Friday, August 29, 2014

The Heart of Wisdom by Stratford Caldecott

There is a book that caught my attention and may well hold it to the end of my life. Written by an English hermit—Priest-Monk Silouan, a convert to Orthodoxy now living in a retreat on the Shropshire hills—Wisdom Songs is a collection of “Centuries”, chapters of a hundred meditations each, on a series of spiritual themes. The erudition and wisdom of the author makes these meditations impossible to ignore, and throws the reader deep into a state of yearning for spiritual wisdom.

The book is too complex and multi-faceted to summarize easily. The themes—the Name of God, Wisdom, Beauty, and spiritual Eros via a commentary on the Song of Songs—are the most profound to be discovered in the Christian tradition. Fr Silouan is concerned to show that Christianity, and especially the heychast tradition of the Eastern Church where contemplation has been kept alive for two millennia, offers a wisdom that many modern seekers of truth assume is only available through non-Christian traditions.

The style in which the book is written deserves comment. It is neither prose nor poetry, but a kind of mixture of the two. “Be this seeing, sheer grace of being in this seeing in the ground of being” (p. 17).

The richness of the imagery can sometimes be overwhelming.

“He is the axis in the midst of subtle whirling wheels within. His are the sparkling rainbow rings that surround us within. His is the single eye at centre in the inmost heart of all hearts. It is his wisdom that surrounds us like a boundless expanse, for his glory is our firmament. Clear like crystal, translucent and bright, his glory shines through us as light from his throne in the midst. Wheels whirl like winds, all light and winged, resounding through all subtle centres and circles of our being” (p. 200).

None of this is self-indulgent. Each poetic phrase, each startling, colourful metaphor, has a metaphysical edge or purpose, as well as a biblical reference point. What I want to focus on here is the most central theme of all, the Name of God revealed to Moses in the Burning Bush—the God who reveals himself through a Covenant that is also a marriage. This is the key to our own discovery of God within and among us: I, Thou, and We. The Name is the theme that links all the parts of this book together into a single tapestry.

Fr Silouan’s insight into the Name is important because it overturns the entire edifice of modern philosophy from Ockham to Descartes to Kant and everything that follows.

Answering Descartes

Descartes sought for an indisputable first principle on which to base his philosophy, and concluded that “the proposition, I am, I exist, is necessarily true whenever it is put forward by me or conceived in my mind.” I think therefore I am. For Descartes, then, the very fact that I am thinking – or that I can doubt that I am thinking – is proof of my existence, and for Augustine, too, fallor, sum (“If I am mistaken, I am”) (City of God, XI, 26). But where does the “I” come from, and to what does it refer? Thinking is certainly taking place, but all that is proven here is that thinking exists.

The foundation of thought is not “I am”—that is too specific, too hasty—but “something is” or “being is”. Being is that in which there can as yet be no distinction between what it is and the fact that it is—essence and existence. It is that whose nature is to exist. Everything else exists against the background of that necessity, a Presence or Principle which contains every possibility. And all human knowledge is rooted in the intuitive apprehension of being through a participation in the uncreated light of God’s own intellect. It is in this light that we contemplate the melody of nature, the thoughts of God expressed in creation, and the Logos holding it all together.

What of the “I”? This is where Fr Silouan comes in. My “I” comes from that same infinite Being and is a reflection of it. Being must therefore be an “I”. We know this, because every effect is an expression of its cause. Being is the “I” that lies deep within my own “I”. It is the presence of the all-holy, the spark of divine light at the core of our being—“at centre” or “in the midst” as Fr Silouan would say. In the Book of Exodus, Moses is told that God’s proper name is “I AM”. “This is what you must say to the sons of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14). The sacred name of God then echoes throughout the Old Testament (YHVH) and the New (“ego eimi”). In John 8:58, Jesus tells the Jews, “Before Abraham was, I am.” (Fr Silouan points out that in the Gospel of John there are seven times that Jesus names himself “I am” with a predicate, and seven without.)

When God names himself “I AM” (Exodus 3:13-15), he is in a sense only confirming the identity of transcendental Being with transcendental Selfhood. This is the deepest answer to Descartes, for the gap between the “I” and the action that manifests its existence (thinking) is overcome. The first act of being is also the beginning of “I”. The Name is sacred and unpronounceable because it is a name that only God himself can utter, since he is the Self in question. Anyone who is not the “I” to which the Name refers is usurping the Name.

God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God and God abides in him (1 John 4:16). To love is to give, to share, to participate, to coinhere. The Name of God, “He who is,” is the same as “I AM,” because to BE is to be nothing other than MYSELF, and the act of being is the act of affirming my own existence, which in the end only God can do. I cannot affirm my own existence, because I am dependent on others. God can, for he is not dependent on anyone.

And so the Name is not merely a label attached to one person by another (as for the nominalists), but an expression of who God is. It is the self-expression of God, the beginning of the revelation that becomes complete in Jesus Christ, when the self of God is united with the soul and body of a human being, expressing itself not just in human language, but as a human being.

The Name in the Midst

Everything that exists does so by virtue of the Name (I AM) in which it participates, the act of Being in which it shares. “Everything above and below is saying I AM, glory loved and known. Everything is a divine name saying ‘I AM,’ and divine names are modes of love unfolding from God to give God glory, enfolding all in all. The beauty is the harmony, unfolding and enfolded” (p. 281).

The word “I” also implies community. An “I” only exists as such in relation to the not-I. My own sense of identity is awoken when I feel called by another, another deep within myself. I am called to holiness, to perfection. But when an “I” is born, so is a “Thou” and a “We”—a communion of persons. And so “the divine name ‘I am’ is equivalent to an ‘I give myself wholly to a Thou,’ and ‘I am one with a Thou,’ and therefore also with a ‘We are’ ” (Edith Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, p. 350). The “I AM” of God, speaking to Moses, implies such a community, which is later revealed as a Trinity by the incarnation of the Word.

