Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 35

Posted: April 26th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 35

74.  It is not always for the same reason that sinners commit the same sin. The reasons vary. For example, it is one thing to sin through force of habit and another to sin through being carried away by a sudden impulse. In the latter case the man did not deliberately choose the sin either before committing it, or afterwards;  on the contrary, he is deeply distressed that the sin has occurred. It is quite different with the man who sins through force of habit. Prior to the act itself he was already sinning in thought, and after it he is still in the same state of mind.

There is a common way of speaking in my strand of Christianity that holds that all sin is the same. Of course that’s nonsense. We don’t even live or act as though that’s true. I think it’s even a dangerous attitude. It can hide the more dangerous things that rule us. All sin is not the same. St. Maximos has warned us elsewhere that the more spiritual sins like greed and pride are much more destructive than the baser passions. Here he warns us that even when the sin is the same, it’s merely the outward symptom. In and of itself, it tells us nothing about the inner state driving the act. And that inner state is extremely important. An impulsive action for which we are distressed is more easily and readily healed than a deeply engrained passion.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 24

Posted: August 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 24

89. Some people with possessions possess them dispassionately, and so when deprived of them they are not dismayed but are like those who accepted the seizure of their goods with joy (cf. Heb. 10:34). Others possess with passion, so that when they are in danger of being dispossessed they become utterly dejected, like the rich man in the Gospel who went away full of sorrow (cf. Matt. 19:22); and if they actually are dispossessed, they remain dejected until they die. Dispossession, then, reveals whether a man’s inner state is dispassionate or dominated by passion.

It seems to me that St. Maximos touches on something very important here. The state of our heart when it comes to possessions is not usually revealed by what we have. Some greedily seek ever more and crush people to attain it. But many of us are not like that. The state of of our heart is revealed when we have our possessions taken from us or are in danger of losing them. Are they truly our possessions or do they in fact possess us? Do we have stuff or are we in bondage to stuff?

My older son loved the movie Labyrinth when he was little and my youngest daughter rediscovered the movie and also has enjoyed it. I’m reminded now of the scene in which the old women carrying great loads of their possessions begin to similarly burden Sarah with the stuff she “needs”. Freedom came in letting it all go. If we cannot let go, then we are not the owners. We are the owned.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 4

Posted: June 7th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 4

8.  He who drives out self-love, the mother of the passions, will with God’s help easily rid himself of the rest, such as anger, irritation, rancor and so on. But he who is dominated by self-love is overpowered by the other passions, even against his will. Self-love is the passion of attachment to the body.

When I consider it, it does seem obvious that anger, irritation, jealousy, greed, and a host of other things are fueled by “self-love.” And it can be very subtle indeed. We can do good things driven by our desire for others to recognize the self we love above all. And we lie to ourselves very easily in such situations. It is often as difficult to truly know ourselves as it is to know another human being.


Four Hundred Texts on Love 23

Posted: May 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

84.  First the memory brings some passion-free thought into the intellect. By its lingering there, passion is aroused. When the passion is not eradicated, it persuades the intellect to assent to it. Once this assent is given, the actual sin is then committed. Therefore, when writing to converts from paganism, St Paul in his wisdom orders them first to eliminate the actual sin and then systematically to work back to the cause. The cause, as we have already said, is  greed, which generates and promotes passion. I think that greed in this case means gluttony, because this is the mother and nurse of unchastity. For greed is a sin not only with regard to possessions hut also with regard to food, just as self-control likewise relates to both food and possessions.

This text provides one of the descriptions of the way a thought arouses a passion and the passion then translates into an act of actual sin. In some ways, I’m not totally unlike those ancient converts from paganism. I understand that you have to learn to see something as wrong, then stop doing it, and finally trace backwards the inward paths.

I don’t believe I had really considered greed as a form of gluttony, but it makes sense. They both manifest as the desire to acquire and consume more. Our modern American culture is a treacherous environment for us. Consumption and acquisition are considered to be the normal course of life. Perhaps in that way, we are all the new pagans?


Four Hundred Texts on Love 7

Posted: April 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love 7

29. When you are insulted by someone or humiliated, guard against angry thoughts, lest they arouse a feeling of irritation, and so cut you off from love and place you in the realm of hatred.

I have discovered that a dangerous moment for me arises when my ideas or thoughts are attacked or put down. And I am right. And I can prove it.

As we have discussed, a passion in the patristic sense does not necessarily appear explosive, overt, or even wrong — at least at first. Rather, it is the process of taking a step down a path in response to external stimuli without the conscious intervention of our will. What often happens when that begins, at least in my experience, is that our wills can become ruled by the passion rather than the other way around.

People have often called me strong-willed, though not infrequently in less flattering terms. And, in truth, a strong will is rarely a good thing when it is ruled, marshaled, and focused by a passion rather than the other way around. Too often in my life, my irritation at the words or actions of another has been a passion which has merged my intellect and expressive talent with my will for the purpose of destroying another.

Oh, I don’t believe that’s my intent at the time. I’m just defending myself or my ideas. Certainly I don’t hate the other person or want to hurt them! But that’s a lie. And it’s even worse when I am demonstrably right and others around me see and acknowledge that I am right. For now I am justified in my passion! And that makes it even harder to break free.

