Monday, June 30, 2008

The true and ordinary Grail...

There's no way you can love until you forgive yourself for not being perfect, for not being the saint you thought you were going to be.

Compassion comes from a spacious place where a lot of things are put together and coexist, where we recognize, forgive and make friends with the enemy within. The passionate struggle with your own shadow becomes compassion for the struggles of our neighbor.

Richard Rohr, from Radical Grace

I think forgiving myself is probably the hardest lesson I have ever had to try to learn. On retreat this last I think I have just begun to glimpse what this could mean in practice. How to explain what God has started to show me is not easy, but maybe it does have to do with this sense that forgiving myself, just like dealing with the things for which I need forgiveness, is not actually something I can achieve for myself, by some effort of the will's muscles. It is much more like accepting the forgiveness of Christ, actually opening my own arms to accept the gift of the Cross, lifting to my lifeless lips the cup, that true and ordinary Grail that is present in every Holy Eucharist in every church through all the world, and always will be, and always has been.

The wrong cross...

Jesus says: "If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him ... take up his cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24). He does not say: "Make a cross" or "Look for a cross." Each of us has a cross to carry. There is no need to make one or look for one. The cross we have is hard enough for us! But are we willing to take it up, to accept it as our cross?

Maybe we can't study, maybe we are handicapped, maybe we suffer from depression, maybe we experience conflict in our families, maybe we are victims of violence or abuse. We didn't choose any of it, but these things are our crosses. We can ignore them, reject them, refuse them or hate them. But we can also take up these crosses and follow Jesus with them.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

The truth of this has been so clear since getting back yesterday. All sorts of things have poured in on the clean and shining peace I returned with, obscuring and distorting the vision God had given me over those five days away at Compton Durville. Other people's computer problems that they needed urgent help with, meetings, emails... and yet these fiddly and uninspiring distractions must be the cross I seem to have been given to carry. It's no good fretting about them (though I do), no good feeling that if I had a nobler, more heroic cross, then I could bear it with good grace. As one follower of St Francis used to say, "It's always the wrong cross, Brother - always the wrong cross!"

Il Poverello...

The society in which we live suggests in countless ways that the way to go is up. Making it to the top, entering the limelight, breaking the record - that's what draws attention, gets us on the front page of the newspaper, and offers us the rewards of money and fame.

The way of Jesus is radically different. It is the way not of upward mobility but of downward mobility. It is going to the bottom, staying behind the sets, and choosing the last place! Why is the way of Jesus worth choosing? Because it is the way to the Kingdom, the way Jesus took, and the way that brings everlasting life.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

St Francis, whom we follow in each of the Three Orders, was known as Il Poverello, the little poor one. We in the Third Order were originally known as the Order of Penitents. Nouwen's words carry this essence so clearly into the language of our own times: truly following Christ in the 21st Century is a ridiculous occupation in the world's terms. We must be fools to live like this...

Sunday, June 29, 2008

I'm back...

Just had an amazing few days away - I'll try and post a bit more tomorrow. Just settling back down now and saying hello to Jan and the cats!

Monday, June 23, 2008

On retreat!

I'm off to The Community of St. Francis at Compton Durville again tomorrow, and I'll be home on Sunday afternoon, all being well.

Here are some pictures I took on my retreat two years ago, just so you'll have an idea of where I am!

S2020008     S2020043    S2020059

I'll be back... pray for me...

Saturday, June 21, 2008

εκκλησία - Ecclesia, Community...

Fran, over at the Parish Blog of St. Edward the Confessor, asks the question, "What is church?" and invites us all to leave our comments.

Missy, in the comments, gave a wonderful reply:

As an exercise, our catechists made "models of church" using gum drops and spaghetti.

Some created a building. Some an altar with just a priest. Some made a bunch of little people.

The most profound statement came from a 14 year old aid. She took a single gum drop and had dozens of bits of spaghetti coming out of it, all different lengths. At first I thought it was a star, but then she explained her model.

"The gum drop," she said, "is God. We're all the little bits of spaghetti. We're all radiating off of God, since He is our source. And we're all different lengths because we're all at different places in our spiritual journey." I gaped at her as she continued. "See this short one? He's not gone very far on his journey, but this long one has. Too bad we don't have any of that cork screw pasta or I would have put a few of them in to represent the people who are going in circles and think they're not going anywhere, but they really are it's just slower going."

