Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Hospitality 2


Once two brothers came to a certain old man. It was his custom not to eat every day but when he saw them he received them joyfully and said, "A fast has its own reward, but he who eats for the sake of love fulfils two commandments: he leaves his own will and he refreshes his brothers."

Some thoughts

What this says to me is that hospitality outweighs all other considerations, even our spiritual disciplines.

Rule of St Benedict Reading for June 30, 2009

February 29, June 30, October 30

Chapter 23: On Excommunication for Faults

(If there is no 29th of Feburary, append this entry to the previous.)

If a brother is found to be obstinate,
or disobedient, or proud, or murmuring,
or habitually transgressing the Holy Rule in any point
and contemptuous of the orders of his seniors,
the latter shall admonish him secretly a first and a second time,
as Our Lord commands (Matt. 18:15).
If he fails to amend,
let him be given a public rebuke in front of the whole community.
But if even then he does not reform,
let him be placed under excommunication,
provided that he understands the seriousness of that penalty;
if he is perverse, however,
let him undergo corporal punishment.

Some Thoughts

If previous experience with this passage on this list is similar to today's, the immediate reaction on the part of some readers will be to point out what is wrong with this passage.

Just for fun, instead let us look for what is right. Because whatever our post-modern reactions to this bit are, let me once again mention that compared to his rule writing predecessors, John Cassian, Rule of the Master, Benedict is gentle. After all, it's not as if we haven't read over and over again the strictures against murmuring, gossiping, complaining etc. And we read a chapter on obedience and humility. So we have had fair warning that St. Benedict is serious about the importance of these things.

What destroys community more quickly than dysfunctional behavior? All that murmurming and complaining to each other instead of addressing one's concerns with the person with whom one really has the issue is only going to cause division and factions. The health of the community is Benedict's concern here.

What do others find in this passage that rings true for them?

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Monday, June 29, 2009

How to really make the Christian Church Grow

It is the oddest thing, but what much of what is posted below came to me in a dream last night. I don't usually remember my dreams, but this one woke me up sobbing. Never thought then that I would be sharing it.

For quite sometime, I have been disturbed by the current trend to model church growth on the American business model. I am appalled at the use of such language as "selling our product" as if the Gospel were merchandise which we manufactured. But even more, it is not ours to sell. It is God's to give.

Increasingly I see Christians recommending the American business model as a way to convince people Christianity is a good thing. I have never understood that. For one thing, the American business model is based on idolatry: the worship of the big fat bottom line and the almighty profit margin.

For another the American business model dehumanizes those that participate in it. Most of the employees are worker drones in service to the god of that idolatry. Human relationships are sacrificed to that God for the sake of productivity and getting the job done. Parents are increasingly unavailable to their children at best of times and there is not one to take the day off to care for the sick child.

Finally, what is the cost to human beings for participating in the American business model? we have only to look at this recent recession, the problems with mortgages, banks, bail-outs to know that there is something fundamentally flawed in the American business model. We have unions, ombudspersons, federal agencies, negotiators etc all to convince the corporations to be more humane: give enough time off the job, pay better, provide health insurance, allow employees to work hours that allow for adequate rest, recreation and family time.

The model for "growing the Church" is not the American business model. If there are fewer church goers in the USA it is the fault of Christians who have flawed to live out the Gospel. As Chesterton said " It is not that Christianity has been tired and found wanting, it is that it has not been tried."

Living the Gospel requires us to step outside our comfort zones and there is not one among us who does that with ease. We all fight it. We heard a passage from Corinthians yesterday if our parishes use the RCL, all about giving. The passage didn't include the bit which talks about the Macedonians, arguably the poorest church of them all, begging to be allowed to give something for the relief of Jerusalem. It is that sort of attitude which will have people flocking in the doors.

I have heard and read people speak of “placing our product emphasis” and presumably by this they mean the Gospel. Product emphasis? Did we make God? Jesus? the Holy Spirit? We are not selling a product, but living in a relationship of mutual love.

The model we should be using is that of Holy Hospitality. We must remember that when we entertain guests, we entertain Christ. We claim that Holy Hospitality is our charism what with all those signs saying "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You." Except that not every Episcopalian welcomes every other Episcopalian or every other person. Welcoming another does not require that we agree with them, only that we look for Christ in them. That is our sacred obligation.

We of the Episcopal Church have the opportunity to demonstrate to the world our gut wrenching conviction that all persons are created in the image and likeness of God. That every single Christian is called to only one vocation, to love God with all that we are and have and to love our neighbors as ourselves. It is only the details of living that vocation that differ. Sadly what we of TEC all too often demonstrate is that we fail to love ourselves. We can see this in our failure to love our neighbors. Scripture teaches us that every single human being, even those yet to be born, are our neighbors.

The crisis of the American Church is a failure to love. Oh I am sure there is a chorus of "hey wait a minute, what about". And yes, we do many good and wonderful things. But we do not do enough. Somehow we have failed to communicate to our parishes that it is not solely what we do that is important, it is who we are.

To badly paraphrase Evelyn Underhill, if we truly love God and truly experience God's love for us, that love cannot be contained within the bounds of a human body but must fling out our arms to embrace the world and the love of God must overflow our bodies, streaming form our very pores, to love and serve God's creation, every human being, every bit of creation.

It is a joyous but also frightening thing to love like this. It requires us to face up to the lack of love we give to ourselves, to admit how much we may be ruled by fear of what might happen if we let go of control. We are so busy discussing (or arguing!!) over this or that and the best way to accomplish such and such. What about if we just dispense with all that and ask ourselves instead "What is the most radical way to love my fellow bits of creation? What will benefit others, first and foremost?"

Can we find the courage to step beyond the tried and true and go further in and higher up in God's call to each of us to fully embrace all people as living representations of the image and likeness of God, created by love out of love to love all and invite every single person in to the full life of the Church, allowing all God's children a voice in the Choir.

Saying of the Desert Christians: Hospitality 1


Once three brothers came to visit an old man in Scetis and one of them said to him, "Abba, I have committed to memory the Old and New Testaments." And the old man answered, "You have filled the air with words." The second one said to him, "I have written out the Old and New Testaments with my own hands." He said, "And you have filled the window-ledge with manuscripts." Then the third said, "The grass is growing up my chimney." And the old man replied, "You have driven away hospitality."

Some thoughts:

In the ancient world, hospitality was a sacred obligation, a holy act of love. It's quite the pity, I think, that for the most part, at least in the section of the USA where I live, that we do not offer hospitality to each other. Henri Nouwen writes in Reaching Out that when we entertain guests in our homes, we entertain God. What could be more lovely? It was not something to be avoided because one was too busy, too swamped. Hospitality was to be offered regardless of the cost to the host and hostess, even if it meant serving up the last bit of food in the house to the guest.

Now, I dunno about you, but I am deeply impressed that anyone could memorize the entire Bible. Not so the Abba of Scetis. I am also deeply impressed that someone could copy out the entire Bible in long hand. Not so the Abba of Scetis. As for the gentleman who has grass growing up his chimney... evidently his housekeeping leaves something to be desired because how could he cook anything without setting the place on fire?

The purpose of hospitality is to make the guest welcome, feel at home. It is not the time to impress the guest with long streams of memorized Scripture because what effect can that have but to inflate the ego of the one who recites and abash the one who hears. Abashing guests is not what hospitality is about.

Entertaining guests is also not the time to show off one's reams of paper upon which one has copied out the Bible. Ok, back then there was no printing press and if one wanted a copy of the Bible there was no other way to get them. But what effect could such industry have in one's guests except that ultimately they will be impressed with the industry of the hostess and feel that person is better than the guest. Belittling guests, however inadvertent, is not what hospitality is about.

The person with grass growing up the chimney is not only unable to offer hospitality but also demonstrates a lack of intention to do so. Keeping up with the housework, being prepared to do something other than one's own routine, these are what allows us to welcome guests as if they were Christ Himself.

Rule of St Benedict Reading for June 29, 2009

February 28, June 29, October 29

Chapter 22: How the Sisters Are to Sleep

Let each one sleep in a separate bed.
Let them receive bedding suitable to their manner of life,
according to the Abbess's directions.
If possible let all sleep in one place;
but if the number does not allow this,
let them take their rest by tens or twenties
with the seniors who have charge of them.

A candle shall be kept burning in the room until morning.

Let them sleep clothed and girded with belts or cords --
but not with their knives at their sides,
lest they cut themselves in their sleep --
and thus be always ready to rise without delay
when the signal is given
and hasten to be before one another at the Work of God,
yet with all gravity and decorum.

The younger shall not have beds next to one another,
but among those of the older ones.

When they rise for the Work of God
let them gently encourage one another,
that the drowsy may have no excuse.

Some thoughts:

My favorite portion of today's reading is always the bit about the knife. Today I find myself wondering what circumstance was responsible for this bit of advice. It is the sort of common sense thing that one would not think one would have to remind people about. Such as the cup of coffee is hot or something else that seems blatantly obvious.

I have noticed, though, there are times in my life, when I need to be reminded of the blatantly obvious. Do you share this with me? That you get so caught up in something, so trapped in the details that you overlook the obvious? Or perhaps even the simplest solution right there under your nose?

I also like the bit about "gently encourage one another" because IMO in this world there is much too much of the ungentle. Benedict sure knew how to read people. We have to be told to sleep with our knives under the pillow, to be gentle.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Silence 3


Abba Nilus said, "The arrows of the enemy cannot touch one who loves
quietness; but he who moves about in a crowd will often be wounded."

