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The Times They Are a-Changin’

 

Yesterday, March 24th, the nation saw hundreds of thousands of young people rally against gun violence. The largest rally was in the nation’s capital, where perhaps as many as 800,000 turned out. I started watching just as Ryan Deitsch was addressing the rally in Washington. As I watched this young man, I said, I need to DVR this, this is sermon material. And it was sermon material. And it is my sermon today. I rewound the DVR several times to transcribe part of his statement: “I know a lot of people out there are saying we need to make America safe again, and I know that we can. We cannot make America safe again until we arm our teachers”- and here there was a brief moment of confused reaction from the crowd, which then turned to growing cheers as Ryan Deitsch continued – “We need to arm our teachers! We need to arm them with pencils, pen, paper, and the money they need to support their families and themselves before they can support the future in those classrooms, to support the future that sits down in those desks waiting to learn. And we need to arm our students too, we need to arm them with the facts and the knowledge and the education that they need to live in the real world, not just some fantasy.”

He raised his cell phone as if to tell the world, watch out, we are connected to each other and truth. Teenagers are masters of social media, and if social media can elect a president in 2016, social media can create a revolution. And teenagers can do it.

He concluded like this: “Thank you. And hello Uncle Miron.” Leave it to teenagers to be real, and they were all real. A young woman worked up so much emotion that she threw up! After she recovered and returned to the microphone, she laughed as she shouted, “I just threw up on international television, and it feels great!” As I said, these young people were very real. She then led the huge crowd to sing “Happy Birthday” to a young man who had been senselessly murdered in front of her at the Parkland high school. And she still had marks on her face from shrapnel at the high school shooting.

I admire every single young man and woman who spoke yesterday. Their eloquence and passion were beyond anything adults are capable of. And we had a large rally here in Portland, and in 800 other cities and towns. I hope some of these young people will go to Washington some day and really drain the swamp!

I watched a young man from Chicago, a survivor of violence in that great city. And he spoke with the fervor of a black preacher:

Violence cannot drive out violence. Only peace can do that.

Poverty cannot drive out poverty. Only resources can do that.

Death cannot drive out death. Only proactive life can do that.

Wow! And he went on to quote Ephesians and 1 Peter and called for loud responses from his listeners. For a moment those 800,000 youths were in church! A black church, to be sure.

The silence that Emma Gonzalez led in remembrance of the 6:20 time span during which the shooting rampage lasted at the Parkland high school was powerful, emotional and intense, prompting occasional outbursts from some of the young people present, probably to release the pent-up anger and grief. Moments like that are rare on television.

Speaking of television, two news channels covered the speeches by the young people without commercials. One other news channel preferred to show adults talking about the march. Perhaps they were concerned that the young speakers would say something that would offend the sensitive ears of their viewers. Most adults prefer to listen to adults instead of the young.

Many of us wonder why young people are leaving our church – our churches! Because churches also do not listen to youth. Yes, we enjoy their Sunday School and Greek School presentations. But then what? And I’m not asking what programs we have for them. The kids are a program to themselves! They’re not interested in what dances and entertainments we can organize for them. As Marjory Stoneman Douglas senior Delaney Tarr put it, “We are not here for breadcrumbs, we are here to lead.”. That’s their message to the churches as well. Are we listening?

The Archdiocese organizes the St. John Chrysostom Oratorical Festival every year – a well-meaning event and some of our young people have participated. But the topics are handed out from which young people are to choose – instead of letting them speak whatever they want to speak about. So the results are the same – young people parroting what old men speak and want to hear back. And I too am an old man now.

As the rally drew toward its close, Jennifer Hudson sang the great Bob Dylan song, The Times They Are A-Changin’. Dylan wrote the song 55 years ago, but it is just as relevant today. Listen.

