East and West In Christ

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Blessed are the poor in spirit

"I think that's why Christ said "Blessed are the poor in spirit," because it's a great grace to be so in touch with your own brokenness, so badly in need of mercy -- and then to have found that the mercy is there! The mercy is there even if we don't ask for it! The mercy is there even if we don't know what mercy is! The mercy is there entirely apart from us "deserving" it! That is the very nature of mercy, of love."
Heather King

Friday, February 22, 2013

Behold, I have come to make all things new.

I see it's been a while since I've posted--lots and lots and lots of change.  Abundant life is very quietly stealing into my heart.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The Way of Life

There are two ways: the way of life and the way of death and great is the difference between the two ways.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Except by Prayer and Fasting

I used to understand fasting as a way to discipline my "body", much in the way that one would exercise muscles to strengthen them. That is, fasting would help me grow stronger spiritually. I now think of fasting as a way of metanoia. Fasting is a way that I help my body to let go of the habits of my sin, both inquity and daily transgression.

As I fast I become more aware of my continual suffering, which motivates me to call to God for help: O God come to my assistance! So, prayer is a natural consequence of fasting. So are my myriad attempts to avoid this suffering. And I'm so accomplished at avoiding suffering that I don't realize how automatic are my responses until I purposefully stop them. Thus, fasting is painful not because I'm deprived of nutrition but because I'm less able to distract myself with food.

The practice of charity is how I change in the midst of it all. This is the hardest part of fasting because I'm not only cranky, I'm self-righteously so. I deserve my goodies and others should be nice to me because I'm suffering. I don't want to receive the mercy for which I repeatedly ask ("Kyrios eleison"). I desperately want the familiar soothing of food because the mercy of God does not "feel" good the way eating does. I want consolations, not the desolations of letting go of my familiar and cozy pain, which leaves me less full. Of course, when I'm less full, I have more room for the Holy Spirit to work through me. It is in kenosis, this emptying of false consolations, that God works through me. In the end, it is not my charity that changes me, it is the Spirit working in the midst of my desolation. When I fast successfuly I am more at peace and in joy, the fruits of the Spirit working through me.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

For where your treasure is, there is your heart also.

I was wondering about simplicity as it is an important concept in our public association of the faithful. I was wondering what it means. The latin root is “simplexty”—the state of having only one part. Interesting. This immediately reminded me of a monastic dream I once had (decades ago at Osage Monastery) which ended with the written phrase “mona heart”—one heart. What I mean is that simplicity is an attribute I expect to find in monks, who are both alone and one in Christ. So I find this meaning: my nous is focused on Christ, he is the treasure of my being, he is my "portion". This is the obverse of what I think is the secular meaning of simplicity, which focuses on elimination of complexity. Thus, for the secular world simplicity is the state of having eliminated distractions: emptiness. For Christians, simplicity is the state of focusing on Christ alone and being created anew in Christ: fullness. As such, simplicity is an integral part of our rule: all that matters is that one is created anew. What fills me with wonder about simplicity is that when I practice it my nous is filled with joy and peace and charity. Funny how that works.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The world is crucified to me, and I to the world

I am greatly moved by the Office of Readings excerpt for today, from the "On the Blessings of Death" by St Ambrose of Milan:
And so St Paul teaches that we should seek that death in this life, so that Christ’s death should shine out in our bodies. That blessed death, in which our outer nature falls away and our inner nature is renewed, and our earthly dwelling is dissolved so that our heavenly home is laid open to us. A man imitates this death when he drags himself away from being part of this flesh and breaks those chains that the Lord had spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: Break unjust fetters, undo the thongs of the yoke, let the oppressed go free, and break every unjust constraint. It was to put an end to guilt that the Lord permitted death to come into the world; but so that human nature should not end up perishing by death instead of guilt, the resurrection of the dead was given us. By death, guilt would be ended, and by resurrection, human nature would be eternal. And thus this death is a journey for everyone. You must always be journeying: from decay to incorruptibility, from mortality to immortality, from turbulence to peace. Do not be alarmed by the word ‘death’ but rejoice at the good that the journey will bring. For what is death except the burial of vice and the raising up of virtue? Hence Scripture says, May I die the death of the just – that is, may I be buried with them, put down my vices, and put on the grace of the just, who carry the mortification of Christ around in their bodies and their souls.

