Christmas Foreshadows Easter  

Posted by Joe Rawls in ,

Over at, MC Steenberg has an excellent essay exploring the theological connections between the Nativity and the Resurrection. If you read the whole thing, pay particular attention to how he compares the icons of the two feasts.

There is an intimate, intrinsic connection between the Feast of the Nativity of Christ in the flesh, and the feast of His glorious Resurrection, the holy Pascha of the Lord. The two are united in the single saving reality of the Son's incarnation, which from His human birth to His death and resurrection manifests the eternal saving design of the man-befriending God....At the Feast of the Nativity, when we hymn Christ's birth, we are already singing a Paschal song, already commemorating the great and mysterious events at the other terminus of His earthly life--for in Christ, the eternity of God meets the finitude of His creation, and we see in every moment of the Son's human life the full scope and dimension of that eternity. Already, as we hymn the infant lain in the cave, we are enabled to sing with the hymn, 'Salvation enters the world and the curse is destroyed'; already we are able to taste the glory of Paschal midnight, which we rejoice in the full mystery of a 'death that has trampled down death', bestowing life to those in the tombs. It begins here. It is known and encountered now.

Roman Christmas Proclamation  

Posted by Joe Rawls in

On today's Feast of the Nativity we have a Christmas proclamation originating in the Roman Catholic church and recommended for use at the beginning of the Christmas liturgy. A hat-tip to
The New Liturgical Movement.


Today, the twenty-fifth day of December,
unknown ages from the time when God created the heavens and the earth and then formed man and woman in his own image;
several thousand years after the flood, when God made the rainbow shine forth as a sign of the covenant;
twenty-one centuries from the time of Abraham and Sarah, thirteen centuries after Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt;
eleven hundred years from the time of Ruth and the Judges;
one thousand years from the anointing of David as king;
in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel;
in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;
the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome;
the forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus, the whole world being at peace;
Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming, being conceived by the Holy Spirit, and nine months having passed since his conception, was born at Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary.
Today is the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.

Advent Repentance  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Advent was originally a penitential season, not a period of pre-Christmas frenzied shopping. Penitence still predominates in the eastern churches. Mike Marsh, Episcopal priest and rector of St Phillip's in Uvalde, Texas, has a take on repentance that goes beyond breast-beating and wallowing in guilt. It appeared recently on his always-interesting site Interrupting the Silence.



  • is as much or more about our heart as it is about our actions.
  • is returning our gaze to God.
  • is changing the direction of our life in order to face, see, and receive our coming salvation.
  • is turning our life around.
  • is to choose a new life.
  • is not just about changing behavior--it is a change of mind, a change in direction, a change in attitude, a change in our way of being.
  • is the recognition that our self-sufficiency is inadequate.
  • is a search for life which is realized in personal communication with God.
  • is not simply about improvement in behavior or even being perfect, a psychological feeling, or strengthening our will. It is, rather, a change in our mode of existence by which we cease to trust in our own individuality.
  • is not individual feats or works of merit but a cry of trust and love from the depths of our abyss.
  • is our true Christmas preparation.
  • is how we cooperate with God in our own salvation.
  • is refusing to continue to settle for less than what God is offering.
  • manifests our desire for God.
  • is our response to God's desire for us.


Posted by Joe Rawls

A few days ago my wife Nancy loaned me A Rare and Precious Thing: the possibilities and pitfalls of working with a spiritual teacher (Bell Tower, New York 2006) by John Kain. He is a Buddhist practitioner, poet, and associate publisher of Tricycle magazine. The book describes how one works with spiritual teachers/masters/elders/guides/directors in a wide variety of traditions. Pages 36 and 37 relate a visit to a Trappist monastery near Winnipeg by Howard Thurman, professor of theology at Boston University, and Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, one of the founders of Jewish Renewal. Instead of going to the abbot, whom they considered "just a manager", they sought out the novice master.

"...and Howard asks him, 'What's the biggest complaint you have among novices?' The master says, 'Well, they have to be up at two-thirty in the morning to attend Matins and Lauds. They aren't too happy about it. They tell me that it's so much better when they're out in the fields and they feel ecstasy and love for God and hallelujah and so on. So I say to them, "I forbid you to come to any services now except for the masses, which are an obligation". 'What happened then?' Howard asked. And the master replied, 'Well, after a while they came back to me and said, "We didn't come here to be farm hands." 'What happened to your ecstasies?' the master asked. 'They dried up', said the novices. So the master told them, 'Of course, now you realize, what you are doing at two-thirty in the morning is what gives you the ecstasy in the fields'."

Essence, Energies, Theosis  

Posted by Joe Rawls in

Yesterday was, in the Orthodox calendar, the feast of St Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), a monk of Mt Athos, an archbishop of Thessalonica, but above all a great theologian. Largely as the result of a prolonged dispute with Barlaam of Calabria, Gregory clarified and solidified one feature of the Eastern Church's teaching on the nature of God. God's transcendent aspect (his "essence") is unknowable by us because of the gulf inherent between Creator and creatures. However, we do encounter God in his "uncreated energies" (his immanent aspect), in which God reaches out to us in love and holds us and the entire universe in existence. The process of theosis, in which we become progressively more united with God, is a process of union with God's uncreated energies.

Illustrating these observations are two quotes, one from number 78 of Palamas' 150 Chapters, and the second from an article by Russian theologian Georges Florovsky.


There are three realities in God, namely substance [essence], energy, and a Trinity of divine hypostases. Since it has been shown above that those deemed worthy of union with God so as to become one spirit with him...are not united to God in substance, and since all theologians bear witness in their statements to the fact that God is imparticipable in substance and the hypostatic union happens to be predicated of the Word and God-man alone, it follows that those deemed worthy of union with God are united to God in energy and that the spirit whereby he who clings to God is one with God is called and is indeed the uncreated energy of the Spirit and not the substance of God, even though Barlaam...may disagree.


Actually the whole teaching of St Gregory presupposes the action of the Personal God. God moves toward man and embraces him by his own "grace" and action without leaving that light unapproachable in which he eternally abides. The ultimate purpose of St Gregory's theological teaching was to defend the reality of Christian experience. Salvation is more than forgiveness. It is genuine renewal of man. And this renewal is not effected by the discharge, or release, of certain natural energies implied in man's own creaturely being, but by the "energies" of God himself, who thereby encounters and encompasses man, and admits him into communion with himself.

Boredom Eternal?  

Posted by Joe Rawls

When I was a pious young Catholic lad, I would sometimes work myself into a state thinking about eternity. When the nuns and priests spoke about the afterlife they gave the impression that it would be a lot like this present life, minus, of course, sin, corruption and death. Honestly, I did not find it all that interesting. The possibility that it would go on forever was frankly a bit unnerving, even throwing the beatific vision into the mix.

The possibility of everlasting tedium is advanced by some philosophers and theologians as an argument against the afterlife. This is discussed by Episcopal priest Matt Gunter in a post on his new blog Into the Expectation. However, he presents an alternative view based solidly in the Christian tradition--one which was glossed over in my catechism classes. A hat-tip to the Covenant site.


If immortality is just mortal life extended indefinitely, there might not be much to commend it. Our limited mortal selves cannot bear immortality in that sense. Borges gets at this. As does Anne Rice in the desperate and lonely immortality "lived" by the vampire, Lestat. Living forever in the sense of life as we know it is less attractive than might be assumed at first.

But, as a Christian, I have to say that is not my hope. Mere immortality is not the same thing as eternal life. The Bible is surprisingly circumspect in describing just what eternal life means. But there are hints.

First of all, the Christian hope is not to avoid death. Death is indeed the hard reality under whose shadow we live. But, we confess that the one who is Life entered into that hard reality and took it upon himself and died a mortal death on a cross. Still more, we confess that Life transformed the reality of death through resurrection. So, now the shadow of death is the shadow cast by the cross with the light of resurrection glory shining from beyond.

Because we hope for resurrection, our hope is not for life extended over inexhaustible time but for life transformed. Thus, one of the most enduring images of that hope is the prophet Isaiah's vision of the Peaceable Kingdom...Similarly, the vision of the New Jerusalem in the Revelation to John points to the healing of all that corrupts and destroys along with all within and without that keeps us from complete and mutual joy. Our hope is for all creation, perhaps all of history--and us in it--to be transformed.

