Tuesday, July 29, 2008

More of that paradox...

Do not place your happiness in what you can hear or feel of God in prayer but rather in what you can neither feel nor understand. God is always hidden and difficult to find. Go on serving God in this way, as though God were concealed in a sacred place, even when you think you have found God, felt God or heard God. The less you understand, the closer you get to God.

Prayer will teach you, too, that God is nearer to you than you are to yourself. After passing the fiery crucible and stepping through the narrow doorway where you can bring nothing with you, enter the cave of your heart that contains God, whom the universe cannot hold.

Pierre-Marie Delfieux - The Jerusalem Community Rule of Life, with thanks to Jan


Happiness consists in finding out precisely what the ‘one thing necessary’ may be, in our lives, and in gladly relinquishing all the rest. For then, by a divine paradox, we find that everything else is given us together with the one thing we needed.

Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island, with thanks to Inward/Outward

The Spirit and the Word, and the paradox...

Sometimes we experience a terrible dryness in our spiritual life. We feel no desire to pray, don't experience God's presence, get bored with worship services, and even think that everything we ever believed about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is little more than a childhood fairy tale.

Then it is important to realise that most of these feelings and thoughts are just feelings and thoughts, and that the Spirit of God dwells beyond our feelings and thoughts. It is a great grace to be able to experience God's presence in our feelings and thoughts, but when we don't, it does not mean that God is absent. It often means that God is calling us to a greater faithfulness. It is precisely in times of spiritual dryness that we must hold on to our spiritual discipline so that we can grow into new intimacy with God.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey


In paradoxical language if you try to rest on one side and forget the other, you lose the truth.

We've seen some Christian cultures that are entirely centered on the Cross and they lose the resurrection. In wealthy countries like our own we have a desire for victory theology as it is called - all resurrection and almost no reference to the pain and suffering of the world.

You've lost the mystery as long as you do that.

Richard Rohr, from Great Themes of Paul

Somehow for me these two quotes just came together. Not only is it paradoxical, in Rohr's use of the word, that when we feel ourselves most abandoned by God, he is about to do his greatest work in us, but it is, as Nouwen says, that as we remain faithful to "our spiritual discipline", our regular times of prayer, our form of office, our set Psalms and readings from Scripture, that we are set free to grow, leap sometimes, into a new intimacy with God.

As Rohr says, we in the "West" have lost sight of much of this. We cannot accept paradox, and we call it "contradiction". Many of us, especially in churches where "victory theology" is paramount, think of regular discipline, rules of life, liturgical forms of worship, as stultifying, formal, lifeless "religion" that can be distinguished from "Spirit-filled, Bible-believing worship", where we can be "free in the Spirit" to "worship as we are led". But "you've lost the mystery as long as you do that."

For thousands of years now the Spirit has worked in people's hearts and minds, to give us the strong, flexible framework for life and worship that is found in liturgy and the daily Office. God is present in these words too, just as much as in those transcendent moments of inspired Charismatic worship - and unlike Charismatic worship, those words will still be there in our driest times, when we are alone, and heartbroken, or worse, bored stiff. They will still be there when our minds wander, when we are filled with lust, and anxiety, and greed, and we can hardly lift our heads to see the page.

God does not abandon us when we can't, or even when we won't, sense his presence; and the words of the Office in particular show us that, in the concrete form of ink and paper, or even pixels on a screen...

All those long years ago, the anonymous writer of the great acrostic Psalm, 119, knew just what all this was about:

Your decrees are wonderful;
   therefore my soul keeps them.
The unfolding of your words gives light;
   it imparts understanding to the simple.
With open mouth I pant,
   because I long for your commandments.
Turn to me and be gracious to me,
   as is your custom towards those who love your name.
Keep my steps steady according to your promise,
   and never let iniquity have dominion over me.
Redeem me from human oppression,
   that I may keep your precepts.
Make your face shine upon your servant,
   and teach me your statutes.
My eyes shed streams of tears
   because your law is not kept.

