God is Amongst the Pots and Pans: Brother Lawrence

Brother Lawrence (1611-1691) was a humble and godly monk who lived in France during the seventeenth century. He was an ex-soldier who was wounded in Thirty Years War. After being wounded, he returned home to his parent’s house and while recovering he decided to pursue a more holy profession.

After he became a monk, he discovered a priceless secret of the Christian life: how to practice the presence of God. He wrote that “all we have to do is to recognize God as being intimately within us.” He served as a humble cook in the monastery kitchen. And he learned an important lesson through each of his daily chores: the time spent in prayer should be exactly the same as the time spent doing chores. He believed “it was a serious mistake to think of our prayer time as being different from any other. Our actions should unite us with God when we are involved in our daily activities, just as our prayers unite us with him in our quiet devotions.” He also wrote, “It isn’t necessary that we stay in church in order to remain in God’s presence. We can make our hearts personal chapels where we can enter anytime to talk to God privately.”

In the classic Practicing the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence shows us this most essential of Christian practices. He rightly points out that we have to know a person in order to love them and the same is true of God. The more we know God the more we will love them. God is always with us. It would be rude if you deserted a friend who was visiting you so why would we be disrespectful to God by leaving his presence?  He writes, “Do not forget him! Think of him often. Adore him ceaselessly. Live and die with him. That is the real business of Christians; in a word, it is our profession.” Such advice is just as true today as it was 300 years ago.

Health Reform: Seventh Day Adventists

Image

Health reform is nothing new and is not a product of the twentieth century. And if any church is known for being health conscious, it is the Seventh Day Adventists. Since the 1860s, when the church started, wholeness and health have been an emphasis of the Adventist church. The church is known for preaching a message of health that recommends vegetarianism and strict adherence to the kosher laws described in Leviticus 11. Obedience to these laws means abstinence from pork, shellfish, along with other foods that are considered “unclean.” The church discourages its members from the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs. Some Adventists avoid coffee, tea, cola, and other drinks containing caffeine.

This emphasis on health goes back to its pioneering founder, Ellen G. White. On June 5, 1863, Ellen G. White, the 35-year-old spiritual leader of the fledgling Seventh-Day-Adventists, joined friends in rural Michigan for vespers. For years she had been suffering from ill health and her husband, James, was on the verge of a physical and mental breakdown. While she was praying, she went into an hypnotic trance and started to receive instructions from heaven regarding the preservation and restoration of health. Mrs. White learned that the people of God were to give up eating meat and other stimulating foods, shun alcohol and tobacco, and avoid drug-dispensing doctors. If ill, they were to rely on nature’s remedies: fresh air, sunshine, rest, exercise, proper diet, and above all, water.

Interestingly enough, such advice was nothing new. Since the 1830s, the Presbyterian evangelist and temperance lecturer, Sylvester Graham, famous today for his crackers, had been warning his fellow Americans of the dire consequences of flesh foods, drugs, corsets, stimulants and frequent sex.

Seventh Day Adventists believed in the imminent Second Coming of Christ. In one of White’s early visions, an angel explained that Jesus could not return to earth until the elect obeyed the Ten Commandments, especially the command regarding the Sabbath (fourth). By doing this, she elevated health reform from a physiological to a theological obligation, essential to salvation. From 1863 to her death in 1915, Ellen White proclaimed the gospel of health. As a result, many Adventists adopted a twice a day diet of fruit, vegetables, grains and nuts and gave up tea, coffee, meat, butter, eggs, cheese, rich substances, and “all exciting substances.” Such dietary requirements, White argued, not only caused disease but stimulated unholy sexual desires. According to a 2002 worldwide survey of the church, 35% of Adventists still practice vegetarianism.

The Adventist pioneers had much to do with the common acceptance of breakfast cereals into the Western diet and the modern commercial concept of cereal food originated among Adventists. John Harvey Kellogg was one of the early founders of Adventist health work. He was the leader of the Western Health Reform Institute in Battle Creek, Michigan, which became a world famous sanitarium. In his spare time, he invented corn flakes. His development of breakfast cereals as a health food led to the founding of Kellogg’s which made a fortune for his brother William. In both Australia and New Zealand, the church-owned Sanitarium Health Food Company is a leading manufacturer of health and vegetarian-related products, most prominently Weet-Bix.

