Sunday, March 23, 2014

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze
an the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom. 



Friday, March 21, 2014

To have succeeded

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

source: Wiki



Monday, March 17, 2014

Sabbath Keeping and the Spiritual Life (part one)

Are Christians required to keep the Sabbath? This is a controversial topic that has divided Christian through the ages. There are a few references to the Sabbath in the Bible. Most of the verses commanding us to keep the Sabbath is found in the Old Testament.

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. (Exodus 20:8-10a)

 Six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor in order that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female slave, as well as your stranger, may refresh themselves. (Exodus 23:12)

For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall surely be put to death. (Exodus 31:15)

 Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. (Deuteronomy 5:12)
You shall keep My sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary; I am the Lord. (Leviticus 26:2)

The context of these verses is that it was given to the Israelites to set them apart from the nations surrounding them, and to grow them into the people of God that God intended. It was the custom of the Jews to come together on the Sabbath, which is Saturday, cease work, and worship God. Of the 10 commandments listed in Exodus 20:1-17, only nine of them were reinstituted in the New Testament. (Six in Matthew 19:18, murder, adultery, stealing, false witness, honor parents, and worshiping God; Romans 13:9, coveting. Worshiping God properly covers the first three commandments). The one that was not reaffirmed was the one about the Sabbath. Instead, Jesus said that He is the Lord of the Sabbath (Matt. 12:8).

With regards to the Sabbath in the New Testament, there seems to be a difference in emphasis. No longer is it a particular day of rest to be observed religiously but instead the concept of Sabbath-rest come into being.

 One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. (Romans 14:5)

Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. (Colossians 2:16)

When it comes to the Sabbath, we have always fixate on a particular day, usually a Saturday. However we never quite agree on when does that Saturday begins. Does Sabbath begins on Friday sunset or Saturday midnight? Other may think that for Christians, it is a Sunday. By Sunday, they usually means the Sunday morning service after which they are free to do yard work, read the papers or go shopping with the family. What seems is common to different camps is that during the Sabbath, we should not do any work. Work here refers to what we do the rest of the week in our workplace.

I believe we get this concept of resting from our work from the Genesis account in chapter 1 and 2. “By the seventh day God has finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work” (Gen. 2:2 NIV). I am very curious about God being ‘tired’ after creating for six days. Why would God get tired? He is after all God and should be tireless. A word study of the Hebrew word for ‘rested’ is yiš·bōṯ' which means ‘ceased’. This seems to imply that God did not stop on the seventh day because he is tired but that he stopped because he has finished what he set out to do. Genesis chapter two seems to bear out the idea that God did not stop to rest on the seventh day but instead he has completed/ceased his creation and wants to enjoy his creation on the seventh day. God wants to celebrate with his creatures (which includes human beings) and his created order. God delights, enjoys and meets with his completed perfect creation in the Garden of Eden. This shalom place, as distinct from the chaotic state before creation, is a holy place; a place to enjoy and delight with God in the completion of his creation. Unfortunately this perfect holy place of rest became threatened by the Fall and the concept of Sabbath became imprisoned by religiosity.

Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ”

And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “And on the seventh day God rested from all his work.” And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.”

 It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience. Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrows; it judges the thoughts and attitude of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.  (Heb 4:1-13)

The day God chose for the Sabbath is ‘Today’ (Heb. 4:7). The passage from Hebrews 4:1-13 is aptly entitled “A Sabbath-Rest for the People of God” (NIV). This sabbath rest (sabbatismós) which remains for God’s people will be “the perfect sabbath of heavenly blessing toward which the pilgrim community is moving and which will mean cessation from its own labors”. [1] The author of Hebrews implies that entering the Sabbath rest is not by doing or by observing a special day but by faith and obedience to the revealed word of God. This rest from work is not just rest from our workplace but also from our struggles with our sinful natures. The tense of the Greek implies that this rest is not only an eschatological rest but one in which we can experience in the present time. Hence, today, not only are we to rest from our labors but also to celebrate, enjoy, and delight with God in his creation of which we are a part of.

[1] Kittel, G., Friedrich, G. & Bromiley, G.W., 1985. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, p.992.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Jesus Prayer

cover of Mathewes-Green, Frederica. The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer That Tunes the Heart to God. Brewster, MA: Parachetes Press, 2009.

One of the prayers which I find most helpful in helping me to pray unceasingly is the Jesus Prayer. The Jesus Prayer was developed by the desert fathers and mothers in the deserts of Egypt and Palestine during the early years of Christianity (3rd Century AD) more than 1,500 years ago. The name Jesus Prayer was first mentioned by St. John Climacus (525-606 AD), abbot of the monastery at Mt. Sinai in The Ladder of Divine Ascent[1]. In the 18th century it was collected into a book by two Russian monks. This book is the Philokalia[2]. Another book from Russia that mentioned the Jesus Prayer was The Way of the Pilgrim which was also published in the 19th century. This prayer is still a favorite prayer of the Orthodox Catholic Church or commonly known as the Eastern Orthodox Church[3]. The apostolic church was a single church until 1024 when it was split into the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Catholic Church by an event appropriately named the East-West Schism. The Protestant movement, of which the Presbyterians are one of the inheritors, came out of the Roman Catholic Church. In many ways, the practices of the Orthodox Catholic Church reflect the practices of the early church.

