a poem for my Lord

 

still drunk

on the splendor

of divine communion,

i walked – no, staggered –

to the garden of my delight.

and there, i saw him,

the king,

the little one,

flying and flying

as though unable to stop.

 

i had to meet him…

and so began to whisper

soft butterfly sounds.

“come, rest a moment,

my little one,

drink of the nectar.

see how beautiful it is?”

but he swooped and dove

 in frantic, fervid flutter,

heedless of my call.

 

 “might i receive your image?”

i pleaded. “please?”

his assent was but a pause.

the shutter clicked

and he was on the wing,

his flower-fast intact.

but i had seen him –

and seeing, had gasped,

so like our Master was he

in his affliction.

 

he had no majestic bearing –

no beauty to draw me to him;

pierced, crushed, stricken,

spurned and avoided,

yet even more

did i long for him…

rising to the heights,

descending to the depths,

he raced a course

i could not follow.

 

but i had to follow.

how could i leave him

who was giving everything,

when i had nothing to offer

but my empty heart,

poor burial-place for my lord?

watching, waiting,

his wounds ever before me,

i reached for him –

“if i can but touch…”

 

open and obedient,

yearning to be his home,

my tomb-like heart

awaited the final flutter;

 the king himself cannot elude death

bearing wounds such as these…

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a stillness comes over me.

spirit seeing what eyes cannot,

…his beauty fills my heart.

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amen.

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{Many of you will recognize the allusions to the prophet Isaiah’s words about the Suffering Servant (chapter 53) in the fourth stanza. Not wanting to disrupt the flow of the verse with a footnote, I acknowledge the reference source here.}

a gift received (painting + poem)

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it always begins as something small –

a pair of seeds losing themselves in zygote,

pursuing refuge in uterine darkness;

a tiny spark of light amidst collapsing stardust,

nebulous particles deep in cold black space;

or perhaps just a wish, a dream, a quiet moment,

glowing beneath the surface of life’s chatter.

 

i do not know who or what it is –

or how it will come to birth.

i simply know what is.

 

at first, all i see is that tiny spot of brightness

suspended in abyss, void of shadow or form.

frightened and fearless in its uncertainty,

it waits, it struggles, it pushes forward and draws back,

listening for the gentle whisper of wings,

the hovering from above that will define it.

hearing the Word, the birth begins.

 

listening, i hear.

watching, i behold.

not knowing what is before me.

 

like a spark one blows upon, i see the fire blaze,

an unfurling frenzy of light and life

splashing itself over the naked canvas

yet never quenching its undying thirst for more.

worlds are born and thrown into orbit –

spinning and singing, dancing and laughing,

an explosion of brilliant joy.

 

blinded by the light,

humbled before Him,

i worship.

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(Dear Reader: the first image was the very beginning of a painting; the second, its completion. As a photo reference, I used the image of a galaxy received by the Hubble telescope.)

Universal Salvation?

The question of universal salvation is, perhaps, the flip side of the question that plagues so many who want to believe: can eternal damnation have a place in the plan of a loving God?

A couple of years ago, I ventured to write about hell (see Hell?). Having just re-read the post, I still stand by what the Spirit led me to write on this topic.

Many others have far more knowledge than I do and have written extensively on the topic of universal salvation (see Fr. Aidan Kimel’s blog for a wealth of discussion and resources: Eclectic Orthodoxy).

So why should I attempt to write about it, especially given that I have read very little of what has already been written in the circles of the learned? (Sorry, Fr. Aidan, just can’t make it through all of that theology.)

I can only respond to this reasonable question by saying that I feel the inclination to write – and that inclination is one I pray about before I begin. May the Spirit guide me – either to write something that will be helpful to at least a few of us with our faith dilemmas – or to abandon the project altogether if I cannot.

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Let us consider the dilemma itself.

We are told very clearly in the first letter to Timothy that God “…wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2: 4).

This should come as a great consolation to those of us who long for salvation for ourselves and those we love.

It also is in keeping with the central tenet of Christianity: that Jesus, the Christ, died for the sins of all people and rose from the dead with the promise of the new Life to all who believe.

There is no one that falls outside of the net of this salvation. He died for everyone.

While this certainly sounds like universal salvation, there is a catch. What about those who don’t believe? (Or those who sort of, vaguely, kind of think it may be true but aren’t sure?)

