Rhyme or Reason

 

When the same ABBA Anthony thought about the depths of the judgments of God, he asked, “Lord, how is it that some die when they are young, while others drag on too extreme old age? Why are there those who are poor and those who are rich? Why do wicked man prosper and why are the just in need ?” He heard a voice answering him, “Anthony, keep your attention on yourself; these things are according to the judgment of God, and it is not your advantage to know anything about them.”

…..Anthony of the Desert


 

Man has struggled for generations with the prosperity of the wicked and the lack of suffered by the just and humble. You don’t have to look very deep to see injustices in the world. It wouldn’t take you long to discover a very cruel and dishonest person who lives a life of luxury. In the same way, you would not have to go far to find someone who wishes the best for all but seems to lack the necessities ofdoesevilprosper life. This dichotomy was a source of confusion for Anthony. He saw young, vibrant people being stuck down and those who could not care for their basic needs lingering on. All these things were a source of frustration for a man who sought the perfection of God.

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Have you ever wondered what was the “rhyme or reason” of a confusing event in the world? Anthony did, and he wanted a solution that would solve such problems. Instead, he got an answer that would only fit Him. God told him, “Anthony, turn to your own perfection and leave the perfection of the world to me.” Many of us, like Anthony, spend an undue amount of time and anxiety trying to fix the world and forget that we are broken as well. God wants to make you whole so that you may spread that wholeness to the world. How do we become whole?

When I was in formation to become a United Methodist Elder, my mentor shared a truism from Native American Culture. He spoke of how the Tribal Council sat in a circle surrounded by their personal hoops. The moral was that they had to “tend their own hoops’ before they had anything to say to the council. Nothing they said was of any value unless they began with themselves. That’s interesting, because it is the very same thing that the monk is hearing from God when he says, “Anthony, keep your attention on yourself.” Those words ring as loudly for us as they did for Anthony those many years ago. We must accept the reality that the only person we can really change is ourselves and hope that that change will profit those that surround us. Our change becomes an inspiration for their change.

In spite of that reality, it can get very frustrating to watch the many apparent inequities and injustices that surround us, but we must remember that we are marching on to perfection. We are praying every day I hope, “Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.” We strive for that intersection of heaven and earth to come in our own lives so that we might understand why things are as the are and leave it to God.

The rhyme or reason is not for us to know. We are called to leave it with God.


 

Prayer

Lord, help me this day to see to the shortcomings of my walk. Allow me to outstretch a hand of understanding and grace to all you send my way. Relieve me of the torture of the many “whys” of life and give me the peace that comes with striving to be one with you.

Amen.

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A Way to Begin

AthanasiusIn the coming months I will be writing devotionals from the sayings of Anthony of Egypt as translated by Benedict Ward and scholars of the Coptic Church. Because of these two sources I can offer the sayings of Anthony and the comment that I write. These sayings tell us something about the great monk but not all we might want to know. One of his early followers was Athanasius of Alexandria, a Father of the Eastern Church. Athanasius took upon himself to write a biography of Anthony. In this work we can learn a lot more about the monk and how he ordered his life.

I thought it might be helpful to share some of the details of the life of Anthony as I comment on his sayings. The sayings of the Monk can be guides for life and the life of the monk can serve as the same. Writings on the life of Anthony will give us further seeds for thought and perhaps some handle that can help our spiritual journey. By using the work of Athanasius, I will attempt to make Anthony’s life one we could use as a leaning model for our own spiritual development.

A Way to Begin

Anthony found himself an eighteen-year-old moderately affluent man who had, by the death of his parents, been given the responsibility of the care of a younger. Because of his upbringing he was keenly aware of his responsibility and eager to carry out the task that had come his way. He was a very devout man who always sought guidance from the church. One day while pondering om the writings of Matthew on the calling and ministry of the apostles, he was struck with a divine message. With further study that message led him to the conclusion that He must sell all his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor just as the apostles had left everything and concentrated on following Jesus.

There was for Anthony one great responsibility that he could not drop. His young sister was in his care and she was his first responsibility. After selling all that he had, he reserved enough to care for his sister and arranged for her to live with a group of nuns. This being settled he went about the task of seeking the knowledge that would bring him closer to God. He sought that knowledge by being aware of all those around him from whom he could learn. Athanasius said that he went like a “prudent bee” when he would hear of any good man. From one he learned graciousness, from another unceasing prayer, and from still others, he learned freedom from anger, endurance, fasting and so much more. He took all that he learned and united them in his spiritual nature. Because of this he became beloved by all.

