Tag Archives: Christ

And Hath with His Hand

[I’m finally returning to my writing challenge!  My Internet access was down for a couple of days, so I randomly selected a verse the old-fashioned way – with a real, solid, three-dimensional Bible and a quick pointing hand…]

Does God have a mouth? Does God have a hand? …Does God have a face?

1 Kings 8:14-15

And the King turned his face about, and blessed all the congregation of Israel: and all the congregation of Israel stood:

And he said, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, which spake with his mouth unto David my father, and hath with his hand fulfilled it…”.

The human body is a beautiful and marvelous thing. A thing because each human body has physical shape and form, it is an object of flesh that exists in the world. And, yet, not a thing, and much more than a thing, because each human body is created by God in order to be a beloved creature of both flesh and spirit. Therefore, in grammatical terms, we should think of the human body, not so much as an object, but, rather, as a subject. The human body is subject to nature – and also to the human person. Above all, the human body, being created lovingly and purposefully by God, for God, is subject to God.

Okay… Maybe that’s a bit confusing. But, often, it is confusing to consider the human body in the light of the Christian faith. The confusion comes, most strongly, when we think that the body is sinful. The body is not sinful. Nothing created by God is sinful. Trees, birds, water, stars – none of these are sinful.

What is sin?

Sin is not imperfection. If that were so, then the person with the most imperfect body, one that contains genetic defect, say, and is severely crippled and weak, would be the most sinful. And the person with the most nearly perfect body would be the least sinful. And we all know that that’s not true.

Sin is also not bodily desire. The body craves and desires food – rightly so, for the body needs food in order to survive, and God did not create our bodies so that we would starve them to death. We also bodily desire sleep when we are tired and a good washing when we are dirty. All good stuff. The only bodily desires that are sinful are those that are self-centered. Yes, eating and sleeping are about self-preservation – but a kind of self-preservation that God desires. Imagine, for example, if we were locked in a room with one another, with no escape and with nothing to eat for days on end. We would, naturally, be very hungry and desire to eat something, maybe anything – maybe even one another! But, God certainly would not want us to kill each other in order that we may eat. Healthy bodily desires that turn toward selfishness, toward greed, gluttony, lust, toward actions at the expense of others – these are not God-centered desires but, rather, self-centered and, so, sinful.

For, sin is about the human will, not the human body.

Do we will what God wills? Or do we will only what we will, even if that goes against God Our Creator?

As the Baltimore Catechism states, we are created by God to know, love, and serve God in this life, and to be happy with God forever in the next. It is for the purpose of this knowing God, loving God, and serving God that God created us – body and soul. With our mouths and with our hands, with our ears and with our feet, and also, first, with our brains, we communicate with God by receiving and understanding God’s will – and then doing it. We can help feed the hungry who have no food with the bread in our own hands. We can lead the lost or the homeless who desire shelter with our feet. We can listen to those who are bereft and desire comfort with our ears and speak of God’s love and mercy to them with our mouths. We can do these things with our bodies – when our hearts and minds will to do so. If our hearts and minds are in union with God, then we will bodily love one another as God loves us.

Almighty God, who is Infinite and Eternal, the Creator and Master of the Universe, does not have bodily shape and form. God is spirit. God is not physical and, therefore, able to be broken down into parts, able to die. Therefore, it is wrong to say that God has a physical mouth or a physical hand. Or that God has a physical face.

And, yet…

God chose to become one of us.

The Word of God, which is not thought in a fleshly brain or spoken from a fleshly mouth, was made flesh. Jesus Christ is the Word of God Incarnate, made flesh, made one of us. Jesus is fully God and fully human. So, although it may not be proper to say that God has a face, that God has a mouth and hands, because of Christ, because of the Incarnation,  God spoke with a human mouth and worked with human hands… God laughed, wept, and smiled with a human face. And when Jesus said, “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me,” he was speaking of the profoundly intimate connection and union that God has with each and every human being through Christ, Our Lord.

When we wash the dirty face of a poor and orphaned child with our own hands, it is God working through us. We, with our own freewill, choose freely to cooperate with God’s will. To co-operate. And our hands, although they are not truly Jesus’s hands, are like his hands, are like the hands with which God gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and bread to the multitudes. Then, we are truly like Christ – we are real Christians.