We do not hope for this life extended beyond death. Rather, we expect to be transfigured, or as Dante would have it, transhumanized. We expect to be "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 2:4) capable of enjoying God who is Eternal Life and capable of being in-joyed by God.

All Saints  

Posted by Joe Rawls

For All Saints Day we have excerpts from a sermon by Bernard of Clairvaux, a founder of the Cistercian monastic reform and one of the greatest preachers of the western medieval church. It comes from Sermo 2: Opera omnia, Edit. Cisterc. 5 [1968], 364 ff


Why should our praise and glorification, or even the celebration of this feastday mean anything to the saints? What do they care about earthly honors when their heavenly Father honors them by fulfilling the faithful promise of the Son? What does our commendation mean to them? The saints have no need of honor from us; neither does our devotion add the slightest thing to what is theirs. Clearly, if we venerate their memory, it serves us, not them. But I tell you, when I think of them, I feel myself inflamed by a tremendous yearning.

Calling the saints to mind inspires, or rather arouses in us, above all else, a longing to enjoy their company, so desirable in itself. We long to share in the citizenship of heaven, to dwell with the spirits of the blessed, to join the assembly of patriarchs, the ranks of the prophets, the council of apostles, the great hosts of martyrs, the noble company of confessors and the choir of virgins. In short, we long to be united in happiness with all the saints...

...When we commemorate the saints we are inflamed with another yearning: that Christ our life may also appear to us as he appeared to them and that we may one day share in his glory. Until then we see him, not as he is, but as he became for our sake. He is our head, crowned, not with glory, but with the thorns of our sins. As members of that head, crowned with thorns, we should be ashamed to live in luxury; his purple robes are a mockery rather than an honor. When Christ comes again his death shall no longer be proclaimed, and we shall know that we also have died, and that our life is hidden with him. The glorious head of the Church will appear and his glorified members will shine in splendor with him, when he forms this lowly body anew into such glory as belongs to himself, its head.

Jewish Figures in the Eastern Liturgy  

Posted by Joe Rawls in ,

Shawn Tribe of The New Liturgical Movement has put together a most informative post on the liturgical use of the so-called "righteous of the Old Testament" (mainly prophets) in the Eastern churches. Figures such as Abraham, Isaiah, and Elijah are commemorated with their own propers and icons, such as the one of Moses and the burning bush above. In the wake of Vatican II the western churches very laudably recovered the use of the Hebrew Scriptures in public worship, but could still stand, in my opinion, to incorporate some of these "ancestors in faith" into their liturgical calendars.

You can also click here for another Roman Catholic interpretation of typology.

Lectio Divina Resources  

Posted by Joe Rawls in

Over at the Oblate Spring blog, John has an excellent post containing 10 links to sites discussing lectio divina. Lectio is a very ancient way of reading Scripture or other spiritual writings in a slow, meditative way so that the very act of reading becomes a prayer. Benedict in his Rule frequently refers to lectio, and it is probably the closest thing to a distinctively Benedictine form of spirituality. Well worth checking out in detail.

Rowan Williams on Teresa of Avila  

Posted by Joe Rawls in ,

On today's feast of St Teresa, we offer a passage from Archbishop Rowan Williams' excellent Teresa of Avila (Continuum 1991). The context of this quote is Teresa's personal history. In 1492 the large Jewish community in Spain was given the choice of conversion to Catholicism or expulsion. The Jews who agreed to baptism almost immediately came under the suspicion of the Inquisition, which doubted the sincerity of their conversion. Talk about double binds. Teresa's own family were conversos of this sort, and she would have grown up feeling somewhat marginalized in Spanish society. The quote is found on pp 162-163.


We have been made more attentive than ever in recent years to the extent to which context (rightly) sets the agenda for the enterprise of Christian reflection. Teresa's case is no exception. For her, the unity of the story is, as we have seen, centered in the twofold sense of God as wanting our company and God as the enemy of the human systems of status. If Teresa's family and social world had been different, this would not have been so manifestly the focus of her thought. As we saw in the first chapter, she was in several ways an anomalous person, not an insider. Thus the unifying thread she perceives is to do with the God who is hidden within the diversities of human life (the King in the centre of the castle), who is 'anomalous' in refusing to stay within the proper hierarchical structures of a well-ordered universe, and whose action is essentially at odds with the quest for personal security and legitimacy on the basis of good behavior. 'God at the centre' is consistently set in opposition to a 'centre' of social order and power and purity--the centre from which Teresa, as a woman and a Jew, is distant. Turning to God within is a very familiar strategy in religious protest; when the approved centre of public existence is not accessible, it is necessary to relocate the centre in the inner life. But what makes Teresa so interesting in this respect is that this shifting of the centre is conceived as God's own characteristic movement; God is a reality moving away from a centre of self-possession towards being-in-another. And so the moving of the centre of meaning that is involved in turning from external ambiguity to inner clarity is is saved from being simply a move into the private sphere by its association with God's journey into creation. The rejection of the world's standards is also a claim on behalf of God's will and ability to penetrate the world and to remake it in self-abandoning love.

Chalcedon and the Real World  

Posted by Joe Rawls in

The fifth-century Council of Chalcedon issued an authoritative pronouncement on the way in which Jesus Christ combines divinity and humanity in his own person. For most Christians something this seemingly abstruse is completely off the radar; many mainline Protestants deny it altogether. However, Christopher Evans has a somewhat more immediate take on this doctrine.


Part of the importance of Chalcedon is that the Divine Person took up human nature...The Word did not merely become a particular human person, but the Divine Person became the whole humanity and took up each particular within Himself....

What this thinking does is make all flesh iconic of the Second Person. Even if our own eyes are blind to God's glory. And if all flesh is iconic, how we approach each creature must be tuned to a similar reverence with which we bow at the Thrice-Holy.

This is to say that the same way of thinking that dares think of rocks as mere raw resources and plants as long-term investments and animals as little more than factory cogs is involved in thinking of minority peoples and women as not in the image of God, not capable of representing Christ, as even refractive of God's glory. Such thinking is radically anti-Incarnational no matter how traditional, no matter how covered in Patristic cloth. It is contra-Chalcedon. And it is destroying the earth.

Cloister of the Heart  

Posted by Joe Rawls in

Carl McColman of Anamchara has a great post on the relationship of contemplative spirituality to the everyday lives of ordinary people. Carl is a lay associate of a Cistercian monastery near Atlanta and his observations grew out of a conversation with another associate.


To non-monks, a cloister may seem to be nothing more than a barrier: a wall or fence that divides the abode of monks from the rest of the world...But..the real beauty of the cloister is not its periphery, but its center. The cloister is the place where community happens. It is the anchor of stability, the crucible where penance and humility are forged, the home where lovers of Christ--and of the brothers and the place--reside, hopefully joyfully, usually imperfectly, always with the help of God's grace...

"We are not called to live in the cloister",my friend mused, "but we are called to embrace the charisms of the cloistered life. To me, this means we must find a 'cloister of the heart', a place within ourselves where we can cultivate stability and silence and simplicity and all the other Cistercian charisms".

...This does not mean that we simply withdraw into some sort of navel-gazing introversion. Far from it. Like the cloister itself, the heart is a center, not a boundary. The heart's lifelong job is to receive blood, and then send the blood out again. If the blood stops moving through the heart, the heart--and the body it serves--quickly dies...For a person who has embraced the cloister of the heart as a lay contemplative, this means we continually draw within ourselves the refreshing silence and solitude of contemplative prayer, only then to give it away, bringing the gifts of a life immersed in the love of God to all those whom we love and whom we meet in the course of our busy lives. God comes into us through prayer and meditation and silence and solitude, and we give God away through love and service and acts of mercy and charity and justice. We pray and we work: ora et labora, which happens to be the motto of Benedictine monasticism.

Anglo-Catholic Identity  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Derek Olsen of Haligweorc is also a regular contributor to Episcopal Cafe. In a recent post he shares some insights into Anglo-Catholicism that go beyond the stereotypical preoccupation with liturgical punctilio. Of particular importance is Martin Thornton's definition of Anglican spirituality as being rooted in the Eucharist, the Daily Office, and personal prayer and meditation.