We might wonder why believing in Him is so important. If He died for all and He wills for all to be saved, why not leave it at that?

The dilemma is that the Life God is offering us is, at its very heart and by its very nature, Love.

And, as I have written in a number of other posts, for love to be love, it must be voluntary. Forced love is no love at all.

The conundrum is exposed: God wills for all to be saved and to live in His love but, if He imposes salvation universally, the laws of love are violated.

In giving us free will, it seems that God makes virtually inevitable the thwarting of His own will by mere creatures.

How can this be?

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Painted myself into a corner again, I have. I knew this was going to happen but, having seen this predicament coming, I could not un-see it.

Let me back up for a moment.

Is salvation universal? I must answer a resounding “yes!”. Our Savior lived and loved, died and rose, for each one of us without exception. The gift has been given and will never be taken back.

But will all step forward and claim their gift? And if some don’t, what will become of them?

As believers, it is hard for us to imagine that anyone would truly reject the gift of eternal love if they knew, unhampered by the afflictions of this world, what it was and that it was truly theirs for the asking .

Who in their right mind would turn away an eternity of love-filled life? Surely those who, in this life, seem to reject it must not be in their right mind. Certainly our loving God would not hold against them their illnesses or their wounds.

What could anyone possibly value more than love? Especially once all of the false allurements of this world that masquerade as the way to love have been removed from the table?

Sadly, there is one thing.

The one thing we just might value more than love is, yes…ourselves.

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We have been told, though the precise story has never been clear, that this is how Satan and his followers came to be the opposition.

The evil one is not in God’s league, i.e. he is not uncreated Being.

No, we are told that he was created by God as were all of the angels, good and beautiful and free.

And that he was cast from heaven because of pride. He wanted his own will, not God’s. He wanted to serve himself and be served as god, rather than serve Another.

This choice, never repented of, made of him the direct opponent of love and of God.

The inherent diversity of love necessitates the outpouring of self for other/Other.

Clinging to one’s self, one’s own will, above all else is thus the antithesis of love. It is ultimate separation from God and it is, indeed, a choice.

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If this sends chills of terror down your spine, please do not stop reading.

In one sense, having such a choice before me should scare me out of my wits. If I had any inkling of how very weak and prideful and selfish I am (and surely in my own mind I minimize the gravity of my sin), my situation would appear hopeless.

But I must remember that the gift of salvation is promised to me. I only need to accept it, to believe.

Yet a voice inside cries out, “But don’t you see that this is the problem? I scarcely believe at all. Sometimes I’m not sure I believe and certainly I don’t believe well enough…”

Would you believe that that “voice inside” is the work of the evil one himself?

What better way to draw me away from salvation than to convince me that I am not good enough to receive it?

Such fears are, strangely, yet another temptation to pride.

This seems paradoxical to our ears. And yet, as one who has extensive personal experience with the sin of pride, I believe it is so.

“I don’t have enough faith.”

“I don’t know how to surrender my will to God.”

“I know that I am selfish – too selfish to truly say yes to God.”

All of these statements begin with “I”. They are all about me and my power to thwart God’s will, His desire to save me.

Take these very same statements to confession, humbly struggling to turn God-ward, and His mercy is poured out upon me. It is no longer about what I can’t do – rather, it becomes all about what He does for me.

In this act of humble confession, all of my doubts and fears and weaknesses become part of the “yes” that God so longs for, a small whispered “yes” from a contrite heart.

This is our salvation. We need not fear.

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But what of those who have been shown the glory of God’s love and still hold onto their own wills? If such creatures exist, what does God do with them?

This, of course, is up to God and unknown to me.

But there are a few things that I believe with considerable certainty.

God never stops loving these dear creatures of His. He does not torture or torment them. He does not abandon them. He does not cast them out of His presence – for where is He not present?

Some say that this is hell indeed, to be ever in the presence of the God one rejects.

Perhaps. But if this is so, even then I believe that God’s mercy is greater than our resistance to it – always greater.

What will His loving mercy do with the unrepentant?

I have no idea – and truly the specifics are no concern of mine. What healing, help or relief He offers another soul is between that soul and God. Paraphrasing C.S. Lewis, it is not part of my story.

My story is just that – my story.

I walk, I limp, I stumble onward in search of my God.

Lost and confused, I reach out my hand in the darkness, longing for His mercy.

