The Twists and Turns and An Open Hand

I am eagerly awaiting the opening of the third installment of The Hobbit at my local movie theatre.

If you read my previous post, “What is Required of Me?,” you will notice that I am in that Advent sort of mood. I am beginning to take stock of my location and direction, to use spatial language.

As I do so, I am aware of how the Holy Spirit is teaching me to think about and live in the midst of time and the events of life. Fr. Stephen Freeman has been writing some elegant posts lately on how our understanding of the meaning and theology of history has gone askew (gone wrong) and the weird places that takes us as persons and societies.

My thoughts and considerations on this subject have brought me to a renewed view of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I notice, as the story unfolds (notice I did not use the word “progresses”) that the characters, who start out with a whole bunch of plans and presumptions and convictions and knowledge about which they are certain, are gradually required to let go of these for a different orientation, attitude, and way of living. “In the beginning” they have it all figured out one way or another. As they journey, however, the twists and turns of events begin to challenge their plans and convictions and knowledge.

The characters, at least the ones who persevere to the end instead of perishing, find they must let go of their certainties and plans. Events and people are too complicated for them to successfully navigate with these tools. People and events are much more mysterious and subtle than they had once conceived.

They find that compassion and mercy for one another and the need of it from their companions is more important than anything else. They find that they have to be willing to say not just to themselves but to others “I do not know” and let themselves “be led,” Somehow that way is more important and “productive” (life-giving) than figuring out the way to proceed. They find that the future/destination, is real and in light of it they live and act, AND the present is the only place where they can live and the victory of the “end” can be embraced. They find that they must make plans regarding the future and how to proceed toward their destination but hold them with an open hand in the present because that is where the destination will always be located.

This does not mean they are “wishy-washy” or passive or without deeply held convictions. No, just the opposite. They have been “reduced” and the truth has been encountered and integrated and released in and through them. They are grounded, strong, and unconquerable. All that they “had to lose” has been relinquished for what is truly essential. True identity emerges, taking the direction of life for those who choose it and death for others refuse it. And, even for those who die, in their dying they choose their true identity and we know they live and do not die.

The end, of course, is not the end but the beginning. And, the beginning, if it is a real beginning is the end (the goal — the whole point). The end did not come into being as a result of the “progress” the end was all true all along. In time it came to be fulfilled. “Be still and know…”

What is Required of Me?

My journey of salvation is like standing in the surf. Some days the wind is calm and the waves tiny, no taller than my ankles. Then, suddenly, the wind kicks up, and set after set of giant waves crash against me. I must hold my ground and lean into them or be driven to the sand beneath them. The realizations (I hesitate, here lately, to use the word “revelation” for fear of being presumptuous) come in this way at times and hardly ever as solitary. It is not a “one-thing-at-a-time” thing.

It is, at one-and-the-same-time confusing and clarifying. Confusing in that there is a “sorting through” to relinquish what no longer fits and a reordering of what does belong in light of what has been revealed.

This tumultuousness requires me, to change the analogy, to receive this “new view” of “what is as it truly is more fully,” and struggle to let go of how I “have viewed” “what is.” This has its confusing and frustrating aspects. There is a necessary “not knowing” into which I find I must live for a time until the assimilation/integration gets worked out. “Change” really means “mature.” It is not that something has been added. It is, rather, that what I have understood has been corrected or my vision clarified so I can see what was hidden to me before. Adjustment, turning, letting go, and laying hold of are required. In essence, repentance. Not just a changed way of seeing but with it, by grace with faithful struggle, a more fulfilled – Truthful Way of engaging in Life.

I am invited to trust more fully. Active/invested stillness instead of an exhausting attempt to “figure it all out” in some way.

Jesus said,

“Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’  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?’  Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born anew.” 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.’” (John 3.3-8)

Among the sayings of St. Seraphim of Sarov are these:

“Acquire the Holy Spirit and a thousand around you will be saved.”

