Schmemann on modern escapist spirituality

“Tired and disillusioned by the chaos and confusion he himself has brought about, crushed by his own ‘progress,’ scared by seemingly triumphant evil, disenchanted with all theories and explanations, depersonalized and enslaved by technology, man instinctively looks for an escape, for a ‘way out’ of this hopelessly wicked world, for a spiritual haven, for a ‘spirituality’ that will confirm and justify him in his disgust for the world and his fear of it, yet at the same time give him the security and the spiritual comfort he seeks. Hence the multiplication and the amazing success today of all kinds of escapist spiritualities—Christian and non-Christian alike—whose common and basic tonality is precisely negation, apocalypticism, fear and a truly Manichean ‘disgust’ for the world”
– Alexander Schmemann, Of Water and the Spirit, 84.

Silence, Solitude, Prayer: A Reflection

On October 14, I set aside 24 hours for silence, solitude and prayer. The quotes are from Henri Nouwen’s “The Way of the Heart.” Here is my reflection.


The excitement of anticipating a day of solitude eventually ebbed away as I confronted its discomforting reality. Initially, I looked forward to the silence and the disconnection from technology which would simplify  the task of seeking God and finding rest.  I confined myself to an unfamiliar space, limiting my diet to simple foods such as bread, soup, water, and coffee. Being out of reach of  technology made me realize that it had become a part of me, like a limb that needed tending.  I realized that phones and computers, if not carefully monitored, can swiftly morph from being allies to making us their slaves. Nouwen describes solitude as the place to encounter our false sense of self.  The “compulsive” behavior that characterizes my own  false identity was manifested in my reflexive compulsion to check my phone: to be on top of things, to have control, to see if anyone needed me. A certain restlessness was felt because I knew that I was unreachable; I wondered if I should have let more people know where I was and what I was doing. Accordingly, one of the “demons” that I met in the “desert” of solitude was my apparent need to be needed. Solitude placed this need in clear view, convincing me that I am no exception to the luring modern system of “domination and manipulation” which ultimately translates into anger and greed (11). Acknowledging this ailment brought about a posture of confession and dependence on God.

I also recognized that my eagerness for a spiritual retreat was fueled more by the novel nature of the assignment, rather than my pursuit of God. I looked forward to brewing fresh coffee, preparing simple snacks, reading and journaling, and being alone. I soon discovered that silence, scripture reading, and prayer are disciplines that require hard work. Boredom struck sooner than I had anticipated, and maintaining focus on these disciplines became more difficult as time went on. Nevertheless, the progressively lull mood was eventually interrupted. I noticed a difference in my temperament as I became calmer in many respects, no longer planning ahead the tasks for the day or week but allowing silence to reorient me. Prayers became slower and more carefully invoked.

This spiritual retreat created a space for me to be made me more sensitive to the work of the Spirit. I was engaged in the present, no longer anxiously preoccupied with the future. I went from not knowing what to pray for, to praying fervent words of confession, desperation and faith. I committed myself to reading the Gospel of John and the words of Scripture attuned my posture, birthing and reawakening dormant spiritual yearnings. Conclusively, through this retreat the Spirit made me confront the reality of the cross and resurrection: my sin came to light, bringing conviction and the hard work of repentance, which then turned to a taste of the resurrection life through a renewed hope and a reoriented perspective.



How often does our concern for the big things take us away from the little ones?

God is interested in hearing us give him thanks. Opening up our mouths and telling of his beauty. Speaking highly of him, his character, what he’s done and what he’ll do. We don’t do it enough. I don’t. There is a powerful thing happening in the ‘air’ when we praise God with our voices.

12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.

I wonder if there’s a reason why we’re more comfortable with being quiet in this regard. I’m increasingly convinced of the reality that there is something going on beyond the physical realm, of which the eye cannot see. Paul says that we fight “against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). These forces are working hard to keep us quiet.

More on this to come.


