Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

In His hands are the Caverns...

In the Daily Office, one frequenty recites a Venite which proclaims, "In His hand are the caverns of the earth; the heights of the mountains are His also." This is probably based upon Ps 95:4.

We are accustomed to looking up to the heights in our contemplation of God, and many feel somehow closer to God when on a mountaintop. But I am also moved by contemplation of the truth that not only the obvious mountains but the inapparent caverns are in His hand, are his workmanship.

As a child I visited various caverns with my parents, the largest being Luray Caverns in Virginia. The stories of the discovery of these caverns have a certain similarity. For millenia, their existence is hidden beneath the earth, and one day someone finds a sinkhole, or cool air emanating from under a rock, and digs a little to discover breathtaking beauty that has lain unknown and unappreciated beneath our feet for hundreds of years, thousands of years. All that time, slow millimeter by millimeter and unappreciated by mortal eyes, God has carved chambers filled with beauty and mirror pools and deep quiet. A work of removal and accretion, the work of Water moving through and out of Rock.

We are an impatient race. What work is God doing beneath our feet, unknown to us, over the decades of our own lives and over the centuries of the life of the City of Zion? What caverns of beauty will be revealed to us in that Day when we shall see clearly and know as we are known? What shapes are being carved out of our stony hearts by the slow but relentless movement through them of the water of life?

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Ten Commandments

I have had a wonderful opportunity to think upon the Decalogue over the past several weeks, while discussing the Commandments in Kairos and our high school Bible study. How deep is God's wisdom, how searching his words! Here in these ancient instructions lie hidden deep truths about God, man, and our place in the creation. These commandments set themselves apart from the cultic and civil law of Israel by addressing the very foundations of our existence and our relatedness to God and other persons and things. They begin at the beginning, with the questions of who we are, where did we come from, and what is reality? Then, what is wrong with us, and how should we then live? They rough out a sketch of human life in a created world in which everything matters, and persons most of all. Without an understanding illuminated by this light, the world would seem dark indeed.

Then God spoke all these words, saying, "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor."
(Exo 20:1-17 NASB)

Fertile questions:
  1. What assumptions about the world in which we live underly the commandment?
  2. What is it about us that makes the commandment necessary?
  3. What would perfect compliance with the commandment look like?

Saturday, April 01, 2006

"Speaking of Faith"

I recently discovered this very interesting podcast site. (In fact, I only just discovered the convenience of podcasts!) The hostess, Krista Tippet, may or may not be a Christian; I cannot tell from my listening so far, and have not explored it. However, she is a very respectful and sympathetic interviewer, without any discernable agenda or running subtext so common in programs about "faith" per se. She seems to be exploring the interface of religion and culture. She asks good questions, does not attack her interviewees, and is not eager to insert her own views. I have listened to programs on the gods of business, Einstein's god and his ethics, the Mohammad cartoon controversy, and Israeli and Palestinian narratives of the middle East conflict. All quite interesting. Check it out. It's free - including the podcasts - at the site above.

Monday, January 30, 2006

More Than We Ask

In Genesis Chapter 18, Abraham contends with God over the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Some commentators think that he was particularly concerned about his nephew Lot, and his family, whom he knew to be living in the plain cities. Abraham dares to importune God, and the angel of God agrees to spare the city if ten righteous men are found in it.

In Chapter 19, we see the Angels arriving in Sodom to rescue Lot and his family from the coming destruction. Verse 29 notes that, "God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities in which Lot lived." God was not obligated to do this. As there were not ten righteous men in the city, he would have been completely justified in overthrowing both cities without rescuing the family of Abraham. Yet, though Abraham did not articulate it, God understood his unspoken concern for his family. As a loving father he granted not the prayer that Abraham articulated, but instead satisfied the desires of his heart.

