October 20, 2020

The Least of God’s Holy People

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, Redon

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, Redon

As I reflect on my life today, many years after my ordination to the priesthood and that season of monastic life at the Abbey of Genesee, I still feel like the least of God’s holy people. Looking back over the years, I realize that I am still struggling with the same problems I had all those years ago. Notwithstanding my many prayers, periods of retreat, advice from friends, and time with counselors and confessors, it seems that very little, if anything, has changed. I am still the restless, nervous, intense, distracted, and impulse-driven person I was when I set out on this spiritual journey. I am still searching for inner peace and unity and a resolution to my many internal conflicts. At times this obvious lack of spiritual maturation depresses me as I enter into the “mature” years.

– Henri Nouwen
Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life

* * *

The stories of our fathers and mothers in the faith reflect Henri Nouwen’s admission: they are not, by and large, stories of transformation. Reading them, I do not see that the peculiarities and rough edges of their personalities were changed into something much different over the course of their lives. Yes, they learned to trust and obey. But I don’t think today’s commonly expressed religious idea of “life-change” is an appropriate category to describe the “progress” we can talk about with regard to the patriarchs’ and matriarchs’ relationships with God.

Perhaps the best way to say what actually took place is that they became more themselves. They grew into more mature versions of themselves. Flaws of character were not erased or reversed or covered up. Rather, the lines, blemishes, and imperfections that once made them appear unattractive slowly became set into integral marks of quirky beauty and character. Perhaps a saint is nothing more than that old scoundrel we can’t help but smile at.

This was certainly true of the patriarch Jacob. Born trying to supplant his brother’s place, he lived as a schemer to the end. Having tricked his brother out of both birthright and blessing, he was forced to flee home. The living God met him on the road in an encounter that we sometimes speak of as Jacob’s “conversion” experience. However, if it was a conversion, it didn’t change Jacob very much. He emerged from the divine dream and immediately began bargaining with God:

“If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one-tenth to you” (Genesis 28:20-22).

What a deal for God.

It seems Jacob almost met his match when he went next to live with his uncle Laban. The story of their many years together is a tale of two tricksters continually trying to outdo each other. Meanwhile, in his own tent Jacobs’ wives scratched and clawed to gain an advantage like prizefighters. Ultimately, Jacob stuck it to Laban, packed up his contentious clan, and hit the road with a pile of booty.

Having left that frying pan, he turned back home — toward the fire that was his brother Esau, who had held grudges ever since Jacob left. While en route, a man (an angel, God himself) ambushed the patriarch and they wrestled through the night until Jacob emerged the crippled victor — Israel. I guess you could call that transformation. I call it a busted hip and the knowledge that the only hope for any of us is hanging on to God for dear life.

For the rest of Jacob’s days, he and the family dealt with the consequences and ongoing patterns of his lifetime of deception. The character traits engraved on Jacob’s face and visible in his constant limp flowed through the rest of the family, and until the day he died, Jacob worried and struggled to keep faith, hope, and love alive in a clan full of connivers.

The last story about Jacob before his death brings a smile. Joseph presents his two sons to their grandfather for his blessing. Manasseh, the firstborn, should have been blessed with Jacob’s right hand, but instead the patriarch places it on the head of the younger, Ephraim. Manasseh, the elder and rightful heir, gets the left hand — second best.

Joseph has a hissy fit and objects. He thinks the old man made a mistake because of his failing eyesight. This is the ultimate faux pas; it will scar his boys for life.

But Jacob insists. Here at the end of all his journeys, he wants to pass on what he’s learned about the only thing that really matters: God’s choice, God’s blessing, God’s grace, God’s relentless promises.

I think I can hear Jacob chuckle a little at Joseph’s indignation. We chuckle with him.

Perhaps a saint is nothing more than that old scoundrel we can’t help but smile at.


  1. His ways certainly are not our ways.

    Thank God.

  2. “Perhaps the best way to say what actually took place is that they became more themselves. They grew into more mature versions of themselves.”

    Becoming more myself is a severe and heavy discipline that I’ve often squirmed to get out from under. But of course, it is impossible to escape oneself, and more impossible to escape the living God.

  3. I read that the place in the Gospel books where Jesus is written to have said, “Be perfect even as our Father is heaven is perfect” should actually have said, “Be whole…” or “Be complete.” I like that better than “Be perfect.” Being whole could mean that we are fully ourselves but with the Holy Spirit also working through us.

