Christian Life/Personal Holiness: August 2005 Archives

Words to Live by

| | Comments (5)

Being an aural portrait, a memory, and a word photograph of EPCOT expeditions. With commentary.

Overheard this evening while standing outside of the Land, photographing some sort of wild berries. A man speaking to wife and at least two children of age of reason. "I spent an effing fortune to get us here. Now shut up and enjoy it." Now, with the golden inspiration summed up in these stirring words of leadership, solidarity, and caring how could anyone fail to have fun?

Then there is my dear father, God rest his soul, whose grim determination and iron will propelled his wife, seven year-old daughter, and teen-aged daughter, along with Linda, Samuel, and myself through a whirlwind tour of all the Nations at EPCOT. Fondly memorialized in family tradition as the EPCOT Death March, it culminated in my father flying into a frothing rage when my younger step-sister wanted to buya pencil as a souvenir. The stuff golden memories are made of.

Contrast these two with the picture of a young father, perhaps twenty-eight, twenty-nine, sitting on the pinkish brown curb outside of the great Globe--Spaceship Earth. Obviously tired and hotter than he'd ever been in Wisconsin, or Iowa, or wherever he came from to visit. He sat there holding his daughter--peaps seven-or-eight sprawled across his knees asleep. And he and his wife were chatting, smiling, and laughing. I wish I'd had the courage to ask for a photograph. A photograph that would serve to remind me that a proper ordering of Earthly goods leads to the same wonderful end--ourselves sprawled across the knees of our loving, indulgent, heavenly Father.

Bookmark and Share

Rejection and Detachment


Once again Disputations provides some excellent food for thought. Would that my thoughts were so good as the food that engenders them. Nevertheless, please accept these meagre ruminations for what they are--a kind of riff spun off a more substantial discussion.

The excerpt that caused this spin-off:

(from Disputations)

But there's nothing in this model of the intellect that requires the concepts to be concepts relating to beauty. They can be concepts related to race, or to risk, or to toxicity. An absolute mistrust of perceivable beauty -- of that which is beautiful -- amounts to an absolute mistrust of perceivable creation, which ought to be unthinkable for a Christian. There is no barb in beauty, unless the Author of Beauty placed it there.

It may be, though, that a mistrust of the human intellect, a recognition of the frequency with which it makes mistakes regarding beauty, is expressed as what might be called a prudential mistrust of beauty. If we can't make the intellect work better, we can at least avoid giving it things it works poorly on.

What occurred to me, and what I started to spell out in the comments there is that there is another form of distrust of beauty that occurs in religious circles. That form might be called the seduction of beauty.

The chain of reason goes something like this. To become more like God, we are called to detachment. Detachment is difficult enough in itself, and far more difficult when the good we are attached to is beautiful, therefore as a step in detachment, we must reject what is beautiful even though it might be good because we are held bound by it.

The response to this is multiple. First, detachment is the means to an end, not an end in itself. It is the path travelled, and frankly may be only one of many such paths to travel, whose destination is intimacy with God. To treat detachment as an end is to the miss the point, and to align all things in life to achieve an end which is only a means redefines the means as an end equal to the true end. That's a complicated way of saying that if you do this you are missing the point of detachment.

What I didn't say in my comment, and what is by far the more subtle error in this type of reasoning is that when one does this one has become attached to the idea of rejection. That is, we substitute attachment to a real thing (one that grace can more readily conquer) for attachment to an idea or an ideal (a far more hazardous and difficult a barrier).

If, as a Christian, you think you are being called to reject the beauty and goodness of God's creation my best advice to you would be to seek out a wise spiritual advisor to help you discern what is really going on. God did not put all of the beauty He has on the Earth to be ignored. Detachment from that beauty does not mean rejection of it or lack of recognition of it. There may be some beauty that we are called to prudentially restrain our interest in. (For most males I know, the beauty of the female form is something like this.) Nevertheless, what a miserable and small place the world would be if we did not recognize and relish this beauty as is licit and correct.

