Wednesday, May 09, 2007

09/05/07 Wed in the week of the 5th Sun of Easter


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Blessed are those for whom Easter is...
not a hunt, but a find;
not a greeting, but a proclamation;
not outward fashions, but inward grace;
not a day, but an eternity.


Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Today's Scripture

AM Psalm 72; PM Psalm 119:73-96
Wisdom 13:1-9; Rom 13:1-14; Luke 8:16-25

From Forward Day by Day:

Wisdom 13:1-9. For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator.

Last summer my family and I went camping in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. As an Eastern city dweller, I marveled each day at the mountains, at the deep canyons and majestic waterfalls. I was astounded as I watched Old Faithful erupt with clockwork regularity as it has done for eons. But nothing was more magnificent than the stars at early dawn. I was glad to be awake in the early morning. The stars, whose constellations I recognized from a long-ago astronomy class, were reminders of a Creator and a universe well beyond my small purview. The intricate order of the cosmos, my good fortune at being in harmony with this beauty, gave me an assurance of God's love and care for our small part of this universe. In the silence of the early dawn, peace reigned within and without. My heart was filled with thanksgiving.

Back in the hustle and bustle of the city, there is a different order which offers God's presence as well. But the vacation reminded me to look up, to go outside at dawn and perceive the wise Creator.

Today we remember:

Gregory of Nazianzus:
Psalm 19:7-11(12-14) or 37:3-6,32-33
Wisdom 7:7-14; John 8:25-32

Almighty God, who have revealed to your Church your eternal Being of glorious majesty and perfect love as one God in Trinity of Persons: Give us grace that, like your bishop Gregory of Nazianzus, we may continue steadfast in the confession of this faith, and constant in our worship of you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who live and reign for ever and ever.

Today in the Anglican Cycle of Prayer we pray for the Diocese of North Queensland (Queensland, Australia)
++++++++++ Reflections

How many remain at the foot of the mountain … who might climb to its summit!
St Teresa of Jesus
Conceptions, 2

Reading from the Desert Christians

Some old men said, "If you see a young man climbing up to the heavens by his own will, catch him by the foot and throw him down to the earth; it is not good for him."

Sayings of the Jewish Fathers (Pirqe Aboth)

Shemuel ha-Qatan said, Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth (Prov. xxiv. 17).

Daily Meditation (Henri Nouwen)

The Cup of Life

When the mother of James and John asks Jesus to give her sons a special place in his Kingdom, Jesus responds, "Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?" (Matthew 20:22). "Can we drink the cup?" is the most challenging and radical question we can ask ourselves. The cup is the cup of life, full of sorrows and joys. Can we hold our cups and claim them as our own? Can we lift our cups to offer blessings to others, and can we drink our cups to the bottom as cups that bring us salvation?

Keeping this question alive in us is one of the most demanding spiritual exercises we can practice.

From the Principles of the Third Society of St. Francis:

Day Nine - The Second Aim, cont'd

As Tertiaries, we are prepared not only to speak out for social justice and international peace, but to put these principles into practice in our own lives, cheerfully facing any scorn or persecution to which this may lead.

Upper Room Daily Reflection

SOMETIMES I am tempted to cling to blessings received during times apart instead of vigilantly seeking God in the ordinary tasks and times of my life. For almost six years I lived with a small monastic community, and I often yearn for its healthy daily rhythm of prayer, work, study, and recreation.

“Let go!” says God. “That was then; this is now. Walk with me on the sacred ground of the present moment, and you will find me in some unexpected places.”

