The Gospel According to Dorian Gray

Wilde

We cannot wait to grow up. Then all of our adult lives we covet youthfulness. We long to go back to what we were. We know we cannot yet we wish it anyway. To struggle against age, time and death is to struggle against that which cannot be resisted. Yet in that longing is revealed the mystery of the human condition. That which we seek is not just to be young again – it is to be made new.

Yesterday I had the privilege to help chant the funeral service over a very dear man. In that service we sing:

Weep, and with tears lament when with understanding I think on death, and see how in the graves there sleeps the beauty which once for us was fashioned in the image of God, but now is shapeless, ignoble, and bare of all the graces. O how strange a thing; what is this mystery which concerns us humans? Why were we given up to decay? And why to death united in wedlock? Truly, as it is written, these things come to pass by ordinance of God, Who to him now gone gives rest.

And in another part of the service we sing:

You Who of old did fashion me out of nothingness, and with Your Image divine did honor me; but because of transgression of Your commandments did return me again to the earth where I was taken; lead me back to be refashioned into that ancient beauty of Your Likeness.

We rarely think of death as having any beauty. We think of it as sickness, tragedy and decay. But death is beautiful. It is beautiful because it is the beginning of the renewal of ourselves. Death, as the hymn says, is being refashioned into our ancient beauty. The beauty is our creation in the image and likeness of God. By our lives we willingly destroyed this image until it is no longer recognizable. This is the true sickness, death and decay – that we are not what we were intended to be. Like the picture of Dorian Gray we no longer reflect what we once were. Only by the destruction of his portrait, and his own repentance and death, is Dorian Gray freed. Only then does the portrait become what it was meant to be. It is through death that we can begin to be restored. That is the ordinance of God. We are reformed by death into our ancient beauty – into the image and likeness of God.

God was dead

Christ's_Descent_into_Limbo_by_Dürer

Christ’s descent into hell by Durer 1510

Sometimes words, or truths that have been right in front of you will just hit you out of nowhere.

In the Hymn or “Blessing” sung at the Matins service, the first verse is

The assembly of angels was amazed to see thee accounted among the dead, thou who hadst destroyed the might of death. . .

I never thought about the crucifixion from the perspective of the angels. The angels who throughout the ages had attended God most high, had pronounced the incarnation and attended Christ in the wilderness – they now saw the eternal God die and, as all men  had done before, take a place among the dead in Hades. By that they were amazed. What a surprise to them that must have been. The thing they never expected or anticipated happened. God was dead.

Yet they did not dwell on what they could not understand for the hymn concludes with the angels coming to the women.

The time for sorrow has ended, weep ye no longer but tell the apostles of the resurrection.

This is an amazing meditation to dwell upon.

I often hear people talk about asking God, or Christ or some other person questions in heaven. I do not know what heaven is really like, if we will get a divine Q&A or if those things will even be important then. But if it is possible, at this moment I do not care about talking to Christ nearly as much as I I do talking to the first angel I can find.

Peace be with y’all

There is a lesson in there somewhere

A dog is better than I am

A dog is better than I am, for he has love, and he does not judge. – Abba Xanthias

This is one of my favorites from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, because we all know how true it is. Dogs are far better than people. They offer love to everyone and do not condemn anyone for who they are or what they might have done. They are indeed the greatest of spiritual teachers.

Shadow teaching me about obediene and self-restraint

Shadow teaching me about obediene and self-restraint

The question every child asks is “Do dogs go to heaven?” If they don’t I will be sorely disappointed. They are far more deserving than I.

Step to Mt. Sinai 2013

A reflection on gratitude

Gratitude therefore, takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful man knows that God is good, not by hearsay, by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.

From “Thoughts in Solitude” by Thomas Merton

I know that I planned to reflect on the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, but I was re-reading parts of Thomas Merton’s “Thoughts in Solitude” and my eyes were opened by his words on gratitude.

I do not live a life of gratitude. By that I do not mean that I do not say thank you and am not appreciative. I mean that I do not live in a state, in a mindset, in a spiritual and emotional condition of gratitude. I tend to think of things that are wrong – that which is wrong with my work, that which is wrong with my church, that which is wrong with the world. I do not live each day with the understanding that every dawn, every night every breath is a gift of the love of God.

