Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The great adventure...

All great traditions teach us some form of contemplation, because it is actually a different form of knowledge that emerges inside of the "cloud of unknowing."

It is a refusal to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and finding freedom, grace and comfort in the not needing to know, which ironically opens us up to a much deeper consciousness that we would call the mind of God. That's because our small mind and lesser self is finally out of the way.

I think that's a big part of it - our "small mind and lesser self" are all that occupy us most of the time, and anything that disables that littleness of mind for a while helps us see that there is far more "out there" than we had ever dreamed of. But many things that appear to give us this freedom - sex, danger, Abraham Maslow's "peak experiences" - are ultimately, if used this way, prisons themselves, what we could call idols: things that become (or are already) ends in themselves, rather than gateways to the silence that is the place of God.

Only contemplation gives us freedom. I'm not talking here about the mechanics, the techniques, but simply about that place beyond the grasp of our own littleness that all the technique and methods serve and lead towards. When we dare to allow God to love us, when we open our hears to allow his Spirit to "guide us into all truth" (John 16.13), then the Spirit will show us how to pray (Romans 8.26). That may be a very different way for you than for me, which is why it's hard to be prescriptive - or proscriptive! - about ways and means of prayer. Listen to God. Ask questions. Read. There's an adventure ahead!

The freedom to fall...

The freedom to fall is also the freedom to rise. It's precisely in our failure, our experience of poverty, weakness, emptiness that we come to experience God's restoration and healing love.

You can say, Oh, that's dangerous, it sounds like you're justifying sin. But I'm just trying to be the ultimate realist. Salvation is sin overturned and outdone, as God expands and educates our true freedom.

Free will and freedom of conscience are at the heart of the doctrine of grace and at the center of Christian morality.

Richard Rohr, from The Price of Peoplehood

Sin is behovely - it had to be - but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well...

...I understood that our Lord looks upon his servant with pity, not with blame. For this passing life does not ask that we live completely without blame and sin. He loves us endlessly, and we sin continually, and he shows us our sin most tenderly. And we sorrow and mourn with discretion and turn to look upon his mercy, clinging to his love and goodness, knowing he is our medicine, understanding that we do nothing but sin.

And so we are able to please him, through the humbleness we get from seeing our sin, and we can faithfully understand his endless love, and can praise and thank him...

Julian of Norwich, Showings (Long Text) Chapters 27 & 82 Tr. Sheila Upjohn

If I can add anything to such words, it is simply that I have found them to be true. There is nothing I have done - and there are many things I wish I had not done - that God has not used in the end for my healing, and to show me his mercy in Christ's love. As far as I can see, it's the only way we can ever get to say, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me..." (Galatians 2.19-20) "for [I] have died, and [my] life is hidden with Christ in God." (Colossians 3.3)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

St. Catherine of Siena (slight return...)

I know I said I wouldn't post any more about St. Catherine, but then I found this irresistible passage, and just had to share it here:

A common trick a lot of midlife women play on ourselves is to feel, and act, responsible for everything. But Jesus, via Catherine of Siena, doesn’t recommend this: "I in my providence did not give to any one person or to each individually the knowledge for doing everything necessary for human life. No, I gave something to one, something else to another, so that each one’s need would be a reason to have recourse to the other." In other words, there’s a divine plan for us to need each other. So don’t go trying to do everything for everybody all at once. Treat your psyche with care - mental illness is not in the divine plan for you.

Even Catherine of Siena felt overwhelmed sometimes, and tried to protect herself. Apparently, at least once she did so by retreating to the roof. Some local parents were worried that their baby was possessed by demons, so they set out to ask Catherine for help. When Catherine saw the three on their way to her cottage, she felt so overwhelmed that she hid herself on the roof, muttering all the while, "Alas, every day I am tormented by evil spirits: Do you think I want somebody else's?" On Catherine’s less stressful days, she poked fun at the devil, calling him "the Old Pickpocket." Then, as now, the devil could steal enjoyment of life from you—and one of Catherine’s strategies to keep him at bay was humor... Clearly, Catherine viewed the incessant demands that could lead to depression, anxiety, and mental illness as the work of the devil. And she was determined to remain sane.

From Wisdom from the Middle Ages for Middle-Aged Women by Lisa B. Hamilton. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

(With thanks to Vicki K Black)

Please do continue to pray for Burma...

especially for the Buddhist monks and nuns caught up in the struggle for justice and peace. There's a long and disturbing account here, which anyone concerned should read: : Myanmar Protest :

No fear...

You can never bring about the Kingdom of God by means of fear (see Romans 14:16-17). It is not the Kingdom of God if it is brought about by fear or coercion.

God allows and respects the freedom of creatures, even to the point of rebellion and blasphemy! The realm of freedom is a prerequisite of virtue, just as it is of sin. It is God's great risk.