Some thoughts: Seems to me this is saying that when we make quietness a
habit, get it deep into our hearts, we with God's help will have created a
hermitage within our hearts that is with us wherever we are and we are
protected from whatever would attempt to draw us away from God.

Saying of the Desert Christians: Silence 8


When blessed Antony was praying in his cell, a voice spoke to him, saying, "Antony, you have not yet come to the measure of the the tanner who is in Alexandria." When he heard this, the old man arose and took his stick and hurried into the city. When he had found the tanner, he said to him, "Tell me about your work, for today I have left the desert and come here to see you."

He replied, "I am not aware that I have done anything good. When I get up in the morning, before I sit down to work, I say that the whole of this city, small and great, will go into the Kingdom of God because of their good deeds, while I alone will go into eternal punishment because of my evil deeds. Every evening I repeat the same words and believe them in my heart."

When blessed Antony heard this he said, "My son, you sit in your own house and work well, and you have the peace of the Kingdom of God; but I spend all my time in solitude with no distractions, and I have not come near the measure of such words."

Some thoughts:

Again I've frequently wondered why this anecdote would come under the heading of silence. My best guess is that this tanner does ntp have a lot of chatter going on in his head. He has simply come to believe that everyone else is a better Christian than he. Come to think of it, how much greater would be the silence if all Christians were to believe as the tanner does.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Prayerbook is a Girl's Best Friend

Saying of the Desert Christians: Silence 7


Abba Isidore said, "If you fast regularly, do not be inflated with pride; if you think highly of yourself because of it, then you had better eat meat. It is better for a man to eat meat than to be inflated with pride and glorify himself."

Some thoughts;

When I first read this, I wondered what was it doing in the section on silence. Surely it's about food and an attitude toward eating, is it not? The more I read it though, I think I begin have a glimmer of understanding. Please feel free to disagree with me.

When one is busy thinking highly of one's self, one is not silent, is one? This Saying speaks to us of how deeply the Desert Christians valued silence even unto silence of thought. The Desert Christians valued fasting highly, so highly that I suspect many were what we today would call anorexic. They really went overboard with their fasting, it was so important to them. But in this Saying we learn that silence and humility were even more important.

That's what I get out of it. What are your thoughts. please?

Rule of St Benedict Reading for June 27, 2009

February 26, June 27, October 27

Chapter 20: On Reverence in Prayer

When we wish to suggest our wants to persons of high station,
we do not presume to do so
except with humility and reverence.
How much the more, then,
are complete humility and pure devotion necessary
in supplication of the Lord who is God of the universe!
And let us be assured
that it is not in saying a great deal that we shall be heard (Matt 6:7),
but in purity of heart and in tears of compunction.
Our prayer, therefore, ought to be short and pure,
unless it happens to be prolonged
by an inspiration of divine grace.
In community, however, let prayer be very short,
and when the Superior gives the signal let all rise together.

Some thoughts:

I probably have no business attempting to say anything coherent about the Rb this morning. All this past week I have been attending an icon writing workshop and as marvelous as it was, I am exhausted.

As I read this passage this morning, I am reminded of ch 7 and the lessons about humility. I am sure we have all had the experience of being in the presence of someone (or ourselves being that someone) who thinks that if they keep on piling the words, another will agree with them. When we stop to think about it in terms of practising humility, it can't be very humble to think if we could say just a few more words or repeat what we've already said one more time, the other will agree and we will have our way. I know I've been guilty of this myself. Have you?

It is worth pointing out too, that Benedict makes a distinction between group and private prayer, prayer we come up with from ourselves and that which the Holy Spirit puts in our hearts, minds and mouths. There is a place for it all in the RB just as there is a place for it all in our own lives and the life of the church of God.

There are so many wonderful ways to pray. My own form of intercession is to hold someone in my mind and then take that person with me into the Presence, offering that person to God. When I walk from point A to point B and I am alone, I pray the Jesus Prayer. There are the set prayers of my Prayerbook and the unburdening of my heart. But best of all is simply to listen in the silence.

What manner of prayer calls out to you?


Friday, June 26, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Silence 6


Amma Matrona said, "There are many in the mountains who behave as if they were in the town, and they are wasting their time. It is better to have many people around you and to live the solitary life in your will than to be alone and always longing to be with a crowd."

Some thoughts:

Amma Matrona is one of only 4 women whose teachings are recorded among the Sayings. While it is a pity that only 4 are remembered, I am thankful that they are. Women were as much a part of this movement to the desert as were men.

I am sure we have all had the experience of going on a silent retreat only to find at least one retreatant who is very sociable, wanting to make friends with all, instead of doing the work of the retreat. I suspect that is the person Amma means in the first sentence. It is hard to learn to love silence and solitude. This goes against what seems to me to be our most basic instinct: safety in numbers.

For these Desert Christians, however, the desire to love God above all others, the desire to be with Him only superseded all other loves and considerations.

Is God the primary relationship of love in your life? Is there anything you love or want more than God? If I were to answer this question honestly, I would have to say that there are times when my answer would have to be yes. God always recalls me to Himself and there are an increasing number of moments when I think that God is the one who does all the work in this relationship and my only task is to be receptive to what He will give.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Silence 5


This place was called Cellia, because of the number of cells there, scattered
about the desert. Those who have already begun their training there [i.e. in
Nitria] and want to live a more remote life, stripped of external things,
withdraw there. For this is the utter desert and the cells are divided from
one another by so great a distance that no one can see his neighbour nor can
any voice be heard. They live alone in their cells and there is a huge
silence and a great quiet there. Only on Saturday and Sunday do they meet in
church, and then they see each other face to face, as men restored to heaven.

Some thoughts:

A bit of history first: On Saturday and Sunday they gathered for synaxis. Synaxis is the noun form of the Greek verb which is the root of the modern word "synagogue", and it means "gathering". They gathered together for common prayer, an agape meal and presumably, this would also be when many of the Sayings were uttered. They also stayed awake all Saturday night to pray and praise God together.

Can you imagine what this would be like? I can't even imagine enduring the training that would equip me to live for 5 days seeing no one, hearing no other voice. All the "what ifs" leap into my mind such as what if i am injured or ill. But even so, is not the idea of peace and quiet and only God present attractive? Maybe we cannot withdraw to a deep desert place, but surely we can with the aid of the Holy Spirit, carve out such moments.

Any suggestions

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Silence 4


Theophilus of holy memory, bishop of Alexandria, journeyed to Scetis and the brethren coming together said to abba Pambo, "Say a word or two to the bishop, that his soul may be edified in this place." The old man replied, "If he is not edified by my silence, there is no hope that he will be edified by my words."

Some thoughts:

Another favorite of mine. At first, I'll be honest, I read it with what were then twentieth century eyes. I read into it with delight the sarcasm that prevails in the culture in which I live. I gleefully thought Pambo was dissing the Bishop and letting him know that Pambo didn't respect someone just because he had a fancy title.

As I have come to love silence more, though, I read this differently, somewhat ashamed of my previous interpretation. Have you ever met a quiet person whose being radiated the love of God? Were you drawn to that person as a moth to a flame? Did something of that peaceful silence stir something deep within you? A desire, maybe, to share that restfulness?

I suspect that is what Abba Pambo meant. I hope that because the collector of the Sayings referred to Theophilus of holy memory that the good bishop was indeed edified by Pambo's silence.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Silence 2


A brother in scetis went to ask for a word from abba Moses and the old man said to him, "Go and sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything."

Some thoughts:

After studying these Sayings for a long time now, I have to admit that for many years I did not understand this. But now it is one of my favorites. What does it say to me? Stay put. Don't wander around looking for something better. Stay and absorb what is right under your nose. This Saying so used to mystify me and now I feel so at home with it. Stay where I am, follow the Rule God gave me, concentrate on this.

Of course, for those who like to keep their options open, this Saying may strike them as nuts. The thing I have always thought about "keeping one's options open" is that one will not settle to see the good that is today, the good God has for one in a certain way or place. "Keeping one's options open" means one will miss out on the glorious gifts God would give. IMO, anyway. What's yours?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Silence 1


Having withdrawn from the palace to the solitary life, abba Arsenius prayed and heard a voice saying to him, "Arsenius, flee, be silent, pray always, for these are the source of sinlessness."

Some thoughts:

Here we have the most basic teaching of the Desert Christians. Flee the world, flee occasions for sin, flee argument, flee temptation, flee anything that will separate us from God. It's a conscious choice that they practiced with a constant vigilance. Oh sure, some of the would-be monks tried to slide, take the easy way out or even fake it, but they were always found out. The Desert Christians teach me that God is better than anything else and to be with Him is worth far more than whatever the world or others might tempt us with.

Be silent. Keep the mouth shut. Do not offer opinions, advice, judgement, condemnation. Rather hard for Americans, I fancy, because we seem to interpret "freedom of speech" to mean we have the right to say whatever we want, regardless of the desirability or appropriateness of occasion, place and time. But there is something else about being silent: if we are not talking, then we can listen. And out there in the desert what else was there to listen to but God?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Secret Committees in TEC

So there's this secret committee studying the GLBQ issue. We know there are 4 conservatives and 4 liberals and Bishop Parsley, presumably one of the conservatives is the chair.

I would not be surprised if ,when the subcommittee eventually produces a
report, we see well-reasoned academic responses, four in favor of and four

Will this be worth waiting for?


For one thing, what could any such report contain that could possibly be new information?

But more importantly no rationale that makes any sense has been offered for the secrecy . Even more importantly than that are the Biblical injunctions to avoid secrecy because things hidden in the dark rot.

