Monday, March 31, 2014

How happy the merciful!

‘How happy the merciful, for they shall have mercy shown them!’ If ever there were a truth that Jesus understated, it must be this! ‘How happy the merciful!’ Yes, the traditional translation is ‘how blessèd,’ and of course, that actually means more than just happy, except who’s to know, since practically all of us no longer know what ‘happy’ or ‘blessèd’ really means? Still, it is a remarkable, yes, even an awesome statement, another one of those words of Jesus that are so profoundly powerful and would be immensely liberating if we would only hear them. Instead, we think we hear, and because we’ve heard them so often, they may as well fall on deaf ears. Indeed, better to be deaf, better yet, never to have heard them at all until we do hear them, and accept them, for real, for the first time.

How wretched are all our attempts to obtain salvation by our own designs, ignoring the divine economy, and feeling smug when we think we’ve achieved it, either by confessing the right faith, or by doing good works, depending on whether we are ‘reformed’ or ‘catholic.’ Neither of these theoretically opposing methods—salvation by faith alone versus by works (or by faith and works, as the doctrine really states)—can bring us any closer to true salvation than listening closely to the words of Jesus and acting on them. It escapes me how we can be so blinded for so long, lulled to religious slumber, or deafened perhaps by the din of our chanting, or our gospel bands. ‘I heard the voice of Jesus say…’ begins my favorite English hymn, and yet how many years, how many tears, before I listened.

‘How happy the merciful.’ Yes, it’s as simple as that. We are not even close to understanding anything yet about what salvation means, or how to obtain it, outside of this primary lesson. For without mercy, salvation is strictly and ontologically impossible, for us, or for anyone. One might as well abandon every other discipline, especially any we have particular zeal for, if we neglect, by will or even by accident, being merciful.

And merciful to whom? Well, perhaps we can start by being merciful to the person sitting next to us, maybe to the one who accidentally occupied our theater seat when we left momentarily to use the restroom. Maybe we could be merciful to the timid old lady whose slow driving is causing us not to speed our way to work, because we’ve diddle-dawdled and are now late.

Mercy can take many forms, but all of them are presented to us, daily, as clear opportunities, clear enough for us to make a conscious decision, to show mercy, or to withhold it. Christ could not tell us, ‘Blessèd are the merciful, for mercy will be shown them,’ implying the opposite, that mercy will not be shown to those others, the ones who were unmerciful, unless He sent us occasions openly. The living God, unlike the mythic gods of pre-Christian peoples, does not play tricks on us, does not tantalize us. He does not create us for destruction, but for salvation. He knows that we sin, that we are sick, and He has given into our very hands the medicine of the cure, at least the first dose—mercy—and made all of us responsible not only for ourselves, but for each other.

‘How happy the merciful, for they shall have mercy shown them!’ What a great and loving God we have, who has given us into each other’s keeping, and sown in us the seeds of immortality which are watered first and most easily by mercy. To be merciful to others, yes, this is to follow Jesus Christ who tells us, ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light’ (Matthew 11:29-30).

I am a Christian

I am a Christian: I reject no one. Not the sinner, for Christ has not rejected me who am their chief. Not the blasphemer, for who but I have blessed God aloud while cursing inwardly? Not the heretic, for I too am on the way to knowing the One True God. Not the proud, for I have already betrayed myself as pretender to all. Not the rich, for who but I have wasted and squandered all the wealth I have been gifted? Not the hypocrite, for even as I speak I cringe at my own shameful life, entreating divine mercy. No, I am a Christian: I reject no one, for One has not rejected me.

Help me, Holy God, to be Aléxandros, ‘defender of mankind,’ and not Katígoros, like Satan, their ‘accuser.’ Help me, Holy Mighty, and accept my weakness as payment in return for Your Strength, who alone are strong, who alone are loving. Help me, Holy Immortal, to receive Your life eternal by dying to myself and becoming bread for others, as You undying feed all, broken yet undivided. Glory to You, O God who has joined us to Yourself, in énosis, ‘oneness,’ by means of kénosis, ‘emptiness.’ Empty me, O Lord, that You may fill me, for You alone are Holy God, Mighty and Immortal.

I am a Christian: I reject no one. Yet not by my power or my strength, O Lord, but by Your Spirit.

Finally able to see

To watch, to wait, to keep the heart pure, the eye single.

To be two-hearted is against nature, yet we change ourselves, yielding to forces outside us, through fear at first, and then to triumph over others, we duplicate our heart, we become duplicitous.

To be two-eyed is according to nature, yet we are commanded to have a single eye, so that our bodies may be full of light. ‘If your eye offends thee, pluck it out, and throw it away…’ Our choice is before us.

So we find ourselves, when we awake, to have been sleeping on a battlefield, we know not how long, and we resent this. ‘Why me?’ asks every soul, as it reads the God-etched commandments in the flesh.

So the Church father (we forget his name) says, ‘Man is commanded to become God,’ and we remember that he spoke this at a funeral oration of another ancient ‘great.’ But it is our own funeral that matters to us.

By nature thus, contrary to nature thus. We yearn to transcend the chaos of our lives, yet dig ourselves deeper in that chaos as we multiply our hearts and refuse to put out one eye, that which consumes all.

Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us whom You have made, and bring us back to where we began, our hearts one in Your heart, and seeing You with a single eye, finally able to see.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Confident and certain

The Christian life is not to let oneself be crushed and overwhelmed by sin, in others or in oneself, but even while confessing one’s sinfulness, to profess the mercy of God, to be confident and certain about it. So confident and certain, in fact, that one is unhindered in following Jesus, in copying His thoughts, words and deeds in such a manner, that another window to His mercy has been opened for others. We may be just holes in a wall, but what Light we let into this world of darkness! We do not make that Light, we are not that Light, but by voiding ourselves, that Light shines. Not by works, lest anyone should boast (Ephesians 2:9).

Confident and certain of the undeserved mercy of God to our sinfulness, rather than being successful in winning worldly blessings—even in winning souls—this is the Christian life, this is what the call of Christ is all about. Again, it is not what we do, but what He does, about sin in the world and in us. Yes, we will do the same works that Jesus did, and even greater works because He has gone to the Father, yet it is not we who live, but Christ who is alive in us, and it is He who living in us does these works. Not by us, Yahweh, not by us, by You alone is glory deserved, by Your love and Your faithfulness (Psalm 115:1).

They said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
John 6:28-29

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Merciful

If a man readily and joyfully accepts a loss for the sake of God, he is inwardly pure. And if he does not look down upon any man because of his defects, in very truth he is free. If a man is not pleased with someone who honors him, nor displeased with someone who dishonors him, he is dead to the world and to this life. The watchfulness of discernment is superior to every discipline of men accomplished in any way to any degree.

Do not hate the sinner. For we are all laden with guilt. If for the sake of God you are moved to oppose him, weep over him. Why do you hate him? Hate his sins and pray for him, that you may imitate Christ Who was not wroth with sinners, but interceded for them. Do you not see how He wept over Jerusalem? We are mocked by the devil in many instances, so why should we hate the man who is mocked by him who mocks us also?

Why, O man, do you hate the sinner? Could it be because he is not so righteous as you? But where is your righteousness when you have no love? Why do you not shed tears over him? But you persecute him. In ignorance some are moved with anger, presuming themselves to be discerners of the works of sinners.

