Friday, October 31, 2008

The poor are given to the Church…

Like every human organization the Church is constantly in danger of corruption. As soon as power and wealth come to the Church, manipulation, exploitation, misuse of influence, and outright corruption are not far away.

How do we prevent corruption in the Church? The answer is clear: by focusing on the poor. The poor make the Church faithful to its vocation. When the Church is no longer a church for the poor, it loses its spiritual identity. It gets caught up in disagreements, jealousy, power games, and pettiness. Paul says, "God has composed the body so that greater dignity is given to the parts which were without it, and so that there may not be disagreements inside the body but each part may be equally concerned for all the others" (1 Corinthians 12:24-25). This is the true vision. The poor are given to the Church so that the Church as the body of Christ can be and remain a place of mutual concern, love, and peace.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

I've been thinking about what we've been saying about poverty recently - see my last few posts, and the links and comments - and what Nouwen says here seems profound far beyond the present discussion. It seems to go the root of revival and renewal in the Church: there seems to be a cycle, almost, whereby the church grows fat and worldly, and people have to go back to the poverty of Christ, and standing there, call out to the rest of us, "And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6.8 NIV) It happened with the Desert Fathers, with St. Francis, with the Wesleys, with the Catholic Worker Movement, with the Sojourners, and with many many others throughout the history of the Church, quiet workers of renewal as much as, or more than (usually unwilling!) founders of new denominations.

The poor are not objects of "charity" for the Church; they are not projects or statistics, still less embarrassments: they are its heart and its purpose - just as Christ's poverty, his emptiness (Philippians 2.7-8) is not the result of accident or chance, but lies at the very centre of his work of salvation: his becoming obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Night Prayer

Now that the sun has set,
I sit and rest, and think of you.
Give my weary body peace.
Let my legs and arms stop aching.
Let my nose stop sneezing.
Let my head stop thinking.
Let me sleep in your arms.

Traditional Dinka prayer (Sudan)
(Found in Phil Cousineau, ed., Prayers at 3 A.M. Quoted in Jane Redmont, When in Doubt, Sing.)
With thanks to Jane's blog Acts of Hope

Back to the Cross…

When you see a poor man, you must consider the one in whose name he comes, namely, Christ, who took upon himself our poverty and weakness. The poverty and sickness of this man are, therefore, a mirror in which we ought to contemplate lovingly the poverty and weakness which our Lord Jesus Christ suffered in his body to save the human race.

Saint Francis of Assisi, from the Legend of Perugia - 89

Thinking about my last post here, it occurs to me that there is slightly more to this statement of St. Francis' than meets the eye. In our love for the poor, and in all we do to find them justice, we must not neglect the demands that justice itself makes on us, that we treat all human beings as equal in the eyes of God, and so equal in our eyes too.

Francis' love for the poor did not mean that he despised the rich. Indeed, Francis cautioned his friars not to look down on those "wearing soft or gaudy clothes and enjoying luxuries in food or drink" (RegB c.2). All the members of the brotherhood were equal, no matter what their social or economic background; no one was to cling to office within the brotherhood (LP 83).

The OFM JPIC Resource Book Part 2, 1: Option for the Poor, p. 4

Our hands must never be too full to reach out to whoever needs us, female or male, human or animal. We must open wide our arms to them all. There must be nothing to separate us: not education or possessions, nor detachment from them. In a comment on my last post, Barbara said, tellingly, "Voluntary poverty, I guess, can become something one clings to instead of God. Simplicity, on the other hand, leaves room for God. Without justice, it is hollow."

We must "Let the same mind be in [us] 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." (Philippians 2.5-8)

Somehow it seems to me that all this talk of poverty comes back to the Cross.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Poverty and simplicity…

In an excellent post at St. Edward's Parish Blog today, Fran asks, "How do you define poverty?"

"We are very quick to equate poverty with money. Perhaps we need to reflect more deeply", she says, and goes on to ask, "Ultimately how can we examine the poverty in our own lives and use that to both transform and be transformed?"

Thinking about this, I was reminded of Rowan Clare Williams' words in A Condition of Complete Simplicity, where she writes,

To be poor, sadly, is still to be without a voice and without power… Arguably, 'the poor', wherever they are, are still less than people. The very phrase, 'the poor', lumps together and depersonalizes billions of individuals with different unique stories and voices which are seldom heard, because the rich and powerful shout more loudly.