“… the true aim of our Christian life consists of the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God.”

Father Boris Bobrinskoy, in his book, The Compassion of the Father says:

Living the life of Christ, letting oneself be penetrated by His Spirit, by His breath of mercy, constitutes Christianity. According to the Bible, that means acquiring the bowels of compassion and tenderness of the Father. According to the second chapter of Philippians, it presupposes having the same feelings as Jesus Christ, not in the sense of mimicry or external imitation, but a true “transfer” on a plane more important and fundamental than the psychological level. A transfer of presence, of life center, of grace and love must operate in us so that we might live in Christ, and Christ might live in us. Certainly, this transfer operates in a global, constant, and progressive manner, through the sacramental life, love, prayer, and faith. For us Christians, the Church is the place of apprenticeship of this transfer: its entire pedagogy, its sacramental and liturgical transmission, its spiritual methodology, and its ascetic experience of the inner life, what the Fathers call the unseen warfare against the passions.

What is required, in order for me to be a Christian? In essence, nothing less than a rebirth of my entire consciousness and its content. I must relinquish the entirety of what I “know” in all senses of that term for the “knowledge” of God and all things through Him in all senses of that term. There is, finally, no room of fitting the square peg of the Way, Truth, and Life into the round hole of my current consciousness and its content. My all-encompassing vision-conception-comprehension-interaction with and of reality must be crucified and die and a new one born that will mature. Not once but unceasingly – at all times and in all places. Nothing can fall outside the influence of this, the saving work of God. Cost what it will, lead where it may in the context of the Holy Tradition as I give myself to it oh so gradually but faithfully as I can at any one moment, intent on yielding to it more and more as I have the courage, by grace.

I am, thus, reminded, awakened to what is True and the Life I already possess in which I am painfully maturing. This is the shape and direction of my saving journey. I am on the Way. I struggle toward the fulfillment.

John Behr’s articulation of the movement of theological reflection in The Mystery of Christ,  is, for me, the articulation of what I call my spiral journey of salvation. One new friend has called salvation more of a “pulsating point.” I like that image too. I will probably adopt it as part of how I see my life in Christ. (Thank you Fr. Seraphim.)

“When the disciples encountered the risen Lord and began to understand the truth of God that he reveals, and indeed is, they were also confronted with the reverse side of this revelation: the truth that they had abandoned him at the time of his Passion… This encounter with the Lord and the subsequent recognition that one is a sinner, but a forgiven sinner, is the basic movement for further theological reflection.”

I struggle onward to have my words and life communicate the Truth. If, in any way, my words do not reflect the Holy Tradition, forgive me.

Gentleness, Not Merely Another Dissertation On It

St. Seraphim of Sarov“The Church, according to Apostle Paul, was not ordered to preach philosophical theories and social ideologies, but received ‘grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith.’ He went out to the world to preach repentance and return, with obedience to the will of God, not for people to start discussing, quarreling, fighting, and killing each other.” Source

Well said ! !

You cannot be too gentle, too kind. Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other. Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives. All condemnation is from the devil. Never condemn each other. We condemn others only because we shun knowing ourselves. When we gaze at our own failings, we see such a swamp that nothing in another can equal it. That is why we turn away, and make much of the faults of others. Instead of condemning others, strive to reach inner peace. Keep silent, refrain from judgement. This will raise you above the deadly arrows of slander, insult and outrage and will shield your glowing hearts against all evil. — St Seraphim of Sarov

Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.” (Matthew 7.21)

I stand under the judgment of these words of Our Lord, the saint, and a brother in Christ. Lord have mercy on me a sinner.

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5.14-16)

Souls that love truth and God, that long with much hope and faith to put on Christ completely, do not need so much to be put in remembrance by others, nor do they endure, even for a while, to be deprived of the heavenly desire and of passionate affection to the Lord ; but being wholly and entirely nailed to the cross of Christ, they perceive in themselves day by day a sense of spiritual advance towards the spiritual Bridegroom. Being smitten with the heavenly longing, and hungering for the righteousness of the virtues, they have a great and insatiable desire for the shining forth of the Spirit. Even if they are privileged through their faith to receive the knowledge of Divine Mysteries, or are made partakers of the gladness of heavenly grace, they put no trust in themselves, thinking themselves to be somewhat, but the more they are permitted to receive spiritual gifts, the more insatiable they are of the heavenly longing, and the more they seek on with diligence. The more they perceive in themselves a spiritual advance, the more hungry and thirsty they are for the participation and increase of grace ; and the richer they spiritually are, the more do they esteem themselves to be poor, being insatiable in the spiritual longing for the heavenly Bridegroom, as the scripture says, They that eat Me shall yet be hungry, and they that drink Me shall yet be thirsty. —Fifty Spiritual Homilies of St. Macarius the Egyptian, Homily 10.

Let my repentance be a light somehow, though a dimly burning wick it may be.

Transformation or Just More Information

I have offered reflective material on the need to seek in our encounter with the Holy Scriptures and its encounter with us the true content not just more information. I have said it before, and I will say it again: “As we seek to move ahead in our desire continue to be being transformed in the Spirit into the likeness of Christ, we need to be alert to the temptation to replace transform-ation with inform-ation… For all of us in the ‘West’ who live in the wake of the Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment, it is an ever-present danger.”

Here is a quote I found while reading through the comments to one of Fr. Stephen’s posts. It is a saying by Elder Elder Aimilianos of the Holy Mountain. Enjoy:

“When one undertakes to examine Scripture in an idle, intellectual way, he creates hatred and quarrelling. Why? Because the intellectual approach to Scripture does not help us turn and reflect on our sins, but instead makes us focus on problems and concepts related to the study of Scripture – as a result our logical and intellectual faculties are aroused to no real purpose. “Knowledge” by itself adds nothing. On the contrary, it encourages the cultivation of the individual and his private sense of things; it fosters the self-sufficiency of his own personal opinions, which he then seeks to justify and impose on others. This kind of approach to Scripture immediately places you in conflict with others; it opposes your will and opinion to theirs, prompting you to disagree and argue with them, and to make enemies of your brothers. Filled as I am with my own opinions about things, I am not able to receive anything from God.

[…]It’s one thing to read Scripture because you want to collect information, and another thing to read it because you want to acquire its true content, that is, the Holy Spirit. This kind of knowledge is the life of God (cf. Jn 17:3), the entry and extension of God into our life; it is God’s descent and dwelling among us. We can judge whether or not our study of Scripture is authentic based on the number of tears we shed when we study. To be sure, I can also read Scripture without shedding tears, and without a strong sense of my sins, but with the hope that God’s grace, through my reading of Scripture, will break open my hardened heart. Read Scripture, then, but don’t forget about your sins and reduce Scripture to an object of intellectual inquiry, for at that point it ceases being the word of God and you start seeing it as something human. The criterion for your study should be this: the way you read the Bible should bring peace to your heart, communion with God, love of neighbors, and the consciousness of your own sinfulness: the recognition of how unworthy and ill-prepared you are to stand before God.” Elder Aimilianos, On Abba Isaiah

Pointing and Embodying

“…God creates this universe precisely in order to invite other persons into the relational life of the Trinity. God’s purpose or intention of inviting each person into the relational life of the Trinity is not episodic, occurring periodically in each person’s life. God is always acting to bring about this intention.

Another way of making the same point is to say that God is always in conscious relationship with each one of us as our creator, our sustainer, dear father or dear mother, our brother, our savior, the Spirit who dwells in our hearts. Ignatius [of Loyola] presupposes that at every moment of our existence God is communicating to us who God is, is trying to draw us into an awareness, a consciousness of the reality of who we are in God’s sight. Whether we are aware of it or not, at every moment of our existence we are encountering God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who is trying to catch our attention, trying to draw us into a reciprocal conscious relationship.”