    • Of course you like it better. So do I.

      But Jesus was tightening the screws. He was removing any wiggle room.

      That’s why he said in the same sermon, That “if you are angry with another, you are subject to judgment (as a murderer would be).

      • Steve, the problem is that many people do not know what it means to be perfect. You hear about “perfectionists.” They can get upset if something in their life goes wrong or if they make an error. I don’t think that is what being “perfect” is about. For a while, the Apostle Peter had a limited understanding of the grace of God. God had to show him that his grace is for EVERYONE. The Apostle Paul could not remember if he had baptized some people or not. So, I think people will make mistakes and they will always need forgiveness for one thing or another. But Robin’s comment below about being perfect meaning to be gracious to everyone is something that I can get my head around, even if I still fall far short of that goal. And….I do believe that God wants us to be transformed so that we are more like Jesus and it’s the purpose of the Church to show what that transformation can be like and to assist people as they are being transformed. People within the church are less than “perfect” too, so sometimes it may look like the blind leading the blind, but I do believe we encounter people who seem to be more touched by the holiness of God. And sometimes we will find those people outside of the Church, too. The Holy Spirit of God goes where he wills.

    • I think that Jesus meant that being perfect was being gracious to everyone even the most undeserving, the context of the passage supports this. 43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your friends, hate your enemies.’44But now I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45
      so that you may become the children of your Father in heaven. For he makes his sun to shine on bad and good people alike, and gives rain to those who do good and to those who do evil.
      46Why should God reward you if you love only the people who love you? Even the tax collectors do that! 47And if you speak only to your friends, have you done anything out of the ordinary? Even the pagans do that! 48You must be perfect — just as your Father in heaven is perfect!

    • I believe that the simplest and most straightforward interpretation of “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5.48) is precisely what it says. Substituting “complete” or “gracious” for “perfect” is bad hermeneutics, not to mention, bad theology. The only synonym which would apply here would be “holy” or “sacred,” which implies association with the divine. The context of Matthew 5 validates this by ratcheting up the requirements of the Law from the mere behavioral to the cognitive and affective. For instance, in Matthew 5.27-28 Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” In other words, not only may you not “do it” in the flesh, you may not “do it” in your mind or heart, either.

      The good news is that the Law leads us to the Cross where we find grace & forgiveness. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5.21) Christ never sinned but took our sin upon himself. In Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone we are made perfect and holy.

      I believe this provides a better explanation of how we can meet God’s demand to be perfect like God is perfect. We are simultaneously saints & sinners, but it’s the “saint” part that counts most, by far.

      • (Col 2:9 KJV) For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.

        (Col 2:10 KJV) And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:
        It reads a bit differently in other translations, but the sense of the thought is the same. In Christ we are a “perfect”, or complete, as the Father.
        At least that is how I take it to mean…

      • Strong’s range of definitions for teleios (from Bible Study Tools Greek lexicon):

        -brought to its end, finished
        -wanting nothing necessary to completeness
        -that which is perfect
        -consummate human integrity and virtue of men
        -full grown, adult, of full age, mature

        You’re right, Calvin that “gracious” is not within this range. But neither are “holy” and “sacred.” There is also no specific whiff of “morally without sin.” This goes beyond morality. The context (Matt 5: 43-48) where this verse is found is about loving one’s enemies the same way God loves his: he does good to them, period – without requiring anything from them before he loves them.

        Hermeneutics is exactly the issue.


  4. Do not travel too far down the road with a brother that doesn’t have a ‘limp’.

  5. C S Lewis had the same idea. God’s plan is for us to become more like how He made us to be – our unique mix of gifts, place and personality. We will, of course, be made “perfect”, but that process can occur just as much on the other side of this life as on this side. For those who drive broken jalopies, like me (readers of “Mere Christianity” will understand of what I speak), that is an enormous comfort.

  6. Yes, getting older, you notice that the “life-change” idea of transformation that is so popular today doesn’t fly. But I still testify to the divine lightening type of sanctification. A death/birth phenomenon analogous to repentance and baptism. And yet with that I have one big macro or umbrella type thought. I think these shut up and listen, or realization of my way is at an end, or to achieve means to begin anew again type of experiences always revolve around the Holy Spirit. They are a grace entrance into the Spirit of Christ, and definitely not a transformation of my individual character. My character, being, cannot be transformed. When you consider all things become new, it is a revelation of God’s attributes. And blessed are those who can partake of humility, diligence, gentleness, justice, mercy, peace, and being pure in heart. .

