Posts Tagged ‘Liturgical Year’
Holy Saturday: A God-Forsaken Silence of the Lamb
(My rambling thoughts on this holy reflection day…)
Holy Saturday. It’s a quandary for me. First, it’s not a day that I usually observed in the scope and sequence of my Protestant Evangelical upbringing. For that matter, neither was Ash Wednesday, Lent, Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Good Friday, or any other traditional observance of the Christian Calendar. We covered Christmas Day (more Santa than Jesus) and Easter (more new Spring clothes and candies than a resurrected Savior). Fast forward… Over the last decade of my life, I’ve become more aware and studied in the traditions of the Church and found that my faith and my daily experience with the Godhead and the people of God have been enriched in ways that words cannot describe. As much as I enjoy this aspect of my spirituality, I often get caught between the tensions of intellectual understanding and the mysterious unknowing. Reflections during the Holy Triduum (evening of Maundy Thursday thru evening prayers of Easter Sunday), cause me great tension as I wonder and wander in my mind over the events that span these days… Here follow some of my thoughts over the past couple days, a Midrash of sorts maybe:
The crucifixion of Jesus and the subsequent events leading up to the resurrection of Jesus are a profound mystery to me. I say I understand, but it’s more some measure of assent of agreement to what theologians say it is and what it represents or does for humanity. Honestly, there is far more I do not understand than what I truthfully do understand. The gaps in the Holy Triduum narrative lead us to much conjecture and likely much misunderstanding, but still, I think the tension has healthy benefits…or it can have healthy benefits.
There are some aspects of these “things unknown” that I struggle with more than others. One thing in particular is the reasoning of God for choosing the instrument used in the killing of Jesus (the cross and the subsequent act of crucifixion). Yes, I’ve heard and studied much of the ideas, thoughts, metaphors, allegories, and like that gives us plausible reasoning for the cross, but all of it still falls short of registering in my simple little mind. I don’t get it. Why the cross? Why crucifixion? I simply do not know. Though speculation and theories abound, none of them satisfactorily answer the questions I have, nor do they sufficiently purpose this means of death over and above the sacrificial death of any other holy person—there have been other martyrs, there have been other gruesome, tortuous deaths, and others have given their lives as a ransom for others. We respond, saying, “Yes, but Jesus was the Son of God” and this sets apart the crucifixion as a singular event in the history of humanity. At this juncture, most Christian believers just mute up and solemnly nod in agreement and smother their questions. I do not. As I said, I give affirmation of belief, but that doesn’t mean I understand. I can parrot all the theories and doctrinal statements of belief, but I still don’t understand. For me, it begins to boil down to whether or not the cross is truly the seminal event of the Christian faith. Most of my Christian upbringing leads me to say it was what I was taught; “It’s all about the cross” “It’s all about Jesus suffering in my place” “It’s all about the blood” “There had to be a price for sin…and Jesus paid the price.” I honestly have a tough time nodding my head in agreement that these are the seminal events of the faith I profess. Don’t misunderstand my thoughts, I do think these are pieces of the whole, but the seminal event??? No. I don’t believe that.
Am I saying the cross is not central to the Christian faith? I don’t think I would actually say those words, but I don’t believe I place the same level of importance on this event as what I was lead to believe. The death of Christ is central to the faith…but the instrument of death, I’m not so convinced other than it is associated with Jesus. In other words, had it been a poison lance or a hangman’s noose, either of these might be the little golden charms we hang on our walls or around our necks.
What then, is the critical event of the Christian faith? I say it is the resurrection (The apostle Paul seems to affirm this in his 1 Corinthians discourse chapter fifteen). This begins one of my main points of contention. Many Protestants, especially in the circles that I have traveled, focus almost entirely on the cross, suffering, and death of Christ. All of these are not as much about Christ as they are about Jesus taking “my” place. He suffered for “me.” He died in “my” place. In effect, a translation of this focus can become so “me” centered it loses the focus of redemption and reconciliation entirely. This is not true of the resurrection. The resurrection remains “we” centered. Perhaps that is why so many humans lose focus on the resurrected Christ and want to keep their eyes fixated on the suffering Christ. Again, I don’t know, but I wonder. Regardless, hyper-focalization on the death of Christ inadvertently minimizes the most important aspect of the Christian faith, the resurrection.
But what about those days in-between the death and resurrection of Christ, that Holy, Silent, despondent day when Christ was silent, dead, and buried.
The historical teaching of the Church proclaims Jesus descended into the underworld or place of the dead (the Harrowing of Hell) and defeated the captor of humanity. Exactly how this played out, I am unsure, but we profess similar in our confessions and creeds within the Christian Church. I have my own theory and piecemeal understanding—speculative I am sure—nonetheless, it is what I think I think for this season of my understanding.
