30 November 2012


Desert Spirituality for Reformed People (14)

You greatly delude yourself...if you think that one thing is demanded from the layman and another from the monk.... Because all must rise to the same height.... ~ St. John Chrysostom

We might be inclined to think that, of all the passions, monks struggled the most with lust. We know very well that some did, but the passion with which they struggled the most was actually anger; and the desert fathers knew that anger can develop into more serious sins, putting up barriers between ourselves and others.

In the fourth century, Evagrius of Pontus delineated what he called the eight dangerous thoughts: gluttony, fornication, love of money, sadness, anger, listlessness, vainglory and pride. With some modifications, these become known as the seven deadly sins: lechery/lust, gluttony, avarice/greed, acedia/discouragement/sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. Evagrios did not use the word sins, but rather thoughts. Evagrios said, "It does not lie within our power to decide whether or not the passions are going to harass and attack the soul. But it does lie within our power to prevent impassioned thoughts from lingering within us and arousing the passions to action" (here).

On the particular subject of anger, Evagrios thought it to be the worst passion of them all. It is the response to resistance or interference with goals and intentions, or to fear, irritations and disappointments. It's the response we may have when we are busy and someone interrupts us. It's the response we have when we are driving and either are cut off, or impeded in our progress by the driver in front of us driving slower than we are (even when we're trying to drive the speed limit). It's the response we have when our internet connection is slower than usual, or if we lose the connection altogether because our modem suddenly fried or died. In each of these, and similar, cases we are responded to an obstacle.

At its most fundamental level, anger is the desire that some harm come to the person or object thwarting us, whether or not we desire to commit the harm ourselves. It also exults in seeing harm come to those who, we believe, have stymied us. For example, when the bottom fell out of the economy, I read in the comments to a news article, one commentator express glee that rich people were losing money and going bankrupt because they needed to know how it feels to be poor. Why? Because simply by being rich these people had committed some harm to others, especially, one supposes, the commentator—and his fans.

According to some psychologists, anger is rooted in childhood insecurity. Easily angered people don't always yell, curse and throw things. Sometimes they withdraw, sulk, or become physically ill. Anger may be more responsible for most of our sins than we may imagine, even our sexual sins. I recall glancing through a book in a bookstore, a book about marriage and divorce, in which the author made the claim that all adultery is rooted in anger. There are probably many explanations for it but I suspect there is much truth in that. Many adulterers have been hurt (or perceive themselves as having been hurt) by their spouses. Adultery can very easily be understood as rooted in anger, since anger itself is rooted in pain.

The Westminster Divines were not unaware of the spiritual necessity of harnessing and resisting the passions. In its teaching on the implied duties and prohibitions involved in obeying God in the Ten Commandments, The Larger Catechism includes acts intended to confront and restrain the passions. For example, the duties required in the sixth commandment's prohibition of murder are "all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any; by just defense thereof against violence, patient bearing of the hand of God, quietness of mind, cheerfulness of spirit; a sober use of meat, drink, physic, sleep, labor, and recreations; by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peaceable, mild and courteous speeches and behavior; forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil; comforting and succoring the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent."

Note among many of the duties, some of which seem to be unrelated to the commission of murder: "quietness of mind, cheerfulness of spirit; a sober use of meat, drink, physic, sleep, labor, and recreations." We might easily see how having a quiet mind and a cheerful disposition are related, since these dispositions are the opposite of anger, without which there can be no murder. But "a sober use of meat, drink, physic, sleep, labor, and recreations"? What about these? The truth is immoderate use of these things (food and drink, medicines, sleep, labor and recreations) is a life filled with "surfeiting", or dissipation and drunkenness, a life of indulging the passions, which the Lord forbids, rather than a life of alertness and prayer, which the Lord requires (Luke 21.34-36):
Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap; for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth. But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.

It is not that we are forbidden to have pleasures. Even John Calvin, falsely-accused killjoy recognized that Scripture nowhere forbids us “to laugh, or to be full, or to add new to old and hereditary possessions, or to be delighted with music, or to drink wine” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.19.9). But, as he goes on, in the same place, to say, “ [L]et all remember that the nourishment which God gives is for life, not luxury....” The Christian life is, among other things, a life of alertness.

But what can we do about anger? Recall that anger is our response to resistance, or injury— even perceived resistance and injury. It is also a response to some deprivation or, again, perceived deprivation of pleasure or need (even, yet again, perceived need). We must deal with it as a response, more specifically as a learned, habitual response.

