Yesterday's sermon took up the matter of pride. It was a needed and powerful encouragement to not think more highly of ourselves than we should, to not puff ourselves up by comparison with others, but acknowledge truthfully our strengths and our limitations. And while it is true that we can harbor an inflated view of ourselves, I don't think that we can set our desires too high. Writing to the Colossians, Paul says that he is laboring with all the energy of God to teach and admonish all of the Gentiles concerning a truth which has been hidden and is now revealed. This astonishing mystery is that Christ is in each of the believers, the hope of glory. (Col 1:24-27)

What does it mean that because of Christ's presence in us, we have the hope of glory? A saying from the desert fathers has always intrigued me. In this story, Abba Lot goes to see Abba Joseph and says to him, 'Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace, and, as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?' At this, Abba Joseph stands up and stretches his hands towards heaven. His fingers become like ten lamps of fire and he says to Abba Lot, 'If you will, you can become all flame.'

"If you will," says Abba Joseph. Do we want to become all flame? Or, to put it another way, Do we want the Holy Spirit to so invade our lives that we are filled with the energy and love, "the glory," of God, And if so, how can we handle this fire without being consumed, how can we be as resilient as the burning bush that caught the attention of Moses out in the desert?

These are questions that guide my journey of faith. I am under no delusions. To be filled with the fire of God means that I need to stay open to the purifying this fire brings, which can be a painful process. It also means that I'm taking seriously the body that this Spirit desires to fill. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus tells his disciples that "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." Becoming healthy and strong makes sense if I don't want to be overwhelmed by the power of God surging through me.

Like Paul, I'm struggling to grasp hold of the gift that God has given each of us - the ability to become truly sons and daughters of God. It's pretty audacious, I know. Perhaps it sounds prideful to even admit, but I don't think so. No, the desire to be all flame is fueled by the desire to become one with the love of God. This yearning takes the Father, the Son and the Spirit seriously as they gracious pursue humanity to make us one with themselves.

I want to be all love, to channel the power of God's love, to cauterize, heal, strengthen, encourage, enjoy, empower. I want to share in God's glory because I think that's what God wants. If He desires all of us to become flame, should I want less?
 
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I'm in the midst of reading "Emma", finally making my way through Jane Austen's novels. Huddled under my quilt, with a hot cup of tea, I immerse myself in the manners and sensibilities of 18th century England. Emma is an interesting character. She is presented as both lovable and flawed, at times silly and proud, at other times truly gracoius and caring. A bit like all of us, I suppose.

One of Emma's main shortcomings is pride. All of her associations are ruled by her station in the hierarchy of the small town in which she resides. Some people are fit for friendship, others must be placed within the realm of benefactor/benefactress. At one point, she rues the fact that if only this family were a bit higher on the social scale, she could consider a relationship with them, but of course, it is out of the question.

Although it is easy to decry the class system of Georgian England, pride can rear its head in many of our own associations. Yesterday I was speaking with a friend who had just returned from a frustrating board meeting. The chair's confidence in his quick thinking, creative problem solving and grasp of the situation left no room at the table for anyone else. My friend's voice, as well as the voices of the others were effectively silenced, and the contributions that could have added and enhanced the topic under discussion were missed.

I've always known that pride was a "deadly sin." Pride puffs one up, pride comes before a fall, etc, but it wasn't until this morning that I put together the fact that one of the main harms of pride is that it closes you to community. It assumes that you have all that is needed, therefore making others superfluous.

True humility, on the other hand, believes not only in the importance of one's own contributions, but allows for, and invites the contributions of others. The humble person doesn't denegrate their own abilities (oh, I have nothing to offer), rather they insist on the gifts and insights of all. Pride isolates and contracts; humility connects and expands.

Emma is the lonelier for her refusal to associate outside her "prescribed" norms. My friend's committee suffers from collaboration. Healthy and vibrant community requires an open door, the generous hospitality of humility.