(Psalm 119.129-136)

Monday, July 28, 2008

The intersection of the timeless moment...

What is it about Meister Eckhart today? Three of my favourite blog authors, Jan, Gabrielle and Inward/Outward, all mention him this morning. Well, to be strictly accurate, Gabrielle mentions Thomas Merton mentioning Eckhart. She quotes Merton as saying, in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, "Eckhart, in a sermon on the divine birth, says that, when a person is about to be struck by a thunderbolt, he turns unconsciously toward it.  When a tree is about to be struck, all the leaves turn toward the blow.  And one in whom the divine birth is to take place turns, without realizing, completely toward it."

I was myself struck all of a heap when I read these words. Scientifically, I think they're true. The electric field that precedes a lightning strike can reach tens of thousands of volts per square inch (ref.) and I can well imagine the leaves of a tree, probably already wet with rain, turning in a field of that strength. I was once within 10 yards of a direct cloud-to-ground stroke that completely destroyed a small stone building, and I will never forget the deep sense of power, almost a sub-bass hum, and the peculiar prickling of my skin, that preceded the stroke. I certainly turned directly towards the building, which seemed to shine briefly with a brilliant pink glow, an instant before the stunning crack of the ground stroke, and the huge physical blow of the shock wave. I can't say I actually saw the little generator house explode - but when I came to myself a second or two later, it was in smoking, roofless ruins.

If that is what a mere electrical discharge is like, how much more amazing is the work of God?

Inward/Outward quotes Eckhart, "Be prepared at all times for the gifts of God and be ready always for new ones. For God is a thousand times more ready to give than we are to receive."

Isn't that preparedness turning towards God, towards his transforming gift, just as we turn instinctively towards the glorious power of the lightning?

Jan quotes from Pierce, Brian J. We Walk the Path Together: Learning from Thich Nhat Hanh and Meister Eckhart, Orbis Books, 2006:

Meister Eckhart says emphatically, 'There is but one NOW.' In other words, This is it! For Eckhart, to limit the understanding of eternity as life after death is rather strange. When we pray, are we not in the presence of God's eternity, God's fullness? Rather than life after death, it would be better to speak of life after life. In other words, the God who is present now, and the God who will be present then (i.e., after death) is simply present - now and always. God is not limited to time and space. It is not that God lives an endless number of years and can be everywhere at the same time. The eternal presence of God is like our very breath. We cannot touch it or measure it, but without it there is no life.

Praying in the presence of God's eternity, God's fullness - isn't this like standing in the presence of that great electric field, feeling one's skin tighten and tingle with voltage, seeing ordinary things transformed into transcendent beauty in the very instant of their ending? You know, I wasn't afraid in that storm - though I had the normal shock reactions afterwards, as well as some temporary hearing loss, and so on - I was exhilarated and somehow glorified by the sheer wonder of that power. There was something sacramental about that moment. No wonder the psalmists connected lightning with God.

"There is but one now." TS Eliot said:

          If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

(Little Gidding)

"The intersection of the timeless moment" - that's it, isn't it? The place where our temporal self comes into the presence of the Eternal, in an instant beyond all measurement of time...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Paradise on Earth...

Take up your cross, therefore, and follow Jesus, and you will inherit everlasting life. Behold, in the cross is everything, and upon your dying on the cross everything depends. There is no other way to life and to true inward peace than the way and discipline of the cross. Go where you will, seek what you want, you will not find a higher way, nor a less exalted but safer way, than the way of the cross. Arrange and order everything to suit your desires and you will still have to bear some kind of suffering, willingly or unwillingly.

There is no escaping the cross. Either you will experience physical hardship or tribulation of spirit in your soul. At times you will be forsaken by God, at times troubled by those about you and, what is worse, you will often grow weary of yourself. You cannot escape, you cannot be relieved by any remedy or comfort but must bear with it as long as God wills...

