Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Delight – Entering God's Heart Through Prayer

The Way of a Pilgrim is a 19th century Russian work telling the story of the narrator’s pilgrimage across Russia pursuing wisdom in the way of prayer. In particular he is concerned to learn to pray without ceasing in communion with God. The focus is on the Jesus Prayer, the ancient Eastern Christian practice of continuous prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It is an instructive account of the challenge of praying deeply and truly.

After much practice, the Pilgrim has this experience:

The prayer of my heart gave me such consolation that I felt there was no happier person on earth than I, and I doubted if there was a greater or fuller happiness in the Kingdom of Heaven. Not only did I feel this in my own soul, but the whole outside world also seemed to be full of beauty and delight. Everything drew me to love and to thank God; people, trees, plants, animals. I saw them all as my kinfolk. I found on them all the magic of the Name of Jesus. 
The Way of a Pilgrim

While we trust that God desires for us to bring all our concerns to him in prayer, all true prayer is rooted in the practice of sinking our hearts into the Heart of God where we are transformed and begin to see other people and everything in the world with the love of God – full of beauty and delight.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Stranger is the Messenger

A sermon on Hebrews 13:1-8

“Let mutual love continue.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

Six nights in a row the man had had the same dream. Six nights in a row he had awakened, weeping. Tears of longing. 

In the dream, he was lost, wandering the streets of a large city. It was a winter night, dark and bitterly cold. But every door of every building was locked. 

No matter how hard he knocked or how loudly he shouted the doors remained closed. Only silence on the other side.

He eventually came to a door behind which he could hear the muffled sounds of a party, a great celebration. The door was slightly warm to the touch, promising warmth and comfort on the other side. The faint bits of laughter and music that made it through the door made his heart ache with longing.

He knew his joy depended upon entering, but, like all the other doors in the city, this door was locked. He knocked. He pounded. He shouted. He pleaded. There was no answer. 

At this point, six nights in a row, the man had awakened, weeping. 

On the seventh night, he had the dream again. This time, as he stood at the door, he cried out in desperation, “Dear God, tell me how to open the door.” 

To his amazement, he heard an answer, “The Stranger is my messenger. You will find the secret in the stranger.” 

Again, he awakened, weeping. But, now the tears were tears of expectancy.

As soon as he could get himself ready and skipping breakfast he went out on the sidewalk and asked each person he met, “Are you the messenger?” All he got were blank stares and puzzled looks.

It occurred to him that maybe the stranger would not know whether or not he or she had the message. It was up to the man to pay attention.

That evening he went to a committee meeting. There were people there he had known for a long time. More than one of the committee members was a source of great irritation to the man. During the meeting he realized that though he had known some of those on the committee for a long time, in a deeper sense he had never really gotten to know them. They were still strangers. Maybe one of them was the stranger! He began listening to each person with patient attention like a prospector panning for gold.

So it was with each person he met, not just strangers, but friends and family as well. 

He became more and more open-hearted. He invited others into his heart and made them welcome. The drunk on the street corner. The clerk at the store. The salesperson at his door. He learned to listen to each stranger, seeking the messenger. Every person he met, no matter how troublesome or offensive, was a potential bearer of the message.

The man hosted a big party in which there was much laughter and music. Because he was the host, everyone came. When each person came to his door – whether they were rich or poor, respectable or disreputable, attractive or offensive – he greeted each with a warm embrace and said, “Welcome friend.” He welcomed them regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity. If they had an accent, he just listened more attentively. He spent the evening getting to know as many as he could, hoping to discover the messenger.

He went to the jail and visited the prisoners. He visited patients in the hospital. He went to the nursing home and the insane asylum. Maybe among the prisoners, the sick, or the mentally ill he would find the messenger with the secret to opening the door.

As he invited people into his heart, his home, and his life, things changed. Not always the way he expected or wanted – sometimes the floors and rugs got dirty when some people were careless. Once, his flower garden got a bit trampled. Sometimes, as he welcomed people into his heart, all he got was heartache. strangers did not always cross the borders of his life as he intended. But that was a risk worth taking for the sake of finding the message giving him access to the joy on the other side of the door.

