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
Often nothing much happens;
There is space, silence and
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.


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.


  • 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


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


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.


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


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.


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 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.


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.


HEALING: The Men And Women Of Tomorrow, by Henri Nouwen

From The Wounded Healer

If the men and women of today are often thought of as anonymous members of [David] Riesman’s lonely crowd, the men and women of tomorrow will be the children of this lonely crowd.  When we look into the eyes of young people, we can catch a glimpse of at least a shadow of their world.  Christian leadership will be shaped by at least three of the characteristics which the men and women of tomorrow share: inwardness, fatherlessness, and convulsiveness.  The minister of tomorrow must indeed take a serious look at those characteristics in his reflections and planning.

One: The inward generation

In a recent study of today’s college generation, published in October 1969, Jeffrey K. Hadden suggests that the best phrase with which to characterize the coming generation is “the inward generation.”  It is the generation which gives absolute priority to the personal and which tends in a remarkable way to withdraw into the self.  This might surprise those who think of our youth as highly activist, sign-carrying protesters who stage teach-ins, sit-ins, walk-ins, and stay-ins all over the country and think of themselves in many terms, but never in terms of inwardness.

First impressions, however, are not always the right ones.  Let me describe a recent development in a famous youth center in Amsterdam.  Recently this center, called Fantasio, attracted thousands of young people from all over the world to it psychedelic, dreamlike atmosphere.

Fantasio was divided into many small, psychdelically painted rooms.  Young people with long beards and long hair, in colorful clothing pieced together from old liturgical vestments, were sitting there quietly smoking their sticks, smelling their incense, enthralled by the flesh-and-blood pervading rock rhythms.

But now things are different.  The young leaders have thrown out all psychedelic stimuli, remodeled their center into a very sober and more or less severe place, and have changed the center’s name from Fantasio to: Meditation Center the Kosmos.  In the first issue of their newspaper they wrote: “Cut off your long hair, throw away your beards, put on simple clothes, because now things are going to be serious.”  Concentration, contemplation, and meditation have become the key words of the place.  Yogis give classes in body control, people sit and talk for many hours about Chuang Tzu and the Eastern mystics, and everyone is basically trying to find the road that leads inward.

We might be inclined to dismiss this group’s behavior as the sort of peripheral oddity found in every modern society.  But Jeffrey Hadden shows that this behavior is a symptom of something much more general, much more basic and much more influential.  It is the behavior of people whoa re convinced that there is nothing “out there” or “up there” on which they can get a solid grasp, which can pull them out of their uncertainty and confusion.  No authority, no institution, no outer concrete reality has the power to relieve them of their anxiety and loneliness and make them free.  Therefore the only way is the inward way.  If there is nothing “out there” or “up there,” perhaps there is something meaningful, something solid “in there.”  Perhaps something deep in the most personal self holds the key to the mystery of meaning, freedom, and unity.

The German sociologist [Helmut] Schelsky speaks about our time as a time of continuing reflection.  Instead of an obvious authority telling us to think and what to do, this continuing reflection has entered into the center of our existence.  Dogmas are the hidden realities men have to discover in their inner consciousness as sources of self-understanding.  The modern mind, Schelsky says, is in a state of constant self-reflection, trying to penetrate deeper and deeper into the core of its own individuality.

But where does this lead us?  What kind of men will this inward-moving, self-reflecting generation produce?  Jeffrey K. Hadden writes:

The prospects are both ominous and promising.  If turning inward to discover the self is but a step toward becoming a sensitive and honest person, our society’s unfettered faith in youth may turn out to be justified.  However, inwardness’ present mood and form seems unbridled by any social norm or tradition and almost void of notions for exercise of responsibility toward others. (Psychology Today, October 1969)

Jeffrey K. Hadden is the last one to suggest that the inward generation is on the brink of revitalizing the contemplative life, about to initiate new forms of monasticism.  His data show, first of all, that inwardness can lead to a form of privatism, which is not only anti-authoritarian and anti-institutional, but is also very self-centered, highly interested in material comfort and the immediate gratification of existing needs and desires.  But inwardness need not lead to such privatism.  It is possible that the new reality discovered in the deepest self can be “molded into a commitment to transform society.”  The inwardness of the coming generation can lead either to a higher level of hypocrisy or to the discovery of the reality of the unseen which can make for a new world.  The path it takes will depend to a great extent on the kind of ministry given to this inward generation.

Two: Generation without fathers

The many who call themselves father or allow themselves to be called father, from the Holy Father to the many father abbots, to the thousands of “priest-fathers” trying to hand over some good news, should know that the last one to be listened to is the father.  We are facing a generation which has parents but no fathers, a generation in which everyone who claims authority – because he is older, more mature, more intelligent, or more powerful – is suspect from the very beginning.

There was a time, and in many ways we see the last spastic movements of this time still around us, when man’s identity, his manhood and power, were given him by the father from above.  I am good when I am patted on the shoulder by him who stands above me.  I am smart when some father gives me a good grade.  I am important when I study at a well-known university as the intellectual child of a well-known professor.  In short, I am whom I am considered to be by one of my many fathers.

We could have predicted that the coming generation would reject this, since we have already accepted that a man’s worth is not dependent on what is given to him by fathers, but by what he makes of himself.  We could have expected this, since we have said that faith is not the acceptance of centuries-old traditions but an attitude which grows from within.  We could have anticipated this ever since we started saying that man is free to choose his own future, his own work, his own wife.

Today, seeing that the whole adult, fatherly world stands helpless before the threat of atomic war, eroding poverty, and starvation of millions, the men and women of tomorrow see that no father has anything to tell them simply because he has lived longer.  An English beat group yells it out:

The wall on which the prophets wrote
Is cracking at the seams.
Upon the instrument of death
The sunlight brightly gleams.
When ev’ry man is torn apart
With nightmares and with dreams
Will no one lay the laurel wreath
As silence drowns the screams.

(Epitaph/King Crimson)

This is what the coming generation is watching, and they know they can expect nothing from above.  Looking into the adult world they say:

I’m on the outside looking inside.
What do I see?
Much confusion disillusion all around me.
You don’t possess me
Don’t impress me
Just upset my mind.
Can’t instruct me
or conduct me
Just use up my time.

(I Talk to the Wind/King Crimson)

The only thing left is to try it alone, not proud or contemptuous of the fathers, telling them that they will do better, but with the deep-seated fear of complete failure.  But they prefer failure to believing in those who have already failed right before their eyes.  They recognize themselves in the words of a modern song:

Confusion will be my epitaph
As I crawl a cracked and broken path.
If we make it we can all sit back and laugh.
But I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying,
Yes, I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying.

(Epigraph/King Crimson)

But this fearful generation which rejects it fathers and quite often rejects the legitimacy of every person or institution that claims authority, is facing a new danger: becoming captive to itself.  David Riesman says: “As adult authority disintegrates, the young are more and more the captives of each other.  When adult control disappears, the young’s control of each other intensifies.”  Instead of the father, the peer becomes the standard.  Many young people who are completely unimpressed by the demands, expectations, and complaints of the big bosses of the adult world, show a scrupulous sensitivity to what their peers feel, think, and say about them.  Being considered an outcast or a dropout by adults does not worry them.  But being excommunicated by the small circle of friends to which they want to belong can be an unbearable experience.  Many young people may even become enslaved by the tyranny of their peers.  While appearing indifferent, casual, and even dirty to their elders, their indifference is often carefully calculated, their casualness studied in the mirror, and their dirty appearance based on a detailed imitation of their friends.

But the tyranny of fathers is not the same as the tyranny of one’s peers.  Not following fathers is quite different from not living up to the expectations of one’s peers.  The first means disobedience; the second, nonconformity.  The first creates guilt feelings; the second, feelings of shame.  In this respect there is an obvious shift form a guilt culture to a shame culture.  This shift has very deep consequences, for if youth no longer aspires to become adult and take the place of the fathers, and if the main motivation is conformity to the peer group, we might witness the death of a future-oriented culture or – to use a theological term – the end of an eschatology.  Then we no longer witness any desire to leave the safe place and to travel to the father’s house which has so many rooms, any hope to reach the promised land or to see Him who is waiting for his prodigal son, any ambition to sit at the right or the left side of the Heavenly throne.  Then staying home, keeping in line and being in with your little group – becomes important.  But that also is an absolute vote for the status quo.

This aspect of the coming generation raises serious questions for Christian leadership of tomorrow.  But we would be getting a very one-sided picture as a basis for this leadership if we did not first take a careful look at the third aspect of the coming generation, called convulsiveness.

Three: The convulsive generation

The inwardness and fatherlessness of the coming generation might lead us to expect a very quiet and contented future in which people keep to themselves and try to conform to their own little in-groups.  But then we must take into account the fact that these attributes are closely related to a very deep-seated unhappiness with the society in which the young find themselves.  Many young people are convinced that there is something terribly wrong with the world in which they live and that cooperation with existing models of living would constitute betrayal of themselves.  Everywhere we see restless and nervous people, unable to concentrate and often suffering from a growing sense of depression.  They know that what is shouldn’t be the way it is, but they see no workable alternative.  Thus they are saddled with frustration, which often expresses itself in undirected violence which destroys without clear purpose, or in suicidal withdrawal from the world, both of which are signs more of protest than of the results of a new-found ideal.

Immediately after the surrender of the exhausted state of Biafra, two high-school boys in France – Robert, nineteen years old, and Regis, sixteen years old – burned themselves to death and urged many of their peers to do the same.  Interviews and their parents, pastors, teachers, and friends revealed the horrifying fact that both of these sensitive students had become so overwhelmed by the hopeless misery of mankind and by the incapacity of adults to offer any real faith in a better world, that they chose to set their bodies afire as their ultimate way of protest.

To reach a better understanding of the underlying feelings of such students, let me quote from the letter of a student who had stopped studying and was still trying to find a new world.  He wrote to his mother on January 1, 1970:

Society forces me to live an unfree life, to accept values which are not values to me.  I reject the society as it now exists as a whole, but since I feel compassion for people living together, I try to look for alternatives.  I have given myself the obligation to become aware of what it means to be a man and to search for the source of life.  Church people call it “God.”  You see that I am traveling a difficult road to come to self-fulfillment, but I am proud that I seldom did what others expected me to do in line with a so-called “normal development.” I really hope not to end up on the level of a square, chained to customs, traditions, and the talk of next-door neighbors.

This letter seems to me a very sensitive expression of what many young people feel.  They share a fundamental unhappiness with their world and a strong desire to work for change, but they doubt deeply that they will do better than their parents did, and almost completely lack any kind of vision or perspective.  Within this framework I think that much erratic and undirected behavior is understandable.  A man who feels caught like an animal in a trap may be dangerous and destructive, because of his undirected movements caused by his own panic.

This convulsive behavior is often misunderstood by those who have power and feel that society should be protected against protesting youth.  They do not recognize the tremendous ambivalence behind much of this convulsive behavior, and rather than offering creative opportunities, they tend to polarize the situation and alienate even more those who are in fact only trying to find out what is worthwhile and what is not.

Similarly, sympathetic adults may misread the motives of the young.  Riesman, in an article about radical students on campus, writes that many

. . . adults fear to be thought old-fashioned or square and, by taking the part of the radical young without seeing the latter’s own ambivalence, they are often no help to them but contribute to the severity of pressures from the peer group.  And I expect to see that some faculty who have thought of themselves as very much on the side of students will themselves join the backlash when many students fail to reciprocate and are especially hostile towards the permissive faculty who have in the past been on their side.