I can't speak for anyone but myself but I say Enough Already. I think the reason for the continued delay and secrecy is that those who oppose full inclusion of GLBT into the complete life of TEC know very well that they are fighting a lost cause and that were the vote to take place on the first day (an excellent suggestion), they would lose.

Additionally, any mention of polyandry, polygamy, polyamory should be outed for the red herrings they are, diverting attention for the real and true comparison: the Civil Rights Movement. And I don't mean in the legal sense, I mean in the spiritual sense where those who believed that non-white people were soulless and were animals.

Why do I say that? I've been reading about this issue for years and the loudest voices against full inclusion of GLBT seem to me those who believe that GLBT are without souls who have committed sins so grievous that even God Her/Himself could not forgive.

And there we have the basic bottom-line flaw in all of their arguments. All human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. And do I really have to cite Bible verses such as "all have sinned and all have fallen short of the shekinah of God?" Or the many times the Bible tells us that God has forgiven what we ourselves might never forgive another person? Or the many cads and scoundrels mentioned in the Bible who are also the beloved of God because they loved Him. What hubris on the part of those opposed to full inclusion to think they know better than God.

I know my passion may offend some. I am truly sorry for that but I am only saying honestly, transparency and with no secrecy how strongly I feel about this.

Put it to the vote, authorize the Same Sex Blessing Liturgy and bear witness to the world that in TEC everyone has a voice in God's choir and the Episcopal Church truly welcomes everyone.

Then let us move on to other pressing issues such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, providing for those who are unable to provide for themselves, visiting all imprisoned whether in jail or by fear and preaching the Good News.

And let's face it: what we've been doing in The Epsicopal Church is hardly good news.

Saying of the Desert Christians: Life Together 5


A beginner who goes from one monastery to another is like a wild animal who jumps this way and that for fear of the halter.

Some thoughts

Well, isn't this the truth. Benedict is far less complimentary in Ch 1 of his Rule:

"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. "

I also think of the modern day equivalent of those who are continually looking to have their needs met and they church shop or try on the latest fad spiritual practice. It is pretty clear that the Desert Christians and Benedict agree that the immature have been described.

I find myself wondering also about the modern multi-tasker who never give their attention to only 1 task but are bored silly when they are not doing 12 different things at a time. Are we post-moderns at risk to lose the capacity to savor only one thing at a time? Are we at risk to lose the ability to chose God above everything else?

Rule of St Benedict Reading for June 20, 2009

February 19, June 20, October 20

Chapter 16: How the Work of God Is to Be Performed During the Day

"Seven times in the day," says the Prophet,
"I have rendered praise to You" (Ps. 118[119]:164).
Now that sacred number of seven will be fulfilled by us
if we perform the Offices of our service
at the time of the Morning Office,
of Prime, of Terce, of Sext, of None,
of Vespers and of Compline,
since it was of these day Hours that he said,
"Seven times in the day I have rendered praise to You."
For as to the Night Office the same Prophet says,
"In the middle of the night I arose to glorify You" (Ps. 118[119]:62).

Let us therefore bring our tribute of praise to our Creator
"for the judgments of His justice" (Ps. 118[119]:164)
at these times:
the Morning Office, Prime, Terce, Sext, None,
Vespers and Compline;
and in the night let us arise to glorify Him.

Some thoughts

There are modern Benedictine communities which have adapted the Daily Offices from 7 to 4 by the, conflation of Lauds, Prime and Terce into one office while still observing prayers at Sext (noon) which also combined None (mid-afternoon around 3PM) Vespers and Compline. Or as I like to call it, the nighty night prayers.

You may wonder why I have not mentioned Matins. The Offices mentioned above correspond to the prayer hours of the Temple in Jerusalem which are believed to have been observed by the Apostles who handed down the practice to their own disciples of the Sub-Apostolic Period (aka the Patristics but that is a gender exclusive term which overlooks the contributions of women) who in turn passed the tradition along.

Matins is something the Desert Christians practiced. In addition to fasting to the point of anorexia, they also courted sleep deprivation. Which is why we see the RB as somewhat revolutionary as he was concerned that monks get enough sleep. Even though he observed the practice of Matins when he said "in the night let us arise to glorify Him."

The Jews considered that there was a symbolic meaning to numbers. The number 7 was the general symbol or metaphor for all association with God. IOW, 7 is the number that represented perfection. It was the favorite religious number of Judaism, typifying the covenant of holiness and sanctification, and also all that was holy and sanctifying in purpose. The candlestick had seven lamps, and the acts of atonement and purification were accompanied by a sevenfold sprinkling. The establishment of the Sabbath, the Sabbatical year and the year of Jubilee was based on the number 7, as were the periods of purification and of mourning. The number 7 is the Divine number of completion.

In the Book of Common Prayer of the American Episcopal Church (TEC) there are 4 Daily Offices. I myself have tried to pray the 7 offices but with all our modern labor saving devices, I fear I do not get done what I think I need to through out the day when I pray all 7 offices. But I still wonder if it would not be better to let go some of what I consider priorities and replace them with the 7 sacred hours. I wonder sometimes if by replacing my priorities with Benedict's that there would be Big Changes that I could never possibly have foreseen.

What would it be like to punctuate the day with prayer? To interrupt the mundane with a rhythm of prayer that may well make the mundane something else entirely. What do you think?

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Life Together 4


There was an anchorite who was gazing with the antelopes and who prayed to God, saying, "Lord, teach me something more." And a voice came to him, saying, "Go into this monastery and do whatever they tell you." He went there and remained in the monastery, but he did not know the work of the brothers. The young monks began to teach him how to work and they would say to him, "Do this, you idiot," and "Do that, you fool." When he had borne it, he prayed to God, saying, "Lord, I do not know the work of men; send me back to the antelopes." And having been freed by God, he went back into the country to graze with the antelopes.

Some thoughts:

I'll be honest: This is not one of my favorites. I find it painful to read. Here is this man living with antelopes and if he was grazing with them does that mean he was eating their diet? I can only wonder what made this person do this? And then I read of the harsh treatment he received from those who were, presumably, younger than he. And back to the antelopes he goes.

It's a harsh Saying, is it not? Here we have a picture of a man who loves God and yet is unable to fit into human society and so he removes himself. When he does seek out the company of others, he is treated abusively. What makes it all the more harsh is that this is a pattern I see repeated every day. Those of us who are perceived to be marginal are very often abused by those who consider themselves to fit right in.

It is not only the homeless who are abused in this manner. One has only to observe children on the playground to see it. One has also to ask, where did the kids learn to treat others like that?

Rule of St Benedict Reading for June 19, 2009

Chapter 15: At What Times "Alleluia" Is to Be Said
Feb. 18 - June 19 - Oct. 19

From holy Easter until Pentecost without interruption
let "Alleluia" be said
both in the Psalms and in the responsories.
From Pentecost to the beginning of Lent
let it be said every night
with the last six Psalms of the Night Office only.
On every Sunday, however, outside of Lent,
the canticles, the Morning Office, Prime, Terce, Sext and None
shall be said with "Alleluia,"
but Vespers with antiphons.

The responsories are never to be said with "Alleluia"
except from Easter to Pentecost.

Some thoughts:

When I first ran into this practice of saying "alleluia" at some times in church and not saying it in others, I could not understand what possible good could come from failing to say it. Over the years though, I've learned more. My initial reactions are not the most informed ones nor are they the ones upon which I should base my opinions. That's one thing I've learned from the omission of "alleluia" at some points in the church year.

There is another, more important thing I learned and that is how the observation of the Church Year is formative. The habits and practices of the observation of each season of the church year are themselves formative. When I started this section of the RB for the umptiumph time I prayed, "Oh. Lord, what is there to be said about this rather boring stuff? All this minutiae of which psalms when etc." The answer was rather painfully obvious... in addition to accommodations for the changes in the seasons, making sure the monks get enough sleep, Benedict has set up a system of formation through the use of the Psalms, etc.

Anything that is a change will make us more aware of what was changed. Hopefully, it leads us to ask why there was a change. Hopefully we learn something from the change.

Any thoughts you would like to share?

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Life Together 3


A brother asked, "I have found a place where my peace is not disturbed by the brethren; do you advise me to live there?" Abba Poemen replied, "The place for you is where you will not harm the brothers."

Some thoughts:

It's not all about us and what's good for us, is it? The place to begin is not with our needs, this Saying tells us, but the needs of others. As JFK might have said: Ask not what your church can do for you, ask what you can do for your church.

It's a paradox. We live in an age that is all about self-fulfillment, self-esteem to the point of narcissism. But one of the mysteries of the Christian faith is this: when we put the good of others ahead of our own, we actually get so much than we ever thought we wanted or needed.

Now I am as much of a feminist as the next feminist. I remember All Too Well what it was like to live in a male-centric world. I remember All Too Well the disparity in relationships where the family and the husband was put ahead of the wife and mother. There still are places where women and children are hardly regarded as even human. But such relationships are diseased.

When all parties put the good of others ahead of themselves, it is then that the mystery starts its work. Musterion. Sacramentum. Sacrament of living in the Kingdom of God as we have been since Jesus rose from the dead.

Rule of St Benedict Reading for June 18, 2009

February 17, June 18, October 18

Chapter 14: How the Night Office Is to Be Said on the Feasts of the Saints

On the feasts of Saints and on all festivals
let the Office be performed
as we have prescribed for Sundays,
except that the Psalms, the antiphons and the lessons
belonging to that particular day are to be said.
Their number, however, shall remain as we have specified above.