Richard Rohr, from The Price of Peoplehood

This should be written up over every desk where people prepare sermons, and in every room where they conduct Bible studies. So much teaching these days, sadly often from the evangelical end of the spectrum, seems to be based on fear. "Don't think that - it isn't Biblical." "Don't ask those questions - it shows lack of faith." "Don't trust, or even love, those people, they'll lead you astray." "Don't read that, it'll poison your mind." "Here be dragons!" "There be demons!"

I don't know which text some people have concealed between the covers of their NIV Study Bible or their NLT Life Application Bible. My Bible contains 1 John 4.16b-19: "God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgement, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us."

God is love. He is also the God of Heaven and earth and all the is, has been and ever will be. Of what should we be afraid, if we are following our Lord, who trusted his Father to the Cross and beyond, into eternal life?

St. Catherine of Siena...

whose day we celebrate today, is one of my favourite people... but according to blogging tradition, I'm going to recycle last years post, since I can't see the point of saying it all again!

To encourage you to click back in time, though, here is my concluding paragraph:

We have so much to learn from people like Catherine. It is so easy to forget that before our own lifetimes, before the wars and rumours of wars of the last century, before the Reformation even, women and men were trying to follow Christ, and encountering all of the same joys and pains we run into ourselves. We so deeply need to listen to our sisters and brothers of the past, and give up flitting distractedly between the end of the New Testament and the beginning of the 20th century!

And the collect for today from The Daily Office SSF:

God of compassion
who gave your servant Catherine of Siena
a wondrous love of the passion of Christ:
grant that your people
    may be united to him in his majesty
and rejoice forever in the revelation of his glory;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Why blog? (continued...)

Writing is not just jotting down ideas. Often we say: "I don't know what to write. I have no thoughts worth writing down." But much good writing emerges from the process of writing itself. As we simply sit down in front of a sheet of paper and start to express in words what is on our minds or in our hearts, new ideas emerge, ideas that can surprise us and lead us to inner places we hardly knew were there.

One of the most satisfying aspects of writing is that it can open in us deep wells of hidden treasures that are beautiful for us as well as for others to see...

One of the arguments we often use for not writing is this: "I have nothing original to say. Whatever I might say, someone else has already said it, and better than I will ever be able to." This, however, is not a good argument for not writing. Each human person is unique and original, and nobody has lived what we have lived. Furthermore, what we have lived, we have lived not just for ourselves but for others as well. Writing can be a very creative and invigorating way to make our lives available to ourselves and to others.

We have to trust that our stories deserve to be told. We may discover that the better we tell our stories the better we will want to live them.

Henri Nouwen

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Little and poor...

When all of our idols are taken away, all our securities and defense mechanisms, we find out who we really are. We're so little, so poor, so empty - sometimes, even so ugly.

But God takes away our shame, and we are able to present ourselves to God poor and humble. Then we find out who we are and who God is for us.

Richard Rohr, from The Great Themes of Scripture

I think this is very close to the heart of the spiritual life. We are all blundering about, trying to do things, be things, have things, and it takes something - very often something pretty close to what we would think of as a disaster - to break through that self-preoccupation and confront us with our own helplessness. Then we can hear God's voice, feel his gentle hand, receive his mercy... and turn to him little and poor still, but little and humble, and gladly knowing our need for him.

But it does take something, and that's an uncomfortable thought. I often think of Romans 8.28 - "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose" - in this context, as well as Julian of Norwich's remark that "sin is behovely".

Daien T Haseo quotes an old Shin Buddhist hymn,

Obstructions of karmic evil turn into virtues
It is like the relation of ice and water
The more the ice, the more the water
The more the obstructions, the more the virtues.

which carries the sense of this quite as well as any Christian writing. God will use all our weaknesses to make his strength manifest in our lives, if only we will recognise our own helplessness to anything about it for ourselves. We need to be reduced to that place where, like Bartimaeus, all we can do is cry, "Lord Jesus, have mercy on me!" (Mark 10:46-52) It is a dreadfully uncomfortable, deeply embarrassing place to fall into for us who have been brought up with the pride and the self-reliance that is instilled in us from our school-days, if not before; but it is necessary. We need to be discombobulated before God!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

She whom all generations call Blessed

Risk all for love, Jesus tells us, even your own life. Give that to me and let me save it. The healthy religious person is the one who allows God to save.

If this is the ideal Christian attitude toward God, then Mary is the ideal Christian of the Gospels. She sums up in herself the attitude of the poor one whom God is able to save. She is deeply aware of her own emptiness without God (Luke 1:52), for the fulfillment of God's promise (1:54); for God's work (1:45,49), and a full personal surrender: "Let it be!" (1:38).

Richard Rohr, from The Great Themes of Scripture

I often wonder why, in the face of facts like this about Mary's character, some of my fellow Anglicans, not to mention others from (especially) evangelical backgrounds, get all panicky when they hear people referring to "our Lady", or "the Blessed Virgin". How have they read Luke 1 for these things not to be blindingly obvious?

And Mary said,
"My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever."

(Luke 1.46-55)


Real holiness doesn't feel like holiness; it just feels like you're dying. It feels like you're losing it. And yet, you're losing it from the center, from a place where all things are One, where you can joyously, graciously let go of it. You know God's doing it when you can smile, when you can trust the letting go.

