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.