Monday, March 26, 2007

Merton on Liturgy & Contemplation

Contemplation is a gift of God, given in and through His Church, and through the prayer of the Church. St. Anthony was led into the desert not by a private voice but by the word of God, proclaimed in the Church of his Egyptian village in the chanting of the Gospel in Coptic - a classical example of liturgy opening the way to a life of contemplation! But the liturgy cannot fulfil this function if we misunderstand or underestimate the essentially spiritual value of Christian public prayer. If we cling to immature and limited notions of "privacy," we will never be able to free ourselves from the bonds of individualism. We will never realize how the Church delivers us from ourselves by public worship, the very public character of which tends to hide us "in the secret of God’s face."

from Seasons of Celebration New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1950: pp 26-27

This wonderful quote explains perfectly just how different true contemplative prayer is from the kind of self-regarding "meditation as self-improvement" teachings it is so often confused with by the uninformed and the prejudiced. Not only is real contemplative prayer rooted and grounded in the common life of the church, it is done for a reason, it is done in obedience to God, and it is done for, on behalf of, our sisters and brothers, on behalf of the whole broken Creation itself. (See my article on intercession and contemplative prayer on The Mercy Site...)

Friday, March 23, 2007

Love Anyway...

Many thanks to Fr. Rick OFM for this wonderful quote from Mother Teresa. I'd read it before somewhere, and had then never been able to find it again...

She said:

People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centred.
Love them anyway!
If you are kind, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway!
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and real enemies.
Succeed anyway!
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway!
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway!
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway!
People really need help but may attack you if you try to help them.
Help them anyway!
Give the world your best and it will hurt you.
Give your best anyway!

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


I just read through my last post, double-checking, and then let my eye run on to yesterday's post about the troubling times we live in. Then, looking back to my quote from Sister Abbess's post, I suddenly read the following, as if for the first time: "...grace is the true driving force of good, not external activism."

And there's my answer. I have known for the longest time that my true call is to prayer, while remaining exposed, in all the rawness that entails, to the pain of Creation, human and otherwise. When will I learn to be faithful to that call?

Maybe that's what Lent is all about for me, this year. Maybe God is giving me a real wake-up call. And maybe, just maybe, this is the Romans 8:28 aspect of all the illness and other nuisances this last couple of years?

Oh. There's a thought. Pray for me, gentle reader, please, that I will hear straight and true, and not get this all messed up with my own personal little hopes, fears and preconceptions.

Enclosure at Lent

There's a most moving post at Clare - Light on the Mountain, the blog of the Abbess of the Bethlehem Monastery of the Poor Clares at Barhamsville, Virginia.

What she has to say about blogging (or not, as the case may be) as an enclosed nun adds up, in fact, to a wonderfully concise summary of what enclosure is all about. Do go and read her last post while you can - it will only remain up for around 2 weeks.

Meanwhile, for those of you who miss the whole post (it would not be right to reproduce it in full here, since the Sister Abbess has decided it should only be up on her own blog for a while) here is the core of what she says about enclosure. It should find its way into a dictionary of spirituality somewhere, in my opinion...

Over the years, I have valued our enclosure as a means of eliminating the distractions that keep us from fulfilling our vocation to focus on serving God in worship and prayer for his people. I also value it for the message it gives to the world, saying that God has exclusive rights over the human being, that we have here no lasting city but are traveling to our true home in heaven, that we are more profoundly united to those we love in the heart of Christ than if we were physically close to them, and that grace is the true driving force of good, not external activism. But I was forgetting something important.

Enclosure is also our way of following Christ in his self-emptying. It is saying to the world in the words of the psalmist, “Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name give the glory”. We deny our selves, our ego, our desire to be seen, heard, admired in favor of a life “hidden with Christ in God”.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

What's the time?

Lent being a time of penitence, and penitence having so much to do with reconciliation, I can't help but find myself continually thinking about non-violence, and what we can or should do to oppose the new totalitarianism in which we find ourselves post 9/11.

Both in this country, and in the USA, the traditional bastions of freedom and democracy, dawn police raids, the deportation of families whose children have been born and raised in our countries, wire-tapping, secret renditions, detention without trial, the manipulation and gagging of the free press, are becoming commonplace. At what point do we decide that we can no longer say, "It's not our business?" At what point do we decide that following our Lord involves more than saying, "Oh, what a shame?"

Like many who will be reading this, and like many Germans in the 1930s, I was raised to respect military honour, and the principle of fighting for what is right. My own father, a much-decorated RAF WWII veteran, who played his own part in the deployment of the cold-war nuclear deterrent, resigned from his post-service job with a major military contractor on moral grounds. We spent long hours, after his retirement, debating the morality of war, and I had, and still have, the highest respect for his integrity and his Christian witness.

Have we now reached the point, or are we approaching the point, where the old values don't apply? Like the many Germans from military backgrounds who finally, and at times at the highest cost, refused to support Hitler, are we being faced with asking the question, "Is this something completely different?" Does a new, and different, set of rules apply?

If it does, then everything is different, and the approach of Martin Luther King, or Mahatma Ghandi, or even of Sophie Scholl, may be the way to go. Armed opposition to injustice only makes matters worse, as thousands of Palestinians accidentally testify. There is a fascinating article on Sophie Scholl, and an equally fascinating debate in the comments section, at the National Catholic Reporter's NCR Café. Go read - prayerfully!

Perhaps some of you out there would like to comment on all this? I could do with some honest and prayerful debate. I have no intention here of thumping any tubs, but I can't just sit still and say nowt!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Back online...

Hopefully, my computer problems are now sorted out... after yet another motherboard transplant, and a new PSU. Oh, well...

If all this kit holds together now, I should be back to (reasonably) regular posts here. If everything suddenly goes dead, just pray for my hardware, again!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

More computer problems...

Many apologies for not having posted here this month, and for not having replied to any emails from The Mercy Site - I'm still having hardware problems, which may turn out to be terminal! Not good, as a new PC is not in the budget at the moment, at all...

I'll do what I can, and I'll keep you informed as best I can with what's going on when I can borrow someone's machine to log on for a minute...

Lent continues, and in the open spaces of time God is gradually showing me things I hadn't seen before. I've been reading Sr Helen Julian's notes on The Cloud of Unknowing, and I think I'm beginning to understand just a little. That wonderful book has been impenetrable to me somehow since I first tried to read it many years ago, and it's really quite an adventure to be able to grasp a little of what The Cloud author is getting at... of which more as soon as I get the chance.

It's our TSSF Area Chapter on Saturday - I'm really looking forward to the renewal of vows, and to catching up with everyone... I'll try and post a word or two about it here sometime next week.