As any Anglo-Catholic in good standing will tell you, it's not about the externals. Or, rather, the externals are driven by the internals. As I've said before, we don't do solemn high mass or use incense because we like it (though we do, of course) but because of what it communicates about who and what God is and who we are in light of that reality. It's about theology. And our theological commitments come with liturgical implications. Defining that theology is what drives us crazy.

...At the end of the day the question isn't whether we are "authentic" Anglo-Catholics or Anglicans. The question is whether we are authentic Christians seeking to pattern our lives according to an Anglican shape that proceeds from catholic and orthodox roots.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Christian Smith is a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. He has written (with Melinda Lundquist Denton) Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford 2005). Like a good social scientist, Smith conducted extensive interviews with hundreds of American teenagers--representing a wide spectrum of Christian and non-Christian religions--to get an idea of where they're coming from spiritually. Most of them, regardless of their tradition of origin, profess what Smith calls "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism". The passages below are from a summary of his work available as a PDF file. Those of us who are mainline Christians with even a moderately traditionalist slant will realize that these attitudes are not restricted to teenagers; in many mainline communities they have long become the conventional wisdom.

[The basics of Moralistic Therapuetic Deism:]

  • A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
  • God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  • The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  • God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when he is needed to solve a problem.
  • Good people go to heaven when they die.

...being a good, moral person means...being nice, kind, pleasant, respectful, and responsible; working on self-improvement; taking care of one's health; and doing one's best to be successful...As more than one teenager summarized morality for us: "Just don't be an asshole, that's all..."

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is also about providing therapeutic benefits to its adherents...What appears to be the actual dominant religion among US teenagers is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at peace. It is about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people.

...But this God is not Trinitarian, he did not speak through the Torah or the prophets of Israel, was never resurrected from the dead, and does not fill and transform people through his Spirit. This God is not demanding. He actually can't be, since his job is to solve our problems and make people feel good. In short, God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist--he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process.

Old Rites, Young Bodies  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Many people of my generation--rapidly graying boomers--think that the best way to lure young folks into mainline churches is to offer them "contemporary" styles of worship: folk masses, gospel music, even a U2charist if they feel really ambitious. After all, it works for the megachurches, right? I have a sneaking suspicion that many of these boomers are merely projecting their own wishes onto these liturgical evangelism projects.

The local newspaper in Lawrence, Kansas, home of the University of Kansas, has an article ([the link won't work for me for whatever reason] on a "Solemn High Mass" celebrated each Sunday night during the school year at Trinity Episcopal Church. The service seems to be a good old-fashioned bells and smells feast, with incense, holy water, and Gregorian chant--the Nicene Creed and Lord's Prayer are chanted along with much else. The congregation is multi-generational with a good representation of KU students--some voice majors even sing in the choir. One student attendee had this to say:

" uses all your senses--it just sort of inundates you with things. This thing encourages you to smell and to taste, to touch and see and to hear and just sort of be flooded with..the presence of God and the presence of everything we care about."

Now, if only my Trinity Episcopal Church would do something like this!

Hat-tip to Titus Onenine.

Authentic Mysticism  

Posted by Joe Rawls in

Anamchara has a good post referencing an introduction by Emilie Griffin to Evelyn Underhill: Essential Writings (Orbis). She points out five characteristics of genuine Christian mysticism:

  • Christian mysticism is active and practical...for the vast majority of Christian contemplatives, the life of silence is embedded in a network of community relationships...True mysticism does not fly from such obligations, but embraces them and seeks to meet them well.
  • Christian mysticism is spiritual and transcendental, rather than magical. The authentic mystic does not seek supernatural power for the purpose of controlling earthly circumstances, but rather seeks to surrender to the will and calling of Divine Love...
  • Christian mysticism is centered in love
  • Union with God in authentic mysticism transforms the mystic for ever richer levels of life...Mysticism points beyond itself to the life of kenosis and theosis: self-emptying in order to participate in the Divine nature.
  • As a result of such loving union, the authentic mystic becomes unselfish.

No Free Passes for Skeptics  

Posted by Joe Rawls

It's no secret that lots of mainline Christians doubt or reject some or many items of traditional belief. In my own parish, where Marcus Borg's books are used for confirmation classes, some of my friends omit parts of the Nicene Creed during the Sunday Eucharist or else skip it altogether. This is part of the parish's agenda of "inclusion", "hospitality", and "accepting people as they are".

Martin L Smith, a priest and spiritual writer serving St Columba's in Washington, DC, has a different take on this phenomenon. Doubters are to be welcomed in love, but some kinds of doubt may appropriately be challenged. The essay from which the following is excerpted appears in Episcopal Cafe.

Then there are entirely different kinds of doubt, which instead of serving faith, are defense mechanisms against it. So in our congregations there are those who rely on doubt for keeping Christ at bay. We need to get better at detecting the emotional dynamic that is frequently at work under doubts that are often presented as purely rational problems or even badges of sophistication. There are those whose doubts about the resurrection, doubts about the real presence, doubts about Christ, function as rationalizations for a basic dread of intimacy with the divine. In these cases intellectual agnosticism shields one from the possibility that Christ might actually touch or enter us, making us utterly vulnerable to being loved, moved, led and changed. It is good to keep on setting out good arguments for the truth of basic Christian doctrines, but they won't be effective unless we recognize the emotional dynamic of fear and resistance that may well be fueling a person's unbelief as they take up our offer of hospitality and inclusiveness.

Those Boring Benedictines  

Posted by Joe Rawls in

Br Stephen, OCist, is a monk of the Cistercian abbey of Our Lady of Spring Bank in Sparta, Wisconsin. In this post on his blog Sub Tuum he contrasts the Benedictines, whose principal raison d'etre is communal prayer and personal contemplation, with other orders that have more visible (flashier?) ministries. Read the whole post for full effect. Written on August 8, the feast of St Dominic, it ends thus: "With apologies to St Dominic, not that he was particularly nice to us."

In short, we have no charism. We're not practicing the spirituality of X while doing work Y and wearing the habit of Z. We have no distinct spirituality though it can sometimes look as if we do since we have maintained the office while it has gone by the wayside to varying degrees elsewhere. We have no manuals or exercises. We have no distinctive apostolate. We wear a basic habit free of distinctive trinkets. In 1500 years the Benedictine family has produced preachers, teachers, mystics, and theologians, but the first task was always simply to seek God and try to save our own souls. A Benedictine monastery is just a place to try to live out the Christian life. It ultimately has no other purpose or mission.

...In summary, if you're looking for a rather pedestrian life, don't mind a boring outfit, think repetition is cool, and can't keep up with trends, the Benedictine charism may be just the thing for you.

Born-again Sacramentalism  

Posted by Joe Rawls in

My biggest problem with evangelicals is not homophobia or right-wing political extremism--although these are bad enough--but rather the low esteem in which many of them hold the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. Apparently there are some evangelicals who feel the same way. Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk, has a very interesting post called "Your Mission: Resacramentalize Evangelicalism". Very informative and eye-opening, especially for those of us who still labor under some stereotypes about what evangelicals are about. Read a sample of the comments as well.

What are evangelical sacraments?

  • We have sacramentalized technology.
  • We have sacramentalized the pastor and other leaders.
  • We have sacramentalized music (ie the songs themselves and the experience of singing).
  • We have sacramentalized leaders of musical worship.
  • We have sacramentalized events (God is here!)
  • We have sacramentalized the various forms of the altar call.
  • We have sacramentalized the creation of an emotional reaction.
We've done all of this, amazingly, while de-emphasizing and theologically gutting baptism. (I'm not buying everyone's baptismal theology here: I'm simply saying the standard approach now is nothing more than could be accomplished by having someone jump through a hoop.)

We've done this while reducing the Lord's Supper to a relatively meaningless, optional recollection (and being deeply suspicious of anyone making it more than a glorified sermon illustration).

We've done this while removing any aspects of sacramentalism from out worship and even our architecture...

What's the answer?

