Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sayings of the Desert Christians: Abba John the Dwarf 6


Abba Poemen said of Abba John the Dwarf that he had prayed God to take his passions away from him so that he might become free from care. He went and told an old man this; 'I find myself in peace, without an enemy,' he said. The old man said to him, 'Go beseech God to stir up warfare so that you may regain the affliction and humility that you used to have, for it is by warfare that the soul makes progress.' So he besought God and when warfare came, he no longer prayed that it might be taken away, but said, 'Lord, give me strength for the fight.'

Some thoughts:

Abba John really wanted to be free of care. We read the other day about how he wanted to be like the angels, free of care. Have to admit, it sounds good to me.

A theme that used to be more common in science fiction than it is today was utopian societies. These stories were all pretty boring until some outside force impacts on the utopia. Without conflict, a story would not be interesting. I have heard more than one Christian tell me that heaven sounds like a boring place where nothing ever happens. I tell them that I think we can't begin to envision what it will be like to see God face to face and how that will so fill us up.

Abba John's mentor knew that in order to grow, in order to prevent vanity and pride, we need conflict in our lives to remind us of how much we need to rely on Jesus and not ou

Monday, September 28, 2009

Stand Firm at it again

The following is posted with permission of the author as you will see in the body of his letter. It was originally posted to the email list House of Bishops and Deputies of the Episcopal Church on Set 28, 2009:

This morning Stand Firm posted an article by Susan Hey in which she reflects on an article from a spurious "Episcopal Majority" which references a number of derogatory pieces on me, Lisa Fox and several Episcopal Majority writers.

The site from which Sarah got the article is a sham site which was set up to malign the Episcopal Majority site (with our writers which included Ernest Cockrell, Mark Harris, Bill Coats, David Fly, Christopher Webber and a host of prominent lay people, clergy and bishops (and one primate)). Apparently, when some extreme dissidents saw that a broad range of people were forming "The Episcopal Majority," they quickly paid for the domain "" so most early searches would send people to their defamatory articles. We were left with ""

Since I and others from the real Episcopal Majority have been blocked from responding to this kind of article - or anything casting aspersions on us, I hope someone with posting privileges there will forward this to Sarah, Greg or Matthew there. On the other hand, they regularly read things here. I hereby grant them permission to reprint this post.

SFIF - ordinary courtesy requires that when you provide links to defamatory articles about someone, you need to provide those defamed sufficient access to correct the defaming remarks.

Tom Woodward

This is my reply:

Did Stand Firm request permission to use this material elsewhere, I wonder? I have been thinking about their habit of lifting material without permission to post on their website. Have they ever heard of the copyright laws? Not only is it discourteous and disrespectful to quote someone's stuff without permission, it is also illegal as it violated the original author's copyright. Is Stand Firm above the laws of the land?

Someone on HoB/D said a while back that he thought it was "silly" to have to ask permission to quote material from this list. It's really immaterial whether or not a law is silly. Is it silly to have to stop at a stop sign when no one is coming the other way? Is it silly to wait for a red light to change to green when there is no one else on the street? Do we really have the authority to decide which laws we will obey and which we will not?

As for your own point quoted above, Tom. I would interpret the block to mean they don't want to hear from those with whom they disagree. It's a pity because sociologists have demonstrated many times that when a group of people eliminate those other voices with whom they disagree, that group only closes in upon itself and becomes more and more extreme until they are fanatics.

Religious fanatics who are extremely to the right, no matter what religion, have more in common with all other religious fanatics of other religions than they have with their own religion. We see commonalities between those Christians who kill those who perform or assist in abortions, bomb clinics and those who have attacked our nation. In both cases, their extreme religious right views lead them to believe they serve a higher purpose and the laws don't apply to them. We call such people terrorists.

It is because of this sociological truth that it is imperative that we Anglicans learn to agree to disagree. It is crucial that we continue to listen to each other with mutual respect and validation. Humility is vital in that all of us need to remember that any of us could be mistaken about anything. No matter how clearly we think we read Scripture, hear the voice of our beloved Lord in prayer, we are but human and we might be wrong. None of us are God and none of us can know the mind of God. Thank God we have Jesus, that's as close as we will ever get to knowing the mind of God and in 2000 years we haven't gotten that perfect.

I don't know why there is such a fuss about allowing every single baptized and confirmed Episcopalian to the full life of the church. I really don't. I do, however, accept that there are those who disagree. As long as the conversation demonstrates mutual respect and validation, I'll talk to anyone. But as soon as someone, no matter which "side" of any debate falls into insult, no matter how clever, my side of the conversation is over.

Sayings of the Desert Christians: Abba John the Dwarf 5


It was said of him (Abba John the Dwarf) that one day he was weaving rope for two baskets, but he made it into one without noticing, until it had reached the wall, because his spirit was occupied in contemplation.

Some thoughts:

Have you ever experienced this? When work and prayer blend?

Once there was this blessed day when I was on retreat and I was asked to help out by folding some of a stack of paper and slipping each folded piece into a plastic bag. The paper I folded was instructions on how to pray the Anglican Rosary and I was doing the preliminary work for shipping them out.

