Tag Archives: God

In His Integrity

 

What’s left?

Proverbs 19:1

Better is the poor that walketh in his integrity, than he that is perverse in his lips, and is a fool.

“Blessed are the poor…” yes, yes, I know, but I’d like to be rich – who wouldn’t? To live in a beautiful house surrounded by comfort and conveniences and beautiful things, to not have to worry about how I’m going to pay the bills that pile up in front of me, to have nice clothes and cars and delicious foods and to be able to travel wherever I would like or give financial assistance and material help to worthy people in need whenever I am moved to do so – who wouldn’t want to do that? When we think of all the things that money can buy, we think in our minds – and even in our hearts – “Blessed are the rich.”

The stories that we hear about lottery winners always fascinate me. They win huge sums of money by luck and buy all the things that they’ve always wanted to have – and they admit that they aren’t happier. Some spend and live richly while still wisely saving and investing enough money so that they will never have to worry about blowing it all – and they say they were happier before they became rich. Friends and family members become jealous and manipulative, trying to get some of that financial boon for themselves. People everywhere seek them out with tales of woe in hopes of getting charitable contributions. And some, in resentment and also in greed, will make the lottery winners feel guilty if not enough of the winnings are spent upon things that they, the non-winners, believe are important. And then there’s all the stuff – so many things to buy, experiences to purchase, and no extra time in which to enjoy them, no extra heart-space in which to appreciate them. And the stuff has to be taken care of – or the employees hired to take care of the stuff have to be taken care of – it’s a lot of work. Some lottery winners become depressed, some commit suicide. And even the rich who earn their money never seem to be able to get enough of it, are always wanting more. Rich celebrities live glamorous lives – lives of broken relationships, drug abuse, waywardness. But, still… Knowing all this, I would still like to be rich. I would be one of those few who can handle it, who can do wealthy well. Wouldn’t I?

I don’t know. How am I doing with not being wealthy? Am I doing middle-class well? Actually, my parents are middle-class – but they physically take care of me in their home because of my severe disability. I, financially speaking, am poor. In fact, it is rightly said that I am a beggar since I can do no labor, no work inside or outside of the home, to earn my bread. I depend completely upon others for all of my needs for survival. So, to go back to my question – am I doing that well? I think I could handle wealth – but that would only be true if I can handle poverty.

Jesus did not say “Blessed are the financially destitute.” He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” I imagine that “poor in spirit” has been interpreted to mean different things over the centuries through different schools of thought. But, the point I want to make here is that poverty itself – the deprivation of material resources, of those basic needs of survival – is not blessedness. Merely being poor is not going to make one blessed, is not going to make one happy. There are many, many people who do poverty badly. Broken relationships, drug abuse, and suicide affect the poor as well as the rich. (Perhaps, though, we may think it affects the poor more because there are more poor people than rich.) The truth is that selfishness, greed, and unhappiness abound in humanity, no matter how much, or how little, money is ready at hand. If, however, one is “poor in spirit” – well, then, one belongs to the kingdom of heaven. What does that mean?

To be poor in spirit is not to have some kind of solidarity with the poor, that is, feeling deep compassion for them in their plight and helping them however one can by donating time and/or resources. The blessedness, the happiness, comes in truly being poor – in being a beggar. For, what do we have that is truly our own? You can be robbed of possessions. Your house can burn down and your insurance company go bankrupt. You can lose your savings through disastrous investments. You can lose your job or lose your breadwinning spouse and get evicted or have your house foreclosed upon, watch your car get repossessed and sell off your jewelry, your collectibles, your furniture, until you have nothing left. Even that body which you use to earn money and go to the store and enjoy leisurely comfort – even that can lose its functionality through injury or disease. That mind that you use to make sure you have all that you need and with which you appreciate what you have – even that can lose its abilities of cognition and/or memory. And then what is left? All that is left is what has always been, what is eternally: your belongingness to the kingdom of heaven.

