Bible and Bible Study: November 2005 Archives

A Reminder

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Even if you do not need it today, I do, so I will say once again:

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

Which is not to say I can do all things. Rather it says, I do them all by allying my will with His. He does them in me and I do them through Him. I must cooperate, but it is not my power that gets them done. It is my fervent hope that the trials of this day go a long way to helping a chief cause I cherish. May what I suffer return as love to all of those who need it.

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If you look at Carmel from the outside you probably would not be aware of one of its most open secrets. As an outsider, I was not aware of it. What's more, as an insider it's taken ten or eleven years for it finally to sink in.

What is that secret? Well, the title of this entry gives it away--lectio divina. My block in coming to terms with the importance of Lectio in Carmelite spirituality stems from the fact that Lectio was not "invented" by the Carmelites. Likely it has existed in some form as long as there have been scriptures. I suppose if anyone takes credit for codifying it, it may be the early monastics or St. Benedict. Whoever may have credit for it, the Carmelites do not. As a result I have never seen it as a particularly Carmelite tradition. But I have been woefully mistaken. Lectio Divina holds pride of place as the gateway for contemplation.

And that is why I'm sharing the Carmelite tradition. Not everyone is called to be a Carmelite and to approach scripture in a Carmelite way and to approach prayer with a Carmelite heart. However, I do think it is safe to say that Lectio Divina is a practice which everyone may use profitably to increase the intimacy and immediacy of their prayer life.

In Carmel, Lectio Divina or sacred reading, is seen as the root of any worthwhile mental prayer. One cannot engage in productive discursive meditation if one is ignorant of scriptures. Ignorance of scriptures truly is ignorance of Christ. While we might not come to know and understand fully everything the Church knows and teaches about Jesus simply from reading scripture, the vast majority of what there is to know is centered there and stems from that special revelation.

Lectio Divina is also a practice that has "methods" and a system. Further, it is a method that can be profitably employed by any reader (or, in fact, illiterate people who can memorize) in relatively little time. Ten or fifteen minutes a day is all that it takes to start. The danger (if you wish to think of it that way), dear reader, is that once started it tends to become like any good thing, addictive and consuming. That is, once you discover how simple it is and how utterly rewarding, the length of prayer time tends to increase on its own as you continue the pursuit of it.

Carmelites regard discursive meditation as the gateway to acquired contemplation. The previous sentence probably sounds like a bunch of mumbo-jumbo to those not familiar with the precise meanings of the words, so a restatement may be in order. Thinking about holy matters can lead to a greater intimacy with God. Hence, thinking about sacred scripture--not in an academic or distant way, but in a highly personalized way--can open the door that leads to union with God (in God's own time of course.)

How does one "do" lectio? My guess is that there are as many different ways as there are practitioners, but I suspect that all of the ways include certain essentials. After a period of quieting down (if done later in the day) and a prayer invoking the Holy Spirit one takes up scripture and reads. It is perhaps best if one does this according to a preset reading plan such as the Mass readings for the day or a plan to read through an entire book or section of a book. While one can use the time-honored principle of Bible roulette, it is perhaps not conducive to a continued adherence to the discipline of lectio. If one knows where one is going, one is more likely to continue the journey.

After this quieting and prayer one takes up scripture and reads. Generally this is not done as reading a novel or a nonfiction book. Rather, it is done slowly, as though weighing each word, or allowing each word to distill about it an image or a sense. It is better not to tax oneself with too long a reading, for a number of reasons. Reading a lot of scripture will provide too many points from which to begin, too many productive lines of meditation. It may introduce distraction as one flits from one idea to another. Nevertheless, the reader must gauge what is to be read--that will vary from one person to another. Perhaps a single pericope of scripture will suffice. Perhaps the next entry in the plan is dry and so two are entailed. But honestly, once you start to really rejoice in the Lord, there is almost nothing that is too dry. (I will remain agnostic on the question of the books of Deuteronomy, Leviticus, and most of Numbers--as I haven't tried them recently. But as the beginner would do well to start with the Gospels, that's not likely to be a consideration anyway.)

One reads a short section of scripture--savoring it, tasting it, chewing it over. In the words of Father John-Benedict Weber, sucking all of the juices out of it. (Don't worry--scripture is an extremely juicy fruit--even if you think you've gotten everything possible out of it, that is merely for the moment. Were you to return to the same scripture even the next day, you would be surprised at how deeply rewarding renewed meditation on it can be.) An important point to remember: lectio IS NOT Bible Study. This is not the time to be considering the parsing of Greek verbs or the economic relations of Syro-Phoenicians (whatever they may happen to be called at any given point) with other ancient civilizations. In lectio you may fruitfully use all that you have gained from careful study and consideration of the Bible, but this is not the time to learn all of that. For example, it may be very useful in reflecting on Philippians (surely you're not surprised to see reference to that book here!) to recall that this letter was written from confinement, imprisonment awaiting a sentence that, given the tenor of the times, could only be death. That would add depth to what you read. However, lectio is not the time to find that out. One could do lectio on Philippians with very little knowledge of Paul or Paul's life and mission at all. Lectio seeks to draw out of the passage a meaning and a purpose that is intensely personal. Personal, not in the sense of exclusivity--that is, one can share the meaning--but personal in the sense of application. The end of lectio should be not so much a new understanding of the literal meaning of the text, but a new internalization of the text--a new understanding of how the text applies to oneself. As with all productive prayer, lectio should allow the practitioner to enter into a closer relationship with God. As the pray-er begins to internalize and make personal some of the truth present in the Gospel, a new way is forged to approach God.

It would be a very serious mistake to think that lectio is the work of the one praying. As with all prayer, its efficacy stems from the invitation, the grace God provides, that allows us to continue in it effectively. We do not produce the effects of lectio, but rather the Spirit praying within us shows us what we need to see in the course of our meditation.

Now, what form should this meditation take? Again, that is a matter for each person. I found it very helpful to take the course of the Ignatian Retreat over a period of about thirty to forty weeks. What one derives from it are a number of approaches to meditation. One can form images and linger in the scene of scripture. One can hear over and over again a single phrase or word which has changes rung upon it, shifting subtly and becoming progressively richer in meaning. One can begin to see all the strands that connect the whole of revelation and how this incident in a specific place is related to another elsewhere and hence has ramifications for our lives today. The passage may plunge straight to the heart and convict one of sin, error, or fault. The key is to trust the lead of the Holy Spirit. He prays within as one reflects on Scripture. He connects one to the life of the Holy Trinity, and from within that life, one is given what is needed for the time. All stems from our trust and His Grace.

This is merely a brief, unsatisfactory introduction. The method itself is so simple that one merely need take up sacred writ and start. It is in doing that one learns what exactly to do.

I realize on finishing this that I've said remarkably little about Lectio in Carmel. But I think I've said what needs saying--it is central, critical, foundational, necessary. Without lectio a Carmelite cannot reasonably hope to approach the contemplation to which we are called. Not everyone will enter contemplation in this way; nevertheless, it would seem a fine practice for any Catholic who wishes to know God as He knows Himself. That is, after all, what revelation is about.

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File Under "Rejoicing, Reasons for"


And Jethro rejoiced for all the goodness which the LORD had done to Israel, whom he had delivered out of the hand of the Egyptians. Exodus 18:9

Long have I languished in the land of the desert. It is no surprise that the land has long been barren and dry. Sin is a place of innumerable mirages but absolutely no oases. Sin is like stepping off the face of the Earth and walking on the surface of the moon--not only is there no water, but it is cold, and dry, and dusty, and there is no air. And yet, with the bountiful creativity infused in us through by our most generous Father, I have the capacity to set up my easel and paint landscapes of lushness in the midst of pockmarks in emptiness. Every human being has the capacity to see exactly what she or he desires to see when it comes to holding ourselves back from the most important action there is.

