To Be Human Is To Be Like God

We can begin to expand on this by looking at what it means to say humanity is created in the “image of God” (Gen. 1:26-27; 9:6), a metaphor that is scarce in Scripture but that has come to play a huge part in Christian discussions of the uniqueness of human beings. “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image’” (Gen. 1:26). Today there is fairly widespread agreement that, as used in Genesis at least, image does not refer to a possession or endowment (like mind, reason, free will) but is a relational term. That is, it makes no sense without considering our relation to God – as God’s unique “counterpart” or covenant partner (we can know and love God in return) – and because of that, to other creatures, human and nonhuman, animate and inanimate.

Crucial also is the notion of representation: as God’s counterparts, human beings are God’s earthly representatives, his vice-regents, in the way that an ancient monarch was seen to represent a god or a physical image to represent a king. Bound up with this is the idea of resemblance or similarity: as God’s partners, humans are in some sense like God (hence the pairing of image with likeness). In short, to say that we are created in God’s image is to say that we are created as God’s unique counterparts and hence God’s representatives on earth, embodying, as creatures and alongside other creatures, the action and presence of God in and to the word.”

(Jeremy S. Begbie, Resounding Truth, p. 202)

Chlorophyll Breaks Down

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“But in the fall, because of changes in the length of daylight and changes in temperature, the leaves stop their food-making process.

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The chlorophyll breaks down, the green color disappears, and the yellow to orange colors become visible and give the leaves part of their fall splendor.

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At the same time other chemical changes may occur, which form additional colors through the development of red anthocyanin pigments.

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Some mixtures give rise to the reddish and purplish fall colors of trees such as dogwoods and sumacs, while others give the sugar maple its brilliant orange.

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The autumn foliage of some trees show only yellow colors. Others, like many oaks, display mostly browns.

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All these colors are due to the mixing of varying amounts of the chlorophyll residue and other pigments in the leaf during the fall season.”  (College of Environmental Science and Forestry)

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The autumn leaf color change can be given a description both prosaic or poetic and scientific or sentimental.   The beauty is neither hard to picture or imagine.  The season comes with its own unique scents and has a particular climatic feel to it.   The year is winding down, nature is getting sleepy,  getting ready for its blanket of snow.  The burst of color is a delight to the eyes, even if its scientific cause is a bit dull.

You can find other photos I took of the fall color change at Autumn 2018 or Early Autumn.

Psalm 67

May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,
Selah

that your way may be known upon earth,
your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth.
Selah

Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.

The earth has yielded its increase;
God, our God, has blessed us.

May God continue to bless us;
let all the ends of the earth revere him.

Seeing With the Eyes of the Heart

“Lord, purge our eyes to see

within the seed a tree

Within the glowing egg a bird,

Within the shroud a butterfly.

Till, taught by such we see . . .

Beyond all creatures, Thee.” 

(Christina Rosssetti, p 57)

Christina Rosssetti is a favorite poet of mine because she helps us see through and beyond what is right before us to that other reality, namely God, that we believe in.  As we read in the Prophet Isaiah:  “Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these?”  (Isaiah 40:26)  We can see what the Creator created, but Isaiah implies we should be able to see WHO created them!  We can see with our eyes beyond what is right in front of us to Who made these things, and so we can know that Creator.

“By virtue of the Creation and, still more, of the Incarnation, nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see.” (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin) (p 1)

When our eyes are opened, we see goodness and beauty and God the Creator in the created, material things of this world.

Moses himself pointed out that it was the failure to see beyond the ‘what’ to the WHO which was Israel’s failure.

And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: “You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials which your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders; but to this day the LORD has not given you a mind to understand, or eyes to see, or ears to hear. (Deuteronomy 29:2-4)

It is a gift to be able to see what is in front of us, and not everyone is so gifted.  But to the potential in things, to see goodness in things, to see the meaning of things, to see the Creator of the things in front of us, is a special talent indeed.   This ability to see not only what is  visible to us but through and beyond the visible to all else that is revealed by the visible is one theme we encounter in  Christine Valters Paintner’s book,  EYES OF THE HEART: PHOTOGRAPHY AS A CHRISTIAN CONTEMPLATIVE PRACTICE.  She writes about photography as a spiritual exercise to open the eyes of one’s heart.

