Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Immensity of God

It should be noted that monastic theology and its emphasis on praxis and theoria, is to lead one to the contemplation of nature and of the Divine with the centrality of prayer to cultivate integration of mind, body and spirit to reveal the indwelling Trinity through purity of heart. Deification or Christification for the purposes of this paper is brought forth through the degrees of theosis, a process culminating in a state of being termed apatheia, an impassibility which enjoys “uninterrupted converse,” contemplation and “fellowship” with God, in other words – to become fully human, to transcend the limitations imposed by worldly wisdom and accept a life in the Spirit. To render ourselves ready for the Transfiguration, the regeneration in the Spirit. Christ’s deifying Light is the Light shone in the darkness. His deifying Light transfigures us into Christ-bearers. A life in the Spirit was spoken of in Pauline writings to “die to self,” “put on Christ,” etc. Man was originally created incorrupt. And the echo of the Divine within us is the driving force which seeks to regain this balance and harmony in relationship to the Trinity. It is a love of God that places the priority of ordered affection to God and not to a creature. Cultivating this state of being of apatheia, or what is later termed purity of heart following the Origenist condemnations, leads one to surrender to simplicity and clarity of thought while still in awe of creation and the immensity of God and the universe.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Ascent Is The Apostolic Sending Out

Agapé is the genuine and natural expression of apatheia: a translucent conscious place of authenticity that requires transit from inauthentic to authentic modes of being. Agapé is the metaphysical existence of absolute reality and perception that places one in a position to be fully present and accept the other in their midst without thoughts of categorization, specificity and prejudice. This place of authenticity requires transit from a self-focused and narcissistic apprehension of reality to a state of conscious being in non-reflective consciousness. But due to imperfection, the self is still object for others to the metaphysical conscious presence of absolute reality that places one in a position to fully perceive and accept the essence of the other in their midst without self-regard or objectification. One can just "be" without imposing their will, feelings, and sensations on others in order to allow the essence of their being to be drawn in by others. Then the pratikos can transcend the need to pull back into the carnal and base way of living bounded to sensational living that objectifies others. In sensational living, the other is not subject to you but becomes for you utility, object, and not the subject of your gift of self. This existence of transcendence is no longer a grasping, possessive, image filled consciousness, but rather a still passivity that is formidable in its presence. This “way of life” is a gift from the desert, a synthesis of disparate sources that seeks to ameliorate suffering man, the unliberated and bound man constrained by compulsions, obsessions and addictions. This is a way that the embodied God can liberate man.

Engaging with the texts of Evagrius is to engage with scripture itself. His work is imbued with scriptural references that he reads in an allegorical sense, typical of the early Patristics that can be classified as typology, and he applies this spiritual reading to his own ascetic praxis and theoria. Evagrius drew deeply from the Origenist theologies as a student of Marcarius the Great and Marcarius of Alexandria. He learned from the Origenist Catechetical Schools the following nuptial theme of Origen justifying the ascetic teaching necessary for the soul - The soul is to give birth to the Word (logos), [with] Mary as its model, ‘And every soul, virgin and uncorrupted, which conceives by the Holy Spirit, so as to give birth to the Will of the Father, is the Mother to Jesus.’ The Will of the Father then is the Son, Jesus Christ, the Power of the Father, begotten as the Will that proceeds from the intelligence. In this procreation of Divine energies into the creation, every soul is therefore feminine and its role is to be receptive in order to procreate the Divine Will. “This birth of Christ in the Soul is essentially bound up with reception of the Word and in a certain way Jesus is thus being continually born in souls.” Here is another answer to the question posed at the beginning of this paper: “How does the embodied God act in a liberating way?” God in our souls wants to give birth to the Will of the Father. And what is the Divine Will? The type of Divine love termed agapé. The incarnation of the Divine Will in the soul is an act of procreation that allows the soul, bearing the Christ within, to ascend to ever higher states of purification (the process of theosis) to manifest the agapé necessary to draw the soul closer to the Divine. However, the Will of the Father as agapé, also transfigures the soul into an incommutable relationship with others as subject and not objects, to procreate divine energies into creation; narcissistic self-focus becomes gift. The ascent is also the apostolic sending out.

A Contextual Theologian for the 21st Century

There is a paradigm shift occurring in today’s role as a theologian. A contextual theologian is no longer just the educated academic or the ordained minister. The theologian in recent decades has moved out the tower and into the streets of the community, investing the community with authority and power. Oftentimes, it is the needs of the communities that determine where the energies of the theologian will be devoted. My argument is that this is in part a result of what is termed, kairos processes, which make the theological point that particular moments in history make special demands on us, usually to stand with those who, through systemic oppression, are reduced to silence. The time we live in today is precisely such a period. And as theologians, are we not called to look for creative methodologies to be receptive to the fiduciary responsibility that exists in an incommutable way to others in our communities? And isn’t our role as theologians to contextualize the period in which we live, give voice to, and interpret the situations present and then formulate methodologies to respond to the dynamic energies at work in creation? And should we not ask of each situation and context - is the embodied God acting in a liberating way and if so, how so? And do we ignore the past? Or can we resource the past in a way that can shape a creative and imaginative methodological answer to present processes?

