Thee will not Believe This!

I went out yesterday evening without a headcover. I had been changing clothes, my husband wanted to go to the store before supper, and I blithely put on my coat and went out. No prayer cap. No bonnet. No shawl. Not even the wild tie-dyed baby cap I wear at the gym. We got to the store, I got out of the car, and realized: No cap. My head is bare. I instantly thought everyone was staring at me.

Of course not.

Self-Discipline

I hated doing homework when I was young, especially the tedious, rote math homework. I didn’t like anything that was repetitive. I’d learned it; why did I have to do it over and over again? So I would procrastinate and dodge the work until my mother would be distracted past reason trying to pin me down to a chair. “Just do it now!” she would say. “Get it done, and it’s over with!”

This went on into the first year of high school, and then all that discipline from my mother paid off, to some extent. I became more disciplined in getting the work done, although I’d skive off the math homework if I could.

We don’t have self-discipline unless we have learned to accept discipline from outside ourselves. And without self-discipline, our lives are continually restless and unsatisfying. A lack of self-discipline leads to a lack of accomplishments, large and small. We don’t finish the university degree; we leave piles of dirty dishes in and around the sink. We can’t seem to keep our mouth shut at work and lose the job; we channel surf to the point where we can’t follow the plot of an ordinary television show. It’s a lack of focus, a lack of discipline, a lack of direction.

Of course I don’t mean real neurological disorders such as ADHD.  These are diagnosable, sometimes treatable. I mean the spiritual disorder that manifests as laziness and disaffection. It can look like busyness, too, as the undisciplined flit from activity to activity, leaving a wake of unfinished projects and forgotten friends behind.

The spiritual warriors we know as the desert monks fought lack of discipline as much as anything. Monastics need discipline, or the prayers go unsaid, the lessons unlearned, the praise forgotten. The repetition of monastic life is the result of discipline, but it also facilitates discipline. There is room for the spiritual work because the physical work is done according to rote and pattern. The prayers are said in certain order, the seasons kept in given order, and there is no room for heresies and false imagination.

Discipline within begins with discipline without. The parent disciplines and corrects the child, not harshly so as to drive it to anger and hatred and rejection, but gently and as necessary. I was not one to spank, but the firm and no-nonsense approach to corporal discipline isn’t wrong. There are limits. The purpose of spanking is to remind the child of what it did, with punctuation, and to remind of the superior position of the parent. It is to be a gentle shock, not a beating, a mild humiliation, not torture. It is not to be administered in anger, and it must never bruise or injure the child. A spank is administered to the sitting down part of the anatomy, and it is not a cuff or blow anywhere else. A child shouldn’t be spanked past the age of ten.

Other forms of discipline are effective, and often more effective than spanking. A quick word of correction, applied by a parent who is paying attention, may save both parent and child bitterness or failure. I train my dogs to respond to a fingersnap and a hand signal. Working closely with them, I can usually teach them this within days. Eventually all they need is to hear the fingersnap and they know they are expected to do something they are not doing. I don’t have to raise my voice or chase them or scold, very often. Not that we should train children the same way! But it is the putting them right when they don’t know the way, leading them time and again back to the proper course of action, without harshness and belittling, that will lead them to understand first the parental discipline and then their own self-discipline.

God disciplines us the same way. The people of God go astray more often than  sheep. Sheep will eventually understand the fence, but Christians charge through it, over it, under it, all the time.  Time and time, God sets His people right, even when it takes pain and sorrow. If we pay attention, we learn. If we don’t, we go farther astray and matters get worse for us. Just as the parent has to shout to the child running headlong into danger, sometimes God has to get our attention, because we were not heeding Him when His voice was gentle. Jesus promised us that the yoke was easy,the burden light, but we seem determined to make it difficult and heavy by carrying on with sin on our shoulders, rather than heeding the Shepherd’s voice to stop, rest and give up that burden.

Do we need explicit examples of how far from the path of Christ the church has gone? We can look around and see them. It is not just the human frailty of our leaders, but the petty disputes, the virulent distrust we see amongst the flock, as well! It is the disregard for the way the Lord gave us, disdain for the simple rules He calls us to follow. We act as if His commands are no more than mere suggestions. There is no humility and shamefacedness in the pews or the pulpits. The godliest of men and women are treated with contempt. The learned are belittled. The gentle are mocked.

