The Inner Struggle – Faith and Doubt

I have mentioned, in a previous post, the pulsating point as a fitting image for spiritual transformation (The image comes via Fr. Seraphim of The Monastery of All Celtic Saints). The maturing of our faith is an example of the ongoing struggle – pulsating point – within our soul. Perhaps we witness the difference between faithless doubt and faithful doubt in the response of Zachariah and Mary to the angel Gabriel’s visitation. In essence, we journey with our face set toward the Heavenly Jerusalem – deification – working out our salvation with fear and trembling. We acknowledge our doubt not for the purpose of staying where we are but for the purpose of journeying further with God.

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They brought the boy to Him. When he saw Him, immediately the spirit threw him into a convulsion, and falling to the ground, he began rolling around and foaming at the mouth. And He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. “It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” And Jesus said to him, “ ‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” (Mark 6.20-24)

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“True faith is a constant dialogue with doubt, for God is incomparably greater than all our preconceptions about Him; our mental concepts are idols that need to be shattered. So as to be fully alive, our faith needs continually to die.” from “The Inner Kingdom: Volume 1 of the Collected Works,” by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

The Kingdom of heaven is acquired by force

“Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5.8)

Truly a wonderful and often quoted verse to encourage the faithful. But, what does it imply?! The first indication of what the attainment of a “pure heart” involves occurs at the end of the Beatitudes.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5.10-12)

And who are the persecutors? Are they people? Read Ephesians 6. They are spiritual forces of wickedness external to us and within us. In the most profound sense they are the “passions” at work within us. Those inclinations and drives that hinder the fulfillment of our union with Christ – theosis.

Jesus indicated that the Kingdom of God is within us and that is where the warfare to attain it is waged. Our inner life is, among other things, an arena of combat. The acquisition of purity of heart is a violent journey.

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“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matthew 11.12)

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“Suppose there to be a garden with many fruit trees and other sweet-smelling plants, and that it were all well tilled and laid out for beauty, and that it had also a small wall by way of hedge to preserve it, and suppose that a vehement stream goes through there, though but a little of the water dashes against the wall and saps the foundation, it gets itself a course, and little by little breaks up the foundation, and finds entrance and tears its way, and roots up all the plants, and mars all the tilling, and makes it fruitless. So is it with man’s heart. It has its good thoughts ; but the streams of evil also are always near the heart, desiring to cast it down, and to incline it to its own side. Then if the mind be ever so little light, and yield to unclean thoughts, behold, the spirits of error have found scope, and have entered in, and have overturned the beauties that were there, and have destroyed the good thoughts and laid the soul waste.

As the eye is little in comparison of all the members, and the pupil, small as it is, is a great vessel, because it sees at one glance sky, star, sun, moon, cities and other creatures, and likewise these things, seen at the glance, are formed and imaged in the little pupil of the eye ; so is the mind in the heart, and the heart itself is but a little vessel, and yet there are dragons, and there lions, and there venomous beasts, and all the treasures of wickedness ; and there are rough uneven ways, there chasms ; there likewise is God, there the angels, there life and the kingdom, there light and the apostles, there the heavenly cities, there the treasures, there are all things.” St. Macarius of Egypt (300-391), Homily XLIII

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Joshua crossed the Jordan to attack Jericho. But Saint Paul teaches: “Our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the unseen powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens,” (Ephesians 6.12). Those things that were written down are images and symbols. For Paul says elsewhere: “These things happened as an example; they have been written down as a warning to us, upon whom the end of the ages has come,” (1 Corinthians 10.11). If, then, these things have been written down as a warning, well then!, why delay? Like Joshua, let us set out to war, attacking the greatest city in the world, namely wickedness, and let us throw down the arrogant walls of sin.

Would you look around for which path to take, which battlefield to choose? No doubt you will find my words extraordinary; nevertheless, they are true: limit your quest to yourself alone. In you lies the combat you are going to engage, within yourself the structure of evil and sin to pull down; your enemy emerges from the depths of your heart. It is not I who say this but Christ. Listen to him: “From the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy,” (Matthew 15.19). Do you realize the power of this enemy force that advances against you from the depths of your heart? Those are our real enemies. Origen (185-253), Homilies on Joshua, Number 5

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“If you want to serve God, prepare your heart not for food, not for drink, not for rest, not for ease, but for suffering, so that you may endure all temptations, trouble and sorrow. Prepare for severities, fasts, spiritual struggles and many afflictions, for “by many afflictions is it appointed to us to enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Acts 14,22); ‘The Heavenly Kingdom is taken by force, and the who use force seize it.’ (Matt 11:12) St. Sergius of Radonezh, Life, 10

The Core Significance of the Fulfillment in the Incarnation

Why the Nativity? Why the Incarnation? Here is what we have believed from the beginning regarding these questions.

