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Hildegard of Bingen: Productive and perfect and prosperous

For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose. Philippians 2:13

“Now, therefore, O human, understand and learn. From whence do these things come? What does this mean? It is God Who works in you what is good. How? He has constituted you that, when you act with wisdom and discretion, you feel Him in your reason. For the irrational animal does all its deeds without intellect or wisdom, without discretion or shame; it does not know God, being irrational, though it feels Him, being His creature. But the rational animal, which is Man, has intellect and wisdom, discretion and shame, and does rational deeds, which is the first root fixed by God’s grace in every person given life and soul. These powers flourish where there is a reason, for all of them make people know God, so they may choose what is just. Therefore, the deed that a person embraces in his Savior, the Son of God, through Whom the Father does His works in the Holy Spirit, is productive and perfect and prosperous; and the fiery grace of Christ Jesus calls this to the person’s mind and kindles his enthusiasm anew.”

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) in Scivias, translated by Columba Hart and Jane Bishop (New York: Paulist, 1990) 384. This classic book title, Scivias, comes from the Latin, Sci vias Domini, meaning “Know the ways of the Lord.”

Hildegard must have loved the outdoors the way she wrote about God’s creatures.

When my son, Sammy, and I go fly fishing, he likes to say that each fish is a “glimpse of God’s extravagance” because of its beauty as a creature made by God and because of its predictable behavior. While fishing or guiding for others, we can locate fish because they do what God made them to do. And the only One enjoying the magnificence of each fish before us was the God who fashioned it. We treat each fish we catch as God’s gift to us, and we release each one as our gift to the next angler.

But we, as humans, are not like the fish (or other creatures). We are rational. We have been given intellect, wisdom, discretion, and shame.

Hildegard reminds us, echoing the Apostle Paul, that when we, as rational humans, do deeds are “productive and perfect and prosperous” it is because God is at work in us, specifically, “the fiery grace of Christ Jesus” is at work in us by the power of the Holy Spirit to do what is good and just and right. Anew an afresh, with enthusiasm, let me urge you today to surrender to the Spirit of God so that “productive and perfect and prosperous” works are wrought in and through you. When you do this, you too will do what you were made to do!

And if you want to see a “glimpse of God’s extravagance” while fly fishing for trout in Colorado, book a day of guided fly fishing with my son, Sammy, and I will tag along at no extra charge should it work in my schedule to join you. Reply to this email promptly as the Sammy’s Fly Shop guiding calendar for June through September 2017 is starting to fill up!

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Thomas Merton: Rest in Christ

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28

“All the gifts of God are good. But if we rest in them, rather than in Him, they lose their goodness for us.”

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) in Thoughts in Solitude (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1999) 47.

The paradox of God’s blessings, especially material ones, is that we often find our rest in them, rather than in Christ.

We do just what God’s people did in the wilderness. We worship the golden calf, instead of the God who provided it.

In modernity, we pile up wealth and possessions, and as Merton puts it, the gifts “lose their goodness for us.”

God, thank you for your good gifts. By your Holy Spirit, help us show the world how to rest in Christ by using your gifts faithfully. Amen.

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Teresa of Ávila: Advance in fraternal charity

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. Matthew 22:36-38

“I think the most certain sign that we keep these two commandments is that we have a genuine love for others. We cannot know whether we love God although there may be strong reasons for thinking so, but there can be no doubt about whether we love our neighbor or not. Be sure that in proportion as you advance in fraternal charity, you are increasing in your love of God, for His Majesty bears so tender an affection for us that I cannot doubt He will repay our love for others by augmenting, in a thousand different ways, that which we bear for Him. We should watch most carefully over ourselves in this matter, for if we are faultless on this point we have done all. I believe human nature is so evil that we could not feel a perfect charity for our neighbor unless it were rooted in the love of God.”

Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582) in The Interior Castle (London: Thomas Baker, 1921) 63.

How are you doing at loving others generously? Ironically, most people find it easy to love God and, simultaneously, they agree that it is far more difficult to love others! So how do we grow in this area?

Teresa puts her finger on the key: “I believe human nature is so evil that we could not feel a perfect charity for our neighbour unless it were rooted in the love of God.” To advance in fraternal charity, we must increase in our love for God.

