Archive for November, 2011

Faith is occupied with the Object upon which it rests . . .

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

Like the eye which sees everything in front of it and never sees itself, faith is occupied with the Object upon which it rests and pays no attention to itself at all. While we are looking at God, we do not see ourselves–blessed riddance. The one who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One.
- A. W. Tozer (1897-1963), The Pursuit of God

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We were created to be an image and likeness of God, and so it is only by “looking” unto God frequently that we come to most accurately reflect God’s image and likeness.   This doesn’t mean that we ought not examine ourselves, our motives, or do various kinds of inner work, however.  Because God always appeals to our freedom and intelligence, we do need to take full responsibility for what goes on in our consciousness, and we cannot take such responsibility without being aware of what goes on there.  After doing so, we can make adjustments in how we think and choose, but we cannot become truly healed, nor realize our true identity by trying to “fix” ourselves.  When we give up trying to do so and look to God instead for healing, identity and guidance, it is indeed a blessed relief.

Love God, and do as you please.

Sunday, November 27th, 2011

Love God, and do as you please.
- St. Augustine

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Do anything?

Well, sure, but only if you truly love God first and foremost above all else.   If you do so, then your consciousness will be oriented toward God in such manner as to love what God loves and to regard as harmful what God regards as harmful.  In other words, your conscience will be moved by the Holy Spirit to act in such manner as to do what is called for in every circumstance.

Thus is the second great commandment — to love your neighbor as your self — like unto the first, for those who love God above all cannot help but regard other people with God’s own loving regard.  In other words, we love our neighbor for God’s sake, which is a higher love than one based on our natural attractions and compatibilities.

Does this counsel from St. Augustine sound too easy?   Too simple?  What do you think?

The flow of God’s love

Friday, November 25th, 2011

This flowing forth of God always demands a flowing back; for God is a Sea that ebbs and flows, pouring without ceasing into all His beloved according to the need and the merits of each, and ebbing back again with all those who have been thus endowed both in heaven and on earth, with all that they have and all that they can. And of some He demands more than they are able to bring, for He shows Himself so rich and so generous and so boundlessly good: and in showing Himself thus He demands love and adoration according to His worth. For God wishes to be loved by us according to the measure of His nobility, and in this all spirits fail; and therefore their love becomes wayless and without manner, for they know not how they may fulfill it, nor how they may come to it. For the love of all spirits is measured: and for this reason their love perpetually begins anew, so that God may be loved according to His demand and to the spirit’s own desires. And this is why all blessed spirits perpetually gather themselves together and form a burning flame of love, that they may fulfill this work, and that God may be loved according to His nobility. Reason shows clearly that to creatures this is impossible; but love always wills the fulfillment of love, or else will be consumed, burned up, annihilated in its own failure. Yet God is never loved according to His worth by any creatures. And to the enlightened reason this is a great delight and satisfaction: that its God and its Beloved is so high and so rich that He transcends all created powers, and can be loved according to His merits by none save Himself.

The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, chapter 40
by St. John of Rusybroeck (1293-1381)

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There is much food for thought and reflection in this quote.  As noted in another post, God’s love is the means by which we come to love God.  The “ebb and flow” mentioned by St. John in this quote attests to this.  Note, too, his mention of the failing of all to love God as God deserves.  Still, any movement in this direction is most pleasing to God and most edifying of the person.

The hunchback Persian Prince

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

(Here is a story I have heard from a number of sources through the years.  I found it printed here but I’m fairly sure this is not the author of the tale.)

Consider the case of the Hunchback Persian Prince. It was his destiny to one day be king. He was so tragically deformed, however that many in the kingdom could barely stand to think of the day when the deformed Prince would assume the throne. Though rumors of these feelings troubled the Prince, it did not deter him.

One day the Prince made an odd decree. He ordered the royal sculptor to carve his statue out of white marble. Rather than have the statue look as the he did, however, the Prince ordered the sculptor to chisel the shimmering stone into a figure that looked exactly as he would look if he had no deformity.

When the sculpture was finished, the Prince placed the beautiful effigy in the center of the palace. Then every day – every single day – that Prince would approach the statue, take off his shirt and try to bend his back straight up against the back of his statue.

Then one day he overheard some palace aid remark to another that it seemed the Prince was standing straighter. This fired the Prince’s enthusiasm. He continued his daily ritual and worked even harder to bend his back straight up against the back of the white marble likeness of himself.

Then one day – an ordinary day of approaching the statue, taking off his shirt and bending upward – he was thrilled when his warm shoulders made contact with the cold marble. He now resembled the statue he ordered constructed.

Look to Him that you might be radiant with joy, and your face free from all shame.
- Ps. 34: 5

We become like that which we attend to.

God is not a concept

Monday, November 21st, 2011

God is NOT a concept, although there surely is such a thing as a God-concept.  The latter is not-God, and I don’t know that anyone, anywhere is really confused about this.

Nevertheless, this common-sense affirmation is sometimes taken to very strange conclusions.  For example:

  • to relate to God as “Other” is to relate to God as concept;
  • to even speak of God is to invoke a concept and, hence, to indulge a fabrication of one’s own mind;
  • if God is beyond all concepts, then the only appropriate way to relate to God is non-conceptually.

There are more examples of this kind, and what they all serve to do is to undermine, in some manner, a fully human manner of relating to the divine.

