Dust, dust, dust. Everything, including me is covered in dust. I opened my luggage, what little I was permitted to bring, and it was filled with this dusty sand! How did it get into everything?
There is no predicting which way the wind will blow so just as sure as I construct a barrier from the dust at one angle the wind changes and everything gets a new coast of dust.
But, not just everything but me as well. It is in my nostrils and throat and eyes and ears. I am covered in dust.
I wash it off my skin and wash it out of my eyes and blow my nose and dig out my ears. The feeling of being dirty, blinded, choked, and deaf is relieved. But, it is temporary. There is no preventing it from covering and penetrating me again.
The dust actually has a voice. I can hear it pelting against everything it hits, seeking some place of entry, some way to adhere itself. It almost has a personality to go with the sound of its voice.
Covered in dust I am and no matter how clean I manage to make myself, back to a state of “covered in dust,” it seems, I shall return.
Is this my lot? Dusty forever? Must I become a lump of dust? Is this all this land offers me, dust? Surely not. Is there no deliverance from this great and penetrating cloud of dust.
Who and what will deliver me from this dust forever?! Perhaps nothing and no one. Perhaps dust and deadly heat are all this land has to offer.
Whose idea was this trip anyway. Did I choose it or was I hoodwinked? Certainly not what I thought. Perhaps I should have stayed where I was and not trusted the guy whose leading this little experiment in futility. At least it was cooler there and there was no dust.
Only a day into our new environs and already I am affected.
The geography of this land is uncomfortable. In contrast to the green pastureland, forest, dotted with ponds and brooks, this land is mountainous, rocky and sandy, with dried up wadis. The vegetation is the scraggly tree and low and scrubby bushes. Water is scarce – the well and oases are few and far between.
Though I am fully clothed, I feel “exposed” and “at risk.” Something in me seeks a hiding place. What is it I seek to hide from – the danger or just the opposite or both?
The only shade is beneath the overhang of a cliff or in the shadow of a rock outcropping or cleft of the rock or cave. There are plenty of hiding places for bandits, snakes, and scorpions but little or none for me to find even the smallest bit of shade let alone a hiding place.
 And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.  Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, `You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?”  And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden;  but God said, `You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”  But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate.  Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.  And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.  But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”  And he said, “I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
 O LORD, thou hast searched me and known me!
 Thou knowest when I sit down and when I rise up;
thou discernest my thoughts from afar.
 Thou searchest out my path and my lying down,
and art acquainted with all my ways.
 Even before a word is on my tongue,
lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.
 Thou dost beset me behind and before,
and layest thy hand upon me.
 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high, I cannot attain it.
 Whither shall I go from thy Spirit?
Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
 If I ascend to heaven, thou art there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!
 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
 even there thy hand shall lead me,
and thy right hand shall hold me.
 If I say, “Let only darkness cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
 even the darkness is not dark to thee,
the night is bright as the day;
for darkness is as light with thee.
 For thou didst form my inward parts,
thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb.
 I praise thee, for thou art fearful and wonderful.
Wonderful are thy works!
Thou knowest me right well;
 my frame was not hidden from thee,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.
 Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance;
in thy book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
 How precious to me are thy thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
When I awake, I am still with thee.
 O that thou wouldst slay the wicked, O God,
and that men of blood would depart from me,
 men who maliciously defy thee,
who lift themselves up against thee for evil!
 Do I not hate them that hate thee, O LORD?
And do I not loathe them that rise up against thee?
 I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies.
 Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
 And see if there be any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
“Whoever I may be, Lord, I lie exposed to your scrutiny”
Let me know you, O you who know me; then shall I know even as I am known. You are the strength of my soul; make your way in and shape it to yourself, that it may be yours to have and to hold, free from stain or wrinkle. I speak because this is my hope, and whenever my joy springs from that hope it is joy well founded. As for the rest of this life’s experiences, the more tears are shed over them the less they are worth weeping over, and the more truly worth lamenting the less do we bewail them while mired in them. You love the truth because anyone who “does truth” comes to the light. Truth it is that I want to do, in my heart by confession in your presence, and with my pen before many witnesses.
But the abyss of the human conscience lies naked to your eyes, O Lord, so would anything be secret even if I were unwilling to confess to you? I would be hiding you from myself, but not myself from you. But now that my groans bear witness that I find no pleasure in myself, you shed light upon me and give me joy, you offer yourself, lovable and longed for, that I may thrust myself away in disgust and choose you, and be pleasing no more either to you or to myself except in what I have from you.
