Monday, August 31, 2009

The silence and the Cross…

Milosz, life is on our side. The silence and the Cross are forces that cannot be defeated. In silence and suffering, in the heartbreaking effort to be honest in the midst of dishonesty (most of all our own dishonesty), in all these is victory. It is Christ in us who drives us through darkness to a light of which we have no conception and which can only be found by passing through apparent despair. Everything has to be tested. All relationships must be tried. All loyalties have to pass through fire. Much has to be lost. Much in us has to be killed, even much that is best in us. But Victory is certain.

Thomas Merton, Letter to Czeslaw Milosz, Feb, 1959 from The Courage for Truth: Letters to Writers, Christine M. Bochen, editor, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1993 pp. 57-58.

In these days of ours, we’d do well to read these words again…

Friday, August 28, 2009

Tag Cloud

In case anyone hasn’t noticed, the Blogger platform has given us a neat way of incorporating a tag cloud in our blog pages. If you look below the “About me” section on this page, under the “Blog Archive” or list of recent posts, you’ll see mine. (By default, the gadget is called “labels” when you first add it. I thought that was a bit underwhelming, so I’ve called mine what it is…)

I cannot give up on Jesus…

True spiritual authority (which I always describe as the power to “author” life in others) does not have to do with “transubstantiating” bread,it does not have to do with any external title, office, or costume. Transubstantiating bread is merely a metaphor for the transubstantiating of persons that the bread feeds. And in that sense, I am a quite conservative Catholic. I do believe that matter and Spirit, the divine and the human, can coexist in one place—both in bread and in human persons. The Eucharist is the Mystery of Incarnation spread out in space and time for all of us to eat. One day we will hopefully get the message. “I am what I eat!”

I cannot give up on Jesus. He puts flesh and Spirit together, which is the essential religious task. Jesus is such an easy one to believe, to follow, and to love. The genius of Jesus’ ministry is that he uses tragedy, suffering, sin, betrayal, and death itself to bring us to God. There are no dead ends for Jesus, which is the ultimate message of hope for humanity. Everything can be transmuted and everything can be used in the economy of grace. EVERYTHING! You could even say that Jesus makes the devil work for him, and for us, which is surely evil’s ultimate defeat.

Richard Rohr, adapted from The Authority of Those Who Have Suffered

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8.28 NIV

This is to me the real good news. This is what it is to be saved, to have eternal life, and to have it now. To be part of the healing that God is bringing for all of creation, even through me, in all my own weakness and insufficiency…

“The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” Romans 8.19-21 NIV

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Friday, August 21, 2009

Confessing our own poverty...

When we are not afraid to confess our own poverty, we will be able to be with other people in theirs. The Christ who lives in our own poverty recognises the Christ who lives in other people's. Just as we are inclined to ignore our own poverty, we are inclined to ignore others'. We prefer not to see people who are destitute, we do not like to look at people who are deformed or disabled, we avoid talking about people's pains and sorrows, we stay away from brokenness, helplessness, and neediness.

By this avoidance we might lose touch with the people through whom God is manifested to us. But when we have discovered God in our own poverty, we will lose our fear of the poor and go to them to meet God...

The poor have a treasure to offer precisely because they cannot return our favours. By not paying us for what we have done for them, they call us to inner freedom, selflessness, generosity, and true care. Jesus says: "When you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; then you will be blessed, for they have no means to repay you and so you will be repaid when the upright rise again" (Luke 14:13-14).

The repayment Jesus speaks about is spiritual. It is the joy, peace, and love of God that we so much desire. This is what the poor give us, not only in the afterlife but already here and now.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

I think Nouwen has put his finger on a vital truth here: the confession of our own poverty, our own weakness, opens us to the poverty and weakness of the sisters and brothers we so easily cross the road to avoid.