Richard Rohr, from Letting Go: A Spirituality of Subtraction

This is just wonderful - I think it should be written in huge letters over the doors of churches, and set as a signature in all spiritual directors' emails.

I don't know much, personally, about real holiness, but I do know about feeling like I'm losing it, feeling like I'm dying. And I know this much: the times when I have most felt like that have been the times when I've been most aware, often much later, that God was with me, that his mercy filled every waking moment, and every moment asleep.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Nothingness before God

The nothingness we fear so much is, in fact, the treasure that we long for. We long for the space where there is nothing to prove and nothing to protect; where I am who I am, and it's enough.

Richard Rohr, from Letting Go: A Spirituality of Subtraction

Living Peacefully...

We live each day surrounded by images of the horrors of our world. Each week brings stories of a world weary with violence. How can we not feel powerless in this? How can we remain committed to a life of nonviolence when so many of the world's ways seem to point in the other direction?

My husband and I were asked to reflect on this dilemma at a recent Christian Peacemaker Teams workshop. Through preparing for this workshop, we realized that living nonviolently involves two separate yet interconnected practices: an outer, visible witness to a life of peace; and the more hidden, attentive work of being present to the small details of our lives. The outer practice is more noticeable, and is often more gratifying - who doesn't feel better after participating in a peace march? And yet, as I learn over and over again, the greatest impact I can have in my tiny world is the way I choose to be present to others and to the world around me. If, daily, I can speak to my children with absolute patience and listen to them as deeply as I would wish that listening from someone else; if, daily, I refrain from the easier tack of speaking ill of someone in order to appear stronger myself; if, daily, I make choices that cause less damage to this beautiful planet - then I know my journey of nonviolence continues, despite the invisibility of its workings.

In a world so broken, I need to believe that living peacefully, both in the grander picture and in the smallness of my own life, will make some difference to the work of "creating something new in the skin of the old."

Madeline Burghart, L'Arche, Toronto

I seem to be surrounded at the moment by this sense that truly living as God has called us to live does make a difference. We need not necessarily go out and interfere with people to change things. We don't necessarily have to rail against them, legislate against them, prosecute them, make war on them, to bring God into people's lives. In fact, it's probably all to the good if we don't do most of those things.

It's all one unbroken fabric with what I have come to realise about prayer: that - for me at any rate - the most effective prayer is not the one possessed of all the facts, zealous in enumerating them before the Throne of God, and diligent in formulating answers to our prayers, and in asking God to plonk the divine rubber stamp on them: "Approved. Let it be so. God." It's very often the prayer where "we do not know how to pray as we ought" (Romans 8.26) and just cry out to God, clinging closely to his mercy, trusting in his Spirit, that really makes the difference.

The cry of my heart for solitude, for a life "hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3.3), is not a solipsistic, self-centred withdrawal from the world after all, but an opening of all of myself to be "crucified with Christ" that I may no longer live as myself, "but it is Christ who lives in me." (Galatians 2.19-20) Then, perhaps, I might be able to be of some use!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Being a bit mad...

Barbara Crafton, at The Geranium Farm, has an article entitled "The Good of the Group", where she says:

I guess many of us just like to be on teams, to be part of something larger than ourselves. We like to put forth a mighty effort, focusing on it together, and to feel the might of its spirit when we do so. We multiply ourselves when we work with others, and we savor the power of that.

This is so true of most people that it has created major moral problems, more than once. Rheinhold Neibuhr's Moral Man and Immoral Society is about just this: the moral power of the individual to transcend himself for the sake of the whole becomes demonic when the values of the whole are demonic. Neibuhr adduced the figure of "the good German" to illustrate this: a patriot who follows orders and loves his country, carried, by the very fact of his devotion, into a perverse moral universe in which it becomes an act of righteousness to kill innocent people. We wonder, often, how so many ordinary people could have participated in the horror of the Holocaust. How did they get so unmoored from their own sense of good and evil? The question makes us uneasy; our moral sense may be a lot more community-relative than we like to think it is. It's not just ourselves that we must transcend. Sometimes we must transcend our whole world...

This is important. It's important in little ways, like the cultural imperatives I wrote about the yesterday, where violence as a way of thinking is inherent in people's very upbringing, and it's important in big ways, like Auschwitz and Abu Ghraib. We grow up, we bring our own children up, conditioned to put the mores of the group ahead of individual conscience, and to use violence as a response to suffering, and then we wonder how these atrocities occur.

Of course, most people wouldn't admit to these forms of upbringing, if you put it like that. But look at "team spirit", look at fraternities and sonorities, look at "keeping in with the neighbours / up with the Joneses", look at "standing up for oneself" when it actually means using explicit or implicit violence to stand up for the values of the family, or the school, or the cadet force, or...

