Who Am I?

For the Life of the World 22

Posted: January 21st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: For the Life of the World | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on For the Life of the World 22

The series now moves to section 1 of the fifth chapter of For the Life of the World. Here is the link to Deacon Michael Hyatt’s  first podcast on chapter five.

This chapter revolves primarily around the sacrament of marriage, but is entitled The Mystery of Love. I am in some ways reminded of Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, God is Love (Deux Caritas Est). Fr. Schmemann introduces the chapter with Ephesians 5:32.

This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the Church.

In a Christian sense, it is impossible to talk about marriage without also speaking of Christ and the Church. And, as Paul notes, this is a great mystery. (Curiously, mysterion is the word that in Latin is translated sacramentum and from which, obviously, we get sacrament in English.)

But first for a bit of history, because marriage, unlike much that we have so far explored, did not originally have a specific ceremony within the Church. Fr. Schmemann mentions that fact later, but I thought I would explore it a bit more than he does and open with it. Certainly throughout much of the period of the Church under persecution, there was no specific marriage ceremony. People were wed in a Roman civil ceremony just like everyone else. If the couple were both Christian, the marriage was then consecrated in the Church when the married couple entered the Church and took the Eucharist together (along with the rest of the people, of course). In other words, it was the act of communion that sealed the marriage as a Christian marriage. And that was pretty much it until the Church was legalized and then, as it became the official religion of the state, received state powers to enact marriage. Keep that history in mind as we work through this chapter.

Fr. Schmemann begins by noting that designating marriage a sacrament naturally raises the questions, “Why this one state? Why this one vocation? Why is marriage singled out?” And he notes that if it’s only a divine sanction of marriage, a blessing for the procreation of children, those questions make a great deal of sense.

For a “sacrament” as we have seen, implies necessarily the idea of transformation, refers to the ultimate event of Christ’s death and resurrection, and is always a sacrament of the Kingdom. In a way, of course, the whole life of the Church can be termed sacramental, for it is always the manifestation in time of the “new time.” Yet in a more precise way the Church calls sacraments those decisive acts of its life in which this transforming grace is confirmed as being given, in which the Church through a liturgical act identifies itself with and becomes the very form of that Gift. But how is marriage related to the Kingdom which is to come? How is it related to the cross, the death and the resurrection of Christ? What, in other words, makes it a sacrament?

Good questions. I have to confess I had never really thought of marriage in that light. What’s different? Why is it a mystery concerning Christ and the Church? Part of the answer lies in our modern perspective of marriage.

We do not even remember today that marriage is, as everything else in “this world,” a fallen and distorted marriage, and that it needs not to be blessed and “solemnized” — but restored. This restoration, furthermore, is in Christ and this means in His life, death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven, in the pentecostal inauguration of the “new eon,” in the Church as the sacrament of all this. Needless to say, this restoration infinitely transcends the idea of the “Christian family,” and gives marriage cosmic and universal dimensions.

I would say that our modern American idolization of marriage, at least among evangelicals, at best obscures and at worst destroys its Christian meaning. While I’ve been married (with plenty of kids) my entire time as a Christian, I have noticed that if you are an adult and you are not married, or if you have no children, you stand more on the edge. It’s almost as though the fullness of the faith is reserved for those who are married with children.

Here is the whole point. As long as we visualize marriage as the concern of those alone who are being married, as something that happens to them and not to the whole Church, and, therefore, to the world itself, we shall never understand the truly sacramental meaning of marriage. … We must understand that the real theme, “content” and object of this sacrament is not “family,” but love. Family as such, family in itself, can be a demonic distortion of love — and there are harsh words about it in the Gospel: “A man’s foes shall be those of his own household” (Mt. 10:36). In this sense the sacrament of matrimony is wider than family. It is the sacrament of divine love, as the all-embracing mystery of being itself, and it is for this reason that it concerns the whole Church, and — through the Church — the whole world.

And so in the next section, Fr. Schmemann explores love. It will be an interesting post.