So my only real response is that it is a distorted understanding of detachment to suggest that it would require rejection of beauty. (And let me make explicitly clear, this was in no way implied by what Tom wrote--but I respond to what he writes as the person I am and express the interests that I have.) Now, it is possible that particular vulnerability to a type of beauty (aforementioned feminine pulchritude) may prudentially require not so much a rejection but a careful screening of such beauty (If thine right eye offend thee, pluck it out.) But it would be nonsense, and dangerous nonsense, to claim that what is good and truly beautiful is not so. It would be equally dangerous to reject all of God's beauty because some part of it particularly appeals, or because a distortion in our own view and character makes of the object of beauty an object of temptation.

In short, detachment does not require rejection of beauty. In fact, to be able to even consider attachment, immersion in the beauty of the world seems a salutary thing. You would come to realize that you cannot own it, hold on to it, keep it, or even remember it as lovely as it is outside of the moment. It teaches you to appreciate the good things of God and to let them go freely, always knowing that God's goodness ever exceeds His goodness as we come to know and love Him.

Bookmark and Share

Why I Am NOT a Calvinist

| | Comments (2)

Alicia has a nice post on Calvnism that serves to solidify my primary objections to the whole doctrine.

A "five-point" Calvinist adheres to all of the following:

1. T ~ Total Depravity of Man (effect of the fall)

2. U ~ Unconditional election (God's choice to save some but not all from the effects of the fall)

3. L ~ Limited Atonement (Christ died for only the elect that God chooses to save)

4. I ~Irrestisitble Grace (Grace given to the elect to receive salvation which is effectual and irresistible)

5. P ~ Perseverance of the Saints (the ability of the saints to persevere in saving grace)

When I was studying Calvinism I could never resolve total depravity with the innate goodness of all that God created. That goodness could not be "undone" by mere human action and so the idea of total depravity seemed unwarranted. Now, that is a facile and surficial understanding, I'm certain. Nevertheless, it was one objection. But the largest objection came between U and I. God unconditionally elects only some to be saved and then saves them with irresistable Grace. This is the sticking point for me. If I believed in the God represented by this doctrine I would have to believe in a God who creates without bounds, supposedly loves unconditionally, but who, for whatever reason chooses to damn some portion of the human race before they are born and not to redeem them. My word for this is not God, but rather Monster. How could an all-loving, all giving God arbitrarily determine some number of His Children would be thrown into the fire forever. Sounds like the Uber-Moloch to me.

Now Calvinists do temper these two lines of doctrine and nuance them with subtleties far too subtle for me. But when I boil it all down, the question comes to attempting to reconcile an all-loving Father who deliberately casts away some portion of his children. Well, then, I would say in my naivete, He isn't very all-loving now is He?

Bookmark and Share

T(w)o(o) Hard Truths

| | Comments (3)

In reading Gulley and Mulholland's If Grace is True in two short chapters I've encountered two experiential truths--statements the authors make that are confirmed not by authority, but by my own experience. In fact, one of the experiences recorded by the authors (not detailed below) so closely parallels my own it is nearly frightening.

But let me share with you the truths that I have experienced and that I find ring entirely true. At one point the authors say

I've never experienced a God of wrath. I've heard such a God preached. I've read of such a God. I've encountered wrathful people who claimed to be acting on God's behalf. I've even allowed such sentiments to tarnish my view of God. Yet, in the midst of all these distortions, I never experienced a wrathful God. (p. 11-12)