The Name is therefore our eternal home, waiting for us; it is the city of light, the womb we seek, the peace we lost long ago. If we start with being, instead of the “I” proposed by Descartes, we will be able to resume the conversation he interrupted. It is the apprehension of being (as John Paul II indicated in Fides et Ratio) that is the foundation of philosophy and of all human thought. A less technical name for it is “wonder”. All philosophy begins in the awakening of the question as to why anything at all exists. To wonder in awe before the world that reveals itself to us is to open the door both to philosophy and to religion.

This Wisdom is the key to an enlightenment that transcends the “neo-pagan humanist renaissance,” the “new age,” and any reduction of Logos to Ratio (Silouan, p. 240). It is the key to understanding insights that remain perennially valid within the Asian traditions, where Atman is identified with Brahman. It is not that the human self is the divine Self, but rather that the divine Self (I AM) is the only perfect being, and is reflected in all else that is. We are not God, but God is the centre of all, so when we turn to our own centre we find, not ourselves, but God. The centre of not-God is God. I exist because a centre exists in everything. Nothing exists without a centre.

Being is also Light, because “Light” is a physical symbol of the giving of self so as to share it with others, to reveal it, to manifest its essence. There is no separation in God between “I” and “AM,” for both are one single shaft of light in the midst, in the centre of all. “No I without AM. No AM without I. The Name re-unified overcomes all dualistic divisions. The Name in its great perfection is complete. The Name is the Great Peace” (p. 27).

“The quintessence of the manifest Name is the unmanifest divine NO-THING, which Jewish mysticism calls AIN SOF. As origin of the generated Name, at once pure awareness, ANI, and pure presence, SHEKINAH, the divine NO-THING is the eternal Father. Unimaginably and inexpressibly, the paternal NO-THING generates the filial no-thing, the ‘I AM’, EGO EIMI. Primordial uncreated awareness says ‘I’. Spontaneous eternal presence says ‘AM’. Before the Big Bang, ‘I AM’. After the big rip, ‘I AM’. Standing under all, ‘I AM’.

To be is to be “I.” It is to be who-one-is – and who is God but to-be, the perfect act of being, which is the act of giving, light from light, true God from true God. All of this is implicit in the revelation to Moses, and the symbolic revelation of the Burning Bush, which gives light but is not consumed.

“We are graced with freedom in these flames. Radiant communion, unconsumed, consumes dark confusion. The flame of the Name reveals God in a burning bush” (p. 293).

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Understanding Desert Monasticism by Trevor Miller

In the early centuries of the Church’s history, spreading as it did along the trade routes of the Middle East and the Mediterranean and Aegean coastlands, places of worship were the homes of believers or the open air, wherever they could meet unseen because there was much persecution of the followers of Christ.
Constantine1This all changed early in the 4th Century, when the Roman Emperor Constantine embraced Christianity, elevating it to the state religion through the Edict of Milan in 313 AD and by doing so ushered in a major cultural shift. After 3 centuries of ‘being homeless in the world’ Christians began to find themselves in favour, rather than persecuted. The result was confusion and bewilderment in those who had accepted themselves as aliens and strangers in this world. Many accepted Constantine’s edict of toleration but it resulted in the cutting edge of the Church’s life being blunted as for the first time nominalism took root (believers in name only) further resulting in mediocrity, accommodation and compromise as social standing became the reason for faith and not love of Jesus Christ.
It was at this point, when Christians began to find themselves at home in the world, where those who had previously persecuted the Christians were putting out the welcome mat and sitting in the ‘same pew’, that the response to the ‘call of the desert’ began to gain momentum, beginning at first with a few, and then a multitude.
Thomas Merton wrote “It should seem to us much stranger than it does, that this paradoxical flight from the world attained its greatest dimensions (I almost said frenzy) when the ‘world’ officially became Christian.”
Was this Christian withdrawal into the desert purely a negative move? Was it a retreat from all the complications and compromise in those attempting to Christianize society? Was it a judgmental act, motivated to shame those Christians who had decided to stay and work out their salvation in the city? Which group of Christians made the right response to this new and ‘favourable’ situation, those who stayed in the ‘city’ or those who withdrew to the desert? In the mystery of God the answer has to be – BOTH.
One of my favourite stories, which I think will illustrate this point, comes from Elizabeth Goudges’ book on the life of St Francis of Assisi. There is a moment when St Francis meets with Cardinal John, and the two embrace. You can imagine the scene, Francis in his robes of poverty and the cardinal dressed elegantly. Yet as they embrace they realise they share the same heart and devotion for the Lord. Yet, one is called to the temptations of poverty, and the other to the temptations of riches or, to put it another way, one is called to the temptations of the desert, and the other to the temptations of the city.
The moral of the story is that we each have to follow our vocation; to be who we are. Our Hild liturgy puts it well as we each pray, ‘Lord, show me the right seat; Find me the fitting task; Give me the willing heart.’
The Desert Fathers and Mothers retreated to the outskirts of the cities and into the Deserts of Egypt, Syria and Palestine to think through the meaning of such change and to find a different way of being a Christian in the world.
St_Anthony3Paradoxically so many people came to them for spiritual guidance, help and instruction so that within 50 years eyewitness accounts reported that the population of the desert equalled that of the towns. Some of the pilgrims stayed and this became the beginnings of Community. However, the Desert Fathers again sought solitude and withdrew from the new Community expression but the cycle repeated itself, resulting in many Communities springing up all over. Much of what was taught was in the form of pithy sayings and observations of wisdom. Here is a good example:
A brother came to visit Abba Sylvanus at Mount Sinai. When he saw the brothers working hard, he said to the old man, “Do not work for food that perishes, for Mary has chosen the good part.” Then the old man called his disciple, “Zachary, give this brother a book and put him in an empty cell.” Now when it was three o’clock the brother kept looking out of the door to see if someone would call him for the meal. But nobody called him, so he got up, went to see the old man, and asked: “Abba, didn’t the brothers eat today?” The old man said, “Of course we did.” “Then why didn’t you call me?” he said. The old man replied, “You are a spiritual person, and do not need that kind of food, but since we are earthly, we want to eat and that’s why we work. Indeed you have chosen the good part, reading all day long, and not wanting to eat earthly food.” When the brother heard this he repented and said, “Forgive me, Abba.” Then the old man said to him: “Mary certainly needed Martha, and it is really by Martha’s help that Mary is praised’.
Antony of Egypt is generally regarded as the original desert father. He exemplified the Anchorites, those who were largely hermits, living in isolation. His life became the first written account of the monastic expression becoming widely read and revered.
Community life in a monastic sense first appeared with Pachomius in the 4th Century. These were Cenobites, paradoxically described by Pachomius as ‘a community of hermits’, each living alone in their own cells yet together in work and worship.
St_Anthony2The term Monasticism helps us to answer the question, what is a monk? The root word Monachos means ‘alone, solitary’. In the beginning it stood for the ascetic who was not married and lived alone. Cenobites did not use this word in the beginning preferring ‘brother’. However it quickly acquired a deeper meaning: a person who is ‘one’ in his inmost being. It means a person united within himself, a person with a single gaze, a single desire. Monos = monk, one, single minded; and this ‘one thing necessary’ was seeking God in repentance because it was a continual confrontation with the Cross, with self, with sin, with the wrong of the world.
The link between Celtic spirituality and desert spirituality is monasticism and Celtic spirituality embraced the meaning of the desert symbolically and metaphorically. Jesus used the term ‘desert’ in this way – a good example is Mark 6:31 where Jesus using the word for desert says ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’ Not a reference to desert dryness, uninhabited waste but a picture of solitude, stillness, the heart alone with God. Same word used in Luke 4:42 ‘At daybreak Jesus went to a solitary place.’ Also Luke 6:12, 9:18, 11:1 – a place of privacy, aloneness, often whole nights in close company with his Father, expressive of his single minded devotion to the Father’s will. Latin = solitudo. Russian = Poustinia, Greek = Eremos – stillness, desert, lonely place. A further understanding was seen in the example of the Temptations of Jesus. The desert for Jesus was a period of testing and discovery and just as He was ‘led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted of the devil’ so it would be for those who sought to follow Him. There is a strong tradition that Jesus (like his cousin John the Baptist before him) spent many of the so called hidden years in the desert regions. Jesus spent 18 years hidden; and only 3 years in public ministry.
Desert_isolationSo putting these together the desert was not just a place, a physical location but a type of Christian experience. It was a journey – an inner journey of the heart. The Bible begins in a Garden and ends in a City but much of the terrain in between is a desert. This was the ethos of what became monasticism – the inner journey of abandonment, stripping away, a place of encounter and discovery, of identity and vocation, of testing and preparation of heart for the life God has for us.
As a Community we are following on in our own generation this tradition. Our core vision is to respond to the call of God to seek Him in and through the embracing, exploring and expressing of a new monastic spirituality as a different way of living in and relating to, today’s world.
This is our heart, our reason to be, the constant theme of Psalm 27. ‘One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. To behold the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.’ It is the daily renewal of our vows encapsulated in our morning office ‘Who is it that you seek?’
It is the continual commitment to ‘the one thing necessary.’ Single minded focus on the mystery of God in Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, not only in the narrow ‘evangelical’ interpretation of doctrinal exclusiveness but in the deeper awareness that all things come together in and through Christ. Then to offer the fruit of our life in incarnational ordinariness with all who come our way, cross our path in the everydayness of our roles, responsibilities and relationships, asking with them ‘How then shall we live? How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’

