Sunday, January 31, 2010

from KASSIANA (Vol. XII of the Collected Works of Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich


Mankind, even the dead, desire to be loved. And even after death they struggle with death. Therefore much effort is made with testaments and memorials to assure themselves of love even after death. And living and dead, men desire to be loved. But Christ said, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me." Lifted up on the cross, He has drawn through His life, out of love, all towards Himself, even the souls of the deceased from Hell. Before Christ...there did not exist a science of love, nor a religion of love.


Christ, out of love, sought us--but not ours. But men, because of their meager love, seek His good things rather than Him. They expect from Him bread, rain, fertility, health, and earthly goods in general. And He gives all with sadness that it is not Him Himself they seek. They have forgotten that when they received Him, they have recieved all along with Him. The Apostle said: "I do count them all as dung, that I may win Christ." Elsewhere he writes to the faithful: "I seek not yours but you." ...Love and a dowry are not compatible...



** seems to me that the Prodigal Son was setting up a kind of permanent parole-like system, or something along those lines, as the condition for his return home ("Father, I have sinned before heaven and before you, and am no longer worthy to be called your son. Let me be one of your hired servants...").

But the father in the story was so uninterested in that sort of arrangement, he didn't even let the son finish presenting his proposition, but instead, immediately restored him to full sonship in his presence.


Saturday, January 30, 2010

St. John of the Ladder on Silence


“(Noetic) silence is the mother of prayer, freedom from bondage, custodian of zeal, a guard on our thoughts, a watch on our enemies, a prison of mourning, a friend of tears, a sure recollection of death, a painter of punishment, a concern with judgment, servant of anguish, foe of license, a companion of stillness, the opponent of dogmatism, a growth of knowledge, a hand to shape contemplation, hidden progress, it is the secret journey upward.”






Friday, January 29, 2010

Julian (1)


Will everything really be OK?: the spirituality of Julian of Norwich

Commonweal, Feb 27, 1998 by Frederick C. Bauerschmidt

Certain of Julian's characteristic themes - her understanding of Christ as mother, her constant reaffirmation that "all shall be well," her understanding of sin as a kind of sickness that afflicts us - seem a natural fit for modern therapeutic spirituality. But the therapy Julian offers is a radical one that challenges conventional therapeutic pieties of holiness as wholeness and salvation as self-actualization.

Julian's claim that "all shall be well" clearly has a ready appeal for an age of anxiety like our own. And her notion of Christ as mother would seem to speak not only to feminist understandings of God but more broadly of a God who seeks our welfare. God makes all things well because God has a tender, feminine side. Beyond this, we discover in Julian a notion with great cultural resonance: sin understood not as a matter of deliberate fault, but as a sickness. What we are in need of is not so much forgiveness but healing. In particular, we need to be healed of the idea that God is angry with us, and that we need somehow to obtain his forgiveness. Julian recognizes that this understanding of sin is at odds with the teachings of the church as she had learned them, but she stubbornly refuses to abandon it.

Viewed in this way, Julian seems to be a prophetic model of our culture's own approach to spirituality. The God who promises that "all shall be well" is seen as an avuncular figure who exists to supply our spiritual needs, a God who would never condemn someone to eternal punishment. Jesus our Mother is both an archetype of the Great Mother (thus valorizing women's spirituality) and an icon of nonjudgmental, unconditional acceptance. Sin, from God's perspective, is no big deal; from our perspective it is a big deal, but only inasmuch as we have not yet learned the art of self-forgiveness. Finally, religious institutions, while valuable as sources of symbol and ritual, tend to be retrograde and overly concerned with sin, perhaps as a ploy to gain power. Read in this way, Julian appears a perfect saint for our times which aspire to be therapeutic, anti-institutional, and postpatriarchal.

This perspective on Julian may account for some of her current popularity. But I would argue that that is not what attracts many modern people to Julian's writings. For Julian's Christ is not without his cross. Her visions, for the most part, are closely associated with a physical crucifix that stands before her face. She sees the crucified body bleed copious amounts of blood, sees his face discolored by death, the skin of his corpse "small-rimpled [i.e., shriveled] with a tanned color, like a dry board." In short, Julian sees Jesus transformed from a person into a lifeless thing. And seeing this, she is filled with pain.

The Jesus of Julian's revelation is not the Jesus of feel-good religiosity. It is Jesus the Lord of creation brought low to share in the suffering of creatures. The promise that "all shall be well" is not a promise that God is planning to relieve us of pain in this life. It is the paradoxical promise that the union of our sufferings with the suffering of Christ will somehow prove redemptive. This "all shall be well" is not a promise of "recovery" but of survival. "He said not: Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be...afflicted; but He said: Thou shalt not be overcome." The crucified Jesus thus remains the central icon of Julian's revelation, and even when she receives revelations about the Resurrection or the triune godhead or the bliss of heaven, these never supplant the image of the Cross. Julian's own prayer is inextricably bound to the historical humanity of Jesus. She seeks no love except the love of Jesus, a love that led him - and promises to lead her - to the Cross. Thus, Julian's seemingly comforting message that "all shall be well" turns out to be the disturbing message that we are called to share in the compassion-unto-death of Jesus. And this is good news, since it grows out of the understanding that God views us, and our sinful condition, in the mirror of Jesus and his loving obedience. Our identity, both as individuals and as the human race, are literally "knit" into the saving person of Jesus.

What Julian offers is nothing less than a radical therapy for our damaged selves. Whereas the presumption of modern therapeutic spirituality is that we will "get better," that our goal is "wellness," Julian's presumption is that we will never get "better" until we enter into the bliss of heaven. And yet, paradoxically, everything is already "better." Dorothy Day summarized Julian's teachings by saying "the worst has happened and been repaired," meaning that the true tragedy of the human race is not this or that fall of mine but the primal falling of Adam, which has already been restored in Christ. Julian depicts God speaking to us and saying, "For since I have made well the most harm, then it is my will that thou know thereby that I shall make well all that is less." Yet this restoration does not nullify the real pain and sin into which we fall. Julian writes, "we have in us, for the time of this life, a marvelous mingling both of weal and woe: we have in us our Lord Jesus uprisen, [and] we have in us the wretchedness and the mischief of Adam's falling, dying."

Julian's view of this "marvelous mingling of both weal and woe" is a major contribution of her thought. Much recent spirituality has encouraged us, and rightly so, to have a more positive understanding of embodiment. Unlike some of her medieval fellows, Julian shuns the association of embodiment with sinfulness, but she sees clearly what we may well ignore: embodiment entails risk. With regard to pain, great advances in medical technology tend to shield us from the fact that, being bodies, we must suffer. We have now come to the point that if anything goes wrong with our bodies, we anticipate they can and should be repaired. The result is a kind of technologizing of the body, an objectification of it. A gap opens up between "me" and "my body." This gap carries over into our moral lives, such that 'q" cannot be identified with the body that indulges its passions. Despite our valorization of the body, we have a deeply ingrained instrumental approach to embodiment. Julian will accept no such gap. The thoroughly embodied self is subject not only to broken legs, gluttony, and cancer, but to roving eyes and death in childbirth.

But, as Julian notes, we still "have in us our Lord Jesus uprisen." Our embodied existence is redeemed' through the embodiment of God in Christ. Thus our bodies - ourselves - so subject to pain and temptation and sorely in need of redemption, are nonetheless saved in the rising of Jesus. Even with our bodily weakness, this is the source of hope for us.

It is a commonplace among wise Christian teachers that our life in this world remains one of weal and woe. But Julian is unusual in claiming that it is not simply that we live in an alternation between the two, but that our lives are always completely of woe and completely of weal. The two exist simultaneously. In the midst of suffering and sin, we are intimately united with Jesus who suffers the effects of sin. For Julian this means that one cannot speak of stages of spiritual progress or measure where one stands on the "ladder of perfection." What we can know is that even in the depths of sin and suffering, we are deeply enfolded in the love of God. Not unlike Therese of Lisieux, Julian teaches not a way of perfection but what Simon Tugwell has called a "way of imperfection."

This is radical therapy for a therapeutic age. Julian's point is not "every day I'm getting better and better," or that "I'm good enough and smart enough and, doggone it, people like me." Rather she says "it behoveth us verily to see that of ourselves we are right nought but sin and wretchedness." A gloomy truth indeed, but at the same time God, "of His courtesy will not shew it to us but by the light of His grace and mercy." In other words, it is important to see our nothingness so that we can see ourselves properly as beings constituted simply by the love of the God who created us from nothing and who has redeemed us from the nothingness of evil. Our human attempts at self-esteem - whether they come in the form of a program for self-improvement or in therapies of self-acceptance - end up as bars to the realization of our true glory as creatures of the God "who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist" (Rom. 4:17).

