Monthly Archives: December 2010

How did a nice Swegian farm girl end up in Scotland studying a Catholic mystic and Christ's descent into hell for a Ph.D.?


My Spiritual Journey

Faith Ev. Free Sunday School (Plugged In)

Dec 19, 2010

Here’s a Big Question:  How did a nice Swedish-Norwegian farm girl end up in Scotland studying a Catholic mystic for a Ph.D.?

  • First I will give you a brief outline of my spiritual journey.
  • Then I will give you a brief biography of Adrienne von Speyr.
  • I will explain what she wrote and why she is important to study.
  • Finally, will talk about my project, the influence  Ignatius Loyola (the founder of the Jesuits) and the devotional (Spiritual Exercises) had on her writing.
  • And how Adrienne the  Obedience of a Corpse in Jesus’ death and descent into hell.

My Story:

I was born into a strong evangelical Lutheran family – at least seven generations of believing Christians devoted to God and serving the church. I paid attention to the liturgy and the hymns, even when I didn’t understand them. I had questions about what we said in the Apostles’ creed:

“He was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead;”

What does it mean for the Son of God to die? What happened to him? What did he do in those three days in hell? Then it says,

“he ascended into heaven where he sits on the right hand of the Father; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”

Why would Nancy come to judge the quick and the dead? I had a sister named Nancy – I knew it wasn’t her. So who was Nancy in heaven? But that was ok. I would find out someday. I never had the doubts about God and faith that a lot of people have.

I went to Wheaton College because I wanted to meet a guy whose focus was God. Most of the boys I’d grown up with appeared to consider God and church as add-ons, not as a serious part of their lives. So, Wheaton seemed to be the logical choice to meet serious Christian men.

In my sophomore year my small prayer group spent time with another group on campus mostly of young men who believed that it was possible to have a relationship with Jesus that was more real than if he were physically present. If Jesus had said that it was better for him to go and leave his Holy Spirit with the disciples, it must mean that our relationship with God should be more real than while he walked the earth. There were times when they would even put out an extra chair for Jesus during their prayer meetings. And sometimes they even sensed his presence.

Eventually, many of these guys dropped out of college and developed what was then called a New Testament House Church. My friends and I joined them in Chicago. The singles lived in communal apartments but the marrieds had their own apartments. This house church investigated early church teachings, and incorporated elements of Jewish tradition and Catholicism in order to get at what they thought was the authentic New Testament church.

There were a lot of good things about this group. We learned quite a bit about early Jewish history, the early Church and the Church Fathers. I met my husband there and he learned to spend hours in Bible reading and prayer. They believed in accountability to leadership — a concept called Shepherding in those days. But without older families with maturity and experience in the group, it eventually became isolationist.

At one point, they encouraged us to go to other local churches and assemblies in order to proselytize. My husband had met a neighbor, a woman in her fifties named Fortunata Kozyminski, who invited us to her church ‘in the spirit of ecumenism’. She belonged to a little congregation of Byzantine Catholics who met in a firehall down the street. So, we went there for over a year, learning about the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (4th c) and about Catholicism. Many of the men there had been in seminary so they were able to answer all our questions during coffee hour in the basement. And we realized that many of our misunderstandings about Catholics were due to semantics – we used the same words but meant different things, or used different words to mean the same thing.                      A different mind-set.

I realized that Fortunata was the first real live mystic that I’d ever met. I remember her talking about Father Val serving communion saying, “didn’t you just see Jesus giving us the Eucharist?” and realizing that she believed really had seen Jesus.

So, since I am now studying the writings of a mystic,

But, first, let me explain to you what a mystic is! There are many kinds of mystics. There are pagan mystics like the Greek sybils and oracles, there are native shamans; nature mystics like Wordsworth and Shelley – the romantic poets. There are Sufi and Hindi mystics and New Age mystics; but my interest is only in Christian mystics.

Christian Mystics

  • The genuine mystic is a lover in love with God, seeking after Him alone, not seeking an experience or a special knowledge, but a living Person. Ecstatic experiences (going out of oneself) are not essential to the mystical life. (A.W.Tozer – the evangelical mystic) Dreams, Visions and hearing voices, levitation, miracles, stigmata (bleeding from hands and feet), healings and other strange out of body experiences are often associated with mystics and do occur in legitimate Christian mysticism but are not necessary to it.

  • Mysticism actively involves the whole person. It is not a passive introspection. Authentic Christian mystics are often the most active people in caring for the poor, the sick, and the dying – for ex. Mother Theresa. Francis of Assissi.
  • The experience of the living God alters the whole life of the mystic.  One cannot come into contact with Holiness without coming away transformed.  For example: Theresa of Avila (a contemporary of Luther and Calvin) was a spoiled and pampered young girl who loved novels, clothes and excitement. Until during a serious illness, she learned how to pray and experienced the presence of Christ which completely changed her life. She became a reformer in the Spanish church.
  • The mystic renounces all claims to all personal happiness or self-fulfilment, thus becoming a true picture of the Gospel which says that those who lose their lives will gain them.
  • True mysticism and mental illnesses can appear very similar to some. However, with time they are easy to distinguish. Mental illness tends to disintegrate the personality and one becomes engrossed in one’s personal experiences. On the other hand, a true mystic will have a more and more integrated personality as well as a more outward focus and demonstrate more and more the fruits of the Spirit.