In his death, Christ identified with humanity more intimately than at any point previously in his life. How? I think he identified with humanity more closely through his forsaken separation from God (the Godhead: oneness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). Because Jesus was incarnate (born and lived as human flesh), because he agreed to become human and empty himself of his Divinity (Phil. 2:5-11), he was able to fully experience, understand, and identify with humanity what separation from God was truly like. Before this moment in time, God had never been separated from God. God agreed to break unity with himself for the sake of saving humanity. All his mortal life (Jesus) was readying him for this separation and preparing him for the moment it would take place. The tragedy and heartbreak of the Gethsemane prayers, pleading for the cup of sacrifice to be removed, all leading to this point. The travesty of separation was agreed to and accepted for the sole purpose of saving souls, the most wonderful creation of all of God’s created things, humanity. It’s all about the we…not the me.
This moment of “death” precipitated by the narrative of the cross, God-Forsaking-God, led to the Silence of the Lamb (Holy Saturday), but only in temporal time…only in what we could see and hear with our physically limited eyes and ears. In eternal time, happening at the same instance of death that Silenced the Lamb, eternity heard a roar from the Lion of Judah being born gloriously for all eternity, triumphantly redeeming and reconciling God’s greatest creation, human souls.
And thus… The God-Forsaken silence of the Lamb was eternity’s greatest triumph. This is why resurrection matters. It is why I adhere to proclaiming Christus Victor (Irenaeus) opposing a hyper-exaltation of Penal Substitution (Augustine). Christus Victor is all about the “we” while Penal Substitution can easily deteriorate into the age-old trappings of “me.” I have been crucified with Christ, so I might live eternally with Christ.
Saturday: Day 4 of Lent
Free of Guilt—Prayed for by God
I don’t know where the Spirit is leading me this Lent, but it is starting out with a very serious departure from my previous seasons of penance, contrition, and somberness. I have several devotional books that have been labeled specifically for Lent and I’m following the Daily Scripture readings from the Book of Common Prayer, providing evidence to me that I have not subconsciously planned or contrived the direction my heart is drawn. I will continue my practices and devotion, and follow where God leads.
I began my morning with reflection on Psalm 30 and 32. I came away from that reflection with the following as my prayer:
I will exalt you, LORD, for you rescued me—you restored my health, and brought me up from the grave. O LORD, you have kept me from falling into the pit of death. Weeping and my tears may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning. You are the morning, my LORD, You are the Bright and Morning Star! You are my Joy! The Bringer of Light and the Giver of Life! You have turned my mourning into a morning of joy-filled dancing! I will sing joyful praises to you and not be silent. O LORD, my God, I will give thanks to you forever. (Personalized from my heart from Psalm 30)
My disobedience is forgiven. My sin is put out of sight. The LORD has cleared my guilt. He forgave me! All my guilt is gone! I will give thanks to you, My God and King, I will praise you forever! (Personalized from my heart from Psalm 32)
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything… God’s peace will guard our hearts and minds as we live in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7 NLT)
The past three days, the Gospel reading has come from John 17. This passage of Scripture is among the most influential passages found in the whole Bible for the context of my spiritual development and continues to be one of the most formative passages of Scripture no matter how many times that I read it. There is something mysterious and divine about the energy that soaks into my soul each time I encounter Christ Jesus, the Living God, through this text. It is the prayer of Jesus, perhaps that is part of its mystery. I find this prayer always challenging and always inspiring. The promise and intercessory petition of God (Jesus) for us, his disciples, is mind-blowing.
Excerpted from John 17:9-26
My prayer is for those you have given me… Protect them, so they will be united just as we are… Keep them safe from the evil one. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. I am praying not only for these disciples, but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message—I have given them the glory you gave me. I pray they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. I am in them and you are in me…May the world know you love them as much as you love me. I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so…
Simply an amazing passage of Scripture. This, prayer of Jesus, is this God praying to God… himself? And praying for humanity, not only for his immediate disciples, but all those who will believe in him/Jesus through their message. Yes, that will make me inclusive in that prayer!!! One of the things that I find so moving about this prayer is how it reveals the heart of God in it. Jesus says as much; “I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so…” (John 17:26). It seems safe, then, to me, to assume that what is happening in this narrative account of Jesus in the Garden is Jesus revealing God the Father, his heart for us, the loved ones who will follow him and believe in him.
I am so grateful for this “reveal” of God to me… it seems fitting for this season of my life. The “Type-A” personality I am, I can often be tempted to guilt over performance issues where I feel I am not ready, studying, writing, or praying enough (as far as Christian disciplines go). I sometimes feel my thoughts are dark, evil, and unholy… There is no shortage of stuff that can bring me down and I can be tempted by the darkness and doubt to accept a false image of God—not unlike the false image that was offered to Adam and Eve during their Garden Temptation, which they ultimately accepted. I can see where that has brought us. I don’t want that image or the catastrophe it brings; no thanks!
What I continue to learn and constantly affirmed is that the Father is far more loving that I can ever imagine. And this loving Father, according to the prayer of Jesus, loves me as much as he loves the Only Begotten Son (John 17:23). Out of this world AMAZING. How can I not praise HIM!!! How can my heart not be joy-dancing-Glad!??!