Is this not the process of being created anew? As I focus on the healing of releasing the iniquity from my body, I perceive that I am also seeking the death of my "outer nature", the "false self". I am reminded that this blessed death has relational tasks as well as neuromuscular ones: Break unjust fetters, undo the thongs of the yoke, let the oppressed go free, and break every unjust constraint.

What I find compelling is his image of "journeying", for the voice of "being created anew" means that it is not "I" who does the creating but Christ, his nous coming into my person through baptism and expanding through this death. It is "I" who must journey or I won't get anywhere. The humility is that the most I can do is put one foot in front of another; it is Christ who sets the path. And, often, I don't like the path because it doesn't go where I want. Yet, I want this blessed death! I yearn for the courts of the Lord.

I think this focus is why I prefer the East, with its focus on ordinary life as monastic. After all, the focus of the monastic life is death and resurrection. It is not the acquiring of food and drink and clothing that matters, rather
Let death do its work in us, therefore, so that life may do its work also: a good life after death, that is, a good life after victory, after the battle is over, when the law of the flesh is no longer in conflict with the law of the mind, when we have no more battles with mortal flesh but in mortal flesh we have victory.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Slaves to God

I remember a story told by Scott Hahn in his study of Romans about a young woman who was attending his class. He was explaining the verses in Romans 6:15-23 and spoke about becoming a slave (doulos) to God once we have been set free from slavery to sin. She became very distraught, saying she would be no one's slave. She left the class, and dropped his course!

And, yet, this scripture captures the heart of metanoia: the change is not emancipation of our sarx but the taking on of the nous of Christ. Does this mean that we have both acting at once in our being? Yes, it seems so, especially in the end of Romans 7: "Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! "

How do I live out this metanoia? By living as a slave of righteousness--obeying my kyrios who bought me with his blood and "putting on his mind". Most difficult is that my sarx is unconsciously a slave. So, it seems so much of my working out my salvation is staying awake and choosing to obey my kyrios. This requires changing my body, as the compulsion to slavery is embedded in my physical being. Thus, this metanoia requires the incarnation of Christ in my body.

Longing to be Fed with the Crumbs

I heard the Bishop yesterday say that there are two passages in scripture that show the criteria for the Last Judgement: the story of Lazarus and the rich man and the story of the sheep and goats . He described the main criterion in both as the relief of human suffering. I asked if this included attentiveness to one's own suffering. He confirmed that it did, and pointed out the need for the loving sacrifice of allowing one's own suffering to relieve the suffering of others. I realized that attentiveness to the sufferings of others requires me to stay open to experiencing my own suffering. To be clear, this is not the same as seeking to suffer: there's already plenty already if I open myself to it. Rather, it's about how my avoiding the experience of my suffering, which leaves me cold to the suffering of others, leaves me cold to Jesus. This also reminds me of numerous authors who report that one finds the gospel of Jesus Christ when attending to the poor.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple

An interesting idea. Perhaps carrying my own cross is different than Jesus carrying his cross. After all, Jesus did something I can't--he redeemed the sins of creation through his voluntary emptying of his Godhead and dying on the cross and then rising from the dead. Another way I think about it is that Jesus was able to survive the Truth of relating human flesh to God. I think that the pain of relating to God in our sinfulness--our broken relationship with God, our choosing to hide from God rather than relate, our holding onto the pain of our iniquity--is too much for us, that only Jesus could have borne it. He reconnected us to the Trinity. But. We do have to accept his redemption, accept that we can reconnect, accept that we don't have to bear the sins of iniquity and trespass. In fact, the pain of our own crosses is letting go of the accommodated pain of the ages that we inherit through our iniquity. It's painful to grieve our sins. And, following Jesus does require that I continue to carry my cross, that I continue to let go of the burden of iniquity that Jesus has already taken from me.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."

I am becoming more Byzantine as the years progress. At cell group last night we discussed what we gave Jesus for Christmas. I realized that it was the Theophany that was my true spiritual focus this Advent. It's an odd feeling, of course, to leave behind the "specialness" of Christmas. Not that it was unimportant; instead, it was simply not the secular holiday I had always celebrated and now found less and less secular. Jesus is baptized in the Jordan; Glorify Him.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross

Andrew gave us a question for Lent: “Am I living the life?” That question always leads me to the Rule, especially Section I because that section gives me an operational definition of what we are about as Christians and members of the Brothers and Sisters of Charity: We should be troubled about nothing but the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; all that matters is that we be created anew. Thus, if I am living the life then I am focused on the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and I am being created anew.

