Monday, October 30, 2006

Praying for the protesters...

It is no exaggeration to say that democratic society is founded on a kind of faith: on the conviction that each citizen is capable of, and assumes, complete political responsibility. Each one not only broadly understands the problems of government but is willing and ready to take part in their solution. In a word, democracy assumes that the citizen knows what is going on, understands the difficulties of the situation, and has worked out for himself an answer that will help him to contribute, intelligently and constructively, to the common work (or liturgy) of running his society.

For this to be true, there must be a considerable amount of solid educational preparation. A real training of the mind. A genuine formation in those intellectual and spiritual disciplines without which freedom is impossible.

There must be a completely free exchange of ideas. Minority opinions, even opinions which may appear to be dangerous, must be given a hearing, clearly understood and seriously evaluated on their own merits, not merely suppressed. Religious beliefs and disciplines must be respected. The rights of the individual conscience must be protected against every kind of open or occult encroachment.

Democracy cannot exist when men prefer ideas and opinions that are fabricated for them. The actions and statements of the citizen must not be mere automatic reactions-mere mechanical salutes, gesticulations signifying passive conformity with the dictates of those in power.

To be truthful, we will have to admit that one cannot expect this to be realized in all the citizens of a democracy. But if it is not realized in a significant proportion of them, democracy ceases to be an objective fact and becomes nothing but an emotionally loaded word.

What is the situation in the United States today?

Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander by Thomas Merton,
New York: Doubleday & Co, Inc., 1968 edition, p. 100-101

Thomas Merton wrote these words over 40 years ago, and yet I fear they are as true today as they were then. We in the UK have no reason to look patronisingly across the Atlantic, either... All the above applies equally to us, and to all who live under democratic forms of government, no matter where in the world.

We may at times become impatient with those who make trouble, who raise uncomfortably loud voices, rock boats, gather in the streets and post inflammatory things on the www. Individually they may be courageous spokespeople for the truth, or they may be potty, corrupt, or dangerous. But we need them. All of we quiet, God-fearing folks need, really need, those troublesome men and women who handcuff themselves to trees, block the traffic with their placards, and the internet forums with their polemic. We even need the ones who can't spell, or who are hazardously wrong.

Why? Because we need people who will take the personal risks we often dare not take to challenge an establishment that will, often for what it sincerely believes are the best of reasons,
attempt to bring us to live quietly and unquestioningly by "ideas and opinions that are fabricated for [us]."

We must pray that there will always be those who are willing to risk everything to challenge the spin doctors, the fabricators of opinion, and who will stand up and rudely question those who would suffocate questions. More than that, we must pray for them. We must pray for the ones who are right, and clear eyed, and true, the Martin Luther Kings and Desmond Tutus of this world, but we must pray too for the opposers of bypasses, the protesters against housing developments, and those who write endless letters to their local papers demanding more and better housing for the lower-paid. We must pray for the sprayers of graffiti, and the printers of inflammatory leaflets, and for those who make community television.

Don't let's waste the blood of those who died to give us freedom from tyranny. Let's pray that God will give us the courage to join without violence, if the time should come, the ragged ranks of the protesters in the Name of our Lord. "
Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man." (Luke 6:22)

Friday, October 27, 2006

Firefox 2

Firefox 2 was released on Tuesday, and I can safely say, "Go ye hence and download the same!"

Really, it's the bee's knees among browsers - a huge step up from 1.5.

