Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted: November 25th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac, Personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Happy Thanksgiving!

I wanted to take a moment to wish everyone who chooses to read my reflections and musings a Happy Thanksgiving! (If any of you aren’t US natives, it’s a thing here where we celebrate an idealized conception about the formation of our nation and during which we are supposed to give thanks.) I know that the holidays can be a deeply depressing time for many and I hope that’s not the case for any of you.

I am deeply thankful, as always, for my family. And though it perhaps sounds strange, I am deeply thankful for a God who became one of us and who meets me always where I am. I can love a God who understands me that deeply. I can worship a God who has suffered with us. And I long for a God who makes all things new.

My wife mastered gluten free holiday cooking last year, so it won’t be a problem this year when most of us have been diagnosed with celiac. I couldn’t tell the difference in her cornbread dressing last year. If anything, it was even better than it had been in the past. And the dressing was the main thing that needed to change. My wife always made her giblet gravy with corn starch, not flour. Most of the other staples of the holiday are naturally gluten free if you don’t introduce gluten during preparation. Cranberries, turkey, potatoes, and sweet potatoes are all naturally gluten free ingredients.

We also bought a free range, organic turkey from Sprouts this year. We are least trying to eat less industrialized food and have some care about the way our food animals are treated — which matters both for ethical and health reasons. It’s hard in our modern society where we are so disconnected from our food. But we’re committed to at least making the effort.

Grace and peace to all!


Reality

Posted: November 24th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Reality

Sometimes it seems to me that a great many Christians in our present culture and age have surrendered the reality of our faith. That manifests in a host of different ways and crosses both the modern “liberal” and “conservative” Christian divides. I’ll try to explore some of those ways in this post, but I’m not trying to be comprehensive. Rather, I’m trying to peel back the layers and at least make an effort to reveal what lies underneath.

Some ways this happens are obvious. For instance, there are many who deny the historical reality of our faith. They reject the virgin birth, the resurrection, and other facets of our faith yet often want to maintain some connection or identification with it. While our faith is not merely historical, it collapses if God did not in fact become one of us — fully and in every way — confronting the powers and ultimately defeating them. An euvangelion is a particular sort of “good news.” It’s the good news of a victorious king who has defeated the enemies that assail his people, and who has thereby made his people safe. Either that’s what Jesus accomplished or as far as I can tell, there’s no reason to be Christian.

Perhaps I see the demarcation more clearly than some who have been raised and formed within some sort of Christian context. I have been other things and I have worshiped other gods. Whatever similarities you can find between them, they say fundamentally different things about the nature of reality and what it means to be a human being. That’s why in some contexts (ancient and modern) Christianity is said to be the end of religion. God has intruded into history and in Jesus, the eternal Son and Word became one of us in every way. Jesus makes God known to us. Jesus reveals God to us. And Jesus provides the path through which we can know God and be one with God. If Christianity is true, we aren’t guessing about reality any more. But that’s only the case if Jesus of Nazareth truly forms the center of human history.

Sometimes this disconnect from reality happens in other ways. For instance, I’ve never been able to grasp what Christians who assert that the cosmos are only a few thousand years old are trying to achieve. That’s so clearly and demonstrably false across virtually every discipline of knowledge that it comes across more as a denial of reality than anything else.

It is true that as Christians we do not share the same understanding of reality as materialists who hold there is nothing beyond the sensible realm (though things like quantum mechanics stretch what we mean by sensible realm). But we should not deny the clear evidence of our senses. Where a materialist, for example, would perceive nothing but the physical mechanics of, for instance, the processes of evolution, a Christian would (or at least should) see a process infused by the particular sort of God who became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. But the evidence for that view is in the Incarnation, not in anything we can learn through our study of nature.

How do you perceive a God who is sustaining and filling everything from moment to moment? How do you see the God who is maintaining the existence of both the observer and the observed? If we had the capacity to know God on our own, the Incarnation would not have been necessary. Everything we learn or know has the capacity to draw us to God or away from God. The result is really up to us. But we aren’t going to be able to somehow distill and separate God from his creation. Yes, God certainly transcends creation. That’s why he had to become human — to empty himself — in order for us to know him. But he’s not a separate aspect or element in creation. The smallest particle, the least bit of energy, the smallest fragment of a wave are all sustained moment by moment in and through Christ. There is nothing that has any independent existence. Only God is self-existent and eternal. Everything else is created and depends on God. Fortunately our God does not begrudge existence to any of his creation. It would be a frightening thing for existence to depend on the whim of the capricious God so many imagine.

