HEALING: Listening To The Hound’s Howls

It was that time in my life when, though not exactly a time that I want to forget, exactly, but, rather, the time that never really existed for me.

A shadow time. A time of not existing.

I had had my first vision before I had ever had my first school lesson. And so it went. Happily, really. Intensely, certainly.

Until the call vision.

Julia, come do your work.

But I was seventeen.  I was aware of my budding womanhood.  And of the potentially budding world around me.

So I said, No.

I want to be normal.

I said.

Normal.

None of this vision nonsense any more.

And I took up my stick with my bandanna full of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches tied tightly inside, hoisted it onto my shoulder and walked out and into the world.

To be normal.

So now, years later, like gifts being parachuted down to Earth from God to me, they fall into my life.

Friends, they call themselves.

Shadows, I think of them.

Some I acknowledge and greet, pretending most of the time to know them, recognize them, remember them.

Some I don’t. And just let them fade back into the background.

Like a ring around me they form.

Smiling, mostly.

Confused at my awkwardness.

My stammering.

Who are you? And what do you want with me?

But that’s not the accepted or anticipated response from a friend.

An old friend.

A close friend.

I’m to jump with joy.  Clap my hands.  Strew flowers on the path between us.

Instead I weep.

It is too much for me.

To go back to that time.

To make reality out of the shadows.

To remember.

Who I was.

But, mostly, who I wasn’t.

I wasn’t normal.

Not then.

Not now.

But they just don’t expect me to join with them in remembering the good old days.

They also bring a light that I can use to see with.

See into the shadows.

Behind them.

Around them.

Around me.

And I see the box that I created around myself.

The box that caused the darkness that plunged my life into shadow.

Sealed walls.  Tight corners.

My box.

I suppose, in reality, I wanted to be in that box alone.

But that’s not how life goes.

There are people.  Hands.  Faces.  Laughter.

Fireflies lighting my way through the darkness.

Gifts from God, I suppose.  Letting me know that in spite of my wish to be alone, that I was not going to get my way.

I was going to have friends.

People to watch out for me.  Not let me get lost in the darkness.  Not let me fall off the edge.

Mostly, during that time I learned how to walk away from them.

I want to say it was because I wanted to keep the door between us closed so they wouldn’t find out my secret and then slam the door closed, slamming my nose.  My toes.

But that’s a lie.

I wanted the door closed because I was afraid that if it stayed open, I would reveal myself to them.  Tell them my story.

My truth.

Want to know what God says about that?

And what if my revelation was met with respect?

What then?

Then I would have to be me.

Instead, I searched out and found those people who couldn’t see me.  Couldn’t see me if their life depended on it.

So I could bring the structure of the shadowland into the relationship with me and feel safe.

So I learned how to say good-bye to my friends, and hello to those I might even call my enemies.

I preferred enemies, really.

I wanted to not be so strongly that I created a life in which I could feel dead.

And yet be still alive.

And people wonder why I really don’t want to remember that time.

How that felt.

Standing in the shadows.  Not being seen.  Not being heard.

I think my greatest goal was to die and be left on the roadside.

Forgotten.

Achieving nothing.  But mostly, achieving the ultimate state of being nobody.

To anybody.

Learning the art of not existing.

And now having to see that about me.

I understand the ways of healing.

But this is new to me.

Being dissected.  Having pieces picked out of me and shown to me.

What kind of surgeon does that?

Showing the diseased kidney to the patient?

But this is what God is doing to me these days.

Here, look at you back then.

Photo albums from hell.

Except they are from God.

When God, the Hound of Heaven, howls, is it the howls of hunger?  Or of laughter?

Or of warning?

Warning that he is closing in.

That it’s time for me to really start paying attention.

That no moment of my life is safe from his prying eyes, his fidgeting fingers, his ever-healing impulse.

It kind of makes me understand why, so many years ago, I looked for a time of shadows.

Out of the light.

Out of the way.

Amen.

CREATION: Natural Knowledge Of God Is “Natural,” by Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen

From Trinity and Revelation

Both common sense and Christian tradition have always believed that the “traces” of God are to be found in the world God created.  This intuition can even be placed in a wider framework in the history of religions and of cultures: “The idea that a transcendent reality can be known or at least intimated through the mundane has a long history and is not a specifically religious idea.” (Alister McGrath)  To say that common sense and Christian intuition have posited the existence of God on the basis of the created order is not to say that the expressed doctrine of natural theology has always been a pedigree of Christian theology.  Indeed, “natural theology – as this notion would now be understood – is a recent invention.” (Alister McGrath)

When compared to typical systematic presentations, it may seem odd for talk about natural revelation and natural theology to come so late, almost at the end of the discussion of the doctrine of revelation.  Isn’t it the norm to divide the doctrine of revelation into two parts – general and special revelation – and then to speak of the former first?  While that approach is possible and in many ways useful, the reason for the current choice of order has to do with the marginalized – almost exclusively preparatory – role assigned to natural theology in modern theology.  Indeed, there are theological traditions such as neo-orthodoxy in which natural theology has a hard time getting a word into the dogmatic discussion, apart from when it’s critiqued.  The thesis of this discussion argues for both the possibility and the need for a robust Christian natural theology and that, whatever preparatory role (in relation to special revelation) it may play, natural theology is an essential part of the polymorphous doctrine of revelation.  Indeed, it will be argued that natural theology is not “natural” in the sense that it wouldn’t be part of the divine revelation.  Similar to the doctrine of revelation in general, which is thoroughly and robustly trinitarian, the discussion of natural theology in this project concerns itself with “the dynamics of a trinitarian natural theology.” (Alister McGrath)

Important here is how one understands the category of “nature.”  Whereas for common sense “nature” seems to be a self-evident concept, it is not necessarily so when subjected to scrutiny.  It is socially constructed.  However, this does not make impossible the theological evaluation of nature – not at all.  The acknowledgement of the socially constructed idea of “nature” rather opens the door for a robustly Christian understanding of nature.  For Christian theology, nature is “creation.”  All Christian talk about natural theology rejects the idea of the autonomy of nature, either as in creation or as in human nature. For Christian theology, all nature is contingent and derives from God.  Hence also, all natural knowledge and natural theology are based on God, and God alone.

Until the beginning of the twentieth century, the “natural” knowledge of God by human beings created in the image of God was not contested.  Biblical passages such as Psalm 19, Romans 1:19-21, and Acts 17:16-34, among others, seemed to affirm it unequivocally.  Said Athanasius: “For by means of the creation itself, the Word reveals God the Creator; and by means of the world does he declare the Lord the maker of the world; and by means of the formation of man the artificer who formed him.”  In Aquinas’s theology, natural knowledge of God was, of course, an important theme, as it was in Calvin’s.  Even Luther, who was also critical of perversions of natural knowledge of God prior to revelation in Christ, took the natural knowledge of God for granted, even among the idolaters.  The Swedish botanist Carl von Linné of the eighteenth century saw clearly the vestiges of God.  English natural theology came to its zenith in William Paley’s Natural Theology; or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity in the beginning of the nineteenth century (1802).

In contemporary theology, Dei Verbum‘s formulation expresses well this confidence in wider Christian tradition: “God, who through the Word creates all things (see John 1:3) and keeps them in existence, gives men an enduring witness to himself in created realities, (see Romans 1:19-20).”  Whereas criticism of the idea of natural theology began from the time of Friedrich  Schleiermacher, before Karl Barth the natural knowledge of God was not contested.  Even Barth, of course, did not categorically contest the notion of some kind of natural knowledge of God; he just did not take it for a revelation and, rather than making it an asset, considered it a major obstacle to the saving knowledge of God.

POETRY: The Brown Forest, by Robinson Jeffers

I entered the life of the brown forest
And the great life of the ancient peaks, the patience of stone,
I felt the changes in the veins
In the throat of the mountain…
and I was the stream
Draining the mountain wood; and I the stag drinking;
and I was the stars,
Boiling with light, wandering alone, each one the lord of his
own summit; and I was the darkness
Outside the stars, I included them, they were part of me.
I was mankind also, a moving lichen
On the cheek of the round stone…they have not made words for it,
to go behind things, beyond hours and ages,
And be all things in all time, in their returns and passages,
in the motionless and timeless center,
In the white of the fire…how can I express the excellence
I have found, that has no color but clearness;
No honey but ecstasy; nothing wrought nor remembered;
no undertone nor silver second murmur
That rings in love’s voice.

POETRY: The Indwelling Presence, by William Wordsworth

And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world.

CREATION: The Sacramental Approach, by John F. Haught

From The Promise of Nature

The beginnings of such a change are now taking place in what I shall call the sacramental approach to Christian ecological theology.  This second type focuses less on normative religious texts or historical revelation than does the apologetic approach, and more on the allegedly sacral quality of the cosmos itself.  It is more willing to acknowledge the revelatory character of nature.  It comes in a variety of theological forms ranging from what has been called “natural theology,” which focuses on the apparent evidence for God’s existence in nature, to the cosmic spirituality of Thomas Berry and Matthew Fox and their followers.  It is also found, in different ways and degrees, in non-Christian religions, as well as in the spirituality of ecofeminists and some so-called “deep ecologists.”

In its typical form this sacramental approach interprets the natural world as the primary symbolic disclosure of God.  Religious texts and traditions are still important, but the cosmos itself is the primary medium through which we come to know the sacred.  Today the sacramental approach usually accommodates evolutionary theory and aspects of contemporary physics.  It embraces a holistic view of the Earth as an organism comprised of a delicately balanced web of interdependent relationship.  Rejecting mechanism, it regards the entire universe organismically, that is, as an intricate network of dynamic interconnections in which all aspects are internal to each other.  Hence, it also places particular emphasis on the continuity of humans with the rest of the natural world.

Accordingly, it views our spiritual traditions not as activities that we humans “construct” on the face of the Earth, but as functions that the cosmos performs through us.  According to Thomas Berry, for example, the universe is the primary subject, and humanity is one of many significant developments of the universe.  Cultures and religions are simply natural extensions of he cosmic process rather than unnatural creations of lonely human exiles on Earth.

In the Christian context today I think this revisionist approach finds its most compelling expression in what has been called “creation-centered” theology.  As the prime example of our second type it goes beyond the apologetic variety of environmental theology by arguing that our present circumstances require a whole new interpretation of what it means to be Christian.  In the face of the environmental crisis it will not do simply to take more seriously our inherited texts and teachings.  These are still important, but they must be carefully sifted and reinterpreted in terms of a cosmological, relational, nonhierarchical, nonpatriarchal, nondualistic, and more organismic understanding of the universe.  We must pay more attention to the sacral quality of the universe and not place such a heavy burden on premodern religious texts to give us the foundations of our environmental ethic.

In Christian circles this creation-centered outlook accepts the doctrines of the creed but gives them a cosmological interpretation.  It may be helpful to look briefly at several of the results of its recosmologizing of traditional Christian teachings.

  1. As the label suggests, this new theology emphasis brings the biblical theme of creation to the center of theology instead of subordinating it, as it has been in the past, to the theme of redemption.  Theology’s focusing primarily on the redemption of a “fallen” world has distracted us form an adequate reverencing of the intrinsic goodness of nature.  Moreover, our understanding of redemption has been too anthropocentric.  We have been so obsessed with overcoming our human sinfulness and suffering, that we have forgotten about the travail of nature as a whole.

  2. Creation-centered theology also argues that we need a correspondingly broader understanding of that from which we are said to be redeemed, namely, sin.  It insists that sin means not just our estrangement from God or from each other, but also the present condition of severe alienation of the cosmos from ourselves.  Reconciliation then implies not only the restoration of human communion but, just as fundamentally, our reintegration with the Earth-community and the whole of the universe.  In order to experience this reconciliation we must abandon all forms of religious dualism which have sanctioned our self-distancing from nature.

  3.  Creation-centered theology insists also that we need to rethink what we mean by revelation.  Revelation is not just God’s self-manifestation in history, let alone the communication of divine information in propositional form.  We need to think of revelation in more cosmic terms.  The universe itself is the primary revelation.  In its 15 billion-year evolution the cosmos is the most fundamental mode of the unfolding of divine mystery.  The mystery of God is revealed gradually in the evolution of matter, life, human culture, and the religions of the world (and not just in biblical religions either).  Viewed in terms of cosmic evolution our religions can no longer be explained or explained away as simple heartwarming gestures that estranged humans engage in on an alien terrain as we look toward some distant far-off eternity.  Rather, religions are something that the universe does through us as it seeks to disclose its mysterious depths.  The fact of there being a plurality of religions is in perfect keeping with evolution’s extravagant creation of variety and difference.  Hence, an ecological spirituality should be no less committed to preserving the plurality of religions in the world than it is to the salvaging of biodiversity.  We should lament the loss of religious diversity since religions are also products of cosmic evolution and just as deserving of conservation as the multiple species of plants and animals.

  4.  Viewing things in this cosmological way, creation-centered theology appreciates both ancient and modern efforts to understand the Christ also as a cosmic reality, and not simply as a personal historical savior.  Cosmic Christology, already present in ancient Christian theology, needs to be recovered today in terms of an evolutionary and ecological worldview.  The entire cosmos (and not just human society) is the body of Christ.  A cosmic Christology then provides the deepest foundations of a distinctively Christian environmental spirituality.  And in keeping with this cosmic Christology the eucharistic celebration ideally represents the healing not only of severed human relationships, but also of the entire universe.

  5. The theological experiment of creation-centered theology culminates in an ecological understanding of God.  Here the trinitarian God is the supreme exemplification of ecology, a term which refers to the study of relationships.  Creation in the image of God then means that the world itself has being only to the extent that, like God, it exists in relationship.  An ecological theology is congruent both with contemporary science and the classic doctrine of the Trinity, a doctrine which renounces the idea that God exists only in isolated aseity.

  6.  This ecological contextualization of Christian teaching leads us in the direction of a whole new spirituality.  Creation-centered theology encourages an enjoyment of the natural world as our true home.  Traditional spiritualities, often characterized by a discomfort with bodily existence, received parallel expression simultaneously in the sense of humanity’s fundamental homelessness in nature.  The classic texts of Christianity have unfortunately been tainted by a dualistic bias that has sanctioned our hostility toward nature and the body.  For this reason a purely apologetic type of environmental theology is inadequate, for it is not sufficiently alert to such ideological flaws in the classic sources.

  7.  Moreover, an ecological spirituality requires its own kind of asceticism.  This asceticism prescribes a renunciation not of the natural world but of the Enlightenment ideal of autonomous, isolated selfhood.  It subjects us to the arduous discipline of taking into full account the fact of our being inextricably tied into a wider Earth-community.  A full life, one in which we acknowledge our complex relation to the universe, widens our sense of responsibility toward ourselves and others.  Above anything else, this means adopting a continually expanding posture of inclusiveness toward all otherness that we encounter, including the wildness of the natural world.

  8.  Creation-centered spirituality in turn inspires a restructuring of Christian ethics in terms of an environmental focus.  Ethics cannot be grounded only in the classic moral traditions which usually left the welfare of the cosmos out of the field of concern.  An environmental awareness gives a new slant to social ethics and life ethics.  In place of (or alongside of) social justice, it advocates a more inclusive “eco-justice” according to which we cannot repair human inequities without simultaneously attending to the prospering of the larger Earth-community.  And being “pro-life” means going beyond the focus simply on the ethics of human reproduction.  An environmentally chastened life ethic questions aspects of current moral teachings that tolerate policies which, while protective of human fertility, ignore the complex life-systems in which human fertility dwells.

  9. Finally, creation-centered theology advocates the reshaping of education from the earliest years so that it pays closer attention to the natural world.  At the level of secondary and college education, including the core curriculum, this would mean making environmental education central and not just an afterthought.  Our students should be required to look carefully at what both science and religion have to say about the universe, and yet remain critical of scientism and materialism, both of which are no less ecologically disastrous ideologies than are dualistic and patriarchal forms of religion.

The most characteristic feature of this contemporary revision of theology is its focus on the sacramentality of nature.  (By “sacrament,” let us recall, we mean any aspect of the world through which a divine mystery becomes present to religious awareness.)  Ever since the Old Stone Age aspects of nature such as clean water, fresh air, fertile soil, clear skies, bright light, thunder and rain, living trees, plants and animals, human fertility, etc., have symbolically mediated to religious people at least something of the reality of the sacred.  Sacramentalism recognizes the transparency of nature to the divine, and it therefore gives to the natural world a status that should evoke our reverence and protectiveness.  The sacramental perspective reads in nature an importance or inherent value that a purely utilitarian or naturalist point of view cannot discern.  Nature, then, is not primarily something to be used for human purposes or for technical projects.  It is essentially the showing forth of an ultimate goodness and generosity.

In principle the sacramental features of Christianity (and of other religions) protect the integrity of the natural world.  According to our second type of environmental theology, therefore, the nurturing of a sacramental vision is one of the most important contributions Christianity and other religions can make to the preservation of the natural world.  If biodiversity eventually decays into a homogeneity similar, say, to the lunar landscape (and this is the direction in which tings are now moving) we will lose the richness of our sacramental reference to God.  And if we lose the environment, Thomas Berry is fond of saying, we will lose our sense of God as well.

By way of evaluation, I would say that this second type of environmental theology is another important step toward an acceptable Christian environmental theology.  It goes beyond the more superficial efforts of our first type which consist primarily of an apologetic search for texts that allegedly contain a ready-made environmental theology adequate to our contemporary circumstances.  Our second type seeks a radical transformation of all religious traditions, including Christianity, in the face of the present crisis.  The creation-centered approach is aware that religious texts, like any other classics, can sometimes sanction policies which are socially unjust and ecologically problematic.  So it allows into its interpretation of the classic sources of Christian faith a great deal of suspicion about some of the same motifs that our first approach holds to be normative.

