the tentmaker

daily thoughts on the common lectionary

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Location: Sharpsburg, Georgia, United States

"...because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together — by trade they were tentmakers." Acts 18:3. Tentmaker is a title taken by bi-vocational pastors. As such, I am both a pastor and a project manager. I am a pastor of a local congregation of moderate, accepting and affirming people who worship in the Baptist tradition. We call our church "Hope Memorial Baptist" and we are about 40 in number. I am also a project manager of major construction projects for the State of Georgia. My home and church is in rural Coweta County, between Peachtree City and Newnan, with a mailing address of Sharpsburg, Georgia.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Sunday 11/27/05 Year B - Advent 1

This Week's Texts

Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-19
1 Corinthians 1:1-19
Mark 13:24-37


Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the Sunday in which we recall the hope we have in Christ.

The prophets of Israel all spoke of the coming of Christ, of how a saviour would be born, a king in the line of David. They spoke of how he would rule the world wisely and bless all nations.

On Christmas day the Christ of our hope was born. On Good Friday the Christ of our hope died. On Easter day the Christ of our hope rose from the dead. He then ascended into heaven. On the last day, the Christ of our hope will come again to establish his kingdom over all things on earth.

As the follower of Christ, we await his return. We light this candle to remember that as he came to us as humbly in the manger at Bethlehem and gave light to the world, so he is coming again in power to deliver his people.

We light this candle to remind us to be alert and to watch for his return.

LET US PRAY - Loving God, we thank you for the hope you give us. Help us prepare our hearts for the Lord's coming. Bless our worship. Help us live holy and righteous lives. We ask it in the name of the one born in Bethlehem. Amen.
© Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 1993, 1996, 1999


Advent is here, and Christmas is soon to follow. Christmas as a holiday has ceased to have much impact on me. Maybe it's the commercialization that everyone complains about as they drag their kids, kicking and screaming, to every store in town to find just the right gift for uncle Herb or Minnie Lee. A Wal-Mart somewhere had a riot of 300 angry shoppers who had waited in line twelve hours to get the latest electronic gadget that EVERYONE must have in order to be saved. Of course after they have it for five minutes it loses it's novelty and the search for salvation continues in all the wrong places.

One thing I have learned from the study of the history of the monastic life, is the necessity of learing to be satisfied with what you have. Not being impatient for the things that elude your grasp and not grasping for those things that you do not need.

But if Christmas as a holiday has ceased to have meaning for me, Advent is filled with meaning and symbolism. Advent is a time of taking stock of where we are. It is a time of remembering what God and Jesus have done for us. It is a time of re-evaluating our life situation in the light of the grace and love of God.

Have you ever wondered Why bad things happen to good people? Have things happened to you, your friends and loved ones or others in the world that made you stop and wonder how could a loving God cause that to happen? Is your faith tested? Do you find your hope weakening? Advent is the time for the renewal of your faith and concentrating once again on the hope of the world, the coming of the Word of God first as the Christ Child, then as the Jesus who saves us from our sin, and then the Savior who brings Hope to the world that our suffering will not be in vain.

The writer of Hebrews says:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.Hebrews 11:1

Our faith is that the goodness and love of God will keep us safe from the evil of sin and death. With the evil around us, this safety net is hard to see. But we certainly hope for it even though it is not seen.

The Apostle Paul was a pastoral man, a practical man. Most of his writing that comes to us are letters of practical instruction for churches on how to live the Christian life. Listen to what he has to say.

...Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:24-25

So many people ask for a sign. Show me a sign dear Lord and I will believe in you, I will trust in you. Paul tells us to have faith, to have hope for those promises that we cannot see. And if we have faith and hope we will patiently wait for the Lord to act.

Again, Paul says:

Romans 8:18-39
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.

Yes, we have times when we suffer. But these sufferings of the mortal body and soul cannot compare with the glory that can and will be revealed in us if we endure our sufferings in peace with and through the spirit of the love of God.