“The Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.” Irenaeus (c. 130-200), Against Heresies, Book 5, Preface

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“The Word of God became man, that thou mayest learn from man how man may become God.” St. Clement of Alexandria (150-215), Exhortation to the Heathen, Chapter I

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“Therefore He was not man, and then became God, but He was God, and then became man, and that to deify us.” St. Athanasius (296-373), Against the Arians, Discourse I, Paragraph 39

“For He was made man that we might be made God.” St. Athanasius (296-373), On the Incarnation, Section 54

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“For just as He in Himself assimilated His own human nature to the power of the Godhead, being a part of the common nature, but not being subject to the inclination to sin which is in that nature (for it says: “He did no sin, nor was deceit found in his mouth), so, also, will He lead each person to union with the Godhead if they do nothing unworthy of union with the Divine.” St. Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-395), On Christian Perfection

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“That which He has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved. If only half Adam fell, then that which Christ assumes and saves may be half also; but if the whole of his nature fell, it must be united to the whole nature of Him that was begotten, and so be saved as a whole.” St. Gregory of Nazianzus (321-390), Epistle 101

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“This Logos the Father in the latter days sent forth, no longer to speak by a prophet, and not wishing that the Word, being obscurely proclaimed, should be made the subject of mere conjecture, but that He should be manifested, so that we could see Him with our own eyes. This Logos, I say, the Father sent forth, in order that the world, on beholding Him, might reverence Him who was delivering precepts not by the person of prophets, nor terrifying the soul by an angel, but who was Himself—He that had spoken—corporally present amongst us. This Logos we know to have received a body from a virgin, and to have remodelled the old man by a new creation. And we believe the Logos to have passed through every period in this life, in order that He Himself might serve as a law for every age, and that, by being present (amongst) us, He might exhibit His own manhood as an aim for all men. And that by Himself in person He might prove that God made nothing evil, and that man possesses the capacity of self-determination, inasmuch as he is able to will and not to will, and is endued with power to do both.  This Man we know to have been made out of the compound of our humanity. For if He were not of the same nature with ourselves, in vain does He ordain that we should imitate the Teacher. For if that Man happened to be of a different substance from us, why does He lay injunctions similar to those He has received on myself, who am born weak; and how is this the act of one that is good and just? In order, however, that He might not be supposed to be different from us, He even underwent toil, and was willing to endure hunger, and did not refuse to feel thirst, and sunk into the quietude of slumber. He did not protest against His Passion, but became obedient unto death, and manifested His resurrection. Now in all these acts He offered up, as the first-fruits, His own manhood, in order that thou, when thou art in tribulation, mayest not be disheartened, but, confessing thyself to be a man (of like nature with the Redeemer), mayest dwell in expectation of also receiving what the Father has granted unto this Son.” Saint Hippolytus of Rome (?-c.235), The Refutation of all the heresies, Book 10, Chapter 29

The Coming of the Lord – Fulfillment

It is easier to think about the gospel and everything about it in terms of progress. It is more challenging, and thus more transformative, to think of it in terms of fulfillment.

“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1.14)

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5.17-20)

“The Law does not exist, rules and God’s commandments do not exist for man to serve them. But the law and rules exist so that they might serve man, us. And so the Lord didn’t come to destroy the law and rules, but to fulfill them, that is, to give them meaning and fulfillment. For if rules and the law are the goal in and of themselves, then man becomes a frustrated and unhappy person, whose freedom and right to choose is restricted.  The law exists as an aid so that love would develop within us, that virtues develop, that we might do that which is good and in line with God’s will. The Lord shows us that love is above everything else. When love is in question and the need for us to do good to our neighbor, to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of Christ, then laws and rules do not exist which could or should constrain us. After all, the Lord Himself comes to this world against all the laws of nature in order to change the same. He went to the Cross and His suffering completely innocent. He didn’t ask for justice to come to His aid, He didn’t call the Law to His aid, but He went above and beyond that in order to witness and confirm love, to His very crucifixion.” excerpted from a homily on December 14, 2014 of Metropolitan Porfirije.

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.

