We Must Believe in Hell

We must believe in hell because there is no other way to take seriously the nature and scale of evil in the world. We must believe in hell because there is no other way to do justice to the victims of darkness. We must believe in hell because, without it, Christian faith is sentimental and evasive, unable to stand up to reality in this world. Without an unflinching understanding of the radical nature of evil, Christian faith would be nothing but a suburban bedtime story.

--Fleming Rutledge

Theological Influences: William Stringfellow

Immanuel Kant famously said that David Hume woke him from his dogmatic slumber. The thinker who woke me up was Ernest Becker when I read The Denial of Death in college.

The Denial of Death just leveled me, throwing everything I believed into the air. The basic thesis of The Denial of Death is that culture and our sense of significance and purpose derived from our culture is driven, deep down, by unconscious death anxiety. It's a Freudian analysis with an existential twist. Basically, everything that makes your life significant and meaningful is a neurotic defense mechanism to help console you in the face of death.

Since childhood I had been preoccupied with death as an existential predicament. Because of this, in college I was quickly drawn to the existentialists. I felt their ability to articulate the specter of meaninglessness in the face of death was spot on.

In short, most of my faith struggles were existential in nature, often with death as the root problem. And the best articulation of our existential predicament was Becker's The Denial of Death.

And yet, during years and years of searching, I could never find a Christian thinker who put death at the center of our predicament. For the theologians and the pastors our great problem is sin and the righteousness of God. But sin and the righteousness of God weren't issues for me. I've never worried about going to hell. It's just not an interesting question for me. The final destiny of my pitiful soul seemed like pretty small potatoes in the grand, cosmic scheme of things. Hell has always bored me. For me the issues were death, anxiety, and meaning. For me, sin was never the issue. For me the issue was always, "What's the point of it all?"

For decades I was theologically stuck. I couldn't find a theologian who really, deeply resonated with me. Then I discovered William Stringfellow.

Here's the great and distinctive aspect of Stringfellow's work: Death is our problem. Not sin, death.

With William Stringfellow I finally had found a theologian who could help me pick up the pieces of my faith after its collision with The Denial of Death.

The Divine Comedy: Week 12, The Tears of the Fall

As I've said, I'm not planning on giving a blow by blow account of each circle of hell. I might be the odd reader in this, but I don't find the punishments of the damned all that interesting or edifying. In this series I'm just picking and choosing images, moments or lines in the Comedy that strike me, so my coverage of the Comedy is going to be very spotty.

In Greek mythology there were five rivers in the Underworld. You likely know of the river Styx. (Name of an awesome rock band as well.) The other four rivers were the Lethe, Archeron, Phlegethon, and Cocytus. These rivers were associated with various aspects of the Underworld, either gods or emotions. For example, the river Lethe is the river of oblivion, causing the dead to forget their earthly life. The Phlegethon is a river of fire, punishing the dead. The Cocytus is a river of wailing and lamentation.

These rivers show up in the Divine Comedy, but Dante gives the mythology his own twists. In Canto XIV, Vigil and the Pilgrim come to the fiery, blood-filled river Phlegethon. There Vigil explains to the Pilgrim the source of all the rivers running through hell. Virgil describes a giant old man who is encased within Mount Ida on the island of Crete. The "Old Man of Crete" isn't to be taken literally, Dante is using it as a symbol.

Dante mixes mythical and Christian symbols in describing the Old Man of Crete. The Old Man of Crete represents human history, similar to the statue described in Daniel 2 representing four kingdoms.

The twist Dante adds is that the Old Man of Crete is crying, and his tears flow through the fissures of the ground to create the rivers of hell. Virgil describing this:
"Every part of him, except the gold, is broken
by a fissure dripping tears to his feet,
where they collect to erode the cavern's rock;

from stone to stone they drain down here, becoming
rivers: the Acheron, Styx, and Phlegethon,
the overflow down through this tight canal

until they fall to where all falling ends:
they form Cocytus. What that pool is like
I need not tell you. You will see, yourself." 
The Cocytus, if you haven't guessed, flows to the lowest level of hell where we'll find Lucifer being punished. Also, the Lethe is missing in Virgil's description here, but it is encountered later in the Comedy.

The theological point of interest here, for me at least, is how the tears of the Old Man are taken to represent the tears of fallen humanity down through the ages.

Basically, the tears of the Fall create the rivers of hell.

I find something beautiful, tragic, sad, and scary in that vision.

Think of all the tears we have caused. Think of all the tears caused by hate, abuse, war, oppression, violence, hurtful words, and broken promises.

How many tears have you caused? How many people have you made cry?

All those tears, none of them lost, gathering and flowing into the terrible judgment of God.

Theological Influences: The Churches of Christ

I think I jumped too quickly to college and George MacDonald when thinking about theological influences. I should have started with my faith tradition, the Churches of Christ.

The most profound and lasting theological influence in my life has been being a lifelong member of the Churches of Christ. To be sure, if you know anything about my faith tradition, I seem to be an unlikely member of the CoC. But appearances can be deceiving. I've written about this a couple of times before on the blog, about my ongoing debt to and investment in my tradition. So I don't need to rehash all that here.

But for the sake of this series, let me highlight four of the most important theological influences the CoC has had upon me.

First, the CoC has given me a passion for the Bible. I'm strange among progressive Christians in that the Bible isn't a stumbling block for me. Confession: I've never read a single book written by a progressive Christian author showing me how to better read the Bible. I just don't have a problem with Scripture. I find the Bible's disturbing and unsettling strangeness absolutely captivating. The fact that the Bible crashes into my worldly, sophisticated, scientifically-informed, liberal humanism doesn't make me doubt the Bible, it makes me love it even more.

