Tag Archives: 7 deadly sins

Cometh Out Of the Mouth

It’s not about giving up candy, it’s about freedom…

Matthew 15:11

Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.

I can’t help but note the timing of the random receiving of this particular quote. It’s the first full week of Lent, a time when many Christians are “giving up” little pleasures. We do this in remembrance of Jesus’s 40 days in the desert, a time that he spent fasting and praying – and overcoming temptations. In ancient days, Christians were much more serious and involved in fasting for the observance of Lent. Now, we only fast at the beginning, on Ash Wednesday, and at the end, on Good Friday. But, in between, we try to make small sacrifices in solidarity with Christ and in repentance for our sins. Life is full of temptations, and we don’t always overcome them as he did, but, rather, succumb to them. Therefore, Lent is a penitential season, a time to reflect upon our own weaknesses and the sins that we have committed, sorrowfully penitent for going against God’s will.

So, many people give up candy or desserts, or sweets in general. Some people don’t drink coffee or soda during Lent, or maybe they give up going to restaurants or out to see movies. The modern thing to do seems to be giving up Facebook for the 40 day observance. I’ve given up daydreaming. That may sound funny, but, often when I need to lie down to rest, I don’t watch television. Rather, I make up my own stories in my own head. Sometimes the stories bleed out into the times when I am not needing to rest and there are days when my “head is in a cloud.” This is rather a difficult thing to give up because it is so easy to do. I don’t need to open a cupboard or refrigerator or click an icon on my computer screen in order to indulge. I merely think. And I’m always thinking.

Do I make this sacrifice for Lent because daydreaming is bad for me? No, although, I suppose it would depend on the daydream. Many things that I have written, however, things that are of substance and worth, have begun in daydreams, or what I like to call “imaginings”. I imagine a character with a certain background and personality, put that character into a particular situation and then imagine being that person. I imagine interactions with other people, many conversations, often including ethical or moral dilemmas, motivations for why people do the things that they do, moments that can speak deeply to different individuals at different times, and so on. I explore “mob mentality”, being a religious person in a secular workplace, the challenges of modern preachers, and the challenges of maintaining integrity in politics. Other people can do these things through reading, watching TV programs, movies, or listening to radio talk shows, but, when I do, I notice that I am mostly absorbing other people’s opinions. I will take facts and real life scenarios from various sources, but then I choose a deeply empathetic approach to understanding life – by actually imagining walking in someone else’s shoes.

You may be wondering, if it isn’t bad for me, then why am I giving it up? Well, if my imaginings were truly bad for me, then I shouldn’t be doing them any time of the year. It would be silly to give them up for 40 days in solidarity with Christ and then take up my bad habits and sins again at Easter. If people are overeating sweet things in their ordinary lives, suffering from gluttony, it may be a good idea for them to give up sweets for Lent – but also beyond Lent. The idea of Lenten sacrifice is to give up some little non-sinful pleasure for the 40 day observance. Some little thing that you enjoy but that is not bad for you, in and of itself. One of the best reasons for doing this is to open your eyes to how you live your everyday, ordinary life. We often become dependent upon little pleasures – thinking that we can’t start our day without a cup of coffee or that our days are not complete without checking Facebook. What would life be without desserts? Would the world stopped turning? Of course not. Lenten sacrifices can help us see that we are stronger and less dependent on “things” then we may have thought.

When I started giving up imaginings for 40 days, I discovered that I could think on those big things without the fictional characters and still enjoy myself, and still have ample inspiration for writing. In fact, I found that I prayed more often for other people in various situations instead of imagining being like them to see what it was like. In a way, this gave me greater sympathy and solidarity with my fellow human beings. You see, the imaginings are not bad in and of themselves. They will not defile me. But, perhaps the time that I am spending on them keeps me from doing something else, something else that could also be good for me, maybe even better for me.

