Saturday, May 31, 2008

What to do if you Find a Bird

If you’re outside during the spring season, sooner or later you will probably find a bird or injured animal. For most of us, our first reaction is to adopt the helpless creature. First, ask yourself is it injured? Is it really an orphaned baby? Nine times out of ten the answer is no! Look for nests in nearby trees and shrubs. They are usually well hidden and hard to get to. If you can find the nest, simply put the bird back. It is a myth that the parents will not care for young birds that have been touched by human hands. In fact, birds have a poor sense of smell. Case in point, great horned owls kill and eat skunks without even noticing their overpowering stench.

Baby birds have an overwhelming percentage of survival in the wild. If kidnapped, that percentage drops dramatically! In fact, while in the wild baby birds will often leave the nest at 12-14 days and be completely on their own within 2 more weeks. If taken to a licensed rehabilitator, that time is increased by weeks. While it takes the parents approximately 4 weeks to cut their apron strings, a rehabilitator will have a bird in their care for at least 6-8 weeks. Take into consideration that a rehabber will have many birds during a breeding season.

Also, do not attempt to raise a baby bird yourself. If you should decide to take this on, all but three species of birds (starlings, house sparrows and pigeons) are federally protected and it is illegal.

Consider the following as well: Nestlings must be fed every 15-20 minutes from sunrise to sunset. Providing a proper diet, clean living quarters, and fresh water daily are essential to a bird’s survival. Adult birds teach their young where to look for food and how to avoid predators. These things are impossible for a human to do.

Here are some guidelines to follow should you find a distressed bird:


If the young bird is found, leave it be and observe him from a distance. His parents will find him and you should notice the baby being fed within the hour. If not, contact our Hotline 804-598-8380 for a local licensed rehabilitator.

If he is in immediate danger of outdoor pets, scoop him up and put in a nearby bush or shrub out of harm's way. Put your pet inside or somewhere it cannot harm the bird and keep an eye out for predators.

If you find a baby with little or no feathers and you know where the nest is, then return the bird to it’s nest, if the nest is out of reach call our Hotline 804-598-8380 for assistance.

If the baby/fledgling is cold to the touch, take it inside to warm before placing back in the nest.

Nestle the bird in a warm towel or use a hot water bottle with a towel between the bird and the bottle. You may also use a heating pad on the lowest setting with a towel between the bird and the pad.

Place the bird in a warm, dark and quiet place away from children and pets. This is not a time for show and tell; it will only stress the bird and possibly cause death.
Do not attempt to feed baby birds or fledglings. If not properly fed, they could drown. There is a small opening in their tongue that could get blocked.

If you cannot find the nest or the bird appears to be sick, injured or your pet brought the bird home still alive, then contact our Hotline 804-598-8380 for a licensed rehabilitator.

If the nest has been destroyed, you can construct a makeshift nest using a small basket or Cool Whip type of container. Put holes in the bottom of container for drainage (before putting the bird(s) in it). Line the container with material from old nest or dry grass or leaves. Wire your nest to a branch or place it security in a branch fork close to or in the same spot as the old nest. The parents will still care for the birds if they are able. Place birds into new nest. Do not attempt to feed baby birds or fledglings.

If the bird is caught in something simple; such as twine or string have someone assist you in: Holding the bird in a clean towel; Using baby scissors, gently cut knots out of the string/twine. If there is no signs of other injuries; return bird back to bush or shrub; Any signs of injury, then contact our Hotline 598-8380 for a licensed rehabilitator.

If a bird allows you to catch it and does not attempt to fly away then it probably needs assistance.

If blood or bone is showing it probably will need assistance.
Place bird in a small box with lid and contact our Hotline 804-598-8380 for a licensed rehabilitator.

If bird is fully coated in oil or rubber material; contact our Hotline 804-598-8380 for a licensed rehabilitator. Do not attempt to remove the oil or cut the feathers.
If you are not able to contact a rehabilitator you may try a small amount of Dawn dish detergent on the feathers and rinse in warm water. However, this can cause much stress on a bird and it is best that a trained rehabilitator handle it. The bird must be kept warm to alleviate shock.
Place bird in a small box and contact a licensed rehabilitator

If the bird is alive but not standing contact our Hotline 804-598-8380 for a licensed rehabilitator.

If wind knocked an egg out of nest;
And you can locate the nest, gently place egg back into nest.
If nest cannot be found, place egg under a small shrub or bush.
Do not try to incubate or keep the egg for any reason. Chances of survival are very slim and it is illegal to keep any portion on a bird’s nest or a bird itself.

If bird is caught in a sticky mouse trap, use a small amount of oil to remove the bird from the trap. Do not cut the feathers to remove. Once the bird is free, contact our Hotline 804-598-8380 for a licensed rehabilitator.

If bird is caught in house;
Lock up all pets;
Darken room by closing blinds, shades, doors;
Leave only one exit (large, bright, sunny) opening for the bird to escape.
You may also wait until evening when the bird relaxes for sleep, gather the bird and place in a small box until morning. Release first thing.

The above is from our local wildlife rehabilition organization. But it's likely a comparable group exists near you, and even has a hotline you can call.

Quote from St. Augustine

I found this quoted without any particulars as to the exact source, but it's one of those so-o-o true things...

"If you believe in the Gospel only what you like, and reject what you don't like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself."


Friday, May 30, 2008

"Lucky Egg"

“My sister is a cold-hearted bitch,” said my fellow rehabber over the phone on Monday.

I laughed. “Well, I’m sorry to hear that.”

“I mean, she used to step on chickens when we were little, on purpose.”

“That’s too bad.”

“Anyway, yesterday she found a baby bird. Naked, eyes still shut. And what do you think she did with it? She left it right there, where she had found it, all night long! I told her, ‘You can’t DO that, just like you can’t do that to a human baby!’ Well, this morning she goes back and guess what? The thing is still alive!”

“Tell her to bring it here,” I said, anticipating. I have not taken any wild creatures since my mother’s surgery. I’ve realized my life is not going to be conducive to much of that sort of thing, after all, for a while.

“I just wanted to be sure it was okay with you first.”

“It’s fine.” It's my friend's sister. Have to take it.

“Okay, here’s her number. Now don’t bawl her out, alright?”

“Of course not.”

“BE GENTLE!” I had to laugh at those words, coming from a lesbian.

“I’ll just thank her for bringing it,” I assured her.

And that’s how it happened that this woman showed up, 40 minutes later, with a 4-day-old hatchling in hand. It looked just like these.

“We fed it,” she said; then seeing the alarm on my face, quickly added, “Following my sister’s instructions.” And she described what she had done.

“That’s good,” I said. “I’ll do my best.”

“What kind of bird is it?” she wanted to know.

“Not sure yet. I’ll call when I know.”

“Okay. Well, thank you!” and she and her girlfriend turned to leave. “Oh, by the way, we’ve named it ‘Lucky Egg.’”

Lucky Egg felt cold in my hand. Quick, warm it up! I had the heating pad and Kleenex nest all prepared. My guests crowded ‘round; we were in the middle of a Memorial Day cookout.

“Is it going to live?”

“I don’t think so,” I said, with a sigh.

“Why do think that?” asked Demetrios.

“Because it just doesn’t feel right in my hand. Doesn’t feel like a healthy bird.”

“How does it feel?” he persisted. Some doctor I’d make, if all I could say was the patient didn’t look right. Stop, think. Exactly what’s wrong with the way it feels, besides being chilled? It feels more like an autumn leaf than a bird.

“Dried out!” I exclaimed. “Dehydrated!”

Quick, pump it full of fluids. No, wait. Wait until it’s warmed. It can’t take the fluids until then.

Once it was warm, it still wouldn’t gape. I had to pry its beak open, very gently of course, and squirt a few drops of my bird soup down its throat, which it managed to swallow. But by night, the poor thing didn’t want to eat any more. Well, they don’t eat at night, so maybe that’s okay, I told myself.

Tuesday morning I woke up at dawn and reached over to the nightstand and uncovered the bird’s little box. Lucky Egg was still alive! Barely, it seemed, but still moving. I forced another two bites down its mouth.

Then, greatly to my surprise, it perked up. It began chirping, the softest, sweetest, most musical chirp, and opening its mouth for food, and eating eagerly.

Now it was worth trying to identify the species, if possible. Feet: not webbed. Rule out water birds. Size: rule out Robins and anything larger. Rule out Sparrows and anything smaller. It’s something in between. Beak: narrow, delicate, sharp. Not long enough for a Woodpecker; not robust like Finches’ beaks. An insect eater. Mouth: yellow inside. Flange (soft lip around beak): yellow, not huge, as in Robins or Starlings. Down: long and dark gray on head. Rule out anything bald at hatching. Skin color: dark coral. Blue-gray tinge to wings. A Bluebird? Hope leaped in my chest. I’ve never raised a Bluebird before.

It’s now the fifth day I’ve had Lucky Egg, and there’s no longer any doubt. It’s a Bluebird! I’m having a ball with it. A few more days and we’ll be able to tell by the wing feathers whether Lucky Egg is a he or a she.

