Outside of Paradise

And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the Garden…     Joni Mitchell (1969) The instinct of the folk-music singer celebrating the Woodstock Festival was not wrong. The religious sensibilities of younger generations today would likely say the same thing but with no reference to the Scriptures. The longing that marks the human heart finds many means of expression. I often think as I see the tattooed bodies of the young (and even…

Dwelling in a Strange Land

By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. We hung our harps upon the willows in their midst. They that carried us away in captivity asked of us a song, And they that laid us waste, required of us mirth, saying: “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.” How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? Psalm 136/7 provides the text that…

Shame and Envy – Our Secret Sins

Several years back I stumbled on a book about the sin of envy. I was struck by what I read and realized that I had never heard a sermon on the topic (nor preached one). Though a number of the Fathers cite envy as the first and greatest sin, it never seemed to come up as a spiritual topic. I also realized that it was almost never mentioned in confession. A strange…

The True Agent of Change

As inhabitants of our modern culture, we find ourselves trapped in a world of “cause and effect.” It is a physical explanation of the universe that has, for all intents and purposes, become a universal metaphor, dominating religion and the most personal aspects of our lives. We see ourselves as the agents of change – or responsible for many of the disasters that litter our lives. Those who “succeed” imagine that they are the masters…

Passionately Drunk

The Philokalia, that wonderful collection of writings by the fathers on prayer of the heart, has as its full title, The Philokalia of the Neptic Saints gathered from our Holy Theophoric Fathers, through which, by means of the philosophy of ascetic practice and contemplation, the intellect is purified, illumined, and made perfect. Little wonder it is known popularly as the Philokalia. That word, Philokalia, means “the love of beautiful things.” It is not…

Hiding and the Hidden God

I have written a number of times about the “hiddenness” of God. It is a very important aspect of how He makes Himself known (though I know that is a paradox). His hiddenness both protects our freedom and removes compulsion from our relationship with God. There can be no compulsion where there is love. I found a small verse from the writings of St. Ephrem the Syrian that offers some thoughts: Lord,…