Julian's therapy consists in what she calls "noughting" - a term that encompasses both suffering and sin, but also the stripping and purification of our desires, desiring nothing but God. Noughting is the path of discipleship, by which we follow Jesus who was "noughted" on the cross: "We shall be noughted following our Master, Jesus, till we be full purged." Yet this noughting is never simply the acceptance of woe. It is also, for those "with eyes to see and ears to hear," the acceptance of weal. For it unites us with God by stripping us of our desires for those things that, while good and beautiful in themselves, we deform by preferring them to God who is their source. Noughting is a therapy for our restless souls. It does not involve hatred of God's creatures, but simply a recognition of their littleness, and of our own, so as to love appropriately.

This therapy is not something that we must go far afield to find. Julian thinks that life itself will strip us if we let it, that our fragile, embodied existence brings with it its own penances. She recounts God telling her that "all thy living is penance-profitable." Our penance is to be found in the dimishments of everyday life: disappointments and failures, minor irritations and major betrayals, sickness, aging, and death. These things happen; they do not need to be sought out. Yet in these woes is also found our weal, in this sickness is found our cure, "and in the remedy He willeth that we rejoice."

As life strips us of all the things to which we have fastened our affections, we can come to see that "the remedy is that our Lord is with us, keeping and leading into the fulness of joy." On the cross, God too is stripped. He sees his offer of fullness of life in the kingdom rejected; God is betrayed by his friends, suffers excruciating pain, and dies. Even in our deepest noughting - especially in our deepest noughting - when everything is taken from us, God is still there. And just as God brings creation out of nothingness, so too God transforms nothingness into the fullness of joy.

Rather than seeing in Julian's current popularity another example of the trivialization of the Christian tradition by those who comb the world's religions for agreeable bits of spirituality, I believe Julian attracts because she teaches us things modern culture would have us deny. She teaches that life is painful, but can be borne with grace. She teaches that we will never find rest in the things of this world - whether material goods, goals, friends, or family - but that we can love them and love God through them if we can see them with God's own eyes. Finally, Julian teaches that even if we never achieve "wellness" in this life, still "all shall be well." We are drawn to her because we are drawn to the truth about ourselves, our world, and God.

Frederick C. Bauerschmidt teaches theology at Loyola College in Maryland.


Julian (2) (Fellow theology geeks, what do you think about this one?)


Sin will be no shame: Julian of Norwich's theology of sin

Spiritual Life, Fall 2000 by Gore, Michael

... Although almost nothing is known concerning her personal life, the book that she wrote almost six hundred years ago has proven to be of immense benefit to swelling numbers of contemporary people. Julian tells us very little about herself. In her book, Revelations of Divine Love, also known simply as Showings, she provides scant information concerning her life prior to the events recounted in her book. She does not even tell us her name. Her anchorhold, or cell, was attached to St. Julian's church in Norwich, England, and so it is due to her association with that church that she is known as Julian. She does tell us that she was about thirty and one-half years old when she received her visions on May 13, 1373. If this is the case, then she must have been born in 1342.

Julian lived as an anchoress, a sort of recluse confined to a small house or single room, often attached to the side of a local church. The term comes from the Greek anachoreo, to retire. As an anchoress, she chose to live a life set apart from the world and dedicated to a special vocation of prayer and devotion to God. The surrounding community, and the anchoress herself, considered her as dead to the world. She lived now for the sake of God alone. Her enclosure in the anchorhold required the permission of the local bishop. He performed an elaborate ceremony, including the Last Rites, and concluded by bolting the door from the outside. The anchorhold became Julian's tomb.

Her Life

Julian's life as an anchoress would have differed from that of a hermit or recluse. A hermit was more or less free to wander from place to place, while a recluse, on the other hand, spent her or his life completely secluded and separate from the world. Julian, under penalty of excommunication, remained in her cell until she died. But as Grace Jantzen points out in her book Julian of Norwich: Mystic and Theologian, Julian still served a purpose for those in the world outside:

It was, however, taken for granted, that their [anchoresses] prayers would include intercession for the town in which they lived, and that they would be available to offer counsel to those who came to the anchorhold seeking it. They might in one sense be "dead to the world," but they were not to be useless towards it, and their usefulness entailed clearsighted awareness of its doings.
Thus, Julian acted as a kind of counselor or spiritual advisor to her local community. Rich and poor alike sought her out for comfort and guidance.

Her life as anchoress would have been governed by some sort of rule, several of which existed. The most popular of these, and the one Julian probably followed, is the Ancrene Riwle. Written early in the thirteenth century, it provided detailed instructions concerning the life an anchoress should live. In accordance with the Ancrene Riwle, Julian's anchorhold consisted of a suite of rooms. Within Julian's room stood an oratory with a altar. Upon the altar, which was covered with a white cloth as a symbol of chastity, rested a crucifix. Food and clothing were very simple.

Generally, Julian would have eaten two meals a day between Easter and Holy Cross Day (September 14). During the rest of the year, she would have taken only one meal a day. A servant, who occupied one of the rooms, cooked, cleaned, and shopped for Julian. Julian would then have been released from these tasks to devote herself to prayer.

The Ancrene Riwle allowed Julian's anchorhold three windows. One window looked into the church and through it she followed the service and received the Holy Sacrament. The second opened to the world outside and allowed access to those seeking counsel from Julian. The final window opened into the servant's quarters, providing a means of communication and companionship. Many anchorholds also had small gardens in which the anchoress walked.

Julian lived in a time of social, political, and religious upheaval. The Black Death swept through Norwich at least three times during Julian's lifetime. Some reports from the period indicate that half the population of Norwich died. The clergy were unable to cope with the large numbers of the dead. Cities such as Norwich suffered greater devastation from the Black Death than did others due to the high concentration of people and unsanitary living conditions. Concurrent with the Black Death was severe disease among cattle and several years of disastrous harvests. Events finally culminated in the Peasant's Revolt of 1381. The city of Norwich saw its churches and monasteries looted.

The institution of the church was also in disarray. The Great Schism erupted in 1377, creating two rival popes, one in France and the other in Rome. In England, the preacher John Wyclif condemned the corruption of the ecclesiastical hierarchy of the church. Wyclif s translation of the Scriptures into English earned him the accusation of heresy. Wyclif's followers, the Lollards, continued stirring up trouble. They believed, as had Wyclif, that religion should be made available to the people and so began to preach in the vernacular. The Lollards also expressed a deep devotion to the human nature of Jesus, a sentiment shared by Julian in her book. In 1397, the bishop of Norwich received permission to execute all Lollards captured. The Lollard's Pit, where they were burned alive, was only half a mile from Julian's cell. That, in the midst of such suffering and turmoil, Julian could have written a book of such profound hope and assurance in God's mercy and goodwill is a testimony to the power and wisdom of her knowledge and insight.

Her Revelations

Julian's book is an account of sixteen revelations from God she experienced at the age of thirty in "the year of our Lord one thousand three hundred and seventy-three, on the thirteenth day of May. The book has come down to us in two forms. The first is the "Short Text," generally believed to have been written immediately following the occurrence of the revelations. Julian then spent the next twenty years reflecting and praying upon the visions before writing her final exposition regarding their meaning. This is the "Long Text," probably written in 1393.

A week before the revelations occurred, Julian fell ill. Her illness grew worse over the next three days and nights. Those with her feared she would soon die. On the fourth night, Julian's mother called for a priest and Julian received the Last Rites of the church. For three more days she suffered, her pain ever increasing in intensity. On the morning of the seventh day, her mother again called for the priest. He arrived, bringing with him a crucifix. Setting the crucifix before Julian, he directed her to look upon it. As she gazed upon the crucifix, her visions occurred. In an age far removed from Julian's time, her book is of increasing importance to people struggling to make sense of themselves and the world in which they live. Julian's vision of her most "courteous" Lord is positive and holistic, while helping people to face without flinching the sin, evil, and brokenness of men and women. In the midst of a world falling apart, Julian gazed upon a crucifix and received a revelation of timeless significance and wonder.

At the heart of the revelations received by Julian are her insights into the nature of sin. Even sin, Julian sees, serves a purpose in the plan of the Lord. She discerns only part of the fullness of the purpose of sin; the other portion will remain closed until the end of the age. She struggled throughout the course of her visions, attempting to grasp the meaning of what the Lord presented to her. Only in the powerful vision of the parable of the Lord and the servant, however, does she resolve her inner uncertainty and conflict. The parable holds a great spiritual and psychological truth, but first it is necessary to review briefly some of the earlier facets of Julian's understanding of sin.

Understanding of Sin

Nothing is more reprehensible than sin. As Julian sees it, sin
is so vile and so much to be hated that it can be compared with no pain which is not itself sin. And no more cruel hell than sin was revealed to me, for a loving soul hates no pain but sin; for everything is good except sin, and nothing is evil except sin.

