Saturday, September 16, 2017

Doxa on Eros

How are these deep God-given desires made manifest, what are the channels where these deep energies flow?  Some that I can identify are:

  • Intimacy - We are made for intimate relationship, ultimately with God, but including the forms of human intimacy - romance, friendship, and marriage.
  • Community - Being human means forming concrete communities; social and political community, the community of the baptised, the People of God.
  • Compassion - Realizing that the Other, is not an other, coming to identify with the stranger, the sick, the poor, the prisoner. the small ones of God.
  • Joy - our recognition that God's spirit dwells in us, that we loved and valued
It is in these ways, in these areas that God calls and we respond, we are pulled both out and further into ourselves and we search to find what or who is pulling us onward. These  channels  for our searching, ascending love, our eros, are also the ways that God's answering, expanding agape reaches down to and through us into the world.

Our expression of these ways is subject to certain constraints or qualities that condition how we respond. It must be:
  • personal  
  • intentional - voluntary for a reason with understanding
  • incarnate
  • bound by time and place
  • embedded in a social and cultural context.
A note on some Greek words -- we have already been discussing eros.  Another such Greek word is doxa, the root word for such terms as orthodoxy and heterodoxy.  In this context, it means the structure of experience and belief that we construct as we gain experience in the spiritual life. Propelled by eros, based on doxa we move to the third Greek word, praxis.

Friday, September 15, 2017

In brief

In regard to the need for stability in dealing with acedia, there is The Brief Rule of St. Romuald:

Sit in your cell as in paradise. Put the whole world behind you and forget it. Watch your thoughts like a good fisherman watching for fish. The path you must follow is in the Psalms — never leave it.

If you have just come to the monastery, and in spite of your good will you cannot accomplish what you want, take every opportunity you can to sing the Psalms in your heart and to understand them with your mind.

And if your mind wanders as you read, do not give up; hurry back and apply your mind to the words once more.

Realize above all that you are in God's presence, and stand there with the attitude of one who stands before the emperor.

Empty yourself completely and sit waiting, content with the grace of God, like the chick who tastes nothing and eats nothing but what his mother brings him.

To be referred to later.

Shoving off

The presentation has just started and we are now past the initial words. Time to get on with it.

I am assuming that if you didn't use the internet and social media in ministry, you would not be here. Consider this pastor's activities:
Not counting weekly worship festivities, here is a glimpse of my technological life in a typical week:
  • Twitter: 150-200 tweets
  • Facebook: 40-50 interactions and connections /li>
  • E-mails: 300-400 e-mail that require a response /li>
  • Blogging: 2-3 postings /li>
  • Time: 20-25 hours online /li>
  • Cafe hours: 15-20 hours /li>
  • Home visits, face-to-face meetings: 2 /li>
  • Emergency hospital visits -- none in eight years/li>
And this is Bruce Reyes-Chow, formerly the Moderator of General conference -title- for the Presbyterian Church USA But this kind of pattern is becoming more and more the norm. I know people whose ministry leadership work keeps them at a screen at least four hours each day broken up by the occasional meeting. And they feel like they are spinning their wheels.
I'm sure you all have had days like that.Perhaps more than a day or so. Consider this experience from John Plotz:
By some miracle, you set aside a day to tackle that project you can’t seem to finish in the office. You close the door, boot up your laptop, open the right file and . . . five minutes later catch yourself thinking about dinner. By 10 a.m., you’re staring at the wall, even squinting at it between your fingertips. Is this day 50 hours long? Soon, you fall into a light, unsatisfying sleep and awake dizzy or with a pounding headache; all your limbs feel weighed down. At which point, most likely around noon, you commit a fatal error: leaving the room. I’ll just garden for a bit, you tell yourself, or do a ew little charity work. Hmmm, I wonder if my friend Gregory is around??
And he didn't even mention that quick research on a topic in Wikipedia for just a minute or watching out a hot new viral video or two, or just quickly reviewig of your Facebook messages or repeated checking of email for whatever reason.Sound familiar? So does any of this sound familiar?