If someone is very grumpy during this season of Lent and reasons that he or she is grumpy because he or she has given up coffee or chocolate, then that someone has missed the point. You cannot give up soda or social media for Lent and then let yourself be an unkind and self-centered person. For, you will be forgetting that third practice which is part of the Lenten observance: alms giving. Alms giving and prayer are connected to fasting. In other words, being generous and mindful of God’s intimate presence is easier when you let go of little things, mere things, that may have a hold on you in your everyday life. Know that you are free. Know that you are not enslaved to particular activities or certain foods. Do not let yourself become a blind slave to habit.

Be quiet and still and open yourself up in prayer to the transcendent reality of God. Remember that you are but dust and to dust you shall return – but also remember that you are likewise of spirit and to spirit you shall return. For, the dust from which you have been formed has become animated by the breath of God. Though you may be living your life in service only to the dust and ashes of life, those things that are self-centered and fleeting, you can return to the fullness of life in service to the eternal things of the One who has loved you into being. Christ lived and died and rose from the dead just so that you can do that. So, take the time to truly connect to this truth. Pray.

Be mindful of the things that you take into yourself every day, through your eyes, ears, and mouth. Remember that your body is sacred – although it is mortal, your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, of God, and this means that your skin, your stomach, your words, your mind, are sacred to God. Refrain from indulging in the fleeting things of the earth as if they are what is most important in your life, as if the loss of them would be the end of your happiness, your joy. You are made for more than merely these things – leave room for the things of eternity, for courage, for honesty, for freedom from slavery, for love. The poor in spirit are blessed because they have nothing to lose. Know that if everything else falls away, you are still beloved in time and space and for all eternity. So, be in solidarity with Christ who emptied himself for love of God and love of you. Fast – sacrifice.

Be generous with the gifts and talents that you have been given. Remember that the person next to you – whether at home, at work, or on the street – is your other self. You are both, we are all, images of God, with the inherent dignity and sanctity of human beings, God’s beloved creations. And we suffer. Christ suffered. We are bound together by an eternal bond of sympathy that is the depth and fullness of being human – don’t neglect or ignore that. Do not be so caught up in your own suffering that you forget about the suffering of another. The smallest acts of kindness yield true love, love that heals and lifts up. You know that you don’t need all the things that you have in your life – so share some of your wealth with those who struggle with just the basic needs of survival. And be gentle, be patient. Try to be understanding. Be kind. Give alms.

It is not the food that you put in your mouth that keeps you from the fullness of life. But the words that come out of your mouth can – the words of meanness, the words of pettiness, the words of unlove. Do not let what you say and do become a barrier between you and your fellow human beings – and between you and your Maker. Learn the freedom of Christ and the joy of Christ this Lenten season. Free yourself from selfishness – free yourself for love.

If we try to do this, then we will be able to truly celebrate newness of life at the end of our 40 days.

© 2015 Christina Chase

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Thy Money Perish with Thee

Money, money, money…

Acts 8:17-22

Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.

And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money,

Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.

But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.

Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.

Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.

“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

“… He has died as a ransom to set them free…” (Hebrews 9:15)

There is much Christian theology that seeks to explain redemption, the salvation that comes through Christ on the Cross, with financial analogies.  I don’t like any of them.  It’s not that the analogies don’t make sense or fail to hit the important point – that through Jesus’s sacrifice on the Cross comes forgiveness of sins – but money and purchasing and possessing just seem to have nothing to do with spirituality and divine grace.  Christianity isn’t about reconciling the account books.  The religion is, rather, about love – about being loved and loving.  And even the Beatles know that “money can’t buy me love.”

And, yet… In Catholic Christianity, people pay for Masses to be said on behalf of deceased loved ones and the salvation of their souls.  “Free will” or “love” donations are asked of people attending Christian services or revival meetings, and a basket is passed around.  In some denominations, members are required to tithe, to give 10% of their earnings to the church.  It seems that money certainly does matter – even in religions that are about spirituality and God’s unconditional love of souls.  How do we justify this?  With human good and the purpose of money…

Human Good

We are only human.  Our divinely created bodies of flesh and blood live upon this earth and are dependent upon earthly things for continued life here.  God looks upon all that He has created and sees that it is good – earth is good, all flora and fauna are good, and the human body is good.  As GK Chesterton once wrote: “There are no bad things.  Only bad uses of things.”  And what is good for the good human body is good food, good water, and good shelter.  Companionship with other human beings is also good for the body – as it is good for the soul.  For, every human person is both body AND soul.  Our souls animate our bodies.  In our desire to save our souls, we are not to forsake our bodies.  When Scripture and theologians address the “desires of the flesh” as being contrary to the good of the soul, the flesh does not merely mean the body.  Rather, “the flesh” is all of our self-centered desires and tendencies – the human will when it is contrary to Divine Will.  God wills the good of the human person – which is the good of both the body AND the soul.