Second, the CoC taught me to center the local church as the locus and focus of God's action in the world. The church is central and the White House on the periphery of my imagination. By focusing me on the book of Acts, the CoC taught me that the local church is the salvation of the world.

Third, the acapella (non-instrumental) worship of the CoC has made the gospel hymn my love language with God.

Fourth, the CoC belief that we gather on Sundays to take the Lord's Supper has profoundly shaped my Eucharistic theology. If you don't take the Lord's Supper on Sunday I don't think you've actually gone to church. In a strange and unlikely convergence, the CoC stands with the Catholics on this: the Eucharist sits at the absolute center of Christian worship and community.

Theological Influences: George MacDonald

Long time readers know how influential George MacDonald has been on my faith journey. Some of my writings about George MacDonald can be found on the sidebar of the blog homepage.

I'm starting this series with MacDonald as he was the first and most significance theological influence upon me.

The theology I grew up with was sectarian and fundamentalist. To be clear, I loved my childhood church and remain in love with my faith tradition. But in college I grew increasingly disillusioned with the narrow theology of my tradition.

Looking for some answers in college I discovered George MacDonald. It was an unlikely meeting, a Church of Christ kid finding life in an obscure Scottish novelist.

In a nutshell, here's what MacDonald gave me: The courage to believe that God is love. And by courage, I mean theological courage. The courage to look at traditions, creeds, doctrines, theology, and the Bible through the prism of God's love. Because of George MacDonald love became and remains my guiding and regulating theological criterion.

To be sure, this fierce uncompromising commitment to the confession that "God is love" has led me into troubled and heterodox waters. I have theological tools in place that help me with the theological temptations that I have to face.

Regardless, it's because of George MacDonald that my guiding theological impulse is always to ask, "How is God going to be better than we can possibly imagine?"

Theological Influences: The Ingredients of Your Soup

The other day I was pondering my theological journey. The image of a homemade soup came to mind. All sorts of ingredients mixed in to make something distinctive and unique. And you have cooked up your own soup, all sorts of influences mixing to create your unique way of thinking about God.

As I pondered, I started to list out all the "ingredients" that make up my theological soup. Having made the list I thought I'd launch a series of posts sharing each influence and how it has affected me.

As you journey with me you might want to ponder your own soup, all the ingredients you've thrown into the pot to cook up your unique and particular theological take on God, the Bible, human beings and the world.

September 1, 1939 by W. H. Auden

September 1, 1939
by W. H. Auden

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
“I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

The Divine Comedy: Week 11, Reason Slave to Appetite

I want to linger on a line from last week when I quoted from Canto V of the Inferno. In Canto V the sin of the Lustful is described this way:
I learned that to this place of punishment
all those who sin in lust have been condemned,
those who make reason slave to appetite...
The line I want to ponder is this: "Those who make reason slave to appetite."

That description of sin is interesting because I spend a lot of time in Stranger God describing how our emotions tend to be our problem in extending hospitality to strangers. "Appetite" tends to trump "reason." Or, as I like to tell audiences, being like Jesus isn't an intellectual problem, it's an emotional problem.

Specifically, our brain has two information processing systems. One system is fast, automatic, unconscious and emotional. The second system is slow, deliberative, conscious, and rational. As I describe in Stranger God, we all have heard the mandate of Hebrews: "Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some have entertained angels unawares." The rational part of our brain knows this. And yet, the automatic, emotional part of our brain is triggered by strangeness, so we experience anxiety around people we don't know or who are different than us.

And we don't just see this at work with strangers, in all sorts of situations our emotions interfere with what we know to be true or with what we know we should do. For example, we might know, intellectually, that we've been forgiven by God yet still be haunted, emotionally, by feelings of guilt.

All that to say, I find the description of the Lustful to be descriptive not just of lust, but of a dynamic that describes a whole host of moral and spiritual struggles.

How to Be a Conservative-Liberal-Socialist

Hat Tip to Brad East for pointing me to this, from Leszek Kolakowski's Modernity on Endless Trial from the chapter entitled "How to Be a Conservative-Liberal-Socialist: A Credo":

"A Conservative Believes:
  1. That in human life there never have been and never will be improvements that are not paid for with deteriorations and evils; thus, in considering each project of reform and amelioration, its price has to be assessed. Put another way, innumerable evils are compatible (i.e. we can suffer them comprehensively and simultaneously); but many goods limit or cancel each other, and therefore we will never enjoy them fully at the same time. A society in which there is no equality and no liberty of any kind is perfectly possible, yet a social order combining total equality and freedom is not. The same applies to the compatibility of planning and the principle of autonomy, to security and technical progress. Put yet another way, there is no happy ending in human history.
  2. That we do not know the extent to which various traditional forms of social life–families, rituals, nations, religious communities–are indispensable if life in a society is to be tolerable or even possible. There are no grounds for believing that when we destroy these forms, or brand them as irrational, we increase the chance of happiness, peace, security, or freedom. We have no certain knowledge of what might occur if, for example, the monogamous family was abrogated, or if the time-honored custom of burying the dead were to give way to the rational recycling of corpses for industrial purposes. But we would do well to expect the worst.
  3. That the idee fixe of the Enlightenment–that envy, vanity, greed, and aggression are all caused by the deficiencies of social institutions and that they will be swept away once these institutions are reformed– is not only utterly incredible and contrary to all experience, but is highly dangerous. How on earth did all these institutions arise if they were so contrary to the true nature of man? To hope that we can institutionalize brotherhood, love, and altruism is already to have a reliable blueprint for despotism.
A Liberal Believes:

