Saturday, February 27, 2016

Enlarge My Heart! Psalm 119:32

“I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart” [Psalm 119:32 ESV]! St. Teresa of Avila quotes this psalm in Latin, noting the need for our hearts to be enlarged, [viam mandatorum tuorum cucurri cum dilatasti cor meum” [Psalm 118:32 VUL].
In his Prologue to the Rule St. Benedict says, “As we advance in the religious life and faith, our hearts expand and we run the way of God’s commandments with unspeakable sweetness of love.”

It is love that expands the heart, love in all its fullness.  Not sweet sentimentality, but love that expresses itself, to use an old out of fashion word, as charity, or caritas.  That love is an active, rather than a sentimental love reaching out to others with the compassion and truth of Jesus Christ who is incarnate in our hearts.  One of the marks of that love is commitment, a commitment to action, not passivity.

Parents, at least good parents, experience the expansion of the heart in their commitment and care for their children.  That love often bears with it a stretching that comes from the demands of a little child for comfort and care at times that are not always convenient.  Love takes you out of yourself. Sometimes, like Mary our adopted Mother, love pierces our hearts in painful ways.

The love that expands the hearts bears with it a certain holy detachment; one cannot love effectively if one is in turmoil over attempts to control the object of one’s love.  Love does not seek control.  When control comes in the door, love goes out the window.

The four loves, affection [love’s basic building block], brotherly love [and friendship], eros [as a desire for intimacy] and agapĂ© [the flame of charity] are only manifest within us as Christ Himself is incarnate in our human hearts.  That is to say, He is the Source of the love within us, and not we ourselves.

One implication of the incarnation of love within us is that our human hearts are manifestly imperfect, and as a result all of our loving, a holy as the source is, is nonetheless imperfect.  It cannot be otherwise.  That is why all lovers should be very humble, knowing that even the love that expands our hearts is coloured by the shadows of our human reality.  Just because we love, doesn’t mean that we are always right, or timely, in our loving; or that our love is in any way invincible. 

That is why, in speaking of the enlargement of the heart, the Psalmist confesses that he does not yet run the way of God’s commandments.  He says, “I will run the way of your commandments, when you enlarge my heart.”  The running in the way of His commandments is yet in the future.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Living in the Habitation of Dragons

There are several verses in Scripture regarding dragons that create a problem for translators. The Hebrew word for dragon is “tan-neen.” The problem is that translators are too enlightened to believe in dragons so they have to find more acceptable ways of translating the Hebrew word “tan-neen.” One of these verses is in Psalm 44:19. The Book of Common Prayer translation paraphrases the text as “Though you thrust us down into a place of misery, and covered us over with deep darkness.” Here “tan-neen” is paraphrased as “misery.” In a similar text in Isaiah 34:13 the New Revised Standard Version others translate the word as “jackals.”

The King James Version translates the word “tan-neen” as follows: “And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof: and it shall be an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls.”  The message of the various Old Testament texts is that the world we live in is a “habitation of tan-neen”, or to put it quite simply, a habitation of dragons. But what does that mean?

The translators have a harder time re-interpreting the New Testament Greek word, “drakon” as anything other than “dragon.” One primary text where the word “dragon” occurs is in Revelation 12:1-12 where the devil is depicted as a fiery red dragon who is cast down from heaven to earth by Michael and his angels. The Book of Revelation goes on to add, “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!”

That is indeed the problem! Humankind tends to operate on the assumption that we live out our lives in a neutral zone where most of our spiritual struggles are with ourselves or with other people.

In reality the place where we live is a habitation of dragons, and in specific, one most unhappy dragon, the devil. This particular dragon has discovered to his chagrin that he is not as lofty, as beautiful, or as powerful as God. Not only that, but he has discovered, to his great wrath, that his time is short. In his wrath the dragon has resolved to rob everybody of the life, joy and vitality that he has lost himself when he was cast from heaven by Michael and the angels of God.

What does this mean in practice to the average Christian? Some limitations of the dragon's ability need to be acknowledged; Unlike God, he is not Omniscient, Omnipotent, or Omnipresent. In plain language, he is a created being; he doesn't know everything, he isn't all-powerful, nor is he present everywhere.

Unfortunately for us the passage in Revelation tells us that when he was cast to earth in great wrath he took his “angels” with him. The New Testament refers to these entities as “devils,” “demons,” or as “unclean spirits.” What it means is that we play out our moral and spiritual struggles on an uneven playing field where unseen malicious enemies are doing their very best to make us as unhappy as they are. The old saying, “misery loves company” is remarkably true in this regard.

That doesn't mean that we can say, “the devil made me do it.” It is not as simple as that. While it is clear that the Tempter successfully tempted Eve, and unsuccessfully tempted Jesus, James 1:14 testifies that “each person is lured and enticed by his own desire.” The devil and his companions don't bother wasting time tempting us where we have no vulnerability. St. Anthony, one of the founders of desert monasticism, pointed out that wherever we have a weakness, “there the devils love to leap.” Obviously that means that we need to pay attention to those weaknesses that leave an open door for temptation.

The result is that we do not have the luxury of operating without regard to the unnatural hazards of the spiritual terrain in which we live our lives. Neither, we, nor our children live in neutral world.  We actually live in the habitation of dragons. 

St. Paul says, “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” On the other hand, living in paranoia and fear only serves the dragon and his fallen angels. James 4:7b also says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” John the Apostle adds, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4). 

Another way of putting it is in the modern proverb, “To be forewarned is to be fore-armed.” In Texas terms, if you are walking through a field with vipers in it, wear a good pair of cowboy boots. Watch where you are walking and keep your guard up

Friday, February 12, 2016

Be Radiant! An Exercise in Lectio Divina

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

Lectio Divina is Latin for Divine Reading.  Lectio Divina enters us into dialogue with the Author of the Word. 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.
One of the fruits of Lectio Divina is deification.  To Western ears that sounds misleading. In the Western Church we would use the word sanctification. St. Peter says, “Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become  participants of the divine nature” [2 Peter 1:4 NRS].

 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 Divina.  As we gaze upon the Lord in his self-revelation in Holy Scripture we receive into ourselves His likeness. 

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

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. 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. But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. Afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the LORD had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. 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, 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 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 that radiance in order to be like Him who loves us; 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

 ~ Dom Anselm +