God in Creation  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Slightly in advance of Earth Day, I share two writings dealing with the subject of God/Christ in the created world. The first is from a book by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, The Beginning of the Day. It comes from Fr Stephen's blog, which gets a well-deserved hat-tip. The other excerpt is from Ilia Delio's Christ in Evolution (Maryknoll, Orbis, 2008), pp 61-62. Delio is a Franciscan sister and professor of spirituality at Washington Theological Union. In this passage she refers to the work of the medieval Franciscan theologian St Bonaventure.



...recall with me how every part of the created order played a part in the story of Christ's life and death:
* a star appeared at his birth (Matt 2:9-10)
*an ox and ass stood beside his crib as he lay in swaddling clothes (cf Is 1:30)
* during the forty days of his temptation in the wilderness he was with the wild beasts (Mark 1:13)
* repeatedly he spoke of himself as a sheperd, and of his disciples as sheep (Lk 15:3-7; Matt 18:10-14; John 10:1-16)
* he likened his love for Jerusalem to the maternal love of a hen for her chicks (Matt:23-37)
* he taught that every sparrow is precious in the sight of God the Father (Matt 10:29)
* he illustrated his parables with references to the lillies (Matt 6: 28-30), to the mustard bush full of nesting birds (Mark 4:32), to a domestic animal that has fallen into a pit on the Sabbath day (Matt 12:11)
* he urged us to show reptilian subtlety and avian guilelessness; "Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matt 10:16)
* as Lord of creation he stilled the storm (Mark 4:35-41) and walked upon water (Mark 6:45-51).

Most noteworthy of all, the created order in its entirety participated in the Savior's passion: the earth shook, the rocks were split, the whole cosmos shuddered (Matt 27:51).


In every creature, the first person of the Trinity is reflected as the power that holds the creature in being. The second person is reflected as the Wisdom or the Exemplar by which it is created. The third person is reflected as the goodness that will bring the creature to its consummation. The difference in these levels of of expression reflects the degree of similarity between the creature and creator. The trace (or vestige) is the most distant reflection of God and is found in all creatures. That is, every grain of sand, every star, every earthworm reflects the Trinity as its origin, its reason for existence, and the end to which it is destined. The image, however, is only found in intellectual (human) beings. It reflects the fact that the human person is created not only according to the image of the Trinity, but as image, the human person is capable of union with the divine. Bonaventure says that those humans conformed to God by grace bear a likeness to God. In his view, every creature is understood as an aspect of God's self-expression in the world, and since every creature has its foundation in the Word, each is equally close to God (although the mode of relationship differs). God is profoundly present to all things, and God is expressed in all things, so that each creature is a symbol and a sacrament of God's presence and Trinitarian life. The world is created as a means of God's self-revelation so that, like a mirror or footprint, it might lead us to love and praise the creator. We are created to read the book of creation so that we may know the Author of Life. This book of creation is an expression of who God is and is meant to lead humans to what it signifies, namely, the eternal Trinity of dynamic, self-diffusive love.


Posted by Joe Rawls

With the approach of Earth Day we turn our attention to how our contemplative practice intersects with the material world--not that we shouldn't be thinking of this constantly in any event. Today I revisited Dennis Patrick Slattery's Grace in the Desert (Jossey-Bass 2004), his account of a sabbatical visiting various monasteries and retreat houses. The first stop on his itinerary was the monastery of New Camaldoli, a Camaldolese Benedictine foundation near Big Sur, California. Having stayed there once, I can attest to the ease with which one can interact with the local flora and fauna. The part about the coyotes howling in response to the monastery bells is really true. The excerpts are found on pp 14, 16, 17, and 18.


...I noticed something astir in my little fence-enclosed backyard.

Two foxes lay lazily and with great familiarity beneath the gray weathered benches. They seemed to doze lightly as they gazed indifferently at me now standing by the back door. Their large and fluffed tails rivaled the size of their bodies. They lay very close together--apparently, like me, prepared to settle in for the night. I felt both delighted and honored that they had chosen my little hermitage green space to bed down in, and I felt strangely safer by their presence. I thought of these two foxes, which became permanent hermitage mates of mine during my week's stay, and thereafter I looked for them each night as I prepared to turn off the lights. Apparently they too enjoyed the arrangement, for they were present each day of my entire stay...

...Even this early, my monastic foxes, who lived just over the edge of the cliff but slept in my backyard, were already stirring. One of them peered, head bobbing and nose alert and twitching, through the back door to see if I was awake and perhaps even ready to feed them. The only nourishment they received from me was a silent salute each morning.

