Feast Of The Ascension 2012

Scripture Readings for The Mass are here

Various reflections from St Louis Liturgy Centre are here 

Now you see Him, now you don't - So where is He?

John Foley S.J says
"One way to look at it is to say that he had graduated from life into Life. Having tunneled through the narrow passageway of death—as you and I will do one day—he had given everything he was and everything he possessed to the Father out of sheer love. 

Instead of there being nothing left there was now a humanity transformed, a divine human person opened up all the way, now marked with the totality of love. 

He was on his way back to the dynamic, swirling, Trinitarian circle of love from which his humanity had issued in the first place.

                                                                       Image  Anish Kapoor Basilica di San Georgia Venice 2011

He lingered after the Resurrection only in order to tell us about it, to comfort us, to ease the loss. Quite difficult to understand. 

“Stay in Jerusalem until my Spirit comes to fill your heart,” Jesus said to his followers (First Reading from Ascension). They were to be filled “with all humility and gentleness, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit” (Second Reading).

The immense act of modest love that was the resurrection was to be poured into us and it would be called the Holy Spirit. Jesus would continue to be alive within the world after all, but in a different form: our bodies and those of our neighbors.

 Loss and absence were to be turned into real presence.

In the Eucharistic Prayer and Communion, we take his body and blood into our body and blood. The Spirit helps us accept his whole life, death, and resurrection as they settle into us and into others around us.

This real presence now abides forever in our midst, urging us, gently nudging us to say yes. 

School is not out."

       Salvador Dali Ascension

In Eugene Peterson’s book entitled, The Pastor, he describes the moment of  the Ascension as a continuation of and a summation of the moment of Shekinah, which was first apparent when the newly risen Jesus appeared to Mary in the garden but she mistook Him for the gardener.
 Peterson says :

“‘Shekinah’ is a Hebrew word that refers to a collective vision that brings together dispersed fragments of divinity.

 It is usually understood as a light-disseminating presence, bringing an awareness of God to a time and place where God is not expected to be — a place. 

It’s not a public spectacle but more like a selective showing at God’s discretion to encourage or affirm, to reveal a reality of something that we do not yet have eyes to see.”

Mary did not recognize the person, but she discerned the presence. The resurrection transformed the body, and the presence transformed the space. 

God’s glory was a breath away from Mary, but she did not yet have the eyes to see it. BUT, she knew it was there. 

In light of the Ascension, the ‘Shekinah’ is no longer held captive in the garden,
but omnipresent throughout all time and space.
Look for it wherever you are.
Close your eyes and know it. 

Death and Empire are cast out.
They are no longer on the top rung of the ladder of glory and power.

Jesus is!"


“Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty;
the whole earth is filled with his glory.” (Isa 6:3)

My own thoughts- only formative nothing worked out fully here...........................

 Building on Peterson's Hebrew imagery I find that James Hillman's view of another Hebrew tradition of the Tsimtsum of some value in understanding the reason for withdrawal of Jesus in the Ascension. 

Hillman used the term in a different context when he was describing the quality of therapeutic space needed to help a client, in his book, In Search Psychology and Religion.

( I would add that for gender balance God would be Him /Her throughout this passage.)

"In this idea of "Tsimtsum", God as omnipresent and omnipotent was everywhere and so fills the Universe with His/Her Being. How then could creation come about ?

Not through emanation, God issuing forth from Him/Herself, for there would be no space, and if there were space it would imply an imperfection of God, a place empty, where God was not.

So God had to create by withdrawal; and created the not-Him/Her, the other , by self contraction, self concentration.

From this doctrine many mystical speculations arose concerning the hidden splendour of God and its parallels for mystical man, who through intensification, withdrawal and exile from the outer world aids the creation.

On the human level withdrawal of myself aids the other to come into being.

St John of The Cross states the paradox of distance simply as "sin arrimo y con arrimo" :without approaching, approaching,

I find some sense of understanding Hillman's meaning here as applied to the Ascension: Christ was in a process of withdrawal and so allowing space for making way for the energy of the Holy Spirit. 

It also helps understand what the risen Jesus said to Mary after the resurrection when He said not to touch Him because he had not yet returned to The Father - 

almost as if He was in some sort of  process of contraction and withdrawal, and one that needed transformative space for that to happen. 

This is an interesting article on The Tsimtsum and it touches on where humanity finds itself in the process at this point in time and a suggested role of the Holy Spirit.

