Tag Archives: sacrifice

Cometh Out Of the Mouth

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

Matthew 15:11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2015 Christina Chase

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Thy Money Perish with Thee

Money, money, money…

Acts 8:17-22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Human Good

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

The Purpose of Money

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

Temptation, Sin, Salvation, and Jesus Christ…

Temptation

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

Sin

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

Salvation

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

Jesus Christ

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

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

Unpublished work © 2014 Christina Chase

Servant

I want to be of some use. But I don’t want to be used.

Matthew 20:27

And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:

We don’t want to be anyone’s fool. We won’t let anyone put one over on us or walk all over us.  We are strong.  We are independent.  We can think for ourselves, thank you very much, and don’t need anyone telling us what to do — or what not to do.  If one of us is asked to do some menial task, we think that such a thing is beneath us and say to the person asking, “I’m not your servant!”

We will not be used.

But…

Are we of any use to anyone but ourselves? What happens when we are the ones using ourselves for fruitless pursuits, enslaving ourselves to our own whims and selfishness?  I’ll tell you what happens: we become the worst kind of fools — our own fools.

I was once self-centered.

When I was an atheist, I spoke like an atheist, I thought like an atheist, I reasoned like an atheist. When I became a believer, I put away with atheistic things.

I was not a mean and nasty atheist, angry at the world, disgusted with people. I was one of those secular humanist kind of atheists, appreciating beauty and kindness, concerned with the plight of others, and wanting to make the world a better place.  You would not have known by my interactions with people, by my words or by my actions that I was a “godless heathen”.  But, well… I was.  I did what I wanted and what I wanted was what made me feel good about myself.  That very sentence can describe many people — including those who claim belief in, and love for, God.

The thing is, even when I might have said or done something that was of service to another, I cannot say that I did it purely for that other.  My act of kindness was not a selfless act, it was not true charity, because I was doing it to bring myself pleasure.  You know that pleasure that you get when you do something good for another person?  It gives you a kind of lift and can lead you to think very lovely things about yourself, and you are happy for that moment.  In this way, I can see how some people could actually get addicted to do-gooding.  But, what kind of good does it really do?  The other person who was helped is benefited.  But am I who did it?  I don’t think so.

You see, there were always people, who I helped out in some way, who did not experience the same pleasure as I did from my action. Sometimes, they received my kindness with ingratitude.  Sometimes giving meanness in return.  And, believe me, I snapped back at those people in a hurry.  “You don’t want me to help you?  Fine, then.  Suffer.  See if I care.”  Because, well, I really didn’t.  I centered all of my goodness, my talents and gifts, my beauties and strengths, in myself.  I did these things, I deserved full credit, I, I, I….  I hoarded any good quality of mine like a treasure.  I might pay out some of it somewhere if I thought it was a good investment and would give me a pleasurable return.  But, if it didn’t, then I would withdraw very quickly.  I was self-centered.

And then I became God-centered.

What does it mean to be God-centered? Well, it could be explained in many ways, but to explain the difference between being self-centered and God-centered, I’ll continue along the same lines that I wrote above.  As an atheist, I gave full credit to myself (including my genetics and experiences) for any of my gifts and talents, and anything that I thought, said, and did that was good, true, or beautiful (I was the determining judge of what was good, true, or beautiful, anyway).  But, as a believer, I give full credit to God (the true judge of truth, being Truth Itself) for all of my gifts and talents, and everything good, true, and beautiful in my thoughts, words, and actions.  God is the treasure and the treasure house.  God is the center.  And, by the love and mercy of God, God chooses to dwell within me.  Not because I deserve this.  But because God loves.

It’s like this. God created human beings in His own image and likeness and saves us from our sins, from our waywardness (a kind of drunk-on-self stumbling stagger, which is life that ends in death) by becoming one of us.  Christ sanctifies all of humanity through his Incarnation, Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension: the Paschal Mystery.  And when we choose to enter into the life of Christ, we first enter into the death of Christ — and then we are reborn.  And we are not reborn in order that we may serve ourselves, our own whims and pleasures.  We are born again from above in order that we may truly become ourselves by serving others.  It is that entering into the death of Christ that allows us to truly be of use — without being used.  We Christians sometimes say that we “die to self”.  And that can sound kind of scary and weird to non-Christians — even to Christians who have not come to a fuller understanding of Christ’s sacrifice, yet.  But, you see, it is by emulating Christ, in giving ourselves away, that we are able to fully recognize God as the center and then able to give tirelessly and selflessly from the Divine treasure house within each of us.  No need to hoard.  And no need to be thanked or even recognized for the good service given to the other.  All glory to God.  For we are doing what we simply must do as true believers.  In much the same way, a rose must breathe sweetly and a flooded stream flow quickly.  It is the true nature of who we are and we cannot weary of it as long as we remain who we are.