As a Community we have been and are united in this quest for ‘a new monasticism’ a Northumbrian spirituality. Not as an escapist, nostalgic quest for a golden era that didn’t exist or to replicate the past but informed by the Celtic monastic tradition which is our heritage, we are ‘looking with them to Him who inspires us both’ in order to find a way to engage with the paradox and complexities of real life as it is, by drawing from the well of faith and love for the Lord expressed in that period of our history, and applying it to our contemporary situation.
Bonhoeffer17Two of the more significant milestones in the journey of seeking to understand ourselves was a] the discovery of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and in particular his belief that ‘The renewal of the church will come from a new type of monasticism which only has in common with the old an uncompromising allegiance to the Sermon on the Mount. It is high time men and women banded together to do this’
And b] strongly identifying with those believers described by William Stringfellow in his book ‘An ethic for Christians and other aliens in a strange land’ as the hidden future of the Church ‘Dynamic and erratic, spontaneous and radical, audacious and immature, committed if not altogether coherent. Ecumenically open and often experimental, visible here and there, now and then but unsettled institutionally. Almost monastic in nature but most of all enacting a fearful hope for society.’
All this resonated with us as we firmly believed (and still believe) that we are experiencing as a Community, (along with many,seeking3 many others) a ‘holy restlessness’ and a ‘divine concern’ regarding the nature of faith, which for us has only begun to make sense of the nonsense within us and around us through an embracing of monastic values and disciplines. Why is this? Because these distinct values enable us to ‘marry’ the inner journey, the landscape of the heart – a call to repentance, a call to self denial, and a call to recognise and to resist evil – with the outer journey, the landscape of the land, which has given us a platform to ‘find a different way’ of being a Christian in the society that we live in.
The whole purpose of the Nether Springs was to have a place, a residential centre, rooted in the spirituality of Northumbria, where we could explore and research this call of God, where we could be ourselves, no pretence or having to behave, while seeking God for Himself and getting to know our own hearts and at the same time, provide a facility for others to join us in their individual search for God.