Research funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health has shown that the average Adventist in California lives 4 to 10 years longer than the average Californian. The research asserts that they live longer because they do not smoke or drink alcohol, have a day of rest every week, and maintain a healthy low-fat vegetarian diet that is rich in nuts and beans. The cohesiveness of the Adventists’ social networks has also been put forward as an explanation of their extended lifespan.

Despite White’s distrust of doctors, Adventists run a large number of hospitals and health-related institutions. Their largest medical school and hospital in North America is Loma Linda University and its attached medical center. Around the globe, the church runs a wide network of hospitals, clinics, lifestyle centers, and sanitariums. These play a role in the church’s gospel of health message and worldwide missions outreach. Adventist Health System is the largest non-profit Protestant multi-institutional healthcare system in the United States. It is sponsored by the church and cares for over four million patients yearly.

If not the most original health reformer, White is certainly among the most influential. When she died at the age of eighty-seven, she left behind a string of 33 sanitariums and countless treatment rooms on six continents, a medical school in Loma Linda, California, and 136,000 disciples to preach the gospel of health in the twentieth century. The work continues today and one may say the Ellen G. White would be proud of the church she founded.

 

 

Church and State: Wigtown Martyrs

Image

Church and state and religious freedom..it’s the never ending story. And on this day, May 11, we remember two martyrs who died in name of religious freedom. Margaret Wilson was a young Scottish Covenanter, from Wigtownshire in Scotland, executed  by drowning to swear an oath declaring James VII as head of the church. Her death became part of the martyrology of Presbyterian churches, and she was commemorated as the most famous of the Wigtown Martyrs.

From February 6, 1685, James II of England (1633-1701) was King of England and Ireland as James II, and King of Scotland as James VII. James wanted to proceed quickly to his coronation and was crowned with his wife at Westminster Abbey on April 23, 1685. Margaret Wilson was granted a reprieve by the Scottish Parliament one week later. James was the last Roman Catholic monarch to reign over Great Britain and Ireland. The political and religious elite opposed him for being pro-French and pro-Catholic and for his plans to become an absolute monarch. When he produced an heir, tensions rose dramatically, and the leading nobles called on William III of Orange (his son-in-law and nephew) to land an invasion army from the Netherlands.

The Covenant movement was a movement to maintain the reforms of the Scottish Reformation and it came to the fore with the signing of the National Covenant of 1638 in opposition to the royal control of the church, promoting Presbyterianism as a form of church government rather than the rule of bishops appointed by the Crown. With the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 the Covenants were declared treasonable and the rule of bishops was restored. In southwestern Scotland, the ministers refused to submit. Barred from their churches, they held open air field assemblies called conventicles which the authorities suppressed using military force.

Margaret Wilson was born at Glenvernoch, a farm near Newton Stewart  in Penninghame,Wigtownshire. Her parents were dutiful Anglicans, but her older brothers were among the Covenanters. By 1684 they were hiding from the authorities in the hills and increasingly government action had ended the large conventicles. Small gatherings were still held indoors, but failure to take a test of allegiance to the king, which required renouncing the Covenant, met with the death penalty, as did even attending a conventicle or harboring Covenanters. Despite these risks, Margaret started attending conventicles with her younger brother, Thomas. On occasion they took along their younger sister Agnes.

In February 1685 Thomas Wilson left to join other Covenanters in the hills. The Wilson sisters went on a secret visit to Wigtown to visit friends, including an elderly widow Margaret McLachlan. The sisters were arrested, possibly after refusing to drinking the king’s health and were put into the “thieves’ hole.” They refused to take the Abjuration Oath renouncing the Covenant. The following Sunday Margaret McLachlan was arrested and placed in the theives’ hole along with the girls. The three were taken before the local assizes of the government commissioners for Wigtownshire. On the 13th of April, 1685 they were indicted as being guilty of the Rebellion of Bothwell Bridge, Aird’s Moss, 20 field conventicles and 20 house conventicles. They were found guilty on all charges and were sentenced to tied to palisades fixed in the sand within the floodmark of the sea and there to stand till the flood overflowed them.

