Partakers and Expressors of the Divine Nature – St. Cyril of Alexandria

“I am the vine, you are the branches”

The Lord calls himself the vine and those united to him branches in order to teach us how much we shall benefit from our union with him, and how important it is for us to remain in his love. By receiving the Holy Spirit, who is the bond of union between us and Christ our Saviour, those who are joined to him, as branches are to a vine, share in his own nature.

On the part of those who come to the vine, their union with him depends upon a deliberate act of the will; on his part, the union is effected by grace. Because we had good will, we made the act of faith that brought us to Christ, and received from him the dignity of adoptive sonship that made us his own kinsmen, according to the words of Saint Paul: He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.

The prophet Isaiah calls Christ the foundation, because it is upon him that we as living and spiritual stones are built into a holy priesthood to be a dwelling place for God in the Spirit. Upon no other foundation than Christ can this temple be built. Here Christ is teaching the same truth by calling himself the vine, since the vine is the parent of its branches, and provides their nourishment.

From Christ and in Christ, we have been reborn through the Spirit in order to bear the fruit of life; not the fruit of our old, sinful life but the fruit of a new life founded upon our faith in him and our love for him. Like branches growing from a vine, we now draw our life from Christ, and we cling to his holy commandment in order to preserve this life. Eager to safeguard the blessing of our noble birth, we are careful not to grieve the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, and who makes us aware of God’s presence in us.

Let the wisdom of John teach us how we live in Christ and Christ lives in us: The proof that we are living in him and he is living in us is that he has given us a share in his Spirit. Just as the trunk of the vine gives its own natural properties to each of its branches, so, by bestowing on them the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, the only-begotten Son of the Father, gives Christians a certain kinship with himself and with God the Father because they have been united to him by faith and determination to do his will in all things. He helps them to grow in love and reverence for God, and teaches them to discern right from wrong and to act with integrity. Source: From a commentary on the Gospel of John, (Lib. 10,2: PG 74, 331-334)

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“I Tasted and I Saw”: The Trinity as Infinitely Knowable Mystery – St. Catherine of Siena

God is infinitely knowable and unknowable. He is imminent and transcendent. Communion with Him is one and the same time completely satisfying and engenders within the communicant the desire for deeper communion with Him. St. Catherine reflects on this Mystery in what follows:

Eternal God, eternal Trinity, you have made the blood of Christ so precious through his sharing in your divine nature. You are a mystery as deep as the sea; the more I search, the more I find, and the more I find the more I search for you. But I can never be satisfied; what I receive will ever leave me desiring more. When you fill my soul I have an even greater hunger, and I grow more famished for your light. I desire above all to see you, the true light, as you really are.

I have tasted and seen the depth of your mystery and the beauty of your creation with the light of my understanding. I have clothed myself with your likeness and have seen what I shall be. Eternal Father, you have given me a share in your power and the wisdom that Christ claims as his own, and your Holy Spirit has given me the desire to love you. You are my Creator, eternal Trinity, and I am your creature. You have made of me a new creation in the blood of your Son, and I know that you are moved with love at the beauty of your creation, for you have enlightened me.

Eternal Trinity, Godhead, mystery deep as the sea, you could give me no greater gift than the gift of yourself. For you are a fire ever burning and never consumed, which itself consumes all the selfish love that fills my being. Yes, you are a fire that takes away the coldness, illuminates the mind with its light and causes me to know your truth. By this light, reflected as it were in a mirror, I recognise that you are the highest good, one we can neither comprehend nor fathom. And I know that you are beauty and wisdom itself. The food of angels, you gave yourself to man in the fire of your love.

You are the garment which covers our nakedness, and in our hunger you are a satisfying food, for you are sweetness and in you there is no taste of bitterness, O triune God! Source: from the dialogue On Divine Providence by Saint Catherine of Siena (Cap 167, Gratiarum actio ad Trinitatem)

On the Need to Unceasingly Praise God, by St. Augustine

Our thoughts in this present life should turn on the praise of God, because it is in praising God that we shall rejoice for ever in the life to come; and no one can be ready for the next life unless he trains himself for it now. So we praise God during our earthly life, and at the same time we make our petitions to him. Our praise is expressed with joy, our petitions with yearning. We have been promised something we do not yet possess, and because the promise was made by one who keeps his word, we trust him and are glad; but insofar as possession is delayed, we can only long and yearn for it. It is good for us to persevere in longing until we receive what was promised and yearning is over; then praise alone will remain.