Adrienne wrote 2 books on mysticism in which she describes mystical experiences as living out the Gospels. So, one could experience something like Mary’s adoration of the Child Christ or her pain and suffering at the Cross. One could experience something like Christ’s abandonment by God. One could experience something like the disciples’ vision of the Transfiguration or something like the leper’s healing and gratitude, Peter’s confusion, John’s adoration, the blind man’s sight restored, the paralytic’s joy at restoration. For Adrienne, mysticism is not about what happens to the mystic or the outward manifestations but is entirely about the content of the experience. Is the content consistent with the Gospels? Is the mystic focused on the content and in living their life in obedience to Christ’s call, or is it focused on the experience? Adrienne’s interest in other mystics was always, how completely did they obey their calling and how transparent was their life in God?

Back to My Story

Eventually, I realized that things were going badly wrong at our house church and we needed to get out. So, when I was pregnant with our fourth child, Karl, we moved out of Chicago into a small town near a coworker of David’s so they could carpool to Chicago everyday. When we looked for a new church, we realized that we had to find a church that included parents and grandparents, not just twenty year olds. We bought a house next door to some Moody graduates who introduced us to their Baptist church. In spite of my vow NEVER to join a Baptist church, it fulfilled our entire list of requirements. So, in spite of it being Baptist, we got involved there and made many friends and that’s where we stayed until we moved back to PA.

One of the spiritual struggles that I had, though, was wanting to be a godly wife and mother to my husband and kids. The answer to deepening your spiritual life was: study the Bible more; pray more; have a daily quiet time. But none of those things were working. God seemed very far from me. Back when I was in college I had had a very real sense of the presence of God in my life. But over the years that faded and I didn’t know why. If I had been able to read the lives of the saints, I might have found an answer, but I didn’t have those resources at the time. So, I muddled on the best I could.

Many years later, I read of St. John of the Cross and St. Theresa of Avila who talked about the “Dark Night of the Soul” in which one feels abandoned by God even when they desperately loved God and wanted his presence in their life. They understood it as a time of ultimate obedience – obedience to what they knew God wanted of them even when they did not receive any confirmation or sense of his approval, love or “consolations.” It is an act of pure faith.

Mother Theresa is another one who experienced this type of abandonment. She and her advisors understood it to be an identification with her mission to the poor and dying, a type of participation in the Son’s abandonment on the Cross.

After we’d lived in Round Lake for five years, and had five kids and our little cape cod kept getting smaller and smaller, Dave’s parents offered to sell us their big farm house here. We jumped at the chance and made plans to sell our house and move back the summer of ‘85. We had been concerned for sometime about how to raise our kids. We’d both grown up on farms and had no clue how to raise boys in Chicago or in our current town. So, when Tessa was 10 and our baby Teri was 3, we moved back to the farm. The folks moved into a Love home that they had put where the barn used to be and took what they needed from the big house. We bought the house and the contents – including Dave’s brother, Robert who has Down Syndrome.

Having Robert was a good thing. He wasn’t very difficult to care for but I had to be aware of his needs 24/7. The kids all helped. I had managed my life well, so that I couldn’t possibly go get a job – I had a career: I needed to stay home with my kids and Robert. So I had my life pretty much the way I wanted it. Dave had a good career. We had a big enough house and garden. Grandparents and family nearby. Life was good.

We came to Faith Evangelical Church because it had a large youth program and we knew people who went there. It was in a lot ways very similar to the churches that both Dave and I had grown up in.

The kids grew up and Tessa went off to college – back to Wheaton where both of us had gone. The first week she was there, Dave and I were broadsided on our corner and the car rolled. I was laid up for a few weeks with broken ribs and general bruising not to mention broken glasses! Meanwhile, Tessa began introducing me to some books she was reading such as Listening Prayer by Leanne Payne – a book recommended by her professor. This book introduced a devotional tool that I had needed years ago – but it brought a lot of spiritual healing and understanding to my life. It has a liturgical method for conversational praying – not just talking to God, but listening to what God says back. Through this book and through other friends, I was introduced to saints and ways of praying that I’d not heard of before.

I studied Brother Lawrence and his little book called, Practicing the Presence of God. A way of remembering that God is always present – and directing all our internal talking to him. I studied St. Theresa of Avila who had a life of conversational prayer with Jesus. Julian of Norwich was another saint who helped me, too. Even though she lived during the times of the Black Plagues and continuous warfare in her port city, she could say that “All is well. All will be well” God makes all things well. I spent a year studying prayer and at the end of that time, realized that I knew and understood very little about it!