The monks employed several strategies in their battles against this emotion. First, we shouldn't be surprised to find anger lurking within our souls; we shouldn't be discouraged or despondent about it, either. We are fallen; our feelings do get hurt. We are also creatures of habit. It is dangerous not to admit this. If we don't admit that we can be hurt, we are likely not to realize that we have been hurt and, as a result, not very likely to recognize even the potential for finding anger within us, much less the reality. It was common for monks to believe they were, or should have been, above being angered. The wisest of the monastics knew better than to think monks were not like everyone else. As I have quoted St Chrysostom, both layman and monk "must rise to the same height." The monk, simply by being a monk, has arrived nowhere.

Second, when we do find anger, we have to deal with it immediately and decisively. If not, if we let it simmer in our conscious or unconscious minds, it will take root within us. We must keep short accounts with others, pulling weeds daily. As St Paul says: "Do not let the sun go down on your anger" (Ephesians 4.26). Some people think this means letting everyone who has angered you know they have angered you. There may be times when this is necessary, but in many cases what usually happens is that the other person believing (as we all do; let’s admit that, too) he has been falsely accused simply gets angry in turn. There’s a fine mess. Keeping short accounts means forgiving those who have made you angry. And forgiveness does not mean changing how you feel. To forgive is to relinquish a claim to restitution; it is a decision not to seek repayment for the wrong. Yes, that means we suffer the slight, which means we, ourselves, in effect pay the debt that is owed us. But that is exactly what it means for God to forgive us. Forgiveness of debts always costs the creditor. (This is a commonly mis-understood element of the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15.11-31. The father did forgive the son, but it cost him half of his wealth in order to do so.)

Third, the most effective way to deal with anger is to die to our egos; this is also the most difficult. We are very sensitive to what others may think of us, suspicious that others may be talking about us unfavorably behind our backs. We get hurt when others disappoint us, convinced (truth be told) we had a right to expect differently of them. Then too, we may feel that others expect too much of us, and have no right to do so. One of the desert monks had a humorous tale by way of remedy:

A brother  came to see Abba Makarios and said, "Abba, give me a word that I may be saved." Abba Makarios said, "Go to the cemetary and abuse the dead. " The brother went there and abused them and threw stones at their graves. The he returned to Abba Makarios and told the old man about it.  The old man asked, "Did they say anything to you?" He replied, "No." The old man said, "Go back tomorrow and praise the dead." So the brother went away and praised them, calling them apostles and saints and righteous men. He returned to the old man and said, "I have complimented them." And the old man said to him, "Did they not answer you?"  The brother said, "No." The old man said to him, "Do you know how you insulted them and they did not reply, and how you praised them and they did not speak? So you too, if you wished to be saved, must do the same and become a dead man. Like the dead, take no account of either the scorn of men or their praises, and you can be saved.

We too must become like a dead man, dead to our egos. In such a state of mind neither praise nor insult can harm us. Yes, praise can harm us, even if only by setting us up for disappointment when we are not praised (and moving us to attempt things for purposes of eliciting praise) and by making insults ever more difficult to bear, making us angrier than we might otherwise have been. This isn't to say we shouldn't express gratitude when we are praised, depending upon the nature of the praise. But we should simply take note of the praise, express gratitude, and forget about it.

Of course, if it were easy everyone would be there and there would be no anger in the world at all. It requires work because, for many, anger has become a habit. And as Saint Neilus the Ascetic said, “Habit leads to a set disposition, and this in turn becomes what may be called ‘second nature’; and it is hard to shift and alter nature.” Indeed. And I know this well, for of all the passions, anger is the one I struggle with most.


Nora said...

I believe that anger is the emotion that plagues me most. I'm mindful of it, and I do try to work on it. Very well written posting, Deviant. I was wondering if and when you'd get around to writing another one.

James Frank Solís said...

I hadn't intended it to take this long, but this one really required that I spend some time dealing with myself so as not to appear to speaking with personal, moral authority.

Anonymous said...

You should have taken much longer.
Now you end up with a wall of words waffling around stroking your own ego because of how erudite you must look by qouting Evagrius of Pontus, a 4th century monk. It didn't help his fame either that he was deemed a heretic by the all loving Christian church.

What I make out from your writings is that you clearly have no background in technology nor science because I can't see it happen that if you did you would be so unable to clearly express your ideas in a logical manner with a clear cause and effect strategy.

'Adultery can very easily be understood as rooted in anger, since anger itself is rooted in pain.'