It can be tempting for those attracted by Franciscan simplicity to rhapsodize about the ennobling properties of poverty. This is dangerously patronizing. It is important to understand that there is an essential difference between poverty as a chosen, life-giving option and the poverty which denies and dehumanizes. Living in un-chosen poverty does not ennoble. Instead of freeing the mind from 'distractions' about food and clothes and other material concerns, they become an obsession. Far from being set free to live abundantly, this kind of poverty concentrates the mind on the mechanics of blind survival. A poor people are not necessarily any freer from materialism than the rich; they merely have less opportunity to indulge their desires. For the sake of clarity, then, it is necessary to draw a distinction between involuntary poverty, and a choice (or vocation) to live in simplicity in defiance of a world which defines us by what we have.

Over at Inward/Outward, there is a quote from Bill Moyers' foreword to Jim Willis' Faith Works: Lessons From the Life of an Activist Preacher:

Charity is commendable; everyone should be charitable. But justice aims to create a social order in which if individuals choose not to be charitable, people will not go hungry, unschooled or sick without care. Charity depends on the vicissitudes of whim and personal wealth; justice depends on commitment instead of circumstance. Faith-based charity provides crumbs from the table; faith-based justice offers a place at the table.

Where does this take us?

Poverty, unsought, crushes the heart and dulls the mind; simplicity, chosen, whether the absolute poverty of St. Francis and his contemporary followers, or the simplicity enjoined on members of the Third Order, to "live simply and to share with others… accept[ing] that we avoid luxury and waste, and regard our possessions as being held in trust for God" (The Principles, 11), sets the heart free and clears the mind.

We who choose simplicity, whether the circumstances of our natural lives have provided us with much, as St. Francis' had, or little, as with many of the early Tertiaries, must put ourselves either personally at the service of of those whose poverty in un-chosen, or at the service of finding for them justice, and a place, by right of simply being human, at the table. As The Principles state (7), "Our Order sets out, in the name of Christ, to break down barriers between people and to seek equality for all. We accept as our second aim the spreading of a spirit of love and harmony among all people. We are pledged to fight against the ignorance, pride, and prejudice that breed injustice or partiality of any kind."

It seems to me that these thoughts may have relevance beyond the Third Order Society of St. Francis in these days of economic insecurity and environmental concern. You don't need to be a Franciscan to choose a life of simplicity and justice - but St. Francis may still have things you can learn from, and his beautiful and Christ-like heart may strengthen and comfort you as you try to work out your calling.

Monday, October 20, 2008

We ourselves are words of His…

Contemplation is life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness, and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent, and infinitely abundant Source. Contemplation is, above all, awareness of the reality of that Source. It knows the Source, obscurely, inexplicably, but with a certitude that goes beyond reason and beyond simple faith… It is a more profound depth of faith, a knowledge too deep to be grasped in images, in words, or even in clear concepts.

Contemplation is also the response to a call: a call from Him Who has no voice, and yet Who speaks in everything that is, and Who, most of all, speaks in the depths of our own being; for we ourselves are words of His. But we are words that are meant to respond to Him, to answer to Him, to echo Him, and even in some way to contain Him and signify Him. Contemplation is this echo. It is a deep resonance in the inmost center of our spirit in which our very life loses its separate voice and re-sounds with the majesty and the mercy of the Hidden and Living One…

…contemplation is more than a consideration of abstract truths about God, more even than affective meditation on the things we believe. It is awakening, enlightenment and the amazing intuitive grasp by which love gains certitude of God's creative and dynamic intervention in our daily life.

Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, New York: New Directions Press, 1962

May the Force be with you…

The word healing comes from a word meaning "entire" or "complete," and signifies a restoration to wholeness. For that reason it is a more "holistic" word than therapy. While many people are helped by psychotherapy, I suspect that there are also many like me who have benefited from occasional counselling but have received more help from spiritual practices such as prayer and lectio divina, or holy reading. Perhaps the most radical aspect of the psychology of the desert monastics is the extent to which they believed that Scripture itself had the power to heal. In The Word in the Desert, his study of how thoroughly the early monks integrated Scripture into their lives, Douglas Burton-Christie notes that they regarded these "sacred texts [as] inherently powerful, a source of holiness, with a capacity to transform their lives."

Appreciating this monastic perspective on the Bible means abandoning the modern tendency to regard it as primarily an object of intellectual study, or as a handy adjunct to our ideology, be it conservative or liberal. The desert father who expounds on the inherent value of meditating on Scripture by observing, "Even if we do not understand the meaning of the words we are saying, when the demons hear them, they take fright and go away," insults our intelligence. What is left to us, if we relinquish our intellectual comprehension? Isn't it necessary to retain more control than that? Maybe not, if we want to experience the Word of God as these monks did, as "a living force within them."