And He is there, always there, wrapping me in the robe of salvation that He has promised me from the beginning…

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God as Eternity

(This is the final segment in a series written for the Lent/Easter season. Once again, I have borrowed my title for this article from Met. Ware’s book, “The Orthodox Way” – in which he named the epilogue, “God as Eternity”. Unless otherwise noted, the content is mine – so please do not blame this good man for my ramblings.)

What will it be like?

Are there any among us who have not wondered?

Certainly the question of what, if anything, follows death is endemic to our species. For we who  believe the question extends even further – an eternity further.

What will heaven be like? Can we truly hope for everlasting life and love in the Presence of God?

Our Faith teaches us that we can. Yet believing this with the full depth of our being is far from easy. As St. Paul so eloquently described it:

At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13: 12)

Our knowledge, our vision at this time is so incomplete that we cannot fathom what it is that God has in store for those who love Him. And it is hard for us to have firm faith in what we cannot imagine.

Have you ever secretly wondered if heaven might be, well… boring?

The thought has crossed my mind, I am ashamed to admit. But I think this is largely because attempts to describe an eternity with God often omit two essential elements – elements that Met. Ware brought to my attention.

(C. S. Lewis brought these same elements to my attention years ago – in the story form of “The Chronicles of Narnia”. However, I don’t think that I had words to describe what it was that I learned when I read this. I simply knew that I was attracted to it.)

Met. Ware indicated that we can be sure of these two things:

First, perfection is not uniform but diversified. Secondly, perfection is not static but dynamic.

Once we turn our attention to the perfection of heaven with this understanding, it no longer has the sound of one extremely long church service.

Instead of picturing God sitting on a throne, choirs of angels singing and the rest of us endlessly bowing down in worship, we can begin to imagine a living, growing relationship that encompasses both individuality and unity.

An eternity of life similar to the relationship within the Trinity…

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Naturally I can only write this with fear and trembling. For who am I to imagine that I understand what is to come – or that I understand life within the Trinity?

Of course, I understand none of this. But what has been revealed to the Church by the grace of the Spirit certainly hints at such a life for us.

As noted earlier in this series, the Holy Trinity includes a diversity – a three-ness of Being. The Father is not the Son, the Spirit is not the Father and the Son is not the Spirit. There are three distinct Persons in our God.

While this is incomprehensible to our human reason, this diversity is necessary for God to be love.

If God were One and only One, God would not be love within Himself.

He could love Himself, the One and only, but that would be an egocentrism rather than a pouring out of life-giving love.

He could love us – but then He would need us in order to carry out His love. In that case, He would be loving, but He would not be love in His very Being.

This suggests to us that we will not cease to be individual persons when we share in the divine Life.

This may be quite appealing to any among us who fear complete annihilation or loss of self in a formless cloud of energy.

But there is another side to this invitation.

And I became particularly aware of it when traveling through airports on my way to visit my mother.

A busy airport is teeming with diversity. I look at the other people waiting in line with me as well as the others milling around me.

There are many sizes and shapes, colors and languages. Some people look pleasant, like I’d enjoy meeting them. Others appear (to my eyes) a bit unusual, puzzling or even threatening.

Despite their considerable differences, each and every one of them was created in the image and likeness of God.

And each and every one of them was created to share in the divine Life, whether they recognize this or not.

Am I ready for an eternity that would include all of them? Is there any person or group that I really don’t want to meet in heaven?

Maybe they are just a little too different for my taste. I can’t tell if that one is a male or a female. This other one has way too many tattoos. That one dressed in clergy garb? Surely a hypocrite…

Certainly God wouldn’t let them in, would He?

Or perhaps I think they don’t deserve to be there. They were simply too evil. They hurt me too much. They hurt the world too much.

Certainly God would not let them in, would He?

Yet I am assuming that He has let me in…despite my idiosyncrasies, sins and shattered soul.

He wants us all – whatever condition we are in – so that He can cleanse us, heal us, restore us.

And the diversity among us is no accident in His creation. It is, indeed, necessary in order for us to participate in a divine Life that continuously pours Itself out in love for other.

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Of course, none of us will ever become love or become God in His essence.

We who are created can never become uncreated God.

But I do not believe that this limitation in any way represents a deprivation – i.e. a “Keep Out” sign that God has posted for any of us who want to get too close.

While I certainly do not know enough to enter the theological controversies surrounding the notion of God’s essence and His energies, I will offer a simple comment or two.

First, God is not divided into two parts, the energies which we can know and the essence that we cannot know. God is undivided unity of three Persons.

Second, the essence – energy distinction may be helpful to us in our effort to understand what we cannot understand. The distinction is one made for human minds, made of human words.

Our concepts, our words, can never adequately explain or describe God. But they can sometimes guide us away from error.

For example, the well-known words of Church father, St. Athanasius (ca 298–373), “God became man that man might become God”.

To avoid heresy, we must recognize that this statement is both true and false.

Truly we are invited to share fully in the divine Life. If we were not, for what purpose did our Savior die and rise?

At the same time, it would be a grave error to imagine that, in our dying and rising with Him, we become God in the sense that God is God. Or that the Trinity would keep growing in number to include all of us.

It is paradox to our minds. It is mystery.

It is all mystery.

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As we follow the mystery and consider perfection as dynamic and not static, we may, for an instant, think we have found something we can more readily comprehend.

Of course, God is alive and active. He who creates and sustains all living beings could not be otherwise.

But haven’t we all been taught that God is unchanging?

And haven’t I written as much myself, when pointing out that God does not have changing emotional states (The impassibility of God)? And that neither our sins nor our prayers “change” God?

Can God be both dynamic and unchanging?

To our minds, this may seem impossible. But that is only because our direct experience of living beings is that they change. Whether we are observing ourselves or the creatures around us, there is not a one that fails to change as it passes through the stages of its time-bound existence.

But the life of God is necessarily different in at least one very important way.

God’s revelation of His name to Moses, “I AM”, tells us that God is not like us, a created being passing through stages. He is not in the process of “becoming” a better or more perfect being. He is and always has been perfect Being.

His life, His “activity”, does not need to change. His perfection is complete and fully alive.

But how then can we know that He is indeed dynamic? Is it not possible that He created everything and is now detached, disinterested, so to speak?

This is where the notion of God’s “energies” becomes helpful to our struggling human minds.

We know that God is dynamic, alive and active because we are surrounded by evidence of this. Creation is not over but continuously manifesting itself – every time a bud blossoms, every time a baby is born.

To again quote Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Earth’s crammed with heaven and every common bush afire with God…”

If we keep our eyes and hearts open, we see an endless “Theophany”, not only in creation, but in the day-to-day movements of our lives.

How could I even write, stumped as I am by my own questions, if the Spirit were not actively moving in me, unworthy instrument that I am?

The dynamic nature of God’s Being manifests itself not in Him changing, but in how the “energies” of His Being change us.

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The astute reader will note that I began writing about heaven, eternity and what comes next, but have centered most of this article on God and His perfection.

This, of course, is no coincidence. What comes next, I believe, is God.

Heaven is God and God is heaven.

Heaven is not a place (at least not as we conceive of places) but it is life in God, in His presence. It is union with Him and His creation, a union that allows us to be distinctly ourselves while fully in communion with other/Other.

It is a state of divine perfection, diverse and dynamic.

It cannot be boring because God in His Being is infinite, ever unfolding and made manifest.

To try to imagine this (which certainly we cannot), we might begin with the estimated 400,000 species of flowering plants on earth. Suppose, at my leisure, I could watch each and every one bloom?

And then suppose we move on to the butterflies on earth. With about 15,000 species of butterflies, I might discover each one as it hatches from its egg, feeds as a larva, spins its cocoon and emerges with its uniquely beautiful wings.

I think you get the picture. But of course I have only listed a few of the known created things on one planet in the estimated trillions of galaxies of the universe.

And, rather than discovering these temporary little created lives, I am writing of the infinite unfolding of the One who creates them all.

Contemplation of the boundless beauty and creative love of God overwhelms the human mind.

Our little brains, temporarily tools of our souls, cannot fathom such Being. Nor can I as an individual fathom that this glorious life is intended for me personally.

But He made us for Himself. He made us for an eternity of life and beauty and love unfolding.

Let us rejoice and be glad in Him who gave Himself up that we might share in this life.

Praise and glory and honor to Him forever.

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while it is still April (2018)

We interrupt our regularly scheduled Lenten/Easter series (which, BTW, has one more segment to go) to present our second annual “while it is still April” post in honor of National Poetry Month. The poem I am posting below is a prose poem, another happy reject from the local literary magazine. So good, so healthy for the soul, to be rejected! 