Gratitude, Merton writes, is the knowledge of God, not knowledge in an intellectual sense, but knowledge in a spiritual and relational sense. It is the love of God and the acknowledgement that God is love. It is not keeping a list of good things in our life and giving thanks for them in some perfunctory prayer. It is to live every day recognizing the love of God in everything.

Our knowledge of God is perfected by gratitude: we are thankful and rejoice in the experience of the truth that He is love.

Mostly I live a life of indifference, which according to Merton is the equivalent of hate. There is no middle ground, he writes, between love and hate and gratitude and ingratitude. My indifference to God and his love means I do not know God and I live in hate. I take things for granted, I almost never wake to a new world of wonder, nothing is ever new, nothing is ever fresh.

This  post is not about being down on myself, but about awakening to the new reality of existence in the love of God, which Merton says, is perfected by gratitude.

Peace be with y’all

 

 

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Moon in the desert

The desert is anyplace where we go to find ourselves.

Thomas Merton writes:

The desert was created simply to be itself, not to be transformed by men into something else. So too the mountain and the sea. The desert is therefore the logical dwelling place for the man who seeks to be nothing but himself – that is to say, a creature solitary and poor and dependent on no one but God.

From Thoughts in Solitude

The desert was once thought of as the dwelling place of the devil, the place where the insane would wander in delusion.

Thirst drives a man mad and the devil himself is mad with a kind of thirst for  his own lost excellence – lost because he has immured himself in it and closed out everything else.

From Thoughts in Solitude

Entering the desert is the only place we find ourselves, because nothing else is there.

The Desert Fathers believed that the wilderness had been created as supremely valuable in the eyes of God precisely because it had no value to men. The wasteland was the land that could never be wasted by men because it offered them nothing. There was nothing to attract them. There was nothing to exploit.

From Thoughts in Solitude

People wandering in the desert die, not because of the desert itself, but because they fail to recognize that the desert will provide them nothing to sustain them. Even those who think they are prepared often find out that they are wrong. For life in the desert is not given – it is earned. It is a life of effort and cooperation between the person and God.

Our desert is no longer the wilderness, but the life of despair, struggle and fear that is our modern life. This we must wander into, face down and not give in to. It is only in confronting life in this way, struggling against our foes in our own desert that we participate in the grace of God.

 

Sinai 2013

The mother of all passions

Abba Agathon said, “No passion is worse than an uncontrolled tongue, for it is the mother of all passions.”

All I can say about this one are the words of Saint James.

So the tongue is a little member and boasts of great things. How great a fire is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature and set on fire by hell.

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Our life and death

Our life and our death is with our neighbor. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ. – Abba Anthony the Great

It is proper that the first saying be from Saint Anthony, and that through it he reminds us that our salvation is not an individual matter. It is not me and Jesus. It is me, my brother or sister, and Jesus. As the old saying goes, “When we are saved, we are all saved together, when we fall, we fall alone.”

This saying reminds me of the words of the Apostle Paul in his words to the Corinthians about eating meat sacrificed to idols.

When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. – 1 Corinthians 8: 12-13

When we do things that lift up our brother we are joined to God. But when we do things that shock, scandalize and shame our brother we have spurned and sinned against Christ

Blue Creek Trail

Sayings of the Desert Fathers

The Sayings of the Desert Fathers is one of my favorite books. I read somewhere that if we have to choose between reading the scriptures and the Sayings of the Desert Fathers we should choose the latter because they are not quite so dangerous.

Over the next several posts I will offer a few of my favorite excerpts from the Sayings and my own thoughts about them. But you may find them every bit as dangerous as the scriptures. I certainly do.

If you have never heard of the Apophthegmata Patrum you can learn about it here.

I hope you will join me.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

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Moving from Image to Likeness

We are born with the Image of God imprinted upon us. But we have to be remade into the Likeness of God – and these are two very different things. The former we are born with, the latter will take us an eternity to obtain. The former is something we are, the latter is something we are to become. The former is given to us at no cost, the latter will cost us everything.