Tag Archives: Love

Afterword

With the election drawing to a close this week with heightened emotion and intensity for many, we now find ourselves pondering what the future holds from here.  It has oft been observed that this election in particular has been especially polarizing and, in affirmation of this, it has also weighed heavily upon many of our hearts and minds for some time now.  However, as the dust begins to settle, our attention must turn to the matter of how we are going to proceed.  For, though the presidential election is one of the most important events in the United States, which greatly affects and shapes the future course of the nation, it does not negate the numerous other moving parts of our lives.

As Christians, we must not lose sight of the fact that even something as big as the presidential election is ultimately a piece in the bigger picture.  It is a piece that we, as part of the stewardship given to us in our lives, are required to speak to through casting our vote.  Nonetheless, after the election is done, the votes tallied, and speeches made, there will still be evils such as hunger, poverty, corruption, and injustice in our world just as there were before.  Our Adversary, the devil, will still be tirelessly pursuing our spiritual ruin and the spiritual ruin of all humanity.

For these reasons, as we return our focus to our more routine cycles, it is paramount that we remain mindful of the eternal aspects of our temporal lives.  The words of Paul to the church in Colosse are poignant to us following the election:

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.  But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.  And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.  And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

-Colossians 3:12-17

Paul’s words provide a gut-check that makes us look at who we are called to be as Christians.  It seems that this last campaign, perhaps more so than those previous, has tended to incline our hearts to hate and wish ill for others depending on who they did or didn’t support.  However, our devotion and obedience to Christ demands that we put off such wickedness and instead give grace and love just as we have received grace and love from Christ.  We are called to support and look out for one another for the greater glory of God, rather than give in to bitterness and hysteria.  This is an admittedly difficult task, given that our political views may not have won the election and that we are faced with sentiments all too eager to stir us to anger and fear whenever we do things like turn on the TV or log on to Facebook.  Sometimes we must take a deep breath and clear our minds of the clutter that so easily accumulates in it and distorts our perceptions.  We must not let fear or resentment govern our lives, for then we and we alone have robbed ourselves of faith, hope, and love.

Life goes on after this election, and so does our goal of living our lives with and for God.  As we move forward in our lives, we must keep our hearts and minds set on what is truly important and not lose sight of the God who loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son so that, while we were still enemies to Him, we might be reconciled to Him.  Let us then, in keeping with His love, continue, as ever, to aim at and uphold the heart and spirit expressed in the greatest commandments:

Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,’ this is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

-Matthew 22:37-40

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Waiting

Waiting:  it is perhaps one of the things we like the least but do the most.  Each day, we find ourselves forced to pause while someone or something completes a task.  Perhaps we find it frustrating because we are used to going through life at our own pace and find the imposition of a different pace to be both uncomfortable and irritating.  Or maybe it is because we feel that, as we are waiting, we are being cheated out of our time because we don’t have control over how long we must wait.

As frustrating as we find waiting to be in situations we do not think of as spiritual, it is no surprise that we are similarly irked when we find ourselves forced to wait in our Christian walk.  This may take shape as hitting a spiritual plateau in which we do not feel the same sense of growth that we used to.  We may also encounter waiting as a sense of being distant from God.  Nonetheless, from this handful of examples, we can see that waiting is an inseparable part of our spiritual journey.  It is part of the undulating road that we walk as we seek to draw closer to God.

Waiting, itself, is no novelty in Christianity:  after Christ’s ascension, the disciples were told to wait until they had received the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49), the kings of Israel, Judah, and Edom had to wait until morning for the ditches that had been dug to fill with water (2 Kings 3:20), and we live our lives in anticipation of eternity, just to name a few examples.  Though we are forgiven the moment we repent and turn to Christ, Christianity is not of religion of instant gratification; it is a religion that is founded on relationship, and sometimes that means waiting and remaining faithful.  One of the most poignant examples of waiting on God is the story of Abraham being called out of his homeland by God (Genesis 12:1-9).  Abraham (then called Abram) was told to pack up, leave his home, and go to a land that God would show him.  In many ways, Abraham was being asked to go and wait.  It is one thing to wait while we are secure in the midst of familiar surroundings and quite another to wait while outside of our comfort zone.  Such circumstances bring to mind the question of exactly how we wait:  what do we do when we are waiting on God?

