Monday, June 29, 2009

More about crosses...

Jesus was at pains to insist that he neither wanted nor had followers, but friends. "I have called you friends," he explains to his disciples, "because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father" (John 15:15). Those who sought to learn from him would not copy his attitudes and behaviours, but would undertake the more difficult business of plumbing their own depths, exploring and embracing their own selves, and shouldering full responsibility for their very being. Or, as he famously expressed it, they would take up their own cross - a cross that was distinct from his.

This learning process, this discipleship, is dynamic and subject to constant variation, consistent with any relationship between and among living beings... The process of daily, constant learning about self and one's world is a demanding discipleship and the central activity of discernment. Understood this way, we see that any so-called discipleship that obscures or escapes such learning is not worthy of the name; it is just evasion, denial, busyness, and distraction, and ultimately, destructive dishonesty. True discipleship not only dirties the hands, it breaks the heart, opens the mind, and stretches the nerves, as all good learning does. Yet, paradoxically, it is this very dangerous conversation that constitutes the core of discipleship and the intimate heart of relationship with God.

Transforming Vocation, Sam Portaro, Church Publishing, 2008, with thanks to Speaking to the Soul

Taking up one's cross is just part of being one with Jesus, his friend rather than his servant. We can serve Christ without this identification with him in his suffering: we can stand outside the intimate and messy process of discipleship and say, "What precepts did Jesus teach, so that I can obey them?" and continue as sterile jobsworths in the bureaucracy of religion, binding loads for others to carry. Or we can open our hearts, as Jesus did, to the poor and the broken and rejected, to the unacceptable people, the lepers and the swindlers and the adulterers and the ritually unclean. Identifying ourselves, as Jesus and Francis did, with those Isaiah wrote of in his Chapter 61, will lead only to the Cross; and the Cross is the only way to life:

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion - to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendour.

Isaiah 61.1-3, as quoted by Jesus in Luke 4.14ff

On the taking up of crosses…

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

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

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey.

I think we need to hear this as Nouwen meant it. It is fatally easy for those whose cross it is not to argue that, on these grounds, victims of abuse and injustice should “just put up with it.” This is not what Jesus meant, and I don’t believe it is what Nouwen meant. Jesus was both vocal and practical in his support of the abused (Mark 5.21-43, John 8.1-11)—but taking up something as one’s cross is not the same as agreeing to do nothing about it. Ignoring, rejecting, refusing, hating: these are not ways to do something about injustice. The martyrs do none of these things, yet in their non-violence, in their Gospel response, they achieve far more for justice than any violent revolutionary ever did.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

More Abba Moses…

On one occasion Abba Moses of Patara was engaged in a war against fornication, and he could not endure being in ‎his cell, and he went and informed Abba Isidore of it; and the elder entreated him to return to his cell, but he would ‎not agree to this. And having said, “Abba, I cannot bear it,” the elder took him up to the roof of his cell, and said ‎unto him, “Look to the west,” and when he looked he saw multitudes of devils with troubled and terrified aspects, ‎and they showed themselves in the forms of phantoms which were in fighting attitudes. Abba Isidore said unto him, ‎‎“Look to the east,” and when he looked he saw innumerable holy angels standing there, and they were in a state of ‎great glory. Then Abba Isidore said unto him, “Behold, those who are in the west are those who are fighting with the ‎holy ones, and those whom you have seen in the east are they who are sent by God to the help of the saints, for those ‎who are with us are many.” And having seen this Abba Moses took courage and returned to his cell without fear.‎


Abba Poemen said: Abba Moses asked Abba Zechariah a question when he was about to die, saying, “Abba, is it ‎good that we should hold our peace?” And Zechariah said to him, “Yes, my son, hold your peace.” And at the time ‎of his death, while Abba Isodore was sitting with him, Abba Moses looked up to heaven and said, “Rejoice and be ‎glad, O my son Zechariah, for the gates of heaven have been opened.” ‎

[with thanks to The Coptic Orthodox Diocese of LA’s website]

Abba Moses the Ethiopian—stories from the Desert

A brother at Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to judge him, to which Abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. So the priest sent another messenger to Moses, urging him to come, since all the brothers were waiting for him. So Moses took his oldest, worn-out, leaky basket. filled it with sand. placed it on his back, and went to join the council of judgment. When the brothers saw him arriving, they went out to great him, asking him why he had arrived so burdened. Abba Moses said, “My many sins run out behind me, and I do not even see them, and yet today I have come to judge the sins of someone else.” The brothers relented, called off the council, and forgave their erring brother.


When Abba Moses was instructing one of his disciples, who was to become the great abba Poemen, he taught: “The monk must die to his neighbour and never judge him at all, in any way whatever. The monk must die to everything before leaving the body, in order not to harm anyone. If the monk does not think in his heart that he is a sinner, God will not hear him.” Young Poemen asked, “What does this mean, to think in his heart that he is a sinner?” Abba Moses answered him, “When a person is occupied with his own sins, he does not see the sins of his neighbour.”

[With thanks to the late solitary of Fr. Groppi’s Bridge, Milwaukie, and outstanding spiritual blogger, Karen Marie Knapp]

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Litany of Humility

Litany of Humility
By Rafeael Cardinal Merry del Val


O Jesus! Meek and humble of heart,
Hear me.

From the Desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved,
Deliver me Jesus.
From the desire of being extolled,
Deliver me Jesus.
From the desire of being honoured,
Deliver me Jesus.
From the desire of being praised,
Deliver me Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others,
Deliver me Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted,
Deliver me Jesus.
From the desire of being approved,
Deliver me Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated,
Deliver me Jesus.
From the fear of being despised,
Deliver me Jesus.
From the fear of suffering rebukes,
Deliver me Jesus.
From the fear of being calumniated,
Deliver me Jesus.
From the fear of being forgotten,
Deliver me Jesus.
From the fear of being ridiculed,
Deliver me Jesus.
From the fear of being wronged,
Deliver me Jesus.
From the fear of being suspected,
Deliver me Jesus.

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than I,
provided that I may become
as holy as I should,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

With thanks to Acta Sanctorum

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Feast of John the Baptist

Today is the feast of John the Baptist, the prophet shouting in the desert. We have always considered him sort of our patron here at the Center for Action and Contemplation. It is now exactly six months until Christmas Eve, and the Christian version of the summer solstice. John the Baptist’s “birthday” is seen as the counterpart to Jesus’ birthday who is born when it appears to be winter, but light is already returning.

Now at the height of summer, we are reminded that the darkness is already returning too. That is often the unwelcome role of the prophet, to reveal the shadow side of things when everyone is cheering and celebrating supposed victories. John’s memorable statement that “He must grow greater and I must grow smaller” was seen mirrored in the very cycles of the cosmos. Christianity does not always realize how nature based its messages invariably are, and how we can know them just by “looking.”

Richard Rohr

Coincidences happen…

The word must become flesh, but the flesh also must become word… It is not enough for us, as human beings, just to live. We also must give words to what we are living. If we do not speak what we are living, our lives lose their vitality and creativity. When we see a beautiful view, we search for words to express what we are seeing. When we meet a caring person, we want to speak about that meeting. When we are sorrowful or in great pain, we need to talk about it. When we are surprised by joy, we want to announce it.

Through the word, we appropriate and internalize what we are living. The word makes our experience truly human.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey
Time and again over the course of my life I have found myself stumbling across this connection between what is said, and thought, and what is. Words have real power, power beyond mere emotion. Words change things, not just the way we look at things.

When prayers are answered, prophecies fulfilled, there will always be sceptics standing on the touchline waiting for the chance to claim that it was all coincidence. But coincidence is a slippery term, that can as easily turn and bite the hand of the one who uses it dismissively. For instance, the Wikipedia definition of coincidence opens, “Coincidence is the noteworthy alignment of two or more events or circumstances without obvious causal connection… A coincidence does not prove a relationship, but related events may be expected to have a higher index of coincidence.”

William Temple once said, “When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I don’t, they don’t.”

We are deep into the territory of the Eucharist here. In many ways the Eucharistic Prayer seems to me to be the heart and source of all prayer in the Kingdom. And here the words do things. When we repeat, as he commanded us, Jesus’ words, “Take, eat, this is my body…” we are saying something that is true beyond symbol and description. Jesus said, “…this is my body,” and, “this cup… is the new covenant in my blood.” His words changed things. He meant them to. (Matthew 26.26; Luke 22.14-20) There is a co-incidence, a being-together-in-the-one-place, of bread, and word, and flesh, that we ignore at our peril. As Paul said: “…all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgement against themselves.” (1 Corinthians 11.29)

When I pray in Jesus’ name, whatever I pray is prayed within the co-incidence of the Kingdom, the co-incidence of our eternal life in Christ and our temporal life in the world (John 17.14.16) and it has literally real significance. As Jesus said, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14.13) No wonder things happen when we pray. (It’s worth noting that Jesus says he will do what we ask. This is not a blank cheque for worldly goods or selfish ambitions. Jesus cannot act against his own character. As he says a couple of verses earlier, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.” (John 14.10-11))

Coincidences? I should say so…

Monday, June 22, 2009


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

Words are important. Without them our actions lose meaning. And without meaning we cannot live. Words can offer perspective, insight, understanding, and vision. Words can bring consolation, comfort, encouragement and hope. Words can take away fear, isolation, shame, and guilt. Words can reconcile, unite, forgive, and heal. Words can bring peace and joy, inner freedom and deep gratitude. Words, in short, can carry love on their wings. A word of love can be the greatest act of love. That is because when our words become flesh in our own lives and the lives of others, we can change the world.

Jesus is the word made flesh. In him speaking and acting were one.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

Take, eat…

Many have said that God only loves Christ, and loves Christ perfectly and eternally and forever, because “you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God” (1 Corinthians 3:23). That is what assures you objectively of God’s love absolutely and forever. You are the Body of Christ not by reason of any moral behaviour on your part, but because you are a creature of the one Creator. Your DNA is divine. In Eucharist we just keep eating the Mystery until we get it—until we get who we are—and the transformation happens. It cannot happen merely on a head level, so Jesus does not say “think about it” or “define it” or even “look at it” but he says “Eat it!” Truths like this you can only know on a cellular and holistic level.

It’s marvellous to me that when I hand people the consecrated bread at Mass, I don’t say Spirit of Christ, I say Body of Christ. We offer the Presence to their body, and they take it inside of their body, which is the way presence happens. You cannot live in the present or be present with your mind. It happens on a body level when you are fully attentive and offering no resistance to the moment.

Richard Rohr, from a talk, The Gospel of Mark

And the first of the Spirit’s fruits is…

How does the Spirit of God manifest itself through us? Often we think that to witness means to speak up in defence of God. This idea can make us very self-conscious. We wonder where and how we can make God the topic of our conversations and how to convince our families, friends, neighbours, and colleagues of God’s presence in their lives. But this explicit missionary endeavour often comes from an insecure heart and, therefore, easily creates divisions.

The way God’s Spirit manifests itself most convincingly is through its fruits: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22). These fruits speak for themselves. It is therefore always better to raise the question “How can I grow in the Spirit?” than the question “How can I make others believe in the Spirit?”

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

If only we could hear this properly, then not only would much anxiety and heavy-footedness be bypassed, but so many arguments between the advocates of on the one hand faith, and on the other, works, would simply never happen! For there is no argument. Everything proceeds from love. If we don’t have love, do everything in love, then we are just rattling dustbin lids, to paraphrase 1 Corinthians 13.1!

We awaken in Christ’s body…

We awaken in Christ’s body,
As Christ awakens our bodies.
There I look down and my poor hand is Christ,
He enters my foot and is infinitely me.
I move my hand and wonderfully
My hand becomes Christ,
Becomes all of Him.
I move my foot and at once
He appears in a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous to you?
—Then open your heart to him.
And let yourself receive the one
Who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,
We wake up inside Christ’s body
Where all our body all over,
Every most hidden part of it,
Is realized in joy as Him,
And He makes us utterly real.
And everything that is hurt, everything
That seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably damaged
Is in Him transformed.
And in Him, recognized as whole, as lovely.
And radiant in His light,
We awaken as the beloved
In every last part of our body.

Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022)

Monday, June 15, 2009


The narrow limits within which even the physical world is accessible to us might warn us of the folly of drawing negative conclusions about the world that is not seen. We cannot penetrate far into the reality of any life other than our own. The plants and the animals keep their own strange secret; and it is already a sign of maturity when we recognize that they have a secret to keep, that their sudden disclosures of beauty, their power of awakening tenderness and delight, warn us that here too we are in the presence of children of the One God. With what a shock of surprise, either enchantment or horror, we meet the impact of any truly new experience; its abrupt reminder that we do really live among worlds unrealized. Our limited spectrum of colour, with its hints of a more delicate loveliness beyond our span, our narrow scale of sound: these, we know, are mere chunks cut out of a world of infinite colour and sound—the world that is drawing near, charged with the unbearable splendour and music of the Absolute God. And beyond this, as our spiritual sensibility develops, sparkles and brief intoxications of pure beauty, and messages from the heart of an Unfathomable Life come now and then to delight us: hints of an aspect of His Being which the careful piety that dare not look over the hedge of the paddock will never find.

Evelyn Underhill, The School of Charity: Meditations on the Christian Creed, Longmans, Green and Co Ltd., 1934, with thanks to Vicki K Black

Why do we people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? The tourists are having coffee and doughnuts on Deck C. Presumably someone is minding the ship, correcting the course, avoiding icebergs and shoals, fuelling the engines, watching the radar screen, noting weather reports radioed in from shore. No one would dream of asking the tourists to do these tings. Alas, among the tourists on Deck C, drinking coffee and eating doughnuts, we find the captain, and all the ship’s officers, and all the ship’s crew… The wind seems to be picking up.

On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return…

Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk, HarperPerennial, r.e. 1988, with thanks to Inward/Outward

Scared yet? Perhaps we should be…

Sunday, June 14, 2009

On this morning’s mustard seed (Mark 4.26-34)…

Yes, it is true: a mustard seed is indeed an image of the kingdom of God. Christ is the kingdom of heaven. Sown like a mustard seed in the garden of the virgin’s womb, he grew up into the tree of the cross whose branches stretch across the world. Crushed in the mortar of the passion, its fruit has produced seasoning enough for the flavouring and preservation of every living creature with which it comes in contact. As long as a mustard seed remains intact, its properties lie dormant; but when it is crushed they are exceedingly evident. So it was with Christ; he chose to have his body crushed, because he would not have his power concealed…

Christ became all things in order to restore all of us in himself. The man Christ received the mustard seed which represents the kingdom of God; as a man he received it, though as God he had always possessed it. He sowed it in his garden, that is in his bride, the Church… In the Church it became a great tree putting forth innumerable branches laden with gifts. And now you too must take the wings of the psalmist’s dove, gleaming gold in the rays of divine sunlight, and fly to rest for ever among those sturdy, fruitful branches. No snares are set to trap you there; fly off, then, with confidence and dwell securely in its shelter.

From a sermon of Peter Chrysologus, quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament II, Mark, edited by Thomas C. Oden and Christopher A. Hall (Downer’s Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1998), with thanks to Vicki K Black.

Nothing but a failure…

In the eyes of our conformist society, the hermit is nothing but a failure. He has to be a failure – we have absolutely no use for him, no place for him. He is outside all our projects, plans, assemblies, movements. We can countenance him as long as he remains only a fiction, or a dream. As soon as he becomes real, we are revolted by his insignificance, his poverty, his shabbiness, his total lack of status. Even those who consider themselves contemplatives, often cherish a secret contempt for the solitary. For in the contemplative life of the hermit there is none of that noble security, that intelligent depth, that artistic finesse which the more academic contemplative seeks in his sedate respectability.

from the essay, “Philosophy of Solitude”, Disputed Questions, Harvest Books, 1985, p. 199, with thanks to Louie, Louie

Why is it that I read something like this with a sense of excitement and anticipation, more than anything else? So much that has been hidden from me for years now seems to be becoming clear in these strange days of summer…

Monday, June 08, 2009

Living within the liturgy…

Learn how to meditate on paper. Drawing and writing are forms of meditation. Learn how to contemplate works of art. Learn how to pray in the streets or in the country. Know how to meditate not only when you have a book in your hand but when you are waiting for a bus or riding in a train. Above, all, enter into the Church's liturgy and make the liturgical cycle part of your life—let its rhythm work its way into your body and soul.

Thomas Merton. New Seeds of Contemplation, New Directions Press, 1961, p.216.

Back at Holy Rood, I am coming once again to appreciate that sense of the liturgical year as a place to live, and in which to work out one’s own path, within that open space of the Church’s life and worship over all these years.

I’m returning to Hilfield Friary for a few days tomorrow. I’ll try and catch up when I return…

Power in weakness…

In and through Jesus we come to know God as a powerless God, who becomes dependent on us. But it is precisely in this powerlessness that God’s power reveals itself. This is not the power that controls, dictates, and commands. It is the power that heals, reconciles, and unites. It is the power of the Spirit. When Jesus appeared people wanted to be close to him and touch him because “power came out of him” (Luke 6:19).

It is this power of the divine Spirit that Jesus wants to give us. The Spirit indeed empowers us and allows us to be healing presences. When we are filled with that Spirit, we cannot be other than healers…

The Spirit that Jesus gives us empowers us to speak. Often when we are expected to speak in front of people who intimidate us, we are nervous and self-conscious. But if we live in the Spirit, we don’t have to worry about what to say. We will find ourselves ready to speak when the need is there. “When they take you before… authorities, do not worry about how to defend yourselves or what to say, because when the time comes, the Holy Spirit will teach you what you should say” (Luke 12:11-12).

We waste much of our time in anxious preparation. Let’s claim the truth that the Spirit that Jesus gave us will speak in us and speak convincingly.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

I’m not wholly comfortable with Nouwen’s use of the word “claim” in that final paragraph, but that’s probably just because it reminds me of some of the Prosperity Gospellers’ “claims”! What Nouwen means, though, is that we should trust God in our own weakness, to rest in the fact that it’s his strength, his wisdom, through the Spirit he has given us, that will bring us through whatever difficulties we may face. Bring us through to his glory, to his truth, that is: there is no guarantee in Scripture of our present physical wellbeing, unless we require that to fulfil God’s will. But as he promised to Paul (2 Corinthians 12.9), “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Wordle alert…

Everyone seems to be coming out in Wordles, so I thought I’d have to join in:

Wordle: The Mercy Blog

(Click on the Wordle to see it full size…)

Something Trinitarian going on there, or am I just too full of today’s readings?

A Prayer for Trinity Sunday

God for us, we call You Father,
God along side us, we call You Jesus,
God within us, we call You Holy Spirit.

You are the Eternal Mystery
that enables, enfolds, and enlivens all things,
even us,
and even me.

Every name falls short of your
Goodness and Greatness.

We can only see who You are in what is.
We ask for such perfect seeing.

As it was in the beginning, is now,
and ever shall be.


Richard Rohr, “Trinity Prayer”

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Move it!

I wrote, last December, a post entitled Free at Last, discussing what has come to be called, not always helpfully I suspect, “spiritual abuse”. I linked to Dr Barb Orlowski’s ground-breaking original research at her Church Exiters website. I cannot recommend this too highly—if you have any experience of this kind of thing, directly or indirectly, or if you are in a position of pastoral or other responsibility where you could inadvertently find yourself involved, you simply must read Barb’s dissertation.

I just received an email from Barb, explaining that her book proposal based on this work has been accepted for publication. This will mean, of course, that while she will be free to publish excerpts, and link to places where you can order the book, the complete text will soon have to be taken down.

So, get on over there pronto, and read this extraordinary work complete, in pdf, before it’s too late!

Freedom and rejection…

We continue to put ourselves down as less than Christ. Thus, we avoid the full honour as well as the full pain of the Christian life. But the Spirit that guided Jesus guides us. Paul says: “The Spirit himself joins with our spirit to bear witness that we are children of God. And if we are children, then we are heirs, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16-17).

When we start living according to this truth, our lives will be radically transformed. We will not only come to know the full freedom of the children of God but also the full rejection of the world. It is understandable that we hesitate to claim the honour so as to avoid the pain. But, provided we are willing to share in Christ’s suffering, we also will share in his glory (see Romans 8:17).

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey


“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2.19b-20 NRSV)

I don’t think our Lord ever said it would be easy, exactly, but what he did say was, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” (John 17.15-18 NRSV)

Friday, June 05, 2009

Receive the Spirit…

In whatever way we receive the Spirit, it is just as real and just as good as any other. For some reason egocentric people tend to idealize their way as the only way. God meets us where we are and makes his presence known to us in the way we are most ready to experience it. The Spirit blows where she wills and she fills our hearts in whatever measure we are open to the Spirit. The glory is all to God and not to our technique, method, formula, or church protocol.

When it does happen, we always know that we did nothing to deserve it! It is all God’s graciousness. It is being grabbed by God and lifted to a new place in spite of our best attempts to deny or avoid it.

Richard Rohr, Great Themes of Scripture, pp. 90, 91

The world is cold…

Being the living Christ today means being filled with the same Spirit that filled Jesus. Jesus and his Father are breathing the same breath, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the intimate communion that makes Jesus and his Father one. Jesus says: “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:10) and “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30). It is this unity that Jesus wants to give us. That is the gift of his Holy Spirit.

Living a spiritual life, therefore, means living in the same communion with the Father as Jesus did, and thus making God present in the world.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

I’ve been thinking a lot about this being present in the world, being an outpost, a lighthouse, of Christ in this present darkness.

In Poustinia, Ch. V, Catherine Doherty says:

The presence of  a person who is in love with God is enough… nothing else is needed…

When you are hanging on a cross you can’t do anything, because you are crucified. That is the essence of a poustinik’s contribution… The poustinik’s loneliness is of salvific and cosmic proportions… By hanging on the cross of his loneliness, his healing rays, like the rays of the sun, will penetrate the earth…

The world is cold. Someone must be on fire so that people can come and put their cold hands and feet against that fire.

In Ch. IX, she goes on to say:

The poustinik’s whole reason for going into loneliness—into solitude—his whole reason for exposing himself to temptation, is always for others. It is always in identification with… Christ, with his whole life, with his crucifixion. It is then the way to our resurrection and that of others.

[I am awaiting a copy of my own – the notes above were made from an old copy of Poustinia in the library at Hilfield—my apologies for any errors in my hasty transcription!]

I am shocked at the depth with which this book resonated with me. At last, I seem to have found someone who speaks the hidden language of my own heart!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Praying in Christ…

I’ve just read a wonderful post from Brother Charles the Minor Friar. Really, you should go and read the whole thing—but in my usual way I’ll give you his conclusion, which I found seriously encouraging:

In the end it is not us who pray at all, but the Spirit who prays within us. Thus prayer is the real fruit of our being baptized into the life of the Blessed Trinity. Just as the Spirit conceived the Word of God that He might borrow our humanity from Our Lady, so the Spirit delights to conceive the prayer of Christ in the lives of those who consent to be Christians.

So when we come to praying the psalms, for instance, the primary praying voice is not ours, but Christ’s. He is the righteous one who can pray “my hands are clean” and “I have kept the way of the Lord.” [Psalm 18] Christ can pray this prayer even thought we can't. But since Christian prayer is the prayer of Christ, the righteousness that we hold up to God in sacrifice through our prayer is not our own but Christ’s. It is by his righteousness and obedience that we are saved, after all, not by our own. When we pray these lines it is His voice praying, and his perfect and eternal sacrifice in which the Father delights.

On the level of day to day spirituality, then, Christian prayer is not matter of effort but of consent. The prayer is always there, as the Holy Spirit has stretched the perfect praise of the Blessed Trinity to include our humanity in the Incarnation. We just have to permit the Spirit to pray within us, through Christ our Lord, that his prayer might take shape in our humanity as well.

The way up is down…

The ladder to the Kingdom is hidden within you, and within your soul. Dive down into yourself, away from sin, and there you will find the steps by which you can ascend.

St. Isaac of Syria

For most of us the way up is by climbing the the ladder of success. This almost always takes us into comparison, competition, judgment, and expectation with our neighbour as well as our self. The interior life, however, asks us to first descend, to dive down into our self – not the self of the ego but the Self that was created in the image and likeness of God. This diving down is nothing less than letting go of all the things that we think give us identity and success. Ultimately, it asks us to trust God’s work more than our own work.

The spiritual journey is one of paradox.  So the way down becomes the way up. What would it be like to approach each moment and each relationship without comparison, competition, judgment, or expectation?

[reproduced, with thanks, from Interrupting the Silence]

Crucified, and yet alive...

Being a believer means being clothed in Christ. Paul says: “Every one of you that has been baptised has been clothed in Christ” (Galatians 3:26) and “Let your armour be the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14). This being “clothed in Christ” is much more than wearing a cloak that covers our misery. It refers to a total transformation that allows us to say with Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ and yet I am alive; yet it is no longer I, but Christ living in me” (Galatians 2:20).

Thus, we are the living Christ in the world. Jesus, who is God-made-flesh, continues to reveal himself in our own flesh. Indeed, true salvation is becoming Christ.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
Colossians 3.1-4

A new home…

To span the infinite gap between the Divine and the human, God’s agenda is to plant a little bit of God, the Holy Spirit, right inside of us! (Jeremiah 31:31-34; John 14:16ff.) The Spirit then operates like a homing device or a divine pace maker, driving us toward life.

