HEALING: The Difference Between Knowledge And Understanding

Somewhere, sometime, someone turned the light on us.

To my mind, it all began with Freud, with his glaring assertions that he could look inside me and tell me who I am.

And then came the obsession with everyone, everywhere, telling everybody else everything there was to know about them.

When I was three, I tripped over a tree root in the forest and got a bloody nose.

And so on.

It came, I think, from the belief that things known, things brought to consciousness, are good things.

That in order to heal, knowledge is key.

Knowledge, in today’s thinking, is our saving grace.

Leaving aspects of our lives in our unconscious is considered unhealthy.

It assumes, of course, that healing is up to the human being; that God and life and time have little, if anything, to do with it.

A scrubbed soul is a good soul.

I remember when I first began studying soul structure, and, perhaps because they were unique and somewhat easy to study, I began with evil soul structures.

The big guys – Satan, the devil, and the antiChrist – had their own distinctive formations.  But along with them, as I studied other souls that marched by me – something along the lines of the formal dress competition in a beauty pageant – came a number of interesting studies.

One was of a woman who did not like it when anything real, anything tangible, came into her soul.

A soul is made up of the “dirt” of our lives.  The experiences.  Good and bad.  Everyday experiences.  Sudden catastrophes.  Whatever.  It all goes into our souls.  What we do with this “dirt” is pretty much up to us.  Do we take our lives and work with what has happened to us and use it for our own good and for the good of others?  Or do we look askance at this event and that occurrence and judge God and life and everyone around us for “letting” it happen to us?

The first way of handling life, quite obviously, results in a healthy soil.  A place where our spirituality, our connectedness to God, can grow and flourish.

The second way leads to a spiritual base that is starved of health.  Slowly losing its ability to create its own soul energy, it will do what it needs to to get energy from others.  Rape.  Theft.  Gang violence.  Evil is just a method to steal from someone else the energy that keeps their souls alive and active.  This is why, sometimes, people who have been traumatized by another person can’t find their way back to a happy life.

To a sense of worth and contentment.

So imagine what happens to a soul that won’t even allow any residue from experiences to get into her soul in the first place.

I called it, the anorexic soul.

I imagine that her obsession with keeping an ever-clean soul came from the idea that everything in her life should be out there, out in the world, not buried deep inside.

And yet this not only puts the responsibility for life in the hands of man alone, it takes away any benefit that comes from non-action.  From rest.

From leaving things alone for a while.

I am using the word, knowledge, to mean, the knowing of facts.

But I find knowledge to be a living thing: something that grows (or shrinks); that modulates and transforms.  That actually changes with time and increased experience.  It is truly amazing how what we think we knew when we were one age becomes just the base for what we know at a later age.  And this growth changes the actual meaning of the facts known.

Knowledge is not a static thing.  It is ever-changing.

So how then can it be the key to healing?

Know your past, and you will be healed as though touched by a magic wand.

But our knowing of our past is also an ever-changing intelligence.  The significance of events can change with time and shifting perspectives.  (There is nothing like having one’s own child to fill in some of the blanks describing our parents’ own choice of actions.)

In addition, we can learn facts throughout our own lifetime that reshapes the whole package.

Knowledge is a prism that reflects different pictures by holding it in front of changing light.  And darkness.

Understanding, on the other hand, to me anyway, is absolute.

It’s the right key for the lock.  Once in and turned, the lock is opened.

An absolute act, with an absolute result.

There is an old joke about the feet representing understanding: because they stand under you.

But I have taken this joke to heart.

And combined it with other lessons to view understanding as the actual standing in a situation in order to experience the totality of this experience itself.

It’s not just an accumulation of data.  It is the final weaving together of the meanings that come from the facts.

The final product.

This whole musing really has to do with shadows, or darkness, or rest.

We can have all our facts, our knowledge, lined up neatly, categorized, with tabs separating the sub-sections, even, and really know nothing.  Nothing that leads to healing, anyway.

But let that knowledge sit, steep in time and inactivity, and the pieces come together like a long-simmered stew, melding and blending.

Plants, and pre-borns, and bugs, and all sorts of things in nature show us that darkness, inactivity, is a vital part of growth.

If we try to deal with God always in the light of day, in the glare of reality, then all we will get is a harsh comprehension of our relationship with him.

If we allow ourselves to be inactive, passive, quiet, still, then we find our ability to perceive God coming to us.  God acting on us.  God reaching out to us.

In my lesson of re-creation, which is essential to the understanding of healing from a God point-of-view, it is clear that when we are wounded in our souls, wounded by life’s events, that God will send us little rockets of love to try to resolve that wound.  To heal us.

I used to call these wounds, heart stones.  In that they could clog up our hearts.  And I used to watch as incident after incident would come into my life and aggravate them.  It took me a while to realize that these incidents were meant to come into my life.  That they were sent to break up the rocks that stopped my heart in certain ways.

It’s not our own knowledge that will heal us ultimately.  It’s God’s knowledge of us that will give us what we need to become whole again.

If we allow ourselves to be still.

And know that God is.


THE SHADOW: Light’s Companion, by Madeleine L’Engle

From Parabola

In A Child’s Garden of Verses, Robert Louis Stevenson writes, “I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me / and what can be the use of him is more than I can see.”  Those lines baffled me as a child.  I didn’t regard my shadow as being useful, but as being essential.  I read everything I could get hold of, and somewhere I had read that if you did not cast a shadow you didn’t exist.  Ghosts had no shadows.  I’m not sure about werewolves.  But to be a real human being, you had to cast a shadow.  I lived in New York City, and when I walked to the park I was moderately careful to walk around people’s shadows so that I didn’t step on them; I didn’t want anybody to step on mine.

My shadow was part of me, and it was the connection between the world of light and the world of dark.  The world of dark was the world of imagination, of fairies and goblins and gods and goddesses, of talking animals and heroic deeds.  The world of light was the world of reason where I learned arithmetic so that I could go to a secondhand bookstore with my allowance and buy a book, where I was expected to go to bed at a certain time, to get up at a certain time, and to eat my oatmeal without sugar.

It took me a long time to realize the importance of the shadow in keeping things in creative balance.  During the brilliance of a January day in Antarctica, we sought shadows to keep the light from blinding our eyes.  In Egypt, I learned why the women drew black lines of kohl around their eyes: to produce shadow, to protect their eyes from the fierceness of the sun.  We see because of the sun, but if there were no shadows that light would quickly blind us.  We need the shadows of buildings to protect us at least a little from heat.

It has only recently struck me that we need our shadow-casters, metaphorically as well as physically.  What in me casts shadows, and what kind?

The most exciting come when my intuition and intellect work together and cast a shadow that turns into a novel or a poem or a story.  This is the heart of my life.  My work and my vocation are one and the same.  The work casts a shadow.  It is alive.

The great artists – Bach, Shakespeare – cast the longest, longest-lasting shadows.  They were willing to put themselves and their work in the full light of the sun.  If I try to protect myself, say less than I believe, I weaken my shadow.  I am less alive.

Occasionally I read a book which casts a negative shadow, and this is frightening, because I am getting the negative shadow of the person who wrote the book.  Are there evil shadows?  Yes, and no.  Perhaps it depends on how we interpret them.  The shadows of war, for example: if we heeded the shadow, could we avoid war?  Is it that we have lost the balance of shadow and light?

If there is no light, there is no shadow.  On a night of heavy clouds when no shadows are cast I am often afraid, fearful of the loss of balance.  Everything is out of proportion.  What happens to life when there is no shadow?  Sometimes the universe seems to be holding its breath.

In our dreams, balances shift.  Sometimes dreams are dark, sometimes luminous.  The dead walk in our dreams, alive again.  In my dreams I have not thought to check: is there a shadow?  Light and shadow work together, except in nightmares where one or the other tries to take over.  In “good” dreams sometimes the light will illuminate something we haven’t noticed before.  Or sometimes the shadow will soften something sharp and painful.  There is a feeling of balance.  All is well.  There is enough light to make a good shadow.  All is alive.

One night there in New York City I walked my dog in Riverside Park.  A friend was with me, and while we were walking home she pointed out the shadows of a tree on the light walls of an apartment building.  It was like an oriental painting, delicate, and, although it was a shadow, luminous.  Sometimes I am dazzled, not knowing which is light and which is shadow.  At night when I am in the country and walk outdoors under the stars, I know that the stars are raging atomic furnaces, great bursts of flame so distant that they appear as sparkling.  The light has come from so far that the shadows it casts are faint, but they are there, an affirmation of life.

If there is not light in my mind I will not be able to enter the shadow worlds of imagination, the sometimes strange but utterly real places in which my characters move and talk.  My characters are often willing to reveal their shadows, and so they are alive.


A long time ago, when I was writing my first novel, I learned that if you look into the pupil of someone’s eye, you will see your own reflection, tiny but clear.  We tried it, amazed to see ourselves in someone else’s eye.  Something we were happy not to be able to test was that a dead person’s eye will give back no reflection.

No life, no reflection.

No life, no shadow.

No life, no time.

We tell time by measuring the length of the shadow on the sundial, long at evening, small and almost invisible at high noon.  No shadow, no time.  Is that why a dark night seems to stretch on and on, and a bright day whizzes past?

Intellect and intuition.  In the Western world we have become overdependent on the intellect, burdening ourselves with the need for scientific proof, and suffering great imbalance when we forget that fact and truth are not the same thing.  We trivialize the world of art by pretending that it is not real, that Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov is only story, that Mozart’s The Magic Flute is a random jumble of notes, that Renoir’s painting is daubs of color with little to tell us about the people on the canvas.  We want only the light of reason, forgetting that where there is only light, with no shadow, there is no life.

Usually in a society where story and myth are important, so is shadow.  Do not step on my shadow!  To step on someone’s shadow is to put that person in your power.  In Western culture, we walk casually over people’s shadows as though they don’t matter.  We bind ourselves and each other.

In the heat of the sun we shelter under the shade of a great tree.  But if lightning comes, that place of shade becomes dangerous.  In our own lives of light and shadow, there is always the danger of lightning.  We must learn when to step out of the shelter of the shadow or we may go mad as some great artists have done.  The tension is too great.

But for most of us, we seek and find balance.  It’s all right to be clumsy.  The greatest ballet dancers are clumsy when they are not in dancing shoes.

I’m not a dancer, but I love their world.  In their interpretations of life and love they remind me that the shadow world is not to be feared.  A surface reading of Freud indicates that that world is full of nastiness, repressed sex, and all kinds of ugliness; all that is there, but so is poetry and prayer and love and beauty.  Art starts in the shadows before offering its insight to the light of the mind.

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me.  On the sunny days when the shadow is actually darkest, I think of Apollo driving the chariot of the sun across the sky, and the blazing world of the intellect.  On the dark days, I go with Persephone to the underworld where intuition rules, and the imagination holds both light and dark.  The old myths help me to balance my heart and mind.

MYSTERY: Shadow Work, by Eugene H. Peterson

From Practice Resurrection

Judith is an artist.  Her primary medium is textiles.  Most of the time she begins her work with raw cotton or wool.  She cards, spins, dyes, and then weaves her fabrics.  Her weavings are usually on a small scale – a nest of birds’ eggs, a portrait of David’s Abigail, three crows – which she frames and gives as gifts to her friends.  She makes her living by repairing tapestries in museums.

Judith had an alcoholic husband and a drug-addicted son.  She had kept her life and her family together for years by attending twelve-step meetings.  One Sunday, she was about forty years old at the time, she entered the church where I was the pastor.  She came at the invitation of some friends she knew from her meetings – “You need to come to church.  I’ll meet you there.”  She had never been to church before.  She knew nothing about church.  She was raised in a morally upright home but had no acquaintance with institutional or formal religion.  In her family, God was not part of their working vocabulary.  She was well read in poetry and politics and psychology, and knew a great deal of art and artists.  But she had never read the Bible.  If she had heard the stories in the Bible she had paid no attention.  As far as she could recall, she had never been inside a church.