And, most profoundly and awesomely, when we wash that helpless child’s face… we’re washing the face of Jesus, the face through which God smiled.

Christ Jesus, who was physically thirsty and tired, desired water to drink from the Samaritan’s well. Christ Jesus, who was physically exhausted and weak, desired bodily assistance to carry his cross to Golgotha. And Christ Jesus, who began his earthly life as a helpless little baby, desired and needed to be physically taken care of, dependent on others for every thing of survival.

So, yes, let us think of God having a face, and mouth, and hands… they are yours… they are theirs…… they are his.

© 2015 Christina Chase

Good Will Doing

Ephesians 6:7-8

With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men:

Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.

They say (whoever they are) that the good you do for another will be given back to you. Do this good thing now and you will be rewarded later in kind. And all of this rather fits in with the idea of Karma and what goes around comes around, whether good or bad. But… I don’t know that I see the proof of this in real life – do you? Too often, it seems that people get away with doing bad things – and even profit from those less than savory deeds. And too many kind, generous people, who do for others selflessly, get taken advantage of and walked all over. Where’s the cosmic justice?

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these Bible Bursts. Please forgive me if I’m a bit rusty. It has never been my habit to pick up the Bible and turn to a random page when something is troubling me or just as daily instruction. I only began doing so when I conceived this writing challenge, which was originally designed to get me back to the habit of writing. You see, I was mainly interested in my craft and not really my soul. However, over the years, I have not only returned to regular and productive writing, but I have also gained deeper appreciation for the words within the Bible – as well as the Bible itself. I have begun to see the Bible, truly, as Sacred Scripture, the inspired word of God. And that’s good thing.

I am a true believing and practicing Christian, a member of the Catholic Church, which I believe to be the Mystical Body of Christ. But, I still have my little hangups. There are still some parts of the religion (that is, what is practiced) and the Faith (meaning what is believed) with which I have real difficulty. And, every now and then, I’m still washed over by the ghosts of my non-Christian past, those doubts and disbeliefs that I had once embraced. What does any of this have to do with today’s randomly selected piece of Scripture? The verses speak of divine justice, of God rewarding those who do good. Soon after reading them, my thoughts turned to doubt, didn’t they? I asked: Where’s the cosmic justice?

And I know that one answer to that question is found in the belief of Heaven and Hell. Those who do good here on earth will be rewarded, after death, in the eternity of Heaven, while those who do evil here on earth will be rewarded, after death, in the eternity of Hell. Simple. And, yet… requiring SUCH a leap of faith. We have no indisputable proof that any of this is true. And we cannot even offer the promises written in the Bible as proof – because believing that the promises written in the Bible are true requires faith and, therefore, cannot be indisputably proven as fact. I might venture as far as to say that there is enough historical documentation outside of the Bible, reporting what eyewitnesses said and did, to declare that Jesus of Nazareth’s not being dead after his crucifixion is probable. But, his Ascension into Heaven? Continuing with our “probable” case, the fact that his followers and those who knew him may never have seen him again doesn’t prove that he “went to Heaven”. He could have disappeared into the mist and kept walking, going to live far away, in obscurity, while tales of his life and death got naturally exaggerated until they were eventually written down, thus exaggerated and embellished – in the Bible.

These are the doubts. These are the doubts that got the better of me in the past and still plague me now, from time to time. These are the doubts that many, many, many people have. We are not alone. There is, however, another thing that “they” say (whoever they are) and that is this: paralysis by analysis.

One can certainly overanalyze anything. And everything. Our God-given gift of reason can bring us to many wonderful and amazing lands of discovery in this beautiful existence that is reality. But, reason can only bring us so far. We can analyze the stories told in the Bible, as well as the historical evidence for figures in the Bible and their earliest followers, and we can even, reasonably, arrive at conclusions of possibility, or even probability. But, our God-given gift of reason is only designed to bring us so far – and no further. We are not meant to prove the Messianic power and Lordship of Jesus of Nazareth. We are not meant to prove that he is God Incarnate. God doesn’t want us to prove it.

God wants us to live it.

And in order to live the truth of Jesus, we need to love it – and in order to love it, we need to leap to it.

There is something about a human being taking a leap of faith that is more beautiful, powerful, awesome, and amazing than any other act from any other creature EVER. I even dare to say that a human being taking a leap of faith is something that even God Godself cannot do. God knows everything that exists. God knows each and every one of us intimately and infinitely. But, for us to come into a personal relationship with God, we must leap with faith.

Okay. I seem to be seriously digressing. I’m obviously more than a bit rusty! My basic point is that I don’t like to say out loud, or even to think, that acts of human kindness will be rewarded after death. Something inside of me fights against the idea that God is conditioning us to “good” behavior with the promise of yummy treats at the end of the day. Surely Heaven must be so much more – even so much other – than that. And I also resist the idea that God is conditioning our behavior here on earth with a stick and a carrot. Like, “Treat your cranky old neighbor kindly and generously and then you will see – a stranger will give you a check for 10,000 dollars!” Or, “Tisk, tisk, you better not knock your little brother to the ground or else you’ll find a hornet in your shirt and get stung!” Yeah, I don’t think so. I could be wrong – I could most definitely be wrong, God knows! – but I don’t think that God meets out cosmic justice with an elaborate system of punishments and rewards.

I do think, however, and I do believe, that goodness is its own reward. And I don’t mean that feeling of satisfaction for having done something “good”. I mean what these Scripture passages from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians are hinting at. Doing “good” and being “good” isn’t about what we do or say to our fellow human beings. When God calls for acts of charity, God is calling for acts of love, and, as Saint Paul tells us in another letter to another group of people, we can perform many marvelous acts – but if we have not love, real love, then we are nothing. Doing good and being good is about being in intimate union with Goodness Itself. “Goodness Itself” is God. And yes, that can mean following God’s commandments and thereby doing God’s will – but it means so much more. Because we could follow all of the commandments – but if we do not do so with real love, then we’re missing the mark. It’s all about loving.

As the verse for today says, it’s not about the good service that we do to our fellow Men, it’s about the good service that we do for God, for the sake of God – and we can do nothing for the sake of God unless we are doing it because we love God. Not because we want to please God so that we will be rewarded and not punished. No. Because we really love God, we joyfully do the things of God, paying no mind to the consequences. This joyfully doing is real joy, true joy. Just pleasing other human beings, or doing things for the sake of avoiding punishment or getting reward, isn’t going to cut it. The most beautiful thing that we can do as human beings is to take a leap of faith – and the most joyful thing that we can do as human beings is to love God, to whom we leap freely and unselfishly.

unpublished work © 2015 Christina Chase

And Ye Would Not

It ain’t always pretty.

Matthew 23:37

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

Love doesn’t always look like a fluffy little bunny or a bouquet of pretty flowers. Sometimes, love comes as a heavy burden, or an injection of medicine, or a strong arm that knocks you to the ground just in time. Jesus is like this.

We often like to think of the Resurrection only. We have images of Jesus looking all bright and shiny and handsome, smiling, with his arms open wide in welcome – setting aside images of Jesus stripped, beaten, bloodied, his arms forced apart and nailed to a wooden beam. We’ll think of Jesus during his earthly ministry with little children gathered at his feet and blind people being gently touched by his soft hand – and not think of the whip in the temple or the rough carpenter’s hands praying in agony.

I have even seen Crosses that bear upon them an image of the Resurrected Christ, fully clothed. What’s with that???risen-christ-on-cross

That moment in the Bible when Jesus beckons the little children to come to him – this is not a purely happy moment filled with pleasant niceties. It comes with a rebuke. The disciples want to shoo away the youngsters, who are generally seen as a distracting nuisance – but Jesus says, “No.” He goes against the grain, disrupts the general practice of the time, upsets social protocol, and gathers the children to him. In the divine eyes of Jesus, every human being is a child – His own beloved child, whom He wants to hold in His arms and love unconditionally. In our modern time, to the people who, perhaps, make children over-precious and nearly adore them, this makes perfect sense. Of course Jesus wants innocent and lovely children near him. But… Jesus also wants the outcast and reviled near him. Jesus lovingly wills to die next to two thieves being executed for their crimes. Do we think of that? This is true love of humanity.

