Monthly Archives: January 2018

Virtue

Many desire virtue, but fear to go forward in the way that leads to it, while others consider that virtue does not even exist. So it is necessary to persuade the former to give up their laziness and to teach the others what virtue really is.

—-Abba Isadore of the Desert

Virtue-Ghandi

Virtue is behavior, particularly moral, that conforms to a very high standard. Today’s Christian, just like the desert monastics of the past, seek to live a life of high standards. Today’s world gives mixed signals about what this world should look like. On the one hand, we preach freedom of expression without any limits. Others would tell us that we must exercise restraint in all our relationships and dealings with others. I believe that in order to reach the highest standards that are possible for a man who lives on this earth, we must believe that God’s grace guides us every day.

The wise Monk advises us that there are many around us that do not believe that there is any such thing as exemplary Virtue-1behavior. With that negative approach, we are destined for failure. We must take the high ground, so to speak, and allow ourselves to be open to the wonderful reality that God can and does make virtue possible for each of us. Let us not live in the state of discouragement, defeat, and despair. The Apostle Paul in his writings tells us to “press on to the mark.” Abba Isadore gives us some sound advice and a mission.

The Abba tells us that our role is to persuade others that marching on to a life of higher standards is not only possible but doable. Let me tell you a story about virtue. There was once a man who felt very defeated. He felt that God had abandoned him and indeed the entire world seem to be against him. That is really a bad place to be, so he prayed and prayed but seemed to get no results. Through fate, he found himself in the presence of a young boy possessing the virtue that only a child can have. He was encouraged by the young boy who told him that life was good and there was hope and this changed his life. That boy, without knowing it, modeled virtue to this man who was discouraged and defeated. The man began to think, if he could do it, we can all do it. We can achieve through God virtue and excellence and move on with our lives.

Our calling is not only to live with high standards and virtue but to persuade others that God wants them to live in the same way. I am not talking about being self-righteous but just being a person who expresses the love of God and the purity of God in every way possible. That’s our challenge and mission to show God to other people and to do so absent of self-righteousness. If we can achieve that, then others will see the virtue of God in us and strive to make it so for themselves.


Prayer

Oh Lord, give me the determination to muster up all the strength in my being and discover that virtue does exist. I cannot, on my own, live life up to such a standard but with you, I can reach that high goal. Help me not only to reach it but to have the courage and determination to share that discovery with others.

Amen

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Taking Action

The prophet tells us: “And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply, he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none, and whoever has food must do likewise.” (Luke 3:10-11) The crowd was speaking to John the Baptist about how they would live the Missional life. They were confused and waiting for the Rabbis to tell them what to do. Perhaps the people-helping-people1Synagogue’s Missions Committee would set up a program so that they could “Plug-In”. Instead, John said: JUST DO IT!

What should we do? Do as the prophet said two thousand years ago. Share as you go, give your personal property away to those who are in need, live a life of simply caring about others. Caring becomes a way of life and the first thing you know it will be better to give than to receive.

OK, some action suggestions:

  • Give something of your own to a person in need.
  • Give food or help to a homeless person (it doesn’t matter WHY they are homeless).
  • Give a smile or a kind word to a stranger.
  • Pick up some trash in your neighborhood–just because.
  • Volunteer at a park, zoo or hospital.
  • Become a mentor for a child.

These are just a few ways that you can just do something Missional this week. The message -DON’T WAIT- just do it !


Prayer

Lord, compel me to take action where it is needed and give me the ability to show your grace to the people I encounter.

Amen

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Finding Jesus

There is a story about a Russian Monastery that was dying and declining. The brothers were growing old, many had died. The villagers had stopped coming to visit the monastery. Young men were no longer interested in dedicating themselves to the Monastic order. This decline led to worry and the loss of hope led to bitterness. In desperation, the abbot went to visit an old hermit we had heard about. He hoped that the old man might have some wisdom. The abbot arrived after a long journey and explained their problem to the hermit.Finding-Jesus The hermit prayed for the abbot but said nothing more. The two men sat in silence for a very long time and the abbot patiently waited to hear some word of hope – a blessing, a prophecy, just something simple to try. Finally, the abbot could abide the silence no longer and he begged the hermit for an answer. The hermit replied, “I’m sorry, but there really isn’t anything I have to tell you. I don’t know what the future holds for the monastery. I am sorry – oh, but there is this – I believe that the Messiah is in your midst.” The Messiah?, thought the abbot. Among us at the monastery. He rushed back and reported the unexpected news and the brothers began to question, “Who is it?” “Who among us is the Messiah?” Surely not Bro. Nicolaus, he gripes too much. Surely not Bro. Stavros, he is so whiney. But what if …? And on it went.

