Saturday, June 28, 2014

Perfect Christianity

This is the rule of most perfect Christianity, its most exact definition, its highest point, namely, the seeking of the common good ... for nothing can so make a person an imitator of Christ as caring for his neighbours.

John Chrysostom

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Our union with Christ

Ultimately it all comes to this, that the real cause of [our spiritual depression] is failure to realize our union with Christ. Many seem to think that Christianity just means that we are delivered in the sense that our sins are forgiven. But that is only the beginning, but one aspect of it. Essentially salvation means union with Christ, being one with Christ. As we were one with Adam [in our sinfulness] we are now one with Christ. We have been crucified with Christ - 'I am crucified with Christ,' says Paul. 'All that has happened to Him has happened to me. I am one with Him.' Read the fifth and sixth chapters of Paul's Epistle to the Romans. The teaching is that we have died with Christ, have been buried with Christ, have risen with Christ, are seated in the heavenly places in Christ and with Christ. That is the teaching of the Scriptures. 'You are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God,' (Colossians 3:3). The old man has been crucified and all that belonged to him. His sins have all been dealt with. You are buried with Christ, you are risen with Christ. 'Reckon yourselves then to be dead unto sin but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord,' (Romans 6:11).
Let me sum it up in this way, therefore. You and I - and to me this is one of the great discoveries of the Christian life; I shall never forget the release which realizing this for the first time brought to me - you and I must never look at our past lives; we must never look at any sin in our past life in any way except that which leads us to praise God and to magnify His grace in Christ Jesus. I challenge you to do that. If you look at your past and are depressed by it, if as a result you are feeling miserable as a Christian, you must do what Paul did. 'I was a blasphemer,' he said, but he did not stop at that. Does he then say: 'I am unworthy to be a preacher of the gospel?' In fact he says the exact opposite: 'I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who enabled me, for that He counted me faithful, putting me into ministry, etc.' When Paul looks at the past and sees his sin he does not stay in a corner and say: 'I am not fit to be a Christian, I have done such terrible things.' Not at all. What it does to him, its effect upon him, is to make him praise God. He glories in grace and says: 'And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.'

From Martin Lloyd Jones' Spiritual Depression, pages 74-5

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Our relationship is the important thing...

Looking at [Paul's sins] from one angle his sin was the worst sin conceivable, but from another angle it is the sum of all sins because finally there is only one sin and that is the sin of unbelief.
That is the great New Testament doctrine on this matter; it is the thing that these people have to grasp above everything else, that we must not think in terms of particular sins but always in terms of our relationship to God. We all tend to go astray at the point. That is why we tend to think that some conversions are more remarkable than others. But they are not. It takes the same grace of God to save the most respectable person in the world as the most lawless person in the world. Nothing but the grace of God can save anybody, and it takes the same grace to save all. But we do not think like that. We think some conversions are more remarkable than others. Because we are wrong in our doctrine, we differentiate between sin and sin, and think some sins are worse than others. It all comes back to our relationship to God; it is all a matter of belief or unbelief.

From Martin Lloyd Jones' Spiritual Depression, page 71. 

Friday, June 20, 2014


...this is a thing for which I thank God...that doubts are not incompatible with faith. I have many times in my pastoral experience found people who have been made very unhappy because they have not grasped that principle. Some people seem to think that once you become a Christian you should never be assailed by doubts. But that is not so, Peter still had faith. Our Lord said to him: 'O though of little faith.' He did not say: 'Peter, because you have doubts you have no faith at all.' That is what many people ignorantly think and say, and it is very wrong. Though you have faith, you may still be troubled by doubts and there are examples of this not only in Scripture but also in the subsequent history of the Christian Church. Indeed, I would go as far as to say, at the risk of being misunderstood, that if anyone has never been troubled by doubts in his or her Christian life, such a person would do well to examine the foundations again and make certain that they are not enjoying a false peace or resting in what I would call a presumptuous believism. Read the lives of some of the greatest saints that ever trod this earth and you will find they have been assailed by doubts. Our Lord here surely gives the final word on this - doubts are not incompatible with faith. You may have doubts and still have faith, a weak faith.

