Saturday, March 3, 2018

Lent: Fasting to Confront our Destructive Passions

“Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.” -Colossians 3:5 (NASB)
The Apostle Paul calls us to consider ourselves dead our passions. Passions are things that drive us, that cause us to suffer (the basic meaning of “passion”). In our day we often employ the term “passion” in a positive sense—a passion for reaching the hungry, a passion for Jesus. These are the things that motivate our lives and drive us to seek and serve and the Lord.
At the time of the writing of the New Testament and the early centuries of the Church, however, “passion” referred primarily to the negative things that drive us. These are the destructive compulsions and addictions of our lives. The early theologian, Evagrius Ponticus, highlighted eight of these compulsions that can take control of our lives: gluttony, lust, greed, anger, inordinate sadness, bored laziness, vanity and pride.
The practices of fasting, giving alms, and prayer confront these destructive passions in our lives. Fasting, in particular, confronts gluttony, lust and greed.
First on the list of destructive passions is gluttony. When gluttony has a hold on us, we eat not just what we need or should properly enjoy in life. Instead, we keep on eating, trying to get more and more pleasure or attempting to fill an empty place in our hearts. Ironically, when we are driven by gluttony, we often eat so quickly that we fail to savor the food in our mouths. Instead, our focus is on “getting more.”
Because eating is essential to life, gaining self-control over the passion of gluttony is foundational to gaining victory over all the destructive passions that seek to control us, asserts Evagrius.
Along with gluttony, lust is a powerful passion in our lives. Both of these are compulsions of desire—we want something, not only to satisfy our physical needs but to try to satisfy an inner compulsion that craves for more and more. Gluttony and lust go hand-in-hand.
Greed is a third passion of desire—concupiscence. God created us to desire, for desire is what draws us out of ourselves to reach out in love toward our Creator and other people. Because of the Fall, however, our desiring faculty (concupiscentia in Latin) has become twisted in on ourselves. Our desiring becomes self-focused and is never satisfied. Our gluttony, lust and greed spring from our inner concupiscence that craves incessantly. Like an addiction, no matter how much we feed it, we grasp for more in order to get our “fix.”
If we can gain victory over food—a basic need of life—we can become free from lust and greed and the underlying bottomless craving of the passions and their demands. Fasting is therefore so important in our lives. It is not that we ourselves gain victory by our will power. Rather, fasting exposes the inner passions. Foregoing food brings the concupiscence to the surface where it can be dealt with. Then we call upon God’s mercy.
Lent is all about acknowledging our fallen nature and crying out for God’s mercy. We can never defeat gluttony, lust and greed by fasting alone. Instead, Lenten fasting helps us face those driving compulsions—those controlling passions—that must be taken to the cross. As they die with Christ on the cross (Romans 6:1-14), we are raised to new life and the Holy Spirit bears the fruit of self-control in us (Galatians 5:1-23). This is the Paschal Mystery of new life.
May we 0pen ourselves anew this Lent to the practice of fasting so that our hidden passions may be exposed and brought to Christ’s passion on the cross. May we than rise with Christ to a transformed life, no longer controlled by inner compulsions but instead free to enjoy God’s blessings, such as food, and free to live our lives fully for our Lord!
© 2018 Glenn E. Myers

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Lent: Ash Wednesday as a Call to Return to the Lord with All our Heart

Return to me with your whole heart,with fasting and weeping and mourning. –Joel 2:12
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. -Jeremiah 29:13
Traveling through the daily challenges of life, we readily become preoccupied and distracted. Our spiritual focus is easy to lose, especially because we cannot see it with our physical eyes, while everything around us, calling for our attention, is so tangible. Taking our eyes off the goal, we often drift—sometimes just a little, other times quite far—from the path of pursuing the Lord.
God’s words through the Prophet Joel come crashing into our lives as we begin Lent: “Return to me with your whole heart!” Ash Wednesday is a call to conversion. All we like sheep have gone astray, as Isaiah 53:6 reminds us. So, as we begin Lent, we must ask ourselves: Where have I wandered from the Lord? Have I dwindled in prayer? How have I ceased loving others as I should? Has my focus shifted from Jesus to myself?
Wherever we have gone astray, we need to return to God with all our heart. Sorrowful for our erring ways, we are called to return with fasting and weeping and mourning. These three activities go together throughout the Old Testament. When the nation of Israel mourned for their sin, it virtually always included fasting to demonstrate their sorrow. These activities flesh out what it means to repent—to turn around and return to the Lord.
However, fasting, weeping and mourning are very counter-cultural. Contemporary society says: “Eat, drink and be merry! If it feels good, do it!” Lent, to the contrary, says: “Fast, if you are serious about seeking God. Give up what feels good and tastes good.” Today’s world promotes a “Life’s good!” approach to everything: “Let’s be entertained; let’s be happy all the time.” Lent, however, reminds us that there is a time to mourn—to actively be sorry for our sin. As Jesus said: Blessed are those who mourn, for they are the ones who will be comforted (Matthew 5:4).
As we enter Lent this year, let us embrace the three spiritual rhythms that Christians have practiced since the early centuries of the Church.
First, let us fast because fasting allows us to focus and sets us free from the physical desires and temporal things that tend to control us. Second, let us pray with a renewed intensity and commitment. In particular, let us seek God afresh in prayer and wait expectantly on God to move in our lives. Third, let us give to others. Giving alms, as it has traditionally been titled, gets the focus off of self and gives us opportunity to become “cheerful givers.”
Returning to God with our whole heart is what Lent is all about. Too often we simply make superficial change and so-called conversion that is only skin deep. When, however, we are serious enough to fast and weep and mourn, we have begun truly to seek God. When we do that, God promises in Jeremiah 29 that we will indeed find him: “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”  
© 2018 Glenn E. Myers