First, in response, we can say that it does not follow that because we conceptualize about God that our concepts are inherently misleading, or that they do nothing of value to help turn our attention to God.  As the old Zen story goes, when you see the moon, quit looking at the finger that points to it.  Aha, true!  But would one see the moon at all if not for the finger that pointed it out?  So it can be with a concept, image, symbol, story, etc.  This is the stuff of kataphatic spirituality, and it does help to turn the attention to God.

A second response is that to consider God as Other is to promote something terrible called “dualism,” usually meaning, here, that God is separate from me.  The term, “separate,” is often conflated with “distinct,” so that it’s not always clear what is meant by “dualism.”  Christian teaching, here, is quite clear in affirming that God is distinctively different being from any creature, AND that God and creatures are not separate in the sense of having no contact with one another.  Why we cannot even exist in the first place if God does not give us existence.  So, in this sense, Christianity is, indeed, dualistic, and unapologetically so, for the core religious paradigm is relationship, which implies at least two.

So God and I are two distinct beings, and I can know something about God from what God has chosen to reveal to us, especially through Jesus Christ.   I make use of concepts to inform my understanding of God, and other kataphatic means to orient my attention toward God.  Then when my human spirit is drawn into the mystery of the sacred Presence, I let go of these human ways of orienting my attention to rest in the loving embrace of the Other.  When I am returned to my ordinary consciousness, I can use concepts to share something of this experience and its meaning, perhaps in such manner as to be a finger that points others toward the Light.


Saturday, November 19th, 2011

Glory to God in the highest,
and peace to his people on earth.
Lord God, heavenly King,
almighty God and Father,
we worship you, we give you thanks,
we praise you for your glory.
Lord Jesus Christ, only son of the Father,
Lord God, Lamb of God,
you take away the sins of the world:
have mercy on us;
you are seated at the right hand of the Father:
receive our prayer.
For You alone are the Holy One,
You alone are the Lord,
You alone are the Most High,
Jesus Christ,
with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father.

Psalm 18

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

1 I love you, LORD, my strength.
2 The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

3 I called to the LORD, who is worthy of praise,
and I have been saved from my enemies.

. . .

25 To the faithful you show yourself faithful,
to the blameless you show yourself blameless,
26 to the pure you show yourself pure,
but to the devious you show yourself shrewd.
27 You save the humble
but bring low those whose eyes are haughty.
28 You, LORD, keep my lamp burning;
my God turns my darkness into light.
29 With your help I can advance against a troop;
with my God I can scale a wall.

30 As for God, his way is perfect:
The LORD’s word is flawless;
he shields all who take refuge in him.
31 For who is God besides the LORD?
And who is the Rock except our God?
32 It is God who arms me with strength
and keeps my way secure.
33 He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
he causes me to stand on the heights.
34 He trains my hands for battle;
my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
35 You make your saving help my shield,
and your right hand sustains me;
your help has made me great.
36 You provide a broad path for my feet,
so that my ankles do not give way.

- New International Version -

Gratitude — and video by Br. David Steindl-rast

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

The practice of gratitude can open us to a deep appreciation for the many gifts we are given each day and move us to love God, the Giver of all gifts, in return. The following video reflection by Br. David Steindl-rast makes this point in a most delightful manner.

The prayer of praise

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

“If I had to choose the one form of prayer that has made the presence of Chriust most real in my life and given me the deepest sense of being supported and surrounded by the loving providence of God, I would unhesitatingly choose this, the last form of prayer I propose in this book, the Prayer of Praise.  I would also choose it for the great peace and joy it has so often brought me in times of distress.

“The prayer consists, quite simply, of praising and thanking God for everything.  It is based on the belief that nothing happens in our life that is not foreseen by God — just nothing, not even our sins.”

- Anthony de Mello, S.J., Sadhanna

How to love God above all else?

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

It is one thing to assert the importance of the First Great Commandment with one’s intellect, but quite another to try to keep it.  How can one love God above all else?

For me, the key to answering this question comes from 1 John 4:19, where it is written that we love because God loved us first.  Elsewhere, in 1 John 4:8, we read that God is love itself.  It follows, then, that God’s love for us is what enables us to love God in return.  Just as we are dependent upon God for our very existence, so, too, are we dependent upon God for the love by means of which we can love God.

There are implications for spiritual practice, here, which is why I am including this reflection in that category as well as theology.  It is difficult to love God if one does not first know that one is loved by God.  One might be able to assert the priority of God and the commandments with the mind, and even to keep them, to some degree.  But this is not yet love, for love is the force and energy that binds us closely in relationship.

God loves us first, and if we are to love God in return, we must first know that we are loved by God.  Even this we are incapable of doing without God’s help, for the sin disease that has wounded our human nature makes us numb to the divine advances.  We need God grace or help that we might be open to God’s love.  We can ask for this help; any time we move into prayer, I think God assumes that we are open to it.  Sometimes this is the best prayer — to simply be open to being loved by God, and to allowing God’s love to flow back to God in return.

It is good, at times, to set the prayer list aside, and even to put the Bible down after awhile in prayer.  Simply open yourself God’s love as you would to receiving the warm rays of the sun on a beach.  Then the love by means of which you are loved will move through you and return to God and all creatures.  You will become a channel of God’s love and life, and will realize the destiny for which God created you.