Keeping the bike upright on the pilgrimage to Jerusalem

Candles at a pilgrims’ shrine in Germany

I realise I’ve just mixed metaphors, but I hope you don’t mind. In response to my post about how I’m having trouble getting things rolling again, I got some good tips and refreshing perspectives. Keep the bike upright is one of them. As someone who cycles to work, I understand that. Momentum is necessary, you need to keep pedalling.

But how to keep pedalling?

Well, I need to realise that part of the martyrdom of parenthood is not having the free time to pray all the offices. But that’s okay — taking care of my son, my household, is an act of love, and is itself part of the disciplined life. Thus, a little twist on the Benedictines — ‘laborare est orare’.

As I’m working through what disciplines I can reasonably and prayerfully engage, I’m also reading Lisa Deam, A World Transformed. This book is ostensibly about the spirituality of medieval maps. But a lot of it is about pilgrimage, and the pilgrimage of the heart.

We are all headed to Jerusalem, to the heavenly city.

Along the way, we need to watch out for the many perils on the road. Robbers, thieves, hunger, thirst, cold, shipwreck when sailing from Venice, snow in the Alps. Unbelievers at the gates restricting our access. Medieval pilgrimage wasn’t all just a happy trek through Spain in the summer. It was death-defying and life-transforming.

I once walked two hours of a pilgrim route in Germany, to a little pilgrims’ chapel. As I walked, I realised that, while we think of these chapels and the destinations as defining pilgrimage, there is a lot of open countryside. That’s where you meet with God.

That’s where you meet with danger.

So here I am, on my pilgrimage, trying to make the pilgrimage of the heart to Jerusalem in the midst of finishing up one job, taking care of a feverish and sick one-year-old, preparing to take up another job, sorting out a transatlantic move. There are dangers everywhere on this road.

This is why setting in motion manageable goals of discipline is essential — prayer, Scripture, study.

We’ll see how it goes.


Dionysian Ponderings: Beyond the Beyond … and then Beyond

Eclectic Orthodoxy is embarking on some Dionysian musings. The Areopagite may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I do encourage you to go and start to grasp what it is that none of us are grasping. 😉

Eclectic Orthodoxy

“Dionysius adopts the doctrine of God as ‘nameless,’ ‘unknowable,’ and ‘beyond being’ from the Neoplatonic tradition established by Plotinus,” writes Eric Perl, “and his thought can be understood only in that context” (Theophany, p. 13). We will need to revisit Perl’s “only in that context.” The apophatic tradition of Eastern Christianity—embodied in the Divine Liturgy, stated in the writings of the Cappadocian Fathers and St Ephrem the Syrian (Dionysius was undoubtedly acquainted with both), and performed in monastic ascetical practice—should also be judged as the proper context for the interpretation of the Corpus Areopagaticum. We need to find a way to think together the metaphysical and ecclesial. But let’s follow along with Perl in his analysis of the Areopagite:

Dionysius expressly adopts the Parmenidean and Platonic account of being and thought as coterminous, and therefore locates God beyond both together: “For if all knowledges are of beings…

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The one who Seeks Mercy

The Jesus Prayer contains all the gospel.


“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  It is not good title protocol to leave the subject un-capitalized.  But in our tradition, where we so often would give a capital to “one” even in the body of our text – if it was in reference to God Almighty – it seems particularly appropriate to leave that word without a capital, even in a title, when it is referencing someone who is not the Lord God.  Perhaps not always, in titles, but in this case, the “me” identified is the me who self-identifies with that deep truth that I wish I could hide: I am a sinner.

Think about that for a second or two.  Or more.  The Jesus Prayer could be shortened – it wouldn’t contain the whole Gospel (which it does, properly understood), but it could be shortened.  Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on…

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The Jesus Prayer, from the West

Over at our shared blog, my brother has started blogging about the Jesus Prayer. Here’s the first — the second is also up!


Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

This is the Jesus Prayer, in English.

Jesus never prayed it.

Jesus didn’t ask His followers to pray it, even when they asked Him how they should pray (which would have been the ideal time to unleash this beaut’ on ’em!).

Yet, praying this one prayer has been, and continues to be, the whole spiritual devotion, the full spiritual formation plan, of countless Christians – both those living and those who have already joined the great company of the witness cloud by which we are compassed about.  This short prayer has been said to contain the entire Gospel (God’s good news of salvation through the Son, Jesus Christ); it is said to encapsulate all prayers; it is held in prayer, by some, in place of Psalmody.

