O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards the faith. Grace be with you.
I am writing to affirm with you how fully I am being conveyed to Jesus Christ. Already, those who dwell close to the spirit are recognizing that I am not being conveyed due to any “knowledge” or “belief,” but rather due to the very Person of Jesus, who I tell you in full confidence is the living Spirit, infinite in mercy and kindness; and that this living Spirit has been called up within me to do the work of the Father, which is the one and only work of Eternal Love. This work is the universe, and I am glad to play my part. But that means my conveyance is to be continual, as it is for all who love Spirit. For the revelation is indeed unceasing: it is the universe. And so we must cease to think of “conversion” as a discrete moment in time. The final conversion comes only at the resurrection, at the completion of the universe. Thus we wait in great expectation for the final day, diving into death with full confidence in eternal life. Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat fall to the ground and die, it will not bear fruit. Let us follow St. Paul’s tried and true testimony, following Jesus’ words: “I die daily.” This is the name of my mission. This is my pursuit. But I commend the task to all peoples. May you learn and grow in strength, to do what is right and true. Amen.
St. Paul himself helped to lead me to this day. Blessed is he who is not offended at this, but knows how the intercession of saints is real. St. Paul, who was a persecutor of the church, has revealed to me through his prayers, his letters, and his guidance in the spirit what he long ago wrote to everyone: that what I am is by the grace of God alone. When he is describing the chronology of the resurrected Christ’s appearance to the apostles, he writes:
Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which was within me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
This is also my statement, source of grief over my past, but now of hope for the future. And yet Paul writes this to everyone, for we all persecute the church until we have felt the Lord begin his movements in our hearts– until he appears to us, however mysteriously and miraculously this occurs. Those who would deny Christ or misuse his name simply do not know him. To them, he has not chosen to appear, for he only appears to those who seek the truth in earnest and desire to love all beings, and so do the work of the universe. He appears to those whose hearts are spread wide open. To them are predestined all things, for, having come to know Living Love in Person, they give themselves up to the Father, trusting that he knows best how to perfect the universe he builds and reveals. And so they yearn with unity of purpose to do God’s will alone. But let us have real hope! To those who strive to love as God loves, the appearance of Christ is guaranteed. I would not tell you this if it were not so.
And yet I also know, with a depth rivaling Paul’s, what it is to persecute the Church. For I have been a denier of Christ, even though I was raised in faith by my gentle and radiant mother. I have persecuted the Church, not through any explicit persecution of believers, but through my unwillingness to go to God for my answers. I have denied God by not going to him with my whole heart. I chose to look to the ways of men, the opinions of men, the pleasures of men, instead of looking to the way and joy of Christ. This is a mistake many (including church-goers) make: to look to men rather than to God alone. And so let us look to him, and know the peace that can only be won by faith in Christ! Amen.
As for “me,” all will be able to chart where my “persecution” led me; for I am a writer, and behind me lie hundreds of thousands of words, in the form of journals and poetry, that attest to my struggles and my questions. Although I never “professed” an atheism, it was my youth to dig underneath it. Although my younger writings are filled with visible and invisible references and invocations to God, I was not yet totally entrusted to him. I knew that when I wrote I wrote to the deepest point in myself and in my fellow man; but I did not fully realize how man, at his deepest point, is made in the likeness of God; and that, to truly understand man, including what it means to care for him and his earth, one must therefore turn to God and his Word.
Of course, even back then, I knew that what I wrote I heard from somewhere else. My major in college was titled “Pneumatology as Listening”: the study of the human spirit as the practice of listening for his truth. This meant standing outside myself, so as to discern a truth that was not “my own.” This of course means listening to everyone, from the birds, to all the authors, to my friends and family. I learned from everyone; no one was an unfaithful guide. And so I conveyed into words, as I do now, what I heard, as best I could. As those words came from, and were addressed to, the deepest part in man, the majority of my youthful writings, which no one has read, are addressed solely to God. To him I conveyed my soul, my deepest longings for truth, and especially all my worries and anxieties about (no-)selfhood. There lies a treasure trove of fear and hope, yearning for love, freedom, and the truth. Oh God, what a willing receptacle you were for all this, how patient with me you were! But today I am writing you, my reader, to testify that a man can try to go to the pits of Sheol alone, he can even try to make perfect poetry out of it, but that if he is honest and not self-absorbed a day will come when he realizes that he, in fact, was never once going there alone: for God is always with us when we fall, and there is no fall that is too deep for God to raise up. God has gone down into the tomb, and he has broken it open, revealing it to be empty. This revelation continues for us; we have not yet seen in fullness. For the resurrection of the Christ is the very creation of the universe. Whatever you see happen, that is what you see. What else do I have to tell you, before you will believe?