    • Re: “divine lightning” — Jacob certainly did have those experiences too. The ladder dream, the wrestling match, etc. However, the narrative indicates that they were more about awakening him to the reality of God’s presence and promises, as you’ve said.

  7. I don’t know about the rest of you, but what passes for ‘perfect people’ in our society . . . I think I’ve had a belly-full of them

    so what does a ‘perfect’ person look like in the Kingdom of Our Lord?
    I think we would be very surprised and pleased if we could see the truth through His eyes 🙂

  8. Not sure I agree with the sentiment here.

    I think if you ask any one of us to self evaluate we will probably agree with Nouwen, because we are hard on ourselves. The question is what do people around us have to say? I suspect that people around Nouwen would disagree with him, because they saw a change. We should not underestimate that it is God working in us.

    John – the son of thunder wanting to rain judgement on a village, becoming the apostle of love.

    I have seen too often the change that years with Christ bring to people to deny it, it happens.

    I have also seen people stagnate and nothing changes, I cannot explain that one.

  9. Contrary to the general view being expressed here, I believe that I am just at this late date gaining an understanding of the spiritual process of transformation or evolution, and consciously entering into it. I don’t expect it to be sudden, altho I understand that it can be. It seems to be very hard work, but doable and measurable. I believe that Jesus demonstrated this process in his whole life, and that it is the norm He calls us to when He says, Follow Me.

    Just as most people never move past the sense of identity with their body, I believe that most Christians never move past the sense of identity with their ego, and this is the key to understanding the process of transformation to what God intends for us in the end. I just turned 75 and regard this as my life’s work for whatever time is left. Very frustrating to finally get a clue while the body begins to decline, but it is what it is. I believe that most people never do start thinking in these terms, and miss out on what seems evident in scripture once you start looking for it.

  10. Thanks Mike for these posts about transformation.

    I struggle with a temper, selfishness and am hurtful and downright mean to others far to frequently. I pray each day that the Holy Spirit would enable me to transform that behavior and be more obedient. But, I find each morning that I am confessing and asking forgiveness for the same failures over and over. Maybe the just being aware of my flaws and broken nature is part of the transforming process. I hope so.

  11. Chares Fines writes, “I believe that most Christians never move past the sense of identity with their ego, and this is the key to understanding the process of transformation to what God intends for us in the end.”

    Good words, Charles, and I agree. Thomas Keating has a lot to say about the ego and about the ways we look for joy and fulfillment in the wrong directions. We get stuck in our thoughts and many folks never realize the peace, joy, power of God that is the source of all that is. I am glad to hear, Charles, that you are consiously on the journey to realizing all that God wants to be through you. God was enfleshed through Jesus and as you submit to his loving work within you, you too are bringing the love of God to the world. As your body begins to decline, it is greatly possible that it will be…easier?….for God to work within you. You (your ego) becomes less…He becomes more. I wish you great peace and joy of God!

    • JoanieD, thank you. Yes, I think it may be easier, at least for me, in old age. In any case I have no real choice unless I turn my back on it all. Looking back I wish I had learned the things I’ve learned in the last several years when I was 14, but that didn’t happen, maybe wouldn’t have happened even if the information and teaching I have now had been available back then. Maybe you have to have to attend the school of hard knocks a certain time before things get thru the hardness of head and heart. Pointless to speculate, living in the past is as counterproductive as living in the future, and I’m very good at both. May not get all the way thru the course, but I hope to get as far as possible in whatever time I have left. What Paul called running the race.

  12. But …isn’t “transformation” most essentially a New Testament process? The Old Testament measure, it seems to me, was obedience. By that benchmark I suppose Abraham came the closest. Isaac, Jacob, David and the nation of Israel failed to qualify. Didn’t pass muster. Does their failure inform us in any way? As disciples we are to morph into little Christs, as long as that process might take. A different standard applies to us and I’m not sure we have the ability to discern our own progress. We are too easily fooled. That’s why there is a Judge. All we can be sure of is that justice will be done.