Father in heaven, thank you for unfathomable love for us despite our unworthiness. Help us, by your Holy Spirit, to extend that same love to all people, even the most unworthy around us, so that everyone knows of your kindness. Hear our prayer in the name of Jesus. Amen.

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Alexis De Tocqueville: Ceaseless trepidation

Then [Jesus] said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” Luke 12:15

“A native of the United States clings to this world’s goods as if he were certain never to die; and he is so hasty in grasping at all within his reach, that one would suppose he was constantly afraid of not living long enough to enjoy them. He clutches everything, he holds nothing fast, but soon loosens his grasp to pursue fresh gratifications…

At first sight there is something surprising in this strange unrest of so many happy men, restless in the midst of abundance. The spectacle itself is, however, as old as the world; the novelty is to see a whole people furnish an exemplification of it. Their taste for physical gratifications must be regarded as the original source of that secret inquietude which the actions of the Americans betray, and of that inconstancy of which they afford fresh examples every day.

He who has set his heart exclusively upon the pursuit of worldly welfare is always in a hurry, for he has but a limited time at his disposal to reach it, to grasp it, and to enjoy it. The recollection of the brevity of life is a constant spur to him. Besides the good things which he possesses, he every instant fancies a thousand others which death will prevent him from trying if he does not try them soon. This thought fills him with anxiety, fear, and regret, and keeps his mind in ceaseless trepidation, which leads him perpetually to change his plans and his abode.”

Alexis De Tocqueville (1804-1859) in Democracy in America, volume 2 (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1899) 622-623.

My friend, John Stanley, alerted me to Fred Smith’s blog post on this topic, so I went back to this classic source to read it in context and offer a more lengthy quote. Though De Tocqueville was not a Christian mystic, which is the segment of authors I am reading these days, he is referred to often as a “seer” for his wise perceptions about society and, particularly, the wealthy and prosperous.

De Tocqueville yet again does not disappoint! Over 150 years ago he sketched this picture of America. See why people give him the “seer” label? Notice what language describes the person gripped by greed and materialistic gratification. They exhibit “secret inquietude” or restless dissatisfaction daily which results in “ceaseless trepidation” which in plain terms is fear! Choosing generosity over materialism is also choosing peace over debilitating anxiety!

I plan to take this book with me when I teach and speak in Australia in the first half of June. In various settings, I want to ask Aussies to share their reaction to it. Why do this? I am finding that when adult learners hear such graphic pictures of reality, they become motivated to consider their own situation and choose a different course. Jesus warned us about this long before De Tocqueville, and today I echo the warning. Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed!

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Joan Chittister: Having what is necessary

Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil. Proverbs 15:16

“The purpose of the monastic life is never to amass wealth for the sake of the self…The monastic idea is about the ability to understand the difference between need and want, between having what is necessary rather than doing without what is necessary — simply for the sake of doing without…

It is not the use of the goods required to make contemporary life possible — cars, computers, electronics, telephones… It is the over-consumption — the unmitigated greed that drives a person to have in undue measure what others have little or nothing of, to want for the self rather than for humanity…

It is the delusion of having to have at our disposal ten kinds of potato chips, thirty pairs of shoes, the biggest and best of everything, that, in the end, wars against the desire of the heart to live a simple life… When we find that we have accumulated good things in multiples and use few of them ever, it is time to give some of them away to those who have none.

It is not necessary to look poor to live a simply life. But it is necessary to love simplicity, to gather only what is necessary for ourselves, not necessarily to have the best, the most, the latest, or the most expensive, let alone to have all there is of anything.”

Joan Chittister in The Monastery of the Heart: An Invitation to a Meaningful Life (Collegeville: BlueBridge, 2011) 89-93.

Chittister helps us see that loving simplicity frees us from greed and positions us for generosity. We must learn to discern between needs and wants. We must be focused on “having what is necessary” so we are not consumed by that which is unnecessary.

Is it time for some Spring cleaning at your home? 

Not sure where to start? My wife suggests that you take one room at a time. Simplifying does not leave you empty. Sharing all you have that is not necessary positions you to focus on what you really need and helps you begin see what others really need too.