We do well just to see what physically is right in front of us, and yet as Paintner points out: “God’s presence is always before us.”  (p 16)   If we are willing, we can see not just what God has done but the Doer of these divine and holy things.

“Just as the bodily eyes see all things distinctly, so also to the souls of the saints the beauties of the Godhead are manifested and seen.  Christians are absorbed in contemplating them and they ponder over them.  But to bodily eyes that glory is hidden, while to the believing soul it is distinctly revealed.”  (Psuedo-Macarius, THE FIFTY HOMILIES, p 203)

But why is it that God remains invisible to most of us and most of the time?  Paintner offers one possible reason:

“The technology, speed, and busyness so prized by our Western culture foster a habit of blindness.  For all the bustle, a dreary sameness comes to mark the places where we live.  We forget that there is a vast depth beneath the apparent surfaces of things.”  (p 13)

We are in such a hurry to get to our goals, to produce our results that we cannot see the road we are on or the time we are in.  The process or journey become for us  nothing more than that which comes between us and our goal; it is nothing more than the barrier preventing us from seeing our destination.  As one current car commercial has it, while a flight may be the fastest way to reach a destination, we miss all the sights, all the activity, all of the beauty and wonder which we can only see along the road.

“We live in a product-oriented culture, where much of what we do is focused on an end goal or product to share.  When we approach art in this way, we become distracted by trying to produce a beautiful image.  When we focus on the process of art-making, rather than the product, we can immerse ourselves in the creative journey and discover the ways God is moving through our lives and how we are being invited to respond.  We release our own plans and expectations and pay attention to  what is actually unfolding within us.”  (p 3)

Her comment seems so apropos not only to photography, but says something about our captivity to capitalism.  In capitalism we see the earth and its resources as nothing more than a means to our ends, not a gift which reveals the Creator.   We fail to appreciate the art of living and want only results that produce financial gain.  If we focus only on product, we care little about the cost and waste of the process.  We are willing to denude the earth of natural resources at any cost and create mounds of toxic waste because we only care about the identified “product.”  We blind ourselves to all else that results from the beloved product.  And we think, as long as the products I want are still available, why should I worry about what the process does, especially if I don’t have to see the collateral damage and all the destructive waste?

And as a personal confession, I will also admit that whereas I was enthralled with Paintner’s introduction, I quickly lost interest in the process she was describing!  I wasn’t interested in her process, but loved the idea she presented.

She rightfully points out that which we who celebrate the Divine Liturgy already know – that time itself can be experienced in such a way as to reveal the Kingdom of God to us.

Kairos refers to the fullness of a given moment,a moment when something special happens, something unexpected.” (pp 3-4)

Photography can help us to see the world in a new way, to pay attention to detail but also to see larger patterns as well as the bigger picture, to see the Creator who made all things.  This enhanced vision, seeing with the heart, is a goal of the spiritual life.

May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened (Ephesians 1:18)

 

 

Natural Goodness

The Elder always said that evil does not exist in this world. Everything was created by God and he saw that everything is “very good” (Gen. 1:31).

Evil exists when we make wrong use of the things God granted to us for our benefit.

It is not bad for someone to have money, but it is bad to be avaricious. Drugs are not an evil thing, when used to relieve the pain of people who suffer. They are bad when used for a different purpose. A knife is a useful utensil, when we used it to cut bread. However, when it is used to hit someone, it becomes a deadly weapon. In this case, it is not the knife which is evil, but the inner disposition of the murderer.

Therefore, we must use everything in the right way, the natural way, not abuse them and go against nature.

Since we are weak by nature, when we are inclined to give in to a passion, we should try to avoid anything that makes us feel vulnerable. We should also be aware that the reason we avoid the causes of our passions is not because they are evil themselves; but rather, because our ill inner disposition does not permit us to use them correctly.

Since we cannot benefit from them, it is better to avoid them, so they do not harm us. At the same time, we should glorify God for His gifts, and blame ourselves for abusing them and this provoking the evil.

(Priestmonk Christodoulos, Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, pp. 112-113)

Environmental Theology

Previous:  Creation: God’s Gift to Us

Some years ago Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew declared September 1  as a day of prayer for the protection of the natural environment.  This declaration was also endorsed by the other Orthodox Primates as well as by the Pope of Rome.  In honor of this day, here is a meditation on Environmental Theology or, if you prefer, ecological spirituality.

First, Chrysostom argues that the image of God is reflected in humanity’s control and authority over the natural world.  As Chrysostom expresses it, “God created the human being as having control over everything on earth…nothing on earth is greater than the human being, under whose authority everything falls.” This authority and control is a gift of love, given to humanity to be exercised responsibly. Indeed, the exercises of a responsible dominion, Chrysostom believes, rebukes the fallen human tendency toward irresponsibility, laziness and self-indulgence. Responsible care for the environment is to be a “stabilizing influence” in our lives, forcing us to look beyond ourselves toward the well-being of our broader world with all its varied inhabitants. To exploit or ignore that environment is to deface God’s own image in us.

Second, God has exhibited, as Chrysostom puts it, an amazing “prodigality” or extravagance in God’s creation of the world. Certain characteristics of the natural order – the seasons and their rhythms, for example – have been created to facilitate humanity’s life and understanding of God’s love and care. Other aspects of nature – reptiles and wild beasts come to mind – illustrate the abundance of God’s creation, an extravagant prodigality designed to “overwhelm” us and teach us “that all these things were produced by a certain wisdom and ineffable love out of regard for the human being that was destined to come into being.

Even if we struggle to identify all of nature’s utility and benefit, we are called to preserve it in its entirety.”

(essay by Christopher A. Hall, from Ancient & Postmodern Christianity, pp. 36-37)

Creation: God’s Gift to Us

If we extend our discourse to the boundless multitude of fishes – those in ponds, those in the springs, those in the rivers, those in the navigable sea, and those in the unnavigable –

or if we consider the untold numbers of flocks of birds – those in the air, those on land, those in the water as well as on the land (for there are a great number of aquatic birds among them), wild ones, tame ones, wild ones that have been domesticated,

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those that always remain wild, edible ones, inedible ones – and if we investigate the beauty, the feathers, and the musical sound of each; if we but closely examine the differences in their singing, their food, their way of life, and if we recount their habits, their haunts, all the benefits and services they provide to us, their sizes, great and small,

their young and the rearing of them, and the great and inexpressible diversity among them, and if we also do the same with the fishes; and if from there we also go on to plants, which grow everywhere on the earth, and if for each of them we look at its fruit and its usefulness and its fragrance and its appearance,

its structure, its leaves, its color, its shape, its size, great or small, its benefits, its methods of cultivation, its kind of bark, trunk, branch, those growing in meadows and those in enclosed gardens; then if we go on to the various herbs and investigate the manifold places where they grow and the ways to find them,

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to care for them, and to cultivate them, as well as their usefulness to us for healing; and if we also move on to the ore-bearing mountains, of which there are many; and if we search through all the other created things, which are even more numerous –

then, what words or what amount of time would be enough for us to come to a precise understanding of them?
And all that, O man, is for your sake: arts for your sake, and ways of living and cities and villages and sleep for your sake,

and death for your sake, and life for your sake, and growth, and so many works of nature and such a good world for your sake now – and for your sake it will be better still. Concerning the fact that it will be better and that it will be better for your sake,

listen to what the apostle Paul says: Because the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption, that is, from being corruptible. And how it will enjoy such an honor he shows by adding: into the liberty of the glory of the children of God (Rom. 8:21).

(St. John Chrysostom, On the Providence of God, p. 67-68)

Next:  Environmental Theology

All That Is Within Me, Bless His Name

For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.
(Psalms 139:13-16)

Fetus at 6 months

On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those parts of the body which we think less honorable we invest with the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior part…   (1 Corinthians 12:22-24)

Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name!  (Psalms 103:1)

St Cyril of Jerusalem writes:

Look within yourself. From your own nature you can learn something of your Maker.

There is nothing to be ashamed of in your body. If you are in control of its members, they are not in the slightest evil. Adam and Eve in paradise were naked at first and their bodies did not appear shameful or disgusting. Our limbs do not cause sin, but the wrong use of them does. The Creator of our bodies knew what he was doing.

Who makes the secret parts of the mother’s womb able to bear children? Who gives life to the lifeless fruit of conception? Who shapes the sinews and bones, who covers all with flesh and skin? When the baby comes to the light, who gives the milk that it can suck? How does the newborn infant grow to become a child, then an adolescent, then an adult, and then in the end an old person?

Who imposes on the heart the regularity of its beat? Who protects so skilfully our eyes with their eyelashes? Who makes our whole bodies able to be kept alive by our breathing?

Look at your Maker. Admire your wise Creator. The greatness and the beauty of his creatures will help you to contemplate him.

(Drinking from the Hidden Fountain, p. 60)

Creation and God

“If we perceive the spiritual principles of visible things we learn that the world has a Maker. But we do not ask what is the nature of that Maker, because we recognize that this is beyond our scope. Visible creation clearly enables us to grasp that there is a Maker, but it does not enable us to grasp His nature.”  (St. Maximos the Confessor, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 17646-50)

Natural theology has its limits according to the Fathers of the Church.  Creation tells us there is a Creator, but creation cannot reveal to us the nature of the God who created us.  Our ability to read creation like a book of theology requires us to have more experience and knowledge than creation alone can give us.  God the Holy Trinity reveals Himself and His nature to us, a revelation found in the Holy Scriptures as well as in the sacramental life of the Church and also in the spiritual lives of the saints.  Even the Scriptures alone do not give us the full experience of God’s revelation and grace.  St. Basil  the Great notes about the book of Genesis:

In saying, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” the sacred writer passed over many things in silence—e.g., water, air, fire, and their effects—which, all forming in reality the true complement of the world, were without doubt made at the same time as the universe. By this silence, the text plainly wishes to train the activity of our intelligence, giving it a weak point for starting, to impel it to the discovery of the truth.”    (A Patristic Treasury: Early Church Wisdom for Today, Kindle Loc.  Loc. 3593-96)

Scripture does not tell us everything there is to know about creation – it is silent about many things, but for St. Basil, this silence is exactly telling us there is much more to know.  The fact that Scripture does not give us every detail about creation tells us we need to search and discover the truth which is in creation and which leads us beyond creation to the Creator.  The Scriptures speak to us about the Creator, but they are not a scientific text book.  Humans have pursued a study of God’s creation and uncovered a great many facts and truths about the material cosmos.  What we commonly call science is really the result of human study into the truths of the natural world, the things about which the Scriptures are silent.  God reveals to us the natural order and allows us to discover the truth about nature, as when in the beginning God allowed Adam to name all of the animals of creation and God waited to see what the human would name the animals (Genesis 2:19-20).  God rejoices in our scientific curiosity and our search into the nature of the universe.  In allowing the human to name the animals God was giving us opportunity to understand the nature of each part of creation.

