The enemy at work…

It has been quite a while since I posted anything here. I’ve been too busy painting icons 🙂

But the time has come for words – strong words.

Last week, the decision was made by the Catholic bishops of Ohio to temporarily lift our religious obligation to attend Sunday Liturgy. This move was made, of course, as part of the worldwide effort to stem the spread of COVID-19, the highly contagious and deadly coronavirus. We could attend if we wanted to but people at risk were especially encouraged to stay home.

Today, late in the afternoon, the bishops decided to temporarily suspend all public celebrations of the sacred liturgy throughout the state.

Without a doubt, this is the work of the evil one.

By no means am I suggesting that the bishops were acting inappropriately. On a human level, they made a sensible decision to try to protect us – as much as it is in their power to do so.

But who is it that creates pandemics? People, in their fear and suffering, often assume that it is God. Haven’t we been told that He is the Creator of all things? Who could have created the viruses (not to mention the bacterias) if not Him?

To understand this, we must return to the story of Creation for it tells us many truths.

In the beginning, as the Spirit, the breath of God (Ruah) swept over the waters, the Word was spoken. All things were created through Him and for Him. The love within the Trinity gave birth to all things and everything born of this love was pronounced good.

Hence, we know that all of God’s creation was good from its inception. Are viruses then good?

On the level of science, we do not know how viruses came about, though their origins appear to be ancient. So insidious are they that they left no footprint in history that we can study. While considered “living”, viruses seem to be a perversion of life, existing only to reproduce and yet able to reproduce only through parasitism.

And we know who has introduced the perversions we see in Creation. It was not God.

While sometimes obvious, it is often not easy to see how sin leads to such tragedies as pandemics. We know the evil one sows the seeds of sin in us – but how does this lead to illness? Is it our fault?

I am not suggesting, of course, that succumbing to illness is the fault of any individual nor is the development of a pandemic the work of any one generation. It is more the fault in our nature that has grown and developed through hundreds of centuries during which time the seeds of the enemy have grown.

We were given dominion over the earth, to be the loving caretakers of all of the life in it. Need I say that we have not done a very good job? With the perversion which is evil embedded in us, we have brought the planet with us into our death-producing state of sin.

Were it not for Christ our Savior, our situation would be beyond hope. Not only do we kill each other with our rages and our wars but we draw the rest of creation with us.

Yet Christ has given us the antidote: Himself. He has given us Himself in His life, death and resurrection. He has given us Himself sacramentally in Eucharist, the bread from heaven, that nourishes us unto eternal life.

And so now the enemy thinks he can starve us out. Create enough suffering, enough fear – then take away our Food – surely we will despair and defect to his side.

But he is wrong.

Even though I participated in the Sunday liturgy yesterday, something moved me to go to my church for Mass again this evening. I had not heard the announcement this afternoon but I sensed that time was growing short.

I would have expected myself to feel sad or dejected upon hearing of the suspension of public liturgy but that is not the case. Receiving Him one more time was immensely joyful, as His love came crashing into my heart.

In a new way, I realized that He is here to stay, whether it be weeks or months before I can commune again.

The sacraments are a great gift – far greater than we understand. I need them – but God does not. I will hunger for Him but I know He will continue to feed me. He will not leave my heart.

And my hunger will make me desire Him even more.

The enemy can indeed wreak much havoc upon us but we must not be afraid. He cannot win. The victory has already been won by Christ Jesus our Lord.

Take courage, my friends, and do not be afraid. Let us pray for each other daily that we might be strong in battle, strong in the certainty that our Savior’s love will conquer all.

All praise and glory to Him.


Pray for us…

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God 

that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ…


(My belated Christmas card/icon for 2019. Wishing all of you much happiness and holiness in the New Year. You are welcome to download or print this or any of my images for your personal use.)

The Christmas present

I never know what God is going to give me for Christmas.

This may seem like an odd thing for a Christian to say. After all, doesn’t He always give me the same thing – Himself, present in the Word made flesh?

Indeed. But He is also full of surprises. While sometimes surprises are fun and exciting, sometimes they are not. Sometimes they are confusing, even painful.

But God’s surprises are always good, even when they aren’t what I wanted and feel most unwelcome when they appear.

As I reflected on this matter last night, I found myself being reminded of so many gifts given in past years – some I had forgotten and was delighted to rediscover. Others have been fondly cherished through the years.

Going back some 30+ years, I will always treasure that one Christmas where I had a bad upper respiratory infection.  My parents lived in Buffalo, NY and I in Cleveland. I wasn’t sure I was well enough to make the drive but God made the decision for me.

The snowfall was so heavy that they closed the roads between our two cities. And so I was home alone with the stillness, broken only by my coughing and the unexpected visit of a friend.