In the early afternoon just after lunch I took the box of materials into the library and sat at the table under the window where I looked out onto the property and watched the guinea hens as they scoured the yard for bugs, ticks, etc. Guinea hens are talkative birds. "Where are you? Where are you?" "Over here. Over here." "Here's a good spot. Here's a good spot." "I'm alone. You left me. I'm alone. You left me." "Here we are. We're sorry. Here we are. We're sorry." That seemed to be the burden of their conversations. As I watched the birds and prayed, I got lost in my head as if time stopped and there was only the glorious day, God's creation and the perpetual motion of the guinea hens. The best I can say was that I was in a Now. It ended only when Sister put her hand on my shoulder. She had been trying to get my attention to come to dinner.

As for the box of paper... I had folded all of it and put all of it into those plastic bags and without ever really knowing I was doing it. They had enough ready for 2 years worth of shipping, they told me. Sister also scolded me as I should have stopped the work for some afternoon prayer. I felt the whole afternoon was prayer. That day I learned that work and prayer can merge and blend. It often happens when I am knitting

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sayings of the Desert Christians: Abba John the Dwarf 4


Some brethren came one day to test him to see whether he would let his thoughts get dissipated and speak of the things of this world. They said to him 'We give thanks to God that this year there has been much rain and the palm trees have been able to drink, and their shoots have grown, and the brethren have found manual work.' Abba John said to them, 'So it is when the Holy Spirit descends into the hearts of men; they are renewed and they put forth leaves in the fear of God.'

Some thoughts:

It seems mean to lay a trap for another person, does it not? What motivated them? Meanness? Curiosity? Wonder that someone could truly fix his thoughts on God 100% of the time? What a good test. The monks out there in the desert would be dependent on the weather and they needed work in order to buy food. How much time do we spend talking about the weather and our jobs? Important stuff.

Look at John's answer. It is a wonderful comparison with the rain and the Holy Spirit. How is that John is able to make that connection instead of responding in kind? It's as if his silent meditation is something more the absence of words. It's as if his silence is more like an attitude, intention or habit of his heart. His hermitage is not merely his physical surroundings. His true hermitage is his heart and so he takes his hermitage and his silence with him wherever he goes. He has learned to create silence within by doing without all the inward chatter.

I read a great book on this very subject a number of years ago: _Hermitage of the Heart_ by a Carthusian monk. I recommend it to all. Also if you are able to find it, _The Call of Silent Love_ by a Carthusian monk. "A Carthusian monk" is listed as the name of the authors on my copies. These books are part of the Carthusian Novice Series.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Sayings of the Desert Christians: Abba John the Dwarf 3


One day when he was sitting in front of the church, the brethren were consulting him about their thoughts. One of the old men who saw it became a prey to jealousy and said to him, 'John, your vessel is full of poison.' Abba John said to him, 'That is very true, Abba; and you have said that when you only see the outside, but if you were able to see the inside, too, what would you say then?'

Some thoughts:

This is a curious little saying. The jealous monk says a really horrible thing to Abba John who doesn't do a thing to defend himself but instead agrees with him, implying that what is on the surface is only the beginning.

I don't know about you, but if someone said that to me, my 1st instinct would not be to agree. My 1st instinct would be to get angry and want to defend myself against such abuse. There is a great to be said, though, for just agreeing, letting go, not getting into the argument and not getting all invested in someone else's opinion of me. I think it is a healthier response for all concerned.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Abba John the Dwarf 1


It was said of Abba John the Dwarf that he withdrew and lived in the desert at Scetis with an old man of Thebes. His Abba, taking a piece of dry wood, planted it and said to him, 'Water it every day with a bottle of water, until it bears fruit.' Now the water was so far away that he had to leave in the evening and return the following morning. At the end of three years the wood came to life and bore fruit. Then the old man took some of the fruit and carried it to the church saying to the brethren, 'Take and eat the fruit of obedience.'

Some thoughts:

There are lots of Sayings of Abba John the Dwarf preserved in the collection. I have tried to find some biographical information but have not.

This is one of those extraordinary Sayings that is so hard to believe. From a practical standpoint, it seems impossible. Spend the entire night walking to and from the water source to water a piece of dry wood and to do this for 3 years? Where did the other monks get their water? If the monks were to pray in their cells all day, when would John have slept?

Such considerations lead me to believe this is a bit of hagiography. My feelings about hagiography is that it is metaphor and I have a suspicion it was understood to be metaphor back in the day. This Saying is a wonderful metaphor for obedience. The Desert Christians were big on obedience. Obedience is a great way to learn humility.

Rule of St Benedict Reading for September 21, 2009

January 21, May 22, September 21

Chapter 4: What Are the Instruments of Good Works

To fulfill God's commandments daily in one's deeds.
To love chastity.
To hate no one.
Not to be jealous, not to harbor envy.
Not to love contention.
To beware of haughtiness.
And to respect the seniors.
To love the juniors.
To pray for one's enemies in the love of Christ.
To make peace with one's adversary before the sun sets.
And never to despair of God's mercy.
These, then, are the tools of the spiritual craft.
If we employ them unceasingly day and night,
and return them on the Day of Judgment,
our compensation from the Lord
will be that wage He has promised:
"Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
what God has prepared for those who love Him" (1 Cor. 2:9).