For the Life of the World 21

Posted: January 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: For the Life of the World | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on For the Life of the World 21

This post continues with section 6 of the fourth chapter of For the Life of the World, the last section of the chapter. Here is the link again to Deacon Michael Hyatt’s  second podcast on chapter four.

This section shifts to look at the sacrament of penance or confession, which at first glance seemed odd to me in the chapter on baptism. However, I saw the connections Fr. Schmemann was drawing and they make a lot of sense.

It is only in the light of baptism that we can understand the sacramental character attached by the Orthodox Church to penance. In its juridical deviation, sacramental theology explained this sacrament in terms of sheer “juridical” power to absolve sins, a power “delegated” by Christ to the priest.

I think it’s my familiarity with that perspective (shared by both Roman Catholics and Protestants), which Fr. Schmemann calls the “juridical deviation,” that led to my original confusion. For whether you are confessing to a priest or directly to God, within the juridical perspective you are primarily seeking absolution. And that’s not quite the same as forgiveness. Curiously, though played for its comedic value and somewhat caricatured, a recent episode of Desperate Housewives captures this idea and its effects pretty well. Bree is convinced to do penance for her affair by taking care of Orson and through that penance, she seeks to find absolution and a removal of guilt.

But this explanation has nothing to do with the original meaning of penance in the Church, and with its sacramental nature. The sacrament of forgiveness is baptism, not because it operates a juridical removal of guilt, but because it is baptism into Jesus Christ, who is the Forgiveness. The sin of all sins — the truly “original sin” — is not a transgression of rules, but, first of all, the deviation of man’s love and his alienation from God. That man prefers something — the world, himself — to God, this is the only real sin, and in it all sins become natural, inevitable. This sin destroys the true life of man. It deviates life’s course from its only meaning and direction. And in Christ this sin is forgiven, not in the sense that God now has “forgotten” it and pays no attention to it, but because in Christ man has returned to God, and has returned to God because he has loved Him and found in Him the only true object of love and life. And God has accepted man and — in Christ — reconciled him with Himself. Repentance is thus the return of our love, of our life, to God, and this return is possible in Christ because He reveals to us the true Life and makes us aware of our exile and condemnation. To believe in Christ is to repent — to change radically the very “mind” of our life, to see it as sin and death. And to believe in Him is to accept the joyful revelation that in Him forgiveness and reconciliation have been given. In baptism both repentance and forgiveness find their fulfillment. In baptism man wants to die as a sinful man and he is given that death, and in baptism man wants the newness of life as forgiveness, and he is given it.

The above is pretty dense, but read it several times. Baptism is joining Christ in his death because we want to die as the man we were and then also joining him in his Resurrection, receiving life and forgiveness from the one who is The Life and The Forgiveness.

Baptism is forgiveness of sins, not their removal. … It is indeed after baptism and because of it, that the reality of sin can be recognized in all its sadness, and true repentance becomes possible.  … The feast is impossible without the fast, and the fast is precisely repentance and return, the saving experience of sadness and exile.

That is, of course, one of the key flaws in the more juridical perspectives of the West, especially the overarching framework of justification theory. It requires that anyone be able to recognize their sin as sin against a particular God (and thus also discern that God) simply from the nature of the creation and recognize that they are helpless in the face of it. And that’s simply not true. I’ve only begun to be able to grasp the ways in which I am a sinner since I’ve begun to understand reality through the lens that Jesus provides. It is not self-evident that the path of enlightenment of Buddhism or the Wiccan Rede or the animism of Shinto or the various perspectives of the karmic cycle within Hinduism do not accurately describe the natural order of reality.

This also has profound implications for what passes for evangelism in so much of the West. Under the juridical perspective, you basically have to find a way to make someone feel bad about themselves so that you can then pitch the absolution you’re selling. Love and healing are much better things to offer. Repentance, the sort of repentance that arises from a deepening recognition of yourself as sinner, comes as the light of Christ shines in every corner of your soul. Not before.

The sacrament of penance is not, therefore, a sacred and juridical “power” given by God to men. It is the power of baptism as it lives in the Church. From baptism it receives its sacramental character. In Christ all sins are forgiven once and for all, for He is Himself the forgiveness of sins, and there is no need for any “new” absolution. But there is indeed the need for us who constantly leave Christ and excommunicate ourselves from His life, to return to Him, to receive again and again the gift which in Him has been given once and for all. And the absolution is the sign that this return has taken place and has been fulfilled. Just as each Eucharist is not a “repetition” of Christ’s supper but our ascension, our acceptance into the same and eternal banquet, so also the sacrament of penance is not a repetition of baptism, but our return to the “newness of life” which God gave to us once and for all.

It’s not about absolving us of the guilt of our sins. Christ reconciled all creation to God in his Incarnation, descent into death, and Resurrection. God entered into all the brokenness and even took on himself the utterly forsaken death on the Cross. Even at our most broken. Even when we are most forsaken and most turned from God, he is there in that place with us.

Repentance is about healing us. It’s about making us truly alive. In confession, we enter again and again the forgiveness of our baptism. Time, especially redeemed and recreated time, does not always operate in the way we normally expect. Thus we participate again and again in the one Eucharist of Christ. And we enter, time and again, the forgiveness of our one baptism. And that’s true no matter how many times we turn from that forgiveness.


For the Life of the World 20

Posted: January 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: For the Life of the World | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on For the Life of the World 20

Now we’ll dive into the book itself, with sections 4-5 of the fourth chapter of For the Life of the World. Here is the link again to Deacon Michael Hyatt’s  second podcast on chapter four.

In the Orthodox Church, what we call today the second sacrament of initiation — that of chrismation (or confirmation) — has always been an integral part of the baptismal liturgy. For it is not so much another sacrament as the very fulfillment of baptism, its “confirmation” by the Holy Spirit. It can be distinguished from baptism only insofar as life can be distinguished from birth. The Holy Spirit confirms the whole life of the Church because He is that life, the manifestation of the Church as the “world to come,” as the joy and peace of the Kingdom.

As Christ said, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” The two belong together.

It is the Holy Spirit whose coming is the inauguration, the manifestation of the ultimate, of the “last things,” who transforms the Church into the “sacrament” of the Kingdom, makes her life the presence, in this world, of the world to come.

The eschaton, the culmination of all things, is present now in the Church. The Church itself is a mystery or sacrament. And it is the Holy Spirit who transforms both time and us in this way.

Confirmation is thus the personal Pentecost of man, his entrance into the new life in the Holy Spirit, which is the true life of the Church. It is his ordination as truly and fully man, for to be fully man is precisely to belong to the Kingdom of God. And again, it is not his “soul” alone — his “spiritual” or “religious” life — that is thus confirmed, but the totality of his human being. His whole body is anointed, sealed, sanctified, dedicated to the new life: “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit,” says the Priest as he anoints the newly baptized, “on the brow, and on the ears, and the breast and on the hands, and the feet.” The whole man is now made the temple of God, and his whole life is from now on a liturgy.

Meditate a bit on that last sentence. Liturgy is not some religious or worship activity that we do, though such acts are certainly a part of it. Our whole life becomes a liturgy. There is no distinction between spiritual and material, sacred and profane, religious and secular. Those distinctions, according to the Christian profession, form a false picture of reality. The true distinction is between the created and the uncreated, latter being God, of course, and the former everything else. Take for example, the modern difficulties with the “supernatural.” That is not a true category, since it places the sensible, material creation (including man) on the side of “natural” while placing the spiritual powers, angels, demons, and others on the “supernatural” side along with God. No. All the spiritual powers are created and are on the same side of the demarcation of reality that we are. And on the other side? God and God alone.

To be truly man means to be fully oneself. The confirmation is the confirmation of man in his own, unique “personality.” It is, to use again the same image, his ordination to be himself, to become what God wants him to be, what He has loved in me from all eternity. It is the gift of vocation.

We find ourselves in Christ. This is the uniquely Christian promise. It’s not about becoming a better person, though according to a properly ordered view of “better” you will. (There are lots of other ways to define “better” and as a Christian you should not become a “better person” in those ways.) Rather, it is about becoming truly human, for only when we become human can we be fully ourselves. Being “pious” is not necessarily a good thing.