- Elizabeth J. Canham
A Table of Delight

From pages 4-5 of A Table of Delight: Feasting with God in the Wilderness by Elizabeth J. Canham. Copyright © 2005 by Elizabeth J. Canham

Richard Rohr's Daily Reflection

"The Gift of Life"

On this earth nothing lives unless something else dies. It's true in the animal world, it's true in the chemistry world, it's true in the whole physical world. Jesus comes into this world and says, I, your God in your midst, will die so that you can live. Our vocation is to be like him, to die and be bread that is broken to feed the hungry world so that the world can live. When we can acknowledge that no one owes us anything, that all of life is a gift, we move toward freedom. And in that freedom, the amazing thing is, we're able to enjoy our life, because we don't have to grasp it anymore. We don't have to prove or assert it anymore. We're finally allowed to sit back and to enjoy God's presence, and to enjoy our own, too. Now we can enjoy other people because we don't need them to meet our so-called needs. We are called to live in the beautiful place of dying and living. It's the mystery of faith that we shout at the center of the Eucharist Prayer. As I give him my dying, as I say, "Welcome, sister death," as I hand myself over, God gives back life in new form. Now I've lived long enough to see the pattern played out for myself. To me the pattern is evident. I can believe the dying and the rising of Jesus is the pattern that connects all things. I believe that it is the mystery of this world, in all of the cosmos, in all of the stars, in all of nature, in water, in plants, in animals and in my human flesh. Christ is dying, Christ is risen, this Christ will show himself in all ages and all things.

from The Price of Peoplhood

From John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., Tradition Day by Day: Readings from Church Writers. Augustinian Press. Villanova, PA, 1994.

A meal of repentance

Asinful woman has proclaimed to us that God's love has gone forth in search of sinners. For when he called her, Christ was inviting our whole race to love; and in her person he was drawing all sinners to his forgiveness. He spoke to her alone, but he was drawing all creation to his grace. No one else persuaded him to help her come to forgiveness; only his love for the one he himself had formed persuaded him to do this, and his own grace besought him on behalf of the work of his hands.

Who would not be struck by the mercy of Christ, who accepted an invitation to a Pharisee's house in order to save a sinner! For the sake of the woman who hungered for forgiveness, he himself felt hunger for the table of Simon the Pharisee; and all the while, under the guise of a meal of bread, he had prepared for the sinner a meal of repentance!

Anonymous Syrian Author

Daily Readings From "My Utmost for His Highest", Oswald Chambers


"Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint." Proverbs 29:18 (R.V.)

There is a difference between an ideal and a vision. An ideal has no moral inspiration; a vision has. The people who give themselves over to ideals rarely do anything. A man's conception of Deity may be used to justify his deliberate neglect of his duty. Jonah argued that because God was a God of justice and of mercy, therefore everything would be all right. I may have a right conception of God, and that may be the very reason why I do not do my duty. But wherever there is vision, there is also a life of rectitude because the vision imparts moral incentive.

Ideals may lull to ruin. Take stock of yourself spiritually and see whether you have ideals only or if you have vision.

"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what's a heaven for?"

"Where there is no vision. . . ." When once we lose sight of God, we begin to be reckless, we cast off certain restraints, we cast off praying, we cast off the vision of God in little things, and begin to act on our own initiative. If we are eating what we have out of our own hand, doing things on our own initiative without expecting God to come in, we are on the downward path, we have lost the vision. Is our attitude to-day an attitude that springs from our vision of God? Are we expecting God to do greater things than He has ever done? Is there a freshness and vigour in our spiritual out look?

G. K. Chesterton Day by Day

IT is not by any means self-evident upon the face of it that an institution like the liberty of speech is right or just. It is not natural or obvious to let a man utter follies and abominations which you believe to be bad for mankind any more than it is natural or obvious to let a man dig up a part of the public road, or infect half a town with typhoid fever. The theory of free speech, that truth is so much larger and stranger and more many-sided than we know of, that it is very much better at all costs to hear every one's account of it, is a theory which has been justified upon the whole by experiment, but which remains a very daring and even a very surprising theory. It is really one of the great discoveries of the modern time but once admitted, it is a principle that does not merely affect politics, but philosophy, ethics, and finally, poetry.


Today's reading from the Rule of St. Benedict

Chapter 1: On the Kinds of Monks

It is well known that there are four kinds of monks.
The first kind are the Cenobites:
those who live in monasteries
and serve under a rule and an Abbot.

