What predates this passage few chapters earlier is Nehemiah’s moving account of the sight of the ruined Jerusalem. Her gates are broken, her walls are fallen, her streets are abandoned. There is such an intense presence of pain and wounded awe when Nehemiah stays awake and overlooks the city at moonlight. This is one of the most moving parts of the Bible. This sight moves him to compassion; this sight moves God to compassion. A future is born during that night, when the human soul and the Divine Soul (‘God’s Glory’) contemplates a broken past.
Today’s passages are equally moving though in a different way. The people in Judah had forgotten to keep the Sabbath. They ‘were treading the winepress on the Sabbath, and carrying sheaves and loading them onto their donkeys, as well as wine an bunches of grapes and figs and all kinds of burdens; and they were bringing them into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day.’
Because of the long exile, people have forgotten to remember God’s covenant by giving thanks for the Creation which they are part of. The chain of this holy remembrance is broken… The danger could not be greater: the people cannot retain their identity (and knowledge of God) unless it keeps holy what God has already made holy.
This abyss of forgetting needs to be filled up. This life saving memory needs to be reignited. The recovery of Tradition and making Law-observance alive again is the core event of Jewish history. It equals a second creation. However painful it was for all parties to reinforce the forgotten practices, this re-learning the Sabbath day was the foundation for the future. It is from this effort of Nehemiah’s generation that we owe not only the survival of Jewish religion, but the revelation of Divine Love in Jesus Christ. This period of re-generation sustained the future wisdom, and further developments of the Jewish and Christian traditions.
In practical terms, the local synagogues and Christian parishes owe a debt of gratitude to this event. Their prayer life, their charity is rooted in this event of recovering the Sabbath.
And this is an ongoing task: our present celebrations of the Eucharist and the Sacraments, within the same dynamic, ground the life of future generations of believers. Faith without the present observance cannot remain alive.
The most prosperous king in the history of Israel was king Solomon. It was not David, the warrior, but his son under whom Israel enjoyed status, peace, and prosperity. And it is striking how the success of Solomon is rooted in the Temple, which he built. From our readings these days (1 Kings 8; 9) it is clear that the most important thing for Solomon was the life of the Temple. He prayed a lot in it. He made it beautiful. He supported it. All his political affairs were consulted with the divine Presence in it. He warned his people time and again that their prosperity will depend on the ‘quality of life’ which they live with God in their Temple. Forgiveness for capital failures, new beginnings will start from the Temple – this is their sole resource and sustenance.
This is a great teaching for us, too. The life and prayer we bring to our church, God will reciprocate it! If we bring forgiveness, attention to one another, if we welcome the stranger, we run our nursery, lunch club, bible group, and other social events: God is going to add to this his own life. Our life, our joys will be doubled.
So let us explore, what can we bring and add to the life of the House of God? Queen Sheba’s visit to Solomon highlights an important ‘element’ in the life of the church. This is personal spirituality. The queen ‘came in to Solomon, and told him all that was in her heart. And Solomon told her all her problems; there was not a problem overlooked by the king which he did not tell her.’ Solomon is so one with God’s wisdom and Holy Presence, that he becomes a ‘concessioner’, who listens, forgives, releases the queen from her worries. That is the ‘model’ of the sacrament or reconciliation. This is a sacrament (confessing our sins and sharing our hopes with God) which gives the person integrity. Just as the queen of Sheba was confirmed in her integrity with this holy conversation with Solomon.
This joy of our truer self, when we are truly who we are supposed to be, is so fresh in our reading. ‘The word is true then, which I heard on my country about your speech and your intelligence, and I failed to believe what those who spoke to me told me, until I came, and my eyes saw, and look! The half was not told me. Your good qualities utterly surpass the fame of which I had heard in my country.’
It is profoundly symbolic that King David, before his death, buys a site for the future Temple. He realises that he has committed sinful acts, he was involved in bloody wars. What is remarkable is that he knows that he is accountable, and accepts God’s judgement upon him.