She got a standing ovation.

Yeah, out of the mouths of babes...

I'd like to meet that girl, someday! But I was so struck by what Missy had said, as well as by Fran's profound question, that I attempted to leave some of my own ideas. I'm reproducing my comment here, in hopes that it might get someone thinking, if only to disagree! If it does, head on over to Fran's and leave your comment there, so's she'll end up with our answers to her question all in one place, and not scattered vaguely around the blogosphere...

I said:

What a question, Fran!

Of course we've all seen that cartoon with a church-and-steeple-shape made up of little people all holding hands, or standing on each others' shoulders, and it's getting a bit trite now.

But... for me at any rate, the Church (capital 'C') is the gathering of believers, past, present and future: the body of Christ, " great a cloud of witnesses..."

The church (little 'c') is its local and temporal expression - these people, gathered here, now; or else it is the organisation that enables it to meet, worship, hear the preaching of the Word, receive the Sacraments, and its existence helps to safeguard doctrine as well as to facilitate those things.

But all this is under the great wing of the Grace of Christ, and it is holy. We must remove our shoes, and tread lightly, in the presence of a Mystery, as Missy's pasta girl did. "Where two or three are gathered..." - when did we lose our sense of awe and worship in the Presence of Christ?

Lord, take the scales from our eyes, and let us see the glory you have placed among us / placed us among!

Phew - got a bit carried away there, Fran... Still - that's my two pennyworth...

Planting dreams...

A friend just sent me this, while I was writing the preceding post. Do you think God might be trying to tell me something this morning?

"God plants his dream in a person's heart and then moulds the person to fit the dream. Even though the moulding process seems to contradict the promise, the day comes when God moves the prepared person into his prepared place... and the dream becomes a reality."

Growing into the truth we speak...

Can we only speak when we are fully living what we are saying? If all our words had to cover all our actions, we would be doomed to permanent silence! Sometimes we are called to proclaim God's love even when we are not yet fully able to live it. Does that mean we are hypocrites? Only when our own words no longer call us to conversion. Nobody completely lives up to his or her own ideals and visions. But by proclaiming our ideals and visions with great conviction and great humility, we may gradually grow into the truth we speak. As long as we know that our lives always will speak louder than our words, we can trust that our words will remain humble.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

Thinking of my remark the other day, about not necessarily practicing what I preach, and of Fran's lovely and perceptive comment on it, this is a perfect illumination of that by Nouwen. At least I can hope that I "may gradually grow into the truth [I] speak!"

Firefox 3

In case you've been living in a museum of 19th century technology, and are several steps left of steampunk, Firefox 3 is out.

Having used it for several days now, and knocked it around a little, I can confirm that it is in fact the cat's pyjamas. I shan't go into details here - just download it and play with it. You'll soon see why I'm so pleased with the thing.

Most extensions are updated by now, or will be very shortly. Only one of my favourite extensions, UnPlug, is missing now. There are less themes updated, but they are gradually catching up. Some new ones, too... I particularly like Sky - cool and blue, and it retains the attractive "keyhole" design for the main navigation buttons.

Have fun!

Accepting the gift...

It is not something that most of us like to admit, but the truth is that "fasting," any disciplinary or dour approach to life - productivity - has its own rewards. However difficult the work itself may seem to those who watch us do it, there is something secretly very satisfying about the ardor of doing it. Giving up Spartan routines to visit old relatives or play with children, to write personal mail or take the dog for a walk, to go fishing or have a picnic supper on the shore makes the hardy and virtuous cringe at the very thought of it. We are serious people, too absorbed by important things for those things. We are too "busy" to be human.

So, we drone on through life, wearing our sensitivities to a frazzle. We go from day to day drowning our mind in more of the same instead of letting it run free in new fields of thought or new kinds of experience or new moments of beauty. We just keep doing the same things over and over again. Worst of all, we consider ourselves spiritually noble for doing them. Virtue becomes the blinders of our soul. We never see the God who is everywhere because we never look anyplace but where we've looked before.

