Monday, October 28, 2013

Be Radiant

Scandrett Park, New Zealand

“Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.” (Psalm 34:5 RSV)

One of the fruits of Lectio Divina is deification.  In the Western Church we use the pale term “sanctification,” but deification glows with an inner light.  If you look to Him you will become radiant. 

Paul speaks of the same thing when he says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV).  The words “are being transformed” translate the Greek word for metamorphosis. 

The transformation is in process now as we behold the glory of the Lord in Lectio.  As we gaze upon the Lord in his self-revelation in Holy Scripture we receive into ourselves His likeness.  The four steps of Lectio Divina; Read, Reflect, Respond and Rest, bring us into the Presence of the God who loves us.  Read the text over meditatively several times.  Reflect on the meaning of the text.  Respond in prayer on the basis of the text.  Rest in the Presence of God.

Like Moses on Mount Sinai we look to Him and become radiant (Exodus 34:29-35).

29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30 Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them.
32 Afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the LORD had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. 33 And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. 34 Whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, 35 the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

St. Gregory Palamas made a distinction between essence and divine energies, the former in immutable transcendence, the latter incarnate in humanity.  From Isaiah 45:19 “I did not say to the seed of Jacob, ‘Seek Me in vain’; I, the Lord, speak righteousness, I declare things that are right.”  

It is clear that You did not intend us to seek Your face in vain.  A reductionist interpretation, that would avoid the obvious surface meaning in favor of a spiritualized application, is not adequate. 

With Moses (Exodus 33:18) I cry, “Show me Your Glory.”  My Lord, show me Your face.  If it is not possible to see Your essence, the cry of my heart is at least let me see the “effulgence” of Your glory, the outraying of Your Essence in the face of Jesus Christ.1  

May I see Your glory as the eye sees.  Let me see You with a ‘spiritual sensing’ even as Paul was caught up to heaven, whether in the body or out of the body he did not know.  Let me see You as John saw You walking among the golden menorah of the Churches. 

Why? Because I love You?  Not a shadow of how You love me!  No.  Because You command it, and say “Seek My face,” and my seeking, which is commanded, will make Your heart glad even as it leaves me “rapt” in Your love.2

St. Gregory Palamas would remind us that in beholding not the essence of God, but the radiance of God we ourselves enter into deification and take on that same radiance.  It is the radiance of Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration.  “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Matthew 17:1,2). 

In Lectio we kneel at the feet of the radiant Christ whom we adore.   St. Gregory of Nyssa says, “We receive into ourselves the likeness of whatever we look upon.”  This is true both of evil and good.  In the present context, as we gaze in Lectio at the radiance of Christ, we receive that radiance into ourselves and are transformed.  “Look to him and be radiant.  So your faces shall never be ashamed.”

In all of this one thing must be carefully identified.  Do not seek the radiance for the sake of being radiant.  Seek rather the radiance for His own sake, He who is the express image, the outraying, the effulgence of the Father’s glory.  He alone is to be worshipped and adored, for own His sake, and for no other reason.  “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36 ESV).                                                                           

Read   Reflect   Respond   Rest

1(John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews 1:1-3)

2(Richard Rolle, The Fire of Love)

Monday, October 14, 2013

“What Is Impossible With Men Is Possible With God.”

Is your dog pessimistic or optimistic?  The following article from the Guardian, Monday 11 October 2012 is illuminating.

      Optimistic dogs seem less prone to anxiety when left alone.

      Scientists have confirmed what many pet owners have long suspected: some dogs have a more gloomy outlook on life than others.

      The unusual insight into canine psychology emerged from a study by Bristol University researchers into how dogs behave when separated from their owners.

      Dogs that were generally calm when left alone were also found to have a "dog bowl half full" attitude to life, while those that barked, relieved themselves and destroyed furniture appeared to be more pessimistic, the study concluded.

      Michael Mendl, head of animal welfare and behaviour at the university, said the more anxiously a dog behaved on being parted from its owner, the more gloomy its outlook appeared to be.

      We know that people's emotional states affect their judgements and that happy people are more likely to judge an ambiguous situation positively," Mendl said. "What our study has shown is that this applies similarly to dogs – that a 'glass half full' dog is less likely to be anxious when left alone than one with a more 'pessimistic' nature."

