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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Seek Not the Praise of Men

I ran across this story about St. Macarius the Great recently. It spoke to me so I share it here. Macarius born around 300 A.D. was a former camel driver and trader, he was one of the earliest hermit monks living in an area of the Egyptian desert near Alexandria. Macarius lived before monasteries were established and as with many monks of his time was a wanderer, not living in any particular place for very long. He died around 390 A.D.

A brother came to see Abba Macarius the Egyptian, and said to him, "Abba, give me a word, that I may be saved." So the old man said, "Go to the cemetery and abuse the dead." The brother went there, abused them and threw stones at them; then he returned and told the old man about it. The latter said to him, "Didn't they say anything to you?" He replied, "No."

The old man said, "Go back tomorrow and praise them." So the brother went away and praised them, calling them, "Apostles, saints, and righteous men." He returned to the old man and said to him, "Did they not answer you?" The brother said, "No."

The old man said to him, "You know how you insulted them and they did not reply, and how you praised them and they did not speak; so you too, if you wish to be saved, must do the same and become a dead man. Like the dead, take no account of either the scorn of men or their praises, and you can be saved."

from "The Desert Christian," by Sr. Benedicta Ward, (New York: MacMillan, 1975), p. 132


Although a couple posts back I seemed to have tied my emotions all up into a neat little package, needless to say nothing is quite that easy. After all this thing is a journey no matter how often I try to make it a destination. During the past month or so I have been battling with anxiety like I had not felt for a long time. This fear and dread continued on and off even after I came to the realization of what was driving it. Last week I asked a couple friends to pray for me. And the feelings began to lift. I do not believe I merely have suppressed them, but they seem to have dissipated.

I believe that a couple things came together in addition to the prayers that have kept this a lasting sensation. One is that I became honest with one of the relationships that is important to me telling him what I knew he did not want to hear and set an appointed time to make a decision that I have been wrestling with for a very long time. Second is that I got together with some guys who heard one of the significant stories of my life and helped me process through both the emotions that I had buried deep and some of the twisted beliefs that seemed to have driven me in my situation. I was a wreck sharing it, but it was a very good thing to just be open and honest in a loving community of men fighting together for our hearts.

Through this I have come to realize in a greater degree how much I define myself by what I believe others believe about me. And when what I believe they believe about me is contrary to what I want them to believe I feel exposed and frightened because they obviously see that I am not what I want them to believe I am. I most likely put up a fight attitude or possibly a flight response. And what I am fighting or flighting is not truth in this case but merely what I believe others believe about me that is contrary to what I want them to believe about me. Even my definition of who I am has not been based on any reality, good or bad, but on this crazy believing. When this dynamic is at work, do I really know who I am?

I am reminded of what Augustine of Hippo a Christ follower in the fifth century AD wrote: "Our hearts are restless until they find rest in thee, O God". This is my prayer today.

Friday, April 21, 2006

From Anselm's Proslogion

I ran across this at the Brendan Center Website. It really spoke to me about the tension I feel on this journey between knowing what I am called to and how far I am from it. God has made us for relationship with him, I know him yet I know him not in the way both he and my own heart longs for. I am torn even in the midst of my longing.

Come now, insignificant man, fly for a moment from your affairs, escape for a little while from the tumult of your thoughts. Put aside now your weighty cares and leave your worrisome toils. Abandon yourself for a little to God and rest for a little in Him. Enter into the inner chamber of your soul, shut out everything save God and what can be of help in your quest for Him and having locked the door seek Him out. Speak now, my whole heart, speak now to God: 'I seek Your face, O Lord; your face I seek'.

Come then, Lord my God, teach my heart where and how to seek You, where and how to find You. Lord, if You are not present here, where, since You are absent, shall I look for You? On the other hand, if You are everywhere why then, since You are present, do I not see You? But surely You dwell in 'light inaccessible'. And where is this inaccessible light, or how can I approach the inaccessible light? Or who shall lead me and take me into it that I may see You in it? Again, by what signs, under what aspect, shall I seek You?

Never have I seen You, Lord my God; I do not know Your face. What shall he do, most high Lord -- what shall this exile do, far away from You as he is? What shall Your servant do, tormented by love of You and yet cast off 'far from Your face'? He yearns to see You, and Your countenance is too far away from him. He desires to come close to You, and Your dwelling place is inaccessible; he longs to find You and does not know where You are; he is eager to seek You out and he does not know Your face.

Lord, You are my God and my Lord, and never have I seen You. You have created me and re-created me and You have given me all the good things I possess, and still I do not know You. To put it bluntly, I was made in order to see You, and I have not yet accomplished what I was made for.

Anselm, Proslogion 1
Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) was the outstanding Christian philosopher and theologian of the eleventh century.

