Wednesday, July 29, 2009


It occurs to me that this is essentially a waiting time for me. What I need is patience, and trust, and I have never found those things easy.

Persevering in Christ’s teachings, by patience we participate in his sufferings, but we will also partake in his kingdom. Silence is a central foundation for such a life.

(No Moment Too Small: Rhythms of Silence, Prayer, and Holy Reading, Norvene Vest, Cowley Publications, 1994)

In returning and rest you shall be saved;
   in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.

(Isaiah 30.15)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Called to suffer?

Discipleship means allegiance to the suffering Christ, and it is therefore not at all surprising that Christians should be called upon to suffer. In fact it is a joy and a token of his grace. The acts of the early Christian martyrs are full of evidence which shows how Christ transfigures for his own the hour of their mortal agony by granting them the unspeakable assurance of his presence. In the hour of the cruellest torture they bear for his sake, they are made partakers in the perfect joy and bliss of fellowship with him. To bear the cross proves to be the only way of triumphing over suffering. This is true for all who follow Christ, because it was true for him.

From The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, trans. R.H. Fuller (London: SCM Press, 1959) – with thanks to Vicki K Black

Do you think someone might be trying to tell me something?

The everlasting arms…

When someone hurts us, offends us, ignores us, or rejects us, a deep inner protest emerges. It can be rage or depression, desire to take revenge or an impulse to harm ourselves. We can feel a deep urge to wound those who have wounded us or to withdraw in a suicidal mood of self-rejection. Although these extreme reactions might seem exceptional, they are never far away from our hearts. During the long nights we often find ourselves brooding about words and actions we might have used in response to what others have said or done to us.

It is precisely here that we have to dig deep into our spiritual resources and find the centre within us, the centre that lies beyond our need to hurt others or ourselves, where we are free to forgive and love.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

I needed to read this myself. Sometimes at the moment I find it difficult to hold onto that centre; I know it is there, I know that beneath me are the everlasting arms (Deuteronomy 33.27 NIV), I know that it is not myself (thank God!) on which I rely—but I do need reminding. And I need your prayers, gentle reader!

Friday, July 24, 2009


Stillness is a spiritual discipline and like all disciplines its purpose is to make a space in our lives for the Lord to act. Stillness is not an attitude but rather an intentional determination to make the Lord our only joy and trust that He will give us the desires of our hearts. (Psalm 37:4) Therefore, stillness is not something that happens to us it is something we do. Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10) We need to be like the Psalmist who had to keep telling (commanding, reminding) his soul to bless the Lord. We put ourselves into stillness so that prayer can grow in our hearts.

The stilling of our minds, bodies, and souls is necessary for us to hear God and to know Him and ourselves.

St. John Climacus, the author of The Ladder of Divine Ascent said, “Stillness of the body is the accurate knowledge and management of one’s feelings and perception. Stillness of soul is the accurate knowledge of one’s thoughts and is an unassailable mine. Determined and brave thinking is a friend of stillness.”

from Fr. James Coles’ ScholĂ©

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

For the Feast of Mary Magdalene

The warrior archetype is not going away. Our job is to educate and redefine the warrior in the way that Moses, David, Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Dorothy Day lived out their passion. Warrior energy is not in its essence wrong. It takes warrior energy to see through and stand against mass illusions of our time, and be willing to pay the price of disobedience. It takes warrior energy to see through the soft rhetoric of “support our troops” which cleverly diverts us from the objective evil of war. It takes warrior energy to march to a different drum, disbelieve the patriotic trivia, and re-believe in the tradition of non-violence, civil resistance, and martyrdom.

Young men and women who take oaths of secular governments are not martyrs in any classic sense; rather they are soldiers offering to kill for Caesar. We Christians are taught a very different way: the way of the cross.

