Why Do We Pray? 1 – Series Intro

Posted: February 29th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Prayer | Tags: , | 2 Comments »

Sometime last fall, a blog I follow published a poll asking respondents why we pray. (I think it was Tony Jones, but it’s been long enough that I’m not certain.) If I recall correctly, the poll provided two answers: we pray to change God or we pray to change ourselves. Ever since then the question, “Why do we pray?” has been bouncing around my head. My thoughts aren’t really about the poll in question. I don’t even remember the results or any discussion about it. That was just the trigger for my own musings.

In this series, I hope to approach the question from several different angles. If you’re reading this and had a question about Christian prayer, please share it in the comments. I’m interested in the questions and thoughts others may have.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 18

Posted: February 28th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

46.  God, full beyond all fullness, brought creatures into being not because He had need of anything, but so that they might participate in Him in proportion to their capacity and that He Himself might rejoice in His works (Ps. 104:31), through seeing them joyful and ever filled to overflowing with His inexhaustible gifts.

The Christian God has always existed as a perfect communion of love between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. The image of dance has sometimes been used in an effort to convey the image with each eternally yielding to the other two in such perfect union that the language of a single essence or being must be used, yet each remaining a distinct person.

Obviously our language and our imagination fail at the task of describing that which transcends us, but a key point is that God did not create because God lacked anything. Rather creation is the overflow of that dance of love. We were created to be loved and to participate to the extent we are able in that dance of love.


Jules Gluten Free Flour

Posted: February 27th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Food Reviews | Tags: , | Comments Off on Jules Gluten Free Flour

Jules Gluten Free FlourOne of the first books I read after I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2009 was The First Year – Celiac Disease and Living Gluten-Free by Jules Shepard. It was an incredibly helpful book and I still recommend it to anyone who is newly diagnosed.

Jules also sells her own gluten free flour (and other mixes). We tried a lot of different things we could buy at local stores first. But last year my wife and I decided to give her flour a try. Now? We use it for almost everything. It’s fantastic.

We’ve found that, at least for our tastes, it not’s precisely a cup for cup replacement for all-purpose flour in recipes. Often we will end up reducing the amount of flour in recipes, but it’s pretty close.

I haven’t quite gotten up the nerve yet to attempt a gluten free roux, but it’s on my list of things to do and this is the flour I plan to use when I do make my first attempt. We have a bin for it and we always keep a couple of bags on hand. It’s a wonderful gluten free flour.

Visit Jules’ online store and check out her different products and specials. Sign up for her mailing list so you can be notified about new specials and limited time offers. We primarily use her flour, but we’ve tried some of the other products and they aren’t bad at all.


Weekend Update 02-25-2012

Posted: February 25th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Weekend Update | Comments Off on Weekend Update 02-25-2012

White grandfather cuffed for walking with black granddaughter. Sadly, here in Austin. The police chief calls him a liar. However, it seems to me the video only revealed relatively minor differences between a person’s perception of something as a traumatic event happens to them and how it looks from a disinterested third party perspective. The basic facts are the same. A ton of police converged on him. He was handcuffed. His grandchild was placed in a squad car. It’s understandable, I think, if he perceived those actions as more threatening when they were happening to him than they might look to us as they happened to someone else.

An interesting opinion piece on the contraceptive coverage issue by a Pulitzer prize winning Catholic. And he does have a point. The people are indeed the Church. Even in antiquity, councils were determined to be false or true based in no small part on their acceptance or rejection by the people. If the laos of the Catholic Church overwhelmingly reject the teaching of the magisterium, as they appear to do, it certainly calls the doctrine into question.

Pain Without Gain. Sadly, people trapped in delusion tend to remain so trapped. At least that’s my experience.

Stumbling Toward Salvation. At best, I would say I’m stumbling. But as always, Fr. Stephen writes in a way that seems to speak directly to me.

The Pope is Apparently not a Republican. Fr. Richard Rohr.

The God Who Is No God. “True religion is not a set of beliefs — it is a set of practices. We believe in prayer – but we do not pray. We believe in forgiveness – but we do not forgive. We believe in generosity – but we do not give. We believe in truth – but we lie.”

The original live recording of Purple Rain at First Avenue in 1983 with commentary. I always loved Prince and this is pretty amazing. With some edits, this was the recording of the song released on the album. Wow!

Interesting. World of Warcraft increases the cognitive functioning in older adults. I’m not playing currently. Younger son doesn’t have time while he focuses on college and frankly I’ve been pretty swamped too. But it’s nice to know I’ll have a solid excuse if I decide to play again in the future. 😉

This is an interesting analysis by Bill Moyers on the way our economy has been skewed to benefit the wealthy, damaging the prospects for the millenial generation. Especially since my kids are millenials, that directly concerns me.

