Monday, December 29, 2008

"A Great and Wondrous Mystery Unfolds..."

Bethlehem has opened Eden. Come, let us see!
We have found joy in a secret place.
Come, let us seize Paradise hidden in the cave!
There the unwatered Root has appeared,
blossoming with forgiveness.
There is found the undug Well,
from which David longed to drink of old.
There the virgin has borne a child,
quenching Adam's and David's thirst.
Let us hurry to this place,
Where the Eternal God was born
as a little child!
(from Matins)

The Vocabulary of Christmas Carols


"...Too bad that many people see Christ's humanity only as a device of God's to restore his work of creation, which had been degraded by sin. As though God's humanity were a device!

I have always been struck by the simplistic shortcuts used by the catechesists to explicate the passage from sin to salvation. They seem to view it as an automatism foreseen through all eternity. First era: Man, created by love, rejects God's love; this is sin. Second era: God so loves the world that he sends hhis Son; this is salvation. One thus coldly speaks of God's love as if it were a motor beginning a process to which one ultimately remains quite exterior. One speaks of Christ's incarnation as though it were a forced emergency repair that cost God dearly...God is viewed as a sort of master sumpman, condescending to let his Son descend to earth! Thus, when we closely examine the vocabulary of our old Christmas carols, we find it celebrates God's self-humbling; we also note that Jesus Christ's humanity is conceived of as a sort of obligation that God inflicts upon himself.

...We tend to acknowledge God's 'merit' in humbling himself to become human rather than his joy in elevating us in his happiness. I have never heard anyone say that God was happy to become a human being. To forget that God's happiness is made of this greatness in being human is to go along with an atheism that rightly rejects a God who made himself human because he had no choice. If one fails to realize that for God, Jesus Christ is the desired Child, the awaited Child, the desired Man, the Man of his dreams, in whom he was well-pleased, in whom he finds his joy, then one cannot believe that God's glory is man fully human in Jesus Christ.

...The humiliation for God doesn't consist in agreeing to 'grow small' in order to become human. Nor in being placed on the level of the small and spending his time with the small. One totally misunderstands the Gospel if one views Christ's predilection for the small as humiliation. The humiliation for God is not so much embracing the human condition as assuming the human conidtion of sinners. He who was without sin took sin upon himself. He was fettered by sin, like a slave, but he was freed by the Resurrection to become the perfectly free man. That's why 'God raised him high, and gave him the name which is above all other names.' And this exaltation of the Son of God becomes in Jesus Christ Risen, the exaltation of man."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Pressing Forward

The never-setting Sun presses forward to rise,
enlightening all things under heaven.
Let us hasten with clean hands and pure deeds to meet Him;
let us prepare to be borne on high with Him in spirit!
Let us beseech Him in His compassion,
that, as He comes in His good pleasure to His own strange birth,
He may lead us, who have become strangers to the path of life in Eden,
into Bethlehem where He comes to be born!

The Word of God, upborne on the shoulders of the Cherubim,
goes to dwell in a womb without blemish.
The passionless One is bound fast to the flesh;
He comes on earth as a man, born of the tribe of Judah.
A cave becomes the palace of the King of all;
the throne of fire is replaced by a manger,
where the Virgin Mary lays Him as a babe,
for He comes to restore the first-created man,
as He is well pleased so to do.

O Word of God without beginning,
the Virgin lays You in a manger of dumb beasts.
You choose to begin Your life in the flesh
in a manner beyond understanding.
You have come to loose me from the fetters of evil
with which the envious serpent bound me.
O Lover of mankind, You are wrapped in swaddling clothes,
tearing to pieces the bonds of my countless sins.
Therefore I joyfully praise and worship your holy birth,
for You came to set me free.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Lists, for Fun

During a recent and long airport/airline day, I created some lists in my journal. If you ever want to amuse yourself, it's good brain-play.

Stuff I Feel I've Sufficiently Noticed/Appreciated/Cherished Thus Far in Life

--the lyrical magic of my neighbor's wind chimes
--the experience of waiting for the mail
--people's accents and dialects
--soap, all kinds
--urban legends
--conspiracy theories
--the aroma of pipes and cigars
--pumice and obsidian
--airplane magazines
--the game of trying to figure out the opposites of various things (for instance: alibi; confession, etc. What
would be the opposite of a projectile?)
--the phrase "What say...?" but only if uttered by people other than myself
--the courage of immigrants
--metaphors and similes
--imaginary friends
--chewing gum
--the idea of the "crack" of dawn--is this visual or auditory?
--fissures and cracks--their velocities, trajectories, webbing, etc.
--Dance Dance Revolution
--the face
--the experience of reading books in which people have scrawled their comments and reactions--the more vehement, the better
--altitude sickness

Life Stuff to Which I Have Only Kind of Vaguely Paid Attention, and Should Have Appreciated More

--occasional insomnia
--interruptions, hesitations, awkward pauses--they exude an odd and particular integrity
--betweenness of various kinds
--cell mitosis
--the experience of moving from one medium to another (air to water, for instance, or sweet to salty)
--dogearing book pages
--the idea of various "final frontiers"
--the many varieties of phrases that use the word "dog," all of which completely beyond the comprehension of
of actual dogs: "dog-tired," "dog-eat-dog world," "hangdog," etc.
--the action of stoking a fire
--the word "fortnight"
--the compact loveliness of passports
--surreptitiously attempting to glimpse what strangers are reading
--the coexistence in time of all places near and far
--the experience of locating your flight gate and then exploring the rest of the airport

Stuff I Wouldn't Miss If It Completely Vanished

--survival of the fittest
--exhaust fumes
--pen disasters (leakages, explosions, etc.)
--bad erasers

And at this point, the list ends--my plane must have arrived!

I'd be happy to read other people's lists of any kind!

In the Land of the Living

"I believe I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living."
Ps. 27

Though I am the Queen of Complainers, I suspect that paradoxically, we can experience God here, in our incompleteness, damage, ongoing struggle to repent, our fragmentedness, our blurriness-of-sight, in ways that are unique to life in time and in these bodies--ways that are precious and unrepeatable--yes, it will all be glorious in the fullness of the eternal kingdom, but this time here/now is so significant that I've heard someone speculate that saints in heaven will be nostalgic for their trials on earth. There are qualities of intimacy with the Holy Spirit and with each other that can be experienced only in this life, only through the process of God's dealing with us here as our healer, physician, transforming designer, etc. from the inside-out and the outside-in, in the context of ambiguous and often frustrating dailiness. There is a communion with God that occurs in the secret places deep beneath the "radar" of our conscious awareness especially when it may seem to us as though nothing much is going on. Glory to God in everything!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Very Narrow

"And know that in life one has to pass over
a very narrow bridge.
The main thing is not to be afraid."

Rebbe Nachman of Breslev

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Thermal Suffering--Fire and Ice

Because this was the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers, this weekend we sang and heard about the three youths in the fiery furnace. Here is part of that story, from Daniel 3:

Then Nebuchadnezzar in rage and anger gave orders to bring Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego; then these men were brought before the king. Nebuchadnezzar responded and said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? “Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery and bagpipe and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, very well. But if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?” Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with wrath, and his facial expression was altered toward Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. He answered by giving orders to heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated. He commanded certain valiant warriors who were in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego in order to cast them into the furnace of blazing fire. Then these men were tied up in their trousers, their coats, their caps and their other clothes, and were cast into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire. For this reason, because the king’s command was urgent and the furnace had been made extremely hot, the flame of the fire slew those men who carried up Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. But these three men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, fell into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire still tied up.

Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he said to his high officials, “Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?” They replied to the king, “Certainly, O king.” He said, “Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!” Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the furnace of blazing fire; he responded and said, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, come out, you servants of the Most High God, and come here!”

Then Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego came out of the midst of the fire. The satraps, the prefects, the governors and the king’s high officials gathered around and saw in regard to these men that the fire had no effect on the bodies of these men nor was the hair of their head singed, nor were their trousers damaged, nor had the smell of fire even come upon them. Nebuchadnezzar responded and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him, violating the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God.

In his wonderful sermon, our priest talked about the opportunity we are all presented with at some point--to glorify God even though we are in a fiery furnace of suffering.

This story comes up frequently in church, and it never fails to move me. "When the holy Children were cast into the furnace of fire, they changed the fire into dew by their hymnody, as they cried out thus: Blessed are Thou, O Lord, the God of our Fathers."

But this morning as we sang about the youths in the furnace, I thought about the differing thermal environments of various sufferings. Sometimes in sorrow or temptation we feel that we are burning, blistering, parched, or asphyxiating, and other times, we feel that we are somehow freezing--for example, grief, isolation, depression, disappointment, failure, or even deep fatigue can seem like an endless and all-penetrating inner cold. In fact, we can even "feel" that we have lost all feeling--become numb, or mostly numb. And I'm not speaking only of the personal level--certain cultural or social/institutional conditions can create a kind of chill from which there seems no escape. Yet God's presence does not leave us, no matter how extreme our situation. Thinking about that presence while I stood there singing in the choir, I vaguely remembered something I'd read about the polar explorer Shackleton, so this evening, I looked it up--here's that story as found in Alexander Fabry's essay (

...After the loss of the Endurance , Shackleton and his men set out on foot, dragging three lifeboats with them until the pack ice was loosened and melted by the comparative warmth of summer. They found refuge on the desolate Elephant Island, and Shackleton set off to find help, navigating a small open boat to South Georgia, incredibly surviving and arranging the rescue of his companions...

...After Shackleton miraculously found his way across 800 miles of open ocean to South Georgia , a further obstacle remained. He had arrived on the wrong side of the island, and the small boat which had carried him so far was rudderless and unfit for journey. They were at the very end of their strength; no-one had ever traversed the island before. First they had marched, then sailed, and now they completed the third impossibility, and climbed towards help. In South , Shackleton concluded his account of the journey by relating a physical encounter with the intangible and ineffable: “I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia it seemed to me often that we were four, not three. I said nothing to my companions on the point, but afterwards Worsley said to me, ‘Boss, I had a curious feeling on the march that there was another person with us'…

As Fabry points out, this later inspired T.S. Eliot to write,

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you.


Furnace suffering can feel claustophobic; polar suffering can feel terrifyingly open-ended--huge yet closed skies, trackless wastes, disorientation, a sense of lostness.

Obviously, I'm not in any position to make claims identifying the presence with the explorers--was it a delusion? Was it an angel? Who knows? All I know is that the story speaks to me of grace and presence appearing unexpectedly in the midst of all kinds of suffering, the trial by fire and the ordeal of ice.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Meaning/Suspicion of Art

"Many religious people, bearing in mind the Second Commandment's prohibition against the making of images, tend to be suspicious of art. Many more have a particular dislike for modern, abstract art. Yet one has only to look at the frost on a windowpane or at dewdrops spangled on a spiderweb, or to study a cloud or a handful of sand, to realize that our Creator God is not only an artist, but an abstract artist par excellence. He seems to have a passionate interest in pure color, in mere line, in sheer energy, and in the fundamentals of texture and shape. He likes geometrical patterns, but He also likes randomness. He enjoys stripes and splashes and dots and whole fields of plain paint. He appears to love form and design for their own sake. Lay down an empty picture frame on your lawn, and you have a work of pure abstraction--that is a painting that represents nothing but itself.

True, the things of nature are not without symbolic power. Grass which 'is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire' (Matt. 6:30), can become a symbol of transcience. But is is also simple grass. Dawn can be a symbol of renewal, but it is also merely dawn. God cannot be called a representational artist, for when He created the world and everything in it He was not copying anything. He was not depicting or representing any other reality, for there was no other reality except Himself. All His creations were but emanations of the inner workings of His own spirit.

This is the way of the abstract artist. While the representational artist attempts to show, more or less acurately, what the eye sees, the abstract artist is not so much interested in what the eye sees as in how it sees...Abstract art is a picture of the inner eye or heart of the one who looks. Or better: it is a picture of the looking itself.

If the abstract artist has one real point of contact with the objective world, it is his medium. The medium itself fascinates him. 'Let there be light!' said god, and in the same way the artist says,
'Let there be paint!' God's question to Job--'What is the way to the abode of light?'--could serve as the ideal motto for the abstract artist, whose whole preoccupation is with the inherent mysteries of light, paint, canvas. To the true abstractionist, paint is like music: precious for its own sake, quite apart from any cognitive meaning. It is like the eyes of someone we love: what do they mean? The very question is demeaning; they mean nothing but themselves. That is, their meaning is too large for expression. It is not that such meaning is vague; rather it is too powerfully particular. As Felix Mendelssohn put it, 'The meaning of music is too specific for words.'

from The Gospel According to Job, Mike Mason

Thursday, December 11, 2008


-- from the Hymns of St. Ephrem the Syrian

In the days of the king who enrolled people
For the poll tax, our Savior descended
And enrolled people in the Book of Life.
He enrolled them, and they enrolled Him. On high He enrolled us;
On earth they enrolled Him. Glory to His Name!


This is the day when the high gate opened to us for our prayers;
let us also open the gates to the seekers who have strayed but sought forgiveness.
This Lord of natures today was transformed contrary to His nature;
it is not too difficult for us also to overthrow our evil will.
Today the Deity imprinted itself on humanity,
so that humanity might also be cut into the seal of Deity.
His swaddling clothes gave a robe of glory to human beings.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Gerald May on the Distinction Between Love and Efficiency

Gerald May on his book The Awakened Heart

The Awakened Heart is my seventh book, and it was the most difficult one to write, because it is all about love. For years, I had felt an inner prompting to write a book about love, but I had resisted the invitation; I had as many problems with love and being loving as anyone else, and I did not feel I could even say what love really is. After all, who does understand love?

In the summer of 1990, I was attempting to complete the final revisions on a book about Practicing the Presence of God. I had based the book on the teachings of Brother Lawrence, the 16th century Carmelite monk who practiced awareness of God during every moment of his life. Brother Lawrence was a simple man; all he wanted was to love God consciously as he went about his daily business, and I thought my book would be simple and easy to write.

But something strange happened. I was trying to be very prayerful and mindful as I wrote. I wanted to be aware -- if not of God directly, then at least of my own desire for God -- in the writing, and I wanted to be really receptive to any guidance or desire that God might have in my work.

As I was revising the manuscript, a whole new body of material came flowing out onto the pages. And it was all about love. For a long time I had no idea how all this love-stuff would fit into the book I thought I was writing, and it caused me great distress. I had a deadline at the end of the summer, and I knew I was not going to be able to meet it.

I could have stifled the new material and forced the book to meet the deadline, but to do so I would have had to harden my heart, end my prayerfulness, take it all into my own hands. I chose to hang in there with the process and risk that my publisher would think I was being lazy or irresponsible.

The book took an extra six months to finish, and when it was completed it contained both the suggestions about practicing the presence of God and the new treatise on love. The Awakened Heart is a book about practicing the presence of love.

My struggle about giving up meeting the deadline is an example of the larger life struggles I talk about in the book. One of the most profound struggles we face in our culture today is between efficiency and love. Efficiency is how we cope with our daily tasks, how we get our jobs done, how we manage our relationships and handle our feelings and adjust to the stresses we encounter. Efficiency has to do with how we function.

In contrast, love has to do with our deepest desires, what we are functioning for, what brings real meaning to our lives, real nourishment for our hearts. Efficiency is the how of life; Love is the why. We all know people who are very efficient but not very loving. We also know people who are very loving but not very efficient.

God in the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament are unequivocal about love being the most important thing in life -- love is where we come from and where we are meant to be heading. Love is the one thing necessary; we are here on this earth for the sole purpose of furthering and deepening love: for God and for one another. What are the two great commandments? That we love God with our whole being and our neighbors as our very selves. Such a thing may seem impossible -- and it surely is without grace, but there is no equivocation in it. There is no compromise. The eighteenth century poet William Blake said it well in these words: "And we are put on earth a little space, that we might learn to bear the beams of love."
The scriptures keep saying in countless other ways that our functioning should be determined by our deeper passion for love; our efficiency should be in the service of love. But our culture, for generations, for millennia in fact, has reversed these priorities.