Now the workshop
in which we shall diligently execute all these tasks
is the enclosure of the monastery
and stability in the community.

Some thoughts:

There are those who criticize the Benedictine way as an ivory tower with no engagement with the world. I would maintain that a life of prayer engages one with the world in a way too deep for words. Ch 4 of the RB is about as practical as anything I've ever read. If we Christians could absorb ch 4 and make it part of our very marrow, the so-called ivory tower way would transform the world. Ok, not a very profound or original thought, but true nonetheless. The 1st 2 instruments of good works are to love God and to love one's neighbor as one's self. The remaining 70 instruments are commentary on the 1st 2. They tell us how to accomplish 1 & 2.

Evelyn Underhill wrote, and this is a bad paraphrase, that the love we share with God is genuine, it will overflow the bounds of our human flesh and pour out to all of humanity. The RB is a school for learning to love God and neighbor in this manner. I call that engaging with the world

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Stand Firm in Faith: Theft of what does not belong to them

I am kibitzer on the House of Bishops and Deputies email list. There are few rules on that list: Be Nice and ask permission before you use elsewhere that which has been posted to that list. Every once in a while one of the so –called Progressives writes that someone has lifted, without permission, something someone wrote and posted it to the blog, Stand Firm in Faith.

The people of Stand Firm in Faith represent themselves as being the real Episcopalians. They believe they hold to the truth of the Gospel and the rest of us are misguided or deluded. The question I raise is this: if they are such good Christians, why is that they steal the material they lift from HoB/D? They consider themselves more pure than those of us who would deny no baptized and confirmed Episcopalian from any office or rite we have. So why is it that the rules don’t apply to them?

What I also don’t understand is why those who run that blog, Stand Firm in Faith, tolerate the theft. I don’t understand why they don’t remove the posting privileges of those who disrespect the rules of HoB/D.

The other thing that gets to me about the Stand Firm in Faith people is their stinginess with the grace of God. It is God’s free gift, offered to all of humanity. They steal the email to HoB/D, quote out of context, twist and distort the text in order to continue to attempt to deny every baptized and confirmed Episcopalian from any office or rite we have.

Some wrote to me recently of a desire to keep listening to see if there is any way inside that Stand Firm mindset that can unravel the maze of the way they think. I too have often been amazed or appalled at the huge differences in the way we think about issues. It’s as if we have at least 2 different paradigms at work and they are so different that we can’t find the common ground.

Sometimes it seems to be the very bottom line is anthropological. How we view humanity. I think there are 2 basic ways to do this and they involve what we think happened to the Imagio Dei at the Fall. Now, I don’t know if there was a literal Fall or not, but it is a useful metaphor.

There are those that believe the Imagio Dei was shattered and will only be restored on Judgment Day. This is pretty much the Protestant or Reformed view.

There are also those who believe that the Imagio Dei was distorted, sort of like the mirrors in the so-called Fun Houses. This is the catholic view. The image of God is there and it is intact but it is bent outta shape. As we live our lives as Christians, the Image is always being put back into shape.

These two views of what happened to the Imagio Dei are fundamental presuppositions which determine everything else. Yes, I've over-simplified but it seems valid to me. Which view one adheres to will determine how one prays, preaches, and treats other people. They are so opposed to each other that I don’t know if any reconciliation of the two paradigms is possible.

The Stand Firm in Faith people are among those who believe the Imagio Dei to be shattered. Those with Reformed views believe it is possible to lose one's salvation or to discover that one was never among the elect in the first place. They have their propositional truths, true Truth, their Systematics, all to find a way to reassure them that they are among the elect and who is not. This is why they seem stingy to the rest of us. I am convinced of it.

Saying of the Desert Christians: Abba Isidore the Priest


(Abba Isidore the priest) said, 'If you fast regularly, do not be inflated with pride, but 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 to glorify himself.'

Some thoughts:

Abba Isidore the priest and the Abba Isidore we just read think alike. The latter Isidore wrote "He also said, 'The heights of humility are great and so are the depths of boasting; I advise you to attend to the first and not to fall into the second.'"

How easy it is to fall into these traps. The last 20 or so years we have all been busy recovering our self-esteem and sometimes I think we've gone too far with that. How to find the balance is tricky. To really badly paraphrase C S Lewis, true humility is accepting what you are good at, not pretending to be bad at it and not pretending to better at it than you are.

Rule of St Benedict Reading for September 16, 2009

Chapter 3: On Calling the Brethren for Counsel

Whenever any important business has to be done
in the monastery,
let the Abbot call together the whole community
and state the matter to be acted upon.
Then, having heard the brethren's advice,
let him turn the matter over in his own mind
and do what he shall judge to be most expedient.
The reason we have said that all should be called for counsel
is that the Lord often reveals to the younger what is best.