The father of the girls, Gilbert Wilson, went to Edinburgh and made a plea to the Privy Council of Scotland for clemency for all three, presenting a petition which claimed that Margaret McLachlan had recanted. Agnes was granted freedom on bond of 100 pounds and reprieve was granted for the two Margarets on April 30, 1685. Urging that the two had been officially granted reprieve by His Majesty’s Privy Council, Mark Napier insisted that its agents should not have dared flout the Council’s decree. Grieson of Lag, nevertheless chose to do so. A contemporary wrote that “over zeal was no crime in 1685.”

On May 11, 1685, eleven days after being granted reprieve, Margaret Wilson and Margaret McLachlan were chained to stakes on the Solway Firth. At the last moment, choking on the salt water, Wilson was allowed to offer a prayer to the king, which she did. Yet she still refused to abjure the covenant. This wasn’t good enough for her accusers and she was forcibly thrust beneath the waves. It has been said that, as the tide rose, she defiantly quoted from the Psalms and the epistles and sang until she drowned. Another contemporary, Robert Wodrow later wrote that the murderers should have been prosecuted for ignoring the reprieve.

Margaret Wilson was only 18 years old when she died and was buried together with her friend Margaret McLachlan, in the churchyard of Wigtown. The above picture is of the monument that was built in memory and honor of these Wigtown Martyrs. And let us follow in their footsteps and continue to exercise our religious freedom, a right that was given to us by God and which no man or king can take away even on pain of death. As the Apostle Peter remarked to the ruling Jewish leaders, “We must obey God rather than man.” May we also be brave enough to die for such freedom!

Three Little Words That Divide East & West

Image

You probably hardly take notice of them. They are three little words in the Nicene Creed and they have divided Eastern and Western Christians for centuries. Those words? “and the Son.” They appear in the section dealing with the Holy Spirit where it reads: “…who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” It is known as the filioque phrase and it has proven to be highly divisive.

It was not a part of the original Nicene Creed that came from the Council of Nicaea in 325 which only read “We believe in the Holy Spirit.” Then the Council of Constantinople in 381 added a fuller statement regarding the Holy Spirit being a fully divine person. But it only stated that the Spirit proceeded from the Father (single procession). It was not until 589 at the Council of Toledo that that seemingly small phrase, “and the Son” (double procession) was added. The West did this on their own without consulting the East which may help explain how this small phrase came to divide the two halves of Christendom.

This phrase was gradually accepted in the West and is therefore in our version of the Nicene Creed. But to this day, the East still rejects it and is they are still astounded at the casualness with which the West added the filioque to the creed. From the sixth century onward, when the West began to insert “and the Son” to the sentence dealing with the Spirit’s procession from the Father, the Orthodox began to complain that the West was violating both the spirit and the letter of Nicaea. They were violating the spirit by acting unilaterally in making the change and the letter by violating an explicit canon of the council that the wording of its formula was not to be changed. Additionally, the East argued that the Western addition was a grievous theological error. In this view, the Western urge to equalize relationships among the members of the Trinity short-circuited the full personality of the Spirit and so crippled the understanding of what the Spirit was to do.

In 1054, the Great Schism between East and West occurred and communication between the two stopped for centuries. But in recent decades, the communication between East and West started up again. In 1987, Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Demetrios I met in Rome, where they recited together the Nicene Creed without the filioque phrase.

Celebrating Mothers: Saint Monica

Image

In one week, we celebrate Mother’s Day here in the U.S. and May 4th is the feast day of the patron saint of mothers, St. Monica who was the mother of the great fourth century theologian, St. Augustine of Hippo. She is honored and remembered for her outstanding Christian virtues, particularly the suffering against the adultery of her husband and a prayerful life dedicated to the reformation of her beloved son, who wrote extensively of her pious acts and life in his Confessions. Popular Christian legends recalls Monica to have wept every night for her son.