Later on, I had the sense that my life was going to change. But I had no idea what that was going to look like. When Karl left for college, I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to take care of Robert by myself. Dave’s folks were needing more and more attention – or at least worry. We tried to get help with taking care of Robert, but all my friends had gone back to work and now the kids were leaving. We had always expected that we would take care of Robert until he died – but he’s 56 now and still in reasonably good health.

When Teri left home in June after his senior year, I began to think about what I would do with the rest of my life. I remember sitting at my loom – weaving and thinking that I’d like to travel, see my grandkids, do overseas missions things,  and so on. Then I heard myself thinking, I need to go to seminary. I’ll have to finish college. It doesn’t matter what major I take. I just have to go to seminary.

Well!!! I’d spent the last nearly 30 years telling people that I didn’t see any need to finish college. I wasn’t going to have a career after all. It would be an expensive hobby for my personal intellectual gratification. So, it was ridiculous! Why was I thinking THAT? Besides, I was taking care of three elderly people who couldn’t be left alone. And I panicked. I started arguing with myself. And one thing I’d learned over the last several years of studying prayer, was that when I started arguing with myself, it was really God I was arguing with. Because, I certainly wouldn’t have come up with such a ridiculous idea. So, I called Greg Wollenhaupt and he just started laughing. He and Morley and Steve Gehman had been telling me for the last couple years that I should go to seminary – that I would really enjoy it. Then Greg said that I should sleep on it. If I felt the same way in the morning, it was probably God.

So, I woke up the next morning still hearing the voice in my head saying I needed to go to seminary. I started looking up colleges and programs. After a couple months of investigation, it became apparent that the only option that would work would be the DeSales access program. So, I looked at their majors, planning to take an English or liberal arts degree–  and discovered they had a theology major – and the courses for theology just made me drool. I didn’t care that it was Catholic theology. At least I would have learned something about the Catholic church then. So, that’s what I did. I applied to start in January as I wanted to be with Tessa when her first baby was born. In October

Meantime, I knew that I couldn’t do anything about Robert or the folks. God would have to deal with them. Dave looked into different places for Robert to go but nothing panned out. The folks were happy in their home and didn’t want to leave. Finally, — miraculously even — in November, Dave’s dad realized that he couldn’t take care of himself anymore, let alone take care of Mom who had Alzheimer’s. So, they contacted Fellowship Manor which found a room for them as of December 1st. A few days later, Robert’s case worker called saying that True Life would take him. And he was in that facility just two weeks later December 15th. And I started classes on January 15th, 2001.


So, I went to DeSales and my first class was Computer 101 taught by a woman with long curly hair, a broomstick skirt, combat jacket and army boots. I felt like I was back at home in college. The next class was theology and this guy who looked no older than my sons walked in to teach it! but it was a good class and Dr. Howsare, became a mentor to me. Since my son currently at Wheaton College was converting to Catholicism, he was very helpful in explaining the procedures that were happening. I spent more time in his office than I did in his classroom.

I finally asked him what he had done his Ph.D. on since that always tells you something about a person. What had he found interesting enough to devote many years of his life? So, he introduced me to a Twentieth century catholic theologian in Switzerland, a contemporary and friend of Karl Barth named Hans Urs von Balthasar. And through that, he told me that I should read about Balthasar’s associate, Adrienne Adrienne, a mystic who had had a huge impact on Balthasar’s life. Very few had studied her and many dismissed her completely so it was a wide open field of study.

So, I read about Adrienne and the more I read, the more she resonated with me. And the more I needed to know about her. I realized then, that I needed to study her – and that I needed to study her for a Ph.D.

But why is a Ph.D. necessary? It’s really about earning the right to speak (and write) authoritatively on a subject. Anyone can write articles and devotionals that other lay people will read and benefit from. In order to speak to theologians, I had to have the credits of a theologian. And although Adrienne writes in a devotional manner that lay people can benefit from reading one or two or more of her books, her writings are deeply theological and one can only understand what she really means in some of her statements by reading and understanding more than one or two of her 60 books.

One of her claims to fame or notoriety was her mystical experiences of Christ’s descent into hell. That was the phrase from the creed that I had always wondered about even as a child. And no one seemed to have an answer to what it meant or how Christ was dead and in hell. But Adrienne apparently did and if I studied her discussions on that, maybe I could understand more of the Redemption story. But, I still had to go through seminary.

I did a Google search and found Eastern Baptist Seminary in Philly. Close enough to commute. Evangelical and Ecumenical. If DeSales had deepened my faith – then Eastern Baptist Seminary broadened it. I was exposed to Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians – and their theologies and traditions – as well as a huge contingent of urban black Pentecostals. Prayers were lively there.