Because there are these two periods of time – the one that now is, beset with the trials and troubles of this life, and the other yet to come, a life of everlasting serenity and joy – we are given two liturgical seasons, one before Easter and the other after. The season before Easter signifies the troubles in which we live here and now, while the time after Easter which we are celebrating at present signifies the happiness that will be ours in the future. What we commemorate before Easter is what we experience in this life; what we celebrate after Easter points to something we do not yet possess. This is why we keep the first season with fasting and prayer; but now the fast is over and we devote the present season to praise. Such is the meaning of the Alleluia we sing.

Both these periods are represented and demonstrated for us in Christ our head. The Lord’s passion depicts for us our present life of trial – shows how we must suffer and be afflicted and finally die. The Lord’s resurrection and glorification show us the life that will be given to us in the future.

Now therefore, we urge you to praise God. That is what we are all telling each other when we say Alleluia. You say to your neighbour, ‘Praise the Lord!’ and he says the same to you. We are all urging one another to praise the Lord, and all thereby doing what each of us urges the other to do. But see that your praise comes from your whole being; in other words, see that you praise God not with your lips and voices alone, but with your minds, your lives, and all your actions.

We are praising God now, assembled as we are here in Church: but when we go our various ways again, it seems as if we cease to praise God. But provided we do not cease to live a good life, we shall always be praising God. You cease to praise God only when you swerve from justice and from what is pleasing to God. If you never turn aside from the good life, your tongue may be silent but your actions will cry aloud, and God will perceive your intentions; for as our ears hear each other’s voices, so do God’s ears hear our thoughts. Source: Two Year Lectionary, Patristic Vigil Readings, Easter, Year 1, for Sunday of the 5th Week in Eastertide.

Taste and See that the Lord is Good

The Gospel reading for today invites us to contemplate the mysterious character of God, and His divinely instituted environment for our salvation, the Holy Tradition. It is an invitation to experience an even more complete expression of joy in our everyday life by embracing the challenge to continue (persevere in) living the resurrected life of Christ Jesus.christ chalice

John 14.7-14
[7] If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him.”
[8] Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.”
[9] Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, `Show us the Father’?
[10] Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.
[11] Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves.
[12] “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father.
[13] Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son;
[14] if you ask anything in my name, I will do it.

God is unseeable and unapproachable

The Scriptures tells us that God is “the invisible God” (Colossians 1.15). “No man has God at any time” (John 1.18). Indeed, He is the One Whom “no man has seen nor can see”(1 Timothy 6.16).

He “dwells in unapproachable light.”(1 Timothy 6.16)

And yet, God is not only seeable but commands men and women to approach Him and touch Him!!

“No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.” (John 1.18)

“All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11.27-28)

“…we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father’ (John 1.14). ‘he who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14.9).

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us — that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing this that our joy may be complete.” (1 John 1.1-4)

“And he said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.” (Luke 24.38-43)

The saving paradigm is characterized by mystery. Mystery “includes” in a unique way. It is uncompromisingly inclusive of what, in any other environment, would see as an “either or.” It articulates a way of living a “both and” life without becoming vague and indecisive. Just the opposite. When we maintain a need to solve what we perceive as a problem of “either or,” we are, many times, opting out of God’s mysterious will and opting in for a knowable will. Indeed, the will of God, like God, is both knowable and unknowable at the same time. Yikes…

