Tag Archives: Lent

Mystic Monday on Shrove Tuesday: Richard of St. Victor

Today is Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras or the day before Ash Wednesday. If you know anything about me, you know that Lent is the most important Christian season to me and Easter is my favorite holiday. I have been drawn to the penitence of Lent since a young age, because it gives me a chance to contemplate my shortcomings while also focusing on the grace that will come through Holy Week, Jesus’ death and resurrection.

This morning I asked Bec if she was going to go to Ash Wednesday service with me, and she said,”I know that’s important to you some years, but I don’t really need to go.” There’s a lot of truth in the first part of that statement, but it correlates to my closeness or desire for Christ and my ability to feel God’s presence in my church. Since the first Sunday of Advent when I stepped into Grace Episcopal, I have felt at home, more at home than I’ve felt in a church setting a good long while. The theology is right, the service is perfectly liturgical and monastic feeling, Fr. Tom is intelligent and challenges us, and the people are friendly and open to all folks. So, of course, this year I feel a draw to celebrate Lent in all of its capacities, starting with Ash Wednesday tomorrow. I’m not entirely sure how fasting and contemplation will look for the course of Lent this year, but I will do as led during the service tomorrow.

During my morning contemplation this morning I read a bit from The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism and I came across this quote by Richard of St. Victor a 12th century monastic who wrote The Four Degrees of Violent Charity: “So, we now have the four degrees of violence in burning love that I have set forth above. The first degree of violence is when the mind cannot resist its desire; the second degree is when the mind cannot forget it; the third degree is when it cannot taste anything else; the fourth and last degree is when that desire cannot satisfy it. Therefore, the first degree love is insuperable, in the second inseparable, in the third singular, in the fourth insatiable. Insuperable love is what does not allow other attractions; inseparable love is what cannot be forgotten; singular love is what admits no companion; insatiable love is what cannot be satisfied.” Richard applies this same set of four degrees to romantic love (which will create a deity of a lover), Christian love (which creates the most perfect union between a person and God), and familial love (which culminates in the parents’ love for the child).

What I am drawn to is the idea that perfect love is violent, charity is violent. With some quick refreshment of my biblical languages, I find that charity (caritas) is frequently the way that love (agape) is translated in the vulgate, so the idea of love being violent fits right in with the idea that we should simultaneously love and fear God. The idea of violence never really appeals to me, and yet, when I look at the biblical text, I see repeated examples of God being violent and God’s followers being violent. In fact, that violence looks a lot like the four stages or degrees of love outlines above.

1) Insuperable love: “For the Lord your God is a devouring fire, a jealous God.” —Deuteronomy 4:24

2) Inseparable love: “Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” —Deuteronomy 6:7-9

3) Singular love: “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” —Song of Solomon 6:3

4) Insatiable love: “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you,  as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” —Psalm 63:1

While contemplating this ideas of violent caritas/agape, I began thinking of the ways in which each level is presented in the biblical text. I am convinced that every biblical concept can come back to a new testament woman, and this one comes back to the woman who washes Jesus’ feet with her hair. Here’s the story

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Maybe it’s whimsical thinking, but this woman seems to exhibit all four degrees of love for Jesus in a way that humbles me and makes me wish I could put aside my self-consciousness and worldly concerns and fall at the feet of Jesus, only Jesus, and pour myself out until I can only be filled up with him. Total love, total grace, total peace, and total beauty. Four degrees of caritas/agape: insuperable, inseparable, singular, and insatiable.

Common Prayer, Exercise, Whole 30 (Day 1)

We don’t have school today, which is nice because I get to have a sneak preview into what summer will be like. I got up at about 6:00 this morning, leisurely put on my clothes and shoes, and ran the two miles to Ball Pool. I hopped into the pool at 7:00AM and swam a little over a mile, then walked home, arriving by 8:30. I moved my body 5 miles by 8:30. How amazing will summer be?! I will be able to have all of my “required” exercise (it’s my goal to move at least 5 miles every day) and my morning prayers/quiet time finished by 9AM, and then I’ll have the whole rest of the day to work on art, house chores, gardening, or whatever, and because I’ve switched to the paleo/primal diet, I actually have energy to do things! All of these things are perfect meditations in the love of God. Moving the body. Contemplating God’s word. Praying for others. Being meditative.

But, we still have about thirty-five days of school left, so I can’t get too excited about summer yet. Not that I am counting down the days, because I don’t really do that. I generally love school. One of my favorite times of year is when I get to buy new school supplies and a few clothes.

