Is there freedom from the dog’s breakfast of Internet content?

A friend shared this on Facebook recently:

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It makes me think of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica (1914-2003) and his book, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives. One of the insights of this Serbian Orthodox Father is that reading the newspaper clutters our minds and distracts us from our real task in life, which is quieting the mind and heart to find God.

Elder Thaddeus died a couple of years before Facebook, and his teachings seem blissfully ignorant of the Internet. I have a feeling, however, that his wisdom would have been to avoid this dog’s breakfast of most corners of the Internet. I feel that way sometimes, too.

I’m not sure we should all totally cut ourselves off from the news or Facebook or Tumblr or Reddit, though — but perhaps we should be wise about how much and which news, and then use the news as a way to inform our prayer lives and our social action. Otherwise, in the midst of the celebrity gossip, the venomous editorials, the vapid blogs, the zoo that is the American presidential campaign, the shallowness of much modern politics, et cetera ad infinitum, our thoughts will become so cluttered and our hearts filled with so much confusion and turmoil that we will lose ourselves.

Instead, let us limit our intake of digital media and avoid such things as definitively contribute to the dog’s breakfast of the Internet content.

Then we can sit in silence and seek to find the unutterable mystery of God, who is so much more satisfying than any Internet debate and so much more substantial than any Internet news, for He sits at the heart of the Cosmos, He is Primordial Being, the truest absolute hypostasis/persona, He is absolute, boundless love, and He seeks us to know Him and love Him and then love each other.

(Okay, so that last bit is influenced by Elder Sophrony, His Life Is Mine, not Elder Thaddeus.)

Image source: Michael Leunig Appreciation Page on Facebook

Holiness: A Reflection on All Saints’ Day

Typically, in the liturgical churches of Protestantism, we are reminded on All Saints’ Day or All Souls’ Day (which is tomorrow) that all Christians are saints, based on how St Paul uses the word, not just those who get ‘the big ST’. This is true, but what does that ‘big ST’ mean?

Saint comes from the Latin sanctus and means holy.

There are different ways of looking at holiness, and I don’t think they are mutually exclusive. One is the typically Protestant way of viewing it, jumping off from Luther’s ‘justified by faith alone’ — we are viewed as being already holy, set apart, by God in light of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and our putting our trust in Him. Something similar is maintained by Maximus, that we do not merely imitate Christ but become like Christ through faith in him (as blogged by me here).

The other is the idea of our ability to progress in holiness. This is sanctification. We are being made clean or set free from the presence and power of sin in this lifetime, as Bp Eddie Marsh once said in a sermon; justification is our being set free from the penalty of sin; glorification is the final liberation from the presence of all sin on Judgement Day.

This type of holiness is something we are all to strive towards, ever mindful of the need for the grace of God. It is, I believe, what St Paul means when he says to work out our salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). Resting in the power of God to transform us, we are to lead holy lives, trusting in the grace of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to transform our inner person.

The sorts of things that are part of holiness are, I believe, going beyond basic moral virtues as we think of them. We tend to think of morality being a question of the Ten Commandments and attendant actions, of being nice to others, of honesty, of ‘putting ourselves in the other fellow’s shoes’. These are certainly part of a holy life.

But I think Christ calls us beyond that to more, to a holiness where we can actually turn the other cheek, rejoice when others persecute us, never look at a woman lustfully, never gossip, pray without ceasing, pray for our enemies, bless those who persecute us, refrain from speaking and thinking ill of others, and so on and so forth. I’m not espousing Wesley’s ‘Christian Perfection’ here, but I think holiness is a goal we are to seek, what Cassian in the fifth century calls ‘purity of heart’.

Holiness is, therefore, a matter of our hearts and minds. Our thoughts are to be turned to Christ at all times and in all things. As the title of a Serbian Orthodox book says, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives. I believe that the classic spiritual disciplines are a valuable aid in helping us pray continually and set our minds on things above.

Besides the obvious discipline of prayer, in his book Celebration of Discipline, evangelical Quaker writer Richard Foster lists meditation, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. I am better acquainted with some of these than others, but I can say that days I start with prayer or pray early on, days I fast, days I spend in Scripture or devotional books, days I choose the simple over the complicated and unnecessary, days I actually submit to others and seek to serve — these are the days I feel nearer to Christ and more ready to tune my heart and thoughts to him.

I encourage you to take up a new spiritual discipline as of today. Perhaps fast once a week? Pray at the canonical hours (whether with a liturgy or not)? Start volunteering at a homeless shelter? Spend time meditating on different Scriptural passages throughout the week? If you’re not in a Bible study, can I recommend you join one?

Today I remembered to pray Morning Prayer — a discipline I want to cultivate but frequently forget. What will you do?