Re-creation, holy leisure, is the mainstay of the contemplative soul, and the theology of Sabbath is its cornerstone. "On the seventh day," scripture says, "God rested." With that single image, that one line of Holy Writ, reflection, re-creation of the creative spirit, transcendence, the right to be bigger than what we do, is sanctified. To refuse to rest, to play, to run loose for awhile on the assumptions that work is holier, worthier of God, more useful to humankind than refreshment, strikes at the very root of contemplation...

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light by Joan Chittister (Orbis Books, 2000).

With thanks to Barbara, and to Sue...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The enemy uncloaked...

You'll recall what I wrote yesterday, about the spiritual warfare surrounding going on retreat. I've just found a long, extraordinary post by Abbot Joseph, Superior of Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Redwood Valley, CA, titled The Enemy of the Contemplative Life.

Abbot Joseph is of course writing of the monastic vocation, very different from my own Tertiary vocation as a kind of contemplative-in-the-world, and many of the challenges faced in a monastic setting are different in degree, if not in kind, to those I might face.

(It's worth noting here that this is my Tertiary vocation: other Third Order Franciscans, whether TSSF, SFO, OEF, et al., will have their own, which may well be very different. See The Principles TSSF, 13: "We as Tertiaries desire to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, whom we serve in the three ways of Prayer, Study, and Work. In the life of the Order as a whole, these three ways must each find full and balanced expression, but it is not to be expected that all members devote themselves equally to each of them. Each individual's service varies according to their abilities and circumstances, yet as individual members our Personal Rule of Life must include each of the three ways.")

Abbot Joseph writes, quoting The Contemplative Life, by Fr Thomas Philippe, O.P.:

Since nature does not have to furnish any predispositions for the contemplative life, the greatest obstacles to this life do not come from our nature. The obstacles that arise from within us are not on the same plane as our contemplative life. Our proper enemy is Satan; being a pure spirit, he is on the same plane as contemplation...

The contemplative life demands a great deal of confidence. Since the intimate knowledge of God grows only in peace, contemplatives are particularly vulnerable to disturbance. The contemplative life is very delicate, a life in faith and in darkness; hence it lacks the security that comes from seeing for oneself. This makes our lives very vulnerable to disturbance the moment we become separated ever so little from the hearts of Jesus and Mary.

Within this sanctuary, in the deepest part of our souls, the devil cannot act. This is the domain of contemplative prayer in which the Holy Spirit alone is master. The heart of Jesus is an impregnable fortress for us. The devil's strategy is to try to make us leave this fortress of love and lead us onto the field of the imagination or of false lights, where he can attack us.

The devil was created for contemplation; the contemplative life is, therefore, normal for him. Along with his intelligence, he has retained a sense of the contemplative life; only it no longer blossoms into love. Having rejected God as his supernatural end, he can no longer find repose in God. He has, therefore, no place of rest, not even a natural one; that is why, as St Augustine says, he wanders about in the world like an intruder.

We can understand his hatred of religious, poor human beings who by nature are not made for a purely contemplative life as he was, but who by grace now possess what he rejected. Knowing only too well the demands of contemplation, he makes every effort to impede it by creating disturbance.

His second objective is to sow the tares of dissension and division. It is easy for him to do this, for the only basis of total and permanent union among contemplatives is the love of God; as soon as we step outside that love, there is occasion for division. As a result of his sin, Satan has fallen into the realm of division, and he seeks to draw us into his wake.

The remedy is very simple. We should always try to come back very humbly into our Lord's presence and into his peace. We should follow the example of the saints and not seek to flout the devil or even look at the temptation. If we stay on his level, we are always in danger of being defeated: 'Satan is an admirable dialectician.' But we have a defense against which he has no weapon: faith, trust, love, and docility to the Holy Spirit. As long as we are in the domain of contemplative prayer with the Blessed Virgin, we are safe; as soon as we leave it, he can do with us as he will. We must never want to 'play' with him, not even to insult him. This can be a subtle temptation, and it is dangerous, for he is intelligent and powerful...