Born in 332, she lived at Tagaste in North Africa (now Souk Ahras, Algeria). She was married early in life to Patritius who held an official position in that city. He was a pagan and had a violent temper and appears to have had dissolute habits. Her problems were made worse by the presence of a hostile mother-in-law in the house and Monica used alcohol as an escape.

She eventually overcame her addiction. Due to her unhappy married life, there was a gulf between husband and wife. Her alms deeds and her habits of prayer annoyed him, but it is said that he always held her in a sort of reverence. Monica was able to win over her husband and he converted to Christianity in 370. He died the following year. She then turned her efforts to the eldest of her three children, Augustine, who was at the time leading a life of debauchery and self-indulgence. Augustine tried to escape his mother’s efforts by fleeing to Italy in 383. But mom followed him first to Rome and then to Milan. It was at Milan, with the help of St. Ambrose, that Augustine converted to the Christian faith in 386 and was baptized the following year. It has been said that Monica then declared that all her hopes had now been fulfilled and that she had no more need of life on earth. Soon after on the journey home to North Africa, she died at Ostia in Italy.

About the 13th century, the cult of St. Monica began to spread and her feast day was set on May 4. Her relics are kept in a chapel to the left of the high altar in the Basilica of St. Augustine in Rome. The city of Santa Monica, California is named after her. A legend states that in the 18th century Father Juan Crespi named a local dripping spring Las Lagrimas de Santa Monica or “Saint Monica’s Tears” (now known as the Serra Springs) that was reminiscent of Monica’s tears that were shed over her son’s early impiety. There is a statue of this beloved saint in Santa Monica’s Palisades Park by sculptor Eugene Morahan which was completed in 1934.

St. Monica is a wonderful and inspiring example of motherhood. Monica was a patient wife and mother who dearly loved her son despite his sinful lifestyle. She prayed for her son’s conversion on a daily basis and of course celebrated when he finally came to faith. I believe all mothers can look to Monica and be inspired by her.

Athanasius: “Pillar of the Church”

Image

On May 2, we celebrate the feast day of St. Athanasius the Great (296-373), who was the bishop of Alexandria (328-373). He is considered to be a renowned Christian theologian, a Church Father, the chief defender of the Trinitarian faith (against Arianism), and a noted Egyptian leader of the fourth century. 

He is remembered for his role in the conflict with Arius and Arianism. In 325, at the age of 27, he had a leading role against the Arians in the First Council of Nicaea. At the time, he was a deacon and a personal secretary to the then bishop of Alexandria, Alexander. The council dealt with the nature of Jesus Christ. He is quoted as saying at that council, “Jesus that I know as my Redeemer cannot be less than God.” 

When he became bishop of Alexandria, at the age of 30, in 328 he continued to lead the fight against Arianism which he considered to be the most dangerous enemy of the true faith. He was banished by four times by Arian emperors and once by Julian the Apostate, because of his strict adherence to the trinitarian faith, spending a total of 20 years in exile. He was permitted five times to return to his church. He led the fight against Arianism and heresy for the rest of his life.

Athanasius spent his last years peaceably but vigorously writing against heresy. The passion of his life was to vindicate the deity of his Lord Jesus Christ. His writings were well regarded by all of the Church Fathers in both the East and the West. The writings of St. Athanasius display a rich devotion to the Word-become-man, great pastoral concern, and profound interest in monasticism. They include Three Orations Against Arius and Of the Incarnation of the Word of God. My favorite quote from him is “The Son of God became man so that we might become God” or also phrased as “Christ became like man so that we might become like him.” 

Athanasius is counted as one of the four great Eastern Doctors of the Church in the Roman Catholic Church and in Eastern Orthodoxy, he is labeled as the “Father of Orthodoxy.” St. Gregory of Nazianzus called him the “Pillar of the Church.” Protestants see him as the “Father of the Canon” due to the fact that he was the first to recognize all 27 books of the New Testament. The following prayer celebrates his great legacy:

“Uphold your church, O God of truth, as you upheld your servant  Athanasius, to maintain and proclaim boldly the catholic faith against all opposition, trusting solely in the grace of your eternal Word, who took upon himself our humanity that we might share his divinity, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen”