More on Judging By Appearances and Experience

Continuing on the theme of judging by appearances and our own experience… Here is today’s scriptural reflection from the Dynamis site that more deeply sheds light on the issue… We must affirm that on a personal and communal basis we are guided by the Spirit of Truth not by our convictions regarding appearances or the validity of our own experience.

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Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Pascha (May 19, 2015)

Some New Thing: Acts 17:19-28, especially vss. 24-25: “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.” The Apostle Paul, “as his custom was” (vs. 17:2), visited the synagogues in Athens (vs. 17) and also the agora – the city’s market center. There the masses mingled with philosophers from the classical schools, spending “their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing” (vs. 21).

As the primary bearers of Hellenistic culture, the Athenian philosophers naturally wish to bring the visiting apostle to a gathering at the Areopagus or Mars Hill (vs. 19). According to Saint Luke, the Stoics and Epicureans who “encountered him” (vs. 18) are especially curious about his “new doctrine” (vs. 19). Among the pagan schools of philosophy, these two dedicated the greatest effort to illumining the uncertainties of life and seeking truth concerning the divine. However, their efforts were based solely on human reasoning.

Saint Paul’s words undercut the Athenians’ basic assumption that the ultimate truth about life can be found by men through reason, using trial and error. We recall that in the Garden of Eden the serpent suggests this very approach, promising Adam and Eve “you will be like gods” (Gn 3:6).

Ultimately the Church, in the person of the Apostle Paul, brings the true light to Hellenized world, which “received the heavenly Spirit” and acquired “the true faith, worshiping the undivided Trinity,” as we sing during the liturgy after holy communion. This new faith made profound advances upon Western culture until the Enlightenment.

Gradually, the idea that mankind has the capacity to discern its own truth gradually regained ascendancy. Today, we are once again living in a world where the ancient lie rules. Scientific materialism and secular humanism openly attack the truth which Christ and His apostles taught.

What Paul shares with the Athenian philosophers is truly “some new thing” (Acts 17:21): the Word of life, sent by God’s own initiative, to enlighten mankind (vss. 30-32). The Athenians’ “unknown God” (vs. 23) is the Christ who has revealed Himself to the Church.

Christ is disclosed as the Maker of all things, visible and invisible (vss. 23-29). Saint Paul proclaims that the Lord has revealed Himself openly. As the psalmist says, “God is the Lord and hath appeared unto us” (Ps 117:26).

The ancient Hellenists and modern materialists alike believe we can decipher “the unity of all things contrary to the appearance of diversity.” Metropolitan John Zizioulas repudiates this view and its corollary position that God does not rule over the material world since “He too is bound by . . . necessity to the world and the world to Him” (Being as Communion, p. 29).

Saint Paul’s new thing directly counters this error, for he declares, “God . . . made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth” (vs. 24). God needs nothing, for “He gives to all life, breath, and all things” (vs. 25). The Creator existentially contradicts the ancient and modern lie that leads mankind on the impossible quest to know everything.

The apostle also addresses a related lie, initiated by Plato: “The world does not exist for the sake of man, but man exists for its sake.” Herein we find a denial of God’s infinite freedom as well as His gift of free will to us as persons who are intended to be “like” God.

Instead, the Apostle Paul says, “We are also His offspring,” i.e., free beings (vs. 28).  If we have accepted the lies of materialism, let us hasten to repent (vs. 30)!

O Lord, Thou hast made all things new.  Help us live in Thy likeness to eternal life.

Judging By Appearances and Experience

I can (and do more than not) fall into the trap of basing my convictions regarding the faith based on “what I experienced” positively and negatively. Another word for that trap is “relativism” and “subjectivism”. My reliance should be on the faithfulness of God in the person of the Holy Spirit to reveal and affirm the truth of my experience and the guidance it can provide regarding right faith and action.

