Thursday, January 29, 2009

What Is Our Vocabulary Telling Us?

In these "uncertain economic times," what is our vocabulary telling us, and how might it be limiting our freedom and largeness in God's Spirit?

What gospel glory are we occluding when we (albeit unconsciously) commit ourselves to the vocabulary of hunkering down, riding it out, laying low, etc., when these are the images that fill our mind?

I believe that this is a vocabulary of minimalism, disengagement, and withdrawal--the vocabulary of the winter lair, the underground bunker, and it does not befit us.

Yes, we need to conserve, to live within our means, to rethink our financial and life strategies, possibly in ways we haven't even yet begun to conceive of, but paradoxically perhaps, less may actually be more--while we're paring back on the outside, we can rise up and be bold in our spirits, opening ourselves ever more deeply to adventure and risk in Christ, and (changing the metaphor here!) dare to live exothermic lives.

What are some of the ways we can discover together what the parable of the talents might mean for us in this particular economic season?

"Those who know their God will be strong and do exploits."

"New times, new favors, and new joys do a new song require." A song, not a whisper or (ouch!) a whine!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"To Touch Him, As It Were, By Stealth"

Of Necessary Practices For Attaining The Spiritual Life (from The Spiritual Maxims of Brother Lawrence)

1. That practice which is alike the most holy, the most general, and the most needful in the spiritual life is the practice of the Presence of GOD. It is the schooling of the Soul to find its joy in His Divine Companionship. Holding with Him at all times and at every moment humble and loving converse, without set rule or stated method, in all time of our temptation and tribulation, in all time of our dryness of Soul and disrelish of GOD. Yes and even when we fall into unfaithfulness and actual sin.

2. We should apply ourselves unceasingly to this one end, to so rule all our actions that they be little acts of communion with GOD; but they must not be studied, they must come naturally, from the purity and simplicity of the heart.

3. We must do all things thoughtfully and soberly, without impetuosity or precipitancy, which denotes a mind undisciplined. We must go about our labors quietly, calmly, and lovingly, entreating Him to prosper the works of our hands. By thus keeping heart and mind fixed on GOD, we shall bruise the head of the evil one, and beat down his weapons to the ground.

4. When we are busied, or meditating on spiritual things, even in our time of set devotion, whilst our voice is rising in prayer, we ought to cease for one brief moment. Or as often as we can, to worship GOD in the depth of our being, to taste Him though it be in passing, to touch Him as it were by stealth. Since you cannot but know that GOD is with you in all you undertake, that He is at the very depth and center of your Soul. Why should you not thus pause an instant from time to time in your business, and even in the act of prayer, to worship Him within your Soul?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Vacation from Ambiguity

About a year ago, I found myself very angry with some people--in taking legal action regarding the situation, it became clear to me that I wasn't merely seeking justice and restitution, I was out for vengeance as well. This isn't my usual way (no, I'm not virtuous, I'm just low-energy--to a fault!), so I had to think about it, because thinking about it seems generally to be more truth-inducing than simply commanding oneself to not be angry anymore. What I realized was this: deep down, I actually felt pretty matter-of-fact about the people. Everyone messes up sometimes, and yes, it was right for me to receive compensation for my damages, but I really did know not only that that these individuals are fellow human beings, but that I have certainly done more harm in the world, both by comission and omission, than they had done to me. No, the reason I found myself in avenging angel-mode actually had nothing to do with the people--the truth was that I'd been craving a vacation from ambiguity! I was right in the midst of a prolonged period of heightened uncertainty about several important life decisions/circumstances, and was tired of being so extremely uncomfortable. And now here, finally, something that was very clear had presented itself to me--the people with whom I was angry had wronged me and others through negligence, no ifs, ands, or buts--yippee! No nuances, no layers of explanation or interpretation, etc.

When I understood this, I saw the humor in it as well as the sin, and it was much easier to aim toward "dispassion" as I proceeded with the legalities.