The Jesus Prayer in its commonest form is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This prayer has two essential components. The first is the acknowledgement of the supremacy of Jesus Christ as described in the great Christological hymn of Philippians 2:6-11. The second component is the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, in which the Pharisee demonstrates the improper way to pray by exclaiming: "Thank you Lord that I am not like the Publican", whereas the Publican prays correctly in humility, saying "Lord have mercy on me, a sinner" (Luke 18:10-14). The Jesus Prayer is a prayer addressed to God asking for mercy.

The Jesus Prayer is also known as the prayer of the heart. The Song of Solomon's passage from the Old Testament “I sleep, but my heart is awake” (Song of Solomon 5:2) declares that for persons in love, their beloved is never far from their hearts. The analogy being that as a lover is always conscious to his or her beloved, people can also achieve a state of “constant prayer” where they are always conscious of God's presence in their lives.

The prayer is repeated slowly and prayerfully. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Repeatedly proclaiming the divinity of Christ and asking for mercy is not vain repetition. It is different from chanting a mantra or a self help technique. It is “continuous” worship in invoking the name of Christ and acknowledging our dependence upon Him. Mercy here is not just for salvation only but also for our spiritual well being. Unlike mantras, the Jesus Prayer may be translated into any language.

Initially you may need to find a quiet place to pray the Jesus Prayer. To pray the Jesus prayer is to repeat “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner” as many times as your time period allows. Gradually, as you become more used to it, you find you will be able to pray it while you are doing other things. The Jesus Prayer may be prayed anywhere. There are no special postures associated with it.

1.      Find a quiet place and time to pray
2.      Be comfortable but not too comfortable
3.      Close your eyes and still your mind
4.      Be aware of your breathing. Consciously slow down your breathing; take a deep breath and breathe out slowly counting silently up to five. Repeat unless you are relaxed and calm.
5.      Slowly match your breathing to the Jesus Prayer. “Lord Jesus Christ” (receive-breathe in), “Son of the Living God” (proclaim- breathe out), “have mercy on me” (receive-breathe in), “a sinner” (proclaim- breathe out). St. John Climatus writes, “Let the remembrance of Jesus be present with your every breath.”[4]
6.      Keep repeating  these words of the Jesus prayer.
7.      If your mind starts wandering, use the words of the Jesus Prayer to refocus.
8.      Start with a ten minute prayer session twice a day.
9.      Slowly extend the duration of your prayer sessions
10.   Extend your prayer outside these prayer sessions into the other times of your life – while waiting in a queue, waiting for the traffic light to change, brushing your teeth, etc.

Pray unceasingly, urges St Paul to the Romans (Rom.12:12), the Ephesians (Eph. 6:18), the Colossians (Col. 4:2) and the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 5:16-18). In this multi-tasking form, you can pray unceasingly while you do other things. People who have been praying the Jesus Prayer for many years will tell you that they are able to work, play, love, and rest while part of their minds are praying the Jesus Prayer. There is also a story told that when a certain devout Orthodox Church lady was coming out of anesthesia after an operation, the surgical nurses heard her praying the Jesus Prayer before she herself became fully conscious!

The spiritual teachers of the Orthodox Church claim that initially you pray the Jesus Prayer but soon the Jesus Prayer prays you. The continuous invoking the Name of God and petitioning for mercy has a power effect on our spiritual formation. It makes us sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit and empowers the “renovation of our hearts.” This is the beauty of the Jesus prayer. It is not the endless repetition of the words. It is in the endless repetition that we find ourselves ‘sensitized’ to the presence of God. When we continually receive and proclaim we find our minds and souls becoming more receptive to God who is always with us but unfortunately we are not always aware of Him. The Jesus Prayer is one prayer I pray constantly and I sincerely invite you to pray it too.

Further Reading

[1] John Climacus, John Climacus: The Ladder of Divine Ascent, ed. Richard J. Payne, trans., Colm Luibheid and Norman Russell, The Classics of Western Spirituality (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1982)., 45-54, 153n.
[2] Writing from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart, trans., E. Kadloubovsky and G.E.H. Palmer (London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1951). Other good books on the Jesus Prayer includes A Monk of the Eastern Church, The Jesus Prayer (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimit's Seminary Press, 1987).; The Way of a Pilgrim and the Pilgrim Continues on His Way, trans., R. M. French (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1965).,Frederica Mathewes-Green, The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer That Tunes the Heart to God (Brewster, MA: Parachetes Press, 2009).,Norris J. Chumley, The Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2011).
[3] Mathewes-Green.
[4] Climacus., 270.

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Life of Jesus