One way we may go about waiting on God is to push our spiritual life to the side.  There doesn’t seem to be much going on there, so why attend to it?  Surely our time is better spent on something else at the moment.  While such a mentality can assist us in becoming better multitaskers, it can also be a detriment to our spiritual growth.  Another way that we might approach waiting is to very simply refuse to do it and give up on our spiritual walk altogether.  After all, is it really worth the time and hassle if we’re just going to have to wait?  This, too, is spiritually unhealthy and cause for us to reconsider where we stand with God (Matthew 13:20-21).

So what are we to do when waiting on God?  Above all else, we must remain faithful.  This means continuing to be diligent in our daily lives:  maintaining our times of devotion and prayer and continuing to live our lives according to Christ’s example.  Our obedience to God and acts of devotion are responses to God’s love for us (1 John 4:17-5:5).  As such, they are not dependent upon immediate feedback because they are based on something far grander in scale.  Love is more than a feeling:  it is obedience, commitment, and selflessness, among other things.  When we love someone, our attitudes and actions towards them ultimately proceed not from temporary feelings (though these may certainly have influence), but from deeper within our hearts, from a deep-seated desire for them to be truly happy.  Love does not consist solely in doting and being doted upon, but also of making hard choices for the betterment of the other party.  This is why, for example, parents discipline their children:  it is not pleasant for any involved, but that discipline teaches the children valuable lessons and is instrumental in their continued healthy development.  When we are waiting on God, we continue to pursue Him and remain faithful, not because it is particularly pleasant at the time or we are trying to earn His love, but because He loves us and we love Him.  Perhaps we wish the answer was more complicated than that, but that is the heart of the matter.  Our response to God’s love persists even when we are not filled with the warm glow of affirmation.

It would be remiss to overlook why God sometimes makes us wait.  As stated earlier, when we love someone, we seek for them to be truly happy.  As God works in us to grow and shape us, sometimes He steps back to allow us to stand on our own.  It is not unlike a child learning to feed itself.  There comes a point when it must learn to convey food to its mouth on its own.  Even though the parents are no longer spoon-feeding it, they don’t love it any less; as a matter of fact, it is because they love it that they put it through the ordeal in the first place.  Likewise, when God asks us to wait on Him, it is because He is teaching us to feed ourselves:  to take what He has given us and be nurtured by it, rather than being spoon-fed.  It helps us to grow and mature spiritually.

When we are waiting on God, despite appearances, we are going through an important process of spiritual maturation.  We learn to show love when we don’t necessarily feel love as we are shaped into the image and likeness of Him who gave the fullest measure of love for those who hated and reviled Him.  Our growth while waiting is not restricted to times when we are waiting on God:  when we wait on others, we can still share the love of God with how we wait.  Are we patient?  Are we kind?  Do we give grace as we have received grace?  As the seed lies seemingly inert in the ground before growing into a fruit-bearing plant, so the times when our spiritual life seems inert eventually grow and bear spiritual fruit.


Square One

There are times and stretches of time in our lives when it seems as though there is no light at the end of the tunnel and no hope of something better.  Or, even if we can envision something better, it appears to be forever out of our reach.  God seems distant and disinterested as we view our faith as more of a nice thought than anything of substance.  What do we do when everything seems so messed up and out of joint with both ourselves and the world in general?

What I wish to offer here is not any sort of quick-fix solution to magically solve all problems or a list of platitudes that just tell us to feel better, for hope is not built upon such things.  Instead, what I aim to do is present starting points, a series of “square-ones” as it were.  These are facts that help us to take our next step in the right direction and, just as important, help us to not give up.

1)  Jesus Christ is in Heaven.

 Yes, this seems like a rather vanilla statement, but we ought not to lose sight of what it entails.   Christ has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven:  He offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world and was elevated to the right hand of God the Father (Hebrews 8:1).  There, having returned to His place at the Father’s side and opened the way for us to be reconciled to our God, Christ makes intercession for us to the end that we share in the fellowship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Hebrews 7:25, John 17:20-26).  We are never so far removed from God that we cannot reach Him and He cannot reach us.  When we come to God and throw ourselves upon His mercy, we have Jesus Christ as our Advocate, to speak for us and support us.

2)  The Spirit dwells in us.

