Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

New Year's Eve Catblogging...

Lulu has discovered a new life skill: box demolition...

Lulu_box_cr (1)


Pope John Paul II says many good things in his encyclical Laborem Exercens. He says the best name today for agape love, for perfect Christian love, is solidarity. We thought solidarity was being nice and affirming, but ultimately it's to stay in there with brokenness and let it lead you where it will, and to be willing to pay the price. It led Jesus to the cross.

I think solidarity with pain, with weakness, even with the signs of death in society might be the best name for love in the world today, especially for masculine love, a side of love expressed by both men and women. None of us would choose to be nailed to the cross, or freely take the side of the victims in society. Circumstances will unwittingly trap us there, and finally there will be no noble way out.

We're not converted willingly; we're converted in spite of ourselves. Step by step, God seduces and draws us into solidarity.

Richard Rohr, from A Man's Approach to God

This could stand as a codicil to my post the other day. God's mercy is nothing like we expect it to be, and Jesus draws us closer to him by ways we would never choose for ourselves. Sometimes of course he seems to do this to spare our courage being tested beyond its breaking point; at other times I think he does it so that we cannot take credit for our own "heroic acts of faith" as we would like to term them... "The heart is devious above all else..." (Jeremiah 17.9) - well, mine is, anyway!

Blogroll addition - addendum!

Sister posted this comment on my recent post:

Dear Mike.. for the reference we thank you most sincerely. May we also point out, as we are sure is clear from entries, that I am a Life Professed Nun in an Order, living as many of us do, as a Solitary. My Vows are with the Order.... Just now I am active if the Order needs me to be here; so I am out supporting our work of great mercy maybe two days a week, the rest in total seclusion, a happy balance indeed... all the old anchoresses worked for the poor in their own way of course.And met so many at their windows.. Blessings this day

Her other site Anchorhold gives more details, including the fact that she lives as a

Consecrated Anchoress, Living Stream Sisters of Faith...

Here, a consecrated anchoress, a solitary nun, measures out her days in silence and solitude and persevering prayer, by the wide fireside, where the Sacred Heart lamp burns day and night....... Or at the open door, threading prayers with rosary beads, weaving St Brigit Crosses, knitting, stitching, hands and heart busy. She is alone on the mountain; birds, the wild flowers and creatures are her companions, birdsong, the stream's liquid melody, and tree-winds her music. Prayer is woven into every deed and act. Her life is simplicity. Her out-goings seldom, for essential reasons only.. and few find their way here.

In the ancient rhythm of monastic life, where the day is punctuated by the sevenfold Divine Office, prayer and work merge. There is no division. All becomes prayer in solitude.

Growing flowers and fruit and herbs and vegetables, an old, old part also of monastic life, close to God in the tending of the earth.

By the inner gate, a wooden rosary with the Risen Jesus at its heart sways in the breeze, and by the big gate, a bare wooden cross, where pale primroses lift their faces to Him, bids you come to Him.

There is peace here, timeless, ageless. The world set aside. A space apart, a place consecrated, dedicated to the Living God, to Jesus, Our Dear Lord.

It is important - and this I should have pointed out in my original post - to understand the crucial distinction between someone who chooses the solitary life as an individual, whether out of a sense of calling or natural temperament, and a religious who, while remaining fully in community, lives in solitude with the permission of their Superior. Two well-known, good examples of the latter would be Thomas Merton (to his community, Fr. Louis OCSO) and Br. Ramon SSF. I would strongly recommend anyone interested to click through to this page by Br. Ramon (obituary here) for an account of what this calling means in a Franciscan context.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The mystery of death

In Jesus, God achieved the perfect synthesis of divine and human. God gave humanity the vision of the whole and assured us that we could be at home within that vision. The incarnation of Jesus demonstrates that God meets us where we are. It assures us that we do not have to leave the world or relinquish our humanity in order to know God, but simply that we must turn from evil. In the birth of the God-man, we have been "consecrated in truth," so we are sent into the world to continue the saving pattern of embodiment.

We tend to fear incarnation precisely because it makes religion so real, so particular, so worldly. We prefer to keep religion on the level of word, yet the Jesus-pattern is word-becoming-flesh. The great lie is that redemption can happen apart from incarnation. Annie Dillard called it "the scandal of particularity." For the Christian, power is always hidden in powerlessness, just as God was hidden in a poor baby.

We may want the spiritual without the fleshly; we may want the cosmic without the concrete. But if the Word is ever to be loved and shared, we must risk embodiment, which is always concrete and ordinary. There God is both perfectly hidden and perfectly revealed.

Richard Rohr, from New Covenant, "The Incarnation"

Going back for a moment to yesterday's post, the scandal of the Incarnation is just precisely that God didn't remain safely in his Heaven, allowing us humans just to get on with making comfortable our lives in the world. He had to come down here and interfere, and turn upside down all our ideas of power, influence and security. It was through death that Jesus triumphed over death, and it is death that saves us from the corruption of being too comfortable. The fact that these bodies of ours will sooner or later die is somehow part of the Incarnation, and Jesus' death - and resurrection - takes that mortality into eternal life, and makes it mystery, wonder and redemption.

St. Francis wrote:

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Death,
From whose embrace no mortal can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing your will!
The second death can do them no harm.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks
And serve him with great humility.

Death in Christ is mercy, and the way to glory, never a thing to be feared. We cannot help grieving over those we have "loved, and lost a while" but we must not grieve for them. Our own death will come, that is certain, but Sister Death is a welcome visitor for those who belong to Christ. The dying itself may be harsh, or gentle, and I'm sure it's right to pray for the latter; but I pray that I will never fear to die, or try to run from Sister's kind embrace when she comes.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Strangers in a strange land...

"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it." (Hebrews 13.2)

Who are strangers to us? It's not just people we've never met before, it's those who are different - strange-ers.

We are all so comfortable in our ways of classifying and categorising people. We look at someone's car, at their clothes or their home, and we feel safe deciding that they are - or aren't - "our kind of people..." We know that someone has an equivalent kind of a profession to ours - they're a head teacher, and we're a solicitor, maybe, or a chartered accountant. That's OK. We fit in. We can make the same general assumptions about each other; we play by the same rules.

Or maybe we meet someone quite different: a worker from the water board, maybe, or a mechanic at the local garage. We're safe there, too. We feel we can make reasonable assumptions about their values, their lifestyle - not the same as ours, to be sure, but nicely predictable, warmly reassuring. God's in his Heaven, and all's right with the social order.

But God didn't stay in his Heaven. He came down to earth, and was born of woman. Very inconvenient that turned out to be, too.

Young Jesus was born fulfilling more Messianic prophecies than you could shake a stick at; when he got the chance to preach in the local synagogue, he laid claim to them (Luke 4.16ff). Yet he was a peculiar kind of King, and he made some peculiar friends - lepers, tax collectors, whores.

He didn't play by the rules. Right to the last he broke them, one by one. No King should allow himself to be arrested, put on trial, slapped around. Still less should he put up with being executed like the worst kind of criminal - and if he did, surely he should at leave have had the common decency to remain dead...

But of course he didn't. And when he did depart - in a most unusual fashion - back into Heaven, he did one of the oddest things. He didn't leave his disciples to work it out for themselves, he sent "the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him" to be with them forever (John 14.16-17).

That same Spirit is with us, still. We cannot go on making those assumptions, judging our fellow men and women by their value in social currency.

I had the great good fortune to be born the son of a painter and sculptor, a rather reclusive woman who was divorced from my RAF father while I was still very young. We lived, as I grew up, outside of ordinary social expectations and categories. We were flat broke one month, rather comfortable the next. We lived in rented accommodation, always - Mother never had a reliable enough income to buy anywhere.

Probably as a consequence, I have never been able to feel comfortable in any social compartment, and none of the jobs I have done have really fitted that. Maybe the ten years before my farm accident were the nearest, but even then, dairy herdsmen aren't the easiest people to fit into any but rural society, and I was a herdsman who had once taught creative writing in a university. Odd, to say the least.

Now Jan and I are living in enforced retirement, neither of us in very good health, largely on State benefits (though I do have a very small private pension), we still don't fit people's categories very well. We live in a house rented from a Housing Association, and it often amuses me to notice the kind of assumptions people make about those who live in what's called "social housing." We don't fit those, either!

Now I'm not saying all this as a kind of inverse snobbery. At least I hope I'm not. I'm saying it because it makes me understand that being outside the ordinary social categories is a strange place to be. We are, to many people, strange-ers, like the people Jesus made friends with. It doesn't always feel comfortable for us; and I dare say it doesn't always feel all that comfortable for some of the folks we meet, who do fit those categories, and whose friends and acquaintances fit neatly too. But there's not a lot we can do about that now. The accidents of our lives and our different but strangely parallel upbringings have made us who we are, put us where we are, and there isn't a great deal we can do in our present state of health and financial situation to change it.

That's the point. Strange-ers in Jesus' sense can't do a lot about who they are. The prostitutes were probably divorcees, or widows without an inheritance, or orphans, in a society that made no provision for their support. They had little choice but to go on the street. The cripples were crippled, the blind, blind. The lepers were, literally, falling to bits, and the tax collectors were trapped in a system they couldn't control, and once in, couldn't escape. Even Nicodemus, as a member of the Sanhedrin, a powerful, educated man, had to come to see Jesus at night in case his fellow councillors found him out (John 3.1-21).

As Christians, ones who follow Jesus, we are called not only to "entertain," to care for, meet with, strange-ers, but to be them. We are called to be strange, to be in the world, but not of it (John 17.6-19). We do not belong to the world, just as Jesus did not belong to the world (John 17.16).

I know it's uncomfortable sometimes. I thank God for my strange situation, because I don't know how brave I'd be at being "strange" in a comfortable, socially acceptable role. Maybe I'd be like Nicodemus, and try, as long as possible, to keep it all under wraps. But we must, if we are to follow Jesus, to be like him (Luke 6.40), be prepared not only to be strange, but to love our strange neighbours. We must be prepared to be friends, and to be seen to be friends, with the most unlikely and unsuitable people. We really must it seems be prepared to give up all that we have, socially - as well as quite possibly materially - to follow our Lord, by whose endless mercy we have been "ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven." We don't belong anywhere, any more. We only belong to him.

Blogroll addition...

A new addition to the blogroll deserves a mention: AnchoressNun's Weblog.

Sister is an anchoress living in Ireland, and her blog is truly a wonderful adventure of prayerful spirituality and plain good sense, coupled with such a deep, deep love of nature and of all the lovely creatures God has made, that it does my heart good to read it.

A few lines from Sister's post of May 22 2006:

There have been so many misunderstandings of this calling of anchoress because of a few badly researched fictional books dramatising and because some hermits started using the title without fully understanding the full meaning.
It is a degree of physical separation far greater than that of a hermit, simply. A degree also of enclosure that a hermit generally does not take. This is what defines it.

Here in Ireland... the pattern was never of a cell attached to a Church. But in a remote and wild setting. Totally isolated thus. Yet reaching out from the isolation of prayer.

Julian and others would have revelled in the internet and webmail! All who love Jesus love His people too, of course. And reading between the lines of the old hermits, they were kept very busy indeed by the needs of others.

The degree of physical isolation is a protection in many ways, and a resource for prayer. The old Irish bishops never knew how to handle anchorites, these "wild eyed" ones of prayer, so often they put them in the care of abbots and abbesses. It is a rare calling in its fullness. You can see why...

The Irish anchorholds tended to be in the remote wilderness places which still abound in Ireland. Wild and lonely, away from towns and villages. One lived in the 14th century lived on a small island in the middle of a lake set in deep forests... another in a cell on a bare mountainside overlooking a now-ruined Benedictine Monastery... And many more are only remembered in old names of towns and villages now. Lives lived hidden, alone with Jesus; never lonely.

Do yourself a favour, and investigate - and don't forget to subscribe to the feed!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The use of emptiness

Do not be too quick to heal all of those memories, unless that means also feeling them deeply and taking them all into your salvation history. God calls us to suffer the whole of reality, to remember the good along with the bad. Perhaps that is the course of the journey toward new sight and new hope. Memory creates a readiness for salvation, an emptiness to receive the love and a fullness to enjoy it.

Richard Rohr, from a Sojourners article "The Energy of Promise"

Every since I became a Christian, I have periodically been troubled by memories of things I did or said, or failed to do or say, in the years before. Times when, above all, I was cruel and heartless towards those weaker than myself, or times when, out of cowardice or self-interest, I failed to support or defend those weaker than myself. Other things too - memories of the suffering of others, where I felt helpless to comfort or assist, and memories of my own pain, when it seemed there was no-one I could even talk to, let alone depend upon for help.

Yet recently I've begun to realise that what Rohr is saying here is true. God "calls us to suffer the whole of reality," and by the way the good times are good, and not somehow cancelled out by the bad. Certainly memory does create an emptiness to receive love - for one of the things I remember most about the time before I knew God was the way every crevice of my self-awareness was filled with stuff - self-justification, self-obsession, and a thousand cravings and ambitions that clamoured for attention and nourishment. One of the first things God did was to empty me out - not a comfortable experience at all - till there was an aching hollow at the centre of all that was me, that only he could fill.

Actually that's all too pluperfect: the emptying goes on. It happens again and again, and it is always happening. I think that's what a lot of the Franciscan fascination with simplicity is all about, stopping stuff from falling in and obscuring that hollow that is the need of God, and that cannot be filled - only blocked - by anything other than God.

The grace of Christ is that we can know that dreadful hole within our hearts at the same time as we know that he fills it with his love, his presence, with his Spirit who is known as Comforter, and yet who is at the same time wind and fire. His love is our home, our resting place, our wholeness at long last: "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love." (John 15.9)

Monday, December 24, 2007

The real thing...

I had just decided I was all done with posting till after Christmas, when I discovered this wonderful quote from G. K. Chesterton's The Spirit of Christmas, posted by Sherry W. on Intentional Disciples:

This was written amid fields of snow within a few days of Christmas. And when I last saw snow it was within a few miles of Bethlehem. The coincidence will serve as a symbol of something I have noticed all my life, although it is not very easy to sum up. It is generally the romantic thing that turns out to be the real thing under the extreme test of realism. It is the skeptical and even rational legend that turns out to be entirely legendary.

Everything I had been taught or told let me to regard snow in Bethlehem as a paradox, like snow in Egypt. Every rumour of realism, every indirect form of rationalism, every scientific opinion taken on authority and at third hand, had led me to regard the country where Christ was born solely as a semi-tropical place with nothing but palm tree and parasols.

It was only when I actually looked at it that it looked exactly like a Christmas card.

I too have found in my own life that Chesterton is right, "It is generally the romantic thing that turns out to be the real thing under the extreme test of realism. It is the skeptical and even rational legend that turns out to be entirely legendary." It is only when we allow our intellects to be divorced from our hearts that we truly lose touch with reality...

A very happy Christmas, everyone, and may the love of Christ fill your hearts to overflowing tonight and always!

Mike & Jan

Back on the borderline...

Advent for us means acceptance of this totally new beginning. It means a readiness to have eternity and time meet not only in Christ, but in us, in Man, in our life, in our world, in our time. The beginning, therefore, is the end. We must accept the end, before we can begin. Or rather, to be more faithful to the complexity of life, we must accept the end in the beginning both together.

The secret of the Advent mystery is then the awareness that I begin where I end because Christ begins where I end. In more familiar terms: I live to Christ when I die to myself. I begin to live to Christ when I come to the "end" or to the "limit" of what divides me from my fellow man: what I am willing to step beyond this end, cross the frontier, become a stranger, enter into a wilderness which is not "myself," where I do not breathe the air or hear the familiar, comforting racket of my own city, where I am alone and defenseless in the desert of God.

The victory of Christ is by no means the victory of my city over "their" city. The exaltation of Christ is not the defeat and death of others in order that "my side" may be vindicated, that I may be proved "right." I must pass over, make the transition (pascha) from my end to my beginning, from my old life which has ended and which is now death to my new life which never was before and which now exists in Christ.

Thomas Merton. "Advent: Hope or Delusion?" in Seasons of Celebration. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1965, pp. 96-97.


People are odd creatures: We are at the same time very good and very sinful. These qualities do not cancel each other out. Faith is to live and to hold onto that paradox. Those with room for those two seemingly contradictory truths to coexist are the ones who can recognize the Kingdom of God.

The absurdity of human reality will not shock them: They've already faced it inside themselves. The enemy is not out there, the enemy is us. And when they see the paradox, they stop fighting the world. They stop hating and avoiding the world. They're free to live that threshold existence that we call the Kingdom.

Why call it threshold? Because the threshold is between the house and the outside. We live on the boundary, on the narrow house and the outside. We live on the boundary, on the narrow road that leads to life (Matthew 7:13–14), in between two undeniable truths. Can you live in that in-between? To care, yet not care at all? Those who can will be free to welcome the Kingdom. They are free to pass through because they don't have any turf - whether possessions, identity, reputation or self-image - to protect or maintain. The threshold experience is always getting slammed in the face - with paradox.

(from Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr)


I find this whole idea of thresholds, thin places, places between, somehow incredibly moving. The thin place, where the "door between the world / And the next is cracked open for a moment" (Sharlande Sledge) is a kind of heartland for me, the only place where I begin to truly feel myself. They are not common, and yet they are as ordinary as dogs and daylight. I sometimes think that when we finally reach Heaven, we'll recognise it as the home we've always known, and never found.

Happy Christmas!

God’s choice to give human beings free will was, from the beginning, a decision to be helpless in human hands. With the birth of Jesus, God made the divine helplessness very clear to us, for a human infant is totally dependent on the loving response of other people. Our natural response to a baby is to open our arms, as Francis did, to the infant of Bethlehem and to the God who made us all.

What better way to prepare for the arrival of the Christ Child than to take a brief journey to Greccio, the spot in central Italy where St. Francis of Assisi created the first Christmas crib in the year 1223.

Francis, recalling a visit he had made years before to Bethlehem, resolved to create the manger he had seen there. The ideal spot was a cave in nearby Greccio. He would find a baby (we're not sure if it was a live infant or the carved image of a baby), hay upon which to lay him, an ox and an ass to stand beside the manger. Word went out to the people of the town. At the appointed time they arrived carrying torches and candles.

One of the friars began celebrating Mass. Francis himself gave the sermon. His biographer, Thomas of Celano, recalls that Francis "stood before the manger…overcome with love and filled with a wonderful happiness…" For Francis, the simple celebration was meant to recall the hardships Jesus suffered even as an infant, a savior who chose to become poor for our sake, a truly human Jesus.

Tonight, as we pray around the Christmas cribs in our homes, we welcome into our hearts that same Savior.

(With thanks to Saint of the Day)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Falling in love again...

Sit by the stream, on the edge. Don't let the ego try to fix, to control, categorize or ensure any of your experience. The ego wants to ensure that things are significant, that events make us important. Our activities become little righteousness trips, and we stand on our certitude.

"I've done 'this much' in my life," we say. "I was faithful to my husband; I raised my children; I sent them to a Catholic school; I paid my bills." But these are often self- serving kinds of duty and responsibility. Much religion is using God to bolster our own self-image. True religion is not attached to self-image, but to God.

Christian life has little to do with me doing anything right. It has everything to do with falling in love with a Lover who does everything right. What I love is that Lover and not my own accomplishments.

from Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr

I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. (Revelation 2.2-5a)

Once again Richard Rohr applies to the Catholic church a criticism I would want to apply much more widely! We are all guilt of this, in our own lives, in how we achieve, or fail to achieve, our "self-esteem" and in how we see ourselves in our communities. But we are guilty of it as churches too. This attitude underlies much of the present grief of the Episcopal Church in the USA, and it underpins much of the controlling "heavy shepherding" of many of the newer evangelical/charismatic churches.

If only we could take our eyes off ourselves, and off our own reflections in our sisters' and brothers' eyes, we might see Christ looking back at us; and at the end of Advent, we might hear his words to Peter again, "What is that to you? Follow me..." (John 21.22)

Peter listened, and look what happened...

Saturday, December 22, 2007

And the darkness did not overcome it...

We walk in a "ravine as dark as death" (Psalm 23:4), and still we have nothing to fear because God is at our side: God's staff and crook are there to soothe us (see Psalm 23:4). This is not just a consoling idea. It is an experience of the heart that we can trust.

Our lives are full of suffering, pain, disillusions, losses and grief, but they are also marked by visions of the coming of the Son of Man "like lightning striking in the east and flashing far into west" (Matthew 24:27). These moments in which we see clearly, hear loudly, and feel deeply that God is with us on the journey make us shine as a light into the darkness. Jesus says, "You are the light of the world. Your light must shine in people's sight, so that, seeing your good works, they may give praise to your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:14-16).

(With thanks to the Henri Nouwen Society)

As any of you who regularly read this blog will know, I have found Nouwen's words to be literally true so many times I honestly can't count them. What I do know is that however deep the darkness - whether of physical injury, bereavement, betrayal, loss - has become, the light of Christ has shone more brightly the deeper the shadows. Somehow we can't know the depths of God's grace until we really need it - you can't store manna, I suppose...

Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid." (John 14.27) Not that we need not be afraid because nothing bad will happen - indeed Jesus warned us it would (John 15.20) - but that whatever happens, "I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you." (John 14.16-17) Remember that Advocate - parakletos - is translated Comforter in the KJV!

Veni, Creator Spiritus, mentes tuorum visita, Imple superna gratia, quae tu creasti pectora. It's a Pentecost hymn, but why not use it for Advent too? For the coming of our Lord is the coming of grace, of mercy; not for nothing (Luke 4.16-19) did Jesus take Isaiah 61 as his mission statement...

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Fullness of Time IV

Some people say: "I never had an experience of the fullness of time. ... I am just an ordinary person, not a mystic." Although some people have unique experiences of God's presence and, therefore have unique missions to announce God's presence to the world, all of us - whether learned or uneducated, rich or poor, visible or hidden - can receive the grace of seeing God in the fullness of time. This mystical experience, is not reserved for a few exceptional people. God wants to offer that gift in one way or another to all God's children.

But we must desire it. We must be attentive and interiorly alert. For some people the experience of the fullness of time comes in a spectacular way, as it did to St. Paul when he fell to the ground on his way to Damascus (Acts 9:3-4). But for some of us it comes like a murmuring sound or a gentle breeze touching our backs (1 Kings 19:13). God loves us all and wants us all to know this in a most personal way.

(With thanks to the Henri Nouwen Society)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A messy business...

Many of our people create for themselves a permanently maintained happiness in the midst of so much public suffering. That state is based on an illusion about the nature of reality. It can only work if we block ourselves from a certain degree of that reality. That's what's meant by denial.

The Christian, though, is always saying, "Come, Lord Jesus." In other words, "Let reality get at me, the full reality, the Cosmic Christ, all that is."

The Incarnation is the refusal of all denial. It is God saying yes to the muddy, the messy, the partial, the powerlessness of it all.

from Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr

This is what is at the heart of all our waiting. It was at the heart of Simeon's, and Anna's, waiting too - the messy, ordinary, vulnerable outcast birth of the Son of David, the promised King.

Somehow we have to understand that the other side of Advent, the coming of Christ in glory, the reign of the Lamb who was slain, will surely dawn on a world like ours, and to people like us: messy, partial, powerless people - like the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15, the tax collector in Luke 18, or blind Bartimaeus in Mark 10 - who are reduced to a final extremity that can only cry, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!"

The Fullness of Time III

The experience of the fullness of time, during which God is so present, so real, so tangibly near that we can hardly believe that everyone does not see God as we do, is given to us to deepen our lives of prayer and strengthen our lives of ministry. Having experienced God in the fullness of time, we have a lifelong desire to be with God and to proclaim to others the God we experienced.

Peter, years after the death of Jesus, claims his Mount Tabor experience as the source for his witness. He says: "When we told you about the power and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, we were not slavishly repeating cleverly invented myths; no, we had seen his majesty with our own eyes ... when we were with him on the holy mountain" (2 Peter 1:16-18). Seeing God in the most intimate moments of our lives is seeing God for others.

(With thanks to the Henri Nouwen Society)

Rohr & Baggins

We have a lot to learn from people like Quakers and Mennonites. They're well practised in being a minority. They don't need to have crowds around them to believe in the truth. They gather in little groupings and share the word of God. Thank God this is also happening now, again, in the Catholic Church, in the base communities.

Out of the people who don't consider themselves experts or theologians comes a special gospel wisdom. It surpasses the wisdom that we ever came to by thinking that white, materially secure celibate males were the group who could best interpret the word of God. Whatever gave us the idea that a select group of overeducated people would best understand what God was saying to all people?

The poor and uneducated are reclaiming the word of God. The word of God is being reclaimed by women, by people of color and by people who still understand community and family relationships, by people who look at life from the side of the victims instead of the victors.

The word of God is being reclaimed by those who haven't been beneficiaries of the system. And we're finding that the word of God is being read with a vitality, with a truth, with a freedom that is frightening and makes some of us wonder if we've ever understood it before.

When we see what the gospel demands of our lives, we may not even want to understand it.

What Rohr says of Catholic priests applies equally, if not more stringently, not only to we Anglicans, but to the leaders of the prosperous, successful Evangelical churches of the religious right, and to the intelligentsia of the Emergent movement. We find it so easy to forget that Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children." (Luke 10.21 NIV) St. Francis insisted that he was just a little poor man (poverello), and he meant it. He chose never to be ordained priest, and remained one of the Lesser Brothers (fratres minores) all his life.

Following Christ is a strange thing, much of the time. As Bilbo Baggins once said, "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

In the fullness of time II

At some moments we experience complete unity within us and around us. This may happen when we stand on a mountaintop and are captivated by the view. It may happen when we witness the birth of a child or the death of a friend. It may happen when we have an intimate conversation or a family meal. It may happen in church during a service or in a quiet room during prayer. But whenever and however it happens we say to ourselves: "This is it ... everything fits ... all I ever hoped for is here."

This is the experience that Peter, James, and John had on the top of Mount Tabor when they saw the aspect of Jesus' face change and his clothing become sparkling white. They wanted that moment to last forever (see Luke 9:28-36). This is the experience of the fullness of time. These moments are given to us so that we can remember them when God seems far away and everything appears empty and useless. These experiences are true moments of grace.

(With thanks to the Henri Nouwen Society)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

In the fullness of time...

Jesus came in the fullness of time. He will come again in the fullness of time. Wherever Jesus, the Christ, is the time is brought to its fullness.

We often experience our time as empty. We hope that tomorrow, next week, next month or next year the real things will happen. But sometimes we experience the fullness of time. That is when it seems that time stands still, that past, present, and future become one; that everything is present where we are; and that God, we, and all that is have come together in total unity. This is the experience of God's time. "When the completion of the time came [that is: in the fullness of time], God sent his Son, born of a woman" (Galatians 4:4), and in the fullness of time God will "bring everything together under Christ, as head, everything in the heavens and everything on earth" (Ephesians 1:10). It is in the fullness of time that we meet God.

(With thanks to the Henri Nouwen Society)

"The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance." 2 Peter 3.9

Night Prayer

Episcopollyanna posted this wonderful prayer of St. Teresa of Avila:

Let nothing, O Lord, disturb the silence of this night.
Let nothing make me afraid.
Here in the dark, remind me that in order to speak to you,
My eternal Father, and to take delight in you,
I have no need to go to heaven or to speak in a loud voice.
However quietly I speak, you are so near that you will hear me.
I need no wings to go in search of you, but have only to understand
That the quiet of this night is a place where I can be alone with you,
And look upon your presence with me.
For if I have you, God,
I will want for nothing.
You alone suffice.

I have been finding this increasingly true recently - I've been waking up after strange, troubling dreams and turning to prayer in the darkness. God is there, almost more palpably than at any other time. His presence, his tanglible mercy, are all I could ever need.

Turn to me and be gracious to me,
   for I am lonely and afflicted.
Relieve the troubles of my heart,
   and bring me out of my distress.
Consider my affliction and my trouble,
   and forgive all my sins.

Psalm 25.16-18

He does all that, and far more besides.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Merton on St. Ambrose

St. Ambrose [Bishop of Milan, d. 397], in his succinct little tract De Institutione Virginis (On the Education of a Virgin), blends mysticism and humanism together in a manner that merits much more detailed study than we can attempt here. The full maturity of the Christian life is attained in a virginal union with Christ which itself implies the perfect integration of the whole human person. Union with Christ implies His entrance into a personality which is perfectly united in all its three traditional elements of body, soul, and spirit-corpus, anima, spiritus.

This treatise of St. Ambrose's is particularly interesting for its outspoken defense of women in general. Basing himself on the creation narrative of Genesis and on St. Paul's doctrine of the mystery of Christ typified in the union of Adam and Eve, the mystical humanism of Ambrose declares that man without woman is physically and spiritually incomplete, and that woman is in a very deep sense the "glory" of man, his spiritual completion, his "grace," without whom he cannot fully possess or recover his true being in Christ...

[T]he beauty of woman's body is a great work of God, meant to be a sign of that far greater interior beauty, the special clarity and loveliness of her spirit. Indeed, St. Ambrose declares, it is quite evident that women are more generous, more virtuous, more self-sacrificing then men

This totally refreshing defense of woman gives us some indication of the depth and reality of patristic humanism. Indeed, how can there be true "humanism" when half of the human race is ignored or excluded? Pagan humanism, the exclusive preserve of man, only exalts his complacency and justifies his selfishness with a veneer of philosophy. A humanism for men only is, as we have seen, nothing but a barbarous falsehood. The light of true humanism is kindled by the Incarnate Word.

Thomas Merton. "Virginity and Humanism" in Mystics and Zen Masters. New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1961: 118-119.

Pretty irrelevant...

"...the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self."

Henri Nouwen (With thanks to the Henri Nouwen Society)

We hear so much from some areas of the church these days about cultural relevance, staying current, getting with the vibe on the street, Gen-X postmodern ministry paradigms, and so forth, that we sometimes forget how profoundly counter-cultural it is to follow Christ. It was counter-cultural in first-century Palestine, 2nd century Rome, 12th century Assisi, 19th century London and 20th century Texas. It is still profoundly counter-cultural. It is not, and never has been, coterminous with Christendom.

In the years following Constantine I's Edict of Milan, which was probably the beginning of Christianity as an establishment religion, the hermits who had fled to the desert during the persecutions of the previous century were joined by first hundreds, then thousands, of men and women seeking to follow our Lord more closely than they felt was possible in the newly established "Christian society" in which they found themselves. These were the Desert Fathers and Mothers, as deeply counter-cultural as anyone you're likely to meet.

Nouwen's statement is a deep challenge to all of us, wherever we live, to look again at what love means in the context of John 13.34 and Matthew 22.37-39. That kind of vulnerability will always be irrelevant to a society that sees the world in terms of "efficiency savings, productivity and league tables."

Where is your desert now? Where is mine? I don't have answers as such, but I know that the question will not leave me alone...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Hell again...

Often hell is portrayed as a place of punishment and heaven as a place of reward. But this concept easily leads us to think about God as either a policeman, who tries to catch us when we make a mistake and send us to prison when our mistakes become too big, or a Santa Claus, who counts up all our good deeds and puts a reward in our stocking at
the end of the year.
God, however, is neither a policeman nor a Santa Claus. God does not send us to heaven or hell depending on how often we obey or disobey. God is love and only love. In God there is no hatred, desire for revenge, or pleasure in seeing us punished. God wants to forgive, heal, restore, show us endless mercy, and see us come home. But just as the father of the prodigal son let his son make his own decision God gives us the freedom to move away from God's love even at the risk of destroying ourselves. Hell is not God's choice. It is ours.

(With thanks to the Henri Nouwen Society)

I should commit this to memory, I think, as a gentle and merciful reply to people who say, "I could never believe in a God who would damn people for all eternity just because they did something wrong, or just because they were brought up in a different religion..."

Can You See Me?

I can live with this...

Your Superpower Should Be Invisibility

You are stealth, complex, and creative.
You never face problems head on. Instead, you rely on your craftiness to get your way.
A mystery to others, you thrive on being a little misunderstood.
You happily work behind the scenes... because there's nothing better than a sneak attack!

Why you would be a good superhero: You're so sly, no one would notice... not even your best friends

Your biggest problem as a superhero: Missing out on all of the glory that visible superheroes get

With thanks to Episcopollyanna!

Saturday, December 15, 2007


John Wimber had a favourite saying, "Faith is spelled r-i-s-k..." and this quote from Lane Denson (courtesy of Lisa at Episcopal Majority) seems to me to fit perfectly with that:

There is always an element of uncertainty in a life of faith.

For this, faith must have an open mind. And open minds are not only marked by curiosity, they are also marked by risk. Curiosity and risk are two of the hallmarks of a faithful life. To make faith into a closed system, nailed down in some century long past and for all time, is not faith, but dogma. It has its place. It is orderly. Above all, it is safe, for there is little or no risk. It is the life blood of religions. But it is not faith.

Even John Baptist, as certain as he once had been, finally had his moment of zen there in the dark of that prison when he sent his followers to ask Jesus, "Art thou he that should come? Or do we seek another?" Are you the one? Or do we have to keep waiting — and looking? If we're to believe that meeting between Mary and Elizabeth, their moms, John spent his entire life pointing to Jesus and walking and talking and preaching the risk of faith.

When the Baptiser finally got prison for his reward and entertained his greatest moment of doubt, Jesus understood. Jesus answered John in effect with what John already knew. He answered him with the only truthful answers that can ever be given to certify the presence and work of Jesus, the Christ.

The work you have already witnessed, he said to John, continues. Be assured. The blind see. The lame walk. The deaf hear. The poor and hungry are fed and finally know justice and peace. A broken world is being mended. And you know, as I, that wherever such healing takes place, there is present the kingdom of God.

We make covenant in our baptism to "seek and serve Christ in all persons … " And we can fairly ask, "Yes, but how will I know this Christ?" It is the same question John asked. Our baptism not only commissions us to be Christians, it commissions us to a ministry altogether, like John's, as well ... a ministry to witness, to point, to say Here is the Christ ... There is the Christ ... in this event, in that healing, in that judgment, in that moment of truth.

Civil rights leader Howard Thurman set the stage for us to know this Christ when he wrote of Advent and Christmas as seasons of hope. "When the song of the angels is stilled," he said. "When the star of the sky is gone. When the kings and princes are home. When the shepherds are back with their flocks. The work begins … To find the lost. To heal the broken. To feed the hungry. To rebuild the nations. To bring peace among people. To make music in the heart."

But it's no promise of a rose garden. There are "false Christs," Jesus said. There are those who in his name would justify war, who would substitute piety for service, who would put orthodoxy before sacrifice, who would make of the gospel a system or a philosophy rather than the Way of life, who would claim me and then turn their backs on me, who would elevate doctrine before faith.

When we make that vow in our baptism to seek and serve Christ, when we ask that question with John, Are you the one? we're soon, to take C S Lewis's great phrase, surprised by joy to discover that we are not only part of the answer, we are the answer. In this present time in the church … we cannot just be handed out the answer by some prelate, we must be the answer by our faith. For it is the Christ in us that will always recognize and know the Christ in others – and in all.

Oh, hell...

Henri Nouwen making chillingly good sense. Charles Williams would have appreciated this passage!

Is there a hell? The concepts of heaven and hell are as intimately connected as those of good and evil. When we are free to do good, we are also free to do evil; when we can say yes to God's love, the possibility of saying no also exists. Consequently, when there is heaven there also must be hell.

All of these distinctions are made to safeguard the mystery that God wants to be loved by us in freedom. In this sense, strange as it may sound, the idea of hell is good news. Human beings are not robots or automatons who have no choices and who, whatever they do in life, end up in God's Kingdom. No, God loves us so much that God wants to be loved by us in return. And love cannot be forced; it has to be freely given. Hell is the bitter fruit of a final no to God.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Friday night catblogging

Lulu is sleepy...

Christmas with Dr. Rowan Williams

The conclusion of The Archbishop of Canterbury's Christmas Message to the Anglican Communion:

So at Christmas, God shows that he is not ashamed to be with us. He has heard our cries of weakness and self-doubt and unhappy longing, he has seen our wanderings and anxieties, and he is not ashamed to be alongside us in this world, walking with us in our pilgrimage. And because he is content to walk with us, we are challenged about whose company we might be ashamed to share. So easily we decide that we would be ashamed to share the company of the sinful, the doubting or the outcast. But God, it seems, is not ashamed to be seen with such people. If he is ashamed to be called the God of any human group, the text from Hebrews strongly suggests that he is most 'embarrassed' by those who think they have arrived at the end of their journey, who think they have already attained perfection (compare St Paul's angry and scornful words in I Corinthians 4.8 – 'Already you have become rich!'). And it is clear why God would be ashamed to be the God of such people: they behave and speak as if they didn’t really need God, as if they didn’t really need grace and hope and forgiveness.

God loves the company of those who know their need, and that is why he comes at Christmas to stand with them, to live with them and to die and rise for them. He is the God who blesses the poor – not only those who are materially poor, but those who are without the 'riches' of self-satisfaction and complacency, those who know all too well how far they fall short of real and full humanity. And so we are to pass on that blessing to the poor of every sort, those who are without material resources and those who are 'poor in spirit' because they know their hunger and need. Let us ask ourselves honestly whose company we are ashamed to be seen in – and then ask where God would be. If he has embraced the failing and fragile world of human beings who know their needs, then we must be there with him.

I rather imagine St. Francis would be pleased to see an Archbishop write that...

The New Scriptorium...

"The computer is the new monastic scriptorium..."

The Nuns of Holy Trinity Monastery, East Hendred, in the Vale of the White Horse, Oxfordshire.

A Theory of Prayer?

Jan, of Yearning for God, has posted this remarkable quote from The Soul of Christianity: Restoring the Great Tradition by Huston Smith (pp. 58-59):

The most important scientific discovery of all time--anticipated by Einstein, worked out in Bell's Theorem, and experimentally confirmed by the EPR (Einstein-Podosky-Rosen) experiment--proves that the universe is 'non-local.'

Described in everyday language, the story is this: Particles have spins. In paired particles, when one particle spins downward the other spins upward. Now, separate the two--distance is irrelevant; it can be an inch or to the edge of the universe--and when one particle goes into a downspin, simultaneously the other spins upward. For prayer, nonlocality suggests that the person praying and the person being prayed for are closer than side by side. Distance doesn't apply--they are in the same spaceless mathematical point. When the pray-er plunges deep down into his praying self, his prayer spins downward, so to speak, and spins its recipient upward. When Jesus prayed all night, and during the day, he was 'spun upward' by placing himself in the presence of his Father who so loved the world that he 'spun down'--into his Incarnation, Jesus--and transformed him.

This is possibly the best attempt at a scientific "theory of prayer" I've read. Whether it's right to make the attempt I'll leave to you to decide - but it's certainly worth allowing the picture Mr Smith is drawing to sink in. All that we are derives from God - why would we not be able to communicate with him on the most intimate level, if we will to do that. It's only the free will he's freely given us that could prevent it...

Like a gentle dew?

"It comes like a gentle dew" (Isaiah 45:8). Isn't that what so many of your Christmas cards are going to say and what the readings from the Old Testament say during Advent? Grace comes when you stop being preoccupied and stop thinking that, by your own meddling, managing and manufacturing, you can create it.

We're trained to be managers, to organize life, to make things happen. That's what's built our culture, and it's not all bad. But if you transfer that to the spiritual life, it's pure heresy. It doesn't work.

You can't manage and maneuver and manipulate spiritual energy. It's a matter of letting go. It's a matter of getting the self out of the way, and becoming smaller, as John the Baptist said. It's a matter of the great kenosis, as Paul talks about in Philippians 2:6–11: the emptying of the self so that there's room for another.

It's very hard for us not to fix and manage life and to wait upon it, "like a gentle dew."

Are we to be passive? No, very much the opposite. When Buddha asked a question similar to the one Jesus asked, "Who do people say that I am?" his disciples all gave reasons—Oh, you're this, you're that. The Buddha replied, "I am awake." To be awake is to be vigilant and active.

Many of the Advent readings call us to the single, most difficult thing: to be awake.

from Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Time and Tide...

I have just read an extraordinary article by Giles Fraser, Vicar of Putney and a lecturer in philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford, that was published as an Ekklesia News Brief today. In it he says:

Last month, headlines were grabbed by the Archbishop of Canterbury's attack upon US foreign policy. But the deeper point, widely missed, was his attack upon western modernity in general. "There is something about western modernity which really does eat away at the soul," he insisted in his interview with the Muslim magazine, Emel. And his argument was simple: our brand of modernity turns people into things defined by their function. All too often, we are what we do.

This was the sort of thing that used to be said by Marxists back when they were a more potent cultural force. In the world of efficiency savings, productivity and league tables, humans are more and more treated as tools in some vast machine-like system. We all too easily cede our humanity to the impersonal workings of the day-to-day routine.

Which is why for the Archbishop, as for a great many religious leaders, the key battleground is time. He wants us to slow things down, to resist the frantic fascism of the diary. He calls on us to fight back with a battery of practices: art, prayer, holidays. Not art to make us more sophisticated; not prayer to lobby God; not holidays to get us ready for yet more work - for all this is to render them in overly functional terms, as if they always must have some further purpose. Rather, we must learn from our children and, specifically, from children's play: something that is both joyous and yet, as far as they are concerned, wholly without deeper purpose...

Religion resists the oppressive efficiency of time management because there is nothing to measure. Atheists think that it's the fatal weakness of the God idea that it lacks empirical verifiability. But a world where everything is measurable and testable, and can be turned into a league table, is a world where competition can find its way into every nook and cranny of life. And this, in turn, allows no escape from the omnipresence of market forces.

Marx made the point that capitalism turns everything into a commodity - and thus people into objects. Christians would agree, but also see Marx's uncompromising materialism as being part of the problem. For in spite of Marx, this materialism has been conscripted into the service of capital and forms the bars of our cage. Which is why the Marxists failed, and why the people offering a genuinely countercultural critique of western modernity are to be found in churches, mosques and synagogues.

It's well worth clicking over and reading the whole piece. The point Fraser is making is crucial to our own spiritual survival. In her marvellous book Time (SPCK 2006, pp. 7-8) Jill Fuller TSSF writes:

In reflecting on time, we need to regularly remind ourselves that we live in God's world and God's time. This span of time has been given us to rejoice and marvel at God's creation and to become the person God wants us to be. Our worth lies in that we have been created by a loving God, are loved by God, and will return to the source of that love. Psalm 23... gives a vision of what it is like to live now, the the present moment, with an understanding of a loving God who invites us to dwell with him 'all the days' of our lives. Here is a poetic vision of a God who is not harrying us along and goading us to eat faster or walk more quickly, but one who encourages us to 'lie down in green pastures'. This is not a God who terrifies us with tales of wicked wolves or alarms us with fears of precipitous falls over unseen cliffs. This is the 'Good Shepherd' who is himself our provider, guide and protector. He provides waters of peace for us to rest by... When we allow ourselves to refresh ourselves by these still waters, then we may have a new vision of time and eternity and see that there is all the time in the world.

I well remember growing up caught between luminous visions of the immeasurable truth and significance of Creation - whether in the vastness of the sun between clouds over a sea that was, where the light touched it, green beyond green, and the gulls picked out living silver against the deep blue-grey of the clouds as the sun caught them in mid-flight, or the flicker and glint of cilia along the flanks of a spinning, twisting slipper animalcule under the microscope - and a world of timetables, homework and school dinners, where any transgression, whether against school rules or against the iron tick of the big enamel classroom clock was punishable by detention or worse, where sarcasm replaced gentleness, and panic took over from wonder.

Gradually, in most of our lives, the world of the clock and the assignment crushes the wonder and the dreaming, and we live out our lives between the hope of success and the expectation of condemnation, between finishing one task and beginning another. But this is the life not God gave us, and we need desperately to recover that if we are to survive personally. More than that, I believe that we as a society need to recover the sense of what God made us for if we are to begin to escape the tyranny of a society that has led us to the narrow gap between unjust war and global environmental catastrophe - for make no mistake, that is the destination of western modernity.

The Peaceable Kingdom

The marvelous vision of the peaceable Kingdom, in which all violence has been overcome and all men, women, and children live in loving unity with nature, calls for its realisation in our day-to-day lives. Instead of being an escapist dream, it challenges us to anticipate what it promises. Every time we forgive our neighbor, every time we make a child smile, every time we show compassion to a suffering person, every time we arrange a bouquet of flowers, offer care to tame or wild animals, prevent pollution, create beauty in our homes and gardens, and work for peace and justice among peoples and nations we are making the vision come true.

We must remind one another constantly of the vision. Whenever it comes alive in us we will find new energy to live it out, right where we are. Instead of making us escape real life, this beautiful vision gets us involved.

(With thanks to the Henri Nouwen Society)

I find this from Henri Nouwen deeply moving and hopeful. The realisation, some years ago, that we can begin our lives in the Peaceable Kingdom right here, right now transformed the way I understood everything about the way I lived. I was farming then, and the thought came to me that, if we as Christians were in fact living in eternal life now, in this present time, then not only did everything we do have its eternal significance, but the way we lived, the way we related all the rest of Creation, human and otherwise, was a way of bringing that eternal life in Christ into actual being in the world. Moreover, there was something sacramental in the way we related to Creation.

In my case, it began to be increasingly clear to me that my own relationship with the animals I had to care for had something quite profound to say about God's relationship with me. More than that, perhaps it in some way showed forth that relationship, and the extent to which I could manage to embody that relationship in my care for my animals, in my willingness to give myself - my time, my energy, my ingenuity and my love - to their care reflected the extent to which I was truly living in the relationship God offered to me in Christ through his Spirit. In the accident that finally brought me out of farming to where I am now, I came close to giving my life. I can't claim to have done that consciously - it was after all just that, an accident - but I very willingly took the risks that every modern farmer or herdsman knows are part of the job.

I am really grateful to Henri Nouwen for this passage. I certainly hadn't forgotten that insight more than 10 years ago, but I had forgotten to write it down. I'm aware that most of my readers won't have had my experience of caring for a large dairy herd; but I don't think that alters the point I'm trying to make. This sacramentality of care extends to all walks of life: a mother with her child, a daughter with her dying mother, a father with his wild teenage son, marriage partners with each other, monastic people with their sisters or brothers. You have only to watch that stunningly beautiful film Into Great Silence to see what I mean, in the deeply loving care the Brothers have for each other, though most of their lives are spent in solitude and silence. Or visit a maternity ward, and watch a young mother with her first child, which seems the right thought to end with, as Christmas approaches!

Richard Rohr on Capitalism

I've never, in my years as a Catholic Christian, heard a sermon on the Tenth Commandment. We can't possibly preach on "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods" because Western society is based on that. It's called capitalism. Mass advertising tells us we need things none of us need. It sows confusion about what's important for life. The level of need has moved to such a level of illusion and sophistication that what were once ultimate luxuries have become necessities. In our culture, people cannot feel good about themselves unless next year's vacation is more luxurious than last year's, unless everything is upgraded—while most of God's people on this earth starve.

The affluent West has made happiness impossible. We've created a pseudo- happiness, a pseudo-success, a pseudo-security that will never satisfy the human heart. Most of God's people are forced to learn to find happiness and freedom at a much more simple level. The gospel says that's where happiness is always to be found.

That is about as traditional, old-fashioned, conservative a gospel as there is, and it will never change. We have to keep saying it: "There is a Tenth Commandment."

from Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Simply Red...

According to this, I'm 100% Socialist, 0% Capitalist. Not terribly surprising - though there was very little middle ground in the quiz, I'm sorry to say!


You Are 0% Capitalist, 100% Socialist
You see a lot of injustice in the world, and you'd like to see it fixed. As far as you're concerned, all the wrong people have the power. You're strongly in favour of the redistribution of wealth - and more protection for the average person.

Spe Salvi...

As an Anglican looking in from the outside, as it were, I have to confess to being very taken with some of the things Pope Benedict XIV has to say. In particular, his encyclical Spe Salvi (a good start for me, seeing that the title is a quote from my favourite chapter of the Bible, Romans 8!) is just tremendous from the opening words on. There's Biblical Christianity, if you like... do go and read the whole thing!

In particular, N. 47 has to be one of the most extraordinary pieces of theological writing I've encountered, and has I think profound implications for our understanding of judgement in this Advent season.

47. Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Saviour. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgement. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation "as through fire". But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God. In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ's Passion. At the moment of judgement we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy. It is clear that we cannot calculate the "duration" of this transforming burning in terms of the chronological measurements of this world. The transforming "moment" of this encounter eludes earthly time-reckoning - it is the heart's time, it is the time of "passage" to communion with God in the Body of Christ. The judgement of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace. If it were merely grace, making all earthly things cease to matter, God would still owe us an answer to the question about justice - the crucial question that we ask of history and of God. If it were merely justice, in the end it could bring only fear to us all. The incarnation of God in Christ has so closely linked the two together - judgement and grace - that justice is firmly established: we all work out our salvation "with fear and trembling" (Phil 2:12). Nevertheless grace allows us all to hope, and to go trustfully to meet the Judge whom we know as our "advocate", or parakletos (cf. 1 John 2:1).

Signal flares...

Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.

Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters, Harper & Row, 1982, pp. 40-41.

This is very much an Advent thing. We say, "Even so, come Lord Jesus!" What would we do if he did? What do we do when he does come to each of us, knocking at the dusty doors of our hearts? If we all were truly to open our hearts to him, what an Advent revolution would ensue! We wouldn't be putting up posters on the church notice board, dropping leaflets through letterboxes - we'd be breaking out those signal flares, sending up the maroons. The storm of grace would be unstoppable, justice would roll down like rivers on the thirsty land, and righteousness would irrigate the barren plains of greed and compromise.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Prayer and Justice... more thoughts (from Richard Rohr)

We've got to know the true source of our truth. In my attempts to dismantle the false system of our American political system, am I just fighting for my Richard Rohr truth, or am I really in touch with the great truth that Jesus calls the reign of God? I've got to know that it's not just what I do but why I do it and where it comes from. I think the sequence of Jesus' words about himself is significant. He is first Way and only then Truth, which is finally Life (see John 14:6).

Without prayer, we social activists end up as ideologues. We're trapped in our heads, our opinions, our righteous selves. Maybe we're doing the right thing, but from an egocentric place, not a place of unitive consciousness, the place where all things are one. In other words, we might be doing our own agenda instead of God's. As soon as we fail, you'll see the difference. That's why failure, rejection and humiliation are so important for us. They are the only things that tell us whether we're operating out of the center place, the place of prayer, or whether we're basically doing our own thing and calling it God's thing. When people are doing God's thing, they have freedom - they can laugh at themselves, they can take humiliation and non-success because their own reputation is not at stake. The mature believer will probably look more like a holy fool than a do-gooder or a "saint."

Richard Rohr, from Catholic Agitator, "Finding a Place for Prayer" with thanks to the Center for Action and Contemplation

On the other hand...

... and the life was the light of all people.  John 1:4

There is a beautiful story recounted every Christmas in the forests of Provence in southern France.  It's about the four shepherds who came to Bethlehem to see the child.  One brought eggs, another bread and cheese, the third brought wine.  And the fourth brought nothing at all. People called him L'Enchante.  The first three shepherds chatted with Mary and Joseph, commenting on how well Mary looked, how cozy was the cave and how handsome Joseph was in it. What a beautiful starlit night!  Finally someone asked, "Where is L'Enchante?"  They searched high and low, up and down, inside and out.  Finally, someone peeked through the blanket hung up against the crib into the crèche. And there kneeling at the crib was L'Enchante.  He stayed the entire night in adoration.   Another response, beyond silence and action, to the call from the wild is enchantment. Simple enchantment.  It is what we can see in just one candle.

Light One Candle by Donna Schaper - with thanks to The United Church of Christ website.

"The secret of Christian contemplation is that it faces us with Jesus Christ toward our suffering world in loving service and just action..." Catherine of Siena

Well adjusted?

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
  – attributed to Edmund Burke

Some of our most trying difficulties are caused by plain old inertia. Inertia shows itself in not wanting to move, not wanting to act – in other words, in wanting to be a stone just lying on the road. It is all right for a stone to be inert; that is its role in life. But it is not all right for you and me to just lie down and try to avoid problems, saying, "What does it matter?"

When I hear the phrase "well adjusted," I do not always take it as a favorable comment. Mahatma Gandhi has said that to be well adjusted in a wrong situation is very bad; in a wrong situation we should keep on acting to set it right. When Gandhi, at the peak of his political activity, was asked in a British court what his profession was, he said, "Resister." If he was put in a wrong situation, he just could not keep quiet; he had to resist, nonviolently but very effectively, until the situation was set right.

Eknath Easwaran - with thanks to The Blue Mountain Center

Our Order sets out, in the name of Christ, to break down barriers between people and to seek equality for all. We accept as our second aim the spreading of a spirit of love and harmony among all people. We are pledged to fight against the ignorance, pride, and prejudice that breed injustice or partiality of any kind.

The Principles of the Third Order of the Society of St. Francis

We must not forget that to pray is not to do nothing. On the other hand, prayer is answered by action. It may sometimes be that it's our own action that is the answer to our prayers for peace and for justice. Then however uncomfortable it may be, we may have to get up and do something. Of course, I'm saying this to myself in the first instance...

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Canticle of the Creatures (according to Nouwen)

When we think of oceans and mountains, forests and deserts, trees, plants and animals, the sun, the moon, the stars, and all the galaxies, as God's creation, waiting eagerly to be "brought into the same glorious freedom as the children of God" (Roman 8:21), we can only stand in awe of God's majesty and God's all- embracing plan of salvation. It is not just we, human beings, who wait for salvation in the midst of our suffering; all of creation groans and moans with us longing to reach its full freedom.

In this way we are indeed brothers and sisters not only of all other men and women in the world but also of all that surrounds us. Yes, we have to love the fields full of wheat, the snowcapped mountains, the roaring seas, the wild and tame animals, the huge redwoods, and the little daisies. Everything in creation belongs, with us, to the large family of God.

(With thanks to the Henri Nouwen Society)

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Free Burma Petition

I've taken the Free Burma petition widget off The Mercy Blog. Not because I've stopped praying for that beautiful, broken land, far from it, but I reckon those of you who were going to sign the petition via the widget will have done so, and for the rest it'll have become just that ugly big red box on the top right they have to look past to see the top of the archive list. So it's gone.

But please, do continue to pray. For the monks and nuns of Burma, it's not over. Not by any means. Many more have died than has been reported; many more have been disappeared , and fabricated charges are being brought against at least one of their leaders.

Just as with her own life
A mother shields her child,
her only child, from hurt
Let all-embracing thoughts
For all beings be yours. 

Cultivate a limitless heart of goodwill
For all throughout the cosmos,
In all its height, depth and breadth -
Love that is untroubled
And beyond hatred or enmity. 

(The Karaniya Metta Sutta)

The pattern of Advent...

An absolutely brilliant Advent passage from The Lord and His Prayer by N. T. Wright (Eerdmans, 1996) - hat-tip to Vicky K Black.

When we call God 'Father', we are called to step out, as apprentice children, into a world of pain and darkness. We will find that darkness all around us; it will terrify us, precisely because it will remind us of the darkness inside our own selves. The temptation then is to switch off the news, to shut out the pain of the world, to create a painless world for ourselves. A good deal of our contemporary culture is designed to do exactly that. No wonder people find it hard to pray. But if, as the people of the living creator God, we respond to the call to be his sons and daughters; if we take the risk of calling him Father; then we are called to be the people through whom the pain of the world is held in the healing light of the love of God. And we then discover that we want to pray, and need to pray, this prayer. Father; Our Father in heaven; Our Father in heaven, may your name be honoured. That is, may you be worshipped by your whole creation; may the whole cosmos resound with your praise; may the whole world be freed from injustice, disfigurement, sin, and death, and may your name be hallowed. And as we stand in the presence of the living God, with the darkness and pain of the world on our hearts, praying that he will fulfil his ancient promises, and implement the victory of Calvary and Easter for the whole cosmos - then we may discover that our own pain, our own darkness, is somehow being dealt with as well.

This, then, I dare say, is the pattern of Christian spirituality. It is not the selfish pursuit of private spiritual advancement. It is not the flight of the alone to the alone. It is neither simply shouting into a void, nor simply getting in touch with our own deepest feelings, though sometimes it may feel like one or other of these. It is the rhythm of standing in the presence of the pain of the world, and kneeling in the presence of the creator of the world; of bringing those two things together in the name of Jesus and by the victory of the cross; of living in the tension of the double Advent, and of calling God 'Father'.

An Advent Watchword...

from St. Isaac of Nineveh again:

As we cross the sea of the world, repentance should be our ship, reverential awe its pilot, while love is the divine harbour.

(Homily 43, B 317)

Love Is the Kingdom...

Yesterday, Jan posted this beautiful quote from St. Teresa of Avila's The Way of Perfection: "Prayer is an act of love, words are not needed. Even if sickness distracts thoughts, all that is needed is the will to love."

She reminded me of this passage, written back in the 7th century by one of my favourite writers, St. Isaac of Nineveh:

Love is the kingdom of which our Lord spoke symbolically, when he promised his disciples that they would eat in his kingdom: "You shall eat and drink at the table of my kingdom." What should they eat, if not love?... When we have reached love, we have reached God and our way is ended: we have passed over to the island that lies beyond the world, where is the Father with the Son and the Holy Spirit: to whom be glory and dominion.

(quoted in Bp. Kallistos Ware's The Power of the Name, SLG Press 1974, Marshall Pickering 1989, pp. 39-40 - I couldn't find the original source online, or in Sebastian Brock's selection of St. Isaac's writings, which is all I have to hand.)

Friday, December 07, 2007

When Is Eternal Life?

One thing we know for sure about our God: Our God is a God of the living, not of the dead. God is life. God is love. God is beauty. God is goodness. God is truth. God doesn't want us to die. God wants us to live. Our God, who loves us from eternity to eternity, wants to give us life for eternity.

When that life was interrupted by our unwillingness to give our full yes to God's love, God sent Jesus to be with us and to say that great yes in our name and thus restore us to eternal life. So let's not be afraid of death. There is no cruel boss, vengeful enemy, or cruel tyrant waiting to destroy us - only a loving, always forgiving God, eager to welcome us home.

(With thanks to the Henri Nouwen Society)

Jesus said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." (John 17.1-3) Eternal life is for us as Christians a present possession, as well as a future promise.

For me this is at the very heart of the Gospel: we wait, in this Advent season, for the coming of our Lord, for his Kingdom to come, on earth as it is in Heaven; and yet we are living in the Kingdom now in our Christian lives. We wait "...for adoption, the redemption of our bodies" (Romans 8.23) and yet, as we know God in Scripture, and his Son Jesus in his body, the Church, in the Eucharist, in the eyes of our fellow humans, in all Creation, we have eternal life now, and all its wonders and mercies are ours, however dark the world around us may become.

"There is no cruel boss, vengeful enemy, or cruel tyrant waiting to destroy us - only a loving, always forgiving God, eager to welcome us home." Sometimes, the only way to discover the truth of that fact in our own lives is to live through times we would never wish to live through, to have the very thing we feared actually happen, and then to find God's mercy waiting for us at the bottom of the dark.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who knew something about bad times, wrote, "A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes - and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent."

Thursday, December 06, 2007


More about God's view of time - this time from Henri Nouwen:

There is no "after" after death. Words like after and before belong to our mortal life, our life in time and space. Death frees us from the boundaries of chronology and brings us into God's "time," which is timeless. Speculations about the afterlife, therefore, are little more than just that: speculations. Beyond death there is no "first" and "later," no "here" and "there," no "past," "present," or "future." God is all in all. The end of time, the resurrection of the body, and the glorious coming again of Jesus are no longer separated by time for those who are no longer in time.

For us who still live in time, it is important not to act as if the new life in Christ is something we can comprehend or explain. God's heart and mind are greater than ours. All that is asked of us is trust.

(With thanks to the Henri Nouwen Society)

It is important to act, too, in the full knowledge that in our human measure of time, we have less of it today than yesterday. Less time in our own life certainly, but less chronos, the measure of clock time, before the parousia, the Day of the Lord, when all our time and our times will be swept into the glorious isness, istigkeit as Meister Eckhart called it, of God's own presence.

Maranatha - even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

That man Merton again...

Merton the poet, doing what he does best, taking my breath away with the transparent honesty of his wide-open eyes:

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.

"The Spirit sings; the bottom drops out of my soul." No-one else has come close to putting how this feels down on paper; and yet the words are so simple, the syntax as clear as mountain water.

Wait for it...

Barbara Crafton writes in today's Almost Daily eMo, very much following on from my thoughts on prayer the other day:

...But I am always struck by how little it matters that I don't know [the people I pray for] personally. Prayer is much more than a festival of my love for someone else. God is active in it - mysteriously, of course, since it's God: God lives and moves in prayer and I haven't a clue how, or what will happen because I have prayed. I only know something will. Something will happen first in my life, because I have entered into prayer. And in the life of the one for whom I pray, in a way I will never know. And, because there is an ecology of prayer, a connectedness, something will happen in the world itself. The very world is changed because we pray.

None of which is much like ordering a pizza - we don't pray for something and then wait to see it we get it before we know our prayer made a difference. The difference comes first. We wait only for our power to see it.

Strangely perhaps, this ties in with a remarkable passage I was reading in Bp. Kallistos Ware's The Power of the Name:

The Jesus Prayer is thus a prayer in words, but because the words are so simple, so few and unvarying, the Prayer reaches out beyond words into the living silence of the Eternal. It is a way of achieving, with God's assistance, the kind of non-discursive, non-iconic prayer in which we do not simply make statements about God, in which we do not form pictures of Christ in our imagination, but are "oned" with him in an all-embracing, unmediated encounter.

It is this reaching out into what we do not know, cannot know, that is for me at the very heart of prayer. We can "know" God in the sense of being in intimate relationship with him, but we certainly cannot know God, nor his purposes or his timing, his kairos, in the way that we know a language, or a tune, or a familiar town. And so we reach out beyond what we can know about, into the place where all we can do is to be known, to hope, to wait.

Paul said:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Romans 8.18-25

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A Very Silly Meme Indeed

Franiam tagged Padre Mickey with this music meme. No-one tagged me yet that I've seen, so I'm going to gatecrash the party. (Wanna make somethin of it? Huh?)

The rules:
1. Put your music player on Shuffle
2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.
3. YOU MUST WRITE THAT SONG NAME DOWN NO MATTER WHAT(this is in capital letters, so it is very serious.)

So here goes:

1. IF SOMEONE SAYS “IS THIS OKAY” YOU SAY? Anchorage - Michelle Shocked
2. WHAT WOULD BEST DESCRIBE YOUR PERSONALITY? We Are Climbing Jesus' Ladder - Musicroom
3. WHAT DO YOU LIKE IN A GUY/GIRL? Partly Cloudy - Jedidiah Baker
4. HOW DO YOU FEEL TODAY? Not Enough Africa - Ego Response Technician
5. WHAT IS YOUR LIFE’S PURPOSE? Prototype A - Mon0
6. WHAT IS YOUR MOTTO? Under Ice - Kate Bush
7. WHAT DO YOUR FRIENDS THINK OF YOU? You Bless Me Lord - Scott Underwood
8. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR PARENTS? The Audience - Emmanuel Farley (no relation)
10. WHAT IS 2+2? Massive - Verian Thomas
11. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR BEST FRIEND? Highway Blues - Mark Searles
12. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE PERSON YOU LIKE? Inside the Supernova - Mystahr
13. WHAT IS YOUR LIFE STORY? A Slow Retreat - litmus0001
14. WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP? Light (Pt. 7) Sonoprint
15. WHAT DO YOU THINK WHEN YOU SEE THE PERSON YOU LIKE? Let It Come - Trent & St Albans Vineyard Bands
17. WHAT WILL YOU DANCE TO AT YOUR WEDDING? Inflight Refuel - Akashic Crow's Nest
18. WHAT WILL THEY PLAY AT YOUR FUNERAL? Grounding - Taylor Deupree & Christopher Willits
19. WHAT IS YOUR HOBBY/INTEREST? Mystified - Fleetwood Mac
20. WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST SECRET? Songbird - Eva Cassidy
21. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR FRIENDS? Mystery - Miles Davis

After a life story of Slow Retreat, Grounding is just right for funeral music, don't you think? Some of the answers are even more priceless, but since this is a relatively family-friendly blog, I'm not going to exegete them here...

Now I have a very anarchic attitude to tagging (see above) so if you read this and feel like a certain amount of music-related craziness, with the risk of some exceedingly strange responses, you're tagged!