Saturday, November 30, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Daniel 14 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 12)

Daniel 14 – This Daniel story is about Daniel’s closeness with king Cyrus of Persia and the king’s belief in the deity Bel [one of the names of the god Marduk in Babylonia]. The king asks Daniel why he does not worship Bel, and Daniel tells him he worships “the living God who made heaven and earth”. Cyrus says Bel lives too because the god consumes all the food offerings given to him. Daniel shows that it is merely people going into the sanctuary who are eating the offerings. The king has the whole family – a priestly family with access to the offerings – killed.

Then attention turns to the dragon, associated with Marduk, Daniel manages to put together a concoction that kills the dragon. Leaders go to Cyrus and pressure him to turn Daniel over to them. The throw Daniel into the lion’s pit and he lives with the seven lions in the pit for six days. Habakkuk the prophet, is given a revelation that he should take food to Babylon to give to Daniel. The angel carries Habakkuk by the hair to the city and sets him down next to Daniel. Daniel eats the meat and Habakkuk is returned to his country. When Cyrus comes on day seven expecting to see Daniel dead, he is amazed and declares, “You are great, O Lord, God of Daniel, . . .there is no god but you!” (14:42). Daniel is released, the plotters thrown in and eaten by the lions.

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 12
The hypnotism exercise did not cure my hives, but it let me know I was still suffering a bad case of religious nostalgia. The hives finally did go as I started my second year in law school, but that year brought challenges of its own. I had a second pregnancy and a miscarriage, then the next spring another pregnancy. By the winter of 1976, I was finished with law school and ready to have my second child. My little boy was three. That Christmas I took him to see the Raleigh Boys Choir. He was old enough now to appreciate Christmas and some of the things I had loved in it. As soon as the choir started to sing, I started to weep uncontrollably. I hid it from my son, I think, and from the people around me, but I again felt a sense of torment. That Christmas I also took him to the Moravian Church down the street from our home to see the Christmas display and buy Christmas cookies. They had a beautiful crèche scene—a diorama of the Bethlehem countryside, the star, the shepherds, the kings coming over the hills bearing gifts, the stable, the holy family. I didn’t expect my son to ask me questions about it, but he did. Suddenly I started giving explanations that would have made a graduate student’s head spin—about how some people believed this, but other people belied that, how what was laid out here wasn’t really true, but it was what people believed in and what they celebrated at Christmas. He settled for all my words, but I wasn’t satisfied. I left there feeling troubled. I wondered how it would be for him and for the other child I was soon to have to grow up without any way of connecting to these simple traditions, without any sense of things “spiritual.” My husband did not share these concerns. He did not feel any attraction to religion at all and only spoke angrily of it when he did think about it. But I can’t say that I know what his heart might have been on these issues. We simply didn’t talk about it. We didn’t talk about anything deep very much. Religion had never been a part of our relationship. The nostalgia I felt and the memories I had were things we didn’t share. I tended to think of it mostly as bad stuff in me—psychological neediness, irrationality, unhealthy wishful things.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Daniel 13 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 11)

Daniel 13A note tells us that this is where the Hebrew text ends and the Greek additions begin. That means the story is not in Protestant versions of the Bible. It is a pretty well-known story. It is quite a change of direction.

The story of Susanna and the elders.  Two elders and judges of the people who meet at Joakim and Susanna’s house, develop a passion for Susanna.  “They suppressed their consciences; they would not allow their eyes to look to heaven, and did not keep in mind just judgments” (13:9). The conscience, God’s inward presence, His heaven within them would have judged their passion and brought them back to the right way, but they refused to listen or to look.  Instead, they plot to violate Susanna. 

When no one is around, they approach her and threaten to lie about her unless she lies with them.  She resolves, “it is better for me to fall into your power without guilt than to sin before the Lord” (13:23).  When she screams, they carry through on their threat.  Susanna, however, unlike them “looked up to heaven, for she trusted in the Lord wholeheartedly” (13:42).

The assembly believes the elders and she is sentenced to die; again she calls upon God who knows her innocence.  God acts through Daniel, a young boy at the time of this story.  He defends her, and the elders respond to God’s spirit in him.  They reassemble and retry the case.  Daniel examines each elder privately and finds them guilty of perjury, so they receive the sentence of death they would have inflicted on the innocent Susanna.

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 11
Here I am going to skip over quite a lot of autobiographical detail to get back to the point when religion reenters my life. The blue part is a shortened version of what I talk about in the book.

My last two years in college, I became very involved with the anti-war movement, tried to start a chapter of Students for a Democratic Society at my school in Virginia, and became increasingly radicalized. By the time I graduated I was fed up with things in my country and decided to leave, go to Europe, become an ex-pat and find a life on the left-bank of Paris – a little romantic in my hopes for that!

I ended up spending a year in Germany instead, working as an au pair and then as an assistant teacher of English in a Mädchengymnasium [girls’ high school] outside of Hamburg. When I came back in June of 1968, things were in melt-down. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. had been killed in April and a day or so after I arrived in June, Robert Kennedy was assassinated. The Democratic Convention in Chicago was coming soon and it would be historically chaotic.

After a few months, I found my way to graduate school at UNC – Chapel Hill and there are just two things I shall mention about this move. The first is that it was here when I first came in January of 1969, browsing through the student bookstore, that I felt myself drawn to a beautiful Bible; it was the New Jerusalem bible. I bought it and have worn it out over the past forty years. And, it was in Chapel Hill too that I met the man who was to be my first husband and father of my first two children.
Marriage took my mind off of politics to some extent, but it’s clear when I reflect on these years that I still saw myself as very much the radical. In Winston-Salem I made contact with the Black Panther Party, had a long conversation with one of their leaders about the need for revolutionary change, donated a typewriter, and even rented a car for them a time or two. When we returned to Raleigh and I was pregnant, I worked on the McGovern Campaign. It was there I made the acquaintance of the next Quaker who would influence me. I told her of my old interest in Friends, and she told me I should try to come to Meeting sometime. I didn’t feel led just then but soon would remember her invitation.

