Guilt and Shame – What’s The Difference?

There is a very handy saying that differentiates between guilt and shame. Guilt is about what I have done – shame is about who I am. They are not unrelated, particularly in a culture in which what we do is often given as an answer to the question, “Who are you?” Traditional American culture has often been described as “guilt-based,” in that Protestant religious thoughts centered on goodness as responsibility for our…

Beholding God Face to Face

During this season of mask-wearing, we have become weary of a “faceless” existence. I can think of nothing that is more de-personalizing that the hiding of our face. I respect the science (and certainly would not want a surgeon operating on me without a mask). But I lament our common experience even as I pray for this time to pass. I also think, however, of how many masks we have all worn…

Morality, Shame, and the Acquisition of Virtue

“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,” (Matthew 6:3) The experience of shame has many dynamics, permeating the larger part of human behavior. Though some psychologists have dubbed it the “master emotion” it is often unacknowledged and unrecognized. It should come as no surprise that much that is described as “morality” has little to do with the acquisition of…

Grace Enough

Some years ago I was in hospital for a time and not in the least bit happy about it. One sleepless night I was walking the halls of the unit, unable to sleep, and tempted with self-pity. I thought to myself (in rebuke), “Father Arseny endured the Soviet Gulag with more hope and patience than you’re bringing to this.” Father Arseny is the figure in the book by the same name that…

The Poetry of God

Whoever wants to become a Christian must first become a poet. – St. Pophyrios of Kavsokalyvia St. Porphyrios made this statement in the context of love and suffering: That’s what it is! You must suffer. You must love and suffer–suffer for the one you love. Love makes effort for the loved one. She runs all through the night; she stays awake; she stains her feet with blood in order to meet her beloved.…

From Desire to Necessity

I recently re-watched one of the most eye-opening programs on the 20th century, The Century of the Self (BBC 2002). It looks at the development of advertising, particularly the theories and work of Edward Bernays. You’ve seen his work, but you didn’t know it. He was one of the pioneers of modern advertising as well as modern government propaganda. Particularly in the 1920’s, he played a key role in moving America from…

What To Do With What You Know

In a world driven by information, it is more than a little easy to mistake knowing something as important and good in and of itself. As such, the acquisition of spiritual information is something of a going industry. In a Russian novel written back in the 90’s, a woman intellectual encounters a monk who is restoring an ancient monastery in Georgia. During a conversation, she brings up a quote from St. Maximus.…

A Cruciform Providence

The entire mystery of the economy of our salvation consists in the self-emptying and abasement of the Son of God – St. Cyril of Alexandria Trust in the providence of God is much more than a general theory of how things are arranged in our lives and in the world. We tend to discuss the notion in the abstract, wondering whether this action or event is to be properly attributed to God.…

Doors, Windows, Mirrors, and the Secret Place

My first impression of the monasteries on Mt. Athos began with their doors: massive, thick, iron and steel configurations with bars and locks. They are not decorative in the least. They are meant to keep out marauding Turkish pirates and the like. The walls of the monasteries are similar in their function. The whole structure, complete with the crenelations on the tops of the walls are more castle-like than anything else I…

Forged in the Fires of a Dying Sun

Today I stood at the altar and marveled at the gold of the chalice. It is, of course, supremely blessed, holding (as it does) the very Blood of God. But I was simply thinking of its journey to that altar, its transformation, indeed, its transmutation. If the science of cosmology is followed, then heavy elements such as gold have a very unique origin. The free elements of the universe such as simple…