Ministry Exhaustion

My heart was hard, and my mind was fuzzy.

Nothing proved a comfort, and I remained for that wretched season

shut in on all sides, stifled, gasping for breath.

Regardless, the grace of God arrives

rushing to the soul

when its endurance is exhausted.

Of a dreary morning, I stood gazing round the courtyard, pleading God for assistance;

suddenly I turned toward the broad monastery and saw one

dressed as though a bishop

enter the open doors, as though borne on wings.

He touched me on the chest and tapped my tender breastbone saying aloud:

I waited, I waited patiently for the Lord

And he stooped down to me.

He heard my cry.

He drew me from the deadly pit, from the mire and clay.

He set my feet upon a rock and made my footsteps firm.

He put a new song into my mouth, new praise of our God.

He spoke these lines three times, tapping me each time on the tender breastbone.Image result for st dorotheos of gaza

Then, he turned and was gone, and instantly,

light flooded my mind,

and joy split my heart with an awful, aching sweetness.

–St. Dorotheos of Gaza, early church monk and movement leader (490-560)


We Awaken in Christ’s Body

Symeon the New Theologian, Symeon the New Theologian poetry, Christian, Christian poetry, Eastern Orthodox poetry, [TRADITION SUB2] poetry,  poetry by Symeon the New Theologian
(949 – 1032)

English version by
Stephen Mitchell

Original Language

We awaken in Christ’s body
as Christ awakens our bodies,
and my poor hand is Christ, He enters
my foot, and is infinitely me.

I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him
(for God is indivisibly
whole, seamless in His Godhood).

I move my foot, and at once
He appears like a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous? — Then
open your heart to Him

and let yourself receive the one
who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,
we wake up inside Christ’s body

where all our body, all over,
every most hidden part of it,
is realized in joy as Him,
and He makes us, utterly, real,

and everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably
damaged, is in Him transformed

and recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in His light
he awakens as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.


Rilke on Self-Compassion

You are so young, so before all beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as I can. dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is,to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you win then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.  Ranier Marie Rilke

Thomas Merton on “Freedom”

“To consider persons and events and situations only in the light of their effect upon myself is to live on the doorstep of hell. Selfishness is doomed to frustration, centered as it is upon a lie. To live exclusively for myself, I must make all things bend themselves to my will as if I were a god. But this is impossible. Is there any more cogent indication of my creaturehood than the insufficiency of my own will? For I cannot make the universe obey me. I cannot make other people conform to my own whims and fancies. I cannot make even my own body obey me. When I give it pleasure, it deceives my expectation and makes me suffer pain. When I give myself what I conceive to be freedom, I deceive myself and find that I am the prisoner of my own blindness and selfishness and insufficiency.

It is true, the freedom of my will is a great thing. But this freedom is not absolute self-sufficiency. If the essence of freedom were merely the act of choice, then the mere fact of making choices would perfect our freedom. But there are two difficulties here.

First of all, our choices must really be free—that is to say, they must perfect us in our own being. They must perfect us in our relation to other free beings. We must make the choices that enable us to fulfill the deepest capacities of our real selves. From this flows the second difficulty: we too easily assume that we are our real selves, and that our choices are really the ones we want to make when, in fact, our acts of free choice are (though morally imputable, no doubt) largely dictated by psychological compulsions, flowing from our inordinate ideas of our own importance. Our choices are too often dictated by our false selves.

Hence I do not find in myself the power to be happy merely by doing what I like.

On the contrary, if I do nothing except what pleases my own fancy I will be miserable almost all the time. This would never be so if my will had not been created to use its own freedom in the love of others.

My free will consolidates and perfects its own autonomy by freely co-ordinating its action with the will of another. There is something in the very nature of my freedom that inclines me to love, to do good, to dedicate myself to others. I have an instinct that tells me that I am less free when I am living for myself alone. The reason for this is that I cannot be completely independent. Since I am not self-sufficient I depend on someone else for my fulfillment. My freedom is not fully free when left to itself. It becomes so when it is brought into the right relation with the freedom of another.

At the same time, my instinct to be independent is by no means evil. My freedom is not perfected by subjection to a tyrant. Subjection is not an end in itself. It is right that my nature should rebel against subjection. Why should my will have been created free, if I were never to use my freedom?

If my will is meant to perfect its freedom in serving another will, that does not mean it will find its perfection in serving every other will. In fact, there is only one will in whose service I can find perfection and freedom. To give my freedom blindly to a being equal to or inferior to myself is to degrade myself and throw away my freedom. I can only become perfectly free by serving the will of God. If I do, in fact, obey other men and serve them it is not for their sake alone that I will do so, but because their will is the sacrament of the will of God. Obedience to man has no meaning unless it is primarily obedience to God. From this flow many consequences. Where there is no faith in God there can be no real order; therefore, where there is no faith obedience is without any sense. It can only be imposed on others as a matter of expediency. If there is no God, no government is logical except tyranny. And in actual fact, states that reject the idea of God tend either to tyranny or to moral chaos. In either case, the end is disorder, because tyranny is itself a disorder. The immature conscience is not its own master. It is merely the delegate of the conscience of another person, or of a group, or of a party, or of a social class, or of a nation, or of a race. Therefore, it does not make real moral decisions of its own, it simply parrots the decisions of others. It does not make judgments of its own, it merely “conforms” to the party line. It does not really have motives or intentions of its own. Or if it does, it wrecks them by twisting and rationalizing them to fit the intentions of another. That is not moral freedom. It makes true love impossible. For if I am to love truly and freely, I must be able to give something that is truly my own to another. If my heart does not first belong to me, how can I give it to another? It is not mine to give!