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Faithful in Little Things in the New Year

“There are many people who can do big things,
but there are very few people who will do the small things.”

–Mother Teresa
As the New Year is underway, I am reminded of Mother Teresa’s words. How true they are! I am always ready to take on challenging new tasks and serve in great ways. Great accomplishments receive recognition and honor. Of course we want God to be praised through what we have done, yet we know that we almost always get bit of the recognition and praise ourselves. That feels so good and feeds our ego.
Faithfulness to little things, to the contrary, is generally overlooked. We do not feel like we have accomplished much. Others seldom notice, let alone give recognition. That, I believe, is at the heart of the issue: being attentive to the little ways of serving has no reward . . .
No reward, that is, until we leave behind our worldly way of thinking. When we begin to see with spiritual eyes, we find a different picture. Little things count. “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much,” states our Lord in Luke 16:10, “and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.” The little things reveal our true inner attitude.
Moreover, little things affect other people. Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). The little acts of kindness count. The extra mile—when no one is there to see—is indeed seen by the Lord. Others may not recognize our faithfulness, but God does. Sometimes those we serve do not even appreciate it, but Jesus does!
This year I want to walk in vibrant faithfulness—faithfulness in fulfilling daily responsibilities, in serving others, in honoring the Lord even when no one seems to notice. Whatever I have done for the least of the people in my life, I have ultimately done for Jesus!
© Glenn E. Myers

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Epiphany: Beginning the New Year with Open Hands of Prayer

       Open, Receptive and Free

Free from demands
Others’ agendas
Pressure to perform
My own self-serving dreams
Even my inner unvoiced expectations

Yet open to expectancy
Without constraints or limits
Ready to be surprised
Hidden hand of God
Divine purposes beyond my comprehension

Open hands in prayer
Asking sincerely
Knocking loudly
Seeking with all that is in me
But not clinging

Then waiting
Always seems so long
Yet keeping hands open
Remaining confident
Never giving up

Hopeful expectancy
Secret excitement
Ready to accept
Kairos: heaven’s timing

The Almighty’s sudden appearance!
Spirit’s breath
Divine intervention

God’s goodness—pure goodness
Whether leading me forward
Or keeping me here
I’m ready for either
Free in God’s will!

© Glenn E. Myers

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring: Christmas Invitation to Soar to Uncreated Heights

“Prayer is the ascent of the spirit to God” –Evagrius Ponticus
This Christmas season Sharon and I have been listening to the new CD Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, published by the Dominican Sisters of Mary. What a joy it is! This is the first time in some years that I’ve listened to the words of the song by the same name:
Jesu, joy of man's desiring,
Holy wisdom, love most bright;
Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light.

Word of God, our flesh that fashioned,
With the fire of life impassioned,
Striving still to truth unknown,
Soaring, dying round Thy throne.
What an invitation this is! Our soul’s desires are drawn to Jesus who is himself Holy Wisdom—the Logos, the Word (John 1:1-2). That Word is true light (v. 9), uncreated and pure. Then that “Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us” in order to reveal God the Father to us (vv. 14, 18). Ultimately he came to lift us up to the Father, so that we might experience that glory and grace upon grace (v. 16).
Jesu is indeed Love Most Bright, come to earth. That event was not just the Incarnation over two millennia ago: it is a fresh invitation for us to soar anew in devotion to God’s Uncreated Light!
These twelve days of Christmas, especially as most of us have a few more days of leisure from work, let us set aside some of that time for unhurried devotion to the Lord. May our hearts be renewed “with the fire of life impassioned” as we prayer, worship and contemplate in silence. May we allow our souls to soar to the Throne of God and pass into his very Presence!
© 2017 Glenn E. Myers

