Upward Call

People ask me why I chose the name “Upward Call” for this ministry.  The saints have consistently spoken of the Christian life, as a journey, a pilgrimage. What is more, they speak of it as an “ascent” — a journey upward (glorification) by going downward (humility). The way up is down. Another way, it seems to me, of speaking of the “eye of the needle.” The faithful struggle that can, if we say yet another “Gethsemane yes”, inform the meaning and significance of any and all struggles we may face.

Jesus goes “up” to Jerusalem to be “lifted up” and “descend” into the grave to be “raised up.” There it is again — paradox.

The gospel for today and the reflection on it by St. Augustine is a good example of the witness of the New Testament and the saints regarding the upward call. The life of ascent.

[51] When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. [52] And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him; [53] but the people would not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. [54] And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?” [55] But he turned and rebuked them. [56] And they went on to another village. Luke 9.51-56


The weight of our fragility makes us bend towards realities here below; the fire of your love, O Lord, raises us up and bears us towards realities above. We rise there by means of our heart’s impetus, singing the songs of ascent. We burn with your fire, the fire of your goodness, for it is this that transports us.

Where is it that you thus cause us to rise? To the peace of the heavenly Jerusalem. “I rejoiced when I heard them say: Let us go to the house of the Lord” (Ps 122[121],1). Nothing will bring us to it except the desire to remain there for ever. While we are in the body, we journey towards you. Here below we have no abiding city; we are constantly seeking our home in the city to come (Heb 13,14). May your grace guide me, O Lord, into the depths of my heart, there to sing of your love, my King and my God… And as I remember that heavenly Jerusalem my heart will rise up towards it: to Jerusalem my true homeland, Jerusalem my mother (Gal 4,26). You are its King, its light, its defender, its protector, its pastor; you are its unquenchable joy; your goodness is the source of all its inexpressible blessings… – you, my God and my divine mercy. Saint Augustine (354-430), Meditations, ch.18

And, of course, the passage that resonates in my deepest heart:

[7] But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. [8] Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ [9] and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith; [10] that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  [11] that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. [12] Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. [13] Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, [14] I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. [15] Let those of us who are mature be thus minded; and if in anything you are otherwise minded, God will reveal that also to you.  [16] Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Philippians 3.7-16

Lord, grant me the grace to say my upward/downward “yes” today.

The Son of Man draws His glory from the cross. Do I/we?

From who or what do we draw our strength to meet the challenges of everyday life? What do we use as the paradigm for the meaning of what is occurring and our right response and/or participation?

Jesus testifies and the apostles amplify the testimony that it was His passion and death – His cross.

If that is the case then it should be our testimony too. Not a testimony that “gets us saved” but one that informs how we live every moment of every day; and how we respond to every event and situation. It is a testimony that is characteristic of our “journey of salvation.” It is a permanent testimony not just one that gets us started in the Christian life and is then filed away. No. The Christian life is the cross-shaped life. At first it is perhaps vaguely cross-shaped. How and why is this so? Well, as I understand it, every event and circumstance, no matter how pleasant is considered and participated in by us in a cross-shaped manner.

That last statement should touch something of the wrong-headed impression we have of the cross and taking it up. We, at least I am, tempted to continue to think of it in grime ways, as an unfortunate necessity. We think that cross-shaped events are ones that have gone wrong and become cross-shaped.

Well, there you have it. It is this presupposition that robs us of the joy of the cross, albeit a painful joy. It is this presupposition St. Paul opposes and rejects on so many occasions in his letters.

So, as we grow/mature into the likeness of Christ the shape becomes more and more defined – permanently. We GLORY in the cross, not from a distance. We glory in the cross by having our life become a living cross by the grace of God.

In the Divine Liturgy, the priest articulates the many facets of God’s saving work. The cross is one of them. Here is the prayer.

May He Who rose from the dead, Christ our true God, a good, loving, and merciful God, have mercy upon us and save us, through the intercessions of His most pure and holy Mother; the power of the precious and life-giving Cross; the protection of the honorable, bodiless powers of heaven; the supplications of the honorable, glorious, prophet, and forerunner John the Baptist; the holy, glorious, and praiseworthy apostles; the holy, glorious, and triumphant martyrs; our holy and God-bearing Father (name); the holy and righteous ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna; Saint (of the day) whose memory we commemorate today, and all the saints. May the blessing of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and His mercy come upon you through His divine grace and love now and ever and to the ages of ages.  Amen.