To give one example, the ideal of human dominion or stewardship over creation, which is fundamental in our first type of environmental theology, turns out to be quite inadequate in the second.  Stewardship, even when it is exegetically purged of the distortions to which the notion has been subjected, is still too managerial a concept to support the kind of ecological ethic we need today.  Most ecologists would argue that the Earth’s life-systems were a lot better off before we humans came along to manage them.  In fact, it is almost an axiom of ecology that these systems would not be in such jeopardy if the human species had never appeared in evolution at all.  So, even if we nuance the notions of stewardship and dominion in the light of recent scholarship, the biblical tradition is still too anthropocentric.  And since anthropocentrism is commonly acknowledged to be one of the chief causes of our environmental neglect, creation-centered theology seeks to play down those theological themes that make us too central in the scheme of things.  In the shadow of the environmental crisis it seeks a more cosmic understanding of Christianity.

At the same time, this approach acknowledges that we humans still play a very important role in the total cosmic picture.  OUr presence enriches and adds considerable value to life on Earth.  However, the concept of dominion or stewardship, important as it is, fails to accentuate that we belong to the Earth much more than it belongs to us, that we are more dependent on it than it is on us.  If in some sense we “transcend” the universe by virtue of our freedom and consciousness, in another sense this same universe is taken up as our constant companion in our own transcendence of it.  Christian theology now needs to emphasize more than ever before the inseparable and the everlasting connection between ourselves and the cosmos.

PRAYER: A Monthly Cycle Of Prayers For The Earth

(From The Diocese of Newcastle in the Church of England)

Day 1. Times and seasons

We thank you for the rhythm of times and seasons. Make us more aware of our changing environment, in our parks and gardens, in the countryside, and by the sea. Help us to appreciate all that is special about the present time of year, and to live our lives in keeping with the natural order.

Amen.

Day 2. Climate change

Help us to respond with wisdom and foresight to the threat of climate change. We pray for those affected by rising sea levels and extreme weather conditions. Help us, in reducing our own carbon footprint, to play our part in reducing this country’s carbon emissions. Grant us the personal and political will to make a difference.

Amen.

Day 3. The oceans

In the beginning your Spirit swept over the face of the waters, and the oceans of the world proclaim your majesty and glory. May the expanse of the seas and the fury of the waves speak to us of your creative power. In your mercy protect all who work and travel on the sea, and preserve the teeming life of coral reef and ocean depth.

Amen.

Day 4. Landscape and soil

We thank you for all that is beautiful in the landscapes that surround us. As the environment forms us, so help us to form an environment that is beneficial to others. We thank you for the soil beneath our feet. As the soil supports and nurtures us, so help us to nourish the soil for the good of all living things.

Amen.

Day 5. Sea creatures and all that live in the waters

We give thanks for the diversity of life in the seas and rivers of the world, for the grandeur of whales, the beauty of fish and the intricacy of coral reefs. Bless those who make their living from the sea, and help us to strike a wise balance between fishing for food and preserving the integrity of the marine environment.

Amen.

Day 6. Farms and farmers

We pray for all who make their living from the land. Help them to contend with the vagaries of the weather and with the variability of the economic climate. Defend them from the threat of disease, and help them to protect the animals in their care. We ask for your blessing on farm shops and farmers’ markets, and on all who buy and sell food locally.

Amen.

Day 7. Reduction, re-use, and recycling

We thank you for the resources of the world, and for the many goods available to us. Grant us wisdom and restraint in our spending and consumption; grant us inspiration in the re-use and recycling of resources. Bless those who work in the recycling industry, and those who work in charity shops.

Amen.

Day 8. Nuclear power

We pray for wisdom in our response to the apparent promise of nuclear power. Help us to weigh up the benefits and dangers, the security of supply, and the problem of waste. Bless those who work in the nuclear industry and those involved in the transport of nuclear material. Bless those who seek renewable alternatives to the use of either fossil or nuclear fuels.

Amen.

Day 9. Weather patterns

We give thanks for the weather in its infinite variety. We thank you for the rain and snow, the winds that blow across the face of the Earth and the warmth of the sun upon our faces. As we read the signs of the ever-changing weather, help us also to understand the signs of the times in which we live.

Amen.

Day 10. Lakes, rivers and streams

We thank you for the precious waters of the Earth, from the mirror stillness of a lake to the turbulence of a mighty flood, from their crystal clarity to their murky depths. Help us to remember that water is the essence of life itself and that, through the waters of baptism, we rise to new life in union with Christ.

Amen.

Day 11. Trees and plants

We have heard that the leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations. Draw us ever closer in heart and mind to the trees and plants around us. Inspire us with their beauty, and instruct us in their power to heal the broken bodies, minds and spirits of a fallen humanity. Teach us to protect the trees and plants of the Earth, that we might thereby protect ourselves.

Amen.

Day 12. Birds and insects

Help us to find joy in the glorious songs of birds and the immense variety of insects. We praise you for their ability to fly above the Earth. We give thanks for the part they play in the spreading of seeds and the fertilization of flowers.

Amen.

Day 13. The built environment

We pray for your blessing on the environment of our own making, for town and countryside, buildings and fields. We give thanks for the ingenuity and artistry of engineers and architects. We give thanks for those who maintain the fabric of our green and pleasant land.

Amen.

Day 14. Sustainable development

We give thanks for all the blessings of this life, and remember those less fortunate than ourselves. Help us, who have more than enough, to live more simply, that others may simply live. As we borrow the Earth from our children, may we not take more than we can return.

Amen.

Day 15. Light pollution

We thank you for the lights of the natural world and for the lights of human ingenuity. Help us to appreciate the variety of light and the value of darkness. Grant us wisdom in the use of light, so as not to pollute the awesome beauty of the night sky. May we continue to see the stars, and wonder at our place in the vastness of the universe.

Amen.

Day 16. Air pollution

We give thanks that life depends upon the air that we breathe. Help us to see the atmosphere as a precious resource, and forgive us when we use it as a dumping ground. As the wind blows where it wills, grant all nations wisdom in dealing with the effects of air pollution, for the health and well-being of all your creatures.

Amen.

Day 17. Water pollution

We give thanks for the sustaining power of the waters of the Earth. Forgive us when we are wasteful and take clean water for granted. Forgive us when we are careless and contaminate the waters of life.

Amen.

Day 18. The rainforests

In the rainforests of the Earth you reveal the diversity of your creation. Help us, in wonder, to care for your forests, and in so doing to protect and strengthen the lungs of the Earth. Bless native peoples and forest dwellers, and help us with them to learn the lesson of our shared belonging and interdependence.

Amen.

Day 19. Animals

We give thanks for your promise of salvation, to us and to every living creature. We praise you for the animals of the Earth and for all domestic animals. We ask for your blessing on the animals in our care, giving thanks for their simplicity and companionship. Forgive us when we are careless and forgetful of your creatures.

Amen.

Day 20. Globalization and fair trade

We pray for guidance in the global economy. We give thanks for the diversity of foods and the range of products available to us, and remember those who produce the goods which we enjoy. Help us to support the principles of fair trade, and to practice it in our daily lives.

Amen.

Day 21. Waste production and litter

We give thanks for the material things of life. Help us to use them wisely, and to dispose of them thoughtfully. In business and as individuals, help us to reduce what we waste, and to remember that, as the Earth is our only home, nothing is altogether thrown away.

Amen.

Day 22. Renewable energy

We give thanks for the power of the sun above us, for the warmth of the ground beneath us, for the freedom of the wind around us, for the strength of waves and the rhythm of tides. We pray for ingenuity and inspiration in the research and development of renewable energy.

Amen.

Day 23. Wind energy

The Holy Spirit, like the wind, sweeps over the face of the Earth, giving life to the world. We pray for those who seek to harness the power of the wind, and for those concerned about the siting of wind turbines. Grant wisdom and integrity to the people responsible for forming opinions and making decisions.

Amen.

Day 24. Drinking water

We offer thankful hearts for easy access to safe drinking water, sufficient to meet our needs. We remember those who lack clean water supplies, and those who walk for miles to fetch water for their families. Bless the work of Water Aid and all those who seek to make a difference.

Amen.

Day 25. Biofuels

Teach us wisdom in our use of the earth’s resources. Grant us inspiration in our search for alternatives to fossil fuels. Give guidance to those involved in the development of biofuels. Help us to find the right balance between the need for food and the need for fuel.

Amen.

Day 26. Biodiversity

Through the process of evolution you have created a rich diversity of life on Earth. Help us to recognize and appreciate the intricacy and variety of life in all its fullness. Bless all teachers and scientists as they reveal to others, young and old alike, the wonders of creation.

Amen.

Day 27. Organic farming

We thank you for the gifts of the land, and pray your blessing upon the farmers who make those gifts available to us. We give thanks for those who respect the Earth and seek to maintain its natural balance. We pray for a healthy market for those who produce organic food.

Amen.

Day 28. Genetic modification

From the beginning you have created plants and creatures of every kind. Help us, who have dominion over every living thing, to respect the integrity of each and every species. Enlighten the debate about genetic modification. May we be blinded neither by science nor prejudice.

Amen.

Day 29. Natural disasters

Help us to understand the powers at work in your creation, in the storm and flood, in the earthquake and landslide, in the snow and ice. Grant us wisdom in choosing where to live and work, to build houses and grow crops. Help us to support our neighbors around the world when natural disasters devastate their lives.

Amen.

Day 30. Transport and food miles

We give thanks for the ability to travel widely, in this country and around the world. We give thanks for the rich variety of food available to us, at all times and from all places. Help us to discern the true cost of transport, to travel thoughtfully, and to buy locally.

Amen.

Day 31. Tourism

You have granted us the opportunity to explore your world as never before. In our travels, give us peace of mind and relief from stress. Open our eyes to the beauty of the Earth, so that our spirits may be renewed by your Spirit. In all our journeying help us to tread lightly, so as to avoid the harsh imprint of humanity upon a fragile ecology.

Amen.

PRAYER: A Weekly Cycle Of Prayers For The Earth

(From The Diocese of Newcastle in the Church of England)

Day 1. (Sunday) Light and power

God said, “Let there be light. … Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to … be for signs and for seasons.” (Genesis 1:3, 14)

We thank you for brother sun, sister moon and the stars. We give thanks for the rhythm of the days, months, and years. Help us to value both light and darkness. Grant us wisdom in the use of energy supplies, and inspiration in the development of renewable resources.

Amen.

Day 2. (Monday) Air and climate

God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters.” … God called the dome Sky. (Genesis 1:6, 8)

We thank you for the air that we breathe and for the ever-changing skies. We give thanks for the rhythm of the seasons, for the warmth of the summer sun, and the sharpness of the winter frost. Help us to feel the freshness of the breeze upon our faces and to discern the rainbow of hope that you give us.

Amen.

Day 3. (Tuesday) Water

God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place.” (Genesis 1:9)

We thank you for the life-giving waters of the earth. We give thanks for the rains that bring refreshment to the dry land and succor to living things. Help us to see your peace in the still waters, your power in the flood and the crashing wave, your joy in the babbling brook, and your timeless presence in the cascading waters.

Amen.

Day 4. (Wednesday) Land and vegetation

God said, “Let the dry land appear. … Let the earth put forth vegetation.” (Genesis 1:9, 11)

We give unbounded thanks for the land which sustains us, in all its variety and complexity. We thank you for high mountains and deep valleys, for fertile plains and desert places, for tropical forests and meadow grasslands. Help us to value the soil of which we are part, and to be good caretakers of the land on which we all depend.

Amen.

Day 5. (Thursday) Sea, air and land creatures

God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth. … Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind.” (Genesis 1:20, 24)

We thank you for the integrity and diversity of all living creatures. Enlarge within us a sense of fellowship with our brothers and sisters, the animals, with whom we share the Earth and who love the sweetness of life. Grant us compassion in our dealings with all creatures great and small.

Amen.

Day 6. (Friday) Human beings and the environment

God said, “Let us make humankind in our image.” (Genesis 1:26)

We thank you for creating humankind according to your likeness. Help us, like you, to see the goodness of creation. Help us to remember that we are part of a greater whole, and that we have a duty to care for the Earth, not just for ourselves. Help us to live in balance rather than conflict, to treat the material world with care and gentleness, and to conserve and nurture the things around us.

Amen.

Day 7. (Saturday) The need for restraint

God … rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. (Genesis 2:2)

We thank you for the gift of Sabbath rest amid the busyness of our lives. May we have time to stand and stare, to reflect on the beauty of the created world, and to appreciate the many blessings of this life.

Help us to be satisfied with enough, and to live within our means in relation to the Earth.

Amen.

MYSTICISM: Saturday, November 16, 1996, by John Dear

From The Sound of Listening

The clear blue sky shines brightly across West Virginia and Kentucky as I make my way to the hidden hills near Bardstown.  I get lost driving along the country roads when suddenly the large, white monastery appears on my left.  I see the lower, dark grey wall, a remnant of the original cloister, and the dark pointed church bell tower with the cross on top.  I pull up to the front entrance and take a deep breath.

Today marks the seventh anniversary of the assassination of six Jesuits and their coworkers, Elba and Celina Ramos, at the Jesuit University in San Salvador, El Salvador.  I remember visiting with them throughout the summer of 1985, when I had gone to work in a church-sponsored refugee camp in El Salvador.  I remember the pictures of their bloody, lifeless bodies lying face down on the front lawn of the community house.  With Jesuits and friends in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I was studying at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, I spoke out for an end to United States military aid to El Salvador.  A month after those murders, just before Christmas, 1989, I made my first pilgrimage here to Gethsemani.  I came tired and devastated, and shortly I found new strength in the peace of the monastic life.

Once again, on this important anniversary, I come to the Abbey of Gethsemani.  I arrive tired and spiritually drained.  I come to recenter my soul in Christ.  I think of the many Jesuits and friends from around the country who gather today for prayer and nonviolent civil disobedience at the gates of the School of the Americas in Georgia, calling for the closure of that military training center for death squad troops in Latin America.  The soldiers who killed the Jesuits and their coworkers, as well as the four North American churchwomen and even Archbishop Romero, were trained in Georgia.  I pray with my friends for the immediate closing of this “School of Assassins.”

Yesterday, I visited my father at Georgetown University hospital.  His leg is reddish and swollen, but steadily healing from a sudden and serious infection, which is related to the removal of a vein for his heart by-pass surgery last January.  His spirits are good, though his energy has been depleted.  He expects to go home tomorrow and encouraged me to go on ahead to Kentucky.  A real survivor, he has overcome colon and liver cancer, angioplasties, heart by-pass surgery, and now a serious leg infection.  He remains in my heart and prayers every moment.

I walk along the monastery wall to the cemetery below the church bell tower where Thomas Merton rests with his brother monks under the shade of a huge cedar tree.  At his grave, before a short white cross, I offer a prayer that these days may be filled with peace and prayer, that I may turn to Christ with all my heart, that I may become an instrument of Christ’s peace.  I look up at the clear blue sky.  The breeze refreshes me.  I walk back slowly and enter the monastery.

I want to start with a clean slate.  In the guest house, a sign invites retreatants to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  I wait in line in the chapel.  I confess my sins.  A compassionate monk listens attentively.  He calls me back to the basics, to the love of Christ and the roots of my vocation.

Saint Francis’s peace prayer offers a framework for my confession.  I begin: I have not been an instrument of the Lord’s peace.  Parts of me have been sowing hatred, instead of love; despair instead of hope; darkness instead of light; doubt instead of faith; sorrow instead of joy.  I seek my own consolation instead of consoling others; arrogantly insist that I be understood instead of understanding others; and demand to be loved instead of generously loving others.  It’s the same old story.  My heart has grown cold.  I feel burnt-out, far from God.  I take responsibility for myself.  I’ve become exceedingly proud, selfish, ungrateful, narcissistic, thoughtless, hurtful, even violent.  I have not loved as I could, have not believed as I should, and have not hoped as I would.  God have mercy on me a sinner.

As my penance the priest suggests a quiet, prayerful reading of Psalm 139:

Yahweh, you have probed me and you know me; you know when I sit and when I stand; you understand my thoughts from afar.  My journeys and my rest you scrutinize, with all my ways you are familiar.  Behind me and before, you hem me in and rest your hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; too lofty for me to attain.  Your eyes have been my actions; in your book they are all written; my days are limited before one of them existed.  How weighty are your designs, O God; how vast the sum of them!

I have arrived.

LOVE: Styles Of Vision, by John O’Donohue

From Anam Ċara

To the fearful eye, all is threatening.  When you look toward the world in a fearful way, all you see and concentrate on are things that can damage and threaten you.  The fearful eye is always besieged by threat.

To the greedy eye, everything can be possessed.  Greed is one of the powerful forces in the modern Western world.  It is sad that a greedy person can never enjoy what they have, because they are always haunted by that which they do not yet possess.  This can refer to land, books, companies, ideas, money, or art.  The motor and agenda of greed is always the same.  Joy is possession, but sadly possession is ever restless; it has an inner insatiable hunger.  Greed is poignant because it is always haunted and emptied by future possibility; it can never engage presence.  However, the more sinister aspect of greed is its ability to sedate and extinguish desire.  It destroys the natural innocence of desire, dismantles its horizons, and replaces them with a driven and atrophied possessiveness.  This greed is now poisoning the Earth and impoverishing its people.  Having has become the sinister enemy of being.

To the judgmental eye, everything is closed in definitive frames.  When the judgmental eye looks out, it sees things in terms of lines and squares.  It is always excluding and separating, and therefore it never sees in a compassionate or celebratory way.  To see is to judge.  Sadly, the judgmental eye is always equally harsh with itself.  It sees only the images of its tormented interiority projected outward from itself.  The judgmental eye harvests the reflected surface and calls it truth.  It enjoys neither the forgiveness nor imagination to see deeper into the ground of things where truth is paradox.  An externalist, image-driven culture is the corollary of such an ideology of facile judgment.