Source: Finding God in All Things, by William Barry SJ, Ave Maria Press, 2009

God Works In and Through

St. Macarius of Egypt
HOMILY 50 – “It is God that works wonders through His saints.”

1. Who was it that shut the doors of heaven? Elias? or was it God in him, who commanded the rain ? I trow that He who wields power over heaven was Himself seated in his mind, and that by his tongue the Word of God forbade rain to come down upon the earth, and spake again, and the gates of heaven were opened, and the rain came down. Likewise also Moses put down a rod, and it became a serpent, and he spake again and it became a rod; and he took ashes of the furnace and sprinkled, and it became boils; and again he smote, and there came lice and frogs. Could the nature of men do these things? He spake to the sea, and it was divided; to the river, and it was turned into blood. Well, it is plain that a heavenly power was dwelling in his mind, and did these signs through Moses.

2. David, how was he able, unarmed, to engage in battle with such a giant? And when he hurled the stone at the Philistine, by David’s hand the hand of God guided the stone, and it was the divine power itself that slew him and gained the victory. David could never have done it: he was too weak in body. Joshua, the son of Nun, when he came to Jericho, besieged it seven days, unable to do anything by his own nature; but when God commanded, the walls fell down of themselves. And when he entered into the land of promise, the Lord said to him, “Go forward to battle”; Joshua answered, “As the Lord liveth, I will not go without Thee.” And who is it that commanded the sun to stand still another two hours in the conflict of battle? – his nature alone, or the power that was with him? And Moses, when he engaged with Amalek, if he stretched out his hands towards heaven unto God, smote Amalek, but if he dropped his hands, Amalek prevailed.

3. But when you hear of these things happening, let not your mind travel far away; but since these things were a figure and shadow of the realities, apply them to yourself. When you shall stretch out the hands of your mind, and your thoughts, towards heaven, and shall be minded to cleave to the Lord, Satan shall get the worst of it with your thoughts. And as at Jericho the walls fell by the power of God, so now also the walls of evil that hinder your mind, and the cities of Satan, and your enemies, shall be utterly destroyed by the power of God. Thus, in the shadow, the power of God was continually present with the righteous, doing visible wonders; and the divine grace dwelt in them inwardly as well. Likewise upon the prophets also it wrought, and ministered the Spirit in their souls, to prophesy, and to speak, when there was need to say great things to the world. For they did not speak at all times, but when the Spirit that was in them would. Yet the power was always with them.

4. If, then, the Holy Ghost was poured out to such an extent upon the shadow, how much rather upon the New Covenant, upon the cross, upon the coming of Christ, where the outpouring and drunkenness of the Spirit took effect. It says, I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh (Acts ii. 17). This is what the Lord Himself meant when He said, I will be with you until the end of the world (Matt, xxviii. 20.). For every one that seeketh, findeth (Matt. vii. 8). If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him (Luke xi. 13) with power and much assurance, as the apostle says (I Thess. i. 5).

Such things, then, are found by measure, and time, and much labour, and patience, and affection towards Him, the senses of the soul being exercised, as the scripture says (Heb. v. 14), through good and through evil, that is, through the crafts and plots and manifold besetments and lyings in wait of evil on the one hand, and on the other through the various gifts and divers helps of the working and power of the Spirit. He who discovers the plotting of evil, defiling the inward man by means of the passions, and is not acquainted himself with the help of the Holy Spirit of truth, strengthening his infirmity, and renewing his sour in gladness of heart, such an one goes his way without discernment, not discovering as yet the manifold dispensation of the grace and peace of God. And on the other hand, he who is helped by the Lord, and is found in spiritual mirth and heavenly gifts of grace, if he should imagine that he is no longer liable to be injured by sin, is deceived without his knowing it, not discerning the subtilty of evil, and not understanding the gradual growth of infancy to maturity in Christ. For through the supply of the Holy and Divine Spirit faith increases and makes progress, and at the same time every stronghold of wicked thoughts passes gradually to complete casting down.