In the “either or” paradigm God as unseen and unapproachable is inherently inconsistent or contradictory to God as seeable and approachable and touchable. The perceived need is to relate to God as one of these and then the other. Back and forth. It is a life of pendulum swings between extremes. In contrast, the matrix of the Kingdom is one of union. In order to encounter God as God in spirit and truth, we cannot do so in an “either or” mode but in a “both and” mode. The apostles did not create a “both and” environment in order to relate to God as unseen and seen, unapproachable and approachable. Rather, they received a matrix that was divinely instituted. Indeed, they received the environment that was/is the very life of God Himself. The boldness and effectiveness of the ministry of the apostles issued forth from the fertile environment which is the Trinitarian/Incarnational life of God. In Him they lived and moved and ministered. As disciples of the risen Christ Jesus, we are not recipients of a message that proclaims a repackaging of our paradigm. Hope and life are not the fruit such a repackaging or reinventing of the old. The Gospel is a message of hope because it offers a completely new life. That new life is the source of hope to those who have no more hope.

We are invited by Jesus, just like the first disciples, to die to one matrix of life and be born to another no matter where we find it – in the world, inside ourselves, or even within the church. Unless we do, to take the subtlety of the mystery even deeper, we will not be able to “see the kingdom of God” let alone “enter the kingdom of God.”

John 3.1-10
[1] Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicode’mus, a ruler of the Jews.
[2] This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.”
[3] Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
[4] Nicode’mus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
[5] Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
[6] That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
[7] Do not marvel that I said to you, `You must be born anew.’
[8] The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.”
[9] Nicode’mus said to him, “How can this be?”
[10] Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this?

It is this life that is offered in and through the Divine Liturgy. The Liturgy is the Mystery of God. It portrays, offers, and is the very experience of the Life of God. The Divine Liturgy is faithful to the radical command of Jesus to not just lay eyes on Him but eat and drink Him!! Because of this we hear:

“It is proper and right to sing to You, bless You, praise You, thank You and worship You in all places of Your dominion; for You are God ineffable, beyond comprehension, invisible, beyond understanding, existing forever and always the same; You and Your only begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit.”

“No one bound by worldly desires and pleasures is worthy to approach, draw near or minister to You, the King of glory. To serve You is great and awesome even for the heavenly powers. But because of Your ineffable and immeasurable love for us, You became man without alteration or change… Therefore, I implore You, look upon me, Your sinful and unworthy servant, and cleanse my soul and heart from evil consciousness…”

In the fear of God and with faith draw near. Receive the Body of Christ; taste the fountain of immortality. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Saint Irenaeus of Lyons (c.130-c.208), Bishop, theologian and martyr, articulates the Mystery in this way:

“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father”
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5.8). True, since the Father cannot be grasped, “no man can see God and live” (Ex 33.20) in his majesty and inexpressible glory. But in his love, his goodness to us and almighty power, he does go so far as to give to those who love him the privilege of seeing God…, for “what is impossible to man is possible to God” (Lk 18.27). Of himself man will not see God; but God, if he wishes, will be seen by men, by those he wants, when he wants and as he wants, for God can do all things. In former times he was seen according to prophecy thanks to the Spirit, then he was seen according to adoption thanks to the Son, and he will be seen in the Kingdom of heaven according to his fatherhood. For the Spirit makes us ready beforehand for the Son of God; the Son leads us to the Father; and the Father gives us an immortal nature and the eternal life that follows from this sight of God for all who see it.

For those who see the light are in the light and share in its splendor, and so those who see God are in God and share in his splendor. And God’s splendor gives life: therefore, those who see God share in his life. Against the Heresies 4, 20, 4-5 ; SC 100

Borrowing from our cultural narrative that seems to articulate a need to take a serious look at our presuppositions, Morpheus says to Neo, “Welcome to the desert of the real…”

Fr. Thomas

Catechizing the World by Christ’s Love

What is the greatest evangelistic tool we have at our disposal as the Church? Is it clever words or lofty arguments? Is it a “do this and this will happen” formula?Follow_Me pilgrim icon

In none of these does the essence of the power of the Gospel reside. In this and this alone — a scandalously particular love that is not according to the definitions the world, but the love of God the Father in God the Son as displayed and enabled by God the Holy Spirit through the Church and her members — you and me. The concrete, enduring, relational love of Christ Himself through you and me is the best apology for the Gospel. It is into this living narrative of salvation, into which we have been baptized and participate, we invite others for the sake of their salvation and our own. Those who seek to “see Jesus” deserve the opportunity to do just that!! The Holy Tradition was created and is maintained in all its dynamism for this main work — to reunite God and mankind and cause that union to mature and be consummately manifest in the everyday life of people like you and me. For this purpose God seeks to make His personal appeal of concrete love through us.