I was completely free of commercial Christmas and I could rest with the newborn Christ. I would never have asked for this gift but it was one of my favorites of all times.

Then there was the Christmas just 5 years ago… the first since my father had passed and I found my mother terribly sick with the flu. (Before I leave Minnesota). I had never seen her so debilitated. At her age, I did not know if she would live through it. Rather than go to my family’s gathering, I sat home with her. She slept and slept, waking for short intervals – until it hit her intestines and drained her further.

Never would I have asked for this. Yet it was a gift. There was a peacefulness in being her child, of staying by her even though I could do nothing to help her but be there. In some way I cannot explain, it was like being at the first Christmas.

Of course, not all of God’s Christmas presents involve someone getting sick. There was the year He gave me the poem, “I am the hay”, which became one of my favorites (When heaven came to earth). And there were a couple of years that He surprised me with stories. Only my most hardy of my readers will remember “The little hibiscus” (recording). Just last night, I reread The Infant and was deeply touched.

I had completely forgotten the precious gift He gave me on Christmas Eve, 2016 (The only gift) when He instructed me to turn off my computer and “Just become small…” Could He ever give me anything better than that?

Christmas, 2019, is but half over. Already I’ve been gifted: yesterday, by being present to encourage my mother to attempt the physical therapy that so frightens her since she fell and broke her arm last week; today, with a glorious liturgy punctuated with traditional English and African hymns.

Can there be still more? Like a child hopefully searching under the tree for yet one more present, I keep my eyes and heart open – just in case.

For the best gift is the one He is giving me right now – the present where I meet Him, whether in sickness or health, in sorrow or in joy. Every moment, every time, every place – it is all love…

Merry Christmas…


Universal Salvation – an addendum

As we approach the fifth anniversary of this blog’s existence, I am acutely aware that I have written almost nothing during the past year.

Although I sense a sort of wistfulness as I contemplate this reality, my regret cannot be too deep as I believe it is all part of God’s inscrutable plan. I suppose it might sound a bit pretentious to imagine that God has a particular plan for whether or not I write. Still nothing is so small as to escape His notice.

Oddly, I continue to write comments, some rather protracted, in such varied forums as Fr. Stephen’s blog and the New York Times. But, when it comes to writing original pieces, it seems as though there is little left to say.

I know, of course, that this is not true. There is still much that can be said but it seems that my heart is no longer in it. I get an idea and it drifts away like a leaf mozying downstream on a lazy summer afternoon, soon disappearing from sight without any active resistance.

Yet I am altogether obsessed with painting religious icons. God, it seems, has given me another way to proclaim His goodness and beauty.


However, it has come to my attention that I need write an addendum regarding my ever-evolving awareness of the perfection of the divine economy.

In 2016, I wrote a piece on hell, relating that agony I felt at considering that such a thing could actually be in the plan of my loving God (link to article: Hell?). In one evening, I almost lost my faith over it. But, as usual, God rescued me from myself, hushing my sobs and wiping my tears, reminding that He wants nothing but love.

Two years later, I revisited the topic from a less frantic perspective, justifying the possibility of eternal punishment with the argument that God would never force salvation on anyone, not only because of the gift of free will but because love has to be voluntary in order to be love (link to original article: universal salvation).

Now, as 2019 draws to a close, I am given pause to question why I felt such a need to defend the doctrine of hell. Was it because the Church teaches it? Or was it because Scripture seemed to support it?

Probably the latter carried the greater weight. With other issues, I have been able to consider that the Church might be mistaken about something. Guided as we are by the Spirit, we are still human and can misunderstand what God is trying to tell us. But if Jesus taught it, well then I cannot possibly contradict it.

The only thing is that now I am no longer certain that this is what Jesus taught. In fact, I am becoming increasingly convinced of the opposite. Hence, this addendum.


Without a doubt, Jesus used much imagery to convey to us that suffering was in store for those who failed to believe and thus did not love God and neighbor as the law commanded.

Indeed, He warned people of being thrown into Gehenna, a valley near Jerusalem which was a fiery garbage dump. The place was considered acursed as it was where kings of Judah had previously offered children in human sacrifice. I think we can safely assume the Jesus did not mean literally that anyone who called his brother a fool was going to end up in this valley. Just as He did not mean literally that we should cut off our right hand if it causes us to sin.

His point, of course, was to communicate that sin has very serious implications for us. We must take even the smallest inclination to sin very seriously. Even though He was bringing the Good News that our sins are forgiven, this was not to suggest that sin is harmless or that we shouldn’t be concerned about it.

Jesus seeks to warn us, with considerable urgency, that suffering is the natural consequence of sin. And He wants to save us from this suffering and so creates dire images that His listeners will take note of. Sin leads to suffering not so much because God has a need to punish us but because it is an incorrect way of living.

