Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Out in the cold

Living here in South Dakota has been a reacquaintance for me. A native of Southern California, I first met the cold when a dry, chilly wind cut through me at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. I got to know the cold more intimately "in the field" during my Army service in Germany.

One thing that always stands out is how the cold needs just a little gap in my warm clothing to get in and make me cold all over.

As you can guess, this is leading to a riff on being spiritually cold. Here are two New Testament descriptions of "getting cold":

1) Matthew 24:12 warns that "love will grow cold" in a wicked world. Jill Woodliff writes perceptively about how all of the current Anglican church conflicts are freezing our hearts. Jesus tells us that our salvation is found by standing firm in Him - His truth and His love - even as the cold stings us. Whatever practical steps we can take to keep the cold at bay are worth the extra effort. Be it insulating ourselves by praying more for others, or disciplining ourselves to avoid Satan's false warmth of rage, it is important to keep love warm. Love is the most important and only eternal virtue (y'all know this lesson - it ain't just for weddings).

2) Revelation 3:14-16 warns about the "Laodicean" flaw, in which the church becomes lukewarm. The "cold" that sneaks in is material well being. The rich, comfy church loses its willingness receive God's teaching and correction - the heat of "refining fire." The church bases its activity on catering to and preserving its own comfort. It is well documented that people gain weight in cold winters - our primitive thalamus tells us "it's winter, eat more!" even if we are spending the season in warm buildings, well stocked with food. The remedy is to eat with realistic temperance and to increase physical activity. Jesus says,
  • "Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline." We need the Word of God as our personal trainer.
  • "So be earnest, and repent." We need to open our Bibles and stick with the program Jesus gives us.
  • "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door..." We need to get up and take action in response to the Word rather than sit still and coddle ourselves.
  • "... I will come in and eat with him, and he with me." We need to go on the "diet" He assigns, knowing that He is the bread of life (John 6:25ff) and that we do not live by material provision alone, but by every word from God (Deuteronomy 8:3).

O lamps of fire!

in whose splendors

the deep caverns of feeling,

once obscured and blind,

now give forth, so rarely, so exquisitely,

both warmth and light to their Beloved.

How gently and lovingly you wake in my heart,

where in secret you dwell alone;

and in your sweet breathing,

filled with good and glory,

how tenderly you swell my heart with love.

St. John of the Cross, The Living Flame of Love, stanzas 3 & 4


Anonymous said...

Fr. Tim,

A beautiful meditation. I especially liked the apt quote from St. John of the Cross. And the "penetrating" insight that all it takes is a small gap in our winter wear, and soon we're freezing. That's how cold, hard hearts start.

But while I'm almost afraid to say it, I can't resist the chance to gloat. What cold weather are you talking about, Tim+? Today it was balmy here in central Virginia, got into the upper 60s. I raked leaves in short sleeves. What is this about freezing weather??

Hmmm. Maybe I've just given away that there may be a gap or two in the protection around my own heart.

Alice C. Linsley said...

An excellent meditation, Father. I'm sometimes targeted by hateful words and it can make me brittle. But then I remember that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus and my heart is warmed.

I too found the quote from St. John of the Cross lovely and moving.