Truth and Wisdom

“Truth sees God, and wisdom contemplates God, and from these two comes a third, a holy and wonderful delight in God, who is love.”
— St. Juliana of Norwich

It is very easy for those of us who are followers of Jesus to get caught up in the remains of Christendom where our faith is lived not as a fully committed lifestyle, but an appendage to a life that gives intellectual ascent to the faith, is involved in the ritual activities, and believed this is about as far as they need to go.

As a seeker and student of discernment, I have come to understand the importance of discovering the holy and wonderful delight in God. I am continually surprised by God’s grace and God’s love for me. I have found that even in the depth of desolation, depression, and disquiet of the soul, the love of God is there for me. It refuses to allow me to live in deception. It continually shows itself in all that surrounds me. It is an undeniable truth.

In times of contemplation, God comes to me as presence, a presence I know is there but this knowledge is not always from the five sense but a reality beyond my ability to logically label or through reason confirm. It is because it is. It is a presence that confirms, convicts, or comforts me in ways I can only embrace. This is the wisdom God gives, a wisdom of peace that stills the soul to the still small voice that is always speaking.

As I reflect upon my life, I find a disaster. I have charged way to many windmills, engaged in way to much narcissism, and been involved in the most stupid, idiotic activities a human being can be involved in, yet there is the truth that God loves me and the wisdom of God’s forgiveness, thus as St. Juliana, I have been coddled in the  holy and wonderful delight in God, who is love. I am so very grateful.

 

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Trending: Likes, Followers, or Grace

“Great things are done through grace, and one attribute of the great things which grace enables the soul to do is their lastingness, their continuance, their permanent life and strength, as years roll past. I say, the works of grace are permanent.”
— Bl. John Henry Newman, p. 184, The Quotable Newman.

A measure of one’s fame (and sometimes profit) in our social media, internet-connected world is how many “likes” one gets for a picture, video or Facebook, twitter, or blog post or how many “followers” one can claim. It seems that many people now live for the purpose of finding or electronically publishing something that will “go viral.”

Why, why has this become so important? (Oh, by the way, I once had a blog, an attack blog, that at times got over 10,000 hits a day and yes, I was just conceited enough to think that was something.)

Today, these records of electronic observations is perceived as the new way to instant fame and/or notoriety.  But, as the old adage goes, “fame is fleeting” and what is viral today will likely be forgotten by next week. What do “likes” and “followers” accomplish?

At one time, my attack blog did bring about some change in a certain organization, but now, twenty years later I have to ask myself, “Was it worth it?”

Maybe if you have a company that get to advertise through your posting, then gets “likes” and “followers” will mean a person gets paid more, but how does it change our world? Will our “likes” and “followers” mean anything in eternity? Will our status with God depend on our “trending” or not?

The above quote from Newman speaks to what we should be paying the most attention, acts of grace. Acts of grace do change lives, make tremendous social impact, and in the end will be the most important elements of our lives. Yet rarely are they “trending.” Rarely do they bring and profit or notoriety in our current culture, but they will last for all eternity in the mind of God and in the soul’s who receive then with gratitude. There is a deep and powerful reason on of the most recognized and sung songs on this planet is the song, “Amazing Grace.” Something deep down inside of every human being there is an awareness of our need of grace.

I am thankful that I am now getting old enough, mature enough, and time-tested enough to grasp how much I owe to grace. Grace is never deserved but yet continuously bestowed. It can never be earned but is lavished upon us by God. And I know when I take my final breath in this world, it will be grace and only grace that will matter in eternity.

My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

                                                                                                         (2 Cor. 12:9-10 NRS)

That Which Lingers, Distracts

Jesus casts out demons

As a spiritual director, I understand that I must continually take evaluations of my own spiritual state. I also need to talk about what I find with my own spiritual director. This is not a painless task.

Sometimes, events take place in life that can wound a person’s soul so deeply that even when you seek to forgive them, profess to forgive then and even beg God to help you forgive them, they still linger, shadows of irritation and regret that just will not go away. Now I know the techniques that a person should use to let these shadows drift by. I have developed the skills of reframing the bad situations into manageable, if not even profitable experiences. Still, some of us have a personality type that just cannot get past actual or even perceived betrayals. These lingering shadows can even effect a person physically.

I have spent a lot of time searching the writings of the great spiritual directors of the past about this problem. Some have indicated that the best approach is to accept these lingering shadows as one’s thorn in the flesh and bear as a privilege. Others speak of developing a stronger spiritual armor that can ward off the attacks of these shadows when they come.

Without exception, they speak of these lingering elements as tools the enemy will use against a person. They will interfere with our prayers, disrupt our peace, and distract us in silence. They even can darken our joy and fill us with disquiet. There are times that these lingering distraction can provoke the emotion of anger. I am so grateful that the Lord has given me a gift of an alarm that will not let my anger respond as it used to respond. I do not let the sun go down on it.