The generation to come is seeking desperately for a vision, an ideal to dedicate themselves to – a “faith,” if you want.  But their drastic language is often misunderstood and considered more a threat or a sturdy conviction than a plea for alternative ways of living.

Inwardness, fatherlessness, and convulsiveness – these three characteristics of today’s young people draw the first lines on the face of the coming generation.

WISDOM: Another Feminine Face Of The Divine, by Matthew Fox

From One River, Many Wells

Sophia (Wisdom) I loved;
I sought her out in my youth,
I fell in love with her beauty,
and I longed to make her my bride.
Once you have grasped her, never let her go.
In the end, she will transform herself into pure joy.
—Book of Wisdom; Sirach

The Feminine face of God was not altogether wiped out by patriarchy.  She returned as Wisdom and as Shekinah, in the Hebrew Scriptures.  And she returned as Christ-Sophia in the Christian writings.  The experience that Wisdom is Feminine is an old idea and a transcultural one as we shall see.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, Wisdom is celebrated for her cosmic oversight.  She comes wrapped in cosmology.  She has a universal perspective, a cosmic sense. She is fairer than the sun, greater than every constellation, and the source of all treasure in the universe.  There is nothing petty or sectarian about Wisdom – she is truly universal dwelling in the cosmos itself.

My dwelling place was in high heaven,
my throne was in a pillar of cloud.
Alone I made a circuit of the sky
and traversed the depth of the abyss.
Over the waves of the sea and over the whole earth,
and over every people and nation I have held sway.
From eternity, in the beginning, he created me.
and for eternity I shall remain.
Approach me, you who desire me,
and take your fill of my fruits.

She undergirds all things and permeates them, bringing order from chaos while she plays with God from before the beginning of the world.  She is the object of our pursuit of truth at the same time that she is accessible as the fruit of awe and wonder.  Indeed, awe is the beginning of wisdom.  In her is found rest and repose, delight and joy.  She is the source of all eros, all love of life.  Whoever loves her loves life.  Hers is the way of true justice and she is a friend of the prophets.  She deploys her strength from one end of the earth to the other, ordering all things for good.

She entices us with her fruits and attractions for she is an inexhaustible treasure for humankind, she blesses the world with Supreme wisdom and allows all people to realize their unity with God.  Notice how ecumenical Wisdom is – she brings all people to unity with God.  (This same sense of ecumenism is echoed in the story of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem when the angels sing out to the shepherds: Glory [Doxa, Radiance] to God in the highest and peace to all people of good will.)

We are told that she is the mother of all good things, who age after age enters into holy souls.  She also makes all things new and to love her is to love life.  Indeed, a desire to know her brings one to love her, we are assured.

Where will we find her?  The Wisdom of Solomon says you will find her seated in your own heart.  Thus our hearts become a throne where holy Wisdom sits, that is how near and intimate she is to us.  The author of the Book of Wisdom tells of his experience with her.

Sophie I loved;
I sought her out in my youth,
I fell in love with her beauty,
and I longed to make her my bride.

We are advised:

Once you have grasped her, never let her go.
In the end, she will transform herself into pure joy.

This is quite a promise – that pure joy comes our way by way of Wisdom.  Furthermore, it is not just our pursuit of her that makes up this holy relationship, but her pursuit of us.  Sophia goes about in search of those who are worthy of her.  With every step she comes to guide them; in every thought she comes to meet them.  This teaching is about grace – Sophia operates gracefully, generously.  She is as much in pursuit of us as we are in pursuit of her.

Wisdom is present at creation and involved in all creative processes.  The Book of Proverbs tells her story this way:

Yahweh created me when his purpose first unfolded,
before the oldest of his works.
From everlasting I was firmly set,
from the beginning, before earth came into being,
The deep was not, when I was born,
there were no springs to gush with water.
Before the mountains were settled,
before the hills, I came to birth;
before he made the earth, the countryside
or the first grains of the world’s dust.
When he fixed the heavens firm, I was there,
when he drew a ring on the surface of the deep,
when he thickened the clouds above,
when he fixed fast the springs of the deep,
when he assigned the sea its boundaries
and the waters will not invade the shore—
when he laid down the foundations of the earth,
I was by his side, a master craftsman,
delighting him day after day,
ever at play in his presence,
at play everywhere in his world,
delighting to be with the sons and daughters of the human race.

Sophia or Wisdom has often been presented as a minor figure in Jewish theology.  However, a serious look at the Hebrew Scriptures reveals that “there is more material on Sophia in the Hebrew Scriptures than there is about almost any other figure.  Only God (under various titles), Job, Moses, and David are treated in more depth.”  There is more written about Sophia than about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Solomon, Isaiah, Sarah, Miriam, Adam, or Noah.  But we do not know her.  Sophia, who stands taller than any of them, is ignored.

We are told that Sophia is a late development in Israel’s interest in Wisdom.  Yet she is an “organic part of the social drama in later Israel,” as one scholar puts it.  She came along at a time of turmoil in the consciousness of Israel, that is during the Hellenistic age when Greek philosophy and science were having an impact on Israel.  A diversity of religious beliefs was very much in the air at the time.  “The figure of Sophia was a response to the increasingly complex social world the people of Israel were experiencing.  She was herself understanding.  She was also above, beyond, and in all that is.  She was creator of more than Israel.  She was, in fact, the symbol which represented the Hebrew people’s attempt to relate to a new and larger world.”

In Jewish mysticism the Divine Mother is spoken of as Binah.  She flows and engenders the coming to be of the seven lower sefirots or attributes of Divinity.  Wisdom or Hokhmah lies in the depths of Binah.  Wisdom cannot be grasped consciously, only absorbed.  As an early kabbalist put it: No creature can contemplate the wondrous paths of Wisdom except one who sucks from It.  This is meditation through sucking, not through knowing.

Indeed, Sophia’s presence on the scene during the Hellenistic era of Israel does not seem that different from our own times.  With patriarchal versions of Christianity having taken over so much of the mindset of Western religion, and with new explosions of scientific discovery and even scientific wisdom, and with the mixing of religions occurring on an unprecedented scale, and with the Goddess returning in many new and old forms, and with nature so endangered by human folly, it seems all the more timely that Wisdom and our appreciation of it is reentering our hearts and minds and awareness.

POETRY: On Woman, by William Butler Yeats

May God be praised for woman
That gives up all her mind,
A man may find in no man
A friendship of her kind
That covers all he has brought
As with her flesh and bone,
Nor quarrels with a thought
Because it is not her own.

Though pedantry denies,
It’s plain the Bible means
That Solomon grew wise
While talking with his queens,
Yet never could, although
They say he counted grass,
Count all the praises due
When Sheba was his lass,
When she the iron wrought, or
When from the smithy fire
It shuddered in the water:
Harshness of their desire
That made them stretch and yawn,
Pleasure that comes with sleep,
Shudder that made them one.
What else He give or keep
God grant me—no, not here,
For I am not so bold
To hope a thing so dear
Now I am growing old,
But when, if the tale’s true,
The Pestle of the moon
That pounds up all anew
Brings me to birth again—
To find what once I had
And know what once I have known,
Until I am driven mad,
Sleep driven from my bed,
By tenderness and care,
Pity, an aching head,
Gnashing of teeth, despair;
And all because of some one
Perverse creature of chance,
And live like Solomon
That Sheba led a dance.

POETRY: Holy Spirit, by Hildegard of Bingen

(Translated by Stephen Mitchell)

Holy Spirit,
giving life to all life, moving all creatures,
root of all things,
washing them clean,
wiping out their mistakes,
healing their wounds,
you are our true life,
luminous, wonderful,
awakening the heart
from its ancient sleep.

HOLY SPIRIT: Types Of Communication, by Thomas Dubay, S.M.

From Authenticity

God does not speak to us as we speak to one another.  He speaks as God, and consequently we should be wary of our preconceived ideas as to how the communication ought to be carried off.  Moreover, he does not speak in one way only.  Nor should we assume that his speaking is always unmistakable.

The indwelling Lord leads us into all truth (John 14:26; 16:13) in diverse ways and degrees.  St. John of the Cross discusses these ways and degrees under the caption of what he calls supernatural locutions.  It seems to me that this expression, “supernatural locution,” is equivalent to what we mean in saying that the Holy Spirit speaks to us.  John’s “locution” is a type of “apprehension,” a knowing.  It is a type that is “produced in the souls of spiritual persons without the use of the bodily senses as means. ”  These are not sensory or imaginary visions.  They are “produced,” that is, received from God.  One does not originate the locution.  God speaks and enlightens.  Man receives.

The saint reduces the many ways in which God speaks to three types.  There are, in order of ascending value (and using the saint’s terminology), successive, formal, and substantial locutions.  I will speak of them in my own language as well as John’s.

One: Assisting enlightenment (successive locutions)

This first type of divine speaking always occurs when one is “recollected and attentively absorbed” in some thought process.  The enlightenment always concerns the subject on which one is meditating.  During this time the person is united with the truth and with the Holy Spirit who is in every truth, says John, and yet he is thinking, reasoning in the usual, human manner.  The Spirit aids him in forming his concepts and judgments.  There is so great a clarity and ease in this activity that it seems another is teaching him, as indeed is the case.  In this communion with the indwelling Spirit about a particular matter, the person goes on to “form interiorly and successively other truths.”  The saint supposes that this enlightenment occurs during prayer, that is, while one is “recollected” and “communing” with the divine Spirit.”  It seems, therefore, that this type of speaking does not usually occur in dialogue sessions but in the midst of prayerful communion.

The recipient of this assisting enlightenment “is unable to believe” that it originates with himself, but he has the awareness that it derives from another.  Yet the knowledge received (it cannot be attained by personal industry) is so delicate that the natural intellect by its own activity “easily disturbs and undoes it.”  This point is important.  Even when God does speak in this manner, he does not exclude our human activities with all their limitations, preconceptions, biases, errors.  Even when he enlightens, he permits us to be what we as a matter of fact are: fallen – redeemed, yes, but still wounded and deficient.

We may conclude that this assisting enlightenment is not merely human reason proceeding under its own steam and deriving from the Holy Spirit only in the sense that anything true and good derives from him.  The divine enlightenment is something over and above the gift of native intelligence, even though in the successive locution it works closely with that intelligence.

Two: Independent-ideational speaking (formal locutions)

Whereas the assisting enlightenment occurs only when one is prayerfully meditative, this divine speaking can happen at any time.  In the first the locution accompanies human activity,while in the second it is uttered independently of what the recipient is doing: “They are received as though one person were speaking to another.”  One may receive this locution while he is working, conversing, playing, or praying.  “Sometimes these words are very explicit and at other times not.  They are like ideas spoken to the spirit.   At times only one word is spoken, and then again more than one.”  Although the recipient is clearly aware that this locution comes from another and thus has no reasonable doubt about the otherness of origin, he can only too easily be deceived as to who this other is.  It may be God, or it may be the devil, and the discernment is not always easy.  Of this I shall speak later.