So be sure to know that I did not dig underneath atheism out of any anger toward God, nor out of unbelief. I strove only to understand man’s fall. What is he doing down here, full of selfishness and hate? What is he saying in all his books, in all his religion, and out in the streets? Why are none of his heroic activities doing anything to lift up his soul in a lasting way? Why does he proclaim himself, again and again, abandoned? And what is the angle that we ought to be taking, so that we know our life on earth is not in vain? Thus I dedicated my life to the truth, seeking to pierce through all knowledge claims that did not accord with the spirit in my and every human heart: the spirit of love, community, and peace. I strove with all my might to discern in life and language what it meant to give a voice to this “human spirit,” and to develop my soul in the Good. I tried to live it and write it out. Though I did the best I could, my best was not good enough to God. It could not match up to his love; so he took hold of me and led me higher. Know then that those who patiently and earnestly seek the truth of the spirit, renouncing self for its sake, do not do so in vain. There is such a thing as “an experience of the unity of the Spirit.” It is the truth of the revelation, revealed in the sight of all people, that they might look up to the heavens and believe that God is Good.
As I have described previously, and aside from all the sin that has filled my life (and surely all of that will come to light one day, as deniers try to find a reason to dismiss the truth of God, as if they themselves had not been as wicked as I!), my “fall” led me to three basic explorations: (1) the Eastern philosophy of no-self; (2) the practice of Poetry as dictation and “negative capability”; and (3) Western philosophy, where I was especially drawn to the French, and specifically Jean-Luc Nancy. I sought these out progressively and not by my own choosing. No, I listened, because what I knew in my heart was that “I” was impermanent (1); an empty conduit for the Word (2); and that “nothingness” lies at the heart of Being, which philosophy names “the void” (3). In all of these I persecuted the Church, not for its detriment, but so that God might pass through these denials of God willingly, these deaths, with understanding and compassion, and with a real yearning to know why it is that such a loving Father would ever allow such expressions on our earth. I sought with an attitude of non-condemnation, and still do, thus honoring Christ’s own mission. And so by the spirit that is Holy, I lift up all these missions, surpassing them by God’s own while embracing them in Love.
Today I go forward by finally casting off all independent selfhood completely. In that way you will know that the three paths once taken lead to the path I am now taking. My non-being is being raised up by the Being of Christ, for his spirit embraces all path, comprehends them all, and accepts them all with kindness. Our God can make good use of anything, because he is love! All that changes here is our acceptance or rejection of grace, God’s help. Accepting it gives man the capacity to go all the way, while rejecting it makes him fall half-short, precisely because then he is unwilling to go to his own in-made depth. The other paths named seem to be able to go as far as humans are capable; but we turn back and fall short, because we know that our strength will waver if we do not abide in the source (cf. John 15, a crucial passage in my growth). Furthermore, we know that to dive in totally would be death. No surprise then, that all these other earnest but timid paths lead to the Cross! Yet to take up our cross and follow is not to ease the plunge, it is to take it all the way to our most trembling edge, where Love Itself needs us at our finest point. That is where the light begins to stream through us, because then we are truly not ourselves. And the only way we can do this maximally is through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
What we believe is that man, trusting in God, has no fear to take this plunge, because God is there for him; but what God adds to this plunge is a perfect unity of purpose, because through our bond of trust our purpose becomes his. All the three paths chose different “ultimate concerns”: enlightenment, poetic elevation, and making sense. But God has a different purpose for he who jumps into the void: love thy neighbor as thyself. All the mental clarity, all the sublime poetry, and all the grand-thinking thought is useless in comparison with one act of genuine self-humbling and renunciation for others. I cannot stress this enough. Contemporary philosophy and poetry come close, because they do all that they can to think the other, make sense of the other, and address the other. These are valuable aims! These aims accord with the Spirit! These aims serve love with real purpose! This is not a matter of rejecting anything! What I aim for is the culmination of these paths in Jesus Christ. He alone can purify them of ill-intention, because he empties us of everything but love.
The purpose of all meditation and cleansing of the mind is to become better at serving others with a peaceful heart. The purpose of poetry is to show that words are more than just instruments, but in fact convey the spirit of their speaker; that words can therefore transmit the truth and sense of whole communities, insofar as their members give themselves up to be a void for all people; and that such words can establish continuity and communion in the human spirit over time. And the purpose of philosophy is to think the truth as it passes through the void on its way to the event of Being-in-truth. Jean-Luc Nancy is uniquely positioned here. He calls for us to think the “transitivity of being-nothing” (1). He calls for an “adoration” that addresses itself to the “infinite outside” (2). And he calls for a “consequent atheism,” which he sees tied to a “deconstruction of Christianity” and a “dis-enclosure of reason” (3). How perfect! What Nancy refuses, however, is the Living Person of Jesus. He denies the resurrection, plain and simple. Who can blame him? I do not blame him or anyone; there is no fault; nothing is in error. The Spirit comprehends him, for “the Spirit blows where it will.” But it is strange to try and comprehend Christianity without Jesus. Once Christ himself starts to appear to you, all such philosophy appears pompous and vain; it is heretical. However, my purpose is not to lay all this out for you here, because I must go forward. These landmarks are there. What I must now strive to show you is where they all lead ultimately: an experience of the unity of the Spirit.
