Christian Life/Personal Holiness: February 2005 Archives

On Judas


I don't know why, but for some reason today at Mass my mind went to Judas once again.

Judas was the instrument of betrayal but we are all, each of us individually and every one of us corporately, the cause of that betrayal. We informed that betrayal and daily continue it. Just as Jesus became for us all the embodiment of salvation, Judas became for us all the embodiment of betrayal.

I cannot but think that when Jesus spoke the word from the cross, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do," there was hidden there the forgiveness of Judas for his crime.

Judas betrayed Jesus, and Judas became betrayal--so much so that he even betrayed himself into taking his own life. Whatever his fate and we cannot know for sure, we partake of it and contribute to it with every step we take away from the God who loves us.

Judas is the instrument, all of humanity is the cause. We need to recognize our own part in that and take responsbility for it.

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More on Ms. Schiavo


Today at Mass the homily and the intentions were devoted to the plight of those who are "not worthy" of our attention. Ms. Schiavo's name came up no fewer than three times. There was blessing and relief in hearing her name and in hearing her treatment denounced from the pulpit. At the same time, the Pastor raised our awareness that Ms. Schiavo is only the most prominent of a great many who do not get from us the attention, care, consideration, and concern that they are entitled to through the dignity of being Children of God. Let us use this Lent to remember them in a special way.

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Our Crosses


Too often we chafe under our crosses--we want to change them, to make them more conformable to ourselves and to the image of ourselves that we would like to reify. But it is a serious mistake to try to our crosses to fit our warped and distorted figures. Rather, we should change ourselves to fit the cross God has given us. We are strange, misshapen creatures, warped and distorted. The crosses we bear are to shape us to our place of service in the body of Christ.--when we resist them and seek to change them we are, in essence, saying that our appointed place is not to our liking.

We can think of our crosses as orthopedic devices. We may think that we're amblilng along just fine, but in truth we lurch forward in fits and starts, and stumble and fall on a regular basis. The cross is a set of braces, it supports us, shapes us, and allows us to walk upright--not to halt and to lurch. As with the application of any braces there is some pain--sometimes there is considrable pain. But the end result is that we are better able to walk or move, or chew.

As we become conformed to the cross of the day we take on the image of Him who bore our sins on the Cross of Eternity. We bear His Holy Image to all who look upon us on our own crosses. And we achieve a wholeness that cannot be won outside of our battle to conform to the crosses God has given us. As Mr. Gibson showed us memorably in the film, we must not merely endure the cross, we must accept it, embrace it, and make it our own. This is God's shaping of us--sometimes painful, but always with an eye to the eternal destiny that has been wrought for each of us in Him.

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The World, The Flesh, and The Devil


Poor reflections on yesterday's readings.

The temptation--the three basic forms of separation from God--the world, the flesh, and the Devil. The flesh is the first temptation and the one to which nature most naturally inclines people. Food is a good thing, it is a necessary thing, but it is neither the best thing nor the one thing necessary. Satan tempts Jesus to use His legitimate power in an illegitimate way. Why change stones to bread to satisfy mere appetite? Bread can be bought or made -- the use of Divine power is squandering for the sake of a trifle.

The Devil is the initiator of all temptation--but this second of temptations is, in fact, the essence of temptation. "Throw yourself down" is a temptation that presents no real good or award whatsoever. It is the invitation to pride and doubt. Should Jesus undertake the action, he acts in pride. Should henot undertake it, then He might begin to think about the situation and wonder about the efficacy of God's power. No legitimate good can come from this action. It seeks merely to test or prove what is already known--God cares for all His people.

The world is the last of the three--Jesus is shown the grand splendor of creation and offered dominion over it if only He will renounce His father. Now, why would this present even the slightest temptation to Christ? He is already master of all creation. Everything belongs to Him, how can He be tempted by it? The temptation is presented for us as a completion of the instruction that might be had from the episode in the Life of the Savior, but it is also presented to show us how poorly Satan understands the nature of God. He seeks to drive a wedge between father and Son as though they are separate entities. But they are not. They are separate persons sharing one will. Thus, we are instructed that right knowledge is an important part of recognizing who and what we are and Who and What Jesus Christ is.