Reality itself is thus fundamentally sacramental or a mystery of God. And our role within it is to act as priests — to minister God to creation and offer creation back as thanksgiving to God. If you can perceive reality through that lens, it makes a mockery of Zwingli’s musings. His idea that anything could merely represent God or, as is often said today, could be purely symbolic could only be true if there were, in fact, some sort of division between God and creation. His ideas require two thing that are altogether missing in the Christian perspective of reality — distance and self-existence. If water is never merely water then how can it become merely water when it is used sacramentally? It can, perhaps, become even more truly water, but it cannot become less. The same is true of oil and incense and bread and wine. They become even more real, not less.

I’m also confused about how modern Christians perceive reality when I see how many of them treat variation in Christian belief and practice almost as matters of personal taste and preference. Even after fifteen years, it makes no sense to me and it seems to be a pretty modern occurrence. As recently as two hundred years ago, though there were many differences among Christians, they all believed those differences really and truly mattered. Now? Not so much. But our perception of God defines our understanding of reality. If, for instance, Calvin accurately described God, then reality is very different than it would be if, for contrast, St. Gregory of Nyssa’s description is more correct. One of them could be right. They could both be wrong. But they cannot both be right. They offer divergent and often completely contradictory images of God. Athanasius and Anselm both wrote on the Incarnation and they do not say the same thing. God is the fundamental ground of reality and how we understand him is vitally important, not a secondary concern. To the extent we misapprehend God, we misapprehend reality.

While we do have some limited capacity to shape reality within the sphere of our personal power and will, to a large degree reality is simply what it is and lies beyond our ability to mold. And we certainly can’t change God just by imagining him to be a certain way. There is a name for that space between reality and our perception of it. It’s called delusion. Personally, I would prefer to be as free from delusion as I can be. I know I can’t do that on my own. Christianity proclaims that I don’t have to. The Word became flesh and gives us the grace, which is to say himself, to know God. Christianity tells us that, if we are willing, we can see reality as it is.


Reflections on Resurrection 8 – Heaven

Posted: November 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Resurrection | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Reflections on Resurrection 8 – Heaven

I can’t discuss the Christian narrative of resurrection and new creation in our modern context without discussing heaven. It seems that far too many people today perceive the goal, the telos, the reward if you will of Christian faith as going to heaven when you die. Within this perspective, the present world and our physical bodies become nothing more than something which is passing away and which one day will be cast aside — discarded as at best useless and at worst refuse. It is a future reward that is not much concerned with our present reality.

But that begs the question, what is heaven? I’ve heard it described variously, but I understand it best as the spiritual dimension of reality in which God’s will is already done. But this spiritual realm cannot be seen as in some way separated or at a distance from our material realm. No, as the stories throughout scripture illustrate, that spiritual dimension is all around us. It’s often a matter of perception. Heaven and earth are overlapping and interlocking. There is presently a veil between them (for our salvation), but heaven is not best described as a place that we go.

Most importantly, heaven is not the culmination of all things or the eschaton. Rather, the culmination of the Christian narrative is a renewed creation with no veil between it and heaven and our ultimate home is the renewed physical realm, not the spiritual realm. We are material, embodied beings and our charge is and has always been to care for the physical world and offer it back to God as our eucharist or thanksgiving.

Christianity does not say a lot about what happens immediately after death. We know that to die is to be with Christ, which is far better. In John 14, Jesus talks about preparing temporary dwelling places for us. We know that we remain conscious and active and praying. We see in the stories of the saints up to the present day that they are able to manifest and are actively involved with us, but we also see in their relics that their material body has not yet been used up in resurrection as Jesus’ body in the tomb was.

I’m also not sure that speculation on such topics is ultimately useful. Our goal and our salvation is union with Christ. If we are able to remain focused on that — which is certainly a tall order — I have the sense that everything else will work itself out. I do still like Bishop Tom’s phrase, though. Christianity has little to say about life after death. It has a great deal to say about life after life after death.


