We are Co-Workers with God

Jesus taught: “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.”  (Luke 6:43-44)

“…Even though the Church is a unity, it is a unity of distinct personalities. It is an assembly of persons, each one of them whole and complete, standing before God, and not an anonymous, undifferentiated mass. Thus it is entirely possible for all of us to be gathered together in church, to be standing next to each other and chanting in unison, but for each of us to get something different out of the experience. And what each of us receives is known only to that person, only to the spirit of the man, which is in him, as well as to God the Spirit, Who searches the depths of our own spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 2:10-11). What, then, did we receive? In the first place, we received what we prepared ourselves to receive. Whatever food you’ve prepared, that’s what you’ll eat. Whatever bed you’ve made, that’s the one you’re going to lie on. Whatever you’ve sown in your field, that’s what you’ll reap. Throughout the liturgical year, then, we receive what we have prepared ourselves to receive. God will not bring something to fruition that we have not had a hand in cultivating; and what we cultivate, that which we expect to bear fruit, grows directly from the seeds we’ve sown within ourselves.

Consequently, we’ll get whatever it is our heart has prepared for itself. One person will get God; another will be moved by the chanting; another will gain a few insights; someone else the kingdom of heaven. Each will receive whatever it is he desired.[…]What we find depends on the way we seek for it. The way we see God, in other words, determines what we shall see in God. This is what I say: what you’ve prepared yourself is exactly what you’ll receive. One person cultivates the wind, and reaps nothings. Another prepares to receive the Holy Spirit. It all depends.” (Archimandrite Aimilianos, The Way of the Spirit, pp 129-130)

Confession: Preparing the Garden of Our Hearts for God’s Seed

In Luke 8:5-15, our Lord Jesus Christ tells the parable of the sower of good seed:

“A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.” As he said this, he called out, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” Then his disciples asked him what this parable meant.  He said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but to others I speak in parables, so that ‘looking they may not perceive, and listening they may not understand.’ “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones on the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe only for a while and in a time of testing fall away. As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.

Saint Gregory Palamas (d. 1359AD) comments:

“The Word which brings about the salvation of our souls is analogous to seed. Just as farmers first cultivate the earth with the plough, then sow seed, so must we prepare ourselves beforehand to accept the heavenly seed, by which I mean the word of spiritual teaching. But we are not inanimate, unfeeling earth which is cultivated and sown by others, but living, breathing, rational ground. For that reason we must make ourselves ready by means of repentance. To give you an indication of the starting point of repentance and the cultivation of the soul, it is what those who approached John’s baptism did on their own initiative: ‘They went out’, it says, ‘and were baptized in Jordan, confessing their sins’ (cf. Matt. 3:5-6, Mark 1:5). The confession of sins is the beginning of this cultivation, the start, that is, of repentance and preparation to accept within us the saving seed, the word of God, which is able to save our souls. Ploughing the ground was devised by farmers as a means of extracting wild roots from deep down in the earth, and rendering it capable of receiving our seeds and plants. Confession does exactly this for the reasonable field, our heart. It digs up the evil passions concealed within it and throws them out, making it ready to take in the sacred seeds and suitable to grow a fine harvest of virtues. Just as, after Adam’s transgression, the earth began to bring forth thistles, thorns, and other useless plants (Gen. 3:18), so man’s heart bears shameful and evil passions and thoughts, and the sins which they in turn produce.” (The Homilies, p 460)

(see also my blog Bearing the Cross: Putting Your Hand to the Plough)

Being Fruitful, Multiplying, Filling the Earth and Time

DSC_0023 (2)YeckTrudging along the paths of Bill Yeck Park, I was thinking about God’s command to us in Genesis 1:28 to “be fruitful and multiply.”  So much thought has gone into the rest of the verse about subduing the earth and filling it and having dominion over every living thing that moves on the earth.  God the creative Creator whose making of the cosmos in Genesis 1 is done with poetic license (the word “made” in Gen 1:1 in Greek is the same word that our word poem or poetry comes from), endows humans with creativity as well.  In Genesis 2:19, God awaits to see what the human will call each animal which God has made – it is left to the human to creatively name the animals, God does not tell Adam their names nor how to name them, but watches as his human creates names and words just like God formed words which created all things.  Thus God imbues humans with a creative nature like His own, except we do not create out of nothing – we creatively name the creatures which in biblical thinking gives us some mastery over them.   “Hippopotamus,” says the man.  “Interesting,” says God.  Would God have thought of that name Himself?  (In the Quran God is overpoweringly omnipotent not leaving any room for human creativity or error, for Allah does not let the human create names, but rather tells the human their names and then tests the human to see if he remembers – the human cannot freely choose, he can only obey and his every act is under judgment.  Thank God for Genesis 2 and the freedom and creativity with which He entrusts us!)