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Another Poem


I'm sorry for yet another, but I came upon it in searching through some other things and wanted to be able to find it again. The best way is to place it here and I will be able to see it in the commonplace book or among the poets. Please pardon my self-indulgence.

Robert Gilbert Welsh

from The Little Book of Modern Verse (1917)
ed. Jessie Rittnehouse
(available from Bartleby, linked above)

THE ANGELS in high places
Who minister to us,
Reflect God’s smile,—their faces
Are luminous;
Save one, whose face is hidden,
(The Prophet saith),
The unwelcome, the unbidden,
Azrael, Angel of Death.
And yet that veilèd face, I know
Is lit with pitying eyes,
Like those faint stars, the first to glow
Through cloudy winter skies.

That they may never tire,
Angels, by God’s decree,
Bear wings of snow and fire,—
Passion and purity;
Save one, all unavailing,
(The Prophet saith),
His wings are gray and trailing,
Azrael, Angel of Death.
And yet the souls that Azrael brings
Across the dark and cold,
Look up beneath those folded wings,
And find them lined with gold.

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A Poem in Honor of this Month

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February is often honored as African-American History month. So I offer this poem.

The Feet of Judas
George Marion McClellan

CHRIST washed the feet of Judas!
The dark and evil passions of his soul,
His secret plot, and sordidness complete,
His hate, his purposing, Christ knew the whole,
And still in love he stooped and washed his feet.

Christ washed the feet of Judas!
Yet all his lurking sin was bare to him,
His bargain with the priest, and more than this,
In Olivet, beneath the moonlight dim,
Aforehand knew and felt his treacherous kiss.

Christ washed the feet of Judas!
And so ineffable his love ’twas meet,
That pity fill his great forgiving heart,
And tenderly to wash the traitor’s feet,
Who in his Lord had basely sold his part.

Christ washed the feet of Judas!
And thus a girded servant, self-abased,
Taught that no wrong this side the gate of heaven
Was ever too great to wholly be effaced,
And though unasked, in spirit be forgiven.

And so if we have ever felt the wrong
Of Trampled rights, of caste, it matters not,
What e’er the soul has felt or suffered long,
Oh, heart! this one thing should not be forgot:
Christ washed the feet of Judas.

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Carrying Crosses

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Yesterday was an agony of cross-bearing in the lightest possible sense. Things that should not mean so much, meant far, far too much. Trifles weighed on me heavily. oppressing me all day. A slight shift in viewpoint, a change in policy.

The long and the short of it was that I was big-time looking for a way not to carry these daily crosses. That is, until I read the reflection in In Conversation with God. While I find myself hesitant about the emphasis on making mortifications for yourself, the guide was very helpful in helping me to identify the phenomenon of the day. Suffice to say that i still didn't manage very gracefully, I fear. Nevertheless, I was more aware of what I was facing, and more willing to do so.

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Lenten Thoughts


Two thoughts occur to me provoked by things I've read elsewhere.

Some refer to Lent as a journey. If so, it is a microcosm of all of life. The Lenten journey has as its goal Easter, so the fasting and penitence come to an end with the celebration of the resurrection. All of life has as its goal Union with God and so at long last when we have shed this mortal coil and endured whatever purgation remains to us, we arrive at the Easter resurrection. The two journeys mirror one another.

It also occurred to me that lent is not so much about changing daily routine as about making daily routine respond to God. We can do most of what we normally do, but somehow we do it more mindfully, more aware of its cosmic importance, more sensitive to its eternal repercussions.

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Providential Synchonicity

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Two readings this morning:

from Morning Prayer, the Intercession

May we abstain from what we do not really need,
and help our brothers and sisters in distress.

And this from my present bookgroup:

from Freedom of Simplicity
Richard J Foster

The life pleasing to God is not found in a series of religious duties but in obedience. The fast that God desired was for the people to "loose the bonds of wickedness" and to "let the oppressed go free." God's word to them were these: "Share your bread with the hungry" and bring the "homeless poor into your house." (Is 58: 5-7)

Fast from what you do not really need anyway. This doesn't seem like such a difficult thing, but many of us, perhaps most of us, are daily indulged in our own wants. We have more than we need and we crave more yet.