From Acedia & me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life by Kathleen Norris (Riverhead Books, 2008), with thanks to Vicki K Black

I just love this. I love it. I love it. I love it. I have for so long felt that there was a force, which I couldn't exactly name, in Scripture as you read it in the Daily Office, unvarnished, free from commentary or sermon, short of devotional notes. Just the Word of God, standing there before us, rather as Jesus stood before Pilate. We are changed merely by being in its presence. Healed. Made whole. And we do not need to know the mechanism behind our healing. There words of Norris' are such liberation: to read someone else describing just what I've been feeling is - for me at any rate, full of self-doubt as I am - healing in itself!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Unmerciful servants?

Unless and until you understand the biblical concept of God's unmerited favour, God's unaccountable love, most of the biblical text cannot be interpreted or tied together in any positive way.

It is the key and the code to everything transformative in the Bible.

In fact, people who have not experienced the radical character of grace will always misinterpret the meanings and the direction of the Bible. The Bible will become a burden and obligation more than a gift.

Richard Rohr, from Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality

I think what Rohr is writing about here may well lie at the root of the abuse Christians sometimes suffer, disastrously, in church situations, and which I touched on in passing yesterday. I don't think abuse within churches, often referred to as "spiritual abuse", arises from any one denomination, or even from any one strand of churchmanship, more vulnerable though some may be to it than others. I think the problem lies just where Rohr explains it, when people, pastors especially, fail truly to grasp the depth, the essential nature, of God's mercy in Christ, and of the limitless grace that pours out from it. It may be that, as Rohr says, they have not experienced it; or it may be that, having experienced it they have failed to appropriate it for themselves, and thus they cannot pass it on. Or they may, horrifically, have actually forgotten it. Like the people in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-23) they may have known Christ's mercy, but the daily responsibility of their positions, and the continual friction of church life, and perhaps most importantly the lack of support - who is pastoring the pastor? - have strangled the memory of grace, and they find themselves hanging onto the mere framework of the word.

This is an immense tragedy for the one who finds themselves in such a position, but it can be equally a tragedy for those for whose souls they are responsible. Harsh though it may sound, Jesus has a word for those who have received mercy, yet fail to pass it on (Matthew 18.21-35). But what of those who have allowed them to come to such a place: those who have failed to take care of their pastors, failed to watch out for signs of weariness and pain, failed even to pray for them? None of us can risk complacency, I think…

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The beloved physician…

Luke, which is a familiar form of Lucius, was a Gentile, a physician, and a close friend of Paul (Col. 4:10ff.), a fellow worker with Paul (Philemon. 24), and a companion of Paul’s in prison, probably in Rome (2 Tim. 4:11). Greek was obviously his native tongue, as his language is flawless Koine, the common Greek of the time (which was much less sophisticated than the language of Homer and the great philosophers). He was a Gentile, and thus probably a Greek, although Lucius was a common Roman name and all upper-class Romans were fluent in Greek. It is most likely that he was Greek, however, and there is much circumstantial evidence that he was from Philippi.

No one knows how he came to be in Judea… It is possible that as a physician Luke was attached to the Roman army. Most good physicians spent at least some time in their training as army doctors or as surgeons to the gladiators. This exposed them to a wide variety of critical wounds through which they could learn anatomy and surgery on a living patient…

There is no evidence that Luke ever met Jesus, and he was thus never considered an apostle. He was highly regarded by Paul as an evangelist, however. Also, his knowledge of many details of Jesus’ birth and childhood support the ancient tradition that he was a close friend of Mary, who shared these stories with him. His account of the crucifixion also indicates that, while he probably did not witness it, he was particularly interested in the physiological aspects of it. One would expect this of a physician. If he were a Roman or associated with the Roman army, he would have seen many crucifixions…

He apparently worked alongside Paul for years, remaining with him right to the end. He was obviously loved and admired by Paul. After Paul’s death in about 64 CE, Luke apparently continued to evangelize in his home region, and sometime in the early 80s CE he wrote his Gospel and the book of Acts, the first history of Christianity.