“All you beasts, wild and tame, bless the Lord;monk and cats
praise and exalt him above all forever.
All you mortals, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.” (from Daniel 3.57-88)

Abba Moses replied: ‘…In another way, however, it is possible to look upon God, for the manner of contemplating God may be conceived  and understood in many ways. God is not only to be known in His blessed and incomprehensible being, for this is something which is reserved for His saints in the age to come. He is also to be known from the grandeur and beauty of His creatures, from His providence which governs the world day by day, from His righteousness and from the wonders which He shows to His saints in each generation. When we reflect on the measurelessness of His power and His unsleeping eye which looks upon the hidden things of the heart and which nothing can escape, we are filled with the deepest awe, marveling at Him and adoring Him. When we consider that He numbers the raindrops, the sand of the sea and the stars of heaven, we are amazed at the grandeur of His nature and His wisdom.’ Source

And Mary said: ‘My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.'”

Let us join in chorus with the Theotokos… (I wonder if she had a cat?! I mean after all is the Magnificat!)

“This is the day the Lord has made, let us join ALL the rest of creation and rejoice and be glad in it.”

Wait Upon the Lord – “In-house” Prophetic Word

I am fond of saying that transformation in Christ is “excruciatingly gradual.” Most of us are not particularly patient. We do not “wait well.” Our television service gives us the ability to watch movies “on demand.” So, the virtues of waiting and patience, which are at the core of what transformation is all about, has been all but lost. The spiritual disciplines, which presuppose a desire to wait patiently, are adopted with the expectation that they will bear their fruit in a “Christian” environment that is founded on the “instant” and what we can “demand and claim.” And, oh yes, self-control has left the building.

Certainly, that is not going to turn out well sooner or later… And where will the “blame” be placed? Hmmm….Vector stopwatch

What does this look like in practical terms?”

  • We adopt a “throw away and replace” attitude. For many of us, daily life is not about seeking to have things last through patient care (TLC) but figuring out ways to get what is the “newest” and get rid of what is “old” and irrelevant and worthless.
  • Children skip childhood. They often don’t get to be kids or child-ish in the good sense.
  • Aging becomes something to be avoided. So, antique things are valuable but antique people are not. (this second statement takes some consideration to realize… It does not look like it but taking a deeper look at how Sunday morning looks in most evangelical congregations reveals, perhaps, this dynamic in play. Think “target audience.” While I am on this particular subject, a parallel questions is” How long is the “target length?” OR “How long is too long?”)
  • Relationships become negotiations about instant gratification and need satisfaction rather than mutually self-giving love over the course of decades.

So, let’s get the message about waiting and patience. The spiritual disciplines are not just designed to nourish and nurture. They bring to the forefront the need for a whole new matrix for understanding and living out the Christian life. The spiritual disciplines point a prophetic finger at the subtle enemy of transformation in Christ, which might very well be our Christian mindset. Sounds like the kind of thing Jesus said about the Pharisees. He basically said that their way of being righteous was taking them away from God not toward God. It was the problem to which they were blind. Yikes…

I do not stay by the wayside and point the finger as one who purports to be innocent. “I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me…” Lord, have mercy on ME a sinner.

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“But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3.8-9)

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“If you should beseech God for a thing and He is slow to hearken to you speedily, do not grieve, for you are not wiser than God. This happens to you either because you are no worthy to obtain you request, or because the pathways of your heart do not accord with your petitions, or because you have not yet reached the measure wherein you could receive the gift you ask for. We must not rush onwards to great measures before the time, lest God’s gift be debased by our hasty reception of it. For anything that is quickly obtained is also easily lost, whereas everything found with toil is also kept with careful watching.” St. Isaac the Syrian

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“The ‘fruit of the Spirit’ does not appear instantly in our lives.  Fruit trees have several stages of growth before the harvest time comes.  As Jesus said in one of His parables, ‘First the blade, then the ear, and then the full grain I the ear.’  One fruit trees the first stage is the appearance of beautiful blossoms.  But soon the tree loses its blossoms and there is a long period of growth before the harvest comes.  To some extent all of us are in this long period of growth.  This emphasis on the gradualness, the slowness of sanctification, of growth in the spiritual life, is a warning against those quack practitioners of the soul who promise instant holiness by a given formula such as ‘being born again,’ as if one becomes a full-grown, mature Christian in the twinkling of an eye.  Three is no such thing as instant holiness.  Sanctification is a process — a fruit of the Spirit that ripens slowly and steadily.” Anthony Conairis, Daily Vitamins For Spiritual Growth

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“Imagine yourself as a living house.  God comes in to rebuild that house.  At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing.  He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised.  But presently, He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense.  What on earth is He up to?  The explanation is He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of — throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards.  You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage, but He is building a palace.  He intends to come and live in it Himself.  The command, “Be ye perfect …” is not idealistic gas.  Nor is it a command to do the impossible.  He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command.  The process will be long and in parts very painful, but that is what we are in for.  Nothing less.  He meant what He said.” George MacDonald