(One small strangeness, easy to fix but equally easy to waste hours on unless you know: if you have McAfee SiteAdvisor installed, just a few of you may find Firefox won't start. First, start Firefox in its own safe mode (all add-ons are temporarily disabled) (you'll see the link in your programs menu) and then you'll need to ensure you have the auto proxy configuration script disabled. Sounds scary, geeky even ;-) Don't worry - McAfee have a handy page explaining how to do it, step by step. Piece of cake when you know how, and everything works perfectly afterwards.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

St Silouan the Athonite

When the soul prays for the world, she knows better without newspapers how the whole earth is afflicted. She knows what people's needs are and feels pity for them... Newspapers don't write about people but about events, and then not the truth. They confuse the mind and, whatever you do, you won't get the truth by reading them; whereas prayer cleanses the mind and gives it a better vision of all things.
St Silouan the Athonite

...the growing popularity of St. Silouan is due directly to the relevance of his spiritual teaching for today. It is important to keep in mind the historical setting in which he lived and wrote. The first few decades of the twentieth century were a time of unparalleled change. Having died in 1938 at the age of 72, St. Silouan lived through the tumult and upheaval that were to forever alter the course of history. This was the era encompassing not only the First World War and the Russian Revolution, but also the events leading up to World War Two. Such large-scale destruction and horrific atrocities taking place on european soil were never before seen by human eyes.

This radical change was not limited to the political and social spheres, but also in a philosophic sense, it was indeed the dawn of a new age. From a strictly historical perspective, St. Silouan was a contemporary of Freud (1856-1939), Lenin (1870-1924) and Nietzsche (1844-1900), to name but a few. The blatantly anti-Christian principles that these men stood for, and the 'intellectual revolution' they inaugurated, were to contribute directly to the reversal in the spiritual and moral values of modem man. Philosophically speaking, it could be said that man was 'finally freeing' himself from the God of the Christians and striving, precariously, toward his self-deification.

Ironic as it seems, while the 'new humanism' (i.e., the pseudo-religion of man attempting to forge his own destiny apart from God) was gaining considerable ground at the dawn of the twentieth century, the unique value and inherent dignity of the human person seemed to recede simultaneously into oblivion. The 'triumph of nihilism' was looming on the horizon, and together with it the onslaught of its offspring—utter hopelessness and despair.

This was the modem mentality that St. Silouan undoubtedly took into account as he wrote down those God-inspired thoughts that came to him after much prayer. He was addressing a world at war, a war raging not only in the trenches of modem Europe, but also on the battlefield of the human soul.

The message that he attempted to convey during those early decades of the twentieth century is somehow even more relevant now as man 'progresses' on through the dawn of the new millennium. Although St. Silouan addresses the particular needs of the turmoil of his time, the fundamental themes he touches upon, such as the infinite love of God toward man, the inner workings of the human soul and the nature of the spiritual struggle, remain relevant for all believers everywhere. In this lies the significance of St. Silouan's teaching for today.

from: Harry Boosalis: Orthodox Spiritual Life According to Saint Silouan the Athonite.
South Canaan: St. Tikhon's Seminary Press,
1999. P. 15-26

St Silouan is one of my favourite people. He was the teacher of Fr Sophrony, whose writings I've often quoted here, and he was apparently a man of such gentleness and prayerfulness that he literally changed the lives of those who met him. Yet his life, like that of St Francis, had an inauspicious beginning. He was a peasant of great good looks and immense physical strength, hard-drinking and loose-living. It was only after he had nearly killed a man in a tavern brawl that in his own words he "...began to beseech God for forgiveness, and He granted me not only forgiveness but also the Holy Spirit, and in the Holy Spirit I knew God... the Lord remembered not my sins, and gave me to love people, and my soul longs for the whole world to be saved and dwell in the Kingdom of Heaven, and see the glory of the Lord, and delight in the love of God."

Monday, October 23, 2006

The only form of revolt...

‘The saints,’ said [French author George] Bernanos [most famous for his Diary of A Country Priest], ‘are not resigned, at least in the sense that the world thinks. If they suffer in silence those injustices which upset the mediocre, it is in order better to turn against injustice, against its face of brass, all the strength of their great souls. Angers, daughters of despair, creep and twist like worms. Prayer is, all things considered, the only form of revolt that stays standing up.’

