Sunday, July 14, 2024

Essential Bible Verses on Peace

  1. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. (Matthew 5:9)
  2. Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders. and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end. (Isaiah 9:6-7a)
  3. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)
  4. The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace. (Psalm 29:11)
  5. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God, and the peace of God which passes understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
  6. Grace and peace be multiplied to you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord. (2 Peter 1:2)
  7. Whoever would love life and see good days, let him restrain his tongue from evil and his lips that they speak no deceit. Let him disown evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. (1 Peter 3:11-12)
  8. Wisdom's ways are pleasant, and all her paths are peace. (Proverbs 3:17)
  9. The work of righteousness shall be peace, and the bond-service of righteousness will be quietness and security for ever. (Isaiah 32:17)
  10. He shall judge among the nations and shall rebuke many people, and they will turn their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they study war any more. (Isaiah 2:4)

Sunday, July 07, 2024

Thomas A Kempis 1.19 (Part 2) - Spiritual exercises

The exercises which are not common to all are not for showing outwardly but are safest in secret, carried out privately. Watch out that you don't become lazy about the common exercises and eager for special ones. When you have fully and faithfully completed your obligations and fulfilled your orders, if you still have more free time, then take up your own interests as your devotion desires. It's not possible for everyone to have the same spiritual exercise, since one thing serves one man better, and another works better for another. And in different seasons, different exercises are needed: some for holy days, some for great feasts. Some serve well in times of temptations and others in times of peace and rest. In times of sadness I like certain meditations, and others when we are joyful in the Lord.

Around the time of the major festivals the good exercises should be renewed, and the prayers of the Saints more fervently sought. We should resolve to move from Feast to Feast as if each were our time to migrate from this world to the eternal feast. So we should prepare ourselves earnestly in times of devotion, and in holy conversation, and keep a close watch on all our observances as if we would soon receive the reward of our labors from God. 

And if we postpone preparing ourselves, let us believe that we are less well prepared and still unworthy of the glory which shall be revealed in us at the appointed time. May we study to prepare ourselves the better for our end. Blessed is that servant, as the Evangelist Luke says, whom, when the Lord returns He finds watching. Truly I tell you, He will make him ruler over all that He has.

Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis, 1.19 (second part, it's a long chapter to translate in one sitting). 

Translation focused on contemporary English and preservation of rhetorical force and art

Sunday, June 30, 2024

Thomas A Kempis 1.19 (Part I) - Spiritual exercises

The life of someone religious should be filled with all virtues, so that inwardly he is the same as he outwardly seems to others. There should be much more inside than is seen outside because God is the one who sees our hearts. He is the one we should respect and revere above all, no matter where we are, and like the angels in his sight we should walk in this world. Every day we should renew our purpose, and kindle our hearts to warmth and devotion, as if each day were the first day of our conversion, and say, “Help me, God, in good purpose, and in your holy love, and grant me now today to begin perfectly, because there is nothing I have yet done.”

As goes our purpose, so goes our progress. If we desire good progress, it takes diligence. If someone who resolves strongly still falls short often, what about someone who rarely resolves, and not so strongly? There are so many ways where things depend on circumstances.  A small lapse from our intentions still brings us some loss. The purpose of the upright depends more on the grace of God rather than their own patient endurance; for in Him they always trust, regardless of what they take in hand. For man proposes, but God disposes; and it is not in a man's power to direct his own steps. 

If a spiritual exercise is sometimes skipped for the sake of some act of good, some fellowship or useful work, it can easily be recovered afterwards. But if a weary mind or neglect causes us to skip then it is a fault, and the omission will be felt. If we try to the best of our abilities, we will still see small shortcomings in many things. Always we should have a firm purpose, and focus especially on the things that give us the most trouble. Both outwardly and inwardly we should reflect on ourselves, and keep ourselves in order, because both will affect our progress. 

If you aren't continually reflecting on yourself, set aside certain times, that is in the morning or evening. In the morning set your purpose, and in the evening reflect on what was done, how you have been that day in word, action, and thought. Review if in these things you may have offended God and those around you. If you are facing something wicked or diabolical then prepare yourself for a serious struggle, and show up as a warrior. Curb any appetite that is out of control starting with food and drink, and from there it will become easier to curb any physical appetite. Never be completely without something to do; you could be reading, or writing, or praying, or meditating, or doing something that is useful for the common good. Bodily exercises, however, are to be done with discretion, and are not to be used equally by all.

Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis, 1.19 (first part, it's a long chapter to translate in one sitting). 

Translation focused on contemporary English and preservation of rhetorical force and art

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Thomas A Kempis 1.18 - The example of the holy fathers, and their legacy

Consider the Holy Fathers as vivid examples, where we see real perfection and religion shining. Compared to them, everything we do is so little that it amounts to nothing. Now, what is our life when compared to theirs? Those saints and friends of Christ served the Lord in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness, in labor and weariness, in vigils and fasts, in prayer and holy meditations, in persecutions and many insults.

And oh how many troubles -- serious ones -- they suffered. Those Apostles, Martyrs and Confessors, Virgins, and all the others who willingly followed the footsteps of Christ. When it came to their souls they hated them in this world so that they might keep them in eternal life. And what about the hardships of the holy fathers in the desert, who renounced their lives -- what long and serious temptations they suffered! Think how often were they assailed by the enemy, what serious and passionate prayers they offered to God, what strict fasts they undertook, what great enthusiasm and eagerness for spiritual growth. Think how strongly they waged war to tame their vices, how pure and upright was their intention toward God. Throughout the day they worked, and the night they filled with prayer -- though even when they were working they scarcely stopped praying in their minds. 