We worship efficiency. It is how we measure ourselves and one another: what kind of grades we get in school, how productive we are on the job, how effective we are in maintaining relationships and raising children. We have spoken of children as products of their home environments. We have even come to speak of troubled families as dysfunctional families -- not unloving, not lacking in tenderness or warmth, but dysfunctional.

I have four children, grown now. I sometimes want to cry when I think how I communicated to them that I valued their performance more than their simple being. Sure, I told them I loved them no matter what, but too much of the time what they saw was my joy or disappointment in their performance. I could rationalize it by saying I was preparing them for getting along in the world, because the world will judge them on their function. But our world is wrong to idolize function and efficiency as it does. What my own efficiency-worship with my kids did was to help them adapt to an efficiency-worshipping world.

The message of the prophets of the Old Testament, and the Gospel message of Christianity, have nothing whatsoever to do with adaptation or adjustment to the world. It's true in the deep heart of every major religion: the message is not about adaptation but about challenge. The spiritual heart, grounded and loving in love, is a radical challenge that must go against the idolatry of function. It must risk being inefficient sometimes in the cause of love. It must risk vulnerability for love and to love. It is, as the apostle Paul said, "Foolishness" in the eyes of the world.

That's where The Awakened Heart begins. It goes on to speak of the many faces of love, the distinctions between love and dependency and co-dependency, the pains and fears and joys of really trying to live a loving life, and some practical suggestions about living lovingly in one's own life, at home, in the workplace, and in the world at large.

But it keeps coming back to the basic challenge of love and efficiency: where is your true
treasure? What is the one thing necessary for your heart? It is here, in your own heart, that you may find the courage and empowerment to choose love over efficiency in the real situations of your life -- and I tell you courage and empowerment are essential, for although love and efficiency can come together in a beautiful harmony, this can happen only with radical, painful changes in the systems of our society. Industry, Education, Politics, even most of Religion have adapted to the worship of efficiency. But those systems are made up of human beings: you and me. It is we who are challenged to put love first.

I would continue with a word about the book's title. The phrase The Awakened Heart is taken from Chapter 5, Verse 2, of The Song of Songs. "I sleep, but my heart is awake." In the fourth century of the common era, St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote a commentary about that verse. What he said should give hope to us all. What he said was that even though our minds may be caught up in the sleep of habit and adjustment and worry and dullness, even in sin, our hearts -- our deepest spiritual hearts -- are awake to God. No matter what our heads may be doing, our hearts are desiring love: to love, to be loved, to be in love. The real challenge of the spiritual life, as I see it, is for our minds to wake up to what our hearts have been crying out for all along. Brother Lawrence echoed it beautifully: "People would be very surprised," he said, "If they knew what their hearts said to God sometimes."

Interview with Gerald May Interviewed by David Hardin

David Hardin: Gerald, you talk about the conflict between efficiency and love. Thoreau once said, "I don't have time to be in a hurry." Some of the most successful people I know, especially the men, the CEO's say, "I have things I have to do." Their families are angry. Are they missing the boat or do we need people like that around to make the world happen?

Gerald May: I guess the question is, "How well does the world really need to happen for our quality of life to be good and what really brings a good quality of life?"
I think we have demonstrated in our very developed society that the quality of life is not accomplished by constant productivity and constant achievement. People like those you mention are often trapped in a mill of having to produce, being rewarded by that, their standard of living rising and then having to keep that continuing and continuing. It is a treadmill. It is a trap for people and they can't drop it and get out.

Hardin: When Archbishop Weakland was on this program, he said that if you take Jesus
seriously, you can be outrageously happy, you can be quite fearless, but expect to be under attack, expect to be in trouble. I guess there is some of that. We don't want to trust the journey. A performer says, "I've got to get hold of the journey." Is performing a bit of control?

May: Absolutely. We often don't feel this but it is a way of trying to take things into our own hands, I think. We feel that if we can perform well enough, function efficiently enough, then we will get something in return for that. The world will reward us. We even get to thinking that God will reward us. A lot of times when we grew up, our parents rewarded us for our performance and we kind of project that onto God. We have our own kind of personally neurotic theologies that come out of that which says that if we do a good enough job, God will love me and bring me some kind of happiness.

Hardin: But if I perform.

May: Right. If I do a good enough job.

Hardin: My mother used to say to me on occasion, "Make me proud of you." What can that do to a child?

May: I got the same thing. I have to tell you -- not quite in so many words -- I've communicated that to my kids at times. What it does, of course, is say, "You are what you do. Your value is based on what you can accomplish."
Parents truly love their children and they don't really feel that way. However, that is the language we keep using with kids and you get that message. Then if you think about God, you get the feeling that God is going to feel the same way. That is not what faith is really about. Faith is that you are loved first and then you want to make God smile.

Hardin: We carry the image our parents symbolized of what God is probably all about. I know people who have trouble with the perception of a loving father because they didn't feel theirs was. I guess the issue of parents trying to be better parents is a matter of letting go. There is something in that, isn't there? Let them make some mistakes.

May: Right. I think that applies to ourselves, too, in this whole arena of seeking to put love first. It implies taking some risks and trusting God's grace, even though things don't necessarily work out the way we expect them to, and realizing that we are going to have trouble and make mistakes. Our kids are going to make mistakes. We are going to make mistakes. If we don't take those kinds of risks for love, then we are going to have an efficient life that is absolutely pastel and has no meat, color or guts to it.

Hardin: When Harold Kushner was on the program, he said that the way you can avoid love is to avoid involvement, not be touchable with our children. You've raised four so you know the game. I suspect you would do things somewhat differently today.

May: I would try. I don't know if I would or not, but I would sure try.

Hardin: Part of that is somehow separating the events of their lives from who they really are. My kids want me to know the things they have done so that I will think they are good. I think I have really stuck them with that and I'm trying not to do that any more.

May: It's so hard, though.

Hardin: You have the same stuff?

May: Sure. It is so difficult because I want to try and back off from praising the kids, who are now older, for their accomplishments. I want to back off from that but then if I do, they are going to wonder why I am not even proud of that. Being a parent is not the easiest thing in the world. I think it is a matter of simply trying to feel the love, the caring, the tenderness that is there and operating on that basis. It takes a risk to live that way but that is it, I think.

Hardin: That's a great statement to end with. Thank you very much.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

God's Wrath Pt. 2 (A Coincidence?)

Last night at our church's Bible study on the Book of Romans, we talked for a long time about the idea of God's wrath.

Today when I got into my car, I found on my seat a torn page from an old devotional--it must have fallen out of my Bible last night, though insofar as I can remember, I neither opened my Bible to that page nor dropped my Bible (my Bible is stuffed with many articles, cartoons, etc. that I have found spiritually useful). This is what the page says:

"Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?" Rev. 6:1-17

Yes, God forgives all sin. But he also requires holiness. The wrath of God isn't anger; it is active love. It changes things. So, in the great day when he comes he cleanses those he loves. And that cleansing is not without pain and suffering. We rely on our character defects to defend us in a hostile world. We use slander and dishonesty, and murder each other through character assasination to make our way through the world. When the bridegrooom comes, he removes our defenses, he purifies our minds and souls, he makes us like him, completely, wholly trusting in God's love.

The four horsemen of the apocalypse are not released all at once; they are released gradually. The cleansing doesn't happen instantly--it is a process. Layer by layer the dross is removed and the gold is refined.

God, keep me aware, as I am awake to Christ's coming, that growing into Christ's stature requires purification, and that willingness to be purified through the fire of his love is his invitation to us.

Come, Lord Jesus.

"Among the elders a lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered..." Rev. 5: 6-14

Here is another image of Jesus in Revelation. This image isn't the powerful one of blazing eyes and burnished feet, but this image is also the image of Christ; and if we are truly his, it is our own image as well. As we grow into the full stature of Christ, the slain lamb must also be who we are.