Let the brethren give their advice
with all the deference required by humility,
and not presume stubbornly to defend their opinions;
but let the decision rather depend on the Abbot's judgment,
and all submit to whatever he shall decide for their welfare.

However, just as it is proper
for the disciples to obey their master,
so also it is his function
to dispose all things with prudence and justice.

Some thoughts

Benedict's monastics do not live in a dictatorship or oligarchy. The monastic superior can make the final decision but it cannot be made without having first received the advice of the community. When the community is assembled for this purpose, a chapter meeting takes place.

Benet Tvedten writes in _A Share in the Kingdom: A Commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict for Oblates_ that there was a rime when chapter meetings were more formal than they are now. Each member, beginning with the most senior, took their turn expression their opinion briefly. He says today there is more opportunity for defending their views "obstinately." Anyone may speak repeatedly by simply raising a hand.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Abba Isidore 5


For now is the time to labour for the Lord, for salvation is found in the day of affliction: for it is written: 'In your patience gain ye your souls' (Luke 21:19).

Some thoughts:

I don't want my salvation to be found in the day of affliction because who wants affliction? Certainly not I. Affliction, however, is unavoidable. I believe this Saying speaks to how we are in the midst of affliction, how we comport ourselves. There is no point trying to avoid affliction as it will surely find us in some manner, shape or form. Who we are in the midst of it, how we behave as we endure, whether we turn to the Lord to help us... these all speak to our characters and whether we are willing to have the Lord shape them.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Abba Isidore 4


He also said, 'The heights of humility are great and so are the depths of boasting; I advise you to attend to the first and not to fall into the second.'

Some thoughts:

I recently read a novel set in the 14th century, A Vision of Light, about a young woman who had visions and sought to write a book of her experiences. For this she hires a monk to take down her dictation. Br. Gregory is constantly thinking about how far he has come in "his Humility". The thing is, of course, is that while he is a likable fellow, humble he is not.

It is funny how many subtle ways there are to boast. We can even boast without appearing to boast. We all probably want to make a good impression on others and so there are little things we can do to make sure we are noticed, that call attention to ourselves. Somehow we have to let all that go.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Abba Isidore 3


Abba Isidore of Pelusia) said, 'Prize virtues and do not be the slave of glory; for the former are immortal, while the latter soon fades.'

Some thoughts

What the abba says here is self-evident. We already know this. But oh my, how many are the temptations to be a slave of glory, even in tiny ways like getting all the attention in a small group or standing in line at the Post Office.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Rule of St Benedict Reading for September 10, 2009

January 10, May 11, September 10

Chapter 2: What Kind of Person the Abbess Ought to Be

Let the Abbess always bear in mind
that at the dread Judgment of God
there will be an examination of these two matters:
her teaching and the obedience of her disciples.
And let the Abbess be sure
that any lack of profit
the master of the house may find in the sheep
will be laid to the blame of the shepherd.
On the other hand,
if the shepherd has bestowed all her pastoral diligence
on a restless, unruly flock
and tried every remedy for their unhealthy behavior,
then she will be acquitted at the Lord's Judgment
and may say to the Lord with the Prophet:
"I have not concealed Your justice within my heart;
Your truth and Your salvation I have declared" (Ps. 39[40]:11).
"But they have despised and rejected me" (Is. 1:2; Ezech. 20:27).
And then finally let death itself, irresistible,
punish those disobedient sheep under her charge.

Some thoughts;

In dealing with the monks, Benedict suggests that the abbot adopt himself to circumstances and characters. A monastery will thrive if it is ruled by a reasonable abbot. Monastic history is full of examples of what did or did not happen under administration of abbots.

I confess, I don't care for the physical punishment of recalcitrant monks. I have to keep reminding myself that up until very very recently physical punishment did take place. And there are parts of the world where it is still being used.

The role of father is only 1 of several that Benedict expects the abbot to fill. The abbot is also judge, master, servant, shepherd, steward, teach and physician. In all these functions the abbot is encouraged to be Christ-like.

The abbot will be judged not only by what he has taught but by how well the monks respond to his teaching. He will have to give an accounting on judgement day. Fortunately for the abbot, Benedict assures him of an acquittal if it has been proved that the monks paid no attention to him. Sometimes parents blame themselves for the way their children turn out. Benedict says don't do that. If you have really tried, you can't be blamed.

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Saying of the Desert Christians: Abba Isidore 2


Abba Isidore went one day to see Abba Theophilus in Alexandria and when he returned to Scetis the brethren asked him, 'What is going on in the city?' But he said to them, 'Truly, brothers, I did not see the face of anyone there, except that of the archbishop.' Hearing this they were very anxious and said to him, 'Has there been a disaster there, then, Abba?' He said 'Not at all, but the thought of looking at anyone did not get the better of me' At these words they were filled with admiration, and strengthened in their intention of guarding the eyes from all distraction.

Some thoughts

One doesn't have to go too far from the Nile to be in the desert. Scetis and the other communities of hermits were quite near the delta of the Nile so the journey was feasible. Upon his return, the monks are quite naturally quite humanly curious to hear the news. Isidore, though, had practiced the custody of the senses so well that he saw no one except Theophilus.