Hear what St. Augustine says:

But what greater reason exists then of our Lord’s coming, than that God might shew in us His Love, commending it mightily, in that whilst we were yet enemies Christ died for us? And that for this cause, seeing that love is the end of the commandment and the fulfilling of the Law,that we also may love one another, and in like manner as He laid down His life for us, so we also may lay down our life for the brethren; and in respect of God Himself, since He first loved us, and spared not His own only Son, but gave Him up for us all, that, even if to love Him were irksome, yet that, now at least, it may not be irksome to return His love. For there is no greater invitation to love, than loving first … [T]he soul which was before torpid, is aroused as soon as it hath perceived itself to be the object of love, and that which was already warm, is the more enkindled as it hath learnt that its love is returned, it is clear that there exists no greater cause either for the beginning or for the increase of love, than when he who as yet loves not, perceives that he is beloved, or he who loves before, either hopes that he may be, or is already assured that he is, loved in return: and if this is the case even in shameful loves, how much more in friendship? For what else do we guard against in that which causes discontent in friendship, but this, that our friend may not judge that we either do not love him at all, or love him less than he loves us? …

If therefore for this cause especially Christ came, that man might understand how greatly he is beloved of God; and to this end might understand it, that he might grow fervent in the love of Him, by Whom he was first loved, and might love his neighbour, at His bidding and His shewing, Who was made man’s neighbour, in that He loved him when not his neighbour, but far off sojourning; and if all divine Scripture which was written before, was written to proclaim beforehand the coming of the Lord; and whatever afterwards was committed to writing, and confirmed by divine authority, telleth of Christ, and admonisheth of love: it is clear that on these two commandments, of the love of God, and of our neighbour, hang not only the whole Law and the Prophets, which as yet, when our Lord thus spake, formed the whole of Holy Scripture, but also whatsoever portions of the divine volume have since been written for our health, and committed to our remembrance.

Wherefore in the Old Testament there is a veiling of the New, in the New Testament there is an unveiling of the Old. According to that veiling carnal men understanding after a carnal manner, both then and now, have been bowed down by a penal yoke of fear. But according to this revelation spiritual men, both then as many as knocking piously had even hidden things opened to them, and now as many as seek not proudly, lest even open things be closed to them, understanding after a spiritual manner, have been made free by that love with which they have been gifted. Wherefore seeing nothing is more opposed to love than envying, and that the mother of envying is pride, that same our Lord Jesus Christ, God-Man, is both a token of the divine love towards us, and an example of the divine humility among us, that thus our great swelling might be healed by a more powerful remedy counteracting it. Great misery indeed is it, proud mau; but greater commiseration, God humbled! This love therefore being taken by you as your proposed end, to which to refer all things which you say, whatever you narrate, do you so narrate it, as that he whom you are addressing may by hearing believe, by believing hope, by hoping love.
St. Augustine, The Catechizing of the Unlearned, 7,8

Hear also the witness of St. John:

John 1.35-51
[35] The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples;
[36] and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”
[37] The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.
[38] Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?”
[39] He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.
[40] One of the two who heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.
[41] He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ).
[42] He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).
[43] The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. And he found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”
[44] Now Philip was from Beth-sa’ida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
[45] Philip found Nathan’a-el, and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
[46] Nathan’a-el said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
[47] Jesus saw Nathan’a-el coming to him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”
[48] Nathan’a-el said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”
[49] Nathan’a-el answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
[50] Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.”
[51] And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”

The height, depth, length and width of the kind of love which is Christ Jesus — the only life-giving love there is — measurable only by the standard of what occurs when the relationship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share is Incarnate in the context of human circumstance and where that love takes and requires of those who offer it. That is perceived as risky for us who are encountered by it inside our neat self-created universes. That requires trust. It requires us to venture into the regions of love we have only seen from afar and never dared to set foot. We can no longer maintain our status as the ones “in charge of the result” even though we are confident regarding the result — the very life of Christ Jesus will indwell those who receive this love and they will live the Christ-life. That has never failed to be the perfect result, in God’s timing, because He Who loves is the victorious One.