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’
Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’
Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’
Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’
The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’

My generation, the 1960s generation, rebelled, but the rebellion quickly turned to drugs and abortions. Even Bob Dylan threw in the towel, and turned into something else…and something else again… and something else again…and something else again. See, my generation liked to reinvent itself every few years. It’s part of the self-realization nonsense that so many Baby Boomers bought into. Find your bliss, and all that. I hope and pray that the young people I watched yesterday will not need to reinvent themselves any time soon. They are already fully mature and they don’t need any adult to tell them how to make their message more effective, more balanced, more acceptable to the adults, to those 60s rebels, my age group, who are now the swamp. I have great hope for these young people as they become politicized. They could bring the change the world needs – if they resist the pull of the swamp. Because as David Hogg, one of the leaders of the rally, put it yesterday near the end, everyone can be corrupted. I pray that these kids will not be corrupted.

They are the generation that knows how to use technology and social media. This generation make up 25% of the population at present and will make up one third of US population in 2020. Washington better start paying attention to them. Will the church pay attention, or will we close our doors when our populations die out? Will the church be a place where young people can find spiritual support? Not advice, support! And if not, then the church should do what Bob Dylan sang:

Your old road is
Rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.


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Three Essentials

 

“I believe; help my unbelief!” – those memorable words of the father in today’s Gospel reading. Every single one of us here today is a believer and an unbeliever at the same time. We believe, we are drawn to this amazing person Jesus Christ, we have a vague idea of God, some sense of how we are to live in the world – but we can’t put it together and keep it together. So when tragedy strikes, when we find ourselves in a mess either of our own making or someone else’s, we fall apart.

I found a tremendous quote the other day:

Though I wouldn’t have admitted it, even to myself, I didn’t want God aboard. He was too heavy. I wanted Him approving from a considerable distance. I didn’t want to be thinking of Him. I wanted to be free—like Gypsy. I wanted life itself, the color and fire and loveliness of life. And Christ now and then, like a loved poem I could read when I wanted to. I didn’t want us to be swallowed up in God. I wanted holidays from the school of Christ. ~ Sheldon Vanauken

That’s where much of our unbelief comes from – our keeping God at a distance, now and then coming to him when it’s convenient, when we have nothing else to do, or when hard times hit. We, like Sheldon Vanauken, want holidays (that’s British talk for what Americans call vacation) from the school of Christ – for many of us, LONG holidays! But I like the way Vanauken puts it – “the school of Christ.” It is indeed a school. Jesus Christ teaches us how to live – how to live fully, how to live in touch with our inner selves and with the people and the natural world around us.

In the walk to Emmaus, Jesus taught the two disciples in the way that only he could. He opened their minds while they walked and he opened their eyes and hearts when he broke bread with them. And that’s how he teaches us too.

He teaches us while we are walking. There’s not much Jesus can do if we refuse to budge, if we refuse to walk with him. Walking is the best way to experience and enjoy nature, the world around us. Can you drive through the Old Port for years and think you know it. Then one day you decide to park the car at a distance and walk. And you see the Old Port like you never saw it before; you discover it for the first time. Walking is also the way to grow with Christ.

The disciples talked while they walked, before and after Jesus joined them. Talk – we’re forgetting how to talk. This past week we lost one of the great human beings of our time – or of any time, a man who inspired many and who taught us to look with awe at the immensity of the universe. Stephen Hawking did not believe in God, he was an atheist. Can I blame him, the way God has been represented by Christians?

Stephen Hawking was confined to a wheelchair and lost most of his motor abilities, including his ability to speak. He had to communicate through computerised voice synthesis. In an age such as ours where fewer and fewer people bother to communicate with coherent thought and sentences, Hawking was a master communicator, able to express the deepest mysteries of the universe in ways that even children could understand. At a time when talk has become cheap or is being replaced by social media and trivial texts and tweets and when people don’t talk but shout at each other from inside their political and religious bubbles, Hawking’s advice is more needed than ever:

“For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen. Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”

The greatest genius since Einstein urged us to talk, to keep talking, not to forget how to talk, and to communicate without resorting to our prejudices and narrow-mindedness. We talk in order to learn and to grow in our faith. We talk in order to work through our confusion, just like the disciples did on the road with Jesus. And every time we are honestly working through difficulties of thought and faith, Jesus will be there. But if you think you have it all worked out, he has other people to attend to.