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Brennan Manning: Abiding spirit of gratitude

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. Colossians 4:2

“Let’s say I interviewed ten people, asking each the same question — “Do you trust God?” — and each answered, “Yes, I trust God,” but nine of the then actually did not trust Him. How would I find out which one of the ragamuffins was telling the truth? I would videotape each of the ten lives for a month and then, after watching the videos, pass judgment using this criterion: the person with an abiding spirit of gratitude is the one who trusts God.

The foremost quality of a trusting disciple is gratefulness. Gratitude arises from the lived perception, evaluation, and acceptance of life as grace — as an undeserved and unearned gift from the Father’s hand. Such recognition is itself the work of grace, and acceptance of the gift is implicitly an acknowledgement of the Giver. The grateful heart cries out in the morning, “Thank you, Lord, for the gift of a new day.” And it continues to express its gratitude as the blessings unfold.”

Brennan Manning (1934-2013) in Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin’s Path to God (New York: HarperCollins, 2000) 24-25.

Brennan Manning has put his finger on the criterion of having an abiding spirit of gratitude and the Apostle Paul teaches us how to preserve this condition: we must devote ourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

It’s fitting Paul would put this statement in the letter to the church in Colossae. It was a flourishing city situated on a trade route that was known for it’s cool spring water and varied wares. The Colossians had access to anything a person wanted in antiquity.

We, in America, enjoy a similar situation in modernity. That’s why we need to reset our thinking daily in prayer and be watchful and thankful, so the world does not distort us into thinking either that we earned what we have or that life is found in what we have.

All we have are gifts from the Giver. Everything we have ever possessed or will ever possess has come to us as a work of grace from God. We can neither trust God nor give like Him until this abiding spirit of gratitude permeates our lives.

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Evelyn Underhill: Equal generosity

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21

“Christians are bound to the belief that all creation is dear to the Creator, and is the object of His cherishing care. The violent as well as the peaceful, the dictators as well as their victims, the Blimps as well as the pacifists, the Government as well as the Opposition, the sinners as well as the saints. All the children of the Eternal Perfect. Some inhabitants of this crowded nursery are naughty, some stupid, some wayward, some are beginning to get good. All are immersed in the single tide of creative love, which pours out from the heart of the universe and through the souls of self-abandoned men. God loves, not merely tolerates, these wayward violent half-grown spirits; and seeks without ceasing to draw them into His love. We, then, are called to renounce hostile attitudes and hostile thoughts towards even our most disconcerting fellow sinners to feel as great a pity for those who go wrong as for their victims, to show an equal generosity to the just and unjust. This is only-peace propaganda, which has creative quality, and is therefore sure of ultimate success. All else is a scratching on the surface, more likely to irritate than to heal.”

Evelyn Underhill (1874-1941) in Modern Guide to the Ancient Quest for the Holy (SUNY Press: Albany, 1988) 200. We returned home to Colorado yesterday afternoon. Most of our Spring snow had melted but the header photo was the view on our afternoon walk. There’s nothing like a walk on a sunny day or a good book to lift our gaze heavenward in praise!

Frankly, I feel like a child who only beginning to learn to how to extend “equal generosity” to everyone. Underhill’s thoughts drip of the love and goodness of Christ. She graciously reminds us of God’s “cherishing care” for “this crowded nursery” of humanity and leads me to give thanks for “the single tide of creative love” that draws each of us to Him.

Underhill also rightly points the way to exhibiting “equal generosity” to others. We must renounce all hostile attitudes and thoughts towards everyone. Any other posture toward people will not only fail, it will cause more damage. All this merely affirms what the Apostle Paul teaches us: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good! God help us do this!

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Meister Eckhart: Contemplation

This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” Isaiah 30:15

“What we plant in the soil of contemplation, we shall reap in the harvest of action. What a man takes in by contemplation, that he pours out in love.”

Meister Eckhart (c. 1260-1328) in Civilization’s Quotations: Life’s Ideal, edited by Richard Alan Krieger (New York: Algora, 2002) 185.

Today marks my shift from Puritan preachers to Christian mystics with this post. What’s contemplative prayer have to do with generosity? Everything!

From my personal experience with my ‘daily office’, the generous life flows out of my experience of the Source of all goodness each morning. Others choose to contemplate on their bed at night. A dear friend of mine has a job that requires lots of driving, so as a ‘mobile monk’ he prays virtually all day on the road. When you contemplate does not matter; what matters is taking time for contemplation on a regular basis.

