Saturday, June 30, 2007

Saturday silliness: Literary Meme

I found this on The Wing├Ęd Man's blog:


This one is the literary meme. The instructions are:
1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open it to page 161.
3. Find the fifth full sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence along with these instructions.
5. Don’t search around and look for the coolest book you can find. Do what’s actually next to you.

The book is Anglicanism: the answer to modernity ed. by Duncan Dormer et al. The fifth full sentence on page 161 is:

"Over a century of liturgical renewal has ironed out many of the once striking differences between Anglicans and others in forms of public worship."

H'mm. Has it?

I wanted the seventh full sentence:

"Simply being a Christian by itself marks you out now as different."

Friday, June 29, 2007

Gospel Agenda

Vicky K Black, at Speaking to the Soul, has posted this extraordinary extract (attribution below):

'Debate within the church about who is eligible to be “in” and who must be excluded is nothing new. It was a main feature even of the very first years after Christ. That first debate was so long ago, and so decisively settled, that it is hard to realize today just how difficult a question it really was: Can Gentiles be included in the Christian church?

The argument that Gentiles should follow the law, from what seemed to be a clear and unquestionably correct reading of Scripture, could have appeared unassailable, except that it was met by the experience of the working Holy Spirit in the midst of this new community of faith. Jewish Christians spoke up on behalf of the Gentile Christians, speaking about what they had seen in their lives. They had seen evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the Gentile believers, just as they had seen it in their own. After much personal internal struggle, the apostle Peter baptized Gentile believers without requiring them to first be circumcised. When challenged about this, he defended his actions in this way: “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”

Now it is time for me, as a straight person, to speak up. I can bear witness, like Peter, to seeing the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those whom the church has traditionally said were “unclean” and “unfit” for consideration as members of Christ’s body. I can bear witness to seeing and experiencing in my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters lives of repentance, forgiveness, and transformation through Jesus. It is up to you, and to me, to be like Peter and not hinder God but to welcome God’s grace in the lives of others.'

From “The Gospel Agenda” by Susan Buchanan, in Episcopal Life / New Hampshire Episcopal News (October 2006).

In a post last year, I said something to the effect of her last paragraph, but Susan has put it so much more clearly and trenchantly than I did. It really is time that we straight folks spoke up on this, despite the risk of criticism from some of our sisters and brothers. To remain silent in these circumstances is not tact, it is complicity. Of course discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is not the same thing as racism, despite certain obvious similarities, but the silence of straight people in the face of it is remarkably close, morally, to the silence of white people in the face of apartheid.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Limitless grace...

"All through the Verba Seniorum [The Sayings of the Desert Fathers] we find a repeated insistence on the primacy of love over everything else in the spiritual life: over knowledge, gnosis, asceticism, contemplation, solitude, prayer. Love in fact is the spiritual life, and without it all the other exercises of the spirit, however lofty, are emptied of content and become mere illusions. The more lofty they are, the more dangerous the illusion.

Love, of course, means something much more then mere sentiment, much more than token favors and perfunctory almsdeeds. Love mean an interior and spiritual identification with one's neighbor, so that she is not regarded as an "object" to "which" one "does good." The fact is that good done to another as an object is of little or no spiritual value. Love takes one's neighbor as one's other self, and loves him with all the immense humility and discretion and reserve and reverence without which no one can presume to enter into the sanctuary of another's subjectivity. From such love all authoritarian brutality, all exploitation, domineering and condescension must necessarily be absent. The saints of the desert were enemies of every subtle or gross expedient by which "the spiritual man" contrives to bully those he thinks inferior to himself, thus gratifying his own ego. They had renounced everything that savored of punishment and revenge, however hidden it might be."

Thomas Merton. The Wisdom of the Desert. New York: New Directions Press, 1960: pp. 17-18.

Nothing I could say would do anything but take away from this!

Friday, June 22, 2007

We don't know how to pray...

I was thinking more about my post the other day on the way we pray, and it occurred to me that perhaps I hadn't said as much as I should about what we actually do do, if we don't know how to pray as we ought (Romans 8.26).