Piety in fact may be a very dangerous thing, a real opposition to the Holy Spirit who is the Giver of Life — of joy, movement and creativity — and not of the “good conscience” which looks at everything with suspicion, fear and moral indignation.

I see many Christians trapped in exactly that morass of “suspicion, fear and moral indignation.” I’m certainly a poor Christian, often unsure, not doing all I should as a follower of Jesus of Nazareth. I won’t dispute that. But I see the bog that has mired so many and I know I don’t want that at all. I may not have much of a clue what to do or the will to do it, but I know what I’m not going to do or become. I feel sorry for those so trapped, but I don’t have a clue how to help them out of the swamp. There is no prison so strong as the one you’ve constructed for yourself. I know. I’ve been there. Maybe not in the particular way of pious suspicion and moral indignation, but a prison is a prison. Perhaps that’s one reason I pray the Jesus Prayer so much. It’s hard to become (or at least stay) morally indignant, even against the morally indignant themselves, if you keep praying for God to have mercy on you.

Confirmation is the opening of man to the wholeness of divine creation, to the true catholicity of life. This is the “wind,” the ruah of God entering our life, embracing it with fire and love, making us available for divine action, filling everything with joy and hope.

Wow. I can really think of nothing else to say about those two sentences. They leave me speechless.

In the ancient tradition, converts were baptized on Pascha or Easter as part of the great celebration. There was great significance in that, connecting their new birth with the death and resurrection of our Lord, a death and resurrection we enter into in baptism.

And then, for eight days — the image of the fullness of time — the newly baptized were in the church, and each of those days was celebrated as Easter. On the eighth day took place the rite of the washing off of the holy chrism, the cutting of hair, and the return into the world. … The visible signs of the sacrament are washed off — the “symbol” is to become reality, the life itself is now to be the sacramental sign, the fulfillment of the gift. And the cutting of hair — the last rite of the baptismal liturgy — is the sign that the life which now begins is a life of offering and sacrifice, the life constantly transformed into the liturgy — the work of Christ.

I didn’t actually realize that every person is tonsured (cutting of hair) in baptism. It’s another sign of ordination and anointing. I find that illuminating.

I also find myself asking if my life is in fact being constantly transformed into the work of Christ? Is it really a life of offering and sacrifice. I’m not so sure. Another reason I need to pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”


For the Life of the World 19

Posted: January 18th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: For the Life of the World | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

During the press of the holidays, illness, and all the rest that has been happening, I’ve fallen pretty far behind in this series. I’m going to work to catch up this week. I find both Fr. Schmemann’s book and Dn. Hyatt’s podcasts on that book fascinating and illuminating.

The discussion now moves from baptism to chrismation in section 4 of the fourth chapter of For the Life of the World. Here is the link to Deacon Michael Hyatt’s  second podcast on chapter four.

In both the book and the podcast, the history of this sacrament and its divergent path in the West are touched upon. But I’m going to take this first post to focus on it in more detail. From my personal experience, I doubt that many modern evangelicals know much about the mystery of chrismation or its Western counterpart, confirmation. I went to a Roman Catholic school for three years growing up (and an Episcopal school for another year and change), I was as interested as I have ever been in spiritualities of every sort, and I still didn’t really understand confirmation until I encountered the older Orthodox tradition of chrismation.

In the early days of the church, each individual church had its own bishop assisted by his presbyters. And though anyone could baptize at need, absent an urgent need, the presbyters or the bishop performed baptisms. However, the bishop alone blessed the oil used to anoint and then anointed the newly baptized with the seal of the Holy Spirit, ordaining them as priests and kings in the royal priesthood of Christ.

