Beauty for Ashes

“Ultimately, genuine holiness attracts people more than clever publicity.”

This is a quote from my Commonplace Book. It is also the line that summed up for me why the book Beauty for Ashes, by Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett should be required reading for everyone who intends to become part of the leadership of a church in any denomination (or pre-denomination). The Subtitle for the book is The Spiritual Transformation of a Modern Greek Community. This is the story of one bishop who transformed a community through authentic holiness. The jurisdiction had suffered neglect and sin. It was a broken and worldly community that had fallen into a pattern of seeing the world as sacred and secular.

This is often the season where Church leadership for the next year is chosen. Communities choose council members who will guide them for the next year, or two. Thoughtful spiritual guidance is needed by everyone in leadership roles. The path to wholeness is not found in plans. What this book recounts is that true Christian practice is not found through sophisticated and elaborate plans.

Fabulous programs can be implemented. But, “…the spiritual struggle of the Church is everywhere and always the same.”  Programming will not make a Church whole. Each person participating in the worship life of the community with integrity is the only path to holiness.

The Church, “…does not rely on propaganda or publicity but on emptied wills  and quiet hearts.”

Every member of a Church should be sharing the Good News. We should all gladly “share” on social media the events of our communities. If we believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God we should be living like it is true!

“Church leaders should…act as conduit or vessel of the divine, not marketing arm of God.”

This necessitates that all the parishioners of a congregation act like members of the body of Christ, and allow the flow of divine love and activity of the organism pass through them. We have fallen into a slothful habit in our society of “leaving everything to the experts.” We hire people to serve the Church, which is wonderful. Then we fail by expecting the “professionals” to do all the work. That is no more effective than a human body relying solely upon the heart to circulate all the blood.

May God grant us mercy to grow in grace and holiness!

 

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Made One

Today the Commonplace Book is stopping by John Chrysostom’s Homilies.

Ephesians 2:11-22

One in Christ

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

From Chrysostom’s Homily on Ephesians 2:13-15

“I will give you an illustration. Let us suppose there to be two statues, the one of silver, the other of lead, and then that both shall be melted down, and that the two shall come out gold. Behold, thus has He made the two one.”

In Christ, we are made into gold. Each of us likes to think that we are the beautiful silver statue. In actual fact, living teaches me that i am lead. Illness makes my body feel heavier than lead. Despite, or perhaps through our inadequacy, we become something beautiful together in Christ.

Christian marriage is in many ways the perfect example. Joined together with Christ we become something ontologically more and different than we had been or could be on our own. Chrysostom was talking about the Church when he gave the analogy.

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Glory to God for my Gifts

This is not a post about presents, but it is about being present. Today’s Commonplace Book quotes come from one of my very favorite contemporary books. Indeed, it spoke right into my heart at a time that i desperately needed the message.

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My absolute favorite modern non-Orthodox book is One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp. You have probably read the book yourself. If you have not i cannot recommend it higher.

For this recovering perfectionist, she told me precisely what i needed to know. The heartfelt truth is that she told me what i already suspected, and was not ready to put into practice until i read the book.

“All my eyes can seem to fixate on are the splatters of disappointment across here and me.”

Without recognizing what i was doing, i was living the life God gave me inside-out.

God gives us everything we need. He blesses us beyond our ability to measure or comprehend, yet for too many of us, it becomes a life of scarcity.

We fear and fear gives birth to a lack of gratitude.

Humanity’s discontent is the genesis of the fall in Genesis.  Voskamp quotes Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the Word, C.S. Lewis, Julian of Norwich, and other great thinkers of the ages to guide the reader to a recognition that everything that happens is a gift from God.

After listing thousands of gifts myself, i can attest to the difference that an intentional attitude of gratitude can make.

Watching an art show reminded me today, that shadow creates form. My problem is that i am leaving the light out of my thinking some days.

God allows only enough dark for us to see the form. i forget to notice the light. The sun is always shining.

To quote another of my very favorite bloggers, Father Steven Freeman,

“Glory to God.”

 

Share

Today i am linking up the Five Minute Friday group.

The word is SHARE. The rules are to write freely for five minutes. But first a favorite quote of mine from my Commonplace Book;

“We are as dwarfs mounted on the shoulders of giants so that we are able to see more and further than they, but this is not on account of any keeness of sight on our part, but because we are lifted up upon those giant forms. Our age enjoys the gifts of the preceding ages, and  we know more, not because we excel in talent, but because we use the products of others who have gone before.”