Another Gluten Free Holiday Season

Posted: October 18th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

We’ve had our first real taste of fall here and the signs of the holidays are popping up everywhere. Halloween is around the corner. Thanksgiving will be here in a blink of an eye. And I can sense Christmas looming just out of sight. I haven’t had much to write about celiac because I’ve largely settled into a routine. I mostly eat at home and mostly things we have cooked ourselves from scratch. When we do eat out, we tend to go to one of the same few places we know are safe. I feel better than I’ve felt in years and indications are that my body is steadily healing. I still haven’t found the right balance of foods to eat now that I’m actually absorbing more from them which, combined with erratic exercise habits as my new job has taken more of my time, means my weight has been jumping up and down (though more up than down lately). And, to put it delicately, my digestive tract still doesn’t quite function normally. But I’m doing so much better than I was that the issues which remain seem more like minor annoyances.

This will be my second gluten free holiday season, but the first for my two younger children. Our celebrations at home are easy since we cook everything ourselves. It also shouldn’t be too difficult for our son. The cafeterias at Baylor do an excellent job of meeting all sorts of dietary needs, including his. Our daughter, though, will face the round of middle school parties where she will probably not be able to eat much of anything. And there seems to be somebody bringing food to work during this period for one reason or another almost every week. And they tend to forget that I can’t eat it and offer me some or ask why I’m not having any. It doesn’t particularly bother me, but I remember enough about those middle school years to know that it’s uncomfortable to stand out at that age. Being different is not a good thing. But our daughter has a solid group of friends who help look out for her. And one of those friends recently found out she also has celiac disease.

My wife and I have the gluten free candy lists at hand, so we’re ready for Halloween. My wife adapted her secret family recipe for cornbread dressing (which my wife had already improved) to be gluten free last year, and that’s one of the most important holiday dishes that wasn’t naturally gluten free. Both kids have learned to be cautious and think before they eat, which is really the most important thing during this time of the year when food is everywhere around us. I think we’re as prepared as we can be.

I did get one bit of really good news a few days ago. My older son was tested for celiac disease and he does not have it. So at least one of my kids didn’t inherit it from me. And they know enough to be aware if my granddaughter develops any signs or symptoms, but so far she’s fine as well. I was so relieved to hear the news. They are young, don’t have a lot of money, and live in a small town setting. Celiac would have been a lot more difficult to manage for them than it has been for me. I was worried, especially after discovering both my youngest children had inherited the disease.

That’s my periodic celiac update. I hope everyone reading has a wonderful holiday season this year. Peace.


Original Sin 5 – Evolution

Posted: February 26th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Original Sin | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

As I began to record my thoughts for today’s post, it dawned on me that the route this series is taking might seem to be a strange and circuitous one to some of those reading it. In part, I believe that is due to the way I’ve chosen to develop it. I’m writing from the perspective of my own personal interaction with this idea as I journeyed into my present Christian faith. As such, even though I am compressing and abridging that interaction, the shape of the series necessarily follows something like the shape of my own journey. And that also means that the series will explore problems and questions first; answers come later for I began to discover them later. It also means the issues, problems, and questions I encountered may not necessarily be the same ones someone else encounters in their journey. Though I mentioned my approach at the outset, I thought I should clarify. I realized that yesterday’s post and today’s might seem like a strange detour to some reading.

Yesterday I briefly discussed karma to illustrate how I was unwilling to exchange a framework with which I was pretty comfortable for an inferior one. That was tinged by an early recognition on my part that I could not continue to hold both. At a very deep level, the narrative of Resurrection is very different from and incompatible with the narrative within which karma functions. I would not say I suddenly dropped one and embraced the other. It was a lengthier process than that. But it did become clear from an early point — St. John the Theologian’s Gospel had a lot to do with that illumination — that if I continued my journey into Christianity, at some point I would shift narrative frameworks. (Although it’s not exactly relevant to this series, I’m struck by the manner in which so many modern Christians don’t seem to realize just how revolutionary, transforming, and counter-intuitive the narrative of Resurrection is.)

I was shaped and formed within the context of an extended family of scientists and artists. (I’ll also point out those are not mutually exclusive categories. Many in my family are both scientists and artists of one sort or another.) While I’m neither, at least in any realized form, I’ve always lived and breathed within the framework of both. My father is a geneticist and spent his career doing research. While, as I outlined above, I foresaw the need and was not unwilling to exchange my narrative framework of the broader context of reality (some might call it a metaphysical framework, but I’m not entirely comfortable with that word as it means very different things to different people) for a Christian one, I was never willing to adopt a framework that sat in opposition to the scientific narrative of physical reality. (Nor is there anyone who reasonably should. The larger frameworks — Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Atheist, etc. — operate beyond the scope of the scientific narrative.) It’s an unfortunate reality that so many modern Christians have allowed their Christian narrative to shrink either to an alternative and opposing perspective or to one which is smaller than and fits inside the narrative of science rather than the other way around. But I was never tempted in either direction.