Be a herald of God's goodness, for God rules over you, unworthy though you are; for although your debt to Him is so great, yet He is not seen exacting payment from you, and from the small works you do, He bestows great rewards upon you.

Do not call God just, for His justice is not manifest in the things concerning you. And if David calls Him just and upright (cf. Psalm 24:8, 144:17), His Son revealed to us that He is good and kind. ‘He is good,’ He says, ‘to the evil and to the impious’ (Luke 6:35).

How can you call God just when you come across the Scriptural passage on the wage given to the workers? ‘Friend, I do thee no wrong: I will give unto this last even as unto thee. Is thine eye evil because I am good?’ (Matthew 20:12-15).

How can a man call God just when he comes across the passage on the prodigal son who wasted his wealth with riotous living, how for the compunction alone which he showed, the father ran and fell upon his neck and gave him authority over all his wealth? (Luke 15:11 ff.).

None other but His very Son said these things concerning Him, lest we doubt it; and thus He bare witness concerning Him. Where, then, is God's justice, for whilst we are sinners Christ died for us! (cf. Romans 5:8). But if here He is merciful, we may believe that He will not change.

Far be it that we should ever think such an iniquity that God could become unmerciful! For the property of Divinity does not change as do mortals. God does not acquire something which He does not have, nor lose what He has, nor supplement what He does have, as do created beings.

But what God has from the beginning, He will have and has until the [unending] end, as the blest Cyril wrote in his commentary on Genesis. ‘Fear God, he says, out of love for Him, and not for the austere name that He has been given. Love Him as you ought to love Him; not for what He will give you in the future, but for what we have received, and for this world alone which He has created for us.’

Who is the man that can repay Him? Where is His repayment to be found in our works? Who persuaded Him in the beginning to bring us into being Who intercedes for us before Him, when we shall possess no [faculty of] memory, as though we never existed? Who will awake this our body for that life? Again, whence descends the notion of knowledge into dust?

O the wondrous mercy of God! O the astonishment at the bounty of our God and Creator! O might for which all is possible! O the immeasurable goodness that brings our nature again, sinners though we be, to His regeneration and rest! Who is sufficient to glorify Him?

He raises up the transgressor and blasphemer, he renews dust unendowed with reason, making it rational and comprehending and the scattered and insensible dust and the scattered senses He makes a rational nature worthy of thought.

The sinner is unable to comprehend the grace of His resurrection. Where is gehenna, that can afflict us? Where is perdition, that terrifies us in many ways and quenches the joy of His love? And what is gehenna as compared with the grace of His resurrection, when He will raise us from Hades and cause our corruptible nature to be clad in incorruption, and raise up in glory him that has fallen into Hades?

Come, men of discernment, and be filled with wonder! Whose mind is sufficiently wise and marvelous to wonder worthily at the bounty of our Creator? His recompense of sinners is, that instead of a just recompense, He rewards them with resurrection, and instead of those bodies with which they trampled upon His law, He enrobes them with perfect glory and incorruption.

That grace whereby we are resurrected after we have sinned is greater than the grace which brought us into being when we were not. Glory be to Thine immeasurable grace, O Lord!

Behold, Lord, the waves of Thy grace close my mouth with silence, and there is not a thought left in me before the face of Thy thanksgiving. What mouths can confess Thy praise, O good King, Thou Who lovest our life? Glory be to Thee for the two worlds which Thou hast created for our growth and delight, leading us by all things which Thou didst fashion to the knowledge of Thy glory, from now and unto the ages. Amen.

Isaac the Syrian, Homily 60

“Remember who your teachers were…”
2 Timothy 3:14

Friday, March 28, 2014

You keep me alive

God desires and seeks the salvation of all. And He is always saving all who wish to be saved from drowning in the sea of life and sin. 
But He does not always save in a boat or a convenient, well-equipped harbor.

He promised to save the Holy Apostle Paul and all his fellow-travelers, and He did save them. But the Apostle and his fellow-passengers were not saved in the ship, which was wrecked; they were saved with great difficulty, some by swimming and others on boards and various bits of the ship's wreckage.




Though I live surrounded by trouble,
You keep my alive—to my enemies’ fury!
You stretch Your hand out and save me,
Your right hand will do everything for me.
Yahweh, Your love is everlasting,
do not abandon us whom you gave made.
Psalm 138:7-8 Jerusalem Bible

Psalms for the 28th Day
132 133 134 135 136 137 138

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Now Your Word is a lamp

Psalms for the 26th Day
119: 105-176 — 97-176 (Hebrew)

נ (Nún)

Now Your Word is a lamp to my feet,
a light on my path.
I have sworn to observe, I shall maintain
Your righteous rulings.
Yahweh, though my suffering is acute,
revive me as Your Word has guaranteed.
Yahweh, accept the homage that I offer,
teach me Your rulings.
I would lay down my life at any moment,
I have never yet forgotten Your Law.
The wicked have tried to trap me,
but I have never yet veered from Your precepts.
Your decrees are my eternal heritage,
they are the joy of my heart.
I devote myself to obeying Your statutes—
compensation enough for ever!

The Hebrew discipline of daily psalm reading starts the reading for the 26th day at verse 97, at the letter Mém…

מ (Mém)

Meditating all day on Your Law
how I have come to love it!
By Your commandment, ever mine,
how much wiser You have made me than my enemies!
How much subtler than my teachers,
through my meditating on Your decrees!
How much more perceptive than the elders,
as a result of my respecting Your precepts!
I refrain my feet from every evil path,
the better to observe Your Word.
I do not turn aside from Your rulings,
since You Yourself teach me these.
Your promise, how sweet to my palate!
Sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Your precepts endow me with perception;
I hate all deceptive paths.

Meeting again the verses of the psalm for the 26th day is always, for me, like running into a faithful and comforting friend at the end of a long and arduous day of struggle. He holds me closely to him for a moment, then looks me in the eyes and says, ‘Don't worry! That day is over. The new one is here, when we can serve the God of heaven together and joyfully keep His commandments! You are Home!’

The psalm of this day is so precious! Listen to this, just one more stanza, starting with verse 129, at the letter Pé…

פ (Pé)

Your decrees are so wonderful
my soul cannot but respect them.
As Your Word unfolds, it gives light,
and the simple understand.
I open my mouth, panting
eagerly for Your commandments.
Turn to me, please, pity me,
as You should those who love Your name.
Direct my steps as You have promised,
let evil win no power over me.
Rescue me from human oppression;
I will observe Your precepts.
Treat Your servant kindly,
teach me Your statutes.
My eyes stream with tears,
because others disregard Your Law.

As anyone who prays the psalms will have noticed, much of their content forms the basis of Orthodox liturgical chant. The familiar doxology at the conclusion of the orthros (dawn) service includes a whole series of psalm verses after the original text of the ancient hymn Δόξα σοι τω δείξαντι το φως (Glory to Thee who hast shown us the Light), and among them is the thrice-chanted verse from Psalm 119, "Blessed are You, O Lord, teach me Your statutes" (Psalm 119:12), in Greek, Ευλογητός ει Κύριε, δίδαξον με τα δικαιώματα σου (Evloghitós ei Kýrie, dhídhaxon me ta dhikaiómata su), and in Hebrew (omitting the Hebrew script), Barúkh attá Adonáy, lammedéyni hhukéykha. This hymn is so deeply engraved in my consciousness that I often wake up in the morning singing it.