But, even so, it is important for me to realize that it is not my experience that is really the criteria but the word of the Holy Spirit in and through my experience. Experience is an essential means (a sacramental one) for the revelation of truth. No question. But, it is not the governor of my convictions regarding the truth. The truth is “communicated” to me in and through my experience and I “communicate” with “the Truth” in and through my experience (think the Divine Liturgy). I find that I need to be extremely careful not to let my negative and positive feelings and convictions regarding my experiences of the past, and therefore my judgments about their relative validity to guide me, influence how I view the truth-bearing witness of my present experience. This includes appearances. Things are not necessarily what they appear to be to me. I must not judge by appearances. It is the Holy Spirit who reveals the truth regarding my past and my present and my future experiences.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father, he will give it to you in my name. 24 Hitherto you have asked nothing in my name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (Jn 16.23b-24)

Every time I speak about prayer, it seems to me that I hear in your heart certain human reflections that I have often heard, even in my own heart. Since we never stop praying, how come we so rarely seem to experience the fruit of prayer? We have the impression that we come out of prayer like we entered into it; no one answers us with even one word, gives us anything at all; we have the impression that we have labored in vain. But what does the Lord say in the gospel? “Stop judging by appearances and make a just judgment.” (Jn 7:24) What is a just judgment other than a judgment of faith? For “the just man shall live by faith.” (Gal 3:11) So follow the judgment of faith rather than your experience, for faith does not deceive, whereas experience can lead into error.

And what is the truth of faith other than that the Son of God himself promised: “If you are ready to believe that you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer, it shall be done for you.” (Mk 11:24) Thus, may no one among you, Brothers, consider prayer to be a small thing. For I assure you, the one to whom it is addressed does not consider it a small thing; even before it has left our mouth, he has had it written down in his book. Without the slightest doubt, we can be sure that God will either give us what we are asking him or he will give us something that he knows to be better. For “we do not know how to pray as we ought” (Rom 8:26), but God has compassion on our ignorance and he receives our prayer with kindness… So “take delight in the Lord, and he will grant you your heart’s requests.” (Ps 37:4) Saint Bernard (1091-1153), Sermons for Lent, no. 5.5

Temples of Holiness

St. Cyprian of Carthage reflects on the source of our holiness in this way:

“We should live as temples of God that it may be plain to all that God dwells in us. It is important that our conduct should not degenerate and we become unworthy of the Spirit. Rather let us who have set out to be heavenly and spiritual, entertain only heavenly and spiritual thoughts and behaviour. For as the Lord God himself has declared: ‘I will glorify those who glorify me; but those that despise me, I shall despise.’ The blessed apostle Paul has also stated in one of his letters: ‘You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.’

In the Lord’s Prayer we go on to say: ‘Hallowed be your name.’ We are not envisaging that God will be made holy by our prayers: we are asking rather that his holiness should shine in us. Anyway, by whom could God be sanctified since it is God himself who sanctifies? But observe that in Scripture it is also written: ‘Be holy because I am holy.’ Thus it should be our earnest desire that we, who have been made holy in baptism, should continue to grow in what we have begun to be; and for this we pray every day. We certainly need to be made holy daily because every day we sin, and every day we need to have those sins washed away. In this way we are engaged in a process that makes us ever more deeply sanctified.” Celebrating the Seasons, by Robert Atwell

The Nature of Human Unity

There are no direct relationships. The fruit of the attempt to develop direct relationships is sin and death. All authentic relationship is in Christ Jesus and through Christ Jesus. The fruit of all such relationships is life and righteousness. It is my contention that this is what terms like “in Christ Jesus” and “through Christ Jesus” really mean. Apart from Christ Jesus we can do lots of things but no-thing that is life-giving or life-creating for us or for others or for the world.

What binds us together as human beings is Christ Jesus. In the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer 1979, the candidate for Holy Baptism is asked a question that establishes this point: “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”

Christ Jesus is the one Who brings all persons and things together (reconciles all things), holds all persons and things together, and is the meaning of all persons and things being together.