From “Luke” in All the People in the Bible: An A-Z Guide to the Saints, Scoundrels, and Other Characters in Scripture by Richard R. Losch (Eerdmans, 2008) with thanks to Vicki K Black

Being Church…

The two main sacraments, baptism and the Eucharist, are the spiritual pillars of the Church. They are not simply instruments by which the Church exercises its ministry. They are not just means by which we become and remain members of the Church but belong to the essence of the Church. Without these sacraments there is no Church. The Church is the body of Christ fashioned by baptism and the Eucharist. When people are baptised in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and when they gather around the table of Christ and receive his Body and Blood, they become the people of God, called the Church…

The Church is the people of God. The Latin word for "church," ecclesia, comes from the Greek ek, which means "out," and kaleo, which means "to call." The Church is the people of God called out of slavery to freedom, sin to salvation, despair to hope, darkness to light, an existence centered on death to an existence focused on life.

When we think of Church we have to think of a body of people, travelling together. We have to envision women, men, and children of all ages, races, and societies supporting one another on their long and often tiresome journeys to their final home…

The Church is holy and sinful, spotless and tainted. The Church is the bride of Christ, who washed her in cleansing water and took her to himself "with no speck or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and faultless" (Ephesians 5:26-27). The Church too is a group of sinful, confused, anguished people constantly tempted by the powers of lust and greed and always entangled in rivalry and competition.

When we say that the Church is a body, we refer not only to the holy and faultless body made Christ-like through baptism and Eucharist but also to the broken bodies of all the people who are its members. Only when we keep both these ways of thinking and speaking together can we live in the Church as true followers of Jesus…

The Church is an object of faith. In the Apostles' Creed we pray: "I believe in God, the Father, ... in Jesus Christ, his only Son in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting." We must believe in the Church! The Apostles' Creed does not say that the Church is an organization that helps us to believe in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. No, we are called to believe in the Church with the same faith we believe in God.

Often it seems harder to believe in the Church than to believe in God. But whenever we separate our belief in God from our belief in the Church, we become unbelievers. God has given us the Church as the place where God becomes God-with-us.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

I am deeply concerned for people who live as Christians outside any church. I know that in so many cases they are women and men who have been deeply hurt, mistreated, abused, within church communities, and cannot now trust themselves to church as family, just as sometimes victims of sexual and other kinds of abuse by relatives cannot trust themselves to stable relationships. But not all "out of church Christians" are in this situation.

Of course there are those too who simply believe they are better off out of it - "I don't need to go to church to be a Christian!" - and many of them have deeply thoughtful and principled reasons for their position.

I am by no means making a case here for the established churches - Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian or whatever - over against less formal groups of Christians, from Warehouse Church to home church. What I am saying is that, as Nouwen points out above, being a Christian is necessarily being church. "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptised into one body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and we were all made to drink of one Spirit." (1 Corinthians 12.12-13) If we are isolated from the rest of the body, we may be like a toe that has been cut off, and left on the side of the road. Our position may not be not encouraging. We may simply shrivel and die; but we mustn't forget that there are crows… and that worries me.

I shall have to go on thinking, and above all praying, about this…

Friday, October 17, 2008

Still more imperfect...

The entire universe seems to be operating out of a chaos theory of one sort or another. And whatever made us think that we are different than that? Well, the thing that did it more than anything else was religion. It taught us that we could be perfect.

When I spiritually direct people I strongly counsel them to mistrust any heroic gestures. They are much more food for the ego than they are food for God. God does not need your heroics - God needs who you really are. That is all you can ever give to God, not an idealized or perfect self...

Once you know that God has loved you even in your unlovability - which is always the character of a vital spiritual experience - you can't be dualistic anymore, all quid pro quo thinking falls apart.

Now you're inside of mystery that holds imperfection. So now what does perfection become? Perfection becomes not the exclusion of the contaminating element, the enemy, but in fact perfection is precisely the ability to include imperfection. That's perfection!

Richard Rohr, from The Little Way

And that, my friends, is the final answer to all those who would, in our churches and elsewhere, who would discriminate against anyone on the grounds of race, income, background, appearance, sex, sexuality, or anything else. In Christ, "there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of [us] are one."

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Imperfection is the organizing principle of the entire human and spiritual enterprise. In the great spiritual traditions imperfection is not to be just tolerated, excused, marginalized, contextualized or even forgiven. It is the very framework inside of which God makes the God-Self known and calls us into union.

You can't talk about union when you are talking about two perfections. It's like trying to put two balloons together. They are both so whole, inflated and entire - they don't need one another.