The children of the Blessed Virgin [Fr Thomas will I imagine be thinking of us here as adopted siblings of Jesus, v. Ephesians 1.5] should avoid acting as the children of Eve: abstain from curiosity, and not play games with Satan. Rather, they should follow Mary's faith, obedience, and humility.

I was struck by Abbot Joseph's remark, "The heart of Jesus is an impregnable fortress for us. The devil's strategy is to try to make us leave this fortress of love and lead us onto the field of the imagination or of false lights, where he can attack us." I think this is one of the great strengths of a prayer like the Jesus Prayer, which as well as being used "formally", in a set prayer time, can be repeated continually throughout the day. The problem with "arrow prayers", prayers sent up quickly to God in times of trouble, is that if the enemy has, even for an instant, succeeded in persuading us out of that fortress, we probably won't think of them in the heat of the moment. What's needed is something much more like Brother Lawrence's Practice of the Presence of God, and there the Jesus Prayer excels.

Needless to say, if you read yesterday's post, you will realise that I don't always manage to practice what I'm preaching here. But in a sense it doesn't really matter if I don't manage it. God in his mercy will bring good out of my weakness (Romans 8.28, 2 Corinthians 12.9) and will use someone else - like my own dear Jan! - to bring me to my senses. After all, in the Jesus Prayer we pray, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." The prayer, thank God, doesn't specify how, or through whom, that mercy will come!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

To turn the other cheek...

I really would encourage you to read this remarkable post by Sister Laurel M. O' Neal at Notes from Stillsong Hermitage. I shan't spoil it by extensive quotes, but Sister's concluding sentence will give you a sense of the wonders in store for you!

How ever it is we work out the application of these examples [Matthew 5:38-42] from Jesus' world in our own, we are being asked to witness to a love which goes beyond anything the world has ever known apart from Christ, and to demonstrate this with a freedom and sense of personal dignity which is deeper than anything the world can give OR take from us.


Knowing that I'm going on retreat next week, and that there are lots of things to get done before I can go with a clear conscience has led to a kind of paralysis. After one particularly panicky and desperate moment, it took Jan to point out that I always get like this before I go on retreat. I can't see it, of course, at the time. I ascribe it to all sorts of other things in our life and circumstances. That's all part of the problem: Jan's insight lanced it like a boil, and immediately a sense of relief flooded over me like a breath of light cool air on a stifling, humid day.

You'll understand, then, why I've been a bit remiss about this blog!

It really is remarkable the way this happens year after year. There's obviously much more to it than meets the eye. There are two obviously possible explanations, of course: either part of me doesn't want to go, is nervous about the silence, twitchy about leaving Jan to cope on her own, and reluctant to leave home comforts, computer, guitar, and so on; or it is some form of spiritual attack.

Now, I'm quite happy to accept the first possibility, except that I'm not normally so lacking in self-awareness as to simply not know what was going on, and I'm not normally quite so dishonest as to know it and then deny it! I don't in one sense like the second explanation, simply because it can be too easy to ascribe problems to enemy interference, demons, gremlins, whatever your particular semantic convention dictates, and so abdicate responsibility for them. However, it makes much more sense than the other, and applied rigorously, requires a far greater responsibility on the part of the one to whom the insight is given!

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God..." (Ephesians 6.10-13)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

We do not know how to pray...

Henri Nouwen wrote, "Prayer is the gift of the Spirit. Often we wonder how to pray, when to pray, and what to pray. We can become very concerned about methods and techniques of prayer. But finally it is not we who pray but the Spirit who prays in us." (Bread for the Journey)

I know years ago I became very anxious, not so much about "methods and techniques of prayer", as about what to pray for, in what terms to pray for it... There seemed to be so much I needed to know in order to pray "directed prayers" - in any case, even if I knew all the circumstances I was "praying into", how would I know what outcome to pray for? You can imagine something of my dilemma if you imagine praying for a complex political / social / economic situation in a troubled and war-torn country, and trying to get all the analyses of the situation dead right, even down to the cultural milieu and the agronomic background, not to mention the international atmosphere, and all the political and economic circumstances of countries upon whose trade, or assistance, or military support, or arms sales, the nation for whom you are praying depends. Then of course you have to know what outcome to pray for: for the fall of a dictator? foreign aid? foreign military intervention? agricultural education? debt relief? a revolution? democratic elections?

