Abraham at the End of the World

This is an exercise in the Orthodox reading of the Scriptures. My thoughts frequently return to this story and this line of thought. This article is greatly expanded from an earlier version. The habits of modern Christians run towards history: it is a lens through which we see the world. We see a world of cause and effect, and, because the past is older than the present, we look to the past to…

The Last Christmas – Ever

This Christmas was the last Christmas – ever. Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. Wherever He is, there is the beginning and the end of all things. If Christ is truly present in this year’s Christmas, then it is the last Christmas – and the first Christmas. And if statements like this make your hair hurt – then read on. Our common way of thinking about…

You’re Not Doing Better

“I’m doing better.” Over the years I’m sure I’ve heard this many times in confession. I’ve also heard, “I’m not doing so well.” These are timely updates, personal measures and reports on the state of spiritual lives. And they are wrong. You are not doing better. You are not doing worse. In truth, we don’t know how we’re doing. Only God knows. But we have internalized a cultural narrative and made it…

An Illegal Christmas

The great advantage to thinking about God in legal terms, is that nothing has to change. If what happens between us and God is entirely external, a matter of arranging things such as the avoidance of eternal punishment or the enjoyment of eternal reward, then the world can go on as it is. In the legal model that dominates contemporary Christian thought, the secular world of things becomes nothing more than an…

What Happens When We Play (Pray)

In my previous article I compared children’s use of play to the place of ritual words and actions in the life of the Church. I absolutely did not mean to imply that one thing is like the other. I mean to say clearly that they are very much the same thing. And I say this both to change how we understand play as well as how we understand ritual words and action.…

Playing with God

There are things that children understand instinctively. And the things that children know and understand are worth consideration. They have much to teach us. Among the most natural things children do is play. Depending on how you define play, it is among the first activities in which we engage. It comes to dominate the lives of children and is the hallmark of their existence. Play is what children do. It is quite…

The Sweet Smoke of Prayer

Let my prayer arise in Your sight as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.  Psalm 141 My parish has a fairly steady stream of visitors from outside the Orthodox experience. Among their first questions are ones concerning the use of incense. There is virtually no Orthodox service that does not include the burning of incense, with the priest or deacon making the circuit of the Church swinging…

History and the Gospel

I remember a grumpy student once saying: “I hate history! It’s just one darned thing after another!” And so it is. For although we study history, we think of it as a simple collection of events, a way of telling the story of the world. Like a well-written newspaper account, we expect history to state the facts as accurately as possible and leave for the reader the task of interpretation. Is it…

God’s Bread

Our contemporary life is often deeply removed from reality. We eat like royalty, travel like magicians, taking everything for granted. In 1991, I was serving in a parish (Anglican) that sponsored a Russian family for immigration. The Soviet Union had fallen, but little had changed in their homeland. I recall taking them to their first visit to an American grocery store with their translator. It was like a dream to them. Their…

Mere Morality

What makes an action moral? I use the word to describe something done in an effort to conform to a rule, a law, or a principle. It is a matter of the will and a matter of effort. All societies require some form of moral behavior. If there were no such behavior, life would be unpredictable, unstable, and quite dangerous. Governments encourage some form of morality (it is the sole purpose of…