God did not set up a given economic system--He is not a capitalist or a communist or a distributist or an economist of any sort. He is God. He points out simple truths. You don't need that. And what we don't need generally weighs us down. Sometimes it does so in real physical reality--we eat more than we need and we increase our girth. But more often it is in psychological and spiritual terms. We have more than we really need and we cease to use or own things and we become the servant of things.

I think back to the time when I rented an apartment or a townhouse from someone else. When something went wrong, I simply called the landlord and it was dealt with, most often quite quickly. Yes, there were some restrictive rules, perhaps some problems with the system, but I had a place to live and it did not loom large in my mind.

Now I "own" a house. This last season I sat through four hurricanes wondering how I was to take care of this house, reroof it, de-mold it, repair it. Early this year I think how I must buy hurricane shutters, or get this thing or that thing removed or adjusted. The house owns me. It demands things of me never demanded by a rented townhouse. It requires of me things that I gave no thought to when I simply rented. And it offers no better surety or security. And thanks to owner's associations, I am even more restricted than when I lived in a townhouse. Some feel the warm glow of ownership--I feel, more often, the shackles of being owned.

The fast that we do today reminds us not only of God, but it should also remind us of those less fortunate than ourselves, those who do not have even a single full meal to eat in a day. The fast that the Church requires today is a fast that, should be choose to do so, we could easily live on the rest of our lives without being deprived. The fast we observe under Church regulation wisely focuses our attention on what we need not on what we want.

Try this experiment (if in ill health, obviously consult your physician first). Take this day of fast and extend it. See what happens to you , to your waistline (if that is a concern) to your health and to your awareness. And see what you save. Then take that and give it to the poor. What you do not eat, what you fast from--that can feed others. As you train yourself to focus on what you need, you can at the same time help others, with no other sacrifice whatsoever. Let this day be a dawning of new awareness. Let your little physical hunger drive the hunger for righteousness and for justice. Open your heart to give God a home. Offer Him your excesses and you will find yourself freed from them. More, you will find in His heart of generosity the spirit of generosity itself and become unburdened in matters that are only of the moment.

God will rescue us from the greatest foe of all--our own desires.

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Two Notes from Today's Reading


Reading In Conversation with God a little series that MamaT recommended last year (and, if I'm not mistaken, again this year). There were two things that struck me. One was the suggestion that we keep in mind over this day the following prayer from Psalm 51:

"A pure heart create for me O Lord, put a steadfast spirit within me."

An excellent choice for bringing ourselves once again into the presence of God int he penitential spirit. It takes but a moment, but it begins the process of "living in the presence of God." More, it prepares our hearts to receive the grace of true repentence which will be spelled out in our confession.

The other point really struck home--it was an incidental, nearly a codicil to a sentence. "He wants us to abandon sin, which makes us grow old and die. . . " This is a powerful insight. The youngest people I know are those who are the most innocent, the most free from sin. This includes people who are truly young in chronological age, but it also includes the "ageless," who are relatively unworn by sin, unlined by age upon age of defying God and having their own way. Sin makes us grow old and it steals our joy. We may not know it at the time because of the momentary pleasure we may have in the commission of many sins. But defying God ages one and jades one, almost to the point of not being able to hear Him any more. Our hearts long for Him and our minds and bodies turn away from Him. Sin destroys youth, it destroys awareness, it destroys the core of who we are--it mottles and scars us and takes away from us the precious life of God.

But we can do something about it. We can confess the sin. We can repudiate it. We may not be suddenly made young again, but we can stop the process of interior death, of growing unawareness, of loss of focus. This is the time and now is the season. Rejoice in this wonderful season the Church has given us and tradition has honored. God speaks to us today as He does every day. Would that we could carry the awareness we cultivate in this Lent into our daily lives outside Lent!