Richard Rohr, ‘For the Victory of Love’, Praying, No. 43, July-August 1991, pp. 11-12, with thanks to John Mark Ministries

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Prayer and action…

Now prayer—the life of prayer—maintains, stimulates, quickens and perfects those feelings of faith, humility, trust, and love which together constitute the best predisposition of the soul to receive an abundance of divine grace. A soul to whom prayer is a familiar thing profits more from the sacraments and other means of salvation than does another in whom prayer, intermittent prayer, is disconnected and without vigour. A soul that is not faithfully devoted to praying can recite the Divine Office, assist at Holy Mass, receive the sacraments, hear the word of God, but its progress will often be mediocre. Why is that? Because the principle author of our perfection and of our holiness is God himself, and prayer keeps the soul in frequent contact with God; it establishes, and having established keeps going, a fire-hearth in the soul, as it were—one where, even if it is not in action all the time, love’s fire is all the time smouldering, at least. And as soon as that soul is put into direct communication with the Divine life (for instance in the sacraments) this is like a strong breath of air that sets the soul ablaze, stirs it up, fills it with a marvellous superabundance. A soul’s supernatural life is measured by its union with God through Christ in faith and love. This love has to produce acts: but those acts, if they are to be produced in a regular and intense way, require a life of prayer: It can be established that, so far as its ordinary paths are concerned, progression forward in our love of God depends in practice on our life of prayer.

Blessed Columba Marmion, with thanks to Little Portion Hermitage

Monday, July 20, 2009

Manifest in the ordinary…

I would love to make you love Scripture, and go there for yourself, to find both your own inner experience named, and some outer validation of the same.

Only when the two come together, inner and outer authority, do we have true spiritual wisdom. We have for too long insisted on outer authority alone, without any teaching of prayer, inner journey and maturing consciousness. The results for the world and for religion have been disastrous.

I am increasingly convinced that the word prayer, which has become a functional and pious thing for believers to do, is, in fact a descriptor for inner experience. That is why all spiritual teachers mandate prayer so much. They are saying, “Go inside and know for yourself!”

I offer these reflections to again unite what should never have been separated: Sacred Scripture and Christian spirituality…

This marvellous anthology of books and letters called the Bible is all for the sake of astonishment! It’s for divine transformation, theosis, not intellectual or “small self” cosiness.

The genius of the biblical revelation is that we will come to God through what I’m going to call the “actual,” the here and now, or quite simply what is…

God is always given, incarnate in every moment and present to those who know how to be present themselves.

Let’s state it clearly: One great idea of the biblical revelation is that God is manifest in the ordinary, in the actual, in the daily, in the now, in the concrete incarnations of life. That’s opposed to God holding out for the pure, the spiritual, the right idea or the ideal anything. This is why Jesus stands religion on its head!

That is why I say it is our experiences that transform us if we are willing to experience our experiences all the way through.

“God comes disguised as our Life” (a wonderful line I learned from my dear friend and colleague, Paula D’Arcy).

Richard Rohr, from Things Hidden pp. 5, 7, 15-17

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Looking underneath every phrase…

For me, to preach is first of all to immerse myself in the word of God, to look inside every sentence and underneath every phrase for the layers of meaning that have accumulated there over the centuries. It is to examine my own life and the life of the congregation with the same care, hunting the connections between the word on the page and the word at work in the world. It is to find my own words for bringing those connections to life, so that others can experience them for themselves. When that happens—when the act of preaching becomes a source of revelation for me as well as for those who listen to me—then the good news every sermon proclaims is that the God who acted is the God who acts, and that the Holy Spirit is alive and well in the world.

Understood in this way, preaching becomes something the whole community participates in, not only through their response to a particular sermon but also through identifying with the preacher. As they listen week after week, they are invited to see the world the way the preacher does—as the realm of God’s activity—and to make connections between their Christian faith and their lives the same way they hear them made from the pulpit. Preaching is not something an ordained minister does for fifteen minutes on Sundays, but what the whole congregation does all week long; it is a way of approaching the world, and of gleaning God’s presence there.

From The Preaching Life by Barbara Brown Taylor (Cambridge, Mass.: Cowley Publications, 1993), p. 32. [with thanks to Vicki K Black]

The other side of community...

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

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

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

As we pray, especially as we pray prayers like the Jesus Prayer, we pray in solidarity, in oneness as creatures, with all who suffer. Like the bread of the Eucharist, like Christ himself, our hearts are broken open: not only for the humans who suffer, but for the animals, for creation itself. (Romans 8.19ff) This is true community, the community of the suffering Christ.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A transformed community...