Henri Nouwen wrote:

When you are interiorly free you call others to freedom, whether you know it or not. Freedom attracts wherever it appears. A free man or a free woman creates a space where others feel safe and want to dwell. Our world is so full of conditions, demands, requirements, and obligations that we often wonder what is expected of us. But when we meet a truly free person, there are no expectations, only an invitation to reach into ourselves and discover there our own freedom.

Where true inner freedom is, there is God. And where God is, there we want to be.
Is there a contradiction here? Freedom in this sense is above all freedom from the very "conditions, demands, requirements, and obligations" I've been writing about, and yet Nouwen is speaking of the attractiveness of the free woman or man.

I wonder if this doesn't lie close to the heart of the Gospel message... Jesus was apparently a shockingly attractive man. People, sometimes in crowds, would leave everything, families, livelihoods, homes, just to be with him, to listen to him speak and to watch what he did. And yet, ultimately, it was the people who condemned him to death, calling for the release of Barabbas (Matthew 27) rather than Jesus from Roman custody.

As I said yesterday, society doesn't much like folks who live free of cultural imperatives, from the will of the crowd. Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Steve Biko, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, came to a sticky end. St. Francis (see this account, paragraphs 5 & 6) had a most painful interview with his own father, who was standing almost as a representative of his class and society, and were it not for the far-sighted intervention of his Bishop, things might have turned out worse than they did.

Writing of St. Benedict Joseph Labre, Leonard Foley OFM, says:
In a modern inner city, one local character kneels for hours on the sidewalk and prays. Swathed in his entire wardrobe winter and summer, he greets passers-by with a blessing. Where he sleeps no one knows, but he is surely a direct spiritual descendant of Benedict, the ragged man who slept in the ruins of Rome's Colosseum. These days we ascribe such behavior to mental illness; Benedict’s contemporaries called him holy. Holiness is always a bit mad by earthly standards.
Perhaps we are called to be a bit mad. If you recall, Jesus' own family (Mark 3.20-30) thought him more than a bit mad, as did Francis' townsfolk of him!

Friday, April 18, 2008


When we are spiritually free, we do not have to worry about what to say or do in unexpected, difficult circumstances. When we are not concerned about what others think of us or what we will get for what we do, the right words and actions will emerge from the center of our beings because the Spirit of God, who makes us children of God and sets us free, will speak and act through us.
Jesus says: "When you are handed over, do not worry about how to speak or what to say; what you are to say will be given to you when the time comes, because it is not you who will be speaking; the Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you" (Matthew 10:19-20).

Let's keep trusting the Spirit of God living within us, so that we can live freely in a world that keeps handing us over to judges and evaluators.

Henri Nouwen - with thanks to the Henri Nouwen Society

One of the things I've noticed about trying to live outside of cultural imperatives is that there's a tendency for people to find it disconcerting, offensive almost. I suppose in a way they feel judged by someone "going to the side and doing it differently," as Richard Rohr said of St. Francis. Perhaps this is one of those little reflections of Jesus' own life you sometimes get when you try to follow him. After all, he said himself, "If they persecuted me, they will persecute you." (John 15.20)

What strikes me about Nouwen's words is that by the Spirit within us Jesus himself sets us free from all the fear, the paranoia, that comes with living on the wrong side of the cultural tracks. It actually doesn't matter any more, so long as we ourselves are living out of the centre of love. We may indeed suffer, but through the Spirit, through love, it will be made redemptive. As Paul said, "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." (Romans 8.28) Nouwen is, I think, giving us a glimpse of how that might work.

Little things...

please little minds, they say. I'm disproportionately delighted by having discovered that if you increase the text size (Firefox Ctrl++) in the Blogger WYSIWYG editor, you can actually see what you're doing, and it becomes a very useful little tool. Saves time firing up that great blunderbuss of Windows Live Writer, and it pleases me in the way GMail does, in that you can do pretty much everything you need right in a browser tab, which seems elegant and right.

Years ago I worked for a while for Pathfinder Telecom - the outfit that pioneered VideoPlus, though I worked on their least-cost routing operation - and all the interfaces that we used to control the SQL routing databases and (remotely) the individual customers' LCRM modules, worked through web pages. I thought then how neat that was, with all the software server-side, and the thin-client workstations simply using browsers.

Like I said, little things...

The Myth of Redemptive Violence

The cross, as we see again and again, is the "coincidence of opposites": One movement going vertical, another going horizontal, clearly at cross-purposes.

When the opposing energies of any type collide within you, you suffer. If you agree to hold them creatively until they transform you, it becomes redemptive suffering.

This stands in clear and total opposition to the myth of redemptive violence, which has controlled most of human history, even though it has never redeemed anything. Expelling the contradictions instead of "forgiving" them only perpetuates the problem.

Richard Rohr, from Hope Against Darkness

This is really a continuation of my previous post, or a prequel to it perhaps. But I've been thinking a lot about this today, and looking back over my life I can see how I've all too often bought into the myth of redemptive violence myself.

It seems to me that violence is so much more than the physical act of causing damage to another's body. Violence is a way of life, a way of thinking, that is profoundly at variance to Christ's way. Violence exists in the refusal to forgive, in the impulse to retaliate in whatever form, in the refusal myself to suffer, but to attempt to expel, as Rohr suggests, the suffering onto another.

