be there to adore.

To pay homage to the new born king.

I might even help keep the animals in line.

Yes, a stagehand, that’s what I can be!

I know there’s no curtain to pull.

That’s to be torn in a much later scene.

But to watch the Incarnation unfold from within!

That’s what I dream.

To see each player take his and her place.

To see the great light locate the babe.

To watch the kings and shepherds stumble onto the scene.

Hark! To hear the herald angels sing!

O the joy of being a simple farmhand.

Of being in the right place at always the right time.

Of course though I wouldn’t be alone.

In that darkened corner, also awaiting the entire affair, there are many others.

Most I don’t know by name.

Too many in fact to even count.

But a few I know for sure.

For certain, present are those few persistent peasants who won’t stay away.

And of course there’s that wonderful anonymous parish priest.

The one who helped set into place this yet empty but very expectant stable.

The one whose fear of God is so clearly the beginning of wisdom.


 

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father.

 

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philosophy

Broken Baby Jesus

by Howard Hain

(Editorial note: This post was originally published on December 24, 2011.)

broken-baby-christ-2


We have not put up a tree in years.

For nearly a decade we have been moving—no longer than two years in any one house and no less than ten different not-so-humble abodes. Between and during the moves we were very much engaged with the world. A seemingly endless movable beast.

This December marks one year in our current house. I am happy to say it is our home. The Lord has blessed us with great peace. And with that peace comes a tree. A simple, well-shaped tree. Fittingly, a dear friend offered it to us as a gift.

Francesca could not be more ready to be initiated into the act of trimming. Before the tree arrived, her two-year-old fingers pointed out every tree, artificial or real, that graced the pages of a holiday flyer or the commercial floor of a Rite Aid or Dollar Store.

Up the stairs came the evergreen, into the old stand that has been in storage since my father last used it several decades ago. I cut off the mesh and out popped the branches.

We hung the lights and old glass ornaments that my mother-in-law washed a few days before.

The main attraction for Francesca was the Nativity.

Not since St. Francis of Assisi assembled the first Nativity in Greccio in 1223, has there been such admiration for each and every witness who Our Lord assembled to adore His Son that first Christmas two millennia ago. Francesca kissed and hugged every shepherd, sheep, donkey, angel and king. Most of all she adored the Holy family, calling Mary and Joseph, Ma-ma and Da-da, respectively. And Jesus, He was simply called: “ba-be.”

She carried them around the apartment. I did not want to ruin her fun, but they are ceramic. I explained a few times to be very careful.

“Gentle, Francesca…gentle…”, I harked a host of times.

Boom. To the wood floor went the shepherd. Amazing, grace held him intact. I took that as a great sign to put an end to her carrying the animals, angels and representatives of mankind.

I was fixing my coffee when I turned to see Francesca with Baby Jesus in her tiny hands. But He is so small, so tiny, what harm could come from holding Him? So I let her get away with carrying the Savior.

As I stirred my spoon Christ crashed to the floor, the tile floor. Francesca immediately looked at me, as if expecting all hell to break loose. I think I sighed but that was about all. It is Christmas, right? And it is, after all, only a ceramic figure purchased at Target.

After assuring Francesca not to worry and guiding her toward a few coloring books in the living room, I bent down to retrieve the broken Christ.

———

St. Francis was told by a Crucifix in an old abandoned chapel: “Restore my Church.”

In my small one-bedroom apartment, I found Baby Christ, broken into exactly three: The Head, the Torso, and the Crossed Legs.

“Restore the Trinity,” was spoken to me.

———

For half of my forty years I can honestly say I have tried to pursue Truth, wherever it lie. In philosophy, in scripture, in literature, in art, in nature, in history…

Now, the entire Gospel of Christ lie naked on my kitchen floor.

We separate, we distinguish, we categorize, we breakdown. The Fall of Adam was a fall into denomination.

Christ’s body is One. His Church cannot be broken. Only mere men can get things so wrong.

I think of the great “Angelic Doctor” of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas, who after spending a lifetime in unparalleled pursuit of human understanding, said after glimpsing a vision of what Our Lord has in store for those who love God:

“All that I have written seems like straw compared to what has now been revealed to me.”

Yes… “straw”…my brother Thomas…merely straw. Straw that lines the manger within which Our Savior is laid bare.

———

It is tradition to leave the crib empty until Christmas morning. Only then do we place the figurative baby Jesus into the scene, after all until that moment he was not yet brought forth from Mother Mary’s womb.

This Christmas morning I will glue together a Broken Baby Christ. The Head, the Torso, and the Crossed Legs will again be One.

Like the world after the birth of Christ, I will never be the same.

For what has now been revealed to me, no fall can break apart.


 

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father.

Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardDHain

twitter.com/HowardDHain

If you enjoyed this post, please consider “liking” it, adding a comment, becoming an email subscriber, or passing it along via the social-media links below. Your support is greatly appreciated. Step by step. All for God’s glory.

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philosophy

Posture of Prayer

by Howard Hain
el_greco_st_dominic_in_prayer-1595

El Greco, “St. Dominic Praying”, c. 1588


Sometimes just showing up is all we can do.