If you willingly carry the cross, it will carry you. It will take you to where suffering comes to an end, a place other than here. If you carry it unwillingly, you create a burden for yourself and increase the load, though still you have to bear it... When you willingly carry your cross, every pang of tribulation is changed into hope of solace from God. Besides, with every affliction the spirit is strengthened by grace. For it is the grace of Christ, and not our own virtue, that gives us the power to overcome the flesh and the world... When you get to the point where for Christ's sake suffering becomes sweet, consider yourself fortunate, for you have found paradise on earth. But as long as adversity irks you, as long as you try to avoid suffering, you will be discontent and ill at ease.

From "The Royal Road" by Thomas à Kempis, in The Imitation of Christ, quoted in Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter (Plough Publishing House, 2003), with thanks to Vicki K Black

Reminds me of Francis' recipe for perfect joy!


Far be it from me to get involved in the kind of things that excite journalists about the Lambeth Conference. I just thought I'd share some comments from Brian McLaren which I read on the Church Times blog:

I know that most people think the "news story" here is about divisive controversies over sexuality, but my sense is that the real news story is very different. There is a humble spirit here, a loving atmosphere, a deep spirituality centred in Bible study, worship, and prayer, and a strong desire to move beyond internal-institutional matters to substantive mission in our needy world.

In every conversation and gathering I've participated in, the spirit has been kind and holy and positive. That sort of good news doesn't attract the media the way a salacious or pugilistic story does... It will be interesting to see whether the press reports what is actually happening here, or if they need to rewrite the narrative to fit the shape of war-tales they are more accustomed to telling.

My sense is that the quiet, prayerful, and humble patience of Archbishop Rowan Williams is leading the way to better days for the Anglican Communion. It feels like the bishops gathered here are turning a corner together. I feel that I'm witnessing the emergence of something good, beautiful, true, and blessed... Hearts here are sincerely open to the Spirit of God.

I think we all need to keep comments like this in mind when we think, and even more when we pray, about Lambeth, and about the Anglican Communion. Despite (because of? (Romans 8.28)) previous controversies - the Charismatic Movement (not, of course, at all confined to Anglicanism, but causing tremendous waves) the Oxford Movement, Methodism - the Anglican churches have grown in God, and in godliness, and grace. "Give thanks, with a grateful heart" for our church, and for our bishops gathered at Lambeth...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Salvation comes from the word...

Salvation comes from the word salus, which means healing. It is not dependent on feeling or any person's response to me.

It is a gift received when the will has given up control and we are standing in that threshold place which allows us to see anew.

When we stand at the threshold, we stand before sacred signs. The true helper will get out of the way and encourage us to get out of the way so we can see them. Grace, then, walks us into the temple...

We all are deeply hurt people, and we've all been infected. People are not whole and yet they constantly long for holiness, for wholeness. That's why Jesus' call to holiness is paralleled by the healing ministry.

In fact, you could say that's almost all Jesus does: preach and heal, preach and heal, preach and heal. For the mature ones, the preaching is already healing and the healing is its own sermon.

Richard Rohr, from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations

It is in our acknowledging our need for healing that we are healed; it is in our being healed that healing comes to a broken creation. This is surely what Paul means when he says, in Romans 8.18-23, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies."

But how do we pray for a thing like that? I know I keep on about this - it lies at the heart of all that God has been teaching me about prayer all these years - but Paul has an answer for us in vv. 26-27: "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God."

As Maggie Ross said, "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."