Brant Pelphrey points out that Julian viewed sin as a lack, or failure, of a person's basic humanity. Sin is unnatural and harms both ourselves and other human beings. Sin acts as a kind of madness that cripples human nature, leading to anxiety and despair, which Julian identifies as the most significant illnesses brought into the world by sin. So the Lord showed her nothing good in sin. Sin causes all the pain and suffering that the human family endures and is the ground of all the sufferings of Christ. Julian, deeply moved by what she saw concerning the nature of sin, ponders, "I often wondered why, through the great prescient wisdom of God, the beginning of sin was not prevented." This is, certainly, the greatest mystery of the human condition. If God is who God is claimed to be, why then was sin allowed? Why did God not foresee the falling away, and if the Fall was foreseen, why then did God allow it to happen? Jesus responds, telling Julian, "Sin is necessary, but all will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well."" At the core of Julian's vision lies this paradox: sin is foul and evil, and yet necessary; and the pain and suffering brought about by sin will all be made right.

In the third revelation, God is revealed as a part of, or having being in, all things. God also shows Julian that everything done by God is well done. All substance, all of finite creation, flows forth out of God; nothing exists apart from God. This astonishes Julian. She wonders what becomes of sin. She sees that God does everything and that everything God does is well done. In all that God does, sin does not appear. From this Julian concludes the following:

But I did not see sin, for I believe that it has no kind of substance, no share in being, nor can it be recognized except by the pain caused by it."

Grace Jantzen comments that Julian is not saying sin does not exist. What Julian indicates is that sin is nothing. Every created thing, everything with substance, flows out from the Divine Creator. God is all goodness and truth. Sin cannot have been created by God, and thus sin has no substance. Julian does not dismiss the importance of sin, nor does she minimize the pain and destruction sin causes. She simply recognizes the status and place of sin in creation when compared to the place and status of God. Jantzen writes,

It is a denial of sin as an ultimate and irremediable fact of the world, a rejection of the notion that sin can never be overcome.... We are made in the divine image, and although that image is distorted, it is never erased.

Sin, like a parasite, feeds off goodness. Sin would not exist, however, if the goodness it distorts and deforms did not exist. Furthermore, any creature not containing at least some degree of this goodness within it would cease to exist. Through uniting with the Christ, we overcome sin. Pelphrey writes, "We become what we ought to be by the continual working of Christ in ourselves, in the place where sin is." So Julian is able to be optimistic about sin. She mocks the power that sin has over the lives of people:

Wretched sin, what are you? You are nothing. For I saw that God is in everything: I did not see you. And when I saw that God is in everything, I did not see you. And when I saw that God does everything that is done, the greater and the lesser, I did not see you. And when I saw our Lord Jesus Christ seated in our soul so honourably, and love and delight and rule and guard all that he made, I did not see you. And so I am certain that you are nothing.

Sin Has No Final Shame

Julian then carries this insight even further. Sin is necessary, but for those who love God, sin has no final shame: "And God showed that sin will be no shame, but honour to man...." For each sin, according to Julian, there exists a corresponding pain. But suffering endured because of sin results, finally, in a corresponding joy and reward given by God to those who suffer. Sin ultimately loses its power to wound or destroy those who suffer its pain because of the reward given for enduring the suffering. Jantzen explains this in the following manner:

Julian is clear that the rewards will be so great that we will actually be glad we suffered. Just as Jesus rejoiced in his suffering, because it resulted in that which he greatly desired.... All the joys of heaven cannot justify previous pain and suffering unless those joys are in some way a direct result of the suffering, not just compensating rewards, but as intrinsically impossible without the pain.

Julian uses as an example St. John of Beverly. God allows St. John, regardless of his devotion to God, to fall and suffer extreme pain, but she insists that the joy St. John experiences in heaven would never have been so great had he not fallen into sin in the first place. Our degree of joy is in proportion to our degree of suffering. The wounds effected by sin become badges of honor, as the wounds of Jesus became emblems of his love for us.

But how can this be so? Can it be possible that we sin grievously, over and over again, and yet God will turn this sin into honor and joy? Also, Julian has yet to answer why sin came to be in the first place. She prays to be given a fuller understanding into this enigma. She is then given a new vision: "And then our courteous Lord answered very mysteriously, by revealing a wonderful example of a lord who had a servant...."

The Parable of the Lord and Servant

The parable does not appear in the Short Text of Julian's book. Julian states that for almost twenty years following the night on which her revelations occurred, she pondered and searched out the meaning of the parable. Only after the meaning became clear, did she write the Long Text of her book. The parable of the lord and the servant reveals the manner in which sin came to be. It represents Julian's symbolic understanding of the Fall, as recorded in the third chapter of Genesis.

A lord sits in state, while before him stands a servant, ready and eager to do the lord's bidding. The lord sends the servant out to perform a task. The servant, rushing forth, intends to carry out his lord's charge quickly and to the best of his ability, but calamity strikes. The servant, in his eagerness to serve, stumbles into a deep ditch. Injured and unable to escape, he mourns his unexpected circumstance.
Julian writes, "I understood that the servant who stood before [the lord] was shown for Adam ... so as to make it understood how God regards all men and their falling." So the servant represents Adam, who is intended to represent humanity. The great tragedy of the servant-Adam's distress, as Julian saw it, was not the actual fall that had taken place. The servant, due to his falling, can no longer look upon the lord and see that the lord was with him still, aware of the pain he suffered. Jantzen explains:

The lord was very close to him, and full of compassion and consolation, but the servant was unable to turn his face to look at the lord; and instead of drawing hope and consolation... he concentrated on his misery and distress ....

Pelphrey indicates that Julian's interpretation of the Fall contains none of the elements of the Fall as it is traditionally read. The servant-Adam runs with joy and gladness to serve his lord. His enthusiastic desire to serve causes him to fall. His desire to serve is not evil; it is a great good. His actions indicate no wish to disobey the lord. Also lacking is any indication of a moral guilt or any kind of expulsion from the Garden. But he fell, and, because of his falling, he cannot carry out the wishes of his lord. Julian sees the lord to be God. In the lord-God, she could discern no sense of blame. The lordGod looked upon the plight of his servant only with compassion and love.

The servant's inability to look upon his lord distorts reality. The servant, blinded to the nearness of the lord, also cannot perceive the lord's continuing love for him. Equally, the servant no longer recognizes who he is in the sight of the lord. This, in turn, leads to a feeling of alienation and separation on the part of the servant. So, human beings find themselves alienated from their true selves, from other people, from the earth, and finally, most calamitously, from God. The servant's desire to serve, his basic goodness, remains unchanged. He still bears God's image and likeness, and that image and likeness is all good and holy. Because of the injury suffered from the fall, however, the servant can no longer recognize his own goodness. He is unable to see God's love for him, and this interferes with his ability to obey God's commands-but the lord-God knows the servant's intentions and harbors him no ill will. Finally, the lord-God feels a sense of responsibility to reward the servant for the pain suffered in his fall. Julian says the servant, because of the fall, will receive "surpassing honour and endless bliss."

Julian has not yet finished. Now she sees that the servant is not only Adam, but also Jesus:

When Adam fell, God's son fell; because of the true union which was made in heaven, God's son could not be separated from Adam.... God's son fell with Adam into the valley of the womb of the maiden who was the fairest daughter of Adam.

It is for this reason that the servant has no blame. Jesus has been united with fallen humanity. Jesus, in his fall from heaven, fell into this place of sin but did no evil. When the lord-God looks upon the servant, God does not see the servant's blindness and inability to obey. Rather, he beholds the obedience and love of Jesus. Pelphrey explains that "therefore [God] 'judges'...with his 'judgement' of the Son, which is really his love." As Julian expressed it,

For in all this our good Lord showed his own Son and Adam as only one man. The strength and goodness that we have is from Jesus Christ, the weakness and blindness that we have is from Adam, which two were shown in the servant.

Julian's Comprehension of the Fall

Julian's comprehension of the Fall is profoundly psychological. John Sanford, Episcopal priest and Jungian analyst, points out that the Genesis account of the Fall is essentially a story about wholeness: of how humanity, initially contained in a state of wholeness, fell from that original state-but the fall from wholeness had a purpose. Sanford believes that the traditional interpretation of God's reaction to the Fall, surprise and shock at Adam and Eve's deed, misrepresents the facts of the story. He thinks, as did Julian, that the Fall was necessary-sin was necessary-in order for humanity to grow.

He contends that God intended that the Fall take place. God, ofter all, allowed the serpent to be in the garden, knowing it would tempt Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, and that they would give in to the temptation. Spiritual growth, according to Sanford, can take place only in a world in which true moral choice can occur. Adam and Eve, before the Fall, existed in a kind of unconscious condition, unaware of good and evil. Had the Fall not occurred, they would have remained "blissful moral idiots." The Genesis account says that, after eating of the fruit, "then, the eyes of both of them were opened" (Gn 3:7). After eating the fruit, they became conscious of moral choice. Julian wrote that the reward given to humanity for suffering sin will be far greater and glorious than if humanity had never sinned at all. Although a painful process, the reward will be far greater because the choices are made consciously. Sanford writes,
Man's destiny, then, is to undergo his spiritual and psychological evolution; to become what he is truly created to be. Man's potential development lies far beyond what he was in the Garden of Eden.