I find this very comforting, and a great encouragement to prayer. Though we should always aim to communicate clearly with God, just as we aim to communicate clearly with each other, yet we should not worry that God will misunderstand us. He knows the desires of our hearts. He knows these desires better than we do. He loves those desires, or those portions of our desires, that are good and that correspond to his desires. These he grants; these he owns as being prayed in his name. He answers our prayers beyond the particularities that we may impose upon them. He gives us even better than we ask for.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Today is the feast of Epiphany

One feature of Mission St. Claire's Daily Office site (that presents each day's prayer service from the Book of Common Prayer) is a brief explanation of the traditional Church Calendar. (A wise friend once noted that, if we ignore the Church calendar, we will fall back to the Hallmark calendar. Only too true...).
Today is Epiphany. Here, from St. Claire's site, is an explanation.

On this day we celebrate the holy Epiphany of our Lord and God and Savior
Jesus Christ.
In all the holy churches of God we celebrate today the holy
Epiphany of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ and from evening onwards we
keep a vigil because when the Lord completed His thirtieth year on earth He
wanted to make Himself known to people that He is God in body. When the Lord was
being baptized by John, he was revealed in voice by God the Father from above
and by the coming of the Holy Spirit to be true God and consubstantial with the
Father. From that time onwards it was made known to all through miracles and His
excellent teaching that He certainly is the God who was openly preached by the
He came to baptism for such a reason: When the Lord became man for
us, he fulfilled the whole law throughout His whole life. John on the other hand
came from the desert and was baptizing in river Jordan according to what God had
told him and to the order and law of God, as Luke the evangelist says (Luke
3,2). That is why the Lord wishing to fulfil even this word as divine law, after
he completed thirty years of age, He went to John the Baptist to be baptized as
the rest of men did, although he had no need of baptism being sinless. John
respecting the Lord and thinking of his own worthlessness said: "I have need to
be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?" But the Lord encourages and moves
John to baptize Him, showing that what he thinks to be improper is most proper,
i.e. the Lord to be baptized by the servant. That is why He told him: "Suffer it
to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness". According to
the divine Chrysostomos righteousness is here called by the Lord the perfection
of all the commandments (in his homily on baptism), i.e. it is as if He says:
because I have perfected all the commandments of divine law, this is the only
one that is left, that is why I have to perfect it, too.
This is when John
gave up his objections. So, when the Lord was baptized by him, he immediately
rose from the water and behold! The heavens opened and John saw the Spirit of
God descending like a dove and going to Jesus. But even a voice from heavens
above was heard saying: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased".
From this it was made obvious to the Jews that John was not greater than Jesus,
according to the false conviction held by many, but that he was incomparably
lower than Him and that he was His servant. That is why the Spirit descending
addressed the Father's voice to Jesus and obviously showed as if pointing out
with the finger that "This is my beloved Son" was not said about John the
Baptist, although he was glorified and accepted by many, but it was said about
Jesus who was being baptized. When the Lord had completed this legal commandment
of baptism as well, He broke the curse which had been put on Adam because he had
broken the Divine law and, delivering us from condemnation, he brought every
ceremonial law to and end from that time onwards lifting them up to a more
spiritual and perfect level. Following this He discontinued the Jewish baptism
and gave to us, the faithful, the commandment to be baptized with the baptism of
the three immersions and immersions, which has the grace of the Holy Spirit that
was absent from John's baptism. Because, when the Lord had been baptized in that
same river, he completed the shadowy and imperfect baptism and opened the gates
of the spiritual and divine baptism of the Church.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Cast into the deep

Today's Daily Office includes readings from Jonah and Exodus.

The chariots of Pharoah and his army has he hurled into the sea the finest of
those who bear armor have been drowned in the Red Sea.
The fathomless deep
has overwhelmed them; *they sank into the depths like a stone. (Exodus 15)

You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood
surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. Then I said, “I
am driven away from your sight; how shall I look again upon your holy temple?”
The waters closed in over me; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped around
my head at the roots of the mountains. (Jonah 2)

Jonah experienced the same terror as Pharaoh's army. The experience, viewed from without and even, largely, from within... was the same. Overwhelming, dark, stifling. Yet, Jonah still hopes in and praises God. Therein, his experience is different even before he is manifestly rescued.

I called to the Lord out of my distress,and he answered me; out of the belly
of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.

As my life was ebbing away, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer came to
you, into your holy temple.