His life was not always comfortable and predictable. But, his life was transformed even as he transformed the lives of others.

Gradually, the man began to realize: each person he let into his heart or home was the stranger-messenger with part of the answer. He had been expecting one particular stranger to have the message, but every stranger, indeed every other person, was part of the message. Each person the man met was a sacred gift, each one rare and precious, each one a messenger from God – an angel.

Every encounter with another person became a potential Visitation, every conversation was a potential Annunciation or Epiphany. With every encounter, he was panning for gold – panning for God.

In showing hospitality he also got to know God who is by nature hospitable, always reaching out to every stranger with open arms to say, “Welcome friend.” 

He learned humility. Not humility born of a groveling sense of worthlessness, but humility born of the realization that each person he met was the very image of God, worthy of respect, honor, and attention. 

He learned love. And the love he learned was mutual love. As he learned to receive the gift of others, he learned to offer the gift of himself.  He, too, might be a messenger of warmth and joy to others.

This was the answer he needed to hear. In his dreams, as in his heart, all the doors were open. He was able to join the celebration on the other side. He still sometimes woke up weeping – but now the tears were tears of joy.

“Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

Friday, August 26, 2016

Mercy – We fall down and we get up

The spiritual path can be a herky-jerky affair. It often seems like a two steps forward/one step back affair. We commit, we fail, and we recommit. We find ourselves returning again and again to some of the same sin. We can become discouraged by our own spiritual intransigence. We are tempted to give up or give in. We need mercy. We need help.

It is good to remember that this is – and has always been – standard fair for those seeking to live into holiness. It is also good to remember that our call to live lives of disciplined faithfulness comes within the context of the amazing grace we know in Jesus Christ. That discipline in the context of grace is demonstrated in this story from the early Church:

Dorotheos of Gaza was a monk in the sixth century who, among other things, oversaw the infirmary at his monastery. Dorotheos had an assistant whose name was Dosithy.

In the infirmary Dosithy was a good worker, looking after the sick, making their beds, and making them comfortable. Everything that he did was well done. If it happened that he was put out by a peevish patient or grew angry and rough with his patients, he would weep bitterly and would not be consoled. The others would report it to Dorotheos, who would seek him out and find him seated on the floor weeping his eyes out. ‘What’s the matter, Dosithy, what are you crying about?’ ‘Forgive me, Father,’ he would say, ‘I got angry with my brother and spoke unkindly with him.’ ‘And so, Dosithy, you were annoyed, and are not ashamed to speak badly to your brother! You don’t yet realise that he is Christ, and that you have been a cause of suffering to Christ?’ Dosithy would lower his eyes, still crying, and say nothing. When he had cried enough, Dorotheos would say, ‘God forgive you. Up now! Let us begin again from now, and let us be more attentive and God will help us.’ As soon as he heard these words, Dosithy would get up joyfully and run off to his duties, fully convinced that he had been pardoned by God. Similar scenes took place from time to time, and always when Dorotheos said, ‘Come on! Up you get! God forgive you. Once more start again from the beginning, but correct yourself from now on.’ Dosithy would shake off his trouble and go to work again with a will. 

I am struck with how this story demonstrates how seriously the early Church took anger as a sinful passion and kindness in word and action along with patience as fundamental virtues.

I am also persuaded that the way Dorotheos engages Dosithy is the way God engages us. Our sin is named and taken seriously – no excuses. We should weep over them with remorse. But, then, in his mercy, God does not leave us to wallow in guilt or despair. ‘Come on! Up you get! God forgive you. Once more start again from the beginning, but correct yourself from now on.’

When asked what about life in the monastery, a monk answered, “We fall down and we get up, we fall down and we get up.”

Bernard of Clairvaux said once, “The difference between the damned and the saved is that everyone, except the damned, gets up and stumbles on.”

Up now! Let us begin from now and let us be more attentive and God will help us stumble on.

