Today, I would like to share some thoughts with you on the concept Hope. Saint Paul mentions three lasting fundamentals or characteristics of Christian life:
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1. Cor, 13:13).
Faith is trust. It springs out of experience.
Hope reaches into the future. This is not day dreaming or utopia. In the letter to the Hebrews we read:
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrew 6:19-20).
Hope is likened to an anchor. Hope secures human existence in the fulfilment of creation and salivation. Jesus called this future the kingdom of God. Jesus said that this kingdom will come in the future as the consumption of creation, but at the same time it is present in us and among us. The Kingdom to come has the power to motivate us in our way of life.
The promise of the fulfilment of all human and created existence help us to break out of destructive patterns of life – personal as well as social, economic, and political. The letter to the Hebrews gives us examples of people who dared to leave old customs and to break out of their life circumstances, because they had confidence in God’s promises for the future. Hope encouraged them to leave unworthy life conditions and reach out for improvements of life conditions for themselves, their family, and their people.
When the Bible gives us images of a new Earth or the Kingdom of God, it speaks of peace and justice – not only justice as a concept of Law, but as a life of right relations between God and humans, between men and women, between nations, between humans and other created beings, nature and the Earth. These images show us that God’s intention for creation will be fulfilled.
Adam is in Genesis depicted as a gardener who takes care of the plants in the Garden of Eden, and he is the one who gives names to the animals. He recognizes each creature as it is, not as an object for his desires, but as someone to relate to; it has a name! Humans were intended to be the stewards of the Earth and all of earthly creation. This plan or intention was overruled by sin. Desire turned creation into object; humans became consumers of creation, and abusers of one another. Yet God has a future in mind, which brings us back to God’s original intentions as well as fulfilling this plan. This is depicted in for example in the prophetic books of the Bible as well as in the New Testament:
The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9)
Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore. (Isaiah 2:3-4)
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 22:1-5).
The Kingdom to come has new standards or norms for life. If the future will restore right relations between humans and between humans and our fellow creatures, we will anticipate the future and break out of our destructive relations and quench the false conceptions of one another. We anticipate the future when we stop hating our enemies and follow the words of Jesus: love your enemies and pray for them. It is because of hope that we change our life style and our priorities in life. The peoples of the future are those Jesus calls Blessed in the Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:3-9).
Why will hope bring future standards of life into active presence; why do we have a hopeful confidence in future in spite of all tribulations and all those sad conditions of human life today? Why do we not despair? Because Jesus is the forerunner into the kingdom of God. Jesus was the Son of Man, the fulfilled Human person. In Him we see God’s intentions for Human life fulfilled. His human life was God-filled. He was a healer. He established new patterns of relations. He showed us that a fulfilled life is a life in serving love to one another. As Christians we also see God in Him. He established in his person right relations between humans and God. Now He is with God in the heavens, in eternity, as our spokesman and high priest. He reminds God of us.
Faith was grounded in experience and remembrance. Hope transcends borders and dysfunctional patterns of Human existence and anchors our life in the Kingdom of God. Past and future, remembrance and hope are summed up in love: the greatest of these is love! Giving ourselves to one another in serving love requires faith and hope, and yet love is the consummation of faith and hope.
Ole Skjerbæk Madsen
PS! The Icon is from st-takla.org/Gallery
Meditation – in Christian spiritual tradition
Lotus pond in Hong Kong
The word meditation comes from Latin meditatio, from the verb meditare, which means to think, to ponder. This word was used to translate the Hebrew hagah, which means mumble, and the Greek melå, which means put something in the mind or heart, be occupied with something.
The roots of the Christian practice of meditation goes back to the Old Testament. Meditation in the OT was a pondering on the words of Scripture, especially on the Law; Psalm 1:
1Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
2But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
3And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
The words of the Law should be kept in the heart, and this you do through careful study, learning them by heart, and mumbling them “when you lie down and when you rise” – but also in more physical ways such as writing the words on the door post or binding them as a sign on the hand or forehead. (Deut. 6:4-9).
This practice was continued by Jesus and his disciples. In the early Christian communities the Book of Psalms however took preference above the Law. The early desert fathers thus learned the whole psalter by heart to be recited in the course of a day. They also developed the practice of short prayers or shooting prayers or mumbling a biblical verse incessantly. Out of this practice grew the Jesus Prayer or the Prayer of the Heart:
The ideal was to pray always, being in communion with Jesus Christ and God-in-Him.