By the time our baby—a son—was born, my husband and I had decided that I should go to law school. Becoming a lawyer would take the economic pressure off of him and give the family a degree of security—at least that was the thought. How being a lawyer would fit with my own need to be a mother to my son or other children that might come along was something to which we gave little thought.

I started classes at the law school in Chapel Hill in 1973 when my son was ten months old, but law school only brought more stresses. I started feeling an intense dissatisfaction with the relationship I was in and a strong desire to leave. I also came down with a terrible case of hives and undoubtedly related to stress. Sometime that first year, I broached the idea of separating, but my husband told me bluntly that if I even thought of leaving, he would take the baby and disappear forever. I backed off. It tried to resign myself to the situation. I thought of all the billions of women in history who had lived their lives with men they hadn’t chosen or men with whom they hadn’t been happy, and I resigned myself to the fact that I would be one of them.

The hives tormented me. They came every night, all over my body, itching and swelling as they blossomed. In the morning they started to recede, so that by late morning only smooth reddish blotches remained. They would be gone by afternoon. At night it would start again—every night, every day for a year. I tried to take medication, but the narcotic effect made studying and driving to school impossible. I tried hypnotism, but I couldn’t be hypnotized. One doctor tried a kind of guided meditation that he said had worked with other people. He had me close my eyes and imagine myself in a comfortable, nice place, someplace I had really been, someplace I loved. The place I thought of was the shore at Ocean Isle, North Carolina, where we went during the summers. He asked me to imagine myself walking there, going somewhere where it was very quiet and peaceful. He asked me where it was. It was the beach. He led me along, asking me to describe the place, to feel myself there, to feel the sun and hear the water breaking on the shore, to feel the warmth of the sand, the warmth of the sun above me. Then he suggested I imagine someone coming down the beach toward me, someone I felt comfortable with, someone who loved me. He suggested I imagine the face coming closer and closer, recognizing me, reacting to my approach. He asked me to concentrate on the person’s face. Then he asked me who it was. It was Jesus, I told him.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Daniel 11-12 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 10)

Daniel 11 – Three more kings will rise and challenge the prince of Javan [Greece]. A mighty ruler will rise but even his empire will not last. The king of the South – Ptolemy I Soter – will rise and then a whole series of events are predicted that reflect the history of the time and the region. A lot of this is lost on me. The two Hellenistic empires – Seleucids and Ptolemies – that arose after Alexander’s death have a lot of history that we don’t really study any more. This book reflects the inner turmoil between these dynasties and the impact it all had on the Jews. Antiochus IV Epiphanes is the one important in the Maccabaean books. He seizes the throne that Demetrius, the young son of his brother Seleucus IV, was supposed to inherit.

Antiochus engages in several military campaigns against the Ptolemies of Egypt, one of which resulted in terrible abuse of the Jews and the second of which led to Roman intervention and Antiochus’ withdrawal. The king will become so full of himself, he will consider himself “greater than all the gods; he will utter incredible blasphemies against the God of gods, and he will thrive until the wrath reaches a bursting point; for what has been decreed will certainly be fulfilled” (11:36-37). He will “use the people of an alien god [New Jerusalem note says this is a reference to “Syrians and to renegade Jews with whom the king had garrisoned the new citadel” (1447)]

“When the time comes for the End, the king of the South will try conclusions with him; but the king of the North will come storming down on him with chariots, cavalry, and a large fleet . . . He will invade the Land of Splendor, and many will fall; but Edom, Moab, and what remain of the sons of Ammon will escape him” (11:40-41). He will attack Egypt and subdue Libyans and Cushites as well. Reports from the East and North will bring distress and “in great fury he will set out to bring ruin and complete destruction to many” (11:44).  He will come to an end when he dies.

Daniel 12 – The struggles of the times are seen somehow as a part of the end-of-times scenario the writer believes God is unveiling to him. “There is going to be a time of great distress, unparalleled since nations first came into existence. When that time comes, your own people [the Jews] will be spared, all those whose names are found written in the Book. Of those who lie sleeping in the dust of the earth many will awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting disgrace. The learned will shine as brightly as the vault of heaven, and those who have instructed many in virtue, as bright as stars for all eternity” (12:1-3).

Daniel is told he must keep this all secret and the book sealed “until the time of the End” (12:4).

Daniel has a vision in which he sees two men standing by the stream where he was and one of them addresses the “man dressed in linen who was standing further up the stream” (12:5), and he asks how long it will be until this all happens. “The man raises his right hand and his left to heaven and swore by him who lives forever, ‘A time and two times, and half a time; and all these things are going to happen when he who crushes the power of the holy people meets his en’. I listened but did not understand” (12:7).

The man in linen tells Daniel to keep these words secret until the “time of the End” (12:9). “Many will be cleansed, made white and purged; the wicked will go on doing wrong; the wicked will never understand; the learned will understand. From the moment that the perpetual sacrifice is abolished and the disastrous abomination erected: one thousand two hundred and ninety days. Blessed is he who stands firm and attains a thousand three hundred and thirty-five days. But you, go away and rest; and you will rise for your share at the end of time” (12:10-13). What can one say. Harold Camping thought he had it all figured out, but they are meant to be words of mystery.

The conflicts among nations in the context of unfaithfulness and lack of responsiveness of people to God’s call to faithfulness is the eternal scenario – one that could be seen in the 2nd century BC and one that could be seen as the deep reality of today as well.

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 10
In my senior year, my disaffection with everything—government, country, and American culture—reached such a pitch that I decided to leave the country forever. I would move to Europe and became an expatriate like Camus—in Paris preferably—be an intellectual, try to find people who understood where history was going and who were interested in making a better future. I made plans to work in a suburb of Paris and purchased tickets to travel one way to Europe by freighter—nothing else seemed apropos. What I would do to make a living what skills I would bring to the world—none of these things seemed relevant. The world was on the verge of revolution. You couldn’t just settle into the system that existed, so you might as well strike out and see what was around, what was going on in more “progressive” places.

