Sunday, November 30, 2008

Nilling and Willing

I ran into an apt but unusual word in a fresh translation of St. Augustine’s Confessions by Garry Wills. The word is, “nill” for “will not”, or for “negate.” Here is the sentence that I find so remarkable:

“This is all I wanted, to nill my own will, will yours.”[1]

How difficult that is! For Augustine it was as painful a process as it is for us. He says, “But where I was going no ship or carriage or walking could take me … Not only going but arriving there was simply a matter of willing it—but willing it with a strong and unified will, not a partial and wounded will, one jerking and lunging, part of it surging, part of it sinking,”[2] What he discovered with much despair and tears was that “there is a sickness of the soul, weighed down by compulsions that impede its response to the truth. In that sense there are two wills, each halfhearted, each lacking what the other has.”[3]

But this was neither academic or impersonal. He says, “But I, in my hesitation over whether to serve the Lord at last, as I had long been disposed to do, was the same man willing as was nilling, both were me. For my willing was as halfhearted as my nilling. I was at war within, was exiled from myself.”[4] What was it that held him back? “The triflingest things, the very hollowest things of the hollow-headed, had stalled me – my entrenched lusts, plucking me back by my fleshly clothing, whispering low: Can you cast us off? And: From this moment, never more to be with us! And: From this moment, never to do this! … they no longer flaunted themselves before me on my way, but were tittering behind me, as if furtively picking at me while I pulled away from them, trying to make me look back.”[5] There is here the pain of abandonment of long fondled lusts and desires that tugs at the human soul (psyche – soul, self). This is not easy stuff to endure, but the warning of St. Benedict sounds in my ear, “death lies close by the gate of pleasure.”[6] Augustine then hears Lady Self-Control teasing with smiling insistence, “Why do you stand alone, which is no standing at all? Throw yourself on him! Do you think he will not stay your fall? Give up fear, and throw yourself—he will catch you, and will heal you.”[7]

The surrender when it comes, it comes with sweet relief. He picks up the book in the garden and reads, ‘“Give up indulgence and drunkenness, give up lust and obscenity, give up strife and rivalries and clothe yourself in Jesus Christ the Lord, leaving no further allowance for fleshly desires.’ The very instant I finished that sentence, light was flooding my heart with assurance, and all my shadowy reluctance evanesced.”[8] It is at this point that he finally is able to declare, “This is all I wanted, to nill my own will, will yours.”[9]

The conflict of St. Augustine is the conflict of everyman. That is the crunch point … willing and nilling, that calls us all to renewed surrenders. Letting go is scary, because, after all it is the self that we are letting go. It is Jesus who said, “Whoever would save his life (psyche – soul, or self) will lose it, but whoever loses his life (soul, or self) for my sake will find it.”[10] We are hard learners and often must reach the point of utter helplessness before we let go, be still, let drop, relax, and know that he is God.[11] Then, O the blessed relief of being out from under.

Willing and Nilling and The Bondservant

I have long been drawn to an image of commitment in Exodus, “When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out for nothing … But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to the door or the door post. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever.”[12] Forever is a very long time. Lord, I would be your slave, your bondservant forever.

I note the mixed, very human motives. The master has given the servant a wife and she has born him children in his servitude. He loves his master, and he also loves his wife and children. I can’t help reading this with a little “upstairs, downstairs” overtone from my own cultural background. I am drawn particularly to the finality of the decision; one bears visibly the mark of his slavery by wearing an ear ring. The N.I.V. translation of Psalm 40 picks the theme up with clarity, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, ‘Here I am, I have come—it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, O my God, your law is written in my heart.”[13] In effect, with Augustine, I pray, “This is all I wanted, to nill my own will, will yours.” You, Jesus, my Lord, give my life the only meaning I have. My life is hidden with you in God.[14] You, are in your Father, and you are in me, and I in you.[15]

There is implicit suffering in that, and in my humanity and weakness. From time to time I shrink from that suffering, but with Paul, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.”[16]

Both the surrender to your will, O my God, and the sufferings you endured are picked up in the Letter to the Hebrews where Psalm 40:6-8 is directly applied to you. You lived your earthly life in perfect surrender to the will of your own Father, you taking the form of a servant[17], nilling your own will, and praying for us and in us, “Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will but what you will.”[18] You in me, and I in you, you make for us both the perfect surrender that I can only desire, but desire it I do, and strive for it I will to do, praying my own prayer in your words, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” You bid me follow you, and then you give me the grace to do so, saying, “Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.[19]

