Self-Denial

“To reach the supernatural bounds a person must depart from his natural bounds and leave self far off in respect to his interior and exterior limits in order to mount from a low state to the highest.”

—–John of the Cross

Jesus and the BasinThe medieval mystic John of the Cross gives us advice to move towards “supernatural bounds.” Self-denial is a big step in that journey with Christ. This concept (self-denial) is at odds with our culture of more. As with all disciplines, true self-denial is developed slowly and with care. Begin with living more simply, caring for the small things of life, living a life of thanks and seeking to touch someone in need.

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.

—Jesus

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God Creates Things that Create Themselves

Some thoughts by Richard Rhor

In Romans 8:22, Paul says, “From the beginning until now, the entire creation as we know it has been groaning in one great act of giving birth.” That is a very feminine notion of creation, giving birth slowly through labor pains. It complements Genesis’ masculine statement: “Let there be light!” (1:3). Just this one line from Paul should be enough to justify a Christian belief in evolution. Yet to this day, the issue of evolution still divides some Christians, questioning what is rather obvious: that God creates things that create themselves. Wouldn’t this be the greatest way that God could create–to give autonomy, freedom, and grace to things to keep self-creating even further? (Non-creative minds tend to not see or allow creativity anywhere else. In fact, that is what makes them so uncreative!)

Healthy parents love their children so much that they want them to keep growing, producing, and performing to their highest potential. Good parents are even excited when their children surpass them, as my uneducated farmer parents were when I went off to higher studies. Mature parents are generative about their children and say, in my paraphrase of Jesus’ words: “Don’t get too excited about the things that we did. You’re going to do even greater things!” (John 14:12). Immature parents only see their children as images and extensions of themselves. True love empowers and delights in the even larger and independent successes of those they love. (It is often would-be successful sons who are most resented and abused by jealous and weak fathers.)

For a long time most people were satisfied with a very static universe. Yet Jesus understands reality as dynamic and evolutionary. Clearly there is an unfolding to the universe (we are literally still expanding!). Reality is going somewhere. It’s moving, until “In the end there will only be Christ. He is everything and he is in everything” (Colossians 3:11). The One > Multiplicity > Conscious Unity seems to be the underlying pattern. Paul sees history as an ongoing process of ever greater inclusion of every lesser force until in the end, “God will be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28). The notion of the Cosmic Christ is precisely “the One” reality that includes everything and excludes nothing. As St. Bonaventure put it, “God is the One whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.”

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Sins Run Out

leaking_bucket_RBK01026_edited-1A brother in Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which Abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to him, saying, “Come, for everyone is waiting for you”. So he got up and went. He took a leaking jug and filled it with water and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him and said, “what is this, father?” The old man said to them, “My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.” When they heard that, they said no more to the brother but forgave him. 

—-sayings of the desert

I do not believe that comments are necessary on this story. Let me offer this prayer.

Lord help me to understand the nature of the grace that you offer to me. May I not waste my time trying to figure out other people’s sin and faults but know that their forgiveness is already been secured. Let me offer my forgiveness in the same manner as You.  Amen

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The King Cake

One of the many traditions of New Orleans Louisiana is the King Cake. I thought that I would share the meaning of the King Cake with you.

Mardi Gras season begins on January 6, of each year and ends on Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent. One of the wonderful traditions of Mardi Gras, and probably the most delicious, is the King Cake.

kingCake1On the Christian calendar, the 12th day after Christmas is celebrated as the date that the gift-bearing Magi visited the baby Jesus. This day, January 6, is known by several names, including “Epiphany”, “Twelfth Night”, or “Kings Day”. The celebration of this event has evolved over the centuries, with each culture adding its own unique rituals. The New Orleans tradition, borrowing heavily from European influences, is believed to have begun in the 1870’s. As part of this celebration, it is now traditional to bake a cake in honor of the three kings – the King Cake. King Cakes are oval-shaped to symbolize the unity of faiths. Each cake is decorated in the traditional Mardi Gras colors – purple representing justice, green representing faith, and gold representing power. A small baby, symbolizing the baby Jesus, is traditionally hidden inside each King Cake.

In New Orleans, King Cake parties are held throughout the Mardi Gras season. In offices, classrooms, and homes throughout the city, King Cakes are sliced and enjoyed by all. Like the Biblical story, the “search for the baby” adds excitement, as each person waits to see in which slice of cake the baby will be discovered. While custom holds that the person who “finds” the baby will be rewarded with “good luck”, that person is also traditionally responsible for bringing the King Cake to the next party or gathering.

Just thought you might want to know.

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Love Without Judgment Is Worthy

“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy if anything can.”

—–Thomas Merton

Our job is to love our brothers (and sisters) without stopping. That is not the entire context of the Merton quote, but I believe it is the heart of the matter. So much of our love, our service, our commitment is hinged on the worthiness of the recipient. When we think in this manner we spend a large portion of ourMerton-30 efforts judging our brothers and sisters. Christ never acted in such a way. He said: “Come to me, all who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.” As we learn to follow the example of Jesus it lightens our burden of judgment, assessment or whatever you may call it and makes us free to love and serve.

Today’s world is certainly one of wars and rumors of wars. The greatest war that most of us have to fight is a self-inflected war of harshness and unkindness to one another. We fail to help those who are in need because we are too busy trying to find out why they are in need and too selfish to give them the simplicity of God’s love. I can only imagine what the world would really be like if we were willing to carry one another’s burden without assessing the cost, risk and worthiness of the recipient of our kindness.