The second kind are the Anchorites or Hermits:
those who,
no longer in the first fervor of their reformation,
but after long probation in a monastery,
having learned by the help of many brethren
how to fight against the devil,
go out well armed from the ranks of the community
to the solitary combat of the desert.
They are able now,
with no help save from God,
to fight single-handed against the vices of the flesh
and their own evil thoughts.

The third kind of monks, a detestable kind, are the Sarabaites.
These, not having been tested,
as gold in the furnace (Wis. 3:6),
by any rule or by the lessons of experience,
are as soft as lead.
In their works they still keep faith with the world,
so that their tonsure marks them as liars before God.
They live in twos or threes, or even singly,
without a shepherd,
in their own sheepfolds and not in the Lord's.
Their law is the desire for self-gratification:
whatever enters their mind or appeals to them,
that they call holy;
what they dislike, they regard as unlawful.

The fourth kind of monks are those called Gyrovagues.
These spend their whole lives tramping from province to province,
staying as guests in different monasteries
for three or four days at a time.
Always on the move, with no stability,
they indulge their own wills
and succumb to the allurements of gluttony,
and are in every way worse than the Sarabaites.
Of the miserable conduct of all such
it is better to be silent than to speak.

Passing these over, therefore,
let us proceed, with God's help,
to lay down a rule for the strongest kind of monks, the Cenobites.


In this chapter, Benedict describes each of the four main classes of religious life that were common at the time of his writing. The effects of the descriptions and definitions are apparent. He is for all intents and purposes telling us the characteristics that he values most in spiritual development and emphasizing the qualities which in his opinion are most important to spiritual growth.

In one brief sentence, then, Benedict describes the life of the cenobite. Cenobites are the seekers of the spiritual life who live in a monastery--live with others--and are not a law unto themselves. Holiness, he argues, is not something that happens in a vacuum. It has something to do with the way we live our community lives and our family lives and our public lives as well as the way we say our prayers. The life needs of other people affect the life of the truly spiritual person and they hear the voice of God in that.

Cenobites, too, live "under a Rule." Meaningless spiritual exercises may not be a Benedictine trait but arbitrariness or whim are not part of Benedict's prescription for holiness either. Monastic spirituality depends on direction. It is a rule of life. Self-control, purpose and discipline give aim to what might otherwise deteriorate into a kind of pseudo-religious life meant more for public show than for personal growth. It is so comforting to multiply the practices of the church in our life and so inconvenient to have to meet the responsibilities of the communities in which we live.

But the spiritual life is not a taste for spiritual consolations. The spiritual life is a commitment to faith where we would prefer certainty. It depends on readiness. It demands constancy. It flourishes in awareness. The ancients say that once upon a time a disciple asked the elder,

"Holy One, is there anything I can do to make myself Enlightened?"

And the Holy One answered, "As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning."

"Then of what use," the surprised disciple asked, "are the spiritual exercises you prescribe?"

"To make sure," the elder said, "that you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise."

The Rule prescribes directions that will keep us, like the mythical disciple, awake until what we live, lives in us.

Then, Benedict says, the cenobite lives under an abbot or prioress, someone who will mediate past and future for us, call us to see where we have come from and where we are going, confront us with the call to the demands of living fully in the now when we might be most likely to abandon our own best ideals for the sake of the easy and the selfish. It is a basic Christian call. Everyone in life lives under someone and something. Adulthood is not a matter of becoming completely independent of the people who lay claim to our lives. Adulthood is a matter of being completely open to the insights that come to us from our superiors and our spouses, our children and our friends, so that we can become more than we can even begin to imagine for ourselves.

The cenobite, like most of the people of the world, works out the way to God by walking with others. In monastic spirituality, there is no escape from life, only a chance to confront it, day after day in all its sanctifying tedium and blessed boredom and glorious agitation in the communities of which we are a part at any given moment of our lives.

If any paragraph in the Rule dispels the popular notion of spirituality, surely this is it. Modern society has the idea that if you want to live a truly spiritual life, you have to leave life as we know it and go away by yourself and "contemplate," and that if you do, you will get holy. It is a fascinating although misleading thought. The Rule of Benedict says that if you want to be holy, stay where you are in the human community and learn from it. Learn patience. Learn wisdom. Learn unselfishness. Learn love. Then, if you want to go away from it all, then and only then will you be ready to do it alone.