But spend a while on this barren moon--feel the intense heat and cold; the waterless waste, try getting real nutrition at the mirage of an oasis. After a while, you'll sense the hollow echo, you'll feel the emptiness of the gestures. When this begins to happen, grace is moving to shake the scales from our eyes that we might see clearly.

In what do we rejoice? I have wandered long and far through the desert. I have served the cruelest, most relentless of all taskmasters--myself. I have been a servant to one alone--me. And the more I serve, the more I wished to be served. The appetite is insatiable.

But sitting at this juncture in history, I know well that I am not bound here. I have been delivered. I have been called out of Egypt and into the holy land. With a surety that fills me completely, I know I can leave. God has redeemed me from slavery--I can choose to depart from the tyrant-taskmaster self. But, as with the people of Israel, as I wander through the trackless desert, the vast wasteland between, I long for the time of rich and varied foods. I will go back to making my bricks without straw. Unless. . .

I take the time to rejoice in God's goodness to me. How many ways has He taken pains to guide me to Himself? How many ways has He told me He loves me? I look into the face of my son and I see a gift so long waited for, so long desired, so gracefully and wantonly given. My Father is profligate in the signs of His love. If I open my eyes, He says He loves me every day. In the people I encounter, in the beauty all around me, in the simple tasks of the day. God gives me rewarding work, He sends me His people--in need and supplying need, "my cup overflows."

Daily, or hourly, if we take a moment, we can see His actions in the things around us. And when we see it, one might hope that our reaction might be as Hopkins's:

" Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings."

In that second line, "Ah!" breaks the line and signals an intake of breath, finally I breathe again in His presence. Too long I have held my breath, apparently not trusting that there would be another breath to take (for in my world of sin, the only air is the breath I hold in my lungs). In my small world everything is limited. In God's everything is unlimited. I can turn and gasp and see how the Holy Spirit broods over the bent world, breathing upon it and moving things in the way they should go. I breathe the breath of the Spirit and become a new creation. I am blessed for a moment with a vision of the way things really are. Then I return to what I can see around me--the signs of His presence.

I rejoice and am thankful for these signs. I rejoice when I look how far I have been carried, though long stretches still seem to dominate the vision before me. The Father has brought me long and far, even though, like a small child I will insist on being put down and allowed to do my own thing. And like any small child, my own thing consists of trying to get away from Daddy. And He will allow this for a time before he swoops down upon me with a cry of joy and takes me back into His arms, and the two of us laugh together at the great game.

Rejoice then in the Father who loves us enough to allow us our freedom, but who cares enough always to gather us back in. Look at Him and see a face so beautiful, you will wonder how you could ever look away.

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Making a Joyful Noise


Psalm 100

1 Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands.

2 Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing.

3 Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

5 For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.

Below I noted two favorite psalms, although I love most of them. This one is a favorite because it is the primary hook God used to lure me back into the Church. When I was very young I memorized the first verses of this psalm (up to the beginning of verse 3). Years later, as my parents stopped going to Church and I could find no way to go myself, these words kept ringing in my head. Being a Christian, worshipping God, was all about making a joyful noise. And such a joyrful noise would attract all around. Christianity was the invitation to joy. (Or so I thought then. I've come to see that joy is real, but it isn't the central issue. It is rather a side-effect of proper orientation to God.)

So today, as you go about your daily routine, Make a joyful noise unto the Lord and don't be afraid if others hear. That joyful noise can be simply greeting the person who rides up in the elevator with you, carrying a package, holding a baby, smiling. Each of these things reaches out to others and in a celestial synaesthesia, they all result in a heavenly clamor, a joyful noise.

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Psalm 131

1 Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.

2 Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child.

3 Let Israel hope in the LORD from henceforth and for ever.

from Psalm 139

1O lord, thou hast searched me, and known me.

12 Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.

13 Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.

14 For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.

from The Interior Castle
St. Teresa of Avila

It is no small pity, and should cause us no little shame, that, through our own fault, we do not understand ourselves, or know who we are. Would it not be a sign of great ignorance, my daughters, if a person were asked who he was, and could not say, and had no idea who his father or his mother was, or from what country he came? Though that is great stupidity, our own is incomparably greater if we make no attempt to discover what we are, and only know that we are living in these bodies, and have a vague idea, because we have heard it and because our Faith tells us so, that we possess souls.

