Awareness of God’s Presence

The sense of the presence of God.  Something I pray everyone I know may have.  I wish everyone in the world could have it.

In Paradise, Adam and Eve lived in the presence of God, they would consciously have to ignore God, intentionally block God from their hearts/minds, not to be aware of God. Literally, they  lived in His presence, in the Paradise in which God was the gardener.  They were protected by God and so nothing could hurt them.  And yet Eve, and Adam chose to banish God from their thinking.  They expelled God from their lives in order to experience the world without God’s presence.  They felt they could think more clearly if not living in that bright cloud in which God speaks (see Psalm 99:7; Matthew 17:5). [Note – in Paradise, Satan knew he could not harm God’s creatures; they were protected by the Almighty Creator.    Humans could be harmed only if they did it to themselves by choosing to wean themselves away from God.  Satan does not make Eve or Adam do anything.  In Genesis 3, Satan only hints and suggests, he never even tells Eve or Adam what to do.  They make those choices of their own free will and to their own demise.  Satan has no power over Adam and Eve, and if we Orthodox would follow our own prayers at the baptismal exorcism, we would realize that like Adam and Eve in Paradise, Satan has no power over any sealed, enlisted warrior for Christ.]

How was it possible to exile God their Creator from the world which God had made?  And yet the first humans did just that – they created some kind of limit to God, blocking God from their own sensory experience, so they could chose for themselves apart from God.   Amazing!  Yet, we all – every human being – have that same power: each of us can put God out of mind, can function as if God does not exist, can forget God completely in our daily lives.

God for God’s part has chosen to limit His own omnipotence.  When God created human beings with free will, the Almighty chose to limit divine power.   God allowed creatures to think apart from divinity and to make choices against God’s own will.   Clearly in Scriptures, God limited His own powers – in the burning bush for example.   God reveals that being all powerful means even being able to limit that power.   The burning bush was simply a foreshadowing of the real intention of God’s limits –  the incarnation in the womb of Mary in which the uncontainable God limits His presence and powers. One of the powers of the almighty God is to limit His own omnipotence!  Mary as Theotokos is both the mystery of God limiting His own omnipotence as well as the miracle of a human being able to contain divinity.

If we want to live in a world in which God’s power is limited – which we chose when we chose like Eve and Adam to follow our own will rather than God’s – God is willing to be at work in that world as well since it is still part of God’s own creation.  The Old Testament in which God appears in shadows and is veiled in mystery is the history of God limiting His almighty self in order to deal with us on our terms.  In giving us free will, God decided to deal with us on our terms for He certainly did not predestine our choices.  Just look at Genesis 2:19 –  “So out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.”  God even waits to see what Adam will call each species of animal.  God doesn’t predetermine even such a simple thing as the names of the animals He creates.  Humans have a creative role to play and they do choose and determine many things for themselves and for all creation.  [At least in Genesis of the Jews and Christians.  In the Quran, conversely, God determines everything, even the names of the animals.  Adam’s task is simply to memorize what God has predetermined the names of the animals to be.  Adam is not a creative being, but merely an obedient one in Islam’s creation story.  God tests Adam to see if he has in fact memorized what God has done.  Unlike in Islam, in Judaism and Christianity, humans have clear free will from the beginning and God observes what the humans choose – God’s love means the almighty God exercises restraint over God’s own omnipotence.]

Adam naming the animals in Paradise

The world of the Fall is a world in which God has limited His omnipotence, in which we do not always or automatically sense God’s presence.  We are not guaranteed His protection either, for example,  God does not protect us from the consequences of our own behavior.

And yet, God continues to love us and care for us and to work out His plan for our salvation.  Law, prophets, promises, saints, miracles – all were given to us to help us be aware of God’s presence.  The Old Testament is the witness to God’s continual and uninterrupted love for us humans.

Today, we also have Holy Communion for those united to Christ in baptism and chrismation.  The Eucharist is God’s gift to us to enable to further experience God’s own presence in our world, in our lives, as God works out His plan for the salvation of the world.