It is, I grant, a slippery slope when one declares what Jesus “really meant”. Yet, I do not think it is an unreasonable stretch to say the Jesus often spoke in parables and used metaphors when describing the consequences of sinful living. However, what is more central to the focus of this article is how, if not from Jesus, we came up with the notion of hell – and more specifically, of a hell that was conceived of as everlasting torment.

It seems that this mistaken notion is the result of some rather sketchy translations of the original Greek New Testament. Although David Bentley Hart’s book “That all shall be saved” has recently drawn considerable attention for his argument in favor of universal salvation, he is by far not the first to espouse this belief. Nor is he the only one to question the Greek translation that has led so many to believe that eternal damnation is part of God’s plan.

It is interesting to note that there is only one time in the New Testament that the Greek words rendered as “eternal” and “punishment” sit next to one another. Even more interesting (to me, at least) is that this occurs at Matthew 25: 46, precisely the passage I cited when I wrote my piece called “Hell?” Jesus is speaking of the separation of the sheep from the goats and designates that the uncharitable will go off to “eternal punishment”.

While it is very clear that Jesus is instructing us to be show love for the hungry, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned, it actually is not so clear at all that what He warned of was, indeed, eternal punishment for those who failed to do so.

The translation question that is easiest to understand is that of κόλασις (kolasis). According to a good number of sources, the original meaning of this word was “to prune”, as in a botanical instruction about how to prune a tree so that it would be more fruitful. As the word gradually came to be considered a form of punishment, it largely retained the implication that the action was for the good of the person/tree, i.e. it was a remedial sort of punishment. 

Ancient Greek had another term, τιμωρία (timoria), that was used when speaking of punishment for retribution, i.e. to given “satisfaction” to the injured party without regard for the reformation of the offender.

In this passage from the Gospel of Matthew, the term κόλασις was the one used. Without even examining the word translated as “eternal”, we can see the problem for interpreting κόλασις as constituting unending punishment. What would be the point of reforming a sinner if they were to remain in an eternal hell anyway? 

This understanding is also much more consistent with the Judeo-Christian God taught in both Old and New Testaments. As much as the Old Covenant God with His “blazing wrath” could seem rather formidable, He nonetheless was persistent in trying to draw back His chosen people who had strayed from Him, even when they worshipped false gods. He wants all to be saved, even if they do not merit it.

It is also noteworthy that native Greek speaking people of the ancient world, both Christian and secular, made quite distinct the difference between κόλασις (kolasis) and τιμωρία (timoria). Aristotle and Plato were among the secularists. An example for our purposes, however, is an excerpt from St. Clement of Alexandria,

“But as children are chastised (kolazo) by their teacher, or their father, so are we by Providence. But God does not punish (timoreitai), for punishment (timoria) is retaliation for evil.” (Note: in Greek, the endings of words change when there is a different form of the word.)

And what about the word for “eternal”? We might wonder what it does mean, if not eternal, as it sits there next to κόλασις. 

This is more complicated to explain, especially given that I have extremely limited personal understanding of Greek. But it seems to boil down to the root word, aiōn, which means “age”. When two plural forms of this root appear (aiōnas and aiōnōn), it has commonly been translated into “forever and ever”, an idiomatic expression in English that would be incomprehensible to the ancient Greek speaker. To us, this means “eternal” but it is not so clear what it meant in the Greek of the New Testament.

Hence, it is the scholarly opinion of some, though not without controversy, that “aionas ton aionon” is better translated as something like “ages of ages” or “eons to eons”. An age or an eon is a limited period of time, though it may be a long time. Some apparently fret that translating “aionas ton aionon” in this way when referring to God would suggest that God Himself is not eternal. However, this is not so. Indeed, it tells us that God is the God of all ages, from the age of Moses to King David to today.

Of course, there are those who would argue that if aiōnas doesn’t mean eternal punishment neither does it mean eternal life for the righteous. (It is at points such as this that my head begins to buzz and I reaffirm that theology is not the field of study for me.)


For this addendum to be complete, I suppose I should return, at least briefly, to my previous argument that God would not “force” anyone to be saved. He wants us to love and, for love to be love, it must be freely chosen. Having given us free will, we do, at least hypothetically, have the option to refuse salvation.

I say “hypothetically” because it is hard to comprehend that any human being, having been show the fullness of God’s goodness and love would refuse it in favor of eternal torment. There is no denying, of course, that people do evil things – sometimes very evil. As far as we can tell, there are also many who die unrepentant or at least not accepting of Christ. How can I resolve this with my growing acceptance of universalism?

David Bentley Hart makes far more intelligent arguments than I ever could. However, as a psychologist, I certainly cannot deny that there are many limits on every human being’s freedom to choose. From our genetics to our early childhoods to the sinful world into which we are born, can any of us really make a totally free choice about love and God?