Yes, all trails point to the One, and we ought to we rejoice in this. Now we know that to renounce all independent being means to renounce our alienation from God. To have faith is to come home. We know that all of our pursuits of the void, whether by meditation, poetic practice of the outside, or philosophic fidelity to the unknowable at the heart of Being, lead to Jesus Christ our Lord–not by force, but through love, for it is God’s pleasure to bring all people into the fold. Of course it is Christ himself who reveals this to us, when he reveals it; so please, do not accept what I tell you on blind faith! Never, never, never! Meditate, write your poetry, think! Make sense of it! But also: do not ever forget to do all these things with love! If you do it with love, you can have no worries whatsoever: Jesus approves.
To be clear: unity of spirit does not mean conformity. God loves the whole diversity– why do you think there are 800,000 of species of insects? Because he loves them all! But ants are not given to praise God. This is our vocation, because when praising God, we perfect love. To be clear: to love our neighbor is the essence of praising and honoring God. All that I say here is this: let us orient all our efforts and consecrate them to love, remembering that they must point there, and inevitably will. And when we are ready– God is already making you ready!– let us turn to Christ totally, so that our joy and our love may be complete. For all our activities presuppose the Father, who created the universe and holds it together constantly through his harmonizing Love, which he is.
Yes, the bed of awareness implies this harmony and loving communion with all things (it also implies the resurrection and eternal life); the high-song of poetry implies a linguistic tissue saturated with love (it also implies a Word that is Living: the body of a King); and reason itself, all the capacity of the mind, the whole desire to discover and know, is drawn out of us humans through love (love for the unknown, love for the other, and finally, love for God). Let us not be offended by what we know in our hearts, or by the way “God” has been mistreated! Let us see God in everything, from quantum physics to Paul Celan’s poetry! Let us praise God, and continue with what we do! Truly, everything is glorification of him!
And so my heart beats with anxiousness to tell you my story, so as to give glory to the graciousness of God. My mother was a Lutheran who loved me with all she had. My father was a Catholic, converted to Lutheranism for my mother’s sake, recognizing in her the charge of Christianity for our family. When in early 2012 I began with refreshed earnestness to struggle against my own sin and unrighteousness, my own denials of the Creator of the Universe (love!), I discovered one of my mother’s old Bibles in my basement. Under the opening cover, in the area that reads, “Presented to,” my mother wrote her name and the date she received it: “Nancy Nolting, Easter– 1963.” My mother would have been 13: her confirmation Bible.
While I read widely in all the English translations, this RSV Bible is truly my own, and now goes with me wherever I go (if I am taking anything, I mean). The same blue pen my mother used to write her name in it is used, sparsely to be sure, to mark out certain passages. I take these markings, which issued from my mother’s spirit in her youth, as indications to my own youthful spirit. That is why I have written, in pencil (for in Bibles I write in pencil):
Accepted by Timothy Lavenz, her grateful son, in 2012, by the loving intercessions of St. John the Baptist and St. Therese of Lisieux, at New Melleray Abbey, by the grace of our Father, in the name of Jesus. All praise and honor to LOVE EVERLASTING!
One must know that the spirit moves quickly; only love can keep up. I write my acceptance of my mother’s Bible today (I was in fact sitting at the local Perkins when I wrote it), but I place the moment of acceptance, its “today,” which lasts forever in my heart and mind, very precisely: during the sermon given on June 24th, 2012, by celebrant Father David, at New Melleray Abbey, Peosta, IA, on the Solemnity of St. John the Baptist.
As I have already told you, I wept continually through this sermon, then during communion, and then afterwards when all had left the church. I say this only to boast in the name of the power of the Lord, and to confirm for you the day of my total death. I am not under any illusions that my struggles against the body’s weakness is over; but on that day I knew with full certainty: the spirit is willing–now go! This means that the struggle against self has now began in earnest; and not for the sake of mental clarity about selfhood; or for the sake of writing beautiful verse; or for the sake of an anonymous truth. The struggle now begins in earnest for love. Let us always know what this means, that the struggle is always for God.
With the spirit of St. John the Baptist surmounting all my resistance and melting my heart, calling me out to the desert where the work is tough, but the vision truly great, I realized that there was only one real option in life: despair, or trust the Word. Follow a life of frivolity and caprice, or give yourself wholeheartedly to God in Jesus Christ. This is the option I present here, not for my own sake, but for the Father’s. I make my vow with the heart of my mother:
The heart of my mission is to rise up through the spirit of truth against any ‘no’ to Jesus. What I myself have had to learn, I must teach; it is the one feat that man is capable of: to say ‘yes’ to the good Lord and to swallow with patience all his ‘no’s.’ For man’s ‘no’ to God is bitter and comes from hubris and resentment, but man’s ‘yes’ to God is sweet and peaceful and comes from God himself. Let us say ‘yes’, and know that the Lord is come!
