Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 22

Posted: August 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 22

80.  If you wish to find the way that leads to life, look for it in the Way who says, ‘I am the way, the door, the truth and the life’ (John 10:7; 14:6), and there you will find it. Only let your search be diligent and painstaking, for ‘few there are that find it’ (Matt. 7:14) and if you are not among the few you will find yourself with the many.

As the Didache says, “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways.” Life is inherently a journey. The person I was is connected to the person I am, just as the person I am will be connected to the person I become. As I align the thread of the way of my life with the Way of Jesus, I come to walk along the path of life. But it is easy for us to choose the way of death instead. Lord have mercy.


Heaven & Earth (& Hell) 9 – God All In All

Posted: July 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Hell | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Heaven & Earth (& Hell) 9 – God All In All

If the Christian vision of ultimate reality does not revolve around a concentration camp in the midst of paradise, what does it then involve? As I discussed earlier in the series, God is seen as everywhere present, filling and sustaining all things. Although that is both the present and future reality, that glory is now veiled. We do not fully or readily perceive the reality of the God in whom we live and move and have our being.

But that will change one day. It’s the tension between Isaiah 6 and Isaiah 11. On the one hand, the world is filled with his glory right now and has been from the beginning of creation. But one day, it will be filled with the full knowledge of the glory. It’s the image we see in Habakkuk 2:14.

“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”

As the waters cover the sea? My first reaction to that verse was that the waters are the sea, but as I learned more of the ancient Jewish perception of reality, I came to understand that the “sea” stood for chaos and evil. The “monsters” come from the sea. This is the image of God’s healing waters covering and healing a disordered reality as creation, which is already filled with the glory of the Lord, becomes filled with the full knowledge of that glory. We see similar imagery in Revelation when we are presented with the healing streams and are told there is “no more sea.”

If God’s all-sustaining glory is no longer veiled and suffuses all creation, then one thing is immediately apparent. We will all experience exactly the same ultimate reality. The glory of God, the light of God, the love of God will be inescapable. We will understand and perceive God suffusing all creation, even our own bodies. There will be no place we can turn where that will not be true. And if that’s the case, then we can’t speak of some people (or any created being) or places being treated differently from others. It’s not the case that some are punished and others aren’t.

No, the question becomes rather, “How will I experience the fire of God’s love? Will it be warmth and comfort to me? Or will it be a consuming fire?” We will not be tormented because we have been confined somewhere and tortured by some external agent. No, if we are tormented, it will be because we do not want God yet cannot escape his presence.

Or perhaps we will lock ourselves in our own interior world consumed by passions we can no longer express outwardly. I think of the dwarves in C.S. Lewis’ final Narnia book, The Last Battle. Huddled in the midst of a creation made new, with a feast before them, in the very presence of Aslan, they perceive themselves as in a dark, rank stable eating garbage and drinking dirty water. They will not be fooled again and render themselves incapable of sensing the reality around them. They are bound in delusion. I believe we all have the capacity for such delusion within us.

As I said earlier, hell cannot have the same sort of reality that creation – heaven and earth – has. It’s not a place where God is not, for no such place exists. It cannot be a place that is not renewed within creation. “Behold, I make all things new!” proclaims the Lamb. Hell can only be the experience of a renewed creation and of a God of relentless and consuming love by those who do not want either one and are not formed to live within that reality. The seeds of our own hell are within each of us. As the Didache opens, “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways.


Celiac and the Cost of Cheating

Posted: June 11th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac, Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

I thought I would pause in my series on the Didache to reflect on this video by Dr. Vikki Petersen that I think relates to what I tried to express yesterday. In it she is answering a question from a woman who suffered severe weight loss as a result of celiac. (From what I’ve read, weight loss is a symptom to one degree or another in roughly two-thirds of those with the disease. The other third tends to experience weight gain.) She spends a good deal of time discussing healthy food that will help the celiac heal. Toward the end of the video, however, Dr. Petersen discusses the consequences of “cheating” on the gluten free diet for the celiac.

As she notes, sometimes and for some people the consequences are obvious and clearly directly related to consuming gluten. For others, however, the consequences are less obvious and the linkage between what they ate and what happens to their body is not as clear. Yet in both cases the ultimate price is the same.

Is that not how it is with the two ways? Sometimes the consequences when we choose the way of death are clearly visible and obvious to ourselves and to others. But often they are not as clearly related or as obvious. What price do we pay when we choose to inhabit our pride, for example? Unless we take it to such an extreme that we alienate those we encounter, probably little that is immediately visible or obvious. We might even look praiseworthy to others and to ourselves. And yet we are living and breathing within the way of death as we do so. We are shaping ourselves into distorted beings unable to stand in the unveiled light of God.

God gives himself to us. Jesus has healed the human nature and made it capable of true union with God. The Spirit inhabits our bodies transforming them and limited only when and to the extent we set our will against his work. We must learn to worship God, to take his reality into our bodies, to submit our will freely and allow his substance to work within us — individually and corporately.

There a two ways, a way of life and a way of death, and a great difference between the two.

So with celiac. So with the whole of life.


The Didache 1 – The Two Ways

Posted: June 10th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac, Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

This series is reflecting on the Didache if you want to read it separately.

There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways.

I’m not the sort to separate the crunchy physicality of the Christian story from its spirituality. Yet, as I’ve read this opening line from the Didache lately, I realize that I have nonetheless kept its earthiness at a certain level of abstraction. Celiac makes that starkly real to me.

I face two ways. I can continue to consume gluten if I choose. If I do, I will pay a price. My health will continue to degenerate. I will get sicker though there is no specific, predictable progression. But it will certainly involve pain and decline leading to an unpleasant death after decades of ill health.

Or I can cease consuming all gluten to the best of my ability. As I succeed in doing so my body will heal, my health will improve, and the ultimate quality of my experience of reality will take on brighter hues.

There is a way of life and a way of death. Which way will I make the rule of my life?

It seems obvious to me, but I understand there are some celiacs who refuse to stay on a gluten free diet though they know the price they will pay. Even when the choice is so stark and obvious, because it is not immediate, some choose the way of death.

I’ve been captivated by this line since my diagnosis. It runs through my mind unbidden and at odd times. The choice for the human being is just as stark. We can choose to consume God and be progressively healed, experiencing ever more of true life, learning to taste, touch, smell, hear, and see reality around us as God pierces our delusions. Or we can consume that which is not God and take death into the core of our being.

Yes indeed, there is a great difference between the two ways.

There is more connected to this one line. It’s deeply Jewish in nature. The Way of Torah was a way of shaping life and experiencing God through the mitzvots, feasts, and rituals of Torah. It’s in that context that Jesus’ statement about being the way stands revealed. As the fulfillment of Torah, he places himself in its stead. Follow Jesus and shape your life through his commands, through his body, through his blood.

Jesus is the way of life. Certainly life in the present, but also a life that endures.

Why would we choose to eat death instead?


Not the Fast I’ve Chosen – Part 9

Posted: May 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac, Fasting | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

I closed my train of thought in my last post with the idea that, though God has not given me celiac disease for any reason whatsoever, he has been quietly at work preparing me and giving me the tools, should I care to employ them, to stand and perhaps even grow in the face of this disease. For the reality is this: though the diagnosis is still so new to me that I have a difficult time truly wrapping my head around it, celiac disease has been working havoc in my body for years now. My gastroenterologist can’t even say how long it’s been active, but from the visible evidence and the other physical effects, it has clearly been a long time. That means that for at least some significant portion of the journey of discovery about Christian fasting that I have described in this series, I was actually suffering from this autoimmune disease.

I may not have known I had celiac disease, but God certainly did.

Now, I suppose I could be angry at God for knowing I was sick and doing nothing to heal me or somehow making me aware of it sooner. But that seems rather pointless to me. Further, I know that God’s purpose is to bring me into his life, to have me and all humanity participate in union with God and with each other, to conform us to the image of his Son, who lived the life of the faithful man God intended each of us to live.

