Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer Movie

Emmy Award winning filmmaker, author and theologian, Dr. Norris J. Chumley and historian and author the Very Reverend Professor John A. McGuckin embark on a journey of a lifetime. Their goal was to trace and document the origins of early Christian monastic life and to meet the keepers of thirteen holy sites in the regions where Christianity and the Church began.

Over the course of eight years, they gradually gained the trust of the most eminent Patriarchs, Archbishops, Abbots, Abbesses, Monks and Nuns who allowed them unprecedented access to the inner sancta of these sacred sites—never before seen by the outside world. Their travels took them to the cave of St. Antony in Egypt; St. Catherine’s monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai; across the Mediterranean to the Greek peninsula of Mt. Athos, to the forests of Transylvania in Eastern Europe, Ukraine, and finally to Russia.
Along the way, they repeatedly discover the use of a simple and elegant ancient prayer. Known by generations of Eastern Christians as the Jesus Prayer, it is one of the earliest and most widely practiced prayer rituals of the ancient Church. The prayer has been chanted in remote caves and active monasteries for centuries but is largely unknown to the Western World, until now. Many say that with this prayer, it is possible to communicate directly with God.

We meet a broad spectrum of male and female monastics, including a former atheist and professor of political science (specializing in Marxism) from New Zealand and now the spiritual master of St. Antony’s Monastery in the Red Sea Mountains of Egypt (the first monastery ever erected at the burial site of a canonized ascetic). On the island of Serifos, Greece, a solitary monk maintains the buildings and exquisite grounds of an otherwise empty monastery. Abbess Josephina at Varatec Monastery in Transylvania brings us into her private cottage and demonstrates the ancient Jesus Prayer on camera. We meet a young Ukrainian priest who, raised under the Soviet regime, came to his calling during the “Second Spring” in the early 1990s. Eminent Romanian scholar and priest, Father Teofil, blind since birth and author of volumes of influential theology, teaches us that we need to make a bridge between mind and heart. In stark contrast to the remote cave and nearly empty ancient church of St. Antony, the film concludes with the newly appointed Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, performing his exquisite ritual duties to thousands of parishioners at Sergiyev Posad Monastery near Moscow.

Like the illuminated icons among the spiritual treasures on this journey of discovery, the very presence of “Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer” exerts more than material influence. By a combination of academic and historical seriousness, a patient camera and an enveloping calm, this film and book seem illuminated from within. Without exaggeration, a patient viewing of the film or reading of the book has the effect of contemplative prayer, bringing at minimum a sensation of profound peace. “This is a documentary film and text, but not in the traditional sense,” says Chumley “…it utilizes an apophatic mode: that of negation, or a process of elimination…it’s a study in essences and in absences: what is not spoken is as important or more important than what is.”

With this unique weave of intellectual authority and respectful sense of wonder MYSTERIES OF THE JESUS PRAYER is accessible to any audience regardless of one’s religious conviction, and will work as a catalyst for understanding the core spiritual nature of Christian religious life and its earliest roots of devotional prayer and practice.


The Return of the King

Chapter 7
The return of Jesus Christ will be the most momentous event in history. Every eye will see him, no one will miss it. Your eternal destiny will be decided at that moment. For many it would be the happiest moment of their lives and for the rest it would be the saddest moment of their lives.

Every eye will see him? Yes, every eye will see him. How about people who are on the other side of the earth? On that day people will be so terrified of the strange sight in the sky that they will stay awake and watch the event on their smart phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, TV, smart TV or other device.

Many, with transformed bodies, will be caught up to meet him in the sky and the rest will be left on earth to face the wrath of God. The outcome is up to you; to persist in your pride to be your own God or to repent (change of heart toward God) and accept Jesus as your personal Saviour and honour Him as only He deserves.
The second coming of Jesus Christ will also be the most spectacular event in history. Just prior to that there will be signs in the sky to warn us of His arrival; the sun and the moon will be darkened and the sign of the Son of man will appear in heaven; and we will see Jesus coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 

read more here


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Imaginative Reading of the Bible

One of the many effective ways to let the Word of God indwells us is to read the bible using our eyes, minds and imagination. Imagining ourselves present at the scenes of the event in the bible text, either as an active participant or passive observer may have a powerful effect on our spiritual life. This way of reading makes the biblical text come alive, giving substance and texture to the sentences on the page. It allows the Holy Spirit to work not only on our minds but also through our senses and feelings. We also become more sensitive to the text and to the nuances of the Holy Spirit in the text. However we must control our imagination and not let it run wild! The imagination in imaginative reading is confined to what the text says and should not create new stories or narrative that is not found in the bible or is contrary to biblical teachings.

One example of imaginative reading is to imagine being present when Jesus preaches the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. We imagine we are present when Jesus sat down on the mountain to preach. We are at the bottom of the mountain and we look up to the man seated on the slope. There are many people close by also looking up. We can feel the cool morning breeze that comes from the Sea of Galilee. The grass felt moist under our sandaled feet and the sun warm on our skin. We look up again as a voice sounded, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…” We mediate as we continue to read the text in Matt. 5:3 onwards.