  • restlessness
  • inability to stick to a project or a plan - not seeing matters through, 
  • becoming or allowing oneself to be easily distracted, in attention
  • allowing tedium and boredom to creep in.
  • laziness of a kind, or sluggishness
  • easily becoming tired or even exhausted, 
This may not a problem with time management, or simple procrastination, or even overuse of the internet, at least not by itself. The danger here is not limited to the psyche -- what I am describing here is what may be a malady of the soul -- acedia.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Our journey in, of and for love

Here is an extended excerpt from Pope Benedict XVI's initial encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love):

6. Concretely, what does this path of ascent and purification entail? How might love be experienced so that it can fully realize its human and divine promise? Here we can find a first, important indication in the Song of Songs, an Old Testament book well known to the mystics. According to the interpretation generally held today, the poems contained in this book were originally love-songs, perhaps intended for a Jewish wedding feast and meant to exalt conjugal love. In this context it is highly instructive to note that in the course of the book two different Hebrew words are used to indicate “love”. First there is the word dodim, a plural form suggesting a love that is still insecure, indeterminate and searching. This comes to be replaced by the word ahabĂ , which the Greek version of the Old Testament translates with the similar-sounding agape, which, as we have seen, becomes the typical expression for the biblical notion of love. By contrast with an indeterminate, “searching” love, this word expresses the experience of a love which involves a real discovery of the other, moving beyond the selfish character that prevailed earlier. Love now becomes concern and care for the other. No longer is it self-seeking, a sinking in the intoxication of happiness; instead it seeks the good of the beloved: it becomes renunciation and it is ready, and even willing, for sacrifice.

It is part of love's growth towards higher levels and inward purification that it now seeks to become definitive, and it does so in a twofold sense: both in the sense of exclusivity (this particular person alone) and in the sense of being “for ever”. Love embraces the whole of existence in each of its dimensions, including the dimension of time. It could hardly be otherwise, since its promise looks towards its definitive goal: love looks to the eternal. Love is indeed “ecstasy”, not in the sense of a moment of intoxication, but rather as a journey, an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God: “Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Lk 17:33), as Jesus says throughout the Gospels (cf. Mt 10:39; 16:25; Mk 8:35; Lk 9:24; Jn 12:25). In these words, Jesus portrays his own path, which leads through the Cross to the Resurrection: the path of the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies, and in this way bears much fruit. Starting from the depths of his own sacrifice and of the love that rea ches fulfilment therein, he also portrays in these words the essence of love and indeed of human life itself.
The roots of spirituality, at least as how I am presenting it, are covered well by the underlined section.  The authentic journey to becoming ourselves and discovering our true vocation starts in our responding to that call to love and union that God has placed in our hearts.  We may not understand much about that call, or even how to respond.  But it is in responding that we gain knowledge and direction.  It is God's initiative to put this longing in us, what he is asking first is our response, no matter how inept.  He will lead us and teach us the better way, if we let Him.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Hi, I'm Claude and I am a recovering acediac . . .

I would suggest reviewing this from "Their Noonday Demons, and Ours" by John Plotz in the 9/17/2011 New York Times Sunday Book Review:

By some miracle, you set aside a day to tackle that project you can’t seem to finish in the office. You close the door, boot up your laptop, open the right file and . . . five minutes later catch yourself thinking about dinner. By 10 a.m., you’re staring at the wall, even squinting at it between your fingertips. Is this day 50 hours long? Soon, you fall into a light, unsatisfying sleep and awake dizzy or with a pounding headache; all your limbs feel weighed down. At which point, most likely around noon, you commit a fatal error: leaving the room. I’ll just garden for a bit, you tell yourself, or do a little charity work. Hmmm, I wonder if my friend Gregory is around?

This probably strikes you as an extremely, even a uniquely, modern problem. Pick up an early medieval monastic text, however, and you will find extensive discussion of all the symptoms listed above, as well as a diagnosis. Acedia, also known as the “noonday demon,” appears again and again in the writings of the Desert Fathers from the fourth and fifth centuries. Wherever monks and nuns retreated into cells to labor and to meditate on matters spiritual, the illness struck.
This is a key issue -- more later.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Opening Shots

Here are some of my notes towards the opening of the presentation -- in some ways setting out the thesis for the session.

Spirituality is like breathing -- all human beings have to figure out what they really desire and what they can do about it. My definition of spirituality for the talk:
The individual pilgrimage responding to our deepest God given desires. This is difficult journey of integration and transformation to become our true selves doing our true work according to God’s loving intention for us. 
 Twenty-first Century digital communication technology can be God’s gift to us, and often is. But only if we have control of it, as opposed to it having control of us. The effects of losing that control is becoming more insecure, fearful, socially and intellectually isolated, passive and distracted. We will concentrate on how we address these effects in order to continue to grow as ministers and in the kind of help needed by those we minister to.