I could counter my own argument, however, by noting that, while we are not all equally free, God knows exactly what degree of freedom each person has and can thus judge their personal culpability for sin with complete fairness.

Yet this is not about “fairness”, is it? As I have been considering this topic, it occurred to me that I have never worried greatly about eternal damnation for myself. My concern has been more for others – and for my understanding of God as all-loving. I have always assumed that God would be merciful to me. Why have I not assumed He would be equally merciful to others?

There is an odd notion in our culture that has also infiltrated the Church and that is the notion that justice and mercy are antithetical to one another. While sadly this may be true in the secular world where we define terms differently, it is surely not consistent with Christianity. We act as though God’s mercy must always be tempered by the opposing force of His justice but that cannot be.

Yet it is easy to be lured into this manner of thinking. God would necessarily be merciful to me, supposedly a small-time sinner, but His justice would require Him to damn the Stalins and Hitlers of this world. How could He not? We allow ourselves to think this way because that is what the world would consider “just”.

But the reality is that God’s justice is nearly the opposite of ours. His justice is one that forgives the sins of people who do not even ask for forgiveness (e.g. Matthew 9: 1-8). He welcomes into His kingdom a public sinner whose repentance is vaguely stated moments before his death (Luke 23: 40-43). He loves and pours out mercy on the undeserving – and that is all of us.

Could anyone resist this love, this mercy, for an eternity? I cannot imagine. But, of course, all things rest in the hands of God.


I will say but a few more words. It may be concluded from their writings that a number of the early Church Fathers, including native Greek speakers, assumed that salvation was universal. Among these were Origen and St. Gregory of Nyssa.

While this does not prove anything (God forbid that I try to prove anything about the meaning of Scripture), the notion that all are to be saved in the end is neither recent nor radical. Nor does it mean that sin is without painful consequence to the unrepentant sinner. I should want to avoid “pruning” as much as possible.

And yet, sinner that I am, if God deems that I need some burning “κόλασις” is order to know Him fully, I long for it with all my heart.

To Him be glory…

Christ the King

An excellent poem by Malcolm Guite…

Malcolm Guite

20111119-111210We come now to a feast of Ends and Beginnings! This Sunday is the last Sunday in the cycle of the Christian year, which ends with the feast of Christ the King, and the following Sunday we begin our journey through time to eternity once more, with the first Sunday of Advent. We might expect the Feast of Christ the King to end the year with climactic images of Christ enthroned in Glory, seated high above all rule and authority, one before whom every knee shall bow, and of course those are powerful and important images, images of our humanity brought by him to the throne of the Heavens. But alongside such images we must also set the passage in Matthew (25:31-46) in which Christ reveals that even as He is enthroned in Glory, the King who comes to judge at the end of the ages, he is also the hidden…

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What is real?

I recently read an article about the early life of Hitler and how he began his career as a propagandist. He became very skilled at it and, by the time he had risen up through the ranks, he had gained the ability to convince people of all sorts of things for which there was no basis. The article related how he might choose an issue of concern to people, find a way to make the Jews appear responsible for it and then create and repeat slogans until he had crowds of people chanting anti-Jewish slogans. As people’s passions were thus stirred, these ideas became “real” to people even though there was no truth in them.
Similarly, we live in an age where there is a proliferation of “conspiracy theories”. While such theories are not necessarily a new phenomena, the extent to which they can be transmitted and repeated for all to see is unique to this technological age. Arguments about what is true abound on the internet and “evidence” is denied as having been made up or manipulated for profit or political purposes – hence, the “conspiracy”.
I’m almost afraid to cite an example for fear that I will accidentally stir someone up but here goes: at one time, it was hypothesized that autism was tied to childhood vaccination. Well-conducted research has demonstrated that this is not true. However, there was some spurious research that gained a lot of attention. Despite the retraction of that spurious research, there are many people who still cling to the belief that vaccination is dangerous and they keep repeating it on the internet. Trying to dissuade them of this notion is interpreted as part of a conspiracy. Evidence no longer matters.
Why bring this up? Because it demonstrates a deep confusion in contemporary culture about what is real – to the point that many people have concluded that either (1) there is an objective reality but we cannot possibly know what it is, or (2) there is no objective reality and that all claims to a deeper reality are but “social constructs” or “your opinion”.
It is hard enough for people to agree on reality in politics and science, much less on the eternal Reality of Christ our Savior, the Logos of God. But it becomes truly frightening when a large percentage of the population seems to have drawn the conclusion that there is no point in seeking a higher Truth or examining the evidence for it because it is presumed not to exist.
As I found myself pondering this, I found myself wondering how a Christian is to respond to this state of affairs. It seems to me that it important to help people see that they are hungry – or else they will not seek nourishment. I recall something C.S. Lewis wrote – that hunger, while not proving that someone will actually have food, does prove that there is such a thing as food. In our contemporary culture, people are hungry but do not understand what they experience. Hence, they attempt to fill themselves with things that will never satisfy (money, sex, possession, drugs).
It is incredibly important that, as Christians, we live in such a way that people will want what we have – or at least be curious about it. Seeing in us an inner peace, an assurance that we are loved, a kindness and compassion that doesn’t argue but accepts and forgives and loves all – surely that will move some people to recognize that they are hungry and that things of this world are not satisfying them…
I pray for the grace to live in such a way. May God have mercy on me.


