On Fasting and Feasting (Basil the Great)

Basil the Great.  On Fasting and Feasting. Yonkers, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2013.

This is not the name of a book Basil wrote. It is a collection of sermons delivered on various feast days.  It is nothing like a systematic treatise on fasting, but it can be a good spur for the Christian life.  We really don’t know how to feast because we don’t know how to fast. We consider McDonald’s to be a good meal.

Birth of Christ

This sermon establishes the pattern that as Christ’s flesh participates in divinity, so our own flesh must be prepared.  The incarnation is the foundation for fasting. Basil repeats the standard line that the mode of eternal generation is ineffable (Basil 27). The closest analogy is fire to iron.  He does seem to anticipate something like the extra-calvinisticum when he notes “Heaven was not deprived of what it contained, and the earth received the heavenly one within its own embraces” (30).  As Christ’s flesh shares in divinity, “it does not impart its own weaknesses to the divinity.”

The body of the Holy Virgin is “the workshop for this divine economy.”  Nice turn of phrase.

On Baptism

Any time is an acceptable time for baptism (41). Basil uses the language of baptism saving.  We shouldn’t try to weaken that.  What we should not miss, however, is that baptism allows us to participate in redemptive history.

We also see hints of a baptismal service in the ancient church: “You may find yourself (as unbaptized) able neither to lift your hands to heaven, stand upright, give proper bodily worship for the ritual, learn properly, confess clearly, join with God, nor renounce the devil” (49).

Learn good habits: “prayer as a night-watchman, fasting as the servant at the door, psalmody as your soul-guide” (52).

First Homily on Fasting

True fasting should loose the bonds of iniquity (injustice). One of the reasons we shouldn’t look sad during a fast is because we shouldn’t “look gloomy while [we] are being healed” (55). Fasting, when done properly, can kill (or at least expose) the root of a sin in the soul. Basil takes the command to “anoint your head” as a reference to the chrismic mysteries and oil. This allows us, he suggests, to “share in Christ” (56).

In terms of physical and temporal health, Basil notes that “eating lightly” is healthier for the body (57), Of course, they would have been eating actual food and not today’s food-like products.

The saints received fasting as a paternal inheritance.

Basil gives Noah the benefit of the doubt on the wine incident.  Noah didn’t know how to partake moderately.  Developing this point, fasting allows us to view food (and wine) properly. To the degree that we moderns do fast, we break our fast, not by small amounts of lean meat and a little wine, but by McDonalds.

“Fasting begets prophets and strengthens mighty men” (61). It is quite simply a training regimen.

A man who truly fasts will not lend money at interest (64).

A man who does not heed “the life-giving doctrines will have his mind waste away” (67).

Passions disturb the mind, but fasting weakens the passions.

Second Homily on Fasting

Thesis: “The more you deny the flesh, the more you render your soul radiant” (73-74).

The church uses the feast days to train the body to rhythms of fasting and feasting.  These rhythms keep the soul ready to fight spiritual warfare.  Indeed, “going without food to eliminate intemperance, they foster a kind of receptivity, re-education, and fresh start of the redevelopment of the nutritive faculty [perhaps we don’t need to adopt this aspect of ancient medicine]” (79).

There are aspects of Basil’s counsel that we probably couldn’t adopt today: church feast calendar, etc.  Much of what he says, though, is worth considering and neatly unites both body and soul.

Becoming Dallas Willard (Gary Moon)

This is a fine continuation of Eternal Living, which was a compilation of reflections on Dallas’s life.  It covers his early childhood in the poverty-stricken Ozarks (and echoes some of Thomas Oden’s own memories), his move to Temple Tenn. and later marriage to Jane.

Theme of the book:  Dallas went to “the thing itself,” whether in philosophy or in prayer. 

Metaphysical Realism

Is the object I see simply a representation of my own thoughts?  If it is, can I ever really know the object in question?

Moore and Husserl

Moore was the first philosopher in terms of an analytic approach that Willard read.  Moore helped explode the idealist thesis. Moore, however, left undone one crucial aspect: what to make of the human mind?   Husserl filled in the gap.

Husserl (as Dallas reports him): the basic problem is to understand consciousness and not try to hide philosophical problems by focusing on language or words. We have knowledge.  We deal with reality and not merely some historical process.