Please understand that I in no way can proclaim my own life to stand up to this test. I struggle on, “press on” by the grace of God, to become victorious over all the passions that war against the desire to become the living cross by grace. The living testimony of the victorious power of self-giving love. Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.

Here is what St. Thomas Aquinas says:

Some people draw glory from their knowledge, but the apostle Paul finds supreme knowledge in the cross. “No, he says, I desired to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ crucified” (1Cor 2,2). Is not the cross the fulfilment of the whole law and art of living well? To those who glory in their own power, Paul can answer that he draws matchless power from the cross: “The language of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1Cor 1,18). Do you draw glory from the freedom you have gained? Paul draws his from the cross: “Our old self was crucified with him… that we might no longer be in slavery to sin” (Rm 6.6).

Yet others draw their glory from being chosen as members of some famous group or other; but as for us, through Christ’s cross we are invited to the congregation of heaven. “Reconciling all things, whether those on earth or those in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col 1.20). And finally, some people glory in the insignia of victory bestowed on the victorious, but the cross is the triumphal standard of Christ’s victory over demons: “He destroyed Principalities and Powers, making a public spectacle of them, leading them away in his triumphal procession” (Col 2,15)…

What is it that the apostle Paul wants to glory in above all else ? In that which can unite him to Christ. What he desires is to be with Christ.  Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), “Commentary on the Letter to the Galatians, Chapter 6”

Peter of Damascus: The Divine Physician Heals the Sickness of the Soul

Here is reprint on suffering from the sayings of the saints that was originally posted at Enlarging the Heart. I recommend this blog site. It is a wonderful treasury of the sayings of saints.


Just as sick people need surgery and cautery to recover the health they have lost, so we need trials, and toils of repentance, and fear of death and punishment, so that we may regain our former health of soul and shake off the sickness which our folly has induced.

The more the Physician of our souls bestows upon us voluntary and involuntary suffering, the more we should thank Him for His compassion and accept the suffering joyfully.

For it is to help us that He increases our tribulation, both through the sufferings we willingly embrace in our repentance and through the trials and punishments not subject to our will.

In this way, if we voluntarily accept affliction, we will be freed from our sickness and from the punishments to come, and perhaps even from present punishments as well.

Even if we are not grateful, our Physician in His grace will still heal us, although by means of chastisement and manifold trials. But if we cling to our disease and persist in it, we will deservedly bring upon ourselves age-long punishment.

[…] We do not all receive blessings in the same way. Some, on receiving the fire of the Lord, that is, His word, put it into practice and so become softer of heart, like wax, while others through laziness become harder than clay and altogether stone-like.

And no one compels us to receive these blessings in different ways. It is as with the sun whose rays illumine all the world: the person who wants to see it can do so, while the person who does not want to see it is not forced to, so that he alone is to blame for his lightless condition.

For God made both the sun and man’s eyes, but how man uses them depends on himself. Similarly, then, God irradiates knowledge to all and at the same time He gives us faith as an eye through which we can perceive it.

[…] Greater practice is rewarded by greater knowledge; and from the understanding thus acquired we gain control of the passions and learn how to endure our sufferings patiently.

Sufferings produce devotion to God and a recognition of His gifts and our faults. These give birth to gratitude, and gratitude inculcates the fear of God which leads us to the keeping of the commandments, to inward grief, gentleness and humility.

These three virtues produce discrimination, which…makes it possible for the intellect…to foresee coming faults and to forestall them through its experience and recollection of what has happened in the past. In this way it can protect itself against stealthy attacks.

Peter of Damascus (?12th Century): A Treasury of Divine Knowledge Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 4 (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979ff), pp. 77-78.


The Saints on Suffering and Sorrows

Without sorrows there is no salvation. On the other hand, the Kingdom of God awaits those who have patiently endured. And all the glory of the world is nothing in comparison.

When despondency seizes us, let us not give in to it. Rather, fortified and protected by the light of faith, let us with great courage say to the spirit of evil: ” What are you to us, you who are cut off from God, a fugitive for Heaven, and a slave of evil? You dare not do anything to us: Christ, the Son of God, has dominion over us and over all. Leave us, you thing of bane. We are made steadfast by the uprightness of His Cross. Serpent, we trample on your head.”

