In the world ye shall have tribulation…

As I was driving home from a birth on Christmas Eve, I reflected on the acute time of struggle that my family was in with the thought that this Christmas did not seem “Merry”.  The trials of life sometimes come as rivulets, uncaring what time of year or season they are flowing through with their cares and concerns winding through the small places of our lives and hearts.  Christmas came with weariness this year.  I was sapped from being in and out of hospitals with my infant son and my elderly father with serious respiratory complications after having the flu sweep through our whole family.  Juggling a hardware store, midwifery business, and care-taking a family of 10 (including my parents), life was brimming-to-overflowing.  How was I to feel about a Christmas that didn’t feel Merry looking towards a New Year that may or may not be Happy?

This moment of driving on Christmas eve offered me a pause and I realized that Christ was Incarnate into this world, the one filled with struggle and hardship.  I was poignantly aware of the darkness both around and within and frightened by the sight, saw also that perhaps in this present awareness I could also see Christ more clearly rather than less.  The reality of the Incarnation piercing the darkness of a cave with the Divine Light as so many Incarnation icons depict – I could resonate with that more this year than ever before.  

The tribulations in the universe, world, country, state, community, family, and mine own heart are so very many – enough to drown and confuse and overwhelm.  “….but I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)  This Christ-child, God-become-Man, entered into the tribulation and the darkness could not contain Him for He pierced it with Himself, the true Light.  

Since writing the above, my 8 month-old son was hospitalized again, this time with RSV.  After his need exceeded what our local hospital could provide, they transported him to Reno where he was admitted to the pediatric ICU for a week.  I have had more time than usual to pray and think about the presence of God in seasons of trial.  I listened to the words of the Psalms, so many of which are crying out for God’s mercy and attention and often in moments of desperation and great need, as reflected in Psalm 76 (77):

1 With my voice unto the Lord have I cried, with my voice unto God,

and He was attentive unto me.

2 In the day of mine affliction I sought out God,

with my hands upraised by night before Him, and I was not deceived. 

7 Will the Lord then cast me off unto the ages,

and will He be favourable no more? 

8 Or will He cut off His mercy unto the end?

Hath He brought to an end His word from generation to generation? 

9 Or will the Lord forget to be merciful?

Or in His wrath will He shut up His compassions for ever? 

11 I remembered the works of the Lord;

for I will remember Thy wonders from the beginning. 

12 And I will meditate on all Thy works, and I shall ponder upon Thy ways. 

13 O God, in the sanctuary is Thy way. What God is as great as our God?

Thou art God Who workest wonders. 

So often through the Psalms to we hear the cry for God to incline His ear and the fear of being forgotten or being “cast off” in days of affliction.  At this moment, I can see with clarity how the affliction prods us to seek out God, to throw ourselves upon His feet as the unclean woman, seeking His healing touch.  For in our weakness, vulnerability, pain, and laden by the burdens which assail us, we come to the end of ourselves and our ability.  In times like this, we can see our utter dependance on the mercy of Christ without the scales and passions that so often blind us to this reality.  Our every breath and utterance is of God, given by Him in the right here and now.  This eternal truth pierces our temporal being more deeply when we find ourselves helpless.

The resounding truth throughout Scripture, the life of Christ, the Church, and the lives of the Saints would teach us that the narrow path, the ladder of divine ascent, the journey towards Theosis are not traveled with ease and temporal comforts.  Rather, they are received through suffering and finding God’s mercy and grace in the humbling place where we must look up to see the Light that shines in darkness, He Who has overcome the world.  

Master and Lord, do not allow any temptation or sorrow or sickness which is beyond my strength to come upon me, but rather deliver me from them, or else grant me the might to bear them with thanksgiving.” (St. Simeon the New Theologian)


Drowned In Living Waters

Nietzsche couldn’t understand; Hitler got it backwards; Marx forgot humanity; and the Modern Christian gets it all wrong without thinking at all.Going against the wisdom of this world, Christianity resembles more the survival of the weakest than the survival of the fittest – making foolish the prophets of our age. In his work, The Anti-Christ, Nietzsche said, “The weak and botched shall perish: the first principle of our charity”, but St. Paul maintains that, “when I am weak, then I am strong”. The German thinker claimed that “a [man or society] is corrupt when it loses its instincts, when it chooses, when it prefers, what is injurious to it” but the world’s Savior said “take up your cross and follow Me”. The morality of Modern Man declares virtue as “whatever augments the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself” while the Son of Man requires His followers to be “clothed in humility.” With condemnation Nietzsche wrote, “The fate of the Gospels was decided by death”, with acclamation the Patristics agree. Christians are insane, or at least they should be.Lent is the embodiment of the Christian life in a Season, and as such is a portrayal of good Christian lunacy. So, dear readers, accept for a moment (at least the duration of this article) that you must die to live.

