The Sabbath Day: To Rest from our Labors

4th Century Roman Icon Christ Teaching

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And there was a woman who had had a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years; she was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. And when Jesus saw her, he called her and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.” And he laid his hands upon her, and immediately she was made straight, and she praised God. But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.” Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger, and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?” As he said this, all his adversaries were put to shame; and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.  (Luke 13:10-17)

Jesus answers the legal criticism with the principle, “The sabbath was made for people, not people made for the sabbath” (Mk 2:27). In the next chapter, Jesus is infuriated when the Pharisees watch to see whether he will heal on the sabbath (Mk 3:1-5). Jesus defiantly cures a man with a misshapen hand in front of the legal experts, who then plan to destroy Jesus (v. 60) for destroying the sabbath rest. But Jesus actually has honored the sabbath, which is a religious institution meant to honor the completion of God’s creative activity in Genesis, because Jesus has completed God’s creative work upon the man whom Jesus made whole.

Jesus’ radical reinterpretation of the Law serves to rehabilitate this symbol of God’s presence among the people. If the symbolic function of the sabbath is to celebrate God’s availability and power, then a sabbath which is a day of healing “works better” than a sabbath which is merely a day of rest from worldly activities. The emphasis is to be placed upon the God who is present through the symbol of the Law, and not upon the material prescriptions of the Law itself. (Marianne Sawicki, The Gospel in History, pp. 52-53)

A Thanksgiving Prayer 2018

An After Dinner Thanksgiving Prayer 

And after you have been filled, give thanks as follows:

We thank you, Holy Father, for your holy Name

which you have made to dwell in our hearts

and for the knowledge and faith and immortality

which you have made known to us through Jesus your Servant.

Glory to you forever!

You, Almighty Master, created everything for Your Name’s sake;

You have given food and drink to men for their pleasure,

so that they might give you thanks.

and to us you have graciously given spiritual food and drink

and life eternal through Jesus your Servant.

Most of all, we thank you because you are mighty.

Glory to you forever!

(from the Didache, The Apostolic Fathers, pp. 314-315)

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.

Creativity: Revealing the Truth or the Self?

One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after . . .
to behold the beauty of the LORD…  (Psalm 27:4)

Then Elisha prayed: “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the servant, and he saw . . .   (2 Kings 6:17)

In 2008, I decided to purchase a camera for myself.  I certainly had no ‘philosophy’ of photography which was driving me.  I wanted to take pictures of things I enjoyed looking at, and my first interest was the trees.  I was then and am now a walk-by shooter.  I take photos of whatever catches my eye.  Excuse the pun, but I have no focus in my photography.

I discovered however that photography changed me.  It made me pay more attention to nearly everything – from color to light, from the smallest of things to the big picture of landscapes.  I became more alert to sounds and smells as well as shapes, shades and sizes. Patterns interested me and texture, and I realized that sometimes photos told stories.  I realized that unlike language which one has to know to communicate, photos are a somewhat international language which people can understand and appreciate no matter what their native tongue.

I’ve never even risen to the level of being an amateur photographer, for the root of that word means “a lover of …”.   And I know that while I have enjoyed photography, I’ve not loved it so much as to study it or learn how to improve my skills.  I do a lot of trial and error and don’t remember the lessons.

I read Jan Phillips’ book, GOD IS AT EYE LEVEL, with the hope of gaining insight into how to be a better photographer, but realize I probably will always be the walk by shooter and will never take the time to learn the art of photography or the science of the computer which the digital camera is.  I was intrigued by Phillip’s comments on art and creativity, somewhat because I do not share a lot of her values or experience about life, art, photographs or photography.  She writes:

“A creative act is a process of conjuring up something visible from the invisible, of transforming a thought or experience into a form that can be perceived or encountered by another.  Creativity is a universal human urge.  We each yearn to express our experiences in such a way that others can know them vividly and sense their significance.  Art emerges out of this urgency to share our lives, our visions and voices, fears and passions, and every work of art reveals something intimate about the artist.

