Category Archives: Uncategorized

Falling in Love with God

Before we fall in love with God, we have to make time for activities like prayer, meditation and worship. Once we have fallen in love, we see there will never be enough time in all our life to pray enough, meditate enough, worship enough, as the love of God is worth.

It is like what two committed lovers feel, only at the magnified intensity of the all-encompassing: we never want to part from God’s presence, we are never satiated with giving and receiving love, we are constantly meeting ever-deeper riches of Who God Is. The mystery of the other person, our beloved, is inexhaustible; how much more so for the Beloved Above All!

Although today we are still lacking in our love for God, we nonetheless have moments of total wonderment and gratitude at the fact of existing. These are signposts, in our experience, of the eternal quality of our life as a communion of persons, as an inexhaustible relationship between I and Thou (finite and infinite). We cannot adequately conceptualize this eternal quality, because it is freely bestowed to us with existence itself. We intuit this whenever we are open to its majestic gift-quality. We cannot grasp the Thou before Whom we are, and yet our very being is a gift from the eternal Thou. We never reach the end of measuring the depth and grandeur of this gift we are, nor of the Giver who gives us to ourselves.

Likewise, we never reach the end of asking, what is the meaning of our being here? Not because we anxiously stand in a lack of answers, but because the final answer—we are here because God gives us to be, incessantly and forever—remains an unfathomable mystery we can only approach through prayer, meditation, worship—surrender to the gift of God’s everlasting love for us.

Therefore it is wise to attend each day with a sensitivity for wonderment at being, with gratitude for being. It is wise to recall our “history of graces”: all those signposts in our life so far which have indicated our blessedness, our belovedness in God’s eyes: whatever love we have received, whatever encounters have enriched us, whatever thoughts have deepened our appreciation of things, whatever events have shaped us and taught us on. Including especially our moments of loss and deepest trial, for these confront us with the mysterious unity of mortality and the immortal interwoven in time. This exercise of memory is itself a form of prayer because, finally, our being is an act of worship, regardless of whether or not we pray to a deity. For we did not give ourselves being, and yet we are.

All goodness, all truth, all beauty that we make or discover, emerges in homage of this mysterious source over which we have no control, yet which loves us.

Yes, the source of being loves us, “loves us into being” second by second and for all eternity, regardless of whether or not we love it back, acknowledge it, or render conscious homage. That is the irony of ingratitude: we could not even be ungrateful, we could not even overlook the gift, had we not the time to do so! and time is through and through a gift beyond comprehension, not caused by us but received by us. All is gratuity.

Time prepares and preserves us in a unity with the eternal time of the incomprehensible Thou, Who is the living presence from Whom we have drawn life all our life, and forever will.

Let us remember then that adoration is the fundamental movement of our being. Our time is here for us, an evident fact, flowing from and back into an infinity we will never grasp. It is our amazing privilege to catch even the slightest glimpse of this miracle: that we are and continue to be in being, without having done a single thing to deserve or produce such a rich and marvelous reality. Seeing this, I think we cannot help but fall in love.

O God,
Eternal rock of Creation and Beloved Above All Else,
You give us everything—all we have to enjoy and understand, play with and create—You give us ourselves.
Even when we pay You no mind, You abide with us and permit our joy.
Even when we squander what is not ours to waste, You give us all this time to live, explore, and make mistakes.
When we dishonor and betray these gifts, You are not pleased. But You are a loving Father, patient as the child learns to walk. If we turn to You, You forgive us, You stand us upright. For it is Your greatest desire to see us, Your children, flourish and run to the heights You have designed for us—vistas of glory and love in existence that we could never dream!
Thus even in our ingratitude, Lord, we give You thanks. Forgive us.

Holy Source of Peace,
Grant then that we may pierce the veils which separate us from clearer knowledge of You, from apprehension of Your true nature in our daily, embodied lives.
Help us to grow in holiness, which is our living approximation to the honor You are owed.
Keep present to our minds everything You have done for us, great and small.
Increase our love for You, O God,
Be the time of our lives, to the utmost,
That we may give You thanks forever for Your love,
And rest with You eternally in that very same love which You have prepared for us, and predestined us for, from before the foundation of the world,

Henri Nouwen on Christian Leadership

Henri Nouwen’s book In the Name of Jesus deserves the widest readership among Christians. After twenty five years as a “successful” priest, academic, author, and lecturer, something was missing for Nouwen. He was led by God to join L’Arche, a community started by Jean Vanier that serves and lives with disabled and mentally challenged persons. This experience brought Nouwen far outside his comfort zone and nearer to the wounded beauty of the Body of Christ. This challenged him to rethink what it means to “lead the flock” and “tend the sheep.”