Finally the penny dropped, somewhere along the line, that Paul had had the answer in Romans all along: "...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 8.26f)

God knows, infinitely better than than I, all that is involved in the situation about which I'm concerned. He also knows far better than I what is to be done about it, and he has caused people to be prepared to do it. All that is necessary is for me to care, to love, to become vulnerable to the situation. To stop avoiding those pictures in the paper, and to pay attention to the reports on TV - not because that way I may become better informed, like an intelligence officer, how I should act, but in order that I may love, and grieve, and weep, and come before God with all the pain and loss and confusion raw, unprocessed, honest. God can work with stuff like that.

Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children." (Matthew 11.25 NIV)

All the study and analysis in the world will not help us to pray, if we do not care. If knowing the facts truly helps us to care, then well and good; but that is not yet prayer. It is only the love of Christ working in our hearts by the Holy Spirit that allows us to pray, and as Maggie Ross so telling said (I've mentioned it here before):

There are as many ways of intercession as there are moments of life. Intercession can become deep and habitual, hidden even from our selves. There is nothing exotic about such practice. What matters is the intention that creates the space and the stillness. Even something as simple as refusing to anesthetize the gnawing pain in the pit of your soul that is a resonance of the pain of the human condition is a form of habitual intercession. To bear this pain into the silence is to bring it into the open place of God’s infinite mercy. It is in our very wounds that we find the solitude and openness of our re-creation and our being. We learn to go to the heart of pain to find God’s new life, hope, possibility, and joy. This is the priestly task of our baptism.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Eremos - Ubi Caritas



Webbed Hand Records has just released Ubi Caritas, the first Eremos netlabel release. Visit the release page for full details - download links are here.

I have to say I'm more than somewhat chuffed with the way it's turned out - Chris McDill has done a terrific job with the cover and general presentation - and Webbed Hand is one of my two very favourite netlabels for my kind of music... the other one being Resting Bell!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

In solitude is the wonder of the commonplace...

Sometimes I feel like a little child happily rummaging in an eschatological toy box: the toys are icons and the play is for keeps. One of the toys in this box is a theological construction set. It isn't safe to hang anything on the models I build with it, but they catch light refracting from the soul.

Sometimes solitude is like balancing on the edge of a razor blade with a meadow full of wildflowers on one side and madness on the other. Or solitude is like a tea ceremony, the celebration of life in all its homely movements taken out of time.

In solitude is the wonder of the commonplace, the mystery of ordinary life: eating, sleeping, reading, listening to God's secrets and jokes, a sense of delight, of dance, of fruition, learning that solitude is not something we need to scramble to fill up, but that it is full and overflowing if we can learn to accept the familiarity of insecurity and let go into Silence.

Solitude is the essence of relatedness; solitude is being poured-out-through. We evolve toward simplicity; we dwell in the Word.

Maggie Ross, from The Fire of Your Life: A Solitude Shared, Seabury Books, 2007.

The wonder of the commonplace - yes, and yet it is so often in that commonplace that the way opens onto the sword-bridge, high in the grey wind and comfortless, leading out across no-thing to nowhere we could even understand... and the next minute you realise that it's God's hand in yours, and his kindly gift of frailty reminding you that you are just human, after all, and need to eat, and sleep, like any other creature. There is such refuge, then, in being flesh and blood, and in knowing Christ came this way before...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Let me seek, then, the gift of silence, and poverty, and solitude, where everything I touch is turned into a  prayer: where the sky is my prayer, the birds are my prayer, the wind in the trees is my prayer, for God is all in all.

Thomas Merton. Thoughts in Solitude (New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1958)

Hiddenness is what is comes down to for me - hard as I find it sometimes, this call to hiddenness is fundamental to who I am. As I said in my post Ivy, back in Lent, it seems odd to be saying this kind of thing in a public blog, which could be construed as anything but hidden; yet it is true, and it is a kind of appetite with me. Where this is leading I still don't know, and maybe it's something that my retreat at the end of this month (I'm going to Compton Durville again) will reveal a little more. I do know that in some way this doesn't contradict the call to use the things I've been given: this blog, other writing, music and so on. More than that, I don't know.