Something, though, caught her attention when she entered this church, and she continued to come.  In a few months, she became a Christian and I became her pastor.  I loved observing and listening to her.  Everything was new: scriptures, worship, prayer, baptism, eucharist – church!  It was a tonic to me to hear and see through her excited perceptions everything that I had lived with all my life.  All her questions were exclamations: “Where have I been all my life!  These are incredible stories – why didn’t anyone tell me these!  How come this has been going on all around me and I never knew it!”  We had delightful conversations.  We became good friends.

Meanwhile, her primary community was made up of artists – painters and poets and sculptors, mostly, with a few of her twelve-step friends sprinkled in among them.

After four years or so of this, I moved across the continent to take up a new assignment.  Letters replaced voiced conversations.  The following is a portion of a letter that is a witness to what the church’s inscape and the manifold wisdom of church feels like to a newcomer.

Dear Pastor: Among my artist friends I feel so defensive about my life – I mean about going to church.  They have no idea of what I am doing and act bewildered.  So I try to be unobtrusive about it.  But as my church life takes on more and more importance – it is essential now to my survival – it is hard to shield it from my friends.  I feel protective of it, not wanting it to be dismissed or minimized or trivialized.  It is like I am trying to protect it from profanation or sacrilege.  But it is strong, it is increasingly difficult to keep it quiet.  It is not as if I am ashamed or embarrassed – I just don’t want it belittled.

A long-time secular friend, and a superb artist, just the other day was appalled: “What is this I hear about you going to church?”  Another found out that I was going on a three-week mission trip to Haiti and was incredulous: “You, Judith, you going to Haiti with a church group!  What has gotten into you?”  I don’t feel strong enough to defend my actions.  My friends would accept me far more readily if they found that I was in some bizarre cult involving exotic and strange activities like black magic or experiments with levitation.  But going to church is branded with a terribly ordinariness.

But that is what endears it to me, both the church and the twelve-step programs, this façade of ordinariness.  When you pull back the veil of ordinariness, you find the most extraordinary life behind it.  But I feel isolated and inadequate to explain to my husband and close friends – even myself! – what it is.  It’s as if I would have to undress myself before them.  Maybe if I was willing to do that they would not dare disdain me.  More likely they would just pity me.  As it is they just adjust their neckties a little tighter.

I am feeling raw and cold and vulnerable and something of a fool.  I guess I don’t feel too badly about being a fool within the context of the secular world.  From the way they look at me, I don’t have much to show for my new life.  I can’t point to a life mended.  Many of the sorrows and difficulties seem mended for a time, only to bust open again.  But to tell you the truth, I haven’t been on medication since June and for that I feel grateful.

When I try to explain myself to these friends I feel as if I am suspended in a hang-glider between the material and immaterial, casting a shadow down far below, and they say, “See – it’s nothing but shadow work.”  Perhaps it takes a fool to savor the joy of shadow work, the shadow cast as I am attending to the unknown, the unpaid for, the freely given.”


Judith gets it right.  She has no romantic illusions about church.  She knows she can’t defend or explain it to the satisfaction of her friends.  Nobody has any idea of what she is doing.  She feels apologetic about that.  But she embraces what she was given – that seemingly fragile hang-glider church suspending her in the mystery, the unpaid for, the freely given.  She is here.  She can’t not be here.  She didn’t expect to find nice people, people of accomplishment, artists.  She is an artist of church: “Don’t look at me – see the shadow down there.  Look at the shadow work.  You might see what God is doing.”

Newcomer as she is, unschooled as she is in the intricacies and controversies of church, Judith knows what church is, visible but not glamorous, suspending her in its mystery, in her words, “the unknown, the unpaid for, the freely given.”  She knows so little about church, yet she knows what it is.  She is an artist who knows something about inscape and the manifold wisdom.  With an artist’s intuition she perceives the energy (the Holy Spirit) that keeps aloft the ligaments and sinews and fabric of the hang-glider that she is strapped into, this seemingly fragile church that casts on the Earth what she calls shadow work.


Church as the body of Christ is not obvious.  But neither is Jesus as the savior of the world obvious.  We learn to penetrate the obvious ordinariness when we think in terms of inscape and manifold wisdom and shadow work.  But for as long as we employ secular values and insist on having church as we think it ought to be, formulating this “ought” from what we see work in our culture quite apart from God, we will never recognize the church that is right before us.  For as long as we think that the church is in competition with the world, a way of outdoing the world, we will never get it.

The contrast between world and church in this regard is stark: American culture is doing its dead level best with its celebrities, consumerism, and violence to keep us in a perpetually arrested state of adolescence.  Yet all the while the church is quietly and without false advertising immersing us in the conditions of becoming mature to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

PRAYER: Prayer Or Action? The Tension Explored, by Susan Rakoczy

From Great Mystics and Social Justice

What is our future as committed Christians as the third millennium begins?  How shall we live the Christian life – how do we live the gospel now – as we seek to create a new, just, peaceful world?  What resources of the Spirit of God are available to us in the quest to transform our cultures and societies?

Two temptations are enticing.  One is to plunge into activism without a spiritual grounding.  The other, especially insidious, is to take a deep breath, close the doors of the churches on the problems of society, and focus on a private experience of religion.  For some, a “Jesus and me” religiosity is very satisfying since it allows them to seek personal holiness without attention to those outside their religious circle.  This, however, is a corruption of the gospel, whose basic principle is love of God and love of neighbor.

Many persons of faith find themselves spiritually undernourished and weak as they struggle to live their lives with integrity.  The problems of the world – whether in the countries of the South or the North – are so intricate and intertwined that just to attempt to understand their complexity is daunting.  And understanding is only the first to step to a praxis of transforming love and justice.  Where will we find the nourishment that will provide the strength and conviction that we so obviously need?

It is clear mere good will and technical skills will not create the ethos of the new society we desire.  Human beings in the twenty-first century, as before, remain weak, selfish, suffering from the effects of personal and social sin.  Women and men of all cultures and societies do strive to transform their part of the world, but a vision of a new society is not sufficient of itself to sustain persons and communities over the long haul.  Something more is needed.

Prayer or Working for Justice?

People like simplicity.  It is much easier to choose one thing and focus all of one’s efforts on it.  Thus dichotomies are born, two-headed creatures that seem to speak two languages.  Today Christians are often confronted with the dichotomy between being a person of prayer and living a private type of Christian life and being committed to the struggle for justice and peace.

At first glance it seems incredible that such a monster should be among us, for certainly there cannot be a choice between these two dimensions of Christian life.  Yet if we reflect on our experience, most people will have heard at least some of the following statements:

“I need a lot of time for prayer and time for myself; I simply don’t have time to get involved in
social justice things.”
“Prayer is wasting time that can be better spent at a meeting working for justice in a real way.”
“Look at all those people at prayer meetings: they don’t know anything about what the struggle for
justice is really about.”
“Activists never pray; they just follow the latest party line.”

But we cannot simply choose one and ignore the other.  Our God is a God of justice and peace and we come to know God both in prayer and in concrete action toward justice, peace, and the care of creation.  Jesus the Christ to whom Christians commit their entire selves is revealed in the Gospels as one who sought deserted places in which to pray early in the morning, (Mark 1:35-36), who prayed all night, (Luke 6:12), and who announced his mission as bringing liberty to the poor, (Luke 4:18).  In the life of Jesus as given to us in the Gospel witness we see no choice between prayer or his mission of liberation.  Rather, we see the integration of these two dimensions of life.

It is not hard to convince most Christians that at least “some” prayer is a good thing in life.  Persons may struggle to find time to pray, wonder if they are praying well, and desire a deeper life of prayer.  Seldom is prayer rejected out of hand by a sincere Christian believer.

But commitment to the social mission of the gospel is much more problematic.  Within the Catholic tradition, we have seen a dramatic change in attitudes toward the world in the last one hundred years, but especially since Vatican II (1962-1965).  No longer is the posture of the Catholic church one of constructing ever-higher walls between the church and the world.  The poetic statement of the opening lines of the “The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” (Gaudium et spes) describes this new perspective: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the [people] of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these too are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.”

In addition, the statement of the Synod of Bishops of 1971, “Justice in the World,” made a very bold departure from past understandings of prayer and action.  The call now is to understand that action for justice and peace is at the heart of the gospel:

Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation. (The Gospel of Peace and Justice)

This is a call not only to the work of personal charity, but also to efforts to transform social structures so that people are no longer poor, hungry, illiterate, homeless, unemployed – and the nations and continents have a fair share of the world economic pie.  This is especially crucial in Africa, the poorest continent, one sometimes described as “hopeless” by transnational business leaders and other bodies with its wars, famines, unemployment, the ravages of HIV/AIDS, and immense global debt.

The challenge before us is to be persons of deep prayer and authentic commitment to the works of justice and peace.  It does not matter which conversion happens first: to a deeper faith commitment in Jesus the Christ or an awakening to the imperative to labor for a just and peaceful society.  Growth in both must continue apace.  Peter Henriot writes:

But as important as it may be to see this commitment to act for social justice as being a consequence of growth in true spirituality, it is even more important to understand – and to practice – this commitment as being simultaneous to the growth process itself.  This emphasis upon simultaneity is a more difficult conclusion to demonstrate.  It rests upon an appreciation of the reality of the “public dimension” of personal human experience.  Such an appreciation comes with an understanding of social structures and of our own existential relationship with those structures. (Liturgical Foundations of Social Policy in the Catholic and Jewish Traditions)

This call to contemporary Christians throughout the world is to learn how to do this: to grow simultaneously in the life of prayer and in commitment to social transformation, to walk on the two feet of love of God and love of neighbor.

Food for the Journey to Justice

In Matthew 13:52 we read of the householder who is able to bring both old and new things out of the storeroom.  If we investigate some of the treasures in the Christian storeroom, we shall find plentiful resources for our commitment in prayer, love, and action to help build a world for our commitment in prayer, love, and action to help build a world in which the tears will be wiped from humanity’s eyes, (Revelation 21:4), or at least more realistically, to work so that at least some tears will no longer be shed!

The great Catholic theologian Karl Rahner stated, “In the future we shall be mystics or we shall be nothing.” (Theological Investigations)  It is in the teachings of some of the great teachers of prayer in the Christian tradition, those adventurers of the Spirit we have termed mystics, that good and plentiful food for the journey to wholeness in personal and communal life will be found.

Saint Augustine’s description of the human heart remains true as we stand at the beginning of this new century: “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” (Confessions)  The life stories of the great women and men of the Christian tradition whose lives of prayer were focused on union with the One they loved do not demonstrate a lack of care and concern for the world in which they lived.  Rather, since they lived the basic dynamic of the Christian life in a growing fullness – union of the love of God and love of neighbor – their teachings contain important resources for us in our journey today.

In an ecumenical interpretation of the history of Christian spirituality, it is important to realize that the wisdom of the great teachers of prayer belongs to all Christians.  Some lived and wrote before the Reformation in the sixteenth century; their legacy is part of the whole Christian heritage.  Since the sixteenth century, Christians in the West have experienced a radical institutional brokenness of the body of Christ.  Here the mystics can help to heal the divisions since their message cuts across denominational lines and ecclesial fences to speak of the essential themes of Christian life: faith, hope, love, experience of God in prayer, mission.

Mystical experience is not one of separation, of real or artificial dichotomies, but one of wholeness.  The life of a person of intense prayer may be lived in solitude, in community, or in public – but his or her experience is never individual and unrelated to the concerns of the times.  Thus it is to the mystics that we turn in our search for resources for our journey in prayer and transformation of our society.