The Chalcedonian formula articulates the manner in which Christ Jesus is, at one and the same time, fully God and fully man. In the one person, Jesus of Nazareth, the fullness of God and fullness of man exists, “unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably.”

And, this formula is also quite practical as a way to comprehend the saving work of Christ Jesus as the “at-one-ment-ing” (uniting) of all persons and things with God the Father and with each other in Himself as the Son of the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit. The union for which all persons and things were created, to which all are called, and which all can, according to the freedom accorded to them, enjoy with God, all persons and things, is, to paraphrase the formula, one in which each participant is one with the other in an “unconfused, unchangeable, indivisible, and inseparable” manner with regard to their own being and the being of the other whether that being be God, humans, or other created things.

All is received in and through Christ Jesus and all things are offered in and through Christ Jesus.

Needless to say, this paradigm of relationships is completely other than what we have been raised in this world to use. What is more, it is most likely not the paradigm we were taught to use by the Church.

Living and relating in this way is only by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Here is a reflection by Saint Cyril of Alexandria, that speaks to the mystery of human union.

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Paul bears witness to the fact that we achieve bodily union with Christ to the extent that we partake of his holy flesh. About this great mystery he says This that has now been revealed through the Spirit to his holy apostles and prophets was unknown to any men in past generations: it means that pagans now share the same inheritance, that they are parts of the same body, and that the same promise has been made to them, in Jesus Christ.

If we are all the same body with one another in Christ – not just with one another, but with him who, through communion with his flesh, is actually within us – are we not then all of us clearly one with one another and one with Christ? For Christ is the bond that unites us, being at once God and Man.

Following the same line of thought, we can say this about spiritual unity: we all receive one and the same Spirit, the one Holy Spirit, I mean the Holy Spirit. So in a way we are blended together with one another and with God. Even though we are many individuals and Christ, the Spirit of the Father and his own Spirit, dwells in each one of us individually, still the Spirit is really one and indivisible. And so that one Spirit binds together the separated spirits of each one of us so that we are seen to be one, together in Christ.

Just as the power of Christ’s holy flesh makes into one body everyone in whom it exists, in the same way the Spirit of God, being indivisible, ties together the spirits in which it dwells.

Again, Paul emphasized this point: Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience. Do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together. There is one Body, one Spirit, just as you were all called into one and the same hope when you were called. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God who is Father of all, over all, through all and within all. As the one Spirit abides in us, the one God and Father will be with us through the Son, leading those who share the Spirit into unity with each other and with himself.

There is another way to show that we are united through sharing in the Holy Spirit. If we abandon living as mere animals and surrender ourselves wholly to the laws of the Spirit, it is surely beyond question that by effectively denying our own life and taking upon ourselves the transcendent likeness of the Holy Spirit who is joined unto us, we are practically transformed into another nature. We are no longer mere men, but sons of God and citizens of Heaven, through becoming partakers of the divine nature.

We are all, therefore, one in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; one because we have the same relationship, one because we live the same life of righteousness, and one in receiving the holy flesh of Christ and in sharing the one Holy Spirit.

The Mysterious Journey of Human Being and Becoming

Here is a wonderful reflection on human being and human becoming authored by Rob Des Cotes, a spiritual director, retreat leader and pastor of Imago Dei.

Enjoy…

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“For we are co-workers in God’s service.”   1Cor. 3:9

I am grateful for the number of wonderful spiritual directors God has given me in my life.  A simple word or phrase offered in the course of spiritual dialogue has often led to fruitful adjustments in my vision and response to God.  One such phrase that a wise director once shared was the concept that we are called to continue God’s good work of creation through the good choices we make each day.  It is an idea that has inspired me often as I consider being a co-creator of my life with God.

I was encouraged to read a similar teaching in a book by Johannes B. Metz called Poverty of Spirit.  This Catholic theologian reiterates what my spiritual director once taught, saying,

  • Becoming a human being involves more than conception and birth.  It is a mandate and a mission, a command and a decision we must make each day to become who we are called to be.