Her words above are different than my inner life.  I remain an introvert and shy.  I have no yearning to express my inner experiences, no urge to be creative and show off my ‘art.’  I’m amazed when anyone pays any attention to what I’ve written or photographed.  My works are not original, but trying to frame what I see and hear and read – things that stand out from the world around me and all created by someone else.  I find her image of “conjuring up something visible from the invisible” intriguing, but see myself only drawing attention to what is visible, but perhaps overlooked.

Phillips writes:

When I look into a mirror, I see my face, my body, the form of my being.  When I look into my images, it is my soul that I find reflected, parts of myself that cannot be revealed in language.  I could tell you about myself in puffed-up words, exaggerating my abilities, emphasizing my strengths, leaving out my flaws and failings, and you would walk away with a certain notion about who I am.  If, instead, I handed you a box of my photographs and said, ‘This is the essence of who I am,’ your understanding of me would be truer, undistorted by language and interpretation.  My photographs are a direct line to my inner world.  They are the shortest distance between my soul and yours.

While I believe what she says is true, my photos do say something about me, I don’t see them as revealing me as much as they show to what I pay attention.  I’m far more interested in the world outside of myself.  Every one of my photos is an enigmatic photo of me exactly because I’m not in them.  I like to be invisible and so prefer being the photographer than the photographed.  And unlike Phillips, I think even photographs are interpreted so they are always seen through the lens of the experience of the beholder.

Again Phillips writes:

Even more important, my photographs are a direct line between my soul and me.  As much as an image speaks of the things seen, it speaks also of the person who photographs it.  In Photography of Natural Things, Freeman Patterson writes that ‘the finest images- the images that stir our souls- combine documentation of natural things with a sense of what they mean to us.’  My take on a desert dune or a redwood forest is not only different from any other photographer’s but reflects where I am emotionally and spiritually on the day when I’m shooting.  If I am feeling fearful in the face of an oncoming storm, my image will contain a sense of that.  If I am standing on mountain top, awed by the grandeur, my awe will be reflected in the photograph I make.  I listen for what my subject is saying to me, and once I know that, I can make a photograph that expresses both what it is and who I am as I see it.

The above comment is definitely one way in which I fall short as a photographer.  I don’t always think about what the subject or the scene means to me or what I feel about it.  I’m certainly guilty of allowing myself to view life only through the camera and not enjoying or experiencing what is right before my eyes.

I don’t try to capture awe or fear in my photos though I think the idea is right.  I am not as convinced as her that my take on a subject is all that different than others.  I’ve seen the photos of my family members of a given place or event which we all experienced.  We often focus on the same thing, though granted there can be variation on what each was trying to capture in the moment.

Minor White said that the goal of the serious photographer is ‘to get from the tangible to the intangible, to render the image in such a way that it becomes a metaphor for something else- usually the photographer’s state of mind.'”  (Jan Phillips, GOD IS AT EYE LEVEL, pp 91-92)

I wonder, can I see myself in my photography?

It seems to me that for Phillips “art” as just an expression of what is in the person, individualism, the person creates the art.  My sense of art is that it reveals what is there to be seen, especially the beauty.  Is that just another dandelion – another pesky weed, or is there something beautiful that we can see?    Can we see beyond the visible to the invisible Creator of beauty?  I think we can.

The difference in how we see the world is the difference in understanding  between a Transfiguration in which Christ suddenly reveals His divinity like a nuclear blast to His disciples, or one in which the disciples are the ones transformed  – everything that prevents them from seeing reality is removed from their eyes and now in the transfiguration they finally see Christ as He always is.

Phillips in her book writes about “self-discovery” and what a thing or the the thing she photographs “means to me“.  I think what art is really about is discovering the other, the not-me, so that I find my place in the world, in God, my relationship to all that is, because all that is is not my creation or just a way to find me or just what it means to me.  In discovering the other, I learn to think beyond the self, to open myself to love – loving the other and being loved by the other.  I realize their is an entire created order which I did not create but has a real Creator.  Self-discovery can quickly disintegrate into self-love which is the opposite of love, which is always oriented  in the full meaning of that word – exactly other directed or directed toward the other.  Love gives us direction, it orients us!

The beauty of photography is not what it reveals about me, but that it reveals beauty is beyond me, not limited by my ideas, but a window into the eternal Creator which can be seen by all.  The photograph gets me to stop for one second and realize the beauty of truth and the truth of beauty.

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)

 

 

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,

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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