So goes my mission, with the tone of challenge that comes with all true missions. I read it myself, remember it myself, and must keep it myself. To this very day, know how I must struggle to swallow ten-thousand ‘no’s’, for the world and its ways mislead us about pleasure and the truth. But also know that, for whoever surrenders to love in earnest, the good Lord will sustain through all the chewing. He clears the throat and eases the churning stomach. He says in us, and then he says aloud, singing with all the choirs of angels: “Yes, yes, yes, Lord! I will go, my God, if you ask me! I am here with my ‘yes’; take all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my will. They were yours to begin with, duh! I return them to you now; do with them and dispose of me what thy will. Give me only your love and your grace, for this is all I ask for. Oh, you are a good Lord, and now I know: this love of yours, this grace, is all that I will ever need…”
And so I say to you, without hesitation or fear, because I trust in the Lord, with a sense of my profound responsibility toward God and the need to die for the sake of the truth in Christ: I am become Timothy. St. Paul has written his glorious letter to me; I hear him. It is my duty to respond with my whole life, and to honor the God Paul names. Τιμόθεος of course means: “honor” (Τιμό) “God” (θεος). The Greek in fact retains three meanings: “honoring God”, “in God’s honor”, and “honored by God.” I intend to make good on all three.
But let’s be very clear: I say this only to point to the Lord and to what he has revealed to me, and continues to reveal to me moment by moment, about the glory of his Son Jesus Christ. I say this by the power of the Spirit, if I say anything to you of worth. I myself am full of weakness. I myself am nothing, a dry and decrepit ‘no’. But I have passed through this void with my breath, my word, and my mind; through these I continue to pass. I have written the void out with my pen, and I have tasted all its poisons, in thought, word, and deed. Somehow, by the very mysteries of God’s grace, I emerge unscathed and clean. All praise be to the King of Mercy, Prince of Peace! By the grace of God, I walk, tasting of life resurrected and eternal! By the grace of God, I see our Lord bounding over every horizon, overcoming every obstacle in his way with gentleness and beauty! By the grace of God, I have found the courage to venture out into the wilderness of the desert, shouting with amiable gladness: “Repent! The Kingdom of God is at hand!” By the grace of God, I tell you, by the grace of God: I have faith!
I am not unaware that this is perhaps a difficult thing to grasp for those who have known and loved me up to this day. That is why I am telling my story. Truth be told, I am the same person, my name is still “Tim,” and outwardly there is probably not much chance you will detect any changes in me. For those who love me, you will realize that “not much has changed.” What has changed, however, is my vision and purpose. I go to disappear for the sake of the Lord, just as I have been disappearing for about five years now in the name of the truth. Again, I emphasize that the real “shift” has not been in my orientation toward the truth, but in the spirit with which I pursued it. In truth, we are all pursuing truth in the same spirit, the One True Holy Spirit of God; but it takes time to notice it. A tree does not reach full growth in one day (and to be sure, I am but a sapling…).
However, I would be lying if I denied my desire, namely, that I hope to God that my words, as thoroughfares to God, will change your whole life. I desire that you find true peace of spirit; that you practice love in all you do; that you turn away from the silly practices that only make you sick and regretful; and that you find your true repose in God, since truly there is no place in the world to place your head. Jesus says: “Place your head on my shoulder, and I will give you rest. Take up the burden of faith, for my burden is light, and make an easy thing of all your suffering. Read my word, pray silently in your own room, and know that I am Lord. Cheer up. Do not be afraid of tomorrow or yesterday. Today is what your Father gives you. Believe that it is good; trust in what you must learn from it; and go forward boldly in peace and love.” See? Jesus isn’t all that bad of a guy after all!
Yes, my desire is for these words to change your entire life. The only way to really know “where I am” these days, or “what I am doing,” is to pray and go to the Lord yourself. Truly, I am going away, and I know with full certainty that I will die any minute now. My heart is about to explode, and there will be no greater day for me than the day that it does, for truly, on that day I enter into heaven with my Lord. On that day, I will truly know how to make my intercessions for you. Believe me, my friends, I will never ever stop loving you! You have a friend in Jesus, and you have a friend in me! Very truly I tell you, everything is looking up for you!!
Yes, the only way to know who I am now is to pray to the Lord and find his spirit working in the profoundest depths of your human soul. You must trust that I am not deceiving you here; recall how I have always loved you, how I have always made you think, how I have always supported you with kindness. I now convey myself to Christ with utmost carefulness, but boldly, remembering to “die daily,” to “pray unceasingly,” and to love with every breath of energy I have left. I fight for you, as I have always fought for you; but now I know my true reservoir of strength, which is Jesus. Now it is “no longer I, but Christ within me.” How easy it should be for you to realize that whatever goodness you have ever seen in me was, all along, Christ’s already! That is what I am telling you: Christ is responsible for all the good that lives, has ever lived, and will ever live in me. I myself am nothing. This you must believe.
If these words sound strange to you, trust that the Lord is Good. Trust what you know about me: that I have been pursuing truth and love as a diligent worker since my chemotherapy treatments in 2002; since I first fell in love in 2002; since my mother passed in 2003; since I broke through into the sphere of eternal love in 2005, in a rapacious spiritual emergency for us all; since my father died in 2008; since I graduated university in 2010. Please know that in all this the spirit of God has been with me, even if I denied him with my human voice, then full of false pride and foolish hubris. I know now, through my own experience, that God does not abandon anyone, despite their losses and denials, despite their bitterness and regret. Our God is a kind God, full of infinite mercy for everyone. Jesus Christ himself says to us:
Down below in the lowest part of you, in the lightless disgrace of your impatience and your refusal, there I have chosen my abode.
Friends, I would not say it if it were not so! Please know and trust: my name has always been Timothy, and my name is still Tim! We are all struggling here, struggling to love and be happy. While I am testifying to the power of Jesus Christ, we must understand that the truest access to his heart is through honesty with ourselves. This what I have practiced with myself since before I can remember, since before I was even “myself.” We must stand at the tribunal of all our selfish behavior and make accounts with ourselves first; but the courage to do so comes from God alone. We are afraid to look at these scars, because we are afraid to know who we really are. We are afraid to change, because we know we can’t do it by ourselves; and that is why I am telling you to turn to the Word of God, start practicing the Christian virtues of peace, humility, forbearance, and forgiveness. If I hadn’t tried ten-thousand other ways out first, I wouldn’t be telling you “this is the only fulfilling way”– because it encompasses all ways! It is the way of love; it harmonizes everything.
In my heart, I have had to overcome countless ‘no’s’. In our culture, as you and I well know, many “Christians” do not speak this way. They believe, but they do not change your life. I myself do not care what you “say” you believe. What I care about is your life, and whether or not you lie, whether or not you judge your neighbor, whether or not you bring undue suffering to others, whether you slander people behind their back, whether you take things from people, whether you mistreat people in any way. What I care about is that you change your life somehow, however slightly, and love a little bit better each day.
As serious as my words sound (and are, of course), don’t mistake my length and my zealousness for over-complexity. I mean to impose nothing at all on you! I only mean to increase your joy and your love. I promise you, that is the hope of Jesus Christ himself; and he will help you, if you try, by meditating on the commandments in the Good Book and putting them into practice as best you can. Christianity is a simple religion, because it only asks one thing of us: to love. Wherever there is love, God is there, and that is why I say that the only change in me here is an increase (although the increase in the Lord is admittedly huge). The reason Christianity is so misunderstood and mistreated is because it is always easier to begin with something else other than love. It is always easier to put something else in the throne besides God. What else does the world know how to do, in fact, but to substitute a string of ten-million things in the place of God? Oh God of Mercy, how you grant these substitutions is so amazing to me! You must really want us to love in earnest–so much that you’re willing to cede your throne ten-thousand times, if by means of this you earn from us one ounce of genuine love! Yes, Lord, you are truly as sweet as can be!
Don’t we know that it is always easier to do something else, rather than to love? Don’t we know that there is no Christianity in Christianity, if the person professing this faith is not doing so from a place of love? Don’t we know that we outdo the fake spiritualists by loving them, forgiving them, saying with Jesus himself, “they know not what they do”? Aren’t we as equipped as anyone to keep silent in our room and supplicate Love for the strength to deal with impatient men? Yes, Christianity is simple, but it asks for the most difficult thing: love. That is the only thing: surrender to Love. What does true Christianity say here? You can talk to Love like a flesh and blood person: like a father, like a friend, yes, even like a little child. What we mean by “the grace of God” is this: when you struggle to do this simple thing, take heart! God is with you! And not as something dwelling far outside you, not at all! God is the very presence of your neighbor when he confronts you; for this confrontation happens in the middle of you, and in the middle of you is love. Wherever you look, whoever you look at: Jesus Christ himself is staring you in the face. Trust the Word of God, the reality of Love, and you will see. The Prince of Peace can be spoken to, as simply as we speak to our neighbor–and even easier, in fact, since he has no biases against you, no judgment of you, no opinion of you, no anything. He is Love Incarnate, and he was born to listen. And trust me on this one: he is dying to hear from you!