Three: Dynamic-effective speaking (substantial locution)

It is now well known that the Hebrew idea of “word,” dabar, was not a mere intellectual representation of reality but a dynamic power.  Just as the rain and snow come down from the heavens and produce food, so God’s word comes down and achieves its effects (Isaiah 55:10-11).  The divine word acts; it does things.  It is like fire and a hammer that sunders rocks (Jeremiah 23:29).  It is active, alive; it judges, divides and cuts like a two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12).  Yahweh’s word alone caused all creation to be (Genesis 1 and 2).  Jesus’s words are spirit and life (John 6:63).

This dynamic-effective speaking (substantial locution) is not merely an assisting enlightenment (the first manner) or an ideational speaking (the second manner).  It is a powerful producing-in-the-soul of what it says.  “For example,” notes the saint, “if our Lord should say formally to the soul: ‘Be good,’ it would immediately be substantially good; or if He should say: ‘Love Me,’ it would at once have and experience within itself the substance of the love of God; or if He should say to a soul in great fear: ‘Do not fear,’ it would without delay feel ample fortitude and tranquility.”

These dynamic-effective communications are the most excellent for several reasons.  One is that deceit is impossible, since the devil cannot produce this goodness within us.  Another is that these locutions impart “incomparable blessings” of life and goodness to the person who receives them.  There is consequently nothing to fear or to reject.  The recipient need do nothing about them, “because God never grants them for that purpose, but He bestows them in order to accomplish Himself what they express.”

SPIRITUALITY: The Variety Of Gifts, by Henry C. Simmons

From In the Footsteps of the Mystics: A Guide to the Spiritual Classics

Why does one person respond to a question about the spiritual life in one way, and another person answer the same question in quite a different manner?  Personal experience is a powerful factor, as are church tradition, historical era, education, age, gender, and social class. These factors may account for an array of answers too various to catalogue.  Some, however, seem to fall into patterns which give us categories for understanding the shape and flow of our relationship with God and allow us to identify our own place within the much wider spiritual tradition.

What do patterns of spirituality look like?  What do they describe?  As we look at two questions which are common to those who seek union with God – the goal of every spiritual quest – namely, “Is your approach to God more a matter of the mind or of the heart?”  and, “How do you best pray?” we note that answers to each of these questions reveal a polarity.  The question, “Is your approach to God more a matter of the mind or of the “heart”? raises the question of whether the spiritual method emphasizes the illumination of the mind (speculative) or the heart or emotions (affective).  For example, William Law clearly opts for the illumination of the mind (speculative) when he writes: “The greater any man’s mind is, the more he knows of God and himself, the more will he be disposed to prostrate himself before God in all the humblest acts and expressions of repentance.  Now if devotion at these seasons is the effect of a better knowledge of God and ourselves, then the neglect of devotion at other times is always owing to great ignorance of God and ourselves.”

Answers to the question, “How do you best pray?” reveal another polarity: Some ascetical or spiritual methods advocate the development of images in meditation, others advocate emptying techniques.  Thus, for example, Jacob Boehme writes about the experience of prayer in image-rich language which fosters an imaginal technique: “To all hungering, repenting souls: they will discover properly within themselves how the old father of the prodigal son comes toward the poor, changed repentant soul and falls around the neck of its essence of life with his love, and with his love embraces and kisses it, grasping it in his arms, and speaking to it with power.”  In contrast, Gregory Palamas clearly suggests why an emptying technique is important in meditation when he speaks of an “unknowing”: “Beyond the stripping away of beings, or rather after the cessation of our perceiving or thinking of them accomplished not only in words, but in reality, there remains an unknowing which is beyond knowledge.”

Some seek illumination of the mind; others seek illumination of the heart.  This is the first polarity: mind/heart.  Some use techniques of engaging the senses in image-rich meditation, others use techniques of emptying the senses in contemplation which abandons images.  This is the second polarity: imaging/emptying of images.  These polarities do not represent better or worse, right or wrong.  They simply describe patterns and preferences which are likely to appear in spiritual or ascetical methods which assist the quest for union with God.  On either scale an individual might find himself or herself strongly or weakly positioned toward one or other pole.  An individual might also find himself or herself drawn toward one or other style depending on the particular time in his or her life, or on the circumstances in which the quest for union with God is being worked out.  But as the old saying goes, “Everybody has to be somewhere,” and these patterns, with the options they imply, do allow us to describe what an individual’s spirituality “looks like.”

This is all the more the case because both polarities function at the same time; thus two polarities yield four basic approaches to the spiritual life: heart/imaging, heart/emptying of images, mind/imaging, mind/emptying of images.  One or other of these will best describe a starting point for the individual’s quest for union with God.

Imagine a circle which represents an attempt to hold together in tension all four approaches.  Urban T. Holmes in A History of Christian Spirituality calls the circle a circle of spirituality.  This is a gracious phrase.  Most forms of spirituality will emphasize one of the four approaches which result from the intersection of the polarities of heart/mind, images/emptying of images.  But every spirituality which is sensitive – that is, every spirituality within this circle of sensibility – will respect all other spiritualities, not only for what they are in themselves, but also for what they offer to each other.

A sensitive spirituality will, however, maintain a certain tension with those other dimensions that are not emphasized as a corrective to an exaggerated form of prayer.  “Sensibility” defines for us that sensitivity to the ambiguity of styles of prayer and the possibilities for a creative dialogue within the person and within the community as it seeks to understand the experience of God and its meaning for the world.  Without that tension we fall into excesses. (Holmes)

To the extent that we are strongly attracted to one of these approaches to the spiritual life (heart/images, heart/emptying of images, mind/images, mind/emptying of images) we will be less comfortable with the approach which is directly opposed to ours.  We could adduce technical reasons for this but the simplest argument supporting this position is common experience.  If, for example, we are strongly attracted to a heart/emptying of images approach, the Ignatian Exercises (or any imaginal technique of meditation which seeks illumination of the mind and will) will seem very foreign, dry, distracting, even offensive.  This does not mean that such an approach should be avoided forever!  We can readily guess that it will serve as a corrective to the heart/emptying of images approach.  As Holmes rightly notes: “A sensitive spirituality will maintain a certain tension with those other dimensions that are not emphasized as a corrective to an exaggerated form of prayer.  Without that tension we fall into excesses.”

While each approach to the spiritual life has validity, no single one is likely to prove adequate.  The more we find ourselves drawn consistently toward one approach, the more we need to have that approach challenged by its opposite.  The person, for example, who is deeply rooted in an approach which stresses heart/images needs to learn of the absolute mystery which dwells in inaccessible light – a perspective emphasized by those whose approach is mind/emptying of images.  Similarly, the one whose approach is heart/emptying of images needs to explore forms of meditation which seek illumination of the mind using imaginal techniques.  By the use of the four approaches to the spiritual life based on these two polarities it is possible to make comparisons and to define spiritual practice and its immediate objectives with some clarity – the assumption being that in all methods the ultimate goal is union with God.

Preferred forms of approach to union with God may shift over the years as we mature and as the circumstances of our lives change.  For example, people whose worlds have been shattered by unexplainable and unavoidable evil may – however imaginal their techniques of meditation had been – come to mistrust all the images of God which had given nourishment previously.  Other people may, in the awakening of their ability to think and study come to rejoice in a hitherto untapped enthusiasm for the illumination of the mind through imaginal techniques.  Nevertheless, many people find that there is one approach that, more than the other three, requires no “processing.”  Without any thought or effort, that approach seems compatible with one’s natural gifts.  This does not keep us from needing, exploring, even rejoicing in, other approaches.


PRAYER: Prayer Beyond Words, by Richard Valantasis

From Centuries of Holiness

Sometimes it is difficult to imagine prayer without words.  The use of words in individual prayer and corporate worship seems so much a central aspect of converse with the divine that words themselves become the vehicle of communication.  But that is not necessarily always the case.  The history of Christianity and indeed of other religions as well provides evidence for prayer beyond words, a form of prayer that moves beyond the discursive and enters into a direct apprehension and communion with the divine.

When words function as the primary vehicle of communication with the divine at once immanent, dwelling within the seeker, and transcendent, dwelling in others and in the universe and even perhaps outside the universe, the focus of attention revolves around making meaning.  Words are instruments for the construction of meaning and the meaningful communication with others.  Prayer using words, then, becomes a process of establishing a common meaningful relationship mediated by the words.  The divine presence and the human person connect with each other through words that transmit meaningful messages from one to the other and that create a significant relationship between them.  This is the sense in which prayer using words may be described as discursive: it creates a common discourse that connects two people through a common linguistic medium.  And such prayer lays the foundation for all other prayer – words help create and sustain the initial intimate relationship between the seeker and the divine presence both immanent and transcendent.

Once that discursive prayer has taken deep root within the seeker, the seeker may begin to move toward prayer without words.  Here the seeker prays to enter into union with the interior divine presence and to connect affectively and experientially with the divine presence manifest in others, in circumstances, in nature, and in events.  In other words, the seeker begins to commune with the divine presence by simply living in the presence of the divine without words and extending that communion outward to all the other manifestations of the divine surrounding the seeker.  This prayer apprehends the divine presence in the self, in society, and in the cosmos directly and immediately, without the intermediary of words.

This kind of prayer moves from words to wordlessness.  It moves from establishing the category or understanding of the divine to the intentional transcendence of the posited category in order to move into direct communion with the divine beyond it.  An example will help.  The seeker prays using the word “Creator” and focuses on the meaning and significance of the divine characterized as creator by considering the manner and means of the divine energy creating all human beings, all societies and cultures, and all the stars, galaxies, and even the unknown universes.  The “Creator” takes on rich meaning and significance, and the seeker may think and reflect on this richness for a long time, coming to a deep understanding and communion with the divine through the conceptual frame.  The seeker, however, remains fully present to this form of prayer in that it revolves around the contemplation and consideration of the category.  The seeker understands self and others from the perspective of their relationship to the “Creator.”  When moving beyond this category, the seeker moves beyond the discourse about the “Creator” to a direct apprehension of the divine in negating the category “Creator.”  The divine creates, but is much more than simply the “Creator,” because the category “Creator” does not adequately describe the divine.  So the divine is “Creator” and yet “not Creator,” “Sustenance” and simultaneously “Not Sustenance.”  The process continues positing a categorical description of the divine and negating it in order to move beyond the category, beyond the word, to a direct experience of the divine without any mediation.

This prayer beyond words aims to create immediate experience of the divine by moving beyond discourse into union.   The seeker moves beyond the mediating words and concepts into a direct experience of the profundity of the divine presence that seems to baffle every attempt at comprehension and description.  This sense of the union of agency, the union of direction, the union of wills between the seeker and the divine presence, unmediated by any connecting vehicle beyond the relationship of seeker to divine itself, enables the seeker to experience the unity and singularity of the divine presence not only within the seeker’s own self, but also in others and in the physical universe.  The divine presence becomes a naturally functioning part of self, society, and cosmos so that the seeker becomes one with the divine presence everywhere and communes with that universal divine presence in a mystic, sweet communion.  The discourse, that is, gives way to immediate communion, so that the seeker, disengaging the categories the mind creates, clings to the divine in self and others directly and lovingly.

MYSTICISM: The Gift Of Understanding, by Thomas Merton

From New Seeds of Contemplation

Contemplation, by which we know and love God as he is in himself, apprehending him in deep and vital experience which is beyond the reach of any natural understanding, is the reason for our creation by God.  And although it is absolutely above our nature, Saint Thomas teaches that it is our proper element because it is the fulfillment of deep capacities in us that God has willed should never be fulfilled in any other way.  All those who reach the end for which they were created will therefore be contemplatives in Heaven: but many are also destined to enter this supernatural element and breathe this new atmosphere while they are still on Earth.