MYSTICISM: Overcome By The Power Of The Spirit, by Sarah Pierpont Edwards

Uncommon Discoveries Of The Divine Perfections And Glory

From The Life of President Edwards, by Sereno Edwards Dwight

On Tuesday night, January 19, 1742, I felt very uneasy and unhappy, at my being so low in grace.  I thought I very much needed help from God, and found a spirit of earnestness to seek help of him, that I might have more holiness.  When I had for a time been earnestly wrestling with God for it, I felt within myself great quietness of spirit, unusual submission to God, and willingness to wait upon him, with respect to the time and manner in which he should help me, and wished that he should take his own time, and his own way, to do it.

The next morning, I found a degree of uneasiness in my mind, at Mr. Edwards’s suggesting, that he thought I had failed in some measure in point of prudence, in some conversation I had with Mr. Williams of Hadley, the day before.  I found, that it seemed to bereave me of the quietness and calm of my mind, in any respect not to have a good opinion of my husband.  This, I much dislike in myself, as arguing a want of a sufficient rest in God, and felt a disposition to fight against it, and look to God for his help, that I might have a more full and entire rest in him, independent of all other things.  I continued in this frame, from early in the morning until about 10 o’clock, at which time the Reverend Mr. Peter Reynolds went to prayer in the family.

I had before this, so entirely given myself up to God, and resigned up everything into his hands, that I had, for a long time, felt myself quite alone in the world; so that the peace and calm of my mind, and my rest in God, as my only and all sufficient happiness, seemed sensibly above the reach of disturbance from anything but these two: (First) My own good name and fair reputation among men, and especially the esteem and just treatment of the people of this town; (Secondly) And more especially, the esteem, and love and kind treatment of my husband.  At times, indeed, I had seemed to be considerably elevated above the influence of even these things; yet I had not found my calm, and peace and rest in God so sensibly, fully and constantly, above the reach of disturbance from them, until now.

While Mr. Reynolds was at prayer in the family this morning, I felt an earnest desire that, in calling on God, he should say, Father, or that he should address the Almighty under that appellation: on which the thought turned in my mind – Why can I say, Father? – Can I now at this time, with the confidence of a child, and without the least misgiving of heart, call God my Father? – This brought to my mind, two lines of Mr. Ralph Erskine’s sonnet:

I see him lay his vengeance by,
And smile in Jesus’s face.

I was thus deeply sensible, that my sins did loudly call for vengeance; but I then by faith saw God “lay his vengeance by, and smile in Jesus’s face.”  It appeared to be real and certain that he did so.  I had not the least doubt, that he then sweetly smiled upon me, with the look of forgiveness and love, having laid aside all his displeasure towards me, for Jesus’s sake; which made me feel very weak, and somewhat faint.

In consequence of this, I felt a strong desire to be alone with God, to go to him, without having anyone to interrupt the silent and soft communion, which I earnestly desired between God and my own soul; and accordingly withdrew to my chamber.  It should have been mentioned that, before I retired, while Mr. Reynolds was praying, these words, in Romans 8:34, came into my mind, “Who is he that condemneth; It is Christ that died, yea rather that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us;” as well as the following words, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ,” etc.; which I occasioned great sweetness and delight in my soul.  But when I was alone, the words came to my mind with far greater power and sweetness; upon which I took the Bible, and read the words to the end of the chapter, when they were impressed on my heart with vastly greater power and sweetness still.  They appeared to me with undoubted uncertainty from the love of God which was in Christ Jesus.  I cannot find language to express, how certain this appeared – the everlasting mountains and hills were but shadows to it.  My safety, and happiness, and eternal enjoyment of God’s immutable love, seemed as durable and unchangeable as God himself.  Melted and overcome by the sweetness of this assurance, I fell into a great flow of tears, and could not forbear weeping aloud.  It appeared certain to me that God was my father, and Christ my Lord and Savior, that he was mine and I his.  Under a delightful sense of the immediate presence and love of God, these words seemed to come over and over in my mind, “My God, my all; my God, my all.”  The presence of God was so near, and so real, that I seemed scarcely conscious of anything else.  God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ seemed as distinct persons, both manifesting their inconceivable loveliness, and mildness, and gentleness, and their great and immutable love to me.  I seemed to be taken under the care and charge of my God and Savior, in an inexpressibly endearing manner; and Christ appeared to me as a mighty savior, under the character of the lion of the tribe of Judah, taking my heart, with all its corruptions, under his care, and putting it at his feet.  In all things, which concerned me, I felt myself safe under the protection of the Father and the Savior; who appeared with supreme kindness to keep a record of everything that I did, and of everything that was done to me, purely for my good.

The peace and happiness, which I hereupon felt, was altogether inexpressible.  It seemed to be that which came from Heaven; to be eternal and unchangeable.  I seemed to be lifted above Earth and hell, out of the reach of everything here below, so that I could look on all the rage and enmity of men or devils, with a kind of holy indifference, and an undisturbed tranquility.  At the same time, I felt compassion and love for all mankind, and a deep abasement of soul, under a sense of my own unworthiness.  I thought of the ministers who were in the house, and felt willing to undergo any labor and self-denial, if they would but come to the help of the Lord.  I also felt myself more perfectly weaned from all things here below, then ever before.  The whole world, with all its enjoyments, and all its troubles, seemed to be nothing – my God was my all, my only portion.  No possible suffering appeared to be worth regarding: all persecutions and torments were a mere nothing.  I seemed to dwell on high, and the place of defense to be the munition of rocks.

After some time, the two evils mentioned above, as those which I should have been least able to bear, came to my mind – the ill treatment of the town, and the ill will of my husband; but now I was carried exceedingly above even such things as these, and I could feel that, if I were exposed to them both, they would seem comparatively nothing.  There was then a deep snow on the ground, and I could think of being driven from my home into the cold and snow, of being chased from the town with the utmost contempt and malice, and of being left to perish with the cold, as cast out by all the world, with perfect calmness and serenity.  It appeared to me, that it would not move me, or in the least disturb the inexpressible happiness and peace of my soul.  My mind seemed as much above all such things, as the sun is above the Earth.

I continued in a very sweet and lively sense of divine things, day and night, sleeping and waking, until Saturday, January 23.  On Saturday morning, I had a most solemn and deep impression on my mind of the eye of God as fixed upon me, to observe what improvement I made of those spiritual communications I had received from him; as well as of the respect shown Mr. Edwards, who had then been sent for to preach at Leicester.  I was sensible that I was sinful enough to bestow it on my pride, or on my sloth, which seemed exceedingly dreadful to me.  At night, my soul seemed to be filled with an inexpressibly sweet and pure love to God, and to the children of God; with a refreshing consolation and solace of soul, which made me willing to lie on the Earth, at the feet of the servants of God, to declare his gracious dealings with me, and breathe forth before them my love, and gratitude, and praise.

The next day, which was the Sabbath, I enjoyed a sweet, and lively and assured sense of God’s infinite grace, and favor and love to me, in taking me out of the depths of hell, and exalting me to the Heavenly glory, and the dignity of a royal priesthood.

On Monday night, Mr. Edwards, being gone that day to Leicester, I heard that Mr. Buell was coming to this town, and from what I had heard of him, and of his success, I had strong hopes that there would be great effects from his labors here.  At the same time, I had a deep and affecting impression, that the eye of God was ever upon my heart, and that it greatly concerned me to watch my heart, and see to it that I was perfectly resigned to God, with respect to the instruments he should make use of to revive religion in this town, and be entirely willing, if it was God’s pleasure, that he should make use of Mr. Buell; and also that other Christians should appear to excel me in Christian experience, and in the benefit they should derive from ministers.  I was conscious, that it would be exceedingly provoking to God if I should not be thus resigned, and earnestly endeavored to watch my heart, that no feelings of a contrary nature might arise; and was enabled, as I thought, to exercise full resignation, and acquiescence in God’s pleasure, as to these things.  I was sensible what great cause I had to bless God, for the use he had made of Mr. Edwards hitherto; but thought, if he never blessed his labors anymore, and should greatly bless the labors of other ministers, I could entirely acquiesce in his will.  It appeared to me meet and proper, that God should employ babes and sucklings to advance his kingdom.  When I thought of these things, it was my instinctive feeling to say, “Amen, Lord Jesus!  Amen, Lord Jesus!”  This seemed to be the sweet and instinctive language of my soul.

On Tuesday, I remained in a sweet and lively exercise of this resignation, and love to and rest in God, seeming to be in my heart from day-to-day, far above the reach of everything here below.  On Tuesday night, especially the latter part of it, I felt a great earnestness of soul and engagedness in seeking God for the town, that religion might now revive, and that God would bless Mr. Buell to that end.  God seemed to be very near to me while I was thus striving with him for these things, and I had a strong hope that what I sought of him would be granted.  There seemed naturally and unavoidably to arise in my mind an assurance, that now God would do great things for Northampton.

On Wednesday morning, I heard that Mr. Buell arrived the night before at Mr. Phelps’s, and that there seemed to be great tokens and effects of the presence of God there, which greatly encouraged, and rejoiced me.  About an hour and a half after, Mr. Buell came to our house, I sat still in entire resignedness to God, and willingness that God should bless his labors here as much as he pleased; though it were to the enlivening of every saint, and to the conversion of every sinner, in the town.  These feelings continued afterwards, when I saw his great success; as I never felt the least rising of heart to the contrary, but my submission was even and uniform, without interruption or disturbance.  I rejoiced when I saw the honor which God put upon him, and the respect paid him by the people, and the greater success attending his preaching, than had followed the preaching of Mr. Edwards immediately before he went to Leicester.  I found rest and rejoicing in it, and the sweet language of my soul continually was, “Amen, Lord Jesus!  Amen, Lord Jesus.”

At three o’clock in the afternoon, a lecture was preached by Mr. Buell.  In the latter part of the sermon, one or two appeared much moved, and after the blessing, when the people were going out, several others.  To my mind there was the clearest evidence, that God was present in the congregation, on the work of redeeming love; and in the clear view of this, I was all at once filled with such intense admiration of the wonderful condescension and grace of God, in returning again to Northampton, as overwhelmed my soul, and immediately took away my bodily strength.  This was accompanied with an earnest longing, that those of us, who were the children of God, might now arise and strive.  It appeared to me, that the angels in Heaven sung praises, for such wonderful, free, and sovereign grace, and my heart was lifted up in adoration and praise.  I continued to have clear views of the future world, of eternal happiness and misery, and my heart full of love to the souls of men.  On seeing some, that I found were in a natural condition, I felt a most tender compassion for them; but especially was I, while I remained in the meetinghouse, from time-to-time overcome, and my strength taken away, by the sight of one and another, whom I regarded as the children of God, and who, I had heard were lively and animated in religion.  We remained in the meetinghouse about three hours, after the public exercises were over.  During most of the time, my bodily strength was overcome; and the joy and thankfulness, which were excited in my mind, as I contemplated the great goodness of God, led me to converse with those who were near me, in a very earnest manner.

When I came home, I found Mr. Buell, Mr. Christophers, Mr. Hopkins, Mrs. Eleanor Dwight, the wife of Mr. Joseph Allen, and Mr. Job Strong, at the house.  Seeing and conversing with them on the divine goodness renewed my former feelings and filled me with an intense desire that we might all arise, and, with an active flowing and fervent heart, give glory to God.  The intenseness of my feelings again took away my bodily strength.  The words of one of Dr. Watt’s Hosannas powerfully affected me; and, in the course of the conversation, I uttered them, as the real language of my heart, with great earnestness and emotion.

Hosanna to King David’s Son,
Who reigns on a superior throne, etc.

