I Wish I’d Said That…

[I have found all this to be utterly true. I’ve also found it almost impossible to wrap words around. I didn’t want to weaken the words by trying to restate them. So here they are, for your consideration. — LM]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Exploring the Mystics
with James Finley

Only Love Is Real
Friday, October 13, 2017

Guest writer and CAC faculty member James Finley continues sharing insights from John of the Cross. Take a few moments in the midst of your busy day to slow down, to enter into the quiet, and to read these words from your heart center, without judgment or needing to fully understand with your logical brain.

Just as with Teresa of Ávila’s The Interior Castle, by the very first paragraph of John of the Cross’ Prologue to The Ascent of Mount Carmel you get the sense that the words are coming from some very deep place from inside of him—or really through him—that intimately accesses a deep place in us:

A deeper enlightenment and wider experience than mine is necessary to explain the dark night through which a soul journeys toward that divine light of perfect union with God that is achieved, insofar as possible in this life, through love. The darknesses and trials, spiritual and temporal, that fortunate souls ordinarily undergo on their way to the high state of perfection are so numerous and profound that human science cannot understand them adequately. Nor does experience of them equip one to explain them. [1]

One of the operative principles of love is that love does not rest as long as there is an inequality in love. In seeing the beloved down, the lover is moved to lift the beloved up. John says the infinite love of God will not rest until you are equal to God in love. Even though you would be absolutely nothing without God, God will not rest until you are as much God as God is God. God will not settle for a trace of inequality. In the “dark night of the soul,” we are weaned away from the ego’s finite ideas and feelings about God. We come to know that no idea about God is God. We are also weaned from our ideas about our self as being a finite, separate self apart from God.

Not everyone experiences this kind of union in this life. But in some lives God does not wait until death to begin the consummation through a dark night of the soul. In this nondual state, although I am not God, I am not other than God either. Although I am not you, I am not other than you either. Although I am not the earth, I am not other than the earth either. All things are unexplainably, invincibly one in endless diversity forever.

The awakening of this state on this earth does not mean you are holier than others. Rather, you awaken to how unexplainably holy everybody is. The mystic—that is, the person who is ripe with this love consciousness that’s born in the night—is not more holy but is granted a greater realization of the infinite holiness of the simplest of things.

Then, in some strange way, when you die, nothing will happen, because you’ve already died to the illusion that anything less than love is real; and you are aware that Infinite Love is loving you endlessly and giving itself away as your life.

Gateway to Silence:
Fall deeper into love.

References:

[1] John of the Cross, The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez (Institute of Carmelite Studies Publications: 1991), 114-115.

Adapted from James Finley, Intimacy: The Divine Ambush, discs 1 and 6 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), CD, MP3 download.

 

The Child at the Back…

Once upon a time, a small troop of people drudged along an uphill road, and found they’d arrived at their destination. They sought the Kingdom of God, and had reached the front gates.

Together they paused in silence, rapt in wonder, awe, worship, gratitude, and… honestly… fatigue, yet aglow with their sense of accomplishment. Most, but not all, were middle aged or older. Most were well dressed, some in ornate robes, others in business attire, some in Sunday best. There were both men and women.

An ancient man, apparently the porter, appeared outside the door and greeted the group cordially.

“Welcome to the Gates of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is wonderful to see all of you. Now, why have you come?”

At this, there was some milling about and muttering. None was quite sure what to say. Finally a man stepped forward and said, “Sir, we seek to enter. We have have traveled long hard roads, seeking to enter in to the Kingdom of God.”

The old gatekeeper nodded, “that’s marvelous. Well done. Now, good sir, why should I admit you? What is your qualification?”

The man pulled out a neat scroll and handed it forward. “I have sought this gate all my life. I have lived a righteous life, always doing right as I could. I’ve never lied or defrauded anyone. I fear God, and seek to obey His commandments with all my heart.”

The old man nodded approvingly, took the scroll, and said, “Well done, my son. You are very near indeed to the Kingdom.”

Turning to another petitioner, he asked the same questions. This man was mighty in worship leadership and had led thousands of believers in singing the praises and glory of God. He, too, was congratulated on his efforts and assured that he was very near.

The next was a woman who had spent her entire life in prayer and encouraging others to spend time with the Lord. She offered up all sufferings to the glory of God, and sought His will in all things. She had raised her children to fear and reverence God, and do what was right to honor Him. She too was congratulated, encouraged, and assured of her nearness.