The slain lamb needs nothing, not even to defend himself. The slain lamb is the one who forgives the offenses of others through its defenselessness. The slain lamb never accuses. The lamb never condemns. The lamb covers the multitude of sin with love. In the eyes of the lamb, there is no sin.

God, make me into the image of the lamb, grow me into the full stature of your Christ; give me grace through the power of his love to forgive sin in my neighbors, that I may receive forgiveness for my own sins.

Come, Lord Jesus.

God's Wrath

from Sacred Encounters with Jesus, ed. G. Scott Sparrow

"When I was around twelve years old, I decided to tease my sister Dorothy. I piled dirt clods on top of our outdoor toilet and waited for her to use it. As she emerged, I dropped clods on her. Trying to elude the clods, she finally broke and ran for the house. I jumped off the toilet and reared back to throw another clod...She ran to the left to escape me. Just as I was about to let go and hit her, I heard a voice. (While it took only two seconds for this to happen, it takes a while to explain the voice and the experience which ensued.)

The voice sounded like thunder passing through water--like waves. All the voice actually said was, 'Drop that.' These words were Spirit as they entered me; and they were pure wrath. They washed through me from the top of my head out the soles of my feet. I immediately began to try to open my hand and found I couldn't do it. I struggled several times to open my fingers and couldn't. I felt destruction all around me and realized I could be destroyed on the spot. I recognized this voice as God.

Because I trusted God...I found myself trusting him regardless of whether I lived or died. As I submitted to him, I felt his words turn to pure mercy. This washed over me again from top to bottom. The mercy seemed to enter my heart like a trickle first. Then like a dam breaking, his mercy flooded my heart and being. Then, his words turned to pure love. This washed over me the same as before...I felt like I came through it only because I submitted and only because of the mercy of God.

When I submitted and quit trying to open my hand, all of a sudden I felt like a puppet. My hand opened by his power and the rock fell out. I turned around to see where the voice came from. It had come from the north. I looked and saw nothing. I felt this great sense of redemption, like I'd been purchased at a great price I then heard Mom calling me..."

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Another Year is Almost Over

"Across the cold chains of the centuries, I feel the warmth of Your breath; I feel Your blood pulsing in my veins. Part of time has already gone, but now You are the present. I stand by Your cross; I was the cause of it. I cast myself down in the dust before it. Here is the triumph of love, the victory of salvation. Here the centuries themselves cannot remain silent, singing Your praises: Alleluia!"

Father Gregory Petrov, Akathist of Thanksgiving

Sunday, November 30, 2008

"Wonderful Listening"

Listening with Affection and Excitement

by Brenda Ueland

I want to write about the great and powerful thing that listening is. And how we forget it. And how we don't listen to our children, or those we love. And least of all - which is so important, too - to those we do not love. But we should. Because listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. Think how the friends that really listen to us are the ones we move toward, and we want to sit in their radius as though it did us good, like ultraviolet rays.

This is the reason: When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand. Ideas actually begin to grow within us and come to life. You know how if a person laughs at your jokes you become funnier and funnier, and if he does not, every tiny little joke in you weakens up and dies. Well, that is the principle of it. It makes people happy and free when they are listened to. And if you are a listener, it is the secret of having a good time in society (because everybody around you becomes lively and interesting), of comforting people, of doing them good.

Who are the people, for example, to whom you go for advice? Not to the hard, practical ones who can tell you exactly what to do, but to the listeners; that is, the kindest, least censorious, least bossy people you know. It is because by pouring out your problem to them, you then know what to do about it yourself.

When we listen to people there is an alternating current that recharges us so we never get tired of each other. We are constantly being re-created.

Now, there are brilliant people who cannot listen much. They have no ingoing wires on their apparatus. They are entertaining, but exhausting, too.

I think it is because these lecturers, these brilliant performers, by not giving us a chance to talk, do not let this little creative fountain inside us begin to spring and cast up new thoughts and unexpected laughter and wisdom. That is why, when someone has listened to you, you go home rested and lighthearted.

When people listen, creative waters flow. Now this little creative fountain is in us all. It is the spirit, or the intelligence, or the imagination - whatever you want to call it. If you are very tired, strained, have no solitude, run too many errands, talk to too many people, drink too many cocktails, this little fountain is muddied over and covered with a lot of debris. The result is you stop living from the center, the creative fountain, and you live from the periphery, from externals. That is, you go along on mere willpower without imagination.

It is when people really listen to us, with quiet, fascinated attention, that the little fountain begins to work again, to accelerate in the most surprising way.

I discovered all this about three years ago, and truly it made a revolutionary change in my life. Before that, when I went to a party, I would think anxiously: "Now try hard. Be lively. Say bright things. Talk. Don't let down." And when tired, I would have to drink a lot of coffee to keep this up.

Now before going to a party, I just tell myself to listen with affection to anyone who talks to me, to be in their shoes when they talk; to try to know them without my mind pressing against theirs, or arguing, or changing the subject.

Sometimes, of course, I cannot listen as well as others. But when I have this listening power, people crowd around and their heads keep turning to me as though irresistibly pulled. By listening I have started up their creative fountain. I do them good.

Now why does it do them good? I have a kind of mystical notion about this. I think it is only by expressing all that is inside that purer and purer streams come.

It is so in writing. You are taught in school to put down on paper only the bright things. Wrong. Pour out the dull things on paper too - you can tear them up afterward - for only then do the bright ones come.

If you hold back the dull things, you are certain to hold back what is clear and beautiful and true and lively.

I think women have this listening faculty more than men. It is not the fault of men. They lose it because of their long habit of striving in business, of self-assertion. And the more forceful men are, the less they can listen as they grow older. And that is why women in general are more fun than men, more restful and inspiriting.

Now this non-listening of able men is the cause of one of the saddest things in the world - the loneliness of fathers, of those quietly sad men who move along with their grown children like remote ghosts.

When my father was over 70, he was a fiery, humorous, admirable man, a scholar, a man of great force. But he was deep in the loneliness of old age and another generation. He was so fond of me. But he could not hear me - not one word I said, really. I was just audience. I would walk around the lake with him on a beautiful afternoon and he would talk to me about Darwin and Huxley and higher criticism of the Bible.

"Yes, I see, I see," I kept saying and tried to keep my mind pinned to it, but I was restive and bored. There was a feeling of helplessness because he could not hear what I had to say about it. When I spoke I found myself shouting, as one does to a foreigner, and in a kind of despair that he could not hear me. After the walk I would feel that I had worked off my duty and I was anxious to get him settled and reading in his Morris chair, so that I could go out and have a livelier time with other people. And he would sigh and look after me absentmindedly with perplexed loneliness.

For years afterward I have thought with real suffering about my father's loneliness. Such a wonderful man, and reaching out to me and wanting to know me! But he could not. He could not listen. But now I think that if only I had known as much about listening then as I do now, I could have bridged the chasm between us. To give an example:

Recently, a man I had not seen for 20 years wrote me. He was an unusually forceful man and had made a great deal of money. But he had lost his ability to listen. He talked rapidly and told wonderful stories and it was just fascinating to hear them. But when I spoke - restlessness: "Just hand me that, will you? ... Where is my pipe?" It was just a habit. He read countless books and was eager to take in ideas, but he just could not listen to people.

Well, this is what I did. I was more patient - I did not resist his non-listening talk as I did my father's. I listened and listened to him, not once pressing against him, even in thought, with my own self-assertion.

I said to myself: "He has been under a driving pressure for years. His family has grown to resist his talk. But now, by listening, I will pull it all out of him. He must talk freely and on and on. When he has been really listened to enough, he will grow tranquil. He will begin to want to hear me."

And he did, after a few days. He began asking me questions. And presently I was saying gently:
"You see, it has become hard for you to listen."

He stopped dead and stared at me. And it was because I had listened with such complete, absorbed, uncritical sympathy, without one flaw of boredom or impatience, that he now believed and trusted me, although he did not know this.

