Monthly Archives: October 2013

Perspective

“Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure.”

― Henri J.M. Nouwen 

Openings

A most important lesson of life is the lesson of balance. Without balance our lives are in a constant spin always reeling out of control. Words lose their meaning, thoughts are worthless and life is a day to day circus of confusion. Nouwen’s thought should give us pause for this day. The type of pause that causes us to look at our inner souls and question if we really know ourselves and truly love those around us. Perhaps the wisdom of Solomon can give us some light on this struggle.

1For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 2a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 3a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 7a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

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Venerable Bede and Salvation

His name was Bede, also known as Venerable Bede, and he was the father of English history. Bede was truly a master of multiple disciplines, but he is most remembered as the man whose lifelong mission was to bring people closer to God. Bede never traveled more than 30 miles from his Northumbrian Monastery, and from that community he wrote more than forty books covering a wide range of subjects. For all of his 62 years he valued nothing more than his mission.

:"The Venerable Bede Translates John"...

“The Venerable Bede Translates John” by James Doyle Penrose 

Bede said, “He who will not willingly and humbly enter the gate of the Church will certainly be damned and enter the gate of Hell whether he wants to or not!” These strong words establish his doctrine of salvation. The key words to anyone’s faith walk are willingly and humbly. Without this conviction we fail to enter the gates of heaven and live a miserable earthly existence as well.

Scripture proclaims, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” (Revelation 3:20) God’s word is crying out for us to willingly let Him into our lives. He has prepared such a good life for us, and yet it is our choice to neglect or accept His invitation. Salvation, the Christian way, is never forced upon any soul, but it must be received and received willingly.

The second word that Venerable Bede uses is humbly. Jesus said in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, “for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” Clearly, our Lord articulates to us that acting in humble submission is the key to eternal justification and a peaceful life all the days of our lives. A person who lives humbly not only receives riches in the hereafter but lives without the earthly scourge of excessive pride. This type of pride leads to untold sin and grief.

The word of the Church Father is that the neglect of this simple formula leads to eternal condemnation and a miserable earthly existence. We would do well to give heed to the words of Jesus, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Our world cries for rest, and peaceful rest at that. Jesus offers this life to all who come to Him.

A man who was born of questionable parentage, and died a criminal’s death offers us this gift of peace by the power of His resurrection. Some 700 years later a humble Monk who never traveled more than 30 miles from the place of his birth repeats this invitation in very simple words. Let us not complicate the salvation of the Christ, but merely accept willingly and humbly.

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THE LOVE OF BROTHERS

by Becket

In previous posts, I wrote about monastic chant, how it’s different from traditional music in both rhythm and melody. It’s almost mystical in modality and polyrhythm – yet also in its simplicity. In chant there is no point and counterpoint; there are no harmonies. There is one melody and all the monastic brothers must chant it in unison.

Chant could be a powerful uniting factor within the brotherhood – if the brothers allowed it to be so.

English: Choir stalls in the church Nice to se...

Choir Stalls

I remember, once, I got into a terrible argument with Brother Simon. We were in the bell tower right before prayer. We had been ringing the bells, summoning our other brother monks to come to the church to pray. It was our evening prayer service then, Vespers, at 5:30pm. I had said something terrible to him and he yelled back at me. I deserved it, and worse, although I didn’t think so at the time. Yet the bells kept on ringing.

As their clangor resounded across the acres of forest and solitude and silence that encompassed the monastery, my brother monks were lining up in the cloister. They were standing in two rows. Then they walked from the abbey to the church along the sidewalk. Together they entered through a side door, together they walked along the side of the church, together they came around to the back and dipped their fingers in the baptismal font, and together they blessed themselves. The only sound was the shuffling of their shoes that echoed as though in a cave. And all the while, Brother Simon and I were stewing in the bell tower because of our argument. But when it was time, we silenced the bells and we joined our brothers. Together we entered the monastic choir stalls, together we opened our books, and together we chanted our invocation to prayer.

Yes we stood side by side. I was angry then that Brother Simon was beside me. Perhaps he felt the same. Our place in choir was out of our hands. Brother Simon had entered the monastery a few weeks ahead of me, so he was technically my elder brother. By monastic rules, I had no other choice: I had to stand beside him in choir. “Why must I stand beside someone I loathe instead of love?” I asked myself. “Why couldn’t I be placed beside Brother Cyril?” Brother Cyril was also Brother Simon’s junior by a two weeks but he was my elder by a week, right in between Brother Simon and me. But that would not happen because the monastic choir director, Father Adam, set Brother Cyril on the other side of the church, in Choir One, while setting Brother Simon and me in Choir Two. I thought that being beside Brother Cyril would have been better. I didn’t realize that that would have been an easy solution to a hard problem.

And the problem wasn’t my argument with my brother. Rather it was the mountain of my pride – my need to be right.

So Brother Simon and I were stuck together, even though we had gotten into a terrible fight and did not like one another right then. Even our presence seemed to irritate one another. I remember I used to feel that way when I was nine years old, about one of my siblings, my brother or one of my sisters. And here I was again, now in my mid-20s feeling as helplessly angry as I had in my childhood.