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility... in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

Paul speaks of the anticipation of the coming among us of our Lord Jesus as the anticipation of a young mother in pain yet in expectation of the coming of her child.

For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

What a comfort it is to know that when we don’t have the right words or know what it is that we need, the Holy Spirit is there praying for us. The Spirit knows us, he knows our needs, pain, our sorrows. He knows what God’s will for our lives is and he prays with “sighs too deep for words.”

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Paul tells us that we should know that all things work together for good. But he knows the human weakness and tendency for doubt. He is pleading with his people and with us to remember the power of God to be in control of all things. And to remember the Love of God to always have our best interest at heart. We can’t possibly know beforehand what God has in store for us. But how often have you looked back on an event or time in your past that was difficult and painful and said, “God was moving in my life then.”

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?

And since God knows what suffering is, having given up his Son for all of us, does he not know and feel our own suffering?

Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Hear the great faith of the Apostle Paul:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Solid Rock
Words: Edward Mote, circa 1834

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.

When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

The Law Is the Law

I received the following email that seems to be traveling around the web, perhaps you did too:

This is one of the better e-mails I have received in a long time! I hope this makes its way around the USA several times over!!!!!

So Be It!


So if the US government determines that it is against the law for the words "under God" to be on our money, then, so be it.

And if that same government decides that the "Ten Commandments" are not to be used in or on a government installation, then, so be it.

I say, "so be it," because I would like to be a law abiding US citizen.

I say, "so be it," ! because I would like to think that smarter people than I are in positions to make good decisions.

I would like to think that those people have the American public's best interests at heart.


Since we can't pray to God, can't Trust in God and cannot post His Commandments in Government buildings, I don't believe the Government and its employees should participate in the Easter and Christmas celebrations which honor the God that our government is eliminating from many facets of American life.
I'd like my mail delivered on Christmas, Good Friday, Thanksgiving & Easter. After all, it's just another day.

I'd like the US Supreme Court to be in session on Christmas, Good Friday, Thanksgiving & Easter as well as Sundays. After all, it's just another day.
I'd like the Senate and the House of Representatives to not have to worry about getting home for the "Christmas Break." After all it's just another day.

I'm thinking that a lot of my taxpayer dollars could be saved, if all government offices & services would work on Christmas, Good Friday & Easter. It shouldn't cost any overtime! since those would be just like any other day of the week to a government that is trying to be "politically correct."

In fact....

I think that our government should work on Sundays (initially set aside for worshipping God...) because, after all, our government says that it should be just another day....

What do you all think????

If this idea gets to enough people, maybe our elected officials will stop giving in to the minority opinions and begin, once again, to represent the 'majority' of ALL of the American people.

SO BE IT........

Please Dear Lord,
Give us the help needed to keep you in our country!

My Response:

I agree with the first part of this email down to the statment "BUT, YOU KNOW WHAT ELSE I'D LIKE?"

But, here is where I diverge from the ‘rest of the story.’ You see, I don’t need my money to remind me that I believe in God, that remembrance is always in my heart. And I don’t need my children to pray, read the bible or study biblical concepts in public school, because I teach them those values at home. For me, worship and love of God begins at home. Because it begins at home, I take them to church to worship publicly. I don’t expect them to rely on signs in the courthouse or in the public square to remind them that God is Love.

And I don’t expect to take my angry feelings and frustrations out on the employees of the state and federal governments because the makers of the laws don’t happen to agree with my own religious beliefs. Postal workers and others who serve us by working for the government and providing the services that we complain about not being adequate, are individuals with their own religious beliefs. Would you deny the postman or school teacher a chance to spend Christmas with their family because your money doesn’t say “In God we trust”? Come on. Where is the Love of Christ in that?

I think it’s time for us to stop expecting our government to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ and start doing OUR part to spread His word by living according to His teachings.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Where is the Kingdom of God?