It is possible to have direct experience with a mind-independent world. 

The Philosophical Split and USC

Brother Dallas came to USC when the analytic/continental split was beginning to harden.  Some clarifications:

Analytic philosophy: originally began as a break from idealism and focused on linguistic analysis.

Continental philosophy: subjective starting point.  It later became postmodernism.

Dallas was able to avoid the worst of this split by focusing on the philosophical classics.  He focused more on questions of goodness, the soul, and moral development.

Finishing Well

Before his death, Dallas gave an outline to JP Moreland on where the spiritual formation movement should go:

1) Metaphysical realism.  There is a mind-independent world to which we have access.  This also includes the soul, the kingdom of God, and the Trinity.

2) Epistemic realism.  We are in direct contact with objects of knowledge.  Nothing stands between the mind and items of knowledge “in cases of direct awareness.”

3) Models of the human person and Christian spiritual formation.

4) Spiritually formative practices that are objectively testable.

The final section when Dallas was on his deathbed was very good.  Being weak and barely able to speak for weeks, before he died he said “Thank you” in a very clear voice to Someone else in the room.

The Great Omission (Dallas Willard)

Thesis: Discipleship is the modern omission from the Great Commission.

He has a beautiful chapter on “solitude” and “silence.” My only concern is that it is completely unworkable to anyone who has kids, a job with pressing demands, or both.  (I remember I first read this when I was trying to get my 3 year old to sleep).

Towards a Christian Anthropology

In technical language, Willard is a soul-substance dualist, which is generally the Christian position. “The soul is a substance in that it is an individual entity that has properties and dispositions natural to it, endures through time and change, and receives and exercises causal influence on other things” (Willard 139).

“We have knowledge of a subject matter when we are able to represent it as it in fact is, on an appropriate basis of thought and experience” (140).

It is the source of life (143). The spirit is a central part of the soul, the part of determination (is this what Dabney called connative powers?). It is the heart or will. This isn’t trichotomism, though. Trichotomism sees the spirit as a separate entity. This view sees it as a subdivision of the soul.

The Good in the book

Logic as a spiritual discipline. This was a wonderful chapter, “Jesus the Logician.”

It requires the will to be logical (182).  It is freedom from distraction and willingness to follow truth wherever it takes

We are Committed to logic as a “fundamental value” (183). Jesus uses enthymemes. He understates logical points which require the hearer to draw the conclusion–psychologically, this was a very effective move.

As noted previously, his take on anthropology and its suggestions for a Christian psychology was wonderful.

Criticisms

Per Laubach: language of ascent to God (200). This is chain-of-being ontology. Note how the Christian “logic” works. We do not ascend to God. Christ descends to us. I understand that “inner” language has Augustinian precedents.

Nota Bene: I am more appreciative of Laubach now than when I first read this.

This theme is heavier in Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle. The “rooms” are ways of living in relation to God. Interestingly, Willard notes that this book has become an interfaith manual. Ironically, or perhaps precisely because when the spiritual life becomes “mystical absorption into the One,” then why does it really matter which “One” it is?

Living Wisely with the Church Fathers (Hall)

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Hall, Christopher.  Living Wisely with the Church Fathers.

I approached this book with mixed feelings. On one hand, Christopher Hall is an accomplished scholar on the church fathers.  On the other hand, it is published by InterVarsityPress. When IVP usually talks about money, war, and sex, it sometimes sounds like Bernie2020.  Fortunately, Hall doesn’t do that. Hall introduces us to the wider framework of the spiritual disciplines, except the Fathers never called it that.  They called it “askesis,” athletic training for the soul. Evangelicals have long (and usually sanely) talked about the spiritual disciplines, yet they never connected the spiritual disciplines with the power they have to undo the “passions” (more on that later).

The Church Fathers know that sin is what is wrong with us.  That’s really not that profound. The Reformation tradition knows that sin “warps” our dispositions.  What the church fathers suggest is the how of sin’s warping our dispositions. Sin warps by the “passions.”  The “passions are the vices that cripple our ability to pray and life well” (Hall 17). Interestingly enough, for the early Christians “passion” could mean simply a state of mind. These are the logismoi that function like maggots in rotten meat.

