holding to her breast the old kind world

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro:

“Because whatever the song was really about, in my head, when I was dancing, I had my own version. You see, I imagined it was about this woman who’d been told she couldn’t have babies. But then she’d had one, and she was so pleased, and she was holding it ever so tightly to her breast, really afraid something might separate them, and she’s going baby, baby, never let me go. That’s not what the song’s about at all, but that’s what I had in my head that time. Maybe you read my mind, and that’s why you found it so sad. I didn’t think it was so sad at the time, but now, when I think back, it does feel a bit sad.”

“…That’s most interesting. But I was no more a mind-reader then than today. I was weeping for an altogether different reason. When I watched you dancing that day, I saw something else. I saw a new world coming rapidly. More scientific, efficient, yes. More cures for the old sicknesses. Very good. But a harsh, cruel world. And I saw a little girl, her eyes tightly closed, holding to her breast the old kind world, one that she knew in her heart could not remain, and she was holding it and pleading, never to let her go.”

Deësis from Dormition Cathedral in Moscow

I am scheduled to become a godfather for the first time in a few weeks, and I just purchased an icon for the baptismal name that my godson is taking (after John the Forerunner and Baptist). After purchasing this icon, I did a little research to track down its source, and I am recording this here to pass along. (First are the images. Below them is the information that I found regarding the source.)

deisis-din-vladimir-sec-xiii-3

deisis-din-vladimir-sec-xiii-1-4-sf-ioan-botezatorul

deisis-din-vladimir-sec-xiii-1-1

Suzdal_deesis

This Deësis is from Dormition Cathedral in Moscow. Originally written in the first third of the 13th century. Vladimir-Suzdal in Russia. Tempera on wood. 61.5 cm by 146.5 cm. It was located in the Assumption Cathedral of the Moscow (Kremlin) on the southern wall, above the tomb of Metropolitan Philip. Restoration was begun in 1935 in the State Armory, continued and completed in 1936 in the State Tretyakov Gallery.

In Byzantine art, and later Eastern Orthodox art generally, the Deësis or Deisis (Greek: δέησις, “prayer” or “supplication”), is a traditional iconic representation of Christ in Majesty or Christ Pantocrator: enthroned, carrying a book, and flanked by the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist (and sometimes other saints and angels). Mary and John (and any other figures) are shown facing towards Christ with their hands raised in supplication on behalf of humanity.

it is the silence with which white men in this country have surrounded the anguish implicit in their racism

Wendell Berry in The Hidden Wound:

For whatever reasons, good or bad, I have been unwilling until now to open in myself what I have known all along to be a wound—a historical wound, prepared centuries ago to come alive in me at my birth like a hereditary disease, and to be augmented and deepened by my life. If I had thought it was only the black people who have suffered from the years of slavery and racism, then I could have dealt fully with the matter long ago; I could have filled myself with pity for them, and would no doubt have enjoyed it a great deal and thought highly of myself. But I am sure it is not so simple as that. If white people have suffered less obviously from racism than black people, they have nevertheless suffered greatly; the cost has been greater perhaps than we can yet know. If the white man has inflicted the wound of racism upon black men, the cost has been that he would receive the mirror image of that wound into himself. As the master, or as a member of the dominant race, he has felt little compulsion to acknowledge it or speak of it; the more painful it has grown the more deeply he has hidden it within himself. But the wound is there, and it is a profound disorder, as great a damage in his mind as it is in his society.

…There is a peculiar tension in the casualness of this hereditary knowledge of hereditary evil; once it begins to be released, once you begin to awaken to the realities of what you know, you are subject to staggering recognitions of your complicity in history and in the events of your own life. The truth keeps leaping on you from behind. For me, that my people had owned slaves once seemed merely a curious fact. Later, I think, I took it to prove that I was somehow special, being thus associated with a historical scandal. It took me a long time, and in fact a good deal of effort, to finally realize that in owning slaves my ancestors assumed limitations and implicated themselves in troubles that have lived on to afflict me—and I still bear that knowledge with a sort of astonishment.