To the resentful eye, everything is begrudged.   People who have allowed the canker of resentment into their vision can never enjoy who they are or what they have.  They are always looking out toward others with resentment.  Perhaps they are resentful because they see others as more beautiful, more gifted, or richer than themselves.  The resentful eye lives out of its poverty and forgets its own inner harvest.

To the indifferent eye, nothing calls or awakens.  Indifference is one of the hallmarks of our times.  It is said that indifference is necessary for power; to hold control one has to be successfully indifferent to the needs and vulnerabilities of those under control.  Thus indifference calls for a great commitment to nonvision.  To ignore things demands incredible mental energy.  Without even knowing it, indifference can place you beyond the frontiers of compassion, healing, and love.  When you become indifferent, you give all your power away.  Your imagination becomes fixated in the limbo of cynicism and despair.

To the inferior eye, everyone else is greater.  Others are more beautiful, brilliant, and gifted than you.  The inferior eye is always looking away from its own treasures.  It can never celebrate its own presence and potential.  The inferior eye is blind to its secret beauty.  The human eye was never designed to look up in a way that inflates the Other to superiority, nor to look down, reducing the Other to inferiority.  To look someone in the eye is a nice testament to truth, courage, and expectation.  Each one stands on common, but different, ground.

To the loving eye, everything is real.  This art of love is neither sentimental nor naive.  Such love is the greatest criterion of truth, celebration, and reality.  Kathleen Raine, a Scottish poet, says that unless you see a thing in the light of love, you do not see it at all.  Love is the light in which we see light.  Love is the light in which we see each thing in its true origin, nature, and destiny.  If we could look at the world in a loving way, then the world would rise up before us full of invitation, possibility, and depth.

The loving eye can even coax pain, hurt, and violence toward transfiguration and renewal.  The loving eye is bright because it is autonomous and free.  It can look lovingly upon anything.  The loving vision does not become entangled in the agenda of power, seduction, opposition, or complicity.  Such vision is creative and subversive.  It rises above the pathetic arithmetic of blame and judgment and engages experience at the level of its origin, structure, and destiny.  The loving eye sees through and beyond image and effects the deepest change.  Vision is central to your presence and creativity.  To recognize how you see things can bring you self-knowledge and enable you to glimpse the wonderful treasures your life secretly holds.

POETRY: Sunset, by Rainer Maria Rilke

Translated by Robert Bly

Slowly the west reaches for clothes of new colors
which it passes to a row of ancient trees.
You look, and soon these two worlds both leave you,
one part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth,

leaving you, not really belonging to either,
not so hopelessly dark as that house that is silent,
not so unswervingly given to the eternal as that thing
that turns to a star each night and climbs—

leaving you (it is impossible to untangle the threads)
your own life, timid and standing high and growing,
so that, sometimes blocked in, sometimes reaching out,
one moment your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star.

POETRY: Revelation, by Robert Frost

We make ourselves a place apart
Behind light words that tease and flout,
But oh, the agitated heart
Till someone really find us out.

‘Tis pity if the case require
(Or so we say) that in the end
We speak the literal to inspire
The understanding of a friend.

But so with all, from babes that play
At hide-and-seek to God afar,
So all who hide too well away
Must speak and tell us where they are.

HOLY SPIRIT: The Spirit Gives Manifold Gifts, by Lowell J. Satre

From All Christians Are Charismatic

There are three major passages in the New Testament concerning charisms, or gifts of grace.  They are Romans 12:308; 1 Corinthians 12—14; and Ephesians 4:7-12.  Since the exercise of spiritual gifts was causing problems in Corinth, Paul took great pains to counsel the Christians there.  First Corinthians is therefore a good place to begin.

The Corinthians were a gifted but chaotic church.  In this epistle, Paul is employing his apostolic gifts to help his readers function effectively as members of their congregation.  First, as he continues to answer a letter from Corinth, he does not make clear whether he is writing about spiritual things or spiritual people; the word he uses could refer to either.  Then Paul mentions the ecstatic religious experiences with dumb idols which the Corinthians had in their pre-Christian days.  He proceeds to answer a twofold question they had apparently asked him about the inspiration behind two very different statements.  Paul replies, “No one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says, ‘Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”  Is it not almost unthinkable that a Christian congregation should ask whether, “Jesus be cursed,” is inspired by the Holy Spirit?  It may be that there was a “Christ party” at Corinth who were so carried away with the Heavenly, spiritual Christ, as opposed to the Earthly, fleshly Jesus, that they cried out, “Cursed be Jesus!”  At any rate, the spirit who inspires such is not holy.  The Holy Spirit does, however, evoke the fundamental Christian confession, “Jesus is Lord.”  The content of inspired speech indicates its source, according to Paul.

A recurring emphasis in Paul that has generally not been sufficiently noticed in discussions about spiritual gifts begins in the next verses: “Varieties of charismata, varieties of services, varieties of workings.”  With Paul’s emphasis on varieties of gifts, can we assume that all will be included in the list in the next few verses?  Some apparently think so.

For the Common Good

The significance of the next verse can scarcely be exaggerated: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”  Each believer is given a gift; not one is giftless!  The verb is a “divine passive”: God is the donor.  The last part of the verse is as important as the rest: each is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.   This last phrase is a key to everything Paul says about charisms.  Therefore, this red thread of Paul’s thought will be followed.

The cruciality of using a spiritual gift for the common good is spotlighted in Paul’s discussion of Christ’s body.  “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were caused to drink of one Spirit.”  In the next paragraph the apostle states that in a body, every member is different; if such great diversity should cause a member to say, “I do not belong to the body because I am not some other member,” it is still a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, what a monstrosity!  But more important, there would be no hearing or smelling, in fact, no body.  No part can say to another, “I have no need for you.”  In fact, the seemingly weaker parts are indispensable.

The common good is stressed again by Paul as he becomes even more explicit about the body: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”  In Romans, a still greater emphasis on members’ mutuality occurs: “We, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”  Members of Christ’s body are even members of one another – that is intimacy!

The love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, is positioned where it is to stress sharply that gifts without love are useless.  Without love, gifts of tongues, prophecy, or knowledge, or even of the handing-over of one’s body for burning, amount to nothing.

First Corinthians 14 intensifies the emphasis on mutuality.  “Make love your aim, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.”  Prophecy edifies the church.  If it is interpreted, speaking in tongues edifies believers.  These verses are mentioned here simply because of their profound eloquence in underscoring that charisms are “for the common good,” for building up all members of the congregation.

Of a piece is Paul’s next question: “If I come to you speaking in tongues, how shall I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching?”  Paul concludes the paragraph with another ringing plea “for the common good”: “So with yourselves; since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.”

In the remainder of the chapter the author continues his emphasis on congregational practices that result in edification.  Prayer during worship is to be so intelligible that even a novice will know when to say, amen.  Unintelligible tongues are useless for evangelism, but prophecy can convict and convert unbelievers.

Paul assumes that when the congregation assembles, each member will make a contribution toward building up the church.  “Let all things be done for edification,” he reiterates.  Later, in the final part of the chapter, the apostle lays down guidelines for orderly and edifying services of worship by and for members with various gifts of the Spirit.  “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.”  Paul makes the apostolic claim that “what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord,” and exhorts that “all things should be done decently and in order.”

How Manifold Are the Gifts?

In connection with Paul’s emphasis in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 on the varieties of gifts, we asked whether gifts might be involved beyond the nine listed in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11.  This is a relevant question, because some actually recognize only the nine.  It is now time to answer that question.

In chapter 12, after describing the body the apostle writes, “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues.”  Although it is not evident in most translations, Paul first mentions three kinds of gifted people: apostles, prophets, teachers.  He then adds some gifts: miracles, gifts of healing, helpful deeds, administrative gifts.  But the main point here is that apostles and teachers are not specifically mentioned in 12:7-11, and helpful deeds and administrative gifts are totally new in 12:28.  Romans 12:6-8 gives additional proof that the nine charisms listed first in 1 Corinthians 12 are not intended to be exhaustive.  In Romans, eight of those original nine are missing, and added to prophecy, which is common to the two lists, are five gifts not mentioned in either: service, exhortation, contributions, helping, showing mercy.  Ephesians 4:11 mentions two categories of gifted people not previously mentioned: evangelists and pastors.  It is obvious that the charisms are more than merely nine.  As we noted, people and gifts are listed together in 1 Corinthians 12:28, three of one and five of the other.  In Romans 12:6-8, there is a new variation on the theme.  Here the gifts come first and are followed by the gifted people – two of one, six of the other.  What is to be made of all this?

Ephesians 4 may shed further light on the number of spiritual gifts.  The chapter begins with a challenge that believers lead a life worthy of their calling.  The unity of those called is then emphasized.  There is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of us all.  After this is a section on gifts:

But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”

Later the text continues,

And [Christ] gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.

According to these verses, Christ gave gifts and gifted people to his church.  It can be seen that in New Testament passages where the charisms are listed, there is a happy commingling of gifts and gifted persons.

The reason the New Testament authors can so easily glide between the charism and the charismatic person is that these two are as inseparable as belief and the believer.  There is no gift floating around apart from a baptized believer who uses it.  Conversely, there is no Christian without a charism.  “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”  But the charisms are not merely nine in number; they are ninety times nine.  There are as many charisms as there are Christians.

Paul’s extended section on the body celebrates this.  All were baptized in one Spirit into Christ’s body with a functional drink of one Spirit.  Every member belongs to the body with a function indispensable for the well-being of the body.  Seeing requires an eye and hearing an ear; an ear normally hears and an eye sees.  Part and function belong together.  Hence, both 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12 teach contrary to the position that there are only nine gifts.

The wrong question has too often been asked: What are the gifts of God’s Spirit?  Why not ask instead, Who are those gifts by God’s Spirit?  The answer is, All baptized believers are charismatic, Spirit-gifted.  Not all of the many members in the one body have the same function, but they all have some function.  All members of Christ’s body, just as they are, with all their potential and all their limitations, are gifts of God’s Spirit.  No member is inconsequential.

To get at the same point from another angle.  Does Paul mean to exclude any Christian at Corinth when he gives his second list in 1 Corinthians 12:28?  “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues.”  A Stephanas might say to himself hearing this, “An apostle, I am not, but a helper I try to be.”  This is no mere flight of fancy, because Stephanas and his household were probably Paul’s first converts in Corinth; Paul himself baptized them.  And this Corinthian must have felt his charism confirmed when he heard a few remarks in the last part of Paul’s letter.  “You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints.”  Stephanas and his household had been employing their Spirit-given selves to the service of the saints.”  They had labored “for the common good” of the congregation, and that is what charism is all about.

Is there anything, then, that cannot be a charism?  Any gift devoted to the service of the saints for the common good is a charism.  The notion of charism is as inclusive as that of justification.  Forgiveness is for each one who believes in the God who declares the ungodly righteous.  By this each believer becomes a saint (a sinner forgiven), as Christ’s welcoming notorious sinners to table fellowship so potently proclaims.  No one who enters is cast out.  God has poured out the Spirit on all human kind in these last days since Pentecost.  Each believer is Spirit-baptized and “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

It is not the case, however, that a charism is necessarily a permanent possession of a believer.  The Spirit of Christ is a permanent resident.  A charism, however, is more like a transitory guest.  Apostleship in the narrow sense may be one exception.  By the strictest definition an apostle is one who was with Jesus from the days of John the Baptist till his ascension.  Of these there were only several more than a baker’s dozen.  Paul claimed apostleship because he had seen the risen Lord and been commissioned by him.  Even his claim did not go unchallenged, however.  At any rate, apostles were unique because Jesus was crucified and resurrected only once.  This does not mean that an apostle was infallible.  An apostle could be dead wrong, as Peter was at Antioch when Paul withstood him “eyeball to eyeball.”  Nevertheless, Peter was still an apostle.  There were, on the other hand, false apostles.  And there was Judas, whom the Father had given to Jesus, who turned aside from the ministry and apostleship.  Apart from apostleship, the charisms do not seem permanent possessions.  There are different kinds of charisms.  Not all in the congregation can lay claim to each kind.  In principle each believer may from time-to-time enjoy any charism.  Since this was true of prophecy – “You can all prophesy one by one” – the same seems likely of other charisms as well.

How manifold are the gifts and the gifted?  How many and how varied are they?  They are at least as manifold as the baptized believers in Christ’s body, the church.  No member of that lively body is without a vital function.  The Spirit has made some parts magnificently versatile.

THE CHURCH: Undressing The Spirit Of The World, by Pope Francis

From The Church of Mercy

During my visit to Assisi for Saint Francis’s day, the newspapers and media were stirring up fantasies.  “The Pope is going to strip the church there!”  “What will he strip from the church?”  “He is going to strip bishops and cardinals of their vestments; then he will divest himself.”  This is, indeed, a good occasion to invite the church to divest herself.  But we are all the church!  All of us!  Beginning with the newly baptized, we are all the church, and we must all follow the path of Jesus, who himself took the road of renunciation.  He became a servant, one who serves; he chose to be humiliated even to the cross.  And if we want to be Christians, then there is no other way.

But can’t we make Christianity a little more human, they say, without the cross, without Jesus, without renunciation?  In this way we would become like Christians in a pastry shop, saying: what beautiful cakes, what beautiful sweets!  Truly beautiful, but not really Christians!  Someone could ask, Of what must the church divest herself?  Today she must strip herself of a very grave danger, which threatens every person in the church, everyone: the danger of worldliness.  The Christian cannot coexist with the spirit of the world, with the worldliness that leads us to vanity, to arrogance, to pride.  And this is an idol; it is not God.  It is an idol!  And idolatry is the gravest of sins!

When the media speaks about the church, they believe the church is made up of priests, sisters, bishops, cardinals, and the pope.  But we are all the church, as I said.  And we all must strip ourselves of this worldliness: the spirit opposing the spirit of the Beatitudes, the spirit opposing the spirit of Jesus.  Worldliness hurts us.  It is so very sad to find a worldly Christian who is sure – according to him or her – of that security that the faith gives and of the security that the world provides.  You cannot be on both sides.  The church – all of us – must strip herself of the worldliness that leads to vanity, to pride, that is idolatry.

Jesus himself told us: “You cannot serve two masters: either you serve God or you serve mammon.”  In mammon itself there is this worldly spirit: money, vanity, pride, that path.  We cannot take it.  It is sad to erase with one hand what we write with the other.  The Gospel is the Gospel!  God is one!  And Jesus made himself a servant for our sake, and the spirit of the world has nothing to do with this.  Today I am here with you.  Many of you have been stripped by this callous world that offers no work, no help.  To this world it doesn’t matter that there are children dying of hunger: it doesn’t matter if many families have nothing to eat, do not have the dignity of bringing bread home; it doesn’t matter that many people are forced to flee slavery, hunger, and flee in search of freedom.  With how much pain, how often don’t we see that they meet death, as in Lampedusa: today is a day of tears!  The spirit of the world causes these things.  It is unthinkable that a Christian – a true Christian – be it a priest, a sister, a bishop, a cardinal, or a pope, would want to go down this path of worldliness, which is a homicidal attitude.  Spiritual worldliness kills!  It kills the soul!  It kills the person!  It kills the church!

PRAYER: Prayer To The Holy Spirit, by Cardinal Donald Wuerl

From The Light Is On For You

(To begin an examination of conscience.)

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful
and kindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created.
And you shall renew the face of the Earth.

O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit,
did instruct the hearts of the faithful,
grant that by the same Holy Spirit,
we may be truly wise and ever enjoy his consolations,
through Christ, our Lord.

Amen.

Act of Contrition

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you, and I detest all my sins, because of your just punishments; but most of all because they offend you, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love.  I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life.

Amen.

MYSTICISM: Mystical Knowledge And Rational Knowledge, by Peggy Wilkinson

From: Finding the Mystic Within You

“I prayed, and understanding was given me. . . .  Wisdom is quicker to move than any motion: she is so pure, she pervades and permeates all things.  She is a breath of the power of God, pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty, a reflection of the eternal light, untarnished mirror of God’s active power, image of his goodness.  Although alone, she can do all: herself unchanging, she makes all things new.  In each generation she passes into holy souls, she makes them friends of God and prophets.” (Wisdom 7:7, 24)

“Mysticism – doctrine that knowledge of spiritual truth may be attained intuitively.”

“Intuition – the immediate knowing or learning of something without the conscious use of reasoning.”

There are two kinds of knowledge – “rational” knowledge and “mystical” knowledge.  “Rational” knowledge is gained through our conscious effort; it is the work of the created intellect.  Through the use of our senses; reading, studying, and hearing talks, facts, or information “about” God is gathered and stored in the memory.

“Mystical” knowledge is not knowledge “about” God, but God himself that is apprehended intuitively.  Through the activity of God in our deepest center, mystical knowledge is absorbed from within, by-passing the created senses.

“He who would go to God relying upon natural ability and reasoning will not be very spiritual.  There are some who think that by pure force and the activity of the senses, which of itself is lowly and no more than natural, they can reach the strength and height of the supernatural spirit.  One does not attain to this peak without suppressing and leaving aside the activity of the senses.

“Pure contemplation lies in receiving.  It is impossible for this highest wisdom and language of God, which is contemplation, to be received in anything less than a spirit that is silent and detached from discursive knowledge and gratification.

“This wisdom is loving, tranquil, solitary, peaceful, mild, and an inebriator of the spirit, by which the soul feels tenderly and gently wounded and carried away, without knowing by whom, nor from where, nor how.  The reason is that this wisdom is communicated without the soul’s own activity,” (Living Flame of Love, Saint John of the Cross).