Here is what my heart sings today:
I am flesh, but I am Divine because Christ is in me.
I am mortal, but my soul is immortal, promised by God to be with Him forever.
I am broken, but in the process of being restored.
I was the son of Adam, but now am the adopted son of God through the Son of God
Glory be to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Expectant, Joy-filled Waiting: Week Three of Advent [19DEC2013]
Readings: Psalm 50, 59 ◊ Zech 4:1-14 ◊ 2 Peter 1:12-21 ◊ Luke 17:21 ◊
Reading: Choose the Life—Exploring a Faith that Embraces Discipleship by Bill Hull
The way we wait is very telling… the outward manifestation of our lives; how we live, the things we value, where we spend our money and time, and things like that are the equivalent of a spiritual EKG or MRI. These actions of our lives indicate the value we place on the testimony of Jesus. Yes, the way we wait reveals what we truly believe.
“Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ… Only the believer is obedient—only the obedient believe.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The endurance of our faith is tested during our wait. Another way of saying this; a persevering and faithfully obedient wait is part of the work of sanctification… it is faith being proven genuine.
“Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 31:24)
“Wisdom is shown to be right by its results” (Matthew 11:19) –Jesus
Our hope is looking forward to completion and ultimate reconciliation with our Father and Savior God. Anticipation of this day brings delight even now as we live out repentant and grateful lives with peaceful joy always staying alert and ready for His return, but stalwart in our confidence of being held by Him until the universal Shalom of God is ushered into the ReCreation (The New Heaven and New Earth). This is our joy. “I’m bringing you,” the angel says, “good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day… a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). And so it is; Great Joy… past, present, and ultimate future. Hope; with joy now, looking forward to eternal reconciliation and complete restoration. This is Joy. This is the universal Shalom of the Creator-Savior-King, the Triune God.
Joan Chittister, writes in The Liturgical Year; “If, focused on the Christ Child at the very beginning of the liturgical year; we do not have the spiritual vision to see meaning there and to develop it within ourselves, there is nothing else on earth that will ever be able to supply it for us.” Indeed.
My thoughts on joy that are inspired from some of the writings of Joan Chittister follow (Yes, I am repeating these from yesterday’s blog):
- Joy is not about what happens to us…
- Joy is the meaning we give to what we do that determines the nature, the quality of the lives we live.
- Joy is not about self-centeredness (John 5:30)
- Happiness (true happiness) is not about self-satisfaction; it is about the joy that comes with a sense of purpose.
- Joy comes from living our lives immersed in the will of God; not self-aggrandizement.
- Joy is not in things; it is in us…
Advent asks us to deal with the basics of our relationship to God through Jesus Christ. Do I really believe in Christ? Have I put my hope and trust in him? Do I see the future through the eyes of the one who came to redeem the world from the power of evil? Is there a longing within me for him to be formed within, to take up residence in my personal life, in my home, and in my vocation? These are not easy questions to answer. They require meditation, intention, and above all, a commitment that remains steadfast. But if we would break away from a spiritual life growing cold and a Christ who is becoming distant, we must be attentive to our spiritual discipline and long for God to break in on us with new life. When we do this, we experience the true meaning of Advent spirituality. -Robert Webber; Ancient-Future Time
We continue with our recitation of the O Antiphons as we make our way to the eve of Christmas Eve.
The importance of the “O Antiphons” is twofold. First, each one is a title for the Messiah. Secondly, each one refers to the prophecy of Isaiah of the coming of the Messiah. The Latin antiphons are from the Breviarium Romanum. The English versions, which are not always literal translations of the Latin, are from the Church of England’s Common Worship liturgy.
The Benedictine monks arranged these antiphons with a definite purpose. If one starts with the last title and takes the first letter of each one—Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia—the Latin words ero cras are formed, meaning, “Tomorrow, I will come”. Therefore Jesus, whose coming Christians have prepared for in Advent and whom they have addressed in these seven Messianic titles, now speaks to them: “Tomorrow, I will come.” So the “O Antiphons” not only bring intensity to their Advent preparation, but bring it to a joyful conclusion.
Dec. 19—O Radix Jesse (Isaiah 11:10, Isaiah 52:15, Habakkuk 2:3): O Root of Jesse, you stand as a sign for the peoples; before you kings shall keep silence and to you all nations shall have recourse. Come, save us, and do not delay.
May our compassionate God drive all our anguish, bestow health, and give us by the loving-kindness of the Father, the kingdom of the heavens.
O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, by body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live and in your name I will lift up my hands My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
Eternal Lord our God, the beginning and end of our lives, give us grace to serve you with joy, that we might know that our full and lasting happiness is a life of constant service to you and our neighbor. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.