Men act like women; women dress like men. Children are disrespectful. The proud prevail. The authority of the Word of God is ignored in favour of a cult of personality revolving around some priest, pastor, musician, speaker. Factions turn on each other in every denomination and jurisdiction, name-calling and slandering. Is this Godly behaviour? Did the Lord tell us to act as rats tearing at the wounded and weak?

Parents are afraid to discipline their children, and priests afraid to discipline their congregations. We might get sued, we might get fired. We must then obey man-made law and the rule of the mob rather than the Lord.

Envy

I think of envy as a sin of youth, a failpoint of immaturity. It is part of that clash of self and identity, of expectation and potential. It is love of this world, and of self, and a neglect of self-discipline and prayer.

Envy is not jealousy. Jealousy is guarding what one has; envy is hateful yearning for what one does not have. It is not “Please give me a meal, for I am hungry,”  but “I want what you have even though I have no right to it.”

To each his own gifts; envy denies the gifts of others and covets them. Envy says that God’s blessings for one’s self are insufficient.

Envy is murder. It is the root of gossip. It is the root of theft. It is the root of adultery.

Envy creeps into lives looking like ambition. It creeps into the church especially this way, as Christians battle Christians for control of the institution. We cannot control the Church. It is under Christ, not humans, but instead we attempt to annex the structure and system of the church for our own means. As St. John Chrysostom said, beware of ambition in a priest.

On the day-to-day level, envy leads to bitterness and causes love and admiration to turn to hatred and contempt. When we admire a person for his attributes we feel a kind of love. But if we become envious of those attributes because they are not ours, then that love turns to dislike and even virulent hatred. We may grumble about how arrogant someone seems, when the real sin is our own envy of their virtues.

Envy is most common over possessions. The old saw about “keeping up with the Joneses” is a statement about envy. We cannot bear, at times, to see the worldly success of others. We want the possessions, the status, the acclaim and the pleasure for ourselves. Modern marketing is an exercise in fomenting envy in as many people as possible in a short period of time. We envy the Hollywood actors and other famous people who can afford status symbol clothes, cars, houses and pets. We even try to emulate them despite our relative poverty. We flash the designer names and brand identifications to show that we, too, have status, and that others should envy. We belong, they don’t. And that is a losing proposition, because tomorrow, even tonight, there will be a different status object to desire, another person to envy, and the cycle is never ending. 

To step away from the world’s demands is to break that cycle of sin. The Lord told us this: Do not be concerned for how thee clothes thy body, or what thee will eat. The Lord provides. The world does not. 

My way of realizing that truth is plain dress and modesty. Plain people don’t need to envy; they don’t need the objects of envy. The Lord has set us in a good way of life, and we follow it. We are not to be envied, for we are the least of all. There’s nothing flashy or status conscious about us.

We have much to learn from monastics. The strictest groups still have uniformity of dress, to the point where it is hard to distinguish one from another.  They practive holy poverty, so that the monks and nuns are not concerned about the costliness or richness of their dress, and must be satisfied sometimes with old, faded and patched clothing. And it is enough, because true monasticism means that one’s eyes are not on the things of the world, but on the riches of heaven. One is clothed royally in prayer while the body is merely covered against indecency and bad weather.

I had to learn this kind of holy poverty, and it is a great gift. I was once worldly and envious of others, especially when I was young. When I was older I didn’t mind impressing people with my sense of style, my beauty, my understated but quite obvious status. I was proud, and that invoked envy in others, and that is a sin, to make others sin because of thee.

I’m not proud of the clothing I wear now; I don’t pay attention to it much until it gets to the point of ragged. It is a major change in attitude for me, thanks be to God! For He took me off the weary and lonely treadmill of envy and status seeking, and freed me for a life of prayer and service, and though I am feeble in that life yet, He will strengthen me for greater work.

A Few Thoughts on Christian Marriage

I’m not sure if I really should say anything on marriage. I have a good marriage, but I’ve seen failed marriages (including in my own past, to be honest) and sometimes I wonder: What went wrong there? How did they get off the rails so fast?

Nicholas and I were talking about romance the other day. We are not romantic people. There’s no need for weekend getaways, or champagne and roses, or even greeting cards in our relationship. There was a time we might have thought “That sounds great!” if someone talked about such things, but now we’re both very practical and down-to-earth.