It is in this priestly task that we find our own call to prayer. I wrote about this in my article on Intercession & Contemplative Prayer on The Mercy Site:

Brother Ramon SSF in Praying the Jesus Prayer (1988): "We have seen that the Jesus Prayer involves body, mind and spirit – the whole of man. If the whole person is given to God in prayer, then it reflects the greatest commandment, [to 'love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' (Mark 12:30 NRSV)] The cosmic nature of the prayer means that the believer lives as a human being in solidarity with all other human beings, and with the animal creation, together with the whole created order... The Christian is well aware of the fact that the world is evil. There is a falseness and alienation which has distracted and infected the world, and men and women of prayer, by the power of the Name of Jesus, stand against the cosmic darkness, and enter into conflict with dark powers [Ephesians 6:12]... The power of the Jesus Prayer is the armour against the wiles of the devil, taking heed of the apostle's word: 'Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. [Ephesians 6:18 NRSV]'"

As intercessors, all God asks of us is broken hearts - we do not need to find solutions to the prayers we pray, nor just the right words to frame them. God knows what is on our hearts (Romans 8:26-27) - we need only be honest and courageous enough to feel: feel the pain and the grief and the confusion and betrayal and despair the world feels, and to come before our Lord and Saviour with them on our hearts, and ask for God's mercy in the holy name of Jesus.

A call to prayer (and action)...

Communities as well as individuals suffer. All over the world there are large groups of people who are persecuted, mistreated, abused, and made victims of horrendous crimes. There are suffering families, suffering circles of friends, suffering religious communities, suffering ethnic groups, and suffering nations. In these suffering bodies of people we must be able to recognise the suffering Christ. They too are chosen, blessed, broken and given to the world.

As we call one another to respond to the cries of these people and work together for justice and peace, we are caring for Christ, who suffered and died for the salvation of our world.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

Sunday, July 20, 2008

More from the wilderness...

The wilderness constantly reminds me that wholeness is not about perfection… I have been astonished to see how nature uses devastation to stimulate new growth, slowly but persistently healing her own wounds. Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life. Knowing this gives me hope that human wholeness - mine, yours, ours - need not be a utopian dream, if we can use devastation as a seedbed for new life.

Peter Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness, with thanks to Inward/Outward.

Devastation as a seedbed for new life? It does seem to be so. If it is so, though, then it makes everything different from the way we thought it was. Perhaps if we read the Sermon on the Mount, and the Good Shepherd passage from John 10, in that light, they may just begin to make sense for us...

Flesh and blood...

We've got to give the material world back its power, its importance, its Divine Indwelling, and its sacredness. And that's why St. Francis couldn't step on a worm. We are learning to allow creation to be a subject and to speak its truth to us.

This will lead to the beginnings of love, love for that tree, for that animal. You wonder what this communion is that is passing back and forth between you.

Richard Rohr, from the Medicine and Ministry Conference

Yesterday a group of us from churches across our part of the Salisbury Diocese met to discuss Back to Church Sunday. During the meeting we watched videos of the event from churches who had already piloted the scheme, and one of the priests involved said something to the effect that it is important that the service on Back to Church Sunday is a Eucharist. We are after all, he said, a Eucharistic community, and to do a non-Eucharistic service would be to present ourselves as something we're not.

I was so struck by this. We Christians are a Eucharistic community. Christ was born of a woman, a real, live, flesh and blood woman, and though he died, rose again, and ascended into Heaven, he remains our real, live, flesh and blood Saviour. He gave us a concrete, physical Eucharist of bread and wine, not only to remember that, but to actually make our relationship with him, and our relationship with each other and sisters and brothers in him, real. We eat his flesh and drink his blood; he becomes, by the ordinary process of digestion, our own flesh and blood. We are what we eat.

We can only give the material world back its power when we realise that we are a Eucharistic community, in literal, living, breathing fact, and not as some kind of pious abstraction. Otherwise we seem to ourselves ghosts, living in a world of concepts and categories: how then can we treat anyone, or any part of creation, with respect, let alone reverence? Hey guys, wake up - this is real!

Even so, come Lord Jesus!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Chasing Francis...