But we all need a vacation from ambiguity, because the longer we live, the deeper the mysteries grow. That's why I love to shoot baskets, even though I am terrible at it--it's one area of life that's completely binary--the ball is either IN or OUT. Amen.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"Peculiar to Myself"

"Upon Christ's glorified body there were no bruises, no lacerations, but the five wounds remained, and, as the great hymn puts it, the faithful will one day gaze upon those glorious scars—scars which we and not the angels will share with him, because we and not the angels will have borne them. We were not meant to suffer and die; but we sinned, and having sinned, indeed we are meant, in the re-creating Providence of God, to suffer and die, but not as Satan would have it. I must believe that the incarnation and the atoning death of Christ does not simply undo the harm of sin—does not simply restore to us a lost innocence—but delivers for us the greater glory of a victory over sin and death, a victory accomplished in us through Christ. Surely David believes this too; again, perhaps I am misconstruing his use of the word 'ultimate.' But will I not always, if God should see fit to save me, be the one who suffered and repented and died in a way peculiar to myself? Will not that strange eventful history be ineradicable from my being? This hope—and for me it is an abiding hope—in the ultimate meaning of suffering seems to lie behind the strange words of Christ, illogical if a found sheep is the same sheep that once dwelt in the fold, that there is more rejoicing in Heaven at the finding of the one lost than at the keeping of the ninety nine that were never lost." Quote from Anthony Esolen from this page:

Friday, January 16, 2009

Society Against the Domestication of Perplexity (SADOP)

In this realm, one never knows when officials from the Society Against the Domestication of Perplexity (known as SADOPs) may show up in one’s front hallway—they don’t have to knock, of course, since each team possesses a Universal Key, and may conduct a sweep at will, sometimes twice in the same afternoon, other times decades after the most “recent” visit.

Eschewing all intimidation-producing gear such as weapons or badges, the operatives command respect merely by the understated nobility of their presence, which elicits in those they visit a peculiar, bittersweet near-gladness--rather than attempting to hide evidence of Perplexity-Domestication Activities, the citizens feel themselves irresistibly inspired to throw open the doors of their closets and refrigerators and unbolt the latches of their souls so that they may be liberated from their cigarettes, romance novels, astrological charts, and triple-cream strudels, as well as from their reflexive mental mechanisms of anxiety, indifference, and peevish self-definition—everything they have acquired or devised to distract themselves from the raw and feral sensation of existence in the world.

(a tiny story copyrighted by me, and probably with revision necessary)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Archimandrite Roman Braga on the Mystery of His Life

"My dear friends, I think the mystery of my life is the joy. And I never tire of telling everyone to be joyful. Why should we be sad when we belong to the Lord and He loves us so much that He cannot take His eyes off us, as a mother cannot take her eyes off her baby..."

Exploring the Inner Universe

--and this from a man who spent years in a labor camp, including time in solitary confinement...


"...I read poems from strange languages with freedom and pleasure because I can believe in all that has been lost in translation. Though all works, all acts, all languages are already translations."

James Richardson

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Breaking the Heads of Dragons for a Little Over Two Millennia

For today, the time of the feast is at hand for us: the choir of saints assembles with us and angels join with men in keeping festival.
Today the grace of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descended upon the waters.
Today the Sun that never sets has risen and the world is filled with splendour by the light of the Lord.
Today the moon shines upon the world with the brightness of its rays.
Today the glittering stars make the inhabited earth fair with the radiance of their shining.
Today the clouds drop down upon mankind the dew of righteousness from on high.
Today the Uncreated of His own will accepts the laying on of hands from His own creature.
Today the Prophet and Forerunner approaches the Master, but stands before Him with trembling, seeing the condescension of God towards us.
Today the waters of the Jordan are transformed into healing by the coming of the Lord.
Today the whole creation is watered by mystical streams.
Today the transgressions of men are washed away by the waters of the Jordan.
Today Paradise has been opened to men and the Sun of Righteousness shines down upon us.
Today the bitter water, as once with Moses and the people of Israel, is changed to sweetness by the coming of the Lord.
Today we have been released from our ancient lamentation, and as the new Israel, we have found salvation.
Today we have been delivered from darkness and illuminated with the light of the knowledge of God.
Today the blinding mist of the world is dispersed by the Epiphany of our God.
Today the whole creation shines with light from on high.
Today error is laid low and the coming of the Master has made for us a way of salvation.
Today things above keep feast with things below, and things below commune with things above.
Today the triumphant assembly of the Orthodox keeps this holy festival with great joy.
Today the Master hastens towards baptism that He may lift man up to the heights.
Today He that bows not, bows down to His own servant that He may set us free from bondage.
Today we have purchased the Kingdom of Heaven: for the Lord’s Kingdom shall have no end.
Today earth and sea share the joy of the world, and the world is filled with gladness.
The waters saw Thee, O God, the waters saw Thee and were afraid. The Jordan turned back, seeing the fire of the Godhead descending bodily and entering its stream.
The Jordan turned back, beholding the Holy Spirit coming down in the form of a dove and flying about Thee.
The Jordan turned back, seeing the Invisible made visible, the Creator made flesh, the Master in the form of a servant.
The Jordan turned back and the mountains skipped, looking upon God in the flesh; and the clouds gave voice, marvelling at Him who was come, the Light of Light, true God of true God.
For today in the Jordan they saw the triumph of the Master; they saw Him drown in the Jordan the death of disobedience, the sting of error, and the chains of hell, and bestow upon the world the baptism of salvation. Therefore, sinner and unworthy servant though I am, I recount the majesty of Thy wonders and, seized with fear, incompunction I cry aloud to Thee:
Great art Thou, O Lord, and marvellous are Thy works; no words sufficeto sing the praise of Thy wonders! Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee!
Great art Thou, O Lord, and marvellous are Thy works; no words suffice to sing the praise of Thy wonders! Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee!
Great art Thou, O Lord, and marvellous are Thy works; no words suffice to sing the praise of Thy wonders! Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee!
For Thou by Thine own will hast brought all things out of nothingness into being, by Thy power Thou dost hold together the creation, and by Thy providence Thou dost govern the world.
Of four elements hast Thou compounded the creation: with four seasons hast Thou crowned the cycle of the year.
All the spiritual powers tremble before Thee.
The sun sings Thy praises; the moon glorifies Thee; the stars supplicate before Thee; the light obeys Thee; the deeps are afraid at Thy presence; the springs are Thy servants.
Thou hast stretched out the heavens like a curtain; Thou hast established the earth upon the waters; Thou hast poured forth the air that living things may breathe.
The angelic powers minister to thee; the Choir of Archangels worship Thee;
the many-eyed Cherubim and the six-winged Seraphim, standing round Thee and flying about Thee, hide their faces in fear of Thine unapproachable glory.
For Thou, the indescribable God, without beginning and inexpressible, hast come upon earth, taking the form of a servant and being made in the likeness of man.
For Thou, O Master, in Thy merciful compassion couldst not bear to see mankind beneath the tyranny of the devil, but Thou hast come and saved us.
We confess Thy grace, we proclaim Thy mercy, we hide not Thy beneficence.
Thou hast set free the offspring of our kind. Thou hast hallowed a Virgin womb by Thy Nativity. At Thine Epiphany the whole creation sang Thy praises.
For Thou, our God, hast appeared on earth and dwelt among men,
Thou hast sanctified the streams of Jordan, sending down from on high the Most Holy Spirit, and Thou hast broken the heads of the dragons hidden therein.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Thinking About Today's Scripture Readings

Thinking aloud, so to speak...

What do these passages have in common?

The message that there are no shortcuts, and never have been, and never will be, possibly even unto ages of ages, etc. Even God doesn't take any shortcuts!

Why/how is that good news?

I don't know, but somehow, apparently, it is!

Ephesians 6:10-17 (Epistle, Saturday After)
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness,
and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.
And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God...

Matthew 4:1-11 (Gospel, Saturday After)

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry.
Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread."
But He answered and said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.' "
Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple,
and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: 'He shall give His angels charge over you,' and, 'In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.' "
Jesus said to him, "It is written again, 'You shall not tempt the LORD your God.' "
Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.
And he said to Him, "All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me."
Then Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.' "
Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.

Luke 13:18-29 (Gospel)
Then He said, "What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it?
It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.
And again He said, "To what shall I liken the kingdom of God?
It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened."
"God instructs the heart not through ideas, but by pain and contradictions."

Jean Pierre de Caussade

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Refreshment for the Heart

Yes, the music's a little sentimental, but this very brief video is truly joyful!