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

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

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey
I have been groping around these last couple of days trying to find words for what Nouwen has nailed here. This is what I was trying to say!

Friday, July 17, 2009

In community (slight return)

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

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

I’ve been thinking a lot about this whole question of the Eucharistic community that is the church, the Body of Christ. Sue, of the blogger of Discombobula, left a long and interesting comment on my post In Community, where she speaks of “the giant mass of people who have departed out of Sunday morning meetings”, and of the online community that has formed among so many of them. She mentions the state of being for a time “out in the backside of the desert”—and how she hopes that “those times serve their purpose also in enabling us to better live in community once we return.”

I’m sure Sue is right, those times are, at least potentially, means to grow and change and heal and draw closer to God, so that we are better able to rejoin the Body when we do eventually return. But still I do fear for people living, through choice, necessity or persecution, outside of a Eucharistic community. I don’t think I could do it myself, not for long, anyway. Without that “real, life-giving presence” I would shrivel up like a lopped branch left out in the sun. The world-wide web doesn’t do this “real, life-giving presence” thing, any more than the radio did, back in the days when lonely, housebound people would turn to the BBC Prayer for the Day and Sunday Worship for their church.

I don’t know. I wonder why this bothers me so much… all I do know is that there are wise, wonderful Christians out there in the inter-tubes who don’t seem to be a part of this thing I find so vital for my life and breath, and I do worry about them, pray for them, fear for them, too. With the turmoil the church seems to be intent on digging itself into in the early years of the 21st century, the situation is not, by itself, going to get any better. I feel we need, all of us, without and within the churches, to be thinking and talking about all this far more than we do.

Oh, I know plenty does get written, but it’s all too often written from one side or another of battle-lines (“You must go to church or you’ll fall away and be damned!” vs. “All churches are crap—abusive, institutionalised gangs of hypocrites!”) which will never do any of us any good. We need to talk gently, in love; we need to pray for each other, weep with each other… and see what God is truly doing, in the only place he really does things, in our hearts.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

In community…

To open ourselves to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit is to enter a new relationship with God.

It is a relationship not just with the Father but also with Jesus and with His Spirit. It is a relationship not just between us and God, but between us and everyone else who surrenders to the Father, acknowledges Jesus as Lord, and receives the power of the Holy Spirit.

It is the relationship which we find in community. It is the igniting of the explosion which goes on to this day.

Richard Rohr, from Great Themes of Scripture: New Testament, p. 91

Community. Even if God calls us to a life of prayer in solitude, community—the condition of being part of the Body of Christ, caught up in the holy and terrible life of the Trinity—is essentially who we are as Christians. The Desert Fathers and Mothers lived in loose communities or sketes; the medieval anchoress or anchorite, like Julian of Norwich, lived in a cell or “anchorhold” built against the wall of their local church, with a window into the church and another onto the street; the Orthodox poustiniks of Russia were attached to the village and its church near which they lived.

I pray that in these troubled times, especially in the worldwide Anglican Communion, none of us will ever forget this. We cannot live alone; members of any living body, if severed, do not live a wild and fruitful life: they die and rot. I cannot bear to think of my sisters and brothers like that. We must remain in community even when it hurts, even when we cannot for the life of us think what we’re doing there—only as part of a Eucharistic community can the life-blood of Christ, bearing the oxygen of the Spirit, flow freely in our veins.

Without one plea…

Our worthiness is given to us, like our DNA, like our genes. We were created in “the image and likeness of God.” That was resolved in the first chapter of the Bible (Genesis 1:26)! But not many unpackaged that for us—in its immense and life changing implications.

All these reformers have come along, thinking they are renewing Christianity, but unless they go to the mystical level, they never really do. Protestantism didn’t really reform Catholic Christianity, unless it moved to the mystical level. It was just another kind of worthiness contest: prove you made “a personal decision for Jesus.” Or perhaps being against gay marriage and abortion are the worthiness contests today. It is all back on you to do it right. It is not trust in God, it is trust in ourselves to get it right. It is still “works righteousness” as the Lutherans and others called it. Works righteousness is the only thing the ego can understand, and low level awareness will always find another way to prove that I am worthy. It cannot receive radical grace…

Grace is always a humiliation for the ego. Salvation is always a defeat for the ego; because I want to feel, “I’ve done something to accomplish this, haven’t I?” That’s the only way the ego feels satisfied and competent.