I couldn't agree more. In times of hardship, bereavement, devastation, despair, sorrow, anger, any negative feelings, the God who has been by my side hasn't been shaking a finger at me and saying, "See what you brought on yourself. I told you and told you and told you, and you wouldn't listen. This is your well-deserved comeuppance." No, the God I've experienced has said, "I love you." When my mother died suddenly, He was there saying, "I am with you through it all. Let me walk with you." I am ashamed to say that while I took Him up on part of that walk, I didn't follow through. And yet He still loves me. This is the God I experience every single day. Not a God of wrath, the keeper of the ledger in the skies, but rather a God of compassion and of intimacy, a God who wants good for me more than I desire it for myself. What a blessing! It hadn't occurred to me to state this truth--but I have never seen a God of wrath. I have not seen "the Glory of the coming of the Lord who is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored." I thought I always despised the song because it reeked of Northern imperialism, but I can see what I dislike is that this is not the image of the God I love, but a distortion. My God is more like verse 5: "In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,/With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me."

She might have learned what I've learned--that intimacy with God is not about joining a church. It's not about knowing your religion's doctrines, tenet by tenet. It's not about knowing your holy writings, backward and forward, in their original language. It's not about knowing God as a theory or abstraction. Intimacy with God is more like making love than joining a club, hearing a lecture, or reading a book. There are simply some things we must experience for ourselves. (p. 15)

To which I breathe a relieved Amen! If I were required to do any of the things delineated above I would miss salvation by ten-thousand parsecs or more. Even if my beliefs are wrong, seeking God with all my heart will correct erroneous perceptions. Loving Him will help alleviate my misconceptions. Intimacy is not achieved by question and answer, although it may initially help. It is achieved by loving unconditionally, by gazing into the gaze of the one who loves you and seeing yourself as you are loved. His love alone makes us worthy to be loved and we can only know it through knowing Him intimately. Like making love, it is far better to engage in the action that to hear a lecture on its physiology or read a book about the neuro-chemical patterns generated.

God loves us unconditionally. Isn't it about time that we returned the favor?

Bookmark and Share

Eyes Wide Open

| | Comments (2)

You might ask, why then, all of the sudden, the rush of pictures. You say, "We're not particularly interested in any more of your flowers or odd pictures." (I know you don't say it out loud, you're far too courteous for that--but it may cross your mind--sort of like, who wants to see your home movies?)

The use of the camera is to train my eye, and hence my mind to see again. In the ordinary business of life, my senses have become too dulled with duty and obligation to serve me the way they once did when I was young as a source of endless delight and novelty.

Yesterday, as I was walking around EPCOT, I must have looked like an absolute idiot, a grin a mile wide plastered on my face. As I looked for things to photograph for images and for "novelties" I saw a thousand new things for every one I actually took the time to photograph. Every flower is different in some subtle way, every arrangement of plants, every rock, every building, every ripple of water. And what is best of all, and you'll probably laugh, every one of them sings out joyfully of the Lord who created them all. Everything I see, every picture I take, every picture I don't take, every person I meet, I see God inviting me into a deeper conversation.

The camera has opened my eyes. It started as something to fill time and record events, and it rapidly became a way of focusing attention and really seeing things rather than just looking at them. The pictures may or may not be good--but the goodness lies beyond the lens in the God who has granted me so many things to see if I will just open my eyes. I have been invited to wander the world eyes wide open to see all that His creation offers and primarily what His creation sings about Him. I am so grateful.

Bookmark and Share

The New Life and Detachment


I started this once before and the mercy of the thunderstorm spared you its first incarnation. Therefore, you'll have to suffer with this one--at best a poor recreation of the sterling brilliance of both exposition and prose that was my first post. Oh well.

I was thinking. (Stop that! I heard that long drawn sigh. I know I should listen to the words my Grandpappy never said, "Son, before you set out on a mission, you oughta be sure you got the equipment to finish it.") All of your objections aside--it does happen, equipped or otherwise. It occurred to me that in the canons of Carmelite thought there is little (perhaps nothing) so terrifying as St. John of the Cross's insistence upon the necessity of detachment for the proper cultivation of and advancement in true Christian prayer life. The reactions to this pronouncement vary from--"I'm not a Carmelite, what does that have to do with me?" To, "I'd rather lick the driveway clean."

