SATURDAY READING: Living By The Spirit, by N. T. Wright

From Simply Christian

Once we glimpse this vision of the Holy Spirit coming to live within human beings, making them temples of the living God – which ought to make us shiver in our shoes – we are able to grasp the point of the Spirit’s work in several other ways as well.

To begin with, building on the startling call to holiness we just noticed, we see right across the early Christian writings the notion that those who follow Jesus are called to fulfill the law – that is, the Torah, the Jewish law.  Paul says it; James says it; Jesus himself says it.  Now there are all kinds of senses in which Christians do not, and are not meant to, perform the Jewish law.  The New Testament Letter to the Hebrews insists that with the death of Jesus the sacrificial system came to an end, and with it the whole point of the Temple.  Paul insists that when pagan men and boys believe the gospel of Jesus and get baptized, they do not have to get circumcised.  Jesus himself hinted strongly that the food laws which had marked out the Jews from their pagan neighbors were to be set aside in favor of a different kind of marking out, a different kind of holiness.  The early Christians, following Jesus himself, were quite clear that keeping the Jewish Sabbath was no longer mandatory, even though doing so was one of the Ten Commandments.

Nevertheless, the early Christians continued to speak not least in the passages where they talked of the Spirit, of the obligation to fulfill the law.  If you are guided and energized by the Spirit, declares Paul, you will no longer do those things which the law forbids – murder, adultery, and the rest.  “The mind set on the flesh is hostile to God’s law,” he writes in the Letter to the Romans.  “Such a mindset does not submit to God’s law, indeed it can’t; and those of that sort cannot please God.”  But, as he goes on at once, “You are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if God’s Spirit does indeed dwell in you,” (not the Temple language again).  The Spirit will give life – resurrection life – to all those in whom the Spirit dwells; and this is to be anticipated (future-in-the-present language again) in holiness of life here and now, (Romans 8:7-17).  Later in the same letter, he explains further: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law,” (13:10).

The point, once again, is not that the law is a convenient moral guide, ancient and venerable.  It is that the Torah, like the Temple, is one of the places where Heaven and Earth meet, so that, as some Jewish teachers had suggested, those who study and keep the Torah are like those who worship in the Temple.  And the early Christians are encouraging one another to live as points of intersection, points of overlap, between Heaven and Earth.  Again, this sounds fearsomely difficult, not to say downright impossible.  But there is no getting around it.  Fortunately, as we shall see, what ought to be normal Christianity is actually all about finding out how to sustain this kind of life and even grow in it.

The fulfillment of the Torah by the Spirit is one of the main themes underlying the spectacular description, in Acts 2, of the day of Pentecost itself.  To this day, Pentecost is observed in Judaism as the feast of the giving of the law.  First comes Passover, the day when the Israelites leave their Egyptian slavery behind for good.  Off they go through the desert, and fifty days later they reach Mount Sinai.  Moses goes up the mountain and comes down with the law, the tablets of the covenant, God’s gift to his people of the way of life by which they will be able to demonstrate that they really are his people.

This is the picture we ought to have in mind as we read Acts 2.  The previous Passover, Jesus had died and been raised, opening the way out of slavery, the way to forgiveness and a new start for the whole world – especially for all those who follow him.  Now, fifty days later, Jesus has been taken into “Heaven,” into God’s dimension of reality; but, like Moses, he comes down again, to ratify the renewed covenant and to provide the way of life, written not on stone but in human hearts, by which Jesus’s followers may gratefully demonstrate that they really are his people.  That is the underlying theology by which the remarkable phenomenon of Pentecost as Luke tells it – the wind, the fire, the tongues, and the sudden, powerful proclamation of Jesus to the astonished crowds – is given its deepest meaning.  Those in whom the Spirit comes to dwell are to be people who live at the intersection between Heaven and Earth.

Nor is it only Temple and Torah that are fulfilled by the Spirit.  Remember the two additional ways in which, in the language of ancient Judaism, God was at work within the world: God’s word and God’s wisdom.

Spirit, Word, and Wisdom

As the early Christians reflected on what God had done in Jesus, and on what God was doing in their own life and work by his Spirit, these two themes of God’s word and God’s wisdom played a vital role in their understanding.

When the first disciples were sent off by Jesus into the wider world to announce that he was Israel’s Messiah and hence the world’s true Lord, they knew that their message would make little or no sense to most of their hearers.  It was an affront to Jewish people to tell them that Israel’s Messiah had arrived – and that the Romans had crucified him at least in part becuae the Jewish leaders hadn’t wanted to accept him!  It was sheer madness, something to provoke sniggers or worse, to tell non-Jews that there was a single true God who was calling the whole world to account through a man whom he had sent and whom he had raised from the dead.  And yet the early Christians discovered that telling this story carried a power which they regularly associated with the Spirit, but which they often referred to simply as “the word.”  Note these references from Acts: “Filled with the Holy Spirit, they spoke God’s word with boldness.”  “The word of God continued to spread.”  “The word of God continued to advance and gain adherents.”  “The word of God grew mightily and prevailed,” (Acts 4:31; 6:7; 12:24; 19:20).

Paul spoke this way, too.  “When you received the word of God from us,” he wrote, “you accepted it not as a human word, but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.”  This is “the word of truth, the gospel which has come to you. . . bearing fruit and growing in the whole world,” (1 Thessalonians 2:13; Colossians 1:5-6).  This last passage gives us another hint that the word is old as well as new: the phrase “bearing fruit and growing: is a direct allusion to the language of the first creation, of Genesis 1.  “By the word of YHWH were the heavens made,” sang the Psalmist, “and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth,” (Psalm 33:6).  Yes, replied the early Christians, and this same word is now at work through the good news, the “gospel,” the message that declares Jesus as the risen Lord.  “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart; because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved,” (Romans 10:8-9).  In other words, when you announce the good news that the risen Jesus is Lord, that very word is the word of God, a carrier or agent of God’s Spirit, a means by which, as Isaiah had predicted, new life from God’s dimension comes to bring new creation within ours, (Isaiah 40:8; 55:10-13).

So, finally, with wisdom as well.  Wisdom (personified) was already thought of within Judaism as God’s agent in creation, the one through whom the world was made.  John, Paul, and the Letter to the Hebrews all draw on this idea to speak of Jesus himself as the one through whom God made the world.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Paul, like the book of Proverbs, goes on to speak of this wisdom (no longer personified) being accessible to humans through the power of God’s Spirit.  As in Proverbs, part of the point about wisdom is that it’s what you need in order to live a fully, genuinely human life.  It is not, he says, a wisdom “of this age” – that is, of the present world and the way this world sees things.  It doesn’t conform to the kind of wisdom the rulers of the present world like to acknowledge.  Instead, “we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory,” (1 Corinthians 2:7).  God has given us access to a new kind of wisdom, through the Spirit.

All God’s treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in the Messiah himself.  This means that those who belong to the Messiah have this wisdom accessible to them, and hence the chance to grow toward mature human and Christian living: “It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in the Messiah,” (Colossians 1:28; 2:2-3).  At this point too, those in whom the Spirit dwells are called to be people who live at, and by, the intersection of Heaven and Earth.

Please note: only those who subscribe to Option Two could ever think of someone being “so Heavenly minded that they are of no Earthly use.”  For Option Three, the way to be truly of use on this Earth is to be genuinely Heavenly minded – and to live as one of the places where, and the means by which, Heaven and Earth overlap.

That’s how the church is to carry forward the work of Jesus.  The books of Acts says that in the previous book (referring back to the author’s earlier volume – that is, the Gospel of Luke) the writer had described “all that Jesus began to do and teach.”  The implication is clear: that the story of the church, led and energized by the power of the Spirit, is the story of Jesus continuing to do and to teach – through his Spirit-led people.  Once more, that’s why we pray that God’s kingdom will come, and his will will be done, “on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

Toward Christian Spirituality

According to Christian belief, God’s own Spirit offers the answer to the four questions with which this book began – questions about our yearnings for beauty, relationship, spirituality, and justice.  We take them in reverse order.

God has promised that, through his Spirit, he will remake the creation so that it becomes what it is staining and yearning to be.  All the beauty of the present world will be enhanced, ennobled, set free from that which at present corrupts and defaces it.  Then there will appear that greater beauty for which the beauty we already know is simply an advance signpost.

God offers us, by the Spirit, a fresh kind of relationship with himself – and, at the same time, a fresh kind of relationship with our neighbors and with the whole of creation.  The renewal of human lives by the Spirit provides the energy through which damaged and fractured human relationships can be mended and healed.

God offers us, through the Spirit, the gift of being at last what we know in our bones we were meant to be: creatures that live in both dimensions of his created order.  The quest for spirituality now appears as a search for that coming together of Heaven and Earth which, deeply challenging though of course it is, is genuinely on offer to those who believe.

Finally, God wants to anticipate now, by the Spirit, a world set right, a world in which the good and joyful gift of justice has flooded creation.  The work of the Spirit in the lives of individuals in the present time is designed to be another advance sign, a down payment and guarantee, as it were, of that eventual setting-right of all things.  We are “justified” in the present (I’ll say more about that later) in order to bring God’s justice to the world, against the day when – still by the operation of the Spirit – the Earth is filled with the knowledge of YHWH as the waters cover the sea.

Within this remarkable picture, two things stand out about characteristically Christian spirituality.

First, Christian spirituality combines a sense of the awe and majesty of God with a sense of his intimate presence.  This is hard to describe but easy to experience.  As Jesus addressed God by the Aramaic family word Abba, Father, so Christians are encouraged to do the same: to come to know God in the way in which, in the best sort of family, the child knows the parent.  From time-to-time I have met Christians who look puzzled at this, and say that they have no idea what all that stuff is about.  I have to say that being a Christian without having at least something of that intimate knowledge of the God who is at the same time majestic, awesome, and holy sounds like a contradiction in terms.  I freely grant that there may be conditions under which, because of wounds in the personality, or some special calling of God, or some other reason, people may genuinely believe in the gospel of Jesus, strive to live by the Spirit, and yet have no sense of God’s intimate presence.  There is, after all, such a thing as the “dark night of the soul,” reported by some who have probed the mysteries of prayer further than most of us.  But Jesus declares that the Holy Spirit will not be denied to those who ask (Luke 11:13).  One of the characteristic signs of the Spirit’s work is precisely that sense of the intimate presence of God.

Second, Christian spirituality normally involves a measure of suffering.  One of the times when Jesus is recorded as having used the Abba-prayer was when, in Gethsemane, he asked his Father if there was another way, if he really had to go through the horrible fate that lay in store for him.  The answer was yes, he did.  But if Jesus prayed like that, we can be sure that we will often have to as well.  Both Paul and John lay great stress on this.  Those who follow Jesus are called to live by the rules of the new world rather than the old one, and the old one won’t like it.  Although the life of Heaven is designed to bring healing to the life of Earth, the powers that presently run this Earth have carved it up to their own advantage, and they resent any suggestion of a different way.  That is why the powers – whether they are in politics or the media, in the professions or the business world – bitterly resent any suggestion from Christian leaders as to how things ought to be, even while sneering at the church for not “speaking out” on issues of the day.

Suffering may, then, take the form of actual persecution.  Even in the liberal modern Western world – perhaps precisely in that world! – people can suffer discrimination because of their commitment to Jesus Christ.  How much more so, in places where the worldview of those in power is explicitly stated to be opposed to the to the Christian faith in all its forms, as in some (not all) Muslim countries today.  But suffering comes in many other forms, too: illness, depression, bereavement, moral dilemmas, poverty, tragedy, accidents, and death.  Nobody reading the New Testament or any of the other Christian literature from the first two or three centuries could have accused the early Christians of painting too rosy a picture of what life would be like for those who follow Jesus.  But the point is this: it is precisely when we are suffering that we can most confidently expect the Spirit to be with us.  We don’t seek, or court, suffering or martyrdom.  But if and when it comes, in whatever guise, we know that, as Paul says toward the end of his great Spirit-chapter, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us,” (Romans 8:37).

Glimpsing the Triune God

How, then, can we summarize the Christian understanding of God?  What does it mean, theologically speaking, to learn to stare at the sun?

God is the creator and lover of the world.  Jesus spoke of God as “the Father who sent me,” indicating that, as he says elsewhere,” anyone who has seen me has seen the Father,” (John 14:9).  Look hard at Jesus, especially as he goes to his death, and you will discover more about God than you could ever have guessed from studying the infinite shining heavens or the moral law within your own conscience.  God is the one who satisfies the passion for justice, the longing for spirituality, the hunger for relationship, the yearning for beauty.  And God, the true God, is the God we see in Jesus of Nazareth, Israel’s Messiah, the world’s true Lord.  The earliest Christians spoke of God and Jesus in the same breath and, so to speak on the same side of the equation.  When Paul quoted the most famous slogan of Jewish monotheism (“Hear, O Israel; YHWH our God, YHWH is One”), he explained “the Lord” – that is, YHWH – in terms of Jesus, and “God” in terms of “the Father”: “For us,” he wrote, “there is one God (the Father, from whom all things and we to him), the one Lord (Jesus the Messiah, through whom are all things and we through him),” (1 Corinthians 8:6).  Even earlier, he had written that if you want to know who the real God is, as opposed to the non-gods of paganism, you must think in terms of the God who, to fulfill his age-old plan to rescue the world, sent first his Son and then the Spirit of his Son, (Galatians 4:4-7).

The church’s official “doctrine of the Trinity” wasn’t fully formulated until three or four centuries after the time of Paul.  Yet when the later theologians eventually worked it all through, it turned out to consist, in effect, of detailed footnotes to Paul, John, Hebrews, and the other New Testament books, with explanations designed to help later generations grasp what was already there in principle in the earliest writings.

But it would be a mistake to give the impression that the Christian doctrine of God is a matter of clever intellectual word games or mind games.  For Christians it’s always a love game: God’s love for the world calling out an answering love from us, enabling us to discover that God not only happens to love us (as though this was simply one aspect of his character) but that he is love itself.  That’s what many theological traditions have explored as the very heart of God’s own being, the love which passes continually between Father, Son, and Spirit.  Indeed, some have suggested that one way of understanding the Spirit is to see the Spirit as the personal love which the Father has for the Son and the Son for the Father.  In that understanding, we are invited to share in this inner and loving life of God, by having the Spirit live within us.  Some of the most evocative names and descriptions of God in the New Testament are ways of drawing us in to this inner life.  “The one who searches the hearts,” writes Paul, “knows what the Spirit is thinking, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people according to God’s will,” (Romans 8:27).  “The heart-searcher – there’s a divine name to ponder.

And it’s all because of Jesus.  Once we glimpse the doctrine – or the fact! – of the Trinity, we dare not slide back into a generalized sense of a religion paying distant homage to a god who (though somewhat more complicated than we had previously realized) is merely a quasi-personal source of general benevolence.  Christian faith is much more hard-edged, more craggy, than that.  Jesus exploded into the life of ancient Israel – the life of the whole world, in fact – not as a teacher of timeless truths, nor as a great moral example, but as the one through whose life, death, and resurrection God’s rescue operation was put into effect, and the cosmos turned its great corner at last.  All worldviews are challenged to the core by this claim.  When they in turn challenge Christianity, it stands up remarkably well.  It is because of Jesus that Christians claim they know who the creator God of the world really is. It is because he, a human being, is now with the Father in the dimension we call “Heaven” that Christians came so quickly to speak of God as both Father and Son.  It is because he remains as yet in Heaven while we are on Earth (though the Spirit makes him present to us) that Christians came to speak of Spirit, too, as a distinct member of the divine Trinity.  It is all because of Jesus that we speak of God the way we do.

And it is all because of Jesus that we find ourselves called to live the way we do.  More particularly, it is through Jesus that we are summoned to become more truly human, to reflect the image of God into the world.

 

 

MYSTICISM: Of The Wisdom Of God In Creating Man Subject To Divine Revelation And Inspiration, Which Is Often Manifested In Signs And Wonders

From The Shakers: Two Centuries of Spiritual Reflection

It will be readily seen that man was created of two parts – soul and body.  He was made superior to all the rest of the animal creation in that he possessed a rational soul, to which was delegated natural wisdom and discretion by which he could conceive ideas of natural things, such as the nature and causes of such things as belonged to the natural world.  This endowment qualified him to be the natural lord of the terrestrial world, so that the rule and government of the Earth might have gone on harmoniously had man but retained his first rectitude.  But far different was it with man in relation to spiritual things.  He never was designed to be a Lord of the celestial world.  Hence it is, that it was not given to man to know good and evil.  But all the knowledge he was to receive of spiritual things he was under the necessity of receiving by inspiration from the Almighty in his own order.  Which order consisted in God’s placing seven spirits or angels in the seven intellectual senses which constitute the soul of man.  These seven spirits were appointed the agency which existed between God and the soul of man.  Thus the means by which he could obtain the will of God were continually within him, these Heavenly messengers always having access to the throne of God, according to the Savior’s own declaration, “Their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in Heaven.”  Thus he was not taught good and evil, but what to do and what not to do.  And here let it be considered that there was but one tree placed in the garden, or literally the situation of man, of which he might not freely eat, and this was the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  As there is no tree in the natural world which produces this fruit it must be sought for in a metaphorical sense, where we can find but one existing and this is experience.  For without experience there can be no knowledge either of things spiritual or temporal.  Hence it is plain that man was not left at random to experience this or that to find out what was good or what was evil, but was dependent upon the Heavenly agency aforementioned for his knowledge of spiritual things, which he could only obtain by inspiration.  In this situation he could keep his union to the spiritual world and govern the Earth.  But being incited by the adversary to throw off his allegiance to God and rebel against his law and order, communicated to him by his Heavenly protectors, he lost the wisdom which is from above and became a stranger to inspiration, the only access he could have to the spiritual world.  Although by this alienation from God and his Heavenly state he became Earthly, sensual and devilish, yet that natural wisdom and sagacity with which he was qualified to constitute him the lord of this lower world was not taken from him in consequence thereof.  But as his soul had become degraded and made service to the Earthly propensities, he could no longer direct and govern the Earth according to the divine law of the Creator.  But that wisdom, not being directed by the divine law of Heaven, became foolishness, being directed by the most sordid passions and propensities of a fallen nature.

Nevertheless God in wisdom and goodness provided a way by which to restore man from his fallen state and place him in a situation to gain his union and relation to the spiritual world.  This restoration God promised from time-to-time to certain individuals whom he raised up as his witnesses, inspiring them by his angels to reveal his will to the children of man.  Yet the testimony of these witnesses was rejected.  And why?  It is plain: because the generality of mankind had become total strangers to the spirit of inspiration, being cut off from the elements of the spiritual world, consequently could receive nothing but what they could comprehend through their corrupted natural wisdom.  But God was determined that all flesh should see and know his requirements, and appear either justified or condemned according to their works in receiving this his means of communication with them.  Therefore in order to bring about his purposes, God adapted the means appropriately to the consummation of the work he had designed.  Although he often visited the Earth with judgments for their reformation, yet fallen man by his natural wisdom readily ascribed them to natural causes, thereby hardening his heart against God and divine revelation.  Thus when God sent forth his inspired servants with his testimony he endowed them with power to work miracles and exhibit signs before them, through which many were reclaimed having their senses aroused by the power of the testimony and these evidences set before their eyes.  But although a greater part of mankind rejected the inspired messengers of the Almighty, it never altered his purpose, but they stood justly condemned according as they had slighted his warning and testimony.  Thus it is evident that God has from the beginning visited the Earth with his testimony accompanied by miracles, signs, and wonders by which to arouse the senses of mankind to a belief in the revelation of his will through his inspired servants.