Finally, we must not stop breaking bread with each other. These are the three main messages from this story of the walk to Emmaus, the three essentials to grow in the faith: walking, talking and breaking bread. The fellowship we experience here at Liturgy when we share communion with each other should inspire us to sit down more often – not just with family, but with friends and strangers. Outreach and Fellowship are at the heart of the Christian message – and the Christian lifestyle. At Easter midnight we leave the Liturgy – well, most leave before Liturgy – and carry the paschal light to our homes. Our candles illumine the dark of night as we drive or walk home. But far more important, our lives should illumine the darkness that’s growing in the world; not add to the spiritual, environmental and political darkness that threaten our lives and the lives of our children. We are to be lights in the world, not contribute to the darkness.

Let’s walk and talk our way to a better world, a more Jesus-centered world. And let’s encourage our children and teenagers to spend less time texting and more time talking, face to face. It’s good practice for when we see God face to face, and we sit down and break bread with Jesus in the Kingdom!


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Stephen Hawking is now one with the Universe

No scientist since Albert Einstein has captured the public imagination and spotlight like Stephen Hawking. Diagnosed with ALS at the age of 21, doctors gave him two more years of life; he defied all odds and lived another 55 years, during which he transformed our understanding of the universe. He is now one with the universe that he roamed and explored with his mind.

 

It was close to midnight last night. I was working on some Bible Study notes with the TV playing in the background, on a so-called “news channel” that talked on and on about Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump and other such non-entities, when suddenly Brian Williams interrupted his own unimportance to announce that Stephen Hawking had died. I immediately went to my favourite source for news, The Guardian newspaper of London, and already there was a front page story on their website. It is well worth reading.

I referred to Stephen Hawking last Sunday in my sermon, which I also posted here. I referred to his search for a “theory of everything” with the hope that he and his fellow physicists will indeed discover such a theory. It will have to be other physicists who will continue the search. As a follower of Jesus Christ – I’m trying to avoid over-using the term “Christian” as it has become so defamed and trite in contemporary American society – I find the Cross at the heart of the universe. There is a spiritual heart to the universe that goes beyond the theories of physicists. Hawking, like Einstein before him, never achieved the dream of finding the “theory of everything”, but he is now one with that “everything”, and I bet he now sees the “cross” that is at the heart of everything.

Hawking was to all intents and purposes an atheist, and he cared nothing for what the Evangelical thought police would say about him. He roamed the universe with his brilliant mind and enabled us to roam with him. That was one of his greatest gifts to us: he opened our imagination to the infinite reaches of the cosmos. One famous Christian rebel of the 1960s coined the phrase, “Your God is Too Small.” Indeed, the Christian god had become too small for Stephen Hawking to believe in. Just think of the meanness and narrow-mindedness of the Evangelical god; or the Orthodox god whom we call upon to bless our ethnicities. Can I blame Stephen Hawking for rejecting what most “Christians” call “God”? I believe that now that he is one with the universe he finds there a God more worthy of his belief. The cross of Jesus Christ is an invitation to lay aside all our pre-conceptions of God and to throw off the mental shackles of religiosity.

Hawking had a beautiful mind. He stated what his own goal and purpose in life was: “My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.” His children quote him as saying, “It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.” Amen to that. He probed the universe with his intellectual powers, and beyond all the intricate mathematics that he worked with his brain he found love at the core of the universe’s meaning and purpose. That is the love that moves the stars. At the very end of the Divine Comedy, in Canto 33 of Paradiso, Dante wrote:

ma già volgeva il mio disio e ’l velle

sì come rota ch’igualmente è mossa,

l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle. (Par. 33.143-45)

but my desire and will were moved already—

like a wheel revolving uniformly—by

the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.

Dante, writing his massive 3-part “poem” 700 years ago, saw the unity in diversity that exists in the universe, a unity manifested and sustained by God. The universe is our home, and love is at the heart of the universe, the reason why the universe exists. Hawking saw that as he reflected on his own loved ones. God sees Love at the heart of the universe as He contemplates His Son and the Cross of His Son. There is mystery upon mystery… and beauty.