Violence against oneself is a strange and complex thing. I have never been able to relate to physical self-harm, and even though I have been very close to people who have done this I have not been able to understand their explanations. But inner violence I have known all too well, and it seems to me that it is yet another attempt to expel the suffering; only in this instance to expel it from the present, conscious part of me onto another part: my past, perhaps, or the instinctive, emotional part of myself.

Love is the opposite of violence, in this sense. Love accepts suffering, holds it, absorbs it, and ultimately transforms it into "redemptive suffering". Love "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends." (1 Corinthians 13.7-8)

Martin Luther King understood this, as did Gandhi, and it lies, spoken or unspoken, at the heart of all of Desmond Tutu's words - he who said once, "A person is a person because he recognizes others as persons."

The only way...

A core principle of the Center for Action and Contemplation is: The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. Just go ahead and live positively "in God, through God, with God."

In the short run, you will hold the unresolved tension of the cross. In the long run, you will usher in something entirely new and healing.

This was the almost intuitive spiritual genius of Saint Francis. He wasted no time attacking the rich churches and pretentious clergymen; he just went to the side and did it differently.

Richard Rohr, from Hope Against Darkness

I find this the most extraordinarily encouraging remark. Somehow something at the deepest level of me wakes up, opens its eyes and looks into the dawn, and smiles. This is how I have always longed to live, and even since childhood I have somehow known that the culturally acceptable answers - as I grew up, these were roughly "Fight all that opposes you, with your fists if at all possible..." - were just wrong. I knew that, even when I appeared even to myself to accept them. As I have grown older, and have grown to know my Lord a little better, it has grown clearer and clearer that St. Francis' way is the only possible way for me to live. It's not a matter of a better way, or a preferable way, or a holier way: it's just the only way I can do it now.

Be praised, my Lord, by all those who forgive for love of you
and who bear weakness and tribulation.

Blessed are those who bear them in peace:
for you, Most High, they will be crowned...

(St. Francis of Assisi, from Canticle of the Creatures)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Be Still? You’re Kidding, Right?

Wonderful post from John at Jesus the Radical Pastor - needs no commentary from me!

Be still, and know that I am God.
Be still, and know that I AM.
Be still, and know.
Be still.

I was first led in this prayer by Franciscan scholar Richard Rohr at The Ooze in Seattle.


How shall we “be still” in a culture where stillness is considered laziness?

How shall we “be” in a culture where silence is a sign of uncomfortable weakness?

How shall we “be” in a culture where “the eyes of faith” are considered blindness?

How shall we “be” in a culture where singleness of purpose is considered ineptness in a multi-tasking world?

How shall we “be” in a culture where simplicity is considered lack of initiative amidst consumer-driven frenzy?

How shall we “be” in a culture where homo sapiens has evolved to homo narcissus?

How shall we “be still” in a culture that interprets “be still” as “be run over”?

How shall we “be still” in churches that mimic the culture?

How shall we “know God” when God is just another word on our “priority list”?

The glorious freedom of the children of God...

I've just read an extraordinary post by Abbot Joseph of Mt. Tabor Monastery, Redwood Valley, California, all about the Johannine vision of Christ - as befits the Superior of a Byzantine Catholic community...

He says (better to read the whole post, but here are the bits that struck me so forcibly):

Jesus says that when He is lifted up He will draw all men to Himself (John 12:32), and here He is referring simultaneously to his crucifixion and resurrection/ascension. "Lifted up" is a euphemism for crucifixion, but it also means "exalted." This is one way that the evangelist unites the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection in his Gospel. It is the glorified Christ, that is, Christ both crucified and risen, who calls us all to eternal life in Him.

It should be clear that if we are all being drawn closer to Christ, then we are also being drawn closer to each other. We all "meet" in Him. God is love, and Jesus came to reveal that divine truth, to love us to the full, and to give us the new commandment: "Love one another as I have loved you" (John 13:34-35). Christians are supposed to be recognized by their love for one another.

St Paul makes a similar point when he writes that Christ has "broken down the dividing wall of hostility," since He unites us in His peace (Ephesians 2:14). We all like to sing "Christ is risen" at Easter, but do we fully understand what His resurrection requires of us? The One who draws all to Himself in love, expects us to love not only Him, but also those whom He loves. If Jesus has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, why do we insist on rebuilding it? Such walls are built not only between different churches, but even within the same church...

Now, it is clear from St Paul's writings (see 1 Corinthians 5:13) that unrepentant evildoers must be cast out of the Christian community. But most of the problems that Christians encounter with one another are simply differences of opinion or agenda, or worse, prejudices and arrogance. These are things that build up dividing walls, but Christ wants them to be torn down. Are we willing to swallow our pride and live as humble followers of our crucified and risen Lord? To love others even when it is difficult is to be "crucified," and to experience the love of Jesus in return is to be raised up again...