Since contemplation has been planned for us by God as our true and proper element, the first taste of it strikes us at once as utterly new and yet strangely familiar.

Although you had an entirely different notion of what it would be like (since no book can give an adequate idea of contemplation except to those who have experienced it), it turns out to be just what you seem to have known all along that it ought to be.]

The utter simplicity and obviousness of the infused light which contemplation pours into our soul suddenly awakens us to a new level of awareness.  We enter a region which we had never even suspected, and yet it is this new world which seems familiar and obvious.  The old world of our senses is now the one that seems to us strange, remote, and unbelievable – until the intense light of contemplation leaves us and we fall back to our own level.

Compared with the pure and peaceful comprehension of love in which the contemplative is permitted to see the truth not so much by seeing it as by being absorbed into it, ordinary ways of seeing and knowing are full of blindness and labor and uncertainty.

The sharpest of natural experiences is like sleep, compared with the awakening which is contemplation.  The keenest and surest natural certitude is a dream compared to this serene comprehension.

Our souls rise up from the Earth like Jacob waking from his dream and exclaiming: “Truly God is in this place and I knew it not”!  God himself becomes the only reality, in whom all other reality takes its proper place – and falls into insignificance.

Although this light is absolutely above our nature, it now seems to us “normal” and “natural” to see, as we now see, without seeing, to possess clarity in darkness, to have pure certitude without any shred of discursive evidence, to be filled with an experience that transcends experience and to enter with serene confidence into depths that leave us utterly inarticulate.

“O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!”

A door opens in the center of our being and we seem to fall through it into immense depths which, although they are infinite, are all accessible to us; all eternity seems to have become ours in this one placid and breathless contact.

God touches us with a touch that is emptiness and empties us.  He moves us with a simplicity that simplifies us.  All variety, all complexity, all paradox, all multiplicity cease.  Our mind swims in the air of an understanding, a reality that is dark and serene and includes in itself everything.  Nothing more is desired.  Nothing more is wanting.  Our only sorrow, if sorrow be possible at all, is the awareness that we ourselves still live outside of God.

For already a supernatural instinct teaches us that the function of this abyss of freedom that has opened out within our own midst, is to draw us utterly out of our own selfhood and into its own immensity of liberty and joy.

You seem to be the same person and you are the same person that you have always been: in fact you are more yourself than you have ever been before.  You have only just begun to exist.  You feel as if you were at last fully born.  All that went before was a mistake, a fumbling preparation for birth.  Now you have come out into your element.  And yet now you have become nothing.  You have sunk to the center of your own poverty, and there you have felt the doors fly open into infinite freedom, into a wealth which is perfect because none of it is yours and yet it all belongs to you.

And now you are free to go in and out of infinity.

It is useless to think of fathoming the depths of wide-open darkness that have yawned inside you, full of liberty and exultation.

They are not a place, not an extent, they are huge, smooth activity.  These depths, they are love.  And in the midst of you they form a wide, impregnable country.

There is nothing that can penetrate into the heart of that peace.  Nothing from the outside can get in.  There is even a whole sphere of your own activity that is excluded from that beautiful airy night.  The five senses, the imagination, the discoursing mind, the hunger of desire do not belong in that starless sky.

And you, while you are free to come and go, yet as soon as you attempt to make words or thoughts about it you are excluded – you go back into your exterior in order to talk.

Yet you find that you can rest in this darkness and this unfathomable peace without trouble and without anxiety, even when the imagination and the mind remain in some way active outside the doors of it.

They may stand and chatter in the porch, as long as they are idle, waiting for the will of their queen to return, upon whose orders they depend.

But it is better for them to be silent.  However, you now know that this does not depend on you.  It is a gift that comes to you from the bosom of that serene darkness and depends entirely on the decision of Love.

Within the simplicity of this armed and walled and undivided interior peace is an infinite unction which, as soon as it is grasped, loses its savor.  You must not try to reach out and possess it altogether.  You must not touch it, or try to seize it.  You must not try to make it sweeter or try to keep it from wasting away. . . .

The situation of the soul in contemplation is something like the situation of Adam and Eve in Paradise.  Everything is yours, but on one infinitely important condition: that it is all given. 

There is nothing that you can claim, nothing that you can demand, nothing that you can take.  And as soon as you try to take something as if it were your own – you lose your Eden.  The angel with the flaming sword stands armed against all selfhood that is small and particular, against the “I” that can say “I want. . . .” I need. . . .” “I demand. . . .”  No individual enters Paradise, only the integrity of the Person.

Only the greatest humility can give us the instinctive delicacy and caution that will prevent us from reaching out for pleasures and satisfactions that we can understand and savor in this darkness.  The moment we demand anything for ourselves or even trust in any action of our own to procure a deeper intensification of this pure and serene rest in God, we defile and dissipate the perfect gift that he desires to communicate to us in the silence and repose of our own powers.

If there is one thing we must do it is this: we must realize to the very depths of our being that this is a pure gift of God which no desire, no effort, and no heroism of ours can do anything to deserve or obtain.  There is nothing we can do directly either to procure it or to preserve it or to increase it.  Our own activity is for the most part an obstacle to the infusion of this peaceful and pacifying light, with the exception that God may demand certain acts and works of us by charity or obedience, and maintain us in deep experimental union with him through them all, by his own good pleasure, not by any fidelity of ours.

At best we can dispose ourselves for the reception of his great gift by resting in the heart of our own poverty, keeping our soul as far as possible empty of desires for all the things that please and preoccupy our nature, no matter how pure or sublime they may be in themselves.

And when God reveals himself to us in contemplation we must accept him as he comes to us, in his own obscurity, in his own silence, not interrupting him with arguments or words, conceptions or activities that belong to the level of our own tedious and labored existence.

We must respond to God’s gifts gladly and freely with thanksgiving, happiness, and joy: but in contemplation we thank him less by words than by the serene happiness of silent acceptance.  “Be empty and see that I am God.”  It is our emptiness in the presence of the abyss of his reality, our silence in the presence of his infinitely rich silence, our joy in the bosom of the serene darkness in which his light holds us absorbed, it is all this that praises him.  It is this that causes love of God and wonder and adoration to swim up into us like tidal waves out of the depths of that peace, and break upon the shores of our consciousness in a vast, hushed surf of inarticulate praise, praise and glory!

This clear darkness of God is the purity of heart Christ spoke of in the sixth Beatitude: Beati mundo corde, quoniam ipsi Deum videbunt. [Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.]   And this purity of heart brings at least a momentary deliverance from images and concepts, from the forms and shadows of all the things men desire with their human appetites.  It brings deliverance even from the feeble and delusive analogies we ordinarily use to arrive at God – not that it denies them, for they are true as far as they go, but it makes them temporarily useless by fulfilling them all in the sure grasp of a deep and penetrating experience.

In the vivid darkness of God within us there sometimes come deep movements of love that deliver us entirely, for a moment, from our old burden of selfishness, and number us among those little children of whom is the Kingdom of Heaven.

And when God allows us to fall back into our own confusion of desires and judgments and temptations, we carry a scar over the place where that joy exulted for a moment in our hearts.

The scar burns us.  The sore wound aches within us, and we remember that we have fallen back into what we are not, and are not yet allowed to remain where God could have us belong.  We long for the place he has destined for us and weep with desire for the time when this pure poverty will catch us and hold us in its liberty and never let us go, when we will never fall back from the Paradise of the simple and the little children into the forum of prudence where the wise of this world go up and down in sorrow and set their traps for a happiness that cannot exist.

This is the gift of understanding: we pass out of ourselves into the joy of emptiness, of nothingness, in which there are no longer any particular objects of knowledge but only God’s truth without limit, without defect, without stain.  This clean light, which tastes of Paradise, is beyond all pride, beyond comment, beyond proprietorship, beyond solitude.  It is in all, and for all.  It is true light that shines in everyone, in “every man coming into this world.”  It is the light of Christ, “who stands in the midst of us and we know him not.”

MYSTICISM: On Mystical Theology — The First and Speculative Treatise, by Jean Gerson


Repent and believe in the gospel. (Mark 1:15)

(1)  I bound myself recently by a promise to approach that subject which I now think you are expecting me to consider: to show, that is, “whether it is better to have the knowledge of God through a repentant affectivity rather than through an investigative intellect.”  Therefore, I am obliged to work out whether by chance through pious efforts and with God’s assistance it is possible to arrive at a common understanding of these matters, which the divine Dionysius treats, concerning a theology that is mystical and thus is hidden.  There is no doubt that he was taught by him who says, “We speak of wisdom among the perfect, wisdom that is hidden in mystery,” (Proverbs 25:27).

(2)  I am also considering if those matters concerning contemplation, meditation, rapture, ecstasy, extra-mental projection, division of spirit and soul, and the like, which outstanding doctors have described in their writings, can so openly take place and in a certain way be revealed that other people than they who experience them, rare as they are, can understand them.  Or at least they can strongly believe that these holy persons have had a knowledge far more elevated than our common knowledge.  These persons have been lifted up through divine contemplation to an extra-mental projection.

(3)  I would say that this is common for everyone when confronted by something that is either unusual or arduous.  For the mind is usually drawn in various ways according to the variety of what it considers.  I have often experienced this myself, namely in the present matter.

(4)  I have in mind the treatment of material of which nothing is more sublime or divine, but which cannot be more difficult in pursuing, just as none can be found more congenial to salvation.  In considering something attached to the hinge of our happiness, I have trembled at the sight of the majesty of this wisdom.  I am afraid that in trying to investigate the matter, I will be driven from the experience of glory.  Moreover, I have been afraid that some proud presumption will vex me, for who can attempt great things without being overcome by them?  I have been afraid, finally, that I will be seen to possess an insatiable singularity, which I condemned as criminal in my two last lessons.

(5)  Truly, such considerations can disturb me and make me retrace my steps so that I do not advance, at least if I confide in my own powers alone and not in him who says, “Seek the Lord always,” (Psalm 104:4).  If I am restricted by my double public office, will I not be frightened in seeing the damnation of the servant who hid the talent of her lord, (Matthew 22:25)? I will also hear from the angel in Tobias that, “it is honorable to reveal and confess God’s works,” (Tobias 12:7).

(6)  Finally, if the author of the book of Wisdom had feared what we have mentioned, he would have not said of wisdom: “I convey that which I have learned without falsehood and without reservation, and I do not hide its integrity,” (Wisdom 7:13).

(7)  But notice what is added concerning boasting or signs of boasting: would that “he who glories, glory in the Lord,” (1 Corinthians 1:31).  Who will provide assistance to someone living on the Earth, even if he has placed his dwelling beyond Heaven’s stars, even if he has slept in the bed of contemplation, even if he has tasted the hidden manna of devotion, (Isaiah 14:13; Numbers 24:21; Revelation 2:17)?”

 (8) What is the purpose of all this?  Who would not shudder in utter horror since Lucifer was removed from the place of Heaven, from the midst of the stones of fire, (Ezekiel 28:16), and was driven into the dung-pit of damnation?  Who would not shudder since “on that day,” when two are lying in one bed, one will be taken, the other left behind, (Matthew 24:20; Luke 17:34)?  Finally, who would not shudder since the sons of Israel were laid low in the desert, they who were eating the bread of Heaven, (Psalm 105:26; Exodus 16:15), and his enemies, they who lied to him, “the Lord fed with the best of wheat and from the rock filled them with honey,” (Psalm 80:17)?