I would consider it an honor if you, dear reader, care to critique this poem or post one of your own in the comment section. While it is still April…  (The invitation extends to any original poem you wish to share – it need not have a spring or Paschal theme.) Enjoy!

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there is a darkness, a starkness, in me and around me, a nighttime of nothing, seeking something for which there is no fill. in its hunger, torn asunder, the heart impales itself upon a tree. “wait here,” the prophets whisper, “the holy One is near”. heeding, bleeding, the heart howls its pain, surrendering in vain the last of what it clings to. “i cannot bear it alone!” the heart’s final moan, soul from body rending, in the end descending – until there is no air. it is finished.

(at this point, the poet pauses…”dare i tell them what happens next? will anyone believe me?”)

there is a calm, a balm, in the morning’s breezing. from night’s despair, a fresh new air tells of life unceasing. living light, dawning bright, pierces cloud unknowing; death retreats in its defeat, everything is growing. from their height, birds take flight, beyond the river’s flowing. flowers blooming, unassuming, set the bees a-buzz. arise! arise! the angel cries, do not be afraid. love unfolds, my heart beholds a King whose name is beauty. beneath the shadow of His wings, all is as it should be.

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God as Prayer

(This is the sixth article in a series written for Lent. I’m a bit slow in my writing so here we are, well into the Easter season. But this is, I think, a good thing… Once again, I have borrowed my title for this article from Met. Ware’s chapter title in his book, “The Orthodox Way”. However, unless otherwise noted, the content is mine.)

I finally understand why God led me to Met. Ware’s book “The Orthodox Way” for my Lenten/Easter reflection.

When I first started reading the book, I had begun to wonder whether I had misunderstood the signs and selected the wrong book.

However, I persisted in reading and decided that I would use the chapter titles for my posts – since they were what had first drawn me to the book.

Certainly I’m not suggesting that this is not a fine publication. It just wasn’t quite what I had expected.

From the chapter headings, I had imagined the book to be perhaps a bit more mystical in nature. Yet, up to this point, I had experienced it as being a bit more informational, i.e. a guide to the Orthodox faith.

But now, having encountered Chapter 6, I understand why God wanted me to read this book now. Wow.

I must say I was, from the beginning, intrigued by the notion of “God as Prayer”. Like most, I am accustomed to thinking of prayer as a human activity, not something that God is. Hmm…

Allow me to lay a bit of groundwork, before leading you to what spoke to my heart.

Met. Ware first outlines the customary three stages of the spiritual Way: first, practice of the virtues; second, contemplation of nature; and third, contemplation of God Himself.

He notes that these stages should not be considered too literally nor are they necessarily sequential, requiring one to be mastered before proceeding on to the next.

My spiritual life is first and foremost a living relationship, my small person relating to the fullness of divine Person.

Mine is a life of repentance. It is necessarily sustained by the sacramental life of the Church. It is a life of love.

Such a dynamic interplay between my small efforts and the grace of God cannot be dissected and classified without something vital being lost. Yet words are all we have to help us conceptualize and share – so we use them, aware of their inadequacy.

I will not attempt to summarize all the Met. Ware has written, but to say that practice of the virtues involves our struggle, with God’s help, to break free of all that enslaves us.

And that contemplation of nature enables us to know the Creator as we recognize each created person, material object and moment as a unique and holy sacrament of God.

Met. Ware writes much that is beautiful on these topics. But there is more…

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I have long experienced an affinity for the Jesus Prayer – well before God gave me an up-close introduction to Orthodoxy.

Whether one calls it contemplative prayer or prayer of the heart, something deep within me has always longed to know God, to experience Him, to gaze upon Him, to rest in Him.

When I think back, I am astonished to think how much He has loved me, drawing me to Himself, when I have been so undeserving and lacking in gratitude.

All of my life He has been calling me to union with Him, courting me, enticing me with glimpses of His glorious beauty.

And I have been so slow to answer.

It is not that I haven’t prayed or attended church. But there has always been something of a decision being made, a choice of doing something when I feel like it.

And when I don’t feel like it, I do something else. Not something bad necessarily but something that is for me, not for us.

After all I can’t be praying all of the time, can I? I must work and certainly it is normal to want to play now and then.