Every one of us, therefore, ought to search whether he has found the treasure in this earthen vessel (2 Cor. iv. 7), whether he has put on the purple of the Spirit, whether he has seen the King and found rest in His near presence, or still serves in the outermost parts of the house. The soul has many members, and great depth; and besides, sin has come in and taken possession of all its members and of the ranges of the heart. Then, when man seeks, grace comes to him, and takes possession, it may be of two members of the soul. So the inexperienced man, being comforted by grace, imagines that grace has taken possession of all the members of his soul, and that sin is rooted out, But the greatest part is still under the power of sin, and only one part under grace; and he is cheated and knows it not.

We might write at greater length concerning these things to your sincerity of disposition, but we have given you thus briefly a starting point, that like men of understanding you may go to work upon it and search out the power of the words and become yet more understanding in the Lord, and increase your singleness of heart in His grace and in the power of the truth, so that holding fast your own salvation with all certainty, and being delivered from all interference of wickedness and craft of the adversary, you may have the privilege to be found unfallen and uncondemned in the day of judgment of our Lord Jesus Christ ; to whom be glory for ever. Amen.

Source: The Fifty Spiritual Homilies of St. Macarius the Egyptian, A. J. Mason, D.D., (SPCK 1921).

Identity Driven

The universe is the created order of God. It is all about beings/identities in relationship. Each human or other kind of being or thing according to its created “kind” living out that identity authentically, and thus, fully glorifying God; be it bread, wine, oil, water, sounds, smells, wood, paint, humans, birds of the air, beasts of the field or whatever. Let all things glorify the Lord by living out their created identity.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire
By Gerard Manley Hopkins

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.


“Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks…” (Luke 11.15-16)

Thank you, O God, for all the graces
Which unceasingly you lavish upon me,
Graces which enlighten me with the brilliance of the sun,
For by them you show me the sure way.

Thank you, O Lord, for creating me,
For calling me into being from nothingness,
For imprinting your divinity on my soul,
The work of sheer merciful love.

Thank you, O God, for Holy Baptism
Which engrafted me into your family,
A gift great beyond all thought or expression
Which transforms my soul.

Thank you, O Lord, for Holy Confession,
For that inexhaustible spring of great mercy,
For that inconceivable fountain of graces
In which sin-tainted souls become purified.

Thank you, O Jesus, for Holy Communion
In which you give us yourself.
I feel your Heart beating within my breast
As you cause your divine life to unfold within me.

Thank you, O Holy Spirit, for the Sacrament of Confirmation,
Which dubs me your knight
And gives strength to my soul at each moment,
Protecting me from evil…

Thank You, O Lord, for the Sacrament of Anointing
Which, in my final moments, will give me strength;
My help in battle, my guide to salvation,
Fortifying my soul till we rejoice forever.

Thank you, O God, for all the inspirations
That your goodness lavishes upon me,
For the interior lights given my soul,
Which the heart sense but words cannot express.

Thank you, O Holy Trinity, for the vastness of the graces
Which you have lavished on me unceasingly through life.
My gratitude will intensify as the eternal dawn rises,
When, for the first time, I sing to your glory.
–Saint Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938)

It is gratitude that prompts us to exchange our production paradigm for a growth paradigm as regards Christian discipleship. All things are seen to “hold together” and be essentially one without the loss of uniqueness (rather the gain of true self — personhood) as a result of gratitude.

Aspects of The Way — The Sheer Logistics

There are practical/logistical (form) aspects of The Way that are “givens” if we desire to be transformed:

  • Regularity
  • Consistency
  • Frequency
  • Longevity
  • Flexibility
  • Vigilance/Attentiveness
  • In conjunction with others  accordingly with accountability and encouragement

Note: There are, of course, attitudinal aspects as well. I will reserve that for another list.