Before moving to that stage of my journey, however, it is important to mention one last thing about college. In my last year at college, I rediscovered Eliot’s Four Quartets. A routine assignment in a modern poetry class was to write a long study of any modern poem. It didn’t need to be a research paper, but it had to be a thorough personal analysis. Rather than reading a poem over and over, I decided to take out a recording I could listen to so I could really get a feel for the work. I came across a record of Eliot reading his Four Quartets. As soon as I started listening to it, I realized it was the poem I had read in high school. I listened to it over and over until I knew much of it by heart. I fell in love with it in a way I have never loved any piece of literature, but I would stop short of saying I understood it. Like many great poems, it was elusive, but there were parts of it that hit me hard. It seemed to capture in a poetic way many of the mysteries I had found so alluring in religion—that sense of a reality that reached beyond time; the oneness we felt with human beings who had come before us in time or who would come after us; the irrepressible intuition we had that there was some ultimate significance to human existence. Over the next fifteen years, the poem would keep alive in me a small place where faith continued to be valid.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Daniel 10 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 9)

Daniel 10 – Another vision in the days of Cyrus – a vision of a “great conflict” that comes to Daniel in a time when he is doing sustained acts of penance. By the banks of the Tigris he sees a “man dressed in linen clothing, with a belt of pure gold around his waist. His body looked like a precious gem. His face flashed like lightning, and his eyes flamed like torches. His arms and feet shone like polished bronze, and his voice roared like a vast multitude of people”(10:5-6). There are others near Daniel, but no one else can see the vision; they feel great fear though and run away. Daniel is left by himself. “My strength left me, my face grew deathly pale, and I felt very weak. Then I heard the man speak, and when I heard the sound of his voice, I fainted and lay there with my face to the ground” (10:8-9).

“Just then a hand touched me and lifted me, still trembling, to my hands and knees. And the man said to me, ‘Daniel, you are very precious to God, so listen carefully to what I have to say to you. Stand up, for I have been sent to you.’” (10:10-11)

Daniel feels a sense of being overwhelmed and weak. He can hardly breathe. “Then the one who looked like a man touched me again, and I felt my strength returning. ‘Don’t be afraid,’ he said, ‘for you are very precious to God. Peace! Be encouraged! Be strong!’ As he spoke these words to me, I suddenly felt stronger and said to him, ‘Please speak to me, my lord, for you have strengthened me.’” (10:18-19). He explains that must leave to “fight against the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia, and after that the spirit prince of the kingdom of Greece will come. Meanwhile, I will tell you what is written in the Book of Truth. No one helps me against these spirit princes except Michael, your spirit prince” (10:20-21).

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 9
Why this friend’s disapproval was so powerful to me when the disapproval of my father and older sister had been ineffective in undermining my faith over the years, I do not understand. I think it had a lot to do with just needing her as a friend, needing friendship and connection with people generally. She made me want to be close to people—not just “mankind.” She made me want to experience things I hadn’t experienced, dare things I hadn’t dared. But it was also true that the faith I had was not very well grounded in me. The rational difficulties with which faith always contends suddenly mushroomed into insurmountable barriers.

The disdain of religion that my friend communicated to me was not a disdain confined to her. It was more and more the voice of the era. My own family had spoken with this voice for years, but by 1965 it could be heard everywhere. It had even been an integral part of my own mental make-up—the skepticism of it, the political and social dimensions of it. For a while it had lived side by side with this other part—this mystical part that saw God everywhere. But now the doubt drove out everything inconsistent with itself. It astonishes me even now to remember how quickly and completely I cast aside all the proofs I had been given of God’s reality—the experiences I had had of him, all the interest I had been given in religion, all the joy and nourishment I had drawn from it as a child and young adult.

In the place of faith, I set up ideology. I quickly embraced the political and psychological ideas my sister had been trying to get me to accept over the years. According to these theories, I had been drawn to religion because of the brokenness of my family situation. God was the father I had never had and all the talk of heaven and God’s providence was only a form of wishful thinking—projecting human attributes and qualities out onto the universe. Marx and Freud were the ones who could help me make sense of these things—they, along with the intellectuals who built on their insights, were the resources I would turn to in the next years of my life.

The only good thing I can say about the turn away from religion in my life was that it did help me to overcome the isolation I had drifted into. My abandonment of religion was accompanied by immediate efforts on my part to get closer to friends at college. I started to go out at night to small restaurants where students drank beer and smoked. I began smoking and drinking within weeks of losing my faith. I don’t mean to say by this that religion itself had been any kind of a bulwark against these vices in me. It hadn’t been. It was just that jettisoning religion brought me closer to my peers and these were the things one did with peers in college. Not to partake would have seemed priggish.

The summer between my junior and senior year, which I spent in New York City, also saw the end of my sexual innocence and my introduction into the new world of “hippies”, drugs, and generalized rebellion against “the establishment.” I spent the summer on the West Side of Greenwich Village in New York. I started going to anti-Vietnam War demonstrations in Washington. I drifted into dreaming about the prospects of revolution, toyed with the idea of organizing a chapter of Students for a Democratic Society on the campus of my college, and just generally got into the late sixties scene.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Daniel 9 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 8)

Daniel 9 – In the first year of Darius, Daniel begs God to forgive his people and restore them, smile on them and on his desolate sanctuary. “O our God, hear your servant’s prayer! Listen as I plead. For your own sake, Lord, smile again on your desolate sanctuary. O my God, lean down and listen to me. Open your eyes and see our despair . . . We make this plea, not because we deserve help, but =because of your mercy” (9:17-18).

The angel Gabriel comes to him to “teach him to understand the vision” (9:23). “A period of seventy sets of seven has been decreed for your people and your holy city to finish their rebellion, to put an end to their sin, to atone for their guilt, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to confirm the prophetic vision, and to anoint the Most Holy Place” (9:24).