Richard Rohr, from The Little Way

How long will it take us to realise, as Christians, that perfection just isn't within our grasp. We cannot choose perfection. St. Francis wasn't perfect. St. Teresa of Avila, whom we remembered yesterday, wasn't perfect. You have only to look at their writings, or those (especially in Francis' case) of their contemporaries, to see that they were under no illusions themselves. Abba Moses the Black, one of the holiest of the Desert Fathers, famously recognised this of himself:

When a brother committed a fault and Moses was invited to a meeting to discuss an appropriate penance, Moses refused to attend. When he was again called to the meeting, Moses took a leaking jug, filled with water, and carried it on his shoulder… When he arrived at the meeting place, the others asked why he was carrying the jug. He replied, "My sins run out behind me and I do not see them, but today I am coming to judge the errors of another." On hearing this, the assembled brothers forgave the erring monk.

This passage carries within it the seed of the explanation of that strange passage in Matthew's Gospel, where Jesus says, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 7.48) For this comes directly after his remarks about loving and forgiving people, even our enemies... precisely Moses' point.

Only Jesus, himself true God from true God, can forgive out of perfection. We can only do it out of our own imperfection, our own need of forgiveness.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day: a call to prayer

Today, just in case you missed it, is Blog Action Day.

A quick Google Blogsearch will turn up thousands of posts relating to today, most of them full of ingenuity and compassion, detailing practical ways to alleviate poverty in developing countries, help those who have fallen through the economic floor in Western nations, and address the financial fear that has brought so many of us in the West over the past few weeks to stare into the hollow eyes of the spectre of poverty in our own communities, which seemed only a year ago to be so secure and prosperous.

I'm not an ingenious person, economically, and I've never been any use to any fundraising initiative, beyond holding the odd collecting tin. Kiva Loans and the economics of poverty in marginalised communities make my head spin. But I can pray.

Prayer is so often seen as a last resort: "We've tried everything, and nothing works. All we can do is pray!" But if we are Christians, if we really believe Jesus' words in Matthew 7, "Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened…" prayer should be our first resort.

I've said so often in this blog that most of my readers will know what is coming next before I type it, but it isn't even necessary to know what to pray for, in order to pray. Yes, of course we can, and should, inform ourselves in every way possible, about poverty, and the many global initiatives to combat it; but we don't need to frame in thoughts and words what we feel God should do about it. We need only to hold the needs of the world on our hearts before God, remembering that "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)

God will use our tears, our bafflement, our frustration, in ways we cannot imagine, and may never know.

Please pray. Please don't think, as I am tempted to think sometimes, "It's no use, I can't do anything about this." But be prepared, always, to be part of God's answer to your own prayers. He may have uses for you, for me, that we've never even begun to think of…

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Losing it…

I am drawing a distinction here between self and self-image. Giving up this self-image involves letting go the illusion of power; particularly of the illusion that we are in control and that we can control, and that we should control. It is our desire to control that brings us to slavery, because our own designs are limited, and cannot help but end in a closed system, a dead end. The closed system may give us a sense of security, but it obviates possibility. And salvation - being sprung from a trap - means possibility.

What do we mean by control? Giving up the world, in Isaac's definition, is often rightly put in terms of self-control. But this is not the world's entrapping control. Self-control is really a gathering of the fragments of self-image in order to be emptied, in order to lose control. It involves letting go the illusions of power that keep us full of self-image. Self-image must be emptied out, in order that God, who is always emptying out divine mercy on creation, might enter, indwell, and pour out through us the transfiguring Spirit onto the earth. This right kind of letting go control is especially important in terms of our ideas of how God works in us, in terms of what, or how important we think particular gifts are. Often we are trapped by our ideas of God and holiness.

God's life is able to dwell in us whether or not we cooperate. We exist by mercy. But if we are to grow into the image, the mirroring, of God's willing powerlessness, we need to increase our capacity to have the divine love poured out through us. In ancient tradition, God 'absented' a bit, or 'pulled aside the skirts of glory' in order to make room for the creation, since God was everywhere. The kenosis of God begins with creation, because God is committed to be involved in it, to give it freedom, to suffer-with in its joys and sorrows, in its bewilderment and pain. And it means that God willingly limits God's power to intervene and control.

Maggie Ross, Voice in the Wilderness

"It is our desire to control that brings us to slavery." Isn't that why so many people are so afraid, why so many people are in real trouble, in the present financial situation? We invest in order to control our future. I'm reminded of an lady in her 80s on the BBC South news last night, who feared she had lost her life savings (some £500,000) in the Icelandic banking debacle. She spoke of her dismay, since she had assumed she had ensured a comfortable future for herself, and now she was in her own words "reduced to penury" - which actually meant that she and her widowed daughter would now have to live on their state pensions, like so many others. What really seemed to be worrying her was that she had lost control of her future: that all her planning had, through no intention of her own, come to nothing.

All our attempts at control actually make us more vulnerable. Jesus said, "…those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it." (Luke 9.24)

As Maggie Ross says, we exist by mercy. We have to let go of our illusory sense of control over our lives, the illusion of power that leads us to imagine we can keep hold of our life, that we can be captains of our souls, and let God be and do what God is and does, trusting that in his love and his mercy all he does is for our good, in the end (Romans 8.28); and that he will, finally, set all things free (Romans 8.18-25).

Monday, October 13, 2008

I want to see…

We must never presume that we see. We must always be ready to see anew. But it's so hard to go back, to be vulnerable, and to say to your soul, "I don't know anything."

Try to say that: "I don't know anything."

Maybe you could think of yourself as an erased blackboard, ready to be written on. For by and large, what blocks spiritual teaching is the assumption that we already know, or that we don't need to know.

We have to pray for the grace of beginner's mind. We need to say with the blind man, "I want to see…"

Spirituality is about seeing. It's not about earning or achieving. It's about relationship rather than results or requirements.

Once you see, the rest follows.

You don't need to push the river, because you are in it. The life is lived within us, and we learn how to say yes to that life.

If we exist on a level where we can see how "everything belongs," we can trust the flow and trust the life, the life so large and deep and spacious that it even includes its opposite, death.

Richard Rohr, from Everything Belongs

I think being on the edge is like this. Everything we truly are we already are, and yet the spiritual life is a life of becoming. The thing is, it's a life of becoming who we actually are, and that's not the way that culture, our Western culture especially, sees it. We are brought up to believe it all comes down to the bottom line, to earning and achieving, results and requirements. If we live out this "life so large and deep and spacious", we become incredibly threatening to the society of earning and achieving, results and requirements, and we will be driven out onto the edge, if we're not there already.

I don't want anyone to feel, though, that I'm saying this with any sense of a chip on my shoulder, or of being hardly done by. It's fine out on the edge, truly. It's only society that represents it to us as nasty out on the edge. Jesus, Francis, Clare and Cuthbert are better company than most bankers and stockbrokers, and a good deal more reliable, too. I like it out on the edge. The air off the sea is clean, and if I'm going to belong anywhere, I belong there.

At the edge we see…

Many ancient Celtic sites are on the edge - Iona, Lindisfarne, Whithorn, Whitby, Jarrow, Bardsley, Burgh, Bradwell.

At the edge we see horizons denied to those who stay in the middle.

Walking along a cliff-top our bodies and souls face each other and that is how we grow.

The edge is in fact always the centre of spiritual renewal.

The Christian Church has always been renewed by those it placed on the edge, such as St. Francis and John Wesley.

Jesus lived life with the marginalised - the lepers, prostitutes and tax-collectors.

Jesus was edged out of the synagogue, out of the temples, out of the city, out of society and out of life - yet remained totally in touch with the heart of life.

We are called to mould the kingdoms of the earth so that they reflect the Kingdom of Heaven.

Any Christian movement that becomes respectable risks being brought from the edge to the centre - and so is given the kiss of death.

How will I keep myself on the spiritual edge?

Martin Wallace, Celtic Reflections, Tim Tiley Ltd.

I seem to be writing rather a lot on the subject of edges just at the moment, and I keep finding other people's writings about edges, too, like this remarkable passage from a little book I was given as a gift at my Profession the other day.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

About sin…

Sin is a great teacher. Of course, we all have sinned as Romans makes very clear. One of the wonderful discoveries as you work with Jesus is that he is never upset at sinners. Go through the four Gospels, it is very clear in the text.

It's amazing the energy we put into ferreting out sinners, punishing and excluding them, and yet Jesus is only upset at people who don't think they are sinners.

Richard Rohr, from The Little Way 


When a brother committed a fault and Moses was invited to a meeting to discuss an appropriate penance, Moses refused to attend. When he was again called to the meeting, Moses took a leaking jug, filled with water, and carried it on his shoulder… When he arrived at the meeting place, the others asked why he was carrying the jug. He replied, "My sins run out behind me and I do not see them, but today I am coming to judge the errors of another." On hearing this, the assembled brothers forgave the erring monk.