Through a kind of “spiritual osmosis” the soul is gradually absorbing God, by silent time spent in each other’s presence.

“Osmosis – Gr. osmos – impulse; the tendency of fluids to pass through a somewhat porous membrane so as to equalize concentrations on both sides.”

In spiritual osmosis the concentration of divine life, love, and knowledge, through the impulse of God, gradually becomes absorbed, equalized, and fully balanced in the divine/human spirit.

This divine activity is far beyond the capacity of the created human intellect to observe or evaluate, and proceeds regardless of whether or not the created senses or feelings are involved.

“Contemplation is also termed mystical theology, meaning the secret or hidden knowledge of God.  In contemplation God teaches the soul very quietly and secretly, without its knowing how, without the sound of words, and without the help of any bodily or spiritual faculty, in silence and quietude, in darkness to all sensory and natural things.  Some spiritual persons call this contemplation knowing by unknowing,” (Spiritual Canticle, Saint John of the Cross).

“It is written in the prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God,’” (John 6:45).

To be taught by God, and not through our own conscious efforts may be for us a completely new approach to spiritual growth.  It is the reason for the spiritual emphasis on becoming a “little child,” and allowing God to lead and form the soul, remaining passively receptive and not interfering with this delicate work.

In the beginning of the spiritual journey, this is often difficult for people to become accustomed to, especially those who are “take charge” types.  Even those who are not often resist the idea of giving up control.  We hesitate on the brink of this mysterious unknown, for we are used to proceeding through blocks of time schedules, semesters or years, during which our “performance” is graded or evaluated, and in which we are able to observe our progress and achievements, and thereby enjoy a sense of satisfaction and pride of “accomplishment.”

But our human “measuring rods” are useless in the spiritual world where “the last is first”; the “greatest among you is the servant of all”; the “weak confound the strong”; and “a little child shall lead them.”  In this spiritual land it is necessary to let that spiritual, eternal child, which is in each one of us, lead us to the Father.

“To reach a new and unknown land and travel unknown roads, a man cannot be guided by his own knowledge, rather he has doubts about his own knowledge and seeks the guidance of others.  Obviously he cannot reach new territory nor attain this added knowledge if he does not take these new and unknown roads and abandon those familiar ones.  The soul, too, when it advances, walks in darkness and unknowing.  Since God, as we said, is the master and guide of the soul, this blind man, it can truly rejoice,” (The Dark Night, Saint John of the Cross).

If, through self-knowledge, we know ourselves, and have gained some idea of the omnipotence of God, it will come as no surprise that we cannot immediately comprehend divine wisdom.

“How rich are the depths of God – how deep his wisdom and knowledge – and how impossible to penetrate his motives or understand his methods!  Who could ever know the mind of the Lord?” (Romans 11:33).

In the silent absorption of contemplation we wait, experiencing God through love without attempting to analyze, question, or measure, as he fills us with his own divine life.  In the stillness we train the mirror of our souls upon God, and the mirror-image becomes progressively clearer and more indelible.

Mystical knowledge is both love and wisdom.  Love is of the “essence” of God, not of the created, and is therefore able to immediately unite with God; but Divine Wisdom is incomprehensible to the created mind and is not always fully understood at the moment that it is received.  Part of the suffering of the “dark night” is that the faculties are not able to function in their accustomed manner.  Love has to love, and reason has to reason.  Both are proceeding according to their nature, but the created needs time to grasp and absorb the Divine, as the body needs time to digest and assimilate food.

Love IS God, of his very nature, and is able to surmount matter and merge with God in sameness, while the understanding lags behind.  Love transcends the mere human way of proceeding, and goes out of itself to God in a kind of “quantum leap.”  Love is like the rope of the mountain climber which grasps a new peak, then supports the struggling, created intellect while it “hangs suspended” for a time.  When understanding “catches up,” the “rope of love” again flings higher.  Created consciousness slowly assimilates the divine knowledge with which it has been filled, before it arrives at that place to which love, uncreated spirit, has effortlessly leaped.

Love effects change; information, without love, does not.  Knowledge, even spiritual knowledge, of itself is not growth inducing.  Divine transformation does not require knowledge equal to God’s, but it does require equal love.  True spiritual growth is accomplished through humble openness to the Divine infusion.  Love contains all that God is and, eventually, all that the soul is, as the soul’s capacity is strengthened and expanded to fulfill its divine destiny of being equal to God.

Spiritual writers have said that information plus experience equals wisdom.

“Experience must be restored to its rightful place in theology; doctrinal truth and a life of prayer must be wedded again.  Theology begins with experience, and experience reflected upon produced theology.

“If we stop short of the deep inner stuff of religion, chances are we’ll become either fanatics or skeptics.  The deep inner stuff of religion is called the mystical life.  It consists primarily of the contemplation of truth.  Contemplation is a supremely human and intuitive gaze on truth,” (The Human Adventure, Fr. William McNamara).

“You will learn the truth and the truth will make you free,” (John 8:32).

In every area of our lives, in order to communicate we must know the language.  God’s language is “the silent language of love,” which requires the ability to listen with the heart.  Learning the language of divine love puts us in touch not only with God, but with all those who are close to him, both in Heaven and on Earth.  From time-to-time during our Earthly journey we may glimpse, at the edge of perception, the radiant beauty of another’s soul in the blinding flash of a “Transfiguration experience.”  At the sudden recognition of Spirit and Spirit, an answering flame leaps up spontaneously form our depths.

“Master, it is wonderful for us to be here!” (Luke 9:33)

The moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy!” (John 21:7).

Through the indwelling, Divinity smiles out at us from other eyes and speaks through their mouths, sometimes so directly and immediately that the encounter and its significance can neither be mistaken nor denied.

“Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road?” (Luke 24:32).

Through the ever-growing intimacy of the prayer relationship, Christ becomes “familiar” to the soul, and is therefore more easily recognized regardless of the outward “disguise.”  Contemplative awareness is necessary in order to recognize him for “Our God is a hidden God.”  Because of obvious human weaknesses and failings, the clearer, deeper perception of the soul is needed to “see” the paradox of the Divine within the human, whether it be in ourselves, or in our sisters and brothers.  The contemplative spirit keeps us open and receptive, with a sense of wonder and awe at the reality of the presence of God “shining diaphanously at the heart of creation,” (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin).  The contemplative remains a spiritual child, young at heart, regardless of the passing years.

To the prayerful soul loving and generous enough to give God the time, and humble and willing enough to listen and change, Christ will come again.  “I will not leave you orphans: I will come back to you,” (John 14:16). 

In the depths of contemplation as we sense his gaze upon us, irresistibly drawing our souls to “Come, follow me,” we are moved to respond.  From time-to-time we are called to temporarily leave our “nets,” the entanglements of the world, the trivia with which we have become so caught up, too many possessions that in time “own” us, prejudices not worthy of the divine intelligence that God shares with us, and false images of God or ourselves that tend to block out the Divine Light.  To know (experience) the depths of God, we must first know (experience) the depths of ourselves, and the dark emptiness of the creature without God’s light and love.  “The soul is like an empty vessel waiting to be filled,” (Spiritual Canticle, Saint John of the Cross).

 

 

NATURE: The Still Sad Music Of Humanity, by Peter Milward

From: A Poetic Approach to Ecology

Contemplating all these various voices of the Earth in their totality and unity, it is impressive to note how well “each mortal thing does one thing and the same.”  Each thing in itself has only one sound to make, however well it may make it.  Each thing is as it were eternally endowed with a certain intrinsic monotony, but in conjunction with other things it contributes its characteristic sound to a symphony, whether a restricted pastoral symphony of farm and farmyard or the “great chime and symphony of Nature.”

Now at last I come to the one grand exception to the monotony of all mortal things, and that is, for all his mortality, Man.  He isn’t limited, like the other animals, to his vocal chords, but he can imitate, as no parrot or raven can, almost all the sounds he hears, besides adding many others of his own invention.  What he makes are not just animal cries from the depths of his heart or to the best of his poor ability.  He is able to mix his sounds in such a way as to convey a meaning, or a variety of meanings, to other men.  This he does in an unlimited variety of mixtures, with different meanings in different languages.  This may be in the form of conversation, or drama, or oratory, or poetry, or song, or opera, ascending from prose to poetry, and in it all we may recognize the quality of music.

Needless to say, what Man utters isn’t always musical or melodious or euphonic.  It may also be cacophonic, full of jarring sounds that grate on our ears, as when an individual is drunk or quarrelsome or self-assertive.  Then it may be said that the very cawing of a crow is melodious in comparison with him.  Or the sounds he utters may be groans at the pain inflicted by evil men, cries of distress and agony, or laments over the weariness of life in a world where evil seems to prevail.  This is what Wordsworth calls “the still sad music of humanity,” when Man, who is made for joy, is plunged into sorrow at the sight of “what man has made of man.”

Nor, when it comes to sound, is Man limited to his vocal chords.  He is also able to use his wits in making a variety of musical instruments, some with strings, some with wood, some with brass, some with skins.  Then by putting all these instruments together, and playing them in various ways at the same time, in a certain arrangement, he can produce a symphony or, with the addition of human voices, whether solo or in chorus, an oratorio.  It is indeed marvelous what Man can do, in contrast to “each mortal thing” in the world of Nature around him.  He is indeed, with all his good and bad qualities, what Pope calls, “the glory, jest, and riddle of the world.”

It is only in relatively recent times that Man has attained a climax of musical achievement with the oratorios of Handel and the symphonies of Beethoven.  Since then, however, with the rise of the industrial revolution, it seems that everything produced by Man, whether in music or in other mechanical sounds, has come to be charged with cacophony.  I am not just thinking of jazz or hard rock, but almost all the sounds that assail our ears in modern cities, such as those emitted by cars and trucks and motorbikes, seem to set at nought or nullify the symphony whether of Nature or of Man.

Thus, whereas everything in the world of Nature, however, as Tennyson says, “red in tooth and claw,” combines to form one “grand chime and symphony,” everything in the world of Man, above all in our modern industrial world, conspires (it seems) in the opposite direction.  How ironical it is that modern science, which originally boasted of its emphasis on the world of Nature, has moved so far from that world as to endanger its very existence!  Or rather, it isn’t so much the fault of science as of Man, who has misused the inquiries of scientists into the secrets of Nature in such a way as to endanger the existence at once of Nature and of himself.  For so Man is his own worst enemy.

Such criticism of Man may, however, sound yet another note of discord in the ears of the modern world.  Only, to return to the original harmony of Man and Nature, it seems necessary for me to strike such a jarring note.  There can be no real concord in weakly accepting a world of Man that is out of harmony with the world of Nature as well as the old world of Man.  Rather, one has to go deeper to discover the hidden harmony by which all may yet be reconciled, just as even in the world of Nature there is, for all its seeming discord, a basic harmony.  But, I ask, where is this harmony to be found?  How are we at this late hour to reconcile Man and Nature?  That is the problem, which seems to defy a solution.

Yes, it is a problem without a solution, so long as we look for that solution to the ingenuity of human science, which can only make things worse.  The only hope, or else despair, consists in looking away from the world of Man, and the way we have cooped ourselves up in big cities, to the world of Nature and the rural countryside.  Then from both these worlds, as they appear to our senses, whether of sight or hearing, we have to look to the inner world of Spirit.  For there in our inner world we come close to the origin of our being in the beginning, and there we find ourselves in the presence of Him who has created us and everything around us.  After all, we have to confess that we human beings can’t help making a mess of everything.  At least, out of the mess we have made for ourselves we can turn, at least with a humility born of desperation, to Him who alone can put everything right for us.  We have to learn, as Hamlet learnt, that “there’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.”  We have to groan with that unutterable groaning which, as Saint Paul says, is a sign of the Holy Spirit of God interceding for us, that heartfelt cry which, as Wordsworth says, is the “still sad music of humanity,” transforming our human cacophony into a divine symphony of prayer and praise.

POETRY: That Day, by Denise Levertov

Across a lake in Switzerland, fifty years ago,
light was jousting with long lances, fencing with broadswords
back and forth among cloudy peaks and foothills.
We watched from a small pavilion, my mother and I,
enthralled.
And then, behold, a shaft, a column,
a defined body, not of light but of silver rain,
formed and set out from the distant shore, leaving behind
the silent feints and thrusts, and advanced
unswervingly, at a steady pace,
toward us.
I knew this! I’d seen it! Not the sensation
of déjà vu: it was Blake’s inkwash vision,
‘The Spirit of God Moving Upon the Face of the Waters’!
The column steadily came on
across the lake toward us; on each side of it,
there was no rain. We rose to our feet, breathless—
and then it reached us, took us
into its veil of silver, wrapped us
in finest weave of wet,
and we laughed for joy, astonished.

POETRY: Watching For The Kingfisher, by Ann Lewin

Prayer is like watching for the
Kingfisher. All you can do is
Be there where he is like to appear, and
Wait.
Often nothing much happens;
There is space, silence and
Expectancy.
No visible signs, only the
Knowledge that he’s been there
And may come again.
Seeing or not seeing cease to matter,
You have been prepared
But when you’ve almost stopped
Expecting it, a flash of brightness
Gives encouragement.

DIVINE FRIENDSHIP: Ours For The Receiving, by M. Basil Pennington

From: Centered Living

A question I am often asked when Centering Prayer is referred to as a “method of contemplative prayer” is: Can we force God to give us contemplative prayer?  We have already spoken a little about this, but I think it is worth returning to the subject.

First of all, “a method of contemplative prayer” might not be the best way to describe Centering Prayer.  There are many different notions of just what contemplative prayer is, the term being used to cover a broad spectrum of experiences.  So we have decided to leave the label aside and stay with the title: Centering Prayer.

Surfacing in this question is a fear that has long been prevalent in our church: the fear of Pelagianism.  Pelagius was a fourth-century monk.  Saint Augustine did much to bring his errors to the fore.  They were finally condemned by a church council.  The essence of his error – or at least the error attributed to him – lay in the assertion that the human person can be the ultimate source of some good, unaided by grace.  God and God alone is the ultimate source of all good.  Whatever good is to be found in creation and in the human person has its sources in him.

Therefore, we cannot pray, or pray as we ought, without God’s grace.

And yet we know that we can decide right now to turn our attention from this book and say an Our Father.  Try it and see.  Stop reading for a moment and pray the Our Father.

Our Father,

who art in  Heaven

hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

Your will be done,

on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

Forgive us our trespasses

as we forgive those

who trespass against us.

Lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

For yours in the kingdom,

the power, and the glory

for ever and ever.

Amen.

We can only do what we have just done by God’s grace; yet that grace is always available to us.  God has commanded us to pray constantly.  God backs up his commands with his grace.

There are two freedoms at play here: the freedom of God and our freedom.  God has freely bound himself to give us the grace we need – indeed, the grace we ask for: “Ask and you shall receive.”  There yet remains our freedom to respond to his grace and use or abuse it.  We are touching here one of the more difficult mysteries of our faith: the interplay of grace and free will.  After exhaustive searching into the question – How is it that God’s grace moves us to do good and yet we move freely? – Saint Augustine made this response to the question: “Do not seek an answer if you do not want to come up with a wrong answer.”  There are some answers we do not yet have.  They will be revealed to us only when we are brought into the fullness of the Divine Mystery.

We do not have the answers because we do not need them.  We do need faith and trust.

We can pray the Our Father.  And we can decide to pray it in different ways.  We can, as they say, “rattle it off” rather quickly.  This is not necessarily a wrong way to use this prayer.  It can be the vehicle of a very great love, sent to God express.

There is a story in our monastic tradition.  One day the steward of a very wealthy lord arrived at the gate of a monastery with a large bag of gold as an offering for the monks.  The steward’s lord wanted the monks to pray for a deceased brother.  Graciously accepting the sack, the monk at the gate turned toward the abbey church and prayed a short psalm, Psalm 128(129), the usual psalm for the deceased.  He then turned back to the astonished steward and offered him a drink and other humanities.  The steward blurted out: “Is that all you are going to do for such a generous offering?”  The monk smiled and took the man into his cell.  He sat at his desk for a minute or two and wrote out the psalm.  Then he took his scales.  He placed the bag of gold on one side and the sheet of paper with the psalm written on it on the other.  The bag of gold shot up as the weight of the psalm bore down on the scale.  “So are things weighed in God’s eyes, my friend.  And now, can I get you something to drink?”

It is the love that matters!

We can, though, decide to say the Our Father with very great care, letting our emotion and affection come into the words.  This will take longer.  And such a recitation may stir up and increase our love, or at least give better expression to it.

Again, we may decide to seek to enter into this Prayer more fully.  The Lord gave it to us, not so much as a formula of prayer, but more as a whole school of prayer.  We can meditate on each word and each phrase, applying our minds to them, drawing out all the implications we can.  Saints have written whole books on the Lord’s Prayer.  Our reflections will undoubtedly lead us into praying more deeply the sentiments contained in the Prayer.

Finally, we may decide to open ourselves, and receive the Prayer contemplatively.  We rest in the reality of Father – our Father.  If we do this, and use the word Father to help us stay with that Reality in love, we will find ourselves quite “naturally” in Centering Prayer.

In a word, what I would like to say here is that anyone can enter into Centering Prayer.  The grace and the freedom are ours.  Yes, it is a gift.  But the gift is given, it is ours for the taking.

Once an elderly nun asked Saint Teresa of Jesus: “Mother, how can I become a contemplative?”  The saint, who is recognized as a Doctor of the Church – one of the great and authoritative teachers of prayer – replied: “Sister, say the Our Father, but take an hour to say it.”  The sister was invited to give God the space to show up in her life.  That’s where our freedom lies.