In the Name of Jesus records the fruits of this transformation and presents a compelling vision for Christian leadership. In three thematic sections, he diagnoses a main problem facing Christian leaders and offers a solution. In what follows, I’ll reflect on these three main themes in hopes that it will inspire the reader to read the whole book. I’ll leave out my favorite part though, the story of Bill, a mentally challenged man from L’Arche who travels with Henri and accompanies him on stage for his big presentation–and reaches everyone with his delight and simplicity.

Relevance → Prayer

The worldly attitude tells we are the Doer, the Shower, the Builder. We are supposed to take big tasks upon ourselves, prove our relevance and the relevance of our project. Recognizing that this attitude often results in us closing off from others, obsessing over our own works, and calculating everything for some idea of success, Nouwen turns it on its head. The Christian leader is called instead to be completely irrelevant. They are to stand on the side of invalid, anguished, disabled, oppressed peoples, without reputation or “use” in the world. God does not love because we are useful, successful, and accomplished: God loves us because he created us, because we are his, and for the Christian this is the central reality to inhabit and communicate. Likewise, against the image of the polished self who has it all put together, instead we are to bring our naked, vulnerable self to every situation, not afraid to show our weakness and the areas where we need strengthening.

For the Christian leader, a real, steadfast, genuine love for Jesus should be the top priority, and nothing should ever replace it or get in its way. That alone is relevant and pertinent for our grounding in a Christian life. We should know–not only intellectually, but deep in the heart–that the heart of God is love. Only thus are we preserved from fear, isolation, and despair. Only then can we look on obstacles or failures with the eyes of faith, knowing everything is in God’s hands.

Continue reading

Christian Vedanta? (and other inter-religious matters)

Wayne Teasdale in his book Bede Griffiths speaks well of the fruits of “intermystical exploration,” and I can personally attest to these fruits. My relationship to God would not be where it is today without such exploration, and to say I’ve gained from it immensely would still be an understatement. In fact, I do not think I would have the deep Catholic faith I have today, had I not studied and practiced other traditions at various junctures of my life. (This is not to set it up as a requirement, only to legitimize it in the eyes of skeptics.) It would be too much to recount, but since my high school days I have had a passion for understanding and integrating into my religious life elements of Buddhism (Zen, Mahayana, Shambala), Hinduism (Bhagavad Gita, Advaita Vedanta), and especially the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo. To this day I draw inspiration and clarification from research into non-Catholic ways of approaching the divinity. Intermystical exploration for me now always confirms these two fundamental truths:

  1. God is the Creator of everything and everyone, and wherever there is goodness, truth, beauty, his Spirit is present in some way (Phil 4:8, Acts 16:23). Whatever genuinely draws us to love and oneness must participate in the ground of Being, because no one but He is the source and end of the human quest for divinity, meaning, etc.
  2. Jesus Christ is God’s unique and final dispensation of redemption (Heb 1:1-3). While humanity’s quest to the Divine everywhere meets limits or fails, God speaks his own Word of redemption, sending his only Son for our justification and sanctification–and in countless ways, Jesus turns everything humanity expected from religion on its head.

Nonetheless, it is our duty as members of a common, historical humanity to seek out convergences between other traditions and the Catholic faith, through both reason and contemplation. This will enrich our own perception of God’s grandeur, both in seeing the movement of Spirit in the non-Christian quest and in marveling at the radical revolution effected in Christ. It will also assist those of other faith backgrounds to see the light of Christ, for evangelization becomes much smoother and effective if we engage other cultures in a dignified and thorough way, knowing them from the inside rather than judging them from without. Then we can best highlight what is so unique about God’s revelation in Christ and graciously present the Gospel invitation to become “partakers of the divine nature,” of the triune life. Teasdale offers a nice framework for understanding this engagement:

