Sunday, December 28, 2008

The One True Light...

Beholding His Glory is only half our job. In our souls too the mysteries must be brought forth; we are not really Christians till that has been done. "The Eternal Birth," says Eckhart, "must take place in you." And another mystic says human nature is like a stable inhabited by the ox of passion and the ass of prejudice; animals which take up a lot of room and which I suppose most of us are feeding on the quiet. And it is there between them, pushing them out, that Christ must be born and in their very manger He must be laid—and they will be the first to fall on their knees before Him. Sometimes Christians seem far nearer to those animals than to Christ in His simple poverty, self-abandoned to God.

The birth of Christ in our souls is for a purpose beyond ourselves: it is because His manifestation in the world must be through us. Every Christian is, as it were, part of the dust-laden air which shall radiate the glowing Epiphany of God, catch and reflect His golden Light. Ye are the light of the world - but only because you are enkindled, made radiant by the One Light of the World. And being kindled, we have got to get on with it, be useful. As Christ said in one of His ironical flashes, "Do not light a candle in order to stick it under the bed!" Some people make a virtue of religious skulking.

From Light of Christ by Evelyn Underhill, quoted in Advent with Evelyn Underhill, edited by Christopher L. Webber. Copyright © 2006. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. With thanks to Vicki K Black.

Evelyn Underhill still amazes me with her imagery. The picture of the Church as innumerable dust-motes floating in the glorious light of Christ, each one reflecting his glory in infinitesimal radiance is so full of resonance for me. The house I grew up in, in Felpham on the Sussex coast, had a marvellous stained-glass window on the stairs, just abstract shapes and roundels of coloured glass, through which the sun used to stream in the late afternoon. As a little boy I used to sit on the stairs for what seemed like hours, just watching the dust-motes drifting in the beams of coloured light, changing colour themselves as they moved, each one a tiny reflection of the glory of the low sun as it came through that window. I wonder - suppose that sun were the light of Christ, and the colours scraps of glass were our traditions, Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, the different shades of free church, emerging church, home church... each one of us would be ourselves, our own speck of dust, coloured by our church background, true, but each reflecting the one true Light streaming into the world... 

Saturday, December 27, 2008

St. John's Day

It is God who calls; human beings answer. The vocation of John and his brother James is stated very simply in the Gospels, along with that of Peter and his brother Andrew: Jesus called them; they followed. The absoluteness of their response is indicated by the account. James and John "were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him" (Matthew 4:21b-22).

For the three former fishermen - Peter, James and John - that faith was to be rewarded by a special friendship with Jesus. They alone were privileged to be present at the Transfiguration, the raising of the daughter of Jairus and the agony in Gethsemane…

John's own Gospel refers to him as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (see John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2), the one who reclined next to Jesus at the Last Supper, and the one to whom he gave the exquisite honour, as he stood beneath the cross, of caring for his mother. "Woman, behold your son… Behold, your mother" (John 19:26b, 27b).

Because of the depth of his Gospel, John is usually thought of as the eagle of theology, soaring in high regions that other writers did not enter. But the ever-frank Gospels reveal some very human traits. Jesus gave James and John the nickname, "sons of thunder." While it is difficult to know exactly what this meant, a clue is given in two incidents.

In the first, as Matthew tells it, their mother asked that they might sit in the places of honour in Jesus' kingdom - one on his right hand, one on his left. When Jesus asked them if they could drink the cup he would drink and be baptized with his baptism of pain, they blithely answered, "We can!" Jesus said that they would indeed share his cup, but that sitting at his right hand was not his to give. It was for those to whom it had been reserved by the Father. The other apostles were indignant at the mistaken ambition of the brothers, and Jesus took the occasion to teach them the true nature of authority: "…whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:27-28).

On another occasion the "sons of thunder" asked Jesus if they should not call down fire from heaven upon the inhospitable Samaritans, who would not welcome Jesus because he was on his way to Jerusalem. But Jesus "turned and rebuked them" (see Luke 9:51-55).

