Archive for November, 2011

“… who is in Heaven,” cont.

Posted in Uncategorized on November 29, 2011 by ancienthopes

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus is bringing us to what is real. Our life on earth is real enough; if it wasn’t, there would be no incarnation. The advent of Jesus affirms that the material world and time is good, real, and redeemable. We humans, however, can make this life very unreal by setting our love and passion on transient things that ultimately break away like dust in our hands when we grasp them. Moreover, when we see everything falling apart around us, we tend to be overcome with our problems; they become so big that we cannot see over them─they become ultimate, not God. Our world becomes unreal and our life in it becomes like a hazy dreamlike state, sort of a sleep-walk, where we go through our motions and no longer know what is true.

It is with this in mind that Our Lord locates God the Father “in Heaven.” He is not detached and unconcerned, dwelling far above our struggles as Browning’s poem suggest. Rather, the Father dwells in ultimate reality, in glory, where everything is as it should be. Moreover, heaven is not reserved just for God; it is, in fact, our home. To understand the Lord’s Prayer, it is critical to preface each phrase of it with “Our Father.” Sure, God and heaven may seem very remote at times, but the fact that Jesus encourages us to address God as Father makes the notion of heaven a warm, natural, and approachable place. Faith teaches us that heaven and earth were originally made to be one, and that what was split apart from the fall of humanity will one day be brought together in eternal glory. Faith is a higher form of knowledge then our mere analytic and rational mode of knowledge.

Advent is a time where we prepare ourselves for the revelation of Christ in our lives, an anticipation of glory. Let us bend our hearts and minds to our Father in heaven, who lives in ultimate reality. Let us, with the help of Christ, bring down the mountains of pride, those illusions we tend to live in, and lift up the valleys of despair, making a smooth path through the wild regions of the heart. We will then live in true reality, and not a lie, carrying heaven with us in our hearts.

… who is in heaven …

Posted in Uncategorized on November 24, 2011 by ancienthopes

… who is in Heaven …

Addressing our Father “who is in heaven” is not easy for us mortals to grasp emotionally. Take Robert Browning’s poem Pippa’s Song, for instance.

The year’s at the spring,
And day’s at morn;
Mornings and seven;
The hill-side’s dew-pearled;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in his heaven─
All’s right with the world!

The poem begins cheery enough. The first three lines speak of times and seasons, evoking pleasant thoughts. Time narrows from years to days to mornings, and from spring to morn to seven o’clock in the morning, a perfect number and a perfect time to be awake, alive and to experience spring. The poet then opens up the scenery to hillsides dew-pearled, and to larks ascending, but stoops to observe a snail on a thorn. From here he works his way to God in heaven, and to the state of the world.

The key word in the poem is “thorn.” Everything up till now is just fine and wonderful. But a cloud now disturbs our thoughts. In fact, it forces us to revisit our earlier thoughts on time and nature that the poet first took us. It dawns on us that “thorn” rhymes with “morn” in the second line, and mornings in the third line, suggesting that we read “mourn” and “mourning” instead. This is true for the snail, who, unlike the lark that is free and carefree, is stuck on a thorn and is in pain. God, who is like the lark, exists in heaven high above and detached from us earth dwellers, grieving like the snail suffering in the inexplicable beauty of the world.

Do you feel the power of the poem? If you do, then you are faced with the question of how can we emotionally and intellectually connect with this phrase, “Our Father who is in Heaven.” For the most part, western culture, since the two world wars and the advent of nuclear weapons, has abandoned the idea of a transcendent God who is in control of everything. This conjures up thoughts of God as the great Oz desperately trying to maintain His image from behind the curtains pulling levers while the whole world is going to hell.

We are not unaffected by our culture. To be honest, don’t we struggle in pain and suffering like the snail, and doesn’t this often make God seem remote? How do you think Jesus would want us to connect with a transcendent God who is in “heaven”?

The Lord’s Prayer

Posted in Uncategorized on November 22, 2011 by ancienthopes

Over the past year I have literally experienced the power of the Lord’s Prayer for the first time of my life. Believe it or not, it was, for the most part, just words to me before. (This is humbling, for I am 56 years old and teaching Bible for my whole adult life.) I have discovered, by God’s grace, the stunning revelation of each phrase. Over the next few weeks, over Advent, I would like to post a short reflection on each phrase.

Our Father… This phrase is a warm one for me, because, by God’s grace, I had a good earthly father who loved me. Also, I happen to be a father, and I have come to view this role as the most important one in my life. I love being a father, and I am amazed at how this role has shaped me. Jesus very freely invites us to view God as Father, including us as His siblings, positioning us as Jesus’ own brothers and sisters as heirs to all things. Everything that we humans can think of as good fatherly characteristics, this is what God is like.

However, many of us have a hard time warming up to the word “father” because of our own bad experiences. The truth of the word and image of the verbal symbol “father,” however, doesn’t ultimately rest on our perceptions of earthly fathers, whether they are good or bad. Even our very best thoughts that our minds can come up with concerning “father” falls totally short of the reality of God. Actually, like all images the Bible presents to us to describe God fall completely short of God, who is beyond all words and earthly symbols and images. True learning comes when we discover that God is totally unlike what we thought. So we enter into the beauty and mystery of God as Father by experiencing God’s fatherhood in such a way that what we once thought was good and true about God as father is inadequate. So we learn by meditating on a positive image, but then come to realize that, no─God is greater than what we once thought a father to be. It is like learning by unlearning. This is true enlightenment.

The phrase “Our father” therefore, is the first stepping stone into realms inexpressible and full of glory.