Most people don’t stop to think in quietness. They don’t rest and reflect and consider charting a new course. This is not my assessment. It’s what the Sovereign LORD says in today’s Scripture.

As generosity is a fruit of the Spirit’s work in us (Galatians 5:22-23), if you want to live a generous life, start by sowing some time in contemplation with the Lord daily and see what loving action follows.

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Stephen Charnock: Afflictions and patience

For the LORD God is a sun and shield; The LORD gives grace and glory; No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly. Psalm 84:11

“If any thing be good, an upright man may expect it from God’s providence; if it be not good, he should not desire it… No righteous man would in his sober wits be willing to make an exchange of his smartest afflictions for a wicked man’s prosperity, with all the circumstances attending it. It cannot therefore be bad with the righteous in the worst condition. Would any man be ambitious of snares that knows the deceit of them? Can any but a madman exchange medicines for poison?

Is it not more desirable to be upon a dunghill with an intimate converse with God, than upon a throne without it? They gain a world in prosperity, a righteous man gains his soul by afflictions, and possesses it in patience… God strips good men of the enjoyment of the world, that he may wean them from the love of it; keeps them from idolatry, by removing the fuel of it; sends afflictions that he may not lose them, nor they their souls.”

Stephen Charnock (1628-1680) in “On Divine Providence; Existence and Attributes of God” in The Complete Works of Stephen Charnock, volume 1 of 5 (iBooks) 246-249.

Jenni, Sammy, Sophie and I flew down to Los Angeles and drove to Port Hueneme, California, to celebrate with her family the retirement of her brother, Captain Brant Pickrell, who has served 30 years with the U.S. Navy. Ah, palm trees and sunshine! Captain Pickrell would undoubtedly concur with the wisdom in today’s post!

God wants us to trust Him for all that is good, not desire any thing that is not good, and never get the two confused. He desires communion with us and for us to realize that afflictions and patience are required for our own growth and maturity. What’s this got to do with generosity?

Puritans like Charnock help us learn that trust in the goodness of God positions us to live lives filled with goodness and generosity. In Brant’s case, he’s trusting God for the right role for him in the next stage of his journey. God wants Brant (and the rest of us) not to love our possessions or our situation but to love Him deeply.

As our own income and situation are quite inconsistent at times, I am deeply thankful for this reminder. I pray it encourages you too. Our God is a sun and shield. He gives grace and glory. He withholds nothing from those who walk uprightly! Let’s give thanks for our “intimate converse with God” and depend on His goodness together!

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David Clarkson: Really and freely employ what you get

The smooth tricks of scoundrels are evil. They plot crooked schemes. They lie to convict the poor, even when the cause of the poor is just. But generous people plan to do what is generous, and they stand firm in their generosity. Isaiah 32:7-8.

“[Disciples of Christ] seek not the world for worldly ends, that they may rise higher and fare better, more deliciously, or that they may have more esteem and reputation (these are the low unworthy ends of sensualists and worldlings for themselves and their posterity); but that they may do more good, and be more serviceable, and more honour their profession, and show the sincerity of their aims by really and freely employing what they get for those noble and generous purposes.”

David Clarkson (1622-1686) in The Practical Works of David Clarkson, vol. 2 of 3 (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1865) 383.

The candid tone of the Puritan preachers continues to grab my attention, though I will likely complete my exploration of the Puritans thinking soon. I plan to shift to Christian Mystics from church history next by reading authors like: Teresa of Ávila, Meister Eckhart, Julian of Norwich, John of the Cross, Evelyn Underhill, Thomas Merton, Beatrice of Nazareth, and Gregory of Narek, to name a few.

In Clarkson’s thinking, those who are focused on this world are “worldlings” who aim at “worldly ends” and self-advancement. In contrast, disciples of Christ are focused on blessing others “by really and freely employing what they get” from God. That statement presupposes the belief in providence, that all we have comes to us from God to be used following His purposes.

As Isaiah notes above, noble or generous people are not noble or generous by accident, they plan to be generous. They really and freely employ what they get from God and notice that Isaiah says that they stand firm in their generosity. That’s his way of saying that God the Supplier will fuel their intentional efforts to serve as faithful distributors. What about you? Are you really and freely employing what you get?

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