They spent all their time usefully. Every hour seemed short to devote to God. And through the great sweetness of contemplation, they even forgot the need of bodily refreshment. All riches, reputation, honors, friends, relatives -- they renounced them; they desired nothing from the world. They took the bare necessaries of life; they would rather not be servants of their bodies even in necessity. So they were poor in earthly things, but so rich in grace and virtue. On the outside they were needy, on the inside they were filled with grace and heavenly comforts.

They were strangers to the world, but close to God as kinsmen and friends. To themselves they seemed nothing, to the world they seemed contemptible; but in the sight of God they were precious and chosen. They stood fast in true humility, they lived in simple obedience, they walked in love and patience; and so every day they prospered and lived in great favor before God. The saints are given as an example to all religious people to challenge us to accomplish well, rather than how the many lukewarm tempt us to lack of effort.

How great was the enthusiasm of all the oath-taking religious when they first joined the holy institution! They were so devoted to prayer! There was rivalry for holiness! They had such great self-discipline! Their reverence and obedience flourished in all things under the rule of the spiritual master! The traces of them that remain until now testify that they were truly holy and perfect, supplying the world with those who strove so energetically. Now a man is counted great if he is not a transgressor, and if he is able to endure with patience. 

The temperature of our times is one of negligence, that we so quickly decline from the former love, and it is tiresome to be alive because of fatigue and lukewarmness. May the growth of virtue not become dormant in you, since you have seen so many examples of those who are devoted. 

Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis, 1.18

Translation focused on contemporary English and preservation of rhetorical force and art

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Thomas A Kempis 1.17 - The religious life

Thomas A Kempis 1.17 - The religious life

It is necessary to learn to break away from your own will in many things, if you want to remain in peace and harmony with others. It is not easy to live in a religious community or congregation, and to live there without complaint, and to remain faithful even until death. Blessed is the one who has lived a good life there, and completed it happily. If you want to stand your ground and prosper there, carry yourself as an exile and a pilgrim on this earth. You must become a fool for the sake of Christ, if you want to lead a religious life.

The clothing and the outward appearance of being religious aren't that important; it is the change of character and the willingness to kill off our passions that truly make a religious man. The one who seeks something else besides purely God and the health of his soul, will find only trouble and sorrow. It's not possible to stay peaceably without relying on being the least, and servant of all.

You have come to serve, not to rule. Know your vocation: peacemaking and labor, not relaxation and small-talk. This life tests men as gold in the furnace. No one can stand here unless with all his heart for God's sake he will become humble. 

Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis, 1.17

Translation focused on contemporary English and preservation of rhetorical force and art

Sunday, June 09, 2024

Thomas A Kempis 1.16 - Patience with others' faults

In some things, it is truly rare for a man to be able to improve himself or others, so he should endure patiently until God orders otherwise. Think how it may be better for your patience, because untested merits are unproven. You should then plead that God, who is worthy, may come to your aid in such trials so that you can endure them well and kindly. 

If someone who is warned once or twice does not listen, don't keep arguing, but let go and give it to God, that His will may be done and His honor be shown in all his servants. He knows well how to turn evil into good. Commit yourself and learn to be patient in tolerating others' faults and whatever weaknesses they may have, because you too have plenty of faults that must be tolerated by others. If you cannot make yourself into the person you want to be, how would you be able to turn someone else into what you wish? We are eager to see others made perfect, and yet we don't amend our own faults. 

We want others to be corrected strictly, but we will not be corrected ourselves or be denied what we ask. We want laws passed to restrain others, but will not tolerate being restrained ourselves in any way. It's clear enough that we rarely think of our neighbors in the same way as ourselves. If we were all perfect, then what would we have to suffer from others for God?

But now God has ordained, so let us learn, to bear one another’s burdens because none is without defect, none without a burden, none sufficient for himself, none wise enough by himself; so we bear with each other, comfort each other, as well has helping and warning each other. Adversity is an occasion to prove our strengths. For such occasions do not make a man weak, but they reveal it.

Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis, 1.16

Translation focused on contemporary English and preservation of rhetorical force and art

Sunday, June 02, 2024

Thomas A Kempis 1.13 (part 2) - Schooled by life

The beginning of temptation is instability of the soul, and a lack of confidence in God. Like a ship without a rudder is driven by the waves, so a man who is unmoored from his purpose is carried along by various temptations. As fire tests iron, so temptation tests the upright man. Often we do not know what strength we have; but temptation reveals what we are. Carefully watch the beginnings of temptation, when it's easiest to defeat the enemy, if the door of the mind is closed to him, when he is confronted as soon as he has knocked. As someone said, 

Stop the problem at the gate,
Harder to cure the longer you wait.

The first thing that comes to the mind is a simple suggestion, then the strong imagination, afterwards pleasure, evil affection, and assent. And slowly the enemy enters completely, since he was not resisted from the start. And however much a man delays resisting, every day he makes himself weaker, and the enemy against him stronger. 

Some suffer the worst temptations in the beginning of their conversion, some at the end, and some for nearly their whole life. Some are tempted lightly, according to the divine decree of wisdom and justice, who weighs the state and merit of man, and orders all things for the wellbeing of his chosen ones. 