I think that sometimes people live in unchristian ways because they haven't yet experienced the grace and freedom given to the children of God. They don't realize what God has given them through the resurrection of his Son. So they live as if they were never redeemed, as if they hadn't heard the Gospel of love, as if they had no hope for eternal life - that is, they live according to their own will and hold others in contempt...

Jesus is risen from the dead, and He calls us to rise, too. But before we can rise in heavenly glory, we have to learn how to rise above animosity and pettiness and all that keeps us from loving one another as Jesus has loved us. If only we could look at this life through the eyes of eternity, we would see that the bottom line of life in this world is the Great Commandment: love God and love others. Without this we will not be able to enter eternal life when we cross the threshold of death...

Oh, this speaks to my heart! Readers of the early posts on this blog will have deduced already that I came to my present church out of much grief and division in another fellowship, and in another denomination. Walking from there into the open arms of Christ's love incarnate in his people was like walking from death to life, truly.

"I think that sometimes people live in unchristian ways because they haven't yet experienced the grace and freedom given to the children of God. They don't realize what God has given them through the resurrection of his Son. So they live as if they were never redeemed..." I think these are some of the saddest words I have read for a long time.

I pray for Christ's illimitable mercy on us all, and especially when we don't, effectively, know that we are redeemed. Please, please, let us all throw off all that hinders us, and walk into the glorious freedom of the children of God! (Hebrews 12.1; Romans 8.21 NIV)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Sshh, quiet...

Mystify us, arouse and confuse us. Shatter our illusions and plans so that we lose our way, and see neither path nor light until we have found you, where you are to be found and in your true form - in the peace of solitude, in prayer, in submission, in suffering, in succour given to another, and in flight from idle talk and worldly affairs. And, having tried all the known ways and means of pleasing you and not finding you any longer in any of them, we remain at a loss until, finally, the futility of all our efforts leads us at last to leave all to find you henceforth, you, yourself, everywhere and in all things without discrimination or reflection. For, how foolish it is, O Divine Love, not to see you in all that is good and in all creatures. Why, then, try to find you in what you are not?

Jean Pierre de Caussade: The Sacrament of the Present Moment with thanks to Inward/Outward

I've been continuing to think about the Reason for blogging, having been challenged by Gartenfische's remarkable post. It is all too easy, given our human natures, for blogging, even the best bloggers' blogging, to fall into "idle talk and worldly affairs." I know I've done it.

I'm not talking, of course, about the occasional important "off-topic" post, a heads-up about some humanitarian campaign about Tibet, or Burma, or urban deprivation or rural poverty. What I'm talking about is what St. Paul called "disputes about words" (1 Tim 6.4), and things like that.

I'm not making a case for a solemn, sanctimonious, joyless piety. I'm not trying to outlaw catblogging. I'm not complaining about a certain Panamanian Padre's dog-toys. I'm just saying that if we're blogging for something other than our own self-satisfaction, perhaps sometimes quiet is the better part. Sometimes we walk on holy ground, and we might need to take off our shoes.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Why blog?

Gartenfische, keeper of that beautiful and often profound blog De Die in Diem, has written a long and thoughtful post about The Reason why people like she and I do this strange activity called blogging.

I shan't spend a great deal of time paraphrasing gartenfische here, because you really should click over and read the whole post for yourself, but her conclusion needs posting here, and everywhere else that people blog for the best of reasons:

The Reason? To Serve God. Yes, it may sound quaint, but there it is.

Friday, April 11, 2008


Whatever one may think of the value of communal celebration with all kinds of song and self-expression - and these certainly have their place - the kind of prayer we here speak of as properly 'monastic' (though it may also fit into the life of any lay person who is attracted to it) is a prayer of silence, simplicity, contemplative and meditative unity, a deep personal integration in an attentive, watchful listening of 'the heart.' The response such prayer calls forth is not usually one of jubilation or audible witness: it is a wordless and total surrender of the heart of silence.

Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer pp. 29-30, with thanks to louie, louie

It has taken me a long time, perhaps, to come to understand that this is so utterly true of me, coloured as my own self-perception has been with self-doubt, distrust perhaps of my own insight. I guess that it must be from God, since this admission has only come about since this Easter brought some kind of surrender, some occupying of a new, thin place of awareness of my complete dependence on Christ.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Seeking the Kingdom...

If you truly seek this treasure, this kingdom where God alone reigns, you will find it. Your heart, if it is totally surrendered to God, is itself this treasure, that very kingdom you long for and are seeking.

Jean Pierre de Caussade: The Sacrament of the Present Moment - with thanks to Inward/Outward

Solitude, silence, and prayer are often the best ways to self-knowledge. Not because they offer solutions for the complexity of our lives but because they bring us in touch with our sacred center, where God dwells. That sacred center may not be analysed. It is the place of adoration, thanksgiving, and praise.