This went on as one after another, everyone named their accomplishments and sacrifices in God’s name, and declared their honor and worship of Him. Each had done wonderful things, including one who had studied their whole life acquiring great academic honors and mastering all the sacred languages. He sought admittance through his efforts to teach the world of the wonders of the words of God. The last, or nearly last, conversation was with a mighty pastor who had built a magnificent cathedral, led many thousands to relationship with God, and trained many hundreds in their own lives of ministry and service. When asked why he had done all this, he said that Jesus was his Lord and his model, and he sought to live as Jesus had lived, in honor of God.

Everyone thought, “Ah, certainly THIS man… with all THAT to say…. all THAT he has done…. surely, this man, will pass through the gate.”

Yet, he received the same response, including the great approval and encouragement, from the Porter.

A quiet scuffing sound was heard from the back of the group, as a small child in quite nondescript clothing had turned around and began to shuffle back down the road away from the gate.

The Porter stepped forward, raised his cracked voice, and addressed the child. “You there!” as he stretched his arm towards the child and all the adults made way. (The wee one had been hidden at the back of the group where no one had seen.) The shuffling steps stopped, as the downcast figure slowly turned.

“Mm… me? Sir?” the child responded in a voice nearly too soft to hear.

The old man smiled warmly, “Yes, youngster. You. Why are you here?” The Porter’s eyes shone with friendly light as he encouraged the child to speak. “Don’t be afraid. Please tell me why you’ve come.”

“Well, sir. I came to find this gate, and to pass through into there, into the Kingdom.” The sibilant voice grew a bit, as the child’s eyes rose to meet his.

“Very good, little one. Why then, do you seem to want to leave before we’ve even spoken?”

The gaze and voice quickly dropped again. “Because I see now, I realize… I haven’t done any of the great things all these fine people have done. I have nothing to show you, good sir. I’m not even properly dressed, being a bit ragged and dusty like this. I have no business here. I’ll go quietly, sir.”

“Wait, little one. How did you find the path to here?”

“Oh, that. Well, sometimes, I seem to hear Jesus’ voice calling me, leading me. Sometimes I think I can see His footsteps, or I catch a glimpse of Him up ahead. I think I’ve heard Him call to me, saying ‘Follow Me’, and so, whenever I’ve thought I had the direction right, or I could see the steps, I’ve tried to follow. One day, I met up with all these people, who had maps and books and things. And together, here we are….”

“I see,” nodded the old Porter. “So you followed. Now, granted that you don’t yet have a big list of mighty deeds or works to show, tell me WHY you want to enter these doors? What do you hope to gain?”

The child was a long time before answering, but no one broke the silence. All the elders found themselves thinking about the question for themselves. What did they really seek, hoping to enter in?

Finally the child answered, “Sir, I just want to get in to find HIM. I’ve heard Him. I’ve seen Him from time to time. But I just want to find Him, grab Him, and… and… hug Him.”

At this, some of the elders repressed a snort. How silly did that sound? Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! The Great Majesty of All Creation. And here this child speaks of grabbing… and hugging… psh.

The Porter came close up to the child, dropped to one knee so they were face to face, and nearly whispered… “And why, child… Why do you so seek to hug Him that you’ve come all this way and dare even this?”

Tears welled as their eyes met, and the child whispered simply, “because, sir, I love Him. I don’t know very much. I haven’t done very much, certainly nothing great. I’ve just heard His voice, seen Him now and again, and I love Him. That’s why I’ve come.”

The old Porter hugged the child, as the great gate door dissolved. There, to the astonishment of all, stood Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Joyfully He laughed as He dropped to one knee with His arms wide open for the child.

“Finally! You’ve arrived! I’ve been waiting. Together we will see everything. I cannot wait to show you.” Jesus had lifted the child up in His arms with a mighty heave. If a little one could fly, that’s how it seemed as together they shared a moment of sheer joy unspeakable.

Turning to the others, the Lord said, “I am so glad you are ALL here. You are so very close. You have all done so well, My good and faithful servants. As soon as you are ready, come in and join Us. You lack only one thing…” and, carrying the child in His arms, He passed through the gate back into His Kingdom.

Astonished, all the elders were left standing with the Porter, who had gently arisen and strode back to his post. Everyone was reviewing these amazing events in their mind, pondering heavy to understand.

The eldest and wisest of the lot, suddenly smiled and nodded. He exchanged glances with the Porter, who realized that understanding had dawned. Quietly he walked up to the Porter and whispered in his ear. The Porter stood aside as he passed in.

Everyone left standing there wondered what he had understood, and what he had said.

Bloody Fingers?

Thomas 2So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and *said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and *said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”

But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus *came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He *said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus *said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” [John 20: 19-28]

I was recently in a conversation with a friend in advanced theological studies. It was pointed out that of the 14 student cohort moving through these studies in lockstep, 12 candidates do not believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. Bear in mind, this is a Christian Seminary, whose students are career tracked to senior pastorate, denominational administration, and seminary faculty.