“Hawking was driven to Wagner, but not the bottle, when he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 1963 at the age of 21.” Nicely stated by the Guardian article. I love Richard Wagner’s operas more than any other music or any other intellectual pursuits, and it warms my heart to know that Hawking was a fellow Wagnerian. But the same man who loved Wagner also became a pop-culture star, appearing in a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, where he appeared in a holodeck poker game with Einstein and Isaac Newton, and several episodes of the sitcom The Big Bang Theory, where he enjoyed hilarious interactions with Sheldon Cooper and his nerd friends. He even appeared in animated form on The Simpsons. YouTube has a great compilation video of Hawking’s appearances in these shows. He lived according to his own motto: “Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny.”

Stephen Hawking with the cast of The Big Bang Theory

The Guardian website has a great collection of pictures to illustrate the life of Stephen Hawking: here.

And the official obituary in The Guardian today was written by a fellow great physicist, Roger Penrose: “Mind over matter

I conclude my own homage to Stephen Hawking with some of his memorable quotes:

  • “My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus”.
  • “People who boast about their IQ are losers.”
  • “I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first.”
  • “We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.”
  • “Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”

Hawking lost his ability to speak and had to communicate through computerised voice synthesis. In an age such as ours where fewer and fewer people bother to communicate with coherent thought and sentences, Hawking was a master communicator, able to express the deepest mysteries of the universe in ways that even children could understand. At a time when talk has become cheap or is being replaced by social media and trivial texts and tweets and when people don’t talk but shout at each other from inside their political and religious bubbles, Hawking’s advice is more needed than ever:

  • “For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen. Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”

Rest in the Love that moves the stars, Stephen Hawking!


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The φρόνημα of the Cross

 

One of seventeen crosses representing the seventeen who were shot and killed by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Fla., are arranged in the Pine Trails Park during a candlelight vigil, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)

The cross is the stumbling block for most people who turn away from Christianity or refuse to accept its vision of God. How could God be so cruel as to demand such a thing? How could God allow his son to die such a horrible death? Of course to even ask a question such as, How could God allow his son to die such a horrible death, does put our own questions in perspective: How could God allow the shooting at the Parkland high school, or at Sandy Hook? How can God allow thousands of refugees to drown every year in the Mediterranean Sea as they try to flee war and starvation?

Well, before we get to the God question, let’s answer these questions with one single word: Evil. Evil men shot to death those students at Parkland and Sandy Hook. Evil governments and human traffickers are responsible for those refugees drowning in the Mediterranean. And of course it was evil men who put Jesus to death on the cross.

But where is God in all this? To invoke free will, as we Orthodox usually do, is a cop-out. We Orthodox like to get to resurrection, to Easter, so we try to get through talk of cross as quickly as possible. We even boast that we are the resurrection church – while the western churches talk too much about the cross and the blood of Jesus. The blood of the western churches does get to be rather much; but too much resurrection and theosis talk in the Orthodox Church also falls short of any answers we can offer to the God question.

Attendees pass a wooden cross as they arrive at a candlelight vigil for the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018, in Parkland, Florida. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

We can’t rush to the resurrection. We have to go through the cross first. Jesus tells us today that if we want to follow him we must pick up our cross and follow him. What is this cross? Is it some catastrophe that falls to us in our home? Is it a deadly illness we have to go through? Some struggle that overwhelms us? “This is my cross… This is your cross…” we casually speak about our problems and each other. Maybe something might be “my cross” or “your cross,” but not necessarily the cross Jesus has in mind.

