Monthly Archives: September 2013

Passions, What Do We Do with Them?

Just recently I was introduced to Dorotheos of Gaza by Professor Emeritus Roberta Bondi  from Chandler School of Theology. I find his words an additional treasure trove of desert wisdom that I will be blogging on from time to time. Irvin

In His loving-kindness God has given us purifying commandments so that, if we wish, we can by their observance be cleansed not only of sins but also of passions themselves. For passions are one thing and sins another. Passions are: anger, vanity, love of pleasures, hatred, evil lust and the like. Sins are the actual operations of passions, when a man puts them into practice, that is, performs with the body the actions to which his passions urge him. For it is possible to have passions and yet not to act from them.

Doretheos of Gaza

Doretheos of Gaza

——-Dorotheos of Gaza

At first glance Dorotheos seems to be implying that we can approach God with behavior modification. That is not the base point of the teaching. We can dig far deeper by gaining the insight of the undeniable relationship between passion and sin. If we can come to understand that God is seeking to guide us to recognize our passions without allowing them to control us like puppets on a string, we can arrive at a peace that is currently beyond our grasp. Passions and sins are not one in the same. Passions are the root of sin, but passions are not an excuse for sin. The father clearly points out that we can have passions without sin. There are two keys:  to observe the commands of God and avoid sin, and to understand that our passions drive us in the direction of sin. With that knowledge, it will be possible to have passions and not sin.

 Additionally, I believe that passions allow us to live our lives to the fullest. Our deepest passions are one way we were created in the “image and likeness” of God. We are to go to God and ask Him to gift us with deep passion to live, to love, and to serve. With these passions, we become great servants and productive people. The acknowledgement of evil passions as the root of sin is the beginning of the road to glorification.

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Filed under Desert Fathers, Dorotheos of Gaza, Missional Living, Monasticism, Passions, Sin

The Peace About Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

 

—–Wendell Berry

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Love and Vulnerability

Jesus is So Cool

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

——C. S. Lewis

No matter how much we try, it is impossible to love without vulnerability. Lewis points this out with his usual bold clarity. The reality is that all love relationships involve some hurt and pain. The high divorce rate and the overall lack of commitment that plagues our society are outward signs of our inward fear of the hurt that comes with love. We have tried very hard to establish a society that loves without vulnerability, and we have failed.

The ultimate example of love with vulnerability is Jesus. Over and over again He tried to tell His disciples of the cross He must bear. More than once He hesitated at His own mission, but in the end He submitted to the Father. How many times must it have occurred to Him how much easier it would be to just forget the cross and move on? Just let man get what he deserves. In the same way, it is easy for us not to love. Why should we?  It just hurts! Like Jesus, we are compelled to love and with that love to give ourselves to others. That is our Christian service.

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The Deadly Poison of Anger

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What We Need Is Here

Wendell Berry speaking in Frankfort, Indiana

Wendell Berry 

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

——-Wendell Berry

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Where is God?

Chris Martin Writes

My wife and I watched an incredible film last night entitled, Father of Lights. (Website HERE) We had an awesome discussion afterwards, and even though it was almost 12:30, I had a hard time falling asleep. A couple weeks ago, I started reading back through the book of Acts, and what we watched last night completely goes along with what I’ve been reading. 

All of this has forced one, burning question to the forefront of my mind: Where is God?

I almost surrendered to the desire to write this post in the throes of insomnia, but I decided against it. My initial thoughts about American Christianity, in reaction to the film, would have spilled onto the pages of this blog as judgmental and quite the opposite of Christ’s love. I hope and pray that after waiting until the early morning hours to gather my thoughts, it won’t come across…

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Forgiveness, Revenge and Prayer

English: Jesus Christ. A page from the "P...

Abba Nilus said, ‘ Everything you do in revenge against a brother that has harmed you will come back to your mind at the time of prayer.’

  

—-Abba Nilus of the Desert

The Christian act of forgiveness is the most difficult of all Christian charisms. Repeatedly Jesus calls for us to turn the other cheek, go the second mile, and forgive seven times seventy, and yet this is not our created nature. We are created as “get even” people. As we follow Christ we are to become a new creation and to put the old behind us. After all, that is why God send the spirit to “dwell among us.” Forgiveness is sometimes elusive, but revenge is deadly. If we exercise revenge it will block our prayers. The Abba points out the importance of refraining from revenge, even when it may be justified. We are to strive to let nothing interfere with our prayers.

