Thursday, April 30, 2009



"For what is behind an act of will? Another act of will? Do I will to will, or does the will just happen? If the former, do I then will to will to will? Do decisions spontaneously occur, or do I decide to decide to decide? In fact, somewhere down the line even voluntary purposeful activity runs into the spontaneity... that underlies and unites both volutary and involuntary."

No Boundary, Ken Wilber

I don't necessarily agree with all of Wilber's conclusions throughout his work, at least insofar as I even understand them, but I love this question, and sense that it cuts very close to the heart of human experience...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Beholding Beauty (micro-fiction)


Not merely beautiful, but altogether Beauty, so I averted my eyes.
Beauty, so I shut them tight.
Beauty, so I covered my face with my hands.
Beauty, so I found myself prostrate on the floor.
Beauty, so I was rolling out the door, hands still covering my face lest I accidentally open my eyes for even an instant.
Beauty, so I was stumbling sideways down the street.
Beauty, so even at the subway station, and on the long elevator down, and then in the train hurtling through blasted-out rock tunnels, I was unable to not feel it, sometimes as steady-approaching-unbearable, other times in bright, excruciating bursts.

Checking the blinking digital sign, I was relieved to read the destination “HELL,” figuring that this would be the farthest from Beauty I could possibly get, but it turned out to be only a local stop.

Nevertheless, when the automatic doors hissed open, I staggered out and started crawling off in a random direction, heading, I hoped, for the farthest corner, if there was a corner, where I could curl up into something like a ball and cover my face again, which I was almost immediately able to do, hell proving to be no less limited than it was proximate.

I’ve hunkered down now for many eternities, but because Beauty is apparently equidistant to all locations, the only relief is my self-generated haze of quasi-numbness, full of static and exhausting to induce.

This is not a topic I can recall radio talk show hosts having brought up for discussion--“What To Do About Beauty!”-- nor had it made the front page of any newspaper I’d ever read.
Wolf Blitzer had neglected to mention it, and while there’d been a warning signal for tornado alerts, I don’t recollect any public service announcements about an alarm pattern for impending Beauty—three short blasts and a long one, for instance--let alone practical instructions—perhaps instinctively, I’d resorted to the “stop, drop, and roll” strategy appropriate to the occasion of being engulfed in flames.

And so here I crouch, cramped inside the fog that is my pitiful simulation of distance, listening to the reverberation of eternities around me while I labor to summon up courage for the agonizing journey of return.
Sing about a fruitful vineyard:
I, the LORD, watch over it;
I water it continually.
I guard it day and night
so that no one may harm it.

Wrath is not in me.
If only there were briers and thorns confronting me!
I would march against them in battle;
I would set them all on fire.
Or else let them come to me for refuge;
let them make peace with me,
yes, let them make peace with me.

In days to come Jacob will take root,
Israel will bud and blossom
and fill all the world with fruit.

And in that day a great trumpet will sound.
Those who were perishing in Assyria
and those who were exiled in Egypt
will come and worship the LORD
on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.

from Isaiah 27

Sunday, April 26, 2009

What We Sang

O Lord, shining with the splendor of Your divinity,
You came through closed doors to Your Disciples,
showing Your pierced side, the wounds from the nails,
dispelling all sadness and sorrow!
O friends, see that I am not a spirit, but truly man!
You commanded the disbelieving Disciple to look,
saying: “Prove to yourself, then come and believe!”
He touched Your side with his own hand and cried in faith and fear:
“My Lord and my God, glory to You

O most glorious wonder!
Doubt bore certain faith!
Thomas said: “Unless I see, I shall not believe!”
By touching His side, he blessed the incarnate Son of God, Who had
suffered in the flesh,
and he proclaimed the resurrected God,
crying out with joy: “My Lord and my God, glory to You!”

O most glorious wonder!
Thomas placed his hand on the fiery side of Jesus Christ, God!
He was not scorched by this,
but his doubt changed to certain faith, and he cried fervently:
“You are my Master and my God.
Glory to You, Who have resurrected from the dead!”

