Formation by addition and subtraction – Br. Todd Blackham

2 Esdras 2:42-48
Psalm 126
Matthew 10:24–30

A person’s spiritual life is formed by all manner of processes working in intricate, entangled ways.  Some aspects of formation are a process of addition, being given new material, things like absorbing scripture and prayer, words that give meaning to our experience, rituals that structure the intangible, ineffable things of God.

And, there are also elements of formation that are a process of subtraction, letting go of those things which are not life-giving, relinquishing attempts to control what we cannot, saying yes to the things of God often means saying no to the things of this world, pride, greed, exploitation and the like.  Some erosion is important to wear away what cannot, what should not endure.

And then there comes a point of resistance, where what is firm persists and what is fleeting falls away, there in that creative tension we are found in Christ.  In the midst of these formative processes we grow in stature and the likeness of Christ.  Much like the fascinating rock features of the American Southwest.  The Arches of Moab, Utah, Devil’s Tower in Arizona, the Kissing Camels of the Garden of the Gods in Colorado.  Each were formed by various metamorphic and compaction processes beneath the surface of the earth until the softer surrounding rock was worn away through the erosive properties of wind and water.  What remains are the stunning results of competing forces working over great lengths of time.

The remembrance we keep today of St. Fabian puts me in mind of those monuments.  Here was a man formed in faith by the early church, baptized and catechized by people passing along what had been handed to them by the apostles.  In the year 236 he came as a layman to the assembly gathered in Rome to selected a new bishop, a new pope.  Eusebius records that although Fabian was in no one’s mind for election a dove suddenly alighted on his head and he was unanimously acclaimed bishop.

His fourteen-year tenure was marked by important administrative organization and of particular note was his commissioning of seven deacons and sub-deacons to compile and write the stories of the martyrs of the previous two centuries that they might be preserved and venerated.  Soon enough, he too would fall into the category of martyr when he refused to comply with the Emperor Decius’ demand that everyone in the Roman Empire mark their allegiance by sacrificing and burning incense for the Emperor’s well-being to the Roman gods.

Here is where his mettle was tested and found to be pure.  The image of Christ in him would not be worn away by the blowing winds of an earthly ruler.  We encounter all sorts of erosive elements in our lives of faith.  The lure of comfort, entertainment, and influence all seek to wear us away until we are nothing but dust.  The lives of the martyrs, their persistence, their willingness to stand, unyielding to the threat of their mortal lives show us the example of those who endured and received the crown of life by the Christ who was tempted in every way as we are yet did not sin.  Whose resurrection we remember in this eucharist as we stand firm in the faith.

Be renewed, therefore, in conviction and faith by the example of the martyrs.  That we may endure to sing with the heavenly host the great things the Lord has done for us.  Amen.

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  1. William Stewart on February 13, 2022 at 16:14

    These were some really wonderful insights.

  2. Tudy Hill on February 12, 2022 at 12:23

    I, too, need to be reminded of the story of the martyrs, past or recent. I am grateful to St Fabian who guided his deacons and sub-deacons to record their stories. And ironically he joined their number. I often wonder what I would do in their situation, which I know is why I need to hear about their courage and focus on Jesus.

  3. William Brown on February 11, 2022 at 12:21

    The analogy to geological and weather/related changes is apt for we too are weathered by events, experience and the hand of God in our life, winnowing what holds us back and holding fast to that which strengthens our relationship with God.
    Well done and thanks

  4. Marilyn Bergen on February 11, 2022 at 10:22

    Thanks for this reminder that formation is ongoing! I began my postulancy officially over 50 years ago! Some 5 years later, it was called formation. I left the official constructs of formation and vows almost 40 years ago, but I find the formation of the last 10-12 years to be the most formative and restorative of my life. I attribute much of this to the grace of knowing you, my brothers. Many thanks to each of you, for the gift of your words that continue to form me.
    Gratefully, Marilyn

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