In order for us to understand about ‘a new monasticism’ we needed to understand a little about ‘old’ monasticism because it was from that tradition that we drew so much. In this we were influenced by the way of life expressed in the monasticClonfertCommunity’s at Roslin in Scotland and at Clonfert in Ireland, where Roland Walls and Michael Cullen respectively gave significant example.
We discovered that monasticism is ‘a way of life with a spiritual goal which transcends the objectives of this earthly life. The attainment of this goal is considered the ‘one thing necessary.’ Christian monasticism i.e. that which is centred in and consecrated to Christ being informed, inspired and illumined by His Love) has three essential elements namely, Separation from the world, Ascetical practices, Mystical Aspiration.
A] Separation from the world – the physical separation of the enclosure; a tonsure, a distinctive habit etc. all of which marked the separateness.
B] Ascetical Practices – Poverty, chastity, obedience, regularity of life in a Community under a Rule, stability, self denial, silence, solitude, cultivation of lectio divina, public prayer of the Church e.g. the story in Exodus 17 where the continuous prayer of the liturgical offices is likened to the holding up the hands of Moses, and engaging in spiritual warfare.
C] Mystical Aspiration – Searching for God in his Absolute Mystery and Beyondness. God is both concealed and revealed. Contemplation of Christ the Living Word and of Christ in the written Word, allowing self to be caught up in the movement of repentance, of returning to God. Giving oneself to His action in us thro Availability and Vulnerability, surrender, abandonment, and prayer.
A new monasticism which is ‘An interior monasticism of the heart’ seeks to draw from these truths and attempts to live a contemporary expression of ‘contemplation in a world of action.’ So the differences are in emphases
A] Separation – not separatism, isolationist but withdrawal as strategic retreat. An awareness of the importance of the inner journey, poustinia, cloister of the heart, solitude, hiddenness, alone yet together.
B] Ascetical practises – a way for living that incorporates the spiritual disciplines to encourage this interior vigilence. Ascesis = training, living. It is training for life needing a Rule of life, a rhythm of prayer, a reason to be. Seeking God, knowing self so as to better live with others. So we have both solitude and Community, both Alone and Together as spiritual disciplines. This is seeking “truth in the inward parts” Ps 51, a life of repentance, humility and teachableness with a willingness to embrace the spiritual disciplines that bring life.
C] Mystical aspiration – awareness of God as Mystery, seeking God, longing, monasticism of the heart, compunction, a contemplative approach to life and prayer where an awareness of the cell, Desert, dark night, inner life, logismoi, monsters is needed. This is where God is concealed from us yet revealed to us in the paradoxical ‘ever-present absence of God’..
All the spiritual disciplines and monastic values are there not as ends in themselves but as aids, tools, signposts to the heart of it all which is Christ. Thus we have many of our daily meditations (e.g. Day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 17, 21 etc ) pointing to the inner journey as paramount and foundational.
This is our ethos, our heart, that which gives us identity. It is something we can only do alone but we are Together in our Aloneness. We have many Companions sharing our journey. It is the ‘single minded search for God’ given coherence by desert and Celtic spirituality which was essentially monastic and any expression of Monasticism stands in the wisdom tradition which is not an accumulation of knowledge for its own sake, but a constant application to life actually lived ‘A wise person does not gather and dispense insights, but rather has the heart to live those insights’
1] MONASTIC DISCERNMENT – Relationship with God, self and othersold_and_new
2] MONASTIC DISCIPLINE – Rule of life – Availability and Vulnerability
3] MONASTIC DAY – Rhythm of prayer and life, giving a pattern to my days
This was the purpose of going to the Cell. Your cell may have a physical representation; a hut or poustinia, a chair in a corner of a room etc. But whatever it is, it is symbolic of the heart alone with God. This is the heart of the inner journey. It is encounter and discernment of that which is constructive and destructive, enabling us to choose life and not death.
That process of looking inward in order to discover the true self as opposed to the false self, the deeper meaning of all your actions and reactions, and this ‘going to the cell’ would eventually teach you everything and so bring you closer to the true humanity of Christlikeness.
One of the first effects of ‘going to the cell’ is the release of the energies of the unconscious, which gives rise to two different psychological states:-
a] Exposure to the love of God: expressed and experienced in our personal development in the form of spiritual consolation; experiencing his mercy, grace and forgiveness in Christ through his Cross.
b] Exposure to the sinfulness of humanity: experiencing our own human weakness through humiliating self knowledge and encounter with the false self, the dark side of our personality. ‘It takes a moment to get you out of Egypt but a lifetime to get Egypt out of you.’
This dual awareness is what the Fathers called ‘compunction’ and it’s captured in the hymn ‘Beneath the Cross of Jesus two wonders I confess: the wonder of his glorious love and my own worthlessness.
This is why a Rule of life is absolutely essential to any monastic expression. It says this is who we are, this is our story and all Rule11who are part of us must keep to and live in the story that God has written as foundational. Monastic stability is to be accountable to a Rule of life NOT to a set of rules that restrict or deny life. It is, to use the words of Benedict ‘simply a handbook to make the very radical demands of the gospel a practical reality in daily life’.
A Rule is like a pair of eye glasses (spectacles) – we don’t look AT them but THROUGH them to life. How foolish to constantly look at them, the gold frames the bi-focul lenses and never look through them so as to actually see.
The word comes from the Old English REULE. In Latin it is REGULA which means ‘rhythm, regularity of pattern, a recognisable standard’ for the conduct of life. Esther De Waal writes that the Latin REGULA ‘is a feminine noun which carried gentle connotations’. Not harsh negatives that we often associate with the phrase ‘rules and regulations’ today.
Esther De Waal tells us that the word has a root meaning of ‘a signpost’ which has a purpose of pointing away from itself so as to inform the traveller that they are going in the right direction on their journey. It would be foolish to claim we have arrived at our destination if in fact we are only at a signpost, however near or far from the destination it is.
Another root meaning of REGULA is ‘a banister railing’ which is something that gives support as you move forward, climbing or descending on your journey.
A Rule of life gives creative boundaries and spiritual disciplines while still leaving plenty of room for growth, development and flexibility. It gives us something to hold on to as we journey in our search for God, and when we be blown off course, it gives a safe haven to come back to. It gives us a means of perception, a way of seeing so that we can attempt to handle our lives and relationships wisely. This is why we can all be helped by embracing a
A workable rhythm to your day that draws from Monastic values that actually works for you according to your own unique situation and circumstances. It has to bring life and freedom not straightjacket you.
Our Rule of life is deliberately flexible and adaptable. It is also timeless because it does not PRESCRIBE, it PROVOKES. It is descriptive rather than prescriptive! It’s the very opposite – its seek God for yourself, who you are, where you are – with your unique experience, knowledge and understanding of life. With all your idiosyncrasies, prejudices and crap – bring it all to the Rule of Availability and Vulneraility. We must hold it loosely so as to make our own discoveries. To realise there won’t always be an answer so we keep asking/living the questions.
How then shall we live? Who is God? Who am I? What is Real?
It is to realise that God gives different answers to different people in different situations and circumstances, which is why we can’t prescribe, can’t meet individual agenda’s and expectations.
In many ways it would be so much easier to say this is the prescription – do this, don’t do that – take 3 Hail Mary’s, 2 Our Father’s 4 times a day. It has to be broad strokes, general principles to which you apply your specifics – your own unique set of circumstances and relationships.
Henri Nouwen expresses it well when he speaks of the spiritual life being a constant reaching out in the midst of paradox and chaos to these three areas of connectedness. This Reaching Out constitute the three Movements of the Spiritual Life.
1] Connecting in relation to self – From loneliness to solitude. With courageous honesty to our inmost selves, facing inner restlessness, our passions, weaknesses.
2] Connecting in relation to others – From hostility to hospitality. With relentless care to others, despite our mixed feelings and hostility.
3] Connecting in relation to God – From illusion to prayer. With increasing prayer to God, facing our doubts, disappointments and darkness. Living in incarnational reality.
It is the call to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, strength – to love our neighbour as ourselves – to love one another as Christ has loved us.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Archbishop Fulton Sheen