Each community will determine its normative sacred texts and traditions. As theologians our conversation and interpretations of these texts and traditions should be to dialogue with the community in a way that promotes harmony, peace, stability and identifies the kairos processes at work. Our task is to endeavor to shoulder oftentimes opposing views in tension with one another – that of theology, doctrine and dogma on the one side with the prophetic voices of senses fidelium on the other. It will be there in the sacred space created within the conversation between community, text and tradition that Divine energies can incarnate and procreate a way forward.

Turning then to the ancient context, can the texts and traditions of the fourth century aid us to correlate a “way of life” that can be interpreted for contemporary forces at work in the 21st century? I believe they can. Drawing from the theodocian strain of Clement of Alexandria and Origen, and seeded with the theology of Gregory of Nazianzus, the monastic theology that emerged from the Egyptian desert is particularly encapsulated in the writings of Evagrius Ponticus (345 – 399) and John Cassian (360 – 435). Evagrian and Cassian tenets of compassionate engagement with Divine energies, with self, one’s soul and the community, teaches the lesson of learning to listen with the ear of the heart in order to create Divine silence between self and other that is incarnational. The focus was on contemplation of the Divine, a sense and practice of prayer that could listen not only to others, but to Divine answers for daily questions. Perception and being could then be transformed by a transfiguration of reality through renunciation of the intrinsic motivation of fear and replaced with the intrinsic motivation of agapé through contemplative prayer. Contemplative prayer was the motivating force behind the process of theosis. And what is theosis? It was the lived process of sanctification whereby one can become progressively conformed to the Divine. It is a process of moral and ontological ascent lived as graced existential energy. It is through theosis that one can allow the radical hospitality and acceptance of every other as Christ in your midst. Is this the first answer to how the embodied God acts in a liberating way?

Agapé as an Expression of Apatheia: Contextualizing the Texts of Evagrius Ponticus and John Cassian in the 21st Century

Presented at LEST VIII Leuven, Belgium

The 21st Century immersion in individualism can be transformed by a transfiguration of reality through renunciation of the intrinsic motivation of fear and replaced with the intrinsic motivation of agapé through contemplative prayer. Contemplative prayer is the motivating force behind the process of theosis. In the later fourth century CE an Egyptian desert monastic, Evagrius of Ponticus, systematized a way of thinking, feeling and living so the soul of one’s existence could ascend to the Divine. Evagrius taught purity of heart, purity of intention, a way of loving the Divine and others that was the access to natural science, theology and final happiness. His Christological contribution created a school of the praktikos, a student of the inner life, to teach a process for conversion of heart, a daily conversation with the Divine that sought to purify humanity of its intrinsic link to fear and show the desert monastics a way to overcome fear with love with eyes opened to the deifying light. This process of temporal renunciation termed theosis strove to attain the metaphysical state of apatheia, a freedom from compulsions, obsessions and addictions to that which exists outside of us. The goal of apatheia was to strip the praktikos of extrinsic interference, rendering one receptive to Divine grace to mediate a life of agapé, an incommutable responsibility to the other in our midst. John Cassian, expanding on Evagrius, wrote The Institutes and The Conferences which contain an ethos of transfigurative methods to purify one's “outward appearance” (exteriorem ornatum) to heal “inner worship” (interiorem cultum). The monastic praktikos was to liberate individualism by cultivating humility through praxis and theoria to inculcate the intrinsic motivation of agapé through mysterical prayerfulness, the primary locus of theology.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Glendalough... never was grief like thine

I was happy I was asleep when the news was announced from the USA on May 1st... On Dublin time, I have early morning memories of being awakened at dawn by light drifting in, the caw of a faroff bird sounding forelorn that reminded me of the oak tree owl that hooted night after night just before my mother's heart attack. I turned over wanting more sleep in a haze of dreams and past memories. I don't know why I never checked my email that morning when I finally placed feet on the floor and chose to pray as the phone rang and I let it go to voicemail. I didn't hear the news until I stepped into a car and was told.

I said not a word about that day nearly ten years ago when somehow everything changed for me. A soul shattering silently when you are defined by a moment in time that you cannot explain. The echo was with me in a car ride to Glendalough. A most perfect place for a most unperfect bit of news as your mind travels back and you wrestle to stay in the present.

I went to a place of music whispering through the trees and skipping across water rippling in the near quiet. Voices of happy children looking for fairies in the hills. Walking past St. Kevin's Cell and hearing the lyrics pass through me still, "Here might I sing, no story so divine; never was love, dear King, never was grief like thine! This is my Friend, in whose sweet praise, I all my days could gladly spend." And I wondered, if He walked here with me now would He be filled with sorrow?

We can be so wonderful and so terrible both. Do the angels really envy us? I would think not. So in the midst of the colors of life in green and blue in this sacred place of old, I traced footsteps of times past and recollected my life in the presence of new friends. I left the memories on a trail up a hill in Glendalough and will let the divine spirits catch them and keep them for me, I have let them go.