I Think I Need A Laxative

Sometimes things get lost in the translation. For example, below are a few of the commonest phrases used in the Arabic language, translated literally into English. See if you can guess their original meaning…


“A Jasmine dawn”

“Every year and you are kind”

“From under to under”

When we read the Bible in a translated language (like English), a lot of the more subtle nuances and meanings are also lost. Often the only way to find them is to read a good commentary (or perhaps go the whole way and learn Hebrew and Greek!) Here is one example…

SPLAGCHNA

Please don’t ask me how to pronounce it! It’s a Greek word that literally means ‘bowels’. It is often used in the New Testament, both as a noun and a verb (‘to bowel’). How? Here are a few verses with the word ‘splagchna’ translated literally…

“Through the bowels of mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78,79)

“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on bowels of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering” (Colossians 3:12)

“But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his bowels from him, how does the love of God abide in him? ” (I John 3:17)

It turns out that in the Greek mind of the time, the word ‘bowels’ was used to describe all the organs of the chest and abdomen, especially the ‘nobler’ ones like the heart, the lungs and the liver. It represented the deepest feelings, feelings that stir an almost physical tingle inside you. While Greek poets tended to use it as a metaphor for the more violent passions such as anger, in the east it came to represent more tender affections like kindness, compassion and pity.

The use of the word in Greek strongly relays the sense of a very deep feeling, a feeling that involves the whole person rather than a superficial one. Anyone who has suffered colic or constipation or, God forbid, a twisted bowel will know exactly what I am talking about! It is a feeling you cannot ignore, a feeling that commands your total and complete attention.

So the New Testament authors who use this word are telling us that mercy, pity, compassion and kindness should not be some sort of superficial coat we put on for the public and put in the closet when we go home. They should come from the very depths of our being. Concern for others should cut deeply into the soft tissue of our inward parts, our ‘bowels’. They should be an inseperable part of us, of who we are. They should be ‘gut reactions’ that flow naturally from our Christ-filled nature.

That is how God loves us, in so far as we can describe God in human terms at least (He has no real bowels):

“Through the bowels of mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78,79)

That is how we should deal with each other – not superficially, not artificially:

“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on bowels of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering” (Colossians 3:12)

And that is what should naturally flow into our actions, automatically:

“But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his bowels from him, how does the love of God abide in him? ” (I John 3:17)

Which is a very apt description of “Compassion Constipation” – the state where a person’s ‘bowels’ are no longer ‘moved’ by care for others. He becomes obsessed with his own inner feelings and pain and can no longer give to others.

What this person needs is something to clear him out – to unblock the obstacle – to free the ‘bowels’. There is no better ‘spiritual laxative’ than love. Love melts the hardened heart and fills the suffocating lungs with fresh clean air. Love takes away our colic and replaces it with a sense of comfort and inner peace. Blessed indeed is the person who is loved.

And we are all loved. Not only by those whom God has given us in our lives to be our family and friends, but especially by God Himself. His love is apparent in His daily care for us, His support and comfort in hard times, and on the Cross, that eternal symbol of His ‘bowel-felt’ compassion for His children. The gut-wrenching agony of the Crucifixion is the greatest image of what love really means.

You are loved.

Let that knowledge move you in the inner parts of your being.

Fr Ant

Jesus on the Mountains

NAHUM 1:15

Behold, on the mountains
The feet of him who brings good tidings,
Who proclaims peace!

Often amidst the Books of the Prophets in the Old Testament one finds little sparkling gems in the middle of passages that are otherwise hard to draw a relelvant meaning from. This little excerpt from the Book of Nahum seems to be a prophecy about Christ. The imagery is beautiful. Set your imagination free … picture in your mind a Palestinian mountain, low by international standards, and largely arid and rocky. A desolate place where the wind plays through boulders and the rubble and the few sparse bushes that survive here. A lonely place. A quiet place. A place where one can think or pray without distractions, where the mind and the spirit can find serenity…

This is the setting Jesus chose for a significant part of His ministry. I had no idea how significant until I did a quick Bible Search of the Gospels:

Matthew:

4:8 Temptation in the wilderness (Luke 4:4)
5:2 Sermon on the Mount
14:8 Praying by Himself (Mark 6:46; Luke 6:12; John 6:15)
15:29 Healing multitudes and feeding 4,000
17:1 Transfiguration (Mark 9:2; Luke 9:28)
24:3 Outlining the End of the World (Mark 13:5)
26:30 Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:26; Luke 22:39)
28:16 The Great Commission after Resurrection.