Strengthened in the Hopeful Waiting

The waiting of Advent is a special kind. It is expectant/hopefilled. Yeah, like in the connotation of pregnancy. Mary and Joseph and Elizabeth and Zechariah and the prenatal John. As the waiting continues it grows. It impinges more and more powerfully on the present “from” the future. And this, not in the sense of progress/production but in the sense of fulfillment/maturation. There is a difference. Manifesting in the present the fullness of grace and truth. Strengthening all who inhabit the present in this way. All of them, in their own unique way, wait in this way. They invite us to join them…

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Isaiah 40.27-31
27 For why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, saying, “My way is hidden from God, and my God took away my judgment and departed”? 28 So then, have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the God who created the ends of the earth, neither hungers nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. 29 He gives strength to the hungry, and sorrow to those who do not grieve. 30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the elect shall be without strength. 31 But those who wait on God shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not hunger.

Psalm 129
1 Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord;

2 O Lord, hear my voice;
Let Your ears be attentive
To the voice of my supplication.

3 If You, O Lord, should mark transgression,
O Lord, who would stand?

4 For there is forgiveness with You.

5 Because of Your law, O Lord, I waited for You;
My soul waited for Your word.

6 My soul hopes in the Lord,
From the morning watch until night;
From the morning watch until night,
Let Israel hope in the Lord.

7 For with the Lord there is mercy,
And with Him is abundant redemption;

8 And He shall redeem Israel
From all his transgressions.

Icon

And the aim of an icon is not to present you with a likeness of the person but with the message, to present you with a face that speaks to you in the same way in which a portrait is different from a snapshot. A snapshot is a very adequate image of the person photographanthony of sourozhed at a given moment. It’s exactly what at that given moment the person was, but it leaves out very often most of the personality of this particular person, while a good portrait is painted in the course of many sittings that allow the artist to look deeply into the face of a person, to single out features, which are fluid, which change, which move but which, each of them, express something of the personality. And so that the portrait is something much more composite, much more rich and much more adequate to the total personality than a snapshot would be although at no moment was this particular face exactly as the painter has represented it on the portrait. It is not an attempt at having a snapshot in color but of conveying a vision of what a person is.

Now, this being said, we treat icons with reverence, and a number of people in the West think that to us icons are very much what idols were in older times for pagan nations. They aren’t. They are not idols because they do not purport or even attempt at giving an adequate picture of the person concerned. This I have already mentioned abundantly but I will add this. Whether it is in words, in theological statements, in doctrinal statements, in the creeds, in the prayers and the hymns of the Churches, no attempt is ever made in the Orthodox Church at expressing, at giving a cogent, a complete image of what God is. Already in the fourth century St. Gregory of Nazianzen wrote that if we attempted to collect from the Old Testament, from the New Testament, from the experience of the Church, from the personal lives of saints, their sayings and their writings, all the features which reveal to us what and who God is and try to build out of them a completely coherent, complete picture of God, what we would have achieved is not a picture of God; it would be an idol because it would be on our scale, it would be as small as we are, indeed, smaller than we are because it could be contained in our vision, in our understanding.
Source – Metropolitan Anthony Bloom

Prepare the Way (Build an Ark) – The Struggle to Live a Noah Life (Christ Life)

In the middle of pervasive corruption, “Noah alone remained righteous and lived according to the will of God.”

The struggle of salvation is the struggle to abide in righteousness. Righteousness here meaning right relationship – true identity.

The struggle is with the pervasive corruption of the world. That world is not just around us (external to us) but inside us (internal to us).

Noah was righteous. I do not, personally, believe for one instant that Noah was “struggle-less-ly righteous.” I believe he struggled with the world both externally and internally. What set him apart was his perseverance to the end in the struggle.

I hold the story of Noah to be our story – the story of living out our baptism – successfully abiding in the death of unrighteousness and the victory of righteousness (false identity vs. true identity): “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit…” (1 Peter 3.18)

Noah struggled faithfully in living an “ark life.” The actual hard work of cooperating with God in the building of the ark, entering it, and being preserved is the icon of how he lived his whole life. He lived in reference to the future not the past. He lived the future in every present moment. He struggled to live heaven (right relationship — mutual abiding/indwelling in love) in the midst of hell (wrong relationship — alienation/separation in fear).

All my days are the days of Noah. Today is intended to be live as the “end of days” if it is to be truly lived as today as the Lord has prepared it.

I claim no wisdom. I may be “all wet.” These are my convictions, however.

I welcome your reflection on this matter.