 Though Christ is in Heaven interceding for us, we have not been left alone.  He, Himself, promised that a Helper, the Holy Spirit, would come to us and abide with us (John 14:15-18).  Through the Spirit’s indwelling, God dwells in our hearts so that He is always near.  The Holy Spirit comes alongside us in life to help and to guide us.  He is our advocate as we live on earth, reminding us of our true North and directing us closer to God.  In the midst of our weakness, in our hours of darkness, He also helps us by speaking on our behalf when we do not know what to say (Romans 8:26).  God is near to us even in the thick of the fray and is active in our lives even when we feel far from Him.  The Spirit helps us, speaks to us, and makes God known to us (John 16:13-15).

3)  We have the power to choose.

Because of what God has done for us, we are no longer slaves to sin or ignorance.  Instead, we have the help and tools before us to make meaningful decisions in our lives.  We can choose what kind of person we are going to be and what we are going to make of our current circumstances.  We can choose to remain faithful even when we feel so distant.  Even when we feel powerless, we are still able to make choices of eternal significance.  When we stumble and fall or are plain knocked down, there are always at least two options:  to stay down, or to get back up.  This is a choice that we and we alone can make.  We make it countless times throughout our lives and we make it especially often when we are struggling with sin or facing a difficult life situation.  No matter how many times we have to make it, it is always ours to make.

The points above remain constant, regardless of where we find ourselves in our Christian walk.  The worst thing that we can do is give up and succumb to despair, for then we have shut out hope ourselves.  However, if we can keep the above in mind, it will help us to remember the eternal hope we have and, in light of that hope, continue to put one foot in front of the other in our current situation.  This may be seeking out the help we need, it may be continuing in prayer despite being pressed by desolation, it may even be as simple as choosing to smile.

In spite of the darkness that may surround us and give us a bleak outlook on life, there is a light and power within us of great and eternal significance.  It is a light and power that is cared about by God and that He wishes to nurture and grow.  He has given us a key role in this process.  We can choose what to do with it at any given time and the hope that is thereby placed before us is a solid footing.


Sharing Faith

When we think of outreach, evangelism, and the like, we very often come up with thoughts of shiny new programs at church, awkward conversations, or those little track books.  In many cases it seems to be accompanied by a great amount of production and fanfare.  For some, it may raise a note of pride as they reflect on how many people they’ve “led to Christ.”  Others may experience a sense of shame or regret at opportunities missed or avoided.  Indeed, the Great Commission given by Christ Himself speaks to this very topic:

“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

-Matthew 28:18-20

However, I believe a question we often wrestle with is how we go about doing this:  how we share our faith with others.  When we talk about this topic, we usually end up talking about marketing Christianity.  More to the point, we talk about how to convince people to join church and the result is that our evangelism is more akin to a sales pitch than any sort of witness or sharing of Christ’s message.  It is no accident that Christianity is treated and perceived as merely a club when it is presented as such by Christians themselves.

So what is the alternative?  If not convincing others to become Christians, what are we to do?  To begin, let’s take a moment to consider exactly what it is that makes a Christian a Christian, namely, our relationship with God.  We have accepted God’s free-standing offer of grace and thereby been reconciled to Him through Jesus Christ.  Through this reconciliation, our relationship with God becomes one in which, rather than resisting or being indifferent towards His love, we are free to receive and return that love.  Our obedience in following Jesus’ example is an act of love, not an attempt to earn love.  This mechanic of God’s love filling us and being manifested in our attitudes and actions lies at the heart of our lives as Christians.  It is also this love that binds the Church together and makes it what it is:  the body of believers across time and space.  So at both the individual and group level, our relationship with God is what moves and sustains us; it is the beating heart of our faith.  Thus, when we share our faith, the core of what we are sharing is this relationship.

With that in mind, we turn again to the question of how we go about sharing our faith.  The introduction to 1 John provides us with some perspective and guidance:

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life – the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us – that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.  And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.”

-1 John 1:1-4

John’s aim is that the reader should join in the fellowship of believers, which is the fellowship shared with the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit.  He grounds his appeal not on clever arguments or flashy displays, but on the declaration of what he has witnessed.  John and the other Apostles testified to the reality of Christ’s resurrection through their eyewitness accounts and first-hand experience.  Anyone who is a believer has a testimony to give of their experience with God, for we all have witnessed Him working in our lives.

The abstract ideas and concepts utilized in arguments are useful for understanding what we know about our relationship with God.  However, they cannot, of themselves, show God to others.  They can speak to and convince the mind, but they have no power to move the heart.  At best, we can reach a kind of deism through these arguments, choosing to accept that God exists but remaining agnostic about His personal and ongoing involvement with His creation.  In order to share our faith, we must speak from our personal experience with God, declaring what we, ourselves, have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, and what our hands have handled.  In so doing, we let God speak through our lives.