So we should not lose hope when we are tempted, but earnestly ask God, who is worthy, to help us in all our troubles; that he will, as St. Paul says, with the temptation he provides a way that we can bear it. Let's humble ourselves then under the hand of God in all temptation and trouble, for the humble in spirit he will save and lift up. 

In temptations and troubles a man is tested as to what progress he has made, and in those temptations his greater merit shows, his strength and virtue is clearer. It is no great thing if a man is devoted and faithful when he has no deep struggles; but if he can bear patiently in times of adversity, then is there great hope. Some are guarded from great temptations, but are often defeated in everyday life so that they are humbled, never trusting themselves in great things, as they are weak in small things.

Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis, 1.13 (second part). 

Translation focused on contemporary English and preservation of rhetorical force and art

Sunday, May 26, 2024

The Holy Spirit in the Four Gospels

I have found myself wondering how much we understand the Holy Spirit, and so beginning at Pentecost this year have started a study of that. This week I am looking at what we learn of the Holy Spirit from the Gospels. 

In Matthew, the Holy Spirit is shown first as the cause of Mary's conception of Jesus. Next we see the Holy Spirit in connection with John the Baptist. John says that one who will come after him who will baptize with the Holy Spirit, and then we see the Spirit of God descending on Jesus at his baptism. Then  Jesus states that he casts out demons by the Spirit of God. That in turn leads directly to the warning about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The application of the term blasphemy shows the Holy Spirit is regarded as divine. And at the end of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus instructs his disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So we see a spirit that is a creative and cleansing power, poured out first on Jesus and then through him to the apostles and others. 

While in general Mark has fewer references to the Holy Spirit than Matthew, he does include some references that Matthew does not. He mentions that King David spoke by the Holy Spirit, touching on the wisdom and discernment so often associated with the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. And he mentions that when the apostles are put on trial for their faith, they should not premeditate their responses but say what the Holy Spirit would give them in the moment. Again, this is in keeping with the "spirit of wisdom" familiar from the Old Testament. 

In Luke, the first mention of the Holy Spirit comes from the angel Gabriel, who speaks of John the Baptist (not yet conceived) being filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb. As with Matthew, Luke also mentions the Holy Spirit as the cause of Mary's conception of Jesus. We see Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, speak by the Holy Spirit; so do Zechariah and later, at the Temple, Simeon. Simeon had also received a promise revealed by the Holy Spirit that he would live to see the Messiah. Again, as with other gospels, we see the Holy Spirit at Jesus' baptism. Likewise we see the warning against blasphemy, and the encouragement that the Holy Spirit would teach them what to say when they were brought to trial. In Luke, again we see the Holy Spirit's connections to baptism and to creative power, along with connections to words of empowerment, prophecy, and wisdom. 

In John, we again see the connection to baptism, but from there the Gospel of John adds some references we have not seen in other places. We hear that the Holy Spirit was not yet given to the apostles during Jesus' ministry "because Jesus was not yet glorified." We see Jesus saying that the apostles would receive the Holy Spirit to teach them all things and to bring to their memories what he had taught them. Finally, we see Jesus breathing on them and saying to receive the Holy Spirit. 

Sunday, May 19, 2024

The Spirit of God: Old Testament references

Today Christians in the Western traditions celebrate Pentecost, when God poured his Spirit on the disciples in Jerusalem, visibly seen as tongues of flame. John the Baptist had prophesied that after him comes someone who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. The earliest Christians were all Jewish by faith, covenant, culture, and family. While this Pentecost started a larger understanding of the Spirit of God, I wanted to see what the earliest Christians would have understood from the Old Testament about the Holy Spirit. 

By far the most common reference I found to the Spirit of God in the Old Testament involves the spirit wisdom. This reaches as far back as providing Joseph wisdom for providing for Egypt through the long famine (Genesis 41:38). The God's spirit of wisdom and understanding -- at times also a spirit of knowledge -- was referenced for workmanship and craftsmanship, leadership, and justice. God's spirit is referenced for might and protection against enemies in battle. It also leads to righteousness, aids in grace, and guides prayer. The Spirit brings peace and restoration, creation and renewal, and especially renewal of heart and the human spirit. The spirit of God is a spirit of blessing. 

The appearance of fire in connection with the spirit at this Pentecost is not entirely new. Some Old Testament passages speak of the Spirit of God in connection with fire. Sometimes the fire is connected with justice or purification, and sometimes with inner light to search the soul (Isaiah 4:4, Proverbs 20:27)

The Spirit of the Lord was said to have spoken through the prophets, and through them brought good news to the poor. This includes the well-known prophecy where the Spirit of the Lord causes one to speak good news to the meek, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom to the captives and release to the prisoners. 

In the prophet Isaiah's description of the Spirit of God, he calls it the spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and might, of knowledge and fear of the Lord, and that the one with the spirit of the Lord has joy in the presence of the Lord. 

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Thomas A Kempis 1.13 (part 1) - The root of temptation lies within us

So long as we live in the world, being without trouble and temptation is impossible. So it is written in Job, Troubled is the life of man on earth. So each of us should be concerned about his own temptations and be vigilant in prayer, so that the devil finds no place deceive; who never sleeps, but circles around seeking his prey. No one is so holy and perfect that he never has temptations, and to be fully free of them is not possible. 