The story of Lent is one that encompasses all the Covenants, both past and future. It is Joseph who lay bruised and beaten in the depth of a pit only to rise up and be clad in Pharaoh’s clothes. It is desert-exiled Moses, a reluctant shepherd, who led God’s people to the Promised Land. It is a very sore Abraham, cut in his old age, who would have descendents enumerating the hosts of the sky. It is a short kid named David who conquered his fear (he couldn’t have had that good of an arm) and received a Throne. It is a girl pregnant out of wedlock who denied all pride and became Theotokos. It was God in flesh, battered and crucified ascending into heaven. And it will be our eternal judgment and the eternal banquet of the faithful. Christians old and new live in a backward reality.

In this Lenten story, we have all become Adams, hiding from ourselves and God, forgetting (or trying to forget) that He sees all. And so Lent is the time when God walks through the Garden, calling our name and asking us what we have done. We wriggle and whinny ourselves in every direction, pointing fingers and passing blame as layer after layer reveals us as basely human. Once we are stripped, our nakedness in plain view, then God begins to sew clothes for us. That usually happens around Day 39.

Lent is my favorite Season (which many find quite strange). I have a devotion to Lent because it is the journey of Christ. I walk unreservedly with Him in the desert of hunger to face demons and find angels. He asks us to follow Him unconditionally as He treads upon the thorns of sin with hope, but no sight, of a rose. He gives strength to be crucified with Him, to go down into the depths of Hades with Him, to die with only rumors of a resurrection. Forty days to see my utter depravity. Do not think that it is morbidity that finds love in these things. It is thankfulness that our Lord Christ would walk this earth to kill death itself and then, having finished the race, grants us the Spirit to share with Him in His suffering. In Lent the Spirit reveals with utmost clarity who I am, and utterly disturbed by the sight, I run to Christ and cling to Him, seeking to be clothed in and with Him.

Lent is also the sequence of our baptism; in baptism, we are drowned. Our old man is left gulping down fonts of water and suffocating while our New Man is raised to the newness of life. In the depths, in the fires of hell, in the baseness of humanity we are held for forty days. One day a week we are allowed to grasp a short breath of air, a wisp of victory, then under we go again. We are left to stare up through the blurred current at the Light, and as the days pass the darkness grows darker, and yet somehow it seems that the rays of the sun penetrate clearer through the rivulet of rushing sins. We are drowned in Living Waters.

And then it’s Holy Week. Blackness and agony enfold me as the assigned Readings cast all thought of my weak faith aside in the looming greatness of the Cross and Passion. Someone thought it was a good idea to read through every account of Christ’s agony and bloody sweat – brave soul. By Holy Saturday my soul has nowhere to turn but to that Font from which it was born, and the words of St. Augustine ring through my being:
“Oh that I might find my rest and peace in you! Oh that you would come into my heart and so inebriate it that I would forget my own evils and embrace my one and only good, which is you! Oh, in the name of all your mercies, O Lord my God, tell me what you are to me! Say unto my soul; I am thy salvation. Speak so that I can hear. See, Lord, the ears of my heart are in front of you. Open them and say unto my soul: I am thy salvation. At these words I shall run and I shall take hold of you. Do not hide your face from me. Let me die, lest I should die indeed; only let me see your face.”

In Lent we have been drowned, buried, and burned – we have experienced the eternity of forty days. But then our shoulders are grasped by strong hands and we are raised “In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.” We come out of the cleansing river and we breathe truly, for we have the Breath of Life restored in our lungs. We see truly, for we are blinded by the Light which casts out darkness. Easter has come, and we are not only raised with Christ, but we ascend with Him into the heavenlies. Here we are accepted to that Heavenly Banquet in the most unshrouded glory of the year – Christos Anesti! Nietzsche was wrong, Modern Man is a liar, Reality is not as we thought it. We have died to live.


The Fragrance of Christ to God

Burn my soul, dear God above, that all dross this day may banished be. I offer here myself a sacrifice, blinded by the blemish that I have become. The sin which so easily entangles has done well its work in me, until from the depths I cry unto Thee, knowing full well that Thine is the only hand that can make me clean. Yet lingers a fear, a shame that downcasts my soul – have I the faith to touch Thy hem as a woman years ago had done? This is the fire of which I speak: a cleansing flame by Spirit driven that returns me to the dust from which I came. But in my dying I am raised, for spotless Christ proclaims, “She is in Me and I in her – My blood has made us one”. The fragrance now raised before the Throne is that of mingled flesh, as all sin, shame and spot are burned. My Husband has once again presented a spotless Bride to Thee.

