To Sing Like a River

We stood looking out at a river rushing past the rocks – a brisk morning in the North Carolina mountains, a rare setting for the Divine Liturgy. The tradition of the Church generally holds that services such as the Divine Liturgy are to be held indoors, in the Church. There are exceptions. In monasteries across the world, it is not unusual for a major feast to be held outdoors to accommodate the…

Psychology as the New Sacrament

The creation of the “two-storey universe” was an unintended consequence of the Protestant Reformation. I have recently been enjoying Brad Gregory‘s The Unintended Reformation, in which he traces the various historical currents and ideas that gave rise to the modern secular notion of the world. It is a magisterial treatment, and I recommend it to serious students of history, as well as anyone wanting to better understand our modern culture. I have…

The Seat of Mercy and the End of the Legal View

Among the more problematic words in the New Testament is the Greek hilasterion. It is translated as “propitiation” in some of the older English Bibles, and “expiation,” in newer ones. It’s actual meaning is neither. The word literally means “the place of mercy,” and is the Greek word used in the Old Testament (LXX) to describe the “Mercy Seat” on the Ark of the Covenant. In Leviticus, the ritual for atonement is…

Blood Brothers of the Incarnation

My childhood in the 1950’s had the innocence of the time, fed by stories of our elders and the clumsy movies. We played soldiers (everyone’s father had been in the Second World War) and “Cowboys and Indians.” Despite the clear bias of the movies and the slanted propaganda that passed for history, almost everyone wanted to be an Indian. Cowboys never seemed terribly romantic, while the Indians clearly knew how to survive…

The Scandal of the Transfiguration

My bishop recently shared the story of a young man whom he taught some years ago. He was Orthodox from Estonia. He grew up in the Soviet era and had come to hate all things Russian, including the Orthodox Church. Nevertheless, he saw an Orthodox procession in the streets of his city one year, a procession that included the Russian bishop (whom he also hated and believed to be a KGB agent).…

A Faith You Can Sink Your Teeth Into

In a now-famous experiment, volunteers were fitted with inverting lenses, such that everything they saw appeared upside-down. In a few days their brains adjusted and what they saw appeared correctly. When the lenses were removed, their naked eyes now saw things inverted, though again, after a few days their vision returned to normal. We are fearfully and wonderfully made and created in such a fashion we adapt to even very strange circumstances.…

The Disenchanted World

A very apt word for the world we live in is: disenchanted. It was first used by Max Weber and a number of others to describe a certain aspect of the modern world – the absence of the sacred. Where people of earlier eras and other cultures have experienced the world around them as charged with divine power (of various sorts), we simply experience the world as inert. There is nothing there.…

The Hand in the Gospel

My desk sits looking out of a wall of windows. My small backyard is shaded by a lush green this time of year. At any time of day or night, nature sounds mark the movement of the sun as much as the shifting shadows: birds in the early morning give way to katydids as the sun moves up the sky, succeeded by the drone of frogs as night sets in. Everyone living…

The Context of Faith

Shortly after moving to this side of the Smoky Mountains (the Tennesee side rather than the South Carolina side), I began to notice that the local dialect differed from my own. It was rounder, somehow, less nasal, but still with very strong “r’s.” Local phrases could also be puzzling. “I don’t care to,” for example, is used to mean, “I don’t mind.” It is deeply counter-intuitive, and sounds as though it means…

The Greatness of a Lesser World

Nothing could be more “cozy” than Tolkien’s description of the Shire. Many think the Shire is an idealization of rural England, and, no doubt, it certainly resembles it. Though the English do not seem to live in holes, they, nevertheless do like their gardens. And though the major cities resemble major cities elsewhere, rural villages are like nothing so much as themselves. You cannot blame a man for loving something that is…