And, so, as a believer, I know that I can be of use to others without ever being used. If someone wants half of my desert, then I should offer them the whole thing.  If someone needs help with a computer problem, I should patiently give it and not begrudge one moment extra spent doing more than might be “necessary”.  Yes, this is the God-centered life.  (God, help me live it!)  And it can be tiring, and thankless, and even lonely, sometimes.  But, the greatest human that ever lived, and ever will live, was humiliated, abandoned, tortured, and killed cruelly.  And, yet… He was willing to go through it all for the sake of the very ones who hurt Him… and so He is is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  To be like Him is more than a good idea, a pleasure, or something that might be rewarded — it is simply and profoundly who I am as a human being, first, foremost, and always.

© 2014 Christina Chase

Of a Good Courage

Yes, what the world needs now is love. And also courage.

Joshua 1:8-9

This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.

We think of having courage as having no fear — but that’s not so. Bravery is not the absence of fear.  It is the willingness to face what one fears.  Often, we think of firefighters, police officers, and soldiers as being courageous, walking into burning buildings, chasing down bad guys, putting their lives on the line in horrific combat.  I say that the men and women who do these things out of real love — in order to save the helpless and protect the innocent, defending others with their own life’s blood if need be — they are, indeed, courageous.  Heroes.  But, those who, through a kind of arrogance, force themselves to walk into danger for their own vainglory — well, there’s no courage in that.  Only willfulness.

For where there is no real love, there is no real courage.

If you’re willing to face what is scary because you’re figuring that you will profit somehow by it, then you are simply gambling. You are taking a risk, a mighty huge risk that may give you some trepidation, but one that is calculated toward a particular reward.  I don’t mean that there is anything wrong with this boldness in and of itself (although, there may certainly be something wrong about the means and/or the end) I just mean to say that it isn’t the holy kind of courage akin to a life of divine virtue.  The holy kind of courage is the kind spoken of in the Bible.  It’s what Christ has.  It’s what the Holy Spirit can inspire in each and every one of us.

Let’s think for a moment about everyday courage, which is, quite possibly, the best kind of courage there is. Perhaps, you will never have the opportunity to run into or flee from a burning building with people trapped inside, perhaps you’ll never come face-to-face with a gunman.  Chances are, you probably won’t.  But, every so often, perhaps every day, you will have to spend time with someone that you don’t like.  Or you will come to a merger with a stranger in line or in traffic.  Or you’ll be disappointed by something that you tried and failed. Or you will be slighted by someone that you love.  Or you’ll get sick.  What then?  What will you do?

Will you be strong and of a good courage and listen to that person that you don’t like for his or her own sake, attentive to his or her needs?

Will you defer to that stranger in line or in traffic with no expectations of thanks or even acknowledgment, sacrificing your moment for the stranger’s?

Will you accept your own failures, setbacks, and disappointment and keep trying to do what you believe is right even though you know that you may never succeed?

Will you forgive the slight of your loved one and not hold it in grudge?

Will you patiently bear your sickness in a kind of loving solidarity with all people who suffer, without lashing out to make others near you feel pain?

Do you have the courage to face your fears, to face your dislikes, irritations, annoyances, and sufferings, out of real love and concern for someone other than yourself? If so, if you find yourself practicing some small, everyday sacrifice for love, then, my friend, you are courageous.  You are a hero.  A hero that will never receive an award or accolade, a hero that may never even be recognized, not even by himself or herself, as a hero — but who will be known as a hero in that moment through the eternal reaches beyond time and space.

Actions speak so much louder than words. And the smallest actions can resound the most greatly.  All teachings of goodness and justice, of mercy and compassion, of helpfulness and healing, are not taught in order to be taught.  All wise and loving teachings must be meditated upon, must be pondered in the heart and taken to heart, so that they may be lived.

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you know that if you do what is truly right and good you will probably suffer in doing it — and then you do it anyway… that, my friend, is real love.  Real courage.  Because real love requires a good courage.  Will you be eternally rewarded for it?  Some say that you will.  Some say that you will not. Do it anyway.

Unpublished work © 2014 Christina Chase