There is, of course, an anchorite lurking in each of us who wants to get away from it all, who finds the tasks of dailiness devastating, who look for God in clouds and candlelight. Perhaps the most powerful point of this paragraph is that it was written by someone who had himself set out to live the spiritual life as a hermit and then discovered, apparently, that living life alone is nowhere near as searing of our souls as living it with others. It is one thing to plan my own day well with all its balance and its quiet and its contemplative exercises. It is entirely another rank of holiness to let my children and my superiors and my elderly parents and the needs of the poor do it for me.

There's passion in the Rule of Benedict, lots of it, and sarabaites come in for good share. Benedict calls this sort of "spirituality" detestable.

Anchorites separate themselves from a community in order to concentrate their energies and strengthen their virtues apart from the distractions of everyday life. They are seasoned seekers who want to center their lives in God alone, naively perhaps but sincerely nevertheless.

Sarabaites separated themselves also. Before the codification of religious law, people could assume a habit without formal training or approval. Sarabaites presented themselves as religious but separated themselves from a disciplined life and spiritual guidance and serious purpose in order to concentrate their energies on themselves. They called themselves religious but they were the worst of all things religious. They were unauthentic. They pretended to be what they were not.

They lived lives of moderate commitment, chaste and even simple to a point, but they listened to no one's wisdom but their
Perhaps the real importance of the paragraph for today is to remind ourselves that it's not all that uncommon for people of all eras to use religion to make themselves comfortable. It is a sense of personal goodness that they want, not a sense of gospel challenge. They are tired of being challenged. They want some proof that they've arrived at a spiritual height that gives consolation in this life and the promise of security in the next. There comes a time in life for everyone where the effort of it all begins to seem too much, when the temptation to settle down and nestle in becomes reasonable.

After years of trying to achieve a degree of spiritual depth with little result, after a lifetime of uphill efforts with little to show for it, the lure is to let it be, to stop where we are, to coast. We begin to make peace with tepidity. We begin to do what it takes to get by but little that it takes to get on with the spiritual life. We do the exercises but we cease to "listen with the heart." We do the externals--the churchgoing and churchgiving--and we call ourselves religious, but we have long since failed to care. A sense of self-sacrifice dies in us and we obey only the desires and the demands within us.

The gyrovagues, whom Benedict rejected out of hand, actually had a noble beginning. Founded to follow the Christ "who had nowhere to lay his head," the earliest gyrovagi threw themselves on the providence of God, having nothing, owning nothing, amassing nothing. Originally, therefore, a sign of faith and simplicity to the Christian community, gyrovagi soon became a sign of indolence and dissipation.

Gyrovagues went from community to community, living off the charity of working monks, begging from the people, dependent on the almsgiving of others. But they never stayed anyplace long enough to do any work themselves or to be called to accountability by the community. As admirable as their call to total poverty may have been in the beginning, it began to be their own particular brand of self-centeredness. They took from every group they visited but they gave little or nothing back to the communities or families that supported them. Gyrovagues abound in religious groups: they talk high virtue and demand it from everybody but themselves. They know how to shop for a parish but they do little to build one. They live off a community but they are never available when the work of maintaining it is necessary. They are committed to morality in the curriculum of grade schools but completely unmoved by the lack of morality in government ethics. Gyrovagues were an extreme and undisciplined kind of monastic and Benedict decried them, not so much because of their ideals surely as because of their lack of direction and good work.

Benedict's reference to the gyrovagues teaches a good lesson yet today. Extremes in anything, he implies, even in religion, are dangerous. When we go to excess in one dimension of life, the unbalance in something else destroys us. Work, for instance, is good but not at the expense of family. Love is good but not at the expense of work.

Too much of a good thing can creep into life very easily and become our rationalization for avoiding everything else. Achievement becomes more important than family. Prayer becomes more important than work. Religious exercises become more important than personal responsibilities. There is a little gyrovague in us all.