Sent to me by a friend:

“The struggle is not between political matters 
but for the human soul. The world is too far gone 
for a tinker to fix it, and all the political 
and economic solutions are basically forms of tinkering. 
Nothing short of a passion for truth, fiery enough 
to make our enemies call us dreamers and fools and fanatics, 
will save the world. We are sinking for the same reason 
Peter sank: We have taken our eyes off the Master.”

Saturday, August 23, 2014

From a letter written by a hermit.

There are many people who do great things for God and are very successful at what they do. We hear about their stories on the news and read about them. They advance the kingdom of God on earth. What is our vocation as hermits compared to them? What do we have to show for all our efforts and sufferings? Ours is the most foolish of all vocations. We specialize in failure, that is our mark in the world. But we may have the most important job of all. There are always those who will be willing to move mountains for God but very few who are willing to explore the depths of their own poverty. This poverty is shared by all humanity.

We enter this life full of hope of finding the One Great Love. As time passes all we find is our own poverty and through God's mercy we will be ever plunged deeper into this poverty. It is enough for us just to stay alive. Our lives are made up of the most mundane preoccupations and even in these we need God's mercy and constant help to carry them out.

In time all pretenses of prayer slips away and we are left alone with our thoughts which snap at the heels of our consciousness like little dogs. At one point we find that we are just empty tin-cans. This is the starting point. In this state we find that God loves this little empty space that we used to call "me" with an infinite love.

It is as if, in creating us, God took a part of emptiness and gave it the parameters which we call a human being. God looks on this little nothing and loves it dearly. At the center we are empty, nothing and this is the unknowable image of God planted in us. It is only through utter poverty/humility that we come to this blessed place of rest. Here nothing can disturb us for nothing can enter. We rest in this emptiness with the God of love, the God who is our Love.

Even in this state we do not see what is going on. The only thing we have is an unshakeable conviction that God is Love. This Love that purifies. We become a living temple of Love and we do not know it, we cannot know it; it is not for us to know. I cannot speak of what happens next or how God uses us for I do not know.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Joseph Pearce on Schumacher

For Schumacher there were three main culprits who should bear the blame for modern man’s refusal to accept or recognize individual responsibility. These were Freud, Marx and Einstein. Dubbing them the ‘devilish trio’, he considered that they had all been corrosive agents in a world which had lost its way. Freud, through his teaching that perception was subject to the complex interplay of the ego and the id, both of which in turn were subject to sexually based imperatives, had subjectivized perception, literally rendering it self-centred. This led inevitably to a change of attitude in human relations where self-fulfillment took precedence over the needs of others, Marx, by seeking a scapegoat in the bourgeoisie, had replaced personal responsibility with a hatred for others. If something was wrong with society someone else was to blame. Einstein had undermined belief in absolutes with his insistence on the relativity of everything. The application of ‘relativity’ in the field of morals led logically to a rejection of all morality except that which was personally convenient.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Carthusian Spirituality

FROM: Bruno, the Saint of the Charterhouse
God Answers in the Desert
By Giorgio Papasogli
English Edition, Parkminster 1984

Very soon a particular characteristic of the life of silence is noticed: "One does not approach this silence progressively. No. What is needed is, as it were, to plunge into a void, a kind of vacuum: a letting go from a mooring, in an abandonment of the known. To plunge into silence is like being overcome by the sea, and it resembles a continual self-renewing annihilation. Silence is vast, and the more the soul penetrates it, the more it extends itself, so that one who loves silence totally abandoned to it never reaches its bottom. Placed beyond thought, imagination dreams, calculation, silence asks nothing whatever about its state. Neither does it enquire about its progress, nor regards the meaning of its life, and concerns itself only with the doubts which may assail it. Every search for a formula would risk breaking the silence in which it dwells. Its activity consists in allowing itself to kneaded, formed; to be beaten. To be formed by silence is to come to terms with the art of living and of dying. For a Carthusian the art of arts is not loving and knowing. On the contrary, it is to know how to remain silent. "Then silence generates in him knowledge and love; the simplicity and the virginity of heart."

And here is the community value of silence: Our silence is not a void, a death. On the contrary, it should approach and bring one to a full life ... it calls to man a sanctuary; our houses and our souls are occupied by the One: "The Master is here and calls you". He is the Master and He has the right to all .... He takes our hours, one after another, and fills them. But He permits us, no He commands us to see in Him those who are "in His bosom."

"The way of silence passes by the cross."

"The cross is the sign of the divine sacrifice, and of the reconciliation between heaven and earth. It is also the symbol of the union which charity should draw out among us, as demanded on the eve of His Passion. He desired to suffer so that we might be consummated in unity. So that we might be brought together."

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Change starts with me and you.