Glory to You who have shown us the Light!

By the way, the full text of the doxology in transliterated Greek with an English translation is hymn #38 in my booklet Singing the Work of the People, which can be downloaded by clicking HERE.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Ευαγγελισμός

Just as the year can be conceived as beginning on various days—January 1st (civil), September 1st (religious), March 21st (spring begins)—so can various days in the Church calendar be conceived as the beginning of the Gospel.

I like to think of September 1st, “Indiction,” commemorating the Christ’s inauguration of His earthly ministry by reading the prophecy of Isaiah in the synagogue service, as the “beginning” of the Gospel.

Holy evangelist Mark is much simpler and more direct, The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God—It is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way, a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ ” And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins…

But another “beginning” of the Gospel, the Good News, is today’s feast-day, commemorating the annunciation to Mary the virgin, of God’s will that she become the mother of His Son, the Messiah. This feast is called in Greek, Ευαγγελισμός, Evangelismós, ‘announcing the Good News.’ And for Mary, just as for us, it was God’s Word coming to her, personally. His Word could have been met with deaf ears or ears hearing but not receiving. She, just as we, could have said, can say, “No thanks!” to God. That would have gotten her, and us, “off the hook.” Instead, she said “No” to her fears and doubts, and “Yes” to what God had chosen her for from before the foundation of the world. And it’s always just the same for us.

God has foreknown us from before the foundation of the world, and ever since we were born into it by His will (and it’s the only act He has done to us without asking our permission, creating us), He has been announcing to us, personally, the Good News, at every moment asking us to say “Yes” to His decrees concerning us.

His Word is clearly written large and small, in the Bible, in the universe He created, and in the intangibles and indescribables of our personal being. As for Mary saying “Yes,” what He has in store for us will give us cause to say, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.”

Evangelismós. Announcing the Good News. Called since before the foundation of the world. Brethren, let us rejoice with the Theotokos, for “He that is mighty hath magnified me, and Holy is His Name,” will be the song of each one of us, if we only say “Yes”.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Προσδοκώ ανάστασιν νεκρών

Our integration into the Divine Nature is no accident. Neither is it our due. It is not something that will inevitably happen, but it is where our being will lead us if we do not resist it, if we do not resist God.

Yes, God made man for immortality. We are not speaking of some kind of purely spiritual existence, eternal but bodiless. No, man was made, body and soul, for immortality, for deathlessness.

The entire culture, even Christianity, is infected with this idea—that any trans-mortal existence must be purely spiritual, as if we are going to be changed into angels—and it instantly recoils.

The religious recoil subconsciously by fantasizing about it. The irreligious recoil knowingly by rejecting it. Still, it is a fact of human nature: our bodies are made for immortality, and hence, our souls.

But what can it mean, our integration into the Divine Nature? Aren’t we spirits already? Some do indeed teach and believe, ‘I am a spirit, I have a soul, I live in a body.’

Simplistic thinking comforts for a while, but not for long. Although by nature God made us immortal, body and soul, that does not make us spiritual. Only One is Spirit: that is God.

Though we lost our natural immortality through our transgressions, by resisting our human nature as created, God, in becoming a man, Jesus Christ, accomplished more for us than immortality.

He, being One of the Holy Triad and pure Spirit, integrated with the body and soul of a man that He created. God became man, that man might become God, except for our free will, must become God.

St Gregory Nazianzen says in his Funeral oration for St Basil, ‘Man has been commanded to become God.’ He is also the first Church father to use the term ‘théosis’ for that God-charged deification.

So man who, body and soul, was created for immortality in the first Adam but forfeited that life by separation from the Divine Nature, that is, by suicide, in the second Adam is recreated for divinity.

Christ, in defeating death by death, bringing life to those in the tombs, Himself rose from the dead, body and soul, as first-fruits of all who have ever died. Not as a Spirit only, but as a complete man.

Yes, the God-man, who, though standing before His Father who is in heaven interceding for sinners, walks with His disciples on earth, even shares food with them, proving the resurrection of the dead.

Though in this present life our souls are the life of our bodies, in the world to come, the Spirit is the life of both our souls and bodies, our human nature fully integrated with the Divine Nature.

Through Jesus Christ the human race has gained more than it lost. Human nature has been raised to the Divine Nature. Respect your body as much as your soul, and expect the resurrection of the dead.

With eyes wide open

This is nothing at all that I wrote, but rather thoughts that I think, intimations that I feel, and here they are in written form. The author is Fr Stephen, and I have borrowed them to post here, just a few passages that mean a lot to me. Click here to read his entire testimony, titled The Sacrament of the Heart.

In the hands of Christ, bread always becomes His body: all things become what they truly are. In Christ the Kingdom of God is revealed and made manifest. Thus where Christ goes, “the blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Matthew 11:5). The sacramental life is not a special instance in which Christ initiates an ecclesiastical ceremony. What the Church may experience as “ceremony” is nothing other than the revelation of the Kingdom of God. Any claim which is less than that is a denial of the ministry of Christ.


The mystery of existence, any existence, is only made clear when seen in the light of Christ. It is this mystery of existence that we properly call sacrament. Things are revealed to be what they truly are when they are brought into proper relation to Christ. It is because the truth of all things is sacramental that we can say this.


The quiet life of the heart generally perceives intuitively, dwells in the present, accepts the reality that God gives in the moment. It does not distance or dominate or label. It is not governed by fear or desire and has no need to defend or justify.


If the heart does not perceive the sacramentality of all bread, then it will likely be blind to the true mystery of the bread of the Eucharist. In the same manner, those who do not perceive the true mystery found in the saints and the Mother of God, will not be able to see the true life of the people around them. The saints are not of note because they are unusual: they are of note because they reveal our true humanity.


It took centuries for those who claimed the name “Christian” to forget the truth of every meal. They would blindly seek to restrict the sacraments and give the land of the Kingdom over to meaninglessness and amnesia. But the Kingdom of God has come in Christ and the whole world is a sacrament. Christians are called to take, bless, break and give with eyes wide-open. Then the wonder of God’s mystery will unfold before us: every morsel of bread revealed to be His Body; every tree His Cross; and every human being a saint. Then we can begin to love as we are loved and become what we already are.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Lord's Day of the Veneration of the Cross

What our Saviour saw from the Cross - Tissot

There is much more to this Lord’s Day than a mere commemoration of the physical relic of the Cross, glorious though it may be. We can never forget, amidst the trappings of religion that often encumber and conceal it, that the Cross was endured for us, and it is also meant for us, those of us who follow Jesus. What does the world look like to us? Are we standing with our feet on the ground, looking up and adoring the crucified Lord? Or is our flesh nailed down to the Cross for love of Him, with whom we look upon a world that, lost in its own sin and suffering, gazes upon us, uncomprehending?

In Paradise of old, the tree stripped me bare, for by the eating thereof, the enemy brought in death. But now, the most holy tree of the Cross that doth clothe all men with the garment of life hath been set up on earth, and all of the world is filled with most boundless joy. Seeing it exalted, ye people, now, let us the faithful all cry out with one accord to God in faith: Thy house is full of glory, O Lord.
— Elevation of the Holy Cross - Sessional Hymn of the Canon

Here follow some gleanings on the Cross from earlier posts on
Cost of Discipleship.



Discipleship means the Cross

The knowledge of the Cross
is concealed in the sufferings of the Cross.

