Monday, December 28, 2009
Sunday, December 27, 2009
What Shall I Offer Him?
A meditation adapted from Sergei Bulgakov's The Gifts of the Magi (1934).
"Gold is found deep in the earth, its purity and luminous glow are hidden within the darkest recesses. It is carefully and patiently extracted from the earth, bit by bit, and then it shines with such splendour! So too is the spiritual beauty given us by God, hidden deep within us but to be brought forth, in order to shine, made radiant in the reflection of His gentle light. This gold belongs to the King of Glory; we are His and we are to bring Him the glory He has given us, the glory hidden within us.
Fragrant frankincense melts on the burning coal and ascends to heaven. It is an image of the longing of our soul rising to our heavenly homeland, of our prayer making its way to the throne of God, of our sighs joining the intercession of the saints and the acclamations of the angels, all things caught up in glorifying Him. Truly there is a frankincense of the soul, its fragrance hidden and as if frozen in our hearts, longing to be released through love, in the censer of love, and brought to the Christ Child. Every soul has its own prayer, its own sacrifice, its own fragrant ascent of veneration to the throne of glory.
The wise men foreshadow the myrrh-bearers, and myrrh is the gift of love for the burial of the Beloved One. His birth is the beginning of the way of His death, leading to Golgotha. His manger in the cave is a symbol of His grave. The way of love is sacrifice and the price of the sacrifice is death. Our myrrh must be our decision to die with Him, our commitment to follow Him, to deny ourselves, to be united to Him, so that we may rise with Him. Myrrh stands for love, and love is as strong as death, indeed stronger, for death in Christ is actually life; it is resurrection with Him.
May our gifts be pleasing to Him, who for our sake is born, the eternal God."
for reconstructed representation, go to:
Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus -- and Here's What He Looks Like
Is this the real Santa Claus? By tradition, no one is supposed to see the actual Saint Nick. Come Christmas night, as the song has it -- and even the Boss sings it -- he sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake. So you'd better be snoozing as well as pretty darned good, or else.
Besides, we all know what he looks like. Since the advent of Clement Clark Moore's "Night Before Christmas" in 1823 and his invention of that "jolly old elf," we have become so conditioned by the kid-friendly version of the roly-poly guy with dimples and cheeks like roses that we stopped wondering who the real Santa Claus was, much less what he looked like. From movies like "Miracle on 34th Street" to all those Santa stand-ins at the mall -- and his visage on every piece of Christmas kitsch you could ever sell -- the myth is so widespread and so good there seemed little reason to question it.
Until, that is, the invention of powerful computers and some fancy new software that uses "virtual clay." The technology makes possible the reconstruction of a face from a skull, even one as old as that of Nicholas of Myra -- also known as Saint Nicholas, also known as Santa Claus -- who lived and died in the fourth century in what is now Turkey.
So holy was Nicholas that after his death his relics were carefully preserved, and through the vagaries of history -- basically a Muslim-Christian war a thousand years ago -- the saint's skull and other bones were relocated (stolen or rescued, depending on your point of view) to Bari, a city on what would be the Achilles' tendon of the Italian boot.
In the 1950s, the bones were removed while the crypt was spruced up. While they were out, the Vatican asked an anatomy professor at the University of Bari to take thousands of minutely detailed measurements and x-rays of the relics. Flash forward to the present day, and another University of Bari expert, forensic pathologist Francesco Introna, decided to commission an expert facial anthropologist, Caroline Wilkinson of the University of Manchester in England, to reconstruct the saint's face and head using the new technology and the earlier measurements.
The wizards at Image Foundry in England then took the data, and presto!
Delighted? Disappointed? Arguments for the veracity of the face are strong. Every face has the same 26 muscles but each skull is different, and that underlying bone structure gives a unique form to each person's face. Which is what happened when Wilkinson began laying the virtual muscles onto the 1,600-year-old skull of Saint Nicholas of Myra.
Moreover, this Nicholas is in many respects not so far removed from the Santa Claus or at least the Saint Nick who was long venerated in icons like the lineup the folks at the St. Nicholas Center have helpfully put together.
To be sure, he's more olive-skinned than rosy-cheeked, and his eyes are more piercing than twinkly. But the white hair and beard, while a bit of artistic license, make sense: the beard is in the style of the time, and the white hair would fit a man who died in his 70s after a life a sanctity that prefigured the Santa Claus of our time.
Nicholas of Myra (270-346 AD) was born into a patrician family of some wealth, but as a devoted Christian he used what he had to help others (and to intervene on behalf of the falsely accused). The most famous story to come down to us is how Nicholas, hearing of the plight of a father who could not afford dowries for his three daughters, secretly left bags of gold coins at their home to provide a dowry and preserve the ladies from a likely fate as prostitutes. In one version of the story, the father lay in wait the third time the donor was to visit and thus discovered the identity of history's first secret Santa.
But Nicholas was much more than a kindly, anonymous gift-giver. As a bishop in the fourth century, he was also deeply involved in the raging disputes of the day over core issues of church doctrine that we now take for granted, or ought to.
Back then, even three centuries after the death of Jesus, many beliefs remained unsettled. Chief among these was the true nature of Christ, and hence the nature of the Trinity. Was Jesus both God and man? Or was he just a man, a creation of God, albeit a special one? That was the line taken by followers of Arius, known as the Arians. So fierce was the divide over Christ's nature that Constantine, the Roman Emperor who had only recently legalized Christianity and ended the persecution of the church, called all leading bishops together for a council at Nicaea in the year 325 to settle the matter.
The Council of Nicaea, which produced the Nicene Creed that believers still recite as the foundational expression of Christian belief, was hardly the somnolent discussion that one might expect of such angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin topics. Instead, there were nasty arguments and periodic fisticuffs, and at one point Bishop Nicolas of Myra -- who already had a reputation as a staunch defender of orthodox belief against the heresy of the Arians -- popped Arias himself in the face.
The new facial reconstruction certainly gives credence to Nick's reputation as a battling bishop who gave as good as he got -- just look at that strong jaw and his broken boxer's nose. "It must have been a very hefty blow because it's the nasal bones between the eyes that are broken," Wilkinson, who did the reconstruction, told The Guardian.
In the end, Nicholas and the other orthodox bishops carried the day, vanquishing the Arians and confirming the belief that Jesus was true God and true man -- the heart of the mystery of the Incarnation that is observed on December 25. (Ironically, Christmas was not widely observed in Saint Nicholas' day, nor was there an agreement on a date to mark Jesus' birth. Easter was the oldest and most important celebration, and its date was one of the other debates settled at Nicaea.)
There is some speculation that Nicholas may actually have had his nose broken during the persecution of Christians under the Emperor Diocletian, who reigned from 284-305 AD.
Yet whatever the source of the broken nose, the reconstructed face of Nicholas of Myra reminds us that the real Santa Claus came from a time before Christmas, and from an era when the meaning of Christ was something worth fighting about.
Friday, December 25, 2009
from Oration 38 of our Holy Father Gregory Nazianzen on the Manifestation of God in the Birth of the Anointed (ie, the Christ)
Christ is born, glorify him!
Christ from heaven, go out to meet him!
Christ on earth, be exalted!
Sing to the Lord all the earth,
and that I may join both in one word:
let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad,
for the One who is of heaven and then of earth,
Christ comes in the flesh.
Rejoice with trembling and with joy;
with trembling because of your sins,
with joy because of your hope.
...The Word of God Himself, who is before all worlds,
the Invisible, the Incomprehensible, the Bodiless, Beginning of Beginning, the Light of Light,
the Source of Life and Immortality,
the Image of the Archetypal Beauty,
the immovable Seal, the unchangeable Image,
the Father's Definition and Word,
came to His own Image - mankind - and took on Him flesh for the sake of our flesh, and … for my soul's sake, purifying like by like;
and in all points except sin He became human. Conceived by the Virgin… He came forth then as God with that which He had assumed,
One person in two natures,
flesh and Spirit, of which the latter deified the former.
O new commingling;
O strange conjunction;
the Self-Existent comes into being,
the Uncreated is created,
the Uncontainable is contained,
And He Who gives riches becomes poor,
for He assumes the poverty of my flesh,
that I may assume the richness of His Godhead.