Bernard, Master of Chartres School (written in the mid-twelfth century).

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We used to learn to share. Everyone raising children still tries to teach them to share. It is difficult to let go of crayons, ideas, opinions, and power. Past cultures sometimes did a better job teaching students that where we are is only possible because of the others with us. We have become an incredibly self-focused society. Self-care is a key word today. i wonder what this will mean to those who will sit on our shoulders?

Today, we are browsing the Medieval section of the library.

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There is a lie that popular culture promotes that says that we are self-created. We all know deep down, narcissists excepting, that we do not exist in a vacuum. History is being forgotten and re-written.

Our culture acts like we believe we are giants who created the universe. The world was not created for us or by us.

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It was made by Love…so that He might love us.

To love we must Release control…

and learn to share.

 

Gardening the Soul

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i once had a garden. It was a Victorian cottage garden. It was a small glimpse of paradise for me. Today the Commonplace Book is taking us to the gardening section of my library, a small reminder of those days.

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” Do whatever falls into your hands, in your circle, and in your situation and believe that this is and will be your true work; nothing more from you is required.”

St. Theophan the Recluse, The Spiritual Life-And how to be attuned to it, Number 16, The True Goal of Life

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“That every plant should select only its own colors and forms from the great laboratory of Nature has always seemed to me a very wonderful thing…For instance, the California Poppies, if left to themselves, will take yellow of many resplendent shades for their color, and never vary their cool, gray-green, ted-tipped foilage…” Celia Thaxter, An Island Garden

If we believe in Master Planner we allow Him to decide what shade or character our life produces. Sometimes is a humble cottage. For others, it becomes a great manor.

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“God arranges the lot of each person, and the entire course of the life of each one is also His all-good industry, as is each moment and each meeting.

St. Theophan the Recluse, The Spiritual Life-And how to be attuned to it, Number 16, The True Goal of Life

IMG_9650 2“Put yourself in God’s hands and pray that He will put you in the place that He considers best.”

St. Theophan the Recluse, The Spiritual Life-And how to be attuned to it, Number 16, The True Goal of Life

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It is easy to imagine that our job is to live in an impressive and formidable life. We are all the heroes and heroines of our own life story.

My garden consists of three succulents in a little  Wardian case on my windowsill, along with an orchid and two (?) African violets.

Humbly living the life we are given for Christ is the hardest job we will ever have.

Giving up and Release(ing) my plan is harder than i could have ever imagined. i am happier than i thought possible.

When the goal of life is no longer our happiness, God acts in ways that astound our expectations. Being disabled means i cannot tend a “real” garden, but such grace has come to me in my houseplants.

One African violet has decided that it is not happy in my window. i am allowing it time to recover, but i will probably have to replace it. When i went to buy a new violet i could not find a suitable one and came home with a glorious pink orchid instead. i am trying to learn to leave space in my soul for God to be the Master Gardener.

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Colossal​ Wreck

For October 3 my Commonplace Book quote comes from my favorite atheist, 

Percy Bysshe Shelly.

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"I met a traveler from an antique land

Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them. on the sand,

Half-sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And Wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that it's sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, snapped on lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear;
"my name is Oxymandias, king of kings;
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

In an age of vicious political discourse, i am reminded that all worldly power is fleeting.

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“13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good life let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This wisdom is not such as comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity. 18 And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:13-18 RSV

As i was reading Shelley’s poetry i couldn’t help but think about the tragedy that in the words of his contemporary, William Wordsworth, “The world is too much with us…” and poor Shelley did what so many do, he looked for God within himself. My heart aches at the darkness of the culture. The Shelly’s of our age feel the pain and know no whence to go to find the light. When they find darkness within, they deduce that God does not exist. All the while we, who have been blessed to have been given a flicker of light blow out our candles by hurling vituperative at the dark.

i am thinking that St. Silouan the Athonite was on to a greater truth when he began to pray for the world. “The ontological unity of humanity is such that every separate individual overcoming evil in himself inflicts such a defeat on the cosmic evil that its consequences have a beneficial effect on the destinies of the whole world…Prayer keeps the world alive and when prayer fails, the world will perish…

To be light we need to pray for the world. We don’t need to pray that our enemies will be vanquished. We can remember that all earthly kingdoms fail. “The great ones” are just modern day Ozymandias. We need to be praying. If we pray in the spirit, in the Spirit, as James epistle teaches above, we can allow the Spirit to burn through our prayer.

Are we praying for the world?

 

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