Now I am none too sure I want to go through life with my eyes cast down so I don't see the beauties of nature or the face of Jesus in a chance encounter. On the other hand, I do deeply admire Isidore's dedication to keep his eyes and minds off of that which was none of his business.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Abba Isidore 1


(Abba Isidore) said, 'When I was younger and remained in my cell I set no limit to prayer; the night was for me as much the time of prayer as the day.'

Some thoughts:

This is interesting. When he was younger, Isidore says. He would pray at night and during the day. Did he advocate this? Or is he saying that now that he is older he can't pray like that? Or does he think that in his youth he was carried away?

I know in my youth I thought nothing of staying up all night and still be raring to go throughout the whole next day. I wouldn't do that now nor would I recommend it to anyone.

Rule of St Benedict Reading for September 9, 2009

January 9, May 10, September 9
Chapter 2: What Kind of Person the Abbess Ought to Be
An Abbess who is worthy to be over a monastery
should always remember what she is called,
and live up to the name of Superior.
For she is believed to hold the place of Christ in the monastery,
being called by a name of His,
which is taken from the words of the Apostle:
"You have received a Spirit of adoption ...,
by virtue of which we cry, 'Abba -- Father'" (Rom. 8:15)!

Therefore the Abbess ought not to teach or ordain or command
anything which is against the Lord's precepts;
on the contrary,
her commands and her teaching
should be a leaven of divine justice
kneaded into the minds of her disciples.

Some thoughts:

Chapter 2 of the RB is clearly a guide to parenting. "Abbot" means "father; "abbess" means "mother." It is fair to call the Benedictine life in the monastery as familial. In his book, _A Share in the Kingdom: A Commentary on the Rule of St Benedict for Oblates_, Benet Tvedten talks of some passe customs such as kissing the abbot's ring or kneeling after entering the abbot's office. He says these were some medieval customs which have since been dropped. But even so, the abbot is not "one of the boys", so to speak. Tvedten says "he is the father of sons who are adults and who want to be treated as adults." Tvedten calls this fatherhood an absolute essential to monastic life.

Well, the qualities of the monastic superior are no different from those required in parenting. No Christian parent should ever "teach or ordain or command anything which is against the Lord's precepts." Both the monastic family and the nuclear family use a twofold manner of teaching: words and good examples.

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Sunday, September 06, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Abba Isaiah 3


(Abba Isaiah) also said 'When God wishes to take pity on a soul and it rebels, not bearing anything and doing its own will, he then allows it to suffer that which it does not want, in order that it may seek him again.'

Some thoughts:

God allows us to suffer, which is something we don't want. It's quite true we dislike suffering. OTOH, there are logical consequences to our choices. Some things we suffer through no fault of our own but as a result of living in a fallen sinful world. And some suffering we do bring upon ourselves. It's the latter that we can usually do something about. I'm with Isaiah... the best thing we can ever do is seek God.

I say "seek God". God is of course, right there in front of us all the time holding out His arms to embrace us and welcome us home. But we don't see this and so we have to work through our muddles to get to that place where we can simply say "I believe, help me in my unbelief." I call that muddling through "seeking God."

Rule of St Benedict Reading for September 2, 2009

January 6, May 7, September 6
So we have asked the Lord
who is to dwell in His tent,
and we have heard His commands
to anyone who would dwell there;
it remains for us to fulfill those duties.

Therefore we must prepare our hearts and our bodies
to do battle under the holy obedience of His commands;
and let us ask God
that He be pleased to give us the help of His grace
for anything which our nature finds hardly possible.
And if we want to escape the pains of hell
and attain life everlasting,
then, while there is still time,
while we are still in the body
and are able to fulfill all these things
by the light of this life,
we must hasten to do now
what will profit us for eternity.

Some thoughts:

People took the "pains of hell" more seriously than we do. It was quite the inducement to do good or to make up for the bad one had done. We might do well to re-think how we think about hell. Is it a fiery pit full of perpetually burning bodies? Does it have several layers and each reserved for a specific group of sinners with the torments getting consecutively worse?

I imagine hell to be the absence of God. Since we have immortal souls, something has to happen to all of ours. What would eternity be like separate from God? Fiery pit? The utter cold of outer space? Since the immortal soul is aware, it will have to experience something.

We humans are a resourceful bunch and we can manage to adjust to lots of things. I am diabetic for example, and if I forget to take my meds, I don't feel it right away which in turn does not help me to remember to take them. The changes in my body are slow and I just adapt. In fact, I might not notice for a goodly while. Eventually though I begin to have symptoms. I use my glucometer and then am staggered by what I see there and all the things I ought to have done come rushing back at me.

Our need for God is that basic. Unless we are with God, no matter how well things look on the surface there is a whole lot of other stuff going on that we may never even notice until the changes are so many that they slap us in the face. This is where the RB helps us. It is a regimen to develop the best possible spiritual health. We start it because we must and then as we absorb the RB within us, we do it out of love.


