Thursday, September 29, 2016

You will know what it means

Some modern people have a difficult time in believing some parts of (what they think is) the message of Christianity. And some modern Christians make the difficulty even greater by focusing on those parts in a way that seems calculated to confuse and annoy those on the outside looking in.

Modern man finds it hard to imagine and thus to believe that God, if there is one who therefore must be Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer of all that physically exists, with everything else He has to manage, would have time to interact with, not only a small planet like earth but, even with individuals.

It’s easy to understand how primitive man could have come up with ideas of such a personal, man-befriending God. For them, the earth was the firm, flat ground they dwelt on, the sky a curved vault that must touch down somewhere, the heavenly bodies lights fixed or wandering celestial spheres.

I can remember the day when, as a young child, I stopped and looked at the sky and where it ended on the horizon and asked myself, what it must look like where it touches land far away. I can remember the night when I took my new flashlight and shined it straight up to cast light on clouds overhead.

I too was a primitive man once, maybe still am, because though I know and accept the discoveries of modern science, I have never had a difficult time in believing in the existence and the presence of a God who is so intimate that He was in the room where I slept as a child, and is with me now as I write.

I searched for a miracle and waited patiently for the day when I would literally see an angel or a saint appearing to me, or for that moment when His voice would speak directly to my ear from the outside, but it never happened. But He did open my eyes and ears to see and hear Him as He reveals Himself.

So much for me and other primitive men, but that will not be good enough for the modern. He could have told me I was foolish to search for a miracle, wait for a sign, or listen for the audible voice of God. But he will be impatient with me if I try to tell him how the God of all personally reveals Himself.

For that is the real meaning of miracle and sign, that is the real voice. Scriptures tell us of it—not just the Bible, but every other book deemed holy by men—and that compass of the human soul, the conscience, also testifies universally if we would only listen, that the heavenly God is the same as God within us,

that the Power who initiated the vast universe from a seed so small, the singularity, unites Himself with us in a communication of Divine energies that not only animates our bodies, making us alive, but emanates our minds, making us share in the Divine Logos, in reason itself, and therefore immortality.

All this is still lost on the modern man, who has gotten stuck at the impasse where Adam, Eve and the snake, and where Noah’s animal-filled ark, the near-sacrifice of Isaac, and worst of all, the resurrection of Jesus—in his estimation equally incomprehensible—block his way. And then, of course, there’s sin.

The God who, if He exists, runs the whole show would certainly not be bothered to burden us, the humblest of His creatures, with standards of right and wrong, especially ones as arbitrary as we find in the Bible. Especially He wouldn’t be bothered to be so fussy about the use of our sexual urges.

Yes, modern people, at least some of them, certainly have a lot working against them. The trick is—and those who need it most are most likely to miss it—the trick is, to understand that the same line of reasoning that dismisses the personal God also dismisses human reasoning, and to just really look.

Look at what? They’ve told us. They’ve already looked at the whole universe and have admitted that there may be a God behind it all, but that’s the limit. They say we can know nothing more, and are pleased to linger at the half-way house of agnostic knowledge, a surer oxymoron if there ever was one.

Some of the ancients, faced with the same dilemma, resigned themselves to polytheism, designed themselves gods to handle this or that, since they too couldn’t conceive of a God that could do everything and be everywhere at once. Mankind is very ingenious in coming up with solutions.

All of this is the result of our inability or maybe our refusal to accept that there really is no border between us and the Divine nature, between man and God. There is no border, but we all have erected a wall to mark it out, as individuals, as nations, as religions. God must stay on His side of the wall.

Lest we perish, for it is written, ‘Man may not look upon God, and live.’ We interpret the Ten Commandments, if we accept them, in the safest possible way when it comes to one, two, and three. We don’t realize that the making of idols means hiding behind the walls we make against Him.

It has nothing to do with, never has had anything to do with—except in our imaginations—statuary or icons or images of any sort in the Temple of God. Its import is that we enter the Divine presence with nothing except our offering, and that no offering is acceptable except one only—ourselves.

And that border that we keep trying to maintain between us and God—whether we believe in Him or not, we all do it, just the same—for some modern men, Christians included, the unbearable fright is not even things like the resurrection which blur the distinction between the dead and the living.

It is the fact of the Divine incarnation. The birth of the man Jesus of Nazareth blurred once and for all the distinction between man and God, for here is an individual who is fully one and the Other, and who has lit a bonfire on earth to burn down our fence of separation—it was only grass after all—from God.

Back to those modern people we started out with, who stumble over inconceivables and are abetted by the unbelievables. Let it go, let it all go. God is no enemy of your mental processes—He created and sustains them—nor even of your learning, for discipline is designed to produce good results.

You have made a start. You have learned to think, but the organ inside your head is—as you will admit—capable of much more than you use it for. Your physical eyes are its tangible ports and extensions, and the primary function of that organ is to see, but not only what the eyes see. It is designed to see God.

When you have grasped this fact, your eyes will really be open, the eyes of your mind. The light will be so bright, it might hurt your eyes, but that’s only because you may have never used them before, or at least not since you were a very small child, for we all enter the world with those eyes open.

As you begin to see, some things you used to see so well will become blurry, out of focus, some may disappear entirely, and one fine morning you will wake up and read the morning psalm, ‘For me the reward of virtue is to see Your face, and, on waking, to gaze my fill on Your likeness’ (Psalm 17).

And you will know what it means.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Mid-afternoon chores

It’s a hot mid-afternoon in late September, the sky above brilliant blue and cloudless. Sporadic rains some days previous, harbingers of the autumn’s and winter’s regular deluges, have begun to turn the dry, yellow grass that covers most lawns a cautious, hopeful green. No fear, the dandelions and other unwanted guests that dot the lawn in profusion are being cut before they turn to symmetric white puffs of air-worthy seeds wanting to plant themselves in any bare patch they can find.

An elderly, white-haired man slowly starts up his gas-guzzling mower and makes his way around the perimeter of his real estate, carefully combing uncuttable green grass spears for proud weeds to crop. He likes to cut his lawn from the outside edges—at least when he remembers—in a clockwise spiral, mystically avoiding spots where invisible minor sink holes dot the yard. ‘Have to fill those,’ he mutters under his breath. Usually he sings while he works, today he is strangely silent.

Maybe it’s the heat. Maybe he’s tired. Maybe he feels embarrassed that the lawn is such a forsaken shambles, more weeds than turf. Maybe he’s just not started his internal engine, the one that starts singing as soon as it warms up, but on a hot day like this? Who knows? The neighborhood is silent, and the street deserted, except for the rumble of his mower and the sudden appearance of a Winnebago, a large camping truck, which comes to a halt on the far side of the street thirty feet down the road.

He doesn’t think about it, or look up anymore, until on the far side of his yard he looks yonder and sees a large, young woman in jeans and blouse standing about ten feet from where he will soon be rounding the bend. He continues on, hoping or pretending not to notice her, but as he gets close to the corner where she’s standing silently, he abruptly kills the mower and asks, using a statement with a questioning tone, ‘It looks like you want to say something to me?’ She comes a little closer, and he moves closer too.