We need to resacramentalize our worldview in its entirety. Go read some Anglicans and Catholics about that. We're ridiculously secularist and modernist in so much of our thinking, and so selective and inconsistent in our idea of how God relates to physical things.

Anthony Bloom on the Transfiguration  

Posted by Joe Rawls in

Anthony Bloom (1914-2003, aka Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh) was born in Lausanne, Switzerland, of Russian parents (a maternal uncle was the composer Scriabin). He spent much of his early life in Paris, where he was educated as a physician. After successively serving as an army doctor and in the French resistance, he was ordained to the Russian Orthodox priesthood. Eventually he moved to England in order to serve the Orthodox community in that country. He wrote several books on prayer which became widely influential throughout the Christian world.

Today's feast of the Transfiguration is supremely important for Orthodox Christians, for they interpret it as pointing towards the eventual fate of us all. The light with which Jesus shone on Mt Tabor is the uncreated light of God himself, a manifestation of theosis or deification. Not only will all the just be deified at the end of time, but the entire physical cosmos will also be set free from corruption and decay.

The excerpt is from a sermon Anthony preached in 1973. A hat-tip to the Ora et Labora site.

Here, in a shrouded manner, is revealed to us all of the greatness, all the significance, not only of man, but of the material world itself, of its indescribable potential, not only earthly and transitory, but also eternal and Divine...

...And if we attentively and seriously accept what is revealed to us here, we must change as profoundly as we can our attitude toward everything visible, toward everything tangible; not only toward humanity, not only toward man, but toward his very flesh, and not only toward human flesh, but toward everything around him that is physically perceptible, tangible, and visible...Everything is called to become the place of indwelling of the Lord's grace; everything is called to be at some time, at the end of time, drawn into that glory and to shine forth with that glory.

And it is granted unto us people to know that; it is granted unto us people not only to know that, but to be co-workers with God in the illuminating of that Creation which the Lord created...We perform the blessing of the fruits, the blessing of the waters, the blessing of the grains, the bread, we perform the blessing of bread and wine, changing them into the Body and Blood of the Lord; the source of the miracles of Transfiguration and Theophany is within the confines of the Church. Through human faith, the matter of this world is separated out, matter which through man's lack of faith, through human perfidy, had been handed over to corruption, death and destruction, is set apart by the miracle of Transfiguration and Theophany. Through our faith, it is separated from this corruption and death, and is given over to God Himself, is accepted by God, and in God fundamentally becomes a new creation...

Let us think about this; we are not called to enslave nature, but rather to free it from the prison of corruption and death and sin, to free it and to bring it back into harmony with the Kingdom of God. Therefore let us begin to treat all created matter, all of the visible world, thoughtfully, with respect, and let us be in the world Christ's co-workers, so that the world might achieve its glory and so that, through us, all of creation might enter into the joy of the Lord.

Incarnation and Theosis  

Posted by Joe Rawls in ,

Andrew Louth is an Orthodox priest as well as a theology professor at Durham University in England. In his article "The Place of Theosis in Orthodox Theology" (appearing in Partakers of the Divine Nature, Christensen and Wittung, eds, Baker Academic 2007), he outlines the Orthodox understanding of the Incarnation of the Son of God, which is seen as not exclusively a remedy for human sinfulness, but primarily as God's way of uniting in love with his creation. The quote appears on pp 34-35.

Deification, then, has to do with human destiny, a destiny that finds its fulfillment in a face-to-face encounter with God, an encounter in which God takes the initiative by meeting us in the Incarnation, where we behold "the glory as of the Only-Begotten from the Father" (Jn 1:14), "the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor 4:6). It is important for a full grasp of what this means to realize that deification is not to be equated with redemption. Christ certainly came to save us, and in our response to his saving action and word we are redeemed; but deification belongs to a broader conception of the divine oikonomia: deification is the fulfillment of creation, not just the rectification of the Fall. One way of putting this is to think in terms of an arch stretching from creation to deification, representing what is and remains God's intention: the creation of the cosmos that, through humankind, is destined to share in the divine life, to be deified. Progress along this arch has been frustrated by humankind, in Adam, failing to work with God's purposes, leading to the Fall, which needs to be put right by redemption. There is, then, what one might think of as a lesser arch, leading from Fall to redemption, the purpose of which is to restore the function of the greater arch, from creation to deification. The loss of the notion of deification leads to lack of awareness of the greater arch from creation to deification, and thereby to concentration on the lower arch, from Fall to redemption; it is, I think, not unfair to suggest that such a concentration on the lesser arch at the expense of the greater arch has been characteristic of much Western theology. The consequences are evident: a loss of the sense of the cosmic dimension of theology, a tendency to see the created order as little more than a background for the great drama of redemption, with the result that the Incarnation is seen simply as a means of redemption, the putting right of the Fall of Adam: O certe necessarium Adae peccatum, quod Christi morte deletum est! O felix culpa, quae talem ac tantum meruit habere Redemptorem!--as the [Exultet of the Easter Vigil] has it: "O certainly necessary sin of Adam, which Christ has destroyed by death! O happy fault, which deserved to have such and so great a Redeemer!"

Orthodox theology has never lost sight of the greater arch, leading from creation to deification.

Benedict and the East  

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The French Benedictine Jean Leclercq was one of the leading scholar-monks of the 20th century. In The Love of Learning and the Desire for God ( New York, Fordham University Press 1982) he discusses some of the ways in which the monastic West was influenced by the monastic East. The quote following is found on pp 89-90; I have omitted Leclercq's footnotes.

...Benedictine monasticism is attracted, not only to patristic sources in general, but to Eastern sources in particular....

This is a fact which must be strongly emphasized, for St Benedict had no wish to break with ancient monastic tradition, which is largely Eastern. Quite the contrary, in the life of St Benedict by St Gregory, in the spirit of his Rule, in the readings he recommends and the observances he prescribes, everything betrays his concern for continuity and for fidelity to ancient monasticism. Not that Benedict is "an Easterner who has strayed into the West." He is a Latin; but he respects the Eastern tradition "which is to monasticism what the apostolic tradition is to the faith of the Church." Even more, as can be gathered from allusions found in his Rule, he feels a certain nostalgia for the monasticism of ancient times.

Consequently, it is not at all surprising that, during all the great periods of Western monasticism, the desire has been felt to renew relations with this authentic tradition. In the Carolingian period, Benedict of Aniane accords great importance to the Eastern rules in his Codex regularum. In later periods, the monks were always clearly aware of what they owed to ancient monasticism, and an Italian manuscript of the eleventh century furnishes a revealing example of this. Immediately after the text of St Benedict's Rule, there is appended a list of those who "founded" monastic life. Out of the twenty-six Fathers of monasticism enumerated, there are only four Latins. And even among these we find St Jerome, who was often considered an Easterner. In fact, monastic observances and the texts which inspire them owe a great deal to the East and to the writings through which it was known: the Apophthegms and Lives of the Fathers, the Conferences of Cassian, the Rules of St Basil. Everything in Benedictine life is ordered according to the ideas, practices, sometimes even the words, which have come down from the monks of antiquity and which link each generation to the origins of monasticism. Furthermore, each renewal of Benedictine life is effected with reference to these same origins. For example, at the beginning of what was to become the Cistercian Order, Ordericus Vitalis, not implausibly, attributes to Robert of Molesme this characteristic speech: "Read the acts of Sts Anthony, Macarius, Pachomius. ...We are no longer following in the footsteps of our Fathers, the Egyptian monks, of those who lived in the Holy Land or in the Thebaid." Thus at every period, the monks feel the attraction of the "light which comes from the East," from which they know they have recieved there ideas and the practices on which their way of life is founded. And William of St Thierry is speaking for all when he expresses the wish in his Letter to the Brothers of Mont-Dieu that they "may implant in the darkness of the West and in the cold of Gaul the light of the East and the ancient fervor of Egyptian religious life."

Living in the Present Moment  

Posted by Joe Rawls

The longer I stick with this whole contemplative spirituality thing, the more I realize that it boils down to living fully in the present moment. Which is, of course, easier said than done. A good perspective on this issue is provided by Archimandrite Meletios Webber in Bread & Water, Wine & Oil (Conciliar Press). A double tip of the eastern monastic veil to In Communion and to JN1034.