Saturday, September 05, 2009

Rule of St Benedict Reading for September 5, 2009

January 5, May 6, September 5


Hence the Lord says in the Gospel,
"Whoever listens to these words of Mine and acts upon them,
I will liken to a wise person
who built a house on rock.
The floods came,
the winds blew and beat against that house,
and it did not fall,
because it had been founded on rock" (Matt. 7:24-25).

Having given us these assurances,
the Lord is waiting every day
for us to respond by our deeds to His holy admonitions.
And the days of this life are lengthened
and a truce granted us for this very reason,
that we may amend our evil ways.
As the Apostle says,
"Do you not know that God's patience is inviting you to repent" (Rom. 2:4)?
For the merciful Lord tells us,
"I desire not the death of the sinner,
but that the sinner should be converted and live" (Ezech. 33:11).

Some thoughts:

Doing what the Lord wants us to do, that's a on a firm foundation. It's not built on the vicisstudes of the latest fad, keeping our options open or the whims of others. One of the things that Benedict stresses is the habit of regular prayer. In the monastery, it's fairly easy to get that habit. The bell rings, the monks cease what they are doing, go to the oratory and pray. For us it is not that simple.

Jeremy Taylor, one of the Caroline Divines, wrote in his _Holy Living_ how we can make prayer habitual:

17. Set apart some portions of every day for more solemn devotion and religious employment, which be severe in observing: and if variety of employment, or prudent affairs, or civil society, press upon you, yet so order thy rule, that the necessary parts of it be not omitted; and though just occasions may make our prayers shorter, yet let nothing but a violent, sudden, and impatient necessity, make thee, upon any one day, wholly to omit thy morning and evening devotions; which if you be forced to make very short, you may supply and lengthen with ejaculations and short retirements in the day-time, in the midst of your employment or of your company.


Friday, September 04, 2009

Forty Years ago this week the 1st message was sent over the Internet

Forty years ago this week, the first message was sent over the Internet. 40 years ago, fresh back from Woodstock (40 years ago last month) I didn't know a thing about the Internet and computers were things that took up whole floors at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, PA.

Well now, the Internet sure has come a long long long way in 40 years. And as I was clicking the buttons on the Hunger site, breast cancer site etc, I was thinking that my own clicks don't amount to a lot. After all, 1.1 cups of food is not enough to live on. Although I suppose it is better than nothing. Not much better, though.

I googled "how many people use the Internet daily worldwide?" Received the answer of: 1,668,870,408. That stat is from
So I go to thinking... if every Internet user in the world clicked on and all the related sites, collectively Internet users would do a very great deal. Of sure, some people will think "I clicked so I've done enough" and be satisfied with their involvement. They won't have done enough, of course. But maybe habitual clicking would turn out to be a starting place to rethink all of the parts of their lives that contribute to world hunger, abuse and violence of women and children. Once they've rethought, then they'll take action.

It takes maybe 60 seconds to push all the right buttons. It's doable. Everyone has 60 seconds to spare.

Saying of the Desert Christians: Abba Isaiah 1


(Abba Isaiah) said to those who were making a good beginning by putting themselves under the direction of the holy Fathers, 'As with purple dye, the first colouring is never lost.' And, 'Just as young shoots are easily trained back and bent, so it is with beginners who live in submission.'

Some thoughts:

The reference to the purple dye would have had a lot more meaning to Abba Isaiah's audience than it does to us. We all probably know that it was the most expensive dye ever made in its time, rare and reserved only for royalty. The dye was so expensive in fact that when the 4th Crusaders sacked Byzantium, no emperor after that could raise sufficient funds to restart the dye works and the process is lost to us. Although attempts are being made to re-discover how they did it.

The source for the dye was a particular sea snail and once the snails were gathered, they were left to rot in large vats causing a hideous stench. Considering that modern sanitation was unknown, the aroma was apparently the most impressively hideous smell.
worse than any other. But once the dye was extracted, and the cloth dipped, the color was gorgeous. The ancients believe too that as the dye aged on the fabric it only became more beautiful.

We can see that being compared to purple dye is one powerful metaphor

Rule of St Benedict Reading for September 3, 2009

January 3, May 4, September 3


And the Lord, seeking his laborer
in the multitude to whom He thus cries out,
says again,
"Who is the one who will have life,
and desires to see good days" (Ps. 33[34]:13)?
And if, hearing Him, you answer,
"I am the one,"
God says to you,
"If you will have true and everlasting life,
keep your tongue from evil
and your lips that they speak no guile.
Turn away from evil and do good;
seek after peace and pursue it" (Ps. 33[34]:14-15).
And when you have done these things,
My eyes shall be upon you
and My ears open to your prayers;
and before you call upon Me,
I will say to you,
'Behold, here I am'" (Ps. 33[34]:16; Is. 65:24; 58:9).

What can be sweeter to us, dear ones,
than this voice of the Lord inviting us?
Behold, in His loving kindness
the Lord shows us the way of life.

