Who Am I?

Weekend Update 03-19-2011

Posted: March 19th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Weekend Update | Comments Off on Weekend Update 03-19-2011

George Takei published a personal message on the tragedy in Japan. We are all Japanese.

And he’s giving a number of interviews. I particularly liked this one on CNN.

ABC has published before and after satellite photos.

Freedom and the Self is a post by Fr. Stephen Freeman that I recommend to anyone.

Krugman wonders why Washington has lost interest in the unemployed. It’s a good question. I particularly noticed his comparison toward the end of his column to the last severe recession in the early 1980s and I worry about my kids, all of whom are just the right age to be most vulnerable to the lack of jobs. I remember that last recession well. I was a teen parent desperately looking for any source of income. I did all sorts of temporary jobs, often traveling hours away and sometimes living out of my car to do them. Digging trenches for cable. Planting pine trees. Clearing woods. Construction. Picking strawberries and other crops that need to be picked by hand. As soon as I was old enough, I joined the Army National Guard. That helped a lot and later helped me get work in security. I’m smart and I’m sometimes driven, but I look at where I am now and how I got here and a huge part of it was simply luck. Yes, when a window of opportunity has opened, I’ve typically been able to take advantage of it, but I didn’t control those windows. Also, as anyone who has studied history should know, we could still easily tip into a depression. The Great Depression took several years to fully grip our nation. We’ve avoided some of Hoover’s mistakes, but we seem determined to repeat others.

Of course, it’s also true that wages for all but the wealthiest in our country have stagnated for 30 years. Yet the GOP has been able to take that truth and turn at least some groups of private workers against public workers because the wages of public workers have stagnated a little less than those of private workers. If I ever doubted the insidious power of the passion of envy, that has cemented it in my mind. If I hadn’t watched it happen, I never would have believed it. It’s sad.

Steve Robinson did a little cartoon that also helps illustrate the Orthodox view of salvation. It made me smile. Be sure to read the first comment, which is actually the quote from Elder Paisios that underlies the cartoon.

The myth that there is a “social security crisis” continues to be promulgated. Just yesterday on NPR, I heard a Republican from the House state that the problem with Social Security is that demographics have changed since it was founded and we need to reduce benefits rather than fix payroll taxes. It’s frustrating to hear such outright lies go unchallenged. Social Security was fixed to match our current demographics using actuarial data in the 1980s. That data has not significantly changed since then. What has changed? Simple. Wealth and income have become enormously more concentrated at the very top. The fixes to Social Security were designed to include 90% of income in the payroll tax. Because of the concentration of wealth, the payroll tax now only covers about 84% of income. We need to put the tax back at the 90% level. That’s the only “fix” required for Social Security. The GOP wants to talk about “entitlements” so they can focus on SS and ignore the real problem, Medicare and Medicaid. They have no plan (or desire apparently) to do anything to fix our broken health care system and they campaigned, ironically, on pledges to “save” Medicare. But those are the problem. Why can’t the citizens of our country do simple arithmetic? Krugman also points out some of the “cockroach ideas” about Social Security.

Krugman also tries again to shine a light on the wave of banking abuses, not just immoral, but actually illegal in many cases. And they get away with it. Our government is even actively colluding with them at times. If we want it to stop, we not only need better regulation, we need to start throwing some of their top executives in jail. I don’t think anything less will get their attention. As long as they accurately believe they can act with impunity and without consequence, these abuses will continue. Of course, I live in a state that used to know just how evil bankers can be. A lot of people came here originally to escape 19th century abuses in other states. While our present GOP dominated legislature would like to eliminate many of our protections in Texas, they were written into a state Constitution that is notoriously difficult to change. The people who came here didn’t like banks, so we have a lot of protections. They didn’t trust government, so virtually every position is elected and also set in the state Constitution. And the legislature is largely limited to a few months every other year, most of which is consumed trying to get a budget in place. And they didn’t even trust each other all that much, so just about everything of consequence is fixed in a hard to change Constitution. Given the current wave of GOP profiteers who have somehow deluded people into believing they are acting for their benefit, I would say that last decision was prescient.

Though I’m sure many people won’t catch the reference, I chuckled at Robert Reich’s allusion to Nero.

