Monday, January 29, 2007

Peace in the world...

We prescribe for one another remedies that will bring us peace of mind, and we are still devoured by anxiety. We evolve plans for disarmament and for the peace of nations, and our plans only change the manner and method of aggression. The rich have everything they want except happiness, and the poor are sacrificed to the unhappiness of the rich. Dictatorships use their secret police to crush millions under an intolerable burden of lies, injustice and tyranny, and those who still live in democracies have forgotten how to make good use of their liberty. For liberty is a thing of the spirit, and we are no longer able to live for anything but our bodies. How can we find peace, true peace, if we forget that we are not machines for making and spending money, but spiritual beings, sons and daughters of the most high God?

...The world is, by its very essence, struggle, conflict, division, dissension. For there to be peace in the world, men must renounce their selfishness in order to make peace, and we cannot make peace with others unless we are at peace with ourselves.

From: Thomas Merton. The Monastic Journey. Patrick Hart, editor. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1978: pp62-3.

Yet more extraordinary Merton wisdom... How would the world look if we really, for even a day, lived like this, truly lived as people who kept Jesus' command, to love one another as he has loved us? (John 15)

Saturday, January 27, 2007

When governing is lacklustre
The people are simple and honest
When governing is scrutinizing
The people are shrewd and crafty

Misfortune is what fortune depends upon
Fortune is where misfortune hides beneath
Who knows their ultimate end?
They have no determined outcome.
Rightness reverts to become strange
Goodness reverts to become wicked.
The confusion of people
has lasted many long days

Therefore the sages are:
Righteous without being scathing
Incorruptible without being piercing
Straightforward without being ruthless
Illuminated without being flashy

Tao Te Ching, Chapter 58
Translation by Derek Lin

Taoism is an extremely ancient Chinese philosophical system - the Tao Te Ching was written around 600BC - much beloved of Thomas Merton, who produced an interpretation of another great Taoist text, Zhuangzi, named after its author, writing in the 4th century BC.

As an aside, Taoism is not in any sense contradictory to Christian belief, a fact which is recognised by most contemporary Taoists. It is a living philosophy, not a religion, as has repeatedly
been pointed out from the Tao Te Ching on: its metaphysical views are strikingly in accord with the Christian account of creation; its ethics, and its teaching on simplicity, share many things with the teachings of Jesus... and hence with the Franciscan way!

I just wish our Western governments would read this passage, and live by it! "
When governing is scrutinizing / The people are shrewd and crafty" - isn't this just what we see around us every day? Lacklustre government is the last thing the spin doctors would ever wish to see, but it may well be the only way to a world of simple and honest folk!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Keep on praying for the protesters... becomes more and more difficult to estimate the morality of an act leading to war because it is more and more difficult to know precisely what is going on. Not only is war increasingly a matter for pure specialists operating with fantastically complex machinery, but above all there is the question of absolute secrecy regarding everything that seriously affects defense policy. We may amuse ourselves by reading the reports in mass media and imagine that these "facts" provide sufficient basis for moral judgments for and against war. But in reality, we are simply elaborating moral fantasies in a vacuum. Whatever we may decide, we remain completely at the mercy of the governmental power, or rather the anonymous power of managers and generals who stand behind the façade of government. We have no way of directly influencing the decisions and policies taken by these people. In practice, we must fall back on a blinder and blinder faith which more and more resigns itself to trusting the "legitimately constituted authority" without having the vaguest notion what that authority is liable to do next. This condition of irresponsibility and passivity is extremely dangerous. It is hardly conducive to genuine morality.
From: Thomas Merton - Passion for Peace: The Social Essays. William H. Shannon, ed. New York: Crossroad, 1995: 113-114.

It seems to me that this question, more than 40 years on, is at least as acute as it was when Merton tackled it. The fact that we are in no position adequately to judge, let alone influence, the morality of our countries' policies scares me. Democracy is so illusory in these areas. If the only two parties with the slightest chance of actually being elected both support war as a means of expressing foreign policy, and I don't accept that, what can I do about it? Very little, except protest.

That brings me back to a point I made some time ago here: we need to pray for the protesters. Of course we need especially to pray for the ones who are attempting to express our own point of view; but we need also to pray for the ones we think are wrong. We need to pray for anyone who keeps open the possibility of effective - or even ineffective - communication in the face of "the anonymous power of managers and generals who stand behind the façade of government..." and is prepared to risk life, limb or liberty to do so. Really. I can't say how important I think this is.