“Good Lord Deliver Us”

“The world” is the general name for all the passions. When we wish to call the passions by a common name, we call them the world. But when we wish to distinguish them by their special names, we call them the passions. The Tintern Abbey insidepassions are the following: love of riches, desire for possessions, bodily pleasure from which comes sexual passion, love of honor which gives rise to envy, lust for power, arrogance and pride of position, the craving to adorn oneself with luxurious clothes and vain ornaments, the itch for human glory which is a source of rancor and resentment, and physical fear. Where these passions cease to be active, (in the saints) there the world is dead; for though living in the flesh, they did not live for the flesh. See for which of these passions you are alive. Then you will know how far you are alive to the world, and how far you are dead to it. (St. Isaac the Syrian [7th century])

Remember not  Lord, our offences, nor the Offences of our forefathers, neither take thou  vengeance of our sins : spare us good Lord, spare thy people, whom thou hast  redeemed with thy most precious blood, and be not angry with us for ever.

Spare us, good Lord.

From all evil and  mischief, from sin, from the crafts, and assaults of the devil, from thy wrath,  and from everlasting damnation.

Good Lord deliver us.

From all  blindness of heart, from pride, vain glory, and hypocrisie, from envy, hatred,  and malice, and all uncharitablenes.

Good Lord deliver us.

From fornication,  and all other deadly sin, and from all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and  the devil.

Good Lord deliver us.

From lightning  and tempest, from plague, pestilence, and famine; from battel, and murder, and  from sudden death.

Good Lord deliver us.

From all  sedition, privy conspiracy, and rebellion from all false doctrine, schism &  heresy from hardnes of heart, and contempt of thy word and commandemente

Good Lord deliver us.

By the mysterie  of thy holy Incarnation, by thy holy Nativitie, and Circumcision, by thy  Baptism, Fasting, and Temptation.

Good Lord deliver us.

By thine Agony,  and bloody sweat, by thy Cross and Passion, by thy precious Death, and Buriall, by thy glorious Resurrection and Ascension, and by the coming of the holy  Ghost.

Good Lord deliver us.

(Book of Common Prayer 1662)

Disappointment and Beauty

I have continued to reflect on disappointment and how the Holy Tradition addresses it — redeems it. In so doing, I decided to step back and look at it from a distance, so to speak. As I did so, I was struck by the elegance of it. In trinity rosefact, the intricate beauty of it. That, in turn, reminded me that one of the facets of the Holy Tradition’s transformative power is beauty.

The Christian faith in its operation — both conceptually and practically — is beautiful both physically and spiritually. The physical beauty of the Holy Tradition is not extra. It is essential. It is not just what we do, or why we do, but how we do that is important.

But the Holy Tradition is not just a beautiful thing to behold or investigate. IT IS beautiful. IT IS beauty itself. It is Christ, who is beautiful. Beauty is essential to life. Without beauty we die. Beauty is restorative.  Beauty heals the brokenness of the universe and the human situation by embracing it and incorporating it into the narrative of salvation in all its perfect beauty. How we respond to disappointment can be ugly or beautiful. The ugly response deepens the disappointment. The beautiful response — the Christ response — turns the agenda of disappointment into an chapter in a larger victory.

So, one of the ways in which the Holy Tradition addresses disappointment, I must always remember, is to embrace it with beauty. Not sentimentalism I must hasten to add. Real beauty. The distinction is crucial. One is cheap and patronizing. The other is strong and overcomes. It is, to use an analogy, the difference between happiness and joy. One is small and temporary — happiness. Joy, in contrast, is expansive and lasting. Beauty envelopes us and breaths the breath of the life of God into us.