People mostly seem confused by the health care law since every time pollsters probe more deeply and specifically, a majority of people support every provision in it — even the individual mandate.

The battle definitely isn’t over in Wisconsin as a judge halts implementation of the collective bargaining rollback law.

Mother Earth News is starting a Gluten Free Foods and Recipes Blog. That’s so cool!

Texas cutting benefits and services for veterans? So not cool!


Love Wins

Posted: March 18th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Hell | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments »

No, I haven’t read the Rob Bell book, so this isn’t a review. I may or may not read the book at some point. However, the rather strange controversy over the promotion of the book has brought to my mind many things I’ve read over the years. I decided to write a post in order to share a few of them.

Fear of torment is the way of a slave, desire of reward in the heavenly kingdom is the way of a hireling, but God’s way is that of a son, through love. — St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain

I heard a professor from a Christian university ask Rob Bell what it did to evangelism if Hell was not an actual place and, I suppose, a looming threat. I had several thoughts when I heard that question. The first, of course, is that the idea of Hell as place seems to owe more to the ancient pagan Greek concept of Hades than anything identifiably Jewish or Christian. I’ve explored Hell elsewhere, so I won’t rehash that here. But, Dante aside, it’s not the Christian understanding that there’s some place under the ground where the dead go.

But even more I thought of St. Nicodemos. Fear should never be the driving force in Christianity. Yes, it’s true that fear can be the beginning of wisdom, but perfect love drives out fear. If our evangelism attempts to instill fear or motivate through a promise of future reward, then whatever it is, it is not Christian. If we are driven to evangelize from fear, then I would have to question our motives as Christians. Actions taken either to instill fear or motivate through the promise of reward also look highly manipulative to me. And manipulation is many things, but it is most emphatically not love.

How then should we proclaim Christ to people? The words of St. Isaac the Syrian are, I think, good ones.

Conquer evil men by your gentle kindness, and make zealous men wonder at your goodness. Put the lover of legality to shame by your compassion. With the afflicted be afflicted in mind.  — St. Isaac of Syria

When we believe that we need to threaten people with hell in order to evangelize, we are capitulating to our own will to power. We are manipulating the other person in order to convert them to our way of thinking. We can tell ourselves it’s for their good, but that’s a lie. We are satisfying our own lust for power and control. When we act in these ways, we dehumanize our subject, treating them like an object to satisfy our own passions. Yes, we clothe it in noble terms. We dress it up in piety. But that’s all lipstick on a pig. God does not treat us that way.

Ultimately, of course, this train of thought rends the Christian understanding of God as made known in Jesus of Nazareth beyond all recognition. Instead of a good God of love, we end up with a capricious God who cannot forgive and requires payment for all debts. And if you do not hide behind the payment offered by the Son to the Father, then you will suffer forever. Our finite offenses reap infinite punishment. This God is not only capricious, he’s a torturer of the worst sort. No, that’s not the language used, but that’s how it deconstructs.

St. Isaac saw that clearly. This is not a new discussion. Modern Christianity has not discovered much that ancient Christians did not consider.

The man who chooses to consider God an avenger, presuming that in this manner he bears witness to His justice, accuses Him of being bereft of goodness. Far be it, that vengeance could ever be found in that Fountain of love and Ocean brimming with goodness! The aim of His design is the correction of men; and if it were not that, we should be stripped of the honor of our free will, perhaps He would not even heal us by reproof. — St. Isaac of Syria

The above is exactly what so many modern Christians do when they describe God as just. The justice they have in mind is vengeance and retribution and the God they describe is an evil God.

Do not call God just, for His justice is not manifest in the things concerning you. And if David calls Him just and upright, His Son revealed to us that He is good and kind. ‘He is good’, He says ‘to the evil and to the impious.’ How can you call God just when you come across the Scriptural passage on the wage given to the workers?…How can a man call God just when he comes across the passage on the prodigal son who wasted his wealth with riotous living, how for the compunction alone which he showed, the father ran and fell upon his neck and gave him authority over all his wealth? Where, then, is God’s justice, for while we are sinners Christ died for us! — St. Isaac of Syria

Indeed. People want God to treat others justly according to their own personal sense of justice, whatever that might be. But the truth is that we cannot judge because we do not know and we do not love. But we cannot stop God’s love.