Alice Fryling in her book Meeting God Together shares her experience of using imaginative reading in her spiritual direction session and encourages her directee to imagine being an active participant with her imagination. Alice writes,

For example, I was meeting with someone who had been struggling with the same problem in her life for years. Nothing seemed to help. As we talked, I began thinking about the man who waited by the pool of Bethesda for thirty-eight years for someone to help him get into the pool and be healed. I read the passage, John 5:1-8, to my friend, and I asked to picture herself lying there by the pool, struggling with her desire to be healed. Then I asked her to imagine Jesus approaching her. How would she feel? What might Jesus say to her? How would she respond to Jesus? By entering into this story in Scripture, my friend was able to experience God's love in a new way in her own situation. The Spirit touched her life in a quiet way, but one as real as the way Jesus touched the lame man. The Spirit's touch was personal and unique, well suited to her particular needs (72).

Following this experience with her friend, Alice also experienced a similar encounter herself with the text John 5 which she shares,

I had been praying about a number of relational entanglements that were draining life and energy from me. As I prayed, I talked with God about all the reasons these entanglements had gone on for so long and why I couldn't do anything about them. The passage in John came to mind. Reading the passage for myself this time, I was struck by Jesus' words to the ill man. Jesus said, "Stand up, take your mat and walk." These were familiar words to me. But this time, I heard the Spirit say to me, "Just walk!" And with that command came an invitation to let go of my need to figure things out and instead "just walk." All that week, when I was tempted to spiral back down into the entanglements of the relationship, I heard, "Just walk!" Just get going. Live as though you're healed. Don't lie there anymore. Those words seemed to guard my heart all week (73).

Imaginative reading provides different experiential encounters facilitated by the Holy Spirit for different people, and even for the same person, it will be different at different times in his or her life.

It is reasonable that some Christians are cautious about these approaches. Two major concerns are that we are not employing the proper hermeneutic tools here in our bible reading, and that we may be reading the bible out of context. These are valid concerns and are interrelated. Hans Frei argues in The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative: A Study in 18th and 19th Century Hermeneutics (1980) that the ‘proper’ hermeneutical which are the historical-critical method, the grammatical method, higher criticism, and systematic theology in current use actually intellectualized and subdivided the texts, and located their meaning outside the text! Frei contends that any interpretation of the Scriptures that discounts the realistic, historical narrative will result in distortion. According to Frei, we are already reading the bible out of context. Maybe lectio divina and imaginative reading will lead us to the context in which the bible is written.
A further comment about the common bible reading tools we use nowadays is that they date back to the Enlightenment and Newtonian science, which sought knowledge by breaking everything into its smallest pieces. Lectio divina and imaginative reading of the bible have been utilized by Christians since the time of the early church and is still being used down the centuries by some traditions of the Christian faith.

Basically it boils down to our willingness to believe that God can use the bible through our imagination and emotions to speak to us. If we believe in the power of the Holy Spirit, then we should feel secure to use our imagination for the Holy Spirit will guide us into the truth. Whatever we receive will need to be checked with a more mature Christian and against the teachings of the Christian faith. This is where the spiritual director comes in. Lectio divina and imaginative reading need to be discerned through the lens of biblical teachings and a second pair of eyes is helpful. The revival of these ancient practices of reading the bible will enhance our spiritual encounters with God through his word.


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Hospitality, therefore, means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. It is not to lead our neighbor into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment. It is not an educated intimidation with good books, good stories and good works, but the liberation of fearful hearts so that words can find roots and bear ample fruit. It is not a method of making our God and our way into the criteria of happiness, but the opening of an opportunity to others to find their God and their way. The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance to their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free also to leave and follow their own vocation. Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt the lifestyle of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own.
Nouwen, Henri J.M. 1966. Reaching out: The three movements of the spiritual life. New York, NY: Image Book, 71-72

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Home, come on home

This song by the late John Denver can be found on his "Different Directions" album This is the time of year that our hearts turn home. Jesus is calling us to Himself. Make your heart His home and find your home in Him.
The lyrics:
Home, come on home
Ye who are weary come home
Softly and tenderly calling
Home, come on home

Sometimes when Im feeling lonesome
And no one on earth seems to care
Im all by myself in the darkness
With no one and nothing to share

Just when it feels like its hopeless
And Ill never make it alone
I hear the voices of angels
Tenderly calling me home

Home, come on home
Ye who are weary come home
Softly and tenderly calling
Home, come on home

I try to keep it together
I never let on that Im scared
Still sometimes I fall to pieces
Scattered and lost everywhere

Just when it feels like theres no one
To mend all my broken down dreams
I hear a voice deep inside me
Tenderly calling to me