“Be fruitful and multiply…”  {A joke comes to mind:  Why did all of the children in the Christian fundamentalist school refuse to do any division in math?  Because God only commanded them to be fruitful and to multiply.}

“Be fruitful and multiply… fill the earth…”   The creativity that God bestows upon us includes making use of the time He has given us.   We have to fill our time, not just the earth.  We are to be creative and to make beauty just as the Lord did – poetry, art, music, imagining, paintings, sculpting, prose, dance, photography, graphics and animation are among the ways humans are given by God to create beauty in time.   Boredom and wasting time are lost chances to create beauty and to fill time itself with things which give glory to God.   Creativity is a gift from God and a way to use time.

DSC_0036YeckI came upon a plant which I could not identify but the shape of the leaves caught my attention because it showed such imaginative form.  What variety in the leaves of plants – shapes, colors textures.  It seems to me one could spend days on end just photographing the different shapes and sizes of plant leaves, in that alone is there a multiplication of life as God commanded the earth to do (Gen 1:11).  There is a question which is hotly debated today between believers in God and believers in evolution.  Some believers in God claim all the species on earthy – plant and animal had to have been created by God in the six days of creation.  Believers in evolution say not so, plant life continues to evolve with some new species being formed and some others becoming extinct.  Those believers in God say new species cannot form from old ones since God commanded that plants and animals bring forth new life “according to their kind.”  Yet for me, as I read Genesis, I see God saying, let the earth bring forth the herb, the grass the plant bearing seed and the trees.  It doesn’t seem to me that God put any time limit on that.  The earth and the waters are continuously to bring forth life of all and varied kinds.  The text doesn’t say that God made every species, He commanded the earth and the waters to become creative and life giving.  God bestowed upon His creation the ability to creatively bring forth life. Nothing in His command forbids speciation and in fact God seems to value the goodness He sees in the earth and the waters creativity.  Besides if one understands speciation, even if the seed created by any plant species are in fact a new species they do bear the DNA of their parent plants, so they are of the same kind as their parents.  Speciation is not in opposition to what Genesis says – it is in fact the multiplication of which God commanded all living things – not only offspring but new species as well.    With the amazing variety of life we can already find in creation, why would God be opposed to new varieties or variations?  Why some feel the need to limit God’s ability to bring forth new things is beyond me.   Speciation is another form of miracle and a means for God to actually intervene in creation with something new.  He is the Lord and giver of life after all!

The Transfiguration of the Son of God: Listen to Him

This is the 2nd Part of a Reflection on the Transfiguration of Christ.  Part 1: Tablets of Stone:  Do Not Petrify the Word of God

When God created the world in the beginning, He came to the 7th Day upon which He rested and blessed the Sabbath rest.   St. Maximus the Confessor wrote that God intended to have the humans continue His creative work and to transfigure all of the earth into the Paradise of Delight.  That is the very task for which humans were created to make all of earth into Paradise.  God didn’t complete that work and didn’t do it all for us, but rather empowered us to share in this creative and life-giving work, and He left work to be done on earth by His human creatures (work He could have done Himself).   God entrusted us with the task of having dominion over the earth – our Lordship was to turn the rest of the earth He had created for us into Paradise.  God waited for us to transform the earth into Paradise.

But humanity sinned, and forsook its task, thus dooming the earth to futility (Romans 8:19-23).  The earth was not transfigured by humans into paradise, and rather only with great amounts of labor does the earth bring forth enough food to sustain human life.  Weeds, insects, draught, floods, disease, all work against the fruitfulness of the earth.   Paradise was lost.  The transfiguration of the earth was never accomplished.   Not only did the earth not produce the abundance of fruit and life which was normative to Paradise, but even the human heart failed to produce the spiritual fruits which God had expected from His creatures.

The Feast of the Transfiguration celebrates the events recorded in Matthew 17:1-9

The giving of God’s Word to Moses on tablets of stone did not transfigure the human heart into a Garden of Delight producing an abundance of spiritual fruit.  And neither can the transfiguration of the human heart occur merely by God’s Word being a book –  which is nothing more than God’s words carved not into stone but printed on a page.  Having bibles in our homes – whether on bookshelves or in icon corners – does not transfigure the human heart.  For we need to get the Word off the page and into hearts.