It was thus with the patriarch and prophet Noah.  God sent him to preach repentance to the ante-deluvian world and to teach them his will in righteousness, and to warn them of the judgment then pending in consequence of their refusal to harken to his warning voice.  But this he did not do without first exhibiting a sign sign to their natural senses of the impending danger of which they had been warned.  For he built the ark which kept the warning constantly before their eyes for the space of 120 years.  So that when the judgment came upon them they stood guilty before God and their condemnation was just.  Next Moses, when he was called of God to deliver his chosen people from their bondage under the Egyptians, was first aroused to a sense of his call by a sign or manifestation unaccountable to his natural senses.  And when he was expostulating with the Lord he said, “they will not believe me nor harken unto my voice for they will say, ‘The Lord hath not appeared unto thee.’  Then the Lord provided him with two signs; firstly, that of his rod turning into a serpent, and secondly, that of his hand becoming leprous as snow.”  Then the Lord said, “If they will not believe thee nor harden to the voice of the first sign, that they may believe the voice of the latter sign.”  And in case there should still be unbelief prevailing, the Lord provided him with another sign, saying, “If they will not believe also these two signs neither harken to they voice, that thou shalt take of the water of the river and pour it upon the dry land, and the water which thou takest out of the river shall become blood upon the dry land.  Hence it is evident that although Moses was a chosen and inspired instrument to commence a new dispensation, yet he first had to be addressed through his natural senses before he could gain a full confidence in the mission to which he was called.  And how much more necessary was it, to those to whom he was sent to have their natural senses and Earthly wisdom arrested and confounded by miracles, signs, and wonders before they could believe that he was a chosen instrument sent of God to be their Savior and Protector from their temporal bondage.

Moses was inspired but they were not.  Therefore, as matter of course, they had nothing in them to direct but that natural wisdom which was left in man after the fall, as before stated, and this under the control of their animal and fallen propensities.  It is evident that man never would, after the fall, submit himself to God and his requirements until he was confounded in his own wisdom by signs and judgments.  Numerous instances of the divine manifestation of the will of God to his creatures, through signs or miracles, are recorded in the scriptures, of which it will only be necessary to notice a few, as the scriptures can be consulted.  In the case of Gideon it may be plainly seen how prone fallen creatures are to confide in their own natural senses.  Although he had been visited by an angel and commissioned by him to deliver his people from their enemies, yet he could not confide in the authenticity of his mission until he had been confirmed by at least four signs presented to his natural senses.  We might appeal to various circumstances related by the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, and many others.  But suffice it to say that these dispensations were upheld by these and many other manifestations until Christ made his appearance on the Earth, at which time he began that work which had been promised, to purify the soul of man from the inspirations of unclean spirits, and to make it a fit receptacle for the seven spirits of God. And now began the true inspiration of the spirit of God as it was first placed in man while he stood in union to the spiritual world – progressing in such souls as were willing to be cleansed from the seven devils who inhabit the souls of the whole fallen race.

When Christ came, he came to a nation who had been blessed with a manifestation of the power and goodness of God made known through the ministration of angels to those whom God had raised up as witnesses of his testimony accompanied by miracles, signs, and wonderful works, and these were called the oracles of God.  But when the Son of God had declared the purpose of his divine wisdom and made it plain before their eyes by his wonderful works, they shut their eyes, stopped their ears and hardened their hearts, not only against his testimony but against the oracles of God which had been given to them in former dispensations.  So there remained but one more manifestation for them, this was judgment with vengeance, which is sure to follow deliberate and willful rebellion.  Hence it was that our Savior declared, “This is an evil and adulterous generation that seeketh after a sign, but there shall no sign be given it.”  But when Christ commissioned his disciples to preach the gospel to the nations of the Earth.  He said, “These signs shall follow those that believe.”  And it is evident they did and wrought wonderfully, being accompanied by the inspiration of the Spirit, they did arrest the natural senses wherever they went.  And all such as desired to find their relation to the spiritual world received the testimony to their justification and happiness, while those who rejected the testimony of God and the evidences attending it stood justly condemned, fitted for wrath, and obnoxious to vengeance.

It is therefore plain to the understanding that in all the past dispensations God always accompanied his testimony and work with evidences adapted to the external senses of the natural man.  And why not so in this dispensation as well as in the former?  Perhaps some may object and appeal to the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians where he says, “Whether there be prophecies they shall fail, whether there be tongues they shall cease, whether there be knowledge it shall vanish away.”  Paul had a very good reason for this declaration, knowing there was to be a falling away, and that antiChrist was to have his reign and trample the gospel under foot, with all its power and gifts, which was to continue until Christ should make his second appearance without sin unto salvation, when he would restore these gifts according to promise.  “That of all which the Father hath given me I shall lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.”  And it is evident that the Father gave him all the gifts and power manifested in the gospel.  The greatest obstruction to faith in divine revelation at the present day is the fact that the same adversary, who incited man at the beginning to rise above God and all that is called God, has invented the universal and popular doctrine that it is altogether unnecessary and unexpected that there should be inspiration, revelation, signs, or any spiritual manifestations.  This doctrine was obviously invented for the purpose of preventing mankind from believing anything that would arrest the progress of fallen man in pursuing the course of his own natural wisdom.  But why is it not as necessary now as it was in any former dispensation for God to apply his convincing power?  Does he not value himself as highly upon his Earthly wisdom as in former dispensations?  If so, then there is as much need now of revelation and signs as there ever was, and much more if we but consider the importance of the work of the day which is to bring every soul to judgement after which they will receive their destiny before the close of the day.  Thus natural man cannot stand obnoxious to the temporal judgment of God until after he is arrested by the testimony of God and the evidences accompanying it.  Hence it is evident that God ever had and has now the means of arresting the senses of mankind whenever he has a manifestation or a requirement for them.  So that if they reject his testimony they are left without excuse, and stand the object of his vengeance.

But perhaps some may urge as an objection against the necessity of the present revelation of God that there is more light and knowledge in the present age than thee was in any of those that have preceded it, as we have all the benefit derived from the experience of past ages as well as our own.  This objection leads many to suppose that there .  This argumen in his own way as formerly given.  This argument and supposition places mankind in precisely the same situation that the serpent placed him at the beginning, when he hurled him from his happy situation, saying, “Ye shall be as Gods knowing good and evil.”  We are willing to acknowledge that there does exist much knowledge in the world, both natural wisdom, and that knowledge of evil which is the fruit of that forbidden tree, experience.  And thus it is that the wisdom of this world and the knowledge of evil so mightily prevail among the children of man.  And these are displayed in the arts and sciences being supported and carried on by the philosophy of nature.  Hence it is made plain that this is not the wisdom that is from above, for by it no one is able to discern the things of the Spirit of God, for they are spiritually discerned.  And if the things of God are spiritually discerned, why then try to substitute the wisdom of this world instead of the revelation of God by the inspiration of his Spirit made known by the various means adapted to the various situations of those to whom it is sent?  And as it is well known that the religion of antiChrist was established and has ever been supported by the studied wisdom of this world and vain philosophy, therefore all religion supported by these means must be antiChrist.  But the “pure and undefiled religion before God the Father” was not established by and does not need the wisdom of this world nor any system of vain philosophy to support it, but the revelation of God by inspiration, manifested by the various means of his own choosing.  Then let us take a view of the effects of this Earthly wisdom operating upon the various systems of religion at the present day.

It is plainly evident that mankind in general are more alienated from the true order of God, as it was revealed by his Spirit in the gospel both in the first and second appearing of Christ.  They are more independent of divine revelation to direct them in obedience to the immutable will of God.  But what has all this worldly wisdom with all the religion attached to it accomplished towards effecting the great and grand object for which the gospel was sent into the world?  Nothing, but they have rather created a labyrinth of darkness from which no one can be extricated without revelations and manifestations of the Spirit of God with power.  Although it cannot be but admitted that the wisdom of the world distinct from the systems of antiChrist has done much toward ameliorating the condition of the political well-being invisibly directing the soul how to find its relation to the Heavenly world; but has left the whole world under the control of the corrupt systems of antiChrist for direction, which like a dark fog does envelope the whole of Christendom, except the little spot, Zion, where the revelation of God is made known.  One more evidence may suffice in proof of the foregoing section.  It is and has been known among those who have received the revelation of God, through the first witnesses of Christ’s second appearing, for the last sixty years, that many who have had the privilege of hearing the true testimony revealed in its purity with the evidences attending it, instead of receiving it as that true revelation of God given by the inspiration of the Spirit, have applied their own natural wisdom to comprehend that which nothing but a true spiritual sense can reconcile, and therefore excluded the true inspiration of the Spirit from their souls and lost their day.  According to the above view of the present state of mankind there never was a day or dispensation of God’s work upon the Earth, when there was so much need of the powerful display of the manifestation of the power of God in testimony, signs, and revelations.  For there never was a time when the senses of the children of men were so deeply enveloped in darkness, as at the present day – occasioned by confounding religion and spiritual things with the false philosophy and wisdom of this world.

 

 

PRAYER: A New Serenity Prayer, by James Martin, SJ

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the people I cannot change,
which is pretty much everyone,
since I’m clearly not you, God.
At least not the last time I checked.

And while you’re at it, God,
please give me the courage
to change what I need to change about myself,
which is frankly a lot, since, once again,
I’m not you, which means I’m not perfect.
It’s better for me to focus on changing myself
than to worry about changing other people,
who, as you’ll no doubt remember me saying,
I can’t change anyway.

Finally, give me the wisdom to just shut up
whenever I think that I’m clearly smarter
than everyone else in the room,
that no one knows what they’re talking about except me,
or that I alone have all the answers.

Basically, God,
grant me the wisdom
to remember that I’m
not you.

Amen.

 

 

HEALING: Doubting Miracles, Or A Reason To Believe, by Joe Simmons, SJ

From The Jesuit Post

This past weekend witnessed the canonization of seven new saints in Rome.  For holy men or women to be recognized as capital-S Saints in the Catholic Church, typically two miracles need to be attributed to their intercession.  Usually these come when someone is healed without an easy medical explanation.

Call me the modern skeptic, but I always found this litmus test to be… well… troubling, I guess.  In my mind, the process goes something like this: people petition would-be saints for the miraculous healing of a loved one.  If the sick person recovers, the candidate moves a step closer to canonization, like a rook in a churchy game of chess.

And if the sick person does not recover?  Well, then the faithful pray-ers are left wondering if they bet on the wrong horse.

***

This all hit me a few weeks ago, when I heard the backstory of Blessed (now Saint) Kateri Tekakwitha.  As the story goes, a Native American boy in Washington State was suffering from a flesh-eating bacterium a few years back.  His doctors could not stop its progression, and feared he would die.  He was anointed, and his family prayed to Kateri for her intercession, asking her to heal him.  A religious sister then placed a relic of Kateri next to the boy.  The next day the bacterium ceased progressing.

Causation?  Coincidence?  Soothing superstition?  Hell if I know.

Yes, the expert opinions of medical professionals were sought.  And the boy was certainly healed – he was in Rome for her canonization.  But I’ll admit to sometimes wondering whether these explanations aren’t verdicts in search of evidence.

***

Fast-forward a few days to witness the rearranging of the interior furniture of my doubt.  A friend had arrived at work in a panic, having just received word that his otherwise healthy father had been rushed to the hospital with a rare, flesh-eating bacterium – one that almost always results at least in amputations; often in death.  Necrotizing Fasciitis the bacterium is called.  The same bacterium the boy in Washington State was cured of a few years back.

Coincidence?  Hell if I know.

When it fell to me to organize a prayer service for my friend’s dad I asked, what should it include? What was God saying in all this?  It was while I was asking that I found myself praying to her, Kateri Tekakwitha, an unknown woman who died in 1680 at the age of 24, about whose miraculous cure I have just expressed my doubts.

Alright, maybe “praying” is too strong.  I was rolling her name around in my head, thinking about my skeptical appraisal of all things miraculous.  Or marveling at the coincidence of it all.  I wanted to believe, and maybe in some partial way I did, but the doubt was all through me too, splitting my mind – a mind exposed to the intellectual radiation of too many philosophy courses to readily believe in the miraculous.

But there was something prayerful in my uneven pondering.  Maybe it was this: the critical distance between other people’s miraculous healings and what was needed right now had disappeared.  At least this: now a part of me wanted to believe.  In his eloquent way, the great French philosopher Paul Ricoeur put the desire like this: “beyond the desert of criticism, we wish to be called again.” [See note below.]

At the prayer service we prayed the rosary and we asked Kateri to stop the bacterium.  We asked her to save my friend’s father’s life. We prayed that the churchy chess piece would make her move.

***

Two days later, I got away for a mini-retreat up at St. John’s University up north in Collegeville.  I’ve written before that St. John’s is one of those thinner places where I receive God a bit more easily.  Hungry for the outdoors, I got out running – up, down, around – an unknown path that hugs the shores of Lake Sagatagan.  I crested a hill and came upon a clearing where a lone statue stood.  It was of a young, serious woman frozen in gray stone, with a dog at her feet.  Beneath it, the plaque read “Saint Kateri Tekakwitha.”  Odd, I thought, given that at the time she wasn’t to be named a saint for another eight days. And yet here I was, and here she was, plaque and all.

I reached out, and put my hand on her cool stony foot.  Coincidence?  Soothing superstitions?  I waited there a minute, watching the late afternoon sunlight play on her stony face through the leaves.  Silent.  Assured.

Deafened by the silence around me, I kept on running.

***

A week later, Kateri was recognized as a saint in Rome.  Jim’s dad continued his recovery.  He lost some chunks of flesh from his arm, but otherwise the bacterium’s spread was successfully stopped.  His doctors were amazed that he didn’t lose his arm, let alone his life.  Jim is grateful as hell that his dad is still around.

I don’t have the time or qualifications to do any serious medical investigation.  I’m not interested in proving, or disproving, any saintly gambit on the part of Kateri Tekakwitha.  But I stop, and I wonder: would I recognize miracles around me if I saw them?

— — — — —

[Note]: Lewis S. Mudge wrote of this famous line, which occurs toward the end of The Symbolism of Evil (1960), that “this longing is shared today by the many for whom historical-critical method remains indispensable, but at the same time insufficient to bring us to a ‘post-critical moment’ of openness to the biblical summons. Is there an intellectually responsible way through the critical sands, always shifting, sometimes abrasive, to an oasis where bedrock, with its springs of water for the spirit, once again appears?”  I sure hope so.

 

 

POETRY: Lament Psalm Sixteen, Ann Weems

O God, will this night never end?
Give me sleep, O God!
Give me rest!
Erase from my memory
the moments of his death.
Blot out the terror
and the ever-present fear
and let me sleep.
I lie upon this bed
tortured by thoughts
that come unbidden.
The night is full of demons.
They stand upon my heart
until I cannot breathe.
There is nothing in my world
this night except his death.
O God, bring the morning light.

Is it not enough
that he is dead?
That there is nothing
I can do
to change what is?
Must I spend each night
revisiting the unlit
corridors of death?

O God, be merciful!
Bring the dawn!
Come into this night
and tear it into day!

O my God, you are hope.
You take the bonds of death
and break them
into pieces of life.
The demons of the night
cower and hide
from the brilliance
of your presence.
You alone can banish the night
and create the sweet stream
of morning’s light.
There is none who can stop you,
for you are the God of light
and the light of my soul.

POETRY: Flowers Of The Days And Hours, by Justine Ward

Flowers of sorrow, grief and pain,
of ecstacy and bliss,
memory’s phantoms rise again
in metamorphosis
as buried bulb or hidden grain
by magic artifice
transformed, become articulate
as murmured canzonet
that time cannot obliterate,
for every floweret
converted, serves to consecrate
the days’ and hours’ debt.

In memory’s garden I meet
flowers of the days and hours;
fragrant are all though bitter-sweet,
those half-forgotten flowers;
forget-me-not and marguerite
smile from the perfumed bowers,
some redolent of childhood days
or adult joy and pain
transmuted into songs of praise
that lift to higher plane
the years and hours in paraphrase
their failure turned to gain.

 

 

SIN: A Deeper Understanding Of Sin, by Timothy Keller

From The Prodigal God

With this parable [of the Prodigal Son] Jesus gives us a much deeper concept of “sin” than any of us would have if he didn’t supply it.  Most people think of sin as failing to keep God’s rules of conduct, but, while not less than that, Jesus’s definition of sin goes beyond it.

In her novel Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor says of her character, Hazel Motes, that “there was a deep, black, wordless conviction in him that the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin.”  This is a profound insight.  You can avoid Jesus as Savior by keeping all the moral laws.  If you do that, then you have “rights.”  God owes you answered prayers, and a good life, and a ticket to Heaven when you die.  You don’t need a Savior who pardons you by free grace, for you are your own savior.

This attitude is clearly that of the elder brother.  Why is he so angry with the father?  He feels he has the right to tell the father how the robes, rings, and livestock of the family should be deployed.  In the same way, religious people commonly live very moral lives, but their goal is to get leverage over God, to control him, to put him in a position where they think he owes them.  Therefore, despite all their ethical fastidiousness and piety, they are actually rebelling against his authority.  If, like the elder brother, you believe that God ought to bless you and help you because you have worked so hard to obey him and be a good person, then Jesus may be your helper, your example, even your inspiration, but he is not your Savior.  You are serving as your own savior.

Underneath the brothers’ sharply different patterns of behavior is the same motivation and aim.  Both are using the father in different ways to get the things on which their hearts are really fixed.  It was the wealth, not the love of the father, that they believed would make them happy and fulfilled.

At the end of the story, the elder brother has an opportunity to truly delight the father by going into the feast.  But his resentful refusal shows that the father’s happiness had never been his goal.  When the father reinstates the younger son, to the diminishment of the older son’s share in the estate, the elder bother’s heart is laid bare.  He does everything he can to hurt and resist his father.

If, like the elder brother, you seek to control God through your obedience, then all your morality is just a way to use God to make him give you the things in life you really want.  A classic example of this is the bargain that the young Salieri makes with God in Peter Shaffer’s play, Amadeus.

I would offer up secretly the proudest prayer a boy could think of.  “Lord, make me a great composer!  Let me celebrate your glory through music – and be celebrated myself!  Make me famous through the world, dear God!  Make me immortal!  After I die let people speak my name forever with love for what I wrote!  In return I vow I will give you my chastity, my industry, my deepest humility, every hour of my life.  And I will help my fellow man all I can.  Amen and amen!”

He begins a life under this vow to God.  He keeps his hands off women, works diligently at his music, teaches many musicians for free, and tirelessly helps the poor.  His career goes well and he believes God is keeping his end of the bargain.  Then Mozart appears with musical gifts far above Salieri’s.  His genius had obviously been bestowed on him by God.  Amadeus, Mozart’s middle name, means “beloved by God,” and yet he is a vulgar, self-indulgent “younger brother.”  The talent God lavished so prodigally on Mozart precipitates a crisis of faith in the elder-brother heart of Salieri.  His words are remarkably close to those of the older son in the parable:

It was incomprehensible.  Here I was denying all my natural lust in order to deserve God’s gift and there was Mozart indulging his in all directions – even though engaged to be married – and no rebuke at all!

Finally, Salieri says to God, “From now on we are enemies, You and I,” and thereafter works to destroy Mozart.  Sadly, in Shaffer’s play, God is silent, unlike the father in Jesus’s parable, who reaches out to rescue the elder brother even as he begins to sink into the bitterness, hate, and despair that eventually swallows Salieri.

Salieri’s diligent efforts to be chaste and charitable were ultimately revealed to be profoundly self-interested.  God and the poor were just useful instruments.  He told himself that he was sacrificing his time and money for the poor’s sake and for God’s sake, but there was actually no sacrifice involved.  He was doing it for his own sake, to get fame, fortune, and self-esteem.  “I liked myself,” Salieri said, “Till he came.  Mozart.”  The minute he realized that his service to God and the poor wasn’t gaining him the glory he craved so deeply, his heart became murderous.  Soon the moral and respectable Salieri shows himself capable of greater evil than the immoral, vulgar Mozart.  While the Mozart of Amadeus is irreligious, it is Salieri the devout who ends up in a much greater state of alienation from God, just like in Jesus’s parable.