The Tao Te Ching, the Chinese Book of the Way, an ancient manual on the art of living that is the most widely translated book in world literature after the Bible, says on the same subject:

Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people's approval
and you will be their prisoner.
Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.


Dynamis is a daily Bible meditation based upon the lectionary of the Holy Orthodox Church.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007 Christ is Risen!
The Holy Prophet Isaiah
Kellia: Deuteronomy 3:1-11 Apostle: Acts 13:13-24
Gospel: St. John 6:5-14

Possessing is Obeying: Deuteronomy 3:1-11, especially vs. 2 LXX: “And
the Lord said to me, Fear him not, for I have delivered him, and all his
people, and all his land, into thy hands; and thou shalt do to him as
thou didst to Sihon king of the Amorites who dwelt in Heshbon.” Study
Moses’ account of the struggles of the ancient People of God to possess
the Promised Land, and you will discover, as a Christian, many
applications of the Prophet’s teachings to the struggle for possession
of the Kingdom of God. For instance, ancient Israel’s disobedience led
to defeat, dashed their hopes of taking the land easily, and caused them
to remain at Kadesh-barnea for more than thirty years. Still, after
departing there, through many battles, obedience and military success
became their hallmark, just as disobedience had marked their early failures.

Chapters two and three of Deuteronomy describe Israel’s departure from
Kadesh-barnea and their conquest of “Og the king of Bashan, and all his
people” (Deut. 3:3). At that time, ten Divine commands were given to
them through the Prophet Moses. These directives of God formed them into
a mobile force - a committed nomadic people (Deut. 2:1), took them out
of the desert of Sinai, started them northward toward the Promised Land
(Deut. 2:3), kept them from contending with the sons of Esau, Moab, and
Ammon (Deut. 2:5,9,19), and brought them victory against the two Amorite
kingdoms of Sihon and Og (Deut. 2:24,31; 3:2).

Obedience assured Israel’s migration to and possession of the land. For
instance, God commanded them, “Do not engage in war against [the sons of
Esau]” (Deut. 2:5), “and we passed by our brethren the children of Esau”
(Deut. 2:8). They obeyed, yet these first movements were only
preparation for later struggles. They moved along a path chosen by the
will of God and marked out for them by His commands. Thus, they defeated
those whom God designated to be “utterly destroyed” (Deut. 2:34; 3:6).
Obeying is possessing - as true now as in ancient times.

Abba Dorotheos observes that when the devil finds one bit of self-will
or self-righteousness in a person “he will cast him down through that.”
Self-will was exactly what defeated the generation of Israel’s warriors
who came out of Egypt and received the Law from God at Mount Sinai.
Their burial mounds in the wastelands of the Sinai peninsula are a
permanent reminder of the need to defeat the enemy of self-assertion and
independence of God.

Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos reminds us similarly that we are “told
to obey the will of God uncritically as it is expressed in Scripture and
in the works of the Fathers of the Church.” Deep in our hearts, being
self-willed, we often rebel and protest, being self-assured; but it is
necessary to subject our hearts, souls, and actions to the will of God.
While it is rare to know God’s will among the myriad of details of daily
life, yet we need to learn obedience for our life-journey under a
spiritual father - much like ancient Israel under God’s Holy Prophet Moses.

The theme of obedience, as a precursor for possessing, is clear in the
teachings of the Lord Jesus, Who tells us, “he who does not take his
cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me” (Mt. 10:38). The Apostles
teach the same: “he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and
continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work,
this one will be blessed in what he does” (Jas. 1:25). Note how well the
words of St. John of the Ladder reflect Israel’s journey: “Obedience is
unquestioning movement, voluntary death, a life free of curiosity,
carefree danger, unprepared defense before God, fearlessness of death, a
safe voyage....” The way to the Kingdom of God lies in obedience to God,
guided by wise pastors in God’s Church.

Teach us Thy righteousness, Thy commandments and Thy statutes, O God.
Enlighten the eyes of our understanding, lest at any time we sleep unto
death in sins.


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