After 62 sets of seven have passed, “a ruler—the Anointed One—[will come]. Jerusalem will be rebuilt with streets and strong defenses, despite perilous times.” (9:25). The “Anointed One will be killed, appearing to have accomplished nothing, and a ruler will arise whose armies will destroy the city and the Temple. The end will come with a flood, and war and its miseries are decreed from that time to the very end. The ruler will make a treaty with the people for a period of one set of seven, but after half this time, he will put an end to the sacrifices and offerings. And as a climax to all his terrible deeds, he will set up a sacrilegious object that causes desecration, until the fate decreed for this defiler is finally poured out on him” (9:26-27).

The historical context is hard to grasp, so readers tend to see New Testament events and end-of-days prophecies in the words of Daniel. And I just don’t understand how we are supposed to jump to that.

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 8
For a little more than a year after my 1964 conversion to Catholicism, I was very happy, but it wasn’t to last. The underlying fault line in my thinking between faith and doubt, mysticism and rationalism, trust and skepticism was just too unstable to build on. I am not even sure how much faith, or what I would now call faith, there was in my conversion. Was it a conversion or was it just a human decision about which church had the best arguments institutionally? I had an intense sense of God’s spiritual presence in the universe, an intellectual belief that God’s existence was necessary if anything were to be thought “good” or “evil” in human history and human affairs, and a belief that human beings must be free in some sense if moral acts were to have any reality at all. I definitely believed the argument made by Ivan Karamazov in The Brothers Karamazov that if God did not exist, then anything could be permitted, but I had no real sense of personally needing God in my life, no real sense of sin, and little appreciation for Christ’s role in the religion that bore his name.

My sense of God was very diffuse and mysterious, very tied up with nature, and my love of the Church had more to do with beautiful things like Bibles, missals, and stained glass and with cultural and intellectual tradition than it did with any really informed understanding of my need for salvation or holiness of life or discipline. My faith also isolated me from other people rather than bringing me into relation with them on a deeper plane. I had no one with whom I could share my thoughts about it, and its mysteries tended to bring me away from the society of people.

I think it was this isolation that was my greatest weakness. Sometime in my junior year I broke out of this isolation and developed a strong liking for and connection with a teacher and dormitory supervisor of mine, a young and charismatic English instructor. I visited her home in northern Georgia over Christmas, talked with her at length about her childhood and growing up in the Baptist Church, how debilitating in many ways she felt the fundamentalism of her family’s faith had been in her own life, and how dramatically she had rejected it. I probably shared some of my own checkered background and gave her my own sense of what was true, but I don’t really remember all I might have said about my own faith. In any case, she stunned me when she suddenly turned to me in the course of some conversation and said, “I don’t know how anyone as intelligent as you can be a Roman Catholic.” I felt my faith drain out of me as I sat there.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Daniel 7-8 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 7)

Daniel 7This chapter starts with a retelling of the vision told of in chapter 2 but is connected with king Belshazzar (the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar).

In the dream, he sees the four winds of heaven stirring up the “great sea” and four beasts emerge from the sea – the first like a lion with eagle’s wings. His wings are torn off and he is lifted from the ground and set standing on feet like a man, given a human heart [mind in the NLT translation]. The second was like a bear with three ribs in his mouth. He is ordered to stand and eat flesh. The third was like a leopard with four wings, four heads and a lot of power. And the fourth was terrifying with iron teeth and ten horns; “it ate, crushed and trampled underfoot what remained” (7:7). As he looks at the vision, he sees another horn sprout up, pushing three other larger ones out of place. This last horn had eyes and “a mouth that was full of boasts” (7:8).

“I watched as thrones were put in place and the Ancient One sat down to judge. His clothing was as white as snow, his hair like purest wool. He sat on a fiery throne with wheels of blazing fire, and a river of fire was pouring out, flowing from his presence. Millions of angels ministered to him; many millions stood to attend him. Then the court began its session, and the books were opened” (7:9-10).

One of the beasts is killed and thrown in the flames. The other ones are stripped of any power but get another bit of time to live. Then “I gazed into the visions of the night, and I saw, coming on the clouds of heaven, one like a son of man. He came to the one of great age and was led into his presence. On him was conferred sovereignty, glory and kingship, and men of all people, nations and languages became his servants” (7:13-14).

My Jerusalem Bible notes that there is a good deal of confusing Aramaic words here. Daniel is alarmed by these visions. Someone unveils the meaning of these things to him. The beasts are four kingdoms that will arise from the earth (7:17), “But in the end, the holy people of the Most High will be given the kingdom, and they will rule forever and ever” (7:18).

He inquires about the fourth beast and is so different from the rest, “very terrifying, with iron teeth and bronze claws, eating, crushing and trampling underfoot what remained; and the truth about the ten horns on its head—and why the other horn sprouted and the three original horns fell, and why this horn had eyes and a mouth that was full of boasts, and why it made a greater show than the other horns”(7:19-20).

It is a kingdom different from the others. “It will devour the whole earth, trample it underfoot and crush it” (7:23). From this kingdom, ten kings will arise (the horns) and yet another king will bring them down and speak words against God. Eventually he will lose power and the saints will gain sovereignty forever (7:27-28).

Daniel 8 – Daniel has another vision in the third year of Belshazzar. He is in Susa, one of the royal residences of the Persian dynasty of Cyrus. A ram with two horns – one of which is larger than the other. This is meant to be a vision of the Persian Empire having dominated the Medes. Then a “he-goat from the West” (8:5), Alexander the Great, challenges them.

“At the height of his power, the great horn snapped and in its place sprouted four majestic horns, pointing to the four winds of heaven (8:8). This is a reference to the division of Alexander’s Hellenistic empire.

“From one of these, the small one, sprang a horn which grew to great size towards south and east and towards the Land of Splendor. It grew right up to the armies of heaven and flung armies and stars to the ground, and trampled them underfoot. It even challenged the power of that army’s Prince; it abolished the perpetual sacrifice and overthrew the foundation of his sanctuary, and the army too; it put iniquity on the sacrifice and flung truth to the ground; the horn was active and successful” (8:9-12). –I’m thinking this must be the Seleucid Empire, which eventually brought idols into the Temple and undermined the loyalty of many to the tradition. He hears a dialogue between two “people/beings” concerning how long the sanctuary will be “trampled underfoot” (8:13), and the reply is that it will go on for 2,300 evenings and mornings have passed; then “the sanctuary shall have its right restored” (8:14).