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Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2.15-`7)

“If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” (James 1.26,27)

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Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God (Genesis 6:9)
To be righteous among the righteous is a great and praiseworthy deed, but how far greater and more praiseworthy a deed it is to be righteous among the unrighteous. Noah lived among men who were filled with unrighteousness and evil; he lived among them for five hundred years and remained righteous before God: Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord (Genesis 6:8). The Most-high Judge, who looks at all the works of mankind and evaluates them without prejudice and without error, valued the labors of Noah because, in the midst of a corrupt and perverse generation, he remained in the righteousness of God; and God rewarded him with His grace. Assuredly, Noah endured much misery and bitterness from his evil neighbors. Assuredly, he was unable to have a friend among them. The greatest satisfaction for a sinner is to drag a righteous man down into his own mire and to share his sin with him. But Noah did not allow himself to be dragged down or misled. Noah favored God’s friendship over that of unrighteous men. It was dearer to him to walk with God without men, than to walk with men without God. Fear of God, the Creator and Judge, preserved him from the worldwide corruption; and he was not only righteous but also perfect in his generations. That is, he did not allow himself, even in the least, to be contaminated by the common evil, but rather he cleaved to God’s righteousness. The allurement of sin and the ridicule of the sinners: everything merely served to separate him all the more from them. When the universal flood befell the human race, God did not abandon his faithful Noah to perish with the others. Instead, He saved him and glorified him, making him the progenitor of a new generation of men. Brethren, this shining example of Noah teaches that each one of us can please God even in the midst of sinners, if only we want to.

O Righteous and Long-suffering God, uphold us on the path of Thy righteousness.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen. Source The Prologue of Ohrid

The Heart – Inner Wilderness for God

If we are to prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness, it is important to realize that the “inner wilderness” of the soul is the most important one to prepare. The nature of the preparation is, what the Scriptures and the saints refer to as “purification.”  The “pure heart” is the dwelling of God. This pure heart not only receives its savior but continues to receive Him, in a descriptive manner of speaking, by maturing in the reception. Call it the consummation in all aspects of the inner person of what is already and unceasingly true in the holy of holies of the heart. The inner wilderness, in which the tabernacle of the Lord is located, is transformed to reflect the glory residing there. The glory expands as the purification continues. What is, is even more so, if that makes any paradoxical sense (?!) The silent reality of the God-man, “Truth reigning,” a communion of peace and joy and hope and, and, and, … is enjoyed/lived. When did this “begin?” I know not. I need not know. I need to participate. I do know I participate and do so even more so though I dare not measure it lest I hinder His expansive transformation and gift to me of me in Him. That is enough.

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“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3.16-19)

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We read these words in the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.’ The Lord wishes to find a way by which he might enter your hearts and walk therein. Prepare this way for him of whom it is said: ‘Make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.’ The voice cries out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way.’ This voice first reaches our ears; and then following it, or rather with it, the Word penetrates our understanding. It is in this sense that Christ was announced by John.

Let us see, therefore, what the voice announces concerning the Word. ‘Prepare,’ says the voice, ‘the way of the Lord.’ What way are we to prepare for the Lord? Is it a material way? Can the Word of God take such a way? Ought we not rather to prepare an inner way for the Lord by making the paths of our heart straight and smooth? Indeed, this is the way by which the Word of God enters in order to take up his abode in the human heart made ready to receive him.

How great is the human heart! What width and capacity it possesses, provided it is pure! Do you wish to know its greatness and width? Look at the extent of the divine knowledge that it embraces. It tells us itself: ‘God gave me sound knowledge of existing things that I might know the organisation of the universe and the force of its elements, the beginning and the end and the mid-point of times, the changes in the sun’s course and the variations of the seasons. Cycles of years, positions of the stars, natures of animals, tempers of beasts, powers of the winds and thoughts of people, uses of plants and virtues of roots.’

Thus, you see that the human heart knows so many things and is of no small compass. But notice that its greatness is not one of size but of the power of thought by which it is capable of knowing so many truths.

In order to make everyone realise how great the human heart is, let us look at a few examples taken from everyday life. We still retain in our minds all the towns which we have ever visited. Their features, the location of their squares, walls, and buildings remain in our hearts. We keep the road which we have travelled painted and engraved in our memories; and the sea over which we have sailed is harboured in our silent thought. As I have just said, the human heart knows so many things and is of no small compass.

Now, if it is not small, and if it can grasp so much, we can prepare the way of the Lord there and make straight the way where the Word, the Wisdom of God, will walk. Let each of you, then, prepare the way of the Lord by a good conscience; make straight the way so that the Word of God may walk within you without stumbling and may give you knowledge of his mysteries and of his coming. Celebrating the Seasons, by Robert Atwell.