Concert Hall, Freiburg im Breisgau
Sunday, 25 September 2011

Mr President of the Federal Republic,
Mr Minister President,
Mr Mayor,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Brother Bishops and Priests,

I am glad to be here today to meet all of you who work in so many ways for the Church and for society. This gives me a welcome opportunity personally to thank you most sincerely for your commitment and your witness as “powerful heralds of the faith in things to be hoped for” (Lumen Gentium, 35 – validi praecones fidei sperandarum rerum); this is how the Second Vatican Council describes people like you who do dedicated work for the present and the future from a faith perspective. In your fields of activity you readily stand up for your faith and for the Church, something that, as we know, is not at all easy at the present time.

For some decades now we have been experiencing a decline in religious practice and we have been seeing substantial numbers of the baptized drifting away from church life. This prompts the question: should the Church not change? Must she not adapt her offices and structures to the present day, in order to reach the searching and doubting people of today?

Blessed Mother Teresa was once asked what in her opinion was the first thing that would have to change in the Church. Her answer was: you and I.

Two things are clear from this brief story. On the one hand Mother Teresa wants to tell her interviewer: the Church is not just other people, not just the hierarchy, the Pope and the bishops: we are all the Church, we the baptized. And on the other hand her starting-point is this: yes, there are grounds for change. There is a need for change. Every Christian and the whole community of the faithful are called to constant change.

What should this change look like in practice? Are we talking about the kind of renewal that a householder might carry out when reordering or repainting his home? Or are we talking about a corrective, designed to bring us back on course and help us to make our way more swiftly and more directly? Certainly these and other elements play a part and we cannot go into all these matters here. But the fundamental motive for change is the apostolic mission of the disciples and the Church herself.

The Church, in other words, must constantly rededicate herself to her mission. The three Synoptic Gospels highlight various aspects of the missionary task. The mission is built first of all upon personal experience: “You are witnesses” (Lk 24:48); it finds expression in relationships: “Make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19); and it spreads a universal message: “Preach the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15). Through the demands and constraints of the world, however, this witness is constantly obscured, the relationships are alienated and the message is relativized. If the Church, in Pope Paul VI’s words, is now struggling “to model itself on Christ's ideal”, this “can only result in its acting and thinking quite differently from the world around it, which it is nevertheless striving to influence” (Ecclesiam Suam, 58). In order to accomplish her mission, she will need again and again to set herself apart from her surroundings, to become in a certain sense “unworldly”.

The Church’s mission has its origins in the mystery of the triune God, in the mystery of his creative love. And love is not just somehow within God, it is God, he himself is love by nature. And divine love does not want to exist only for itself, by nature it wants to pour itself out. It has come down to humanity, to us, in a particular way through the incarnation and self-offering of God’s Son: by virtue of the fact that Christ, the Son of God, as it were stepped outside the framework of his divinity, took flesh and became man, not merely to confirm the world in its worldliness and to be its companion, leaving it to carry on just as it is, but in order to change it. The Christ event includes the inconceivable fact of what the Church Fathers call a sacrum commercium, an exchange between God and man. The Fathers explain it in this way: we have nothing to give God, we have only our sin to place before him. And this he receives and makes his own, while in return he gives us himself and his glory: a truly unequal exchange, which is brought to completion in the life and passion of Christ. He becomes, as it were, a “sinner”, he takes sin upon himself, takes what is ours and gives us what is his. But as the Church continued to reflect upon and live the faith, it became clear that we not only give him our sin, but that he has empowered us, from deep within he gives us the power, to offer him something positive as well: our love – to offer him humanity in the positive sense. Clearly, it is only through God’s generosity that man, the beggar, who receives a wealth of divine gifts, is yet able to offer something to God as well; that God makes it possible for us to accept his gift, by making us capable of becoming givers ourselves in his regard.

The Church owes her whole being to this unequal exchange. She has nothing of her own to offer to him who founded her, such that she might say: here is something wonderful that we did! Her raison d’ĂȘtre consists in being a tool of redemption, in letting herself be saturated by God’s word and in bringing the world into loving unity with God. The Church is immersed in the Redeemer’s outreach to men. When she is truly herself, she is always on the move, she constantly has to place herself at the service of the mission that she has received from the Lord. And therefore she must always open up afresh to the cares of the world, to which she herself belongs, and give herself over to them, in order to make present and continue the holy exchange that began with the Incarnation.

In the concrete history of the Church, however, a contrary tendency is also manifested, namely that the Church becomes self-satisfied, settles down in this world, becomes self-sufficient and adapts herself to the standards of the world. Not infrequently, she gives greater weight to organization and institutionalization than to her vocation to openness towards God, her vocation to opening up the world towards the other.

In order to accomplish her true task adequately, the Church must constantly renew the effort to detach herself from her tendency towards worldliness and once again to become open towards God. In this she follows the words of Jesus: “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (Jn 17:16), and in precisely this way he gives himself to the world. One could almost say that history comes to the aid of the Church here through the various periods of secularization, which have contributed significantly to her purification and inner reform.

Secularizing trends – whether by expropriation of Church goods, or elimination of privileges or the like – have always meant a profound liberation of the Church from forms of worldliness, for in the process she as it were sets aside her worldly wealth and once again completely embraces her worldly poverty. In this she shares the destiny of the tribe of Levi, which according to the Old Testament account was the only tribe in Israel with no ancestral land of its own, taking as its portion only God himself, his word and his signs. At those moments in history, the Church shared with that tribe the demands of a poverty that was open to the world, in order to be released from her material ties: and in this way her missionary activity regained credibility.

History has shown that, when the Church becomes less worldly, her missionary witness shines more brightly. Once liberated from material and political burdens and privileges, the Church can reach out more effectively and in a truly Christian way to the whole world, she can be truly open to the world. She can live more freely her vocation to the ministry of divine worship and service of neighbour. The missionary task, which is linked to Christian worship and should determine its structure, becomes more clearly visible. The Church opens herself to the world not in order to win men for an institution with its own claims to power, but in order to lead them to themselves by leading them to him of whom each person can say with Saint Augustine: he is closer to me than I am to myself (cf. Confessions, III,6,11). He who is infinitely above me is yet so deeply within me that he is my true interiority. This form of openness to the world on the Church’s part also serves to indicate how the individual Christian can be open to the world in effective and appropriate ways.