Thursday, April 6, 2006

Guarding my heart

In my journey I have been learning a lot about what makes me tick. During the past couple weeks I have had an increase in feelings of anxiety. It will grip me. As it grips I begin to feel it in my chest then a knot in my stomach develops and as it does I feel not only fearful but physically sick. My mind gets paralyzed in a circular thought process that produces nothing but a spiraling out of control knowing that some unknown devastation is moments away. I have not been feeling this as much in the past several months. It once was an ever present tormenter.

It began several days after I re-engaged my emotions after the darkness of depression that had characterized my emotional make up since the beginning of December. When this anxiety resurfaced it seemed so familiar. Chunks of my adult life were spent with this gnawing apprehension. I have lived it repeatedly and cyclically.

It is strange to write what I am about to write. I think that it might be a good thing that I have been so pressed by these senses of fear, anxiety and impending destruction. I described it to a friend as like the sword of Damocles, a sword hung by one hair taken from a horse's tail poised over my head that at any minute could fall splitting open my head.

Why would I say that it may actually be a good thing. Well, here is how I see it. For the past 4 months I have been shutting down emotionally. I realized that this dark, dark time was a strategy of my soul to shut me out of my own heart. As I began to emerge from the loneliness and disconnection I allowed myself to feel. I opened up my heart some. And this is what rushed out.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, Proverbs 4:23 says "Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life." In the Hebrew the words translated "Keep" and "with all diligence" are actually synonyms that mean to guard. The word translated "with all diligence" is a more picturesque word that can mean a literal prison. Bearing this in mind I suppose you could translate this something like "guard your heart like a prison house". This is what I had been doing (still do). There are so many vile things inside and what I seem to do is lock them up tight trying not to let one of them escape, guarding my heart like a prison house. Of course my anger would escape from time to time and hurt folks - especially my wife and family. And the "issues of life" that came forth were more like the venomous poisons of serpents or scorpions.

Well, I am no Hebrew scholar and none of them that I consulted agreeded with my translation. This is because the scriptures did not have this kind of guarding in mind. The wise man who relayed this wisdom did not have in mind locking up you heart so that prisoners don't escape. Rather, what he did have in mind was that we need to protect the heart that has been cleared from these vile felons and having been liberated it can be a spring of life. It needs to be guarded diligently from being contaminated again by unresolved issues putrifying in it like 3 month old left overs in the refrigerator. What comes out of a good and pure heart is both life and life giving.

I long for my heart to be so set free. A 2nd century AD Christ follower named Ireneas wrote that "the glory of the Lord is a heart fully alive." This is what I long for. But to get there I have to open my heart, even while the events of life begin to provoke this deep dread of impending doom. It came to me as I began feeling this again that what appeared to behind this feeling was a strong belief that if a situation deteriorated - say a business deal or relationship between two friends, or even my parents - it was my fault because I failed to control the situation or bring it to a positive resolve. I seem to hold a belief that I actually have the power to over ride others personal responsibilities and control things in such a way that everything will work out.

How these feelings began to rise in me again was when I saw a business deal I was helping to facilitate begin to descend into oblivion. I have a reputation in this field that I make it easy for everyone, but I found myself in the middle powerless to stop what was happening. No matter what I said, or how I thought it through I had no power to make it work. Later after the deal crashed and burned, we did actually get it back together and for the past couple days I have been trying to manage it so that it did not explode once again. Well as I should have anticipated (can you hear it) , last night it erupted again and it may very well die another cruel death. My anxiety level increased again to a flash point. Finally I just gave into the several realities. One was easier than the other. I can not control other people. That was easy. The second was much harder for me because it is much more core to who I am and it is this ... It is not my fault.

I have gone through much of my 45 years thinking that it is all my fault. The fact that I could have done something different that may have helped produce a different result has haunted me in all my relationships. From parents, my wife, girlfriends, friends, to working associates, employers and even strangers. My life has been either taking blame and harboring it in my heart or trying to avoid the blame that my mind told me belonged right here at my door. It has propelled me to stay in unhealthy relationships, situations and mind-sets too long simply because I hold out hope that my belief is true that I have the power to control the outcome and I do not like to face the "facts" that it is all my fault. (As I write this I may have a third belief that I do not have the power but I should and its my fault that I do not have it or exercise it even though I do not have it. As I am rereading I am wondering about a fourth belief that other people are actually out to sabotage what I believe I have the power to control.) These beliefs seem to hold me in no win situations till I can bear the pressure no more.

It is no wonder that I go back and forth from being in a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean of despair to an anxiety that feels like I am spiraling out of control with the impending crash only seconds away. I can not seem to free myself from the false beliefs long enough to embrace God's truth. I seem to go from taking on someone else's responsibility to embracing someone else's dream to declaring someone else's vision and bearing them with such a level of responsibility that when they do not succeed(due to someone else's issues) it is really all my fault. God free me from this desperate cycle of deceit of heart in me. I identify with Paul one of Jesus' apostles who wrote, "Oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death."