Daniel says that as he “gazed at the vision and tried to understand it” he saw “someone standing before me who looked like a man” (8:15) and he heard the “man” cry out for Gabriel [the angel] to tell him the meaning of the vision. Gabriel “approached the place where I was standing; as he approached I was seized with terror, and fell prostrate. ‘Son of man,’ he said to me, ‘understand this: the vision shows the time of the End.’ He was still speaking, when I fell senseless to the ground” (8:15-18).

He touches the prophet and raises him to his feet. He tells him the meaning of the vision, parts of which elude me: “What you have seen pertains to the very end of time. The two-horned ram represents the kings of Media and Persia. The shaggy male goat represents the king of Greece, and the large horn between his eyes represents the first king of the Greek Empire. The four prominent horns that replaced the one large horn show that the Greek Empire will break into four kingdoms, but none as great as the first” (8:20-22). This seems a repeat of the rise and fall of the Hellenistic Empire. When that is done, “a fierce king, a master of intrigue, will rise to power. He will become very strong, but not by his own power. He will cause a shocking amount of destruction and succeed in everything he does” (8:23-24).  He will destroy many powerful leaders and leave “the holy people” devastated. He will become full of himself and then will “take on the Prince of princes in battle, but he will be broken, though not by human power” (8:25). Daniel is asked to keep this knowledge to himself. He was “greatly troubled by the vision and could not understand it” (8:27).

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 7
My freshman year at college (1963-64) saw the culmination of all the early God-oriented, God-believing parts of my life. The innocent mysticism that had been a part of my life since I was ten became incredibly intense. I thought about God all the time—I felt his presence in the sky at night; I felt his power in the sea and in the many beauties of nature; I felt love present in these things. And I believed that there were logical reasons to believe in God’s existence, reasons that had to do with the necessity of having some objective foundation for the moral laws we all seemed to believe existed. I remember even having arguments on the point with my father and feeling surprised that while he did not accept that proposition, he had no really cogent argument to make against it.

But while my mystical experiences grew ever stronger, my loyalty to the Episcopal Church eroded. I started having trouble understanding the legitimacy of the break Henry VIII had made with Rome. Somehow, his desire to get a divorce and marry a woman who could give him an heir didn’t seem very convincing to me as the basis of my church’s existence. I started to feel the pull of the Catholic Church, the church that traced its origins back to the apostles. I spent hours in the lowest level of the college library stacks—where the religion books were—reading the Catholic Encyclopedia, reading Catholic philosophers like Thomas Aquinas, trying to understand, trying to come to some decision about where I should be as a Christian. I argued with committed Catholics about things that bothered me about the Catholic Church, but while I never gave them the satisfaction of knowing it, I eventually began to see things their way. But it wasn’t just logic or argument that won me. There were emotional reasons as well. The Catholic Church, after all, had been the church I had attended with my grandmother in my earliest childhood. It had been the church of most of the people in my family, some of whom I haven’t mentioned but whom I greatly admired—my mother’s younger brother, for example, and his wife. They were devoutly Catholic and were wonderful models of Catholic piety. And the Catholic Church was in the news in 1960 and 1961, with the campaign of John F. Kennedy and the opening by Pope John XXIII of the Second Vatican Council.

But Catholicism was not the only thing I looked at. As fate (or providence) would have it, my freshman year also saw me housed across the hall from a Quaker student who reminded me of the virtues I had found in my brief encounter with Friends—their integrity, simplicity, commitment to social justice, and moral earnestness. I gave some thought to becoming a Friend. I don’t remember how much time or effort I gave to exploring Quakerism that year—probably not that much, but I know I talked about it with at least one friend. I remember expressing to her that I found Friends too “spiritual” – too inward – to appeal to me. They didn’t do things—they didn’t kneel or cross themselves; they didn’t take communion or do confession – nothing. These outward things were somehow important to me at this time of my life.

The summer after my freshman year, I sought out a priest and received instruction. In August, I was received into the Catholic Church. I remember that the priest thought I might be proceeding a little to quickly, but he knew that my family was mostly Catholic, so it seemed natural to him that I should end up there. For some reason, I was rebaptized and reconfirmed even though I had had these sacraments in the Episcopal Church. I think it was a matter of not really being sure at the time where I had had these things done or not having any proof of them. Then I was confessed and received. I remember thinking even then what a miracle it was that I should ever have chosen to become a Catholic, that I should ever have been granted faith when so few in my family were believers. One of the other wonderful things that happened as a result of my conversion was that my grandfather, who had not been to church in thirty years, took the occasion of my conversion to return to the Church. It was a sign of how he loved me that he did it. I wish I had appreciated it more. To celebrate the great day, I bought myself a lovely red leather-bound missal with god-edged pages and a bright blue rosary!

My father, of course, did not get it. He did not understand how I could overlook the horrors of the Inquisition or the reactionary role the Catholic Church played (as he saw it) in history and in the societies were Catholicism was established. He didn’t find any of my arguments about the moral low or about the sense I had of God’s presence in the universe logical or convincing, but it wasn’t his way to write me off or give me a hard time. He just shook his head and said he “just didn’t get it.”

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Daniel 6 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 6)

Daniel 6The king they talk about here is not historical according to a Jerusalem Bible note. It is probably supposed to be the first Persian king, Cyrus, but he is called Darius. Daniel is granted an important position in the king’s court. Other satraps and “state presidents” try to discredit him but despair of it.

They go to the king and suggest he institute a requirement that every local leader be required to NOT worship any god other than the king. If he does, he should be thrown into a lions’ den. The king signs off on this. Daniel, of course, continues his daily prayers towards Jerusalem. The other leaders turn Daniel in, but the king is determined to save him.