One day a monk who lived on the banks of the Nile asked his Father about the different kinds of prayer.  The Father took him to the bank of the river and pointed out three monks on the water.  One was rowing laboriously.  The second was going with the current, plying the tiller to move in the direction he wished.  The third had set a sail and was flying along.  “Some pray with their minds, with the oars of thought and image.  Their prayer is all work,” said the Father.  “Others pray with their hearts.  Their prayer can be very sweet and enjoyable.  But they must keep their hands on the tiller to keep on course or they may follow the movements of a heart not yet fully purified.  And others open fully to the breath of Holy Spirit, who has been given to them as gift, and let him pray in them.  As the holy Paul said, ‘We do not know how to pray as we ought, but Holy Spirit prays within us.’”

The choice is really ours.  The gifts have been given to all of us at baptism.  We can open out to the breath of the Spirit and let her move us in a prayer that is wholly divine and fully worthy of the God to whom we pray.  Or we can keep our sails furled, our gifts packed, and insist on using tiller or oars.  God remains free in this, of course.  The gifts are constantly given, coming forth from the freedom of God’s creative love.  The wind can cease to blow and our sails stand slack.  But our just being there, open to it, is yet our part of the Prayer; the pure gift of ourselves to God.  Even this giving on our part is God’s gift, just as it is God who has given us the oars (reason and imagination) and the tiller (affections).  The giftedness of prayer is perhaps most readily seen in the breath of contemplative prayer, the prayer of the Spirit in us.  That is one of the reasons why the life of the gifts, the mystic life as some would call it, or the way of contemplative prayer, rather than puffing up the receiver with pride, fosters the basic virtue of humility.  It makes it so obvious that all is gift.

Why, then would one choose to row or ply the tiller rather than open the sails of contemplative prayer?  Why do some find it difficult to accept the gift of the gifts and their activity in our lives?

There are many possible reasons.

Some of us like to remain in control, seeking to maintain a rather false and very limited autonomy.  Who can be autonomous from God?  Yet many are caught in the illusion of autonomy even as they use God’s gifts of life and freedom.

Some of us are afraid to let go.  We want the course to be chartered in advance, step by step.  But: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of the human person what God has prepared for those who love God.”  We need to trust the Love of God.

Others are really afraid to love – for, truth to tell, as free as love is, it is absolutely captivating.  When we open ourselves and let the divine beauty invade our lives, we quickly come to know that we cannot live, or live happily, without it.  Such a God of goodness and love, how can we ever offend God?  We can only do what God wants.  We are the slaves of love.

Some want always to be right.  They sense a real need to be right.  They do not yet know their true selves and are trapped in the construct of a false self, a part of which is doing what is right.  In order to be sure they are doing what is right, the right way, they must ever keep an eye on themselves and all that they do.  They can never let go and turn both eyes to God.  They are anchored in the finite and so there is no room in them for the revelation of the Infinite.

Flowing from these reasons is the desire that some of us have to be able to pat ourselves on the back.  We want to do things the hard way, to merit what we get, to earn our own way, to stand on our own two feet.  But: “Unless you become as a little one, you cannot enter the kingdom” – the kingdom that is within.

In the end, the only thing that matters with God is love.  God is love.  As John of the Cross has said, “In the evening of life, we will be judged on love.”  Love is the response of the heart to the good.  When we open the space in our lives for God to show up we experience his goodness; then we grow mightily in love, for his goodness calls forth the greatest love.  If we insist that God contract to fit within the limits of the concepts of our minds or the images of our imagination, our love will not greatly expand.  Anything that our minds can master can hardly call us forth from ourselves in contemplation.

God’s call to personal friendship is universal.  When our Lord said at the Last Supper, “I no longer call you servants because I have made known to you all that the Father has made known to me,” he was speaking to all who receive his Revelation.  And his command to his disciples was to “go forth and teach all nations.”  He stands knocking at the door of the heart of every human person.  Though his guises are many and varied, his desire is always the same: to come in and sit down side by side with a beloved friend and sup with that friend, sharing a divine nourishment.

We know from our own experience the freedom of friendship.  We decide to whom we will offer the gift of openness to the life sharing that is friendship.  We know, too, the freedom of the other to respond or not respond.  The Lord has clearly offered the gift of intimate friendship.  The freedom lies with us to accept.  The grace is there for us to accept, or the Lord’s offer would be a charade.  We all know that friendship must go beyond words and thoughts and feelings.  It calls for the gift of self and the silences of such communication.

Centering Prayer is but responding to the offer of the intimacy of divine friendship.  In the authority of the evangelical invitation, freely given, the grace is freely given to respond.  If you want to call this response contemplation, I do not think you would be wrong.

PRAYER: Using The Common Book Of Prayer To Connect With God, by Sarah Dylan Breuer & John de Beer

From Connect? 

There are six principal forms of prayer described in The Book of Common Prayer, six forms of communication with God:

  • Adoration
  • Thanksgiving
  • Penitence
  • Oblation
  • Intercession
  • Petition

All of these ways to communicate with God are found in the Eucharist.

Adoration

  • In silent meditation
  • When we look at the host being placed in our hands, and our hearts open out in love and joy
  • When we say the great acclamation, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again”
  • When we sing, “Holy, holy, holy,” and join the whole creation in its hymn of praise

Thanksgiving

Actually, the whole service of Eucharist is an act of Thanksgiving.  That is what Eucharist means in Greek: giving thanks.  But then there are particular moments:

  • We give thanks in the prayers of the people
  • There are times we may wish that our thanksgivings would go as long as all our intercessions for those in need
  • The Great Thanksgiving is the long prayer in which we remember all that God has done for us and we give thanks

Penitence

We acknowledge our sin – anything that has taken us away from the nobility and integrity that we are called to as a child of God.  Confession is a gift that enables God to give us power to make a course correction.  Absolution is the reminder that God is actively removing whatever stands in God’s way – releasing us from the guilt and anxiety that sap our God-given energy.  Corporate confession at church on Sunday mornings is at its fullest when we also take other times outside of church to personally reflect and offer our renewed intentions to God.

Oblation

  • Offering ourselves to God
  • At the offertory when the bread and wine (and collection) are brought to the altar
  • At the prayer after communion

Intercession

Praying for others is a way of being in partnership with God.  It is the active opening of our hearts in love for others.  Sometimes it involves suffering with the person.  Sometimes as we pray, we are opened up to new ways of acting on that love.  Intercession is not a magical technique for changing God’s mind, but it is a releasing of God’s power through placing ourselves in a relationship of cooperation with God.  Just as in ordinary daily life, God works through our cooperation, we are literally God’s partners in the redeeming and healing of the world.  Douglas Steere said, “We must not conceive of intercessory prayer as an overcoming of God’s reluctance but as a laying hold of God’s highest willing.”  God’s love, God’s will, God’s promises don’t change, but the way these are expressed and enacted might vary and we are part of the plan.

Petition

Each Sunday there is a special Collect (prayer) just before the readings from Scripture.  We pray for God’s blessing on us in a particular way, appropriate for the season of the church year.

Before we share in the bread and the wine, we pray that God will “sanctify us that we may faithfully receive this holy sacrament.”

As the Eucharist ends we pray, “Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart.”

¨

From the beginning, the Christian community understood itself as a community that was called to pray.  Through prayer, the community found itself filled with God’s presence, motivated and empowered to serve.  By example, Jesus taught them to ground their ministry in a regular rhythm of work and prayer.

PRAYER: Chapter XIX (short text), by Julian of Norwich

From Showings

After this our Lord revealed to me about prayers.  I saw two conditions in those who pray, according to what I have felt myself.  One is that they will not pray for anything at all but for the thing which is God’s will and to his glory; another is that they apply themselves always and with all their might to entreat the thing which is his will and to his glory.  And that is what I have understood from the teaching of Holy Church; for this is what our Lord too taught me now, to accept faith, hope, and love as gifts from God, and for us to preserve ourselves in them to the end of life.  For this we say the Our Father, Hail Mary, I Believe, with such devotion as God will give us.  And so we pray for all our fellow Christians, and for every kind of person as God wishes, for it is our wish that every kind of man and woman might be in the same state of virtue and grace as we ought to wish for ourselves.  But still in all this, often our trust is not complete, for we are not certain that almighty God hears us, because of our unworthiness, it seems to us, and because we are feeling nothing at all; for often we are as barren and dry after our prayers as we were before.  And thus when we feel so, it is our folly which is the cause of our weakness, for I have experienced this in myself.  And our Lord brought all this suddenly to my mind, and gave me great strength and vitality to combat this kind of weakness in praying, and said: I am the foundation of your beseeching.  First, it is my will that you should have it, and then I make you to wish it, and then I make you beseech it.  And if you beseech, how could it be that you would not have what you beseech?  And so in the first reason and in the three that follow it our Lord revealed a great strengthening.

Firstly, where he says: If you beseech, he shows his great delight, and the everlasting reward that he will give us for our beseeching.  And in the second reason, where he says: How could it be that you would not have what you beseech? he conveys a serious rebuke, because we have not the firm trust which we need.  So our Lord wants us both to pray and to trust, for the reasons I have repeated were given to strengthen us against weakness in our prayers.  For it is God’s will that we pray, and he moves us to do so in these words I have told, for he wants us to be certain that our prayers are answered, because prayer pleases God.  Prayers make a praying man pleased with himself, and make the man serious and humble who before this was contending and striving against himself.  Prayer unites the soul to God, for although the soul may always be like God in nature and substance, it is often unlike him in condition, through human sin.  Prayer makes the soul like God when the soul wills as God wills; then it is like God in condition, as it is in nature.  And so he teaches us to pray and to have firm trust that we shall have what we pray for, because everything which is done would be done, even though we had never prayed for it.  But God’s love is so great that he regards us as partners in his good work; and so he moves us to pray for what it pleases him to do, for whatever prayer or good desire comes to us by his gift he will repay us for, and give us eternal reward.  And this was revealed to me when he said: If you beseech it.

In this saying God showed me his great pleasure and great delight, as though he were much beholden to us for each good deed that we do, even though it is he who does it.  Therefore we pray much that he may do what is pleasing to him, as if he were to say: How could you please me more than by entreating me, earnestly, wisely, sincerely, to do the thing that is my will?  And so prayer makes harmony between God and man’s soul, because when man is at ease with God he does not need to pray, but to contemplate reverently what God says.  For in all the time when this was revealed to me, I was not moved to pray, but always to keep this good in my mind for my strength, that when we see God we have what we desire, and then we do not need to pray.  But when we do not see God, then we need to pray, because we are failing, and for the strengthening of ourselves, to Jesus.  For when a soul is tempted, troubled and left to itself in its unrest, that is the time for it to pray and to make itself simple and obedient to God.  Unless the soul be obedient, no kind of prayer makes God supple to it; for God’s love does not change, but during the time that a man is in sin he is so weak, so foolish, so unloving that he can love neither God nor himself.

His greatest harm is his blindness, because he cannot see all this.  Then almighty God’s perfect love, which never changes, gives him sight of himself; and then he believes that God may be angry with him because of his sin.  And then he is moved to contrition, and through confession and other good deeds to appease God’s anger, till he finds rest of soul and ease of conscience; and then it seems to him that God has forgiven his sins, and this is true.  And then it seems to the soul that God has been moved to look upon it, as though it had been in pain or in prison, saying: I am glad that you have found rest, for I have always loved you and I love you now, and you love me.  And so with prayers, as I have said, and with other good works that Holy Church teaches us to practice, the soul is united to God.

SERMON: The Day of Visitation, by Isaac Williams

If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things
which belong unto thy peace! (Saint Luke 19:42)

When the Epistles and Gospels were ranged differently to what they now are, the Epistle for last Sunday attached to the Gospel for today added a peculiar force to it; for the Epistle gave warning of Israel in the wilderness not entering into God’s rest, while this Gospel speaks of the Israel of later time being in like manner wept over by their own Messiah, and by Him cast out of His temple; and both for the same reason, on account of God being forgotten in the love of this world. But our Epistle for today has for us in store another lesson of edification. Let us endeavor to read and ponder it with the light of God’s Spirit, and may His holy guidance make it profitable to us.

Concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. Saint Paul is here speaking of a state of things different to anything which we now experience; for when the Gospel was first being planted in the world, the Holy Spirit made His Presence known by many visible tokens; and when by baptism He was received, being Himself invisible, He thus by sensible signs gave evidence of His power, such as the weakness of men in the infancy of the church required. And first of all, Saint Paul tells these Christians at Corinth how they shall distinguish these manifestations of the good Spirit from those possessions of devils, to which, as Gentiles, they were accustomed; and he points out this distinction to consist at that time in this, whether or no they confessed Christ. Ye know, he says, that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols even as ye were led. When ye were possessed by those evil spirits, ye were forcibly dragged away to the idols without having any will of your own: but not so with Christians; they are influenced by the sweet compulsion of a gracious Spirit leading them gently on with the love of Christ; and the acknowledgment of Christ is the test, for this the evil spirit will not allow his votaries to make. Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed; that is, can deny Christ in the manner that the heathens require men to do. And that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, no one is able to make this good confession, under such circumstances of persecution and martyrdom, but by the Holy Ghost. Saint John says the same: “Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God.”

And again, there is another point; these miraculous gifts are of many kinds, but you must take care not on that account to confound them with the many false gods of the heathen; for in the Church all is union and harmony, arising from the divine unity, the Three Persons in One God. Now there are diversities of gifts, which He bestows in this manifestation of His Presence, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, by which we serve Christ in His Church, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations; the ways by which God worketh in this His kingdom of the Spirit are many and manifold; but it is the same God Who worketh all in all. Whether they be gifts, or administrations, or operations; though differing in name, yet all may be one in substance; they are by the same Spirit, for the same Lord, of the same God; and These being Three are yet One.

There is, further, another consideration; what is the end and object of these miraculous tokens of the Spirit? it is one and the same in all, – the diversity of them all, their measure and degree, is for what is profitable. But the manifestation of the Spirit, by these outward and sensible signs of His presence, is given to every man to profit withal; they are dispensed according to what is good for each to receive, both for his own spiritual well-being, and for promoting that of others. And here Saint Paul affords a very interesting mention of what those miraculous powers were, which God was then using in His Church for the conversion of the world; they were not like graces of the Spirit, and the gifts of righteousness which adorn the saints; but they were like natural powers, and endowments of mind’ and body, such as did not necessarily make men better, but were lent them by God as stewards of His gifts, which they might use for good, or abuse. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom, such as Saint Paul and Saint John were so wonderfully gifted with. We “speak wisdom,” says Saint Paul, “among them that are perfect.” To another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit. He speaks not here of that knowledge of God which is inseparable from love, and in which is eternal life, but of that knowledge of the things of God which may be without charity, and as such puffeth up. To another faith by the same Spirit; that is, the Spirit at that time gave to some a miraculous insight into the unseen, with so strong an assurance in Christ’s Name that it could remove mountains, as an evidence to others of the Spirit’s power; but this was not necessarily that saving faith which is unto life, for this also might be without charity. To another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits: “the knowing who is spiritual,” says St. Chrysostom, “and who is not; who is a prophet, and who a deceiver “; for many were the false prophets which then had gone forth; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues.

So rich and manifold were the gifts with which the Church of God then went forth to draw the Gentile world unto her as it were by her beauty, miraculously adorned “in a vesture of gold wrought about with divers colors,” and saying, “Hearken and consider, incline thine ear; forget also thine own people and thy father’s house.” But, although so many and various were these manifestations, yet, adds Saint Paul, all these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will.

What, then, does this Epistle teach us of the present day? for it speaks of a state of things which does not now at all exist; there are now no supernatural signs which mark believers from unbelievers. It used to be connected with the Gospel of the parable of the Pharisee and Publican praying together in the same temple, and one despising the other.  But as it now occurs with us in our Epistle for today, it seems to contain this general lesson, that we are all of us at all times in a state of probation and trial; that even in the early church, warm with her first love, when miraculous gifts were poured upon its members, these very gifts themselves became a source of temptation, and served as a means of trying their love to God. Some were puffed up by the possession of them and despised others; some misused them; to others they became subjects of envy because they had them not; others confused them with the powers of possession showed by evil spirits. All these things the Apostle here writes to correct, and shows that they were only given for the purpose of edification, and ought in no way to be the causes of strife and selfishness; for they were but different manifestations of one and the same Spirit, dividing to every one as appears good to Him, precisely as different members of the body have different powers and offices.

It is true we have not now these miraculous powers to profit by or abuse, – nothing of this kind to separate one in pride and envy from another. Yet never has been a time when Christians have thought so much of themselves, as if separate and set apart from others; of their own gifts of spirit, of mind or body, of nature or fortune, and so little of that one great body to which they belong; and the reason of this has been because love waxes cold. How often may the Apostle’s words occur to us with respect to all those differences of gifts and diversities of office in which we are placed to serve God; all these, what are they?  “All these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will.”  Take, for instance, outward station, – we call it station in the world out it is not really so with Christians, – it is outward position in the church of God. Why is one rich and another poor, with all the numerous inequalities in condition? the answer and explanation is here given; it is merely such as is given to each to “profit withal,” – that is, such as may serve by God’s blessing for the spiritual benefit of himself and others. It is, indeed, too often the case, that riches are the destruction of the rich man, and poverty of the poor man; but the very contrary to this is intended by the all-wise disposer of our lives, “dividing to every man severally as He will.” There are differences and diversities innumerable, but it is by the same Spirit and for the same Lord. And the destruction of soul arising in these cases, is in great measure from this, – that each is wont to look on these things, not as ways of God and talents of His, to be used by us for His honor, but as if they were things of our own; if lent to us we are proud of them, and so misuse and abuse them; if lent to another, we are envious and discontented at the sight, and covet the same for ourselves. So is it with learning and reputation, and other such diversities between man and man. So is it with means and powers of usefulness in the Church. Whereas to be high-minded from having them, to desire them for their own sakes, is to forget God and our own awful stewardship. They are given to each “to profit withal,” and for no other purpose. Heathen idols were many; and the evil spirits were many that led to their worship; and many their vices, all leading to selfishness and hatred. But in the Church of God, that is, among Christians, all distinctions are nothing else but the different callings of the one Spirit, by which they are in love to serve one another and to serve God; or different powers given to different members for the benefit of each other, as all parts of that one Body, Which is Christ. Now the effect of these two ways of looking on things, whether as in ourselves and by ourselves, or only as members one of another, is as opposite as light and darkness. So far as we consider the gifts of God as something of our own, we are exalted in our own eyes; so far as we consider them as parts of a stewardship for which we are accountable, we must be more and more humbled under a sense of them.

