Sunday, May 31, 2009

2-4-2007: 5th Ordinary Time (C)

Isaiah 6:1-2,3-8/Psalm 138/1 Corinthians 15:1-11/Luke 5:1-11
Sylvia Brown is in a lot of trouble these days. She’s the self-proclaimed psychic who told the parents of Shawn Hornbeck, abducted years before, that he was dead -- and they should move on with their lives. A few weeks ago Shawn turned up alive and well. Sylvia Brown claims she’s just God’s instrument devoted to bringing spiritual solace to the hopeless and it’s unfair to expect her to be right 100% of the time. Psychic debunkers point out that even when Sylvia (and those like her) seem to be right, their success lies more in the perceptions of those desperately looking for some connection with the dead or missing than in actual fact.

Those of us who wouldn’t pay the likes of Sylvia Brown a nickel of the $700 per half-hour she charges are not quite so judgmental when it comes to more au currant eastern practices like feng shui. Although feng shui (Chinese for wind and water) has caught on with the interior design set, its roots lie in Taoist geomancy and remains in great demand among Asians looking for an auspicious plot of land to bury their deceased relatives -- underground water being very inauspicious for the dead looking to rest in peace. In fact geomancers are regularly hired to determine the best place to bury the dead – just ask the management of any Queens’ cemetery if you don’t believe me. Another example: While I lived in the Korean church in Flushing, a newly-arrived Korean priest was finding it difficult to sleep. A geomancer was quickly summoned who walked around the priest’s bedroom with two sticks crossed in his hands. “Of course you can’t sleep,” he told the priest. “Your bed lies directly over an underground stream.” The priest moved his bed to the other side of the room and slept soundly then on.

In today’s gospel Peter has had a very unsuccessful night of fishing. “Put out into the deep,” Jesus tells him and fish over there instead. Straight away Peter hauls in so many fish his nets tear. One might ask: Did Jesus, using divine power, make the fish come to Peter’s net? Or was Jesus, as geomancer or psychic, just seeing what others could not and offered Peter the benefit of his in-sight?

Whether you believe the extrasensory perceptions of psychics or geomancers are real or imagined; whether you believe the miracles of Jesus sprang from supernatural or just natural origins – you might agree with me that their power lies more with the meaning we attach to them than with the acts themselves (after all, is underground water or a few extra fish on the dining room table really that important?).

“Art attracts us only by what it reveals of our most secret self,” the French director Jean-Luc Godard said. For the Christian believer as well, miracles may serve a similar function, being but metaphors whose power attracts us by what they reveal of our innermost selves. Obeying the command to put out into the deep is an invitation to uncover the secret treasure yet to be found within each human heart. There are many who claim to hold the key to help us unlock those secrets, but whom should we follow? Sylvia Brown’s record, for sure, is not one you might want to bank on. As for geomancers and practitioners of feng shui: Don’t forget that happiness may indeed lie not only in knowing where the underground water runs, but relying on the One whom wind and water obey to lead us past the many obstacles that stand in the way of uncovering those yet-to-be-revealed treasures of the human heart.

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