As an aside, that was one of the disconnects I noted pretty early among so many modern churches. They refer to the royal priesthood of all believers, but they have no practice that anyone in the ancient world would have connected to either kings or priests. Coming from a Jewish context, that would obviously be part of a ceremony that included anointing with oil, as it was priests and kings who were anointed in the Old Testament. And I’ll note that one of the gifts the young Christ received from the magi was a rich oil. Gold, incense, and oil — truly gifts for a kingly priest. Further, the gospels recount stories of Christ being anointed by expensive oil. Though not like the anointing everyone would expect (what about Jesus happened the way people expected?), nevertheless, he was anointed with oil.

The formerly pagan believers would have understood such an act even if it wasn’t entirely native to their culture. Neither group would have understood what evangelical churches do today as something that anointed or ordained you into a royal priesthood. The concepts of king and priest had a deep cultural reality for them that we largely lack in our native culture of liberal democracy. I knew something had to be missing in our modern practice, but I wasn’t sure what it was until I encountered chrismation. It fills that gap perfectly.

At first, every church had one bishop surrounded by his presbyters, deacons, and people (all anointed as kings and priests, but with different functions within the body). This is the picture we see, for instance, in St. Ignatius’ writings.  As the Church grew, there came to be more churches in a city to serve all those converting. The bishop delegated presbyters to act in his stead in the churches and visited each as he was able. And it is at this point that East and West began to diverge.

In the ancient world, we have to remember, the West was the frontier. It had a single apostolic see in Rome. And it had widely dispersed peoples. As Rome contracted, it contracted first in the West. This was further complicated by the fact that the West always had fewer bishops than the East. So over time, an individual bishop was not over a church or even a set of geographically close churches, but often serving a far flung network of churches.  The bishop could not physically be at every baptismal service at every church.

And so, in the West, they decided the physical presence of the bishop was the important thing and began to separate baptism from chrismation and communion. And over time, that developed into the confirmation of baptism performed as children entered into what was considered the earliest of the ages of majority in the medieval West. I believe, even today, confirmation is always performed when the bishop is present (though I could be wrong about that). Eventually, even first communion became separated from either baptism or confirmation. Now it is normal in the Roman Catholic Church for a child to be baptized at birth, begin taking communion sometime as a child (in a ceremony known as First Communion), and finally be confirmed near the onset of puberty.

The East took a different path as they encountered the same problem. The bishop still blessed the anointing oil of chrismation, but it was distributed to all his presbyters. And along with baptism, communion, and everything else, the bishop delegated the performance of chrismation to his presbyters so its unity with baptism could be preserved. Even today in the Orthodox Church every person, whether 9 weeks old or 90 years old, who is baptized, is baptized, chrismated, and communed in that first service. The unity of the mysteries was maintained.

The practice of the East makes sense to me. That doesn’t mean it’s right, of course. But I do think it’s significant that I couldn’t truly understand the Western sacraments until I saw them in light of the Eastern practice.


Yes, I’m Still Here

Posted: January 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Personal | 2 Comments »

Since my practice on this blog has generally been a more or less steady flow of posts, I thought I should just say that.

I’ve been swamped at work with things that piled up while I was off, we’re helping my father-in-law move, and on top of that a cold I had before Christmas turned into a bronchitis that almost became pneumonia.

I’m pretty close to well again and everything else will settle down. I’m too much of a writer to stay away from it for long, and this is mostly where I write these days.


9 Months Gluten Free

Posted: January 7th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac | Tags: , | 2 Comments »

This month marks the ninth month since I was diagnosed with celiac and began the required gluten free diet. It also marks a full year since the physical which revealed iron deficient anemia and began the testing process that ultimately led to my diagnosis. I have a few more doctors now than I did a year ago. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that.

I do know that I feel much better now than I did a year ago. I’m not exhausted all the time. My fingers and toes (and hands and feet and arms and legs) aren’t constantly going numb, tingly, or even hurting. My digestion is slowly improving. As much as the physical improvement, though, the mental relief has been a blessing. Simply knowing why these past few years have been so extremely rough has lifted a weight. It’s horrible when you know something’s wrong, but you can’t figure out what it could possibly be. I wondered at times if I was just losing it.