I’ll admit, I was a bit stunned. My overwhelming feeling was confusion, interspersed with some anger, sadness, and a healthy dose of frustration. The idea of pastoring a Christian church, when deep in one’s heart of hearts lies the belief that Easter is a fraud, left me a bit at sea. I felt a need to respond in some way, and yet quite at a loss as to how.

What does one do, teach, say, or even blog when God’s sovereignty over death itself is not only questioned (which is a healthy academic exercise — questioning everything), but utterly rejected as morality fiction? So… my adrenaline ran free… I talked with some friends, I emailed some friends, and settled… nothing at all. Basically, I looked towards the heavens, spread my hands, and felt like an ecclesiastical Chicken Little running in circles crying “the sky is falling!”

The next day, when the adrenaline rush had waned, and the Lord got to get a word in edgeways over my frantic (unidirectional) prayer…. I thought He’d be upset alongside me, and suggest some massive prayer campaign for revival and faith among the collective church, etc., etc.

Imagine my surprise when, in a FAR more matter of fact manner than I’d have imagined possible, He just slid up alongside me at my chair and said, “Um, Little Monk? What’s the problem? I’ve been through this. You feel all akimbo to realize that some of My servants don’t believe in My physical resurrection. I’ve been there before, you know… Thomas traveled with Me all three years, hearing everything I said, seeing everything I did. He knew Lazarus. He was at the Last Supper and with us in the Garden. He knew ALL the other disciples, and he knew the women who reported My rising and what the angels told them.

“And nonetheless, knowing ALL of that and ALL of them, still… his mind could not accept, could not comprehend, the possibility that I had risen from the dead. How in the world can you judge these students, or anyone, for struggling to wrap their heads around such a possibility?

“How did I handle that situation? I met his need. He made a straight up, bald faced, statement of what it would take for him to believe I rose from the dead. He meant that, and I took him at his word. The next time I came, I saw him, bid peace to him, and invited him to put his fingers in My wounds and his fist in My side. As it turned out, he found that after all, he didn’t need to do that.

“But Thomas had to see for himself. He needed to have a personal affirming experience of Me, to believe in My resurrection. Many people are that way, many people are skeptical of claims. Thomas was My disciple and friend before his faith was strained this way, and he was among the full Apostles, spreading the gospel thousands of miles after that day. He set Me a test, I met that, and he served Me faithfully and mightily.

“Nothing has changed today. I have many servants who love Me, worship Me, follow Me, and yet (perhaps deep in their heart of hearts) cannot comprehend or accept My resurrection. If they will do the same thing Thomas did… if they will encounter Me and set me a condition by which We, they and I, can experience one another by which they will believe, I will meet that joyfully. Just as once I did for you, by the way.

“Invite such people to come apart for a time, come find Me, encounter Me, and let Me show them My risen self in some way they can accept. It is vastly more comfortable to have faith in what one sincerely believes. Now, it is much happier and easier for faith to come by hearing, and hearing by My word. But those who doubt and resolve those doubts, can certainly be among My most mighty servants.

“Don’t judge. Invite and encourage. I’m always ready to encounter. Be at peace.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So there we are, Gentle Reader. A bit of a confession, I guess. The Lord is just so much more patient, calmer, so much less judgmental than I am. I keep thinking I’m growing up, but so often He reminds me of such simple things.

Grace to you, and to all of us, Gentle Reader! — The Little Monk

 

A Tale of Two Birth Announcements

Look over Luke 1:5-25; 57-66.

cappella_tornabuoni2c_102c_annuncio_dell27angelo_a_zaccaria
Annunciation of the Angel to Zechariah by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1490, fresco in the Tornabuoni Chapel, Florence) Public Domain

We all know the story, don’t we? Zacharias (an “official” “ordained-type” priest) goes in his proper time to offer incense within the Temple. The Angel Gabriel appears to him there, announcing the upcoming birth of John the Baptist, along with his role as forerunner and preparer of the way of the Lord.

Zacharias responds, objecting, “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.” [v. 18] Gabriel then identifies himself by name, and declares that Zacharias will be mute until his words were fulfilled.

Time passes and so things come about. Zacharias regains his voice finally upon naming his son “John” at his circumcision, in response to community objections because this is not family name of their line.

We all know the story.