In the end, he tells Daniel it will have to be his God who saves him. He is thrown to the lions – the king is so distressed he cannot sleep that night. The next morning, the king hurries to the lions’ den and cries out “in anguish, ‘Daniel servant of the living God! Was your God, whom you serve so faithfully, able t rescue you from the lions?’ Daniel answered, ‘Long live the king! My God sent his angel to shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, for I have been found innocent in his sight. And I have not wronged you, Your Majesty.’” (6:20-21).

The king sends for the accusers, and they are thrown in along with their wives and children and devoured. After this, king “Darius” sends a letter out proclaiming his devotion to the God of Daniel. “’I decree that everyone throughout my kingdom should tremble with fear before the God of Daniel. For he is the living God, and he will endure forever. His kingdom will never be destroyed, and his rule will never end. He rescues and saves his people: he performs miraculous signs and wonders in the heavens and on earth.'” (6:26-27)

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 6
In my last two years of high school, I became very interested in other literature as well, through English class and other outside reading. Some of what I was drawn to was also to play a role in the development of my thinking and my faith. One was James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The whole theme of Stephen’s search for a father touched me in a vulnerable place. Joyce did not intend his writing to draw readers to Catholicism, and little in the book is positive about the Catholic Church, but it drew me anywaythe searing identity it impressed on Stephen, the inescapable claim of it over him. I did not respond to it immediately, but I know it played a role in how I felt myself bound to it later on. But by far the most important piece of literature I was exposed to in high school was T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. We read the opening segment of it in English class my senior year:

                           Time present and time past
                           Are both perhaps present in time future.
                           And time future contained in time past.
                           If all time is eternally present
                           All time is unredeemable.
                           What might have been is an abstraction
                           Remaining a perpetual possibility
                           Only in a world of speculation.
                           What might have been and what has 
                           Point to one end, which is always present.

It wasn’t an easy poem, and poetry wasn’t really my “thing” then or ever. I might never have even remembered reading it in high school had I not rediscovered it a few years later in college. But when I did, when it did become important, I remembered it as having come into my life in high school. Grace works in this way, unheralded and almost unperceived in its entries into our lives.
But religion and the pieces that made up religion for me was only one part of the person I was in high school and in later life. Because of the strange shape of my family life, there was a kind of fault line that ran through the landscape that I had to negotiate, a philosophical and emotional fault line that separated the worlds of my parents and my grandparents. The fault line ran through me as well—on the one side, the conventional religion and politics my grandparents fostered in me; on the other, the political and philosophically radical outlooks my parents fostered.

My visits with both my father and my sister were always extended conversations on everything that was going on in the world at that time: developments in science, psychology, and culture, understanding the dynamics of human life and history, the events of the day—civil rights, the cold war, the Cuban Revolution, the presidential campaign of 1960. From them I learned that you couldn’t necessarily trust what you saw on the television or read in the daily newspapers. You had to keep in mind the interests your source of information was out to serve, where they got their money, what they were trying to convince their readers of, and where they got their information. And my father and sister tried to get me to see that the government could sometimes do very bad things—like try to murder Fidel Castro or undermine the revolution he had brought to Cuba. They also tried to get me to see that most of the things most people believed most fervently—their religious hopes and patriotic idealism—were things that mostly benefited the rich and powerful but did not necessarily serve the interests of the poor and oppressed. I didn’t know until later in my life that my father was a member of the Communist Party—or had been. To this day I am not sure when he was. I know he joined and eventually quit, but not the details. The closest he came to admitting it to me was when I told him that I might someday like to run for Congress and he advised, laughing to himself, that I perhaps should keep my relationship with him a little quiet if I did. But it wasn’t the politics of communism we talked about. It was the philosophical underpinnings—the dynamics of history, seeing through conventions, unmasking the illusions bourgeois society generated to hid the ugly economic underbelly or reality.

My mother and sister also did their best to bring me over to that side. The few memories I have of visiting my mother in New York involve not only memories of bubble baths and walks to the park but also tirades against President Eisenhower for the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, talk of the street demonstrations protesting it, or other angry remarks about the country. My sister was among the first group of American students who went to Cuba after the revolution in 1960. She came back a complete convert, full of enthusiastic stories about the new society Castro was bringing about in Cuba, the hope it represented for all the poor countries of Central and South America, and the challenge it represented to American capitalism and imperialism. She had pictures of the new housing going up for the poor in Cuba, the preschools that were being started, the medical care that was being provided for free. Everything she told me, I believed. I carried copies of my sister’s pictures of Cuba to school with me and argued with teachers and others in my classes about what was going on there. My parents and sister seemed so much better informed than anyone else I know about politics and current events that it was just not possible to disbelieve what they told me.

But I didn’t let them disturb the other side of my own inner fault line, not yet. My interest and involvement in my church, my love of the Kennedys—these loyalties and loves were in some little compartment of me that was beyond the reach of other people’s doubts or criticisms, even my father’s. He seemed to accept that. He didn’t challenge me seriously on my lack of consistency. I think he understood that I was living in two worlds, that I was learning different things in the different places of my life, and that it would take time for me to resolve the inconsistencies. He believed his views were true, and that if he was patient, I would come around to seeing things his way. And I would, for a while.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Daniel 5 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 5)

Daniel 5 – Years later, King Belshazzar [possibly the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, possibly just another name for the high king of the Chaldaeans], gets everyone together for a big feast, using the gold vessels taken by Nebuchadnezzar from the Temple in Jerusalem. “While they drank from them they praised their idols made of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone” (5:4).

He has a vision of a human hand, writing on the wall and seeks magicians or seers who can interpret this for him. Like his predecessor, the king calls for all the wise men of the kingdom to come and help him figure out what is happening. The king’s wife reminds him of the famous Hebrew seer, so Daniel is brought to the king as well. The king offers him great gifts, which Daniel refuses. Daniel tells the story of Nebuchadnezzar – his achievements and his end – “driven from human society. He was given the mind of a wild animal, and he lived among the wild donkeys. He ate grass like a cow, and he was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he learned that the Most High God rules over the kingdoms of the world and appoints anyone he desires to rule over them. You are his successor, O Belshazzar, and you knew all this, yet you have not humbled yourself” (5:21-22).