And while I was uttering the words, my mind was so deeply impressed with the love of Christ, and a sense of his immediate presence, that I could with difficulty refrain from rising from my seat, and leaping for joy.  I continued to enjoy this intense, and lively and refreshing sense of divine things, accompanied with strong emotions, for nearly an hour; after which, I experienced a delightful calm, and peace and rest in God, until I retired for the night; and during the night, both waking and sleeping, I had joyful views of divine things, and a complacential rest of soul in God.  I awoke in the morning of Thursday, [January] 28th, in the same happy frame of mind, and engaged in the duties of my family with a sweet consciousness, that God was present with me, and with earnest longings of soul for the continuance, and increase, of the blessed fruits of the Holy Spirit in the town.  About nine o’clock, these desires became so exceedingly intense, when I saw numbers of the people coming into the house, with an appearance of deep interest in religion, that my bodily strength was much weakened, and it was with difficulty that I could pursue my ordinary avocations.  About 11 o’clock, as I accidentally went into the room where Mr. Buell was conversing with some of the people, I heard him say, “O that we, who are the children of God, should be cold and lifeless in religion!” and I felt such a sense of the deep ingratitude manifested by the children of God, in such coldness and deadness, that my strength was immediately taken away, and I sunk down on the spot.  Those who were near raised me, and placed me in a chair; and, from the fullness of my heart, I expressed to them, in a very earnest manner, the deep sense I had of the wonderful grace of Christ towards me, of the assurance I had of his having saved me from hell, of my happiness running parallel with eternity, of the duty of giving up all to God, and of the peace and joy inspired by an entire dependence on his mercy and grace.  Mr. Buell then read a melting hymn of Dr. Watts, concerning the loveliness of Christ, the enjoyments and employments of Heaven, and the Christian’s earnest desire of Heavenly things; and the truth and reality of the things mentioned in the hymn, made so strong an impression on my mind, and my soul was drawn so powerfully towards Christ and Heaven, that I leaped unconsciously from my chair.  I seemed to be drawn upwards, soul and body, from the Earth towards Heaven; and it appeared to me that I must naturally and necessarily ascend thither.  These feelings continued while the hymn was reading, and during the prayer of Mr. Christophers, which followed.  After the prayer, Mr. Buell read two other hymns, on the glories of Heaven, which moved me so exceedingly, and drew me so strongly Heavenward, that it seemed as it were to draw my body upwards, and I felt as if I must necessarily ascend thither.  At length, my strength failed me, and I sunk down; when they took me up and laid me on the bed, where I lay for a considerable time, faint with joy, while contemplating the glories of the Heavenly world.  After I had lain a while, I felt more perfectly subdued and weaned from the world, and more fully resigned to God, than I had ever been conscious of before.  I felt an entire indifference to the opinions, and representations and conduct of mankind respecting me; and a perfect willingness, that God should employ some other instrument than Mr. Edwards, in advancing the work of grace in Northampton.  I was entirely swallowed up in God, as my only portion, and his honor and glory was the object of my supreme desire and delight.  At the same time, I felt a far greater love to the children of God, than ever before.  I seemed to love them as my own soul; and when I saw them, my heart went out towards them, with an inexpressible endearedness and sweetness.  I beheld them by faith in their risen and glorified state, with spiritual bodies re-fashioned after the image of Christ’s glorious body, and arrayed in the beauty of Heaven.  The time when they would be so, appeared very near, and by faith it seemed as if it were present.  This was accompanied with a ravishing sense of the unspeakable joys of the upper world.  They appeared to my mind in all their reality and certainty, and as it were in actual and distinct vision; so plain and evident were they to the eye of my faith, I seemed to regard them as begun.  These anticipations were renewed over and over, while I lay on the bed, from twelve o’clock till four, being too much exhausted by emotions of joy, to rise and sit up; and during most of the time, my feelings prompted me to converse very earnestly, with one and another of the pious women, who were present, on those spiritual and Heavenly objects, of which I had so deep an impression.  A little while before I arose, Mr. Buell and the people went to meeting.

I continued in a sweet and lively sense of divine things, until I retired to rest.  That night, which was Thursday night, January 28, was the sweetest night I ever had in my life.  I never before, for so long a time together, enjoyed so much of the light, and rest, and sweetness of Heaven in my soul, but without the least agitation of body during the whole time.  The great part of the night I lay awake, sometimes asleep, and sometimes between sleeping and waking.  But all night I continued in a constant, clear, and lively sense of the Heavenly sweetness of Christ’s excellent and transcendent love, of his nearness to me, and of my dearness to him; with an inexpressibly sweet calmness of soul in an entire rest in him.  I seemed to myself to perceive a glow of divine love come down from the heart of Christ in Heaven, into my heart, in a constant stream, like a stream or pencil of sweet light.  At the same time, my heart and soul all flowed out in love to Christ; so that there seemed to be a constant flowing and reflowing of Heavenly and divine love, from Christ’s heart to mine; and I appeared to myself to float or swim, in these bright, sweet beams of the love of Christ, like the motes swimming in the beams of the sun, or the streams of his light which come in at the window.  My soul remained in a kind of Heavenly elysium.  So far as I am capable of making a comparison, I think that what I felt each minute, during the continuance of the whole time, was worth more than all the outward comfort and pleasure, which I had enjoyed in my whole life put together.  It was a pure delight, which fed and satisfied the soul.  It was pleasure, without the least sting, or any interruption.  It was a sweetness, which my soul was lost in.  It seemed to be all that my feeble frame could sustain, of that fullness of joy, which is felt by those, who behold the face of Christ, and share his love in the Heavenly world.  There was but little difference, whether I was asleep or awake, so deep was the impression made on my soul; but if there was any difference, the sweetness was greatest and most uninterrupted, while I was asleep.

THE HOLY SPIRIT: The Paraclete, by Keith Warrington

From The Message of the Holy Spirit

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to my father. And whatever you ask in my name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.

If you love Me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another helper, that he may abide with you forever – the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; but you know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:12-17)

But when the helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will testify of me.  And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble.  They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.  And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor me.  But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them.

And these things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you.

But now I go away to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, “Where are You going?”  But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth.  It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send him to you. (John 15:26-16:7)

However, when he, the Spirit of truth, has come, he will guide you into all truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak; and he will tell you things to come.  He will glorify me, for he will take of what is mine and declare it to you.  All things that the Father has are mine. Therefore I said that he will take of mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-15)

The Greek word used to refer to the Spirit by John is paraklētos, often translated as counselor.  It is not used by any other New Testament author but was widely used before John.  Given that the word is capable of a number of translations, it may be more appropriate to use the transliteration of the Greek (paraclete) rather than offer a translation.  Nevertheless, a number of translations could help define characteristics of the Spirit.  Fundamentally, the metaphor is intended to leave the reader awestruck by the comprehensive nature of the conscientious compassion of the Spirit for believers.

The Spirit is “alongside believers”

The term, paraklētos, is made up of two elements that may provide an insight into its meaning, referring to one who has been called (kaleō) alongside (para) another.  Although the breakdown of a word and its etymology may not necessarily reveal its best translation in a given era or context, it can provide some insight to its meaning.  The word, paraklētos, was used in various ways in the first century and these will be explored later.  However, a fundamental role of the Spirit is to be “alongside” believers, and he is thus best able to comprehensively support them.  He is never so far from them that if they stumble, he will not be able to catch them.  The term is not intended to define the exact location of the Spirit in relation to the believer.  John is not attempting to determine the physical proximity of the Spirit to believers as being in spatial terms, but to identify that he is as close to them as possible.  Indeed, in John 14:17, the Spirit is defined as being in the believer while Paul speaks about the believer being in the Spirit, (Ephesians 2:18).  On other occasions, different metaphors will be used of the Spirit in relation to believers in an attempt to explore more fully the comprehensive care of the Spirit for those to whom he is committed.  This term, paraclete, should therefore be understood as offering further reinforcement for this truth.

A number of commentators have suggested that John uses the term to identify the Spirit as fundamentally being a comforter or consoler of believers.  However, the references in John do not easily reflect this.  Indeed, although the initial reference to the Spirit being sent may have been encouraging to the disciples who feared loneliness without Jesus, once the resurrection had occurred, there was no hint of their being despondent or in need of consolation.  On the contrary, they were anticipating the promise of Jesus being fulfilled in Jerusalem and regularly visited the temple, praising God as they did.  Thus, although the RSV translates paraklētos as “comfort,” there is little to indicate on that occasion that the believers needed comforting by the Spirit.  On the contrary, the believers were not discouraged or downhearted but encouraged beseech the church was being build up.  One reason for the notion of the Spirit being a comforter may go back to the translation of the term by Wycliffe from the Latin comfortare, though even this actually means, “to be strengthened,” rather than “to be comforted.”  It is more accurate to view the Spirit as mentoring, counseling, inspiring, and encouraging believers, although this may undoubtedly, on occasions, include the act of providing comfort.

The Spirit is another Paraclete (John 14:16)

The value of a leader being replaced by another to ensure that the progress of the group continues is recognized in ancient and modern societies.  It happened with Moses and Joshua, (Deuteronomy 34:9), and Elijah and Elisha, (2 Kings 2:9-10, 15), and it regularly occurs in modern leadership scenarios also, both secular and Christian.  The way Jesus describes the Spirit as being another counselor, (John 14:16), indicates that he is to function similarly to the way Jesus related to his disciples.  As Jesus was sent by the Father, (3:16), so was the spirit; as Jesus was with the disciples, affirming and supporting them, so will be the Spirit with believers; as Jesus taught and trained the disciples, so will the Spirit mentor believers; as Jesus led his disciples into truth, so will the Spirit guide believers into truth; as Jesus convicts the world, so will the Spirit; as Jesus walked with the disciples, so will the Spirit partner believers.  The companionship of Jesus with the disciples will be no less immediate than the relationship of the Spirit with believers.

There are two terms that could have been used by John for another (allos and heteros).  Although the distinction should not be over-pressed, the latter often refers to another of a different kind, the former identifies another of the same kind; it is allos that is used in John 14:16.  The Spirit is not another, different kind of counselor; rather, he is the same kind of counselor as was Jesus, exhibiting the same quality of care and wisdom.  Jesus, who is described as a Paraclete in 1 John 2:1, is represented by John as supporting believers while in Heaven to the same degree and with the same intimate commitment as does the Spirit on Earth.  Rather than think of them as two individual working in two areas of the universe, it is more appropriate to understand the message that John seeks to present – believers are comprehensively cared for wherever they are, in Heaven or on Earth; believers are never alone, for the Paraclete is with them.

Furthermore, John is not simply suggesting that Jesus is now in Heaven while the Spirit is on Earth, a role-reversal on their part.  Nor is he intending his readers to assume that he functions in Heaven on behalf of believers while the Spirit functions on Earth supporting them.  It is not that the Spirit has taken over from Jesus because he has relinquished his intimate relational role with believers.  Rather than assume discontinuity, it is more appropriate to acknowledge continuity of support for believers by both the Spirit and Jesus.  Both are integrally linked with the support of and ministry to believers.  Whereas Jesus (and the Spirit) offered this in Jesus’s life on Earth, now, because of his ascension, the Spirit (and Jesus) will continue it.  To try and compartmentalize the work of Jesus and the Spirit is unwittingly to betray an arrogance that assumes that the inexplicable can be explained by human intellect.  God is gracious and, through the New Testament writers, paints pictures to allow us to grasp truths that are actually beyond our understanding.  He wants us to enjoy and experience them, and to be committed to them, but not necessarily to comprehend them.  Rather than seeking to understand and trying to systematize the concept of the divine shepherding of the church by Jesus, the Spirit and the Father, believers should first experience and be exhilarated by that truth.  Then, and only then, should they engage in the exploration of the doctrine, acknowledging that although the mystery stretches their intellect too much, they should enjoy the journey of discovery and anticipate the possibility of being transformed as a result.

The Spirit is sent to believers

In John 14:16, Jesus is described as requesting the Father to give the Spirit to his followers.  In 15:26, however, Jesus declares that he will send the Spirit from the Father while in 14:26, John declares that the Father will send the Spirit in the name of Jesus; 16:13 simply declares that the Spirit will come.  One must guard against any suggestion of a divine hierarchy.  The Spirit is described as God in 4:24 and there is no suggestion that he is viewed merely as an impersonal force or lesser member of the Godhead to be commanded to do whatever the Father or Jesus desire.  The provision of the Spirit is not a unilateral act on the part of Jesus or the Father but part of the divine plan to take care of believers in the physical absence of Jesus.

That the Spirit is not able to come until Jesus goes needs careful consideration.  John is not indicating that Jesus and the Spirit cannot function concurrently.  Nor is he simply (or even) suggesting that the Spirit takes over from Jesus, thus releasing Jesus to undertake another responsibility (as if he could not handle both).  It is more likely that Jesus is indicating that the role of the Spirit will not be clearly manifested or appreciated by believers until Jesus ascends.  Then, the Spirit will be more obviously demonstrated as continuing the work initiated by Jesus through the church.  The worldwide ministry of the Spirit will be unmistakably evident.  Despite the absence of Jesus, the church will still develop, but now by the Spirit functioning through believers.

The Spirit is an advocate for believers (John 16:8-11)

At times, John represents the role of the Spirit with the believer as that of a mediator, broker, or adviser, and paraklētos is able to bear this interpretation.  In secular Greek, the term is often used forensically, to refer to a lawyer who legally defends another or a friend who supports another in a legal context.  In Roman law, a person was generally accused by a private citizen rather than by a prosecutor chosen by the state, though advocates were provided to offer a defense, as well as witness for and against.  However, as well as using witnesses to support and accuse the one on trial, Jewish law also generally adopted the practice of an advocate (to defend) and an accuser (to prosecute).  The notion of someone functioning as an advocate, and chosen to do so by the legal authorities, was thus common in the ancient world.

The concept of advocacy was encouraging to believers then, as it can be now.  John has already revealed that they would be assaulted and even killed as a religious act, and Matthew and Luke describe believers being arrested and dragged before kings and governors, and flogged in synagogues, whilst being expected to speak on behalf of Jesus.  It is important to remember that synagogues did not function only as meeting places for teaching, preaching, and worship, but also as courts in which legal judgments were made.  The removal of believers from the synagogues is probably related to a judicial action rather than their physical ejection.  Clearly, there are times forecast when they will be liable to feel vulnerable, to be marginalized and to experience loneliness.  In those times, both John and Matthew state that an advocate will stand by the side of believers; he is the Spirit.

At the same time, in the supernatural world, Satan (satanas, accuser) is described as functioning as an adversary of God’s people.  The role of Satan is to accuse believers, pointing out their sins to God in the forlorn hope that he may eject them from his family.  However, for every accusation, the Spirit provides a response to drown out the allegations of the enemy.  He constantly stands between Satan and the believers; Satan may point his finger at them, criticize and censure them but he cannot condemn them, because the Spirit has the last word.  Since he is God and therefore knows the mind of God, he knows that an eternal appeal on their behalf has already been accepted.  Satan may have his day in court, but in truth, he is wasting his time.  The advocate and judge have already decided the outcome in favor of the believer.

As individuals, believers are sometimes prone to convict themselves on the evidence of their actions, words, and thoughts.  They convince themselves that if they were to stand before God at that moment, they would be sentenced and punished.  Believers, however, always stand before God and he is constantly aware of all that they do, say, and think, and is also cognizant of those shortcomings of which they are oblivious.  Although they are deserving of divine condemnation, the Spirit acts as their advocate; he is on their side reminding the court of the sentence that was passed on Jesus who bore the costs and now sets them free.

Such a metaphor must not be articulated so as to suggest that if it was not for the Spirit, the believer would be judged by a holy God.  Nor should one’s position before the Father be assumed to be fragile and uncertain if it was not for the intervening presence of the Spirit.  It is not that the Spirit is for us while the Father is ready to condemn us.  In the Old Testament, it was God who was the advocate on behalf of his people; in 1 John 2:1, it is Jesus.  Father, Son, and Spirit are all for us.  Together, they function as the court in session.  They are the advocate, judge, and witnesses on our behalf.  They shout down the opposing voices, eject the prosecution, silence the antagonists, and throw out the case against us.  This is not a sober time for them; it is not a solemn process that results in threats and accusations being rejected as a result of clever legal talk, astute argumentation, or intelligent and incisive defensive maneuvers.  These are cases won with ease by the supreme intellect but also the one who has initiated a complete salvation that no court or accuser can challenge, overturn, or undermine.

It is also important to recognize that not only will the Spirit support believers but he is also prepared to condemn their critics, judge their judges, and punish their prosecutors.  Thus, as Jesus defended the blind man who was healed, the Spirit, who is his successor, will defend believers and be a witness against the world.

The Defenders is a name for a group of fictional, cartoon superheroes, devised by Marvel Comics.  They are presented normally as battling against mystic, supernatural challenges and always win, even when the odds are stacked against them.  Although originating in 1971, their popularity remains.  Indeed, there has been a resurgence of interest in such characters and their exploits have been transferred to the cinematic screen.  It has fed an increasing desire to see superheroes with superpowers battling for the right against evil fores on behalf of innocent victims of evil.

We live in an age of turmoil and uncertainty, global terrorism and trauma, where news of atrocities is broadcast within seconds and beamed around the world.  Life itself often appears increasingly insecure and frightening.  Whether it be the first of the twenty-first century, people still need someone to believe in, someone who can guarantee their security.  The Spirit offers himself as the constant one who provides all that we need to journey through life.  The challenge that is presented and the invitation that is given is that we hold the hand that is offered to us and learn to listen to him as he guides us into the future and defends us in the present.

POETRY: St. George, The Dragon, And The Virgin, by Robert Bly

A sculpture made by Bernt Notke in 1489 for Stockholm Cathedral

St. George fights the dragon.
The spiny dragon,
Who lives in the rat-
Filled caves, is losing.
He fights back,
As when a child
Lifts his four
Feet to hold
Off the insane
Parent. The dragon
Hand grasps the wooden
Lance that has
Penetrated his thorny
Chest, but. . .
Too late. . .

And this girlish knight?
Oh I know him.
I read the New
Testament as I lay
Naked on my bed
As a boy.
That solar boy
Rises up radiant
With his forehead-
Eye that sees past
The criminals’ gibbet
To the mindful
Towers of the spirit city.

I hate this boy
Whom I have been
Lifting his lance above
The father. Each of us
Has been this harsh
Dragon on his back.
He is Joseph, Grendel,
What we have forgotten,
The great spirit
The alchemists knew of,
Without whom is nothing.

As children, we knew ours
Was a muddy greatness.
How long it took
To break down that horse
So that he would agree
To abet the solar boy.
This earth-handed, disreputable,
Hoarse-voiced one
Is dying, all
Over the world.
And the Virgin?
She prays
On her knees while
This goes on,
As well she might.

GOD 101: Making Choices, or the art of right and left

It hadn’t happened in a long, long time.  That tightening of the chest.  That feeling of being crushed by the people around me.  Not by their bodies, but by their words.

I went through a period of making a lot of wrong choices, one woman said, sincerely, sadly.

Then there was a gabbered explanation, the pieces of it spurted up with their accompanying emotion, yoked together by our understanding of life and its circuitous ways.  Also sincere.  Also sad.

The fire in my chest leapt higher; nausea, a slight presence demanding attention.  At the least, I could excuse myself and go the ladies’ room.

I could leave, I knew, but I could never open my mouth.

A group of women discussing the choices they have made in their lives.

And how those choices possibly reflected their relationship with God.

Good grief.


All I could think was, I’m so jealous.

As I have been at other times in my life.

Listening to others as they discussed tripping on something in life, falling flat.  Laughing.  Putting it in its place on the shelf of their life, alongside other random events.

Were I to ever trip and fall flat in life, this event would be followed by years devoted to a lesson on what my nose had encountered in the fall and how it relates to the turning of the Earth on her axis.  This ant, you see, Julia, is what makes existence possible.

The eyes of the women scanned the group, around and around, searching for the next one to speak.

I wasn’t the only one left.

It didn’t have to be me.


I’ll speak.

Choices?  How I would love to have the chance to make a choice in my life.  You guys are all so lucky.

And then I went on to tell the story of how for years and years, over a decade, I was urged to write about my “experiences.”  And my overwhelming reaction was, I really don’t want to do this, it will just sound crazy.  Crazy, I tell you.

But I did try.  I tried different formats.  Different approaches.

All short lived.

And then I was told that I had only a few months to live.

(And to think that I actually believed the doctors this time.)

And while I thought it over, I realized that I didn’t want to be bored by illness.  So I started this blog.

And I began writing.

It’ll be over soon, I reasoned.  So no one could really take offense at what I wrote and bring it back home to me.

I’d be gone.

(Ah, the hope, the tender expectation.)

And as I looked up and faced the group, I almost shouted, This is the length God would go to just to get me to write?

And they became the Greek chorus.  They came together, and shouted back their assent.

Oh, yes.

Oh, yes.

Oh, yes.

Bah, humbug.

And it came to me then that perhaps it wasn’t that I was so different from the others, just that I had a different view of things.

I realized that I just didn’t see choices as they did.

What is a wrong choice, after all?

The only thing that makes it wrong, in the long run, is that we don’t like the circumstances that arise from it.

We don’t like being hit by our husband.

Or having our job compromised by a competitive co-worker.

Or watching the politician we voted for, we believed in, turn and walk away from his job, and leave us with the mess he promised to clean up.

Yes, we choose.

And yes, there are days we look back and and think, perhaps if I had gone the other way.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both.

It’s always there.  Regret.

But just think of the ant your nose met one day as you lay smashed against the sidewalk.

Think of the rose bush that you planted on the day that you found out your house was no longer worth even the amount you bought it for.

For me, these aren’t really wrong decisions.

For me, the opposite of right isn’t wrong.

It’s left.

The right path, for me, is the one where you do everything right.  You go to church.  Sing the hymns.  Wash all the dishes before bedtime.  Keep the supply cabinet at work neatly sorted.  You know, the path of the good girl (or boy, for those of you of that persuasion).

The left path is the one where you trip and fall; where your elbow scrapes along the building because the path has become so tight.  It’s the realm of the unseen.

The way of miracles.

It is the realm of The Twilight Zone, where the unexpected is what you sit down to dinner with, and memories are what you use to navigate.

It’s the realization that the wind against your back isn’t just random; instead, it’s that which is blowing the dust in front of you into the path that you will follow.

What seems to be a wrong choice is really just a God-ordered route.

And, yes, it can get very rough.

Nightmarish, even.

But I have found that the result of accomplishing such a route, such a choice, is a lofty beauty and grace.  It comes from finding God even in the ant crawling on the sidewalk under my nose.  On the right path, we often do not recognize God there.  We see ourselves, our achievements.  Our order.  Our goodness.

But on the left path, the path of chaos and echoes, we find our balance and our serenity.  If we don’t, we may not get through the challenge.

The right path is the buying of a bracelet from a jewelry store.  Easy and fine.

The left path is working at a stone until we reveal the gem that lies deep within.

Difficult.  Arduous.  Dirty.

But if we survive, then we have brought with us into our lives a fulfilling divinity.

Or as John of the Cross once wrote, “Where there is no love, put love – and you will find love.”


THE PARACLETE: The Laity Share The Threefold Mission Of Jesus, by Andrew Apostoli

From Paraclete: The Spirit of Truth in the Church

Since all the faithful are “baptized into Christ Jesus,” (Romans 6:3), they share in his priestly, kingly, and prophetic offices: “The Christian faithful since they have become sharers in Christ’s priestly, prophetic, and royal office in their own manner, are called to exercise the mission which God has entrusted to the church to fulfill in the world, in accord with the condition proper to each one. (Canon 204 of the Roman Catholic Church)

How do the laity share the threefold office of Jesus Christ?