As stated earlier, everyone who is a believer has a testimony to share and a relationship with God from which to draw.  We should be prepared to speak of what we believe and why, but we need not be professional nor even gifted orators to speak from the heart.  Christ does not call upon us to be salespeople or spokespersons, He calls upon us to be witnesses.


Living Art

It seems that many times our spiritual life falls into one of two extremes.  On one hand, we may shove it to the outskirts of our mind and hope that as long as we keep it happy with the weekly trip to church or Bible study it won’t bother us.  On the other, we may hold visions of using it to ascend to a veritable Christian utopia in which we have reached the pinnacle of spirituality and can at last bask in the warm glow of victory.  This utopic vision of our faith both drives and haunts us.  We feverishly pursue the glittering image of having the perfect spiritual life while also rebuking ourselves for not having already attained it.  Though this pursuit may have the appearance of being good and beneficial, its gently sloping path threatens to lead us to a very different destination than we expect.

But why?  Aren’t we supposed to seek to grow closer to God?  Aren’t we supposed to imitate Christ?  Yes, we are.  However, we must pause to reflect on whether that is truly what we are seeking to do.  This isn’t a question of checking our motives as much as checking our goals.  If our chief aim is to draw closer to God and live out the Gospel message, then we will find ourselves on the right track.  However, if we are seeking to achieve a state of spiritual utopia, we’ll find ourselves going nowhere fast.  In fact, the word “utopia” literally means “nowhere”.

The images we chase are just that:  images.  They do not exist in substance as something for us to grab and possess.  Rather, just like light streaming through a window, the more we attempt to hold them, the more they evade our grasp.  The more we try to be the person we are imitating, the more we find ourselves drifting from God.  This is because our relationship with God is between us and God, not this other person and God.  As we are shaped into Christ’s likeness, we grow into a unique reflection of Christ.  In trying to be someone else, we are fighting against God’s shaping of us.  He created us to be us, with our own personality, talents, and gifts.

Let’s use Ignatius of Loyola to construct an example:  he developed a spirituality that has influenced and helped countless people grow closer to God.  Following the path of Ignatian spirituality provides a way of proceeding that helps us to be shaped into Christ’s image.  It does not provide a way of proceeding that aims us at being Ignatius of Loyola.

In Christ’s example, we see how to live our lives with God.  He showed us what it looks like to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind as well as to love our neighbor as ourselves.  This example is given to us to the end that we grow towards Christ-likeness and that we become able to show others who Christ is, not that we should become Christ.  After all, we must remember that Jesus was fully God and fully human, living a sinless life to the end that He might offer himself as a perfect sacrifice for all.

It will be helpful to reflect on the words of Paul as we wrap our minds around this:

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”  -Galatians 2:20

Paul is writing about the new life he has in Christ, being justified by faith and not by works of the Law.  It is interesting to note the phraseology that he uses here, stating that it is no longer he who lives, but Christ lives in him.  Christ is the vivifying power which guides and directs his life.  When we were dead in our sins, there was no life in us and we were compelled as undead minions to serve our whims under the direction of our sinful nature.  In Christ, we have life and have it abundantly:  we are made free from the dictatorship of sin and are able to live and to grow and to give our lives, not as compulsory tribute, but as love offerings to God in a renewing, life-giving relationship.  Through this relationship we are shaped by God as His love works in and through us, forming us into the unique person we were created to be.

Consider an artist and painting as a metaphor:  a painting is given life and meaning by the artist acting through their brush and each painting is a unique expression of the artist’s heart, so that no two are the same.  Each life is a masterpiece which God has a vision for, a unique expression of love and beauty that He wishes to create.  What’s more, He includes us in the creative process so that we are not a passive canvas which is acted upon, but rather a fellow artist who works in cooperation with the divine maestro upon the canvas.  The end result is that the person we are is a unique work of art:  an expression of the heart of God that is unlike any other.  In attempting to be someone else, we try to become nothing more than a copy.  A copy is a lifeless duplicate of the original work:  the artist is unable to put any heart or expression into it because it is simply a retracing of lines.  Similarly, when we set out to live a utopic vision of picturesque Christianity, we are doing nothing more than sitting down to copy an image.  Because we are tracing lines, our focus is on attempting to recreate each stroke and we have no time for interaction or relationship with the artist Himself.  We do not allow God to have any input or to help us put any of ourselves into the work, and so our copy remains lifeless no matter how well we trace.  That enlivening and animating power of Christ which Paul wrote of is absent.