    • “We are too easily fooled. That’s why there is a Judge.”

      Your comment on the Old Testament characters is apt. They needed a Judge, not in the sense of someone who condemns, but someone who leads with wisdom. I believe what is different for us is that God’s Holy Spirit was made available for us all after Jesus left the planet.Or to put it a different way, we now have the spirit of Jesus available wherever and whenever. The apostles had to be within range of the physical presence and We are too easily fooled. That’s why there is a Judge.aura of Jesus to benefit and be transformed while He was alive in the physical body. We don’t have that limitation, nor did the apostles after Pentecost. Whether we take advantage of it is a different matter. The word “Judge” carrys a lot of baggage, but the Holy Spirit as advocate and comforter and leader and teacher performs much the same work. Only it is available to us in a way that it wasn’t to Jacob or anyone else back then. Jesus said He had to die to make this available, and implied that it would be a huge improvement. And yes, we can get fooled. The ego is desperate to survive and be in control. That’s not a reason to hunker down and miss the boat.

      • Sorry for the formatting glitch. “The apostles had to be within range of the physical presence and aura of Jesus to benefit and be transformed while He was alive in the physical body.”

    • The New Testament does talk of transformation, and we see it today.
      It is more noticeable in some cases than others, depending on what a person came out of.

    • I’ve pondered that distinction between OT/NT, Jim, especially in light of Pentecost. However, I find myself still wondering. The churches in the NT don’t seem to be bastions of holiness, do they? And don’t even get me started on church history.

      • That is what I would expect. Given the times and societal practices of the day you are going to see messes. But that did not stop Paul from teaching and believing that Christ makes a difference in peoples lives. It seems many letters were written because of the problems, he was exhorting and teaching and there was no canon to speak of.
        But I don’t think that’s the same as saying that Christ does not transform people. It happens all the time. I saw it in the 70s, person becomes Christian, quits doping and being unfaithful to his wife and over the years gets cleaned up.
        Of course there still is the lifelong process of sanctification, which never stops.
        I have some church history of working with down and out people. Yes, many don’t make it. But there are those that do.

        • I think you are misunderstanding my position, Ken. I suggest re-reading the post, especially this part:

          Perhaps the best way to say what actually took place is that they became more themselves. They grew into more mature versions of themselves. Flaws of character were not erased or reversed or covered up. Rather, the lines, blemishes, and imperfections that once made them appear unattractive slowly became set into integral marks of quirky beauty and character.

          • Thanks for pointing that out! I am going to have to quit reading when I am in a hurry. Your paragraph says it all. Can I call that a flaw of character?

            Reminds me of something CS Lewis said:
            The more we get what we now call “ourselves” out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become.

      • Agreed. How much of our perception of the “holiness” of the Early Church based on our need for a foil for our own follies? Even the great persecutions weren’t all about Christians clamoring to be killed – so many failed the test that a heresy shunning them (Donatism) was a going concern for centuries.

        The more things change…

  13. Meaning no disrespect towards anyone. Our character is not developed during birth. Our character is developed as we make choices to go this or that way. It is when we enter into His presence and relationship at the feet of the Cross that we through the power of the Holy Spirit can turn away from those things that has formed those characteristics that are not of Him. Unfortunately, many will reference those who had yet received the Holy Spirit, such as the Apostles, to measure our own in comparison, yet fall short in emphasizing every one of them was transformed, well except for Judas, into a new man once Jesus came and breathed the Holy Spirit upon them. They then while going about teaching the gospel, their testimony changed to men who endured much while giving up their old ways, and taking on the character of Christ instead. At great cost. Paul teaches us that we too must choose to walk in the spirit and not the flesh while making no excuses for the latter.

    By the way, if any is using any mood and mind altering drugs that includes a regular usage of alcohol, the brain is now rewired to serve the Reward Center of our brain while suppressing the frontal lobes which gives us the ability to exercise our choices to treat others with more empathy, understanding, and decency. It enables us to make better decisions while also being able to stick to our convictions having to do with right and wrong.

    Like I said, no disrespect is intended, but rather not being able to walk away from this without calling your attention to something that I believe that many seems to think there isn’t a choice in getting rid of the character flaws that seems to plague an individual while possibly stumbling and hurting others in the way.