In their early friskiness they leaped onto the wooden fence and began their ritual promenade, back and forth, slowly gathering momentum, as if they literally wound themselves up in an accelerated dervish dance for the day's hunt. I knew they had been schooled by the order of life here and thus practiced a learned monkish patience. They did not press their claim for food too insistently...

The bell summoning us to Vigils suddenly sounded, cracking the monastery open to a new day. The coyotes in the mountains surrounding me on three sides and just behind the chapel responded with their own litany from the deep and brittle-dry forest thickets. They too waited to be called, if only to sing.

Patriarch's Paschal Proclamation  

Posted by Joe Rawls in

Bartholomew, Patriarch of Constantinople and world leader of Eastern Orthodoxy, issues a circular letter each Easter that is read in all Orthodox churches. Since Easter falls on the same day for both the Eastern and Western churches this year, we reproduce part of it (available in full here) below.


...Christ has risen from the tomb as divinely human and humanity has risen with him! The tyranny of death belongs to the past. The hopelessness of hades' captivity has irrevocably gone. The only powerful Giver of Life, having through His Incarnation voluntarily assumed all of the misfortune of our nature and all that it entails, namely death, has already "brought death to hades by the lightning of divinity", granting us life--and "life in abundance" (John 10:10).

...The devil assaults Life by means of the sinful tendency that exists within us like "old rust", using this to entrap us in either tangible sin or delusional belief. Hubris is the offspring of that "rust", while both comprise the sinister couple responsible for disrupting relationships within ourselves, with others, as well as with God and the whole creation. Accordingly, it is imperative that we purify ourselves of this rust with great attentiveness and carefulness in order that the profuse life-giving light of the Risen Christ may shine in our mind, soul and body, so that it may in turn dispel the darkness of hubris and pour the "abundance" of Life to all the world.

This cannot be achieved by philosophy, science, technology, art, or any ideology; it can only be achieved through faith in what God has condescended for us human beings through His Passion, Crucifixion and Burial, descending to the depths of hades and rising from the dead as the divine human Jesus Christ. It is also expressed in the sacramental life of the Church as well as through laborious and systematic spiritual struggle. The Church as the Body of Christ unceasingly and to the ages experiences the miracle of the Resurrection; through its sacred mysteries, its theology and its practical teachings, it offers us the possibility of participating in that miracle of sharing in the victory over death, of becoming children shaped by the light of the Resurrection and truly "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4).

The Mystery of Holy Saturday  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988) was one of the most prominent Roman Catholic theologians of the 20th century. He was made a cardinal by Pope John-Paul II but died two days before getting the red hat. In Mysterium Paschale he discusses what is meant by Jesus' "descent into hell" between his death and resurrection. A good summary can be found here in an article by John Webster of St John's College, Durham.


The fundamental category in von Balthasar's conception of the atonement is that of solidarity. In this he moves significantly beyond some of the more familiar classical models--Anselm's "satisfaction" theory, the "penal substitution" of the later Calvinist divines--although the roots of his thinking are arguably deep in the patristic writings. For him, the mystery of redemption is the demonstration in the death of Christ of God's solidarity with the sinner who seeks to estrange himself from God.

To expand this theme, von Balthasar focuses not only on the events of Good Friday and Easter Day, but also on Christ's descent into hell on Holy Saturday. One of the strangest impulses to develop along this direction came from his close collaboration with Adrienne von Speyr, a doctor who was converted under him and who was the subject of mystical experiences of participation in the paschal sufferings of Christ. Von Balthasar later wrote of her that she "possessed in a special way a charism of theological insight. To the central insights bestowed on her belong the mysteries of Holy Saturday and hence of hell and universal redemption as well"...From von Speyr's experiences and writings, von Balthasar has taken the motif of the descent into hell as expressing God's refusal to abandon those who abandon him. Because he shares hell with the sinner, the sinner's willful attempt to live and die without God is forestalled. Even in hell, God himself is present in the Son. "On Holy Saturday there is the descent of the dead Jesus to hell, that is...his solidarity...with those who have lost their way from God...In this finality (of death) the dead Son descends...He is...dead together with them. And exactly in that way he disturbs the absolute loneliness striven for by the sinner: the sinner who wants to be 'damned" apart from God, finds God again in his loneliness, but God in the absolute weakness of love who...enters into solidarity with those damning themselves". However much the sinner may seek to put himself beyond God in "the complete loneliness of being-only-for-oneself, God himself enters into this very loneliness as someone who is ever more lonely...even what we call 'hell is, although it is the place of desolation, always still a christological place".