So adultery is caused by pain, is that your viewpoint. Really?
It's not about lust but anger and therefor pain. So if you decide to roll in the proverbial hay with a twenty something it isn't because you lusted after her body but because your wife angered you due to the pain you felt when she didn't cook you your favourite breakfast? You are really too much. If you are indeed a gradate level educated man then I would ask for a refund for your education. IF you are a church elder then I pity the members of your church that have to endure you.

Most times convoluted thoughts are not a sign of education nor of intelligence but a sign of pride and laziness. Your blog shows this time and time again.

Trent said...

Hey Pastor Solis!
I was wondering what is the website to your church to contact you? I read you went to New Geneva Seminary on the PB and wanted to ask you about it.

James Frank Solís said...

No, my viewpoint is not that adultery is caused by pain. If you must find fault with me, please do as a good a job of reading and writing as that you demand of me.

I didn't say simply that, 'Adultery can very easily be understood as rooted in anger, since anger is rooted in pain.' That was the last sentence in a paragraph. The whole paragraph was:

"According to some psychologists, anger is rooted in childhood insecurity. Easily angered people don't always yell, curse and throw things. Sometimes they withdraw, sulk, or become physically ill. Anger may be more responsible for most of our sins than we may imagine, even our sexual sins. I recall glancing through a book in a bookstore, a book about marriage and divorce, in which the author made the claim that all adultery is rooted in anger. There are probably many explanations for it but I suspect there is much truth in that. Many adulterers have been hurt (or perceive themselves as having been hurt) by their spouses. Adultery can very easily be understood as rooted in anger, since anger itself is rooted in pain."

I first asserted that anger may be responsible for more of our sins than we realize. The relation of adultery to anger was not my own observation. I said it was someone else's observation. I also said my knowledge of that observation came from a mere glance through the pages of a book in a bookstore.

Nothing about an observation that adultery can be understood as rooted in anger rules out its being rooted in lust. The fact is that not all adultery is rooted in simple lust. Some people commit adultery for reasons that have little to do with lust and have more to do with things like loneliness, neglect by one's spouse, even flat-out demonstrations, by one's spouse, that one is not loved and cherished. Your silly comment, which would have a man committing adultery because his feelings were hurt by his wife's not cooking his favorite breakfast does nothing but demonstrate the stupidity to which you will stoop just to attempt a verbal swing at me. Goodness, at least be more of an adult than you think I am.

It is not that anger alone explains or excuses adultery, but more that it might better explain some instances of. If a woman ends up in the arms of another man because her husband is abusive to her, either physically or emotionally, does that not better explain the adultery than simple lust?

Is some, even most adultery (that 'proverbial' rolling in the hay) rooted in lust? Probably. I won't claim to know precisely how many instances of adultery are simple expressions of pure lust.

But I certainly don't think it's all about simple lust. This is not an original thought with me:



As to the rest, I can't imagine a world in which your insults would actually bother me, so I'll limit my own comments to the substance of the posting, however self-serving, prideful, lazy, pretentious and wrong you may find them.

James Frank Solís said...


Pardon my not replying sooner, I'll spare you excuses.

The church's website is down and is being rebuilt. You can find us on facebook:


Trent said...

Does the email work, or no?

Nora said...

I think someone needs some lotion for Christmas, eh, "anonymous?"

To an outside observer, you stand on the soapbox of PROJECTION. You might want to get that checked. I just wouldn't feel right if I didn't at least point out your flaws.

Lighten up.

Anonymous said...

So let me get this straight. You are are a libertarian in so much that you find that government should not be able to tell anyone what to do. As so many libertarians you seem to forget the first 2 words or your own constitution. Those 2 words should make it clear to you who THE government is, but you see no conflict in that.
I always find it hilarious how church leaders in the US moan about BIG government while they make damn sure that the church is free of taxes and still have there hand out at every opportunity to get money, more money, even more money. I put it to you that if all the churches in the world would use their wealth to aid people at large that there would be no starving childrens or adults anywhere on this planet. Instead they all use it for their own glory, because god seems to help those that help themselves.

I gathered that you went to New Geneva Seminary which is accredited by ARTS, which in other words seems to mean as much as it being accredited by Winnie The Pooh.

Then again, as with anything concerning religion, it's kind of an ol' boys network iss't it. We are deemed fit because he says we are and he is because we say he is, isn't that how it goes?

Over here going to a seminary means more then regurgitating some materials you heard in class and paying a class fee. Then again, why am I surprised. Mark Twain debunked christan Science for the aforementioned in the beginning of the last century and christian science's around still being a cash cow for the upper levels of management. Seems that 'modern' day people in the USA still rather believe a snake oil salesman, no matter of what kind of cult or sub-sect he is, then be curious and learn stuff.