The Laity Share Jesus’s Priestly Office

The Holy Spirit helps each baptized Christian to carry out his or her priestly office.  This is seen first in regard to prayer.  The priestly prayer of the faithful springs from and rests on faith.  Faith is ultimately a belief in God; although we do not see God, we know, love, and pray to him.  It is the Holy Spirit who produces this faith in us!  Saint Paul assures us, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3)

This same Holy Spirit, the “Teacher within,” as Pope John Paul II called him, fills us with the assurance of our status as children of God: The Spirit himself bears “witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” (Romans 8:16)  From this conviction of our filial relationship springs our claim to call God Father because, as Saint Paul says, we “did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but the spirit of sonship” through which we cry out, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15)

It is the Holy Spirit’s role to form all the faithful into a priestly people and lead them, both as individuals and as a community, in the work of salvation and sanctification.  In this way the church truly becomes God’s instrument in the work of saving and sanctifying all peoples, for Christ died on the cross for all and calls all to eternal life.  The laity become “a spiritual house and a holy priesthood.”  Joined to Jesus in the work of sanctification – of themselves and of the world – they worship God, especially through participation in the eucharistic celebration and adoration.  Furthermore, the laity also offer “spiritual sacrifices,” (1 Peter 2:5), in daily life.

Hence the laity, dedicated as they are to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvelously called and prepared so that even richer fruits of the Spirit may be produced in them.  For all their works, prayers, and apostolic undertakings, family and married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, if they are accomplished in the Spirit – indeed even the hardships of life if patiently borne – all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  In the celebration of the Eucharist these may most fittingly be offered to the Father along with the body of the Lord.  And so, worshiping everywhere by their holy actions, the laity consecrate the world itself to God. (Lumen gentius, 34)

How do the laity achieve this?  What gives their spiritual sacrifices transforming power?

The answer lies in the fact that these sacrifices are accomplished in the Spirit.  Paul reminds us that it is God who brings about in our lives both the desire to do good deeds and then the actual doing of these good deeds, (see Philippians 2:13).  It is the Holy Spirit, then, who first moves us to offer our spiritual sacrifices by inspiring us to do them.  He next moves our will by his grace to carry out the good deeds he inspired us to do.  He further motivates us to offer these spiritual sacrifices for the greater glory of God and for our salvation and sanctification, as well as for that of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  As our holiness increases, the Holy Spirit attunes our minds to listen more carefully to his inspirations, and he inflames our wills with the fire of his love to carry out those inspirations more consistently and ardently.

The Laity Share Jesus’s Kingly Office

We have seen how Jesus exercised his kingly or royal office in the form of service.  The laity share in Jesus’s kingly office when they imitate him and serve others as he did.  In fact, they are mysteriously serving Christ himself, for he tells us in the Gospel, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40)

Mother Teresa of Calcutta would often say that Jesus comes in distressing disguise: as the poor, hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, sick, or imprisoned.  Whenever we assist those in need, we assist Jesus himself.  She also made the point that humanity can’t really do anything for God in Heaven because in Heaven he has all that he needs.  So he became man, making it possible for us to help him.  He said, “I was hungry, . . ., thirty, . . . naked, . . . ill.”

Vatican Council II teaches clearly: “The church encompasses with her love all those who are afflicted by human misery and she recognizes in those who are poor and who suffer, the image of her poor and suffering founder.  She does all in her power to relieve their need and in them she strives to serve Christ.” (Lumen gentium, 8)

The Holy Spirit moves the laity to share Jesus’s mission of service.  It is by the light of faith that we recognize Jesus when he comes “in distressing disguise,” and it is by love that we are moved to serve his needs.  Someone without faith and the love that must go with it would easily miss the Lord hidden behind the person in need.

One day in India a journalist watching Mother Teresa care for a man with gangrene told her that he wouldn’t do that for a million dollars.  “Even I wouldn’t do it for that amount,” Mother Teresa answered.  “However, I do it out of love for God.  This poor suffering man represents the body of Christ for me.”  Mother Teresa had the light of love from the Holy Spirit and so was able to see what the journalist missed.

The Laity Share Jesus’s Prophetic Office

Through baptism and confirmation the laity share in the teaching role of Jesus and the church.  By word and example, person-to-person or through the media, the laity bring Jesus’s message of salvation as well as the teachings of the church into the domain that is specifically theirs (as distinct from the domain of the clergy).

This domain encompasses the home and family circle, the marketplace with its technological advances and challenges, the civil structures and political arena of society and the cultural, educational, and recreational areas of human life.  In all these the laity are “the salt of the Earth,” (Matthew 5:13), and “the light of the world,” (Matthew 5:14), reflecting the light – Jesus himself – into human society in all its dimensions.

The Second Vatican Council stated: “Christ is the great prophet who proclaimed the kingdom of the Father both by the testimony of his life and by the power of his word.   Until the full manifestation of his glory, he fulfills this prophetic office, not only by the hierarchy who teach in his name and by his power, but also by the laity.  He accordingly both establishes them as witnesses and provides them with the sense of the faith (sensus fidei) and the grace of the word.” (Lumen gentium, 35)  The council here stresses three points regarding the laity’s proclaiming the mystery of Christ that is the gospel message.

The Power of Witness

First it mentions the power of witness or good example, the most potent form of evangelization.  Christians who practice what they preach give silent testimony to the truth.  This testimony affects observers differently: it strengthens those who already believe; it enlightens those who are searching for the truth; it prods those who have neglected their faith; it challenges those who reject God and his truth.  It would be hard to estimate, for example, the full effect of Mother Teresa’s work.  Her life of love, compassion, faith, and dedication had worldwide appeal.

The witness of Christian laity is all-embracing and transforms even the most ordinary circumstances of life: the family, the school, the office, travel, recreation, and so on.  Inspired and strengthened by the Holy Spirit, laypeople bring the values and virtues of Christian life – truth, honesty, chastity, charity, compassion, justice, kindness, and more – into the center of human experience.  Wherever they are, the laity consecrate and transform the world by the holiness of their lives.  They proclaim in deed and word what Pope John Paul II called “the culture of life” to offset the dehumanizing and degrading “culture of death” that prevails in modern secular society.

The Sense of Faith

Second, Vatican II points out that Jesus has given his church the sensus fidei or “sense of faith,” a grace shared by the hierarchy and the laity.  The sense of faith is a sensitivity to truth and anti-truth given by the Holy Spirit in matters of faith and morals.  By it we can recognize truth while at the same time discerning error in its many forms.

This sense of faith helps to ensure the infallibility of the church: the whole body of the faithful, hierarchy and laity, cannot all be in error at the same time.

The whole body of the faithful who have an anointing that comes from the holy one, (cf. 1 John 2:20, 27), cannot err in matters of belief.  This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of the faith (sensus fidei) of the whole people, when, “from the bishops to the last of the faithful” they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals. (Lumen gentium, 12)

The Grace of the Word

Third, Vatican II teaches that the laity have “the grace of the word” to help them fulfill their role in the prophetic office of Jesus.  This grace of the word applies primarily to sacred scripture’s power to transform those who carry it within them.  The Word of God in the Bible is “inspired,” which means it is “breathed into” by the breath of the Holy Spirit.  When we read the Word of God with faith, devotion, and proper understanding, it becomes a living word in us, the vivifying breath of God in us.

Saint Paul reminds us to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,” (Colossians 3:16), where it will transform our values and attitudes.  We begin to have the mind of Christ, (see Philippians 2:5), and the heart of Christ formed in us by the Holy Spirit.

The Word of God then becomes a means of evangelizing others.  If they are open to hear God’s word – open in mind and heart, and not closed by prejudice or pride – the scriptural word brings them to Jesus and to the church.  Saint Paul wrote to his young disciple Timothy about the importance of scripture in the prophetic ministry:

But from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction,and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:15-17)

What is said of the inspired Word of God in sacred scripture extends to the authentic teachings of the church.  Such teachings are, in a broad sense, part of the grace of the word.  When we observe church teaching in faith and morals, it guides our growth in relation to God and in living a virtuous Christian life.  We can then share these teachings either formally – as a teacher would in a classroom setting, for example – or informally, such as when we speak of Christ to people in a discussion group or in spontaneous conversation.

THE PARACLETE: The Great Enigma And Our Grandest Heresy, by Phyllis Tickle

From The Age of the Spirit

It was not until 375 CE that the first book or treatise devoted solely and specifically to discussing the nature of the Holy Spirit appeared on the scene.  It was written by a bishop in Cappadocia (part of modern Turkey) named Basil, and known to us as Basil of Caesarea or Basil the Great.  Basil’s little book was titled succinctly, abruptly even, On the Holy Spirit.  Chapters 1–8 explain the nature of the deity of Christ, after which Basil moves on to argue that the Spirit is equal in the Godhead – clearly, a not yet widely accepted notion:

We must proceed, now, to attack our opponents as they endeavor to advance opinions which are derived from false knowledge.  It is not possible, they say, for the Holy Spirit to be ranked with the Father and Son, on account of the difference of his nature and the inferiority of his dignity.  But to them I reply with the words of the apostles: “We ought to obey God rather than any human authority.” (Acts 5:29)

“Attack our opponents” indeed!  Clearly, the early Christian fathers and mothers didn’t mess around.  But what lay behind Basil’s apologia?  What was he so agitated about?  The answer is Arianism.

Regardless of how colorful Basil of Cappadocia (or how convoluted the stories about him) may have been, there is no question but that Arius, a presbyter in Alexandria, is the heretic whose ideas created the most friction in Basil’s own time and, to some extent, have continued to do so right on into ours.  Arius, who had lived from ca. 255 CE to 336 CE, and quite possibly was not the originator of the heresy that bears his name, had argued that God the Father had created God the Son.  If so, then it logically followed that there was a time when God the Son was not.  Such a scandalous idea had not been voiced before!  A time when God the Father was and God the Son was not?  What could that even mean?

First of all and as is often true with most heresies, it meant that Arius had employed scripture as proof text in an effort to understand.  Jesus himself is recorded in John 14:28 as having said: “You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’  If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I.”  And, like it or not, the Apostle Paul had written to the Corinthians, saying, “Yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we live.” (1 Corinthians 8:6)

Nothing could be any clearer or more opaque than that.  And because Arius’s non-coequal, non-coeternal understanding of God the Father and God the Son did indeed enjoy some scriptural validity, it had become the most threatening of the early heresies and the most violently opposed.  Almost the whole of the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE was absorbed with discussion of Arius and his ideas.  Even the emperor Constantine himself became heavily embroiled in the arguments and one of the heroes of Trinitarian theology, Athanasius of Alexandria, had his place sealed forever in ecclesial history because of his brilliant opposition to Arian thought.

There were other doctrinal debates and theological movements beside Arianism, of course, almost all of them labeled heretical by some council or congress of churches and almost all of them destined to be freshly considered and reconsidered over the coming centuries.  But there was, among the persistent and troubling heresies that originated in Christianity’s first half millennium, one that was not about the Trinity in terms of God the Son.  Rather, it was about the Trinity in terms of God the Holy Spirit, of how to understand it, and of how to relate to God through it.  That one was called Montanism.

Montanism was named for its founder, but Montanus, unfortunately, was a man about whom we know practically nothing other than that he lived in the late second century and was probably from Phrygia in Asia Minor.  Whoever he was, though, his ideas were, and are, very clear.  He taught that the Holy Spirit was alive and active in the world right here and right now and that the Christian must be constantly attuned to the Spirit’s presence and, being attuned by self-discipline and prayer, be ready at all times to perceive and follow the intention or direction of the Spirit.  For Montanus, to be fully Christian meant to be receptive to that singular fact with all of one’s senses as well as all of one’s will and understanding.  One had to be intentionally and consciously and actively attuned to the Holy Spirit if one were ever to know what God wanted for one’s life.