Of course, you may feel silly, talking to an invisible man; but trust me, my friends: he appears to those who love. And don’t we find the essence of Jesus in the laughter of our children? Don’t they know precisely what it means to talk to God–when they look up and talk to us? What I tell you today is this: we ourselves are children of God, meant to look to Love like trusting children of the Light. Jesus has already looked upon all our scars and all our selfishness with compassion and grace. How compassionate and forgiving are earthly parents! Well then, how magnificent must be God! We are already forgiven for what we have done, if only we give it up and begin to trust in the Creator of the Universe, the Bringer of all Harmony and Bliss: Love, who is God the Father. What we are called to do is practice love: caring for others, forgiving others, bearing with others, being patient with others; and when we fail, take it with apologies to our papa. This is the change I hope for in you, not out of some strict rule, but so that your satisfaction is actual, lasting, and complete. This practice is what I am fighting for, and it is very simple, too simple for the wheeling-and-dealing mind of the ordinary man. It is the practice we were meant to take up: to be stewards of the earth and all its creatures by obeying with full humility the commandment to love. To love Love: now there is the simplest thing in the world!
Please know that as I take up this commandment, I take it up in full freedom and happiness. There is no greater pleasure than the pleasure we take when we do the work of love and swallow whatever ‘no’ we have in the face of this challenging work. Very truly I tell you, our life depends on it. Our life depends on turning to the Lord; and “turning to the Lord” means “turning to Love.” Seek for the honest truth in your heart, and I trust that you will know. No one can help you do this, to be sure; but neither does anyone go into the wilderness alone. That is a guarantee from the Lord!: Jesus walks with you along every step of your path of self-renunciation, with every movement you make toward love.
The practice we are fighting for here is the practice of patience, meekness, and kindness. I reiterate it because we cannot meditate on the difficulties here enough; we can never strive to put it into practice enough. But we must also acknowledge that we do not have the power within ourselves to love at “full capacity.” We need the Lord, and when we turn to him with intention and perseverance, he turns to us ten-thousandfold to fill all the voids of the heart. For the Lord is very serious about love and about us being a perfect steward of the earth. That is why we were created, after all (Gen 1:26-31). God is so serious about this that he freely chose to walk among us, to take on our entire condition, and to suffer and die on the Cross–just to remind us of this, that we might turn to Love and remember our original vocation by remembering Him–his actions, his words, and his passion.
We were born to be workers in the Kingdom of God. If we feel too weak for this, if we feel like the challenge is to high, we have only to swallow our ‘no’ and turn to God, trusting that He will fill us and make us strong. The stories of Noah, Moses, Jacob, and Joseph attest to this; the stories of Elisha, Jeremiah, and Jonah attest to this; the Psalms, Proverbs, and the book of Sirach attest to this; Isaiah attests to this; the whole band of apostles attest to this; the saints throughout the ages attest to this. (And if all that sounds too grand, mama Nancy Lavenz attests to this!) How can we not trust the oldest tradition that there is, which is the tradition of trusting the Lord, revering him, and striving to love, so as to steward all of creation into fullness? What do we think we can find from the inventions of the current culture, from the distractions that cloud our thought, from the barroom judgment-halls and the church-room blather? Oh, dear friend, please listen to me! Please listen to the Lord, his Prophets, his Saints, and his Son! Truly, we need the support of others along this road, and that is why the books are written, the letters sent, the blog-posts posted, the songs shared, and the conversations had. But in our support of one another, in our earnest sharing, we must point to unity in the spirit. We must work in the unity of the spirit, or perish. When I become Timothy, that is what I do: I point elsewhere than to the world, I point otherwise than how the world points. As by now you must well know: I am pointing straight to your heart, for that is where the Good Lord reigns. The unity of the spirit is already in you.
I mentioned my mother’s blue pen and how she wrote with it in her Bible, the same one she was to present to me in 2012, even today, through the power of the Holy Spirit in whom I wholeheartedly believe. So, remembering that I would never lie or mislead you, especially not in issues as important as this one, that is, in issues having to do with my mother’s love for me, here are a few of the passages she has underlined for me, but also for you (since many of you will recall how much she loved you, back when her bodily element was still with us; and I tell you, even now, her spiritual element lives on; she is here with us right now):
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Galatians 2:20
“You must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” Luke 12:40
“‘To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till it was all leavened.” Luke 13:20-21
“Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” Luke 13:22
“Therefore be careful, lest the light in you be darkness.” Luke 11:35
As her markings are sparse, we can trust that these passages ought to be considered of utmost importance to the Christian. But my mother Nancy is even more attentive and precise than this. While most of the underlined passages use a straight mark, some are underlined word by word. These passages, then, must be of even more importance to us, because we know that we are supposed to read them one word a time. Take this example:
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1
“And without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Hebrews 11:6
I know my mothers heart, since it is her blood that pumps in me, and I know that this nuance is not some absentminded gesture, but an indication of ultimate truth. What must be emphasized must be emphasized further. It is not enough to just underline faith. One must bleed it. My mother’s smile, the widest on earth, had its roots in such a faith. My mother knew Jesus Christ, and he helped her, not only to raise me, but to bring laughter and joy to countless other friends, relatives, and children likewise. Of that there can be no doubt.