The Cross is the door to mysteries. Through this door the intellect makes entrance in to the knowledge of heavenly mysteries. The knowledge of the Cross is concealed in the sufferings of the Cross. And the more our participation in its sufferings, the greater the perception we gain through the Cross. For, as the Apostle says, "As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ."

God does not create a cross for man. No matter how heavy a cross a man may carry in life, it is still just wood, from which man himself was made, and it always grows from the soil of his heart.

The way of God from the beginning of time and from the creation of the human race has been the way of the cross and death. How did you get your idea that everything is just the opposite? You must realize that you are outside the way of God, that you are far from Him, that you do not wish to walk in the steps of the Saints, but want to make some special way for yourself and travel by it without sufferings. The way of God is a daily cross. No one has climbed to heaven by living a life of pleasure.

Christians often assume that to ‘take up our cross’ means simply to carry a burden. When we run into a life trouble, we will say things like ‘oh, this is just my cross to bear.’ We basically shrug it off, totally missing the significance of the cross.

Ever consider that the cross is not meant to be a burden?

It is meant to cause death.
The cross is meant to kill us!
It is an instrument of death!
Oh that wonderful cross!


Christianity can be many things to many people, but unless it is first and foremost the cross, it can devolve into ritual, culture, or magic. Not that everyone will have the same cross to bear and to die on, not that what it looks like or feels like will be the same for all, not that those who follow Christ to Calvary will all understand what is happening to them the same way, but nonetheless the cross awaits us all, at least all of us who seek to follow Jesus.

Why, then, do you fear to take up the Cross, which is the road to the Kingdom? In the Cross is salvation; in the Cross is life; in the Cross is protection against our enemies; in the Cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness; in the Cross is strength of mind; in the Cross is joy of spirit; in the Cross is excellence of virtue; in the Cross is perfection of holiness. There is no salvation of soul, nor hope of eternal life, save in the Cross. Take up the Cross, therefore, and follow Jesus. Christ has gone before you, bearing His Cross; He died for you on the Cross, that you also may bear your cross, and desire to die on the cross with Him. For if you die with Him, you will also live with Him. And if you share His sufferings, you will also share His glory. See how in the Cross all things consist, and in dying on it all things depend. There is no other way to life and to true inner peace, than the way of the Cross, and of daily self-denial. Go where you will, seek what you will; you will find no higher way above nor safer way below than the road of the Holy Cross.
— Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Book 2, Chapter 12

                       Cross, do not fail me
                       when it comes my hour
                       to bleed. As to a strong-masted vessel,
                       let me be bound to you to share your power.
                       Hug me close as the wind we together wrestle.

                       Lost, let them nail me
                       as my ransomed soul
                       a steed of spirit mounts and my hungers hang.
                       Let me inherit what the jailer stole
                       and hidden, as I thirst, what prophets sang.
— Romanós

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Thinking of One

There’s a line in a chant—it’s hard to call it a song—called ‘Creation’ written by Scots songwriter composer Robin Williamson of the Incredible String Band that I’ve found myself strangely drawn to over the course of more than forty years since I first heard it:

‘Our first father, Abraham, whose bosom
Was the unique soul of the humans…’

The reference to Abraham’s ‘bosom’ was one I was familiar with. ‘Abraham’s bosom’ is or was, I thought, a convenient way to refer to the place of the departed, without having to refer to either heaven or hell, since the state of the reposed is technically not one or the other.

Though we say and think people ‘die and go to heaven’ or ‘die and go to hell,’ if the Orthodox Christian view is correct, there is no heaven or hell for us humans until the resurrection of the dead and the last judgment. True, these places or states may exist, for someone, but not yet for us. When we die, our bodies repose or sleep, and our souls, that is, our lives, are held awake and safe by God, but still separated from our corpses and all materiality.

This state of the soul—and I must ask you to forgive my layman’s explanation—is variously referred to as ‘Paradise’ (remembering Christ’s promise to the crucified robber, ‘you shall be with me this day in Paradise’), or Abraham’s bosom (recalling His teaching about the afterlife in the story of Lazarus and the rich man).

Some people believe in the idea of ‘soul sleep’ where the dead are simply unconscious until the day of resurrection, but this view has been condemned by the Church as incompatible with Divine Scripture and Holy Tradition. The saints ‘in heaven’ could not hear our prayer requests if they were sleeping, that’s obvious!

But this line of the chant keeps nagging at me, ‘our first father, Abraham, whose bosom was the unique soul of the humans,’ well, it seems to be saying something that has always been true but which we have all somehow missed. ‘The unique soul of the humans.’ One day this occurred to me: What if there were only one single human soul just as we know there is only one single Spirit, that is God? What would that mean? What would it look like?

C. S. Lewis has hinted at this in his primer Mere Christianity:

‘In the case of real toy soldiers or statues, if one came to life, it would obviously make no difference to the rest. They are all separate. But human beings are not. They look separate because you see them walking about separately. But then, we are so made that we can see only the present moment. If we could see the past, then of course it would look different. For there was a time when every man was part of his mother, and (earlier still) part of his father as well: and when they were part of his grandparents. If you could see humanity spread out in time, as God sees it, it would not look like a lot of separate things dotted about. It would look like one single growing thing—rather like a very complicated tree. Every individual would appear connected with every other.’
— C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity,
Chapter 27, ‘The Obstinate Toy Soldiers’

I admit, this passage of Mere Christianity also intrigued me as a truth that has somehow eluded us. It was not difficult to see from what I took to be Lewis’ metaphor that humanity is, as he calls it, a ‘mass,’ but there the idea stopped. It must just be a poetical and somewhat graphic way to indicate the general and well-known truth that all humans are related to each other, we are social animals, not mere individuals. This, it seemed to me, was his point, and one well taken, because the foremost heresy of our age is nothing to do with the nature of God, but everything to do with the nature of the human being. It is now an axiom not to be challenged or doubted that the individual is all important and, unless there still is a God, the most worthy of all worship.

But the ‘human mass’ as Lewis calls it, what if this is the ‘unique soul of the humans’? What if there is only a single soul, a single unitary life (for that is what ‘soul’ means) that is human with the same utter singularity that pertains to the Spirit who we call ‘God’?

The entire human population, including the terminated unborn, from the first-created (shall we call them ‘Adam and Eve’?) until this very moment—an incredible number, uncountable—can they, can we, all be simply experiences of that unique Soul? (I want to capitalize ‘Soul’ at this point, because I believe when there is only one of something and always will be, it deserves this sign of respect.)

By this, I do not mean something akin to robotic extensions that have no being of their own. No, what I am hinting at is that the unique Soul of the humans, is a single Life that is shared by innumerable ‘persons’ that all have meaning, value, personal existence, and immortality, none of which are lost by being ‘One in essence and undivided.’ All this being, by the grace of God, His image impressed on the created medium, even, no, especially, His life as a society of ‘Persons’ in the Holy Triad.

If the human race is indeed made ‘in the likeness and image’ of God who, though One, speaks of Himself as ‘We’ (yes, I know it is said to be nothing more than the plural of majesty), what if He in fact as well as act created us as a single Soul to be expressed throughout the dimension of time as a multiplicity of persons?

Holy and divine scripture says, ‘God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them’ (Genesis 1:27 JB).