Moses the Black, one of the Desert Fathers

Saturday, October 11, 2008

What a day…

…we all had at Hilfield Friary! It was our Francistide Area Chapter - four of us were professed together at the midday Eucharist, and then two were noviced at the afternoon Third Order Office. We had a wonderful time: tears and laughter and love and God's incredible blessings shared between Tertiaries from all across the Blackmore Vale, and with the Brothers - and to put the icing on the cake Bishop Tim was there too. He gave us a talk on our Diocese's link with the Sudan in the morning, managing to be profound and funny, heartbreaking and encouraging all at the same time, and then he filled us in on events at Lambeth after lunch.

Thank you, dear friends of the blogosphere, for your prayers for me today. They were most certainly answered, and with interest…

Thanks and blessings and love to you all!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Prayers please...

Please pray for me as I make my Life Profession to the Third Order at midday tomorrow...

Thursday, October 09, 2008

We are the Body of Christ…

When we gather for the Eucharist we gather in the Name of Jesus, who is calling us together to remember his death and resurrection in the breaking of the bread. There he is truly among us. "Where two or three meet in my name," he says, "I am there among them" (Matthew 18:20).

The presence of Jesus among us and in the gifts of bread and wine are the same presence. As we recognise Jesus in the breaking of the bread, we recognise him also in our brothers and sisters. As we give one another the bread, saying: "This is the Body of Christ," we give ourselves to each other saying: "We are the Body of Christ." It is one and the same giving, it is one and the same body, it is one and the same Christ.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

This is an astonishing thought, and it makes sense, somehow, of the feeling I always have at the Eucharist, of incredible closeness to my sisters and brothers at the altar rail. It always slightly surprises me that this intensely personal, intimate almost, sense I have of Christ's presence in "broken bread and wine outpoured" is not a private thing. We are so used in our time to thinking of the words "private" and "personal" as being inextricably connected, yet here they certainly are not. In fact, the more personal, immediate, is the sense of the presence of Christ, and of his indwelling Spirit, the stronger this feeling I have of love, and more than we normally understand by love, for those around me. Truly we who are many are one body, because we all share in one bread. It isn't any longer a liturgical formula: it's experienced reality, as ordinary and real and concrete and sensible as bread, say, or wine.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Living in the Presence...

Prayer is not primarily saying words or thinking thoughts. It is, rather, a stance. It's a way of living in the Presence, living in awareness of the Presence, and even of enjoying the Presence.

The full contemplative is not just aware of the Presence, but trusts, allows, and delights in it. All spiritual disciplines have one purpose: to get rid of illusions so we can be present. These disciplines exist so that we can see what is, see who we are, and see what is happening.

Richard Rohr, from Everything Belongs


Guard against all pride, vanity, envy, avarice, the cares and worry of this world, detraction and complaining. And if you do not have book-learning, do not be eager to acquire it, but pursue instead what you should desire above all else, namely, to have the Spirit of the Lord and his grace working in you, to pray always with purity of heart and to have humility, patience in persecution and in infirmity, and to love those who persecute and rebuke and slander you, because the Lord says, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). "Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness: the kingdom of Heaven is theirs" (Matthew 5:10). "Anyone who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Matthew 10:22).

Saint Francis of Assisi
Rule of 1223
Ch. X

How much I need to hear these words, every day! When I look back at these ancient documents of our three Orders, I am sometimes just totally amazed at St. Francis' wisdom and grace, and the love he had for his Brothers, and for St. Clare and the rest of his Sisters in the Second Order. What a man! What else could I want to be than a Franciscan? Why did I ever think anything else?

H'm. Makes me go all silly, sometimes, thinking about it.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

St. Francis, seen from Panama…

Padre Mickey in Panama has just about the best essay on St. Francis you're likely to read, even today. Like the Padre would say, all ya gotsta do is click!


St. Francis said these things…



I have been all things unholy. If God can work through me, he can work through anyone.

Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.

If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.

St. Francis said these things…

St. Francis and the larks...

The larks are birds that love the noonday light and shun the darkness of twilight. But on the night that St. Francis went to Christ, they came to the roof of the house, though already the twilight of the night to follow had fallen, and they flew about the house for a long time amid a great clamour, whether to show their joy or their sadness in their own way by their singing, we know not. Tearful rejoicing and joyful sorrow made up their song, either to bemoan the fact that they were orphaned children, or to announce that their father was going to his eternal glory. The city watchmen, who guarded the place with great care, were filled with astonishment and called the others to witness the wonder.