But, the first month I was there, my advisor insisted that I had to figure out where I was going to do my phd. So, I did another Google search and found that very few places knew anything about Balthasar or Adrienne. But, the University of Aberdeen in Scotland had an interest in Balthasar and Barth, so I emailed the secretary asking if anyone would be interested in directing my studies on Adrienne – and one of the professors wrote me back saying sure!

So, I went off to my DeSales profs asking if they’ve ever heard of a Dr. Francesca Murphy. And their eyes lit up, Yes! She was brilliant! Why did I ask? Well, she offered to study Adrienne with me. And they ALL told me I absolutely must go and study with her.

David was surprisingly ok with this. He figured it would be easier if I went away ‘like a normal college student’ and that he wouldn’t have to move. If I’d gone some where like Chicago or Milwaukee, he’d feel like he had to move with me. This made it easy. Tessa and her family had moved in with us by then so I was able to finish my master’s and head off for Scotland, knowing that Dave would not be lonely or die of starvation while I was gone.

So, I’ve been there 2 years now. Its been a huge challenge. I’ve had a 2 ½ yr furlough since then and I have probably two more years of work to do. There are no classes to take, just research and writing. But I go back to a new supervisor, a new outline for my studies and new living situations.

So, that’s how I got up to this point.

Bio – Adrienne von Speyr

Adrienne von Speyr was born in 1902 into a Protestant family in French speaking Switzerland and died in 1967. She had a difficult life but was always joyful and outgoing. Her beloved father died when she was 14; she had a bad relationship with her mother; she was often ill, had frequent headaches and when she was 16, she was diagnosed with double tuberculosis and given 6 months to live. After living in a sanitarium for two years and recuperating at her uncle’s home, she returned to her mother’s new home in Basel – a new city, a new language, a new school. She had lost 3 years of schooling but caught up in only 18 months while learning German, English and Greek.

Her goal was to become a doctor like her father in order to help people. She determined to be a Christian doctor – one who would lead her patients closer to God.[1] But being a physician was not considered a “nice” occupation for a woman at that time. Her mother arranged for various secretarial or banking jobs so she could have a responsible job until she married an appropriate man. She refused that path and her family refused to fund her medical studies so she earned her own way through by tutoring high school girls (1923) while studying. She finally opened her own office as a general family doctor in 1931.

She did marry in 1927. Her husband was a widower, a history professor in Basel and she raised his two sons. Adrienne was devastated when he died in a tragic accident after 7 years of marriage (1934). (1936) Two years later, she married the history professor who succeeded her first husband but they never consummated their marriage.

In 1940 she had a serious heart attack and in her time of recuperation, she met the Catholic Chaplain at the University of Basel. Hans Urs von Balthasar became her spiritual advisor after she converted in 1940 and made it his life’s work to publish her writings.

She had had visions of angels and saints and heaven from a very young age. But these encouraged her to love and help the children in school and people in the neighborhood. After her conversion in 1941 on, during Holy Week (the week from Palm Sunday to Easter) she would experience sufferings of the Son– sometimes throughout all of Lent. She never said she experienced the same things exactly as the Son but that in some way she was able to experience something of what the Son experienced in his abandonment.

She never fully recovered from her heart attack, developing diabetes and other problems so that by the mid-1950’s she had to give up her practice. Meanwhile, she kept an open house for their family and friends and associates. They knew many prominent theologians, historians, politicians and writers in Europe. She also wrote to hundreds of people who asked her for advice or her prayers even when she had become so blind that she couldn’t see that she had run out of ink. After years of suffering with bowel cancer, Adrienne died on St. Hildegard’s feast day, Sept 17, 1967.

(Hildegard of Bingen was also a physician – in the 12th century — and a mystic and suffered debilitating illness.)

Why is Adrienne’s writing important?

Adrienne’s writing had a huge influence on von Balthasar’s life’s work. What von Balthasar had recognized during his studies of the works of the Early Church Fathers, he now saw unfolded in a contemporary woman. The earliest theologians united their prayerful readings of Scripture and application of that Scripture to their lives. Her life of charity, her love of neighbour, her constant prayer and communion with God inspired his life and his writings.

Balthasar is one of the most influential theologians in the 20th c. Catholic church, influencing Pope John Paul and working with Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict. He is also becoming more influential in the Protestant and evangelical colleges and seminaries because of his concept of “kneeling theology” – the integration of spiritual life and academic theology. And Balthasar credits Adrienne with influencing his theology and life’s work. So, one who reads Adrienne’s work can see in reading Pope John Paul’s and Pope Benedict’s writings how deeply indebted they are to Adrienne’s spiritual insights.

But Adrienne’s writings are not read only by academics and theologians. In fact, many lay people read them and understand them better than academics do. She writes from the heart to the heart, not the condensed logic loved by academics. So, basically, anyone can read and understand Adrienne. But one needs to remember that she has a Catholic perspective on things like the Church and Sacraments. And that she is writing contemplatively so one needs to read her contemplatively.