Becoming a People of God's Mercy and Delight, Part 1

Becoming a People of God's Mercy and Delight, Part 2

More Mercy and Delight

Monday, August 22, 2016

Delight – Dante, Beatrice, and the Delight of God

In a recent post on God’s delight, I compared my early experience of romantic attraction with that of Dante and Beatrice and the way those experiences mirror experiencing the love and delight of God. Following are some quotes from Dante himself. The second quote describing the effect Beatrice had on Dante might also be said of the difference knowing God’s love and delight can make in how we live and how we engage the world around us.

Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) only met Beatrice twice. The first meeting came in May of 1274 when he was only nine years old and she was eight. She was dressed in soft crimson and wore a girdle about her waist. Dante was overcome with love at first sight and heard in his mind, "Now your bliss has appeared." He frequented places where he could catch a glimpse of her, but she never spoke to him until nine years later. Then one afternoon in 1283 he saw her dressed in white, walking down a street in Florence accompanied by two older women. Beatrice turned and greeted him. Her greeting filled him with such joy that he retreated to his room to think about her. Seven years later, Beatrice died with Dante's love of her unrequited.

Those two meetings and one greeting inspired Dante to write some of the most vivid poetry ever and some of the most profound spiritual reflection of the Christian tradition. His first reflections came in the La Vita Nuova (The New life or Life Renewed) a collection of prose and poetry written over the ten years after the second meeting, years that included Beatrice's death. They culminated in his masterpiece, the Divine Comedy which includes the Inferno, Purgatorio, and the Paradiso.

Dante came to understand that the love Beatrice evoked in him drew him into the life of God "the Love that moves the sun, the moon, and the other stars” (Paradiso, XXXIII, 145). Indeed, she seemed an icon of the renewed, redeemed life found ultimately in that Love revealed in Jesus Christ. Dante was the great master of the idea that all true love reflects and participates in that one Love revealed in the life and love of Jesus Christ.

Here is Dante's account of his second meeting with Beatrice:

When exactly nine years had passed since this gracious being appeared to me, as I have described, it happened that on the last day of this intervening period this marvel appeared before me again, dressed in purest white, walking between two other women of distinguished bearing, both older than herself. As they walked down the street she turned her eyes toward me where I stood in fear and trembling, and with her ineffable courtesy, which is now rewarded in eternal life, she greeted me; and such was the virtue of her greeting that I seemed to experience the height of bliss. It was exactly the ninth hour of day when she gave me her sweet greeting. As this was the first time she had ever spoken to me, I was filled with such joy that, my senses reeling, I had to withdraw from the sight of others. So I returned to the loneliness of my room and began to think about this gracious person. (Vita Nuova III)
Whenever and wherever she appeared, in the hope of receiving her miraculous salutation I felt I had not an enemy in the world. Indeed, I glowed with a flame of charity which moved me to forgive all who had ever injured me; and if at that moment someone had asked me a question, about anything, my only reply would have been: ‘Love’, with a countenance clothed with humility. When she was on the point of bestowing her greeting, a spirit of love, destroying all the other spirits of the senses, drove away the frail spirits of vision and said: ‘Go and pay homage to your lady’; and Love himself remained in their place. Anyone wanting to behold Love could have done so then by watching the quivering of my eyes. And when this most gracious being actually bestowed the saving power of her salutation, I do not say that Love as an intermediary could dim for me such unendurable bliss but, almost by excess of sweetness, his influence was such that my body, which was then utterly given over to his governance, often moved like a heavy, inanimate object. So it is plain that in her greeting resided all my joy, which often exceeded and overflowed my capacity. (Vita Nuova XI)

Here is a poem he wrote about Beatrice:
The power of Love borne in my lady’s eyes
Imparts its grace to all she looks upon;
Men turn to gaze at her when she walks by;
The heart of him she greets is made to quake,
His face to whiten, forcing down his gaze;
He sighs as all his defects flash in mind;
All pride and indignation flee from her.
Help me to honour her, most gracious ladies.
All sweet conception, every humblest thought
blooms in the hearty of the one who hears her speak,
and man is blest at his first sight of her.
The image of her when she starts to smile
breaks out of words, the mind cannot contain it,
a miracle too rich and strange to hold.
(Vita Nuova XXI)

Friday, August 19, 2016

Mercy – Grace over Karma

Grace is God's favor extended toward us, unearned and undeserved. Grace is the invitation extended by Jesus (and made possible by his life, death, and resurrection) to enter into the irresistible and penetrating light of God's love. And more, it is the gift of God's own Spirit working in us enabling us to RSVP. Still more, grace is the promise of the Holy Spirit working in us to bring about a radical transformation through the mercy of forgiveness, healing, and the infusion of God's own love such that we may become partakers of the divine nature.

