Category Archives: Looking for Truth

Shielding the Glowing Heart

“You cannot be too gentle, too kind. Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other. Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives. All condemnation is from the devil. Never condemn each other. We condemn others only because we shun knowing ourselves. When we gaze at our own failings, we see such a swamp that nothing in another can equal it. That is why we turn away, and make much of the faults of others. Instead of condemning others, strive to reach inner peace. Keep silent, refrain from judgment. This will raise you above the deadly arrows of slander, insult and outrage and will shield your glowing hearts against all evil.” -St. Seraphim of Sarov

God knows how I fail to be gentle and kind. My wife and friends and family know too. I realize more and more how much I swim in judgment, and at best lift my head above its surface on occasion. More often, I’m about as aware of the condemnation welling up in my heart as a fish is conscious of water.

I keep coming back to this quote to remind myself of the high calling we have in making the Truth incarnate through our lives. That it’s better to give than to receive. To remind myself of the great blessing of kindling joy in another through truth spoken in love, and love shown by actions.

I don’t think being gentle and kind means being a pushover or turning a blind eye to wrongs committed. Neither do I think St. Seraphim means that we should never speak up, but rather that we should do so with a right heart—one heavy with the Spirit’s blessed fruit. How else will those who don’t know Him taste and see that the Lord is good?

I have so far to go.

O Lord and Master of my life,
Grant not unto me a spirit of idleness,
of discouragement,
of lust for power,
and of vain speaking.

But bestow upon me, Thy servant,
the spirit of chastity,
of meekness,
of patience,
and of love.

Yea, O Lord and King,
grant that I may perceive
my own transgressions,
and judge not my brother,
for blessed art Thou
unto ages of ages.
Amen.

-A prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian

Never Be Deceived

“Someone who lives
not by his own decisions
but by the example of the ancients
will never be deceived.”

-John Cassian, Conferences, 67.

(H/T: The Virtuous Life)

Deeper into the Mystery of Christ

I picked up this quote at Steve’s blog and wanted to share it here too:

“This process of becoming Orthodox is not something that you can do just after 6 months of catechesis and a little bit of chrism on your forehead. It’s a life-long process, because it’s being transformed into Christ. And if we can keep our focus that coming into the Orthodox Church is not about joining a new organization; it’s not joining ‘the right church’; it’s not ‘joining the historical church or the apostolic church’; or it’s not ‘joining the right church instead the wrong church that I was in.’

“But rather, it’s an entrance deeper and deeper into the mystery of Christ. Then I think we’re on the right track. Because otherwise all we’re doing is getting stuck in our heads and caught up in judgment and condemnation. In other words, we’re just stuck in our passions and we might as well have not converted anyway, because we still haven’t left the world behind.

“Our task is to incarnate that life in Christ that is not of this world. We have to be in the world, but not of it.”
– Metropolitan JONAH, “Baptizing the Culture”

Ouch (in a good way).

He Needs True Human Beings

Steve Robinson over at Pithless  Thoughts wrote something yesterday that really struck me–right in the solar plexus:

“God does not need our ministries and false humility and our greatness. He needs true human beings to live and die in Christ as a witness to the resurrection, and to be willing to be an obscure, no-name person in someone’s distant past who, because of a glimmer of faith, did one small thing in the name of God that, generations later, saved the very cosmos.”

God does not need my ministries and false humility and my greatness.

Ouch.

This is difficult to put into words–not because I’m embarrassed, but because I’m not sure how to speak of these thoughts. For most of my Christian life I have striven to be something. A leader, yes, in various roles. A nice guy. A potential mate. But it goes deeper than that. It seems to me now that I’ve spent my energy as a follower of Christ in trying to rise above my humanity, to be more than what I am or can be. Looking back over my experiences in the evangelical world, I’m surprised by how much loathing for people there is. For all the talk of love for others (where you can find it), there seems to be a general disdain for the human species under the surface–reverberations of a theology that denies or forgets the goodness of God’s creation. We are not dung. I don’t believe that.

Of course, I believe we should improve how we act, speak, think. But in my experience, such tasks easily become an external effort, as if putting on a costume, acting the part, rather than simply becoming those virtues, as dye stains wool. We feel empowered by the costume and begin to believe it’s who we really are, although no transformation has really taken place. We’re just wearing a set of clothes made for the stage, not real life. And when the gig is up, we feel disillusioned, like walking away.

The trouble is that one can only perform for so long. Sooner or later, the lines we’ve rehearsed to craft our false image become transparent, no longer able to conceal what’s really in our hearts, how we live, judge, hate.  We may try a different role, to craft another persona, but the same end is inevitable. All this manifests itself in cycles of zeal and piety, self-loathing and despair, wash, rinse, repeat. Sometimes excited and other times apathetic. Trying to be something for God and winding up resentful of ministry obligations, feeling the vastness of the chasm between who I am and who I have projected myself to be, the sickening gravity of standing at the edge of the abyss. Can you relate?

I hate the cycle. And I’ve realized at the heart of it is pride–the belief that I am better than I am, better than you, my wife, my friends, my family, neighbors, strangers–whether I realize it or not. I’ve found that the first in that list is the seed of all the others and is a stumbling block to true repentance. How could I have done that? I should be better than that. But you know what? I’m not. And I can’t make myself better by putting on good deeds and attitudes and leadership roles as if the clothes make the man. I’ve done that for too long. It doesn’t work.

I think at the heart of this, besides pride, is impatience. The unwillingness to accept who I am at present and to trust God to make me who I will one day become, by His grace and mercy. I have a tendency to short-change the process. It goes something like this: I read a few spiritual books, I have some great conversations with friends, and maybe I pray consistently for a week or two. Then, feeling puffed up with spiritual goodness, I do one of two things, if not both: think better of myself than I ought, and take on a spiritual project, believing there to be a readiness in my heart that does not yet exist. I want to do it all now. And I want to do the jobs I admire whether it’s good for me or not. And if I’m honest, sometimes that doesn’t become a question until the damage is already done.