This question was asked on another blog. My answer:

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, "The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or 'There it is!' For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you." Luke 17:20-21

The little Greek word translated here as "among" is εντος it means within, inside or among. The Kingdom of God is both among us and within us.

It is among us as "two or three are gathered together" in the name of God, or for His purpose. It is within us as God and Jesus themselves are in us.

When will the Kingdom come? It is here already, in us and among us.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Tying the Gordian Knot

Advent is here, and Christmas is soon to follow. Christmas as a holiday has ceased to have much impact on me. Maybe it's the commercialization that everyone complains about as they drag their kids, kicking and screaming, to every store in town to find just the right gift for uncle Herb or Minnie Lee. A Wal-Mart somewhere had a riot of 300 angry shoppers who had waited in line twelve hours to get the latest electronic gadget that EVERYONE must have in order to be saved. Of course after they have it for five minutes it loses it's novelty and the search for salvation continues in all the wrong places.

Last Sunday I drove about 80 miles to perform a wedding. Weddings and cristenings are the fun part of the job, you know. I never miss an opportunity to join two lovely people in Holy Wedded Bliss. Sandra and I are somewhat of an anomaly these days. We've been married (to each other) for nearly 40 years, and we both have our own set of advice for young couples just starting out about the "secret of a long and happy marriage." But what do you say to a middle-aged couple who both have been married more times than they have fingers on one hand? Well I was there because, being the distant relative of the bride and the only real-live-preacher (sorry Gordon) she knew, of course I was the likely candidate for the task of tying this unlikely gordian knot.

The wedding was held at the trailer of the bride's oldest daughter. We wound our way deep into the forests of rural Georgia, not knowing what we would find. When we got there, on time I might add, the driveway was lined with old derelect automobiles and the crowd had already begun to gather. Since it was a cool and damp day, a bonfire had been lit in the front yard and all the wedding guests were huddled around the fire to stay warm. The trailer didn't have a screen door, and for some reason, the solid door stayed wide open so the guests and their children could come and go at will. There were kids and dogs running in and out of the trailer so that you had to muster up your courage to enter.

It was obvious that I had stumbled into a world that I had never experienced before. Here were people, few of whom had completed high school and fewer still who had a good solid job for all 365 days of the year. Most of the women were barefooted and, even though it was a cool and damp day, as I said, wore only thin cotton dresses. The men wore jeans, boots and shirts. Some wore hats, everyone smoked. I was struck by one young woman in particular. She couldn't have been much older than eighteen although she looked much younger. She had a three year old that she was either carrying or chasing around the yard and she was about seven months pregnant with a second child. She was barefooted. I never figured out which man she was with.

I have never experienced raw poverty before but I sure do know when I come across it face to face. And I had come across it this time. Now I don't know what you might think about the poor. Or if you have an idea of what they are like. Well, they are somewhat like us, you and me. They talked about the weather and about news stories they had seen on TV. They talked about their favorite movie stars and the latest song on the charts. There was not any whining or complaining. They laughed and played. They hugged and shook hands when they greeted you. I felt like an outsider only for the first few minutes after I walked up the drive to the trailer. After I introduced myself all around they made me feel like a neighbor.

The wedding was a great success even though I made an unintentional mistake. When I asked the bride to say her vows I had her say that she took the groom to be her wedded wife instead of husband. Everybody laughed and we went on with the ceremony. I noticed that there was a lot of love in the air that day and in that place. I noticed a kind of peace that I had not seen in the shopping malls of civilization. These are not people that would stand in line twelve hours to buy the latest electronic gadget, but they'd spend days trying to help you fix your roof, or cook you a meal if you didn't have any food in the house. These are people who would spend their light bill money to help a friend in need, knowing that next month the trailer would be dark and cold.

Oh, I forgot to say, the groom had been diagnosed with lung cancer and only has a few months to live. He wouldn't have it any other way than to marry his sweetheart, the one he'd been living with for several years. And I wouldn't have it any other way than to be the one to pronounce them husband and wife.

My God, have I got a lot to learn about life and love.

The Lord's Prayer for Us

Gospel of John Chapter 17
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said,
"Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
"I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
"I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. "Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."

Lord, how divergent your Church has become. How estranged we are from each other because of differences of interpretation, ethnic differences, cultural differences, and differences of attitude toward you and your people. Even though we do not have unity in the world, I pray that we can be unified in spirit and in love for you, the one true God. Grant us, on this day of Thanksgiving, that we may concentrate on the Love of Christ for us as expressed in His prayer. And may we seek to emulate that love by our love for and actions toward our fellows here on earth.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Sunday 11/20/05 Year A - Christ the King

This Week's Texts

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 95:1-7a
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

You must read Justice for "the Least of These," Salvation for All by Karen A. Keely at "The Witness."

from Brian Stoffrengen:
I love [this passage], because these good works are not really works that earn us heaven because the doers of them don't realize that they have done anything good. Caring for other people is such a part of their (redeemed) nature, that they are produced naturally -- like a good tree naturally producing good fruit. In the same way, the "goats" don't realize that they have done anything wrong. "The Great Surprise" may be a more appropriate title to this text than "The Final Judgment."

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Sunday 11/13/05 Year A - Proper 28

This Week's Texts

Judges 4:1-7
Psalm 123
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

Supplemental Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:18-20

Have You Been Faithful in a Little?

The parable in our Gospel lesson today can be interpreted in many different ways. Jesus did not offer an interpretation, but left it up to the hearers to understand the meaning. Some interpret the parable by seeing some truth in the words of the wicked servant, that the master is harsh man who reaps where he doesn't sow and gathers where he doesn't scatter. In other words he doesn't earn his keep, he extorts from those who work and earn the wealth. In this interpretation, the master is the wealthy and the first two servants are their henchmen. The servant given only one talent is the poor. It is an interesting interpretation, but one that does not meet our needs this morning.

In my understanding of the parable, and you certainly are entitled to your own understanding, is that the master is God. In verse 14, the antecedent of the word "it" is back in verse 1, "The Kingdom of heaven..." The master's estate is the Kingdom. The servants are his people, those who are called by his name. You and me. The term talent is a unit of measure. In total they represent the entire Kingdom. In this parable, God is dividing his kingdom among his people. He is entrusting his servants with the responsibility of maintaining and furthering that Kingdom.

In 2 Corinthians 5:18-20, Paul tells us that God has entrusted us with the "ministry of reconciliation." He calls us Ambassadors for Christ. Listen to what he has to say...

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

In our parable, Jesus is saying to his disciples: "You are the servants of the Lord, you are my ambassadors, I am giving to you this piece of the Kingdom to be your responsibility."

Now it is important to see that the master gave to each servant according to his abiltiy. God does not give us more than we can handle. Do you have those days when you wish you had never gotten out of bed, when nothing you seem to do is right, or you have more to do than you can possibly do? Remmeber that God gives us according to our abilities. To some he gives a religious vocation, to some he gives a responsibility for teaching, or a caring for the needs of others. But to all of us in what ever measure we can handle, he give the ministry of reconcilition. As his ambasadors we are responsible for telling that God forgives our sins and is reconciling the world to himself. The true message is "God loves you and cares for you."

In our parable we have two servants who are good stewards of their portion of the master's kingdom. But there is one who, for reasons of his own, has not done anything with his part of the kingdom. There is nothing to suggest that he was jealous of the amount given the others. But he was afraid. He was afraid to invest his piece of the kingdom. He was afraid of the harshness of the master. And he was skeptical of the sincerety and propriety of the master.

Are you faithful with his trust in you? What are you doing with your piece of the Kingdom? Are you a faithful ambassador, spreading the word that God loves us all and that his forgiveness is for everyone? Including the people in your life and in your circle of influence?