‘Excuse me. I really didn’t want to have to bother you and interrupt your work, but I thought I had enough gas in my truck to get down to the gas station, but I ran out. Could you possibly sell me some gas, if you have any for your lawn mower?’ The old man smiles and replies, ‘Of course, you can have whatever is left in my gas can, but it might not be enough. Wait here, and I’ll go get it and we can see.’ He disappears behind an old wooden gate and comes back a moment later with a red plastic gas can.

‘You know, it looks like maybe a little over a half gallon, will that be enough? Do you think you can make it to the station from here? Are you from around here? Do you know where the gas station is?’ he asks, looking doubtful. Winnebagos, he’d heard, take a lot of gasoline to move. The young woman’s eyes brighten up, ‘Oh yes, that’ll be enough,’ and as he starts to pour the fuel into the tank, she asks, ‘What do I owe you?’ The old man doesn’t blink and responds, ‘Where’s your gas cap?’ to change the subject.

The young woman blushes, ‘I lost it,’ and the old man grimaces and shakes his head, ‘You know you shouldn’t be driving this vehicle with an open gas tank. I’m surprised it works at all. The gas tank is supposed to be pressurized.’ Some more small talk about cars ensues, and the lady tries to offer money to the old man for his help. ‘You don’t owe me anything. That’s what I’m here for. I’m retired, and I have everything I need, but it looks like you needed help, so why shouldn’t I help you?’

Trying to override him, the young woman says that her boyfriend is at the bank getting some cash, so they can buy fuel for the truck, and that she will pay him a couple of dollars for the help, which he politely refuses, saying, ‘I’m not sure you’ll make it to the bank. Here, let me put my mower behind the fence and lock up my house, and I’ll follow you in my car to make sure you arrive at the bank and the gas station without running out of gas.’ The young lady is visibly surprised, but accepts the offer.

She starts up her vehicle and the old chap gets in his jalopy and trails her down side streets to where the route enters the main road of the town, but before they get there she suddenly stops. He pulls up beside her, and she rolls down her window as he sees a young man getting into the Winnebago from the passenger side. ‘Must be the boyfriend,’ he thinks to himself, and then, ‘Everything alright now?’ The young lady answers, ‘Yes, now can we give you something for your help?’ The old guy shakes his head.

‘I’ll follow you up to make sure youse make it to the gas station,’ he waves them on, and gets behind them again as they slowly drive to the main road. They turn into it, and other cars come between them and block their view of each other as the old man makes a right turn to return home, mumbling to himself with a hint of a smile, ‘Imagine! Thinking you can pay someone for doing a kindness! Either people will show mercy because they want to, or they won’t because they don’t!’

And glad that he didn’t rise to the occasion and lecture the young couple about ‘paying it forward’ or any other such divine nonsense, the old man parked in his driveway, went around back to fetch the mower, and continued his mid-afternoon chores.

All the law and the prophets

Indwelt

Not merely in the words you say,
Not only in your deeds confessed,
But in the most unconscious way
Is Christ expressed.

Is it a beatific smile,
A holy light upon your brow;
Oh no, I felt His Presence while
You laughed just now.

For me ‘twas not the truth you taught
To you so clear, to me still dim
But when you came to me you brought
A sense of Him.

And from your eyes He beckons me,
And from your heart His love is shed,
Til I lose sight of you and see
The Christ instead.

— A. S. Wilson

This poem was recited to me this morning by a dear friend of mine who lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He kindly sent me a copy of it in a message, and I researched it a little, because I wanted to find out who the author was. It was quoted in a book by Isobel Kuhn, missionary to China, entitled Second-Mile People, in which she told of seven people in her life who had illustrated the scriptural principle of going the ‘second mile.’ She quotes this poem at the beginning of a chapter, and attributes it to one A. S. Wilson.

The poem illustrates beautifully an idea that I know I harp on rather too much, but that we who know Christ and try to follow Him can sometimes be ‘the only gospel someone might hear today.’ In other words, in apostolic words in fact, we are Christ's ambassadors. It is not for us to announce the bad news in the face of the unsaved world around us, telling them what they're doing wrong or even worse, why they're going to hell. No, we must always start with the good news.

And that doesn't have to be overt witnessing. It doesn't have to be, but it could be, something like what I used to do every Saturday with a friend, go downtown and take turns publicly reading the Gospel according to John in the square, without commenting on it, or stopping to witness. Our witness was the fact of our reading the Book aloud in the open air. What this taught me was, we are always witnesses, no matter what we are doing, or not doing.

Knowing that, one can easily see that the purest, least personally motivated or self-justifying sort of witness is to just be friendly, kind, affirmative, to the people around us, with whom we live and work. This is, in fact, how I was evangelized when I was a nominal Christian. The kindness and hospitality of a young Christian couple of my own age helped me see Christ, as He lived in them. That experience hasn't faded into memory, but is constantly with me to this day.

I just wanted to share this poem, and I'm going to try to memorise it too. For too long Christians have let their religious views and prejudices drive people away from Christ, when it is so easy to just put the Gospel to practice, and 'love thy neighbor' as the Bible commands, because along with 'Love the Lord,' on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

The devil

The devil hates men. The devil hates women. In general, the devil hates humanity.

Why does the devil hate men? Because men are the express image of Father. Because men are in fact created to be fathers. Because a sacred part of the male body is consecrated by God as the means by which He continues the human race. Because men are the bodyguards and protection of women.

Why does the devil hate women? Because women are the womb of the incarnation. Because women are created to be mothers. Because a sacred part of the female body is consecrated to God as the crucible of an offspring that replaces fallen angels. Because women are the protection of the world.

Why does the devil hate humanity? Because creatures that evolve from slime and must eat, drink, breed, sleep, and die are raised higher than creatures that came into existence from nothing at God’s command, already complete, not needing nourishment, nor renewal, nor rest, nor death to be immortal.

Why do I even say that the devil hates mankind, as if there really were such a being? Because though I cannot see or hear him in bodily form and know not even if he has a form that can be perceived, I can discern his existence from the effect that he has on mankind, which is evident from history.

This is not unscientific in the least. We now know that there is something in the material universe which we cannot see or hear or detect and measure with instruments. We know it is vast, that there is more of it than what is visible to us. We know it is there because of the effect it has on what we can see.

Dark matter. This is more than what we think it is. No, I am not going to trick you and assert that dark matter is the satanic hordes or anything so quackish as that. I don’t know what dark matter is, nor does anyone else, but we know it’s there. I am only asserting the existence of a force that we call the devil.

Simply enough, primitive man knows of its existence—now I daren’t say ‘his’ because it has gender no more or less than God has gender. Whether or not it’s one in number or many, the question is probably irrelevant in actuality. Even whether it’s a personal being or what once was personal and is no longer.

The facts caused by the devil are brutal. Destruction and death wielded without mercy on mankind and on nature. Whatever the devil is, it can be rebuked. It can be exorcised. We can affect it even without seeing it, just as it can affect us without showing itself. Horns, barbed tail, bat-like wings, only symbols.

The cunning of the devil consists of only one thing: its power to deceive, to trick us even by using the truth, to sell us what is already ours by God’s gift at the awful price of losing both God and His gift. And though in the present day he or she or it plays dead in our minds, the devil is still with us, waiting.

God is not dead, nor is the devil dead. But he is defeated. He is roasted. He is lying bound in chains stronger than all powers in heaven and earth that his bent will could ever muster. His captives remain in his power only until they are told the good news that he is powerless, a toothless, barking dog.