The Purpose of Money

All that money really is is a “modern” substitute for the bartering exchange of goods and services.  I raise sheep and have a lot of wool.  You have the talent and tools for turning wool into clothing and bedding.  I give you my wool and, in exchange, you give me an agreed-upon amount of bedding and clothing.  You will have extra woolen goods with which you can barter with someone else for firewood to keep you warm.  That person who has a lot of firewood also gives some to me in exchange for some lamb or mutton.  I also exchange some of my sheep for food, which a local farmer grows and I cannot.  We all get along, giving and receiving just what we need to maintain our lives as we are living them.  It’s all very simple and, yet, rather complicated as villages grow larger, more goods are introduced into the market, and more services are required.  Buying and selling with standard currency merely standardizes and simplifies this process.  I now sell my wool at the marketplace for money and use that money to buy what I need from others.  Money, therefore, is to be used for the good of the human person.

Temptation, Sin, Salvation, and Jesus Christ…

Temptation

In the simple bartering process, some people had the clever ability to gain more goods than they needed and to be able to exchange them for luxuries.  Money makes it even easier for those clever people to gain more and more.  And the temptation is to amass wealth, with rich foods, luxurious clothing, and elaborate shelters.  The human body naturally responds to good food, warmth, and comfort, experiencing these things as pleasure.  And there is nothing wrong with that in the sight of God.  What is wrong, what is out of order for the good of the human person, is when greed for these things causes the person to lose sight of the good of his or her fellow human beings – or even to lose sight of his or her own immortal good.

Sin

Greed, lust, and gluttony are the sins that we commit when we want, not what is good in the sight of God, but, rather, what is pleasurable for our own flesh.  There is a self-centeredness at the root of these sins, from which also stems envy (wanting what others have) and sloth (wanting to gain without working or giving) and pride (wanting to be the one who gains, who is envied, who controls).  Pride is also this self-centeredness itself.  For, we put ourselves and our own selfish desires at the center of life and of how life should be lived – denying the good that God, Our Creator and Sustainer, intends.  And we are wrathfully angry (another of the deadly sins) when we are thwarted from getting our way.

Salvation

The reason that these self-centered, self-worshiping kinds of sins are called “deadly” is because, when we succumb to them and live our lives in sin, we use our God-given spiritual gifts of intellect, memory/imagination, and free will to live lives that end only in death.  What hell.  Amassed wealth is not eternal.  Narcissistic pleasures are not immortal.  But, the human person is made for the eternal, for the immortal.  The human body must be cared for with physical nourishment, sustenance, and protection just as the human soul must be cared for with spiritual nourishment, sustenance, and protection.  I am one creature of body and soul.  Neither my body nor my soul are to be indulged at the expense of who I am: a physical creature with a spiritual soul, made in the image of God to reflect God, embracing and sharing all that is of God, in this life on earth and continuing my divinely created life in the world to come, which is Heaven.  When I love and live in the good things of God, and make use of these good things in a way that is keeping with the intention of God, then I know and will perpetually know eternal good – the good that is God.  Lovingness helps us keep this divine perspective, God-centered, eternally experiencing what is truly good.  Selfishness, with all those deadly sins, turns us away from what is right in God’s sight and makes us self-centered, living lives that will end with the death of the body.  No loving eternity.

