Who is Bonhoeffer?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born February 4, 1906. Who was Deitrich Bonhoeffer? Was he a spy? a martyr? a theologian? a musician? a genius? a pastor? This list could keep going, but would never end. Not even Bonhoeffer could answer the question of who he was. This is a poem which he wrote, I pray that it helps you understand Bonhoeffer, and yourself, to a fuller extent.

“Who am I?”

Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
like a Squire from his country-house.

Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
freely and friendly and clearly,
as though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
equally, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
struggling for breath, as though hands were
compressing my throat,
yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
tossing in expectation of great events,
powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person to-day and to-morrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
and before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army,
fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, 0 God, I am Thine!

Gregory of Nazianzus hardly needs an introduction. He is a Saint, Church Father and the Church Doctor of the Theologians. He, along with Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa, helped formulate many Church doctrines, especially concerning the Trinity. He was the first person to coin the term perichoresis, which is essentially a description of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit dancing together in love throughout eternity. Today (Jan 25) he is honored by the Church, and I have selected an excerpt from Oration 29.20, It is truly on of my favorite descriptions of Jesus:

As man he was baptized, but he absolved sins as God; he needed no purifying rites himself – his purpose was to hollow water. As man he was put to the test, but as God he came through victorious – yes, bids us be of good cheer, because he has conquered the world. He hungered – yet he fed thousands. He is indeed “living, heavenly bread.” He thirsted – yet he exclaimed: “Whoever thirst, let him come to me and drink.” Indeed he promised that believers would become fountains. He was tired – yet he is the “rest” of the weary and the burdened. He was overcome by heavy sleep – yet he goes lightly over the sea, rebukes winds, and relieves the drowning Peter. He pays tax – yet he uses a fish to do it; indeed he is emperor over those who demand the tax. He is called a “Samaritan, demonically possessed” – but he rescues the man who came down from Jerusalem and fell among thieves. Yes, he is recognized by demons, drives out demons, drowns deep a legion of spirits, and sees the prince of demons falling like lightning. He is stoned, yet not hit; he prays, yet he hears prayer. He weeps, yet he puts an end to weeping. He asks where Lazarus is laid – he was man; yet he raises Lazarus – he was God. He is sold, and cheap was the price – thirty pieces of silver; yet he buys back the world at the mighty cost of his own blood. A sheep, he is led to slaughter – yet he shepherds Israel and now the whole world as well. A lamb, he is dumb – yet he is “Word,” proclaimed by “the voice of one crying in the wilderness.” He is weakened, wounded – yet he cures every disease and every weakness. He is brought up to the tree and nailed to it – yet by the tree of life he restores us. Yes, he saves even a thief crucified with him; he wraps all the visible world in darkness. He is given vinegar to drink, gall to eat – and who is he? Why, one who turned water into wine, who took away the taste of bitterness, who is all sweetness and desire. He surrenders his life, yet he has power to take it again. Yes, the veil is rent, for things of heaven are being revealed, rocks split, and dead men have an earlier awakening. He dies, but he vivifies and by death destroys death. He is buried, yet he rises again. He goes down to Hades, yet he leads souls up, ascends to Heaven, and will come to judge quick and dead, and to probe discussions like these. If the first set of expressions starts you going astray, the second set takes your error away.

JRR Tolkien proclaims the Coming of the King

I am sure we all have our favorite books or at least favorite scenes in books that completely captivate us. One scene in particular that blows my mind in so many ways is in the Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien (3 January 1892 – 2 September 1973). Reading the trilogy gives such a different vibe than watching the movies, if you have not read the books, I strongly recommend that you do, especially in light of the fact that The Hobbit is coming out next December. The Lord of the Rings is truly an epic story, enticing the imagination to go to places it has never been. The following excerpt from Return of the King is one of my favorite scenes of all time:

The cloaked man spoke and said: “He is come”

… For it is only in the coming of Aragorn that any hope remains for the sick that lie in the House. Thus spoke Ioreth, wise-woman of Gondor: “The hands of the king are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known.”

…When the black breath blows and death’s shadow grows and all lights pass, come athelas! Come athelas! Life to the dying in the king’s hand lying!

Then he heals Faramir and this follows:

“Walk no more in the shadows, but awake!” Said Aragorn. “You are weary. Rest a while, and take food, and be ready when I return.”

“I will, lord,” said Faramir. “For who would lie idle when the king has returned?”