This mind-set can be present in more subtle form than it was in the life of Salieri.  I knew a woman who had worked for many years in Christian ministry.  When chronic illness overtook her in middle age, it threw her into despair.  Eventually she realized that deep in her heart she had felt that God owed her a better life, after all she had done for him.  That assumption made it extremely difficult for her to climb out of her pit, though climb she did.  The key to her improvement, however, was to recognize the elder-brother mind-set within.

Elder brothers obey God to get things.  They don’t obey God to get God himself – in order to resemble him, love him, know him, and delight him.  So religious and moral people can be avoiding Jesus as Savior and Lord as much as the younger brothers who say they don’t believe in God and define right and wrong for themselves.

Here, then, is Jesus’s radical redefinition of what is wrong with us.  Nearly everyone defines sin as breaking a list of rules.  Jesus, though, shows us that a man who has violated virtually nothing on the list of moral misbehaviors can be every bit as spiritually lost as the most profligate, immoral person.  Why?  Because sin is not just breaking the rules, it is putting yourself in the place of God as Savior, Lord, and Judge just as each son sought to displace the authority of the father in his own life.

The Young Salieri would have objected strongly if someone had told him he was doing this.  By being chaste and charitable was he not doing God’s will rather than his own, was he not honoring and submitting to God?  But by seeking to put God in his debt and get control over him through his good works – instead of relying on his sheer grace – he was acting as his own savior.  When he became murderously bitter toward Mozart, certain that God was being unjust, he was putting himself in the place of God, the Judge.

There are two ways to be your own savior and lord.  One is by breaking all the moral laws and setting your own course, and one is by keeping all the moral laws and being very, very good.

 

 

HOLY SPIRIT: The Spirit As The Origin Of Visions, Revelations, And Wonders, by Moyer Hubbard

From 2 Corinthians (in A Biblical Theology of the Holy Spirit)

In 2 Corinthians 11 – 12, Paul finds himself bullied into a corner by the boasting of his rivals and feels compelled to fight folly with folly by engaging in his own limited campaign of boasting.  Under the heading, “visions and revelations,” Paul recounts the remarkable and, as he describes it, inexplicable experience of being snatched up to Paradise.  Although this is the only Pauline occurrence of the word “vision” (optasia), elsewhere in Paul’s letters, disputed and undisputed, “revelation” (apokalupsis) typically comes through the Spirit.  While Paul does speak more generally of revelations being “from the Lord,” as in 12:1, the cumulative evidence suggests that Paul distinguishes between ultimate source and intermediate agency, as 1 Corinthians 2:10 makes explicit: “God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.”  Similarly, both Ezekiel’s numerous Heavenly, visionary ascents, as well as the ascent of the seer in Revelation, occur through the agency of the Spirit.  This suggests that Paul’s journey to the third heaven, and the “surpassing revelations” he was given as a result, should be included in this discussion of the pneumatology of the letter.  This conclusion is strengthened as we consider Paul’s addendum to this argument in 12:11-13, where he provides further evidence of supernatural, divine validation of his apostolate: the performance of signs, wonders, and powers.  In the three other contexts where Paul links his evangelistic work with such sensational activities, the Spirit is explicitly referenced as the source of the phenomena:

  • Romans 15:18-19: “For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God.
  •  1 Thessalonians 1:5: “Our gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.
  • 1 Corinthians 2:4: “My speech and my message were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.”

While it would venture too far from the subject matter of this chapter to explore the historical and socio-religious setting of these phenomena, a few observations germane to the pneumatology of the letter are in order.  Paul’s Heavenly journey, this mysterious ecstatic rapture to Paradise, was clearly regarded by Paul as a momentous event.  His reticence in disclosing it, and his fumbling caution as he relates it (beginning in the third person, “I know a man,” yet ending in the first person, “I was given a thorn in my flesh”) only underscore its significance for Paul.  That Paul refers to only one revelatory event after introducing this material with the plural, “visions and revelations,” most likely indicates that he considers this the most significant example of many that he could draw on.  In essence, he plays his highest trump card against his naysayers in Corinth and expects to silence his opposition.  This (albeit implicit) pneumatologically grounded, polemically aimed “foolish boast” significantly augments the pneumatology of the earlier chapters of 2 Corinthians.  In 2 Corinthians, the Spirit not only transforms hearts, but also ravishes the soul with visions of Heavenly mysteries, which, in this instance, left the apostle as mute as he hopes to leave his opponents.  Yet for all its obvious impact, Paul does not locate the true power of the Spirit here, nor does he regard “surpassing revelations” as the ultimate manifestation of the Spirit’s work in his apostolate.  This status Paul reserves for the least conspicuous work of the Spirit: strength cloaked in weakness.

 

 

HOLY SPIRIT: The Gift of Understanding, by Carla Mae Streeter

From Foundations of Spirituality

In Cognitive Operation: Wisdom, Understanding, and Knowledge

The cognitive operations move with ease under wisdom’s influence.  This gift dilates the human horizon, relating scattered data from life’s experience, understanding, and judgments into an integrated whole.  In the context of faith and love, wisdom, like a compass, sets the intelligence in the direction to which hope points.  Understanding as a gift of the Spirit does not depend on scholarly effort.  It is a gift for mystagogy – the grasping of the meaning of Scripture and liturgy as it relates to contemporary life.  Knowledge is the intimate knowing of one’s place in the created universe.  It is a knowing of oneself as a part of, not over and above and against, the sun and moon and stars and all the creatures of the Earth.  It is the gift of “knowing my place” amid all God’s creation and being delighted with the truth of it.

Understanding

When we wonder about our wondering, or begin to question what we wonder about, consciousness has shifted.  What identifies the second level of consciousness is questioning for an understanding of our experience.  We ask, “What is this?” or “Why did this happen?” or “Who can this be?”  The energy prompts the imperative, “Ask! Find out! Inquire! Be intelligent!”  The consciousness feels different because it is different.  It is busy examining the data we have experienced at level one and inquiring into it in order to identify what has been presented.  It begins the process we identify as trying to reach understanding.  As the data is questioned, notions are formed by pulling in former images and bits of images.  Pieces are connected by the consciousness as they seem to fit.  Pieces that make sense together suddenly “click,” and the “Aha!” of insight erupts in consciousness.  Insights coalesce and become concepts, and concepts gather to form ideas.  This is the second level of conscious operation, the level of intelligent understanding.

 

 

PRAYER: God As Prayer (part one), by Bishop Kallistos Ware

From The Orthodox Way

Not I, but Christ in me. (Galatians 2:20)

There is no life without prayer.  Without prayer there is only madness and horror.  The soul of Orthodoxy consists in the gift of prayer. (Vasilii Rozanov, Solitaria)

The brethren asked Abba Agathon: “Amongst all our different activities, father, which is the virtue that requires the greatest effort?:  He answered: “Forgive me, but I think there is no labor greater than praying to God.  For every time a man wants to pray, his enemies, the demons, try to prevent him; for they know that nothing obstructs them so much as prayer to God.  In everything else that a man undertakes, if he perseveres, he will attain rest.  But in order to pray a man must struggle to his last breath. (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers)

The Three Stages on the Way

 Shortly after being ordained priest, I asked a Greek bishop for advice on the preaching of sermons.  His reply was specific and concise. “Every sermon,” he said, “should contain three points: neither less nor more.”

It is customary likewise to divide the spiritual Way into three stages.  For Saint Dionysius the Areopagite these are purification, illumination, and union – a scheme often adopted in the West.  Saint Gregory of Nyssa, taking as his model the life of Moses, speaks of light, cloud, and darkness.  But in this chapter we shall follow the somewhat different threefold scheme devised by Origen, rendered more precise by Evagrius, and fully developed by Saint Maximus the Confessor.  The first stage here is praktiki or the practice of the virtues; the second stage is physiki or the contemplation of nature; the third and final stage, our journey’s end, is theologia or “theology” in the strict sense of the word, that is, the contemplation of God himself.

The first stage, the practice of the virtues, begins with repentance.  The baptized Christian, by listening to his conscience and by exerting the power of his free will, struggles with God’s help to escape from enslavement to passionate impulses.  By fulfilling the commandments, by growing in his awareness of right and wrong, and by developing his sense of “ought,” gradually he attains purity of heart; and it is this that constitutes the ultimate aim of the first stage.  At the second stage, the contemplation of nature, the Christian sharpens his perception of the “isness” of created things, and so discovers the Creator present in everything.  This leads him to the third stage, the direct vision of God, who is not only in everything but above and beyond everything.  At this third stage, no longer does the Christian experience God solely through the intermediary of his conscience or of created things, but he meets the Creator face to face in an unmediated union of love.  The full vision of the divine glory is reserved for the Age to come, yet even in this present life the saints enjoy the sure pledge and firstfruits of the coming harvest.

Often the first stage is termed the “active life,” while the second and third are grouped together and jointly designated the “contemplative life.”  When these phrases are used by Orthodox writers, they normally refer to inward spiritual states, not to outward conditions.  It is not only the social worker or the missionary who is following the “active life”; the hermit or recluse is likewise doing so, inasmuch as he or she is still struggling to overcome the passions and to grow in virtue.  And in the same way the “contemplative life” is not restricted to the desert or the monastic enclosure: a miner, typist, or housewife may also possess inward silence and prayer of the heart, and may therefore be in the true sense a “contemplative.”  In The Sayings of the Desert Fathers we find the following story about Saint Antony, the greatest of solitaries: “It was revealed to Abba Antony in the desert: ‘In the city there is someone who is your equal, a doctor by profession.  Whatever he has to spare he gives to those in need, and all day long he sings the Thrice-Holy Hymn with the angels.'”

The image of three stages on a journey, while useful, should not be taken too literally.  Prayer is a living relationship between persons, and personal relationships cannot be neatly classified.  In particular it should be emphasized that the three stages are not strictly consecutive, the one coming to an end before the next begins.  Direct glimpses of the divine glory are sometimes conferred by God on a person as an unexpected gift, before the person has even begun to repent and to commit himself to the struggle of the “active life.”  Conversely, however deeply a man may be initiated by God into the mysteries of contemplation, so long as he lives on Earth he must continue to fight against temptations; up to the very end of his time in this world he is still learning to repent.  “A man should expect temptation until his last breath,” insists Saint Antony of Egypt.  Elsewhere in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers there is a description of the death of Abba Sisois, one of the holiest and best loved of the “old men.”  The brothers standing around his bed say that his lips were moving.  “Who are you talking to, father?” they asked.  “See,” he replied, “the angels have come to take me, and I am asking them for more time – more time to repent.”  His disciples said, “You have no need to repent.”  But the old man said, “Truly, I am not sure whether I have even begun to repent.”  So his life ends.  In the eyes of his spiritual children he was already perfect; but in his own eyes he was still at the very beginning.

No one, then, can ever claim in this life to have passed beyond the first stage.  The three stages are not so much successive as simultaneous.  We are to think of the spiritual life in terms of three deepening levels, interdependent, coexisting with each other.

HEALING: The Gentle Soul

I’m at that stage in life now where everything is defined by how long ago it happened.  A few things happened a few days ago.  But most, especially things involving God, have much longer measuring sticks.  Months don’t even have that much meaning for me any more.  Everything peeps through a gauze of decades ago.  I realize I have no real use for the term, fortnight.  And the word, age, though I love how it feels, seems too much of an exaggeration.

I am constantly wanting to stretch out my arm and pull things closer.  As though my far-sightedness is being challenged by my age.  Even my spiritual far-sightedness.  Or perhaps I’m just getting lazy.  Why strain?  Why work to make everything precise and clear?  Because even when it’s focused on, the focus only last for a bit of time, and then it slips away again.

So when was it, exactly, when I was first given the list of the 12 realms of healing?  Before the modulation from first level of learning (the study of God) to my second level of learning (the study of man), that’s for sure.  I was being prepared.  Always.  Even if I’m avoiding a subject matter, the training still goes on.

So there it is: at some undetermined point in time I had a list dropped in my lap.

  1. Cathedrals (or the nesting places of angels)
  2. Chaplaincy (a bunch of points of touching; interconnection)
  3. Congregational care (ugh; mopping the floor, mostly)
  4. Education (enigmatic, at best)
  5. Homeless (more interesting than it seems)
  6. Music (whatever: mostly busyness; scurrying)
  7. Rape (the means that evil uses to replenish its energy)
  8. Homosexuality/incest (the wrongful use of the word, yes)
  9. Spirituality (What Ever)
  10. Vowed religious (tied up with other realms in most interesting ways)
  11. Women (a category made up of other, little categories, which are made up of other little categories. . . .)
  12. and Gentle souls (the way God describes Black people)

At first, being quite shocked at the length of the list and the depth of the categories, I just thought: these are realms that God wants to see healed.  They need healing from us and from God.

That sort of thing.

They need us.

After dabbing into them here and there for a while I began to wonder if, like everything else in the universe, there is a seen side to these realms.

And an unseen side.

And I began wondering if these things, these areas, actually functioned as portals for evil.  That by their very nature, evil uses them to come into the world.  And that by healing, God meant, sewing up and closing the wounds that exist there.

We need them to be “fixed.”

Some of these I took to quite quickly.  At least managing to outline the concepts.  Even getting through to some very early-level understandings.

Which was gratifying.  And discouraging.  It just made me realize how infinite each one was.

And there were twelve.

Quite a while ago (my life, the Official Sponsor of the concept, Ago), now, I sort of settled down on one of the topics.  Sort of snuggled up into it.

And had no insights whatsoever.

Well, there was one.

But not very helpful, really.

So I kept studying.

I had landed (been stranded?) on Gentle souls.

I studied the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  I can’t remember why I started there.  But I did.

Wait, actually, there were some American novelists first.  Perhaps that’s how I got onto the Congo.

Who knows.

I’m not going to worry about finding the connection.

I knew that the term, Gentle soul, actually referred to the nature of the soul that black people carry.

I found it interesting that there might be a “race” of soul.

Race, not in terms of skin color, but of tribal connectedness.  As it were.

Something actually shared, like a genetic transmission.  Something passed from one to another.

Or is just part of the makeup of this particular group of people.

One thing I learned is that gentleness isn’t the only “shared” qualities of these souls.

There was also joy (or joyousness).

And giganticness.

Huge, gentle, happy souls.

The elephant of the soul family, it seems.

It has come back to me that for a while I studied, and actively grunted at, visions about how Black people were meant to come here to North America, or anywhere out of Africa, really, because there would come a time when Africa would not be a healthy place for people to live.

Perhaps we are living through that time now.  It certainly feels that way to me.

It was made clear to me that the survival of our world depended on Black people being “planted” around the world.

Must have had something to do with the nature of their souls, I imagine.

At the time, I kept wondering why God couldn’t have found a way better than slavery to move people about the globe.

But now I wonder even more.

Was it because of their extraordinary gentleness?

Don’t most races change places through aggression?  And ambition?

Who knows?  Not I, said the walrus.

(And, yes, I can see how confusing matching up this quality with some of the barbaric practices that are committed by black people can be.  But souls don’t dictate behavior, necessarily.  And I’m not even sure that ALL Black people have this type of soul.)

So for years (uncounted) now I have scratched my head and tried to find what having a “gentle” soul meant.  Was it especially attractive to evil, like innocent souls that gleam with sweet light?

Does this explain the extreme aggression?  Did the gentleness allow the cruelty in?

I read with a rock in my stomach the descriptions of current living conditions in Africa.

So bad it falls out of the grasp of the imagination.

Shadows.  Even back when Joseph Conrad was writing about the horror, he called the people of the Congo, mere shadows.

And they have continued to fade all this time.

I tried to connect this type of soul with the term, “poor in spirit,” with poor meaning, empty-handedness, without attachment.  Fully open to receiving from God.

But I didn’t get very far.

In fact, I found my study was much like the jungles described and described and described: dense, impassable, dangerous.

No ideas connected up to each other.  None found solace as more was learned.

All information did was deepen the shock.

Perhaps the gentleness was what allowed so much horror to occur in their lives.

But I couldn’t plug anything into anything else.

I could not find any internal coherence.  No pattern.  No construct.

Perhaps giantness meant vastness, like an endless desert.  Barren.  Lifeless.

Perhaps their souls could endure such vastness, such a challenge.

A combination of elephant and camel: able in ways that the rest of us can’t even imagine.

And then the other day came.

Shot were fired.

Not so unusual for us these days.

It’s been announced that this is what we should expect in our lives today.  And tomorrow.  And the next day.

Just another sprouting of chaos.

But there was something different about this shooting for me.

I could feel it.

Feel the puncture.

Perhaps it was because it happened in a church.  While people prayed.

A man entered the church.  He pointed his gun at God, and he fired.

And, yes, all these acts of violence are the same.

But this one I “saw.”

The ripping of the tender flesh.

The shredding of the tender souls.

And, for once, I could feel the gentleness.

In its violation I could touch its quality.

I could know it.

Like falling into the greenness of the ocean for the first time.

No one can tell you what it will be like.

It just has to be experienced.

And as I watch the reaction to this act, a reaction like no other before it: we are paying attention to ourselves as a whole society.  We are cleaning up our symbols.  Taking our stances seriously.

Or at least trying to.

We’re actually taking the blame.

The whole of us.

It’s as though, like Jesus, the spilt blood from these holy, gentle souls, that were praying that night, that were facing God that night, is purifying the very ground it fell on.

The pod has burst, and sent out its seed.

And, for some reason, we feel it.

We really do.

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
      “To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —
      Of cabbages — and kings —
And why the sea is boiling hot —
      And whether pigs have wings.”

STORY: No Sanctuary From Her Memories — A Twice-Told Tale

One: Ago

On Struggle
by Lisa Irizarry

From The Star-Ledger (1999)

It was a September day in 1963, and 11-year-old Gwen Moten was sitting alone in the living room of a Birmingham, Alabama, home.

Her classmate and best friend, Denise McNair, also 11, had just been killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, and folks were dropping by the girl’s grandmother’s house to pay their respects.

A group of men walked through the front door and greeted Moten as they passed. It was The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and his entourage. They, too, had come to honor McNair’s memory and that of the three other girls killed by white supremacists.

Today, Moten is acting executive director of Symphony Hall in Newark. Few know she was once close friends with one of the four girls killed in that infamous church bombing.

For years, Moten says, Denise’s death was so painful, she couldn’t talk about it – not even to movie director Spike Lee, who wanted her to be part of his 1998 documentary on the tragedy, “4 Little Girls.”

Other than confiding in family and a few people outside her inner circle of friends, Moten remained silent about the incident.

But on the inside, she says, the bombing was a pivotal event in her life. Especially since Moten came close to attending that church service with her friend. The Birmingham native was invited to the service but, for some unknown reason, her mother refused to let her go. “For some reason I didn’t die. For everything I’ve done, there’s a destiny, a purpose,” Moten said.

“Denise was my best friend and was in my class (at school),” the now middle-aged Moten said. “We were little girls and as tight as we could be. We had sleepovers. We took baths together and played dolls and shared our little secrets.

“When we got our first piano, I remember my mother saying Denise had to play it first (because she was a guest at their house that day), and I cried.”

Chris McNair, Denise’s father, talked during a telephone interview about how the close relationship between Moten and his daughter began.

“She and my daughter were in the same class and were friends. At one time we lived in the same vicinity of the school they went to, and Gwen lived in the same vicinity of the school. And when we moved, we kept Denise in that school,” said McNair, who has two other daughters – Lisa, 41, and Kimberly, 37.

Moten said her hometown, the largest city in Alabama and the county seat of Jefferson County, became a symbol of the nation’s racial tension in 1963.

Birmingham became known as “Bombingham.” Churches and homes – especially of middle-class blacks and attorneys – would be bombed. It was a place ready to explode, and people like (then-police commissioner) Bull Conner wanted something to happen.

“Fred Shuttlesworth, a civil rights activist, brought in Dr. King, (The Reverend Ralph) Abernathy and Dr. King’s brother, A.D.,” she said, noting that at that time the civil rights initiative was simply called “the movement.”

