There is a figure in the standard Nativity creche scene. She is often forgotten other times of the year, but during the Christmas season, it is impossible to avoid her. One popular song during this season evokes wonder about what she knew or perhaps did not know at first about her role in Messiah’s birth. While it is meant to evoke wonder at the Lord, I wonder if it is dismissive of his mother in some subtle way. The words go…
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Glory to Jesus Christ. Glory forever. How much destruction can sin really cost? To what depth is a man ready to fall before he repents and returns to his real self? Is there such a thing as falling too far, a soul falling beyond the hope of redemption? If there ever was one such a soul, he is depicted in this morning’s Gospel according to Saint Luke. He is a soul who is falling so far as to be without a name. He is simply referred to as the demoniac, his possession by evil demons being so complete it seems to have swallowed up the man and he does not even speak with his own voice. Saint Ambrose of Milan says, “We are authors of our own tribulation. If someone did not live like a swine, the devil would never have received power over him. If he did receive power, it would be power not to destroy but to test him. After the Lord’s coming, the devil could already not corrupt the good. So perhaps he now does not seek the destruction of all people but only of the fickle.”
There was a time in my life when I viewed the Eucharist as just a symbol. What really mattered was a person’s confession of faith. And this confession was way too often scrutinized and judged insufficient by those of us who felt we were in the know. But the Lord’s salvation is not like this. And the first time I heard this beautiful prayer from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, my heart was smitten by God’s abundant mercy:
Am reading a fantastic book for Lent by a woman who serves in ministry in the Anglican Church in their home parish in Pittsburgh, PA. She is another C.S. Lewis in her ability to take complex spiritual experiences and capture them with poignant and contemporary images. Her personal honesty and vulnerability make the work eminently readable and relatable. Tish Harrison Warren is author of Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep. It is half spiritual memoir (my favorite genre of writing at this time of my life) and half prayer manual. The structure is based on the Compline service in the Book of Common Prayer, a service the author has grown particularly drawn to and even dependent upon.
When I was a boy, my heroes were Christian missionaries who journeyed to primitive tribes in remote places on the globe, learned the language and culture of the locals, created an alphabet for that tribe, then translated the Scriptures into that newly discovered language. I thought perhaps someday God might call me to such a work, so I studied classical languages as a basis for all untranslated tongues. Though I never became a missionary of this type, the work of translating and communicating the Gospel to an unreached people continues to interest me.
Scrooge then made bold to inquire what business brought the spirit to him. “Your welfare!” said the Ghost. Scrooge expressed himself much obliged, but could not help thinking that a night of unbroken rest would have been more conducive to that end. The Spirit must have heard him thinking, for it said immediately— “Your reclamation, then. Take heed!”
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
As the coronavirus continues to surge across the nation and many states are rolling back on their reopening plans, it becomes harder and harder to celebrate the Advent and Christmas season with the fullness it deserves. But the answer encapsulated above in the Spirit’s response to Scrooge reminds us that welfare, comfort and safety is not the chief goal of Advent or what the Orthodox Church calls the Nativity fast. Scrooge was violently ripped away from his commercial comfort zone because his business dealings were killing his soul. His night long journey deep into his own soul is what ultimately led to Scrooge’s reclamation, or in other words, his salvation.
And what of us in the West, and particularly in America? Do we have any image that explains our situation as well as Gulag does that of Russia? I am afraid there is an image, most unflattering to us, which is almost our equivalent of Gulag. It is “Disneyland” an image which exemplifies our carefree love of “fun” (a most un-Christian word!), our lack of seriousness, our living in a literal fool’s paradise, unaware or barely aware of the real meaning and seriousness of life.
I have labored for years to understand this word of wisdom from one my most formative of spiritual fathers. The truth of it resonated deeply upon first hearing it, but I have had great difficulty articulating the opinion to those outside of Orthodox Christian influence. After all, Disney means more to us Americans than just another movie theater company. It is a whole experience, a place of pilgrimage, even a complete view of the salvation of mankind, and this was finally made much clearer to me recently by Disney’s own excellent apologetic for its dogma, Saving Mr. Banks. Continue reading →