Whether rich or poor, if we live our lives separated from our true identities, we will never be truly happy. We were all created by the Uncreated Creator. We all belong to this Infinite/Eternal One. Your true identity, my true identity, is as a living image and likeness of God. But, is that how we live? Or, do we rather live as our own inventions for our own purposes? I’m not talking about altruism here. I’m talking about knowing who you are. You could be blessed by living your life “looking out for number one” and understanding that that most important one is yourself – but do you know who you are? If you think that you are your physical pleasures and enjoyments, then you are always going to miss the mark of blessedness. If you think that you are your accomplishments and achievements, then you will never be fulfilled. If you think that you are the praising people around you, then you will never know true love, true happiness. If you think that you are the weight of your possessions, monuments, and money enjoyed now and left behind as legacy when you are dead, then you are most sadly missing out on the fullness of your one, unique life.

The Uncaused Cause has given you an immortal soul to animate your being – and has given you Godself to restore you to true likeness so that you may know blessedness and know it eternally. Who you truly are is who you are eternally. When passing things pass away, what is left? What has always been and always will be: a beggar. May our begging bowls be open and outstretched toward the Source of Being, the Infinitely Generous One Who truly gives us our fill.

Whether rich or poor, I can be a fool. Better to have no material pleasures to distract me from knowing who I am, then to go about my life as a fool in perversity. May we not choose to live our lives perversely, obstinately desiring to do what is unreasonable – and what is unreasonable is all that is is contrary to who we truly are.

Christina Chase

Nigh Unto Me

What do I want?

Matthew 15:8

This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.

What is your goal in life? What do you spend most of your time, energy, and talents toward? I seem to answer the first question one way but then the second one in another. For, I say that my goal in life is to be the person that God created me to be. But, then, if I look at where I spend most of my time, energy, and talents, it seems as though I want something else. It seems as though what I truly want is material comfort/security and the pleasure of aesthetics – and, when I’m really ambitious, the praise of others. Did God create me to be comfortablNighe? Did God create me to be lulled in contentment? Did God create me to win compliments?

I am created in order to know, love, and serve… To know, love, and serve what? Myself? My pleasure sensors? My ego? Oh, what a limited life I would live then, blind and deaf to the fullness of reality, crippled in my existence. Such was my endeavor once. As a committed atheist, I saw no meaning to life, to existence, and so did whatever I wanted, thought whatever I wanted, making up my own meaning for my own purposes. I lived for myself. I humorously (but seriously) saw myself as the center of the universe – everything that existed before me was mere prologue; everything that exists after me, mere epilogue; everything that exists with me, mere background. And why not, since, at that time, I thought that there was no center to the universe anyway, no center to anything? Looking back at myself then, I see that I was a very selfish person. Self-centeredness is something that I always have to deal with in my personality but, then, as an atheist, I could let it run rampant and become a kind of religion. The doctrines of Looking out for Number One, What’s in It for Me, and If It Feels Good Do It were all I needed to live the life that I wanted, to be happy.

Or so I thought. However, I could not be a rational and serious person and shut out the Source of Life forever. If I had stopped thinking altogether and just go on feeling without thoughts beyond my own comfort and pleasure, I may have remained an atheist. If I hadn’t wanted the truth, if I hadn’t wanted to know what really is, then I could have kept my ignorance. But, the whole reason that I became an atheist was in order to find the truth, was in order to know reality as it really is. I thought that there was no such thing as God. And I was right – in a way. God is no thing. Rather, that which we call God… IS. One day, sitting beneath the grape arbor, I let my thoughts, my focus, go deeply into the reality around me – green leaves golden in the sun, long grasses in the breeze, birdsong up in the trees, and, pealing back the layers of sound, the silence of nothing behind reality. And it was in that silence that I became aware… that I knew. Without words or images or sensations or emotions, I knew. Infinite… Eternal… Present Presence… Being Itself…. I wanted to be an atheist again for the lack of complications and (as I see more clearly now) for the centering of the universe in me. But, I could never be self-centered again without knowing that I was in error. I did not invent myself. I did not create myself. Everything that I can see and hear and taste and smell and touch did not come from me or from my parents or from bacteria. There is Silence beyond silence… the Uncaused Cause, the Uncreated Creator, the Unmoved Mover… and, much to my surprise, I came to understand the truth of “the ultimate reality that everyone calls God.”