In the past, there were times that I simply would seek to avoid the owner of the shadow thinking, out of sight out of mind. That strategy worked when I was younger and the damage done in the relationship could be overcome with a new situation, a new beginning. But now, the new beginnings do not work for people my age. The damage done in the relationship has a powerful impact on almost every aspect of my life. My spiritual director tells me now is the time for patience. Now is the time to let these lingering shadows know that the Lord’s stillness rules even over them.

So I continue to seek the sweet solitude of silence. I continue to seek the answers and awareness that comes with the practice of lectio and I turn to the spiritual exercises of Ignatius to guide me in recognizing the harm the lingering distractions can have. So again today I search for answers to this difficult dilemma.

And today, I believe I found another piece of the puzzle that will guide me to overcome the lingering that distracts.

“What really hurts is not so much suffering as the fear of suffering. If welcomed trustingly and peacefully, suffering makes us grow. It matures and trains us, purifies us, teaches us to love unselfishly, makes us poor in heart, humble, gentle, and compassionate toward our neighbor. Fear of suffering, on the other hand, hardens us in self-protective, defensive attitudes, and often leads us to make irrational choices with disastrous consequences.”
— Fr. Jacques Philippe, p. 47     AN EXCERPT FROM, Interior Freedom

Amen

The Ignorance and Arrogance of Preaching

“Be sure that you first preach by the way you live. If you do not, people will notice that you say one thing, but live otherwise, and your words will bring only cynical laughter and a derisive shake of the head.”
— St. Charles Borromeo

Preaching is both gift from God and developed skill taking the best from psychology, sociology, anthropology, history and the real events of life. Preaching is to handle the Word of God with care and much, much prayer. For true preaching, good preaching, does not just entertain, but it entertains so it can get past the barriers we put up against the spiritual world and brings change within the heart.

Often times, preaching is about spiritual warfare sending out information of where the enemy is attacking and providing the spiritual logistics to stand strong in the fight. Other times, preaching is a guide that takes us through a journey into our soul showing us the places which need develop and which ones are strong and steady. Preaching, done correctly, brings us into God’s presence and gives us glimpsed of God’s beauty and love.

This really deserves being said twice,

“Be sure that you first preach by the way you live. If you do not, people will notice that you say one thing, but live otherwise, and your words will bring only cynical laughter and a derisive shake of the head.”
— St. Charles Borromeo

Three Necessary Things

“Three things are necessary to everyone: truth of faith which brings understanding, love of Christ which brings compassion, and endurance of hope which brings perseverance.”
— St. Bonaventure

I can remember the first day I went to school in Payson, Arizona. I was in the fourth grade. We moved often back then because of my father’s government job, but the move from Oregon to Arizona as an eight-year old was like moving to a new world. I was the new kid in the class arriving in at the middle of the first six-weeks period. I remember this particular time because I had just been introduced to the class, had taken my seat, and the teacher asked the question, “What do we all need to survive?”

I knew the answer to that, this was an easy one.

I did not know that the social rules of this new world include the law, “New kids don’t answer the question,” and so I raised my hand. I think this surprised the teacher so much that she, without thinking, called on me to answer.

I answered, “The answer is food.”

The teacher looked at me with a puzzled look on her face. After a brief contemplative pause, she said, “David, you are right, but what else do we need,” opening up the question to the class again.

A girl with curly blonde hair, who was obviously the class scholar, seemed quite perturbed as she waved her hand in the air that this insolent new student would even speak, said, “I believe, teacher, the answer you are looking for is water.” This was, of course, the right answer.

My answer was right, but it was not the only answer. In fact there are many more answers that would also fit. We human beings are really needy creatures. In fact, a psychologist named Maslow has developed a five-level pyramid that sets up a hierarchy of human needs.

Spiritually we also have needs, things necessary to our spiritual lives. Bonaventure’s words tells us we need “the truth of faith that brings understanding.” I have heard many people say all we need is faith. Yes, I would agree we need faith, but unless that faith is anchored in what is true all we have is a blind faith that must be supported by blind obsessiveness or unquestionable dogma demanding absolute loyalty.  Such a faith borders on a worship of manufactured certainty that will ignore any “truth” that would challenge it.

This is why developing as disciples, developing the mind of Christ is so important. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (Jn. 14:6 NRS) Jesus goes on to say, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
(Jn. 8:31-32 NRS)

Yes, truth of faith which brings understanding is an essential spiritual need.

Next Bonaventure tells us that we need the love of Christ that brings compassion. I cannot help but wonder how a group of people could gather at a building they call a church and sing, “Oh, how I love Jesus,” and then ignore the plight of the people at the border or support politicians that will do nothing about the military weapons that are being used to kill innocent people in this country or the lack of health care for the poor? The words of the song do not seem to indicate the attitude of the heart.

Do the words spoken by Jesus have meaning to them, “Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'” (Matt. 25:41-45 NRS)

Or remember the story of the Good Samaritan? Are these words just for others and not us? Is it okay now to not care or get involved when we see injustice? Is it now okay to put the good of making money above the suffering of human beings?  If we need anything spiritually in our age and culture, it is the love of Christ, Christ in us, that brings compassion rather than corruption.