“There were meetings held (before King came) to get people to understand nonviolence was the way of the movement. They were packed.”

Blacks and whites in Birmingham seemed to be growing apart with each day, she said, until May of 1963 when 2,400 civil rights demonstrators were jailed after Conner ordered police to use dogs and fire hoses on the protesters. Photographs of the mayhem created national sympathy for the civil rights movement.

In June, Governor George Wallace stood at the doors of the University of Alabama and tried to keep black students from registering.

And in August, a federal court order began the integration of Alabama schools in Birmingham, Huntsville, Tuscaloosa and Mobile.

The following month, on Sept. 15, the church bombing occurred.

For Moten, the memory remains vivid. “There was nothing special going on at my church, and they were having youth day at Denise’s church,” Moten said.

So, during a visit the night before the bombing, McNair’s mother asked Moten’s mom if Gwen could accompany Denise to church.

“But my mother said, no.”

And to this day, Moten said, her mother doesn’t know why she wouldn’t give her permission, other than it was “just a feeling.”

“The last thing I remember was walking Denise to the porch,” said Moten. “I said, ‘I’ll see you later.’ She waved.

“The next morning we were in Sunday school and we heard the sound of the bomb exploding. We knew what it was (because of previous bombings). I felt the movement of the church and the earth.

“I remember sitting in the church pew and someone speaking into my ear saying, ‘Denise is dead’ in the middle of the church service.”

So were three 14-year-old girls: Cynthia Wesley, Addie Mae Collins, and Carole Robertson. All were waiting to participate in the children’s service.

In 1977, Robert Chambliss, known to Ku Klux Klan members as “Dynamite Bob,” was brought to trial for the murders and sentenced to life in prison. He died in 1985. Despite the horror of Denise’s death, Moten said, she felt hurt but, because of her Christian upbringing, had no ill feelings toward whites.

About her encounter with King, Moten said she was awestruck.

“There was a mystique about him at the time – he was on a pedestal (in the black community). I had been to all these meetings and now here I was in his presence. “I don’t remember a conversation, but I do remember them (King and the other men) speaking. I remember the sun behind him when he opened the door, and it looked like there was a glow over his head.”

Moten said that it wasn’t until about 10 years ago that she began to tell her story to a few people outside her family and friends. At the time, she was director of the Newark Boys Chorus, and she knew she couldn’t keep silent when one of the boys asked her about the civil rights movement.

“Those boys are supposed to be some of the brightest black and Hispanic kids there are, and one of them asked if it (the civil rights movement) was during (President) Lincoln’s time.

“It was possible that as children they couldn’t place time frames, but the way he asked, I realized it was possible they didn’t understand the significance of Dr. King and the civil rights movement,” she said.

Moten got a copy of “Eyes on the Prize,” the acclaimed documentary series on the civil rights movement, and for several days kept it on in the room where she taught the boys singing. She also kept the door open so students passing by would be encouraged to come in and watch.

“Some would come in during their lunch breaks and look at it, and I’d talk about it (the bombing and her friendship with McNair). Sometimes in the class setting I would mention something about it,” she said.

Since that awful day in 1963, Moten has gone on to make the life that was spared significant and meaningful. She has taught black South Africans music and voice, has been a commercial television and industrial film spokeswoman, produced and directed a radio talk show on business, transcribed music for the great Ragtime composer Eubie Blake and was an orchestrator for the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

“I try to inspire people,” Moten, a former supervisor of recreation and cultural affairs for the city of Newark, said. “I live by one of Dr. King’s favorite songs. It begins, ‘If I can help somebody, then my living will not be in vain. . . .'”

There also is one other thing Moten has done differently since the day her best friend was killed. “I had never used the phrase, ‘I’ll see you later’ with anyone. I felt if I said it, it wouldn’t happen.”

Two: Now

Charleston Stirs Memories Of Young Birmingham Bombing Victim

From StoryCorps, NPR (2015)

Fifty-one years before the deadly shootings at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, there was another infamous attack on a Southern black church. The 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, was bombed by the Ku Klux Klan on Sept. 15, 1963.

Four young girls were murdered. Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Addie Mae Collins were each 14 years old. Denise McNair was 11. Gwen Moten was best friends with Denise.

“Denise and I, we went everywhere together,” Moten, 64, told StoryCorps recently. “We stayed over each other’s house, we’d sleep in the same bed, and we had become so close that the teachers actually separated us.”

She last saw Denise the night before the bombing.

“I remember her mother asking my mother if I could go with her to church the next day but my mother said, ‘No.’ So I walked her to the door and I said, ‘I’ll see you later.’ And I recall that so clearly because for so long I couldn’t say those words, ‘I’ll see you later.’ And I didn’t know why I wouldn’t until I became adult.

“As a child, I don’t know if I understood death. There was someone I used to touch and talk with whose life was taken away.”

Moten recalls that many churches, homes and black businesses were bombed during that era. “It was like part of life. It was a part of living and growing up in the South,” she says.

“But when I heard about the shooting in the church in South Carolina, I began to shake, and I began to cry. It just came out of me because it stays within you. And it’s almost like here is this link, another link of death. The question is, when will we break this link?”

 

 

 

 

MYSTICISM: The Divine Darkness, by Vladimir Lossky

From The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church

It would be possible to go on indefinitely finding examples of apophaticism [a theology that attempts to describe God by negation] in the theology of the Eastern tradition.  We will confine ourselves to quoting a passage from a great Byzantine theologian of the fourteenth century, Saint Gregory Palamas: “The super-essential nature of God is not a subject for speech or thought or even contemplation, for it is far removed from all that exists and more than unknowable, being founded upon the uncircumscribed might of the celestial spirits – incomprehensible and ineffable to all forever.  There is no name whereby it can be named, neither in this age nor in the age to come, nor word found in the soul and uttered by the tongue, nor contact whether sensible or intellectual, nor yet any image which may afford any knowledge of its subject, if this be not that perfect incomprehensibility which one acknowledges in denying all that can be named.  None can properly name its essence or nature if he be truly seeking the truth that is above all truth.”  “for if God be nature, then all else is not nature.  If that which is not God be nature, God is not nature, and likewise he is not being if that which is not God is being.”

Face to face with this radical apophaticism, characteristic of the theological tradition of the East, we may ask whether or not it corresponds to an ecstatic approach: whether there is a quest of ecstasy whenever the knowledge of God is sought by the way of negations.  Is this negative theology necessarily a theology of ecstasy, or is it susceptible of a more general interpretation?  We have seen, in examining the Mystical Theology of Dionysius, that the apophatic way is not merely an intellectual quest, that it is something more than a spinning of abstractions.  As in the ecstatic Platonists, as also in Plotinus, it is a question of a kátharsis: of an inward purification.  There is, however, this difference: the Platonic purification was above all of an intellectual nature, intended to free the understanding form the multiplicity which is inseparable from being.  For Dionysius, on the other hand, it is a refusal to accept being as such, in so far as it conceals the divine non-being: it is a renunciation of the realm of created things in order to gain access to that of the uncreated; a more existential liberation involving the whole being of him who would know God.  In both cases it is a question of union.  But union with the hen of Plotinus can in fact mean a perception of the primordial and ontological union of man with God: in Dionysius the mystical union is a new condition which implies a progress, a series of changes, a transition from the created to the uncreated, the acquiring of something which man did not hitherto possess by nature.  Indeed, not only does he go forth from his own self (for this happens also in Plotinus), but he belongs wholly to the Unknowable, being deified in this union with the uncreated.  Here union means deification.  At the same time, while intimately united with God he knows him only as Unknowable, in other words as infinitely set apart by his nature, remaining even in union, inaccessible in that which he is in his essential being.  Though Dionysius speaks of ecstasy and of union, though his negative theology, far from being a purely intellectual exercise involves a mystical experience, an ascent towards God; he makes it none the less clear that even though we attain to the highest peaks accessible to created beings, the only rational notion which we can have of God will still be that of his incomprehensibility.  Consequently, theology must be not so much a quest of positive notions about the divine being as an experience which surpasses all understanding.  Consequently, theology must be not so much a quest of positive notions about the divine being as an experience which surpasses all understanding.  “It is a great thing to speak of God, but still better to purify oneself for God,” says Saint Gregory Nazianzen.  Apophaticism is not necessarily a theology of ecstasy.  It is, above all, an attitude of mind which refuses to form concepts about God.  Such an attitude utterly excludes all abstract and purely intellectual theology which would adapt the mysteries of the wisdom of God to human ways of thoughts.  It is an existential attitude which involves the whole man: there is no theology apart from experience; it is necessary to change, to become  anew man.  To know God one must draw near to him.  No one who does not follow the path of union with God can be a theologian.  The way of the knowledge of God is necessarily the way of deification.  He who, in following this path, imagines at a given moment that he has known what God is has a depraved spirit, according to Saint Gregory Nazianzen.  Apophaticism is, therefore, a criterion: the sure sign of an attitude of mine conformed to truth.  In this sense all true theology is fundamentally apophatic.

It will naturally be asked what is the function of “cataphatic” or affirmative theology, the theology of the “divine names” which we find made manifest in the order of creation?  Unlike the negative way, which is an ascent towards union, this is a way which comes down towards us: a ladder of “theophanies” or manifestations of God in creation.  It may even be said to be one and the same way which can be followed in two different directions: God condescends towards us in the “energies” in which he is manifested; we mount towards him in the “unions” in which he remains incomprehensible by nature.  The “supreme theophany,” the perfect manifestation of God in the world by the incarnation of the word, retains for us its apophatic character.  “In the humanity of Christ,” says Dionysius, “the Super-essential was manifested in human substance without ceasing to be hidden after this manifestation, or, to express myself after a more Heavenly fashion, in this manifestation itself.”  “The affirmations of which the sacred humanity of Jesus Christ are the object have all the force of the most pre-eminent negations.”  So much the more the partial theophanies of inferior degree conceal God in that which he is, whilst manifesting him in that which he is not by nature.  The ladder of cataphatic theology which discloses the divine names drawn, above all, from Holy Scripture, is a series of steps up which the soul can mount to contemplation.  These are not the rational notions which we formulate, the concepts with which our intellect constructs a positive science of the divine nature; they are rather images or ideas intended to guide us and to fit our faculties for the contemplation of that which transcends all understanding.  On the lower steps, especially, these images are fashioned from the material objects least calculated to lead spirits inexperienced in contemplation into error.  It is, indeed, more difficult to identify God with stone or with fire than with intelligence, unity, being, or goodness.  What seemed evident at the beginning of the ascent – “God is not stone, he is not fire” – is less and less so as we attain to the heights of contemplation, impelled by that same apophatic spirit which now causes us to say: “God is not being, he is not the good.”  At each step of this ascent as one comes upon loftier images or ideas, it is necessary to guard against making of them a concept, “an idol of God.”  Then one can contemplate the divine beauty itself: God, in so far as he manifests himself in creation.  Speculation gradually gives place to contemplation, knowledge to experience; for, in casting off the concepts which shackle the spirit, the apophatic disposition reveals boundless horizons of contemplation at each step of positive theology.  Thus, there are different levels in theology, each appropriate to the differing capacities of the human understandings which reach up to the mysteries of God.  In this connection Saint Gregory Nazianzen takes up again the image of Moses on Mount Sinai: “God commands me to enter within the cloud and hold converse with him; if any be an Aaron, let him go up with me, and let him stand near, being ready, if it must be so, to remain outside the cloud.  But if any be a Nadad or an Abihu, or of the order of the elders, let him go up indeed, but let him stand afar off.  But if any be of the multitude, who are unworthy of this height of contemplation, if he be altogether impure let him not approach at all, for it would be dangerous to him; but if he be at least temporarily purified, let him remain below and listen to the voice alone, and the trumpet, the bare words of piety, and let him see the mount smoking and lightening.  But if any be an evil and savage beast, and altogether incapable of taking in the matter of contemplation and theology, let him not hurtfully and malignantly lurk in his den amongst the woods, to catch hold of some dogma or saying by a sudden spring, but let him stand yet afar off and withdraw from the mount, or he shall be stones.”  This is not a more perfect or esoteric teaching hidden from the profane; nor is it a Gnostic separation between those who are spiritual, psychic, or carnal, but a school of contemplation wherein each receives his share in the experience of the Christian mystery lived by the church.  This contemplation of the hidden treasures of the divine Wisdom can be practiced in varying degrees, with greater or lesser intensity: whether it be a lifting up of the spirit towards God and away from creatures, which allows his splendor to become visible; whether it be a meditation on the Holy Scriptures in which God hides himself, as it were behind a screen, beneath the words which express the revelation (so Gregory of Nyssa); whether it be through the dogmas of the church or through her liturgical life; whether, finally, it be through ecstasy that we penetrate to the divine mystery, this experience of God will always be the fruit of that apophatic attitude which Dionysius commends to us in his Mystical Theology.

All that we have said about apophaticism may be summed up in a few words.  Negative theology is not merely a theory of ecstasy.  It is an expression of that fundamental attitude which transforms the whole of theology into a contemplation of the mysteries of revelation.  It is not a branch of theology, a chapter, or an inevitable introduction on the incomprehensibility of God from which one passes unruffled to a doctrinal exposition in the usual terminology of human reason and philosophy in general.  Apophaticism teaches us to see above all a negative meaning in the dogmas of the church: it forbids us to follow natural ways of thought and to form concepts which would usurp the place of spiritual realities.  For Christianity is not a philosophical school for speculating about abstract concepts, but is essentially a communion with the living God.  That is why, despite all their philosophical learning and natural bent towards speculation, the Fathers of the Eastern tradition in remaining faithful to the apophatic principle of theology, never allowed their thought to cross the threshold of the mystery, or to substitute idols of God for God himself.  That is also why there is no philosophy more or less Christian.  Plato is not more Christian than Aristotle.  The question of the relations between theology and philosophy has never arisen in the East.  The apophatic attitude gave to the Fathers of the church that freedom and liberality with which they employed philosophical terms without running the risk of being misunderstood or of falling into a “theology of concepts.”  Whenever theology is transformed into a religious philosophy (as in the case of Origen) it is always the result of forsaking the apophaticism which is truly characteristic of the whole tradition of the Eastern church.

Unknowability does not mean agnosticism or refusal to know God.  Nevertheless, this knowledge will only be attained in the way which leads not to knowledge but to union – to deification.  Thus theology will never be abstract, working through concepts, but contemplative: raising the mind to those realities which pass all understanding.  This is why the dogmas of the church often present themselves to the human reason as antinomies [paradoxes], the more difficult to resolve the more sublime the mystery which they express.  It is not a question of suppressing the antinomy by adapting dogma to our understanding, but of a change of heart and mind enabling us to attain to the contemplation of the reality which reveals itself to us as it raises us to God, and unites us, according to our several capacities, to him.

The highest point of revelation, the dogma of the Holy Trinity, is preeminently an antimony.  To attain to the contemplation of this primordial reality in all its fullness, it is necessary to reach the goal which it set before us, to attain to the state of deification; for, in the words of Saint Gregory Nazianzen, “They will be welcomed by the ineffable light, and the vision of the holy and sovereign Trinity, uniting themselves wholly to the whole Spirit; wherein alone and beyond all else I take it that the Kingdom of Heaven consists.”  The apophatic way does not lead to an absence, to an utter emptiness; for the unknowable God of the Christian is not the impersonal God of the philosophers.  It is to the Holy Trinity, “super-essential, more than divine and more than good” (Triàs huperoúsie, kaì hupérthee, kaì huperágathe) that the author of the Mystical Theology commends himself in entering upon the way which is to bring him to a presence and a fullness which are without measure.

 

 

HEALING: Praying For Those Who Grieve, by Charles H. Kraft

From Deep Wounds, Deep Healing

The culture of our Western society has made ministry to those who are grieving a difficult task.  The belief that we should not show weakness in the face of difficulty tends to keep many in bondage to the wounds and hurts suffered during the death of a close friend or family member.   Even our churches have tended to frown on those who say, “I’m not okay.  I need help.”  Instead, we want to keep our grief and sorrow bottled up inside, holding the view that repression is the best option.  Such a custom is very damaging.  For we know that grief and sorrow are powerful emotions that, if suppressed, cause real damage.  Those who have suppressed their emotions usually suffer deeply until the damage is healed.

When ministering either to those suppressing grief or those who are in the process of grieving, it is important to acknowledge the validity of their grief.  Those who have hidden grief need to feel the freedom to unlock the doors to the rooms they have kept shut, sometimes for years.  They need to feel they are free to express their pain without fear of condemnation.  Whether grief is out in the open or hidden, it may be helpful to make a distinction between grief and sorrow.  Here [John and Paula] Sandford assert:

Grief may be quickly healed and banished by faith, whereas sorrow may return many times.  Sorrow and tears are not marks of lack of faith.  Sorrow is a healthy release of loss and hurt.  For many months after grief is assuaged, tears may well up, especially at holidays or when some incident triggers a cherished memory.  Such sorrow is not something to be done away with, nor banished as one would cast away a demon, nor healed too quickly.  It is not something bad or evil.  It is something to be endured and sweetened by.  It is a mark of love’s knowing the pain of loss.  It will pass away naturally in time, when its work is done in the heart. (Healing the Wounded Spirit)

Grief, then, is a poignant sense of loss.  Sorrow implies the ongoing yearning and loneliness that more naturally works itself out in a person’s heart.  In relating to a person’s deep grief, we must respond with deep but firm compassion.  Maybe the person has never gotten over the death of the loved one or has repressed the emotion to the point of seeing it surface in harmful ways.  Repressed grief often comes out as anger.

Sometimes, deep grief has regressed to the point of becoming a spiritual stronghold in the person’s life, often held in place by demons.  Grief can be so ingrained that it becomes a part of the person’s normal personality.  The initial wounding from a loved one’s death can provide the opening for the stronghold, while the person’s refusal to let go of the grief may enable the stronghold to take root and develop.

Taking people back to “re-feel” the initial emotions is very important at this point.  If their emotions have been repressed, this will enable them to get in touch with that pain again.  If they have been wallowing in grief, going back to the scene by picturing the event can afford them opportunity to approach the grieving situation differently this time by setting some boundaries for its expression.

It is important now to break the stronghold of grief at the point of entry and allow the person to begin afresh the journey of dealing with the loved one’s death.  Also it is necessary to break any strong ties of bonding with the deceased person.  Often it is important to have people renounce their connection with grief, asking God’s forgiveness for holding on so long instead of giving their burden to Jesus.  They will then probably need to forgive themselves for holding on to the grief.

Once grief has been dealt with, sorrow and sadness can be addressed.  Sorrow is a less debilitating emotion than grief, but it can also have profound effects if a person wallows in it.  As mentioned in the Sanford quotation, sorrow can be appropriate and legitimate for a longer period of time than grief.  Simply missing the person or feeling sad once in a while is more a testimony of love for the deceased than an indication of any dysfunction or need for deep-level healing.  Nevertheless, it is a good idea to deal with sorrow by taking people back, with Jesus, to the death event or their reaction when they first heard about it in order to “re-feel” their emotions and receive healing.

An important approach to healing is to help the grieving person get in the habit of being thankful for the deceased person.  Instead of wallowing in the regret and negative feelings that can take over any memory, the person should think and speak gratefulness for the presence of the person who is now gone.  The memory of a person who has died at age 43, for example, can either be allowed to be so painful that it casts a pall over the life of the one who has survived or it can become an occasion to thank God for those 43 years.  The latter approach does not deny the fact and the pain of death, but it changes the focus from the way things ended to the way things were for several decades before the end.

 

 

POETRY: Deeper Than Love, by D. H. Lawrence

There is love, and it is a deep thing
but there are deeper things than love.

First and last, man is alone.
He is born alone, and alone he dies
and alone he is while he lives, in his deepest self.