I have always treasured this section of the Rule because I knew it carried the essence of our community. For a long time, though, I have made the mistake of missing the simple fact that it is not my cross that is the center of our Rule but the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. I have lived as though I must somehow I have to make myself “perfect” so that I am acceptable and worthy (according to some crazy definition I picked up along the way).
Of course, I had it backwards:

In the New Testament the situation is almost completely reversed. It is not manwho goes to God with a compensatory gift, but God who comes to man, in order to give to him. He restores disturbed right on the initiative of his own power to love, by making unjust man just again, the dead living again, through his own creative mercy. His righteousness is grace; it is active righteousness, which sets crooked man right, that is, bends him straight, makes him correct. Here we stand before the twist that Christianity put into the history of religion. The New Testament does not say that men conciliate God, as we really ought to expect, since, after all, it is they who have failed, not God. It says, on the contrary, that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor 5:19). This is truly something new, something unheard of—the starting point of Christian existence and the center of New Testament theology of the Cross: God does not wait until the guilty comes to be reconciled; he goes to meet them and reconciles them. Here we can see the true direction of the Incarnation, the Cross. (in Introduction To Christianity, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger)

God does not need me to do anything—he has come to meet me and reconcile me and to give “me” to me. In fact, I am unable to do what is necessary (see Pelagianism). Instead, I am dependent upon the Holy Spirit living and working in me through the mystery of baptism. The most and the least I can do is to will what the Holy Spirit would do in me and through me. I’m often tempted to believe that since I’m one in Christ that I can relax and let God take over (see Monophysitism). However, God does not absorb me into Him—I am not identical with God. Instead, he leaves me a separate person so that I can enjoy the advaita of relationship within the Trinity.

Sometimes I like to think I can simply let God drive the bus and I’ll look out the windows and take notes (see Monothelitism). No, “living the life” means actively cooperating with the Holy Spirit as he leads the way, sort of like running a three-legged race to Heaven. Except that I’m blindfolded and don’t hear too well.

My cross is to receive the charity of His Cross in the sacramental realityof space and time that is me—in my body, in the physical world as I stumble and fall, because His Incarnation and His Cross are inseparable. My intellect may have caught a glimmer of the meaning of the gift of His reconciliation; however, Jesus is incarnate in me (see John 14:20), and creation groans in me as I allow Him to incarnate more and more of that sacramental reality through me (see Romans 8:19) as I receive the gift of His Cross.

So “living the life” is the painful process of receiving more and more of the pneuma that makes me fully human. I imagine it’s much like recovering from frostbite, with the pain of coming back to life like the sharp ice crystals expanding inside my tissues as I warm up, before they melt finally to life-giving water. God expands in me and I hurt as I recover from the consequences of my sin. I don’t need to look for pain and suffering—I’ve already got plenty.

“Living the life” means accepting this painful process of recovering from my subhumanity and grieving the consequences of my attempting to make “me” acceptable to the sacramental presence of God in the people around me. It means using techniques of asceticism and mortification to stop the addictions that I use to avoid the pain that accompanies the isolation of my sin yet which keep me isolated. It means rejecting the illusions and mirages (see “entertainment industry”) that I have sought to convert into my own little creation (see “Hell”) and accepting the pleasures of the sacramental presence of Christ in the people and things of His Creation. It means practicing Heaven and receving the sacramental presence of the gift of the Cross through the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. It means the daily acknowledgement of God being in charge of absolutely everything and the daily gratitude that He is.

As I “live the life” I receive more and more of the Gift that is the sacramental reality of me. And, as I receive, so I can give. I can give up more and more of the things I used to value because I have something much more valuable. And I have peace. At least, some days—the good days. Some days all I see is my sins and their consequences. Those are days I am so grateful for community members, who remind me of what is important and how to “live the life”.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Blessed are the Poor

While a number of people have commented on George Wiegel’s article “The End of the Anglican Communion”, I found one part very striking:

“I gave him a copy of Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II; we spoke of John Paul’s theology of the body, and then fell to discussing the difference between “sacramental” and “gnostic” understandings of the human condition. The former insists that the stuff of the world – including maleness, femaleness, and their complementarity — has truths built into it; gnostics say it’s all plastic, all malleable, all changeable. The sacramentalists believe that the extraordinary reveals itself through the ordinary: bread, wine, water, salt, marital love and fidelity; the gnostics say it’s a matter of superior wisdom, available to the enlightened (which can mean, the politically correct).” (Weigel)

The Lord has been working on my gnosticism. No, I’ve not been reading the Gospel of Judas. I mean that He has been challenging my living in my head, hiding in my castle of ideas and imaginings. This definition of sacremental is what got to me here, because if I use it I wind up seeing our Western culture as gnostic. Period.

What bothers me is that his definitions make sense. I firmly believe that secularism is related to urban living, to the deficit produced by living within a highly artificial (re: man-made) environment. This deficit leaves us highly deficient in daily doses of Truth that seep in through unnoticed avenues from Creation. Is Hell the gnostic Paradise, where God does not enter because we shut him out totally?

On a more positive note, this has motivated me to focus more on Creation to “find” the sacramental—a very pleasant enterprise. The only thing that gets in the way is my own cranky virtual reality, which flees Creation as it runs from the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Perhaps this is why the anawim inherit the kingdom of God—they cannot afford to escape Him and so they are saturated with Him.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Teach Us To Pray Just As John Taught His Disciples

In The Lord’s Prayer as a Way of Initiation Fr. LeSaux is cited as writing:

Once as (Jesus) was in a certain place praying and when he had finished one of his disciples said: Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples”. (LK. 11.1) and the disciples listened fervently to the words uttered by the Master, the Guru. Jesus appeared in the world not to teach ideas, but to impart to men an experience, his own personal experience of being the Son of God; and then, following on from this experience of his and by its efficacy, to bring them to realize and integrate in their own awareness that condition which is their’s also, of being sons of God.

Salvation does not consist of an idea but of a change of level in the soul. It is a remorseless process of dying to oneself, dying to the inherent dualism of the human mind and to the bondage of the ego which is the main obstacle to man’s possession by the Spirit as foretold by the Scriptures. It is an immersion into a state which is beyond-mind. It is from his false ego that man has to be saved in the first place.

The essential task is the surrender—the handing over of the peripheral I to the inner Mystery, the abandonment of the phenomenal I which man regards as the centre of his being, whereas the centre of his being is independent of all localization, whether psychic or physical. That is why the real experience . . . demands first of all, a drastic purification of the intellect and of the I; this purification is the most urgent need of our time, in every tradition. “Go, sell all that you possess . . . then come and follow me” (Mt. 19.21).

(Evil), the condition of sin, is to be unaware of God’s Presence. As long as this actual remotemeness from God is not an unbearable burden, an intolerable anguish, man knows nothing. The sinful condition is to be willing to remain remote from God. Life is the experience of the Presence of God.
(from The Lord’s Prayer as a way of Initiation,Texts from Dom Henri Le Saux O.S.B. –Swami Abhishiktananda Presented by Odette Baumer-Despeigne

It is tempting to rail against intellectualism when first encountering this material. After all focusing on ideas to the exclusion of the real leaves me without the grounding I need. I am soon seduced by the stillness permeating Fr. LeSaux's words: purification, remorseless dying to oneself, dying to the inherent dualism. I am left listening to the stillness that my heart craves, touching the silence in which I am least resistant to God's mercy. It is here that I find rest--a state beyond-mind.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Be You Therefore Perfect, as Also Your Heavenly Father is Perfect.

This article by Bishop Kallistos Ware again emphasizes theosis in a way that I have never found in the Western churches (yes, I know it's there, it's just not emphasized). In the same way, our rule speak about being "created anew", connecting to our baptismal vows, yet we do not mention the mystery of what we are becoming.

What I find interesting is that in being created anew, wanting nothing necessary to completeness , we become more human by becoming teleios! The fact that I avoid this path is a witness to my self-centeredness born of my pain and my looking to that pain for meaning rather than pointing to the Trinity.