Today’s world, and its leaders, have lost this sense of accountability. In a sense, democracy, for a long time, has reached its decadent phase. Countries go to war, leave a mess and total destruction of infrastructures, zero accountability. Some people create ‘Brexits’ in their countries, and the mess in the aftermath of their unaccountable manipulations – again: zero accountability. But before pointing fingers on others, let us not deceive ourselves. Everyone, without exception, is being caught up in the web of ‘unaccountability’, if they live ‘outside the Temple’, without that firm ground for the future that David has.
It seems that it is only God as the God of history who takes it seriously. For God, indeed, a moral continuity does matter! He offers this bond to us, as he offered it to David among his options (the closing of 2 Samuel). And David understood the significance of a new beginning. That is why he purchased a land for the Temple. He knew, because he always had a soul kept alive in him, that expiation for sins, a sacred place where the community can pray for its future is like a vital organ. So let us ‘keep the Temple open’. Otherwise, eternal winter is just a couple of minutes walk from us.
The peace of Gregorian singing and John’s Letter (1 John 4,7-21) /Matins, Third Wednesday after Trintiy Sunday, BCP /
‘God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.’ The most beautiful ‘rhythm’ and harmony emanates from this line of the Gospel. There is an unsurpassable peace which captivates us immediately.
There is an inherent music in this verse which we can compare best to the tunes of Gregorian singing. The closing antiphon of the night prayer, is a twin sister of John’s line. It is our response, yearning for, and being transformed by the same peace: ‘Save us, Lord, while we are awake. Protect us while we sleep, that we may keep watch with Christ and rest with him in peace.’
This parallel with Gregorian singing offers a challenging thought. Our world, and this is our daily experience, has broken and fallen apart into thousand of pieces. The sense of unity, at all levels of life, is lost… In this modern culture, we are forced to live with an unmanageable ‘diversity’. Space, time, love, personal life, machines, gadgets, regulations, processes, news, excitements, de-centre us continuously – and keep our truer self in exile.
So what has remained of the experiences of ‘unity’? Literally hardly anything. Even our personal memories, photos, letters have vanished into the ‘digital’. Yet, there is something, one thing that remained unbroken. This is our ancient prayers, particularly the ‘timeless’ purity of Gregorian tones. These words have remained un-manipulated. The unity of the world is pulsating in every word of this singing. They heal, they re-ignate our lost desire to yearn for God. Our truer self can return to us through the inner peace and humble energy of this singing.
A resource for divided communities (Friday After Second Sunday After Trinity, 2 Mamuel 2,1-3,1; 1 John 1,1-2,6)
A resource for divided communities (Friday After Second Sunday After Trinity, 2 Mamuel 2,1-3,1; 1 John 1,1-2,6)
The pair of today’s readings is a powerful resource for communities torn by division. They hold a truth-telling mirror to us. In it, we can exactly see, what a serious crisis it is when the distance between mistrust and violence gets dangerously thin. The bitter ‘civil war’ between the house of Saul and the house of David, with its endless victims, must sadden us, when we read it. They recognise where they are, temporarily reconcile, then violence blows them away again. ‘How long shall it be then, ere thou bid the people return from following their brethren? And Joab said, as God liveth, unless tho hadst spoke, surely then in the morning the people had gone up every one from following his brother. So Joab blew the trumpet, and all the people stood still, and pursued after Israel no more.’ It is, however, only a temporary relief. We can see our divisions in this very sad mirror: ‘Now there was long war between the house of Saul and the house of David: but David waxed stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul waxed weaker and weaker.’
Reading John’s letter gives a permanent relief: we can sense the healing power of medicine stemming from our entering Triune life. It is a healing contrast. Let us contemplate the strength of the fellowship created by Divine Life. ‘We have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.’ The radiance of this medicine immediately separates what is darkened of our hearts, the cause of a community’s inner divisions. ‘God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.’
The circling violence in the human heart cannot be stopped by rational reasoning. This is only the power of the Eucharist, the blood of Jesus Christ, which can put a stop to deadly talks and deeds.
I just wonder, how the news of our digital age that invade our life, alter our moral profile. Projected onto our faces, into our very eyes, day and night, can the clinical level of mistrust of the powerful politicians (mouthpieces of the violent and oppressive superego of culture) make us captive? Outside the Eucharist, there is no escape from this permanent soul-poisoning. It is almost like living and working in a division-factory.
‘My little children, these things I write onto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sense of he whole world.’ It is high time, Christians, to realise what a powerful ability to heal our world we have!