Why, then, did Jesus drive the money changers out of the temple with a scourge that he made out of cords? (John 2:15) Why did he not have mercy and forgiveness upon them and just give them a big old hug? Jesus did have mercy and forgiveness upon them – he did what he did for love of them. He spoke to them in a language that they could understand about the wickedness of their acts and the dark path down which they were leading themselves and the people. This is a moment in the Bible when we can see Jesus as most obviously human – one of us. He is upset by the callous, unloving intentions and methods of the money changers, who are not interested in helping the people to be reconciled with God. Their interest is in making a personal financial profit from people’s desire for God, using the religious laws of the time to their self-centered advantage. This cannot stand. I’m thinking that Jesus is so filled with justified anger that he cannot humanly utter a pretty speech to sway them. This is the time for Jesus to use his muscles, muscles formed hard and strong from laboring in manual construction, and shake open the eyes of the drowsing, slap the petty and cruel upside the head, and zealously protect and cleanse the Sacred Place of his Father with a show of human force. I suppose that he could have turned all of the money changers into gnutes or rained fire and brimstone upon their heads – but, instead, he did what any one of us human beings could do… and, perhaps, should do: disrupt the status quo.

Nobody likes to be told that what he or she is doing is wrong, even when it is wrong. Nobody enjoys changing his or her comfortable life for a promised, but unseen, improvement. We are naturally drawn to the comfortable, the soft, the easy, the shiny, the entertaining and sensually pleasing – yet, we are supernaturally drawn to the truth, to true love, to God. There is nothing more sublime, perfectly beautiful, and fully pleasing than God and true relationship with God – but that relationship requires a disruption of physical comfort, self-centered desires, and mundane niceties… in order to truly love.

The Savior of the World cannot simply be an extraordinarily good man who sets a lasting example of kindness, patience, and a generous sharing of resources. The Savior of the World cannot merely come to make the world a prettier place – but to set it free from such a cheap desire. How else can God get through to us and break us from our habit of, and addiction to, self-centered pleasure? How else can God work with human hands, through all times and in all places, to lovingly hold the suffering and lead the wandering home? How else can God show us the fullness of what we human beings can be, except to become one of us and to give Himself so completely and utterly to us in unconditional love that he lets us torture and beat him, ridicule and reject him, and kill him like a common thief? The dead body of God-Incarnate hanging on a cross speaks more profoundly than any Sacred Book that could ever be written, more intimately than any lightning bolt Revelation from the sky, and more fully and truly than any radiant smile of the depths of divine love and how utterly God wants to gather us to Him.ChristCrucified-father-Barron

We stone prophets. That’s what we do. We “kill the messenger”. That’s what we do. God knows. And God loves us so much that He is willing to let us do that to Him. God loves us so much that He sends His Only Begotten Son to us – to do with what we will. Christ loves us so much that he is willing for us not to like him. He is willing for us to be annoyed with him, to mock him, to try to drive him over the edge of a cliff. He is willing for us to kill him, for he will do what he has come to do – he will love us. He will show us the way to deepest and truest joy, he will become the way. Jesus gives us the promise of things yet unseen and does not couch it in niceties. He gives his very body and blood for us to gnaw upon – and if we refuse to understand it, then he is willing to let us walk away. He will not force us to love him in return, he will not force us into his arms. But, he will weep for us, weeping tears of blood, and he will be vulnerable for us, pierced through in the excruciating pain of crucifixion. And the first sign of the veracity of his promise will be an empty tomb.

© 2015 Christina Chase

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

Nothing Wavering

“Trust me.”

James 1:5-6

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

We are told to trust that God will give us every good thing, that everything given to us by God will be for our well-being and joy. Sometimes, though… Sometimes, it’s so very difficult to trust. When something happens to us in our lives that is just so horribly sad, so painfully overwhelming… something that pierces and cuts our hearts so that even breathing seems a torment… it is then that we question God’s wisdom – or doubt that God cares anything for us, that there is any divine power at all to hear and answer our prayers.