“Intermystical exploration” for Teasdale is a kind of osmosis of other traditions through study and practice, without of course slacking in one’s Christian faith. In that process–which is life-long and need not rush to conclusions, since Jesus Christ alone is “our hope” (1 Tim 1:1)–not only is our own faith illuminated, but there is an “interior assimilation” of the different faith-systems. This means that the point of complementarity is found, not in mental speculation, but in mystical contemplation. A Christian practitioner of Vedanta may then come to see both Sacchidananda and the Trinity as experiences of the deep unity of reality which lie on one and the same “ontological continuum.” This is only logical, after all: as they both stem from man’s encounter with the highest divinity, they are bound to “converge.” However, existential convergence does not mean equality or equivalence, for, as Teasdale describes it, this ontological continuum is also a “spiral of realization,” meaning that there are deeper realizations of that same deep unity (which is the ultimate “matrix of convergence”). This allows Teasdale (and us) to uphold the Trinity as the most penetrating realization of the highest divinity, as revealed by God in Christ, while still highly valuing Vedantic truths like Sacchidananda–and even “worshiping” with them, where and insofar as they resonate favorably with the deep essence of revealed Christian truth.

While that idea may put off some readers, we must remember that Christians from the earliest days took an approach of assimilation, integration, and transformation with other cultures. Many detractors of Christianity today mock it for having so many ‘pagan’ elements–but the Catholic ought to embrace the fact that the Church, in its wisdom, knew how to utilize for the truth of Christ whatever piece of truth, symbolism, ritual, and beauty it found out in the world. Remember also that many Church Fathers borrowed Greek and Neoplatonic categories to make the Christian revelation intelligible, just as Jean-Luc Marion uses categories from Phenomenology and Modern Metaphysics to do the same. One might argue that some theologians go too far in relying on those tools, but the Church is here for the long haul. It will always self-correct by returning to the Gospel and the joyous revelation of God in Christ.

As Christians, we ought to be bold and threatened by nothing. We ought to know that the “evolution” of the religious consciousness of man is in God’s hands. We needn’t rely on the borderlines we draw; rather we might project ahead a few centuries, when all the borders we now rely on will have changed, and the face of Christianity, too, will have “evolved” to bring its ageless truth to new ears and eyes. We can and must take this chance–“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”–because we believe that Christ is God’s final word and the Trinity is the highest realization of the highest divinity. None will surpass it, and all may find a place within its loving embrace through Christ–though in finding its place, each will no doubt be transfigured and led to the Cross.

Thus, while the Trinitarian distinction-in-unity of Persons, which shows that the Divine Life is a communion of Being, is indeed farther along the “spiral of realization” than Advaita, the intuition of Sacchidananda still points toward the deep, personalistic Center of revelation. If we read Ramanuja or the Svetasvatara Upanishad, we will see that even among Hindu scripture these lie further along the “spiral” heading in the direction of the Sacred Heart of God. They do not make any leap from the One Reality to the Communion of Persons, nor can they anticipate the sin-shattering event of the Cross. But they do know that the Divinity resides in the heart, they do affirm the supreme Lordship of God, they do seek to live in service of Him with the highest degree of adoration they know. Not knowing Christ, they could not praise Christ; but in praising the most glorious Lord to which heart and mind and soul had access, their praise leads to Christ unknown and–for the perceptive, gentle, generous explorer–even today enriches our own praise of Christ.

A Christian Vedanta is thus possible. We must accept that the established forms of Christianity on earth have hardly caught up with the momentum of Jesus Christ. We have hardly manifested his full intention for the transformation of man’s religious consciousness, and every century and region has its own work to do. At the same time, the Holy Spirit has so established his Church on earth that she will forever protect the essentials–Incarnation, Trinity, Eucharist, Sacraments. As Teasdale puts it, the Church is the “universal form and vehicle” for humanity to attain its destiny in the Divine. She gives (above all in the Sacraments) but she also acquires–for “all spiritual riches belong to Christ.” This is not about syncretism or a confusion of differences. Intermystical exploration leads rather to a realization of the overarching reality and underlying selfsame fabric connecting all religious thought and experience on a continuum leading to Christ. Thus we can be sure that, no matter where we are at on the “spiral,” no matter how we enter upon it, if our aspiration is sincere it will lead us into the deepest Mystery of God there is–the Mystery of Triune love as revealed by Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, Light and Life and Savior of the world.