And so we return. What has happened today? Why is it that today I become “Timothy”? Who exactly is Timothy? Lord, who am I? And what exactly is it that you want from me? Who am to be an exemplar of faith in the Lord? To answer this, I turn to the letters that your apostle has written me. Two letters he gives me! What blessings! I’m sure I could have made due with just one!
O Gracious God, your dear apostle, the last one to whom you appeared, begins his letter to Timothy like this, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope; To Timothy, my true child in faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.”
He tells Timothy, “you may charge certain persons to not teach any different doctrine, nor to occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies which promote speculation rather than the divine training that is in faith; whereas the aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith.”
He tells Timothy, “Have nothing to do with godless and silly myths. Train yourself in godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds the promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive,” to which Paul adds, “because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.”
He tells Timothy, “Command and teach these things. Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”
He tells Timothy, “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance when the elders laid their hand upon you. Practice these duties, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
He tells Timothy, “Teach and urge these duties. If any one teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching which accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit, he knows nothing; he has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling among men who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. There is great godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evil; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their heart with many pangs.”
He continues, “But as for you, man of God, shun all this; aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ; and this will be made manifest at the proper time by the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.”
Oh, my dear St. Paul, how sweetly and intimately you must know me, that you would end your first letter to me like this! “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradiction of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards the faith. Grace be with you.”
I write now in the night, and lo, I am scared. How to safeguard what is entrusted to me, when this is the very gift that men throughout the ages have trampled upon, misused, exploited, spat at, cursed, rejected, persecuted, and killed? O Lord, be you with me, that I may never take fright in the work of your name! And when I take fright, Lord, for I know I am weak, come to me with simple whisperings, that I might know you even closer! For you know now that I have but one delight, and that is to delight in you. You know that I have one body, and that that body is yours. You know that I believe there is one truth and one love, which sustains all the atoms in their burping, sustains the planets in their wandering, sustains the rivers and the clouds, the fish and the oceans, the critters and the beasts of prey that eat them! And yes Lord, love alone sustains us, man and woman! You know that I know you, and find my only substance in your love! You know that I am one with you, if only I hold fast! You know what you are to do with me–now do it! Make it quick! And so that I might not falter on this path–please God, please–send me another letter!
Oh, sweet Jesus, I felt fear, I felt it pass, I trusted you, and now already it is morning! How quickly tribulation passes, if only we trust in the Lord! And lo, another letter, stamped with your name, arrives!
Paul continues, “I thank God whom I serve with a clear conscience, as did my fathers, when I remember you constantly in my prayers. As I remember your tears, I long night and day to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother [Edith] and your mother [Nancy] and now, I am sure, dwells in you. Hence I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of hands; for God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self control.
“Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but take your share of suffering for the gospel in the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago, and now has manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. For this gospel I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, and therefore I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus; guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within you.”
After reminding Timothy of those who turned away from him, but also of Onesiph’orus, who helped to deliver him from his chains in Rome, Paul writes, (with my mother of course, right there, underlining the important parts), “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Take your share of suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier on service gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to satisfy the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will grant you understanding in everything.”
“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descended from David, as preached in my gospel, the gospel for which I am suffering and wearing fetters like a criminal. But the word of God is not fettered. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which in Christ Jesus goes with eternal glory. The saying is sure:
If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful–for he cannot deny himself.
Paul then commands us, “Remind them of this, and charge them before the Lord to avoid disputing about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. Avoid such godless chatter, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will eat its way like gangrene.” After again naming those who turned away from truth “by holding that the resurrection is past already,” and that because of this, “they are upsetting the faith of some,” he encourages us by saying, “But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Let every one who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.'” Oh Paul, I am listening! The very thunder speaks in Jesus’ name!
Oh, dearest Paul, it is as if you knew how to speak directly to my heart, you who speak to me, reaching me with your prayers and your advice. I believe in all this that you are yourself dwelling in the bosom of the resurrected Christ. You have helped so many with your vigilant suffering; now, I pray ye, continue to help me! I will humble myself before the Lord, I will do the good work, I will cleanse what men have made unclean, and I will pay homage to the grace and glory of God the Father in all that I do. I will become what you commanded me to become; Paul, I will not fail you. For we are together; we are not orphans. We have tasted the blood and water that streams from the wounds of Jesus, and “by his bruises we are healed” (Is 53:5). Oh Paul, we know God, and God is coming! Rest your heart, condemn no one; the faithful are listening; they have heard. Already the earth is trembling with the coming of the Lord! Indeed, the stones are crying out! There is no need to fear, Paul: we will not go astray, I will not go astray. Through the very power of Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and forever, Amen!
Paul, professed prisoner of Jesus, his “athlete,” does not speak only to me of course. When Paul writes, he writes to everyone. He sees something good in Timothy; but he wants what Timothy “has” to spread to all the people, and he is only encouraging Timothy in his responsibilities by reminding him of them with his passionate and heartfelt words. We understand this, perhaps, but do we read Paul’s letter with the same urgency with which he sends it to his Timothy? He knows full well that Timothy is nothing, that Timothy knows what it is to die to the world and be crucified with God. He knows that Timothy knows what this means: to be unified with the One Living Spirit of Crucified Love. And so please, dear reader, forget me! Read Paul! Be Timothy yourself! With all your heart and soul, consider me dead, save for when I lead you in the spirit to God; for then you will know that it is not I, but Christ within me, who leads you. Christ Jesus leads you to yourself if you really read me! Do not deny me, I say, but above all do not deny him! We speak in truth! We love you, our love is forever! Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near!
Paul continues, then, with words meant for everyone, “In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and earthenware, and some for noble use, some for ignoble. If any one purifies himself from what is ignoble, then he will be a vessel for noble use, consecrated and useful to the master of the house, ready for any good work. So shun youthful passions and aim at righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with stupid, senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, forbearing, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”
Oh my friends, what man has seen through the evils of the world with greater clarity than Paul? Listen to him!: “Understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such people. For among them are those who make their way into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and swayed by various impulses, who will listen to anybody and can never arrive at the knowledge of the truth. As Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose truth, men of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith; but they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.”
Oh my friends, what man has given us a better profile of human courage and the grace of God than this blessed man of God? Listen to him!: “Now you have observed my teachings, my conduct, my aim of life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions, my sufferings, what befell me at Antioch, Ico’nium, and at Lystra, what persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and imposters will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived.”
Yes, this Saint after my very own heart, united with the very love my mother had for me, continues, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is indeed inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
And yes, hearing, the spirit in my heart rings out, knowledgeable, faithful, swallowing every ‘no’ and mustering up the fortitude to shout out my ‘yes’ to the Lord. Here I am Lord! Do with me what you will! For I know that I am charged in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, the judge of the living and the dead. I know that I am charged by his appearing and his kingdom. I must, “preach out the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort.” I must be “unfailing in patience and teaching.” For the time that Paul predicted has come, the time “when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.” But as for me, I must be steady, endure all suffering, and do the work of he who brings Good News. Yes, I must perseverance, and so fulfill my ministry. All praise be to the glory of God!
Oh, and Paul, how true it is that the time of your departure has came, and how you must entrust your mission to me! But as you rejoiced in being sacrificed for the truth, may I rejoice likewise! As you fought the good fight, may I fight likewise! As you have kept the faith, may I keep it likewise! So strongly did you keep it, that to this very day you are alive in the hearts of faithful men. May I, through the power of the Incarnate Word, set in them the very same spark as you did! And on this day, O Paul, your words, by the power of the Word of God, dwell in my heart. May I speak true to that Word, that the truth of God become well known in my day! Yes, for you there is laid up the crown of righteousness. The Lord, the righteous judge, will award you on that Day–and not only you, but “all who have loved his appearing.” Oh Paul, how kind, how gentle, how right you are! Let us all be worthy of the appearing of God among us!
Dear heavenly Father, by the power of truth and love, which I have engaged since the earliest of my days, send this word out. Send this word out that the whole world may come to love and live in the Lord. Send the very body of God to them, just as you are sending it to me! Send out your Son Jesus Christ to all the world, that they may see! Oh God, bring him! Bring him soon!
As for myself, dear friends, now I must go. I go to die, full of peace and thanksgiving in my heart, for the Lord is Good and Christ is King. I must go to Paul and all the saints, cherishing their words, doing good works, and lifting up the tired and world-trodden hearts of my age. I must leave you, and head into the wilderness of death! Truly, murderers lurk outside my door. No one wants to hear me, for these words try hearts. And so I must go quickly! The Day of the Lord comes much sooner than you think, and the Day is coming soon! Yes, the Lord comes very soon! St. John, be with me! Very truly I tell you, conveyed in the very spirit of our Baptist–the time is nigh! Very truly I tell you, the truth is here!
To all ye who doubt, who would continue in selfish ways, who would continue in pursuit of pleasure and filth, tremble! Tremble as I have trembled! Put off your old skin; read the Good Book; put on Christ Jesus! I implore you because I love you, and my love is forever. Repent, brothers and sisters! Take heed of my testimony, remember my heart with sweetness, but go where you must go–to love. Go where you must go–to believe. Make the sacrifices that you hear screaming out within you. Love better those who you love already; and love even more everyone who you don’t. Turn from the ways of childhood and become adults! Forsake your petty entertainments and pray! Anticipate, read, exercise your mind, and serve everyone–for the day is coming when we will all see face to face. Know the peace that conquers death today, share in my joy! Please, my friends, I implore you: learn from the Father what it is to truly be!
May the Lord be with your Spirit! Grace, indeed, be to you!
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
Amen! Amen! Amen!