There is, in a sense, only one thing that matters as we stand at beginning of Holy Week: it is a question of invitation. Think of it first, perhaps, as an invitation to a drama. Shall I this year attend this drama of love and betrayal? Shall I bring to it all the anguish and ecstasy of my own loves and betrayals, or shall I stand at a distance, protecting myself awhile? Perhaps I can just be part of the chorus and do some suitable garment-rending for the purposes of a nice bit of “purgation of pity and fear”? Or is it that something deeper is required, something that costs not less than everything? I hover at the edge, uncertain at the alternatives set before me.
Let us admit that for some of us, in some years, this invitation actually offers no choice: we are already at a place of pain, grief or loss such as to make talk of an “invitation” to Passion fatuous: we are already in the vineyard of love and violence, the garden of betrayal and testing, where life and death contend, and meaning itself seems threatened with obliteration. We don’t need to be invited, because this is a place to which we have already been consigned. The problem is that we would much rather get out of it. The apparent contradiction of divine love and divine judgement has become unbearable to us. There is seemingly no escape from the stuckness of despair that we already know too well. We are deep in the agony of the Passion, whether we like it or not.
In other years, and for others among us, the vineyard, the garden, has been contaminated in contrast by a sort of banality, a loss of meaning in a different sense. The story has become too familiar, the sight of tortured dead bodies a pornographic regularity of the evening news which does not even put us off our TV dinner. Our Christian meaning system has lost both its power and its glory: we subscribe to it with our lips, but when asked to go up again to Jerusalem we find ourselves too tired, too busy and – underlyingly – too fearful to face it. There is indeed an escape by means of aversion – and we can choose to take it.
But then, finally, there are the years – perhaps it is this year? – when we sense that we stand at the edge of some new discovery, either because Jesus beckons us for the first time into the deeper, mystical meaning of his death, or because our narrative and liturgical repetitions have, over time, broken down even our most resistant inertia: we step in, this time (“well in” as Lewis Carroll once put it as a joke, but with profundity); and now the waters close over our heads and we stand with and in the narrative of the mystery of redemption over these days in all the darkness and hopelessness of those first disciples who loved Jesus just as much as they also betrayed him.
In this third way, the pulsing chronology of despair and new hope are vitally related because they press us inexorably forward: the unbearable contradiction of divine judgement and divine love is to be resolved, not by clever argument, not by falsely-anticipated theological resolution, but by entering, waiting, enduring, undergoing, these days of passion and salvation.
To all these conditions – and all these are our conditions, the conditions of the human race in the face of death, and of life – the invitation to re-enter the vineyard of love comes again this year. Shall we find a way back in?
“Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard.” So Isaiah describes the primal erotic intensity of the drama of God’s love for his people, Israel. Here is a God who creates all the lush conditions of fulfilment that one might ever desire, and even sets up a tower of defence in the vineyard against the intruding enemy. But the people repeatedly rebel in a terrible amnesia about this primary truth of love: the divine love-song falls on deaf ears, and the prophets such as Isaiah recall and excoriate the people in vain.
Then Jesus of Nazareth, approaching his own passion, explicitly recalls these lessons of Isaiah, but with a new twist: it is not only the prophets who have been ignored in the primal vineyard, he tells the crowds and the Pharisees, but the very son of the vineyard-owner who has been beaten and killed by its own tenants. Here is the final betrayal; and God has seemingly run out of options. Or has He?
Only in Matthew’s account of the parable (Matthew 21:33-46) does Jesus turn to the crowds themselves and ask them what should be done to resolve this new vineyard crisis of the cruel murder of the Son. It drives home to us, in Matthew – the most consciously Jewish of the gospel writers – that the dilemma, the opening of our Passion drama, is every bit an intra-Jewish one as it is an intra-Christian one, and a perennial one too – no mere matter of a flip supersessionism of Christianity over Judaism, as we might be tempted to read Matthew’s text.
Indeed, the key question of the drama, about love and punishment, love and justice, brings Jews and Christians painfully together, and not apart, for we remain joined at the hip, and it is the same issues with which we all perennially struggle as duteous religious people: what is the relationship of love and justice? The answer from the crowd to Jesus’s question in Matthew is unambiguous, and what we might well expect: “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and let out the vineyard to other tenants …” Judgement must follow from disobedience to love’s commands; the books must be kept, the economy of order and calculation respected. Love and justice must be seen to be in alliance. The vineyard of love can surely only belong to the righteous.
How significant it is, then, that Jesus – in Matthew’s account, of all people’s – does nothing to endorse this response from the crowd. For this is but the start of the unravelling of the Passion, in which, as Jesus himself says, quoting the Psalms, everything is going to be turned upside down, including everything we think we know about love and justice: the very stone which the builders rejected, is to become the chief cornerstone.
Think of this entry into Holy Week, then, as an invitation: perhaps not to a mere drama after all, but to a Passion to end all dramas; not to a story of justice and deserts, but to a story of divine love so exquisite as to exceed and upturn all justice as we know it; not to a theological conundrum to be solved, but to a dangerous and life-threatening journey: a journey of pain, death, discovery and new Life. This is a journey that can only be undergone, and our undergoing it can only start with a profound lament for our ongoing resistance and aversion to its strange meaning.
“Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard.” The invitation lies before us: come, this year, into the vineyard of love and betrayal and discover afresh over these sacred days the meaning of divine love in Jesus’s Passion. Amen.
“Now is the Acceptable Time”—Lent as “Beginning” by Fr. Stephen Kostoff
Actually, these passions begin as “thoughts” [in Greek, logismos/oi] that assail the mind. (Hence, the aforementioned list of sins may at times be called the “eight thoughts”). When entertained and acted upon, the thought enters and lodges itself in the heart, and once rooted there it is a difficult process to uproot that particular passion. What may begin as a temptation from the evil one will eventually become an ingrained action or attitude that has gained control over us. We are then basically “programmed” to return to that thought or action as our will to resist has become thoroughly weakened. Thus, what is an “unnatural”—because it is sinful—passion seems to be quite “natural” to us after endless repetition! In our contemporary vocabulary, these very passions are called addictions, though the term addiction is usually used for more concrete vices such as alcohol or drug abuse. Yet, according to our spiritual tradition, we can become as “addicted” to gluttony, avarice or pride as others may be to alcohol or drugs! The ultimate goal is not elimination of the passions, but their replacement with the virtues. Can gluttony and lust be replaced by self-control? Avarice by generosity? Anger by patience or even meekness? Vanity and pride by humility? Warfare against the passions—the negative way of describing this struggle— is simultaneously an effort to acquire the virtues, a more positive way of describing the same struggle.
Is there anything in that list that we need to work on overcoming? The very universality of the list makes that a real possibility! Is anyone just sick and tired of doing the same thing over and over again, even when we acknowledge that it is either sinful or detrimental to our own lives or relationships—beginning, again, with God and neighbor? Only then, however, will we seriously enter into the battle against a certain passion.
