Wise Thoughts…

Christ gave us the commandment to love others but did not make it a condition of salvation that they should love us. Indeed, we may positively be disliked for independence of spirit. It is essential in these days to be able to protect ourselves from the influence of those with whom we come in contact. Otherwise we risk losing both faith and prayer. Let the whole world dismiss us as unworthy of attention, trust or respect – it will not matter provided that the Lord accepts us.

Archimandrite Sophrony (His Life is Mine, Chapter 6; SVS Press pg. 55)

On Love…

Saint Silouan on Love

The soul cannot know peace unless she prays for her enemies. The soul that has learned of God’s grace to pray, feels love and compassion for every created thing, and in particular for mankind, for whom the Lord suffered on the Cross, and His soul was heavy for every one of us.

The Lord taught me to love my enemies. Without the grace of God we cannot love our enemies. Only the Holy Spirit teaches love, and then even devils arouse our pity because they have fallen from good, and lost humility in God.

I beseech you, put this to the test. When a man affronts you or brings dishonor on your head, or takes what is yours, or persecutes the Church, pray to the Lord, saying: “O Lord, we are all Thy creatures. Have pity on Thy servants and turn their hearts to repentance,” and you will be aware of grace in your soul. To begin with, constrain your heart to love enemies, and the Lord, seeing your good will, will help you in all things, and experience itself will shoe you the way. But the man who thinks with malice of his enemies has not God’s love within him, and does not know God.

If you will pray for your enemies, peace will come to you; but when you can love your enemies – know that a great measure of the grace of God dwells in you, though I do not say perfect grace as yet, but sufficient for salvation. Whereas if you revile your enemies, it means there is an evil spirit living in you and bringing evil thoughts into your heart, for, in the words of the Lord, out of the heart proceed evil thoughts – or good thoughts.

The good man thinks to himself in this wise: Every one who has strayed from the truth brings destruction on himself and is therefore to be pitied. But of course the man who has not learned the love of the Holy Spirit will not pray for his enemies. The man who has learned love from the Holy Spirit sorrows all his life over those who are not saved, and sheds abundant tears for the people, and the grace of God gives him strength to love his enemies.

Understand me. It is so simple. People who do not know God, or who go against Him, are to be pitied; the heart sorrows for them and the eye weeps. Both paradise and torment are clearly visible to us: We know this through the Holy Spirit. And did not the Lord Himself say, “The kingdom of God is within you”? Thus eternal life has its beginning here in this life; and it is here that we sow the seeds of eternal torment.

Where there is pride there cannot be grace, and if we lose grace we also lose both love of God and assurance in prayer. The soul is then tormented by evil thoughts and does not understand that she must humble herself and love her enemies, for there is no other way to please God.

What shall I render unto Thee, O Lord, for that Thou hast poured such great mercy on my soul? Grant, I beg Thee, that I may see my iniquities, and ever weep before Thee, for Thou art filled with love for humble souls, and dost give them the grace of the Holy Spirit.

O merciful God, forgive me. Thou seest how my soul is drawn to Thee, her Creator. Thou hast wounded my soul with Thy love, and she thirsts for Thee, and wearies without end, and day and night, insatiable, reaches toward Thee, and has no wish to look upon this world, though I do love it, but above all I love Thee, my Creator, and my soul longs after Thee.

O my Creator, why have I, Thy little creature, grieved Thee so often? Yet Thou hast not remembered my sins.

Glory be to the Lord God that He gave us His Only-begotten Son for the sake of our salvation. Glory be to the Only-begotten Son that He deigned to be born of the Most Holy Virgin, and suffered for our salvation, and gave us His Most Pure Body and Blood to eternal life, and sent His Holy Spirit on the earth.

O Lord, grant me tears to shed for myself, and for the whole universe, that the nations may know Thee and live eternally with Thee, O Lord, vouchsafe us the gift of Thy humble Holy Spirit, that we may apprehend Thy glory.