My first words on this prayer, today, are these: it is called…

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Wise words on prayer from St Aelred.

The Contemplative Writer

Aelred of Rievaulx
Aelred of Rievaulx (c. 1110 – 1167) was an English Cisterician monk and the abbot of Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire. In honor of his feast day tomorrow (January 12), I wanted to share with you a beautiful passage in one of Aelred’s works, The Rule for a Recluse. In this passage, Aelred explains to his readers how to pray for a world in need. I think you’ll agree that his thoughts seem especially appropriate in our day and age.

Praying for the World

What is more useful than prayer? Give it. What is more gracious than pity? Spend it. Hold the whole world in one embrace of love; consider the good to congratulate them, the wicked to grieve over them; behold the afflicted and compassionate the oppressed; call to mind the miseries of the poor, the groans of orphans, the desolation of widows, the sorrows of those who…

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On the subject of silence, a poem by Madeleine L’Engle for you this Epiphany.

The Contemplative Writer

Madeleine L’Engle (1918-2007) was a beloved American writer. If you’re like me, her novel A Wrinkle in Time was formative for your young adult years. L’Engle also wrote poetry; today, I invite you to reflect on her beautiful poem about silence, brokenness, and the coming of Jesus.

Ready for Silence

Then hear now the silence
He comes in the silence
in silence he enters
the womb of the bearer
in silence he goes to
the realm of the shadows
redeeming and shriving
in silence he moves from
the grave clothes, the dark tomb
in silence he rises
ascends to the glory
leaving his promise
leaving his comfort
leaving his silence

So come now Lord Jesus
Come in your silence
breaking our noising
laughter of panic
breaking this earth’s time
breaking us breaking us
quickly Lord Jesus
make no long tarrying

When will you come
and how will you come

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What about university?

Dreher’s chapter about education in The Benedict Option also addresses university. Here, the idea essentially revolves around young men and women living out the chapter on the church as village. That in order to keep from devolving into the party culture, sex culture, porn culture, drinking culture, hedonism, relativism, and general social disorder that characterises the ‘freedom’ of young people at secular universities, young Christians need to create and seek out intentional community.

He does not call for only sending them to Christian universities, in part because some of these are being challenged in various ways, such as (to use a famous Canadian example) Trinity Western University whose code of conduct includes not engaging in extra-marital or homosexual sex acts. The bar on heterosexual activity doesn’t get you in trouble, but the bar on homosexual activity gets you branded bigot these days (this is not the point of this post, so please stay out of that debate in the comments).

Anyway, this portion of the chapter was, I think, done well. Throughout the book, one of my issues has been the randomness of the anecdotes, most of wish only point to symptoms of the problem, or the fact that the interviews with people simply give their views on life and strategy, rather than showing their success. These even counts for his interviews of monks at Norcia.

However, in this section as well as a few parts of the chapter on community, Dreher actually gives concrete examples of Benedict Option successes. He tells of various groups of young Christians at different universities, some Protestant, some Roman Catholic, and how they banded together to form communities that supported them throughout their time at university and helped their faith grow strong. He even tells of how one such group’s existence contributed to the church’s mission of making new disciples. So for this I am glad.

As a person who works in the university, I want the Christians to come to university to be able to come to secular institutions and get their degrees with a robust faith and even spiritual growth at the other end. There is no reason why the university should erode or destroy your faith. Sure, it will challenge it. I certainly had my share of challenges as a Christian in undergrad, but having the critical thinking skills and resilience to resist should be part of the young person’s journey through university.

I admit that I had good community as an undergrad, and this probably helped, besides my own determination to come to grips with arguments and ideas that challenged what I believed. I belonged to a supportive church community, was active in IVCF, and had a great group of Christian friends who were willing to talk matters of faith and of import.

Speaking about secular universities, the university should resist the urge to become secularist. Rather, universities should be pluralist, creating an atmosphere where the conservative Christian and the atheist and the Hindu and the Muslim and the liberal Christian can co-exist, make friendships, and have respectful, lively debate on topics that really matter. That was my experience as an undergrad 12 years ago, and I hope it is still the case. (I currently hold a research post, so I can’t say for sure, but it looks like my current place of employment would fit this model.)