Now, please look over Luke 1:26-56.

pinturicchio2c_cappella_baglioni_02
The Annunciation by Pinturicchio (1501, fresco in the Cappella Baglioni, Collegiata di Santa Maria Maggiore, Spello) Public Domain

We all know this story, too, don’t we? We see this played out in Christmas pageants almost annually, no? The Angel Gabriel appears to Mary, declares her favored, calms her confusion, and announces that she will conceive the Son of the Most High and name Him Jesus.

Mary seems to respond much as did Zacharias, pointing out a physical incongruity as she says, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” [v. 34]

But far from punishing her, as it could seem Gabriel did to Zacharias, the angel answers graciously with not only the answer to her question (that the power of the Most High would overshadow her), but he gives her an additional sign declaring that Elizabeth (her kinswoman) is six months along expecting the birth of John. Their exchange ends with “’nothing will be impossible with God.’ And Mary said, ‘Behold the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her” [vv. 37-38]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So, like, am I the only one who ever wondered, “what’s the difference here?”

Zacharias clearly ticked Gabriel off, while Mary didn’t. It’s one thing to point to the “rank order” difference between them. There’s certainly a difference of “graciousness” between them. Lots of flavorful differences, but I always sensed there was more here than that.

And… why should we care? What difference does, or should, it make to us… to you and me… here and now… why these two encounters went the way they did?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I think the answer to both questions is the same one… “Faith”.

The difference between the two encounters is “Faith”. And the reason we should care, is also “Faith”.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It never dawned on me, until very recently, that Zacharias… even faced as he was with the terrifying countenance of an Angel of God Almighty… doubted the truth of his words. Even INSIDE the Temple, standing next to the Altar of Incense as he offered up incense to God!

Seriously?

All of Gabriel’s words spoke to FUTURE events, not present events. Zacharias was going to have to go from that place, be with his wife in the proper time, conceive John, and watch nature take its course for the next nine months.

But that wasn’t good enough for Zacharias.  He says, “how will I know this for certain?” (We know italicized words are inserted by editors.) So he wants to know, right here, right now, why he should believe Gabriel. Waiting apparently isn’t good enough. (We know for certain that the issue is doubt, because Gabriel tells us that.) Zacharias is rendered mute until all was fulfilled “because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.” [v. 20]

Zacharias needed to know these things were true before he was willing to do his part. Clearly, his part in this miracle would be of crucial importance. It was he and Elizabeth who needed to conceive this child. But before he would go to that trouble, before he would dare go communicate this to Elizabeth, before he would risk Elizabeth’s heartbreak, disappointment, or disgrace… he had to have a sign. He had to KNOW this was true, before he could obey.

Gabriel gives him an unmistakable sign of his authority and power, using his words alone to stop all words for Zacharias until the truth was borne out.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So what is different about Mary? She, too, asks a “how” question.

The difference is that her question is one of “means”, not “verification”. She was perplexed at the appearance of Gabriel, not terrified. Gabriel declares the upcoming conception, birth, and kingship of Jesus, and Mary does not express doubt at the announcement. Rather, she asks how this is to come about, what is she to do? She knows she is virgin. Is that to change for this miracle? How should she obey the will of God?

Gabriel responds to the “how” of the question… that “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.” [v. 34-35] (By the way, that word “overshadow” only appears 5 times in the New Testament. Once here; then three times referring to the Cloud around Jesus, Moses, and Elijah in the time of the Transfiguration that came upon (and terrified) Peter, James and John, from which came the Voice saying “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!”[Luke 9:34-35]; and third when Peter’s shadow heals the sick [Acts 5:15].)

Unsolicited, Gabriel offers Mary the sign of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Mary yields unconditionally to God’s will and embraces Gabriel’s words, the hurries off to aid Elizabeth in her first pregnancy. Isn’t it interesting that Elizabeth had only “come out”, publicly acknowledging her pregnancy in the month before Mary’s arrival? No way was Elizabeth going to endure the risk of disappointment had she miscarried, or been merely deluded into thinking she was pregnant. She would not face either the jibes or the condescending looks of other village women as her face began to round and her figure became more full. She was an elder of her town, disgraced by the curse of barrenness perhaps, but nonetheless righteous and dignified of demeanor. She would not be mocked.

But by the time Mary arrives, Elizabeth KNOWS. She knows for sure that she carries life within her. The baby has quickened, and for the first time she has the glorious sensation of life moving inside her as he responds to her motions or sounds around them. No words describe the joy of hugging new life with your very self, as a woman can in this time.

Mary comes, calls out in greeting, and the Holy Spirit already filling John [v. 15] now fills Elizabeth as well, and her joyful encounter with Mary as they attend to one another’s needs for the next three months (Elizabeth’s third trimester, Mary’s first), offers blessing to them both. Even as I type those words, I can only pause and wonder in awe at what those months must have been like. What would evenings have been like in such a home? Zacharias silent (no choice there), Elizabeth growing ever more excited even as getting around gets more difficult and stilted, and Mary finding her appetite less predictable, perhaps napping now and again, and sensing the changes in her body as the Christ waxes in form…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

What does all this mean to us, Gentle Reader?