Of course, if that all sounds a bit “heavy,” or as something that will have to be approached professionally or therapeutically, there may be many simple but very human and positive actions and attitudes that we may desire to embrace beginning with Great Lent and continuing with beyond the forty days and Pascha. Acts of kindness, concern and compassion, perhaps. Do we need to visit a sick friend or call a housebound aunt on the phone more often than we are now doing? Do we need to work at becoming a more positive presence in our work environment? Can we work at becoming more considerate toward others? Are we as charitable or willing to share our resources with others as we can be—especially with the poor and dispossessed? Do we need to change our attitude toward people we disagree with ideologically or politically? Do we still retain vestiges of racial, social or ethnic prejudices that are based on nothing but worn-out stereotypes? With a certain focus on our “Church lives,” can we begin to read the Scriptures with greater regularity? Or practice charity, prayer and fasting with greater care? Finally, are we interested in becoming a decent human being that just may enrich the lives of others around us?!
As the Apostle Paul wrote, “Now is the acceptable time.” Great Lent can become the “beginning of the end” of a way of life we need to abandon, and the “beginning of the beginning” of the acquisition of the virtues we desire to embrace and practice. All this may be realized “through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.” I therefore believe that there is indeed abundant “life after Lent!”
Taken from Orthodox Church in America, found here.
On the Feast of the Transfiguration: A Meditation on Seeing
The Feast of the Transfiguration is ultimately about vision. The Lord brought Peter, James and John up a high mountain in order that they might come to see. Even the word that describes this day bespeaks vision. It is from the Latin Transfiguratione. Trans means “across” and by extension “change” and figura, means “shape” or “form.” The suffix “ation” takes a verbal action and makes it a noun. Putting it all together transfiguration means a process by which Christ changed form or appearance. Christ gave them a glimpse of his true glory, he allowed them to see across (trans) to the other shore, to the true glory of Christ.
So the Feast of the Transfiguration is about vision. Have you seen the glory of Christ? Have you glimpsed God’s glory? Have you looked across to the other shore? It is so essential for us to have this experience! Otherwise the discouragements and disappointments of life can easily overwhelm us. Only when we glimpse the glory and experience the joy of God can we truly say, by experience that our sufferings are more than worth it; That the sufferings of this world cannot even been compared to the glory that waits (Rom 8:18); that our momentary afflictions are producing for us a weight of eternal glory beyond compare (2 Cor 4:17). Have you glimpsed the glory of God and Is this something you even expect to experience in your life? We ought to asked for this wondrous gift for it is essential for us.
Now of course, heavenly visions are not something we order like pizza. We can and must ask God for this vision but we must also understand that there are things God does to give us this vision, to make this vision grow and sharpen. Notice in the Gospel for today’s Mass four basic ways in which God ushers in this vision, clarifies it, grants it and helps it grow:
Do you want to see? Then be willing to make the climb with Jesus. He gives vision if we climb. He gives vision if we are immersed in his Word, which is Scripture and Church Teaching. But his greatest vision lies ahead if we but take up our cross and follow him through his passion death and resurrection. Happy feast of the Transfiguration. May God grant us vision.
Taken from Community in Mission, found here.
A Meditation for Christmas
One of my favorite authors, F.W. Boreham, tells a fascinating story, told to him by his mother while they sat around the fireplace one evening. As a young woman of seventeen, she had set up an appointment to meet her cousin in Canterbury, near the Cathedral. She went as planned but her cousin was not there. Somewhat “dejected and disgusted” about this broken appointment, she was not in the happiest disposition. A man with a very intellectual countenance but a gentle presence who had seen her walk up and down offered to show her around while she waited and explain some of the Cathedral’s features and its history. He had a wealth of information with incredible insights. As they parted, he gave her his card and without looking at it, she slipped it into her purse. In the end, it turned out that her cousin had become ill and hence, never showed.
On her way home in the train, she finally took out the card. It simply said, “Charles Dickens.” She gasped at the thought that she had been face to face with one of the greatest story tellers of all time and regretted her lost opportunity of knowing through whose eyes she was seeing the great Cathedral…one who was so in tune with the stones and personages that intersected where they had met. But preoccupation had preempted that inspiration.
Seeing through the eyes of one who knows the stories behind an edifice is a privileged glimpse for anyone. Imagine how it must have felt to the disciples on the Emmaus Road when they realized who it was that had just explained to them not a building or a song, but all of history as it pointed to the Messiah. When they met him, He asked why they were so despondent and not knowing who He was, they answered, “Are you the only one in Israel who doesn’t know what has happened in the last few days?” He must have smiled on the inside because the irony was that He was the only one in Israel who actually did know what had happened. Even as they listened to Him open history before them they had no idea who it was that was doing the explaining, except that their hearts burned within them as they saw a panorama of redemption. When it dawned on them that He was the risen Christ, they must have dug deep inside to wonder how they had missed it.
But at least they listened. Poor Pontius Pilate asked the greatest question he could have asked—“What is truth?”—of the only one who perfectly embodied it, but he did not even have the presence of mind to wait for the answer. He also missed the moment. History repeats itself and regrets of that nature have a long reach.
On that quiet night so long ago, lying in the manger was the answer to all of life’s successes, struggles, disappointments, and regrets. The hopes and fears of all the years had met in Him that night in a makeshift crib in the little town of Bethlehem. A carpenter, a humble maid, a band of shepherds, and ordinary folks responded in awe at the blessing of his arrival. As always, there were those who were busy about their business and had no time to pause and ask, “Who is He in yonder stall?” What a loss! They missed a divine appointment with mankind.
Then there were those in power that felt threatened by Him and wished to silence Him permanently. Malcolm Muggeridge said it well: All new news is old news happening to new people. Just as the Garden of Eden is lived out every day in somebody’s life, the Christmas message is lived out every day in all of our lives. Today in our schools and even businesses and government in America the message of Jesus is shamelessly silenced or mocked, and should anyone speak up, some “figures in robes” somewhere with the power of Caesar will wreak havoc in their lives. This is not new. There are still Caesars who think they are gods. There are still those who elevate the mundane to the exalted and miss the marvel of the ultimate. This has ever been so, as truth and grace are traded away for the artificial and the momentary. Intellectual hubris silences the bells of heaven and they cannot hear for whom the bell now tolls as a nation self-destructs. How self-indicting it is, that we can be so close and yet so distant from having our eyes opened.
But there was another one that first Christmas, the one who was the closest of all to the story but didn’t quite know what the journey was all about for a completely different reason. When she was told that a sword would pierce through her heart Mary must have shuddered under the weight of the unknown. She had no idea of the horror she would one day experience, seeing her son go to the cross. What a horrific pronouncement! Yet, the prophecy brought enough of a jolt to one day bring those words to mind, though she could not anticipate the specifics. Uncertainty once again, with hope but fear. It is understandable.
We have the unique privilege of being able to look back and read the whole story. There was a Cross that loomed in a fearful symmetry with the manger. Emmanuel, God was with us. Born to be lifted up, “to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.” Bethlehem portended the magnitude of the need and the supremacy of God’s answer.
Our world is broken. Many a family will have a vacant chair this Christmas because a life has been snatched from their circle. Humankind is wounded and hollow speeches bereft of wisdom are the landmarks along the way. We look into the future a little bit like Mary, knowing we have the Savior but not knowing what swords will pierce through our hearts. Hopes and fears intersect as we journey.