Why does that matter? Long before I found the root of the idea behind the notion of original sin as inherited guilt in ancient Greek philosophy, I recognized one key weakness in it from a natural perspective. If all human beings who presently or have ever lived have inherited the moral and juridical guilt of the first man who “sinned” against God, then that means that all human beings must be descended from a single pair of ancestors (or at least from the original “guilty” one). And we now know, with near certainty, that that is not the case. The science is beyond the scope of this series. Moreover, it’s not a field in which I can claim any sort of personal expertise and I don’t trust myself to communicate my understanding of it clearly. Nevertheless, the evidence is pretty convincing and I encourage anyone interested to explore it on your own.

I had ample reasons from my perspective to set aside the idea of inherited guilt without even considering this particular issue. Nevertheless, I did see this problem early and was unwilling to adopt a “faith” that stood in opposition to pretty clear natural evidence. I don’t particularly care myself whether or not humanity originated with a single couple nor do I know many scientists with a vested interest either way. But the evidence does not seem to support such an idea, and I’m not interested in making something so shaky a “linchpin” of my larger narrative framework. Mine already don’t tend to be as strongly held or constructed as they seem to be for many people. I’m not interested in deliberately weakening it with such comparatively fragile pieces.

As an aside, I will note that it’s my understanding that the Roman Catholic Church, which is the tradition within which the idea of original sin as inherited guilt originally flowered toward the end of the first millenium of Christianity, does in some way reconcile scientific evidence with the overarching idea of inherited guilt. Although I have had numerous interactions with Roman Catholicism over the course of my life and have Catholic family and friends, I wandered into Christianity myself in an evangelical Southern Baptist context. So I must confess I don’t know how the Roman Catholic Church reconciles this specific issue. If anyone does know, feel free to share that information in the comments.

Finally, though not really related to the topic of this series, I will note that I’m also not tied to the idea that within the context of created time, there was ever a specific point in time when creation was not disordered as a result of sin. According to Christian faith, human beings were created as eikons (icons or images) of the uncreated God for the purpose of reflecting God into creation and for communion with God. Time itself is a creation of God, not uncreated. If we were created, in part, to reflect the uncreated energies into creation, then it seems to me that normal perceptions of causal effect might not apply in this regard. I’m comfortable with the idea that creation has been disordered and groaning from the beginning as a result of our failure to fill our proper role within it. And I’m comfortable with the idea that even as we are born into a “fallen” creation, “inheriting” death, we also participate actively in the fall of Man and the disordering of creation when we each choose to abandon our eucharistic (thanksgiving) role. I tend to view being “in Adam” or “in Christ” in more active than passive or static terms.

I will also note, however, that we see a marked increase in the disordering of creation as soon as man took an active hand in it. Even with very primitive tools, we hunted entire species to extinction and contributed (although mildly by modern standards) to climate change. And those are just examples that can be measured from a perspective that is millenia removed. Paul’s analogy of creation groaning is an apt one, indeed.

Tomorrow I’ll touch on some of the problems the idea of inherited guilt creates within the Christian scriptural narrative.


Evangelical Is Not Enough 1

Posted: January 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Evangelical Is Not Enough | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Evangelical Is Not Enough 1

I purchased Evangelical Is Not Enough by Thomas Howard because Elizabeth Esther decided to host a weekly book club conversation on her blog and her description of the book sounded interesting. I’m sure it will be more interesting to follow the conversation on her blog (this week’s installment kicks off with a video), so I encourage anyone interested to read the conversation there. However, since I’m reading through the book, I thought I would capture some of my reaction to each chapter here as well.

Chapter One highlights some common distinctive features of the evangelicalism that shaped Thomas Howard in his childhood formation. He is not negative about that experience. Indeed, he adopts an attitude of thankfulness and points out the positive aspects of each distinctive without even really raising the less positive side of each. I think that’s a good way to begin a book like this.

Even though I can’t claim that this sort of perspective was a dominant feature of my childhood formation, I have been in a single evangelical church since the conclusion of my journey of conversion in my very early thirties. I could recognize most of the traits he outlines in my church. A couple of comments really stood out to me, though.

