Once upon a time there was a man who was alive.

Location: Hattiesburg, Mississippi, United States
St. Cuthbert and Disciples in a Boat


On Leave

I will not be posting for the next seven weeks, as I will be attending classes on Chinese language and culture at Red River University in the province of Yunnan, China. I'm not sure if Blogger can even be accessed from the Mainland (I'm in Hong-Kong at the monent). At any rate, I imagine I'll be busy enough as is.

I flew out of Jackson Friday and arrived, via Atlanta and LA, in Hong Kong this morning at five. Nothing eventful, fortunately- I'm traveling with some more experienced people, which is very good as my traveling experience is rather poor. I leave out for Yunnan in a few hours, so I've stayed within the confines of the airport. Beautiful place. I'll post plenty of pictures upon my return.



The disposition toward Noisiness can be broken down into three levels, just as I’ve seen Gluttony broken down into eating more than we need (something all people tend to do), eating to satiation (something overweight people do), and eating far past satiation (something obese people do).

First, there’s the tendency that afflicts all of us: The tendency to fill the heart and mind with a stream of self-occupied thoughts and imaginations. Inner chatter. Often applauded by pop culture (“daydreaming,” “lost in our thoughts”), it’s rarely recognized for what it really is: A state of mental existence where we are incessantly accosted by an involuntary stream of thoughts. Wise men have repeatedly pointed out for thousands of years that these thoughts and dream are not “ours.” Unless we undertake great effort, we have little or no control over them—virtually no ability to stop them and only a little ability to direct them. Even if we initially invite or direct them, they eventually take their own course.

This tendency of inner chatter to go where it wants leads to the second stage of Noisiness: Loud inner chatter. The stream, if not checked, eventually grows into a rushing river of chatter, characterized by things like extravagant dreaming (visions of vast earthly wealth or fame), cruel or violent thoughts, and lustful imaginations.

The rest at the New Pantagruel: The Eight Capital Sin.

I struggle with inner and outer noisiness mightily. I carry it over into my internet use: at any given moment I usually have at least three or four browsers open, reading bits and pieces at a time, because I need to be constantly occupied with Stuff while I wait for something to load (I have dial-up, poor me). I go to bed thinking about what I'm going to do tomorrow, or next week, or a year from now. Of course, the funny thing is I quite frequently don't do the thing I was thinking about anyway. And then there is my tendency to go over details of conversations I might have, deciding what I need to say to so-and-so, which is also nonsense. And then there are various other thoughts that do not actually contribute to any action or constructive thinking. Instead they are the mental equivalent of junk-food.

Of course, none of this is explicitly sinful (if that's an acceptable theological term), but they conglomerate and clog up my mind, diverting it from the remembrance of God. Instead of a sober mind, I have an ever so slightly intoxicated one. And because I give no heed to my thoughts and let them stream through in noisy static, I am less prone to catch any markedly evil ones that slip in with the static stream. The Fathers- particularly those of the Philokalia- speak much of the opposite of this condition: watchfulness. 'Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.' (Prov. 4:23) Rather than allow the constant murmur and noise of our thoughts, we should closely watch what comes in, and reject whatever is evil or simply unprofitable static. 'But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.' (St. Luke 21:34) This nasty triad of things can be repulsed through watchfulness, through the practise of inner quiet and peace. This is achieved through paying attention to ones thoughts and invoking Christ against the evil and useless ones. The thoughts, the heart must be turned from self-love- for it is in that 'mother of the passions' as St. Maximus said that sin and passion originate- and out to God and thus to others. Our hearts cease to fill with empty- but comfortable and pleasing!- chatter and wicked thoughts, and are instead turned towards God.


Their Laws Are Unequal and Irregular

I came across this passage this morning, and thought it quite interesting in light of the frequent accusations one hears concerning the Fathers and their attitudes towards women.

VI. The question which you have put seems to me to do honour to chastity, and to demand a kind reply. Chastity, in respect of which I see that the majority of men are ill-disposed, and that their laws are unequal and irregular. For what was the reason why they restrained the woman, but indulged the man, and that a woman who practises evil against her husband’s bed is an adulteress, and the penalties of the law for this are very severe; but if the husband commits fornication against his wife, he has no account to give?

I do not accept this legislation; I do not approve this custom. They who made the Law were men, and therefore their legislation is hard on women, since they have placed children also under the authority of their fathers, while leaving the weaker sex uncared for. God doth not so; but saith Honour thy father and thy mother, which is the first commandment with promise; that it may be well with thee; and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. Similarly He gave honour to good and punishment to evil. And, The blessing of a father strengtheneth the houses of children, but the curse of a mother uprooteth the foundations. See the equality of the legislation. There is one Maker of man and woman; one debt is owed by children to both their parents.

VII. How then dost thou demand Chastity, while thou dost not thyself observe it? How dost thou demand that which thou dost not give? How, though thou art equally a body, dost thou legislate unequally? If thou enquire into the worse—The Woman Sinned, and so did Adam. The serpent deceived them both; and one was not found to be the stronger and the other the weaker.

But dost thou consider the better? Christ saves both by His Passion. Was He made flesh for the Man? So He was also for the woman. Did He die for the Man? The Woman also is saved by His death. He is called of the seed of David; and so perhaps you think the Man is honoured; but He is born of a Virgin, and this is on the Woman’s side. They two, He says, shall be one Flesh; so let the one flesh have equal honour. And Paul legislates for chastity by His example. How, and in what way? This Sacrament is great, he says, But I speak concerning Christ and the Church. It is well for the wife to reverence Christ through her husband: and it is well for the husband not to dishonor the Church through his wife. Let the wife, he says, see that she reverence her husband, for so she does Christ; but also he bids the husband cherish his wife, for so Christ does the Church.