In an interview, Bono of the rock band U2, had this to say about grace:

Bono: You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics; in physical laws every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “as you sow, so you will reap” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff.

Assayas: I’d be interested to hear that.

Bono: That’s between me and God. But I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I’d be in deep shit. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.

Maybe after all, Bono is only partly right. Maybe Grace and Mercy are actually at the heart of it all rather than Karma (or, according to the New Testament, certain ways of understanding the Law). That is good news indeed. Because we've all done a lot of stupid things.

Listen to the song Grace by U2. Or just read the lyrics. However ugly things may seem, remember: grace makes beauty out of ugly things.

She takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain
It could be her name

It's a name for a girl
It's also a thought that changed the world
And when she walks on the street
You can hear the strings
Grace finds goodness in everything

Grace, she's got the walk
Not on a ramp or on chalk
She's got the time to talk
She travels outside of karma
She travels outside of karma
When she goes to work
You can hear her strings
Grace finds beauty in everything

Grace, she carries a world on her hips
No champagne flute for her lips
No twirls or skips between her fingertips
She carries a pearl in perfect condition

What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings
Because grace makes beauty

Monday, August 15, 2016

Delight – God's Love Changes things

A version of this appeared in The Anglican Digest in 2006 and in my old blog.

"Tammy Metzger thinks you're cute" (and so does God).

I was a shy, scrawny farm boy. Shy and unsure of myself, I was the shrinking violet of wall flowers. When I was in the 9th grade, I rode a bus, along with other farm kids, to the small town of Claypool, Indiana. There, we were joined by the kids from the town. We were also joined by the kids from the neighboring community of Silver Lake. From there we rode the bus to the high school in Warsaw, the county seat.

I knew all the kids from Claypool, having gone to grade school with them. But the kids from Silver Lake were new. One particular girl from Silver Lake caught my eye. Her name was Tammy Metzger. She was beautiful. She was mysterious, intimidating, and awe-inspiring – the way 9th grade girls are to 9th grade boys. She intimidated the living daylights out of me! I was dazzled by the splendor of her beauty. It never crossed my mind to even speak to her, let alone tell her that I thought she was beautiful.

One day, on the way from Claypool to Warsaw, word was passed from the back of the bus where the Silver Lake students sat to the front of the bus where I was sitting. The person behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Matt, Tammy Metzger said she thinks you’re cute.” Bells went off in my head. Unbelievable! Amazing! It changed me.

I was not quite the same boy when I got home that day as I had been when I set out. I was changed. Not a lot – at least, not right away. I was still too shy to ever say anything to Tammy. But, as Dante experienced with Beatrice, just knowing that someone as beautiful as Tammy Metzger had noticed me, began to change me. I did not suddenly become suave and confident, but there was the beginning of a real change in the way I thought about myself. If Tammy Metzger thought I was cute, maybe there was something I was missing. Curiously, the very next day, as I was leaving school, another girl stopped me in the hall and said, “I hear that Tammy Metzger thinks you’re cute. I don’t know what she sees in you.” But, she wasn’t Tammy. The fact that Tammy Metzger thought I was cute meant that what anyone else thought was irrelevant.

Knowing that someone looks at us with a measure of delight changes us. This is true of those early experiences of youthful attraction. It is true of deeper romantic relationships. It has been true of my relationship with my wife, Leslie. But it is also true of family relationships. And it is true of friendship. All relationships in which we know ourselves to be noticed, delighted in, enjoyed, cherished, loved, or even simply considered "cute" change and shape us.