Please remember, on our website in the files section there is a file called Commentaries on the RB written by Sister Joan Chittister, Abbott Philip Lawrence and Brother Jerome Leo. URL is in my sig.

Some thoughts

I love observing saints' days and the various feasts of the church year. Doing so reminds me that I already live in the Kingdom of God. It has been at hand since Jesus rose from the dead. Which I believe He did bodily, historically and literally. I digress.

I love also to learn of the Great Saints of Yore, canonized or not. Of course we Episcopalians of the USA don't canonize anyone and as far as I know the Church of England only canonized one person: King Charles I. The Roman Catholics have of course since forever and the eastern Orthodox also have their ways of remembering. Sorry I can't speak more coherently on the last point.

In the Lectionary in the BCP of TEC, we have a Saints' Days Lectionary with special Psalms and Scriptures to commemorate many of those who have gone before us. We are in the world but not of it. What we are of is the Kingdom of God. It is all around us. One of the theological ideas for a church is that when we enter, we also enter Heaven. The Christian life is one of tension: we have one foot on this earth, another in Heaven the Kingdom of God.

The RB really helps me bridge the two. What works for you?

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Life Together 2


Abba Antony said, "Our life and our death are with our neighbour. If we gain our brother, we have gained our God; but if we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ."

Some thoughts:

There is a constant theme in the Sayings that we have to earn God. That we work to be worthy of God. And of course, they took that to extremes, sometimes. Of course, we in our day emphasize that God's grace is a gift, freely given. And of course there are those who take that to extremes also.

But there is a truth in the middle I think. Yes, grace is a gift but that doesn't then give us license to do any tom fool thing we want. The free gift of God's grace is best received with gratitude and humility, that sense that we can never really deserve it. Which is hard for those of us born and raised in the USA with that strong work ethic that we have to earn everything. Yet the Great Saints of Yore have left us a legacy of spiritual disciplines. A harsh word, discipline. I prefer to think of ascesis as a gesture of love we offer to God. A recognition of the fact that in any relationship of love there is that which depletes and drains the love and there is that which enriches and cherishes the love. That is what I think is the middle way between these 2 extremes.

Something else that interests me in this Saying is the issue of one's responsibility about scandalizing another and its consequences. Once again, as a product of the USA and especially all that emphasis on recovery from abuse work we did in the 80s and 90s, I think people should be responsible for their own stuff and if they are scandalized, well too bad because obviously they are sufficiently ill-informed otherwise they would not be.

The more recovery work I did, the less compassionate this approach seems. And it does run counter to things Jesus said. But I confess I find it hard to get this recovery work ethic out of my mind. One reason as that for most of my life, I was never able to manage my depressive symptoms because I seldom experienced any relief from stress which just kept on triggering depressive episodes. When a person is in a constant survival mode, too exhausted to do anything except the merest to stay alive, one scandalizes a lot of people. My fellow Christians fell into the Enemy's snare as they judged, ridiculed and shunned me. How gratefully I received the recovery work ethic that it was all their fault and none of mine.

Since those days I have come a very long way in learning to managing my symptoms. I was granted disability status and was rescued from the very worst stressor of them all: the American workplace. And I find I am still a scandal to some, all without knowing it. I can no longer employ the convenient excuse that if they were to walk a mile in my shoes, they would know what it is like to live with uncontrollable depression. My depression is controllable now. I must take responsibility for my thoughts, words and deeds.
February 16, June 17, October 17

Chapter 13: How the Morning Office Is to Be Said on Weekdays

The Morning and Evening Offices
should never be allowed to pass
without the Superior saying the Lord's Prayer
in its place at the end
so that all may hear it,
on account of the thorns of scandal which are apt to spring up.
Thus those who hear it,
being warned by the covenant which they make in that prayer
when they say, "Forgive us as we forgive,"
may cleanse themselves of faults against that covenant.
But at the other Offices
let the last part only of that prayer be said aloud,
so that all may answer, "But deliver us from evil.

Some Thoughts

Does it strike you as curious that only the monastic superior is to pray most of the Lord's Prayer with the monastics only joining in at the end? I certainly does me. While I can't say I have done a study of the use of the Lord's Prayer in private devotions, it's hard for me to imagine that it did not. I've checked Kardong's Commentary and it doesn't say anything helpful. Which is a pity.

Although I once had a class a seminary where we had to research the religious practices of those not in monasteries. The class was called What Led Up to the Reformation or something like that and what we all learned was that there really wasn't much recorded about the religious observances of people not in monasteries or convents. Except of course for those the Roman Catholic Church deemed heretics such as the Waldensians, Albigensians and the Beguines. Church historians find the seeds for the Reformation in these 3 groups as well as other contributing factors. Of course, there are those Medieval Books of Hours which the nobility had and presumably used in prayer. Although Lady Godiva bequeathed her prayer chaplet (string of beads on which she counted out her Pater Nostras) to a statue in Coventry Cathedral. There were a few more bits and pieces I came across but that was about it. We could have a very interesting chat about it, if anyone is interested, on the Mere Benedictines list.

One explanation that I've come with about this passage is that Benedict wanted the communal emphasis on the hard bits of the Lord's Prayer. That he wanted to emphasize that God will forgive us only as we forgive each other. And in the other Offices, he wanted the monks to really hear that it is only God who can deliver them from evil.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Life Together 1


Amma Syncletica said, "We ought to govern our souls with discretion and to remain in the community, neither following our own will nor seeking our own good. We are like exiles: we have been separated from the things of this world and have given ourselves in one faith to the one Father. We need nothing of what we have left behind. There we had reputation and plenty to eat; here we have little to eat and little of everything else."

Some thoughts

One of the things that I most appreciate about the Desert Christians is their stark lack of compromise. True, that often led them to an unhealthy extremism. But their lack of compromise throws into stark relief our own wishy-washiness where we excuse, justify and rationalize all sorts of compromises. Not that compromise is bad, quite the opposite. But the question I always am left with in reading these Sayings is this: do I compromise too much?

Praise be to God that even so, He still loves me. Look at all the cads and scoundrels of the Hebrew Scriptures who are reported to have been loved by God and who loved Him.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: True Poverty 5


Once abba Arsenius fell ill in Scetis and in this state he needed just one coin. He could not find one so he accepted one as a gift from someone else, and he said, "I thank you, God, that for your name's sake you have made me worthy to come to this pass, that I should have to beg."

Some thoughts:

I cannot imagine that beggars were thought of any better back then than they are today. And yet in some ways, could we say that at this level of need one is most truly poor? Similar to the Son of Man who had no where to lay His head and He was God Incarnate.

As more and more of us lose our jobs, homes, etc and struggle to care for our loved ones, we may see more beggars just trying to survive these hard times. For those of us who live paycheck to paycheck, are we aware that we ourselves are a hair's breadth away from having to beg ourselves? Are we willing to embrace the depth of spiritual impoverishment? Are we willing to accept how deeply we need Jesus?

Such are my questions that I address to myself after praying on this Saying. Maybe something different occurred to you? If so, would you please share it?

Rule of St Benedict Reading for June 15, 2009

February 14, June 15, October 15

Chapter 12: How the Morning Office Is to Be Said

The Morning Office on Sunday shall begin with Psalm 66
recited straight through without an antiphon.
After that let Psalm 50 be said with "Alleluia,"
then Psalms 117 and 62,
the Canticle of Blessing (Benedicite) and the Psalms of praise (Ps. 148-150);
then a lesson from the Apocalypse to be recited by heart,
the responsory, the Ambrosian hymn, the verse,
the canticle from the Gospel book,
the litany and so the end.

Some thoughts

Do the Gentle Readers of this list have a regular prayer life? Do you prefer nothing to prayer?

Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't. I am better when I do but I have learned that sometimes service has to take precedence over prayer. Jesus shocked the Pharisees by healing someone on the Sabbath which teaches me that sometimes there are higher priorities. I learned this when my mother had a heart attack and the next several weeks were fraught with a great many time consuming cares that challenged all of my priorities.

Sometimes I don't because I live with a disabling level of a refractory Major Depressive Disorder and there are many times when my only coherent prayer is to repeat the name of our beloved Lord over and over and over again. This past weekend was one of those times. Something that I have learned as a result of these experiences is that I can count on the Body of Christ to do for me what I cannot, to pray in my place when I am unable.

Learning these things has also taught me something else. It is a regular prayer life that carries me through the hard times. When times are not so stressful for me, it is very good for me to keep to a serious schedule of praying the psalms and the Offices. Snippets of the prayers and canticles float through my head at odd moments and bring solace and strength to haul up my socks and do the next thing.

I do best and even thrive when I am able to pray a few offices a day. There is something about punctuating the day with prayer that is life changing, soul changing. Even when it is rote, even when I feel nothing, the Holy Spirit uses the Psalms etc to get at me and do Her work. Then I have the grand experience of discovering what it is She has been doing when I have been unconscious of Her work.