Or are you afraid. Afraid you will be embarrassed. Afraid that people will laugh at you. Are you afraid of failing at the task so you bury the message deep inside you and let others find out the best way they can?

Or are you skeptical of God and his message? Are you not sure that God is real. Do you have doubts that God loves you and cares for you? Do you think that living the Christian life is for the weak and naive?

The master does return to square accouts. If we have been faithful to his charge he will tell us "Well done." And then he will give us harder tasks to perform. Don't be unprepared for his return. Dig up that piece of the Kingdom now. Pull it out of the dark depths where you have hidden it and let it shine so that people will see your light and know that it comes from God himself. Hear what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:13:

No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

Christ says "If anyone will come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." And then he gives us the strength to take up that cross and the endurance to follow him.

So, the question is still..."Have you been faithful in a little?"

Let us pray...

Friday, November 11, 2005

A Time of Inexplicable Joy

To relate this story, I have to go back a couple of weeks to the weekend of October 29-30. This was the Halloween weekend. You will note that on October 30, I posted the essay entitled The Contemplative Life. On the following day, October 31, I posted the series: The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence. I am referring to what happened to me as a time of inexplicable joy, because it was a time where the feeling of joy was inexplicable, and it was also not necessarily a feeling but an awareness of joy.

The truth is, I was very sick that weekend. It was an upper respiratory infection that made me feel like death warmed over. The weekend didn't start out that way. Sandra and I went to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit (MHS) on Saturday, the 29th. It was a beautiful day, the wind was cool and blowing briskly and the sun was shining brightly. It was later that evening when the sickness hit me. It seemed to come on all at once. The short of it is that I was too sick to preach or sing. I called the church folks and cancelled service because I couldn't get a stand-in that late on Saturday. I also called in sick to my secular job on Monday, the 31st.

Spiritually, however, I was in a warm and fuzzy place after spending the day at MHS. I read several things on contemplation and prayer. But I also pulled out one of my old volumes read many years ago. It was The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence. I began to read Brother Lawrence and it was then that I remembered the time in my childhood when I had the natural gift of the presence of God in my life.

I think the time of joy began with that memory that had been buried for decades. All day Sunday and all day Monday, while I was sick, and in between naps, I talked with God. It was just like the old days as a boy in the woods. A peace and calm enveloped me that I have no way of explaining or even understanding. I tried to read, but couldn't. I tried to think about other things but they held no interest for me. All I wanted to do was to sit around and dwell on the joy in my heart and the love of God.

I thought it was depression. I have been depressed for as long as I can remember and have been on medication for the depression for ten years. But this feeling was not like my usual bouts of depression. Usually I feel like I am swirling down in a whirlpool or a black hole. But this time was different. I felt warm. I felt loved. I just didn't want to leave that place.

On Tuesday, I had to go back to work. All morning I had the same inability to concentrate on things other than God. I couldn't do my work. I became iritated when I was interrupted or when the phone would ring. Finally, around mid-morning, the outside interferences and my iritable reaction to them broke the magic. From that point forward it was a normal day, and I was back to being my normal self.

But I have wondered what happened to me that weekend. As I continue my study into the writings of San Juan de la Cruz, I wonder. Could I have experienced the beginning of infused contemplation? It might have been the cold, or the drugs, or...

A Primer on St. John’s Teaching on the Beginning of Contemplation

* St. John’s teaching on the transition from ordinary prayer to contemplation can be distilled into the following points:

By ordinary prayer St. John meant any kind of prayer that we can do by our own efforts aided by God’s grace. He called this meditation. In it we make use of our natural faculties, that is, our senses, imagination, intellect, memory and will in order to pray.