(A version of this article was first posted as a comment on Fr. Stephen’s blog Glory to God for All Things. Unfortunately, he had to remove it because it stirred up controversy about vaccinations, validating my point but creating a distraction he understandably did not want as part of his post.)

Just a little note…

As you may have noticed, I haven’t written here in quite a while. Thankfully, I’m alive and well – just writing more in image than in words. Perhaps I shall post images in the future but, for now, I’m too busy making them. 🙂

It is also quite possible that God has decided that I have said enough. I am always willing to write for Him but nothing seems to take hold. An idea passes through my mind…and, before I know it, it is gone.

The purpose of this note is to let you know of a change to my little photography blog, O Holy Earth, that some of you have been kind enough to follow. If you think I’ve neglected this blog, I’ve neglected that one even worse! No posts for more than 1.5 years! Therefore, to save a bit of money, I’ve decided to give up the domain name (gasp) that cost me $18/year.

Rest assured that you are welcome to visit that blog anytime you want. However, it has a new, free address: If you want to be notified of any new posts there, feel free to become an email follower at the site. I have no plans to post anything there – but I have no plans to not post anything there either.

It is all up to God. My life belongs to Him and He may do with me what He wills. I trust that it is all for the good.

While contemplating this decision, I re-read some of my posts at O Holy Earth and was moved by them – moved by how much God has given me over the years. Thanks to be to Him for all of the Beauty – the beauty of the earth and of you, dear readers.

Please pray for me as I pray for you.


(Note: I continue to pay the big bucks for this blog – to keep the domain name and make sure the blog is ad-free. It is too close to my heart to consider anything else – even if God’s plan is for me to remain silent…)

To confess deeply…

To confess deeply, from the heart, is a very humbling experience. Perhaps that is why we do it so seldom.

Or maybe it’s only me.

There have been times in my life when I have avoided confession altogether, making up excuses why I didn’t need to do it (yet).

“I haven’t done anything all that bad.”

Or its opposite:

“I cannot bear the thought of telling the priest that. God forgives me whether I go to confession or not; it’s not worth having anxiety attacks over.”

Besides the fact that I don’t enjoy being humbled (it is too similar to being humiliated), there are other obstacles to the heartfelt confession.

Sometimes I long for a confession that will rip open my soul and expose everything – that all of the shame and dread and ugliness of my sinfulness might be healed.

It is not just that I am afraid to confess in this way (although, of course, I am). It is more that I often find it nearly impossible to match the timing of my awareness with the opportunity to confess it.

One time several years ago, before I had a regular confessor, I experienced such a moment of awareness and knew it would be at least several days before I would be able to go to confession. And it was clear that I would be confessing to someone whom I didn’t know and who didn’t know me.

I decided to write it down, to say to God in writing what I wanted to say at the very moment in which the anguish was real and alive.

Later, I was glad I had done this. I believe it was during Lent because I had to wait in a long line before it was my turn. Such a relief. No planning or rehearsing. No effort to muster and maintain an appropriate level of compunction throughout the long wait.

It was all right there.  I had my confession in my pocket.

When it was my turn, I briefly introduced myself to the priest. Pulling out my letter to God, I explained that I would like to read it, my confession.

The priest seemed a bit surprised but permitted it. Whew. Although I do not recall any of the particulars of what happened next, I know that it was good.

It was absolution, a true mercy descending into my heart where once anguish had prevailed.


It is hard to predict when those moments of awareness will occur – the moments in which God allows me to see how much I can drift away from Him in a mere 24 hours.

Sometimes these moments occur when there is an unanticipated crossroads between hope and despair.

It may seem as though everything is fine, perhaps even better than fine. I have positive hopes and the sun is shining in my soul as I pray.

A few hours later, I see it. I see all of the time I’ve wasted, how selfish I’ve been, how what I thought was a glorious moment was indulgence in pride.

No wonder it felt so good. It was sin.

In moments such as these, there is a temptation to hopelessness. How could I have gone so wrong? The wretchedness takes over my thoughts and I realize that I am lost in darkness, emotionally and spiritually.