Evangelical spirituality centers, finally, on personal daily devotions, also called “quiet time.”

That nails it. If you ask anyone what discipline to practice, that’s what you’ll hear, and that’s pretty much all you’ll hear. I tried it, of course, for an extended period of time. It’s what I’ve always done within any sort of spiritual context. Practice it as recommended and see what happens. Personally, I’m stumped how this single discipline suffices for spiritual formation for anyone. I found it particularly ill-suited for me and began searching for anything with more depth fairly quickly. I suppose that’s one reason I simply haven’t read a great deal by “evangelical” authors. I still don’t grasp how this singular practice came to be the center and almost the fullness of evangelical spirituality. It’s one of those things that remains a mystery to me.

The acid test of vocal prayer came at the end of the prayer, however. If someone finished his petition or thanksgiving with a bald “Amen,” he gave everything away. He was not one of us. A true evangelical used the scriptural formula, asking it all in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, or, in the shorter phrase, “… in Jesus’ name, Amen.”

I had to laugh at that one. It’s one of those little things you pick up pretty quickly. I’ll also add that, even though we affirm the Trinitarian nature of the faith, heaven forbid if you close a prayer “in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.” You also won’t hear prayers opened addressing the Holy Spirit. There are lots of unspoken rules regarding “spontaneous” prayer within evangelicalism.

I also found it somewhat interesting that the book was published in 1984. At that point in my life I was not very open to Christianity at all. In fact, I had a great deal of antipathy toward Christianity and Christians. If you had told me then that one day I would consider myself someone who was at least attempting to become Christian, I would have laughed at you. I probably also would have taken it as a major insult. And I held a particular antipathy toward the sort of Christian Thomas Howard describes as “evangelical” in this chapter. Go figure.

The opening chapter really just lays the groundwork to describe the outlines of what Thomas Howard is referencing as “evangelical” in the book, but he does so in a generous and irenic fashion. He is not angry about his upbringing as some who are raised within evangelical confines can be. He just eventually found that it was insufficient. It was not enough. The rest of the book explores the reasons why that’s true.


Thanksgiving – Eucharistic Man

Posted: November 26th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Eucharist, Faith | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Thanksgiving – Eucharistic Man

I’ve been pondering what to write for Thanksgiving this year. I considered the usual list one often sees, but in truth such a list would have little on it beyond my family and other relationships. At the end of the day, it’s people who matter to me. As I’ve been reading (and blogging) Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World, I’ve been struck by his image of man created to be eucharistic, that is offering thanksgiving for and on behalf of creation to God. It seems to me a better thing to celebrate than either our history of broken promises and conquest over the native peoples of this continent or our bloody civil war in which neither party to the conflict had a moral high ground.

Of course, as we reflect on man as eucharistic, we realize that none of us truly thank God with our being. None of us, that is, save one, the faithful man, the true Israel, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. He is our Eucharist for he restores to mankind our true vocation. In and through Jesus the Christ, we can participate in the life of God, offering true thanksgiving for all creation.

And yet — even now we too often don’t. We become paralyzed by fear. We do not see God everywhere present and filling all thanks. We do believe that reality is as Jesus describes it. Ultimately, we do not truly believe that God is unfailingly good, that he loves mankind, that he loves us and will use all that we experience for our salvation. From the moment I read it, I understood what Paul meant when he wrote, “For we know that all things work together for the good for those who love God…” I understood the story of Joseph. What his brothers meant to be evil, God turned to great good.

I’m drawn to Jesus because I want to believe that God is good. But it can be a hard thing to believe, deep down in your bones where it really counts. Evil may be an ephemeral shadow next to the light of God, but it seems strong and powerful, very real and frightening. We learn early on that the world is a dangerous place and so we do not see reality through the lens that Jesus offers.

What would it mean if those of us who call ourselves Christians determined to become eucharistic in communion with Christ?

I wonder.

Perhaps instead of the usual lists, I would offer thanks for having celiac, trusting that the good God would use it for my salvation? I would look at the evil I’ve experienced or which members of my family have experienced and see the good God has already brought out of that evil and offer those experiences as my eucharist?

Perhaps. But if so, I’m not there yet. I want to believe that God is good, but that is easier said than done.