Odd in a sense that this Merton quote should come up to focus this wondering, since the contradiction was present in Merton's life too, between the call he describes here, and his travelling, and his writing, which even in his own lifetime was becoming increasingly well-known. I wonder how it would have worked out for him, had he lived longer... (Not that I'm meaning to compare myself too closely with Merton - given my amazed respect for his work, that would be silly!)

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The mercy of Christ...

Jesus, the Blessed Child of God, is merciful. Showing mercy is different from having pity. Pity connotes distance, even looking down upon. When a beggar asks for money and you give him something out of pity, you are not showing mercy. Mercy comes from a compassionate heart; it comes from a desire to be an equal. Jesus didn't want to look down on us. He wanted to become one of us and feel deeply with us.

When Jesus called the only son of the widow of Nain to life, he did so because he felt the deep sorrow of the grieving mother in his own heart (see Luke 7:11-17). Let us look at Jesus when we want to know how to show mercy to our brothers and sisters.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

The mercy of Christ is limitless, and his love beyond understanding. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead..." (1 Peter 1.3).

Friday, June 06, 2008

Sitting waiting...

St. Romuald's Brief Rule For Camaldolese Monks

Sit in your cell as in paradise. Put the whole world behind you and forget it. Watch your thoughts like a good fisherman watching for fish. The path you must follow is in the Psalms - never leave it.

If you have just come to the monastery, and in spite of your good will you cannot accomplish what you want, take every opportunity you can to sing the Psalms in your heart and to understand them with your mind.

And if your mind wanders as you read, do not give up; hurry back and apply your mind to the words once more.

Realize above all that you are in God's presence, and stand there with the attitude of one who stands before the emperor.

Empty yourself completely and sit waiting, content with the grace of God, like the chick who tastes nothing and eats nothing but what his mother brings him.

I love these words, especially the final paragraph. It's strange, but all my Christian life I have found in the Psalms such depths and such comfort - and of course my own Office as a Tertiary is based around the Psalms - that all the Bibles I have used have worn out at the middle first!

I just can't stop thinking about that image of the one who prays sitting waiting, like a chick for his mother, for the grace of God. It would make a perfect description of what happens when one prays the Jesus Prayer - and of course the one who prays receives these morsels of grace somehow on behalf of all creation. This is why in my understanding it is so important - for me anyway - to end the Prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!" with that acknowledgement not only of my own innate sinfulness, but of my indissoluble identity with the fallenness of all my sisters and brothers, and with the brokenness that is now the condition (Romans 8.19-23) of all that is made.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Brother Ramon SSF, died 5 June 2000

Franciscan spirituality is especially relevant in our own day. Not only does it ground us in the biblical faith from which the Franciscan experience springs, but it roots us into the very stuff of creation, with its immediate awareness of earth, sea and sky.
Our environment is increasingly polluted by modern culture, industry, commerce and warfare, Our natural resources are being depleted by the hour, and we are poisoning and infecting our fellow human beings and other creatures.

In such a world, the Franciscan love of nature, reverence for life and openness to our fellows leads to joy and peace, with a down-to-earth and practical desire to correct our mistakes and reverse our wrong practices.

In our own day, when political ideologies are collapsing, when religion is being exploited as an argument for exclusivism and violence, and when the poorer nations are calling for equality and justice, then the life and teaching of St Francis is a beacon in the darkness. In him the light of Christ shines most clearly, and the love of Christ continues to manifest itself.
The false dichotomy which arose between prophetic and mystical religion was based both on fear and misunderstanding. The fear is that somehow mystical religion blurs the uniqueness of God. Its closeness to nature is disturbing to some because it sounds too much like the celebration of fertility and nature in the old Canaanite religion so opposed in the Old Testament. Together with this is the feeling that with such a religious morality is blunted, and that moral responsibility and individuality is in danger of being lost.