What did I want then, after that epiphany? To know. And to know Truth really is to love. And to really love is to serve – that is, to be who I was created to be. To believe in God is not to merely profess with our lips a set of tenets that we think are true, nor to assent with our intellects to those tenets. To believe in God is to accept the reality of my existence, who I am. I – with my self-centered pleasures and pride – am not the end-all and be-all. I come from somewhere. I come from someone. From Pembroke and from my parents – but, if I open my eyes and my ears fully, if I dare to look up from my life and step out of my own way, then I understand that everything in life comes from the same Infinite/Eternal Source, born forth in the creative power of loving. Something out of nothing – by the sheer will of Being Itself.

To say all this is one thing. To live all this is quite another. I can say that I believe in God and explain how one can “prove” God’s existence until the cows come home. But, to know is to love. God, who is all-knowing, is all-loving. The Fullness of Being whom we speak of as God cannot be grasped, cannot be avoided, cannot be controlled – cannot be denied without denying reality itself. What I want, then, is to be where God is… And where is God? God is nowhere… now here… everywhere… God cannot be pinned down… or flattered, or appeased, or manipulated in any way. For God is love, pure love, pure loving. Perhaps the better question is Where am I?

Where is my heart? Where is the center of my living life, the core of my principles, the aim of my pursuits? The question is not only on whom do I depend for life itself – but also, to whom do I turn whenever there is any question? What is the pulse of my life, with what beat am I keeping time? The life that flows through me is the love that flows through me and I am not its source. The source of the universe(s), the source of existence, flows life, sustenance, love through all – and what do we do? Where do we go? There is no escape from the Infinite/Eternal One, and yet we would keep our hearts for ourselves so that we may satisfy our own self-centered pleasures and pride; and yet we would try to hide our vulnerability from the One who loves us into existence and hoard up things to fill the void left from turning away from our Source.

So that the One who loves us into existence might not seem to be far from us in our sensory-dependent blindness, God became one of us. Christ Jesus lived in humility, unknown by most of those who passed him by. His beloved disciple leaned his head against Christ’s heart one day and asked, “Who is it, Lord?” The young man wanted to know which of the disciples was going to be the one to betray Jesus by selling him out to those who wanted to get rid of him. Shall I banish Him as well so that I may seek my own self-centered pursuits?… I bow my head this day and rest upon the heart of love, the heart of reality, the heart of life, and I ask my Lord and my God, “Is it I?”

May my heart always burn with love for Him who is the Lord and seek shelter in His ever-generous, all-consuming love. Lord, may I seek only You, want only You… let my heart not be far from yours…

Christina Chase

To Every Man That Is among You

Get over yourself.

Romans 12:3

For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

The season of Lent (40 observation days leading up to Easter) is not wholly about ashes and sackcloth, mea culpa, mea culpa, in sorrowful repentance of our sins.  Lent is a time to focus deeply on the examination of conscience, to look deeply at our thoughts, fears, desires, as well as our words and deeds – scrutinizing our attitudes and every decision, big and small, that we make each day.  This is a time that we should devote to the Socratic maxim, “Know thyself.”  And when we take a really good look at ourselves, our conclusions should not be that we are stupid, useless or worthless – just as our conclusions should not be that we are superior to all other human beings, utterly magnificent in everything that we say and do.  We are utterly magnificent in one regard: God created us in Divine image and likeness and loves us enough to take on our humanity and die for us.  For this sacred reason, no human being is worthless.

For this sacred reason – and for this sacred reason alone – every human being is valuable, is precious.  We may think that God loves us because we have professed belief in His Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ and/or because we do good things that are helpful to others.  But, that’s not why God loves us.  God doesn’t love me because I smile despite being physically disabled and in a wheelchair.  God doesn’t love you because you praise His Holy Name from a pulpit or in a blog.  God doesn’t love them because they are poor and simple or them because they are successful and generous.  God loves each and every human being because God loves each and every human being.  God loves because that’s what God does, because that is exactly who God is.  We have done nothing, and can do nothing, to deserve or merit God’s love – because God has already done it for us.  We are lovable precisely because God independently chooses to bring us into being through His Own Creative Love, to sustain us through His Grace, and to heal, redeem, and sanctify us through His Only Begotten Son.