He that is full empties Himself,
for He empties Himself of His glory for a short while,
that I may have a share in His fullness.
What is the riches of His goodness?
What is this mystery that is around me?
I had a share in the image; I did not keep it;
He partakes of my flesh that He may both save the image and make the flesh immortal.
The Good Shepherd, He who lays down His life for His sheep, came to seek for that which had strayed upon the mountains and the hills… and found the wanderer; and having found us, took us upon His shoulders - on which He also took the wood of the Cross;
and having taken us, brought us back to the higher life, and having carried us back, numbered us amongst those who had never strayed.
He lighted a candle - His own flesh - and swept the house, cleansing the world from sin, and sought the piece of money, our royal image that was covered up by sinful passions
and He calls together His angel friends on the finding of the coin, and makes them sharers in His joy, whom He had made to share also the secret of the Incarnation. On the candle of the Forerunner there follows the light that exceeds in brightness, and to the voice the Word succeeds; and to the Bridegroom's friend the Bridegroom, to him that prepared for the Lord a peculiar people, cleansing them by water in preparation for the Spirit…
He girds Himself with a towel and washes His disciples' feet, and shows that humiliation is the best road to exaltation.
For the soul that was bent to the ground He humbles Himself, that He may raise up with Himself the soul that was tottering to a fall under a weight of sin.
He eats with tax-gatherers and at the taxgatherers' tables, and that He makes disciples of tax-gatherers, that He too may gain something - and what? - the salvation of sinners.
A little later on you will see Jesus submitting to be purified in the river Jordan for my purification, or rather, sanctifying the waters by His purification (for indeed He had no need of purification, who takes away the sin of the world) and the heavens cleft asunder, and witness borne to him by the Spirit that is of one nature with Him;
you shall see Him tempted and conquering and served by angels, and healing every sickness and every disease, and giving life to the dead - O that He would give life to you who are dead because of your heresy, - and driving out demons, sometimes Himself, sometimes by his disciples, and feeding vast multitudes with a few loaves, and walking dry-shod upon seas, and being betrayed and crucified, and crucifying with Himself my sin, offered as a lamb, and offering as a priest, as a man buried in the grave, and as God rising again, and then ascending, and to come again in His own glory. Why what a multitude of high festivals there are in each of the mysteries of the Christ; all of which have one completion, namely, my perfection and return to the first condition of Adam.
Now then I pray you accept His conception, and to leap before Him, if not like John from the womb, yet like David, because of the resting of the Ark. Revere the enrolment on account of which you were inscribed in heaven, and adore the birth by which you were loosed from the chains of your birth.
Honour little Bethlehem, which has led you back to Paradise.
Worship the manger through which you, being without sense, were fed by the Word.
Know as Isaiah bids you, your Owner like the ox, and like the ass your Master's crib…
Run with the star, and bear your gifts with the Magi, gold and frankincense and myrrh, as to a king, and to God, and to One who has died for you.
With shepherds glorify Him;
with angels join in chorus;
with archangels sing hymns.
Let this Festival be common to the powers in heaven and to the powers upon earth. For I am persuaded that the heavenly hosts join in our exultation and keep high Festival with us to-day, because they love mankind, and they love God …
One thing connected with the birth of Christ I would have you hate - the murder of the infants by Herod. Or rather you must venerate this too, the sacrifice of the same age as Christ, slain before the offering of the New Victim. If He flees into Egypt, joyfully become a companion of His exile. It is a great thing to share the exile of the persecuted Christ. If He tarry long in Egypt, call Him out of Egypt by a reverent worship of Him there. Travel without fault through every stage and faculty of the Life of Christ. Be purified; be circumcised; strip off the veil which has covered you from your birth. After this teach in the Temple, and drive out the sacrilegious traders. Submit to be stoned if need be, for well I know you will be hidden from those who cast the stones; you will escape even through the midst of them, like God. If thou be brought before Herod, answer not for the most part. He will respect your silence more than most people's long speeches. If you are scourged, ask for what they leave out. Taste gall for the taste's sake; drink vinegar; seek for spittings; accept blows, be crowned with thorns, that is, with the hardness of the godly life; put on the purple robe, take the reed in hand, and receive mock worship from those who mock at the truth; lastly, be crucified with Him, and share His death and burial gladly, so that you may rise with Him, and be glorified with Him and reign with Him. Look at and be looked at by the Great God, who in Trinity is worshipped and glorified, and Whom we declare to be now set forth as clearly before you as the chains of our flesh allow, in Jesus Christ our Lord, to Whom be the glory for ever.
Monday, December 21, 2009
Though the Son was incorporeal, He formed for Himself a body after our fashion. He appeared as one of the sheep; yet, He still remained the shepherd. He was esteemed a servant; yet, He did not renounce the Sonship. He was carried in the womb of Mary, yet was arrayed in the nature of His Father. He walked upon the earth, yet He filled heaven. He appeared as an infant, yet He did not discard the eternity of His nature. He was investedwith a body, but it did not circumscribe the unmixed simplicity of His Divinity... He needed sustenance inasmuch as He was man; yet, He did not cease to feed the entire world inasmuch as He is God. He put on the likeness of a servant, while not impairing the likeness of His Father.
Melito of Sardis 2nd century
Saturday, December 19, 2009
...and Caedmon is St. Romanos'--in a narrative sense, their trajectories are, if not exactly "double," at least strikingly similar.
Here is the story of Romanos ("my" saint, even though I am female!), followed by Caedmon's, both copied and pasted from various sources:
ROMANOS THE MELODIST
Romanos was ordained a deacon and served in the Church of the Resurrection in Berytus (Beirut). Most sources agree that he went to Constantinople during the reign of the Emperor Anastasius I (491-518).
Church legend has it that during this time, Romanos’ voice was quite harsh and rasping and he was also tone deaf. It is said that the congregation cringed at hearing his voice. It was in the Church of the Most Holy Theotokos in the Blachernae quarter of Constantinople, that he received the gift of sacred poetry. After a religious retreat there, in his sleep on Christmas eve, he saw a vision of the Most Holy Theotokos who told him not to despair. Blessing him with her right hand, she held forth a scroll with her left hand, saying, “Take the scroll and eat it”. The saint, in his dream, opened his mouth and swallowed the parchment. It was Christmas Day, and immediately he awakened and marveled and glorified God. According to an account by Poulos, the service commenced as usual and when it came time for the voice of Romanos to be heard, the participants braced themselves for the accustomed cacophony that would ensue. Then, mounting the pulpit in the church, Romanos began the strains of his kontakion: Today the Virgin gives birth to the one who is above all living things. But when the tone rolled across the church like the sound of a heavenly angel, the stunned listeners stood transfixed. When he had finished, the confused priest signaled him to continue and once again the resonant voice reverberated in the house of God. Then it dawned on one and all that a miracle had occurred. He was now hailed as the “Melodist”.
CAEDMON (Bede's account)
The man was established in worldly life until the time when he was of advanced age, and he had never learned any songs. And consequently, often at a drinking gathering, when there was deemed to be occasion of joy, that they all must in turn sing with a harp, when he saw the harp nearing him, he then arose for shame from that feast and went home to his house. Then he did this on a certain occasion, that he left the banquet-hall and he was going out to the animal stables, which herd had been assigned to him that night.
When he there at a suitable time set his limbs at rest and fell asleep, then some man stood by him in his dream and hailed and greeted him and addressed him by his name: 'Caedmon, sing me something.' Then he answered and said: 'I do not know how to sing and for that reason I went out from this feast and went hither, because I did not know how to sing at all.' Again he said, he who was speaking with him: 'Nevertheless, you must sing.' Then he said: 'What must I sing?' Said he: 'Sing to me of the first Creation.' When he received this answer, then he began immediately to sing in praise of God the Creator verses and words which he had never heard:
Now we must praise the Protector of the heavenly kingdom, the might of the Measurer and His mind's purpose, the work of the Father of Glory, as He for each of the wonders, the eternal Lord, established a beginning. He shaped first for the sons of the Earth heaven as a roof, the Holy Maker; then the Middle-World, mankind's Guardian he eternal Lord, made afterwards solid ground for men, the almighty Lord.
Then he arose from that sleep, and all of those (songs) which he sang while sleeping he had fast in his memory, and he soon added in the same manner to those words many words of songs worthy of God.