Not only am I lost but, I now know, I am powerless to find my way back to the light.

Perhaps there is no way back. Perhaps there is no light to return to. Perhaps my notions of God and love and salvation are one massive delusion. Perhaps there is no hope.

Is it even worth crying out into the darkness?

Yet the only alternative is utter despair.

And so I cry out, from the deepest part of my heart, “I need You!” Tears flow and I rock myself, praying that grace will come.

“Finally,” God sighs from the heavens, “finally she has let go of trying to control her life. Now she is ready to meet Me.”

With open arms, He embraces me in forgiveness and healing. A sacramental moment.


But the Sacrament of the Church is even more than this, if that be possible.

Though humbled and healed, my repentance is far from finished. Jesus held out his hand and rescued me, as He did Simon Peter when he lost faith while walking on water, but the work of forgiveness has just begun.

When I am alone and afflicted, He will not abandon me.

Yet He has also made it clear that His forgiveness of me is not just a personal gift.

It is more like a seed He has planted deep in my heart.

I need to water it, nourish it, cultivate it until it has taken root and become part of me.

This seed He has planted is His mercy, struggling to mature in me that it might bear the fruit called forgiveness.


“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

I have said these words more times than I could possibly count. But do I really understand what they mean?

Some have said that it means that God will not forgive me if I do not forgive others.

That, however, does not sound quite right to me. It would seem to imply that God’s mercy has restrictions on it – that it will not to be given to those who fail to show mercy.

This might sound “just” if we assume a legalistic perspective on salvation. Why should you be forgiven if you won’t forgive others?

And didn’t Jesus suggest this in His parable of the unforgiving servant who punished the one who owed him a fraction of what his master had just forgiven him? And does not the story end with the master punishing his wicked servant? (Matthew 18: 21-35)


Although it may sound as though Christ is demanding that I forgive, in actuality, He is explaining to me what forgiveness means and inviting me into the heart of it.

In His parable, Jesus is telling me that if I cry out for mercy merely to relieve my personal suffering and do not allow myself to be transformed by it, I will continue to be subject to the eternal death.

Why is this?

Let us go back to the seed planted in me when He forgives me.  If this seed of His love falls on fertile soil, in my absolution, His mercy takes over my heart and grows there.

(The “fertile soil”, of course, is humility, my sins and shame broken down, sacramentally “composted” into a spiritual humus.)

He does not and never will withhold His mercy. Yet if I fail to cultivate the seed of His mercy in me, it will die.

And alone, I will die with it.


In the prayer He gave us, Christ our Savior explained to us what true forgiveness means. Being forgiven and being forgiving are inseparable if we are to truly participate in the divine Life.

If I receive God’s forgiveness yet do not allow it to be given through me, can I say that I have accepted His mercy into my heart, that I have been transformed by it? Or might I just be carrying out a ritual duty to relieve myself of guilt?

Should I desire only the latter, I may just as well put my sins on the head of a goat and release it into the wilderness. I will have symbolically discharged my guilt but I will not have participated in the divine Life.

If I forgive others but do not allow God to forgive me, my forgiveness is suspect. At best, it is a noble human effort devoid of true holiness. At worst, it is a sin of pride in which I resist being humbled, imagining that I can do without God what God alone can do through me.

On the other hand, when His mercy does take root in my humbled heart, I cannot help but become a forgiving person.

Even when I feel unable to forgive, when I am too blinded by my hurt or pain, Christ-living-in-me is at work if I have allowed His mercy to take over my heart. What I don’t know how to forgive, He forgives from within me.

Surely He knows my weakness. Surely He knows that, apart from Him, there are some things (perhaps many things) that I am incapable of forgiving. But this is the point of sacramental forgiveness – to transform me from a place of death into Life.

It is in this Life that I become like Him, not of my own accord, but because of His great love.


People outside the Church (and some inside) question why this transformation requires confession to a priest. This aspect of the Church’s sacrament is solidly based in Scripture:

Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful. (James 5: 13-16)

It would be far more comfortable to privately tell God of my sins than to acknowledge them before another. But this “comfort” would allow me to believe that my sinfulness (and thus my forgiveness) has nothing to do with anyone but me.

It would not humble me nor would it draw me into the transformation that makes my heart merciful.

In order for the seed He plants to grow within me, I, like a gardener preparing the soil, must dig deep beneath the surface, past the rocky soil and thorns (Matthew 13: 3-7). Only in this way do I reach the fertile soil of my humility. It is hard work and seldom comfortable.

Yet fail to do it and His mercy will not take root within me.

The digging means that I must admit before others that I am a sinner, no better than anyone else and quite possibly worse. The truth of this becomes much more real when said aloud and alone, without a congregation to hide behind.