Henri Nouwen - with thanks to the Henri Nouwen Society

It is this surrender of the self to God, this intentional dwelling in the Kingdom that, as Jesus has told us, is within us (Luke 17.21) that makes possible, it seems to me, that intercessory identification of the self with "all that is made" (Julian of Norwich, Shorter Text, Ch. 6) that Brother Ramon SSF referred to when he wrote, "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 cosmos). All this is drawn into and affected by the Prayer. One believer's prayers send out vibrations and reverberations that increase the power of the divine Love in the cosmos."

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Poor in spirit...

By creating the Third Order, though, Francis did accept the distinction between radical commitment and the necessity of living in the world. The point of the Third Order is to accept with humility the task of one's secular profession and its requirements, wherever one happens to be, while directing one's whole life to that deep interior communion with Christ that Francis showed us. "To own goods as if you owned nothing" (cf. 1 Cor 7:29ff.) - to master this inner tension, which is perhaps the more difficult challenge, and, sustained by those pledged to follow Christ radically, truly to live it out ever anew - that is what the third orders are for. And they open up for us what this Beatitude can mean for all. It is above all by looking at Francis of Assisi that we see clearly what the words "Kingdom of God" mean. Francis stood totally within the Church, and at the same time it is in figures such as he that the Church grows toward the goal that lies in the future, and yet is already present: The Kingdom of God is drawing near...

from Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI - hat-tip to Our Lady's Little Scribe

This is one of the very best thumbnail sketches of the Third Order I've read. Sometimes we forget that so often, in the Bible and elsewhere, God's really significant statements have been made to people outside, or on the edge of, the "religious professional" class. I don't mean this in any sense as a slight on priests - far from it - but simply to remind us that while God every day achieves truly extraordinary things, often rightly hidden from the public gaze, through the faithful service of the men and women he calls to the priestly vocation, he very often gives (broadly speaking) prophetic insights to people in very ordinary walks of life.

God is always given, incarnate in every moment and present to those who know how to be present themselves. Strangely enough, it is often imperfect people and people in quite secular settings who encounter "The Presence" (Parousia, "fullness"). That pattern is rather clear in the whole Bible.

Richard Rohr, from Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality

I don't really know how to explain even the little I know of how God works in this. All I do know is that it is he who works, his sovereign grace that illuminates what might seem to us quite dingy places, and brings his word to people who were least expecting it. And this is the point that always puzzles me - the people who were least expecting it. So we can't possibly prepare ourselves, train for this moment, like astronauts training for a mission for which they may or may not be picked. All we can do is what Jesus calls us to do anyway, follow him.

I am always struck by the order in which Jesus puts things in John 8.31-32: "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." It is the faithful, ordinary, continuing in the word, following after Christ, who called us to wherever we happen to find ourselves right now, that makes it possible for us to know the truth. It is "poverty of spirit" that makes it possible for us to follow Jesus just because he called us, without looking for rewards, without looking for great gifts and shattering prophetic insights, that makes it possible for God to use us as channels for his mercy.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


I've been thinking about the nature of prayer, how it differs from one individual to another. Joanna Depue says, "Prayer has a thumbprint. The type, style, frequency, method of prayer each person uses is as unique as the individual using it."

I wonder if we remember this often enough. It's all too easy to come to believe that one's own way of prayer is somehow normative; or else it is more Biblical, or deeper, or something, than someone else's. We forget so easily that prayer is what God does in us, and we can take no credit for it, any more than we can blame ourselves if it "doesn't work" in the way we'd imagined it should.

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. (Romans 8.26.27)

And yet the heart of each of us is entirely unique, perhaps more unique than a thumbprint or a retinal scan. We are, at our deepest, God's, and it is his signature that lies hidden at the bottom of each of our hearts, whether we will acknowledge it or not.

It is this uniqueness that makes it so necessary that we should pray, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." And it is this utter connectedness, this brotherhood and sisterhood with all Creation, that makes that prayer, and any prayer, universal, intercessory on the most profound level, and somehow a gift...

We like to make a distinction between our private and public lives and say, "Whatever I do in my private life is nobody else's business." But anyone trying to live a spiritual life will soon discover that the most personal is the most universal, the most hidden is the most public, and the most solitary is the most communal. What we live in the most intimate places of our beings is not just for us but for all people. That is why our inner lives are lives for others. That is why our solitude is a gift to our community, and that is why our most secret thoughts affect our common life.

(Henri Nouwen - with thanks to the Henri Nouwen Society)

Monday, April 07, 2008


The parable of the Good Samaritan is a revelation of God in a word that has great importance through all the Scriptures from beginning to the end. It is a revelation of what the prophet Hosea says, speaking for the invisible God, "I will have mercy and not sacrifices." What is this mercy which we find spoken everywhere in the Scriptures, and especially in the Psalms? The Vulgate rings with misericordia as though with a deep church bell. Mercy is the "burden" or the "bourdon," it is the brass bell and under-song of the whole Bible. But the Hebrew word - chesed - which we render as mercy, misericordia, says more still than mercy.