C. S. Lewis’ “The Problem of Pain”

Upon finishing C. S. Lewis’ book The Problem of Pain, I can highly recommend it. The reader will perhaps not agree with all of Lewis’ positions, but the treatment is deliberate and delightful enough to allow anyone of good mind the space to think deeply along with him. Some highlights in no specific order (supplemented by my readings in another book I would even more highly recommend, Margaret Turek’s Atonement):

1 – Pain differs from sin and error in that pain, once it has run its course, does not proliferate but rather leads to joy. Sin and error, on the contrary, proliferate. Sin leads to more sin, error leads to more error. Correlated to this is Lewis’ insight that, while sin and error are masked evil, pain is unmasked evil. Sin and error do not want to be seen for what they are–falsehood and evil. They want to hide, unconfessed, unseen by anyone and especially not by God. And they want to pretend as if they do not have consequences, do not produce a worse world. Pain, however, is the obvious, material testimony to the fact that sin and error do have consequences. Even if I, the sinner, do not encounter the repercussions of my bad acts (at least not right away), someone else does. Sin has an objective aspect which, moreover, is not cancelled by the subjective act of repentance. Imagine an addict who gives up their addiction, who makes the initial conversion to a new form of life, who has fully resolved in their heart to never return to the addiction. Still, there will be consequences that the contrite person will have to face; and that other, perhaps unknown people will have to face, given that the past sin made its imprint on the world. In this scenario, the pain that the contrite heart feels when confronting the consequences of their past sin, however, is restorative and redemptive. It means not only that one is finally accepting the truth of one’s actions, in all their ugly dimensions. It also means that one is materially atoning, through one’s pain, for the sin of one’s past, and through that atonement bearing the sin in a way that reverses it and turns it around. For unlike the masked evil of sin, which perpetuates itself blind to its own falsehood, the unmasked pain one undergoes through repentance and atonement will not continue past a just point: for past that point is joy, a restored relationship with the Lord, for which the pain of atonement is a segue.

2 – Pain is therefore the sinner’s opportunity for amendment. Confronted with pain, he can either continue in rebellion or adjust, repent, and atone. Pain removes the veil which had been there between the evil act and its consequences: they cannot be overlooked anymore. Even if, in response to seeing them, the rebellion intensifies.

3 – Our true joy is had through our collaboration with God, that is, when our will and God’s will are aligned, when we live in obedience to Him (and so “live in” Him). But this means that the criteria for our action is not happiness first of all, but obedience. It is not the agreeableness or pleasantness of our life that counts, in fact, Lewis implies that these contribute more to our disobedience than anything. This is where pain can play the role of focusing us back to Him. When pain, suffering and loss shows us (or remind us of) the futility of seeking our joy in mutable things, we have a chance also to see that what we really want to seek is God. God wants to make us blessed. He does not want mediocrity but the superabundance of Himself to fill us and be our food. So, Lewis argues, God sends misfortunes and sufferings to break us out of our (perhaps well-intentioned) illusions. Pain is God’s “megaphone to rouse a deaf world” and thus to provoke a response in us–a response that moves toward active collaboration with God more in accordance with the laws of the Kingdom of God. The idea that we are self-sufficient must be shattered, and God can use any means of fear or trouble to produce this result.

4 – The culmination of this argument is to advocate for a “daily death” to self. This is to finally act with the proper motivation–not a natural motive or support like security, contentedness, ample possessions, or any natural good, but rather this: to act in obedience to God because obedience to God is intrinsically good, for it reverses “the act by which we fell” (i.e. rebellion, disobedience). The perfect example of this obedience is Christ, who went to the Cross in atonement for sin because it was the will of the Father. He did so with no self-interest, no desire to aide him, save the highest desire and interest: to do the determined will of Goodness itself. To emulate the Son in filial obedience is the only road to Heaven–and we now know that that road goes through the Cross. The question is how to recover this self-surrender. For Lewis, to fully act out our surrender to God “demands pain,” for it means correcting our rebellious nature day in and day out. There is no avoiding that this will be unpleasant at times, but here we see again that pain and pleasure are no longer the criteria: obeying God is.

I may add to this list some very interesting things Lewis says about Heaven and Hell, but for now I will leave it there. A recommended read!

God knows us better than we will ever know ourselves

It’s one thing to say that we have an inadequate or illusory picture of our self and body. It’s quite another thing to say that, because our picture is inadequate, there is no true picture whatsoever. Just because we cannot comprehend the unity that we are, does not mean there is no unity—no unity between body, perception, intention, deeds etc., or no “person” in the Christian sense: a responsible being whose actions can be judged, a lovable ‘thou’ who really is ‘thou’ to other ‘I’s.