When that happens, just maybe I’ll give this bird a new name.

This is what Lucky Egg looks like today. You can find a whole series of pictures of baby Bluebirds, from hatching until fledging, here.

INSTANT UPDATE (now that I examine this photo more carefully): Look to the left of the naked bird in the center. Do you see that patch of bright blue, near the bottom? That's the wing of a male. Lucky Egg doesn't have that. Gotta be a girl!

Try This One on for Size

Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that the atoms inside my skull happen for physical and chemical reasons to arrange themselves in a certain way; this gives me a bye-product, the sensation that I call thought. But if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It’s like upsetting a milk-jug and hoping the way the splash arranges itself will give you a map of London. But if I can’t trust my own thinking, of course I can’t trust the arguments leading to atheism, and therefore I have no reason to be an atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I can’t believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.
- C. S. Lewis, The Case for Christianity

Well, so what do you think? (Or do you? Or can you?)

For myself, I had to chuckle. This attempt is quite ingenious. Yet somehow it lacks cogency. I suggest this is because it's so very Western!

Yes, Western. It’s an abstract argument. It assumes that religion is a matter of thought, of manipulating concepts.

For Orthodox Christians, “the case for Christianity” begins, ends, and is our encountering Christ, the Crucified, as the Living One. Period. Nothing short of that seems very convincing.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

Plant Huggers

Katherine, my daughter-in-law, takes her three children with her to water the potted plants on the porch. Recently, she noticed three-year-old Connor was hugging each pot as soon as the flowers in it had been watered. Her curiosity finally got the better of her and she asked little Connor what that was all about. He reminded her she had told him they needed "water, sunshine, and love."

Here he is, providing the love.

And here, his twin brother, Ryan, (left) joins him.

The Unchanging yet Creative God, Part 7

The Unknowable Divine Essence

God’s Essence is totally, absolutely, uncompromisingly unknowable. This is not due only to any limitation in us, as for instance that our intellects are too small, although that is obviously also true. To know God as He knows Himself, one would have to be God, which means to have been God eternally. But there’s more than that. That the Divine Essence is radically unknowable comes also from that fact that it is unique in the proper sense, that is, absolutely. It has no parallel, no cognate. There is nothing comparable to it, nothing analogous to it. “I am God; and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like Me.” (Isaiah 46:9) There is nothing to which we could even relate Him.

We can’t even know the Divine Essence by extrapolating backwards from the Powers (Energies) because they are not the same. We can no more do that than scientists can extrapolate backward from the “Big Bang” they postulate to whatever existed before it the "singularity" they say exploded.

There is, indeed, much to say about the unspeakable Divine Essence, such as that it is eternal, that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each possess it in full, that it is distinct from the Divine Powers, and so forth. But what cannot be said at all, not a single world, even equivocally, even analogously, even in shadows, is what the Divine Essence actually is. What is it that all three Persons possess in full? What is it that is eternal? What is it that “makes God God”? We have no idea. And any idea we form is automatically an idol. And any doctrine based upon someone’s idea of the Divine Essence is automatically wrong.

Not even in heaven shall we behold the Divine Essence (Catholic doctrine notwithstanding), much less understand it.

But is this supposed to be a privation? If we love God, it is the Person we yearn to see, the Possessor of the Essence. Not the Essence itself and not the Powers either, but Him who IS the Essence and manifests Himself in the Powers. It’s the Person we love and long to see and to know; in fact, it is the One who is brimming with not just one, but two essences, divine and human. For a Christian to hanker after the beholding and comprehending of the Essence itself, besides being blasphemous and presumptuous, is a strange perversion! We cannot behold or comprehend any essence whatsoever, not even our own, human essence.

The only case I can think of in which one might long to behold “the Being of the Deity”, whatever that is, rather than the Person, might be if one believes in an impersonal deity. But still the motive would be a self-serving one: the ultimate gratification of ones intellectual curiosity by learning “the secret of the universe.” That could never happen, for all the reasons already mentioned. But this should be very far from any disappointment for Christians! Because of course we already know “the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, … now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:26-27) Christ Himself is the Secret of the Universe, and specifically, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” And Christ in us is the most glorious, most splendid, most profound, most challenging, most thrilling Mystery there could ever be. That’s what it is all, all, all about. And this Mystery, the Mystery, we can indeed know, not conceptually, not academically, but – what is far better, far more intimate! – by communion in Him.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Okay, I'm Going to Get Cracking Now...

Forgive Before You're Asked

When someone asked a hermit to define humility, he answered, “Humility is when you forgive someone who has wronged you before he expresses regret.”

Read the whole post over at Fr. Stephen's blog.


The Unchaging yet Creative God, Part 6

Here is a quick summary of some of the major ramifications of the (lowercase-o) orthodox distinction between God’s Essence and His Uncreated, Divine Energies. Here is some of why it is so necessary, and why it makes such a vast difference.

1.) It means God is able to have genuine relations with His creation. He can relate to the world personally, directly, and really.

2.) This in turn means He is able to create the world as we have been taught He did: by His Word alone, without any intermediary, without any pre-existing materials, without any help, personally, directly, and at a specific beginning point.

3.) That God Himself created the material world, bringing it out of non-being, means the material world is real, not an emanation from or shadow of reality contained within God’s Essence (Scholasticism), and not a container of hidden reality (pantheism, panentheism).

4.) Thus, salvation does not consist in any kind of escape from the world. A Christian is not supposed to be of the world, but he remains in it.

5.) It also means the material world as originally created is good. It is not some highly imperfect copy of something good inside God. Instead, God made it just the way He wanted to, and successfully. Had the world been made imperfect, it would mean that God is imperfect. If God had caused evil, God would be evil.

6.) Unless God could have real relationships with us, as provided for the by Essence-Energies distinction, salvation as the Orthodox know it would be impossible. For us, salvation is God Himself coming to abide in us, and to make us abide in Him. Salvation is God progressively sanctifying and glorifying and finally deifying us, none of which He could do if He were unable to relate to us directly or really. Salvation is not simply being filled with some created thing called “grace,” but is being filled with, and made one with, God Himself.

7.) To be filled with, and made one with, God Himself , would be pantheism but for the Essence-Energy distinction.

8.) This distinction counters hosts of other heresies, including Arianism, Macedonianism, Nestorianism, Monophysitism, Monothelitism, and Gnosticism. Fr. John Romanides (The Ancestral Sin, p. 66) says, “…if God creates, foreknows, gives life, and saves through created means, then the Arians, Macedonians and Nestorians would be justified,” and, “Monophysitism and Monothelitism are heresies against the basic dogma of creation ex nihilo and of human freedom. Therefore, they are a rejection of the salvation of the whole man and of the world…”

9.) The Essence-Energy distinction means God is free; that is, His unchanging Essence does not dictate His workings or prevent Him from doing changing things. He can do whatever He pleases, and if what He does never contradicts His Essence, that, too, is by choice.

Though God is able to do all that He wills to do, He does not will to do all that he is able to do. To be is not the same as to will…if God creates in His being, it is by necessity that He creates whatever He creates. But if it is by will that He creates, he creates out of sovereignty. Creating out of sovereignty, then, He creates as much as He wills and whatever He wills and whenever He wills. If God creates in His being, His will serves no purpose and is altogether useless. (St. Justin Martyr, Christian Inquiries, III, 2)

Freedom in God, be it noted, is perfect. It isn’t corrupted or compromised or tempted by evil. Freedom, in God, is freedom to be infinitely good, infinitely loving. It does not imply freedom to be wicked, which is no freedom at all, but slavery.

10.) If God were not free, He could not bestow freedom upon men and angels. But for the Essence-Energies distinction, we would not be able to call ourselves free.

11.) Freedom in turn makes love possible. Christian love, by definition, is freely formed, freely chosen, freely given, freely accepted. Any other kind of “love” is a much inferior imposter. Thus, even love itself depends upon freedom, which depends upon the Essence-Energies distinction. Rejection of it by some others is one of the reasons Orthodoxy is the only religion in the world that consistently preaches (or even can consistently preach) a God of authentic, pure, unbounded, perfect, direct, personal, unconditional , self-sacrificial love.

12.) The Essence-Energies distinction forms a basic argument for the Holy Trinity: it is because we see the Three Persons exercising the very same uncreated Powers that we conclude they are one and the same God; i.e., have one and the same Essence.

13.) The Essence-Energies distinction describes the difference between creation on the one hand, and the Son and Holy Spirit on the other. St. Gregory Palamas says that if the divine Energy does not differ from the divine Essence,

Then neither would the making of things, which belongs to the energy, differ from the begetting and giving procession, which belong to the essence. And if the making of things did not differ from begetting and giving procession, then things made would not differ in any way from what is begotten and proceeds. If this is how things were, then the very Son of God and the Holy Spirit would be no different than creatures. (St. Gregory Palamas, Natural Chapters, 96, P.G. 150, 1189)

14.) Here’s a surprise: that God has direct relations with His creation means He governs it, as He created it, in person, directly, with nothing between Him and us. That means we do not believe in “natural law.” If the Sun rises every morning, it is because God faithfully keeps our planet revolving around it, because that is His gracious will. If there is order in the universe, it is because God is orderly. If things work logically, it is because they were created and are maintained by the Logos Himself. (We derive the English “logic” from logos. God’s Logos is His intellect, especially in the sense of articulate, hence conscious, intellect.)