All of that spiritual playacting isn’t being a human. Putting on someone else’s clothes or armor or job title won’t bring us to our true selves, our personhood, however much we admire what they do.

I want to live and not analyze or evaulate everything.  There’s a time and place for self-examination. But I fear too many people I know, me included, approach their life as if shopping for costumes. We turn away from what we truly are to embrace a self as wooden as the floor in my house. That’s not transformation.

I’m tired of trying to “get ahead.” I want to make mistakes and repent and be forgiven. I want to be wise and open and loving, not defensive or detached by self-focus and inherently limited analysis. I want to be my true self, deep in my soul, my heart, in my speech and actions, however long that takes to get there–not a manufactured, calculated facade (i.e. delusion). I want to live. That’s it. I want to live in the present moment and become better by the grace and mercy of God through everyday circumstances. I want to be healed. I want to be human.

All of this grossly falls short of describing the issue at hand. I’m no teacher, and I’m not a wise man. But I think for the first time, I almost “get” that oft-quoted proverb: “Cease striving and know that I am God.” Almost.

Thanks, Steve.

“Baptists, Eucharist, and History”

Scott Morizot of Faith and Food is currently working on a series by the title of this post. So far, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed  Scott’s brief but insightful articles as he compares and contrasts his Baptist tradition’s handling of the Eucharist with the belief and practices of  the Church in her early years. I’d recommend reading what he’s put together.

Here’s a link to the series’ intro–look for the other installments in Scott’s sidebar or on the first couple pages of his site.

Our Moment of Opportunity

Today Fr. Stephen wrote about “The Sacrament of the Present Moment,” which he explains is “everything, everyone, every place, filled with God, becom[ing] moments of communion and theophany.” I thought it worth passing on, so here is an excerpt (find the link below):

We confess that God is everywhere present and fills all things, but we still largely walk through the world treating all the things we encounter as just that – things. We carry no sense within us that God is in fact sharing His life with us in and through all things.

This goes to the very heart of living life as though the world were secular, of living life in a “two-storey” universe – the storey in which we live being the one not inhabited by God.

It has been a common observation that when various reformers set about to reform the Church, they declared “all days to be holy days,” and thus rid the calendar of any particular holy day. The unintended result was that before long not only were all days not holy days, no day was a holy day.

In the same way, the decrees concerning the “priesthood of all believers” rather than making every individual a priest, became a meaningless phrase, for without the sacramental priesthood, the phrase lost its reference of meaning. No one had seen or dealt with a priest so to be told that they had some kind of “priesthood” from Christ was meaningless.

Read the article

What Do We Believe?

Vladimirskaya - The TheotokosI once heard a story of two monks motoring a small boat one evening through a stormy bay. The fog around them was such that the monks quickly lost their bearings, making it impossible to see more than a few feet in any direction. Reaching shore, no longer a certainty, became their prayer. In desperation, the men cried out, “Mother of God, save us!” Hearing their prayers, the Theotokos* guided the monks safely to land. Not only were the men safely out of the storm, but the Holy Mother had delivered them to their destination, the very dock at which they needed to arrive.

Other such stories have made their way to me in conversation and reading, and I’ve wanted to believe them all. I would even admit to longing for such an encounter—perhaps to meet an angel, or receive a message from a saint, to see the image of Christ Himself. Such things have always been attractive from the time I was a child. And I have heard it said by many individuals that Orthodoxy is what they always wanted to believe, but never knew it was okay to do so, for precisely such reasons.

The anecdote above was relayed to me by a friend of a friend, who incidentally was one of the monks on the bay that evening. I would never presume to call either man a liar, yet I face the difficulties of my western sensibilities. Many of you, I’m sure, can relate. Today, belief in such supernatural occurrences is often considered unfashionable at best and medieval, superstitious, primitive at worst.

Why are such tales so difficult to believe? My feeling is that many of us settle for what is to be safely believed about God and His interactions with humankind—it is reductionism for protection; minimalism to avoid foolishness, false teaching and supposed delusion. Our faith has suffered blows from the scientific method and rationalism. The supernatural has been abused by tele-charlatans, theatrical swindlers and false prophets. Those promising the extraordinary were unable to deliver. We find it harder and harder to believe anything at all.

A few years ago, some friends and I endeavored to read books together and meet to discuss their contents. One such book, The Heavenly Man, cataloged the experiences of an underground church leader in China—a man whose day-to-day existence was nothing if not miraculous. Leaping over walls impossibly too high for humans to leap, covering miles of ground in mere seconds—these and many other events fill the biography’s pages.

In all honesty, I couldn’t finish the book. I found it unbelievable, deciding that the author must have exaggerated or fabricated the accounts of this pastor’s life. I couldn’t allow myself to believe something so fantastic. I couldn’t stand the idea of being duped.

In the weeks that followed, in conversations with friends, it struck me that my skepticism about the pastor’s life amounted to unbelief. I realized that beneath my initial question, Why are such stories so difficult to believe? was yet another: What do I believe about God?

What do I believe about God? Is He capable of sending His saints to us for assistance, guidance? Could He assign to each of us a guardian angel? I can come to no other conclusion that God is capable to do whatever He chooses. There is no wall too high, no fog too dense. Yet, in my heart, difficulties remain.

I’m beginning to see all the more that my struggle not only lies within what I believe about God, but also what I believe about Tradition.

*For my Protestant readers, Theotokos is the name ascribed to Mary. Its meaning in Greek is the God-bearer.