First Sunday of Advent [01DEC2013]
Lectionary Text: Psalm 122 ◊ Isaiah 2:1-5 ◊ Romans 13:11-14 ◊ Matt. 24:36-44 ◊
“So you must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming.” (Matt. 24:42)
“It is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” (Romans 13:11-12).
Much of my day today has been spent considering a few words and subsequently examining my life through the relative filters of those words. I’ve been writing about watchful waiting the past couple days as I’ve continued to meditate on what it really means to wait watchfully. The word pictures and synonyms I’ve found for the type of “watchfulness” that is expected of Jesus followers is rather intimidating. It is professional level watching and waiting. This is not to say that “non-professional” or mediocre watchers are lesser Christians than the zealots among us. It makes me wonder though, when I read Scripture that tells me the following: “If the righteous are barely saved, what will happen to the godless sinners?” (1 Peter 4:18). What does Peter mean when he says, “If the righteous are barely saved?”
I get that we are “saved by grace…” (Eph. 2:8). I get that our works of righteousness do not make God love us more than he already does. I understand the legitimate concerns voiced about how spiritual disciplines can quickly slide into acts of legalism, but I wonder still… I wonder how much of our caution and how much of our concern against works of righteousness and spiritual exercises have contributed to spiritual apathy and putting many believers in dangerously vulnerable positions.
“Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith.” (1 Peter 5:8-9)
When I read the words of the ancient church fathers and their devotion to discipline and alertness, my own devotion pales in comparison. It’s easy for me to say to myself, “those guys and gals are just over the top…” Then, I think to myself, “The same devil is still prowling around looking for someone to devour.” I wonder what comes over me that causes me to think I am more enlightened or spiritually empowered than those ancient, disciplined saints. Truthfully, I don’t think I am either of those things; although, sometimes I carry on in my life as though I do. I believe it can be easy to take God’s grace for granted. I believe many Christians, myself included, terribly underestimate the wiles of the devil. Thinking about these things urges me to desire an even more disciplined and devoted life than I presently lead. The cost of this will mean lightening my load even more than I have. It will mean streamlining and simplifying my life even more. Paying attention closely requires less busy and more energy dedicated to watching… watching is a solitary act. It cannot be combined with other activities; needless-to-say, multitasking is a cardinal “no-no.”
I want to understand and fully appreciate the message and the mystery of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ.
Inspired by the writing of Austin Farrer from The Crown of the Year—
The God who saves and the God who judges is one God; It is now the moment for you to wake from sleep… What judges us is what redeems us, the love of God—
Advent is a coming, not our coming to God, but his to us. Emmanuel, God with us.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. O God, help us to be diligent watchers. Help us to wait attentively and with patient diligence. Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus, Come.
Almighty God, who came to us long ago in the birth of Jesus Christ, be born in us anew today by the power of your Holy Spirit. We offer our lives as home to you and ask for grace and strength to live as your faithful, joyful children always. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
On this Eve of Advent [30NOV2013]
Readings: Psalm 137:1-6, 144 ◊ Micah 7:11-20 ◊ 1 Peter 4:7-19 ◊ Matt. 20:29-34 ◊
The Philokalia—Vol.3: Forty Texts on Watchfulness, St. Philotheos of Sinai
“In Christ it is and shall be…”
I don’t participate in the craziness that is holiday shopping. For the most part, it’s just not my thing. I don’t begrudge anyone who enjoys it, but I’ll politely abstain. Checking the news on the internet shows that I might be in the minority. Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales seem to gather people in astounding numbers; it’s truly an amazing sight to see people camping out the night before a sale begins or waiting in sub-freezing temperatures in lines that are more than a city block long. All of this really baffles me. It just seems… so distracting.
“How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a pagan land?” (Psalm 137:4)
As I shared in yesterday’s post, we are entering a season of watchfulness (nipsis). I know from experience that it can be difficult, if not near impossible, to be watchful and attentive when you are distracted. I remember times on watch when I served in the Navy; sometimes being alert and attentive, watchful, was hard. Irregular sleep, many responsibilities, occasional boredom, and the occasional chatty shipmate could make for a poor watch or lookout. The trouble with this reality is that it could be very problematic. In my case, several of the stations I was responsible for “watching” were critical to the security of the ship. If I failed to report or update contacts in the ocean or give a visual description of them, there could be life-threatening ramifications. The point of this observation is the similarity I see in my present circumstances.
34 “Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day catch you unaware, 35 like a trap. For that day will come upon everyone living on the earth. 36 Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:34-36 NLT)
This weekend marks the beginning of Advent (The Coming). Tomorrow, Sunday, is the first Sunday in Advent. This is a season of waiting and watching as we anticipate and prepare for the coming of our Lord and Savior King, Jesus. Being watchful as we wait will not be easy. Everything around us speeds up this time of year. There will be plays, concerts, parties, shopping, decorating, year’s end business details being finalized, traveling, and a myriad of other festive hustle and bustle. It will not be easy to settle in to a watchful state of mind.
“Save me! Rescue me from the power of my enemies. Their mouths are full of lies; they swear to tell the truth, but they lie instead.” (Psalm 144:11)
The media, the news, TV, internet, and the sea of voices around me will all tell me not to be a Scrooge and to get into the Christmas spirit… I think to myself; “I am.” I am readying my heart and my home for the coming of the Messiah… this is the Christ mas spirit. I think, how would we behave if we really expected that Jesus was going to physically arrive for a visit at my home? I think I would be cleaning house, I think I would want to have his favorite things on hand for when he arrived. I believe I would want to be my best self… I would want to look my best, smell my best, wear my best clothes, be perfectly groomed, ensure that my heart was pure and my conscience was clear, so everything was as perfect as it could possibly be for his coming. Then, as the day drew closer, I would find myself waiting…watching… anticipating as I reconsidered last minute details. Finally, on the day of his arriving, I would probably find my post at one of the windows looking out at my drive waiting until I saw Jesus walking or driving to my front door. This is the way I think things would really go down, if the circumstances were that Jesus was really coming to my home. I think this is how we should enter into the season of Advent. I believe the preparation and anticipation of his coming should be something we engage in a real and physical way. I think it is good for our hearts, minds, souls, and strength. We need recalibrating. More busy, hustle and bustle… we do not need.
“The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers… Trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.” (1 Peter 4:7, 19)
The people of Jerusalem had been waiting for hundreds of years for Jesus when he arrived. They were tired people. They had been conquered several times, taken into captivity, allowed to return to their home, and occupied by their oppressing conquerors. Hustle and bustle of foreign cultures surrounded them. Distractions and foreign gods competed for their attention… yet they knew their history and tradition taught them a Messiah would be coming—arriving. They were to watch for signs of his arriving. They were to be ready for his coming. When the fullness of time came, the majority of God’s people were not ready to see God and they missed him.
Jesus asked them; “What do you want me to do for you? They replied; ‘We want to see…’“ (Matt. 20:29-34)
I try to live these days in the slow lane. I believe in maintaining comfortable and expansive margin all around me. There are times, it is true, when things get a bit hectic for me, but these are the exceptions and not my normal. In this way, I can stay at a high-degree of readiness as I wait for and watch for the coming of my Lord. Even in the heightened state of my wait, I plan to slow down and become even more watchful in the coming days. I want to wade meticulously through my days as one who is preparing for the Omnipotent Creator King, who is coming to the home of me. I wish to ensure that I’m watching this way and ready for that day.
“The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist…destroys his own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.” Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (1968)
Prayer for the First Sunday of Advent
Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Glory be to God the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be; world without end. Amen.
“In Christ it is and shall be…”
Nipsis: A Pre-Advent Meditation [29NOV2013]
Readings: Psalm 140, 142 ◊ Isaiah 24:14-23 ◊ 1 Peter 3:13—4:6 ◊ Matt. 20:17:28 ◊
Also Reading the Philokalia Vol. 3: Forty Texts on Watchfulness, St. Philotheos of Sinai
The season of Advent has become one of my favorite times of the year. I like the tone of the meditations; centering the attitude of my heart around the themes of waiting, preparing, hope, watchfulness, peace, joy, and love. The cycle of the year seems to grow heavy by the time that Advent arrives and entering into the season seems helpful in the recalibration of my spirit. Yes, I really like this time of year.
There are several prayer habits that I have made a regular part of my Advent devotions. One exercise is a lengthy Examen that I employ, asking the assistance of God the Holy Spirit to help me evaluate the personal rule of life I have been living with for the previous year. In the coming weeks, I will determine, by God’s grace, the changes that will make up the rule I will live with for the coming year. Another prayer habit I enjoy during this season is a renewal in my “watchfulness.” Reading today from The Philokalia, I was reminded of the importance and quality of our watchfulness (nipsis) as we wait for the return of our Savior King. I haven’t heard this word, nipsis, before and was prompted to do some research into its meaning and use. Here follows what I found:
Nipsis (Greek)— literally, the opposite to a state of drunken stupor; hence spiritual sobriety, alertness, vigilance. It signifies an attitude of attentiveness whereby one keeps watch over one’s inward thoughts and fantasies, maintaining guard over the heart and intellect. It is closely linked with purity of heart and stillness. The Greek title of the Philokalia is ‘The Philokalia of the Niptic Fathers,’ i.e. of the fathers who practiced and inculcated the virtue of watchfulness. This shows how central is the role assigned to this state.
Upon reading these words and as I prepare for my own recalibration of spirit, I remember again the words of Jesus; “Pay attention to how you listen” (Luke 8:18). This is a state of watchfulness, spiritual waiting and watching, always in a state of ready and preparedness. It is so easy to become distracted and/or to be so busy doing and going that we are lulled into a state of stupor, or worse, we fall asleep at the wheel. Jesus told his followers to remain alert, be prepared, and always watching for his return or coming. This is Advent, it is the season of The Coming. Here, in this time, we are reminded to assess the condition of our wait and watch…make adjustments where necessary and recalibrate the tuning of our heart.