The providential conjunction of these three readings led to what follows. It is important to note that what follows is highly personal and highly individual. No two people will follow exactly the same way. Nevertheless, the path followed by one may be instructive or indicative; it may provide guideposts along the way.

Were I to write of the numerous ways in which I have denied knowledge of self or missed the mark, I'm certain we would fall into the realm of too much information. So I'll confine this story to the points suggested by the readings above and to what I have already made public many times. You've heard all of this before, perhaps out of context, and the contextualization will give you a sense of where the journey is guiding me. The three readings together have made me realize that there is often a wide gap between self-knowledge outside of God (mostly self-delusion) and self-knowledge in Christ (the real self). This gap is not overcome merely by recognizing it, but recognition is the first step toward remedy. Grace and prayer will take anyone the rest of the way. Or so I assume, because I am still on the way.

Psalm 131 has, along with psalm 100, long been a favorite of mine. It has spoken to my soul long before it spoke sufficiently to my intellect to provoke any action on my part. The imagery of being stilled and in the arms of God was intimately appealing, an invitation of the first order, a promise of the life I was meant to live.

The reality is that I do trouble myself with things beyond my
capacity, and I do stir around in things that merely dredge up irreconcilable feelings. I recall that one of the first things I wrote over at Disputations was my deep distrust of St. Thomas Aquinas. I further recall picking at the great Doctor's arguments on the basis of empirical understandings that he could not have had at the time.

What I have gradually come to see is that these are defensive postures. I look upon the greatness of intellect and spirit, and feeling intimidated, I try to find ways where I can challenge the Saint. The reality is that I don't have the capacity to even engage the saint in much of what he writes. I read him and my head spins. Ultimately I come down to a huffish, "Who cares anyway?" This isn't apathy, this is merely self-disgust projected outward upon the object that gave rise to this inner light. There is no shame in not understanding St. Thomas Aquinas. He was one of the great intellects of his time and perhaps of any time. His unique mind gave rise to some of the most intricate reasoning and thought ever composed. And more importantly, he spent his time thinking about the good, the beautiful, and most of all the true. That I cannot engage is not a measure of the Saint, but a measure of me. I am not found wanting in that, I am found different. There are a great many people who are utterly turned off by St. John of the Cross. This isn't a reflection on him, but rather on the capacity of the people approaching him. Again, it is not to say that they are wanting, but rather that they are differently constructed. What the saint has to say isn't meant for them directly. They'll find those truths (if it is necessary for them to do so) in another way.

The long and the short of this argument is that we need to allow ourselves to like what we like and to shy away from what has no appeal. God calls us through these differences. This is one of the reasons there is the enormous array of Saints and one of the reasons I was so appreciative of John Paul the Great's recognition of so many Saints. We are called to be all that we are, but we are never carbon copies of some other Saint, and not all of us are called to Francis, Dominic, or Aquinas.

I have been a long time battling this feeling of insufficiency that came when I recognized that I could not engage Thomas Aquinas. I had always thought of myself as reasonably intelligent, reasonably well-versed, reasonably reasonable. But this showed me that I had grossly overestimated some of my capacities. On the other hand I have also learned that I have grossly underestimated others. I have never seen myself as a particularly kind, considerate, or engaging person. I never viewed myself as sympathetic or overly emotional. The veneer of intellect covered up a vast well of emotion. This I discovered as I was meddling in these things beyond me. I read in various blogs a number of different kinds of argument. For example, there were arguments about how one was required to participate in representative government, there have been ongoing debates about the justness of the War in Iraq, and any number of other subtly reasoned but controversial points. In viewing each of these, I realized that I could follow reason so far. I could read the arguments on each side and found myself assenting to nearly every reasoned line. The argument against the war in Iraq made perfect sense to me. So to does the argument that speaks of its justness. The end result was utter confusion. I reached a place that intellect alone could not provide a solution. In all such cases the solution came from the heart, from thinking about all of the people involved on both sides. Such solutions are tricky and dangerous--doubly dangerous if we do not take care to inform ourselves to the best of our capacity. But for some of us there is no solution in the chain of reason, something more must be added to the mix before the solution can be satisfactory. Part of the end result of this is that I can be perfectly comfortable with people who hold views diametrically opposed to my own. I can sometimes perceive the reason that they follow to get to their endpoint and conclude that the person, differing in opinion though they are, is acting in good faith with all the right intentions. Too often in debates, I perceive that the point is not so much to find the truth as to convince someone else that we are right.