However, there are temptations that are very useful, even though they afflict us seriously; for through them we are humbled, purified, and instructed. All the saints passed and progressed through many trials and temptations. Those who did not endure were held back by them and failed. There is no station in life so sacred, no place so secret, that there are no temptations and adversities.

There is no man completely free from temptations, no matter how long he has lived, because the cause of temptation is within us. We are born with disordered desires. As soon as one trial or temptation fades, another takes its place, and there is always something that we need to endure patiently. This is because we have lost the good of happiness. Many seek to flee from temptations and fall more seriously into them. We cannot win the fight by running away, but by patience and true humility we become stronger than all our enemies.

The one who resists the outward part of the temptations but does not pull up the root, that one will find that temptations return more quickly and rage more fiercely. By small steps, through patience and endurance, with God's help you will conquer better than with your own hardness and self-willed persistence. Often accept council and consolation in temptation, and with someone who is tempted do not act harshly, but comfort and strengthen him as you would have done to yourself. 

Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis, 1.13 (first part, it's a long chapter to translate in one sitting). 

Translation focused on contemporary English and preservation of rhetorical force and art

Sunday, May 05, 2024

Thomas A Kempis 1.15 - Works of charity / love

There is no worldly good, there is no person, for which we should do anything that is evil. To serve those in need, a good work must sometimes be postponed or be changed for a better one. In this, a good work is not destroyed, but transformed into something better. If a work does not come from the heart, the external work does not benefit anyone, but if anything is done from the heart, however small and disregarded it might be, it brings forth good fruit. God considers more from what an action comes, rather than how much he does. 

He does much who loves much. He does much who does a good thing. He does well who serves to the community rather than his own interest. Often something looks like generosity which is more worldly, because worldly inclinations, self-will, hope of repayment, and feelings of the will are rarely absent.

He who has true and perfect love does not seek his own in any matter, but desires only God's glory in everything that is done. He envies none, because he desires no selfish joy, nor does he want to rejoice in himself, but in God above all he wishes to find his blessing. He attributes good to none but God alone, from whom all things come, and in whom finally all the Holy Ones rest in joyful satisfaction. Oh, he who has a spark of true charity would sense that all earthly things are empty.

Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis, 1.15. 

Translation focused on contemporary English and preservation of rhetorical force and art

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Thomas A Kempis 1.14 - Judging others is reckless

Judging others is reckless

Look out for what you are doing yourself, and watch out that you are not judging what others do. In judging others a man's efforts are blocked, often wrong, and generally sinful. Turn to yourself for judging and critiquing, and that effort always brings a good result. As things seem to our heart, so we judge them; we easily lose true judgment because of our own personal feeling. If God were always the pure object of our desire, we would not be so easily troubled by the resistance of our feelings. 

There is always some secret thought within us, or even joining it from without, that pulls us off course. Many secretly seek their own goals in things, without realizing it. They seem to have good peace of mind so long as things go the way they want. But because of different feelings and opinions, there often arise disagreements between friends, between countrymen, between religious and godly men.

An old custom is difficult to let go, and no one is easily led to see beyond themselves. If your own reason is your greatest resource or your own efforts, more so than the strength of being under Jesus Christ, you will rarely be an enlightened person, because God's will is for us to be wholly under him and to transcend all reason through a burning love. 

Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis, 1.14. 

Translation focused on contemporary English and preservation of rhetorical force and art

(I haven't forgotten section 1.13, but it is particularly long and will need to wait for another day.)

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Thomas A Kempis 1.12 - Adversity is a tool

The usefulness of adversity

It is good for us that we sometimes have sorrows and obstacles: often they are calling a man back to his heart, knowing that he is in exile, not placing his hope in any worldly thing. It is good that we sometimes endure people speaking against us, with bad and ill feelings toward us, even when we act well and with good intentions. That helps us to be humble, and protects us from glorying in the world's empty wins. Because that is when we seek what is better -- the inner witness of God -- when we are held in contempt, and given no credit for good.

Therefore it's necessary for a man to strengthen himself completely so that he has no need to seek after so many consolations. When a man of good will is troubled or tempted or afflicted with evil thoughts, then he understands God as greatly necessary to him, and he can witness that he can do nothing at all without Him. He mourns and prays over the miseries he suffers. He gets tired of life, even wishes for death to come so that he could go be with Christ. Through these trials he understands better: in this world there can be no security or fulness of peace.

Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis, 1.11. 

Translation focused on contemporary English and preservation of rhetorical force and art

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Thomas A Kempis 1.11 - Spiritual proficiency

Seeking peace of mind: enthusiasm for spiritual proficiency

So much peace is possible if we decide not to trouble ourselves with what other people said or did which is not our own care. How is it possible for someone to remain peaceful daily, who mixes himself into other peoples' concerns, who seeks things outside himself, who seldom or rarely collects himself internally? Blessed are the simple-hearted, for they shall have much peace.

Why were some of the Saints so perfect and so contemplative? Because they studied how to cut off all earthly desires, and so were able to hold fast with their whole heart to God, and freed themselves to focus. We are too self-absorbed with our own passions, too wrapped up in things that don't last. It's rare for us to entirely conquer even a single vice, and we pay no attention to our daily progress. So we remain cold or lukewarm. 

