Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Reflections on Fire of Love

The fire of love for Christ burned so hot in Francis that he longed to give all that he was to Christ through martyrdom. I am struck by the phrase "set on fire therefore by that perfect charity which drives out fear". There is something underneath the words that speaks of a passion beyond words. It echos of an encounter with Christ at the depth of being, which, like a summons propelled Francis to abandon all for the sake of his Beloved.
This encounter with the Divine demanded all of Francis and he longed to live that out and to help other souls by his example. He lived beyond ego, beyond selfishness and beyond desire. All he desired was his Beloved and he saw his beloved in all things, especially in the souls for whom his most precious and holy Beloved Lord Christ Jesus gave his life to save. Francis did all he could to serve the Gospel message.

Fire of Love

In the fervent fire
of his charity
he strove to emulate
the glorious triumph of the holy martyrs
in whom
the flame of love could not be extinguished
nor courage be weakened.
Set on fire, therefore,
by that perfect charity which drives our fear (1 John 4:18),
he longed to offer the Lord
his own life as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1)
in the flames of martyrdom
so that he might repay Christ,
who died for us,
and inspire others to divine love.
---St. Bonaventure

Francis and Creatures

Last night as I was reading about how Francis was able to communicate with animals it impressed upon me the depth of his connection with the Divine. Since all things are made in and through Christ it makes sense that as we deepen our relationship with Christ it would open up new ways of relating to all of creation. I believe that after the resurrection we will all have the ability to communicate with animals in the way that Francis did.

I think that his ability was not myth but rather a sign of the resurrection so that those around him could see what kingdom life looks like. I also think that we get glimpses of this with people who are horse or dog whisperers. While these people may or may not be Christians they have a piece of the cosmic covenant and manifest a more authentic way of being with animals than many other humans are.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


Reading St. Bonaventure describe Francis' understanding of preaching is wonderful and challenging all in one. Preaching should be born out of a zeal for the salvation for souls. It is the task of the preacher to desire the rebirth of souls through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the duty of preachers not to lose the truth of their preaching by a bad example.

I liken this to the classic definition of preaching "listening to the heart of God and telling God's people what you heard". Surely the heart of God is love and intimacy.

I feel deeply inadequate to such a task. It is profoundly humbling to think of the potential power of preaching. I am so thankful the real power in preaching belongs to the Holy Spirit and it is simply my responsibility to obey and to trust Christ in my vocation.

Thanks be to God for his mercy that I a sinner should speak for Him and be empowered by Him. I know so little of the Absolute yet the call is mine for this season in my life. May I have the same passion, tenderness and love for souls as that of Francis. May my life not be hindrance to souls but an example.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Sadhus and Grace

Recently I was reading Abhishiktananda and it was so interesting to read about his encounter with wandering Sadhus (Indian Monks) and European pilgrims. Many would go from Ashram to Ashram and from guru to guru only to miss the point. It was quite revealing as I read about some of the pride and ego issues of the monks and how little they actually knew. I would have guessed that by renouncing everything and wandering the countryside that they would have been free of the chains of pride and ego.

I also thought the European pilgrims who would come would also be freed and awake. What Abhishiktananda helped me understand is that being a monk or pilgrim doesn't necessarily mean that one is awake and has come to a place of divine union. Rather divine union is a gift, nothing more and nothing less. One cannot attain, conquer or master awareness of Presence. It simply is, the ego cannot grab God. One can only receive breath, light and life.


I have been reading the life of St. Francis written by St. Bonaventure. It is very humbling reading about the life of the man of God. I am repeatedly touched by the man of God's love for poverty and his renunciation of all things for the sake of Gospel living. I am so moved by Francis's understanding of theft. If he saw someone who had no tunic and he had two then he would give one to the other person since it was "his". Sometimes Francis would give what little he had so that those around him would be in less need. He always trusted Providence and was willing to suffer hardship of body for the sake of embracing Lady Poverty and loving his neighbor.

