Come and See – Go and Tell: All Heaven and Hell Breaks Loose

Hope your Christmas day was amazingly wonderful. But Christmas is not over. In the Holy Tradition offered to us by the Holy Spirit, we are just getting started !!!

Today and the next couple of days are very important. The Church desires to share an essential aspect of the character of the saving message of Christmas.

The following is the fruit of my quiet time this morning. It is my meager articulation, of the point the Church has sought, over the centuries to make, so we do not get the wrong idea about Christmas or the gospel. I say meager because you can find, if you do some “googling” a wealth of reflections by the saints on all of this.

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Christmas – December 25
Feast of the Protomartyr Stephen – December 26 (December 27th in East)
Feast of the Holy Innocents – December 28 (December 29th in East)

That may seem strange…

The story says,

[8] And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
[9] And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.
[10] And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people;
[11] for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
[12] And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
[13] And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
[14] “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!”
[15] When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”
[16] And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
[17] And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child;
[18] and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.
[19] But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.
[20] And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2.8-20)

The shepherds:

  • Were told Good News
  • Invited to come and see the verification – experience the truth – of the Good News apparently without subtracting or adding anything (“as it had been told them”)
  • They went and saw
  • They made known the truth that had been told them and their experience
  • Those who heard it wondered
  • The shepherds returned to their previous occupations filled with praise to God

So, “coming and seeing” results in “experiencing” which results in “going and telling.”

Such are the raw materials of witnessing.

Notice the lack of argumentation and debate and the like and the abundance of wonder and pondering and considering deeply.

All seems well. Everyone is happy. Well, not everyone.

Today is the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr (witness) of the faith. Why the day after the feast of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?!

Juxtaposition. Remember what St. John says,

[4] In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
[5] The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
[6] There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
[7] He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him.
[8] He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.
[9] The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.
[10] He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.
[11] He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. (John 1.4-11)

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was born to reconcile and reunite what had been alienated and divided.

[18] All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;
[19] that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
[20] So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
[21] For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5.18-21)

The Christmas story – narrative witness – is not just one of affirmation. It is one that includes repudiation, rejection, violence. It involves not just birth but death. The fullness of life in the setting in which the Word of God became incarnate testifies to a victory that includes BOTH acceptance and birth, the words of Mary sum up all of them – “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1.38); and rejection and death , the words of St. Luke regarding the reaction of those who heard the witness of Stephen sum up all of them – “when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth against him” (Acts 7.54).

This is the reason today’s feast of St. Stephen is followed, on December 29th, by the feast of the Holy Innocents – the story of Herod’s reaction to the birth of Jesus Christ and the consequences of it.

St. Cyprian speaks of this mysterious juxtaposition,

The Apostle John said: “Whoever says he abides in Christ, ought to walk even as Christ walked” (1Jn 2,6). Moreover, the blessed Apostle Paul exhorts and teaches us, saying: “We are God’s children; but if children, then heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him that we may also be glorified together” (Rm 8,16f.)… Let us, beloved brethren, imitate righteous Abel, who initiated martyrdom, he being the first to be slain for righteousness’ sake (Gn 4,8)…; let us imitate the three children Ananias, Azarias, and Misael, who… overcame the king by the power of faith (Dn 3)… What of the prophets whom the Holy Spirit quickened to a foreknowledge of future events? What of the apostles whom the Lord chose? Since these righteous men were slain for righteousness’ sake, have they not taught us also to die?

The nativity of Christ at once witnessed the martyrdom of infants, so that they who were two years old and under were slain for his name’s sake. An age not yet fitted for the battle appeared fit for the crown. That it might be manifest that they who are slain for Christ’s sake are innocent, innocent infancy was put to death for his name’s sake… How grave is the case of a Christian, if he, a servant, is unwilling to suffer when his Master first suffered…! The Son of God suffered that he might make us sons of God, and the son of man will not suffer that he may continue to be a son of God!… The Maker and Lord of the world also warns us, saying: “If the world hate you, remember that it hated me before you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world… remember the word that I said to you: “The servant is not greater than his lord” (Jn 15,18-20). (Letter 55)

AND, let’s be careful to allow juxtaposition to be an invitation into a life of mystery not an invitation to attempt to solve a contradiction and smooth out the difficult territory (edgy life) into which the “Glad Tidings” of Christmas invite us. To solve it and separate the happy stories from the sad ones would be to oppose the very thing the Incarnation is intended to do, reunite what has been divided and alienated. We have divided the happy and the sad because we cannot conceive what only the eyes of the heart and a heart of love can know and in which it can participate and facilitate; namely that the union of these “opposites” is the key to our salvation (the cross and empty tomb). The angels did say, after all, “I bring you good news of a great joy.” Well, this is the architecture of joy.

The Good News always defies and frustrates our attempts to corral and manage and control it and institutionalize it (the liberal or the conservative versions). It breaks out… The Good News challenges us to lean into juxtaposition not as an example of contradiction but as an example of a new territory in which to live. An new heaven and a new earth in which Mystery is descriptive of what is normal rather than a word we invent for the abnormal or miraculous.

The light shines in the darkness to overcome the darkness. And darkness is dark and does the deeds of darkness.  But, the darkness does not overcome the light. It is overcome by the light. The Mystery of the Incarnation is the Mystery of the recreation of “what is” into a new “what is.” It involves not just Mary and Joseph but Stephen and the Holy Innocents.

The story of the mystery of the Incarnation must include the reaction of evil to it. The joy the angels proclaim to the shepherds and to the world, mysteriously necessitates not just birth but also death. Not just acceptance but the possibility of rejection. The victory of new and abundant life in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ necessitates a life lived in the environment of mystery, wonder, love, and praise which is the messy environment of salvation.

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How do I Read the Bible? A Partial Reponse

Form and content.

These are facets of what Fr. Stephen Freeman has termed the “one storey universe.” Another way of putting it would be to simply say, “The Mystery of the Incarnation and the Holy Trinity.

Engaging the Scriptures is a matter of form and content and results in obedience that has form and content. When asked by those with whom I engage in spiritual direction, “How should I engage in the discipline of scripture reading?,” I respond by saying, among other things, “In a lectionary manner.”

The lectionary method of encountering the Word of God is nothing less than the best for a variety of reasons:

  • Comprehensive and well balanced
  • Complete
  • Mystery driven not utility driven — the hiddenness and inexhaustibility of the Word is revealed and ingested through  trusting perseverance
  • Proper pace and rhythm that deeply reveals the pace and rhythm of the Holy Spirit in my live and the world around me
  • Rehearsal and deeper consummate union with the life and ministry of Christ Jesus
  • Interrelatedness of the Word – one testimony not a bunch of testimonies
  • Consistent – not myopic or “spun”
  • Basically the same from one year to the next — resists my childish need to “be entertained,” “invent a new and better plan,” and “make the Gospel relevant,” demanding instead (thank goodness) that I yield to its long term relevance and transformative dynamism
  • What we do not just what I do – it is our practice and therefore legitimately my practice
  • Helps me repent and be healed of my tendency to respond to my “favorite passages” and either knowingly or unknowingly continue to stay in my little self-congratulatory passion driven world
  • Provides the opportunity to realize and experience the fact that it is always all about Christ Jesus the eternal Son of God who is the Word in and through ALL of the word
  • Etc.

Granted, there are several of these lectionaries in the world-wide church in the East and the West. And, granted, they are not perfect. But, they are a lot better than the alternative… Actually, truth be told, a non-lectionary way of reading Scripture portrays a completely different matrix of understanding of Scripture — its nature and usage.

Here is a wonderful reflection by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon that exemplifies, in my opinion all of the best aspects of a lectionary based practice of Scriptural reading. I offer it desiring that you avail yourself of not only this reflection but ALL of his “ponderings.” They have been nothing less than a challenging and life-changing blessing to me from the first day I began reading them to today. I give thanks for the ministry of Christ in and through Fr. Patrick. I also hope you are as blessed as I was in the realization just how great a treasure we have in the lectionary-based way of engaging the Word of God. Let’s hear it for the true heart beat and greatness of the Holy Tradition.

Father Pat’s Pastoral Ponderings
October 13, 2013
(More of Fr. Reardon’s reflections can be found here)

Each year the Church’s Lenten reading of Genesis reaches its climax, just on the verge of Holy Week, with the story of Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers. The liturgical chants relevant to that story suggest why: the story of Joseph is taken as a prefiguring analogue, or typos, of the events of Holy Week and Pascha. To sum them up, Joseph was the beloved of his father, sold for a price by his brothers, unjustly accused and imprisoned on false testimony, enduring all with patience, and, finally, forgiving his oppressors. Joseph’s story thus adumbrates the dramatic days of Holy Week; his reunion with Jacob, furthermore, foreshadows Jesus’ Paschal restoration to the One who sent him: “I ascend to my Father” (John 20:17).

Joseph’s significance in the History of Salvation, nonetheless, consists in more than these points of correspondence with the Gospel narratives, because his place at the end of the Lenten season brings closure to themes—and resolution to conflicts—introduced at the beginning of that season. Without Joseph, Genesis would be a completely different book. His story looks back and ties everything together. Joseph looks forward to Christ by looking backward to the whole of Genesis.

For instance, we begin Lent with the account of man’s God-given rule over the land: “”Be fruitful and multiply; fill the land (ha’aretz) and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the land (ha’aretz)” (Genesis 1:28). Then, at the end of Genesis, Joseph appears in history as “the man, the lord of the land, (ha’ish ‘adone ha’aretz)” (42:30). Joseph is filled with the same “Spirit of God” (ruach ‘Elohim) that first hovered over Creation (1:2; 41:28).

Because of Joseph’s wise rule, Egypt becomes a fruitful place—nearly an Eden—to which come people from “all the land” (col ha’aretz) to be fed (41:57; cf. 41:54). Under Joseph’s rule, “the land  (ha’aretz) brought forth abundantly” (41:47). This scene in Egypt picks up the theme of abundance early in Genesis: “And the land (ha’aretz) brought forth grass, the seed-yielding herb according to its kind, and the fruit-yielding tree-its seed in itself-according to its kind. And God saw that it was good” (1:12).

Given the Holy Week context of the Atonement, there is a special significance in Joseph’s forgiveness of—and reconciliation with—his offending brothers. The crime of fratricide, early introduced in Genesis by Cain and extended through the vengeful mindset of Lamech, is overturned in the action of Joseph. Generations of fraternal contention are put right when wise Joseph, superceding Babel’s confusion of the tongues, suddenly breaks from Egyptian into Hebrew to exclaim, ‘ani Yoseph ‘achikem—“I am Joseph your brother” (45:4). In the full contextual narrative of Genesis, his words of forgiveness and comfort serve to amend the struggle between Ishmael and Isaac, and to soften Esau’s urge to murder Jacob. The fraternity of man is restored in the soul of Joseph.

It is not completely accurate to say that true fraternity is restored in Joseph, however, for the simple reason that in Genesis there never was any true fraternity; the sentiment and claims of brotherhood were violated from the beginning (4:8). So Joseph’s brothers, when they threw him into the pit, were simply carrying on the lethal tradition that had corrupted fraternity from the start.

Until Joseph, the Bible paints a landscape in which “every intent of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil (ra’ah) continually” (6:5). Indeed, with respect to his brothers, Joseph declared, “you meant evil (ra’ah) against me” (50:20). He, however, does not retaliate, thus breaking the evil cycle.

Why does he not retaliate? Genesis provides a hint: It is significant that immediately after identifying himself to his brothers Joseph inquires about Jacob: “Is my father still alive?” This is Joseph’s dominating concern: his father. What he does in this dramatic, redemptive scene, Joseph does with his father in mind. What he seeks, for himself and for his brothers, is reunion with the father. For Joseph, there is no true brotherhood except with this true fatherhood.

Joseph, then, emerges in Holy Scripture a living prophecy of Christ, inasmuch as he introduces into Salvation History the first example of thorough, unselfish forgiveness. He foreshadows the Atonement wrought by Christ, because he finds it in his heart to forgive his brothers for the sake of his father. To honor his father, Joseph makes himself—anew—brother to those who had rejected the claims of brotherhood.

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

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

Identity and Action

As a struggling (and perseverning) pilgrim on The Way, I am mysteriously used by the Lord in the realm of Divine/human identity, vision, discernment, and the action that conforms to it. They all go together. And, I would add, it is no small matter HOW they relate to one another. Now, the formation in Christ that I have received from my spiritual fathers and mothers contemporary and ancient has taught me to follow the pattern that I was taught (see 2 Timothy 1.13). That pattern says identity, vision, discernment, and then action. However, in the course of the ministry I perform I quite often encounter men and women who have been formed to approach the Christian life in the opposite fashion. Namely, action, discernment, vision, and identity. (There is, often, variation in the order of the middle two.)

