Tag Archives: Acts of the Apostles

The Divine Window of Escape

Abba Poemen said of Abba John the Dwarf that he had prayed God to take his passions away from him so that he might become free from care. He went and told an old man this; ‘I find myself in peace, without an enemy,’ he said. The old man said to him, ‘Go beseech God to stir up warfare so that you may regain the affliction and humility that you used to have, for it is by warfare that the soul makes progress.’ So he besought God and when warfare came, he no longer prayed that it might be taken away, but said, ‘Lord, give me strength for the fight.’

–Sayings of the desert

There is not one among us who does not long for the day when all of our trials and tribulations will be behind us. We spend great amounts of time and effort to build for ourselves perfect utopian lives and somehow we always fall short. The monk thought that if he could just overcome his passions, then life would be grand. Much to his, surprise his elder monk told him that his quest was not the ultimate goal of the Christian journey. Without temptation the soul makes no progress. Temptations are the building blocks of spiritual fortitude. They are the spiritual formation tools of God.

Paul tells us in his Corinthian letter: There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” The assertion is that in the midst of our greatest trials we can rely upon God to strengthen us. If we take on this way of thinking, we need not fear being left to our own devices or becoming overconfident in our own victories. Our strength, our power, come from God who is always with us no matter what we face. The divine escape window is our greatest hope.

When the monk said that he was at peace without an enemy, he faced the danger of being presumptive upon God. With such a presumption we could perhaps begin to think that we have arrived. People who have arrived no longer need help on the journey. The Christian journey is one of learning, endurance, and always striving for new and better ways to follow God. Our passions, our trials, our setbacks, are all part of the glorification process. Learn to pray the prayer of escape rather than the prayer of perfection and you will draw closer to perfection each day.


Lord it is very tempting to ask you to remove all obstacles from our lives and then fool ourselves to think that we are doing much for you. Remind us that in our endurance we learn who you are and what you do for us. Teach us today that trials are a normal part of the journey. They are special points that bring us closer to you. In our trails we learn what Jesus endured for us. Protect us this day and give us the window of escape.


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Healthy religion, as the very word re-ligio (“rebinding”) indicates, is the task of putting our divided realities back together again: human and divine, male and female, heaven and earth, sin and salvation, mistake and glory. The mystics–such as John of the Cross, Teresa of Ávila, and the author of The Song of Songs in the Bible–are those who put it together very well.

Our task as the body of Christ -the church- is to make things right in the world. Our world is fragmented and divided. In so many ways we are coming undone at the seams. Confusion, violence and evil are our calling cards. Religion no longer speaks to us and we don’t speak to it. The mystics suggest ways that we can rebind our lives to our God. John of the Cross said: “Reveal Thy presence, and let the vision and let Thy beauty kill me.” We are rebound when we invite His presence into our beings and permit that presence to be the primary force of our lives.

People scramble aimlessly to find peace in their lives and never look in the right Cros w sayingplace. Jesus said: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Isn’t that we what we all need, rested souls.   I like to call this “soulrest”. “Soulrest” only come when we develop a supernatural relationship with God through Jesus.

Try to develop way to seek “soulrest”

  • Observe a daily practice of silence
  • Develop the discipline of sacred reading
  • Write with God in mind
  • Seek out a spiritual companion

These things and many more can allow us to rebind with our Creator and His creation.


Filed under Christian Living, Mystics

The Peace We Seek


The peace Jesus gives to us through the Holy Spirit is more than we can ever imagine.

  • Peace means the cessation of all warfare, but it also means much more.
  • Peace means a feeling of inner well-being, but it also means much more.
  • Peace means an end to psychological tensions, but it also means much more.
  • Peace means halting interpersonal conflicts, but it also means much more.
  • Peace means the settling of silence on the soul, but it also means much more.

In Valyermo, California , the Benedictines converted a 400-acre ranch into a religious community called St. Andrew’s Priory. As you enter the grounds, you find that the land is posted: “No Hunting Except for Peace.”

The world is hunting for peace. What will we give it?

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

— Jesus


Jesus 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; for this, the little bit of faith you have is enough. Amen

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The Beginning of Good

It happened that when Abba Arsenius was sitting in his cell that he was harassed by demons. His servants, on their return, stood outside his cell and heard him praying to God in these words, ‘O God, do not leave me. I have done nothing good in your sight, but according to your goodness, let me now make a beginning of good.’

—Abba Arsenius

prayer young man 1“I have done no good but allow me to make a beginning of good,” says the monk. How do we make a beginning of good? Do we go out and do a lot of good deeds, give sacrificially to others or read the Bible daily? None of those things would hurt us, and they may even help, but such actions are not the beginning of good. Jesus says that we must leave behind the things of the world and seek God. In our seeker’s journey, we will find good. That good is recognizing our helplessness in comparison to our Creator. When we accomplish that, we can then start doing the “good” things.