I see two major problems in most marriages, Christian and otherwise. One is that most people have huge expectations about the material side of adulthood and marriage. They want the moon.  They want the lifestyle they see on television and in the magazines. They may say they don’t, but secretly they do, because they shop, and shop, and shop. Maybe they can’t afford Rodeo Drive, but they wish they could. They start with the over the top wedding (the kind that drives clergy crazy) and then they expect it’s going to be “Bride” magazine from now on. Honeymoon in Hawaii, first home in a nice part of town, furniture, electronics, and so on. You’ve seen it, I’ve seen it, and pretty soon they don’t have enough money. Husband takes a second job. Wife works overtime, then takes a retail job weekends. They never see each other. The money flies out the door to pay bills and to keep up the consuming lifestyle. (I mean the irony in that phrase.) They don’t work to support themselves, they work to support their debt, and it’s a cuckoo in the nest, pushing everything else out and eating its head off. This marriage will fail. Even if they stick together, it soon fails internally, because they were not serving God. They were serving the world and its master, Satan. The love God intended between two people in marriage is lost very quickly, if it ever was there. The next step is almost always an affair by one party or the other, with the excuse that they “feel unloved.”  That’s because possessions can’t love anyone, and all the “love” is love for the world, nothing but desire and passions.

Often the materialistic marriage ends in poor health, as well, as the worry and physical stress of trying to keep it all together causes illness.

Immaturity is a leading cause of marital failure. One partner (sometimes both) expect the other to be a substitute parent, and probably not a responsible parent, but the parent who spoils and expects nothing from the child.  Husband and wives are equally guilty of this. Some people marry so as to have no responsibilities, not to take on the unique set of responsibilities of marriage and family. The symptoms are expressed as competitiveness (“if you can have one, so can I”), secrecy (just like little kids sneaking cookies from the kitchen), and contempt, as the immature adult who doesn’t get his or her way belittles the other partner. Immature relationships are marked by fights and tantrums, as the partners try to assert control. Many “romantic”‘ relationships are just immature partnerships. The partners appease and bribe, demand and take, and what looks like a constant round of “we’re in love” events are just payoffs.

Nicholas put it this way: Modern people aren’t looking for good partners in life. They look for a pretty face, a nice figure, and  a good income. They look for romance and excitement and sex. They aren’t looking for the attributes that carry one through a long life: Maturity, ability, intelligence, temperment. No one seems to care if the wife can cook, the husband can work, or that either of them has one clue about raising kids.

Life is not going to get easier in the next years. Even those who aren’t end-time prophets can see the changes in the weather, figuratively and literally. The world is a mess. And many people are ill-equipped to deal with it. When they lose the job, the house, and the car, when they can’t go on vacations or buy the latest plasma screen tv, they will fall apart. There’s no depth of strength in many people, and they can’t support themselves and their families emotionally when the hard times come. They can’t support their families at all, because they don’t know how to grow food or bake bread or care for chickens. They don’t have a grasp of the basics, spiritually or otherwise.

Christian marriage is about trust. It’s about trusting God first, that is, true belief that God will not fail us, even if death overtakes us. True marriage doesn’t give up. True marriage is a mutual gift. It is irrevocable. Marriages that fail may not have been true marriages in the first place. Christians, when they marry, must expect that it will be until death parts them, even if the road is rough and it’s not much fun all the time. God intends marriages to last a lifetime.

True marriage is honest, totally honest. Nothing hurts a marriage more than secrets. Some learn this the hard way, by weakening the trust between husband and wife by keeping back something. It could be major (past illness or an out-of-wedlock pregnancy when young) or it could seem minor (an unpaid bill, a dented car) but secrets will take on a life of their own and haunt the secret keeper. It’s possible to rise above that kind of harm, but it will take time and understanding, and not everyone has that kind of strength all the time.

A Christian marriage is Christian love, charity at heart, and self-sacrificing. It is the ultimate traditional marriage, for some of our patterns for marriage go back to the early days of humanity captured in Genesis. Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekka: these are our models for marriage. Above  that, we have the model of Christ and the Church, His Bride, for whom He gave His life, and it is for Him that the Church lives.

Listening to God

I’ve been a Christian a long time. When people talk about their conversion experiences, I can’r remember mine. I was no more than five years old when I became convicted of the truth of the Gospel, and I have never doubted. I had my share of young silliness in religion, and more than my share of worldliness, but to me, all through my life, home is where God is. It’s made me a bit of a wanderer, because I don’t get attached to places and things, and soemtimes I regret that we are not more settled as we pass the half-century mark. But it really doesn’t matter that much.