Rather than an empty duplication, our life and relationship with God is a vibrant work-in-progress during our time on earth.  It will only reach its completion when it becomes a part of the glorious mosaic in Heaven.  The life of Christ is a foundation to us.  The lives of our fellow Christians, both those who have gone before and our contemporaries, serve as influences and inspirations to us.  We work with God to have ourselves formed into a portrait of Christ that is uniquely ours, one in which our heart beats with God’s as they are both poured out onto the canvas.


A Lesson from the Leviathans

Today when we observe the whale, we see an affable, albeit mysterious fellow.  The sort of chap who is widely traveled and deeply learned, yet feels no need to share the full extent of his experiences.  (Whales seldom have Twitter accounts, much less write their own tweets.)  My point is that, should you encounter a whale, you will most likely be met with mild curiosity if you are deemed worthy of attention at all.  This isn’t noteworthy unless you consider that there are few other species against which we have waged such a bloody and far reaching campaign (excluding our fellow humans, of course).  Yet despite the previous hostilities, the whale’s primary concern remains, even around us, doing those things which whales do.  Herein, I think, lies the cardinal virtue of the whale: despite the challenges he faces and despite his grandiose size and power, he remains faithful to his divinely appointed business as a whale.  Sometimes, the issue we run up against is that, in the midst of our daily lives, we forget our divinely appointed business as humans.  Therefore, perhaps we can learn a thing or two by considering the whale.

Now as I hold up the whale for our reflection, it is not my aim or intent to try and outdo King Solomon who held up the ant for us in a similar fashion.  Rather, I wish only to follow his example (and that of our Lord Jesus Christ, for that matter) in pointing us to nature as a way to better direct our hearts and minds to God.

The first objection that may be raised against the whale’s example of living with and for God is that it is a brute beast who doesn’t possess the same level of intelligence or consciousness as we do.  This is undeniable.  However, what we can take away from this point is that while a whale is relieved of our level of intelligence, he is also relieved of much of the mental humbug that comes with that intelligence.  That is, there is an undeniable simplicity of thought which guides his actions: the whale’s pattern of thought always begins with God’s blueprint.  On the other hand, because we have the ability to engage in lofty thoughts, we are able to deviate from God’s blueprint for our minds.  This habit of straying from the straight and narrow is what we often call our sinful nature.  The cue that we can take from our cetacean planet-mates is to remember that our relationship with God has a, fundamentally, simple basis:  to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind.  This is what we aim to start from and allow to guide all of our thoughts and actions.

Another objection that may be raised is that the whale has the luxury of being able to focus on following God’s leading only because he is so large and is the master of his domain.  To the first point, about his size, I don’t think we can ascribe his calmness and clarity of thought to his size.  After all, in my reckoning, it is when we think of ourselves as big that we are most likely to be upset by trivial things.  To the second point, about being master of his domain, I think we have more in common with the whale’s situation than we may realize.  Recall, if you will, that the whale is a mammal who breathes through lungs living in a world of water.  It is only when he ascends to the surface that he is able to fill his lungs with life-sustaining air.  One might say that the whale is in the ocean but not of the ocean.  Similarly, as Christians, we are in the world but not of the world. This is why, like the whale, we must periodically ascend to the surface of the worldly ocean, spouting our prayers and breathing in God.

The whale, like all of nature’s denizens, helps us learn how to better live with God.  As more complicated members of creation, it is good for us to be reminded from time to time of the basics of life, that we should seek God first and foremost.  The whale also demonstrates for us the necessity of sticking our heads out of the sometimes turbulent and cloudy waters of life in order to be filled and refreshed by God.  So may we all endeavor to spout often and spout fully so that we may thrive in the sea that is life on earth, always looking above for our true fulfillment.  Thus concludes this little meditation on the mighty whale.

Chibi Whales


Remembering the Last Things – Part 2

Previously we discussed contemplating the final judgment in which all of humanity shall stand before God. In particular, we focused on the Scriptural precedent for such ruminations. With that groundwork laid, we will now proceed to more practical matters.

Part 1 was wrapped up with the juxtaposition of the fearsomeness of the judgment and the precious hope of grace. As we weigh anchor and set out for this particular cruising ground of meditation, it is of great importance that we understand our purpose in doing so. Although compunction (a holy sorrow for our sins) is a part of this line of thought, it is only a part and not the sum of the whole. These meditations do not end in despair, but quite the opposite: they renew our trust in God’s grace and urge us on in our pilgrimage here on earth.

