Saturday, April 3, 2010

Desert Fathers

A conversation found in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers:

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, "Abba, as far as I can, I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace, and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?" Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands toward heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, "If you will, you can become all flame."

Thursday, April 1, 2010

St. Frank, God's juggler

I've always kind of been a church history buff. Nothing is better than sitting down with a cup of coffee and strolling through the centuries with friends that I have come to know and love. Monks, mystics, reformers and sages. I find myself returning to read the stories of some of these men and women over and over again. One of my favorites is St. Francis of Assisi. I smile just thinking of him. And I think that is the point of his life. His life was a demonstration of the wisdom of God. His father was a wealthy merchant whohauled him before a bishop because, following his conversion St. Francis began not only giving away all of his own possessions but those of his father's as well. He was reprimanded by the bishop for this and in response stripped naked, gave his clothes back to his father, told the bishop that now God was his father and turned and walked into the woods naked. I love that part. He lived in the freedom of simplicity and the joy of the Lord became his strength. That verse has been pulling on me lately, it's found in Nehemiah 8:4. It sticks out to me because it flies in the face of how I often view God. He is full of joy. Knowing that he is happy by nature and happy with me fills me with the strength to live life fully and without fear. In fact, all three persons of the trinity are mentioned as being joyful. The fruit of the Spirit is joy. Jesus Christ was anointed with the oil of joy above his companions because he loved righteousness and hated wickedness(Heb. 1:9) In that same hour he rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit and said, "I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding(the bishop) and revealed them to little children(Francis); yes father, for so it pleased you well.(Luke 10:21) These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.(John 15:11) Jesus is a man full of joy, and the joy he gives isn't like the joy of the world. The joy of the world is dependent of my circumstances, relationships, boredom and hunger level but the joy of heaven is anchored in knowing God's fool from Galilee. Tertullian once wrote to some believers who were being imprisoned for the faith that, "The legs don't feel the chains when the mind is in heaven".

When I read the lives of many of the early church fathers, desert fathers, monks, mystics, early reformers and those who followed, I am provoked to jealousy at their simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. My life these days feels so cluttered. I often feel overwhelmed juggling school, work, family and church. Sometimes I feel like Bilbo Baggins when he said, "I'm old, Gandalf. I know I don't look it, but I'm beginning to feel it in my heart. I feel... thin. Sort of stretched, like... butter scraped over too much bread. I need a holiday. A very long holiday. And I don't expect I shall return. In fact I mean not to." Abiding in the joy of Jesus is the holiday that I am needing these days.

Part of growing in grace is learning to draw on the resources of joy in heaven regardless of our circumstances. As C.S. Lewis said, "All joy...emphasizes our pilgrim status; always reminds, beckons, awakens desire. Our best havings are wantings." And that "joy is the serious business of heaven". I think Francis had it right.