And where does that leave us? In the dark world where we are shut in with our own workings, our own troublings, our own ways through, which are made of depression, anger, resentment, vengeance, or violence against others and ourselves. We are no longer open to the workings of the Divine, to the providence of God, to the ways of hope, forgiveness, compassion, generosity, and peace. The world will always be imperfect – and we, self-centered creatures, imperfect within it – but, we cannot choose to be subject to the world. We are each created by the Infinite/Eternal One and all of our joy, all of our fulfillment, is dependent on Him, depends from omniscient God. If we give up faith in God’s love and give up hope in the power of our own God-given gift of loving, then we miss the entire point of life, the very reason for our own existence. And we are left to fruitless desires, despair, and the hellish resistance of truth.

What if we had real wisdom? We are told that the beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord. Too often, however, our thinking of this “fear” leads us to walk on tiptoe lest we arouse the wrath God and bring down upon ourselves horrible sorrows and pains. Our sins, we think, justly bring about God’s punishment and are the reason for every ailment, loss, or difficulty in our lives. As God is just, this must be true. And, yet… And, yet, the truth is that we human beings are designed in such a way that, when we sin, we punish ourselves. Not consciously do we punish ourselves, most of the time, but, rather, by our turning away from faith, hope, and love after we sin. It is the turning away from God that is Hell. And, if we had real wisdom, we would know not to do it.

Instead, our fear of the Lord would be the all-consuming recognition that God is God and we are not – the wholehearted acknowledgment that God, our creator, is free to crush His Creation if He so chooses. Know this. Know it, and let the knowledge cause you to tremble and quake. Submit to the fact of your own littleness and be utterly and completely humbled by the omnipotent Majesty of God. This is the beginning. And then…

The apostles on Mount Tabor fell down on the ground in fear of the Lord when the voice of God thundered above them. But, they did not remain with their faces buried in the dust. They were lifted up. They were lifted up by the touch of Christ, who bid them to stand upright and follow him. Christ, who told his followers over and over and over again to not be afraid, brings us God’s mercy, and bids us to rise and to advance in expectation of things not seen – in trust. For the action of hope and faith is trust and the fruit is the reception of everlasting love.

God chooses not to crush us. God wants to lift us up. God is ever generous, giving of Himself by creating everything in love, and lovingly sharing His own divine life with human beings by creating us in His own image with the spiritual gifts of intellect, imagination, and freewill. The question, then, is what will we choose to do? What do we want?

The life of faith is not an easy one. There’s nothing facile or mindless about it. Faith requires desire. We need to want something in order to have faith. We want by lacking and recognizing our lack, a process of pain and sorrow. It is in that humble recognition that we then ask. We ask God for what we lack in ourselves – not in the world, in the manner of possessions, sensations, or accomplishments, but in ourselves – patience, empathy, wisdom. By believing that God will, indeed, grant us every truly good thing, we give our whole hearts and lives to this belief. And, no matter what happens to us in the world, we do not let heartbreak, pain, grief, or any suffering batter us about like a mindless, purposeless, directionless thing. We act in faith and we live faithfully and we are brought forward through our lives by the endless gifts of God, led by the touch of Christ – carried by the love of Christ, with whom, in whom, and through whom we are wise… from beginning to eternity.

© 2014 Christina Chase

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

The World through Him

Christ is not a condemnation.

John 3:16-17

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

The world is not divided into two camps: Christians and non-Christians.  For God created everyone and loves everyone, with perfect, divine love.  God loves everyone with love that is purely and perfectly self-giving, so wondrously and endlessly generous is God.  God set us all to live in the world – but God knows that if we center our lives only in the world and give our hearts only to worldly things then we will perish with the finite things of creation.  God knows that it is only by centering our lives in the Source of all life, in God, and by giving our hearts to the eternal things of God that we shall be saved from this perishing and have life everlasting.