If we were watchful of ourselves rather than focused on other things, then we too could have divine wisdom, and experience something of heavenly contemplation. The biggest thing that gets in our way is that we are not free from our own passions and desires, nor do we try to enter into the perfect way of the Saints. When even a little adversity occurs, our hearts are divided and we are diverted to human comforts.

If we stand like strong men in battle, then we shall see the help of the Lord from Heaven. For those who strive and struggle, those who hope in his grace, he stands ready to help. He provides us occasions to strive so that we may conquer. If we track our progress in religion by outward observances and forms, our devotion will soon come to an end. But let's put the ax to the root of the problem, our desires that control us, and clearing those away we may possess a peaceful mind. 

If every year we conquered one vice, we would soon be perfect. But on the contrary, we often feel that we were better and purer in the beginning of our conversion than after many years have gone by. Our feeling and progress should increase daily, but now it seems great to keep some small part of that first feeling. If we used that first feeling to attack our vices, then afterwards we could do everything with ease and joy.

It is a hard thing to let go of something we're used to doing, harder still to go contrary to our own will. But if you do not overcome small and easy obstacles, how will you overcome more difficult ones? Resist your inclination from the first, and unlearn a bad custom, or it may lead you little by little into worse difficulties. If you were aware how much peace you would bring to yourself and how much happiness to others by tending to your inner good, I think that you would be more concerned for your spiritual progress. 

Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis, 1.11. 

Translation focused on contemporary English and preservation of rhetorical force and art

Sunday, April 07, 2024

Thomas A Kempis 1.10 - Peers of mind and spirit

Overflowing with words

Watch out for the babble of men; for it really gets in our way to focus on crude things, even if the conversation started out innocently. Quickly we find ourselves getting into the dirt and caught up in something foolish. How often have I wished I had kept quiet, that I had not been out among people. 

But why do we speak so frequently and trade stories amongst ourselves, since we rarely return to silence without some injury to our conscience? We talk so much because we hope our conversations will bring us some mutual comfort, and we hope that a variety of thoughts will relieve our hearts. And we are so glad -- when it comes to things we love, or things we want, or things we dislike -- we are eager to talk and think about them. 

It is usually pointless and purposeless. This outward consolation is no small loss to the inner divine consolation. So we must watch and pray that the time does not pass by uselessly. If it is right and helpful to speak, then speak things which are constructive. Bad habits and careless conduct leave our mouths unguarded. It helps more than a little for our spiritual development to have a devotional contribution of spiritual things, most of all when peers of mind and spirit associate with each other. 

Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis, 1.10. 

Translation focused on contemporary English and preservation of rhetorical force and art

Sunday, March 31, 2024

The Resurrection: "They said nothing because they were afraid"

In the Gospel of Mark the regular reading for Resurrection Sunday ends jarringly: the women had seen the empty tomb, had seen an angel, had heard the message that God raised Jesus from the dead -- and kept it quiet at first. "They said nothing because they were afraid." This morning, hearing that reminded me of modern Christianity. We have good news to announce, and sometimes we say nothing because we are afraid. 

These days speaking out as a Christian often means being mocked, being bullied, being shunned. Even in a culture where so many people share our faith in Jesus' resurrection, mentioning faith is signing up for trouble. The critics are loud and proud, with many determined to exclude Christians from the public square, to exclude us from various jobs and professions. 

For the original witnesses of Jesus' resurrection, why would they be afraid to speak out? Maybe fear of being disbelieved, fear of being ridiculed. Maybe fear of the ruling authorities, who after all had just had their beloved leader executed, and those authorities were not too proud to deal with his followers the same way. Maybe even fear of the unknown, the confusion over the missing body and the angel's message. 

What moved them to speak out, to get past the fear? Well, Jesus' resurrection is really too important not to mention. It changes everyone's thoughts, everyone's plans for what to do with their lives, to know something like that. And it's big enough news that it actually changes the view of the world, of life and death, of forgiveness, of what God's love can accomplish, of whether we matter. 

Nobody took just the women's word for it; the women weren't wrong if they feared disbelief and ridicule. But once the others began to see for themselves, the fear was less and the faith was more, and more people believed. May it be so for us in our day. 

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Thomas A Kempis 1.9 - Taking direction, advice, and counsel

It is a great thing to remain obedient, to live under authority, and not to be a law unto ourselves. It is much safer to be under authority than in a place of authority. Many are obedient more from necessity than from love; these find it painful, and complain easily. Nor will they gain freedom of mind unless with all their heart for the sake of God they submit themselves. If you run here or there to another place you will find no peace except in humble subjection to the rule of authority. Imagining other places and changes has disappointed many. 

True that everyone willingly acts according to his own feelings, and is inclined toward those who feel the same. But if Christ is among us, then it is necessary that we sometimes set aside our feelings for the sake of peace. Who is so wise that he can possibly know all things fully? So do not over-rely on your own sense of things, but be ready to hear sense from others too. If you have a good opinion but for the sake of God you let it go and follow another, you will gain more. 

I have often heard that it is safer to listen and receive counsel than to give it. It may happen that every opinion is good; but to refuse to acquiesce to others when reason or good cause requires it, is a mark of pride or stubbornness.

Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis, 1.9. 

Translation focused on contemporary English and preservation of rhetorical force and art

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Thomas A Kempis 1.8 - Choosing your companions wisely

Avoiding over-familiarity

Not everyone is such that you should you reveal your heart to them. But with someone who is wise and fears God you may pursue your cause. Seldom seek the company of the young and the strangers, nor flatter the rich, nor willingly keep company with the powerful and influential. Associate with the humble and simple, the devout not the worldly, who are focused on constructive things. Do not be familiar with someone of the opposite sex, but commend all alike to God. Only to God and his angels should your wishes be familiar, and avoid the notice of men.

