Friday, November 30, 2007
Thursday, November 29, 2007
When I was a young man, before I had discovered the glorious grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, I used sometimes to grieve for hours over all the things I loved, the familiar beauty of the trees and the birds, the strange wonders of deep space and human love, feeling that they were all in the end meaningless, since they would fall through decay into nothing. Now I know better, my heart sings every time I think of the things Henri Nouwen is writing about here!
Our short lives on earth are sowing time. If there were no resurrection of the dead, everything we live on earth would come to nothing. How can we believe in a God who loves us unconditionally if all the joys and pains of our lives are in vain, vanishing in the earth with our mortal flesh and bones? Because God loves us unconditionally, from eternity to eternity, God cannot allow our bodies - the same as that in which Jesus, his Son and our savior, appeared to us - to be lost in final destruction.
No, life on earth is the time when the seeds of the risen body are planted. Paul says: "What is sown is perishable, but what is raised is imperishable; what is sown is contemptible but what is raised is glorious; what is sown is weak, but what is raised is powerful; what is sown is a natural body, and what is raised is a spiritual body" (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). This wonderful knowledge that nothing we live in our bodies is lived in vain holds a call for us to live every moment as a seed of eternity.
The wonderful knowledge, that nothing we live in our body is lived in vain, holds a call for us to live every moment as a seed of eternity.
"What will we find there?"
Tell me again
why I am standing in a bitter wind
sand flying all over
and around me
trying to fasten a saddle
on this stubborn camel
trying to keep my goods
from being lost to the desert.
Best robes and turbans
packed and still I wonder
will I really need them
where I am going,
off on some journey
where I am not sure of
what is to be found...
There was the dream,
there was the voice that
well, seemed to speak
with such authority,
with such crystal clarity
I could not help myself
but move with purpose
to follow, of all things...
A star, immense,
the effulgence of which
never have I seen.
Across the open dunes
we wonder, what is beneath
What will we find there,
some miracle, some treasure
a fortune teller, a prince?
Too early to tell
So we wait...
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
There is an epidemic in Christianity that I call the sick, sick ministry of making people feel better. We all seem to have an interest in giving an answer that will provide immediate relief, make people feel something besides their burning and overwhelmed souls. And, as an added bonus, it usually makes us feel better too...
But, here’s ol’e Hanukkah Lindy with the hard truth for you: If you want to get to Lamed, there’s fire and water to go through. It’s hard. It’s a fucking bitch, in fact. You will feel like giving up. Some well-meaning but stupid people will try to help you through these difficulties. They will say things like “If you take a leap of faith you either find your self caught by an angel or you learn to fly.” That’s bullshit. Because if annihilation is not a possibility, it’s not really a leap of faith, is it? Better to go alone than with faithless friends.
You might actually drown. It’s a possibility, you know, if you want to get to Lamed. You could be burned away completely. Is it worth the risk, the very real risk? To be honest, I don’t know because I am not there. I often doubt that it is. But, I’ll tell you this: even if I am overcome by fire or water, I’ll take my chances with the one who bled and died on a cross… no angels, no flying… just dying.
Do go and read the whole post, if only to find out exactly what she means by Lamed, and then read through the rest of Linda's fascinating blog. She's worth getting to know...
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Archbishop Michael Ramsey, it is reported, said to his ordinands:
In your service of others, you will feel, you will care, you will be hurt, you will have your heart broken. It is doubtful if any of us can do anything at all until we have been very much hurt, and until our hearts have been very much broken. And this is because God’s gift to us is the glory of the crucified - being sensitive to the pain and sorrow that exists in so much of the world.
Monday, November 26, 2007
The resurrection of Jesus is the basis of our faith in the resurrection of our bodies. Often we hear the suggestion that our bodies are the prisons of our souls and that the spiritual life is the way out of these prisons. But by our faith in the resurrection of the body we proclaim that the spiritual life and the life in the body cannot be separated. Our bodies, as Paul says, are temples of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 6:19) and, therefore, sacred. The resurrection of the body means that what we have lived in the body will not go to waste but will be lifted in our eternal life with God. As Christ bears the marks of his suffering in his risen body, our bodies in the resurrection will bear the marks of our suffering. Our wounds will become signs of glory in the resurrection.
(With thanks to the Henri Nouwen Society)
I was delighted to find this snippet from Henri Nouwen - it has long seemed to me that this must be the case. Surely all that is good and true in us will rise embodied in the resurrection; I know how much I depend, for any good that is in me, on things I've suffered over the years. I know too that the healing I've received for those wounds has not been a matter of wiping the slate clean, of making it as though these things had never happened. Much more it has been about carrying those wounds with Christ into all that I am, and all that I do, so that in a very little way I can shadow his brokenness, and out of my own hurt reach out towards the hurting. To the extent that I can be this, I am being true to my Lord.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
"The people stood by, watching Jesus on the cross; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!"
Notice that it is the leaders who direct this taunt at the crucified. They assume that the messiah will be privileged by virtue of his status. Before anyone else, they think, surely the leader's life will be preserved. He will make saving himself a priority. That's one of the ways in which we'll be able to tell he's the boss.
This is a serious flaw in their understanding of what it means to lead...
We will not follow those who do not lead by example. A leader must purchase our faithfulness with his own. He cannot expect us to be more self-giving than he is willing to be. If we know our leaders are willing to lay it all down for us, we will lay it all down for them. And if our leaders preach and model nothing beyond what self-interest prompts, they will get back nothing more than our own self-interest. "What's in it for me?" will be the extent of our political and moral debate. For many citizens and far too many leaders, it already is.
This is the Feast of Christ the King. Christian or no, anyone can strive to be Christ-like. And our leaders must strive to be Christ-like, too: refusing to send their people anywhere they will not go themselves.
This is important stuff, a necessary antidote to so much of what we read in the news. It's worth going and reading the whole piece, if only for Barbara's glimpse of the British Royal Family in wartime...
