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Archive for June, 2008

Domestic Dad

We had a good weekend, the girls and I. Lots of cuddling, playing, praying. New routines, old routines.

As we’ve done every two weeks (on payday weekends) since the first of May, the girls and I headed to our nearest Trader Joe’s to buy groceries for the fortnight. The girls thoroughly enjoy our daddy-daughters date, and love helping me pick out things. We’ve not infrequently come home with an item we’ve never encountered before to try. (Smoked oysters in a tiny colorful tin, for example.) The staff there have gotten to recognize them. There’s a girl, college age, I believe, that Sofie always chats up. Then we head home for lunch and naps.

I started recently reading from the New Testament to the girls while eating at meals. We’ve settled in to readings at breakfast and the evening meal. Sofie always wants me to keep reading, no matter how much I’ve read. However, for some reason, she doesn’t want me to read from the books on saints’ lives I’ve got–but in her defense, the saints’ books aren’t written for children.

We’d not been real regular in taking the girls to Vespers, since it was always near their bed time and it was often hard to get dinner and baths in after work but before services. I would take them from time to time with me on Saturdays. But I’ve tried to be more conscientious about taking them to Vespers so as to foster and ensure their Christian formation. And they seem to have taken to the “nighttime Church,” as they call it. We had to miss this past Saturday–late naps and I couldn’t seem to get their supper and baths done in time. And because we missed, they kept wondering when we were going to nighttime Church. This heartens me, for sure.

And one of the key events of the weekend: Daddy and the girls made cookies and muffins. The cookies turned out okay, but I’ve a sneaking suspicion I either mismeasured the flour or the nutmeg. Still, Delaina liked the cookies, and even though Sofie said she didn’t like them, she ate almost all of them I’d given her. The muffins turned out better, although they ended up sort of flat on top. Still the girls took great delight in helping me measure and mix the ingredients. They’d looked forward to making the cookies all weekend, and definitely enjoyed it.

These are such precious and wonderful times. I am grateful for the grace of awareness to enjoy each moment.

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[With permission]

Speaking of the Holy Eucharist, the Fathers and early liturgical texts of the Church have recourse to the metaphor of the flaming coal (anthrax, pruna) in reference to the Lord’s body. For instance, with Isaiah 6:7 obviously in mind, The Liturgy of St. James refers to “receiving the fiery coal” (labein to pyrinon anthrax) from the Eucharistic altar. Indeed, even without using this word, those same doctrinal sources regularly appeal to Isaiah’s experience, when they speak of the Holy Eucharist. Thus, in The Liturgy of S. John Chrysostom, when the Christian has received the Holy Communion, the priest tells him: “Lo, this has touched your lips and has taken away your iniquity.” In comparing the sacramental body of Christ to Isaiah’s living coal, these texts testify that the flesh of the risen Christ bears the fire of the Holy Spirit, drawn from the hearth of the heavenly altar.

It is through this purifying and sanctifying coal that we are deified in the Holy Eucharist. Thus, St. John of Damascus wrote, “Let us draw near to Him with burning desire and . . . let us take hold of the divine coal [tou theiou anthrakos], so that the fire of our longing, fed by the flame of the coal, may purge away our sins and enlighten our hearts. Let us be enkindled by touching this great divine fire, and so come forth as gods” (The Orthodox Faith 4.13).

In addition to the symbolism of the fiery coal from the altar, the Eucharistic bread itself seems naturally to evoke the image of the oven. This image is amply justified in the Epiclesis, the prayer that asks the Father to send down the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine into the Lord’s Body and Blood. Rupert of Deutz perceived this truth, when he wrote, “The Virgin conceived Him of the Holy Spirit, who is the eternal fire; and through the same Holy Spirit He offered Himself as a living victim to the living God, as the Apostle says [Ephesians 5:2]. Accordingly, on the altar He is immolated by the same fire. For it is by the operation of the Holy Spirit that the bread becomes the body, and the wine the blood, of Christ” (On Exodus 2.10).

The Divine Liturgy, we may say, is the oven of the Holy Spirit. That grain of wheat, which was sown in the earth on Good Friday, sprang forth as the infinite Paschal harvest and now abides forever in the granary of heaven. Christ our Lord is not content, however, simply to abide in His glorified body. In this body, Christ can be found in only one place. He is needed, however, in many places, and this is the reason He provided a new, sacramental mode of presence. In the Holy Eucharist, He lives on thousands of altars at once, available—edible!—for the myriads of believers who draw near in the fear of God and with faith and love.

In the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, the wheat, which is Christ’s glorified body, is baked in the oven of the Holy Spirit, so that the nutritive energies of God may pass into those who receive Him in faith. Through the cells and sinews of our own flesh there course those divine energies that transform and deify our bodies and souls—our whole being—with the dynamism of immortality—eternal life.
Commenting on the Bread of Life Discourse in John 6, St. Clement of Alexandria plays on the image of fire stimulating the yeast in the dough, as heat raises the sown seed: “Here is observed the sacrament of the bread [to mystikon tou artou], for He says it is His flesh and as manifestly raised up; just as fire raises up the sowing from corruption [ek phthoras kai sporas], so like baked bread it has truly been raised up through fire for the enjoyment of the Church” (The Teacher 1.6).