But the purpose of monastic chant only works if the monks know how to sing together. As I wrote earlier, monastic chant is meant to be sung in unison. All the brothers must sing together, on the same note, in the same rhythm. Without unison, there is only disunity and discord.

So my brother monks and I started to chant the first psalm. “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice.” Boy, was I in the depths of my own solipsistic whimsy at that moment – which wasn’t deep at all but incredibly shallow. My problem wasn’t that Brother Simon had bothered me, or that I had bothered him. Rather, I needed to be taken out of my own depths, which wasn’t all that deep – I needed to be yanked from the war raging in the shallow end of my ego. And our chant – the prayer of our brotherhood – had begun to do that.

You see: to remain chanting in unison, I had to listen to the brother beside me – I had to hear his note, I had to hear his rhythm, and I had to match both and remain with his chanting.

So in doing that, I also heard Brother Simon chanting: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice.” Hearing this gave the words of the psalm an entirely new meaning. Now it wasn’t merely me calling out to God from the depths of a difficult place; but my brother was doing the same.

Nevertheless, the interior war of my ego – my desire to be right – would try to dismiss the fact that my brother was feeling exactly the way I felt.

The monks finished chanting the psalm and we moved on to the next. With my brother monks I chanted, “God listens to the prayers of the humble of heart.” Yes, I chanted this but so did Brother Simon. He and I were chanting in unison, yet I did not feel united with him: I felt better than him while I was working out in my mind how I could win our argument. I wasn’t being humble, even though I was chanting to God about true humility in prayer.

It was right then that I began to change. And I don’t believe that I was changing myself, but that I was being changed from the inside out.

As Brother Simon and I chanted in unison, I began to see that the humility of our brotherhood was in the harmony of our togetherness. The profundity of monastic chant is that its unison is absolutely nothing without harmony – the harmony of friendship, the harmony of brotherliness, the harmony of children of God struggling to be better men.

We chanted psalm after psalm, and canticle after canticle. We stood beside one another, we sat beside one another, we listened together to the Scriptures being read, and we prayed together to God – which is the principle purpose of being in a religion. It’s not about being right in an argument. It’s about trusting together that no human eye can see, no human ear can hear, and no human heart can know what God has ready for those who love in sincerity of heart – love God and love one another.

After prayer, later that night, I had no choice: Despite how I felt, despite some silly fear of being wrong or changing or seeming weak, I had to go to Brother Simon, and I had to say simply, “I’m really sorry for hurting you.”

For me, the monastic choir stalls were a glimpse of what heaven might be like: It might not simply be eternal mercy and justice and peace: It might also be me standing beside a brother I’ve so often failed to love.

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 he 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

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Church after Constantine, 2a: The Late Antique Targets

Next installment

the pocket scroll

I realised that even a brief mention of all the different persons/groups targeted by the Church (whether imperial or mediaeval) from the late fourth century to the end of the Middle Ages would be too large a task, and even truncated, too long for a single post. So here I give you the groups targeted by the official Church hierarchies of Late Antiquity.

Hopefully I will show that, while the use of force in any of these cases is not to be approved, these groups are not the True Church gone Underground after Constantine. Indeed, many of these groups sought the approval of the Late Antique Church structures.

  • Priscillianists. Priscillian of Avila has the dubious distinction of being the first person executed on grounds of heresy in 385 under the usurper Magnus Maximus in Gaul. As with many ‘heretics’, the theory currently making its rounds is that Priscillian wasn’t…

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The messy reality of Post-Constantinian church history, part one

This is a great article on the evolution of the church after Constantine.

the pocket scroll

Church history after Constantine is a messier affair than many would like to believe. On the one hand, there is something of a triumphalist reading that makes Constantine a saint and the triumph of the Church a Good Thing that brought great benefit to Christ’s people. This view is pretty quickly weakened by discovering the activity of the emperors who supported theology and legislation contrary to the Triumphant Church’s interests.

The other view, one raised by Jnana in the comments on my last post, is the idea that the True Believers went underground after Constantine, and (at least in the version I’ve heard) all we need to do to find them is follow the trail of blood left by the activities of the Catholic/Orthodox Church up to the Reformation. The best discussion of this view that I’ve read is by Baptist scholar D H Williams in Evangelicals and Tradition

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Be a Friend to Someone

It may not seem like it’s very monastic or missional to be a friend to someone, but the whole world is crying out for friends. Becoming a friend to someone is really a commitment. A friend is someone that we take time to be with, to help and to encourage. It’s really a discipline to be a friend. That may seem like a strange way of looking at friendship. Statistics tell us that the United States is one of the loneliest nations in the world. As we go about our daily walk being a friend is by necessity a part of being a person who is doing the mission of God here on earth. We as contemplative people have a desire to reach out with love to people who need the loving touch that only a person who knows and feels the love of Jesus Christ can give.