On Loving God…

How to Learn to Love the Lord

Last week the Holy Myrrh-bearers instructed us on love and today St. John the Theologian also instructs us concerning love. He loved the Lord more than anyone else and was loved by Him. Let us imprint in our minds this image of love, and let us begin to turn our feelings according to it and our attitude in relation to the Lord. How did St. John the Theologian attain such lofty love for the Lord and become a model of love for all of us? I think that he did this in the same way that people begin to love one another. They see the beauty and goodness of a person and become attracted to them with all their heart. In like manner St. John saw the beauty of the Lord and was attracted to Him. He sensed the Lord’s special love for him and likewise was inflamed with love for Him. He saw the great, wondrous, and fruitful works of the Lord and, moved by fervent piety, he became completely devoted to Him. He tasted the sweetness of love for Him and, immersed with his whole heart in this love, took rest in it. Here follows the path of assent in love for the Lord. Let us enter upon it, and in the end we will acquire it.

First: St. John saw the beauty of the Lord and was attracted to it. In the same manner love among people is born. They see someone’s beauty, spiritual or physical, and begin to love one another. Let us lift up our mind to the contemplation of the Lord’s beauty, and surely we will not remain cold and indifferent towards Him. The Lord’s beauty is the sum total of all His perfection. “Look and observe, what does the Lord lack?” says St Tikhon of Zadonsk. Anything that you might desire can be found with the Lord in indescribable and unlimited fullness. Do you seek blessedness? He has eternal and true blessedness. Are you seeking beauty? Comely art Thou in beauty more than the sons of men; (Ps. 44:3). Do you seek nobility? Who is more noble than the Son of God? Are you looking for honor? Who has more honor or is more elevated than the King of the heavens? Do you seek wisdom? He is the Person (Hypostasis) of God’s Wisdom. Do you want gladness? He is the joy and gladness of blessed spirits and the chosen of God. Do you need comfort? Who can comfort you more than the Lord Jesus? Do you seek rest? Here is the eternal rest of those souls that love Him. Do you want life? He is the fountain of life. Are you afraid of being lost? He is the way. Do you fear deception? He is Truth. Are you in fear of death? He is life as He Himself assures us: I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. In short, all the perfection, beauty, and goodness that the human soul could love is found in Him. Force your mind to grasp this and, you will not be able to do otherwise than love the Lord. St. Catherine the Great Martyr promised to love the one in whom she would see the same wealth that she possessed, the same beauty, the same wisdom she boasted of, expecting that in the whole world she would not find such a person. But when she came to know the Lord, she saw that compared to His beauty, wisdom, and wealth her own was nothing and contemptible. She then gave herself completely to Him, clinging to Him and offering herself to Him as a sacrifice.

Secondly, St. John the Theologian, sensing the Lord’s love for him, was inflamed with love for Him. Sincere and selfless love, when experienced from another, always inspires a corresponding feeling. Let us experience the Lord’s love and kindle our love for Him. “What did the Son of God not do for us?” asks St. Tikhon. “What did He not attain for us? What did He not bear and suffer for the sake of our poor and needy souls? What labors and sufferings did He not take upon Himself in order to bring us, who had fallen away, to His Heavenly Father? He came down from Heaven in or der to raise us, who had been cast out of Paradise, up to Heaven. For our sake He was born in the flesh in order to bring us unto Himself through spiritual regeneration. He humbled Himself for our sake, in order to lift us up. He became impoverished, in order to enrich us wretched ones. He suffered dishonor and wounds in order to heal and glorify us. He died for us in order to give life to us who were dead. Behold what condescension and humility His perfect love and sympathetic mercy brought Him to.” Has not each one of us experienced this movement of God’s love? How often have we fled from this love by sinning? Every time, because of one phrase, “I am guilty and will not do it again,” have we been reunited through His mercy. How many times have we angered Him by giving into the temptation of the delights of this world. Then when we turned to Him again we were admitted to the Lord’s Table, to partake of His Body and drink His Blood. Is this not the embrace of His merciful love? Christ is among us in our everyday life. Who among us has not experienced His caring nearness to us, in deliverance from misfortune, illness, sorrow, difficult circumstances, in all needs spiritual and physical? Is it possible not to respond to such great love and turn to One who so untiringly loves us? Is it possible because of distraction and inattention to forget about the Lord’s love for us? Having known and remembered this love, it is then impossible not to experience a feeling of love for the Lord no matter how calloused one’s heart might be. He who continually walks in the presence of God’s love will always be kindled with love for Him. Such is the nature of love!