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On Simplicity

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Richard J. Foster is a Quaker who has quite the ecumenical outlook. He's written dozens of books on faith and spirituality, several of them dedicated to the study of devotional literature. In simplicity he talks at length about one of the most important and most difficult of spiritual disciplines.

from The Freedom of Simplicity
Richard J. Foster

If the first insight into simplicity that we receive from the Old Testament is radical dependence, the second is radical obedience. Perhaps nowhere is this more graphically seen than when Abraham was called upon to surrender his most priceless treasure--his son Isaac. God spoke, Abraham obeyed. No contingency plans, no skirting around the issue, no ifs ands or buts. Through a long painful process Abraham's life had been honed down to one truth--obedience to the voice of Yahweh. This "holy obedience" forms the grid through which the life of simplicity flows.

Radical obedience is possible only when God has our supreme allegiance. . . .

Today we need to hear again that God alone is worthy of our worship and obedience. The idolatry of affluence is rampant. Our greed for more dictates so many of our decisions. Notice how the fourth commandment of the Sabbath rest strikes at the heart of this everlasting itch to get ahead. We find it so very hard to rest when, by working, we can get the jump on everyone else. There is no greater need today than the freedom to lay down the heavy burden of getting ahead.

(from chapter 2)

Following on the theme of several days now--we must make a choice, life or death, heaven or hell, self or Other. "You cannot serve two masters for you will love one and hate the other. . ." The choice is all-or-nothing and that is why it is so difficult. Either we embrace God and His way entirely and experience a radical transformation in our lives, or we reject Him in one way or another. Embracing God is scary because we have been given so many distorted pictures of what that looks like. Strange cultists burn their possessions and go in live in cinder-block communes all for love of Him. Some look for His return in a spaceship. There are any number of distortion to the one truth. And these distortions exist because the worst thing that can happen to the prince of this world is that we should turn our eyes from him toward the One who saves.

But the reality of the matter is that this interior transformation may be propagated to outward things, but the matter of change is our bondage to those things that keep us from being who we are. We do not know our identities until we are identified in Christ. Sin and self-possession keep us away from that possibility.

We cannot begin a life of obedience unless and until we have made that commitment to God, from whom the strength and the grace of obedience flows. That only makes sense--how can we hope to be obedient if we repudiate the source of obedience?

And that ultimate obedience of Abraham is instructive--God does not wish us obedience to destroy us, but rather to strengthen us. He will not take from us all that He has given us, but he will invest it with new meaning. Life will not stop, but the kind of life-in-death we live in bondage to ourselves. The obedience of Abraham teaches us that God does not ask from us the impossible. He may test us, but He will always be with us so long as we trust in Him and rely upon Him.

Simplicity, obedience, charity, meekness, humility, the storehouse of all virtues becomes opened to us by a simple choice. We either choose to unify ourselves to Jesus Christ in as much as we can, relying entirely on grace and His help, or we choose to remain as we are. God will save in due time either way--but it is the difference of a life of Joy in Him or a life of bondage to self with some recourse to Him. It really isn't much of a choice, and yet it is so difficult to make!

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You may think the title above a joke, but it is not. And I right this in thanks for the kindness of the St. Blog's Community in nominating Flos Carmeli for best devotional blog. Heaven knows, I don't really deserve it--Quenta Nârwenion, Laudem Gloriae, Ever New, and a host of other deserve the recognition far more than I do. But I am very grateful, thank you. And now--on with the post.

While wasting some time indulging a vice acquired at a very young age--the reading of H. P. Lovecraft and materials inspired by him--something odd occurred to me. In the course of reading The Children of Cthulhu, an updating of the old Mythos, I recognized what I saw in these works.

H.P. Lovecraft is great Christian devotional reading because he gives the other side of the coin--what is the Universe without God? In many ways the arguments of H.P. Lovecraft and others in this realm were really the first fruits of modernism and atheism. These fruits were to develop into the nihilists, the absurdists, and ultimately the Post-Modernists. This is not to say that Lovecraft in any way influenced Beckett, Ionesco, or de Man (though some of his attitudes would have found good company in the latter). Rather, they were part of the zeitgeist, the "spirit of the times" that gave rise to these other things.