  1. That the ancient idea that the purpose of the State is security still remains valid. It remains valid even if the notion of “security” is expanded to include not only the protection of persons and property by means of the law, but also various provisions of insurance: that people should not starve if they are jobless; that the poor should not be condemned to die through lack of medical help; that children should have free access to education–all these are also part of security. Yet security should never be confused with liberty. The State does not guarantee freedom by action and by regulating various areas of life, but by doing nothing. In fact security can be expanded only at the expense of liberty. In any event, to make people happy is not the function of the State.
  2. That human communities are threatened not only by stagnation but also by degradation when they are so organized that there is no longer room for individual initiative and inventiveness. The collective suicide of mankind is conceivable, but a permanent human ant-heap is not, for the simple reason that we are not ants.
  3. That it is highly improbable that a society in which all forms of competitiveness have been done away with would continue to have the necessary stimuli for creativity and progress. More equality is not an end in itself, but only a means. In other words, there is no point to the struggle for more equality if it results only in the leveling down off those who are better off, and not in the raising up of the underprivileged. Perfect equality is a self-defeating ideal.
  A Socialist Believes:

  1. That societies in which the pursuit of profit is the sole regulator of the productive system are threatened with as grievous–perhaps more grievous–catastrophes as are societies in which the profit motive has been entirely eliminated from the production-regulating forces. There are good reasons why freedom of economic activity should be limited for the sake of security, and why money should not automatically produce more money. But the limitation of freedom should be called precisely that, and should not be called a higher form of freedom.
  2. That it is absurd and hypocritical to conclude that, simply because a perfect, conflict-less society is impossible, every existing form of inequality is inevitable and all ways of profit-making justified. The kind of conservative anthropological pessimism which led to the astonishing belief that a progressive income tax was an inhuman abomination is just as suspect as the kind of historical optimism on which the Gulag Archipelago was based.
  3. That the tendency to subject the economy to important social controls should be encouraged, even though the price to be paid is an increase in bureaucracy. Such controls, however, must be exercised within representative democracy. Thus it is essential to plan institutions that counteract the menace to freedom which is produced by the growth of these very controls.
So far as I can see, this set of regulative ideas is not self-contradictory. And therefore it is possible to be a conservative-liberal-socialist. This is equivalent to saying that those three particular designations are no longer mutually exclusive options."

///

My observation about Kolakowski's quote above:

Of course, there are things to pick at and to add, but I think the final insight well worth considering. Much of our current political polarization in America is due to two things:

First, many political ideas and values are assumed to be contradictory and mutually exclusive when in fact they are not.

Second, our two party system provides us only with a binary choice, which forces us to choose between values, always picking some values at the expense of others. Which creates and fuels the illusion that these values are contradictory and mutually exclusive.

In short, most of what I value cannot be pigeonholed into the Republicans or Democrats. And if that's true for most of us, and I suspect it is, then we share a great deal in common in this nation but can't ever find that middle ground because of the way our two-party structure has (mal)formed our political imaginations and public discourse.

The Power of the Spirit in a Disenchanted Age

One of the reasons I keep thinking and writing about disenchantment and our need to re-enchant our faith is how it dislocates us from the imagination of the Bible.

Most of my reflections in this regard have been about the effects of disenchantment upon how we think about Satan and what many Christians describe as "spiritual warfare." This is what Reviving Old Scratch is all about.

But over the last year I've been thinking more about more about how our disenchantment affects how we view the Holy Spirit. And this is actually a bigger and more pressing problem than how disenchantment affects our views of the devil.

As a simple example, here's how Paul starts off his beautiful prayer about the love of God in Ephesians 3:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being.
How do we make sense of a petition "may you be strengthened with power through his Spirit" in our disenchanted age?

And consider this from Romans 8:
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. 
What does it mean in a disenchanted age that Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us, giving life to our mortal bodies?

I think my concerns here should be obvious. The Holy Spirit, to state the obvious, is understood to be a supernatural power that dwells in us, giving us life and infusing us with strength. Supernatural strength and supernatural life.

How do you make sense of the Holy Spirit giving you supernatural power, strength and life if you're a disenchanted Christian?

I'm not sure, but I do feel convinced that we must make sense of it if we call ourselves Christians.

The Baptism of Jesus

It's always been a bit of a puzzle within the Christian tradition about why the sinless Jesus submitted to John the Baptist's baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin.

In the Orthodox tradition especially, the answer has been that in the Incarnation God united with sinful human flesh. Thus, what Jesus carried down into the baptismal waters was the sin-bearing flesh of all of humanity, which was then cleansed in the Jordan.

In short, Jesus baptized us--all of humanity--in the Jordan.

This idea is beautifully captured in an ancient baptismal homily by Narsai, from the fifth century. Jesus speaking of his baptism:
Let it be so! I am being baptized as one deficient and in need of mercy,
so that I may fill up in my person what is lacking in the human race.
From the same race that has succumbed to sin I am also.
Let it be so! I am paying for the bond that Adam wrote in Eden.
From the same clay that passions have overwhelmed is my structure.
Let it be so! I am heating our weak clay in the water of the Spirit.
I am from the same lineage that death has swallowed and defrauded of its life.
Let it be so! I am descending in mystery into the water and raising it up.
I am a member of the race that is captive to the evil one of its own accord.
I will go forth to bring back our captive race from the rebel.
A bond of death my forefathers wrote out and succumbed to sin;
and I have made an agreement that I will pay for it in mystery first of all...
If I do not scour away bodily filth in my own person, the body will not be purified;
And if it does not descend with me to baptism, it will not receive pardon.

Bible Class with Bible-Triggered Progressives

I'm a Sunday School teacher for an adult Bible class that gathers every Sunday morning.