I keep thinking of the story of St Francis and the leper:

Although Francis still joined at times in the noisy revels of his former comrades, his changed demeanour [following his return to Assisi after his abortive attempts at a military career] plainly showed that his heart was no longer with them; a yearning for the life of the spirit had already possessed it. His companions twitted Francis on his absent-mindedness and asked if he were minded to be married. "Yes", he replied, "I am about to take a wife of surpassing fairness." She was no other than Lady Poverty whom Dante and Giotto have wedded to his name, and whom even now he had begun to love. After a short period of uncertainty he began to seek in prayer and solitude the answer to his call; he had already given up his gay attire and wasteful ways. One day, while crossing the Umbrian plain on horseback, Francis unexpectedly drew near a poor leper. The sudden appearance of this repulsive object filled him with disgust and he instinctively retreated, but presently controlling his natural aversion he dismounted, embraced the unfortunate man, and gave him all the money he had. About the same time Francis made a pilgrimage to Rome. Pained at the miserly offerings he saw at the tomb of St. Peter, he emptied his purse thereon. Then, as if to put his fastidious nature to the test, he exchanged clothes with a tattered mendicant and stood for the rest of the day fasting among the horde of beggars at the door of the basilica.

from the website of the Third Order Society of St Francis

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Friend of silence...

We need to find God, and God cannot be found in noise and restlessness.God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees and flowers and grass - grow in silence. See the stars, the moon, and the sun, how they move in silence. The more we receive in silent prayer, the more we can give in our active life.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Embracing Lady Poverty...

How can we embrace poverty as a way to God when everyone around us wants to become rich? Poverty has many forms. We have to ask ourselves: "What is my poverty?" Is it lack of money, lack of emotional stability, lack of a loving partner, lack of security, lack of safety, lack of self-confidence? Each human being has a place of poverty. That's the place where God wants to dwell! "How blessed are the poor," Jesus says (Matthew 5:3). This means that our blessing is hidden in our poverty.

We are so inclined to cover up our poverty and ignore it that we often miss the opportunity to discover God, who dwells in it. Let's dare to see our poverty as the land where our treasure is hidden.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

This is interesting. Certainly Nouwen is right when he speaks of God blessing us in our weakness. As Paul said (2 Corinthians 9.10 NIV) "That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." But so was Francis of Assisi when he spoke of his love for Lady Poverty, and so is our TSSF Rule when it says, "Tertiaries seek to live joyfully a life of simplicity, humble service and self discipline after the example of St Francis."

Our poverty is more than an absence of physical riches; but it is not less than that. The TSSF Principles (11) state that "[w]e as Tertiaries, though we possess property and earn money to support ourselves and our families, show ourselves true followers of Christ and of Saint Francis by our readiness to live simply and to share with others. We recognise that some of our members may be called to a literal following of Saint Francis in a life of extreme simplicity. All of us, however, accept that we avoid luxury and waste, and regard our possessions as being held in trust for God."

It's not that money is the root of all evil, it's that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil (I Timothy 6.10). As William Wordsworth said, "The world is too much with us; late and soon,/Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:/Little we see in Nature that is ours;/We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!"

But God can use even this. Our place of greatest weakness is the place he reaches out to with Christ's pierced hand, the hand that set the stars in place. That is the strength of the weakness of the Cross, of the Christ "who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing." (Philippians 2.6-7 NIV)

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8.28 NIV, emphasis mine)

Monday, August 17, 2009


How can we stay in solitude when we feel that deep urge to be distracted by people and events? The most simple way is to focus our minds and hearts on a word or picture that reminds us of God. By repeating quietly: "The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want," or by gazing lovingly at an icon of Jesus, we can bring our restless minds to some rest and experience a gentle divine presence.