To you, then, Lord, I lie exposed, exactly as I am. I have spoken of what I hope to gain by confessing to you. My confession to you is made not with words of tongue and voice, but with the words of my soul and the clamour of my thought, to which your ear is attuned; for when I am bad, confession to you is simply disgust with myself, but when I am good, confession to you consists in not attributing my goodness to myself, because though you, Lord, bless the person who is just, it is only because you have first made him just when he was sinful. This is why, O Lord, my confession in your presence is silent, yet not altogether silent: there is no noise to it, but it shouts by love.
For it is you, Lord, who judge me. No-one knows what he himself is made of, except his own spirit within him, yet there is still some part of him which remains hidden even from his own spirit; but you, Lord, know everything about a human being because you have made him. And though in your sight I may despise myself and reckon myself dust and ashes, I know something about you which I do not know about myself.
It is true that we now see only a tantalising reflection in a mirror, and so it is that while I am on pilgrimage far from you I am more present to myself than to you; yet I do know that you cannot be defiled in any way whatever, whereas I do not know which temptations I may have the strength to resist, and to which ones I shall succumb. Our hope is that, because you are trustworthy, you do not allow us to be tempted more fiercely than we can bear, but along with the temptation you ordain the outcome of it, so that we can endure.
Let me, then, confess what I know about myself, and confess too what I do not know, because what I know of myself I know only because you shed light on me, and what I do not know I shall remain ignorant about until my darkness becomes like bright noon before your face. Excerpted from The Confessions of St Augustine, Book X, Section 1-5.
P.S. Did I mention how HOT it is? Man is it hot!! The sun seems merciless! A person could die here just from the heat!! How inconvenient and inhospitable to my way of being… Where can I hide from the scorching of the sun at noonday?
As we walked along today, we hiked over a rise. On the other side I saw what appeared to be a border crossing. (I had heard rumors we were approaching such a location from others with whom we have visited over the last several weeks. Now that I think of it, the flora and fauna and dinner menu have been changing gradually. Why wasn’t I attentive to that before? Too busy doing other things I guess.
Anyway, as we crossed the border from Theophany to Lent, our pilgrimage leader, a strange fellow (not vague or impersonal but hard to “figure out” from one moment to the next), indicated we were leaving the pasturelands. He indicated that there was only one road that led forward and it required us to spend a certain number of weeks in the desert. The weather, diet, schedule, indigenous population, etc. would be markedly different from those we had encountered thus far. Not far from the border crossing we saw a sign along the side of the path. It said, “Welcome to Lent! Abandon all hopelessness, fear, and disbelief!!”
We stopped at a roadside kiosk for a rest. There was a shrine. What follows is my transcription of the text and a sketch of the picture.
“St. Simeon of Emessa – Fool for Christ
Simeon was Syrian by origin. Born in Edessa, in the 7th century, he lived unmarried with his old mother. With his fellow ascetic friend John, at the age of 30 years, Symeon took monastic vows in the monastery of Abba Gerasimus. After 29 years in the desert getting close to God, the holy Symeon moved to Emessa. The saint asked God to permit him to serve people in such a way that they would not acknowledge him.
St Simeon chose for himself the difficult task of foolishness for Christ. Having come to the city of Emessa, he stayed there and passed himself off as a simpleton, behaving strangely, for which he was subjected to insults, abuse and beatings. In spite of this, he accomplished many good deeds. He cast out demons, healed the sick, delivered people from immanent death, brought the unbelieving to faith, and sinners to repentance. All these things he did under the guise of foolishness, and he never received praise or thanks from people.
By feigning madness he drew attention away from himself and prophetically preached Christ. As a first example of this kind of behavior, he entered Emesa dragging a dead dog behind him tied to his belt. He thereby showed to those who would receive it the truth that we all have death clinging to us, and often without noticing its stench.
Lent is all about identifying the “dead dogs” tied to our belts so that we might undo them, cast them aside and embrace Christ. During Lent, the Holy Spirit, through the instrumentation of the disciplines of the season, raises issues that might be reassuring, painful, even offensive to us, and seemingly impossible for us endure. Fortunately, the Holy Comforter also provides the grace not to endure but to persevere in hope, courage, and confidence.”
As I sit here on the desert sand beside the fireside in the cold star-studded night, reflecting on St. Simeon I wonder, “What’s my ‘dead dog’?!”
I wonder if that is what it means in Hebrews when it says, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely…” The weight of sin = the dead dog. Hmm… my dead dog is probably a St. Bernard… Certainly not a Chihuahua…
Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, please don’t be put off by the stench, have mercy upon me a sinner!
(This bit of creative writing which is a paraphrase and composite of expertly written original material from the OCA website and a blog site entitled “The Orthodox Fool.” I am indebted to their creative genius and recommend a visit to their sites and rumination on the themes found there.)
Great Lent – A season to fan the flame of transformation in the Spirit by guarding, feeding, and nurturing it through prayer, fasting, almsgiving, dwelling richly in Word and Sacraments, and the fellowship of the Word and Sacrament; and by noticing, confessing, and addressing what threatens to blow out the flame.**
St. Theophan the Recluse, says:
From the moment when your heart starts to be kindled with divine warmth your inner transformation will properly begin. This slight flame will in time consume and melt everything within you, it will begin and continue to spiritualize your being to the full. Indeed, until this flame starts to burn, there will be no spiritualization, in spite of all your strivings to achieve it. Thus the engendering of its first flicker is all that matters at this moment, and to this end be sure to direct all your efforts.
But while you must realize that this kindling cannot take place in you while the passions are still strong and vigorous, even though they may not in fact be indulged. Passions are the dampness in the fuel of your being, and damp wood does not burn. There is nothing else to be done except to bring in dry wood from outside and light this, allowing the flames from it to dry out the damp wood, until this in its turn is dry enough to begin slowly to catch alight. And so little by little the burning of the dry wood will disperse the dampness and will spread, until all the wood is enveloped in flames…
Recollection of God is the life of the spirit. It fires your zeal to please God, and makes unshakeable your decision to belong to Him. It is, I repeat, the mainstay of the spiritual life; and it is, I will add, the base for your campaign against every passion that invades the heart. The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology,” (London: Faber & Faber, 1966)
“…and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish…” Isaiah 42.3
** A couple of phrases from “Pray as you go” for Saturday, March 1, 2014 were used to craft this statement.
I posted previously that the goal of Great Lent is an increase of love. Lent transforms us into not only the vessel of love but love Himself, by grace. Easter/Pascha is the fulfillment of Lent just as Lent is the precursor of Easter/Pascha. They are an organic whole without separation and without confusion.
AND all of this is a big risk. Or, to put it another way, this Way of Love requires us to open the gates of our life (inner and outer) to the whole of humanity. No more private spirituality. No more individual/private agendas of growth. The poor, stinky, rude, unkempt, disagreeable, disrespectful of humanity who we would rather not have upset our little applecart of private healing and self-created tools for navigating life come through the gates we desire to open to “just Jesus.” (I know this to be true based my own tendencies/predispositions, so please don’t think I am just pontificating from atop some ivory tower.)
So, the promise of Lent is the risk of Lent.
Lent is costly in terms of the disciplines to be sure. But it is even more costly in terms of the Spirit’s agenda – lived love, manifest love, love given and received.
I, for my part, need the reminder of the main point of Great Lent. In light of the main point, we really are in over our heads. We say and do things that are essential to our salvation but we are saying and doing things we really don’t understand or whose results we can never control. We are in way over our heads! That is, of course the way it needs to be. If we could comprehend it, it would terrify us so much we would never engage in it. Better to leave the comprehension of it all to later when it is, thank goodness, “too late to turn back.”
Pope Francis, in his remarks at his general audience, Wednesday, 12 February 2014, said this:
“Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning.
In the last Catechesis I emphasized how the Eucharist introduces us into real communion with Jesus and his mystery. Now let us ask ourselves several questions that spring from the relationship between the Eucharist that we celebrate and our life, as a Church and as individual Christians. How do we experience the Eucharist? When we go to Sunday Mass, how to we live it? Is it only a moment of celebration, an established tradition, an opportunity to find oneself or to feel justified, or is it something more?
There are very specific signals for understanding how we are living this, how we experience the Eucharist; signals that tell us if we are living the Eucharist in a good way or not very well. The first indicator is our way of looking at or considering others. In the Eucharist, Christ is always renewing his gift of self, which he made on the Cross. His whole life is an act of total sharing of self out of love; thus, he loved to be with his disciples and with the people whom he had a chance to know. This meant for him sharing in their aspirations, their problems, what stirred their soul and their life. Now we, when participating in Holy Mass, we find ourselves with all sorts of men and women: young people, the elderly, children; poor and well-off; locals and strangers alike; people with their families and people who are alone…. But the Eucharist which I celebrate, does it lead me to truly feel they are all like brothers and sisters? Does it increase my capacity to rejoice with those who are rejoicing and cry with those who are crying? Does it urge me to go out to the poor, the sick, the marginalized? Does it help me to recognize in theirs the face of Jesus? We all go to Mass because we love Jesus and we want to share, through the Eucharist, in his passion and his resurrection. But do we love, as Jesus wishes, those brothers and sisters who are the most needy? For example, in Rome these days we have seen much social discomfort either due to the rain, which has caused so much damage to entire districts, or because of the lack of work, a consequence of the global economic crisis. I wonder, and each one of us should wonder: I who go to Mass, how do I live this? Do I try to help, to approach and pray for those in difficulty? Or am I a little indifferent? Or perhaps do I just want to talk: did you see how this or that one is dressed? Sometimes this happens after Mass and it should not! We must concern ourselves with our brothers and sisters who need us because of an illness, a problem. Today, it would do us such good to think of these brothers and sisters of ours who are beset by these problems here in Rome: problems that stem from the grave situation caused by the rain and social instability and unemployment. Let us ask Jesus, whom we receive in the Eucharist, to help us to help them.
A second indication, a very important one, is the grace of feeling forgiven and ready to forgive. At times someone may ask: “Why must one go to Church, given that those who regularly participate in Holy Mass are still sinners like the others?”. We have heard it many times! In reality, the one celebrating the Eucharist doesn’t do so because he believes he is or wants to appear better than others, but precisely because he acknowledges that he is always in need of being accepted and reborn by the mercy of God, made flesh in Jesus Christ. If any one of us does not feel in need of the mercy of God, does not see himself as a sinner, it is better for him not to go to Mass! We go to Mass because we are sinners and we want to receive God’s pardon, to participate in the redemption of Jesus, in his forgiveness. The “Confession” which we make at the beginning is not “pro forma”, it is a real act of repentance! I am a sinner and I confess it, this is how the Mass begins! We should never forget that the Last Supper of Jesus took place “on the night he was betrayed” (1 Cor 11:23). In the bread and in the wine which we offer and around which we gather, the gift of Christ’s body and blood is renewed every time for the remission of our sins. We must go to Mass humbly, like sinners and the Lord reconciles us.
A last valuable indication comes to us from the relationship between the Eucharistic Celebration and the life of our Christian communities. We must always bear in mind that the Eucharist is not something we make; it not our own commemoration of what Jesus said and did. No. It is precisely an act of Christ! It is Christ who acts there, who is on the altar. It is a gift of Christ, who makes himself present and gathers us around him, to nourish us with his Word and with his life. This means that the mission and the very identity of the Church flows from there, from the Eucharist, and there always takes its shape. A celebration may be flawless on the exterior, very beautiful, but if it does not lead us to encounter Jesus Christ, it is unlikely to bear any kind of nourishment to our heart and our life. Through the Eucharist, however, Christ wishes to enter into our life and permeate it with his grace, so that in every Christian community there may be coherence between liturgy and life.
The heart fills with trust and hope by pondering on Jesus’ words recounted in the Gospel: “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn 6:54). Let us live the Eucharist with the spirit of faith, of prayer, of forgiveness, of repentance, of communal joy, of concern for the needy and for the needs of so many brothers and sisters, in the certainty that the Lord will fulfil what he has promised us: eternal life. So be it!” Source
Thomas Merton says this about the priesthood. And, I believe it applies to all who engage in the Holy Eucharist, not just “the priest”. So, when he says priest, fill in your name.:
“If you are afraid to love, never become a priest, never say Mass. The Mass will draw you down upon your soul a torrent of interior suffering which has only one function: to break you wide open and let everybody in the world into your heart. For when you begin to say Mass, the Spirit of God awakens like a giant inside you and bursts the locks of your private sanctuary. If you say Mass, you condemn your soul to the torrent of a love that is so vast and insatiable that you will never be able to bear it alone. That love is the love of the Heart of Jesus, burning within your own heart and bringing down upon you the huge weight of His compassion for all the sinners of the world.” Source
In light of all this, it is, perhaps, appropriate to add this quote:
“Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’”
As Lent approaches we need to be reminded of the goal. The goal of Lent is not spiritual athleticism but an increase of love in and through disciplines that address the passions (vainglory, pride, and self-love). The goal is not more information about love but “lived Love” as Jesus the Christ lives and expresses His life in us and through us for the salvation of the world. This involves purgation and establishment and release.