Or so I thought until I came face-to-face with the counsel to “pray without ceasing”.

The thought of praying without ceasing lights my heart afire with joy.

But I confess that I have not understood it – not really.

I have learned that I must be watchful lest I interpret this admonition as meaning that I must always be doing “religious” things – compulsively attending every church service available, reading only spiritual books and resenting anything that pulls me away from these observances.

I may not know what it means to pray without ceasing – but I know that this is not what it means. At least for me, such compulsivity is more likely feeding some aspect of my ego, luring me into imagining myself to be holy – and holier than thou. Ugh…

And so it was with considerable interest that I read Met. Ware discussion of the Jesus Prayer, contemplation of God and union.

He predictably notes that it begins as a prayer of the lips which gradually “grows more inward”, becoming a mental prayer or prayer of the intellect. The intellect then “descends” into the heart and becomes united with it, so that it becomes a prayer of the heart.

All of these things I have read before, particularly in the lives and writings of the saints. But it was what Met. Ware wrote next that opened a door of understanding for me:

At this level it becomes prayer of the whole person – no longer something we think or say, but something we are: for the ultimate purpose of the spiritual Way is not just a person who says prayers from time to time, but a person who is prayer all of the time. The Jesus Prayer, that is to say, begins as a series of specific acts of prayer, but its eventual aim is to establish in the one who prays a state of prayer that is unceasing, which continues uninterrupted even in the midst of other activities. 

“A state of prayer that is unceasing…” Unceasing even through my variable moods, energy levels and motivational lapses?

Or perhaps I am not supposed to have those anymore?

No, I am human and they will always attempt to disrupt my communion with God until, in the end, He grants me complete liberation from them.

But I suspect that, if God so wills that I ever experience this state, I will pay a lot less attention than I do now to these surface ripples on the ocean of my heart’s prayer.

And yet Met. Ware takes me a step further:

Beyond this there is a further stage, when the hesychast’s prayer ceases to be the result of his own efforts, and becomes – at any rate from time to time – what Orthodox writers call “self-acting” and Western writers call “infused”. It ceases, in other words, to be “my” prayer, and becomes to a greater or lesser extent the prayer of Christ in me

I can think of no greater joy: Christ our risen Savior, resting in the Father’s love, communing in their Spirit, all from my poor and lowly heart.

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Quite naturally, Met. Ware does not tell me what I am to do in order for this to come about.

It is not something I can do or that I have any control over. And that is good…

It is completely and utterly up to God what He allows, what He brings about, in the life of my spirit.

And it is completely up to me to follow Him, whether He allows my heart to grow dull and dry or He grants me a glimpse of Christ loving Him from within me.

He who knows both my longings and my weakness will set me on the path that leads unfailingly to Him.

He asks only that I give Him myself, my entire will and being, trusting in the fullness of His love.

May it be so…

God as Spirit

(This is the fifth article in a series written for Lent. Because I’ve been a bit slow in my writing, the series will continue on into the Easter season. Once again, I have borrowed my chapter title from Met. Ware’s book, “The Orthodox Way” – but, unless otherwise noted, the content is mine.)

It seems a bit odd to me to be writing of “God as Spirit” while the Church calendar is leading us more deeply into the Passion and death of Christ.

It is at this time that we are particularly confronted with the Son, Christ Jesus our Lord, in His most vulnerable human state. He is very much Man.

As painful as it is, we cannot help but face the reality that the Person of God who became one of us suffered greatly in His humanity – physically, emotionally and perhaps even spiritually – as part of the plan for our salvation.

With the profound humanness of this time, it almost seems as though I should be waiting for Pentecost to arrive before I write about God as Spirit.

And yet I shall not wait – for the Spirit is very much part of our current encounter with the dying and rising Christ.

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In a previous chapter (“God as Creator”), Met. Ware wrote that the human person has three interdependent aspects: the body, the soul and the spirit.

In his use of this term, the soul is defined as that which animates the flesh and makes it alive. Thus all living creatures have souls – certainly the animals and perhaps the plants, as well as Homo sapiens.

The spirit, on the other hand, according to Met. Ware, is the “breath of God” in us which sets us uniquely apart from the rest of the created world. It is through this spirit that we approach God and enter into union with Him.

This spirit breathed into us by God (small “s”) must be differentiated from the Holy Spirit (capital “S”). The spirit in us is God’s creation; the Holy Spirit is God, the uncreated.