…I feel in the story as it has been told to me a peculiar muteness, which I now know has followed me through all my life; it is the silence with which white men in this country have surrounded the anguish implicit in their racism. The story has passed from generation to generation in flight from its horror.

…I have already said enough, I think, to make clear the profound moral discomfort potential in a society ostensibly Christian and democratic and genteel, but based upon the institutionalized violence of slavery. Though he no doubt represented a minority, Bart Jenkins was not an anomaly in that society; he served one of its designated functions, and his mentality and behavior were therefore characteristic. His fellow citizens had to contend with him as a reflection of something in themselves, and short of attempting to change the society, they had to try to live as painlessly as possible with the harsh truth that he represented. Their solution was to romanticize him. Since he was indelibly a man of violence, the only ideal figure at all close to him was that of the knight, the archetypical “gentleman and soldier.” Once this mythology was accepted, the moral ground could be safely preempted by rhetoric. And so we arrive at the language of Kentucky Cavaliers in Dixie—a poeticized, romanticized ornamental gentlemanly speech, so inflated with false sentimerit as to sail lightly over all discrepancies in logic or in fact, shrugging off what it cannot accommodate, blandly affirming what it cannot shrug off.

If the private language of family memory has conveyed what we know to have been true of ourselves but have not admitted or judged, then the public language of Mosgrove (and many others) conveys what we wish had been true. Between them they define the lack of a critical self-knowledge that would offer the hope of change. This lack is the historical and psychological vacuum in which the Walt Disney version of American history was not only possible but inevitable. To my mind Disney is nothing more than a slicked-out, commercial version of Mosgrove. As a people, we have been tolled farther and farther away from the facts of what we have done by the romanticizers, whose bait is nothing more than the wishful insinuation that we have done no harm. Speaking a public language of propaganda, uninfluenced by the real content of our history which we know only in a deep and guarded privacy, we are still in the throes of the paradox of the “gentleman and soldier.”

However conscious it may have been, there is no doubt in my mind hat all this moral and verbal obfuscation is intentional. Nor do I doubt that its purpose is to shelter us from the moral anguish implicit in our racism—an anguish that began, deep and mute, in the minds of Christian democratic freedom-loving owners of slaves.

Another interesting example of this sort of confusion used as moral insulation is to be found in the very fabric of the liberalism of early Kentucky. Niels Henry Sonne, in Liberal Kentucky, 1780- 1828, points out that the Kentuckians of that time supported all the principles of religious freedom, but gave their most fervid support to that of the separation of church and state. Political power was denied to practicing clergymen by the constitutions of 1792 and 1799, and it was not until 1843 that prayers were permitted to be said on any regular basis at the sessions of the legislature. According to some, one of the immediate reasons for this was “the clergy’s insistence upon attacking the institution of slavery.” And so beneath the public advocacy of the separation of church and state, an essential of religious liberty, we see working a mute anxiety to suppress within the government of the state such admonitory voices as might discomfort the practice of slavery. For separation of church and state, then, read separation of morality and state.

attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity

Simone Weil on her birthday. First, from Gravity and Grace (1947):

Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.

…We have to try to cure our faults by attention and not by will.

The will only controls a few movements of a few muscles, and these movements are associated with the idea of the change of position of nearby objects. I can will to put my hand flat on the table. If inner purity, inspiration or truth of thought were necessarily associated with attitudes of this kind, they might be the object of will. As this is not the case, we can only beg for them… Or should we cease to desire them? What could be worse? Inner supplication is the only reasonable way, for it avoids stiffening muscles which have nothing to do with the matter. What could be more stupid than to tighten up our muscles and set our jaws about virtue, or poetry, or the solution of a problem. Attention is something quite different.

Pride is a tightening up of this kind. There is a lack of grace (we can give the word its double meaning here) in the proud man. It is the result of a mistake.

…Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer. It presupposes faith and love.

Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.

If we turn our mind toward the good, it is impossible that little by little the whole soul will not be attracted thereto in spite of itself.

From an April 13, 1942 letter to poet Joë Bousquet:

Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.

On the Christian faith.