This, then, is to us the day in which we have been called by the Householder to work in His vineyard, – the day of our visitation, our accepted time, and the season of grace.

 

SATURDAY READING: Wisdom, by Ernest Kurtz & Katherine Ketcham

From Experiencing Spirituality

Wisdom begins in wonder.
(Edith Hamilton)

The Master argued with no one, for he knew that what the arguer sought was confirmation of his beliefs, not the truth.

He once showed them the value of an argument:

“Does a slice of bread fall with the buttered side up or down?”

“With the buttered side down, of course.”

“No, with the buttered side up.”

“Let’s put it to the test.”

So a slice of bread was buttered and thrown up in the air.  It fell buttered side up.

“I win!”

“Only because I made a mistake.”

“What mistake?”

“I obviously buttered the wrong side.”

Very often, argument is of little use.  This is especially true when there is no clearly defined standard of evidence.

A Chicago matron was once seated next to Mrs. Cabot at a Boston dinner.  During the crisp exchange of conversation, Mrs. Cabot advanced the information that “in Boston, we place all our emphasis on breeding.”

To which the Chicago matron responded: “In Chicago, we think it’s a lot of fun, but we do manage to foster a great many outside interests.”

An artist who wanted a home among the hills of Vermont was talking the matter over with a farmer who allowed that he had a house for sale.  “I must have a good view,” said the artist.  “Is there a good view?”

“Well,” drawled the farmer, “from the front porch yuh kin see Ed Snow’s barn, but beyond that there ain’t nuthin’ but a bunch of mountains.”

One rather simple schema helps when we are confronted with confusing, because insufficiently explained, language or thought.  Our schema is ancient and enduring.  It is the distinction between Knowledge or Intelligence and Wisdom or Understanding.  Each, let it be noted, can be an entity or a process – this is why we need two terms to delineate the product and practice of each.

Most people are more familiar and therefore comfortable with knowledge.  It is, after all, our usual way of understanding reality.  So let’s begin with a few introductory notes on wisdom.  Wisdom was defined/explained by the concentration camp-surviving psychiatrist Viktor Frankl as “knowledge plus: knowledge – and the knowledge of its own limits.”  Wisdom, it has also been suggested, is what sages and saints have always sought both to gain and to teach – the way of thinking distilled from the lives of saints and sages.

And so to our ten-point schema.

§

1. Knowledge seeks to collect facts, data – to amass a “body of knowledge.”  It is concerned with technique and focuses on push forces, efficient causality.  Knowledge’s “Why?” really asks, “How?”

Wisdom is concerned with meaning, and thus with “value.”  It searches for pull forces, final causality.  Wisdom’s “Why?” asks, “Wherefore? To what end?” seeking reasons rather than “causes.”

. . . the humanness of human behavior cannot be revealed
unless we recognize that the real “cause” of a given individual’s

behavior is not a cause but, rather, a reason. . . . What, then,
is the difference between causes and reasons? If you
cut onions – you weep. Your tears have a cause.
But you have no reason to weep. . . .
(Viktor Frankl)

The person who knows “how” will always have a job.
The person who knows “why” will always be his boss.
(Diane Ravitch)

Emphasizing action as to get away from something rather than to go toward something, to compensate for a lack rather than to seek to realize an aim, Helen Merrell Lynd has pointed out, “leaves no room for curiosity, thought, sympathy, tenderness, love, as well as humor.”

As Mohandas Gandhi stepped aboard a train one day, one of his shoes slipped off and landed on the track.  He was unable to retrieve it as the train started rolling.  To the amazement of his companions, Gandhi calmly took off his other shoe and threw it back along the track to land close to the first shoe.  Asked by a fellow passenger why he did that, Gandhi replied, “The poor man who finds the shoe lying on the track will now have a pair he can use.”

§

2. Knowledge is primarily a method; it seeks and attains truth by experiment and aims at exactness, focusing on quantity, asking “How much?”  Knowledge produces experts.

Wisdom is a vision.  It seeks truth by understanding, is concerned with adequacy, and focuses on qualities.  Wisdom questions “What kind of?” and produces artists.

Statistics are like bikinis: what they show is
suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.

(Aaron Levenstein)

When one has no character, one has to apply method.
(Albert Camus)

Sam Levinson tells the story of the birth of his first child.

The first night home the baby would not stop crying.  His wife frantically flipped through the pages of Dr. Spock to find out why babies cry and what to do about it.  Since Spock’s book is rather long, the baby cried for a long time.

Grandma was in the house, but since she had not read books on child rearing, she was not consulted.  The baby continued to cry until Grandma could stand it no longer and she shouted downstairs, “For Heaven’s sake, Sarah, put down the book and pick up the baby!”

This zeal for uncriticizable statements and precisely verifiable
measurements should certainly be encouraged, but not
without warning that in pursuing Certainty, the Absolute, one is
likely to leave Man, the thinking reed, forsaken in the rear. . . .
“You can’t make a leaf grow by stretching it.”
Helen Merrell Lynd

Once there was a poor, blind, old man, and he and his wife had no children.  He had a hard life, but the man never complained.  One day Elijah came to him as he was sitting by the river, and he said, “Even though your life has been hard, you never complained, so God will grant you one wish.”  The poor man smiled.  “What a wish?  I’m blind, I’m poor, and I am childless.  How will one wish satisfy all my problems?  But give me twenty-four hours and I’ll come back with a wish.”

So he went home and told his wife what had happened.  She smiled at him and said, “Eat well and sleep soundly, for I know what you should wish.”  (Now think: What would he wish for? Remember the problem: He’s blind, he’s poor, he’s childless.)

Here’s his wish.  He came back the next day and he said to Elijah, “I wish to see my children eat off golden plates.”

The wish was granted, and the man and his wife lived happily for the rest of their days.

§

FAITH: Is There Hope For Faith, by Thomas H. Groome

 

From: Hope

At the end of his public ministry, Luke has Jesus wonder, “Will there be faith on Earth?” upon his return, (18:8).  Faith, as always, is the foundation of hope, but in our postmodern and secularized era, the more pressing question may be, “Is there hope for faith?”  This essay proposes the rationale why we can have such hope and a pedagogy that, by God’s grace, may ensure as much.

There is an obvious logic to Aquinas’s sequencing of the three great theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. As Dominic Doyle lays out so clearly, faith is presumed to come first as what we believe, encourages us to hope for the good we desire, and should result in love for, and in keeping with, our ultimate desire: God.  In theory, we move from faith, to hope, to love, or, to quote Thomas’s summary: “Faith shows the goal, hope moves towards the goal, charity unites with the goal.”  Logically, at least, faith is the prior foundation, grounding hope and intending charity.  By way of the relationship between the first two, Pope Benedict summarizes that, “Hope is the fruit of faith.”

Though all quite logical, their symbiotic relationship prompts me to propose that there are existential times and places in life when faith depends on hope as much as vice versa.  This is obviously true when we push beyond the theological concept of faith to the life of faith, that is, to faith as lived by Christians.  When it comes to “being” Christian, indeed we need to have faith for hope, but oftentimes our greatest need may be to have hope for faith.  Perhaps Paul had this reversal in mind when he wrote of Abraham, “Hoping against hope, be believed,” (Romans 4:18); sounds like the hope came first.  The poet Emily Dickinson has a similar sequence in mind when she imagined hope as a bird, “That perches in the soul, / And sings the tune – without the words,” that is, before explicit faith.

Might we also hear an echo of faith needing hope in the life of Jesus himself?  Toward the end of his public ministry, Luke has Jesus wonder, “When the Son of Man comes again, will he find faith on Earth?”  Within the context, Jesus’s question reads like rhetorical rumination to himself.  But taking it at face value, might it reflect his felt need to have hope for faith?  Having traveled throughout Galilee preaching his gospel of God’s reign for some three years, and now facing into the culmination in Jerusalem, was Jesus wondering whether his efforts would remain, if his own mission would endure across time?  His comment seems to legitimate the question, “Is there hope for faith?” in any time.

While hope can sometimes demand priority in our personal lives, and especially as we face our crosses, there is much to suggest that our postmodern era and culture poses a particular challenge to maintain hope for faith.  Social scientists generally agree that our cultural conditions do not lend much hope for faith but rather actively work against it, even posing what can look like attractive alternatives.  Charles Taylor contends that instead of religious faith being the foundation of life, as it was in former times, postmodern society has embraced an “exclusive humanism,” exclusive in that it denies any need for God in order to live humanly.  Instead, it emphasizes self-sufficiency without reference to transcendent sources, values, or hopes.

Of course, “faith is the gift of God”; it comes by grace.  However rather than emphasizing it as an “infused” virtue, à la Aquinas, the reality is that faith must be nurtured, reflecting the old Catholic conviction that God’s grace typically works through human instrumentality.  As the pages of history attest – and our daily lives as well – our collaboration with God’s grace of faith is far from inevitable.  Indeed, history provides many examples that caution us not to be sanguine in our hope for faith.  There was a large Christian community in North Africa at the time of Augustine of Hippo; it has disappeared.  Much of Europe, which once had a deep Christian faith, now seems to be thoroughly secularized.  Note, too, the rapid decline of church participation in what had been, until recently, deeply Catholic contexts like Quebec and Ireland.  A recent report from the Pew Forum (April 2009) indicates that there are as many as 30 million “former” Catholics in the United States.

So, how might we proactively encourage hope for faith in our secular age?  From my perspective as a religious educator, I respond that much depends on what faith we teach and how we teach it – a fairly obvious proposal.  To both of these questions, I will offer an equally obvious response.  Using Paul’s summary, I propose that “Christ Jesus [is] our hope.”  However, this Christ-centered emphasis represents something of a new departure in the practice of Catholic catechesis.

Though our practice may lag, the centrality of Jesus Christ as our best hope for faith is now well reflected in the church’s official catechetical documents.  For example, the General Directory for Catechesis summarizes well what is now the “mind of the church” on how to keep hope alive for faith in our time: it champions the centrality of Jesus Christ for both what and how to teach.

What faith? Jesus Christ as the heart.

So, what faith holds the best hope of being taught effectively by contemporary Christian religious educators?  The comprehensive answer, of course, must be the full, rich legacy of spiritual wisdom that is Christian faith, its whole Story and Vision.  I use Story as a metaphor for all the scriptures and traditions that make up Christian faith over time.  By Vision I intend the hopes and demands, the promises and responsibilities that Christian Story means for people’s lives.  TO have hope for faith, we must present the whole Christian Story and Vision with a persuasive apologetic as an extraordinarily life-giving spiritual wisdom, as the best possible “way, truth, and life” by which to live.

This being said, the question remains, what will be the defining core of the Christian faith we teach?  What will be “the canon within the canon” of this great faith tradition, which will constitute the heart of its hope in our postmodern world?  To this, I believe, we can give only one resounding answer: Jesus Christ.

Though patently obvious, this is worth stating and particularly, perhaps, for Catholic Christians: the most hopeful heart of Christian faith is Jesus Christ.  For the heart – and thus the hope – of Christian faith is not the church, nor the scriptures, nor the dogmas and doctrines, nor the commandments, nor the sacraments, nor any other one “thing” – important and vital as all these are to our faith.  Rather, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church so well summarizes, “At the heart we find a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, the only Son from the Father.”

Note well that the Catechism names the core “Person” as both the Jesus of history, the one “of Nazareth,” and the Christ of faith, “the only Son from the Father.”  So, Christians are called to be disciples of that carpenter from Nazareth who walked the roads of Galilee, who preached the reign of God with its rule of radical love, even of enemies, who fed the hungry, cured the sick, consoled the sorrowing, and welcomed the marginalized, who claimed to be the kind of Messiah that brings liberty to captives, sight to the blind, good news to the poor, and sets free the oppressed, who presented himself as “the way, the truth, and the life,” and invited all and sundry to “come follow me.”  Such is the way that the historical Jesus modeled for us.  Presenting his gospel in its fullness, its joys, and challenges, is our best hope for attracting people to Christian faith, and more than ever in our time.

To have hope, however, of following the way of Jesus we need him also to be the Christ of faith for us, the Son of God, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, who by his life, death, and resurrection makes it possible for disciples to so live.  The paschal mystery forever mediates to us that abundant grade that grounds our hope of living as Christians. Because of his dying and rising, we can live as disciples of Jesus.  In sum, to educate with hope for Christian faith, Jesus the Christ must be the defining center of what we teach.

I have a friend who likes to play association of ideas at social gatherings.  He claims that when played around Christian denominations, if he says, “Baptist,” people typically associate, “Bible”; when he says, “Evangelical,” people tend to say, “Jesus”; and when he says, “Catholic,” people most often say, “church.”  Our best hope is to educate in faith so that the first association that Catholics will have with being Catholic is Jesus Christ.

This is certainly the clear intent of the church’s contemporary catechetical documents, epitomized in the summary statement from the Catechism just cited.  The GDC describes the primary purpose of catechesis as to “put people in communion and intimacy with Jesus Christ,” presenting “Christian faith as the following of his person.”  Note well that such conversion demands “full and sincere adherence to his person and the decision to walk in his footsteps,” albeit entailing an apprenticeship (a favorite GDC term) that takes a lifetime.  “Adhering to Jesus Christ sets in motion a process of continuing conversion, which lasts for the whole of life.”

The GDC makes clear that this renewed emphasis in Catholic catechesis should not fall into a Christomonism, as if Jesus were the beginning and end of Christian faith.  Instead, he is the key to how we understand and come to share in the triune life of God; Jesus represents the fullness of divine revelation and embodies God’s overflowing Trinitarian love toward us.  As always, “the Word of God, incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, is the Word of the Father who speaks to the world through his Spirit.”  This means that “every mode of presentation [of faith] must always be Christocentric-Trinitarian: ‘Through Christ to the Father in the Holy Spirit.’”  Thus, the GDC repeatedly makes clear that Jesus reveals God’s unconditional love for all people, and that God’s work of salvation in Jesus continues in the world through the Holy Spirit.  All catechesis, then, must reflect “the Trinitarian Christocentricity of the Gospel message.”

In catechetical practice, too, the centrality of Jesus and discipleship to him has prompted a more holistic sense of the faith for which we are to catechize.  As the Doyle essay summarizes, for Aquinas, “Faith encounters God in the primal terms of truth,” and thus the primary function of faith is belief.  Although Aquinas never intended as much, this encouraged a catechesis that presented Catholic faith simply as a list of teachings that people are called to believe.  Indeed, the Catechism of the Council of Trent defined faith as “that by which we yield our unhesitating assent to whatever the authority of our Holy Mother the Church teaches us to have been revealed by God.”  Thereafter, formal catechesis was crafted primarily around question-and-answer catechisms that summarized “the beliefs” and taught them to be simply memorized.

In keeping with the sentiments of the Second Vatican Council, the GDC returns to a holistic sense of Christian faith as if it should shape people’s whole way of being in the world.  So, Christian faith has “cognitive, experiential, [and] behavioral” aspects; it engages people’s minds, emotions, and wills; it is to permeate how we make meaning out of life, the quality of our relationships, and the ethic by which we live.  Summarizing, the GDC echoes the traditional tripod of Christian faith as lex credenda, lex orandi, and lex vivendi, that is, shaping our norms for believing, praying, and living.  For this reason, though knowledge of the faith is vitally important, “formation for the Christian life comprises but surpasses mere instruction.”  As I elaborate in the section to follow, this suggests a catechesis that re-integrates “faith” with “life” toward a “life of faith.”

How to teach? Perhaps as Jesus Did.

Now the pressing practical question is what kind of pedagogy might offer the best hope for effective education in holistic Christian faith for our postmodern context.  In struggling with this question, I have learned much from the great Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire.  A central theme in Freire is that education that shapes people’s lives must engage their everyday praxis by crafting curriculum around “generative themes,” in other words, around the issue of life that matter to them.  I am convinced that we can detect this kind of pedagogy long before Freire in the teaching ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.  He constantly engaged the everyday of people’s lives in order to teach his gospel of God’s reign, inviting the integration and integrity of a lived faith.  So, might the hope engendered by placing Jesus at the center of what we teach be enhanced all the more if we also aspire to teach as Jesus did?

For how he taught, we have only hints from the Gospels, which are the memories of the first Christian communities.  Yet we can detect a pattern of pedagogy that is so consistently described that we can take it as reliable.  Indeed, the Gospels refer to his public ministry as “teaching” some 150 times.  Nicodemus had it right: “We know you are a teacher who has come from God.”  By way of Jesus’s overall approach, we can readily recognize: a) his inclusive outreach and welcome toward all – men, women, and children – including ordinary people, farmers, shepherds, merchants, homemakers, fishermen, with special outreach to the marginalized; b) his respect for the learners – empowering people to be agents of their own faith (for example, “you are the light of the world”; and c) his whole life was a parable of compassion for all.  How hopeful our catechesis will be if we can imitate Jesus’s inclusion, empowerment, and compassion.