Well, God does the impossible all the time. For those who are ready and seek Him, miracles are all around.

When they come, sometimes they are hard to believe in. That’s just the truth. But! When one is willing to yield to them, God grants. When one is willing if and only if there is a sign attesting to the truth… well, God accommodates and a sign will be given. We see this over and over again throughout the Scriptures (Gideon, etc.) However, as we see from this text, while faith that may be, it is a flawed sort of faith. (I, for one, have engaged in such flawed faith countless times, so no judgment here!)

But there’s another kind of faith. There’s a faith that takes a truth on the authority of the speaker, and simply says “Yes!” before it asks “How?”

There, I think is both the difference between the two Gabriel missions, and the significance to us today.

Zacharias wanted proof before he would act. Mary was willing to act before any proof was offered.

Both were engaged in astonishing blessing and miracle. Zacharias just had to go about it with a bit more inconvenience. That and, frankly, their lingering doubts certainly would have robbed him and Elizabeth of months of joy and consolation.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Holy Spirit, the overshadowing Power of the Lord Most High, certainly wins out in every miracle. Let us simply say “Yes!” first, ask “How?” afterwards, and watch events unfold!

Grace to you, Gentle Reader!

3 x S = 42

Have you ever wanted “The Answer”?Cosmic Twist

“What answer?” you reply.

THE Answer. You know… THE ANSWER. Like the Answer to The Question. The Great Question. The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything!

For those of us who are Douglas Adams fans, we know how he dealt with the Question and the Answer… thus:

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Well, this has never entirely satisfied me, though I applaud Adams’ willingness to take on the subject. Libraries for centuries untold have been filled with the efforts of sages to solve the Mystery of Life. And, while my conclusions may well differ from Sage Adams here, I must say that a lot of my cogitation shares some strong commonalities.

So, here and now, I’d like to submit my own, subjective, non-scientific, anecdotal, take-it-or-leave-it-as-you-please, contribution to…

The Answer… to Life, the Universe, and Everything…

It is… 3 x S (Read as: “Three times S”)

[Consistent with the style of Adams, we will first describe the Answer, and then consider… What is the Question?]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

S1 = “Superabundance”

The First “S” is “superabundance”, the provision for needs vastly beyond the degree of need. Quantity, quality, diversity… so overwhelming that the result is not merely satiation and satisfaction, but actual delight. Take the Garden of Eden, for example… all the foods available there, all the grains, grasses, fruits, vegetables. The delight and companionship of animals of every description. The mist of the morning, the clarity of the stars, the cool of the evening, the wonder of the sun and moon. Or Psalm 23, being led beside the still waters, sitting at a prepared table, being comforted.

This is to be free of need, and free of greed.

Could it be that the very first requirement of true “Happiness”… of “Wholeness”… is to be free of need?

S2 = “Safety”

The Second “S” is “safety”, the protection from or absence of anything that could threaten or cause harm. Was there anything unknown in Eden to be afraid of at the start? It has never ceased to amaze me that God set man to nurture and tend the Garden (often super-interpreted to mean “God sent man off to WORK, first of all!”… but… what was the “work”? He was assigned to do two things… tend/serve/nurture… and protect/hedge about. But, what did Adam need to DO? Mist rose in the morning to water all, the soil was rich with the vibrancy of pure primal life, there were as yet no “weeds” or “bad plants”, nor any pests or predator bugs or animals. A Garden initially arranged and landscaped by God wouldn’t require a lot of transplanting and corrective design. All that “sweat of brow” and “thorns and thistles” thing came AFTER the fall.

This is to be free of threat, and free of fear.

Could it be that the second requirement of true “Happiness”… of “Wholeness”… is to be utterly safe and free of fear?

S3 = “Significance”

The third “S” is “significance”, the sense that one is meaningful, important, and treasured to at least one other person. In the Garden, there was first… Adam. Adam and God, there they were. Made in God’s image, male and female, Adam and Eve created in God’s own image. Given free reign of the Garden. Able to eat of all but one tree. Naming each animal as presented by God. Called forth to walk with Him in the cool of the evening. Important to God, you think? Significant? Treasured? Or as in Psalm 23, sitting down at a table prepared for man by the Lord in the presence of enemies? Head anointed with oil? Cup running over? To dwell in God’s house forever?