Love, like the flowers, is live, growing.
But underneath are the deep rocks, the living rock that lives alone
and deeper still the unknown fire, unknown and heavy, heavy
and alone.

Love is a thing of twoness.
But underneath any twoness, man is alone.

And underneath the great turbulent emotions of love, the violent herbage,
lies the living rock of a single creature’s price,
the dark, naïf pride.
And deeper even than the bedrock of pride
lies the ponderous fire of naked life
with its strange primordial consciousness of justice
and its primordial consciousness of connection,
connection with still deeper, still more terrible life-fire
and the old, old final life-truth.

Love is of twoness, and is lovely
like the living life on the earth
but below all roots of love lies the bedrock of naked pride, subterranean,
and deeper than the bedrock of pride is the primordial fire of the middle
which rests in connection with the further forever unknowable fire of all things
and which rocks with a sense of connection, religion
and trembles with a sense of truth, primordial consciousness
and is silent with a sense of justice, the fiery primordial imperative.

All this is deeper than love
deeper than love.

 

POETRY: Jesus And His Relatives, by Paul Wegner

(Translated from the German by Geroge Dardess)

There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him.  And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee. And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.
(Mark 3:31-35)

His Word delivered, he stood apart
in a glow among them. His heart
still rang, overcome by its own beat,
like the swinging clapper of a mighty bell.

And his glance, rapt in the spell
of God’s face, shuddered like the sea
in the sun’s kiss, glittering cool, empty,
amid the swarm of men, the swooning girls.

He still stood, arm outfurled
in blessing posture, yet
just as if there were no columns, roof, or wall
but only himself towering over them all,
over a distant Here, a There right under his feet.

A disciple touched his cloak.
“Mary, your mother, spoke
to me, told me to call you.
She’s just outside. Your brothers too.”

Hesitating, he turned
like one facing the plunge
from the clear burn
of the evening sky
into a dingy night.
His family stood before him.
His voice was black.
“Who gave you all the right
to say ‘my son,’ ‘my brother,’ to me?
My God made me a light
to this whole blundering crew,
not just to you, or you.
You have no claim on me.
To possess and be possessed is your obsession.
My will is my own—
I am my own possession
by being God’s.
For who takes God into himself
must be alone.”

 

 

SERMON: The Lord’s Supper, by Martin Luther

Of Confession And The Lord’s Supper In General

Although I have often preached and written on the Lord’s Supper and Confession, yet annually the time appointed for the consideration of these subjects, for the sake of those who desire to commune, returns, and so we must review them in a summary and speak of them once more.

In the first place, I have often enough said that Christians are not obliged to commune on this particular festive day, but that they have the right and authority to come whenever they desire; for God established the office of the ministers for the purpose that they might at all times serve the people and provide them with God’s Word and the Sacraments. Therefore it is unchristian to force people under pain of committing mortal sin to commune just at this time; as has been done heretofore, and is still done in many places. For it is not and can not be in keeping with the Lord’s Supper to force or compel any one to partake of it; on the contrary, it is intended only for a hungry soul that compels itself and rejoices in being permitted to come; those who must be driven are not desired.

Therefore, until the present the devil has ruled with unrestrained power and authority through the pope, compelling him to drive and force the whole world to commune; and in fact, everybody did come running, like swine, because of the pope’s command. In this way so much dishonor and shame have been brought upon the Lord’s Supper, and the world has been so filled with sin that one is moved with compassion to think of it. But since we know these things we ought to let no command bind us, but to hold fast the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free. I say this for the sake of those will not commune except at this time of the year, and who come only because of the custom and the common practice. There is, to be sure, no harm in coming at this Easter-festival, if only the conscience be free and not bound to the time, and is properly prepared to receive the Lord’s Supper.

Of The Lord’s Supper

In the third place we must speak of the Lord’s Supper. We said above that no one should be compelled to commune at any special time, but that this should be left free. It remains for us to speak of the two elements in the Lord’s Supper. I have already said that among us one element alone is not to be offered to the communicant; he who wants the Lord’s Supper should receive the whole of it. For we have preached and practiced this long enough and cannot assume that there should be anyone unable to understand it; yet if there be one so dense, or claiming to be so weak that he cannot grasp the true meaning of it, we will excuse him; it is just as well that he remains away. For anyone to hear God’s Word so long, to have himself coddled like a child, and after all to continue saying, I do not understand, is no good sign. For it is impossible for you to hear so long and still be unenlightened; since then you remain blind it is better for you not to receive the Lord’s Supper. If you cannot grasp the Word that is bright, clear and certain, you need not grasp the sacrament; for the sacrament would be nothing if there were no Word.

Moreover, this Word has now resounded again and again throughout the whole world, so that even they who oppose it know it. These, however, are not weak but obdurate and hardened; they set their heads against the doctrine they hear us prove from the Scriptures with such clearness that they are unable to reply or establish the contrary; yet they simply remain in the Romish Church and try to force us to follow them. Therefore, it is out of the question for us any longer to yield or to endure them, since they defy us and maintain as their right what they teach and practice. Hence we wish to receive both elements in the Lord’s Supper, just because they wish to prevent us from having them. The thought of causing offense no longer applies to those people.

But if there were a locality where the Gospel had not been heard, it would be proper and Christian to adapt one’s self for a time to those who are weak; as also we did in the beginning when our cause was entirely new. Now, however, since so much opposition is offered, and so many efforts at violent suppression are made, forbearance is out of the question.

It is, moreover, a fine example of God’s providential ruling and guidance that the Lord’s Supper is not devoid of persecution, for in instituting it he intended it to be a token and mark whereby we might be identified as Christians. For if we were without it, it would be impossible to tell where to find Christians, and who are Christians, and where the Gospel has borne fruit. But when we go to the Lord’s Supper people can see who they are that have heard the Gospel; moreover, they can observe whether we lead Christian lives. So this is a distinctive mark whereby we are recognized, whereby we also confess the name of God and show that we are not ashamed of his Word.

When now the pope sees me going to the Lord’s Supper and receiving both elements, the bread and the wine, according to the Gospel, it is a testimony that I am determined to cling to the Gospel. If then he grows angry and endeavors to slay me, it is just as it was in the early days of Christianity when the Christians confessed God in the same way by this token of the Lord’s Supper. Our bishops have forbidden both elements as contrary to God’s ordinance and command. If now we mean to confess Christ we must receive both elements, so that people may know that we are Christians and abide by the Word of God. If for this cause they slay us we ought to bear it, knowing that God will abundantly restore life to us again. Hence it is proper for us to suffer persecution on this account; otherwise, if everything were to go smoothly, there would be no real confession. In this way we remain in the right state, always expecting shame and disgrace, yea, even death for the Lord’s sake, as it was in the ancient church.

Furthermore, I said it is not enough to go to the Lord’s Supper, unless you are assured and know a defense to which you can refer as the foundation and reason that you do right in going; in order that you may be armed when attacked, and able to defend yourself with the Word of God against the devil and the world. On this account you dare not commune on the strength of another’s faith; for you must believe for yourself, even as I must, just as you must defend yourself as well as I must defend myself. Therefore, above all you must know the words Christ used in instituting the Lord’s Supper. They are these:

“Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread; and when he had given thanks. he broke it and gave it to his disciples and said, Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.”

“After the same manner also he took the cap, when he had supped, gave thanks and gave it to them, saying: Take, drink ye all of it; this cup is the New Testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the remission of sins: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.”

These are the words which neither our opponents nor Satan are able to deny, on them we must stand. Let them make whatever comments they please; we have the clear Word of God, saying, the bread is Christ’s body given for us; and the cup his blood shed for us. This he bids us do in remembrance of him; but the pope commands that it be not done.

Well, they say, we are only erring laymen, we do not understand, nor are we able to explain the words. But we reply: it is for us to explain just as much as it is for them; for we are commanded to believe in Christ, to confess our faith, and to keep all the commandments of God, just as well as they are. For we have the same God they claim to have. How then are we to believe without knowing and understanding his Word? Since I am commanded to believe I must know the words I am to believe; for how can I believe without the words? Moreover, it is my duty to stand firm, and I must know how to defend myself and how to refute the arguments to the contrary. This is how you can stop their mouths and bring them to silence. My faith must be as good as yours, therefore I must have and must know the Word as well as you. For example the Evangelist here says, “Jesus took the cup and gave it to his disciples, saying, Drink ye all of it; this is my blood of the New Testament which is shed for you,” etc. These words are certainly clear enough; and there is no one so stupid that he cannot understand what is meant by, “Take, drink ye all of it; this is the cup of the New Testament in my blood” etc. Therefore we reply, Unless they prove to us that drinking here signifies something different from what all the world understands by the term, we shall stick to the interpretation, that we are all to drink of the cup. Let them bring forward what they please, custom or councils, we reply, God is older and greater than all things.

Likewise, the words are clear, “This do in remembrance of me.” Tell me, who is to remember the Lord? Is this said to the priests alone, and not to all Christians? And to remember the Lord, what is that but to preach him and to confess him? Now if we are all to remember the Lord in his Supper we must certainly be permitted to receive both elements, to eat the bread and to drink the cup; this surely no one can deny. Therefore, there is no use for you to cover up these words and tell us that we are not to know them. If we are not to know them, what are you here for? You claim to be a shepherd, and therefore you ought to be here to teach these words and preach them to me, and now by your own rotten defense you are forced to confess your own shame and bite your own tongue, having so shamefully spoken in contradiction of the truth.

Thus you see how we are to understand the words of the institution of the Lord’s Supper and firmly hold to them; for in them all the virtue is centered, we all must know them, understand them, and cling to them in faith, so as to be able to defend ourselves and to repulse the foe. When you wish to go to the Lord’s Supper listen to the words spoken, and be assured that they contain the whole treasure on which you are to stand and rely, for they are really spoken to you. My body is given, my blood is shed, Christ declares. Why? Just for you to eat and drink? No; but for the remission of sins. This is what strikes you; and everything else that is done and said has no other purpose than that your sins may be forgiven. But if it is to serve for the forgiveness of sins, it must be able also to overcome death. For where sin is gone, there death is gone, and hell besides; where these are gone, all sorrow is gone and all blessedness has come.

Therefore, you must act so that the words mean you. This will be when you feel the sting and terror of your sin, the assault of the flesh, the world, and the devil. At one time you are angry and impatient; at another you are assailed by the love of money and the cares of life, etc.; so that you are constantly attacked, and at times even gross sins arise, and you fall and injure your soul. Thus you are a poor and wretched creature, afraid of death, despondent, and unable to be happy. Then it is time, and you have reason enough to go, make confession, and confide your distress to God, saying, Lord, thou has instituted and left us the sacrament of thy body and blood that in it we may find the forgiveness of sin. I now feel that I need it. I have fallen into sin. I am full of fear and despair. I am not bold to confess thy Word. I have all these failings, and these. Therefore, I come now that thou mayest heal, comfort, and strengthen me etc.

For this reason I made the statement that the Lord’ Supper is to be given only to him who is able to say that this is his condition; that is, he must state what troubles him, and must long to obtain strength and consolation by means of the Word and the symbol. Let him who is unable to use the Lord’s Supper in this way remain away, nor let him do like those who wretchedly torture themselves at this time, when they come to the sacrament, and have no idea what they are doing.

Now when you receive the Lord’s Supper, go forth and exercise your faith. The sacrament serves to the end that you may be able to say, I have the public declaration that my sins are forgiven; besides my mouth has received the public symbol, this I can testify, as also I have testified before the devil and all the world. When death now and an evil conscience assail you, you can rely on this and defy the devil and sin, and thus strengthen your faith and gladden your conscience towards God, and amend your life day by day, where otherwise you would be slothful and cold, and the longer you remained away the more unfit you would be. But if you feel that you are unfit, weak and lacking, where will you obtain strength here? Do you mean to wait until you have grown pure and strong, then indeed you will never come and you will never obtain any benefit from the holy communion.

PRAYER: A Devout Prayer, by Sir Thomas More

Composed after being condemned to death.

O Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, three equal and coeternal Persons and one Almighty God, have mercy on me, vile, abject, abominable, sinful wretch, meekly knowledging before Thine High Majesty my long-continued sinful life, even from my very childhood hitherto.

In my childhood (in this point and that point). After my childhood (in this point and that point, and so forth by every age).

Now, good gracious Lord, as Thou givest me Thy grace to knowledge them, so give me Thy grace not only in word but in heart also, with very sorrowful contrition to repent them and utterly to forsake them. And forgive me those sins also in which, by mine own default, through evil affections and evil custom, my reason is with sensuality so blinded that I cannot discern them for sin. And illumine, good Lord, mine heart, and give me Thy grace to know them and to knowledge them, and forgive me my sins negligently forgotten, and bring them to my mind with grace to be purely confessed of them.

Glorious God, give me from henceforth Thy grace, with little respect unto the world, so to set and fix firmly mine heart upon Thee, that I may say with Thy blessed apostle St. Paul: “Mundus mihi crucifixus est et ego mundo. (The world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world, Galatians 6:14.) Mihi vivere Christus est et mori lucrum. [For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain, Philippians 1:21.]  Cupio dissolvi et esse cum Christo. [Having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, Philippians 1:23.]

Give me Thy grace to amend my life and to have an eye to mine end without grudge of death, which to them that die in Thee, good Lord, in the gate of a wealthy life.

Almighty God, Doce me facere voluntatem Tuam. [Teach me to do thy will, Psalm 143:10.]   Fac me currere in odore unguentorum tuorum. [Make me run in the scent of your ointments, cf. Song of Solomon 1:3.]  Apprehende manum meam dexteram et deduc me in via recta propter inimicos meos. [Take me by my right hand and direct me on the path of righteousness, on account of my enemies, cf. Psalm 73:23.] Trahe me post te. [Draw me after thee,” cf. Song of Solomon 1:4.]  In chamo et freno maxillas meas constringe, quum non approximo ad te. [With bit and bridle constrain my jaws, when I come not near thee, cf. Psalm 32:9.]

O glorious God, all sinful fear, all sinful sorrow and pensiveness, all sinful hope, all sinful mirth and gladness take from me. And on the other side, concerning such fear, such sorrow, such heaviness, such comfort, consolation, and gladness as shall be profitable for my soul: Fac mecum secundum magnam bonitatem tuam Domine. [Do unto me according to thy great goodness, Lord, cf. Psalm 118:29; Psalm 145:7-8.]

Good Lord, give me the grace, in all my fear and agony, to have recourse to that great fear and wonderful agony that Thou, my sweet Savior, hadst at the Mount of Olivet before Thy most bitter passion, and in the meditation thereof to conceive ghostly comfort and consolation profitable for my soul.

Almighty God, take from me all vain-glorious minds, all appetites of mine own praise, all envy, covetise, gluttony, sloth, and lechery, all wrathful affections, all appetite of revenging, all desire or delight of other folk’s harm, all pleasure in provoking any person to wrath and anger, all delight of exprobation or insultation against any person in their affliction and calamity.

And give me, good Lord, an humble, lowly, quiet, peaceable, patient, charitable, kind, tender, and pitiful mind with all my works, and all my words, and all my thoughts, to have a taste of Thy holy, blessed Spirit.

Give me, good Lord, a full faith, a firm hope, and a fervent charity, a love to the good Lord incomparable above the love to myself; and that I love nothing to Thy displeasure, but everything in an order to Thee.

Give me, good Lord, a longing to be with Thee, not for the avoiding of the calamities of this wretched world, nor so much for the avoiding of the pains of purgatory, nor of the pains of hell neither, nor so much for the attaining of the joys of heaven in respect of mine own commodity, as even, for a very love to Thee.

And bear me, good Lord, Thy love and favor, which thing my love to Thee-ward, were it never so great, could not, but of Thy great goodness deserve.

And pardon me, good Lord, that I am so bold to ask so high petitions, being so vile a sinful wretch, and so unworthy to attain the lowest. But yet, good Lord, such they be as I am bounden to wish, and should be nearer the effectual desire of them if my manifold sins were not the let. From which, O glorious Trinity, vouchsafe, of Thy goodness to wash me with that blessed blood that issued out of Thy tender body, O sweet Savior Christ, in the divers torments of Thy most bitter passion.

Take from me, good Lord, this lukewarm fashion, or rather key-cold manner of meditation, and this dullness in praying unto Thee. And give me warmth, delight, and quickness in thinking upon Thee. And give me Thy grace to long for Thine holy sacraments, and specially to rejoice in the presence of Thy very blessed body, sweet Savior Christ, in the holy sacrament of the altar, and duly to thank Thee for Thy gracious visitation therewith, and at that high memorial with tender compassion to remember and consider Thy most bitter passion.

Make us all, good Lord, virtually participant of that holy sacrament this day, and every day. Make us all lively members, sweet Savior Christ, of Thine holy mystical body, Thy Catholic Church.

Vouchsafe, O Lord, to keep us this day without sin. O Lord, have mercy upon us , have mercy upon us.
O Lord, let thy mercy be upon us, as our trust is in thee.
O Lord, in thee have I trusted; let me never be confounded.

R. Pray for us, holy mother of God.
V. That we may become worthy of the promises of Christ.

For friends

Almighty God, have mercy on N. and N. (with special meditation and consideration of every friend, as godly affections and occasion requireth).

For enemies

Almighty God, have mercy on N. and N., and on all that bear me evil will, and would me harm, and their faults and mine together by such easy, tender, merciful means as Thine infinite wisdom best can devise, vouchsafe to amend and redress and make us saved souls in heaven together, where we may ever live and love together with Thee and Thy blessed saints, O glorious Trinity, for the bitter passion of our sweet Savior Christ.  Amen.

God, give me patience in tribulation and grace in everything, to conform my will to Thine, that I may truly say: “Fiat voluntas tua, sicut in coelo et in terra”. [Thy will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven.] The things, good Lord, that I pray for, give me Thy grace to labor for.   Amen.

 

 

PRAYER: Prayer Points for Charleston

From Anglican Prayer

O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples and races of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and those who are near:

Grant to those who have lost love ones your hope, comfort, and peace.

Grant to those members of Emmanuel AME Church a sense of your presence.

Look with compassion on the whole human family here in Charleston and across our nation.

Show us how to respond to one another’s hurt and suffering.

Shed abroad your Spirit on those who have lost faith, hope, and trust in you and one another.

Break down the walls that we separate us.

Unite us in bonds of love, and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on Earth, that in your good time all peoples and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

 

 

POETRY: my father moved through dooms of love, by E. E. Cummings

my father moved through dooms of love
through sames of am through haves of give,
singing each morning out of each night
my father moved through depths of height

this motionless forgetful where
turned at his glance to shining here;
that if (so timid air is firm)
under his eyes would stir and squirm

newly as from unburied which
floats the first who, his april touch
drove sleeping selves to swarm their fates
woke dreamers to their ghostly roots

and should some why completely weep
my father’s fingers brought her sleep:
vainly no smallest voice might cry
for he could feel the mountains grow.

Lifting the valleys of the sea
my father moved through griefs of joy;
praising a forehead called the moon
singing desire into begin

joy was his song and joy so pure
a heart of star by him could steer
and pure so now and now so yes
the wrists of twilight would rejoice

keen as midsummer’s keen beyond
conceiving mind of sun will stand,
so strictly (over utmost him
so hugely) stood my father’s dream

his flesh was flesh his blood was blood:
no hungry man but wished him food;
no cripple wouldn’t creep one mile
uphill to only see him smile.

Scorning the Pomp of must and shall
my father moved through dooms of feel;
his anger was as right as rain
his pity was as green as grain

septembering arms of year extend
less humbly wealth to foe and friend
than he to foolish and to wise
offered immeasurable is

proudly and (by octobering flame
beckoned) as earth will downward climb,
so naked for immortal work
his shoulders marched against the dark

his sorrow was as true as bread:
no liar looked him in the head;
if every friend became his foe
he’d laugh and build a world with snow.