And people think that there is no place for Christ! That this modern, insane world they have created out of blocks of illusion and chains of addiction is perfectly wonderful and has no need of Him! It is as if cattle in the slaughterhouse should moo away those come to their rescue, or as holy scripture puts it,

Man in his prosperity forfeits intelligence, he is one with the cattle doomed to slaughter (Psalm 49). No, there is every place for Christ, there is every time and place for Him, but we have to invite Him, we have to say ‘Yes’ to His call, which means ‘No’ to the fall, and take our places as He has gone to prepare for us.

Good Christian

On  one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and He saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 

Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon's, He asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’ 

And Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at Your word I will let down the nets.’ And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 

But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’
Luke 5:1-8 ESV

Last Sunday was the Lord’s Day when we hear in the gospel the command, ‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’ This is the Lord Jesus calling out to His disciple Peter, who was out on the sea of Galilee with his companions casting his nets without catching anything. ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!’ the Rock called back, as if the Lord didn’t already know, and then, ‘but at your word I will let down the nets.’

Often try as we might, all our efforts come to nothing, that is, when we are doing what we think we should do. But when the Lord intervenes in our failures—for He always does, though we don’t always notice—when the Lord gives the command, if we dare accept it and do what He tell us, well, something good always results, without exception. We may not always be ready and willing for what happens, but the word He sows in us never returns to Him empty.

So Peter did as he was told, willingly and yet reluctantly. The scriptures don’t tell us either way, but I can only imagine what I’d have done, if it were me. On the one hand, willingly because I want to obey His word, on the other hand, reluctantly because I am always apprehensive, always afraid, of change. Yet here an important but startling truth, ‘God never gives us a word that He doesn’t expect us to act upon.’

To put the same idea positively, ‘God always gives us a word, that He expects us to act upon.’ When I think about it, this is absolutely true, at least it has been in my life. Most of my sins have been and continue to be not ‘sins of commission’ but ‘sins of omission,’ knowing what is the right thing to do, and not doing it, for whatever reason. Why we don’t recognize this more quickly is due to our religious upbringing. We think only bad things we do are sins.

We think of ourselves as good people, as good Christians because we tell ourselves, ‘I haven’t killed anyone. I go to church. I volunteer and support good causes. I am a nice person,’ and that’s where we leave it. The problem with this is, it is simply not true. We aren’t good people, though we may be nice.

We do what we want to, and we call it good.

Do we do what God wants us to do? Are we even listening for His voice? Would we recognize it, if we heard it?
Christianity is not religious activities, training or even study. We can know a lot of stuff and even act within the confines of our select knowledge without ever reaching the only kind of knowledge that matters, that is, knowing the Lord.

‘What is the benefit of knowing the Lord, and why isn’t my religious affiliation, activities and training enough to guarantee my salvation?’
Because none of these things can compare to knowing the Lord, and knowing Him, to love Him, really Him, and not an imagination or idea of what or who He must be. It’s the difference between worshiping an idol and following the living God, to put it bluntly and not mildly. If we know the Lord, we will love Him and do what He commands.

So to be a good Christian, one must do more than pay my tithe of dill and cumin as the Pharisees boast, and place oneself in the presence of the Lord and listen for His voice, His word of command. ‘God never gives us a word that He doesn’t expect us to act upon.’ Do we want to hear that voice? Do we want to act on that word? Like Peter, something in us wants to protest, even in the face of love.

Yet if we know the Lord, our love for Him conquers the old man in us, just as His love conquered death and Hades for us.

What of the consequences? We know one thing: that obeying the word of Jesus Christ always changes us, always changes the people around us, always changes the world. Metanoía, a word with so many shades of meaning that we lose track when we try to count them—repentance, turning around, renewing our minds, change: those are some of the simplest—from metá, ‘beyond’ and noó, ‘what the mind does, thinks’: this is the meaning of our every encounter with Jesus.

‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’ Yes, Lord, and what a catch! This was more than I bargained for. Your love and mercy and abundance are too much for me. If I dared, I would say, Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, but You already know it, already know everything about me. You even teach me about myself things I could never know. You know I am sinful. That’s why You came for me. That’s why You called me. That’s why I even exist at all. You love me.

Me, a good Christian? No. A good man? Again, no. I might dream I am good somehow, but out of that silly dream I always awake. We are just following you, Lord. Following along the saints who follow behind you, hoping that we will continue from day to day, knowing that every step is only at Your beckoning. All we can cry out is, ‘Lord, help us to know you more, so that we can love You more, and loving You more, that we gladly run to fulfill Your word, that it does not return to You void.’

Now, where to next?
Help me to keep my eyes on You. Help me to walk, my feet fitting Your footprints. Raise me when I fall. Carry me when I am too weak to move. Awaken me when I slumber, raise me again from the sleep of death every day, for You are the Resurrection and the Life. Change me, renew my mind, turn me around, help me to repent. Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But speak the word only, and my soul shall be healed.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Just to make sure


Defined by what I don’t more than by what I do.
That’s how many people look at themselves and the world.
It’s a ‘me against them,’ or if they’re some kind of Christian,
it’s an ‘us against them’ mentality.

I am, or we are, right and everyone else is wrong,
and they’re gonna know it.
I speak up and stand up for what I believe.
Who cares who’s listening.
Who cares if someone’s feelings get hurt.
Somebody has to tell the truth.
I like what you say, but as for those other guys,
they’re just plain wrong, and I don’t mind telling you.
Yeah, you can be my friend, but watch out!
You’re under my gun the same as those other fellows.
If you don’t think like I do, you’ll hear from me.
Though as a Christian man I can’t say this out loud,
‘it’s my way or the highway.’
But God approves, because I’m rightly dividing His word.
If you know what’s good for you, stick with me.

Yes, brothers, this world is an arena, not a battlefield.

In a battlefield, we are heavily armed and we know who our enemy is, and we fight, we fight for our lives, and it all depends on us.
It’s a ‘winner takes all’ scenario. If we lose, well, we lose our lives.
No one is watching, no one cares.

In an arena, we are competing. Some enter the arena thinking like they are entering a battle against an enemy, and they fight tooth and nail, not caring if they fight fair. All they want to do is win and make sure everyone watching knows it.

But that’s not how we enter the arena, brothers.
That’s not how we are sent into the ring.
For us, if there is a battle, it is only against ourselves, not an opponent. For us, the arena is where we are tested, where we are trained, to be what our Teacher is, to show Him that we have learned how to present ourselves, blameless, in a fair fight.

He knows we have no choice but to be placed in the arena, so He has taken us under His wing and teaches us, day by day, letting us enter the ring now and again to see how we are learning our lessons, to see if we’ve absorbed His martial arts technique. Violence, but not for its own sake, passionless and without hate, respectful and generous in courtesy. We spar with our partners, knowing them to be under the same Teacher. As for the spectators, some of whom will soon join us, what will happen if they see us make a false move?

In the end, perhaps, but not now, not at present, the arena will be our last encounter. We may be thrown into the ring with a real gladiator, or worse, thrown weaponless into the lair of wild beasts, and there will be no exit for us except through the gate of death, death to the world, which is life’s Gate for us.

But until then, let us be merciful, brothers, to ourselves and to each other, and mince our words and deeds so that they will not choke our neighbor, but gently feed him. For the love that is shown us now by our Teacher, for the sake of the prize that awaits us, let us also be at peace, and love one another.