In the midst of a broken, fallen world, we experience grace in Holy Communion.  For in the Eucharist God is present in creation in a way which wasn’t even true in the Paradise of Adam and Eve.  We can become aware again of God’s abiding presence in His creation.  We can experience God directly and fully.  We are not alone in the world, we are not without divine help and protection.   Throughout Lent with our increased opportunities for receiving the Eucharist, we have ever more reason to be thankful and joyful and hopeful. We are not completely cut off from God, we are not orphans without a heavenly Father.  Every time we come to church, we are placing ourselves in the presence of God.  We can experience God in creation as well, but in Church we have the special gifts from God of the Body and Blood of Christ.  Christ in our midst and Christ in us.  As we pray at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts [emphasis is mine and not in the text] :

Look upon us, Your unworthy servants who stand at this holy altar as the Cherubic throne, upon which rests Your only-begotten Son and our God, in the dread Mysteries that are set forth. Having freed us all and all Your faithful people from uncleanness, sanctify all our souls and bodies with the sanctification which cannot be taken away, that partaking with a clean conscience, with faces unashamed, with hearts illumined, of these divine, sanctified Things, and by them being given life, we may be united to Your Christ Himself, our true God, Who has said, “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him,” that by Your Word, O Lord, dwelling within us and sojourning among us, we may become a temple of Your all-holy and adorable Spirit, redeemed from every diabolical wile, wrought either by deed or word or thought, and may obtain the good things promised to us with all Your saints who have been well-pleasing to You.

O Give Thanks to the Lord

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“… we are led to give thanks to our Benefactor through the good things of this world, by which I mean

                                                     health,

                                                prosperity,

                                            strength,

                                        rest,

                                    joy,

                                light,

                            spiritual knowledge,

                        riches,

                    progress in all things,

                a peaceful life,

            the enjoyment of honors,

        authority,

   abundance and

all the other supposed blessings of this life.

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We are led to love Him and to do what good we can, because we feel we have a natural obligation to repay God for His gifts to us by performing good works. It is of course impossible to repay Him, for our debt always grows larger. On the other hand, through what are regarded as hardships we attain a state of patience, humility and hope of blessings in the age to be; and by these so-called hardships I mean such things as

illness,

discomfort,

       tribulation,

               weakness,  

          unsought distress,  

                             darkness,

                                 ignorance,

                                           poverty,

                               general misfortune,

                                            the fear of loss,

                                                           dishonor,

                                                                  affliction,

                                                                       indigence,

and so on. Indeed, not only in the age to be, but even in this present age these things are a source of great blessing to us.”  (St Peter of Damaskos, THE PHILOKALIA ,   Kindle Loc. 28948-67)

In the quote above, St. Peter of Damascus (whose Namesday it is today, February 9) gives us a long list of blessings which lead us to God.  These are blessings in this world and in this life – blessings even monastics, who are not supposed to live for this world alone, recognize and appreciate.  Even hardships (of which he also makes a long list, and monastics and non-monastics alike can agree they are things we want to avoid) become a blessing because they can increase certain virtues in us as we deal with them in faith, hope and love.

All of the above  was simply an introduction to the good news I can share about my own health.  First, let me thank all of your for your continued prayers as indeed the last 4 years have been difficult with 4 major surgeries plus chemotherapy for cancer.  This week I had both an oncology appointment and a 3-month post operative appointment with my neurosurgeon.    The good news in oncology is no news – labs continue to show no change (I continue to be anemic but that seems expected due to the surgeries and the on-going chemo).  I will have my next CT scan in about a month as they keep vigilant watch for any new tumors.  There have been none since the lung resection surgery in May of 2015.

The neurosurgeon is totally happy with the spinal fusion which seems to be holding in place.  I can walk without a cane and have none of the crippling back pain that led me to accept surgery.  I will have to live with a number of physical limits, but I no longer need the back brace (pictured above, in case you can’t recognize what it is).  That back brace first hugged me on November 8  and embraced me like a python 23.5/7 ever since.   My cane (pictured here) – I was able to lay aside immediately after surgery.   It now stands in a corner awaiting a new walking partner.  The good news is for the time being I need neither of those devices, though I have a handful of other tools and devices which help me pick up things, reach things, get my socks and shoes on and the like.   My back will never be what it was years ago, and will never be “normal” (though it is now a “new normal”) but I am able to continue to function, for which I am grateful daily.

I have learned to rejoice in the blessings of life and to see blessings in the hardships as well.   I have learned to admire those who cope with and even overcome disabilities.  I am ever thankful for those who have invented the medical devices that made my surgeries possible as well as those who improved them through engineering.  I am grateful for all of those who have learned to use technology in the medical sciences – doctors, nurses and technicians.

I give thanks to God that God has entrusted such wisdom in the sciences to help us all.  God has made it possible for us humans to remove all obstacles to our being healed by God.  Medical science removes the physical obstacles to our healing, and repentance removes the spiritual obstacles to our becoming whole and human.  Medicine and confession are thus both gifts from God which make healing possible.  Both require human help and intervention.