This is very true from all points of view. A spirituality that preaches resignation under official brutalities, servile acquiescence in frustration and sterility, and total submission to organized injustice is one which has lost interest in holiness and remains concerned only with a spurious notion of ‘order.’ On the other hand, it is so easy to waste oneself in the futilities of that ‘anger, the daughter of despair,’ the vain recrimination that takes a perverse joy in blaming everyone else for our failure. We may certainly fail to accomplish what we believed was God's will for us and for the Church: but simply to take revenge by resentment against those who blocked the way is not to turn the strength of one's soul (if any) against the ‘brass face of injustice.’ It is another way of yielding to it.

There may be a touch of stoicism in Bernanos' wording here, but that does not matter. A little more stoic strength would not hurt us, and would not necessarily get in the way of grace!

Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander by Thomas Merton,
New York: Doubleday & Co, Inc., 1968 edition, p. 165

With the world in its present turmoil, I don't think any of us can afford not to think about what we would do were we to be faced with clear and present injustice among our own communities. We need to take Bernanos' words very seriously: 'Prayer is, all things considered, the only form of revolt that stays standing up.'

Prayer is no easy option, no coward's way out. Prayer is sometimes the hardest option, far harder than anger, harder than subversion or terrorism. Prayer remains standing in the face of the worst that man can do, that the enemy of our souls can do with man, bringing it into the very presence of God. '
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.' (John 1:5)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Eremos - Music from The Mercy Site - three new tracks...

Three new Eremos tracks, 'Ubi Caritas', 'Autumn', and 'The Canal' have been released at CNet Music - you can listen online or download them as MP3s.

Hope you like them...

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Be still...

“There is a stage in the spiritual life in which we find God in ourselves – this presence is a created effect of His love. It is a gift of His, to us. It remains in us. All the gifts of God are good. But if we rest in them, rather than in Him, they lose their goodness for us. So with this gift also.”

From Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1986, p54.

I think I'm gradually coming to realise the truth of this... it's so very easy to come to rely on our own memories and reflections, to "rest in" our own perceptions of God, and so to cease to be open to his voice.

When Elijah went out and stood on the mountain before the Lord (1 Kings 19:11ff) there was wind and there was earthquake and there was fire, but the Lord was not in those unmissable things. I love the NRSV translation of what happened next: "...and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave."

When God is silent, it doesn't mean he is absent, or that he's displeased with us, or doesn't love us any more. It may mean he's drawing very close to us, to speak to us "face to face, as a man speaks to a friend" (Exodus 33:11) - or at least to whisper in our ear.

But we are always so tempted to fill the silence with something, anything - but especially with our memories of what God did, said, seemed to be, or else what we have read of what he
did, said, or seemed to be to someone else. And we miss who he is, now. He is always now. "I AM," he says (Exodus 3:14) and the only time to meet him is this present instant. "Be still," he says, "and know that I am God..." (Psalm 46)

Oh, God, only help me to be still!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


EREMOS – music from The Mercy Site! Listen online or download MP3s...

The first couple of tracks have been accepted, and are online at CNet Music... more will be available as I get it recorded and mixed down. The mix on these first two tracks is a little rough around the edges, but if I waited till I thought they were perfect I'd still be fiddling around with them this time next year!

Monday, October 09, 2006

With another...

We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.”
(From Love and Living by Thomas Merton, edited by Naomi Burton Stone and Br. Patrick Hart, Harcourt Brace 1985, p27)

So it has been with Jan... I think we have both found meanings with each other that neither of us could have found anywhere else. Jan continues to be very ill, and so I have found it difficult to know quite what to write here. She sleeps a lot, and I try to keep busy... Music too God uses to bring me peace and comfort, more powerfully than ever now.

Julian of Norwich wrote, “He said not: Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be afflicted; but He said: Thou shalt not be overcome.” We do feel somewhat tempested, but we know we shan't be overcome! Ultimately, “If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?” (Romans 8:32)