New Christians and reborn Christians (those who wandered and then came home, let’s say) will come to us with words of how God has spoken to them – they know it, in their hearts!  And this can be so true. God does move our hearts. The Light of Christ enters us and we see.

But I also listen with a bit of hesitation at accepting “God has spoken.” Because there is more in our hearts than God, we have to be careful of the voices within. Our hearts, if we have not given up the world completely, (and we never will, this side of the Jordan) will give us messages of beguilement and pride, making those messages seem beautiful and clean, while they are really serving our dark nature.

“Oh, this is where I should be!” someone may cry out in an awesome church building or in a centuries old monastery, all peaceful and glorious. Rarely does anyone cry out with awe at the raw beauty of a soup kitchen or a clinic for poor children. We may be moved to tears of pity for the downtrodden and suffering, but rarely do we see the beauty of Christ in the desperately poor.

Christ told us that is where he will be. We know that. “What thee has done for the least of these, thee has done for me.”

That realization can’t be forced. It can’t be sentimental. Thee must see the suffering as well as the heavenly beauty. Sometimes all thee may see is the suffering, and the beauty comes back as a memory. Sometimes we don’t hear God in the moment, but later we do, when we reflect in prayer on what happened.

If God is speaking to thee, most likely it will be about something thee does not want to do. We are weak creatures, full of selfish desires, full of passions and silly enthusiasms. We prefer our own way. When God speaks, and thee is compelled by it, most likely it will be toward what is difficult for thee. God will make thee angry. God will frighten thee. The words of truth will make thee turn upon the human speaker, if such is the agent of the message, with bitterness and even hatred, “How can you even suggest I do such a thing? I can’t! I won’t! God would never ask that!” And yet that may be just what God is asking.

The Quakers have two terms for the compulsions of the heart. If they are of God, they are leadings. If they are of the sinful self, they are notions. Sometimes notions can look a lot like leadings. Thee may have a notion to cast away thy job, thy connections in thy native place, and go to China as a missionary. It sounds so noble and Christian.  But it may be vain and prideful. It may be a decision thee wants to make to prove how faithful and self-sacrificing a Christian thee is. It may be a romantic idea gained from reading a book or watching a film. It may be an attempted escape from the hard work of resisting temptation and living a life of peace amongst thy neighbours.

Equally, it may be a notion that thee can witness by living a quiet, inconspicuous life, that thee is setting a good example, for thy neighbours will surely see that thee is a Christian because thee is in church on First Day, thee is kind and considerate, thee does not have the biggest television set or the most expensive car on the block. Thee may be entirely convinced that God will allow thee to have a moderate amount of worldly success, and does not expect too much of thee. But this is mere spiritual cowardice. No one will notice that thee is a Christian if thee lives a worldly life. It is no witness at all. Instead, it says that the world is just fine, that Christians don’t need to challenge it, that God helps those who help themselves. And this is all nonsense, a deception of the devil.

All “messages” from God have to be tested, first with other, experienced Christians and then in action. All ideas, which may be notions or leadings, have to be tested in prayer. And the first prayer of all, and I am not ashamed to repeat it, is: “Thy will be done.”

It’s Not a Story

I studied in fairly liberal theological circles beginning about twenty years ago, and the liberal language of theology is familiar jargon to me. That can be a hindrance, because for years I have left the term “story” go unchallenged, until my husband pointed it out after an Advent sermon.

Week after week we hear in sermons, we read in Christian articles, about the “Christ story”, the “stories” of the Old Testament, and so on. To most people, “story” means fiction. And perhaps to a lot of liberal Christians, there’s a lot of fiction in the Bible.

But it’s not a story.

I have seven years of theological education. I know all the variants. I am not inteested in one more explanation of authorship, redaction and narrative development. I thought when I was studying the scholarship that some was plausible, and none was proveable.

And I thought: It doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter that the Exodus narrative is only somewhat supportable by archeology. That does not make it fiction. The history told in the Old Testament is history as remembered. Traditionally the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) are attributed to Moses. Good enough. It doesn’t matter. I’d say there’s a really good possibility that the different narratives and traditions were brought together at the time of the Exodus, told during the long migration, and developed as coherent units. Moses and his successor, Joshua, very well could have had a big influence on those fireside narratives. These are pre-literate people, for the most part.  People who have no opportunity to write things down memorize them, teach them word-perfect, and pass them on verbatim. That can be better than literacy.