But let us draw strength this Christmas. Prophecy is unfolding before our eyes in giant strides, just as He said it would. The scriptures are full of it. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
I have a friend who lives in Norwalk, Ohio, a doctor. He told me some years ago that as a very young teen, his daughter had gone to the Caribbean on a youth mission trip. She returned with her group to Miami to make her way back home. Her parents were concerned about this last leg of the journey by herself; she would be separate from the group, traveling alone for the first time. As she was looking for her flight information on the marquee at the airport, an older man also viewing the list of flights asked if he could help her. Uncomfortable, but not wanting to reveal her unease, she let him know she was checking for her flight information to Detroit. He said, “Oh, I’m going to Detroit, too!” That sent tremors into this young girl’s heart. Again, she tried to mask it. “Is that your destination,” he asked? “No, actually I’m heading to Norwalk, Ohio, and my dad is picking me up in Detroit.” To her utter surprise, he said, “You know what? I’m going to Norwalk too and I’ll be happy to take you there and save your dad the drive.” Now fear really began to grip her. Then there was a pause. The gentleman detected the hint of fear. “Are you Stacey,” he asked, giving her full name? Stunned, she answered that she was. He smiled. “I’m the doctor who delivered you when you were born, Stacey. I know your folks very well.” An irrepressible smile lit her face now and she felt a huge sigh of relief. She knew that her parents knew the doctor very well. The phone connection was made and the journey home was both providential and safe.
I ask you, what more poetic a story than to be worried about your daughter only to learn that the first one to have ever held her in his arms was the same one who would guide her home on her first journey alone from a distant city!
We are pilgrims, journeying through life. The story of Bethlehem is the most beautiful and the greatest story ever told, the story of God’s visitation. Imagine the shepherds who tried to raise perfect lambs looking at the Lamb of God. Imagine the kings who studied the stars coming to the One who made them and was the King of kings. Imagine Simeon, who had waited all his life for the Messiah, holding in his arms He who would soon be carrying Simeon in His own. Imagine Mary, fearing the sword that would pierce through her heart, finding out that the child in her arms was the redeemer of every heart that came to Him, the great I AM. Imagine Joseph the carpenter, who “saved” him from Herod’s slaughter, finding the very designer of the universe saving him from his sin.
Missing Dickens and being fearful of who is offering you a ride back home are legitimate regrets or fears in a world of unknowns. But finding the Savior and having Him explain all and take you to your destination is what Christmas is all about: hope within and hope for the future. He is the One and only Prince of Peace.
As the world debates who should be armed to wage war and who shouldn’t be, the message of Christmas is that God Incarnate came to this same world as a babe to ultimately carry us in His everlasting arms. This world would be a different place if we understood what that meant. Thank you for helping us carry His message for another year.
A Blessed Christmas and a joyous New Year to you.
Meditation taken from Ravi Zacharaias International Ministries page rzim.com
A Meditation for Advent
Psalm 25: 3-4
Today’s passage from the 25th Psalm is all about trust – trusting in God to show us the way to salvation. Aren’t we already doing that? “Show me your ways! Teach me your paths!” No matter how much we say we’re ready, how many times we ask for wisdom, somehow we still don’t have a firm grasp on God’s ways; every time we think we’ve found the path, we’re suddenly off in the thorns and the brush again.
The problem isn’t that we’re not asking hard enough, it’s that we think trust is only a matter of asking. We’re so busy demanding solutions from the Lord that we never take time to listen for the answer.
Advent can be that time. A time when we learn to trust God by listening. By waiting.
So often, when we are given the opportunity to “wait,” we look at it as a waste of our time. We try to fill the waiting with other things. When we are on hold, we put our phone on speaker so that we can do something else while we wait for the person on the other end. When a friend needs a moment to prepare to speak, we start planning something unrelated in our heads. Or, maybe, we’re just distracting ourselves with something pointless on our phones.
Maybe we’re even waiting for a difficult situation to be resolved – an argument with a loved one or an illness or simply some grief or despair that we can’t seem to shake. Don’t we all rack our brains to try to think of some way to fix the situation, to try to think of something we can do rather than simply wait for healing?
This is the waiting we’re used to. It’s a time of desperate distraction.
So, what is Advent then? Is it a time to get ready for Christmas? Yes, of course. But how do we get ready? How do we spend our time of waiting for the birth of our savior? Maybe it’s getting food for a holiday dinner or party. Maybe it’s getting presents ready for loved ones. Maybe it’s trying to finish up work before the end of the year.
It’s helpful to remember it is not we who will prepare ourselves and our families and our church for Christmas. The Lord will prepare the way for his Son.
But what is our role then? Perhaps it’s as simple as carrying around a question or two with you: “Am I preparing for the coming of Christ in the world? Am I conscious of my yearning for Jesus, or will his coming take me by surprise?”
Waiting is frightening in our culture. We are frightened because when we are waiting, we are not in control. I have never needed to trust in the Lord more than when I am forced to be still, when I can do nothing but wait. I believe that God leads me into these moments so that I can truly learn His ways, so that I may study the design of His path. My goal is to be present in these moments of uncertainty and helplessness – to know fully that nothing I can do will bring about salvation. That is how I make room for the coming of Christ.
I often like to reflect on Psalm 146 during Advent, because it’s a helpful reminder of just who is doing the saving:
The LORD sets the prisoners free;
The LORD loves the righteous;
It is not we who will prepare ourselves and our families and our church for Christmas. Trust that the Lord will prepare the way for his Son.
Collect for the First Sunday in Advent
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your 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 living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal;through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
This meditation attributed to Rick Richards and is found along with others at www.episcopalchurch.org.
A Meditation for All Saints
We give you thanks, O God, for all the saints who ever worshiped you
We give you thanks, O God, for hands lifted in praise:
We thank you, God, for hardworking saints;
Thank you, God, for the tremendous sacrifices made by those who have gone before us.
Taken from UMC Discipleship Ministries at www.umcdiscipleship.org
Question of the day:
You’ve got to comprehend any Great Mystery in one focused moment. Great Truth must be put on small stages to be able to process and grasp its momentous significance. This is the sacramental principle. Believe it, struggle with it, comprehend it here, and then move beyond it and recognize what’s true here is true everywhere! The concrete is the doorway to the universal. That is probably why Catholics made a great deal of the Eucharistic presence of Jesus in the bread and wine. It was the distilled and focused truth that was to teach us how to see Christ in everything. The pathway to the universal mysteries is almost always through the concrete and specific moment. Poets tend to understand this very well.
The momentous doctrine of the Body of Christ was taught in two different ways by St. Paul. He used it both for the community itself (building on Jesus who said “wherever two or three gather, I am there”) and also for the bread and wine of the Eucharist. In the first thousand years, the community was called the Corpus Verum—the True Body of Christ—and the Eucharist was called the Mystical Body of Christ (Corpus Mysticum), but no one doubted they were both the Presence! In the second thousand years the usage was almost entirely reversed, and we called the people the “mystical body of Christ” and the bread and wine the “real presence” or “Corpus Verum.” I wonder what that reversal of mentality reveals about our understanding of the Gospel?
Written by Fr. Richard Rohr on www.brianmclaren.net
A Meditation for Ascension
Hymns from the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord offer us a banquet table laden with Christian theology – opportunity to understand both our Creator God and what God offers to humanity. Consider for example the Kontakion hymn of the Feast:
There is of course what I often consider the Byzantine playfulness of the hymn: Christ unites earth and heaven by leaving the earth and yet in his departure he is not separated from us but remains with us! Leaving and staying, parting and uniting all at the same time.