So what did Adrienne write?

The majority of Adrienne’s sixty published volumes are commentaries on Scripture. Adrienne states that the essence of God is Love. Everything that God is and does can be understood as Love. For her, “God is love” explains everything: the inner workings of the Trinity, Creation, the Incarnation, Redemption, the Cross and the descent into Hell and Resurrection and return to the Father. And her sixty books are her attempt to explain these three words.

Adrienne’s Biblical commentaries are an invitation to the reader’s own contemplations.[2] Let me explain something about meditation and contemplation. Meditation is thinking about and trying to understand a Scripture.  Contemplation is more like letting the words wash over you, hearing what God is speaking to you whether in words or simply impressions and feelings. Contemplation is more like resting in God’s presence.

So, Adrienne’s commentaries do not focus on the grammar or historical arguments on a verse or a sentence. Rather, she tries “to hear and interpret the Word of God afresh verse by verse.”[3] The purpose of her commentaries is not to present interesting nuggets or intellectual stimulus, but to encounter the living Word, the Son of God.

She writes that,

“One cannot prepare oneself properly  . . . without a living relationship to the Holy Scriptures, inasmuch as they contain the life of the Lord or interpret his intentions. . . . He remains in the Father; his whole existence is love for the Father, prayer to the Father, service of the Father. In his light we immediately see how things stand with our own existence, our own prayer, our own service, what we have not done correctly and what we have missed.”[4]

In her contemplation of Scripture, Adrienne writes as though she enters into the author’s understanding and motivation. She considers the people who meet the Lord. She observes these people actively participating in Christ. How does this one respond to the Lord’s invitation? How does the Lord reveal himself to that one? How does this author of this Gospel, this Epistle reveal his experience in the Lord? How open is this saint to the Lord in his or her prayers? And, she continually redirects these questions back to the reader.   The Book of All Saints

My Studies

In my studies of Adrienne’s writings, I am concentrating on her Ignatian themes of Choice, Availability and Obedience. These terms come from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius was a Spanish knight who lived from 1491 to 1556. (a contemporary of Luther and Calvin). He had his leg shattered by a cannon ball and while recuperating turned to God and determined to live the rest of his life solely for him. He ended up founding the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) beginning with a ragtag group of students. But during his recuperations, he wrote down his insights and developed them into a spiritual retreat to help the people who wanted to join him in finding out what God wanted them to do with their lives and how to live it. These writings are called the Spiritual Exercises and are still used today in retreats for lay people and those thinking about joining the Jesuits.

It is not enough for Ignatius to simply choose an acceptable way of life. One should find the way that would give “more glory to God.”[5] Meditation on the life of Christ as seen in the Gospels and imitation of Christ’s life opens up a way to choose “whatever is more conducive to the end and not confined to the minimum necessary for salvation: this is the free, loving conformity of one’s own life to that of Christ.”[6] Thus, one should choose for one’s state of life that which would offer “the greater service of God.”[7] To that end, he recommends that the soul is to recognize that the love which makes one thing more desirable than another should be love that “is solely for the sake of our Creator and Lord.”[8]

The Spiritual Exercises emphasize:

  • Choice – choosing what God wants to do with your life.
  • Indifferencia – putting aside one’s personal preferences and accepting God’s intentions for one’s life – poverty, riches; health, sickness; missions, home; celibacy, marriage.
  • Obedience – complete and immediate obedience. He uses several illustrations for obedience –
    • Immediate obedience means that, for example, if you are writing, you stop what you are doing in the middle of forming an individual letter in order to respond.
    • You deliberately conform your will to your superior’s will:
      • A staff with no will of its own that is carried around by another
      • A corpse carried by others without resistance

Choice, Availability, Obedience.

Throughout her writings, Adrienne develops these themes of

  • Choice, — The Son always chooses the will of the Father
  • (Indifferencia) Availability/Abandonment – the Son’s abandonment of his Glory for our sake; the Father’s abandonment of the Son in his death on the Cross and descent into hell.
  • and she develops Obedience in two ways:

First, as an understanding of the intimate relationships of the Trinity, especially in the Son’s obedience, and, second, according to the response that Mary makes to God. Mary “has held herself in readiness for a mission still unknown to her. She has lived in an attitude of prayer.”[9] However, it is because the Son first travelled that path of choosing to obey the Father in complete abandonment that we (and here Mary is included) are given the ability to choose as well.

Ignatius’ “Obedience of a Corpse” helps make sense of Adrienne’s understanding of the Son’s descent into hell. The Son is obedient to the Father to the extent that he obeys as a Corpse being carried into the depths of hell for the redemption of humanity.