Pray, and keep on praying, for those who are prepared to risk what, often, we ourselves would not dare to risk, in order that justice and morality - even their own sometimes unusual concepts of justice and morality - might not slip unnoticed from our lands.

The Road to Understanding

My good friend Nancy Wagner wrote this to me the other day - I thought it was so encouraging I asked her permission to share it here. She wrote:

I have something I would like to share with you.
A few years ago I did a fall scene of a tree lined uphill road, and I wrote the following to go with the painting. Here is what I wrote:

The Road to Understanding

To live life fully as God ordained, one must walk with Jesus on the Road to Understanding - following the light of His Wisdom.

It's uphill most of the way and when the storms come and your getting deeper and deeper in the dark valley, as the road before you twists and turns in frightening confusing directions, it's then in anguish your heart cries out, "Jesus help me." You call on His name and the light of His Love gives you inner vision, where you had none.

His Light glows within your heart giving you courage and strength to resist the fear of the dark and unknown paths that lie ahead. So you forge out in faith, not seeing, not knowing where the path you've taken will take you.

You walk eagerly forward in faith and arrive without even knowing how you got there - high on top of a mountain with heavenly clouds and birds, lush trees and a stream of fresh clear, flowing water. And as you drink in the beauty and the crystal clear fluid of life abundant - you cry out once again, "Abba, Abba, merciful Father, thank you."

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Love never ends...

I just wrote the something similar to the following in an email to a friend, but I thought maybe I'd share it here, too, since it's been increasingly on my mind the last few weeks...

It's becoming more and more clear to me how it is the love of Jesus that is at the centre of it all - everything he did on earth, and everything he now does from glory, in us and through us.

I don't know too much about the theology of all this, but what I do know is that the way to follow our Lord, to do the things he did, is the way of love. 'This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you... I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.' (John 15.12, 16-17)

I think Francis understood this perhaps better than anyone, when he wrote:

Lord, make us to walk in Your Way...

Where there is love and wisdom, there is neither fear nor ignorance;
where there is patience and humility, there is neither anger nor annoyance;

where there is poverty and joy, there is neither greed nor avarice;
where there is peace and contemplation, there is neither care nor restlessness;

where there is the fear of God to guard the dwelling, there no enemy can enter;
where there is mercy and prudence, there is neither excess nor harshness.

This we know through Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen .

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Brother wind!

The weather has gone wild again - BBC Weather reports gusts up to 80mph, and there's been slashing rain most of the morning. Though our little development of 26 houses is quite sheltered, having been built in an old chalk pit, the trees along the top of the bank are lashing crazily, and most of the birds who normally fill our garden have taken cover. One big wood pigeon, though, flew over a few minutes ago, and a little flock of blue and great tits has just arrived from the bushes under the big cedar, and are feasting on peanuts, and a big seed & lard ball that's hanging on the feeder pole.

As you can tell from this post, we've so far been spared any problems with the electricity and internet connections, which is nice, especially as we've no gas, and no fireplaces, in these houses!

I pray God will protect those on the exposed coasts today, anyone out on the sea, and those in places in danger from flooding... from here in the warmth and peace, with the cats curled up on the bed asleep, it's hard to imagine how grim it's going to be for some of us...

Be praised , my Lord, for brother wind
and by air and clouds, clear skies and all weathers,
by which you give sustenance to your creatures.

(Francis of Assisi - from The Canticle of the Creatures)

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Very Peculiar....

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
His Most Serene Highness Lord Michael the Introspective of Durdle Door
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

Miffy has this extraordinary link to a remarkably silly site - but by some cyber-serendipity it has come up with this title for me - an INFP who lives but a few miles from Durdle Door, as anyone knows who is at all familiar with this part of Dorset!

Oh, well... at least we weren't blown away by the gales today!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Beautiful Day!

No, not the U2 song, but the weather here...

Last night's wind has dropped, and it's bright and chilly, with fluffy white clouds in a pale blue sky. Just the day for - well, just about anything really - but especially for walking down the road to drop in a church welcome pack to whoever it is has moved into that newly built bungalow.

Figgy is having a lazy day, but Lulu has been out chasing leaves, and hiding under the Choisya bush near the back fence, and looking at the bird feeders wondering why there are no birds there - like they'd come to feed with a slightly fat white & ginger cat standing looking up at them ;-)

Really neat thing earlier on this morning - I was just on my way out to church when a delivery man stopped me, and asked if I could take in a parcel, as the young couple next door but two were out. Later, Jody called in for her (heavy, bulky) parcel, and I was able to carry it home for her, and say hallo to her big rough-coated terrier sort of dog. We've hardly exchanged a word since they moved in a couple of years ago - they work all hours, for one thing - so it was nice to be able to say 'hi' in a useful kind of a way...