The New Testament, in terms of world history, is a recent document. We have good copies of it; we have unbroken narrative concerning the authorship of the New Testament books in the Orthodox tradition. (Have a look at my husband’s blog, Anglican, Mostly Anabaptist for more on this.)

Part of the confusion liberals have may be the word “legend.” Modern people think it means fiction, mythology, just-so stories. Its other meaning is the subscript on a statue or monument. It really means the supporting evidence, the explanation.  The Bible is not legend in either sense, but there are narratives such as the “Golden Legend” that belong to the second sense of the word rather than the first meaning. They support the Bible and tradition.

So please, stop calling the Bible “a story.” Stop thinking it is a story. Start thinking of it as the Word of God, manifest in Jesus Christ.

More on Prayer

The disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Now, these are devout men, always in the synagogue,  up to the temple regularly, and they knew the ways of their religion. They heard prayer all the time. But still they ask, “How do we pray?” 

The answer was the Lord’s Prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven… I had to memorize it in Greek in seminary; I can’t recite it all the way through anymore, but it was a good spiritual exercise.  Most of us memorize the Lord’s Prayer at an early age, if we are raised in the church. It’s a good thing to do, for there are times in life of such dire need of prayer that we can’t even think, we can’t even respond, and the prayer the Lord gave us is always there for us. People will spontanteously join in if we say it out loud. It is the greatest comfort in times of trouble, and the Lord Himself left it with us. Many, many theologians have written on the Lord’s Prayer. I don’t think it needs a lot of explanation. People sometimes wonder about “lead us not into temptation,” but this simply means, “Don’t abandon us when we face the tough times for the soul.” That’s why it’s followed by “and deliver us from evil.” This is more accurately translated “save us from the Evil One.” It specifically means Satan, not just the accidents of life that lead to pain and inconvenience.

Prayer is the Christian’s strongest weapon against sin and evil. It puts us in the presence of God. With the Holy Spirit in our hearts, we turn to God, sometimes run to God, in prayer. In times of great turmoil, whether physical or spiritual, “Lord, save me!” is more effective than a mouthful of fancy words.

The Apostle Paul tells us, “Pray without ceasing.” Keep a word of prayer always in thy heart. The Jesus Prayer is meant for this unending prayer. It goes on in thy heart while thee is doing other things. And it will call thee to silence in the midst of noise, solitude in the midst of hurry. It becomes the prayer of the breath – as natural as breathing. Some of the prayer practitioners attempt to make it integral with breathing, but this seems forced to me, an esoteric practice. Let the Prayer be what it is, and work within thee for peace.

The prayer cap is a symbol of unceasing prayer. When are we not praying? And doesn’t a woman cover her head in prayer, to show that she is under the headship of Christ? (Remember that this is a privilege and a gift of glory; even bishops must uncover at the altar, but not women. They remain veiled as Moses was veiled, to keep in sanctity the glory of God.) So the prayer covering is her symbol and reminder of everlasting prayer.

Prayer is an attitude, a state of the soul. It is the natural state of the Christian. It can be conscious, as when we deliberately in voice and attitude turn to God with our thanksgivings and petitions, or unconscious, as our souls reach out to the Eternal Light that nourishes them as the sun nourishes plants.

The Lord hears our corporate prayers, the prayers the church sets before us to guide us and keep us safe from heresy (in theory, at least.)  The Lord hears silent prayer, and heartfelt prayer, and the simplest prayer offered in a half-second. Christians don’t need testimonials about prayer being answered. We know that our living and breathing is a gift of God. All things come from God, even those things we do not want. Prayer is not about petitions, asking for what we want. That is baby prayer. As we mature as Christians we pray “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” And that is enough.

Saying the Beads

“Saying the beads” is a colloquial expression for the Roman Rosary practice. It is simple and descriptive. But the Roman Catholic church is not the only one with this prayer practice.

Older than that is the Orthodox prayer rope, and the great and simple prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

Anglicans now have their own form of counted prayer, but it not one set formula. On a set of 33 beads a chosen prayer order is followed; it can be varied.

I began to pray the rosary about twenty years ago. I had bought a rosary as a souvenir of a trip to the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, and I enjoyed the plain little olivewood beads in my hand, so I found a booklet on praying the rosary and kept it up over time. I am not a faithful rosary follower, as some of my Catholic friends are, but in times of trouble and as a prayer discipline it has been comforting and helpful.

I learned the Jesus prayer (as above) probably twenty-five years ago, and it is a steady companion. I began to use a prayer rope (although mine is beads) just a couple of years ago. The Jesus Prayer is one of the great meditation exercises, and the most basic of counted prayers.

I have not formally tried the Anglican prayer beads, because I don’t care for the mix-and-match format. It’s a little too individualistic for me.  Some of the prayer exercises are too complex to be memorized.

The Orthodox prayer rope was originally a cord of wool with one hundred knots and a tassel to mark the beginning and end. The monks of Mount Athos still make these and it is possible to find them on the internet for sale from Orthodox sources, although the only prices I could find were in euros. There are other sources, and instructions are available to make them. I make my Orthodox prayer strands with glass, stone or wooden beads, one hundred beads divided into decades with a different texture bead (so the dividing bead is an “extra”) – this works best for me. Some prefer to have just the one hundred beads with the last bead of the decade (“the ten”) being different. I make a tassel from cotton or wool to match. For the threading cord, I use waxed linen thread.

I love the Jesus Prayer. I began saying it after reading a book by Henri Nouwen. At the time, when I was young and had no vehicle, I had to walk everywhere, no matter what the weather. Since I was on foot a lot, and taking the same routes every day, I found the journeys a bit monotonous, and something of a waste of time. This, of course, was long before cell phones, so there was no breaking the tedium with a good long chat! Instead, I learned to pray silently, to talk to God from the heart. That is the purpose of the Jesus Prayer, to move the heart closer to God. The Prayer was my companion. I gladly started the Prayer with the first step, and almost was sorry to reach my destination some days.  It sounds tedious and monotonous in itself, but it isn’t. It puts us in the presence of God, which is the best place to be and the best use of our time.

There is an excellent book available called The Way of a Pilgrim, by an anonymous Russian peasant. It was written sometime after the middle of the nineteenth century, and is a classic of Orthodox literature. It is still in print in paperback, and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in Russian forms of Orthodoxy and everyone who is interested in the prayer of the heart.

Thee may hear that the Jesus Prayer can be dangerous, but this is not true. How can the name of Our Lord ever harm thee? Some have used the prayer vainly, and some superstitiously. It is not the Prayer that harms such, but the blasphemy. The Prayer offered to the Lord in simplicity and humility cannot harm, but heal.

I doubt if I can add anything to the material available on the Roman Rosary, as it is the best known of all counted prayer practices. I know some discourage its use as promoting a special place for the Mother of God, but she does have a special place. No human was closer to Our Lord than His mother. He was “flesh of her flesh.” She was His companion in His ministry, witness to His crucifixion, and received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost along with the Apostles. This is all scriptural; we don’t need to qualify it. She is chief among the saints. When we ask those who stand at the altar of God for their prayers (that is, for those saints to pray for us) we should always include her. If we ask the living on earth for prayer, why would we not ask those living in the throne room of the Lord? They know His will more perfectly than we can. (“But how do the saints hear us?” someone asked me once. “Through the Holy Spirit,” was my answer. I think that’s obvious.)

Over the years of praying the rosary, I have found that most of them wear out too quickly if used daily. Many are thin chains of soft metal. I make mine from the thick waxed linen thread or dental floss, and tie knots between the beads. These hold up better in daily use. The first rosaries were made this way.

There are many sources for instruction in the rosary, both in print and on the internet. The format is simple, and although it is difficult to memorize the “mysteries”, or the events to remember while praying, I use a prayer card for that or just pray without commemorating the mysteries.

The Anglican prayer bead information is available at King of Peace, an internet site. (www.kingofpeace.org) Prayer beads can be purchased, but it is a simple format to make.

Is repetitive prayer wrong? The Lord told us not to make vain repetitions of prayers, “as the pagans do.” But the pagans sometimes prayed words that had no meaning, or in languages they did not know. They paid for prayers to be repeated as a magical charm. They prayed ostentatiously in their temples to gain notice and status. Sincere counted prayer is not “vain repetition,” but a worthy offering to the Lord, calling on His name and His help. He tells us to ask repeatedly, to invoke His presence. We do not pray over and over just to satisfy some sort of obligation to God. We pray for our own sakes. The counted prayers are a meditation. We must say them ourselves. We can’t pay the priest to pray for us, not can we hang up prayer flags and set up prayer wheels to pray for us, as the Buddhists do. It is our hearts we sacrifice to God, not repetitions of a phrase.