God is a fire that warms and kindles the heart and inward parts. Hence, if we feel in our hearts the cold which comes from the devil – for the devil is cold – let us call on the Lord. He will come to warm our hearts with perfect love, not only for Him but also for our neighbor, and the cold of him who hates the good will flee before the heat of His countenance.

When the evil spirit of sorrow seizes the soul, then, by filling it with bitterness and unpleasantness, it does not allow it to pray with necessary diligence; it disrupts the attention necessary for reading spiritual writings, deprives it of humility and good nature in the treatment of others, and breeds aversion to any discussion. For the sorrowful soul, by becoming as if insane and frenzied, can neither accept kind advice calmly, nor ask posed questions meekly. It runs from people as if from the perpetrators of its embarrassment, not understanding that the reason for its illness is within it. Sorrow is the worm of the heart, gnawing at the mother that bore it.

He who has conquered passions has also defeated sorrow. But one overcome by passions will not avoid the shackles of sorrow. As an ill person can be identified by the color of his face, so is one overcome by passions distinguished by sorrow.

It is impossible for one who loves the world not to feel sorrow. But he who despises the world is always cheerful. As fire purifies gold, so sorrow in God, penitence, purifies the sinful heart.

One should always endure any trial for the sake of God with gratitude. Our life is a single minute in comparison with eternity; and therefore, according to the Apostle, the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Rom. 8:18).

The kingdom of heaven is peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Acquire peace, and thousands around you will be saved. St. Seraphim of Sarov 


Why do we judge our neighbors? Because we are not trying to get to know ourselves. Someone busy trying to understand himself has no time to notice the shortcomings of others. Judge yourself — and you will stop judging others. Judge a poor deed, but do not judge the doer. It is necessary to consider yourself the most sinful of all, and to forgive your neighbor every poor deed. One must hate only the devil, who tempted him. It can happen that someone might appear to be doing something bad to us, but in reality, because of the doer’s good intentions, it is a good deed. Besides, the door of penitence is always open, and it is not known who will enter it sooner — you, ‘the judge,’ or the one judged by you. – St. Seraphim of Sarov

Faithful Struggle – Suffering In and Through Christ Jesus

Here is what one Elder within the Body of Christ has said about how we, as disciples of Christ Jesus, view and relate to suffering:

“When we decide to follow Christ, every day of our life becomes a day of suffering, of weeping, of pain. Sometimes this question arises in us: ‘Lord, why hast Thou created us thus, that we must go through so much suffering?’ We do not manage to understand that this negative experience is the way of salvation.

No one on this earth can avoid affliction; and although the afflictions which the Lord sends are not great, men imagine them beyond their strength and are crushed by them. This is because they will not humble their souls and commit themselves to the will of God. But the Lord Himself guides with His grace those who are given over to God’s will, and they bear all things with fortitude for the sake of God Whom they have so loved and with Whom they are glorified forever. It is impossible to escape tribulation in this world but the man who is giver over to the will of God bears tribulation easily, seeing it but putting his trust in the Lord, and so his tribulations pass.

One cannot love without suffering. The greatest pain is that of loving to the utmost. Christ loved so much that He gave Himself up to a terrible death. The saints too. Paradise always costs this price. Prayer for the world is the fruit of extremely deep and acute suffering.” Archimandrite Sophrony of Essex

Faithful Struggle – Our Sad Divisions and Ecumenism

Our transformation so that there can be a manifestation of the unity of the Body of Christ through us is a massive aspect of our faithful struggle.

In the Divine Liturgy, the celebrant says: “Send Your mercy upon us all, and grant that with one voice and one heart we may glorify and praise Your most honored and majestic name, of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages.”

And we respond: “Amen.”

Pretty bold statements. But, notice that they are bold statements that begin with “send your mercy upon us all.”

I came across this piece on ecumenism. While it is not “the answer,” it is filled with wisdom worthy of our rumination.

True ecumenism is the purifying and renewing work of the Holy Spirit — a severe mercy. It does not and will not allow for triumphalism or hierarchical power politics or self-satisfied Pharisaical-ism, etc., etc.

True ecumenism is, I submit, a paradox. And, I think that is what makes it sooo difficult for us. We don’t like paradox. It is hard to live paradoxically. Too hard it seems. We like to live and move and having our ecclesiastical being in the either/or. But, God doesn’t seem to be budging from requiring us to accept paradox as a deep characteristic of The Way and live paradoxically. That means the impossible becomes possible not because it ceases to be a paradox but because we co-operate with the Lord of paradox, the Holy Spirit.