You are presbyterian and there for used to operate in an organization with many levels of governing. But you are against government. Schizophrenic much ?

Since you are prebyterian that also means that you book of doctrines/creeds/confessions or as I would call it, dogma, alters ever so often. Yay for the word of god almighty that is handed by scripture but needs to be re-evaluate, re-translated, re-comprehended very often it seems. On what revision is the book of order at the moment?

Let's recap, gobermint shouldn't tell you what to do, but god does. God being the loving namby pamby caring god of NT or the spiteful bloodthirsty cruel OT one... doesn't matter because ya'll re-interpret the bible as often as ya'll please to do so.

You believe in freedom but only when it's your kind of freedom and the rest be damned. You think that lack of a believe in god means lack of ethics, especially if one doesn't believe in your god instead of any of the few thousand other gods that people in the States alone belief in let alone the none christian gods of other religions.

You dear sir are in dire need of psychological pharmaceuticals.

If christians have only one god then who is Jezus? If christians have only one god then why are there so many sects and cults all believing they and they alone are gods chosen ones? You went to a ministery this should be easy for you to answer and in normal language without going pompous on me.

James Frank Solís said...

No, I'm not libertarian in that I believe that government should not tell anyone what to do, which, on my view, dispenses with your notion there is a conflict between my anti-government and pro-government positions. (The view you have in mind is anarchism. I'm not an anarchist.)

As to the first words of the Constitution, the phrase "we the people" does not make the people the government. I don't know what could be more ludicrous. (I'm pretty clear on what you regard as more ludicrous.) The constitution, by outlining a form of government, makes a pretty clear distinction between the people and the government they create. Furthermore, as the union was once a federal republic, the constituent members of this union are not the individuals in direct relation to the federal government but, rather, the states of which they are citizens.

Ignorant of constitutional law much?

Regarding the trinity: Yes, one divine essence, subsisting in three persons. Despite not believing in it, that much should be easy to grasp. Even I could get that much when I was an atheist.

As to the rest, your insults are duly noted, and entirely predictable.

When I myself was an atheist I would have found you an embarrassment. The atheists I know now would do, as well. I doubt you can improve upon what you've said here thus far. If you won't put your thesis to the test and engage me in serious debate, please don't bother coming back. No one forces you here. Not, of course, that I can stop you. But I shant respond to any more of this. I'm not impressed by you. I'm not intimidated by you. (We've established you're not impressed by me. I don't really care.) I don't have much time in the first place; I certainly don't have time to respond one who writes more nonsense than he he thinks I do.

Winnie the Pooh. Cute.

Bye, bye now.

Anonymous said...

"Regarding the trinity: Yes, one divine essence, subsisting in three persons. Despite not believing in it, that much should be easy to grasp. Even I could get that much when I was an atheist."
You an atheist? And here was I thinking that a man of God shouldn't bear false witness. No, instead he just flat out lies. This is not name calling. I'll explain.
No atheist can understand the so called logic of having one god but he being 3 different separate beings and there for having 2 (the holy spirit has a bit of a shitty deal because he seems to be treated more like a side kick) of those being truly worshipped. Because we have to love and worship God as well his son (who is god)because it's his son , although not really because actually it's the holy spirits son (the holy spirit being just another form of God). One has truly to be in a special mindset, as in totally ignoring any rule of logic, to be able to comprehend and BELIEVE that,
There for you stating that you even understood it while being an "athiest" shows that you are either lying about being an atheist or lying that you understood it at the time. Point being that the entire idea about trinity is something that even the best of Jesuit scholars (and they have been at it far longer then your sub sect) can't explain with anything except one of the proverbial stop gaps or lots of typical Jesuit mincing of words.
I put it to you that you aren't a libertarian as that you are just against anything that furthers government unless it's a rightwing one. Just like the teaparty you are, underneath it all, not about personal choices and freedom of gobermint but about wanting it your way and freedom of not having to deal with logic, common decency, or anything else that YOU think is not your kind of christian.
I see you protest time and time again but only there were it is a left wing agenda. That in itself should make it clear to you what you are. It does to even the most casual observer.

Anonymous said...