Even most Carmelites try to dodge the teaching. "After all, Detachment is a means, not an end in itself. So I'll just sit over here and do my own thing until detachment comes along and slaps me upside the head." And so they live their lives, completely undetached and nearly perfectly indifferent and unaware of the fact.

Now, detachment isn't going to come along and knock you upside the head. It isn't going to happen overnight. And, honestly, it is continuous, very hard work. So why do it? Well, basically because St. John of the Cross was right, and the thunk I had this afternoon is a stab at trying to show why.

A few weeks back I wrote an entry on Jesus's proclamation, "Behold, I make all things new." All things--everything--that includes us. How can we be new if we are still doing everything we did before? How can we be new if we are completely ingrained in habit? How can Jesus recreate each one of us if we steadfastly refuse to be recreated?

Detachment is our part of the work (aided by grace, of course) that complements the power of Jesus's resurrection. He raises us to new life, and we cooperate with the help of the graces of God by allowing ourselves to be changed.

John of the Cross advises that when we are faced with a choice, we should always choose the thing we like the least. This habit is an aid to becoming detached. It is also an aid to becoming new. When faced with choices, many of us prefer to take the better known route, or the thing we like better. Why do we like it better? Most often because we know it better. The path is clearer and our knowledge of how to navigate it extensive. Or perhaps because we just don't like to try new things.

If we choose what we presently like less, we may find in it certain hardships and graces that do not come from choosing what we know and love. We will nearly always find in it a challenge to grow in love. When we choose the lesser-known path we are learning to surrender bit-by-bit. And we are opening ourselves up to being changed.

Before you first volunteered to work the Sunday Donut line or help out in the distribution of food to those in need in the parish, you probably didn't think that it was anything you particularly wanted to do. And yet, as you grew into it, you may have discovered hidden graces and surprises. "There's joy in them there tasks!" Our lives should be lives of increasing en-joy-ment--not in the sense of entertainment, but rather in growing in an understanding and participation in God's Kingdom on Earth.

When we're asked to do one thing or another for the Parish most of us can think of ten-thousand reasons why we can't or ten-thousand things we'd rather be doing. And yet, if we surrendered just a little bit of ourselves. . .

That little bit of surrender gives Jesus room to get in, move the furniture around a bit and readjust our lives. It gives Him the ability to recreate us, to make us new. And it gives us a chance to experience joy. In detachment, in the deliberate choice of the less appealing of two licit options, we open a gateway to God. By not putting ourselves or what we want first, we begin to see things in a different light.

All habits, even the very best of them tend to create calluses. If we jog every night and run the same route because we know its length, we miss out on what we might see by running a different route. If we read the same kinds of books, we miss out on the huge variety of things available to all to read. When we serve ourselves, we eventually bury ourselves in our habits--wearing a rut too deep and too wide to emerge from.

But Jesus promised, "Behold, I make all things new." Every day provides the grace for beginning the transformation into the new person Jesus wants us to be. Detachment--leaving the old and known behind and choosing the new, different, and difficult--allow Jesus the space and the material to start forming us in the image He sees in us. It is slow. Sometimes it is difficult. But ultimately it will lead to our transformation and the transformation of all the world. God works with us, in us, and through us--He recreates us.

Jesus Himself said, "Cursed be the man who sets hand to plow and looks back--he is not worthy of the kingdom of God." Another hard saying was that we had to leaven Father and Mother, brother and sister, wife and children and follow Him. What does that mean? We are to abandon our responsibilities? No, rather, it is that we must abandon our old selves, our old habits, our old choices, our old ways of doing things and trust solely in his.

And back to the point of all of this--detachment is the discipline that instructs us in how to do this. Detachment is a means of letting go and allowing God to transform us. It isn't the dour, frightening, horrible thing we make it out to be. But too often we hate it because it does demand something of us--it does demand that we change and we make room for God.

