Posts Tagged ‘Believe’

Our Selves, Our Souls, Our Bodies – More on Faith

May 7, 2010

And here we offer and present unto Thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice unto Thee…

From Thomas Cranmer’s Eucharistic Prayer

Regardless of what opinion one may have of the English reformer Thomas Cranmer’s theology, no one can deny him a central place in the history of the English language and the impact of his phrasing on the traditional prayers offered in the English tongue. The phrase, quoted from his Eucharistic prayer, is a poetic development of Romans 12:1, “I beseech you therefore brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto the Lord, which is your reasonable worship.”

Both Cranmer’s poetry and the inspired writings of St. Paul point to a relationship with God that includes our bodies. This can be read in a merely moral manner, in which keeping our bodies pure of bodily sin is seen as the sacrifice of which St. Paul speaks. For myself, I think that Cranmer has caught the greater intent of St. Paul’s statement in his expansion: “our selves, our souls and bodies.” And, I think as well, that it is most appropriate that he included this within the context of Eucharistic worship.

The Elder Zacharias of Essex has said that the essence of worship is exchange. We offer to God what God has given to us, and receive in exchange what we could never have by nature. “All things come of Thee, O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.”

In modern practice, much of Christian worship and the Christian life, has been reduced to the mental level – whether of the will, intellectual assent, or the emotions (the emotions are a part of the mind – not the “heart” as it is classically used in the fathers). These are not wrong things to offer to God – but they can be quite misleading in their imbalance. Perhaps the most serious mistake that can be drawn from these mental offerings, is the effective reduction of God to an idea. God is not an idea, and virtually every idea we have of Him is either mistaken or idolatrous.

Many have taken Christ’s statement that “God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in Truth,” as the basis for thinking of God as something like idea. But ideas are not spirits. There is nothing more spiritual about a thought than there is in a physical action. Thus those who oppose ritual as though it were inherently unspiritual are guilty of confusing spiritual with mental.

It is worth noting that among the most specific commandments of Christ with regard to worship are the actions of Baptism and the Eucharistic meal. Even in the area of prayer, when asked how to pray, Christ answered with a specific prayer: the Our Father. Thus there should be little surprise that the earliest texts describing Christian worship include directions for specific actions and occasional directions for specific words.

But there are further implications included within the commandment to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice.” The reduction of Christian worship to mental and emotional efforts is also a reduction of what it means to be human – or at least a reduction in what we value as human beings. “What I do with my body is my own business,” is fraught with absurdity. We are not our own creation.

Earlier discussions on faith point to this same issue. Is faith to be understood simply as a mental exercise, or is it somehow something more? The modern English language offers little help in speaking of something that is as rich as faith. The same can be said of the word know. Knowledge is often treated as though it were purely mental, but there are many things which we know in other ways: how to walk, how to ride a bicycle, etc. The word ignore is interesting. For it implies not just not knowing but willfully not knowing.

When speaking of faith, we are describing a relational trust that is rooted in our participation in the life of God. St. Paul says that “faith works by love” (Gal. 5:6). Marriage, at its best and highest moments, can have something of this experience on a human level. The relationship is more than mental and emotional. It is physical and involves a union with the other than can only proceed from trust, freedom and love. It would not be wrong to describe such a relationship as faith. The Church asks husbands and wives to be faithful – which means far more than simply avoiding sex with other persons. It is little wonder that marriage is a common image used for the relationship between God and His Church.

The old English marriage service had an interesting use of language. The groom, while placing the ring on his bride said: “With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.” Yes, indeed.

To Believe the Truth

November 20, 2009

I have to confess as I begin this post that I find myself reaching for words. I reach for words to say something I know, but which is hard to express. To believe the truth is not the same thing as having a correct opinion – indeed the two have almost nothing to do with one another. And this is a great difficulty – for most of the things that we think of ourselves as believing – we in fact only hold as opinions. What a man believes, in the way the word is used in the New Testament, is not seen or heard in the syllogisms he is willing to confess, but rather in how he lives his life.

Thus, when the Scriptures seek to express what it is to have faith in God, the images cease to have any particular intellectual content (or virtually no such content). Instead, Christ will use images such as a vine and its branches. To believe in Christ, to hold to Christ as Lord and God is to be like a branch to a vine. This is not an intellectual image but is a very understandable image of a way of life.

In the Orthodox service of Holy Baptism, the candidate (or sponsor) is asked: “Do you unite yourself to Christ?” It is a peculiar phrase. It is more than asking, “Do you give consent to the following propositions?” It is asking someone if they are willing to live as a branch to which Christ is the vine.

St. Paul uses the image of a body and its head. Are we willing to live as a body lives in relation to its head? St. Paul also uses the image of the union of a husband and a wife.

These are living images – images to which we can relate. But they cannot rightly be reduced to syllogisms or abstractions. To believe that Jesus is the Christ, the only-begotten Son of the Father, the true God, in Whom alone is found salvation, is to unite one’s life to His life. It is to die and find that the only life now lived is Christ’s life.

It is in this way that argument is so often beside the point. I know what it is to be corrected or even to lose an argument and be convinced that something I once believed is not, in fact, true. But many times this represents only a shift in opinion, a matter of little consequence. To accept that Christ is the Truth is more like accepting that the air in a room I am entering is breathable (and then breathing).

By observation I see that people believe many things in this way that are not the truth. Some people believe that they are economic units, defined by production and consumption. Life is good depending on the level of production and consumption. The world is good as measured by its production and consumption. I doubt that those who believe this would ever actually confess this to be the case. But the evidence of this faith will be found in their manner of life – what they choose and how they choose it. What center organizes the activity of their day?

Some people believe in pills or alcohol or sex.

Some people barely believe in God (and that they do so is a good thing). However, it is also possible that having a minimal faith and an unmanageable life to go with it, does not restrain the same person from holding careful opinions about God and the Christian faith and diverting themselves with opinions about almost every aspect of the faith.

The Christian faith uses words – but the force of the words is found in the reality from which they are spoken. A single word from a saint can bring a sinner to repentance. The most correctly stated argument from an unbelieving life may have little effect, none at all, or even be deleterious to those who hear it.

To believe the truth is to venture onto the holy ground of reality and not the fantasy of well-formed ideas. On holy ground we remove our shoes and remain silent – giving voice to words of praise letting words possess integrity. It is a very difficult thing indeed.

It is a rare thing to meet a man who believes in God – but it is a life-changing encounter. May God give us all the grace to believe.