Some thoughts:

Through the RB, St Benedict establishes a school in which we will learn how to do all the things mentioned on 9/2. Knowing that we are just ordinary people, he promises nothing harsh or burdensome. Although he prompts us to a little strictness, he asks that we do not become discouraged. We will learn to appreciate the discipline imposed upon us by the Rule. In time what we first due out of obedience, we will do out of love because we will discover how living the Benedictine path increases the love we share with God on an individual basis and with each other human being.


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Rule of St Benedict Reading for September 2, 2009

January 2, May 3, September 2


Let us arise, then, at last,
for the Scripture stirs us up, saying,
"Now is the hour for us to rise from sleep" (Rom. 13:11).
Let us open our eyes to the deifying light,
let us hear with attentive ears
the warning which the divine voice cries daily to us,
"Today if you hear His voice,
harden not your hearts" (Ps. 94[95]:8).
And again,
"Whoever has ears to hear,
hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Matt. 11-15; Apoc. 2:7).
And what does He say?
"Come, My children, listen to Me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord" (Ps. 33[34]:12).
"Run while you have the light of life,
lest the darkness of death overtake you" (John 12:35).

Some thoughts:

The Rule is centered on Christ and the Christian life. Any christian can accept this rule of life as an aid to living a virtuous life within the Church. The RB reminds us of the order we should have in our lives, the priorities and the disciplines. St, Benedict realizes that we have already been called to the Christian life by baptism, but if we have become lethargic in living out that commitment, this Rule is for us. St. Benedict tells us to begin this manner of following Christ right now, today. We can't live in the past or the future


Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Cincinnati nun given ultimatum over ordination views

Sr Gloriamarie adds: Should you wish to contact the Sisters of Charity in Cincinnati and offer your support, you may do so here:

Cincinnati nun given ultimatum over ordination views


After serving as a voice for justice for 40 years in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and beyond, Sister of Charity Louise Akers has been told by Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk to publicly disassociate herself from the issue of women’s ordination if she wishes to continue making any presentations or teaching for credit in any archdiocesan-related institutions.

“We are losing the voice of justice,” said one member of her religious community. Other women religious, lay friends, supporters and former students have called for “responsible dialogue” on the subject of women’s ordination and have described the archbishop’s stance as unjust and mystifying. Many are writing Pilarczyk to officially register their distress.

Akers and Pilarczyk met for 30 minutes Aug. 10 in his archdiocesan office in Cincinnati. She had requested the meeting after being informed that persons upset with her teaching had registered official complaints with church officials. Central to those complaints were both the presence of her name and photo on the Women’s Ordination Conference web site and her membership on its advisory board.
Pilarczky, in answer to a question from NCR, said, "It is not my custom to offer public comment on personnel matters."

Akers frequently speaks and teaches at local parishes, often at the invitation of the Cincinnati Archdiocese’s Office of Religious Education. Some years ago, that office asked her to design official courses for religious education certification on the subjects of church and justice. Other issues on which she frequently speaks are peace, racism and interreligious relations. She is coordinator of the Office of Peace, Justice and the Integrity of Creation for her religious community, which has approximately 450 members.

According to the 66-year-old Akers, the archbishop outlined two requirements during their meeting. First, that she remove her name from the ordination web site, a step she has since taken in an effort to defuse the “destructive assaults” against her. Secondly, that she publicly rescind her long-held stance supporting the ordination of women.

The latter is a step she cannot take. “To do so would go against my conscience,” said Akers, who entered the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati in 1960, and holds a doctorate in feminist theology from the Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Mass. Her master’s thesis, from the University of Dayton, focused on the “Prophecy of Martin L. King, Jr.”

“For four decades I have devoted my ministry to advocating on behalf of the marginalized through religious congregations, justice organizations, ecumenical and interfaith groups” Akers told NCR. “Women’s ordination is a justice issue. Its basis is the value, dignity and equality of women. I believe this to my very core. To publicly state otherwise would be a lie and a violation of my conscience. I love, support and cherish the part of Church that upholds the gospel mission and vision of Jesus.”

She quoted the words of Martin Luther, uttered centuries ago: “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.”

Her stance leaves her unable to make presentations at archdiocesan-sponsored events, to conduct retreats or reflection days, and to teach courses on any subject at sites that are directly related to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. All have been part of her ministry and service to the church, whether full- or part-time.

In 1985 she established the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center in Cincinnati. In the 1990s she served as associate director of social concerns at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Around that same time she was a consultant to NETWORK and served as vice president of its board. From 1979 to 1984 she was a member of the Social Action Office staff in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, hired by then-Archbishop Joseph L. Bernardin.

A local supporter is Father Paul Donohue, a member of the Comboni Missionaries. In a personal statement, he said: “It is mystifying to me that the Archbishop of Cincinnati would ask Sister of Charity Louise Akers to refrain from teaching for credit in the archdiocese. Both the archbishop and Sister Louise love, support, and cherish the Church that upholds the gospel mission and vision of Jesus. Both present what the Church teaches. In conscience, Sister Louise must raise questions regarding doctrine. In effect, her questions bring to focus the fact that the Church is a living community of men and women whose understanding develops over time upon reflection. Perhaps, her questions are prophetic. I hope we are not witnesses to a push toward ‘group think.’”