He interprets the writing on the wall as follows: it says “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin” (5:25). My Jerusalem Bible note says these are Aramaic words that “may conceal the names of three oriental measures of weight, or coins: a mina, a shekel, and a half-mina (paras).”  They suggest meanings that Daniel interprets as prophecy that God has measured the king’s sovereignty and decided that the kingdom will be divided and given to the Medes and Persians (5:24-28).

Belshazzar keeps his promise and gives Daniel gifts and position, but that night the king is murdered and his kingdom divided. Darius, the Mede, takes over.

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism

Part 5
The Bible was not the only religion book I read. As I got into high school, I was interested in religion generally and read a number of books having to do with the topic. I had a terrible weakness for sensuous looking (and feeling) books, a weakness I think God used to expose me to books I might otherwise never have touched. It was this that attracted me to a small edition of John Woolman’s Journal.  It was my first contact with Quaker writing and thinking. My father bought it for me on a visit I had with him in the city. I had never heard of Woolman or Quakerism, but the tiny red volume with the silk ribbon bookmark drew my eye and called me to possess it. My father had heard of Woolman’s work against slavery and the boycott of slave-made goods he led in the eighteenth century; these were things even a thoughtful atheist could respect.

I was very influenced by the book. Woolman’s integrity, the simplicity of his Christian faith, the seriousness with which he approached the moral evil of slavery impressed me. It impressed me so much that I got my other grandfather, my father’s step-father (married to the Christian Scientist), to take me to a Quaker Meeting in Scarsdale, New York, to see what Quakerism looked like “in the flesh”. The Meeting had no decorative features at all—something I am not sure I appreciated just then. People filed in quietly and sat down on pew-like benches that were arranged to face an empty table in the center. There was no stained glass, no minister, no music, no Bible reading, no prayer—only silence, utter silence for a full hour. I cannot now remember if anyone said anything in the hour we were there. We took a few brochures when we left. It interested me, but we didn’t go back.  The seed, however, was planted. The Quakers would never be wholly out of the picture again.

I sometimes try to imagine what my Marxist father must have thought—watching his daughter become so interested in and drawn to religion, sometimes even as a result of things he had said or introduced me to. He clearly wanted me to go a different way. From the earliest times, I remember talks we has in which he expressed skepticism and curiosity about how I could be drawn to something that seemed so unconvincing and unappealing to him. But he was a very tactful person and very accepting of what I thought, even when I was very young.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Daniel 4 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism (Part 4)

Daniel 4 – This part of the book is written by Nebuchadnezzar in the first person. He tells of a dream he has that terrified him. He dreamed that he saw a tree in the middle of the world. Its top reached the sky and it could be seen from everywhere. It provided food and shelter for all the birds and animals. A “watcher” [messenger/angel] came down and shouted, “Cut down the tree and lop off its branches. Shake off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Chase the wild animals from its shade and the birds from its branches. But leave the stump and the roots in the ground, bound with a band of iron and bronze and surrounded by tender grass” (4:14-15).

He asks Daniel what it means, and Daniel tells him the tree was him (the king). ‘You are to be driven from human society, and live with the wild animals. . .seven times [periods of time] will pass over you until you have learnt that the Most High rules over the kingship of men and confers it on whom he pleases.’ Daniel urges the king to “break from your wicked past and be merciful to the poor. Perhaps then you will continue to prosper” (4:24). Things do not change, however.

A year later, as Nebuchadnezzar walks “on the flat roof of the royal palace in Babylon,” he looks out across the city and says, “‘Look at this great city of Babylon. By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor’”  (4:29). Just as he boasts of his majesty, a voice from heaven calls to him and tells him he is no longer the ruler. “You will be driven from human society. You will live in the fields with the wild animals, and you will eat grass like a cow. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses” (4:32).

The king’s sovereignty is taken from him, and he is driven away. His time of madness or whatever it was passes, and through his repentance and acknowledgement of God, he comes to reassume his powers and he praises God.

It’s hard to read this and not to speculate that this Jewish notion of God’s ultimate supremacy over all worldly powers was not in some way the foundation of our very different notion of monarchical/governmental rule – that it was not utterly absolute the way it was in most eastern civilizations.

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 4
For me, God was not in church so much as he was in “the place”. He was in my room at night when I went to sleep, in the physical features of my environment, in the air around me. I felt I could breathe him in when I was sad or upset, and he would strengthen me physically. He opened my eyes to the beauties of nature. One morning, in the middle of winter, I set out for the rocks and caves that I often roamed behind the estate on the hill that led up to another old estate where there was a small lake and swans. There had been an ice storm the night before, and everything—trees, rocks, even frail brown leaves that still clung tenaciously to dry branches—was coated with a paper-thin film of ice. The breeze clicked the branches together, and everything sparked like diamonds in the morning sun. It was the first time something beautiful made me cry.

Church was good, but not in the same way. It was beautiful at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, and I continued somehow to go even though I was the ONLY Episcopalian now in the house. No one had to prod me. I enjoyed church—the stained glass, the dark, candle-lit interior, the flowers, the music, the sixteenth-century language of the liturgy. I joined the choir. I went to confirmation classes in the eighth grade and received my confirmation on the third Sunday after Easter in 1958. Everyone confirmed received a copy of the Book of Common Prayer. I still have mine.

Maybe it was the beauty of the psalms we read in church every Sunday that made me want to read the Bible, or maybe it was the importance it had to my other grandmother, my Christian Science grandmother. She was my father’s mother, the one who had tried so hard to adopt his political radicalism in the ‘30s and ‘40s. By the ‘50s, however, health problems had caused her to abandon politics and look back to her faith. In the years I knew her, her daily routine always included sitting down to May Baker Eddy’s Science and Health with a Key to the Scriptures and the King James Bible. She was really the only person I knew who read the Bible. Whenever I visited with her, she would share verses with me and impress on me the importance of reading the Bible for its spiritual truths rather than its literal words. Whatever the cause, sometime in the late ‘50s, I asked my grandfather to buy me a Bible for my birthday. We shopped for it together and got a beautiful King James Version with black and white etchings on thick, silky paper. I read it as I would have read a novel—straight through—or almost straight through. I think I bogged down around Daniel [funny that I’m on that book now on the blog!].