A column from a professor who teaches constitutional law outlining the case supporting Congress’ ability to require the purchase of health insurance.

Do Something. Indeed, we are often uncertain when it comes to practices of any sort. But it’s only through action that we change. “If you would be Christ’s disciple, do something.”

There’s No Tomorrow (2012). Well, there is a tomorrow, but our present course is pretty bleak and not at all sustainable. The video takes the time to step through the facts without hyperbole.


Mary 23 – Queen of Heaven

Posted: February 24th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mary | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Mary, Queen of Heaven

I thought it would be fitting to close my series on Mary with a reflection on her title as Queen of Heaven. I know from experience that many of my fellow Protestant Christians find that appellation disturbing, though I’m not sure if it’s for theological reasons or because of our American discomfort with monarchical titles. In order to understand this title for Mary, we have to first look at Christ and specifically his Ascension.

To be honest, it’s not clear to me what the typical modern Evangelical thinks or believes about the Ascension of Christ. Sometimes I almost get the sense that they have a vision of Jesus as some cosmic spacemen flying off into outer space. But that’s certainly not what the Scriptures of Christian tradition are describing. When someone was crowned king or emperor, they ascended to their throne, which means they entered into their power. That’s what we see happening with Christ, but he was not ascending to a typical throne. Rather, he was ascending to the throne of God, to the seat of power in the Kingdom of the Heavens (which is to say God’s Kingdom).

And that’s where the “clouds” enter into the picture. Smoke or clouds were associated with the visible presence of God in Hebrew imagery. When God led the Israelites out of Egypt in the desert, he did so as a pillar of clouds. When the shekinah glory of God entered and rested upon the first temple, it did so as smoke. When Isaiah enters the presence of God in visions, he is surrounded by clouds and smoke. And so when Jesus ascends into the clouds, it’s a way of saying he is entering his power and taking the throne of heaven. Heaven, of course, is overlapping and interlocking with the material creation, but it is presently veiled from us, so as Jesus enters his power, he vanishes from their sight. But he didn’t leave and go someplace else. As we read in Matthew, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.” And sometimes that veil is pulled back. Stephen, the protomartyr saw the throne of God at the time of his death. Paul experienced the reality of the third heaven.

So Jesus the Christ, Son of God, is in Christian terms, the reigning King of heaven and earth. In Hebrew culture, going back at least to the time of the Davidic kings, who is the queen? It’s the king’s mother, also called the queen mother. In fact, that’s true in many cultures. In England, the mother of the monarch is even affectionately called the Queen Mum.

So Mary is rightly called the Queen of Heaven because her son is the reigning King of Heaven. Of all her titles, this should be one on which every Christian can agree. If we deny her the title of queen mother, we deny her son as king.

Now, as the Queen of Heaven, what does Mary do? She does what she has always done, which we see exemplified in the story of the wedding at Cana in John 2. She points to her son and commands us all, “Whatever he says to you, do it.”

Are not those the words we all need to hear?


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 17

Posted: February 23rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 17

44. The virtues separate the intellect from the passions; spiritual contemplation separates it from its passion-free conceptual images of things; pure prayer brings it into the presence of God Himself.

I believe I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s important to keep in mind that the word translated intellect in these texts is nous. And we don’t really have a good english word for nous. It’s the receptive part of our mind. It’s the part that perceives, experiences, and understands as opposed to the active cogitating part of our mind. The virtues help free our nous from the passions which bind it. The passions themselves are just the natural energies of our bodies. They become passions when they become distorted and destructive and rule over us. For instance, hunger is a natural and good energy. It’s intended to tell us we need to eat and provide the drive and motivation for us to find or produce food. But hunger can become distorted in a host of ways and become a passion instead.

St. Maximos also recognizes in his writing that we understand the world around us through conceptual images of things around us. These are not passions and they do not bind us, but our understanding can be limited by the way we have constructed those images. The nous can be separated from them and be prepared for the direct experience of God, who is the ground of reality itself. Since we are always in the presence of God, whether we practice that presence or not, bringing our nous into the presence of God is more a matter of tuning it to accurately perceive and experience reality.


Mary 22 – Dormition of the Theotokos

Posted: February 22nd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mary | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Mary 22 – Dormition of the Theotokos

Dormition of the Theotokos

This feast, celebrated on August 15 following a fourteen day fast, is the last Great Feast of the Orthodox liturgical year. I find it interesting and fitting that their liturgical calendar begins and ends with a feast of Mary. Dormition means ‘falling asleep’ using the Christian term from the New Testament for death. The term reflects our belief that death has been defeated by Christ; the metaphorical gates of Hades or Sheol have been burst asunder and death no longer enslaves humanity.