Last letter to Father Joseph-Marie Perrin, from a refugee camp in Casablanca (26 May 1942), as translated in The Simone Weil Reader (1957) edited by George A. Panichas:

Wrongly or rightly you think that I have a right to the name of Christian. I assure you that when in speaking of my childhood and youth I use the words vocation, obedience, spirit of poverty, purity, acceptance, love of one’s neighbor, and other expressions of the same kind, I am giving them the exact signification they have for me now. Yet I was brought up by my parents and my brother in a complete agnosticism, and I never made the slightest effort to depart from it; I never had the slightest desire to do so, quite rightly, I think. In spite of that, ever since my birth, so to speak, not one of my faults, not one of my imperfections really had the excuse of ignorance. I shall have to answer for everything on that day when the Lamb shall come in anger.

You can take my word for it too that Greece, Egypt, ancient India, and ancient China, the beauty of the world, the pure and authentic reflections of this beauty in art and science, what I have seen of the inner recesses of human hearts where religious belief is unknown, all these things have done as much as the visibly Christian ones to deliver me into Christ’s hands as his captive. I think I might even say more. The love of these things that are outside visible Christianity keeps me outside the Church… But it also seems to me that when one speaks to you of unbelievers who are in affliction and accept their affliction as a part of the order of the world, it does not impress you in the same way as if it were a question of Christians and of submission to the will of God. Yet it is the same thing.

Letter to Georges Bernanos (1938), in Seventy Letters, as translated by Richard Rees (1965):

I have sometimes told myself that if only there were a notice on church doors forbidding entry to anyone with an income above a certain figure, and a low one, I would be converted at once.

As quoted in Simone Weil (1954) by Eric Walter Frederick Tomlin:

Love is not consolation, it is light.

“Faiths of Meditation; Contemplation of the divine” as translated in The Simone Weil Reader (1957) edited by George A. Panichas:

Religion in so far as it is a source of consolation is a hindrance to true faith; and in this sense atheism is a purification. I have to be an atheist with that part of myself which is not made for God. Among those in whom the supernatural part of themselves has not been awakened, the atheists are right and the believers wrong.

…That is why St. John of the Cross calls faith a night. With those who have received a Christian education, the lower parts of the soul become attached to these mysteries when they have no right at all to do so. That is why such people need a purification of which St. John of the Cross describes the stages. Atheism and incredulity constitute an equivalent of such a purification.

Draft for a Statement of Human Obligation (1943) as translated by Richard Rees:

There is a reality outside the world, that is to say, outside space and time, outside man’s mental universe, outside any sphere whatsoever that is accessible to human faculties.

Corresponding to this reality, at the centre of the human heart, is the longing for an absolute good, a longing which is always there and is never appeased by any object in this world.

Another terrestrial manifestation of this reality lies in the absurd and insoluble contradictions which are always the terminus of human thought when it moves exclusively in this world.

Just as the reality of this world is the sole foundation of facts, so that other reality is the sole foundation of good.

That reality is the unique source of all the good that can exist in this world: that is to say, all beauty, all truth, all justice, all legitimacy, all order, and all human behaviour that is mindful of obligations.

Those minds whose attention and love are turned towards that reality are the sole intermediary through which good can descend from there and come among men.

Although it is beyond the reach of any human faculties, man has the power of turning his attention and love towards it.

Nothing can ever justify the assumption that any man, whoever he may be, has been deprived of this power.

It is a power which is only real in this world in so far as it is exercised. The sole condition for exercising it is consent.

This act of consent may be expressed, or it may not be, even tacitly; it may not be clearly conscious, although it has really taken place in the soul. Very often it is verbally expressed although it has not in fact taken place. But whether expressed or not, the one condition suffices: that it shall in fact have taken place.

To anyone who does actually consent to directing his attention and love beyond the world, towards the reality that exists outside the reach of all human faculties, it is given to succeed in doing so. In that case, sooner or later, there descends upon him a part of the good, which shines through him upon all that surrounds him.

the Good God will of course take into account the age and conditions in which we live

From With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man by Saint Paisios the Athonite:

Question:

Geronda, why does St. Cyril of Jerusalem say that the Martyrs of the last days will surpass all Martyrs?