Mystical religion has always been aware of the importance of God in the natural order; and the call of God is primarily one of love, leading to union. The language used by the two traditions has a different emphasis, and whereas union with God is the the goal of the mystical life, conformity of the human will is paramount in the prophetic faith. There are differences of emphases, even paradoxes in the tension between transcendence and immanence, but if properly understood, prophetic religion is rooted in mystical soil. Confrontation with God in the experience of the prophet is shot through with mystical intuition and immediacy of experience of the divine.
As I have listened to the fears of the Reformed side I have found that they defined the meaning of mysticism too narrowly, and related it so closely with pagan mysticism that few Christian mystics would have recognised it. At the same time they broadened the understanding of the prophetic religion so widely that most mystics would feel at home in it.

The Christian faith holds neither the exclusivity of the stark monotheism of Islam, nor the popular polytheism of Hinduism. The revelation of God in the Old Testament is not static, but of dynamic love and mercy. The fullness of the new covenant breaks upon us in the incarnation of God in Christ. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus leads to Pentecost, where not only is the threefold nature of God's person made clear, but the Spirit of God comes to indwell the Church and the individual believer. Thus the Church becomes the body of Christ, and the believer becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 2.21-22; 1 Corinthians 3.15)
We have seen that the Jesus Prayer involves body, mind and spirit. If the whole person is given to God then it reflects the greatest commandment of all, the command to love... 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.

The Christian is well aware of the fact that the world is also evil. There is a falseness and alienation that 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. "For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." [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 at all times in the Spirit, with all prayers and supplication."

...It is the one whose heart is aflame with the love of Jesus who can effectively radiate compassion and stretch out a hand in practical help to those in need.
Br. Ramon SSF "The Cosmic Nature of the Jesus Prayer" in Praying the Jesus Prayer Together

It is one of my great regrets that I never came to know Brother Ramon during his time on earth, though I had loved his writings for many years when he finally succumbed to cancer on this day eight years ago. He has nevertheless been an extraordinary mentor to me through his printed words, and he has come to symbolise for me much that is best in the Anglican Franciscan way: the courage, the open-heartedness, the deep Biblical faith, and above all the defenceless, profoundly practical love, Christ's love, that I have found at Hilfield, Compton Durville and elsewhere is nowhere found so clearly in contemporary writing, unless it is in the writings of Sister Helen Julian CSF.

Brother Ramon lived much of his best years as a hermit, under the aegis of at different times one or the other of the Franciscan houses at Hilfield or Glasshampton; yet if you read any of the biographical accounts of his life, it is his love of people that shines through as clearly as his love of nature, and almost as clearly as his love of the God who created both. In September 2000, the magazine franciscan published a beautiful personal reflection given at his requiem mass in Worcester Cathedral, by Dr Ieuan Lloyd, Companion of SSF. It is well worth clicking on the link to read the whole thing - but the final paragraph will give a better ending to this post than I could write myself:

But what I think he will be remembered for most is the wise counsel and guidance he gave to so many people. Here was the other side of him, listening and not talking, understanding the person's situation, finding the right thing to say at the right time, planting a thought, then suggesting and opening up possibilities, sometimes nudging, never thrusting. He took such great care over his letters. They were usually at least two sides long with single spacing. He kept everyone's letter for a while and carbon copies of his own. He continued to write even when he was quite ill. Not long after Christmas he replied to over a hundred in two weeks, each tailored to the needs of the person. He knew exactly where you were on your pilgrimage. And what he gave - either face to face or in his correspondence - was hope, whether the difficulties were psychological, personal or spiritual. That hope changed the lives of so many people. That hope is something that he had found in his faith and for which he himself was such a wonderful channel.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


To be marginal in one's society is not, emphatically not, to withdraw as some would charge. It is to be motivated and led by values and commitments different from and often contrary to the mainstream... New vision is always what any society most needs, and the edges of society have always been the most likely place for it to emerge. To generate something new, one must be listening to voices other than the loud voices of mass society.

If we have read our Bibles, we will know to look and listen for the new word God wants to speak to us on the edges of things rather than at the center of wealth and power. To be on the margins, therefore, is to put ourselves in a position to watch, to listen, and to become engaged in a new way... Part of being on the margins is new association with the people who have been made marginal. The gospel tells us that it is among "the least of these" where we find Jesus.