Once accepting the reality of my sinfulness, when a brother or sister sins against me, I am unable to condemn them for I cannot help but be in sympathy with their dilemma.

For their dilemma is my dilemma. Their sin is my sin.

When I see someone sick with the same disease from which I have been delivered, how can I not share the antidote with them?

When I see someone under attack by my enemy, how can I not rush to their aid, knowing that someone first rescued me from his grip?

I cannot accept mercy, truly accept it, without becoming merciful.

I cannot become truly merciful without Christ forgiving from within me, teaching and transforming my heart through every obstacle.

May I dig deep – may we all dig deep.

Ultimately, what we find will be joy…

A message from God…

I must admit that I didn’t want to do it. And I had no good reason for not wanting to except a certain selfishness with my time.

I have made an effort to make Sundays my Sabbath. I go to church, I pray, I prepare meals, perhaps read or do some artwork. But it tends to be quiet time for myself in which I try not to let things like work or shopping intrude.

But no one was asking me to work or shop. I was invited to a special fellowship meal at my church after Liturgy, commemorating the one year anniversary of the passing of our late pastor, also my dear friend.

I was asked to help out in serving and cleaning. While I am naturally rather lazy, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to help out as much as I just wanted to go home and do the things I had planned to do. I hadn’t had much time to myself in recent days and felt the need for that.

And I did want to honor and remember our pastor but Liturgy felt like the place for me to do that. Or so I told myself.

However, I also knew that my feelings were generated out of selfishness and that once I got there, it would be fine. I love the others at my church and sometimes have to push past my introvert tendencies to remember that I will enjoy and benefit from their company.

The decision was complicated, however, by one other factor: a major snowstorm that had struck the area the night before. A foot or more of fresh white snow covered my driveway, with the icy crud left at its end by snow plows.

My last regular snow shoveler went off to prison. The one before that disappeared after years of service.

Well, I’ll try, I thought. If I can’t get the car out, then I’ll walk to a closer church but I need to try. I don’t want my selfish/lazy/introvert self to dominate my decisions.

And thus began a saga, not of my planning.


I had backed out no more than 20 feet or so from the garage when the car stopped. I realized then that I was in deeper than I had expected.

Oh well, I thought. I’ll drive back into the garage on the tire tracks I just made. I’ll find someone to shovel for me later. I don’t know who or when, but I’ll find someone.

But the car wouldn’t move forward either. I didn’t like this.

I was stuck.

Having grown up in Minnesota, I learned early on some of the basics about unsticking cars that are stuck in snow. So I tried these steps, gently rocking the car backward and forward, by switching from drive to reverse and back again a few times, trying to get traction without burning snow into ice.

The only problem was that the car wouldn’t budge. Not even a little.

I was really stuck.

I could see that there was a lot of snow under the car, of course, as well as around the tires. I’ll just shovel a bit around the tires until my “rocking” tactic works.

I certainly knew that I couldn’t shovel the whole driveway – or, if I did, I would have to do it in small parts over the course of the day. In the past, I have sometimes found shovelers when someone walking down the street felt sorry for me and offered to help or a person in need came to the door hoping for a job.

So I shoveled a little and tried to move the car. Shoveled a bit more, still no movement. Got the smaller, lighter shovel from my trunk, still a no go. Hmm… getting tired, guess I’ll need to let it go for now.

My first sign that something was amiss was a bit of sparkling light in my visual field. I sat in the car for a couple of minutes to rest. I’ll go in the house, I thought, my hands are cold and I’m not getting anywhere.

Getting out of the car, that odd sparkly sensation in my vision and head came back full force. Taking care, I walked around the car and then rested with  my hands on the hood. The door into my house was about 20-30 feet away? Not far.

But then something really strange happened. I found myself lying in the snow in front of my car. I didn’t quite know how I got there. My clothes were wet from the snow. Oh well, I can change into something dry. I got up, brushed myself off and headed for the door again.

The next thing I knew, I found myself lying on the garage floor in front of my door. Hmm… very strange. Drawing my house keys from my pocket, I finally got inside.

Shortly after getting inside, I noticed my glasses were terribly bent out of shape and the right side of my head was beginning to hurt. I must have hit my head but when and on what I did not know. I had no memory of it.

I instinctively took off my coat and sweater to cool down and looked for a chair. The sparkly feeling in my head was gone and I was glad of that. After a few minutes, it occurred to me that I hadn’t locked the car. Oh… I don’t have my car keys. Where could they be?

Putting my coat back on, I ventured out. There they were, in the snow by the hood of the car where I had fallen the first time.

Now to the average person, it would probably seem rather obvious that I should call 911. Something major just happened here. But I come from a stubborn stock, “Oh, I’ll be alright”, we say. “No need to go through all of that.”