I have accepted that in this life there are trials and illness.  A few have asked me as to why instead of healing us, God doesn’t just prevent disease and injuries in the first place.  I can only speak about reality – in this world, we have sickness, sorrow and suffering.  Perhaps in some other world it doesn’t exist, but in our world it does, and it can serve a purpose, even be beneficial to us, though it doesn’t always seem so.    I can ask why is grass green instead of being orange or purple?  Maybe in some other world it is, but in this world, the only reality I know, it is green and must be so of necessity.  Photosynthesis requires it, we and animals depend on it for food and oxygen.  I also am reminded of a quote from St. John Cassian:

“Do not pray for the fulfillment of your wishes, for they may not accord with the will of God. But pray as you have been taught, saying: Thy will be done in me (cf. Luke 22:42). Always entreat Him in this way – that His will be done. For He desires what is good and profitable for you, whereas you do not always ask for this.”  ( THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 1326-29)

In the Beginning: God Created His Temple

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“Time! Jews in Jesus’s day and Jews in our own day have a very special sense of time. Time is moving forward in a linear fashion, with a beginning, a middle, and an end—unlike some other visions of time, in which everything is cyclical, going around and around and constantly returning to the same point. The Jewish view of time is part of the Jewish view of God and creation: God has a purpose for his good creation, a purpose to be worked out in time. Indeed, the Jewish people think of themselves as living within the long story of how that purpose is to be worked out.

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           But already, in the opening of the Bible, there is another feature. When God made the world, he “rested” on the seventh day. This doesn’t just mean that God took a day off. It means that in the previous six days God was making a world—heaven and earth together—for his own use. Like someone building a home, God finished the job and then went in to take up residence, to enjoy what he had built. Creation was itself a temple, the Temple, the heaven-and-earth structure built for God to live in. And the seventh-day “rest” was therefore a sign pointing forward into successive ages of time, a forward-looking signpost that said that one day, when God’s purposes for creation were accomplished, there would be a moment of ultimate completion, a moment when the word would finally be done, and God, with his people, would take his rest, would enjoy what he had accomplished. –N. T. Wright, Simply Jesus, p. 136

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And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law,he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said:
“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace,
According to Your word;
For my eyes have seen Your salvation
Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,
A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel.”

(Luke 2:25-32)

Thanksgiving (2016)

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St. John of Kronstadt says, ‘Prayer is a state of continual gratitude.’ If I do not feel a sense of joy in God’s creation, if I forget to offer the world back to God with thankfulness, I have advanced very little upon the Way. I have not yet learnt to be truly human. For it is only through thanksgiving that I can become myself. Joyful thanksgiving, so far from being escapist or sentimental, is on the contrary entirely realistic – but with the realism of one who sees the world in God, as the divine creation.” (Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, p 55)

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From Icon to Idol

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”   (Genesis 1:26-28)

According to the Scriptures, God created humans in God’s own image and likeness.  In the Greek text, it says God made us as icons (Greek for image) of God.  We are living icons – we breathe, we move, we see, we sense, we hear, we think, we create, we reproduce, we have dominion over other creatures.

“… then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”  (Genesis 2:7)

Though we are in God’s image and even are said by the Word of God to be “gods” (John 10:34 quoting Psalm 82:6), we are not idols.   Psalm 115:3-8 describes exactly what an idol is:

Our God is in the heavens;
he does whatever he pleases.
Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.

They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
they make no sound in their throats.
Those who make them are like them;
so are all who trust in them.

Idols show no sign of life, but are lifeless works of human hands.  The ancient idol makers had no technology to add animation to their creations as today’s media animators could.

When one thinks about the description of an idol – mouths but cannot speak, ears but cannot hear, eyes but cannot see, feet but cannot walk and incapable of speaking – one realizes that in the New Testament, the result of sin and evil in the world is that humans have been reduced from icons of God to mere idols.  Sickness and disease have turned us into idols.  Those that make idols will become like them.  So many of the Church Fathers thought idolatry was the main human sin that brought the downfall of humanity.

We can take a quick glance at a few Gospel passages to see how humans, as a result of sin, have become exactly like idols:

“Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?”  (Mark 8:18)

This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which says: ‘You shall indeed hear but never understand, and you shall indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn for me to heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.  (Matthew 13:13-17)

Though he had done so many signs before them, yet they did not believe in him; it was that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed our report, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” Therefore they could not believe. For Isaiah again said, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they should see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and turn for me to heal them.” Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke of him.   (John 12:37-41)

“God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that should not see and ears that should not hear, down to this very day.” And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a pitfall and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs for ever.”  (Romans 11:8-10)

And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.  (Matthew 11:4-5)

All the healing miracles of Christ – sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, voice to the dumb, walking to the lame – undo the effects of the fall.  They turn us from being like idols into being in God’s image to restore us to being icons of God.