  14. Jesus is alive and well today, so we too can receive that which enables us to walk in the way while turning away from those character defects that no longer needs to be a part of us. Remember, He told us that He would not leave or forsake those who are in Him and that although He was going away, He would send another to enable, to teach, to convict, and to strengthen us. All we need to do is to abide—peace to all.

  15. I am not in my “mature” years. But I think all of us can identify with Nouwen’s quote no matter our age, if we’re being honest with ourselves. But if we stay focused on ourselves, we will certainly be depressed. But if we keep our eyes on Jesus, His Grace and Mercy will only be magnified in light of our lack of “spiritual maturation”.

    “Therefore, there is now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus….”

  16. This statement is going to be about as popular as Jewbaiting, but I don’t think the West has the resources any longer to do what Christianity was capable of doing during the first millenium of its existence, and what the East can still do on occasion, but which it is quickly losing the ability to do – create perfect Christians; here, now, in this life, in this body.

    I don’t think our Lord was frustrating us in the Sermon on the Mount, or just “sealing off all means of escape” so that we would find refuge in His imputed righteousness without any ontological change.

    I don’t claim anything special for myself. I am just as jodido a Westerner as anyone else I know. A lot of the time I find Orthodoxy a frustrating maze. I keep telling myself it’s a treasure map to which I have lost the index. There are Orthodox who are saying that the difference between St. John Maximovich and Fr. Seraphim Rose is that Father Seraphim was bitten too deeply by the modern mindset and flawed epistemology of the schismatic west, and couldn’t be completely healed in this life, whereas Arbshp. John received only a glancing blow.

    A Baptist wrote this after he read this (the first six chapters are in this link, not the whole book).

    • Mule, do you point to some of the historic saints as exemplars of the ostensible ability of the church of the first milenium to create these perfect Christians? If you do, I have to wonder why you have such confidence in the reliability of the hagiographies surrounding these figures. Whenever I’ve read accounts of their lives, it’s seemed to me a mix of biography, pious legend, and tall tales, in different proportions depending on the particular figure. If such “perfect Christians” don’t appear as often in modern times, perhaps its because, as a result of advances in the discipline of history, its harder for legendary accretions to get as much traction and staying power, and to appear as authentic, as they did in former times.

    • I would recommend St. John Maximovitch, St. Nikolai Velimirovitch and St. Rafael of Brooklyn as examples of apostolic Christianity to within living memory (1966).

      The positivist epistemology in which you have so much confidence is in itself part of the problem. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but this rationalist literalism gutted belief in the Bible and created two golems (‘progressive” Christianity and “fundamentalist” Christianity) that snarl at each other across a valley filled with dead men’s bones.

      I believe lots of things about the old saints and the relics. I ain’t ashamed.

      • I read some of the article by the Baptist. I started have deja vu because the system described seems so much like Buddhism.

        • Mule,
          Do you reject the usefulness of the discipline of history for increasing accurate knowledge of the past in general, or only when it is applied to Christianity, or “The Lives of the Saints,” in this instance?

          • I don’t reject the discipline of history, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

            We have stories in our family of a great-grandfather who was imprisoned in Andersonville. during the Civil War. His regiment has no record of him. Nor does the prison. Does that mean the stories are false? We don’t expect anyone outside the family to believe them.

            In the same way, I don’t expect a non-Orthodox person to believe that St. John appeared to his French tutor at night in Shanghai when he was also in a conference in France, healing her of a fever, and leaving a ten dollar bill (the fee she charged him for French lessons) on her pillow.

          • I think the comparison between your family lore and the lives of your saints is misleading. As an EO Christian, you most certainly believe that your church’s teaching, including that about its saints, has an authoritative religious claim on all humankind’s approbation, an authoritative claim that you presumably do not make for your family lore. Neither do you believe that the stories about your great grandfather reveal him as an exemplar of virtue worthy of the emulation of all humanity. Apples and oranges, brother Mule.

        • Ain’t skeered of Buddhism either. Both the Baptist and Mr. Amis gave me a couple of shivers by referencing Ouspensky, Gurdjieff, and using the word gnosis. However, anybody searching for a more immanent (not lipservice immanence but real immanence) trinitarian Christianity is likely to run into those speedbumps. Steiner too. Donkey urine might be unhealthy, but at least it’s wet

          • Regarding “inner Christianity” and the transformation it is said to produce, I am reminded of an old Zen story that may have an inter-religious word to say to the subject:

            A monk is walking on a path through a forest on a pleasant afternoon. As he makes his way, he comes across another monk, who sits in a grassy field beside the path, meditating intently. After a moment, he speaks to the meditating monk,

            “Brother, why are you meditating so intently?”
            Irritatedly, the no longer meditating monk opens his eyes and replies,
            “I am striving to attain enlightenment.”
            The sitting monk then closes his eyes, and resumes his meditation.