Tradition holds that the apostles were miraculously summoned and, except for Thomas, were all present when Mary reposed. Thomas arrived a few days later and desiring to see her one more time, convinced them to open the tomb. When the tomb was opened, it was found empty. This event is seen as one of the firstfruits of the resurrection of the faithful.

The feast is celebrated as the Solemnity of the Assumption by the Roman Catholic Church and focuses on her bodily assumption rather than her death. In fact, the dogma is phrased in a way that leaves open the question of whether or not Mary experienced death at all and many Catholics believe she did not. Pope Pious XII made the Assumption a dogma of the Catholic Church on November 1, 1950 as follows.

By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.

As with other such dogmas established in Catholicism as acts of Papal Infallibity, the Orthodox perceive this as another addition to the faith by the Catholic Church, widening the schism between the two. In this case, unlike the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the Orthodox essentially agree on the event itself. But the Orthodox believe it is preserved in the faith through the liturgical life of the Church and not as a dogma.

Below is a recording of an ancient hymn of the feast in English.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 16

Posted: February 21st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

29.  Just as evil is a privation of good, and ignorance a privation of knowledge, so non-being is a privation of being — not of being in a substantive sense, for that does not have any opposite, but of being that exists by participation in substantive being. The first two privations mentioned depend on the will of creatures; the third lies in the will of the Maker, who in His goodness wills beings always to exist and always to receive His blessings.

Our being exists by participation in God’s substantive being — the only true substantive being. As such it lies in his will and must always exist. However, good and knowledge depend on our will. As such, by denying them, we create the shadows of evil and ignorance.


Mary 21 – Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Posted: February 20th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mary | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Mary 21 – Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Our Lady of Carmel

Our Lady of Carmel, whose feast is celebrated on July 16, is the patroness of the Carmelite Order. Carmelite devotion focuses on the interior life of prayer and contemplation. Below is one of those prayers.

I know my mother has ties of some sort with the Carmelites. I’m not very familiar with the different ways one can be associated with a particular order in the Catholic Church, but I know she prays with them, follows their practices, and participates with different monasteries or convents.

Here is today’s lectio divina. The Carmelite order publishes a lectio online for each day.

Relevance of the Carmelite Rule today.


Weekend Update 02-18-2012

Posted: February 18th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Weekend Update | 3 Comments »

One of a number of reasons the ACA doesn’t go nearly far enough, though it is a start.

The Cameron government’s austerity plan is working! Except no measure can be found that actually shows positive results.

In this episode of the Hold the Gluten podcast, Maureen’s reaction to her daughter’s diagnosis with celiac. Visit her site and wish her well. As I well know, it’s hard when you find out you’ve passed a genetic disease down to  your children. There’s also an article in the Wall Street Journal about the various classifications they are developing for those who can’t handle gluten. And this is the paper referenced in the article. I found it interesting.

Spanking hurts kids. Period. As usual, the comments on Scot McKnight’s post quoting the article in question sadden me. I’ve never understood why so many people choose to live in delusion when there is so much information and evidence available. Of course, I feel the same way about those who choose to believe things like young earth creationism. I guess I just don’t grasp the willful choice to embrace delusion rather than reality.

Severe Conservative Syndrome. “Tinfoil hats have become a common, if not mandatory, GOP fashion accessory.” Indeed. American “conservatism” (it’s really more a right-wing radical group now than anything that fits under the “conservative” label) seems to be waging war on facts and reality.

Wow. Mitt contradicting himself in the same paragraph. Amazing.

Fr. Orthoduck writes a great post on the absence of a war on religion in the US. Read the post. He starts with a very funny Jon Stewart clip. You won’t regret the time spent.

Moochers Against Welfare. The snarky title is worth a chuckle, but in this column Krugman tackles something that has long bemused me. Republican voters are increasingly electing individuals who actively want to dismantle, reduce, or eliminate programs on which those very same voters depend. It’s a truly bizarre dynamic. I find the Cornell University study he references illuminating. Very nearly half of Americans receiving social security, medicare, or unemployment benefits believe they have never used a government program. It seems the tea party signs at which I’m sure many of us have laughed are not merely a gaffe from a few confused people on the fringe. It certainly seems to indicate that the typical GOP voter has become so out of touch with reality that they will suffer considerable shock if the people for whom they are voting ever actually manage to do the things they say they will do if elected. Republican politicians able to perceive this dynamic must find it awkward.

Yep. The decline of unions is certainly one of the most significant factors in the decline of the median wage over the past three decades. If people knew a thing about modern history (and if you include craft and trade guilds, which served a somewhat similar function, then all the way back to medieval periods) they would understand that dynamic. People today don’t know math, don’t know history, apparently don’t understand science, and have questionable language skills. I’m nearly to the point where I think Americans are getting exactly what they deserve.

Food Rules – A stop-action animated short film narrated by Michael Pollan