This is to be acknowledged, important, treasured. This is to be free of the all too common fear that we and our lives are meaningless, that we are but cattle in a herd, a nameless cipher among a crowd of equally insignificant parts.

Could it be that the third requirement of true “Happiness”… of “Wholeness”… is to be utterly significant and treasured?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

As I pondered these potential “Answers”, and began to focus on the “Question”, I realized that this is a bigger answer than I can even define. This seems to hold true on every scale, in every application. Countries, races, kingdoms, empires go to war over a lack in one or another of these. Wars and genocides happen when a people gathers strength in order to meet what they consider a “need”, or a “threat”, or the hunger for “prestige”. States go to civil war for what seem to be the same reasons. Families feud, political parties wrangle, and individuals fight, maneuver, argue over these same perceived places of emptiness.

What to do? How do we promote joy, happiness, peace… “Wholeness” and Love?

Each of us have our own piece of Kingdom, our own relationships, our own sphere of influence. Whether this is community, home, workplace, church, or even one relationship at a time…

We know we are to “Love”, but that often breaks down at the “How do we do that?”

What if we try these three…

That every encounter be nurturing, meeting what need stands before us in the moment? Often the need is just some time and attention. Perhaps it is a meal, or a cool drink of water, or a gentle touch, or hug. (Obvious professional cautions apply, depending on the nature of the relationship.) Sometimes, the need is just silent presence.

That every encounter be safe, free of fear? Not just fear of physical harm or danger, but fear of being made to feel bad. Fear of being judged. Fear of being shamed or made to feel small or wrong. What if in each moment, someone felt their burdens lightened in your presence, rather than made heavier?

That every encounter be important and significant? That in the moments of interaction, the other person, group, party, were treasured as relationship to you? As if they were treasured by God Almighty? What if no one were an “interruption” or an “annoyance” or a “burden”, but rather they were a blessing to you as you are meant to be to them?

What’s the question, then?

What if the question is, “How has God always intended us to relate to one another?” What does it take to live a blessed joyful life? The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything…

And, how do we bring this about in our homes, our days, and our churches?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

3 x S = 42?

Maybe so. I just ponder these things now and again…

Grace to you, Gentle Reader! Bless! — The Little Monk

What is Sin… Really?

accountability pageYou see this article on “Accountability”, and read this Inventory List for Conscience. It helps you know how and when you’ve “sinned” so you can get forgiveness for it. And your heart responds that there’s value to this, it isn’t “bad”… but somehow you feel it hasn’t quite hit the mark.

USCCB You do more research, you find a Catholic treatment for the Examination of Conscience, and you look it over. Again, not that it’s “bad”, but it just doesn’t seem to scratch the itch in your spirit as you ponder the questions of living in righteousness, versus committing sin. Somehow, virtue and sin don’t seem so cumbersome, so convoluted.

You decide to teach on this topic, and so you begin…

Sin… righteousness… love… peace… one day you are sitting and pondering, studying, working on a lesson or a sermon, and you find yourself grieving, praying, seeking how effectively to communicate something you see in your heart as so simple… You lean back, your brow furrows, your eyes close for a moment…

And suddenly, you no longer seem to be at your desk… You realize that God has heard your heart and your prayers, and He is going to teach you something, show you something, to help you understand and teach…

You find yourself standing out in a large empty space, dim but not utterly dark, neutral neither warm nor cold, with just a sense of vastness, not fearful or threatening. There in the distance you see light on the horizon and you choose to walk towards it. Startled with surprise, you find that each step moves you very far, as if your will moves you forward by thought, not physics.

As you approach closer to the light that a moment before was on the horizon, you realize that you are about to look upon the Father… God… the Almighty over All. Somehow, you know you are at the very Beginning, the Before the Beginning. This, is the Void, the Formless Void, and God (in whatever form and manner you perceive Him/Her) is smiling in welcome at your arrival. Amazingly, when He smiles, He smiles all over… His eyes, His hands, His heart… all welcomes you, and you stand just steps away from Him, unsure of whether to look up or down, to bow or to stand.

He takes your hand, raises your chin, smiles, and simply says, “Behold…”

He turns towards the Void around Him, extends His arms, and the radiance from His heart moves outwards reaching to touch all around Him. You realize, you are watching Creation. As you stand there, awestruck, you know that matter and energy have come into Being.

With another sweeping gesture, His arms raise again, and with a pulsing motion forms take shape all around you, near and far. You see planets, stars, sand, rocks, the forms of grass, trees, even animals. But all seems still.

“Now watch…” He says with a smile, as He turns to you, then back to His work.

You see a richer glow begin at His heart, as it flows upwards and outwards through His arms and fingers. You know, without knowing how you know, that He has just brought forth Life… and you see all these living things now begin to move.

Then, in a way you cannot describe, you see Him touching all of this… Everything… all at the same moment, and you realize that He is loving, He is feeding, He is upholding… All that is. All that He has created. That all of this is from Him, part of Him, has come from Him and is yet Him and His.

He turns to you again, and says… “Here is the best part…”

Again He faces His creation and the glow from His heart moves out through both His hands and His lips as He sings forth music unspeakable. Now there appear… “children”… is the word that goes through your mind. You hear Him sing, “My Children”. And you see that He is singing forth everyone, everywhere, everywhen. The beauty of it all leaves you breathless.

He turns to you again, reaches forth, and puts His hand on your chest.

You are filled with warmth, as a glow lights you up and flows outwards from your heart through every part of your being. You can feel and see that this warmth, this glow, are extending themselves from your heart outwards to your hands, and upwards to your tongue and lips.

You feel moved, without knowing why, and you embrace Him… God… the Father… the Lord of All. Fear doesn’t even enter your mind, though you’d never have imagined doing such a thing before. And He returns the embrace, kisses you on the top of the head, and you are filled with a fullness of love, safety, and nurturance such as you have never known before. You realize, for the first time all the way through you, that He is truly, utterly, and only Good… and you never need doubt, never need ever but to trust Him completely forevermore.

He directs your gaze to the world we know. And He bids you observe His children, their hearts, hands, and lips.

As you look at the world, you see people. Myriads of people… good, bad, young… old… confident, frightened, hurting, healing… You see all kinds of people, doing all the kinds of things people do.

You see some people with dim hearts, laying hands on other people who glow a bit, and where they touch their hands glow as the object of their touch grows dimmer. The heart of the takers has a reddish dim glow, while children start with brilliant white and gold.

Here and there you see clusters of brilliance, often among whom are hearts that reach out with pulsing connection with this heart of God alongside you. You see that God continues to touch, to nurture, to maintain all His children, all these people. But there are vast differences among individuals how they respond to His touch.

Some people welcome, embrace, and reach towards it. Others simply receive it without response or seeming to notice Him. While still others, those with the dimmest glow, seek to avoid His touch and His love and life (for you realize these all are one in Him).

But as you watch longer, you see that everyone, even the most golden or brilliant, have moments when their hearts flash red, and they touch others with a dimming effect. And much touching seems not to have impact. And some touching, brings light to others and eases their way.

“What am I seeing, Father? (or Lord?)” you ask.

“You are seeing the answer to your questions, My child. Righteousness, sin, virtue, love, life… all of it. It is as simple as ‘relationship’… with Me, with others, with yourself. I, and Only I, give life through love. That is all I do, always. And life only comes through love. But children of free will as you are, you may choose at any given moment to GIVE life through loving another and giving from Me through your heart, your hands, your words… to love another and so give them life. Or, you may choose to TAKE life from another, deprive, neglect, injure, or wound another… diminishing their life, feeding upon them, to love yourself.

“It is quite simple, but very difficult to put in words. Nothing living stands still. Life requires consumption. I Alone am the source of life. I alone can feed you with love, life, and being. When you feed from Me, (I once expressed this as ‘eat My body’), I can fill you utterly and beyond. Water that you never thirst again, bread that you never die. To let Me fill you, and then to pass along such love, such life, such abundance to those around you through your heart… this is love, this is righteousness, this is virtue.

“But to choose instead to feed on others, to love the self at the expense of others, is to deprive them of life. This is to consume others for the sake of the self. Whether materially, or emotionally… to feed the ego by belittling others and making them smaller, is no less a taking of their life as to wound them physically. This is predation. This is vampirism. This… is sin.

“Not only is it wrong, for it takes life from another. It is also ineffective. You cannot truly live on ‘second hand life’. Only I Alone can give full life through love. To steal the life of another will never fill or sustain a person. It can barely maintain them. Eventually, such predation leaves only the empty shell of a life.

“Sin leaves you empty and hungry, no matter how much you grasp or take. Like ’empty calories’, there is no real life to it. The hunger gnaws, and will continue to do so until real life, real love, real Light is found.

“So there you are, Blessed child. To give life to others through love of them and Me, is righteousness. To take life from others for love of yourself, without Me, is sin. Any questions?”

You shake your head, a bit bewildered. This really is quite simple. He hugs you again, kisses you atop the head, and your eyes open…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

You are again seated at your desk wondering how in the world you can ever find the words to explain this.