Perhaps we can take a lesson from the monk when he says to us: “…love itself will render both ourselves and neighbors worthy if anything can.”

Lord help me this day to look upon my brothers and sisters as, just that, brothers and sisters. May I see them as fruits of your creation that are worthy of my love just as they are recipients of your love. In this ONE truth we find the peace and harmony that will fill the vastness of the void that lies in our souls. Amen

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Prayer for Silence

silence centeringJesus our peace, if our lips keep silence, our heart listens to you and also speaks to you. And you say to each one of us: surrender yourself in all simplicity to the life of the Holy Spirit; and with that surrender we may know you in a superlative way. Lord help me to observe a sacred silence. AMEN

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The Weight of Judgment

The old men used to say, “there is nothing worse than passing judgment.”

They said of Abba Macarius that he became as it is written a god upon earth, because just as God protects the world, so   Abba Macarius would cover the faults that he saw as though he did not see them, and those which he heard as though he did not hear them.

——sayings of the desert

judgment1Some may think that the monk’s way of handling the faults of others is pure denial. I find that idea very realistic, but allow me to add a few layers to this saying on judgment. How much time do you spend agonizing over the faults of others? Do you use the faults of others as an excuse for your own bad behavior? Would admonishing others bring you any closer to God?

A wise person once said, “Become the change you want to see in the world.” People spend untold hours worrying about the behavior of others. Such worries distract us from our work, our families, our spiritual development, and, in some cases, have an impact on our well-being. The wise Native Americans have a saying “Tend your own hoop.” Tending your own hoop means taking care of your own problems and allowing others to do the same.

Over the years I have heard many stories of people who have fallen into hard times and trouble that begin like this, “well, he fell into the wrong company.” Excuses like falling into the wrong company are very lame when it comes to the fate of our souls. To judge ourselves or our love ones in the mirror of the behavior of others is a very dangerous and slippery slope. We should look ourselves in the mirror and ask for God’s guidance every day.

People receive undue pleasure as they admonish others. Such behavior gives a rush of power and confidence. The problem is that all this is at the expense of someone else. When we pray, meditate, worship or do holy reading we are seeking to draw closer to God. When we find fault and become a staunch defender of the faith we spend our time on earthly plain

The hymn “Higher Ground” suggests to us.

Lord, lift me up and let me stand,

By faith, on Heaven’s tableland,

A higher plain than I have found;

Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

 

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A Prayer From the Desert

bible papyrusLord Jesus Christ, whose will all things obey: pardon what I have done and grant that I, a sinner, may sin no more. Lord, I believe that though I do not deserve it, you can cleanse me from all my sins. Lord, I know that man looks upon the face, but you see the heart. Send your spirit into my inmost being, to take possession of my soul and body. Without you I cannot be saved; with you to protect me, I long for your salvation. And now I ask you for your salvation. And now I ask you for wisdom, deign of your great goodness to help and defend me. Guide my heart, almighty God, that I may remember your presence day and night. Amen

In the desert of the heart,  let the healing fountain start;In the prison of his days, teach the free man how to praise.

— W. H. Auden

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Worship

Detail of the Holy Communion window at St. Mat...

People silently entered the candlelit sanctuary. In the total quiet of the moment, the intense prayers of those gathered were almost palpable. Each brought to worship years of living with accumulated pain and joy. The lonely came, as well as the exhausted because they are never alone. Some came bearing deep hurts, and some came bearing crushing guilt because of hurts they had imposed. Some came because their pain was nearly unbearable, and some came because they were afraid they could no longer feel anything. Some came because they were afraid to die, and some came because they were afraid to live.

The ancient music washed over us all calming doubts and troubles in our souls. The liturgy began and those souls were lifted up to the lord. Fear and cares receded, and peace and hope took hold. We gave God our thanks and praise and He gave back to us the mystery of His presence. We revisited the crucifixion together as we celebrated Holy Communion. No matter our pasts, our educations, and our finances – we were all the same before God. We were sinners in need of His mercy – and we received it. We left that sacred time forgiven, reconciled, and whole. We worshipped and left with grace for the journey-full of glory.

Monica Boudreaux

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Being in God

The Biblical revelation is about awakening, not accomplishing. You cannot get there, you can only be there, but the foundational Being-in-God, for some reason, is too hard to believe, and too good to be true for most people. Only the humble will usually believe it and receive it, because it affirms more about God than it does about us. Proud people are not attracted to such explanations.

Here is what St. Bonaventure tells us about God: “By God’s power, presence, and essence, God is the One whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. God exists uncircumscribed in everything.” In other words, it’s all sacred. You can find God everywhere. You don’t have to go to monasteries. As Francis of Assisi said, “The whole world is our cloister.”

Bonaventure goes on to say, “God is, therefore, all inclusive. God is the essence of everything. God is most perfect and immense: within all things, but not enclosed; outside all things, but not excluded; above all things, but not aloof; below all things, but not debased. Finally, therefore, this God is all in all…. Consequently, from him, through him and in him, all things exist.” That is not simplistic pantheism (everything is God), but it is a much more profound pan-en-theism (everything is in God and God can be found in everything). This is Christianity’s great message, which it has, in large part, found too good to be true and too hard to believe!

Our outer world and its full inner significance must come together for there to be any wholeness—and holiness—in our world. The result in the soul and in society is both deep joy and a resounding sense of coherent beauty.

Richard Rhor

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