As Hall notes, “The passions, then, throw the faculty of reason …off balance.  They blind the eyes of the mind and cripple the mind’s ability to form a realistic or fitting opinion or judgment regarding a specific ethical question or dilemma” (19-20).

Wealth

Reading the fathers on wealth and poverty can be tricky for a number of reasons.  The ancient world and economy is not like America’s. Technology and moveable capital have raised several billion people out of poverty.  By contrast, in the ancient world if there was a local drought, the entire region could starve to death. The fathers can teach us about wealth, to be sure, but you can’t apply all of their statements to our world today in a 1:1 fashion.

War

While the fathers might have been unanimous in condemning luxury, they were not one voice on war.  The earlier writers–Tertullian, Cyprian, Lactantius–did condemn the military. Military life was openly pagan, so that isn’t surprising.  Augustine, and to a lesser degree Athanasius, understood that after Constantine the military didn’t have to be openly pagan.

Sex

These two chapters are worth the price of the book. The fathers’ usually negative comments about sex in marriage have to be understood in their changing context.  Rome was a sexually charged society and women were often viewed as objects. With that said, fathers such as Chrysostom represent a more balanced view on the subject.  

Like “passions,” the word “desire” doesn’t mean for the fathers what it means for us.  Thus we see Clement saying, “He ought not to have a sexual desire for his wife, to whom he has a duty to show Christian love” (Stromateis 3.7.58). Does he mean when the couple has sex they should not have desire but some sort of Buddhist-like transcending of desire?  Not exactly. By desire Clement would have meant “the self’s blazing furnace and the power it is generating” (Hall 135). It is the self that is warped. Therefore, even in marriage, it is possible to project sinful desires upon one’s spouse and treat him/her as a sexual object.  That’s what Clement is opposing.

Hall illustrates the shallowness of modern life by summarizing the non-plot of Seinfeld.  All of them are empty humans. “They are emotionally and ethically stunted.” What do the passions writ large look like?  They look like an episode of Seinfeld. The fathers, by contrast, call us to aptheia.  Apathy for the fathers was not a blase uncaring.  Rather, it was when you had mastered self-control and were able to act spontaneously to God’s law.  It was love purified. As Hall notes, the passionate person “habitually misidentifies what is worth our love, commitment, and attention” (141).

Learning to Live a Good Life

Hall, following his mentor Thomas Oden, notes that askesis is necessary if one is going to grow as a Christian.  You probably can’t do the ascetic practices of a 4th century monk. But what would it look like? Hall sketches some sort of outline following the practice of Anthony the Great.

Ascesis is just working out for your soul.  You are training the soul to discipline the body and even call forth its natural strength. This is what neurological science is noticing today about the brain’s neuroplasticity.  Antony:

>A specific learning place (for him, it was the desert)

>meaningful work (usually manual labor)

>Vigilant, consistent prayer life.

>Regularlized sleep patterns (In many ways this is most important for killing the passions).

>A simple disciplined diet (I used to eat oatmeal for breakfast and lunch for a year; it’s not fun but it works).

> Regular times of fasting.  The Eastern tradition fasted at minimum on Wednesdays and Fridays.  Nothing magical about that but it tunes your body to a rhythm. 

>Attentiveness to emotions, thoughts, memories.

>Deep immersion in Scripture.  This isn’t a cliche. They had the Psalms memorized.  They did so by chanting. Chanting. 

Sanctuary of the Soul (Richard Foster)

I’m generally quite skeptical of “contemplative prayer,” largely because it is almost always a gateway for other bad influences to come in.  Nonetheless, Foster offers us some suggestions for “slowing our pace” and keeping in touch with the Spirit.

Good and Bad of the book:

Strong section on meditation, even using the Hebrew (and even better, actually using the Hebrew alphabet). Meditate means to chew on words in obedience to God’s will (Foster 19).

I’m undecided on the lectio divina.  I agree that Scripture is supposed to form us, but when we start on his advice, it looks a lot like we are forming Scripture.  Drawing the mind down into the heart in reading is good.  I agree, but pretending I am hugging Jesus is a bit too much for me.