Again, “This is all I wanted, to nill my own will, will yours.”[20]

[1] Garry Wills, Saint Augustine: Confessions, (London:Penguin Classics, 2006), IX, 1:7.
[2] Ibid. VIII, 5.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] The Rule of St. Benedict, Ch. 7, On Humility
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid. IX, 1:7
[10] Matthew 16:25
[11] Psalm 46:10
[12] Exodus 21:2, 5-6
[13] Psalm 40:6-8
[14] Colossians 3:3
[15] John 14:20
[16] Colossians 1:24
[17] Philippians 2:7
[18] Mark 14:36
[19] Philippians 2:12b-13
[20] Garry Wills, Saint Augustine: Confessions, (London:Penguin Classics, 2006), IX, 1:7.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Jesus: The Son of the Father

The most significant thing that is said about Jesus Christ in the Gospels is that He is the Son of the living God. His identity is proclaimed in His Sonship. Central to our understanding of Jesus is His relationship with His Father. So close is His relationship with the Father that He can say, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30), and again, “He that has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

His relationship with the Father is the wellspring of all that He says and does. When the Pharisees question His identity Jesus replies, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. . . I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him” (John 8:25-26, 28b-29).

In the first public act at the beginning of His ministry the Gospels testify that Jesus is the Son of God. That is His identity. God the Father Himself speaks from heaven and says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17b). He who is the Son of God is the Lord for Whom John the Baptist came to prepare the way. This Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us in the flesh. This Jesus, Who is the Son of the Living God, is the Lord of lords, He is the King of kings.

As a Son, Jesus lives in response to the will of the Father. When challenged by John the Baptist regarding who should be baptizing whom, Jesus says, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Jesus has come to do His Father’s will and so He allows Himself to be baptized. In doing so He who is sinless descends into the waters of baptism and death to self, bearing our sins upon His own shoulders. He rises from the waters bringing us with Him. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life”(Romans 6:4).

This is not merely an academic and theological proposition. This is a personal and immediate reality. When He was baptized He bore your sins and mine on His shoulders and stepped down into the waters of baptism. That baptism is a baptism of repentance and the implications are clear. If we acknowledge that He was baptized for us, that He bore our sins on His shoulders and completed that identification with us by offering Himself as an atoning sacrifice for our sins, then the message is that we should turn from our sins and go and sin no more.

Jesus’ life and ministry is defined by what happens next. As He comes up out of the waters of baptism He sees the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descending on Him “in bodily form like a dove” (Luke 3:22). This outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace marks forever the character of His ministry. The event, however, is incomplete without the words of the Father, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” It is the repeated proclamation and reality of His Sonship by God the Father that establishes the identity and ministry of Jesus.

But where are we to find our own identity? Can we find our identity as men and women in our relationships as sons and daughters with our own earthly fathers? Isaiah the prophet says, “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the LORD: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug” (Isaiah 51:1). If, in a shallow human fashion, we look to the quarry from which we were dug and assume that what is meant is our personal family backgrounds we will not find all that we need. Instead Jesus invites us into relationship with His own Father. “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name” (Luke 11:2). That prayer invites us to share with Him in His relationship with the Father, but even a we pray we say “our Father,” which is a tacit admission that we are all brothers and sisters of one another.

Our adoption is necessary because the starting place for our identity is quite different than the starting place of Jesus. Paul says “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience - among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3). Having Adam as a father is a mixed blessing, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). The result is that none of us have received perfect fathering, neither do we give it.

We are offered adoption as sons and as daughters of God the Father. John the beloved disciple says, “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). The acceptance of Jesus as both Savior and Lord is central to our relationship with God the Father. Jesus cries out, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me, sees him who sent me.” Again in his first epistle John says, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God” (1 John 4:15). The call to accept Jesus as Savior is inseparable from the call to accept Him as Lord. You can’t have one without the other!

The gift of the Spirit that comes with baptismal faith bears the privilege of a special relationship with the Father. “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14). That promise is the promise of our own sonship, “because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6, see also Romans 8:15). Immersion in the Holy Spirit opens for us the door of sonship. God is our father, and by adoption and the sealing of the Spirit, we are His sons and daughters.