It is not a question here of finding a new strategy to relaunch the Church. Rather, it is a question of setting aside mere strategy and seeking total transparency, not bracketing or ignoring anything from the truth of our present situation, but living the faith fully here and now in the utterly sober light of day, appropriating it completely, and stripping away from it anything that only seems to belong to faith, but in truth is mere convention or habit.

To put it another way: for people of every era, and not just our own, the Christian faith is a scandal. That the eternal God should know us and care about us, that the intangible should at a particular moment have become tangible, that he who is immortal should have suffered and died on the Cross, that we who are mortal should be given the promise of resurrection and eternal life – for people of any era, to believe all this is a bold claim.

This scandal, which cannot be eliminated unless one were to eliminate Christianity itself, has unfortunately been overshadowed in recent times by other painful scandals on the part of the preachers of the faith. A dangerous situation arises when these scandals take the place of the primary skandalon of the Cross and in so doing they put it beyond reach, concealing the true demands of the Christian Gospel behind the unworthiness of those who proclaim it.

All the more, then, it is time once again to discover the right form of detachment from the world, to move resolutely away from the Church’s worldliness. This does not, of course, mean withdrawing from the world: quite the contrary. A Church relieved of the burden of worldliness is in a position, not least through her charitable activities, to mediate the life-giving strength of the Christian faith to those in need, to sufferers and to their carers. “For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being” (Deus Caritas Est, 25). At the same time, though, the Church’s charitable activity also needs to be constantly exposed to the demands of due detachment from worldliness, if it is not to wither away at the roots in the face of increasing erosion of its ecclesial character. Only a profound relationship with God makes it possible to reach out fully towards others, just as a lack of outreach towards neighbour impoverishes one’s relationship with God.

Openness to the concerns of the world means, then, for the Church that is detached from worldliness, bearing witness to the primacy of God’s love according to the Gospel through word and deed, here and now, a task which at the same time points beyond the present world because this present life is also bound up with eternal life. As individuals and as the community of the Church, let us live the simplicity of a great love, which is both the simplest and hardest thing on earth, because it demands no more and no less than the gift of oneself.

Dear friends, it remains for me to invoke God’s blessing and the strength of the Holy Spirit upon us all, that we may continually recognize anew and bear fresh witness to God’s love and mercy in our respective fields of activity. Thank you for your attention.

© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Monday, August 18, 2014

The World of Silence

“’Where silence is, man is observed by silence. Silence looks at man more than man looks at silence. Man does not put silence to the test; silence puts man to the test.

Silence is the only phenomenon today that is “useless”. It does not fit into the world of profit and utility; it simply is. It seems to have no other purpose; it cannot be ex¬ploited… It gives things something of its own holy uselessness, for that is what silence itself is: holy uselessness.
The basic phenomena take us, as it were, back to the beginning of things; we have left behind us what Goethe called “the merely derived phenomena” with which we normally live. It is like a death, for we are left on our own, faced with a new beginning—and so we are afraid.

Still like some old, forgotten animal from the beginning of time, silence towers above all the puny world of noise; but as a living animal, not an extinct species, it lies in wait, and we can still see its broad back sinking ever deeper among the briers and bushes of the world of noise. It is as though this prehistoric creature were gradually sinking into the depths of its own silence. And yet sometimes all the noise of the world today seems like the mere buzzing of insects on the broad back of silence.’
Max Picard, “The World of Silence”

Sunday, August 17, 2014

James V. Schall, S.J. writes

There is an unfolding of the Word made flesh in a way that we can behold the reality of things and our place within it much more clearly than we did before. The Evangelists never spoke of the Crucifixion without reference to the resurrection. Nothing better explains what our life is really about.

Saturday, August 16, 2014


It is only through the act of establishing communication between the mind and the heart, the mind and experience, that you become an individual, a unique being—a soul.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Right to Complain, an Obligation to Help; By Randall Smith

If I were to sum up one of the key challenges we face in contemporary American society, it would come down to something like this: Too many people think they have a right to complain, but not an obligation to help.

I am far from suggesting that we don’t have a right to complain.  Actually, I’d rather say that we have an obligation to complain – but to complain responsibly.  One of the problems with “rights” talk is that we can lose a sense of the purpose of rights.  By contrast, when we talk about obligations, we usually have a better sense of what we’re obligated to and why.

Economist Amartya Sen is renowned for research showing that democracy and free speech help prevent famines, because democratic governments “have to win elections and face public criticism, and have strong incentive to undertake measures to avert famines and other catastrophes.”  Thus one of the reasons we have an obligation to complain is precisely so that the government is forced to recognize problems and seek suitable solutions.

If we understand the “right” to complain in this sense, then the “right” also comes along with various “responsibilities.”  Let me suggest four in particular.

First, we have an obligation to speak clearly and honestly about the situation and not overstate the problem.  When everything is described as a “catastrophe” or a “disaster,” before long nothing will be taken seriously as a catastrophe or a disaster.  Efforts to “gin up” support by excessively dramatic rhetoric usually end up merely cheapening the value of political discourse, causing everyone to think everyone else is simply “crying wolf.”  When you’ve cried wolf enough times, then no matter how much you moan about how people should “care more” about the poor, defenseless sheep, most people just aren’t listening any more.  People tune out, and the ends of public complaint are not served.

Second, we have an obligation to discern honestly and truthfully the actual causes of the problem and distinguish these from things that just happen to have coincided. One of philosopher David Hume’s most valuable insights was making clear that, simply because two events coincide (happen to occur at the same time), it does not follow that one has caused the other. If one finds contaminants in the ground water, and at the same time: (A) more immigrants have been flooding into the county, and (B) more fracking has been taking place several miles away, it does not necessarily follow that either A or B has caused the problem.

Third, in a related vein, given the difficulties inherent in uncovering chains of causality, it’s probably best for our first response to a problem not to be an effort to assign blame. Often enough, whatever we thought caused the problem actually may not have.  And even if a person or group can be shown to be ultimately  responsible for a certain problem, given the complexity of chains of causality, it’s just as likely the people involved intended something good, and perhaps even achieved a lot of good, but that there were unforeseen consequences.  When we spend a lot of time in blaming and recriminations, we often lose sight of the unforeseen nature of causality, and worse yet, the degree to which everything we intend is so often bound up with consequences we can’t foresee.