There is so much that can be said about the life of prayer. Indeed there have been a great many books written on the subject so I know I cannot say all there is that could be said. What have I left out? What does your prayer life mean to you


The first sister of feminism


The first sister of feminism

She threw off her habit and put women on the stage. Simon Caldwell tells the tale of the feisty nun set to become a saint

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Mary Ward was put in prison after asking the Pope to approve her order of nuns
In 1631, an exhausted 46-year-old woman arrived at the gates of the Vatican. Mary Ward, a Yorkshire-born nun, had walked more than 1,500 miles from her order in present-day Belgium to Rome, knowing that she might end up in prison.
For more than two decades, she had been leading an order of devotees that lived in defiance of the Vatican's strict rules that confined nuns to their cloisters.
Ward had taught her religious sisters not to wear habits and trained them to work with the poor and the persecuted, and to found and teach in Catholic schools. She also encouraged women to perform in plays, a move considered scandalous in Shakespearean times when all female roles were played by boys.
She was living at the height of the Roman Inquisition where accusations of heresy abounded. The pope at the time was Urban VIII, the same pontiff who threw Galileo in prison for daring to suggest that the Earth orbited around the Sun.
Now this revolutionary woman had gone to Rome asking him for official approval of her rebellious order which lived in defiance of centuries of Catholic teaching.
It was, therefore, perhaps of little surprise that Urban threw Ward in jail and issued a papal bull ordering her movement to be suppressed.
But now the same institution that declared her a "heretic" has taken the first decisive step towards making Ward a saint. A panel of Vatican theologians from the Commission of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints has concluded that Ward lived a life of "heroic virtue". They are recommending that she should be declared "Venerable" – the first major step toward recognition as a saint.
Ward was born in Ripon in 1585 to a staunchly religious family at a time when Catholicism was under persecution. Two of her relatives were involved in the Gunpowder Plot and as a young girl she spent much of her life on the run.
At age 15 she crossed the Channel to become a Poor Clare, a strictly orthodox Franciscan order of nuns who led a life of prayer and penury. But she soon grew tired of the rigid strictures placed on Catholic nuns and in 1609 founded her own order at St Omer. Based on the Jesuits, her sisters were highly active within their community and believed in educating young women and preserving Catholicism across the Channel – an increasingly dangerous task.
Most controversial was Ward's insistence that women should be allowed to act in plays, at a time when female roles were almost always played by young men. In England it led to the nuns being derided as "chattering hussies" and caused shock on the Continent, where actresses were viewed with the same contempt as showgirls or prostitutes. Urban also singled this idea out for vehement criticism.
The Pope placed Galileo under arrest a year after meeting Ward, whose supporters argue that she is comparable to Galileo not only in the way she was treated but because her ideas were just as revolutionary.
Sister Gemma Simmonds, a member of the Congregation of Jesus, the name by which Ward's order is known today, said: "The Church has apologised for its treatment of Galileo and there is a statue of him in Rome. We are still waiting. Mary Ward had a vision of what women could do in the Church and in society not only decades but centuries before anyone else saw it. She was given this insight directly by God."
Sister Simmonds, who lectures in theology at Heythrop College, the University of London, believes that Ward should be regarded as a feminist icon for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
"She had a vision of the equality of men and women before God and a vision of the capacity of women to do good and to work for the kingdom of God," she said. "She had this at a time when universities were still discussing whether women had souls.
"She was ferociously persecuted by the Church and she submitted to this because she had to. But she never grew bitter and she never allowed a word of bitterness or resentment against those who persecuted her to appear in her writings. Even in prison, even when they thought she was dying, she never lost that extraordinary gift of hope and trust in God. I want her to be canonised. I want justice for her and I want the justification for what women can do in the Church." Ward spent a year in prison in Munich and after her release, she ordered that the Pope's wishes to close down her order be carried out. She died in 1645 in the siege of York during the English Civil War and was buried in the parish church of Osbaldwick, on the outskirts of York. In the century that followed, English nuns persuaded various popes to lift the suppression on the order but they would only do so on the condition that Ward was not recognised as its foundress.
Then in the 1900s, a French member of the order, Sister Magdalen Gremion, asked Pope Pius X to his face to restore Ward as foundress. He immediately denounced Ward as a heretic but later concluded that there was no case against her.
His successor, Pope Pius XI, opened Ward's cause for sainthood in 1932, and Pope Pius XII later praised her as an "incomparable woman".
Father Peter Gumpel, the Rome-based Jesuit who is in charge of the cause, said that he expected Pope Benedict XVI to declare Ward "Venerable" by next year.
The bishops and cardinals of the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints will first review the decision of the theologians and scrutinise a 5,500-page position paper on Ward's life. "I expect the decision to be unanimous in favour of the cause progressing," said Father Gumpel. "I think it would be very strange if the cardinals and bishops disagreed with the view of the theologians and I have no reason to think that they would do that."
Today, Ward's order has about 4,000 sisters in two branches – the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or Loreto sisters, and the Congregation of Jesus – working in every continent, and in places as far afield as Cuba, Siberia, outer Mongolia and East Timor.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: True Poverty 3

When abba Macarius was in Egypt, he found a man who had brought a beast to
his cell and he was steeling his possessions. He went up to the thief as
though he were a traveller who did not live there and helped him to load the
beast and led him on his way in peace, saying to himself, "We brought
nothing into this world; but the Lord gave; as he willed, so is it done;
blessed be the Lord in all things."

Some thoughts:

One thing I see right off the bat is that not all the Desert Christians
practiced total ab solute poverty otherwise how would Macarius have anything
for the thief to steal? And not only enough to steal but enough to load up
a beast with.

But what fascinates me about this Saying is that Macarius had no attachment
to his things at all. Instead of mildly saying "Oh, thief, that's my stuff,
please leave it alone" Macarius actually helps the thief and sends him on is
way in peace.

How many of us could help the thieves load the U-Haul with our stuff? How
many of us have that sense of detachment?

Saying of the Desert Christians: True Poverty 4


Someone brought money to an old man and said, "Take this and spend it for you are old and ill", for he was a leper. The old man replied, "Are you going to take me away from the one who has cared for me for sixty years? I have been ill all that time and I have not needed anything because God has cared for me." And he would not accept it.

Some thoughts

Not only is this an example of true poverty, this refusal of money that could be put to good use, but it is also an example of a radical trust in the Lord that I confess I have yet to come to. I say that because I am being blessed with offers of money to help pay for surgery for my dear cat, Jack. I discover that I do not have the sort of trust that would allow me to refuse the money and say God will care for the cat. OTOH, perhaps these offers of assistance are God's way of providing for Jack. I am certainly thankful for modern medicine and the gift from God that is. My heart overflows with thanksgiving for those donations.

I find Sayings like this one confusing. Perhaps because they are grounded in a world view that is foreign to me. We are a long long time away from that period described in Acts where the Christians held all things in common and each received as there was need. Is that a model that has even a chance to work today, I wonder?

We live in a time which expects us to be responsible for ourselves. Perhaps our self-sufficiency is every bit as detriemantal to us as the extremeism of the Desert Chrisitans was detrimental to them.

Please forgive me if this is too personal and TMI. When I respond to these Sayings I do so from where I am at the moment and at this moment, my heart is so full of my cat, Jack, diagnosed yesterday with cancer which would respond well to surgery if it could be paid for. I ask your prayers for him.

"Holy Women, Holy Men"

A lot of interest is being stirred up by this proposed doucment which will make it's way to General Convention. You may read on criticism of it here:

My own response is different.

Someone asked

"I'll ask again - what is it, for example, that merits Henry Purcell on the
proposed revision of the Calendar? Help me understand how he was an
"extraordinary, even heroic servant of God and God's people, for the sake, and
after the example of Jesus Christ" (Significance). And who has been doing
"local observance" of Purcell? It's not that I don't like Henry Purcell. I'm
simply having a difficult time trying to understand why he's on the Calendar?"

My response to the question:

I am unclear about your question and want to be sure I understand it it. I guess my first question is: What do you think is the definition of "extraordinary, even heroic servant of God and God's people, for the sake, and after the example of Jesus Christ?" And the second would be whom do you think fits that definition?

Henry Purcell had a gift for writing sacred music. He was obedient to his call and produced reams and reams of sacred music that have blessed, enriched and formed Christians for centuries. His gift and his work are both extraordinary. He has given the church a permanent gift.

I am reminded of a hymn which for the first 15 years or so that I sang it, I hated. I don't like the silly perky tune for one thing and it always seems to me that it trivialized the sentiment of the lyrics which I also found trite. For the last several years, though, I am a member of a parish which sings it every single blessed baptism and so we sing it several times a year.

As a result of this repeated exposure, I see the point of the perky tune and the silly lyrics. Together they emphasize that ordinary people doing ordinary things serve God simply by being faithful to very ordinary vocations. This hymn teaches me that extraordinary, even heroic servant of God and God's people are everywhere. This hymn teaches me that every Christian who walks the talk is a candidate for "Holy Women, Holy Men". The real issue is how to eliminate.

The hymn to which I refer, if the gentle readers have not figured it out is #293,

1. I sing a song of the saints of God,
patient and brave and true,
who toiled and fought and lived and died
for the Lord they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
and one was a shepherdess on the green;
they were all of them saints of God, and I mean,
God helping, to be one too.

2. They loved their Lord so dear, so dear,
and his love made them strong;
and they followed the right for Jesus' sake
the whole of their good lives long.
And one was a soldier, and one was a priest,
and one was slain by a fierce wild beast;
and there's not any reason, no, not the least,
why I shouldn't be one too.

3. They lived not only in ages past;
there are hundreds of thousands still.
The world is bright with the joyous saints
who love to do Jesus' will.
You can meet them in school, on the street, in the store,
in church, by the sea, in the house next door;
they are saints of God, whether rich or poor,
and I mean to be one too.

And you can listen to it here:

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sayings of the Desert Christians: True Poverty 3

When abba Macarius was in Egypt, he found a man who had brought a beast to his cell and he was steeling his possessions. He went up to the thief as though he were a traveller who did not live there and helped him to load the beast and led him on his way in peace, saying to himself, "We brought nothing into this world; but the Lord gave; as he willed, so is it done; blessed be the Lord in all things."