But since this is not how we understand meditation today, it is important to see the difference. Meditation today brings to mind a particular formula for praying in which we imagine a scene from the Gospel, for example, and draw conclusions about what it means for our lives, and this process stirs our hearts to praise, thank and love God, and to amend our lives. The realm of ordinary prayer, that is, prayer that we can do ourselves, is now divided between this kind of meditation and other more simplified and affective prayers that go under the names of the prayer of simplicity, or the prayer of the practice of the presence of God, and so forth. These kinds of prayers make much less use of the discursive activity of the intellect and much more of the will in acts of love. But for John of the Cross, who lived at a time before these distinctions fully emerged, meditation embraces all these kinds of ordinary prayer.

John also gives a precise meaning to the word contemplation. It is a kind of prayer that we cannot do whenever we want, for it does not depend on the natural working of the faculties. It is a prayer given by God in the depths of the heart so it is called infused contemplation, or mystical experience. The goal of the Christian life is union with God, and contemplation is a mysterious experience of that union.
St. John also gives us a schema of the evolution of the life of prayer. The beginning of our serious interest in the life of prayer, or conversion to God, is often marked by a period of sensible consolation. God feels present to us. We feel a warm glow in our spiritual exercises, a glow that pervades our feelings and thoughts, indeed, all our natural faculties, and serves the good purpose of drawing us from the things of the world to the things of God. But eventually this sense of God’s presence falls away. This can happen gradually or suddenly, and we are left in darkness. It can feel like God has abandoned us, and in our anxiety we wonder if we have committed some sin to bring about what appears to be a terrible state of affairs. And most of all, we want things to be back the way they were. This could be called the dark night of the senses in the wider meaning of the term, and is a common experience in those devoted to the life of prayer.

But this is not precisely what St. John is interested in. It is true, he says, that this dark night might be due to our lukewarmness or sins, or even to some kind of psychological problem which, in the language of his day, he called melancholy. But most of St. John’s energy goes into analyzing another possibility. This dark night might be a very distinctive kind of dark night that is meant to lead us from ordinary prayer or meditation to infused contemplation. His famous three signs were meant to guide us so we could discover whether we were actually called to this kind of contemplation or not.

The first sign is that we cannot pray like we did before. The second – in order to rule out a disinclination coming from our own bad conduct – is that we have no desire to fix our attention on other things. The third sign is meant to rule out melancholy, or a disinterest in things coming from some kind of psychological cause. But it goes beyond all that and is, by far, the most important sign. We are beginning to experience an interior quiet and rest that we are inclined to give ourselves to even while we may still be thinking that we should be going back to our old way of praying with our faculties, and that to give into this new inclination is to give into idleness. This inner quiet is the beginning of contemplation, itself. It is a loving knowledge that comes, not through the faculties of sense, imagination, intellect, memory or will, but wells up from the depths of the heart and draws us into those depths, to rest there and receive what God is giving us.

John was so concerned that someone might miss this call to contemplation that he described it in exquisite detail. He explains, for example, how this new experience could be so gentle and subtle, and we are so used to pounding away with the faculties, that it might be imperceptible at first – insensible, he says – to our ordinary consciousness. We would have to quiet ourselves and be lovingly attentive to this new experience in order to taste it. Ironically, these wonderfully detailed descriptions of the transition from meditation to contemplation were going to haunt the history of spirituality.

John of the Cross on Contemplation

This brief summary can hardly do justice to St. John’s delicately nuanced treatment of the transition from meditation to contemplation. It is worth trying to steep ourselves in his language. The best way to do this is to read The Ascent of Mt. Carmel, Book 2, Chapters 12-15, The Dark Night, Book 1, Chapters 8-10, and The Living Flame of Love, Stanza III, Nos. 26-58 from which the following passages have been drawn.
* James Arraj, From St. John of the Cross to Us.

Monday, November 07, 2005

A Universal Prayer

(attributed to Clement XI)

Lord, I believe in you — increase my faith.
I trust in you — strengthen my trust.
I love you — let me love you more and more.
I am sorry for my sins — deepen my sorrow.