15.) That there is no “natural law” intervening between God and His creation has an interesting implication for the phenomenon of miracles. It means a miracle is not the lifting, contravening or abrogating of any “law of nature”. It is simply God, in a given moment, doing something differently. (He couldn’t do that, were there no distinction between His Essence and His Energies.)

16.) That we do not believe in natural law in turn has several, large-scale implications for ecumenical dialogue with Catholicism, which lays heavy stress upon “natural law.”

17.) God’s saving and sanctifying Energies, His foreknowledge, and His will are each distinct from His Essence and from each other. He can foreknow without foreordaining. His will can “make room” for genuine human freedom, can allow us to make even choices that are, in a narrower sense, against His will. These distinctions enable us to deny predestination in the heterodox sense, which would otherwise become a logical necessity. (We deny it for other reasons, but these distinctions render our denial logically possible.)

There are yet more items I could have listed but didn’t because I’m not sure I understand them well enough or agree with them. Just these alone, however, are enough, I think, to demonstrate that the acceptance or rejection of the Essence-Energies distinction makes a whole world of difference, makes for completely different religions, even if they both bear Christ’s name. Christos Yannaras, a noted Greek theologian, writes:

The acceptance and rejection of this distinction represents two fundamentally different visions of truth. This does not mean simply two different theoretical views or interpretations, but two diametrically opposite ways of life, with concrete spiritual, historical, and cultural consequences.

The acceptance of this distinction between essence and energies means an understanding of truth as personal relationship, i.e., as an experience of life and of knowledge as participation in the truth and not as an understanding of meanings that result from intellectual abstract¬ion... That is to say, God is known only as a personal revelation (and not as an idea of active essence), only as a triune communion of persons, as an ecstatic self-offering of loving goodness…

On the contrary, the rejection of the distinction between essence and energy means exclusion of catholic-personal experience and priority of the intellect as the way of knowledge, reducing truth to a coincidence of thought with the object of thought.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Unchanging yet Creative God, Part 5

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to hear the distinction between God’s Essence and God’s Energies derided as “Palamism,” after St. Gregory Palamas, who, when the Orthodox Christian teaching became controversial, championed it. The implication, sometimes an outright charge, is that the distinction is a 14th-Century, Eastern innovation. I do not know whether this falsehood is the result of ignorance or of something worse, but in either case it is curious, since in addition to the biblical witness, we have the witness of several saints and Fathers who far pre-date St. Gregory Palamas.

The Essence-Energies distinction is (like all Orthodox doctrine) first of all an interpretation of Christian experience. Bishop Kallistos, in The Orthodox Way, writes:

The traveller upon the spiritual Way, the further he advances, becomes increasingly conscious of two contrasting facts – of the otherness yet nearness of the Eternal. In the first place, he realizes more and more that God is mystery. God is ‘the wholly Other’, invisible, inconceivable, radically transcendent, beyond all words, beyond all understanding…

Yet, in the second place, this God of mystery is at the same time uniquely close to us, filling all things, present everywhere around us and within us. And he is present, not merely as an atmosphere or nameless force, but in a personal way. The God who is infinitely beyond our understanding reveals himself to us as person: he calls us each by our name and we answer him.

Further, since the Bible bears witness to Christian experience (a.k.a. revelation in history), the Essence-Energies distinction is also an interpretation of Holy Scripture, which speaks of God as unapproachable, yet nearer to each man than his own heart. Here is a very small sampling of the sorts of verses I mean.

Never will man see My face and live. (Exodus 33:20).

The secret [things belong] unto the LORD our God: but those [things which are] revealed [belong] unto us and to our children for ever, that [we] may do all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 29:29)

Truly You are God, who hide Yourself,
O God of Israel, the Savior! ( Isaiah 45:25)

"Am I only God near at hand," says the LORD,
"And not a God afar off?” (Jeremiah 23:23)

Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom [be] honour and power everlasting. Amen. (I Timothy 6:16)

As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness. . . . you may be partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:3, 4).

(Here we need to note that the word used for “nature” is not “ousia,” which means essence, but “physis,” which among other things means “the sum of innate properties and powers by which one person differs from others, distinctive native peculiarities, natural characteristics: the natural strength, ferocity, and intractability of beasts." In other words, "physis" is what God is like as Energies.)

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature, namely his eternal power and Deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20).

Note the distinction: his eternal power and his Deity. Everybody can know that these exist.

He rules by His power forever. (Psalm 66:7)

And then we have Jesus in John 17 (and elsewhere) speaking rather at length of abiding in us as the Father abides in Him, and He in the Father.

For much more than you ever wanted to know about the biblical references to God’s Energies, see this site.

The Fathers, too, bear witness to the Essence-Energies distinction from more than a thousand years before St. Gregory Palamas. That is why St. Gregory quotes some of them:

The Great Basil says, “He who acts is not the same as the act’s energy and neither is the recipient of the energy” And the divine Cyril, too, forming a passage about God, theologizes, “Thus, to create is of the energy, but to beget is of the nature, for nature and energy are not identical.” (St. Gregory Palamas, Natural Chapters, 143, P.G. 150, 1220)

Here are some more saints teaching or referring to this doctrine.

St. Athanasios (298-373)
He is in everything by his love, but outside of everything by his own nature (De Decretis II)

‘He is outside all things according to his essence’, writes St Athanasius, ‘but he is in all things through his acts of power.” “We know the essence through the energy’, St Basil affirms. ‘No one has ever seen the essence of God, but we believe in the essence because we experience the energy.’ (Ware, The Orthodox Way)

St. Basil the Great (born c. 330)
Is it not ridiculous to say that the creative power is an essence, and similarly, that providence is an essence, and foreknowledge, simply taking every energy as essence?” (Contra Eunomius, I.8, PG 29, 528B)

“The energies are various, and the essence simple, but we say that we know our God from His energies, but do not undertake to approach near to His essence. His energies come down to us, but His essence remains beyond our reach.” (Epistle 234)

We say that we know our God from his energies (activities), but we do not profess to approach his essence—for his energies descend to us, but his essence remains inaccessible (Epist. 234, ad Amphilochium)

St. Cyril of Alexandria (circa. 378 - 444)
“Essence and energy are not identical.” (Thesaurus 18, PG 75:312c)

St. John Chrysostom (c. 347–407)
Nor does He have anything in common with us but is separated from communion with created things, I mean as to essence, though, not as to relation. (Commentary on John, Homily 2, Chapter 7, PG 59:33-34)

St. Maximos the Confessor (ca. 580-662)
We do not know God in his essence. We know him rather from the grandeur of his creation and from his providential care for all creatures. For by this means, as if using a mirror, we attain insight into his infinite goodness, wisdom, and power.” ( On Love, i, 96)

“The man divinized by grace will be everything that God is, apart from identity of essence.” (Ad Thalassium 22, PG 90:320a)

Gregory of Nyssa, (d. circa 386)
And if we may reckon that the Cause of our existence did not come to the creation of man out of necessity but by benevolent choice, once more we say that we have seen God in this way too, arriving at an understanding of his goodness, not of his being…He who is by nature invisible becomes visible in his operations, being seen in certain cases by the properties he possesses. (Homily on the Beatitudes, VI)

St. Justin Martyr (d. 165)
Though God is able to do all that He wills to do, He does not will to do all that he is able to do. To be is not the same as to will…if God creates in His being, it is by necessity that He creates whatever He creates. But if it is by will that He creates, he creates out of sovereignty. Creating out of sovereignty, then, He creates as much as He wills and whatever He wills and whenever He wills. If God creates in His being, His will serves no purpose and is altogether useless. (Christian Inquiries, III, 2)

St. Irenaeus, (c. 130-202)
As regards His greatness, therefore, it is not possible to know God, for it is impossible that the Father can be measured; but as regards His love (for this it is which leads us to God by His Word), when we obey Him, we do always learn that there is so great a God, and that it is He who by Himself has established, and selected, and adorned, and contains all things; and among the all things, both ourselves and this our world.

But in respect to His greatness, and His wonderful glory, “no man shall see God and live, for the Father is incomprehensible; but in regard to His love, and kindness, and as to His infinite power, even this He grants to those who love Him, that is, to see God, which thing the prophets did also predict. (Adversus Haereses, 4, 20,1&5)

Note that although the priest-martyr St. Irenaeus came from Asia Minor, he was the bishop of Lyons. That’s Lyons, France, or Gaul as it was at the time. Thus, not only is he a very early witness to the Essence-Energies distinction, but he is also a Western witness to it. This is the true doctrine of the entire, ecumenical church, East and West. How it came to be forgotten, or dropped, and finally rejected in the West I can only speculate. But the Essence-Energies distinction is the authentic heritage of every Christian — for excellent and most necessary reasons, some of which I propose to summarize in the next installment of this series.