Before the beautiful—no, not really before but within the beautiful—the whole person quivers. He not only “finds” the beautiful moving; rather, he experiences himself as being moved and possessed by it. The more complete this experience is, the less does a person seek and enjoy only the delight that comes through the senses or even through any act of his own; the less also does he reflect on his own acts and states. Such a person has been taken up wholesale into the reality of the beautiful and is now fully subordinate to it, determined by it, animated by it. (The Glory of the Lord, Volume 1, Hans Urs von Balthasar)

Bigger than disappointment, or better yet, deeper, is the hunger/yearning for beauty. That is why disappointment is disappointment. It itself, is penultimate by its own confession. The fact that we can call it that admits to something deeper and more that we desire to prevail. We stretch out with our souls and our bodies for this fulfillment to set our disappointment in perspective (not to somehow say it is OK as if disappointment belongs), embrace it and make it part of something victorious by transforming it. C.S. Lewis speaks of the yearning in his essay, The Weight of Glory, that has been the subject of this blog on other occasions.

We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words–to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses and nymphs and elves–that, though we cannot, yet these projections can, enjoy in themselves that beauty grace, and power of which Nature is the image. That is why the poets tell us such lovely falsehoods. They talk as if the west wind could really sweep into a human soul; but it can’t. They tell us that “beauty born of murmuring sound” will pass into a human face; but it won’t. Or not yet. For if we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendour of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy. At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in. When human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which Nature is only the first sketch. For you must not think that I am putting forward any heathen fancy of being absorbed into Nature. Nature is mortal; we shall outlive her. When all the suns and nebulae have passed away, each one of you will still be alive. Nature is only the image, the symbol; but it is the symbol Scripture invites me to use. We are summoned to pass in through Nature, beyond her, into that splendour which she fitfully reflects.

Fr. Thomas

Disappointment – P.S.

Yesterday was very busy. I did not get to drink deeply from all the various wells of living water I visit each day. So, I must conclude, I allowed yesterday to be too busy or I just needed to get up earlier (Lord, have mercy.) !  So, this morning I did some catching up — I got up earlier and emptied some of the time of other occupations. In doing so, I was blessed by the two reflections that can be found here and here. I was blessed. Perhaps they will provide additional depth to yesterday’s post on the subject of disappointment.

Fr. Thomas

Disappointment

Life is salted with disappointments (pun on “salt of the earth” intended). Things become dark and stormy. Some of these times are fairly “manageable” and some so profound that getting to the other side of it seems impossible. We disappoint and are disappointed. Institutions and processes disappoint us and we disappoint them. What we do with disappointment is of utmost importance. Unattended to in the proper way, it becomes results in condemnation and disenfranchisement. Does God, through the Holy Tradition, have anything to say to us about disappointment – the dark times – and how to address it in creative and life-giving ways? The Scriptures assigned for today speak directly to this issue.

John 6.16-21
[16] When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea,
[17] got into a boat, and started across the sea to Caper’na-um. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.
[18] The sea rose because a strong wind was blowing.
[19] When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat. They were frightened,
[20] but he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”
[21] Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.

Don Schwager, offers this reflection on the passage:

Does the Lord Jesus ever seem distant to you? When John recounted the scene of the apostles being alone at sea in a storm he described the situation as “dark” (John 6:17). It was dark not only physically but spiritually as well. Although they were experienced fishermen, they were fearful for their lives. The Lord’s sudden presence – and his supernatural ability to walk towards them on top of the rough waves of the sea – only made them more fearful! John says they were frightened. And Jesus had to calm them with a reassuring command: “Do not be afraid because I am here with you!”

Aren’t we like the apostles when we experience moments of darkness, fear, and trials? While the Lord may at times seem absent or very distant to us, he, nonetheless, is always present and close-by. The scriptures remind us that the Lord is “a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). Whatever storms may beset us, he promises to “bring us to our desired haven” and place of calm rest and safety (Psalm 107:29-30). The Lord keeps watch over us at all times, and especially in our moments of temptation and difficulty. Do you rely on the Lord for his strength and help? Jesus assures us that we have no need of fear if we put our trust in him and in his great love and care for us. When calamities or trials threaten to overwhelm you, how do you respond? With faith and hope in God’s love, personal care, and presence with you?