(9)  Woe to me if I should seek my glory.  For that is nothing at all.  Nevertheless, it will condemn me.  Alas, if I should glory in my damnation and in nothingness.

(10)  The apostolic trumpet will terrify me, saying: “If I have prophecy and know all mysteries and have all knowledge: if I have faith so I can move mountains, but do not have charity, I am nothing,” (1 Corinthians 13:2).  But who can be sure, unless by a miracle, that he has charity?  What do you know, poor little man, if some light of understanding or some frail warmth of devotion seems to be given to you, wicked servant that you are?  Can this be useful for others, so that they receive enlightenment and so gain warmth, if in truth you are like a taper that has been lit but is quickly reduced to ash?

(11)  Let it not be, most merciful God, if we are to speak of you and rejoice in you.  Let us rejoice with fear and teach in humility.  We will seek the unique glory of your name through your servants, my lords and brothers.  I seem to want to tell them the secrets of your wisdom.  Thus, for the time being, I will put aside more sterile intellectual pursuits, which turn the mind in different directions.  Instead, let the word of your spirit put them on fire to seek you in simplicity of heart in order to understand what it means: “Rest and see how sweet is the Lord.”

(12)  Finally, may they be roused so that they do not give themselves over to intellect alone in instructing in such a way that desiccated affectivity, horrible and vile, is abandoned even to the passions.  For by what other persons or in what other place can this doctrine of mystical theology be conveyed?

(13) But if this understanding I want to attain is denied to me, may God forgive our sins.  May the holy desire I seem to have either take away my sin, if my yearning is unholy and I am being deceived, or, if I am acting rightly, then may he justify me “in his justifications,” (Psalm 118:80).  It is he who “hears the desire of the poor” and “hears the readying of their heart in his ear to do justice to the orphan and the needy, so that man while on Earth cannot come to magnify himself any longer,” (Psalm 10:17-18).

(14)  I have begun with these considerations especially in order to scoop out of the deep a place for humility, by which the whole structure of what is to be said can be strengthened from collapsing.  I have also begun as the holy Dionysius does, with a prayer.  Now I will treat the material divided up into considerations or annotations in the manner of chapters, by which the listener will be refreshed by pauses and not tired out by continuous and confusing speech.

(15)  And I am not about to bring forward anything new that cannot be found in other books of the saints.  For what could they have left out?  But I will explain their ideas in my own words and in my own order.

Here ends the Prologue

HEALING: A Healthy Spirit, by Carolyn Scott Kortge

From Healing Walks for Hard Time

Let the spirit move you this week as you bring increased awareness of breath to your walks.  When breath combines with movement and focus, it creates a healing blend that clears the mind and energizes cells. Add the power of cognitive override to support your goals and you’ll gain strength that sustains a healing journey.

Was it the artificial sweeteners on my shredded wheat or too many diet sodas?  Was it too much estrogen or too few children?  Or was it chemicals sprayed on the berries and beans that I picked in my adolescence to earn money for school clothes?

The questions dogged my steps relentlessly on the day I learned that the cancer in my body had spread beyond the tissue of my breast and penetrated lymph nodes as well.  My mind ricocheted through factors linked with risk of cancer, seeking a “cause.”  An explanation.  Was it resentment, too long simmering, or small grudges allowed to grow?  Was it stress or the festering poison of perfectionism, untempered with compassion?  Or the consequences of a type-A personality without the balance of meditation?

The lump was small, I had told myself when a biopsy first confirmed malignancy.  Medical opinions were reassuring.  Most likely the cancer had not spread.  Most likely there would be no need for chemotherapy’s full-body assault on mutant cells.  Then came medical results that deflated the positive outlook I had clung to through surgery.  “You have metastatic cancer.”  Guilt and blame flooded in to fill the space vacated by optimism.  What had I done wrong?  What errors led me to this frightening diagnosis?  The questions plunged me into a life review in search of something – a decision, a choice, a habit, a person – anything to blame.  In search of a place to take control.

I turned, for relief, to a path I knew well.  The summit trail in a nearby county park rises steadily through grassy meadows and oak groves for about one and a half miles to to the rounded crown of a local hill, a popular route for exercisers, bird lovers, and nature seekers.  As I started up the hillside trail, the mental tangle of causes and effects wrapped tight around my mind.  It’s not fair!  I exercise regularly.  What did I do to deserve this?

Everyone who experiences the blow of a difficult diagnosis or a personal crisis encounters an internal interrogation.  Why me?  Could I have prevented this?  What did I do wrong?  We wrestle with guilt as well as with fear, creating a turmoil of anxiety.  We grieve not only the trauma we’ve encountered, but also the loss of control.  Hard times stun us and leave us feeling helpless.  Walking offered one small way for me to take action.

On the trail, I wanted to walk away from the questions that pursued me.  To quell the mental barrage, I called on a backpacking mantra that had carried me through wilderness camping trips and up yet another switchback when my pack began to feel impossibly heavy.  I hoped it would do the same for the load I now carried.  One-step-for-ward-at-a-time, I chanted mentally as I plodded up the hill.  One step per syllable.  Each footstep punctuating the phrase.  Simple, but so difficult to do.  Questions pushed through the tiny pause between one step and the next.  One-step-for-What did I do wrong?  One-step-for-What will I do now?  One-step-for-Mastectomy?  Lumpectomy?  How to choose?  For thirty minutes I fought my way up the trail, returning over and over to the rhythmic mantra that pulled my focus to something I could still control – one step, one breath, and then one more.

By the time I reached the summit, I was breathing hard.  I paused to catch my breath and gaze out on the valley below.  The farmlands, the freeway, the fork of the river – the view was familiar and reassuring.  I’d seen it many times.  But on this day, I saw something different.  As I looked at the river, I saw a metaphor: When a river gets polluted, we don’t ask what the river did to cause it.  We don’t wonder what the river did to deserve it.  We ask what we should do to clean it up!

All the way down the hill I focused on the river.  If I could view my body as a waterway, polluted by something outside my control, then I could clean it up and move on.  Clean it up and try, as best I could, to avoid further pollution, of course, but first clean it up.  The image prepared me to accept chemotherapy as part of the cleansing necessary for this river of my being to live healthy and whole.  The metaphor shifted my focus from cause to cure, from helplessness to action.  It gave me a grasp of something I could do, one step at a time.  It felt like a miracle.

Air + Movement + Focus = Miracle

A thirty-minute walk in nature didn’t change the reality of my situation or the seriousness of my disease.  It didn’t eliminate my fears.  But it did settle the chaos in my mind enough that I could see a path through the new landscape before me.  It opened my senses and my cells so that I could look into a river and see an image of healing that carried me through nine months of treatment.  It enabled me to move forward on a path of cleansing rather than blaming.  That was a miracle!

In truth, the miracle is breath.  The boost in oxygen and circulation that accompanies brisk walking does miraculous things for the human brain.  It increases clarity, problem-solving skills, and memory, for starters.  But oxygen alone might not have given me the metaphor of a river that enabled me to move forward on a path of cleansing rather than blaming.  When I began to chant one-step-for-ward-at-a-time in my mind on that hike, I was making a conscious choice to block out a crazy-making swirl of questions, fears, and resentments.  That was cognitive override – a crucial ingredient in the mix of movement and air that can lead to a fresh point of view.  Each time I returned to the phrase, I was exercising cognitive override to make a willful choice to improve my thinking skills by giving my mind a respite from the battering assault of fear.  With a mental chant, I seized control of what I could at a time when so much seemed beyond my grasp.,

You’re practicing cognitive override on the walks you take in this program.  Putting focus on In and Out as you breathe is a very simple way to take your focus away from mental chatter.  You’ll expand breath awareness with variations that make each breath a healing cycle of receiving and releasing.  The tools are easy, but most people discover that worries soon push to the front again.  Some fascinating, important thought will creep around the edges of your mind, even while you are mentally repeating In or Out, and your thoughts go swirling after it.  You’re caught in the web again.  That’s when you need cognitive override.  As soon as you notice your mind has moved away from focus on your breath or your steps, you have a choice: to return to a mindful focus or to follow the train of thought that is tempting you.  If your intention is to clear your head, or to restore energy and release stress so that your body can focus on healing, you must choose to override the distracting voice.  It’s a choice you’ll make over and over, even on a ten-minute walk.  Each time you override a distraction, you are making a choice to take control of one small behavior – a choice that supports your healing.

Robert Thayer, a research psychologist at California State University, Long Beach, developed the concept of cognitive override after studying what makes some people stick with exercise programs while others drop out.  The bottom line in predicting lasting success with any exercise program, he says, often turns out to be cognitive override.

“Cognitive override is a term I made up to describe how people can use information from previous experiences to enable them to override a bodily impulse not to engage in activity,” Thayer says.  “If you are too tired to move, but you know, because you have done it before, that once you start to walk you won’t feel as tired, then you can override the impulse to sit.  You go exercise even when you don’t initially feel like it,” he says.

Cognitive override – the use of memory, information, and personal experience – is a process of talking yourself into doing something you know will produce a positive outcome, even though it seems daunting.  “Think of cognitive override as muscle strengthening,” Thayer says.  “There’s a learning curve.  When you practice something over and over, you learn to do it better.”

Cognitive override is perhaps the most valuable tool that you can take from this book.  Appreciate it.  Remember it.  Use it.  Cognitive override is not easy or automatic.  It always requires a conscious choice to “override” some behavior that seems tempting at the moment – the urge to sleep a few more moments, or check your email instead of going out for a walk.  Cognitive override enables you to use your own mental skills to make the choice that is, ultimately, in your own best interest.  If you have a job and you need to keep it, it’s in your best interest to get up when the alarm goes off, even though you’d love to sleep in.  If awareness of calories and sugar intake is important to your health, a second piece of cake is not in your best interest. . . no matter how tempting it sounds at the moment.

If you long for peace of mind, renewed energy, and healthy balance in your life, it’s in your best interest to make time for activities, such as walking, that restore wholeness of body, mind, and spirit.  When you combine cognitive override with focused breathing and rhythmic movement, you choose a path that makes miracles possible. You clear your mind to see fresh views, as I did when I hiked to a new point of view about my cancer treatment by taking one-step-for-ward-at-a-time.

 An Air of Determination

Stephen Gaudet knows more than most of us about the significant bond between cognitive override, fresh air, and survival.  Born with severe asthma, Stephen grew up wheezing.  Hospitalizations punctuated his childhood and isolated him in a social corner where he felt excluded from normal activities and school connections.

“I was embarrassed by my illness,” he says.  “I had a really bad childhood.  I couldn’t do anything physical and I hated PE.  Having a chronic disease really messes up your self-image.”  Asthma guided him into a career as a respiratory therapist in San Francisco.  As he coached patients to breathe easier, his own disease progressed to “fixed” asthma, a term that indicates permanent, irreparable lung damage, similar to emphysema.  His lung capacity hovers at about 36 percent of normal.

At age forty-nine, frequent asthma flare-ups turned Stephen into a patient more often than a therapist.  When disability forced him to give up his job, he slumped into weight gain and depression.  It took a year of grieving and lethargy before he found the energy to prod himself out of the chair by the television.  “Rather than become a couch potato and feeling sorry for myself, I wanted to see if I could slow the progress of my disease with a self-directed fitness regimen, and maybe lose some of the weight I’d gained from steroid treatments,” he says.

Using his training as a respiratory therapist and his determination to survive, he set up a personal fitness program.  “Exercise is very counterintuitive when you have lung disease, because you can’t breathe.  But I knew I had to do something,” he says.  “I had to condition myself to get used to the feeling of being short of breath.”  He tried biking and jogging but found that both activities left him breathless in a matter of minutes.  Walking seemed to be all that he had left, so he started out with a few blocks a day.

He set a daily goal of one-half mile, the round-trip distance from his home on the north shore of San Francisco Bay to the nearest grocery store.  Almost anything could make him gasp, even a change in the weather.  He carried an inhaler the way that other walkers tote water bottles.  Gradually, he pushed his distances until he was walking five miles at a time.  And he was beginning to feel good.  Beginning to feel like he could do things that normal people do.  “I feel like I’m taking an active role in my own health.  That makes me feel good about myself.”

In 2009, five years after he started walking, Stephen pushed himself beyond “normal” when he became the first severe asthmatic in history to complete the Boston Marathon.  His achievement wasn’t a race for time as much as a race for respect.  To finish the 26.2-mile course, he walked for seven hours and thirty-two minutes, an average pace of 17.22 minutes per mile.  It’s a snail’s pace for marathoners – but a victorious pace for a survivor competing against medical expectations and physical limits.

The achievement did not come without risk.  Stephen spent five days in a Boston hospital following the marathon, but does not hesitate when asked if the reward outweigh the risks in such events.  “Absolutely,” he says.  “How many people with end-stage lung disease have finished the Boston Marathon?”

Some specialists warn that he is living dangerously by tackling marathons, but Stephen credits walking with keeping him alive. “I am absolutely convinced that I would be dead without an exercise program,” he says.  Medical approval from Stephen’s pulmonary specialist was a requirement for participation in the Boston Marathon.  The six-hour time limit applied to most participants was waived, making completion, not speed, the record that mattered.

“Walking has opened a new world to me,” says Stephen, who entered his first marathon in 2006 and completed three more before gaining entry to the Boston event.  “Walking has given me the confidence to do things.  Walking definitely made me feel better about myself.”

Although walking has not expanded his lung capacity, Stephen’s breathing has stabilized, rather than decreased, in recent years.  And walking has produced huge increases in other areas of his life.  It has opened him to aspirations and fulfillment that carry him beyond the daily rituals that maintain his lungs.

“Everything in my life revolves around my lungs, but there are brief moments when I’m walking that everything clicks and I forget about my lungs and my limitations.  I feel like I’m on top of the world.  I feel like I’m flying.  If I can get that feeling, it’s a very good day.  I can tell you this, I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.”

Taking a Stand for Air

Breathing is something most of us can take for granted.  Yes, a long flight of stairs may produce a bit of huffing and puffing.  A dash for the bus or a walk up the hills of San Francisco might leave you feeling winded.  But unlike Stephen, most of us pay little day-to-day attention to the process that keeps us alive.  Breath is the spirit of life.  It is both the fuel that sustains our physical existence and the symbol of a spiritual essence larger than our human selves.

Many spiritual traditions acknowledge the significance of breath.  Words for breath often have relationship to words that mean spirit.  In Latin, the word spiritus means both “breath” and “spirit.”  Sanskrit, the term prana refers to the life force carried in the breath.  In English, the words spirit, inspire, aspire, and expire all share the same core, spir.  So when we speak of respiration, perhaps we are really saying that we are “re-spiriting” ourselves.  When we are inspired, we feel the spirit move into us.  And when someone expires, the spirit exits the body.  Aspirations are goals the spirit moves toward.

If you define breath as life and spirit, wouldn’t you aspire to get as much as possible?  To re-spirit your cells and your soul with full, deep respiration?

This week, open your mind, and your posture, to fresh air – the catalyst for miracles and mental breakthroughs.

POETRY: Knowledge, by Justine Ward

The knowledge of the Lord is in the earth,
in the seed and the sap and in the stem,
in the root and the flower of Bethlehem
and the rock that gave shelter to His birth.

The knowledge of the Lord is in the breath
of the spring and the seasons as they meet,
in the waves that grew strong beneath His feet
and the rock that was riven at His death

POETRY: A Wish, by The Author of “In The House of My Pilgrimage”

Now, Jesus, Mary’s Son, be unto thee
As to Saint Andrew, in perplexity:

As for Saint Thomas, with new fervor bless
Thy faith, if thou be held of doubtfulness:

As to Saint Peter, His love bring relief,
If any time His Look do cause thee grief:

As to Saint John, the troubled years but prove
More clearly in thy soul that God is Love.

Thou, like Saint Paul in his despondency,
Find Jesus’s grace sufficient unto thee.

And, if thy feet go slow for weight of care,
Know, like Saint Christopher, thou dost Christ bear.

Archangel Michael still thy patron be
Pattern and flow’r of heavenly chivalry:

And such sweet eyes as Mary’s, full of grace,
Be the most constant mirror to thy face.

Yea, Jesus be Himself to thee the Same
As that He is declared by His Name.

WISDOM: Gifts Of Deeper Insights, by Harley H. Schmitt

From Many Gifts, One Lord

The gifts of wisdom, knowledge, and discerning of spirits belong together.  The first gift in this category is introduced as “the utterance of wisdom” and “the utterance of knowledge.”  The words in English seem almost synonymous.  However, in the Greek language both have distinct meanings.  If we do not differentiate between the two we will likely end up with confusion and miss the blessing.  Scripture has these insights:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. (Proverbs 9:10)

The fear of the Lord is at the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. (Psalm 111:10)

Most definitions we find in commentaries are very general and do not add much clarity, as William Barclay shows when he defines wisdom as knowledge:

The Greek word which we have translated wisdom is sophia.  It is defined by Clement of Alexandria as “the knowledge of things human and divine and of their causes.”  Aristotle described it as “striving after the best ends and using the best means.” (The Letter to the Corinthians)

Although wisdom is listed first and knowledge second, we will take them in reverse order because doing so will enhance understanding the unique characteristics of each.  A word of knowledge is a proclamation of truth as from the heart of God, a word from God.

A word of knowledge might best be explained as proclaiming an understanding of a truth of God or shedding light on a mystery of God.  Knowledge is more than a revelation of facts that people could have come to know in another way.  It is also more than mere knowing about the things of God; it is knowing the truth.  We might compare knowledge to the teaching of Jesus about the relationship between Father and the Son (Luke 10:22) and the teaching of Paul in the first part of Ephesians as it relates the plan of God.

Paul seems to allude to the difference between knowledge and wisdom when he says,

Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish.  But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.  None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Corinthians 2:6-8)

A word of wisdom or the utterance of wisdom adds depth and practicality to a word of knowledge.  An utterance of wisdom is concerned with the best and most beneficial and practical way to live.  A word of knowledge without practical application only leads to confusion, frustration, and despair because it lacks relevance.

Wisdom puts the needed relevance into knowledge and shows its practical application so that beneficial results are achieved in everyday life.

The original text in 1 Corinthians 12:28 uses both “utterance of knowledge” (logos gnosis) and “utterance of wisdom” (logos sopia).  A word of knowledge has to do with the revelations and expression of truth.

Rudolf Bultmann states,

The Old Testament view is that knowledge is insight into the will of God in command and blessing.  The Christian view of knowledge is thus largely determined by the Old Testament.  An obedient and grateful acknowledgement of the deeds and demands of God is linked with knowledge of God and what He has done and demands. (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament)

But wisdom gives us the practical guidance to know how to use a word of knowledge in life-enhancing ways.  Gerhard Friedrich says that wisdom is

the gift of knowing God’s statues – a gift sought from God as Ruler of the world.  God dwells within us in His Word of faith, in calling to His promise, in the wisdom of the statues and in the commandments of doctrine is also the divinely revealed knowledge of the hidden secrets of God which no one knows but the wise and understanding man and the man who loves the Lord.  This wisdom is often sharply differentiated from general human wisdom. (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament)

A word of knowledge therefore is the truth.  It is the master plan from the master architect.  It is from the heart of God.  It is a word that is essential and addresses life at its source for our well-being.  In order to experience that well-being, a word of wisdom is needed to provide direction as to how that word of knowledge is to be applied so that it will bring the greatest blessings.

The addition of wisdom to knowledge is immensely valuable in many aspects of life.  An example of knowledge without wisdom from everyday life is when a medical doctor tells a patient, “Our tests show you have cancer and it is serious.”  Not to add a word of encouragement and tell the person about some hopeful solution would lead to despair.

In counseling it is one thing to say to an individual, “I believe you have some feelings of bitterness toward your mother.”  That is a word of knowledge.  It may well be the truth.  But how does one change from bitterness to forgiveness?  A word of wisdom might suggest confession, absolution, and other appropriate counsel that would empower the person to be set free from the bitterness.

These examples show how important it is to have a helpful and practical word of wisdom along with a word of knowledge so the individual is not left hanging without hope.

The word of knowledge and the word of wisdom work through our intelligence and understanding.  God uses those natural gifts which we already have and which he has already given us, but we need to surrender what we have in order to allow God to use us and manifest himself.  God is a perfect gentleman; he does not force anything on anyone which they do not desire.  So we need to make our faculties available for the Spirit of God to use.

This means that the Spirit, through God’s grace, inspires a person to proclaim a truth and see things and circumstances from the same perspective that God sees them.  When this individual has yielded to the Spirit of God in this way, he or she is empowered to speak them to others so they also come to such a point.

We see an example of the word of wisdom when Jesus as a twelve-year-old was in the temple sitting among the teachers.  This seems like a time in the life of a child when we do not expect much in terms of maturity.  But we read that they “were amazed at his understanding,” (Luke 2:47).  Apparently something unusual had taken place in the life of this boy of twelve.  He had come to an understanding of truth as it was revealed by God and shared it with those in the temple.  They also came to share in that word of wisdom – a practical and relevant word that amazed them.  It was a word of knowledge that went beyond merely an exchange of facts and became wisdom that was relevant and useful for their lives.

An example of a word of knowledge would be when Jesus confronted the rich young man with the law stating, “You know the commandments,” (Mark 10:19).  This was the truth.  It was truth that the young man already new.  The deeper truth is that God should come first.  He knew the truth but did not apply it in his life.  He had come to Jesus with a simple question, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  We can speculate about his motivation.  The root problem may have been self-righteousness, idolatry, materialism, or pride.  The problem was dealt with in a word of knowledge revealing the truth which was the law but was followed by a practical application of the law which was a word of wisdom.  “Go, well what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven; then come, follow me,” (Mark 10:21).  Jesus in his wisdom and love cut through externals, reached down to the very root of this man’s problem, and dealt with it.  He saw a man who had a deeper problem; his god was his possessions.  A word of knowledge was followed by a word of wisdom with specific practical application.  Unfortunately, the man did not receive it and “went away grieving,” (Mark 10:22).

Another example would be when Peter addressed the council in Jerusalem stating that the Gentiles should not follow the full law of Moses.  This was an utterance of wisdom.  Much of Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 12-14 is an utterance of wisdom, a practical application of the Word of God.

There is a difference between what we know through the natural process of learning and Spirit-inspired knowledge and wisdom.  The Spirit of God touches our spirit in a way that natural learning cannot do, simply because it is a “manifestation” of the Spirit of Christ within a person.  It makes a deep and unexplainable impact.  It is a phenomenon that goes beyond the ordinary.  It is Spirit touching spirit, whereas the natural can only touch the natural.  For this reason Paul states,

Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned, (1 Corinthians 2:14).

I have been present when someone has shared a word of knowledge or wisdom.  It may not necessarily have been a completely new truth.  But when it was completed, I felt that I had been in the presence of God.

The word for discerning of spirits (v. 10) also comes from two Greek words.  The first word is dia meaning “through,” “by means of,” “by,” or “with.”  The second word, krino, means “to separate,” “to judge,” “to sentence,” “to decide,” or “to determine.”  It belongs to the knowledge and wisdom family but it is a gift for determining the source of something.

In the discerning of spirits, Christianity teaches three negative sources of origin.  Luther referred to them as the devil, the world, and the flesh.  Discerning of spirits is a specific gift that gives people insight for determining whether what is spoken, said, or done is from the Lord or from some other source.

This experience into the gifts of deeper insight requires that we learn how to surrender our thoughts so that we can yield our mind to the Spirit of God, touching the very heart of God.  As we from time to time reach such dimensions, the Spirit of God through grace gives us privileges and blessings beyond our fondest expectations.



WISDOM: How Will I Know Truth When I See It?, by Joan Chittister

From Welcome to the Wisdom of the World

Monasteries are curious places.  To the occasional monastery-watcher, they can seem so uniform, so boringly organized.  Monastics, for the most part, live a common schedule, say a common set of prayers, live under a common Rule of life.  They eat together, live together, work together day after day for years and are formed together all their lives.  The inclination is to assume that monastic communities are one-dimensional places that spawn one-dimensional people.  Maybe, but not in any monastery I know, regardless of the tradition, however undifferentiated the group.  Not in my monastery for sure.

In fact, I sat with a group of Eastern and Western monastics at an international meeting recently, fascinated by their apparent sameness and acutely aware of the differences among them at the same time.  They all wore long robes.  (But no, come to think about it, they didn’t.  I didn’t, for instance.)  They all wore some identifying mark, at least – beads or pins, or crosses, or colors of robes or shawls or cinctures.

The swamis came in wearing orange robes but soon began to appear in small wool skull caps – a grey one here, a white one there.  The Buddhists wore sandals, some with socks, some without them.  The Western monastics wore robes or pants, simple street clothes or long burka-like dresses.

All of them, almost every one of them, in other words, deviated at least a bit from the norms of even their own groups.  Who was the perfect monastic, then?  Who was the one who lived the monastic ideal most truly?  And did it matter?  Did it really affect the degree to which they lived the real monastic ideal?  What was truth here, where, even among those most intent on putting down all the nonessentials of life, no absolute norm seemed to apply?

Then, all of a sudden, I began to wonder if the real question might now be, Is uniformity really a measure of anything, including holiness?  Maybe it is we who have the great need to reduce sanctity to some kind of spiritual sameness.  Maybe those who are truly simple and open to the workings of God in life are the ones who know best that it is very easy to make a god even out of devotion, even out of detachment, even out of self-effacement.  Is it really self-effacing to have to stand out for being perfectly self-effacing?

I have often wondered over the years whether it isn’t precisely what appears to be a common mold that is itself the ground for differences.  Isn’t difference in the face of the commonplace the very sign of the singular and intimate relationship between God and every one of us, individual and separate?  Here in the place of homogeneity, in fact, the most minuscule differences glare like beacons in the night.

However uniform monastics may look, differences mark us like the mist of soft snow in winter, barely visible and silent – but certain.  So, in all our sameness, differences abound.

If anything, then, monasteries are a study, a reminder to us all, of the irrepressible in human nature.  Behind every long leather cincture of plain black belt lives a personality that, like the rest of us, is struggling its perfectly particular way toward God.  At least ours did.

Sister Rosalia, for instance, had been a first-grade teacher all her life.  Her soul operated on an invisible clock.  She walked out the door of the small convent in which we lived to cross the church parking lot to her classroom at the same time every morning, and she returned at the same time every night.  Rosalia was the epitome of regularity, and order, and fidelity.

She was what my novice mistress called a model of the “living Rule.”  She kept silence – always at night, almost always during the day.  She never consorted with “seculars.”  She walked head down, eyes on the ground – just as the spiritual masters for centuries had recommended we do as an aid to acquiring perpetual “recollection” or consciousness of God.  Her room was sparse and antiseptic to the core.  She cut no corners, took no liberties, strayed from none of the disciplines.

Sister Rosalia was the walking symbol of the ideal.  Somebody’s ideal, at least.

Sister Marie Claire, on the other hand, was not.

Sister Marie Claire, a music teacher, lived strewing beauty wherever she went.  She had mysterious ways of getting cut flowers of extraordinary color for her music room, grew pots full of African violets large and full and in jungle proportions everywhere.  They covered every window sill in her music room, overflowed into the guest parlors, grew recklessly in the solarium, multiplied and multiplied and multiplied.  Marie Claire brought a sense of abundance to life.

As far as Marie Claire was concerned, nothing was impossible, nothing was forbidden.  People flocked to her music room for counsel, for support, for fun.  She stayed there – long after the little music students had gone home, long after the rest of us had already gone upstairs to read in silence – meeting people, holding court.  You could hear the laughter, muted but regular, wafting up the front stairwell far into the evening hours.

Marie Claire lived, generous and open-hearted, an Auntie Mame figure who swept into every room with a smile on her face and a warm handshake or arm hold for every person there.

Marie Claire was no “walking symbol of an otherworldly ideal.”  No, she was instead an icon of the spirit of religious life, the irrepressible joy that comes with confidence that whatever is, is good – or will be, somehow, someday, somewhere.

Now, here’s the problem: Which of them was really true to Truth?  Which of them was truly religious?  Which of them made religious life true?

The struggle to recognize the truer truth is not new to monasticism or to life in general.  Strands of the problem emerge in the definition of sainthood from one century to the next.  In almost every case, great people have been identified by some as saints and by others, good people themselves, just as certainly, as sinners.  Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Thomas Merton, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Pope John XXIII – Jesus – were all a sign of truth to some, a sign of contradiction to others.  So how do we know where truth lies?

The monastics of the desert faced the problem, too.  They preserved in the monastic literature of the third century a small story that invites us all to go on wrestling with the problem, even here, even now.

Once upon a time, a brother wanted to see Abba Arsenius at Scetis.  When he came to the church, he asked the clergy if he could visit with Abba Arsenius.

They said to him, “Brother, have a little refreshment and then go and see him.”

But the brother said, “I shall not eat anything till I have met him.”

So, because Arsenius’s cell was far away, they sent a brother with him.  Having knocked on the door, they entered, greeted the old man, and sat down without saying anything.  Then the brother from the church said, “I will leave you now.  Pray for me.”

But the visiting brother, not feeling at ease with the old man, said, “I will come with you,” so they both left together.

Then, when they were outside the cell of Abba Arsenius, the visitor said, “Take me to Abba Moses, who used to be a robber.”

When they arrived, the Abba welcomed them joyfully.  Then, after visiting a while, Abba Moses took leave of them with delight.

The brother who had brought the visitor said to his companion, “See, I have taken you to the foreigner, Arsenius from Rome, and to the Egyptian, Moses.  Which of the two do you prefer?

“As for me,” the visitor replied, “I prefer the Egyptian.”

Now a Father who heard this prayed to God saying, “Lord, explain this matter to me: for Thy name’s sake, the one flees from men, and the other, for Thy name’s sake, receives them with open arms.”

Now just then two large boats were shown to him on a river, and he saw Abba Arsenius and the Spirit of God sailing in the one, in perfect peace.  And in the other was Abba Moses with the angels of God.  And they were all eating honey cakes.

We are left with an important question for our own lives: Which of them, Abba Arsenius or Abba Moses, embodied Absolute Truth?  And if both did, is Absolute Truth nearly as absolute as we like to think it is?  Is the illusion of alternatives really the most untrue thing of all?

Isn’t the real truth that both men showed us not only a different spiritual gift but also a different face of the God who is all being, all Truth, as well?  In them the truth we really see is that the God of mystery is many-sided.  There is no one truth that is the total truth of God.  We each embody a bit of it; we all lack the rest of it.  Even together we are not the voice of God because we simply do not speak the language or understand the language or know the whole of the language that is the Word of God.

We pretend we do, of course.  We tell ourselves and everyone else that we know truth, that we are it, that to be true everyone else must follow us.  Such arrogance would be sinful if it weren’t so laughable.

And yet we all know, too, that there are some things that are really not true, cannot be true, will never be true.

So what is the key to the recognition of truth?  Easy: truth is what truth does.  When that which purports to be true – the perfect government, the true church – sins against the truth that must be God, sins against the justice, the goodness, the love, the openness that must be God, then something is untrue about the truth it is teaching.

I was young when I lived with Sister Rosalia and Sister Marie Claire, but I understood the problem immediately.  I had to figure out what truth was here.  Which one of them really incarnated what it was to be a “religious”?  Which one of them was truly a nun?  Which one of them gave me the whole picture of what religious life was meant to be?

It took some years to really understand the implications of the question, but eventually I saw what was there for me to see.  The truth is that they both, each in her own way, were the best we had to offer.

When Sister Rosalia died – valiant, steady, just a little woman – we cried.  The community had lost a saint.

When Sister Marie Claire died – open, great-hearted, free, loving – we cried.  The community had lost a saint.

The real truth is that God is too great to be lost in the smallness of any single sliver of life.  Truth is One, yes, but truth is many at the same time.

The greatest danger of them all may be in buying into too small a part of the truth.  When that happens, change, growth, repentance, and development are impossible.  We find ourselves frozen into the shards of yesterday.

If the question is, How shall I know the truth when I see it? the answer must be, truth is that which does the good of God and does it kindly so that none of the people of God are hurt by it.

Truth is the Jesus who said, in the face of the rules, “Rise and walk,” and in the face of destructive license, “Go and sin no more,” and in the face of irresponsible affluence, “Go and sell what you have and give to the poor,” and in the face of human needs, “The Sabbath was made for us, not we for the Sabbath.”  There are no rules of any institution anywhere that supersede the truth that is the love of God.

Truth is not any one truth, not any one institution, not any one way.  Nor can we truly bend ourselves to all of them.  Instead, each of us must live out our own singular piece of the truth with love.  What else can possibly be the final test of what is truly true?



THE NECESSITY OF PRAYER, by Francis de Sales

From Introduction to the Devout Life


Prayer opens the understanding to the brightness of Divine Light, and the will to the warmth of Heavenly Love – nothing can so effectually purify the mind from its many ignorances, or the will from its perverse affections.  It is as a healing water which causes the roots of our good desires to send forth fresh shoots, which washes away the soul’s imperfections, and allays the thirst of passion.


But especially I commend earnest mental prayer to you, more particularly such as bears upon the Life and Passion of our Lord.  If you contemplate Him frequently in meditation, your whole soul will be filled with Him, you will grow in His Likeness, and your actions will be molded on His.  He is the Light of the world; therefore in Him, by Him, and for Him we shall be enlightened and illuminated; He is the Tree of Life, beneath the shadow of which we must find rest; He is the Living Fountain of Jacob’s well, wherein we may wash away every stain.  Children learn to speak by hearing their mother talk, and stammering forth their childish sounds in imitation; and so if we cleave to the Savior in meditation, listening to His words, watching His actions and intentions, we shall learn in time, through His Grace, to speak, act, and will like Himself.