We should never think of ourselves as any more than this.  And we should never think of ourselves as any less than this.  Being able to grasp the reality of who we are is, well, beyond our grasp – but we come closest when we remember that God loves every human being.  You know that person who really hurt you and doesn’t even seem to realize how badly, even though you tried to explain it to her?  God loves that person intimately and infinitely.  You know that person who is always so arrogant and says such terribly cruel things about other people?  God loves that person intimately and infinitely.  God takes no joy in their sins – God takes no joy in our sins – but He eternally loves sinners.  That means that God eternally loves us, each and every human being no matter what we do, no matter how badly we screw up His Commandments or how well we keep them.  The question that God needs to have answered is the very question that we need to ask ourselves: will we allow God to love us?

Maybe you thought that I was going to write that the question is whether or not we will choose to love God.  I thought about it.  But, then I wordlessly remembered in my heart (or the wordless memory was pushed forward for me) that we love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).  The only reason at all that I can love anyone or anything is because God loves me.  So, even if I want to love God, I must first let God love me.  What does that mean?  What does that mean…?  It means that I have to know who I am – who I truly, honestly, eternally am.

I am God’s beloved creation – as is every human being that has ever, and will ever, come into being.  Not me alone – all of us.  I do not need to think of myself any more highly than this to be completely and utterly fulfilled in joy and goodness, in the greatness of destiny.  And I do not need to think of myself any lower than this to please the One Who loved me into existence.  Yes, I have, independently according to freewill, chosen to be unloving at times, many times, through my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault – and by so doing I have sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do.  These moments of self-centered decision, these sins, are when I did not allow God to love me – I did not allow God to lead me in my choices (for, all-loving God will always lead us to the best place for us) and I did not allow God to love my fellow human beings, to love all of His Creation, through me.  Somehow, in some way, I said “No” to Divine Will, which is Divine Love, and that is why I am sorrowing here, that is why I am dissatisfied, that is why I am longing for forgiveness and mercy and newness of life.  Forgiveness and Mercy and Newness of Life is precisely what God wants to give to me through His Love.  Will I choose to receive?

I am only human, and, as such, I can only do so much.  But, God can do everything.  Will I let Him?  Because the thing is… God loves me enough never to force me.

Christina Chase

For As the Body

Show me the money.

James 2:14, 26

What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?

For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

There’s a song from the movie musical My Fair Lady that I love, Audrey Hepburn singing to the man who would woo her, “Don’t speak of stars shining above, if you’re in love, show me.  Don’t say your heart’s filled with desire, if you’re on fire, show me.”  She didn’t want him to just tell her pleasing things.  She didn’t want mere words.  She wanted action.

In my relationship with God, who alone is worthy of all love, all honor, all glory, I extol praises and profess my belief in Christ Jesus, His Only Begotten Son, my Lord and the Lord of all.  I keep a blog (Divine Incarnate) full of postings in which I reflect upon the heart of God and man and try to layout some of the ways in which we can all live full lives, our hearts filled with truth and love.  I witness with my words.  But… What about my actions?  I write about my faith and the value of what I believe in – but what do I do in my daily life?  I write that we should do this or that – but do I?  Like in the movie Jerry Maguire, where the sports agent makes lots of promises to the athlete, but he, in turn, just keeps saying, “Show me the money!”  – Where is my money, where is my invested output, where are my expenditures of time and effort – where are my works?

As Jesus tells us through St. Luke’s Gospel account, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  And these were not mere words to Jesus.  He lived what he professed, he carried out that to which he bore witness – he did what he said he would do.  “Love one another as I have loved you,” sounds pretty.  And it could be just that: a pretty phrase.  But, Christ loved us bodily, with his actions, with the entirety of his being his very body and blood.  He put his money where his mouth is.  By his actions, there is no doubt where his heart is.

We love because God first loved us – and this love is not just a nice feeling or pretty sentiment, it is not merely a metaphysical kind of holding in one’s heart.  This is brilliantly clear in the Judeo-Christian faith, which testifies to God’s works, God’s direct action in space and time.  God loves us into existence – the act of Creation.  God unites Godself to us and sanctifies us – the act of God becoming Man, Christ Jesus.  And God saves us – the act of dying on the Cross and rising from the Dead.  Through Christ’s actions, God restores us to the fullness of life, life eternal.  To receive what is given graciously to us, we must follow Christ.  To follow him with our minds, our thoughts and intellects, is not enough.  To follow him with our affections and sentiments is not enough.  To fully follow Jesus Christ, and so be true Christians, we must follow with our bodies, too.  We must follow with our whole selves, mindful that love is not something esoteric – love is action.  So, to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our minds, and with all our strength is to DO.  ACTION.  We love, not with our lips or sentiments, but with our works.  We love with our choices and our actions.