St. Gregory Nazianzen, Oration XXXVII


You Will Not Find a Greater Help

39. The devil, with all his powers, 'walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour' (I Peter 5:8). So you must never relax your attentiveness of heart, your watchfulness, your power of rebuttal or your prayer to Jesus Christ our God. You will not find a greater help than Jesus in all your life, for He alone, as God, knows the deceitful ways of the demons, their subtlety and their guile.

40. Let your soul, then, trust in Christ, let it call on Him and never fear; for it fights, not alone, but with the aid of a mighty King, Jesus Christ, Creator of all that is, both bodiless and embodied, visible and invisible.

41. The more the rain falls on the earth, the softer it makes it; similarly, Christ's holy name gladdens the earth of our heart the more we call upon it.

St. Heschyios the Priest, On Watchfulness and Holiness


St. Aidan: Prayer and Scripture

Another notable miracle of the same father is related by many such as were likely to have knowledge thereof; for during the time that he was bishop, the hostile army of the Mercians, under the command of Penda, cruelly ravaged the country of the Northumbrians far and near, even to the royal city,which has its name from Bebba, formerly its queen. Not being able to take it by storm or by siege, he endeavoured to burn it down; and having pulled down all the villages in the neighbourhood of the city, he brought thither an immense quantity of beams, rafters, partitions, wattles and thatch, wherewith he encompassed the place to a great height on the land side, and when he found the wind favourable, he set fire to it and attempted to burn the town.

At that time, the most reverend Bishop Aidan was dwelling in the Isle of Fame,which is about two miles from the city; for thither he was wont often to retire to pray in solitude and silence; and, indeed, this lonely dwelling of his is to this day shown in that island. When he saw the flames of fire and the smoke carried by the wind rising above the city walls, he is said to have lifted up his eyes and hands to heaven, and cried with tears, "Behold, Lord, how great evil is wrought by Penda!" These words were hardly uttered, when the wind immediately veering from the city, drove back the flames upon those who had kindled them, so that some being hurt, and all afraid, they forebore any further attempts against the city, which they perceived to be protected by the hand of God.

St. Aidan lived and breathed prayer and Scripture and spiritual contemplation. He serves as a model of one living and active in the world- fulfilling his role as a bishop- yet also deeply devoted to the cultuvation of the inner life. For St. Aidan prayer was bound to praxis. In this story we see him at prayer on a little island near Lindisfarne. The miracle related is tied directly to the fact of his devotion to prayer: for true prayer is a means of reliance upon God. He was careful to seek out God in intense, prolonged prayer. And not only in these times of retreat, but in all of his life. Bede records that the bishop was wont to pray and study the Scriptures vigirously even while on his travels:

His course of life was so different from the slothfulness of our times, that all those who bore him company, whether they were tonsured or laymen, had to study either reading the Scriptures, or learning psalms. This was the daily employment of himself and all that were with him, wheresoever they went; and if it happened, which was but seldom, that he was invited to the king’s table, he went with one or two clerks, and having taken a little food, made haste to be gone, either to read with his brethren or to pray.
He engaged in a life of prayer and Scripture, and encouraged others to do so. For we may be sure that the strength of every great saint lies precisely in his life of prayer, of the constant remembrance of God that the Fathers of the Philokalia speak so constantly of. He was also a man of Scripture, ingesting it as often as he could, and establishing deep within the memory. It is this trait that I consistently find so remarkable about the great Saints of the Faith: they absorbed Scripture into the very fibre of their thought. It is one of the most distinctive things about the writings of the Fathers, the way they weave Scripture into whatever they are writing, and draw upon it as needed. This from men without the convience of printing presses and computers, or even electrical lighting! Yet they made Scripture part of their very thought and imagination. It is one of the things I wish I had. My literary imagination, if you will, contains snipets of Scripture and Scriptural narrative, but not the extent that the Fathers do. My conversations- well, they all seem to tend towards the categeory of 'idle talk' that the Philokalia speaks of in warning. Scripture hardly informs the way I talk or think, at least not as it should. And as for prayer, well... It is at best an accessory element to my life, and not the central vital principle that it was for St. Aidan.

So in conclusion, St. Aidan's life is a beautiful picture of a man who served God vigirously and devoutly, leaving his native country to preach the Gospel to those in deep need of it, and who prayed and practised what he proclaimed. I will let the Venerable Bede give the last word:

I have written thus much concerning the character and works of the aforesaid Aidan, in no way commending or approving his lack of wisdom with regard to the observance of Easter; nay, heartily detesting it, as I have most manifestly proved in the book I have written, "De Temporibus"; but, like an impartial historian, unreservedly relating what was done by or through him, and commending such things as are praiseworthy in his actions, and preserving the memory thereof for the benefit of the readers; to wit, his love of peace and charity; of continence and humility; his mind superior to anger and avarice, and despising pride and vainglory; his industry in keeping and teaching the Divine commandments, his power of study and keeping vigil; his priestly authority in reproving the haughty and powerful, and at the same time his tenderness in comforting the afflicted, and relieving or defending the poor. To be brief, so far as I have learnt from those that knew him, he took care to neglect none of those things which he found in the Gospels and the writings of Apostles and prophets, but to the utmost of his power endeavoured to fulfil them all in his deeds.

These things I greatly admire and love in the aforesaid bishop, because I do not doubt that they were pleasing to God; but I do not approve or praise his observance of Easter at the wrong time, either through ignorance of the canonical time appointed, or, if he knew it, being prevailed on by the authority of his nation not to adopt it. Yet this I approve in him, that in the celebration of his Easter, the object which he had at heart and reverenced and preached was the same as ours, to wit, the redemption of mankind, through the Passion, Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven of the Man Christ Jesus, who is the mediator between God and man.