“You are the Sovereign LORD, the strong one who rescued me…” (Psalm 140:7)
As I prayed and meditated this morning on the quality of my watchfulness (nipsis), I was prompted to write the following words in my journal:
Each day we awake to the crossroads of endings and beginnings. The path we choose determines the nature of our continuing journey. Endings have their rightfully earned places in our journey; however, beginnings are the fuel for our life. Beginnings bring hope and fresh-eyed expectancy—beginnings spark fervor and determination…beginnings are blank paper with much room to write, while endings are mostly finished stories that barely have room in the margins.
I awaken to my “new-day” beginnings with hope renewed. The sky is blue, and with sails billowing with the breeze, I cut away the lines that moor me to yesterday’s endings. I break the chains that join me to my heavy anchor releasing my soul to move out and into the infinite horizon of beginnings.
Today is a new day. Today I shall kiss yesterday’s ending good-bye as I embrace today and… begin again.
“I cry out to the LORD; when I am overwhelmed, you alone know the way I should turn. I pray to you, O LORD. I say, ‘You alone are my place of refuge. You are all I really want in life… for you are good to me.'” (Psalm 142:2-7)
Shrove Tuesday: Resolve and Recommit
Readings: Luke 5:1-11 ◊ Numbers 35:34 ◊ Deuteronomy 1:1—4:49 ◊ Psalm 28
O LORD, I call to you; my Rock, do not be deaf to my cry; lest, if you do not hear me, I become like those who go down to the Pit. Hear the voice of my prayer when I cry out to you, when I lift up my hands to your holy of holies.
The expression “Shrove Tuesday” comes from the word shrive, meaning “confess.” Related popular practices are associated with celebrations before the fasting and religious obligations associated with the penitential season of Lent. The term Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday, referring to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday.
The word shrove is the past tense of the English verb shrive, which means to obtain absolution for one’s sins by way of Confession and doing penance. Thus Shrove Tuesday gets its name from the custom for Christians to be “shriven” before the start of Lent. Shrove Tuesday is the last day of “shrovetide”, somewhat analogous to the Carnival tradition that developed separately in countries of Latin Europe. The term “Shrove Tuesday” is no longer widely used in the United States or Canada outside of Liturgical Traditions, such as the Lutheran, Episcopal, and Roman Catholic Churches. (Ref. from article on wikipedia)
This is a season of transition for me and I think it appropriate to make mention of it on this Eve of Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season. I am in the midst of transition with my health, realizing the need to pay closer attention to the changes in my body, the genetic/hereditary gifts passed on to me, and the wear that comes naturally with advancing years. I am also in transition as I stand at the threshold of new chapters in my life…that is, transitions into my future. While I do not feel anxious or nervous about these transitions, I am very aware of their gravity and all the myriad effects they will have upon me and those people who are closest to me.
“You shall not defile the land in which you live, in which I also dwell, for I the LORD dwell among the Israelites.” (Numbers 35:34)
I believe this is a critically important time for me spiritually. There seems to be a sweep of urgency that has washed over me during the past several weeks…and I’m not sure I was aware of the arc of its reach until even now as I write these words.
I believe I am sensing the call of the Spirit to focus upon my commitment and consecration to God’s rule in my present life and my future life. During the period of Advent and Epiphany, I spent much time in reflection and meditation about my present state (mind, body, soul, and strength). I allowed God, the Holy Spirit, to take inventory and guide me through the areas of my life needing attention and I trust the things that were revealed to me are the things I need to take action. I have reordered my personal rule and presently active in pursuing God’s action plan for me.
This focus seems to be a natural fit with the theme of Lent; and as such, I will employ the time, tools, and the effort to reset, resolve, and recommit myself wholly to the purpose and process of God’s working in and through my life.
“You refused to go into the ‘land’ God has already given to you… you grumbled about where God was leading you… God says; ‘Have no fear, I go before you, but in spite of this, you have no trust in the LORD your God.'” -Deuteronomy 1:19-33
The past couple days have been interesting reading in my Bible. Yesterday, I was spending time in the closing chapters of Numbers and the following words, “You shall not defile the land in which you live, in which I also dwell, for I the LORD dwell among the Israelites” (Numbers 35:34) stimulated many thoughts…
Meditating on how this Word extends into my/our world today. Considering the immediate applications in sustainable living, processed food diets, physical health. Considering the socio-political ramifications… and considering the state of my spiritual ecosystems. Much that can be said and much that can be done to right errant courses. Praising God for His good Word to me today.
What is the “land” ??? My physical neighborhood. My social groups/communities and relationships. My physical body. The playground of my thoughts–my mind. My children and my progeny. The places/lands where I have influence in the global arena… and how do my living and consumer habits affect societies and the “land” that extends beyond my immediate borders? There is much to consider.