We have love for all, but do not make close companions of all. Sometimes it happens that someone we don't know shines with a good reputation, and then his presence darkens the eyes of the onlookers. We think to please others by displaying our firm convictions, and find that we displease them more as they see the dishonesty of our behavior. 

Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis, 1.8. 

Translation focused on contemporary English and preservation of rhetorical force and art

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Thomas A Kempis 1.7 - Fleeing from Pride

Flee from misguided hope and pride

It is pointless to put your hope in men or in any created thing. Don't be ashamed to serve others for the love of Jesus Christ, and to be seen as poor in the world. Do not exalt yourself, but build your hope on God. Do what is in you, and God's presence will bless your willingness for good. Do not trust in your knowledge or in the cleverness of anyone alive, but trust more greatly in the grace of God, who helps the humble, and who humbles the proud.

Do not pride yourself on riches if you have them, nor in friends who are powerful, but in God who provides all things, and above all things desires to give Himself. Do not brag about the strength or beauty of your body, for with only a slight sickness its glory is gone and it becomes a source of disgust. Do not please yourself, and through humility or cleverness do not displease God, who is the source of all the good we have by nature. 

Do not count yourself better than others, or you may appear worse before God, who knows what is in man. Do not pride yourself on good works, for there are different judgments between God and man, and God is often displeased at what pleases man. If you see in yourself goodness, believe that others have more, and keep your humility. It does no harm to place yourself below others; but it is great harm to place yourself above even one. Peace is with the humble, while the heart of the proud often has envy and anger.

Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis, 1.7. 

Translation focused on contemporary English and preservation of rhetorical force and art

Sunday, March 03, 2024

Thomas A Kempis 1.6 on Temptation: Yielding to passion has no payoff

Of inordinate affections

Whenever a disordered desire comes to a man, he becomes restless. The proud and the greedy are never at rest, while the poor and humble of heart have the abundant protection of peace. The man who is not yet wholly dead to ego is soon tempted, and is overcome in small and low things. Weak in spirit and stronger in flesh, he leans toward the pleasures of the senses, and it is difficult for him to completely escape from earthly desires. And so he resists temptation sadly and grudgingly, and is easily angered at any opposition. 

But if he does pursue those desires, immediately he is weighed down by the condemnation of his conscience. He followed his desire, but it contributed nothing towards the peace that he pursued. It is not serving passion but resisting it that brings true peace of heart. And therefore there is no peace in the heart of a man who is carnal, no peace in the man who is dedicated to outward things, but in a passionately spiritual one.

Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis, 1.6. 

Translation focused on contemporary English and preservation of rhetorical force and art

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

How to read Scripture - Thomas A Kempis 1.5

Truth is in sacred Scripture to be sought, not flaunted. All sacred Scripture ought to be read with the spirit in which it was written. We should seek the usefulness of Scripture rather than precision of speech. So we ought to read books which are devotional and simple, as well as ones which are high and profound. And do not be put off by the authority of the writer, whether he is of little or much learning, but let the love of the pure Truth draw you to read. Do not ask who said it, but focus on what was said. 

Men pass away, but the truth of the Lord remains forever. Without preference for persons God speaks to us in various ways. Our own curiosity often hinders us in the reading Scriptures with our determination to understand and discuss, where we should simply keep going. If you want progress from your reading, read humbly, simply, honestly, without desiring to win a reputation for learning. Ask freely, and listen in silence to the words of holy men; and do not take offense at the hard sayings of the elders, for they are not spoken without a reason.

Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis, 1.5. 

Translation focused on contemporary English and preservation of rhetorical force and art

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Thomas A Kempis 1.4 - Wisdom in our actions

Wisdom in our actions

It's best not to trust every word or instinct, but carefully and unhurriedly weigh whether things are from God. It's harmful that it's often easier for us to believe and speak evil of others rather than good, because we are weak. But perfect men do not easily believe everything they are told because they know human failings -- rather, weakness for an evil slant, for treacherous words.

It is greater wisdom not to be hasty in action or stubbornly set in our opinions. In this wisdom we do not believe every word we hear, or go straight from hearing to believing to repeating all that we hear, pouring it into each others' ears. Find a wise and sensible man and take his counsel. Ask someone better for instruction rather being led by your own interpretation. A good life makes a man wise toward God, experienced in many things. The more a man is humble in himself and the more obedient towards God, the more in everything he will be wiser and at peace. 

Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis, 1.4. 
Translation focused on contemporary English and preservation of rhetorical force and art

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Thomas A Kempis - Imitation 1.3 in Modern English

I've been pleasantly surprised by the interest in a modern English translation of the Imitation of Christ, one that tries to preserve not just the meaning but also some of the rhetorical skill employed in the original. The things I've done so far still fall short of the original, but are a step in the right direction. I may publish a few more of these. 

Truthful Teaching

Happy is whoever learns directly from Truth, not by figures and passing words, but exactly as it is. Our opinion and senses often fail us, and we only see a little. What good is it to have great arguments about hidden and obscure things, about which we will never be judged for not knowing? It is hugely foolish to neglect things that are useful and necessary, and to focus on what is trivial and hurtful! We have eyes, but we do not see.