Chesed (mercy) is also fidelity, it is also strength. It is the faithful, the indefectible mercy of God. It is ultimate and unfailing because it is the power that binds one person to another, in a covenant of wills. It is the power that binds us to God because He has promised us mercy and will never fail in His promise. For He cannot fail. It is the power and the mercy which are most characteristic of Him, which come nearer to the mystery into which we enter when all concepts darken and evade us.

Thomas Merton. Seasons of Celebration. (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1950): p. 175.

This passage seems to me to say everything I so long for; to describe what I am actually asking for when I pray the Jesus Prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." It's a strange thing, but the word "mercy" has always had for me the iridescence, the oil-on-water shift and play of meaning that Merton gives it. Mercy is not in English a simple word. It's related to grace, but it isn't the same thing. It's related to compassion, but it's not just compassion. It's akin to faithfulness, kindness, and it carries the sense of a great overarching possibility.

Mercy. Misericordia. Eleos. There are few words more beautiful, to me at any rate.

Kyrie eleison;
Christe eleison;
Kyrie eleison.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Awful Grace...

Fran, at the Parish Blog of St Edward the Confessor, has a wonderful post where she quotes Aeschylus:

Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
comes wisdom
through the awful grace of God.

This is so close to my own experience. All the most wonderful things that God, in his grace and mercy, has had to give me, have come this way, out of darkness and an end of my own strength. I wonder if it's a spiritual law, or just something the matter with me?

These are actually terrible words, when you stop and think them through. To receive this grace against our own will, when we are to ourselves so far from God, is a fearful thing - falling into the very hands of the living God. And yet it was Jesus' own willingness to die, in the teeth of what he most feared, that makes it possible at all. Somehow, reading words like this, amazingly written around 500 years before Jesus' passion, peels layer after layer of obscurity away from the Cross, and yet the mystery only deepens. Holy paradox, blessed enigma, beneath whose shadow we must love to live, and long for mercy...

Thursday, April 03, 2008

A trackless place...

 Stream (6) Thinking about this oddly trackless place I find myself in just at the moment, it occurs to me that for all I, and so many other people, have written, there really isn't any such thing as a technique, or method, of prayer; still less is there such a thing as successful prayer. Real prayer is something God does with us, to us: he loves us, far beyond anything we might ordinarily understand as love. All we can do is be there, and all the methods and the disciplines, are simply ways of keeping us there, quiet, in the presence of God.

We must remember that prayer takes place at the deepest level of our person and escapes our direct cognition; therefore we can make no judgement about it. It is God's holy domain and we may not usurp it. We have to trust utterly to God... We must give up wanting assurances either from within or without...

...The Mass... is the supreme prayer, since it is the sacrament of Jesus' perfect prayer... Expressed in this sacrament is all that we mean by mystical prayer...

If we keep clearly before us the essence of prayer, if we truly want God, if we remain faithful to prayer and take the necessary trouble, there is nothing whatsoever to worry about, no matter how unsatisfactory our psychological experience of prayer. No guide is needed, for no one can teach us how to pray. All anyone can do for others is to bring them to the threshold of prayer but there, perforce, one must leave them. We cross the threshold of prayer in our unique solitariness. Above all, how we need to keep our eyes on Jesus!

Ruth Burrows OCD, Essence of Prayer pp. 6-7, 9, 32.

This is why, perhaps, I am so profoundly grateful for the Jesus Prayer. For me, it comes down to simply that, a means of coming before God with my eyes on Jesus, and with the pain of the broken on my heart. I need not worry myself as to the consequences, either to myself or to anyone else: Jesus is all in all, and I can never love anyone or anything as much as he does. I can trust him with my life, with my love, and with all the lives I love.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2.5-11

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

All shall be well...

I've been spending a good deal of time these last few days trying to think through some of the things I raised in my last post, Ivy. I know very well that the call to a contemplative way of prayer can at times seem worryingly antisocial - you need only think of some people's perception of enclosed contemplative communities - and I have been looking at my own motives, and my own emotional state, to try to understand something of how I am being led so strongly in this direction.

I can honestly say that I have never been more sure of my love for Christ, nor of his for me. It is very hard for me to find words for this, or for the paths I find myself being led down just now. It would be far easier, if not very helpful, to get all apophatic about it, and list the things it is not. I don't know that that would be much use, really.

This is quite a desert place, I think. I don't want to go on too much about that, either; it would be all too easy to engage with romantic notions of the desert, with some kind of TE Lawrence figure standing on the ridge of a dune, squinting towards endless horizons, and it's not like that at all. There's far too much dust in your teeth, and camel dung, for one thing...

Seriously though, it's all very ordinary really. It just that never has Colossians 3.3, "for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God", been more clear to me. I don't think till this Easter I had understood what this could come to mean for me, though I have loved the verse, and its resonances, for the longest time.

All this, disorienting though it is in some ways, and conscious as I continually am of not wanting to give the impression that it's anything special really, is just blessing from start to finish. Underneath everything, and undimmed by the sometimes painful vulnerability - skinlessness - I seem to be caught up in, is this deep contentment, this awareness that, as Julian of Norwich said, all shall be well.

He is risen - and in that resurrection is our life.