Monthly Archives: March 2018

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.


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?


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.


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.


God as Man

(This is the fourth article in a series written for Lent. Having stolen Met. Ware’s chapter titles, I am finding that my writing bears limited resemblance to what he has written in his book, “The Orthodox Way”. Hence, do not blame him for the content that follows.)

I find myself struggling to write and I am not sure why. I ask God’s grace to be with me and guide me this evening as I begin again.

Perhaps the most obvious source of my difficulty is simply not knowing what to say. That God became man in the person of Christ is central to our faith and yet we can no more explain it than we can explain the Trinity.

Sadly, our efforts to do so have too often created divisions among us. Just as regrettable are the many absurd if not delusional notions out there that lead more people to dismiss the faith than to embrace it.

I do not want to fall into either of these traps.

If my words do not encourage others in the faith, they ought not be written.


Let me begin with these oft-quoted words of St. John the Evangelist:

For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life. (John 3:16)

While these words have undoubtedly consoled many Christians, I find myself struggling with them – not because I don’t believe their message to be true but more because I do not understand them.

What does it mean for God to have a Son, an “only Son”, yet one who has existed from the beginning?

Certainly we do not believe that God had a wife, engaged in a human reproductive act and she produced a son who carried His genes.

This kind of father-son story would be more characteristic of the tribal gods that surrounded the ancient people of Israel. God’s children were led along a very different path in the revelation of the One God.

What emerges in the account we are given of God sending His Son to save us are certain core truths – but truths cloaked in mystery.

For us to come to salvation, our Messiah, our Christ, needed to be both fully God and fully human.

For Jesus to be fully human, He needed to be born of a human mother, to take on flesh and blood in the very real sense of the word.

If He had come among us in any other way, e.g. bursting through the clouds on a chariot of fire, we might have been impressed – but we would have doubted that He was truly human since we would not know where He came from.

For Jesus to be fully God, His birth of a human mother needed to be different from every other birth. He needed to come forth from God – to be sent or “given”. Hence, He was born of a virgin.

Did Father then “create” Jesus? Did He “beget” Him?

It seems that the answer to this question is both yes and no – a paradox that again bespeaks a  profound mystery that transcends human reasoning.

As part of the Trinity, Jesus is uncreated God. There was never a time when He did not exist.

As a member of the human race, Jesus was created. He began life as a fertilized egg in His mother, developing a body like any other, being born into human history on a specific date. There was a time when He did not exist – or at least He did not exist as a human being in time.

Our confusion occurs, of course, because we cannot see outside of time. The latter makes sense to us, the former goes beyond our understanding.

I wonder if this is why the words “Father” and “Son” were given to us. They are words that we can understand and relate to.

If we were told that our God has three persons who love each other and that we are to love each of them, we would have no way of conceptualizing this sort of love.

But we do understand the love of a father for his son and we can comprehend the enormity of the gift when a father sacrifices his son to save others.

From a Biblical perspective, we have been given the story of Abraham and Isaac to prefigure our Father’s sacrifice of His Son.

As important as this foreshadowing is, let us consider a scenario closer to our own experience.

A father sends his son into a burning building to try to rescue the children trapped inside, knowing that the odds are great that his son will not make it out alive. It is his only child he sends.

A mother sends her son to rescue a young child caught in the crossfire of warring gangs outside their home, knowing well that he may take a bullet. It is her only child she sends.

Let’s imagine that both sons die in the rescue attempts. The grief of these parents would be overwhelming. They would feel quite literally that they had sacrificed a part of their very own selves that others might live.

But the gift of God our Father far exceeds the sacrifices of these hypothetical people. For He sent His Son, not for the innocents, but to rescue the arsonist who set the house on fire in the first scene and to save the gang members whose violence terrorized the neighborhood in the second.

He gave completely of Himself in order to save those of us who don’t think we need saving. He poured Himself out in the person of Jesus for those among us who may not even care to be saved.

He wants it for us – because He knows far better than we do what we need if we are to experience the fullness of joy.

One might question though how this is a sacrifice for God. After all, He remains God and the death of His Son is but temporary. He knows from the beginning that Jesus will be raised.

As much as this question lures us with its human logic, I cannot let myself be drawn into this erroneous thinking. It reduces God to the level of our humanity.