Then in the morning he came to the town-reeve, who was his alderman. He said to him which gift did he bring, and he directly lead him to the abbess and made it known and declared to her. Then she ordered all of the most learnèd men and scholars to assemble, and to those who were present commanded him to tell of that dream and sing that song, so that it might be determined by the judgement of all of them: what it was and whence it had come. Then it was seen by all even as it was, that to him from God himself a heavenly gift had been given. Then they spoke to him and told some holy story and divine words of knowledge; they bade him then, if he could, that he turn it into poetical rhythm. Then, when he had undertaken it in this manner, then he went home to his house, and came again in the morning, and with the best adorned song he sang and rendered what he was bid (to recite).
Then the abbess began to embrace and love the gift of God in that man, and she exhorted and adviced him that he should abandon the worldly life and accept monkhood, and he readily agreed to this. And she accepted him into the monastery, with his goods, and united him into the community of God's servants, and ordered that he be taught the (entire) series of holy stories and narratives. And he was able to learn all that he heard, and, keeping it all in mind, just as a clean animal chewing cud, turned (it) into the sweetest song. And his songs and his poems were so beautiful to hear, that his teachers themselves wrote and learned at his mouth. He sang first about the creation of the world and about the origin of mankind and all of the history of Genesis--that is the first book of Moses--, and afterwards about the exodus of the Israeli people from the land of Egypt and their entry into the promised land; and about many other stories of the holy writ of the books of the canon; and about Christ's incarnation, and about his suffering and about his ascension into the heavens; and about the coming of the Holy Ghost, and of the lore of the apostles; and after about the day of impending judgement, and about the terror of the torturing punishment, and about the sweetness of the heavenly kingdom, he wrought many songs. And so also many others he made about divine mercy and judgement. In all of them he eagerly sought to pull men away from love of sin and criminal deeds, and to love and to zealously awake to (the doing) of good deeds. For he was a very devout man, and humbly subjected himself to regular service. And against those who wished to do otherwise, he burned with surging of great ardour. And he for this reason with a beautiful end he closed and ended his life.
For when the time of his departure and going-forth neared, he was for fourteen days before (his death), that he was afflicted and encumbered by bodily weakness, yet so moderately that he all the time could both speak and move about. There was in the neighbourhood a house for sick men, in which it was the custom to carry in those who were ill and those who were near to death, and minister there to them together. He bade that his servant--in the evening when (the time) of his leaving the world was nearing--that he prepare for him a place in that house, that he might rest (there). Then the servant wondered why he bade thus, because he thought that his end was not so near, but nevertheless did as he said and commanded. And when he went there to rest, and he in a happy mood was jesting and speaking about various things with those who were gathered together with him, those who were in (the sickhouse) before (him); when it was past midnight he asked, if they had any housel within. Then they answered and said: 'What need of the housel? Your passing is not so near, when now you are this cheerfully and this pleasantly speaking to us.' He said again: 'Bring to me the house.' When he had it in his hand, he asked whether they had peaceful minds and happily beared him no ill-will. Then they all answered, and said that they knew no ill-will towards him, but they all were very happily disposed towards him. And they in turn asked him if he was happy with all of them. Then he answered and said: 'My brothers, my beloved ones, I am very blithe of mind towards you and all men of God'.' And he was thus strengthening himself with heavenly provisions, and he prepared himself for entry into the other(/next) life. Then yet he asked how near the time was to when the brothers must arise, and offer up praise to God and sing their matins. They answered, 'It is not long til then.' He said: 'Good, let us fully wait that time.' He then prayed and blessed himself with the sign of Christ's Rood, and inclined his head to the bolster, and in a small space of time, he fell asleep -- and thus ended his life in stillness.
And so it came to pass that as he served God with pure spirit and with mild and serene devoutness, that he likewise left this middle-earth by a serene death, and he arrived in His sight. And the tongue which had set so many healing words in praise of the Maker, so likewise (uttering) its last words to praise Him--as he crossed himself and offered up his spirit into His hands--ceased.
Here is the poet Susan Mitchell's mediation on Caedmon's story in her beautiful poem "Rapture":
'Sing me something'' is what the other keeps saying
night after night, regular as a pulse.
urging, making impossible demands
of him? 'Come on,''
the other one is saying like
a faucet dripping, like a branch beating the window.
The window in his head. He opens it.
'Come on, Caedmon, sing me hwaethwugu.'...
I can't, he says, filling his mouth
with a big hole. Refusing, it begins for him.
Protesting, it swings itself up, it gets
going. It comes to him coming.
Or, it comes to her. What she lacks.
What hasn't happened in her
entire life, now it's coming, its absence
spread everywhere like a canyon in waves
of magenta and purple and gold.
The voice spreading before her...
So the song begins in the impossible as poet Allen Grossman points out:
[Grossman: On Cædmon's song and other impossible things]: Caedmon ... composed his precisely impossible poem, the precise work of which he knew himself incapable, asleep, in response to a second, mysterious demand ..."Caedmon, sing me something" (canta mihi aliquid).... Caedmon's "hymn" is sung, impossibly by a singer who knew no songs and could not sing, about a (likewise) unknown Lord, master of first making who did the prototypal impossible thing (that is why he is remembered and praised)--which was not however, as in Judeo-Christian text (Caedmon, of course, would have known the Creeds), precisely to make something out of nothing. Rather, Caedmon's "Wuldorfaeder" is praise-worthy because he constructs out of existing materials a house for human beings, and donates it to their keeping. (Grossman 1997:4-5)
On poetry and world-making]: Poetic vocation always remembers the moment before the calling, before the making of the maker... but not I think before the making of the maker's discourse, which is the condition of the knowability even of making....The making of persons, like the making of the worlds persons know, refers in any case to a possible state of affairs. There are both persons and worlds, though there once was not...But the analogy of world making and person making depends on the likeness of the two actions, and that likeness rests in the impossibility of producing in either case the difference between the not-being and the being of the world... [P]oetic vocation is like world making and person making in that it is both possible and impossible: possible in fact--there are, as I say, both persons and poems--but strictly, logically, materially, as a matter of deliberation, impossible--destined to fail. The poet is the artisan (skilled worker) whose work it is to tell of this state of affairs. Poetics accordingly....is the science of the weight and implications of the resistance that produces not any world but just this one.
More on Caedmon and Romanos another time, I hope... They must be the saints of verbal blunderers and fumblers, the tongue-tied, the mute, those who feel (momentarily or ongoingly) that whatever they say is wrong or lacking, those who think they have no song, those who are "blocked" or sparkless in expression, those who feel as if there's something fundamentally wrong or lacking in them, those who are self-outcast from the community hearth...
Friday, December 18, 2009
Thursday, December 17, 2009
"After the death of Jesus, we are given a new possibility to face death. Death can be seen as something very passive on one hand, because we have no choice at all over the time, place, and condition. It just happens. But some theologians say that death is also something very active. It’s the supreme moment of our life, the supreme event. The German theologian Karl Rahner has a beautiful reflection on the theology of death. He says that death is the most personal act each one of us has to accomplish, the supreme moment. That can be also seen if we compare our life as a long letter written to God—the daily conversation, surrender, dedication. The moment of death is like a signature. I affirm. I sign the whole letter of love for my whole life. That’s the supreme moment. Who gives us the possibility, the right to do this? I think it’s the death of Christ as total surrender to the Father. Christians, or those who follow Christ, are able to appropriate the death of Christ to the moment of our own death."
"...We understand that Christ went through death, and in the agony in the garden said, 'May this cup pass from me.' Some interpretations of those words have been that Christ wanted to be able to live through the crucifixion. The death struggle had already begun in the agony of the garden, and he didn’t want to burn himself out and die prematurely before he went through the crucifixion and then into the resurrection. Finally, footnotes are very important in writings. Even Ray Brown in his book, The Death of the Messiah, talks about one of the last words on the cross, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me.' It is not always accepted that 'forsaken' is the term that Christ actually used. There is a tradition that the sentence should really be interpreted as, 'My God, my God, why hast thou glorified me?' Ray Brown mentions this and that interpretation has certainly been part of a tradition. It’s worth thinking about that subtle distinction between being forsaken and glorified."