And what about genus and species? The man to whom the Eternal Word speaks is freed from many opinions. From this One Word all things come, and of that One Word all things speak, and this is the Beginning which also speaks to us. No one without Him understands or decides rightly. The man to whom all things are one, and who draws all things to one, who sees all things in one, has the power to be steadfast, to remain at rest in God. O true God, make me one with you in everlasting love. I get tired of reading and listening to many things; in you is what I want and desire. Let all the teachers keep quiet, let all creation keep silence before you: only you speak to me.

The more a man has unity and simplicity within, the more and higher he understands without effort, because he receives the light of understanding from above. The spirit which is pure, sincere, and steady is not scattered by many works but focuses all his works to the honor of God, and takes a break from his own self-involvement. What gets in your way and bothers you more than your own undisciplined heart? A good and devoted man starts inside himself and sets it straight for what he would do in the world, so he will not be pulled off track by wrong inclinations, but willingly steers them to his right intentions. Does anyone have a harder battle to fight than the one for self-mastery? And this should be our business, that inner victory, to daily grow stronger and progress for the better.

In this life, every perfection has some imperfection attached. All our sight is not without a certain darkness. Humble knowledge of yourself is a surer way to God than the deep knowledge we seek. That is not the fault of knowledge itself, or of knowing anything good or trustworthy or ordained by God. But a good conscience and a holy life is better than all, because many seek to know more rather than to live well, so they often go off course, and rarely or never bear fruit.

If people would be as dedicated to rooting out of vice and cultivating virtue as they are to current questions, there would not be so many evils and scandals among the people, nor so many fallings-out from the fellowship. Be sure that at the Day of Judgment it will not be asked of us what we have read, but what we have done; not how well we have spoken, but how faithfully we have lived. Tell me, where are all those Lords and Masters that you knew well while they were still living well and flourishing in their studies? Their positions are now filled by other people, and I do not know if the new people ever think of the ones before them. They seemed to be something in life, but now no one mentions them.

How quickly the glory of the world pass away! If their life and knowledge had agreed together, they would have read and studied well. How many pass away through pointless learning in this world, with no passion for serving God. Because they have a great love of being great rather than humble, therefore they disappeared in their knowledge. He is truly great who has great love.(1) He is truly great who recognizes his own smallness, and does not chase the height of honor. He is truly learned who counts all earthly things as so much b.s.(2), that he may treasure Christ. And he is truly learned, who does the will of God, and lets go of his own will. 

1 - This sentence isn't in the Latin text I'm using but is in both English translations I've consulted, so I'm wondering about variant texts. Haven't got to the bottom of it yet, so this line is tentative. 
2 - The Latin has the word for "dung" so I figure on "b.s." in modern English. 

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Thomas A Kempis - Imitation 1.2 in Modern English

Again, this translation is done with an eye to preserving the author's spirit and wordcraft as well as meaning. It's more of a line-by-line remake of the author's points, with an intent to keep the pace, force, and flavor as much as possible. 

Humble Self-Awareness

Naturally in every man there is a desire to know, but what is the use of knowledge without reverence toward God? For practical purposes, better a peasant who serves God than a proud philosopher who ignores the way of heaven. He who knows himself well is humble, and isn't thrilled by human praise. If I knew everything in the world and had no love, what would it gain before God, who is to judge me on actions?

Rest from too much desire for learning, which incite to distraction and deceit. The learned desire to be seen as learned and to be called wise. There are many things to know that give little or no profit to the soul. He is very foolish who focuses more on such things instead of those that serve his soul’s health. Many words do not satisfy the soul, but a good life refreshes the mind, and a pure conscience gives great confidence towards God.

The more and better you know, the more seriously you shall be judged unless you live in a holy way. Don't brag on your skill or knowledge; but rather fear concerning the knowledge which is given to you. If it seems to you that there are many things you know and understand well enough, consider that there are many more things you do not know. Do not admit your deep wisdom but your ignorance. Why do you wish to be preferred to another when there are many more learned and more skilled in the Scripture than you? If you want to know anything usefully, love to be unknown and to have no reputation. 

It is the highest and most useful lesson when a man truly knows himself and becomes humble. To account nothing of the self, and to think always kindly and highly of others, this is great and perfect wisdom. If you see someone sin openly or seriously, still do not count yourself better, because there is no telling how long you'll stay in good standing. All of us are fragile; do not imagine anyone else more fragile than yourself. 

Sunday, February 04, 2024

Jesus v. the words of demons

I've wondered how literally to take references to demons in the New Testament: are they living spiritual beings, or only how the ancient world understood or talked about certain mental illnesses? I don't have any special insight into that question, and this post could be relevant to people who hold either view. 

Regardless of what you think of demons, they have a reputation for getting in our head with crafty words. The Bible portrays demons or other similar beings as spreading doubt, temptation, and lies. While they may work to increase doubt, fear, lust, or pride, still their tool of choice is words. In today's reading from the accounts of Jesus' life, 

He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. (Mark 1:34)

Jesus' brother James said that the demons believe in God -- and tremble. There is a type of "fear of God" that is incompatible with faith, as James pointed out, a demonic fear. Demons have a reputation for lying, and even if they speak a truth it would not be used truthfully. 