Jesus’s Pedagogy

Focusing on Jesus’s pedagogy, I propose that his dynamic was to lead people from life to faith to life-in-faith.  He did so by:

  • Beginning with people’s lives
  • Encouraging their own reflections
  • Teaching his gospel with authority and for lived faith
  • Inviting people to see for themselves, to take his teaching to heart
  • Encouraging their decisions for faith as disciples

Beginning with People’s Lives: First, Jesus most often began a teaching event by inviting people to look at their present lives, at their reality in the world.  He turned his listeners to their own experiences, to their feelings, thoughts, and values, to creation around them, to the beliefs, practices, attitudes, and mores of their religious tradition and culture, to their work and social arrangements, to their joys and sorrows, fears and hopes, sins and goodness – to life.  His favorite teaching method in this regard was through use of parables in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and through allegories (for example, the Good Shepherd or “signs” (for example, the wedding at Cana) in John’s Gospel.  All of these begin with symbols of everyday life through which people could recognize their own lives and stories.  His pedagogy was to reach into the very souls of his listeners in order to actively engage them.

For example, Jesus’s parables were engaging stories – as good stories always are – through which people could recognize some aspect of their own experience and later see for themselves how to appropriate his teaching back to their everyday lives.  When he taught the parable of the sower, I imagine he was talking to farmers; the parable of fine pearls was likely to pearl merchants; the lost coin to a group of women, perhaps gathered at the village well; and so on.  Jesus engaged people’s interests and made them active participants in the teaching/learning dynamic by raising up real life themes and issues of concern.

Encouraging People’s Own Reflections: Second, Jesus invited people to think about their lives in a whole new way.  He wanted his listeners to recognize that great things like the reign of God and their own eternal destiny were being negotiated in the ordinary and everyday of life, even while sorting fish.  He wanted them to reflect on the falsehood of hypocrisy, the emptiness of ritual detached from doing God’s will, the faith contradiction in hating any group or class, the unconditional love of God regardless of one’s worthiness.

Again, Jesus’s commitment to encourage people’s own reflection was epitomized in his use of parables.  Indeed, his parables often turned people’s perspectives upside down.  None of Jesus’s first hearers would have expected the Samaritan to be neighbor, nor the father to welcome home the prodigal, nor the prostitutes and tax collectors to enter the reign of God before the religious leaders.  Such reversals were Jesus’s way of getting people to reflect critically, perhaps to change their minds and hearts, to see their lives and possibilities with fresh hope and in a whole new way.  Freire would say that his teaching style invited people to a critical consciousness, to reflect on and question their own reality and to imagine how to live more faithfully as people of God.

Teaching His Gospel with Authority and for Lived Faith: Third, from the very beginning of Jesus’s public ministry, people recognized that he “taught them as one with authority.”  Clearly, Jesus took strong positions in teaching his gospel.  Jesus deeply appreciated his Jewish tradition, never intending to abolish the Law and the Prophets but “to make their teaching come true.”  Yet he also claimed the authority to propose a new vision for living as a people of God: “You have heard it said. . . but I say. . . .”

Likewise, Jesus taught for faith in ways that were meaningful to people’s lives. Notice that so many of his statements inviting faith in himself have a follow-up that lends hope.  So, “I am the light of the world” is immediately followed by, “Whoever flows me will have the light of life.”  He presented himself as the good shepherd and this means that we can “have life, and have it abundantly.”  Even as he says, “I am the living bread that came down from Heaven,” he adds that this is all given “for the life of the world.”  Faith in Jesus calls disciples to a lived and living faith that is wonderfully hopeful for ourselves and for society.

Inviting People to See for Themselves: Fourth, Jesus taught in a way that invited people to recognize for themselves his spiritual wisdom for life, to take to heart and personally embrace the truth he was teaching.  Jesus often blest those “with the eyes to see and the ears to hear.”  Referring surely to more than physical seeing and hearing, he wanted people to open their hearts and make their own what he was teaching.  He enabled the Samaritan woman to come to see for herself: “Could this be the Messiah?”  The same was true for her friends; they, too, came to recognize him for themselves: “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”  Of course, the greatest example of Jesus’s pedagogy for people to “see for themselves” is the story of the risen Christ and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  Indeed, that story perfectly reflects Jesus’s whole life to faith to life approach.

Encouraging Their Decision for Lived Faith: Fifth, Jesus’s invitation to discipleship – to lived faith – was ever on offer.  The intended outcome of his entire public ministry was that people might decide to live for the reign of God – the ultimate symbol of hope – to follow his way as disciples.  Jesus was adamant that to belong to God’s reign, people cannot simply confess faith with their lips, saying, “Lord, Lord,” but must “do the will of my Father in Heaven.”  That surely requires decision.  Jesus even went so far as to say, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”  From his opening statement inviting people to “repent and believe in the Gospel” to his farewell discourse, “Live on my love, keep my commandments,” Jesus invited people to decision for lived faith.

In summary, Jesus engaged people’s own lives and encouraged their reflections on them.  He preached with authority the old-and-new faith that was his gospel.  He invited would-be disciples to see for themselves how to integrate “life” and “faith” and to make decision for lived, living, and life-giving faith.  Jesus’s pedagogy was one of bringing life to faith to life.  Our best hope for faith in our time is to do likewise.

HOLY TRINITY: Amen – The Whole Mystery In A Nutshell, by Leonardo Boff

From God

At the end of this journey in faith and thought, all that is left for us to say is a biblical Amen.  Amen is a Hebrew expression of assent deriving from amin, which means believing in, accepting and handing oneself over to God and God’s plan.  Amen is humankind’s response to the revelation of the triune God: So be it!  How good that it should be so!  Come, most holy Trinity, come!  It is pronounced in an atmosphere of worship and reverence for the unspeakable mystery.  But before finally praying Amen and falling respectfully silent in the face of the august Trinity, let us give reason one last turn, in an attempt to sum up in a number of propositions the basis of the Trinitarian doctrine developed above:

1. By “God” in the Christian faith we should understand the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in communion with each other, in such a way that they form a one and only God.

2. In relation to the Trinity, doxology precedes theology. First we profess faith in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in prayer and praise (doxology). Then we reflect on how the divine Three are one single God in perichoretic communion between themselves (theology).

3. In theological reflection, the economic Trinity precedes the immanent Trinity. By “economic Trinity” we mean the manifestation (the self-communication in the case of the Son and Holy Spirit) of the divine Three in human history, whether together or separately, for the purposes of our salvation. By “immanent Trinity” we mean Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in their inner, eternal life, considered in itself.  Starting with the economic Trinity, we can glimpse something of the immanent Trinity.  Only by referring to the incarnation of the Son and the sending of the Holy Spirit can we say that the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity and vice-versa.  Outside these historic, salvific events, the immanent Trinity remains an apophatic mystery.

(i) The Trinity is revealed in the life of Jesus of Nazareth and the manifestations of the Holy Spirit as these were witnessed by the communities of disciples and recorded by them in the New Testament.  The triadic expressions found in the Old Testament have Trinitarian meaning only on the basis of a Christian reading of them in the light of the New Testament.

(ii) As they appear in the New Testament, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are always mutually related and reciprocally implied.  The Father sends the Son into the world; the Son feels himself of one being with the Father; the Holy Spirit is also sent into the world by the Father, at the Son’s request.  The Holy Spirit takes what is of the Son and enables us to know the Son; it teaches us to cry, “Abba, Father.”

(iii) The triadic formulas of the New Testament, especially that in Matthew 28:19, show a way of thinking that always associates the divine Three in the work of salvation.  This and similar formulas helped in the later elaboration of Trinitarian doctrine.

4. The central problem of Trinitarian doctrine is this: how to express the fact that the divine Three are one God. Faith says: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are really three and distinct; but they are always related; they are one God. How to equate trinity in unity and unity in trinity?

5. Three solutions put forward are unacceptable to Christian faith because they fail either to preserve trinity, or to maintain unity, or to keep the equality between the Three.

(i) Tritheism: affirms the existence of three gods, separate and distinct, each eternal and infinite.  This interpretation preserves trinity: however, besides containing serious philosophical errors, it destroys unity.

(ii) Modalism: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three pseudonyms of the same, single God, or three modes of presentation (masks) of the same divine substance.  God would be three only for us, not in God’s self.  This interpretation (Sabellianism) preserves unity, but abandons trinity.

(iii) Subordinationism: Strictly speaking, there is only one God – the Father.  The Son and Holy Spirit receive their divine substance from the Father in subordinate form, so that they are not consubstantial with the Father but rather creatures adopted (adoptionism) to share in his life.  This interpretation (Arianism) denies the equality of the Three, since the Son and the Holy Spirit are not fully divine.

6. The orthodox Christian reply is expressed in basically philosophical terms drawn from the prevailing culture and says: God is one nature in three Persons, or, God is one substance in three hypostases. The concepts nature and substance (or essence) denote unity in the Trinity; the concept person and hypostasis safeguard trinity in unity.

7. There are three classic currents of thought that seek to deepen this expression of faith by elaborating a doctrine of the Trinity: Greek, Latin, and modern.

(i) Greek: This starts from the Father, seen as source and origin of all divinity.  There are two ways out from the Father: the Son by begetting and the Spirit by proceeding.  The Father communicates his whole substance to the Son and the Holy Spirit, so both are consubstantial with the Father and equally God.  The Father also forms the Persons of the Son and the Holy Spirit in an eternal process.  This current runs the risk of being understood as subordinationism.

(ii) Latin: This starts from the divine nature, which is equal in all three Persons.  This divine nature is spiritual; this gives it an inner dynamic: absolute spirit is the Father, understanding is the Son, and will is the Holy Spirit.  The Three appropriate the same nature in distinct modes: the Father without beginning, the Son begotten by the Father, and the Spirit breathed out by the Father and the Son.  The three are in the same nature, consubstantial, and therefore one God.  This current runs the risk of being interpreted as modalism.

(iii) Modern: This starts from the Trinity of Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  But the Three live in eternal perichoresis, being one in the others, through the others, with the others, and for the others.  The unity of the Trinity means the union of the three Persons by virtue of their perichoresis and eternal communion.  Since this union is eternal and infinite, we can speak of one God.  This interpretation runs the risk of being seen as tritheism.  We follow this current: fist, because it starts from the datum of faith – the existence of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as distinct and in communion; and second, because it allows a better understanding of the universe and human society as a process of communication, communion and union through the interpenetration of creatures with one another (perichoresis).  This interpretation strengthens the cause of the oppressed struggling to liberate themselves so that there can be greater sharing and communion.

8. Trinitarian language is highly figurative and approximative, the more so in that the mystery of the Trinity is the deepest and most absolute mystery of the Christian faith. Expressions such as “cause” referring to the Father, “begetting” referring to the Son, and “breathing-out” applied to the Holy Spirit, like “processions,” “mission,” “nature,” and “persons” are analogical or descriptive and do not claim to be causal explanations in the philosophical sense. The inner meaning of such expressions shows the diversity exists in the divine reality on one hand, and the communion on the other. We use terminology hallowed by tradition and also biblical terminology because they are less ambiguous and because they are used by some modern theologians.  Some of those terms are: revelation, acceptance, communion.

9. The conceptual language of devout reason is not the only means of access to the mystery of the Trinity. The church has also developed the symbolic language of imagery. This emphasizes the significance the Trinity has for human existence, particularly in its longing for wholeness.  This wholeness is the mystery of the Trinity.  It is best expressed through symbols which spring from the depths of the individual and collective unconscious, or form humanity’s common religious stock.  Symbolic language does not replace conceptual language, but is basic to the formation of religious attitudes.

10. Humanity, male and female, was created in the image and likeness of the triune God. Male and female find their ultimate raison d’être in the mystery of Trinitarian communion. Though the Trinity is transsexual, we can use male and female forms in speaking of the divine Persons.  So we can say “maternal God-Father” and “paternal God-Mother.”

11. The Filioque question (the Holy Spirit breathed out by the Father and the Son, or through the Son) is bound up with the theological sensitivity of the Eastern church vis-à-vis the Western, as is a certain type of terminology adopted by one or the other (the Father as source or principle of all divinity – Eastern; or the Son as sourced source – Western). Another theological strand starting from the perichoresis of the divine Persons would have not only Filioque, but Spirituque and Patreque as well, since in the Trinity everything is triadic.

12. By virtue of perichoresis, everything in the Trinity is trinitarian – shared by each of the divine Persons. This does not preclude there being actions proper to each of the Persons, through which the property of each person is shown.

(i) The proper action of the Father is creation.  In revealing himself to the Son in the Spirit, the Father projects all creatable beings as expressions of himself, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Once created, all beings express the mystery of the Father, have a filial nature (since they come from the Father), a brotherly and sisterly nature (since they are created in the Son) and a “spiritual” nature (meaning full of meaning, of dynamism, since they were created by the power of the Holy Spirit).

(ii) The action proper to the Son is the incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth, through which he divinizes all creation and redeems it from sin.  Through the Son, maleness shares in divinity.

(iii) The action proper to the Holy Spirit is the “pneumatiation” through which created life is inserted into the mystery of the life of the Trinity, and redeemed form all threat of death.  Through the Holy Spirit, femaleness is introduced into the divine mystery.

13. From the perichoresis-communion of the three divine Persons derive impulses to liberation: of each and every human person, of society, of the church, and of the poor, in the double – critical and constructive – sense. Human beings are called to rise above all mechanisms of egoism and live their vocation of communion. Society offends the Trinity by organizing itself on a basis of inequality and honors it the more it favors sharing and communion for all, thereby bringing about justice and equality for all.  The church is more the sacrament of Trinitarian communion the more it reduced inequalities between Christians and between the various ministries in it, and the more it understands and practices unity as co-existence in diversity.  The poor reject their impoverishment as sin against Trinitarian communion and see the inter-relatedness of the divine “Differents” as the model for a human society based on mutual collaboration – all on an equal footing – and based on individual differences; that society’s structures would be humane, open, just, and egalitarian.

14. The universe exists in order to manifest the abundance of divine communion. The final meaning of all that is created is to allow the divine Persons to communicate themselves. So in the eschatological fullness, the universe – in the mode proper to each creature, culminating in man and woman in the likeness of Jesus of Nazareth and Mary – will be inserted into the very communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Then the Trinity will be all in all.

The Holy Trinity is a sacramental mystery.  As sacramental, it can be understood progressively, as the Trinity communicates itself and the understanding heart assimilates it.  As mystery it will always remain the Unknown in all understanding, since the mystery is the Father himself, the Son himself, and the Spirit itself.  And the mystery will last for all eternity.

POETRY: For The Raindrop, by Ghalib

Translated from the Urdu by Jane Hirshfield

For the raindrop, joy is in entering the river—
Unbearable pain becomes its own cure.

Travel far enough into sorrow, tears turn to sighing;
In this way we learn how water can die into air.

When, after heavy rain, the stormclouds disperse,
Is it not that they’ve wept themselves clear to the end?

If you want to know the miracle, how wind can polish a mirror,
Look: the shining glass grows green in spring.

It’s the rose’s unfolding, Ghalib, that creates the desire to see—
In every color and circumstance, may the eyes be open for what comes.

POETRY: Meditation Sixty – Sixty Series, by Edward Taylor

Ye Angels bright, pluck from your wings a quill.
Make men a pen thereof that best will write.
Lend me your fancy, and angelic skill
To treat this theme, more rich than rubies bright.
My muddy ink, and cloudy fancy dark,
Will dull its glory, lacking highest art.

An eye at center righter may describe
The world’s circumferential glory vast
As in its nutshell bed it snugs fast tide,
Than any angel’s pen can glory cast
Upon this drink drawn from the rock, tapped by
The rod of God, in Horeb, typicly.

Sea water strained through minerals, rocks, and sands
Well clarified by sunbeams, dulcified,
Insipid, sordid, swill dishwater stands.
But here’s a rock of aqua vitae tried.
When once God broached it, out a river came
To bath and dibble in, for Israel’s train.

Some rocks have sweat. Some pillars bled out tears.
But here’s a river in a rock up tunned
Not of sea water nor of swill. It’s beer.
No nectar like it. Yet it once unbunged
A river down it runs through ages all.
A fountain oped, to wash off sin and fall.

Christ is this Horeb’s rock, the streams that slide
A river is of aqua vitae dear
Yet costs us nothing, gushing from his side,
Celestial wine our sinsunk souls to cheer.
This rock and water, sacramental cup
Are made, Lord’s Supper wine for us to sup.

This rock’s the grape that Zion’s vineyard bore
Which Moses rod did smiting pound, and press
Until its blood, the brook of life, run o’er.
All glorious grace, and gracious righteousness.
We in this brook must bath: and with faith’s quill
Suck grace, and life out of this rock our fiill.

Lord, oint me with this petro oil. I’m sick.
Make me drink water of the rock. I’m dry.
Me in this fountain wash. My filth is thick.
I’m faint, give aqua vitae or I die.
If in this stream thou cleanse and cherish me
My heart they Hallelujah’s Pipe shall be.

FAITH: It Takes Too Much Faith!, by Thomas Alan Wheeler

From Second Wind

Last night around 10 p.m., we heard shots fired just outside my door.  I rushed to see what was up, a normal occurrence in my new life.  My neighbor across the street was standing in his side lawn, saw me at the door, and asked in a loud voice, “You got any problem with what I just did?”

“Well, I don’t know what you just did,” I said, certain he had fired the shots.  “I just came out to see if everything was OK and everyone was still alive.”  He assured me everything was fine.  I heard the neighbor behind him asking the same thing as I went inside.  I guess he just decided to take out a pistol and start shooting.  Thankfully not at me!