We, human beings, as fickle and selfish as we can be, cannot center our lives in God by ourselves and cannot give our hearts to God on our own.  We need a Savior.  We need, not only someone to show us the way and lead us on the way, but also someone to be the way.  Someone who is both fully human and fully divine.  The Son of God who is the Son of Man, the Word of God made flesh, God-Incarnate: Jesus Christ.  Anyone who believes in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of the world, comes to have salvation and everlasting life through him.  But… How?

Christ Jesus is Love incarnate and lives Love in the world.  He wills his human nature to be united with Divine Will and, thus, sanctifies all of human nature, lifting us up to the Divine.  In his human nature, he loves God, his Father, with all that he is and all that he has, giving his heart completely.  We see this love in the Son of God’s obedience, emptying himself in the Incarnation – and also in his sacrificing of himself on the Cross.  It is not blind obedience that impels him – but, rather, real love.

For death has no power over eternal love.

None.

Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day and ascended into the pure realm of God, which is Heaven, forever.  Through this great Mystery, we, too, though we are not divine, may rise and ascend with Christ to heavenly glory.  But, only if we also love, love purely and selflessly, with no end other than divine love.  This is the way of Christ – and it is only in him, with him, and through him, that the eternal reality of divine love can be reached by us, mere humans.

So, people say that only those who believe in Jesus Christ and follow his teachings can have eternal life in Heaven.  And this, it would seem, excludes people who do not believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of the world and who do not, therefore, practice Christianity.  For nearly 2000 years, we have seen people divided by Christianity.  But, this is not the perfect will of God, this is not the pure divine intent.  Although the Word of God may cut like a sword and divide brother against brother, the sword is designed to cut the human heart.  The Word of God is Love – Love that surrenders, Love that is pierced, Love that pours itself out ceaselessly.  Who receives this love?  Anyone whose heart has been opened by Christ – and every human heart has been opened by Christ, through universal sanctification of human nature – and who wills not that his or her heart shall be closed.  Anyone who keeps the soul vigilant to the workings of the Holy Spirit – even if they cannot identify the Holy Spirit by any spoken or written name – receives the blessings of God through His Spirit.

Without Christ there is no salvation, for there is no opening of the human heart and no intimate outpouring of God’s love.  Anyone and everyone who truly loves is only able to love because he or she was first loved by God – and that love is made manifest, is fulfilled, is ultimately perfected in being, through, with, and in Jesus Christ.  It’s like… There is no divinely human love without the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, his life, Passion, Sacrifice, Resurrection, and Ascension – the full identity and reality of Divine Love in and for Creation cannot exist without Christ Jesus, for Christ is the love.

In a far-off desert or jungle there may be a woman who loves simply and sincerely, with all that she is and all that she has, open to God’s love and the workings of God’s Spirit, willing to give her heart, to give her whole self, completely to all that is divine – to all that is good, true, and divinely beautiful.  This same woman may never have heard the name of Jesus spoken or seen it written.  She may have no idea what Christians are or what Christianity is.  And, yet, she lives it.  Her humanity has been sanctified and, so, her heart opened by the Paschal Mystery of Christ Jesus – and she, in her human intellect, memory/imagination, and free will, chooses every day to live in love, to work, think, speak, and act in genuine love, genuine love that is only possible through, with, and in Jesus Christ.  She shall not be condemned.  She shall have everlasting life – through Christ, the Savior of the world.

How can this be if she is not a professed Christian?  Because she is a living Christian, she is a genuinely loving human being who, if she knew the truth of who Jesus is would praise his name forever – not because it will give her eternal reward, but because she has loved him her whole life, without even knowing his name.  She has been more faithful to him, without knowing his earthly identity, than one who has spoken his name a 1,001 times without true love.  Some so-called Christians might not recognize her – but Jesus Christ will most certainly recognize her.

God loves us, not in order to condemn us and not in order to break us to His liking.  God loves us because that is who God is – and God becomes one of us because God has created us to be like Him.  In this lies all of our happiness and all of our glory: to love as God loves us.

Christ is not a condemnation.  Christ is Salvation Itself.

Do you do all that you do in the name of Christ Jesus in real love?  Let us be patient with one another and nurture one another gently, with real love – for that is how God is with us.

Unpublished work © 2014 Christina Chase