The following is edited from a page on all this on The Mercy Site:

To quote from Michael Ramsey's Canterbury Pilgrim: "Contemplation is for all Christians. . . [It] means essentially our being with God, putting ourselves in his presence, being hungry and thirsty for him, wanting him, letting heart and mind move towards him; with the needs of the world on our heart." That is what intercession is: a man or a woman daring to come before the throne of God with the need and the pain of the broken world (Romans 8:22) on their heart.

Ole Hallesby (Prayer, 1948) writes: "Prayer is something deeper than words. It is present in the soul before it has been formulated in words, and it abides in the soul after the last words of the prayer have passed over our lips. . . Prayer is a definite attitude of our hearts towards God, an attitude which he. . . immediately recognises as prayer, as an appeal to his heart. Whether it takes the form of words or not does not mean anything to God, only to ourselves."

Brother Ramon SSF in Praying the Jesus Prayer (1988): "We have seen that the Jesus Prayer involves body, mind and spirit – the whole of man. If the whole person is given to God in prayer, then it reflects the greatest commandment, [to 'love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' (Mark 12.30)] The cosmic nature of the prayer means that the believer lives as a human being in solidarity with all other human beings, and with the animal creation, together with the whole created order... The Christian is well aware of the fact that the world is evil. There is a falseness and alienation which has distracted and infected the world, and men and women of prayer, by the power of the Name of Jesus, stand against the cosmic darkness, and enter into conflict with dark powers [Ephesians 6.12]... The power of the Jesus Prayer is the armour against the wiles of the devil, taking heed of the apostle's word: 'Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. [Ephesians 6.18]'"

As intercessors, all God asks of us is broken hearts - we do not need to find solutions to the prayers we pray, nor just the right words to frame them. God knows what is on our hearts (Romans 8.26-27) - we need only be honest and courageous enough to feel: feel the pain and the grief and the confusion and betrayal and despair the world feels, and to come before our Lord and Saviour with them on our hearts, and ask for God's mercy in the holy name of Jesus.

Hallesby again: "To pray in the name of Jesus is, in all likelihood, the deepest mystery of prayer. It is therefore exceedingly difficult for the Spirit. . . to explain this to us. . . there would be no hope for you if you were to pray in your own name. But listen again. You are to pray in the name of Jesus. It is for Jesus' sake that you are to receive what you ask for."

Of course the same thing applies to other contemplative prayer forms, the Rosary, centring prayer, the prayer described in The Cloud of Unknowing... I use the Jesus Prayer as an example not only because it is the way I pray myself, but because it is relatively easy to see how it works theologically, and so understand how the principle might work in the other forms.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Wouldn't you rather be a tax-collector?

There's a wonderful sermon on one of my favourite passages of Scripture, Luke 18.9-19, over at Affirming Catholicism. It's by The Most Revd Carlos Touche-Porter, Presiding Bishop of La Iglesia Anglicana de Mexico & Bishop of Mexico.

In it he says:

'The story of the Pharisee and the tax collector is so well known to us that we risk missing its full force. It is an example of divine reversal: two men are contrasted not only by their behaviour but by the way each understands and describes himself. The judgement that is passed is based on self-assessment, not on the evaluation of another...

The Pharisee’s self-estimation is really a self-eulogy. While he may be living an upright life, he takes credit for his virtue and he claims superiority over others who may not be as compliant as he is. His idea of prayer is to offer God a list of all the things he’s against: extortion, injustice and adultery. He seems to be against everything and in favour of nothing.

The tax collector, on the other hand, acknowledges that justification comes from God. He is ashamed of what he has done, but he also knows what God is able to do in the face of his sinfulness and he asks for mercy...

A sad and shameful reality for the church is that many of her members have come to believe that being Christian means being against other people, or, to use the words of today’s Gospel, trusting in their own righteousness and despising others. They measure the world and those around them by their own standards rather than those of our loving and merciful God...

It is so easy for a tax collector to become one of the Pharisees, and to forget that, one day, we claimed and received God’s mercy. That same mercy we now deny others.

I believe that this is what’s behind our current problems in the Anglican Communion: many of the tax collectors of yesterday have become the Pharisees of today. They want today’s tax collectors excluded from the family of God and from the Lord’s table. They now deny others the same mercy and grace that was so freely given to them yesterday.

The faithful are being required not to associate with openly immoral church members (whatever that means), and I am afraid that the same is being required of Jesus; who, according to the Gospels, did exactly that; not one or seven times but seventy times seven. And recently, one province of our Communion has been brought to trial for trying to practice justice and inclusion for all; with actions, not words.

With all this in mind, it is now so easy for us to fall into despair, to lose hope and to conclude that there is no longer a future for the Anglican Communion or, at least, for us as members of it.

But that is a temptation that we can easily overcome by remembering the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ: “I will be with you always”. Or the words of Julian of Norwich: “God did not say: you will not be tested, you will not labour hard, you will not be troubled. But God did say: you will not be overcome”.

And finally, I would like to join my voice to that of Archbishop Terence Finlay of Canada, when reflecting on our current situation he wrote the following: “For a while the Anglican Communion will shudder like a great ship struggling through rough waters, but over time the Communion will find healing and reconciliation. We have been through rough waters before in the great controversies throughout our history. And although we’ll be a bit bruised and sore, I believe we will make it”.

Brothers and sisters, this is my prayer and my hope for our beloved Anglican Communion.'

What a man! How excellent it is to hear a voice not only of compassion (there are others preaching mercy, thank God), not only of deep Scriptural understanding (there are plenty of voices preaching from the Bible), but of profound hope. It is this hope, this mercy, and this willingness to do the hard and honest work of hermeneutics that has brought us through so many crises in our relatively short history, and has made the Anglican Church home for so many of today's "tax-collectors and sinners."

Given the choice, I think I'd rather be among the people Jesus hangs around with, than comfortable in my own righteousness...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Anglican Eucharistic Theology

I've discovered an excellent site entitled Anglican Eucharistic Theology, run by Revd Dr Brian Douglas, Residentiary Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Newcastle, New South Wales (Australia) which does just what it says on the tin. It sets out to provide "access to some of the experience or phenomena of the Anglican Eucharistic Tradition through the presentation of case studies" from Cranmer through to Paul Zahl, with some philosophical and liturgical articles besides.

In the 20th and 21st Century section, as well as great studies on Evelyn Underhill and Michael Ramsey, there's a long and (as far as I am qualified to judge) representative article on Rowan Williams. The following passage will give you a feel of the quality of the work here, as well as being a good example of why I'm so fond of our present Archbishop as a theologian:

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In his 2002 book entitled Resurrection. Interpreting the Easter Gospel, Williams also discusses the Eucharist. Here he argues that the Eucharist is not simply a fellowship meal but a meal where “the wounded body and the shed blood are inescapably present” such that “we do not eucharistically remember a distant meal in Jerusalem, nor even a distant death: we are made ‘present to ourselves’ as people complicit in the betrayal and death of Jesus and yet still called and accepted, still ‘companions’ of Christ in the strict sense – those who break bread with him. The Eucharist recapitulates the Supper, the betrayal and the cross, but it does so as an Easter feast” (Williams, 2002: 34) where “the Church’s life is a perpetual Easter, and its mission the ‘universalising’ of Easter” (Williams, 2002: 35). The Eucharist then is spoken of in a realist way in which the Easter event is instantiated (universalised) in the celebration. It is really in this broadened sense of realism in the Eucharist that Williams addresses what he calls “the extremes of internalisation (the Eucharist as illustration of a doctrinal point) and depersonalisation (the Eucharist as the confection of a life-giving substance) are equally inadequate” (Williams, 2002: 51). The Eucharist is clearly more than either of these extremes which functions as “a human activity radically open to the creative activity of God in Jesus” which allows “the source-event, the mystery of cross and resurrection, to become present again, and so opens itself to the rich resource of that event” (Williams, 2002: 52). This suggests that the Eucharist is more than mere memory of a past and completed event, but is rather the place where the ‘source-event’ becomes present again, with all its power present in the Eucharist. Clearly this is anamnesis, used in the moderate realist sense so often found in Anglican eucharist theology. But on what basis does Williams see this as operating? He makes the point that: “If Jesus’ ministry had communicated to the apostles the possibility of human flesh carrying divine meaning, God being ‘enacted’ in the acts of man, the resurrection seals this discovery, vindicates and completes it” then “we speak of Jesus’ acts as bearing divine weight” (Williams, 2002: 98). But can
this mean that Williams is speaking in the fleshy sense of immoderate realism? This appears not to be so since he says:

“If we say that Jesus in his ministry ‘embodies’ the grace of God, we do not and cannot mean that the grace of God is identifiable with Jesus’ material and biological constitution. We are, rather, asserting that grace takes tangible form in what Jesus (as a material being) says and does in the world of material being. If we are to say of Jesus that he is God’s ‘body’ in the world, we must at once make it clear that we mean the life, the history, of Jesus, what he makes, the relations he sets up. It is absurd to think here of ‘body’ and ‘embodiment’ referring simply to Jesus’ physicality, although this is the necessary identifying centre for speaking of his acts and effects. Put in another way, it is not simply Jesus’ bare presence that is ‘gracious’, but Jesus present – as he most characteristically is – in words and deeds that make grace concrete, that create healing, forgiveness and fellowship.” (Williams, 2002: 99).

What Williams is speaking of here “is a paradigm instance of ‘embodied’ grace” (Williams, 2002: 99) which he explains as being:

“The means by which God is met is a transaction which perceptibly changes the prevailing human state of affairs so that the victims become guests, receivers of gifts. Thus the
shared table is the natural and indispensable extension of the ‘embodiment’ of grace in Jesus’ person: embodiment takes effect in the acts of the person.” (Williams, 2002: 99).'

----

What I love about Williams is that however dense the theological expression, the sense of mystery, of Williams' own awe at what God does, just shines through the text. You can sense the Archbishop's goose-bumps in every sentence...

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Wisdom

Wonderful post on The Dream of a Voyage:

Refiner and Purifier of Silver

Malachi 3:3 says: "He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver." This verse puzzled some women in a Bible study and they wondered what this statement meant about the character and nature of God. One of the women offered to find out the process of refining silver and get back to the group at their next Bible Study. That week, the woman called a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. She didn't mention anything about the reason for her interest beyond her curiosity about the process of refining silver.

As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest as to burn away all the impurities.

The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot then she thought again about the verse that says: "He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver."

She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined.

The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed.

The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, "How do you know when the silver is fully refined?"

He smiled at her and answered, "Oh, that’s easy - when I see my image in it."

If today you are feeling the heat of the fire, remember that God has His eye on you and will keep watching you until He sees His image in you.

The way we pray...

A friend phoned first thing this morning, worried about how to pray for the situation in the Middle East, on the borders of Israel. We discussed the whole thing at length - I'd already replied to an email of his, with some background information I'd gleaned from Wikipedia about the conflict, and the various sides and factions involved. As we talked, the sense grew more and more acute, that we were wandering further down a blind alley. We'd never arrive at an answer, a formula for prayer, however much information we gathered, or however much we thought it through.

I suddenly remembered Julian of Norwich:

"Then the way we often pray came into my mind and how, through lack of knowing and understanding of the ways of love, we pester him with petitions. Then I saw truly that it gives more praise to God and more delight if we pray steadfast in love trusting his goodness, clinging to him by grace than if we ask for everything our thoughts can name. All our petitions fall short of God, and are too small to be worthy of him, and his goodness encompasses all that we can think to ask. The best prayer is to rest in the goodness of God knowing that the goodness can reach right down to our lowest depths of need."

Showings (Long Text) Chapter 6

Or as Paul said in Romans 8.26-27, "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. "

Why is it so hard to remember this? Why do I, after all these years, still find myself feeling I need to know, to find answers, still speaking as though I imagine I have to inform and advise the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Alpha and Omega, the I AM, for whom and through whom all things exist...?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Merton on Ephesians 6

Isn't it extraordinary how far ahead Thomas Merton thought sometimes? The following seems even more true in this age of the Internet than it did in the age of TV, when it was written:

'Though there are certainly more ways than one of preserving the freedom of the sons of God, the way to which I was called and which I have chosen is that of the monastic life.

Paul's view of the "elements" and the "powers of the air" was couched in the language of the cosmology of his day. Translated into the language of our own time, I would say these mysterious realities are to be sought where we least expect them, not in what is remote and mysterious, but in what is most familiar, what is near at hand, what is at our elbow all day long-what speaks or sings in our ear, and practically does our thinking for us. The "powers" and "elements" are precisely what stand between the world and Christ. It is they who stand in the way of reconciliation. It is they who, by influencing all our thinking and behavior in so many unsuspected ways, dispose us to decide for the world as against Christ, thus making reconciliation impossible.

Clearly the "powers" and the "elements," which in Paul's day dominated men's minds through pagan religion or through religious legalism, today dominate us in the confusion and the ambiguity of the Babel of tongues that we call mass-society. Certainly I do not condemn everything in the mass-media. But how does one stop to separate the truth from the half- truth, the event form the pseudo-event, reality from the manufactured image? It is in this confusion of images and myths, superstitions and ideologies that the "powers of the air" govern our thinking-even our thinking about religion! Where there is no critical perspective, no detached observation, to time to ask the pertinent questions, how can one avoid being deluded and confused?'

Thomas Merton. Faith and Violence: Christian Teaching and Christian Practice. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968: p. 150.

The little form of bread...

“O admirable heights and sublime lowliness! O sublime humility! O humble sublimity! That the Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides Himself under the little form of bread! Look, brothers, at the humility of God and pour out your hearts before Him! Humble yourselves, as well, that you may be exalted by Him. Therefore, hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves so that He Who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally”
Saint Francis, Letter to the Entire Order
Quoted in Saint of the Day for June 17

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Archbishop Tutu: God is weeping

Dierdre Good, of Not Being a Sausage, posted a heads-up to the following quote from Desmond Tutu. I looked up a slightly fuller version than she posts - I can't add anything to that wonderful man's words, so without further preamble, here is what he said:


"Vanity Fair’s Africa 7/2007 issue features an interview of South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu by Brad Pitt. The engaging article can be found in the July 2007 issue of Vanity Fair on page 96.

An excerpt on gay rights:

Brad Pitt: So certainly discrimination has no place in Christianity. There’s a big argument going on in America right now, on gay rights and equality.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu: For me, I couldn’t ever keep quiet, I come from a situation where for a very long time people were discriminated against, made to suffer for something about which they could do nothing–their ethnicity. We were made to suffer because we were not white. Then, for a very long time in our church, we didn’t ordain women, and we were penalizing a huge section of humanity for something about which they could do nothing–their gender. And I’m glad that now the church has changed all that. I’m glad that apartheid has ended. I could not for any part of me be able to keep quiet, because people were being penalized, ostracized, treated as if they were less than human, because of something they could do nothing to change–their sexual orientation. For me, I can’t imagine the Lord that I worship, this Jesus Christ, actually concurring with the persecution of a minority that is already being persecuted. The Jesus who I worship is a Jesus who was forever on the side of those who were being clobbered, and he got into trouble precisely because of that. Our church, the Anglican Church, is experiencing a very, very serious crisis. It is all to do with human sexuality. I think God is weeping. He is weeping that we should be spending so much energy, time resources on this subject at a time when the world is aching."

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Worship

Kathryn, at Good in Parts, has a very important post on the subject of worship, which I'd encourage you to click over and read.

As her conclusion, she has found another wonderful Evelyn Underhill quote, this time from Worship (1936):

"At one end worship is lost in God and is seen to be the substance of eternal life, so that all our attempts to penetrate its mystery must end in acknowledgement of defeat; at the other it broadens out to cover and inform the whole of man's responses to reality, his total Godward life, with its myriad graded forms of expression, some so crude and some so lovely, some so concrete and some so otherworldly but all so pathetic in their childishness. Here we obtain a clue to the real significance of those rituals and ceremonies... which express the deep human conviction that none of the serial events and experiences of human life are rightly met unless they are brought into a relationship with the Transcendent."

Astonishing, isn't it, how a discussion of what for so many people is confined to the area of music in church, or liturgics, actually "broadens out to cover and inform the whole of man's responses to reality..." and so brings us into reach of Brother Lawrence's Practice of the Presence of God, and of the Prayer of the Heart, the practice of the Jesus Prayer as unceasing prayer (1 Thessalonians 5.17) where the prayer, coming over time to be prayed without conscious volition, forms the means by which all "the serial events and experiences of human life are... brought into a relationship with the Transcendent."

Worship is so much more than is dreamed of my most of our philosophies, which may be why our Lord said that our worship must be "in spirit and in truth," as opposed to what we know, intellectually, or, superstitiously, what we don't know.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Still thinking about how to live in simplicity...

I read on Saint of the Day about the life of Orlando Catanii, and it seemed to me that he had a great deal to show us about simplicity, and in fact about what it is to be a Franciscan Tertiary. The entry reads:

An unexpected encounter with St. Francis of Assisi in 1213 was to forever change—and enrich—the life of Count Orlando of Chiusi.

On the day a festival was being organized for a huge throng, St. Francis, already well known for his sanctity, delivered a dramatic address on the dangers of worldly pleasures. One of the guests, Orlando (also known as Roland) was so taken by Francis' words that he sought out the saint for advice on how best to lead a life pleasing to God.

A short time later, Francis visited Count Orlando in his own palace, located at the foot of Mount La Verna. Francis spoke again of the dangers of a life of wealth and comfort. The words prompted Orlando to rearrange his life entirely according to the principles outlined by Francis. Furthermore, he resolved to share his wealth by placing at Francis' disposal all of Mount La Verna, which belonged to Orlando. Francis, who found the mountain's wooded recesses and many caves and ravines especially suitable for quiet prayer, gratefully accepted the offer. Orlando immediately had a convent as well as a church built there; later, many chapels were added. In 1224, two years before the death of Francis, Mount La Verna was the location where Francis received the holy wounds of Christ.

In return for his generous gift, Orlando desired only to be received into the Third Order and to have St. Francis as his spiritual director. Under Francis' guidance, Orlando completely detached himself from worldly goods. He zealously performed acts of charity as a Christian nobleman. After his happy death Orlando was laid to rest in the convent church on Mount La Verna.

Even Francis, Lady Poverty’s favorite knight, needed a suitable place to pray. Captivated by Francis’ preaching, Orlando restructured his life. One of the possessions he parted with was Mt. La Verna, which he offered to the Little Poor Man. There Francis found the solitude he sought. In one mountainside cave, he was branded with Christ’s own wounds. We may not be as wealthy as Orlando, but we have enough to spare. Only God can know who in Lady Poverty’s realm will be nurtured in sanctity because we imitate Orlando in generosity.

Simplicity, put another way...

Vicki K Black has a marvellous post at Episcopal Cafe: Speaking to the Soul , where she quotes Evelyn Underhill:

God gives Himself mainly along two channels: through the soul’s daily life and circumstances and through its prayer. In both that soul must always be ready for Him; wide open to receive Him, and willing to accept and absorb without fastidiousness that which is given, however distasteful and unsuitable it may seem. For the Food of Eternal Life is mostly plain bread; and though it has indeed all sweetness and all savour for those who accept it with meekness and love, there is nothing in it to attract a more fanciful religious taste. All life’s vicissitudes, each grief, trial or sacrifice, each painful step in self-knowledge, every opportunity of love or renunciation and every humiliating fall, have their place here. All give, in their various ways and disguises, the heavenly Food. A sturdy realism is the mark of this divine self-imparting, and the enabling grace of those who receive.

From Abba by Evelyn Underhill (Morehouse-Barlow, 1981).

This Is the Part

Just found a wonderful poem over at Shannon's Finding Grace Within.

I won't spoil it by posting bits of it here - just head on over and read it, now! It should be inserted as a foreword in every textbook on listening, and read at the beginning of every listening skills course...

I've just discovered Shannon's blog, by the way - great stuff - should be in everyone's feed reader. I only wish I lived near enough to invite her for a coffee!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Simplicity

We Franciscans talk a lot about simplicity, and sometimes people are not quite sure what we're getting at. Occasionally, I don't think we're all that sure - I know I've often wondered whether I really knew what I was talking about.

In our Third Order Principles the Third Aim is to live simply, and it goes on to speak of Francis' own vision of Lady Poverty, and how we in the Third Order "show ourselves true followers of Christ and of St Francis by our readiness to live simply and to share with others." And it's true that this lies very close to the heart of what being a Franciscan actually is.

And yet, every time I read the Third Aim, I find myself looking for the passion with which Francis took Lady Poverty as his bride, and not quite finding it. I had wondered whether, at least in my own case, that didn't mean that the Third Order was somehow second best; that I had somewhere along the line missed my vocation to the First Order, where I would, I hoped, have found this passion I've always, somewhere in my heart, longed for.

As so often happens, Thomas Merton cuts through the haze: "Give me the strength that waits upon You in silence and peace. Give me humility in which alone is rest, and deliver me from pride which is the heaviest of burdens. And possess my whole heart and soul with the simplicity of love. Occupy my whole life with the one thought and the one desire of love, that I may love not for the sake of merit, not for the sake of perfection, not for the sake of virtue, not for the sake of sanctity, but for You alone. For there is only one thing that can satisfy love and reward it, and that is You alone." (New Seeds of Contemplation. New York: New Directions Press, 1961: p. 45)

And that, for me, is what lies at the core of all this thinking about simplicity, as in a sense it lies at the core of penitence. What is required is just to remove what gets between God and myself. And what does get between us? Stuff. Whether it's material stuff or emotional stuff or spiritual stuff, it's my stuff. God doesn't deal in stuff: he deals in himself. He is what he has to give us, and as Merton says, only he will satisfy our final longing.

Simplicity, then, is just removing stuff from between God and me, leaving me free to love him, and want him; free to be open to him. As Jesus said to Martha, "you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing..."

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Vulnerability

In a wonderful post entitled "On open-heartedness," Kelly says:

"But, the world [she's referring to Yeats' "Tread softly because you tread on my dreams..."] treads as it will regardless of our sensitivity. Should we then, close up and refuse to love humanity or be enthralled by the wonder of the work of God? No, all the more should we open our heart to love, and beauty, and even pain. Give everything, love all, no matter how ugly or painful or awful. Love every person in every image of war and pain that comes our way; love the victim and the perpetrator, embrace it all, as God does.

For there, and there only, is a better dream, and all the cloths of heaven."

Oh absolutely!

To me, the way of prayer is the way of this totally defenceless vulnerability... as a friend of mine once put it, true intercessors have less layers of skin than other people. To stand before God completely open-hearted and open-handed, weeping unashamedly, is really the only option left to us.

All this reminds me, yet again, of the words of St Isaac of Nineveh, the 7th century solitary. I've quoted these in this blog at least twice before, but I'm not about to apologise...

An elder was once asked, "What is a merciful heart?" He replied:

"It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation.

For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns with without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God."

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Random Facts or Habits

Missy, over at Missy's Big Fish Stories, has just tagged me for this meme. It's an unusual sort of a thing, where you have to abide by these rules:

1. I have to post these rules before I give you the facts.
2. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
3. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
5. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

So here goes, I guess:

  1. I am half Australian. My mother was a painter and sculptor who came to the Old Country just before World War II, and, after many adventures, married an RAF Squadron Leader. Result: me.
  2. I have had a very chequered career one way or another: I've been an art student, a musician, a bookseller, a full-time writer and part-time small-press publisher, a dairy herdsman, and a computer person. If I've missed any bits out, then they're odd bits of holiday work, or things I did when short of money...
  3. I have a thing about women's eyes. And voices. Some people reckon they're always taken with legs, or various other bits - for me it's eyes. Or voices. And eyes...
  4. Jan has both attributes to an unsettling degree. It was nearly three years from the time we first met till we were married, and for most of that time we didn't see each other, but I just couldn't get her out of my head from the first day she walked into a Creative Writing class I was teaching at Leicester University. Still can't.
  5. I have another thing, about Fender guitars. I've played all kinds over the years, but always come back to them. The Telecaster, the Stratocaster and the Jazz Bass are three of the most perfect musical instruments to come out of the 20th century. Nothing can replace them.
  6. I was first introduced to the Jesus Prayer in 1978, at a very broken and painful time in my life, by a wonderful monk at Willen Priory, Fr Francis Horner SSM; everything that has happened since has somehow involved that prayer. However far I've wandered, however dark things have at times become, the Prayer has followed me, and brought me home.
  7. I first encountered the Anglican Franciscans in 1984, at the Jarrow 1300 celebrations. At the time I knew next to nothing of the order, but there was something about these guys that tugged at my heart in a way I couldn't understand. It took me the best part of twenty years to find out. Slow, some would call me. I wouldn't argue...
  8. I wish I could sing. I know the notes I should be singing - I could play them - and I can (sort of) sing along with others. But hold a tune? Easier for me to hold a hyperactive eel.
Now I just have to think of 8 people to tag. H'mm. Let's see...

Lutheran Chik because I always look out for her posts first every morning on my feed reader.

Kelly because she and I play comment tennis every so often, and she's a woman after my own heart in so many ways.

Bigbulkyanglican because he understands guitars.

Kathryn because, I suppose, she manages to be both guileless and profound, often at the same time...

Padre Mickey - the best hagiographer in all the blogosphere. And he plays bass.

Charles of New Haven because anyone whose image of God is "dark, quiet, peaceful, and cavernous" must have at least 8 very remarkable things about them.



Claire Joy because, as well as having so appropriate a name in religion, she just has such a big heart that I'd love to know what her eight things might turn out to be!

Remember - like Missy said, it's entirely optional!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Merton and Brueggemann c/o John Santic...

There's a fascinating post over at John Santic's Toward Hope, where he talks of his thoughts on reading Merton on the way to work, and Brueggemann on the way home! Do go and read what he has to say, it's important. I've left rather a long comment there, so I shan't repeat too much of my own reactions here - just to say that John has highlighted for me the tensions inherent in trying to live the Gospel, tensions between the interior and exterior life that can be the source of such pain and confusion, but are so, literally, vital to our Christian life.

This is important: I don't think, till I read John's post just now, I had realised quite how important. More of this later!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Er, sorry...

It's been far too long since I posted anything here, and Lulu (the cat) is sitting on my lap nuzzling my forearm, so I thought I'd better introduce you to my delightful new blog discovery, Missy, over at Missy's Big Fish Stories.

She's an excellent photographer, and livens things up with lots of examples, and has some wonderful and profound things to say in the lightest and most engaging of ways. If I go on reading her, I may even learn to take myself a little less seriously. "May," I said, before you go getting too excited...

Beetle on peony, by Missy:

Friday, June 01, 2007

Late as usual...

I've just read a really wonderful post, a homily by Jane Redmont, over at Acts of Hope, on the Visitation.

"Remember what Mary says in this Gospel: God is doing mighty things for lowly people. A woman will be called blessed forever, though she lives in a world where men rule. The mighty are deposed from their thrones. The poor and the hungry are not just satisfied, they are heard and remembered.

I think this woman is talking about a revolution."

Yes! Oh thank you Jane! No one I've read has put it quite so well...