My wife and I have adapted pretty well. I won’t say it’s easy. It’s many things, but easy is not one of them. Still, it would be a lot harder if we weren’t both pretty good cooks and if product labeling was still as bad as I read it was a decade ago. It’s a hard change, but it’s manageable.

I’m sometimes asked if I’m ever tempted to “cheat” on the gluten free diet. I have to confess I’m always bemused by the question and never quite sure what to say. If you knew that eating something was going to make you sick and seriously damage your body — not in the long-term, but in fairly short order — would you be inclined to eat it anyway? Would any sane person? So know, I’m not tempted to “cheat”. I want to keep getting better. I would love to actually reach the point where my body recovers and I can say I’m truly in good health again.

That does not, of course, mean that are not foods I miss and which cannot easily be replaced by anything else. There are. And there are times when I grieve their loss. But that does not translate into a desire to actually eat or drink them. Yes, it’s annoying to always be on guard and always checking the ingredients in anything and everything before I put it in my mouth. It does get tiresome at times. But it’s a small price to pay not to be sick.


The Jesus Prayer, A Journey of Faith 4

Posted: January 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Prayer | Tags: , , | 2 Comments »

This is usually the point in this particular story where many people simply assume that I’m either becoming Orthodox or planning to become Orthodox at some point. They tend to act in disbelief when I tell them truthfully that I have no such plans. I’m not sure if I have any “plans” at all at this juncture. More than anything, I’m letting each day come as it will and I’m not sure what the future holds.

I’ve puzzled over that expectation and disbelief for some time and I think it may be linked to our modern tendency to self-segregate in groups according to what we believe about God. That tendency is most evident, of course, among Protestants, but I believe it may be much broader and deeper than that.

It’s not a drive I seem to share. Ultimately, any group with which I associate is going to be a community of people with all the difficulties that entails. Of course, I will tend to move away from groups who hold beliefs I find abhorrent or perhaps even harmful, but that’s more from the effects of those beliefs upon people than because of the beliefs themselves.

I suppose other things matter more to me than the specific beliefs a group does or does not hold. And most of those things revolve around relationships more than ideas. Don’t get me wrong. It has been, is, and will continue to be a huge relief to me that the things I’ve experienced, understood, and believe about God and the nature of reality are not somewhere on the fringe, but are instead right in the mainstream of Orthodox theology. But that fact alone does not translate into a desire to run out and become Orthodox.

What would translate into such a desire or intention? That’s really hard for me to say. As many spiritual leaps and transitions as I’ve made in my life, I can’t really say that I exactly planned any of them. Even in retrospect, I’m not sure I could detail the reasons for every shift, though some are clearer than others. If my wife were ever drawn toward Orthodoxy (which is unlikely) that would almost certainly pull me in that direction as well. I know myself well enough to know how important that relationship is to me. Other than that, I’m not sure there’s much that ever would, though once again I’m not good at predicting the future.

One thing I do know, though. I will continue to pray, “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me, a sinner.”


The Jesus Prayer, A Journey of Faith 3

Posted: January 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Prayer | Tags: , , | Comments Off on The Jesus Prayer, A Journey of Faith 3

In my last post I mentioned that I was largely ignorant of modern Orthodoxy. I did not, of course, mean that I was ignorant of its existence. I knew of the Russian Church and the Greek Church. I knew something of the Ecumenical Patriarch. I had had some Greek Orthodox acquaintances. For some strange reason, though, I had never mentally connected the ancient writers and councils I had studied to the modern Orthodox Church. I can’t really say that I thought much about them at all, but to the extent I did, I suppose I thought of that tradition as some sort of eastern Catholic similar to the Roman Catholic Church.

Once I became aware of my error of omission, of course, I set about correcting it. It’s been an illuminating and very helpful journey. I don’t know that I would say I have developed a different view of God than I had three and a half years ago, though I have certainly extended and deepened many beliefs. I had long since tried on and abandoned as untenable many of the typical Protestant beliefs about God. Those beliefs were largely historically and culturally rooted in the last few hundred years and many of them had no connection at all to anything recognizable in the cultures that gave us the New Testament, much less the ancient Jewish Scriptures.