Let’s live by what we do, not by what we don’t, just to make sure.

Already dead

True, this is not the feast of Pascha,
but when is it not the Day of Resurrection?

It is the Day of Resurrection!
Let us be radiant, O people!
It is the Passover, the Passover of the Lord!
From death to life, and from earth to heaven
Christ our God has passed us
who sing the hymn of victory—

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling death by death,
And bestowing life
To those in the tombs.

…when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.
John 19:33-34 NASB

A man who is alive hears, sees and experiences things in one way, and a man who is already dead hears, sees and experiences things in another.

The robbers were burly men, hardy from their lives of hardship, and could withstand much abuse, having bodies that dealt out harsh punishments to their victims, they were also trained to receive harsh punishments. Hence, though nailed to their crosses, they did not die very quickly. The evening of the Passover was approaching, and they had to be dead before sundown, so as not to cause any further defilement. Their legs had to be mashed with mallets to hasten their dying. Even so, they outlasted the Lord who was nailed to the stake between them.

The young rabbi, though a carpenter, had a body delicate in comparison to theirs. Why He died so quickly, whether it was because His scourging and the pressing down into the flesh of His skull the circlet of thorny twigs had caused Him to shed more of His blood than the robbers had, or whether the gentleness of His physique were enough, is unknown. So quickly did He die, that Pilate was amazed. He sent a message to the guards, ‘Just make sure he’s really dead…’

Those who don’t die quickly have their legs broken. They feel it. It’s excruciating, literally, it crosses them out. They’re finished, and fast, but they still feel the pain, and they don’t die willingly, but by force.

Him who dies quickly, the world is aghast at.
It can’t believe he gave up so easily, and got off so lightly. It can’t really believe he’s dead, so even though he is already dead, it has to make sure. A lance is thrust into his side. He doesn’t feel it, because he is already dead. What exudes from the puncture—it can’t be called a wound anymore, because he is now beyond all suffering; it’s just a gash in the side of a corpse—is not a fountain of live blood gushing out, but a mixture now of blood and water that is at rest, and only the relief of pressure causes it to spurt a little and then pour out in a steady stream onto the rocky soil.

…You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil,
my cup overflows.
Psalm 23: 5 NIV

What table in the presence of my enemies? What anointing, Lord, and what cup to drink that overflows? The same table upon which You were offered up? The same anointing of sweat and blood mingled that ran down…

…like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes?
Psalm 133:2 NIV

Yes, Lord, this death is as it is written,

It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.
Psalm 133:3 NIV

A man who is alive hears, sees and experiences things in one way, and a man who is already dead hears, sees and experiences things in another.

Lord, let me be the second kind of man, that doesn’t feel the spear thrust into his side because, like You, he is already dead. Let me, like You, trample death by death that, with You, I may also bring life to those in the tombs.

It is the Day of Resurrection!
Let us then make ourselves
resplendent for the festival
and embrace one another.
Let us say, brethren,
even to those who do not love us:
‘Let all be forgiven in the Resurrection,’
and so exclaim—

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling death by death,
And bestowing life
To those in the tombs.

True, this is not the feast of Pascha,
but when is it not the Day of Resurrection?

The true wonder

Now, more than ever, I am utterly amazed at how the human body repairs itself. When I was a child, a young adult, even an older adult, yes, but I am now sixty-five years of age, and the physical wounds I continue to occasionally suffer still seem to heal themselves. I am not yet on a regimen of prescription drugs to keep my body systems functioning, but that’s all that drugs do—they assist the body to repair and renew itself, which is a function of biological life. No drug has ever raised a dead body to life.

This is only one of the wonders of the world that surround us without our recognition—miracles would be a better word. Yes, miracles, evidences of a power, even a benevolence, that not being part of the material world nevertheless animates it, even gives it the consciousness by which it can survey itself, appreciate its own beauty. Sophistication can pretend that all this comes into being of its own and moves and evolves on its own, but it still cannot provide an explanation for reason and consciousness.

We are transcendent, even as we think God is transcendent, yet we do not hesitate to run and join in the animation of the world, even when we do not recognize Him who is the life of all. Which came first, was it man, or was it God? Did we wake up to find Him already there, waiting for us, or is the reverse true? Did the Lord awake to find us already filling His thoughts? Already One of us, at least, has always been with Him, has always existed as Him. We are nothing less than images of each other.

And that is the true wonder of the world.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Our destiny

Contemporary media—television shows and series, feature films, and pop music—both drives the culture in specific directions and then reflects what is happening in the culture of its target social system. I would have liked to have written ‘target society,’ but broadly viewed, ours is no longer a true society.

Society is a network of families that lives its life and shapes itself as a conscious organism with distinct borders, a common language and values, and an intentional ethical base. In the tension between the individual and society, it is understood that individual derives from social, not the other way round.

This we do not have, after a century of social devolution which has gradually and imperceptibly undone the work of the previous four, its most visible means being the political, and then the cultural, revolutions which have rocked the West and westernized regions of the world since the Great War.

In the first episode of a new science fiction mystery series which I recently viewed, a scene opens with a familiar domestic situation. After finishing breakfast a boy is told by his mother that he must do something he doesn’t want to do. He challenges her and then turns to his father, hoping for support.

The father tells him to do what his mother wants. What is wrong with this picture? Almost everyone will view the scene and think absolutely nothing is amiss. The mother raises the children, and then father is a vague, numinous figure with whom the children, on occasion, interact, usually to override mother.

This reinforces the destabilization of the natural order in the family—father, mother, and children has been reordered as mother, children, and father. The social structures within which most of us live and which we accept, the legacy of feminism, have relegated men to where they belong—in the background.

Fifty years ago, the same conflict portrayed in popular drama was resolved in a different manner. A father might order his son to do something that the son didn’t want to do, so he went to mother to plead his case, usually privately, and if she agreed, she would try to convince father, again privately.

In the natural order, the father is head of the family and final authority, the mother is head of the children. Both can originate rules and requirements. They are visibly in agreement. They can influence each other’s judgment, always privately, but openly, they always support each other’s judgment.

This natural order has been so completely trashed by the media and by modern educational theory that no one is offended or even notices when it is violated. It’s expected that the mother will contradict and challenge the father and win, and that the father will at least be made to look ridiculous, in any conflict.

No one stands up for patriarchy—the natural order—in this environment of more-than-just-political correctness. It’s too easy, too convenient, and safer, to just look the other way when the foundations of our civilization are being dismantled. No, not being dismantled, they already are, except in our memory.

And perhaps among those who still live as a ‘society’ amid the anti-social squalor we call modern life, where every man is an island, every woman a better version of him, every child a household demigod, where youth is raised and age despised, and where pets are prized above the disposable human fetus.

Not surprisingly all this is about to come to an end. Evolution and the survival of the fittest, rejected by the ignoramuses of religious fundamentalism, is once again going to kick in, correct, and restore human society. What was called traditional and rejected will be vindicated as the only road to human survival.