Mark:

3:13 Appoints His Disciples
5:11 Exorcism at Gadarenes (Luke 8:32)

Luke:

19:37 Palm Sunday Triumphal Entry
21:37 Resting at the Mount of Olives (John 8:1)

John:

4:19 The Samaritan Woman
6:3 Feeding the 5,000

Acts:

1:12 Ascension

That’s 15 events in the life of Jesus about which the Evangelists saw fit to record that they occurred on a mountain. Clearly, Jesus was quite at home in the mountains, as He was of course at home in the heights of spirituality. That’s not counting the many references to Bethany, the place of His rest, which was on a mountain, or Golgotha, the Hill of the Skull.

Why a mountain? From a mountain, you get the big picture. You feel that you are above the petty events of the plain that look so small and insignificant. The dangers of the plain are far beneath you and you do not need to worry about them. You have the sense of ascending, of striving for a pinnacle … all these are quite conducive to our own spiritual journey and our attitude upon that journey, as we strive to scale the mountain to reach the pinnacle of His Presence, as He awaits us, there … at the top of the mountain.

Fr Ant

Zephaniah’s Zoo

Reading the second chapter of Zephaniah, I found it interesting to see how the overthrow of the evil nations is often portrayed in the Old Testament as a victory for nature. The plants and the animals resume their domination of lands that once were ruled by mighty kings.

It implies that man is, after all, pretty weak. Even his greatest constructions fall to the gentle ravages of time and nature combined – the empire created by God, nature, always wins out in the end. The fragile pelican shall sit as king upon the great pillars, and the mournful cry of the bittern shall replace the trumpets of the King. These inhabitants at least, shall praise the true God, unlike their human predecessors.

It is also a metaphor for getting back to basics, for simplicity, for ‘meekness and humility’. The simple life in touch with the land and the seasons and the beasts somehow instils in us a mode of connection that we miss when we are surrounded by our own creations in the city. Perhaps it is because we can no longer clearly see God’s creation? Perhaps it is because our own urban creations make for an incredibly unbalanced life, one of rush and anxiety and unfocussed vision that leads us to look too much to things that don’t matter? In the city, where is the wonder of the Milky Way at night, bisecting a sky dazzled with uncountable stars? Where is the gentle serenity of a silent walk in the fields with nothing but cows and dandelions for company? Where is the profound meditation that comes from these experiences, building up day after day to a well of wisdom?

It reminds me of a story I once read about an American father who takes his son to an impoverished third world country to teach him about poverty. The child comes home and thanks his father for showing him just how poor he really is. For the child, the simple life of the impoverished citizens, with time to spare, surrounded by people who love you with a love undiluted by material cares and the beauty of nature for your roof, walls and floor is a life of untold wealth. His own life comes a very poor second!

Simplicity.

A topic worth coming back to…

GBU

Fr Ant

The Blog in Your Own Eye

How hard can it be, really?

As a priest, I often hear people complaining about others. For a multitude of motives, people will come to complain to Abouna, perhaps because he is ‘in charge’ at Church, or perhaps because they think he will fix the person up, or perhaps (I hope not) because they think it will benefit them somehow to tarnish the reputation of their enemy in Abouna’s eyes.

Before I go further, I should probably point out that it doesn’t work, just in case you’ve ever been tempted to think it might be fun. Priests in general do not hold a ‘bad idea’ about anyone. We tend to take the view that all of us, (including the priests) are sinners grappling with their own weaknesses and all equally in need of God’s mercy and grace.

But I wonder why some people do so enjoy picking out other people’s faults? We all do it. It’s an easy trap to fall into. But why do we do it?

Does it make the critic feel superior, perhaps?

Or perhaps it makes him feel better about himself: if you can’t rise to the level of others, the next best thing is to bring them down to your own level.

Does it make him feel intelligent, something like: “Oooh, aren’t I clever for picking that up, when the person I’m criticising clearly has no idea!”

Or is it a sort of passive way to get back at someone. You know you can’t punch them in the face, so you fantasise about condemning them.

Does it distract him from the painful subject of his own faults?

I think I would be very unhappy if my self-esteem depended on putting others down. How miserable! And what a waste of time! Surely my self-value is not relative? Whether I am a good person or a bad person depends on who I am, not on how bad others are. If all around me were evil, horrible people, and I was no worse than a simple liar, that doesn’t make me a saint, simply by comparison!