"On the lack of recognition of Jesus after resurrection: The resurrection of Jesus in the New Testament is clearly not simply the resuscitation of a corpse. It’s not like Lazarus coming back to life where he is going to die again. The disciples have to go through a whole process of learning to see, which is not solely the experience of Mary or the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, but representative of a broader process in the whole Christian community. It’s especially dramatic in the story of the road to Emmaus, where the disciples hear the stories of hope, know the tragedy of history, and are in between. That’s exactly where the early Christian community was. The figure of the risen Lord in the story teaches the early disciples how to understand the scriptures, and then they recognize Jesus in the breaking off the bread. As soon as they recognize him, he is gone, which is similar to him saying to Mary Magdalene, 'Don’t touch me. Don’t grasp me. Don’t cling to me.' The resurrection of Jesus is not a possession that we can hold onto."
"And if we really do Christ’s bidding, all that He went through will be repeated in us, be it to a lesser degree. The intensity of Christ's sufferings cannot be gauged. Entering into them makes it possible for us to know the eminence of Divine providence for us and achieve the perfection of love."
Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov, On Prayer, p. 100.
from the Synaxarion:
"As for the Three Children, Ananias ("Yah is gracious"), Misael ("Whois what God is?), and Azarias ("Yah is keeper"), since they refused to offer adoration to Nabuchodonosor's image, they were cast intothe furnace of fire. They were preserved unharmed amidst the flames -even their hair was untouched - by the descent of the Angel of theLord, that is, the Son of God. Walking about in the furnace, as though in the midst of dew, they sang the universal hymn of praise to God,which is found in the Seventh and Eighth Odes of the Holy Psalter."
We always sing about the three holy youths' rest and refreshment in the fiery furnace. But listening to the whole story last night at vespers, it occurred to me that perhaps this rest and refreshment didn't begin in the furnace, but was already present inside the youths--in their own internal experience of having come through to a place of both steadfastness and self-abandonment, as expressed in their response to the king:
"...we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Thus, it could be that their experience in the furnace was actually an outward manifestation of the interior state of trust in God that the youths had already achieved in the fiery furnace of their own sanctification.
"Not gold by nature, they were manifested as more proven than gold..."
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Everyone should be completely veiled (except for faces and hands) to keep us from being distracted by each other's choices of clothing, jewelry, hair styles, etc. (Optional but provided at door: those things they put on horses so they can see only straight ahead.)
The veil-outfits should have lots of pockets so we wouldn't have to grope in our purses, etc. for kleenex, cough drops, water bottles, and so on.
THE FLOOR SHOULD BE MADE OF RUBBER or whatever it is that they put on tracks to make them easier on the joints.
***Most importantly, everyone should have assigned places BASED ON HEIGHT so that the short people can still see the icons, altar area, etc.
More babies, all sorts and conditions thereof--bring 'em on!
And of course, somehow, everyone should have access to all the words of the hymns, kanons, etc.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Thursday, December 10, 2009
"The final decisive Christian distinction is not between the sacred and the profane, the cult and the world, the just or unjust, or even between good and evil. The decisive distinction is between the old and the new. Christian ethics must be imbued with this same eschatological vision."
Essays in Orthodox Ethics
by Vigen Guroian
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
"God saw that mankind worship things created: He put on a created body, that in our custom He might capture us. Lo! In this our form, He that formed us healed us; and in this created shape, our Creator gave us life. He drew us not by force: blessed be He Who came in ours, and joined us in His!
"He was servant on earth; He is Lord in Heaven. Heir of height and depth, He became a stranger: Whom men judged in guile, He is judge in truth: He whose face they spat on, breathes His Spirit on theirs: He Who held the frail reed, is become the staff of the world, which grows old and leans on Him.
"And as He began at birth, He went on and fulfilled in death. His Birth received worship; His Death paid the debt. As He came to His Birth, the Magi worshipped Him; again He came to His Passion, and the thief sought refuge in Him. Between His Birth and Death, midway He set the world: in birth and Death he gave it life."
-- from Hymn XIV on the Nativity by St. Ephrem the Syrian, 4th century
Monday, December 7, 2009
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Be ashamed when you sin, don't be ashamed when you repent.
There are two things: sin and repentance.
Sin is the wound, repentance is the medicine.
Sin is followed by shame; repentance is followed by boldness.
Satan has overturned this order and given boldness to sin and shame to repentance.
--St. John Chrysostom
My Lord is the One who resurrects. He resurrects the dead from morning until dusk, and from dusk until dawn.
What the morning buries, the Lord brings to life in the evening; and what the evening buries, the Lord brings to life in the morning.
What work is more fitting for the living God than to resurrect the dead into life?
Let others believe in the God who brings men to trial and judges them.
I shall cling to the God who resurrects the dead.
Let others believe in the God, who does not even draw near to the living when they call upon Him.
I shall worship the God, who holds His cupped ear even at cemeteries and listens, to hear whether anyone is crying out for resurrection or for the One who resurrects.
The gravediggers dig graves and are silent. The Lord opens graves and shouts.
A mother places her daughter in a grave, the Lord takes her out of the grave; the Lord is a better mother than the mother.
A father covers his son with soil, the Lord uncovers him. The Lord is a better father than the father.
A brother buries his brother, the Lord resurrects him. The Lord is a better brother than the brother.
The Lord has neither tears nor smiles for the dead. His whole heart belongs to the living.
The world mourns for their kindred in the cemeteries, the Lord seeks His own with a song and awakens them.
Resurrect my soul, O Lord, so that my body might also be resurrected. Dwell in my soul, and my body will become Your temple.
My neighbors ask with anxiety whether this body of ours will be resurrected.
If you have denied yourself once and for all, and no longer live for yourself, then your body is already being resurrected.
If your body is a temple of the Most High God, then the One who resurrects is within you, and your resurrection is already being accomplished.
Our body changes with age, throughout our lifetime we have called many bodies our own. Which of them will be resurrected?
Perhaps none of them. But you can be certain that if you have had a body which expresses the Word of God clearly, it will be resurrected.
My Lord who resurrects, does not resurrect death, because death was never alive.
You are the One who resurrects and You are the resurrection, for You are life.
Only the seed which contains You is resurrected, and that seed which is of You.
You will only bring to life that soul which now lives by You and not by the world.
You will only preserve that body, which has begun to be filled with the Holy Spirit during this time.
That which is of the Living God in the graves, will be resurrected into life.
No one can resurrect the dead except the Lord, and no one can rise from the dead except the Lord.
For He is in His holy people. Truly, He is in His living people, both in the grave and out of the grave.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
The Jesus Prayer
The Ancient Desert Prayer That Tunes the Heart to God
by Frederica Mathewes-Green
168 pages of text plus notes and citations
This book is a feast, both appetizing and nourishing for anyone who even remotely wishes to learn about prayer. Though the writing seems to address beginners, the author's understanding and presentation of the subject are so richly nuanced, it is hard to imagine anyone, even the most experienced person of prayer, failing to benefit from it. And it's so much more than just a book on "technique"--I came away from it feeling as though I'd been offered a glimpse of the heart of God.
The book provides a clear, insightful introduction and discussion of the Jesus Prayer in terms of history, Scripture, meaning, and context, and contains much explication in ordinary language, many helpful anecdotes and examples, and a lot of searing, and yet hope-inspiring quotations and passages from both ancient and contemporary sources. There's a lot of "unpacking" of "how-to," but it's quite the opposite of a paint-by-number approach--as the author states, "[i]t's not as if anyone could make a detailed map, because everyone's makeup and history is different. What's more, our omnipotent God is free to do whatever He wants...Still, it can be helpful to get an overview of what others ahve observed."
This is an incredibly practical book, not only addressing what the Jesus Prayer is and is not, but dealing with all kinds of questions and roadblocks, including those with which we may have struggled inchoately before finding that the author has put them into words for us.
Here are some of them:
How should I prepare to start practicing the Jesus Prayer?
And then what? How do I begin the Prayer itself?
How many times should I say the Prayer during one practice period?
When I do spend time practicing the Prayer, how do I keep track of repetitions?
Should I have a special place for prayer in my home?
Where am I supposed to get this stuff--icons, prayers ropes, and so forth?
Should I picture Christ looking at me or anything like that? Or should I keep looking at an icon of Him while I pray?