In Adrienne’s writings, the Son determines to so identify with humanity that he identifies with the results of our fallenness as well. He relates to the Father and Spirit as humanity does, through prayer and daily life according to the Scriptures. But he also accepts the feelings of separation from God that we experience. So, as he delves deeper into his life and mission on earth, as he more and more identifies himself with humanity, he learns the depths of our separation and despair, our feelings of abandonment by our closest friends and finally even feeling the ultimate abandonment by God on the Cross. (this may be what is meant by he the Hebrews statement that he “learned obedience through suffering?)

On the cross, the Father loaded the Son with the sins of the world. These were not general sins or categories of sins, but each and every individual sin committed against God. The Father created hell to contain all that does not belong to God, to contain everything that he has rejected, so it is to hell as a corpse that the Son bears this overpowering burden of sin. The Spirit is the one who now carries the Son where the Trinity has determined he should go. And as he deposits this burden, he no longer has a sense of time – because time does not exist there – neither does he have a sense of himself and his own being. He obeys “as a corpse” neither knowing or remembering his mission, only continuing on to the end as the Spirit carries him.

The Father shows him the deposit of sin and all that the Father has rejected. Sin in hell is not like an object like a rock that is dumped in a pile. Rather, every sin contains something of the person who committed it. I picture it sort of like the ticks that we remove – the tick is removed and cast aside but inevitably there remains some skin attached and of course the blood – so removing the tick takes something of ourselves in its destruction. –

Adrienne also speaks of our good works having something of ourselves imbedded in them as well so that when we reach the Father in heaven, our good works are identifiable as belonging to each individual and not simply a pile of anonymous treasures stored up in heaven.

So, the Son passes through the depths of hell in order to deposit everything that has been rejected by God and to return to the Father having fulfilled all that is necessary for our Redemption.

For Adrienne, It is love that begins the redemptive mission and since the nature and unity of God is never divisible, God’s love never changes no matter what the manifestation of the Trinity. The Son is sent by the Father to gather up the world and return it to the Father, all for the sake of love. Here especially Adrienne sees the superabundant love of the Trinity in action. It is as if divine love is a net originating with the Father that is drawn down by the Son not only over the creation that has turned its back on God, but also down into the furthest depths of that rejection, into hell itself, in order to gather up everything that belongs to the Father and return it to him.

In order to discuss obedience and self-giving love, Adrienne wrote her first book called Handmaid of the Lord. In this book she Looks at Mary’s obedience and shows what we can understand from contemplating one short Scripture: Mary’s words “let it be done.” These words demonstrate Mary’s complete openness and active receptivity [availability or abandonment] to the Word of the Lord. (Responding to and participating in love rather than simply accepting it.) Mary gives her consent to God’s Word with no hesitation, no reservation, no consideration.[10] Thus, her obedience is the first example of every future Christian’s obedience, Her life drew its whole meaning from the life of prayer and knowing God’s will. . . . “She is ready in prayer even when she does not know what she will be accepting.”[11] Mary says Yes to God before he shows her the path of obedience.

But Adrienne does not end with Mary. She describes the obedience of the Son in the Incarnation as the Son of the Father, who has always been the Son and always will be. I suspect that one of the reasons she speaks of “the Son” all the time is in order to remove herself from the studies during her era that separate Jesus of Nazareth from the Christ of Faith – an issue she would have been aware of from her religious education and conversations with her pastors. It also removes the question of what does Jesus do as a man and what does he do as God. Adrienne looks at the Incarnation through the lens of Sonship. In looking at the Son, she finds a relationship that remains constant both within the eternal Trinity as well as throughout the Incarnation. “For even if the Son is now in the world and the Father in heaven, all the Son’s powers, the passive ones as well as the active, still stem perpetually from the Father.”[12] In this way, Adrienne avoids the questions of what part and which action belongs to the humanity of Jesus or to the divinity. Whatever Jesus does on earth he has done as the Son in eternity: “his practice of this knowing and obeying does not begin with the Incarnation: As man he only does what, as God, he has done from eternity.”[13]

Adrienne views the Trinity as always giving to and receiving from each other. The Father has always given all that he is to the Son and the Spirit; the Son has always given all that he is to the Father and the Spirit; the Spirit has received all that he is from the Father and the Son and in return gives everything that he has received back to the Father and the Son. And all that God is, is Love.

The Son reveals the Trinity to the world by his obedience as the Son. It is not a one way obedience from Son to Father but it is a picture of the mutual giving and receiving of love and obedience within the life of the Trinity. The Spirit obeys the wishes of Father and Son by going with the Son and enabling the Son on his journey. The Father obeys (in a sense) by releasing his beloved Son to fulfil the Father’s wishes to redeem the world.

So when Philippians 2:1 states that the Son emptied himself to become human and further humbled himself by dying a criminal’s death.[14] Adrienne sees this emptying and humbling not as something unusual for the Son but it is and was and always has been his attitude and practice in the Trinity throughout eternity. And this is reciprocated by all the members of the Trinity. The mutual self-giving and receptivity in their union of love.