I don't often do book recommendations per se on this blog, but I have to make an exception for this one! Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron is superb. It's a novel about one man's loss of faith in the Evangelical mega-church he founded years before the story begins, and his (re-)discovery of a living faith in Christ by "following Francis following Jesus." Chase Falson has the great good fortune - if that's the right word for it - to have an uncle who is a Franciscan friar based in Florence, who leads him on a pilgrimage in the footsteps of St. Francis. What happens then is far too good for me to spoil by writing it down here. Get the book - it's less than £10 including the postage - and don't expect to put it down till you reach the study guide in the back. (It's a 21st Century postmodern American spiritual novel - of course it's got a blinking study guide in the back...)

Friday, July 18, 2008


Perhaps peace is not, after all, something you work for, or 'fight for.' It is indeed 'fighting for peace' that starts all the wars. Peace is something you have or do not have. If you are yourself at peace, then there is at least some peace in the world. Then share your peace with everyone, and everyone will be at peace.

Thomas Merton: Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, with thanks to Inward/Outward

One in Christ...

When we gather around the table and break the bread together, we are transformed not only individually but also as community. We, people from different ages and races, with different backgrounds and histories, become one body. As Paul says: "As there is one loaf, so we, although there are many of us, are one single body, for we all share in the one loaf" (1 Corinthians 10:17).

Not only as individuals but also as community we become the living Christ, taken, blessed, broken, and given to the world. As one body, we become a living witness of God's immense desire to bring all peoples and nations together as the one family of God.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

This verse, which in the NRSV reads, "Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread", must be the strongest argument anywhere for the generous, open spirit that recognises all Christians as our sisters and brothers in Christ, one flesh with ourselves, be they Catholic or Baptist, emergent or Anglican, Vineyard or Eastern Orthodox. We are all one in Christ Jesus, and let no man (or woman, though they are generally less contentious) say otherwise!

Out into the wilderness...

The Desert Fathers believed that the wilderness had been created as supremely valuable in the eyes of God precisely because it had no value to men.  The wasteland was the land that could never be wasted by men because it offered them nothing.  There was nothing to attract them.  There was nothing to exploit.  The desert was the region in which the Chosen People had wandered for forty years, cared for by God alone.  They could have reached the Promised Land in a few months if they had travelled directly to it.  God’s plan was that they should learn to love Him in the wilderness and that they should always look back upon the time in the desert as the idyllic time of their life with Him alone.

Thomas Merton:  Thoughts in Solitude, pp. 4-5, with thanks to Gabrielle

I love the word, wilderness. I remember hearing it first from my mother, describing patches of waste ground near our home by the sea at Felpham, in West Sussex. I know the Judean Wilderness is not by the sea (unless you count the bit along the Dead Sea, which is pretty unlike the English Channel anyway!) but the phrase always takes me back there, to the dunes and the marram grass, and the salt wind off the grey sea. Somehow it still has that sandy, salty tang to me, fifty-odd years later. and when I read the word in the Gospels, my heart aches for those lonely places along the Sussex coast.

This old photograph I found at the South Downs Shoreline Management site gives something of the feel of the place when I was growing up:


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Christ in all things...

Either you see the body of Christ everywhere or you don't see it. There are finally no divisions. But that is a mystical seeing that connects everything universally.

God is perfectly hidden in this material world. And for those who have learned how to see, God is perfectly revealed. God shines through all things. You want to kiss trees and honor what is.

You are even brought to tears sometimes by the least of the brothers and sisters because the divine image shines through so clearly.

Richard Rohr, from Creating Christian Community

To see Christ in all things seems both glorious and heartbreaking to me. If he is indeed in all things then he suffers in all things too. That is the terrible thing about the second half of Romans 8: the futility, the anguish of fallen creation is where Christ is. As Helen Waddell once pointed out, all the pain of the world is Christ's Cross; it wasn't just an event 2,000 or so years ago - it goes on.

Jesus is given to the world. He was chosen, blessed, and broken to be given. Jesus' life and death were a life and death for others. The Beloved Son of God, chosen from all eternity, was broken on the cross so that this one life could multiply and become food for people of all places and all times.