“Lord Jesus, may I never doubt your saving help and your watchful presence in my life, especially in times of trouble. Fortify my faith with courage and give me enduring hope that I may never waver in my trust in you.” (www.dailyscripture.net, Copyright © 2013 Don Schwager)

The tumultuous character of disappointment is not cured simply by changing our attitude or correcting our faulty thinking. It is not good enough to say, “Snap out of it!” Of course, we need to take charge of our thought life. That is the bedrock of transformation in Christ. But, the struggle to address our thought life takes place in a concrete environment that confirms and strengthens that work. The environment is not extra. It is normative and essential. The environment includes not only fellowship, prayer, sacraments, disciplines that address our bodily appetites, keeping the commandments, and Holy Scripture but a particular understanding and participation of these facets. If we take a look at Acts 2.42-47; 4.32-37 ; 5.12-16; 6.7 which are so often used in conversations about the “golden days” of “the Church that we have so sadly lost and its spirit we need to desperately recapture and replicate,” it is instructive to also read the passages BETWEEN them. They are stories of provision in the midst of disappointment and darkness. Very instructive little study.

Jesus was provided an environment for His disciples during His pre-passion relationship with them that was designed to show them how He addressed disappointment. It is this ongoing provision that Jesus speaks of in His discourse prior to His arrest in John’s gospel account. God the Father, He says, will continue to provide this environment in and through the gift of the Holy Spirit and His ministry. And, He attempts to explain, this environment will be (Mysteriously) Him – His very life in and through the Holy Tradition.

When we take a look at the Church in Acts after Pentecost, we see a community of believers who exhibit a characteristic response to disappointment. Many think of the Apostolic Church as an example of the ideal church. The one we should imitate and replicate. Well, that sentiment is a good one but sometimes misinformed. It is often fueled by a faulty view of the Apostolic community. The faulty view is that the Apostolic community was “problem free.” An ideal community without blemish that catapulted from one astounding success to another. It was, to be sure, a time of astounding fruitfulness and miraculous events. But, an honest look at the church of Acts of the Apostles shows a community continually addressing disappointment both internal and external. The community sought to learn and live the spirit-filled and guided Way, Truth, and Life. (Parenthetically, I want to make it abundantly clear that I do not believe the Apostolic Church was, during this time, creating the Church or developing traditions on its own. It was in a receptive mode. It was receiving the Holy Tradition as the Holy Spirit was revealing and offering it. The Church believed in the Holy Spirit’s provision and was dedicated to a faithful process of reception and integration. And, I would say, it has been doing so ever since. THAT in and of itself is another example of divine provision in the midst of disappointment!!)

The Apostolic Church was no stranger to disappointment and dark times that surround them. Opposition, arrest, beatings, martyrdom, disagreements over how to live a shared life, instances of partiality, deceit in sharing, disagreement over who is “in” and who is “out,” differing views regarding missional strategy, etc.

If we are to look to the Apostolic Church of Acts as a model to imitate, then we should imitate its way of addressing disappointment – times of trial that are a temptation to abandon the Way, Truth, and Life – and do likewise. We are living out the 29th chapter of Acts as the saying goes. The way of addressing disappointment and trial is, however, all too often overlooked as being the main reason it was so fruitful.

So, if we want to immolate the Apostolic Church and facilitate its “astounding successfulness” then we need to get ready to address disappointments and dark times. They go together in the economy of God’s saving work in the context of this world. Dietrich Bonhoeffer , makes this crucial point in his classic, Life Together. He says,

Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.

By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world. He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream. God is not a God of the emotions but the God of truth. Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it.

The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community, the better for both. A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists upon keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community. Sooner or later it will collapse. Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more that the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.

Here is an example from the early experience of the Apostolic Church:

Acts 6.1-7
[1] Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists murmured against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.
[2] And the twelve summoned the body of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.
[3] Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty.
[4] But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
[5] And what they said pleased the whole multitude, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Proch’orus, and Nica’nor, and Ti’mon, and Par’menas, and Nicola’us, a proselyte of Antioch.
[6] These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands upon them.
[7] And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.