For the Life of the World 16

Posted: November 18th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: For the Life of the World | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on For the Life of the World 16

This post continues with my thoughts on sections 6-7 of the third chapter of For the Life of the World. Here is the link to Deacon Michael Hyatt’s  third podcast on chapter three.

Fr. Schmemann now explores the manner in which the cycle of services relates the Church and individual Christian to the time of day, and how the prayers and other liturgical acts, performed on behalf of the whole community, are an essential part of the Church’s redeeming mission. In the book and thus also in my post we’ll focus on the morning and the evening hours. In all traditions that join in the set prayers of the Church or are at all liturgical, these are the most prominent. In the podcast, Deacon Michael does an excellent job summarizing all of the hours. If you are not familiar with them, I recommend listening to the podcast even more strongly than I normally do.

Contrary to our secular experience of time, the liturgical day begins with Vespers, i.e., in the evening. This is, of course, the reminiscence of the biblical “And the evening and the morning were the first day” (Gn. 1:5). Yet it is more than a reminiscence. For it is, indeed, the end of each “unit” of time that reveals its pattern and meaning, that gives to time its reality. Time is always growth, but only at the end can we discern the direction of that growth and see its fruits. It is at the end, in the evening of each day that God sees His creation as good; it is at the end of creation that He gives it to man. And thus, it is at the end of the day that the Church begins the liturgy of time’s sanctification.

So as our day or work and play and rest winds down, the Church does not merely add an epilogue to the experiences of that day. It begins a new day characterized by thanksgiving, turning toward God, and sanctifying the new day.

There must be someone in this world — which rejected God and in this rejection, in this blasphemy, became a chaos of darkness — there must be someone to stand in its center, and to discern, to see it again as full of divine riches, as the cup full of life and joy, as beauty and wisdom, and to thank God for it. This “someone” is Christ, the new Adam who restores that “eucharistic life” which I, the old Adam, have rejected and lost; who makes me again what I am, and restores the world to me. And if the Church is in Christ, its initial is always this act of Thanksgiving, of returning the world to God.

However, contrasted with the beauty and wonder for which we give thanks, there is also the ugliness of sin. Repentance is another theme of Vespers.

In the face of the glory of creation there must be tremendous sadness. God has given us another day, and we can see just how we have destroyed this gift of His. We are not “nice” Christians come apart from the ugly world. If we do not stand precisely as representatives of this world, as indeed the world itself, if we do not bear the whole burden of this day, our “piety” may still be pious, but it is not Christian.

The third theme of Vespers is redemption. This redemption, of course, is Christ.

Now in the time in which we can thank God for Christ, we begin to understand that everything is transformed in Christ into its true wonder. In the radiance of His light the world is not commonplace. The very floor we stand on is a miracle of atoms whizzing about in space. The darkness of sin is clarified, and its burden shouldered. Death is robbed of its finality, trampled down by Christ’s death. In a world where everything that seems to be present is immediately past, everything in Christ is able to participate in the eternal present of God. This very evening is the real time of our life.

And the last theme of Vespers is that of the end announced in the words from the Gospels of the old man Simeon.

Vespers is the recognition that the evening of this world has come which announces the day that has no evening. In this world every day faces night; the world itself is facing night. It cannot last forever. Yet the Church is affirming that an evening is not only an end, but also a beginning, just as any evening is also the beginning of another day. In Christ and through Christ it may become the beginning of a new life, of the day that has no evening.

The day that has no evening. That image echoes in my mind. Fr. Schmemann then moves to Matins. I like his opening in section 7.

When we first wake up, the initial sensation is always that of night, not of illumination; we are at our weakest, at our most helpless. It is like a man’s first real experience of life in all its absurdity and solitude, at first kept from him by family warmth. We discover every morning in the amorphous darkness the inertia of life. And thus the first theme of Matins is again the coming of light into darkness. … The Church announces every morning that God is the Lord, and she begins to organize life around God.

As Vespers, rather than epilogue announces a new day of Thanksgiving, so Matins organizes our waking life around the God whom we thank.

These two complementary, yet absolutely essential, dimensions of time shape our life in time and, by giving time a new meaning, transform it into Christian time. This double experience is, indeed, to be applied to everything we do. We are always between morning and evening, between Sunday and Sunday, between Easter and Easter, between the two comings of Christ. The experience of time as end gives an absolute importance to whatever we do now, makes it final, decisive. The experience of time as beginning fills all our time with joy, for it adds to it the “coefficient” of eternity: “I shall not die but live and declare the works of the Lord.”