But within the is poetic language there is the theology of the Incarnation of God the Word. Our theology adamantly maintains that though Jesus Christ is fully human, He is also fully God. Though He resided on earth, He was never separated from heaven or from divinity. This is the mystery of the incarnation. But the incarnation is not just some divinely magical mystery. It is our salvation – it serves a purpose. It is the very reason why Christ, the Son of God, came to earth. As St. Athanasius and many others affirmed in one form or another: God became human so that humans might become divine.
God became human (John 1:14) – that is the incarnation, but the purpose of this is the salvation of humanity; namely restoring the union between God and humans. God became incarnate so that we humans could participate in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). The Ascension of Christ, the human risen from the dead, is the fulfillment of the second half of St. Athanasius’ statement for now in Christ humanity has been raised to the level of divinity. When materialistically minded people ask, “How is this possible, is Jesus floating around in outer space somewhere?”, we can only respond by helping people think outside of that limited, materialistic box. There is a divine mystery here, and we have to stop thinking so literally and materialistically to understand it. We are entering into the mystery of God’s own relationship to His creation. And, in the same way we cannot account for how it is possible for God to become human (to become incarnate, for God to become that which by nature is “not God”), we cannot fully comprehend how humanity can partake of the divine nature. Yet, we claim this is what God intended for humanity all along. At the Ascension we are encountering the other half of the truth of the incarnation; humanity now shares in divinity.
And since our humanity is now united with God in the incarnation, even if Christ is not physically present on earth, He remains united to our human nature. Salvation is that in Christ, we humans are united to Christ who shares our human nature. When we are baptized into Christ, or when we receive Christ in the Eucharist we are united to Christ in heaven while simultaneously still being on earth.
Another hymn from the feast directs our attention to what we also suffer at the ascension of Christ:
The ascension of Christ, His departure from earth and return to heaven, does leave us feeling abandoned. The hymns are bluntly honest about what the Ascension feels like. “Wait, we don’t want you to leave! Stay with us instead of leaving us!” But the hymns also remind us that Christ in heaven is still fully human and never separated from our human nature. Additionally, we also receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and at our Chrismation. We are not abandoned by God but remain united to divinity.
And another hymn:
We mortals, humans who do die, are called at the Ascension of Christ to contemplate our humanity being permanently united to divinity for all eternity. We are united to Christ and He to us in such a way that we can never be separated from Him as long as we are human.
The Ascension reveals our salvation: God became human so that humans can partake of divinity. This is Christian theology. It reveals a great mystery about the Holy Trinity, the God who is Love.
As one of the Persons of the Trinity, Christ the Word of God, shared in the divine glory. God’s glory was Christ’s glory. Christ gave up that glory to become human (Philippians 2:4-9). Christ did not enter into the world in glory. He came into the world humbly, born in poverty in an animal’s cave and placed in a feeding trough. This is part of the mystery of God who by nature is humble and love. God’s glory does not prevent God from becoming human. Humanity is capable of bearing divinity. It was unexpected that God should come into the world, not in all His glory. But then, after being crucified on a cross – humbling himself to death on the cross – Christ the incarnated God ascends in glory. Christ reveals what human nature is capable of and what humans were intended for: complete union with God, partaking of the divine nature, and living in heaven. So we are not abandoned by Christ, nor are we separated from His glory, but we await fully participating in His glory. Taken from The Incarnation and the Ascension, Fr. Ted’s Blog: Meditations of an Orthodox Priest.
A Meditation for Easter
in the history of the world. And it does not belong only to Christians; it is for everyone.
Easter celebrates Jesus’ resurrection from the dead three days after he was executed. What was his crime? He healed the sick, raised the dead, and preached the coming of God’s kingdom of justice, peace, and forgiveness.
After Jesus was crucified his body was taken down from the cross and buried in a tomb, which was then sealed with a huge stone so that no one could steal the body. But on Easter morning an angel came and rolled the stone away. Jesus rose from the dead and appeared first to Mary Magdalene and then to his disciples.
Like the disciples, many people today are afraid. Like the disciples, we also long for peace without knowing where to find it.
They did not want to be associated with Jesus, because he had just been condemned and executed. They had experienced this personally, and were terrified. So even though they knew that Jesus had risen, they met secretly behind locked doors. But Jesus suddenly appeared among them, saying, “Peace be with you.”
Like the disciples, many people today are afraid. Even though, in most countries, we now have the freedom to believe in Jesus, we hide our faith behind closed doors. Like the disciples, we also long for peace without knowing where to find it. Jesus offers this peace to us, a peace that will take away all our burdens and sins.
May this peace excite us and fill us with hope and love. This peace is the answer to all our political and social problems. We live in a fractured society, where everybody is divided from everybody else, and simple joy in life is often squeezed out of us. This particularly affects children. When we take God away from them, and don’t let them come to Jesus, they are afraid.
The battle between good and evil has been raging since the beginning of time, but today it is impossible to ignore. Warfare is everywhere. In the impoverished nations of Africa there is war over water and other resources. Millions of people are dying because they do not have access to the basic necessities of life. Every day we hear of more atrocities occurring all over the world, such as of the killing of four nuns in Yemen as they were caring for the elderly.
and human need. He loved us so much that he was willing to die for us. As the apostle John writes, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.” This is the gift that Jesus offers us. When we celebrate Easter this year, let’s remember that Jesus was victorious over death and over fear. We can claim this same victory and receive his gift of life and peace.
Shortly before Easter last year, my daughter Margrit died of cancer. Many times during her last days and hours my wife and I, together with her own family, gathered around her bed and thought of the Easter story. The following words of scripture, which my son Heinrich later put to music, became a trumpet call of victory for us:
Now we see through a glass dimly, but then face to face, now I know in part, just as I am also known, but then I shall be known, as I am known. Blessed be the God, father of our Jesus Christ who comforts us in trials. He will still deliver us!
For I know that my Redeemer lives, And he shall stand at the end upon the earth. And though the worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God!
Martha called Jesus to Lazarus, but yet did he die; when she heard he came, then she said unto her Lord, “If thou had’st been here my brother had not died.” Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die!”
Behold, I tell to you a mystery: We shall all be changed. At the last trumpet the dead shall all be raised, and we shall be changed, shall all be changed. Thanks be to God, death has been swallowed up, he gives the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!
Yes, Jesus lives, and we can all live with him.
Taken from ‘Why Easter Matters’ by Johann Christoph Arnold at www.plough.com
A Meditation for Palm Sunday
Holy Week begins and ends with demonstrations from the people and highlights the fickleness of the people in contrast to the constancy of our Lord. On Palm Sunday our Lord resolves to ride into Jerusalem and expose Himself publicly, even though He realized the dangers as the religious leaders have been clamouring for His arrest, especially after the raising of Lazarus from the dead. From the Roman Governor’s view, this was a dangerous time to keep peace and order with the impending Jewish Passover festival and the last thing the Roman authorities wanted was a riot stirred up by religious fanaticism. So when Christ enters Jerusalem the atmosphere is tense.