My core cultural formation was such that the center of my being was shaped in more hedonistic and narcissistic ways than not. Would God physically healing me, especially if I didn’t even know I was sick, move me closer toward the center of the life of God? Or is my true and holistic healing to be found in the proper ascetical practice that allows me to heal from the effects of this disease? Might not that path carry healing not only of body, but also of spirit and will? I see the possibility. I see it through the lens of all I have read and heard and encountered of Christian fasting. No, I’m not angry at God at all. I know him. I know how much he loves all of us. And I’m beginning, just beginning, to understand something of the way of life. I understand enough to know that I desire more than simply a body which functions properly. I want to become truly human.

So no, this is not the fast I’ve chosen. It’s not a fast I want. But this is the fast I’ve been given. Will I have it be a fast for the physical and spiritual healing of my whole soul? Or will I have it be a fast of misery and destruction? Will I take advantage of the tools that God has graciously prepared me to use, even if I am still a neophyte and clumsy in their use? Will I choose instead to fast the fast of demons, a narcissistic fast, a fast that is all about me? Or will I ignore the fast altogether and destroy my body? Those are truly the only real choices I face at this  juncture. As the Didache says, “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways.” Narrow is the way of life. Broad is the way of death and destruction.

I choose life, in the fullness of the sense of the word.

This is my fast.


Not the Fast I’ve Chosen – Part 2

Posted: May 9th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac, Fasting | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Not the Fast I’ve Chosen – Part 2

Before I continue in the direction I pointed at the end of my first post in this series, I want to spend a little more time on the intertwined, interlocking, and interpenetrating nature of our body, mind, and spirit. I know it is often a foreign idea to those shaped within our American culture, but the concept is central not only to this series, but to the formative thoughts behind this entire blog. I think the common attitude of our culture is captured by a statement like this:

Celiac is an autoimmune disease. It’s a medical condition and the medical prescription is a gluten free diet. It’s purely physical (or some might say secular or natural). What does a disease or medical condition have to do with anything spiritual?

Such is the nature of our age. Even if we’ve never read Plato and never studied philosophy, we have absorbed from the cultural air we breathe and within which we live something of his deep dualism between the material and the spiritual. We see the two as separate categories. And thus we talk about a person’s body or a person’s spirit as though they were separate things and had little to do with each other. But that does not describe reality. Change the chemistry of my brain and you will change my personality. Much of the life of my spirit, for good or ill, is played out in the field of my body. I am not a spirit contained in a body nor am I wholly defined by the matter which forms my body. As a human being I am the union of the spiritual and the material. I am the dust of the earth imbued with the breath of God. I am a living soul – the union (and often disunion) of body, mind, and spirit. You cannot alter or remove any of the three without changing who I am in essential ways, without changing my very being.

So yes, celiac is a medical condition, an autoimmune disease. The treatment is a strict diet that requires me to fast from anything containing gluten – an entire category of food. And a fast is always spiritual as well, for good or ill, whether or not we acknowledge it as such. As the faithfulness of my adherence to this fast will heal or harm my body and my mind, so the spiritual impact of the fast will propel me along the way of life or along the way of death (as the Didache describes the two ways).

If I ignored the spiritual dimensions of this fast, I would effectively be fasting without prayer. And the Fathers of Christian faith have many warnings about such fasts. Fasting without prayer is the ‘fast of the demons’, they say, for the demons do not eat at all because of their incorporeal nature but they also never pray. So I see already that this fast must be intertwined with and shaped by a strong rule of prayer if it is not to shrink my spirit. Interestingly, we also find that fasting without love is another fast of the demons. St. Basil the Great writes:

What is the use of our abstinence if instead of eating meat we devour our brother or sister through cruel gossip?

I do not believe it is at all wise to be careful in the physical aspects of this or any fast and ignore the spiritual dimensions. I also do not believe our actions or inactions in such things are morally neutral by default. If I do indeed follow Jesus of Nazareth, then I am saying something definite about both God and man by doing so. And I must act and live accordingly.

In the next post in this series, I’ll continue in the direction I had originally planned for the series.