From Martin Lloyd Jones' Spiritual Depression, page 154

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Grace and inspiration

Inspiration is to thought what grace is to faith: intrusive, transcendent, transformative, but also evanescent and, all too often, anomalous. A poem can leave its maker at once more deeply seized by existence and, in a profound way, alienated from it, for as the act of making ends - as the world that seemed to overbrim its boundaries becomes, once more, merely the world - it can be very difficult to retain any faith in that original moment of inspiration at all. The memory of that momentary blaze, in fact, and the art that issued from it, can become a reproach to the fireless life in which you find yourself most of the time. Grace is no different. (Artistic inspiration is sometimes an act of grace, though by no means always.) To experience grace is one thing: to integrate it into your life is quite another. What I crave now is that integration, some speech that is true to the transcendent nature of grace yet adequate to the hard reality in which daily faith operates. I crave, I suppose, the poetry and the prose of knowing. 

Christian Wiman, in My Bright Abyss, pages 3/4

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Planting a tree

A single great tree can make a kind of garden, an entirely new place on the land, and in my mind I was already visiting the place my maple made, resting in its shade. I knew it wouldn't happen overnight, probably not even in my lifetime, but wasn't that precisely the point? To embark on a project that would outlast me, to plant a tree whose crown would never shade me but my children or, more likely, the children of strangers? Tree planting is always a Utopian enterprise, it seems to me, a wager on a future the planter doesn't necessarily expect to witness.

Michael Pollan

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The artist

I must write down that I am to be an artist. Not in the sense of aesthetic frippery but in the sense of aesthetic craftsmanship; otherwise I will feel my loneliness continually - like this today. The word craftsmanship takes care of the work angle & the word aesthetic the truth angle. Angle. It will be a life struggle with no consummation. When something is finished, it cannot be possessed. Nothing can be possessed but the struggle. All our lives are consumed in possessing struggle but only when the struggle is cherished & directed to a final consummation outside of this life is it of any value. I want to be the best artist it is possible for me to be, under God.
....Dear God please help me to be an artists, please let it lead to You.

From Flannery O'Connor's A Prayer Journal, page 29

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A mild revolution

The majesty of my thoughts this evening! Do all these tings read alike as they seem to? They all send a faint nausea thru me - albeit they were sincere at the time & I recant none of my articles of faith. This evening I picture theoretically myself at 70 saying it's done, it's finished, it's what it is, & being no nearer than I am. This moral turpitude at 70 won't be tolerable. I want a revolution now, a mild revolution, something that will put an even 20th cen. asceticism into me at least when I pass the grocery.
The intellectual & artistic delights God gives us are visions & like visions we pay for them; & the thirst for the vision doesn't necessarily carry with it a thirst for the attendant suffering. Looking back I have suffered, not my share, but enough to call it that, but there's a terrific balance due. Dear God please send me Your Grace.

From Flannery O'Connor's A Prayer Journal, page 28.

Friday, June 13, 2014

A literal Hell

...all these doctrines which deny submission deny God. Hell, a literal hell, is our only hope. Take it away & we will become wholly a wasteland not a half a one. Sin is a great thing as long as it's recognized. It leads a good many people to God who wouldn't get there otherwise. But cease to recognise sin, or take it away from devil as devil & and give it to devil as psychologist, and you also take it away from God. If there is no sin in this world there is no God in heaven. No heaven. There are those who have it that way. But even among the literary now it is becoming popular to believe in God. There is a certain something shocking about it.