Bookmark and Share

Another addendum/gloss on the writings of Tom over at Disputations. In this case he wrote about intemperance, it's remedy--restraint, and childishness. And all that is there seems reasonable to me.

What is not mentioned there is really the crux of the issue. When we inure ourselves to any sin, we become progressively more insensitive to its effects and progressively more possessed by the sin. When we have practiced intemperance long enough, it becomes addiction. This is almost a spiritual law--perhaps it is a spiritual law, but I don't know enough in the realm of this subject to rightly say.

What I do know is that restraint nearly always fails when addiction, particularly physical addiction is at the core of a problem. How many people have you known who have tried to stop smoking? How many times did they try? I know of two offhand who stopped on the first try; however, they are exceptions to the rule. Most people try and try and try and try and try and end up trying the tempers and perserverance of all of those around us.

Restraint works when the sin is young. It may even work when the sin has become habitual--but if the nature of the intemperance is such that it become an addiction, whatever restraint we bring to bear will be insufficient to the cause. In fact, that is true of the other stages as well--and I know that this reasoning underlies all that St. Thomas and probably most of what Tom writes about at Disputations--that is to say, without grace we cannot prevail against sin by our own wills. Our wills must be engaged--that is, we must desire to oppose the sin even if we are too weak to so. We must also seek the grace to oppose the sin. Without grace we can do nothing.

But what happens when the sin proceeds to addiciton--either psychological or physical? How often does that happen, you ask? Too frequently. Look at our society and see people who are caught up in addiciton to sex, violence, alcohol, drugs, tobacco, shopping, sports, and just about every other acitivity or substance you can imagine. There are people who make a fetish of buying things, those who raise eating to nearly exalted heights, those who drink to excess, and those who cannot seem to occupy themselves with one, espoused bed-partner.

Childishness is not merely childishness, unfortunately. It is deadly and deadening. Once we have succumbed on one or another of these things, we are progressively deadened to the metastatic nature of sin. Like cancer, once it's in it tends to spread. We may start with intemperance and proceed to wrath (particularly against those who stand in the way of supplying our present need) and other deadly sins.

Restraint is the answer to intemperance, but it is an insufficient answer on its own. And when intemperance progresses to addiction, "Just say no," simply doesn't work in most cases. We can last a while on our own with grace, but we must seek out the companionship of those who know the spiritual realm and who can better help us seek the grace required to break the back of our addictions. Jesus alone can be our help, but we can find Him in the people of faith around us.

Bookmark and Share

I have stated in the past and will continue to state my unequivocal admiration and respect for Tom of Disputations. And here, while I'm away he's posted two points that I would really like to comment on more completely, but find myself restrained by an extremely slow computer/interface. So let me make my little attempt and I'll fill out what is missing somewhat later.

Here he makes a profound point about consequentialism. All I really wanted to say about this is that I respect and admire people who can identify these faults in reason and give them their proper names. I am all-too-often guilty of thought like this (though, I suspect in this case, I would be guilty of the extreme opposite of consequentialism, assuming it has an opposite). Nevertheless, I am profoundly humbled every time I encounter something like this. At one time I used to think I was pretty hot stuff intellectually. Interaction with such people hasn't diminished my own respect for arenas in which I am capable of reasoned discussion, but they have presented to me the fact that those arenas are not all possible subjects of discussion and I need to accept this limitation. In some matters I am a better spectator than participant. And I think that brings up another point--apologetics. Many people who practice rigorous, argumentative apologetics seem to think that everyone is capable of it. I rush to point in that I could parrot the arguments of Keating, Akins, and others, but without any real effect because I would be repeating their words without their knowledge. Even had I their knowledge, my mind does not work in this way of formulation. I would become hopelessly flustered and mired in the labyrinthine paths of those who reach beyond their capacity.