 The Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.”  (John 9:15)

In Genesis 2 God takes the clay of the earth to form the first human, but doesn’t form a lifeless idol.  Rather, God breathes into the clay and the human becomes a living soul.  In John 9, Christ again takes the clay of the earth, which an idol-maker could form into the lifeless idol, and grants sight to the blind, restoring the image and likeness of God to the created human.

 

 

Let Us Rejoice in the Lord

Come, let us greatly rejoice in the Lord; Let us shout aloud to God our savior;  Let us come before His face with thanksgiving, And let us shout aloud to Him with psalms.

For the Lord is a great God, A great King over all the gods;  For in His hand are the ends of the earth, And the heights of the mountains are His;  

Olympia National Park by Seth Bobosh
Olympic National Park by Seth Bobosh

For the sea is His, and He made it, And His hands formed the dry land.  

Ruby Beach, Olympic Park by Seth Bobosh
Ruby Beach, Olympic Park by Seth Bobosh

Come, let us worship and fall down before Him, And let us weep before the Lord who made us;  For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture And the sheep of His hand.

(Psalm 94:1-7, OSB)

Every Day Naturally I Praise the Lord

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I will extol You, my God, O King;
And I will bless Your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless You,
And I will praise Your name forever and ever.

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Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;
And His greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall praise Your works to another,
And shall declare Your mighty acts.

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I will meditate on the glorious splendor of Your majesty,
And on Your wondrous works.

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All Your works shall praise You, O LORD,
And Your saints shall bless You.
They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom,
And talk of Your power,
To make known to the sons of men His mighty acts,
And the glorious majesty of His kingdom.

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The eyes of all look expectantly to You,
And You give them their food in due season.
You open Your hand
And satisfy the desire of every living thing.

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(select verses from Psalm 145)

The Goodness Which God Sees

‘And God saw that it was good.’ [Genesis 1]

It is not to the eyes of God that things made by Him afford pleasure, nor is His approbation of beautiful objects such as it is with us; but, beauty is that which is brought to perfection according to the principle of art and which contributes to the usefulness of its end. He, therefore, who proposed to Himself a clear aim for His works, having recourse to His own artistic principles, approved them individually as fulfilling His aim.” (St Basil, The Fathers of the Church: Exegetic Homilies, p 53)

 

According to St. Basil, the goodness or beauty of anything is determined by its original purpose in God’s creation or plan.  The more perfectly something fulfills God’s original intention for it determines whether God sees it as good/beautiful.    God, not being a creature like  us, does not have physical eyes, so God does not “see” things as we do.  God “sees” things in terms of their fulfilling the aim He originally  had for the object.   This is why God sees even our spiritual struggles as good and beautiful – as even if we struggle, we are moving toward being human as God intended us to be.

St. Basil says God is an artist following the artistic principle that values creating things which serve a purpose.  Beauty is thus related to purpose, to truth.  It is not purely subjective, but can be measured.  Everything which God created is purposeful, even if we do not know the purpose.

In this thinking, we can come to understand how scientists in revealing the purpose of anything in the universe are helping us to interpret and see the true beauty of God’s creation!

And, as the purpose of each created thing is understood, as each mystery is fathomed, we also are learning about the Creator.  God is being made known through His creation.  One thing which continues to amaze is the depth and mystery of God as Creator.

Behold the Beauty of the Lord (Psalm 27:4)

I saw the sun rising above the horizon, framed between the earth and the thick cloud bank.  I was reminded that the sun is not affected by events on earth, no matter how wide spread they are.  It steadily shines, even when we can’t see it.

And the delicacy and intricacies of the different flowers cause me to marvel at the diversity in nature, and beauty which like quantum activity requires there to be an observer.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder even though the observer doesn’t create the beauty.

I stop to admire the glories of God in the small things of this earth.  It is worth stopping to note God is discovered in the details.

And my favorite insect, the bees are back to engage in life-giving behavior.  In this, they do God’s will and reveal God to us.

Flowers and bees, together they form a symbiotic relationship that speaks to us humans of our relationships both with creation and with God.  We need both for life.

 

Welcoming Spring

The vernal equinox reminds us that the seasons are in constant motion, time for a change.

The clouds of spring water the earth which blossoms with new life.

Like the seasons, the flowers break into our world and then pass away, as do all things.

Even fading beauty uplifts the heart and delights the eye, giving hope that always there will be something that arises even from the dead of winter.

The scents, sounds and sights of spring may draw our minds to Paradise, yet there, since fruit was in season and in abundance, it must have been more like an eternal summer or fall.

 

Here, we can praise God for beauty springs eternal, as does hope.