The beginning of good is when we learn that we are totally dependent upon God Good-Deeds-2and have the courage to admit it. Such a simple confession changes our lives and allows us to begin the path that leads to good. A professing Christian does not plan to do good but does good naturally. The Holy Spirit that lives in us guides us to situations and time that allow the light of God to shine through us.

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Filed under Abba Arsenius, Christian Journey, Desert Fathers

Living the Gospel

All of Jesus’ rules of ministry, his “tips for the road,” are very interpersonal. They are based on putting people in touch with people. Person-to-person is the way the gospel was originally communicated. Person-in-love-with-person, person-respecting-person, person-forgiving-person, person-touching-person, person-crying-with-person, person-hugging-person: that’s where the Spirit is so beautifully present.

The challenge is to preach a gospel that is livable, believable, and life-giving. Perhaps that is the most simple criterion by which we can discern Jesus’ teaching. It is always a call to death but is always life-giving in the long run. When you see life being created between people and within people, you see God. Where you see God, you will always see freedom. Restraint and passion—that is the paradoxical experience of the Holy. It takes time to learn. You grow into the ability to love another in a way that totally gives yourself and entrusts yourself and yet respects that person and stands back.

Prayer Thought

Lord help me to grow this day so that I might be able to better understand your holiness. Amen

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Discovering the Desert of My Soul

( This is a repeat of  a previous post but I believe it could be helpful in your Lenten Journey.)

I don’t exactly know why, but a few years ago I felt a real spiritual unction to study Christian Mysticism. My first thought was to look at the experiences of the monks of the desert. These Desert Fathers fled to the parched lands of Egypt to escape the “one size fits all” Christianity of Constantine’s Empire. The Abbas of the desert wanted to experience God as they thought He wanted to be experienced. That experience would not come as a result of legislated belief at the point of the sword of a Roman Legion. That kind of belief was no belief at all, for such a faith had to be discovered within their own souls. They could experience God in a mysterious way in their desert monasteries, and then direct others by sharing these experiences. God is a mystery, and He is best seen in a mystical way. In the desert they would find the Spirit that had apparently left the organized church, and indeed, they did. They were the first mystics.

Monk PrayingMany factors prohibited this mystical movement from being the major driving force of the church. All throughout history there have been famous mystics. Notable ones are, Julian of Norwich, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Ignatius of Loyola. I wanted to learn as much from them as I could, but in the middle of that experience something happened to my own way of thinking. Suddenly, the idea of certainty of belief was replaced with a deep, abiding appreciation for the mysterious nature of God. After all belief in God is mystery, not certainty, and can best be understood through the eyes of the mystic.

I don’t claim to be a Christian mystic at the level of the people I have mentioned, but I do contend that thinking as a mystic can open new panoramas of faith. These panoramas can lead to a much broader view of the work of God, and a more intimate involvement with Him. Things like meditation, Lectio Divina, silence, and icons have taken on a new meaning in my life. They have become invitations to spiritual portals that I never knew existed.

Major realities I discovered by embracing Christian Mysticism:

· God does live within me

· God really speaks to me (not audibly)

· God protects me at all times

· God gives me strength beyond my ability

· God owes me nothing

· Evil wins sometime

· Suffering is a spiritual discipline

· Scripture is the Word of God and it still lives

· Silence is the loudest prayer

· Silence is a portal to God

· There is more than one right answer

My journey into mysticism has not so much brought me closer to God, as it has helped me to understand how far I have to go. Jubilantly, I can say that I am not alone on the journey. He is with me! The mystical, monastic journey brought me to the desert of my soul, and there I found the face of God. I continue to travel through that desert with the traveling companions I have discovered. Thanks for reading this story and the other stories that I have written about these mystics who have become my friends.

The Desert Fathers were a movement of men (and some women) who chose to flee from all distractions of life by seeking the barrenness of the desert. These men lived in a time that they thought that life in the world was so complicated that only by retreat could they experience the fullness of God’s presence. In this setting they could deal with self and only self. The photo in this post is of a present day desert monastery in Egypt. It was in this type of setting that the early fathers sought oneness with God. I will begin to post some of the “sayings” of these holy men in this blog. I will share my thoughts on what we can learn from these men and invite you to do the same.

It was said of Abba John the Dwarf that he withdrew and lived in the desert at Scetis with an old man of Thebes. His Abba, taking a piece of dry wood, planted it and said to him, ‘Water it every day with a bottle of water, until it bears fruit.’ Now the water was so far away that he had to leave in the evening and return the following morning. At the end of three years the wood came to life and bore fruit. Then the old man took some of the fruit and carried it to the church saying to the brethren, ‘Take and eat the fruit of obedience.’

