Archive for November, 2009

Just what the Doctor ordered!

November 30, 2009

All things medical seem to be on the minds of  people today. There’s hardly a single news broadcast that doesn’t feature a story about it. Since “Obama-care” has passed through Congress, we wonder what the impact will be. Will there be adequate healthcare for the elderly, will families be able to afford coverage for their children, and will employers continue to offer insurance if there’s a public option, and so on? So, as I said, these seem to be very fearful and anxious times.

The answer is to just stay healthy or get healthy. We are told that much of what we suffer could have been prevented. It’s just a matter of lifestyle choices. Therefore,it is suggested that the cost of  insurance may be tied to the lifestyle that we choose. I read somewhere that some states are trying to tie the cost of your insurance premium to your BMI, or body mass index. Just the other day, I heard a dialogue between a student and a college administrator about the college’s new policy of making obese students take a class on losing weight or they would not be allowed to graduate.

So, preventive medicine may be just what the doctor ordered. I wonder though, if we all took better care of ourselves, would there be a need for so many doctors? I sometimes kid people by saying when we part company, “Stay out of trouble.” Then I add, “Well, I’m not sure about that because if you stay out of trouble, then I’ll be out of a job.” They just look back and smile. If we all stayed well, as much as possible, what would doctors do for a living?

We often speak of the Church as our spiritual hospital and that we are here because we are sick. There is preventative therapies –like prayer, fasting, and study-but because of our lifestyle choices, we have not followed the path to health. So, what would the Doctor order?

The Pharisees grumbled when Jesus went into the house of Matthew, the writer of the Gospel. After all, he was a tax collector, and they were the most hated people of all. Why would anyone in their right mind enter into a place filled with such uncleanness and spiritual disease? The Lord reminds them that the sick need a doctor. Then the Great Physician gives us his prescription: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”Mercy – this is a strange recommendation for the spiritually sick, or is it?

Every time we come to the Church, in fact any time we turn to the Lord, he meets us with mercy and not with judgment. If this were not so, then despair would most certainly kill us. Mercy renews us and strengthens us to continue our battle towards salvation.Yet, is the Lord’s mercy the only thing that Jesus meant? He did say earlier that the merciful would obtain mercy. So, mercy is something that we are to show as well. How might mercy be the very thing that the doctor ordered?

First, I can show mercy to myself.

I start with myself because I have found that if I have little mercy for myself, I will not be able to show it to others. I don’t mean that I simply justify and excuse everything that I do. I mean that I need to show mercy to my soul. I constantly hand my soul over to the robbers who take away for it everything that is good and leave my soul wounded and bleeding. Like the Samaritan, I could bind and dress my soul’s wounds. I could give it a little time to pray, a few morsels of spiritual reading, or an occasional visit to the hospital. Is that so hard to do? Why then, am I so reluctant to be merciful to myself? Like the Sadducee, the Pharisee, and the Scribe in the story of the Good Samaritan, I just pass by and show no mercy to my soul. I am too busy to bother because I am an important man with important things to do.  By showing no mercy to my soul, I find I have no mercy for others because my poor beaten and starved soul has nothing to give.

I can show mercy to my family.

It used to be said that charity begins at home. I use to jest if charity begins at home, it usually stays at home. Yet, in truth, if I cannot show mercy at home, it is not likely that I will show it elsewhere. I’ve counselled married couples that they should try to practice the Sermon on the Mount in their marital relationship. Jesus said that if an enemy compels us to go one mile, we should go two; if we are struck on one check, then turn the other, and so on. Most Christians would acknowledge that this is what the Lord commanded and it is how any Christian should act. Surprisingly, when these same Christian people get home, mercy sits outside the door and does enter. Disagreements occur between all loving couples and between parents and children.We all fail each other continually and the lack of mercy in a family can be shocking.I also counseled many couples bound for divorce, and not long into the interview, it was clear that mercy never lived in the house.

I can show mercy to my priest and to my Church.

The same truth applies here. If I cannot show mercy at Church, it is unlikely that I will show it elsewhere. Of course, disagreements are natural and we fail each other constantly.Yet, you would think that people seeking mercy from God would easily show mercy to each other, especially in the House of the Great Physician. I would ask you to take a moment and look at your brothers and sisters in Church. What do you really know about them? What sorrows and burdens do they carry? We mind our own business because if we don’t have a clue, then we never have to show mercy. Does your priest have wounds as well? I guarantee you that he does, and he has many burdens to carry. When you offer to lift them a little, you show mercy to your priest.