We can only meet God in the present moment. This is an area where God chooses to place limits on His own power. We choose whether or not to live in the present moment. Because we can encounter God only in the present moment, whenever we live in the past or in the future, we place ourselves beyond His reach.

We can only make decisions in the present moment. We can only enjoy sights and sounds in the present moment. We can only love and hate in the present moment. The present moment is the interface between ourselves and the rest of the universe, and, more importantly, it is the only point of contact between the individual and God. Of all the possible points of time, only the present moment is available for repentance. The past cannot be taken back and remade. The future remains forever out of our reach.

The present moment may appear to be tiny in duration--so much so that the human mind thinks it hardly exists at all--but in depth it is infinite. Actually, it has no shape or form. There is nothing to measure here, and that really infuriates the mind, since measurement is what the mind is good at. It is remarkable that this quality, so essential to our existence, has no shape. It just is. And it just is in a way which the past and future cannot be. The past is a done deal, the future is all guesswork. The formless present moment may be experienced as large or small. In some senses it is almost of no duration. In other ways, it is eternal life. Whichever we choose, it is, nevertheless, the only space within which we can operate. Indeed, this is the unique means through which we can confront the reality God gives us second by second.

It is odd that we do not consciously spend more time in the present moment than we do. Unfortunately, the mind blocks the availability of the present moment whenever it has the chance to do so. The mind cannot trust the present moment, since it cannot control it, and is thus almost always at enmity with it. I think this may be part of what Jesus means when He contrasts "this world" with the Kingdom.

The mind cannot control the present moment, the time during which things can arise, so it pretends that it does not exist. This causes a person to behave in a completely unconscious way, forcing the individual to wait for the mind to absorb an event (which by then has become an event in the past) before she or he is allowed to experience it.

Sinai Pantocrator  

Posted by Joe Rawls in

Christ Pantocrator (Christ the Ruler of All) is one of the most popular genres in Byzantine iconography. The oldest known example, believed to date from the sixth or seventh century, is found at the monastery of St Catherine located in the Sinai peninsula. Ironically, the icon arguably owes its existence to Islam, since the Sinai had come under Muslim control by the time iconoclasm erupted within the Byzantine Empire. The Muslim authorities were content to let the monks live in peace, and to this day the monastery maintains cordial relations with the nomadic Bedouin who are its immediate neighbors.

Luiz Coelho, a Brazilian Anglican seminarian and artist, has an interesting two-part article (available here and here) on Episcopal Cafe. I include an excerpt below.

Symbolism emerges in the use of light. In the Sinai Pantocrator, the light moves from left to right creating a sense of mystery on the right side of the image. In fact, although the figure is pretty much centered in the picture frame, there is a very noticeable asymmetry between the left and right sides of Jesus' face. The left side, bright and shiny, shows relaxed eyebrows and lips. On the right side, Jesus' face is contracted and shadows make it even more mysterious. This duality of a serene and compassionate Jesus, and a dark and severe one are very appropriate at a time when the concept of the dual nature of Jesus Christ was being discussed by the Church. The use of light, and also of different facial expressions, reinforce the human and divine natures orthodox Christians believe exist in Jesus Christ. He is simultaneously Mercy and Judge.

Of Limited Pastoral Use  

Posted by Joe Rawls in

Jamie Parsley is an Episcopal priest in Fargo, North Dakota. In a sermon preached yesterday he spoke about being attracted to liberal theology (of the Jesus Seminar-Bishop Spong variety) while a seminarian. However, these theologians turn out to be of limited relevance when one is faced with the realities of parish ministry. Do read the entire homily.

...The more I have worked in parish ministry and cultivated my own spiritual life and delved deeper and deeper into scripture, I have found myself becoming distanced more and more by these academic religious thinkers. Oftentimes, I simply have found that the message of these theologians rings hollow in my ears next to the experiential faith of my day to day life and those around me.

Having said that, I am just as quick to say that I have not become a fundamentalist by any sense of the word. I still consider myself to be progressively minded as I once was. I am a good "progressive, inclusive, neo-orthodox, Anglo-Catholic Episcopalian".

...However, what I discovered very quickly as I grew both as a Christian and a priest active in parish ministry, is that all that critical training I received from those [liberal] theologians was not always helpful--either to the people I served or even to my own spiritual well-being.

[Quotes Spong to the effect that Jesus' body was tossed into a common grave from which there was no resurrection].

So, yes, there was an empty tomb, but nothing ever laid there. The resurrection wasn't a miracle, though it was a profoundly spiritual event. But it all seemed just as far-fetched for me. How did Spong know this? Where did he get his knowledge on this subject? Certainly he wasn't there. And, as far as I understand, Spong wasn't any more educated than most other bishops I knew of or knew personally. Certainly his episcopacy gave him no greater knowledge on these topics than anyone else. Yet, he wrote with such authority on this issue that it seemed almost as though anyone who believed contrary to his rather flimsy approach to this subject was small-minded and quaint.

The other more practical problem for me with this was that I could never preach that message from this or any pulpit. There is no good news in it. There is no hope in it. A mass grave and anonymous, "unmarked bones" are not what those I look to for spiritual inspiration lived and died for--people like George Herbert, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Thomas Merton, Evelyn Underhill, The Martyrs of Memphis, and any of the others.

Irenaeus and the Atonement  

Posted by Joe Rawls in

Today we commemorate Irenaeus (130-202), a Greek who became bishop of Lugdunum (Lyons) in Gaul. He was a native of Smyrna in Asia Minor and was a disciple of Polycarp, who was in turn a disciple of John the Evangelist. He is best known for the five-volumne On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-called Gnosis (better known as Adversus Haereses) which is an anti-gnostic tract.

Irenaeus has recently become controversial within some circles of the Episcopal Church because of his use by the Rev Kevin Thew Forrester, bishop-elect of the diocese of Northern Michigan. Forrester stresses Irenaeus' references to deification, while downplaying what is said about Jesus and his atonement for sin. (A good reference to the controversy can be found here).

I throw in a few quotes from Irenaeus touching upon both theosis and the atonement. They are found in David W Bercot (ed) A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs Peabody, MA Hendrickson 1998 p 44.

In this manner, the Lord has redeemed us through His own blood, giving His soul for our souls and His flesh for our flesh. He has also poured out the Spirit of the Father for the union and communion of God and man, actually imparting God to men by means of the Spirit. On the other hand, He has joined man to God by His own incarnation. And He will truly and lastingly bestow immortality upon us at His coming--through communion with God.

The Word of the Father and the Spirit of God had become united with the ancient substance of Adam's formation. So it rendered man living and perfect, receptive of the perfect Father, in order that as in the natural Adam we were all dead, so in the spiritual Adam we may all be made alive.

To do away with that disobedience of man that had taken place at the beginning by means of a tree, "He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross". He thereby rectified that disobedience that had occurred by reason of a tree, through that obedience that was upon the tree...In the first Adam, we had offended God Himself. For Adam did not perform God's commandment. However, in the second Adam, we are reconciled to God, being made obedient even unto death. For we were debtors to no one else but to Him whose commandment we had transgressed at the beginning...By transgressing God's commandment, we became His enemies. Therefore, in the last times, the Lord has restored us into friendship through His incarnation. He has become "the Mediator between God and men", propitiating indeed for us the Father against whom we had sinned. He has cancelled our disobedience by His own obedience. He also conferred upon us the gift of communion with, and subjection to, our Maker.

Underhill on Worship  

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Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) was one of the 20th century's leading writers on mysticism. Her 1911 book of the same title remains a classic. After a long spiritual pilgrimage she became a prominent laywoman in the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church of England, itself no mean feat. She was the first woman to lead clergy retreats in the C of E.

On her feastday today I include an excerpt from Worship, one of her lesser-known works that nevertheless still has lots of relevance (orig 1936; Crossroad 1985). The excerpt is from pp 60-61.

The character of worship is always decided by the worshipper's conception of God and his relation to God: that is to say, whatever its ritual expression may be, it always has a theological basis. Though the cultus may not tally at every point with the creed, since it often carries along many traditional and even primitive elements which have long ceased to bear their original meaning, in general the relation between the two is close; and only the believer, acting from within that cultus and conforming to its ritual pattern, can truly appreciate the meaning or the spiritual value of those devotional words and acts by means of which his worship is expressed. All this is eminently true of Christianity. In the bewildering variety, and even the apparent contradictions, of its many practices, from the extreme of liturgic ceremonialism to the extreme of silent or informal prayer, and from a close dependence on sacramental acts to their entire rejection, Christian worship is yet always conditioned by Christian belief; and especially belief about the Nature and Action of God, as summed up in the great dogmas of the Trinity and the Incarnation. Though the awestruck movement of the soul over against the surrounding mystery, and intimate devotion to the historic Person of Christ, in Whom that mystery draws near to men, both enter into it, its emphasis does not, or should not, be on either of these completing opposites of our spiritual experience. Its true secret is hidden between them, and is at one and the same time a personal communion and a metaphysical thirst.

Perhaps we come as near to that secret as human language permits, if we define Christian worship as the total adoring response of man to the one Eternal God self-revealed in time. This adoring response is full of contrast and variety; and has a span which stretches from the wordless commerce of the contemplative soul with "that which has no image" to the most naive expressions of popular belief. Profoundly historical, it accepts, carries along, and transforms to its own purpose the devotional language and methods of antiquity; and no one will understand it who does not keep this fact in mind. Yet on the other hand it possesses an inherent freshness and power of adaptation, which again and again accepts new embodiments for its worship of unchanging Truth. Its possibilities, indeed, are too rich to be fully explored by any one worshipper or any one group of worshippers; for it is at once thoroughly personal and thoroughly corporate in character, and in its expression can use many contrasting devotional methods--spontaneous and liturgical, symbolic and spiritual, sacrificial and contemplative--and embody these in the most ornate or the most austere of ritual forms. But careful study will discover a certain character which conditions and gives inward unity and significance to all these different, and even superficially conflicting, expressions of the Christian spirit of worship: and this character is neither ethical nor mystical, institutional nor personal, but doctrinal.

The Resurrection is not a Bludgeon  

Posted by Joe Rawls in

Alister Mcgrath, formerly of Oxford University, is now a professor of theology at King's College, London. He is the author of a seemingly endless series of books (his Introduction to Christian Theology is highly recommended) and he is one of my very favorite non-brain-dead evangelicals. In a recent article in TimesOnline he discusses the tendency of movements--political, intellectual, or religious-- to identify themselves in terms of what they are against. He then contrasts this with the attitude of the first-century Christians toward the Resurrection of Jesus.

There is a comparison to be had here with early Christianity as it celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus. The Resurrection was not seen as a way of scoring points against anyone else, but as an event that transformed the human situation. Yes, enemies were declared to be defeated--such as the fear of death and a pervasive sense of hopelessness in the face of human mortality and transciency--but the Resurrection set out new possibilities, offering humans hope in their struggle against these ancient enemies.

The first Christians thus did not affirm the Resurrection of Christ against anyone. The "victory" of the Resurrection was not seen as a way of stigmatizing other people, or proclaiming their defeat. Celebration here did not entail condemnation. The Christian Church may well have deployed its ideas aggressively or prejudicially at later points in its history, and merits criticism for doing so, yet this is a defection from its original vision. Belief in the Resurrection was seen as a positive option, "good news" for all humanity.

Athanasius on the Trinity  

Posted by Joe Rawls in

On this Eve of Trinity Sunday we have a reading on the trinitarian nature of God. It is taken from a letter sent to Serapion, an Egyptian bishop, by Athanasius, the great champion of orthodoxy, who was (on several occasions, due to political infighting) the Patriarch of Alexandria during part of the fourth century. In case any patristics scholars are reading this, the exact reference is Ep 1 ad Seraptionem, 28-30: PG 26, 594-595. 599. I found it on pp 741-743 of The Prayer Book Office (Seabury Press 1988, op).

It will not be out of place to consider the ancient tradition, teaching and faith of the Catholic Church, which was revealed by the Lord, proclaimed by the apostles and guarded by the fathers. For upon this faith the Church is built, and if anyone were to lapse from it, he would no longer be a Christian in either fact or in name.

We acknowledge the Trinity, holy and perfect, to consist of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In this Trinity there is no intrusion of any alien element or of anything from outside, nor is the Trinity a blend of creative and created being. It is a wholly creative and energizing reality, self-consistent and undivided in its active power, for the Father makes all things through the Word and in the Holy Spirit, and in this way the unity of the holy Trinity is preserved. Accordingly, in the Church, one God is preached, one God who is above all things and through all things and in all things. God is above all things as Father, for he is principle and source; he is through all things through the Word; and he is in all things in the Holy Spirit.

Writing to the Corinthians about spiritual matters, Paul traces all reality back to one God, the Father, saying: Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; ans varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in everyone.

Even the gifts that the Spirit dispenses to individuals are given by the Father through the Word. For all that belongs to the Father belongs also to the Son, and so the graces given by the Son in the Spirit are true gifts of the Father. Similarly, when the Spirit dwells in us, the Word who bestows the Spirit is in us too, and the Father is present in the Word. This is the meaning of the text: My Father and I will come to him and make our home with him. For where the light is, there also is the radiance; and where the radiance is, there too are its power and its resplendent grace.

This is also Paul's teaching in his second letter to the Corinthians: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. For grace and the gift of the Trinity are given by the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. Just as grace is given from the Father through the Son, so there could be no communication of the gift to us except in the Holy Spirit. But when we share in the Spirit, we possess the love of the Father, the grace of the Son and the fellowship of the Spirit himself.

Evagrius on Prayer  

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Evagrius Ponticus (345-399), as his name implies, was a native of Pontus in Asia Minor. As a young man he made his way to the imperial capital Constantinople, where he soon made his mark as an eloquent speaker and writer. Ordained a deacon by Gregory of Nazianzus, he took part in the Second Ecumenical Council in 381.

The good life soon ended when he became infatuated with a married woman. The husband in question had good connections, and Evagrius had a dream in which the aggrieved man had him clapped in prison. Evagrius left the capital for Jerusalem soon after, no doubt a wise career decision.

In Jerusalem Evagrius undertook the monastic life, apparently as a form of penance. He ended up in Kellia, the Egyptian home of many of the Desert Fathers, and spent the last fourteen years of his life there. The spiritual writings by which he is known date from that time. He impresses many modern readers with his acute psychological insights; contemplatives value him for what he has to say about the process of prayer. What follows is excerpted from On Prayer: 153 Texts, which is found on pp 55-71 of The Philokalia, vol 1, tr and ed GEH Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware, London, Faber and Faber 1979. You will notice repeated references to anger, which one finds throughout the patristic literature. It's good to know that we are not the only angry contemplatives. Also, while I don't deny the existence of Satan, the references to "demons" are probably better understood as neurotic or obsessive thinking.

2. When the soul has been purified through the keeping of all the commandments, it makes the intellect steadfast and able to receive the state needed for prayer.

4. When Moses tried to draw near to the burning bush he was forbidden to approach until he had loosed his sandals from his feet (cf Ex 3:5). If, then, you wish to behold and commune with Him who is beyond sense perception and beyond concept, you must free yourself from every impassioned thought.

9. Persevere with patience in your prayer, and repulse the cares and doubts that arise within you. They disturb and trouble you, and so slacken the intensity of your prayer.

10. When the demons see you truly eager to pray, they suggest an imaginary need for various things, and then stir up your remembrance of these things, inciting the intellect to go after them; and when it fails to find them, it becomes very depressed and miserable. And when the intellect is at prayer, the demons keep filling it with the thought of these things, so that it tries to discover more about them and thus loses the fruitfulness of its prayer.

12. Whenever a temptation or a feeling of contentiousness comes over you, immediately arousing you to anger or to some senseless word, remember your prayer and how you will be judged about it, and at once the disorderly movement within you will subside.

13. Whatever you do to avenge yourself against a brother who has done you a wrong will prove a stumbling-block to you during prayer.