In other words, does identity govern action or does action govern identity?? (Of course I know that action clarifies identity and vision. That is not my point. What is the point of origin?? That is my question.)

The following Scriptural passages and a reflection by Rob Des Cotes, will, I hope, clarify the tradition that has formed my understanding of the Gospel and its implications for our everyday life.

Proverbs 29.18
Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. (And, least we journey down the path toward the opening to the pit of hell, let us hear and heed what Jesus indicates in no uncertain terms. The law is summed up in this – love…)

Matthew 15.1-14
Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, `Honor your father and your mother,’ and, `He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die.’ But you say, `If any one tells his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is given to God, he need not honor his father.’ So, for the sake of your tradition, you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: `This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.'” And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”

Isaiah 42:61
I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth.

Imago Dei: Blindness and the Faithful Guide
November 1st, 2012

I used to live with a friend who was blind, white cane and all.  But whenever we would go out together he would always leave his cane behind.  I took it as a vote of confidence that he felt he didn’t need to have it when he was out with me.   He evidently trusted me to be his guide.

As we walked along the city streets, he would talk non-stop, and I knew he was doing this to assure himself that I was still near him.   Sometimes, I could feel his hand brushing up against me just to be doubly sure.  His main focus was fully on my proximity to him.  He was confident that if he just stayed close to me, I would steer him clear of any obstacles in our path.

I have often thought of the faith it must require for a blind person to trust someone with their safety like this.  But this one focus can also simplify things as well.  The only attentiveness needed is towards the person who is guiding you.  If you trust them, then keeping track of their movements and proximity is all you need to feel confident that you will be led through all the obstacles in your way.  You can probably guess where I’m going with this meditation.

In our supposedly sighted life, we are in fact much more blind than we often care to admit.  We never know for sure where we’re going, or what obstacles lie ahead.  But even if we do accept our blindness, we still usually opt for our white canes—whatever aids we feel will help offset our lack of foresight.  We grope our way through life, doing our best to second-guess the terrain ahead of us.

But we also have the same alternative option that my blind friend had.  We too can leave our white canes behind and choose instead to simply hold onto Jesus’ garment, perhaps brushing our hands up against Him at times just to make sure He is near.  Maybe that’s why we are told so often to bring our concerns to Jesus in prayer.  Among other things it certainly reassures us that He is close by.  (Rob Des Cotes)

I hope this has served to shed light on your path. I am grateful to the men and women who have labored patiently to offer me a context — “pattern” — of transformation by their loving words and example.

Fr. Thomas

More Thoughts on Knowledge – Communication of the Comprehensible and the Incomprehensible

As I have continued to reflect on the subject of knowledge and knowing, more has come to mind worth, at least in my estimation, worth mentioning.

Even though I know by means of realizing that I don’t know that does not exclude the fact that some aspects of the truth are comprehensible. Not everything is all that mysterious even though it finds its meaning in the context of all that is incomprehensible. For example, it is a pretty understandable concept that reading the same select passages of Scripture that are our favorites is not a healthy way of relating to the Word of God. The Holy Tradition teaches and offers us a systematic and thorough exposure to the Word that, in its own way, works transformation in our life. Pretty understandable. No big mystery. Of course, HOW the Word transforms us through the use of a lectionary and seasonal schedule of reading IS Mysterious. I am sure you can come up with your own examples.

The paradox of knowledge and unknowing is a representation of the character of God as is everything within the Christian tradition that is authentic. God is imminent and transcendent (knowable and unknowable). Not an either/or but a both/and.  So it is with knowledge, which comes from God. The truth is, both in its content and its form, completely harmonious with the one who offers it. Indeed, as Jesus said of Himself, “I am … the truth.”

(Let me note at this point that for the remainder of this article I will be using the truth to refer to the Gospel and therefore legitimate truth, not falsehood disguising itself as the truth. The pronoun “it” could, most appropriately be replaced by “He” because the truth is not just a thing but most properly a person – the crucified and risen and reigning Christ Jesus. There is a whole other discussion we could enter into about the strategy of the evil one to seduce us into relating to falsehood as we would relate to the truth and thus lead us astray.)