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Today’s morning prayers had a snippet about Dietrich Boenhoeffer, and the thought-provoking quote provided from him really made me think: “So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life, but in the thick of foes.” Generally, I don’t look at other people as foes, but the first part of that really struck me. I spend a good portion of my time thinking about how I could be a better Christian, and that vision usually includes some form of me living in a convent or some other monastic situation where I don’t have too much contact with the outside world. Boenhoeffer is so right, though. My Christianity really means nothing if it’s cut off from the world, hidden behind closed doors. The idea of Monastic life, as manifested by the folks who live at Simple Way in Philadelphia, really appeals to me. They are making a difference while still living according to a modified version of the ancient cycle of monastic life. It’s really beautiful and there is so much good.

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This Lent really changed me. I feel much more hopeful, much more alive. Being out in the wilderness was good for me. Having a friend to talk with about how that feels was helpful. Fasting during Holy Week made the whole 40-ish days come alive, and I realized (again) in a very real way the humanity of Jesus: he was a real man, with friends and family, who suffered horribly and died. However, you interpret the act of the cross, the actual human events leading up to it must have been excruciating for Jesus and for all those whose lives were touched by his. Then, yesterday, the very real joy of Easter came crashing into me in a way I’ve never experienced before. I teared up a bit at the sunrise service. Maybe my life with Christ needed some attention, maybe I needed the Bible to become real for me again, maybe I just needed to make some tough decisions, or maybe I just needed to listen, really listen, to what I am being called to do. It certainly isn’t a life that’s so busy I don’t have time for friends, family, or even people I don’t really know. I’m called to a more contemplative life, a life filled with spiritual thinking, grace, love, and peace. Now my only problem is figuring out how to make this life I envision, this life I am called to, a reality.

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Duh, I published this without adding the thing that made me start to write this post. Today is the first day of my Whole 30 experience. I forgot I was going to start it today, so I bought some yogurt for breakfast this week, but I am just going to freeze it and eat it when I am finished. I have only one cheat for the next 30 days, and that’s raw honey. I’ve been eating a tablespoon of it every day for my allergies, and it seems to be working, so I don’t want to cut that out. Other than that, I am Whole 30 all the way!

The

(Holy) Saturday Between Death and Resurrection

The Saturday between Holy Friday and Easter Sunday is usually a day I spend wondering what exactly Jesus’ death on the cross means for us. Does it mean that God was “dead” for a day? Or does it mean that Jesus, the human, was dead for a day? Does it mean both? Does it mean neither? Did Jesus descend into hell? Does hell really exist? What did the disciples, both the men and the women, do for the day? What does anyone do when they are mourning the loss of a friend, a mentor, a love, a son? Did any of them anticipate what was coming? Did any of them have any foresight of the resurrection, since all the clues were  there? What does it all mean for us as Christians? What does it mean for anyone else? Basically, I usually spend Saturday worrying myself into a mess of emotion by the time Easter comes and I can celebrate the risen Christ.

This year was no exception. However, I found several meaningful distractions for myself, which took the pressure off of this Saturday.

By 7:30 in the morning I was picking up a couple of my students, so we could go run a trail race at Mounds State Park in Anderson. Neither one of them had ever run a trail race before, so the car was all full of nervous energy and excitement, as we discussed the possible layout of the course and strategies for running longer distances (they were running the 15K). We talked about all types of other things, too, which always makes driving more fun. When we got to Mounds, we registered, got our bibs, and went back to the car to change. The weather was freezing. Literally. The race started on slick, frost-covered grass. They started at 9AM, and my race, the 5K, started at 9:10.

By the time I made it into the woods and off of the grass, I was wheezing and coughing. So much for the honey helping with grass allergies, though it has worked wonders for the tree and flower allergies, because I haven’t been nearly as congested or wheezy as I was last spring. So, I ran coughing and wheezing into the woods, and I realized that everything I told the boys about the race was wrong. The race organizers used every hill at the Mounds, which is a lot of them, and the course was really challenging. The end of the 5K went up the 80 steps to the pavilion, and my legs burned and my heart felt it might explode by the time I crossed the finish line. But let’s go back for a minute: somewhere in the middle of the race, I decided I should walk up the hills and careen down them, which is a tactic I’ve never used before, but I thought it might be helpful in this race. Then, I thought, if I am going to do that, why not be playfully contemplative. So as I ran, in my mind I thought about the Jesus questions, while using my body to respond to my fears and doubts in a playful way. I had more fun and learned more about myself in that race than in any other I’ve ever run. And, I used the time to do my usual Holy Saturday reflection. As I crossed the finish line, the clock read 00:52:53.0. I had finished this grueling race in about 17 minutes a mile. I was pretty excited.