St. Clement likewise speaks of this sacramentally conferred immortality in connection with the Lord’s blood, which we receive from the Chalice. Recalling, with Leviticus 17:11, that “the life of the flesh is in the blood,” he comments: “To drink of the blood of Jesus means nothing less than to participate in the Lord’s incorruption [tes kyriakes metalabein aphtharsias]. For the Spirit is strength to the Word, just as the blood to the body” (op. cit. 2.2).

This Eucharistic participation in the fire of Spirit is symbolized in the boiling water added to the Chalice right before the reception of Holy Communion. As the deacon pours this water into the blood of Christ, he identifies its symbolism: “The fervor of faith, the fullness of the Holy Spirit.”

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This Too Shall Pass

In the middle of the turbulence surrounding you
These trying times that are so hard to endure
In the middle of what seems to be your darkest hour
Hold fast your heart and be assured

[CHORUS:]
This too shall pass
Like every night that’s come before it
He’ll never give you more than you can bear
This too shall pass
So in this thought be comforted
It’s in His Hands
This too shall pass

The Father knows the tears you cry before they fall
He feels your pain, His heart and yours are one
The Father knows that sorrow’s heavy chains are strong
But with His strength, you’ll overcome

[REPEAT CHORUS]

So set your eyes upon the mountain
And lift your hands up to the sky
And let His arms of love surround you
And take you to the other side

[REPEAT CHORUS]

(more…)

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Hmmm. Maybe it really is the case that while Daddy has Jesus in his heart, Sofie and Delaina have Baby Jesus in their hearts:

For He came to save all through means of Himself—all, I say, who through Him are born again to God—infants, and children, and boys, and youths, and old men. He therefore passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, thus sanctifying infants; a child for children, thus sanctifying those who are of this age, being at the same time made to them an example of piety, righteousness, and submission; a youth for youths, becoming an example to youths, and thus sanctifying them for the Lord.

–St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, II.22.4

[We'll leave aside his controversial comment that Jesus became an old man.--cdh]

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As I’ve said before in my wrestling on this: The struggle of faith in the midst of pain and suffering is not, I do not think, a question of God’s existence (though it may come to that), as it is a question of God’s goodness. It is not a question, it does not seem to me, of his power, but of his will. It is not a question, it seems to me, of God as sovereign but of God as Father. Is the God that exists, good? Does he want to do me good? Does he love me?

The locus of the satisfaction of these questions is not the mind, but the heart. So if Pascal: “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing,” then so it is that the heart requires answers that reason may not, often does not, touch. And what does this heart want? Certainly the relief of the sorrow. The promise of hope. The incarnate embrace.

But what if these do not come? What if sorrow continues? What if hope is not given? What if there is little else but silence and solitude? How does one continue?

One hardly knows how to answer these things. But perhaps one may glean wisdom from one’s own daughters. We sat at dinner last evening. I’d read a portion of Matthew from the children’s New Testament I’d gotten from my maternal grandparents when I was only slightly older than Sofie, more than thirty years ago. (It is one I will without question pass down to my daughters.) And Sofie began to remind me of an important truth: “Daddy,” she said, “Jesus is in our hearts.” “Yes, he is,” I said.

She then turned to Delaina and clarified, “Jesus is in Daddy’s heart, and Baby Jesus is in your heart and Baby Jesus is in my heart.” There is a fine, Talladega-Nights-theological-point there, I am sure, but it will take me a while to divine it.

So, I suppose that if God may ordain praise from the mouths of infants and children, it may well be that he can also through them bring his revelation to the sorrowing heart. A heart which needs the Gospel and the Jesus Prayer so as to bring Christ into the heart.

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Exhortation to Endurance

Be not utterly crushed in soul by grief, whether disease lies heavily upon you, or any other hardship befalls, but nobly confront toils with your understanding, even in the midst of your struggles rendering thanks to God; since His thoughts are wiser than men’s, and such as it is not easy nor possible for men to find out. Pity those who are in distress, and ask for men the help that comes from God; for God will grant grace to His friend when he asks, and will provide succour for those in distress, wishing to make His power known to men, in the hope that, when they have come to full knowledge, they may return to God, and may enjoy eternal blessedness when the Son of God shall appear and restore good things to His own.
Clement of Alexandria, “To the Newly Baptized”

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While some may think that theodicy is a particularly modern problem, I am inclined to disagree. While such a problem might be uniquely ubiquitous in modern consciousness as compared to earlier historical places and periods, it does not seem to be a uniquely modern problem so much as a uniquely human one. That theodicy is not a uniquely modern problem one may witness from Book III of Sextus Empiricus’ Outlines. The god of the philosophers presents an ancient and irresolvable dilemma between the attributes of divine goodness, power and will.

But for proof that this is an anciently human matter, one may take several biblical examples: Jacob, the Psalmist, Job, and, perhaps preeminently placed among the Gospel accounts, that of the father of Mark 9 whose son has been in his debilitated condition all his life and who cries out, “I believe, help Thou my unbelief”–it wasn’t, I do not think, that the father doubted God could heal his son, but whether he would. It is easier, it seems to me, to believe in God’s power than to trust in his goodness.

(more…)

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