Saturday, December 10, 2005

Luigi Giussani's The Psalms: Reflections from two traditions within Christianity

One month ago, I blogged about visiting with the local San Diego Communion & Liberation folk with Pastor John. We not only met Mnsgr. Lorenzo Albecete, but began to establish friendships as brothers and sisters across the Roman Catholic - Protestant divide. During that initial meeting on the beaches of Coronado, Pastor John was asked to participate in an upcoming presentation on Luigi Giussani's The Psalms, a commentary on the same book in the Bible.

BJ Adamson introduced
the night at PLNU.
About a week ago, I started hearing from John that the presentation was going down on Tuesday in L.A. and I let him know to give me a heads up because I intended to join him. After reorganizing our day so that we could depart at an appropriate time to face L.A. traffic, John and I headed out of San Diego by 3pm and made it into the room by 6:20 for a 6:30 start time. Thankfully, the night began with a contemplative moment that consisted of orchestral music playing while a repeating slideshow displayed classic, peaceful paintings (I'm not versed enough to know what either of these elements exactly were) -- thankful because after rushing through L.A. traffic, it was a much-needed time to reflect in preparation for the evening. That night went amazingly well. The only regret is that the Orthodox Jew who was supposed to be there to present reflections from his tradition was ill.

The following will be some brief reflections of the two nights, although the pictures are from the latter night at Point Loma Nazarene University where we reconvened for a similar night intended for the San Diego C&L crowd as well as for the students of PLNU. Pastor John and Fr. Meinrad gave similar presentations each night and similar, although not exactly the similar--questions were asked after each prepared reflection on Luigi Giussan's The Psalms.

Fr. Meinrad Miller, O.S.B.
Father Meinrad Miller, a Benedictine monk from St. Benedict's Abbey in Atchison, Kansas presented his refelections from the Roman Catholic and specifically Benedictine tradition. He pointed out that the book that Jesus quoted most from in his ministry was the Psalms, and it is also the book that St. Benedict quotes from the most in his The Rule of St. Benedict. The Benedictines, according to the rule, pray the Psalms on the canonical hours.

Fr. Meinrad chose a few examples of Guissani to convey the spirit of his thought, and the one recited each night was Psalms 8 with a focus on "What is man that thou art mindful of him?"
The Psalmist asks, "What on earth is man that you keep him in mind, that you remember him?" Among all the beasts and little creaturse of the cosmos, man is one-hundreth, a thousandth, a ten-thousandth. But the greatness of man, the honor and glory of man, lies in the fact that man, is in relation with the infinite. To live what man is, to realize his person, man must grasp everything that God has done (pp. 18-19).

Also, we learn from Fr. Meinrad that not only did Jesus and St. Benedict quote the most from the Psalms, but as their lives came to an end before they passed into life eternal, both Father Giussani and Pope John Paul II were reflecting on the beauty of the Psalms as well. We are further told by Fr. Meinrad that Giussani wants us to live this mystery not in isolation, but in communion with friends. On its face this assertion might be somewhat interesting, but it becomes all the more profound as we remember that Fr. Meinrad Miller is a monk within the Benedictine order -- an order we "outsiders" might think is somewhat isolated because we most often mistakenly associate moanastic life with isolation. The contrary is true: there is communion with one another not only within the monastery, but also as Pastor John observed, "Father Giussani, one who was not a Benedictine monk, was able to call the Benedictines out of the monestary to become better Benedictines!"

Pastor John & Fr. Meinrad

Pastor John, my own pastor at the Church of the Nazarene in Mid-City, gave a presentation called "I'll Meet You in the Psalms: The American Holiness Movement's Lectio Divina and The Psalms by Luigi Giussani" (the full text can be found here, which Fred K originally linked to on Thursday). In his presentation, Pastor John reflected from his Protestant, Wesleyan, holiness tradition. Against Cartesian notions of beginning with the self, a very careful comment is made that the Psalms are actually God's own words given to us as a gift in order to dialogue with God that therefore begins with God. To often we think that we can justify all sorts of emotions because "hey, the Psalmist appears to be angry so that justifies my anger, or my despair, or my joy." We end up using the Psalms to justify our own feelings on the basis of when we feel like praising God or not. Reflecting on Psalms 57, Father Giussani says:
This is the theme of every morning of the world: I will wake with the dawn!