At some point, we must realize that salvation is absolutely, objectively, metaphysically, universally a FREE GIFT, and all we can do is RECEIVE IT. It’s free for the taking, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with being worthy of it.

We are all unworthy. If receiving the Eucharist depends on worthiness, no one would be in line, including the presiding clergy, Archbishops and Popes. Why do we waste time trying to prove that I’m better than you, I’m higher than you, I’m holier than you, I understand better than you, I’m purer than you? Don’t even go there! Just surrender to grace, which will feel like a kind of death. And it is!

Richard Rohr, adapted from The Cosmic Christ (talks on CD - disc 1)

This rings very true to me… for so many years I struggled with the need to feel “satisfied and competent”, not realising that to the extent that I met this need in myself, to that same extent I resisted the work of grace in my own heart.

So often in the church we perpetuate this, putting “tests of orthodoxy” (or of liberalism!) in the way of people who are simply looking for God. We must stop it. If as ordinary Christians we can’t stop it happening around us, then at least we can refuse to do it ourselves, and we can reach out in love and acceptance to those who are rejected and marginalised—even if that means we are rejected and marginalised ourselves. That doesn’t matter. Jesus knew this would happen, and he knew that this rejection was itself one of the gates into the Kingdom (Matthew 5.10-11)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Being Broken...

Jesus was broken on the cross. He lived his suffering and death not as an evil to avoid at all costs, but as a mission to embrace. We too are broken. We live with broken bodies, broken hearts, broken minds or broken spirits. We suffer from broken relationships.

How can we live our brokenness? Jesus invites us to embrace our brokenness as he embraced the cross and live it as part of our mission. He asks us not to reject our brokenness as a curse from God that reminds us of our sinfulness but to accept it and put it under God's blessing for our purification and sanctification. Thus our brokenness can become a gateway to new life.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

This, surely, is the very heart of the lived Gospel of Christ. Our own brokenness becomes not only a gateway to new life, but a source of life for others: those we meet, those we pray for, those we forgive. Only being broken can the bread become Eucharist.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Hanging on...

Jesus is the Blessed One. When Jesus was baptised in the Jordan river a voice came from heaven saying: "You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you" (Mark 1:11). This was the blessing that sustained Jesus during his life. Whatever happened to him - praise or blame - he clung to his blessing; he always remembered that he was the favourite child of God.

Jesus came into the world to share that blessing with us. He came to open our ears to the voice that also says to us, "You are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter, my favour rests on you ." When we can hear that voice, trust in it, and always remember it, especially during dark times, we can live our lives as God's blessed children and find the strength to share that blessing with others.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

Clinging to the blessing through thick and thin, good and bad... how I long for this simplicity of trust! But how on earth can this be done?

I don't know how it works for anyone else, but for me, instinctively, it's about clinging to the Cross. Literally. When I am praying to hang on, by the skin of my teeth as it feels, then I do physically hang onto my little olive-wood holding cross.

I've tried to think what might be happening here, spiritually or theologically. I know it's very crudely expressed, but it seems to me that perhaps when we "cling to the Cross" we are in our hearts acknowledging that it is only through Jesus' death on the Cross that we are saved; and no one and nothing can break his hold on us through the Cross.

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.

(John 10.27-29)
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, 'For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.'

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Romans 8.31-39)

John Keble's Poem, Ascension Day

Ascension Day

Soft cloud, that while the breeze of May
Chants her glad matins in the leafy arch,
Draw'st thy bright veil across the heavenly way
Meet pavement for an angel's glorious march:

My soul is envious of mine eye,
That it should soar and glide with thee so fast,
The while my grovelling thoughts half buried lie,
Or lawless roam around this earthly waste.

Chains of my heart, avaunt I say -
I will arise, and in the strength of love
Pursue the bright track ere it fade away,
My Saviour's pathway to His home above.

Sure, when I reach the point where earth
Melts into nothing from th' uncumbered sight,
Heaven will o'ercome th' attraction of my birth.
And I shall sink in yonder sea of light:

Till resting by th' incarnate LORD,
Once bleeding, now triumphant for my sake,
I mark Him, how by seraph hosts adored,
He to earth's lowest cares is still awake.

The sun and every vassal star,
All space, beyond the soar of angel wings,
Wait on His word: and yet He stays His car
For every sigh a contrite suppliant brings.

He listens to the silent tear
For all the anthems of the boundless sky -
And shall our dreams of music bar our ear
To His soul-piercing voice for ever nigh?

Nay, gracious Saviour--but as now
Our thoughts have traced Thee to Thy glory-throne
So help us evermore with thee to bow
Where human sorrow breathes her lowly moan.

We must not stand to gaze too long,
Though on unfolding Heaven our gaze we bend
Where lost behind the bright angelic throng
We see CHRIST'S entering triumph slow ascend.

No fear but we shall soon behold,
Faster than now it fades, that gleam revive,
When issuing from his cloud of fiery gold
Our wasted frames feel the true sun, and live.

Then shall we see Thee as Thou art,
For ever fixed in no unfruitful gaze,
But such as lifts the new-created heart,
Age after age, in worthier love and praise.

John Keble

[with thanks to]

(Today the Church of England remembers John Keble, Tractarian, scholar and poet, Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, and Vicar of Hursley, Hampshire, 1835 until his death in 1866.)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Going colourblind...

"I need to show the world to get together, to sit on one foundation, to share things, black and white. We have to go, like, colourblind, because we are one."

Gali, from the Yol
ngu clans of Arnhem Land - read Sue's extraordinary Discombobula post here. Go on, click, now - you'll be glad you did!

Those who love God...

Jesus is taken by God or, better, chosen by God. Jesus is the Chosen One. From all eternity God has chosen his most precious Child to become the saviour of the world. Being chosen expresses a special relationship, being known and loved in a unique way, being singled out. In our society our being chosen always implies that others are not chosen. But this is not true for God. God chooses his Son to reveal to us our chosenness.

In the Kingdom of God there is no competition or rivalry. The Son of God shares his chosenness with us. In the Kingdom of God each person is precious and unique, and each person has been given eyes to see the chosenness of others and rejoice in it.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

This makes a lot of sense to me in the context of thinking about the doctrine of election. I am no theologian, but I have noticed that the question of election and predestination has caused countless controversies and accusations of heresy over the years, not to mention causing acute distress and confusion in ordinary Christians - me included, at times in the past!

In many ways for me the resolution is to be found in the last verses of Romans 8 - but I'll let Andy Wilkes take over here. He puts it much better than I could!

If we return to Romans 8 we see, from verse 28 onwards, that those people who are called by God are, in fact, 'those who love God' and that they are called to be 'a large family.' This large family, the 'multitude of nations' which God promised Abraham, is necessarily a diverse one, a mixed bunch, who like any large family includes those who we don't quite get on with. God's people are like brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, and distant cousins, who are as diverse as any other cross section of human beings. But we are one family and like any extended family this includes people who we don't really like and who are very different from ourselves.

Are we prepared to acknowledge and embrace that diversity? Are we prepared to be part of this family? It would seem from recent headlines that many are not.

The good news of the Gospel is that all are being called into a covenant relationship with God, to be part of this one family whose task it is to build up the Kingdom of God, which is both for now and in the future. God continues to call us today. In fact, he loved us before we loved him, even to the extent that in Jesus Christ he died for us, way before we were even a twinkle. That surely is the doctrine of Election.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Utterly good news!

When the crucifixion of Jesus is dramatized in the Gospels, we have this very interesting image of the tearing of the temple veil from top to bottom. Now the word for temple is fanum. Everything outside the temple was pro fanum. (Hence we get our word “profane.”) There was “the holy” and it was distinguished from “the unholy.” The tearing of the temple veil from top to bottom is saying that division of life is over. Everything is now potentially the fanum, the holy, the temple. There is nothing that is not spiritual. There is nothing to which God is not available and given, which is the core meaning of the Incarnation. Matter and Spirit are forever shown to be united in Jesus. He is himself the temple, and we are also the temple, and all creation is the temple. As Thomas Merton said, “the gate of heaven is everywhere”!