Patriarchy will cease being a swear word. Matriarchy will again be enthroned in its rightful place. Childhood will be restored to the race. Law and order will be seen once again as a beacon of light. Individualism will yield to individuality. Human evolution will get ‘unstuck.’ We will reach our destiny.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Something greater

What our Saviour saw from the Cross - Tissot

For those Orthodox, along with the rest of the Christian world, who follow the Gregorian (New Style) Calendar, Holy Cross Day has come and gone. For the Orthodox majority who still parse the year by the Julian (Old Style) Calendar, Holy Cross Day is coming up soon, next Tuesday, in fact. The year I wrote this testimony, the Jewish New Year coincided with New Calendar Holy Cross Day; hence, the references and points I make below. I want to share these thoughts again, as they are on my mind.

Holy Cross day, the fourteenth of September, for the Orthodox Christians, begins at sunset the day before, though few have that sensibility. Only the devout who live in communities large enough to support the full feast-day liturgical cycle of vespers (at sunset), matins (at dawn), and divine liturgy (following matins), will preserve in themselves the Byzantine mindset regarding time. It is a very logical and orderly mindset. It claims time itself for Christ, consecrating every moment of it to Him.

This mindset derives from Christianity’s religious ancestor, Judaism, which also consecrates time in its entirety to the transcendent Eternal. This year, the Jewish New Year day, Rosh Hashanah, exactly coincides with Holy Cross day. The Christian feast day commemorates the return of the relic of the true cross after its capture by the Persians. The Jewish one commemorates the creation of Adam, according to their reckoning, five thousand seven hundred seventy-six years ago. Both look back, not ahead.

History itself has been claimed and consecrated by both religions, and though this may have its benefits, this also has its liabilities. Both religions encourage believers to live their faith in the fleeting present moment of time, as a reenactment of and a participation in the mysteries of the past. Both hold out to their followers a future full of consolation for the righteous and judgment for the heedless. Both see humanity as fallen, and infected with sin. Both expect deliverance only at the end of human history.

This is religion, consecrating the past in such a way that not only its imagined glories are celebrated but also its mistakes are conserved and repeated, generation after generation, even if only in theory. For the Christian, though human society and the race itself is evolving and capable of transcending its past mistakes, there is no hope or help for mankind but in accepting Jesus, and then joining in the perpetuation of religious cycles designed to keep our sins, our sicknesses, unabolishable, under control.

When the Holy Cross was set up in Jerusalem and worshiped, albeit a form of latent idolatry, the Church and the State were a single thing. If you were a Christian, your choice had been made for you, and there was no changing it. If you were not a Christian, you had only one choice, to convert and become one, otherwise you were next to nothing. A marginal existence was your lot if you were unlucky enough to find yourself surrounded by Christian society, as totalitarian as any modern dictatorship. We forget that.

Because we were the victors, we muse, we wrote the history that shapes us, and we continue to make it. We refuse to accept the truth of life in the material world, that it is constantly changing, that history writes itself, we don’t write it, but because we think we do, we become its victims, dragged along behind its march as dead weight. Then we wonder why the world pays no attention to us. It’s not a matter of being outdated. It’s not about customs and mores. It’s about choosing death over life.

Which is an irony of the greatest magnitude, because we say we believe in a God who plainly declares that He ‘makes all things new,’ and that He comes to give us ‘life, and life in abundance.’ Yes, it is by death, by enduring this fact of ultimate change, that He renews not only the race, but the universe, in an act of dauntless bravery, meeting annihilation with transfiguration, that carries us over the barrier of our original, damaged nature, and opens to every human creature the possibility of complete recovery.

Isn’t this what the Cross is really about? Isn’t this why it is elevated? Isn’t history itself, even as we have written and remembered it, only a backdrop to the Divine economy that has prepared for us a place in an orderly cosmos which sets us above even asomatic beings we call angels? Bodiless powers as they are, knowing no evolution or change, are below us who have bodies and are being perfected by an evolution that transcends even itself. Something greater than the wood recaptured from the Persians is here.

The Holy Cross, the throne from which Man reigns as God, whose wood, far from dead, keeps renewing itself with each cut of the knife, whose roots planted in the earth give rise to a crown that contains the heavens, whose depths penetrating even the darkness of Hades are matched by heights participating even in the Divine Nature, has been restored to us who never realized what treasure we had lost, by a victory not won by earthly powers or by the bodiless, but by Him who is with us, now and to the ages of ages.

Τον Σταυρόν σου προσκυνουμεν Δέσποτα,
και την αγιαν σου Ανάστασιν δοξάζομεν.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

An updated work history

I wrote what follows about three and half months before I was due to retire on March 1, 2015, three weeks after my sixty-fourth birthday. I am re-posting it for the benefit of some who may have missed it the first time and want to know a little of my personal history. If you know enough already, please pass, and do something else more worthwhile—like reading your Bible.

My working career spans, let me see, over fifty years out of my (now) sixty-five.

This ain’t me, but it could’ve been!
At the age of thirteen, I launched a paper route in a new subdivision where I lived. Walking door to door to collect subscriptions to the Joliet Herald News, a dozen or so subscribers grew to over sixty in a short time. Delivering the papers I usually rode a bicycle, but I didn’t just toss the rubber-banded newspapers in the direction of my customers’ front doors. I made sure the paper was close to their reach and out of the weather. This made for big tips when I went my rounds to collect the six bits (seventy-five cents) weekly price, sometimes a whole silver walker (fifty cent piece), especially in wintertime, when I either rode my bike on slippery streets or, if the snow was too deep, trudged through the drifts to get people their daily news. I usually made about twelve or thirteen dollars a month, as I recall, in the mid-nineteen sixties.

A ‘silver walker’ fifty cent piece.
I was a coin collector even then, and I bought my first two gold coins with money from that paper route: a gold sovereign of King George V from the Melbourne mint in Australia for twelve dollars fifty cents; and a gold five rouble piece of Czar Nicholas II of Russia for the same amount. Gold was thirty-five dollars an ounce in those days.

To pay my college tuition, during the summers I worked and saved all my pay, still living at home with my parents. Dad’s policy was not to expect me to contribute to the household finances as long as I was saving for school.

Wheaton, Illinois, post office, where I worked.
The first summer before starting college I worked at the Post Office. That was the year I wrecked my Dad’s new car, which he let me drive to work on the late shift (he worked the day shift at the same Post Office, being the superintendent). After the accident, I had to work ‘days’ with him, so we could ride to work together in his old jalopy. My job was in the dead letter department. How fitting!

Clegg Chapel and Hudson Hall, at Blackburn College.
College tuition cost a thousand dollars my first year, and it rose two hundred dollars per year over the course of my studies, but I always worked summers and made enough to pay it. Room and board was paid for by my working thirteen hours a week for the college during the school year. The first year, I worked in the dining hall and kitchen as a cleanup boy. The next two years, I was the music librarian in the college library, a much easier job.

I left college a year before I would have finished and earned my bachelor of arts in History. That was a silly mistake, but my parents were going through troubled times and were not in a position to rein me in and make me do the right thing. I quit school so I could immigrate to Canada and join a New Age commune. Instead of doing my fourth year of college, I lived with my now-divorced Mom, and worked swing shift as a line operator in a container company, managing two or three lines of blow-molding equipment and the people working on the lines. That was a very hard job.

Canada and USA flags at the border.
After about a year, when I would have graduated, I waved goodbye to my Mom and drove my little Pinto loaded with all my possessions down the highway to Canada. Twenty hours of non-stop driving later, I arrived late at night on the fourth of May, 1972 on the frontier. I parked at a rest stop and took a short nap. At nine o’clock the next morning after about six hours of uncomfortable sleeping in my car, I drove up to the border crossing with thirty-five hundred dollars (an incredible sum of money at that time) and a hopeful smile.