Answer:

Because in the old times we had men of great stature; our present age is lacking in examples—and I am speaking generally about the Church and Monasticism.  Today, there are more words and books and fewer living examples. We admire the holy Athletes of our Church, but without understanding how much they struggled, because we have not struggled ourselves.  Had we done so, we would appreciate their pain, we would love them even more and strive with philotimo to imitate them.  The Good God will of course take into account the age and conditions in which we live, and He will ask of each one of us accordingly.  If we only strive even a little bit, we will merit the crown more than our ancestors.

In the old days, when there was a fighting spirit and everyone was trying to measure up to the best, evil and negligence would not be tolerated.  Good was in great supply back then, and with this competitive spirit, it was difficult for careless people to make it to the finish line.  The others would run them over.  I remember once, in Thessaloniki, we were waiting for the traffic light to cross the street, when I suddenly felt pushed by the crowd behind me, as if by a wave.  I only had to lift my foot and the rest was done for me.  All I am trying to say is that when everybody is going toward the same direction, those who don’t wish to follow will have difficulty resisting because the others will push them along.

Today, if someone wishes to live honestly and spiritually, he will have a hard time fitting in this world.  And if he is not careful, he’ll be swept by the secular stream downhill.  In the old days, there was plenty of good around, plenty of virtue, many good examples, and evil was drowned by the good; so, the little disorder that existed in the world or in the monasteries was neither visible nor harmful.  What’s going on now?  Bad examples abound, and the little good that exists is scorned.  Thus, the opposite occurs; the little good that exists is drowned by an excess of evil, and evil reigns.

It helps so much when a person or a group of people has a fighting spirit.  When even one person grows spiritually, he does not only benefit himself, but helps those who see him.  Likewise, one who is laid back and lazy has the same effect on the others.  When one give in, others follow until in the end there’s nothing left.  This is why it’s so important to have a fighting spirit in these lax times.  We must pay great attention to this matter, because people today have reached the point where they make lax laws and impose them on those who want to live strict and disciplined lives.  For this reason, it is important for those who are struggling spiritually, not only to resist being influenced by the secular spirit, but also to resist comparing themselves to the world and concluding that they are saints.  For when this happens, they end up being worse than those who live in the world.  If we take one virtue at a time, find the Saint who exemplified it and study his or her life, we will soon realize that we have achieved nothing and will carry on with humility.

Just as in racing, the runner speeding for the end line does not look back toward those lagging behind, but fixes his eyes forward, so too in this struggle we don’t want to be looking back and thus left behind.  When I try to imitate those who are ahead of me, my conscience is refined.  When, however, I look back, I justify myself and think that my faults are not important compared to theirs.  The thought that others are inferior consoles me.  Thus, I end up drowning my conscience or, to put it better, having a plastered, unfeeling heart.

a meditation on brokenness

This meditation below reminded me of much that I’ve considered recently. See my thoughts here for example. The reflections below were posted to “The Art of Transfiguration” Facebook page on May 2, 2015 by “Unworthy Seraphim” [Robert Hegwood] (with minor edits in punctuation, spacing, and capitalization):

It’s okay to hurt: a meditation on brokenness.

It’s okay to hurt. It’s okay to feel broken, alone, empty, and depressed. Not that these are good things—certainly not. But are they are part of normal human experience in our abnormally broken world. Sometimes we feel that there is an unwritten rule in our Christian communities that we have to be happy all the time—that it is a sign of true faith or piety if our experience is that of joy and peace and nothing else.

Our ascetic tradition tells us something different. I heard an interview with a monk who stated that the spiritual life is probably at most 10% peace…the other 90% percent being struggle.

Today many of us have the tendency to beat ourselves up for being caught in the struggle. We condemn ourselves for our negative feelings as though we can just “feel good” all the time. We have inherited logismoi (thoughts) from our culture that tells us we are insufficient or abnormal when we experience pain, hurt, and sadness.

