Christ is the beginning and end of Christian experience. In the closing chapter of the Bible, from the lips of Jesus we hear: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” (Revelation 22:13)
Delightful would it be to me
to be in Uchd Ailiun (an Irish headland over the sea)
On the pinnacle of a rock,
That I might often see the face of the ocean;
That I might see its heaving waves over the wide ocean,
When they chant music to their Father upon the world’s course;
That I might see its level of sparkling strand,
it would be no cause of sorrow;
That I might see the sea-monsters, the greatest of all wonders….
That contrition might come upon my heart upon looking at her;
That I might bewail my evils all,
though it were difficult to compute them;
That I might bless the Lord Who conserves all,
Heaven with its countless bright orders,
land, strand and flood;
That I might search the books all, that would be good for my soul;
At times kneeling to beloved Heaven;
At times psalm singing;
At times contemplating the King of Heaven, Holy the Chief;
At times at work without compulsion,
That would be delightful.
– Song of Columba (Columcille Fecit). Quoted in Saint Columba of Iona: A Study of His Life, by Lucy Menzies, J.M. Dent & Sons, 1920, p. 131.
The scriptures record that a frequent response to the actions and announcements of God, through the Messiah and others, was surprise, wonder, and amazement.
The Gospel of Matthew records that the crowds listening to Jesus, “were astonished at his teaching.” Sometimes witnesses were left without words. The Gospel of Luke records that, “astonished by his answer, they became silent,” and later in the Acts of the Apostles we hear “The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless.”
God turns up in surprising ways. Expect the unexpected.
As it is impossible to verbally describe the sweetness of honey to one who has never tasted honey, so the goodness of God cannot be clearly communicated by way of teaching if we ourselves are not able to penetrate into the goodness of the Lord by our own experience.
(St. Basil the Great, Conversations on the Psalms, 29)
A man who has never had that experience, be it only very briefly, who has never felt that he is exiled from God and from real life, will never understand what Christianity is about. And the one who is perfectly “at home” in this world and its life, who has never been wounded by the nostalgic desire for another Reality, will not understand what is repentance.
Repentance is often simply identified as a cool and “objective” enumeration of sins and transgressions, as the act of “pleading guilty” to a legal indictment. Confession and absolution are seen as being of a juridical nature. But something very essential is overlooked—without which neither confession nor absolution have any real meaning or power. This “something” is precisely the feeling of alienation from God, from the joy of communion with Him, from the real life as created and given by God. It is easy indeed to confess that I have not fasted on prescribed days, or missed my prayers, or become angry. It is quite a different thing, however, to realize suddenly that I have defiled and lost my spiritual beauty, that I am far away from my real home, my real life, and that something precious and pure and beautiful has been hopelessly broken in the very texture of my existence. Yet this, and only this, is repentance, and therefore it is also a deep desire to return, to go back, to recover that lost home. I received from God wonderful riches: first of all life and the possibility to enjoy it, to fill it with meaning, love, and knowledge; then—in Baptism—the new life of Christ Himself, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the peace and the joy of the eternal Kingdom. I received the knowledge of God, and in Him the knowledge of everything else and the power to be a son of God. And all this I have lost, all this I am losing all the time, not only in particular “sins” and “transgressions,” but in the: sin of all sins: the deviation of my love from God, preferring the “far country” to the beautiful home of the Father… But the Church is here to remind me of what I have abandoned and lost…
From the book Great Lent by Fr Alexander Schmemann
This new experience – this opening of the heavens and the expansion of the horizon – is one of the most beautiful experiences that a person can have. From then on, the character of our life is changed. From then on, we soar through the sky on wings. Provided we want to. Because there’s always the chance that, in our soaring flight, a treacherous, critical moment might come when we remember our self and prefer it over everything else. All things are indeed ours. But all things will turn against us like a bitter enemy if once again we become confined within ourselves.
But the moment we reject such narrowness and enter into the breadth and know the depth of the love of Christ (Eph 3.19), we discover that the whole world is ours: the earth, the sea, and the sky are all for us; so too the angels, the saints, and all the sacraments of the Church. And God Himself – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – is wholly ours, for He gives to us His fullness. Do you see? You renounced yourself, and in return received God.
Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra
With the turning of the seasonal tides I find myself reflecting on fresh starts and new possibilities. Jesus once said, “And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” New beginnings are important. And it is important to begin with the future in the foreground, not the past.
But ask the animals, and they will teach you,or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,or let the fish in the sea inform you.Which of all these does not knowthat the hand of the Lord has done this?
God alone is enough
By Teresa of Avila
Let nothing upset you,
let nothing startle you.
All things pass;
God does not change.
all it seeks.
Whoever has God
God alone is enough.
When people say they find church boring, is it entertainment they’re lacking? Or challenge?
In his article, Amusing Ourselves To Death, Neil Postman said “I believe I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether.”
I find it interesting to consider this in light of what psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi found about flow, also known as the zone. Csíkszentmihályi defined flow as a mental state in which a person performing an activity were fully immersed in what they’re doing, with energized focus, to the point that they can lose their sense of space and time. Ever experienced it? I certainly have. Though rarely in a church service. Well, what Csíkszentmihályi found was that flow kicked in when both challenge and skill levels were high. To experience flow we need challenges that are commensurate with our skill levels. Making it easy can actually be counter productive to experiencing life to its fullest.
Jesus never set his expectations so low. Why should we?