Chronicles (in two threads)

Historical Challenge of Chronicles
The inconsistencies within the text of Chronicles versus Samuel-Kings does not imply that one is truth and the other lies.  Inconsistencies also occur in the creation narrative.   What comes to mind, however, if we allow the inconsistencies to occur and still regard the whole text as valid is that we must accept the entire canon as the Word of God.  It isn’t a textbook or an encyclopedia.  If we are to believe the entire text as God’s Word, we must allow variations to exist for a purpose. Continue reading “Chronicles (in two threads)”

Walter Hilton

Most likely written to an anchoress, Walter Hilton offers instruction and guidance concerning the spiritual journey towards God in his Ladder (or Scale) of Perfection. This text, however, is prefaced by Clifton Wolters in the introduction; Wolters reflects on Ladder and Hilton specifically with a sense of objectivity mingled with admiration. Wolters, familiar with Hilton’s medieval writings, deposits the mystic’s guiding ideas into several larger topics: the mystic life and the age of Hilton’s “contemporaries,” the path of contemplation including its stages as well as its potential frustrations, and the joining of one’s spirituality with Christ. Continue reading “Walter Hilton”

Joshua

While not the only theme of the book of Joshua, a strong current within the text is a handbook, if you will, regarding the qualities necessary in righteous leadership. Joshua is not the first significant leader of the Old Testament; he follows Abraham, Noah, Jacob, Moses, and Aaron. However, his lot is given to him from the former leadership of Moses — the one who lead the people of God out from the hands of Pharoah. He came to leadership having apprenticed under Moses and learned the habits of leadership, and consequences of failure, vicariously through Moses. Continue reading “Joshua”

What I Heard from the Pulpit…

Today is the celebration of the Transfiguration, a moment in Luke’s Gospel (our reading passage for today) in which Jesus reveals Himself in His Divine Glory to Peter, John, and James.  The sermon this morning offered a different perspective on this event.  The lectionary reading also included Moses, face shining from having experienced the Glory of God atop the Mount, descending from Mt. Sinai and being asked by Aaron and the Israelites to cover his face — they were scared of what they saw in Moses. Continue reading “What I Heard from the Pulpit…”

The Cloud of Unknowing

“The quality of the contemplative effort which measures all progress in the interior life of the solitary is immediately related to the reflex conscious awareness of the self in its relationship to God, the supreme and single object of its desire” (64). While James Walsh in writing the Introduction to The Cloud of Unknowing understands that the author is not directly writing his text to a single individual nor is the author writing strictly for a solitary contemplative as Walter Hilton did in The Scale of Perfection, Walsh does bring forward the author’s intention of addressing all who desire to love God with intentionality and of single purpose. Continue reading “The Cloud of Unknowing”

Genesis

The book of Genesis offers identity, purpose, and hope to God’s chosen people through the land; this tangible gift from God allows the people to suffer and thrive according to their obedience to Him and commitment to His promise.

God gave to Adam the gift of land in the garden of Eden, to tend it and care for it.  It was in this place where God came to man and walked with him, shared a relationship.  At the time of the falling out, God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden and cursed the ground to which Adam would seek for food (Gen. 3:17).  So sacred was this place that upon being driven from Paradise, God sent a cherubim to guard the land and the tree. Continue reading “Genesis”

Dancing About Architecture

Life is funny: there can be times when we feel so connected to one another, we are in sync and almost finishing one another’s sentences, and there other times that we could be sitting beside one another right now but there is a gap miles wide between us. Sometimes we can be engaged with one another and other times that no matter what we say, no one can understand exactly what is going on inside. There’s a quote that has been attributed to many people over the years, but it’s in a movie that I really like called Playing by Heart, and the line goes like this: “Talking about love is like dancing about architecture.”

The Trinity is much like this quote: we can talk and talk, and while the discussion would be amazing, our understanding would still leave us wanting more. Continue reading “Dancing About Architecture”

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“This realization of your own unworthiness will drive out of your heart all unreasonable interest in other people’s affairs and criticism of their actions, and will compel you to look at yourself alone, as though there were no one in existence but God and yourself.  You should consider yourself more vile and wretched than any living creature, so that you can hardly endure yourself, so great will be your consciousness of inward sin and corruption…For whatever defiles your soul or hinders its knowledge and experience of God must be very grievous and painful to you.”