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Windy day

It's been the windiest day here - not a moment without the trees whipping and lashing across the back of the wet garden, and the roofs of the two little plastic greenhouses making - well that plastic greenhouse noise - all the day.

The cats have been spooked - Figgy hasn't been out all day, and Lulu went out, then hid under the patio table and chairs, which are under a plastic fitted cover, and wouldn't come out. She did eventually, but Jan had to pick her up and carry her inside, as she seemed to have lost all sense of direction in the wind and the horizontal drizzle. Mild, though, unpleasantly mild, mild enough for grim thoughts of global warming...

I pray for enough sense among our governements to act decisively, before this whole climate thing gets to the point that people really start to suffer...

Be careful of our language and motivation... something I have often said here in past posts. 

It also happens to be the title of a post on Malcolm Duncan's excellent blog, where he links to a Faithworks article he wrote on evangelical reactions to the government's proposed Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs). 

In it he links to the Faithworks Press release page - here.

Do please read Malcolm's comments - this is a most important article politically, but far more than that it is an impassioned plea for real Christlikeness. You may or may not agree with his politics, but the way he argues for "an opportunity to demonstrate grace, inclusiveness and love... Christians are called to follow Jesus' example..." is surely beyond question.

Hat tip: I was alerted to the Ekklesia report on this article by Maggi Dawn. (See also Malcolm's own comment on my last post.)

Friday, January 05, 2007

Michael Sandler

I have just discovered an wonderful composer and musician, Michael Sandler. If you like Eremos music, you'll love Michael's extraordinary work. His massive 7-part work, Geschichte, a musical account of salvation history(!), is one of the finest pieces of modern abstract (ambient) music I've heard for a long long time.

There are also a couple of tracks not available elsewhere, 'The Cloud of Unknowing' and 'The Silver Waves', free to download at Michael's DMusic page.

Do go and listen - you can download the whole thing, freely and legally, if you're as taken with it as I am. (Go, Michael! The more of us who can use the power of the Internet to freely distribute what God as given to us, the more we provide an antidote to what the world does with art, and indeed with God's gifts in general!)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A strange thing...

It's the second day of the New Year, and somehow the colour of things has changed. It's not only that the sun's out, after yesterday's rain and hail and darkness, but there's somehow a liminal, edge-of-things feeling about.

Strange thing, time. God's time - if the term has any meaning when applied to him - is so radically different from our own, that we don't have an inkling what's really going on, why things seem to happen when they do, or what they're likely to lead to in the end. We've just celebrated Christmas, and even the people most closely, intimately, involved in those remarkable events only saw glimpses, as the Holy Spirit shone a light on events, and then the everyday cloud of unknowing came down again. It was, after all the same Mary, the mother of our Lord, who, having prophesied in the words we now know as the Magnificat (Luke 1:46ff) just hadn't a clue, twelve years later, why Jesus might have stayed behind in Jerusalem, or where he might be found (Luke 2:41ff). She, whom all generations call blessed, had no more idea than you or I might have done that Jesus had to be in his Father's house.

If we see at all what God is up to in and through time, it is only as his Holy Spirit shows us. Outside his pool of light all is darkness, echoing and strange, and we have no maps for that place. The only thing to do is pray for God's mercy, that as we need to take each step, the light of his Spirit light will go with us: "a lamp to [our] feet and a light to [our] path," as the psalmist of Ps 119 said, who "[held his] life in [his] hand continually," just as we do, and who prayed, "give me life, O Lord, according to your word..."

Give us life, O Lord, according to your word, this year of 2007... and lighten our darkness, one step at a time, as your Holy Spirit shone his light into the life of your servant Mary, all those years ago - so that even though she did not know where she was going, or what her first-born Son would grow into, yet she saw so clearly where the light shone, and listened...

Happy New Year

I don't think I can give you any better New Year's greeting than to suggest you read Dylan's Lectionary Blog entry for the First Sunday after Christmas. Just superb! The way she explains God's mercy in Jesus, and the gentle but surgical way she deals with the "substitutionary atonement" problem is beyond my ability to précis - you'll have to go and read her text for yourself. Do - you'll be glad you did, honestly!

Every blessing for the New Year to everyone!