A special thanks to Blue Shepard for allowing me to publish his weekly e-newsletter here on Vigilant Wolf. The Blue Shepard is a friend and past guest of Ever Vigilant podcast (episode 43). I personally look forward to his weekly thoughts on Christianity, Manhood, and Brotherhood and I believe you will feel the same.
Had Moses not received the rod of power from God, he would not have become a god to Pharaoh (Exodus 7:1) and a scourge both to him and to Egypt. Correspondingly the intellect, if it fails to grasp the power of prayer, will not be able to shatter sin and the hostile forces ranged against it." St. Gregory of Sinai.
Required Reading: Numbers 20:21-21:9
Many years ago, when a young teen, someone asked me had I fasted today. I told them that I had. They asked me how so, and I told them that when I was about to fetch a sugary treat, I was struck with the sudden notion that I should not do it, and should devote the time to God instead; so I turned from the pantry door empty-handed, went to my room, crouched in private beside my bed, and began to pray and read Psalm 3. I continued in this manner for a short time and did not eat anything for several hours, until our evening meal. The person I told this said that I had not fasted.
That anecdote is a type which is played out over and over in my own life as well as yours. Each time we make some small progress there is a certain probability that some well-meaning person (or sometimes ill-meaning braggart) will deliver a fatal blow to our infinitesimal excitement, effectively poisoning the seeds we have planted in the gardens of our own hearts. The results are not the sweet scuppernongs of the wine of our blessed covenant, but the wild and sour grapes of self-righteous and phantasmal heterodoxy.
God is a storyteller, repeating the same myth; he holds up a mirror to history, in his own image [...] - Fortress Grail
There are many more types that we see all throughout the universe. One such is the brazen serpent, instituted by God and erected by Moses in the Wilderness of Sin. Nechushtan (Heb. literally translated "a piece of brass") was nothing more or less than an icon. The place at which Moses erected it was nothing more or less than a geographic place. Suddenly the traffic within the camp shifted, and now everything revolved around this image - the very image of the fruits of their own sins was now the only thing that could save them. But when the pilgrimage was made, and the prostration committed, miraculous and mystical intervention happened. Nechushtan was neither a conscience nor a dumb idol, but a hallowed piece in a holy place. The piece of brass became, as it were, the image of God himself.
Of all the types to which Christ could have compared his crucifixion, he always came back to sin: The brazen serpent; Jonah in the belly of the great fish; the destruction of the Temple; the rejection and banishment of the chief priests, elders, and lawyers; the mere concept of betrayal into the hands of sinful men; being delivered to the sinful Gentiles to be mocked, whipped and executed; the Egyptian bondage, in referencing the Passover; and then the agricultural reference for the Greeks in St. John's Gospel, that the seed must die (for man's agriculture is in and of itself a product of sin). All of these are types of sin or the product of sin's conception.
Devotion must become a pilgrimage. If you can not get to a hallowed place, then go somewhere and sanctify that place. Get up from class and go to your car or to a bathroom. Shut your office door. Not dissimilar from the addict who is constantly seeking a clandestine opportunity to prepare his momentary pleasure, take leave. It is enough that we must be in our own company, with whom for our attention God must contend, and that of the Tempter, but the cares of this world as well which can be dismissed if even for a few precious moments. We leave the room for important phone calls, but sit and mutter unintelligible things which we call prayers amidst all of what we actually want to do instead, and still feel good about ourselves. God is like an auto-mechanic: you will go see him now, or else you will go see him later.
We modern hedonists are bombarded with the subliminal discouragement of true devotion which says, "You can talk to God anywhere". Think you that you are better than Christ, who often went away alone to pray? I may call and speak with my employer anywhere, but if I do not appear on post at the appointed time the nature of the conversation (and relationship) will be dramatically altered. You profane and spit on the very glory of God when you reduce your sacrifice to the afterthought of your lame and sick mind. You can truly talk to God anywhere, but unless you are talking to him everywhere AND cutting yourself off from the world from time to time to commune with him alone, stop saying that.
I recall reading of a village in Africa which experienced a near total conversion upon encountering the Gospel. These converts were devout and quickly developed consistent ascetic habits of prayer, insomuch that there were worn footpaths in the grass from each person's dwelling to his or her place of prayer. It was easy to tell when someone had not prayed lately, for the grass began again to cover the ground where his route had been clearly established. The method of filial chastisement from concerned neighbors came in a colloquial and contextual declaration, "Brother, the grass grows over your path." The indirect statement was convicting as any other could have been.