Although all human metaphors for sacrificing one’s child involve heart-rending suffering, we cannot conclude from them that God suffers when giving us His Son. (See my previous article,  The impassibility of God, for an extensive discussion on whether God suffers.)

The words of John’s Gospel are not to teach us how much God suffers but how complete and total is His love.

The evangelist has no choice but to use human words and imagery to help us understand what we have been given – and surely even they fall short of the reality.

The reality of such a love is beyond our imagining.

Not only has it been given to us in the person of Jesus, but we are invited to have a full share in this love.

Jesus, as God-as-man among us, not only reveals to us who God is but also reveals to us who we are.

Though we were made in the image and likeness of God, the corruption of sin has kept this from being fulfilled in us. Having entered our death voluntarily, Jesus’ absolute act of love brings to perfection this image and likeness in His human self.

He does not merely rescue us from death, as though rescuing us from a burning house, so that we can later die again.

Rather, He demonstrates in His own person what we were made to be and becomes the Way we are to follow to arrive at the eternal Love.

Indeed. “God so loved the world that He gave his only Son…”

To Him be glory. Amen.


God as Creator

(This is the third article in a series written for Lent, 2018. I have borrowed the chapter titles from Met. Ware’s book “The Orthodox Way” and sometimes reference his content. However, I go off in my own directions and therefore am responsible for the content unless otherwise noted.)

The gift of Creation is so magnificent and mysterious that we will never fully grasp it. Even less can we comprehend the Creator or the process by which all things come to be.

In this chapter of Met. Ware’s book, I encountered discussion of many topics I have already written on at some length. Though I cannot claim to have written well, I think it is best to leave well enough alone – rather than rehash hypotheses about the book of Genesis, good and evil, and so on.

However, there is one (seemingly) small part of Creation that I have not written of and would like to highlight. May God be merciful and permit me to share a few thoughts about this great gift given to humanity.

Met. Ware provides the following quote from Thomas Merton, a monk of the Western Church:

At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak his name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship. It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all of the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely…The gate of heaven is everywhere.  (from “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander” by Thomas Merton.)

Several things drew me to this passage. First, I felt a personal affinity to it because of Merton’s use of the term “nothingness”, given that “nothing” is my word for 2018. I was intrigued that Merton termed this most sacred aspect of our created selves a nothingness. This set me to wondering why he did so.

His notion of a point or spark is further reinforced by his description of it as an absolute poverty. How can he say that of what he later refers to as the “pure glory of God in us” and “his name written in us”?

What could be of greater value than His name within us, His pure glory shining within each and every one of us?

If indeed the Lord God created the human person with such a point, would this not be far greater than any riches we can conceive of?

How then can it be a nothingness or a poverty?

Merton seems to recognize the apparent incongruity of his image – for he then proceeds to portray it as like a diamond “blazing with the invisible light of heaven”.

In other words, out of all of His Creation, this spark implanted in the human person is simultaneously the greatest of riches and the most profound of poverties.

This paradox, I believe, is what finally seized my attention, rendering inevitable further reflection on this one (seemingly) small detail of God’s Creation of humanity.

One key consideration should be noted before delving further into our topic, however. And that whether this point or spark actually exists.

There are no means by which we can view or measure it, nor will there ever be any method of proving its existence.

Yet the implications for believing that it is there are enormous. More about that later…

I cannot help but conclude that Merton’s words point to a truth inseparable from our belief in God as the Creator who made us for Himself, in His image and likeness, able to share in the fullness of His life.

The image that forms in my mind is that of the Lord God putting His signature into every person He brings into being, much as an artist signs a work upon completing it. Each human being is unique yet all are His images.

This signature proclaims, “This one is mine. I made it.”

When we view a great work of art, we are naturally drawn to the artist’s signature. We not only want to know who created it, we want to encounter the artist, the source of the beauty we see.

Whether we call it a point or a spark or a signature, it only makes sense that God would leave His imprint (yet another term for the unnamable) on what He has made.

And in the case of human beings, this imprint is an indelible mark of His presence within.

Merton is correct, I believe, in describing this spark as something we cannot access – in essence, something that we cannot ruin.

Though God has created us with a free will, there are some limitations on that freedom.

We are free to choose our way or God’s way. We are able to choose good or evil, life or death.