Monday, May 26, 2008

The Unchanging yet Creative God, Part 4

So far in this series, we have seen that if God were pure Essence, it would be impossible for Him to have created anything in the manner our Faith teaches us He did it, namely: directly, personally, freely, alone, by His Word, and giving a definite beginning to things, as we are also taught He shall give a definite end to things. The problem is that He cannot have made a new decision which He had not made before and did not know He was going to make - otherwise we have imported temporality and mutability into our concept of God. For the same reason, neither can God ever have done a new thing which He had not done before. Furthermore, if it belonged to the Divine Essence to create, then creation would be a necessity, and an eternal necessity, too. God would have to create. Otherwise He would not be God. God’s very Being would be dependent upon His own creatures.

We have seen how pantheism accounts for the material order, by denying creation ex nihilo and saying instead that this world is simply a conglomeration of changing forms divinity is taking.

We have seen how Thomas Aquinas, and following him all of Western Christendom in varying degrees, has tried to solve the problem in ways the Orthodox find ruinous for spiritual life (and sound theology, too). They introduce created things (exemplars, or eternal ideas) into their concept of the Divine Essence. They say God only created the world indirectly. They say God cannot be really related to the created order. They locate reality outside of the material world, which for us is entirely real. And they resort to ideas completely foreign to revelation, not found in Holy Tradition or in Holy Scripture, such as created exemplars in the divine Essence which do the actual, direct, impersonal creating of the material world.

And these two answers, that of the Orient and that of the Christian West, are the only two, other than the Orthodox teaching, that historically have found any widespread acceptance in the world, or had much widespread influence. No other way has been found or at least much embraced, except in Orthodox Christianity.

The Orthodox doctrine, then, is that God is “bigger than” Pure Essence. Or His Essence (Being) “overflows” into his Powers, or Energies. By these powers we mean such things as His will, His foreknowledge, His omnipresence (being everywhere simultaneously), His creativity, His Justice, His Grace, His sanctifying powers, and so forth. We mean roughly what Westerners mean when they speak of God’s “attributes,” with perhaps some small exceptions and one enormous one: for us, these Powers (or “Energies”) are uncreated and eternal.

Unlike God’s Essence, the Powers are not ingenerate, for the Holy Trinity eternally generates them, but they are uncreated and eternal.

Neither are the Energies to be thought of as “the fringes of the Deity,” while the Essence is the core; rather, while they are distinct from the Essence, yet they are filled with it. They are fully God. They are the workings of the Holy Trinity in the world, and God is as fully God within the world, within time and space, as He is outside of them. The immanent God and the transcendent God are one and the same Holy Trinity.

As one blogger wrote, “an energy is never apersonal. The energies of God are communicated only through the persons of the Trinity…”

The Uncreated Energies do not infringe the divine simplicity, either, any more than the distinctions among the Three Persons do, or the distinction between Essence and Persons. They are neither "parts" of God nor limitations upon God.  And they are distinct from that which is called simple, namely the Divine Essence.

And because these Powers or Energies are distinct from God’s Essence, there is no theological problem with saying that in them, God does whatever He wants, whenever He wants, starting and stopping at will, His Being remaining all the while unaffected and unchanged.

We create no quandaries in asserting that God, in or as His Energies, created the world around us just as the biblical witness says He did – directly, personally, and freely. Furthermore, the world He created is not some shabby copy of some Eternal Idea. Instead, He created it exactly as He had always envisioned it, exactly as He had eternally intended to, and pronounced it, “Very good.”

With the Energy/Essence distinction, there is no logical or theological contradiction in affirming what we in fact already know from living it, namely, a direct, personal, real relationship with God, deepening into communion and finally into theosis, deification. For we know that our communion with Him is communion in His Uncreated Energies and that we can never acquire His Essence. (That would be a contradiction in terms, since acquired isn’t applicable to the eternal Essence of God! You either have it from all eternity or never.)

God’s relations with and in the world, in His Uncreated Energies, necessarily have a beginning, because the world itself has. (And the fact that they do have a beginning shows they are not included in God’s Essence.) The workings of God’s Energies in the world can have an end, too. “The prescience of God has no beginning, but after the things that He foreknows come to pass, it has an end.” (St. Basil the Great, P.G. 29, 680) No problem.

The problem of how an unchanging God creates is only one of numerous theological issues solved or rather avoided, in the East, by the distinction between God as Essence and God as Energy. God willing, I shall list some of the others in another part of this series. But before that, I want to address the frequently-heard but entirely false charge that the Essence-Energies distinction is a 14th Century, Eastern innovation.


Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Unchanging yet Creative God, Part 3

The question before us remains: if we are not allowed to introduce change into our concept of God’s Being, or time either, how can God ever do anything He wasn’t doing from all eternity? How can He “one day” start to create the world? How can He, having once begun creating, stop doing so and rest on the seventh day? In fact, how is it He can stop or start any activity, such as responding to my prayers? How is it He hasn’t already judged me, and either saved or rejected me, from before all time, as the Calvinists believe? How is it even possible to have a genuine, person-to-person relationship with an absolutely unchanging God?

The Scholastics said it wasn’t. In that system of thought, exemplified by Thomas Aquinas, God only indirectly creates the world we know.

For Aquinas, what God does is eternally create, within His own Being (Essence), “exemplars,” or patterns, or ideas of the creation. This, for the Orthodox, is Problem One: that we have, within the very Essence of the Godhead, created things! Remember that God’s Essence is whatever He has that He can’t not have and still be God. If God did have created things within His Being, then His own creation would be part of what is required for God to be God!

It is natural for these “exemplars” or blueprints to radiate outward from God. God doesn’t directly cause them to do this; they just do it naturally. And these emanations, projected into time and space, create the material world. (How time and space got there to receive these emanations I do not know. I also do not understand why these eternal ideas emanating from God didn’t eternally have the effect of creating the world we know, making the universe beginningless.)

In Aquinas’ thought, God, to create, doesn’t have to change. Rather, the change is in us. We change in relation to Him as we come into being from non-being. Aquinas compares this to a hypothetical relationship between an animal, analogous to us, and a column, analogous to God. If the position of the column relative to the animal changes, it is because the animal moved, not the column.

All this makes Problems Two, Three, and Four for the Orthodox.

Problem Two: Is this biblical? Is it anywhere in Holy Tradition?

Problem Three: the exemplars become intermediaries between God and creation. Although Aquinas tries to uphold the doctrine of creation without any “raw materials,” (ex nihilo), yet here he compromises it. The exemplars are created things which in turn create the material world. This, in opposition to the Judeo-Christian doctrine that God creates the world alone, without intermediaries, with no help, especially not with help from created things, by His Word (Christ), not by emanations.

Problem Four: The created Ideas within God have more and greater reality than their emanations outside of God. This devalues the material world, telling us reality is to be found outside it. The world is but a shadow cast by the true reality, or a ray shining forth from the reality. This undoes or at least severely undermines the entire sacramental worldview, in which the world is very real indeed, and is in fact meant to be the sacrament of communion between God and man and is the (real) meeting place between God and Man.

Still, Aquinas preserves us from pantheism while insulating his concept of God from temporality and change, which is no small feat. But that’s Problem Five, because in the process, Aquinas also has to insulate his concept of God from any real relationship with us! Yes, it’s true. He asserts that while our relationship to God is real, although indirect (via the exemplars within His Essence), yet His relationship to us is not real! Actually, God only relates to His eternal ideas of us. See here and here.

In the thought of Western Christendom in general (not just in Aquinas), for the sake of protecting God’s changelessness without resorting to pantheism, the notion that God cannot relate to us really or directly is unavoidable to anyone who gives serious thought to it. (Fortunately, the average man in the pew doesn’t.) There really is no known way out of it. It is therefore implicit in Western theology.

This is why, generally speaking, grace is assumed to be a created thing. This is why, in the West, knowledge of God is pursued by means of the intellect more than with the core self, truth is when your thought accurately reflects or coincides with what you are thinking about, and revelation is primarily a matter of words. This is why the things of God (together with God Himself) are dealt with as concepts, concepts, concepts and faith involves cognitive thinking and “theology” is so abstract, so theoretical, something you learn by academic study more than from your own communion with God. That is why catechizing is usually about imparting concepts instead of holiness, teaching ideas instead of asceticism and the art of prayer. And ideas, to which God relates instead of to us, are also our mode of relating to the world and to each other. Even that most personal relationship, marriage, is cast as a legal contract, complete with solemn vows. (There are no vows in an Orthodox wedding.) That is why, in the West the goal of man is not theosis, deification, but something called "The Beatific Vision," that is, beholding the very Essence of God.

Now the devastating idea that God has no real relationship to the created order not only spawns the impersonal sort of culture we see collapsing around us, but also and absolutely rules out anything recognizable to the Orthodox as spirituality.