Flannery O'Connor in A Prayer Journal, pages 26/7

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Escaping mediocrity

There must be a way to escape [mediocrity] even when you know you are even below it. Perhaps knowing you are below it is a way to begin. I say I am equal with it; but I am below it. I will always be staggering between Despair & Presumption, facing first one & then the other, deciding which makes me look the best, which fits most comfortably, most conveniently. I'll never take a large chunk of anything. I'll nibble nervously here & there. Fear of God is right; but God, it is not this nervousness. It must be a joy. Every virtue must be vigorous. Virtue must be the only vigorous thing in our lives. Sin is large & stale. You can never finish eating it nor ever digest it. It has to be vomited. But perhaps that is too literary a statement - this mustn't get insincere.
How can I live - how shall I live. Obviously the only way to live right is to give up everything. But I have no vocation & maybe that is wrong anyway. But how [to] eliminate this picky fish bone kind of way I do things - I want so to love God all the way. At the same time I want all the things that seem opposed to it - I want to be a fine writer. Any success will tend to swell my head - unconsciously even. If I ever do get to be a fine writer, it will not be because I am a fine writer but because God has given me credit for a few of the things He kindly wrote for me. Right at the present this does not seem to be his policy. I can't write a thing. But I'll continue to try - that is the point. And at every dry point, I will be reminded Who is doing the work when it is done & Who is not doing it at that moment. Right now I wonder if God will ever do any more writing for me. He has promised His grace; I am not so sure about the other. Perhaps I have not been thankful enough for what has gone before.

Flannery O'Connor in A Prayer Journal, pages 22/23

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Taking care

There are several ways to perform almost any act -- an efficient, workable, artistic way and a careless, indifferent, sloppy way. Care and artistry are worth the trouble. They can be a satisfaction to the practitioner and a joy to all beholders.

Helen Nearing in The Good Life

Start with the soul...

Start with the soul and perhaps the temporal gifts I want to exercise will have their chance, and if they do not, I have the best in my hands already, the only thing really needed. God must be in all my work. 

Flannery O'Connor in A Prayer Journal, pages 20/21

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

More doing less planning

I visit groups who receive grants to build urban gardens but after a year, their money is all gone, and they have not made any compost or grown a single fruit or vegetable. They have spent all their time in meetings. I tell people that they need to be a do tank and not a think tank. It's pleasant to talk about a garden you might build, because your idealism has not yet been tempered by the difficult process of actually doing anything. It's another thing altogether to start a project, to get your hands dirty, and to have some inevitable setbacks and disappointments. I know from experience that it helps to make a good plan before you launch into any project. Don't spend so much time on your plan, however, that you never get around to doing something.

Will Allen in The Good Food Revolution

Monday, June 09, 2014


My dear God, to keep myself on a course, I am going to consider Faith, Hope, and Charity. Now Faith. Of the three, this gives me the most most mental pain. At every point in this educational process, we  are told that it is ridiculous and their arguments sound so good it is hard not to fall into them. The arguments might not sound so good to someone with a better mind; but my mental trappings are as they are, and I am always on the brink of assenting - it is almost a subconscious assent. Now how am I to remain faithful without cowardice when these conditions influence me like they do. I can't read the particular depths of myself that say something about this. There is something down there that is feeling - it is under the subconscious assent - in a certain way about this. It may be that which is holding me in. Dear God, please let it be that instead of that cowardice the psychologists would gloat so over & explain so glibly. And please don't let it be what they so jubilantly call water-tight-compartments. Dear Lord please give the people like me who don't have brains to cope with that, please give us some kind of weapon, not to defend us from them but to defend us from ourselves after they have got through with us. Dear God, I don't want to have invented my faith to satisfy my weakness. I don't want to have created God to my own image as they're so fond of saying. Please give me the necessary grace, oh Lord, and please don't let it be as hard to get as Kafka made it.

From Flannery O'Connor's A Prayer Journal, pages 15/16

Sunday, June 08, 2014


My dear God, Supplication. This is the only one of the four* I am competent in. It takes no supernatural grace to ask for what one wants and I have asked you bountifully, oh Lord. I believe it is right to ask You too and to ask our Mother to ask You, but I don't want to overemphasize this angle of my prayers. Help me to ask You, oh Lord, for what is good for me to have, for what I can have and do your service by having.

I have been reading Mr Kafka and I feel his problem of getting grace. But I see it doesn't have to be that way for the Catholic who can go to Communion every day. The [Monsignor] today said it was the business of reason, not emotion - the love of God. The emotion would be a help. I realized last time that it would be a selfish one. Oh dear God, the reason is very empty. I suppose mine is also lazy. But I want to get near You. Yet is seems almost a sin to suggest such a thing even. Perhaps Communion doesn't give the nearness I mean. The nearness I mean comes after death perhaps. It is what we are struggling for and if I found it either I would be dead or I would have seen it for a second and life would be intolerable. I don't know about this or anything. It sounds puerile my saying anything so obvious.