Fred, Me, Logan: We Pretty Much Rocked

I cheered for Logan and I cheered for Fred. And then I realized, after they finished, that the time clock was set for the 15K. I could take 10 whole minutes off of my time. I had finished the 5K in my my best time ever—00:42:43.0! I considered this a pretty decent accomplishment, since that meant my average time per mile was 13.68 minutes, and I hadn’t run a mile in thirteen and a half minutes in about 9 months. And this was on crazy terrain! Now I was elated. I was more elated when I realized that Logan came in second and Fred came in fourth in their age group. At their first ever trail race. I was really proud of us. You can see our times by following the links here.

Sierra Nevada Porter: The Beer of the Personal Record

I also distracted my self from thinking too much or too seriously about the death of Jesus by going to some friends’ house for a bonfire. We drank some beers, ate some wieners, and roasted some marshmallows. We also burned a stool, talked about theology, sports, and life, and decided to attend the outdoor Easter sunrise service together. The evening was a usual amazing night with two great friends.

This was one ridiculously hot fire.

Holy Friday, Not Good

When I was little, I would always ask people why today is called Good Friday, because there didn’t seem to be anything good about it to me. Of course, I was reassured that it was good because it’s the day where Jesus is hanged on a cross and dies for our sins, and without that one event in history we’d still be offering sacrifices or all be damned to hell. I was told by my Sunday School teachers plain and simple: Jesus died to save me, not even us, just me. I caused God to die.

Crucifixion of Christ by Salvador Dali
from http://i.telegraph.co.uk/

My understanding of what happens (happened) today on Holy Friday has since become much more complicated, and I still don’t think it’s necessarily “good.” Holy? Yes. Good? No. A woman watching her son die because he spoke out against a corrupt civil culture, a corrupt government is not “good,” but holy. Men watching their teacher and friend die because he taught them a new way of thinking is not “good,” but holy. Women, who had spent hours with a man who treated them well and didn’t take them for granted, waiting to dress the body of this same man upon the finality of his death is not “good,” but holy. Yes, the miracle that occurs in the act of Jesus death is amazing, however you interpret it. But the actual death cannot be, in humanly terms, felt as anything less than excruciating and agonizing. For all of those who watch the Messiah, Jesus the Son of the Living God, die a slow and painful death on a cross again and again each year to remember this sacrifice, this obedience, this redemptive act it is not “good,” but holy. This tragically beautiful death is human and real to us. It’s not “good.” In fact, it’s horrible, but it isa holy mystery.

Easter is good. Eternal life is good. Sometimes during Lent clinging to that hope is the only thing that gets me from Maundy Thursday through to Jesus’ glorious resurrection and triumph over death at Easter. For now, though, the world rests in the damp, darkness of the tomb with the stone firmly in place.

“Come alive, come truly alive!”

I’ve just started reading Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh. The introduction is written by Elaine Pagels, whose book about “Revelation” is also on my to read list. In the introduction of Living, she discusses some of the gnostic gospels and their similarities to Buddhist thought. Most striking for me are the words of “The Teaching of Silvanus”

Knock upon yourself as upon a door, and walk upon yourself as on a straight road. For if you walk on that path, you cannot go astray; and when you knock on that door, what you open for yourself shall open.

Pagels argues that the gnostic gospels point not simply to faith, but also to a “path of solitary searching”  for understanding (xxv). For obvious reasons, many early church leaders condemned the gnostic gospels and the alternate salvific paths they taught, but these same books advocate similar theological teachings, such as compassion. Pagels writes that in the “Gospel of Thomas” Jesus says, “Love your brother as the apple of your eye.” Isn’t that the same thing as recognizing the spark of the divine in everyone or loving your neighbor as yourself?

In the first chapter “Be Still and Know,” Nhat Hanh advocates a similar idea to Paul’s in the biblical text. Paul writes in Acts: “‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’We also learn throughout the Christian scriptures that every good thing comes from God. Take the first chapter of James for example: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” St. Thomas Aquinas, in his ginormous text Summa Theologica, even extrapolates the idea that all good is of God. Nhat Hanh agrees with this long line of Christian theological thought, but spins it little when he writes about his own encounters with Jesus: “We have to allow what is good, beautiful, and meaningful in the other’s tradition transform us” (9). Nhat Hanh and early Christian writers of all threads, I think, want us to realize this singular spirit of love, beauty, and grace.

I like the last section of this first chapter quite a bit. Nhat Hanh advocates that we should look deeply, which means that “the distinction between observer and observed disappears” (11). Do you suppose this is what Jesus meant when he said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing”? Are we to look into Jesus so intently that we become indistinguishable from him? Is that how we can learn to change the world?

Peace.