However, much of my understanding and experience of God (in no small part developed from reading the ancient writings of the Church) seemed so unlike what either the Protestant or Catholic traditions had to say about God. As a result, I tended to question it and tried to hold it at some length. I also largely kept my thoughts to myself on topics ranging from ‘original sin’ to ‘hell’ to the nature of our salvation in and through Christ.

The Orthodox, in their theology, describe the God I love, or at least want to love. They describe a God worth loving and offer a theology worthy of the dignity of the human soul. I didn’t encounter new ideas as much as I found a freedom to truly embrace the God I thought I was coming to know and love. And I remain incredibly grateful for that gift. I feel as though a great weight has been lifted from shoulders.

I prayed, “Lord Jesus have mercy on me,” for years and had no idea that the prayer itself would be a vehicle of his mercy.


The Jesus Prayer, A Journey of Faith 2

Posted: January 4th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Prayer | Tags: , , | Comments Off on The Jesus Prayer, A Journey of Faith 2

I mentioned in my first post that I had been praying the Jesus Prayer for years before I discovered it was an actual prayer of the Church. That makes an interesting story itself, so I thought I would share it.

First, I want to make it clear that my own personal prayer rule and practices have never been that great. I’m hardly someone to emulate. My intentions to pray normally exceed my actual prayer itself.

Prayer is one way we are present with God. It’s an unmediated mystical experience of God. About a decade ago, I first read Brother Lawrence’s letters and discussions collected as The Practice of the Presence of God. I was particularly taken by his description of the use of breath prayers, very short prayers you could say during the course of your activities during the day. I began to develop and incorporate breath prayers of my own. These were short prayers, like “God is love” and “Love never fails.” But the prayer I seemed to return to again and again, drawn from the parable of the publican, was “Lord Jesus have mercy on me” or sometimes simply “Have mercy on me.”

In the summer of 2006 I was reading Scot McKnight’s book, Praying With The Church, for the first time. From my own reading and experience, I was already familiar with the ancient Jewish practice of set prayers, how it permeated the NT, and the long tradition of set prayers in the Church. I appreciated the way he tied it together and explained, but I didn’t expect any surprises. Then I got to Chapter 7, How the Eastern Orthodox Pray with the Church, and as he described the Jesus Prayer, I remember a sense of astonishment growing within me. I had not only stumbled onto a tradition I didn’t know existed, my favorite prayer over the course of every day was among the oldest continuing prayer traditions of the Church.

To be honest, I’m not sure how I had missed the connection before then. I suppose that things like that happen when your reading and experience are largely self-directed and somewhat haphazard. It was at that point that I really began to look at modern Orthodoxy, but that’s a story for my next post.


What abuse is “worst”?

Posted: January 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Personal | 2 Comments »

I just read once again a story of someone telling themselves that the abuse they experienced was just emotional, which is not as bad as physical or sexual abuse, so they felt like they were wrong for experiencing so many of the same of the negative effects. Such stories make me sad. It is true, in one sense, that physical and sexual abuse are “worse“, but that’s not, strictly speaking, because they are more severe. Rather, the last bastion of our self-hood that we have is our body and when that is violated, generally by those we love and trust, it strikes immediately and without mediation to the core of our personality and being.

Yet the lasting damage is almost never the physical. Our bodies are resilient and they heal all but the worst damage. No, the lasting damage is always the mental and emotional effects of the abuse. Physical and sexual abuse are only “worse” than “merely” emotional (or spiritual) abuse in the sense that our bodies provide a more direct and certain route to our psyche. A broken bone will typically heal in 6-8 weeks. The emotional damage from that broken bone can easily thread its way through an entire life lived.

Emotional abuse is not somehow easier or less serious because there is no physical damage. The adage, “Sticks and stone can break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” describes a child’s fantasy of the world he desires, not the world as it actually is. In truth, we all know that words can inflict more lasting damage than any stick or stone — and we use them accordingly.

The title is misleading. Any abuse you suffer is necessarily “worst”. There is no comparison and no way to compare it.

Or so it seems to me.