The class I co-teach is the most progressive class in the church, likely because as the longest running teacher in the class (over fifteen years now) I'm one of the most progressive Sunday School teachers in the church. So over time, the class has attracted the more progressive members of our church.

That said, as regular readers know, over the last few years I've grown increasingly tired of and critical of progressive Christianity. I think I'd describe myself as post-progressive. As a post-progressive I continue to hold to a suite of progressive views (politically, theologically, doctrinally, biblically), but now want to distance myself from the more dysfunctional aspects of progressive Christianity.

Regarding teaching my Sunday School class, here's an example of what I'm talking about. It's almost impossible to have a proper Bible study with Bible-triggered progressives.

Almost every page of the Bible triggers progressive Christians. Everything is problematic for one reason or another. Almost every page of the Bible triggers doubts or a faith crisis.

Imagine my job. Can you imagine what it would be like trying to do a study, say, of the book of Joshua to a class full of progressive Christians? The conquest of Canaan narrative is so, so triggering.

And for good reasons. Again, I'm post-progressive, so I get the trouble with the herem texts. I have trouble with the herem texts. Given those troubles, in a class full of progressives you have to deal with all those problems on the front end before you can get to the text itself and have a study. You spend all your class time anticipating the standard progressive objections and laying out your interpretive scheme to handle them (e.g., progressive revelation, Christological hermeneutic, Giraridan readings, non-violent readings, etc. etc. etc.) that you never really have time to talk about the text itself. When you lead a Bible study for progressives you spend so much time on hermeneutics--How shall we read this problematic, troubling story?--you never have much time for the Bible itself.

In addition, I also have a worry that by spending so much time on hermeneutics we're increasingly buffering and insulating ourselves from the strange, unsettling Word of God. If we are not very, very careful, hermeneutics can become a way of making the Bible say exactly want we want it to say before we ever listen to the text. Sometimes I wonder if hermeneutics hasn't become a way of protecting ourselves from the Bible.

To be clear, we need classes on how to read the Bible well and properly. There are harmful and damaging readings. Hermeneutics is critical. But progressive Christians have become so biblically fragile you can barely have a proper Bible study with them.

The Divine Comedy: Week 10, Spirits Carried Along by the Battling Winds

I don't plan to dwell on each and every level of Dante's hell. The Inferno isn't my favorite part of The Divine Comedy. My favorite part is Purgatory.

Still, I'd like to mention the punishment in the second circle of hell for the sins of lust.

In Canto V Virgil and the Pilgrim leave Limbo (the first circle), pass Minos, the judge of the underworld who assigns souls to their respective punishments depending upon their sins, and enter the second circle of hell.

Here in the second circle of hell the sins of the Lustful are punished. Their punishment is to be blown around through all eternity by forceful winds:
I learned that to this place of punishment
all those who sin in lust have been condemned,
those who make reason slave to appetite;

as the wings of starlings in the winter
bear them along in wide-spread, crowded flocks,
so does that wind propel the evil spirits:

now here, then there, and up and down, it drives them
with never any hope to comfort them...

...spirits carried along by the battling winds...
Do you know what I thought of when I read that description?

Capitalism and consumerism.

Many have pointed out that late-modern capitalism produces an "economy of desire." Capitalism creates desires, inflames desires, pushes and pulls desires. Everywhere you look it's the second circle of hell. Because of our desires the winds of capitalism and consumerism blow us "now here, then there, and up and down [driving us] with never any hope to comfort."

We are craving, coveting, desiring, wanting, needing, restless, envying, dissatisfied, longing, discontented, greedy, lusting, hungry, yearning.

Welcome, everyone, to the second circle of hell.

We are spirits carried along by the battling winds

Marriage and Jesus' View of Power

After a pause yesterday for Ash Wednesday, I want to circle back to my post on Tuesday about marriage and spiritual formation.

Now, the critique you often hear in relation to egalitarianism has to do with who decides in a marriage when the husband and wife disagree. I can't tell you how many times I've heard someone say, "Well, mutual submission is all well and good, but if the husband and wife disagree who is going to make the final decision?"

There are numerous responses that have been made to this someone-has-to-break-the-tie argument for patriarchal gender roles in marriage. The response I want to make goes back to the observations I made on Tuesday.

Specifically, the "Who breaks the tie?" line of argument--and I heard this argument at church just this week--reveals a poisoned, anti-Christian imagination when it comes to power and leadership.

Power, as the world understands it, resides with the person who has the "final say" in any decision. The person who "leads" is the one who has the final word, the one who makes the final decision.

But that's not power as Jesus understands power. Power, for Jesus, is found in the one washing feet, in the one who serves. That's power as Christians understand it. Power is found in the love that gives its life away on the cross.

So let's go back to the stalemated couple. Husband and wife are stuck, and a decision has to be made. At that point, the worldly, satanic question is to ask, "Who is going to break the tie and have the final word?" Getting to and asking that question reveals just how toxic and contaminated our view of power has become. If you peel the onion back and that's the question you eventually reach--Who will decide?--all you've exposed is the wormy rot at the center of your vision of marriage and power.

The proper, Christian issue about power isn't "Who will decide?" but "Let me serve you." If you peel the onion back and get to, at the core, the man on his knees washing feet, you know you're starting to think and act like a proper Christian leader.

[Clarification: The vision here is about mutual submission. If only one person is doing all the submitting that's not the vision in mind here.]

So that's my answer to the martial stalemate scenario. Assume the couple is stuck. Then ask your question about how they should resolve the stalemate. When you peel the onion back, what question do you find at the core?

Because if the question you ask is "Who will decide?" I'd suggest you pay more attention to the man washing your feet.

Forty Days

As you know, the forty days of Lent begin today. Forty days of fasting, confession, and repentance.

Forty is a highly symbolic number, a number in the Bible associated with cleansing, judgment, repentance, and preparation.

Cleansing. In the days of Noah, it rained forty days and forty nights, the flood waters washing away the sin and violence that had corrupted earth.

Judgment. Israel travels in the desert forty years while a disobedient generation dies, purifying the people to enter the Promised Land.

Repentance. Jonah preaches to Nineveh, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" And all the people repent, covering themselves in sackcloth and ashes.

Preparation. Driven by the Holy Spirit, Jesus enters the wilderness to fast for forty days and confront the devil in preparation for his public ministry.

May the coming forty days be a time of cleansing, repentance and preparation for you,

Marriage as Spiritual Formation

Last year I wrote a post about the evangelical #MeToo moment. In that post I made the observation that one of the reasons I'm an egalitarian in gender roles (home and the church) is because of spiritual formation.

That's an idea I keep thinking about and enriching.

In our debates about gender roles, many progressive Christians advocate for egalitarianism on the basis of justice. And I'm not saying that is illegitimate.

But I'm wondering if the better argument is Christological. More specifically, what sort of marriage is best positioned to form us into the image of Jesus?

Ponder the very last thing Jesus does in the gospel of John. Jesus washes the disciples feet and says, "Do this." So if we take that as our Christological aim, the telos of all our spiritual formation projects, which model of gender roles--egalitarianism vs patriarchalism--gets us closer to the man on his knees washing feet?

If marriage is spiritual formation, which does a better job--egalitarianism vs patriarchalism--in forming us into the image of Jesus?

Phrased negatively, which model of gender roles--egalitarianism vs patriarchalism--creates the greatest temptations to pull us away from that man on his knees washing feet?

In my option, the answers are clear. If marriage is trying to form us into the image of Jesus, if marriage is spiritual formation, gender roles will practice "mutual submission."

Mutual submission is the model of marriage that forms you into the image Jesus, the one found in our midst as "the one who serves" (Luke 22.27).

Don't Let the Bible Come Too Close

The matter is quite simple. The bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.

--Søren Kierkegaard

The Divine Comedy: Week 9, Which Sins are the Worst?

Last week we discussed how Dante posits levels of hell in the Inferno, with sins and their respective punishments getting worse as you move downward through the nine levels.

But how, exactly, does Dante rank the sins from better to worst?

In Canto XI Virgil shares with the Pilgrim the logic of the two-tiered system that ranks the sins in the Inferno. In Upper Hell the sins of incontinence are punished. Sins of incontinence are failures of self-control, self-mastery, self-discipline, and self-restraint. Sins of incontinence include lust, anger, gluttony and sloth.

In the Lower Hell of the Inferno are the sins of malice, sins that involve ill-will toward others. Dante adds a further distinction within the sins of malice, contrasting malice that involves fraud and deception versus malice that involves violence.

The aspect that interests me here is that in the Inferno the sins of incontinence, in lacking malice toward others, are the less grievous sins. As Virgil observes in Canto XI:
"...Do you not remember how incontinence
offends God least, and merits the least blame?

...you will clearly see why they [the incontinent] are separated
from these malicious ones, and why God's vengeance
beats down upon their souls less heavily."
If find this a very sensible and admirable system. As I noted last week, there's something sane and humane in envisioning a hell where punishments vary as befitting the crime. And here I find myself in agreement with how Dante ranks the crimes. I'm with Dante on this: the sins of incontinence are less serious than the sins of malice.

For example, as a teenager I always found it strange that having sex was perceived to be "worse" than someone being mean and hateful to others. A girl who got pregnant was horribly shamed, but a bully? Sex might be wrong, but no malice was involved. The ranking of teenage sins never rang true to me. For me, meanness was always the worse sin. We heard talk after talk about sex, but never anything about malice and meanness. And that just seemed so wrong and off to me.

I feel the same way as an adult. As another example, I know a lot of people who struggle with addictions. Those are sins of incontinence. And yet, addicts are more shamed in churches than those who act in mean, spiteful, and domineering ways. Meanness is always getting a pass. 

All that to say, it seems that in many churches we shame the sins of incontinence more than the sins of malice. And I think we got that backwards. I'm with Dante on this one.

Peter's Blurry Vision

Out at the prison we have been going through the gospel of Mark and reached Jesus' curious healing of the blind man:
Mark 8.22-25
And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.
The healing is curious in that the man's sight is initially only partly restored. Jesus has to do the healing twice.

What's going on with this?

One hint, I think, comes in the story that immediately follows. Jesus asks his disciples who he is and Peter confesses, "You are the Christ." So Peter sees Jesus.

But only partly, fuzzily. Because right after Peter's confession Jesus goes on to speak about his coming passion and death: "And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed."

Scandalized, Peter pulls Jesus aside and tries to correct him. Jesus then wheels on Peter and says, “Get behind me, Satan!"

Peter is having his vision restored like the blind man, in stages. Peter sees Jesus as the Christ, but his vision of what that means is still fuzzy and blurry. When Peter confesses his vision is only partial. Peter's sight requires additional adjustment.

Peter will eventually come to see Jesus clearly, but only in stages.

The Exact Imprint of God's Nature

What is God like?

At the end of the day, that's the only theological question we ever debate. Oh, the issues and topics vary depending upon the day, from atonement theories to sexual ethics. But behind these topical debates there's always two rival visions of God being debated. We only really debate this same question over and over again.

So, what is God like?

Hebrews 1:3 has the answer:
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.
Other translations render it as:
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.

He reflects the brightness of God's glory and is the exact likeness of God's own being.

The Son shows the glory of God. He is a perfect copy of God’s nature.
What is God like?

God is like Jesus. 

Love More


Life has a sad, tragic aspect to it. We can't escape the pain and the suffering that attends loving each other.

It's not quite accurate to say love is risky. To say love is risky is to suggest that you might actually be able to win the bet. You can't.

It's more accurate to say love is costly. If you love, you'll suffer. It's not a risk, it's unavoidable.

So what's our choice? I think Thoreau has it exactly right. Love more. It hurts, and will always hurt, but it is the only answer.

Love.

Then love more. 

Ignatian Indifference

I've been spending some time with Ignatian practices. One of the central practices is what St. Ignatius calls "indifference."

There's some similarity between the Ignatian practice of indifference with the Buddhist practice of non-attachment and the stoical practice of apatheia. But there are differences as well.

The basic idea of Ignatian indifference is to let go of anything in the world that interferes with our love and service of God and others. Some, however, might be put off by the word "indifferent," thinking that indifference means lacking concern or care. But that's not the idea. Most of us have an instinctive hungry, greedy, acquisitive stance in relation to the world. We're rushed, restless, addicted, distracted, triggered, greedy, competitive, jealous, and on and on. We live automatically and reactively, our hearts pulled this way that that.

Indifference, as I've come to understand it, isn't about not caring about the world or being apathetic about the world. Indifference is a pause. Indifference isn't about a emotional resignation and detachment. Indifference is about discernment.

Indifference is about creating a pause, a season of discernment, between the world and our response to the world. To be sure, some emotional control is required to create this space. In that sense, indifference can look stoical and ascetical. But the goal isn't to stand stoically before everything in the world. Christians believe the world was created good. The world is full of the gifts of God. And we should receive and delight in these gifts. Indifference is, thus, the pause that allows us to discern if what stands before us, what we are currently craving and hungry for, is drawing us toward or away from God.

All that to say, don't be put off by the word "indifference." Indifference isn't about not caring, detachment, resignation, or apathy. Ignatian indifference is a pause, a season to survey our hearts, creating the time and space to think about how things in the world are drawing us either closer or further away from God.

The Divine Comedy: Week 8, Levels of Hell

In Canto 5 Virgil and the Pilgrim move out of Limbo into the first ring of hell.

Perhaps the most famous aspect of Dante's Inferno is the geography and topography of hell. Hell descends toward the center of the earth through nine levels, with the sins and punishment at each level getting progressively worse.

I've always found this idea theologically fascinating, and I think many others do as well. For example, just last week one of my college students asked me, "Dr. Beck, are all sins equal?"

What's the correct answer here?

The answer seems to be yes and no. In one sense, all sins are equal in that they are all acts of disobedience and rebellion. But in another sense, sins are most definitely not equal in the degree of harm they cause to yourself and others. You shouldn't steal office supplies from work or tell white lies, but those pale in comparison to things like child sexual abuse, rape, and genocide.

However, the worry, I think, in ranking sins by severity is that such a ranking might lead to spiritual pride. My sins are not as bad as your sins. While we might agree on paper that some sins are worse than others, I think we'd also agree that comparing our sins to other people's sins, for better or worse, isn't a very spiritually healthy activity.

I think the better question here isn't if some sins are better or worse, but to focus on our shared and universal vulnerability to sin, even to the most horrific acts. Personally, I think murder is worse than, say, failing to declare a minor sum of money on my tax returns. True, we shouldn't do either, but killing someone (to say nothing of torturing someone before we kill them) is worse than failing to give the government the $5.32 you owe them. Still, the issue isn't that my tax cheating is "better" than murder. The issue is that I could be a murderer, that there isn't all that much difference between me and a murderer. I have to recognize and confess my own capacities for hate and evil. That's the recognition that is the great moral equalizer.      

That said, I find Dante's nine levels of hell, with their varying degrees of punishment, more sane than a lot of what I hear about sin and punishment in conservative, evangelical circles.

If you grew up in a conservative, evangelical church you were probably told at some point that "all sins are equal" in that all sins merited, no matter how small, the same judgment and punishment of God: Roasting and burning and screaming in hell for all eternity.

I don't know about you, but something seemed profoundly unhinged about that formulation when I encountered it as a child and teenager. The punishment just didn't seem to fit the crime. It was the worst, most horrific punishment imaginable and it was once-size-fits all, no matter what your sins were. That lack of proportionality just seemed crazy, implausible and, frankly, monstrous.

All that to say, The Divine Comedy's nine levels of hell might seem strange, and we can quibble with how it ranks the sins, but there's something reasonable, sane, and human about Dante's hell 

A Heart Cleansed of Idols

In my morning prayer and Bible reading time I was praying over this famous text in Ezekiel:
Ezekiel 36.25-28
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. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
I was struck by the phrase "from all your idols I will cleanse you." I think for many of us raised in Protestant traditions with penal substitutionary atonement what we'd normally expect in this phrase is "from all your sins I will cleanse you." But that's not what we get. What we get is "from all your idols I will cleanse you."

This text in Ezekiel helps highlight how the deep rot in our lives is idolatry. What we need to be cleansed of are false allegiances. We need to purify our hearts from idolatry.

Sin, in this view, is more a symptom than a disease. When the heart is set on false gods sin is sure to follow. Idolatry is the virus, sin is the fever.

Thus the prayer of the prophet, to be given a heart of flesh, a heart that is soft, tender, and responsive to God. It all begins with love, a heart that loves God. And it's that love that gives us the capacity, enabled by the Spirit, to follow the statues of God.

Contempt

As a psychologist reading the Bible I'm alert to emotions in the text. Recently, I was reading the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector:
Luke 18.9-14
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The emotion I noted in the very first sentence: "trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt."

