As Iron Sharpens Iron

An ongoing and online discussion between: an Orthodox informed Ecumaniac without a denominational home, an ordained Baptist youth pastor with an open mind, a Calvinist worship leader/seminarian with a staggering vocabulary and ability to make a point, and a cradle Catholic with a love/hate relationship to Rome.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pentecost

This is a hymn for Pentecost to the tune of The Cave by Mumford and Sons.  It draws heavily on the Orthodox liturgy for the feast.


Our human hearts, by wickedness inspired
At Babel, were united in their pride
You tore our tower down
and caused our one tongue to divide


Holy Spirit come, we pray again
Wash away our idols, make us clean
Burn in us all that is not of You
And dwell within

The Babel curse turn back
The ruin, wreck and wrack 
Unite our broken tongues again

The Babel curse unmake 
Our fallen, flesh tongues take
And give to us the tongues of flame 

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And so Your Holy Spirit, You sent down
To the twelve disciples gathered 'round
All who heard the Word in their tongue
marveled at the sound

The orators were once unlettered sons
Theologians formed from fishermen
Proving the philosophers to be
the foolish ones.

The slow-tongues, now enflamed,
The One-Who-Is proclaimed
And sophists silenced with the Word

For tongues of fire baptized
The simple men made wise
Who caught the whole world in their net

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So let Your Spirit fall in seas of fire
Our daughters and our sons may You inspire
The young and old, the slave and free
be caught up in the pyre

And make my heart Your home
For You and You alone
Can make my sin-soiled spirit fresh

And take our hearts of stone
For You, and You alone
Can give to us a heart of flesh






The lyrics are pulled from the sources below.  The Orthodox prayers seemed to flow along three themes:
- Fire
- Giving wisdom to the ignorant
- Uniting the tongues that were divided at Babel

Ultimately, the song is meant to tell a story.  
- Our tongues were divided at Babel, when we were united in pride and wickedness
- They were re-united at Pentecost when we were given the flaming Tongues of the Holy Spirit
- A plea for further healing and unity today

The Holy Spirit gives all things, 
makes prophecies flow, 
perfects priests, 
taught the unlettered wisdom, 
revealed fishermen to be theologians …

When you sent down your Holy Spirit to the Apostles as they were sitting,
Then the children of the Hebrews saw it 
and were beside themselves with amazement;
For they were hearing them speaking in other, strange tongues, 
as the Spirit gave them,
For though they were simple men, they have been made wise;
And having caught the nations for the faith, were preaching things divine …

Blessed are you, Christ our God, 
Who revealed the fishermen to be most wise 
by sending down to them the Holy Spirit 
and so, through them, catching the whole world in a net.

The slow of tongue, covered in divine darkness, proclaimed the law written by God.
For shaking the dust from his mind’s eye, he sees the One Who Is,
And is initiated into knowledge of the Spirit as he gives praise with songs inspired.

When the power of the divine Spirit came down, 
it divinely united in one harmony the voice divided of old 
of those who had wickedly agreed together

Inapprehensible is the blaze of the Godhead, 
for it revealed the unlettered to be orators
Bridling the mouths of Sophists in abundance with the Word

Joel 2:28-32
Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; 
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, 
your old men shall dream dreams, 
and your young men shall see visions.  
Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, 
I will pour out my spirit. 
I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, 
blood and fire and columns of smoke. 
The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, 
before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. 
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved; 
for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, 
as the Lord has said, 
and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.

Ezekiel 36:25-28
I will sprinkle clean water upon you, 
and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, 
and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  
A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; 
and I will remove from your body the heart of stone 
and give you a heart of flesh.  
I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes 
and be careful to observe my ordinances.  
Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; 
and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

God. Was. In. Her. Womb.

I'm currently finding myself in strange, spiritual limbo; considered too Catholic for Protestants and too Protestant for Catholics.  Alas.  Today is the birthday of Mary, the Mother of God, and calls to mind that aspect of Catholicism which most disturbs Protestants.  That is, Marian devotion.