The truth is transformative by its very nature. The truth is intended to be shared in order to bless everything and everyone around it. The truth shines in the darkness banishing the darkness in which it exists. The truth extends, reaches out, and establishes itself ever more fully. In the human arena this involves communication. Most often when we think of communication we think of the use of language and the verbal/written articulation of our convictions and ideas. This is right and proper.

But, and here we find ourselves dealing once again with knowing and unknowing, the use of language is, at one and the same time, both necessary and inadequate. When we realize and embrace a new aspect of the truth we immediately want and need to express it. Why? Because it has changed us. Remember, the truth by its very nature is transformative and expansive; transforming what it encounters into the reflection of itself, filling it, and expressing itself through what it fills and transforms. But the truth is always bigger, deeper, and more all encompassing than our words no matter how accurate. And so, we must speak and yet we fall short in our speaking. The truth is imminent and yet transcendent in verbal and written communication. We must but we can’t.

Such a necessity and such an inadequacy, though it is inherent in our verbal and written attempts at communicating the truth provoke and draw forth from deep within us ongoing efforts to articulate and communicate the truth. If we legitimately obey this yearning without seeking to “conquer” the truth, deeply human artistry is the fruit. Something transcendent does, in fact, get communicated even though the words fall short.

I hasten to also add, with regard to the temptation to “conquer” or “contain” the truth in the clothing of words, that there is, in my estimation, a movement to do just that at the expense of an appreciation of the other ways in which the truth seeks to have itself communicated. The inevitable method is to “reinvent” language or adopt “more relevant” language in an attempt to effectively communicate the truth to a “target audience.” Of course, the translation of the Good News into the vernacular language of the people to whom we desire to speak is authentic. However, seeking to invent language to adequately do so as if that is the only way the truth can be communicated is an error of immense proportions.

What do I mean?

The truth is most effectively communicated in its elegant imminence and transcendence by means of the whole Holy Tradition. The Holy Tradition is not composed of words alone. Words are , of course, a necessary aspect of the Tradition . Careful and accurate articulation is necessary. But it does not stand alone. Such articulation resides in the living matrix of the following that communicate the truth:

  • Actions
  • Movement, gesture, posture
  • Rhythmic and melodic sounds
  • Images
  • Physical structures with specific shape and relationships
  • Empty space
  • Rhythm and pace
  • Abundance and lack
  • Partaking and refraining
  • Accepting and declining
  • Rest and labor
  • Silence
  • Smell
  • Taste
  • Time
  • The fashioning and dedicated use of things
  • Living things
  • Touch
  • Order and sequence and typical ways of doing things
  • Light and dark
  • The use of elemental matter central to human life – water, earth, air, fire, oil, bread, wine
  • Attitudes and intentions
  • Journey
  • People
  • And the list goes on and on

The whole of the universe, in essence, is meant, to communicate – to testify effectively – the truth in addition to verbal and written communication. Words effectively communicate some aspects of the truth. And, all the time, some aspects of the truth are best communicated not through words or writing but in some other way. Once again, the temptation afoot (it has always been afoot) is to think that all of the things on the list above are extra or optional and even detrimental ways of communicating (witnessing the truth).

The Holy Tradition is “the living witness to the living faith.” It is unchanging and yet ever changing and developing in ways that are deeply authentic and interiorly harmonious with the truth and the other aspects of the Tradition.

My words fall short to communicate what I intend and yet I hope they have been able to pass on something of what I have come to realize throughout my life.

Fr. Thomas

I Know I Don’t Know

The challenge before us in the Easter season is to accept the invitation to live resurrected lives. How? Well, here is one the ways…

If we seriously reflect on all of the passages that make up the post resurrection narrative in the four gospel accounts, we will unquestioning struck by the level of “not knowing” or “not getting it” of the disciples. The relationship of the disciples with the risen Lord Jesus did not, apparently, serve to “clear things up.” As a matter of fact, it could be proposed, it made matter worse!!

In The Divine Liturgy, during the Anaphora, the priest, on behalf of all and for all, says this:

“You brought us into being out of nothing, and when we fell, You raised us up again. You did not cease doing everything until You led us to heaven and granted us Your kingdom to come. For all these things we thank You and Your only begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit; for all things that we know and do not know, for blessings seen and unseen that have been bestowed upon us.”