The jobs that people do every day to actively contribute to society are called professions.  The tenets of faith that people believe are also called professions.  I need to find a hearty, meaty, bodily way to bring these two concepts together in my daily life.  Writing about the faith is an action – but I do need to be careful and be sure that the faith about which I am writing is not dead.  This truly needs to be my faith, the faith that I profess by living it, my profession.  And, so, to facilitate this  – to bear better witness by being a better witness – I will try to post some of my personal acts of faith, the “works” that I do in everyday life.  (Hope I can find some….)   Mindful always, however, that I do nothing on my own.  If any of my actions are worthy of the faith that I profess, it is the Holy Spirit working through me.  All that I will have done is to accept, by the grace of God, the love that is given to me and to let that active love do what it must do as true love.

(If you wish to find out whether or not I put my money where my mouth is, I invite you to follow my blog Divine Incarnate and look for the category “works” or the tag “faith without works is dead”.)

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

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

Thy Corn

Deuteronomy 7:12-13

Wherefore it shall come to pass, if ye hearken to these judgments, and keep, and do them, that the LORD thy God shall keep unto thee the covenant and the mercy which he sware unto thy fathers:

And he will love thee, and bless thee, and multiply thee: he will also bless the fruit of thy womb, and the fruit of thy land, thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep, in the land which he sware unto thy fathers to give thee.

Hmm… I’ve been writing these Bible bursts for over a year now and there have only been a handful of times when I disliked the verses randomly given to me.  Not that I “dislike” the content of the Bible – but some passages leave me shaking my head.  Like this one from Deuteronomy.

Is it the word of God that, if I listen to God’s judgments and keep them, keeping all of God’s commandments, then my family will be large and healthy and my possessions vast and increasing?  It sounds like God is saying, “If you do what I tell you, then you will be worldly wealthy.”  Sure, I could reinterpret this to mean that God will bless me with spiritual richness and abundance in Heaven – but I don’t think that’s how the people who kept this Scripture as sacred understood it.  For them, plagues and hardships were punishments from God for being bad, while healthy crops, livestock and children were rewards for being good.  And I know that there are people today who believe that this is true.  But I don’t.

When I was a child, crippled in my wheelchair, I remember picking up from other people this thought: “If I am a good girl, then God will make me be able to walk – but I really have to believe that it’s true or God won’t cure me.”  And I remember praying to God and believing and then pushing downward with my legs and upward with my torso, ready to be wowed by the miracle.  But nothing new happened.  The thing is, I don’t remember being devastated by the lack of miracle.  (Perhaps “authentic” faith would have been devastated?)  I do remember thinking something like, “Does this mean that I’m not good enough?”  And then my little mind began to work.  With a slight smirk and furrowed brow I tried to figure out the puzzle.

I knew that I felt my faith surging in me when I made the prayer and the attempt to rise.  But I also knew, when I didn’t rise, that I doubted that this was how God worked.  I would hear about miracle stories, like a contemporary one where a woman with MS, I think, was cured at Lourde’s, and I would think that maybe I had to go all the way to France for God to work a miracle – but this just didn’t make any sense.  I do mean logical sense, in that, if God is God then God is all-powerful and doesn’t need me to buy a plane ticket in order for His cure to work.  (But, then again, I knew that such a trip could be a sign of my faith, of my willingness to go the extra mile (literally) in order to receive God’s blessings.)  Having to go the extra mile also didn’t make sense to me in a personal way, though, based on my faith.  Because, and I think this is important, I didn’t believe that my disease was any kind of a curse or punishment.  My legs are not dysfunctional because of something bad that I did or my parents did – so they’re not going to become functional because of something good that I do or my parents do.  There is no curse to be undone.