Finally, along with our obligations to complain responsibly, we also have an obligation to do what we can to help. Our tendency at times in American society is to complain: “Why doesn’t somebody do something?”  Or: “How heartless can the government be?  They don’t do enough about the problem!”  Well, yes, there is the government; it has a role.  But then again, there’s me, and my friends, my church group, and civic associations; we might do what we can.

In our society, people seem increasingly to assume they only have obligations to those they choose to be obligated to, and none at all to those problems they haven’t expressly chosen (such as unintended pregnancies or parents with Alzheimer’s or immigrant children on the border).   Indeed people increasingly seem to resent what philosopher Martin Heidegger called the “thrownness” of human existence – what the Stoics used to call “fate” – the fact that we often find ourselves “thrown” into circumstances not of our choosing and not entirely within our control.

Resentment is fostered by the illusion of control often provided by modern science and technology.  We can control the very building blocks of reality – the atom and the human genome – but we can’t keep annoying people off our lawn?  “We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t _______.”  Fill in the blank. We’re supposed to be able to control the world around us.

But maybe certain problems aren’t quite like splitting an atom.  Sometimes the problem is getting people to see eye-to-eye who have previously insisted on merely splitting hairs.  And for that, you need more than an atom-splitter or “hair-splitting” of the sort usually on offer from the mainstream media and special-interest blogs.  You need a heart of the sort Christ recommends to us by means of the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

Can one imagine anything that this Samaritan man, setting out on his journey that morning, would have wished to encounter less than a half-dead Jew by the side of the road?  And yet, upon finding a man in need, he was faithful to the challenge God placed in his path.  There were a good number of things he might have complained about: the lack of safety upon the road, the fact that his extravagant taxes to the Roman authorities were not bringing about the promised results, the foolishness of the religious-political controversies between the Jews and the Samaritans.

Instead, he got off his a**, jumped down, nursed the man’s wounds, and journeyed to the next town with the wounded man on the back of the beast.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Pius XI wrote:

What Pope Pius XI wrote to the Carthusians while approving their rule 'Umbratilem' stands true for anyone who hopes to follow in St. Bruno's footsteps:
"In his infinite goodness, which never ceases to provide for the needs and interests of his Church, God chose Bruno, a man of outstanding holiness, to restore the original purity of contemplative life." 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

On Lethargy by James V. Schall, S.J.

Why is it that we, as a people, are so lethargic about fundamental things, about the rapid undermining of our very reason and constitution with hardly a whimper, indeed with widespread approval? We do become excited about many things, but for the most part we studiously avoid any implication that we have a truth problem.

We do not want to know the truth about ourselves. We thus invent descriptions of reality that legitimate what we do. This fabrication of reality does not reflect what is. It incorporates our wishes into our daily fare. We mostly go along with them.

We are, in other words, lethargic. This word is of interest. It has overtones of that “tiredness” often used by historians to describe civilizations in decline. Lethargy means drowsy, dull, or listless. This word has Greek origins. The river Lethe, mentioned by Plato, was a river of the underworld. If we drink its waters, we forget what went before us in our lives.

It’s like being in a dire situation of our own making but not recalling how or why we arrived there. This river flows around Hypnos, the god of sleep. So sleepiness, drowsiness, listlessness, and dullness surround this word. It describes a being not fully alert, not ready to accomplish what man is made to do. The word also has overtones of choosing or even of preferring to be in this mood.

But this “Lethe,” in Ovid, is also a goddess, of forgetfulness. In truth there are things we want to forget and should forget. Yet, when we look at the etymology of the word, surprising things are brought up. The word for truth in Greek is a-leteia. The “a” before a word in Greek denies its meaning. Thus schole means leisure, while a-scholia means business, the denial of leisure.

A-leteia means the denial of drowsiness or forgetfulness. A-leteia is the Greek word for truth. To know the truth we must not be drowsy or dull or forgetful. If we are lethargic we will never learn the truth of things. To know the truth of things is what ought to excite us, wake us up.It is rather what Chesterton meant when he observed that there are “no uninteresting things, only uninterested people.” What could be worse than a people not interested in what they really are?

Scripture tells us that the children of this world are wiser than the children of light. They are more enterprising in the pursuit of what is wrong or deviant than the children of light are in pursuing the truth. The unjust servant was more energetic than the just one. So there must be another deviation from the truth that is not simply rooted in lethargy.

The Greeks have another word, acedia, which means something like boredom. Lethargy just means not having the energy or alertness to bother about anything. Acedia is more sinister. Josef Pieper paid a good deal of attention to this vice. It did not just mean being bored at the dullness of a slow baseball game or movie. It rather meant the lack of energy or interest in finding out the truth and accepting it.
Psalm 63 reads: “O God, you are my God; for you my soul is thirsting.” This is a soul that is not drowsy or bored. It is a soul that is unsettled because it does not know the truth. It is not a soul that is relieved that no truth can be found.

If we are unwilling to know the truth about ourselves. it is certain that we will ultimately be bored with the world we have pictured for ourselves to live in. It is inevitable that we forbid any questioning of our artificial world. We will be forced in the public order to drink from the river of forgetfulness. We want no reminders of another way that we have rejected as the explanation of our being what we are.

In other words, we must lie to ourselves about what is. Rejected truth does not leave us indifferent. We cannot abort millions and millions of our kind and have it pointed out to us that these are true human children. We cannot deny that marriage is the lifetime bond of one man and one woman with their children and think that all will go well with us. We must lie. We demand that everyone must admit these lies as a condition of citizenship in the polity. We must eliminate what we cannot defend in reason.

Lethargy and acedia, boredom about the ultimate things, lead to the business and energy necessary to coerce those who insist that the truth of things is what we need first to know. Such a description, more or less, describes our culture of lethargy and boredom with the truth that we refuse to acknowledge or live.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Some hermitage photos.

 The front

 Side view: sunset.

 Side view.

 Early Spring looking West from the deck.

 Late Spring from the deck looking South-West.

During construction.