Ecumenism is a “thorny” issue. [Pun referring to the crown of thorns is intended.]

Lord, grant us to be deeply convinced that we are in need of Your mercy in the area of our sad divisions; grant us to be open to receive the mercy we say we need; and continue to work Your mercy in our midst.

Let Us Be Attentive and Struggle On Toward the Goal

The faithful struggle requires a certain intentionality and attentiveness. We must, as the wise author of Proverbs says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance; for from it flow the springs of life.” [Prov. 4.23] Such wisdom — knowledge of the attitude we need in order to press forward and the behavior consistent with the attitude —  is essential to the faithful struggle.

Here is what one of the Church Fathers has to say:

“Be attentive to yourself, lest an unlawful word come to be hidden in your heart” [Deut. 15-9]…”Be attentive to yourself,” it says. Each of the animals by nature has from the God who has constructed all things the resources to guard its own structure. And you would find, if you observed carefully, that most of the non-rational animals have without training an aversion to what is harmful, and again by a certain natural attraction, they hasten toward the enjoyment of beneficial things. Therefore also God who is educating us has given us this great precept, that as this comes to them by nature, it comes to us by the help of reason, and as they are set right without reflection, we may accomplish this through the attentive and continuous care of thoughts. And guarding strictly the resources given us by God, let us flee sin as the non-rational animals flee harmful foods but pursue justice as they pursue nourishing grass. So be attentive to yourself, that you may be able to distinguish what is harmful from what is healthful. But attentiveness is of two kinds: on the one hand we can gaze intently with the bodily eyes at visible things, and on the other hand by its noetic faculty the soul can apply itself to the contemplation of incorporeal things. If we say that the precept refers to the activity of the eyes, immediately we would find it to be impossible. For how could one grasp the whole of oneself with one’s eye? For neither can the eye be used to see itself, nor to reach the head, nor to see the back, nor the face, nor the arrangement of the internal organs deep within. Now it is impious to say that the precepts of the Spirit are impossible. It remains therefore to hear what is prescribed as applying to the activity of the mind. Be attentive to yourself, that is, observe yourself carefully from every side. Let the eye of your soul be sleepless to guard yourself. You walk in the midst of snares [Sir 9.131.] Hidden traps have been set by the enemy in many places. Therefore observe everything, “that you may be saved like a gazelle from traps and like a bird from snares” [Prov 6.5]. For because of keenness of sight the gazelle is not taken by the traps, whence also it gives its name to its own sharp-sightedness; and the bird by lightness of wing ascends higher than the plots of the hunters, when it is alert. Therefore, see that you do not show yourself as worse than the non-rational animals in guarding yourself, lest when caught in the snares you become prey to the devil, taken captive by him into his will [2 Tim. 2.26]. Excerpt from “On the Human Condition,” by St. Basil the Great



Faithful Struggle — Peace and Rest that Passes Understanding

The faithful struggle, we are coming to realize, is ongoing. It is not what we engage in until we get an answer and then let go of the struggle. God’s ways, the unfolding of His purposes in everyday life is organic. It is like a plant. The next growth emerges out of the previous growth not in packets with empty space in between, but in an unceasing development.

Oh yeah… There is that word “unceasing.” Seems to me that St. Paul uses it to speak our life of prayer. Prayer is not something we do and then stop and then do again later with empty space in between. It is unceasing. Why? Because it is all about union with the unceasing work of God. So, our faithful struggle, our pressing forward, leaning into the Way over against all of the repetitive patterns of the “false self” — death, is unceasing.

Here is where a whole other issue arises. Definitions and preconceived notions about words like “peace” and “rest” that we have acquired do not fit into this paradigm of The Way. It all sounds very contradictory. Is not peace and rest the absence of struggle and striving?? Well yes, according to the Holy Tradition, there will come a time when our current context of struggle will end. The warfare will end, the striving cease, the tears wiped away, etc. Let me quote a famous hymn from the Episcopal Hymnal:

They cast their nets in Galilee just off the hills of brown;
such happy, simple fisherfolk before the Lord came down.

Contented, peaceful fishermen, before they ever knew
the peace of God that filled their hearts brimful and broke them too.

Young John who trimmed the flapping sail, homeless, in Patmos died.
Peter, who hauled the teeming net, headdown was crucified.