How can we do this?   By hearing the Word of God proclaimed.    The Gospel and Epistle can actually be proclaimed in Church without anyone really hearing it.  The reading might take place but our minds and hearts are far away from the words.   So just the proclamation in itself is not enough – we must be actively listening to and receptive to the Word in our heart and minds.  We must train ourselves to listen to the Gospel.   And I am going to play with words a little and argue that we need to take those words – “listen to the Gospel” – literally!   We must pay attention in the service, and to focus on hearing the Word – allowing it to enter into our ears and then into our hearts and minds.  The Word enters into us and becomes incarnate in us through our ears!

In our audio-visually oriented society we want to read the words, but we have to train ourselves to listen to the Gospel.  In the Gospel of the Transfiguration, God says to us regarding His Son:  “listen to Him” (Matthew 17:5).  God doesn’t tell us to read his lips, nor to read the bible.  His command is LISTEN to my beloved Son!   He wants us to approach His Son, His Word, by listening.

Several Patristic writers, such as St. Ephrem the Syrian, portray the Virgin Mary as being willing to hear the Word of God, and it is through her ear that the Word enters into her heart and then produces the fruit of her womb: Jesus the incarnate Word.  The salvation of the world occurs because the Virgin Mary listens to the Word of God.

If we want our hearts to become the good soil in which the Word/seed  of God grows and produces fruit, we have to be willing to do the work which God intended for all humans to do in transforming this world into Paradise.  We must become the gardeners of our souls.

Today some farms are able to produce a real abundance of crops to feed humanity.  But imagine the entire world being a paradise which produced a continual   cornucopia of produce everywhere and in every season.   That is the world of the Garden of Eden.  Our supermarkets may have a good supply of produce, but that comes with tremendous work, and is still confined to certain places.  But the Paradise of God was overflowing with fruit all easily accessed by humans.   The Fallen world we live in is very limited in its ability to produce because it has not been transfigured into Paradise which God intended it to become under the dominion of humans. 

On Transfiguration we bless fruit – as a reminder of the Paradise God intended this world to become.   We realize we are still capable, even if in a limited way, of doing what God wanted us to do – transfigure the earth into a life-giving  Paradise. Our having dominion over the earth and making it  into a Paradise begins in our own hearts where we are to produce the fruits of repentance  and the fruit of the Spirit

On this Feast we also realize this world is not yet Paradise, and yet within this world, fallen as it is, we are blessed by God with knowing Him and tasting of His Kingdom of Paradise which is both here and in the world to come.

See also my blogs:  The Transfiguration:  Man Fulfilling His Mission  and Feast Days:  Signs of God’s Coming Kingdom and The Transfiguration of Christ and the Creation of Light

Christian Perfection: Going Bananas

“You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

 A friend of mine was thinking about the meaning of Jesus telling us to be perfect, and he pointed out that the Greek word, teleios, used by Jesus in his teaching doesn’t imply “moral flawlessness”  but rather a growing into what one is supposed to be.  He then postulated that perhaps what Christ meant is that we are to ripen (like a fruit) to maturity.  

I think there is a sense in which this is true for us, but I think teleios implies attaining the goal or purpose for which we exist.   The sense of teleios/perfection  is the completion of the process, whereas maturation and ripening refer to the ongoing process – not the goal, but a stage in the process toward the goal.  The banana is going to continue to ripen, it doesn’t attain a stage of ripeness and then stop ripening.   It will become overripe and then rotten.

I do think our Lord Jesus intended for us to mature, but that is to keep us moving toward the goal – the teleios/perfection, which He had in mind for us.

On the cross, Jesus says, “It is finished”  (John 19:30)  and uses the same word “teleios” but means the goal/purpose  is accomplished or achieved or has been fulfulled.

Theologically we would say God is always teleios, he is not being perfected or moving toward perfection, unlike us his human creatures.    God says, “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14).   God is the One Who Is, not one who is becoming, but being itself.   We humans on the other hand are to attain the goal.

Going back to the notion that becoming perfect is like ripening fruit, we can ask, what is the goal of a banana?    To ripen?  No, ripening is the process by which the fruit provides for its seeds the opportunity to bring forth new life.   Producing more fruit is the goal/teleios of any fruit.   The purpose of a tree producing fruit is to produce more fruit!  That is a spiritual truth which is supported by the ideas of evolution and natural selection.

In that sense our goal as Christians is not merely to mature, though this is what we are to do (see Ephesians 4:11-13).    The real goal of the Christian life is to live in such a way as to bear fruit and thus plant more seeds to bring forth more fruit to the glory of God.   We are to bear fruit in order to bring forth more life.

Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. … By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.  …  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you”  (John 15:1-2,8,16).