My reading from today was no less impacting… continuing in a similar line of thinking I was reminded of the Israelites unwillingness to enter into the “land” God was leading them. I note they grumbled and complained, and seemed ill prepared to “follow” him. Their attitude revealed at its foundation a complete lack of trust in God.
I absolutely do not want this in my life. I believe Christians are guided by the Triune God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. If this is true, then the urging and unction…the readings and revelations are guided by Him. If this is true, I have the choices of obedience and following His guidance or disobedience and refusal to go into the land He has given to me.
Where is this “land” God is drawing me to? I’m not entirely sure of those specifics, but I’m not fearful either. I think; however, in my case, I identify more with Caleb and Joshua (Deut. 1:34-40) than I do the belligerent Israelites of this story—I believe the “land” is good and God goes before me—although I do believe that I need to strengthen my resolve…I need to be more forthright and focused, determined. I need clarity of vision in order to make the transition to this “land” God leads me securely and successfully. I need good health, a clear mind, and a full spirit. I need eyes that see and ears & heart that hear—I need sensitivity to the Spirit’s Wind no matter the direction or degree that He or She may blow.
“You will seek the LORD your God, and you will find him if you search for him with all your heart and soul…because the LORD your God is a merciful God, he will neither abandon you or destroy you; he will not forget the covenant with your ancestors that he swore to them.” -Deuteronomy 4:25-31
This Lenten season will be time for me to reset, resolve, and recommit to the transition of a new chapter of life for health, ministry, relationship, and community. I am positive this is the “land” God is leading me to…I will prepared, commit, and follow. May God be glorified. Amen.
What needs to happen for you to go deeper with God?
Turn to God quickly and completely. Be converted to him. Do not keep procrastinating. It is a huge sin to expect God to me merciful while we continue a sinful life. It is a common mistake to think that the mercy of God is so great that there will be no punishment. We live in a tiny moment of time. All of our time, compared with eternity, is nothing. It is a serious waste to let a day go by without allowing God to change us.
Conversion is a total turning to God. This means we turn away from the world with its sin. If we choose to turn away from God we ignore the good that never changes. Our affections and our behavior need to be changed. You will be converted when you have made a complete turn toward God. Your mind will meditate upon him. You will understand that you live your life under God. The psalmist writes, I have set the LORD always before me. Notice that he says “always.” This is different from an occasional glance in God’s direction while preoccupied with the things of this world.
Again, the psalmist declares, My eyes are ever on the LORD, for only he will release my feet from the snare. These words make it clear that if, we do not habitually focus our interior eyes on Christ, we will be caught in the snare of temptation. In fact, if our soul’s attention is not riveted on God, being completely converted to him, there are going to be some traps along the way for us.
Many claim to be willing to turn toward God but believe that responsibilities in this world prevent it. If they were touched in the slightest way by the love of Christ, they would immediately try to find a way to serve God. They would keep looking until they find it. –Richard Rolle; The Fire of Love
An Epiphany Reflection
Readings: Psalm 65:2-9 ◊ Genesis 26-50 ◊ James 1:9-11 ◊ John 18:26
“Among you stands one whom you do not know…” (John 18:26)
“In the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.” (James 1:11)
My reflections during this season of Epiphany have been spent on much personal examination. As I practice spiritual disciplines, there is the expectation that measured growth should be manifest from them. While I do these types of examinations throughout the year, the year’s end and the early New Year are times when this examination is much deeper. I am in the process of finalizing my updated Personal Rule of Life; at least what will begin as my rule of life for the 2013 year. This personal rule of mine is not chiseled in stone, but serves as a guide and is subject to change as God’s Spirit would lead and I would obey.
One of the points of my rule for 2013 is my Bible reading. One reading plan I am engaging in is a morning devotional my family is participating in together (The NRSV Devotional Bible). We have just finished reading the Genesis narrative and I have been captivated once again by the incredible relational nature of our Eternal God.
Understanding the great attributes of God, and I use that term “understanding” loosely, it seems that God could have used any number of means to effect His great plan of redemption, reconciliation, and restoration… any of which did not have to include the weak link that is humankind. But He chose to partner with humanity anyway at incredible risk to His Name, His purposes, and the general nature of His plan. Adam, Noah, Abraham…Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph were all frail and imperfect role models, but God chooses to partner with them for the sake of His plan and for the sake of you and of me.
This is one of the primary thoughts that has been camping out in my brain. The “relational” part of our relationship with God is one thing I believe we often take for granted. I believe it is easy to assume much of the responsibility of our discipleship and restoration as images of God is placed upon God. Many us will assume any transformation we experience in our lives that resembles Jesus Christ is the work of God—and I believe that is true, but we also bear a certain amount of responsibility in the process of this transformation. We surrender to the work of God in us as we engage in the process ourselves.
Partners with God
Part-ners: Each “ner” has their respective part in the outworking of God’s grand narrative.