Why do I say this? Well, Lovecraft himself was a dedicated atheist. Some of his letters suggest some contempt for theism as a whole and for individuals in particular. His vision is of a world in which at any moment there can intrude utter chaos, randomness, and complete disorder. These are figured in the Great Old Ones and in the Elder Gods he conjures up in his prose. The effects of these entities are chaos, madness, and destruction for those who experience them. And yet, while the threat of universal destruction is always suggested or implied, the reality never occurs. Small townships are affected by interbreeding with the spawn of Dagon--a scientific investigation in Antarctica is disrupted by the Great Old Ones. One or two people experience the rising of R'lyeh. But in fact, Lovecraft's visitations of the Great Old Ones affect remarkably few people considering the hideous power and the great might and the eldritch evil that drips off of every page. If we bother to examine Lovecraft closely it appears that the doom visits only some.

I would suggest that these some represent those "brave" enough to cast off the bonds of traditional religion and thought and to walk without God. Lovecraft's visitations are, in fact, the vision of life without God. They spell out Yeats's famous dictum, "Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold/mere anarchy is loosed upon the world." When God slides out of the picture, we slide into the madness of fallen nature. Everything is hostile and potentially deadly--the world is filled with fear and with the things that cause fear. Moreover, life does not make sense. Things intrude that make life a horror, a nightmare, lunacy. There is simply no explanation and so we run from one opiate to another seeking to dull the pain that is living in stark reality.

Now there are those who would contend that theism is a flight from that reality. But I think that theism imposes upon that reality the truth of the matter and begins to sort out that most things do make sense. There is still the intrusion of the uncertain and the insane, but not nearly to the degree that there is without God.

The horrors of Lovecraft are an acute example of writing what you know. Metaphorically, Lovecraft spelled out his horror of the world--a horror, I believe formed from his inability to believe in any connecting order, any system, any Creator.

The perils of atheism are given ample play in the works of Lovecraft and his successors, and they provide a good ground even for the Catholic artist to indulge his or her imagination. What is the world like without an underlying order--when even the law of gravity is view as a hegemonic oppressive construct? (As in the famous pastiche of Post Modernist thought-- Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity)

There is much to be gained by looking into the mirror Lovecraft holds up--do we see our own reflections, or do we see the truth and thus see the the mythos for the mask of anxiety, pain, and unease that it is? God is where you look for Him, even in those places that the authors and artists struggled most assiduously to keep Him out. After all, Art is at last, only an action of co-creation. We cannot do anything that is not already possible--we cannot create ex nihilo and so every inventive work is the artist in collaboration with his God-given talent whether or not the artist wishes to believe it.

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Prayer, as with any foreign language, is built such that fluency comes with practice. Foreign language? you ask. And I say--without a doubt. It is secretly our native tongue, the communication of the deepest part of us to the God who loves us, but when it comes to conscious application--it is completely foreign. Sometimes I think of prayer like my grandmother's recipes. My grandmother made the greatest food around, but if you asked her for a recipe, you were out of luck. She couldn't tell you for anything--in fact, if you asked, she might not even be able to make the thing you asked because you threw up a mental block. But it would eventually go away as she got into her kitchen and fussed around for a while making other things.

Prayer is at once our native tongue that we know so well we cannot tell anyone about it, and it is the hardest exercise in the world when we set our minds to it.

The Rosary is a practice of prayer that leads to a certain fluency, and in some cases a certain glibness or slickness. Some people fire off those Aves with such rapidity that I can hardly wrap my mouth around the first two syllables and they're already done. In church I hear people fire off responses to the Mass as though they were engaged in some sort of race--how much more quickly can I finish before everyone else around me. The practice of prayer, in whatever form you take it, should not lead to greater speed, but if anything, to greater slowness. Prayer is an activity, kind of like bacci in which deliberation and intent and purpose pays off. Not slowness for the sake of slowness, but deliberation for the sake of knowing to whom you speak and about what. Prayer is the ne plus ultra of stopping to smell the roses, because the Rose you are smelling is the archetype of all roses and of all creation.