"Ignorant of constitutional law much?"
The PEOPLE elect representatives,senators, even the president. So you can play word games about constitutional law as much as you want the fact remains that ALL of the officials even in federal govenment get elected by the people in one way or the other. There for the people get the kind of government that the majority wanted (or the voting rigged districts in mostly republican states try to influence). If you don't like it then you're in the minority and you just have to deal with it or try to change it. Or in short, the government is appointed by the people and made from persons belonging to your people. There for being against it and what it stands for is being against yourself or being against the fact that your fellow brethren (or sisters) someone else has something to say about what you can and can't do. You being an elder yourself makes your point of view more then just a little ironic.
The most telling of it all is that I offered you various questions to be answered that would have offered a clear means of debate where you could have 'shown' your superior intellect and you ..... ignored them all.
-Does your church ask for money?
-Does your church pay taxes or does it, as most, find it below themselves to help their fellow country men no matter what race or creed by means of sharing there wealth in the form of taxes?
-Does your particular sect have a body that convenes every so often to change THE book or doesn't it? And how do you justify that and still claim to cater to the unchanging word of god?
-Is it true or not that you had to pay to go to New Geneva? While I can understand having to pay an entrance fee I'm at a loss as to why putting forth the word of the loving caring all embracing God should mean that the future bringer of the good word has to fill the already ample filled coffers of the church.
-Not to mention the main one, the one I finished the prior post with namely; If christians have only one god then why are there so many sects and cults all believing they and they alone are gods chosen ones?

Anonymous said...

I put it to you that there are no 100's of millions of christians. The reason being that there are 10's of thousands of 'christian' cults and sects that it isn't difficult to find a presbytarian let alone a'christian' that doesn't believe the exact same thing as that you do, or in the exact same manner, as soon as you travel more then 30 miles. You can't both be right so one of you is not a true believer. Just as that of the tens of thousands of christian sects there can only be one that is true (for the sake of argument I'll agree that there is a God and that he God is a 'christian god').

So what makes you so special that you are so sure that of all the belief systems that are around and of all sects that each of those believe systems have that not only did you chose the right family of beliefs but even the right branch and of that branch the right sub branch? There's lots of different presbytarian sects afterall.

Ah let me guess..... silence because afterall no matter how much you toot your horn about being so smart so erudite so wise... the fact remains that you don't want debate, you can't handle debate, you just want everyone to do as you do,believe as you believe, and bow to your merciful god while giving your church money. As well as receiving your +50K USD (not counting extra's) for being sanctimonious living on a hand out because you are unable (or unwilling) to provide something that actual would help your community in the here and now instead of telling tall tales and ripping them off.

Considering that PC has lost about 43% of its believers in the last 30 years I would advise you to retire soon before you don't have anyone left that will actual pay for your spouting of nonsense.

James Frank Solís said...

Dear Anonymous,

I had a lengthy reply going, in which I intended to reply to each and every point here, since you made such as issue of it. To wit:

"The most telling of it all is that I offered you various questions to be answered that would have offered a clear means of debate where you could have 'shown' your superior intellect and you ..... ignored them all."

You're right I did not respond to those question. I did not do, only because I didn't regard them as the most important things you wanted to discuss.

Frankly, I was right. These are not matters for which you want any serious discussion. Even this, your most recent challenge reveals your true purpose: simply to insult me and caricature my intentions here. How else to explain your referring to an opportunity for me to demonstrate my "superior intellect".

You've made quite clear that you hold me in low esteem. I really don't know how I communicated to you or anyone that I regard myself as possessing a superior intellect. I'm sure you stand ready to explain it to me. The fact is I don't know who is claiming the superior intellect, me, or you--the one who sets out to correct me. I think you. I may be as arrogant as you think; but that arrogance is exceeded only by your own.

You don't want debate or discussion. I've done both. You want simply to unload on me emotionally. You're angry. Perhaps justifiably; you clear think so.

As unfinished as you found my reply, it was at least civil--something you have never accorded me. I have been civil. So far as I know where I have failed to be civil I have apologized to you for the fault. Not good enough, clearly.

I told you in my last reply that I no longer have time for you if all I'm going to get from you is more of the same.

No doubt you will use this against me as well, patting yourself on the back for finally demonstrating to me what a troglodyte I am. Congrats. You're the big winner. Go tell all your friends.

I will clarify one thing: I am not a minister, so I don't need to retire. I do in fact contribute to my community by producing a product very much in demand in my neck of the woods. I don't live on hand-outs. If anything I give the hand-outs.

Again: Bye, bye now.

Nora said...

I've got an idea, Anonymous. Since you clearly can't stomach the thoughts that James has, why don't you stop coming around? Anyone, with any kind of sense at all, would have already moved on to bigger and better things, if only in their own mind.

Just sayin'.

About Me

James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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