I became truly and consciously aware of how dangerous and insidious this passion is, at least for me, many years ago at work. I don’t remember exactly how or why it started, but another person on our team either didn’t understand my ideas or strongly held a different idea about the direction we should take. I’m not even sure which one it was or what triggered my passion. It had to be something small at first.

However it began, I look back and see how I began to dismantle his proposals or ideas in our meetings. Oh, I was always careful to focus my discussion on the idea and never the person the way you are supposed to act in business settings. (I would note that our ideas our perhaps more closely entangled with ourselves than we might think.) And I was never directly insulting or otherwise inappropriate. Moreover, my ideas about the direction our project needed to take were actually the right ideas (and that has since been proven over time) and most of the people on the team agreed with me. That created a lot of positive reinforcement, which is not a good thing when it is feeding a passion.

Finally, some weeks or months later, I remember sitting in a meeting having a discussion on something. I was dissecting something that particular coworker had proposed. I had others joining in with me as I often did. Suddenly, as we were laughing at something somebody had said (I don’t even remember if it was something I said or not), I looked over at my coworker and had one of those thoughts that stops you cold. It felt like somebody had thrown a bucket of cold water in my face.

There’s more than one way to be a bully.

Yes, I know that as adults, especially in professional settings, that’s not a word we typically use. But I endured quite a bit growing up and that’s certainly one area where I suffered. There are many reasons that was the case. I went to a lot of different schools growing up, so I was often the “new” guy trying to find a place. I didn’t fit into easy categories. There was the part of me who was the intelligent, shy bookworm. There was another part that was the highly creative actor, writer, and performer. There was another part that loved sports, riding bikes, and exploring the world around me. So I rarely had a “group” and even the friends I thought I had sometimes flipped against me. So the thought that I might have become a “bully” myself was devastating for me.

I went back to my desk, stepped back, and looked at what I had done. Nobody on our team respected our coworker. He had become an object of ridicule and scorn. However, it didn’t end there; such things rarely do. The whole team was a mess. The dynamic between my coworker and me had become one of the dominant dynamics of the entire team.

I did the only thing I could think to do. I crafted and sent an apology to my coworker and the entire team that simply outlined the things I had done wrong. I did not justify them, though I certainly had justifications, as that would have accomplished nothing. And then I said I wasn’t going to act in those ways anymore. An apology didn’t magically fix the problem, but it at least allowed a healing process to begin, especially when I quit feeding the negative feedback loop that had engulfed us.

I’ve noticed that Christians often tend to think of being ruled by passions in terms of the dramatic passions like lust, addictions, and rage. And those are indeed extremely destructive to you and to everyone around you. But the fact that many of us can avoid or break free of such passions does not mean we are truly free. The less overt passions are all the more insidious because they are difficult for us to see. And yet anytime we are ruled by a passion, anytime a passion is able to bypass or control our will, we will think and act in destructive ways.

I think when we begin to recognize the reality of our situation, we truly begin to see how much we need grace, which is to say that we need God.

Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.


Four Hundred Texts on Love 6

Posted: April 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love 6

23.  He who loves God will certainly love his neighbor as well. Such a person cannot hoard money, but distributes it in a way befitting God, being generous to everyone in need.

24.  He who gives alms in imitation of God does not discriminate between the wicked and the virtuous, the just and the unjust, when providing for men’s bodily needs. He gives equally to all according to their need, even though he prefers the virtuous man to the bad man because of the probity of his intention.

Our love and our lack of love is very often demonstrated by what we choose to do with our money. Did not Jesus strongly warn us of precisely that reality? And not only should we give, but when providing for the bodily needs of another human being, we ought not discriminate between those we believe deserve our help and those who do not. I’m reminded by these texts that God causes it to rain on the just and the unjust alike. He gives good gifts to us all. He is a good God who loves mankind.

Once again, I’m not particularly good at this. I don’t think it’s greed, since I’ve had both nothing and plenty over the years and I still have no particular desire for money. It’s more comfortable to have enough than not to have enough. That’s true. But I don’t care that much about money itself. I think it’s often fear that drives me away from love. I’m afraid I won’t have enough. I’m afraid the money will be “wasted”. I’m not sure; perhaps it’s fear of many things.

Once again, we Christians are not particularly known in this country for our outrageous generosity. Many people in our country know we are supposed to love and we are supposed to be generous. Too many of the charges against us are true.

Lord have mercy.


Resurrection!

Posted: April 4th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Resurrection | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

It’s easy to be cynical.

I’ve been there in my life. In many ways, when deconstruction — finding and revealing the ideas and forces operating behind the facades — is part and parcel of your ongoing perception of reality, it’s hard to be anything else.

greed and violence and abuse they are not right
and they cannot last
they belong to death and death does not belong

Death does not belong. That is the message and the hope of resurrection. What we do, every act of compassion and beauty, will last. It’s not wasted. It’s not ephemeral. Love and life are the fabric and substance of reality.

you didn’t see that coming, did you?

Resurrection was a shocking surprise. It’s still shocking today! They didn’t see it coming and we don’t see it coming. Resurrection turns everything you thought you knew about reality on its head.

This is Rob Bell at his finest. Watch it more than once. The full text of his narration is also on his site as are options like an mp3 download.