The road north from Portal, Saskatchewan.
North Portal, Saskatchewan, possibly the flattest real estate on the planet, lonely, sunny, and wind-swept, was the name of the border crossing. With no one else in sight, I drove up to the cubicle and let the official know my intention was to immigrate to Canada. I was instructed to park my car and come inside the station, where I was asked a few questions, given a multiple choice test, and then sent on my way with a pass signed by Oscar Meier, who told me to go to Canada Manpower when I got to my destination, and to see a doctor for my immigration physical.

My wife, in London around 1971.
Finding work wasn’t that easy, but at last I found an entry level position. Superior Steel Desk, my first job, two dollars an hour to assemble steel office chairs, was where I made my first Canadian friends, and through one of them, met my eventual wife. ‘My girlfriend has this crazy friend of hers living with us, and I’d like her to move out. Do you wanna meet her and take her off our hands?’ Larry asked me. Oh my gosh! How fate arranges things, but at least I got to experience an ‘arranged marriage,’ possibly one of the last of the century, and in North America to boot. A shy guy like me wasn’t likely to find a gal on my own.

My ‘official’ photo in 1972
for Canada Immigration.
My Canadian years were devoted to just trying to survive, working at any job I could get. I was turned out by the steel desk company as a troublemaker, but I think it was because I was just too spunky for them. Canadians back then (and maybe now) were far more reserved than us ‘Yankees.’ My next job was in making ‘real’ furniture, wooden, traditional, and cheap. Two dollars an hour again was my pay. I forgot to mention I was living in the ‘commune’ at first, where my paycheck was pooled.

I went straight from my Mom’s house to the commune, and then to my wife, without the slightest chance to misbehave. It was only years later that I noticed and mused, ‘I forgot to have fun!’ Actually, I was and still am very happy that I was led along my life path by an ‘invisible Power,’ and very pleased, indeed, when I found out who That was. Meanwhile, ‘back to work.’

Our homestead outside Edmonton.
I can’t believe some of the work I did in those young years. One of the jobs I had was working in a warehouse tearing off the front covers of new soft-bound books that had not sold, so those covers could be sent back to the supplier for a refund. I did that job while trying to go it alone (with my pregnant wife) in a rural homestead just outside of town. My dreams of commune life on the land faded when I was kicked out of the commune for opposing ‘group marriage.’

Here I am milking a cow into a wine bottle!
Those were the days. My most interesting job when I lived in Canada was that of a dairy farmer’s hired man. Yes, I was the only one. I did that job in the autumn and winter, and I found that though I liked the idea, the doing was much harder than I had imagined. Still, I got to milk cows, rescue stranded newborn calves, clean the barn and, you guessed it, get used to ‘farm smells.’ At least it wasn’t pigs!

Unusually for me, I can’t quite remember what my last job was in Canada before I moved back to the States with my wife and infant son Jacob. But I do remember my first job here in Oregon. How could I forget? It was both the worst and, in another sense, the best place I have ever worked. The worst of it was, it was a small town furniture factory, and nearly everyone I worked with was ‘low life.’ Dirty talk, cheating on wives and girlfriends, drug addiction, all around nasty behavior. I was ostracized and made fun of, and I wasn’t even a Christian yet. But I didn’t stay that way for long!

I was the lead man at Sterling Furniture. Here I am band-sawing a panel.
I began to notice that I was well-suited to woodworking. Maybe it was because both of my grandfathers were woodworking artisans, and I think it ran in the family. When I left that small town and that job, I found another woodworking job in ‘the big city,’ Portland, where I’ve lived ever since. Wages were still low. The most I ever made at Sterling Furniture was three dollars sixty-four an hour, and that was even Union wages. Though I was sad to leave when the company owners decided to close the shop and auction it off piece by piece, my next job, in cabinetry if not actual woodworking, started me off with an hourly wage of seven dollars, more than I’d ever made in my life.

Starting off in the shop, first as a sawyer and lead man in charge of an assembly crew of youngsters about ten years my junior, after less than four years my education and skill set were discovered by the owner of this company, and I was yanked upstairs to work in various management positions. I had gotten use to factory work. I was able to move about freely, dress casually, and sing and whistle while I worked. By then I was also a Christian, and I was always on the lookout for those God might send me. I resisted the boss’s offer. ‘Your position in the shop has been eliminated,’ he said. ‘If you want to keep working here, you had better take the office job that I’m offering you.’

After about ten years, the owner of the cabinet company sold it, and I was left again to find another job. By then, I had been doing design work in cabinet style and interiors, and one of my customers, a designer at a remodeling company, drafted me to work for them. That job lasted about a year, and I was glad of it, because I was drawn there by the promise of being able to ‘straighten out’ their product line (they also made their own cabinets), but they wouldn’t let me do a thing to help. ‘We’ve always done it this way!’ Well, needless to say, I didn’t stay there very long.

Where you could find me the last five years on the job,
loading and unloading aluminum into this Haas VF2 mill. Fun!
Finally I come to the work I was doing until my retirement, which I cannot really call a job. I worked there almost nineteen years, and for the same boss who owned the cabinet company. Between his two companies I worked for him almost thirty-five years. This second company is a machinery manufacturer, and I held almost every job there and started several departments. My final legacy was to start a machining department, milling aluminum machinery components. So, I started my working life a machinist, and ended it the same way, having migrated from wood to metal.

‘And the sky is still wide and high before my path…’
And the sky is still wide and high before my path, and I still have all my fingers and toes, but best of all my mind, which I have tried to keep safe inside my heart. And I thank the Lord who opened my eyes and smoothed the way before me. What people think of as the end and sometimes fear is ironically the real beginning of what they always wanted but had forgotten. And if we make it there, in old age we will have very good reason to be reckoned as children again.

Wisdom is wisdom and inhabits and fills the birth and the death of all beings and all things, awaiting us beyond age and time. And ‘there are no losses except those that free.’

Parents

This is not the time of year to be remembering and celebrating one's parents… or is it? These two poems written by a friend many years ago, I found when searching for another poem he had written that I wanted to quote in my post To become theology. I had to satisfy myself with just the last line of that poem, but I found these two poems written in memory of his parents, as well as his wonderful
The Sanctification to Priesthood. I had met Fr Ihor's father—a true saint of God he was, simple, caring, loving Christ and the Church—but of his mother, I know only of the impression her life made on that of her young son, opening to him the gates of the priestly calling. I offer these two poems to you, brethren, not as entertainment, but as a communication of piety.


To My Mother, in Memoriam
by Presbyter Ihor Kutash

“Mother! You are a basket of cut flowers, sweet, and beautiful,
and fading slowly.”

—Presbyter Loren Kubin*

My Mother!
I knew thee so little, and yet I know thee so well.

You were a flower that bloomed
and filled my young days with the sweet aroma of love.
Love was in your soft eyes
as you tenderly brushed my tousled hair,
as you calmed my fears
during sleepless, feverish nights,
as you knelt with me before the Holy Icons,
tracing the Sign of the Cross upon me
and listening to my childish repetition of the Prayer you spoke,
as you helped my little fist hold the unwieldy pencil
for the first time and guided it to form
the first word I spelled—“God”,
and, then, as you watched your puzzled little son
crying softly beside the bed upon which you were,
like a flower, fading away,
and commending me to my father,
and one day,
the blossom was gone,
and only its ineffably sweet memory has stayed
in my maturing mind.