 This doesn't happen overnight. It asks a faithful practice. But when we spend a few moments every day just being with God, our endless distractions will gradually disappear.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

Or in my own case, the Jesus Prayer above all...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Clinging to God in Solitude…

When we enter into solitude to be with God alone, we quickly discover how dependent we are. Without the many distractions of our daily lives, we feel anxious and tense. When nobody speaks to us, calls on us, or needs our help, we start feeling like nobodies. Then we begin wondering whether we are useful, valuable, and significant. Our tendency is to leave this fearful solitude quickly and get busy again to reassure ourselves that we are “somebodies.” But that is a temptation, because what makes us somebodies is not other people's responses to us but God's eternal love for us.

To claim the truth of ourselves we have to cling to our God in solitude as to the One who makes us who we are.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

I don’t think we are ever who we think we are. We have to have an illusion of competence, of maturity, of toughness, in order to resist what feels to us to be uncontrollable incursions from a hostile, unpredictable world. The only time we can let down our guard, the only time we can allow ourselves to be who we truly are, is in solitude. God is still the God who revealed himself to David as

…gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.
The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made…

The LORD is righteous in all his ways and loving towards all he has made.
The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.

(Psalm 145.8-9;17-18 NIV)

God is the God who is Christ, in whom all the fullness of his being dwells (Colossians 1.19). In his wounds our woundedness at last finds peace; at the foot of his Cross is our home.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Protecting the hidden places…

If indeed the spiritual life is essentially a hidden life, how do we protect this hiddenness in the midst of a very public life? The two most important ways to protect our hiddenness are solitude and poverty. Solitude allows us to be alone with God. There we experience that we belong not to people, not even to those who love us and care for us, but to God and God alone. Poverty is where we experience our own and other people's weakness, limitations, and need for support. To be poor is to be without success, without fame, and without power. But there God chooses to show us God's love.

Both solitude and poverty protect the hiddenness of our lives.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

I know I don’t pay enough attention to this, to protecting my own hiddenness. (Of course, some might say that blogging about it was the worst thing I could do—but I do try to be careful not to get too personal here, and to write about things that might be helpful more generally.)

We do have to be aware of this stuff, I believe, as God calls us further into this wilderness. Like Christ, when the enemy offered him the chance of instant fame by jumping off the temple and floating gently to earth amid the other worshippers, we must keep our hearts close to Scripture—“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you (Psalm 119.11 NIV)—and avoid trying to use what God has given us for our own advantage (Luke 4.9-12)

Just at the moment I am struggling slightly with this. There are gifts God has quite explicitly given me, and in some cases restored to me after they were lost or neglected, like music and writing, which I worry about using too enthusiastically just because of this need for hiddenness. Solitude and poverty, while they may as Nouwen suggests, help to protect our hiddenness as people of prayer, are becoming a hunger in their own right, something I can’t do without, and which I’d do (I hope!) anything to protect in themselves.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Wage Peace

Wage peace with your breath.
Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings
and flocks of redwing blackbirds.
Breathe in terrorists and breathe out sleeping children
and freshly mown fields.
Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.
Breathe in the fallen
and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.
Wage peace with your listening:
hearing sirens, pray loud.
Remember your tools:
flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.
Make soup.
Play music, learn the word for thank you in three languages.
Learn to knit, and make a hat.
Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
imagine grief as the outbreath of beauty
or the gesture of fish.
Swim for the other side.
Wage peace.
Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious.
Have a cup of tea and rejoice.
Act as if armistice has already arrived.
Don’t wait another minute.

Judyth Hill, written in response to the events of September 11th, 2001
with thanks to Inward/Outward

What prayer is for…

This is the conclusion of a wonderful post by Father Stephen, which you should really read in its entirety. I just wanted to post this extract, though, as it spoke to me of all I find myself called to now:

The things which seem important are often of little true consequence. Does it matter that the President of the United States had a beer with two men? Does it matter that a Hollywood figure dies tragically and suddenly? Does almost anything most people treat as important matter at all?

Who sustains the universe and why does it exist?

The difficulty with political schemes and grand plans is that even at their greatest moment – they have done very little. It may be that everything they have done carries less weight than the prayers of a hermit in the desert.

