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The third path that Beebe and Foster identify in Longing For God is the Recovery of Knowledge of God Lost in the Fall. They write, “Each one of us has a longing to know–to know right from wrong, to know the ultimate destiny of our life, to know how we can make a meaningful contribution with our gifts and abilities. We want to know where we were born, how we were raised and what we will do in the future. We want to know that we are part of something greater than ourselves. Ultimately, we want to know that we belong to God. This knowledge never comes about quickly or completely; it must develop over time as we deepen in understanding our life with God.”

In the thirteenth century the world was changing. People had been increasingly dissatisfied with the growing corruption in the church. Society was changing. For nearly nine hundred years monasticism had been seen as the higher devotion to God. This too was changing. Beebe and Foster identify several significant movements that helped shape these changes.
  • An increase in biblical literacy
  • A rise of spiritual theology
  • The emergence of women as church teachers and advocates for life with God.
  • The modification of the goals of spiritual formation (with personal communion with God being added to the eternal contemplation of God), and
  • The growing interest in the education and training of the general public.

Several years ago I attempted Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain. I never finished it, but after reading this chapter I’m wanting to go back and give it another try. The Seven Storey Mountain tells Merton’s story of his tragic loss of nearly every significant adult member of his immediate and extended family. And how he found community in God’s community, the church.

Beebe and Foster write, “In The Seven Storey Mountain, he [Merton] identifies the nine issues with which each one of us must wrestle–life, death, time, love, sorrow, fear, wisdom, suffering, and eternity–then uses Dante’s image of the multiple levels of purgatory we must overcome if we are to discover a pure relationship with God.”
Allow me to quote several passages of Merton’s that Beebe and Foster quote in Longing For God.
“We are often confronted by questions that we cannot answer because the time for answering them has not yet come.”
“The spiritual life is not a life of quiet withdrawal, a hothouse of growth of artificial ascetic practices beyond the reach of people living ordinary lives. It is in the ordinary duties and labors of life that can and should develop our spiritual union with God.” [This is especially interesting coming from someone who chose the enter the monastery at age twenty-six.]
“What we are asked to do at present is not so much speak of Christ as to let Him live in us so that people may find Him by feeling how He lives in us.”

John Bunyan is most well known for his book, The Pilgrim’s Progress. Bunyan belonged to the dissenting groups in England. As a result, he spent nearly twelve years of his life in jail. Pilgrim’s Progress is a fine example of the Christian life as journey.

Beebe and Foster point out, “A central point of The Pilgrim’s Progress is that we do not know all of the twists and turns we will meet along the way. As we travel, we seek and find guidance for that part of the journey. And often the knowledge comes just in times for us to make an obedient response.”
Pilgrim’s Progress follows a young man, Christian, through the twists and turns of life. He journeys from “the City of Destruction” to the “Celestial City.” He meets many who would either help or hinder him on his way.
Beebe and Foster identify several key themes. First is the importance and significance of conversion. “The journey makes no sense without this decisive turning.” Second, Bunyan stresses struggle. While grace is significant in Pilgrim’s Progress, grace is not opposed to struggle, only earning. Finally, “For Bunyan the spiritual journey is never over until it is truly over.” As Christian and Hopeful come within reach of Celestial City, they are nearly distracted from this goal by Flatterer and Atheist. Perseverance is essential.

George Herbert was a poet and pastor. In his work, The Temple, Herbert “shows how we begin in unbelief outside the church, come to initial belief, grow in our maturity in this belief and finally realize full intimacy with God.”

Part of his creativity is shown in the structure he gave his poems. The Temple itself is shaped as a temple. The first two poems form the “church porch.” One poem, “The Altar,” is written in the physical shape of an altar from the Anglican Church.
Herbert emphasizes four pillars of the Christian faith: Scripture, prayer, the sacraments and the ordered life of the church year. He recognizes that life is lived on two levels. Beebe and Foster write, “On the horizontal plane, our daily life does not always seem to have meaning. Yet Herbert suggests that these activities are the very activities where we encounter God. We cannot always see the meaning, control our moods or even sustain a consistent understanding of God. . . . On the hidden vertical plane, decisions are being made, choices executed, allegiances cast and motives evaluated.”
So life is lived on these two levels, both connected and intertwined. One influencing the other. The horizontal more easily perceived than the vertical, but no less vital. Both are important.

Evagrius helped promote monasticism as “the highest expression of our love and devotion for God.” After the conversion of Constantine, the Christian faith became a recognized religion. Martyrdom ceased to be the highest expression. Monasticism took its place.

Evagrius created a list of eight deadly thoughts (compressed by a later writer into the seven deadly sins) and eight godly virtues.
The eight deadly thoughts are: gluttony, anger, greed or avarice, envy or vainglory, pride, lust or impurity, indifferent or impatient discouragement (sloth), and melancholy or depression.
The eight godly virtues are: temperance, mildness, generosity, happiness, humility, chastity, diligence, and wisdom.
The godly virtues help us to overcome the corresponding deadly thoughts. For example, temperance overcomes gluttony, mildness overcomes anger, generosity overcomes greed, etc.
Beebe and Foster comment, “The emptying of the mind of evil must, of necessity, involve the filling of it with God.” This is what Evagrius recognizes.