The danger in finding lots of specks in other eyes, of course, is that I might never focus on the log in my own eye. This has two rather undesirable consequences:

1. I will never be able to repent from my sins, for I will never become aware they even exist.

2. When the time comes for me to be judged by the real Judge, He will apply the same degree of mercy to me that I applied to others. Uh-oh…

Now I am getting worried. I’ve been writing a lot of opinions on this Blog. Sometimes, they have been quite critical. Have I been focusing on the specks in the eyes of others, while all the time neglecting the blog in my own eye?

Fr Ant

PS A person whose vision is obstructed by a log is unlikely to have the ability to see something as small as a speck anyway. Think about it….

Is Anyone Hungry?

Last night at the CCP we were talking about the nature of serving God and of the person who serves God when an interesting contemplation came up.

In the passage about the end of the world, in Matthew chapter 25, Jesus tells those on His right side, “I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me”.

I find this image quite beautiful. You can almost imagine the surprised expressions on the faces of these people. “When did we do these things for You?” they ask honestly. (It would have been no good just being quiet and hoping He would not notice that this was a case of mistaken identity!) They couldn’t remember ever seeing Jesus and doing something for Him. Perhaps they couldn’t even remember doing those things for “the least of His brethren”. The reason for this apparent amnesia is that they did these services without even thinking about it. Do you remember what you had for dinner last Tuesday? Unless you’re some sort of obsessive gastrophile, the answer is probably ‘no’. Eating is such a normal, basic part of life. For these people, helping others is just as normal and basic in their life. It is something they did without even thinking about it – it just came naturally.

That’s what it takes to get to Heaven.

But that’s not the end of the story. Think about those things that Jesus ‘was’ when they served Him. Sound familiar? In fact, they are all the things we ARE, spiritually speaking. Spiritually, we are hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick and in prison:

Hunger: we ache for the empty hole in our lives to be filled with the love and the purpose that God gives.

Thirst: we are parched with yearning for the sweet cool living water of the Word of God, the Truth that satisfies.

A Stranger: we are strangers in this world, lost, without a place to rest, not belonging, trying to find our way home.

Naked: our sins leave us exposed before God’s penetrating gaze, and like Adam and Eve before us, we feel the shame that sin brings, and need Him to clothe us with His mercy and forgiveness.

Sick: our thoughts are those of a fevered mind, infected with the plague of worldliness and selfishness, desperately in need of healing and comfort.

Prisoner: we have allowed ourselves to be taken captive by the merciless enemy, the devil, who enchains us cruelly – who will set us free?

So you see, it was not our service for Him that was really important in this whole exercise, but His for us! He saw that we needed all those things, and desperately. He came to us, and did all those things, or at least, He offered to, if only we would accept. And those of us who accepted were so changed that they couldn’t help doing the same things back to others. Much like a little child whose parents always say ‘please’ and ‘thankyou’ to her at home, so she goes to school and says ‘please’ and ‘thankyou’ to her teachers and fellows.

The key, if you trace the story back, was when the human soul accepts the service offered by Jesus, accepts His feeding, giving drink, clothing etc.

It’s that simple.

And it’s that hard. Do you accept Jesus’ service each day? Do you choose to come before Him with your hunger and thirst and take from His hand His life-giving spiritual nourishment?

When I was little, we got a pet cat simply by feeding a stray for a few days on the back verandah. It decided to adopt us and make our house its home. So devoted was it that we actually ended up getting three generations of cats, and only broke the relationship when we moved house. The person who gets used to coming to Jesus every day (if not every minute) soon also may choose to make His House his home. He becomes part of His family, and remains with Him to the end of his days. Does this describe you?

We started by talking about serving others. We ended by finding that it is we who are in need of service from Christ. If you do not feel that you have this kind of relationship with Him, don’t just sit there … do something about it!

Fr Ant

An Axe To Grind

If the axe is dull and one does not sharpen the edge, then he must use more strength; but wisdom brings success.
Ecclesiastes 10:10

There is a lot of power in this simple little observation. When you hear it, you think “Well that’s pretty obvious!” yet it is amazing how often I will keep on chopping with a blunt axe, apparently more willing to invest more and more energy into each blow for less and less result, rather than simply taking a few moments out to sharpen it.

This applies to many things in life, but perhaps most especially to one’s spiritual life. How many people persevere unthinkingly with an unfruitful spiritual activity – with empty prayers, for example, or disasterous ways of dealing with others – and never think to stop and sharpen the axe?