Counted prayer practice is not necessary, but for some it is greatly helpful. Approach it with humility and a desire to grow closer to God, and it will be a blessing to thee.

Another Round: On Vanity

Pacifist that I am, I have to admit I like putting on the gloves and giving the heavy bag a good workout, or standing at the speed bag and work out ascending and descending rhythms, left, left, right, left, left, left, right, right… But I have never been in the ring, and I’ve never hit another human being in competition. I took up the gloves after ordination, and priests don’t hit people, even in “friendly” sport.

Still, the match is sometimes a good metaphor for Christian life. We stand up and face the enemy – the world, the works of Satan, our own sin – round after round. God gives us a few breaks, and the bell sounds, and we get to take a breather and spit out the blood. 

I feel as if I’m headed into another round. There’s always spiritual combat, of course – the long struggle I have with patience and temper, and after about forty years of really working on it, I’m not where I need to be, because the Lord keeps sending me more challenges.  I’ll be safely home with that one when I don’t have to call up prayer to keep my temper and have patience with someone else’s behaviour. Maybe I’ll be safely home with that when I am safely home with Christ, and not a moment sooner. But this is the Big Battle, against the world, just as we anticipate the coming of Christ in His final victory.

We can see clearly that the world is headed straight for hell without a glance up to see the direction it’s taking.  The level of self-absorption and vanity is incredible. It’s not just “me first,” it’s “me only.” Everyone is a little emperor or empress, living for pleasure and praise. Look beautiful, feel young, be your hottest ever! Go ahead, you’re worth it. Work? That’s for other people.

The world has gone beyond utilitarianism and into something so self-focussed that its definition might as well be,”The greatest good is the greatest amount of happiness for me. Give me what I want.”

I believe what David Suzuki and Al Gore are telling us. It’s time to smarten up and start doing the hard work to sustain life on the planet a while longer. As Suzuki put it recently, “We’re past the 59th minute [in the last hour].” I don’t see anyone really working to get it right. Most people are still tootling around in gas-burning cars every day, turning up the heat instead of wearing a sweater, producing mountains of trash because of their extravagant shopping habits, and eating, eating, eating high-cost food. We run water down the drain at incredible rates. If these people ever had to carry that water on their backs or heads, they probably wouldn’t be so extravagant!  We had to fetch our water for several months; carboys and buckets full. We could get through the week on about thirty gallons, plus buckets of runoff or brook water for the sheep.

There is a great deal of vanity and a huge loss of modesty out in the world. “How do I look?” seems to be the only question on anyone’s mind. Stop thinking about it! Get up, put on your clothes, wash your face, comb your hair and that’s it! Really, no one cares how you look except yourself. I don’t care because I do hope God has blessed a few of us with some discernment to see the inward man rather than the outer, and no one else cares because they are too focussed on how they look. Vanity is stupid. Vanity is short-sighted. Vanity can’t see past the mirror. Vanity cannot see that others are dying because of our selfishness and whimsy. Vanity has but one god: Self, and what a paltry, weak, and ignorant god that is.

Accumulation of riches is just vanity. Accumulation of possessions is just vanity. It doesn’t matter if someone has 4,000 ceramic frog figures from the dollar store or 300 Faberge lockets smuggled out of Czarist Russia. It’s vanity to collect. It’s buying one’s personality. It’s defining oneself with things, not by prayer,  Godly thoughts and actions.

So many people are out in their cars every weekend, and sometimes every night, shopping. They are looking for offerings to their god, Self, through their liturgy of Vanity. “I look good in this,” they say in one store. In another, “This is hot.” (Sex is an important sacrifice to Vanity for these worshippers.) They serve Vanity in what car they drive, where they live, what furnishings they buy, how they vacation.

Christians get caught up in it because they would like to believe the prosperity preachers – that we can have heaven and the world. But we cannot serve two masters. Jesus Christ is our master. The world belongs to Satan for a while longer.