On the first Easter, Mary Magdalene "ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, 'They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don't know where they put him'" (John 20:2). John recalls, perhaps with a smile, that he and Peter ran side by side, but then "the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first" (John 20:4b). He did not enter, but waited for Peter and let him go in first. "Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed" (John 20:8).

John was with Peter when the first great miracle after the Resurrection took place - the cure of the man crippled from birth - which led to their spending the night in jail together. The mysterious experience of the Resurrection is perhaps best contained in the words of Acts: "Observing the boldness of Peter and John and perceiving them to be uneducated, ordinary men, they [the questioners] were amazed, and they recognized them as the companions of Jesus" (Acts 4:13).

The evangelist wrote the great Gospel, the letters and the Book of Revelation. His Gospel is a very personal account. He sees the glorious and divine Jesus already in the incidents of his mortal life. At the Last Supper, John’s Jesus speaks as if he were already in heaven. It is the Gospel of Jesus’ glory.

A persistent story has it that John's "parishioners" grew tired of his one sermon, which relentlessly emphasized: "Love one another." Whether the story is true or not, it has basis in John's writing. He wrote what may be called a summary of the Bible: "We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him" (1 John 4:16).

(Slightly edited from the entry for 27th December at Saint of the Day.)

Friday, December 26, 2008

On the Feast of Stephen…

This Christmas season finds us a rather bewildered human race. We have neither peace within nor peace without. Everywhere paralyzing fears harrow people by day and haunt them by night. Our world is sick with war; everywhere we turn we see its ominous possibilities. And yet, my friends, the Christmas hope for peace and good will toward all men can no longer be dismissed as a kind of pious dream of some utopian. If we don't have good will toward men in this world, we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own instruments and our own power…

Now let me suggest first that if we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone; no nation can live alone, and as long as we try, the more we are going to have war in this world. Now the judgment of God is upon us, and we must either learn to live together as brothers or we are going to perish together as fools…

Somehow we must be able to stand up before our most bitter opponents and say: "We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you… Be assured that we'll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory…" With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when there will be peace on earth and good will toward men. It will be a glorious day; the morning stars will sing together, and the sons of God will shout for joy.

From "A Christmas Sermon on Peace" by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in The Wisdom of the Word Love: Great African-American Sermons, edited by Rhinold Ponder and Michele Tuck-Ponder (New York: Crown Publishers, 1997) with thanks to Vicki K Black.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Christmas!

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, 'This was he of whom I said, "He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me."') From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

John 1.1-18

from a lithograph by Jon McNaughton

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come to save us, O Lord our God.


O Virgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud?
Quia nec primam similem visa es nec habere sequentem.
Filiae Jerusalem, quid me admiramini?
Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.

O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be?
For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after.
Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me?
The thing which ye behold is a divine mystery.

(Alternative Antiphon in English Medieval usage, up to and including the New English Hymnal)


Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7.14)

Come quickly, Lord, and save all that you have made!

Monday, December 22, 2008

O Rex Gentium

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.

O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.


Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7.14)

I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
              Is immortal diamond.

('That Nature is...' Gerard Manley Hopkins)

Don't say goodbye (I know you can save us)
Don't wave goodbye (and nothing can break us)

Don't say goodbye (I know you can save us)

You can bring us back again
You can bring us back again

('Save Us', Feeder)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

O Oriens

O Oriens,
splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Morning Star,
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.


The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness -
on them light has shined.

(Isaiah 9.2)

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.

(Isaiah 60.1-2)

But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.

(Malachi 4:2)

"Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!" - the final line of Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

O Clavis David

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.


I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David;
he shall open, and no one shall shut;
he shall shut, and no one shall open.

(Isaiah 22.22)

His authority shall grow continually,
   and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
   He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
   from this time onwards and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

(Isaiah 9.7)

I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
   I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
   a light to the nations,
   to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
   from the prison those who sit in darkness.

(Isaiah 42.6-7)

Come, Lord Jesus, Holy and Anointed One, and lead us out from darkness into your everlasting light…

Friday, December 19, 2008

O Radix Jesse

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before whom kings will shut their mouths,
whom the nations will implore:
Come to deliver us, and do not now delay.

