We are not describing the Holy Spirit.

In the Orthodox Church, when we celebrate a feast commemorating an event in our salvation history, such as Pentecost, also known as Holy Trinity Sunday, it is followed directly by another feast honoring a person who figures heavily in the previous day’s event. In the present case, tomorrow is Holy Spirit Day. It seems a good time to post these thoughts from Metropolitan Anthony:

When we say that God is spirit, we say simply that he is not matter as we know it, that he is something quite different. In that sense it is a negative description that belongs already without the word, to that form of theology which is negative theology, apophatic theology, a theology of paradoxes, a theology that uses words to point toward the ineffable — that which can neither be described nor put into words and yet which must be indicated somehow in speech.

One could avoid speech. In Siberia there were pagan tribes that had deliberately rejected every human word for God. And when in conversation they wanted to indicate God they raised their hand towards heaven. This is possible in a civilization of direct communication by speech. It is no longer possible in a civilization of books. But whatever words we use we have got to be aware of the fact that we are not describing, we are not defining what God is, because the very thing we know about God is that he is beyond defining, beyond describing. So that when we say of God that he is a Spirit, when we speak of the Holy Spirit in particular, we do not mean to give a concrete definition or any description of what he is. We point towards the fact that he is beyond our conceptual knowledge, beyond every formulation, that is is what we don’t know, and this is what we mean to say by saying that he is a spirit as contrasted with us.

–Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, excerpt from “Our Life in God,” from Essential Writings

Pentecost icon (fresco)

To think about the nature of lies.

“A lie seeks to make true something that has no true existence. It is an ‘alternate,’ make-believe universe to the one in which we live. Our desire for alternatives (and our fear of reality) are among the many motivations behind lies. It is revealing, however, to think about the nature of lies (which also reveals the nature of the truth). It is, at the very least, a matter of existence.”

“That which is true, is that which truly exists. As such, it is always its own strongest argument. If it truly exists, it will continue whether I believe in it or not. The truth does not require ideology. This carries the corollary of a lack of anxiety. If the truth abides, whether I believe it or not, then I am not bound to ‘make it so’ through the efforts of a culture war. It is, rather, for me to live it, to give thanks for it, and enjoy its fruit in the world.”

-Father Stephen Freeman, in this article: “‘Make It So!’ vs. ‘Let It Be!'”

The vitality of insects and my heart.

We can only be said to be alive in those moments
when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.
-Thornton Wilder

I’m home from my travels, and have been wandering about the garden to see what has changed in the last three weeks. My housemate Susan watered all the pots through a heat wave, Alejandro staked sunflowers and trimmed perennials, and my neighbor Gary trained the pumpkin vines to the trellis.

Mylitta Crescent

When I departed in late May, the bumblebees were the dominant buzzers among the flowers, but once the lavender and the germander opened, the honeybees returned. They are very alive, diligently about their business, and not ignoring the salvia, either. This gray bee likes the echinacea blooms that are just now available for nectar refreshment.

Hyssop, chamomile, basil and parsley are making a jungle of buds and blooms in the vegetable box out back. I’ve been waiting for the hyssop to do something for two years, while it took up a large space in that planter. It is famous as a bee plant. When I see bees acting like this one below, it makes me want to grow hyssop again… but not in the planter next time:

This Hyssopus officinalis is not the anise hyssop that I grew in my previous landscape, which “is neither anise (Pimpinella anisum) nor hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis),” but Agastache foeniculum. But they are both members of the mint family, and bees appear equally devoted to them.

The insects focus intently on what gifts they are given from the Creator, and I have been bowled-over conscious of my own treasures, during my travels. The grandchildren in Colorado, and their parents trying to keep up, impressed me with their youthful vitality, compared with Grandma, who liked to sit on the deck, play Bananagrams, take leisurely walks… and never once jumped on the trampoline with them.

While in Idaho I was acutely aware of what treasures my friends Rosemary and Jacob are. Being with them is like swimming in a refreshing, nectar-rich pool of friendship.

We worked to identify various plants on their property, and found dewberries, thimbleberries, and wineberries; wild roses are everywhere, and white spirea. Along the country road where we walked, these Baker Mariposa Lilies dotted the foliage on the forest floor. Every one was dotted itself with one or more insects as conscious as an insect can be of its sweet treasure.

I think Jacob and Rosemary would agree with me that it is the Lord who has given us this prized possession that we hold as a threesome, love that is an overflow of the Holy Trinity, from whom all life emanates.

My friends are my estate. Forgive me then the avarice to hoard them. They tell me those who were poor early have different views of gold. I don’t know how that is. God is not so wary as we, else He would give us no friends lest we forget Him.  –Emily Dickinson

I realize now that my aliveness is of a different sort from bees and children. My heart was continuing to sing and dance with thankfulness while my body sat quietly on airplanes for hours yesterday. So many treasures and the consciousness of them, and riches waiting for me when I arrive home… All this activity is making me sleepy like a toddler. Must be naptime!

Northwoods Prayer

This morning I woke in the northwoods of Idaho, at the home of my goddaughter Rosemary and her husband. I sat on their deck and watched the green aspen leaves as they quietly fluttered and twirled against patches of blue sky background above.

Unfamiliar birds squawked and twittered in the neighborhood, glorifying God. And I found this prayer in my prayer book, that asks God to teach us to use our voices to pray as well. The prayer itself is good instruction.

“My Lord, I know not what to ask of thee. Thou alone knowest my need. Thou lovest me more than I know to love Thee. Father, I am thy servant: grant me all I dare not ask. I ask neither for a cross nor for comfort; I simply stand in thy presence. My heart is open to thee. Thou seest my needs, of which I myself am unaware. Look upon me and act toward me in accordance with thy mercy: smite and heal, cast down and raise up. In thy presence I stand, reverent and silent before thy holy will and thy judgments, to which I cannot attain. To thee I offer myself in sacrifice. I commend myself to thee. I have no desire except to fulfill thy will. Teach me to pray. Do thou thyself pray within me. Amen.”

-St. Philaret of Moscow