 

Paul said it very clearly in a great passage in his letter to the Philippians:

Τοῦτο φρονεῖτε ἐν ὑμῖν ὃ καὶ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ (Philippians 2:5)

φρονέω – an amazing, multifaceted verb in the ancient Greek, together with several derivatives, like φρόνησις, φρόνημα, φρόνιμος, etc. – all ultimately deriving from φρήν, usually in the plural φρένες “diaphragm.” Originally this was regarded as the seat of intellectual and spiritual activity. The diaphragm determined the nature and strength of the breath and hence also the human spirit and its emotions. In Homer φρένες means “inner part,” “mind,” “consciousness,” “understanding” etc. and like the other terms for inner organs it is the agent of spiritual and intellectual experiences. (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume 9, page 220)

But in ancient Greek these words all had to do with attitude, mindset, attitude to life

Romans 8:6 – “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” The word translated as “to set the mind on…” is φρόνημα, phronema. For Paul and for the ancient Greeks, φρόνημα was not simply about thinking – just thinking never killed anyone, or almost never. To set the mind on something, meant for Paul and the ancient Greeks the action that goes with the mind’s thinking – more broadly, the life that goes with the mind’s thinking. And later in this chapter 8 of Romans, Paul says something even bolder. Verse 27: And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. τὸ φρόνημα τοῦ πνεύματος is the key phrase.

That simple word, φρόνημα, phronema, is used by Paul in his letters in such a way as to unite our approach to thought and life with God’s own Spirit. So when Paul says in Philippians, Τοῦτο φρονεῖτε ἐν ὑμῖν ὃ καὶ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, he is basically saying be united with the Spirit of God so that you can live as Christ lived. “Have the same mind” (or, attitude) is the usual translation, and it falls very short.

The cross is not some particular problem or sickness we have to bear; or something God sends to test us – another very popular idea – and in my opinion thoroughly pagan. The cross is not a problem or an instrument of death. The cross is a way of life. That’s what Paul is saying when he wrote to the Philippians to have the same mind, the same mindset, the same approach to life, that was also in Christ Jesus.

This is what the two disciples walking to Emmaus could not wrap their heads around. They didn’t have the φρόνημα of the Holy Spirit in them until Jesus opened their minds on the road and then their hearts when he broke bread with them at the dinner table. And there, their minds and their hearts were united and they understood; they saw Jesus. They understood what was at the very heart of the universe. Stephen Hawking and his fellow physicists will hopefully some day discover a theory of everything. But for us and for all eternity, from the very beginning of time, the Cross is at the heart of the universe. It reveals God without the need for religion.

Jesus did not take the shortcut – Hey, guys, it’s me, I’m risen, forget about the cross and everything else that happened in Jerusalem these past few days. No, he had to take them through the whole history of God’s ways; he had to educate them in the φρόνημα of the Spirit before they could understand the resurrection, before they could see him as the resurrected one.

So, to return to the God question, we cannot even begin to ask the question unless we have the φρόνημα of the Spirit. But we can answer some questions. Where was God at Parkland or Sandy Hook or the Mediterranean crossings? How could he allow such horrible deaths and killings? Where was God at Auschwitz? He died in the gas chambers, some Jewish writers have asserted. Where is Jesus when those refugees are drowning? He is drowning with them. Where was he when those students were gunned down? He was killed with them. That is the φρόνημα of the Spirit – to see life through the lens of the cross; which is the lens of reality, rather than some make-believe fantasy. We are to see life – all life – as completely wrapped up ἐν Χριστῷ, “in Christ”. He tells us in today’s Gospel reading to pick up our cross and follow him; but in fact it is he who is still bearing the cross.

The cross IS the core truth of Christianity. Other religions have resurrection. The Moslems believe in a resurrection and a judgment. But they don’t have the cross. And I don’t mean as an ornament, a symbol, a slogan.

The cross is a way of life – the way of life that unites us with Christ. How that life unfolds will be unique for every one of us. Carry your cross and follow Christ – means accept the calling, accept the φρόνημα of the Spirit.

 


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In the middle of life

 

Saint Gregory Palamas is one of the most revered theologians of the church. He lived about 700 years ago in northern Greece. He explored some profound theological ideas which created quite a bit of controversy – and still do. His main concern was to show how God interacts with us, how God enters our lives, how God communicates with us and makes himself known by us. That was, of course, the great challenge for the two disciples walking to Emmaus: how were they to know that it was Christ who joined them on the road? The initiative came from Jesus himself. And the initiative always comes from God, according to Gregory Palamas.