What a high example to set and what a calling to attempt to be in the tradition that bears his name! It exposes my inability to love my neighbor as myself and my inability to embrace Lady Poverty. Reading the life of Francis reveals my sin. I am truly a sinner. Thanks be to Christ for love, mercy and forgiveness.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Charles de Foucald quote

But the most stirring motive for giving, one that, while any of the others quite suffices, exhorts us above all, is that everything we do for our neighbor we do for Jesus himself. That is enough to change our entire life, guide all our actions, our words, and our thoughts. Everything we do for our neighbor is done for Jesus. What an apostolic spirit that gives us! What a spirit of charity! And hence what a thrust to our prayers, our works, our lives! What a life of poverty, charity, and self-denial! What a thirst for spiritual grace, relief for the soul and body! Now we can understand why we must be “men of courage” (cf. Dan. 10:19)

What horizons open up! It places our entire life, both inner and outer, our prayers as well as our rules for living and relations with people, at the service of our neighbors, primarily at the service of their spiritual good, and secondarily their material good, strictly—absolutely strictly—purely, purely for the sake of Jesus. Because according to his Word we must believe with divine faith that everything we do to our neighbor, we do to Jesus. It therefore follows that if we want to spend our entire life doing the most good to Jesus, we must use our life to do the most good to our neighbor. O my Lord and my God, help me thoroughly understand this truth!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Egoless Tennis

I have started to play tennis again and it feels good, like coming home. I have spent a lot of hours on the court in my lifetime.

When I used to play competitively it was all about ego. I struggled so much with defeat because it wounded my ego and sense of performance.

Now that I enter back into competition I wonder what it will be like to try to play not from ego but from gratefulness. Coach Benson was a master of being thankful when it comes to tennis and I tried to learn from him at the time. It has now taken a dozen or so years and a year and a half of illness to make me realize that being able to play is a gift and a wonder that my body works.

Also what a gift to have the skill set to make a "come back". I am hope that I enjoy my time and let my soul be filled with joy.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Ashrams, Cults of Personality and Community

In India spiritual teachers set up Ashrams. An ashram is simply a small community of people who are gathered around a teacher for the sake of growing in their interior life. It is different than a monastery where people gather around a common rule of life, in an ashram people gather around a teacher.

Some of the guests at the ashram will stay for a week, while other will stay for months or years. As a former D3 tennis player there is something in me that rings true about finding a teacher. To become good at tennis, one needs a good coach. In fact a good coach plays a significant role in the development of a player. The same is true for martial arts, the teacher makes a huge difference in the life of the student.

Really, it is no different in the spiritual life, the right teacher makes all the difference. There is a saying in the East "when the student is ready the teacher appears". There are very few Christian ashrams. Noted Christian E. Stanley Jones began a movement which is still in existence today called United Christian Ashrams. Here is their tag line:

"Ashrams are unique religious retreats that are Christ-centered and give individuals an opportunity to discover Christian answers for victorious daily living in the 21st century
while proclaiming... Jesus is Lord!"

Their ashrams really are retreats which are fashioned like old style tent meetings, nothing wrong with it, just not an Indian style ashram.

What I realized the other day is that in the US, Christians really seek spiritual teachers who preach well and that they like. There is little understanding of what it means to be a community. Monks are members of a community, regardless of who the Abbot is. Christians on the other hand ebb and flow with the pastors. When a long time and well loved pastor leaves, people leave with him or her. Some, not all of the ones that stay are really still rooted in their previous pastor. During my first year at MLC I heard this a lot about the pastors who had left, which is very normal for US churches.

There is subtle danger of a cult of personality developing in US Churches. A sign of this is when people say Congregation X is "Such and such's church". No, it is the Lord's church where "such and such" serves. I think in the US that we need more profound Christian teachers of the spiritual life who are accessible. I think that these folks ought to serve outside of congregational ministry and have their ministry supported by benefactors. Much like the work of the Contemplative Society: http://www.contemplative.org/

I think that congregations should function more like monasteries and be built on a communal rule which gives freedom and yet continuity to the community. It needs good leadership, but the common rule should draw people more than a good preacher. I think that this approach to ministry would draw more people who are dechurched and unchurched since the gathering of the community would not be about a pastor or other influencers, rather it would be about common life seeking what is means to be a disciple of Christ in a particular place and particular time, guided by a common rule.

'The renewal of the church will come from a new type of monasticism which only has in common with the old an uncompromising allegiance to the Sermon on the Mount. It is high time men and women banded together to do this'
-----Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in a letter to his brother

Here are some examples:





One and the G8

After my discussion today with my men's group it seems that loving my neighbor means lobbying the G8 to keep their promise of investing to help the poor...

Subject: Help make poverty history!Hi, I just signed a petition asking the G8 take urgent action against extreme poverty, and I'm hoping that you'll join me.Sign the petition now at: http://www.one.org/2008g8There has been a lot of progress against extreme poverty in recent years, but, as recent headlines about the global food crisis will tell you, there is still much to be done.When we unite with one voice and call upon our leaders to take action, we can and will solve these problems.Thanks