            The first monk picks up two rocks from the ground. He then sits down beside the meditating monk, and proceeds to loudly rub the two rocks against each other.

            After first trying to ignore the noise, the meditating monk finally opens his eyes and asks the first monk,
            “Why are you rubbing those two rocks together!?”
            The first monk answers, “I’m trying to make a mirror.”
            “You will never make a mirror by rubbing those two rocks against each other,” the meditating monk says.

            “And you, brother, will never attain enlightenment by meditating.”

      • I’m willing to take my chances with the sober practice of the discipline of history. And the dichotomy is not as stark as you claim; there are living bodies in that valley, not just dead men’s bones.

    • Mule, I briefly looked at your link of what the Baptist wrote and it looks good to me. I am very much a “proponent” of “inner Christianity” as he refers to it. I wish the church leaders, ministers, priests, etc. would encourage their people to pray in such a way as to “prepare” them to become aware of the contemplative dimension of their being. It is the answer to so many questions. Many people just do not know or believe that God wants to communicate with them in a heart-to-heart type of manner, so to speak. As a young person, the more I read the Gospel stories and some of the letter to the churches, the more I believed that we were missing something that God wanted us to have and to be. I still do not relate to all people with only love, but I have hope that as I continue praying for God to help me to love in that way, He will do so. It is my great hope and my prayer.

      • Joanie –

        From your keyboard to the ear of the Holy Ghost!

        Loving is most certainly both the goal and the proof of our Christianity. That being the case, I’m likely bring up the rear somewhere around Manesseh, the Corinthians of Paul’s day, and the Publican from the parable. So far, all I’ve got is my contentious self and a very feeble repentance.

        • “So far, all I’ve got is my contentious self and a very feeble repentance.”

          I’m right there with you, Mule

    • Brother Mule,

      Also, re: inner transformation: remember, the kingdom of God in not within you, but among you.

      • Not Mule, but I offer this:

        “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” 2Cor 13.5

        “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God.” Eph 3.14-19

        “…God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Col 1.28 (also, read the context, 24-29).

        Also, in Hebrew thought there was not such a split between the inner and the outer as has arisen later and is taken for granted in our day. If the bible doesn’t say much about the specific inner workings of the human spirit, perhaps such workings are assumed? There’s actually a lot in the Wisdom literature… One I particularly like: “The purpose in a man’s mind (“heart” in LXX) is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.” (Prov 20.5) In the Wisdom literature, we’re encouraged to understand as much about our inner workings as we can, with the frequent reminder that only God knows it all.


    • Also, it’s a funny thing how very little the Bible has to say, how very laconically most of it passes over, the inner landscape of the human spirit, the psychology of the spiritual, in comparison with religious or spiritual systems, like Buddhism, or Gurdjieffism, for that matter, that make the inner workings of the human spirit, and its geography, central to the religious project.

  17. Robert F, Jesus often went off to quiet places to pray including before he chose his first close disciples. I think if Christians have concerns about meditation, they don’t have concerns with prayer. Jesus said according to
    Matthew 6:6 “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” So whether we pray by saying the Lord’s Prayer and then asking for help or we pray the Rosary or we use the Jesus Prayer, I think it is all good.

    Certainly there are people who attempt to avoid responsibilities by saying they need to go pray, but I think it is important that we pray often AND take care of our daily responsibilities. Both Martha and Mary were cherished by Jesus.

  18. The idea that you become more yourself as you become closer to God is certainly one that is all over the place in C. S. Lewis’s writings. I appreciate this word as I am not enamored of the view of life change that seems to be prevalent in evangelicalism: that you are expected to show a visible progression from unjust to just, from more sinful to less sinful, from less righteous to more righteous as you progress in the Christian life. It is too much like the view of justification that was prevalent in medieval Catholicism: justification as the transformation (by our own effort, with God’s help) from unjust to just.