"Now talk," he said. "Tell me about that. Tell me all about that."

Well, we walked back and forth across the lawn and I told him my ideas about it.
"You love your children, but probably don't let them in. Unless you listen, you can't know anybody. Oh, you will know facts and what is in the newspapers and all of history, perhaps, but you will not know one single person. You know, I have come to think listening is love, that's what it really is."

Well, I don't think I would have written this article if my notions had not had such an extraordinary effect on this man. For he says they have changed his whole life. He wrote me that his children at once came closer; he was astonished to see what they are; how original, independent, courageous. His wife seemed really to care about him again, and they were actually talking about all kinds of things and making each other laugh.

For just as the tragedy of parents and children is not listening, so it is of husbands and wives. If they disagree they begin to shout louder and louder - if not actually, at least inwardly - hanging fiercely and deafly onto their own ideas, instead of listening and becoming quieter and more comprehending.

But the most serious result of not listening is that worst thing in the world, boredom; for it is really the death of love. It seals people off from each other more than any other thing.

Now, how to listen. It is harder than you think. Creative listeners are those who want you to be recklessly yourself, even at your very worst, even vituperative, bad- tempered. They are laughing and just delighted with any manifestation of yourself, bad or good. For true listeners know that if you are bad-tempered it does not mean that you are always so. They don't love you just when you are nice; they love all of you.

In order to listen, here are some suggestions: Try to learn tranquility, to live in the present a part of the time every day. Sometimes say to yourself: "Now. What is happening now? This friend is talking. I am quiet. There is endless time. I hear it, every word." Then suddenly you begin to hear not only what people are saying, but also what they are trying to say, and you sense the whole truth about them. And you sense existence, not piecemeal, not this object and that, but as a translucent whole.

Then watch your self-assertiveness. And give it up. Remember, it is not enough just to will to listen to people. One must really listen. Only then does the magic begin.

We should all know this: that listening, not talking, is the gifted and great role, and the imaginative role. And the true listener is much more beloved, magnetic than the talker, and he is more effective and learns more and does more good. And so try listening. Listen to your wife, your husband, your father, your mother, your children, your friends; to those who love you and those who don't, to those who bore you, to your enemies. It will work a small miracle. And perhaps a great one.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Chrismated Yesterday/ "Am I Expecting?"

For over a year, this is what I kept asking Orthodox Christians: "What is different?" For obviously, holiness and grace are found everywhere in many different kinds of people.

So now I've been chrismated for just under 24 hrs., and what I'm experiencing reminds me of when I registered positive for pregnancy tests oh so many years ago--I would think about the test results, and then ask myself, "Well, do I feel any different?"

I think things might in fact be subtly different, but it's easy to delude oneself in various ways, and anyhow, I just want to quit thinking about it and instead, focus on God and other people, and what's at hand, and leave that question to God so as to let Him surprise me or not as He sees fit.

"The kingdom of God cometh not with observation; neither shall they say, Lo here! or, Lo there! For behold, the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:20-21) "This manner of life we have within us, that is to say, we have it within us when we desire and will it. We do not need to wait a long time, or until our departure from this life; instead, faith and a God-pleasing life which accompanies faith are very near us. " Blessed Theophylact (+c. 1108)

In terms of shock and awe (in a good way, I mean), what really astounded me was how my priest drove many miles to the service despite a newly broken arm and apparently some really awful stomach kind of flu. He was there for just that part of the service, and then went home and the other priests did the rest of the service. What a shepherd!


"Thou, Oh Christ, art the Kingdom of Heaven; Thou, Oh Christ, art the kingdom of Heaven; Thou, the land promised to the meek; Thou, the meadowland of paradise; Thou, the hall of the celestial banquet; Thou, the ineffable bridal chamber; Thou, the table set for all, Thou, the bread of life; Thou, the unheard of drink; Thou, both the urn for the water and the life-giving water; Thou, moreover, the inextinguishable lamp for each one of the saints; Thou, the garment and the crown and the One Who bestoweth the crowns; Thou, the joy and rest; Thou, the delight and glory; Thou, the gladness and mirth; And Thy grace, the grace of the Spirit of all sanctity, will shine like the sun in all the saints; And Thou, the unapproachable Sun, wilt shine in their midst; and all will shine brightly, according to the measure of their faith, their asceticism, their hope and their love, their purification, and their illumination by Thy Spirit.

A prayer by St. Symeon the New Theologian

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


The Secrets of Poetry

Very long ago when the exquisite celadon bowl
that was the mikado's favorite cup got broken,
no one in Japan had the skill and courage
to mend it. So the pieces were taken back
to China with a plea to the emperor
that it be repaired. When the bowl returned,
it was held together with heavy iron staples.
The letter with it said they could not make it
more perfect. Which turned out to be true.

- Linda Gregg

In the Company of the Innumerable

"Many, O Lord my God, are Your wonderful works which you have done;
and Your thoughts toward us cannot be recounted to You in order;
if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered."
Psalm 40:5

"...Innumerable evils have surrounded me; my iniquities have overtaken me
so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of my head;
therefore, my heart fails me."
Psalm 40: 12

"But I will hope continually, and will praise You yet more and more.
My mouth will speak of your righteousness and your salvation all day long,
for I do not know their limits."
Psalm 71:15

"God does not give the Spirit by measure. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand."
John 3:34

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Confessing Eucharistically

I don't know about some of the theology in these passages, and much of what is written here is far beyond my grade level, so to speak, but in it, I sense some vistas of which I've been unaware, so I thought I'd share the work of this author, new to me.

I must say, it is good to be back with a more functional computer, and to begin to catch up on blog entries! (It was also good to be away from a completely functional computer!)

The Confession of the Saints by Adrienne von Speyr
from Chapter 11 of Confession, by Adrienne von Speyr

Every saint will confess in the communion of all believers in order to receive a share in it--though the saint will perhaps do so not so much in order to hear the absolution of his own sins as to come to the place where the fruit of the Cross becomes visible. He confesses in order to reveal the form of grace, to lend that fruit greater visibility, to participate, indeed to share the burden of the Cross by means of his own confession, and by means of his own confession to let the Lord's word of grace become incarnate once more in the mystery of holiness he instituted. He confesses in a great nearness to communion; he actually confesses eucharistically.

The saint gives confession a certain quality that it receives only through him, a quality so precious that one might believe the Lord had precisely this quality in mind when he instituted confession. Precisely the saint who has sinned least could make the perfect confession: the confession of his distance from God, a confession that also includes all sinners. The confession of the saints, more than any other, is ecclesial and social. It is that confession in which the other sinners participate. It is a fruit so pure that it may not be consumed by one person alone.

We can differentiate three groups of saints: those who have sinned and know from experience what sin is; those who have not sinned and do not know from genuine experience what sin is; and those who have not sinned and yet know what sin is. As representatives we can list these three: Francis, the little Thérèse, and Aloysius.

Francis has sinned. He no longer views his sins individually; he views them as a sum of offenses to God. He loves the Lord ardently, ever more ardently. He is consumed by this love. The more truly, profoundly, penetratingly he loves, the more true, profound and penetrating his sensitivity becomes to the offense that sin causes the Lord. This holds true both for his own past sins and for all the others he comes to know. Whenever he hears that something evil has happened or that others. have committed sins similar to those he once committed in the same mixture of knowledge and ignorance, whenever he sees how they prefer sin to love, he confesses, and his confession stands at the burning focal point of the offenses to the Lord; the more his love grows, the more burning this focal point becomes. It becomes the focal point of the focal point. Somehow he confesses in timelessness. The more his love consumes him, the more he senses how much more consuming it should be. In this heightening he also sees the offenses to God become heightened, and sin is subdivided for him into areas characterized by the sins he himself has committed. In one way or another he confesses distance from God, and every saint in this group does this. Although he no longer is deceitful, he loves truth too little. Although he no longer hurts his fellow human beings, he does not give them nearly as much as he could, as much as pure love wishes them to have. He confesses, as it were, a kind of reflection of his sins. Since he sees the offense to God better now, his earlier sin shows him how little his present virtue is actually fulfilled. He does not see it theoretically, but rather as a pure, pressing reality. He is the one who today has replaced his former sin with tepidity, the one who in spite of knowing better does not respond to the burning demand. Hence it seems as if he is always confessing his former sins, which appear in a continually new light the more he becomes aware of his responsibility. Precisely because he no longer is deceitful, he should possess a consuming love of truth. Every confession refines his insight and increases the feeling of his own unworthiness, but by no means drives him to despair; for he feels grace, and feels it all the more strongly the more unworthy he feels. God's mercy accepts this wretched sinner!