When I first started peeking into Catholicism, that was THE issue that most disturbed me.  I was a relatively quick convert to saintly intercessions and to the Real Presence.  Really, almost every aspect of Catholicism, once understood, was embraced.  But this strange worship of Mary ... I couldn't get on board with that.  This was about 12 years ago.

Recently, I read an essay by Chesterton which included a bit about the centrality of Mary to the Christian faith.  Rather than try to explain it, he would proclaim it!  Those who balk at it balk at Christianity.  And I found, as I read it, I agreed.
‎"I DO not want to be in a religion in which I am 'allowed' to have a crucifix. I feel the same about the much more controversial question of the honour paid to the Blessed Virgin. If people do not like that cult, they are quite right not to be Catholics. But in people who are Catholics, or call themselves Catholics, I want the idea not only liked but loved and loved ardently, and above all proudly proclaimed. I want it to be what the Protestants are perfectly right in calling it; the badge and sign of a Papist. I want to be allowed to be enthusiastic about the existence of the enthusiasm; not to have my chief enthusiasm coldly tolerated as an eccentricity of myself. And that is why, with all the good will in the world, I cannot feel the crucifix at one end of the town as a substitute for the little Roman Catholic Church at the other."
Several years ago, I wrote a satirical Protestant Prayer of Praise to Mary.  In it, buried beneath the snarkiness, is an important idea.  If you, in any way, shape or form, believe in the Incarnation, then veneration of the Virgin it is the most natural, the most Christian thing, to do.  It is true that, in these Gnostic times, the Incarnation has been made a mere footnote to the Crucifixion.  The birth of Christ was so we could have a pure sacrifice, nothing more.

Let's assume, for a moment, that this little tidbit of heresy [penal substution / vicarious atonement] is true, that this was the only purpose of the God becoming man.  So what?  Do you realize what we're saying, here?  Of all the beliefs held by all the religions in all the world, this is the most ludicrous, insane, mind-meltingly incongruous doctrine of them all.  We needed to be saved from our sin, so God took on flesh?  That's like mobilizing the National Guard in hazmat suits to airlift your son to Johns Hopkins because the school nurse calls to say he has a 99.2 degree temperature.

What do we know about this God?
  • Moses could only look at His backside lest he be obliterated.  
  • Even then, when he returned to his people, his face was so bright that he had to wear a veil.
  • Isaiah feared the coal that would burn his unclean lips.
  • The sight of God struck Saul (later St. Paul) blind.
  • This is God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten not made, of one Being with the Father.
This is who was to be placed in Mary's womb.  So, when I say "Holy Mary," you'd better believe it's true!  It better have been, because if it hadn't, she'd have been consumed!  Burned alive from the inside-out.  None of this b.s. about "a fitting vessel" or any of that crap.  None of this idiocy about not passing along a sin nature.  I KNOW for a FACT she was holy, whatever the reason for it needed to be, because otherwise, she'd have been incinerated.  And if I didn't know it before the Annunciation, I sure as heaven know it afterwards.  How do I know?  Let me break this down for you.

God.  Was.  In.  Her.  Womb.

Do we really understand Who God Is?  I mean REALLY?  Because if we do, I'm not sure how we can escape at least the tiniest bit of wonder and awe at Mary.  Allow me to use Tolkein.  In the Silmarillion, Tolkein tells the tale of Beren and Luthien.  It's a good story.  A really good story.  A love story that has all that "love at first sight", star-crossed lovers from opposite sides of the tracks crap, except awesome.  In the story, Beren is given the task of retrieving a Silmaril (a jewel containing some of the lost light from the elder ages) from Morgoth (a baddie who makes Sauron look as menacing as Mole Man).  Beren gets it and is able to hold it because he is pure.  When Morgoth's giant demon-dog bites off Beren's hand and runs away, the Silmaril begins to eat him up from the inside out, because he is corrupt and evil.  When demon-dog is killed, the Silmaril is retrieved, still in Beren's hand (which has been preserved from decay in the belly of the beast because of the Silmaril).