Then you remember, Jesus said,Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.” [Matthew 15:17-20]

And you get it… everything is sacred. It is ALL held together in His hands, His heart, His love. To treat anything, especially ANYONE… as less than sacred… to fail to love anything or anyone that He died to redeem in the greatness of His love… Yeah, that’s just not OK. You get it now. Righteousness is treating sacred things that He loves as precious. Not to do so… well, yeah, that’s sin. And we do it, because sometimes we choose to… but still He breathes us, He touches us, He loves us… and thus, He lives us.

“Ain’t that somethin’?”  you ponder, silently…

Soup Kitchen Ministry

SoupKitchen If I were a betting monk, I’d bet you think you know what kind of ministry we’re about to discuss. Well, you may be surprised.

Consistent with my own upbringing and training, I don’t administer from the viewpoint that “God ordains/raises/calls forth minist-RIES”, but that He calls minist-ERS with a peculiar burden and calling to meet particular needs of people.

Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He *said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” [Matthew 9:35-38]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Consider:

An ordained minister who joins the Marine Corps, serves for five years with distinction, does two tours of deployment in the Middle East, and returns safely to demobilize. Upon returning home, rejoining family, and attending his old home church, he finds he can no longer connect. In fact, he comes to the conclusion that he has utterly lost his faith, no longer even certain that God exists.

Or

A dedicated Christian who has served as youth minister and now is early in career as an EMT providing ambulance service with a fire department. Seeks supportive prayer after completing a call to a child injured by abuse who suffered for hours, and may not survive her hospital stay.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

EMT’s, Firefighters, Police, Medical Personnel, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Veterans… all are people who are (or who may be) exposed at any time to sights, sounds, smells, and situations that none of us need or want to see. When we, as human beings, spend considerable time in horrific situations, we make adjustments… mental, emotional, even spiritual adjustments to maintain our balance and sense of self control. The fancy word for this is often “dissociate”. We “distance ourselves” from empathy, sympathy, and the personal experience of suffering, pain, or trauma.

Such traumatic environments are sometimes called “soup”… and the sojourner new to such traumatic environments will be told, “You’re in the ‘Soup’ now, bud.” (Of course, if not in mixed or polite company, the word “soup” may be replaced with another, more descriptive, term.) Such sojourners may find the raw reality with which they’ve dealt, difficult to reconcile with the “Gentle Jesus Meek and Mild”, or the community church’s domesticated God. They often find it equally difficult to relate to the general community of relationships, or even their own families or spouse.

There is “texture” to a “community”. A shared background of outlook and experiences. When individuals enter into an “alien” or “unpredictable” community they adjust, sometimes creating permanent change. Many of our neighbors, even (probably) a fair number of our congregants or their family members, may have made such adjustments and changes. Perhaps they have “fallen away” from church attendance.

This isn’t a post about “getting more people into the church pews”. Heaven forbid!

This is a post about making Christ, His living Presence accessible to those who may feel disconnected or numb in their spiritual senses. This isn’t a “How To DIY” program outline. I cannot tell you how to engage those who have “lost their first love” relationship with Jesus, and nurture its transformation into a broader, deeper, richer, more mature relationship. But I CAN share a few ideas, principles, seeds… that you and your brethren may care to consider.

(1) Healing comes through trusting relationship, and those relationships are most easily formed with another, or others, who have been there themselves. If you are a veteran, an emergency services worker, or have been a chaplain, then you may be well suited to this personal ministry. If not, do you have one in your congregation? Or do you know one?

(2) Healing comes through grace touching heart to heart, not professional intervention. There is a right place and time for professional services. When everyday living or commonplace relationships are challenged by emotional dysfunction, expert systems are appropriate. But a supportive, encouraging, accepting environment that welcomes people at large, and peers who’ve “been there, done that” in tough situations, is a terrific medium for nurturing healthy relationships.

(3) Healing comes through context more than content. I’m not proposing an “agenda”, a “program”, or a “treatment protocol” by any means. I pose the possibility that making some form of informal fellowship available for interaction among “Been-There-Done-That” folks. Bowling? Cards? Disaster Relief? BBQ Competition Team? Chili Cook-Off Team? Fishing Group? Who knows? Possibilities limited only by imagination.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So, am I saying “you need” (or “your church needs”) “to go pursue this ministry”? No, no I’m not.

I am asking if this is a need where you are. If it is, I suggest you and others pray and discuss the possibilities, and let the Lord lead and do, as He ever leads and does. You may want to create this unique form of “Soup Kitchen Ministry”, not to provide soup for those who hunger, but to help wash the feet of those who have been mired “in the soup” itself.

Please share any ideas or comments you may have. Particularly if this is something you’ve taken part in addressing, have any suggestions, and are willing to share.

Grace to you, Gentle Reader!