So as Ron Faley says :

"Jesus' ascension marked the end of Jesus' time on earth and the beginning of the Holy Spirit's age on earth." 

So we have to wait for Pentecost for the next step in the process and once again we find ourselves alongside the disciples. 
What were they feeling in those days ?  
Lost,  emotionally jolted,  the gradual sinking in of the significance of everything that had taken place in those three years with Christ,  taking it all in, the endless going over of Christ's words to them, His miracles, trial, cross, death and resurrection, the frantic search for the missing pieces of the puzzle that would explain what their purpose could be in all this now.

Were they aware now of the awesome responsibility they had ?

Did they argue over the instructions Jesus had been so careful to give them ?Did they really believe He had gone ahead and was preparing a place for them ?

Did they feel left in the lurch and not up to the task in their place of waiting, in this liminal space of waiting for The Holy Spirit...

What bound them together ?

Did they break the bread and drink the wine and experience the presence of Christ in that interim time or did that come later ?
We are a lot like them !!

Ascension William Ayton

Fr. Robert Barron explains the Ascension
                                                Heavy on philosophy and theology !!

                     Additional commentary on The Ascension from Fr. Robert Barron
                        and a little help from Evelyn Waugh and John Henry Newman

Eugene Peterson, in Practice Resurrection,says:

"The same Jesus who just over forty days earlier had been crowned “King of the Jews” on his Golgotha throne is now ruling from heaven’s throne. 

Everything he said and did in Roman-occupied Palestine is now being spoken and acted upon from “on high.”
When Paul’s companion Luke set out in Acts to tell us the story of the church, he began with Jesus’ Ascension.
 Ascension is the opening scene that establishes the context for everything that follows: Jesus installed in a position of absolute rule – Christ our King. All men and women live under the rule of Jesus. This rule trumps all other thrones and principalities and powers.

Knowing this, with the knowing elaborated and deepened in worship, the church has the necessary room to live robustly under the conditions of resurrection.

 If we don’t know this, the church, its imagination conditioned by death and the devil, will live timidly and cautiously.

Paul places the Ascension focus that Luke established at the threshold of the story of the church’s birth and early development by repeating the Ascension imagery, “he ascended on high,” as his orienting text for lives formed into a mature resurrection life: the resurrected Jesus rules church and world and every last one of us from heaven’s strategic center.  

That he rules is basic belief; the way he rules is subjected to numerous squabbles among Christians who insist on replacing a personal Lord with an impersonal doctrine."

My own thoughts on Peterson's views :

Peterson's view of the Ascension comes from a language based on male domination and it strikes me as being lopsided and singularly left brained. It ties in with a patriarchal view embedded in a typical model and worldly view of control and power that patently lacks a feminine input.

The reality of God for many people in the 21st century is no longer contained in these explanatory schemes.

Our lives of faith and spirituality are arenas for needed disruptions, just as much as the way we live our lives in the real world.

Peterson paints a one dimensional and incomplete picture of God, devoid of any sense of the feminine principle of a Mother God united with The Father of all and also lacking any consideration of the animating and expansive right hemisphere and its imaginal spirit and soul making poetics with the the left hemisphere traditional cognitive functions.

I think a more modern reappraisal of why Christ appears seated on the right hand of God could take into account a better understanding of right v left hemisphere brain functions. 

Our knowledge and understanding of  the plasticity of conscious and unconscious processes suggest to me we need a more fluid and porous conception of God's kingdom that unites male and female but even transcends and goes beyond duality to transform us into a totality and unison beyond human comprehension.

I was listening today to a Walter Bruegemann in an interview with Krista Tippett where he talks about the Prophetic imagination needed by the church today.

He says ( and I paraphrase him here,) that the courage and conviction required and entrusted in the missional church today is one that needs to be thoughtful and honest about about the spectrum of opinion within itself that is not homogenous and to accept that there is not one way to do everything.

He agrees that there is a thin line between  emancipating people and affronting them but the aggressive way in which the church is acting seems to be working with a toxic stridency and is only alienating people.

He reminds us that it is in the nature of humanity that prophets are not recognised and that it is likely that the prophets of our own day, just as in the Old Testament will be uncredentialled,  with no established pedigree and are more likely to appear from outside the institutional church than within it.

He has a sense that humanity today has a sense of impending chaos and an amorphous anxiety that we are in free fall as a society.