*Adoration, contrition, thanksgiving and supplication. 

From A Prayer Journal, by Flannery O'Connor, pages 13/14

Friday, June 06, 2014


Prayers should be composed I understand of adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and supplication and I would like to see what I can do with each without writing an exegesis. It is the adoration of You, dear God, that most dismays me. I cannot comprehend the exaltation that must be due You. Intellectually, I assent: let us adore God. But can we do that without feeling? To feel, we must know. And for this, when it is practically impossible for us to get it ourselves, not completely, of course, but what we can, we are dependent on God. We are dependent on God for our adoration of Him, adoration, that is, in the fullest sense of the term. Give me the grace, dear God, to adore You for even this I cannot do for myself. Give me the grace to adore You with the excitement of the old priests when they sacrificed a lamb to You...Give me the grace to be impatient for the time when I shall see You face to face and need no stimulus than that to adore You.

From Flannery O'Connor's A Prayer Journal, pages 8-9

Thursday, June 05, 2014

What evangelization is...

From pages 190-2 of Christianity Rediscovered, by Vincent Donovan.

Evangelization is...a beautiful biblical idea. It is necessary first to point out what it is not. I think no one does this more incisively than the Dutch theologian J C Hoekendijk. To summarize a few of his thoughts on the point: Evangelization is not a call to restore Christendom, a kind of solid, well-integrated, cultural complex, directed and dominated by the church. It is not an activity set in motion because the church is endangered, a nervous activity to save the remnants of a time now irrevocably past. It is not a winning back of those people who have become a prey to sin in such a way that the organized church no longer reaches them.

Evangelization is not propaganda. Propaganda leaves nothing to the Spirit, but predetermines the outcome down to the last detail. Its essential character is a lack of expectant hope and an absence of due humility. Propaganda seeks to make exact copies. It attempts to make man in the image and likeness of the propagandist. Quite the opposite of propaganda is evangelization, filled with hope, which means moving forward in a world with unlimited possibilities, in which we won't be surprised if something unforeseen happens.

Evangelization is not proselytism. Proselytism is centripetal. It is a movement inward. People are invited to come to the centre where salvation is localized. In order to become a participant of salvation, they will have to join the group that mediates redemption, ie, emigrate completely from all other life relationships. Evangelization is centrifugal. It leaves Jerusalem and is on its way to the ends of the earth and the end of time. To join means here: to join the journey away from the centre - a light for the Gentiles, which goes forth toward the people, seeking them out and taking them by surprise in their darkness.

The source of evangelization and its necessity and urgency come directly from the gospel. 'All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations. (Mt 28:19). 'Preach the gospel to all creation.' (Mk 16:15). 'Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.' (1 Cor 9:16) Today many people do not agree with this necessity or urgency. But more seriously, even for those of us who do, our reasons for so believing are often shaky, uncertain, and even contradictory.
Donovan goes on to ask innumerable questions as to whether the gospel is of value...and finally rejects most of the answers because...
Christ cannot be left out of evangelization. He is the heart of it, the subject of it, its very goal. What is at stake is the recapitulation of all things in Jesus Christ - all things, all creation, all nations with all their riches. Evangelization is a possibility only in messianic days. The aim of evangelization can be nothing less than what Israel expected the messiah to do, ie, to establish the shalom. Shalom is much more than personal salvation. It is at once peace, integrity, community, harmony, and justice.

The goal of evangelization, and the basis for its urgency, is to put all things under the dominion of Christ. The fulfilment of the human race, the destiny of the human race, of all creation, is what is at stake. Personal salvation is a secondary question. The recapitulation of all things in Christ is what is in store for the human race. God intends to bring the earth and the human race to the fulfilment of the kingdom, planned from the beginning of creation, with the Word there at the beginning - 'In the beginning was the Word' - and the recapitulation of all things, all men, all nations, all the earth, in the man Jesus, in the Word made flesh, at the end. The nations and cultures of the world, with all the riches they imply and possess, are not destined merely for salvation - to be saved and conserved. They are called to be lifted up and fulfilled and transformed in Jesus Christ.

