Being Stewards of God’s Blessings

God says, “The earth has brought forth her increase, and you have not brought forth your tithes; but the theft of the poor is in your houses..”

Since you have not given the accustomed offerings, He says, you have stolen the goods of the poor. He says this to show the rich that they hold the goods of the poor even if they have inherited them from their fathers or no matter how they have gathered their wealth. And elsewhere Scripture says, “Deprive not the poor of his living.” To deprive is to take what belongs to another; for it is called deprivation when we take and keep what belongs to others. By this we are taught that when we do not show mercy, we will be punished just like those who steal. For our money is the Lord’s, however we may have gathered it. If we provide for those in need, we shall obtain great plenty.

This is why God has allowed you to have more: not for you to waste on prostitutes, drink, fancy food, expensive clothes and all the other kinds of indolence, but for you to distribute to those in need. Just as an official in the imperial treasury, if he neglects to distribute where he is ordered, but spends in stead for his own indolence, pays the penalty and is put to death, so also the rich man is a kind of steward of the money which is owed for distribution to the poor. He is directed to distribute it to his fellow servants who are in want. So if he spends more on himself than his need requires, he will pay the harshest penalty hereafter. For his own goods are not his own, but belong to his fellow servants.

(John Chrysostom, Daily Readings from the Writings of John Chrysostom, p. 44)

We Americans love the bounty with which God has blessed our country.  God has blessed us with this bounty so that we can generously share the blessings with others.  The bounty belongs to the Lord, we are but stewards of the abundance with which God blesses us.

The Buzz

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The bee is an insect that was admired in antiquity by numerous philosophers and saints.  Bees were cited for various reasons and virtues as examples for good people to emulate.  I’ve enjoying photographing bees, those great pollinators of flowers.

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Bees are essential in agriculture and important for food production.  In one way or another, bees are involved in most of the meals we eat.  They are an insect for which we should give thanks to God, and for which we should pray.

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“Like a bee that secretly fashions its comb in the hive, so also grace secretly forms in hearts its own love.  It changes to sweetness what is bitter, what is rough into that which is smooth.”  (Pseudo-Macarius, FIFTY SPIRITUAL HOMILIES & THE GREAT LETTER, p 132)

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“Like a bee one should extract from each of the virtues what is most profitable. In this way, by taking a small amount from all of them, one builds up from the practice of the virtues a great honeycomb overflowing with the soul-delighting honey of wisdom.”   (St Gregory of Sinai,  THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Location 41544-41546)

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You can find a prayer for bees and links to other posts I have made about bees at The Blessing of Bees and at How Sweet It Is To Be.

 

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,

Cormorant Fisherman

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,

Aloe

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)

“Blessed is the Man…” AND Also the Woman

Jesus answered, “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female . . . ?”   (Matthew 19:4)

There is neither … male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  (Galatians 3:28)

St. Basil the Great writing in the 4th Century addresses an issue that is still relevant today – are women somehow excluded from the life of holiness because they are not males?  Obviously,women in his day felt excluded from the life in the Church, as many do today.  While his answer will not satisfy some today, he does argue that there is no difference between holiness in men and women, and that God equally honors both male and female.

.‘Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly’ [Psalm 1:1].  What is truly good, therefore, is principally and primarily the most blessed. And that is God.

..But before I explain what it is ‘not to walk in the counsel of the ungodly,’ I wish to settle the question asked at this point. Why, you say, does the prophet single out only man and proclaim him happy? Does he not exclude women from happiness? By no means. For, the virtue of man and women is the same, since creation is equally honored in both; therefore, there is the same reward for both. Listen to Genesis. ‘God created man,’ it says, ‘in the image of God he created him. Male and female he created them.’ They whose nature is alike have the same reward. Why, then, when Scripture had made mention of man, did it leave woman unnoticed? Because it believed that it was sufficient, since their nature is alike, to indicated the whole through the more authoritative part.

‘Blessed, therefore, is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly.’

(The Fathers of the Church: St. Basil Exegetic Homilies, pp. 155-156)

Jesus looked up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.”  (John 8:10-11)

Male & Female He Created Them

The primordial story of man and woman hints that, despite all the dangers that accompany the humanization of sexuality, it is complementarity — the heterosexual difference — and not just doubleness that may point the way to human flourishing altogether. Conscious love of the complementary other draws the soul outward and upward; in procreation, love, mindful of mortality, overflows generously into creativity, the child unifying the parents as sex or romance alone never can, and the desire to give not only life but a good way of life to their children opens both man and woman towards a concern for the true, the good, and the holy. Parental love of children may be the beginning of sanctification of life. Perhaps that is what God was thinking when He said that it is not good for the human being — neither for man or woman — to be alone. Perhaps this is why “male and female created He them”.

Jacob & Rachel

(Leon R. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom, pp. 121-122)

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)

The Draw of God

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.  (Psalm 19:1-4)

Looking across Yellowstone Lake at the snow capped mountains and seeing the last quarter moon, I am awed by the beauty of creation.  I can make myself aware that I am also looking at astronomical phenomenon, as well as viewing history, meteorology, geology, biology, chemistry and physics.  And while I can do all of this without any reference to God the Creator, as a believer, the physical cosmos also tells me about the glory of God.  Obviously nature has no words to speak of, but the believer hears its voice, and knows the words and understands the revelation (see Psalm 19).

Science views all of this ‘neutrally’ – it sees nothing but the empirical world, whereas for the believer the physical world is a sign pointing to a greater reality and to a Creator.  For the believer, the world is not neutral, but is a gift from God to us, not just a thing or things, but a gift that reveals the love of the Giver, and that the Giver of the gift is in fact, Love.  It is a gift that we are given to care for and for which we give thanks to the Creator.  The physical world speaks of the spiritual world for they are the same reality, and it invites us to see beyond the mirco- and macro empirical worlds which are the limits of science and to see into the infinite and eternal.

(Psalm 65:1, 5-13)
Praise is due to you . . .  O God of our salvation;
you are the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas.

By your strength you established the mountains;
you are girded with might.
You silence the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
the tumult of the peoples.

Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs;
you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.
You visit the earth and water it,
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
you provide the people with grain,
for so you have prepared it.

You water its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth.

You crown the year with your bounty;
your wagon tracks overflow with richness.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
the hills gird themselves with joy,

the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy. 

Creation and nature are not ‘neutral’ in their relationship to us, for they do proclaim the glory of God.  They draw us to God, which is what God created them to do.  They all do God’s will naturally, and invite us to do the same.  Creation is not indifferent to our knowing God but rather tells us of God’s glory so that we will embrace our Creator.  Creation draws us to our Creator – a strange reversal of roles in the world of the Fall, for we were created by God to be the mediator bringing all creation to the Creator.

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  (Romans 8:19-23)

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.  (Romans 1:19-23)

We can find similar sentiments in the writings of the philosopher Lucretius who died about 50 years before the birth of Christ.

” . . . we are all born from the same celestial seed; all of us have the same father, from which the earth, the mother who feeds us, receives clear drops of rain, producing from them bright wheat and lush trees, and the human race, and the species of beasts, offering up the foods with which all bodies are nourished, to lead a sweet life and generate offspring . . .”  (De rerum natura, bk. II, lines 991–97)

More of my photos can be viewed at Cincinnati Zoo 2018-6.