Some thoughts:

One thing I see right off the bat is that not all the Desert Christians practiced total ab solute poverty otherwise how would Macarius have anything for the thief to steal? And not only enough to steal but enough to load up a beast with.

But what fascinates me about this Saying is that Macarius had no attachment to his things at all. Instead of mildly saying "Oh, thief, that's my stuff, please leave it alone" Macarius actually helps the thief and sends him on is way in peace.

How many of us could help the thieves load the U-Haul with our stuff? How many of us have that sense of detachment?

Reading from the Rule of St Benedict, May 11, 2009

February 12, June 13, October 13

Chapter 10: How the Night Office Is to Be Said in Summer Time

From Easter until the Calends of November
let the same number of Psalms be kept as prescribed above;
but no lessons are to be read from the book,
on account of the shortness of the nights.
Instead of those three lessons
let one lesson from the Old Testament be said by heart
and followed by a short responsory.
But all the rest should be done as has been said;
that is to say that never fewer than twelve Psalms
should be said at the Night Office,
not counting Psalm 3 and Psalm 94.

Some thoughts

"on account of the shortness of the nights" Benedict cuts out portions of the service to ensure that the monks get enough sleep. Until the invention of electricity and the light bulb some 13 centuries later, all Benedictines prayed the majority of their Offices before dawn, practiced lectio divina before dawn, read their spiritual reading before dawn. Because once dawn came, the monks were hard at work in the fields, sheds, etc. And in the spring through the summer as the days get longer, they were working longer hours.

"let one lesson from the Old Testament be said by heart " How many lessons can each of us say by heart from the Hebrew Scriptures?


Friday, June 12, 2009

February 11, June 12, October 12

Chapter 9: How Many Psalms Are to Be Said at the Night Office

In winter time as defined above,
there is first this verse to be said three times:
"O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall declare Your praise."
To it is added Psalm 3 and the "Glory be to the Father,"
and after that Psalm 94 to be chanted with an antiphon
or even chanted simply.
Let the Ambrosian hymn follow next,
and then six Psalms with antiphons.
When these are finished and the verse said,
let the Abbot give a blessing;
then, all being seated on the benches,
let three lessons be read from the book on the lectern
by the brethren in their turns,
and after each lesson let a responsory be chanted.
Two of the responsories are to be said
without a "Glory be to the Father"
but after the third lesson
let the chanter say the "Glory be to the Father,"
and as soon as he begins it let all rise from their seats
out of honor and reverence to the Holy Trinity.

The books to be read at the Night Office
shall be those of divine authorship,
of both the Old and the New Testament,
and also the explanations of them which have been made
by well known and orthodox Catholic Fathers.

After these three lessons with their responsories
let the remaining six Psalms follow,
to be chanted with "Alleluia."
After these shall follow the lesson from the Apostle,
to be recited by heart,
the verse
and the petition of the litany, that is "Lord, have mercy on us."
And so let the Night Office come to an end.

Some thoughts:

Sadly, I've been very busy the past 2 days and so we have skipped all of chapter 8. If you like, you can read it here:

About these readings the next few days... they are about the nitty gritty details of praying the Divine Office, the opus dei. It gets detailed and please let us remember that back in that day, they had no breviaries, no office books, no Books of Common Prayer. So Benedict had to write all of this stuff down and the monks prayed the psalms from memory.

I gotta tell you, I am so grateful to Gutenberg I could just kiss him. Thanks be to God for the printed word. Thanks be to God for books.

Maybe there are all sorts of spiritual and holy reasons why certain psalms are assigned to certain times of the day. If there are, I don't know the reasons. I suppose it is something that I could find out were I motivated enough, but honestly, I never have been. If someone here knows and feels like writing it up, please share. I do know that the Ambrosian hymn referred to is one of the many by Ambrose of Milan, 4th century. This particular hymn is the Te Deum.

As I see it, for those of who don't live in religious communities, many of the details in this and subsequent chapters are not as important. There are commentaries by 3 vowed religious in the Files on the website, if you'd like to read them.

But at the risk of repeating myself (another reason why it would be so wonderful if others were to jump and discuss the reading for the day) to me the crucial point is that we pray the Psalms. That we read and meditate on holy books written by the Great Saints of Yore. That we allow ourselves to be taught by them as they allowed their predecessors to teach them. It is our own participation in the apostolic succession.

What do you think?


Saying of the Desert Christians: True Poverty 2


Someone asked amma Syncletica of blessed memory, "Is absolute poverty perfect
goodness?" She replied, "It is a great good for those capable of it; even
those who are not capable of it find rest for their souls in it though it
causes them anxiety. As tough cloth is laundered pure white by stretched and
trampled underfoot, so a tough soul is stretched by freely accepting poverty."

Please forgive me any inconvenience my failure to post the past coupla days has caused you. The link I used to the Paradise of the Desert Fathers was broken but I have since found an alternative source of most of that link.

Some thoughts:

I love Amma Syncletica. At one time I toyed with the idea of changing my name in religion (I was raised Roman Catholic, after all) to Sister Benedicta Syncletica or Sister Syncletica Thecla. The latter because I really wish the Acts of of Paul and Thecla had made it into the New Testament as that would have cleared up the whole question of the role of women in the Pauline Corpus. I myself think he was a first century feminist, if you forgive the anachronism and the Acts of P and T prove it. IMO.

Anyway, I digress.

To me the key point in this Saying is the bit about being stretched. I also love the bit that even if something causes us anxiety, we should still embrace it. We of the 21st century do not like to be uncomfortable, do we? We like the familiar, we like what we are used to.

In our day and age, such an embrace of such radical poverty would be considered not only irresponsible but might gain one admission to the psych ward!! But perhaps the opposite is just as irresponsible for the health of our souls. Maybe stretching ourselves about our possessions and what we buy would be good for us, healthier for us. What can we do to stretch ourselves? How can we live with less? And what would we do with the maybe extra cash?

When I was growing up in the Roman Catholic Church, we had a thing called a Poor Box where people would make contributions so that when the poor approached the priest, the priest would have some money to give away. I've always liked that idea. Now I am Episcopalian and I've not seen a Poor Box. Instead we have the Rector's Discretionary Fund which is budget from the over all donations. The Rector's Discretionary Fund has never seemed as personal to me as the Poor Box. I love the idea of personally putting money into it.

In previous parishes, the Episcopal Church Women would hand out boxes and on United Thank Offering Sunday, we would all return them full of money. Since I've lived in San Diego, I've not come across the ECW nor have I heard any mention about the Untied Thank Offering. But that was as close to the Poor Box as I've found.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: True Poverty 1


Abba Theodore, surnamed Pherme, had three good books. He went to abba Macarius and said to him, "I have three good books, and I am helped by reading them; other monks also want to read them and they are helped by them. Tell me, what am I to do?" The old man said, "Reading books is good but possessing nothing is more than all.' When he heard this, he went away and sold the books and gave the money to the poor.

Well, ouch! This hits home. I love to read. I love books. From the moment Sr Padua introduced me to the written word, a love affair began which has only gained momentum over the years in between. I read this Saying and remind myself I am Benedictine and we hold to spiritual poverty and we actively encourage holy reading.

Which is a fine way to wiggle out of confronting a Saying that says something I don't like, that sounds so foreign to my modern ears. But it is in the Sayings and so I have to deal with it.

Possessions do creep up on us, do they not? And there is something about possessions that require one to own more. Take these computer gizmos, for example. One cannot be content with only a computer. If one has a computer one needs a printer, a modem or some means to connect to the Internet, zip drive, maybe an external hard drive, one of those wrist supports so one does not get carpal tunnel problems, books that explain how to use the software and I daresay that if I really understood how these things work, there is a lot more paraphernalia that seems critical to own.

In calling myself the Knitternun, you know that means I knit. And knitters collect a lot of stuff. Knitting needles (straight in 2 lengths and several sizes, circulars in several lengths and sizes, double pointed needles in many sizes, needles to sew the seams together, cable needles) stitch markers, row counters, scissors, thimbles to use with the very tiny sharp needles, tape measures, things to measure gauge, things to measure what size the knitting needle is, crochet hooks,stitch dictionaries, books about techniques, books to solve knitting problems. And then there is the yarn. Oh the yarn! Knitters have a secret language too. When we talk about having SEX we mean a Stash Enrichment eXperience, aka, buying yarn. Some knitters talk about having more yarn that they could ever knit in their lifetime and still they buy more. They also seriously consider to whom to bequeath their legacies of yarn.

I hope I allow the spirit of this Saying to get inside me, to roil around in there and work within me. I am only a beginner. I do work to decrease my possessions. I haven't bought yarn in years and years as I realized I was becoming one of those yarn collectors who was going to need to think about a will. Instead I use it up to knit things to give away: prayer shawls ( ) to comfort those in need. Then there are those things I knit to sell at church where 100% goes to our outreach programs.

I can't face the idea of having nothing at all. But I can work on reducing my possessions and I can work to use what I have to offer it to the Body of Christ. Am I kidding myself, I wonder sometimes. Or have I overlooked something? What do you think?

Rule of St Benedict Reading for June 10, 2009

February 9, June 10, October 10
Chapter 7: On Humility
The twelfth degree of humility
is that a monk not only have humility in his heart
but also by his very appearance make it always manifest
to those who see him.
That is to say that whether he is at the Work of God,
in the oratory, in the monastery, in the garden, on the road,
in the fields or anywhere else,
and whether sitting, walking or standing,
he should always have his head bowed
and his eyes toward the ground.
Feeling the guilt of his sins at every moment,
he should consider himself already present at the dread Judgment
and constantly say in his heart
what the publican in the Gospel said
with his eyes fixed on the earth:
"Lord, I am a sinner and not worthy to lift up my eyes to heaven" (Luke 18:13; Matt. 8:8);
and again with the Prophet:
"I am bowed down and humbled everywhere" (Ps. 37[38]:7,9; 118[119]:107).