In Longing for God, Beebe and Foster write, “. . . we are all on a journey in life. Hopefully, a journey toward the heart of God. A journey into the subterranean chambers of the soul. A journey into the spiritual unknown. At times all of us stumble and fall along the way. Still, we are able to rise again–scarred, perhaps, but wiser for the experience–and continue on. Most critical for this journey is knowing that we are heading in a Godward direction.”

As we travel on this journey we will need to pay attention to our life and the lives of others. We will need wisdom on the way do discern which path to take. Our path will be different from the course the world would set. We must learn to look differently, to think differently.
Again, from Beebe and Foster: “Success or failure in the eyes of society is measured in terms of wealth, power, prestige and personal achievement. But success in our spiritual life is measured in terms of our ability to understand and address our own spiritual condition as well as the spiritual needs of others.”
Too often in the church, we measure our success in terms of society’s standards. Looking for bigger, richer, more influential bodies and positions. Let us be faithful to what God has called us to.

Pascal lived in a time when Christians were fighting not only those of other faiths, but themselves as well. Still, he sought to show that the Christian faith was true. Beebe and Foster write, “The Christian faith is true, he said, because it offers the best understanding of human nature: why we are the way we are and what we can do to remedy our condition. The Christian faith neither glamorizes our strengths nor ignores our weaknesses.”

Humans are both good and bad. We have our inspiring moments, but we also have times when our actions make us shudder. Our problem, according to Pascal, is that we constantly seek to divert ourselves from what is real. There are three orders of reality: body, mind, and heart. The body is the lowest and governed by desire.
“Any life lived on the order of the body alone will end in emptiness.” The mind is of a higher order than the body, but still does not bring us into direct contact with God. We become aware of our need for God, but it is on the order of the heart “where God reaches us not through our desires or intellect but through the allegiance of our will.”
Again from Beebe and Foster: “Pascal’s analysis of how human beings avoid God by means of constant distraction is brilliant. At one point he observes that our problems would be solved if we could learn to sit quietly in our room alone. What a challenge for us postmoderns with all our gadgets of distraction. ‘How do we learn to do that?’ you may ask. Well, we ‘just do it.’ That is all.”

“Like Augustine before him, Bernard believed that we always love but we do not always love properly. Since love orders desire, the way we love directly influences how we attempt to satisfy our fundamental longings.”

Bernard identified twelve steps for declining into pride and twelve ascending to humility. The steps of decline begin with our contempt for our neighbor through those who are over us to our contempt for God. The steps of ascension begin as we learn to love our neighbor through respect for those over us to a full understanding of our life with God. Beebe and Foster reconize “Bernard’s overarching concern is to help us recognize that when we fail to love our neighbor we ultimately fail to love God.”
In his work On Loving God, Bernard identifies four levels of love. The first level is self-love. The second level is loving God for our own sake. Here, the primary motivation is self-preservation. In the third stage, we learn to love God for God’s sake. That is, we love God for who God is. In the fourth stage we learn to love self for God’s sake. We see ourselves as God sees and loves us.

Like Origen, Agustine focuses on three levels of reality (body, mind, and heart). God exists beyond all levels of human reality. All we can do to prepare for God is to properly order our earthly life, our will.

Beebe and Foster write, “Augustine’s interpretation of reality is that humans are estranged from God. On our own we cannot return to him. God, who sees our need and recognizes that we will never meet it on our own, sends Christ. But it is extremely difficult for us to recognize our own need because of three temptations: the love of power, the pervasiveness of lust and our inability to find contentment.”

So, we seek discipline in our lives in order to correctly perceive reality. Either we will be self-willed, or we will give ourselves over to God. Only through God can we find the enduring happiness of the eternal peace of God. Christ assists us in our giving ourselves over to God.
Again, from Beebe and Foster, What do we learn from Augustine? How do we live his advice? “We begin simply by asking Christ, our living Teacher, to guide us through our activities today. The same for tomorrow, and all the days that follow. We seek to orient our will toward his will, knowing that he is always there first, directing and guiding.”

Origen of Alexandria identified the ultimate goal of human life as “intimate and continual communion with God.” He used an allegorical approach to interpreting Scripture. Using Numbers as a basis, he identified forty-two stages of the Christians ascent to God. (The Israelites had forty-two stages as they progressed through the wilderness to the promised land.)

“As we move from one stage to the next, we gain understanding and cultivate new virtues that strengthen us for the rest of the journey. Each stage also involves certain temptations. Yielding to these temptations disorients us from the path, but conquering them takes us even closer to God.”
Forty-two stages is a lot. I don’t know how I would have kept them all straight. And yet, I think this says something about the life of faith. As Foster and Beebe observe, we’re never finished growing. There’s always another stage. We can always learn more. We can always love more.
They write, “This with-God life takes no time, yet it occupies all our time. When we go to work, we go to work with-God. At work we are learning how to bless those who curse us, how to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice, how our very presence can be a joy to others. . . . The same is true for times at home with family and time with neighbors and friends.”