~Walter Hilton, The Scale of Perfection, Book 1 Chapter 16

Pray for me…

I first became aware of Josèmaria Escrivá’s teachings in a little movie called The DaVinci Code.  However, as we all know, that film is a highly entertaining one built upon a teeny tiny foundation of pseudo- truth and an overwhelming amount of fiction, fantasy, and “what if”?  In the past few years I have discovered that the teachings of St. Escrivá to be ones that do not allow any “wiggle room” or opportunities to make excuses and rationalizations — something that I can do with great flair! Escrivá cuts to the heart of my humanity and challenges me to be better, stronger, through the grace and passion of Christ.

“Put your heart aside. Duty comes first. But when fulfilling your duty, put your heart into it. It helps.”

“You strayed from the way and did not return because you were ashamed. It would be more logical if you were ashamed not to return.”

“Is it not true that your gloominess and bad temper are due to your lack of determination in breaking the subtle snares laid by your own disordered desires? The daily examination of conscience is an indispensable help if we are to follow our Lord with sincerity of heart and integrity of life.”

“Don’t say, ‘That person bothers me.’ Think: ‘That person sanctifies me.’ ”

“If obedience does not give you peace, then you have pride.”

I believe that we should all seek those people in our Christian past with whom we can identify. The saints give us hope that, even through our ugly and selfish humanity, we can continue to be sanctified through the blood of Jesus. If I know I fail at holding to the teachings of Escrivá, how much more do I fail my God. But, thanks be to God and with His help, I pray that He draws me closer and continues to change my heart.

Pray for me, St. Josèmaria Escrivá, a sinner.

How Much Does It Cost?

Henri Nouwen writes: “Nuclear man no longer believes in anything that is always and everywhere…He lives by the hour…His art…is a combination of divergent pieces, is a host impression of how man feels at the moment [emphasis mine].” Further, “We see man paralyzed by dislocation and fragmentation, caught in the prison of his own mortality…We also see exhilarating experiments of living by which he tries to free himself of the chains of his own predicament.” And finally, there are those who have, “deep-seated unhappiness with the society in which the young find themselves. Many young people are convinced that there is something terribly wrong with the world…everywhere we see restless and nervous people, unable to concentrate and often suffering from a growing sense of depression.”

It would be easy to slip into a ministry that tries to be all to all. We see a great deal of pain and isolation and disappointment in our world. We see congregants on Facebook share frustrations, speak out using less-than-Christian language, and come against others with something akin to a verbal-online flogging. However, Continue reading “How Much Does It Cost?”

There is Peace in Patterns

I have the immense honor of writing for The Ambrose Institute, a spiritual formation  and congregational development program through Nashotah House Theological Seminary. This is my latest article written for Formatio, the online journal of Ambrose.  Just click the links and see the amazing work they do to form and encourage the Body of Christ!

Is it live, or is it Memorex?

In post-modern culture we guard the written word and even the ideas behind the ideas with patents, trademarks, and copyrights.  We protect and lay claim to our creation like a dog marks its territory.  However, there are some scholars who find it necessary to analyze the verbiage, syntax, and style — to distinguish the “authentic” writing of Paul from those of a scribe or follower.  There are scholars who say that only about seven of the thirteen letters attributed to Paul truly had his direct hand upon them.  Of those are the Pastoral Epistles — 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus — are truly doubted as to have been written by Paul and significant doubt exits as to the direct authorship from Paul of Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians.  The main argument for doubt is the variations in style of Greek vocabulary — as Paul mainly wrote in Koine Greek and referenced the Septuagint rather than the Hebrew canon.

For Paul and other writers of his age, Continue reading “Is it live, or is it Memorex?”

Ah! The humanity of man!