The life of Anthony gives us some beautiful ways to pursue our beginning of the contemplative life. I believe that all contemplatives must be keenly aware that we are called to live on a higher plain than one that can be bought by money. We can never really know this unless we release the hold that our money has over us. I am not saying that we all must give it away, but we must prioritize our lives around the pursuit of God and not the pursuit of money. Then there are the ones that we are responsible like our children, grandchildren, spouses and others that God has entrusted to our care. We must make proper provision for them and cannot cast them aside and by saying that I am now following God and you are on your own. God wants us to be keenly aware that we don’t have all the answers. Every good Christian seeks guidance and knowledge from others. Every Christian contemplative must strive to unite these pieces together in their lives.

Also, it can be said that the beginning of a life that seeks after God’s heart is to be free of rivalry and competition. Many people spend undue time and effort to “top” one another. Anthony concluded and shared with us a great secret. Athanasius put it this way, “With others of the same age he had no rivalry; save this only, that he should not be second to them in higher things.”

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LORD, I WANT TO BE SAVED

When the holy ABBA Anthony lived in the desert he was beset by sloth and attacked by many sinful thoughts. He said to God, “Lord, I want to be saved but these thoughts do not leave me alone, what shall I do I do in my affliction? How can I be saved?” A short while afterwards, when he got up to go out, Anthony saw a man like himself sitting at his work, getting up from his work to pray, then sitting down and plating a rope, and getting up again to pray. It was an Angel the Lord sent to correct and reassure him. He heard the Angel saying to him, “Do this and you will be saved.” At these words, Anthony was filled with joy and courage. He did this, and he was saved.

…..Anthony of the Desert


The greatest longing of any follower of God is to be saved. Saved from the cares of this life. Saved from the sin that drags us down. Saved from the smothering nature of this world. Anthony abandoned his money and family ties looking to be saved but was soon feeling it was all in vain. His heart told him one thing, but his mind said another. He was stuck and wanted a way out. That scenario is all too familiar to us.

We begin a new year and a new decade, and we want things to go so well. Our resolution to God and ourselves is to leave behind the old and the inadequate. Like Anthony, we resolve to do better. Our heart’s desire is to live with God in our hearts and minds. The cares of the world and the requirements of life get in the way. Our cry to God is –show me the way! Perhaps the way is in front of us. Anthony saw an angelic vision of a man who was simply working. His task seemed mundane and tedious. Upon closer observation the monk noticed something. This man took numerous and brief breaks to pray. He did not allow the tasks of the world to be the sole dominance of his life.

The problem is not whether we will have to do the tasks of the world and live with the world as it is, but how we will respond to this journey? There have been numerous books and articles written on how to be a Monk (Christian) amid our post Christian era. These writers all have good suggestions and disciplines that will bring us closer to a serene relationship with God. I applaud them for their contribution to the conversation. I would suggest that we can note that all of them in one way or another point to the lives of the earliest of the Desert Monastics and Anthony was the first.Post 1

I don’t know why Bendicta Ward chose to make the saying quoted today the first in her book “Sayings of the Desert Fathers.” As I read these sayings once again, it just struck me that this is where it all began. The feeling Anthony was experiencing was the key to finding peace with God. He found that peace by linking the tasks of everyday life to prayer. Perhaps we can say it this way. Work is prayer and prayer is work. Most of us want to put God in one box of our lives and enter that box at prescribed times, but Anthony broke that mold. As he watched the man work and pray seamlessly it was a eureka moment. He realized that prayer is a natural part of life. It is work. Prayer is the work of the Christian but not to the neglect of everything else.

Most of us live driven, divided lives that cause division in our souls. The secret of the monk was to make them one. I don’t have to have a special time or place to pray, but I can be about my task and take time to offer all that I am to God. Your decision may be that you have that time and place that you meet God. If so, I am happy for you. For the many in this world that are looking, I urge you to look to the advice of the old Monk who heard the voice of the angels say, “Do this and you will be saved.” Work is prayer and prayer is work.

 


Prayer

Lord free my heart to be able to recognize you in the simple tasks that I am given every day. Give me the strength to see you when I am happy and to feel your presence when I am down and defeated. Let every day, moment and experience be an experience with you. Allow the tasks of this day to be melded together by your presence. That presence is my solace and salvation. Amen.