Having climbed all these steps of humility, therefore,
the monk will presently come to that perfect love of God
which casts out fear.
And all those precepts
which formerly he had not observed without fear,
he will now begin to keep by reason of that love,
without any effort,
as though naturally and by habit.
No longer will his motive be the fear of hell,
but rather the love of Christ,
good habit
and delight in the virtues
which the Lord will deign to show forth by the Holy Spirit
in His servant now cleansed from vice and sin.

Some thoughts:

Benedict is big on "walking the talk" as we've seen before. Some of us may react negatively to this business of walking with one's head bowed down. Maybe we don't want to present such an abject figure to the world. I have an idea I'd like us to try on for size. What if Benedict believes that in so doing, we will not see the sins of others? We preserve humility when we do not compare ourselves to others.

Well, whatever, that's not the bit I like the best in this section of the RB. Previously, Benedict has spoken much about the dread of judgement, fear of hell etc. but here he tells us that all this hard work we did in the previous 11 steps has the most fantastic, wonderful result: to love God and to know God loves the seeker. That all one does and says is out of love for God. That one voluntarily chooses to do that which pleases God in order to increase the love the 2 share.


Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Humility 4


The old men used to say, "When we do not experience warfare, we ought so much the more to humiliate ourselves. For God seeing our weakness, protects us; when we glorify ourselves, he withdraws his protection and we are lost."

The Seven Deadly Sins is a concept that was taken far more seriously in earlier centuries than it is now. I wonder if our modern emphasis upon self-esteem has anything to do with it. I read in the paper the other day that as a result of stressing self-esteem in our schools, America has produced a generation of narcissists.

This business of glorifying ourselves is not new. The earliest Greek playwrights wrote about the dangers of pride or in their language is hubris. The Desert Christians tell us our pride closes a door between God and us. And we are left to experience the consequences of being left to our own devices. Has that worked out well for any of us?

Monday, June 08, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Humility 3


As abba Macarius was returning to his cell from the marsh carrying palm-leaves, the devil met him with a sharp sickle and would have struck him but he could not. He cried out, "Great is the violence I suffer from you, Macarius, for when I want to hurt you, I cannot. But whatever you do, I do and more also. You fast now and then, but I am never refreshed by any food; you often keep vigil, but I never fall asleep. Only in one thing are you better than I am and I acknowledge that." Macarius said to him, "What is that?" and he replied, "It is because of your humility alone that I cannot overcome you."

Some thoughts

Some thing I ought to have said at the beginning of this section is that me attempting to communicate anything about humility is like asking a blind person to read a map. I am not a humble person. I am frequently reminded of this. I struggle with it, and i wonder if i can even claim to be in process toward it. But for what it's worth, I desire it. There is an awful lot of me in the way, though.

So when I read about Marcarius being confronted by the devil in this way, I wonder what I can say about this that is of any use to any of us. I do notice that this Saying gives me a view of the devil I've never had before I read it... I'd never thought of the devil eating, or never sleeping. I'd never thought of how miserable it must be to be the devil. And yet, how dumb is that? What else comes of being separated from God but misery?

And clearly the point of this Saying is that humility is the key to overcoming the devil and presumably the world and the flesh as well.

Rule of St Benedict Reading for June 8, 2009

February 7, June 8, October 8
Chapter 7: On Humility
The tenth degree of humility
is that he be not ready and quick to laugh,
for it is written,
"The fool lifts up his voice in laughter" (Eccles. 21:23).

Some thoughts

Kardong's translation reads: The 10th step of humility is not being quick to laugh at the slightest provocation, for it is written; The fool raises his voice in laughter.

Hmmm... I love to laugh, don't you? Especially that laughter that wells up from deep joy and delight. I am pretty convinced that when God created the Earth that He did so with joy and laughter. What else explains the giraffe? Or the cormorant, a bird that dives into water for a living to get fish yet has no oil in its wings which means it will sink unless it sits on a piling or something with it's wings spread out bent at a 90 degree angle as if it had elbows to dry them. And from what I've read by Benedictine monks, there is no shortage of joy in the monastery.

So what is Benedict saying here? The key is in the Latin word risus which is translated as "to laugh." It is a word used to differentiate the ribald, that ridicule which some think so funny from good humor. Benedict never denies his monks good humor. But laughter at the expense of another, that is what he is talking about.

Laughter at the expense of another can take many forms, can they not? There was an American comedian, Alan King, who made a living with mother-in-law jokes, always to the detriment of that woman. Many would be comedians garner a lot of laughter in response to their use of truly filthy language. There are many jokes about sex which seem to me to be a form of exploitation. And then of course there are those ethnic slurs disguised as comedy. Oh, I could go on.

But the point is this, I think. Risus doesn't arise from love, quite the opposite. Risus does not have its roots in treating all people as if they were Christ.


Sunday, June 07, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Humility 2


An old man said, "Every time a thought of superiority or vanity moves you, examine your conscience to see if you have kept all the commandments, whether you love your enemies, whether you consider yourself to be an unprofitable servant and the greatest sinner of all. Even so, do not pretend to great ideas as though you were perfectly right, for that thought destroys everything."

Nothing like self-examination to keep us honest. Joy Davidman wrote a little book on the 10 Commandments called Smoke on the Mountain: An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments which challenged me to go deeper into each of the 10 Commandments. I frequently remind myself that Jesus said that when we call someone a fool, we have murdered that person in our hearts. I usually think this when someone has cut me off in traffic in an unsafe manner or run through a stop sigh as I approached the intersection. I must murder someone in my heart every day. That alone should put into perspective anything I might be tempted to boast about.

C S Lewis wrote in one of his books and I apologize because I don't remember which one, that true humility is just accepting who one is, gifts and follibles. We ought not to pretend to be worse or claim to be better than we are. I don't know about you, but I find Lewis' words a challenge to live up to. Is it so for you?

Rule of St Benedict Reading for June 7, 2009

February 6, June 7, October 7

Chapter 7: On Humility

The ninth degree of humility
is that a monk restrain his tongue and keep silence,
not speaking until he is questioned.
For the Scripture shows
that "in much speaking there is no escape from sin" (Prov. 10:19)
and that "the talkative man is not stable on the earth" (Ps. 139[140]:12).

Some thoughts:

Once again, I offer Br Terence Kardong's translation of these verses. I certainly wish his translation was on line because I think it really helps to read a different translation from time to time. The only place where I know it is available is in his Commentary on the RB.

The 9th step of humility comes when a monk hold back his tongue from speaking, and out of love for silence does not speak until someone asks him a question. Scripture shows that 'In much talk, one does not escape sin', and 'The chatterbox does not walk straight on the earth.

This translation certainly helps me and I hope it helps you. Here is another place where I consistently fail. I do not hold back my tongue from speaking. I do indeed love silence in my home, in my car and I do wish televisions were not playing in every doctor's office or pharmacy I have to visit. But when it comes to conversation with others, oh how I love to talk.

Communication is important and until the advent of the Internet and email, we had letters and conversation as ways of communication. I have read that in order to preserve silence in Benedictine communities, hand signals were used. One former monk of my acquaintance told me that in his community, the hand signals were so elaborate, one could have an hour long conversation. I asked in what way this preserved the spirit of silence and he admitted it did not. What this tells me, once again, is how basic is communication to our nature. We are hard wired for it as part of the image and likeness of God in which we are created.

How do we develop a love of silence that supersedes our love of communication? This is a place where I really need to challenge myself. Have any of the rest you wrestled with this?

And doncha just love Kardong's translation in the last verse? "The chatterbox does not walk straight on the earth." It's a vivid image of someone darting hither and yon to and fro to impart bits of information. By an unspoken comparison, silence is the straight path from ourselves to our dear Lord. Would you agree?


Saturday, June 06, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Humility 1

An old man was asked, "What is humility?" and he said in reply, "Humility is a great work, and a work of God. The way of humility is to undertake bodily labour and believe yourself a sinner and make yourself subject to all." Then a brother said, "What does it mean, to be subject to all?" The old man answered, "To be subject to all is not to give your attention to the sins of others but always to give your attention to your own sins and to pray without ceasing to God."

Some thoughts:

In his Rule, St Benedict has a very long chapter on humility. He sees it as a ladder with 12 steps. Ultimately, Benedict gets to this place, but he has expanded on what this Desert Father wrote.

But just imagine the sense of freedom and liberation that would be ours could we but get our minds off what the other is doing. Maybe like I, you find it much easier to look at the faults of others. They, after all, are inexcusable while there are reasons for mine and if you just knew them, you would agree with me it is OK for me to be this way.

OK, I'm being facetious. But I often catch myself thinking this way. There is really no humility in it either. The presupposition to think this way is hubris: the conventions don't apply to me and I am above them.

Since I can well imagine what peace and quiet there would be in all of Christianity were we to stop pointing the finger at each other, I guess it will have to start with me. I have to accept, as I do over and over again, that I have no ability to convince anyone of anything, only the Holy Spirit has that power. But I can start with me.