In other words, just because our mental conception and view of who we are is riddled with falsehood (perhaps congenitally so), does not mean all selfhood is false. (Because we do not see as we ought, in God, we do not see ourselves as we could.)

St Paul sets as a horizon “to know, even as I am known.” To know himself then, even as God knows him now. For God knows us better than we will ever know ourselves, at least in this life. The Psalms, too, record in an almost rigorous fashion that God knows us as a unity, confirms us as a unity, even if we do not perceive or grasp this unity. God has knit together this unity from the womb; we have not knit it ourselves. But again, just because our fabrications miss the mark, does not mean all unity is mere fabrication; only that its source, the ‘source of our self’, is transcendent to us. God knows us, infinitely, knows the whole reason for our coming to be and our returning to him. That self is a gift, not a production. (As C.S. Lewis put it, the soul is a hollow “made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the Divine substance.”)

So I would agree that the unity of the human person is not a unity we can see or deduce by our own mental workings, and certainly not the whole of who we are. But mind is not the only mode of apprehending reality. There is a heart-mode, and the heart (mysteriously) can see persons. We do treat each other as responsible wholes and we do hope for wholeness—ultimate wholeness which Christianity views through the lens of the resurrected body. These modes of apprehension and comportment are “God-given”, for we are acting as if we could see us as God sees us. ‘Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God.’ (1 John 4:7)

Do we believe that persons exist in God, that persons are of eternal value to God?

As a Catholic, I affirm that God does love us–not a mental fabrication, not our passing impression of identity (which is often deluded), but rather God loves the whole creature he created (made of desire/will, intellect, sense-affections; goodness, truth, beauty). He loves the person he gives us to be, who we are most fully us when we are in God qua God. Each human thou really is constituted a unity of mind, body, soul, and spirit: a whole person in Christ our Lord. This is a wholeness only he can give and ‘conceive’. The medieval German Catholics taught that God has had an idea of us from all eternity, and true freedom is to realize that eternal idea of us. This eternal idea of ourselves obviously far exceeds our cognitive capacity to grasp it, since God sees every instance and connection and consequence of our life simultaneously, whereas we see only one bit at a time, in other words, hardly any of it! (Hence the need for faith, to trust that He sees our way, even when we see no way at all…).

Likewise, by grace we are given the capacity, the heart-sight, to love other persons as whole persons—and so to love a bit like God loves (in a way that is obviously antithetical to ego). God gives us a glimpse of the vision he has of us, so we can understand the other person as an inherently lovable unity, for they are forever such a unity in God.

The Jesuits pray to see their gifts, not as they see them, but as the Holy Spirit sees them, and for the courage to surrender to what God sees and wills for them in the use of their gifts. There is plenty of self-illusion to burn through on that journey, but that is not the end of the story. There is a true and free self to become—the one God wills to be with our will. Or as Kierkegaard put it, to “will to be oneself” is to rest transparently in the power that establishes the self. Then perhaps we have a chance to “know, even as we are known.”

Wait in Emptiness on the Lord

Be glad whenever you give yourself to the emptiness and wait upon the Lord. All our jumping in to the next thing, even in the minutia of eating, watching videos, going out into the world, is mostly a nervousness, an anxiety that drives us to resist the emptiness that’s required to receive the Lord. The ability to open and receive, to empty out, to rest in that surrender. Not know, not do, not even be (in a particular way). That anxiety is what drives people to fill the silence with words, with activity, with knowing, with the bulk of all activity. The ability to gather one’s “resources” of presence into one singular point is advanced. And it takes the ongoing discipline and practice of resting in that moment over and over again. How easy it is to leave the Yes by our habituated modern life! Even when we strive to be as good as possible, there’s still so much more to go. We can have moments when we ‘realize’ the possibility of ‘being’ in that space even whilst engaged in the world but that is pure grace and it’s rare. We can cultivate an affinity, an aptitude but God is who gives us any entry through that narrow gate. It’s far ‘easier’ without the distractions. Learning to fall into the silence amidst the distractions is an edge we can run with but it takes many moons of discipline in the intentional to be ready to receive the grace if/when it comes. Without that preparation, even if it comes, we wouldn’t recognize it.

by dc
September 3, 2022

Our Suffering and the Work of Christ’s Cross

Suffering in Christ we always accept because it halts the world of sin and reverses its effects–it transfers all from a state of separation (sin, spiritual death) to union with God (love, eternal life).