Let me direct you to a fruitful reflection on this passage that can be found here:

What I took away from the reflection by Dennis Hamm, S.J. was the approach of the Apostles to a very real disappointment. They did not avoid, deny, or manage it. They sought to delve deeper into what it meant to be the Body of Christ and how to live out that identity. They followed what I have come to call the “contemplative-incarnational-missional pattern.” They sought, in essence, to apply in practical terms the Trinitarian life of God. And, they were, as a result “astoundingly successful” and fruitful.

I am reminded in all of this of Psalm 42 (43):

Psalm 42 (43)
[1] Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause
against an ungodly people;
from deceitful and unjust men
deliver me!
[2] For thou art the God in whom I take refuge;
why hast thou cast me off?
Why go I mourning
because of the oppression of the enemy?
[3] Oh send out thy light and thy truth;
let them lead me,
let them bring me to thy holy hill
and to thy dwelling!
[4] Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God my exceeding joy;
and I will praise thee with the lyre,
O God, my God.
[5] Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

Notice the attitudinal struggle. As I indicated earlier, it is all too easy to reduce Christianity and our discipleship to an exercise in getting your thinking straight or getting your attitude right or praising yourself into a right attitude. I am not discounting the need for ALL of this. Remember, it is the bedrock of the Apostolic faith. But, it needs to be remembered, this inner ascesis exists as a facet of a larger transformative context. Lets remember who the Psalmist is and where that person’s struggle is taking place – the temple with all of its form, regularity, order, consistency, fellowship, prayer, scriptural encounter, bodily discipline, keeping the commandments, and sacramental opportunity. The Psalmist has an environment in which to address disappointment so it can result in fruitfulness — both personal and communal.

Once again, it is the lack of the environment or the negligence of that environment in which to address disappointment that results in it becoming the catalyst of avoidance, despair, alienation, and division. Without the environment we are left to our own sense of what is right. We repeat the mistake of the Israelites: “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21.25) That is not just a individual behavior but one a whole community can embrace. We can adopt a posture of rationalization and avoidance — “What disappointment?!” or “Oh, its okay.” Or, we judge and compartmentalize.  We place ourselves too easily in the judgment seat regarding others and vice versa. Institutions cease to become responsive to their original mandate to be life-giving environments. People are relegated to the waste bin of humanity or relegate society to the waste bin as hopelessly dysfunctional. Trust? Compassion? Recovery? What do those terms mean when disappointment is the trump card?! No longer is disappointment an attitude we have regarding behaviors. People become disappointments. And, after a while, they and we begin to believe it. The environment is crucial. The Holy Tradition as an environment of transformation mediates against our passions of judgmentalism, condemnation, and avoidance regarding our “disappointing” behaviors or those of others. This is a matrix of life-creating and life-sustaining faith, hope, and love.

When we have found ourselves in the dire straits of disappointment and our boat was filling with water and we were asking ourselves, “How can we continue?,” we knew (because of the Holy Tradition) to how to look for the Lord and were equipped to do so. In the context of fellowship, prayer, Scripture, bodily discipline, sacraments, and keeping the commandments, we encountered and dwelt on Him. We were nourished and corrected and encouraged. (We may not have called it that or identified the facets of it but I contend they were present.) It was THEN that He turned our sadness into joy. Our disappointment and that of others was not the whole story even though it was a real part of the story. We struggled honestly in the sanctuary of our Lord toward a new day. “Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30.5) Indescribable joy, rose as a seedling, out of the soil of the fertile soil of our disappointment that was farmed by the Holy Spirit. An indescribable joy and yet a joy we had to find words to express. We shouted from the mountain tops because we were so blessed. I felt and tasted what it meant to be filled with the goodness of God. Our cup overflowed and spread out into the world.

If it was true then, it is still true. Those were not the “good old days.” Today is that “good day” in which we can know the saving goodness of the Lord. Our Lord is the same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow – forever. The Apostolic Church has always believed it and experienced it. You and I as members of that community have believed it and experienced it too. So, today, “Yet I will praise Him!” and it will be that “…immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.”

Fr. Thomas