Oh would that it did end there! But you, my whoring soul, are so like Israel, that day after after day this same must be done. How great is my desire to be true, faithful, and pure and yet how great my shame as once again you find me selling my soul to another. How well Thou knowest Hosea’s grief! I beg, therefore, that through judgement and patience Thou would teach me to be a Wife. I seek to be not a daughter of Eve but a daughter of Mary. Through the power of Christ, may the incense of this handmaiden’s faithful prayers be greater than the fragrance of my sacrificed sins. And in this may I be a pleasing aroma, the Fragrance of Christ to Thee.

Demons: An Introduction & Historical Overview

Contrary to the thought of many in churches and societies today, demons are not only real but they are actively involved in the world and people around us. The pervading ignorance regarding the fallen angels has been detrimental to the church, and thereby, the world. When the active power of demons comes up, people get fidgety and say that it’s not for them, or proclaim that they are Protestants and it’s only the Romans who need exorcists. While the audacious kind say, “we don’t deal with that kind of thing in America.” Others say that in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, Satan was bound and will be until the Day of Judgement. These, however, are not the ideas of the Scriptures, the historical Church, or the Reformers.

In City of God, St. Augustine was heavily devoted to describing the real presence of the Devil and the interaction of he and his demons with humankind. The Devil fell from grace and is the Great Deceiver with a plan to draw men away from the worship of God. Yet not only Satan fell, but a host of angels with him, who also are devoted to deceiving men, turning God’s realities into lies. He does not present just a general involvement of the demons, but a specific one. Augustine is very clear that the Devil, the adversary to Christians, is now working in the world, seeking to deceive whom he may. I Peter 5:8 bespeaks this saying, “Be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him.” Many other places in Scripture also describe him as the Enemy of God and His people (cf. Ephesians 6:11; James 4:7; I John 3:8).

Satan, however, is only one angel, though he is the most powerful, and so he has employed the other fallen angels in his service since his fall. The demons, though of lesser power than Satan himself, are more powerful than humans are because they are angels. Just as the good angels can protect and guard men, so can the evil angels deceive and harm men. Augustine believed that “their powers of influence were enormous: they could so interfere with the physical basis of the mind as to produce illusions, etc….” Some went so far as to assert that Augustine believed that “the human race is ‘the Devil’s fruit-tree, his own property, from which he may pick his fruit;, it is merely a ‘plaything of demons.’ It is they who are seen as active, and man as merely passive.”

Luther, who is known to have interesting interactions with demons, says that one of the reasons he “should not wish to have free choice given to [him is that he] should be unable to stand firm amid so many assaults of demons, seeing that even one demon is mightier than all men.” He too calls the world “the Kingdom of Satan” and says that Satan “holds captive to his will all who are not snatched from him by the Spirit of Christ.”

Calvin also follows in the footsteps of Augustine saying, “All that Scripture teaches concerning devils aims at arousing us to take precaution against their stratagems and contrivances, and also to make us equip ourselves…and ought to fire us to an unceasing struggle against him.” To our brethren that think the demons have no active power around us and even with us, Calvin says, “lest any persons, entangled in that error, while thinking themselves without an enemy, become more slack and heedless about resisting the Prince of this World (John 12:31).”

Why, if it is the history of the Church to teach Christians about demons, have so many (dare I say most?) left this out? The Romans at least still have trained exorcists that are available and used frequently around the world. And oddly enough, the charismatic and Pentecostal clans have a more historical view of demons. Perhaps I have just been the lucky recipient of a father who has done numerous exorcisms and trained his children what it means to “be on the guard” but I don’t think so. When the Scriptures warn Christians about something, it ought to be paid attention to – particularly when it is about such a character as Satan and his minions.

Those who deny that much of “that stuff” goes on in America I have no answer because they are much like a child that walks through a snake-infested desert oblivious and completely defenseless, save the father that walks by his side sparing him from the venomous teeth. In this illustration though, the child will grow up and learn about the danger of the snakes, which is more than can be said for most who choose to deny the real and active workings of demons.

The last opponent says that Satan was bound at Gethsemane. This comes from Revelation 20:2, John’s futuristic revelation says, “[God] laid hold of that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound for a thousand years.” The key here is that this binding is going to happen in the Day of Judgement. Now, Satan was trampled by the seed of a virgin mother, but the freedom that he had in Job and has in the New Testament appears the same. And one day that same seed of woman will bind him for eternity.

St. Paul said, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against…spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” We as Christians should assume that Paul meant that there really, really was a war going on that we needed to be prepared for. And all this is not to say that we are to fear the roamer of this earth or his angels, for the Holy Spirit which lives within us is infinitely stronger than the demons. I am also not saying that we should be binding and loosing all over the place just for good conscience’ sake, but it should also not be a shock or uncommon happening when someone casts out a demon or talks to one. The historical Church Catholic has had this mindset of demons, and we should follow her wisdom praying for defense “against sin, the flesh, and the devil.”

Ephesians 6:10 “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age,[c] against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints”