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