Our Meister Eckhart has a dazzling use of words. Even in translation, his expressions grip the mind drawing it from the text to the Holy Ground within the soul.
We scatter ourselves and get sold into multiplicity.
Is this not the truth beloved? We are undone by a busyness of spirit, not just a magnitude of demanding tasks. The tyranny of the immediate requires our submission. It’s hard to defeat an enemy you secretly admire.
Eckhart does not consider that it is easy to acquire the state of passivity he describes. He says elsewhere that it is rare for anybody untrained to reach the stage at which they are proof against disturbance. This needs hard work, and demands especially two things. The first of these is physical seclusion; the second, an ability to throw out ideas wandering into the mind, so that one ‘does not scatter oneself and get sold into multiplicity’, as he rather nicely puts it. He stresses that to still the mind one must still the body too. http://www.eckhartsociety.org/eckhart/his-teachings
P. Jacques Hamel (1930-2016).
Requiescat in pace.
I suppose we all wonder from time to time as the cause and time of our own death. When Fr. Jacques awakened this morning he rose to celebrate the Holy Eucharist for his people at Saint Etienne. After 58 years of presiding at the table of the Lord in the midst of the Holy Mysteries, there was little that would have surprised him. However, this morning at this mass he was attacked at the altar by evil men who mixed his blood with the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation. Today, the faithful 84-year-old servant of Christ laid down his life for his faith. He is the most recent martyr for the sake of Christ. God grant us grace to follow his example.
May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.
July 24, 2016
Lately, I have been listening to an audible book by Ryan Holiday, Ego is the Enemy
Ryan became breathtakingly successful in 2006, when at the age of 19, he became the youngest executive among Hollywood Talent Agents. By 25 he wrote a bestselling book, and a TV show was optioned, based on his story. He began to believe his own script, believing that he had produced all this in the power of his ego carefully editing out his own failures and mistakes. Then in 2014 his 3 mentors who meant everything to him each crashed and burned.
These were the people I had shaped my life around. The people I looked up to and trained under. Their stability— financially, emotionally, psychologically— was not just something I took for granted, it was central to my existence and self-worth. And yet, there they were, imploding right in front of me, one after another. The wheels were coming off, or so it felt. To go from wanting to be like someone your whole life to realizing you never want to be like him is a kind of whiplash that you can’t prepare for.
How did this come to pass? Ryan continues.
The ego we see most commonly goes by a more casual definition: an unhealthy belief in our own importance. Arrogance. Self-centered ambition. That’s the definition this book will use. It’s that petulant child inside every person, the one that chooses getting his or her way over anything or anyone else. The need to be better than, more than, recognized for, far past any reasonable utility— that’s ego. It’s the sense of superiority and certainty that exceeds the bounds of confidence and talent. It’s when the notion of ourselves and the world grows so inflated that it begins to distort the reality that surrounds us. When, as the football coach Bill Walsh explained, “self-confidence becomes arrogance, assertiveness becomes obstinacy, and self-assurance becomes reckless abandon.”
In this way, ego is the enemy of what you want and of what you have: Of mastering a craft. Of real creative insight. Of working well with others. Of building loyalty and support. Of longevity. Most of us aren’t “egomaniacs,” but ego is there at the root of almost every conceivable problem and obstacle, from why we can’t win to why we need to win all the time and at the expense of others. From why we don’t have what we want to why having what we want doesn’t seem to make us feel any better.
We think something else is to blame for our problems (most often, other people). Especially for successful people who can’t see what ego prevents them from doing because all they can see is what they’ve already done. With every ambition and goal we have— big or small— ego is there undermining us on the very journey we’ve put everything into pursuing.
Hang on to your egos, I’ll circle back in a few minutes.
Following Jesus must have been a heady experience. Most of the disciples were working class folk with a couple of exceptions, but even then there were no blue-bloods. Imagine how it was the first time Jesus sent them and others out in pairs and told him to get busy doing what they had seen him do all over Galilee. They proclaimed the Kingdom of God, they taught, they healed and they cast out evil spirits. Everybody thought they were pretty important (and so did they).
The wanted to be like Jesus for all the wrong reasons.
So his disciples watching this asked him to teach them to pray and. he taught them what is called the Lord’s Prayer.
Robert Farrar Capon, “Parables of Grace” – “It begins, simply, “Father” a term of relationship which is natural rather than earned. Then Jesus tells the disciples and us to pray for the food they need for each day. Notice that nothing in the way of human achievement is requested. The heart of the prayer is, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive everyone indebted to us.” We receive forgiveness because Jesus died for our sins.
And lead us not into trial (insert your most recent one here). Life is a web of trails and temptations, but only one of them can ever be fatal, and that is the temptation to think that by further, better, and more aggressive living that we can have life. But that will never work. If the world could have lived its way to salvation, it would have, long ago. The fact is that it can only die its way there, lose its way there. The precise temptation, therefore, into which we pray we will not be led, is the temptation to reject our saving death and try to proceed on our own living. Like the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, that is the one thing that cannot be forgiven, precisely because it is the refusal of the only box which forgiveness is ever delivered.”