Contempt is featured in both my books, Unclean and Stranger God. Unclean is primarily about interpersonal revulsion, but when I talk about disgust as a social emotion a lot of people don't see themselves in this description. They don't report feeling "revolted" or "disgusted" by people.

I could quibble with them. As I do in Chapter 8 of Stranger God--"Heart Triggers"--I bet I can mention a few different sorts of people and get you to display the classic disgust face, the quick, instinctive, microexpression of tilting your head back slightly, lifting your top lip, and wrinkling your nose. I mention vegans to Texans and they pull that face. I mention gun owners to Californians and they pull that face. Turns out, there are plenty of people we loathe.

Still, I don't want to spend a lot of time with audiences trying to convince them that they do experience interpersonal revulsion. So I take a different tack.

"How many of you, when you scroll through social media," I ask, "feel feelings of contempt or scorn? The feeling that the world is filled with idiots?"

Lots of heads nod at this point. While we might deny feelings of disgust, most of us admit experiencing feelings of contempt. Our feelings tell us that the world is full of awful, stupid people. Contempt may be the Number One feeling triggered by social media.

And as in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, contempt is regularly triggered by a judgment of moral superiority.

The sad thing is that contempt is very much related to the emotion of disgust. (Charles Darwin was one of the first who noted the connection.) And like disgust, contempt is a dehumanizing emotion. When we experience people as morally depraved or stupid we perceive them as less than fully human.

All that to say, while we might deny feeling revulsion toward people that doesn't mean we've escaped dehumanizing emotions.

You might not feel a lot of disgust, but odds are you have a lot of contempt for the world.

Disenchantment, Death and Hope

Something is happening to how Christians relate to death, especially progressive, liberal Christians.

There's a famous text about death and hope in 1 Thessalonians 4.13:
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 
Christians do not grieve in the face of death as others do, Paul says, because Christians have hope in the resurrection. But it seems, more and more, that many Christians are grieving as those who "have no hope," especially progressive, liberal Christians.

In countless talks with Christians who have lost their faith, or who are on the edge of losing their faith, I've observed that death is increasingly triggering massive faith crises among believers. Especially the death of children, teenagers, young adults, and even those in middle age. When death comes to anyone who has not lived into old age trust and faith in God is increasingly shaken.

Something about our relationship to death has changed, and this seems to be a modern phenomenon. To be sure, death has always been a challenge to faith. But for most of Christian history, the faithful have turned toward God and the hope of the resurrection for solace in the face of grief. Today, many believers don't turn toward God for comfort, we turn away from God with angry accusations.

In fact, the reigning pastoral advice in our churches is to avoid all mention of heaven in comforting the bereaved. To mention heaven to the grieving is increasingly taboo, and often described as hurtful and harmful. To be clear, I've seen the consolations of heaven deployed clumsily, too hastily, and too tritely, in ways that, yes, have been hurtful and harmful. Still, it's getting to the point where any mention of heaven is considered problematic and unhelpful. Again, in the face of death it seems Christians are increasingly grieving as if they had no hope.

Why?

First, as I have written about before, the modern world has has drastically changed our relationship with death. Two examples illustrate this. First, our relationship to our food has changed. Rarely to we see or participate in the killing and the blood that brings protein to our tables. Second, modern medicine has made the prospect of living to a ripe old age a real possibility for most of us. For generations in the West life expectancies have been steadily rising. Consequently, any death that comes before our sixties or seventies appears to us as accidental, as if some cosmic agreement between us and God has been broken. In short, modern medicine has caused us to feel entitled in regards to our life span. To die "early" or "prematurely" is now an existential shock, a cosmic effrontery, God reneging on an agreement we felt we had. And this existential shock triggers faith crises, accusations directed toward God about why a person died, especially if they died young.

In short, one reason death is increasingly triggering faith problems--causing us to walk away from God in anger rather than toward God for comfort--is how death is no longer experienced as a regular feature of daily life. Death is now experienced as an intrusive, unexpected shock. Consequently, we've lost a degree of stoic equanimity that our forbears once possessed in the face of death.

But beyond our altered relationship with death, there is a second reason why it seems many Christians are grieving without hope.

Above I said that I think progressive, liberal Christians seem particularly vulnerable to faith crises in the face of death. The reason for this is that many progressive, liberal Christians struggle with disenchantment. Many liberal, progressive Christians report doubts and skepticism about the supernatural, the miraculous, the spiritual, and the metaphysical aspects of the faith. Experiencing and expressing these doubts is almost a definition of what it means to be a liberal, progressive Christian. As Peter Rollins puts it, for these disenchanted Christians "to believe is human to doubt, divine."

Unfortunately, however, belief in the resurrection and heaven are a part of the supernatural, "enchanted" worldview that many liberal, progressive Christians have doubts about. Consequently, many liberal, progressive Christians are grieving without hope because they don't actually have hope, or at least they entertain serious doubts about the reality of the hope.

In short, pervasive disenchantment among Christians has altered our relationship with death. Doubts about the afterlife have undermined Christian hope. No wonder mentions of heaven are increasingly ineffective, and even insulting.

In the disenchanted Christian experience the only comfort we are allowed to offer each other is therapeutic. We can listen to each other. Sit in silence with each other. Carry each other. Be there for each other.

But we cannot offer hope.

The Salvation of the World: Church vs. Babylon

Last week I wrote about sharing insights about the book of Romans out at the prison. The perspective I shared came from the new perspectives on Paul, and the big takeaway was that the issue in Romans isn't how we get to heaven but how we, Gentiles especially, get access to the promise and covenant God made to Abraham.

As I pointed out last week, the reason this is important is because the covenant of Abraham is how God is working to save the world. To be included into the covenantal family, then, is to be recruited into this ongoing labor. God is saving the world through the covenantal family where Jesus is proclaimed as Messiah and Lord.