The resurrection of Jesus was a hidden event. Jesus didn't rise from the grave to baffle his opponents, to make a victory statement, or to prove to those who crucified him that he was right after all. Jesus rose as a sign to those who had loved him and followed him that God's divine love is stronger than death. To the women and men who had committed themselves to him, he revealed that his mission had been fulfilled. To those who shared in his ministry, he gave the sacred task to call all people into the new life with him.
The world didn't take notice. Only those whom he called by name, with whom he broke bread, and to whom he spoke words of peace were aware of what happened. Still, it was this hidden event that freed humanity from the shackles of death.
(With thanks to the Henri Nouwen Society)
The power of hidden things again, of obscurity and avoiding the public gesture, the fanfare and the announcement. Hidden not because esoteric, not because revealed only to an inner ring of those-who-know, but hidden in plain view, like plants that thrive in shadow, like the lives of countless women and men whose lives of prayer have sustained the Church throughout history from desert places, forests, and anchorages far from cathedrals and the courts of earthly kings.
SaltSister has a remarkable post, Doubting God, where she shares very honestly her own experience of coming to the utter end of herself, and her ideas about God, and finding that, "The best thing God ever did for me is shoot the world out from under me. When nothing worked any more and I had no reason to believe anybody's fix-it doctrine for anything, the real God appeared in the midst of it. Only the part that was worth believing remained. I don't know how it happened, but I guess that was the last time I ever had major doubts."
You should really read the whole thing, but I can't resist reproducing here her list of 5 things about God. She says:
There are only a few things I really believe about God consistently. Because they are so few, I don't have to wrestle with doctrines about "50 ways to bend God’s arm". Here is what I know:
1. God isn't going to help me build my kingdom. He's going to burn it to the ground and build His own. ("Not I, but Christ.")
2. He leads the blind, not the sighted.
3. Prayer initiated by the Holy Spirit is God's own idea and is always answered with an unqualified "yes".
4. In time, what I don't understand will come to light.
5. If I am destroyed, He will raise me up.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Daft quiz, peculiarly apt result...
You are Hulk
|You are a wanderer with|
I've been thinking a lot about waiting these last few days - about the sense in which all our prayer and all our praxis lies within this provisional time that Advent spells for us in big letters, but which is the only place we have to live, ever, or ever have lived. We are all creatures of the between time, whichever way we choose to dice our eschatology, and the sooner we learn to live like that the closer we actually are to Christ's coming.
I think this is what the Lord was getting at in Matthew 24 and 25. It all boils down to, "Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour." (25.13) We don't know when; in fact "about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (24.36) but we do know that we are living in "this generation" (24.34) - not I think in the sense, as is sometimes assumed, of a period 30-odd years, but, in the equally good reading of the Greek genea, "the whole multitude of [women and] men living at the same time," as Strong's (G1074) has it: the people who are waiting, the people between.
Waiting for Christ's second coming and waiting for the resurrection are one and the same. The second coming is the coming of the risen Christ, raising our mortal bodies with him in the glory of God. Jesus' resurrection and ours are central to our faith. Our resurrection is as intimately related to the resurrection of Jesus as our belovedness is related to the belovedness of Jesus. Paul is very adamant on this point. He says: "If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ cannot have been raised either, and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is without substance, and so is your faith" (1 Corinthians 15:13-14).
Indeed, our waiting is for the risen Christ to lift us up with him in the eternal life with God. It is from the perspective of Jesus' resurrection and our own that his life and ours derive their full significance. "If our hope in Christ has been for this life only," Paul says, "we are of all people the most pitiable" (1 Corinthians 15:18). We don't need to be pitied, because as followers of Jesus we can look far beyond the limits of our short life on earth and trust that nothing we are living now in our body will go to waste.
(With thanks to the Henri Nouwen Society)
Friday, November 23, 2007
then please read this wonderful address from Dr Jenny Plane Te Paa, posted on the Inclusive Church blog. I'll post her conclusion, and a couple of other scraps, here - but do go over and read the whole thing. It's a long piece, but every word is well worth your time and your prayerful attention. Many thanks to Jane Redmont for flagging this up.
We have to be, both wise and bold, prophetic and yet intentional, courageous and yet always gently so. To each of us has indeed a measure of God’s grace been given – sufficient for us to make a difference, sufficient for us to fulfill the call upon each and every one of us to love as we are loved, to do for others that which we would wish for ourselves, to be truly as sisters and brothers in all things for all time.
Just a minor note of ‘warning’! I had originally intended to exegete the Ephesians text in order to weave a ‘credible’ theological theme through this paper. It is what we theologians foolishly imagine we must always do in order to justify our credentials! But somehow as I began to reflect on so much of my recent experience at the international level of the Anglican Communion, I have to confess that more and more I am questioning the way in which scripture is being used to score points instead of being used as a pointer toward the Christ we seek to follow and therefore toward the lives of grace and peace we are called to emulate.
I could so easily have used good and possibly even impressive theological discourse to justify my employment of Paul’s words but instead I have chosen with humility to simply open my heart to you all and to share with you deeply and passionately what it is that I believe we might each find reason to ponder afresh – away from the immediacy of intensely fractious meetings, away from the appalling onslaught of blogs and vitriolic web postings purporting to give us all the latest gossip, the latest blunders, the latest outrageous moves by all the major players, the latest oneupmanship (and Lord only knows friends, it is the men is it not?).
We have I think entirely understandably, but possibly now quite unhelpfully, all allowed ourselves to be unduly affected, overwhelmed really by the volume and intensity of all the claims and counter claims, the strikes and counter strikes of global Anglican politics.
This gathering called so evocatively and I think prophetically, ‘drenched in grace’ is our chance to reclaim the grace given to each one of us and to see our responsibility as one of being as readily deserving of that grace as we possibly can be by choosing to live lives slightly less distracted by the current political clamour among church leaders for attention and instead to be more instinctively attuned to the spiritual clamour among God’s people, for mercy, for compassion, for healing and for love...
I am reminded here of Volf, that it is only in our demonstrable capacity and willingness to let go of outrage, of our despair and of our determinations to hold on to memories of wrongdoing that we in fact act with grace. Yet he says, this is never an uncritical action – it must be governed by the logic of grace which is to do with first finding our proper selves in God who is love. There and only there can we fully flourish by what God’s love does in and through us – we cannot help but exercise our God given capacity for forgiveness, compassion and reconciliation, for life-giving acts of grace.
We become capable as Luther suggests, ‘of living in Christ thru faith and in our neighbour thru love. By faith we are caught up beyond ourselves to God. By love we descend beneath ourselves into our neighbours. Yet we remain always in God in God’s love’.
It is in this way that I begun to think more of those in my own life whose Christian witness is characterized by humble, tireless and selfless devotion, abundant compassion, endless sacrifice and unbounded service to the Church. I can see the faces and say the names of those from whom I have inherited my own love of the Church. Those whose voices raised in song and in chanted prayer formed my own spirituality and shaped my faith commitment; those whose laughter and lessons still resonate deep within me, whose own faith example has inspired my own witness in God’s world, those who cautioned me to be as political as I liked but to never forget how to pray, those who unquestioningly urged me to assume positions of leadership even as they insisted I never forget how to be humble...
I can’t help myself when I want so much to cry out in rage, about anyone who dares to ‘fuss’ about who is worthy of participation in the orders and offices of the Church while so many in our shared family are suffering and dying needlessly. I want to rage on about what a travesty of faith this kind of attitude and behaviour represents, about what an abuse of the gift of God’s grace all of this is and then I am reminded that the more I focus upon blaming and judging, anticipating and reacting the less I am present and able instead to develop what Thomas Cahill describes as the narratives of grace, ‘the recountings of those blessed and inexplicable moments when someone did something for someone else, saved a life, bestowed a gift, gave something beyond what was required by the circumstance.’
And this I realize is what being ‘drenched in grace’ is calling me into – is calling us all into. We are being challenged to find within ourselves renewed appreciation of all that is good and true and kind, of all that is life-giving and life-sustaining, of all that is merciful and humbling...
And so my sisters and brothers what is it that we are to do? Are we to continue to draw our lines in the shifting sands of ecclesial aggression and blaming, of accusing and judging? Or are we to shift our emphasis to embrace simultaneously and in sufficient measure, grace filled mutual affection and uplift of one another, together with boldly reconciling behaviour? Can we exemplify the very best of God’s grace even as we continue to name decisively and to act boldly and courageously against all of those things, which we know to be unacceptable in God’s sight? Can we stand more confidently together as members of the family of Christ, on the common ground of God’s world, on the basis of a newly apprehended indigenous model of unconditionally inclusive relationality?
Can we do all of this as people connected as adversaries and as friends, across the villages, towns, cities and nations into which we are blessed to be born – a people who know and are known by the ancestors; who know the rivers and lakes and mountains which shelter and nurture us all; a people committed to the full participation and flourishing of all in God’s world; a people unafraid of simplicity or of suffering, a people instinctively attuned to heartfelt wisdom, to forgiveness, to unconditional belonging, to God’s grace and peace with and for us all? I am confident that we will, we can and we must . . . in Christ’s name. Amen.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
I absolutely love this - it's very close to the essence of all I try, and fail, to do and be in this strange business of following our Lord. Bonhoeffer has very nearly nailed the whole thing about the local church, and why we so need it, and it so needs us. We mustn't forget that St. Francis began by repairing, literally, with his own hands, one tiny little broken down church...
Only he who gives thanks for little things receives the big things. We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts he has in store for us, because we do not give thanks for daily gifts. We think we dare not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly be looking forward eagerly for the highest good. Then we deplore the fact that we lack the deep certainty, the strong faith and the rich experience that God has given to others, and we consider this lament to be pious. We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts. How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from him the little things? If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith and difficulty; if on the contrary we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.
From Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (SCM Press, 1963).
(With thanks to Vicki K Black)
the Byzigenous Buddhapalian's got me into... and it's another one he picked up off Mimi. Oh heck, you'd think I'd know better no to get drawn into these things after that movie shindig. Still I never did have much sense, so here's a strange and jaundiced, though probably fairly accurate, view of my social standing, or lack of same...
What Social Status are you?
created with QuizFarm.com
|You scored as alternative |
You're partially respected for being an individual in a conformist world yet others take you as a radical. You have no place in society because you choose not to belong there - you're the luckiest of them all, even if your parents are completely ashamed of you. Just don't take drugs ok?
Monday, November 19, 2007
Dear Thomas Merton was no mean poet, a fact not everybody knows, I think. This is glorious - the kind of thing you could imagine Friar Tuck writing - assuming that legendary religious was a Franciscan, as I've always thought of him!
When psalms surprise me with their music
And antiphons turn to rum
The Spirit sings; the bottom drops out of my soul.
And from the center of my cellar, Love,
louder than thunder
Opens a heaven of naked air.
New eyes awaken.
I send Love's name into the world with wings
And songs grow up around me like a jungle.
Choirs of all creatures sing the tunes
Your Spirit played in Eden.
Thomas Merton. [Selection from] "Psalm" in The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton. New York: New Directions Publishing Co., 1977: pp. 220-221.
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but a doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
I love this definition of prayer:
- listening to him,
- speaking with him
- gazing upon him in silence
The best prayer is the one in which there is the most love. Adoration, wordless admiration, that is the most eloquent form of prayer: that wordless admiration which contains the most passionate declaration of love.
Charles de Foucauld
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Jenny, one of our LLMs at Holy Rood, preached powerfully on these passages this morning, coming to very much the same kind of conclusions. Not having Jenny's sermon to hand, I'll post the last part from Joanna's essay, but you really should click over and read it whole. Writing of the passage in Luke's Gospel, she says:
If everything was going to be turned on its ear, the disciples wanted to be prepared, ready, disaster plans in place. Jesus tries putting the timing of things into perspective. Prophets will come and go, local power struggles will come and go. Eventually there will be (as there has been in the past) wars between nations and natural catastrophes. Between the local unrest and the greater unrest and ruin,you will be tested. You will be judged because you have known me and lived and taught in my name and all that I stand for.
I count on you to make a decision and take a stand. Don't prepare for this test. Don't assume what they will ask or have a prepared strategy on how to respond. By becoming my disciples, you have already put your lives in my hands. When the time comes to reply to their accusations, let me speak on your behalf. Trust me. I will give you the words and the wisdom with which to use them. They won't have a comeback. I am your Advocate, I will speak for you.
Mind you, truth is powerful. At times, the power of truth is so intimidating to others that they will go out of their way to silence you - temporarily or permanently - rather than let anyone else hear the truth. There may be laws in this day and age in our country that (in theory) protect 'whistle blowers' against physical harm or the loss of a job. There are NO protections against insidious character assassination, unfounded accusations and insinuations. If we go back to Biblical times, speaking truth WOULD cost you life, physical injury, emotional abandonment, societal rejection, becoming disowned by family and friends alike.
The one thing Jesus promises is that if we speak and live his truth our inmost self would be saved, whole and justified. The truth would indeed set us free. No earthly judge or jury could condemn us for living truth and loving with our whole heart, mind and strength. Based on the testimony given by the Holy Spirit, our souls will not be condemned. Case closed. Amen and Amen.
May Joanna's words too give us courage to do as Paul says in his letter to the Christians at Thessaloniki: "Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right."
"Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right." (2 Thessalonians 3:13)Byzigenous Buddhapalian has a remarkable post (link below - you should read it whole) where he describes the extremities to which the feelings of despair I know I sometimes feel, especially after watching the TV news, or worse, catching up with the BBC News website, can bring us. He describes them as the "world is going to hell in a handbasket" blues. He goes on, though, with this passage of astonishing hope. This is the very definition of encouragement:
We can carry on. We can bear witness to what we know. We can speak the truth. We can act justly, kindly, compassionately. We can do what little we know how in order to ease a neighbor's pain or anxiety. And when we can do no more, we can just be with them, caring. We can look at one another in love instead of frustration or disgust. We can look deeply to behold the divine presence within them. And in ourselves. We can manage that little gesture. We can encourage. We can embolden. We can empower. We can change a little here, a little there. We can join with others of like mind. We can be patient. We can be pushy. We can seek to know when to do which. We can march, and write, and call, and insist. We can sit still, meditate, and seek wisdom. We can disseminate truth in world of lies and we can encourage healing, liberating, empowering laughter. We can choose to be ourselves and not some phony image that others wish us to assume. We can pray. We can toil. We can approach each day with open hands and hearts, with gratitude, with humility.
The minutest changes, accumulating, make for immense differences, just as many droplets of water become rushing floods...
I have no idea what the future holds... [but] I... weep with tender joy for the beauties of creation, for acts of courage and compassion, for love, and for the goodness of God. I see people banding together to do good. I witness random acts of kindness and very purposeful ones as well. I have not given up on the world or humanity.
It is far better to be tenderhearted than to have one's heart petrify. In my fiction, it is the tears of the people that water a waste land and heal it. Perhaps my efforts are part of the River of Life and my words are part of the world's healing. I trust they are.
Did you ever wonder what blogging is really for, why we even bother? Now you know.
Kathryn posted this (presumably) imaginary mission statement for a church where she'd want to work. Seemed to me just about as good as it gets, in the way of mission statements. Something tells me Jesus is wearing a big grin when he thinks of Kathryn writing this!
- People grow here because they are loved into believing all things are possible in them
- Because we live in a broken community we value each other because of who we are, not what we can do
- We want to reflect the light of Christ who embraces the poor, the destitute and the lonely
- We want the undesirables to come back to the place where they know they are wanted.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
St. Elizabeth was born in Hungary in 1207, the daughter of Alexander II, King of Hungary. At the age of four she was sent for education to the court of the Landgrave of Thuringia, to whose infant son she was betrothed. As she grew in age, her piety also increased by leaps and bounds. In 1221, she married Louis of Thuringia and in spite of her position at court began to lead an austerely simple life, practiced penance, and devoted herself to works of charity.
Her husband was himself much inclined to religion and highly esteemed her virtue, encouraging her in her exemplary life. They had three children when tragedy struck - Louis was killed while fighting with the Crusaders. After his death, Elizabeth left the court, made arrangements for the care of her children, and in 1228, renounced the world, becoming a Tertiary of St. Francis. She built the Franciscan hospital at Marburg and devoted herself to the care of the sick until her death at the age of 24 in 1231.
St. Elizabeth is the patron saint of bakers, countesses, death of children, falsely accused, the homeless, nursing services, tertiaries, widows, and young brides. Her symbols are alms, flowers, bread, the poor, and a pitcher.
This simple account of Elizabeth's life skips over the political complexities surrounding her life and marriage, and the often contradictory accounts of her life under the spiritual direction of the harsh, but seemingly at times paradoxically kind, Master Conrad of Marburg. It may be we shall never know all the ins and outs of the life of a saintly noblewoman in a dark and tangled period in European history; perhaps it doesn't matter all that much. What we do know is that here was a young girl, only 14 at the time of her marriage to Louis of Thuringia, whose life was given over to serving her Saviour, and his people, in the midst of all inducements to the contrary.
It is not recorded whether Elizabeth had a particular conscious devotion to our Lady, but her life seems to have been a model of Mary's own unflinching faithfulness and obedience, even when that seemed only to be about to bring about her own destruction. Surely St Elizabeth, one of the first Franciscan Tertiaries in Northern Europe, still shows us clearly how to follow closely after Christ, even in the darkest times.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
It seems that Samuel Seabury had the right idea - I love this profound piece of plain speaking from a man who, it seems, was almost singlehandedly responsible for restoring the eipklesis to its rightful place in the Communion service of the infant Episcopal Church:
The general practice in this country is to have monthly Communions, and I bless God the Holy Ordinance is so often administered. Yet when I consider its importance, both on account of the positive command of Christ and of the many and great benefits we receive from it, I cannot but regret that it does not make a part of every Sunday’s solemnity. That it was the principal part of the daily worship of the primitive Christians all the early accounts inform us. And it seems probable from the Acts of the Apostles that the Christians came together in their religious meetings chiefly for its celebration. And the ancient writers generally interpret the petition in our Lord’s prayer, ‘Give us this day,’ or day by day, ‘our daily bread,’ of the spiritual food in the Holy Eucharist. Why daily nourishment should not be as necessary to our souls as to our bodies no good reason can be given.
If the Holy Communion was steadily administered whenever there is an Epistle and Gospel appointed, which seems to have been the original intention, I cannot help thinking that it would revive the esteem and reverence Christians once had for it, and would show its good effects in their lives and conversations. I hope the time will come when this pious and Christian practice may be renewed. In the meantime, let me beseech you to make good use of the opportunities you have; and let nothing but real necessity keep you from the heavenly banquet when you have it in your power to partake of it.
May the consideration of this subject have its proper effect upon every one of you! And the God of peace be with you, keep you in the unity of His Church, and in the bond of peace and in all righteousness of life, guide you by His Spirit through this world, and receive you to glory through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
From "An Earnest Persuasive to Frequent Communion" by Samuel Seabury (First American Bishop, consecrated November 14, 1784) quoted in Love’s Redeeming Work: The Anglican Quest for Holiness, compiled by Geoffrey Rowell, Kenneth Stevenson, and Rowan Williams (Oxford, 2001).
With thanks to Vicki K. Black, Speaking to the Soul
Monday, November 12, 2007
I had an uncle who drank for years. He was an embarrassment to the family. But in the end, when he sobered up, he was the one who worked day and night to help others in pain.
There was a very religious family in the parish: mass every morning, parish work every week, visits to the church every day. When the daughter had her first child out of wedlock, they refused to allow the father of the baby to visit the home.
A couple down the street stopped going to Communion when they began to use birth control. Love was the thing holding the two of them together but love, it seemed, was the problem.
The question is an ancient one, Is the flesh an obstacle to life with God? Is the flesh what makes life impossible? Is the flesh a drawback to holiness?
For many people, religion has something to do with fighting the flesh, taming it, beating it down, bringing it to submission so that the spirit can soar untrammelled by anything so mundane as a body. The flesh becomes the enemy of religion, the impediment to goodness, the pulsing, impulsive, lively gift that we're all meant to fear.
That's where Christianity comes in. Christianity is based on the goodness of flesh. Or to put it another way, If human flesh was good enough for Jesus, who of us can afford to reject it? To be human is to be flesh. To be holy is to glory in it.
The very scandal of Christianity lies in the fact that it sees divinity in humanity. It's a hard idea to swallow, after all. Every major religion recognizes the role of the Creator in the development of life, of course. But in it? Part of it? Identified with it? Gods everywhere look down from the heavens of the world religions and pronounce laws or grapple with demons or pass judgment from on high. Only Christianity argues that the Creator has taken on the flesh and blood of creation in order to bring us to assert the divine in ourselves.
So what is this about renouncing the flesh? How can we call the way God made us inherently bad, as philosophers have done since the time of Aristotle?
The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning says of it, "Earth is crammed with heaven."
The flesh, in other words, is all we have. It is our glory. It is our power. It is sweet. It is beautiful. And it is the clay out of which we shape a better tomorrow.
from Life Is for Living: Advent Reflections by Joan Chittister (Benetvision)
Joan Chittister puts it movingly and directly, and with such grace and compassion. How many Christians have suffered over how many years as the result of the triumph of Augustinian thinking over the Celtic sense of the holiness of the whole person, of the whole Creation?
Sunday, November 11, 2007
I was thinking about why I have been so moved by these posts from Catholic converts, and I think as much as anything, it was their humility. These folks have all been prepared to say, "I was wrong," and to go on to act to put that right, with integrity and conviction, prepared to allow God himself to change their lives, sometimes in radical and uncomfortable ways.
Jennifer F says, showing why it is so necessary to take her writings seriously:
I am asked with increasing frequency why I converted to Catholicism as opposed to one of the other Christian denominations. Though this blog is sort of one long conversion story, I've never put together a post summarizing that part of my journey because that subject matter can be a hot (and divisive) topic.
Also, these types of posts are often interpreted to have an implication that people who have had different experiences and have come to different conclusions about religion and God are wrong and therefore not going to be saved. I want to make it really clear that that is not what I believe (nor what the Church believes - in fact, one of the many things that resonated as true about Catholic teaching is the belief that non-Catholics and non-Christians could also go to heaven).
Anyway, I've decided to go ahead and write about that part of the conversion process, but I want to add a big disclaimer that I'm sharing this in the spirit of telling my story. I am far too concerned about what I see happening in the world today to have any interest in causing division among Christians. We're in this together.
As always, please take this for what it is: the ramblings of some fool with an internet connection. :) Take it (and everything else I write) with a grain of salt.
Will Duquette, a man whose courage, tenderness and honesty are real examples of how practically to live the life of faith when all the certainties have been spilled out of their box, says:
And so we prayed a lot, and I spent a lot of time studying up on the Roman Catholic Church and talking about it with Jane, and I talked it over with a number of friends. Eventually we had a long talk with Fr. Ed Dover, the priest at the local Catholic church (the church, in fact, where I was confirmed). Jane and I were interested in asking the question, more or less, “If we did decide to become Catholic, what would happen?” This was with special reference to community–what opportunities would be available for us to get to know people. At this point Fr. Ed made something perfectly clear: he wasn’t going to talk about “programs” with us. The Faith had to come before utilitarian issues. He was happy to “give us refuge” for as long as we needed it, and to discuss the Faith with us, but unless we came to believe that Catholicism was true the programs at St. James were irrelevant...
I am quite likely going to be thought unfair by my Anglican brethren, for which I beg forgiveness. They are quite likely right. I like to find evidence that bolsters my preconceptions as much as anyone, and my own desires were seriously in conflict during this period of time. I had found the Church of the See of Rome to be a lovely and glorious thing, and I wanted to be united with it; I’m afraid that deep down, though I didn’t want to leave St. Luke’s, I wanted to find reason to. If I had found reason to stay, I’m not sure what I would have done...
The next bit is hard for me to write about. I’m an intellectual, logical sort of person, and my path to this point was an intellectual, logical sort of path. My experience at Holy Redeemer that evening hit me right in the heart, not in the head. I’ll try to describe it, but I doubt I can convey it all that well...
Looking back over this series of posts, it seems to me that there’s a sense of inevitability about the whole thing that might be accurate in one sense but isn’t at all what I felt at the time. Indeed, I can still hardly believe it. There have been any number of moments over the last month or so when I've told myself, "What are you doing? Are you crazy?" And then I've gone back over my reasons, one by one, and answered, "No, I don’t think so. It’s scary, but it makes sense."
I may not agree with some of Will's views on the Anglican Church (but see Titus 3.9 - admonition to myself!) as expressed elsewhere in his seven-part series on his return to the church of his youth, but you have to admire a man who writes like this!
Aimee Milburn, the woman whose path led her from Evangelical mega-church to the Catholic faith, and whose shining intelligence seeps out of every space in her blog, says this:
As I read and studied scripture over time, one passage about Jesus gradually emerged into my consciousness, and one day I stopped and really read it, from the first chapter of Colossians:
He is the image of the invisible God.
In him all things were created, in heaven and on earth.
All things were created through him and for him.
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
All things were created through him. In him all things hold together.
In my mind’s eye, I began to see a different image of Jesus than I had seen before, an image I have pondered since: not just standing before me personally, but standing above, beyond, and around all creation. In my mind’s eye the whole earth, and all creation, took shape within Jesus and emerged into visibility through him; and yet continued to remain fully within Him, being held together in Him. I saw Christ surrounding all creation with His whole person, His whole being, encompassing it, through His inner life and reality giving creation existence and cohesion within Himself...
I went to mass tonight, and at the end, after receiving Holy Communion, was meditating on everything I had written here [in her four-part account of her conversion] earlier. Suddenly, in my mind’s eye, I saw the fullness of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each pouring out to the other in an endless cycle of love. In the heart of the Trinity was creation, emerging in the heart of God as an expression of all the glory and love of God.
At the intersection of the smallest point of the heart of the Trinity was emerging the individual human heart. It was as if every human heart was emerging from the center point of the Trinity.
Emerging in the individual human heart, when it was opened up and given over to God, was the Trinity itself, like a beautiful flower coming forth.
As Jesus said on his last night on earth,"[I] pray . . . that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me and I in thee, that they also may be in us . . . that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me . . . that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them." (Jn 17:20-26)
We emerge in God, and live and move and have our being in Him. God, when we give ourselves over to Him, in and through Christ, emerges and lives and moves and has His being in us. And the cycle is complete - and will never end.
This is just such beautiful writing - this woman knows God, has encountered him in a way that we should all dream of encountering him, and has written (do read the whole long essay) with such passionate clarity that it brings tears to my eyes just reading her words.
I really don't know just what God is doing when he calls people like this (back) to the Church of Rome, but clearly what has happened has had eternal significance for a number of remarkable human beings, and has given rise to some moving and profoundly honest writings. They all, and no doubt many like them whom I have yet to encounter, deserve to be read.
Here is one of my personal favourites, Jennifer F, who has one of the most striking blog page designs I've seen anywhere. She has a two part Conversion Story link in her sidebar, where she explains how it was that a self-confessed atheist (and scientist) came to find herself reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and thinking, "This was truth. I knew it. I'd finally found it. It described God, our relationship to him, the Bible, Jesus, moral truths -- the entire human experience - in a way that resonated on a deep level."
Read Jennifer's two introductory posts,
and then her fascinating "Blogging through Conversion" section, starting here:
Here is Will Duquette's account of his journey back to the church of his youth, a real Catholic to Anglican and back again journey, with many fascinating observations on the way. Start here:
I've been discovering recently some remarkable accounts by people who have, for one reason or another, (re)joined the (Roman) Catholic Church. There is some seriously fine thinking here and in a few other blogs I've been reading, which has made me look again at some of my own preconceptions about why people might make this leap. I thought I might share some of these with The Mercy Blog readers, not because I think that everything they say is necessarily right (though a lot of it is!) nor because they are all necessarily taking the same approach to their faith, but because what they say they say with passion and intelligence and love, and it deserves to be read prayerfully.
So let me introduce my first discovery, Aimee Milburn, whose journey has a lot of similarities to my own! Here is the first in a series of "featured posts" describing how she came to be confirmed a Catholic, in 1999:
Friday, November 09, 2007
Identity, vocation, and mission for Christians are not three separate realities, but are mutually dependent. Christian identity is realized through Christian mission. Mission defines and fulfills identity. Vocation, a word derived form the Latin verb vocare, “to call,” is the calling every Christian has both to be with God and to carry out God’s mission. We can see all this as a theological expression of the relationship between being and doing, living and working. One’s being is only partly separable from one’s doing, for just as our doing is grounded in our being, our being is realized through our doing. Our doing expresses who we are, but we also discover who we are through our doing. Just that intimate is the relationship between Christian identity and Christian mission. As the Swiss theologian Emil Brunner is reputed to have said, “The church exists by mission as fire exists by burning.”
From Horizons of Mission by Titus Presler, Volume 11 of the New Church’s Teaching Series (Cowley Publications, 2001).
[Hat tip to Vicki K Black]
Carl McColman has a really startlingly profound post - full link below - in which he identifies Ephesians 3 as the foundational Scripture for the Christian mystical tradition. I won't attempt to reproduce his discussion here - I doubt I'd do it justice anyway - but I will just post a couple of snippets to tempt you to click over and read the whole post:
Mysticism’s detractors often accuse it of being “un-biblical” or “extra-biblical.” Mysticism cannot be an authentic element of Christian spirituality, so their reasoning goes, since it is not found in the Bible.
True, the word mysticism does not occur in the Bible. But it is related to the Greek word mysterion, translated in most English versions as “mystery.” If we think of mysticism as the spirituality of the Christian mystery, we are much closer to finding its scriptural foundation.
Thinking about this, I turned to the third chapter of Ephesians, in which Paul mentions the mystery of Christ four times. In this chapter he is discussing why Christ came not just for Israel, but for the entire world: gentiles as well as Jews. As I read over the chapter, it occurred to me that this is the headwaters of mystical theology. Indeed, here is the scriptural justification for mysticism: the “charter,” if you will, of the Christian tradition of entering via contemplation into the loving and transforming presence of God...
It was Whitehead, I believe, who suggested that all of western philosophy is little more than an extensive collection of footnotes to Plato. The more I sit with Ephesians 3, the more I think that the Christian mystical tradition is simply two thousand years of annotations to this powerful chapter.
[I'm afraid I just discovered this in my drafts - for some reason I'd never actually published it. Sorry, but it somehow means too much to me to let it pass... Laika's Day was of course November 3rd.]
A lovely prayer from the Byzigenous Buddhapalian's blog - it's well worth reading the whole moving prayer
Hear our humble prayer, O God, for our friends the animals, especially for those animals that are suffering; for all that are overworked and underfed and cruelly treated; for all wistful creatures in captivity that beat against the bars; for any that are hunted or lost or deserted or frightened; for all that are in pain or dying; for all that must be put to death. We entreat for those who deal with them a heart of compassion, gentle hands, and kind words; that they may share thus the blessing of the merciful. For you, O lord, will save both human and beast, and great is your loving-kindness. Amen.
BB notes that it may be a Russian prayer, which would make it especially right for Laika's day...
Many thanks to the Byzigenous Buddhapalian for drawing my attention to St. Nectarios ; I'd never so much as heard of him, so the site linked below is something of a treasure trove. He are some snippets:
SEEK GOD daily. But seek Him in your heart, not outside it. And when you find Him, stand with fear and trembling, like the Cherubim and the Seraphim, for your heart has become a throne of God. But in order to find God, become humble as dust before the Lord, for the Lord abhors the proud, whereas He visits those that are humble in heart, wherefore He says: "To whom will I look, but to him that is meek and humble in heart?" ...
TRUE PRAYER is undistracted, prolonged, performed with a contrite heart an alert intellect. The vehicle of prayer is everywhere humility, and prayer is a manifestation of humility. For being conscious of our own weakness, we invoke the power of GOD.
PRAYER unites one with GOD, being a divine conversation and spiritual communion with the Being that is most beautiful and highest...
Christian religion is not a certain philosophic system, about which learned men, trained in metaphysical studies, argue and then either espouse or reject, according to the opinion each one has formed. It is faith, established in the souls of men, which ought to be spread to the many and be maintained in their consciousnesses.
There are truths in Christianity that are above out intellectual comprehension, incapable of being grasped by the finite mind of man. Our intellect takes cognizance of them, becomes convinced of their reality, and testifies about their supernatural existence.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
We need, perhaps, a William Temple in the church today!
Christianity and Social Order, published in 1942, was Temple's last and perhaps his most provocative book, in which he articulated the principles which had guided his political activity and challenged many popular assumptions. The church is not a department of life concerned only with personal beliefs and devotional practices, he wrote. From earliest times, the church has spoken out on public matters, and it is only in recent years that this right has been questioned. When the economic order fails to build Christian character, the church must seek to change it. "The church may tell the politician what ends the social order should promote; but it must leave to the politician the devising of the precise means to those ends," Temple wrote. Society should be structured to give each person the widest opportunity to become what God has placed it in that person to become, Temple said. He saw personal freedom (maximum individual choice), social fellowship (strengthening family, national, and international ties), and service (wider loyalties taking priority over narrow ones) as the key principles leading to such a society."The art of government," Temple wrote, "in fact is the art of so ordering life that self-interest prompts what justice demands."
From the introduction to William Temple in Glorious Companions: Five Centuries of Anglican Spirituality by Richard H. Schmidt (Eerdmans, 2002).
Monday, November 05, 2007
Do go and read the full text of SaltSister's long and thoughtful post... she says many things that are necessary to ponder, especially at times like this, when dark and troubling reports disturb our quietness and our praise. Here's her conclusion:
The Church has always assumed a particular understanding of the scriptures. It is no easy task sorting out legitimate tradition from ideas that are so old they just appear as if they were always understood. Some doctrines were more widely believed in one century than in another. For example, doctrines on transubstantiation and the Immaculate Conception were not believed by a majority of Church Fathers in the earliest centuries, but gained in acceptance by later Fathers. The difficulty in proving these matters one way or another is much like proving whether there were or were not pansies planted alongside the tomb where Jesus was laid. One side may argue that there most certainly were pansies because scripture does not say there were not. The other will insist that no pansies could possibly have grown there because scripture does not mention them. Yet it is always these "little foxes that spoil the grapes"...
God says that He only requires of us to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him. John says that we pass from death into life when we love the brethren. (1 John 3:14) Is it not enough?
Sr. Patricia over at 101 Prayer has an excellent post - required reading! She begins:
It seems especially when it comes to life or death issues - we have a hard time relinquishing what we want as an outcome to God. Because we want a healing so bad - our prayers may take on the form of magic manipulation. God has to heal our loved one - because we really, really, really need for them to be healed.
Whenever our wants become desperate we move into the danger zone of manipulation. Okay God, if you do this - I will do this. Our prayers take on a pagan bargain mentality. If we hop up and down more, beat our breasts, cry, wail and lament God will come forth and do what we want.
Then if it doesn’t happen - we end our relationship with God. That’s it, Period. You had your chance. Forget it, I will have nothing more to do with you.
Sometimes this is the hardest thing, when someone has cried out to God, done all the above stuff, and then asks us, "Why doesn't God answer me? Doesn't he love me?" Then everything we say, however true, however much we may ourselves have tested it in the fire of need, comes over like making excuses for God - and sometimes it's written off as just that. To leave someone to work it out with God, to hear the answers from him, in his own voice, in his own perfect time, that's the hardest thing. Really. The hardest thing.
Sunday, November 04, 2007
Of the infirmity of forgetfulness, and how we ought not to despond because of it.
A certain brother said to one of the elders, "Lo, my father, I frequently consult the elders, and they give me advice for the salvation of my soul, yet of all that they say to me I can remember nothing." Now it happened that there were two vessels standing empty beside the old man to whom he spoke. He therefore said to the brother, "Go, take one of the vessels. Put water in it. Wash it, and pour the water out of it again. Then put it back, clean, into its place." The brother did so. Then said the old man, "Bring both vessels here. Look at them carefully, and tell me which is the cleaner." "Surely," said the brother, "that is the cleaner which I washed with the water." Then said the old man to him again, "Even so it is, my son, with the soul which frequently hears the words of God. Even although the memory retain none of them, yet is that soul purer than his who never seeks for spiritual counsel."
What a relief, if your mind is anything like mine!
Saturday, November 03, 2007
Little Scribe posted this beautiful quote from St Francis - Eucharistic theology in its most concentrated form!
Every day he humbles himself just as he did when he came from his heavenly throne (Wisdom 18:15) into the Virgin's womb; every day he comes to us and lets us see him in abjection, when he descends from the bosom of the Father into the hands of the priest at the altar. He shows himself to us in this sacred bread just as he once appeared to his apostles in real flesh. With their own eyes they saw only his flesh, but they believed that he was God, because they contemplated him with the eyes of the spirit. We, too, with our own eyes, see only bread and wine, but we must see further and firmly believe that this is his most holy Body and Blood, living and true. In this way our Lord remains continually with his followers, as he promised, Behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world (Matthew 28:20). (St. Francis of Assisi.)
That's it, for me. I'm not a great one for theories about mysteries - but this is precisely how it feels to me.
I think this is simply a tremendous passage from Joan Chittister:
When poets talk about the human soul, they do not talk about reason; they talk about feeling. The totally human being, they enable us to see, is the one who weeps over evil, revels in goodness, loves outrageously, and carries the pain of the world in healing hands.
Feeling is the mark of saints. It is Vincent de Paul tending the poor on the back streets of France, Mother Teresa with a dying beggar in her arms, Florence Nightingale tending the wounded in the midst of battle, John the apostle resting trustingly on the breast of Jesus, Damian binding the running sores of lepers on the island of Molokai, the soup kitchen people in our own towns giving hours of their lives, week after week, to feed the undernourished. Feeling, we know deep within us, signals the real measure of a soul.
Without feeling, living becomes one long, bland journey to nowhere that tastes of nothing. Take feeling away and we take away life. Feeling warns of our excesses and alerts us to possibilities. It attaches us and opens us and warns us of danger. Because of our feelings we are able to persevere through hard times and find our way to good times. Feelings lead us to the people who love us through life and satisfy our souls when nothing else about a situation can sustain us at all. Feelings, devoid of thought, made only of mist, become the inner lights that lead us out of harm's way and home to our better selves. Feeling leads us to love the God we cannot see and to see the God around us whom we have yet to come to love. To talk about the spiritual life without feeling, to talk about any life at all without feeling, turns the soul to dust and reduces spirituality to the most sterile of initiatives. And yet we do.
In situations that require insight, wisdom, and concern to resolve them as well as hard, cold information, feelings bring an invaluable dimension. Feelings are the other kind of intelligence, the alternate kind of knowing, the humane kind of reasoning.
What the world needs may well be less detached intellectualism and more thinking hearts, less law and more compassion. Reason that is not informed by emotion is a dry and sterile thing. It comes up with answers too flawed to be humane, too disjunctive to be moral. Reason can be a very dishonorable approach to the task of being human. The kind of thinking that invented slavery trivialized feeling. The kind of thinking that trivialized feeling invented slavery. The world that developed nuclear bombs and made defense impossible, made fun of the peace movement for eroding national defenses. With the subjective obscured, objectivity too easily becomes hardheartedness. As Alice in Wonderland noted, in such a world "down is up and up is down."
Feeling welcomes us to the human race, where, in the end, the fullness of humanity is all any of us will have to show for being spiritual.
From: Joan Chittister Heart of Flesh: A Feminist Spirituality for Women and Men, 1998, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
I'm still feeling pretty shivery and useless, so I'm not even going to attempt any sort of commentary on this - just read it, though, and maybe order the book!
Friday, November 02, 2007
Do go and read; here are just a couple as tasters:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
It wasn't that I did not know
about the poor. Of course I knew.
They are always in the paper.
They trudge out of town with suitcases.
They poke through ruined houses, unearth
broken teacups, half a doll.
They are the next of kin;
they lift the corner of a sheet.
Of course I knew. I only didn't know
that I was one of them.
Please pardon me. I cannot rise.
I am poorer than I thought.
Fetal I, who curl,
protecting what remains
of my soft organs
with carapace of spine,
but make no refuge, nothing
from myself to help myself.
So this is poverty -- it is so still.
Yet from its very scar,
a loving hand,
another's, not my own,
uncoils and lifts.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
It cannot be,
I cannot live through this,
Bleached by grief, wail
my cry gnaws inward,
lodges in the throat, lives there
(my only guest).
Spirit, warm my exile,
With your soft fire,
I'm sorry not to have posted anything here for so nearly a week - though I've managed to moderate the odd comment, I've not replied to any...
I picked up a horrible case of 'flu, and I've been shivering in bed every day since my last post. I'm gradually returning to the land of the living, only to see Jan beginning to show what may be the first symptoms. She shouldn't be as badly affected really, since she had her 'flu injection the week before last. (I was to have mine this week - hah!)