Some people are disturbed by this idea thinking that if the Father pours himself totally into the Son then the Father becomes a hollow void and loses everything, but that is not how Adrienne thinks. Since each Person of the Trinity is continually giving and receiving, each Person is eternally filled. If one thinks of about the water circulating through a fountain, one can see that as long as the water is flowing, every basin it flows into is full and overflowing into the next basin. However, water evaporates in our earthly fountains. But if we picture the Trinity as a fountain, the water not only does not evaporate but increases. (Just as we know that the more we love another person, the more that love increases.) So, the overflowing of the Persons of the Trinity into each other results not in a lessening of themselves but in becoming more, becoming fuller, becoming greater in Glory, becoming more full and overflowing in their love for each other. Adrienne understands this to be “self-giving love.” And this understanding fills all her writings.

“Outside of love, people can reduce everything to certain concepts and say it is

‘nothing but. . . .’

In love we know that everything is much richer and more colorful than we can express.

And if what we are trying to describe is the love of God, it can only find expression in itself . . . . the triune life is the living well-spring of all love.”[15]

This self-giving love is also important to understand in the Incarnation of the Son. The giving and receiving in the Trinity does not stop during the Incarnation. God never changes. The Son still gives everything he is and does to the Father, the Spirit still gives everything to the Son and the Father, holding them together in a manner of speaking.

*This shows us Adrienne’s idea of the ever-greater-ness of the Trinity, the boundlessness of Redemption and the super-abundance of the love of God especially with regard to his Creation. “By knowing the Lord, we learn to know the Father. But in the end, the essence of knowing the Lord is that everywhere and always one comes up against his being greater, and any image we have of him is far surpassed by his reality.”[16]

Another writer who studies Adrienne has stated the Redemption story this way:

“we confess that, many as are our sins, His grace is greater. . . .

He counts our sins, and, as He counts, so can He forgive;

for that reckoning, great though it be, comes to an end;

but His mercies fail not, and His Son’s merits are infinite.”[17]


[1] MEY 234.

[2] Hans Urs von Balthasar, “Foreword” Adrienne Adrienne, The World of Prayer, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985), 9..

[3] Balthasar, “Foreword,” The World of Prayer, 9.

[4] Adrienne Adrienne, Confession, trans. Douglas W. Stott (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985), 153.

[5] “Introduction to Constitutions of the Society of Jesus” in Ignatius of Loyola: The Spiritual Exercises and Selected Works, Classics of Western Spirituality, ed. George E. Ganss, S.J. (New York, Paulist Press, 1991), 277-78.

[6] Hugo Rahner, S.J. Ignatius the Theologian, trans. Michael Barry (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990), 94. Italics mine.

[7] Ignatius of Loyola: The Spiritual Exercises and Selected Works, Classics of Western Spirituality, ed. George E. Ganss, S.J. (New York, Paulist Press, 1991), 413, endnote 88.

[8] Ignatius of Loyola: The Spiritual Exercises and Selected Works, Classics of Western Spirituality, ed. George E. Ganss, S.J. (New York, Paulist Press, 1991), 164, par.185.

[9] Adrienne Adrienne, Handmaid of the Lord, trans. E. A. Nelson (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985), 27.

[10] Adrienne Adrienne, Handmaid of the Lord, trans. E. A. Nelson (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985), 15.

[11] Handmaid, 27.

[12] Adrienne, John: The Farewell Discourses, vol. III., 161.

[13] Adrienne, The World of Prayer, 67.

[14] Philippians 2:5-8 5 Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had.  6 Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God.  7 He made himself nothing;[emptied himself] he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form.  8 And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross..

[15] Adrienne, The World of Prayer, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985), 74.

[16] Adrienne, John: The Farewell Discourses, vol. III., 99.

[17] Adrian Walker, “’Rejoice Always.’ How Everyday Joy Responds to the Problem of Evil” in Communio, no. 31 (Summer 2004): 201.  Quoting John Henry Newman in Erich Przywara, The Heart of Neuman. A Synthesis Arranged by Erich Przywara, S. J. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997), 317f.


Merry Christmas 2010


Thanksgiving has come and gone (already?), the Advent wreath is on the table, so now it is time for the annual Christmas letter! We have a lot to be thankful for this year. There has been a lot of ‘dying to self’ and resurrection blessings.

In January, my plans to return to Aberdeen finally came together. I had a flat and almost had a visa and ticket. We took a trip to Philly to get my biometrics and visit Randy and family for the day. Then the next day, Groundhog Day, Dave fell off the roof of the shed that he was helping Reuben build on our farm. Fortunately, he lived to tell about it but, as the dr. put it, he “doesn’t have a good leg to stand on!” By the time we came home from the hospital, my visa had arrived so I had to call and cancel it! But we got to spend lots of quality time together during the spring and summer. Dave spent two months in a wheelchair, two months with a walker, two months with a cane. Since the doctors never promised him that he’d be able to walk without a cane, we are most

thankful that he rarely uses a cane anymore and can spend a day out working with Reuben – barring roofs or ladders! Friends helped us out a lot with food, meals, visits, and rides. One neighbor took Dave to a men’s Summer Harmony choir which he enjoyed very much.