It seems to me that we mortal men desire to see relevance and to understand meaning in every event.  We need to understand the “why” and “how” of things, and by doing so we validate that thing’s presence, its breaking through into our little worlds with its disruptions or smoothing over.  We need the link of “if…then…” made clear and resolute. In doing so, we feel we understand and might be justified in the conclusions we draw.

If we seek Jesus in every detail of the Old Testament, we will find Him.  However, are we correct in doing so?  If we look to the value of historical and cultural framework of the Old Testament as a literary text, Continue reading “Ah! The humanity of man!”

Aquinas, Grace, and Sacrament

Aquinas speaks to the relation between nature and grace concerning the sacraments.  However, we should first understand the value of grace according to Aquinas and his predecessors.

In Question 2, Article 10, he references Augustine:  “By the same grace every man is made a Christian, from the beginning of his faith, as this man from His beginning was made Christ.”  Aquinas follows by underscoring the unity of nature and grace, “But this man became Christ by union with the Divine Nature.  Therefore this union was by grace.”  He continues in Question 7, Article 11 by stating that grace is taken in two ways:  the will of God graciously given and as the free gift of God.  Finally, he speaks to the unending effect of grace because of its unity with the Divine Nature.

Aquinas later addresses sacrament and grace in Question 38, Article 6.  He again references Augustine in reminding us that “our sacraments are signs of present grace,” and he contrasts our present grace with the Old Law which were signs of a future grace.

Understanding the nature of grace and what a sacrament is a signifier of, Continue reading “Aquinas, Grace, and Sacrament”

Jesus in a Box

 

I do not believe that, as a general rule, we live into the phrase “‘the kingdom of God, as Jesus proclaimed.  I do not believe we understand the gravity and power of its implication; because of the limitations inherent in our humanity, I believe we limit God.

Let me step back and lay some groundwork for my assertion.  What does it mean to say “the kingdom of God”?  What is it?  When is it?  And where?

R.T. France in A Theology of the New Testament notes that within our definition and awareness of a “kingdom,” we perceive it as a geographical region.  I would also say that our definition would encompass a sense of authority as in a ruler/servant or leader/disciple relationship.  France continues by including the Jewish heritage of the idea bringing it to “an eschatalogical dimension.”  France references Norman Perrin in that the kingdom of God is a symbol, and it seems that notion does have some merit in that the phrase itself represents a concept and reality so much more vast than we can fathom.  (I am thinking of Julian of Norwich in that her Revelations of Divine Love speaks of the hazelnut…all that is resides within the smallness of such a thing.) France continues to state that “in the teaching of Jesus the kingdom of God is both present and future.”  He ends by saying that it “is the subject of an active verb — it is in itself a dynamic agent.” Continue reading “Jesus in a Box”

Agnes, Martyr of Rome 304

Think back to that year before you were officially a “teenager.” What were you doing when you were 12 years old? I think to when I was 12 and remember I was completing my last year of braces, worried about pre-pubescent acne, and getting irritated on a daily basis at how nosey my parents were. I was discovering rock music on the radio and learning to play the flute in band. I was focused on my friends and the fact that I couldn’t tame my curly hair into submission. My life orbited around my needs, my plans, my desires.

We honor and celebrate Agnes, our martyr in Rome in the year 304. This lovely young woman lived in an era of great Christian persecution under the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Under this Emperor as well as others who shared his opinions, Christians were stripped of all rights as citizens, beaten, burned, tortured, and killed for their faith. Continue reading “Agnes, Martyr of Rome 304”

A cuppa tea with…Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer

Silent Meditation vs Empty Chatter

In this chapter Thomas moves further into meditative prayer…what it is and certainly what it is not.  He encourages us that interior prayer is simple, silent, and often expressed through small acts.  He cautions us that we convince ourselves that to have a “true prayer life” we must be engaged in “compulsive routines” filled with wordy, repetitive prayers.  This behavior, Thomas states, builds barriers between our own spirits and the Holy Spirit who desires to commune with us.

Thomas brings in St. John of the Cross, “The more spiritual a thing is the more wearisome they find it.”  In other words, we continue in behavior that “stimulates [us] psychologically” but is in effect empty, worthless, and counter-productive.