Ten minutes to think and pray about praying could make the world of difference for all the hours of praying I have yet to do in my life! Ten minutes of analyzing what I did wrong, that so upset someone today, could save me dozens of lost hours trying to solve similar future problems, as well as saving both of us the horrible negative feelings that go beside these disputes.

I often desire the sharpness of my axe that will smoothly and effortlessly cut through the red tape of life. Yet far less often do I trouble to stop what I’m doing and walk over to the sharpening wheel.

Fr Ant

Those who are about to HSC

Speaking to some of our Year 12s on the weekend, I noticed a variety of attitudes, with only about 2 weeks left before the Moment of Truth.

Some students seemed pretty relaxed – either they know they’ve got it in the bag, or they don’t care, or they’re pretty good actors. Others though, were definitely showing the signs of beginning to crack up. So I thought this time I might see if I couldn’t bring a little cheer into this momentous period of their lives. If you’ve already been through all this, please let your younger fellows know that there IS indeed life after the HSC…

Now some of you may be aware (I don’t mention it that often) that I very strongly believe in that profound Biblical doctrine that is best summed in these words:

EXAMS ARE FUN

You will immediately recognise that my main Biblical foundation for this dogma is James 1:2

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials

Now some have very foolishly doubted the link between this verse and the HSC, but it seems as clear as the nose on my face to me (please disregard the times when there is a pimple on my nose and it is anything but clear). “Trials”, as you all know, are the last set of exams Year 12 students do before sitting their major Final Exams. That St James, back in the First Century AD, was aware of this is made very obvious if we consider some more verses from his Epistle. For example:

To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: (1:1) is a very obvious reference to the HSC, being a test for Year “twleve”, which is conducted all over the state, with some students even sitting the exam at overseas centres – hence, scattered abroad. Later, he writes:

knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience(1:3)

Ahhhh. What is it now that produces patience? “testing”!!! How much plainer can he make it? Clearly this word, “testing” is to be identified with exam centres, and supervisors, and exam papers – all that stuff we associate with the word. And there’s more:

9 Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, 10 but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. 11 For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits. (1:9-11)

This is obviously a reference to the total worthlessness of your HSC mark once you have left school. Employers don’t care too much about it, and even universities are now steering away from using it as the criterion for choosing their students, preferring instead to depend on more accurate measures like UMAT (= Unrelenting Mental Agony and Torture) exams or interviews. Yes, the richest of UAIs will quickly fade away like a beautiful flower burned by the hot noonday sun of competition in the real world. Isn’t that a comforting thought!

Why, then, I hear you ask, must we suffer this pain? What’s the point?

Well, the point is actually more: the points. Here are my reasons for hanging on, doing your very best until the end, and diving over the line as hard as you can:

1. For many of you, your UAI will decide your future. Sorry. That’s life.

2. You might surprise and amaze yourself with what you can actually do if you really have to. Believe it or not, what you have to learn for the HSC is pretty measly compared with what you are going to learn at Uni, TAFE or work. The only thing that makes it seem so hard is the pressure of what’s riding on it. Take that away, and you could do it with one hand tied behind your back, with a blindfild on, and while rubbing your tummy and patting your head whilst all the time whistling “Bananas in Pyjamas” in Croatian. (please don’t comment on that sentence. It makes no sense to me, either).

3. You will learn a lot more than calculus and chemistry. You will actually develop really useful things like character, inner strength, faith, patience, calmness under pressure, stamina, self-confidence, resilience and much more. Some of the most important lessons you learn in Years 11 & 12 DON’T appear on your certificate.

4. You will enjoy your holidays an awful lot more if you don’t have a miserable dark cloud hanging over your head and following you wherever you go, with the words “You didn’t try very hard, did you?” stamped across it. It can really take the fun out of everything you do. Including sleep.

5. Many others have trod this path and run this race before you. They stuck it out to the very end – are you gonna let them get away with thinking they’re better than you??!!??

6. God loves you, no matter what.

7. We love you, no matter what.

Is that enough? I’m looking forward to seeing you all at the HSC Liturgy this Saturday 6th October 8:30-10:30an, followed by our traditional pre-exam HSC breakfast (sort of like the Grand Final Breakfast, hey?). The Fathers will be there to offer you their words of encouragement and support (and take any last minute confessions!) and to resuscitate anyone who conks out.

The days to come won’t be easy:

But there’s nothing to prevent them from being enjoyable…

By the way, for a little light entertainment, you might enjoy the following:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_CN7VW-12zs

But don’t spend too much time watching – you’ve got work to do!!!

Fr Ant