I believe this is what lies at the heart of the urgency and necessity of missionary work and evangelization. This is what I, and others like me, are trying to do out there. Not to bring salvation and goodness and holiness and grace and God, which were there before we got there. But to bring these people the only thing they did not have before we came - hope - a hope embedded in the meaning of the life and death and resurrection of Christ. It is a cleansing and humbling though to see your whole life and work reduced to being simply a channel of hope, and yourself merely a herald of hope, for those who do not have it.


My dear God, how stupid we people are until You give us something. Even in praying it is You who have to pray in us. I would like to write a beautiful prayer but I have nothing to do it from. There is a a whole sensible world around me that I should be able to turn to Your praise; but I cannot do it. Yet at some insipid moment when I may possibly be thinking of floor wax or pigeon eggs, the opening of a beautiful prayer may come up from my subconscious and lead me to write something exalted.

From Flannery O'Connor's A Prayer Journal, page 7

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Overcoming evil

If we take seriously the words and life of the man from Galilee, we are driven to the conclusion that his was a unique solution to evil in the world, a different kind of solution altogether, an unacceptable solution by any political standards: 'Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who persecute you.' Jesus spoke without fear against hypocrisy and injustice and corruption into the very teeth of his enemies. His fervour led him to peaks of anger as he physically scattered the men and beasts and goods which were desecrating the temple and the very notion of religion. But this action of his neither purified the temple nor renewed the sense of religion nor did it obliterate evil or bring justice to the world. In the final analysis, the message of the New Testament, the message that passes from Jesus to us, is that the only way to overcome evil is to give into it. Overcome it he did, beginning with death which he turned into resurrection. In his case, he could not have overcome death by violently struggling against it, or by disputing with Pilate or Caiaphas over the injustice of it all, and thus avoiding it altogether. It can be argued that his was a singular case, and a singular solution, and that it is not applicable to others, and to us. Singular it was, but it stands nonetheless as the only solution to evil offered in the New Testament. Even beyond his death, when we think of the other issues that were at stake at the time: the issues of justice and innocence and guilt, the question of the meaning of truth and of earthly and non-earthly kingdoms, the matter of the identity of the Messiah and of the true meaning of religion; we have to ask ourselves: who really triumphed? Jesus or Pilate? Jesus or the High Priest? Jesus or the Roman soldiers? Jesus or the Roman Empire?
There will always be a cross somewhere in the midst of the Christian solution to evil, a cross of pain involved in not returning blow for blow; a cross of the natural, human bitterness felt in the experiencing of hatred and returning love in its place, of receiving evil and doing good; a cross reflected in the near impossibility of counting oneself blessed in the midst of persecution, or of hungering and thirsting for justice, or in being merciful and peacemakers in a world which understands neither. Between us and fulfillment, between us and everlasting justice, between us and salvation of this suffering world, there will always stand the paradox of the cross, a cross not for others, but for us. 'The Jews are looking for miracles, and the pagans for wisdom. And here we are preaching a crucified Christ, to the Jews and obstacle they cannot get over, to the pagans madness.' (1 Cor. 1:22-23)
There is, on one hand, a moral, human, political solution to evil in the world. And there is a Christian solution. The gospel, which contains the latter, will always be compromised by identifying it with the former.

From Rediscovering Christianity, by Vincent Donovan, pages 168/9

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

The slim crescent of the moon...

Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth's shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.
I do not know You God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.
I want very much to succeed in the world with what I want to do. I have prayed to You about this with my mind and my nerves on it and strung my nerves into a tension over it and said, 'oh God please,' and 'I must,' and 'please, please.' I have not asked You, I feel, in the right way. Let me henceforth ask you with resignation - that not being or meant to be a slacking up in prayer but a less frenzied kind - realising that the frenzy is caused by an eagerness for what I want and not a spiritual trust. I do not wish to presume. I want to love.

From A Prayer Journal, by Flannery O'Connor, pages 3/4


Wounds. By his wounds we are healed. But they are our wounds, too; and until we have been healed we do not know what wholeness is. The discipline of creation, be it to paint, compose, write, is an effort toward wholeness.

Madeleine L'Engle