But here’s the sad yet wonderful joke: near the end of the life of this man who had said God does not have real relations with us, God came to Thomas Aquinas in Person. It was for Thomas a direct, intense, and undeniably real encounter. Of course this upset the very foundation upon which he had built his thought and shook him up badly. No wonder then, that afterward, Thomas called all he had written “straw”. It was a "theology" by a man who had never even met God, had never known Him at all. Afterwards, Thomas never attempted to write a single sentence more of theology - just when he had finally begun to be qualified to do it.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Suckered! (Again)

Those two little girls who made me such a sweet, flattering packet recently have been coming around every day to ask if I have any animal chores for them to do. Every day, not that I needed their help, but just to encourage their little enterprise, I said yes. (How can you turn down little girls who have made such a sweet card and envelope?) Every day I would hand them a bowl of formula to take to the squirrels in the outside cage. After that, they would squirt a couple off ccs of my special "bird soup" down the throats of the six baby birds. And for that, every day, I would pay them a dollar.

And it was all working out fine, except I began thinking seven dollars a week, for work I didn't need done, was going to start mounting up. And Demetrios kept reminding me that most kids who come around wanting to help me feed the wild creatures I rehab do it for the joy of it and/or as a form of civic-mindedness.

One day when the girls came, I didn't happen to have a dollar bill in my purse. That was okay, they said; I could pay them later, whenever, no problem.

The next day, Cait came alone. I paid her two dollars. "This one is for today," I said, "and this one is for yesterday. One for you, one for Alli."

I mentioned to Cait that I had just learned of an emergency with my mother, and would be gone, so she and Alli needn't come by for several days.

Nevertheless, while I was away, the little girls showed up every day, asking for me. Demetrios told me over the phone, "They're hinting they're owed some money."

"Well, they aren't," I said, "but never mind. I'll get it straight with them when I get home."

When I got home, there was note taped to the front door saying the girls would come around the next day to receive their money.

Today Alli came.

"But I gave Cait the money the day she came alone," I explained. "Didn't she tell you?"


I stayed silent a bit, eyebrows raised, to let sink in the idea that her "friend" had not been true to her. "Well, never mind," I said, after a moment. "To avoid a dispute, it's worth it to me to pay you another dollar." So I did.

Fifteen minutes later, both girls were back. "Cait says you only paid her one dollar," said Alli.

"Cait," I said, "I paid you two dollars and told you one was for Alli."

Cait, glowering at me, her arms crossed, said, "You paid me one dollar."

"Well, that is not the way I remember it. But in any case, that's what I owed you, right?"

She nodded.

"And Alli, just now I paid you what I owed YOU, right?"


"So what do you want from me now?"

No answer.

I shrugged and said goodbye and closed the door.

Not half an hour passed before they showed up on my doorstep yet again. Trying hard to be pleasant, I smiled as I opened the door. "Yes?"

There was some hemming and hawing. Cait's elbow poked at Alli, who finally spoke up. "Our parents have been talking to each other," she said, "and they think it is very strange we are only getting paid one dollar a day. They think five dollars would be more appropriate."

I started to point out that five dollars for ten minutes (not for a day!) was $30 an hour, that I hadn't really needed them to do this feeding for me, that it wasn't as if I had had them prepare the formulas, wash up the utensils, change the bedding, or clean out the cages...but I decided it wasn't worth wasting my breath. It also wasn't worth the risk of tangling with such parents. So all I said was, "Well one dollar is all I can afford, so goodbye." And I closed the door and, it being mostly glass, walked away.

First moral of the story: flattering lips (or crayons!) are always, without exception, by definition, lying lips (or crayons).

Demetrios says he never liked these two girls, that in their faces where, at their age, sweetness ought to be, there is something hard and calculating that put him off from the first day. I suppose I would have seen that, too, had not their card to me made me think of them as ever so sweet. Second moral of the story: a little humility would have protected me from this whole shabby mess.


The Unchanging yet Creative God, Part 2

So how does a God whose being is eternal and therefore (by definition of "eternal") changeless, manage to do anything new? I've already mentioned that more is at stake in this question than simply how an unchanging God does new and different things. Whole religious methodologies are at stake, whole worldviews, whole ways of relating to God and the world. But one particular issue within these wholes is God's freedom. The question is whether God is really free or whether His own Being compels and constrains Him. Human freedom is also at stake here, because obviously a God who is not free can never bestow true freedom upon His children, either. So how can it be that He, Who never changes, created the universe and then, after "six days", rested from that task?

One answer is, in short, that He didn’t. In this view, the universe is not something created at all. Instead, it is simply God Himself taking on ever-changing forms. Put another way, God made the world using, as the “raw material,” Himself. The universe is God’s “body,” His material form. The universe is made from God’s own Being and is co-eternal with Him. God's only "freedom" is to take on whatever forms He will, whenever He will, for as long as He will. Or in some variants of this worldview, God is an impersonal force, so that the issue of freedom does not even arise.

In this worldview, nothing that exists has any being (or essence, or nature) of its own. Instead, everything shares the one, divine nature. The secret of this life is to realize this. Man needs not redemption but awakening. If you will but realize that your sense of being not-God is illusory, and if you can deeply know yourself as divine, then you will have escaped suffering. You will realize that nothing that happens in this illusory world can harm the real you, the divine you. You will have peace, experiencing yourself as bigger than any suffering life can throw at you, knowing it is all illusion. (How divine beings came to be prey to such illusion, we do not ask.) And in your bliss, you will simply “go with the flow.” And as you realize at that deep level that everyone and everything else is also divine, you will find yourself at one with all that is.

To accomplish this shift of your psychological identity, you practice the art of meditation for many years. You seek to empty your mind of absolutely everything, because it is in that emptiness that the divine dimension of being becomes perceptible.

This of course is pantheism, and such is the religious practice it engenders. The way of life it encourages is exemplified (but not exhausted) by all the specific cultures of the Orient.

It is, however, very different from the Judeo-Christian tradition, in whose teachings the world has both a beginning and an end and is therefore not divine.

“These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. In the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, “ (Genesis 2:4)

“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away…” (Revelation 21:1)

For Jews and Christians, God shares His Being (Essence) with nothing and no one. "Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One."

For us, God begins and ends the world. He brings things into being from non-being, simply by forming the intention of doing so. (He doesn’t literally speak His intention, of course, because He has no vocal chords or tongue, but when we read, “and God said ‘Let there be light,’” it means He formed, in an intelligible way, the intention that light should henceforth exist.)

The question still remains for the Christian: how is it possible for Him to do that, to form an intention, since God is changeless? How can He say His creative, “Let there be…” without having said it from all eternity; that is, without the world being co-eternal with Him and therefore divine? Or if He did speak it forever (if He had that intention forever), why do things have a beginning and an end? If God is Creator by nature and if He is eternal, doesn’t He, to continue being God, have to have been creating forever and continue creating forever? (But if so, then isn't His very Being dependent upon His own creation? All this just keeps getting more and more complicated! There aren't any good answers, either, outside of Orthodox teaching.)

For that matter, on the same principle, how is it possible for an eternal, unchanging God to have any interaction with His changing world?

In the next part of this little series, we’ll have a short look at some "Western" answers to these questions.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Unchanging yet Creative God

Ask yourself: how is God able to do anything new, such as create the universe? No, I mean really! It isn’t as irrelevant as it sounds. To the contrary, whole spiritualities and cultures actually depend upon the answer to that initially stupid-sounding but most fundamental question. This is because our answer determines how we relate to God; indeed, how it is possible to relate to Him.

It’s a thorny question because, after all, God’s Being (a.k.a. His “Essence”) is eternal. Eternal means timeless. God’s Being/Essence is neither time-bound nor time-conditioned.

Time is the measure of duration. Time measures how long before change occurs. If no change of any kind ever happens, you have nothing to measure, no time. You have eternity instead.

Now God’s Being, or Essence, is what He alone "possesses" (or is) such that if He didn’t, He would not be God. More precisely, He wouldn’t be, period. That means that whatever it is, God must always have had  or been it, from all eternity, else He wasn’t God from all eternity. (Goodness! Two tautologies yet, in one short paragraph!)

So if God’s Essence or Being is eternal, meaning changeless, and no novelty may be introduced into it, how does He create anything? For that matter, how does He do anything at all, unless it is something He has always done, changelessly?  How does He ever stop doing anything?

There are only three basic answers to this quandary that have ever been taken seriously in this world, each giving rise to its own distinct spirituality and culture.

In succeeding posts, I propose to have a brief look at each of the three answers.


God's Timing

A blog, being public, is not the place to write about some things in detail, but I just have to share this much: I understand now why God timed my sister Barbara's death as He did. It was perfect. In spite of how painful it has been to lose her, I can see now that indeed, her earthly sojourn began exactly when it should and, yes, ended exactly when it should. (And, of course, this is true for every human in the whole history of the world.)

We walk by faith, yes, but once in a while God also gives us sight, and the sight confirms the faith, the faith that God is good, and that He always does things well and rightly and as is best for all concerned, even when we cannot understand how this could be. But when He does grant us to understand, that is such comfort, such peace, such great joy, even. Glory to God for all things!


The Filter

We have always admired how efficient our heat pump is. It keeps us warm in winter and cool in summer with a nice, low bill. But there is a large grate in the upstairs hall ceiling and Demetrios worried about it. It seemed to be sucking up a lot of air into our attic. So when the nice man built our sunroom, Demetrios asked him what that thing was for, and should it be covered.