Jesus is the fulfilment of the prophecies of Isaiah (11.1,10) and Micah (5.1), the one who was to come, as Paul explains in Romans 15.12. But he is the one who is still to come, to bring healing and restoration to all of Creation – which is why we still pray, "Come to deliver us, and do not now delay."

The one who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon." (Revelation 22.20)

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Evelyn Underhill…

Brother Christopher John SSF has a good post on his (highly recommended!) blog Friar's Balsam. I'll take the liberty of reproducing it whole here, since it has such sane and profound advice for us all:

Sensible Evelyn Underhill

That great Anglican spiritual guide Evelyn Underhill may have been an expert on mysticism but she was also very practical. In The Mount of Purification (our edition here is the Longmans' 1960 reprint) she writes about the three chief factors in developing the life of prayer in the parish. The first is a parish priest who prays:

The priest who prays often in his own church, for whom it is a spiritual home, a place where he meets God, is the only one who has any chance of persuading his people to pray in their church. True devotion can only be taught by the direct method.
The second factor is:
the parish church, considered not as a convenient place for Sunday worship, but as a House of Prayer, a home of the Spirit, a place set apart for the exclusive purpose of communion with God; and therefore an abiding witness to His reality, His attraction, His demand.
The third is:
the formation of the praying group. I do not mean by this a hot-housy association of pious ladies, whose extreme exhibition of fervour too often tends to put everyone else off. This should be avoided at all costs. But there is surely no parish where it is quite impossible to find a few people, preferably quite simple and ordinary people, who care for their religion, and, if asked to do a bit of real spiritual work for it will respond.

She was one of the spiritual giants of the earlier 20th century.

O Adonai

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel,
qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come to redeem us with an outstretched arm.


Jesus came in the fullness of time. He will come again in the fullness of time. Wherever Jesus, the Christ, is the time is brought to its fullness.

We often experience our time as empty. We hope that tomorrow, next week, next month or next year the real things will happen. But sometimes we experience the fullness of time. That is when it seems that time stands still, that past, present, and future become one; that everything is present where we are; and that God, we, and all that is have come together in total unity. This is the experience of God's time. "When the completion of the time came [that is: in the fullness of time], God sent his Son, born of a woman" (Galatians 4:4), and in the fullness of time God will "bring everything together under Christ, as head, everything in the heavens and everything on earth" (Ephesians 1:10). It is in the fullness of time that we meet God.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

In the NRSV, these two passages expand as:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!' (Galatians 4.4-6)

With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1.8b-10)

I love this phrase, the "fullness of time" - pleroma tou chronos. Jesus is the Word, and where the Word is, all things are brought to wholeness, healing, completeness, fullness. All things come into being through him (John 1.3) and through him will all things be made whole (Revelation 21, Romans 8.18ff).

Christ is the mercy of God come among us, limitless and everlasting. "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well." (Julian of Norwich)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

O Sapientia

The best blogging on the Advent "O" Antiphons is to be found on Bosco Peters' Liturgy blog. I can't hope to match his erudition, but I can't resist making some mention of these most beautiful prayers, that form the basis of the carol "O Come O Come Emmanuel".

So we begin:

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other,
mightily and sweetly ordering all things:
Come to teach us the way of prudence.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

St. Lucy's Day

St. Lucy, whose day it is, is patron saint of the blind, which strikes me as somehow appropriate, given a time of year when, as Tom Wright wrote, "All language about the future… is simply a set of signposts pointing into a fog." (Preface to Surprised by Hope)

Maggie Ross has written, at Voice in the Wilderness, another of those posts which you really should go and read in full. I can't do it justice here, but her opening paragraphs will give a feel of why it seem so important to me, this year of all years:

It has been a difficult Advent at so many levels for so many people, yet the human spirit is indomitable.

Here in the UK after weeks of depression a kind of blitz mentality seems to be emerging. Yes, we're poor; yes, there is nothing but uncertainty; yes, the weather's miserable—cold, abysmally dark, wet with a stinging wind—on this day when we celebrate the return of the light (St Lucy's day used to fall at the solstice until the calendar correction of 1582), but there is an irrepressible mirth in the air.

The crowds are out looking and rejoicing, if not buying, and in the covered market holly and tinsel adorn every nook and cranny. The butchers there are in full holiday fig, with every kind of game hanging in the cold air—red deer, pheasant, geese, turkey, duck—and, today, a wild boar. The weather forecasters are becoming increasingly literary and it won't be long until one of them uses "light squibs" in his or her forecast (see below).

Today I came into the library as usual on opening, and as I sat down at my desk under the coffered and brightly painted ceiling of Duke Humfrey's, a brass choir started playing carols out in the Broad. As I write, at this very moment, the skies have opened and the rain has changed from a light drizzle to a torrent, yet the brass choir plays on undeterred, surely a metaphor for our times.

She ends with John Donne's wonderful poem, "A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy's Day, Being the Shortest Day" – it opens:

'TIS the year's midnight, and it is the day's,
Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks ;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays ;
The world's whole sap is sunk ;
The general balm th' hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed's-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr'd ; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph.

She was right – it is the poem for this year, somehow… But Tom Wright went on to write, later in the same preface I quoted above, "And – supposing someone came forwards out of the fog to meet us?"

All we can do is wait, and pray, in the fallow time, the between time, when the earth rests on the pivot of the year; of all the years.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Not an easy patience…

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

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

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

St. Isaac of Nineveh (7th century)

I keep thinking that this has to do with this Advent, somehow. The coming of Christ is the coming of God's mercy, and our waiting is the waiting of which Paul speaks in Romans 8.18-25:

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. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

But it's not an easy patience, this waiting of ours. We wait, but we don't even have the words to pray. The Spirit prays in our place, yet even he prays "with sighs to deep for words." (vv 26-27) We know nothing, and in knowing nothing, we come close to knowing God, whose coming is not anything we could frame in words, or thoughts, come to that.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus. Please.


One of the classical themes of Advent is patience, the virtue ascribed to Mary and urged by the prophets upon Israel. But patience comes to me as easily as vegetarianism to a lion. From the looks of our lives, I seem to have abundant company. We are all busy, laboring diligently, noisily, impatiently to usher in a new and presumably improved life on earth. . . .

Among the derivations of the word "patience" is the Latin word paene, "almost." There is an "almost" quality to patience that bears attention, precisely because it challenges our drive to achieve perfection, fulfillment. Learning to live with the "almost." That doesn't come easily. . . .

Struggling to achieve what we believe to be true and noble, locked in combat against time and decay, we rush to accomplish all things and savor few. Yet in Advent we are called to sit quietly in the dark and peer into deepest night, abiding in the almost, looking for the light. But it does not come easily, and we do not usually go there willingly. It usually comes by force of sheer exhaustion, when energy is gone, no option remaining.

When I survey the greatest gifts of my life, I must admit they were not found in the busy rush of accomplishment. The greatest gifts, like the call to serve as a priest, the wonderful people with whom I have shared life and ministry, the profound love freely offered by others - these all came quietly, in the almost. Exhaustive activity, insistence on my own will and accomplishment, these have been barriers between me and the God who loves me, the people in whom God loves me. The gifts have come unbidden, in the darkness, sitting sometimes alone, sometimes with others, in the almost, searching the void for a sliver of light, a glimpse of the whole - closer to God, and one another, when we are sharing a vision than when we are fighting for one.

From Daysprings: Meditations for the Weekdays of Advent, Lent, and Easter by Sam Portaro (Cambridge, Mass.: Cowley Publications, 2001).

With thanks to Vicki K Black

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Riding it out…

"Where there is patience and humility,
there is neither anger nor disturbance."

(Francis of Assisi, The Admonitions)

Lord, being a Christian means that I am called to live a life that involves a degree of uncertainty. Like Mary, I am unsure what your call will require of me in the recent moment, tomorrow, or many years from now. Strengthen my trust in you so that I may be your faithful servant in the world. Lord of all longing, in our society of instant gratification, patience is not a cultivated virtue. Remind me that I do not need to immediately have all the things I long for and all the answers to my questions.

In the waiting, we often learn much about ourselves, come to a greater awareness of what is truly important in life, and gain a better appreciation for the things we must await. When someone or some circumstance causes you to wait today, slow down and view that person or circumstance as a blessing. Is it really that important that you immediately have what you want? What do you learn about yourself as you wait? What do you notice around you when you slow down to wait?

From Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Saint Francis of Assisi by John V. Kruse (Liguori, 2008).

With thanks to Vicki K Black


It seems to me this year that Advent is all about waiting…

The waiting our forebears underwent is no different from that of our own. We wait in pain and in anguish, we wait in ignorance and powerlessness, we wait in darkness and with hope. We do not see where our lives are going, what all the humdrum means. We wait that, one day, things will all make sense. Chances are good that we won't live long enough to see it. This is not for the impatient. This is not for the weak. This is not for the faith-less. This is Advent, darn it.

Barbara, Barefoot toward the Light.

I have to confess that this is how Advent seems to be for me, too, this year. It's partly the unusually cold weather (-5 Celsius in the back garden this morning) and partly the news from all over the world, but it's also what God is doing with me. I don't seem to be able to settle to anything, really to begin anything. I have all sorts of projects half-begun, but nothing I can settle into. I keep fiddling around with things, but in my heart of hearts I know it's no good. I just have to wait, with the waiting that Advent is. As Barbara say, this is not for the faint-hearted. But I feel faint-hearted, even as I know all I can do is face into the time-storm, and wait it out, riding to nothing more than the sea-anchor of my faith. Advent. Hmm.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Free at last!

Jesus legitimated what John was doing, saying it's OK to pour water over people and tell them their sins are forgiven. That's revolutionary. Jews were supposed to follow the Law of Holiness in Leviticus, and suddenly John is making it far too easy to get God to love us, to get God to forgive us. God becomes as available as Jordan River water. And, of course, the irony is that the water is in the desert where water isn't supposed to be.

You can find God everywhere, in other words – outside of institutions, official priesthood or formal observance. One wonders if the churches today even catch John's dangerous corrective.

Richard Rohr, from Jesus' Plan for a New World

Sometimes, as Rohr suggests, the churches just don't get it. Especially among churches that think of themselves as pillars of orthodoxy, it seems to be felt that in order to receive God's grace and mercy in Christ, certain technical hoops need to be jumped through. Whether it's requiring submission to church leadership, signing up for some kind of "recovery" programme, or some specific piece of ceremonial, before we can be "restored to fellowship", it's all bollocks, according to John. God's mercy and forgiveness, in Christ, are as freely available as the waters of a great river, flowing in the arid desert of hypocrisy and jobsworthery and lovelessness.

You think I'm uncharacteristically angry, that maybe I shouldn't use words like "bollocks"? Read Matthew 23! Jesus used some pretty immoderate language on just this subject…

Now, I'm not using this passage from Rohr to argue for withdrawing from all organised church life, slamming the door behind us, and shaking off the dust from our feet. This wasn't Francis' way when dealing with a church at the very least as compromised and corrupt and superstitious and rule-ridden as anything we see today. Christ's call to him was to "repair my house" – not to abandon it. His preaching, and even more, his life, and the lives of the sisters and brothers who followed him, called the church to set its own house in order – and it did, in what must count as one of the greatest revivals in its long history.

It may be necessary to step from one stream of the Church (big 'C') to another, in a way that wasn't open to Francis in his own time, but we need to be clear why we are stepping, and we need to make that clear to the both the church we are joining and the church we are leaving. There is no room for prevarication, uncomfortable though that may be. Or else we may be called to remain where we are, but always to be prepared to speak the truth in love, as it says in our own Third Order Principles, "cheerfully facing any scorn or persecution to which this may lead." ((9) – where it applies to any form of social injustice, but see (7))

I am extraordinarily blessed in the church where I'm serving, and none of what I've just said applies there! But I'm very clearly aware of the facts laid out in Dr Barb Orlowski's original research, to name but one source, and of my own past supporting experience.