But my Mother!
I knew thee so little,
and yet I know thee so well!


My Father
by Presbyter Ihor Kutash

My father was a strong man,
a man of principle, and simplicity and honesty,
and courage and faith, and love, and happiness.

There was a kind of glow—
not some mystical, esoteric glow—
but a light of human goodness
that he spread among those he knew.

My father was a weak man,
often lonely, sorrowful, in pain.

My father strove with doubt in his own soul.
He strove with anger, with hatred, with remorse.

My father ran the race and unexpectedly,
suddenly,
finished his course.

My father died.
My father lives,
his Master's strength made perfect in his weakness.

+ + +


* Fr Loren Kubin (may his memory be eternal) was a close friend of Fr Ihor and also a priest. Here we see the two presbyters celebrating the wedding service of Fr Ihor's beloved sister Helen and her husband Albert. Fr Loren is in the foreground in black and gold, and Fr Ihor is wearing green and gold. I was blessed to be acquainted with both men of God.

Commandments

Originally, the Torah, the Law, comprised only two commandments. The first commandment that the Lord gave to our first parents Adam and Eve was in fact not even spoken to them as a commandment, but said over them as a blessing. “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground”
(Genesis 1:28). The first of God’s commandments to us was a positive commandment, and contained within it abundant blessings.

The second commandment was different. It was a negative commandment, the first of the ‘Thou shalt nots,’ and moreover, it was spoken only to the Man. Why is this? Well, Woman had not yet been pulled out of Man; she was still hidden within him. The mystery of the Two becoming One had not yet been revealed. In this first example of the Great Reversal that seems to meet us everywhere we look, the second commandment now becomes the first, according to time, and the Man and the Woman he bore within him must learn obedience before blessing.

But at the beginning there were only these two commandments:
“You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:17), a negative commandment, God’s naked will revealed for Man, so he could know God’s mind as a child knows the mind of its father. And then, “Be fruitful, and multiply” (Genesis 1:28) and the rest of the commandment and blessing that is carried within it, when faithfully carried out: ownership, lordship, and mastery, of the outer world but, yes, of the inner world as well.

Following the two commandments, Man is created free.

This is not what happened. Before the second commandment could even take effect, the first was broken and, as scripture says, to break one commandment is to break them all. At the time, there was only one other commandment that also fell by Man’s disobedience: What should have been mankind’s glory thus became his shame, and the water of life in him became a poisonous spring, that everyone who has ever drunk from it has come to know and, against his will, fallen sick, irremediably sick, with sin and death. Thus the Physician of souls appeared, to save us.

Breaking two commandments, then ten were revealed to replace them and hold back, as much as possible, the flood of sin and death, but even these were broken, and could not effect the cure. Within themselves, within the Torah, the Law, was prophesied the coming of the Physician who would cure this sickness, death. But those who read the words overlooked Him, and instead they planted a hedge around the Torah to protect it: the Ten Words that God gave at Sinai were multiplied into six hundred thirteen mitzvot, commandments that no one could keep.

Finally, our last Parent was born of His Mother without a father, begotten by His Father without a mother, and the overlooked Physician became the rejected Messiah. A new Adam came seeking His lost Bride, a new Eve, though when He found the first of them—for they would be multitudes—she was His own Mother, who now became the new Mother of all living, whom He gave to His own beloved disciple as Mother, revealing for all time who He is, who She is, and who We are. And the Torah which He wraps around Him as a cloak because He is the only one who ever fulfilled all of it, He wears worthily as He stands before His Father and Our Father, interceding for us.

Having broken first two, then ten, then six hundred commandments, we have been delivered from our disobedience, and again, just two commandments have been laid upon us, this time both comprising blessing. “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

Glory to You, O God! Glory to You!

Because I am

There are two absolute uniques in my life, and many more that are not quite absolute, but almost.

Unique is the person of Jesus Christ, as the Son of God in the Holy Triad, as living Truth, Teacher, and Savior.

Unique is the Bible as the only (written) expression of the Word of God on earth.

These are my two absolute uniques, from which I cannot budge.

Of course, in a mystery, they are really One unique.

From the time of my adolescence, I was driven to find or make something that was unique, that was true, that could save me. Though I am Greek by faith and even by culture, my family is Polish on both sides, and at least nominally Roman Catholic. I am the only Orthodox member of it.

I grew up in a dysfunctional family with an obsessively religious mother (who nevertheless did not believe in the Catholic church and never attended until she did in her casket at death), and a philosophically leaning non-religious father. His mother tried to make a Catholic out of him, but his skepticism about churchly things was the result of being snagged by the ear and pulled out of a private pew at Saint Hedwig’s parish in Chicago by a priest. He made his mother join a different parish. He’d never set foot in that church again.

We had a bible in the house, a King James version in a dusty, beige cloth cover. The pages were yellow and brittle, the font in two columns too small to read, and the language too archaic to understand. I knew there was something special about this book, but I never saw anyone reading it, or even try to, until I picked it up and tried. Discouraged as a child, I picked it up later and started studying it when I entered high school. It was still mostly unintelligible, but by then I knew I had to have something unique and powerful that I could believe in. I worked my way through Genesis to Proverbs, then skipped over to the Gospels.

In the ninth grade, I began copying sayings from that bible that made sense to me into a notebook, numbered them, and began writing, or at least gathering, my first “scriptures.” At that point, I didn’t think of the bible as unique, but as one of many sources from which I could draw saving knowledge. This mistake came from the fact that my family stopped going to church when I was 8 years old, and from that point on, I was on my own, with whatever tidbits of Polish catholic piety I had absorbed. Truth seemed to be wherever I could find it. Church was a mysterious, dark, fragrant place in my memory.

Little by little the notebook grew, but after doing this for awhile, I gave it up. It was obvious to me that my “scripture” was just a notebook of ideals that I wasn’t able to live up to. I started delving into non-Christian religions and the occult, reading my way through the explosion of New Age literature that was emerging in the 1960’s. There wasn’t an area I didn’t explore. I even bought and read a paperback of the Satanic Bible by LaVey. “What trash!” I thought at the time. I never fell for it, but I was curious. Still, my older sister and my mother believed in the supernatural and E.S.P., and both claimed to have such gifts. I cautiously followed along, sometimes witnessing unexplainable things.

In college, I came into contact with Christian students and for the first time met people of my own age who believed in Jesus in a way I hadn’t encountered before. They seemed to think of Him as a unique person, one like no other. They also not only read the bible but had copies of it in modern English. I didn’t know such people or things existed. To me, Christ was a statue in my grandmother’s living room, His presence or protection over me was a plastic image of the Sacred Heart that had glow-in-the-dark rays coming out of it and hung on the wall above the light switch in my bedroom since I was a little boy. Of course, there was Blessed Mother, who was also a statue. The statues of Jesus and His Mother always had their hearts showing.

I still needed a guide, something that would save me, because now I knew that couldn’t be a person. In college and from reading New Age books, I had found out that Jesus was a good moral teacher, and that everybody was potentially, if not already, God. We were all just little gods trying to find our way back to being the big God. I couldn’t quite figure out what was to happen to us, though, when we got there. Would we really be merged into Him like a drop of water falls into the sea and disappears? Somehow, this thought seemed a bit too simple.