I think, however, that this is not what the people of the Old Testament believed to be true.  Like many ancient peoples, they believed that God’s wrath was just and, so, God rightly inflicted punishments upon wicked people – and, therefore, they believed that God’s wrath could be appeased and punishments reversed through right behavior.  If one could follow the letter of the law – and with the spirit of the law, which is love – then one would be earning God’s esteem and receive happy rewards from God.  The afterlife was not a given to all ancient people and, so, these rewards would be received here and now.  Good people would get what good people want: healthy children, productive growing seasons, healthy livestock – comfort, plenty and ease.  This is a system that we humans can understand, because this is what we would do.  We reward good behavior and punish bad.  It’s part of conditioning children (and society) so that it may be shaped into something desirable for the parents (and the majority of people in society).  We expect God to act like us.  And God, who wants to reveal Himself to all of humankind, speaks to us in a way that we can understand, at every developing level, as individuals and as societies – just as a parent communicates with a growing child.  That’s why we have the promises in Deuteronomy.

As a Christian, I shouldn’t try to make the people of the Old Testament believe things that they didn’t believe.  As a Christian, I should try to understand the Old Testament writings in the light of Christ.  I heard somewhere that the Bible is a book of questions with the answers in the back.  In other words, the Hebrew testament contains the questions of life and the Christian testament contains the answers – not in black white, unmistakable, concrete terms.  It’s not a science book exploring material matters.  Rather, where God once communicated to us in words at our level, the Hebrew testament, God now communicates to us in the Divine Word (his level) made flesh – not just the pages of the Christian testament, but Christ himself.  Christ says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life…”.  And when you hear Christ’s message and you look upon Christ’s life, then you start to think of blessings in a new light.

Yes, Christ’s resurrection and ascension, as well as his promises, cause us to believe in the afterlife.  So, it can just be an easy matter of changing the whole punishments and rewards thing to being meted out “in the life of the world to come” instead of in this earthly life.  But… This still doesn’t do it for me.  That’s like saying, “If you suffer enough (like Christ) and keep faith that you will be rewarded in Heaven, then you will be rewarded in Heaven – and don’t worry, all those bad people are going to get their punishment after they die.”  This doesn’t seem like we really learned anything by God becoming Man, does it?  God will save us from the injustice of earthly life when we die and are freed from the earthly bonds – no, unh-uh, not divine enough.

God created the earth, earthly bonds, earthly bodies – and looked upon them and saw that they were good.  Now, I know that the free-willed choices of man to continually choose pride and turn away from God wrecks things.  I believe that this “fall” has inherently darkened our intellects and weakened our wills – and I believe that we need saving.  God made a deal with the ancient people of Israel and they broke their end of the bargain – an act that they agreed would warrant their deaths.  God becomes a human being and takes on that broken act and its justified punishment of death – Christ atones for sin on the cross of redemption.  And then Christ rises from the dead and ascends into Heaven in order to reestablish the covenant – indeed, to make a new covenant – with its fulfillment in the afterlife, which he opens up for us, instead of on temporal earth.  And it could all end there.  Nice and neat and orderly.  But the danger – and there is a real danger – lies in focusing upon what needs to be done in order to be rewarded.  If I am acting in a good way solely in order to get pleasure and riches in an unknown, but promised and very material sounding, other place, then I am totally self-centered.  How is that different than being like Adam and Eve?

I am supposed to be like Christ – “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,  who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,  but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,  he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.”  (Philippians 2:5-8.)  And if this obedience is done solely for reward – then it is not done with love.  For we know that we can have the words of angels, but, if we have not love, then we sound like gongs.  Love makes the difference – and true love is given with no thought of reward.

I should love the Lord, my God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength BECAUSE He is the Lord, my God.  That’s it.  Pure and simple.  There are no material rewards here for doing that.  There might be some kind of reward hereafter for doing that – but this is not my focus.  My focus is knowing that God loves me, sinner that I am, for no other reason than that God loves.  I love God because God first loved me.  If I love God (if I’m a good girl) then God will reward me simply with His love that He was already giving (I will be happy because I am loving and open to loving).  Without this earth there is no me to love God.  Heaven is the clear and eternal understanding of this love.

Times up and I’ve rambled away another hour – did I write anything of worth?  I’m more confused than when I began.  I really want to hear what other people make of these verses from Deuteronomy… I am a pilgrim on a journey, I am a student in God’s classroom, I don’t know anything on my own – help teach me, fellow pilgrims!

Christina Chase