And so we are called to pray – to stand quietly before that “still point of nothingness” that “disposes all things.”

Such things seem quite hidden – unless the definition of “manifest” means “what God sees.” Perhaps prayer is not about my “prayer life.” Perhaps prayer holds the entire universe in existence.

The last battle may be fought quietly in a human heart that stands sentinel before God and says, “Lord, have mercy.”

On not being visible and popular…

One of the reasons that hiddenness is such an important aspect of the spiritual life is that it keeps us focused on God. In hiddenness we do not receive human acclamation, admiration, support, or encouragement. In hiddenness we have to go to God with our sorrows and joys and trust that God will give us what we most need.

In our society we are inclined to avoid hiddenness. We want to be seen and acknowledged. We want to be useful to others and influence the course of events. But as we become visible and popular, we quickly grow dependent on people and their responses and easily lose touch with God, the true source of our being. Hiddenness is the place of purification. In hiddenness we find our true selves.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

I think this is true for me. Somehow my deepest instincts lead me further in towards the hidden places, away from recognition or being “visible and popular”. It’s odd, because sometimes it seems almost churlish, ungrateful somehow. But God’s ways really aren’t our ways, and the Beatitudes (Matthew 5), for instance, are counterintuitive, shocking even, to our “normal” way of looking at things. Occasionally when I try to explain this attraction I have to hiddenness I’m met with blank incomprehension. How could I not want the world’s rewards? I don’t have a ready answer. I simply don’t know how to explain myself in those terms any more. I must appear entirely foolish!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hiddenness revisited…

The largest part of Jesus’ life was hidden. Jesus lived with his parents in Nazareth, “under their authority” (Luke 2:51), and there “increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and with people” (Luke 2:52). When we think about Jesus we mostly think about his words and miracles, his passion, death, and resurrection, but we should never forget that before all of that Jesus lived a simple, hidden life in a small town, far away from all the great people, great cities, and great events. Jesus’ hidden life is very important for our own spiritual journeys. If we want to follow Jesus by words and deeds in the service of his Kingdom, we must first of all strive to follow Jesus in his simple, unspectacular, and very ordinary hidden life.

Hiddenness is an essential quality of the spiritual life. Solitude, silence, ordinary tasks, being with people without great agendas, sleeping, eating, working, playing… all of that without being different from others, that is the life that Jesus lived and the life he asks us to live. It is in hiddenness that we, like Jesus, can increase “in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and with people” (Luke 2:51). It is in hiddenness that we can find a true intimacy with God and a true love for people.

Even during his active ministry, Jesus continued to return to hidden places to be alone with God. If we don't have a hidden life with God, our public life for God cannot bear fruit…

If indeed the spiritual life is essentially a hidden life, how do we protect this hiddenness in the midst of a very public life? The two most important ways to protect our hiddenness are solitude and poverty. Solitude allows us to be alone with God. There we experience that we belong not to people, not even to those who love us and care for us, but to God and God alone. Poverty is where we experience our own and other people's weakness, limitations, and need for support. To be poor is to be without success, without fame, and without power. But there God chooses to show us God's love.

Both solitude and poverty protect the hiddenness of our lives.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

I said a while ago:

All this stuff about prayer boils down to this. What I am really doesn't matter. There isn't any holiness in me. Of myself, I really am not, truly, anything more than little, and ordinary; and anything praiseworthy about me only consists in the extent to which I am prepared to acknowledge that, and to live in the shadows, quietly, like the ivy I love so much. All my health and growth depends on accepting that.

There is no struggle in this now, but a blessed hope, and a kind of love that wells up and catches my breath, and fills my eyes with tears. Most of my life I haven't really known what love is, and still I don't; but in me now Jesus loves, and all I feel are the eddies of that deep current.

It's time to let go of a lot of things; and yet it isn't a time for heroic gestures, grand austerities, but for little turnings to that hidden track that leads out between the trees, away from the lights and the music and the excited voices.