The mandate to “become” is the noble vocation that each one of us receives as the purpose of our lives.  It is what we feel moved by in our restlessness—the longing to grow, in order to be.  Unlike animals who simply accept what they are, we are born with an instinct that tells us we are not yet what we might be, which is why we are always reaching beyond ourselves, towards becoming.  Metz reminds us that this invitation to “continue the good work of creation through the good choices we make each day” is one that God Himself has placed in our hearts.  He writes,

  • As humans we are challenged and questioned from the depths of our boundless spirit.  Being is entrusted to us as a summons, which we are to accept and consciously acknowledge.  It is an act of creation that we are called to participate with.

The invitation to become who we are is indeed a joyful summons but it can often feel like a burden as we find ourselves wrestling in the “already/not yet” tension of being human.  We want to settle, often prematurely, into a persona that would put this tension to rest.  But at the same time we resist it as we feel called to also explore other potentials within us.  To be co-creator of ourselves, for many of us, is both a dignifying as well as an onerous summons.  Metz describes the choice that lays before us saying,

  • From the very start we are something that can be, a being who must seek and find its own selfhood and participate with what it is called to be.  But we can secretly betray the humanity entrusted to us. We can ‘stifle’ the truth of our being. We can run away from ourselves, from the burdens and the difficulties of our lot.

In what ways do we run away from ourselves rather than accept the mystery of who we are and, therefore, of who we are becoming?  In other words we do not become the person we are called to be by rejecting our present self, but by embracing it.  As Metz writes,

  • Our vocation, or “true name,” reveals itself when we accept, with all our heart, the being who is committed to us.  Thus the free process of becoming who we are unfolds as a process of service.  In biblical terms it is simply a matter of remaining obedient and faithful, not to our ideal self, but to the actual humanity that has been entrusted to us.

Metz stresses again the importance of embracing the truth of our creatureliness when he writes,

  • Understood correctly, our love for our self, our “yes” to our self, may be regarded as the ‘categorical imperative’ of the Christian faith: “You shall lovingly accept the humanity entrusted to you.  You shall be obedient to the truth of who you are.  You shall not continually try to escape it.”

To drink fully from the cup of our own particularity—with all its promise and limitations—is to show obedience to the will of God.  We are to “lovingly accept the humanity that has been entrusted to us.”  To do otherwise –to reject our present self—is to also risk rejecting the very person that God has called us to become.

Knowing how readily we try to escape the harsh distress of the human situation and how difficult it is for us to bear with ourselves, we can then understand why it is so important for God to heal us in the area of “self-love.” We can then understand why we also constantly need the help of his grace.  -Johannes Metz

Rob Des Cotes
Imago Dei Christian Communities

FOR GROUP DISCUSSION:

  • How have you experienced the restless desire to “become who you are?”  Has this been a burden to you or a joyful exploration?
  • What are some reasons why we might refuse to participate with the vocation to become who we are?
  • What prevents you at times from “lovingly accepting the humanity entrusted to you?”  In what ways does our refusal to love the person we presently are prevent us from becoming the person we could be?

FOR PRAYER:  Take time in prayer to examine the truth of who you presently are, with all its promise and limitations.  Ask God for the grace to “lovingly accept the humanity that has been entrusted to you.”   Thank God, with faith and joyful anticipation, for the person you are becoming.

The Daily Prayer of Hieroschemamonk Parthenios

hieroschemamonk PartheniosLord Jesus Christ, Son of God, do not permit vanity, self-love, sensuality, carelessness, anger to rule over me and steal me from Thy love, O my Lord and Creator, all my hope! Do not leave me without a portion of the blessed eternity. Grant also that I may follow Thy Holy example.. that I may submit to the authorities placed over me. Grant me the clean soul, the simplicity of heart; which makes us worthy of Thy love.