Paul makes the same point when he says “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:14-15).

There is another important promise regarding the establishment of our relationship with the Father, in the teaching of Jesus at the Last Supper, “ Jesus promises us, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). In, and through, Christ Jesus we have intimate access to the presence of the Father. How much time do you think you ever needed from a father? Your Father in heaven has all the time for you that you think that you need. Here comes an important question. How much of His time are you willing to enter into? Note also the special condition that Jesus gives, the promise is for those who will keep His word.

From a biblical perspective our adoption and renewed relationship with the Father is the fruit of the experience of the Spirit of His Son in our hearts. Be careful not to banalize it. “Abba”, on the lips of Jesus, and on our lips, is not the childish cry “Daddy”, but rather the intimate response of the adult child to a Father who is sovereign in power and awesome in majesty. It is with that in mind that Jesus teaches us to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10). Intimacy is mingled with awe, and like Jesus, we immediately begin to learn to pray, “Your will be done.” True sonship brings with it surrender to the will of God our Father. That is one of the abiding characteristics of the ministry of Jesus who says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing” (John 5:19-20a).

Many sons have never heard their fathers say, “You are my beloved son.” We may need to be re-parented, but no re-parenting from earthly father figures can bring the healing that can come to us through the anointing of the Spirit and the loving adoption of our heavenly Father. “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” Our new identity is to be anchored in the identity of Jesus the Son, and in our relationship with Him. In this adoption, re-parented adult sons and daughters of God can find re-formation in the parenting of their own children. You can’t give what you don’t have, but on the other hand you can give what you are receiving.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Intimacy With God

What a privilege it is to pray; but to contemporary ears the very word “prayer” tends to formalize what is in essence a very intimate act. At the basis of prayer lies the promise of the Father, the gift of the Holy Spirit given through the Son. Through the gift of the Spirit of God we have a direct relationship with the Father and the Son. Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23).

John the beloved disciple testifies “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (I John 1:3). Implicit in that remark is the reality that this fellowship, this intimacy with God, is not only personal, it is also corporate. It is fellowship with God in the Temple which is the Body of Christ.

The gift of intimacy with God does not come with cheap benevolence that ignores the justice and holiness of God. This intimacy is blood bought. The way to the Father is through the wounds of the Son.

19 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; 21 And having an high priest over the house of God; 22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22).

Jesus Himself is the new and living way into the heart of the Father.

The key to the identity of Jesus is His intimacy with the Father. His custom was to spend time on the mount in intimate prayer with the Father, so intimate that He can say, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30), and again, “He that has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). The character of the Father is indelibly stamped on the face of the Son, and the intimacy that we experience with the Father and the Son is the work of the Spirit Who gives us the gift of Christ in us, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27).

This intimacy with God has also its costs to us. With Him there are no secrets. There are no closed doors within us that He will not enter. True intimacy demands vulnerability. When the light of His countenance shines upon us nothing can remain hidden. Self-discovery comes hand in hand with the knowledge of God. The self-revealing God elicits through love the revelation of our secret thoughts and intents and desires of our hearts.

Our souls, our very inner being, cries out to Him, “ 2 O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth! For your love is better than wine, 3 your anointing oils are fragrant, your name is as ointment poured forth” (Song of Solomon 1:2-3). What in our clouded vision we often miss is the intensity of His desire for us. “My beloved speaks and says to me . . . O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the crannies of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.”

Such dialogue in prayer is not always talking, but often, “being,” just being with Him whom we love. Intimacy at its deepest is beyond words. Here confession drops away, intercession fades into the background, even praise is stilled and if we speak at all it is only to lovingly utter His Name, just enough to keep our focus on Him whom we love. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, in almost wordless adoration. And in that Holy intimate silence there is only Him, and around you both the weary world spins away unheeded.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Anima Christi and Commentary

Anima Christi, sanctifica me.
Corpus Christi, salva me.
Sanguis Christi, inebria me.
Aqua lateris Christi, lava me.
Passio Christi, conforta me.
O bone Jesu, exaudi me.
Intra tua vulnera absconde me.
Ne permittas me separari a te.
Ab hoste maligno defende me.
In hora mortis meae voca me.
Et iube me venire ad te,
Ut cum Sanctis tuis laudem te.
In saecula saeculorum. Amen

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O good Jesus, hear me.
Within Thy wounds hide me.
Suffer me not to be separated from Thee.
From the malignant enemy, defend me.
In the hour of my death, call me.
And bid me come to Thee.
That with Thy saints I may praise Thee
Forever and ever. Amen

This ancient prayer has long been one of my favorite devotional poems, and while its author is unknown it appears in various documents around the end of the fourteenth century. You will notice just by casual observation that the original Latin form has both a poetic form and rhythm not captured by the English translation, yet the English translation carries well enough the power and inspiration of the original prayer.