In short, God's plan is to save the world through the church, God's covenantal, Messianic family.

What strikes me about this is how many Christians don't share this imagination. For many Christians, the church is optional, it's just not necessary or important. Our imaginations are political, we are students of the science of power. We will change the world by controlling Washington DC. We will save the world through Babylon and not the church.

This is a problematic and alarming situation, to say the least, choosing Babylon over the church. Stated plainly, in turning to Babylon many Christians have rejected and turned their backs on the covenant God made to Abraham. For many Christians, the covenant God made to Abraham is entirely disposable.

Our plan is to save the world a different way.

We're going to save the world through Babylon.

The Divine Comedy: Week 7, The Harrowing of Hell

Over the last two weeks we talked about how, in Dante, Limbo holds unbaptized righteous persons. This includes the Old Testament saints. But when Virgil and the Pilgrim visit Limbo only virtuous pagans are there. Where have the others gone?

The answer involves the harrowing of hell.

The harrowing of hell refers to the events between Jesus' death and resurrection. Specifically, the early church believed that after his death Christ descended into hell and rescued all the souls, starting with Adam and Eve, who had died under the Fall. Jesus breaks down the doors of hell and leads the souls of the lost into heaven. The harrowing of hell continues to be an important doctrine to the Eastern Orthodox church and features predominately in their Easter observances and iconography. And as I write about in The Slavery of Death, the harrowing of hell is also a key notion in Christus Victory atonement theology, which places more emphasis on Jesus' resurrection than his death on the cross.

Is the harrowing of hell in the Bible? It's hinted at in a few passages:
1 Peter 3.18-20a
For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago...

1 Peter 4.6
For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

Ephesians 4.8-10
This is why it says:
"When he ascended on high,
he led captives in his train

and gave gifts to men."
(What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)
The belief that Christ descended into hell is also captured in Peter's Pentecost sermon in Acts 2 (v. 27, 31).

The harrowing of hell is also mentioned in the Apostles Creed:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
born of the Virgin Mary.
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand
of God the Father Almighty.
From thence he shall come again to judge the living and the dead...
The harrowing of hell shows up in many places in The Divine Comedy, various shades remembering the time when Christ came down, shaking the place, causing damage, and rescuing captives. I'm sure it was an exciting moment in the history of hell! We first encounter the harrowing of hell in Canto 4. Vigil was a new arrival in Limbo when it happened, and he gives first hand testimony about what he witnessed when Christ came to hell to set free the Old Testament saints:
...."I was a novice in this place
when I saw a mighty lord descend to us
who wore the sign of victory as his crown.

He took from us the shade of our first parent,
of Abel, his good son, of Noah, too,
and of obedient Moses, who made the laws;

Abram, the Patriarch, David the King,
Israel with his father and his children,
with Rachel, who he worked so hard to win;

and many more he chose for blessedness;
and you should know. before these souls were taken,
no human soul had ever reached salvation."

The Salvation of the World: On Holiness and Mission

Out at the prison we spent an evening talking about the book of Romans and I shared some of the ideas from the new perspectives on Paul.

One of the insights we spent a lot of time on is how a covenantal imagination helps connect holiness to mission.

In the popular Christian imagination the issue Paul is dealing with in Romans is how to get to heaven. And we get to heaven by grace through faith.

However, according to the new perspectives the issue pressing upon Paul isn't how we can get to heaven, the issue is how the Gentiles get access to the covenantal promises made to Abraham. And the Gentiles get access to Abraham, according to Paul, not through "works of the law" but through faith in Jesus.

So far, so good. But the issue I raised with the men in the prison study was this: We, as Gentiles, get access to the promise made to Abraham, but so what? What was that promise and why is it good news?

After the flood, the promise God made to Abraham was God's plan to deal with sin, death, and evil in the world. Through the children of Abraham God would bless all the nations. The children of Abraham would demonstrate what the kingdom of God would look like in the world. Israel would be a moral demonstration. A kingdom of priests. And seeing this, the prophets declared, the nations would stream to Zion to worship God.

In short, the promise made to Abraham is how God is fighting evil in the world.

To be sure, eschatological promises have been made to the covenantal family of God. There is a hope for a heavenly reward. But the covenant is primarily a mission, God's work in restoring and saving the world. God fights evil through the covenantal fidelity of his family. This is how holiness--living as a kingdom of priests in the midst of the world--is connected to mission.

If salvation just means "going to heaven" then we miss this connection. Once we are "saved by faith" and get a ticket to heaven we don't really know what holiness is for. Traditional readings of Romans lose the telos of holiness. However, once we come to understand that faith gets us access to the covenant, and that the covenant exists to combat evil in the world, then suddenly we see the purpose of holiness, the goal of living in the world as a priest.

Holiness is, quite simply, the salvation of the world.

Anima Christi

The Anima Christi ("Soul of Christ") is a famous medieval Ignatian prayer:

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O Good Jesus, hear me.
Within your wounds hide me.
Permit me not to be separated from you.
From the wicked foe, defend me.
At the hour of my death, call me
and bid me come to you
That with your saints I may praise you
For ever and ever.
Amen.
Here's a translation of the Anima Christi by John Henry Newman:
Soul of Christ, be my sanctification;
Body of Christ, be my salvation;
Blood of Christ, fill all my veins;
Water of Christ's side, wash out my stains;
Passion of Christ, my comfort be;
O good Jesus, listen to me;
In Thy wounds I fain would hide;
Ne'er to be parted from Thy side;
Guard me, should the foe assail me;
Call me when my life shall fail me;
Bid me come to Thee above,
With Thy saints to sing Thy love,
World without end.
Amen.