Thirdly: St. John tasted the sweetness of love for the Lord and with perfect peace rested on his breast. Love is in itself a gift which can be compared with no other. It brings a blessing which is higher than anything in heaven or on earth. The Lord says, He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me: and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him, and If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him. (Jn.14:21,23). How comforting are these words! What great and exalted promises the Son of God offers to those who love Him – that the true lover of Christ will share in friendship with the Father and His Son! The human mind cannot fathom God’s goodness. God Who is great, endless, and unattainable, desires to have friendship with man whom He created and who is His slave. He desires to have friendship as long as man does not reject it …fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ (I Jn.13) writes St John. Where the Son and the Father are, there also the Holy Spirit is not excluded. Behold what the love of Christ attains! He who loves is worthy to be the dwelling and home of of the Most Holy Trinity. The Tri-Hypostatic God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is well disposed to dwell in man by Grace. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. (I Jn. 4,16). Blessed indeed is such a heart! Even here on the earth it feels joy which is abundantly poured forth into the hearts of the chosen unto eternal life. The heart tastes the very essence of “how good the Lord is” and possesses that which is meant by the words, The Kingdom o f God is within you.

For there where God is, is also all that belongs to Him. If God is within you because of your love, than you will have His justification for your sins, deliverance from your captivity, peace instead of your evil conscience, joy instead of your misery, comfort instead of your sorrow, justification at God’s judgement, assistance against your enemies, wisdom and intelligence instead of confusion an d ignorance, strength in your weakness (from St. Tikhon same citation). If the Lord dwells in you for the sake of your love, then who can be against you, what harm can befall you? If He is your peace, then who can disturb you? If He is your joy and comfort, then who or what can cause you sorrow? If He is your strength, then who can overcome you? If He is your King, then who can subjugate you? I f God is with us then who can be against us, boldly exclaims St. Paul together with all those who love the Lord (Rom. 8:31). Such is love, and behold what it brings with it! Those who enter into the love of the Lord feel that they are more and more filled and perfected. For love is the bond of perfectness (Col. 3,14).

If you desire to love the Lord then strive to contemplate with your mind His beauty, or the fullness of His perfection, sense the warmth of His love and taste the sweetness of love itself with your heart. One cannot learn love, it takes place in the hidden places of the heart. It is sown in secret and ripens unobserved, like seed cast on the ground which sprouts without the knowledge of the sower, bringing forth a stem, an ear of grain and seed in the ear. Love is sown mysteriously, always, however, from the effect on the heart, the object of love. Turn your mind in your heart to the radiant, visage of the Lord, full of love and worthy of love, and from His eyes a spark will descend into your heart and kindle it with love for Him. He who stands by a fire is warmed by it, and he who turns to the Lord with his mind and heart is warmed by the fervor of His love, and himself begins to return a warm disposition towards Him. …The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts… (Rom. 5:5), the Apostle Paul teaches. Love is a gift, but a gift prepared for everyone who seeks it: only desire it and seek, and immediately you will receive it. Just as the Lord embraces everyone, so it is impossible not to love Him. However, since not everyone turns to Him and seeks Him, so not everyone loves Him. For indeed He loved us first, and therefore we should love Him [even after the fact].