It is for this liveliness of heart that we must ask.

We must not be controlled by our mood, which is determined by a kind of force of gravity, like all things in the world. We never pray to Christ and we never think of Christ if we are not renewed. If something new does not break through, we either pray merely formally, or our prayer is ruled by our mood (pp. 64-65).

In The Psalms, while Father Giussani does not comment on Psalms 51, Pastor John as a good Nazarene cannot but help commenting on this section, as does one of the former presidents of PLNU, Dr. H. Orton Wiley.

Dr. Wiley sees Psalm 51 not only as a focus on sin --enough to make Augustine happy!--but also as a call to holiness. Focusin on sin, John says, "The holiness movement's reading of Psalm 51 offers little wiggle room for the lack, the deprivation, the lie, to use Father Giussani's word, that is sin at the basis of our lives." Furthermore, within the God's call to holiness, Wiley recognises that through the cleansing of sin from which the psalmist asks, "from the positive standpoint it is in infilling of divine love” (Wiley, p. 491), that is, participation in the Spirit, the Love of the Father and the Son. Pastor John sums this up with:
The holiness movement, in its core convictions, therefore shares in a lectio divina of the Psalms: a type of "praying of the Scriptures which enables the Bible, the Word of God, to become a means of union with God. . . . Within this rhythm we discover an increasing ability to offer more of ourselves and our relationships to the Father, and to accept the embrace that God is continuously extending to us in the person of his Son Jesus Christ" by, one might add from the holiness movements perspective, the work of the Holy Spirit.

Pastor John & Fr. Meinrad

In concluding his presentation, Pastor John then asks what then is the difference between the Wesleyan holiness tradition and the tradition of Father Luigi Giussani:
The Wesleyan tradition, presupposing the catholic faith, has concentrated largely on human participation in salvation, rather than God as the salvation in which humans participate. Wiley devotes much time and attention to the human movement from awakening to entire sanctification. Father Giussani, on the other hand, emphasizes the God in whom we participate. Giussani speaks often of God as the Mystery or the Presence. To even try to describe such a God is dangerous: "The more often the Presence is laid out for us, the greater the danger that we will not accept it, or qualify it with our 'ifs,' 'ands,' and 'buts.' We want, we set the measure of time; we set the method of responding to it" (p. 86-7), and Giussani makes it known throughout the book that this tendency to set the measure or method is a bad thing.

The Wesleyan lectio divina can slip easily into a form of modernism, a theological humanism in which the divine is collapsed in the human. Yet it does push to decision, to commitment to faith that leads to an active, if sometimes unwise, witness in the world. The slow, contemplative lectio divina of monasticism, even one as faith-full as
Father Giussani's, can lead to an inactivity through transforming God into an object for adoration, but not participation in through love. By an interaction with each other, a joining in a lectio divina of the Scriptures, we can celebrate together God's dialogue with us, in which God the Father pulls us in to participation in God's Word by the power
of the Spirit.

All thanks be to Christ for making these events possible! We are indeed very thankful that Pastor John and I can continue in friendship with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. Although Pastor John wasn't able to make it after the presentation at PLNU, a group of five of us went out to Rancho's in Ocean Beach for a late dinner. The conversation was good, and so was the food (Rancho's is probably my favourite restaurant in San Diego, by the way!). I talked mainly with BJ Adamson (pictured above), who was actually Fr. Meinrad's roommate in college, and discovered that the Father is quite the comic. His impersonation of Mnsgr. Lorenzo Albacete is nearly dead-on! We had a lot of fun and wonderful conversation, and I continue to look forward to seeking what Christ has in store for us.

(cross-posted to and BookGarden)

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