Towards a Creator (and Creation) centred behaviour (2 Peter 3) /Matins, Wednesday after Second Sunday of Trinity, BCP/
‘But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements melt with fervent heat… Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot and blameless.’
The knowledge of the second coming of God at the end of times – is the core of what makes us Christians. We have an ultimate reference point of our life: the coming judgement of Divine Love. The fullness of Life will come to judge.
This sense of the end-times, is more significant than one would think. Pointing to, and anchoring our present life in something ‘outside’ our present is like a vital organ. Following our model of the ‘brain’ from yesterday, this awareness of God’s coming, is like a crucial brain-function. This ‘centre of history’ is responsible to keep rational arguing alive in the community, in our culture. This function needs to be activated and functioning as the centre of ‘inhibitions’, moral reflections, which corrects our behaviour.
Saint Peter’s letter raises the question: is the Second Coming something that you worry about today? He is addressing Christians: are they, we, waiting for the Lord? If this sense is lost, there is no way out of moral inertia, nay, inevitable corruption. Without this desire and waiting, Christians are deeply lost to the extent of forgetting themselves.
But without the sense of that our truer self always need to measured by the Coming Judgement (of our genuine life), a culture cannot exist either. Without the sense of Revelation, without the sense of the Second Coming, our culture forgets the question of questions: to whom does history belong? To whom does my life belong? That is why ‘revitalising the Christian centres’ of social consciousness is vital. This is the only way to prevent the falling back into an unreferenced collective narcissism, the hells of consumption. The sense of the Second Coming is a vital stimulus in the direction of correcting our self-centred behaviour.
Saul’s compulsory jealousy of David reveals his addiction to power. He feels threatened and fears of being deprived from the enjoyment of his power, of being the king. Their story in the Book of Samuel resembles the relapse of drug addicts into their previous dependence. The pattern is recurring. Saul fights David, then reconciles, then his deadly jealousy is triggered again.
Chapter 24 offers a promising turning point of this relationship. Saul, after a cathartic encounter, reconciles with David – and has an insight into his ‘illness’, that his jealousy cannot be justified. In his prayer, at least in that moment, there is a genuine repentance from the situation. ‘And Saul lifted up his voice, and wept. And he said to David, thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil….. Swear now therefore unto me by the Lord, that thou wilt not cut off my seed after me, and that thou wilt not destroy my name out of my father’s house. And David sware unto Saul.’ Sadly, Saul will relapse soon to his previous demons of jealousy and power.
Saul’s story of ‘addiction’ (to power) makes us think on a wider horizon. What if our culture builds up unhealthy dependency on habits which weaken and then totally block out moral reasoning? The recent understanding of addiction to drugs and other habits can explain a lot as to why faith in God is disappearing from people’s life. Research on the field shows that in addicts, a region of the brain involved in inhibiting behaviour is abnormally quiet. The use of drugs, or other pleasurable activities activate the brain’s reward centre. The reward system, a primitive part of the brain exists to ensure we seek what we need. Pleasure, which we feel through the surge of happiness hormones that drugs liberate, stops our ‘moral part’. Our ‘God part’ is silenced.
Consumerist capitalism is a culture of instant, and permanent gratifications. It has developed into highly complex, intense and manipulative system, which needs ‘pleasure based’ consumption in order to keep the economy (profit-making machine) going. Conscious or not, the end result is a permanent blocking of any God-talk which is responsible for ‘inhibitions’ that would put a critical control on our addictions. As addicts under the influence of culture we tend to desire and pursue enjoyments at the price of suppressing our religious self.
May be it is seemingly an oversimplification of the reasons for religious decline, but we should take this reasoning seriously. A pleasure-centred society will naturally end up entangled with utterances of political correctness which suffocate organised religions. ‘No religious is allowed to emphasised over the other’, Christian symbols and stories should not be used in public discourse and spaces because it hurts other religious sensitivities, etc. The culture of addiction (which never wants honestly face its addictions) naturally ends up with empty churches or declining communities. The ‘centres of inhibition’, one of religion’s primary functions, needs to be silenced if this madness about ‘economic growth’ is to be continued.