The theological doctrine that Adam and Eve's Fall in the Garden caused some kind of irreparable breach in the relationship between God and humanity arose in the fourth century. As a doctrine, it saw its fullest explication in the writings of Augustine of Hippo. Before Augustine, the Fall was seen in a different light. Elaine Pagels explains:

That Adam's sin brought suffering and death upon humankind most Christians.. would have taken for granted. But most... Christians would have also agreed that Adam left each of his offspring free to make his or her own choice of good and evil. The story of Adam, most Christians assumed, was intended to warn everyone who heard it not to misuse that divinely given capacity for free choice.

Jesus Christ came, then, not to save humanity from some sort of irreparable moral guilt. In Julian's visions, no original sin exists into which humans are born. Everyone has fallen short of the glory of God, but Julian believed this to be necessary. Sanford states, "Each one of us has had his or her personal fall from Paradise." Everyone falls from Paradise, because in falling it becomes possible to experience the life that allows all humans the chance to be lifted beyond what they could ever have become had Paradise remained humanity's home.

But humans are blinded, and in their falling are unable to recognize not only their Lord but their own true selves. So Jesus falls with all people, to share their pain. He accepts the blame for the sins they commit in their blindness and acts as a reminder and a guide both to whom the Lord is and what humanity has the potential to become. St. Clement of Alexandria, sharing this concept of Jesus and humanity, wrote, "The Logos of God has become a human being so that you might learn from a human being how a human being may become divine." In a similar vein, St. Irenaeus wrote that "God became a human being in order that human beings might become God."
Julian's revelation is both old and new-new, in the sense that it predated modern psychology and now finds confirmation in some psychologists' writings; and old, in that it dates back to the earliest writings of the Christian era. Julian's vision does not portray humanity as broken, vile, and guilty of every evil, while incapable of any good. St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote concerning the soul united to Jesus that
Preeminent among all is the fact that we are free from any necessity, and not in bondage to any power, but have decision in our own power as we please; for virtue is a voluntary thing, subject to no dominion. Whatever is the result of compulsion and force cannot be virtue.

Julian would have agreed.

Freedom in Christ

Humanity remains free in Christ, free from every imposed restriction, free from compulsion and anyone else's will. The wondrous reminder that Jesus brought humanity is that all people are part of the Divine Nature and should rejoice, for they participate in Divine Freedom. In this freedom, people will continue to rise and fall, but in this rising and falling they come to know and comprehend love, mercy, and compassion. God expresses compassion for all people and they, in turn, learn to express compassion for all God's creation and for themselves. As Julian informed us,

And though we may be angry, and the contrariness which is in us be in tribulation, distress and woe, as we fall victims to our blindness and our evil propensities, still we are sure and safe by God's merciful protection, so that we do not perish. But we are not blessedly safe, possessing our endless joy, until we are in peace and in love, that is to say wholly contented with God and with all his works and with all his judgments, and loving and content with ourselves and with our fellow Christians and with everything which God loves, as is pleasing to love. And God's goodness does this in us.

Julian of Norwich, who lived in a time remote and strange to the modern world, has nonetheless become for many modern people a symbol of hope. That hope does exist, that sin and evil can be overcome, is the essence of her message. God remains close to the human community, as close as the pain, suffering, and confusion that all its members experience. Julian, through her visions, demonstrates the concern and closeness of God, pleading with all those who share her faith in God to rest in the assurance that, finally, all shall be well.


"The speed of light is constant… or so Einstein would have us believe. But he was wrong (well – he was right in a way – in a vacuum yes, the speed of light is constant). In 2006 scientists fired a laser into a tube laced with the rare element erbium – before the entire pulse entered the tube, part of it appeared at the other end and raced backward faster than the speed of light. In 1999, Harvard scientists slowed light to a mere 38 mph by shooting it through supercooled matter."

from The List Universe


Thursday, January 28, 2010


"...holiness is the accumulation of many mistakes and inadequacies, numerous eccentricities and imperfections, all shaped, transformed, by God into a new being, a 'living icon.'"

Michael Plekon




Olivier Clement:

In modern Western society, the virtues of seriousness, saving up, work, and reliance on willpower have put out the fires of feasting...We are defined by our reason and power, we have allowed our faculty for celebration to wither away. And there is undoubtedly a hidden link between the decline of the feast and the absence of God in a daily life that has become 'one-dimensional.'

Today we are seeing a revival of the feast. The pioneers of the revolution of May 1968 wished life to be like a feast, and their psychodramas in the Latin Quarter, the very home of a culture closed to anything that transcends the human, were evidence of a kind of liturgical longing...And new mystics are also appearing, whose mysticism is not merely indivual and secret, but danced, shouted, lived together.

But the new revolutionaries wish to transfigure life while spurning the spiritual sources without which there can be no genuine transfiguration. And the new mystics too often celebrate for the sake of celebrating and risk dissolving themeselves in an impersonalism unthinkingly imported from Asia. Both end by making ecstasy the end in itself...

In fact, if Christ is not risen, death will always have the last word, the days following the feast will be days of ashes and loneliness.

But if Christ is risen, Easter is the 'feast of feasts,' and we are henceforth capable of 'giving thanks in all things,' so that in the course of our daily struggle, even in martyrdom, we can be in a state of celebration.

The feast of the Church is closely allied to contemplation. The feast gives to each of us a first experience of the living God. It opens the 'eye of the heart' to his presence and makes us able to see for a moment the icon of the face, the fire at the heart of all things. In the feast any being and any thing is revealed as a miracle, so that, around the sanctified person, the world itself enters into feasting and in the miracle recovers its original transparency...

...[T]he feast in the world and the feast in the Church are rather alike, but there is a difference in order. In the world there is first exaltation, then bitterness; first the intensity of life, then sadness at the taste of death. In the Church there is first bitterness, then death to self, repentance that breaks down our insensitivity; then immense joy and peace, from having been forgiven, loved, and recreated, the joy of thus being all together, so many wondering children.


Freedom/Digging Holes of Nothingness


from Olivier Clement's On Human Being:

It is out of respect for our freedom that God allows evil to exist; it has already been conquered, but secretly, because the Holy Spirit wishes to regenerate us from within, by a free and faithful response, without compulsion...

...[At]the completion of all things...each person, in giving his face to the transfigured universe, will rediscover his flesh; flesh vibrant with all its natural sensitivity, our earthly flesh, but bathed in the life and fullness of God...

...All the complexity of our nature, shaped as it has been by the dramatic events of history, and by the ways we have used and misused our freedom; all the ambiguity, henceforth transfigured, of the "garments of skin" will find a place in the Kingdom; in the being that was created wholly good we have used our freedom to dig holes of nithingness; but we shall discover to our amazement that they have become the wounds in Christ's hands and feet and heart, through which the divine life comes to us and will come to us forever...


St. John of the Ladder on "Secular" Music


"When we hear singing, let us be moved with love towards God; for those who love God are touched with a holy joy, a divine emotion and a tenderness which brings them to tears when they listen to beautiful harmony, whether the songs are profane or spiritual."


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Grace that comes through departed saints


St. John Chrysostom had the warm love and deep respect of the people, and grief over his untimely death lived on in the hearts of Christians. St John's disciple, St Proclus, Patriarch of Constantinople (434-447), during services in the Church of Hagia Sophia, preached a sermon praising St John. He said, "O John, your life was filled with sorrow, but your death was glorious. Your grave is blessed and reward is great, by the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ O graced one, having conquered the bounds of time and place! Love has conquered space, unforgetting memory has annihilated the limits, and place does not hinder the miracles of the saint."

from the OCA website


Sunday, January 24, 2010

"Our commitment to Christ is not necessarily a call to psychological well-being--as understood by the world" --from Fr. Stephen Freeman's blog


"Our commitment to Christ is not necessarily a call to psychological well-being – as understood by the world. Such a healing may or may not be our lot. I have never been hesitant to recommend that someone see a doctor if it seemed clear that they suffered problems that needed medical help. There are certainly many mental conditions that are helped by medication. But medication is not resurrection. It is a band-aid. If you are bleeding that is a useful thing to have.

The greater realization is that we all share the same call in Christ – a call to go from 'glory to glory.' The vision of 'beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord' is not unique to any one Christian. As St. Paul says, 'But we all…' However the Christian beside you, beholding the same glory, may very well do so in the woundedness of his neurosis (or whatever terms we come to use). Our task is not to find ways to 'fix' one another – but to love one another. Such love will make room for whatever woundedness it finds in others – perhaps even coming to behold the glory of God in the face of someone they would otherwise be tempted to fix.

...And for some people, what grace and salvation may do in their lives may never relieve the irritation that others have with them. Salvation is not about making happy parishes or well-adjusted communities. Well-adjusted communities belong the Huxley’s Brave New World. The Church belongs to the Kingdom of God which is a war-zone, defeating sin, death and the devil. Salvation is good, but is often messy and even painful. It is nothing less than taking up the Cross of Christ."

from "Glory to God for All Things"


Thursday, January 21, 2010

"This Liquid and Confused Life"


Let us not only detach ourselves from the liquid and confused life, but have our fast, chant and prayer in knowing that he is present and sees us, knowing clearly, that neither fast, nor chant or prayer can save us by themselves, but only if we have them in front of God. By seeing us the eyes of the Lord sanctify us, as the sun heats all that receive its light. Our works are made in front of God when our mind sees Him clearly. Then we fast, chant and pray because we see Him.

Gregory Palamas


Dionysius the Areopagite on the Smallness of God


Smallness, or rarity, is ascribed to God because He is outside all solidity and distance and penetrates all things without let or hindrance. Indeed, smallness is the elementary cause of all things; for you will never find any part of the world but participates in that quality of smallness. This, then, is the sense in which we must apply this quality to God. It is that which penetrates unhindered unto all things and through all things, energizing in them and reaching to the dividing of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow; and being a discerner of the desires and the thoughts of the heart, or rather of all things, for there is no creature hid before God. This smallness is without quantity or quality; it is irrepressible, infinite, unlimited, and, while comprehending all things, is itself incomprehensible.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010



from David Teems' site:

In the beginning was the Word… John 1:1 NKJV

Some say scripture is literal, that every word is exact in meaning, set in its proper and unquestioned place. Some say metaphorical, allegorical, symbolic, or parabolic. Perhaps the truth lay closer to the seams, the commas, the sheer connective tissue that binds these elements together, so that scripture can be said to be all of these and still remain consistent with itself, and faithful to the truth we seek within its margins. Mystery is the paste that sticks them together, the place where God hides Himself. The lover will understand. He thinks he’s listening to music anyway.

In Christ, where God hides Himself, Amen

May the Gospel in you be so casual, so loving, so alive, so warm and palpable, so easy in you, so much your natural response to life, so evident, so filled with concord, so sweet with otherness, so joyfully fluent in you, that agreement seems to follow you about, happy in your service, so much that it must sing or be silent.


Monday, January 18, 2010


"...there is hope for a tree:

If it is cut down, it will sprout again,

and its new shoots will not fail.

Its roots may grow old in the ground

and its stump die in the soil,

yet at the scent of water it will bud

and put forth shoots like a plant."

Job 14


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Theophan the Recluse on Grace and Free Will


"Theorists are greatly occupied by the question of the relationship between grace and free will. For anyone who has grace within him, this question is resolved by practical experience."


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Fiction--Dystopia--A Deeply Moral and Very Thought-provoking Story


The Slows

by Gail Hareven
May 4, 2009

The news of the decision to close the Preserves was undoubtedly the worst I had ever received. I’d known for months that it was liable to happen, but I’d deluded myself into thinking that I had more time. There had always been controversy about the need for maintaining Preserves (see B. L. Sanders, Z. Goroshovski, and Cohen and Cohen), but from this remote region I was simply unable to keep abreast of all the political ups and downs. Information got through, but to evaluate its importance, to register the emerging trends, without hearing what people were actually saying in the corridors of power was impossible. So I can’t blame myself if the final decision came as a shock.

The axe fell suddenly. At six in the evening, when I got out of the shower, I found the announcement on my computer. It was just four lines long. I stood there, with a towel wrapped around my waist, reading the words that destroyed my future, that tossed away a professional investment of more than fifteen years. I can’t say that I’d never envisioned this possibility when I chose to study the Slows. I can’t say that it hadn’t occurred to me that this might happen. But I believed that I was doing something important for the human race, and, mistakenly, I thought that the authorities felt the same way. After all, they had subsidized my research for years. Eliminating the Preserves at this stage was a loss I could barely conceive of, a loss not only for me and for my future—clearly I couldn’t avoid thinking about myself—but for humanity and its very ability to understand itself. Politicians like to refer to the Slows as being deviant. I won’t argue with that, but as hard as it is, as repulsive and distressing, we have to remember that our forefathers were all deviants of this kind.

I confess that I passed the rest of the evening with a bottle of whiskey. Self-pity is inevitable in situations like this, and there’s no reason to be ashamed of it. The whiskey made it easier for me to get through the first few hours and fall asleep, but it certainly didn’t make it any easier to get up in the morning. As if to spite me, the sky was blue, and the light was too brilliant. As often happens in this season, the revolting smell of yellow flowers went straight to my temples. When I pulled myself out of bed, I discovered that the sugar jar was empty, and I’d have to go to the office for my first cup of coffee. I knew that at some point during the day I would have to start packing up, but first I needed my coffee. I had no choice. With an aching head and a nauseating taste in my mouth, I dragged myself to the office shed. I opened the door and found a Slow woman sitting in my chair.

from the issuecartoon banke-mail thisDespite the security guards’ repeated instructions, I tended to forget to lock doors. Our camp was fenced in, we all knew one another, and the savages entered only during working hours, and then only with permission. How had she sneaked in?

Years of field work had taught me how to cope with all sorts of situations. “Good morning,” I said to her. I didn’t even consider reaching for the button to call the guards. True, there had been occasional attacks in other camps, but, for all sorts of reasons, there had been none in ours to date. Besides, as I always said, the people most likely to be attacked were the policemen and the missionaries, not me, so I had a logical justification for bending the rules a little.

The savage woman didn’t answer me. She leaned over to pick something up from the other side of the desk, and immediately I became afraid. The fear spread rapidly from my legs to my chest, but my brain kept working. So the rumor was true: they had got their hands on a cache of old weapons. To them, perhaps we were all alike after all—policeman or scientist, it didn’t matter much from their point of view. But then the woman turned back to me: she was holding a human larva strapped into a carrier, which she laid on the table.

“You promised you wouldn’t take our babies from us,” she said in the angry, agitated voice so typical of the Slows. As my adrenaline level fell, it was hard for me to steady my legs. The savage woman fixed me with her black eyes and seemed to see this. “You pledged that you wouldn’t take them. There are treaties, and you signed them,” she spat out impatiently. I was always amazed by how fast news reached the Slows. It was clear to anybody who worked with them that they were hiding computers somewhere, and perhaps they also had collaborators on the political level. The nearest settlement of Slows was a half-hour flight away. They weren’t allowed to keep hoverers, and there were no tracks in the region, so to get to our camp she had to have set out the evening before. It seemed that she had known about the decision to close the Preserves even before I did.

“Those treaties were signed many generations ago. Things change,” I said, though I knew that it was silly to get into an argument with one of them.

“My grandmother signed them.”

“Is it your baby?” I asked, making a point of using their term, as I gestured at the human larva on my desk.

“It’s mine.” Luckily, the larva was asleep. Fifteen years of work had more or less inured me, but at that hour of the morning, and in my condition, I knew that my stomach wouldn’t be able to stand the sight of a squirming pinkish creature.

“Do you have others?”

“Maybe.” The female Slows don’t usually give birth to more than three or four offspring. Given the way they are accustomed to raising offspring, even that many is hard work. This savage woman was young, as far as I could judge. She might have concealed another larva somewhere before coming here. There was no way of knowing.

“You can’t break the agreements,” she said, cutting into my thoughts. “No. Listen to me. You’ve violated almost every clause. Every few years you renege on something. When you forced us into the Preserves, you promised us autonomy, and since then you’ve gradually stolen everything from us. From hard experience we’ve learned not to trust you. Like sheep, we kept quiet and let you push us farther and farther into a corner. But now I’m warning you. Just warning you: don’t you dare touch the children!”

Many people will think this strange, but over the years I’ve learned to see a kind of beauty in the Slow women. If you ignore the swollen protrusions on their chests and the general swelling of their bodies, if you ignore their tendency to twist their faces wildly, with some experience you can distinguish between the ugly ones and the pretty ones, and this one would definitely have been considered pretty. If her grandmother had really signed the treaties, as she said, she might have been one of their aristocrats, the descendant of a ruling dynasty. It was evident that she could express herself.

“Will you agree to have some coffee with me?” Field work often involves long hours of conversation. With time I had got used to the physical proximity of the Slows, and sometimes, when their suspicions subsided—when they accepted that I wasn’t a missionary in disguise—they told me important things. The new decree had put an end to my research, but I might still be able to write something about the reaction of the savages to the development. Attentiveness had become a habit with me, and, besides, I was not yet capable of packing up the office.

“Coffee,” I repeated. “Can I make some for you?” Since she didn’t answer and just stared at me with a blurred face, I said, “You’ve certainly come a long way. It wouldn’t hurt me to have a cup, either. Wait a minute, and I’ll make some for both of us.” The Slows had grown used to harsh treatment, and when they encountered one of us who treated them courteously they tended to get flustered. Indeed, this dark-eyed woman seemed confused, and she kept her mouth shut while I operated the beverage machine.

No doubt the savages were a riddle that science had not yet managed to solve, and, the way things seemed now, it never would be solved. According to the laws of nature, every species should seek to multiply and expand, but for some reason this one appeared to aspire to wipe itself out. Actually, not only itself but also the whole human race. Slowness was an ideology, but not only an ideology. As strange as it sounds, it was a culture, a culture similar to that of our forefathers. People don’t know, or perhaps they forget, that when the technique for Accelerated Offspring Growth (A.O.G.) was developed it wasn’t immediately put to use. Until the first colonies were established on the planets, the U.N. Charter prohibited A.O.G. It’s not pleasant to think about it now, but the famous Miller, German, and Yaddo were subjected to quite a bit of condemnation for their early work on the technique, all of it on ethical grounds. In a society that had not yet conquered space, A.O.G. was viewed as a catastrophe that, within ten years, was liable to cause a population explosion on Earth, which would exterminate life through hunger and disease. The morality of the Slows had an undeniably rational basis, under those conditions. We may be revolted by the thought, but the fact is that Miller, German, and Yaddo had all spent the first years of their lives as human larvae, not unlike the one that was now lying on my desk; they, too, had been slowly reared by savage females, just like the one who was waiting beside me for her coffee.

“We have to talk,” she said as I placed the cup on the desk and glanced for just a split second at the creature sleeping in the carrier. “There’s no reason for you to use power. There’s no point, because you have all the power anyway. We’re no threat to you.”

I knew something that she didn’t know, because it was a secret that hadn’t been publicized on the networks: in one of the colonies on Gamma, far from the Preserves, there had been an outbreak of Slowness. This was probably why the decision had been made to close all the Preserves at once—to eliminate any possibility of the infection spreading.

“It’s possible to compromise on all sorts of clauses,” the savage woman said, “so why not compromise with us? We’ll die out on our own in a few generations anyway. There are less than ten thousand of us left.”

The problem isn’t one of numbers, I thought, but I didn’t say it to her. The problem is that in many people’s eyes you are not a remnant but a gangrene that could spread and rot the entire body of humankind. Even I, with my interest in your way of life, can’t say for certain that the politicians are wrong about this.

“We’ve thought of all kinds of possibilities,” she said. “Since we have no choice, we’ll agree to let your missionaries into our settlements. We’ll guarantee their safety and give them complete freedom to talk to whomever they wish. We’ll agree that one parent’s consent is enough in order for a baby to be surrendered for accelerated growth, and we’ll make sure that parents obey that rule. What else do you want? What else can you demand? In the end, without wasting any more energy on us, you’ll get everything you want anyway.”

“Not this one,” I interjected, pointing at her larva. A tremor twisted her face and made it ugly. I drank the coffee and noticed that the larva had opened its eyes. The coffee was sour. The machine was apparently not working properly again. But there was no point in calling in a serviceman when I had only a few more days to spend here.

“Don’t take them away from us,” she whispered, and her voice shook. “I need at least a few years. You must allow us that. Why do you hate us so?”

The ardent possessiveness that savage parents—especially the mothers—display toward their offspring is the key to understanding the Slows’ culture. It’s clear that they don’t love their offspring the way we love ours. They make do with so few, and, at the rate they rear them, at best they get to know only their children’s children. Whereas even I—who have spent years away from civilization in barren camps like this one—have managed to produce seventeen sons and daughters and a lineage of at least forty generations. Still, they talk constantly about their love for their offspring, and its glory.

“Hate?” I said to her. “Hate is a strong word.”

The human larva turned its head and gaze toward the savage woman. Her eyes clung to it, and her chin quivered. She had pretty eyes. She had put on black and green makeup in my honor. A week or two of body formation would have made a good-looking woman of her, in anyone’s opinion. She trusted me, apparently, knowing who I was, having heard about me or made inquiries, and perhaps she hoped that, as a researcher, I would agree to represent her side. She had put herself in jeopardy by sneaking into my office in this way. Someone else in my place might have panicked, and an unnecessary accident might have taken place. Through her grimaces you could see a face that wasn’t at all stupid. She had certainly taken my well-known curiosity into account, and my composure. She knew that all I had to do was reach out and press a button, and they would come, chase her away, and take the larva from her. I wasn’t about to do that, but sooner or later, no matter where she hid, it would be taken.

In all my years of work, I’d refrained from saying anything that would identify me with the missionaries, but now, seeing the tremble of her chin, I heard their words of consolation coming from my mouth. So be it. In any event, my work had come to an end.

“I know what you think, what they’ve told you. Lots of misunderstandings and rumors circulate in the Preserves. Listen to me, I promise you that no harm will come to the children.”

“Do you mean that you won’t take them?” the savage princess asked in a soft, strange voice. “That the decision has been revoked?”

“Decisions aren’t my field. People like me don’t make policy. What I want to explain to you is another matter. Maybe you think that accelerated growth will shorten this offspring’s life. Believe me, woman, that’s a mistake. Whoever told you that was either wrong or lying. Our life span is no shorter than yours. Actually, the opposite is true: progress gives us a longer life. If your son is ultimately given over to A.O.G., he won’t lose even a single day. On the contrary, he can enjoy all the years before him as an independent adult. You’ll see your son’s children, and your descendants will inherit the planets.”

The savage woman twisted her jaw to the side. “You think we’re stupid.”

The Slows have manners of their own. You can’t expect them to behave like us. Still, in her present situation I would have expected her to make an effort. But the very fact that she wasn’t making an effort held my interest. Perhaps this was an opportunity for me to hear something new. Usually they were so cautious when speaking to us, and behaved evasively even with me.

But just at that moment the larva started to bleat, and the savage woman instantly lost her impertinence.

“You may do it,” I said to her. “Pick it up. I’ve been in the Preserves for years, and I’ve seen such things.”

Without looking at me, she freed the larva from the carrier and held it to her chest. I observed six of my offspring during the process of accelerated growth, and the distress of the first weeks, before they reached decent maturity, comes back to me every time I’m forced to observe a human larva up close. There are times in a person’s life that are meant to be private, and the state of infancy is certainly the most pronounced of these. The larva was silent for a moment, then it started to bleat again.

“How old is it?”

“Eleven weeks.” The most horrifying human larvae are the big ones, which already look like people but lack the stamp of humanity. At least this one was similar in dimensions to our offspring. Nearly three months old. He could have been a productive adult already. Footsteps could be heard outside, and the sound of two people talking. The savage woman’s eyes widened. She put her hand first to her mouth and then to the larva’s open mouth.

“Don’t worry. They won’t come in here. They know that I hold interviews.” The touch of the woman’s hand on the creature’s lips increased its discomfort, and now it raised its voice, screeching until its wrinkled face turned almost purple. Someone was liable to enter after all. The savage woman stuck a finger into the larva’s mouth, but it turned its head away and looked for something else.

“Don’t you feel sorry for it?” I asked, but she seemed not to hear me, cradling the larva in her arms and also turning her head here and there with an unfocussed look in her eyes.

Human beings as we know them are excited by every development in their offspring, because what purpose is there for the hard labor of parenthood if not to send forth an independent, productive adult who can satisfy his own needs? But the Slows appeared to enjoy the helplessness of their larvae—the lack of humanity, the deplorable fervor of the little creatures, their muteness, their mindless appetites, their selfishness, their ignorance, their inability to act. It seemed that the most disgusting of traits were what inspired the most love in savage parents.

The screeches stunned me. I was so riveted by the sight of that wriggling caterpillar that I almost missed the moment when the woman started talking again. “If we knew how much time was left for us . . .” So she didn’t know everything: the invasion would start that day; it might already have begun. “If we knew that we had another year or two, if you would only tell us how much time there is, people could prepare themselves.” Had she come as a spy? If they greeted the police with violence, they’d only bring disaster down upon themselves. A few spontaneous uprisings were to be expected. After all, theirs was a volatile culture. But an organized attack would be a kind of stupidity that was hard to fathom.

“I’m asking for so little,” the savage woman said. “Just this—to know how much time remains for us. Listen to me. I know you’re different from them. You’re not a missionary. You know us. You’re merciful, not like them. I feel it. You could have called the guards when you saw me here, but you didn’t do it. Maybe you once also had a baby you loved.”

The larva arched its body backward, and the woman unconsciously fingered the opening of her shirt. Suddenly I knew what she wanted to do, and with that thought the sourness of the coffee rose in my throat. To give it her milk bulges—that’s what she wanted, that’s why she was plucking at her shirt. When I was a student, I was forced to watch a film about ancient nutrition customs. It was for a course restricted to advanced students, but none of us were advanced enough to view that sight without a sharp feeling of nausea. From close up we watched the ravenous face of the larva and the swollen organ thrust into its wet mouth. It was a rather large larva, at least thirteen pounds, and the depraved sucking noises that it emitted mingled with the female’s bestial murmur. White liquid dripped down its chin, and the woman tickled its lips with her gland, holding the organ shamelessly between finger and lustful thumb. I still remember the strong protest voiced by three women students, which was understandable.

“If you’ll just answer me that,” the savage woman said, and her voice shook with feeling. “Just that.”

The emotionality of the Slows had the strange characteristic of clinging to me like a stain. As sometimes happened after a few hours of conversation with one of them, I began to feel polluted. “The good of the children is the only thing that we consider,” I said finally. “Do you want a cup of water? I see that you haven’t touched your coffee.”