So this is the next round, the fight against the world’s pomp and vanity. First we must kill that sin in ourselves. (Don’t be plain but vain, the Quakers cautioned.) Keep thyselves pure of the taint of worldliness, even as we move in the world as strangers and pilgrims. Heaven is our home, not Madison Avenue. Pray for those caught in worldliness – family, friends, co-workers, even the rich and famous. If we could reach those who are the heroes of hedonism, we might see others realize the emptiness of their ways. (More likely, the reaction will be, “He used to be so cool,” and attention will fall on some other deluded pop star.)

Live as Christ sent us to live – in simplicity, shamefacedness, and the joy of salvation. There is but one battle to be won, and we cannot lose with Christ on our side.

Modesty for Christian Men

Christian women are so often reminded to be modest –  modest in appearance, behavior and speech. Christian women, especially Plain women, are more visible than their male counterparts. We get the most attention, with our long hems, aprons, headcoverings, lack of make-up and jewelry.  Even Christian women who do not cover are sometimes asked why they dress modestly or always wear skirts. People assume, in today’s world, that everyone wants to be on display as a sexual object.

But Christian men are rarely identified as such by their dress, unless they are consciously dressed in the way of the Old Orders or the Conservative Quakers. Yet this does not free them from modest appearance and behavior.

The Conservative and Anabaptist standard for male attire is simple. Broadfall trousers or respectable plain pants, long-sleeved neutral coloured shirts, suspenders instead of a belt, plain black vest, plain uncollared coat, black plain shoes or boots, black or straw hat, unornamented. Many Plain men wear the Brethren beard – a beard of varying length and fullness, but without the mustache. Hair is cut at collar length, may be brushed back from the front or cut into a high bang. The usual male short hair style is considered worldly and vain, and is called derogatorily “roached” or “shingled.”

Sometimes Plain men will wear denim jeans (without any name brand identification) and denim work jackets. These are useful garments for any modest Christian man, on the understanding that the jeans are not name brand and the jacket does not have patches and emblems.

Name brands are not modest. Designer clothes are not modest. If a person can look upon thee and say, “Giorgio Armani” and that is not thy name, then thee is far too concerned with the world and thy status in it.

This is probably where Christian men fail the most in modesty. They are too concerned with the right kind of clothes, cars, tools, boats – well, the usual worldly things. The Christian man following his Lord has no need to carry someone else’s name with him. He belongs to Christ, not Ralph Lauren or DeWitt Power Tools or Dodge Ram trucks.  Christian men have no reason to prove their worldly success by what they can buy. They are not in the competition. Remember what is said about the rat race: Even the winner is still a rat.

Just as Christian women should not desire to show off their figures and attract the attention of other people, Christian men should be decently clad. Men, this means no tight pants, shorts, tiny spandex swimsuits and muscle-baring shirts.  It means shirts at all times

Quiet colours and sensible footwear are part of modest dress. Athletic wear belongs in the gym or on the ski slope, not on the street. (Of course, one must get to the gym, so that’s another matter. The point is that it has a specific use. To wear it on other occasions is just showing off.)

Modesty of speech may be a big challenge for some men. Men often like to boast amongst other men, or to impress women. It may be overt, it may be subtle. But to keep the conversation  on oneself is not modest. Only God is concerned with thy deeds, and thee should lay these before Him with great humility and probably a certain amount of contrition.

Television and film promote a life for men that seems to involve a lot of time socializing. This social life means a lot of drinking, loud conversation and laughter, and even some fighting. This may be what is promoted in our culture, but it is not a life for a Christian, male or female.  It is a juvenile, hedonistic life, not a life of sobriety and service.

Drunkenness is not modest. It leads to a lack of self-discipline that leads to misbehaviour. We have all met men who can’t keep their mouths shut when drunk and have to tell someone what they really think of him. We’ve all known some guy who finds  women attractive through beer goggles, and makes a pest of himself. We have all heard or seen the tragic results of men who could drive better, even race faster after drinking, and they were really, really wrong. Moderation in drink is required of Christians. Abstinence is required of some who simply cannot handle alcohol in a responsible way.

Sexual talk, either with other men or with women, is not modest. Men sometimes like to boast sexually, and this is a betrayal of their partner. If it is about sex outside marriage, it is an indication of grave sin, and a sinful attitude. The modest Christian man does not stay to listen to this kind of conversation and boasting. He does not keep company with such friends. They will drag him down to their level.

The modest Christian man is loyal to the way his Lord has given him. He does not draw attention to himself in how he dresses, how he talks or how he behaves. He is sober and quiet. He will make himself a fit companion for a modest Christian woman, or fit to keep company with holy men.