Jesus Christ

God became a human being to set us straight.  Christ Jesus, being God-Incarnate, eternally sanctifies the human person – the human body and the human soul – in the most profoundly intimate way, by living as we live, hungering and thirsting as we do, dining as we dine, sleeping and waking, working as we work, tiring as we tire, enjoying human companionship as we so enjoy.  God lived bodily on earth.  And it was so very, very good!  And, at the end of his earthly life, Christ Jesus agonized as we agonize, suffered as we suffer, and died as we die.  But, the blood that he shed on the Cross was beautifully given to God his Father with the perfect fullness of love.  He was not self-centered (even though we might foolishly, semantically argue that he was, since he was God, and he was God-centered) for all that Christ did, he did for our good, for the human good.  It is God’s most perfect intention for human beings to flourish here on earth and eternally in Heaven – to know real love and to be really loving, for love is the one immortal good.  This perfect human good was most perfectly and fully realized by Jesus Christ in his sacrifice on the Cross – and this perfect human good is perfect alignment with the good and goodness of God.  It is our salvation, Christ is our salvation.  Saved from selfish sins and lives that end in death – Saved for immortal good and eternal love.  If we just follow him.

We don’t need to think of redemption as Jesus paying a price.  Christ Jesus was and is willing to do anything for our good.  The Crucifixion and the Resurrection is most definitely for our good.  The Ascension and the Descent of the Holy Spirit is most definitely for our good.  It is not for our pride, for our greed, for our lust, for our gluttony, for our sloth, for our envy, or for our wrath.  Christianity is living the Mystery of Christ so that we may not die in sin, but, rather, live in the salvation of love – forever – our resurrected, glorified bodies and our souls reunited after this earth passes away and our minds and hearts most fully opened, infinitely and eternally opened, to the good that is God.

Unpublished work © 2014 Christina Chase

And It Came to Pass

Is nothing sacred

Genesis 39:7-9

  1. And it came to pass after these things, that his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me.

  2. But he refused, and said unto his master’s wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand;

  3. There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?

Humans don’t like being told that there is something that we cannot have, that something is held back from us.  We want it all!  Or, at least, we want to be able to choose from everything what we want for ourselves.  Knowing this about us humans, imagine, then, being told that you cannot have children… and that you cannot have a place of your own… and that you cannot enter a building that has stairs.  Well, you would probably be very upset and overwhelmed.  Your anger and frustration would become heartbreak and sorrow, and maybe even despair.  I know because this is my life, my life of limitations.  My list of “can’ts” is very long.

Unable to walk, unable to take care of myself, unable to enter into a physically intimate relationship, unable to bear children – unable to even sit upright for very long each day – there are some people who, in my position, would think that life isn’t worth living.  I’ve never thought such a thing.  When diagnosed with my motorneuron disease at the age of 2, the doctors told my parents that I wouldn’t live to be a teenager – well, I’ve tripled that, and counting….  The point is that, never in all that time, have I wanted to end it all.  I understand that life is a precious gift, as frustrating as its earthly limits may be, it is terribly beautiful.  And I gratefully accept the gift of life with all of its limits because, though painful and tedious, and often marred by horror, life is good, divinely created for goodness sake.  So, I lovingly receive the gift of life.

In accepting the gift, we accept everything that the gift is – and everything that the gift is not.  Not everyone who thinks that he or she would like to be a doctor has the actual ability to be a doctor.  Not everyone who dreams of competing in the Olympics will actually have the skills to get there.  I mean, hey, not everyone who runs for president becomes president.  There are limitations in life.  For everybody.  Does that mean that life is not worth living?

A man is put in charge of an estate while his master is away.  This master trusts this man with everything and gives him free license over everything in the estate – everything except the master’s wife.  There is one limitation to this man’s power, one place where he is not allowed to go.  Should he go there?  I know that there are some people who will answer this question with, “Yes!  If the wife is willing, why not?”  It’s as though we have forgotten about the existence of honor.  It’s as though we consider trust, like rules, as something to be broken.  After all, we are supposed to look out for number one, right?  Whenever we are presented with a situation in life we’re supposed to ask the question, What’s in it for me?  But, I ask these people, Do you truly love anything?  Is nothing sacred to you besides your own self-centered desire?