And in time as the brothers began to suppose that any one of them could be the Messiah, they began to treat each other with respect and kindness and love. That spirit extended into the village and rumors of the Messiah’s presence continued so that everyone began to wonder if their neighbor might be the Messiah. And though no one was ever identified as the Messiah, the monastery was thriving and the village was blessed and young men devoted themselves to the faith.

Since Jesus is with us always, then discipleship is on-going and it is every day. It is not something for a special day or a special evening or a special program. It is the pulse of every moment lived in the kingdom of God.


Prayer

Lord help me to see you in everyone I encounter. Give me the grace and patience to see the good that you have instilled in all. Make my life one that is filled with awe and expectation at all time. Let me live a life that sees Jesus every day.

Amen

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The Contemplative Harvest

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For over a decade I have sought to establish a life as a contemplative in a very busy world. The first inclination for anyone who strives to live a contemplative life is to withdraw. My study of the desert mothers and fathers reveals that the overwhelming majority of them were hermits. Does that mean that we have to become hermits to be contemplatives? Is it possible for us to become hermits? Is it really necessary to become hermits? Most importantly, is it right to become a hermit? How then can we become contemplatives in the world in which we live? Let unpack those ideas.

Do we have to become hermits to be contemplatives? The initial evidence would certainly point us in that direction. Not only the desert monastics, but Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, John of the Cross and many other well-known contemplatives were hermits. Many of the modern contemplatives we study like Richard Rhorr, Thomas Merton and others have spent extended periods of time each year living as hermits. Almost to a person, these contemplatives would say that being a hermit is not a prerequisite for being a contemplative. Being a contemplative involves developing a lifestyle that allows us to be quiet and alone wherever we may find ourselves. The outer noise does not negate the inner silence. We can develop a contemplative state of mind regardless of our circumstances.

I would also venture to say that it is impossible for the overwhelming majority of people who read these words to even consider being a hermit. For most of us, it is impossible to spend 40 days living in the solitude of a hermitage. We have responsibilities and obligations that are very important that we must keep. God would not want us to abandon our families, jobs, and churches to live an isolated lifestyle. For many of us that would consider life as a hermit, it would not be a calling but an escape or maybe even an abandonment of our responsibilities. I cannot see any real evidence that God says that the only truly set apart contemplatives are living in a hermitage somewhere at the edge of the world. As a matter of fact, such a life would be the wrong thing for most of us to pursue.

I like the concept presented by Eckhart that contemplation is that soil that brings forth the harvest. As Christians, we are told by Jesus that we are the light of the world and we know that without light there is no life. Our Lord further tells us we are the salt of the earth and our presence both preserves and flavors the world. The harvest of the contemplative is to make a difference.

Let me make a few suggestions that might allow us to be contemplatives and people of action.

My contemplation journey has been greatly influenced by some key elements. They are:

  • Reading

My slow, attentive, mindful reading helped me make a profound connection with the words of the Desert Monks, Merton, Julian of Norwich and others. This mindful reading allows me to hear and cherish each word.

  • Writing

Several years ago I began to write my thoughts on this blog and other places. Since then, writing has become a practice that relaxes me and enables me to express those feeling that God has presented to me.

  • Solitude

I found solitude to be an essential prerequisite to any contemplative period. Time alone in silence, even in a not so quiet place, became a respite for me away from the busy life I am leading. Solitude for me is being able to shut out the noise that surrounds me and be at one with myself. I found it relaxing, calming, and most of all, healing.

  • Detoxing from the media

One thing I find necessary is that I must take some time each week when I don’t keep up with the 24/7 news. It may be a morning or evening when I read or write with no interference. These media fasts allow me to be more positive and responsive to the needs around me.

  • Retreats

To deepen the contemplative process I make it a practice to go on retreat at least once a year. This is a good opportunity to get away from everything and spend some time in surroundings that are more conducive to opening up richer thought processes. Even when it is just a long walk in the park, I have managed to mentally reach a better place.

  • Meditation practice

A time of pure silent meditation is a very important practice for the contemplative. The practice of Contemplative Prayer is a deep well of spiritual refreshment.

  • Work

The monks of the desert advocated the concept of work and prayer. I have found that physical labor and practicing creative arts are avenues to the contemplative life. Whether I am working on a woodcraft project or restoring a rusted old tool, I am in communication with God. My work practices are some of my richest times of contemplation.

Contemplation can reap a rich harvest that creeps up slowly, unannounced and unexpected and brings such blessed peace.

Solitude


PRAYER

Lord help me to plant the seeds of contemplation that will bring the abundant spiritual harvest.

Amen

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