As it is, we have loved something instead of Him, something not pleasing to Him and not blessed by Him – and are not capable of loving Him since we have but one heart and not two. Therefore we cannot work for God and mammon [the world]. Remember, brethren, that the friendship of the world is enmity with God (James 4:4). Enmity with God! This is terrible! But worse are the words, If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema, Maranatha (I Cor. 16:22). Such was the expression of St. Paul’s zealous love.

Let us dwell on these things brethren, and force ourselves to love the Lord with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our strength. Even better, let us arouse the love for Him sleeping in us and bring it out into action to be seen by us and everyone. Amen.

Thoughts…

How do I love you God?
Not tolerate, not obey, but love?
Mystics clamor for you. I do my duty.
They say when You meet them all is well and soul and source are one.
I do my duty.
I know in my mind. I believe in the facts.
I trust the witnesses. I obey the commandments.
But do I love?
I have no idea.
And that which is more escapes me,
somehow I know many things
but not Abraham’s bosom.
How do I love you God?
Help me to know so that solace will not escape me.

Epitaph for a Band…

From the time I was a child I loved music and loved making it happen. I performed for people in grade school and in all the turbulent years between then and grad school music was my companion. I survived high school largely because the music rooms were always open and welcoming when the lunch room wasn’t. In those days I believe God listened to my music and not my prayers because my music was real. I dreamed of being a performer, played in church when I could because I was the Pastor, and thought through it all that maybe, perhaps, my time would come.

It did, in the form of the local jams and one person who stepped out and formed a group with me. The local jams opened up to me almost magically. They were places where I could hone my skills, be challenged, be affirmed, and find people to make music with for the sheer love of doing it. Bassists need people, we give other musicians a foundation and they give us wings.  In the jams I found out that I could not only survive but thrive, not simply muddle along but excel. And then there was Ross.

Ross was in his middle 60’s when we first met at the jams. His songs were eclectic, interesting, things not always heard but still worth listening to. He had the blues and I, with my double bass, had the rhythm. Quiet, spiritual, laid back, and funny he was, and is, easy to make music with, a mellow bastion of sanity in a music world full of pathological egos. We started playing together, Cajun songs, mining songs, folk songs, reggae songs, whatever suited our fancy.  Then we traveled. Open mics, coffee shops, farmer’s markets, on the streets in Stillwater. People liked us. In a folk music world full of artists with morbid obsessions we were a dance band. As I said to one person “Ross and I have baggage, we just don’t sing about it.”

And people would join us, friends filling in at shows or coming up on stage during open mics. There was the two of us and whoever dropped in. Sometimes I would be on stage taking it all in and think to myself “This is really happening, this is really happening.” When the shows were done we’d practice at Ross’ house on a porch overlooking a pond, our only audience his two dogs who’d curl up on a chair and listen while we worked out the details.

Later we added Tilden, a talented mandolinist and guitarist and a generally good egg. We became regulars at a few coffee shops and made the kind get up and dance at the St. Paul Farmer’s Market.  Finally, in the last few months, Collette, quiet and soulful with a passionate voice. Of course we were busy, we had lives, but those moments carved out with the band were special.

Yet things, all things and all people, grow old and tired. Ross needed to rest and be what he wants to be, a great soul playing music with friends. Tilden and I have other projects. Collette, I don’t know but there’s a place for her and I’d like to think that someday we’ll be listed in her biography as a place she got her start. The ending caught us, in some ways, by surprise but I think down in our heart we may have known all along.  Right now all I can see is that special kind of happy sadness that comes when something of joy runs its natural course.

So here’s to Shoulder to the Plow, the little group where my lifelong dream of playing music for people finally came true, the little group that made people tap their toes while they sipped their coffee, the little group whose heart will always be on Ross back porch. Thank you for everything. Yes, of course we’ll bump in to each other somewhere, somehow because music makes us friends and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

And now on to whatever is next, all things being on God’s good hands.