"No," it shouldn't, said Charles. "It's just a big intake. There is a duct behind it, so that air is recirculating." Then, after a pause, he asked, "Where's y'all's filter?"

Filter? We just looked at each other. Filter! Well, sure, a heating system must have a filter. Bound to have one. Somewhere.

"I can't recall ever having seen it," I mumbled.

Charles didn't even know what to say. Finally, breaking into a smile, he asked, "How long have y'all lived here?"

Um, well, eighteen years, for Demetrios; seventeen for me.

"And y'all've never changed the filter?" smiling in disbelief.

So off went Charles in search of it, every room of the house. No luck. I was beginning to feel vindicated when finally he located it, at the bottom of the furnace. "But y'all's hot water heater is standing directly in front of it," he reported. "That leaves no room to pull the filter out. Is that a new water heater or somethin'?"

New ten years ago, yes.

Now what?

Eventually, a Greek friend of ours brought his brother over here, whose occupation in Greece is heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. He pulled the filter out after all. "With only a couple of shovelfuls of dirt in it," quipped Maria, his sister-in-law.

We've bought a replacement. Now we have to clear out that utility shed and try to vaccuum the rest of the dirt out from under the bottom of the furnace before we put in the new filter.

Fortunately, for the moment, we're having the sort of weather that needs no heat or cooling.

Charles didn't even charge us. He was paid in laughter.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Balloon Toss with the Demented

It sounds so dreary, doesn't it? You sit in your wheelchair and a nurses' aide tosses you a balloon, which you bat back at her, and you volley back and forth several times.

Well, let me tell you how wonderful the balloon toss is in the Alzheimers unit! The first benefit is simply that it wakes the patients up! More than that, it even requires them to become alert. It gets them interacting with another human being. It makes them practice their eye-hand coordination. It is mild upper-body exercise, with arms in the air. And it's fun for them! They nearly all smile while playing this simple game.

When the aide finished and departed, I picked up the balloon and continued the game, batting it around with the various patients in the dayroom. It was the most fun I've had with my dad in years! We kept it up until the young exercise dude came in, sipping his mid-morning coffee and chewing gum, which he removed from his mouth when one old lady began chanting, "No gum, no gum, no gum," about a hundred times.

"Anybody know what day this is?" he asked in his cheeriest voice.

Nobody did.

"It's Tuesday."


"Really?" someone said.

"Fancy that," said another. "Tuesday."

"And what month is it?" the young man continued.


"Well, close. It does start with "M". It's May."

"Well, well, May."

"And the year is two thousand eight," said the exercise dude.

"Two thousand eight," somebody repeated in an effort to remember it.

"And this weekend there is going to be a holiday. It is going to be Memorial Day. Can anybody tell me what we are supposed to remember on Memorial Day?"

"Two thousand eight!" said Dad, enthusiastically.

Oh, well.

The exercises went well. The anti-gum lady chanted, "Please keep it short, keep it short, keep it short," and he did, fifteen minutes.

Mom was discharged last night and is now in the same building with Dad, one floor down from him, in the rehab unit, until she feels stronger. Rossi, their private duty health care aide, takes them to visit each other. Mom, who'd had a manicure and pedicure immediately before her surgery, has now been to the hair salon on her same floor and had a shampoo and set and feels much happier as a result. Last I saw her, she was entertaining a ministeress from her church who had arrived and was chatting with her.

I'm catching a train for home in about an hour, God willing.


Sunday, May 18, 2008


Mom was much better when Wendy and I went to visit her this afternoon. She could remember the visitors she'd had earlier today and could remember Big Brown winning the Preakness yesterday. (By five and a half lengths, yet. YAY, Big Brown!) She no longer thinks there are trap doors in her “Get Well Soon” balloons, into which cameras and microphones have been inserted. She no longer thinks she is being held against her will in a brothel. She no longer sees matching parakeets, kittens, and marmosets clinging to her ceiling, no longer smiles at them or calls to them, and she realizes those animals don’t come in yellow with leopard spots anyway. She does still see pink gossamer floating in the air, but she realizes it isn’t really there. She no longer thinks Daniel (our sister Barbara's husband) is planning to go to California to study at Stanford and leave Lizzie behind or give her away.

“Not to worry,” I said, “That was just a bad dream.”

“And all those adorable kittens…”

“They were dreams, too.”

“No, because I was awake. They were hallucinations.”

Correct. Excellent, Mom!

Even better, she remembers her own mother going through a similar ordeal after one of her knee replacements. So she knows the same thing is what has been happening to her. She remembers telling the surgeons she doesn’t do well under general anesthesia.

She still isn’t sure which of her memories of this past week refer to reality, but when she asks and we tell her, she accepts our answers.

At any rate, I estimate her improvement at 90%. Wendy says 95%.

She is being discharged tomorrow. She will probably spend a few days at the rehab center here, within her retirement community, before coming back to her own apartment. She doesn’t yet feel comfortable being on her own, and Wendy and I agree.

Dad’s situation is less reassuring. He may have to be catheterized again today. Wendy saw him earlier, took him to church and he was in pain. I’ll go later.

This morning I went to Barbara’s church, St. Mark’s in Bethesda, on purpose to see her godmother, Deb, and Deb’s godmother, Carol. It ws good to be there again, and especially to be there singing, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.”

Deb shared her wonderful news and I was thrilled! Check it out and rejoice with her and her family.

Meanwhile, Wendy and I have enjoyed being together these several days, and have enjoyed a couple of visits from our brother Mike, too.

Mike collects movies. He used to collect them in Betamax format, then in VHS. I remember once when we read in a newspaper that Prince Charles had the largest known collection of movies on VHS in the world, and it was so-and-so many tens of thousands, Mike just laughed. He probably has every movie ever made, if it has ever been put on tape or shown on television.

He has been updating his collection recently, getting it all on DVD, and although we haven’t been allowed into his house for years, I’ll bet he has some room to move around in it now!

Anyway, Mike brought us a couple of very entertaining movies, and we laughed and cried and hooted and hollered and thoroughly enjoyed both.

I’m more or less planning to go home tomorrow afternoon or evening. Demetrios went home Friday afternoon, and I've missed him awfully.

And I'm looking forward to getting down to North Carolina in the next few days to see my grandchildren, at long last!


Friday, May 16, 2008

God's Perfect Freedom

In Titus 1:2, we read that “God…cannot lie”.

Many people have supposed that there are certain restrictions upon God’s freedom, imposed by His own nature, and that this verse is an example of one such restriction. God, they suppose, is limited by His very nature as to what He can and cannot do. God is Truth; therefore, He cannot lie. God is love, therefore, He cannot do anything unloving, etc. God is just, therefore we imagine He conforms to our brutal and bloody notions of "justice".

But the idea that God’s freedom is restricted by His nature is very far from true Christian teaching. In fact, it is of huge importance to maintain that God’s freedom is absolute. There are no restrictions upon it, period. God is not dictated to by His nature. Whatever He does, He does strictly because He freely wills to do it.

Unlike created beings, God does not just “come with” a given nature. Nothing and nobody endows God with His nature or decides for Him what His Being is. We have to say either that He Himself determines His own Being, or else that His Being is indeterminate. I’m not sure which is correct (I currently lean toward the latter), but in either case, God remains radically free.

And it is precisely because this freedom is perfect, unrestricted by anything at all, that we can be assured He will never lie, never break His word, never do anything evil.

When we lie or do any other kind of evil, it is for self-protection or self-gain. But God needs no protection and He to Whom everything belongs has nothing to gain – or lose – in any case. He has no motive but love unalloyed.

Put another way, to do evil is to become, in some degree, a slave to that evil (John 8:34), a slave to self-interest. God has no self-interest. Moreover, because it is perfect, God's freedom does not descend, as our imperfect freedom sometimes does, to slavery or to compromise. God is never a slave at all, in any degree, to anything, not even to His own nature. “God cannot be tempted with evil” (James 1:13) – not because His freedom is limited, but precisely because it is not.

P.S.) God cannot endow human beings with true freedom, either, if He Himself doesn't have it.


More Warped Humor

On our way back from the hospital around noon today, Demetrios and I stopped in a pizza place for lunch. Near our table was a bulletin board with pictures of somebody's grandchildren, presumably the owners'.

Well, I couldn't help myself. There were extra thumbtacks on the board. I added a photo of a granddaughter of my own, together with her parents.

Now all I have to do is bring them to that restaurant sometime soon...


Post-surgical Delirium

That's what Mom has, not a stroke.

Her blood pressure also dropped, several times, to a dangerously low level, but as of this morning, is back to normal. That, however, has not helped her thinking. She's loopy. We are going to wait another day, and if her mind hasn't cleared by tomorrow, we are going to ask for some anti-psychotic meds to see if they will help.

Meanwhile Dad, who has an enlarged prostate we've been hesitant to have corrected, because of his age (87), was having some sort of urinary trouble. So yesterday while I sat all day with Mom, Wendy and Demetrios looked after Dad. For a while it appeared he would have to go to the Emergency Room, but then his pain went away and he was found to have been urinating without much problem all along. Then he thought it humorous to cry out loudly whenever he was touched, only to break out in a grin a moment later and say, "Just joking!"