Fr. Schmemann reflects on the words from Ecclesiastes, “Vanity of vanities. All is vanity.” That seems to capture the essence of the sameness of daily life. We get up, get ready, and head into a day of work, joining a rush of others doing the same. And in the evening, the rush is in the other direction as tired people head home. And the cycle, in the fallen world, repeats day after day in a blur of sameness, futility, and meaninglessness.

But we Christians have too often forgotten that God has redeemed the world. For centuries we have preached to the hurrying people: your daily rush has no meaning, yet accept it — and you will be rewarded in another world by an eternal rest. But God revealed and offers us eternal Life and not eternal rest. And God revealed this eternal Life in the midst of time — and of its rush — as its secret meaning and goal. And thus he made time, and our work in it, into the sacrament of the world to come, the liturgy of fulfillment and ascension. It is when we have reached the very end of the world’s self-sufficiency that it begins again for us as the material of the sacrament that we are to fulfill in Christ.

“There is no new thing under the sun.” Yet every day, every minute resounds now with the victorious affirmation: “Behold, I make all things new. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end…” (Rev. 21:5-6)

I love how he ends by contrasting the words of the Preacher and the words of our Lord. Indeed, Christ makes all things new, including time.


For the Life of the World 7

Posted: October 31st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: For the Life of the World | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on For the Life of the World 7

This post ponders sections 10-12 of the second chapter of For the Life of the World. If you haven’t listened to it yet, here is the link to Deacon Michael Hyatt’s  podcast over sections 9-16.

When man stands before the throne of God, when he has fulfilled all that God has given him to fulfill, when all sins are forgiven, all joy restored, then there is nothing else for him to do but to give thanks. Eucharist (thanksgiving) is the state of perfect man. Eucharist is the life of paradise. Eucharist is the only full and real response of man to God’s creation, redemption and gift of heaven. But this perfect man who stands before God is Christ. In Him alone all that God has given man was fulfilled and brought back to heaven. He alone is the perfect Eucharistic Being. He is the Eucharist of the world. In and through this Eucharist the whole creation becomes what it always was to be and yet failed to be.

We talk about new creation, but I’m not sure we adequately wrap our minds around it. In and through Christ we are not simply individually made new. Rather, humanity is restored in Christ, our Eucharist, to what our nature was created to be. Yet not only mankind, but all creation is made new. “Behold! I have made all things new!” Very often, our gospel is too small. I like how Fr. Schmemann next describes some of the things faith is not.

“It is fitting and right to give thanks,” answers the congregation, expressing in these words that “unconditional surrender” with which true “religion” begins. For faith is not the fruit of intellectual search, or of Pascal’s “betting.” It is not a reasonable solution to the frustrations and anxieties of life. It does not arise out of a “lack” of something, but ultimately it comes out of fullness, love and joy. “It is meet and right” expresses all this. It is the only possible response to the divine invitation to live and to receive abundant life.

The beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer is called the “Preface”. However, it is not something to simply skip over. In his podcast, Deacon Michael comments that if you read the preface or the introduction of a book, you’re a bit strange. Most people jump right to chapter one. (As the head of a publishing company, I assume it’s his business to know such things.) I got a chuckle out of that part of the podcast. As I’m sure will surprise no-one who knows me, I almost always read prefaces, introductions, author’s notes, and all the rest of any book I read. I guess I’m statistically odd. He reads the whole prayer in the podcast. I’m going to include one translation of it here as well, for it is beautiful and makes a profound statement.

It is meet and right to hymn thee, to bless thee, to praise thee, to give thanks unto thee, and to worship thee in every place of thy dominion: for thou art God ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, ever existing and eternally the same, thou and thine Only-begotten Son and thy Holy Spirit. Thou it was who didst bring us from non-existence into being, and when we had fallen away didst raise us up again, and didst not cease to do all things until thou hadst brought us back to heaven, and hadst endowed us with thy kingdom which is to come. For all these things we give thanks unto thee, and to thine Only-begotten Son, and thy Holy Spirit; for all things of which we know, and of which we know not, and for all the benefits bestowed upon us, both manifest and unseen. And we give thanks unto thee also for this ministry which thou dost vouchsafe to receive at our hands, even though there stand beside thee thousands of Archangels and ten thousands of Angels, the Cherubim and the Seraphim, six-winged, many eyed, soaring aloft, borne on their wings, singing, shouting, proclaiming and saying the Triumphal Hymn:

As Fr. Schmemann says, it’s the preface of the world to come.

