Category Archives: Lent

Somebody done somebody wrong

Reading: Matthew 5:39

Another has done me wrong? Let him see to it.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 5.25

[Holiday and Hanselman, The Daily Stoic, New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2016, p. 66]

The quote has a few more lines, taken from a larger writing. Without a context, these words wouldn’t make any sense to me. What does he mean, let him see to it?

Hanselman and Holiday put these lines in a larger framework – controlling how we respond to people who have caused us harm. Another way to say this: Somebody done me wrong? He/She has to live with it (not me).

In one sense, this isn’t true; if someone burns down my house or crashes into my car, I have to deal with the damage. Real consequences fall to me because someone else behaved badly. In another sense, it is absolutely true; my inner life doesn’t have to suffer because of this event – unless I choose to hold on to anger and resentment because of the damage. The one who caused the damage has to square himself/herself with the actions and results.

This is the kicker: if I choose to let go of any negative feelings the damage created, I choose to forgive the one who caused it. To save my inner life the turmoil and damage that resentment and revenge bring, I cannot exact revenge. My freedom comes when I free the one who hurt me.

There are always consequences to damage and hurt  – breaks need to be healed, reality restored. But whether the souls of the people involved are blighted by the experience is optional. I can choose to let it all go. The one who done me wrong? He/She will see to it with a better chance to refrain from harm in the future if I refrain from returning damage for damage.

But I’d be kidding myself if I said it was easy. Wise, yes, but not easy.

A Closer Look

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It’s the second half of Holy Week. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday stand between me and Easter – the path through the dark woods of my soul. I didn’t grow up in churches that observed these dark days; we went from Palm Sunday to Easter, sometimes with a Wednesday Bible study of the crucifixion, sometimes not. The sanctuary and Sunday school room crosses were always empty: why would anyone put the risen Jesus back on the cross? The resurrection already happened and there was no going back.

I understand why my childhood churches had no crucifixes, and why they emphasized celebration and victory rather than the suffering of Jesus in the garden and the grisly way he died. I can’t say that the people in those churches were any more or less faithful, any kinder or colder – the path of faith runs through all neighborhoods. But I do think something of the human condition was skipped over rather than faced – not about Jesus, but about the rest of humanity. While I hate to admit it, I doubt I’d do any better than the flawed, fragile people who stood by while Jesus died. Most everyone ran away, avoiding the whole scene. A few women and John the beloved disciple managed to stay and hear the final few words from the cross. This reveals more about myself than I usually care to see or admit. I’m no better than anyone else, and I’m just as likely to run away as anyone else. Given the right circumstances, just enough fear for my life, I would betray Jesus, too.

Holy Week isn’t a time to indulge in self loathing: it’s a time to take a long, hard look at myself – faults, strengths, and the whole mixed bag I call my inner and outer life. If I’m honest about what I see, I’ll ask for God to hold my hand as I walk this world. If I’m not, I just might fool myself into thinking I can make the walk alone.

Take my hand, O Lord, and walk with me through these dark days and nights. I need you. Amen.

Eyes To See

Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”

It’s a beautiful Easter morning here, with sunny skies, chirping birds, and daffodils blooming in my back yard. My two cats move gracefully on the window sills, and the goldfish swim in their tank. Our visiting golden retriever, Montana, wiggles in joy when I get up. The house is quiet and I have time to pray.

Lent is done, and it is time to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. I won’t find him in the graveyard, in a crypt, in an urn. He is in the world of the living, not the land of the dead. He has passed through death into life. He finds me, just as he found Mary, usually looking for him in the wrong place, assuming he is out of reach.

Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (Which means teacher.).John 20:11-16

Sometimes Jesus looks like the gardener, sometimes he looks like a science teacher. He appears as a cook, a banker, and a homeless man. He can be found on every street in every town. I encounter him every day. But do I recognize him? Do I know I’m in the presence of Jesus? This Easter, I pray for eyes to see, and a heart that recognizes Jesus when he speaks to me.

Love

By contrast, the action of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23

What wondrous love is this, o my soul?

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. I Corinthinans 13:8

It ends with love, and love never ends. Agape in Greek. The agape kind of love is a choice and a way of living with God and neighbor in this world…

Love that is a fruit/action of the Spirit is meaning good things for others and working toward those good things. It involves sacrifice – dedicating time, talent, and resources to foster someone else’s life. This love is freely given, not the result of coercion or oppression. It enlarges the spirit and leads to a better sense of self. This love is a choice, not something forced. This kind of love is possible for us because we have been loved this way since we came into this world. This is how God loves us, and it’s how we are meant to love one another.

Often, we don’t love each other or God this way because we are afraid of loss and death. To avoid loss of self we strike out against love, hurting ourselves and our neighbor. We put Jesus on the cross because we fear the divine love revealed in his words and actions.

My mother talked to me about this years ago. She believed that many rejected the life of faith because they were afraid that God would ask them to die. Just like Peter, we denyJesus because we don’t want to die. We love life and are afraid to lose it. This is true.

But there is another truth at work here: we run away from Jesus because we know he’ll ask us to live. Living for Jesus is loving our neighbor and ourself, seeking and finding God in all people and things. I don’t know what we are more afraid of: losing life or loving life so much that death is just the doorway to the love of Christ. The love without end, Amen.

Pride

The demon of pride conducts the soul to its worst fall. It urges it: not to admit God’s help, and to believe that the soul is responsible for its own achievements, and to disdain the brethren as fools because they do not all see this about it. This demon is followed by: anger and sadness and the final evil, utter insanity and madness, and visions of mobs of demons in the air. (Evagrius Pontificus, 345-399, The Eight (Bad)Thoughts, found at Early Church Texts, public page, www.earlychurchtexts.com)

I didn’t come into this world self-delivered, and I didn’t grow without help. My life is connected to other lives – family, friends, mentors, and other practitioners of my craft. I build on the knowledge and work of others, adding mine to it along with every other person on the planet. While I write the reflections on this blog, I did not create the language. While my reflections aren’t anyone else’s, the help and encouragement of others was and is necessary. If I think otherwise, I kid myself.

The delusion pride plunges my spirit into is much worse than trying to claim full credit for my achievements. Pride puts me in a universe whose center is me, a creation all about me and all for me. My soul doesn’t need God’s help and I can do just fine all by myself. Dependency is for weaker souls, and it is only their blindness that allows others to question my self-efficacy and my self-sufficiency. Others may need God, but not me – a lie I want to believe. Pride pushes me to remake God in my image – the final idolatry.

Living such a false reality is exhausting, though. Other people break into my reality with their own, and the Spirit hovers over me in spite of my bad behavior;  God and my neighbors call me back from the brink, returning me to myself and to this God-given and God-sustained creation. My soul settles down and I can breathe again – no longer center of the universe, and no longer alone. It is more than enough: it is grace.

What about the mobs of demons that Evagrius writes about? Are they real? Oh, yes. I believe it’s the face of everyone else and the presence of the Spirit, distorted by the utter insanity and madness that is the reality lived in pride. The self-created false world is hell.

Goodness

The fruit (action) of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness(generosity), faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Gal: 5:22)

“Oh my goodness! For goodness’ sake! Goodness me!”

Goodness seems to be relegated to mild expletives, taking the place of God – no need to use the Lord’s name in vain! Not a lot of content to the word, even if used frequently. Do we think about goodness anymore?

Another translation of the word is generosity, and that opens up new ways of understanding goodness as a fruit of the Spirit.

Being generous is more than giving things away or sharing toys in the sandbox: it’s a way of seeing reality. Generosity sees a world of blessing, and a life held fast by God. There is no need to hoard money or material goods because abundant life comes from God. A generous person can give freely because God has given freely.

It’s opposite is stinginess – a great word, but not such a great quality. Stinginess grasps the heart and squeezes, making it hard to breathe and almost impossible to unclench the fists long enough to give anything away. The stingy person cannot give anything away freely because it might be needed later. Scarcity may not be a present reality, but it’s just around the corner. All things must be kept, just in case. Just in case what? It’s the “just in case” mentality that harms the soul and makes generosity impossible.

Generosity isn’t spending recklessly or foolishly. Running up credit card debt to lavish unnecessary gifts on others or live beyond one’s means is about self-image and keeping up with others, not generosity. Generosity is sharing what is ours to share, giving to enrich the lives of others because God has given so much to us.

Generosity/Goodness requires us to be who we are, and to know that who we are is good enough. When we know our worth isn’t the sum of our belongings, we can give without reservation – goodness that means something. Then we can say with the psalmist, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”   – and we can mean it.

Vainglory

Icons are created to point us toward God and help us be drawn into God’s reality. They are works of faith and prayer first, artistic endeavors second. They are created with a reverse perspective. The colors, poses, and objects are all part of a faith language designed to deepen the prayer life of the one who gazes upon it. We come before an icon with the expectation that God will meet us. The icon that we pray before drops away, and the Spirit comes to envelop us. Icons tell a deep truth and encourage us to participate in it: God’s reality is much larger than our own, and the Spirit draws us into it.

Iconographers don’t sign their icons. Their creations are meant to point to God, not indicate who created the icon. Putting a name on an icon may lead the faithful to concentrate on the artist rather than God. An icon that doesn’t lead to a deeper experience of God is pointless – literally! Iconographers create them with prayer and for prayer, not to be admired for their own sake.

Vainglory is seeking credit and admiration, wanting our name in lights. It is a hunger to be seen and admired by others, to make a mark on the world never to be forgotten. All activities and talents are self-referential, pointing to us and going no farther. But all the fame and credit in the world won’t create a satisfying, meaningful life, and we won’t meet God through them.

Perhaps iconographers know a truth about fame and recognition that is easily forgotten: If your life wasn’t enough beforehand, it won’t be enough after.