The peace of God it is not peace, but strife closed in the sod,
Yet let us pray for just one thing–the marvelous peace of God.

The peace of God includes struggle as an essential aspect in the context of everyday life in this present darkness. This is the peace in which we struggle (learn) to rejoice about rather than rage against. It is a peace/rest that passes understanding but is not unavailable to us just because we do not understand it. It is Mystery. Practical Mystery.

Learning is a struggle. Letting go of definitions and preconceived notions and our little (and big) re-definitions of truth that make our actions OK in our own minds, is difficult. It is a struggle to maintain a teachable spirit. But, struggle we must.

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3.5-6)

Teach me, O Lord, that my attachment to my current definitions of peace and rest deprive me of Your peace and rest. Grant me grace to peacefully and restfully and unceasingly engage in the faithful struggle.

Answers and the Faithful Struggle

Today’s readings continue the theme of faithful struggle. (See this link for the texts.)

Let me venture some of my own non-authoritative thoughts regarding this theme. I make no claims to the title “expert.” These are my convictions. You must submit them to the testing of the Holy Spirit. I lay claim to the title, on my best days, “klutzy companion in the faithful struggle.”

Our tendency is to believe what we need is an answer for the situations we face. With answer in hand/mind, we are convinced, we can rightly navigate the situation.

But is this what God desires? That is not what the epistle and gospel reading seem to indicate. They speak of a different approach. An approach that goes against the grain of “worldly training” and “the wisdom of this world” as the readings from Corinthians have clearly indicated for the last several days.

My conviction is that what God desires is an approach of humility. An aspect of that humility is concrete trust in God. It is a willingness to press into the situation with an attitude of yieldedness, receptivity, disciplined intentionality, singularity of purpose and responsiveness (a desire to do whatever it takes to act in agreement with God’s revelation as it unfolds in the midst of the circumstance). Peter is, even in his statement “depart from me for I am a sinful man,” leaning into the struggle to relate to Jesus based on the revelation of the truth. There is nothing sloppy or passive or a “whatever” attitude in any of this.

The answer we need before and as we enter situations about which we are asking, “What is God’s will?,” is faithful struggle.

Now, of course, we are not without a whole lot of wisdom as we lean into the struggle, seeking the blessing of God hidden like a treasure in the field of our circumstance. We have the Scriptures, the tradition of prayer in all its variety, and concentric circles of fellowship environments that are consistently communicating the wisdom and will of God to us. We already know a lot about God’s “M.O.” and have developed a sensitivity to His leading.

Nonetheless, it is the way of the Holy Spirit to make sure we are living in a state of radical dependence on Him and not using what we know as ready-made formulas. He invites us to stay relational rather than revert to propositional living.

Richard Rohr characterizes this humble participation as “receptive awareness whereby you take in all that the situation, the moment, the event offers without eliminating anything. That does not come naturally. You have to work at it and develop practices whereby you recognize your compulsive and repetitive patterns.”

Rohr has commented on another occasion regarding what I am calling the approach of “faithful struggle”:

I am just like you. My immediate response to most situations is with reactions of attachment, defensiveness, judgment, control, and analysis. I am better at calculating… Let’s admit that we all start there. The False Self seems to have the “first gaze” at almost everything.

The first gaze is … too busy weighing and feeling itself: ‘How will this affect me?’ or ‘How can I get back in control of this situation?’ This leads us to an implosion, a self-preoccupation that cannot enter into communion with the other or the moment. In other words, we first feel our feelings before we can relate to the situation and emotion of the other. Only after God has taught us how to live ‘undefended,’ can we immediately stand with and for the other, and in the present moment. It takes lots of practice.

On my better days, when I am ‘open, undefended, and immediately present,’ as Gerald May says. I can sometimes begin with a contemplative mind and heart. Often I can get there later and even end there, but it is usually a second gaze. The True Self seems to always be ridden and blinded by the defensive needs of the False Self. It is an hour-by-hour battle, at least for me. I can see why all spiritual traditions insist on daily prayer, in fact, morning, midday, evening, and before we go to bed, too! Otherwise, I can assume that I am back in the cruise control of small and personal self-interest, the pitiable and fragile ‘Richard self.’

So, the approach of “faithful struggle” is, in and of itself, a “faithful struggle”!!

It seems that “walking by faith and not by sight” is not something we do until we have gathered enough information. It is The Way that is Life-Giving.

“Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us, O God, by your grace.”