O most glorious wonder!
John the Apostle leaned on the Savior's breast,
and Thomas was made worthy to touch His side.
The one thus understood the depths of theology;
the other was privileged to announce the mystery of the Resurrection to
crying: “My Lord and my God, glory to You!”

How great is the abundance of Your compassion, O Lover of mankind!
Because of Your long-suffering, You were struck by the Jews,
You were examined by an Apostle and touched by those who denied You.
How are You incarnate?
How are You crucified?
You have not known sin!
Make us understand like Thomas, that we may call out to You:
“My Lord and my God, glory to You!”

Saturday, April 25, 2009



Feeling a little cranky today (post-Pascha intensity hangover?) but this cheered me right up. What's not to love about zombies in the Bible?

Growth in God--More Like Soccer or More Like Football?


"The understanding of sin as a disease within the soul, rather than
external behaviors, sounds strange to Western ears. We prefer clear and
measurable criteria. We want to know if someone committed a sinful act
or not; don't trouble us with discussion about what went on in the heart.

I once heard North American culture compared to other cultures
through the analogy of football versus soccer. The implicit goal of a
soccer game is to keep going without stopping until the end. Flexibility
within the rules is often tolerated in the interest of not interrupting
the flow of the game. In American football, play consists of brief intense
skirmishes, after which everyone stops and progress is minutely
measured. If there is any question about a rule being broken, play is
suspended and scrutinized on instant replay.

My evangelical faith was thoroughly Western in the way that U.S. football
is Western. I was taught to be scrupulous about my behavior. The
heart was important only because it could lead me to sinful behavior."

from Michael Mangis' Signature Sins


I have to say here that my experience of evangelical Christianity was much more multi-dimensional than the experience described above--with the people I knew and the authors I read, it was all about the heart--but still, Mangis' metaphor reveals something very worth pondering regarding the life of faith--really, it can be applied to many of life's processes!

Friday, April 24, 2009


"Why does all nature smile mysteriously on feast days?
Why is the heart filled at these times with a wonderful lightness that is incomparable to anything on earth;
how is it that the very air at the altar and in the Church become light bearing?
This is the breath of Thy grace, the glow of the light of Tabor;
the sky and the earth are singing at these times in praise:

from THE AKATHIST OF THANKGIVING composed by Protopresbyter Gregory Petrov shortly before his death in a prison camp in 1940

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Christ Is Risen!


...and thus, the universe is very different than we had supposed it to be--wilder, stranger, more dangerous, and at the same time, friendlier, and more home.

The stakes are higher.

The glory is nearer--too near for comfort, and yet, paradoxically, of great comfort.

Time, distance, even history itself have been reconstituted and reconfigured at (so to speak) the cellular level, from the inside out.

Everything around us is unrecognizably familiar, or recognizably unfamiliar--as are we, awkward, bumbling, stumped, and not infrequently stunned, yet growingly grace-ful in this new life.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009



...And I suspect that God tends to place the burning bush just close enough to be mostly visible (and potentially intriguing), but just far enough away that actually going to see it would involve some level of inconvenience, disruption of our current agenda...

Kinds of Sleep

"Behold, the Bridegroom comes at midnight, and blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching,
and again, unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not
be weighed down with sleep, lest you be given up to death, and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom. But
rouse yourself crying: Holy, Holy, Holy, art Thou, O our God..."

As we sang this all week, preparing for Pascha (in the Orthodox Church, that's Easter, which this year is one week later than Western Christian Easter--we'll be celebrating it this Sat. night into the wee hours of the a.m. on Sun.) I kept trying to figure out what it means.

Most people I know don't get *enough* sleep, and are already quite busy doing good things.

Then I began to think about how even during busy-ness, perhaps especially GOOD busy-ness--helping other people, fulfilling "religious" obligations, being A RESPONSIBLE ADULT--it is possible to be stuck in various trances that represent a certain kind of waking sleep.

For instance, there's the "must-stay-on-track" super-efficiency trance in which one becomes closed-hearted to interruptions and surprises--even though much of Jesus' ministry took place as people interrupted Him. There's the perfectionism trance, the "everything-depends-on-me" trance, the "don't-have-time-to-pray" trance, or the "so-involved-with-checking-off-everything-on-my-prayer-list (the 'pleases', the 'sorries,' etc.)--that-there's-no-time-for agenda-less-ly-basking-in-God's-presence-for-even-a-minute" trance...