I worship you as my first beginning,
I long for you as my last end,
I praise you as my constant helper,
and call on you as my loving protector.

Guide me by your wisdom,
correct me with your justice,
comfort me with your mercy,
protect me with your power.

I offer you, Lord, my thoughts — to be fixed on you;
my words — to have you for their theme;
my actions — to reflect my love for you;
my sufferings — to be endured for your greater glory.

I want to do what you ask of me
— in the way you ask,
— for as long as you ask,
— because you ask it.

Lord, enlighten my understanding,
strengthen my will,
purify my heart,
and make me holy.

Help me to repent of my past sins
and to resist temptation in the future.
Help me rise above my human weaknesses
and to grow stronger as a Christian.

Let me love you, my Lord and my God,
and see myself as I really am — a pilgrim in this world,
a Christian called to respect and to love all whose lives I touch,
those in authority over me or those under my authority,
my friends and my enemies.

Help me to conquer anger with gentleness,
greed with generosity,
apathy by fervor.
Help me to forget myself
and reach out to others.

Make me prudent in planning,
courageous in taking risks.
Make me patient in suffering,
unassuming in prosperity.

Keep me, Lord, attentive at prayer,
temperate in food and drink,
diligent in my work,
firm in my good intentions.

Let my conscience be clear,
my conduct without fault,
my speech blameless,
and my life well-ordered.

Teach me to realize that this world is passing,
that my true future is the happiness of heaven,
that life on earth is short,
and the life to come eternal.

Help me prepare for death with a proper fear of judgment,
and a greater trust in your goodness.

Lead me safely through death
to the endless joy of heaven.

Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Sunday 11/6/05 - Year A - Proper 27

This Week's Texts

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
Psalm 78:1-7
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

Are You Prepared for the Lord's Coming?

Today's Gospel text is the parable of the wise and foolish Bridesmaids. Jesus began by saying the "Kingdom of Heaven is like this..." But the wedding he described was not one like the common people were acustomed to. It was a more lavish afair, like the wedding of a King. There was, however, a wedding of similar style in the recent memory of those listening to Jesus. It was a notoriously famous wedding of kingly proportions during the time of the ministry of Jesus. Herod Antipas had divorced his wife, the daugter of King Aretas, and had taken the wife of his brother Philip from Rome back to Palestine. He married her there, against the teaching of the Torah and against the preaching of John the Baptizer, with a wedding that was a public spectacle.

Jesus' story focuses on ten bridesmaids who were ladies in waiting for the coming of the Bridegroom. Part of their role in the wedding was to carry oil lamps to ceremonially light the way for the Bridal party. All was ready, the lamps were lit, all were waiting in anticipation for the coming of the bridegroom. But the bridegroom did not come. He was delayed an unusually long time.

With the lamps burning full bore, the ten bridesmaids fell asleep. They slept until about midnight when an alarm came that the bridegroom was coming. Five of the bridesmaids were thoughtful enough to bring additional oil for their lamps. They were prepared for just such a delay in the coming of the bridegroom. The other five only had the oil that was in their lamps and it was running out fast. They begged the others to let them have some of their oil. But the ones with the extra oil said no, there would not be enough oil to go around.

Have you ever been caught in such a predicament and you were the one prepared. Those who are not prepared can really lay the guilt on thick can't they? Oh, you are selfish. That is such an un-Chrisian attitude. Why, I'd share with you.

Have you ever been on the other side in such a situation? Yea, me too. Did you beg the others to let you borrow some of their supplies? And were you hurt when they didn't help you? And did you make them feel guilty when they wouldn't?

Jesus is not talking about the Golden Rule here. He is talkiing about being prepared for his second coming. Preparation for this event is an inside job. It can't be done for you by someone else. This kind of preparation is between God and each of us individually.

The five ladies who had not brought extra oil had to go out to buy more oil. I have often wondered where they had to go to find a shop open at that time of night. But they found one and bought more oil for their lamps. They hurried back to the wedding party.