However, there is another form of apologetics--not so much an argument as a way of life. It is in this form that most of us can succeed--assuming, of course, that we are living the life required by such a mode of argument. If we live a life embued by grace, love, peace, joy, humility, obedience, patience, meekness, and prayerfulness and we surrender to God in all of our ways, our lives become a form of apologetics. Even if we are not raised to the honors of the altar, we function in our capacity as messengers of God's love. While many of us can defend this or that proposition, most of us do not have the rigor of intellect and the disposition to properly argue a point of doctrine or dogma. If someone wants to know more or better, I am inclined (depending on the person) to hand them Karl Keating, Donald Currie, Stephen Ray, Mark Shea, or James Akin and say--here it is, they say it better than I could, read away. And after you've read, come to me and let's talk about how it is lived--because that is something I can start to show you. Obviously, I can't show anyone the fullness of the faith, nor even the complete and integral practice of it. But I can show some things, and that is part of the mission of evangelism. I may not be able to argue the truth of the Catholic faith, but I can argue the truth of the Catholic life in the way that I live and the life that results. That, for many of us, is I suspect, the greatest argument for or against our faith.

Bookmark and Share

Revelation 21:5-6

And he who sat upon the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." Also he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true."

[6] And he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the fountain of the water of life without payment.

How long has it been since you have felt that "all things were new?" One of the sad results of growing older is that it often seems that nothing whatsoever is new. We've seen it all before--played out in a million different ways--the same story, the same song. As we age we are more likely to say with Qoholeth--"There is nothing new under the sun."

In fact, in Jesus each day all things are made new. This is one of the reasons why we are commanded to come unto Him as a little child. A child preserves a sense of wonder of the newness of the world. Everything is new, everything is exciting, everything is a revelation. That is how God calls us to engage the world in Him. In Him, everything is new and wonderful, everything is light and beauty. No matter how many times we have seen it before, the whole worth shines and cries out his glory. Hopkins told us--"Glory be to God for dappled things." He further outlined the beauty, the newness of the world in the exhilirating sonnet "The Windhover." Hopkins had recaptured a sense of the newness of the world in Christ.

It seems too many of us do not take advantage of our family connections (Jesus, our Brother) to seize this wonderful and life altering way of looking at things. I know for a fact that I have grown calloused and jaded with the battery of things that assaults me every day. But yesterday I happened to look up at the sky and a new world waited there for me. Florida has the most beautiful skies in the world--they are filled with every type and variety and shade and hue and shape of cloud you can imagine. I find it difficult to imagine that there are so many shades of white and blue and grey. But there it was--some clouds thins as veils draped over the face of the sky, lightening the intense blue of heaven. Some were shaped as with a laser, the outlines sharp and clear against other. Some appeared to have been applied in a water-color wash of blue-grey--streaking across the front of others. I didn't look so much for shapes or meanings, but at the entire landscapes of cloud-form. Suddenly I was reminded of a time when clouds were new, when the shapes had meaning and I spent a good deal of time looking up at them.

Another example--walking on a local nature trail the other day I came upon some yellow wild-flowers whose stems so blended with the background that they appeared to be merely the disembodied floating blossoms of a plant. Suddenly, this too was new.

I realized I could live a life of newness if only I would turn the driving over to God and I would spend a little time looking at the passing scenery.

"Behold I make all things new." Not some, not a few, not a limited number--all things--all things in nature and in myself. Each day I am a new creation in Him, if I choose to be. Rather than clinging to the old self and its perceptions and prejudices, I can choose to grow and become ever new. I can join the Saints in the newness of the world that Christ recreates each day. The choice is mine, the options are mine. God leaves me free to tread the same weary path every day, or to discover in the day all the newness He has placed there.

"Behold, I make all things new." All things. New. Life becomes meaningful once again in Him and in His path for me--every experience is something new from Him, through Him, and in Him. Now it is time to be renewed and to find this newness in the everyday. To see with my son all that the things of the world around me. To see with God's Son how they reflect and speak of His glory.

"Behold, I make all things new." And I wish to see them as He does.

Bookmark and Share



About this Archive

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

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

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

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

My Blogroll