I am not sharing the problems I have solved, or those parts of my life where I think I have made the most progress, or have it together. I am sharing my challenges and sometime failures, and the journey I am on because of them.

This presentation does not address addictive disorders connected with the internet -- when internet use significantly interferes with normal life. We are addressing how it can interfere with our spiritual life and the spiritual lives of others. (In some cases we are concerned with the prevention of such disorders and addressing internet use with young people is a special area of concern. )

I am not intending to offer some quick palliative measures for dealing with stuff, nor am I here as a technological Jeremiah to say that with the Internet we are all doomed. We will be looking at real problems, with a response that does more than slap a band-aid on the wound.

Monday, September 11, 2017


Colleen M. Griffith includes an excellent discussion of the idea of a "spiritual practice":
The Nature and Purpose of Spiritual Practice 

Spiritual practices are concrete and specific. They are consciously chosen, intentional actions that give practical purpose to faith. Situated between life as we know it and life in its hoped-for fullness, practices are imbued with a sense of our relatedness to God, others, and the earth. Influencing our dispositions and outlooks on the world, spiritual practices render us more open and responsive to the dynamic activity of God’s grace, and move us toward greater spiritual maturity.

The “how to” question regarding spiritual practices is usually everyone’s first interest. Authors in this issue directly address the “how to” question, making it possible for readers to experience a spiritual practice for the first time. Ultimately, however, the “why” question proves more significant than the “how,” particularly over the long haul in maintaining the discipline of spiritual practice. What are we practicing for?

We engage in spiritual practices because we seek a way of life rather than just a conglomeration of doctrines or a set of moral principles. Desiring an embodied faith that touches us and changes us, we opt in spiritual practice for a “knowing” that springs from the heart’s core, the lev, spoken about in the Hebrew Scriptures as the center of our affections (Ps. 4:7), the source of our reflection (Is. 6:10), and the foundation of our will (1 Sam. 24:5). The point of such practice is never mastery, but deeper relational life, a kind of living that makes appropriation of one’s faith all the more possible.

Catholic Christianity is indeed a tradition rich in practice. It is this editor’s hope that readers will find in the essays that follow entry into practices that nurture their spiritual lives, practices to be received, lived into, and reshaped in time and place for generations to come.
Much of the importance of this lies in the recognition that "why" is more important than "how".  Things that are considered spiritual practices by some can be nothing of the kind to others, and vice versa. This will be very important when examining spiritual issues within a specific professional and technological context.

From the sayings of the Desert Fathers

They pretty much speak for themselves:

(Abba James) said, 'Just as a lamp lights up a dark room, so the fear of God when it penetrates the heart of a man illuminates him, teaching him all the virtues and commandments of God.'

He also said, 'We do not need words only, for, at the present time, there are many words among men, but we need works, for this is what is required, not words which do not bear fruit.'
(Abba Isidore the priest) said, 'If you fast regularly, do not be inflated with pride, but if you think hightly of yourself because of it, then you had< better eat meat. It is better for a man to eat meat than to be inflated with pride and to glorify himself.'
Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, 'Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?' Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, 'If you will, you can become all flame.'
   The last is a favorite and is good to keep in mind in discussions of spiritual practices.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Taking a long vocation

One of the concepts that seems tied to the sort of spirituality I am examining is vocation.  Here are a couple of quotes that I have been working with.

Frederick Buechner, put the same idea in more Biblical and Christian terms. And I quote:

"Vocation comes from the Latin vocare, "to call", and it means the work one is called to by God. There are all different kinds of voices calling you to do all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God, rather than that of society, or the superego, or self-interest. By and large, a good rule for finding this out is the following: the kind of work God usually calls you to do is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do, and (b) that the world needs most to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you've presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing deodorant commercials, the chances may be that you've missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you've probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you're bored and depressed by your work, the chances are you've not only bypassed (a), but you probably aren't helping your patients much, either. ... Neither the hair shirt nor the soft birth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."
Similarly, Buechner writes in Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation: "Listen to your life."
See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace” (Now and Then, 87).
Thomas Merton
Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice “in here” calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.
The more I worked on the idea of spirituality, the closer I would get to the idea of vocation.