The Good News of Advent is that Christ is coming with mercy and judgement, and he will set his people free. Free at last! Praise him, praise him, praise Jesus our Redeemer!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Sorrow, not blame…

Two people commented, on yesterday's post, that my words reminded them of Julian of Norwich. I thought I'd remind myself what she said about these wounds that are glorified as Christ's wounds remain in glory:

God brought into my mind that I should sin, and because of the joy I had in looking on him, I was reluctant to look on this Showing. But our Lord was patient with me, and gave me the grace to listen…

For in every soul that shall be saved there is a godly will that never agreed to sin, and never shall. Just as there is a beastly will in our lower nature that cannot will any good – so there is a godly will our higher nature…

And all our troubles come because our own love fails us…

Also God showed that sin shall not be a shame to man, but a glory. For just as every sin brings its own suffering, by truth, so every soul that sins earns a blessing by love. And just as many sins are punished with much suffering, because they are so bad, even so they shall be rewarded by many joys in heaven because of the suffering and sorrow they have caused here on earth.

For the soul that comes to heaven is so precious to God, and the place so holy, that God in his goodness never allows a soul that shall finally reach there to sin, unless the sin is rewarded – and made known for ever, and blessedly restored by overwhelming worship

And so our courteous Lord showed them as an example of how it is in part here on earth, and shall be fully in heaven. For there, the mark of sin is turned to honour

Our Lord holds us so tenderly when it seems to us that we are nearly forsaken and cast away because of our sin – and that we deserve to be.

And, because we are made humble by this, we are raised high in God's sight, by his grace – and also by repentance, and compassion, and true yearning for God. Then sinners are suddenly delivered from sin and from pain, and are taken up to heaven – and even made high saints.

Repentance makes us clean. Compassion makes us ready, and yearning for God makes us worthy.

Though the soul is healed, God still sees the wounds – and sees them not as scars but as honours…

For he looks on sin as sorrow and anguish to those who love him and, because he loves them, does not blame them for it…

Julian of Norwich, Showings (Long Text) Chapters 37-39, tr. Sheila Upjohn (emphases mine)

Oh how true I have found these words! God is merciful and compassionate beyond anything we can imagine. Don't believe me? Don't believe Julian? You only have to do as she did: look to the Cross.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Signs of glory…

The resurrection of Jesus is the basis of our faith in the resurrection of our bodies. Often we hear the suggestion that our bodies are the prisons of our souls and that the spiritual life is the way out of these prisons. But by our faith in the resurrection of the body we proclaim that the spiritual life and the life in the body cannot be separated. Our bodies, as Paul says, are temples of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 6:19) and, therefore, sacred. The resurrection of the body means that what we have lived in the body will not go to waste but will be lifted in our eternal life with God. As Christ bears the marks of his suffering in his risen body, our bodies in the resurrection will bear the marks of our suffering. Our wounds will become signs of glory in the resurrection.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

I've been off the radar for a week or so – sorry! The week leading up to Advent Sunday was appallingly busy here, and it's after such a week that I realise I'm not 100% well, despite pretending otherwise. The early part of this week I was pretty useless – too tired to sleep properly, which is a nasty vicious circle to get caught in…

I've been thinking a lot about Nouwen's words here, which tie in with an earlier post: Christ, in glory, still bears the wounds of his crucifixion; the Lamb stands like one slain (Revelation 5.6) even as he is worshipped. But our sufferings are only in part physical. As those who have survived capture, imprisonment, even rape or torture, confirm, the worst sufferings are not the physical ones. Somehow, in the life to come, we will bear the spiritual and emotional wounds we have suffered in this vale of tears, and we will bear them as "signs of glory". Even so, come, Lord Jesus!