Free will is not given to us merely as a firework to be shot off into the air. There are some men who seem to think their acts are freer in proportion as they are without purpose, as if a rational purpose imposed some kind of limitation upon our liberty. That is like saying that one is richer if he throws money out the window than if he spends it.

Since money is what it is, I do not deny that you may be worthy of all praise if you light your cigarettes with it. That would show you had a deep, pure sense of the ontological value of the dollar. Nevertheless, if that is all you can think of doing with money you will not long enjoy the advantages that it can still obtain.

It may be true that a rich man can better afford to throw money out the window than a poor man, but neither the spending nor the waste of money is what makes a man rich. He is rich by virtue of what he has, and his riches are valuable to him for what he can do with them.

As for freedom, according to this analogy, it grows no greater by being wasted, or spent, but it is given to us as a talent to be traded with until the coming of Christ. In this trading we part with what is ours only to recover it with interest. We do not destroy it or throw it away. We dedicate it to some purpose, and this dedication makes us freer than we were before.”

Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island

Original Goodness Precedes Original Sin

Now I realize that the real sin is to deny God’s first love for me, to ignore my original goodness. Because without claiming that first love and that original goodness for myself, I lose touch with my true self and embark on a destructive search among the wrong people and in the wrong places for what can only be found in the house of my Father. — Henri Nouwen

Henri Nouwen on our Secure Identity as the Beloved

The life of Jesus refutes this dark world of illusion that entraps us. To return home is to turn from these illusions, from dissipation, and from our desperate attempts to live up to others’ expectations. We are not what we do. We are not what we have. We are not what others think of us. Coming home is claiming the truth. I am the beloved child of a loving Creator. We no longer have to beg for permission from the world to exist.

Richard Rohr on Men, the Church, and Theological Education

You likely won’t agree with everything in the quote below.  I’m not sure that I do.  But it’s provocative, speaking to a kind of fear-based male ‘spirituality’ (for lack of a better term) which thrives on control, security, power, and more.  No doubt, I was influenced by this myself in my theological training, as associating around power and control, even if speaks of things like ‘grace’ and ‘humility’, is subtly enticing.  I suspect that it’s easier for those of us who minister in the First World, still firmly entrenched in Christendom power, to fall into this trap.  But it comes at a cost.  We find ourselves suspicious, fearful, finger-pointing at those on the ‘slippery slope’, questioning, afraid of mystery, prone to ‘rallies’ celebrating how right we are, masters at playing humble yet unflappably certain, guardians of the truth rather than followers of the Way.  I’m not meaning to set up false dichotomies, but just want to point out the way in which Rohr’s words may speak prophetically and cause self-reflection among those of us who wear the ‘title’ of pastor.

“A recent study pointed out that a strong majority of young men entering seminaries in the last ten to twenty years came from single-parent homes, a high percentage having what we would call “father wounds,”4 which can take the form of an absent, emotionally unavailable, alcoholic, or even abusive father. This overwhelmingly matches my own experience of working in Catholic seminaries, and of men in jail, the military, or any all-male system. Many of these men were formed in postmodern Europe and America, where almost nothing has been stable or constant or certain since the late 1960s, and even the church was trying to reform itself through the Second Vatican Council. All has been in flux ever since about 1968. Then add to all of that fifteen years of nonstop public scandal over the issues of pedophilia and cover-up by the hierarchy. Such bishops, priests, and seminarians often had no chance to do the task of the first half of life well. It was a movable famine to grow up in, so they backtracked to do what they should have been able to do first—second! They are out of sequence through no fault of their own. They want a tribe that is both superior and secure—and theirs! Men join a male club, like the church, to get the male energy they never got as sons, or because they accept the male game of “free enterprise” and social advancement. I have often wondered if I did the same. I hope not. The result is a generation of seminarians and young clergy who are cognitively rigid and “risk adverse”; who want to circle the wagons around their imagined secure and superior group; who seem preoccupied with clothing, titles, perks, and externals of religion; and frankly have little use for the world beyond their own control or explanation. Ecumenism, interfaith dialogue, and social justice are dead issues for them. None of us can dialogue with others until we can calmly and confidently hold our own identity. None of us can know much about second-half-of-life spirituality as long as we are still trying to create the family, the parenting, the security, the order, the pride that we were not given in the first half. Most of us from my generation cannot go back on this old path, not because it was bad, but precisely because we already did it, and learned from it. Unfortunately, we have an entire generation of educators, bishops, and political leaders who are still building their personal towers of success, and therefore have little ability to elder the young or challenge the beginners. In some ways, they are still beginners themselves. Self-knowledge is dismissed as psychology, love as “feminine softness,” critical thinking as disloyalty, while law, ritual, and priestcraft have become a compulsive substitute for actual divine encounter or honest relationship. This does not bode well for the future of any church or society.”  Richard Rohr, Falling Upward

Buechner on telling our stories

“It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are—even if we tell it only to ourselves—because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing.”  Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets

C.S. Lewis on Emotion and Repression

In a letter to Arthur Greeves, 8 July 1930

“You have I think misunderstood what I said about the return from austerity.  I never meant for a moment that I was beginning to doubt whether absolute chastity was the true goal – of that I am certain.  What I meant was that I began to think that I was mistaken in aiming at this goal by the means of a stern repression and even a contemptuous distrust of all that emotional and imaginative experience which seems to border on the voluptuous: whether it was well to see in certain romances and certain music nothing but one more wile of the enemy: whether perhaps the right way was not to keep always alive in one’s soul a certain tenderness and luxuriousness always reaching out to that of which (on my view) sex must be the copy.  The whole thing has made me feel that I have never given half enough importance to love in the sense of the affections…