Little Thérèse possesses a peculiar manner of confessing, just as she has a peculiar knowledge of sin. Basically it never becomes clear to her what sin is. She learns by way of suggestion that people do things that offend God, and that those things have certain names which exhaustively define them--falsity, theft, murder, hatred, pride, self-love. But these things and their names have no essential relationship to her. Evil is for her simply the opposite of good, but this oppositional relationship remains somehow vague and abstract. Everything that is sin is somehow terrifying to her; she thinks about sin, she speaks about it, but in the way that one speaks about things which one really does not want to be explicit about. This relationship to sin is reflected clearly in her relationship to what has been called her "night". In her suffering she gets to the Mount of Olives; she also gets there with her insight, knowledge and burden of sin. Yet one really cannot know clearly and specifically what the suffering on the Mount of Olives is without knowing equally about the Cross of Golgotha. Hence Thérèse never gets beyond a kind of groping and furtive circling around sin. On the "Mount of Olives" one cannot evaluate fully just how sin offends God. Confession is a matter of Thérèse accusing herself of small and ever smaller things, but she never reaches the point at which Francis confesses. She is infinitely happy that she has not committed a mortal sin, but this knowledge inhibits her confession. It remains at the stage of preparation, just as the Mount of Olives is a preparation for the Cross. There are various beginnings, steps are made, but they never reach the end. There even occur a few excuses in the midst of her accusations. And yet she would be prepared to bear more and would be glad to be in the communion of those who confess. Here the accent on smallness can occasionally have a trivializing effect. Both her confession and her knowledge of sin lack full transparency, the light of day and realism. Saints in this group, too, could offer full confessions if the saint were seeking to be led all the way to the Cross, not by anticipating things the Lord does not give, but rather through a passivity that at the decisive moment not only passively forgets itself but also actively accepts what is revealed. Even he who has not committed sin should be familiar with it. It can be a matter of Christian courage that is not satisfied with what is vague, a courage that knows that after the "Mount of Olives", as painful as it may be, the real cross comes.

Aloysius is quite different; he is more like Catherine of Siena. He suffers from sin, and he does not withdraw from this suffering. He is able to view sin objectively and realistically. He has no share in it and is not bound to sin by sin, but he is familiar with it. He wants to know what it is, and what is unbearable for him passes over immediately into what is unbearable for the Lord. He is not bent on drawing and seeing his own boundaries or seeing to what extent he shares in it or does not. His past plays no great part. He is grateful to be allowed to do that which God expects of him right now. If he had committed a mortal sin, then he simply would have committed it; it would seem terrible to him, but he would confess and then carry on. If, on the other hand, he knew he had not committed one, perhaps he would quickly thank God, but he would not give the matter any lasting significance. He, too, confesses his distance from God, but without really concerning himself with the source of this distance. He looks closely at the Ever-More of God and his grace, and he confesses what he himself lacks. None of this is theoretical, and therein he resembles Francis. Neither does he develop any theology of the sins he sees others commit. In his opinion they are believers just as he is, even fellow religious, who do not love enough; but neither does he love enough. Hence, although he can identify their sins with certain suitable names, he is one with them in this lack of love. It is not important to him whether their lack of love occasions those specific sins, or, as in his case, hinders a more intense ardor. His contrition arises at the point where he recognizes his distance from the demands of love. Hence one cannot say that for him and those like him confession has no "content" and therefore no absolution. He senses the grace of absolution intensely, more than does little Thérèse. It gives him a new impulse for love.

The Mother of God does not feel excluded from the communion of those who confess, because she participates to the highest degree in her Son's confessional attitude. She participates in the confession of all sinners at the point where the Son as a man is completely transparent before the Father, where he lends his divine transparency to his own humanity. His Mother sees this infinite transparency, and in spite of her perfection she is always striving to attain that unattainable transparency. She strives without concerning herself with results. The essence of the confessional attitude for her is to become more like the Son. There is no absolution for her; instead, she enjoys the closest proximity to the Son as the Redeemer and purifier of all sinners, and she pours out this proximity in a eucharistic spirit.

Adrienne von Speyr was a 20th century Swiss convert, mystic, wife, doctor and author of numerous books on spirituality. She entered the Church under the direction of Hans Urs von Balthasar. Her writings, recognized as a major contribution to the great mystical writings of the Church, are being translated by Ignatius Press. Read about her life and work on her author page.

More on Questions

"The toughest questions are never on paper. They are asked and answered in flesh and blood, laughter and tears."

Douglas J. Rumford, Questions God Asks, Questions Satan Asks

Rumford seems to suggest that the toughest questions are not so much conceptual as incarnational, lived out in experience, relationally.


Monday, November 17, 2008

What Are the Signals?

What are the signals, I wonder, that warn you that you're asking the wrong questions...?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

What Thomas Traherne Said About "Nothing":

It is an inestimable joy that I was raised out of nothing to see and enjoy this glorious world: It is a Sacred Gift whereby the children of men are made my treasures, but O Thou who art fairer than the children of men, how great and unconceivable is the joy of Thy love! That I who was lately raised out of the dust, have so great a Friend, that I who in this life am born to mean things according to the world should be called to inherit such glorious things in the way of heaven: Such a Lord, so great a Lover, such heavenly mysteries, such doings and such sufferings, with all the benefit and pleasure of them in Thy intelligible kingdom: it amazeth me, it transporteth and ravisheth me. I will leave my father's house and come unto Thee; for Thou art my Lord, and I will worship Thee, That all ages should appear so visibly before me, and all Thy ways be so lively, powerful, and present with me, that the land of Canaan should be so near; and all the joys in heaven and earth be so sweet to comfort me! This, O Lord, declareth Thy wisdom, and sheweth Thy power. But O the riches of thine infinite goodness in making my Soul an interminable Temple, out of which nothing can be, from which nothing is removed, to which nothing is afar off ; but all things immediately near, in a real, true, and lively manner. O the glory of that endless life, that can at once extend to all Eternity! Had the Cross been twenty millions of ages further, it had still been equally near, nor is it possible to remove it, for it is with all distances in my understanding, and though it be removed many thousand millions of ages more is as clearly seen and apprehended. This soul for which Thou diedst, I desire to know more perfectly, O my Saviour, that I may praise Thee for it, and believe it worthy, in its nature, to be an object of Thy love; though unworthy by reason of sin: and that I may use it in Thy service, and keep it pure to Thy glory.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Re. Wanderings of the Mind in Prayer, I Wonder:

Can they ever be a valid part of the prayer?

I have a hunch that this may be so....


Saturday, October 25, 2008

Parable of the Talents

Every time I read or hear about the parable of the talents (see below), I feel that there is a missing character. What about the person who invests the talents but then loses them all for who knows what reason--poor investment choice, perhaps, or circumstances beyond his/her control?

What if we invest the time, energy, and passion that God has given us in something that doesn't work out, or turns, apparently, into a disaster?

Why isn't this possibility represented in the parable?

In her book God Is Not Reasonable, Irma Zaleski's primary character, Mother Macrina, while speaking to a woman who finds herself paralyzed by indecision and fear as she faces a crucial decision, says, "I have learned, you see, that when we are really alone with God, we soon realize that there is nothing to fear and we know what we must do. When we are with God, we can make no mistakes. "

The woman replies, "What are you saying, Mother?...I know plenty of good people who made awful mistakes."

Mother Macrina says, "If they made them with God, they are not mistakes."

Maybe the reason the "loser" character is not in the parable of the talents is that, all appearances to the contrary, in the heavenly economy, nothing attempted for God and done in love is truly wasted...

* * * *
13 “Therefore stay alert, because you do not know the day or the hour. 14 For it is like a man going on a journey, who summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The one who had received five talents went off right away and put his money to work and gained five more. 17 In the same way, the one who had two gained two more. 18 But the one who had received one talent went out and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money in it. 19 After a long time, the master of those slaves came and settled his accounts with them. 20 The one who had received the five talents came and brought five more, saying, ‘Sir, you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’ 21 His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 The one with the two talents also came and said, ‘Sir, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more.’ 23 His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Sir, I knew that you were a hard man, harvesting where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered, ‘Evil and lazy slave! So you knew that I harvest where I didn’t sow and gather where I didn’t scatter? 27 Then you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received my money back with interest! 28 Therefore take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten. 29 For the one who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 30 And throw that worthless slave into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’” (Matthew 25)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

P.S. re Chrismation

Those of you who know me and are within driving range, please consider coming to the service at 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 23. Wear sturdy shoes, and keep your minds open to behold the very most ancient Christianity alive and well--mystical, shockingly powerful, unsettling, peaceful, and searing, all at the same time. Contact me for details!

Christmation Countdown!

It's November 23...

33 days...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What Can Withstand God's Gentleness and Humility?

In the Bleak Midwinter

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

Christina Rosetti

Thursday, October 16, 2008

All these decades of living, and I'd never before noticed...

...that all dewdrops are not identical.

This morning, I saw that on the webs on bushes, each drop is bright around the edges and clear in the center, whereas on blades of grass, each drop is just as clear at the center as it is around the radius.

As Hopkins wrote,

"...nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things..."

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Pretty Much the Whole Enchilada, I Think, Including Some Parts I'd Not Heard Til Now

St. Patrick's Breastplate

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this today to me forever
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in Jordan river,
His death on Cross for my salvation;

His bursting from the spicèd tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,

Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,

The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.

The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;

Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,

Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Holy Rest

"The Sabbath is no time for personal anxiety or care, for any activity that might dampen the spirit of joy. The Sabbath is no time to remember sins, to confess, to repent or even to pray for relief or anything we might need. It is a day for praise, not a day for petitions. Fasting, mourning, demonstrarions of grief are forbidden...
One must abstain from toil and strain on the seventh day, even from strain in the service of God...
It is a sin to be sad on the Sabbath day. "

Abraham Heschel, The Sabbath


"Eventually, the Christians began to observe the first day (as Justin Martyr called it "the day of the Sun," according to the Roman calendar) not because it was Shabbat (sabbath) but because it was the day upon which Christ rose from the dead, the central teaching of Christians, vindicating his power through his death to forgive the sins of the world.In fact, it was a "new day," which they called "the eighth day," a new day because it was the day after the seventh day that Christ rose, sanctifying it in a special way as the day of the new covenant, just as God sanctified the Sabbath/7th day from the creation of the universe.The 'eighth day' was the day the new testament accounts record that the risen Christ revealed himself to his disciples over a forty day period..."

...and, lifted directly from the Eighth Day Books website (

"The number eight was, for ancient Christianity, the symbol of the Resurrection, for it was on the day after the Sabbath, and so the eighth day, that Christ rose from the tomb. Furthermore, the seven days of the week are the image of the time of this world, and the eighth day of life everlasting. Sunday is the liturgical commemoration of the eighth day, at the same time a memorial of the Resurrection and a prophecy of the world to come …"-J. Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy

" … an eighth and eternal day, consecrated by the Resurrection of Christ … There we shall rest and see, see and love, love and praise."-St. Augustine, City of God, Book 22, Chapter 30

To Sanctify Time

"We pass through time,
we occupy space...
Creation is the language of God,
Time is His song,
and things of space the consonants in His song.
To sanctify time
is to sing the vowels in unison with Him."
The Sabbath by Abraham Hershel
painting: "Glorious Apparel"
from Vespers: "The Lord has put on glorious apparel"

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"Signs & Miracles"

"If You exist," I said, "send me
a pony."

Immediately Jesus appeared
in my bedroom.

I got off my knees. "You heard
my prayer!"

He quoted Himself: "Except ye
se signs and miracles, you will
not believe."

"Be reasonable, Jesus. It's hard
to just take Your word for it."

"But I'm here. In your bedroom.
Isn't that enough?"

"So is the pony outside?"

Ron Koertge

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Trying to Change

That Leaf

That leaf tries very hard to turn over
in very little wind. It lifts a corner
and settles on the ground exhausted, lifts
itself half over but, as the wind shifts,
falls face down eating mud. It hikes half up
in an attitude of prayer, then gives up.
Suddenly it turns fully over, sun
illuminating its dry belly. The sum
of all attempts is change, yet when change comes
it's finally so easy the world becomes
instantly rearranged, present
from past estranged, the old energy spent
in almost angry astonishment.
All the leaf sees is sky, appallingly wide,
though it always was so--depleted, terrified
by sudden perspective, the outside brought inside,
though it always was so.

Molly Peacock

Friday, October 3, 2008

Styrofoam Peanuts

"There is no void--all is full of His nearness," wrote Nicholas Arseniev in Revelation of Life Eternal.

And I think that there is no such thing as "filler," the ontological equivalent of the styrofoam peanuts used in packing.

There are no dead or meaningless/worthless moments.

Does this fact demand, then, a kind of hypervigilance on our part, as that of an eyeball staring starkly open at all times so as to not miss anything?

No, we can rest when need be, because the meaningfulness of each moment comes from God.

"He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep" (Psalm 121).

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Part 2: What He (They) Saw

Paul saw the face of Ananias, his brother in Christ.

Jesus saw the face of His mother.

The three Hebrew youths saw each other, and they saw "One like a son of man" with them in the fiery furnace.

"For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress."

William Blake

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Part 1: What Was The First Sight He Saw?

What was the first sight St. Paul saw after Ananias laid hands on him and healed him?

What was the first sight the Christ saw, coming into the world?

What did the three Hebrew children see in the fiery furnace?

I will write more in Part 2...

Friday, September 26, 2008

Pt. 7 HYMNS OF DIVINE LOVE by St. Symeon the New Theologian

"'But I speak of My friends and those I know
who are My sons.
It is of their actions. What are they?
Write briefly:
To consider themselves poorer than all men in the world...
to consider as a loss of eternal life
a small infraction of one of the least commandments.
To treat little children as adults
and to show reverence to them
as though they were among the very famous.
To show also honor to the blind
by thinking that I from on high see the actions of all men
and to do likewise on My behalf...
Do not harbor anything at all in your heart against anyone,
even if it be a simple emotion or the least suspicion.
Pray with all your soul in time of suffering in your heart,
with compassion for all who sin against you,
equally as for those who boldly would do the same against Me.
With tears implore their conversion,
at the same time bless them who curse you
and praise those who with jealousy constantly criticize you.
Consider your benefactors those who wish ill of you...'


Behold, my strength has left me.
I am nearing, O Savior, old age, nearing the portal of Death....
Do not give room against me to my cunning enemy,
who at each moment covers me with threats,
roaring against me, grinding his teeth
and who says to me:
'Where is the source of your confidence?
How do you hope to escape my hands
under the pretext that you leave me to run to Christ
and that you just now despise my commands?
But you will not at all escape, for where then would you run to?
Never will you be able completely to escape me,
for I have chased Adam and Eve from Paradise
and I made Cain an assasin of his brother.
It was I who, ever since the Deluge, have made
all men fall miserably into error and terrible death
who were completely seduced by my tricks.
It was I who led David astray into adultery and murder,
I who have waged a war against all the Saints
and I have caused many of them to die--
then you--how will you escape from me!
How can you have courage and hope, completely weak as you are?'
Hearing these words, O my Master and God and Creator,
my Maker and Judge, You having power over my soul and body
since You fashioned both of them,
I am afraid and completely tremble,
I shake all over, O unfortunate one.
The deceitful one suggest to me, saying, O my Christ, these words:
'Look, you do not keep the vigils,
you do not fast, look, you are not a man of prayer.
You do not do the prostrations.
You do not perform the labors as formerly you did,
and it is for these reasons alone that I will separate you from Christ
and I will send you into the inextinguishable fire!'
You know, O Master, I never trusted in my works or deeds for my salvation.
But it was only in Your mercy, O Lover of mankind, that I sought refuge,
having confidence that You will save me gratuitously, O all-Merciful One.
And You will have mercy on me who are God
as once You did show mercy on the adulterous woman
and as you showed mercy to the prodigal son
who confessed, 'I have sinned.'
In such faith, I have recourse, in such confidence,
I have come, in this hope, O Master, I approach you...
...Do not, O King, O Lord, allow him
You who once rescued me from the darkness, from the hands and the jaws
of that evil one, when You placed me free in Your light.
For seeing You, I am wounded deeply within my heart,
I am unable to look on You,
but I am incapable of not looking on You.
Your beauty is inaccessible; Your splendor not inimitable,
Your glory incomparable,
and whosoever has ever seen You
or whoever could see You completely, You, My God?
Whose eye indeed has the power to contemplate the All?
But He who is above the All, what mind could grasp Him,
be able to comprehend or render himself totally equal to His totality
and contemplate Him who holds together all things,
who is outside everything and fills the All and everything
and is found in an ineffable way always completely outside?
I see You especially as a sun;
I look on You as a star,
and I carry You within my breast like a pearl.
I see You also as a lamp, lighted, inside a lantern.
But because You do not grow, because You do not make me completely light
and You do not completely show Yourself,
such as You are and great as You are,
I do no seem to possess You completely, You, my life,
but I groan as one fallen from riches into poverty
and from glory into ignominity, stripped of any hope.
Thus seeing this, the enemy says to me:
'You are not saved, for behold, you are in check,
and have lost all hope because you no longer have as before
any confidence with God.'
To him I do not reply anything;
I do not honor him with an answer, O my God,
but I breathe over him and at once he disappears.
Thus I beg of You, O Master, thus I call upon You.
Give me Your mercy so that, my Savior, then, when my soul will depart from this body,
I may have the strength with a single breath to cover with confusion
all those wishing to attack me."

Pt. 6 HYMNS OF DIVINE LOVE by St. Symeon the New Theologian

"Consider then carefully about what kind of light I am speaking to you.
I do not mean the light even of faith nor that of works,
nor of repentance, nor at all of fasting,
nor of poverty nor of wisdom nor of knowledge,
not even that of teaching.
None of these is the light or the radiance of the light
of which I speak.
Nor is it exterior piety nor a humble and poor attitude.
For all of these are actions and the fulfillment of the commandments,
if they are done properly and carried out as
the Creator Himself orders.
Tears pour forth in many different ways
and they are either very profitable or rather even harmful
to such a point that they in themselves are totally without value...
And this is why we say that nothing of all of these virtuous actions
is called the light.
Even all taken together as one, all the actions
and virtues in a block are not the divine light...
they are like a lamp having no light.
For just as we cannnot say that the coals alone are the fire
and even more so that the wood is the live coal or flame,
so likewise neither the complete faith nor works
nor actions nor the observance of the commandments
are fire, flame, or the divine light.
For they really are not these things.
But that they are able to receive the fire,
approach the light and be illumined by an unspeakable union,
all of this is praise and glory of virtues.
And for this reason all asceticism and all these actions are
accomplished by us in order to share in the divine light as a lamp does.
For like a single candle, so the soul projects all of the virtuous actions
towards the unapproachable light,
or rather, as a papyrus is plunged into the burning candle,
so the soul, bulging with all the virtues,
is completely set on fire by the light,
insofar as it is capable totally of seeing it,
as it has a place to lead it into its house.
And then the virtues illuminated from intimate communion with the divine light
are they themselves called also light,
or rather, they themselves are the light, having become melded with the light.
And they reflect brilliantly the light on the soul itself
and also the body; and they illumine truly first him who possesses them
and then all those others living in the darkness of life.
Enlighten us in Your Most Holy Spirit, O Christ,
and make us heirs of the Heavenly Kingdom
with all Your Saints, now and forever, amen."

Pt. 5 HYMNS OF DIVINE LOVE by St. Symeon the New Theologian

"When you reveal Yourself, Master of the Universe,
and show the glory of Your face with more clearness,
I begin to tremble all over, to see You,
as far as is possible, to the lowliness of my nature,
I am filled with fear and, full of fright, I say:
'All that belongs to You, my God, is above my comprehension,
for I am impure, absolutely unworthy
to see You, You, the pure and holy Master
whom the angels venerate and serve trembling
and whose face disturbs the whole creation.'


....I magnify Your incomprehensibility
and, proclaiming Your kindness, I cry to You:
'Glory to the One who has so glorified our essence,
glory, O my Savior, to You incommensurable condescension,
glory to Your mercy, glory to Your power,
glory to You! because, remaining immutable and without change,
You are completely immovable and also completely in movement,
completely outside creation and completely in every creature,
You fill everything completely, You who are completely
outside everything, above everything, O Master, above all
beginning, above all essence, above the nature of nature,
above all ages, above all light, O Savior,
above intellectual Essences--for they too are Your work,
or rather the work of Your mind.
...You are simplicity itself and yet You are all diversity--
and our mind is totally incapable of fathoming
the diversity of Your glory and the splendor of Your beauty.
You then, who are nothing of all that is, for You are above
everything, You who are outside everything, for You are
the God of everything, invisible, inaccessible, unseizable,
intangible, yes, You became a man, You came into the world
and showed Yourself to all, accessible, in the body that You assumed.

...By the flesh You belong to our race, by divinity we belong
to Yours, since, by assuming our flesh, You gave us Your
Divine Spirit, and, all together, we have become the unique
House of David through what belongs to You only, by our
community of race with You.
...And when we assemble, we become one single family,
that is to say, that we are all of the same race,
we are all Your brothers.
How not tremble in the presence of this marvel, or who
could without shivering no matter how little, conceive
this idea, welcome this revelation:
You are with us, now and forever,
You make Your home in each one and You live in everyone
and for all of us You become our home and we live in You,
each one of us entirely, O Savior, with You entirely,
with each one of us, You are alone with him alone
and above us all, You are also, alone and all entire.
So You are, then, in us, about to do all these awesome marvels;
what marvels?--Among many, listen to these few:
for even if all we have said already surpasses all amazement,
nevertheless, listen to more formidable marvels!
We become members of Christ--and Christ becomes our members,
Christ becomes my hand, Christ, my miserable foot;
and I, unhappy one, am Christ's hand, Christ's foot!
I move my hand, and my hand is the whole Christ
since, do not forget it, God is indivisible in His divinity--;
I move my foot, and behold it shines like That--one!"

Pt. 4 HYMNS OF DIVINE LOVE by St. Symeon the New Theologian

"How do I adore You within myself and yet I perceive you at a distance?
How do I embrace You within me and I see You in the heavens?
You alone know it, You, the author of these things who shine like the sun
in my heart, my material heart, immaterially,
You who made the light of Your glory shine on me, O my God..."

Pt. 3 HYMNS OF DIVINE LOVE by St. Symeon the New Theologian

How are You at once the source of fire,
how also the fountain of dew?
How at once burning and sweetness,
how a remedy for all corruption?

How do You make gods of us men,
how do You make the darkness light?
How do You make one reascend from Hell,
how do You make us mortals imperishable?

How do You draw darkness to light,
how do You triumph over night?
How do You illumine the heart?
how do You transform me entirely?

How do You become one with sons of men,
how do You make them sons of God?
How do You burn them with Your love,
how do You wound them without a sword?

How can You be patient, how can You endure?
How do You not renumerate at once?
How do You see the actions of all,
You who dwell beyond all creatures?

How do You look at the conduct of each one,
You, who are so far from us?
Give patience to Your servants,
so that trials may not overwhelm them!