Lastly, of the three essential, necessary needs Bonaventure speaks of the last one is the hardest, “endurance of hope which brings perseverance.” To be a Christian means to live in hope. Hope of our salvation. Hope of the Lord’s return. A hope that must face the reality of a world in which love grows colder by the day. A hope that must endure the scandals of the church, the divisions of the church and the teachings of a church that is more interested in relevancy than orthodoxy. Endurance and perseverance are words that imply commitment. They are words that speak of pain, challenge, and risk. But these two words, endurance and perseverance, are also spiritual gifts given to those who will make the commitment needed. These words are skills that can be obtained when they are important enough to put the effort into strengthening them.

Bonaventure speaks of these three necessary things for all people, but not all people can have them. Bonaventure lived in the time and context of a Christendom culture, that time has come and gone. We now live in a post-Christian culture that has not a clue of these necessary things. If we are to live as true Christians in this kind of world, we need head Bonaventure’s words and continually examine of lives in the light they give us.

necessary things

The Mind of Christ

“Walking by faith, let us do good works. In these let there be a free love of God for His own sake and an active love for our neighbor. For there is nothing we can do for God. But because we have something we can do for our neighbor, we shall by our good offices to the needy gain the favor of Him Who is the source of all abundance. Let us then do what we can for others; let us freely bestow upon the needy out of our abundance.”
— St. Augustine, p. 144
AN EXCERPT FROM, Augustine Day by Day

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,  (Phil. 2:1-5 NRS)

Seeking to develop the mind of Christ is the main focus of Orthodox Christian spirituality. As one can see from the verse from Philippians, this focus is a process of growth formed in purpose and practice. It is an activity of life, a way of life that requires frequent attentions towards one’s wants and desires. These attentions should be comparative of the life we life with that of Jesus.

In order to accomplish this, we need to make the reading of the Gospels a very important part of our activity, our daily activity. We should read for insights into behaviors, reactions, responses and of course the attitude that Jesus exhibits.

Next, we should pray as Jesus prayed. We, like he, spend time alone with God. This time alone is not just to give God our requests (hint: God knows before we ask) but give God the time in silence and in openness to the Holy Spirit. The eastern church is much more apophatic than the west. They understand that to follow Jesus we must decrease so he may increase. This goes completely against our current, self-focus, cultural orientation. But, as Augustine brings out, this is what we need to do. This is what Paul brings out in the above passage. We must in humility regard others, to their interests, as more important than our own.

These are things not understood in a short blog, but in a spiritual search that begins with a simple, complicated, easy, hard paradox of an orientation, to seek the mind of Christ.

 

Circumstances, Situations, Criminal, Child

“Indeed, the glory to which God raises the soul through grace is so great that even the natural beauty of the Angels is as nothing compared with it. The Angels themselves wonder how a soul that was sunk in the desert of this sinful earth and robbed of all natural beauty can be clothed with such a wonderful splendor. But this wonder of the Angels will not surprise us when we see and hear that God Himself considers the beauty of grace with astonishment and rapture. For how otherwise can we explain what He says in The Canticle of Canticles to the soul: ‘How beautiful art thou, my love, how beautiful art thou!’ (Cant. 4:1).”
— Fr. Matthias J. Scheeben, p. 133
AN EXCERPT FROM, The Glories of Divine Grace

For the last three days I have spent my time in the presence of some of the most beautiful of God’s creations, the young girls who are incarcerated at the Ron Jackson State School who attended an event called Epiphany. I was a table spiritual director for this event, Epiphany 38.

The Epiphany program is designed to let these girls know they are loved by God and by those of us who participate in the program. I fully understand some of these girls are here because of horrible actions. I also know that almost without exception, each of these girls have had horrible things happen to them for the majority of their young lives.

In the last three days I saw girls, who have never had a birthday party in their lives, light up with joy and heartbreaking wonder as they are given a party in which each of them get a cake with their name written on it. I watched them cry as they read letters written to them by people (Christians) whom they have never met telling them they are praying for them. Many had never received a letter before.

I saw eyes  that were fearful, hateful, calculating change to innocence, honesty and open-ness as they were allowed to express their feelings and then lead, by God’s grace and the efforts of God’s peacemakers, to write down the names of those who had hurt them, used them, abused them, and discarded them and then nail those lists to a cross in order to give them to the Lord. To be there was to experience God’s grace expressed through innocence lost and a childhood in Christ claimed. This is a very emotional and spiritual event.

I fully understand that events like an Epiphany may or may not have a life-changing effect on the lives of these girls. I understand that God’s forgiveness does not always align with human justice and punishment. However, I hope that each of the girls who attended this event, a least for a few moments, experience a taste of the love that God has for them and for a short time, were able to be children, beautiful young girls upon who God looks with eyes of love and care.

We cannot fully know the circumstances of their lives. We cannot know the entirety of the situations that brought them to the place in their lives. We likely do not know what criminal behavior they were convicted of. We can know, however that they, each are a child, a child loved by God.