Someone who loves you gives you the key to his mansion for your use while he is gone.  He only asks that you don’t open one box.  Do you open it?  Your curiosity is intense and it feels like it’s killing you.  But it’s not really killing you.  It’s just trying to kill you.  If you give into that feeling, then a part of you will die.  The part of you that is honorable, the part of you that is trustworthy, the part of you that is loving will die a little in that moment when you open the box because you couldn’t handle a simple limitation.  You couldn’t take being told, No.  You weren’t strong enough.  You were selfish and feeble.  And, yes, it is a big deal.  If you abandon your honor and trustworthiness in favor of a momentary satisfaction of the flesh (in this case, curiosity) then you have sold your kingdom for a bitty chunk of fools gold.  And your capacity to give and receive love will be filled up with dust.

It took me many years to be able to accept the fact that the men that I would desire to have would not have me.  By “accept the fact” I don’t mean acknowledge it intellectually.  I mean that I no longer tried to fill the void left by this unfulfilled desire with indulgence in an active fantasy life or consumption of fictional literature, TV shows and movies.  And I didn’t even attempt to fill the void with some other pursuit or relationship, not even a spiritual one.  (For a true relationship with God is not a substitute for anything – it’s the real thing itself.)  Rather, I accepted my loneliness, my longing and my sorrow as essential components of my life.  No need to distract myself away from what I can’t have or waste time with pretending.  I am who I am.  The things that I cannot change in my life cannot be changed because they are my life – they are my life just as much as all of the happy abilities and situations for which I am so grateful.  Nobody is perfect.  And we are all different in our own unique ways.  What is it that Tolstoy said in Anna Karenina?  “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  Or, to quote the Facts of Life theme song: “You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of life.”

There is such a thing as wanting too much than is good for us.  Everybody can’t do everything.  And, if we truly love one another, then we accept each other’s limitations.  And, if I truly love God, then I also accept the limitations given to me with this great gift of life.  And so I pray,

“God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the Courage to change the things that I can,

and the Wisdom to know the difference.”

If you decided to open that box in your loved one’s mansion, you may think that you were being brave.  But, you were only being stupid.  You lacked serenity.  I’m sure that Eve and Adam thought that they were being courageous and even wise when they ate that apple – that one fruit in all the great expanse of paradise that they were told not to eat.  But, look where it got them: naked and afraid.  So, let’s accept our real limitations as part of this real life that we have received as a terribly beautiful gift from the One who loves us most.  By accepting our limitations (and the limitations of others) we are freed to explore and enjoy all of the great qualities and abilities that are part of our lives.  We will not be blinded by distractions, denials, and make-believe substitutes as we pursue the true, the good, and the beautiful.  We will not strip ourselves of honor and trustworthiness – and therefore we will be more readily able to embrace the gift of life and prove ourselves worthy of the sacred trust that is given to us in the sacrament of baptism, deepening our capacity to give and receive love – which is the fullness of life.  By the grace of God, my limited life is a truly full life because I hold my whole life, and life itself, as sacred.

Christina Chase

With My Whole Heart before the gods

There are gods and there is God.  There are words and there is the Word.  There is strength and there is strength.

Psalms 138:1-3

  1. I will praise thee with my whole heart: before the gods will I sing praise unto thee.

  2. I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.

  3. In the day when I cried thou answeredst me, and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul.

 

In our material lives we live in the flesh, solid and “real”, we direct our gazes upon the bright and shiny and our ears upon the brash and the loud.  This is our survival instinct, we do it to survive.  And we look for the symmetrical and are drawn to this beauty, and listen for the soothing and are drawn to this comfort.  This, too, is instinct, we do it to thrive.  All instinct is geared toward pleasure, the material comforts of life, the pleasing sensations of flesh.  And when this goal is achieved and we thrive successfully, we remember our choices, like patterns, and follow those patterns repetitively expecting the same results.  Being all human, when we follow the same patterns, those markers, those things chosen stand out as things to be much sought after, much desired, as things worth sacrifice in order to have.  We set them up like gods.  They bring out division among us, jealousy from within us, yielding strife, discord, wars.  Appease the gods of materialism, the gods of greed, the gods of lust, prostate your dignity before the temples of sex and money and receive the demigods’ rewards.  We are willing to pay the price because we don’t know the cost.