More Thoughts on Anger

Posted in Uncategorized on November 21, 2011 by ancienthopes

Let me revisit the earlier thoughts on anger. We all know the dark side, but what about the bright side of anger. St. Maximus the Confessor, taking his queue from long established platonic thought, understands the intellect (Greek nous), the highest faculty of man through which we attain enlightenment, to have three great powers. The first is intelligence (logikos), the ruling aspect of the intellect, which acts a lot like the search engines of our computers. It is hungry for information, and is always searching. The second is desire (epithumētikon), a natural power of longing by which we are driven to find fulfillment. The third is the incensive power of the intellect that fights to attain our desire and anything that gets in its way. In fact, this last power is a form of anger. When these three powers and unified through love in aspiring to God, we grow in our union with God. If you can, get vol. 2 of the Philokalia published by Faber and Faber, 1981, and see pp. 193 & 202.

The point here is that we cannot grow apart from anger. By nature, I get angry with anything or anyone that gets in the way of my will. This is the anger of this world. If we redirect our anger against those things within us that keep us from God and weigh us down, e.g. love of this world, idolatry, an inordinate love of my own opinions, fear, etc., we become stronger in spirit. We must see anger as a strong spiritual recourse and by God’s grace learn how to deploy it in a constructive way.

The Ontological Argument for the Existence of God

Posted in Uncategorized on November 14, 2011 by ancienthopes

Had an ah ha moment the other day praying Lauds concerning, strangely enough, that old ontological argument for the existence of God. It goes:

God is that which nothing greater can be thought. If that which is greatest lacks existence, than God would no longer be the greatest (because He would lack existence). Point: The greatest, therefore, has to exist.

On the surface, this is a rather heady and philosophical idea that doesn’t really touch our minds and hearts, living, as we do, in a culture that has no innate connection to universal ideas.

In fact, it never really moved me until a few days ago when I was reading Psalm 92:15 “To declare that the Lord is upright; He is my Rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.” Here I am, in a life-death struggle with my “old man,” trying to do as the Apostle tells me “do not let sin reign in your mortal bodies” (Rom. 6:9). I am besieged with fears and anxieties, and anger arising from attachments to transient worldly things, in short, wallowing in my imperfections, and the Psalmist directs my attention to the perfection of God. Ahhhh, peace! Where did we ever get an idea of perfection to strive for? Where did it come from? My soul longs for perfection, the perfection of God! God is that perfection, and the fact that He is perfect proves that He exists. My longing soul demands that there be a perfect mate for it. The ontological argument therefore is not only directed to the intellect, but also to the existential part of us that longs. Praise is the natural outcome of the ontological argument.

Does this make sense?

The Problem of Anger

Posted in Uncategorized on November 7, 2011 by ancienthopes

I have been thinking a whole lot about anger over the last couple of years. This most probably has got to do with an ever deepening and disturbing realization that there is more anger within me than I had ever realized before. Most of my anger comes out of fear; when I am afraid I get angry. Of course, when my will is crossed by circumstances or people, that also brings it out. The world is a very angry place, and I know that mine contributes to the whole. Jesus, have mercy!

One cannot help but think about the many instances of the anger of God in both the OT and NT. A most vivid example is Ex. 19 where God warns Moses twice to make it clear to the people not to break the boundary on the mountain “lest YHWH break out against them” (Ex. 19:12-24). To “break out” (Heb. parats) suggests that YHWH will not be able to help Himself; He doesn’t want to “lose it” but inevitable will go berserk if holy boundaries are not respected and maintained.

The question before us is this. How can we humans that suffer so much from unrighteous anger, both our own, and as recipients of the wrath of others, even begin to understand divine wrath? It seems to me that our culture, both secular and religious, can make no sense at all of it. How can we even begin to understand anger and wrath in the spiritual life when so much of what we see of it is destructive and hurtful?

The Miracle of Exegesis

Posted in Uncategorized on November 2, 2011 by ancienthopes

Greetings, friends, and welcome to the Ancient Hopes Blog. For a quick idea of what we are about, see and take a look at the mission statement. Here, just let me give it to you in a nutshell: “The mission of Ancient Hopes is to inspire deep exploration of Holy Scripture with the specific purpose of the spiritual formation of the soul.”

I think a good place to start a blog on exegesis is to visit one of the grandest, oldest, and most misunderstood of the Church’s interpreters, Origen of Alexandria. If you can get Henri Crouzel’s Origen (Harper & Row, 1989), it would not be a bad investment. Crouzel tells us that Origen’s work, and I would say any exegetical work, can only be evaluated in the context of the spiritual life. “The fire that bakes the bread of exegesis is the love of God, the inspiration that comes from the Holy Spirit and acts both on the inspired writer and on his interpreter. (p. 55)” Also, “The charism of the interpreter is the same as that of the inspired author. To understand Isaiah or Daniel one must have in oneself the same Holy Spirit. (p. 73). This conviction of Origen does not claim that the commentator’s work is inspired on the same level as Scripture, but does impress upon us that exegesis, if it is done the way God intends it to be done, must possess something of the same quality of Scriptural inspiration, and the product miraculous, burning with spiritual fire.

Well, how are you doing with this? I hope that I can connect in this blog with many of my former students who are in the ministry. Is the above true for you? Jesus tells Peter, “feed my sheep!” What is on the menu? What are you serving up week by week? In this blog, let’s help each other do what we are called to do supernaturally. Of course, everyone is invited, not just pastors and teachers. Any Scripture that we can do a “blog exegesis” on is welcome.