One danger, and there are many, is legalism and pride in the observance of the very disciplines that are designed to bear the fruit of love.
The warning of Jesus is clear. As a matter of fact it is so important that in the Western Church, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, which is the passage in which Jesus issues His warning about legalism and pride is the gospel reading for Ash Wednesday.
Notice that Jesus does not counsel “throwing out the baby with the bath water.” He does not say, “Don’t observe the disciplines.” He doesn’t label them as unnecessary. For Jesus, it is not “if” but “how” the disciplines are observed. The form is not to be abandoned, but rather filled with right content – the humble and contrite desire for love. Indeed, “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
So, the warning is not just a warning. It is an invitation that holds a promise – abundant life in Him.
Here is the counsel of Elder Paisios the Athonite on the subject:
A Christian must not be fanatic; he must have love for and be sensitive towards all people. Those who inconsiderately toss out comments, even if they are true, can cause harm.
I once met a theologian who was extremely pious, but who had the habit of speaking to the (secular) people around him in a very blunt manner; his method penetrated so deeply that it shook them very severely. He told me once: “During a gathering, I said such and such a thing to a lady.” But the way that he said it, crushed her. “Look”, I said to him, “you may be tossing golden crowns studded with diamonds to other people, but the way that you throw them can smash heads, not only the sensitive ones, but the sound ones also.”
Let’s not stone our fellow-man in a so-called “Christian manner.” The person who – in the presence of others – checks someone for having sinned (or speaks in an impassioned manner about a certain person), is not moved by the Spirit of God; he is moved by another spirit.
The way of the Church is LOVE; it differs from the way of the legalists. The Church sees everything with tolerance and seeks to help each person, whatever he may have done, however sinful he may be.
I have observed a peculiar kind of logic in certain pious people. Their piety is a good thing, and their predisposition for good is also a good thing; however, a certain spiritual discernment and amplitude is required so that their piety is not accompanied by narrow-mindedness or strong-headedness. Someone who is truly in a spiritual state must possess and exemplify spiritual discernment; otherwise he will forever remain attached to the “letter of the Law”, and the letter of the Law can be quite deadly.
A truly humble person never behaves like a teacher; he will listen, and, whenever his opinion is requested, he responds humbly. In other words, he replies like a student. He who believes that he is capable of correcting others is filled with egotism.
A person that begins to do something with a good intention and eventually reaches an extreme point, lacks true discernment. His actions exemplify a latent type of egotism that is hidden beneath this behavior; he is unaware of it, because he does not know himself that well, which is why he goes to extremes. Spiritual Counsels II: Spiritual Awakening, by Elder Paisios of Mount Athos.
Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5.17-20)
From my vantage point all of this is Good News to me a sinner.
We get great satisfaction out of judging. We get great satisfaction out of solving. We get great satisfaction out of measuring. We have a need to know who is worthy and who is unworthy to help us navigate life.
You might even say, at some point, satisfaction turns into our sense of what fulfillment and love mean. The Word of God warns us that there is a line where one becomes the other. Where our identity get wrapped up in our ability and need to engage in these things. Richard Rohr said, “Our lust for certitude and our need to be right is what keeps us in conflict.” Well said.
The Scriptures and collect for today (and others just like it I could list but will not) in the Western Church run speak of a way of life that is exactly the opposition of judging, solving, and measuring. They speak of a God who loves and of His people who love. They do not speak of the suspension of a sense of right and wrong but of way completely different way of responding that does more to defeat wrong than any other alternative. A way of coming to understand and relate to right and wrong that does not end up robbing us of life instead of fostering life. After all, when did worthiness become the standard?? Thank goodness it was not the standard that governed whether or not He would go to the cross!!
O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:
Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God.
You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the LORD.
You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.
You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the LORD.
You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
33 Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes, *
and I shall keep it to the end.
34 Give me understanding, and I shall keep your law; *
I shall keep it with all my heart.
35 Make me go in the path of your commandments, *
for that is my desire.
36 Incline my heart to your decrees *
and not to unjust gain.
37 Turn my eyes from watching what is worthless; *
give me life in your ways.
38 Fulfill your promise to your servant, *
which you make to those who fear you.
39 Turn away the reproach which I dread, *
because your judgments are good.
40 Behold, I long for your commandments; *
in your righteousness preserve my life.