What is human dignity?  Is it the absence of embarrassment?  And, therefore, is it the presence of pride and honor?  If one does not have material wealth, material beauty, material health, if one does not have independence, attraction, or any physical strength, is that person undignified?  What if someone steals prescriptions from her own father or child in order to feel less overwhelmed by anxiety and more focused on things that need to be done in order to survive?  Is she not simply appeasing the gods?  What if someone dresses alluringly and uses the talents of her body to gain protection or promotion and prestige?  Is she not merely another worshiper practicing the rites?  What if someone beats or maims or murders in order that his life may look bright and shiny and his whims of pleasure answered or so that he may gain protection or promotion and prestige?  Isn’t he just surviving and thriving, praising the desirable goals as he puts an end to whoever stands between him and the gods?  Should these people not be considered role models and heroes?

We often measure strength by the ability to move one’s body in desirable ways, to push things out of one’s way, or to forcibly get one’s way.  We look at the physical.  And seriously, what else are we supposed to look at?  With our eyes we can only see what can be seen with our eyes.  Objects of beauty, comfort and praise are visible.  Words of guidance, comfort and praise are audible with our ears – for what are we supposed to hear except for what can be heard with our ears?  And we embrace and hold onto the material, as well – for our muscles for grasping are physical.  So we have gods, and words, and strength… But we have not holiness.  Holiness – the quality of a true God, and therefore of true worship – is “other”.  It is not something that we see in ourselves with our eyes, nor hear in ourselves with our ears, nor hold close to ourselves with our bodies.  Holiness is other than.  Other than mere survival.  Other than animal instinct.  Other than material wealth.  Other than physical health that is physical strength or even aesthetic beauty.  Other than worldly prestige, honor and praise.  Holiness is other than independence.

What is “real” is what comes from ultimate reality.  Ultimate reality is about being, while what we call “real” is about forms.  We think that if we cannot see it, hear it, smell it, taste it, or touch it, then it isn’t real.  Even love, which causes many to wax poetic and is the subject of much romantic sentiment and ideals, even love is easily reduced to forms.  Love has pieces and parts and is reduced to the sum of its parts: instincts of attraction, protection, attachment caused by brain chemicals and hormones; hugs and kisses; formulaic words; gifts of tribute and sacrifices as proof – for love itself is just another little god, and our instinctive or conditioned worship is to seek the little god’s blessing, reward that is felt in the flesh and that dies with the flesh.  Though the truly successful, whether they worship love or wealth or control of others, are deemed successful if they are remembered after their bodies are buried in the dirt.  If some words can be written down about them, in poems or history books or on the sides of stone buildings, or, at the very least, in newspaper eulogies and on tombstones – if these words exist, then this is all that we can know of eternity.  Certainly, it is all that we can know in the flesh.

What of the word that is other…?  The wordless Word that is not uttered with a mouth or written in any form.  The Holy Word.  The Word that is ultimate reality, that is being itself, that is the source of all forms and yet not contained within any of them.  The Word that is irreducible and imperishable and, therefore, stronger than strength – actually eternal.  The Word that we can only see with our eyes shut, the Word that we can only hear in silence – that which cannot be seen, heard, tasted, smelled, or touched.  The Word that can only be communicated through a communion… The Word that can only be received without possession.  The wordless Word of the one, true living God who is Ultimate Reality, who is what always was, what is, and what always will be.

And… if this Word were to assume our human nature, were to take on our human flesh… well, then, and only then, through this divine initiation of communion, could we be able to experience Ultimate Reality in forms and come to know holiness, and truly worship with true dignity, true praise, and true strength for all the days of living – days beyond forms, the day eternal.

Christina Chase

First

“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”…

Matthew 19:30

But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.