So we've had a stressful couple of days, but things seem to be moving in the right direction now. Demetrios has left for Richmond, and I will follow by train whenever the time seems right.

Meanwhile, Wendy and I get to spend some sisterly time together.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Away for a While

My mother appears to have had a stroke. Or at any rate, something is seriously wrong with her since her surgery Monday. She sees double, talks nonsense (not all the time, but much of the time) and hallucinates. Or else her Uncle Alf really did visit her from the world beyond...take your pick.

Demetrios is packing his things, and in a few moments we will be off to Northern Virginia to be with her. Wendy is holding the fort meanwhile, but she shouldn't have to be alone right now, either.

Raccoons and birds have gone to Chris. Tiki the Mouse has been released. So have the four remaining squirrels. Neighbors caring for cats.

Please pray for my poor Mom. She is not paranoid and not a hypochondriac, so when she says she's dying, one has to give some weight to her opinion, even while hoping she's wrong!


Monday, May 12, 2008

Bionic Woman

My mother had her left shoulder replaced today. The surgery went very well. She did have one crisis afterward, when her blood pressure dropped drastically; she had lost a lot of blood during the operation. She said her chest hurt and she couldn't breathe, and informed Wendy she was going to die. However, the emergency team pumped her full of fluids and she's fine now. She is expected to be discharged tomorrow.

Poor frazzled Wendy is back at Mom's place resting.

Mom already has two artificial knees, with which, she walks just fine but without which she no doubt would have been in a wheelchair these past 10 or 15 years. Now she has a brand-new shoulder as well. Should be interesting to see the result of that. Mom sure is a spunky 83-year old!

Her doctor tells us she should be able to drive again in about two weeks. That's how long Wendy is staying, so it all works out very well.


Is This Sweet, or What?

Saturday as I was carrying food to the four squirrels who now live outside, two little girls on bikes stopped. One of them asked me, "Do you have lots of animals?"

When I said I had, they were full of questions. Eventually I invited them inside, very briefly, to look at Tiki Mouse, Rebel and Reba Raccoons, and all the birds. I made them leave after 5 minutes or so, though, on account of their parents not knowing where they were, and their not knowing me. They announced, as they were leaving, that they were starting up a "Pet Services" business, and promised to bring me a brochure.

Two hours later, Allie and Cait knocked on my door and handed me an envelope that looked like this.

When I opened the envelope, here is what I found inside. I thought it was precious and I had to share it with you.

(I have cropped out the phone number that is written in red on the bottom of this last picture.)

This evening, the girls came by again and asked, "Do you have any animal chores for us to do?"

I said, "Yes," and had them carry the squirrels' food outside for them, and showed them how to feed the baby birds, which they had a ball doing. AND they got paid. I gave them a dollar for their effort.

Then they headed next door, to feed Frances' fish. She has an ornamental pond full of koi.


"Orphaned" Parrot Finds New Home

This came a few minutes ago:

Petie the Amazon Parrot was adopted yesterday by a family in Ashland. His owner died yesterday morning. Apparently Petie is really taking to the new family already and has even been singing "Listen to the Mockingbird"! Can you spread the word? I've gotten a lot of interested emails/calls from folks...I'm now referring people to the Central VA Parrot Sanctuary.

Thanks for your help,


More on Rome and Religious Liberty

There's an interesting conversation going on concerning my November post, "Religious Liberty and the Pope". If that subject interests you, you're invited to chime in.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mothers Day

For Mom, it was the first Mothers Day without her youngest daughter, and for my nieces, Madison and Elizabeth, the first without their mother.

After church and brunch, Demetrios and I went up to Springfield, where Mom lives, for the family gathering. Madison and Lizzy were there, with Daniel, their father. My sister Wendy had come from California. Our brother Mike had to work today. Tisho also joined us, Wendy's eldest daughter, and John, a family friend.

We managed to have a good time, although Barbara was always on our minds.

I had to bring my six baby birds, because of their needing to be fed every half hour or so. That entertained the family and delighted Elizabeth. Here's a picture of her feeding them, in my lap.

We visited Dad in the Alzheimers unit, and he had a good time telling us all about how he had spent his day checking on something for the Defense Department. (He used to be the Secretary to the Joint Chiefs.) Then he got stuck on 8" and 12" cannons and how they work. Never mind. He was enjoying it all, and that was the point.

Then we went to dinner in one of the dining rooms of the independent living section where Mom lives. It had been hyped as very special for the occasion, but in fact it was an indifferent meal. Never mind that, either. The point was, we enjoyed being together.

Then, the long drive home in torrential rain. I kept finding myself humming, "All My Trials," a song Joan Baez used to sing.

Hush little baby, now don't you cry.
You know that your mama was born to die.
All my trials, Lord, soon be over.
All my trials, Lord, soon be over.

Here's somebody else singing it, not quite as well as Joan Baez, but in the same style. Or for a sample of it in beautiful choral style, listen here. (Scroll down to "All My Trials".)

I'm so tired that staying awake begins to feel like torture. Off to bed! Birds, thank heaven, don't eat between sunset and sunrise.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

Parrot Needs Good Home

Have you always wanted an Amazon Parrot (not sure exactly which species) but could not justify the approximatetly $1,500 to buy one? Here's your chance. This came in today from a fellow rehabber.

Had a call on the hotline yesterday, from a very sweet elderly lady who is caring for her dying brother. Her brother is concerned about finding a good home for his pet Amazon Parrot. If you know of anyone who would be interested, or have any suggestions, please let me know. I'd really like to help these folks out.

The parrots name is Petie! He is 17 years old. The man has had him 16 years. Petie likes chicken, pasta, bologna, coleslaw...all sorts of things. He talks a little, even says "go to sleep" when he's ready to call it a day!


I'd take this parrot in a heartbeat. But we do live part-time to Greece and are hoping this year to be there even longer than usual, and next year to spend 6 to 8 months there...


Smile for the Birdie(s)

There have been some new arrivals in my wild baby nursery: a nest of 5 House Finches and a lone baby Mockingbird. Of course I named the latter Tequila. It's not a very original name; I found it on the Internet. But it's fun to say Tequila Mockingbird!

They all get hungry about every half hour and start chirping for food. They get Exact, which is a special baby bird food formulated for caged birds, plus egg yolk ("Isn't that a little macabre?" asked my son, "Feeding eggs to birds, I mean!"), applesauce, strawberries, and soaked puppy chow kibbles cut into very small pieces. Plus bird vitamins.

Squirrels Isolde and Isabel, together with two other unnamed ones, are all in the outdoor cage now, in preparation for release. That will be in another week or 10 days.

Tiki the Mouse, who earlier this week was taking a whole cc of her formula, is now down to two-tenths of a cc three times a day. Reason? I put hamster mix in her cage now, together with water, and she eats so much of that she has little room left for formula. She still scampers right into my hand, though, whenever I lower it into her aquarium. And she looks adorable there, holding her "bottle" (a syringe) and sucking it, and then sitting up in the middle of my palm to clean her chin and whiskers.

As I was feeding her last night, a cousin of mine called from Michigan and said, "I have this orphaned baby mouse in my hand, and don't know what to do for it."

I said, "I have one in my hand, too!" and told her what to do.

I have no release plan for Tiki. My negligence! I intend to keep her for the rest of the summer if she stays as sweet as she is now. I hate the idea of having put so much heart and work into a critter that seems likely to be gobbled up by some hawk or owl within about 48 hours of being released.

Rebel and Reba Raccoons are down to two feedings a day, morning and evening, which makes it time to transfer them from my nursery to their Stage Two home. Randy has a very large outdoor pen where he will keep them, teaching them to climb and hunt. He will release them in September or October. He's leaving today on vacation, though, so it will be a week from Monday before they go.

Randy works, so can't take raccoons while they still need to be fed during the day. I don't have the outdoor facilities for them, so can't keep them once they are too big for a rabbit hutch. So this will be the 3rd year we've had this co-op arrangement.

Let's see: 6 birds, 4 squirrels, 2 raccoons, and 1 mouse. That makes 13 wild critters. More than twice as many as I intended to have at any given time! But really only the birds and raccoons are still being handfed.


Thursday, May 8, 2008

Cute Animal Pictures

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Holy Handkerchief! (What Would You DO With One?)


Now God worked extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them. (Acts 19:11-12

What would you do with one of these aprons or hankies if it had come into your possession?

(I'll bet you wouldn't throw it away.)


God's Law Never Killed Anyone

Yet again, this morning, I have read the assertion that the Law of God kills. Where does this notion come from? It isn’t Christian. It isn’t biblical. The biblical doctrine is that sin kills.

What the Law does is to make sin more clearly known to us. People already knew they were sinning, but they sometimes knew it only vaguely. The Law makes it clear.

Another effect of the Law is to render certain behaviors “forbidden fruit.” Then, because of our perversity, we lust after them even more than before they were forbidden. But the fault is in us, not in God’s perfect, holy, and good Law.