Soul of Christ, save me. Anima Christi, sanctifica me. Do you think in terms of Christ Jesus having a soul? Of course He does, we’re just not very analytical when we think of Him. The soul is the interior core of our nature that responds to God, even as Christ Jesus responded to his Father and exulted in the Holy Spirit. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. confesses that Jesus Christ is “at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body.” He is God through and through, and man through and through, He is truly God and He is truly man, and He has a reasonable soul and a body. If He didn’t He wouldn’t truly be man. When we pray “Soul of Christ, save me,” we are acknowledging that His suffering on our behalf was not just a suffering of the exterior body, but an agony and dying of the inner man. What an awesome thing He has done for us in giving Himself, soul, blood and body, that we might be reconciled to God.

Body of Christ, save me. Corpus Christi, salva me. We are now on more familiar terms. The body is a precious thing to us. I mean our own bodies, and when we suffer in the body it affects not only the physical realm but also the interior person. He gave His body to be nailed to the tree. A late medieval poem, the Holy Rood, is written as a memoir of the Cross itself as it recalls the horrifying events:

I saw the Lord of the world
Boldly rushing to climb upon me
And I could neither bend, nor break
The word of God. I saw the ground
Trembling. I could have crushed them all,
And yet I kept myself erect.
The young Hero God/
Himself, threw off his garments,
Determined and brave. Proud/
in the sight of men He mounted
The meanest gallows, to make/
men’s souls eternally free.
I trembled as His arms went round me./
And still I could not bend,
Crash to earth, but had/
to bear the body of God.

What is captured here is the utter willingness of Jesus Christ the Hero God to die for you and for me. O, how He loves us so.

Blood of Christ, inebriate me. Sanguis Christi, inebria me. Christ Jesus says to those who would follow him, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him”(John 6:56). Many of his earlier followers said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60b). But what Jesus is referring to is that deep koinonia, fellowship, intense intimacy between Himself and those who love him and are one with Him. “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (I Corinthians 10:16-17). That is why it is such a grievous thing to break the unity of the body of Christ. John, the beloved disciple testifies, “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). There is in this loving union with the Father and the Son an intense intimacy, and intoxication of love priceless beyond all measure. Drink deeply and be intoxicated with the love of Him who died for you.

Water from the side of Christ, wash me. Aqua lateris Christi, lava me. It was embarrassing for Peter and perhaps for some of the other Apostles to have Jesus lay aside His outer garments, take a towel and tie it around his waste, and begin to wash his disciples feet and dry them with the towel. Peter cries out, “You shall never wash my feet” (John 13:8). Jesus responds, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Surrender yourself and stand under the cleansing stream water and of blood that flows copiously down from the side of the crucified Lover of your soul. Humble yourself. Be cleansed. But not all whose feet are washed are automatically cleansed. To be washed by the water from the side of Christ is to be truly penitent, surrendered, and aware of both who you are, and Who He is. It is the Lord God Jesus Christ who seeks to wash you.

Passion of Christ, strengthen me. Passio Christi, conforta me. Let the testimony of St. Paul be your testimony, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live . It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. By faith we acknowledge that we have been crucified with Christ and our life is hid with him in God (Colossians 3:3). Only in the strength of that can we take seriously to heart the exhortation of James, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). I have discovered the fundamental spiritual truth, that I am shut in so that I cannot escape, that I am a man who has no strength, and that I am helpless. Initially no-one really wants to go there, but lay your hands to the wood and be one with Him. After you have died once, or twice, or a dozen times or more, you will discover what a relief it is not to have to control everything. Carry the yoke with him, His yoke is easy. His burden is light. That is when you will say with the Psalmist, “On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased” (Psalm 138:3). Strength is given only to the surrendered heart.