The same kind of change happens when we encounter the love of God. It was around the same time as the Tammy Metzger moment – perhaps not coincidentally – that I began to experience God’s love as something real, vital, and directed toward me. In spite of my insecurities, in spite of my feelings, God loved me. Perhaps, God even thought I was “cute”.

The knowledge that God delights in me and reaches out to share his life with me changed me. The world was shot through with meaning. My life and how I live it, the choices I make day to day, all began to matter infinitely because I mattered infinitely to God. I was dazzled by the splendor of God’s beauty. No matter how often and in how many ways the Adversary has said, “I don’t know what God sees in you;” knowing God’s love in Jesus Christ has made the words of the Naysayer irrelevant. I am loved by the Love at the heart of everything. So are you.

Like that message passed on the bus all those years ago, an amazing word has been passed to us through the ages by the Church. God is love and that love has been embodied in Jesus Christ. Allow God’s love and delight to wash over you, sink into you, change and shape you.

Becoming a People of God's Mercy and Delight, Part 1

Becoming a People of God's Mercy and Delight, Part 2

Friday, August 12, 2016

Mercy – God's Mercy Personified in Jesus Christ

From Pope John Paul II's wonderful Encyclical on the Mercy of God:

Although God “dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16), he speaks to man by means of the whole universe: “ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20). This indirect and imperfect knowledge, achieved by the intellect seeking God by means of creatures through visible world, falls short of “vision of the Father”” “no one has ever seen God,” writes Saint John, in order to stress the truth that “the only Son , who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known” (John 1:18). This “making known” reveals God in the most profound mystery of his being, one and three, surrounded by “unapproachable light.” Nevertheless, through this “making known” by Christ we know God above all in his relationship of love for man: “philanthropy” (Titus 3:4). It is precisely here that “his invisible nature”: becomes in a special way “visible,” incomparably more visible than through all the other “things that have been made”: it becomes visible in Christ and through Christ, through his actions and words, and finally through his death on the cross and his resurrection.

In this way, in Christ and through Christ, God also becomes visible in his mercy; that is to say, there is emphasized that attribute of the divinity which the Old Testament, using various concepts and terms, already defined as “mercy.” Christ confers on the whole Old Testament tradition about God’s mercy a definitive meaning. Not only does he speak of it, and explain it by the use of comparisons and parables, but above all he himself makes it incarnate and personifies it. He himself, in a certain sense, is mercy. To the person who sees it in him–and finds it in him–God becomes “visible” in a particular way as the Father “who is rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4).

. . . .

The truth revealed in Christ, about God the “Father of mercies” (2 Corinthians 1:3) enables us to “see” him as particularly close to man especially when man is suffering, when he is under threat at the very heart of his existence and dignity.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Delight – The Dance of the Trinity

"In that Trinity is the highest origin of all things, and the most perfect beauty, and the most blessed delight." – Augustine of Hippo, On the Trinity, 6.10.12

Some of what follows is a bit heady. But, I suspect that emphasizing delight might sound sentimental and perhaps frivolous. It is neither. It is the Christian conviction that God is an eternal friendship dance of delight. Thus, delight is about as weighty a theological concept as any.

Related to delight are concepts and experiences like: Love (which like Grace includes Mercy), Beauty, Joy, Ecstasy, Rapture, Desire, Happiness, Cherish, Splendor, Glory, etc. Each of these is characteristic of divinity. Humans – and all creation – were created to partake in and reflect each of them as well.

The Beauty of the Infinite by Orthodox theologian, David Bentley Hart, is considered one of the most significant theological works so far this century. It is a serious exploration of God as beauty and delight. Below are some quotes from that book.