Foster misunderstands what Eastern Orthodox said about icons, and he gets Theophan the Recluse wrong.  True, the East is iconic and even pray before icons.  However, at the same time guys like Theophan said we should empty our minds of imagination when praying.  That is the exact opposite of what Foster said.

Really good section on “Hearing God” and he pointed to Dallas Willard’s work for more advice.

Finding Quiet (Moreland)

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JP Moreland tells his story of how he overcame crippling anxiety by using practices known to the historic Christian tradition. He responds to the bad advice that says Christians don’t need anxiety medication because all you need is the bible and you’re in sin.  That is crippling, if not enslaving advice.  Flee from it.

Some fundamentalists say we can’t go to the outside world to learn about the soul or medicine, but Scripture does exactly that: Isaiah 19:11; Jeremiah 49:7; Zech. 9:2; Job 28:1-11).

Moreland begins with his well-known insights on the soul.  “The soul is an immaterial substance or thing that contains consciousness and animates/enlivens the body” (Moreland 31). The soul has sensations that reside in the soul, not the brain.  However, given certain “triggers,” they can obtain during physical moments.  The soul also contains faculties, capacities that are not currently “being actualized” (32).  When these capacities are properly grouped, they are called “faculties.”

The spirit is the faculty of the soul that relates to God (33).

Moreland’s key point, which I believe unanswerable, is that the body and the soul, while not the same thing, interact with each other.  The body “traduces” the soul, as it were. The soul has the faculty of sight, but without working eyes it cannot see. The body traduces the soul.

Then there are habits.  These are ingrained bodily practices.  Moreland argues, and I think it makes sense, that “anxiety is a learned habit that, through repeated flesh-forming activities (e.g., engaging in ‘what if?’ thinking about the future and exaggerating what might happen if the ‘what if?’ actually happens), forms grooves in the brain, the heart muscle, and nervous system that trigger uncontrollable anxiety” (43).

Let’s Sum Up

  • Our habits form grooves in the brain.  If these grooves are triggered (e.g., by a memory), “the conscious state will obtain in the soulish aspect of the body” (45)

Getting a Handle on Anxiety/Depression

Anxiety is a feeling of uneasiness, apprehension, or nervousness.  It always has a trigger, but we often don’t know what the trigger is (Moreland 52).  It acts as a cover on many of our deeper feelings.

Happy thoughts are not narcissistic.  In this book Moreland tells you to think happy and positive thoughts towards yourself.  He isn’t saying “Be happy clappy.”  The point is that you are trying to replace bad brain grooves with good ones.

Tools for Defeating Depression

Anxiety is a habit that is wired into our brain and nervous system (66ff).  Moreland draws upon the concept of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to form new grooves.  This is why habit is so important.  Presenting our bodies before God in a certain way can rewire the brain.

The Four Step Solution

Step 1: Relabeling. We identify our destructive habits.

Step 2: Reframing.  We change our perception of the deceptive brain message (71).

Step 3: Refocus. We focus on something that distracts our attention.  We need to be very careful not to “outmuscle” the deceptive brain habit, since that only focuses on it all the more.

Step 4. Revaluing.

Heartmath

The heart is the deepest recess of our being (81).

Step 1.  Freezeframe.  Take a time out from the deceptive thought.

Step 2. Refocus. Shift away from the thought and focus more on your physical heart muscle.  I’ve done this.  It works.  Pretend like you are breathing in and out of your heart.

Step 3.  Wait for the emotion.  CFAN (Compassion/Care, Forgiveness, Appreciation, Nonjudgmentalism).

Step 4.  Melt the anxious thought.

Habit-Forming Practices

Contemplative prayer.  This is tricky, as it is easy to take it in a New Agey/Yoga Mom direction.  That’s not what Moreland is doing.  He isn’t saying, “Empty your mind and connect with the Beyond.”  Rather, we attach our emotions to God and calm ourselves in his presence.  In any case, it’s often hard to pray to God when you are buzzing with different thoughts and emotions.  This lets you “pray until you can pray.”

Step 1: Find a Quiet Place.

Step 2: Do a body scan and see if your are tense or anxious. Start praying some of the psalms you have memorized.

Step 3. This is probably where some will push back against what Moreland is saying.  He is saying, “Open yourself to Jesus’s presence.”  As long as you don’t get New Agey about it, it’s probably not a bad idea.