In the moment of suffering, however, we do not have to know anything about this reversal. We do not know our role or how we fit into the greater plan. For this reason, we must endure the suffering with total trust in Christ: he will bring me to the clearing where this dark suffering shows its purpose. Otherwise we could not bear the opaqueness of the horizon, the wall against which our pain and struggle thrusts us. Yet if we can open our hearts to God’s grace, amidst this suffering, the wall turns into God’s light, which attracts us on to our new station in his plan.

In Christ there is more than promise, there is also the pledge that wholeness–of person and of humanity–will be accomplished, by the power of God’s grace, through death. Death is the ultimate symbol and event of our unknowing and powerlessness. But by faith we know this death is united with Jesus. Indeed we bear the dying body of Jesus in us with every step, so we also share in his raising. We carry our cross in following him, trusting that it is the very passage of death that will reveal the wholeness of our life. This resurrection faith necessarily views all temporal suffering in the light of future glory–a glory we prepare to share in by resituating our suffering in this mysterious light.

Provided we sin no more, our daily cross is our participation in Christ’s suffering, which is at every point a suffering of atonement. We witness this in our own lives when our suffering leads us to help and heal others, when it takes it outside of the normal course into the miraculous space of the Gospel encounter.

To bear the confusion of suffering–out of love–allows God to use our confused suffering for his atoning work. He fuses us to him, so long as our heart is discerning of and ready to act on God’s initiative when it comes. This means remaining outward-turned, even when our pain draws us in. The sign for this atoning work is centrally love of neighbor–reproof and aid, education, upbuilding, consolation, reconciliation–, the perfume that wafts from the foot of the Cross.

Whenever we are suffering and confused why, let us therefore entrust ourselves that much more fully to God; and let us open ourselves that much more to encounter and love others, out of obedience to him. Let us recognize in those moments that God is acting to alter the course of the fallen world, albeit in ways that our eyes cannot see. Let us have the courage to live forward into this faith, trusting that he is rerouting our lives through our suffering–that it is his hand guiding us to glory.

This is the new habit of suffering in Christ: to distribute and amplify his halt to sin, his reversal of its effects, and so, washed in the blood of the Lamb, share presently in the saving work of Christ’s Cross.

by Timothy Lavenz
August 18, 2022

Jean-Louis Chrétien’s “Interior Space”

Please follow the link for a translation of the Epilogue from Jean-Louis Chrétien’s 2014 book, L’espace intérieur, Interior Space:

chretien l'espace interieur interior space 2

The book is about the self, subjectivity, and interiority. Chrétien wants to show that the modern version of “subjectivity” has lost touch with its origin, its founding moments, which he traces to numerous Christian theologians and mystics. The crucial difference is this: whereas the Freudian “topic” sees an isolated psyche struggling to gain control of its unconscious tendencies and become master of self and world, the Christian “topic” instead focuses on the edification, exploration, and expansion of an interior space in which God may dwell. Of prime importance here is the presence of infinity or alterity that we can “house” within ourselves–whose residence we are. From the chamber of the heart in the Gospel of Matthew to St. Theresa’s Interior Castle, he uses Christian figures to illustrate the energetic, dramatic, and libidinal-economic dynamics at play in the Christian “topic” of interior space (“topic” for topos). Each chapter ends by showing how modern thinkers appropriated and twisted these figures, stripping of them of their God-orientation and tipping them toward the “kingdom of subjectivity.” Chrétien’s aim, however, is not proselytistic but philosophical and schematic: to show the intelligibility of this model of inhabitable personal identity and how it can overcome the impasses in modern thought about subjectivity.

Commentary on Psalm 73

When my heart was embittered
And I was pierced within,
Then I was stupid and ignorant;
I was like an animal before You.
Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You have taken hold of my right hand.
You will guide me with Your plan,
And afterward receive me to glory.

Whom do I have in heaven but You?
And with You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

For, behold, those who are far from You will perish;
You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You.
But as for me, the nearness of God is good for me;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
So that I may tell of all Your works.
—Psalm 73:21-28

Commentary by Timothy Lavenz

The psalmist is bitter, he is stupid, arrogant, yes–it’s not as if faith turns you into a perfect person overnight! far from it–but even amidst him being ‘like an animal’, his desire and will is to stay near to God. He has faith that God remains near, even when he is acting such a fool that he can’t feel that nearness. He knows that, although his own trust falters, God’s trustworthiness is perfect and never fading. God will hold good on His promises and, no matter what trial we face, our best option is to remember those promises, recollect ourselves to God, and grow in endurance of this faith.

For the psalmist knows that salvation–which will bring him across the world of anxiety and death–is found in God alone. He is “the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” The psalmist has nothing, wants nothing more than Him–for he knows he is only real and alive where he is in communion with God. He has also had the hard experience that anything not rooted in God will let him down–though yes, the entire world can be, should be and is rooted in God, such that all is a manifestation of His glory! The psalmist knows that anything we do apart from God–apart from the Spirit of Truth and charity, goodness and beauty–lacks reality. It lacks value, lacks consistency, lacks time. As Aquinas put it, “Insofar as we are sinners we fail to be, and are not”–yet as we obey God, we participate in His Being and are.

God alone is imperishable; therefore I am only safe (saved) where I find myself in God–where my soul is in God and God is in my soul. “Apart from Me you can do nothing,” the Son of God tells us in John 15:5. That is why God’s nearness is the good for the psalmist. Then are his eyes opened to praise all God’s works–creation, salvation, and judgment.

The ‘unfaithful’ one, however, does not see things this way. He is far from God. This character has no respect for the Creator. He is ungrateful for his life and lives only according to his own self-will. If we are near to God, we live in accordance with the Law of His Love. The psalms constantly contrast this ideal of holy obedience with the sinner, the wicked, the self-obsessed, the exploitative, the cruel, the murderers, the mockers and despisers of God. Maybe they don’t mock God with blasphemy, but they do mock him by their actions–putting their own designs above God’s, mistreating orphans and foreigners and widows, disrespecting creation in general.

When the psalmist exclaims, “Behold, they perish!”, this is not said in a vindictive or celebratory way, as if happiness came from winning over enemies, or he took pleasure in their destruction. God does not take pleasure in that! This is rather about upholding truth in reality and reckoning with consequences—spiritual physics–and celebrating the fact that God’s justice is real.

In verse 27, the psalmist expresses his confidence in the final reckoning of things–confidence the validity of true judgments. Those who live only for themselves, who do not love neighbor and God–behold, they perish! Behold, they have fame and wealth, status and power, pleasure in worldly things for a while, but because they did not build on a firm foundation, they come to ruin. Their gains are passing shadows, falsehoods. And even if they make it to death without justice being served, still, their life was wasted in nothing, because “Apart from Me you can do nothing.”

Verses 21-22, however, suggest that the psalmist knows he could share the perishers’ fate. That is a very real possibility, for every sinner. Indeed, what could be more of a lie than for a human to stand before God like an animal? The whole issue of ‘faithfulness’ is about not living in a lie. If you live in a lie, you will perish, because all lies perish. What ground could they have? They are doomed fantasies.

The pain of living in falsehood, below one’s dignity, is elegantly captured by those first lines. They summarize our feeling of being abandoned and alone in our weakness. But verse 23, the “nevertheless” of faith asserts itself. Trust triumphs over defeat. The sudden recollection of the bounty of the living Lord dispels all fear. The epiphany is so strong that the psalmist can stand humanly before God, confess his weakness and recommit himself to God. It purifies into ash whatever his bitter heart might have sparked up into falsehood. With praise and active entrustment to God, he is actively putting the very possibility of living in a lie behind him.

To live in a lie is to squander the most precious possession available–a relation in God’s faith. To recognize the unfaithful are destroyed in their lies—that is a wake-up call that will save one’s life.

When God allows us to go through the painful consequences of our misbehavior–lets us be destroyed–this is a manifestation of His mercy. It serves the possibility of our repentance. And it is better to be destroyed by one’s false way and have that chance, than to carry on with nothing stopping it. Experiencing the destructive consequence can be part of the wake-up call one needs to change. The destruction also clears away what is false, so something else can have a chance to breath.

Impress this truth upon your minds, my listener! All falsity, however ‘minor’, brings destruction of the good. And so all falsehood will be destroyed–because there is no falsehood in God and this creation is His. What cause for great rejoicing! But it also puts on display the utter stupidity of giving any ground to lies, deception, falsehood, sin–for it is ground that will have to burn.

God’s forbearance is long, He is “slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love”–but mercy stands in a balance with judgment, which falls hard on the impenitent. But it falls hard on them for their own good. Everything God does is meant to bring us nearer to Him. The moment we understand that, the whole way we look at our suffering changes. We are ready to bear the destructive force of God’s wrath, knowing it is an event of His profuse mercy intended only to provoke us to turn our lives around.

How pleasant it is to meditate on the veracity of God’s judgments! How good to love God and know one’s “everlasting portion” of Him! There is one saved from wickedness forever. There is the peace that “surpasses all understanding.” Praise His love in all its forms! Praise His mercy, which stretches out to us no matter how much we’ve failed or gone astray! So long as we turn back to God, trust in Him, have faith, He is ready to forgive and heal us from everything we squandered in our God-denying ways.

Let us remember Jesus’ first call, which never ceases to call out to our sinful natures: Repent! Look where you’ve put your treasure–that’s where your heart will be! Make sure the light in you is not darkness! Be wise, put your treasure in God! Then you will know that refuge, that everlasting share which does not perish, which remains even when flesh and heart fail.

The Wounded Heart of Jesus and Man’s Spiritual Heart

C. S. Lewis’ claim that Christianity is “the completion, the actualization, the entelechy, of something that has never been wholly absent from the mind of man” could be adjudicated by looking at the core symbols of different religions and then discerning what is unique in Christian symbolism. For example, symbolism of the heart. In the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita (10:20, 18:61), it is well attested that God or the Supreme Being resides in the heart. Whether it comes to knowledge-path (Jnana) or devotion-path (Bhakti), it’s by withdrawing mind and senses into this heart-place that God is realized and liberation found (immortality, bliss, peace, etc.). There is no doubt something universal about this in the religious life of man. To find God–permanent, unborn, transcendent, all-pervading–in the seat of intimacy, in the heart-center (hridayam): that is universally attested to be the road to everlasting fulfillment, spiritually-speaking.

When we look to Christianity, then, what is different? Only the symbol of Sacred Heart–the Wounded Heart. This is a heart that expiates for sin, that bleeds to bring life back to man, that exposes itself on the surface of the body (incarnationally)–as if it wished to reach us through the very intensity of its pumping. It is understood theologically as a symbol for God’s own self-sacrifice out of love of humanity, an act of passionate love-suffering meant to reverse and redeem the effects of sin and separation from God. This bleeding heart is God’s initiative, God’s revelation. And thus it is a picture, not so much of a heart-essence pre-existing in every heart, but a new model of heartedness, the ‘new heart’ of flesh God wishes to transplant into our flesh. It promises “eternal life” with God, but it tells us the road to eternal life is the Cross–not a withdrawing of mind and senses inward, not a realization of Oneness, so much as a foolish expenditure of a heart pouring itself out for all, accepting every humiliation and persecution in imitation of Christ’s own love (Jn 13:34).

On the model of the Suffering Life of the Lord, we reach a new limit of spiritual-physical self-sacrifice, a new symbolic depiction of man’s spiritual heart–it is the image of Crucified Love. In Judaism the ultimate love is expressed in one’s willingness to die in defense of the name of God; here it is transferred to the willingness to die for one’s friend, because God himself lays down his life for his friends. In Buddhism, one undertakes enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, and one even puts off final liberation for their sake; but you’d be hard pressed to say that it advocates a going-to-death out of love for the neighbor, or uses such bloody imagery to do so. At any rate, the Christian’s orientation is not limited to alleviating or escaping suffering; it entails rather a request to suffer, a desire to suffer for Jesus’ sake, to have a share in Christ’s own mission of atoning love-suffering on the Cross.

In the three instances alluded to, we can see what drives those who see in Christianity the fulfillment of other religions. It too places all the emphasis on love, on an awakening of the heart. This is the secret hidden point to which the religious imagination of man is always pointing and which God in the fullness of time has revealed. Still, in this revelation, God shows us something–God does something–that man did not expect. Nowhere do we find this so vividly depicted as in the Crucifixion, the pinnacle exposition of God’s sacrifice for sinners. Blood and water spilling from the pierced side of Jesus: here is a fulfillment yet also a radically new destination for man’s spiritual heart.

It would be up to each individual, however, to discern this mysterious difference and believe it–to see it as as a worthy evolution or genuine culmination. After all, one could always look at the Bleeding Heart of Jesus and think it is an aberration on the universal theme, perhaps like the Jews who went away disgusted when Jesus said, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (Jn 6:53).

Douts, Man of Sorrows