When I got up and went back to the machine, the woman bent her body over the larva, almost concealing it under a black curtain of hair. The cold water refreshed my mouth, removed the traces of yesterday’s drink and the bitterness of the coffee, dislodged the clinging feeling. I drank two cups. It is sometimes possible to identify rational thought among the Slows, but their emotional exaggeration dilutes it. Though I had hoped to calm the savage woman, at that moment it was clear that there was no point in trying.

When I returned to the desk with a cup of water for her, I saw that she was rocking slowly on the chair, moving the larva rhythmically back and forth. It was tired from so much screeching, and its voice was growing weaker. She was so deeply immersed in her drugged movement that she didn’t notice me. I watched the two tired bodies moving together, and knew that soon, very soon, there would be an end to their suffering. The larva would become a man in control of his body, and she would accept it and smile. With clarity I saw that image, and, as though to transmit it to her, I reached out and placed my hand on her shoulder. All at once, like an animal, the woman recoiled, raised her head, and bared her teeth. The sudden movement jolted my body backward, and for a long moment we were frozen, twisted in mid-movement, looking into each other’s face.

“Don’t touch me!” she spat out, as though at an enemy. Her face was transparent, and I could read everything in it, all her distorted thoughts. She believed that what I wanted was to hold her soft body, to curl my fingers and grasp her flesh, to press it against mine and rub, blind and hopeless, against her milk glands. Her eyes, like snakes, penetrated my thoughts and fed them her abominable vision, the visions of a lower animal. For nine years I had been in the Preserves, and never had I experienced such a defilement.

“No one’s touching you,” I pronounced with difficulty, turning toward the door and putting my hand out to press the button. By the time the alarm went off, and the sound of the larva’s weeping reached me, I was already in the light—in the bright, bright light outside. ♦

(Translated, from the Hebrew, by Yaacov Jeffrey Green.)


Read more:


Monday, January 11, 2010

“I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let us not fall into the hand of man.”


"It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Heb. 10:31)

Where shall we sinners flee from Thee who art in all creation?
In heaven Thou dwellest!
In hell Thou didst trample on death!
In the depth of the sea?
Even there is Thy hand, O Master!
To Thee we flee, and falling before Thee, we pray:
'O Thou who didst rise from the dead, have mercy on us!'"

from Visions of Jesus by Phillip H. Wiebe--excerpt from Maureen Hason's story:

"Maureen said that ...from God there was no escape. Her words were: "There was no reasoning, and He was everywhere. And I remember when He gave me the instruction, I turned, and He was there. And I kept turning, and He was everywhere. It was like He was air. He just enveloped the whole room. It wasn't a human figure, and the thought came to me, 'I can't escape God.'"

"The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide." Rev. 20:11

The hands of God are nail-pierced...and we are never NOT falling into them...


How Do You Visualize Time?



Saturday, January 9, 2010

I Have Trouble With This Assertion! Comments?


"Breakdowns in human relationships, heresy, and schism do not really spring from different beliefs and opinions...[but] from pride, arrogance, or other sins; from our failure to accept, from our distrust, intolerance, and self-righteousness."

Emilianos Timiadis


Friday, January 8, 2010


"You could read Kant by yourself, if you wanted to; but you must share a joke with someone else."

Robert Louis Stevenson


St. Nikolai Velimirovich on Faith/Works


Prayers by the Lake LXXXIII

People carry on foolish conversations as soon as they move away from Your presence, my Wisdom. Those without faith speak about works, and those without works speak about faith.

Each disparages what he does not have, and what he does have he proclaims throughout the marketplace.

While You, O Lord, are filling my home with Your life-creating breath, I always forget to ask which is more important -- faith or works? As soon as I offend You and feel abandoned by You, I angrily enter into people's discussions, and support one side or the other.

For without You I am like a weather vane on a chimney that rattles in the direction of the wind. When the wind of faith rises in my soul, I stand with those who have abandoned works and championed faith; when the wind of activity rises in my soul, I support the side of those who have abandoned faith and championed works.

But in Your all-calming presence there is no wind, no swaying, no "doing things." I neither feel faith nor see works; instead I feel and see only You, the living God. In truth, You are not my faith but my vision. And You are not my doing, but I am Your doing. And again I say: You are not my faith but I am Your faith, and Your trust.

And so I teach those around me who are carrying on the debate: whoever has true faith in the Living God prefers to remain silent. And whoever performs a true work of God, prefers to remain silent. But whoever shuts up his faith with his mind, gladly squabbles about faith. And whoever does his own work and not God's gladly boasts of his works.

Deep is the tranquility of the soul in a man of faith, deeper than the tranquility at the bottom of the sea. For God's Wisdom is born and resides in deep tranquility.

Deep is the tranquility in the tongue of one who does God's work, deeper than the tranquility of the iron in the heart of a mountain. For whoever does the work of another listens to instructions and carries them out, moreover he listens, and has no time to speak.

I speak believing in works: Is not my prayer a working and reworking of my very self? Is not the whole world within me, from beginning to end, together with all the world's poverty and impurity? Truly I am not without works, when I sweat and weep in prayer, but am immersed in the weighty task of helping the poor in my soul -- healing the sick and casting out the unclean spirits from my soul.

I speak believing in faith: Do I not awaken faith in my neighbors through the good works that I do?

Is not my work in the world the song of my faith, the psalm of one saved among the unsaved? Who would stop the song in the throat of a brimming soul? Who would stop a brimming spring from flowing? Would the nymphs who guard the spring quarrel with the nymphs in the spring's stream over which water is more beneficial? Truly, if there were no spring, there would be no stream.

O my Lord, do not go far away from me, lest my soul succumb to meaningless quarrels. Silence in Your presence expands my soul; discussions in Your absence shrink her and expend her to the thinness of a boon of flax.

I listened last time to the people squabbling, and You waved your hands and went far away. Indeed, those who truly have faith do not squabble with those who are true doers of Your work. This is the quarrel of servants with little faith and much ill will. Those who are of little faith squabble with the errand boys of the world. They are a dried-up spring quarrelling with a dried-out stream.

While they were full, they both used to sing a true song of joy, and joyfully used to hail each other.

But this is a malicious believer quarrelling with a malicious doer. What do I have in common with them? What ties me to them except compassion, which flows forth from Your radiance?

Fill the house of my soul, O Life-Creating Spirit, so that I may become blind and not see angry squabbling people, and so that I may be deaf to their foolish discussion.

They have slipped away from You, my Joy, therefore they engage in foolish discussions.

I bow down and beseech You, tie my soul across the thousands of sunbeams to You, lest she slip away from You, and plunge into the cold abyss.


1. A fierce debate arose in Western Christendom at the time of the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century regarding faith vs. works and their relative role in the justification and salvation of man. Martin Luther held that justification (the act whereby God, in virtue of the Sacrifice of Christ, acquits a man of punishment due to his sins and in His mercy treats him as though he were righteous) was granted to men in response to the disposition of faith alone and that it brought with it the imputation to the sinner of the merits of Christ. This was in contradistinction to the emphasis by the Roman catholic Church on the role of one's own good works and personal sanctification in his justification and salvation by God. Bishop Nikolai, like the Orthodox Church in general, regards this debate between Catholicism and Protestantism as nugatory hair-splitting although he would agree with the apostle James that "faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:18) and that faith is evidenced by works, and works by faith (cf. James 2:14-26).


Zero-Gravity Wave



Wave freezes in mid-air



Thursday, January 7, 2010

Blessing the Falls

Yesterday a bunch of us from church went to bless a waterfall, led by our intrepid priest.

What a trek!

One of the best parts was listening to the sounds of the ice breaking up--booming and resonant. Somebody somewhere must have created a musical recording comprised of ice sounds, but I couldn't find what I'm looking for by googling it. Where could it be?

Anyway, someone later asked me if the waterfall was in any way changed or improved by our having blessed it, or if it was we who were changed and improved.

I too wondered during the ceremony--is this water now going to be somehow different now in any quantifiable sense? If so, how?

After having pondered the question for a while, it now seems to me to be limited by linearity, a kind of two-dimensional cause-effect reductionism wholly unworthy of the (demonstrable, as in quantum physics) strangeness of reality.

We are called to be priests of all creation. Yes, something is changed--"Behold, I make all things new!"--but in a sense, it was always changed, from before eternity (Christ as the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world).

O.k., would this then necessitate a circular as opposed to a linear representation?

Oh, how I would love a map, chart, or graph!

But that doesn't seem quite right, either.

It strikes me that to demand a breakdown of how this blessing, this priesthood, "works" is to take a step backward out of a multi-dimensional universe of participatory, transformative servanthood/contagious glory into a kind of mechanistic universe.

Anyway, I do love how the changes in the ice were so unpredictable--sometimes dramatic and crashing, even violent, sometimes gentle and melting/trickling.

And likewise, when the ice breaks up in our hearts, I think that the process is just as unpredictable (to us, not to the Holy Spirit). So when I see someone behaving in an uncharacteristic way, maybe I will have the grace to attribute that behavior to the breaking-up of her or his internal ice, and thus honor the ongoing mystery of the person's life.


