At the Heart of Lent

Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You! (Ps. 119:11) Years ago, I heard a statement from an American monk: “The contemplative need go no further than his own heart to find the source of all violence in the world.” It struck me as true then and has only seemed more so as the years have passed. At the time (not long after the Vietnam…

The Justice of Creation

  Your judgments are like the great deep, O Lord, You will save men and beasts. (Psalm 36:6) The notion of justice in Scripture is rather straightforward. It has to do with proper order and balance. The one who has much should not exploit his advantage and oppress the one who has little. In all things, there will be an accounting. And in the accounting, things will be “set right.” Those who…

Soul Talk

Everybody is familiar with the voice in their head. Sometimes it has the sound of a nagging argument, repeating, rehearsing endlessly to no good end. It can also be the voice of scolding, shaming us for some minor transgression while it consigns us to the lowest of the low. It is rarely a welcome presence in our lives. No one ever says, “You wouldn’t believe how wonderful the voice in my head…

The Slow Road to Heaven – Why the Spiritual Life Doesn’t “Work”

We live in a world of practicality, a fact that has produced the marvels of technology that power us along and connect the world in its web. I have a nearly two-year-old grandson who has grasped some of this connection for many months now. He loves buttons – not the ones on your shirt – but the ones on any device. If there is a button in reach, he will mash it.…

I’ll Be Small for Christmas

Children today are raised with dreams of greatness. Cultural affirmations of our limitless potential, well-intentioned, have not produced a generation of over-achievers, but have indeed brought forth hordes of great dreams. This is nothing new in American culture. We are the world’s longest sustained pep-talk. Ronald Reagan loved to quote the 1945 Johnny Mercer hit: You’ve got to accentuate the positive Eliminate the negative Latch on to the affirmative Don’t mess with…

The Cross and the One Ring of Power

The greatest trial surrounding the One Ring of Power in Tolkien’s novels, was the temptation to use it. No one (except for Sauron himself) seemed to think that they would do anything but good with the Ring. The Ring would protect Gondor; the Ring would bring order to the world (Saruman). And though it was indeed occasionally used to escape Trolls or to get friends out of Elfin prisons, every use drew…

Be True to Yourself

I recall the excitement that I felt every year as a child and as a teenager as the signs of summer’s end came. Looming ahead was the beginning of a new school year. It never felt like a return to what I had known the year before, but as an opportunity for something new. In my teen years, the secret something new that felt exciting was a “new” me. Of course, that…

Before the Judgment Seat of Christ

  For a Christian ending to our life: painless, unashamed, and peaceful; and a good defense before the dread judgment seat of Christ, let us ask of the Lord. From my childhood, I have memories of the phrase, “Great White Throne of Judgment.” It comes complete with an abundance of frightening images and threats. It is the last possible moment before all hell breaks loose and the preachers at long last get…

Humble and Meek and Middle-Class Morality

  “He Will Exalt the Humble and Meek” There is an interesting historical pattern that has been repeated any number of times across the centuries. A group of the dispossessed and the poor come together within a religious movement. What begins with great enthusiasm succeeds. As it succeeds, those who were once poor and dispossessed manage to gather themselves into some sort of order. They learn to work hard, to avoid disaster,…

Hell, Justice and the Heart of Prayer – Thinking Like a Slave

In the third kneeling prayer of Pentecost, there is a boldness in which the Church pleads for the souls in Hell (Hades). It is a boldness that can stun the one who prays, easily wondering, “Are we allowed to ask for these things?” In general, all my life I have heard a rehearsal of the boundaries of hell. I have heard about who goes there, why they must stay there, why it…