Thomas of Celano, Tractatus de Miraculis - 32
Sophisticated urban Westerners will often lift a weary eyebrow at stories like this, but those of us who have also spent years out in the countryside in all weathers, and at the strangest times of day, may be less inclined to... of which more sometime later, perhaps.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Walking to the edge…

Most simply and yet most difficultly, Francis is saying that we cannot change the world except insofar as we have changed ourselves. We can only give away who we are. We can only offer to others what God has done in us. We have no real head answers. We must be an answer. We only know the other side of journeys that we have made ourselves. Francis walked to the edge and so he could lead others to what he found there.

Richard Rohr, from Hope Against Darkness

The journey to the edge is a different kind of pilgrimage. I think often we have each to live through own time when the Spirit drives us "out into the wilderness" - and like Jesus, whom we follow, we cannot do what we have been called to do until we have obeyed, and faced the darkness head on. How can we help people whose pain we cannot understand, or bring Christ to people whose lives are lived in lands we haven't dreamed of? Francis could have achieved nothing had he remained on his horse: it was only when he dismounted, and embraced the leper in the road's dust, that he was released into God's calling for life.

In a tiny piece of bread…

Let all humankind tremble,
let the whole world shake
and the heavens rejoice
when Christ, the Son of the living God,
is on the altar
in the hands of a priest.
O admirable heights and sublime lowliness!
O sublime humility!
O humble sublimity!
That the Lord of the universe,
God and the Son of God,
so humbles himself
that to save us
he conceals himself in a tiny piece of bread!

From the "Letter to the Entire Order" of Francis of Assisi, quoted in God Seekers: Twenty Centuries of Christian Spiritualities by Richard H. Schmidt (Eerdmans, 2008), with thanks to Vicki K Black

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The great divide...

Francis' reading of the gospel is of utmost relevance today. His focus and emphasis is the same as Jesus'. His life was an enacted parable, an audiovisual aid to gospel freedom; it gives us the perspective by which to see as Jesus did: the view from the bottom.

He insists by every facet of his life that we can only see rightly from a disestablished position. He wanted to be poor most of all - simply because Jesus was poor...

Jesus and Francis had no pragmatic agenda for social reform. They just moved outside the system of illusion, more ignoring it than fighting it and quite simply doing it better.

Don't waste any time dividing the world into the good guys and the bad guys. Hold them both together in your own soul - where they are anyway - and you will have held together the whole world.

You will have overcome the great divide - in one place of spacious compassion. You, little you, will have paid the price of redemption. God takes it from there, but always by replicating the same pattern in another conscious human life.

Richard Rohr, from Hope Against Darkness

I think these words are becoming more and more relevant each day we live in these troubled times. We are no longer free to imagine that we can insure against our own mortality, that we can pay for protection against the brokenness and impermanence of things.

Curiously, I remember being struck with this thought one day when I was very young, maybe 20 or 21, a young rock musician in London with never an idea of becoming a Christian. I was sitting on the nice new Habitat sofa of my nice flat in Putney, thinking about the words of a song I was trying to write, when it suddenly occurred to me that nothing would last. Not my words, nor my music, nor anything I was working for or trying to achieve, not any of the people I loved or cared for, past, present or future. Not the music of my friends, nor of the contemporaries I admired but had yet to meet, nor the music of the old bluesmen; not György Sándor Ligeti's nor Gustav Mahler's, not even Bach's. Everything beautiful, and loveable, and good that I knew would fall to dust, and the howling dark of the interstellar spaces would swallow it up.

I wish I could say that I turned to God in my horror and desolation; but I didn't. My music darkened, and I turned increasingly to psychedelics, filling notebooks with my findings as I tried to find answers to questions I could hardly frame.

The rest is a long story... but finally it's only in following Francis that I have found the answer lying in Rohr's words here, "You will have overcome the great divide - in one place of spacious compassion. You, little you, will have paid the price of redemption. God takes it from there, but always by replicating the same pattern in another conscious human life." For the great divide is more than the divide between rich and poor, more even than the divide between good and evil: it is the final, awful divide between l' être et le néant, between all things and no-thing. God takes it from there.

At this time our Lord showed me an inward sight of his homely loving. I saw that he is everything that is good and comforting to us. He is our clothing. In his love he wraps and holds us. He enfolds us in love and will never let us go.

And then he showed me a little thing, the size of a hazlenut, in the palm of my hand - and it was round as a ball. I looked at it with my mind's eye and I thought: "What can this be?" And answer came: "It is all that is made." I marvelled that it could last, for I thought it might have crumbled to nothing, it was so small. And the answer came into my mind: "It lasts, and ever shall, because God loves it." And so all things have being through the love of God.

Julian of Norwich, Showings (Long Text) Chapter 5, tr. Sheila Upjohn