He says if the connection of God to us is seen as "via an umbilical cord", it is in this feminine image of the womb- like mother, that the qualities of love, mercy and generosity to others can support the needs and identity of every child of God and full acceptance of gay people.

He says we need to break the pattern of scapegoating and revenge and this can only be done by cultivating the connectedness we have to others. 
We need to find a way transferring that into policies marked by generosity to others less well off. 

Biologically we can only survive when we see others well being linked to our own.

and finally this viewpoint from Ron Rolheiser's Facebook Page via Chris Santhou:
"This is the mystery of the Ascension and Pentecost, of letting go and imparting the spirit. Jesus himself illustrated it. He came and he shared, but, at a point, it was enough. The child was grown. 
He left us with his blessing. His spirit, the Holy Spirit, is received by all who receive that blessing. 
Through that spirit, Jesus is present to us in a way that is far deeper than he was ever present to his disciples when he was physically with them. Today we badly need to bless each other. 
The disease of our age is that nothing seems to last. Love, friendship, what we accomplish through ministry, inevitably breaks down. 
Given physical separation, what we have shared with each other in friendship and ministry invariably crumples and falls apart.The vision, the values, the shared spirit, in a word, the love, we have so painstakingly arrived at, crumples and we go our separate ways. Why?
We haven’t blessed each other. There has been no ascension and, accordingly, there can be no pentecost.
 We’ve shared each others’ physical presence, but we’ve never received each others’ spirits for, if we had, no amount of time or distance, not even death itself, could crumple the shared vision, the shared values, the shared love."

My own thoughts at this stage...

Whatever dim glimpses I have of the Ascension I know are based in a knowledge of how humans are only at an interim transitional stage in the tumultuous and continuing adventure of creation.

But I am convinced that the nature of the institutional church needs to let loose some of what we have relied on in the past and be unafraid to shed that without fear of losing credibility.  

This is not an arrogant or nonchalant rejection of tradition and authority but it is more of a realisation of the organic and evolutionary process we are part of and that a transforming paradigm is another necessary step forward on a very long road.
A reminder that the Holy Spirit has been there since before time began " brooding over the waters " and is brooding over us now too.

 We are being guided byThe Holy Spirit but we need to acknowledge our reliance on our lack of power and have the courage to relinquish the decrepit methods of working. 

That will require a quantum leap in the church's imagining of the way it sees God.

The institutional church does not seem to acknowledge that zeal leaves the same footprints as indifference.

I know so many people who struggle to be faithful to the church who try to stay in it with an ongoing committment to reform and renewal but they feel that they are wasting their time.

So much double talk. The church is supposed to be teacher and mother. 

 But the mother part of church is a sick parody of what "good" motherhood means.
 A mother sustains and affirms -she does not seek recrimination or sow seeds of conformity and bitterness. 

People sometimes talk of two models of being church. One is the “Attraction Model” and the other is the “Deployment Model.” Most churches operate from the Attraction Model trying to dream of programs that will draw people to the church so that the church will grow and be self sustaining. 

The Deployment Model however, sees every member of the church being in ministry wherever they find themselves in the world. The Attraction Model tends to see the church as the people that are being served. 

The Deployment Model sees the church as serving the world.

This markedly changes the role of ordained and the laity but we get nowhere fast when it comes to the Magisterium.

Women can't get close;  the marginalised don't have a voice. The crises in the church are about the fundamental issues of how our church arrives at revealed doctrines and its formulations. 

The church beatified Cardinal Newman so it is worth examining what this man half way to official certified sainthood has to say.

"The avoidance of erroneous teaching involves the echoing judgement of the contemporary faithful "

 "The consensus of the Universal Church is the ultimate guarantee of revealed truth," writes Newman. 

What would Newman make of it all today ? 

I suspect that the failure of the reception of so much of the Magisterial teaching from "on high" into the world would be crucially relevant to any discussions on renewal and there is a silent majority unable to get through to the Magisterium because the doors are firmly closed.

The function of mercy, compassion, forgiveness and reconciliation will require the full assimilation into the church of the anima, the feminine spirit that I am convinced has been so sadly lacking and in some ways lost by the church. 

That is what is coming into the future.

Socrates said all true speech ends in doxology to God so as ever we act from a place of humility and thanks to our creator God, as this song says ! 

( Maybe adding Lord and Mother and Spirit :-)

Robin Mark: We Bow Down

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