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Atheism, Skepticism and the Church

A few days ago I posted a CS Lewis quote that I titled,” C. S. Lewis on Atheism.” For me it simply seemed to be a typical wordsmith type quote-clever language and deadly logic. Something quite surprising happened. That quote had more reads than anything else I had ever blogged, overcoming my previous highest day, ” When God Dies.” Was there a connection? I believe so. Many internet viewers are very interested in atheism and skepticism. That would indicate a pattern in our culture.

We live in a time of skeptics and doubters. The popularity of doubting God is at all-time high. From 2007 -2012 the number of non-religious Americans grew from 15% to 20%. This increase is by far the largest increase in any five year period. That, as well as the rise of people that called themselves agnostics and doubters, causes these types of blog entries to have many readers. Why are we headed in this direction?

America is becoming highly secularized – There is not one easy answer to our rapidly increasing secularism. We are far more diverse than ever before.  In any given community there are people from various parts of the world, and they practice many faith traditions. Our diversity, instead of allowing us to celebrate our identity, has caused us to lose our identity in the name of being fair and accepting. The easy answer is for all to be “secular” and non-offensive.

People are just busy – The demand of success and productivity seems to leave little room for God or religion. Society demands that we be productive, do our best, and produce and spend at ever increasing rates. That means success is king, and it is measured with the bottom line. Workers are expected to put in long hours and give all to the job.  That leaves very little for God or religious practice.

Churches have hardened attitudes – Our world is crying for mercy and grace and the church just seems to demand more. With all the other pressures people have in our culture, it would be nice if churches offered a place of refuge and comfort. On the contrary, the church has become as success oriented and demanding as the workplace. The church needs to offer help and understanding instead of rules and judgment.

Perhaps if you find yourself reading this because you are interested in atheism or skepticism, you might consider that God meant for His church to be a place of peace. Let us all take the advice of Mahatma Gandhi who said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” As a believer or a skeptic, just give such an idea a chance. Become that change you want to see in the church

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I’m starting to wonder about this whole Urban Christianity thing…

the long way home

rooftop-philly-2

Let’s file this one under: Things I Never Thought I’d Say.

First, some realities.

America, almost since its founding, has had an Agrarian ideal spliced into its DNA that has thought more highly of the vision of the independent rural farmer–building himself up from nothing and sustaining his family by the work of his brow–over and above the idea of the dirty urban manufacturer, competing with others for the few jobs that are there.

Further, it’s pretty clear that during White Flight in the mid-1900s, whites took the association of “good, religious folk” with them to the suburbs (along with the support and attention of governments), leaving the cities to be seen as the cesspools of sin that deserved to rot away.

Along with this, the American Church (especially so, but this is definitely global) has tended to neglect cities, enjoying the safe numbers and comfort of the suburbs. In…

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A Monk’s Story 6

 

I had the pleasure of meeting Becket while I was doing some personal soul-searching at St. Joseph Abbey. At the time he was a professing monk who had not taken his final vows. He has since left the monastery to become the personal assistant of the writer Anne Rice. In a recent conversation   has given me permission to reprint his story as he is posting it on Facebook. I hope you find these installments as fascinating as I do. I will be posting these installments on Monday.       Irvin

MIDWINTER MONKS

By Becket

Monk in prayerChristmas was a beautiful time in the monastery. But it took some getting used to.

In my youth, my family enjoyed the religious aspect of Christmas, but we never celebrated the holiday with the devotion of people in a religious order.

In the monastery, the lives of monks revolved around prayer and work. Both prayer and work were profoundly shaped by the passing seasons. So we monks shaped our lives around the phases of the moon and the falling of the leaves.

In the late fall, the season of Advent began four weeks before Christmas. The word Advent comes from a Latin word, which means “Coming…” The season of advent was a time to prepare for the Son of God “coming” into the world as a baby in Bethlehem.

We monks prepared for the “coming” of Christ in different ways.

Brother Martin spent time preparing a special meal that the monks would enjoy together on Christmas night. Father Peter spent time preparing Brandy Alexanders that we would serve to friends and benefactors who’d come for special visits. Father Matthew and Father Sean would spent time practicing the pipe organ for the new Advent and Christmas music liturgy.

Junior monks like me spent the Advent Season preparing for Christmas by spending each day decorating the abbey.

It began with finding the Christmas tree. The monastery was situated on 1,200 acres of woodland. The junior monks would go out into the woods to hunt for the abbey Christmas tree. There were countless to choose from. The Novice Master would accompany us. We would pack a basket of wine, cheese, and crackers. The wine would keep us warm and the cheese would keep us sober. We would find a tree that would fit perfectly in the abbey common room, where the monks congregated after dinner to talk about the routine of our lives in the silence of God.