I walked away shaking my head – again. (Author’s journal entry, August 16, 2004)

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declare the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the Earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

§

Christianity contradicts our intelligence

One tactic Satan uses is the notion that it just takes too much faith to believe in Biblical Christianity because Christianity defies the intellect.  While this is similar to the primary objective of Satan to render the Bible irrelevant, it is different.  Moving beyond simple dismissal, it makes intelligence the central issue.  Many Christians have tried to defy science by depending solely on faith, but science does not defy Christianity (or vice versa).  Sometimes those who call themselves Christians try to defend indefensible issues and are then disproved by science.  The Genesis account, for instance, says that God created the Earth in seven days.  If that is true, the Earth can be calculated to be six thousand years old based on the Biblical account.  Scientists, however, have determined that the Earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old. Because of this discrepancy, it would seem natural to believe that either the Bible or science must be wrong.  However, the Hebrew word for day that is used in Genesis is Yom, which can mean a segment of time rather than a twenty-four-hour day.  A segment of time could be anywhere from a second to any number of years.  For instance, Yom could mean the day of the dinosaur, referring to the time in history when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.  Therefore, the Bible and the Genesis account of creation could be completely accurate based on a more, rather than less, literal interpretation of the Bible.  There is another possibility.  When God created Adam, Adam does not appear to have been a baby.  Rather he seems to have been created with some years on him:

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. (Genesis 2:8)

That could be true of the Earth as well.  Perhaps God created the Earth as if it were 4.5 billion years old when, in fact, that was not literally true.

I repeat – it’s not about Christians

Not all Christians try to defend apparent contradictions with science.  Not all who call themselves Christians threaten to burn the Qur’an on September 11, or actually follow through and burn it later on as Terry Jones is said to have done.  Not all Christians protest at the funerals of young soldiers who died in battle because they think God is punishing the United States for tolerating homosexuality.  And not all Christians are predicting they know when the end of times is going to be either, particularly since the Bible says we won’t know.  So, let’s take the Bible for what the Bible says, not for what some Christians say about the Bible – as sad and frustrated as it makes me to have to write that for a second time.  Those of us who call ourselves Christians should be above reproach.  Sadly, we often get caught in Satan’s traps just like the rest of the world, because we too take our eyes away from our Lord and Savior.  Then we doubt the same message we preach to others.  Irrespective of that, many things are a matter of faith and not just faith in Christianity.  In fact, everyone has faith, even atheists – the issue is where we place our faith.  Take the movie Contact as an example.

Contact

Contact is a movie about Eleanor (Ellie) Arroway (Jodie Foster), a scientist and confirmed atheist who has a lifelong belief in intelligent life in deep space.  It has been her life’s mission to prove it to the world.  In one scene, Ellie tells a Christian pastor (Palmer Joss, played by Matthew McConaughey) that while she doesn’t have faith in God, she strongly believes in aliens.  Moreover, she challenged the faith of this pastor on his own faith in God.  In fact, she wanted Palmer to prove there was a God, even though she had no proof of aliens.  Here is his response when she asked him to prove it:

Palmer Joss: Did you love your father?

Ellie Arroway: What?

Palmer Joss: Your dad.  Did you love him?

Ellie Arroway: Yes, very much.

Palmer Joss: Prove it.

His point was that proving you love someone can be difficult, even inconclusive, which is the same with God.  It is a good point, as it suggests that proof can be somewhat misleading.

Faith of an atheist

What I found more interesting however, was the scene where Palmer asks Ellie about her belief in life on other planets and her explanation for why she wants to get buckled into a craft that would hopefully take her to the aliens she had finally contacted:

Palmer Joss: By doing this, you’re willing to give your life, you’re willing to die for it.  Why?

Ellie Arroway: For as long as I can remember, I’ve been searching for something, some reason why we’re here.  What are we doing here?  Who are we?  If this is a chance to find out even just a little part of that answer. . . I don’t know, I think it’s worth a human life.  Don’t you?

Although not outwardly spoken in the movie, Ellie had faith, a lot of faith, since she was willing to die for what she believed in (aliens!).  As the movie goes, Ellie does take a trip into space and meets with her deceased father – but, upon her return and to her dismay, there was no physical evidence that any of it happened.  She ended up almost contradicting herself by telling people that they had to trust her on faith.  As a scientist, she knew how inappropriate that was to say, but for her, it was true!  People who turn to the Bible have the same questions as Ellie.  We just don’t think the answer is lost in space.

Faith in the fog

What does someone do whose faith is in traditional areas when they are surrounded by sharks and caught in the fog, metaphorically and literally speaking?  Florence Chadwick wanted to be the first woman to swim the twenty-one-mile strait between Catalina Island and Palos Verde on the California coast.  It was cold and foggy the morning of July 4, 1952, when she attempted her swim.  Several times, her support crew had to drive the sharks away using their rifles.  Despite the encouragement of her trainer and mom, she quit before finishing.  Afterward, she is reported to have said that she would not have quit within a half mile of the finish, had the fog not prevented her from seeing the finish:

Look, I’m not excusing myself, but if I could have seen land, I know I could have made it.

Her faith was in her abilities, but when the fog prevented her from seeing the end, she gave up.  To her credit, she eventually returned and was victorious.  But it appears her faith was in her own abilities, her determination – what she could see, which wasn’t enough in the fog.  Sometimes our faith has to be tested to see just how much faith we really have in whatever we claim to have faith in.  Biblical Christians just believe the Bible, the most influential book in civilization, even if we have become a minority.

Minority

Besides the truth being arrogant, the majority is often wrong about many things, so being a minority is not a surprise.  For example, did you know that 12.3 percent of the world’s population (and 15.6 percent of the 167 countries in the world) is a full democracy.  Although another 37.2 percent of the population (and 31.7 percent of countries) are living in flawed democracies.  You – if you live in the United States – live as a minority.  Furthermore, if you live in the United States, you are one of about 307 million others.  But there are some 6.5 billion people in the world.  So, less than five percent of the world’s population lives in America.  You are a minority twice over just by living in the United States.

If you have a home and car, you are in the top three percent of the wealthiest people on Earth.  If you eat healthy, you are in the minority.  Most of us live as a “minority” if we are living in America.  These percentages are something to consider as we switch sides of the fence to defend our opinions.  Although living a healthy life does not guarantee a disease-free one, it at least gives us some degree of control over our health.  Irrespective of that, it won’t stop most of the medical community from focusing on medicine as the cure for health problems, when our diet is often at its root.  The Christian Reformation was undertaken by a minority of people who disagreed with the majority and who sought to set things straight.  Most causes worth fighting for start with a minority opposing the majority.  So, while the minority may not always be right, I hope the argument that the majority of people not believing the Bible as an argument against its validity is juxtaposed to the reality that the majority is often wrong.

I don’t think Christianity contradicts anyone’s intelligence.

Christianity enhances it.

HOLY SPIRIT: Approaching God And The Family Of Faith, by Volker Rabens

From A Biblical Theology of the Holy Spirit

The Initiating Word of the Spirit

Christian life begins with the work of the Spirit.  In 1 Thessalonians 1:5, Paul narrates how the gospel came to the Thessalonians “not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”  This formulation conveys one of the two aspects of Paul’s holistic mission to which I want to draw attention to this section (the second aspect being its relational nature).  Namely, 1:5 demonstrates the charismatic nature of Paul’s mission activity.  The gospel does not come to the Thessalonians merely as words but also as power and in the Holy Spirit.  Two parallels from later Pauline epistles, namely 1 Corinthians 2:4-5 and Romans 15:18-19, show that this formulation is central for Paul’s understanding of his Spirit-empowered missionary activity.  These passages associate the “initiating” work of the Spirit with works of power, signs, and wonders.  As the (“pagan”) Thessalonians are called by God “into his own kingdom and glory” (2:12), the initiation into this new sphere is aided by the demonstration of the power of God through the Spirit.

Although there has been some discussion regarding the exact meaning of the third element of the triad “in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction,” it seems most likely that en plerophoria polle (“in/with great conviction”) widens the perspective on Paul’s gospel ministry to include its effects among the Thessalonians.  In the succeeding verse, these effects even become Paul’s primary focus: “you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit.”  Paul here uses a phrase that describes the emotional effect of the reception of the gospel; and he is clear that this joy is the work of the Holy Spirit: charas pneumatos hagiou (“joy [inspired] by the Holy Spirit”).  It is striking that 1 Clement uses an almost identical phrase with regard to “conviction”: plerophorias pneumatos hagiou (“conviction [inspired] by the Holy Spirit,” 1 Clement 42:3).  It seems that this is also the reason for Paul’s employment of plerophoria in 1:5: the Spirit is not only at work in the words and deeds of the Apostles, but also in the Thessalonians, enabling them to fully grasp the gospel and being assured of its joyful truth.  Both verses (1:5-6) thus describe the work of the Spirit at conversion-initiation as having an experiential dimension.

However, this experiential dimension has been called into question by some scholars.  For example, Friedrich Wilhelm Horn believes that the early Christian statements regarding the reception of the Spirit are primarily dogmas and not reflections of experiences.  It may be useful to turn here to a third parallel to 1:5-6 from Paul’s other epistles, namely Galatians, as this text may elucidate what receiving the gospel “with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:6) may entail.  In the course of his argumentation in his letter to the Galatians, Paul asks the Galatians if they have received the Spirit through the works of the law or through believing the gospel (3:1-5).  His argumentation can only be persuasive if the Galatians can indeed recall receiving the Spirit.  That this memory is tied to a tangible experience comes explicitly to the fore through the way in which Paul connects in parallel “receiving the Spirit,” and “experiencing so much.”  The Spirit-reception was, therefore, a “great experience” (“does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you?”).  Although 1 Thessalonians 1:5-6 is slightly less explicit, it is nonetheless obvious that Paul can likewise remind the Thessalonians of the experiential character of their conversation (power, Spirit, and persuasion), most overtly of the “joy” that the apostle attributes to the Holy Spirit.

The Thessalonians accepted the gospel because they were persuaded by it.  This was due to the word (i.e., content) of the gospel as well as to the accompanying works of power in the Holy Spirit.  Next to this “charismatic” dimension, we also need to draw attention to the relational nature of Paul’s Spirit-empowered mission activity among the Thessalonians.  After mentioning the gospel’s coming to the Thessalonians “in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction,” Paul continues:

just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake.  And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 1:5-6)

Paul links the testimony of his behavior and very being, on the one side, with the conjunction kathos (“just as,” “in so far as”) to the preceding triad (power, Spirit, and conviction) and, on the other side, with kai (“and then,” “and so,” introducing a result that comes from what precedes) to the succeeding Spirit-inspired reaction to the gospel (joy inspired by the Spirit), which is an imitation of Paul and the Apostles.  It therefore seems reasonable to understand the Spirit-empowering of Paul’s gospel ministry as encompassing the behavior and character of the Apostles.  We will see in the next part in more detail that Paul comprehends the ethical life of the community to be empowered by the Spirit.  However, we can observe already here, in the first lines of the letter, that the various aspects of Paul’s holistic mission to the Thessalonians were empowered by the Spirit.

The effects of this mission are part of and result from the dynamics of human relationships.  Paul and his partners shared their very selves with the Thessalonians.  The Thessalonians “are witnesses, and God also, how holy, righteous, and blameless” was the Apostles’ behavior towards them.  This is a central aspect of the gospel’s coming to the Thessalonians “in the Holy Spirit.”  The result is not only (Spirit-inspired) conviction and reception of the gospel with “joy inspired by the Holy Spirit,” but also that the Thessalonians become imitators of the Apostles.  The reception of the gospel with Spirit-inspired joy in the midst of suffering is an essential element of the Thessalonians’ imitation of the Apostles, so that the Thessalonians have meanwhile become a model for others in Macedonia and Achaia.  When Paul then turns to giving some instructions in the second half of the letter, he can draw on this interpersonal dynamic: “we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus that, as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God (as, in fact, you are doing), you should do so more and more.”  In the same way as the gospel did not come “in word only” to the Thessalonians, so also the “learning from us” is not a mere cognitive acquisition.  Rather, it is the social participation in the Spirit-empowered religious-ethical life of the Apostles among them that has brought the life of the Spirit to them and has empowered them to “lead a life worthy of God.”

PRAYER: Prayer For Hope, by Karl Rahner

We ask you, God of grace and eternal life, to increase and strengthen hope in us.  Give us this virtue of the strong, this power of the confident, this courage of the unshakable.  Make us always have a longing for you, the infinite plenitude of being.  Make us always build on you and your fidelity, always hold fast without despondency to your might.  Make us to be of this mind and produce this attitude in us by your Holy Spirit.  Then, our Lord and God, we shall have the virtue of hope.  Then we can courageously set about the task of our life again and again.  Then we shall be animated by the joyful confidence that we are not working in vain.  Then we shall do our work in the knowledge that in us and through us and, where our powers fail, without us, you the almighty according to your good pleasure are working to your honor and our salvation.  Strengthen your hope in us.

The hope of eternity, however, eternal God, is your only-begotten Son.  He possesses your infinite nature from eternity to eternity, because you have communicated it to him and ever communicate it, in eternal generation.  He therefore possesses all that we hope and desire.  He is wisdom and power, beauty and goodness, life and glory, he is all in all.  And he, this Son to whom you have given all, has become ours.  He became man.  Your eternal Word, God of glory, became man, became like one of us, humbled himself and took human form, a human body, a human soul, a human life, a human lot even in its most terrible possibilities.  Your Son, Heavenly Father, truly became man.  We kneel in adoration.  For who can measure this incomprehensible love of yours?  You have loved the world so much that men take offence at your love and call the affirmation of the incarnation of your Son folly and madness.  But we believe in the incomprehensibility, the overwhelming audacity of your love.  And because we believe, we can exult in blessed hope: Christ in us is the hope of glory.  For if you give us your Son, what can there be you have held back, what can there be which you have refused us?  If we possess your Son to whom you have given everything, your own substance, what could still be lacking to us?  And he is truly ours.  For he is the son of Mary, who is our sister in Adam, he is a child of Adam’s family, of the same race as we are, one in substance and origin with man.  And if we human beings in your plans and according to your will as creator are all to form a great community of descent and destiny, and if your Son is to belong to this one great community, then we, precisely we poor children of Eve, share the race and lot of your own Son.  We are brothers of the only-begotten, the brethren of your Son, co-heirs of his glory.  We share in his grace, in his Spirit, in his life, in his destiny through cross and glorification, in his eternal glory.  It is no longer we who live our life but Christ our brother lives his life in us and through us.  We are ready, Father of Jesus Christ and our Father, to share in the life of your Son.  Dispose of our life, make it conformable to the life of your Son.  He wills to continue his own life in us until the end of time, he wills to reveal in us and in our life the glory, the greatness, beauty, and the blessed power of his life.  What meets us in life is not chance, is not blind fate but is a part of the life of your Son.  The joy we shall receive as Christ’s joy, success as his success, pain as his pain, sorrow as his sorrow, work as his work, death as a sharing in his death.

In one respect we ask especially for your grace.  Make us share in Jesus’s prayer.  He is the great worshiper of God in spirit and in truth, he is the mediator through whom alone our prayer can reach to the throne of grace.  We wish to pray in him, united with his prayer.  May he, with whom we are united in his Spirit, teach us to pray.  May he teach us to pray as he himself prayed, to pray at all times and not to slacken, to pray perseveringly, confidently, humbly, in spirit and in truth, with true love of our neighbor without which no prayer is pleasing to you.  May he teach us to pray for what he prayed: that your name may be hallowed, your will be done, your kingdom come to us, for only if we first pray in that way for your honor will you also hear us if we pray for ourselves, our Earthly well-being and Earthly cares.  Give us the spirit of prayer, of recollection, of union with God.  Lord accept my poor heart.  It is often so far from you.  It is like a wasteland without water, lost in the innumerable things and trifles that fill my everyday life.  Only you, Lord can focus my heart on you, who are the center of all hearts and the Lord of every soul.  Only you can give the spirit of prayer, only your grace is capable of granting me to find you through the multiplicity of things and the distraction of mind of everyday routine, you the one thing necessary, the one thing in which my heart can rest.  May your Spirit come to the help of my weakness, and when we do not know what we should ask, may he intercede for us with inexpressible sighs, and you who know men’s hearts will hear what your Spirit interceding for us desires in us.

Finally, however, I ask you for the hardest and most difficult, for the grace to recognize the cross of your Son in all the suffering of my life, to adore your holy and inscrutable will in it, to follow your Son on his way to the cross as long as it may please you.  Make me sensitive in what concerns your honor and not merely for my own well-being, and then I also will be able to carry many a cross as atonement for my sins.  Do not let me be embittered by suffering but mature, patient, selfless, gentle, and filled with longing for that land where there is no pain and for that day when you will wipe all tears from the eyes of those who have loved you and in sorrow have believed in your love and in darkness have believed in your light.  Let my pain be a profession of my faith in your promises, a profession of my hope in your goodness and fidelity, a profession of my love, that I love you more than myself, that I love you for your own sake even without reward.  May the cross of my Lord be my model, my power, my consolation, the solution of all obscure questions, the light of every darkness.  Grant that we may glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, grant us to become so mature in true Christian being and life that we no longer regard the cross as a misfortune and incomprehensible meaninglessness but as a sign of your election, as the secret, sure sign that we are yours for ever.  For it is a faithful saying that if we die with him we shall also live with him and if we endure with him, we shall also reign with him.  Father, we will to share everything with your Son, his life, his divine glory, and therefore his suffering and his death.  Only with the cross, give the strength to bear it.  Cause us to experience in the cross its blessing also.  Give us the cross which your wisdom knows is for our salvation and not our ruin.

Son of the Father, Christ who lives in us, you are our hope of glory.  Live in us, bring our life under the laws of your life, make our life like to yours.  Live in me, pray in me, suffer in me, more I do not ask.  For if I have you I am rich; those who find your have found the power and the victory of their life.

Amen.