God’s response is to enshroud us in “darkness” and “night” which feels lonely and isolating and horrible and painful.  It breaks our confidence.  It confuses our minds.  It makes us doubt our faith.

But it is this painful darkness that God uses to re-direct us back to His purity and simplicity and grace.  Thomas encourages us, “It is precisely in this way that, being led into the ‘dark night of faith,’ one passes from meditation, in the sense of active ‘mental prayer,’ to contemplation, or a deeper and simpler intuitive form of receptivity.”

When those dark times come, and we shuffle through the arid desert of our soul, Thomas directs us to turn to the Psalms or Holy Scripture rather than falling back “to the conventional machinery of discursive ‘mental prayer.”

A cuppa tea with… Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer

Inertia.  Coldness.  Confusion.

Thomas speaks of these as we all experience them at some point (or many points) in our prayer life.  What do we do when faced with these empty spaces, these times when nothing seems to matter and nothing gains traction?

He warns that this might be a time when we have separated our prayer life, our ascetic life, from the rest of our existence.  This is folly and “bad theology.”

“Meditation has no point and no reality unless it is firmly rooted in life.”  We will fail to move forward in an ascetic journey if we cleave the two parts.

Another error is blaming ourselves when we “feel” separated from God.  There will be moments and times of elevation; there will be moment and times of “the night of the senses.”

He warns against discouragement and helplessness.  We must not rely upon feelings for fulfillment as they are immature.  Instead, during those times of night in the soul, we are to remain faithful and remember that God has given us the Spirit who will intercede for us with words and groans that we cannot utter (Romans 8:11-27).

“Our efforts…are directed to an obedient and opperative submission to grace…which implies our receptiveness to the hidden action of the Holy Spirit.”

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imageThis compelling love, steeped in silence, is required of every soul.  This obedience to the present moment is, moreover, an act whereby they dedicate themselves totally to the external will of God as a matter of course. This is their rule, method, law and way.  Pure, simple and sure, it is a straight path along which souls walk with courage and faith, looking neither to the right nor the left, unconcerned with everything else.

~~Jean-Pierre de Caussade, The Sacrament of the Present Moment

A cuppa tea with… Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer

 

Thomas suggests instead of seeking a “method” of prayer, we should choose a “life” of prayer.  It should be intentional behavior to life and not akin to the enthusiasm of acquiring a new skill.  God calls us to life with HIm; prayer is that response.  In meditation we face the harsh realities of ourselves and the nothingness we are apart from God.  Additionally, “It would be a mistake to suppose that mere good will is…a sufficient guarantee that all our efforts will finally attain to a good result.”   Merton recommends spiritual direction coupled with humility.  That spiritual direction will help us to recognize God’s grace and movement in our lives, to learn humility and patience, and to remove those obstacles barring us from moving deeper in prayer.

A cuppa tea with… Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer

imageThomas mentions the various forms of contemplative prayer including psalmodia, lectio, oratio, contemplatio.  These prayers are a way to turn from the world to God, but “to separate meditation from prayer, reading, and contemplation, is to falsify our picture of the monastic way of prayer.”  Singing hymns and songs of praise, sharing in the liturgy, and fellowship with our brothers and sisters certainly have their places.  It is the movement within contemplative prayer, however, which offers “watchful listening” and presents a prayer of the heart involving the whole man.  St. Basil wrote that the work of the hands is in itself a meditation, thankfulness, and glorification to God.  “In the ‘prayer of the heart’ we seek God himself present in the depths of our being and meet him there by invoking the name of Jesus in faith, wonder, and love.”

John 17:6-19

Pray with me.

Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Many of you have children. When you had your first child and became a parent, no one gave you an instruction book. I am reminded of the film that came out in the late 80s called Parenthood with Steve Martin. Steve’s character and his wife Mary Steenburgen have another couple over one afternoon for lunch. Steve’s little boy comes stumbling into the kitchen with a bucket on his head. The little boy missed the hallway and hit the wall instead. Oblivious to the notion that he could actually take the bucket off his head and see his way down the hall, he continued to bonk his bucket-covered head against the wall. The visiting couple, unsure whether to hysterically laugh or help this little mess, look to Steve and Mary, and Mary just shrugs her shoulders and says, Continue reading “John 17:6-19”

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image

That our thoughts spoil everything all the trouble begins with them.  We must be careful to reject them immediately [when] we see that they are neither necessary to our occupation at the moment nor conducive to our salvation, and return to our communion with God, wherein is our only good.

~Br. Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God

Millstones and Innocents

Saint Agnes of Rome

Agnes, Martyr of Rome, 304

Think back to that year before you were officially a “teenager.”  What were you doing when you were 12 years old?  I think to when I was 12 and remember I was completing my last year of braces, worried about pre-pubescent acne, and getting irritated on a daily basis at how nosey my parents were.  I was discovering rock music on the radio and learning to play the flute in band.  I was focused on my friends and the fact that I couldn’t tame my curly hair into submission.  My life orbited around my needs, my plans, my desires.

We honor and celebrate Agnes, our martyr in Rome in the year 304.  This lovely young woman lived in an era of great Christian persecution under the Roman Emperor Diocletian.  Under this Emperor as well as others who shared his opinions, Christians were stripped of all rights as citizens, beaten, burned, tortured, and killed for their faith.

Known as one of the most heinous periods of Christian persecution and lasting for 10 years, this attempted purge of all Christians out of the life of Rome affected our little Agnes.  She was caught up in this tumultuous time.  She was imprisoned for her faith and tortured as she would not renounce her faith and turn to Rome’s pagan pantheon of gods.  Ultimately, our Agnes was killed for her faith to Christ:  some say she was burned alive and some say she was beheaded.  In the end, she chose her faith and peace in Christ despite all worldly pain and suffering it caused.  Our little Agnes was only 12.

I am struck by this child in that here I stand, caught up in my own stresses and worries and frustrations.  I am easily irritated by those situations I cannot control.  I am easily disheartened when events do not turn out as I anticipated, when people do not behave how I expected, and I am disappointed.  I then think to my life as a 12 year old and how different I was compared to Agnes!

Jesus said in our gospel that each of us should be humble like the children who were surrounding Him.  He said that we should welcome the children into our house and into our hearts.  We should welcome those innocent people who desire to be like Him, who love Him with their hearts and their smiles and their lives.  Jesus went on to warn us that if anyone acts as a stumbling block to those little innocents that we should have a stone tethered to our necks and tossed into the sea and drowned.  That is a gruesome image coming from our peaceful Christ.  But I believe those are powerful words striking to the core of how we should respond as believers in Him to those who are seeking salvation.

Those innocents could come in the form of children, much like those children who are in St. Luke’s right now.  They run and play and cry and whine.  But they are Christ’s, and I have been reminded of that fact each time I am with them and teach them.  And yet, those innocents could also be those guests and visitors who are seeking and searching for something they cannot yet name.  We must also be to them as Christ commands us to be, loving and accepting and welcoming them into our home, the church, as He welcomes us into His Kingdom.

I pray that I never forget the life of little Agnes, caught in a brutal and troubled world when she was but a child.  I pray that when I am overwhelmed by my life, that I remember hers and thank her for her sacrifice.  And, finally, I pray that I am humble as Christ has taught me and welcome all innocents into His house and allow His grace and peace to shine through me to them.

my fault, my fault, my most Grievous fault

Angel 10

Nestled amongst the major prophets of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel lies the small but powerful book of Lamentations.  While the prophets offer the dooming judgment of Almighty God upon Israel and Judah, trapped within the chaos and devastation of their own making, Lamentations allows a glimpse of the raw, exposed emotions of Jerusalem and their cry to The Almighty.  This book is a nation in agony and despair recognizing its responsibility and ownership in its current depravity and rejection by God.

This book speaks of horrors occurring against and within Jerusalem:  armies rising against the people, mothers eating their children, humility of a once-beloved nation, a beautiful city now destroyed and in dust, bodies that waste away in disease and decay.