Now there is a specific reason for this mysterious and indefinable character of human personhood. And this reason is given to us by St. Gregory of Nyssa, writing in the fourth century. "God," says he, "is a mystery beyond all understanding." We humans are formed in God’s image. The image should reproduce the characteristics of the archetype, of the original. So if God is beyond understanding, then the human person formed in God’s image is likewise beyond understanding. Precisely because God is a mystery, I too am a mystery.
Now in mentioning the image, we’ve come to the most important factor in our humanness. Who am I? As a human person, I am formed in the image of God. That is the most significant and basic fact about my personhood. We are God’s living icons. Each of us is a created expression of God’s infinite and uncreated self-expression. So this means it is impossible to understand the human person apart from God. Humans cut off from God are no longer authentically human. They are subhuman.

If we lose our sense of the divine, we lose equally our sense of the human. And that we can see very clearly from the story, for example, of Soviet communism in the 70 years which followed the revolution of 1917. Soviet communism sought to establish a society where the existence of God would be denied and the worship of God would be suppressed and eliminated. At the same time, Soviet communism showed an appalling disregard for the dignity of the human person.

I think those two things go together. Whoever affirms the human also affirms God. Whoever denies God also denies the human person. The human being cannot be properly understood except with reference to the divine. The human being is not autonomous, not self-contained. I do not contain my meaning within myself. As a person in God’s image, I point always beyond myself to the divine realm.
(Emphasis is mine)

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Who Do You Say I Am?

I found myself arguing with Father DeSalvo quite unintentionally last night when he spoke about Jesus really being born in March and 6 April as the actual date of easter. I did not realize how reactive I had become toward "news" about the historical Jesus. I was greatly impressed as a late teen reading Jesus: An Experiment in Christology with historical criticism of scripture, accepting (like many others) that new truth was being revealed about Jesus. However, as I became exposed to the Third Wave through E.P. Sanders in the 1980s, I began to realize that this "news" was more polemic than history ("In the end, one no longer learns what the text says, but what it should have said, and by which component parts this can be traced back through the text.").

One example is the idea that is pertinent to the tension between West and East: the Pharisees were very "external" in their religion and that Jesus had come to replace that "external religion" with "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it". I adopted that belief as historical, although others had challenged that, too, as polemical, but I found it too convenient to ignore.

Now I find brilliant exegesis on the subject and I am humbled, yet again. Now the "head" is not the hypocrital enemy of the "heart". Once, again, they meet at the cross.

"Jesus did not act as a liberal reformer recommending and himself presenting a more understanding interpretation of the law. In Jesus' exchange with the Jewish authorities of his time, we are not dealing with a confrontation between a liberal reformer and an ossified traditionalist hierarchy. Such a view, though common, fundamentally misunderstands the conflict of the New Testament and does justice neither to Jesus nor to Israel. Rather Jesus opened up the law quite theologically conscious of, and claiming to be, acting as Son, with the authority of God himself, in innermost unity with God, the Father. Only God himself could fundamentally reinterpret the law and manifest that its broadening transformation and conservation is its actually intended meaning. Jesus' interpretation of the law makes sense only if it is interpretation with divine authority, if God interprets himself. The quarrel between Jesus and the Jewish authorities of his time is finally not a matter of this or that particular infringement of the law but rather of Jesus' claim to act "ex auctoritate divina," indeed, to be this "auctoritas" himself. "I and the Father are one" (Jn. 10:30).

Only when one penetrates to this point can he also see the tragic depth of the conflict. On the one hand, Jesus broadened the law, wanted to open it up, not as a liberal reformer, not out of a lesser loyalty to the law, but in strictest obedience to its fulfillment, out of his being one with the Father in whom alone law and promise are one and in whom Israel could become blessing and salvation for the nations. On the other hand, Israel "had to" see here something much more serious than a violation of this or that commandment, namely, the injuring of that basic obedience, of the actual core of its revelation and faith: Hear, O Israel, your God is one God. Here obedience and obedience clash, leading to the conflict which had to end on the cross. Reconciliation and separation appear thus to be tied up in a virtually insolvable paradox.

In the catechism's theology of the New Testament the cross cannot simply be viewed as an accident which actually could have been avoided nor as the sin of Israel with which Israel becomes eternally stained in contrast to the pagans for whom the cross signifies redemption. In the New Testament there are not two effects of the cross: a damning one and a saving one, but only a single effect, which is saving and reconciling."

(Cardinal Ratzinger, Reconciling Gospel And Torah: The Catechism, Section 3, 1 April 1996)