What if I don't want to include formal repetition of the Jesus Prayer in my daily prayer time? What if I don't even have a daily prayer time?
What form of the prayer should I use?
I'm still not very comfortable with all this begging for mercy.
How fast should I say the prayer?
But what if I don't feel awe--what if I don't feel anything?
But haven't we progressed beyond fear of God? It sounds so negative.
What good is repentance, though? What's the point?
Is it right to ask over and over for anything? Didn't Jesus say something about "vain repetition"?
So the content of the prayer seems to change as you say it, over the years?
What does it mean to have the awareness rooted in the heart? What is the heart, anyway?
I don't get it. You can transport your mind around to different parts of your body?
What about moving the nous down to the heart--what in the world does that mean?
Do these four natural levels of attention correspond to levels of the Jesus Prayer?
Have you experienced any part of this firsthand?
This business about going from the head to the heart sounds like an Eastern religion. Isn't there something in Hinduism about different energy locations in the body?
But don't Buddhist and other meditation techniques result in tranquility and quieting of thoughts, like the Jesus Prayer does?
Still, all this repeating of the same words sounds like a mantra.
Does this business about feeling prayer inside the head or the heart have anything to do with the reports about "God in the brain," the theory that spiritual experiences are just ordinary, biological brain events?
How can you kow whether the spirit you sense listening or responding to you is really Jesus?
Can someone fall into delusion, even though trying sincerely to practice the Jesus Prayer?
But I can't forgive my enemy. Not because of what happened in the past; it's because I'm afraid he'll do it again.
I'm discouraged. I can't do this at all. I'm distracted every minute.
But how can you fight against thoughts, or logismoi?
Aren't visions sometimes the real thing?
I don't want to offend God if He's trying to tell me something.
What kind of "peace" does the Jesus Prayer aim at? Does it mean making your mind empty?Can I say the Jesus Prayer as intercession, putting someone else's name instead of "me"?
Can I say the Jesus Prayer during church?
Could you pray the Jesus Prayer with other people, either silently or out loud?
It sounds like saying the Jesus Prayer is all about having spiritual experiences, which, no matter how elevated, have no impact on the world.
Despite everything, it still doesn't seem like God is really here. I don't know if it really is possible to have direct contact with God.
I really don't think I have the personality for this; I don't think God can do much with me.
Here are just a few lines and passages that moved me:
"Reality is God's home address." "A nun had been assigned to care for an elderly monk with advanced dementia. One day his babbling was of a kind that was distressing to her. Suddenly he broke free, as it were, looked her in the eye, and said, 'Dear sister, you are upset because of what I am saying. But do not fear. Inside, I am with God.'“
"We don't merely encounter Christ or imitate him, we don't merely become like Christ; we actually become one with him, saturated body and soul with his life."
"Salvation means healing from the sickness of sin, so we are always seeking to confront the sin that infects us, and be healed at ever deeper levels...Only Christ the Physician can know how the healing should progress, how quickly things should be dealt with, or in what order. Nothing found there will be surprising to him, because he sees all the way through us already....You may feel aware of one particular sin...that embarrasses or frightens you. You feel certain that it has to be the first to go, and so devote to it all your fretful attention. You have made vehement vows to never fall again, and you have fallen numeroud times...But the Lord may know something about the underlying structure of your sin that you don't. It may be that some other debility, maybe something you're not even aware of, is holding that big sin in place, and that has to be dealt with first. You might think that the Lord cannot stand the presence of your ugle sin, but he has been standing it a long time already, and he's not going to stop loving you now. If he can be patient enough to bring about a healing that is permanent, you can too..."
"Everyone wants to be transformed, but nobody wants to change."
"...some folks have a more sober quality, while others are full of joy; there isn't any one personality type. If anything, the indwelling Christ enables each person to be more himself than he was ever able to be before."
"That 'still small voice' is more like what we're looking for. So don't expect something overwhelming and showy, but instead something subtle but real. Silence is necessary because we're trying to learn how to hear something; we must learn discernment...My son Steve is a piano tuner in his spare time, and even though electronic tuners are a big help in that business, there is no replacement for acquring an exquisite sense of pitch. If you picture yourself trying to gain that ability, to be able tell C from C# while it's hanging in the air, then you know the kind of silence I mean."
I've read this this book a couple of times, and plan to do so again, as well as loan it out to others--truly, it's a treasure.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Just Like Pastrami
by Lee Shulman January 1, 2007
Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching
Educational psychologist Lee Shulman is president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in Stanford, Calif. For nearly 20 years he was on the faculty of Michigan State University and founded its Institute for Research on Teaching.
I believe in pastrami -- well-marbled pastrami. Hot, thinly sliced, piled on fresh rye bread with dark mustard and a crisp dill pickle.
I believe that pastrami is a metaphor for a well-lived life, for a well-designed institution and even for healthy relationships. Pastrami is marbled rather than layered. Its parts, the lean and the fat, are mixed together rather than neatly separated. Too much of life is lived by adding layers that don't really connect with one another.
When I was about 12, my parents bought a small Jewish delicatessen on the northwest side of Chicago. And that's where I learned about pastrami. I worked at the counter and I learned the differences between well-marbled and merely layered meats. My Dad would explain to me that some customers wanted him to slice away all of the fat on a brisket and then they'd come back to complain that the meat wasn't juicy. He'd sigh and explain that without marbling, they'd never get what they wanted.
I've seen the wisdom of my Dad's insight over time. When I started teaching college, my mentors warned me against having any interest in my students' lives outside the classroom. In my first month on the job, I taught a 500-student class. One day a young woman came to my office to tell me she wouldn't be able to complete all the course requirements. It turned out her husband had been killed in a car accident the month before. She was a 19-year-old widow.
I then began to wonder about the other 499 students. Their stories may not have been as extreme, but I would have been a fool to think their lives wouldn't have an impact on the classroom. Learning and living were marbled in my students' lives, not layered. To teach, advise and mentor them, I needed to be sensitive and aware of their tragedies and celebrations, their ambitions and their anxieties.
Separate layers are much easier to trim from the brisket. Separate layers are much easier to build, to schedule and to design. But I believe that marbling demands that we work with the messy world of people, relationships and obligations in their full, rich complexity. The diet mavens inform us that marbling can be dangerous for our health, but as an educator I'm willing -- even obligated -- to take the risk. I want to marble habits of mind, habits of practice and habits of the heart with my students -- just like pastrami.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Excerpt from Prayers by the Lake LXXXV by St. Nickolai of Ochrid and Zica
Wherever a king is found, there is also a kingdom. A king without a kingdom is not a king, nor is a widowed kingdom a kingdom.
"The kingdom of heaven is within you," said the Royal Son, and joy has illuminated all those wayfarers in the cemeteries, who have understood this heavenly message.
A Moslem does not believe that You ever touch the filthy earth. The pagan sees You entirely composed of earth. The Royal Son knows the royal way, and manifests You in purest earth. In purest earth He even clothed Himself and came down to bring luminescence and essence.
O my King, You are nearer to me than my breath and dwell deeper within me than my thoughts.
What is my breath except something that enters into me from outside and leaves? Even before my lungs began breathing You were inside me. You knew of me while I was still in my father's loins. Even before the creation of the world You thought about me.
What are my thoughts except the impressions of external objects, impressions which enter my mind like threads in a loom, where they are woven and brought together, disjoined and lost? All objects are outside my mind, and objects do not enter my mind but only their impressions.
However You are the only reality of my mind, with which my mind is also born. And You were in me before any impression was; You were in contact with me before I had contact with any object.
From the time I first heard the glad tidings of the King, I have spread out my soul like a canopy over most precious treasures and have sought You and Your Kingdom within her. I have spread her out and I see no end or bottom to her. I can neither reach all her height, nor descend into all her vaults.
I have discovered radiant rays, which indicate some sun in the distance. I have discovered the golden columns of a temple, but nowhere do I see any end to the temple.
I smell the fragrant scent of a censer's incense, but I cannot glimpse a royal throne.
The more I keep trying and discover, the more I see the One who is hidden.
You placed unimagined mysteries in me, O Lord of countless hosts. In each of Your soldiers Your royal radiance shines.
Just as a sun does not exist without radiant rays, so is the King not without His angels, His radiant rays.
You bring infinity with Yourself, my King, and You bring infinity into my soul.