St. Paul speaks of a cleansing and a kind of spiritual dying to achieve this: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.“ (Gal. 2:20). This may be experienced through a prayer or a meditation involving a cleansing of false conceptions of God, one self and the world around at our breathing out, and infilling of Christ at our breathing in.
The accompanying prayer in it full says: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God! Have mercy upon me, a sinner. But it may be shortened; I mostly use this form:
Focus on your heart and rest in it.
Jesus Christ, Son of God. (breathing in)
Have mercy on me! (breathing out)
Or I simply just pray “Jesus Christ”, thinking or hearing the word Jesus breathing out – it is like calling upon Him, and breathing in I receive the Holy Spirit – to become a “christ”, Christ meaning being anointed (with the Holy Spirit). I remain focused in the heart, but may also be aware of the energy centers in the hands and feet, reminding me that I am crucified with Christ to live a new life.
An example of how to turn Bibles verses into quick prayers or even affirmations:
I read in Paul’s letter to the Romans chap 8:
38For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
39Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And form it into this prayer or affirmation:
No power on earth
can separate me from the love of God
that is in Christ Jesus.
God, I thank you!
In the Latin West meditation was practiced in the Benedictine monasteries as a lectio divina – Divine reading. This developed into a four step progression: lectio, meditatio, oratio & contemplatio (i.e. read, ponder, pray, contemplate).
The last step is more or less what is considered the content of meditation in Eastern and modern secularized versions of meditation.
How would you practice meditation following these four steps? As an example you may read a text from the Gospel (Luke 4):
And it came to pass on a certain day, as he was teaching, that there were Pharisees and doctors of the law sitting by, which were come out of every town of Galilee, and Judaea, and Jerusalem: and the power of the Lord was present to heal them.
18And, behold, men brought in a bed a man which was taken with a palsy: and they sought means to bring him in, and to lay him before him.
19And when they could not find by what way they might bring him in because of the multitude, they went upon the housetop, and let him down through the tiling with his couch into the midst before Jesus.
20And when he saw their faith, he said unto him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.
21And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?
22But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answering said unto them, What reason ye in your hearts?
23Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Rise up and walk?
24But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, (he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house.
25And immediately he rose up before them, and took up that whereon he lay, and departed to his own house, glorifying God.
26And they were all amazed, and they glorified God, and were filled with fear, saying, We have seen strange things to day.
You read the text attentively for some times, noticing what is happening, and what is said. You may use your imagination, e.g. imagine you are present in the event and identifying with one of the persons; you experience a being present and yourself experiencing what I described. You notice your own reactions to what happens or what Jesus says. Then follows prayer… Prayer turns to adoration and worship, and you rest in the presence of God whom you have met through Jesus – in this presence all words, feelings, and thoughts may disappear.
Some Christian traditions will have a more contemplative form of meditation, growing out of the experiences and practices of the desert fathers and other hermits in the wilderness. Silence and retreat are important in these traditions. They are reluctant to use the imagination since images and thought forms may create illusions. You may have false images and perceptions of God, yourself and the outer world. God presenting God self as I am that I am, is incomprehensible. God’s unconditioned being cannot be grasped or contained by our conditioned being. Therefore we should not be caught up in our images and conceptions of God, but just be in God’s presence.
In these traditions you’ll find practices with affinities to Zen and sitting meditation, just following your breathing in and out, You may have words which help to have an attentive mindful presence in the Now. Such words might be: Love, Peace, Justice, Jesus, Marantha or the Jesus-prayer as described above. And yet even these practices will start with prayer and be practiced in communities with daily reading of the scriptures.
There are many forms of Christina meditation, which could be mentioned: Singing meditative songs, speaking in tongues, walking, dancing body prayer and simple body movements…
All Christian meditation lives out of the experience and belief that the incomprehensible God has made God-self known in a self-revelation in creation, in history as witnessed in the Holy Scriptures and in the person of Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ the incomprehensible God has become known so that a personal relation is possible between God und us. And all Christian meditation and contemplation lead us back to loving service of our neighbor:
I rest in the room of peace in my heart
and find myself loved by God.
From my room of peace
I see my fellow humans and my fellow beings
without judgement and foster God’s presence in them.
Ole Skjerbæk Madsen
Spiritual World and Earthly Life
UFP, interfaith prayer meeting, June 11th 2016
Once more, I should like to express my gratitude that UPF invites for these meetings. When Nobu and I talked about the topic for today, he also used the term the physical world along with earthly life. I’ll try to deal with the topic in this way. I’ll start with the high spiritual ideals and then turn to their realization in our daily life and especially in relation to physical world (the earth on which we live).