“A child that does not grow bigger is pathetic. Soil that does not produce vegetation is sterile. The tree that is barren is cut down. Unless we go forward, we slip backward.” -John Jewell
We cannot afford to take our “parts” and our roles lightly. As we journey with Jesus on the path of spiritual formation and Imago Dei transformation, we share in the process and responsibility of our discipleship. It is not all the responsibility of God; He enables, empowers, and provides as we surrender, submit, obey, and engage. Hear again, it is God who empowers and enables; it is the Holy Spirit who guides and comforts; it is the Spirit of Jesus Christ who walks alongside us in the process. It is the believer-disciple who bears the yoke of obedient surrender and engages joyfully in the process—making plans, strategizing, and taking the appropriate steps to become more like Christ. Restoration and transformation to the image of God does not just happen. The transforming journey of sanctification is lifelong and often fraught with difficult challenges. We engage and we fall down…we get up to engage again. It is through the surrendered looping process that we eventually and ultimately succeed. We celebrate our victories along the way as God celebrates with us and we begin again
If you have lived far from God, you may think you are very near him when you finally start a life with him. The peasant thinks he has been to court because he saw the king pass by one day. New Christians give up their worst sins and beak fewer laws than they once did, but they are still attached to the world. Instead of judging themselves by the gospel, they merely compare themselves with their former lives. If today is better than yesterday, they think this is enough to make them saints. If they can tell you the time and place of their salvation, they probably see nothing remaining to be done. Such people have a long way to go. -Francois de Fenelon
I pause and reflect on God’s life-giving presence in every part of my body, in everything around me, in the whole of my life. The world I charged with the grandeur of God. I dwell for a moment in His presence, all around me and within me as well. The Holy Spirit is deep within my being. I remind myself that there are many things God has to teach me yet, and ask for the grace to hear them and let them change me.
To You, O God, our praise is due. To You we pay our vows, You who hears our prayers. To You all flesh will come with its burden of sin. Too heavy for us, our offenses, but You wipe them away.
My soul yearns for You, O God. My soul thirsts for You, O God; when can I enter and see the face of God? O God, You are my God, for you I long and only you alone. Glory to you, Source of all being, Eternal Word and Holy Spirit: As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.
♦ Psalm 51:1-5, 103
♦ Readings – Isaiah 58:12-14 ♦ 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10
♦ Gospel – Matt. 6:1-6, 16-21
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
The season of Lent is not about “giving up something for God,” it is about desiring God over and above all things that have distracted and divided our worship and adoration of Him. Weak and frail as we are, we succumb to the siren calls of so many things that draw us from the One who loves us so deeply. We may not intentionally take His love for granted, but we invariably do when we fail in putting Him first in every area of our lives. Lent calls us to take notice of our frailty and begs our repentance for the moments of our days when we put our loving and faithful God on the “back burner” of our lives. His call to us is this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength.”
You are invited to focus the next forty-plus days on renewing our hearts and minds with full surrender to will, worship, and way of our Lord Jesus. If you’d like to receive the blog updates in your email, use the subscription form at the right of this post or the form at the bottom of this post.
Today is the start of Lent, the season that leads to our commemoration of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus. He said, “Take up your cross” (Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23). It is not something you go looking for in faraway places. Sooner or later the Lord hands us a cross, and our job is to recognize it. For each of us there are events that make a difference. The sorrowful mysteries are different for each of us. Maybe it is a meeting with a friend, a lover, or an enemy. Maybe it is a sickness, or a triumph. We try to see our life through the eyes of faith, with a confidence that God in his providence can draw good out of the most awful and unwelcome happenings. (Excerpted from Sacred Space; A Prayer book of the Irish Jesuits)
Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (The Book of Common Prayer)
[08JAN2012] Basking in the Light
♦ Readings – Genesis 1:1-5 ♦ Acts 19:1-7
♦ Gospel -Mark 1:4-11
Lord, I will sing of your power; every morning I will sing of your faithful love. Let us live as children of light, for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true. Amen.
Today has been a day for me to bask in His glorious presence and light, the light that is epiphany and revelation to me. This is the awareness and awakening that shook me to my core over a decade ago… a “shakening and awakening” like none other I experienced in all my life of knowing about Jesus. Knowing about him was nothing compared to knowing him. I am grateful beyond words and any human expression for the grace and mercy he showed to me when he revealed himself in light and in truth. Praise Him! My prayer today has been expressed in the joy of these words from the psalmist from Psalm 139:
For it was you who created my being, knit me together in my mother’s womb. I thank you for the wonder of my being, for the wonders of all your creation.
Already you knew my soul, my body held no secret from you… when I was being fashioned in secret and molded in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes see all my actions, they were all of them written in your book; every one of my days was decreed before one of them came into being.
To me, how mysterious your thoughts, the sum of them not to be numbered! If I count them, they are more than sand; to finish, I must be eternal, like you.
—as read from the Anabaptist Prayer Book: Take our Moments and our Days