We live in an age where theological thought is almost non-existent in church circles. Serious theology has been replaced by simple-minded slogans and the marketing of the faith. Even sermons are expected to be short and practical.

If Jesus really was the Son of God and if his death had consequences for all human beings, then it is not something that should be turned into a slogan or a marketing campaign or a 10-minute feel good sermon. The two disciples walking to Emmaus were confused; they couldn’t understand how their friend and teacher could die on the cross. They thought he was the Messiah; he had come to deliver the people from Roman oppression. How could he have died, humiliated on the cross?

Jesus could have taken the easy approach – the marketing approach – and simply revealed himself on the road, to relieve them of their sadness. “Hey guys, it’s me. I rose from the dead. All’s well.” No, he said nothing of the sort. While walking, he opened to them the scriptures. He got into serious exegesis, serious theology. Then he sat to eat with them and broke the bread, blessed it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened. And he disappeared the minute they recognised him! No speech about being risen. He gave them the theology of words; and then he gave them the theology of bread and vision. And that was it. He wanted them to go back to Jerusalem; and there he would again reveal himself to all the gathered disciples. He wanted his community to be together before he would reveal himself in the fulness of his resurrection.

(Click on image to Expand)

But notice where the heavy theology took place – on the road, while they walked. Jesus walked everywhere. And while he walked he always taught his disciples. And he is still walking. I’m sure you’ve seen some version of that wonderful modern Christian parable called Footprints…

Walking is movement. And the Christian life must be a life of movement and growth – it must be! Think about the ancient Greeks. There was even a school of philosophy called the peripatetic school. It was Aristotle’s school, and it got its name because Aristotle and his students walked while he lectured. The people of Athens called Aristotle’s school the Peripatos! And before Aristotle, Socrates loved to walk while engaging in his many conversations that were preserved in the Dialogues of Plato. Many of the dialogues of Plato have vivid descriptions of the surroundings where Socrates and his conversation partners walked or met.

Down through the ages, walking has been the muse that inspired many geniuses. Beethoven loved to walk in the nature that surrounded the city of Vienna. And it was in these walks that he was inspired to write his 6th Symphony, the Pastorale, a symphony filled with the sounds of nature. Even great scientists like Einstein were often photographed walking.

Danish postage stamp celebrating the bicentennial of Kierkegaard’s birth

One of my favourite philosophers is Søren Kierkegaard. He lived in Denmark in the first half of the 19th century. He was notorious for walking the streets of Copenhagen and talking to strangers wherever he went. Kierkegaard was very critical about life in Denmark, so people were puzzled that he loved to walk and talk with complete strangers. They imagined that he would rather stay home by himself. But he walked and talked hours on end. Many caricatures drawn by his contemporaries show him walking.

He said he liked to walk because it was healthy:

[Every] day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one can not walk away from it. . . . [By] sitting still, and the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill. Health and salvation can only be found in motion. . . . If one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right.

On many of his walks, he encountered people who ridiculed and criticised him for what he wrote. But this did not stop him from walking, or writing. He wrote against “sissy, effeminate” Christianity. Christians should “insist on getting out into the streets, among men, where there is danger and opposition.” The Christian goal, after all, is to become “a thorn in the eye of the world”. Walking the streets of Copenhagen was important to Kierkegaard because it helped him clarify the Christian faith. He went so far as to say that preaching should not be done inside churches, but out on the street, right in the middle of life.

And that last phrase, dear friends, is the key – in the middle of life. In the middle of life where Dante also met Vergil and the two began their walk through Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso – the three books that make up Dante’s masterpiece, The Divine Comedy.

We are always in the middle of life; in the middle of our walk to Emmaus, to the resurrection, to the union with God that Gregory Palamas labored to explain. We are always in the middle; and that’s where Jesus comes and walks with us. No matter how old or how young you are, the middle is the place of growth. Don’t settle for less.