Often, on the force of my emotions (especially anger or anxiety) I throw myself headlong into something – a loud argument, an inflicting pain competition, a grabby/bossy controlfest, or a full-blown panic attack.  I know that I am very self-centered in these moments and that my actions and reactions are all about me.  This can also happen when I’m overwhelmed with desire for pleasure, for then I will manipulate people and situations to get what I want, ignoring the small, still voice within that is telling me that I shouldn’t.  When the force of anger, anxiety, stress, greed, or lust are given full sway, our hearts get swamped, drowning the voice of our better angels.

There are moments in our lives when immediate action is necessary.  Moments when we should follow our natural instincts and do what comes naturally.  These are times when we see a loved one in immediate danger and we rush forward to assist, to save.  Or when we see a stranger being beaten mercilessly and we stand up and speak out against the injustice.  Or when someone falls and we reach out a hand, without even thinking, to catch him.  I’m thinking that there might be other moments, too… But I can’t think of any right now.  All that I can think of are these moments – these moments of love.

If the building we are in catches fire, our instinct is to get the heck out.  That’s a good natural instinct, all about self-preservation – self-preservation itself is not a bad thing, for we exist for good reason.  If we know that there are other people in the fire, people that may not know of the danger, or people who are trapped and unable to escape, then perhaps we will not run out of the building so quickly.  We may hesitate, wanting to help the others, but the inner call to flee will most often overwhelm us.  Perhaps, outside of the building, still thinking about the others inside, we will be overcome with a sense of responsibility and, yes, a sense of guilt.  Then, we might summon the courage and the bravery to overcome our instincts and walk back into the burning building.  Firefighters walk into burning buildings all the time.  But they need to receive training that will help them to overcome their natural instincts in order to fight the blaze and save people – they also have lots of protective gear and equipment, which is extremely helpful.  But, even with training, precautions, and fireproof materials, firefighters still continually die in the course of performing their duties.  Every person who joins a fire department knows the risk.  And people still join every day, still rush into blazes from which non-firefighters are fleeing.

The point is that human beings are able to do brave and beautiful things with love and responsibility.  We are not all perfect right out of the box.  We grow, learn and develop.  And, hopefully, we learn the importance of love and develop the willingness and the desire to give ourselves in true love and to receive the presence of others as priceless gift, and so, be responsible to and for each other.  We human beings have an amazing capacity for selflessness, generosity, and courage.  This is the humanity that Jesus Christ holds up when he is nailed on the Cross.  All goodness in us, all godliness in us, we too easily leave behind when we are rushing in to fulfill our selfish desires.  But Christ not only reminds us of who we were created to be, but he also sanctifies who we are: broken, weak, even scared, but willing to sacrifice ourselves to save others.  Christ did this in a singular act that is for all time – for Jesus is not only fully human, but also fully divine, and so all of his actions are initiated and infused with and by Infinite Eternity.  We can do it, too, though in smaller, less universally significant ways that are no less important because they are caught up with Christ’s sacrifice for all.

When a stranger jumps in front of a speeding truck to push a pedestrian out of its path to safety, or when you take the arm of an elderly person who is climbing steps in order to give assistance, or when I hold my tongue when my mother is annoying me greatly though she means only to help me – we are Christ.  We do not put ourselves first.  We don’t let the strength of our self-centered emotions or instincts overtake us.  We weaken our instincts for self-preservation or even for self gratification so that we may be strong in love.  Love is the greatest and most indomitable force out there.  And it’s in here, right in here, right inside of me.  Love is my strength, my goodness, my beauty, my courage, my salvation, my joy, my glory – precisely because it isn’t mine.  I do not possess love nor do I have a claim upon it that is exclusive of others.  Love is given to me from Love Itself.  Love is the reason that I exist.  Love is why I am formed.  Love is infused in me by grace.  Love flows out from me to others, to the other – but only if I will it.  If I listen first to worldliness, to the flesh, to self-centeredness, to me, myself, and I, then I put my true self last.  I put love – true love, love that is given and received, agape, divine love –  at the bottom of my list of priorities.  And then I fail as a human being.  For love is first and will always be first.  Though our self-centeredness may place love last as we rush in to be first, in the end, God makes all things right.

Note: this is not any kind of an exegesis or explanation of the scriptural verse.  This is just a Burst – biblically inspired reflections of the moment.

Christina Chase