A thought came to me as I was writing the last article and struggling with how to conceptualize the reality of Jesus as both God and Man.

When Jesus was conceived of the Virgin and she asked Gabriel how this could be, the Gospel of Luke tells us that the angel replied that “the holy Spirit will come upon you” (Luke 1: 35).

Hence, it occurred to me that Jesus was fully human while living on earth, having every aspect of body and mind that we do. However, perhaps His spirit was the Spirit, thus defining Him as God while also human.

(Please bear in mind that this is just a thought of mine and not doctrine. Might even be heresy, though I hope not.)

In any event, I think we have every reason to believe that the Holy Spirit was fully with the Son, as was the Father, during His life on earth. How could it be otherwise?

The Incarnation did not fracture the Trinity such that the Son was no longer living in perfect love and unity with the Father and the Spirit. He was not temporarily absent from the Godhead.

Rather, Jesus, as the Incarnate Son, needed to experience the Father and the Spirit through His human faculties in much the same way that we do. We see this in the Gospel narratives in which He prayed aloud to the Father or went off to pray alone.

Unlike us, however, Jesus did not separate Himself from God through sin. Though we know little about the personal prayer of Jesus, it is hard to imagine it being anything other than loving communion.

In addition to Jesus relating to the Father, the Gospels also describe the Spirit’s active role in the life of Christ.

St. Luke tells us that the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness where He was tempted prior to beginning His ministry. At the end of the 40 days, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14).

Scripture also relates how the Spirit testified to the Son at Jesus’ Baptism, descending in the form of a dove.

St. Luke’s Gospel further describes how Jesus publicly acknowledged that the work of the Spirit, described by the prophet Isaiah, was being fulfilled in Him,

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; He has sent me to bring good news to the afflicted, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, release to the prisoners… (Isaiah 61: 1)

There are a great many other citations in Scripture but, upon reflection, I realize that the ones I most easily call to mind are those in which Jesus was promising the Holy Spirit to us.

As important as this promise and its fulfillment are, my focus on it has overshadowed any consideration of what the Holy Spirit was to Jesus.

What gave Jesus, the human being, the strength to fast for 40 days and fend off the evil one?

What enabled Jesus, son of Mary, the ability to cast out demons, cure disease and raise the dead?

Where did Jesus, a mere carpenter from Galilee, obtain so much wisdom that even the most learned rabbis could not outwit Him?

Is it not possible – no – is it not a virtual certainty, that the Holy Spirit was already for the human Jesus all that He was promised to be for us?

The Spirit, Jesus told us, is the Spirit of truth who teaches us all things. The Spirit lives in us and remains with us always. The Spirit is our Advocate, our Comforter.

As we come to realize that this Spirit was intimately a part of the life of Jesus, how we might we come to reflect anew upon the Passion of Christ?

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Many people, both children and adults, grapple with the profound suffering that Jesus experienced in His crucifixion. It troubles us deeply.

I remember how many years ago the young child of some friends of mine asked me why Jesus had to die.

Others look critically upon the Father: what kind of “loving” Father requires His Son to suffer a painful, bloody and humiliating death?

Some among us feel overwhelmed with guilt that such a “price” had to be paid for our sins – while secretly we wonder why such a price was required. God being God could certainly have saved us without His Son experiencing such agony.

While I cannot deny the horrible death that Jesus endured, I do not think we are meant to dwell on the tortures and the torments. Or at least not nearly so much as many of us were taught to do.

Jesus is not unique among humans in being betrayed or in undergoing a painful and shameful death.

Can we say, for example, that the Jews who were turned in by their neighbors, who were stripped of their families and everything they owned, beaten, starved and exterminated in Nazi concentration camps had it better?

Certainly not. If suffering were all that it took to bring us to salvation, we would have no need of Christ. There has been more than enough suffering in every generation of humanity to cover our sins.

A couple of points to consider…

First, though Jesus was the Person of the Trinity who became Incarnate, He did not do so alone.

I do not mean to suggest, of course, that the Father and the Spirit also took on flesh. However, the Persons of the Trinity did not separate themselves in the Incarnation. Where Jesus was and what He experienced as a human being was part of the life of the Trinity.

I do not believe that the Father said to the Son, “You must go and suffer to bring back my children who are enslaved to sin. The only ransom I will accept is your painful, bloody death. Fail to do My will and you will end up like them, consigned to eternal damnation.”

No, these were neither the words nor the intent of our loving Father.

Though I can only speculate about such matters, it is my sense that the Trinity as One, in the endless love we call God, longed to save us and set us free.

From the beginning of our time, this Union of Love desired for us to join them freely, while simultaneously knowing that we would fail to do so on our own.

God knew that we would fail, not only because He is omniscient and unrestrained by time, but also because He created us. As created beings, we are not independently capable of loving as He loves.

In other words, He created us in His image and likeness that we might be able share in His perfect love. But He did not create us to be Him, to be that perfect Love that belongs to the Trinity alone.

The Trinity, One in Love, knew what it would take to teach us the way of love. To find the way, we needed to experience the fullness of this love on our level.

And so He became the Way to Love among us.

God knew that His human life would be painful. It was not, however, a demand One Person made of Another. It was not a price or a ransom – at least not in the way we typically use those terms.

It was a gift, an outpouring of His Person in a supreme act of love.

The Son was not in it alone. The Father and the Spirit were ever with Him, never abandoning Him for a moment – for the desire for our salvation emerged from their loving Union.

Yet this does not mean that Jesus did not suffer – that He did not feel pain, betrayal and abandonment. As a human being, He could not help but to feel these things.

Hence, His cry from the cross (“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”) conveys to us in truth that His death was a very real and very human one.

Have we, in times of great pain or anguish, ever experienced God as absent?

Probably all of us have or will undergo this experience of divine abandonment at some point.

Yet our feeling of abandonment does not mean that God actually abandons – or that the Father and Spirit left Christ on His own in His agony.

This is not to say the Persons of the Trinity suffered. As noted elsewhere, God does not suffer. But this need not trouble us – for it is not co-suffering that sustains us nor would that be what sustained Jesus in His Passion.

Jesus was, I believe, ever in Love and sustained by Love throughout hardships of His human experience.

He loved freely, voluntarily, as a human being. He did what we were unable to do – and did so by the power of the Spirit.

Having chosen to come among us, He first gave Himself as food for our journey and then gave His life to be the Way for us to follow.

All so that we might enter everlasting life and love with Him.

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I know I haven’t explained it well. How could I, when it is a mystery I do not understand myself?

If the saving act of Christ is more about love than suffering, should I still feel sorrow for my sins? Should I let go of the nagging guilt I feel because Jesus endured all of this for me?

Yes and yes.

Certainly I must feel sorrow for my sins. The Gospel is very clear about the need for repentance.

The problem for so many of us, however, is that we tend to associate repentance with guilt and shame – to the point that they seem synonymous.

Perhaps this cannot be totally avoided. To fully acknowledge my need of salvation, I cannot hide from the pain that my sins and weaknesses have caused myself and others.

But this is only the beginning, the very first step.

Once acknowledged, to repent is to change – to change my mind, to turn my heart in a completely different direction.

If I am paralyzed by my guilt and shame, I will not be able to do this. I will be so focused on myself and my defects that I won’t see the Loving One standing right before me, beckoning me to follow.

It might surprise us to learn that this experience is a taste of hell. Yes – hell. To be in the presence of Holy Love and be so focused on self that I do not know the Love is there.

Encountering sinners, Jesus gave the simplest and most guilt-free of messages: “Your sins are forgiven.” “From now on, avoid this sin.” “Follow Me.”

His sternest warnings were to those who had their eyes closed. How else could He try to awaken those who tried to protect their egos by hiding behind a false holiness?

My ego, my will – I must give it to God. I cannot trust myself to hold onto it.

It not only pervades my sin – but also my repentance. What else is all of that guilt and shame but another tendril of evil trying to pull me away from Him?

In the end, it is only love that saves. I must surrender my ego, my will. I must allow it to be crucified with Christ – not because it is demanded of me but because it is the only real gift of love that I have to offer.

I fear, as perhaps Jesus feared, not having the strength, the courage, the love in me to do this.

In fact, I know I do not.

But never was I expected to do this alone.

The Way has come and shown HImself to me.

The Father listens to my every prayer.

The Spirit dwells within me always, teaching and protecting and comforting me.

And so I surrender…to the love of the Father, by the power of the Spirit, in union with Christ our Savior to Whom belongs all glory and praise.

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