Either you will or you will not maintain your devotion. But the grass will tell the tale, and Our Father sees all. How many of life's troubles do you face unnecessarily because you have failed to be steadfast in your pilgrimage to devotion?
We are far removed in our culture form true respect. Old men may still tip their hats - a remnant form the days of the bow - but even they do not realize the full truth of their own words when they say, "Young people have no respect these days". We are a rebellious generation, the offspring of rebellious generations of a rebellious country and culture. We have no concept nor point of reference whatsoever of true lordship. We are a ship cut loose from the anchor, told to find some way to be stable in a shifting sea of self-made and self-accountable, entitled, arrogant, puffed up brats. At our height of humanitarianism, we are truly at a low of religion. We balk at Muslims prostrating themselves over against Mecca, assimilate them with Buddhists and Hindus for employing bodily worship, and ridicule traditional and conservative Christians for keeping or appropriating the heathen practices of the east or following with some forbidden "ritual" or "Ceremonial Law" that no longer applies to us when the kneel at an altar or before a cross for prayer; while we stick out our oily tongues, raise our proud and dirty little hands, and thrash about wildly to the heavy smoke and erratic lights, slinging our heads like demoniacs as we rock and reel to emotionally charged, godless and often heretical screeching that we call a "worship service" (while we are on the topic of contemporary worship music... if I hear the phrase "reckless love of God" one more time, I am going to write an email about it).
Having faith that Moses had hung the serpent was not enough. How arrogant and foolish we are to call upon our Sovereign Ruler in a state of pride! What vainglory to waste our time and words limiting the Father of all that is, was, and shall be to our own minuscule frame of mind! Humble yourself before the awesome presence and power of Almighty Jehovah. Cast off your pride, and bury it deep, water it with tears of contrition, and cover the grave with the rocks of penance.
Three years ago, I would have argued to you that we should not possess or display images of Christ on the cross simply because he is not on it any more. I repent for that damnable heresy. To use the cross alone as a symbol for Christianity is a good and wholesome thing. But to take the position I just described, or for any other reason, to deny the image of His suffering is in actuality to deny His suffering. This is where the modern proto-evangelical world has gotten us, and it make s me sick to my stomach. Our culture of self gratification and controlled exposure wants the unpleasant parts out of sight - because then we have to think about it less. I learned this when I was teaching a class a while back and someone asked what was the symbology of the cross and what did it mean for the Christian. When I responded with a single word, "Death", a recoiling silence fell on the room, which I let sit for a few minutes just for the concept to set in. The most obvious thing was that these men, some of whom had been in church for years, were strangers to this idea. The cross is an instrument of execution, like a noose or guillotine, and to the Christian represents nothing other than Christ's suffering for our sins. It was in that moment that I was fully persuaded that as long as we promote a Christless cross, we propagate a Christless gospel. As long as we deny the image of Christ on the cross in all it's gory visage, we deny the very means of grace by which we are permitted to access the atonement: his broken body and blood that was shed. It is little wonder we find difficulty in bowing down before the cross of his suffering when we refuse to acknowledge his suffering out of childish avoidance. We have hid, as it were, our faces from him. What more efficient way for the enemy to deceive the church than to take away the very remembrance of what brought our salvation? Holy Scripture does not say "he was resurrected for our iniquities." It says, "[H]e hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities."
The joy of the Lord does not come through the pleasures which gratify the flesh, for these are the joy of the world. The joy of the Lord comes from his suffering. There can be no Resurrection without Crucifixion. As the song says, "Jesus has a table spread Where the saints of God are fed, He invites His chosen people, Come and dine; with His manna He doth feed And supplies our every need: Oh, 'tis sweet to sup with Jesus all the time! Come and dine, the Master calleth, Come and dine[...]" This manna is his body, which was broken for us. This dinner of joy is a partaking of his suffering. Count it all joy when you fall into diverse temptations. Blessed are you when men shall revile you. These get thrown around with little or no weight in our conversations and sermons because we continue to put up a stiff-necked resistance to the very thing which brought our salvation to us: his suffering. Kneel humbly at the foot of the cross in contrition. Come boldly before the throne of grace, but do not be presumptuous. Intercede for us and obtain mercy. But do so by lifting up the cross of his crucifixion.
Pilgrimage: Hallow the Place.
Prostration: Venerate His Suffering.
Light a candle for me.
The Blue Shepard
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