Friday, February 27, 2009

"Do Not Think That What Happens Now Is Very Different"

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"When you hear that Christ descended into hell in order to deliver the souls dwelling there, do not think that what happens now is very different. The heart is a tomb and there our thoughts and our intellect are buried, imprisoned in heavy darkness. And so Christ comes to the souls in hell that call upon him, descending, that is to say, into the depths of the heart; and there he commands death to release the imprisoned souls that call upon him, for he has power to deliver us. Then, lifting up the heavy stone that oppresses the soul, and opening the tomb, he resurrects us--for we were truly dead--and releases our imprisoned soul from its lightless prison."

St. Makarios of Egypt

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I Am Trying To Be Offended by This Quote, But Can't Quite Be...

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“Truth is Catholic, but the search for it is Protestant.”

W.H. Auden

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Does God Get Bored...

* * * * *

Does God get bored with all those Lord, have mercy's?

I don't think so, any more than parents get bored listening to the sound of their children breathing--as if breathing itself is, somehow, its own kind of voice.

Is that what part of the prayer is, our respiration--in, out, in, out?

Or maybe it's even more intimate than that--maybe it's actually one of the ways God gives us the kiss of life (as in artificial respiration, though it's the complete opposite of "artificial"!) from the inside out...

The Cat Prepares for Great Lent


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Eureka (kind of)

Regarding the faith/works issue, I just read this, from a book called Surprised by Christ (written by A. James Bernstein):

We are told that on Judgment Day, as we stand naked before God, the penetrating light of His presence will open the "books" of our hearts. His light will reveal what these books contain. They will show whether our hearts are drawn to God or repulsed by Him, either foretasting heaven or foretasting hell. St. Symeon the New Theologian says that it is not so much what we believe or what we do, but what we are that will determine our future state. We have either a similitude with God or a dissimilitude with Him: In the future life the Christian is not examined if he has renounced the whole world for Christ's love, or if he has distributed his riches to the poor or if he fasted or kept vigil or prayed, or if he wept and lamented for his sins, or if he has done any other good in this life, but is examined attentively if he has any similitude with Christ, as a son does with his father.

Of course, this only raises further questions, but it does speak to the issue of how the following two basic truths fit together--the truth that the handwriting against us regarding our sins has been cancelled out, and the truth that the books will be opened on the day of judgment to make manifest what is recorded there.

If the books are actually our hearts, rather than some series of forensic documents containing either propositional faith statements on which we've signed off OR a list of works with check marks beside them (or not!), then the two truths aren't contradicting each other, but rather, working together to describe the same process.

More on the Default Position

Sometimes it seems as though the human default position, so to speak, is to treat life as if it consists primarily of a combination of fulfilling (more or less) various duties, and then rewarding oneself in various ways for having more-or-less fulfilled them. Or reversing the process by rewarding oneself in advance, and then plodding through the duties. Or (my personal favorite!) rewarding oneself on both ends of the process!

But ultimately, that's so empty.

This post-communion prayer (0f St. Simon Metaphrases) presents the alternative:

"Freely Thou hast given me Thy Body for my food, O Thou art a fire consuming the unworthy. Consume me not, O my Creator, but instead enter into my members, my veins, my heart. Consume the thorns of my transgressions. Cleanse my soul and sanctify my reasonings. Make firm my knees and body. Illumine my five senses. Nail me to the fear of Thee. Always protect, guard, and keep me from soul-destroying words and deeds. Cleanse me, purify me, and adorn me. Give me understanding and illumination. Show me to be a temple of Thy One Spirit, and not the home of many sins. May every evil thing, every carnal passion, flee from me as from a fire as I become Thy tabernacle through communion..."

Not duty and the rewards which are really self-induced anesthesia, but instead, fire.

By now everyone that would be remotely likely to read this blog has encountered this story from the writings of the desert fathers, but I'll place it here anyway:

"Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, 'Abba, as far as I can, I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?' Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, 'If you will, you can become all flame.'"

And St. John Chrysostom wrote,

"Let us clothe ourselves with spiritual fire, let us gird ourselves with its flame. No man who bears flame fears those who meet him; be it wild beast, be it man, be it snares innumerable, so long as he is armed with fire, all things stand out of his way, all things retire. The flame is intolerable, the fire can not be endured, it consumes all. With this fire let us clothe ourselves, offering up glory to our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom the Father, together with the Holy Spirit, be glory, might, honor, now and ever and world without end. Amen."

This last one seems rather odd--is he saying we are supposed to go around burning people up? The fire he speaks of can't be anything other than holy love, so it wouldn't be destructive--I think he means that we don't need to be afraid of anyone or anything. Of communion, he also wrote: "Let us come away from that table like fire-breathing lions of which the devil is afraid."

Monday, February 16, 2009

Today Is Speculative Game Day--Feel Free to Join In...

...and challenge your friends and family to The Opposites Game!

The goal is to identify the opposite (in every respect) of what is given.

For starters: The opposite of a confession is an alibi. (Well, that's not quite right, but it might be in the neighborhood.)

The opposite of zero might be either zero or infinity--even though (or perhaps because) infinity apparently comes in various sizes.

The opposite of a diamond might be a dust cloud--compression/density, positive value, and brightness vs. diffusion, negative value, obscurity.

The people who claim that there are no true opposites may very well be correct. The point of the game is merely creative speculation as players dispute/fine-tune their responses.


What is the opposite of a gargoyle? A supermodel?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

"No Spiritual Repertoire"

In her book Thoughts Matter, Mary Margaret Funk discusses spiritual struggle: "The thoughts that we find in our interior chatter cluster into eight themes which recur constantly...These thoughts are classic since they recur in every person of every era and cycle continuously..." The eight thoughts are thoughts "about food, about sex, about things, about anger, about dejection, about acedia, about vainglory, and about pride."

"If I lay aside my own thoughts, grace emerges and provides me strength for the good life. There need be no striving for virtue. The practice of laying aside thoughts uncovers divine grace, the glory of God, whose energy takes over. Charity springs up....There is no corresponding list of eight virtues to replace the eight thoughts. Lay aside one's thoughts and all the virtues emerge. I cannot pull out a spiritual repertoire to indicate what response is needed. When I live with a discerning heart, there are no causes or right actions that tell me what to do. I simply have a loving heart, ready to do whatever is necessary. I don't dwell on outside causes. I lead a life close to the heart and am guided by whispers."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Orthodoxy and Time?

Well, apparently few or no scales fell from my eyes when I officially became Orthodox--I still have some of the same questions, etc. as BC (Before Chrismation!).

But this did occur to me on Sunday, and I'm trying to process it. I was somewhat crankily wondering again about the continual prayers of repentance and seeking forgiveness--seems like a big set-up for us semi-OCD folk--but then suddenly I caught a glimpse of another way of looking at it--as though time--and therefore, repentance/forgiveness--aren't merely linear, moving along uni-directionally in a cause-and-effect stream, but are also, and at their deepest levels most truly, existential, more like a place or a condition--a deep pool in which we saturate ourselves--than a sequential event, a transaction that we complete and then move on from, checking it off our list.

I'm not explaining this well and I don't really understand it or even like it (well, in some ways I like it--it feels deeper and more nourishing than the model I'd been used to, but also more demanding because it's not tidy and succint), but I think some of this may be true.

It also occurs to me that various people had tried to explain this to me, but I hadn't taken it in.

Feedback, anyone? (I hadn't realized that there was some kind of default restriction on comments, but I've taken that away.)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"Love resides entirely in the part of us
that is the least defended or safe.
The part that has no alternative
to loss, defeat, and dying.
All else is tested by its flint.
in what it strikes upon in the darkness."

Linda Gregg "Christ Loved Being Housed" from her collection All of It Singing

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Drenched

"Earth is drenched in God's affectionate satisfaction."
Psalm 33:5, Eugene Peterson's "The Message" translation/paraphrase