My father moved through theys of we,
singing each new leaf out of each tree
(and every child was sure that spring
danced when she heard my father sing)

then let men kill which cannot share,
let blood and flesh be mud and mire,
scheming imagine, passion willed,
freedom a drug that’s bought and sold

giving to steal and cruel kind,
a heart to fear, to doubt a mind,
to differ a disease of same,
conform the pinnacle of am

though dull were all we taste as bright,
bitter all utterly things sweet,
maggoty minus and dumb death
all we inherit, all bequeath

and nothing quite so least as truth
—i say though hate were why men breathe—
because my Father lived his soul
love is the whole and more than all

 

 

POETRY: Original Sin (A Memorial Anthem for Father’s Day), by Thomas Merton

Weep, weep, little day
For the Father of the lame
Experts are looking
For his name

Weep, weep little day
For your Father’s bone
All the expeditions
Dig him one.

He went on one leg
Or maybe four
Science (cautious)
Says “Two or more.”

Weep, weep little day
For his walking and talking
He walked on two syllables
Or maybe none

Weep little history
For the words he offended
One by one
Beating them grievously
With a shin bone.

 

 

SATURDAY READING: The Holy Spirit Provides Gifts, by Keith Warrington

From The Message of the Holy Spirit

One: Introduction

The gifts of the Spirit are mainly discussed by Paul in 1 Corinthians, a letter that was written to believers who, though charismatic, were verging on the chaotic, their basic problem being due to relationship issues.  As a result of selfishness and a false view of their importance as individuals, the interests of others had been ignored.  Consequently, Paul speaks to the issue of unity from the start.  Thereafter, problems arising from their disunity are explored, including serious immorality, a readiness to take one another to court, marital issues, lack of care over younger Christians, idolatry, gender issues, ignorance over the Lord’s Supper and of the importance of internal harmony in celebrating it, and, finally, disorganized and selfish manifestation of gifts of the Spirit.

Paul reacts to these problems by establishing principles of Christian conduct that celebrate the importance of variety not uniformity, love not selfishness, liberty not license – unison and harmony, unity and diversity, privilege and responsibility, and sensitivity to the Spirit and to each other.  In particular, he demonstrates how these values should and could be attained through a correct use of the gifts that the Spirit gives to the church.

Paul does not engage in a systematic discussion concerning gifts of the Spirit, choosing not to explain their identity, offer guidelines for their use (other than for tongues and prophecy), or identify any precursors for their being received.  He is interested in the broader (and more important) issues that reflect the person of the Spirit who functions in unity within the Godhead, expressing interdependency and constancy, love, and grace.  Paul desires that such principles be manifested in the church at Corinth and elsewhere.

Two: Gifts of the Spirit are gifts of grace (1 Corinthians 12:4)

One of Paul’s emphases is that not only is the Spirit a gift to the church and every believer, but he also provides a variety of gifts for the benefit of all believers.  Such gifts from the Spirit are often referred to as charismata, a helpful term because of the inclusion of the Greek word  charis (grace) within it.  Thus, a helpful and popular translation is a “(free) gift” or “gift of grace,” given to the undeserving, to be freely and graciously distributed for the benefit of others.  Other than 1 Peter 4:10, Paul is the only New Testament writer who refers to them as charismata.  It may therefore be a term that he particularly chose to employ, probably because of its association with grace.

Although the notion of a gift is that it belongs to the recipient and not to the one who has given it, it is more accurate to accept that the charismata are on loan from the Spirit.  They are manifestations of the Spirit through believers that are expected to be used in ways that are appropriate to his character and will.  Even when individual believers may frequently manifest a particular gift, it is still preferable to understand these occasions as manifestations of the Spirit through those people, and not that they are using the gift of their own volition.  It is difficult to be completely clear in the formulation of a precise practical framework for the use of the charismata; some (miracles, healings) are manifested more intermittently than others (administration, teaching), which are more permanent.  Flexible, rather than rigid, contexts of use need to be embraced.

Three: Spiritual gifts are given by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:7)

The term pneumatikoi is also used to refer to gifts of the Spirit; its value is that it emphasizes their relationship with the Spirit (pneuma).  Rather than such gifts being requested of the Spirit by believers, it is more appropriate to recognize that the manifestation of such gifts is the responsibility of the Spirit.  He is in charge of their dispersal, each of the gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:8-9 being identified as given by the Spirit.  Indeed, in just eight verses, the concept of the gifts being given by the Spirit is mentioned no less than seven times.  Similarly, the Spirit is identified in the Old Testament as enabling, among others, Elijah and Elisha to function charismatically.  Furthermore, the manifestation of “spiritual gifts” does not indicate a superior spirituality on the part of the one who manifests them; they are “spiritual gifts” because their source is the Spirit.  Thus, to refer to them as “gifts of the Spirit” instead of “spiritual gifts” is helpful as it emphasizes the important fact that they are derived from the Spirit.

Although they are often specifically associated with the Spirit, Paul informs his readers that each member of the Godhead is involved in their being given to the church.  Any attempt to divide the gifts between the members of the Godhead is counterproductive to Paul’s theme, namely diversity of gifts with unity of purpose and sensitivity in operation.  Thus, to conclude that the Spirit provides the gifts, the Son administers them, and the Father provides the power to manifest them would be too nuanced a perspective, and would inappropriately compartmentalize the functions within the Godhead.  Paul is not offering a discussion of unity within the Godhead but in the church.

Given the regular references to the presence of the Spirit in the life of the church, it is logical that, in his letters, Paul should focus on the Spirit as functioning representatively as the distributor of the gifts.  Not only are they bestowed by the Spirit but also the Spirit manifests himself through those gifts.  Therefore, his character should be displayed when they are exhibited.  The fact that the gifts are given by the Spirit should increase the sense of responsibility felt by those who administer them and, in particular, encourage them to do so appropriately, as indicated by the nature of the giver of the gifts.  It is to be remembered that they are not derived remotely from a distance as a result of divine initiation from Heaven, so much as resulting from his being present in believers.  As a loving friend, he is happiest when his choice gifts to us are being used to benefit and bless others.

Four: Gifts of the Spirit are for the benefit of others (1 Corinthians 12:7)

Paul writes about the diversity of the gifts given as expressions of God’s grace, but with one specific purpose of benefiting others.  Paul asserts that spiritual gifts should be operated harmoniously in diversity, not discordantly, but as a consequence of a dynamic relationship with the Spirit, resulting in beneficial relationships with each other.  Paul associates the gifts with service to others, working for their benefit.  They are described as being given for the corporate group.  Thus, they are not to be administered selfishly but selflessly, not for personal gain but to the advantage of others.

When the manifestation of a gift ceases to exalt the person of Jesus or to edify or develop other believers, it ceases to be divinely inspired.  When there is an absence of a manifestation of love, there is an absence of a manifestation of God through the gift.  It is no accident that joining up chapters 12 and 14 is the clearly defined presentation of love and its vital importance to the believing community.  It is of significant importance in determining when someone is authentically manifesting a gift of the Spirit.  Without it, the exercise of such gifts can be counterproductive, demeaning to the purposes of the Spirit and destabilizing to believers.

The manifestation of the gifts must therefore be subject to careful assessment.  Sanctified common sense, the shared wisdom of the Christian community, a comparison with Biblical teachings and personal receptivity to the Spirit will hep to confirm or reject the validity of a manifestation.

Five: Gifts of the Spirit are varied (1 Corinthians 12:8-10)

Paul provides four major lists of gifts, none of which is intended to be comprehensive but representative.  One of the main purposes of these lists is to demonstrate the diversity of gifts available to believers.

1 Corinthians 12:8-10: Wisdom, Knowledge, Faith, Healing, Miracles, Prophecy, Discernment, Tongues, Interpretation

1 Corinthians 12:28-30: Apostles, Prophets, Teachers, Miracles, Healings, Helps, Administration, Tongues, Interpretation

Ephesians 4:11: Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist Pastor/Teacher

Romans 12:6-8: Prophecy, Service, Teaching, Exhortation, Giving, Mercy

Some question the distinction between “natural” and “supernatural” gifts, preferring to identify a gift of the Spirit on the basis of its value to the Christian community.  W. J. Hollenweger deduces that “a charism is a natural gift that is given for the common good.”  Other, however, have refused to identify natural talents as spiritual gifts.  A mediating position may be offered that allows for the possibility that, as well as those that are clearly supernatural, a gift of the Spirit may be a natural gift that has been invested with supernatural energy by God.

Thus, before Paul became a follower of Jesus, he was a scholar and activist on behalf of Judaism.  After his conversion, the Spirit empowered his natural (God-given) abilities for the benefit of the Christian community.  Often times, the Spirit chooses to use sensitivities, passions, strengths, and gifts that were originally part of our created characters and personalities.  He does not always do this but it should be no surprise when he does.  Although sin has marred the image of God in us, the Creator made us in his image and he is perfectly able to redeem our characters for his service.  After salvation, these gifts and sensitivities may be enhanced and supernaturally energized so as to achieve a higher potential of benefit for others.  At the same time, the Spirit is capable of empowering believers to function in ways that are beyond their normal powers.

MYSTICISM: From Faith to Wisdom

From New Seeds of Contemplation

The living God, the God who is God and not a philosopher’s abstraction, lies infinitely beyond the reach of anything our eyes can see or our minds can understand.  No matter what perfection you predicate of him, you have to add that your concept is only a pale analogy of the perfection that is in God, and he is not literally what you conceive by what term.

He who is infinite light is so tremendous in his evidence that our minds only see him as darkness.  Lux in tenebris lucet et tenebrae eam non comprehenderunt.  (The light shines in darkness and the darkness has not understood it.)

If nothing that can be seen can either be God or represent him to us as he is, then to find God we must pass beyond everything that can be seen and enter into darkness.  Since nothing that can be heard is God, to find him we must enter into silence.

Since God cannot be imagined, anything our imagination tells us about him is ultimately misleading and therefore we cannot know him as he really is unless we pass beyond everything that can be imagined and enter into an obscurity without images and without the likeness of any created thing.

And since God cannot be seen or imaged, the visions of God we read of the saints having are not so much visions of him as visions about him; for to see any limited form is not to see him.

God cannot be understood except by himself.  If we are to understand him we can only do so by being in some way transformed into him, so that we know him as he knows himself.  And he does not know himself by any representation of himself: his own infinite being is his own knowledge of himself and we will not know him as he knows himself until we are united to what he is.

Faith is the first step in this transformation because it is a cognition that knows without images and representations by a loving identification with the living God in obscurity.  Faith reaches the intellect not simply through the senses but in a light directly infused by God.  Since this light does not pass through the eye or the imagination or reason, its certifude becomes our own without any vesture of created appearance, without any likeness that can be visualized or described.  It is true that the language of the article of faith to which we assent represents things that can be imagined, but in so far as we imagine them we misconceive them and tend to go astray.  Ultimately we cannot imagine the connection between the two terms of the proposition: “In God there are three persons and one nature.”  And it would be a great mistake to try.

If you believe, if you make a simple act of submission to the authority of God proposing some article of faith externally through his church, you receive the gift of an interior light that is so simple that it baffles description and so pure that it would be coarse to call it an experience.  But it is a true light, perfecting the intellect of man with a perfection far beyond knowledge.

It is of course necessary to remember that faith implies the acceptance of truths proposed by authority.  But this element of submission in faith must not be so overemphasized that it seems to constitute the whole essence of faith: as if a mere unloving, unenlightened, dogged submission of the will to authority were enough to make a “man of faith.”  If this element of will is overemphasized then the difference between faith in the intellect and simple obedience in the will becomes obscured.  In certain cases this can be very unhealthy, because actually if there is no light of faith, no interior illumination of the mind by grace by which one accept the proposed truth from God and thereby attains to it, so to speak, in his divine assurance, then inevitably the mind lacks the true peace, the supernatural support which is due to it.  In that event there is not real faith.  The positive element of light is lacking.  There is a forced suppression of doubt rather than the opening of the eye of the heart by deep belief.  Where there is only a violent suppression of doubt and nothing more, can we suppose that the true interior gift of faith has really been received?  This is, of course, a very delicate question, because it often happens that where there is deep faith, accompanied by true consent of love to God and to his truth, there may yet persist difficulties in the imagination and in the intellect.

In a certain sense we may say that there are still “doubts,” if by that we mean not that we hesitate to accept the truth of revealed doctrine, but that we feel the weakness and instability of our spirit in the presence of the awful mystery of God.  This is not so much an objective doubt as a subjective sense of our own helplessness which is perfectly compatible with true faith.  Indeed, as we grow in faith we also tend to grow in this sense of our own helplessness, so that a man who believes much may, at the same time, in this improper sense, seem to “doubt” more than ever before.  This is no indication of theological doubt at all, but merely the perfectly normal awareness of natural insecurity and of the anguish that comes with it.

The very obscurity of faith is an argument of its perfection.  It is darkness to our minds because it so far transcends their weakness.  The more perfect faith is, the darker it becomes.  The closer we get to God, the less is our faith diluted with the half-light of created images and concepts.  Our certainty increases with this obscurity, yet not without anguish and even material doubt, because we do not find it easy to subsist in a void in which our natural powers have nothing of their own to rely on.  And it is in the deepest darkness that we most fully possess God on Earth, because it is then that our minds are most truly liberated from the weak, created lights that are darkness in comparison to him; it is then that we are filled with his infinite light which seems pure darkness to our reason.

In this greatest perfection of faith the infinite God himself becomes the light of the darkened soul and possesses it entirely with his truth.  And at this inexplicable moment the deepest night becomes day and faith turns into understanding.

From all this it is evident that faith is not just one moment of the spiritual life, not just a step to something else.  It is that acceptance of God which is the very climate of all spiritual living.  It is the beginning of communion.  As faith deepens, and as communion deepens with it, it becomes more and more intensive and at the same time reaches out to affect everything else we think and do.  I do not mean merely that now all our thoughts are couched in certain fideist or pietistic formulas, but rather that faith gives a dimension of simplicity and depth to all our apprehensions and to all our experiences.

What is this dimension of depth?  It is the incorporation of the unknown and of the unconscious into our daily life.  Faith brings together the known and the unknown so that they overlap: or father, so that we are aware of their overlapping.  Actually, our whole life is a mystery of which very little comes to our conscious understanding.  But when we accept only what we can consciously rationalize, our life is actually reduced to the most pitiful limitations, though we may think quite otherwise.  (We have been brought up with the absurd prejudice that only what we can reduce to a rational and conscious formula is really understood and experienced in our life.  When we can say what a thing is, or what we are doing, we think we fully grasp and experience it.  In point of fact, this verbalization – very often it is nothing more than verbalization – tends to cut us off from genuine experience and to obscure our understanding instead of increasing it.)

Faith does not simply account for the unknown, tag it with a theological tag and file it away in a safe place where we do not have to worry about it.  This is a falsification of the whole idea of faith.  On the contrary, faith incorporates the unknown into our everyday life in a living, dynamic, and actual manner.  The unknown remains unknown,.  It is still a mystery, for it cannot cease to be one.  The function of faith is not to reduce mystery to rational clarity, but to integrate the unknown and the known together in a living whole, in which we are more and more able to transcend the limitations of our eternal self.

Hence the function of faith is not only to bring us into contact with the “authority of God” revealing; not only to teach us truths “about God,” but even to reveal to us the unknown in our own selves, in so far as our unknown and undiscovered self actually lives in God, moving and acting only under the direct light of his merciful grace.

This is, to my mind, the crucially important aspect of faith which is too often ignored today.  Faith is not just conformity, it is life.  It embraces all the realms of life, penetrating into the most mysterious and inaccessible depths not only of our unknown spiritual being but even of God’s own hidden essence and love.  Faith, then, is the only way of opening up the true depths of reality, even of our own reality.  Until a man yields himself to God in the consent to total belief, he must inevitably remain a stranger to himself, an exile from himself, because he is excluded from the most meaningful depths of his own being: those which remain obscure and unknown because they are too simple and too deep to be attained by reason.

At once the question arises: do you mean the subconscious mind?  Here a distinction must be made.  We tend to imagine ourselves as a conscious mind which is “above” and a subconscious mind that is “below the conscious.”  This image tends to be misleading. The conscious mind of man is exceeded in all directions by his unconscious.  There is darkness not only below our conscious reason but also above it and all around it.  Our conscious mind is by no means the summit of our being.  Nor does it control all the rest of our being from a point of eminence.  It merely controls some of the elements that are below it.  But our conscious mind may in turn be controlled by the unconscious that is “beyond” it, whether above or below.  However, it should not be controlled by what is below it, only by what it above.  Hence the important distinction between the animal, emotional, and instinctive components of our unconscious and the spiritual, one might almost say the “divine,” elements in our superconscious mind.

Now faith actually brings all of the unconscious into integration with the rest of our life, but it does so in different ways.  What is below us is accepted (not by any means merely rationalized).  It is consented to in so far as it is willed by God.  Faith enables us to come to terms with our animal nature and to accept the task of trying to govern it according to the divine will, that is, according to love.  At the same time, faith subjects our reason to the hidden spiritual forces that are above it.  In so doing, the whole man is brought into subjection to the “unknown” that is above him.

In this superconscious realm of mystery is hidden not only the summit of man’s spiritual being (which remains a pure mystery to his reason) but also the presence of God, who dwells at this hidden summit, according to traditional metaphor.  Faith then brings man into contact with man’s own inmost spiritual depths and with God, who is “present” within those same depths.

The traditional theology of the Greek Fathers devised three terms for these three aspects of man’s one spirit.  That which is unconscious and below reason was the anima  or psyche, the “animal” soul, the realm of instinct and of emotion, the realm of automatism in which man functions as a psychophysical organism.  This anima is conceived as a kind of feminine or passive principle in man.

Then there is the reason, the enlightened, conscious, active principle, the animus or nous, here we have the mind as a masculine principle, the intelligence that governs, ratiocinates, guides our activity in the light of prudence and of thought.  It is meant to direct and command the feminine principle, the passive anima.  The anima is Eve, the animus is Adam.  The effect of original sin in us all is that Eve tempts Adam and he yields his reasoned thought to her blind impulse, and tends henceforth to be governed by the automatism of passionate reason, by conditioned reflex, rather than by thought and moral principle.

However, the true state of man is not just anima governed by animus, the masculine and the feminine.  There is an even higher principle which is above the division of masculine and feminine, active and passive, prudential and instinctive.  This higher principle in which both the others are joined and transcend themselves in union with God, is the spiritus, or pneuma.  This higher principle is not merely something in man’s nature, it is man himself united, vivified, raised above himself and inspired by God.

The full stature of man is to be found in “spirit” or pneuma.  Man is not fully man until he is “one spirit” with God.  Man is “spirit” when he is at once anima, animus, and spiritus.  But these three are not numerically distinct.  They are one.  And when they are perfectly ordered in unity, while retaining their own rightful qualities, then man is reconstituted in the image of the Holy Trinity.

The “spiritual life” is then the perfectly balanced life in which the body with its passions and instincts, the mind with its reasoning and its obedience to principle, and spirit with its passive illumination by the light and love of God form one complete man who is in God and with God and from God and for God.  One man in whom God is all in all.  One man in whom God carries out his own will without obstacle.

It can easily be seen that a purely emotional worship, a life of instinct, an orgiastic religion, is no spiritual life.  But also, a merely rational life, a life of conscious thought and rationally directed activity, is not a fully spiritual life.  In particular, it is a characteristic modern error to reduce man’s spirituality to mere “mentality,” and to confine the whole spiritual life purely and simply in the reasoning mind.  Then the spiritual life is reduced to a matter of “thinking” – of verbalizing, rationalizing, etc.  But such a life is truncated and incomplete.

The true spiritual life is a life neither of dionysian orgy nor of apollonian clarity: it transcends both.  It is a life of wisdom, a life of sophianic love.  In Sophia, the highest wisdom-principle, all the greatness and majesty of the unknown that is in God and all that is rich and maternal in his creation are united inseparably, as paternal and maternal principles, the uncreated Father and created Mother-Wisdom.