You cloak Yourself with eternity as with a mantle, my King, and with this mantle you cloak my soul.
The Spirit creates His own Where and When, and is not dependent on His creations.
O Lord, Most Rich, I am discovering myself apart from the senses when I gaze into my soul. What immense wealth You have accumulated into this paltry earthen vessel!
Wherever You are, there also is the kingdom of heaven; and wherever the kingdom of heaven is, You are also.
If Your kingdom has not entered me, truly neither shall I enter Your kingdom.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Today in church, I kept thinking, "Where are we?."
Some of the prayers seem to be locating us on earth, where we pray for ongoing-in-time kinds of things such as seasonable weather, continuing sanctification, those who travel by land, sea, and air, and so on.
But other prayers would seem to locate us beyond time and space, in eternity, already at the Heavenly Marriage Supper where all is complete: "Thou it was who brought us from non-existence into being, and when we had fallen away, didst raise us up again, and didst not cease to do all things until Thou hadst brought us up to heaven and hadst endowed us with 'Thy Kingdom which is to come" and even more explicitly: "Remembering this saving commandment and all those things which have come to pass for us: the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the sitting at the right hand of God the Father, the second and glorious coming."
When I got home, I checked Orrologion's blog which I had not visited for a long time--I have been very behind on everything, including blog-reading--and found a link to a little book called Theosis: The True Purpose of Human Life" by Archimandrite George, the Abbot
of St. Gregorios Monastery. Here is what the Archimandrite says about location, location, location:
"...[E]very Sunday and every time the
Divine Liturgy is celebrated, we are all present
in it together with all the Angels and all the
Saints through all the ages. Even our departed
relatives are present, if, of course, they are
united with Christ. We are all there and communicate
amongst ourselves mystically, not
externally, but in Christ."
So...is there only one Liturgy, for all time and eternity, and that's where we all actually are?
Is this true for every service, such as Vespers, etc.?
Is it true when we're home praying "alone"? Praying "alone" as we walk down the street?
When, in fact, is it not the case?
It does feel very much like we're in a different place during Liturgy. But if so, why am I so distracted all the time?
When I am distracted, am I not there in that place anymore, for the duration of the distraction? Am I thus blipping in and out of heaven like a weak electronic signal?
Am I being too literalistic here?
What do they mean by "this bloodless sacrifice" if we're actually partaking of Christ's Body and Blood?
Saturday, November 21, 2009
David Dickens wrote this in a comment at Father Stephen Freeman's "Glory to God for All Things" blog, and I found it so helpful, I received permission from DD to post it here:
"I ...have a background in mathematics and this reminds me distinctly of a fractal.
So much of Church life seems to reveal more detail (and possibly ambiguity after a certain fashion of that term) the more closely one observes it.
Personally, I have seen all sorts of bizarre and conflicting data from around the world as the Church operates today. I’m not bothered by that. The Church is an organic, living, Spirit-moved thing. But it does leave certain questions uncomfortably unanswered.
Particularly uncomfortable, if one is trying to draw a “bright line” about anything...
It appears that the only real solution is to accept that a certain degree of ambiguity is not only impossible to avoid, but in fact, efficacious itself! Perhaps ambiguity (again for want of another more appropriate word) is a part of the operation of the Spirit, forcing us to recognize our own collective folly at trying to unravel the mind of God further than revelation intends.
The practical problem remains, but as the Church is axiomatically unbreakable, then the practical problem will not do the work that the gates of hell have failed to do for 2000 years."
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
"Poets sing of the miracle of a glance, always unique. Unique as well is the destiny of each person...[T]he personal cross of each person...is inscribed within us at birth. No power can change it. 'Which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?'
Whether in the heart of a great city or in the depths of a desert, we cannot flee from this personal theme of our life. It accompanies us and speaks to us at every turn in our way. We can respond differently and each time change our course in one direction or another. We can marry or become monks. We can polish lenses, like Spinoza, or repair shoes like Jacob Boehme. The question, our question, remains identical and fixed is us as an integral element of our being. It is no longer a question, it is we ourselves who are called into question.
...God...expects from our faith a vigorous act, the full and conscious acceptance of our destiny. He asks us to assume it freely. No one can do it in our place, even God Himself. The cross is made of our weaknesses and our failings. It is constructed by our enthusiastic impulses and especially by the dark depths of our hearts where a secret resistance and a shameful ugliness lurk, in short, by all that complexity which is at this precise moment, the authentic I.
'Love your neighbor as yourself' allows a certain love of self. It is a call to love our cross. It means perhaps the most difficult act of all--to accept ourselves as we are...
...According to our spiritual teachers, the art of humility does not at all consist in becoming this or that, but of being exactly as God made us...It is our destiny to find the freshness of a passionately loved existence."
Paul Evdokimov Ages of the Spiritual Life
Friday, November 13, 2009
In the Fire of the Burning Bush by Marko Ican Rupnik
Back Cover Bio:
"Marko Ivan Rupnik is a Jesuit priest who works as a director of the Centro Aletti in Rome and teaches at the Pontifical Oriental Institute, the Pontifical Gregorian Institute, and Saint Anselm Liturgical Institute. Both as a visual artist and as a theologian, he is also a consultant for the Pontifical Council for Culture."
Something Important to Know About the Book:
Rupnik uses a lot of high-falutin' words and terms, but the reader doesn't have to be a rocket scientist to understand the overall sense--when I didn't "get" something, I just kept on reading, and eventually, it became clear in context (I am an inveterate skimmer, far too impatient to work with a dictionary).
The book consists of two previously published essays, "The Spiritual Life" and "Spiritual Fatherhood."
"The Spiritual Life"
The purpose of this section is to present a fully Trinitarian and eschatological way of life "with a synthesis that can consitute a foundation from which to reflect upon the theological and anthropological categories." Drawing nourishingly from patristic and Orthodox sources such as St. Theophan the Recluse, St. John Climacus, Berdiaev, Solo'vev, Lossky, Staniloae, and others, as well as Catholic sources, Rupnik seeks "to remove encrustations, and to shed light on the real essence of Christian spirituality." Thus, he spends a lot of time "unpacking" with what true spirituality is "not"--it is not scientistic, monistic, pantheistic, dualistic, gnostic, moralistic, voluntaristic, legalistic, etc. He speaks of "pendulum reactions" that occur as a result of unbalanced spiritualities: "...[W]here an ascetic, rigorous, legalistic Catholicism was most present, after a brief period of explosion and liberation from the yoke, there follows decades of rebellion against any authhority and a break with every link to the past. The same happened in Protestant countries. Once the stronghold of the puritanical and moralistic conception of faith, they are now subject to the most ruthless liberalism and ethical subjectivism." Though he believes that contemporary psychology is not without value, he characterizes its most extreme and self-limiting forms as being nothing more than "a formal retouching of gnosticism."
Some Significant Passages:
"The identification of the spiritual with the mind, or with the non-material and ethereal, is in every case a trap. If the spiritual were the intellectual dimension--that is, the sphere of thought and ideas--to become more spiritual would then mean having ever more 'elevated' thoughts until one becomes a perfect idealist. In the same way, if the spiritual were... will-driven..., one would slip into voluntarism. If the spiritual were feelings, one would risk identifying the spiritual with the sentimental...If they were such, spiritual practices would not be anything other than mental exercises. Prayer would then be identified with mere mentation, understood as a capacity for mental concentration, a mental emptying. The 'boom' in ascetic mental practices, of prayer forms that have Eastern and not necessarily religious bases [i.e., Transcendental Meditation], is one of the fruits of such a misunderstanding. The ambiguity that the attaining of a mythic 'spiritual' state proposes, through a constant commitment of the will aided by a technique, often has a utilitarian scope: the conquest of the 'good life.'...The spiritual life becomes simply a tranquilizer. The more well-being it gives, the better it 'works.'"
"In books on spirituality, which fill the shelves of bookstores today,...it is rare...to find one that speaks of a real opening to a transcendence that incorporates everything, every aspect of life. It seems that the spiritual terminology of 'relationship,' of 'personal dimension,' of 'the God who has a face' is almost unknown...If the spiritual were not inseparably linked to the Divine Persons, the spiritual life could not be inseparably linked to human persons. If my spiritual reality is impersonal, separated from the divine Person of Christ, the temptation will always exist to choose a title, to find a label, and to affirm it as the whole while overlooking the personality that is each person's. This leads to an idealization, to an abstract approach that sooner of later...provokes illness because it fails to take the living person into consideration."