The tree always had a wide skirt. The branches were good and strong. The roots were deep. We were thankful to God for the gift of the tree – because the tree had a deeper meaning for us, than just merely seasonal decoration in our monastic home.

We junior monks would share the work of cutting down the good tree. If the vocations had been abundant that year, there could be five of us wielding the ax in turns. If vocations had been slow, I would fell the tree with one other brother.

We would work together to carry the tree back to the abbey.

We’d set it up in the abbey common room, in the corner, where many of us used to sit. We’d have to sacrifice our favorite seats for a month. But the effect was worth the sacrifice.

The good smell of fresh pine suffused the common room by the first day. The scent would stay in the room long after the Christmas season passed.

The older monks would then take out our collection of Christmas ornaments. Some ornaments would be decades old. Other ornaments were as old as the turn of the century. Some belonged to a few brothers. Others had been donated. Some of us junior monks would make our own ornaments, leaving our mark on forthcoming Christmas seasons.

We would wrap the tree in multicolored lights and then hang the hodgepodge of ornaments. We would listen to carols, and sometimes those of us who sang in the schola cantorum would sing along. We could sing motets. We could chant. Christmas chants were beautiful in Latin.

We’d either top the tree with a star or with an antique angel ornament.

Once the Christmas tree was finished, the junior monks would decorate the trees lining the front walkway, leading from the cloister to the church.

At the base of each tree was an electrical outlet. We’d wrap up the trunk with a string of white lights. Then we’d wrap each branch in many strings of white lights. The abbot wanted us to make the lights look like “luminous berries” on the bough.

We would wrap the trees in such a way so that the white lights look like bright white berries.

The church bell would chime and draw us to our monastic prayer services.

The sun would have already set by the beginning of Vespers.

Our abbot would lead the whole community of brothers down the walkway, from the cloister to the church. We’d walk in silence, hearing only the shuffling of our feet in formation.

We’d pass between the “luminous berries.” The twelve trees were beautiful in the nighttime. We’d be surrounded in their gentle light. It could feel like an enchanted grove.

Our evening prayer service would be a period of praying and watching the waning daylight in the windows dim to darkness. Yet the light of the trees still shone.

During Advent, in our liturgy of hours, we would chant about biblical heroes like John the Baptist and the Angel Gabriel.

But once we were three weeks into the Advent Season, on December 17th, we would begin chanting what we called the “O Antiphons.”

These antiphons always began with an “O”: “O Tree of Jesse”, we’d chant. “O Star of David,” we’d chant. “O Israel,” we’d chant, and so on.

We chanted the O Antiphons until December 24th, when it became proper to change our prayer, from coming, to receiving.

The O Antiphons were a summons: We monks were summoning the higher power we believed in. We were begging God to come again and bring with Him a Kingdom of peace and justice and goodness and love.

By December 24th, we stopped summoning. We began full on worshiping the King we believed came to us in complete poverty, and spent his first night on earth, lying in a box where sheep and cows ate their supper.

As monks, we could relate to that poor child. We had no possession. We had no money. We didn’t even have heating in the abbey church.

We had only our work and our prayer. Our work was our prayer while our prayer was our work. And our working prayer / praying work sincerely sought to be like the baby who grew into the carpenter who’d died on a tree.

You see: The lights we wrapped during Advent were for Christmas. It wasn’t right to view them merely as electric lights wrapped around branches, simulating luminous berries. It wasn’t right to simply view the tree in the common room as a merely commonplace Christmas tree.

The Christmas tree lights, the lights around the walkway trees, they were spiritual lights guiding us toward our true goal, which wasn’t wine and cheese and Christmas trees, or luminous berries and O Antiphons.

Rather, the lights of the trees were like the nail marks on the Cross: The lights were reminders of the good things to come.

In the end, the Advent Season was not only about our belief that God was “coming” closer to us. We believed that we were coming closer to Christmas, we were coming closer to a higher power who loved us very much, for we believed that the true meaning of Christmas was the Divine Face becoming human while our human faces became divine.

We saw the divine image in Brother Gabriel who loved looking at the Christmas lights, and in the smile of Brother Martin when his Christmas turkey came out right. We saw the divine image in Brother Simon when he wrapped a tree particularly well, and in Father Sean as he sublimely played Bach’s Wachet Auf on the pipe organ.

Yes: Our work was our prayer while our prayer was our work.

And through both we could glimpse the divine image in one another during Christmas time, not because we did anything important in the history of the world, but because we did the small things that helped one another feel appreciated, needed, and loved.

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