To make his point about praying clearer, Jesus then tells a story: ”It’s like,” he said, “you are sound asleep in bed when the doorbell rings. You look at the clock and see that it is nearly 2:30 AM. Peeping through the curtain you see your college buddy, whom you have not seen in years standing at the door. He needs to spend the night and has not had a thing to eat all day. You’re glad to see him, but you have not gone to the grocer all week and all that is in the fridge is a head of dead lettuce and a bottle of good champagne.
What to do? “Well,” you think, “I could go next door to the neighbor.” So in your robe and bare feet you paddle over next-door and ring the bell. Your neighbor first doesn’t answer the door, no doubt hoping that you will go away.
So you lean into the doorbell and your neighbor’s sleepy and irritated voice comes on the intercom by the door. “What on earth do you want at this hour?” You explain your unexpected company. He says that this is not his problem, and furthermore his baby with the colic has just gone off to sleep in his bed and he doesn’t want to get up and wake the kid. Off goes the intercom. You STAND on the doorbell! If your neighbor will not get up because you and he are golfing buddies, he will get up and get you what you need because of, as the scripture puts it, your PERSISTENCE.
The word persistence is not really the best translation. The better translation would be shamelessness or lack of shame.
Capon says, “What is this shamelessness but death to self? People who lead reasonable, respectable lives, who are preoccupied first and foremost with the endless struggle to think well of themselves – do not intrude upon their friend’s privacy at midnight. And why don’t they, because that would make them look bad. But if someone were dead to all that – if he could come to his friend’s house with nothing more than the confession that he was a total loss as a host (or anything else) – then precisely because of his shamelessness, his total lack of a self-regarding life, he would be raised out of that death by his rising friend.”
In the reading from Genesis for today God tells Abraham that he is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness. This is a problem for Abraham because his nephew, Lot, lived there. “I’m going to nuke’em,” says God. Abraham said, “Suppose there were 50 righteous men in the twin cities? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be it from you! Shall not the judge of all the earth do what is just?” [Jews talk to God with an intimacy that few Christians ever muster]. God said, “If I find at Sodom 50 righteous, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.”
Abraham knew the twin cities so he thought to himself, “I’m not sure there are 50 righteous men in the city limits.” So he begins a shameless negotiation: “What if there are only 45 righteous?” God agrees; 40 – God agrees; 30 – God agrees; 20 – God agrees. “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more,” said Abraham peeping through his fingers, “If there are only 10 righteous men, will you not destroy it?” God agreed and went his way. (I wonder if God got out there before he gave away the farm.)
Just like the man caught at midnight without a thing to serve his buddy, Abraham is shameless. Why did Abraham risk such shameless behavior? Because he knew his God. As the Prayer Book puts it in the Rite One Eucharistic prayer, “You whose property is always to have mercy.” This merciful God is our Abba/Father.
We can define prayer as an endeavor to behold what is real.
That brothers and sisters is the only antidote to the Ego-centeredness we call sin.
What is real then to those who accept the good news of God in Christ? What is real is that Abraham and the man with the empty larder and, yes, we also are invited into a shameless and bold relationship with the Holy One of Israel.
Paul, writing the Christians at Colossae, spells out the invitation, “When you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him though faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.”
We cannot make it on our own; therefore we are invited into a life of shameless reliance on God. God desires that we pray not to pester him into doing what he would not do unless we whine long enough. Our shameless – boldness rises from our being dead in ourselves and alive in the power of Jesus and his resurrection. It is a case of, as the Big Book of Alcoholic Anonymous puts it, surrendering to win. It is a matter of life and death that we learn that God really loves us. He promised that He would never abandon us or leave us.
Let’s live like it, maybe?
To him be glory, now and forever. Amen
For five years, we at Saint John’s have lived in the rhythm and measurement of RenewalWorks. (www.renewalworks.org ) The means, practices and resources we have created we file under the rubric: SOULWorks. What now? Last month, I was pondering that question and began to list some skills, practices and states of being that grow from and promote a life of faith.
These are the consequences of forsaking egocontrol, taking up our cross and setting off behind Jesus. By now he is a good ways down the road, and I doubt I will ever overtake him at the rate I slip and slide. However, I’m convinced that I’m on the right way, narrow though it is, as I meet people who carry crosses similar, though not identical to mine.
As a pilgrim what do I need to know, take with me and seek as I go along the way he leads me. Below I list some suggests.
In the days ahead, I will reflect on these practices and resources for the journey. Doubtless, there will others as get on down the road.
Any Christian who wants to understand the Scripture will want to know this. Good work Brother Mark Oaks.
On this day, July 17, 1918, The last Russian Tsar, his family and servants were murdered by the Bolsheviks. On this 98th anniversary, let us pray for all who suffer on account of their faith and simply because of who they are.