O good Jesus, hear me. O bone Jesu, exaudi me. The petition is warm and personal. This Christ who surrenders His soul, whose Body was broken, whose Blood was shed, is after all my Jesus. My friend and my familiar companion. He has sworn His love to me, and I trust His words, “whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). He who died for me is alive, He has taken His place at the right hand of the Father and through the gracious ministry of the Holy Spirit, He is with me always. I am not berift or alone. He is the Vine, and I am a branch. O good Jesus, none is good but God alone, and You are my God. I know that You hear me!

Within Thy wounds hide me. Intra tua vulnera absconde me. Why should we pray to be hidden within the wounds of Jesus the Christ? There are three reasons that immediately come to mind; and the first is perhaps the most important. It is the heart’s desire of the lover of God to see His face, indeed we are commanded to do so. “You have said, "Seek my face." My heart says to you, "Your face, LORD, do I seek." But like Moses we are faced with a very real obstacle. Moses says to the Lord, “Please show me your glory,” the Lord replies, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” But, "behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen" (Exodus 33:18-23). We have lost the sense of reverent awe before the Sovereign and Holy God. The simple truth is, that in our flesh, we cannot see God, save for being hidden in the cleft of the Rock. That leads to the second reason; we desire to be hidden in the wounds of Christ Jesus that our sins may be covered, indeed for that purpose he died so that we may be forgiven and reconciled to the Father of Lights. The third reason has to do with a very simple safety factor. There is an enemy that pursues our souls (Psalm 143:3) who seeks our very life. He is a liar and a murderer and desires nothing better than the death of our peace, the death of our joy, the very death of our souls. Within Thy wounds hide me. Intra tua vulnera absconde me.

Suffer me not to be separated from Thee. Ab hoste maligno defende me. There was a time when “the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world- he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him” (Revelation 12:9). “Woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!" (Revelation 12:12 ). There is a reason to be hidden within the wounds of the Christ. There is a reason to put on our Holy armour. There is an Adversary, an Accuser. and that wily one is a schemer, a trickster who never tells the truth except to turn it into a lie. The enemy prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8). You just might be his favorite meal.

In the hour of my death, call me. In hora mortis meae voca me. There will come a time for each of us when the race will draw close to the goal. Not only are we called to die now to self-centeredness, we will eventually be called die to our bodies also. We will take nothing from this life to the next that has not been founded upon the Rock. At the hour of my, death call me. And bid me come to Thee. Et iube me venire ad te. I long to come to Thee. All the days of my life I have longed to come to Thee. Before I knew Thee, even when I fled from Thee, I longed to come to Thee. “Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides Thee” (Psalm 73:25). But there is more that You give to us, more than we could have dreamed.

That with Thy saints I may praise Thee. Ut cum Sanctis tuis laudem te. So often we have a limited idea of whom we will see in heaven. Certainly there are some saints of our own from our faithful families and friends who have gone on before. Beyond that a few of the saints from the history of the Church may come to mind. But the roll call of the blessed is more glorious than we could ever imagine. A hint of the awesome prospect ahead is given in the Letter to the Hebrews, “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24).

Forever and ever. Amen. In saecula saeculorum. Amen. There we will dwell with blessed for endless ages. Forever and ever hardly brings into the focus the endless ages rolling down through eternal time. There we will see “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. There He will dwell with us, and we will be his people, and God himself will be with us and be our God. There He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things will have passed away, and there love and joy will abide forevermore (Rev. 21:2-4).

Amen. Amen. So be it. So be it.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The “Enlarged Heart” and Times of Crisis

Teresa of Avila renders Psalm 119:32 as “I will run in the way of thy commandments when “thou dids’t enlarge my heart”. On a practical and personal level that is often the issue when we face crises as children of the Father.

The Divine Potter batters our hearts seeking a way for us to relax the death grip we have on our inner being. We would rather treasure the command, “Guard your heart with all diligence for out of it spring the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23). We would even guard ourselves against the intrusion of Him who made us and seeks to make us still. When life batters us we resist with an inner clenching motion seeking to control the very thing that we should be surrendering. “No man can ransom himself” (Psalm 49:7 RSV), says the Psalmist. I am not my own kinsman redeemer, nor can I be yours. That is a spiritual reality for many reasons; but that doesn’t stop us from trying to be our own Saviors. In the midst of the battering of life reverse the inner motion, relax into God’s hands. As you do so you will discover not the battering you have been trying to control, but the very gentleness of your loving Father. “He does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men” (Lamentations 3:33).

It is all well and good to give such advice, doing it is another matter. When we are at sea on a storm tossed boat our every instinct of self-preservation is sharpened. We look wildly about; we bail like crazy. He says, “I am. Fear not, peace be still.” Relaxing into Him takes courage. Courage is a matter of the heart; a conscious decision and action undertaken in the face of fear. Deliberately we fix our eyes on Christ Jesus, and by an act of will, we slow down our breathing and relax. “All is well, all is well. All manner of things shall be well,” when we trust in Christ Jesus.

Everyone experiences moments of crisis. A crisis is just a crisis. For the Christian each crisis is an opportunity to deepen our trust in Him. Crises are like hot potatoes. When you find you are holding one, put it down on your plate. Relax into his hands. When trust is re-established He will help you undertake, “Peace, be still.”

There is another dimension that cannot be ignored. Some people when faced with crises retreat into denial and projection, and do their best to relieve their own repressed internal tension by passing the hot potato to others. For others the creation of crises is an attention seeking device. Some just seem to be wired wrong from birth. Don’t be surprised by those who create crises. We live, after all, in a fallen world. Those who create crises, like ancient Israel, are a warped bow that twists in the hand of the Archer (Psalm 78:9, 56-57). If those who create crises can remain in the shadows they will be able to continue to do damage. Once you begin to recognize those who create crises for yourself and others you will be free to take positive action as you trust in God. Keep your eyes on Christ Jesus. Relax. “Peace, be still.” Trust in God will build with a clearer understanding of the nature and causes of the crises and with a deepened comprehension of the sovereignty of God.

By grace you will learn to deal with crises, no matter what the source. God is pleased with our first steps, but first steps are after all, only first steps. He does not want you to remain passive in the face of tumult. He would rather that you learn Holy Warfare with your eyes on Christ Jesus, “Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle; 2 he is my steadfast love and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and he in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me.” (Ps. 144:1-2 ESV).

When you have made again your surrender the time has come to put on the whole armor of God. Fasten on the belt of truth. Love truth and boldly speak it. Put on the breastplate of the righteousness of Christ. Let His righteousness become your righteousness. Take up the shield of faith and actively use it. A good shield is a weapon as well as a source of protection. Take up the helmet of salvation. Let your salvation protect your mind. Take up the sword of the Spirit and become skilled in its use (Ephesians 6:10-18).

Speak the truth, wield the sharp sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, use the shield of faith. Keep your eyes on Christ Jesus. Running the way of God’s commandments is not a matter of passivity, but a natural and active response to the enlarged heart. There is an old expression, used of women more than of men, “She has a heart as large as all outdoors.” We are predestined to be conformed to the image of God’s Son. We are to have kingdom hearts, hearts as large as the heart of the King. As our hearts enlarge we begin to run, not walk, in the way of God’s commandments.

What is intended is not mere conformity to both the negative and positive proscriptions of the Torah, but conformity to the heart of the God Who is both loving and holy. This active and joyfully willing conformity of the heart to the heart of the Living God follows an incarnational principle, that of God working in and through human flesh. Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling, knowing that it is God who works in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). The one whose heart has been enlarged is ready to run in the way of God’s commandments; he is the one prepared to take the positive responsive actions necessary hand in hand with the Master of Storms.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Discipline and the Search for Wisdom

“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons.” - Hebrews 12:7

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” - Proverbs 1:7

“And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” - Matthew 28:18-20

Discipline is at the very heart of our relationship with God the Father. The word “discipline” is derived from the word, “disciple.” If you are a disciple, a learner in the faith you are undergoing discipline. To undergo discipline is to undergo training, for discipline is training in righteousness, and by its very nature finds it source in Holy Scripture. “16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16). In the Great Commission Jesus commands us to make disciples, to create a body of people who are learners; and we are to teach them to observe all that he has commanded us. To that end Jesus promises us that he will be with us as we fulfill his command. Discipline is the process of working out the Lordship of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit in our own experience. The cutting edge of Lordship is found in our authority relationships within the Church and society. The rebellious person who seeks to set themselves up as the authority has not yet made a beginning in discipleship. In the traditional Church structure of bishops, priests, and deacons we have one context for working out authority relationships and in society we have another context. Jesus says, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's” (Matthew 22:21). Even if you don’t like your government you still have to pay for postage if you want to use the post office.

For the Christian disciple there is no discipline apart from the context of the teaching of Holy Scripture by which we understand the nature of our relationship with God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” There is no real discipline without the presence of Christ Jesus mediated through the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). While training in righteousness is of great help in living life in the present, discipline is actually training for the life to come. There will come a time when our training is complete, “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).

Discipline, or training in righteousness, has its present context in our lives as we live them now. The Holy Spirit stands ready to teach us how to meet the challenges of life through the teaching of Holy Scripture. “The Scriptures are Gods Voyse; The Church is his Eccho” (John Donne, 1624). That training takes place in the context of the will of God the Father and the witness of the faithful Church which is the Body of Christ unbroken throughout the centuries. The Proverbs of Solomon exhort us, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching” (Proverbs 1:8). Often in Holy Scriptures there is more than one level of interpretation. Here the underlying interpretation is that God is our Father, and the Church is our Mother. It has been fashionable during recent times to ridicule the concept of “Mother Church” as though that concept somehow turned us into mere spiritual infants. We must remember that if you are an adult you are an adult child of God the Father, and you are also an adult child of Holy Church. With your maturity comes the responsibilities of adult sons and daughters of the Living God, and of the Church which is the Bride of Christ which bridges time and extends into eternity.

The basic teaching of the Book of Proverbs is training in righteousness. When Proverbs says “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction” the Hebrew word moosawr for instruction is an equivalent for the word discipline or training which is paideia in Greek. Solomon bids us to “know wisdom and instruction to understand words of insight” (Proverbs 1:2). The word for wisdom khokmaw refers to “skill in warfare, wisdom in administration, shrewdness, wisdom, and prudence” (Strong’s). The word for instruction is moosawr which means discipline or teaching. The word insight beenaw refers to understanding and insight. Solomon also places the process of learning wisdom in a careful context, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil” (Proverbs 3:5-7). Human intellect and intelligence must be submitted to God. It cannot stand alone. St. Anselm put intellectual understanding in its proper order when he said, “I seek not, O Lord, to search out Thy depth, but I desire in some measure to understand Thy truth, which my heart believeth and loveth. Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand. For this too I believe, that unless I first believe, I shall not understand” (Proslogion, ch. 1). What Anselm said in Latin was, credo ut intelligam, I believe in order to understand. St. Paul tells us why, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Those who believe understand because in the Spirit they have the mind of Christ (I Corinthians 2:16).

But there is another very important point that we must not miss. Humility is a requisite for seeking wisdom and understanding. Humility is knowing who you are in the universe and understanding your “self” as a created being; a being who is created by God, for God, and created for his pleasure. Solomon tells us that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7). True wisdom is found only by those who fear the Lord, that is those who in humility hold him in awe and reverence. That theme also is the context for the discussion of discipline, or training in the Letter to the Hebrews.

In Hebrews Chapter 12, the word for discipline is paideia. Paideia is the word from which we get pedagogy from. Pedagogy is simply teaching, or in a Christian context, training in righteousness. The root of paideia is paidon which is the Greek word for child. Underlying the teaching on discipline in Hebrews is the understanding that we are God’s children. “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Discipline, or training in righteousness, has its present context in our lives as we live them now, and it is here that discipline takes on a very personal and sometimes painful challenge. From a psychological perspective M. Scott Peck in The Road Less Traveled says, “Discipline has been defined as a system of techniques of dealing constructively with the pain of problem-solving—instead of avoiding that pain” (p.77).

There is often pain involved in acquiring wisdom, in being trained, disciplined, in being discipled. Some of that pain comes through working out our relationship to authority in the face of our deep desire to be independent, yet such independence is ultimately separation from Him in Whom there is life. The message of Hebrews is that we are children of God and as such we are under His authority. This also implies that we are under the authority of those He has placed over us.

The first thing that Hebrews Chapter 12 says about discipline is that we should run with endurance (v. 1) with our eyes on Jesus, who Himself suffered and endured. Suffering is part of life whether or not we like it, and despite the preference of the children of the world in this present age to flee from suffering, everyone suffers. Learning discipline or training, takes place in the context of life as we find it with all of its joys and with all of its inherent suffering. A fundamental learning is that when you acknowledge that you have suffering it is easier to have joy. If you spend all your energy fleeing from suffering, joy will escape from your grasp.