After 2,000 years of Christianity, most of Christianity still hasn’t gotten that point. We still live with purity codes, debt codes, worthiness systems, and exclusionary policies to protect ourselves from the “profane.” The bottom line meaning of the “forgiveness of sin” is that God even uses evil, failure, and sin to bring us to God. What utterly good news!

Richard Rohr, adapted from The Cosmic Christ (CD#1)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Feast of Saint Benedict of Nursia

Prayer ought to be short and pure, unless it be prolonged by the inspiration of Divine grace.

Saint Benedict of Nursia

Today is the feast of St. Benedict of Nursia, the twin brother of St. Scholastica and the founder of Western monasticism.

Benedict was born at Nursia (Norcia) in Umbria, Italy, around 480 Ad. He was sent to Rome for his studies, but was repelled by the dissolute life of most of the populace, and withdrew to a solitary life at Subiaco. A group of monks asked him to be their abbot, but some of them found his rule too strict, and he returned alone to Subiaco. Again, other monks called him to be their abbot, and he agreed, founding twelve communities over an interval of some years. His chief founding was Monte Cassino, an abbey which stands to this day as the mother house of the world-wide Benedictine order.

Totila the Goth visited Benedict, and was so awed by his presence that he fell on his face before him. Benedict raised him from the ground and rebuked him for his cruelty, telling him that it was time that his iniquities should cease. Totila asked Benedict to remember him in his prayers and departed, to exhibit from that time an astonishing clemency and chivalry in his treatment of conquered peoples.

Benedict drew up a rule of life for monastics, a rule which he calls "a school of the Lord's service, in which we hope to order nothing harsh or rigorous." The Rule gives instructions for how the monastic community is to be organized, and how the monks are to spend their time. An average day includes about four hours to be spent in liturgical prayer (called the Divinum Officium - the Divine Office), five hours in spiritual reading and study, six hours of labor, one hour for eating, and about eight hours for sleep. The Book of Psalms is to be recited in its entirety every week as a part of the Office.

A Benedictine monk takes vows of "obedience, stability, and conversion of life." That is, he vows to live in accordance with the Benedictine Rule, not to leave his community without grave cause, and to seek to follow the teaching and example of Christ in all things. Normal procedure today for a prospective monk is to spend a week or more at the monastery as a visitor. He then applies as a postulant, and agrees not to leave for six months without the consent of the Abbot. (During that time, he may suspect that he has made a mistake, and the abbot may say, "Yes, I think you have. Go in peace." Alternately, he may say, "It is normal to have jitters at this stage. I urge you to stick it out a while longer and see whether they go away." Many postulants leave before the six months are up.) After six months, he may leave or become a novice, with vows for one year. After the year, he may leave or take vows for three more years. After three years, he may leave, take life vows, or take vows for a second three years. After that, a third three years. After that, he must leave or take life vows. Thus, he takes life vows after four and a half to ten and a half years in the monastery. At any point in the proceedings at which he has the option of leaving, the community has the option of dismissing him.

The effect of the monastic movement, both of the Benedictine order and of similar orders that grew out of it, has been enormous. We owe the preservation of the Holy Scriptures and other ancient writings in large measure to the patience and diligence of monastic scribes. In purely secular terms, their contribution was considerable. In Benedict's time, the chief source of power was muscle, whether human or animal. Ancient scholars apparently did not worry about labor-saving devices. The labour could always be done by oxen or slaves. But monks were both scholars and workers. A monk, after spending a few hours doing some laborious task by hand, was likely to think, "There must be a better way of doing this." The result was the systematic development of windmills and water wheels for grinding grain, sawing wood, pumping water, and so on. The rotation of crops (including legumes) and other agricultural advances were also originated or promoted by monastic farms. The monks, by their example, taught the dignity of labor and the importance of order and planning. (The Mediaeval Machine: The Industrial Revolution of the Middle Ages, by Jean Gimpel, Penguin, 1977)

With thanks to The Society of Archbishop Justus

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

We have become wounded healers...

Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not "How can we hide our wounds?" so we don't have to be embarrassed, but "How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?" When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.

Jesus is God's wounded healer: through his wounds we are healed. Jesus' suffering and death brought joy and life. His humiliation brought glory; his rejection brought a community of love. As followers of Jesus we can also allow our wounds to bring healing to others.

from Henri J.M. Nouwen's Bread for the Journey.

I can never get over the fact that Jesus, risen and glorified, still carries the wounds of the Cross (see Luke 24.36ff; John 20.26ff; Revelation 5.6). If there's one thing about the Gospel that assures me of its reality, and that makes it truly Good News for me, it's that fact!

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Broken and emptied out...

I am the vine, you are the branches. You have blossomed forth from me. Are you then surprised if a drop of my Heart’s blood trickles into your every thought and deed? Are you surprised if the thoughts of my Heart quietly infiltrate your worldly heart? If a whispering takes wing in you and day and night you perceive a low, beckoning call? To a love that wants to suffer, to a love that, together with mine, redeems? Are you surprised if the desire comes upon you to risk your life and all your strength and put them in jeopardy for your brothers? And to complete in your own body what is still lacking to my sufferings, what must still lack as long as I have not suffered my Passion in all my branches and members? For, to be sure, none of you is redeemed by anyone save myself; but I am the total Redeemer only united with each of you. Do you want to accomplish the great change with me and build up the Father’s Kingdom? Do you want to live my mind, the resolve of one who did not hold on to his form of God convulsively and clutchingly, but who broke it and emptied it out so that it began to flow as the courage to serve and as lowliness, became obedient even unto death on the Cross? Are you willing? For my work must be perfected in you and it will be brought to term only when my Heart beats in yours, only when all hearts, now submissive and docile, beat for the Father together in my Heart. Are you willing?

Hans Urs von Balthasar, Heart of the World, pp. 80-81 with thanks to Gabrielle

Freedom and penitence

Free decision is a real source of power and self-esteem that nobody can take from us. When we go down to that place of pure intentionality where we are still free, no jail can imprison us, but it is indeed scary because we have no absolute assurance we are right. We are in the realm of dark faith, where we cannot uphold ourselves, so we must wait and trust in the Upholder.

When faith is no longer an experienced reality, it seems the realm of freedom is lost too. It takes a lot of faith to risk our inner freedom, and to trust that it is God who is guiding us and will also pick us up if we are wrong.

Richard Rohr, from Everything Belongs, pp 106, 107

The freedom to fall is also the freedom to rise. It's precisely in our failure, our experience of poverty, weakness, emptiness that we come to experience God's restoration and healing love.

You can say, "Oh, that’s dangerous, it sounds like you’re justifying sin." I'm just trying to be the ultimate realist. Failure is part of the deal for everybody. Salvation is sin overturned and outdone, as God expands and educates our true freedom. Wouldn't that make sense? God's ultimate victory is to even use sin to bring us to God! God, as it were, defeats the devil not by killing him but by using him.

Rohr again, adapted from The Price of Peoplehood (set of talks on tape, no longer available)

Once again, Rohr defines precisely where I find myself at the moment. I don't really need to add anything here: Fr. Richard has said it all!


May God bless you with anger
at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people
so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears
to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war
so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them
and turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness
to believe that you can make a difference in the world
so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

– Franciscan Benediction

with thanks to Interrupting the Silence

And may God bless you with enough grief and frustration when you cannot do these things that you will cry out to him, come and fall at his feet in a total mess, and cling for dear life to the foot of the Cross by which alone all this can be done...

Friday, July 03, 2009

Downward Mobility

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

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

from Henri J.M. Nouwen's Bread for the Journey

Recently I've been feeling more and more strongly this call to downward mobility. My heart seems to be longing to get rid of the things our society - "the world" - values and strives for; it's a sort of longing for obscurity, littleness, lack of influence, lack of reputation. Odd - it's getting to be an appetite, a deep, almost instinctive hunger for the shadows, the hidden places - a hunger to remain in silence, empty of what is usually called fulfilment. I wonder where this is going?