Home, come on home
Ye who are weary come home
Softly and tenderly calling
Home, come on home

So dont be afraid of the darkness
And dont run away from the storm
Stand up and face your reflection
The feelings you try to ignore

After the tempest is over
Youve let yourself come on through
Youll hear a voice in the silence
Tenderly calling to you

Home, come on home
Ye who are weary come home
Softly and tenderly calling
Home, come on home


Thursday, August 09, 2012

God's desire, Our desire

The possibility that God's desires for us will correspond to our own deepest desires is a new thought for many people. But if we assume that God's will is something we will not
like, then we'll be tempted to look for happiness on our own. David Benner writes about this in Sacred Companions:
Ignatius of Loyola suggests that sin is ultimately a refusal to believe that what God wants is my happiness and fulfillment. When I fail to believe this, 1 am tempted to sin—to take my life into my own hands, assuming that I am in the best position to determine what will lead to my happiness. As I become convinced that God wants nothing more than my fulfillment, surrender to his will is increasingly possible.
The possibility that I will actually enjoy what God wants for me is radically different from my own infant-believer understanding of God's will. But it is a very biblical concept. The psalmist David wrote, "Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart" (Psalm 37:4). My heart's desires, then, are from God. In fact, the desires of my heart may actually reveal the will of God. (Fryling 2009, 111)

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Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Why we don't grow spiritually

Important thought on why we do not grow spiritually -

"As spiritual directors we will see this kind of movement [towards God] in our directees. It is certainly reason for rejoicing! But over time, we will also see that the human heart resists this Love, skirts it, moves away from it, and even denies any experience of it.

What accounts for such seemingly contrary behavior? Why would we resist the very One for whom our hearts long? The reason, of course, is simple: Love changes us. Love summons us to grow into the Beloved. And such change —religious tradition calls it "conversion" — threatens the self we identify with and cling to with all our might. When God draws near, we may initially feel consoled, but soon we will discover that God is also a consuming fire, a hammer shattering rock."No one can see me and live," Yahweh warns Moses. God's ways are not our way as Deutero-Isaiah notes.' Taking a path toward God inevitably means
leaving behind much that we hold dear." (Buckley 2012, 61-62)

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The Ultimate Fit

But ultimately the answer is found inside the person. It is a pervasive feeling which says: "This is right for me. This fits. This is what I want to do."...

God's purpose for us is found deep within ourselves, in the place where we find our own profound life-orientation or destiny. God wants for us, and what we are, are consistent with each other. The seeds of his purpose are planted within us, and from within, in interaction with an environment that is also in his hands, they grow toward the fullness of our possibilities.

The profound psychological researches of Carl Jung are epitomized in the conclusion that the main task of life for us is "individuation," or becoming the unique individual each of us is. It is a task and a responsibility; it takes a lifetime, and can be very demanding at times. But we evade it at our peril. For Jung, it involves, among other things, listening to all the parts of the self, the rational as well as the feeling components, the conscious as well as the unconscious, which last speaks to us in dreams and other ways. All must be respected and integrated into our total unique selfhood. We have plenty of resistances to this task of becoming our own selves, not a partial self and not someone else; but we ignore our destiny at the our own self-destruction. For it is impossible to be whole or to be at peace until we find and follow our own path. (Hart 1980, 75-76)

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Sunday, August 05, 2012

Christian Spirituality and Care of Souls

Eugene Peterson says:

Christian spirituality means living in the mature wholeness of the
gospel. It means taking all the elements of your life-children,
spouse, job, weather, possessions, relationships-and experiencing
them as an act of faith. God wants all the material of our lives.
Therefore, for Peterson, spiritual direction is the "cure of
souls,' which seriously long for the integration of every part of their
The soul is the essence of the human personality. The cure of souls,
then, is the Scripture-directed, prayer-shaped care that is devoted
to persons singly or in groups, in settings sacred and profane. It is a
determination to work at the center, to concentrate on the essential.


Saturday, August 04, 2012

Spiritual Friendship

But what happiness, what security, what joy to have someone to whom you dare to speak on terms of equality as to another self; one to whom you need have no fear to confess your failings; one to whom you can unblushingly make known what progress you have made in the spiritual life; one to whom you can entrust all the secrets of your heart and before whom you can place all your plans! What, therefore, is more pleasant than so to unite to oneself the spirit of another and of two to form one, that no boasting is thereafter to be feared, no suspicion to be dreaded, no correction of one by the other to cause pain, no praise on the part of one to bring a charge of adulation from the other. 12. "A friend," says the Wise Man, "is the medicine of life." (1974, 2:11-12) 


Thursday, August 02, 2012

The First and Basic Act of Theological Work

The first and basic act of theological work is prayer...But theological work does not merely begin with prayer and is not merely accompanied by it; in its totality, it is peculiar and characteristic of theology that it can be performed only in the act of prayer [160] 

a useful reminder from Barth

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