1 Corinthians 3:10-11,16-23
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written,
“He catches the wise in their craftiness,”
“The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise,
that they are futile.”
So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future– all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, `An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
The protests we throw up in reaction to understanding these passages (and other ones too) in any sort of practical sense as meaning just what they are saying are like a hermeneutical tsunami ! ! Certainly Jesus and St. Paul and the Old Testament writers could not have really meant for us to actually DO this ! ! What they REALLY meant was …
Solving, measuring, judging, etc. But now it is not others. Now it is God we are judging.
Now don’t get me wrong. The hearing and doing of these MUST be in the context of the Body of Christ across time and space and we can fall off into the ditch of literalism that is just as dangerous as the ditch of “explaining it all away.” What is required is a narrow path between these extremes. A path of impossibility. A path that is desperately in need of God’s wisdom at every moment. For indeed, doing these things (living this life) is impossible for man. But, it is perfectly possible for God. Or, to put it more aptly, for “The God-man.” For Christ Jesus, Son of God, Son of Man.
St. Paul spoke The Mystery of possible impossibility when he said, “I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me.” St. Paul was/is the temple of the Holy Spirit.
St. Innocent of Alaska (1797-1879), in his classic, Indication of the Pathway into the Kingdom of Heaven, says,
“…without the help and assistance of the Holy Spirit, it is impossible not only to enter the kingdom of heaven but even to take a single step toward it. And therefore we must seek and ask for the Holy Spirit and have Him within us, just as the holy apostles had Him. But how we can receive or obtain Him, we shall soon see.”
It is Christ-indwelling in the person of the Holy Spirit, Who does all things in and through St. Paul. In and through you and me. What is require is humility. And, of course, humility at with all of this, is not what he think it is…
St. Tikhon of Zadonsk said,
“Try to know yourself, your own wickedness. Think on the greatness of God and your wretchedness. Meditate on the suffering of Christ, the magnitude of Whose love and suffering surpass our understanding. Ascribe the good that you do to God alone. Do not think about the sin of a brother but about what in him is better than in yourself …. Flee from glory, honors and praise, but if this is impossible, be sorry that such is your lot. Be benevolent to people of low origin. Be freely and willingly obedient not only to those above you but to those below …. The lowlier we are in spirit, the better we know ourselves, and without humility we cannot see God.”
“For love does not seek its own, it labors, sweats, watches to build up the brother: nothing is inconvenient to love, and by the help of God it turns the impossible into the possible …. Love believes and hopes …. It is ashamed of nothing. Without it, what is the use of prayer? What use are hymns and singing? What is the use of building and adorning churches? What is mortification of the flesh if the neighbor is not loved? Indeed, all are of no consequence …. As an animal cannot exist without bodily warmth, So no good deed can be alive without true love; it is only the pretence of a good deed.”
We can, of course, take issue with St. Tikhon’s statements based on a belief that the institutional Church has gotten it all wrong and his words reflect a shame-based spirituality, etc, etc. Be that as it may be or may not be. I agree, the institutional church and its members have fallen short of the glory they espouse to be sure. Reading the writings of the saints requires great care. But, the beautiful essence of what he said, when rightly understood and applied, still stands.
The Christ-ian life is not about “figuring it out.” No about doing good stuff in the name of Christ even our of what we would call a spirit of gratitude. The Christ-ian life is about “abiding in and being abided in” with a spirit of gratitude. It is about letting go of “my” life and receiving Christ’s life as my real life. That means Christ Himself performs in and through us what He comes us to perform. It means the criteria for wisdom is not solving, measuring, and judging but abiding faithfully and co-operating in the doing of Christ regardless of how the world solves, measures, and judges.
You may ask, “But how in practical terms?”
I say, “I don’t know. I see through a glass darkly. But, I see at least this much. All I know is this is the way. It does not suspend unconditional love or boundaries. It mysteriously upholds and fulfills them both.”
And that is an upward call that requires in my life a lot of transformation. The reality of this truth and the infinite saving beauty of it, I have only just begun to comprehend.
“Thus says the Lord:
‘Stand in the ways and see,
And ask for the old paths, where the good way is,
And walk in it;
Then you will find rest for your souls.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’” (Jeremiah 6.16)
“Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying,
‘This is the way, walk in it,’
Whenever you turn to the right hand
Or whenever you turn to the left.” (Isaiah 30.21)
“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7.13-14)
Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy. Grant me to walk in this Way more than I have before.