A Few Suggestions

  • Write an unsolicited note to someone.
  • Take someone to coffee or lunch.
  • Make a phone call to someone who doesn’t receive many.
  • Intentionally develop a new friend.
  • Give your time someone.

All of these small things can make a tremendous difference to someone who’s lonely. For in helping relieve loneliness in our world we are truly people who are spreading the grace and love of Jesus Christ who are world. How many times in life have we failed to do what we could do if we just tried? I urge all of you just try. For in trying we can find the glorious blessings that God just has stored up for us.

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Hypocrites in The Church

Hypocrites in The Church

By Rev. Weldon Bares

( Weldon is Senior Pastor of First Unite Methodist Church of Lake Charles, and  a good friend.)

Over the years I have heard many reasons why people don’t go to church.

In my opinion, one of the weakest reasons is when someone claims, “There are so many hypocrites in church, so I am not going to sit among them.”

I cannot argue the fact, hypocrites are in the church. In fact, hypocrites are found everywhere. But I don’t say, “I will no longer go to football games because some people in the stands are not real football fans. Some of those people aren’t really sincere about football, so I will not attend.”

I don’t say, “I am no longer going to concerts because some people in the audience don’t really love music.”  I don’t say, “I am no longer going to the movies because some people in the audience at the movie theater are not really sincere about liking movies and are not there for the right reason. Their heart is not in it.”

Certainly, every church has hypocrites. There is no escaping that fact. May God forgive us and help us to do better. But I thank God that there is room for everyone in God’s house: saints, sinners and yes, even hypocrites. There is room for all of us!

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A Whole Philosophy of Life

Contemplating Wadi Musa

Abba Isidore of Pelusia said, ‘To live without speaking is better than to speak without living. For the former who lives rightly does good even by his silence but the latter does no good even when he speaks. When words and life correspond to one another they are together the whole philosophy of life.’

—–Abba Isidore of the Desert

The age old saying of our actions speaking louder than our words is seen here in the words of the Abba. . We hear it in the words of Jesus, Buddha and all s world religions. Yet it is still the most difficult task that is faced by anyone desiring to follow the path of Jesus.

Words are easy, cheap, and abundant; actions are difficult, for they require discipline, time, and selflessness. Those virtues are ones that we develop over a lifetime of prayer and study. We are geared toward having answers and not actions. There are few among us who lack the cognitive knowledge of our obligation to our fellow man, but many who just give lip service only to giving and sacrificing for the sake of others.

Christians are called to know and do. We know the commands of God and we have hidden them in our hearts, but that is not the end of the story. Perhaps we even testify to the importance of refraining from gossip and slander, visiting the prisoner, clothing the naked, and feeding the stranger, but we utterly fail at putting action to our words. This dilemma existed in the church of 1600 years ago and it exists today. Perhaps, as the advice of the Abba tells us, we can learn from silence and be jolted into action-action that will become a whole philosophy of life.

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A Word from Mr. Wesley #2

“Thanksgiving is inseparable from true prayer; it is almost essentially connected with it. One who always prays is ever giving praise, whether in ease or pain, both for prosperity and for the greatest adversity. He blesses God for all things, looks on them as coming from Him, and receives them for His sake- not choosing nor refusing, liking or disliking, anything, but only as it is agreeable or disagreeable to His perfect will.”

 

English: Signature of John Wesley, founder of ...

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If I Bend That Far, I’ll Break

Fiddler on the Roof (film)

Tevye, the Jewish dairy farmer in the musical Fiddler on the Roof, lives with his wife and five daughters in czarist Russia. Change is taking place all around him, and the new patterns are nowhere more obvious to Tevye than in the relationship between the sexes. First, one of his daughters announces that she and a young tailor have pledged themselves to each other, even though Tevye had already promised her to the village butcher, a widower. Initially, Tevye will not hear of his daughter’s plans, but he finally has an argument with himself and decides to give in to the young lovers’ wishes. A second daughter also chooses the man she wants to marry. He is a revolutionary. Tevye is rather fond of him, and after another argument with himself he again concedes to the changing times.

Some time later Tevye’s third daughter wants to marry. She has fallen in love with a young Gentile. This violates Tevye’s deepest religious convictions, and it is unthinkable that one of his daughters would marry outside the faith. Once again, he has an argument with himself. He knows that his daughter is deeply in love, and he does not want her to be unhappy. Still, he cannot deny his convictions. “How can I turn my back on my faith, my people? If I try and bend that far, I’ll break!” Tevye pauses and says,”On the other hand…” He pauses again, and then he shouts very loudly. “No! There is no other hand!”

We all face times that if we bend anymore we will break. Breaking times need to be times of prayer and introspection. Answers to difficult questions should be considered and reconsidered many times before we decide there is no “other hand.” Far too many decisions are taken too lightly in this post-modern society. The monastics teach us to go into our “cells” and seek God with all our hearts.” When I have a truly difficult decision to make (or a problem), I often fast for a day, and occasionally even a few days.”(Thomas Merton) Remember, we must bend but God never asks us to break, only the world makes that demand.

 

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