Our wickedness shall not overpower the unspeakable goodness and mercy of God; our dullness shall not overpower God’s wisdom, nor our infirmity God’s omnipotence. — St. John of Kronstadt

And, in turn, we are judged by our love.

Always remember that at the Last Judgment we are judged for loving Him, or failing to love Him, in the least person. — Archbishop Anastasios of Albania

The drunkard, the fornicator, the proud – he will receive God’s mercy. But he who does not want to forgive, to excuse, to justify consciously, intentionally … that person closes himself to eternal life before God, and even more so in the present life. He is turned away and not heard. — Elder Sampson of Russia

As Christians, we should be praying always for love to win.


St. Patrick’s Breastplate

Posted: March 17th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: | Comments Off on St. Patrick’s Breastplate

St. Patrick’s Breastplate is an ancient Christian prayer and hymn. Even when I was anything but Christian, this prayer still had a special plate in my heart. There are a number of versions of the prayer today. I particularly enjoyed the following rendition of the song and wanted to share it.

I also found the following version. The hymn is beautiful in Gaelic.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFcE_4yDDWU&feature=related

Finally, the words of the prayer as found in the Book of Armagh from the early ninth century, followed by the hymn produced by Cecil Frances Alexander from a collation of the best English translations. Have a blessed St. Patrick’s Day!

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgment Day.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the love of seraphim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the hope of resurrection unto reward,
In prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of Prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faith of Confessors,
In purity of holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven,
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of sea,
The stability of earth,
The compactness of rocks.

I bind to myself today
God’s Power to guide me,
God’s Might to uphold me,
God’s Wisdom to teach me,
God’s Eye to watch over me,
God’s Ear to hear me,
God’s Word to give me speech,
God’s Hand to guide me,
God’s Way to lie before me,
God’s Shield to shelter me,
God’s Host to secure me,
Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.

I invoke today all these virtues
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the black laws of heathenism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against the spells of women, and smiths, and druids,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.

Christ, protect me today
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ in the stern.

Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of an invocation of the Trinity,
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

The hymn by Cecil Frances Alexander.

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this today to me forever
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in Jordan river,
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spiced tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.


The Jesus Prayer 11 – Relationship

Posted: March 16th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Book Reviews, Prayer | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments »

This series of reflections is on The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer that Tunes the Heart to God by Frederica Mathewes-Green.

This Eastern Christian path is not particularly concerned with morality or good behavior, surprisingly enough; it is concerned with a relationship. The Pharisees achieved high levels of good behavior, but if that was enough, Jesus would have chosen his apostles from their ranks. No, they were pretty on the outside and rotten on the inside, like “whitewashed tombs” (Mt. 23:27). Jesus consistently put the emphasis on the state of the inner person. …

It’s that transformed heart and nous he’s looking for. After that healing, good behavior flows out naturally. So this approach does not disregard morality; Jesus said, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48), and “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:20). But moral behavior is worthless without a transformed mind and heart.

Discipline and moral behavior absent prayer, a transformed nous, and the resulting relationship with our only source of life  simply offer another path to destruction. That is the path of the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son. The elder brother is also the figure in the parable directed back toward those challenging Jesus. When we come to believe that we are essentially good and moral, we lose sight of our deep interconnectedness with humanity and creation. We minimize our complicity and participation in the evil and brokenness of the world. We join hands with the Pharisee in the parable of the publican and the Pharisee.

I don’t remember where I found and watched a particular video about Orthodox monks in, I think, Romania. If I did I would post a link to it. I don’t remember a lot about it, but I vividly remember one bit of an interview with an old monk. At one point, according to the subtitles, he said, “All will be saved, and I alone will be damned.” That vision of the true depth of our shared relationship and responsibility fixed itself in my mind. We believe we live isolated, individual lives, but that’s a lie. We do not perceive the depth and breadth of the web in which we live and move. Nor do we often perceive the God who sustains our existence every moment.

The healing of our heart progresses slowly. At first it may appear that nothing much is happening. But centuries of experience of the practice of the Jesus Prayer promises us that over time we can be healed; we can experience a relationship with God; we can know peace. “Acquire the Spirit of peace and a thousand around you will be saved.”

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy.