To put ourselves in position to pray and worship—at least physically, even if we just cannot seem to get there spiritually—is an act of prayer and worship in itself. And quite often, it is the best we have to offer.

By confessing our aridity through physical obedience alone, we approach God’s altar with humility, for we come to God in our “nothingness”.

The bowing of head, the placement of knees, and the closing of eyes return us to the dark warmth of the womb. It is no coincidence that the posture of prayer and the fetal position bear great semblance.

It is in the womb that we are closest to God, furthest from the corruption of the world, and possess the least of what our “flesh” considers of value—our “brilliant” ideas, our “magnificent” plans, our “heroic” acts—our self-aggrandizement.

It is in the womb that we find ourselves in complete dependence. We receive all we need without knowing, without speaking, without cost.

In that sense, being in the womb is much the same as being in the world—for in the world we are still completely dependent—it is just that without the obvious reminder of the umbilical cord, we so easily forget our total and complete dependence on God, our Creator, our Sustainer, and our Ultimate End.

Hence we find ourselves “knowing,” “telling,” and “paying a price.” When in reality, the only thing that we can somewhat even come close to taking credit for is being physically present to receive His Word, His Wisdom, and His Will. All of which come free of charge, His Son having already paid the price.

————

“Lord, let me place my knees to the earth. Let me feel the foot of the cross against the caps of my knees. Let me close my eyes and bow my head. Let my brow lay upon your bloodied feet. Let me humbly raise my eyes to gaze upon your battered body. Oh my Lord and my God, let your blood and water rain down upon me.”

Amen.


 

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father.

Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardDHain

twitter.com/HowardDHain

If you enjoyed this post, please consider “liking” it, adding a comment, becoming an email subscriber, or passing it along via the social-media links below. Your support is greatly appreciated. Step by step. All for God’s glory.

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philosophy

I’m Pro-Art

by Howard Hain
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Paul Cézanne, “Bathers”, 1874-75, (The Met)


I’m Pro Art

In other words:

I’m Pro Truth

In other words:

I’m Pro Beauty

In other words:

I’m Pro Love

In other words:

I’m Pro Creation

In other words:

I’m Pro Life

(Oops, how’d that happen…funny how logic can lead you to such “un-expecting” places.)

(Words do seem to matter—or at least carry some weight—maybe even 7 pounds 8 ounces worth.)

(Before you panic, give it a little, teeny-weeny, infant-sized bit of thought…)

Conclusion:

ProArt (pro-creates) ProLife

ProLife (pre-conceives) ProArt

ProArt (equ=als) ProLife


 

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father.

Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardDHain

twitter.com/HowardDHain

If you enjoyed this post, please consider “liking” it, adding a comment, becoming an email subscriber (drop-down menu at top of page), or passing it along via the social-media links below. Your support is greatly appreciated. Step by step. All for God’s glory.


Web Link: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Paul Cézanne, “Bathers”, 1874–75

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philosophy

Sure and Steady

by Howard Hain
jusepe-josc3a9-de-ribera-tightrope-walkers-1634

Jusepe (Jose) de Ribera, “Tightrope Walkers”, 1634


The brighter the light the more we squint.

The closer we get the less we see.

And if we stare we go blind.

Now what?

You have to trust.

In what?

Not in yourselves.

In total darkness the answer is clear.

All other ways disappear.

Close your eyes.

Shutter your ears.

Forget the past.

Ignore what is below.

Chin slightly elevated.

Now walk.

No need to go too slow.

Sure and steady.

Heart on the goal.

And if we slip?

Don’t worry.

I made the rope.

I hold it tight.

My Son is “the way and the truth and the life”.

In Him you never fall.

In Him you know.

In Him you live.

He walks before you.

You may not see Him but He is there.

Follow close behind.

It is a tight walk.

That’s why I gave Him a pole.

I gave you one too.

And because it can get very dark.

I made them easy to identify.

They are made of thick dead wood.

Your hands know their splinters and knots.

Hold tight.

Say thank You.

Kiss in the dark what you cannot see.

For that old piece of wood.

Will get you across the gorge.

Where on the other side.

It will be planted.

Grafted into the Tree of Life.


 

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father.

Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardDHain

twitter.com/HowardDHain

If you enjoyed this post, please consider “liking” it, adding a comment, becoming an email subscriber (drop-down menu at top of page), or passing it along via the social-media links below. Your support is greatly appreciated. Step by step. All for God’s glory.


 

 

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philosophy

Clean Enough To Care

by Howard Hain
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John Downman, “Child Holding a Doll”, 1780 (The Met)


What if someone handed you a child?

A small child.

A tiny child.

An infant.

A few hours…a few minutes old.

What if you were the only one that the child could be handed to?

Only you.

No one else around to help.

Would you receive that child into your arms?

There’s no sterilized room, no sanitary precautions, no sink, not even a bar of soap—just plain old you, a bunch of imperfect circumstances, and a poor tiny child that needs to be embraced.

You know what you would do.

Even if your hands were filthy, completely covered in soot and mud, you know what you would do.

You’d quickly rub your hands against your pants or shirt and wipe away the obvious dirt.

Then you’d hold out your hands.

Wouldn’t you?

Yes. You would.

We all would.

That’s what makes us human.

That’s what makes us children of God.

We’d do what we could with what we have to help an innocent child.

We know that “cleanliness” in such cases really doesn’t matter. For even if the circumstances were “perfect” we’d still have that uneasy feeling. That feeling that we’re not worthy to hold such innocence, to be entrusted with such treasure.

It’s a holy hesitancy that only true humility can bear.

Yet, it’s the necessity to help, the clear need for our assistance—the abundantly clear reality that we’re the only “hands” on deck—that drives us to overcome such holy and righteous fear—a fear that reveals just how poor we really are, much poorer in fact than even the helpless child we are about to embrace.

It is preciously this beautiful fear of God that propels us to love boldly—to boldly reach out beyond ourselves, to boldly become part of God’s mystical body, to become His very arms and hands—to embody Divine Love Itself—that perfect love of the eternal Father for each and every child ever created.

For it is the Father’s love that creates us, and sustains us, and longs to flow through us.

We just sometimes need extreme circumstances—ridiculously obvious situations—in order to tap the needed courage to let it to flow beyond our own borders and into those around us.

You are in such a situation. Right now.

We all are.

This very moment.

No matter where you are or what you’re doing.

Such a situation is at hand.

A child, a new born—cold, hungry, and without a home—desperately needs to be held.

Quick then, wipe your dirty hands, make due with what you’ve got—believe the Word of God, it’s good enough—now hold out your hands.

You’re clean enough to care.


 

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father.

Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardDHain

twitter.com/HowardDHain

If you enjoyed this post, please consider “liking” it, adding a comment, becoming an email subscriber (drop-down menu at top of page), or passing it along via the social-media links below. Your support is greatly appreciated. Step by step. All for God’s glory.


Web Link: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. John Downman, “Child Holding a Doll”, 1780

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philosophy

Walled Garden

by Howard Hain
francis-and-clare-from-the-movie-brother-sun-sister-moon-franco-zeffirelli

Saint Francis and Saint Clare from the movie “Brother Sun, Sister Moon”, (Franco Zeffirelli) (1972)


A garden enclosed, my sister, my bride,
a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed!

—Song of Songs 4:12


 

From memory it is not easy to recall. I do have a clear image, but if it is accurate that remains to be seen. Here we go.

It was downhill. A sloping path. As I approached the stone church, a few people wandered around out front. There was somewhat of a courtyard, well not a courtyard, more like a little wall hugging into existence a welcoming space. This wall was about bench height, made also of stone, and extended outward from the building. It created what I would normally call an out-front patio space, but in Italian terms, perhaps it would be called a terrazza, or maybe even be considered a piazza, or perhaps most accurately, a piazzetta. Then again, maybe it is just a patio to Italians too.

Well, sitting on this low wall was a friar. And running around the open area was a small brown dog with a shaggy little beige beard.

I entered the church. It was small, almost cave like. A curved ceiling. Dark. Old. There was the cross, a crucifix. Not the actual one that spoke to Saint Francis—no, that one was moved up into the Basilica of Saint Clare located in the central part of the still small but no-longer medieval town of Assisi.

The reproduction spoke to me.

I’m an early companion of Francis.


 

I remained in the chapel for a while. I’m not sure if I was praying or not. I’m pretty sure I got on my knees. But from that day’s perspective, prayer was not known to me. So from that perspective, I wasn’t praying. But from today’s perspective, I most certainly was. For I was there. I was in Italy, in Assisi, in the Church of San Damiano. I was there intentionally. I was lost but I was found. I was looking, and I was obeying. Obeying what I didn’t know. I had no idea why, but I wanted to be there. And I felt something. It was heavy, literally. I remember feeling bent over. I remember thinking about all the prayer that must have taken place in that small space over the past thousand years. I remember thinking that all that collective belief must have an effect. It did. It does. It will. I was certain that I felt it. It bowed me down. It bent me over. And I remember liking it.

Faith is common.

I was a pilgrim and didn’t know it.


 

I don’t remember much about the convent itself. I do remember walking from room to room, the communal rooms where Saint Clare and her companions, her biological mother and two sisters among them, ate and prayed and cared for their sick. I remember the small warm inner garden, with it’s old well. And the spot marked as the place where Clare liked best to sit. I’ve always loved internal courtyards. The thought of being outdoors and yet enclosed. Architecturally, it best represents the beauty of true solitude. Open. Yet safe. Free. Yet sheltered. Alone. Yet surrounded by those who believe the same.

In that sense, solitude—when it’s truly interior, truly spiritual—is like love: you can never get enough of it, and once you have it, once you truly live within it, you’re never again alone.

Solitude is love. And love is never solitary.


 

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.

—Isaiah 7:14


 

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father.

Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardDHain

twitter.com/HowardDHain

If you enjoyed this post, please consider “liking” it, adding a comment, becoming an email subscriber (drop-down menu at top of page), or passing it along via the social-media links below. Your support is greatly appreciated. Step by step. All for God’s glory.

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