So meddling in things that are beyond me has taught me a great deal about the masks I wear and the image I would like to project. It has also taught me not to be ashamed of the fact that I am ultimately driven more by feeling than by intellect. There are those who would have one feel bad about such an arrangement, but so long as the feelings are as informed as one possibly can do, it seems that they may provide a solution when the intellect alone cannot resolve the perceived difficulty.

This dismantling of self is very painful, but also very productive. I discovered in it abilities that I had long thought were beyond me. I found ways of listening and ways around some of my own obstacles. I found in this dismantling a hint of who I am in Christ.

That is the point of this perhaps overly intimate sharing. And it is the point of the second and third readings above. God alone knows me as I am meant to be known. He alone has the knowledge of who I am and what part I serve in the divine economy. He alone can apprise me of my capacities and my shortcomings; He can augment the one and ameliorate the other. He has known me and had a place for me in the body of Christ from before the time the Psalms were written to tell us. Such knowledge, such a realization when it hits home is overwhelming. When the pyramids were being built, I was known and my place in the Body of Christ was fixed.

The only person who does not know me is me. And as Teresa of Avila points out in the third reading, that is entirely my own fault. God did not strike me blind, deaf, and unfeeling; rather, I struck myself blind. I cannot see because to open my eyes and see is too painful--it involves laying aside too much of what I think about myself.

God alone can assist me in finding the way home. He alone can help to deconstruct the huge barriers I have placed in the way of self-knowledge. The amazing thing is how gentle He is and what mechanisms he uses. At the risk of possible embarrassment of a great many here, I want to say how much the parishioners of St. Blogs have helped me along the path to self-knowledge. First among them, I need to thank Tom at Disputations who effectively dismantled what I thought were reasoned responses and showed them to be emotional reactions with little core of thought. Sometimes it hurt and I was hurt--but that was never his intention--and such momentary smarting made the lesson stick all the more. Tom isn't perfect, and he never laid claim to being, but his desire to know the truth has been immeasurably helpful to me. I have also to thank so many people in St. Blogs who have shown me the many different ways of being a faithful Catholic. They broadened my perspectives and my understanding. Chief among these was Karen Marie Knapp who very gently corrected a statement I made regarding her former Bishop and showed me what charity really meant. But others have helped as well. The vibrancy of the personalities and the deep-felt faith of MamaT, JulieD, and TSO (among others) have been mainstays of my consideration of Catholic life. The quiet reflections of innumerable bloggers, including Quenta Narwenion, Enbrethiel, have all helped. I can't continue to catalog, but every person listed in the left-hand column here has done a part of the work of helping me to come to know myself as God knows me. Admittedly, I am very, very far from the goal--but I have at last realized some part of that ultimate goal in terms that are more than academic.

Many in St.Blogs deny that their work is "spiritually valid" or important. But let me say that every encounter with a believer is important and formative. Every association with someone who prizes Christ above other things is healing. Every word exchanged with someone who, if even for a moment, sets his or her mind on the things above is liberating. In Saint Blogs I encounter God every single day in so many ways that I am often awestruck. Too often I have neglected to convey my deep thanks and appreciation to each person. Please consider this that thank you. Each person has helped me immeasurably. and as I open to grace and see God's motions, will continue to help me. That is what community is about. We help one another to God.

So, what is the conclusion of all of this? I have not yet realized the fullness, or perhaps even a great fraction of what God has in store for me. I suspect that this may be the case for a great many of us. God is present in every interaction of every day--we come to know ourselves not by seeking self-knowledge, which is often delusion, but by seeking Him. It is in searching for Him and loving Him that we become who we are supposed to be. The most wonderful thing about this is that we needn't do anything extraordinary to find Him. We continue in the sacraments, we engage the scriptures, and we pay attention to the arc of the day. God is present always and everywhere. He is ready to show us who we are when we are ready to see it. My eyes are slowly opening (I hope) and I count on His grace to sustain me and to take me where I can do His will to the greatest effect. All of you have been and will continue to be a part of this journey--for that alone I thank God daily. For all of your service to me, I dedicate my fasting, my prayer, and my suffering--to some more each day (you know who you are little sister), but always for those I encounter every day, for those who unwittingly are so instrumental in leading me to Christ.

Joy overwhelms me when I think of how much I have to be grateful for even in this place which is hardly real. How much more so in the interactions of the day. Please continue to pray for me and I will continue to pray for you. Pray that I continue to advance in the knowledge of God and that the knowledge makes of me a person who can serve Him as He deserves.

Thank you and God bless each visitor today.

(KOB--you were much on my mind as I wrote this--I hope it speaks to you little sister--I send it with much affection and with all of my prayers.)

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The Way of Gratitude

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Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

--Phil 4:8 (KJV)

You knew that in my extended reflections on Philippians, I would eventually come to this verse and I will. But today, I wanted to reflect a little on this verse because I believe that it is a way of gratitude, a way that will tutor us in how to approach the Lord. As The way of gratitude helps to pave the way of Joy.

Let's first note what this passage DOES NOT say. It doesn't say that we are to hide our heads in a hole in the ground and pretend ugly, evil, and terrible things do not exist. It does not imply that we should withdraw to an insular world of airy contemplation of lovely things and refuse to engage the real tragedies and difficulties present in the world. It does not say that we are to pretend that what is ugly is beautiful or that we are to put on some distorting spectacles that reinterpret all events in the lights of the good, true, beautiful and virtuous. As Christians, we are called to be the ultimate realists about the existence of both individual and corporate evils and we are called to try to demolish both.

However, what it does say, is that when we are seeing all of these things around us, we are not to let them become the center of attention. These things are distortions of the reality God wrought--these are signs of the fall and they are not the food for good meditation. They are not to be denied, but they are not to be central to our time with God. Paul was in prison (actually confined to house arrest in Rome) while writing this letter, and while he acknowledges that situation, he does not dwell upon it. Rather his whole letter dwells upon the faith and the love of the people of Philippi. The joy of the letter comes from the contemplation of the faithfulness of a community. In the letter itself, Paul spells out the meaning and the practice of this piece of advice.

There are probably a great many reasons for thinking about the things that Paul suggests. It would seem that they would feed all three of the theological virtues--faith, hope, and charity. But one of the reasons that comes to my mind is that when I think about these things, there is a natural inclination to humility and its consequent expression gratitude. When I see the beautiful--either the work of human hands or the natural world, I am moved. In some strange way I am called beyond myself and caused to realize, not in a negative way, but in a way charged with grace, how small and inconsequential I am in comparison to all of this. And further reflection would show me how small this is compared to all of these wonderful things. And how small all of these wonderful things are compared to the Maker of wonderful things.

Reflection on the good, the true, and the beautiful is one road to personal realism and humility. I can begin to see myself as very small and yet intensely loved. All of this Universe of beauty and truth was made to be enjoyed and appreciated by the one part of creation (we presently know about) capable of doing so. So far as we know, Dolphins do not contemplate great beauty, nor do worms, nor birds, nor trees, nor fish. Only humanity has this ability to see beyond the immediate circumstances and to discern meaning.

Knowing who we are in the scheme of things is a sovereign remedy to pride. We know who we are in all of creation and how small we are. Then add to that the knowledge that God Himself came and lived and died that we should be redeemed, and we understand that despite our smallness, we are greatly valued. In the right-ordered person, or even in the mostly-not-right-ordered person, the natural destination of such knowledge is intense, life-altering gratitude. God Himself entered my insignificance. God Himself loves me so much that He chooses to make a dwelling-place of my smallness. He fills the space and lights it as nothing else can.

This gratitude naturally begins to flow into deeper and deeper love of God and consequent joy in His presence regardless of our circumstances. It is not an overstatement to say that the purpose of the good, the true, the beautiful, the upright, the pure, and the virtuous are to lead us directly to the throne room of God. They are restorative and they are salutary to any spiritual life. It is important to understand that they are not the end in themselves, but the means to the One Thing Necessary. And as means they are meant to be pondered and to be enjoyed. They are goods that God has granted to transform us into beings more like Him. Eventually, with sufficient time and prayer, we are to become beings not just like Him, but of Him. St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila refer to this divinization as "union with God." I think it's important to note the this divinization does not mean that we all become little Gods, but that we enter into the life of the Most Holy Trinity in a way that allows us our identity even while we become of the substance of God. In some way I do not presume to understand, we become the simple substance of God. Otherwise there would be no union. What is pure can not mix with what is blended in the spiritual world.

So, for those looking for joy, one good place to start is to see what is around you insofar as it is beautiful, true, and good. Ponder these things, not for themselves but for what they tell us about the God who made both them and us. Humility will blossom, and gratitude will be its natural outpouring. Do keep in mind that this is not the only way to humility, gratitude, or joy; however, it is a way that has worked for many over the centuries.

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Rejoicing in God

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1 Peter 1:8

Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. (RSV)

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy (NIV)

Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory (KJV)

Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, (NAB)

Although the KJV is a harder, more obscure construction, it rings in my head like the largest bell in the carrillon. For others, other translations will work better. Whichever translation works for you, let it ring in your head and sound in your heart. And as you converse with Him whom you do not see but know to be real, rejoice in the opportunity. Every spare moment spend in a moment of thanks, remembering Him. Every working moment, work for Him. Do the task before you as though through it you could save Him a moment of suffering. Everything you do, start by looking at Him, loving Him, and talking to Him. For your family, for yourself, for your community, for your Church, for your employer, start every endeavor in love, and complete this love with rejoicing in the Person whom you love. Work will not be work; nothing you do will ever be enough if you do it in His presence for Him. You will never be alone.

Rejoice in the God who saves, in the God who loves, in the God who cares enough to tell us over and over and over again that we are His beloved children.

No task begun in sight of Him, continuing in Him, and completed in His joy has gone to waste. None of the things we think of as laborious and time-wasting are so if we are in Him. He is the God among the pots and pans, the teaching and the dirty diapers, the soccer matches and the dance recitals, the bill-paying and the floor scrubbing, the lawn-mowing and the 8 hours of wage-drudgery. He has given us our livelihood and our lives and rejoicing in Him exalts any task.

"Yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory. . ." May joy unspeakable be your companion today.

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Love and Joy


If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love.

These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.

This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.

(John 15:10-12)

When we set out on the road to joy, to reveling in the kingdom, what is the path? Where is it marked out for us?

Clearly, these are some simple instructions. If one obeys Jesus one is showing love. If the level of obedience rises above compliance to arrive at something that resembles enthusiasm, that is even stronger evidence of His love.

Now which commands shall we obey. Jesus boils it all down to this--"Love one another as I have loved you." This is the particular synthesis of all of his commandments that is to be the measure of obedience.

The road to Joy is love. Jesus has told us that He has spoken the command of love so that our joy may be complete. And the reality is that we are most joyful when least encased in ourselves. I think of Gerard Manley Hopkins's poem "The Windhover." Hopkins tells us:

My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

Our hearts spend much time in hiding, but it is in the small wonders of nature that we find ourselves yanked out of self and into the mystery of God. It is when we choose to emerge from self, for however brief a time, that we step into joy. And what better way to emerge from self than to love someone else.

St Therese of Lisieux (among others) taught us that love without works is dead. She wasn't the first. James asks:

If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,

And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? (James 2:15-16)

Love demands a response, an action, a fulfillment. It is in the response of love that we leave ourselves and begin to participate in eternity. There is where we will find joy--not in the dark interior ways, not in the eternal echo-chamber of our own minds, but in service to those around us. For when we serve them, we serve Christ. When we serve them, we love them, and thus we love Christ.

Love is the key to joy. Love is the way out of self. The path is clearly marked and yet so difficult to walk because there are other guidelines. Didn't Jesus remark that if you love those who love you, what have you accomplished? Even the worst criminals do that. The real accomplishment of love is to love those who bear you ill-will, those who despise you. If you can love and serve those who frighten you or anger you, then your service is meaningful and your love is true. If you can love those from whom you expect nothing in return, love is real.

But to give you an example of how difficult this can be, I know that I find myself grumbling inwardly if I hold open a door for someone and they walk through without acknowledgment, without a thank you. What chances I miss to rejoice in being unnoticed, being a real servant. But rather, I want the momentary, transient, fleeting reward of a thank you.

When I look at these kinds of tendencies, I begin to understand the saints who want heaped upon themselves ignominy and ridicule and disfavor when they perform charitable acts. I begin to understand that the way of love seeks completely the other. And it is in the way of love that one finds the only pathway to joy.

Later: Application:What better way to show our love on this All Soul's Day, than to pray for the release of the poor souls in purgatory. Now and throughout the month of November we can show our love in the suffrages we offer those whose imperfections have held them bound away from the beatific vision. How much better can we show love than to act out these spiritual works of mercy?

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Perfect Peace Brings Forth Joy


And who, you may ask, has perfect peace?

Ah, there is an answer:

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Isaiah 26:3

Perfect peace blossoms forth from trusting God. From love blossoms trust; from trust unfolds peace; from peace flows joy; and on joy the Kingdom of God is built. We make it real when we love, trust, and rejoice. We emerge from the tomb with Lazarus and put on real life when we learn to rejoice.

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Joy for the Day


A couple of favorite verses to get the day started:

Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our LORD: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength. --Nehemiah 8:10, KJV

And, from the prophet who brought you Lamentations and weeping:

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Jeremiah 29:11 KJV

For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11 RSV

All our joy is in the Lord here and now in the eternal present. When we lift ourselves beyond the mere passage of time and join Him, however briefly, then we experience joy.

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In This Way, We Rejoice


Joy and Rejoice:Bible Verses

A site with references to the Scriptures that instruct us to rejoice, for in the words of C.S. Lewis, "Joy is the serious business of Heaven."

When we rejoice, we rejoice in the Lord. When we rejoice, we make present for those who do not already see it, the Kingdom of heaven. Our rejoicing is our evangelism. For joy makes Christianity real to those who suffer. It makes Christianity and the promises of Christ real to those of us in the world.

Let all the world rejoice because of the Savior who gives each one life.

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Rejoicing in the Lord Here and Now


We are always and everywhere to rejoice in the Lord. That means starting here and now and moving on into eternity. What better time to take the Lord up on His offer of blessings and eternal life? Of rejoicing now to echo in eternity, St. Augustine has this to say:

Excerpt from a Sermon of St. Augustine

Let joy in the Lord win and go on winning, until people take no more joy in the world. Let joy in the Lord always go on growing, and joy in the world always go on shrinking until it is reduced to nothing. I do not mean that we should not rejoice as long as we are in this world, but that even while we do find ourselves in this world, we should already be rejoicing in the Lord.

Someone may argue, “I am in the world; so obviously, if I rejoice, I rejoice where I am”. What of it? Because you are in the world, does it mean that you are not in the Lord? Listen to the same Apostle in the Acts of the Apostles, speaking to the Athenians, and saying about God and about the Lord, our Creator, In him we live, and move, and are. Since he is everywhere, there is nowhere that he is not. Is it not precisely this that he is emphasising to encourage us? The Lord is very near; do not be anxious about anything.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Bible and Bible Study category from November 2005.

Bible and Bible Study: October 2005 is the previous archive.

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