The Jesus Prayer 10 – Repentance

Posted: March 14th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Book Reviews, Prayer | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on The Jesus Prayer 10 – Repentance

This series of reflections is on The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer that Tunes the Heart to God by Frederica Mathewes-Green.

Why does all this discussion about the receptive part of our minds matter? What does it mean that we have a darkened understanding or perception of reality and how is that different from intellectual knowledge and reasoning? In our day and in our culture, I think those are among the more natural questions to ask. Even within Christianity, many people act as though the only thing that really matters is that you believe the right things about God. And that’s a trap. It’s a trap when it comes to God and it’s a trap when it comes to prayer. It’s very easy to think, write, and discuss prayer while hardly ever actually praying. And it’s possible to think and teach about God, to intellectually believe something about God, and yet not do any of the things Jesus commanded us to do.

In order to break free from that trap, we need humility. But humility is very hard. Everything in us fights against it. We need to learn to see ourselves more as we actually are, and perceive God as he is. Khouria Frederica employs the parable of the prodigal son to illustrate this point. The younger son does not need to repent in order to gain forgiveness. The father had already forgiven him and was always waiting for him. “While he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion” (Lk. 15:20).

God loves us like that; he isn’t waiting for us to coax him into forgiving us. But, like the son, we have to recognize the truth about our wounded condition. We must recognize that we need the father’s love. The darkened nous doesn’t readily grasp this. We see that something is wrong with the world, but don’t perceive that the wrongness is tangled up with, and enabled by, our own thoughts, words, and deeds. Realizing the truth about ourselves, our complicity in the world’s brokenness, is the first step of healing.

In Christian terms, we call that moment of awareness when we perceive our reality and recognize our need to reorient our lives repentance or metanoia. It’s not a one time thing, but a process we must continually pursue. The younger son had one such moment in the mud with the pigs. All such moments are not as dramatic, but it’s essential that we see God as loving and near or we will never have the strength to face and endure the truth about ourselves.

A God who is remote and scary and judgmental, taking offense at things that (we think) have nothing to do with him, is hard to love. The natural reaction is instead to deny the sins, or rationalize them away, or compare yourself to someone else whose behavior is worse. A barrier of mistrust lies between a person and this kind of God.

Unfortunately that’s the sort of God too often proclaimed in modern Christianity. The Jesus Prayer can help us see ourselves truly and perceive God as he is, a loving father who will not force us to return his love.


Weekend Update 03-12-2011

Posted: March 12th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Weekend Update | Comments Off on Weekend Update 03-12-2011

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware recently gave two lectures at North Park University. If you’ve never heard him speak, it’s well worth the time. He’s certainly one of the great Christian thinkers of our time. Below is his recent sermon on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. It’s much shorter if you just want a taste.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZq-PG2pwhg

This pair of blog posts by Krugman (first one here and second one here) illustrate the financial irresponsibility dominating the GOP. It started in the 80s and now seems to permeate every corner of the party. Like Krugman, I certainly don’t think the Democrats are fiscal saints (or even that they aren’t necessarily also pawns of some of the same industries and people who largely control the GOP). But over the past thirty years the Democrats have generally paid for most things as they are proposed and implemented while the GOP have implemented massive tax cuts and the Medicare prescription drug program (not to mention a couple of wars) without ever actually paying up front for even a part of them. They’ve all just been dumped into the deficit.

Chef Jess at ATX Gluten-Free has posted the 2011 edition of her SXSW Gluten-Free Guide to Austin. Yes, there are more options in Austin than in a lot of places around the country. It’s a great guide and I appreciate her effort putting it together.

Why Evangelicals Hate Jesus. The column employs hyperbole to make its point, but at the end it makes a good point. I do think this particular approach toward separating all of Jesus’ commands from their political views and interpersonal relationships does, in fact, represent the peculiar way our default secular culture, and it is the default culture for us all, manifests in evangelicalism. Strange, isn’t it? Of course, many of them would say they are fighting secularism, but that represents a misunderstanding of secularism. Secularism does not say there is no God (of any sort), though it also doesn’t say there is. Rather, our secular culture separates the religious into its own sphere and things that are not God’s into other spheres. And that’s exactly what we see in evangelicalism. I wonder if that is not an inevitable consequence. Evangelicalism was birthed in the modern era and includes mostly strands of Christianity that even in their own worship hold that material things (bread, wine, water, oil, icons, incense, etc.) are ordinary matter and purely symbolic if they are even employed at all. Such a division could have only occurred in the first place within the larger context of an already secular culture or a culture that was in the process of becoming secular. Of course, secularism doesn’t dictate any specific beliefs or views on any given topic. It simply provides a cultural mechanism by which people can place God in one compartment and their political, financial, or other views in another.

An interesting post on the Rob Bell “Love Wins” controversy by someone else who has actually read the book.

Social Security is “mainly” an insurance company. There is so much propaganda, misinformation, and outright lies about Social Security floating around out there that’s it nice to find a reasonable post on the topic from an economist.

CNN’s Eatocracy has another gluten free post. As someone with celiac disease, I share the mixed feelings about so many people going gluten free to try to lose weight. On the one hand, I appreciate the increased options such awareness affords me. On the other hand, going gluten free is not a good way to lose weight unless, as the article notes, you eat in such a way that you reduce an unhealthy over-consumption of processed foods, especially processed carbohydrates. As with many who are diagnosed with celiac disease, I gained weight while I worked on becoming healthy and adjusting my diet. Now I’m working on making the long-term changes necessary to achieve and maintain a healthy weight in a healthy body.

Wil Wheaton’s mother and sister were diagnosed with celiac disease. His Mom has launched a public awareness campaign, Not Even a Crumb, that has partnered with the Celiac Disease Foundation to produce national PSAs and educational materials.

The Wisconsin GOP abandons the pretense that their union-busting efforts and war on the middle class had anything to do with fiscal concerns by trying to strip the budgetary issues from the bill in order to pass it without the required quorum. Reports I’ve seen indicate they may have failed even in that, leaving the bill vulnerable to certain legal challenge. If I were the Republican running for the state Supreme Court and on which a Republican majority on the court hinges, I would be pretty nervous heading into to their April 5 election.

The House GOP is looking to kill the consumer information database that was authorized under President Bush, further exposing their complete sellout to corrupt influences. The GOP doesn’t want us to know which products can kill our children. That’s not hyperbole. That’s really how this boils down. $$$ are more important than lives to them.

And what is the GOP going to do now after bizarrely presenting themselves as the “saviors” of Medicare? Time to pay the piper.

Go John Berry! Maybe, just maybe, the GOP is starting to lose traction in their lies trying to incite class warfare. It looks to me like a tactic designed to distract the public’s attention while they rob the country blind and try to take us back to the era of the late 19th century.

Finally, it’s official. Women win the battle of the sexes. Video below.


The Jesus Prayer 9 – A Darkened Nous

Posted: March 11th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Book Reviews, Prayer | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on The Jesus Prayer 9 – A Darkened Nous

This series of reflections is on The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer that Tunes the Heart to God by Frederica Mathewes-Green.

While the nous is our “little radio,” our faculty for hearing and encountering God, it doesn’t much want to listen to God. Our nous is often described as damaged or darkened.  Our nous craves stimulation constantly. Our thoughts constantly leap from one topic to another, rarely settling down.

A contemporary elder said that the nous is like a dog that wants to run around all the time.

Does that describe your mind? It certainly describes mine. Our nous needs to be healed for us to clearly perceive and understand reality. And, as Khouria Frederica puts it, reality is God’s home address.

The Jesus Prayer functions, in part, by “opening a little space between you and your automatic thoughts, so that you can scrutinize them before you let them in.”

This healing is a lifelong process, and your self-serving thoughts, in particular, are adept at disguising themselves; they may escape detection for many long years. But over time you will discover that some very old automatic thoughts are just plain wrong, and you don’t have to think them anymore. As the nous is gradually healed, its perceptions become more accurate, less agitated. You begin to acquire “the nous of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). “Be transformed by the renewal of your nous,” said St. Paul (Rom. 12:2).

The Jesus Prayer will send you into the “jungle of your own psyche.” I don’t know about you, but for me that’s a pretty frightening place. Jesus is both the compass and the goal of that journey. This is one of the reasons Orthodoxy places so much emphasis on having a spiritual father or mother. You need someone who can guide you and wrap you in their own ardent prayers.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 24

Posted: March 10th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 24

56.  In the mystery of the divine incarnation the distinction between the two natures, divine and human, in Christ does not imply that He is divided into two persons. On the one hand, a fourth person is not added to the Trinity, which would be the case if the incarnate Christ was divided into two persons; while on the other hand, since nothing can be coessential or cognate with the Divinity, there must be a distinction between the divine and human natures in Him. In other words, in the incarnation the two natures have united to form a single person, not a single nature. Thus not only does the hypostatic union formed by the coming together of the two natures constitute a perfect unity, but also the different elements which come together in the indivisible union retain their natural character, free from all change and confusion.

The text above summarizes the core issue from the two ecumenical councils that preceded St. Maximos and which would resurface in the heresy of monothelitism against which he would stand. It matters that our language and understanding of Jesus align as closely as possible with the reality of the person of Jesus. The extent to which it deviates is the extent to which our worship and lives are necessarily distorted.


The Jesus Prayer 8 – The Little Radio

Posted: March 9th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Book Reviews, Prayer | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Jesus Prayer 8 – The Little Radio

This series of reflections is on The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer that Tunes the Heart to God by Frederica Mathewes-Green.

The Jesus Prayer itself is simple. There is not much to learn intellectually. I like the way Khouria Frederica expresses its simplicity.

1. Pray “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”

2. Repeat.

That’s it. The hard part, though, is to say the words and actually mean them. It’s hard even to say the words and give them your attention. When you can keep your attention on the words, let them sink into the depths of your being, and learn to mean them, it’s possible to begin to sense “the responsive presence of the Lord.

Khouria Frederica points out something I had never really considered. Many of us aren’t really sure it’s possible to sense the presence of God. That’s obviously true,  but it still seems alien to me. I’ve never assumed it was easy to sense God, but I’ve always known it was possible. In some part, though my formation was not really Christian, I think it did help form my understanding of what it means to be receptive. I watch the meditation scene in Eat, Pray, Love and I fully empathize. It’s hard work to calm your thoughts and open yourself — even if you are not specifically trying to be receptive to God in a Christian sense.

The book lightly explores our modern dichotomy of head and heart. We place thoughts in the head and emotions in the heart, but the two are not really separate. Emotions shape thoughts and beliefs and thoughts spur emotions. They are intertwined within our active, cogitating mind. Scripturally, of course, head is never used as a synonym for “reason.” Rather thoughts are said to arise from the heart and strong emotions from the bowels or kidneys or womb — basically your guts.

When we use the term “mind” or “reason” we normally mean our active, rational thoughts. The Greeks had a term for that faculty. However, they also had a word for the receptive and perceptive faculty of our minds for which we do not have a corresponding English word. The Greek word is nous and it’s almost always the word used in Scripture that is often translated in English as mind. It’s the part of our mind in which we understand (if we do), the part that deals directly with life, the part that recognizes truth.

It’s in and through our nous that we can directly encounter God. Khouria Frederica calls the nous our “little radio” that is designed to be tuned to God. I like that imagery. We all have the capacity to hear and encounter God. We can truly experience God.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 23

Posted: March 8th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 23

54. All, whether angels or men, who in everything have maintained a natural justice in their disposition, and have made themselves actively receptive to the inner principles of nature in a way that accords with the universal principle of well-being, will participate totally in the divine life that irradiates them; for they have submitted their will to God’s will. Those who in all things have failed to maintain a natural justice in their disposition, and have been actively disruptive of the inner principles of nature in a way that conflicts with the universal principle of well-being, will lapse completely from divine life, in accordance with their dedication to what lacks being; for they have opposed their will to God’s will. It is this that separates them from God, for the principle of well-being, vivified by good actions and illumined by divine life, is not operative in their will.

Do we set our will against God? Or do we choose to align it with him? Ultimately, that’s the question. Do we or do we not love God?

From what little we know of angels, it does seem that the nature of their alignment as spiritual beings is different from ours as embodied beings. It seems as though once they choose to align their will either with or against God, that decision immediately permeates their whole being. And it’s unclear whether, having once chosen, they are able to choose differently.

It’s different with us. When we align our will, it takes a great deal of time to permeate our body. And we can shift our will toward God and away from God again and again. The saints sometimes lived to see their will and love toward God permeate their bodies. It’s my sense that many of us don’t reach that point, though it’s what we should strive to do.