Of course some have decided the empirical world is the only reality we can know, but the godly realize just as there is more to know about nature than the Scriptures reveal, so too there is more to be known about creation than science can reveal.  St. Gregory Nazianzus comments:

“For we should not neglect the heavens, earth, and air, and all such things, because some have wrongly seized upon them and honored God’s works instead of God; instead, we should reap whatever advantage we can from them for our life and enjoyment, while we avoid their dangers, not raising creation as foolish people do in revolt against the Creator, but from the works of nature apprehending the Worker and, as the divine apostle says, “taking every thought captive to obey Christ” [2 Cor 10:5.)”    (A Patristic Treasury: Early Church Wisdom for Today, Kindle Loc. 4004-8)

As St Gregory notes, just because some people might use scientific investigation to proclaim the empirical creation as the only thing that exists and so deny the Creator, that is no reason for us to completely reject science itself.  Those denying the Creator’s existence are wrong about God but that doesn’t mean that science is therefore wrong about all of its claims.   Science does know things about the physical creation not found in Scriptures, and we in the modern world live with the many advantages of science, technology, medicine and industry.

Scripture was not written to be science, but do reveal the truth to us.

“The creation stories are ancient and should be understood on that level. Rather than merge the two creation stories—the scientific and the biblical—we should respect that they each speak a different language. The fact that Paul considered Adam to be the progenitor of the human race does not mean that we need to find some way to maintain his view within an evolutionary scheme. Rather, we should gladly acknowledge his ancient view of cosmic and human origins and see in that very scenario the face of a God who seems far less reluctant to accommodate to ancient points of view than we are sometimes comfortable with.”   (Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam, What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins, Kindle Loc. 3131-35)

God chose His own time and place to make His revelations known, and the people to whom He made those revelations recorded them with all the limits of their time and place.  As Peter Enns points out, God was willing to accommodate Himself and His revelation to the point of view of the ancient world.  God did not leave the ancients in the dark saying “no use to reveal myself until the people have a better understanding of creation through modern science.”  God was comfortable with revealing Himself to a people whose “ancient” way of thinking caused them to  understand the revelation and the creation in their own pre-modern terms.  God did not wait until the modern times to make Himself known.  It is we moderns who have trouble with pre-modern understanding, not God.    Enns continues:

“In my view, reading the Adam story as it was intended to be understood by those who shaped the Bible—primarily as a story of Israel within the larger stage of universal world history—is the most fruitful approach. The Adam story is not an obligatory nod on the part of ancient Israelites to account for how humanity came to be. The primary question Israel was asking was not, ‘Where do people come from?’ (a scientific curiosity), but ‘Where do we come from?’ (a matter of national identity).”   (The Evolution of Adam, What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins, Kindle Loc. 3179-82)

Israel needed to discover its own identity to know its relationship to the rest of history, of the world, of the entire universe.  Scripture gave them that identity which helped them understand themselves in the bigger picture of humanity as well as the entire cosmos.  In understanding themselves, they could then understand creation, the empirical world.  It is in this learning process that they came to know their Creator and the importance of the created world in realizing their place in it.

“Creation is the accuser of the ungodly. For through its inherent spiritual principles creation proclaims its Maker; and through the natural laws intrinsic to each individual species it instructs us in virtue. The spiritual principles may be recognized in the unremitting continuance of each individual species, the laws in the consistency of its natural activity. If we do not ponder on these things, we remain ignorant of the cause of created being and we cling to all the passions which are contrary to nature.”  (St. Maximos the Confessor, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 17632-39)

The created order, the empirical world contextualize our place in the cosmos.  Our task is to learn from both nature and the Scriptures about our role in God’s creation.  The scientific study of the empirical world also helps us realize our relationship to the rest of creation including our moral responsibilities since we are creatures with free will whose choices have consequences for the rest of creation.

O LORD, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.

(Psalms 104:24)

 

The World is Like a Music Chord

“The world, as intended by the Lord of the Realms, is like music. Every voice—that is, every reasoning creature—must sing its assigned part for the song to sound well. That may sound limiting, as though the notes that determine the fate of the world have already been written, but that is not quite the truth.

There is a great deal of room for improvisation, as long as harmony is maintained throughout. Thus, the low voices must not break the flow of the high, so that each moment is a beautiful chord. Do you understand so far?”

(Nicholas Kotar, The Song of the Sirin (Raven Son Book 1),  kindle 4016-4019)