If humanity were a single, unaging, and immortal created person, invisible to us because we are too close to see ourselves as him, time being a dimensional obstacle to that experience, that might explain and even harmonize many ideas and beliefs we hold about both man and God.

The foremost of these in my mind is what is really indicated by the scriptural term ‘Body of Christ’ as applied to the Church, and of Jesus Christ as the unique ‘Head’ of that Body. It also interprets and shows what is meant by ‘the Bride of Christ.’ And it doesn’t stop there. It goes beyond the borders of doctrinal Christianity.

The Jewish faith out of which Christianity emerges also acquires deeper significance if there is in fact as well as act a ‘unique Soul of the humans.’ There is the Adam Kadmon of the Kabbalah. Now, he is more than just a symbol of the primordial Man: he is that Man himself.

The bodily resurrection of the dead, believed by all Abrahamic faiths, if there is a ‘unique Soul of the humans,’ acquires a rational basis: The Soul expresses himself in his innumerable bodies so to experience all human possibilities, and afterwards, sums up his life in the resurrection of every person he ever was. The judgment? Yes, that too. As his mortal wounds are healed in immortality, his scabs fall off of their own accord. And it doesn’t stop there. It goes beyond the borders even of Abrahamic faiths.

What about reincarnation? Yes, what about it? We don’t have to argue it or explain it away. There is only one ‘unique Soul of the humans.’ From some visionary angles it appears to be reincarnation, because the Soul reiterates himself forever. ‘For beyond time he dwells in these bodies, though these bodies have an end in their time; but he remains immeasurable, immortal’ (Bhagavad Gita 2:18). Yes, there are the Two—Brahman and Atman, Divine Spirit and Human Soul, Bridegroom and Bride.

Why else does it seem to the human being in love with God that there is no one else in the world for him but his Lover, and his Lover loves him and sacrifices Himself for him as though he were the only human being that ever was made?

‘Let us make man in Our image.’ Yes, as holy apostle Peter writes, ‘Even the angels long to look into these things’ (1 Peter 1:12).

Belief and unbelief

There’s a lot of Christians out there, dogma’d to their teeth, who live and even think atheologically, and a lot of professed Atheists who are awesome theologians without realizing it. You have to ask an Atheist exactly which god he doesn't believe in, just as you have to ask (if you dare) a Christian exactly which god he does. Belief and unbelief are both tunnels that you may choose to live in permanently, or simply journey through in order to ‘get out alive.’ And while we’re in the tunnel, everyone knows it’s very dark, and no one can see too clearly. But if you really do want to ‘get out alive,’ no matter what you believe or disbelieve, you will.

Does this make personal faith or doctrinal religion pointless? No, not really, but it puts both in perspective, and deglorifies both, for nothing that pertains to this transitory life, even the means we make use of to go beyond it, is worthy of praise.

Only One is worthy, and His sovereignty without qualification unthrones all our self-salvation mechanisms. Whether you believe in Jesus Christ or not, His life and salvific work has an effect on you. In fact, He does not wait for you to recognize Him before He will save you. This may sound like doctrinal monergism, but it is not. The synergy that intertwines the human and Divine natures is so pervasive, so total, that from some vantage points, it may look like predestination, or some other human construct we can name. Yet He does nothing without us.

So, an Atheist can be saved? Isn’t that what some claim the Roman pope has recently opined?—that is, if popes can be said to ‘opine’. Normally they dogmatize, and keep the tracks of their holy predecessors covered. If Atheists can be saved, then what’s the point of believing, being a Christian, and putting up with all those religious obligations? Well, that’s a very good question believers need to ask themselves, because their answer may lead them to a more deliberate, more honest, posture. If he meant nothing else, perhaps the pope meant to draw to our attention not the fate of Atheists, but of ourselves. What is it we want? What is it we are working for?

‘For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’
(Matthew 6:21)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Rumblings at the borders

Once again we are caught up in the news of unbridled power politics and the playing of trump cards and the rolling of more than dice in the latest showdown between East and West.
For the Cold War, like the fabled White Witch, is rumored by its believers to be somehow still alive, ‘whoever heard of a witch that really died? You can always get them back!’ And the ‘spectre of Communism’ that Marx prophesied was haunting Europe in 1848, taking on any one of its numerous disguises to conceal its true nature—the sin of the world—has recollected itself from its recent repose to resurrect as what looks to be a revitalized Russian imperialism.

Hammer and sickle, not plough and pruning hook, have been beaten back into weapons of war, threatened or just imagined, as we watch voraciously and with mock compassion the first bite of the beast on the body of ancient Rus, now known as Ukraine.

I wonder, do we ever actually know what we are looking at in the flow of human history, whether in the past or in the making? Without understanding either nation, the ‘great’ or the ‘little’ Russians, the manhandling, commiserating West, seeing its latest pet and hopeful political prodigy seemingly becoming the target of a powerful, alien neighbor, one with a history of large geopolitical appetite, is quick on the draw, to challenge its arch-rival, the mysterious East, to a fateful duel.

Without looking back too far, we can see this is another point on the path of confrontation that has tainted the relations of East and West centuries before we ever heard of Communism. Byzantium is still the butt of our sarcasm (I am speaking of the West, not of myself or any others who fall with me through the cracks between history’s floorboards), and our distrust, while we pride ourselves on our pretended liberalism.

On a very superficial level, some see this antagonism as the manifestation of the Catholic world’s hatred of the Orthodox. Protestants are included as Catholics, of course. They point at least as far back as the First World War where Serbia, an Orthodox nation, was made the culprit, yet forget that Germany was harshly punished with unreasonable reparations, that Austria was drawn and more than quartered, and that Serbia was, in the end, rewarded with historically Catholic lands—Croatia and Slovenia—as well as Muslim territories, like Bosnia.

The rape and pillage of Kosovo under the watchful eye of the West does, however, seem to indicate a persistent antipathy to the Orthodox, or at least to the Serbs. Yet I wonder if this antagonism really has other roots and reasons, deeper than the religious divide, which may be more a symptom than the disease itself. What that disease might be, I think I have an intimation.

The deviant individualism of the West, and the insistent collectivism of the East—forget the rationalism of the one and the mysticism of the other—seem destined to tear the human race apart, each trying to make ‘one world’ in its chosen image. The European Union, to save face, must expand in a 21st century version of ‘Drang nach Osten’ whitewashing the same ancient urge which purged Great Moravia of its Byzantine faith, and mowed down more recently more than six millions of sub-human Poles and Jews, to coax the modern princes of Kiev into the Western fold. They make it look so wonderful, but what would any level of material prosperity look like to a people who within living memory were nearly starved out of existence in Stalin’s planned famines? Even if the ‘great’ and ‘little’ Russians, as they were called during the reigns of the Czars, are one and the same nation, who would turn to a controlling, abusive spouse, when a new suitor of forgotten atrocities, comes a-courting?

The West, the culture I was born into but do not choose, has a missionary urge, now stripped of Christianity, ‘to make things better for you,’ whether you want it or not. Listening to what they think their consciences, they ‘plant evergreens while trampling on a flower.’ What they really want is to make things better for themselves, as any student of unbent history can discover.

If the West thinks that a people is a nation, then they must have a nation state. It doesn’t matter whether it is real or not, as long as it fits in with the West’s agenda. Czechs are a nation, undisputably. Tack on some extra territory manned by Slovaks—they’re almost Czechs, or vise versa—and voilà, Czechoslovakia. Never mind if the two nations don’t really get along and never formed a nation state before. But it gets worse. They created another nation state, Yugoslavia, out of an ethnic mess that was bound to explode sooner or later. And it did.

So now, we champion Ukraine against Russia, unknowing or ignoring the fact that it was never a nation state before modern times. If the Ukrainians (formerly, the ‘little Russians’) are in fact a nation distinct from the Russians (formerly, the ‘great Russians’) and not merely a regional variation speaking their own dialect as the Boarisch-speaking Bavarians are still essentially Germans and part of that nation state, then yes, of course they ought to have their own nation state. But is there really a ‘Ukraine’ in the same sense as there is a Poland or a Germany? Or is the West following a line of reasoning based on the Cold War compromise that let the Soviet Union have three votes in the United Nations—one for Russia, one for Belarus, and one for Ukraine, an artificial division of ‘old Russia’ that the Soviets found convenient, ignoring as inconvenient, for example, the Baltic nation states they had illegally grabbed during the war?

Now that the West has ‘let the cat out of the bag’ with the fall of Communism and its disintegration into a complex community of aspiring democracies and burgeoningly corrupt oligarchies, we feel we have to stand up for our fledglings and protégés—selectively, of course.

Ukraine’s first taste of nation statehood since the days of Kievan Rus before the Mongol invasions is certainly a heady and hopeful experiment. But it still is just an experiment, just as is any newly founded state, just as the United States once was, and just as the European Community still is. The West is continuing to test its paramount humanistic tenet, individualism, from the single person to the multitude, and it has lots of people and lots of nations to experiment with. Ukraine is one of them. The tragedy is that the West simply does not understand the real life of its specimens, nor does it respect them.

Let’s hope the Ukrainian people will be allowed to find their own way.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

By faith, not by sight

δια πίστεως γαρ περιπατουμεν, ου δια ειδους·

for we walk by faith, not by sight
2 Corinthians 5:7


The struggle seems to be, between what is,
and what rather should be.

We see ourselves, the world around us—if we are Christians, we see the Church—as we are, as it is, and we are dissatisfied, we are moved to crisis, we feel abandoned, we feel we must do something, and inwardly become crusaders, we must right wrongs.

When it is within ourselves, we do well, knowing ourselves to be under conviction, knowing that the Cross rises in awful majesty before us, inviting us: what will we do? just stand and watch, or lay down our burdens, allow ourselves to be stripped and mocked, our flesh nailed to the wood? find our lives by losing them?

When it is outside our selves, we must take another path.

Are other people, other things, really as we see them? Is the struggle really to be pressed home, between what is and what should be? between the reality and our ideal? And if so, whence this ideal? and what is it? Is the ideal something that really is out there, in past, in future, our only in our minds, in our seats of judgment?

By faith, not by sight—do we ever see other people as they are, or do we only perceive them? We see an image, as flat as the man we see on the television screen, speaking the news. This is what he looks like, sounds like, the surface of the moment to a living being who is years deep and miles wide, whose height is beyond the range of our vision, whose feet have trod what paths we may have never found. Yet we think we see him, we say we know him. He is as hidden from us as if we were blind.

The same is true of things, of events, of historical movements, we do not see them, understand them, either, only what we perceive, only what our minds tell us. The natural man walks by sight, judges by sight, struggles by what he thinks right, and carries on a fight—as if he could—to save the world, even when he says to himself, ‘I only want things to be as they should be; that's all I want.’ But Christ says, ‘If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains’ (John 9:41).

By faith, not by sight: faith is the substance of things unseen, and so the spiritual man does not walk by sight, but by faith. There is no ‘is’ and ‘should be’ in his thoughts, for he knows, by faith, that God is sovereign, that He is working His purpose out, and he trusts, he trusts in Him. This is not the ‘faith’ of mere religious profession that can find fault with and fight ‘the infidel’, that makes him an anointed crusader, a defender of God Most-High. Is a god that must be defended any better than the kitchen gods broken to pieces by Abraham?

Look deep, if you must look at all, or else avert your eyes from anyone, anything, but yourself. We cannot see very far beyond ourselves, so if we must walk—and walk we must—let's walk behind Him who is worthy of our trust, and take the path He treads. Yes, avert your eyes from anyone but yourself, but only to make sure you're still right behind Him. Otherwise, keep your eyes straight ahead, let Him, if anyone or anything, block your view of your destination, because this is where you want to be: ‘If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also’ (John 12:26).

Yes, Lord, by faith, not by sight.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Even now as we wait

It is the day of Resurrection, let us be radiant for the feast, and let us embrace one another. Let us say: ‘Brethren,’ even to them that hate us, let us forgive all things in the Resurrection, and thus let us cry out…

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life.

Yes, I know it is not Pascha yet. It is still Lent. In fact, we have just entered on the forty-day road to the Paradise of the New Adam, where there is no prohibition against reaching out to the Tree of Life, that is, the Cross, and plucking the First-fruit of Salvation hanging there, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I know we have just begun. We are not there yet. But our longing for the End that is the Beginning of all things simply overwhelms me.

‘To forgive all things in the Resurrection,’ how sweet this sounds, yet how impossible to perform. To say ‘Brothers’ to those that hate us, how unthinkable to us who have never succeeded in understanding how deep is the hatred within us that puts to death, every day, those around us (whom we simply want to hate), and even the Son of God, whose last prayer to His Father was, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!’

Unlike the sinner who knows he is a sinner and is ashamed to even draw near to ask forgiveness, we sin, and we sin boldly, and go to confess what trifles we deem our ‘sins’ while leaving covered and festering the putrid secrets of our inner deformities. He who is forgiven much, loves much, but the forgiveness we ‘humbly’ apply for is no medicine for those sicknesses and no antidote for those poisons we partake of, and hence we love little.

This is the time, the acceptable time, not to crouch behind our mirrors and fight on, shattering the world around us into splintered fragments, but instead to break those mirrors through which we love to see so dimly, and to come out into the light, yes, into the Light of Christ, which shines perpetually, even in this forty-day sojourn, to show us who and what we are, for though we divide time’s flow into seasons, the Resurrection is always now.

Let us be radiant (as we prepare ourselves) for the feast, and let us embrace one another (putting away our divisions). Let us say: ‘Brethren,’ even to them that hate us (and to them whom we hate), let us forgive all things in the Resurrection (because it has already unsealed the gates of Paradise), and thus let us cry out (even now, as we wait)…

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

I confess

I confess the ancient faith of the Church, that is, the faith of the living God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the law-giving God of Moses, the royal God of kings who alone makes kings of men, the all-lauded God of David, the all-wise God of Solomon, the truth-telling God of Elijah, Isaiah, and all the holy prophets, the fatherly God of Jesus of Nazareth; and I confess the last named as the living Son of the living God, who was born in time of a human mother of no earthly father, though begotten beyond time of the heavenly Father of no human mother; and I confess the ancient Church, that is, the community of all faithful people, faithful in following the holy apostles who follow faithfully the Christ of God. This tri-luminous path I walk through a very dark world, bearing within me and overshadowing me the Light of lights, that divine and life-creating Spirit, that unearthly Fire unknown to Prometheus that enlightens those who love, but consumes those who hate, the uncreated God who dwells in His created image mankind.

And I witness to that very dark world, both speaking and silent, of the God without name or number whose Oneness is not diminished by His being Three, nor His Majesty dishonored by His being named, for Father, Son, and Spirit, unearthly Triad, was, is, and shall be revealed in human flesh, first by the First-born from the dead, the New Adam, and then till the end of the age by everyone who follows Him who opened Paradise once to the good thief, and forever to all who consent to be hung at His side. And as by my life I confess Him before men, though I speak or am silent, the dark world that thinks it is bright is revealed to itself dark in their eyes to those who, destined to be saved, are drawn by the Father to the Son; and that beloved Son in whom the Father is well pleased receives these souls from the darkness and presents them again to His Father enthroned in unapproachable Light, confessing their names before Him and the angels; thereby witnessing to the unbelieving world where the true Church lives.

O my soul, let us purchase this time for God with the gold of our spirits, the silver of our minds, and the bronze of our deeds, not wallowing in laziness and sinful distraction, but persevering with all our might in prayer, fasting and sincere brotherly love, to cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life, that our confession be proven true on the battlefield of the our body, and that we become capable of receiving the rich mercy that God has saved up for those who love Him. For He tells us every moment of every day, ‘To him who has more will be given, but from him who has not, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away.’ Yes, let us purchase this time and store up for ourselves treasures that thieves cannot break in and steal, for again as He tells us, ‘Where your treasure is, there will your hearts be also.’ Confess Him, O my soul, as they confessed Him to whom He shall say, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…’

The triumph of Orthodoxy

...is not what we so boldly play it up to be on the Sunday dedicated to this name. Yes, they fought hard battles and long, the victors now becoming the victims later, then exchanging places as readily as dancers, as imperial and sacerdotal whims gave way to one another, and crowds of old men, some saints and others mere savants, dissecting each other's brains to an atomic level, and straining each other's syllables spoken, sung or scribed through sieves of partiality so clogged with flesh and blood, that it's a wonder anything came through.

It's not really about whether we make ikons or break them, whether we fellowship with saints above or only with those below. Nor is it about whether we can name a faithful virgin of Israel the mother of the ineffable God or only of the God-Man she bore, or whether Himself He had at all times an unobstructed and single will, nature, and being, or only appeared so.

It's not really about whether the Spirit can come on whomsoever He wishes with the anointing that teaches everything infallibly, or on all who call upon Him, or only on those upon whom human hands have been laid, over whom human tongues have prayed, generation after generation, unbroken, from the beginning.

The triumph of Orthodoxy is to be put on trial, tested by every antagonist, human and inhuman, visible and invisible, rational and irrational, using every temptation, to glory, to humiliation, to wealth, to poverty, to power, to weakness, to joy, to sorrow, to health, to sickness, to life, and to death, and thus tried, to come forth as a Bride made beautiful for her Bridegroom, without any flaw, dressed in spotless white, with a heart purged of all malice, forgetful of all injury, seeking only to love, to love all without measure, without exception, unaware of her exaltation, her eyes fixed forever on her Beloved.

Unless we are put on trial in this way, we will never triumph.
Today we are one day closer to it than we were yesterday.
Are we ready?


Originally posted on Cost of Discipleship on July 30, 2009.
This weekend we observe the Sunday of [the Triumph] of Orthodoxy.
We are always learning what it means
to be Orthodox Christians.
Lord, have mercy!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Patterns

Factual and actual
Scientists study the factual patterns observable in the natural universe, and the results are called ‘science.’ Theologians study the actual patterns observable in the human universe, and the results are called ‘theology.’ Until relatively recently, one could be both a scientist and a theologian without being forced to be one or the other. The experience of reality was not yet an either/or proposition. One knew instinctively that One was behind all the observable phenomena in all universes. Science was the growing body of knowledge about what God makes (the facts). Theology was the growing body of knowledge about what God does (the acts). The patterns discovered and rationally organized in both disciplines were found to be so consistent and reliable, that if one were a scientist or a theologian of some experience, one could instantly tell when a hoax or fable were being foisted on you. Even though science and religion have now officially parted ways, the real scientists know when pseudo-science is happening (homeopathic ‘medicine’ for example), and the real theologians know when pseudo-theology is happening (Mormon ‘revelation’ for example). In the case of the agnostic scientist, ‘Nature just doesn’t work that way.’ In the case of the theologian, ‘God just doesn’t act that way.’

Observable patterns
There are many patterns observable in the human universe. All of them stem from human nature itself. Theology, then, is as much the study of man as it is the study of God. You might also say, theology as a discipline is the study of God in man, and of man in God. Whereas the scientist uses a lot of apparatus and all the materials and forces of the natural universe to discover the patterns and understand them, the theologian’s tool kit is much simpler: the apparatus is a human life—his own—and the raw ‘materials’ to be analyzed are the events of his life, and what is observable in the life, that is, the history, of the human race. Both the scientist and the theologian start small, and work toward the large, first microcosm, then macrocosm. Even the way both carry out their respective labors is an observable pattern, and very much alike.

‘Change’ and ‘squeeze’
Now, having laid out in brief the frames of reference that I use in defining science and theology, I want to apply them to just one of the patterns inherent in both science and theology. I don’t know exactly what to call this pattern, and the choice of terms is really quite arbitrary and depends on the angle from which one is observing the pattern. The word that comes to mind most often is ‘squeeze.’ This pattern is a subset of a larger pattern that can be called ‘change.’ It seems to be one of the ways in which change occurs. I may uncover a few other patterns along the way.

Origins, of a human, and of a universe
Let’s start with the human being, the individual. Where do we come from? Well, we all know we start out not as a single entity but as two, originating from separate and different beings. We don’t exist just prior to our origin on the physical level. There is an egg, and there is a sperm cell, a physical pattern replicating a metaphysical one, there is matter, and there is spirit. We don’t exist until the two ‘seed halves’ are united, at which point we come into being as a singularity, without personality, consciousness, or sensation. Yet, we are at that instant ‘human.’ A process begins and a new universe unfolds, just as real and potentially infinite as the natural universe, the cosmos, which resulted from a singularity that was jump-started in ‘the Big Bang.’ This change from two living cells into a singularity which is now a human being may be a first example of the pattern I call ‘squeeze’ or it may not. I can’t tell because I can’t see that small.

Expansion from a singularity
Staying with that singularity, a human being in the first stage of metamorphosis, the fertilized egg, soon to be renamed an embryo, we find patterns of change—we can specify them as ‘development’—cascading faster than we can see, as the embryo becomes a fetus full of organs and systems of increasing complexity and interdependence. Turning our view for a moment to the cosmos, the scientist starts telling us all the wonders of the early universe, how stars and galaxies and planets were formed, and how the size of the creation grows exponentially. Back to the patterns of human gestation, the ‘being knitted together in the limbo of the womb’ as the psalmist sings it, we are not to the pattern I call ‘squeeze’ yet. No, we’re in a pattern of rest, of growth, of comfort really. A baby is being formed and is gradually becoming more than a living cell city. It already has functioning organs, a heart, a brain, eyes, and those tiny fingers and toes. It has sensations. It can feel but doesn’t know itself. Sensation—that is mostly what it ‘knows’ itself to be. Yes, by this time it is already a ‘he’ or a ‘she’ physically, but it won’t recognize that till much later, not until it has undergone many ‘squeezes,’ and it hasn’t even undergone the first one yet.

The initial squeeze
After about nine months, a physically fully formed human is now ready to be ‘decanted,’ and the comfortable, safe, anonymous existence of the egg-sperm, embryo, fetus, baby has to come to an end. There is no choice at this point. Once existence of any kind has begun, there is no turning back without shedding existence itself. The forward movement into the flow of time must continue. Through a physical construct known as ‘the birth canal’ the baby must now be ‘squeezed.’ If it had a vocabulary of words its thoughts could be verbal, but just because it still doesn’t know what language is doesn’t mean it has not got a personality or thoughts and feelings. No, it has all three. Where and when did these come from? Well, there’s still too many patterns to analyze for even the scientists to know the answers to most of these questions, and to the theologian, those patterns simply provide the basis for further, more meaningful patterns.

Pre-verbal script
Putting words to the thought-feelings of the baby who has just noticed that his warm, watery berth has just vanished, ‘Yikes! What’s happening? Ow! Stop pushing me! Stop squeezing me! Why is everything feeling so tight? Help! I can’t move my flippers! Where am I going? I can’t take this pressure much longer! I can’t sleep! Why can’t I move anymore? Ow! Something rough just grabbed me! It hurts! Ow! Oh my gosh! This must be the end! I can’t take it anymore! Oh, oh, oh! Oh… oh, wah, waaah! Where am I? But it feels so wide! Hey, what’s that weird sensation coming through? Hey, what am I doing? In and out, in and out! Ouch! Something cut me! Oh, why was I ever born? What did I just say? What is the meaning of all this?’

‘Squeeze’ as a gateway not to death but to life
The squeeze was terrifying and harsh to the little creature. He had been comfortable and satisfied to stay that way forever. Then, ‘something moved,’ and he found himself being carried along in the flow into a crevasse that just kept getting narrower, and he knew he couldn’t take it much longer, though he didn’t know what the alternative would be. We know, of course: he might’ve died, as many infants do in child birth. But his chances were pretty good in most cases. After enduring the unendurable ‘squeeze’ which he’d rather die (if he knew what death was) than have to go through, he was ‘out,’ and very quickly and unself-consciously began making adjustments to his new environment. All this, without thinking, without reasoning. Again, not that he has no thoughts—he has plenty—but language hasn’t revealed itself to him. He is only just becoming aware of a new reality—himself. Without choosing it, he has been born and is becoming a personality. All this involuntarily and, for some time to come, irrationally. The ‘squeeze’ has come and gone. He has passed from one world to another, and though his body is a continuous experience, his soul is now at the threshold of spiritual life.

‘Squeeze’ as a basic pattern of life
The pattern I’ve chosen to call ‘squeeze’ is one that occurs over and over again as we humans (as well as other life forms) live and grow. In both individual experience and social, we feel the squeeze, making us uncomfortable and ‘forcing us out’ from wherever we found ourselves ‘finally happy and comfortable.’ From a Christian’s point of view, sometimes it may seem that God is on the lookout to make sure none of us ever has a rest or time to just get comfy and have a little fun. We work so hard to please Him and then before we can look back with justifiable pride, He squeezes us out, gets us all disoriented again. How often have we asked ourselves in desperation, ‘Why me?’

Squeezed is the way to go
Squeezed out of kindergarten (no more nap time!). Squeezed out of sixth grade (how I hated middle school at first!). Squeezed out of the circle of my childhood friends (why did we have to move?). Squeezed out of High School (that, I must say, actually felt good!). Squeezed out of college (who needs a degree anyway?). Squeezed out of my first real job (I wasn’t meant to build steel office chairs!). Squeezed out of my first and only commune (I was tired of vegetarianism anyway!). Squeezed out of my life as a dairy farmer’s only hired man (free milk is all I missed). Squeezed out of living in Canada’s subarctic (yes, Auntie Em, there’s no place like home!). Squeezed out of being a cabinetmaker (upstairs to be a designer, or there’s the door!). Squeezed out of being a general manager (no explanation, we just don’t want you!). Yes, the squeezes just keep coming in my life, but as I get closer to the present, I’d rather not recount them. I’m still smarting a bit from the last few. They seem to have gotten worse, but after being dumped, I must admit, I do feel a lot better!

The pattern written everywhere
Not only this pattern of ‘squeeze’ which I’ve taken such pains to explore with you, but all of the patterns we find giving structure, form and meaning to our individual and social lives, and to the natural world, are so pervasive and so reliable, that we take them for granted, and often, because we fail to recognize them, we suffer unnecessarily. Hence the twin pursuits of science and theology, both of which are open to the seeking mind. All these words I used to explain these realities to myself in your hearing pale in significance and are shamed into obscurity by the light that still shines in the Great Book and the Little Book, in the Universe God made, and in the Book of His mighty deeds. The same eternal and divine Logos, the Son of the Father in Holy Triad with the Spirit, has imprinted Himself on everything and everyone whether great or small, seen or unseen, animate or inanimate, for every mind to perceive.

Though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.
John 10:38

Monday, March 3, 2014

Follow me

The greatest truths, maybe even the most essential truth, about human life on this planet, the way for us to find our way out of this mess we call a world, is expressed in the briefest possible way. Jesus says, Ἀκολούθει μοι, ‘Follow me,’ and in two words He gives Matthew, and us, the way out of our endless misery. The similarity between the tax collector’s name, מַתִּתְיָהוּ (Matithyahu) in Hebrew, transliterated into Greek as Ματταθίας (Mattathias), and later shortened to Ματθαῖος (Matthaios), and the Greek word for disciple, μαθητής (mathitís), always felt like a clue to me, even an invitation, to place myself where Matthew was when he heard that audacious command, Ἀκολούθει μοι (akolúthi mi), ‘Follow me.’

Nobody but Christ has ever been able to say those words with complete and perfect authority, and yet we do, every day of the year, in season and out of season, we all say in one way or another, ‘Follow me,’ to others, and as always, the results are less than stunning. In fact, it is precisely because we follow anyone but Christ that the world is the way it is, even why the Church is the way it is. The truth is so simple and so obvious that we miss it in our daily lives, so busy building other kingdoms than Christ’s, even though if we only followed His command, ‘Follow me,’ we would find the gates of paradise open to us. We give ourselves pause for forty days before the bright feast of Resurrection to do nothing else.

Therefore, let us run after Him when He says to us, ‘Follow me.’

Clean Monday

                    The sound of the tide
                    woke me.

                    Any day
                    can be clean Monday.

                    Any day
                    not too early
                    nor too late,
                    I follow You, Lord,
                    as You walk along the sea.

                    Your foot steps leave no trace,
                    but mine,
                    heavy with the weight of sins,
                    mar the smoothness
                    of the sand of time.

                    Cannot erase them,
                    cannot hide them,
                    the path they trace,
                    where I walked without You,

                    but Your mercy, Lord,
                    Your mercy,
                    blows them away.
                    They vanish
                    in Your wind.
                    Following You,
                    like You
                    I leave no trace.

                    The sea washes away,
                    the wind clears the sand,
                    the wind carries them away,
                    the sun shines softly,
                    lights the beach
                    invisibly through the mists,
                    the roar of the waves
                    carries them away,
                    far as east is
                    from the west.

                    Alone with You,
                    I walk with You
                    along the sea, Lord,
                    and in silence
                    You unburden me.

                    You release me, Lord,
                    and so
                    I follow You.

— Romanós