Faith is what opens to us this higher realm of unity, of strength, of light, of sophianic love where there is no longer the limited and fragmentary light provided by rational principles, but where the truth is one and undivided and takes all to itself in the wholeness of Sapientia, or Sophia.  When St. Paul said that love was the fulfillment of the law and that love had delivered man from the law, he meant that by the Spirit of Christ we were incorporated into Christ, himself the “power and wisdom of God,” so that Christ himself thenceforth became our own life, and light and love and wisdom.  Our full spiritual life is life in wisdom, life in Christ.  The darkness of faith bears fruit in the light of wisdom.

 

 

REFLECTION: Wisdom, by Joan Chittister

From The Gift of Years

“In youth we learn,” Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach wrote when she was seventy-five years old, “in age we understand.”

Clearly, here was a woman who understood the function of age, the role of the elderly.

Understanding is the bedrock of a society.  It enables us to see why we do what we do, to realize why we cannot do what we want to do in all instances.  It is the development of understanding for the next generation, in the cocreation of the world, that the older generation has so serious a role to play.

The service that the whole world needs from the elders is not the service of hours spent and time put in and documents finished and machines fixed.  There are untold numbers of people who can do all of those things.

No, the service of the elders is not a service of labor, it is a service of enlightenment, of wisdom, of discernment of spirits.  Only the carriers of generations past can give us those things, because wisdom is what lasts after an experience ends.  We cannot expect wisdom as a wholesale item of the young, then because they simply have not lived long enough or through enough to have been able to amass much of it.

Oddly enough, this period in life when we finally get to the point that we really understand some things about living well is when we feel most out of it.  It is, far too often, exactly the time when people who know more than they have ever known begin to feel useless.  Out of the mainstream of the middle years, not going into the office or the store or the bus barn anymore, not responsible for the meetings or the committees or the children or the family or the business, we begin to doubt that there is any role left for us in life.  After all, everything that ever gave us status or influence at all has simply dried up, disappeared, or moved on.

The children are off on their own now.  They call, they visit, but they never ask for much help anymore.  They manage their own families and money now.  They aren’t looking for our advice.

The company sends newsletters, of course, but our names are never in them now.  We hardly understand the new language they’re using, let alone feel like we’re still a part of it.  We actually have no idea what they’re talking about in those newsletters anymore.  We don’t say so, of course, but down deep we know that we’ve lost touch.

We hear the bustle on the street outside, we hear the clicking of heels on the steps in the hallway, but no one stops to tell us where they’re going or where they’ve been.

Clearly our role, if there is one, has changed.  But to what?  For what purpose?  And if we have no role at all, what’s left for us in this world?  What are we to anyone now that we are nothing at all of the things we once thought were so important?

In fact, the moment of apparent disengagement is exactly the moment when we become most important to the world around us.  We are beyond the stage of being simply another replaceable part in life now.  We and everything we believe in or know about or understand cannot be replaced.  These understandings are uniquely ours.  These ideas that have taken a lifetime to develop cannot be substituted for by any simple technical routine.  These are the things of the soul.

Our role now is to be what we have discovered about life.  Our responsibility is wisdom.  Only those who have lived in this society long enough really stand to have the insight to know what it needs, to point out what it doesn’t.

If nothing else, those who are beyond the pressures of the workforce, for instance, are most likely to understand the effects of it on the human spirit.  At the very least, then, it is the older generation which is able to show us all another way to live.

Americans, researchers tell us, have much less reflection time than almost any other culture in the modern world.  The United States is the most vacation-starved country in the Western world.  A minimum of several weeks of rest and vacation is standard in much of Europe, for example – whereas many Americans have barely two weeks paid vacation time each year.

According to Joe Robinson, author of Work to Live and founder of the Work to Live Campaign in the United States, “in terms of work time logged, Americans work a full two months more a year than Germans do,” for instance.

The elderly, by living at a more leisurely pace, by taking the time to read again, to pursue new questions, by involving themselves in the discussions of the day, have the opportunity to bring to us a wisdom that comes from experience.

Older people have what this world needs most: the kind of experience that can save the next generation from the errors of the one before them.  This is a generation, for instance, that knows the unfathomable horrors of mass genocide and holocaust.  This generation knows that war does nothing but plant the seeds of the next one.  This generation knows that there is no such thing as “rugged individualism” anymore; we are in this changing world together.  The older generation knows that the only thing that is good for any of us in the long run is what is good for all of us right now.  That’s wisdom.  Wisdom is not insisting on the old ways of doing things.  It is the ability to make ancient truth the living memory of today.

Only the elderly have lived through both the good and the bad decisions of the past.  It is they, then, who have the wisdom to alert us to alternatives, to evaluate present choices from the perspective of history.

The role of the elders is to bring their wisdom to the decision-making tables of the world where, too commonly now, only pragmatism reigns.  The world needs women and men who will question whether what can be done, should be done.  It is the experience of the elders that tells the world that force is not the only way to solve a problem.  They know, having seen Germany and Japan suffer from their own militarism, that even force may not be the best way to achieve security.  They know, too, that money may not be the answer to a problem.  They know what happens to the marrow of a country when corruption swamps integrity and the thirst for power turns into paranoia as it did in the McCarthy era.

Remove the public face of the older generation and you remove the memory of the world, the sensitivities of the ages.  Inventing the nuclear bomb was easy.  To refrain from using it, however, is the preeminent need of the time.  And that demands great wisdom.

Wisdom is not the quality of being wedded to the past.  Wisdom is the capacity to be devoted to its ideals.  As the Japanese poet Basho wrote, “I do not seek to follow in the footsteps of those of old.  I seek only what they sought.”

And why must the elders in a society immerse themselves in the issues of the time?  If for no other reason than that they are really the only ones who are free to tell the truth.  They have nothing to lose now: not status, not striving, not money, not power.  They are meant to be the prophets of a society, its compass, its truth-tellers.

No, older people are not useless in a society – unless they choose to be.  But to relinquish the position of seer and sage in a society rife with technicians and bureaucrats is to abandon the world we made.  Now is our time to evaluate what we have done, what we have lost, what we are losing – and to spare no efforts to make it known.  It is the older generation that must turn the spotlight back on our best ideals when the lights of the soul go dim.  Before it is too late.

A burden of these years is to accept the notion that nothing can be done to save a people when a younger generation is in charge.

A blessing of these years is to have the opportunity to take on the role of thinker, of philosopher, of disputant, of interrogator, of spiritual guide in a world racing to nowhere, with no true human goal and no lived wisdom in sight.

HEALING: The Spirit As Healer, by Martin Israel

From Smouldering Fire

The written law condemns to death, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:6)

Healing is the binding together of the disintegrated personality into a new, transformed whole.  Healing results in a true wholeness of the person which allows him to approach the transcendent holiness of God in intimacy and love.

We have been considering how the Holy Spirit regenerates the personality by infusing its dark recesses, brought courageously into the light of truth, with his power, so that what was formerly a source of shame and secrecy can now unfold into its true nature as a part of the creation of God.  This is the beginning of the healing process and also its heart.  The true Spirit works from within outwards.  As the soul is cleared of the debris that occludes the Spirit within it, so the mind is sharpened and cleansed, and the body invigorated and renewed.  The Holy Spirit is the power that integrates; he does not concentrate exclusively on one part of the personality, leaving the remainder without care.  In this respect he differs from all the secondary agencies of healing, whether medical, psychotherapeutic, or psychic, which apply themselves predominantly to one part of the personality.

This means that the Spirit acts slowly and progressively.  But what about the healing miracles ascribed to Jesus and his disciples?  These surely were rapid if not instantaneous.  And were the people involved really healed?  As far as the scanty scriptural record tells us – and we know little of their subsequent progress – they were cured of various diseases and infirmities.  But cure of a physical or mental disability is not to be equated with healing of the personality.  Jesus himself, on more than one occasion, warns the person not to sin any more.  If the healing had been complete, this warning would have been unnecessary.  The person could never have returned to past inadequate ways of thought.  But Jesus did not come to effect miraculous changes in people by intruding into their private lives and forcing them to turn to God.  He knew and respected the integrity of every person he encountered.  He wanted a free response acting by means of an informed, renewed will.  He did not come to take people over by dominating them.  His healing ministry was primarily one of spontaneous compassion, as for instance in the cure of the leper described at the end of the first chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel.  He also healed to teach some important spiritual truth, as in the story of the man with a withered armwhere he demonstrated that acts of compassion took precedence even over observance of the Sabbath.  His healing power and miraculous acts were, furthermore, a demonstration that the kingdom of God was close at hand, which was the Good News from God that he proclaimed right at the beginning of his ministry.  He showed the way to the kingdom but he never forced people to enter it.  On the other hand, he taught that the road that leads to life is hard and its gate narrow, and only a few find it.  The Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son is the life giver, but no one is obliged to receive the life he brings.  Jesus came so that men might have life, and have it to the full, but no one was ever coerced into accepting him.

When Jesus performed his healing ministry, he gave the afflicted their first experience of God’s love.  They were afforded their first glimpse of the kingdom through the person of Christ and his act of divine compassion to them.  Not all responded even if they were cured of their illness, in the instance of the ten lepers, only one returned to give thanks to God, while the others took the gift for granted, and were as unhealed in themselves after their encounter with Jesus as before.  But of those who responded in gratitude to him, how many stayed the course and supported him during his passion?  Even his disciples ran away then.  It was the later events of the resurrection and the downpouring of the Holy Spirit that continued the healing initiated by Jesus while serving on Earth.  When their end was near, as often as not in martyrdom, they bore witness to a healing of the whole person that was of a different order to that started by the Incarnate Lord.  Until the healing wrought by his Spirit is seen in this radical context, the ministry of healing will be a truncated, impotent thing.

When Jesus performed his healing work, his two great sayings were, “Your sins are forgiven,” and “Your faith has cured you.”  Forgiveness and faith are the foundation stones of healing.  They are complementary parts of the inner humility that is a prerequisite for receiving the grace of God.  Faith is a state of being open to life’s potentialities; by it the righteous man will live.  It is not to be identified primarily even with a belief in a personal God, since some images of God are so dangerous psychologically that they fill the afflicted person with fear, guilt, and a sense of such utter unworthiness that he cannot begin to accept any healing or love.  There is a close connection between faith and our ability to make relationships with others – our fellow men, the world around us, and the unseen hosts of eternity.  I cannot begin to relate to anybody until I have a solid basis of personal identity.  Until this has been attained, I will drift helplessly and never be able to perceive the concern for me of those around me, let alone yield myself to God’s personal love.  Faith is a giving of oneself in trust to the process of life, to the cosmic flow that orders all things aright.  As I proceed in the venture of life, so I will come to a deeper knowledge of myself, light and dark elements mixing to form an intricate mosaic of personality.  The knowledge, and the bringing together of the pieces of the mosaic, is given to me by God’s love through the power of his Spirit.  This is the way in which the injunction, “Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened” is fulfilled.  As I become more open, more trusting, and less enclosed, so the Spirit enters me from without and radiates within me.

This faith has nothing to do with a blind, compulsive belief in the personality of anyone (including even God, seen in a personal mode), or in some system of metaphysics, or in an occult power.  It is rather a relaxation of the entire personality in the warmth of life, admitting my own ignorance but at the same time affirming a belief in my supreme importance in the scheme of things.  As I wait in quiet expectation, so the strengthening warmth of the Spirit infuses me, and I begin to glimpse something of the nature of God in my life.  He strengthens me and fills me with the courage to proceed in life’s quest for healing.  I repeat: there is no necessity for positive thoughts in this process.  One need affirm no principle nor proclaim any system of belief.  All that is needful is to be empty of personal conceit and to give of oneself unreservedly to the life of that moment.

What one receives in this act of childlike openness is beyond description.  It is an encounter with the Living God, who comes to us in a personal mode of being, so as to emphasize to us the supreme value of persons.

The forgiveness of sins is a natural result of the faith that will not shrink from exposure of the self to God, “to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid.”  Of course he knows, but how often we play a private game of hide-and-seek with him, pretending that we can deceive or dupe him into condoning a false action!  All we are doing, in fact, is deceiving ourselves.  When we can face our diseased nature in full unashamed honesty, he can enter our lives in the form of his Spirit and show his eternal love for us.  The forgiveness of sins at once removes all feelings of guilt.  It goes beyond rational explanations or clinical analyses of past circumstances.  It is as spontaneous as the joyous welcome given to the Prodigal Son by his father, who asked no questions and made no demands.

As we are forgiven, so a new principle enters our lives, the supremacy of love.  We are now moved in our actions neither by fear not a sense of duty but by such an overruling concern for others that only their well-being matters to us.  In other words, the forgiveness of sins does not annul the consequences of sin.  On the contrary, only when we know we are forgiven can we start to put right the damage caused by our past selfishness and thoughtlessness.  And this new approach to relationships with others is not obsessive in intensity so that we overwhelm them with our guilt-ridden concern; it is calm, peaceful, and benevolent so that a feeling of trust can develop between all the people concerned.  I am convinced that this is the pattern of growth in the purifying life of the world to come.  The risen Christ, by his atoning sacrifice for the world’s sins, raises the consciousness of all who are open to his love so that a real change of heart and mind, a “metanoia,” occurs.  Then we can start to atone for what was imperfect in our attitudes to the world and to our brothers.  It follows therefore that faith makes us open to God’s unreserved forgiveness, and the fruit of this is a changed response to the world, which is made manifest in good works.  Works that come directly from the personal self are inevitably tainted with selfish motives, such as the need for recognition, the will to dominate others (allegedly for their own good), and the assuaging of feelings of guilt over past actions.  This is true even when the works in question seem beyond reproach.  But when works proceed from undemanding love for others, a love that has a divine origin, they set in train a sequence of benefits that bless giver and receiver alike.  For then there is the divine-human collaboration which is the prerequisite for all fruitful action.

This matter of divine-human collaboration is of vital importance in understanding the healing work of the Holy Spirit.  He acts as a mediator between two or more people.  He is the very basis of a loving relationship.  In an I-Thou relationship, the Spirit is the third person.  In the I-It relationship of selfish life, there is really no relationship as such at all.  The object, which is frequently another person in this context, is used by the dominant subject without any acknowledgement of its integrity.  It exists only to serve the subject.  But when it is accepted as something of eternal meaning in its own right, the subject cherishes it and brings it to himself.  And then the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Holy Trinity, infuses both the new life, so that each moves beyond the ephemeral to the eternal.

In a therapeutic relationship between analyst and analysand, the same truth holds.  It is well-recognized that the healing wrought by the analytic process is not so much the bringing to light of hidden damaging memories from the unconscious as the creative relationship between the two persons.  The analyst frequently substitutes for a parent figure who, perhaps for the first time in the analysand’s life, is able to give love and recognition to him.  As I have already emphasized, a mere intellectual understanding of the part past difficulties in relationships have played in our present malaise, does not in itself necessarily dispel that malaise and bring us to greater integration.  It is the inscrutable work of the Spirit of God, who binds up that which is broken, that leads us to a new understanding of the importance of past experiences in our growth to full humanity.

This Spirit works best in human relationships.  Even Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist when the Spirit descended fully on him, and he took his three closest disciples with him both to the Mount of Transfiguration and the Garden of Gethsemane.  On neither occasion did they show the slightest understanding of what they were witnessing – indeed during the agony in the garden they were asleep to the reality of the unfolding drama – but their presence must have strengthened Jesus for the trials to come.  When the Spirit comes to us in solitude, even then we may be less alone than we believe.  Surely the communion of saints is always available to us if we are available to God.  This is an important aspect of the work of the Holy Spirit that we will have to consider later.

The healing Spirit never remains stationary.  He impels us onwards to the fulfillment of what we came in to attain.  This is to become as perfect in ourselves as we see manifest in the person of Christ.  In other words, healing is not concerned merely with the removal of a present illness or aberration, or even with making us more adapted to our present situation by infusing us with greater peace and forbearance.  All this is certainly important, but in itself it does not lead us onward into the hidden country of sanctification.  The Holy Spirit is that divine discontent that drives all creative persons on to their full stature as sons of God.  He will allow the artist to be content with nothing less than a masterpiece that mirrors its divine source in an Earthly medium, be it in the music, shape, or word.  In the throes of his work, the scientist will sacrifice comfort and ease in order to penetrate the deepest secrets of the world in the service of truth.  But the greatest masterpiece within human range is the perfect life.  What great art presages is made real in the full life of man, the life indeed of a full man.  No wonder Saint Irenaeus could say that “the glory of God is a living man,” a man grown in the stature of Christ.  Anyone who has received a mark of healing from the Spirit, whether this mark be physical, mental, or emotional, is now obliged to lead a new life.  This is the price paid for truly spiritual healing.

If the payment is not forthcoming, the mark of healing is withdrawn, and “the evil spirit returns with seven others to possess a psyche cleaned and ready to receive them.”  This statement applies not only to healing that has been given charismatically or sacramentally, and therefore has a “spiritual” aura about it.  It applies equally to the healing of disease by medical or psychotherapeutic means.  From this we gain the important insight that the failure of health which caused us to learn about the deepest realities of life is the beginning of true salvation.  What a paradox it is that our failure of normal health is the beginning of real inner healing!  Disease is potentially the Spirit’s first agency of healing, in that it takes us beyond restricted, selfish ways of thought, and brings us to the mountain of purification.  Until, as a result of the illness or suffering, we have glimpsed something of the truth about ourselves, especially the motives that dominate our lives and the selfishness that has been the central theme of our existence, we are in no position to receive full healing.

Jesus said to the man who had been crippled for thirty-eight years, “Do you want to recover?”  This seems a strange question; surely the man who waited to be immersed in the healing waters of the pool whose name was Bethesda desired healing above all else.  Yet Jesus with his profound psychic sensitivity and psychological understanding knew that there was a deep fear of the consequences of health in this man despite his sincere longing to be made well.  This is the human dilemma.  The present state of things is what we really want because it makes no great demands on us.  Indeed, a state of persistent ill health is an insidious excuse for an attitude of passive resignation to the difficulties of life.  We can retreat into inadequacy instead of facing the challenge of constantly changing circumstances around us.  Let me say at once that this cringing approach to the demands of a full life is nearly always unconscious.  If only it could be brought into the open, we would be able to deal with it much more effectively.  To attain health necessitates moving from an attitude of passive subservience to outer events and a dependence on other people to a condition of active, willed response to the world’s demands.  As I have already noted, the Holy Spirit moves us onwards.  When he is involved, he does not relinquish us unless we relinquish him, in which case he leaves us at the mercy of every possible difficulty and derangement.  This is one reason why it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.  The cripple’s life was certainly changed by his encounter with Jesus; not only was his physical defect cured, but he was also brought face-to-face with the challenge of religious orthodoxy.  Furthermore – and most important of all – there was Jesus’s later injunction, “Leave off your sinful ways, or you may suffer something worse.”  In other words, the thoughtless, selfish way of life that this man led, in common with his fellows, was no longer enough.  He had now to show the power of the Spirit in his own life by becoming an agent of love and healing.

It is not surprising that most people practicing what they dubiously call “spiritual healing” restrict themselves to a particular aspect of healing practice and look merely for an amelioration of some symptom.  Seldom do they concern themselves with the full person.  If they did, they would have to reflect rather more soberly on the course of their own lives than they were normally accustomed to do.  This would reveal their own inner disorder, and few would be prepared to face it, let alone do something about it.  It is much easier and far more agreeable to proffer healing to others than to have the humility to seek healing for oneself.  “Physician, heal thyself,” is the challenge of all who aspire to the spiritual life.  If we can face our unhealed state with honesty and courage, we can, through that very incompleteness within us, act as remarkable instruments of God’s grace.  Our very lack of wholeness, once acknowledged, can bring us close to others, and by giving them something that we can ill afford, both they and we can grow in spiritual stature.