As God's beloved children we have to believe that our little lives, when lived as God's chosen and blessed children, are broken to be given to others. We too have to become bread for the world. When we live our brokenness under the blessing, our lives will continue to bear fruit from generation to generation. That is the story of the saints - they died, but they continue to be alive in the hearts of those who live after them - and it can be our story too...

Whenever we come together around the table, take bread, bless it, break it, and give it to one another saying: "The Body of Christ," we know that Jesus is among us. He is among us not as a vague memory of a person who lived long ago but as a real, life-giving presence that transforms us. By eating the Body of Christ, we become the living Christ and we are enabled to discover our own chosenness and blessedness, acknowledge our brokenness, and trust that all we live we live for others. Thus we, like Jesus himself, become food for the world.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

Christ in all things is Eucharist - his presence in the broken world is his presence in us. The Mass makes that manifest for each of us, makes him real, tangible, edible; and makes us able to be sent out into the world to live Christ, to ourselves be broken. I think this may be what Paul meant when he said so mysteriously that, "in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church." (Colossians 1.24)

Lord, if that is so, have mercy on us, for to live your life is to be crucified with you (Galatians 2.19) and that scares me, very much...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

St. Bonaventure (1221-1274)

Bonaventure, Franciscan, theologian, doctor of the Church, was both learned and holy. Because of the spirit that filled him and his writings, he was at first called the Devout Doctor; but in more recent centuries he has been known as the Seraphic Doctor after the "Seraphic Father" Francis because of the truly Franciscan spirit he possessed.

Born in Bagnoregio, a town in central Italy, he was cured of a serious illness as a boy through the prayers of Francis of Assisi. Later, he studied the liberal arts in Paris. Inspired by Francis and the example of the friars, especially of his master in theology, Alexander of Hales, he entered the Franciscan Order, and became in turn a teacher of theology in the university. Chosen as minister general of the Order in 1257, he was God's instrument in bringing it back to a deeper love of the way of St. Francis, both through the life of Francis which he wrote at the behest of the brothers and through other works which defended the Order or explained its ideals and way of life.

Bonaventure so united holiness and theological knowledge that he rose to the heights of mysticism while yet remaining a very active preacher and teacher, one beloved by all who met him. To know him was to love him; to read him is still for us today to meet a true Franciscan and a gentleman.

from: St. Bonaventure - Saint of the Day - American Catholic

And so theology is the only perfect science, for it begins at the beginning which is the first Principle, and proceeds to the end, which is the final wages paid; it begins with the summit, which is God most high, the Creator of all, and reaches even to the abyss, which is the torment of hell.

Bonaventure, Breviloquium I:1:2, with thanks to A Minor Friar, whose whole post is very well worth reading.

Much, much more about the Seraphic Doctor can be found at the Franciscan Archive, here, including online texts of his writings, in Latin, English, French and Spanish. Superb resource!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Awake or asleep...

The ancient monastic practice of rising sometime between midnight and two in the morning to pray sanctifies the night hours. To me the idea of nuns and monks rising from their beds in the middle of the night and shuffling down a darkened hall in pairs by candlelight, half asleep, to sing and pray in a cold chapel is both appalling and comforting.

The practice appals me because I cannot imagine myself rising voluntarily in the night... As a mother, I have no memory at all of my second child's first year when he could not sleep through the night while the oldest, an active toddler, stayed awake by day. . . . Beyond these memories of sleep deprivation, however, the image of nuns and monks singing in the cold chapel in the middle of the night is comforting. I know a practiced spirit stands as a sentry on the boundary of the soul, watching the horizon for danger or delight...

A friend of mine who is a hermit calls Vigils "the prayer office for pious insomniacs." On a more serious note, though, many religious people are wakened by the Spirit in the middle of the night in order to pray for someone in need. It is a common experience among Christians to discover that at the exact hour when someone needing to be commended to God was ministered to, a friend was raised from sleep on the other side of the globe. A nun once told me about the uncanny intuitiveness of people in parts of Africa, where she served for many years. "People knew of things even before the drumming began," she said. "This knowing is not such a miracle. It is simply that here in the west, we have forgotten how to be connected." ...