This seeming detour from the Book of Samuel wants to invite us to seek out the root-causes as to why our churches are struggling. Can both flourish at the same time, ‘the hyper consumption of profit and pleasures’ and faith in the one God? How to find a way out of our addictions? The ‘addiction model’ offers a positive prospect. Tantalizing evidence shows that frontal brain regions begin to heal when people stop using drugs. The ‘God-centre’ in us can be recovered! (And the function of ‘moral reasoning’ or inhibitions is only one of its functions!) ‘How to rewire our brains’, to bring awareness to what we are doing and feeling, to counter ‘the dopamine flood’ of contemporary life is the biggest existential challenge to our, at present post-Christian or post-inhibition culture.
Are you an addict? The question is not so much about our unconditional yes, but to naming our manifold and unchecked addictions. And these are serious addictions to the unnamed idols of the age.
(National Geographic, September 2017 ‘The Science of Addiction’ pp.34-51)
We can see more clearly the significance of ‘monastic life’ when in our culture ‘being a Christian’ can no longer be learnt. That is, the person has hardly any chance to imitate Christian life spontaneously. The visible patterns and gestures of faith can no longer be seen, and, internalized. That is why, we need ‘religious communities’. These are ‘monastic’ in the sense of the intense focusing on the relationship with our Saviour. The local churches need to grow into ‘praying communities’, marked by charity. This is the key of Jesus’ teaching and life becoming visible again.
‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he undestandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise loving-kindness, judgement, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.’
Investing into this slow growth, the ethos of ‘visible new monasticism’, is our most timing task.
Being fine tuned to Revelation (1 Samuel, 17,31-54; 1 Peter 3,8-4,6.) /Matins, Thursday After Frist Sunday After Trinity/
It is not the heroic straggle of David with Goliath what is of interest for us. From a bird’s eye view it is only one of the painful events of unstoppable violence in human history. The light of God’s self-revelation can hardly come through our thick darkness. Wars and conflicts are signs that we filter out God from our world. The wars in early Jewish history invite us to think about what we hinder God’s revelation; and how God wants to shine through his Creation and wants to come close to us.
Peter’s letter shows the miracle when God’s Light wins over against our violence. ‘But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.’ In contrast to wounding wars and murderous conflicts, we can see what a wonderful creation the human heart is! It is a vital organ through which Divine Life can become manifested.
Peter’s catalogue of virtues shows, in a positive way, that God created a world, where God’s infinite Power, can be perceived, without it ‘breaking apart’. God’s infinite energies ‘can be translated’ into our limited perception. The way in which we live, think, and love are manifesting a bit of his Infinity. ‘Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his toungue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace and ensue it.’
When we look at the holy icons, we can see how their golden background and the face of the Saints are absorbed in divine Light. There is a particular nature of this ‘gently pulsing light’. There are parts of the body – the face, the hands – which are very intensely bright. Yet, on the whole, this Light is gentle and restrained. The light on the icons is a bridge. They invite us to look into the depths of God’s Love, which is a powerful, infinite energy: an all consuming Brightness. Yet, this also tells us that we are safe, God’s revelation respects our limits.
Revelation, expressed through our bodily life, action, prayer, and meditation, all invite us to be grateful for what we are, the way in which God created us, that our finitude is ‘tuned’ to participating in His Revelation.
This is amazing how close salvation is to us. The world, on the one hand, is utterly unstable. Yet, at the very centre of its fall, there is the uplifting counterforce of the gospel. ‘The grass withereth, and the flower falleth away: but the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.’
This tension should never let us give in hopelessness when we see this world’s power, covering everything, what is sacred, with oblivion. Yes, it is true, that the human soul is made bleed to half-death by the new terror of virtual life. Self-forgetting by the digital ‘blood-transfusion’ is our utmost catastrophe. Yet, the holy world of icons and Sacrament, which stand outside ‘artificial life’, lift up and rescue us with their powerful message. ‘But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you at of darkness into his marvellous light: which in time of past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.’
Apostle Peter speaks about this liberation through his own experience of fall. Betraying Jesus at his most important hour; and his being lifted up by the fullness of his Master’s love. There is no life-situation from which we could not be re-united with our Redeemer. Even if sometimes (the time for all of us) his Cross and Love fully coincide.
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..