Trance--any way of functioning that keeps one from turning aside from one's mental or behavioral accustomed routes to see why that bush over there is burning but not consumed!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

"The Mystery of Iniquity"


"...[W]e have no available explanation for evil or sin as such, not because we may not have many insights into such things, but because we don't have an explanation of anything at all. We have a salvific revelation: what is revealed as something now operative is the mystery of God's plan of salvation for us. This plan of salvation enables us to know the Father and share in his life by sharing in the life and death of his Son...Any Catholic understanding of evil cannot be part of a general human understanding of evil...because of a very peculiar epistemological starting point: the resurrection within historical circumstances of a murdered man as the beginnings of a new creation.

What we have then is not a general 'philosophical' explanation which can be extended to an explanation of such things as evil, nor even a description of how things are that are, from which we might deduce a description of evil, even a description in terms of privation of being or privation of good. We have a contingent human transmission of a form, a shape, of salvation. This I have shown to mean that our only approach to the question of evil or of sin (and thus of what original sin might be) is when we look at 'that which we are on our way out of.' This is a particularly difficult epistemological starting point, and we might do well to remember what happened to Lot's wife when she turned around to see what she was on her way out of. Much treatment of sin, and original sin, is the theological equivalent of a pillar of salt: something that is no longer on its way out of anything...My attempt has been rigorously to maintain the dynamic of salvation throughout, from which alone a certain limited insight can be gained into sin and into original sin.

... We have only one way into an understanding of what sin, including original sin, might be, and that is starting from the resurrection. That is to say, there is a certain radical blindess as to both good and evil that began to be unveiled only as a result of the resurrection. The forgiveness of sins, which became part of both the preaching and the power that flowed from the resurrection and is its central meaning, is what enables us to approach the question of sin. It therefore behooves us to proceed somewhat gingerly in deciding what sin might be, because the permission we have been given to look back is a healing and forgiving permission, and any claim to understand sin that is not an understanding of how it is forgiven is automatically suspect. We must be careful not to know too much. If, in the Genesis of the first fruits of the fall was the knowledge of good and evil, does it not suggest that this knowledge, at least in its current form, is inappropriate to us?"

...[T]he question legitimately arises whether knowing that something is good or evil is known within the framework of accusation (whether of self or others), or within the framework of forgiveness (of others or self). It is...part of the particularly Christian understanding of sin that any accusatory knowledge of sin has a particular propensity to blindness about complicity and that only forgiveness enables us to see..."