Jim Wallis, The Call to Conversion, with thanks to Inward/Outward

I think this sense of living "on the margins", this sense that God's new word will be found out on the edges of things, is deeply embedded in the core of what it means to be a Franciscan. St. Francis himself lived all his life on the margins; his influence may have extended even in his own time to the centre of the Church's political existence, but his life was lived far away, in the poor streets and villages around Assisi, on the empty slopes of La Verna.

My own Franciscan journey so far has been much more a process of discovering reasons and precedents for the things I have all my life sensed and longed for, rather than a matter of learning texts or rules. I have since I was very young had an instinctive nervousness of success, of being at the centre, where it was all happening. Oh, like most kids, I thought I wanted fame and recognition; but any time I have looked like getting close, something far deeper in me has recoiled. I used not to understand it, but as I have grown older I have come to see this not as a negative shying away from the limelight, but as a positive longing for hiddenness, a positive sense that I was called to the margins, that I was only whole and in God's purpose out of the edge of things.

I even love liminal places for themselves: shorelines, the place where the sky meets the plain, horizons of every kind. The very word, borderline, resonates with something at the deepest level of what I am.

If I could make any kind of appeal or message out of this, it would simply be to look into yourself for the things that call to you, that cry out in your heart in the night: the odd reactions you have to things, the strange and often counter-cultural preferences that would shape your life if only you'd let them; and look for God's call in those things. For myself, this has been a truer discernment than any of the more conventional varieties, which all too often have lead me down blind alleys, and into dead ends!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Falling in love...

Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in a love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.

Pedro Arrupe, SJ

Ours are the eyes...

When we think about Jesus as that exceptional, unusual person who lived long ago and whose life and words continue to inspire us, we might avoid the realisation that Jesus wants us to be like him. Jesus himself keeps saying in many ways that he, the Beloved Child of God, came to reveal to us that we too are God's beloved children, loved with the same unconditional divine love.

John writes to his people: "You must see what great love the Father has lavished on us by letting us be called God's children - which is what we are." (1 John 3:1). This is the great challenge of the spiritual life: to claim the identity of Jesus for ourselves and to say: "We are the living Christ today!"

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

Teresa of Avila wrote:

Lord Christ,
You have no body on earth but ours,
No hands but ours,
No feet but ours.
Ours are the eyes through which your compassion
Must look out on the world.
Ours are the feet by which you may still
Go about doing good.
Ours are the hands with which
You bless people now.
Bless our minds and bodies,
That we may be a blessing to others.


This is a shocking thought, yet it is, as I wrote yesterday, nothing less than the plain truth. We are the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12) and it is in us that his work on earth is done. It also follows that the world's reaction to Jesus will be its reaction to us. This may prove uncomfortable from time to time...

Monday, June 02, 2008

Compassion for Creation

I can't add anything to this wonderful post - just click over to Perfect Joy and read on...

Plain speaking...

Very often we distance ourselves from Jesus. We say, "What Jesus knew we cannot know, and what Jesus did we cannot do." But Jesus never puts any distance between himself and us. He says: "I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have learnt from my Father" (John 15:15) and "In all truth I tell you, whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself, and will perform even greater works" (John 14:12).

Indeed, we are called to know what Jesus knew and do what Jesus did. Do we really want that, or do we prefer to keep Jesus at arms' length?

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey
I've been thinking a bit about this, lately. Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children." (Matthew 11.25 NIV) I love these words, and the liberation they bring us from the burdens of intellectual one-upmanship and anxiously elitist gnosticism.

Of course we need to keep awake when we read the Bible, and we need to be sufficiently aware of the different literary forms (poetry, prophecy, historical narrative, and so on) it contains, and the immense cultural differences between the Israel of the Judges, first century Jerusalem, and our own time. But Jesus' own words are better attested than any other Biblical character's, and better than any classical author's.

As Nouwen says, our pretence of scholarly agnosticism is just that, a pretence. Jesus' teachings are plain; and he said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8.31-32 NIV)

Yes, Jesus is the Son of God. Yes, he is the Christ, the Anointed of God. But he was born of woman, and he walked the earth as a man, just as human as you or I. Of course we can know him. He is the way, the truth and the life - and any attempt to evade the possibility of knowing him evades this truth.