This is the very meaning of the “new” covenant, and the replacing or our “heart of stone with a heart of flesh” that Ezekiel promised (36:25-27). Isn’t that wonderful? God gives us the answer, and we are it!

Richard Rohr, from Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, p. 97

My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.

Jesus, from John 10.27-29

Nothing will ever be the same again—the Christian’s life is different, irrevocably so. No wonder we are sometimes persecuted—we just don’t fit in any more, and the ruler of this world (John 14.30) has no power over us (John 17.14) since we belong to the world no longer.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Poor and ordinary…

We must always try to return to the level of our being where we simply “are”, where we’re naked, and where we experience how “good” we are in God, because of God, and in spite of our own limitations.

When we “know God in ourselves and ourselves in God”, as Teresa of Avila advised, we have the freedom to be poor and ordinary. We don’t have to prove anything, we don’t have to defend anything, and we return from this place to the world with greater and enduring strength. And with this strength we’re flung back into the world unafraid.

Richard Rohr, from Simplicity, pp. 96, 97

This is how I long to live, really, now. “The freedom to be poor and ordinary”—it is the truth of our poverty and ordinariness that sets us free. It’s what Jesus spoke of in the Beatitudes (Matthew 4.23-5.8) as the source of our blessing in him. Only when we admit our emptiness and our woundedness can we be filled, healed, even lifted up in his arms to the face of Christ…

God has grown used to our small and cowardly ways of waiting behind closed doors (John 20:19). God knows that we settle for easy certitudes and unsought answers instead of real inner experience. Yet God is determined to break through and lead us deeper.

The Spirit eventually overcomes the obstacles that we present and surrounds us with enough peace so that we can face the “wounds in his hands and his side” (John 20:27)—and then our own inner wounds too. They are finally the same journey. St. Augustine said “In my deepest wound I saw your glory—and it dazzled me!”

Rohr again, adapted from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations, p. 192- 193, day 205

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Accused and condemned…

Persons are known not by the intellect alone, nor by principles alone, but only by love. It is when we love the other, the enemy, that we obtain from God the key to an understanding of who he is and who we are. It is only this realization that can open to us the real nature of our duty, and of right action.

To shut out the person and to refuse to consider him as a person, as another self, we resort to the impersonal "law" and "nature." That is to say we block off the reality of the other, we cut the intercommunication of our nature and his nature, and we consider only our own nature with its rights, its claims, its demands. In effect, however, we are considering our nature in the concrete and his nature in the abstract. And we justify the evil we do to our brother because he is no longer a brother, he is merely an adversary, an accused, an evil being.

To restore communication, to see our oneness of nature with him, and to respect his personal rights, integrity, his worthiness of love, we have to see ourselves as accused along with him, condemned to death along with him, sinking into the abyss with him, and needing, with him, the ineffable gift of grace and mercy to be saved.

Thomas Merton, Seeds of Destruction, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pp. 254-255

It is this identification, this seeing of “our oneness of nature” with all humanity, all creation, that makes a prayer like the Jesus Prayer possible as intercession. When we pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner…” we are not asking for mercy merely for ourselves, or confessing merely our own narrow little sins. We pray as creatures, one with all creation—broken, fallen, accused, condemned along with it.

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.

Romans 8.18-23


I know a place, a wonderful place
Where accused and condemned
Find mercy and grace
Where the wrongs we have done
And the wrongs done to us
Were nailed there with Him
There on the cross

    At the cross (at the cross)
    He died for our sin
    At the cross (at the cross)
    He gave us life again

I know a place, a wonderful place
Where accused and condemned
Find mercy and grace
Where the wrongs we have done
And the wrongs done to us
Were nailed there with You
There on the cross

    At the cross (at the cross)
    You died for our sin
    At the cross (at the cross)
    You gave us life again.


(Randy & Terry Butler, © 1997 Mercy/Vineyard Publishing )

The Recovery of Love…

We can create the climate and nurture the trust in which a deep giving of ourselves can happen. Much more than the confession of our light or our darkness is involved. What is involved is the recovery of love, itself, the communion that is the deepest need of every life, the unlocking of that infinite capacity that each one has to be a friend and to have a friend. If the pilgrim journey is a journey toward freedom, then the liberating work is the freeing of love in me and the freeing of love in you.

Elizabeth O’Connor, Servant Leaders, Servant Structures, with thanks to Inward/Outward