To Thee, my God, I lift up my soul and heart; do not allow Thy creation to perish, but free me from the single and greatest enemy … sin. Grant, Lord, that I may endure anxiety and sorrows of the soul with the same patience as the joy with which I receive satisfaction of heart. If Thou desirest, Lord, Thou canst cleanse me and sanctify me. Here I commit myself to Thy mercy… begging Thee to destroy within me all that is offensive to Thee, and to unite me to the assembly of Thy chosen.

Lord, take from me: idleness of spirit, which destroys time; vanity of thoughts, which hinders Thy presence and distracts my attention to prayer. If, while in prayer, I turn away from Thee in my thoughts, help me; so that this distraction may not be willful, and that – averting my mind – I may not avert my heart from Thee. I confess to Thee, my Lord God, all the sins of my wickedness committed before Thee, now and in the past. Forgive me for them, for the sake of Thy Holy Name, and save my soul, which thou has redeemed with Thy precious Blood. I entrust myself to Thy mercy. I submit to Thy will. Do with me according to Thy mercy and not according to my evil and wickedness. Teach me Lord, to dispose my deeds so that they will serve in glorifying Thy Holy Name.

Take pity, O Lord, on all Christians. Hear the desires of all who cry out to Thee, and deliver them from evil. Save Thy servants [ insert names ]. Send them comfort, consolation in sorrows, and Thy holy mercy. Lord, I especially pray for those who have in anyway insulted, abused and grieved me. Do not punish them for the sake of me, a sinner; but pour Thy mercy upon them. Lord, I pray to thee especially for all those whom I, a sinner, insulted or tempted in word, deed, thought, knowingly and unknowingly. Lord God, forgive us our sins and mutual offenses. Dispel from our hearts, O Lord, all indignation, suspicion, anger, remembrance of evil, quarrels, and all that might hinder and lessen brotherly love.

Be merciful Lord, to those who have entrusted me, an unworthy sinner, to pray for them. Be merciful Lord, to all who ask Thy help. Lord, make this day a day of Thy mercy; give to each according to their petition. Be the Shepherd of the lost, the Guide of Light of unbelievers, the Teacher of the unwise, the Father of orphans, the Helper of the oppressed, the Healer of the sick, the Comforter of the dying, and lead us all to the desired end… to Thee, our refuge and blessed repose.

Amen.

Great Book

Books have, as I have indicated in other blog posts, been one of the essential features of the architecture of my salvation.

I have thought, when asked to narrate the story of my relationship with God, to use the pivotal books as the framework.

All of this by way of saying that I am in the midst of reading (halfway through at this writing) what I believe to be one of those books!

The Grace of Incorruption, by Donald Sheehan.

The category of “great books” have always operated in two salvific ways in my life. Both facilitate awe and wonder – reverence and gratitude.

It is, by far, one of the most intellectually elegant books I have read in many months. He touches on subjects that articulate the heart of the gospel and the paradigm that is essential to living it out. It ministers to the reasonable aspect of my heart.

But it is also a book that nourishes and nurtures the intuitive aspect of my heart. I can only read a couple of pages at a time before I am compelled to stop and savor. I can only approximate the reality of this aspect by saying:

  • “A space opens up within me into which I descend in some kind of stillness”
  • “I am taken places”
  • “A kind of effortless attentiveness and focus is given to me as a gift instead of an effort on my part”
  • “I realize the upwelling of a sense of knowing deeper than knowing – perhaps completeness of being”
  • “I am able to participate in and view the events of my life that have already occurred with an unmediated joy and a kind of healing”
  • “All manner of things have been, are, and shall be well”

It is like he is reading my heart in a certain transporting fullness.