Are any of us patient and dedicated enough to devote three years to what would seem an impossible task? My first answer would be-no. The journey that God has given me in New Orleans has given me cause to rethink that answer. Arriving shortly after the city had received its devastating blow, it was evident that growth would be slow, patience would be required and most of all deep commitment would be necessary. In our fast pace, instant world Abba John teaches a great lesson.

Let God work out the timetable

Do you allow God to work in His time or do you insist that He work in yours?


Filed under Desert Fathers, Lent, Mystics


“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.


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Adversity and Grace

Abba Isaiah said ‘When God wishes to take pity on a soul and it rebels not bearing anything and doing its own will, he then allows it to suffer that which it does not want, in order that it may seek him again.’

—–sayings of the desert

Desert SageThese particular words of wisdom are not the most popular or believed ones that we are given by the fathers. All of us have seen people who seem to sin abundantly and continue to thrive. Likewise, we have all seen people who are apparently very pious who experience much suffering. Perhaps I might suggest another way of looking at this difficult dilemma.

God created us for good. He created us to be productive, and we are the crown of His creation. God is our guardian, and He watches over us and gives us grace. Through Him we prosper and achieve. There are times in our lives, no matter how pious we appear, that we reject His grace. At times we stand up and say, I want to do this my way, and God gives us the free will to do so. These times often lead to adversity, and in adversity we turn to God knowing that He is our only hope. Not only is He our only hope, He still loves us even when we have been rebellious and stubborn. The message from the desert is that God sometimes draws us to Himself by adversary.

Prayer Thought

Lord help me to see You at work in my bad times. Allow me to surrender myself to your grace so that I might experience your full love.


Filed under Desert Fathers, Grace

The Church’s Fourfold Purpose

English: page of the Acts of the Apostles from...

One of the great challenges of today’s Church is the quest for vitality. Recent years have been marked by an increasingly rapid decline in church attendance and dwindling interest in the organized church as a whole. Many people are seeking new ways of expressing their spirituality, or simply abandoning spirituality all together. The movement of being “spiritual but not religious” borders very closely to agnosticism.

People are looking to the ancient writings of the mystics and monastics for answers to this disturbing situation. In my own journey, I have discovered some very helpful materials in that arena of thought, but there is more. Perhaps we can look to the foundational story of the Church as found in the Book of Acts. This sacred writing chronicles the formation of Christianity as a separate movement. Acts is an eyewitness account of the birth and growth of the early church. This book begins with the coming of the Holy Spirit and ends with the preaching of Paul. Acts 2:42 gives us a foundational model for the Church that is well worth a look today. The scripture proclaims to us: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Let’s unpack that fourfold charge of the church.

Teaching – We are told that the early church devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching. Indisputably, they taught the words and actions of Jesus as only an eyewitness could. They spoke of His miracles, retold His parables, and made His teachings come back to life. Today we have a movement within the Church known as “Red Letter Christians.” These Red Letter Christians get their name from the day when Bible publishers printed the words in the Bible that were attributed to Jesus in red. I believe that those words should once again become the heart of our teaching.

Fellowship – This means that all Christians were a part of a community that shared in the common commitment of the good news of Christ. By sharing all things, they took this concept a little further than we can in our world. We may not be able to live in community, but we are called to be a community. A community shares, loves, supports and lifts one another up in all ways possible. If the Church neglects the concept of community, it ultimately fails. Today’s Church must take community seriously.

Breaking of Bread – Scholars and theologians are not completely on the same page on this issue, but the end result is the same. People who eat together, sacramentally or by sharing a meal, feel a great bond to one another. My own view is that the early Church practiced Communion every time they met. In was through that common bread and cup that they gained great strength. As a Church of today we should not neglect the fellowship of the table sacramentally or otherwise.

Prayers – The early Church prayed. They prayed as an act worship and not just for the things they wanted or needed. Prayer was a regular part of their day whether they were assembled together or not. Prayer has to become more than it is in the Church of today. The practice of mental prayer, silence and sacred reading are a “must do” for the Church if we are to see greater vitality.

That is a fourfold formula for the revitalization of the Church. Nothing new is expounded at all: it is a simple call back to the foundational purpose and work of the Church. Victory is not found it the new, but in the birth documents of our Church.


Filed under Apostles, Church, Evangelism

Prayer to the Holy Spirit

c. 1480

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy. Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy. Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy. Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy. Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy. Amen.

——Saint Augustine of Hippo

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Filed under contemplative, Devotional Quotes, St. Augustine