When you don’t recognize anything or anyone as unique,
my goodness, have you got a problem!

In college, and I won’t go into detail, I started writing again, and fadged up a book of “scriptures” far more original and sensational than my little notebook ever was. At the same time, though, I bought my first modern English bible, the New English Bible, and began reading it, starting with the Psalms. After a short time, I bought my first copy of the Jerusalem Bible, and that was the beginning of my conversion to Christ. Starting with the Old Testament, with Genesis, I met in literary form, a new Being, Yahweh, who began following me everywhere and making me see things in a new way. I was sure that He was a unique being, as well as a unique person. It wasn’t long before I was sure that the bible was also something unique.

I’ve given my testimony as to how I came to Christ in other places, so I won’t repeat it here, but my meditations this morning showed me all that I have just written in a flash, and how important, how crucial, it is to know that there are two uniques, Christ as the Only Begotten Son of God, and the Bible as the expression in human language of Who He is. Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not leaving out God the Father, or God the Holy Spirit. When we speak of Jesus Christ being unique, we are also speaking of the Father and the Holy Spirit as well, since in essence, in being, the three are One, the Holy Triad. As Christ said, “If you have seen Me you have seen the Father,” and “I will send you another Comforter, who will tell you of Me.”

There, the two uniques, but what of a third? Well, to tell you the truth, there’s more than a third. There’s billions. Those uniques are you and me, and all our fellow creatures who have been created to know, to love and to praise God, as scripture says, “Let all that have breath, praise the Lord.” Made in the image and likeness of the One God, who is unique, more One than even a mathematical unity can express, how can we also, each of us, not be like our Maker? We also are unique. It is understanding this, that you and I are as unique as God is, and that Jesus Christ died for each of us as though we were the only man or woman on earth, that provides the answer for the question of our personal existence. Why are we here?

“You are here,” He responds, “because I am.”

The Book of Psalms

Any part of the Scripture you like to choose is inspired by God. The Holy Spirit composed the Scriptures so that in them, as in a pharmacy open to all souls, we might each of us be able to find the medicine suited to our own particular illness.

Thus, the teaching of the Prophets is one thing, and that of the historical books is another. And, again, the Law has one meaning, and the advice we read in the Book of Proverbs has a different one.

But the Book of Psalms contains everything useful that the others have. It predicts the future, it recalls the past, it gives directions for living, it suggests the right behavior to adopt. It is, in short, a jewel case in which have been collected all the valid teachings in such a way that individuals find remedies just right for their cases.

It heals the old wounds of the soul and gives relief to recent ones. It cures the illnesses and preserves the health of the soul.

Every Psalm brings peace, soothes the internal conflicts, calms the rough waves of evil thoughts, dissolves anger, corrects and moderates profligacy.

Every Psalm preserves friendship and reconciles those who are separated. Who could actually regard as an enemy the person beside whom they have raised a song to the one God?

Every Psalm anticipates the anguish of the night and gives rest after the efforts of the day. It is safety for babes, beauty for the young, comfort for the aged, adornment for women.

Every Psalm is the voice of the Church.


Basil the Great
AD 329-379
Greek bishop of Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia, Asia Minor

“Remember who your teachers were…”

2 Timothy 3:14

Monday, September 19, 2016

Avoiding the trap

It  is… difficult to take the afterlife and the resurrection seriously when there are many theologians who contest the nature of the second death or otherwise soften hell into being a heaven you do not like.
Or when they insist that the challenges of Hades as a seductive bed of eternal sleep are actually successive portals of judgment where only the prayers of someone holier than you can boost you through the justified accusations of an entire host of demons.

The challenge of the faith in its primitive form is simple.
Hades enchants you into not wanting to wake up.
It does it by offering you three illusions:
sustenance, doubt (or to be more precise, belief in God's frailty)
and demigod status if one chooses to stay and serve god of the dead.

These illusions entice pretty much everybody—except Christ, as the gospel goes.

So folks who do not want to fall into the trap of eternal sleep
need to:
a) build up personality independent of creature comforts—
do not identify who you are through your material encumbrances,
b) believe in the power of God,
c) be atheistic to any competing deities who offer you godlike status so long as you remain in the fleshless void of the dead.

— Jacob Aaron Gorny,
commenting on my post What can we expect?

What can we expect?

Pope Francis said today (September 16, 2016) that Christians must dismiss the false notion that there is no resurrection of the dead, the Newsmax website reports.

During his mass today in Vatican City, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church said questions on what happens after death can lead to people not understanding Christianity's ‘logic of the future.’


Believers will rise again in body and soul like Jesus Christ did following His Crucifixion, that logic follows.


‘A spiritualistic piety, a nuanced piety is much easier; but to enter into the logic of the flesh of Christ, this is difficult. And this is the logic of the day after tomorrow. We will resurrect like the risen Christ, with our own flesh,’ the pontiff said.

And does it take a word from the pope like this to convince Catholic Christians of the truth of their faith? Many people of all Christian ‘traditions’ have a nebulous belief in the afterlife, sometimes indistinguishable from the near unbelief of their non-Christian neighbors. Ask an average Christian on the street what they believe happens to you after you die, and what answer do you get? ‘I dunno. Go to heaven or hell, I guess.’ Maybe the answer wouldn’t be quite so Simpsonistic, but I wonder.

Orthodoxy, aka ‘the Church,’ has made the resurrection of Christ the central theme of every Sunday service. We who belong to this Church cannot escape it, unless we’re dead in our tracks and more than tone deaf. ‘Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to those in the tombs bestowing life.’ We may not sing this Easter hymn every Sunday, but there are hymns of the resurrection, eight different ones to be exact, that are sung all year round in every Sunday liturgy. How is it, then, that many of us are, like our non-Orthodox neighbors, unable to grasp the truth of the bodily resurrection of the dead that we confess every time we recite the Symbol of Nicaea?

My eldest son Jacob, a seminary graduate and very astute theologian, says it’s because ‘cradle Orthodox’ do not get any systematic instruction, just what Sunday School may have taught them when they were little, and then, whatever they glean from the Divine Liturgy as adults. When catechism classes are held for potential converts, an announcement usually goes out, inviting veteran Orthodox believers to join in and take a refresher course. I wonder how many go? I think Orthodoxy is plagued by the same malady that afflicts other Christians—we act as though we are all Baptists: ‘once saved, always saved’—and it doesn’t seem to bother us, until we get into some kind of trouble, that we pay little actual attention to knowing God in Christ, and knowing what His plan of salvation is.

Back to the pope. He has become famous for saying and doing things that are for people who are unable to see what is right in front of them, hidden in plain sight. I can see him, metaphorically, as the thief in the night wielding his crowbar to break into the homes of his sleeping church members, making as much noise as he can in breaking in, so as to wake up some of them before the Real Thief in the Night comes, the One who cannot be resisted because by the time He arrives our last chance will have slipped away. I think Pope Francis is putting the Church, not just the Roman Catholics, in a dry run of what will occur when the Lord Himself returns, yes, at a time we do not expect, and only those who have stayed awake will be… I don’t know how to say it, but if we sleep, what can we expect when we awake?