"I mean to say that even psychological suffering, even a disorder in our personal make-up, even a failure can communicate God, can become a remembrance of God and our participation in his Passion...After all, it is not so important to reach a psychological trranquility. Even that can be an idol and so should not be mythologized. What counts and what is really healthy is discovering that our lives are gathered and hidden with Christ in God....A fragile, suffering, or imbalanced psyche embarrasses us because those disfigured by suffering do not correspond to the formally perfect ideal of our idealistic psychological categories. However, it is not at all certain that a psyche is healthy when it corresponds to the norms that we have established. It is healthy and whole when it lives in the sphere of relationship and when it includes itself and the world in the process of hypostatization, when it lives in the Love of God."
What Is This Section's Primary Focus?
It is discernment, because, as Rupnik points out, things aren't always as they appear. "I myself have witnessed what fragility, what psychological weakeness, what deviations can intervene in people, especially the young, who embark on a spiritual journey. They can fall prey to fundamentalism, integralism, fanatacism because they understand Sacred Scripture only in one way, or because they dogmatize a feeling, or because they exchange the first thought that crosses their mind for the voice of God." He explains that "[h]aving a balanced relationship with the cross is truly a spiritual art. It does not mean seeking it, bragging about it, or punishing oneself with a cross, or making oneself a hero helping others at all costs to carry theirs. Around the cross...are many hidden traps and deceptions for the spiritual life that are sometimes only disguised psychological games."
And he is no stranger to the intricacies of group dynamics: "Any type of gnosticism always has to do with a disintegration. For examples, gnostics can be completely be absorbed in a great battle...like justice or equality. Realizing such a great ideal can completely absorb them. It can also make them unfair, bullying, overbearing...It is a phenomenon observable even within the life of the Church. It is possible to 'fight' for one group while at the same time wounding another."
Rupnik's main point is the necessity of radical human connectedness in the context of Eucharistic community as we find God in all things: "In the Eucharistic wake of the spiritual...things, both objects and events, light up before us like the burning bush of Moses in the desert."
Rupnik begins this (briefer) section with a discussion of the historical processes that have, he believes, brought us to our postmodern condition of being "separated from life," "imprisoned in many intellectual, sociological, scientific, political, and cultural systems and structures, all however without breath or direction, without life-giving nourishment." Positing that contemporary society is marked by the fragmentation of human connection, he says, "If...we live in a reified society, in a culture characterized by subjective rationalism, if, moreover, there practically does not exist anyone who has a positive experience of interpersonal relationships with his or her family, it is legitmate to ask: How is it possible to know God today if he reveals himself in relationships?" In such a world, he wonders (speaking particularly of Europe), how can evangelization even occur?
It is in this context that Rupnik presents his description of "the fatherly/motherly spirituality, transmitted to us by the Church from the earliest times," and the rest of the essay delineates the characteristics and work of the spiritual father--teaching, service, prayer, etc.
Rupnik also names common risks and errors in this ministry--for instance, "A spiritual father...cannot subsitute for the Holy Spirit or guide the thoughts of another step by step. He cannot be the light that illuminates the other. This would be a sure path to a pathological dependence on himself, a real stumbling block to the growth of faith. Today, a spiritual father does not demand that the person do what he says but that the person listen and prayerfully consider what he says and arrive at a decision, which could even be the complete opposite of his counsel..." True spiritual parenthood, Rupnik points out, is Trinitarian in nature: "Spiritual fatherhood is actually based on our faith in the presence of the Holy Spirit, in his indwelling in a person, and in his efficacy in moving creation and humanity, through Christ, to the Father. It is the spiritual father, then, who points out the inner connections between various experiences, connections that appear immediately when one's lived experiences are opened up to God. With the art of discernment, he assists persons in deciphering the language God uses with them and in discovering God's word for them in the events of their life."
And he emphasizes the fact that God's word is always a healing word: "But what can heal memory? Certainly not forgetfulness or canceling things out. If it were possible to erase every disturbing or oppressive thing...there would be very little left of some lives. There must be a way of healing that transforms memory... what was a bad memory, an act or an episode that persecuted and disturbed your heart, becomes a beautiful memory in that it recalls the One who has forgiven you. From evil you pass into the Person of Goodness and Mercy....The sin can no longer be remembered without recalling God..." Spiritual parenthood is not a closed circle, but instead, "leads us to the Church, orients us toward community, and creates us for community...Relationship, understood against the background of the Trinity, cannnot be confused with the intimate relativity of two people who look upon each other. Every relationship is true if it is opened to the Chruch, to universal humanity, and to the Triune God."
Is This Author the Kind of Person With Whom an Ordinary Person Might Want to Have a Cup of Coffee?
Definitely. If I were having coffee with him, I would ask for lots of concrete examples to help me to further understand what he says in the book--he does tend to be a little abstract.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
his treasure of a devotional To Love Is Christ
But when perfection comes, the things that are not perfect will end. 1 Corinthians 13:10 NCV
LOVE SHAPES AND RESHAPES US, fashions us in its own likeness, processes us through its own seasons and schedules, takes from us what is incompatible to itself, and makes its habitation within us a hallowed place. And though this pilgrimage may begin at birth (for I do not know), it does not end at death, for death is just a mark, another entry in love's great diary.
So lead me, Lord, by the way that I would not take. Take me by that hand I had refused to give you. Be the path that I denied to walk. Command my heart, this mismanaged, idling heart, that I may say, "Another rules here!" I am in process. So come, you blessed seasons, weather yourself upon me, blast me in your furnaces, blow me about in your winds, warm me beneath your suns, chill me to the bones with your lean winters, till Christ be satisfied in me.
In Christ, the reign that softens the clay, Amen
May you be ever pliable, fixable, teachable, moldable, pliant, stretchable.
© 2009 David Teems. All rights reserved.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
by writer/teacher Clyde Kilby
1.) At least once every day I shall look steadily up at the sky and remember that I, a consciousness with a conscience, am on a planet traveling in space with wonderfully mysterious things above and about me.
2.) Instead of the accustomed idea of a mindless and endless evolutionary change to which we can neither add nor subtract, I shall suppose the universe guided by an Intelligence which, as Aristotle said of Greek drama, requires a beginning, a middle, and an end. I think this will save me from the cynicism expressed by Bertrand Russell before his death, when he said: “There is darkness without, and when I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendour, no vastness anywhere, only triviality for a moment, and then nothing.”
3.) I shall not fall into the falsehood that this day, or any day, is merely another ambiguous and plodding twenty-four hours, but rather a unique event, filled, if I so wish, with worthy potentialities. I shall not be fool enough to suppose that trouble and pain are wholly evil parentheses in my existence but, just as likely, ladders to be climbed toward moral and spiritual manhood.
4.) I shall not turn my life into a thin straight line which prefers abstractions to reality. I shall know what I am doing when I abstract, which of course I shall often have to do.
5.) I shall not demean my own uniqueness by envy of others. I shall stop boring into myself to discover what psychological or social categories I might belong to. Mostly I shall simply forget about myself and do my work.
6.) I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud or a person. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are, but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what Lewis calls their “divine, magical, terrifying, and ecstatic” existence.
7.) I shall follow Darwin’s advice and turn frequently to imaginative things such as good literature and good music, preferably, as Lewis suggests, an old book and timeless music.
8.) I shall not allow the devilish onrush of this century to usurp all my energies but will instead, as Charles Williams suggested, “fulfill the moment as the moment.” I shall try to live well just now because the only time that exists is now.
9.) If for nothing more than the sake of a change of view, I shall assume my ancestry to be from the heavens rather than from the caves.
10.) Even if I turn out to be wrong, I shall bet my life on the assumption that this world is not idiotic, neither run by an absentee landlord, but that today, this very day, some stroke is being added to the cosmic canvas that in due course I shall understand with joy as a stroke made by the Architect who calls Himself Alpha and Omega.
11.) I shall sometimes look back at the freshness of vision I had in childhood and try, at least for a little while, to be, in the words of Lewis Carroll, the “child of thepure unclouded brow, and dreaming eyes of wonder.”