The Christian understanding of beauty emerges not only naturally, but necessarily from the Christian understanding of God as a perichoresis of love, a dynamic coinherence of the three divine persons, whose life is eternally one of shared regard, delight, fellowship, feasting and joy. (p. 155)

The most elementary statement of theological aesthetics is that God id beautiful: and not only that God id beauty or the essence and archetype of beauty, nor even only that God is the highest beauty, but that, as Gregory the Theologian says, God is beauty and also beautiful, whose radiance shines upon and is reflected in his creatures (Oration 28.30-31). As Dionysius insists, we should not distinguish between God as beauty and as infinitely beautiful, the splendor that gathers all things toward and into itself (De divinis nominibus 4.7). (p. 177)

True beauty is not the idea of the beautiful, a astatic archetype in the “mind” of God, but is an infinite “music,” drama, art, completed in – but never “bounded” by – the termless dynamism of the Trinity’s life; God is boundless, and so is never a boundary; his music possesses the richness of every transition, interval, measure, variation – all dancing and delight. And because he is beautiful, being abounds with difference: shape, variety, manifold relation,. Beauty is the distinction of the different, the otherness of the other, the true form of distance. And the Holy Spirit who perfects the divine love, so that it is not only reflective, but also evocative – calling out to yet another as pure delight, outgoing, both uncompelled and unlimited – also makes the divine joy open to the otherness of what is not divine, of creation, without estranging it from it divine “logic”; and the Spirit communicates difference as primordially the gift of beauty, because his difference within the Trinity is the happiness that perfects desire, the fulfillment of love; the Spirit comes to rest in the Son, there finding all the joy he seeks, reinflecting all the distance between the Father and Son not as bare cognizance, but as delight, the whole rapture of the divine essence. Jonathan Edwards calls the Spirit the beautifier, the one in whom the happiness of God overflows and is perfected precisely as overflowing, and o the one who bestows radiance, shape, clarity, and enticing splendor upon what God creates and embraces in the superabundance of his love. (p. 179-180)

Becoming a People of God's Mercy and Delight, Part 1

Becoming a People of God's Mercy and Delight, Part 2

Friday, August 5, 2016

Becoming a People of God's Mercy & Delight, Part 2

Obstacles to Experiencing God’s Delight

We are made for delight. But our sinfulness, brokenness, and weakness prevent us from seeing or entering into that delight, delighting in God, in his creation, or in other persons created in God’s image. I know I am not all that delightful much of the time. And I do not always think about, talk about, or treat others with mercy and delight.

Parable of the Lost Chalice

There was once a beautiful, priceless silver chalice engraved with gold and decorated with precious gems. It was an invaluable and cherished sacred vessel in a medieval cathedral. It bore the Blessed Sacrament of Communion Wine. But the cathedral was raided by Vikings and the chalice was carried off. The Viking who stole it buried it with other plunder intending to return to claim it another day. And it was lost. Centuries later when it was discovered, the chalice was crushed by the weight of the ground in which it was buried. It was tarnished and encrusted with dirt and rust. It was scratched and dented. It was missing some of the gems.

But the one who uncovered it recognized its worth. He knew it was an object of inherent beauty. And he set about repairing and restoring it.

The world is that chalice. Each of us is that chalice.

We are in great need of repair and restoration. We need transfiguration. We cannot fix ourselves. But the One who made us knows our worth and our inherent beauty. That One delights in and cherishes us. God desires to redeem, repair, and restore us.

We need mercy

We are finite, fragile, fallible, and fearful. We bruise, we break, we bleed. We are sinful and broken and weak. Too often we fail to see or share God’s mercy and delight. Rather than renouncing “the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God” (Holy Baptism, Book of Common Prayer, p. 302), we turn away or, worse, we collaborate with those powers. We contribute to the damaging of the chalice that is the world. And the chalice that is other people. And the chalice that is ourselves. Rather than renouncing “all sinful desires that draw us from the love of God”(Holy Baptism, Book of Common Prayer, p. 302), we indulge, rationalize, or excuse them. We contribute to the damaging of the chalice that we, ourselves, are meant to be. God created us for delight. God created us to be sacramental bearers the Wine of Communion with God and one another. But, we are bent out of shape. We are a mess and we have made a mess of the world.

Our world needs mercy. We need mercy. Thanks be to God, in sending Jesus and giving the Holy Spirit, God has lavished his mercy upon us. Like a fine art restorer, God desires to clean the chalice and bend it back into shape, restoring it to its original beauty.

Three Aspects of Mercy

Mercy is sometimes reduced to forgiveness – just maybe God will not punish us as we deserve. Forgiveness is indeed a fundamental aspect of mercy. Thank God. But it is about more than that.

Psalm 103 points out three aspects of mercy.

1. God knows us

In Psalm 103:14 we read, “For he himself knows whereof we are made; he remembers that we are but dust.” God pays attention to us knows us as we are. We see this even more clearly in the incarnation.

In Jesus, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

One aspect of mercy is deep understanding, empathy, and solidarity. Jesus demonstrates that mercy as Immanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).  The Word became flesh and lived among us (John 1:14). God knows us, understands our weakness. God knows whereof we are made and is patient with us.

If we come to know that, we can become merciful, too. We can seek to know each other and be patient with one another and ourselves.

2. God forgives us

“He forgives all your sins.” (Psalm 103:3)

We know we need forgiveness. We know we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We know we have contributed to the denting of the chalice. Forgiveneness is what God offers. In Jesus, “He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14)

If we have received the mercy of God’s forgiveness, we can forgive as the Lord has forgiven us.

3. God heals us

In Psalm 103:3 we also hear that God “heals all your infirmities.” Each of us is broken in one way or another. We are the chalice, smashed and lost. If we are honest we know that each of us is among the walking wounded. We don’t have to look hard to see that brokenness in our own families and among our friends. And the world is broken by war and hatred, greed and sorrow.

One of the things Jesus was about more than anything else was healing. “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” (Matthew 9:35)

That healing includes our transformation, indeed, our transfiguration.

That healing includes reconciliation and the repair of broken relationships.

Toward the end of the Book of Revelation we hear the promise of a greater healing, “Through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2). The whole world is destined for healing and transfiguration.

As we experience the mercy of God’s healing we can be a healing and reconciling presence to those we encounter and in the world. We can begin now to live in light of what we believe the end will be.

Becoming a People of God’s Mercy and Delight

We are meant to delight in what God delights in and to extend mercy to others, to be agents of God’s mercy and delight in a world hungry and thirsty for both. Our Lord commanded us to “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

But, we are neglectful, distractible, and disobedient. Because we do not attend to God’s mercy and delight, we are restless, anxious, bored, angry, impatient, contentious, lacking inner peace, etc. And we find it hard to delight in one another or to extend mercy to one another.

The Church is meant to be communities of people who see each other with the eyes of
God, who welcome each other with mercy and delight. As the body of Christ we are called to be a people of God’s mercy and delight in the way of Jesus.

How do we become this kind of people? We start by repenting and calling on the Holy Spirit to work transformation on us. We cannot fix ourselves. But we can attend more seriously to the things in our own hearts and lives that get in the way of experiencing more of God’s delight, the things in our own hearts and lives that keep us from delighting in God, in God’s creation, and in one another.

We can attend more seriously to the things in our own hearts and lives that get in the way of experiencing more of God’s mercy and channeling that mercy to the world around us.

We need to lighten up and get serious. We can lighten up because God has already lavished his grace – his mercy and delight – on us. There is nothing we have to prove. We are free. You are free. So, lighten up.

But we also need to get serious. Each of us is a chalice far from being restored. God promises to transform and transfigure us – but, with our cooperation. Let’s get serious about cooperating in God’s work to restore us to beings of mercy and delight. Let’s get serious about cooperating in God’s work to restore God’s creation. That will require some effort on our part.

We cannot be complacent. We cannot be self-indulgent. We need to learn self-control. We need to learn and relearn to pay attention to the state of our hearts. We need to pay attention to how and whether we engage other people with mercy and delight. .And we need to pay less attention to the things that distract us from attending to God’s mercy and delight, the things that distract us from Jesus.

Being people of mercy and delight is not an easy or sentimental thing. It is actually a call to deny ourselves and take up the cross. It is about protracted and difficult, sometimes uncomfortable transformations. The chalice does not necessarily appreciate being bent back into shape, cleaned, and restored. Julian of Norwich heard Jesus say,
“I shall completely break down in you your empty affections and your vicious pride, and then I shall gather you and make you meek and mild and holy through union with me.”

Being people of mercy and delight will mean daring to follow Jesus into the messy
neediness of others. Rowan Williams wrote,
“Christians will be found in the neighbourhood of Jesus – but Jesus is found in the
neighbourhood of human confusion and suffering, defencelessly alongside those in
need. If being baptized is being led to where Jesus is, then being baptized is being led
towards the chaos and the neediness of a humanity that has forgotten its own destiny.”

To be continued . . .

Over the next weeks, I will be posting a brief meditation, poem, or quote on the theme of Delight on Mondays and on Mercy on Fridays. 

Previous: Becoming A People of God's Mercy & Delight, Part 1  Delight

Monday, August 1, 2016

Becoming a People of God's Mercy & Delight, Part 1

Grace first and last

For Christians,
The first word is grace
The last word is grace
And every day along the way is grace, grace, grace

Grace is the free gift of God. This includes the many gifts of creation and the gifts each of us has. But, the ultimate gift of God is the gift of God’s own self which he bestows upon us freely and lavishly.

He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. (Ephesians 1:5-8)

I suggest there are two movements to God’s grace – Mercy and Delight. A basic Christian discipline is learning to pay closer attention to God’s mercy and delight. We are invited to be transformed by God’s mercy and delight. We are called to become ever better channels of that mercy and delight to this sin-sick, suffering world. As the body of Christ, the Church is to be a people of God’s mercy and delight.

At the 2015 Convention of the Diocese of Fond du Lac, I called on the diocese to become a people of God’s mercy and delight. Over the next weeks I want to explain more of what I think that means. I’ll begin with a bit about delight.


The Hebrew word most often translated “delight” is chephets, the root meaning of which is “to bend toward.”

Delight = Love + Joy + Attention. And that is what we have received from God through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit.

God delights in creation

Creation itself is grace – the free gift of God.

When God finished creating this world, he saw that it was good, tov in Hebrew. Tov can also be translated "beautiful." God delights in the beauty of his creation and God delights in each of human being created in his image. One possible meaning of the Garden of Eden is the “Garden of Delight.”

God delights in us

In the lesson we heard from Proverbs 8, the Wisdom of God – prefiguring Jesus – proclaims, “[At creation] I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.”

Julian of Norwich, one of the Church’s great theologians of God’s mercy and delight declared, “For we are his bliss, because he endlessly delights in us; and so with his grace shall we delight in him.”

Pay attention to that. Do you believe it? God delights in the human race. God delights in you.

The Incarnation confirms God’s delight in his material creation and in each of us as that part of creation created in God’s image. In Jesus Christ God has bent toward us in cherishing, attentive love  in delight.

We are made to delight in God

“Taste and see that the LORD is good; happy are they who trust in him!” (Psalm 34:8)

“Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)

We are made to delight in God’s good creation.

Creation is sacramental – it is always and everywhere a potential encounter with God’s goodness

“The whole earth is full of His glory." (Isaiah 6:3)

“Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving.” (1 Timothy 4:4)

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
 It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
– Gerard Manley Hopkins, God’s Grandeur

Are we paying attention to God’s delightful creation? Do we delight in it? Or are we too busy, too distracted?

We are made to delight in one another as images of God

“God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

“What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.” (Psalm 8:4-5)

Each human being, created in God’s image and for whom Christ died, is sacramental – an icon of God right in from of us. Are we paying attention? In his essay, The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way.”

Can we learn to delight in other people the way we delight to receive the sacrament of bread and wine? Are we paying reverent attention to the holy object that is every other person?

Perhaps we can even delight in ourselves – delighting in the delight God has in us as holy images of God.

But . . .

This all sounds wonderful. And it is. Christians rejoice in the truth of it. But, we all also know that the reality of the world and human history are often much less than delightful. In is difficult to find the delightful in some people. And we each know that there is much about ourselves that is less than delightful. Though all of creation is a gift of grace and inherently delightful, there is also deep and radical brokenness and rebellion. We need mercy.