The widow’s mite may well have contributed more to the coming of the kingdom of God than the large sums of the rich and socially eligible people who frequented the Temple in Jerusalem.  The Spirit works, as I have already noted, through people.  But the people who are most filled with that Spirit are those who are emptiest of self-opinionation and arrogance, even the arrogance for God that is a feature of some types of dogmatic religion.

POETRY: Notice, by Steve Kowit

This evening, the sturdy Levis
I wore every day for over a year
& which seemed to the end in perfect condition,
suddenly tore.
How or why I don’t know, but there it was—a big rip at the crotch.
A month ago my friend Nick
walked off a racquetball court,
showered,
got into his street clothes,
& halfway home collapsed & died.
Take heed you who read this
& drop to your knees now & again
like the poet Christopher Smart
& kiss the earth & be joyful
& make much of your time
& be kindly to everyone,
even to those who do not deserve it.
For although you may not believe it will happen,
you too will one day be gone.
I, whose Levis ripped at the crotch
for no reason,
assure you that such is the case.
Pass it on.

 

 

POETRY: Ecce Puer, by James Joyce

Of the dark past
A child is born
With joy and grief
My heart is torn

Calm in his cradle
The living lies.
May love and mercy
Unclose your eyes!

Young life is breathed
On the glass;
The world that was not
Comes to pass.

A child is sleeping:
An old man gone.
O, father forsaken,
Forgive your son!

 

 

HOLY SPIRIT: The Gift Of Wisdom, by Derek Tidball

From The Message of Holiness

Then you will understand the fear of the Lord,
And find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
From His mouth come knowledge and understanding;
He stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
He is a shield to those who walk uprightly;
He guards the paths of justice,
And preserves the way of His saints.
(Proverbs 2:5-8)

The teacher shifts his focus from his son to his Lord, who becomes the subject of the next section.  This corrects a false conclusion that may be drawn from the first stanza.  Although we need to seek diligently, when we find wisdom it is not because of human intelligence, rational enquiry, or our own effort, but because God has revealed it to us.  It reminds me or the small child hunting for the hidden Easter egg whose parents are willing her on and nudging her in the right direction before, in the end, showing her where it was all along.  So God by his Spirit nudges us towards wisdom and reveals it to us when he knows our search has been genuine.  Attaining wisdom is never our own achievement, nor is wisdom the property of those who teach us and mediate it from God.  Still less is it our private possession.  It is never other than a gracious gift bestowed by God.

From that primary principle a number of other aspects of God’s relation to wisdom flows.

a. Wisdom begins with the fear of God

Recalling Proverbs, 1:7, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge [wisdom],” we are reminded that the starting point for acquiring God’s gift of wisdom is to fear him.  It is the “first and controlling principle” which one never leaves behind.  It might be translated that “the essence of wisdom is to fear the Lord.”  Put simply, this is what wisdom is.

But what does it mean to “fear the Lord”?  Undoubtedly, there is an emotional element to it.  Fear does not mean the cringing fear of a young child abused by an alcoholic father.  It does mean having a sense of reverence and proportion before a mighty and transcendent God.  To fear God is to recognize our limitations in contrast to his greatness: our smallness, our dependence, our ignorance, our lack of experience, our transience.  It leads to humility, without which we can neither be wise nor holy.  “The principle of wisdom,” Henri Blocher writes, “is the renouncing of autonomy, and trusting acknowledgement of the Lord at every step of one’s practical or intellectual progress.

Fearing the Lord equally involves being teachable about what he reveals as his law, commandments and statues.  So it goes beyond emotion and has substance to it.  God has given a general wisdom to all.  The farmer, for example, has knowledge of how to sow and reap and how to care for animals.  But fearing the Lord in this context refers to taking God’s specific revelation of his will, which comes through his servants like Moses or Solomon, seriously.  Fearing him means listening to and complying with his will.

 b. Wisdom leads to a knowledge of God

The benefit of fearing God is that in doing so we will find the knowledge of God.  To know God is not to know about him, to collect facts that have purely intellectual fascination, but to know him personally, to have a relationship with him and a degree of intimacy with him.  Such intimacy is the other side of the awe which is inherent in God.  God can never be known if we put ourselves on a par with him and even less if we feel ourselves to be superior to him, as modern human beings often seem to think.  A warm, loving, faithful and committed relationship is initiated in fear and equally continues to grow as we continue to stand in awe and learn humbly of him.

c. Wisdom releases blessing from God

A number of blessings flow from knowing God.  It is not that they are mechanical rewards like the parents promising (bribing?) their children that if they pass the exam they will be rewarded with a new bicycle.  No, these blessings are the inherent consequence of knowing God.  They flow implicitly from the relationship.  Without knowing God we sentence ourselves “to stumble and blunder through life blindfold, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds us.”  When we know him we have knowledge and understanding to guide us through life.

Furthermore, God holds success in store for the upright.  The storing up of wisdom in the son’s heart (verse 1) is matched by the storing up of success that God gives to the upright (verse 7).  We should, of course, be careful as to how we interpret this.  This is no blank cheque guaranteeing prosperity for those who keep God’s laws.  They have their share of heartache and suffering as much as others in our fallen world and the wisdom literature is fully aware of this, especially in the books of Job and Ecclesiastes.  Nonetheless, it is a general truth and orienting promise.  There is a correlation between knowing God and a richly resourced life.  Life with God is smoother, easier, more sustainable, more profitable, more hopeful, more blessed than life without him.  It stands to reason that it should be so.  Since he is the God who made us, and the physical, moral, and social world we inhabit, living in this world his way is likely to prove far more beneficial than trying to devise our own ways or, worse still, flying in his face.

The psalmists knew what it was to celebrate “the good life” that those who walked with God could enjoy.  Psalm 37, for example, in spite of David’s struggle with the apparent prosperity of the wicked, knows that true security and blessing is found in trusting in God.  Those are the ones whose steps the Lord makes firm.  Psalm 112 is even more unqualified in its rejoicing.  Taking up the phrase “fear the Lord,” it celebrates the way in which God-fearers enjoy a good reputation, have children who bring them honor, benefit from wealth and generosity, and enjoy security even when bad news comes.  They exhibit a righteousness that not only brings them respect now but one that “endures for ever.”

d. Wisdom results in protection by God

This section ends by introducing another blessing that comes from being wise and knowing God: he is a shield to those whose way of life is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.  Introduced here, the theme of God’s protection is going to be replayed in verse 11 and illustrated in verses 12-22.  There we see the kind of protection that God provides.  But we should note that this promise applies to the blameless and the faithful ones.  Does this mean that sinless perfection is required before we can know God’s protection on our lives?  Such a thought has bred many an insecurity in Christian believers, resulting in the promise having the exact opposite effect to the one it was intended to have.  The terminology used here is not that of sinless perfection but of covenant loyalty.  Today the promise is for all those who are living faithfully as members of the new covenant initiated by Jesus Christ.  Living within the covenant relationship means that they have no desire to sin and that they will not habitually do so, even if, on occasion, they fall.  Here, then, is a word of promise that all conscientious disciples of Jesus may trust, even if God still has more perfecting and refining to do in their lives yet.

 

 

HOLY SPIRIT: Spirit Of Wisdom, by William P. Atkinson

From A Biblical Theology of the Holy Spirit

As the Spirit is introduced early in connection with God’s power, so too is the link established early between the Spirit and divine wisdom.  I have already noted that the Spirit is God’s “mind-reader,” and is paralleled loosely with the “mind of Christ.”  Of course, the Spirit does not keep these revelations under wrap, but makes them known – or is the means by which God makes them known – to “us.”  The Spirit is thus the “go-between,” forming a bridge between God’s inner thoughts and the thinking of God’s people.  The wisdom thus imbued is, at least at times, counter-intuitive, such that to those in the “world” it is foolishness.  This stark contrast offers those in receipt of God’s Spirit practical advantages and disadvantages.  A disadvantage is possible fear of mockery from those who, with their worldly wisdom, think they know better.  However, an advantage is that an assurance of divine approbation offers insulation from the force of these mocking assessments of the Christian mind.  [John R.] Levison rightly emphasizes the Spirit’s proximity here to matters of content.  The Spirit is no mere inspirer of the exciting, the spectacular, and the inexplicable (whatever some Corinthians might have thought).  Rather, the Spirit is deeply concerned with the actual content of what Christians believe and what they in turn proclaim to others:

…to allow an overpowering experience of the Spirit, however wholesome it may appear to be, to eclipse the importance of content is to truncate the work of the Spirit that is from God, for this Spirit is no less a revealer and a teacher than it is the inspirer of miracles. (Filled with the Spirit)

Paul regarded both himself and the Corinthians as in receipt of this wise Spirit.  However, while he assured that the Spirit had brought him wisdom from above, he was less sure about his audience.  On the one hand, he appealed to their good sense as grounds for judging his words.  On the other hand, he was appalled that not one person had been found who exhibited the wisdom to judge between disputants.  In the latter case, he probably regarded the Corinthians, actually, as capable of this task.  Nevertheless, he was aghast that none had taken it upon themselves – in wisdom – to perform it.  This is but one way in which Paul’s low assessment of Corinthian wisdom shines through.  In many regards, Paul saw these believers as foolish, despite their plenitude of “gifts.”  His whole letter was an appeal for them to “get wise.”  In this respect, at least, they seemed to need a significant fresh impartation of the Spirit in their lives.

 

 

PRAYER: Novena To The Holy Spirit, by Alphonsus Liguori

Introduction

Act of Consecration to the Holy Spirit
(To be recited daily during the Novena)

On my knees I before the great multitude of Heavenly witnesses I offer myself, soul and body to you, Eternal Spirit of God. I adore the brightness of your purity, the unerring keenness of your justice, and the might of your love. You are the strength and light of my soul. In you I live and move and am. I desire never to grieve you by unfaithfulness to grace, and I pray with all my heart to be kept from the smallest sin against you. Mercifully guard my every thought and grant that I may always watch for your light, and listen to your voice, and follow your gracious inspirations. I cling to you and give myself to you and ask you, by your compassion to watch over me in my weakness. Holding the pierced feet of Jesus and looking at his five wounds, and trusting in his precious blood and adoring his opened side and stricken heart, I implore you, Adorable Spirit, Helper of my Infirmity, to keep me in your grace that I may never sin against you. Give me grace, O Holy Spirit, Spirit of the Father and the Son, to say to you always and everywhere, “Speak Lord for your servant heareth.”
Amen.

Prayer for the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit
(To be recited daily during the Novena)

O Lord Jesus Christ who, before ascending into Heaven did promise to send the Holy Spirit to finish your work in the souls of your apostles and disciples, deign to grant the same Holy Spirit to me that he may perfect in my soul, the work of your grace and your love. Grant me the Spirit of Wisdom, that I may despise the perishable things of this world and aspire only after the things that are eternal; the Spirit of Understanding, to enlighten my mind with the light of your divine truth; the Spirit on Counsel, that I may ever choose the surest way of pleasing God and gaining Heaven, the Spirit of Fortitude, that I may bear my cross with you and that I may overcome with courage all the obstacles that oppose my salvation; the Spirit of Knowledge, that I may know God and know myself and grow perfect in the science of the saints; the Spirit of Piety, that I may find the service of God sweet and amiable, and the Spirit of Fear, that I may be filled with a loving reverence towards God and may dread in any way to displease him. Mark me, dear Lord with the sign of your true disciples, and animate me in all things with your Spirit.
Amen.

First Day

Holy Spirit! Lord of Light! From Your clear celestial height, your pure beaming radiance give!

The Holy Spirit

Only one thing is important – eternal salvation. Only one thing, therefore, is to be feared – sin. Sin is the result of ignorance, weakness, and indifference. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Light, of Strength, and of Love. With his sevenfold gifts he enlightens the mind, strengthens the will, and inflames the heart with love of God. To ensure our salvation we ought to invoke the Divine Spirit daily, for “The Spirit helpeth our infirmity. We know not what we should pray for as we ought. But the Spirit himself asketh for us.”

Prayer

Almighty and eternal God, who hast vouchsafed to regenerate us by water and the Holy Spirit, and hast given us forgiveness all sins, vouchsafe to send forth from Heaven upon us your sevenfold Spirit, the Spirit of Wisdom and Understanding, the Spirit of Counsel and Fortitude, the Spirit of Knowledge and Piety, and fill us with the Spirit of Holy Fear.
Amen.

Our Father and Hail Mary, once.
Glory be to the Father, seven times.
Act of Consecration.
Prayer for the Seven Gifts.

Second Day

Come, Father of the poor. Come, treasures which endure. Come, light of all that live!

The Gift of Fear

The Gift of Fear fills us with a sovereign respect for God and makes us dread nothing so much as to offend him by sin. It is a fear that arises, not from the thought of hell, but from sentiments of reverence and filial submission to our Heavenly Father. It is the fear that is the beginning of wisdom, detaching us from worldly pleasures that could in any way separate us from God. “They that fear the Lord will prepare their hearts, and in his sight will sanctify their souls.”

Prayer

Come, O blessed Spirit of Holy Fear, penetrate my inmost heart, that I may set you, my Lord and God, before my face forever. Help me to shun all things that can offend you, and make me worthy to appear before the pure eyes of your Divine Majesty in Heaven, where you live and reign in the unity of the ever Blessed Trinity, God, world without end.
Amen.

Our Father and Hail Mary, once.
Glory be to the Father, seven times.
Act of Consecration.
Prayer for the Seven Gifts.

Third Day

Thou, of all consolers best, visiting the troubled breast, dost refreshing peace bestow.

The Gift of Piety

The Gift of Piety begets in our hearts a filial affection for God as our most loving Father. It inspires us to love and respect for his sake persons and things consecrated to him, as well as those who are vested with his authority, his Blessed Mother and the saints, the church and its visible head, our parents and superiors, our country and its rulers. He who is filled with the Gift of Piety finds the practice of his religion, not a burdensome duty, but a delightful service. Where there is love, there is no labor.

Prayer

Come, O Blessed Spirit of Piety, possess my heart. Enkindle therein such a love for God that I may find satisfaction only in his service, and for his sake lovingly submit to all legitimate authority.
Amen.

Our Father and Hail Mary, once.
Glory be to the Father, seven times.
Act of Consecration.
Prayer for the Seven Gifts.

Fourth Day

Thou in toil art comfort sweet, pleasant coolness in the heat, solace in the midst of woe.

The Gift of Fortitude

By the Gift of Fortitude the soul is strengthened against natural fear, and supported to the end in the performance of duty. Fortitude imparts to the will an impulse and energy which move it to undertake without hesitancy the most arduous tasks, to face dangers, to trample under foot human respect, and to endure without complaint the slow martyrdom of even lifelong tribulation. “He that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved.”

Prayer

Come, O Blessed Spirit of Fortitude, uphold my soul in time of trouble and adversity, sustain my efforts after holiness, strengthen my weakness, give me courage against all the assaults of my enemies, that I may never be overcome and separated from thee, my God and greatest good.
Amen.

Our Father and Hail Mary, once.
Glory be to the Father, seven times.
Act of Consecration.
Prayer for the Seven Gifts.

Fifth Day

Light immortal! Light Divine! Visit thou these hearts of thine, and our inmost being fill!

The Gift of Knowledge

The Gift of Knowledge enables the soul to evaluate created things at their true worth – in their relation to God. Knowledge unmasks the pretense of creatures, reveals their emptiness, and points out their only true purpose as instruments in the service of God. It shows us the loving care of God even in adversity, and directs us to glorify him in every circumstance of life. Guided by its light, we put first things first, and prize the friendship of God beyond all else. “Knowledge is a fountain of life to him that possesseth it.”

Prayer

Come, O Blessed Spirit of Knowledge, and grant that I may perceive the will of the Father; show me the nothingness of Earthly things, that I may realize their vanity and use them only for thy glory and my own salvation, looking ever beyond them to thee, and thy eternal rewards.
Amen.

Our Father and Hail Mary, once.
Glory be to the Father, seven times.
Act of Consecration.
Prayer for the Seven Gifts.

Sixth Day

If thou take thy grace away, nothing pure in man will stay, all his good is turn’d to ill.

The Gift of Understanding

Understanding, as a gift of the Holy Spirit, helps us to grasp the meaning of the truths of our holy religion. By faith we know them, but by understanding we learn to appreciate and relish them. It enables us to penetrate the inner meaning of revealed truths and through them to be quickened to newness of life. Our faith ceases to be sterile and inactive, but inspires a mode of life that bears eloquent testimony to the faith that is in us; we begin to “walk worthy of God in all things pleasing, and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

Prayer

Come, O Spirit of Understanding, and enlighten our minds, that we may know and believe all the mysteries of salvation; and may merit at last to see the eternal light in thy light; and in the light of glory to have a clear vision of thee and the Father and the Son.
Amen.

Our Father and Hail Mary, once.
Glory be to the Father, seven times.
Act of Consecration.
Prayer for the Seven Gifts.

Seventh Day

Heal our wounds – our strength renews; on our dryness pour thy dew, wash the stains of guilt away.

The Gift of Counsel

The Gift of Counsel endows the soul with supernatural prudence, enabling it to judge promptly and rightly what must done, especially in difficult circumstances. Counsel applies the principles furnished by knowledge and understanding to the innumerable concrete cases that confront us in the course of our daily duty as parents, teachers, public servants, and Christian citizens. Counsel is supernatural common sense, a priceless treasure in the quest of salvation. “Above all these things, pray to the Most High, that he may direct thy way in truth.”

Prayer

Come, O Spirit of Counsel, help and guide me in all my ways, that I may always do thy holy will. Incline my heart to that which is good. Turn it away from all that is evil, and direct me by the straight path of thy commandments to that goal of eternal life for which I long.
Amen.

Our Father and Hail Mary, once.
Glory be to the Father, seven times.
Act of Consecration.
Prayer for the Seven Gifts.

Eighth Day

Bend the stubborn heart and will, melt the frozen warm the chill. Guide the steps that go astray!

The Gift of Wisdom

Embodying all the other gifts, as charity embraces all the other virtues, wisdom is the most perfect of the gifts. Of wisdom it is written “all good things came to me with her, and innumerable riches through her hands.” It is the Gift of Wisdom that strengthens our faith, fortifies hope, perfects charity, and promotes the practice of virtue in the highest degree. Wisdom enlightens the mind to discern and relish things divine, in the appreciation of which Earthly joys lose their savor, whilst the cross of Christ yields a divine sweetness according to the words of the Savior: “Take up thy cross and follow me, for my yoke is sweet and my burden light.

Prayer

Come, O Spirit of Wisdom, and reveal to my soul the mysteries of Heavenly things, their exceeding greatness, power, and beauty. Teach me to love them above and beyond all the passing joys and satisfactions of Earth. Help me to attain them and possess them forever.
Amen.

Our Father and Hail Mary, once.
Glory be to the Father, seven times.
Act of Consecration.
Prayer for the Seven Gifts.

Ninth Day

Thou, on those who evermore thee confess and thee adore, in thy sevenfold gift, descend; give them comfort when they die; give them life with thee on high; give them joys which never end.
Amen.

The Fruits of the Holy Spirit

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit perfect the supernatural virtues by enabling us to practice them with greater docility to divine inspiration. As we grow in the knowledge and love of God under the direction of the Holy Spirit, our service becomes more sincere and generous, the practice of virtue more perfect. Such acts of virtue leave the heart filled with joy and consolation and are known as Fruits of the Holy Spirit. These fruits in turn render the practice of virtue more attractive and become a powerful incentive for still greater efforts in the service of God, to serve who is to reign.

Prayer

Come, O Divine Spirit, fill my heart with thy Heavenly fruits, thy charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, faith, mildness, and temperance, that I may never weary in the service of God, but by continued faithful submission to thy inspiration may merit to be united eternally with thee in the love of the Father and the Son.
Amen.

Our Father and Hail Mary, once.
Glory be to the Father, seven times.
Act of Consecration.
Prayer for the Seven Gifts.