The thought of vainglory is especially subtle and it easily infiltrates those whose lives are going well – wanting to publish their efforts, and go hunting for glory among [men] people; it raises up a fantasy of demons shouting, and women being healed, and a crowd of people wanting to touch the monk’s clothes. It prophesies priesthood for him, and sets the stage with people thronging at his door, calling for him, and, even though he resists he will be carried off under constraint. Then, having raised him up with empty hopes like this, it suddenly leaps away and leaves him… (The Eight Bad Thoughts, Evagrius of Pontus, 345-399. Found on public pages of Early Church Texts, earlychurchtexts.com)

Roadside Assistance

Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul, and with firm conviction that thy will governs all. (Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow)

This morning was supposed to be a typical Thursday morning – get the kids ready for school, take care of the pets, and meet at Cravings Cafe for a Lenten study. All that changed just before nine o’clock, when a dump truck drove over the yellow line into the semi in front of me. A few noisy seconds later, the road was covered in metal, glass, antifreeze, and gas. The dump truck had spun around, coming to a stop beside my car; the semi was on the other side of the road, cab crushed.

Three of us got out to check on the drivers. The crash had crumpled the doors of the dump truck, but someone found a metal pipe to pry one open. One of the witnesses was a nurse, who checked on the other driver. Two of us moved cars and debris away from the  gas covered pavement. Within minutes, two police cruisers arrived with an ambulance. The EMT’s took care of the drivers and the officers secured the crash site.The three of us that saw the crash gave contact information and were released. Barely twenty minutes after the crash, I was back on the road.

Two big trucks crashing together isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when I picture a day that brings my soul peace or reveals God’s will. Yet I know God was present on that roadside. No other cars were involved in the crash, no one was seriously injured, and no one got hysterical. Those of us who saw the crash were able to clear the area, get the drivers to safety, call 911, and let those expecting us know that we’d be late.There were no fires or explosions, and none of the stopped cars tried to drive through the debris. Everyone did what had to be done, working quietly and quickly. Everyone was fully engaged when needed and able to leave when needed no longer. There was a palpable peace that settled on the site, steadying each one of us when we most needed it.

My friends at Cravings prayed for me and all those involved in the crash while I was moving cars and talking with the police. I’ve been praying since the dump truck crossed the yellow line – prayers for everyone’s safety, prayers for timely assistance, and prayers of thanksgiving. Peace of soul was a gift given freely to all of us on the side of the road this morning. I cannot find the words to say how grateful I am.

Forbearance

Forbearance: the quality of someone who is patient and able to deal with a difficult person or situation without becoming angry. (merriam-webster.com/dictionary)

In Law: the action of refraining from exercising a legal right, esp. enforcing the payment of a debt. (New Oxford American Dictionary)

In this age of litigation, forbearance in general and in legal matters is rare. No one wants to get taken advantage of, and getting less than is due is seen more as a failure of judgement than an act of virtue or wisdom.

I know two men whose lives reveal this action of the Spirit. Bob, a small town lawyer, and Bill, a businessman. Bob developed a piece of property with three of his friends, and Bill brought a partner into his growing business. Bob’s three friends pulled out of the deal, leaving Bob to pay off the debt. Bill’s friend took money from the business, leaving him with little to show for years of work.

I didn’t know Bob or Bill when these things happened, but I’ve had the privilege of knowing them both for many years. Neither one is bitter, and anger doesn’t rule them. Whatever the cost of betrayal and bad behavior, they paid it in full.

Why is forbearance possible for them when it seems out of reach for so many others? Maybe they live a truth many have forgotten: we act with generosity and forbearance not because someone else is worthy of it, but because it is how God acts with us.

Acedia

When we face a grievous loss – of a loved one, a job, a marriage, or health – depression can be an inevitable and appropriate response, providing a time-out to allow for healing. But what if one responded to such a loss with a casual yawn, as if none of it had mattered in the first place? That is the horror of acedia…

(Kathleen Norris, Acedia & me: New York, Riverhead Books, 2008, pp.23-24)

Acedia is the noonday demon, the soul on novocain. The clock seems to stop, the day stretches out forever as a vast wasteland of boredom. Work is a waste of time, other people uncaring, and everything good is somewhere else. Why bother with any of it? Listlessness sets in. This demon is subtle, bringing with it the delusion that vacating the present life situation isn’t only desirable, but noble. The question then arises: don’t I owe it to myself to leave behind this meaningless life?

Sometimes, things need to change. A harmful situation should be left immediately, but acedia isn’t about that. Acedia is throwing away the good and holy life God has provided. Acedia is not moving toward something good, it’s seeing everything good in the here and now as useless and boring. The “if only” thoughts arrive: if only I had a more caring spouse, if only others recognized my gifts, if only this place had a better view and congenial neighbors…A change of scenery won’t help because acedia lives in the discontented soul, not in the external location.

Cullen Story, professor and extraordinary pastor, used to give students and ministers a way to distinguish between acedia’s temptation to leave a life situation and God’s call to move forward: Until you love the location and people God has given you, you aren’t ready to leave.