I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, "You shall not covet." But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful. (Romans 7:7-13)

(St. John Chrysostom’s very helpful commentary upon this passage is here.)

So please, can we have done with talk about the Law of God killing us? It's a slander of God's good, holy, Law, and it's especially disturbing coming from seminaries.

That is not the kind of God we Christians worship.

What kills us -- with or without the Law (Romans 5:13-14) -- is sin.


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

God Reveals Himself in Life More than in Literature

Yet again, I urge you to read Fr. Stephen's latest post, which is on how God reveals Himself.

Here is an excerpt to whet your appetite.

...the answer is not a literary event, but a matter of a life lived. Christ so exegetes the Father that He can say, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father,” (John 14:9). God did not make Himself known by giving us words about Himself. Those who think the Scriptures are the revelation of God are sadly mistaken. Christians are not Muslims. Christ Himself is the Word of the Father and it is through Christ that we know God, not through the Bible. The Scriptures have their place of great importance and are an essential part of the life of the Church, but that place is precisely that of which I am writing.


Monday, May 5, 2008

Update on Animals

Tiki the Mouse's eyes came unsealed Sunday! They are bright and beady, although I doubt they see much yet. Or maybe they do, as it has become noticeably easier to feed her, now that she can see the nipple which before was a blind target. She also, as I note from her gently nibbling me here and there in search of another nipple, has at least bottom teeth. I'll wait a couple of days more to put seeds in with her, and a wheel for her to run on, and a little cardboard tube that was once in the center of a roll of toilet paper, which I will line with soft cloth, for her to crawl into and sleep in.

She used to need feeding every 2.5 hours; now the time in between has stretched to 4 hours, which makes things easier on me, if not as much fun. I've started adding baby rice cereal to her formula.

Rebel the Raccoon's eyes are also opening; I expect the process will be complete by tonight and we shall be able to "meet" one another, eyeball to eyeball. Rebel and Reba as of Sunday went from four feedings a day to three. To their formula, made in a blender, I'm now adding soaked, kibbled puppy chow, which will become their staple eventually, supplemented by fruits and veggies and other treats.

I've wormed them once already, which is important both for raccoons and their care-givers, as they can have a certain roundworm which, in humans, goes straight to the brain and kills.

Yes, I do wear latex gloves when handling the raccoons, not only on account of that, but also as a precaution against rabies, which, in Virginia, raccoons carry more frequently than any other species. The incubation period for the rabies virus is unknown in raccoons. Oh, and rest easy; I've also had my own rabies vaccinations. (Pre-exposure shots are three in the arm, not the stomach.)

Squirrels Archie, Mozart, and Beethoven have all learned to prefer sleeping elsewhere than in the artificial nests I had constructed for them inside their outdoor cages. I suppose they sleep in trees. At any rate, they still come around my front door, looking for food, which I put out every day for them and shall, for as long as they want it.

My daily schedule up to now, which however relaxes as of today, has been:

7:00 a.m.: feed mouse and give her fresh bedding. Feed and burp raccoons and change their bedding. Go back to bed.

9:30: feed mouse and put out bowls of formula for squirrels

12:00 noon: feed mouse; feed and burp raccoons; change their bedding

12:30 p.m.: make fresh formulae for next 24 hours; retrieve bowls from squirrel cage; wash all dishes and implements in bleach and detergent.

2:30 p.m.: feed mouse

5:00 p.m.: feed mouse; feed and burp raccoons; change their bedding

7:30 p.m.: feed mouse; give squirrels fresh bowls of formula plus extra nibbles

10:00 p.m.: feed mouse. Retrieve squirrel bowls and wash them.

11:30 p.m.: feed and burp raccoons; change their bedding. Put fresh newspapers under squirrel cage, as they are now asleep in their hanging nest. Check their water bottle and bring them fresh nibbles for when they wake up in the morning.

12:30 a.m.: feed mouse and go to bed

3:30 a.m.: feed mouse and go back to bed

This schedule doesn't count things like shopping for some of their food (for ARK doesn't supply all of it) or doing all their laundry, separately of course, or just playing with them!


Sunday, May 4, 2008

What God's Love for Sinners Does Not Mean

You can google, “Does God Hate Sinners” and find hundreds of writings by people, mostly very ignorant people and many quite hostile people, who believe He does. Reading some of these, it occurred to me that a very good paradigm for us in thinking about the subject is alcoholism (or any other form of addiction). This is because most of us are able to see in alcoholism a multi-dimensional problem. Most of us realize it is not a purely moral problem, but primarily a disease. On the other hand, alcoholism is not merely a disease, either, and to fail to see its moral aspect is to take too shallow a view of it. Well, the same things are true of sin in general. The disease model is the best, most accurate one, yet it alone is insufficient, for sin does also have a moral dimension.

I once had a co-worker who confided to me that she was a binge drinker who attended AA “every night but Tuesday.” She met a very nice man there and they got married and had a daughter. So far as I know, they have been living happily ever after.

But let’s do a thought experiment and say they didn’t. Let’s suppose she fell back into drinking heavily. She failed as a mother and failed as a wife. Her husband divorced her and got custody of the child. She lost her job. Eventually, she landed on the street, homeless, most likely prostituting herself in order to eat and to support her addiction.

Suppose this woman is your sister, with whom you have always been close. Suppose further that you are mature person and a Christian. What will your attitude toward her be?

You will hate her drinking. You will hate the smell of alcohol on her breath. You will hate the way she slurs her words when drunk, and loathe the sight of her staggering. You will hate that she has become a drunk, a street person and a prostitute. And yes, you will be angry with her for having let all this happen, and for continuing to drink, and not having the fortitude to stop.

But note, all your displeasure and anger will arise from the fact that you love her! If she were a nobody to you, just another anonymous whore, you wouldn’t have these feelings. You might feel pity, you might feel compassion, but if she weren’t anybody you cared about, you wouldn’t be angry. (Unless, of course, you were simply a hostile person, showing it in the form of moral indignation.)

It’s like that with God. If He hates our sin and He hates what we have done to ourselves and He is angry with us, all these are not contradictions to His infinite love, but expressions of it.

So what does it mean that God loves you always, no matter what? And what does it not mean?

1.) It doesn’t mean you get a free ride. Yes, God will be patient with you, will treat you with unfailing kindness, will cherish you, in whom, after all, He still sees His own image, however disfigured. But all sin is like alcoholism or drug addiction: it ruins you. All by itself, without any help from God, it destroys you. Other forms of sin may do so more subtly than alcoholism, less visibly, but just as surely. That’s the very reason God hates it. Sin is self-punishing, in other words. You don’t get a pass.

2.) It doesn’t mean God is pleased with you. But it does mean He sympathizes, empathizes, has most tender compassion. When He took upon Himself our fallen human nature, yet without sinning, He took all of our frailties upon Himself, as well, as if He had been an alcoholic, yet without ever losing His sobriety. He has been tempted in all points the same as we have been, although without sin. He knows what it is like. He knows our frailty. He understands not from the outside, but from the inside, what being human is like.

3.) It doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to be saved. Yes, He will save every alcoholic in the sense that eventually He will bring each one to a “place” beyond the grave where there is no alcohol, but whether any given alcoholic will be grateful for that or be tortured by it remains to be seen. He will bring you and me to where there is no sin, but whether we feel delivered or deprived, indeed destroyed, depends upon us.

4.) Does God love you so much as to accept you as you are? Well, let’s put it this way: He loves you as you are. But a person who truly loves a drunk will never be content to see that person stay as he or she is. If you really love an alcoholic, you do not give him a drink no matter how he begs, or weeps, or curses. Yes, God loves you as you are, but He also loves you too much to leave you as you are. He always wants better for you.

5.) His unconditional love for you doesn’t mean God winks at evil. He corrects evil. But correcting evil does not mean being hateful about it, being spiteful, vengeful, retaliatory. Sin itself, like alcoholism, already heaps misery upon misery on us; there is no need for God to add yet more. Correcting evil means changing it into good. You correct illiteracy not by not by beating a person, but by teaching him to read and write. Alcoholism is corrected not by jailing the drunk, but by, for example, his learning to follow the Twelve Steps.

6.) God’s eternal, unfailing love means His is always on your side. Now an alcoholic who begs you for a drink may not think you are on his side when you refuse to give him one. He may be unable to see it that way. But it is still so. That God is always on your side does not mean He is not actively opposing all you do. Being on your side means working in your true best interest. Even if God sees fit to shorten your life because of your sin, it is because He knows this is for the best, not only for those you are harming, but also even for you. You will have less to regret forever and ever.

7.) God’s infinite, unchangeable love does mean He is always and forever good to you. Not necessarily gentle, but always good, even when, for your benefit, it’s a harsh goodness. He will never mistreat you. Even if you are in hell, it will be not because He is retaliating against you, but because you are incapable of heaven, incapable of returning His boundless, unfathomable love which is heaven.

I think many people misunderstand one or more of these points about God's love, and those misunderstandings are one factor in their belief that God hates some people some of the time. They think if He didn't, He would be unjust. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

God is love.

God is light.

In Him is no darkness at all.