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Handling the Life

A man who gives way to his passions is like a man who is shot at by an enemy, catches the arrow in his hands, and then plunges it into his own heart. A man who is resisting his passions is like a man who is shot at by an enemy, and although the arrow hits him, it does not seriously wound him because he is wearing a breastplate. But the man who is uprooting his passions is like a man who is shot at by an enemy, but who strikes the arrow and shatters it or turns it back into his enemy’s heart.

——— Abba Dorotheos

Feedom from sinThe food for thought from the Abba is the various ways we handle the passions of life. He gives us three scenarios: surrender, self-willed resistance or spiritual release. The first two can have very dire consequences which can do great harm to us. The third allows us to experience the freedom of deliverance, and not just deliverance, but victory. As we travel on the contemplative path, we can achieve great comfort in knowing that we don’t have to fight the fight Blog-3-20-19alone. God’s spirit will allow us to uproot our passions and become resistant to the tricks of the world.

These important lessons will take us forward in our passion driven world. Bad things happen to good people and good people do bad thing because of our passions. If we partner with God for our journey , then we can achieve infinitely more than we can alone. I pose this question to you. What would happen if this Lent you, after throwing in the towel of your own control over your life, you “threw your hat into the ring” of God’s unchartered territory and divine possibilities?

That my friend is what it means to be a contemplative. Lets get on with it and walk with God.


Prayer

Lord, inflame our hearts and our inmost beings with the fire of Your Holy Spirit, that we may serve You with chaste bodies and pure minds. Through Christ our Lord.

Amen

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Mary Oliver

I first became acquainted with the work of Mary Oliver when I was in the formation process for United Methodist clergy.  Her poetry spoke in ways that touched something inside of me. She passed away on January 17 . I would like to share with you a few of my favorites.

Mary-Oliver

The Summer Day

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

WILD GEESE

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

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Be Like gods

What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could “be like gods”—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves—be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.

— C. S. Lewis

God created us to be happy and free. He wanted us to enjoy the fruits of creation and live in harmony with Him in the garden He had prepared for us. Because we were created with a free will we chose to reject His will for us and launch off in an entirely different direction. In our ideal state we were exposed to evil, and evil won. Man fell and we still suffer the consequences of that fall.

What was the fall anyway? Simply put, we wanted to be God. The evil, Satan, told us that we could be gods and it was foolish for us to only obey God. Our egos told us that we could do anything. In fact, if we had the knowledge of good and evil we could rule the world. As a  matter of fact, we would then be our own god. That was the promise of the devil then and it still is his promise today. What are some results of that promise?

  • We miss the very best that God want to give us.
  • We spend our lives try to be what we can’t be.
  • We suffer untold heartaches trying to “do it ourselves.”
  • We live in a world of wars and rumors of war.
  • We fail to truly do what we want to do.
  • We labor for all that we attain.
  • We are not satisfied with what we attain.
  • We live shorter and more difficult lives.

Is there some relief from this? Yes! The relief is not complete but it offers promise. God saw our struggle and came to help us in spite of our sin. He came Jesus-Quote-1-30-19in the form of the man Jesus and offered to be our savior. Jesus gave us the great hope when he taught us to pray,”Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” That simple statement is our hope. We live this present day in His grace and know that He will one day restore His creation.

We miss a lot but Jesus gives us a lot. Let us take advantage of the great gift of God.


Prayer

Lord, I want to trust you. I want to take Jesus as my Savior and Lord. Let Him dwell in me so I might dwell in Him. Teach me to value myself as a sacred creation of yours. Let me see ways of service to you and my community,

Amen

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Sorting it Out

I have been asked to tell you what Christians believe, and I am going to begin by telling you one thing that Christians do not need to believe. If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through. If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all these religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth.

—- C. S.Lewis

In the past few years I have become a great fan of British television and movies.  In doing so, I have become aware of the different expressions that are used in the UK in the same manner that people from the UK become aware of American expressions when they view American television and movies. An expression I hear quite often is, “Let’s sort it out.” The expression clearly means that the truth is somewhere in the situation. The job of the detective or the teacher is to find it.

Our very diverse society offers many concepts of religion, God and truth. Lewis urges us not to curtly dismiss the ones who are not of our stripe but rather to engage them and even learn from them. Simply put, to sort them out. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to attempt to destroy those ideas that conflict with our own. Christians do not have to live and believe in a protective bubble. Such an attitude  makes us an isolated and judgmental group that spends its time fighting anyone who sees things differently. As Christians we are called to witness our faith, but that witness imperative requires that we do sort out some things.

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We must sort out truth from prejudice.

Many of us have grown  up in traditions that demand certainty of belief. Certainty does give us a level of comfort which we all desire. Comfort, certainty, in and of themselves, are good. However, when our certainty makes it necessary to condemn others we begin to walk on shaky ground. God never wanted us to go around judging the world and deciding who is worthy and unworthy. When we become judges we invariably have a set of prejudged standards that we impose on everyone. If we don’t watch ourselves we will begin to assess worthiness on sight based on some predetermined set of rules. There is never any search for real truth. Our only interest is if the person looks or sounds “right.” The search of the Christian is for truth.

We must sort out evangelism from crusade.

Evangelism is the sharing of the good news of the path to God. A crusade is organized campaign concerning a social, political, or religious issue. Your relationship to God is a gift,  not an issue. As Christians we share the good news as just that – GOOD NEWS! God’s message of peace and harmony is shared with love and kindness. The message is never to be shared in a semi military fashion. We share as we go. Sharing is done by multiple small acts of kindness. Evangelism is the giving of one’s self to the service of others. We are not on a crusade but a journey with the message of Christ. Make your journey count.

We must sort out our irreducible minimums.

I would be remiss if I did not point out some “I believe” statements.

  • I believe  that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.
  • I believe that all salvation is through Him.
  • I believe that He is the son of God.
  • I believe that He had a special birth.
  • I believe that there is an afterlife.
  • I believe God’s kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven.
  • I believe that God is still active in this world.

Those are the “irreducible minimums “ that guide my life. Far be it from me to force others to agree with me, but these are the basis of how I determine my walk with God. Once our minimums are thought out and established we are ready to share with others. We can be faith sharing Christians without being grand inquisitors of the world. Know what you think and be open to listen and share.


Prayer

Lord, help me to see the value in people who disagree with me about you. Let me see the light that you have given them. Teach me to go forward and make a difference with all people not just those who agree with me. Allow me to see your light in all that I encounter.

Amen

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The Spirit of Christ

It is not for us to say who, in the deepest sense, is or is not close to the spirit of Christ. We do not see into men’s hearts. We cannot judge, and are indeed forbidden to judge.

—- C S Lewis

How many times have you been confronted with the question, are you a Christian? Our first response is obvious, yes! For some, that response requires a great many qualifiers. Have you had a dramatic “born again” experience or , like John Wesley, has your heart been strangely warmed ? C S Lewis in his writing warns us of such qualifiers. He asserts that the spirit of Christ is far more powerful than our words and expressions. Our place as Christians is to share the love and freedom that comes from knowing that spirit to all who come our way. Anything other than that would be judging, and we are not to judge. That judging is, in my opinion, the unforgivable sin

Every Christian is called to ministry by their Baptism. Our Baptism is the coming of the spirit of Christ upon us by our personal affirmation of Christ or by the affirmation of our faith community. Through that we are called to share that faith and love to our community. Faith and love cannot be shared while we are judging others.

  • The spirit of Christ is a spirit of love.
  • The spirit of Christ is a spirit of forgiveness.
  • The spirit of Christ is a spirit of inclusion.
  • The spirit of Christ is a spirit of freedom.

When we allow His spirit to rule our lives, we possess those qualities and are equipped to share them with the world. Being Christ like is not a contest of holiness but a challenge to be the good news to those we encounter. Have you shared the true love of God with anyone lately? If you did then you saw the shear joy that appeared on their faces when they were touched by that love. We live in a world that is reeling with division and strife and seeking to find a peace that only God can offer. People who see and feel forgiveness, freedom and inclusion are changed in an instant. Let us offer that as often as we can.


Prayer

Lord, help me to truly live in the spirit of Christ. Allow me to see his love in me and share it with others. Take away my drive to judge and replace it with a drive to love and forgive. May that spirit be my way of living.

Amen


 

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Two Mysteries

“God has to work in the soul in secret and in darkness because if we fully knew

what was happening, and what Mystery, transformation, God and Grace will eventually ask of us, we would either try to take charge or stop the whole process.”

― St. John of the Cross

When we come to truly believe that God is at work in the world we face two mysteries. The first is the pure reality that we can never fully define or explain God. The second is we cannot predict what will be expected of us as followers of this mysterious God.