Seven Percent

** I learned that the people alive now upon the earth represent seven percent of the total population of all who have ever lived.


More of what we sang


The Lord, incarnate of the Virgin,
having clothed material flesh with the immaterial fire of His divinity,
wraps Himself in the waters of Jordan,
for He has been glorified!

Christ was begotten without change from God the Father,
and took flesh without defilement from the Virgin;
and as the Forerunner teaches,
it is not possible to loose the latchet of His shoes:
the bond that joins the Word to our nature.
He is the One who delivers the earth-born from error.






“How can the Sun be cleansed,” the preacher cried aloud,
“since it is by nature bright?
How can I wash You in the waters,
You, the Radiance of the glory,
the express Image of the eternal Father?
And how can I who am but grass touch the fire of Your divinity?
For You are Christ, the Wisdom and the Power of God.”

When Moses came upon You he displayed the God-inspired reverence
that he felt;
realizing that it was You Who spoke from the Bush
he immediately turned away his gaze.
How then can I look openly upon You?
How can I lay my hand on You?
For You are Christ, the Wisdom and the Power of God.

Endowed with a rational soul
and honored with the power of reason,
I yet respect the things which have no soul.
For if I baptize You, they will be my accusers:
the mountain that smoked with fire,
the sea that fled on either side,
and this very Jordan that turned back.
For You are Christ, the Wisdom and the Power of God.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

"Not Yours, But You"


HOMILY by St. Nicholai Velimirovic

About how man is most dear to God and God to man

"For I want not what is yours, but you" (I Corinthians 12:14).

With these words, which could have only been spoken by the fiery apostolic love toward one's neighbor, is expressed the essence of the relationship of the Christian toward God and God toward the Christian. The love of God could very well say: "You, O Christian, fast for My sake; for My sake you distribute alms; for My sake you lift up heartfelt prayers; for My sake you build churches; for My sake you offer sacrifices and you perform many other good deeds. All of this is good, and all of this is pleasing to Me, but you are more precious to Me than all of this. In the end, I seek nothing of all of this rather, I seek you, only you."

The love of a Christian could very well say:

"O Lord, You gave me health and that is good. You turn on the light; You permit the rain to fall; You refresh the air by Your thunder and that is good. You bestow wealth, wisdom, many years, offspring and many other good things which You bountifully place on the table of this life. All of this is good and overly-good. I receive all of this with gratitude. But, in the ultimate end, that is only the hem of Your garment. Ultimately, I do not seek anything of that but You, O Lord, You alone I seek."

O my brethren, that is not God which is seen with the physical eyes, neither is that man which is seen with the physical eyes. That which is seen in the whole of nature is only something of God; and that which is seen in the physical garment is only something of man. Brethren, God is Love which heaven lowers to earth; Brethren, man is love which raises earth to heaven.

O Lord, Lover of mankind, Creator and Almighty, take up Your abode more and even more in us with Your Life-giving Spirit that we may live; that we may be alive in Your kingdom without death.

To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.


Monday, January 4, 2010



"God and the created spirits, and the souls of the departed--as well as those of the living--are sentient beings; and thought is rapid and in some manner omnipresent. Think of them with your whole heart, and they will be present with you. God will surely be with you always, and the others, by the gift and power of God, will also be with you."

St. John of Kronstadt

Is This True? Yikes.


"Let no one think that he will be cured of his illness in the other world. It is this world that is the hospital and place for healing; in the next world there is no hospital; there is either a palace or a prison."

St. Nikolai Velimirovic

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Terrific Reading!



It's Not "Back to 'Normal'" or Post-Christmas Slump/Collapse


The feast of Christ’s birth has passed;
it shone more brightly than the sun.
The day of his Epiphany is coming;
that day shall be even more radiant.
There the shepherds gave glory with the angels,
worshipping God made man.
Here John’s right hand will touch the Master
as he cries out in fear:
“Sanctify both me and the waters,
O Only Merciful One!”

From the Matins of January 2nd (Prefestive Days of Epiphany)


Saturday, January 2, 2010

Kind of Against My Theology, But It Happened Nonetheless


Recently, my priest and I were talking, and he remarked (regarding my tendency to make everything far more difficult and convoluted than it really is) that according to the writings of someone named (I think) Elder Joseph, the Lord doesn't really ask very much of us.

So I pondered that for a few days.

The thought kept coming to mind that God just wants us to give up our heavy fog-wrapping of delusion/illusion.

Then on the third morning after tha conversation, I felt in internal nudge toward a book that had arrived in the mail a few weeks before but that I had scarcely opened, consigning it to the shelf for when I had more time: PRAYERS BY THE LAKE by St. Nicolai Velemirovich.

I felt that I was supposed to make the sign of the cross and open the book because God had something to say to me in it.

I felt that I was supposed to open it near but not at the beginning.

I feel a little weird when this kind of thing happens to me, because in many respects, it's against my theology.

But I did it anyway, and this was what it opened directly to, below--I'd never seen it before:

"You do not ask much of me, my Love. Indeed, people ask more.

I am wrapped in a thick wrapping of nonexistence that covers the eyes of my soul. You only ask my soul to take off her misty wrapping and open her eyes to You, my might and my truth. People ask my soul to wrap herself more and more thickly with heavier and heavier wrappings.

O help me, help me! Help my soul to attain freedom and lightness, to attain lightness and aerial wings, to attain aerial wings and fiery wheels.

Stories are long, too long; the moral is short - one word. Stories spill over into stories, the way the smooth face of my lake spills over from color to color. Where does the colorful overflowing of the water under the sun end, and where does the overflowing of stories into stories end?

Stories are long, too long; the moral is short-one word. You are that word, O Word of God. You are the moral of all stories.

What the stars write across heaven, the grass whispers on earth. What the water gurgles in the sea, fire rumbles beneath the sea. What an angel says with his eyes, the imam shouts from his minaret. What the past has said and fled, the present is saying and fleeing.

There is one essence for all things; there is one moral for all stories. Things are tales of heaven. You are the meaning of all tales. Stories are Your length and breadth. You are the brevity of all stories. You are a nugget of gold in a knoll of stone.

When I say Your name, I have said everything and more than everything:

O my Love, have mercy on me!

O my Might and Truth, have mercy on me!"


About Rumi


Comments by Carol Zaleski from interview:

"Every culture and every generation has its great prayer poets. One aspect of our pluralistic experience right now is that we have unprecedented access to the great prayer poets of many traditions. You just walk to your corner bookstore or go online, and you can get the greatest prayer poems of all time from many traditions.

Right now, the prayer poems, you might call them, of Rumi, for example, are extremely popular. They embody some of the ecstatic quality of Rumi's Islamic mysticism -- Sufism. They are the verbal counterpart to the experience of the whirling dervishes, who enact the movements of the planets and the orbiting of the soul around the soul's beloved. Rumi captures that same experience in words, in prayers, in sounds that are actually quite difficult to translate well.

Many of the popular translations of Rumi's poetry are geared to a contemporary sensibility, and they don't give us Rumi himself; instead, they represent a dialogue between contemporary Western seekers and this great Islamic, mystical tradition. They're being translated into a contemporary idiom, so that what people take away from reading Rumi's poetry today is a free spirit that is ecstatic, intoxicated with love of the divine and a quest of the divine, a never-ending pilgrimage of love. That idea comes across in contemporary translations of Rumi's poetry. [They] evoke a sense of a seeker who is inflamed with love of the divine and is searching for the beloved in every aspect of life. That's an idea that appeals to people today, because many people do feel they are seeking and that they haven't arrived. They feel this great longing for communion with the divine and for ecstasy and freedom from all boundaries.

What many of the contemporary translations of Rumi don't capture so well is the original context of Rumi's Sufism, the extent to which it is embedded in orthodox Islamic thought and ascetic discipline, aspects of which are extremely demanding and wouldn't have great appeal to contemporary sensibility. We do tend to pick and choose, and we have our fads and fancies in prayer, just as in other aspects of culture. Very often, translation of works from other times and places is a way of making material available to us in a guise that is palatable. It isn't always the recreation of those other worlds.

Rumi is the best-selling poet in the United States today, which tells us a great deal about the extent to which poetry and religious longing and religious quest are linked in our contemporary experience.

It also raises questions as to the authenticity of the transmission of the prayer poetry and religious ideals of a figure from so long ago, from a tradition which may not be shared by most of the people who are buying his books. It raises some very interesting questions about that.

I think we're missing something when we read Rumi as a fantastic new Beat poet. He's not Gregory Corso; he's a teacher within orthodox Islam. To understand something of the tremendous sense of longing and the experience of annihilation in the presence of the Beloved, you would really have to learn and immerse yourself in the Islamic tradition. While mysticism is only one strand of Islamic thought, it is deeply rooted in the sense of the absolute majesty, the overpowering reality of God. My littleness in the face of that God is a strong affirmation of the whole Islamic tradition. Rumi's mysticism comes out of that tradition, and isn't just a free-floating love-mysticism, which is the way I think we are sometimes receiving him today."