I always find it to be reassuring that I am invited to give thanks not only what I know but what I do not know but are, nonetheless, true, governing my life and filling it with mysterious meaning and purpose. I am encouraged to give thanks for the limitations of my knowledge as a human being. Such a limitation is, according to the Holy Tradition, not an aspect of fallenness or brokenness I or the Lord needs to fix or heal.

We must extend our search for meaning and knowledge beyond and outside the parameters of time and space to, in any practical way address the dilemma of dealing with our own subjectivity.  We must plunge ourselves into the fathomless and eternal waters of the Mystical Tradition in all of its tangible aspects. The paradox is that we do not even know that that is what we must do unless we have already done it. Subjectivity and objectivity coexist within the human, not in a balance or tension as if they seek to overcome one another, but in a mysterious union in which they inform and deepen our experience of the other. Pun on the phrase “the other” is intended. In order to know we must know that we do not know.

It is out of a life dedicated to the cultivation/integration of this conviction and reality that such classics as, The Cloud of Unkowning spring forth. Dare I exclude all of the human authors of the books of the Bible and the mystical prayer life that is the one of the Church’s most precious treasures?!

For a deeper and satisfying explication of this mystery read Fr. Stephen’s blog post entitled “To Know What You Cannot Know.”

Fr. Thomas

The Necessity for Creed and Tradition

Dr. Jarislov Pelikan

I came across, early this morning, an intriguing interview with Dr. Jarislov Pelikan, recorded on March 20, 2008. In it, Pelikan reflects on the need for creeds. We all, as human beings, need a pattern, a shape, and an articulation of order to make sense of our own life and our surroundings. In developing such a creed, we attempt to answer or deliberately (and devotedly) debunk the need to answer the following questions: “Where did I come from? Where am I going? Why am I here?”

The mysterious reality of “tradition” and its nature in the Christian faith was a something that Pelikan studied and spent many volumes articulating. “The Holy Tradition” is, as it were, the rainforest from which springs prayer, scripture, fellowship, ministry, and witness. These are sustained and flourish, nourishing we who dwell in the forest and venture forth from it to share its treasure.

I invite you to either read or listen to this challenging and wonderfully enjoyable interview here.

Specifically, I would like to share with you the last exchange between Dr. Pelikan and his interviewer, Ms. Tippett, in which there is an amazing and stunningly profound statement regarding the relationship between stability and the seeming instability that necessary changes in our life provoke.  Of course, I though how this profound theme is explored to some degree in  the musical, “Fiddler on the Roof.” Here is the excerpt:

————–

Dr. Pelikan: The centrality of tradition as a force, as the bearer of the message, as what the church believes even if I don’t believe anything at a particular moment, and the capacity of tradition to sustain itself and to sustain the church is something with which I have been impressed partly through my own studies and partly by my faith and the realization that, of course, there was tradition before there was a Bible.

Ms. Tippett: Right.

Dr. Pelikan: That the Bible came out of tradition and…

Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm, took a couple of hundred years to pull together.

Dr. Pelikan: …and tradition went on interpreting the Bible after the last book of the Bible had been written, and a deep awareness and, I suppose, a deepening awareness, historically, of not only change but of continuity. I’ve never seen it in print that every day, since the middle of the first century, Christians have gathered together around bread and wine, thanked God and received it as the body and blood of Christ, that there has been no day when that didn’t happen. The doctrines about it have changed, the liturgical forms have changed, all of that, but that this has happened every day — you multiply 2,000 by 365 with an extra day for leap years, that’s a massive continuity, and creeds represent that. And you know, Molière’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, he discovered one day that he had been speaking prose all his life. And so I sort of discovered that I’d been speaking Orthodox all my life. And so I didn’t really convert. Convert is to change, and I didn’t change. I simply discovered the continuity that had been there all along.

Ms. Tippett: Well, isn’t that what change is often about? I don’t know.

Dr. Pelikan: Well, I suppose.

————–

The fruit of the interplay between “staying the same” and “constantly changing” is the realization of our true home and identity. In this, we are invited to make contact with and move in the flow of God’s faithfulness in the midst of all our transitions – times of liminality – in which we might doubt that His faithfulness is real. The transformative work of the Holy Spirit might be articulated as this interplay in the context of the love of God the Father in the person of Christ Jesus His Son.

Fr. Thomas