14. Prayer is the flower of gentleness and of freedom from anger.

16. Prayer is the remedy for gloom and despondency.

19. If you endure something painful out of love for wisdom, you will find the fruit of this during prayer.

22. Those who store up grievances and rancor in themselves are like people who draw water and pour it into a cask full of holes.

24. When you pray as you should, thoughts will come to you which make you feel that you have a real right to be angry. But anger with your neighbor is never right. If you search you will find that things can always be arranged without anger. So do all you can not to break out into anger.

27. If you arm yourself against anger, then you will never succumb to any kind of desire. Desire provides fuel for anger, and anger disturbs spiritual vision, disrupting the state of prayer.

32. Often when I have prayed I have asked for what I thought was good, and persisted in my petition, stupidly importuning the will of God, and not leaving it to Him to arrange things as He knows is best for me. But when I have obtained what I asked for, I have been very sorry that I did not ask for the will of God to be done; because the thing turned out not to be as I thought.

35. Undistracted prayer is the highest intellection of the intellect.

45. When you pray, keep close watch on your memory, so that it does not distract you with recollections of your past. But make yourself aware that you are standing before God. For by nature the intellect is apt to be carried away by memories during prayer.

51. What is it that the demons wish to incite in us? Gluttony, unchastity, avarice, anger, rancour, and the rest of the passions, so that the intellect grows coarse and cannot pray as it ought. For when the passions are aroused in the non-rational part of our nature, they do not allow the intellect to function properly.

61. If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian.

63. The Holy Spirit, out of compassion for our weakness, comes to us even when we are impure. And if only He finds our intellect truly praying to Him, He enters it and puts to flight the whole array of thoughts and ideas circling within it, and He arouses it to a longing for spiritual prayer.

65. Whoever loves true prayer and yet becomes angry or resentful is his own enemy. He is like a man who wants to see clearly and yet inflicts damage on his own eyes.

67. When you are praying, do not shape within yourself any image of the Deity, and do not let your intellect be stamped with the impress of any form; but approach the Immaterial in an immaterial manner, and then you will understand.

83. Psalmody calms the passions and curbs the uncontrolled impulses in the body; and prayer enables the intellect to activate its own energy.

84. Prayer is the energy which accords with the dignity of the intellect; it is the intellect's true and highest activity.

93. He who bears distress patiently will attain joy, and he who endures the repulsive will know delight.

114. Never try to see a form or shape during prayer.

122. Blessed is the monk who looks with great joy on everyone's salvation and progress as if they were his own.

137. If you do good to one person, you may be wronged by another, and so feel injured, and say or do something stupid, thus dissipating by your bad action what you gained by your good action. This is just what the demons want, so always be attentive.

153. If when praying no other joy can attract you, then truly you have found prayer.

Augustine on the Ascension  

Posted by Joe Rawls in

I'm not one of Augustine of Hippo's biggest fans, but the following bit from one of his sermons (Sermo de Ascensione Domini, Mai 98) makes good reading on this Ascension day. I found it in the sadly out of print The Prayer Book Office (Seabury 1988 pp 738-739).

Today our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven; let our hearts ascend with him. Listen to the words of the apostle: If you have risen with Christ, set your hearts on the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God; seek the things that are above, not the things that are on earth. For just as he remained with us even after his ascension, so we too are already in heaven with him, even though what is promised us has not yet been fulfilled in our bodies.

Christ is now exalted above the heavens, but he still suffers on earth all the pain that we, the members of his body, have to bear. He showed this when he cried out from above: Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? and when he said: I was hungry and you gave me food.

Why do we on earth not strive to find rest with him in heaven even now, through the faith, hope, and love that unites us to him? While in heaven he is also with us; and we on earth are with him. He is here with us by his divinity, his power, and his love. We cannot be in heaven, as he is on earth, by divinity, but in him, we can be there by love.

He did not leave heaven when he came down to us; nor did he withdraw from us when he went up again into heaven. The fact that he was in heaven even while he was on earth is borne out by his own statement: No one has ever ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man, who is in heaven.

These words are explained by our oneness with Christ, for he is our head and we are his body. No one ascended into heaven except Christ because we also are Christ: he is the Son of Man by his union with us, and we by our union with him are sons of God. so the Apostle says: Just as the human body, which has many members, is a unity, because all the different members make one body, so it is also with Christ. He too has many members, but one body.

Out of compassion for us he descended from heaven, and although he ascended alone, we also ascend, because we are with him by grace. Thus, no one but Christ descended and no one but Christ ascended; not because there is no distinction between the head and the body, but because the body as a unity cannot be separated from the head.

Symeon on the Eucharist  

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St Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022) spent most of his life in Constantinople, where he was the abbot of St Mamas. The title "Theologian" (referring in this context to a highly evolved mysticism and definitely not to an ability to write dense books with lots of footnotes) is given in Orthodoxy to only two other saints: John the Evangelist and Gregory Nazianzen. He combined a most intense mystical life with a very rigorous asceticism. His feast is variously celebrated on March 12 or October 12.

The Eucharist, along with a frequent and worthy reception of the same, occupies a crucial place in his spirituality. Of the following three quotes, the first (a communion prayer) is found on pp 60-61 of Kallistos Ware The Inner Kingdom (SVS Press 2000). The following two come from, respectively, On the Mystical Life and Hymn 15.

Rejoicing at once and trembling,
I who am straw receive the Fire
And, strange wonder!
I am ineffably refreshed
As the bush of old
Which burned yet was not consumed.

The Son of God cries out plainly that our union with Him through communion is such as the unity and life which He has with the Father. Thus, just as He is united by nature to His own Father and God, so we are united by grace to Him, and live in Him by eating His flesh and drinking His blood.

We become members of Christ--and Christ becomes our members,
Christ becomes my hand, Christ my foot, of my miserable self,
and I, wretched one, am Christ's hand, Christ's foot!
I move my hand, and my hand is the whole Christ
since, do not forget it, God is indivisible in His divinity;
I move my foot, and behold it shines like that one!
Do not say I blaspheme, but welcome such things,
and adore Christ who makes you such!
Since, if you so wish you will become a member of Him,
and similarly all our members individually
will become members of Christ and Christ our members,
and all which is dishonorable in us He will make honorable
by adorning it with His divine beauty and His divine glory,
and living with God at the same time, we shall become gods,
no longer seeing the shamefulness of our body at all,
but made completely like Christ in our whole body;
each member of our body will be the whole Christ
because, becoming many members, He remains unique and indivisible,
and each part is He, the whole Christ.


Posted by Joe Rawls in ,

Today (in some calendars at least) is the commemoration of St Pachomius, the founder of cenobitic monasticism. He was born in Thebes, upper Egypt, to pagan parents in about 292. At the age of 20 he was forcibly drafted--rounded up like a prisoner is more like it--into the Roman army during one of the civil wars endemic to that period. Fortunately the war ended before he had to do any fighting. Before this happened, he and his fellow recruits/prisoners were ministered to by local Christians. This so impressed him that he converted and undertook the ascetic life.

After some years as a hermit (the predominant form of monasticism at the time) Pachomius had a vision of an angel, who told him, "The will of God is to put oneself at the service of humanity in order to call them to himself". This inspired him to establish a series of monasteries in which monks and nuns would live in structured communities under the guidance of an abbot and a written rule. At the time of his death he had founded nine monasteries with a total of 5,000 monks. His rule influenced later monastics, including Benedict. He refused to let priests join (they came from local villages to celebrate the Eucharist on-site) and he refused ordination even when it was offered by the great Athanasius himself. Oh, yes, and he also invented that indispensable accessory of Eastern monasticism, the prayer rope.

RB and BCP  

Posted by Joe Rawls in ,

Martin Thornton (1915-1986) was a priest of the Church of England and a prominent writer on the contemplative life. His English Spirituality (Cowley 1986; out of print but check Amazon for used copies) is a masterful introduction to the subject, covering both its pre- and post-Reformation aspects. Chapter 20 deals with the role of the Book of Common Prayer in spirituality and its relationship to the Rule of St Benedict .