I can show mercy the stranger and to my neighbor.

If I am merciful to myself, merciful to my family, and merciful to my church family, then I am better able to be merciful to strangers or to my neighbor. Again, we must be honest. What do we know about our neighbors other than that they are bothersome and irritating? The Lord said that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. God help me then because I don’t love my neighbors at all. Frankly I don’t really know much about them. If they have some personal problem, I’ll be sure that I’ll strive to be the last to know. Life could beat them up and I wouldn’t see them because mercy does not guide my vision. If I am a merciful person, then I would have a merciful eye that would see the wounds in the man by the side of the road.

“Go learn this,” the Great Doctor says. “I desire mercy instead of sacrifice. Happy are you when you show mercy, for you shall obtain mercy.”

The Best Seats in the House

November 13, 2009

I’m not a big fan of baseball. I rarely watch a game on television. However, I did have the chance to attend two live games, one in Atlanta and one in Baltimore. I have to admit that I did enjoy the live games. I suppose that if I lived in a big city and could afford it, I would go to live games. I did learn another important truth – how much you enjoy the game depends upon where you sit. In Atlanta, we sat in the cheap seats, but in Baltimore, we had better seats. Still, as I looked up at the VIP boxes around the stadium, I knew that they had the best seats in the house.

St. Paul said that we are in the VIP box and have the best seats in the house. “[God]…has raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”(Ephesians 2:6) In all my years of reading this passage, I never quite understood it. I understand that St. Paul is filling out the meaning of the death and resurrection of Christ. We are buried with Him in baptism, and with Christ we are raised to a new life. Since Christ ascended to the Father and sits at His right hand, we too have been taken up to sit in heavenly places. The problem for me is that St. Paul talks as if this is supposed to be a present reality and not something that will happen when we die. Well I don’t think that I’ve ever felt like I was sitting that high. It would be wonderful to sit in a heavenly place and see life from a different point of view, but most of time I see life from the cheap seats.

Here’s how life looks from the cheap seats: I don’t deserve this; why am I sick; this is not right; this is not fair; I deserve better; I can’t believe that this is happening to me; why did my loved one die; and so on. In the cheap seats you find people filled with anger, fear, resentment, and there is little peace there. “But the man who is discontent with his lot and murmurs against his fate, or against those who cause him offence, should realize that his spirit is in a state of pride, which has taken from him his sense of gratitude towards God.”

St. Silouan tells us what it is like to sit in the best seats: “Life is much easier for the man who is given over to the will of God, since in illness, in poverty, in persecution he reflects thus: “Such is God’s pleasure, and I must endure on account of my sins.” So, sitting in a heavenly place doesn’t mean that you are free from suffering; it means that you see it from a different angle. “The proud man does not want to live according to God’s will: he likes to be his own master and does not see that man has not wisdom enough to guide himself without God.” Because we do not submit to the will of God in much and rely on our own understanding, we see life from the cheap seats and it’s hard to enjoy the game.

We might be tempted to think that St. Silouan is being a bit cavalier about this. Listen to his witness: “Thus for many years have I suffered violent headaches, which are hard to bear but salutary because the soul is humbled through sickness. My soul longs to pray and keep vigil, but sickness hinders me because of my body’s demand for rest and quiet; and I besought the Lord to heal me, and the Lord hearkened not unto me. So, therefore, it would not have been salutary for me to have been cured.” We find it hard to understand how having migraine headaches could be salutary. Lest you think that Silouan is just resigned to his affliction because he lacks faith, he tells of many times when the Lord healed him. He did not doubt the healing power of God. If some ailment remained, he believed that God deemed it necessary for the ailment to remain for the sake of his salvation. This is seeing life from a heavenly place.

Imagine what it would be like if we submitted to the will of God and could sit in the VIP seats. “The soul that has come to … submit to His will, will live before Him in awe and love: in love, because the Lord is love; in awe, because we must go in fear of grieving God by some evil thought.” I get this, but how do you know if you are submitted to the will of God?