Christ calls us to a more radical freedom. Our Divine Physician does not deal with illusions and non-realities. Brokenness is often the exact place where Christ wants to meet us [because it is where we actually are]. Many times we read stories of great monastic elders who found grace through intense struggle with demons. I’ve read on more than one occasion of a monk who [was] standing up and throwing punches at the demons for continually interrupting his prayer! Well perhaps our struggle is not quite that intense. But we’ve probably all had moments of wanting to throw a punch at our short tempter, our chronic lust, our tenacious depression…

The point is that struggle is normal.

During this season of Christ’s Resurrection, we constantly sing “Christ is risen from the dead trampling down death by death.” How was this great victory achieved? By death. Sit for a moment with the mystery…with the paradox. Victory in death? Indeed.

From the moment of His birth, Christ is entering deeper and deeper into the brokenness of the human condition: healing the sick, advocating for the poor, calling us out on the secret sins of the heart. In Gethsemane, Christ even enters into the fear of death, so that we might be freed from it—according to St Maximus the Confessor. And finally Christ confronts death, the climax of our broken state. And by entering into death, He fills it with Himself, the Divine Presence. He fills darkness with light because He is the Light. He fills death with life because He is Life. Christ takes alienation from God and fills it with Love unshakable.

Life is very hard. We experience loss in the death of loved ones, ruptured friendships, and heartbreak. We are disappointed with our relationships, our church, our country, and especially ourselves at times. Maybe we react with addiction, or anger, with blaming or jealousy…maybe we just shut down and find ways to hide our hearts from a world too cruel to cope with.

Christ never says these things don’t happen. He never promises a life without struggle. What He does invite us into is a relationship of trusting His care for us. Of entering into His great victory. Being broken is part of the journey and part of the struggle. One day at a time, we work to bring our brokenness to Christ. It can be a place of meeting with Him. No place is beyond His touch. Know that Christ sees you and loves you and is near to your pain. It’s okay to hurt, it’s okay to feel broken. Christ works with just such things. They are, in fact, great tools for learning holiness, love, and compassion. In all places, times and circumstances, remember God Who is indeed very near to you.

Keep heart.

—Unworthy Seraphim

only lover of humankind

Every now and then I guess we all think realistically (Yes, sir) about that day when we will be victimized with what is life’s final common denominator—that something that we call death. …If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. (Yes) …I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.

Christian heroes such as Martin Luther King, Jr. are a blessing and a model of sacrificial love amid our suffering as we see in this sermon (called “The Drum Major Instinct”) delivered by Dr. King at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga. on February 4—exactly one month before Dr. King was shot and killed.

As we each “try to love somebody” in this life, it is such a comfort (and our only sure help) to begin experiencing the love of the only one who succeeded fully in loving us. Ancient Christian prayers frequently describe Jesus Christ as “the only lover of humankind” (µόνε Φιλάνθρωπε). As wonderful as it is to love others and to see great examples of love, we all know that we fail to love ourselves and each other. May we each grow in our understanding of the love that Jesus Christ has for each of us so that we can continue in our own efforts to love.

If you do not have references to Jesus Christ as “the only lover of mankind” within your own devotional materials, consider adding this title for Jesus into your regular prayers and hymns. It is such a valuable reminder in the course of our daily walks with Him that He is the only one who perfectly loves us and all others. Here is one example of this phrase from the Resurrection Apolytikion (Dismissal Hymn):

You arose, O three-day Savior, granting life to the world.
For this reason the Powers of heaven are crying out to You the Giver of Life:
Glory to Your Resurrection, O Christ,
Glory to Your Kingdom,
Glory to Your plan of salvation,
O only Lover of Humanity.

There are many other examples of such language within ancient Christian prayers and hymns. Here is one other:

O Lord, lover of the souls of men, who prayed for those who crucified you, and who commanded your servants to pray for their enemies, forgive those who hate and mistreat us, and turn our lives from all harm and evil to brotherly love and good works. For this we humbly bring our prayer, that with one accord and one heart we may glorify you, who alone love mankind. [From a A Manual of Eastern Orthodox Prayers by St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.]