The vision of Christianity for life on this Earth is rooted in our belief in God as the Creator. God created everything good, and God created humans in God’s image as stewards of his creation. Humans failed in this; instead of stewardship we got exploitation, greed and egoism, self-interest instead of love. Jesus came to change this disorder and bring us back into right relations with God, so that we again may live according to God’s intention with creation.
The message of Jesus Christ could be summarized thus: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He calls us to repent or to re-orientate our life to the will of God. The term the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God is the expression of God’s vision for life on this earth.
The restored order of the world is at hand; it is here to see, to touch, to experience. Jesus is the focus of its realization. He establishes the new order: Those who suffer are healed from diseases, from evil spirts, from social alienation, from sin and guilt – and a new relationship with God is experienced: God is our loving Father and we are God’s children. And Jesus established a new relationship between humans; his disciples form the core of a redeemed and restored humanity.
The kingdom of God is at hand, and yet it is not here in its totality. We still hope for its full consummation. Therefor we pray: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Already here – and yet to come. Yet to come – and already here.
This assurance of the Kingdom of God is the source of hope in daily life and gives us courage to meet the challenges of earthly life. Romans 14:17 NIV : “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
The Kingdom of God is righteousness, i.e. a right relation to God and our fellow humans and creatures. It is loving God and our neighbor, its fulfillment of God’s law of life, the unifying factor of life: that we serve one another and the whole instead of pursuing self-interest resulting in the atomization of society, humanity and creation.
The Kingdom of God is peace which is much more than the cessation of war. Peace is a sharing in plenty; it’s the fruitfulness of the Earth, it is the sharing of common good with each other. It is God dwelling among humans. Micah 4,2-5: “For out of Zion shall go forth the law,a and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations far away; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken. For all the peoples walk each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God forever and ever.”
The Kingdom of God is joy, because of the presence of God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
In daily life the Kingdom manifests itself when we believe in God and receive God’s guidance and power – as promised by Jesus when he spoke of the Holy Spirit which the Father will send to us in His name. The ideals for a life with a quality of God’s kingdom are outlined in the Sermon on the Mount. Il just make two quotes:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? … … But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Even though we believe God and the promises of Jesus and have tasted the gift of the Holy Spirit we find it difficult to live according to the standards of the God’s kingdom. But we should not despair because of our shortcomings; when we sin against God’s will we should confess our sins and shortcomings, and God will forgive us for Jesus’ sake and restore his life in us. And we should pray for the fulfilment of his will in earthly life.
One important field is the care for this planet and all that lives on the Earth, even the care for the smallest element. We are called to be stewards of God’s creation. We are the gardeners of the Earth. We are the name givers of every part of creation. We see in every creature the mark of its Creator, and understand that the kingdom of God is fulfilled when every created entity and being is sanctified and have reached its full potential, being united to God in Christ. We believe that God is in Christ and that Christ is in God; we believe Christ is the creating Word of God, the eternal Logos of God made flesh in Jesus. As human nature is united with God in Christ, so all humans find their true identity in Christ as Christ begins his life in us. This reality should be shared with all of Gods creation. This is celebrated in the sacraments, not least the Eucharist.
When we gather for the Eucharist we share some very common physical elements, bread and wine. First they were grain and grapes. As such they were God’s gifts to us through nature. We recognized their potential and set this potential free making bread and wine. We now offer bread and wine to God thanking for God’s creation, but also for the restoration of creation through the saving work of Jesus Christ. Thus we give back to God the created world and ourselves represented by bread and wine. But now Christ is receiving these gifts on behalf of God, saying “This is my body and blood”; God gives Godself to us through Christ in this sanctified bread and wine which has now reached its full potential. And we imagine that the full potential of all created beings and elements is the self-giving of God, and it is our full potential, but we cannot receive unless we share the gifts with each other. Thus the Eucharist is an image of the Kingdom of God. And from the Eucharist we are send back into earthly life to serve and love forth the true potentiality of every fellow creature and fellow human.
In the Coptic Church of Egypt I heard this parable: When we come to the Eucharist we have the nature of wolves, but we consume the Lamb (the bread or body of Christ), and were are changed into lambs. Now we leave the church to meet the wolves of the surrounding world that they may consume us … …