Multiply that times a bajillion and you have the situation for Mary.  Weekly, I am a little concerned about taking Communion because, as I eat and drink God, I'm running the risk of having a violent, matter-antimatter, reaction that will blow me to pieces.  So, let me say again,

God.  Was.  In.  Her.  Womb.

And God did not do this lightly.  He was sending the fullness of Himself.  And He was sending Himself, NOT because we needed a really good sacrifice, but because we needed to kill God.  We needed to kill God, NOT so that He could have someone worthy of His eternal wrath, but so that by His death, Death would die and sin would become a flaccid, impotent, stingless insect (which, nevertheless, seems to be doing extremely good bidness.)  Yet, it's not amazing that His death killed Death.  It's not amazing that He rose again.  He was God.  What else did we expect?  What is amazing was that He had a death to die at all.

And so, Mary is at the center of Christianity because Christ is INSIDE her.  Even after He was born, it was wrapped in a robe formed from her flesh and woven in her womb that the Word walked the world.  It is because of her Son that I worship the mother.

Yes, I said worship.  I worship Mary.  Or adore.  Or venerate.  Whatever.  We could lay all the words out and dissect them to find one that doesn't offend but still speaks truth.  If I see a nuclear (oops ... sorry ... I meant "nuke-you-lar") bomb descending I can argue over whether it's targeting my city or the next one over.  Or, I could run like heck.  Bandying about verbs until we find an appropriate one will not change the essential fact that the Virgin bore The Verb, Verbum Dei.

Let me put it another way.  Many years ago, some of my siblings read a series of books by a Christian romance author.  The book was about a female collaborator during the German occupation of France in WWII, one of those women who were shaved bald after the war.  She loved this Jewish guy, but knew she could never have him because of her past.  Although I did not read it (never been one for romance as a genre), one scene they described stuck in my head.  This woman was taking a cup from which the object of her affections had imbibed.  When she was alone, she put her lips on the spot his lips had touched.

This is about as good an image of what I'm talking about as any I could muster.  This is a love so intense, so all-consuming, that anything that person touches, or that is associated with him, becomes sacred.  A cup, a hair, a picture, a journal ... all of it holy because of the association.  Gimli did not want a strand of Galadriel's hair to "set in imperishable crystal" because he though Galadriel had really nice hair.  He wanted it because it was hers.  Probably, more than that, he saw the same light that was captured in the Silmarils reflected off of her face (for she was one of the few left on Middle Earth who had seen that light before it was extinguished).

So worship?  Yes!  Adore?  Yes!  Venerate?  Yes!  All of them, and more!  There is very little of which Mary is not worthy and which it is not right for us to give her.  More than the grail that bore Christ's blood, more than the cross that crushed His body, more than the sepulcher He used to harrow Hell; she is worthy.  Because, and I can't say this emphatically enough,

God.  Was.  In.  Her.  Womb. 

He glorified her Himself.  I honor her BECAUSE of my understand of Who and What God Is, BECAUSE of my understanding of the absolute lunacy of the Incarnation.  To honor the mother glorifies the Son and inasmuch as she is not held in honor, our faith is lessened.


Mary the dawn, Christ the Perfect Day;
Mary the gate, Christ the Heavenly Way!
Mary the root, Christ the Mystic Vine;
Mary the grape, Christ the Sacred Wine!
Mary the wheat, Christ the Living Bread;
Mary the stem, Christ the Rose blood-red!
Mary the font, Christ the Cleansing Flood;
Mary the cup, Christ the Saving Blood!
Mary the temple, Christ the temple's Lord;
Mary the shrine, Christ the God adored!
Mary the beacon, Christ the Haven's Rest;
Mary the mirror, Christ the Vision Blest!
Mary the mother, Christ the mother's Son
By all things blest while endless ages run.