… “King! Did you hear that! What did I say? The hands of a healer, I said.” And soon the word had gone out from the House that the king was indeed come among them, and after war he brought healing; and the news ran through the City.”

… At the doors of the Houses many were already gathered to see Aragorn, and they followed after him; and when at last he had supped, men came and prayed that he would heal their kinsmen or their friends whose lives were in peril through hurt or wound, or who lay under the black shadow. … And word went through the City: ‘The King is come again indeed.”…And when he could labor no more, he cast his cloak about him, and slipped out of the City, and went to his tent just ere dawn and slept for a little. And in the morning the banner of Dol Amroth, a white ship like a swan upon blue water, floated from the Tower, and men looked up and wondered if the coming of the King had been but a dream.”

I love it!!! Why does Frodo always get all of the attention in this epic story? I love Aragorn, the King who has arrived! And yes, “The hands of the king are the hands of a healer. And so the rightful king could ever be known.” Aragorn is the rightful king and he brings healing to the people. Do you recall that scene in the movies? Probably not. The book makes a huge deal out of it though! “He is come.”

Tolkien was a strong believer in Jesus Christ, but I also know he did not specifically want this story to be a direct allegory of Christianity (as CS Lewis said, every allegory breaks down at some point, that is why it is called an allegory). One cannot help but see the parallels though! The King heals many people beyond number, slips out of the city and sleeps for a little while, and the people wonder if it was reality. Jesus did this all the time, he would heal people beyond number, slip out of the city to pray to the Heavenly Father, and the people would soon wonder if what had happened was actual reality. “The hands of the king are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be ever known.” Jesus’ hands are the hands of a healer, he is the rightful King, and he will be ever known. In his own way, Tolkien proclaims the Coming of the King. Amen.

When I first read the Lord of the Rings, I was enthralled by this scene, and as I recount it today, it still gives me shivers down my spine. Tolkien was a literary genius and devout follower of Christ, I pray that you remember this saint of God today, recalling that January 3, 1892 was his birthday.

Who are you?

Activity is a function of identity. What I do is a function of who I am. Not the other way around. Who I am is not a function of what I do! Proposing to my wife was a function of me being a man in love with this woman. My action flowed out of who I was.

When a person truly understands their identity, the action flows out of that person effortlessly. And the person who is truly comfortable in their identity does not have to prove who they are, so they are not ashamed or disappointed when their actions fail other people’s standards. They truly understand who they are.

It would be great for the Bride of Christ to realize who she is, but this is not something we can force upon her. She does not understand fully who she is because she does not fully know her lover, the One who defines her identity. Someday she will know him fully, even as she is fully known by him.

We cannot force the Bride to do certain tasks. What we can do is respond to the love of God, and he is the one who initiates such activities.

Some readers may be thinking, “This is ridiculous! You are taking away all of our responsibilities and this will make us apathetic!” And I would respond like so: Yes, this paradigm would eliminate all responsibilities. But check this out, have you ever observed a man and woman in love. The man totally takes initiative and the woman will respond to whatever his leading may be! If we, as the Bride, would do this more often, much more would be accomplished than not. Psalm 46.10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” We strive all too often, it needs to stop. This is when we will begin to know God.

Do you know who you are? Have your New Year resolutions flowed out of your identity or are you trying to force something which will never happen?

The Incarnate God Prays

It is impossible to count the waves, they keep coming...

“Such and so many are the Savior’s achievements that follow from his Incarnation, that to try to number them is like gazing at the open sea and trying to count the waves…” (Athanasius, On the Incarnation)

One of his many achievements in the flesh was the Savior’s ability to humbly pray to the Father — we are forever grateful for every prayer which Jesus prayed, especially the following as recorded in John 17:

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,  since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.  And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But Jesus prayed for our reconciliation to each other and to the Fathernow I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

May we all be mindful of God come in the flesh and remember this prayer all of our days. Merry Christmas.

Do Nativity Scenes Help us Worship God?

On December 24, 1223 Saint Francis of Assisi made the very first living animal nativity scene in an Italian grotto. I imagine that Saint Francis made a live nativity because he loved animals so much (note the picture). This tradition carries on today; however, do living nativity scenes actually help us worship God come in the flesh? My wife and I visited her family last weekend and we went to the local church’s live nativity scene. I had never seen an actual nativity scene acted out like this, where there were literal animals. It was pretty intense, this Church went all out. Living animals, a choir, young girls as angels, men as wise men, little boys as shepherds, a young man and woman as Mary and Joseph, and the little baby Jesus being acted out by an anonymous newborn child.

My question still remains, do nativity scenes like this actually help us worship God come in the flesh? Saint Francis of Assisi would have said yes. As I reflect upon the nativity scene my wife and I witnessed, it is very hard to say. I was partially distracted by the 4 year old girl who kept waving at everyone and the wise men who had denim pants and sneakers underneath their robes, and the fact that there were horses eating hay…I always pictured more sheep, cattle, and camels in the real version.

The narrator read parts of Matthew and Luke, and the choir responded with songs of worship, including most Christmastime favorites (all of which were centered on Christ, nothing like Rudolph).There were several attending the nativity scene who were not a part of the Church, and the pastor invited them to join for their Sunday gatherings. After the nativity, people gathered together in the church building for more hot chocolate and cookies. This Church obviously saw this as a huge ministry and outreach, taking it very seriously.

At the end of the day, I have to say that attending the living nativity scene did bless my soul. My wife and I were able to wear our pea coats and scarfs, drinking hot chocolate underneath a portable heat stove, while singing worship songs and laughing with the little kids’ short attention spans and being able to spend time with old friends whom we had not seen for over 6 months. Praise God that He came in the flesh so we could worship Him, recalling His birth on that evening.

When is the last time you went to a living nativity scene? did it help you worship God Emmanuel?

Can we call Ignatius a Reformer?

Ignatius of Loyola was born on December 24, 1491. He  grew up to become a Spanish knight and was wounded by a cannon ball wound to the leg; while in the hospital he asked for reading material, and all that was available was Christian text about the lives of the Saints and Jesus Christ. He became a follower of Christ, later to become a renowned theologian and ascetic. He is known for being the founder of the Jesuits, a movement of Catholic spiritual renewal during the counter-reformation. He was very opposed to the protestant reformation, which makes our relationship with him even more interesting, being most who read this blog are of the protestant tradition.

Should he be disregarded, being he was opposed to the protestant reformation? One of my (protestant) spiritual mentors studied Ignatius for his dissertation topic because he believes that much of what Ignatius taught is to be applied to the Christian spiritual life. Ignatius realized that the Catholic Church needed to be transformed, just as Luther realized this. However, Ignatius worked within rather than without, and was astonished that Luther  and others would work from without.

Ignatius will always be remembered for contributing the two following ascetic traditions, The Examen of Consciousness and the Spiritual Exercises.

The Examen of Consciousness of 5 Steps:

  1. Recall, that no matter what, you are the beloved in the presence of the Creator God.
  2. Rest and reflect on what God has given you this day and what have you given others
  3. Ask for the Holy Spirit to pour his love into your heart and for his guidance
  4. Examine how you are living this day. Recall the day, context of your actions, hour by hour, etc. What cause you to act the way you did?
  5. Pray for reconciliation and compassion. Grieve over your sins and praise God for his grace towards you.
The Spiritual Exercises:
He wrote a manual for 30-day retreats. The spiritual exercises could be related to physical exercise such as running, biking, weight lifting…however, the are for the spiritual life (meditation, contemplation, prayer, etc). Following is a small excerpt on the first spiritual exercise and foundation from The Spiritual Exercises:

The human person is created to praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord, and by doing so, to save his or her soul.

All other things on the face of the earth are created for human beings in order to help them pursue the end for which they are created.

It follows from this that one must use other created things, in so far as they help towards one’s end, and free oneself from them, in so far as they are obstacles to one’s end.

To do this, we need to make ourselves indifferent to all created things, provided the matter is subject to our free choice and there is no other prohibition.

Thus, as far as we are concerned, we should not want health more than illness, wealth more than poverty, fame more than disgrace, a long life more than a short one, and similarly for all the rest, but we should desire and choose only what helps us more towards the end for which we are created.

I believe that the Examen and Spiritual Exercises are a wonderful tool for maturing in one’s relationship with the Holy Trinity, but I would love to hear feedback? Do you think that Protestants should use the writings and thoughts of a Catholic Theologian who was greatly opposed to the Protestant Reformation?

Praying through the Dark Night of the Soul

Saint John of the Cross is a Saint but also considered one of the 33 Doctors of the Catholic Church. He was part of the Catholic Counter Reformation and helped guide the Church into mystical contemplation of God. Dark Night of the Soul narrates the journey of the soul from her bodily home to her union with God. This is a painful experience which people endure as they seek to grow in spiritual maturity and union with God. A year after writing this poem, in 1586 he wrote a commentary on Dark Night of the Soul with the same title.

The Dark Night Of The Soul
By Saint John of the Cross

Once in a dark of night,
Inflamed with love and wanting, I arose
O coming of delight!
And went, as no one knows,
When all my house lay long in deep repose

All in the dark went right,
Down secret steps, disguised in other clothes,
O coming of delight!
In dark when no one knows,
When all my house lay long in deep repose.

And in the luck of night
In secret places where no other spied
I went without my sight
Without a light to guide
Except the heart that lit me from inside.

It guided me and shone
Surer than noonday sunlight over me,
And lead me to the one
Whom only I could see
Deep in a place where only we could be.

O guiding dark of night!
O dark of night more darling than the dawn!
O night that can unite
A lover and loved one,
A lover and loved one moved in unison.

And on my flowering breast
Which I had kept for him and him alone
He slept as I caressed
And loved him for my own,
Breathing an air from redolent cedars blown.

And from the castle wall
The wind came down to winnow through his hair
Bidding his fingers fall,
Searing my throat with air
And all my senses were suspended there.

I stayed there to forget.
There on my lover, face to face, I lay.
All ended, and I let
My cares all fall away
Forgotten in the lilies on that day.

“This dark night is an inflowing of God into the soul – called infused contemplation or mystical theology. God secretly teaches the soul and instructs it in perfection of love, without its doing anything. It is the loving wisdom of God, and He prepares it for the union of love with God. This Divine wisdom is night and darkness for the soul, and affliction and torment. When this pure light assails the soul, in order to expel its impurity, the soul feels itself to be so impure and misterable that it believes God to be against it, and things that it has set itself up against God.” (Dark Night, II.5)

Whitefield presenting the Bride to the Bridegroom

George Whitefield was born December 16, 1714. My how the times have changed! Yet, the same Gospel he preached still remains true. He was a revivalist preacher with a voice that could be heard by anyone! He often preached an open air sermon to crowds gathering between 20,000 and 30,000 people. That is why I find it most fitting to quote one of his sermons on his birthday:

 

All hail, (I must again repeat it) thou Lamb’s bride! For thou art all glorious within, and comely, through the comeliness thy heavenly bridegroom hath put upon thee. Thy garment is indeed of wrought gold; and, ere long, the King shall bring thee forth with a raiment of needle-work, and present thee blameless before his Father, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. In the mean while, well shall it be with you, and happy shall you be, who are married to Jesus Christ: for all that Christ has, is yours. “He is made of God to you, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and eternal redemption.” “Whether Paul, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours.” All his attributes are engaged for your preservation, and all things shall work together for your good, who love God, and, by being thus married to the Lord Jesus, give an evident proof that you are called according to his purpose. What say you? When you meditate on these things, are you not frequently ready to cry out, What shall we render unto the Lord for all these mercies, which, of his free unmerited grace, he hath been pleased to bestow upon us? For, though you are dead to the law, as a covenant of works, yet you are alive to the law as a rule of life, and are in, or under the law (for either expression seems to denote the same thing) to your glorious husband, Jesus Christ.

Moreover, it is required of wives, that they not only love and reverence their

Whitefield stood on this while he preached.

husbands, but that they also love and respect their husband’s friends. And if we are married to Jesus Christ, we shall not only reverence the bridegroom, but we shall also love and honor the bridegroom’s friends. “By this, shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye love one another.” “By this we know, (says the beloved disciple) that we have passed from death to life because we love the brethren.” Observe, the brethren, indefinitely; of whatever denomination. And this love must be “without dissimulation, and with a pure heart fervently.” This was the case of the primitive Christians. They were all of one heart, and of one mind. It was said of them (O that it could be said of us!) “See how these Christians love one another!” They were of the same spirit as a good woman of Scotland was, who, when she saw a great multitude, as is customary in the country, coming from various parts to receive the blessed sacrament, saluted them with a “Come in, ye blessed of the Lord, I have an house that will hold an hundred of you, and a heart that will hold ten thousand.” Let us go and do likewise.

“I have espoused you (saysSt. Paul) as a chaste virgin to Jesus Christ.” O that you may say, We will go with the man; then will I bow my head, as Abraham’s servant did, and go with joy and tell my Master, that he has not left his poor servant destitute this day: then shall I rejoice in your felicity. For I know, my Master will take you into the banqueting-house of his ordinances, and his banner over you shall be love. That this may be the happy case of you all, may the glorious God grant, for the sake of Jesus his dearly beloved Son, the glorious bridegroom of his church, to whom, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, now and for evermore. Amen, and Amen.

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so

The genius and theologian, Karl Barth, was asked if he could summarize his Church Dogmatics. He pondered momentarily, then began singing the child’s song: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Can you picture it? Church Dogmatics is 6 million words long, and he summarized it by singing “Jesus loves me,” that is profound. How I long and pray for all of us to truly see the simplicity of the Gospel. Barth (May 10, 1886 – December 10, 1968) contributed so much to theology, and had he been a Catholic or Orthodox Christian, there is no doubt they would already have given him the title of a Saint. He is a blessing to the Church and I thank God for this man, today may we remember this man after God’s own heart. The following is taken for Church Dogmatics:

The first statement, namely, that Christ is in the Christian, has the further meaning that Christ speaks, acts and rules ­and this is the grace of His calling of this man ­ as the Lord of his thinking, speech and action. He takes possession of his free human heart. He rules and controls in the obedience of his free reason (2 Cor. 10:5). As a divine person it is very possible for Him to do this in the unrestricted sovereignty proper to Himself and yet in such a way that there can be no question whatever of any competition between His person and that of the Christian, whether in the attempt of the latter to control His person, or conversely in its suppression or extinction by His person. It is very possible for Him to do it in such a way that the human person of the Christian is validated and honoured in full and genuine freedom, in the freedom of the obedient children of God. That Christ is in the Christian means, then, that as the Mediator between God and man He does not exist merely for Himself and to that extent concentrically, but that in His prophetic work, in the calling of His disciples and Christians, with no self-surrender but in supreme expression of Himself, He also exists eccentrically, i.e., in and with the realisation of the existence of these men, as the ruling principle of the history lived by them in their own freedom.

The second statement, namely, that the Christian is in Christ, has not only the local but also the higher meaning that his own thinking, speech and action has its ruling and determinative principle ­ and herein it is the work of his gratitude corresponding to grace ­ in the speech, action and rule of Christ. His free human heart and reason and acts are orientated on Him, i.e., on agreement with His being and action. In the power of the Word of God which calls him, and therefore in the power of the Holy Spirit, this orientation is his only possibility, already in process of realisation. Again, there is no rivalry between the human person and the divine. There is thus no danger that the former will be overwhelmed by the latter. There is no danger that it will necessarily be destroyed by it and perish. Rather, the human person, experiencing the power of the divine, and unreservedly subject to it, will necessarily recognise and honour it again and again in its sovereignty, finding itself established as a human person and set in truly human and the freest possible movement in orientation on it. That the Christian is in Christ means mutatis mutandis for him, too, that as one who is called by the one Mediator between God and man in the exercise of His prophetic office he cannot exist for himself and to that extent concentrically, but that, without detriment to his humanity, awakened rather to genuine humanity, he also exists eccentrically, in and with the realisation of his own existence, being received and adopted as an integral element in the life and history of Christ.

This, then, is the Christian’s unio cum Christo. We recall that in this high view and doctrine we are not presenting a climax of Christian experience and development in face of which the anxious question might well be raised whether we have reached the point, or will ever do so, where in respect of our own Christianity we can sincerely say: “Christ in me, and I in Christ.” On the contrary, we are presenting the last and most exact formulation of what makes us Christians whatever our development or experience. We have seen that Paul particularly in the New Testament does not think of restricting his insight in this regard to himself and a few other Christians of higher rank, but that as he speaks of himself he also speaks of the generality of Christians, not excluding the very doubtful Christians of Galatia and Corinth and not excluding the doubtful nature of their Christianity. If, as we have attempted in concentric circles, we think through what it means that the goal of vocation, and therefore of Christianity as divine sonship, is always attachment to Christ, coordination and fellowship with Him, discipleship, appropriation to Him with the corresponding expropriation, life of and by the Holy Spirit, then we are infallibly led at last to the point which we have now reached and described, namely, that a man becomes and is a Christian as he unites himself with Christ and Christ with him. And we remember that from the purely material standpoint this is the starting-point for everything else which is to be thought and said concerning what makes the Christian a Christian.

(Church Dogmatics; Vol. IV, Part 3.2, “The Doctrine of Reconciliation.” Edinburgh: T & T Clark. 1988)