Alexander Petrovich Izvolsky, the Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1906 to 1910, wrote the following in his reflections about the armed revolt that broke out on the night of July 19-20, 1906, in Kronstadt:”…On that day, July 20, when the mutiny had reached its culminating point, I was by the Emperor in Peterhof… The line of reinforcements could be seen from the window… We clearly heard the sound of the canons… I could not detect the slightest sign of agitation in his features… After the briefing the Emperor said: If you see me in such a calm state, this is because I have an unshakable faith that the fate of Russia, my own fate and the fate of my family are in the Lord’s hands. No matter what happens, I will bow before His will.” (Orthodox Russia, 1967, no. 10, p. 4)
There were many signs, portents, and prophecies of the Imperial martyrdom to come.
(Anna Alexandrovna Vyrubova, Her Majesty’s Lady-in-Waiting, p. 171) -“In December of 1916, Her Majesty [Empress Alexandra] traveled for an emotional rest to Novgorod for a day, with two Grand Duchesses and a small suite. She visited field hospitals and monasteries and attended the Liturgy at the St. Sophia Cathedral. Before her departure the Tsaritsa visited the Yurievsky and Desyarina Monasteries. In the latter she visited Eldress Maria Mikhailovna in her tiny cell, where the aged woman had lain for many years in heavy chains on an iron bed. When the Tsaritsa entered, the Eldress held her withered hand out to her and said, ‘Here comes the martyr, Tsaritsa Alexandra!’ She embraced her and blessed her. In a few days the Eldress reposed.”
There was no tsar in whose reign more saints were glorified (canonized) than that of Nicholas. His love of Orthodoxy and the Church’s holy ones knew no bounds; and he himself often pressured the Holy Synod to speedily accord fitting reverence to many of God’s saints. Among those glorified during his reign were: St. Theodosius of Chernigov (glorified in 1896), St. Isidore Yurievsky (1897), St. Euphrosyne of Polotsk (1909), St. Anna of Kashin (1910), St. Ioasaph of Belgorod (1911), St. Germogen (Hermogenes) of Moscow (1913), St. Pitirim of Tambov (1914), St. John (Maximovich) of Tobolsk (1916), St. Paul of Tobolsk (1917) and St. Sophrony of Irkutsk (1918). In addition, one of the most revered of Russia’s saints, Seraphim of Sarov, was glorified by the Church during the reign of this pious Tsar in 1903, at his insistence. At this time, Nicholas was made aware of the future apostasy and downfall of the Russian nation and Church through a prophetic letter written by St. Seraphim himself. The Saint had, shortly before his death in 1833, written this letter and addressed it “to the Tsar in whose reign I shall be glorified.” He then gave it to Elena Motovilov, the young wife of N. I. Motovilov, who is now well known for recording his conversation with the Saint about the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. She kept that letter for seventy years and gave it to the Tsar at the glorification ceremony.
While the exact contents are today unknown, it is nevertheless certain that St. Seraphim prepared Nicholas for the coming tribulations. Furthermore, on the return trip from Sarov, the Royal Family visited St. Seraphim’s Diveyevo Convent where Blessed Pasha (Parasceva) the Fool-for-Christ spoke to them for several hours; it is said that she foretold to them their own martyrdom as well as that of Holy Russia. They left her cell pale and shaken but resolute — they would accept with faith whatever Cod had prepared for them, esteeming the incorruptible crown of martyrdom higher than corruptible earthly crowns; electing to accept the cup of suffering offered to them by God Almighty, that by drinking of it they might offer themselves up as a sacrifice for their people.
Note: This is the text of a letter read at services today. This same letter went out to parish via email went this afternoon. Join us, please. John+
July 10, 2016
Beloved in Christ Jesus,
These past two weeks have displayed the depth of anxiety in the very ground of our nation. Chronic anxiety promotes polarity, such as seldom seen in the history of this republic. We are tempted to the sin of despair. The shootings and deaths in recent days reveal the terrible wound in the body politic. The body of Christ has a vocation to pray, fast and proclaim healing for racism, tribalism, and all “isms” that would prey on souls in our nation.
As Rector of Saint John’s, I call on the brothers and sisters of this household of faith to spend Monday, July 11, 2016, in fasting and prayer. If possible, please fast from dawn until sundown. If not that, please fast the noon meal. Your clergy will join you in fasting and prayer for Memphis and West Tennessee. The church will be open for prayer during the day on Monday.
Your clergy will join Memphis clergy brothers and sisters at Hope Church for prayer from 6:30 – 8:30 Monday night. Please invite any who will to join in this day of prayer and fasting for the good of our souls and the healing of our country.
Rector of Saint John’s Episcopal Church – Memphis, Tennessee 38111
Ninety-eight years ago yesterday, Elizabeth Feodorovna, Grand Duchess of Russia, sister of Alexandra, the last Empress was hurled into a mine shaft by the Bolsheviks. Elizabeth Pray for us.