James Alison, The Joy of Being Wrong

In these passages from a Radio National interview, Alison speaks of how a too-simplistic (or, as he puts it, a merely two-dimensional) view of Christianity serves to spare us the necessary "existential angst and pain of being discovered by someone else, which is what Christianity is all about.. [T]he 2D obsessed with sin. It seems to think that we know what sin is about from the beginning, because for the 2D atonement theory story to work, sin has to be a kind of a fixed package that needs paying for. There is this problem: sin. What is the solution going to be? The solution has got to be as big as the problem. But that means that in fact it’s sin that gets to dominate the story, because salvation becomes a response to sin, which makes God reactive. Now if God is reactive, then the real God in the story is that which is being reacted to, which means that sin is what is really running that particular storyline. Now the curious thing is that there is no pre-existing understanding of sin. If you read the Hebrew scriptures, you will find n different understandings of sin, none of which anyone can make any sense of. There are moral sorts of sin, there are forms of purity, there are huge shifts in understanding of what sin might be about over time. But there is certainly not a fixed understanding of what sin is about.And what there certainly is not, is any notion that the story of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis, which is quite a late story, that that story was ever read by the rabbis as if it were the story of a particular fall. In other words, it was not read by the rabbis as we Christians read it. For a very good reason: the only reason it was read as an account of a fall was in the light of the resurrection. It was because Christ rose from the dead that it became possible to say, Oh, we aren’t what we thought we were. We aren’t creatures who are made for death. The human cultural reality of death is not the same thing as our biological finitude. Our biological finitude is the condition of the possibility of us enjoying God. But that was something we only discovered in the light of the resurrection of Jesus. And looking back we can see, Oh, we’ve been snarled up from the beginning. And St Paul’s shorthand for “we have been snarled up from the beginning” is with reference to Adam. So Adam comes into the story as St Paul’s way of saying: This cultural reality run by death goes back as long as there have been human beings at all. But, and this is the good news, it is accidental to us, not essential to us. We are not creatures who have to be run by death. And this was something that only became available in the light of the resurrection. Now you can see that that actually means that there’s a very different picture of sin emerging. Rather than sin being a lump that’s just there, against which God is going to throw the full weight of his sacrificial son – oompf! – like that. Instead of that, sin is that which can be forgiven. Sin is a secondary reality because the primary reality is the forgiveness. And actually if you think about it psychologically, that’s actually what is true in most of our lives. When we are weaned from lists of sins, in the case of most of our life stories, a real understanding of sin comes as a ‘Oh my God, that’s what I’ve been doing, I’ve been involved in this or that or the other, and I thought it was perfectly normal, I didn’t even realise what I was doing. And it’s only now that I begin to see what I was involved in, and must struggle to get out of it, and must struggle insofar as I can to make amends for what I’ve done.’ Many of us would recognise that as a genuine account of what sin is about. Not the list which presupposes us knowing something, but the breaking of heart, the breaking of heart which is what happens when we’re being given a bigger heart, we can see we were too small, we were stuck in something too small, we were doing something that was less than worthy of who we are discovering ourselves being able to become. In other words, this is the key thing, sin is only understood in the leaving of it. It’s not a reality that is understood first, and then salvation is made to measure for it.Now the point of that is that it’s designed to make it possible for us to participate in the fullness of creation to live as if death were not, not to be trapped in our snarled under version of creation."

Thursday, April 9, 2009

"How do you remain faithful when boredom sets in?"


by Emily Warn

How do you remain faithful when boredom sets in? Sages
offer numerous rules of piety, precepts, commandments,
vows, proverbs, and aphorisms, all compiled after revelations
that shattered the structure of existence. The purpose of all
rules of piety is to extend revelation into ordinary life. They
are survival tactics that help us withstand tedium, our
disappointed expectations that something dramatic will
happen—the sky open, a pillar of fire light our way—if we
do this and that. For example, if you stand in a field in the
month of Elul when the red dwarf rises above the tree where
the shepherd has tethered his goats, you’ll see divine light.
Instead, you are preoccupied with stamping your feet in the
cold, with muttering and gossiping with friends. Without
knowing it, you’re storing a memory of being knit together
that will help you survive later. You’ll remember one friend
who rolls her eyes in mock disapproval at such religiosity;
another concentrates as hard as she can on what the sages
said would happen if you gathered in the fields during the
month of Elul. She focuses on waiting to see a flash. The
other observes what can be seen, the night sky, its billions of
unnamed stars, impossible to count, immeasurable depth,
formless space, black, blank; receding as she is, less and less
visible, less and less impatient at nothing much happening.
The other shouts, witnessing the birth of a star.

from Shadow Architect

(Narrative Magazine's poem of the week)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Failing to Take Sin Far Enough Pt. 2


...and maybe that's what "sloth" really is--stopping short rather than doing the work of tracing our desires and perceived temptations all the way back to their true and pure origin--the hidden source of the river, springing up in life...

To change the metaphor, I hope William Blake will forgive me for taking a verse from his poem out of context, but I do see it in that light:

I give you the end of a golden string;

Only wind it into a ball,

It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate,

Built in Jerusalem’s wall.…

Failing to Take Sin Far Enough

In The Safest Place on Earth, Larry Crabb wrote,

Every bad desire is a corruption of good desire. And every good desire is a meager expression of our deepest desire to know God. Therefore, an honest tracing of every desire, good and bad, will lead us to [the place] where intimacy with Him is available. .. [E}very hunger, when followed to its source, turns out to be a hunger for God...