In the meantiime, while they were out getting resupplied, the bridegroom came and all went into the wedding. When the bridesmaids who had gone to by oil returned, the party was already inside and the doors were closed and locked. What would they do? What could they do? What would you do? They knocked on the door. They knocked and knocked but to no avail. They screamed "Let us in!" "Let us in!" But the lord answered, "Truly, I tell you, I do not know you."

Now don't feel too sory for the bridesmaids. Like Scarlet at the end of Gone with the Wind, "Tomorrow is another day." The bridesmaids will be embarrassed and will be laughed at by their friends. But they will get over it. And next time, they'll be prepared. And after all, it's just a parable, isn't it?

How easy it would be to shrug off the consequences for the bridesmaids who missed the wedding. But this is not a story told for entertainment like the sad movies that always make us cry. Jesus began the story with the words "The Kingdom of Heaven is like..." God's rule over our lives is like this story. When Jesus talks about the rule of God for our lives we need to pay attention.

Of great importance are the two last sentences in today's text. The first sentence is the last line of the story, spoken by the door keeper at the wedding. The second sentence is the moral of the story. This is the whole purpose for it's telling. Here in these two lines are to be found great worth.

First, the lord of the wedding, the keeper of the door. He who governs who gets in and who is kept out said "Go away, I do not know who you are." Now in the Kingdom of God, God's rule over our lives, the keeper of the door is none other than God himself. It is God who decides who will get in and who will be kept out. Can we aford for God to ever say to us "I don't know who you are?" Isn't the question we are always asking of others, "Do you know the Lord?" Do you know Him? But isn't the question turned around? A similar scene is presented by Jesus in Mt 7:21-23:

Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?" Then I will declare to them, "I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.

What matters is not whether I know Him but whether He knows me.

Second, the central lesson of the parable is that we should always be γρηγορειτε  συν. The New Revised Standard Version renders this phrase "Keep awake!" But both the wise and foolish bridesmaids fell asleep. It isn't the keeping watch or the staying awake that is important. A better translation would be "Be Prepared!" It is the being prepared for the coming of the bridegroom whenever, wherever, however he decides to come.

Whenever is anytime. He tells us that no one knows the hour or the day when the Son of Man comes. So be prepared always.

Wherever is in our hearts. John writes about a prayer Jesus prayed on the night before he was crucified. It is found in John 17:20-26

‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. ‘Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’

God and Jesus are in us and we are in Him. We should seek to find the presence of God in our hearts and cultivate our awareness of that presence. That presence can only be found through love, because God is Love.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Ascent of Mount Carmel

by St. John of the Cross*
I brought you into the land of Carmel to eat
its fruit and its good things,
Jeremiah 2:7

1.  One dark night,
fired with love's urgent longings
—ah, the sheer grace!—
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.

2.  In darkness and secure,
by the secret ladder, disguised,
—ah, the sheer grace!—
in darkness and concealment,
my house being now all stilled.

3.  On that glad night,
in secret, for no one saw me,
nor did I look at anything,
with no other light or guide
than the one that burned in my heart.

4.  This guided me
more surely than the light of noon
to where he was awaiting me
—him I knew so well—
there in a place where no one appeared.

5.  O guiding night!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.

6.  Upon my flowering breast
which I kept wholly for him alone,
there he lay sleeping,
and I caressing him
there in a breeze from the fanning cedars.

7.  When the breeze blew from the turret,
as I parted his hair,
it wounded my neck
with its gentle hand,
suspending all my senses.

8.  I abandoned and forgot myself,
laying my face on my Beloved;
all things ceased; I went out from myself,
leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.

* The Collected Works of Saint John of the Cross, revised edition, translated by: Kavanaugh, Kieran, O. C. D. and Rodriguez, Otilio, O. C. D.; ICS Publications; 1991.