Friday, October 16, 2009
AND LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTAION
O how little is necessary for a man to turn his face from Thee towards idols!
He is surrounded by temptation as by storms, and he is as powerless as the foam upon a rough mountain brook.
If he is prosperous, he fancies at once that he is Thy colleague, or he puts Thee in his own shadow, or even adorns his home with Thy images as a luxury.
If evil knocks at his door, he encounters the temptation of making a bargain with Thee, or even of casting Thee away altogether.
If Thou callest him to sacrifices, he revolts. If Thou sendest him to death, he trembles.
If Thou offerest to him all the pleasures of earth, he will be tempted to poison and kill his own soul.
If Thou discloses to his eyes the laws of Thy creation, he murmurs, “The universe is wonderful and lawful in itself, without a Creator.”
We are confused by Thy light, O our shading Father, like the night butterflies. When Thou callest us to the light, we are flying into the darkness, when we are set in darkness we are crying for light.
There is a network of many paths before us, but we dare not go to the end of any of them, for at each end there is a temptation waiting for us and luring us on.
And the path leading to Thee is crossed by many temptations as well as by many precipices. Before temptation assails us Thou seemest to accompany us as by an illuminated cloud. But when temptation comes Thou disappearest. We turn around in confusion and we put to ourselves the painful question: What was our illusions – Thy presence or Thine absence?
In all temptations we ask ourselves: Art Thou our Father? All our temptations put in our minds the same question that all the circumstances around us are putting into our minds from day to day and from night to night, which is: What do you think about the Lord? Where is He and Who is He? Are you with Him, or without Him?
Give to me the power, my Fatherly Creator, that I may in every hour of my life, whether bright or dark, give the same answer to every possible temptation and to everything: The Lord is the Lord. He is there where I am and where I am not.
I stretch always my passionate heart towards Him and my hands towards His bright garments, as a child towards his beloved Father.
How could I live without Him? It would mean to be without myself at the same time. How could I be against Him? It would mean to be against myself at the same time.
A righteous son follows his father with respect, quietness, and joy.
Breathe Thine inspiration into our souls, O Father, to be Thy righteous sons!
The Our Father: A Devout Interpetation by St. Nikolai Velimirovic
I have heard that God sees differently than we do the struggles and the lives of people who are profoundly damaged—to us, from the outside, it may seem that there is nothing but tragic disconnection, but in reality, there may be all kinds of small subtle interior movements, choices, and glories known only by God.
Sometimes God allows this hidden grace to leak out so that we are given little glimpses:
"A nun had been assigned to care for an elderly monk with advanced dementia. One day his babbling was of a kind that was distressing to her. Suddenly he broke free, as it were, looked her in the eye, and said, 'Dear sister, you are upset because of what I am saying. But do not fear. Inside, I am with God.'“ Frederica Mathewes-Green, The Jesus Prayer: Ancient Desert Prayer that Tunes the Heart to God
"I also think of some of the people I cared for in psychiatric institutions. One day I ran out of matches for my pipe while interviewing a woman suffering from severe schizophrenia. She had not spoken before, but she broke through her hallucinations to ask the nurse for a light for me. In a prison ward, I was struggling to communicate with an aggressive, demanding patient. In a moment of frustration I glanced across the ward and noticed another man watching me. His eyes were so tender and understanding that I felt supported and encouraged without either of us saying a word. That man, suffering from paranoid delusions, had killed seven people. And he was caring for me. Both these people were dysfunctional, yet grace flowed through them...No matter how oppressed we may be by internal addictions or external forces, love always ensures that some spark of freedom of choice remains alive within us." Gerald May, The Awakening Heart
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Monday, October 12, 2009
"This world--with its ideals, principles, rules, and in general, with all its order, which has been elevated to the status of an unbreakable law-lays its heavy, dominating hand upon all its children. Consequently, none of them even dares to think about rising up against it or spurning its power and authority. Everybody holds it in reverence, and with some timidity, adheres to its rules. Their breach is considered to be a criminal offense. The world is not a person, but its spirit somehow permeates the earth. The spirit influences us and binds us with bonds. Obviously its power and authority are created by our thought; they are imaginary, not real or physical. Consquently, we need only to dispel the imaginary authority of the world, and the possibility of sobering from its charms will be near to us."
St. Theophan the Recluse
Friday, October 9, 2009
Monday, October 5, 2009
The Golden Compass and the two following books in the children's fantasy trilogy have been controversial because of their supposed anti-Christian message, but I found the version of Christianity that the author (Philip Pullman) rejects to be such a distortion of the real thing that the books didn't trouble me at all--on the contrary, I wholeheartedly enjoyed them even though I tend to find that kind of fantasy book annoying.
And here is one part that spoke to me of the journey of faith (though the parallel with the narrative isn't perfect for various reasons that you'd have to have read the books to understand--too complex to go into now).
In this passage, Iorek Byrnison, the king of the warrior bears, is leading them to a new land for survival due to worldwide climate change:
Most of the bears had never seen mountains, apart from the cliffs on their own island of Svalbard, and fell silent as they looked up at the giant ramparts, still so far off.
"Where will we hunt there, Iorek Byrnison," said one. "Are there seals in the mountains? How shall we live?"
Iorek Byrnison explains to them that they will be able to hunt even though this terrain is very different from what they are used to. Then he says,
"...If we had stayed there, we would have starved. Be prepared for strangeness and new ways, my bears."
"Strangeness and new ways"--I can't think of a more concise description of the way it feels to follow Christ!
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
"Since when, in this mixed world, was any good thing given us in purest outline and isolation? ...The sole condition of our having anything, no matter what, is that we should have so much of it, that we are fortunate if we do not grow sick of the sight and sound of it altogether...Without too much you cannot have enough, of anything. Lots of inferior books, lots of bad statues, lots of dull speeches..."
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Friday, September 18, 2009
Assuming that I'm correct in my suspicion that my cell phone isn't sitting safely on the dashboard of my car where I'd intended to leave it but is instead buried like a time bomb in my purse, which is under a pew behind many people's legs, and therefore not retrievable without causing distraction, is the phone more or less likely to ring as the service progresses?
I might lean toward its being less likely, simply because there are fewer remaining minutes for it to do so, which means an ever-narrowing window of opportunity, but on the other hand, it might be more likely, since if it hasn't happened yet, the only time in which it could happen is the time that still remains.
Or maybe the second possiblity is true only if we add the variable that someone is definitely going to call during the service.
I am just mathematical enough to be disturbed by this, and to wonder if I should preemptively retrieve my purse and check, thus substituting a definite and local distraction for the merely potential but global one of my phone actually ringing, yet not mathematical enough to know how to solve it.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Friday, September 4, 2009
NEITHER OUT FAR NOR IN DEEP by Robert Frost
The people along the sand
All turn and look one way.
They turn their back on the land.
They look at the sea all day.
As long as it takes to pass
A ship keeps raising its hull;
The wetter ground like glass
Reflects a standing gull.
The land may vary more;
But wherever the truth may be-
The water comes ashore,
And the people look at the sea.
They cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep.
But when was that ever a bar
To any watch they keep?
Friday, August 28, 2009
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
"Buber makes the I-Thou encounter the essence of reality, and says ‘all real living is meeting.’ Emmanuel Levinas says that we are not converted by ideas but ‘the face of the other.’
…(e)very time you pray, it’s God in you telling you to pray. You wouldn’t even desire to pray except for God in you…Every time you choose God on some level, God has in the previous nanosecond just chosen you, and you have somehow allowed yourself to be chosen—and responded back! (John 15:16).
We don’t know how to say yes by ourselves. We just ‘second the motion’! …God first says ‘yes’ inside us and we say, ‘Oh yeah,’ thinking it comes from us! In other words, God rewards us for letting God reward us."
-Richard Rohr, Things Hidden
Of course, I have no idea what was going on in Peter's mind during his conversation with Jesus on the shore, but if it had been me (I?) in his place, I might have been incredibly relieved to hear Jesus prophesy a martyr's death for me, otherwise every moment for the rest of my life I'd always be wondering if I was going to deny Him again the next time my life was in danger.
If so, then those were the kindest words Jesus could have spoken!
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?"
"Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."
Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?"
He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."
The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go."
Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!" John 21