Of course, once I start to look seriously at myself and the ways I fall short, it will get worse before it gets better. If I am honest with myself about my sins and various dysfunctions, it's depressing is it not. Possibly you, dear Reader, are similar to I. I don't like to be made uncomfortable. I like to keep a hold of my view of myself. I don't want to find out that I am riddled with sin and ego. But the truth is that I am. And if you are like I, we invest a lot of energy and effort into maintenance of the view of ourselves that we prefer. But just imagine the sense of freedom and liberation that would be ours could we but turn our attention to our own sins and invite the Holy Spirit to have Her way with us to recreate within us our own individual and unique reflection of the image and likeness of God.

Rule of St Benedict Reading for June 6, 2009

Chapter 7: On Humility
The eighth degree of humility
is that a monk do nothing except what is commended
by the common Rule of the monastery
and the example of the elders.

Some thoughts:

Imagine this! You are part of a community and you have voluntarily accepted that for the rest of your life, you will live according to the RB as it is practiced within that community. You have also accepted that you will learn from those who entered the monastery before you. Except when asked, you will not offer your own opinions (hard for me). You will do as your are told (hard for me). And what's hardest, at least for me, to commit to something that is not of my own intellect, arrived at through my personal struggle to understand what the rip is going on around me.

OK, that's how today's reading challenges me. How does it challenge you?


Friday, June 05, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Becoming a Disciple 5


Abba John said, "A monk is toil. The monk toils in all he does. That is what a monk is."

Some thoughts:

OK this sounds a tad grim, does it not? I think that it speaks to utter dedication these Christians had to seek God. What say you?

Rule of St Benedict Reading for June 5, 2009

February 4, June 5, October 5
Chapter 7: On Humility
The seventh degree of humility
is that he consider himself lower and of less account
than anyone else,
and this not only in verbal protestation
but also with the most heartfelt inner conviction,
humbling himself and saying with the Prophet,
"But I am a worm and no man,
the scorn of men and the outcast of the people" (Ps. 21[22]:7).
"After being exalted, I have been humbled
and covered with confusion" (Pa. 87:16).
And again,
"It is good for me that You have humbled me,
that I may learn Your commandments" (Ps. 118[119]:71).

Some thoughts

Perhaps Kardong's translation will help:

The 7th step of humility is surmounted if the monk no only confesses with his tongue but also believes with all his heart that he is lower and less honorable than all the rest. He thus abases himself, declaring with the Prophet "I, though, am a worm., not a man. I am the object of curses and rejection. I was raised but now I am humiliated and covered with confusion." Along the same line "It is good for me that you humiliate me so that I might keep your commandments."

So what does this tell us? I think it tells us that humility should not be merely verbal but a matter of profound conviction.. Philippians tells us to look to the interests of the other, rather than to our own.

It's a nice contrast to the messages we are bombarded with that we are to believe that we are not only as good as the next guy, we are even better. Where does such a teaching lead us but deep into pride, hubris.

Rather than concentrate on the negative aspects of this passage which if taken too far could lead one to self-hate and self abuse, I prefer to look at the implied positive aspects: we are totally dependent on grace and that truly whatever good we do is a result of grace. After all it is the Giver of the gifts that gave us whatever talents and skills we have. We may have developed the raw material, but the source is always God.


Thursday, June 04, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Becoming a Disciple 3


Abba Moses asked abba Sylvanus, "Can a man lay a new foundation every day?" The old man said, "If he works hard, he can lay a new foundation at every moment."

Some thoughts;

My apologies! I completely skipped over this one! And I don't know why. It is one of my favorites. This Saying has a long history. We see this sentiment in Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the New Testament and just about every Christian writer since. One of the famous reformulations of it is in the Rule of St Benedict: "Every day we start over."

This Saying gives me hope and joy in the midst of my bunglings.

Rule of St Benedict Reading for June 4, 2009

February 3, June 4, October 4
Chapter 7: On Humility
The sixth degree of humility
is that a monk be content
with the poorest and worst of everything,
and that in every occupation assigned him
he consider himself a bad and worthless workman,
saying with the Prophet,
"I am brought to nothing and I am without understanding;
I have become as a beast of burden before You,
and I am always with You" (Ps:22-23).

Some thoughts

Well, now, doesn't this just sit wrong with us moderns? We know it's bad for us think bad things of ourselves. Just yesterday we read about the 5th degree of humility. Benedict wrote in a way that would win praise from any modern psychologist. Then we turn the page and here's today's reading which would bother the modern psychologists. So what is actually going on here? As is my habit anytime I run into a conundrum with the RB, I turn to Terence Kardong's Commentary.

1st, let me share with you the way he translates this passage:

"The 6th step occurs when a monk is content with low and dishonorable treatment. And regarding all that is commanded of him, he regards himself as a bad and worthless worker, saying with the Prophet "I was reduced to impotence and ignorance; I was like a brute beast before you, and I am also with you." "

Ah, this is a time when I wish I had the command of Latin that Br Terence has. He says some interesting (at least to me) things about vilitas. It was once a word used of slaves, reminding me that at the time of St. Benedict, slavery was alive and flourishing at the time the RB was written. The buying and selling of human beings as chattel was practiced well into the 19th century in Europe and the USA.

So perhaps if we read this passage from this POV, it makes more sense to us. The monk is to regard himself as a slave, owned by another, at the mercy of another. In once sense this is still very true for Christians of 21st century. We don't hear about it much, but Paul enjoins us to be slaves for Christ. But what does that mean to us post-moderns?

Now this bit of the RB is not to be considered a justification for slavery. Rather, it would seem Benedict is using slavery as a metaphor. Nor does it sanction arbitrary and cavalier treatment of the monks because there are a number of places in the RB where it is stipulated that the needs of the monks are to be carefully attended to by monastic superiors. For instance chapters 31, 34, 36.

The 1st 5 steps of humility talked more about obedience. I guess learning obedience is a prerequisite for learning humility. Or humility comes through obedience. I find it difficult to separate obedience from humility as the concepts spill over into each other and are often described the same way.

Seems to me the contemporary application off this step has nothing to do with self-esteem. But it does speak to pride. Competent monks need not think themselves incompetent, but neither are they to think that their performance confers any sort of exalted place in the community, but just one piece of the puzzle that is a healthy community.

I have a view of the Body of Christ. Every single Christian has a role to play in the Body of Christ. Every single Christian has a vocation. All vocations are equal in importance, equally valuable, equally necessary to the Body. There was a time and maybe some still think this way, that said that those called to the religious life had a higher vocation than someone called to be a teacher or an accountant, sanitation worker or lawyer. I say this is hogwash. The beauty of the vocations in the Body of Christ is that someone else does for me what I am unable to do for myself and vice versa.

If my reasoning makes sense to you, this is what I think Benedict means in this selection. What do you think?


Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Becoming a Disciple 4

It was said of abba John the Dwarf that one day he said to his elder brother, "I should like to be free of all care, like the angels who do not work, but ceaselessly offer worship to God." So he took leave of his brother and went away into the desert. After a week he came back to his brother. When John knocked on the door he heard his brother say, "Who are you?" before he opened it. He said, "I am John, your brother." But the elder replied, "John has become an angel and henceforth he is no longer among men." Then John besought him, saying, "It is I." However, his brother did not let him in but left John there in distress until morning. Then, opening the door, he said to John, "You are a man and you must once again work in order to eat." Then John made a prostration before him, saying, "Forgive me."

Some thoughts:

I love this Saying. There are many attributed to or about Abba John the Dwarf.

Who else would like to be like the angels, free of all care, ceaselessly worshipping God? I would. I can't think of a life that would be less stressful or more blissful. And I really want less stress and more bliss, let me tell you. But the truth is, I am as yet merely human and stress and insufficient doses of bliss are my lot for the time being. Standing around the Throne of the Lamb and singing Hosannas is still in my future as it was for Abba John.

But the thing that I really wonder about in this Saying... why did John come back after a week?

Rule of St Benedict Reading for June 3, 2009

February 2, June 3, October 3
Chapter 7: On Humility
The fifth degree of humility
is that he hide from his Abbot none of the evil thoughts
that enter his heart
or the sins committed in secret,
but that he humbly confess them.
The Scripture urges us to this when it says,
"Reveal your way to the Lord and hope in Him" (Ps. 36[37]:5)
and again,
"Confess to the Lord, for He is good,
for His mercy endures forever" (Ps. 105[106]:1).
And the Prophet likewise says,
"My offense I have made known to You,
and my iniquities I have not covered up.
I said: 'I will declare against myself my iniquities to the Lord;'
and 'You forgave the wickedness of my heart'" (Ps. 31[32]:5).

Some thoughts

The General Confession in the Book of Common Prayer, Episcopal Church reads:

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of you Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.

A while ago there was some pop psychology movement that said that it didn't matter what we think, it was what we did with our actions that mattered. That could not be more wrong.

Both the reading and General Confession tell us thoughts matter as much as our actions. I will once again plug Sister Margaret Funk's excellent books: Thoughts Matter, Tools Matter and Humility Matters. For that matter, Jesus told us that it is not what goes into a person that defiles them but what comes out. What guides our actions? What fuels our words? What is the source of defilement for what comes out of our mouths? Our thoughts.

We can easily see how humbling it would be to tell someone else every possible dark thought we might have. I have some thoughts I am ashamed of, I don't want to tell them to anyone. And yet when I do share them with someone, they begin to lose their power over me. When I get them out of the dark and into the light where I can look at them and examine them, that is when I can see them for what they are.

I don't think I am entitled to think however I want to. I believe my very thoughts are subject to the work of the Holy Spirit as part of Her transformative work. Because even our thoughts are to be made brand new as they come to more and more reflect back to God His image and likeness.