This reminds me of my uncle Harvey who was a self-confessed pessimist.  He told the following story.  “There were two brothers.  One was an optimist and the other was a pessimist.  At Christmas the boy’s parents decided to try to bring some balance to both of the boy’s outlook on life.  When the boys came downstairs on Christmas morning the pessimist found a live pony under the tree with his name on it, and the optimist found a basket of horse manure.  The pessimist said, ‘Oh, no!  The poor pony is going to die.’  The optimist looked at his basket of horse manure and said, ‘Oh boy!  Where’s my pony?”  What makes the story personally funny to me is that it was my pessimistic uncle who told it.

The question is, ‘How do you face life?’

We are faced with a variety of issues on three levels.  There is stress on the national political scene; there is stress, division, and uncertainty in the national church, and there is an assault on many areas of people’s personal lives. One of my brother clergy said, “My people are getting absolutely hammered.  Health issues, jobs, family problems, personal problems.”  Life always has had its ups and downs, but it is very hard for the pessimist to recognize that there are ups as well as downs.

Let me remind you of four basic sets of presuppositions that ultimately point us in the direction of being pessimists or optimists.

We either believe that:

God is, or He isn’t
That God communicates, or that He doesn’t
That Jesus is the Communication of God, or He isn’t
Miracles happen, or they don’t

Those four presuppositions will govern not only our understanding of Christian faith and theology, but also our view of whether or not human life is viable and has meaning.

When Christians believe that God is, they believe that He is Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnipresent. If you really believe that God is almighty, that He is all knowing, and everywhere, you are already pointed in the direction of optimism, for the one who believes that knows that there is nothing that can happen that God can’t redeem.

That is the underlying issue in the following story.  What do you think?  Were the disciples pessimistic or optimistic, and what does that have to do with Jesus question, “Why are you so afraid?”

“On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side."  And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him.  And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.  But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"  And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.  He said to them, "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?"  And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?" (Mark 4:35-41)  

How were the disciples looking at life?  Pessimistically or Optimistically?  If we are to live the life of faith we will need to see each of the challenges we face through Holy Eyes.  That is, we will want to see things from the perspective of our Lord, rather than see them through the fears of the world.  Let me warn you, there is such a thing as na├»ve Optimism; not everything is right with the world.

There is an interesting text that warns us about the nature of fear:

For the LORD spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: 12 "Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread (Isaiah 8:11).

Did you know that fear and the accompanying pessimism is like a flu bug.  It’s viral.  It’s catching and it can spread from person to person in a family, in a parish, and even through a diocese or a national church.

            In part the antidote for pessimism lies in our understanding of the nature of God:

Do you believe that God is Omnipotent?

Hear the words of the prophet
kheh-qat-tsar ruach adonai
“Is the Spirit of the Lord short?” (Micah 2:7).

Can your God deal with the things that confront you?

Hear what the Lord says to Moses:
kheh-yad adonai kheh-qat-tsar
“Is the hand of Lord short?” (Numbers 11:23)

Let your hearts cry out:

“Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who has made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you!” (Jeremiah 32:17).

Jesus Himself says to you:

“What is impossible with men is possible with God.” (Luke 18:27)

The key to power is the indwelling of Christ: Jesus gives us a direct promise of His power.  He says:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Dame Julian Norwich in the 14th C gives that great confession: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”  Then she hears her Lord say: “What is impossible to you is not impossible to me . . .. I shall make all things well.”
There is nothing facing you that God in His power can’t deal with.

There is nothing facing a parish church that God in His power can’t deal with.

There is nothing facing this nation that God in His power can’t deal with.

There is nothing in the way of challenges facing the national church that God in His power can’t deal with:

 “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

We are called to step forth in faith.  We are called to walk on the water with Jesus:

There is one quote that for years has guided much of my thinking about acts of initiative:

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets:

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” [i]

No matter what the issue is that confronts you, one truth abides:  God is, and He is Omnipotent!

Is it a matter of Optimism or Pessimism, or is it a matter of faith?  In the words of Peter:

 “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68, 69).

Copyright © 2013 Robin P. Smith