Jesus Baptized: The Holy Spirit and the New Thing

The Holy Spirit is a dominant theme throughout the book of Luke.  The Holy Spirit fills individuals in Luke (John, Elizabeth, Mary, Jesus, Zechariah, Simeon, cf. 1:15, 1:35, 1:41, 1:67, 2:25, 3:22, etc), and the work of the Spirit is spoken of in contrast to the many “evil spirits” that cause damage to the individual (7:21, 8:2). The Spirit is associated in the births of both John and Jesus; John will be “filled with the Holy Spirit before birth” (1:15) and Jesus will be conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit (1:35).  A common result from the infilling of the Holy Spirit is prophecy and praise (1:42-45, 1:64, 2:13). Joel Green and Scot Mcknight associate Luke’s use of the Spirit with prophetic acts that point to the recognition and assurance of salvation: “Elizabeth and Zechariah experience the Spirit of prophecy in invasive prophetic speech (the invasive quality denoted here by the Lukan favorite idiom “filled with” the Holy Spirit) … and as a result give oracles of recognition and assurance of salvation.”[1]

The Holy Spirit appears in a very special way at Jesus’ water baptism (Lk 3:21-22;  Mk 1:9-11; Mt 3:13-17; Jn 1:29-34).

It is interesting to note that in each of the Gospel accounts, Jesus’ baptism narrative introduces the rest of his ministry. What is really going on? What were the writers of the gospels telling their readers?

This moment is intentionally placed (in Luke’s account) in order to draw attention away from John the Baptism and centre in on Jesus. What Luke is saying to his readers, is that something special is going on here, a prophetic act in which the New Covenant is being announced.  It’s like he’s saying “It’s time for the project of the New Creation to begin, and it begins here, with Jesus.”

Scholars don’t agree on the purpose of the dove ascending on Jesus, and what that may intend to mean. I believe that it’s meant to allude to 1) the Noah narrative, where the dove was a messenger of new beginnings (Gen. 8:8-12), and 2) the creation narrative, where God’s Spirit hovers over the waters right as he is about to bring forth creation ex nihilo (Gen. 1:2). The point, I think, is that God is now doing something NEW in Jesus. The project of New Creation is beginning in Jesus who is the Christ.

Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan is meant to signify this powerful new thing that God is doing in history. It is “unique moment in history: the beginning of a new epoch in salvation-history – the beginning, albeit in a restricted sense, of the End-time, the messianic age, the new covenant.”[2]

With regards to this narrative, NT Wright claims that “John the Baptist is playing Samuel to Jesus’ David,” and thus, Luke’s readers are given notice that “there is a new kingdom, a kingdom of Israel’s god, and that the young man now anointed by his cousin in the Jordan is the king through whom it is to be set up.”[3]
The baptism of Jesus signifies the beginning of the in-breaking of the kingdom of God, Jesus the Messiah, empowered by the Spirit, is bringing forth the year of the Lord’s favor: good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, the recovering of sight to the blind, and liberty those who are oppressed (Lk 4:18-19, cf Isa 61:1-2).

It is likely that Luke’s frequent mention of the Holy Spirit (much more than any other Gospel) is put to use in order to remind his readers that God “gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (11:13), and may shed light on Luke’s intention to convey to the readers that now is the time of the new covenant, where God’s spirit is given to all flesh (C.F. Joel 2:28, Ez 33-36, Jer 36, Is 40-55).
The key here, is ALL flesh. This project is going to bring in the plan God had from the beginning, to make himself known to all the nations (cf Ez 36, Gen. 15, Jer 36). The allusion to Creation and the Noachic covenant points to God’s commitment to the whole of creation and serves to intensify the universal nature of God’s plan of salvation. It is likely that Luke intended the readers to recognize Jesus’ identification as the Messiah endowed with the Spirit in order to bring forth God’s eschatological program of salvation to all the nations. 
It makes sense that Luke, throughout his gospel account, focuses on the outcasts of society; women, the poor, tax collectors, samaritans, etc. The point, I think, is that the Holy Spirit is offered to all (11:13), just as forgiveness is offered to all (3:3, 24:47). The gift of the Holy Spirit, it seems; will lead to Prayer, Praise, and Prophecy (yes, three P’s… my homiletics teacher would be proud).  Through the Holy Spirit Jesus Promises Power (that’s got to be an A+)…and will eventually lead up to ….the day of Pentecost… (Okay I don’t know how this is happening right now)…
And finally it is on that day of Pentecost where the Spirit falls on all flesh. The New Covenant is materializing in a new and powerful way.
A little after Jesus’ baptism, he himself announces this New Thing that is happening, in him:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives

and recovering of sight to the blind,

to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

19  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”



[1] Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Joel B. Green and Scot Mcknight (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 342.


[2] James D.G. Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit: A re-examination of the New Testament Teaching on the Gift of the Spirit in Relation to Pentecostalism Today (London: SCM Press, 1970), 24.


[3] N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992), 379.