Unfortunately, original discussions about Montanus and his new doctrine were considerably complicated by his own claims that the Holy Spirit, the parakletos, spoke to him and then through him.  Such is an audacious claim at any time, but it was especially so in those days of the mid- to late second century, when Christianity was an outlaw faith and Christians could readily be used as fuel for lighting imperial torches or as bait for energizing the games of the amphitheaters.  Generally speaking, the whole idea of an inspiriting Holy Spirit seemed fanciful to many, heretical to others, and downright dangerous to everybody.  Who knew what this Holy Spirit really was, and who was this Montanus to presume?  There were those who said he was possessed by the devil, and there were those who simply ignored him altogether.

Either way, as we all know, his ideas have continued to live on.  In fact, they are ideas that, arguably, live more actively now among us than they did in the days of Montanus himself.  Arguably, in fact, they were and are the progenitors of Pentecostalism and the first whispers of a faith more spiritual than it is religious.

And Basil would have had something to say to us about that as well.  That is, though he was writing his De Spiritu Sanctu, his monumental Of the Holy Spirit, in 375 CE, he was already acutely aware of the problems that could, and would, arise both from general confusion about the Holy Spirit and also – perhaps most detrimentally – from a natural human reluctance to engage that difficulty at all.  “Of the wise men among us,” he wrote, “some have conceived of him [i.e., the Holy Spirit] as an activity, some as a creature, some as God, and some have been uncertain which to call him and therefore neither worship him nor treat him with dishonor, but take up a neutral stance.”  Which diagnosis of the problem is as operative today as it was in Basil’s.

PRAYER: Stop Praying, by Francis Chan

From Crazy Love

What if I said, “Stop praying?”  What if I told you to stop talking at God for a while, but instead to take a long, hard look at him before you speak another word?  Solomon warned us not to rush into God’s presence with words.  That’s what fools do.  And often, that’s what we do.

We are a culture that relies on technology over community, a society in which spoken and written words are cheap, easy to come by, and excessive.  Our culture says anything goes; fear of God is almost unheard of.  We are slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to become angry.

The wise man comes to God without saying a word and stands in awe of him.  It may seem a hopeless endeavor, to gaze at the invisible God.  But Romans 1:20 tells us that through creation, we see his “invisible qualities” and “divine nature.”

Let’s begin this book by gazing at God in silence.  What I want you to do right now is to go online and look at the “Awe Factor” video at http://www.crazylovebook.com to get a taste of the awe factor of our God.  Seriously – go do it.

Speechless?  Amazed?  Humbled?

When I first saw those images, I had to worship.  I didn’t want to speak to or share it with anyone.  I just wanted to sit quietly and admire the creator.

It’s wild to think that most of these galaxies have been discovered only in the past few years, thanks to the Hubble telescope.  They’ve been in the universe for thousands of years without humans even knowing about them.

Why would God create more than 350,000,000,000 galaxies (and this is a conservative estimate) that generations of people never saw or even knew existed?  Do you think maybe it was to make us say, “Wow, God is unfathomably big”?  Or perhaps God wanted us to see these pictures so that our response would be, “Who do I think I am?”

R. C. Sproul writes, “Men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance, until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God.”   Switch gears with me for a minute and think about the detailed intricacy of the other side of creation.

Did you know that a caterpillar has 228 separate and distinct muscles in its head?  That’s quite a few, for a bug.  The average elm tree has approximately six million leaves on it.  And your own heart generates enough pressure as it pumps blood throughout your body that it could squirt blood up to 30 feet.  (I’ve never tried this, and I con’t recommend it.)

Have you ever thought about how diverse and creative God is?  He didn’t have to make hundreds of different kinds of bananas, but he did.  He didn’t have to put 3,000 different species of trees within one square mile in the Amazon jungle, but he did.  God didn’t have to create so many kinds of laughter.  Think about the different sounds of your friends’ laughs – wheezes, snorts, silent, loud, obnoxious.

How about the way plants defy gravity by drawing water upward from the ground into their stems and veins?  Or did you know that spiders produce three kinds of silk?  When they build their webs, they create sixty feet of silk in one hour, simultaneously producing special oil on their feet that prevents them from sticking to their own web.  (Most of us hate spiders, but sixty feet an hour deserves some respect!)  Coral plants are so sensitive that they can die if the water temperature varies by even one or two degrees.

Did you know that when you get goose bumps, the hair in your follicles is actually helping you stay warmer by trapping body heat?  Or what about the simple fact that plants take in carbon dioxide (which is harmful to us) and produce oxygen (which we need to survive)?  I’m sure you knew that, but have you ever marveled at it?  And these same poison-swallowing, life-giving plants came from tiny seeds that were placed in the dirt.  Some were watered, some weren’t; but after a few days they poked through the soil and out into the warm sunlight.

Whatever God’s reasons for such diversity, creativity, and sophistication in the universe, on Earth, and in our own bodies, the point of it all is his glory.  God’s art speaks of himself, reflecting who he is and what he is like.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.  There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.  Their voice goes out into all the Earth, their words to the ends of the world. (Psalm 19:1-4)

This is why we are called to worship him.  His art, his handiwork, and his creation all echo the truth that he is glorious.  There is no other like him.  He is the King of Kings, the Beginning and the End, the One who was and is and is to come.  I know you’ve heard this before, but I don’t want you to miss it.

I sometimes struggle with how to properly respond to God’s magnitude in a world bent on ignoring or merely tolerating him.  But know this: God will not be tolerated.  He instructs us to worship and fear him.

Go back and reread the last two paragraphs.  Go to the website http://www.crazylovebook.com and watch the “Just Stop and Think” fifteen-minute video.  Close this book if you need to, and meditate on the almighty One who dwells in unapproachable light, the glorious One.

FORGIVENESS: Jonah’s Legacy, by Janet Howe Gaines

From Forgiveness in a Wounded World

We recall our terrible past so that we can deal with it, to forgive where forgiveness is necessary, without forgetting; to ensure that never again will such inhumanity tear us apart. (Nelson Mandela, Address)

Forgiveness is only slightly less ancient than sin.  Yet we are much less experienced in the craft of pardoning than we are in the practice of wrongdoing.  There is a cycle of misconduct that diminishes everyone.  Over and over again we commit transgressions by the shameful things we do and the righteous things we leave undone.  Wounded, our instinct is to lash out, even though we have a desperate need both to give and receive forgiveness.  Yet alongside the perpetual circle of wrongdoing there can also be a continuous cycle of forgiveness in which all the principal players engage – other people, ourselves, and God.  In the wilderness of biblical days and the wasteland of modern life, God forgives us.  Nevertheless, when we are injured, we cannot always fathom how to let go of the pain we feel.  The sort of forgiveness extolled in self-help books and religious services, the kind that flows down to us from God and is presented by God to Jonah, seems difficult to emulate.  The legacy of the story’s final chapter is that we continue to struggle with the issue of forgiveness.  Human and divine responses may of necessity differ.
Continue reading

MYSTICISM: Two Short Essays, by Ptolemy Tompkins

From The Sun

Those Dark Trees

Driving across America the August before I stopped drinking, I found myself in Tennessee, taking note of that big look that trees get in the East at the end of summer: a line of them at the far end of a field, like blooms of dark green ink dropped into water.  When you see a group of trees like that, it’s easy to think that you could drop everything and just head off into them, the way Robert Frost is always talking about doing in his poems, marching and marching until you arrive at the secret heart of the world.  Of course, when Frost talked longingly about disappearing into the lovely woods, he was really talking about death.  But what kind?  Death in the sense of simple annihilation, of darkness and the merciful extinguishing of consciousness?  Or death as goal, as finish line, as the fantastic adulthood for which the life we know is merely a kind of preparatory adolescence?  All trees say, Vanish into us.  But they say it in different ways.  Take the kind of trees – ragged, sinister, fringed with litter – that one sees near service stations, or in the background on the evening news.  “It was here, in this wooded area less than a mile from where they were last seen alive. . . .”  Walk into a stand of trees like that, and you risk ending up scratched and sweaty, having traveled for miles in the wrong direction, and not an inch closer to the secret heart of anything than you were when you set out.
Continue reading

HEALING: Using The Lord’s Prayer To Breathe

It was an oddest assignment for contemplative prayer.

I was to take the Lord’s Prayer into the meditation, and as I let myself be guided by the vision, I was to intone the prayer.  Word by word.  Out loud.

Speaking aloud during contemplative prayer was not the most unusual aspect of the assignment, I thought.  It was using the Lord’s Prayer, itself, during such an exercise.
Continue reading

PEACEBUILDING: The Journey Toward Reconciliation, by John Paul Lederach

From The Journey Toward Reconciliation

The story of Esau and Jacob has especially shaped the way I understand and look at reconciliation.  It has provided me with a guiding framework for the other stories and ideas that I will explore.  Let me start with the narrative in Genesis, chapters 25-33.

Esau and Jacob are brothers, sons of Isaac and Rebecca.  Esau is the firstborn, the hunter, and the pride of his father’s eyes.  Jacob stays near home and close to his mother.  When Isaac is old and nearly blind, he calls Esau to bless him as the firstborn son.

Esau sets out to hunt for game to roast as the meal preceding that generational blessing.  While he is gone, Rebecca shows Jacob how to trick the old man into believing that he is Esau.  Not knowing and not seeing, Isaac bestows the revered blessing on his younger son, Jacob.
Continue reading

POETRY: Reconciliation, by Walt Whitman

Word over all, beautiful as the sky,
Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage must in time be utterly lost,
That the hands of the sisters Death and Night incessantly
softly wash again, and ever again, this soil’d world;
For my enemy is dead, a man divine as myself is dead,
I look where he lies white-faced and still in the coffin—I draw near,
Bend down and touch lightly with my lips the white face in the coffin.

POETRY: Pounding Swords Into Ploughshares, by David Wagoner

You’ll need dozens for each ploughshare,
but no matter how hard your hammer
comes down on them, pounding
and pounding blades on an anvil,
no matter how glowing they look there,
bloodred again, they’ll only flatten
to thinner and thinner, misshapen,
flabby sheets useless for anything
but the sheer noise of forging them
or patching roofs. Their crystal structure
may give in at half the temperature
of melting, but simple annealing
won’t bring their shapes together
and sharpen them to a hollow
earth-turning curve. In the meanwhile,
the dozens and dozens you took them from,
the ones not dead yet, will be demanding
you give them back, supposedly
to protect their unploughed farms
from the enemy, but much more likely
to flourish in someone else’s fields
among their abandoned ploughs.

POETRY: Late Justice, by Kay Ryan

Late justice may
be more useless
than none. Some
expungings or
or getting-backs
lack the capacity
to correct. The
formerly aggrieved
become exacting
in unattractive
ways: intolerant
of delay, determined
to collect. And shocked—
shocked—at their
new unappeasableness,
who had so long
been so reasonable.