So I sat and thought about it for a short while. Finally, common sense won out and suggested that I at least call them. Maybe they wouldn’t think it was necessary to send someone out…

Needless to say, I spent the afternoon in the emergency room being monitored and scanned.

And, of course, not doing any of the things that I had wanted to do instead of serving a meal to my friends at church.


It is now two weeks since all of this happened and I am fine. But I must confess that it took me much longer to recover than I thought it would.

It is interesting how easily we minimize the impact of damage to our bodies. “I should be back to work in a day or two,” I thought. Try a week.

I have a real feel now for people who resist going to the hospital with signs of a heart attack or stroke. While I understood it intellectually before, I now get it. We don’t want to believe that anything is seriously wrong and so we assume that we’re okay.

Thankfully, nothing truly serious was wrong with me. No hematoma in the brain. No abnormalities in my heart. But there could have been.

This is just one of the small lessons learned in this rather fascinating experience of mine.

Allow me share a few of God’s messages that came through to me.

Perhaps the first message to enter my mind came in the form of a vaguely remembered passage from “The Screwtape Letters” by C. S. Lewis. The uncle was instructing the apprentice demon – “Convince them that their time is their own.”

I had fallen into the trap and I knew it. I had been imagining that my time that Sunday afternoon was mine and I didn’t want to give it up or even share it.

I wasn’t thinking about my life belonging to God – or at least not my time, which is basically the same thing.

So God reminded me.

Now, in the past, when praying, I have asked God to knock me in the head if I start wandering away from Him – “never let me be parted from you, O Lord”, I would pray.

Well, He answered my prayer – and quite literally. Since this occurred, I have considered that I may want to reword that prayer a little in the future. 😉

Of course, I’m not suggesting the God caused me to hit my head just to teach me a lesson. But He allowed me to choose foolishness and then taught me through it.

This was just the first of the lessons, the “messages”, if you will, that God has been sending me in the last couple of weeks.

Another, very obvious one, was simply how much I have to be grateful for. Grateful for all that could have happened and didn’t. Had the blow to my head been a couple of inches to the side where the skull’s bony structure is thinner, my temporal artery could have been ruptured and I might not have woken up. I could have broken bones. I could have frozen to death. I could have had a serious heart problem. The list goes on…

In addition to what didn’t occur, there is much cause for gratitude for what did happen. So many people, friends and strangers alike, were so very kind to me. From EMS and ER personnel to Uber drivers and neighbors I’d never met (they shoveled out my driveway the next day without me even noticing).

A friend drove me around and was willing to drive me more, acting as though I was doing her a favor by allowing her to help me. My brother texted me to check on me when he was busy with many things to do. And so on.

I am grateful. I am so very blessed – and I have done nothing to deserve it.

Another wonderful message from God was an increased awareness of what an amazing thing my body is.

While all of the medical procedures will likely cost me thousands of dollars, it occurred to me that none of them (except the ice pack given in the ER) had any role in healing me. They were all performed to make sure that there wasn’t something else wrong.

My body has been healing itself – and it has been fascinating to watch and learn.

You may be wondering, as did I, “Why did you pass out in the first place?” While the final word isn’t in yet, the most likely explanation is vasovagal. I fainted. Standing still after exerting myself caused blood to pool in my lower extremities and away from my brain.

I read online that the very best thing to do if you feel like you are going to faint is to lie down. This restores balance to the blood flow so that the brain isn’t short-changed, thus preventing the brief loss of consciousness we call fainting.

Since I didn’t know to do that, my body did it for me. In passing out, I was left in a prone position so that my brain could get the oxygen it needed. Getting my head whacked… well, that was just an unfortunate side effect to my ignorance.

In addition, for the last two weeks, I have been watching the amazing display of swelling and colors that have moved me from having a “goose egg” sized bump (I now know what they call it that) to a deep purple swollen eye to various shades of yellow, green and blue on various parts of my face.

While it all looked rather gruesome, my body knew what it was doing. Sending blood to aid in the healing at the site of impact, clotting enough so as not to bleed too much, gradually spreading the blood back through nearby tissue to enable it to be reabsorbed. Quite an extraordinary process.

And the healing process made me feel out of it and more easily tired, a sure-fire way to stop me from disregarding the energy demands required by healing.

In the grand scheme of things, this injury was minor but its lessons were powerful.

To have my weakness pointed out to me. To be reminded that I am loved and that God is with me at all times. To be made aware of the value of gratitude for so many things that I take for granted. To be taught a greater empathy for the sick and injured who suffer daily, barely noticed by me. To be shown close up how wonderfully God made this body of mine.

Perhaps I should not change the words of my prayer after all. God, in His wisdom, knows just when I need a knock in the head so that I do not stray too far from Him.

All praise and glory to Him forever. Amen.