A Prayer After Receiving Communion

I thank Thee, O Lord my God, for Thou hast not rejected me, a sinner, but hast made me worthy to be a partaker of Thy Holy Things. I thank Thee, for Thou hast permitted me, the unworthy, to commune of Thy most pure and Heavenly, Gifts. But, O Master Who lovest mankind, Who for our sakes didst die and rise again, and gavest us these awesome and life-creating Mysteries for the good and sanctification of our souls and bodies; let them be for the healing of our soul and body, the repelling of every adversary, the illumining of the eyes of my heart, the peace of my spiritual power, a faith unashamed, a love unfeigned, the fulfilling of wisdom, the observing of Thy commandments, the receiving of Thy divine grace, and the attaining of Thy Kingdom. Preserved by them in Thy holiness, may I always remember Thy grace and live not for myself alone, but for Thee, our Master and Benefactor. May I pass from this life in the hope of eternal life, and so attain to the everlasting rest, where the voice of those who feast is unceasing, and the gladness of those who behold the goodness of Thy countenance is unending. For Thou art the true desire and the ineffable joy of those who love Thee, O Christ our God, and all creation sings Thy praise forever. Amen.

Morning Prayer of Elder Sophrony

O Lord Eternal and Creator of all things,
Who imbued me with the desire to seek Thee, the one true God:
Hear my prayer.
I have no life, no light, no joy or wisdom, no strength except in Thee, O God.
Because of my unrighteousness, I dare not raise my eyes to Thee.
But Thou said to Thy disciples,
‘Whatsoever you shall ask in prayer believing, you shall receive.’
and ‘Whatsoever you shall ask in my name, that will I do.’
Wherefore I dare to invoke Thee.
Purify me from all taint of flesh and spirit.
Teach me to pray aright.
Bless this day which Thou givest unto me, Thine unworthy servant.
By the power of Thy blessing enable me at all times to speak and act to Thy glory
with a pure spirit, with humility, patience, love, gentleness, peace, courage and wisdom,
aware always of Thy presence.

Of Thine immense goodness, O Lord God, show me the path of Thy will,
and grant me to walk in Thy sight without sin.
O Lord, unto Whom all hearts be open,
Thou knowest what things I have need of.
Thou art acquainted with my blindness and my ignorance,
Thou knowest mine infirmity and my soul’s corruption;
But neither are my pain and anguish hid from Thee.
Wherefore I beseech Thee, hear my prayer
and by Thy Holy Spirit, teach me the way wherein I should walk;
and when my perverted will would lead me down other paths,
spare me not, O Lord, but force me back to Thee.
By the power of Thy love, grant me to hold fast to that which is good.
Preserve me from every word or deed that corrupts the soul;
from every impulse unpleasing in Thy sight and hurtful to my brother-man.
Teach me what I should say and how I should speak.
If it be Thy will that I make no answer,
inspire me to keep silent in a spirit of peace
that causes neither sorrow nor hurt to my fellow man.
Establish me in the path of Thy commandments
and to my last breath let me not stray from the light of Thine ordinances,
that Thy commandments may become the sole law
of my being on this earth and all eternity.

Yea, Lord, I pray to Thee, have pity on me.
Spare me in my affliction and my misery
and hide not the way of salvation from me.

In my foolishness, O God, I plead with Thee for many and great things.
Yet am I ever mindful of my wickedness, my baseness, my vileness.
Have mercy upon me.
Cast me not away from your presence because of my presumption.
Do Thou, rather, increase in me this presumption,
and grant unto me, the worst of men,
to love Thee as Thou hast commanded, with all my heart, and with all my soul,
and with all my mind, and with all my strength: With my whole being.

Yea, O Lord, by Thy Holy Spirit, teach me good judgment and knowledge.
Grant me to know Thy truth before I go down into the grave.
Maintain my life in this world until I may offer unto Thee worthy repentance.
Take me not away in the midst of my days, nor while my mind is still blind.
When Thou shalt be pleased to bring my life to an end,
forewarn me that I may prepare my soul to come before Thee.
Be with me, O Lord, at that dread hour and grant me the joy of salvation.
Cleanse me from secret faults, from all iniquity that is hidden in me;
and give me a right answer before Thy judgment-seat—

Yea, Lord, of Thy great mercy and immeasurable love for mankind.