So I commend myself to God in prayer before I sleep. Something of our soul will remained linked to that warm darkness beyond its boundary, even in sleep. This dark love, more intimate than a mother's womb, nourishes, encourages, and guides us, enveloping us in its loving, wordless darkness. When we pay attention, and respond with wordless, loving prayer in the darkness of our souls, we know we are connected to divine life. When we commend our souls to God at night, we take this connection for granted. Awake or asleep, we live in the Lord.

From Praying the Hours by Suzanne Guthrie (Cowley Publications, 2000), with thanks to Speaking to the Soul

This is wonderful writing. I love Suzanne's words on connectedness. If I look back over my own life, I can see instance after instance of this sort of thing - not just in myself, but actually more strikingly and humblingly (if that's a word!) in other people's prayers for me and for those around me.

If you're as taken with Suzanne Guthrie's writing as I am, you might like to know that she has an excellent blog, At the Edge of the Enclosure. What with Suzanne, and Maggie Ross, and Laurel M. O'Neal, not to mention so many others, the blogosphere is getting to be an good place for people of prayer...

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

God is here; perfectly hidden...

God is here; perfectly hidden and perfectly revealed in all material reality, even in the least of the brothers and sisters. It is easy to see Christ in the beauty of nature. But can you see Christ all the way at the edges where he is least attractive? Can you see Christ where you least expect him?

Richard Rohr, from Creating Christian Community

I have often thought that this was one of the most difficult parts of living as a Christian. I can see Christ, as Rohr suggests, in nature, in people I love and admire; but see him in tyrants, rapists, pornographers? And yet he was born as man: he gave himself to all that humanity can be, took on himself our own nature. Was this what he saw in the Garden of Gethsemane, as much as the scourge and the nails? Was this what he meant when on the Cross he saw the light of his Father's face dimmed, and cried out, "Why have you forsaken me?"

I once prayed to see Christ for who he is, to know him, truly know him; and the times following that prayer were among the most desolate times I've known. Is this what it is to know Christ? To know the shepherd whose heart is broken for the sheep who are lost, and yet who flee from him, deeper into the dark valleys and the barren rocks? To know the man who wept over Jerusalem, who would have gathered her children together as a hen gathers her brood, and they were not willing?

We talk of becoming Christ-like. Is this what it means?

Monday, July 07, 2008


I've been so uncommunicative this last week. It's just been one of those weeks when lots of bitty little commitments crowd in, just when you're trying to come to terms with all the profound stuff that God was doing on retreat. I have to confess I've not been very good even at the bittynesses - and I certainly haven't had a chance to do anything with this poor neglected blog.

Still, out of the chaos has been emerging - gradually - some kind of order. Jan and I have been trying to work out how practically to deal with the increasing call to prayer that God has been making clear to me over recent weeks. We seem to have the beginnings of a workable pattern in place, and with patience and forbearance we'll be able to debug it over the coming weeks, till we have something we can both live with...

Meanwhile, Maggie Ross says:

We delude ourselves that we pray; only Christ prays. The act we call prayer is yielding to the Spirit of Christ springing from the molten core of love within us that focuses all our being, and this prayer becomes pervasive in our lives as we learn single-heartedness...

As the resurrecting Word has been given to each of us, so we are enabled to give it to each other. When we forgive each other with this Word, we forgive totally... it is about enabling one another to be guilt-free. In daily life it means taking the risk of the fool: to offer love at the risk of having it rejected; to be willing to share pain at the risk of having our own wounds re-opened; to forgive so that the other person becomes guilt-free, at the risk of having to forgive all over again; to place ourselves, our lives, in each others' hands in radical trust... It is trust beyond reason...

Maggie Ross The Fire of Your Life