In order to present some form and order for our line of thought I will defer to Evagrius Ponticus, a figure from the deserts of ancient Christianity. Despite some of his theological shortcomings, his insight and ability as a guide for the soul remain potent helps for us.

“Evagrius said, ‘While you sit in your cell, recall your attention, and remember the day of your death and you will see that your body is decaying. Think about the loss, feel the pain. Shrink from the vanity of the world outside. Be retiring, and be careful to keep your vow of quiet, and you will not weaken. Remember the souls in hell. Meditate on their condition, the bitter silence and the moaning, the fear and the strife, the waiting and the pain without relief, the tears that cannot cease to flow. Remember too the day of resurrection, imaging God’s terrible and awful judgment. Bring into your sight the confusion of sinners before God and His Christ, before angels and archangels and powers, and all the human race, punishment, everlasting fire, the worm that never dies, the darkness of Tartarus – and above them all the sound of the gnashing teeth, dread and torments. Bring before your eyes the good laid up for the righteous, their confidence before God the Father and Christ His Son, before angels and archangels and the powers, and all the people in the kingdom of heaven and its gifts, joy and peace. Remember all this. Weep and lament for the judgment of sinners, keep alert to the grief they suffer; be afraid that you are hurrying towards the same condemnation. Rejoice and exult at the good laid up for the righteous. Aim at enjoying the one, and being far from the other. Do not forget this, whether you in your cell or outside it. Keep these memories in your mind and so cast out of it the sordid thoughts that harm you.’”

-Excerpt from “The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks” translated by Benedicta Ward

Evagrius’ roadmap begins with the acceptance of our own mortality. This subject alone is a peculiar one, for, as a culture, we typically spend a great deal of time in shoving this fact to the back of our consciousness rather than accepting and living with it. However, taking time to remember that our lives are, in fact, finite helps us to get a more concrete grasp on our existence and reminds us that there will come a time when the physical overlay will be rolled back to reveal the eternal.

Next we contemplate and consider the horrors and suffering of souls in hell. It is important here to do two things: first, to remember that this outcome is the result of one’s own hardness of heart and refusal to accept salvation; second, to recall these things in a direct and real manner, not as the reminiscence of some Sulphur-laden outburst from the pulpit. If we only think of it as something that we’ve been told by a preacher or evangelism tract, it is very easy for hell to become a sort of boogeyman: perhaps disconcerting, but nothing more than a story told to make us behave. In the sort of meditation we are talking about here, we take out the middlemen and think upon hell in all of its horrific reality. This may bring us a little too close for comfort, but it is only natural that we should be upset by the eventualities of sin.

From the depths of hell, we move on to ponder the flipside of eternity: the joy and peace of heaven. Just as we embraced the realities of hell, we now turn to the realities of heaven, not as a sugar-coated bauble meant to entice us towards good behavior but as our ultimate goal and fulfillment, the Promised Land which God seeks to bring us to where we shall be with Him forever. This practice helps us familiarize ourselves with and acquire a taste for the things of heaven. This is not to say that godliness is an acquired taste, it isn’t that we must teach ourselves to like it. Rather, it is more the case that we must take the time to seek it out and allow ourselves to partake of it. For in many ways, the temptations of the devil are aimed at drawing our attention from heaven and warping our desire so that it seeks purely earthly things.

Evagrius concludes by urging us to keep the content of our meditation in mind at all times, to remain mindful of the truth we have pondered. This helps us to see things more accurately, in light of eternity. Perhaps the most accurate and succinct way to describe our meditations on heaven and hell is a realignment of the soul. It is a way in which we shake off the deceit of the devil’s machinations and allow God to clear away the corrosion that has built up on the eyes of our hearts so that we can see the world as it really is. We step back, humbled, from the idols of self-righteousness that we have erected and recommit ourselves to making God our all-in-all, casting ourselves upon His great mercy and love.

Further Exploration:

Here is a condensed version of Evagrius’ order of meditation:

  • Remember your own mortality, one day you will die
  • Recall the suffering and regret of souls in hell
  • Recall the joy and peace of souls in heaven
  • Remember these things and so aim at avoiding hell and pursuing heaven

Scripture to think on:

  • Matthew 25:31-46
  • Revelation 20:11-21:8