The author of Hebrews quotes from the Book of Proverbs, “Have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Proverbs 3:11-12 in Hebrews 12:5-6). The genuineness of our sonship as children of God is understood in the terms of discipline, paideia, or training. If we are not being disciplined, if we are not undergoing discipline we are, “illegitimate children and not sons” (Hebrews 12:8b). Discipline can be both difficult and painful, but embracing discipline is part of the process of growth both as maturing human beings and as God’s sons and daughters. Scot Peck reminds us that “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult—once we truly understand and accept it—then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters” (Peck, p. 15). This acceptance of the difficulty of life, this acknowledgment of our personal suffering is a an essential step in our Christian discipleship and in acquiring “mature manhood, the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13b). In eliciting our response the author of Hebrews says, “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed” (Hebrews 12:12-13).

This call to discipleship, this call to be trained in righteousness as children of God is given in the context of the age to come and in the very identity of the God whom we worship and serve. The author of Hebrews tells us that we have not come to a God revealed in the terrors of the theophany of God on Mount Sinai in the Old Testament, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24). But it is not only that. “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7), and even for God’s faithful and beloved children, humility, reverence and awe are an essential part of the search for wisdom, “For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). As a Christian, above all seek “to know wisdom and instruction, to understand the words of insight (Proverbs 1:2), and do not be afraid of discipline; discipline is the very means of our transformation into the image of God who has created us for His pleasure. In His pleasure we will discover our everlasting joy.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

ACCIDIE: A Long Forgotten Spiritual Ailment

The Vows of our Oblation seem to bind, but in reality they set us free. Our Oblation is our self-offering to God, a glad response to His freely given love for us.

In making an Oblation of our lives in the context of our Monastery, the Oblation (a gentle vow) gives us freedom from ourselves, from distractions, from emotional ups and downs, and from unbalanced fervor and dryness. We make our Oblation in the context of a specific community but also in the context of the state of life in which we are called. That state of life affects the pattern of spirituality that develops, but my own observation is that it should not determine it. The Rule of Life that springs from our Oblation calls us out of our state of life into the Presence of God.

What St. Benedict says is, “At the hour for Divine Office, as soon as the signal is heard, let them abandon whatever they may have in hand and hasten (to prayer) with greatest speed, yet with seriousness, so that there is no excuse for levity. Let nothing be put before the Work of God.”1

It is very difficult to drop everything “when the bell rings.” What is often called into question by the Rule are our priorities. Work is hard to set aside, but so also is accidie - that mingling of despondency and listlessness so clearly identified in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers.

To us today accidie appears as depression and its’ resulting sluggishness. Abba Poeman says, “Accidie is there every time one begins something, and there is no worse passion, but if a man recognizes it for what it is, he will gain peace.”2 In later times accidie was too simplistically as laziness or sloth, but it original meaning was closer to the way it was used by the Desert Fathers.
Ultimately whether or not accidie is regarded as despondency and listlessness or as laziness the cure for it rests in taking action, not on the basis of sudden inspiration, but in taking action as a fulfillment of a Rule of Life that springs from our Oblation.

The late medieval mystic Van Ruysbroek reminds us that "love cannot be lazy"3 The antidote for accidie, whether it is despondency and listlessness or sloth and laziness, is action. St. Benedict himself says, “Idleness is the enemy of the soul.”4 Part of the state in which all of us find ourselves is enmeshed in the dynamic principle of the second law of thermodynamics, “heat flows from a higher to a lower temperature but that it does not do the reverse.” In a spiritual context that means that, when you are a week away from a retreat, spiritual energy tends to cool off unless it is sustained by the balance provided by a Rule of Life. The Rule of Life should be strong enough to provide an adequate challenge, but not so strong as to be unattainable. As St. Benedict says, “that strong may have something to strive for and the weak nothing to run from.”5

I also note that it seems to be a spiritual principle that God expects us to do more than we expect ourselves to do. That has a direct application to our Oblation. In my experience He always tends to be right.


1The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 43.
2Benedicta Ward, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1975), p. 188
3 Jan Van Ruysbroeck, The Sparkling Stone, The Library of Christian Classics, Late Medieval Mysticism, ed. Ray C. Petry, (PhiladelphiaL The Westminster Press, 1957), 308
4Rule, Ch. 48.
5Rule, Ch. 64.