The Prayer Book and the Rule of St Benedict

At first sight, the 1662 Prayer Book might appear to be even more than its thousand years apart from the Regula. The ages and circumstances are as different as they can be: Monte Cassino seems an entirely different world from the parish of St Mary, Manchester. But that is only the judgement of social history. From the point of view of ascetical theology, these two documents have a remarkable amount in common, and in a very real sense Caroline and modern England remains "the land of the Benedictines". There are five points of practical interest.

1. The basis of both the Prayer Book and the Regula is the fundamental, and biblical, threefold Rule of the Catholic Church: Office-Eucharist-personal devotion. The Prayer Book Office is two-fold instead of seven-fold, and is more elaborate, but both sets of Offices are based on the Psalter, both constitute corporate worship, the main emphasis of which is objective praise. Both presuppose a weekly celebration of the Eucharist although provision is made for more frequent services as required.

2. Both documents point to the ideal of a life of contemplative recollection, with private prayer as but a support to this. Jeremy Taylor [17th century English bishop] writes, "I would rather your prayer be often than long", St Benedict says prayer should be "short and frequent": neither provides much direct teaching on formal prayer and neither gives any semblance of a "method". Recollection is not just a religious exercise but that whic controls and colours practical daily life: to the Carolines all the duties of one's station, to the Benedictine, manual labour. The 57th "Instrument of Good Works" is simply "to apply oneself frequently to prayer"; the 48th and 49th are "to keep guard at all times over the actions of one's life' and "to know for certain that God sees one everywhere". Those are "Caroline" phrases if ever there were any. In fac the whole of this fourth chapter of the Regula is of recollective significance, moral rather than affective, and could be almost a skeleton syllabus for Caroline moral and ascetical theology.

Both Regula and Prayer Book couple recollection with repentance and progress towards perfection, and both extend daily recollection into the setting of the liturgical year.

3. Both systems are designed for an integrated and united community, predominantly lay. Ch 62 of the Regula makes it clear that there is no distinction between priest and lay-brother "except with regard to his office at the altar". The Rule is for everyone within the united community, while the priest is exhorted to set a good example of obedience to it to encourage the others.

4. Both books breathe a sane "domestic" spirit, and are noted for prudence, especially over physical discipline like fasting and mortification. St Benedict's Prologue speaks of "a school for the Lord's service, in the setting forth of which we hope to order nothing that is harsh or rigorous". The Regula is "a little rule for beginners" aimed at the needs of the less gifted. The Whole Duty of Man, arranged as a companion to the Prayer Book, is "laid down in a plain and familiar way for the use of all, but especially the meanest reader". Simon Patrick's A Book for Beginners, or A help to Young Communicants, another Prayer Book guide, goes even further with "directions for such as cannot read"; it is requested that "their masters and mistresses, or some good neighbor or relation, to be so charitable as to read them their duty about the matter". Like the Christian faith itself, both St benedict and the Prayer Book are capable of nurturing saintly doctors and saintly illiterates.

5. Liturgical revisers and pastoral planners do not always realise that the Prayer Book, no less than the Regula, presupposes a comparatively compact and very stable community. Whatever the difficulties we face to-day, and whatever reorganization may be necessary, the geographical parish is as much as part of the Prayer Book ascetic as the monastery was to the Benedictine Rule. The Common Office, empirical guidance within the "family" unit, as well as rubrics relating to Baptism and the residential qualifications for marriage and burial, all presuppose "Benedictine" stability. Whatever the answers to our practical problems, we should realise that huge parishes, group-ministries, industrial chaplaincies, eclectic congregations, and so on, are basically ascetical matters which are opposed to the Prayer Book system of spirituality.

A Jew on the Resurrection  

Posted by Joe Rawls in ,

Pinchas Lapide (1922-1997) was, among other things, an Orthodox rabbi, the Israeli consul in Milan, and a lecturer at Bar Ilan University. He also believed in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. To be sure, he did not think Jesus was divine or that he was the Messiah anticipated by the Jewish people. But he was convinced that God raised Jesus from the dead so that his followers would be galvanized into preaching Jesus' message throughout the world. In this way Jewish ethical monotheism would transcend the ethnic boundaries of the Jewish community.

Lapide expresses his ideas in The Resurrection of Jesus: a Jewish Perspective (Augsburg 1983). The excerpts below are on pp 85-93.

Did the cause of Jesus really end in failure?

Did the cross definitively refute any hope for the kingdom of God?

That must not be the case! That dare not happen! Many a heart must have cried out like this. For here more was at stake than the death of a proclaimer of salvation whose radiant confidence had infected a group of believers. They were not just concerned about consolation or the end of their own distress, but about God himself and the meaning of their life...

Jesus must rise in order that the God of Israel could continue to live as their heavenly Father in their hearts; in order that their lives would not become God-less and without meaning.

This categorical must was not the illusory wishful thinking of a deceptive flight from the world which conjures up for itself a mirage, but it was based on the Jewish insight that the God who is willing to love and to suffer with human beings cannot be a cruel despotic God like the idols of the Greeks and Romans. The Jewish God does not dwell high in the heavens in order to impose his will imperially on his subjects, but is a loving Father God who permits retort...

The categorical must of the resurrection which can be considered a part of the saving plan of God, therefore, was applicable only and alone to the small group of disciples of Jesus whose life it was able to change so that they became the founders of the church...

A few hours..before sunrise of the "third day" after Good Friday, that undefinable Easter experience took place which we cannot explain further, which as such is never described in the New Testament, but which has carried its effect into the whole world, phrased either as Jesus' "being raised" or "rising" from the dead.

Rowan Williams on the Resurrection  

Posted by Joe Rawls in ,

Rowan Williams, the present Archbishop of Canterbury, is a former Oxford theology professor. He has a well-deserved reputation for academic obscurantism, but when he puts his mind to it he can write quite convincingly on topics relevant to contemplative spirituality. His knowledge of the Eastern Orthodox tradition is very deep, which is exemplified in The Dwelling of the Light: Praying with Icons of Christ (Eerdmans 2003). He delivers meditations on four different icons, one of which is of the Resurrection.

Christ stands on a precarious-looking bridge, as if he is the one who by the great risks and pains of his incarnation connects what we have pulled apart. And in those icons where we see him reaching out simultaneously to Adam and Eve, it is as if he is reintroducing them to each other after the ages of alienation and bitterness that began with the recriminations of Genesis. The resurrection is a moment in which human beings are reintroduced to each other across the gulf of mutual resentment and blame; a new human community becomes possible. And similarly, remembering the other figures from the first covenant in the background of the picture, we realize that this community is unaffected by any division between the living and the dead: David and Solomon, Abraham, Moses, Elijah and Isaiah are our contemporaries because of Jesus' resurrection (31-32).

The resurrection, then, is to do with the creation of the new humanity, where resentment and hostility are 'unfrozen'; and with the establishment of scriptural revelation as a living relationship within this new humanity. It is the foundation for understanding both Church and Bible. But if we also bear in mind the context in which Maximus the Confessor sets the work of Christ, we can see here in outline the foundation for understanding the relation of Church and creation. The resurrection in principle does away with those factors that frustrate and distort our relation as human beings with our environment--our human and historical environment, all those who have gone before us (Abraham and Moses), but also our natural environment. If the Risen Christ takes hold of and speaks through the great figures of biblical history, can we say that by the same token he speaks through the world around us? That he introduces us to that world and requires us to listen to it and receive from it what he wants to communicate?(35-36)

And in this, of course, we are gradually nudged towards the central realization of all. We are brought into this friendship with the biblical revelation, with each other and with the world because the resurrection of Jesus brings us into friendship with the divine life itself. It is because the uttermost of death and humiliation cannot break the bond between Jesus and the Father that what Jesus touches is touched by the Father too. As he grasps Adam and Eve, so does the Father; as he draws together the immeasurable past with all its failures injuries, it is the Father to whom he draws it. Because of his relation with the Father, a new relation is made possible between ourselves and this final wellspring of divine life. The Christ of this icon, standing on the bridge over darkness and emptiness, moving into the heart of human longing and incompletion, brings into that place the mystery out of which his life streams, represented in the mandora against which his figure is set. The locked gates of death, the frozen lives cut short, these are overcome in the act of new creation which we are witnessing.