With Dr. King, may we have this comfort of coming to know God’s love for us. Dr. King closed his sermon at the Ebenezer Baptist Church on February 4 with this hope:

Yes, Jesus, I want to be on your right or your left side, (Yes) not for any selfish reason. I want to be on your right or your left side, not in terms of some political kingdom or ambition. But I just want to be there in love….

the-crucifixion-with-mary-and-probably-mary-magdalene-1

Illustration of the Crucifixion with Mary and probably Mary Magdalene from an 18th century Ethiopian Psalter [St Andrews University call number: ms38900].

to heal and to teach suffering men

Saint Athanasius is remembered today. Excerpts from On the Incarnation:

The Lord did not come to make a display. He came to heal and to teach suffering men. For one who wanted to make a display, the thing would have been just to appear and dazzle the beholders. But for Him Who came to heal and to teach, the way was not merely to dwell here, but to put Himself at the disposal of those who needed Him, and to be manifested according as they could bear it (not vitiating the value of the Divine appearing by exceeding their capacity to receive it).

…You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in that single house, the whole city is honored, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it. Even so is it with the King of all; He has come into our country and dwelt in one body amidst the many, and in consequence the designs of the enemy against mankind have been foiled and the corruption of death, which formerly held them in its power, has simply ceased to be.

…The Self-revealing of the Word is in every dimension—above, in creation; below, in the Incarnation; in the depth, in Hades; in the breadth, throughout the world. All things have been filled with the knowledge of God.

…Thus is happened that two opposite marvels took place at once: the death of all was consummated in the Lord’s body; yet, because the Word was in it, death and corruption were in the same act utterly abolished.

…In ancient times before the divine sojourn of the Savior took place, even to the saints death was terrible; all wept for the dead as though they perished. But now that the Savior has raised his body, death is no longer terrible; for all who believe in Christ trample on it as it were nothing and choose rather to die than deny their faith in Christ. And that devil that once maliciously exulted in death, now that its pains were loosed, remained the only one truly dead.

…There were thus two things which the Savior did for us by becoming Man. He banished death from us and made us anew; and, invisible and imperceptible as in Himself He is, He became visible through His works and revealed Himself as the Word of the Father, the Ruler and King of the whole creation.

do whatever you see that your soul desires according to God

One of the fathers asked Abba Nistheros the Great, the friend of Abba Antony: “What good work should I be doing?” He said to him:

Are not all actions equal? Scripture says that Abraham was hospitable, and God was with him. David was humble, and God was with him. Elias loved interior peace, and God was with him. So, do whatever you see that your soul desires according to God, and guard your heart.

signs of the presence of divine powers similar to those which had been given of old

It is the Feast of Stephen (in the West today and will be tomorrow in the East). This day commemorates the miraculous recovery of Stephen’s relics. Augustine of Hippo was particularly devoted to these relics. They were recovered in Augustine’s own lifetime and distributed to churches throughout the known world. Augustine writes in The City of God (Book XXII, Chapter 8), after recording a long list of miracles that he knew about first-hand in response to prayers before these relics of Saint Stephen (including healings, a conversion, and six resurrections from the dead):

What am I to do? I am so pressed by the promise of finishing this work, that I cannot record all the miracles I know; and doubtless several of our adherents, when they read what I have narrated, will regret that I have omitted so many which they, as well as I, certainly know. Even now I beg these persons to excuse me, and to consider how long it would take me to relate all those miracles, which the necessity of finishing the work I have undertaken forces me to omit. For were I to be silent of all others, and to record exclusively the miracles of healing which were wrought in the district of Calama and of Hippo by means of this martyr— I mean the most glorious Stephen — they would fill many volumes; and yet all even of these could not be collected, but only those of which narratives have been written for public recital. For when I saw, in our own times, frequent signs of the presence of divine powers similar to those which had been given of old, I desired that narratives might be written, judging that the multitude should not remain ignorant of these things. It is not yet two years since these relics were first brought to Hippo-regius, and though many of the miracles which have been wrought by it have not, as I have the most certain means of knowing, been recorded, those which have been published amount to almost seventy at the hour at which I write. But at Calama, where these relics have been for a longer time, and where more of the miracles were narrated for public information, there are incomparably more.