Dr. Brennan Hill, former chair of the theology department at Xavier University (Cincinnati), where Akers taught as both adjunct and visiting professor off and on from 1986 to 2004, sees this as a moment that begs for dialogue. “Listening to ‘the signs of the time,’ a central value of Vatican II, we need a lively dialogue about the rights of women in society and in the church. The severe lack of clergy challenges the rights of the faithful to Eucharist and sacramental ministry. Our age calls for respectful and responsible dialogue on many difficult issues. The ordination of women is certainly one of them. Silencing and punishing those who want to engage in this dialogue only serves to weaken the church and push away thoughtful and well-informed believers.”

He continued: “Vatican II called for religious freedom, rejected coercion in religious matters and took a strong stand for the primacy of conscience.”
Sr. Rosie Burns of Dayton, Ohio, who works with the homeless and has known Akers for decades, described her friend as a gifted teacher who invites people to “use the gifts God gives each of us. Louise never only allows her side (to dominate) but challenges the learner to think. She has a vast knowledge of the church’s teachings on justice. She lives these teachings. We and our whole world will suffer with this loss. We are losing the ‘voice’ of justice.”

Another Sister of Charity, Carol Leveque, a pastoral associate, described Akers as “passionate and compassionate as well as committed and faith-filled. She speaks her truth, does her homework. She listens well and respectfully to others. She is always able to address both sides of an issue because she has done her homework. When she speaks her truth, she names it as her truth. I am saddened to lose the voice of someone who has always been such a great advocate for justice and who challenges us to do the same.”

Ironically, the same day Akers met with Pilarczyk, she was named to the new class of Leadership Cincinnati, a 10-month civic leadership program operated by the regional Chamber of Commerce.

Judy Ball is a freelance writer who occasionally writes for NCR.

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Saying of the Desert Christians: Abba Helladius


It was said of Abba Helladius that he spent twenty years in the Cells, without ever raising his eyes to see the roof of the church.

Some thoughts:

What are we to make of this Saying? To be honest, it kinda creeps me out. LOL The Cells were discovered in 1964 and there has been excavations of churches with inscriptions and decorations. Of course, I dunno if the inscriptions and decorations were there when Abba Helladius worshipped there, but I think so, otherwise this Saying makes little sense. My impression is that the monk didn't look up lest he be distracted from his prayer.

Maybe that's a good thing, sometimes. After all, I'm the one who put together a 67 page collection of notes I researched about "custody of senses." At the same time, how often has my worshipped been enriched by the beautiful stained glass, statues, paintings, gardens, wild flowers, streams and on and on and on. Back when I still lived in the Boston area, I was known for pulling over to the side of the road, sit on a stone fence and thank God for the gorgeous clouds.

Rule of St Benedict Reading for September 1, 2009

January 1, May 2, September 1


I S T E N carefully, my child,
to your master's precepts,
and incline the ear of your heart (Prov. 4:20).
Receive willingly and carry out effectively
your loving father's advice,
that by the labor of obedience
you may return to Him
from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience.

To you, therefore, my words are now addressed,
whoever you may be,
who are renouncing your own will
to do battle under the Lord Christ, the true King,
and are taking up the strong, bright weapons of obedience.

And first of all,
whatever good work you begin to do,
beg of Him with most earnest prayer to perfect it,
that He who has now deigned to count us among His children
may not at any time be grieved by our evil deeds.
For we must always so serve Him
with the good things He has given us,
that He will never as an angry Father disinherit His children,
nor ever as a dread Lord, provoked by our evil actions,
deliver us to everlasting punishment
as wicked servants who would not follow Him to glory.

Some thoughts:

"Listen carefully," St. Benedict says. Although he wrote a rule for monks, monks are not the only ones who benefit from it., Nuns, lay folk, priests have all adapted the RB to their vocations. As I have myself.

St. Benedict had a lot of common sense, as has been noted by more than one person over the centuries. There is something about common sense that is simply timeless, would you agree. Benedict knew his audience: ordinary people. In one of the later chapters, Benedict has the RB read to novices 3 times and ion ch 66 he says that the Rule is to be read often. He realized that we need to be reminded over and over again. No matter how closely we pay attention, the message has to be repeated over and over again. We don't achieve perfection by reading the RB once. Nor, for that matter, will perfection be ours even by practicing the RB our whole lives. Benedict will be the first to admit that no one is perfect. He wrote a Rule for imperfect people such as you and I, Gentle Reader.

Maybe more of us would give the religious life a try if they didn't believe that the had to be exceptionally holy people. Which they don't have to be. Nor will the religious life necessarily make one exceptionally holy. All that is requires, as if required of any Christian, that we keep trying to improve our lives.

This is what St Benedict teaches us. He teaches us to be practical, moderate, steadfast through sharing his common sense with us. He wants all of us to love the liturgy, to pray the psalms and meditate on Scripture, to see Christ in all to who we welcome into our churches and our homes, to take good care of the property we own, to take good care of our bodily as well as spiritual needs, to be kind and helpful to one another.