As Our Lord set out from the Mount of Olives for the final descent into the holy city many people had gathered on roadside to welcome Him. Many of these had no doubt witnessed His healings, and listened to His preaching, but some perhaps were there to have a glimpse of this Christ Who had been causing a stir by His rather radical teaching. As crowds go this would not have much different from any other crowd then and ever since. The majority found themselves going along with the general consensus, which was to acknowledge joyfully Jesus as a king. Yet within five days the consensus changed. The religious leaders had no difficulty in relying on mob hysteria and fickleness. There was something better in the air for them on Good Friday or so they thought!
The central figure of Palm Sunday is our Blessed Lord despite the clamour from the crowd. His teaching on this day is simple for His followers, but difficult for the bystander: peace, illustrated by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, not a horse. The Prince of Peace proclaims that His kingdom is one of peace. There is no violence, no retaliation, no retribution in His kingdom. Two wrongs never make a right under any circumstance in His kingdom. Palm Sunday teaches us to absorb all the hurts, heartaches and the heaviness, otherwise peace will never reign in us or in the world. Peace comes from turning the other cheek, going the extra mile and giving and giving of self and time to others until we are drained just as our Lord was drained for us.
So Palm Sunday gives us the opportunity to examine our own faithfulness to Christ. On this wonderful day when we process and wave our palm branches and take our palm crosses home for yet another year, it is all so easy to be caught up with the excitement of it all and get carried along by the very moving Palm Sunday liturgy. The test comes the next day. Are we prepared to stay with Our Lord in Jerusalem as the atmosphere changes towards Him? Do we dare to stand by Him as He faces constant conflict with the religious leaders? Do we love Him enough to want to bathe His weary feet? Do we stay with Him in prayer in the Garden? Are our bodies and souls drained as He dies on the Cross? All these encounters should be included in our cry of “Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is He comes in the name of the Lord” to-day.
As well as Palm Sunday piercing our souls for faithfulness for the whole of this Holy week, it also should pierce our conscience in regards to our overall faithfulness. Again like Palm Sunday festivities, it is rather easy to strive towards holiness when everything seems to be going well but when the bolt out of the blue strikes, what then? When we have to suffer endlessly whether through physical or spiritual pain, especially if it is inflicted on us by others, what then? When God seems far removed from us and all is dark and despondent, what then? When life seems empty and aimless, what then? Has our faith rooted itself deeply enough to help us cope with these situations, so that they do not control us? Can we see such situations as growing times in holiness or better still more Christ-like? Or are we fickle? Use this week as a growing time in faithfulness to Christ.
As I welcome you this day with my palm branch and sing my “Hosannas”, may it be done with sincerity and in the knowledge that before I welcome you as the Risen Lord on Easter morn, my knees must watch and pray with Yours in Your agonized moments in Gethesamene, my feet must tread with Yours along the streets of Jerusalem, and my soul experience Your anguish and grief on the cross. Give me Your grace to follow my Lord to Calvary. Amen.
Taken from Mariannedorman.homestead.com
A Meditation for Lent
Beginning My Lenten Patterns “Insanity is defined as
This saying, commonly used in 12 Step programs, reveals a real wisdom. It can be a good beginning reflection as we examine the choices we will make in the days ahead. It is very simple. Our Lord is calling us to a “change of heart.” And, we know from experience, that nothing will change, unless we change our patterns. To expect different results is insanity.
So, what needs changing?
We start to come to know that by asking for help. “Lord, help me to know what needs changing.” It is often said, “Be careful about what you ask for.” This is one of those requests that God must surely want to answer.
Then, we have to listen. With a little bit of reflection, most of us will just begin to “name” things that make up our ordinary habits and ways of being who we are, that we aren’t very proud of. Things we do and things we never get around to doing. We can “feel” the call to change our attitudes, our self-absorbtion, or our way of interacting with others. Perhaps a spouse, a loved one, a friend, a family member, a co-worker has told me something about myself that gets in the way of communication, that makes relating to them difficult. Maybe I don’t take God very seriously. I go to Church on Sunday, and contribute my share, but I don’t really take time to deal with my relationship with God. Perhaps I’ve let my mind and fantasy get cluttered with escapist litter. I might begin to name a number of self-indulgent habits. I may realize I rarely, if ever, hear the cry of the poor, and can’t remember when I’ve answered that cry. It could be that dishonesty on all kinds of levels has become a way of life. One of the roadblocks in my relationship with God and others may be deep wounds or resentments from the past, things I continue to hold against others or myself.
You are always merciful! Please wipe away my sins.
Beginning New Patterns during Lent.
Something all of us can do is commit ourselves to being more reflective during Lent. It just means that I’m going to make a point of being more observant, more aware of what I’m experiencing – paying more attention to what is “automatic” behavior. And, I then start paying attention to my desires. We have all kinds of desires. During Lent, I can reflect upon the desires I currently have and which of them need to be purified, which may need to be abandoned, and which are wonderful desires that are there, but I haven’tacted upon them. Naming our deepest desires will guide the choices we make to establish new patterns for Lent.
Among Catholics, only Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are named as days of fast we all do together. (And that fast is simply to eat only one full meal in the day, with the other two meals combined, not equal to the one.) On the Wednesdays and Fridays of Lent, we may want to try to fast more intentionally. Of course, always conscious of our health and individual nutrition needs, we may want to try to eat very little, except some juices, or perhaps a small amount of beans and rice. We will experience how powerfully open andalert we feel and how much easier it is to pray and to name deeper desires. Not only will I feel less sluggish and tired, I will feel simply freer and more energized.
The other powerful advantage of fasting is that it can be a very simple gesture that places me in greater solidarity with the poor of the earth, who often have very little more than a little rice and beans each day. Powerful things happen in me, when I think about those people in the world who have so much less than I do. And, it’s a great cure for self-pity.
Penance is a remedy, a medicine, a spiritual therapy for the healing I desire. The Lord always forgives us. We are forgiven without condition. But complete healing takes time. With serious sin or with bad habits we’ve invested years in forming, we need to develop atherapeutic care plan to let the healing happen. To say “I’m sorry” or to simply make a “resolution” to change a long established pattern, will have the same bad result as wishing a sprained ankle would heal, while still walking on it.
Lent is a wonderful time to name what sinful, unhealthy, self-centered patterns need changing and to act against them by coming up with a strategy. For example, if the Lord is shining a light into the darkness of a bad pattern in my life, I can choose to “stop doing it.” But, I have to work on a “change of heart” and to look concretely at what circumstances, attitudes, and other behaviors contribute to the pattern. If I’m self-indulgent with food, sex, attention-seeking behaviors and don’t ask “what’s missing for me, that I need to fill it with this?” then simply choosing to stop the pattern won’t last long. Lasting healing needs the practice of penance.
Putting It All Together – Alone and With Others
O Lord, our Lord, you have created us for yourself
Lent is indeed how God draws us home, as individuals. But, it is also a very communal journey. We never journey alone, no matter how “lonely” we may feel. We are always journeying together. If we can experience our journey in communion with others, it makes it so much clearer that we are on a journey together. When I can share my experience with even one other close friend, or with my regular worshiping community, I can enjoy and share the support and environment that allows grace to flourish.
Let us pray for each other on this journey, especially those who need and desire a change of heart on this pilgrimage to Easter joy.
Online Ministries at Creighton University
A Meditation for Epiphany
This meditation focuses on light…….light has come, star has appeared, and God has revealed himself in Jesus…..let us contemplate the divine presence in light……
The Gospel according to Mathew (Mathew 2:1-12) describes the visit of the magi from the East, who traveled to Judah and to Bethlehem, in search of the newborn king of the Jews, whose star they had followed since it’s rising. With this coming of the magi from the east, who were gentile astrologers, the good news of salvation has been revealed to all nations, as prophesied by Isaiah (Isaiah 60:1-6). This is an affirmation and a revelation of God’s concern and love for people as cosmic and not limited to a few chosen people. The feast of Epiphany reminds us of the universality of redemption and salvation. Celebration of Epiphany challenges us to emulate that same universal spirit in all our dealings and relationships with one another.
The Israelites lived in spiritual, social and political darkness for a period of forty years in exile in Babylon. The period of exile was coming to a close and the darkness was going to be dispelled by the radiant light of God’s glory and forgiveness. So the prophet called his people, “Rise up……..your light has come” (Isaiah 60:1-6). Israel was going to return to their own home land……the light of God’s glory would shine……..the exiles would be forgiven, reconciled with God and restored to their own land. As they continue their journey home, they will become light to other nations.
The prophet envisioned residents of Midian, Ephah and Sheba walking by the light of God’s glory that was manifested in the people of God. Israel’s light would also illumine the way for the nations, allowing all the Gentiles to see and travel toward God. On their journey home, the exiles would indeed be traveling epiphanies, through whom others would learn of God’s goodness.
Just as the remnant Israel returning from exile became a “light”, an “epiphany” for other nations, the church must become a “light”, an “epiphany” and the church will never be unless each of us becomes signs of God’s goodness, life, light and love in the world.
Mathew tells us, “suddenly, the star they had seen rising went forward and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the star filled them with delight” (Mt. 2:9-10).
How awesome it is to stand outside and behold a star-studded night….they stir up a sense of mystery. Artists paint them, poets write and sing about them, the rest of us just wonder and are amazed!
A star marks our path with light and guides us to deeper insights. With deeper insights come new responsibilities and challenges. It is not always easy to follow the star. The star sometimes takes us to places where we would rather not go.
Three wise persons followed the star they saw rising. The star brought them to a baby in a manger in a small insignificant town of Bethlehem. It was the last place on earth one would expect to find the creator of the stars….yet that is where the star shined and we called it Epiphany!
Epiphany is a manifestation of the divine presence in the midst of daily life. We are called to follow the star even when the star seems beyond our reach.
Pope John Paul II saw a star that took him to a prison to forgive the man who did him violence…..it was the star of compassion and forgiveness and love and grace…..
Dorothy Day saw a star that took her to minister to the poor. Martin Luther King saw a star and he followed it to death. Oscar Romero saw a star that urged him speak out against injustice, he spoke and he died….the star still shies for us to see.
The star shines on you wherever you go….you only have to look and see and follow.
They are stars of hope; stars of compassion and mercy; stars of justice and peace; stars of tenderness and love; stars of …….. (You name it and follow it).
We are children of the light. We are friends of the day. Do not continue to sleep like those who have no vision. (I Thess. 5:5-6, paraphrased)
I have come into the world as its light. The light shines on in the darkness and the darkness has no power to overcome it. (John 1, paraphrased)
When Jesus was 40 days old, Mary and Joseph brought him to the temple in Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, according to their tradition, to fulfill what the law had prescribed (Luke 2:22-40). Anna and Simeon, two elderly people of great holiness, recognized Jesus. They were filled with joy. Simeon took Jesus in his arms and sang a beautiful prayer song.
Simeon called Jesus “a light to the nations”. We take time to contemplate Jesus, our light. And Jesus calls us to “be the light of the world”.
Reflect on this call…on the blessing and grace of being in the light of Jesus and on the responsibility that comes with being called to be light to the world.
The light shines on in darkness, a darkness that did not overcome it (John 1:5).
Just as Jesus was a light to other nations, the light that revealed justice and peace through Israel, today the world must experience justice and peace of God through us and our church and our church institutions……..
The Psalmist says “Your word, O Lord, is a lamp to my feet, a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105)…not a flood light that lights up the whole area…not a flash light that lights up what is ahead…but a LAMP TO MY FEET, every step of the way…
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Men do not light a lamp and the put it under a bushel basket. They set it on a stand where it gives light to all in the house. In the same way your light must shine before men so that they may see goodness in your acts and give praise to your heavenly Father (Mathew 5:14-16)
Light makes things visible……
Light gives us warmth……
Light is has the power to heal.……
Light brings us comfort……
Light makes us feel safe……
Reflect on what it means for you to be light for others…….
Each of us must become a witness to the mystery of God’s presence in the world: God’s Light, Justice, Truth, Life, Love…..
Lord, You are the light in which I see all truth,
even the truth that is hard to see,
truth about myself, my character, my strengths, my weaknesses,
truth about the world and all that is in it.
Lord, help me to walk in your light and be your light for others.
Fr. Gus Tharappel,msfs
Importance of Holding a Positive Vision for Humanity
Never before have so many people joined in prayer and focused their collective will on love, unity, and a better world for all. Even though you may not see the results of your inner work and prayers, they are making a difference. You are preparing the way for a better world for yourself, your children, and future generations.
When world events or crises occur, use your imagination to picture the eventual positive outcome for everyone involved. Rather than focus on how bad things are, hold a vision of the possibilities of transformation and opportunities for growth that exist in every area of life. Refuse to live in fear or to energize negative scenarios–do not think of them, imagine them, or worry about them. Every time a negative picture comes into your mind, replace it with a positive vision for all of humanity.
Eventually current world situations will resolve into a more stable world and a greater unity among nations. We cannot tell how long this will take, or how easy or difficult the process will be, for you live on a planet of free will. We do see the direction, for the heart centers of humanity are awakening.
You can accelerate and help make this transition to a higher unity more rapid for humanity by becoming aware of any thoughts or beliefs you can shift to be more open, loving, inclusive, and broad in your viewpoint.
Your commitment to expressing love is the greatest gift you can give at this time. Have love and compassion for yourself as well, and treat yourself kindly, for loving others starts with self-love.
Let Us Hold a Positive Vision for Humanity
Pick one or more visions to energize with your positive thoughts:
(And create your own visions as well)
People everywhere make right decisions,
inspired by their higher selves, and carried out skillfully.
People are mentally clear, emotionally calm, and spiritually aware.
Everyone is in touch with their
creativity, strength, courage, and wisdom.
There is an unprecedented level of
cooperation, teamwork, and sharing.
Humanity experiences an outpouring of
love, new ideas, and soul connections.
There is hope, optimism, and positive visions of the future.
People know that the universe is friendly
and always working for them.
People believe in abundance and are able to create it in their lives.
People are supportive of those in need,
and are generous with their assistance and sharing.
Criticism is replaced with understanding, love, and cooperation.
Humanity is in alignment with Divine Will.
Humanity has enlightened leadership
by all people in leadership positions.
Boundaries between peoples, nations, and races dissolve.
People know their oneness with each other and with the
plant, animal, and mineral kingdoms.
Isolation turns into community, aloneness into friendships,
and separateness into inclusiveness.
All people are free to follow and live their higher purpose.
Humanity becomes aware of their higher purpose.
Each person expands their consciousness,
awakens their true vision,
and evolves all the forms in their lives so they may
carry out the true activity of their souls.
People’s personalities become vehicles to carry out
their soul’s love, light, and will.
All people honor the earth and live in harmony with it and all life upon it.
The plan of humanity unfolds in all its beauty and perfection.
Every light worker becomes a radiating point of
light, hope, inspiration, and courage.
People are awakening their light bodies everywhere.
Meditation of the Season
“Spirit of the Living God…” a meditation for Pentecost
by Alison Livingston
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me. Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me. Break me, melt me, mould me, fill me. Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me. How many times have you prayed these words, at Pentecost or at moments of importance in your life? We recognise that “without Him we can do nothing” and that we have to look for and welcome the Spirit of God not only into our hearts and minds, but also into our wills and actions. The third line makes some very uncomfortable suggestions as to what the Spirit might do to us; it’s easy to gloss over them when we sing the verse
Break me: the bread is broken in the Eucharist Christ was broken on the cross. How am I to be broken for God? Broken open? Can the carapace built to protect from pain or from the demands of others be shattered by something like the news in March from Dunblane? Can the Spirit use even such a tragedy to make me of use to others, nearer at home, perhaps in helping them to explore their own shock and grief?
Melt me: in my own life have I an area where my heart is hardened against someone: a situation where I have given up hope of improving the relationship, where only by receiving love can my heart he softened to begin again to show?
Mould me: as the potter shapes each individual pot, so the Spirit can mould me to become a vessel of greater use as a water-carrier, where the water is the water of life to other people.
Fill me: without Him I can do nothing. What do I want God to pour into me – in what ways am I hungry or thirsty, this year at Pentecost, or even just today? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness or self-control, these are the fruit the Spirit has to offer me: what shall I choose today? Jesus promised that the Paraclete would come to us – the Advocate, the Comforter, the Intercessor, the Counsellor, the Protector; the One who would bring us into all truth, and remind us of all that Jesus has said. Which of these words best meets my needs, my desires today?
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me: falling “as the gentle rain from heaven”, making what has dried up green again? Or falling as a thunderbolt (or tongues of fire), breaking in to my life dramatically? A group of early Christians were caught by the mob and accused of “turning the world upside down”; there’s always the danger of course that the Holy Spirit, if given free rein to “Break me, melt me, mould me, fill me”, might do that to me, or cause me to do it myself.
Grace means there are no demands on you today..you do not need to ‘do’ anything or ‘become’ anything – you already ARE all you were meant to be, as a gift (something given, not worked for, something already yours, experienced and enjoyed here and now by simple faith – by seeing it is yours), by Jesus’ work on your behalf.
You already ARE righteous, loved, accepted, at peace with God, empowered, free from sin’s power, strong, holy, pure, and ONE with God, together with Him forever.
You are His child, included in the royal family, and the inheritance is yours in Christ!
There is nothing left for you to do because Jesus did it all and will manifest it all in you! You are free! Free to enjoy a love relationship with the most Perfect Love of all – HIM!
Under the Waterfall of Grace. (2014). A blog about Jesus and the grace we all have because of Him. Retrieved from http://underthewaterfallofgrace .blogspot.com/ 2014/ 01/walking-with-jesus-from-incarnation-to.html
Monday’s Meditation: The 39 days after Easter
So Easter Sunday has come and gone. Followers of Jesus all over the world have marked the most significant day in history, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The resurrection was the Father’s exclamation point to the ministry of Jesus; the “Temple” had been destroyed and raised up three days later.
But what about Monday? Is the singing and shouting over? Jesus encountered the disciples on Easter Sunday, but what about Monday, or Tuesday, or beyond? The first eleven verses of the book of Acts provide at least five meditations for us in the days ahead.
Meditation #1: The resurrected Jesus remained on the earth for 39 days after Easter Sunday. Many Christians celebrate the victory won at the cross (and rightly so!), but apparently Jesus had more to say and do. The gospels are about “all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1), but the rest of Acts reveals that Jesus was still doing and teaching in the decades after the gospels. Is it possible Jesus is still doing and teaching in our day?
Meditation #2: Jesus’ message in the 40 days of resurrection was the Kingdom of God. (Acts1:3) During that time Jesus continued to speak about the Kingdom of God. In fact, the Kingdom of God is the “good news” preached by Jesus in the gospels. And he had more to say after Easter Sunday. In fact, the book of Acts closes with the Apostle Paul proclaiming the Kingdom of God (Acts 28: 31). Have we meditated on the meaning of the Kingdom?
Meditation #3: What was so important that Jesus told his disciples to stay in Jerusalem? While the gospel accounts end with Jesus saying, “Go!” in Acts Jesus says “Wait!” In our day many Christians are familiar with the “Great Commission” (Matthew 28: 16 – 20) but are we aware that Jesus commanded us to wait? What was so important that Jesus said, in effect. “don’t go anywhere, don’t do anything until you receive all that I have for you?” Have we meditated on the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives?
Meditation #4: Jesus told his followers plainly that there were some things that we would not know, especially regarding the times and the seasons of the last days. Yet this very topic is of great interest in the church today. Literally millions of books have been sold on this subject. In Acts 1: 7 – 8 Jesus tells us to focus on the mission, not the culmination of the mission. Have we meditated on the wrong subject in our day?
Meditation #5: The angels who were present at the ascension asked a pretty good question: “why are you looking toward heaven?” It’s a question worth considering. Frequently we are more concerned with heaven than with the Kingdom of God. The breathtaking sacrifice at Calvary did indeed purchase the forgiveness of sins and the hope of heaven, but in our generation many followers of Jesus have limited his work and message. One final meditation for the days ahead–if the gospel is only about going to heaven, why did Jesus invite us to take up the yoke of discipleship?
Meditate on the below words this Lenten Season and draw closer to God.
A Look Inside
A Reading for Lent
Posted Tuesday, February 17, 2015 on and retrieved from
The grinding power of the plain words of the Gospel story is like the power of millstones; and those who can read them simply enough will feel as if rocks had been rolled upon them.
“Did you ever look inside yourself and see what you are not?” the crippled daughter in one of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories shouts at her spiritually crippled mother. Few of us have looked long enough into ourselves to see that what seems to us and to others as normally attractive is actually as graceless as a scarecrow and even repulsive. It is an easy matter for the physical eye to spot physical deformity and blemishes in others and in oneself. It is not so easy for the eye of the spirit to spot a spiritual dwarf, hunchback, or cripple, although it is easier to see these spiritual deformities in others than in oneself. This X-ray look at others is called “naked truth,” “unvarnished truth.” In literature and art it is called realism. But to spot it in one’s self is not only difficult but painful, and no one wants to take the descending path to that naked, unvarnished truth, with all its unacceptable humiliations. It is much more comfortable to stay on the level of the plain and ordinary, to go on being just plain and ordinary. Yet it is the path that Lent invites us.
The reason Lent is so long is that this path to the truth of oneself is long and snagged with thorns, and at the very end one stands alone before the broken body crowned with thorns upon the cross. All alone—with not one illusion or self-delusion to prop one up. Yet not alone, for the Spirit of Holiness, who is also the Spirit of Helpfulness, is beside you and me. Indeed, this Spirit has helped to maneuver you and me down that dark, steep path to this crucial spot.
“But I’ve been to that place before,” the born-again Christian may protest. “Of course, the non-Christian and perhaps the brought-up Christian need to be brought to that crucial spot, but of all people, we who are born again should not. Is it not a kind of heresy to say that we need to go there again and again and again? Is it not to doubt our salvation, the power of our Savior to deliver us from the dominion of darkness?”
Lent would indeed be a futile liturgical farce if the redeemed were henceforth sinless and if the tides of human nature were not always moving even the twice-born, who have not shed their human nature, in the direction of complacency and taking it all for granted. The tides of God always move in exactly the opposite direction—toward an ever deeper skepticism about ourselves (that we may have all the more confidence in God), toward an ever deeper self-distrust (that we may trust in God all the more). The high tides of human nature, even of the twice-born, move to drown the conscience. As long as the consciences of the born-again are housed in human flesh and bone, they are prone to the sleep of death and need continual rescuing.
Our self-indulgent and self-flattering age looks upon the self-maltreating and self-hating practices of the monastic and desert ascetics as pathetic and futile. We shiver to think of Suso making himself a cross with 30 protruding nails and wearing it on his back like a porcupine skin day and night. We laugh to think of him never taking a bath in order to mortify his comfort-seeking body. But for us who feel the need for daily showers (because soap has not broken dirt’s dominion), it most certainly is not spiritual self-mortification and asceticism that convince us we no longer need spiritual shower baths. It is rather our comfort-seeking spirits.
But the spirit of truth does not seek comfort. The purpose of Lent is not to escape the conscience, but to create a healthy hatred for evil, a heartfelt contrition for sin, and a passionately felt need for grace. This continuous movement of faith from a sense of sin to grace and forgiveness ends only when the spirit is ultimately released.
Robert Herrick, a 17th-century poet, wrote these striking lines in “To Keep a True Lent.”Is this a Fast, to keep
the larder lean?
From fat of veals and sheep?
Is it to quit the dish
of flesh, yet still
The platter high with fish?
Is it to fast an hour,
Or ragg’d to go,
A down-cast look and sour?
No: ’tis a Fast to dole
Thy sheaf of wheat
With the hungry soul.
It is to fast from strife
And old debate,
To circumcise thy life.
To show a heart grief-rent;
To starve thy sin,
And that’s to keep thy Lent.
Robert Herrick was moving the keeping of Lent in the right direction, away from mortifications of the flesh—fasting, hair shirts, pebbles in the shoes, burrs next to the skin, dour faces, and all that. But he stopped somewhat short of the true purpose of Lent, which is not to starve one’s sin but to get rid of it. And then—then comes the spiritual energy, spiritual activity, spiritual eloquence…
These do not come from ecstasy but from a humbly grateful heart. Forgiveness of sins is what the gospel is all about. Forgiveness of sins is what Christ’s death upon the cross is all about. The purpose of Lent is to arouse. To arouse the sense of sin. To arouse a sense of guilt for sin. To arouse the humble contrition for the guilt of sin that makes forgiveness possible. To arouse the sense of gratitude for the forgiveness of sins. To arouse or to motivate the works of love and the work for justice that one does out of gratitude for the forgiveness of one’s sins.
To say it again—this time, backward: There is no motivation for works of love without a sense of gratitude, no sense of gratitude without forgiveness, no forgiveness without contrition, no contrition without a sense of guilt, no sense of guilt without a sense of sin.
In other words, a guilty suffering spirit is more open to grace than an apathetic or smug soul. Therefore, an age without a sense of sin, in which people are not even sorry for not being sorry for their sins, is in rather a serious predicament. Likewise an age with a Christianity so eager to forgive that it denies the need for forgiveness. For such an age, therefore, Lent can scarcely be too long!
“I have found only one religion that dares to go down with me into the depth of myself,” wrote G.K. Chesterton. And it is true. No other religion dares to take me down to the new beginning. Hence Lent is not a tediously long brooding over sin. Lent is a journey that could be called an upward descent, but I prefer to call it a downward ascent. It ends before the cross, where we stand in the white light of a new beginning. So fresh and new, says Chesterton, waxing lyrical, “that one can be grey and gouty—but only five minutes old!” The spirit that shuns this downward ascent all its livelong day eventually ends up an aged fetus. There is an infinite difference between being brand-new and five minutes old and being an aged fetus!
This reading appears in Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter (Plough, 2003).
Celebration of Peace Written Meditation
Calling the Spirit of Peace
by Orin and DaBen
- About five minutes before midnight, start by adjusting your posture so your body is comfortable and ready to enter into a state of peaceful meditation. Breathe in, imagining you are drawing in light as you do. Fill yourself with light with each breath in. Send light to every part of your body.
- Call your soul to you and imagine it surrounding you with light. Your soul always responds to your call to it. The radiant light and loving presence of your soul joins its consciousness with yours, whether or not you are aware of it. Let your heart center expand with love; your mind grow clearer, and your emotions become calmer and more peaceful.
- Picture yourself as a radiant sun. You are filled with light, becoming a transparent vessel of limitless light.
- Sense the souls of millions of light workers who are meditating with you. Observe your connection to these souls. Notice that all of you are creating a beautiful light that surrounds the world. The world is becoming radiant with the light of all of you joined together as souls.
- Notice that the light of the Enlightened Ones, Masters, Guides, Angels, and Teachers on the other side are now linking together to form an interweaving pattern of light that surrounds the world and all light workers.
- Pay attention to the light that flows from these Enlightened Ones to all the light workers, including yourself. Fill yourself with the light, strength, courage, compassion, and joy that is being transmitted to you.
- There is a being whose presence has been coming closer to the earth for years, called by all the souls who are seeking peace. This is the Spirit of Peace, a very great being. In our meditation together we will call upon the Spirit of Peace, the great Angel of Peace, to come and bless us with peace.
- At midnight, or whenever you can, join with everyone in meditation and call upon the Spirit of Peace, asking this Great Angel to touch the hearts of all humanity with peace. This Spirit is a very real presence whose touch can create great changes. Sound an inner or an outer “aum” (OM) with the certainty that you will be heard and responded to by the Spirit of Peace.
- Experience the Spirit of Peace, this great Angel, focusing its awareness upon humanity, having heard the call. Feel the response of this Angel as this Angel touches the hearts of all people. Open to receive this energy into your heart center. Take a deep breath in and let the energy this Angel sends come into every level of your being.
- Let this great Angel of Peace touch your life. Reflect on how you could experience and create more peace in your own life, and thus contribute peace to the world.
- Say to yourself, ” Let the Spirit of Peace express itself through me. I now bring peace and harmony into my relationships. I spread goodwill and kindness wherever I go. I watch my thoughts; I release judgment and criticism. I say loving things to others. I speak words that spread love and light. I radiate peace. I deserve to live in peace and harmony at all times.”
- Picture yourself as a radiant sun. Allow your desire for peace in your own life and for humanity to direct the radiant light that you are outward. Imagine you are becoming a radiating center of peace and goodwill to others.
Picture joining thousands around the world as you radiate peace to:
- Your friends and family
- To all those who are responsive to your transmission
- To all light workers on the planet
- To all world leaders, so that they may guide their nations into peace
- To all humanity
- To the plant, animal, and mineral kingdoms