The practice of prayer leads to fluency in prayer, which leads to deliberation and a focused intent, which leads to contemplation, which, God willing raises the person eventually through God's direct interaction to Divine Union.

But as we saw yesterday, proper prayer requires making a choice. "Choose life or choose death." It requires that we give it our full attention and a good deal of our time. It requires that we be purposeful in our pursuit of it. It requires our complete cooperation with the power of the Holy Spirit, who teaches us how to pray. It requires most of all that we pay attention. Prayer is giving and receiving. But it too often becomes a monologue as we fill the airwaves with our intent. Recall that the command Eli gave to Samuel was not "Listen Lord, your servant is speaking," but to say, "Speak Lord, your servant is listening." And so this flawed teacher of prayer speaks to us through time and directs us to the proper attitude of prayer--speak Lord, your servant is listening.

And just as it takes a while for your ear to become accustomed to the rhythm of a foreign language so that about halfway through that film in French or German, you're suddenly catching a sense of the language and the subtitles become less essential--so it is with prayer. When we start with a will to listen, God will inform our listening so that we will actually hear. It starts slowly and it feels like sifting air, but eventually we will begin to hear through some unknown faculty, precisely what God has for us to hear. And our obedience to this secret hearing is the next step in the fluency of prayer because the act of prayer always is translated to the prayer of action--working God's will in the world in all humility.

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God's Mysterious Ways

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A source of endless delight and perplexity to me is the way God works through what we say.

This brought me up short again as I was perusing TSO's Spanning the Globe. While it is always delightful to be mentioned (a good reason for avoiding the reading of that particular post) I was stunned to find an excerpt from a piece written here recently.

Stunned because the piece was an attempt, a not very clear or good one I thought, to articulate a truth I have felt in my bones for a long time and which is just beginning to make a kind of sense to me. But there I see a piece of it.

My point here is that we do not know which of our words will strike people and convict them. Our most carefully planned and deliberately calculated arguments may have no sway at all. All of our clever words and our verbal tricks get trotted out and no one pays any attention. But those words of perplexity, of struggle, of attempting to articulate the truth as we see it--those words are authentic in a way we cannot recognize and they will ring true to others. So, we are all in the position of Moses told to speak to Pharoah--we do not have the words. And yet if we speak the words we are given in truth and obedience, we may find hearts moved unexpectedly. I know I was surprised and delighted that somehow something escaped from what I thought a complete muddle.

God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform. You do not know through what or to whom God will speak to in your writing.

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Beginning Abandonment

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The beginning of the Ignatian Exercises focuses on the fact that despite how you may feel about yourself God loves you here and now--as you are. You don't need to change a thing to be loved. If you are to receive the fruits of that love, things will need to change.

One of the hardest truths of Christianity is that God loves you as you are. The intellectual truth is not difficult--over and over again in the Bible we are told that God loves us. It is almost the breath of scripture--the enduring, abiding, eternal love of God for His wayward chldren. But it is very difficult for that head truth to trickle down to the heart. Few of us feel loved even if we know that it is true. More importantly, few of us feel lovable (and for those who do, they are often insufferable).

The beginning of abandoment lies in understanding the depth of God's love for us. You cannot abandon or surrender yourself to a disinterested party--that way lies disaster. But how do we begin to internalize the reality of God's love for us?

First, we pay attention. To one who is paying the least attention, every moment of every day is a revelation of God's love--in the beauty of the Earth, in the people who surround us, in the things that happen to us. If we trace over the incidents of our lives to our present day, we will see His hand gently guiding us to the present circumstance. Sometimes, that circumstance does not appear to be of the best--it may seem that God's love fails. But is it His Love, or our acceptance of that love? Is it His love or our choices that too often fail?

The beginning of surrender is to know that we are not lovable, and yet, nevertheless, we are loved. This central truth of Christianity must become part of us indelibly before we can become whole. The beginning of surrender is to look at the One who loves you and to acknowledge that you are loved.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Christian Life/Personal Holiness category from February 2005.

Christian Life/Personal Holiness: January 2005 is the previous archive.

Christian Life/Personal Holiness: March 2005 is the next archive.

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