What is most striking is the fact that this nation, according to the Sacred Writer, acknowledges her responsibility in the devastation she now faces:

“The LORD is in the right, for I have rebelled against his word…” (1:18)

“The LORD has done what he purposed, he has carried out his threat…” (2:17)

“Why should any who draw breath complain about the punishment of their sins?” (3:39)

This book reveals the anguish of the people as a nation, BUT she also accepts her portion as due consequence of her previous actions.

Additionally, through its devastation, she honors God and blesses His sovereignty:

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end…” (3:22)

“For the LORD will not reject forever…” (3:31)

“You have taken up my cause, O LORD, you have redeemed my life…” (3:58)

God’s justice is acknowledged; His mercy is present though not immediately felt by the people.  What makes this book invaluable to the canon is that this is the one book that offers the cries of an entire nation in mourning over the loss of her relationship with the Father of her ancestors.  AND she bears the full responsibility for her loss.  Even though the writer mentions the love and mercy of God, the last two verses of the book offer substantial doubt if she is a people who even could be redeemed:

“Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may be restored; renew our days as of old—-unless you have utterly rejected us, and are angry with us beyond measure.” (5:21-22).

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Simplicity

Practicing Present-ness.

“Growth in prayer is growth in simplicity, and as the powers of the soul become united with the will in the act of love, which is prayer, [the] method of operation alters and becomes less deliberate, until [those in prayer] appear to be doing nothing, a fact which often causes much heart-searching to the inexperienced.”

~FP Harton, The Elements of the Spiritual Life.

Eww! Stinky! My soul needs a BATH!!

baptism-550x367What is the point of baptism?  Why should we view that event with such reverence, and in some traditions, why is it a holy sacrament?

Historically, God stated in Ezekial 36:25, “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.”  Individually, baptism removes the original sins and wrongs from our lives and reunites us with God.  It is also a guard against future wrongs.  Ezekial continues a few verses later, “It is not for your sake that I will act; let that be known to you.”  We are to be baptized so that God can bring us back to Himself.  We also follow in the steps of Christ and complete His commandment of going to all people, making disciples, and baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Baptism is change; there is a shift that occurs within us when we are baptized.  We are made new.

But this change is not isolated to the individual only; it also alters the church body.  When a person is baptized and the church witnesses that event, we are engaged in the new life of that person.  In some traditions, we even covenant ourselves with the newly baptized person by answering positively to the question:  “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support this person in his/her life in Christ?”  We commit ourselves to that person, that new child in Christ.  The late liturgy professor at Yale Divinity School Aidan Kavanagh stated that the transformation of the individual and the church is realized at that moment of unmerited grace.

This transformation, this change, goes much further than the one event.  At each baptism we all are made new, and our covenant, our vow, to that individual is renewed each time a new person is baptized.  Like ripples on a clear, smooth lake begin with just a touch and swell ever stronger the further they spread, so should our commitment grow and intensify as time passes.  Our promise to support one another in his or her life in Christ should become stronger and more tangible.  The promise evolves into a process of formation, of raising that new person in the church body and “forming,” or helping them “conform,” to the life of Christ.  Some traditions call that discipleship, and others call it Christian formation.

What happens, though, when that baptismal covenant is neglected, when the process of formation is lost?  Fred P. Edie asks regarding youth in particular, “How long will we persist in impoverished practices of formation then profess shock and dismay at how un-Christian they turn out?”  We cannot just hope that discipleship and training will mysteriously occur.  We cannot expect that these newly baptized will learn on their own how to read the Bible, how to pray, how to discover their spiritual gifts.  We promised them, we covenanted ourselves to them, that we would support them and be accountable.  This is no small task and should not be taken lightly.  Christ says, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

Baptism, like ripples on the water, do not end when that person is either sprinkled or raised from the water.  Instead, this renewal continues endlessly through the life of the Body of Christ, and the hope and grace of Christ should bond us ever closer as His family.

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thoughts

Practicing Present-ness.

“That our thoughts spoil everything, all the trouble begins with them.  We must be careful to reject them immediately [when] we see that they are neither necessary to our occupation at the moment nor conducive to our salvation, and return to our communion with God, wherein is our only good.”

~Br. Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God.