Reflection Masthead
Issue 118 - The Unknown- December 2014

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Reflect on the unknown mysteries of love and dying in this moving essay:

Angela Alaimo O'Donnell

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What did Mary know about Jesus?
Mary, Did You Know? [Live]Listen to  
Mary, Did You Know? [Live]

Past Issues


2-Creating Sacred Space

3-Leaving Footprints


5-Ordered Life

76-Vanier Visit

87-Wondrous Fear, Holy Awe

91-Crater Lake



101-On Reflections 

102-Morning Moments

104-Into Self Into God

107-First Home

108-NBA Championship

109-Not Nice

110-On Freedom 

111-Electronic Dependency

112 Robin Williams 


114-Simple Acts 

115-The Seen Edge 

116-Kentucky Epiphany 

117-Sing Your Name  

Link to all past issues  



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Meeting Strangers

       It was one of the early cool fronts of the season. At breakfast on that first chilly morning, I asked Bill if it froze outside. He said there might have been a little frost. Even now, in my senior years, having grown up and lived most of my winters in the tropical warmth of South Texas, the concept of "frost" is a little weird. I told Bill that Frosty the Snowman is a total stranger to me. I have never met a snowman in person nor have I ever made one.

       It's easy to compartmentalize "stranger" and "unfamiliar" and "distant" as weird. Like most people, I tend to build relationships with those who are somewhat like me. Admittedly, that self- limiting behavior tends to shrink my world of experience. Donald taught me a lesson about that. Donald was the barista who fixed up my latte at Starbucks. He gave it to me saying it was on him. He added, "Just say a prayer for me." Donald struck me as a handsome, self-assured black man with everything going for him. He said he was a veteran, a beneficiary of  Starbuck's initiative which creates opportunity for veterans as they transition from military service. He said when he came back from Iraq he was really messed up; then Starbucks found him and he found a new life. He found hope. I found inspiration through Donald's story.

       At our season of Advent, let us consider the journey to Bethlehem with Joseph and Mary. If we were traveling with them, whom would we meet along the way? All of those strangers! Those other refugees and exiles seem really weird. Shepherds are pretty weird, sleeping with their flocks to protect them from predators and thieves. And the kings - those garbs they are wearing - what were they thinking?!  When it was time for Mary to deliver her baby, Jesus the Christ Child, she and Joseph bedded down in an unlikely broken-down shelter, probably being waited on by a strange housemaid or midwife. Undoubtedly Mary and Joseph were recipients of necessities for the newborn, wherever they came from. I imagine all of these gifts of tending were received with gratitude. I imagine that all of the folks who came to see the new baby were received warmly and affectionately. And I imagine that the ones who came found new life - and found hope.  

       Mary took a great risk in saying yes to the angel who announced that she was chosen to become the mother of Jesus. Maybe we can take a risk in saying yes and befriending a stranger.                                     --by Jan 

A Season of Ignorance

Advent is not only a season of waiting; it is also a season of ignorance. Advent reminds us, as the Apostle puts it, that "we know only in part" (1 Cor. 13:9).

Ignorance seems to be part of the human condition. Steven Weinberg, winner of a Nobel prize in physics, published an  article last year entitled "Physics: What We Do and Don´┐Ż€™t Know." Words like "puzzle" and "mystery" appear repeatedly in this article.  Weinberg notes that the "standard cosmological model" holds that "our expanding universe is mostly dark matter and dark energy." There is only one problem: "So far dark matter has not been found, and no one knows what it is.

All of this leads Weinberg to the rather chastened conclusion: "Physical science has historically progressed not only by finding precise explanations of natural phenomena, but also by discovering what sorts of things can be precisely explained. These may be fewer than we had thought."

Reflecting on the point Weinberg makes, religion scholar Jack Miles, in a fascinating recent article, suggests that religious faith and practice is best understood not "as a special claim to knowledge," but rather as "a ritualized confession of ignorance."

Despite all scientific advances, "our ignorance still exceeds our knowledge." Given that fact, Miles argues that all people - religious or secular, atheist or Christian - require "some kind of interim closure, some way of coping with our own invincible ignorance."

Oh, yes, self-assured fundamentalists - religious or scientific - will loudly proclaim that they possess the Truth and everyone else is wrong. In fact, we are all ignorant. We know only in part, and pray that further truth be revealed. 

Advent calls us to confess our ignorance, to bow humbly before mystery, and to await unfolding wonder.

                                                     --by Bill 

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Sincerely,  Bill Howden & Jan Davis
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