This future has been given to us in the past  that it may constitute the very present, the life itself, now, of the Church.

The Sanctus, the adoration of God, the thanksgiving of creation, taken from the words of the Seraphim, is the only possible response to the divine love. It’s also beautiful, so I include it here as well. Say these prayers aloud. Don’t merely read them silently.

Holy, Holy, Holy,
Lord of Sabaoth.
Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord.

The next part of the great Eucharistic Prayer is called the Remembrance. But this is not simply an interior intellectual reflection. In a manner not unlike the Jewish Passover, we are making the past present. As we enter the Eschaton (the future), we bring forward Christ’s work, and our past and future collide in the present moment.

Holy and most holy art Thou in Thy glorious majesty,
Who has so loved the world
That thou gavest Thine only-begotten Son,
That whosoever believeth on Him
Should not perish but have everlasting life,
Who, when He had come
And had performed all that was appointed for our sakes,
In the night on which he was given up, or
In which, rather, He did give Himself
For the life of the world,
Took bread in His holy and pure and sinless hands
And when He had given thanks, and blessed it, and sanctified it,
He gave it to His holy disciples, saying:
Take, eat, this is my Body which is broken for you
For the remission of sins.
And in like manner, after supper
He took the cup, saying:
Drink ye all of this: this is my Blood of the New Testament,
Which is shed for you, and for many
For the remission of sins.

Remembering this commandment of salvation,
And all those things which for our sakes were brought to pass,
The Cross, the Grave, the Resurrection on the third day,
The Ascension into Heaven, the Sitting on the right hand,
The Second and glorious Advent --
Thine own of thine own we offer unto Thee,
In behalf of all and for all.

We praise thee,
We bless thee,
We give thanks unto thee,
O Lord,
And we pray unto thee,
O our God.

Amen and amen.


Baptists, Eucharist, and History 10 – Justin Martyr on Administration of the Mysteries

Posted: July 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Church History, Eucharist | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Now we will move forward several decades and reflect on Justin Martyr’s First Apology. This places us right in the middle of the second century. There are few left alive at this point who personally encountered any of the apostles, but there are still those few. There are now many who have been taught by those who were directly taught by the apostles. Hopefully that places some perspective on where we stand in the thread of history. As always I recommend you read the entire apology. In this post, however, we will focus first on Chapter LXV.

But we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized [illuminated] person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to genoito [so be it]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.

I want to focus here on the structure and order surrounding the thanksgiving or eucharist. It is only for the baptized. The one who presides over the assembly offers extensive prayers over the bread and wine. (The one who presides, consistent with earlier, contemporary, and later writings is probably best understood as the episcopos (bishop) or one of his presbyters (priests).) The people then all assent as their participation. Then the deacons hand out the eucharist, keeping some back to carry to those who could not be present, typically the ill and infirm.

If a person has had any exposure to any modern liturgical Christian practice, I feel confident they will recognize the connection to the above in the liturgy of the Eucharist. I have personally experienced Luthern, Episcopal, and Roman Catholic liturgies over the course of my life. And I have listened to a number of occurences of, but not yet been in, the Orthodox Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. And I immediately sense how the description above is continuous with all the liturgical traditions. There is much less connection to the non-liturgical traditions like my own SBC. Even before we delve into what we mean in the Eucharist itself, our practice around it seems … disconnected from history. We see that again in Chapter LXVII where the weekly worship practice is described.

And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.

Here we see even more strongly the structure of the liturgy. We see that first the Holy Scriptures are read and then the one who presides instructs and exhorts. Today this is often called the Liturgy of the Word. (It’s also interesting to note that the “memoirs of the Apostles” were being read. This almost certainly refers to the Gospels.) Following the Liturgy of the Word, we see the Liturgy of the Eucharist. This form is preserved to one degree or another within the liturgical churches. Among the non-liturgical churches? Not so much. It’s also worth noting that the Liturgy of the Word is similar in form to the synagogue worship. So basically we see an adaptation of synagogue worship in which the Gospels are read along with Torah and the Prophets and then the Eucharist — something new and not from Jewish synagogue worship at all in origin — is added as the focal point of worship.