In my own life, I have not known literal demons (as far as I know). But in our day we still say things like "he's wrestling with his demons" about someone who is fighting a spiritual battle inside. So I have known what people of this day call demons, as far as troubling and destructive thoughts that persist and take on "a life of their own." It may be helpful for me to remember that demons are known to lie, that even if they tell a truth they do not tell the truth. When troubling thoughts persist, it might be helpful for me to remember that when Jesus healed people, he did not permit the demons to speak. 

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Thomas A Kempis - Imitation 1.1 in Modern English

Preface: Recently I have been looking for a modern translation of the Christian classic The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis, originally written in Latin some 600ish years ago. Not being satisfied with the translations I've found so far, I peeked at a Latin version and discovered 1) My Latin (which is not as deep as I might like) is now also embarrassingly rusty, 2) Despite all that, the Latin original still reads better than the translations I've found. The original matches spiritual insight with a poetic quality. The Latin freely employs alliteration and rhyme to structure the text, pace the progression, and emphasize its points. And though it has been a long time since I've translated anything, I thought I might at least try the opening section. My hope is that this sketch captures more of the force and pace, recovering some aspects of the Latin text that tend to be lost in translation. I am also aiming for a more fully modern English, avoiding words that have fallen out of use (e.g. "vanity"), opting instead for words that an average person might use to make the same point. 

Book 1 Chapter 1, On the imitation of Christ and rejecting worldly trivialities

"He who follows me does not walk in darkness," says the Lord. These are the words of Christ, and they teach us how far we must imitate his life and character, if we seek true illumination, and to make our hearts fully free from blindness. So let us set our minds on the life of Jesus Christ as our meditation. 

His teaching surpasses all teaching of holy men, and those who have His Spirit find in it the hidden manna. But there are many who, though they frequently hear the Gospel, yet feel little desire for it, because they do not have the spirit of Christ. Whoever wants to understand the words of Christ fully and wisely, let him strive to conform his whole life to them. 

What does it gain you to enter into deep discussion about the Trinity, if you lack humility and so are displeasing to the Trinity? Truly, words that are lofty do not make a man holy and upright; it is a good life which makes a man dear to God. I would rather feel contrition than know its definition. If you knew the whole Bible and the sayings of all the philosophers, what does that gain you without love and grace? It's the most pointless of all pointless things. It is all pointless, except to love God, and to serve Him only. This is the highest wisdom, by contempt for worldliness, to tend to the heavenly kingdom. 

So it is pointless to seek after, and to trust in, riches that will vanish. It is pointless, too, to covet honors, and to self-promote. It is pointless to follow the flesh and be led by lust, doing things that ought to be punished. It is pointless to care so much for a long life and care so little if it is a good life. It is pointless to tend to the present life only, and not look ahead to the future. It is pointless to love that which quickly fades, and not hurry to where eternal joy remains. 

You know the saying, "The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing." So strive to detach your heart from the love of what you see, and attach it to what is not seen. Those who follow their own sensuality stain their conscience, and lose the grace of God. 

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Whatever is worthy of praise

I find myself overwhelmed lately by my workload, and drawing on St Paul's advice: "Whatever is worthy of praise, think on these things." You may already be familiar with Pentatonix. Their cover/remix of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah is on the shortlist of the most beautiful things I have ever heard. To add a layer, here is a video of someone who had never heard of Pentatonix and didn't know he was in for a treat, hearing their rendition of Hallelujah for the first time. I enjoy watching his face change from respect for their competence (they start slow) to appreciation for their harmonies to sheer joy by the finale as they perform what may be the best rendition of the song that has been made. 

G.O.T Games first time hearing Pentatonix

These are some of those things that restore my soul. 

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Thomas A Kempis and the walk with Christ

It has been years since I last read any Thomas A Kempis. Yesterday I found myself trying to remember or find a quote that (in my mind at least) was attributed to him. While trying to find the quote I was seeking (no luck there), I came across a good number of other of his edifying thoughts attributed to him. Here are the ten sayings I was readiest to hear: 

  1. "To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love."
  2. "Constantly choose rather to want less, than to have more."
  3. "Be thankful for the smallest blessing, and you will be worthy to receive greater."
  4. "When anger enters the mind, wisdom departs."
  5. "Do not anger yourself that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be."
  6. "If we live in peace ourselves, we in turn may bring peace to others. A peaceable man does more good than a learned one."
  7. "Confidence is the illusion born of accidental success."
  8. "He who loves with purity considers not the gift of the lover, but the love of the giver."
  9. "Judge yourself and beware of passing judgement on others. In judging others we expend our energy to no purpose; we are often mistaken and easily sin. But if we judge ourselves our labour is always to our profit."
  10. "He has great serenity of heart who cares neither for the praises nor the fault-finding of men. He will easily be satisfied and at peace, whose conscience is pure. You are not holier if you are praised, nor the more worthless if you are found fault with. What you are, that you are."

His best-known writing is Imitation of Christ, originally published in Latin in the early 1400's, and now celebrating (roughly) its 600th anniversary of publication. If he lived today, he might be a blogger. 

Sunday, January 07, 2024

A Prayer For Fellowship

It has been awhile since I posted a prayer. For a time, prayer was a semi-regular feature here. Before a group gathering, I found myself wanting to pray for fellowship. 

God our Father, you are a Lord who values love. You bless us with "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit". May your grace,  love, and fellowship fill us and bind us together. Thank you for gathering us together. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, Lord, my rock and my redeemer.