However, no matter how much we might damage ourselves and each other by our choices, there are some things we are not able to do with our free will.

We cannot stop God from loving us.

We cannot choose not to be His Creation, His sons and daughters.

We are free to deny these things – to deny that God loves or that He created us or that He exists. We are free to make ourselves ignorant of His way of love, blind to His beauty and deaf to the song He sings to our hearts.

But we are not free to stop Him from being love and beauty and song. We cannot stop Him from being our Father by denying that it is true.

Metaphorically, we cannot erase the signature of the Artist.

We can pile so many sins upon His glory within us that it is barely recognizable. But we cannot remove it – nor can anyone else.

This signature, this imprint of His glory is the splendor of humanity. It is truly like a “diamond blazing”.

Yet we can only know of it by experiencing the poverty, the nothingness of our being apart from Him. It is indeed an absolute poverty that impels us to cry out, “Abba! Father! Save me!”

To know our Artist as “Father”, we must accept in ourselves the poverty of being children – children who are ultimately not in charge of our own lives.


Awareness that this point, this spark, this imprint has been placed within us is perhaps the most important awareness of our lives.

First, even if I experience myself as confused or I feel detached from God, I have only to look within to find Him, to begin (again) the process of knowing Him.

I do not have to search far to find God or to know that I am His. No matter what the state of my body, my mind or my soul, I will find Him in that tiny spark within me. Every time.

Part of me may want to protest this point – “I don’t know how to find that point. I don’t know what it means to ‘look within’. Where do I look? How do I find Him? This is not nearly so easy as you make it sound.”

To clarify, I did not say that it was easy. I only indicated that we are always free to look within and He will always be there.

If I don’t know how to look within, I can begin by being still. Without a practice of stillness, my focus will likely be trained on things outside of my soul – whether that be the outside world or the clutter of my mind.

In stillness, I discover grace for the asking.

If this is not enough for me to find Him (and it very well may not be), then I must assume that there are passions, sins or other distractions that keep me from seeing Him.

And so I can begin (again) the process of repentance – of patiently but firmly removing all that keeps me from seeing Him.

Certainly none of this is easy. But if I know this spark is within me, I am much less likely to give up the search. “I must keep going, keep going – He is there, I know He is there.”

There is another aspect of this awareness of the spark that is of great value to us.

To consider that God’s signature is within me and within every other person I encounter may change quite substantially my thoughts and feelings and reactions.

If I am tempted to view myself as flawed, worthless or defective, awareness of the spark within requires me to rethink this.

Yes, there may be quite a pile of sins in me. I may frequently give in to the passions. I may feel damaged.

But beneath all of that still lies God signature, proclaiming that I am His creation and always will be.

Nothing I do – and nothing that anyone else can do to me – can ever change that.

And, of course, the flip side of this awareness is that every other person I meet or see or even read about has God’s signature in them as well.

I may not be able to see it – either because I am not willing to look or because they have a lot of sins piled on it – but I cannot deny that it is there.

How does this awareness change things?

It has the power to change them radically.

Someone cuts me off in traffic. Oh – he is God’s own creation.

Another person berates me. As the anger begins to build, I remember – she has God’s signature within her.

A world leader makes outrageous moves that places many innocent people at risk. That’s right – he is one of God’s own children.

This awareness, of course, does not excuse the wrongdoings of others – anymore than it excuses my own.

However, remembering that I am viewing one of God’s personal works of art, I become concerned if its beauty has been neglected or marred.

I do not rage. Rather I pray for the lost and forsaken and strive to cultivate a heart of compassion.

In my nothingness, in the poverty of my being, I search for the tiny points of light in myself and others that they may dispel the darkness of this life and lead us to the great Light of our Creator.


Abba, Father of all Creation, Holy is Your name. I thank You and I praise You that in Your abundant goodness You have placed Your name within me. May I always rejoice in knowing that I am Your child and not be afraid to depend on You. Help me to grow in all ways, but especially in Your way of love. Open the eyes of my heart that I may behold the light of Your presence in everyone  and everything You have created. May my heart love most especially Your children in whom Your name, Your glory is buried – whether through their own sins or those of the world. Grant me the courage to relentlessly seek Your spark, Your light, in myself and everyone whose path I cross today and every day of my life. Amen.