Meanwhile, Dave’s job had completely petered out by March, but being handicapped prevented him from looking for work until this fall. Today, on Cyber Monday, he started his new job as a DBA in GSI Commerce – a company in King of Prussia that handles the online ordering websites for hundreds of retail stores. It should be a really fun day! The co-workers say work is insane until after the New Year. Of course, some of the grandkids think that Grandpa is now King of Prussia. (Tessa has a few home school lessons to work on.)

We didn’t do as much traveling as usual this year, only making one trip out to IL in August for my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary! But we stretched that out to three weeks so we could visit the new grandbabies, hang out with my parents and let my sister Nancy’s family come out to PA to meet the twins. David’s Neon died (at home, not in IL) after all these years and 245k miles. But, since I would be heading back to Scotland, we figured we could make do

with just the one car.

Our kids seemed to think that having six grandbabies in ’09 was not enough so this year in April, Lily Jane was born to Karl, Cori and Andrew. And in June, Teri, Rachel and Immanuel adopted Jude Joseph so Immanuel wouldn’t feel left out!

Lily and Jude are both resurrection stories. The OB declared Lily’s embryo dead and gone but the next week she miraculously showed up in the ultrasound again. Jude (meaning Praise!) survived more than one abortion plan so that now our family has a beautiful happy child plus a hurting family to love and pray for, to bring to the Father of healing.

James and Tina decided not to be left out, so they are expecting son #4 in March 2011. James left his IT job for a new career path with Chas. Schwab, learning new skills and broader career options. Tina keeps busy with the boys and church.  Will enjoys first grade and an advanced math class. Alex loves math worksheets at home so

maybe they’ll soon need advanced math via Uncle Randy and Skype. One year old Marcus tries to catch up to his brothers and Needs No Help, thank you kindly!

Randy still enjoys his rocket science but now needs to travel from time to time.Occasionally, I should say. He doesn’t do time travel yet. Shari keeps busy with their three young’uns and MOPS at church. Micah enjoys first grade, learning to read, legos and many creative projects. Serena is the one who runs at life full speed ahead and full volume. And the one who caused a trip to the ER on Thanksgiving evening! Elias, bless his little heart, is a happy and cheerful “oh niner”.

Karl’s music plan appeared to die but a new band, Petibone, needed a lead singer and is thrilled to have Karl as lead singer and songwriter. They plan to cut a demo this month and make a West Coast tour next summer. Cori’s physical therapy job is still going well but she’d like to become a stay-at-home mom as soon as possible. Lily is progressing like a normal baby unlike her prodigious brother Andrew while stay-at-home dad Karl trains them to use the I-phone and computer. They also

bought a yard for Andrew to play in. A house comes attached to the yard, too.

Teri and Rachel study sign language in preparation for Wycliffe translation missions. Teri spends his days feeding babies and washing diapers and learning to translate baby signs: (i.e. – the sign for “please” means “chocolate brownies!” now). Rachel administrates her department in the charter school now. A good promotion and a lot of work that requires cute shoes.

Tessa continues homeschooling three kids and herding the three little ones, plus canning and freezing garden produce. Annika joined 4-H, Simeon loves Cub Scouts, Britta loves reading and Blaise apprenticed himself to Grandpa’s mechanics workshop. The twins play nicely together most of the time. Gwen talks (in sentences if we could only understand her!) while Isa walks around alllll the time. Gwen loves cuddling dolls and stuffies while Isa loves being cuddled. Gwen had trouble learning to walk this summer but after multiple specialists and tests, it appears she has the (occasional) Oplinger family trait of one leg shorter than the other.

She walks fine now and has some therapy to help strengthen that leg. Having a shorter leg is no problem compared with the possibilities of major spinal disorders!

Reuben expanded his organic CSA vegetable deliveries this year. Although we had a month’s drought in mid-

summer, he was able to provide abundantly for his clients. And Dave was able to drive for deliveries, giving him something to do and to feel useful. Not that being in a wheelchair stopped Dave from working on the tractors! The shed begun last winter is nearly finished, the porch built and siding on. He and Dave built a hoop house big enough to drive a truck and wagon through. I’ve noticed that Reuben seems happiest whenever he builds something new!

So, now that Dave is working, I am preparing again to return to Scotland in January. I see that they are experiencing much snow and thundersnows! so, it should be very interesting! Please pray that the visa and papers come through in a timely manner. Also, that I would have the energy and stamina to finish my degree quickly. Tessa and the grandkids are not looking forward to both Gramalo and Gpa being gone, but maybe Skype will help us out.

We thank you all for your thoughts and prayers and help during this past year. And pray great blessings for you all in this new year to come!

Love and Blessings,

Dave and Lo Miles