“Here is a sign: if you are distressed over anything it means that you have not fully surrendered to God’s will, although it may seem to you that you live according to His will. He who lives according to God’s will has no cares. If he has need of something, he offers himself and the thing he wants to God, and if he does not receive it, he remains as tranquil as if he had got what he wanted. The soul that is given over to the will of God fears nothing, neither thunder nor thieves nor any other thing. Whatever may come, ‘Such is God’s pleasure,’ she says. If she falls sick she thinks, ‘This means that I need sickness, or God would not have sent it…and in this wise is peace preserved in soul and body…The best thing of all is to surrender to God’s will and bear affliction having confidence in God. The Lord, seeing our affliction, will never give us too much to bear. If we seem to ourselves to be greatly afflicted, it means that we have not surrendered to the will of God.”

No matter where you sit, or what point of view you have, the game is the same. Sometimes you can tolerate the game of life from the cheap seats, but it’s better to sit in the VIP box. Christ has prepared a seat there for you and for me and He invites us to come and sit with Him in His Kingdom. It’s a matter of surrender and submission to the will of God. What was it that the Master said? “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” How did St. Silouan say it? “Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not.” Obviously, St. Siloan is sitting in the VIP box.

What’s your “point of view?”  The invitation to the VIP box has been given to you. Its up to you to come up or not, or stay in the cheap seats. Either way, its “Batter Up and Play Ball.”

The sayings of St. Silouan were taken from the website http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/willofgod.aspx

Lying with dogs

November 7, 2009

 

My mom use to tell me, “If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.” She told me this because she didn’t like the company I was keeping. I have to admit that I often ran with dogs and ended up with fleas. Yet, I found that it is not always a bad thing to be in the company of dogs.

Lazarus laid at the gates of Dives, the rich man. Day after day, he begged for bread and Dives ignored him. The Lord doesn’t give us any reasons why the rich man was so hard hearted. It seems that Lazarus never complained about his situation or cursed the rich man for his hard heart. No one else seemed to help him either.

Is this story without any charity at all? Well, charity can come from unusual sources. It seems that only the dogs had compassion, for they licked Lazarus’ sores. This may sound gross, but it was an act of mercy because it kept the sores clean and free of infection. It’s such an incredible contrast: the rich man with a poor heart, and the poor dogs with big hearts. Who knows, maybe all dogs do go to heaven.

How hard hearted can we be? Would you tend to believe someone that had just returned from the dead? The brothers of Lazarus wouldn’t believe it because they had refused to believe Moses or the Prophets. They would never believe a dead man come to life. I’m glad that we modern folks are not so hard-hearted. Oh wait! We did hear from someone who came back from death. Did we believe Him?

What makes us so hard hearted that we never see Lazarus? It’s a matter of perspective, really. We never see it from dog’s level.

First, we pay our taxes and the state runs the welfare system, and so we rarely see a beggar. But does it have to be a man lying by our door? There are so many around us, even in our church, who hurt and cry and beg for love, but we do not see them. We are not at dog level.

Then, we believe that since we have a welfare system, anyone who sits by the interstate exit begging for bread is just lazy and chooses not to work. I’ve had the experience of being chased by a beggar who would not be refused. I thought that if he had the strength to chase me, he had the strength to work. Of course, I was sure that he would just spend it on booze. I was not at dog level.

Finally, we are building the ancient tower of Babel. Science and technology promise to open the gates of paradise, where there will be no sickness or hunger, and we are true believers. I remember the day when the Challenger Shuttle exploded. We were sitting in a pizza restaurant watching a big screen TV. What a shock it was. It was a tragic loss, but to me this event was a bit of an icon. It reminded me that no matter how high we build our towers, we are not gods and our technology will not make it so. And so, we are blinded by our own cleverness and we rarely see Lazarus starving in agony at our gates. Jesus said that the poor would always be with us. Our cleverness keeps us from seeing things from the dog level.

To lie with the dogs means that we see the world through the eyes of humility. Lazarus kept the company of dogs and learned humility. He kept a soft heart and ended up in the bosom of Abraham (that is a soft place for soft hearts). The hard heart of Dives led him to hell.

Lord, may I forever lie with the dogs and lick the wounds of Lazarus.

P.S. To the aficionados of grammar, I understand the lie/lay situation. I just wanted to play with it and quote it as my mother
quoted it to me.