The First Mystery

God is real but we find that reality impossible to pin down. For God is not tangible but beyond the tangible. God is real but not definable. God is present but never seen. God speaks but we never really hear the voice of God. The essence of God is the mysterious presence. This is the presence that guides us when are lost, comforts us in sorrow and strengthens us in weakness. John of the Cross and other mystics understood and embraced a God that did not give them all the answers. God is this overarching presence that allows us to feel and experience things that are beyond this realm. That mystery is what carries us forward to worship and adore our creator.

Two-Mysteries-Quote

When we are ready to embrace this mystery we can engage God as never before. God then become our partner in all that we experience. We can live with our doubts because we understand that doubt is a vital part of faith. I would venture to say that there is no faith without doubt. Embracing the first mystery allows us to believe.

The Second Mystery

God is not in the business of giving followers a blueprint of their lives. The mystic asserts that we would be very reticent to follow our creator if we had the full scope of what would be expected of us. The sufferings of life are not something we look forward to experiencing. Yet as followers, will will suffer. Some suffering will come as a direct result of following God. In all relationships, there will be some bad days. The mystic tells us these times and events must be a mystery. If we knew everything that would happen to us or be expected of us everyday, it would be impossible to face many of our days.

This second mystery involves our willingness to be believers without knowing exactly what is expected of us. This makes our lives unpredictable but none the less protected. This same God who does not allow us to know what our path will be us gives us the ability to go through every door and rise above anything that befalls us. In the midst of demands and struggles, God guides us, blesses us and makes us stronger. That strength compels us to become vessels of strength to others.


Prayer

Lord, you are the greatest of all mysteries. Your ways will never be totally known to me. My path will never be laid before me like a highway. I live knowing that no matter how winding and crooked my path may be you are always near. Your nearness, though it is a mystery, gives me comfort, strength, and joy.

Amen

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Ways to See God

Rev. Thomas pioneer of the Contemplative Movement died this past week at the age of 95. I share below some quotes from him.

Silence is God’s first language; everything else is a poor translation.

God will bring people and events into our lives, and whatever we may think about them, they are designed for the evolution of His life in us.

For human beings, the most daunting challenge is to become fully human. For to become fully human is to become fully divine.

Nothing is more helpful to reduce pride than the actual experience of self-knowledge. If we are discouraged by it, we have misunderstood its meaning.

― Thomas Keating

There is no question in my mind that the best path to God is through silence. Prayer is not measured in the abundance of our words or the eloquence of our speech. Prayer is quietly listening to and waiting for the voice of God. The Contemplative Movement is about bringing this idea into the mainstream of Christian thought and spreading it beyond the limited boundaries of Christianity. Thomas Keating was a pioneer of that concept. Let me share a few ideas, with Keating’s help, about living the Contemplative life.

Silence is God’s Language

  God is not American or Chinese. He is God. The Creator is not impressed with our methods of prayer or our vain attempts to be holy. He is a God who speaks beyond words and we, as His people, must learn to listen and communicate beyond words. Silence is the language of God. Noise is the language of man. (The Devil?) My major calling of the last several years has been to search for silence in my life. In that search, I have come to understand more of God but realize that I have discovered I know less of God.

Pay Attention

When I was a boy my “report cards” often had a checked box that said, “inattentive in class.” My teacher’s method was to let me and my parents know that I was not listening to the message that she was trying to deliver. God has sent people into my life, and your life, for the purpose of teaching us about him and his intention for our lives. We often go through life inattentive of these vital messengers. In silence, we can hear them.

Becoming God’s Creation

Most of us would agree that God created us. The problem is that we immediately begin to try to recreate ourselves in the way that we see ourselves. We forget God as soon as we are able to think for ourselves. Being fully human is to acknowledge that we are created by and dependent on God. In realizing our dependence we become fully human and open the divine gate of our life.

Seeing as God Sees

We all agree that pride is a major problem in ourselves and in the world. Keating draws a correlation between pride and self-knowledge. There are many who see their weaknesses and become forlorn and depressed by them. That’s because we fail to understand the nature of God. God is the ultimate source of love and understanding. He wants us to see ourselves so we can understand him better. He has offered us a “way out” of self-centeredness and self-destruction. That way is to accept his love and understanding, and we can never do that do unless we see ourselves as we truly exist. Self-knowledge is not a road to ruin but a road to the riches of God.

These few points give us a basis to living life and becoming closer to God in that journey. Give some thought to them as you travel the pilgrimage that God has given you this week.


Prayer

Lord ,I so want to see you. Help me to find a path to you. Help not to flounder in my ways. Show me a way to listen and hear so that I may come to understand you and myself as well. Guide me to a quiet place and speak loudly to me.

Amen

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