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Third Sunday of Advent: From Fragmentation to Holy Wholeness

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” -Hebrews 13:8
Advent points us to the past, present and future.
First, the four weeks leading up to the Nativity focus our attention on the event of the Incarnation some 2000 years ago. The Son of God, the Logos, came to earth and took on flesh—as a fetus in Mary’s womb, developing and growing until Mary was “great with child” as she rode the donkey en route to Bethlehem with her finance Joseph.
Advent likewise points us to the future. Christ not only came to earth as a baby those two millennia ago, he will return at the end of the age as King of kings and Lord of lords. The time-space world in which we live has a telos—a goal, fulfillment, completion—toward which the centuries run. God will roll up the heavens and earth “like a robe; like a garment they will be changed” (Hebrews 1:12). We will receive a new heavens and earth, beyond our earthly language to describe. We will join the wedding feast of the Son and be joined forever with Christ, our Bridegroom.
Between these two advents of Christ, we exist today. Just as Jesus broke into the past and will come again with surprise in the future, he wants to break into our everyday lives. He is Emmanuel—God with us—in our human existence. We must live in light of Christ’s present-day presence, else we will be consumed by the materialism of the world and cave in on ourselves in self-focused preoccupation. The secular shopping season contributes all the more to the material fixation that steals our attention from active and living presence among us.
We must resist the temptation of materialism, however, in order to find our meaning by discovering our place in the larger Story. The past anchors us in the concrete events of God’s redemptive act of salvation as we celebrate the Incarnation. The future offers us hope as we wait for the consummation of this age and the consummation of the wedding feast of Christ as we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).
The present, then, is a time of both remembering and waiting. Such is the message of Advent. He is here with us, as he promised, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). The season of Advent tutors us in how to live during this time. It attunes us to God’s divine action and his desire to come into the ups and downs of our earthly existence. We embrace the here and now, discovering the divine in the midst of daily life.
This Advent season we can ask ourselves: How is Jesus breaking into our day? Where is his glory filling the earth? How is he Emmanuel right here and right now?
Such a three-fold focus is difficult to maintain; it can even be unsettling. However, we must not neglect any of the three: past, present or future. Advent instructs us as it helps us to integrate all three into a meaningful whole—not only the overview of the ages but also a personal reality for each of us existentially. By juxtaposing past and future, Advent calls us to wait in present. Advent causes us to see Salvation History as a whole, and, doing so, helps to make our lives more whole as it invites us to see how our lives fit in.
© 2017 Glenn E. Myers

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Second Sunday of Advent: From Impatience to Holy Waiting

           “Wait for the Lord;
      be strong and take heart
     and wait for the Lord.”       
            -Psalm 27:14
Waiting. No one that I know likes to wait. Whether it is standing in a long checkout line during Christmas shopping or finding oneself stuck in a traffic jam, we usually find ourselves in a waiting situation much against our plans. If possible, we try to distract ourselves while the minutes tick away—texting being the most common method these days. If we are not able to find a suitable distraction, we simply go numb. Waiting, so often, is what we do against our will.
But what if waiting were a spiritual activity? What if waiting turned out to be God’s plan for our lives—not only for character development but for greater purposes than we are aware of at the time?
This is holy waiting. As well as cultivating patience in our lives, holy waiting molds us into God’s timing and purposes. Advent is a wonderful opportunity for such waiting. By following the church calendar we step out of the rush of our contemporary culture—with all its materialism and catering to immediate desires—and enter a holy rhythm. That rhythm of the church year begins the first Sunday of Advent, which continues for three more Sundays, preparing our hearts as we anticipate Christmas.
Instead of an instant but shallow satisfaction of singing Christmas carols on the first Sunday of Advent, we are called to again take the journey to Bethlehem, asking God to do whatever work he chooses in us in order to form us for fresh inner growth. The four-week wait of Advent stirs longing deep within us, so we appreciate the coming of Emmanuel on a whole new level.
Waiting is not easy. Our natural passions want fulfillment as soon as possible. Waiting enables us to deny those desires—at least for a time—so that our attention can move from the material to spiritual, from the outward-ness of our existence to the inner life of the soul. 
This Advent invites you and me to holy waiting. Will we embrace the discomfort to waiting in order to grow deeper in faith? Will we step away from busy distraction into a holy rhythm of anticipating Christ’s coming afresh into our lives?

© 2017 Glenn E. Myers