Category: asceticism

Many Years!

by Andrea Elizabeth

On the occasion of His Grace Bishop Alexander Golitzen becoming our next Bishop of Dallas and the South, and who is a famous scholar of St. Dionysius, I read all seven pages of Saint Dionysius’ Mystagogy from CCEL.org.

The spiritual therapy books that I have recently posted about are more in line with the ascetic tradition of completely emptying yourself of desire for anything except God. This is extreme asceticism. And it is similar to what St. Dionysius describes as God being beyond being. It is like when you take away all the anthropomorphic attributes that we use to describe him and sink into the abyss. I would say that this is not for the beginner, nor the intermediate nor even the above average practitioner. It should be done incrementally by giving up one thing at a time and becoming comfortable, familiar, thankful, and almost satisfied with the gift God gives you in return. To quit all pleasure in created life cold turkey could leave one devastated if not delusional. First one should probably start chipping away at the wrong attributes that one has learned about God, such as Calvinistic TULIP, and read Saint Athanasius’ On The Incarnation, St. Dionysius’ The Divine Names, or other Orthodox books instead. Same goes for fasting. Your body has to make a big adjustment if you cut out all meat and dairy sources of protein, and similar adjustments when cutting down on amounts of food. I say give yourself a lot of time.

on chastity

by Andrea Elizabeth

The cure for lust is explained in Dr. Jean-Claude Larchet’s Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses as chastity. I was specifically looking for the place of pleasure in marital relations. Indeed it is more nuanced than the explanations about food. Marital relations are not to be despised as Paul explains in I Cor. 7. But the priorities are laid out as loving and obeying God first for the proper context, and receiving the spouse in Christ before physical pleasure. It is acknowledged that to be purely chaste and not ruled first by pleasure in marital relations is very challenging.

I understand that a monastic seeks to prioritize pleasure in God instead of the physical pleasures of marriage and food, and that there is compensation that a monastic can attain that makes him not miss natural pleasures. Also, that food and marriage can serve to teach us about the delight that can eventually be found in him when our world of necessity is overcome.

for the enjoyment of food

by Andrea Elizabeth

I skipped to the third book in Dr. Jean-Claude Larchet’s Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses for the chapter on curing gluttony, which is temperance. I keep thinking of the movie, Babette’s Feast where Babette prepares a sumptuous gourmet feast for the pious, austere Danish pastor’s daughters who have taken her in, and some villagers and friends. As a result, the guests break out of their shells and learn to enjoy themselves, and become more pleasant and merry. I know that America in particular swings way too far the other way so that obesity has become a very expensive and life-threatening epidemic, where austerity is the remedy. But not austerity to the point of becoming dower and fearful, imo. The chapter on temperance talks about measuring your intake enough to weaken the passions, but not enough to become too sluggish and depressed. While amounts should be closely monitored when you have the weakness of gluttony, which not everyone has as interest in food varies dramatically between fat and skinny people, I believe flavor enjoyment also has its place. The book talks about the proper attitude of thankfulness to God for nourishing food, but I believe we can also consume with thankfulness for the taste as we eat in obedience for our necessary daily bread.

Additionally, Americans become easily bored, so that Snickers bars are no longer good enough. Now we have to fry them. Hamburgers aren’t good enough; now we have to put hot dogs, chili, and onion rings on them, and serve them with tacos. The cure for this isn’t adding more and more spices and ingredients, but in abstaining for a time, so that one can appreciate simpler food. A piece of bread can taste like the most decadent cake if one is hungry enough, provided they have a functioning pleasure sensor in their brain. Pleasure is supposed to be a motivator to engage in healthy activities, not something to be completely ignored, imnsho.

noisy food

by Andrea Elizabeth

The above video gives a very fascinating insight into how biochemical reactions in the brain can influence a person’s eating habits. It is interesting to me that the anorexic does not get positive feedback when they eat. The response is a mix of neutral non-response and very loud “noise” comprised of lots of negative thoughts. Many times this does not change with treatment, but, similarly to a diabetic, the person has to learn to approach food from a strictly measured medicinal standpoint that remains unenjoyable.

I do not have anorexia, but the ambivalent argument in my head regarding food is very noisy and stressful. The act of eating is very positive with lots of pleasure sensations involving my mouth and nose. I have a neutral digestive response. I do not feel full most of the time, so there is no, “stop now, we’re done. This will last a long time.” I could easily weigh 1000 lbs by eating a moderate to large amount of food all day with very short breaks in between, and enjoy every minute of it. However, I do notice that the longer I wait between, the better food tastes, but the payoff of occupying myself with eating is greater than the taste advantage to waiting. I could very well live to eat, occupying myself only with planning, executing, eating, cleaning up, drinking, then repeating with only sleep or entertainment breaks. I force myself to moderate this craving as I do have some impulse control, thankfully. This is the argument. “you are overweight (well, not that fat, you still have a shape), you are eating more than your share (yeah, but if I only take this much they wont miss it), you are gluttonous (I don’t eat as much as those 1000 lb people), you just ate half an hour ago (but it was just half a sandwich and one bite wont hurt), it’s too expensive (but not as much as Panera), you will run out and have to go back to the store which you do not like at all (with enough planning I can make it last), people think you’re fat (I still get some looks), they will admire you more if you lose weight (this is the most ambivalent of all. Weighing vanity and prideful indifference, having a habit of how I relate with people based on how I used to look and whatever else influences how I want others to think of me), temperance leads to theosis and the conquering of other passions (you fast from meat and dairy half the year! you deserve it!).

A few years ago during clean week I fasted completely for about three days and was surprised at how relieved I was not to have that argument going on constantly inside my head. I understand what the lady above is saying about the peace of a quiet mind by not eating at all. As much as I enjoy food, I do not enjoy my relationship with it. As soon as I had a meal though, and the suggestion to fully abstain was lifted, I went right back into the cycle. At almost 50 with my metabolism slowing way down, I’m wondering if eating a moderate meal only once a day around 7pm with a little grazing allowed until 10, not just on fasting days, will be nutritionally enough and allow me to keep my mind quiet the rest of the day,. It would relieve me of the constant guesswork for 21 hours a day. I think I might can do that and enjoy the break to develop other interests.

on gluttony

by Andrea Elizabeth

Chapter 3 of Part 2 in Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses deals with gluttony. Here is the main point,

“However, the passion does not reside in the act itself of eating, but in the presiding intention and the purpose given the act by man. “In the usage of food to eat out of need and out of pleasure are one selfsame action, but the sin lies in the intention,” St. Dorotheus of Gaza states clearly. The passion, then, rests in a certain attitude of man’s towards food and nutrition – more precisely, in his turning food and nutrition away from their natural end goal. Since God has given food to man for a precise purpose, to have it serve other goals is to pervert its use and make use of it wrongly. St. Maximus writes: “The things that we eat have been created with a double goal: to nourish us and serve as a remedy. To eat for other motives is to use wrongly what God has given us for our benefit.” [Four Centuries on Charity] Man then respects the natural end goal of food and nutrition when he nourishes himself of necessity so as to maintain or preserve the life of his body, to guard or regain its health. But when he turns food into a means of pleasure, he makes a contranatural use of it and the nutritive function.” (pages 152, 153)

Isn’t a bit harsh to say that to get pleasure from food is sin? Should we really not spice our food except for the mineral content? Should we be taking blood samples to see how much salt we need before we add it? I do have a passionate attachment to food. But to me mastery entails knowing how to time and measure amounts and eating what my body needs, which is different from other people since my islets of langerhans are a bit sensitive. I have to pretty much eschew sugar until the end of the day. But for someone who is hiking the whole Appalacian Trail in 45 days and who thus uses 7000 calories/day, they need sugar, so they can twinkie it up. Or at least eat a lot of raisins. Should they not enjoy it? I think we should have a fast and feast attitude where you find the right balance of fasting and subsequent feasting. If a person fasts until 7pm, their evening meal is going to taste better than it would have if it were the fourth meal of the day. Should they not feel rewarded by the added pleasure? Provided they don’t binge on a whole tub of blue bell afterward.

The following video comes to mind, which I watched a few years ago. An Anglican Priest seeks out the desert life of St. Anthony with the question, ‘what is wrong with enjoying a bowl of tomato basil soup and having a nice day in the shade?’ Like I said, I agree with the answer he finds, but I don’t think tomato and basil plants were created by God just to tempt us.


Four new state parks posts

by Andrea Elizabeth


Politically though, I wonder if some conservatives find the idea of state parks socialist. If so, then maybe I’m socialist to some extent. Some people think all land should be privately owned. And over 90% of Texas land is, making access to the prettiest parts restricted to those with better networking skills than I have, if it weren’t for state parks. True conservatives think you need to know somebody in order to get the nicer things in life. I am a bit alienated, and think networks in general make you compromise and schmooze. This is why I identify with Derrida’s marginalized people. I prefer establishments that will serve my kind, even though I don’t like wheelchair access hiking trails. Too straight and boring.

ko wu, chih chih

by Andrea Elizabeth

“Chinese philosophical terms used in the Ta-hsüeh (Great Learning) to refer to two related stages or aspects of the self-cultivation process, subsequently given different interpretations by later Confucian thinkers. ‘Ko‘ can mean ‘correct’, ‘arrive at’ or ‘oppose’; ‘wu‘ means ‘things’. The first ‘chih‘ can mean ‘expand’ or ‘reach out’; the second ‘chih‘ means ‘knowledge’. Chu Hsi (1130-1200) took ‘ko wu‘ to mean arriving at li (principle, pattern) in human affairs and ‘chih chih‘ to mean the expansion of knowledge; an important part of the self-cultivation process involves expanding one’s moral knowledge by examining daily affairs and studying classics and historical documents. Wang Yang-ming (1472-1529) took ‘ko wu‘ to mean correcting the activities of one’s hear/mind (hsin), and ‘chih chih‘ the reaching out of one’s innate knowledge (liang chih); an important part of the self-culitivation process involves making fully manifest one’s innate knowledge by constantly watching out for and eliminating distortive desires.”

from The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy randomly arrived at by letting the book open where it may and reading the first entry that came to my eye like I used to do with the Bible.

Applying this principle, today I watched the last half of a PBS documentary on Gene Robinson, Love Free or Die. The first elected openly gay bishop is cuter and more compelling that I expected. So is his significant other. The most unfortunate part is the end statistics detailing how it is illegal to be gay punishable by jail and even death in some countries. This gives them the moral high ground to appeal for justice and equal rights. The most compelling voice for keeping the tradition of homosexuality is a sin was Bishop Rowen Williams. Someone told him that to take up one’s cross is righteous, but woe to those who crucify others. He paused and agreed that ‘not committing homosexual sin does need to be a voluntary sacrifice and not coerced. If it is not agreed upon, it reflects the very damaged state of the Church.’ The least compelling where the picketers that had signs saying “God hates fags”, and the scary, beefy motorcycle guy picketing people to split from the Episcopal Church and follow the Bible. Then there was the distraught, confused lady who was sad about it all, but had to vote against gay clergy and marriage anyway. The Gay Pride Parade freak show didn’t score many points, imo, either. Except for the few normal looking ones handing out water.

The fact that some gay people are so happy to have found love, to me speaks of damaged people who can’t turn their back on love. They sincerely believe that they will die without it. Maybe God is merciful to such as those who cannot accept being a eunuch, like Matthew says. But at the same time, I sense a bit of a latent acknowledgement that maybe they should have given up more in order to have a natural family. They are not ready to move on from their childhood baggage to a more sacrificial life.

Rich Mullins’ “Divine Obsession”

by Andrea Elizabeth

speaking of Kierkegaard’s First Love in Either/Or, here’s an article comparing the ethical God to the aesthetic God. http://kidbrothers.net/release/sepoct95.html

Why women don’t like Kierkegaard

by Andrea Elizabeth

Inspired by yesterday’s article, this morning I again, after a long hiatus, picked up Either/Or Part II. Part I was from the point of view of the aesthete, and Part II is from the point of view of the ethicist. Aesthetics by nature are more interesting than ethics. Do is more interesting than don’t. Do opens the realms of possibilities, don’t closes the door. This is probably why Part I is a lot thicker than Part II. I think I must have quit reading after this: “but there is one thing for which I thank God with my whole soul, and that is that she is the only I have ever loved, the first, and there is one thing for which I pray to God with my whole heart, that he will give me the strength never to want o love any other.” (page 9)

To all who find themselves in this ideal arrangement, good for you. Preach on against those of us who did not. Club us over the head for our instability, recklessness, waywardness, dangerousness, immorality, and deservedness of being shunned. There, that was a self-indulgent pity party.

The third reason I’ve put this book at arms’ length is that Kierkegaard was never married. He courted Regina for four years, finally proposed, then dropped her immediately after she accepted. How can he preach about marriage?

But, he is a complicated fellow and deserves more query. Maybe he’s chastising himself as the aesthete? Maybe Part I is his loving himself and Part II is his hating himself? If that’s so, I can be more sympathetic. But this goal, “But now to the subject. There are two things that I must regard as my particular task: to show the esthetic meaning of marriage and to show how the esthetic in it may be retained despite life’s numerous hindrances.” (page 8) Have your cake and eat it too? Sounds like a women’s magazine cover article on keeping your marriage sparkly. So did he break off his own engagement because he didn’t think the aesthetic immediacy of attraction could really be retained? Was this next part himself?:

“You, however, actually live by plundering; unnoticed, you creep up on people, steal from them their happy moment, their most beautiful moment, stick this shadow picture in your pocket as the tall man did in Schlemiel and take it out whenever you wish. You no doubt say that those involved lose nothing by this, that often they themselves perhaps do not know which is their most beautiful moment. You believe that they should rather be indebted to you , because with your study of lighting, which magic formulas, you permitted them to stand forth transfigured in the supernatural amplitude of the rare moments…. If one dared to hope that the energy that kindles you in such moments could take shape in you, distribute itself coherently over your life, well, then something great would certainly come of you , for you yourself are transfigured in such moments.” (page 10-11)

My current theory is that Kierkegaard did try to sustain the transfigured energy – but he chose to do it through philosophical writing, not marriage. I don’t think he liked the physical as much as the intellectual, thus his decision not to marry her, but to devote himself to his work. But he did have an emotional bond to her, which he found that he could sustain without marriage. He believed in constant transfiguration, and for a while had the patience for it. But eventually he fulfilled this prophecy, “you who once wrote to me that patience to bear life’s burdens must indeed be an extraordinary virtue, that you did not even have the patience to want to live. Your life disintegrates into nothing but interesting details like these.” And this is why he died so young after getting more and more negative. Why do the brightest lights die so young? I do like Kierkegaard.


from the heart

by Andrea Elizabeth

I’ve not read that much of Stephen King, but it seems he believes in instinctual motives. I don’t see his characters doubting their own morality. They all feel justified in their goals. And sort of stuck. Like Lee Harvey Oswald hitting his wife because he couldn’t hit his invasive mother who took joy in provoking conflict in his marriage. Good people have good instincts and bad people don’t. This isn’t very stoic. Stoicism to me is distancing yourself from your own reactions to calmly evaluate them. King’s good characters, those who have instincts to help and not reactively hurt, trust their instincts to fornicate and preemptively kill killers. But at least they are true to themselves, act on their convictions, and don’t stifle themselves to the point of chronic paralysis.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 35 other followers