Step 4. Quietly wait in anticipation on God.

Step 5. Let go of all distractions.  Say, “Jesus, have mercy on me.” “I receive you.”  It hones your focus on God.

This isn’t mindless repetition, since the point isn’t to finally get God’s attention by chanting a mantra.

Practice Gratitude

I can attest to this one.  I have practiced being grateful even when I haven’t felt like it.  It really works.

Presenting our Bodies

Our fleshly habits are stored in our bodies.  Remember, our bodies “traduce” our souls. If our bodies are messed up, if our brains have stored anxiety in their grooves, then they won’t be able to properly transmit from the soul.  This is why taking medicine is okay.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)

Bilateral stimulation. I used this a few years ago.  It works, though I don’t find it as effective as Heartmath.

Heartmath: the ancients knew that the “heart” was both physical and spiritual and that it had its own rhythm. That’s the point behind ascetic disciplines. Good and bad habits are stored in bodily grooves.  The disciplines retune the body.

Step 1: Heartfocus.  Focus your attention on the heart.

Step 2: Heart breathing.  Breathe in and out through the heart five or six times.  This can synchronize the breathing and heart rhythm (other things being equal).

Step 3:  Heart feeling.

Worshiping with the Church Fathers (Christopher Hall)

fathers

The first 3rd of the book deals with sacraments and the structure of worship, if only briefly per the latter. If you’ve read much into the history of the sacraments, there isn’t much here that is new. The rest of the book deals with prayer, and it is one of the best treatments on prayer I’ve ever read. Most manuals on prayer usually focus on “You need to pray more” or “Communion with God” or something like that. No doubt true. It is the fathers, however, who give you practical guidelines on how to pray.

Order of service. The key witnesses are Justin and Tertullian. We have to be careful with Tertullian, since he prescribes “sisters” exhorting and prophecying. The “president” of the assembly gives an exhortation, followed by a group prayer. Eucharist was weekly.

Oil was used to chrism the baptized (n55).

Relationship between baptism and regeneration: Later fathers such as Gregory of Nyssa assigned it an almost medicinal function, though not by the nature of water itself but by the working of God.

Eucharist

While the fathers hated gnosticism, as we all must, they also lived deeply ascetical lives. This wasn’t a contradiction, for the athletic-like control of the body allowed them to fully participate in the spiritual realities to which matter pointed.

So what happens with the elements? The fathers don’t have anything so refined as transubstantiation, though their language is strongly realist. The key point is that the Eucharist isn’t a repetition of the cross, it is rather a remembrance in the sense that the realities come rushing toward us. This is accomplished by the epiklesis.

Ignatius of Antioch encourages the Ephesians to gather often for the Supper.

Hall doesn’t specifically address it, but his comments on Cyril of Jerusalem show that the elements were received in both kinds. You held out your hands, the right and left hands forming a cup in which to receive the King.

Gregory of Nazianzus’s sister, Gorgonia, couldn’t be healed by the physicians, so she fell down before the altar at midnight. Gorgonia took the leftover Eucharist and applied it to her body and was healed.

Prayer

Prayer flows from our dispositions–our habituated thoughts, words, and actions. This is why praying the psalms is important. Athanasius argued that when we read and chant the psalms, those experiences become our own. Therefore, when we pray the psalms daily (specifically, various cycles of psalms), we aren’t engaged in vain repetition. It is rhythm for our life.

Pray without Ceasing

There is a connection between continual prayer and bodily behavior. Continual prayer requires an assault on our passions, which the fathers took to mean something like but stronger than “bad habits.” Rather, it is “a conglomerate of obsessive emotions, attitudes, and desires.” They are “logismoi” or “dialogismoi,” little maggot-eggs from which evil will spring. Combine these buzzing thoughts with the power of memory, and it is hard to enter into quiet, continual prayer.

The physicality of prayer ties in with what scientists call the “plasticity” of the nervous system. This is why habit-forming practices are so important and even inevitable. As to the how or “what” of prayer, Abba Isaac recommends Paul’s advice in Phil. 4:6-7.

Supplication arises from our sorrow over sin. Intercession is woven by our love for others. Thanksgiving requires a long memory. Sometimes we move into wordless, almost fiery prayer. This is given by God.

Abba Isaac recommends Psalm 70:1 as the key verse to cry out at all moments of the day, whether in adversity or prosperity.

Antony, Athanasius, and Discipline

Antony didn’t know what we moderns know of neuroplasticity, but he had the same idea. Body and soul aren’t the same thing, but they are intimately related to each other. As Hall notes, “Antony habituated his body to labor that maintained the soul’s strength.” Antony’s ascetic labors lasted at least 35 years. Hall’s prose here is simply lovely.

And the stories about Antony are really neat.  His body was neither gaunt nor fat when he emerged from the fortress.

I strongly recommend this book in Hall’s series of the Church Fathers.

Finding Quiet (Moreland, part two)

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Part 1.

Getting a Handle on Anxiety/Depression

Anxiety is a feeling of uneasiness, apprehension, or nervousness.  It always has a trigger, but we often don’t know what the trigger is (Moreland 52).  It acts as a cover on many of our deeper feelings.

Happy thoughts are not narcissistic.  In this book Moreland tells you to think happy and positive thoughts towards yourself.  He isn’t saying “Be happy clappy.”  The point is that you are trying to replace bad brain grooves with good ones.

Tools for Defeating Depression

Anxiety is a habit that is wired into our brain and nervous system (66ff).  Moreland draws upon the concept of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to form new grooves.  This is why habit is so important.  Presenting our bodies before God in a certain way can rewire the brain.

The Four Step Solution

Step 1: Relabeling. We identify our destructive habits.

Step 2: Reframing.  We change our perception of the deceptive brain message (71).

Step 3: Refocus. We focus on something that distracts our attention.  We need to be very careful not to “outmuscle” the deceptive brain habit, since that only focuses on it all the more.

Step 4. Revaluing.

Heartmath

The heart is the deepest recess of our being (81).

Step 1.  Freezeframe.  Take a time out from the deceptive thought.

Step 2. Refocus. Shift away from the thought and focus more on your physical heart muscle.  I’ve done this.  It works.  Pretend like you are breathing in and out of your heart.

Step 3.  Wait for the emotion.  CFAN (Compassion/Care, Forgiveness, Appreciation, Nonjudgmentalism).

Step 4.  Melt the anxious thought.

Habit-Forming Practices

Contemplative prayer.  This is tricky, as it is easy to take it in a New Agey/Yoga Mom direction.  That’s not what Moreland is doing.  He isn’t saying, “Empty your mind and connect with the Beyond.”  Rather, we attach our emotions to God and calm ourselves in his presence.  In any case, it’s often hard to pray to God when you are buzzing with different thoughts and emotions.  This lets you “pray until you can pray.”

Step 1: Find a Quiet Place.

Step 2: Do a body scan and see if your are tense or anxious. Start praying some of the psalms you have memorized.

Step 3. This is probably where some will push back against what Moreland is saying.  He is saying, “Open yourself to Jesus’s presence.”  As long as you don’t get New Agey about it, it’s probably not a bad idea.

Step 4. Quietly wait in anticipation on God.

Step 5. Let go of all distractions.  Say, “Jesus, have mercy on me.” “I receive you.”  It hones your focus on God.

This isn’t mindless repetition, since the point isn’t to finally get God’s attention by chanting a mantra.

Practice Gratitude

I can attest to this one.  I have practiced being grateful even when I haven’t felt like it.  It really works.

Presenting our Bodies

Our fleshly habits are stored in our bodies.  Remember, our bodies “traduce” our souls. If our bodies are messed up, if our brains have stored anxiety in their grooves, then they won’t be able to properly transmit from the soul.  This is why taking medicine is okay.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)

Bilateral stimulation.

Heartmath: the ancients knew that the “heart” was both physical and spiritual and that it had its own rhythm. That’s the point behind ascetic disciplines. Good and bad habits are stored in bodily grooves.  The disciplines retune the body.

Step 1: Heartfocus.  Focus your attention on the heart.

Step 2: Heart breathing.  Breathe in and out through the heart five or six times.  This can synchronize the breathing and heart rhythm (other things being equal).

Step 3:  Heart feeling.

Lost Virtue of Happiness

Moreland, J. P. and Issler, Klaus.  The Lost Virtue of Happiness (Navpress).

Far from being a self-help book, Moreland and Klauss (MK) define happiness in terms of its more ancient setting: a happy life is one that allows me to pursue virtue. In Christian terms, a happy life is a disciplined life that allows me to pursue the Kingdom of God.

Today happiness is defined as “good feeling” (MK 16). If happiness is defined as my good feelings, and if the goal of happiness is to pursue my good feelings, then everything has to center around…me! This creates what sociologists call “the empty self.”

Further, the empty self is what we project outwards to others. MK also have interesting suggestions on how the empty self leads to loneliness–and they posit solitude as the correction to loneliness.

Unlike other spiritual disciplines books, this offers a number of practical suggestions for enabling the “disciplined life.” Of course, the reader won’t accept every suggestion (and in fact, I disagree with a few of them). Nevertheless, most are quite helpful and have further enriched my own prayer life.

Of Particular help:

studying: the mind works from whole to part to whole. Moreland suggests–and this is something I’ve been doing for about a decade–to study the table of contents before you read a difficult book. If it is well-organized, the book won’t be that difficult.

increasing prayer time: It’s hard to kneel down a pray for a good, cold hour. However, Moreland suggests a number of strategies that can enrich and eventually lengthen prayer time. Instead of “dive-bomber prayers,” he urges “pressure cooker prayers.” Instead of saying, “Dear Jesus, please be with Suzy today,” we can keep coming back to the Lord in 2 or 3 minute increments and lifting Suzy up, often bolstered by Psalms, and “wrestling with the Lord in prayer” over Suzy. After a while, we realize we have been often in prayer, even working with God.

Calm down: Moreland has a controversial, yet probably workable suggestion on anxiety. He has noted that neuroscience is seeing that the heart has its own “system.” He recommends breathing techniques that will calm the heart. This is fine as long as we don’t say “thus saith the Lord.”

Deliverance ministries: MK are correct that demons cannot possess believers. Let that be said loud and clear. However, demons can attack and afflict believers. This isn’t that startling a statement. If you are attacking satanic strongholds and winning victories for the kingdom, do you really expect Satan to stand idly by? How will a demon attack you? As Paul says, by letting sinful passions “gain a foothold.”

Evaluation:
I recommend it for intermediate believers who already have a strong foundation in the spiritual disciplines.

So, about that Lent…

I try never to talk about Lent, pro or con.  I think Lent is an example of Christian liberty at the most basic (St Paul: why value one day over another?).  The reactions to Lent, for and against, however, are most interesting.

Practically, I am not celebrating Lent this year in the sense of “giving something up.”  Especially food.  I have several dietary issues, along with other logistic problems that make “fasting from meat/eggs/cheese/milk” problematic.

However, my own reading takes a turn during Lent.  I read a lot more of the medievals than I normally do (slugging through the latter half of Aquinas’s ST at the moment).

But enough about me.  I want to call attention to all of the hipster Reformed/YRR attacking Lent, and attacking Lent by what is basically “food porn.”  Uploading pictures of the latest kegger or six pack and big cigars.

If you want to attack medieval interpretations of Lent that “bind consciences,” go at it.  Have fun.  I fear that many have thrown the baby out with the proverbial bath water.   Spiritual disciplines in the sense of “disciplining the body” is very good and should not be abandoned.  Yet we don’t see this among the Hipster/Bro Reformed.

But someone would say, pointing to Colossians 2 and Galatians 4, that we are no longer under the seasons and stoichea.  True, which is why I don’t believe tying Lenten discipline to a cosmic calendar is necessary.  But…we still live in God’s world and he made seasons and rhythms.

If you haven’t figured it out, yet, I am alluding to the Facebook group Reformed Pub.

A List.

*Fr Seraphim Rose read through Augustine’s Confessions during each Great Lent.  Not a bad idea.

*As noted earlier, I am reading as much of Thomas’s Summa as I can.

*Reread the Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of English People.

*Memorize some medieval prayers written in Latin.  Nothing magical about Latin, but this could be a mental training exercise.

Some Good Lenten Resources and Ideas:

Chant Blog.

St Bede Blog.

A Clerk of Oxford.

Audio of BCP Daily Prayer.

St Bede Breviary.