Something about the Bible impressed me. I remember telling a friend, in one of those adolescent kinds of conversations about what one book you would take if you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one book for your whole life, that I would take the Bible, not because I attached such great religious importance to it, but because it had been so important to so many people throughout human history. I felt it had to be pretty rich in content to be popular so long.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Daniel 3 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 3)

Daniel 3 – After Nebuchadnezzar subdues the large empire he was to conquer, he creates a huge golden statue and demands that everyone prostrate themselves before it or be “thrown into a blazing furnace” (3:6). Everyone obeys the king – everyone except the Jews Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, whom he had put in charge of the province of Babylon (3:12).

Furious with them, the king orders that they be brought to him. He tells them he’ll give them “one more chance to bow down and worship the statue . . . But if [they] refuse, [they] will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace” (3:15). They say to him, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you . . . that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up” (3:17-18).

The king becomes so angry with these Jews that he makes the furnace seven times hotter than usual and consigns Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego [Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah] to the flames. The fire is so hot, it kills the soldiers who throw the three men in, but the three do not burn. Nebuchadnezzar yells that he can see “four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a god!” (3:23).

The Jerusalem Bible notes that there is in the Aramaic version of the text a passage that is not in all versions of the story. It is a prayer of Azariah [this is the Hebrew name of Abednego, one of the three young Jews Nebuchadnezzar threw into the fiery furnace].  He is supposedly in the flames when he gives this prayer.  The prayer is very interesting.  He is asking for God’s deliverance – not a personal deliverance for him and his two companions, but deliverance for all his people.  The Jews are in exile and everything God had instituted to bring holiness to his people is now gone – monarch, prophets, temple sacrifices and offerings – everything.  So in the absence of these things Abednego offers up what they have to give – contrite hearts and unreserved obedience:

All honor and blessing to you, Lord, God of our ancestors,
                  may your name be held glorious for ever.
                  In all that you have done your justice is apparent;
                  Your promises are always faithfully fulfilled. . . .
                  Lord, how we are the least of all the nations,
                  now we are despised throughout the world,
today, because of our sins,
                  we have at this time no leader, no prophet, no prince,
                  no holocaust, no sacrifice, no oblation, no incense,
                  no place where we can offer you the first-fruits
and win your favor.
                  But may the contrite soul, the humbled spirit be as acceptable
to you
                  As holocausts of rams and bullocks,
                  As thousands of fattened lambs:
                  Such let our sacrifice be to you today
                  And may it be your will that we follow you wholeheartedly,
                  Since those who put their trust in you will not be

Mother Teresa said in the movie about her life that once you decide you will accept with gratitude anything God sends your way – whether it is wealth or poverty or suffering or whatever it is – then you are free.  These three young men are free, and their freedom enrages the worldly tyrant who loves to exercise power over others. 

Another long hymn follows in the Septuagint Bible – it is of the three men giving glory and praise to the Lord forever.

Nebuchadnezzar decrees that “if any people, whatever their race or nation or language, speak a word against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they will be torn limb from limb, and their houses will be turned into heaps of rubble. There is no other god who can rescue like this!” (3:29).

The two version of this chapter that I am using – the Jerusalem Bible and the New Living Translation are vastly different in what they have included in the chapter. The number of verses in the Jerusalem Bible text goes up to 100. The chapter of the NLT version ends with verse 30.

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 3
From the day we moved to the new house my uncle had found for us to live in, God moved the very center of my life and consciousness. The traumas I had experienced – the loss of my mother to mental illness and the death of my grandmother – had started a brief period in my life where I really had little taste for the reality I lived in. I found myself lying to all my friends about everything – I told them my parents were up on a farm in Vermont, that I was only here with my grandfather because they wanted me to go to a good school and there were no good schools near the farm we lived on. I had a painting on my wall of a Vermont farm and made up elaborate tales of all that went on there when I was there. After telling lies non-stop for a few months, I didn’t want my friends coming over to our apartment. Some of the lies might come out.

The move permitted me to start things over again. In as solemn a moment as I have ever had in my life, I swore to God that night -  the first night in our new residence - that I would never lie again. I would never again try to make myself or my life anything other than what I was, what it was. It was a very rash thing to promise such things at the age of nine, but I didn’t realize that then. If you were to ask me if I kept the promise, I would have to admit that I have not—not perfectly. But I can honestly say I have never lied at any time since that night in even the smallest thing without feeling an immediate reproach, without remembering the promise I made.

That night was the first of many times that I felt God’s presence and influence in our new home. It was just a rented space in a beautiful old “dependency” on an estate in Irvington, NY – once owned by Alexander Hamilton’s son – that was being used as a summer day camp, but was a quiet, lovely spot all the rest of the year. Everything about the place inspired me and gave me strength. It is hard to describe. Even physically, I felt secure and empowered here. I learned to be a gymnast here, did somersaults in the open fields without spotters or mats. I rode horses. I explored and relished every nook and cranny of the estate grounds. The natural features of the land—the open fields, the rocks and wooded hills behind the estate, even the air and light seemed special here. But while I loved the new place and most everything I met with in the new town—my friends, my new school—there were also continued tensions in our home. The persistent alcoholism of my uncle and aunt was a constant stress, the sense that we were never one family but two dwelling very much apart in one house, and the growing hostility I began to feel toward my aunt and uncle for various reasons made for many tears and hard days. The sense that somehow I was not as loved by my father as my two half-sisters, not as much a part of his life, also started to grow in me at this time. These were painful things. But mostly, it is the good I remember—the beauty, the sense of God’s presence in my life, and the sense that every day was new and promising.