PEACEMAKING: Forgiveness, Reconciliation, And Justice — A Christian Contribution to a More Peaceful Environment, by Miroslav Volf

From Christian Peace and Nonviolence, edited by Michael G. Long

In this essay I want to contest the claim that the Christian faith, as one of the major world religions, predominantly fosters violence, and to argue, instead, that it should be seen as a contributor to more peaceful social environments.  I will not argue that the Christian faith was not and is not often employed to foster violence.  Obviously, such an argument cannot be plausibly made; not only have Christians committed atrocities and other lesser forms of violence but they have also drawn on religious beliefs to justify them.  Neither will I argue that the Christian faith has been historically less associated with violence than other major religions; I am not at all sure that this is the case.  Rather, I will argue that at least when it comes to Christianity, the cure against religiously induced or legitimized violence is not less religion, but, in a carefully qualified sense, more religion.  Put differently, the more we reduce Christian faith to vague religiosity or conceive of it as exclusively a private affair of individuals, the worse off we will be; and inversely, the more we nurture it as an ongoing tradition that by its intrinsic content shapes behavior and by the domain of its regulative reach touches the public sphere, the better off we will be.  “Thick” practice of the Christian faith will help reduce violence and shape a culture of peace.
Continue reading

PEACEMAKING: Five Principles Of A Practical Theology Of Reconciliation, by Robert J. Schreiter

From Peacebuilding

Christian theology makes a distinction between vertical and horizontal reconciliation.  Vertical reconciliation is humanity’s being reconciled to God.  It concerns the biblical vision of human sin and how that sin is overcome in Christ, especially in his suffering and death.  Because of Christ’s work, human beings are brought back into communion with God.  This communion with God is the destiny of all human beings.  The biblical touchstone for this is Romans 5:1-11.  There, Paul asserts that we have been justified before God and that this has brought about reconciliation.

Most of Catholic teaching about reconciliation that has been developed thus far focuses on this vertical dimension of reconciliation – reconciling to sinner to God.  Horizontal reconciliation – reconciliation among human beings, either individually or socially – is rooted in vertical reconciliation, God’s reconciling work.  Without the work of God, our capacity to bring about large-scale reconciliation does not reach far enough to undo the damage that conflict, betrayal, and violation have wrought.  This does not rule our human agency by any means; it simply recognizes the magnitude of what is involved.
Continue reading

PRAYER: A Prayer Of Reconciliation, by Caryl Micklem

Christ died that we might be reconciled to you, Father, and to one another.  People cannot believe in reconciliation with you unless there are human reconciliations which reflect it.  And so we pray for the healing of the broken bonds of human life.

We pray for reconciliation between nations.  We do not believe that the true interests of nations ever conflict sharply enough for war to be necessary.  And yet we know that peace has often been exploited by those who love to oppress, making war a grim necessity.  Give us true peace, founded on justice and respect for human rights.
Continue reading

SATURDAY READING: Blessed Are The Meek, by Thomas Merton

From Faith and Violence

It would be a serious mistake to regard Christian nonviolence simply as a novel tactic which is at once efficacious and even edifying, and which enables the sensitive man to participate in the struggles of the world without being dirtied with blood.  Nonviolence is not simply a way of proving one’s point and getting what one wants without being involved in behavior that one considers ugly and evil.  Nor is it, for that matter, a means which anyone can legitimately make use of according to his fancy for any purpose whatever.  To practice nonviolence for a purely selfish or arbitrary end would in fact discredit and distort the truth of nonviolent resistance.  To use nonviolence merely in order to gain political advantage at the expense of the opponent’s violent mistakes would also be an abuse of this tactic.

Nonviolence is perhaps the most exacting of all forms of struggle, not only because it demands first of all that one be ready to suffer evil and even face the threat of death without violent retaliation, but because it excludes mere transient self-interest, even political, from its considerations.  In a very real sense, he who practices nonviolent resistance must commit himself not to be defense of his own interests or even those of a particular group: he must commit himself to the defense of objective truth and right and above all of man.  His aim is then not simply to “prevail” or to prove that he is right and the adversary wrong, or to make the adversary give in and yield what is demanded of him.
Continue reading

MYSTICISM: Violence And Nonviolence, by Dorothee Soelle

From Christian Peace And Nonviolence, edited by Michael G. Long

It is beyond dispute that a child, even before it begins to write the alphabet and gathers worldly knowledge, should know what the soul is, what truth is, what love is, and what forces are hidden in the soul.  It should be the essence of true education that every child learns this and in the struggle of life be able more readily to overcome hatred by love, falsehood by truth, and violence by taking suffering on oneself. (Gandhi, The Unity of All Living Beings)

Mysticism creates a new relation to the three powers that, each in its own totalitarian way, hold us in prison: the ego, possession, and violence.  Mysticism relativizes them, frees us from their spell, and prepares us for freedom.  Those powers project themselves in very diverse ways.  The ego that keeps on getting bigger presents itself most often as well-mannered and civilized, even when it seeks to get rid of every form of ego-lessness.  Possession, which according to Francis of Assisi makes for a condition that forces us to arm ourselves, appears in a neutralized, unobtrusive form.  The fact that the very entities with which we destroy creation – namely possession, consumption, and violence – have fashioned themselves into a unity in our world makes no impact, whether by design or through ignorance.

When women, like Dorothy Day, are not fixated on their own egos, or when fools without possessions, like some of Saint Francis’s sons and daughters, live different, liberated lives, they are met with smiles of derision.  But when they dare to take real steps out of the violence-shaped actuality of our condition, they come into conflict with the judiciary or wind up in jail.  More than anything else, violence must hide itself and always put on new garments, disguising itself in the form of imperatives, such as security, protection, technological necessity, public order, or defensive measures.
Continue reading

FORGIVENESS: An Art That Can Be Learned, by Geiko Müller-Fahrenholz

From The Art of Forgiveness

Summary of a Seminar with Body Exercises

In May 1993 I was approached by Elsa Tamez of the Seminario Bíblico Latinoamericano in San José, Costa Rica, to conduct a four-hour seminar on “forgiveness.”  She had heard of my interest in this subject and wanted to integrate it in her own seminar on “Reconciliation and Justice.”  I accepted the invitation with some trepidation; for I knew that it would be difficult to explain what perdón meant to me.  Elsa’s students – some twenty women and men – came from all parts of Latin America.  Many had already been working in their churches, most of which are very small and poor.  They bore in their lives the heavy burdens of a history of oppression and exploitation, notably by European nations.  How could I as a European speak to them about forgiveness?

To remain as close as possible to their experience, I decided to conduct three body exercises and to engage the students in an exchange.  From my earlier exposure to this type of work, I knew that what one experiences in the flesh usually has a deep impact on one’s thinking.  Body work prevents persons from merely theorizing about theological problems and enables them to situate their insights in their immediate biographical context.  Since forgiveness has to do with intensely intimate experiences and feelings, it seemed appropriate to use such an approach, even though it was unfamiliar to most of them.  But they participated with the greatest enthusiasm.
Continue reading

GOD 101: Flow And Stillness

And so I looked into the eyes of God.

Not God God, exactly, but God, the Father, who had taken shape in a vision and stood there talking with me.

I didn’t hear any of his words consciously, not enough to remember them, or even to remember that I heard them.

I remember a few of my words.  Just a few.  Nothing of significance.

But I remember looking into his eyes.
Continue reading

JESUS CHRIST: Love Your Enemies?, by Ammon Hennacy

From Christian Peace And Nonviolence, edited by Michael G. Long

(Ammon Hennacy was imprisoned for being a conscientious objector during World War I.  The following was taken from the journal he kept during his imprisonment.)

That night I was nervous and tore off the buttons from my clothing in order to have something to do to sew them on again.  I paced my eight and a half steps back and forth for hours and finally flung myself on the bunk.  It must have been the middle of the night when I awoke.  I had not had a note from anyone for a month.  Were my friends forgetting me?  I felt weak, lonesome, and alone in the world.  Here I had been singing defiance at the whole capitalistic world but a few hours before and had boasted to the warden how I would bravely do my time; now I wondered if anyone really cared.  Perhaps by this time Selma might be married to someone else with a real future ahead of him instead of being lost in a jail.  The last letter I had received from her was rather formal.  Would she understand why I did not write; and could I be sure that some of the letters I had sent her had been received, with the officials opening the mail I had sent to my sister Lola?  How could one end it all?  The sharp spoon with which I had carved poems and my calendar on the wall could cut my wrist and I could bleed to death before a guard arrived.  But then that would be such a messy death.  Then the warden would be sorry for the lies he had told me and the tricks he had tried to play.  The last thing I could remember before falling asleep was the long wailing whistle of the freight train as it echoed in the woods nearby.

The next day the deputy came to my cell and said that I was looking very pale, that number 7440, a man just two numbers from me who had come in the same day with me, had died of the flu, and that thirty others were buried that week.  If I did not get out and breathe the fresh air it was likely that I would die sooner than the others, he said.  Why should I not tell what I knew and get out?  In reply I asked the deputy to talk about the weather, as I was not interested in achieving the reputation of a rat.  He asked me if it was a prisoner or a guard who had sent out my letters.  I walked up to him closely and in a confidential tone said, “It was a prisoner or a guard.”
Continue reading

FORGIVENESS: Nourishing The Beauty — Forgiveness and Prayer, by Carla Mae Streeter

From Foundations of Spirituality

The beauty that is human authenticity is nourished by liturgy, by sacrament, by art, by music, by human relatedness.  The consciousness drinks in what it needs.  The Divine empowers and purifies in the midst of the ordinary.  In the midst of this plethora of nourishments that feed soul making, I single out two: forgiveness and prayer.  Forgiveness I liken to a flushing out of the soul, an intentional release of toxins that could make us incapable of the nourishment that prayer is.  Prayer is coming before divine Love, clothed in nothing but faith, drawn by hope’s aching desire, and breathless on love’s bare feet.  Unforgiveness covers the ground with shards of broken glass.

Living things can be poisoned and their growth halted altogether.  Almost as bad, a living thing can be blighted, its growth crippled, twisted, and deformed.  Negatively, forgiveness is the purging that is absolutely necessary for spiritual growth.  Jesus was not kidding about forgiving seventy-seven times.  If unforgiveness is present in consciousness, it will prevent the nourishment of the soul.  It will cripple attempts at prayer.  Why is this so?

Forgiveness takes love’s temperature.  Low, the love is cool; high, the love is warm and real.  Without forgiveness, love languishes in the never-never land of the lukewarm.  With forgiveness, love holds no prisoners and as a result is itself free.  We free our prisoners not because they are not guilty.  We free them because to hold them poisons our own souls.
Continue reading

PRAYER: A Litany Of Confession, by Peter Nott

O Lord, open our minds to see ourselves as you see us, and from all unwillingness to know our weakness and our sin,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From selfishness;
from wishing to be the center of attraction;
from seeking admiration;
from the desire to have our own way in all things;
from unwillingness to listen to others;
from resentment of criticism,
Good Lord, deliver us.
Continue reading

SATURDAY READING: Jesus Reframes Forgiveness, by Michael Frost

From Jesus the Fool

king christ the world is all aleak; and
life preservers there are none
—e. e. cummings

If laws like the Ten Commandments serve only to remind us of our terrible inadequacy, what hope is there for the human race?  The answer is that Jesus also reframes how we find a way out of our impasse and it is not through an increased commitment to some external set of regulations.  In this regard, Jesus is running contrary to every belief in the Ancient Near East, whether educated or not, that religion is the regimen by which we purchase the deity’s good graces.  For Jesus, religion is an expression of devotion to a deity who has already bestowed his good graces upon his people.  Watch carefully and see how cleverly he accomplishes this.

Jesus and a repentant woman

In Luke 7:36-39 we find the following disturbing story.  Jesus had been invited to the home of a Pharisee named Simon, one of the conservative religious leaders of the Jewish community.  This was no ordinary social gathering; Jesus’s reputation was growing and he was beginning to be perceived by the common people as a champion of their cause, a religious teacher who spoke the language of the street, who gave their faith some practical application, thus making sense of the relationship between religion and daily life.

The Pharisees, on the other hand, were revered, even feared, as men of unattainable holiness, keepers of the ancient traditions, separated, disconnected, and esoteric.  They were the orthodox guardians of the faith.  To them, Jesus would have been disdained in the way some academic theologians today might disdain popular Christian literature or in the same way professors of psychology might pooh-pooh many of the self-help books currently available.
Continue reading