Believe me, my daughter, there is no way to God save through this door.  Just as the glass of a mirror would give no reflection save for the metal behind it, so neither could we here below contemplate the Godhead, were it not united to the Sacred Humanity of our Savior, Whose Life and Death are the best, sweetest, and most profitable subjects that we can possibly select for meditation.  It is not without meaning that the Savior calls Himself the Bread come down from Heaven; just as we eat bread and all manner of other food, so we need to meditate and feed upon our Dear Lord in every prayer and action.  His Life has been meditated and written about by various authors.  I should specially commend to you the writings of St. Bonaventure, Bellintani, Bruno, Capilla, Grenada, and Da Ponte.


Give an hour every day to meditation before dinner; if you can, let it be early in the morning, when your mind will be less cumbered,and fresh after the night’s rest.  Do not spend more than an hour thus, unless specially advised to do so by your spiritual father.


If you can make your meditation quietly in church, it will be well, and no one, father or mother, husband or wife, can object to an hour spent there, and very probably you could not secure a time so free from interruption at home.


Begin all prayer, whether mental or vocal, by an act of the Presence of God.  If you observe this rule strictly, you will soon see how useful it is.


It may help you to say the Creed, Lord’s Prayer, et cetera, in Latin, but you should also study them diligently in your own language, so as thoroughly to gather up the meaning of these holy words, which must be used fixing your thoughts steadily on their purport, not striving to say many words so much as seeking to say a few with your whole heart.  One Our Father said devoutly is worth more than many prayers hurried over.


The Rosary is a useful devotion when rightly used, and there are various little books to teach this.  It is well, too, to say pious Litanies, and the other vocal prayers appointed for the Hours and found in Manuals of devotion.  But if you have a gift for mental prayer, let that always take the chief place, so that if, having made that, you are hindered by business or any other cause from saying your wonted vocal prayers, do not be disturbed, but rest satisfied with saying the Lord’s Prayer, the Angelic Salutation, and the Creed after your meditations.


If, while saying vocal prayers, your heart feels drawn to mental prayer, do not resist it, but calmly let your mind fall into that channel, without troubling because you have not finished your appointed vocal prayers.  The mental prayer you have substituted for them is more acceptable to God, and more profitable to your soul.  I should make an exception of the Church’s Offices, if you are bound to say those by your vocation – in such a case these are your duty.


If it should happen that your morning goes by without the usual meditation, either owing to a pressure of business, or from any other cause (which interruptions you should try to prevent as far as possible), try to repair the loss in the afternoon, but not immediately after a meal, or you will perhaps be drowsy, which is bad both for your meditation and your health.  But if you are unable all day to make up for the omission, you must remedy it as far as may be by ejaculatory prayer, and by reading some spiritual book, together with an act of penitence for the neglect, together with a steadfast resolution to do better the next day.



SERMON: Sermon 47, by Johannes Tauler

Divisiones ministrationum sunt, idem autem spiritus. . .

There are different kinds of gifts, though it is the same Spirit
(1 Corinthians 12:6)

Saint Paul says in today’s Epistle: “There are different kinds of gifts, though it is the same Spirit who is imparted to each man to make the best advantage of it.”  It is one and the same Spirit who works equally in all things.  We all receive a revelation so that we may use it to our best profit and advantage.  To one is given the gift of knowledge, that he may expound the faith, through the same Spirit who works differently in someone else.  Saint Paul lists a great number of gifts, which are all the work of one and the same Spirit, and on the whole he mentions those which bear witness to the faith.

In times past the Holy Spirit worked wondrous things in those who loved him in testimony to the faith; great signs and manifold prophecies came to pass.  There is less need of these today.  Know, however, that nowadays there is less genuine faith alive among Christians than there is among pagans and Jews.

Let us now consider the words of Saint Paul: “There are different kinds of gifts though it is the same Spirit who performs them.”  Beloved, you can observe in the natural order that the body has many different parts and senses, and how each particular part, whether it is eye, ear, mouth, hand, or foot, has its own special functions, its own work to perform.  There can be no question of one wanting to perform the work of the other, or to be anything other than what God has meant it to be.  Now, we too are all one body and Christ is its head.  In this body the parts are very different from one another.  One of us is an eye, another is a hand, someone else is a foot, a mouth, or an ear.  The eyes in the body of Holy Christendom are the spiritual masters; that is something you need not concern yourselves with.  But we ordinary Christians ought to examine carefully what is our work to which our Lord has called and invited us, and what the grace is the Lord has granted us, because every service or activity,  however insignificant, is a grace, and it is the same Spirit which produces them all for the use and profit of mankind.

Let us start with the humblest task: One person knows how to spin, another how to make shoes; some people are good at practical things, which they perform to best advantage; others are not.  All these graces are God-given, the work of his Spirit.

Believe me, if I were not a priest and a religious, I should be very proud to make shoes, and I should try to make them as best as I can, and I should be glad to earn my living with my own hands.

Beloved, foot or hand must not want to be an eye.  Everyone ought to do that work to which God has called him, no matter how modest.  Thus each of our Sisters has her own work entrusted to her.  Some of them can sing beautifully, and they are responsible for the Divine Office.  This is all the work of God’s Spirit.  Saint Augustine said: “God is unvarying, divine and simple, and yet works in all things in diverse ways.  He is one in all, and all in one.”  There is no task so small, so insignificant or menial, that it is not a proof of God’s special grace.  Everyone should do for his neighbor what his neighbor cannot do as well for himself, and that way, by his love, grace gives way to grace.  You may be sure of this: If we are not giving and helpful to our neighbor, we shall have to account for it before God, for as the gospel tells us, everyone will have to give an account of his stewardship.  Each one of us must return to our brothers as best as he can what he has received from God.

Why is it, then, there is so much grumbling, everyone complaining that his word stands in the way of his sanctification?  It is God who gave him his work, and God never put a hindrance in our way.  Why are people so discontented and dissatisfied?  Is not all work imparted to man by God’s Spirit?  And yet we do not see it that way and we remain disappointed. You must know that it is not the work that causes your trouble but the disordered way in which you go about it.  If you did your work, as you easily could, and as you certainly should, meaning God alone and not yourself, you would not be anxious to please or afraid to displease anyone; you would not be asking for your own profit or pleasure, because you would seek God’s glory alone in all your activities.  If you looked at it that way, neither reproach nor scruples could trouble you.  Any spiritual person ought to be ashamed of doing his work in such a disordered way, and with so little purity of intention, that it openly causes him anxiety.  This only shows that the works were not done in God nor were they caused by genuine and pure love for God and for the benefit of his neighbor.  If you remain content in your work it will be a proof, to you and to others, that you have been keeping your eye on God alone.

When our Lord reproved Martha, it was not because of her work – it was good and holy – but because she was overly concerned.

We must perform good and useful work, in whatever way it comes to us; the care, however, should be left to God.  We ought to do our work meticulously, silently, and with inward recollection.  With such a disposition we shall draw God into it, for the eyes of our soul will be turned inward, devoutly and lovingly.  And always we should examine our motives and rectify our intentions.  We must listen to the Holy Spirit, whether he prompts us to rest or to work, and then be faithful to his promptings.  If he wishes us to rest, let us rest; if he wishes us to work, then let us do it with good cheer.  When we come across the old and sick and inform, let us anticipate their needs and rush to their aid; we should vie with one another for the privilege to perform a work of love, always bearing the other’s burdens.  You may be sure that if you fail to do this, God will take the task away from you and give it to someone else who will do it promptly, and you will be left useless and empty of virtue and grace.  And if while you are at work you feel God’s hidden touch, give it all your attention without neglecting your work.  Learn to draw God into your activities and do not remove yourself from his touch.

This, my Beloved, is the way to practice the virtues.  For practice we must, if we are to become masters.  Do not expect, however, that God will infuse you with virtues without any effort on your part.  Never believe that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will simply flow into a person who has not been bent on acquiring virtue.  Such virtue counts for very little unless it has been learned by intense effort, within as well as without.

There was once a farmer who fell into a state of rapture while threshing corn; if an angel had not come and held the flail, he would have certainly struck himself.  And yet you are asking forever to be given free time for contemplation, or at least this is what you say.  And yet there is a lot of laziness in this.  Everyone wants to be an eye; all want to contemplate and no one wants to perform the work.

I know a man much favored by God’s grace: All his days he has been a ploughman.  He has followed the plough for forty years, and that is what he does to this day.  He once asked our Lord whether he should give up work and go and sit in church.  The answer was: No, he did not want that.  He wanted him to go on earning his bread with the sweat of his brow to the honor of his most precious blood.

A man ought to find some suitable time, during the day or night, to sink into his depth, each according to his own fashion.  Let those noble creatures who are wholly steeped in God, without the aid of sensible images, do that; that is their way.  And let the others do whatever suits them best, spending a good hour in spiritual exercises, each according to his own fashion, for we cannot all be eyes and give ourselves up to contemplation.

Let them devote themselves to those spiritual exercises to which they have been called, and let them do this with deep love, in peace and purity of heart, according to God’s wish.  When we serve God according to his will, we shall receive an answer according to our own will.  But if we serve him according to our own human will, God will not answer according to our own, but according to his, God’s will.

From such self-denial is born an essential peace, the fruit of all our exercises of virtue.  You may be sure that a peace which does not grow out of this is a false peace.  It must be practiced actively and passively: The peace that arises from your interior life, no one will be able to take from you.

Along come the conceited people with their pretensions: They have their own theories, and they want to judge everyone accordingly.  Forty years they have spent in the religious life and they still do not know what they are about.  They are much bolder than I am.  I have been called to teach, but when I listen to such people I wonder in what state they are and how they arrive at their conclusions.  But even then I do not pass judgment, and I turn to our Lord; and if I fail to receive an answer, I say to them: “My dear people, address yourselves to the Lord!  He will judge you aright.”  You,  however, wish to assign a place to everyone and judge them according to your private opinions.

Now the worms begin to eat away at the tender plant that was meant to grow in God’s garden.  And those others will say: “This is not the customary way, it must be some new fad and it smacks of novelty.”  What they forget is that God’s ways are mysterious and hidden to them.  How surprised will they, who are so sure of themselves now, be one the day of judgment?

Saint Paul teaches that it is the Spirit who bestows the gift of discerning knowledge.  Who, do you think, are the people on whom God has conferred that gift?  You may be certain that they are those far advanced in the spiritual life, so far that it pervades their very being.  They have withstood the most terrifying and severe temptations as well as the attacks of the evil one, attacks so fierce that they shook them through bone and marrow.  These are the people who possess the gift of discerning knowledge.  If they want to avail themselves of this gift and observe others, they recognize right away whether it is God’s Spirit that is at work in them, which path will lead to their sanctification and what may hinder their progress.

Alas, we forfeit truth in such a pernicious way; and we do this for the sake of such trivialities.  As a result we incur the loss of the most sublime truth now and forever, throughout God’s eternity.  What we neglect now will never be ours.

May God help us to perform the work to which his Spirit has called us, each according to the revelation he has received.




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

From Simply Christian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spirit, Word, and Wisdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toward Christian Spirituality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glimpsing the Triune God

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

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

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

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

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

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