It feels odd to be writing this in such a public place, somehow, rather than in a letter to a close friend or spiritual director. I have thought about this; and it's not an appeal for warm, supportive comments - I honestly am trying to think this through.

It’s even more true now. I couldn’t have known, over a year ago, how prophetic those words were going to turn out to be. Much of that “thinking through” has been done for me by circumstances beyond my own immediate control. The protection of solitude and poverty calls to me more and more strongly, to the point where it’s an eagerness, a longing, a hunger really, at the very centre of who I am. I know that it is only in that solitude, that hidden simplicity, that I can draw as close to God as my heart yearns to do.

Very wisely, the Principles of the Third Order, Society of St. Francis, state in today’s reading:

We as Tertiaries desire to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, whom we serve in the three ways of Prayer, Study, and Work. In the life of the Order as a whole, these three ways must each find full and balanced expression, but it is not to be expected that all members devote themselves equally to each of them. Each individual’s service varies according to their abilities and circumstances, yet as individual member’s our Personal Rule of Life must include each of the three ways.

The need to give the Way of Prayer priority among the various bits of my life just grows stronger by the day. Pray for me that I may be able to be obedient to it…

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The weeping ones…

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5.4 NRSV)

In this third Beatitude, Jesus praises the weeping ones, those who can enter into solidarity with the pain of the world and not first of all try to separate themselves from it. On our initiated men’s t-shirts, we have a quote from the American Indians, “A young man who cannot cry is a savage. An old man who cannot laugh is a fool.”

If you learn how to enter into solidarity with human suffering when you are young, you will create a humanity that makes it possible for you to smile when you are old. What a paradox. If the young are not led into this human “community of pain” in the first half of life, they become hardened, egocentric, and entitled very early in their lives. Yet baby boomer parenting has thought we needed to—or could—shield our children from all pain and human suffering. I don’t think Jesus would agree with that at all.

“The weeping mode” allows one to carry the dark side of things, the “tears of things” as the Latin poet said, to bear the pain of the world without needing to define perpetrators or victims, but instead recognizing the tragic reality that both sides are usually caught up in. I must hold these contradictions, I need to suffer them, I let them transform me. The weeping mode of life is quite different than the succeeding mode, the controlling mode, the fixing mode, the climbing mode, or even the explaining mode. Perhaps it is in the Beatitudes more than anywhere else that we see how utterly counter-cultural Jesus really is.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Jesus’ Plan for the New World, p.133

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The doorway into the silent land…

The doorway into the silent land is a wound. Silence lays bear this wound. We do not journey far along the spiritual path before we get some sense of the wound of the human condition, and this is precisely why not a few abandon a contemplative practice like mediation as soon as it begins to expose this wound; they move on instead to some spiritual entertainment that will maintain distraction. Perhaps this is why the weak and wounded, who know very well the vulnerability of the human condition, often have an aptitude for discovering silence and can sense the wholeness and healing that ground this wound…

Certainly there is deep conversion, healing, and unspeakable wholeness to be discovered along the contemplative path. The paradox, however, is that this healing is revealed when we discover that our wound and the wound of God are one wound…

However, this discovery does not feel as much like a breakthrough as it feels like breakdown. This is actually a very important and creative period in the development of our practice, but it feels as though our life is coming unpinned, that we’re losing it, that we are going round the bend… This is why for Christians the joyful faith in the Risen One never loses sight of the Crucified One.

God in Christ has taken into Himself the brokenness of the human condition. Hence, human woundedness, brokenness, death itself are transformed from dead ends to doorways into Life. In the divinizing humanity of Christ, bruises become balm…

Martin Laird OSA, Into the Silent Land, Darton, Longman and Todd, 2006, pp. 117-119

But he was wounded for our transgressions,
   crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
   and by his bruises we are healed.

Isaiah 53.5 NRSV

All I can say here, for holy reticence, is that I have found this to be true…

We just don’t know…

We belong to a generation that wants to see the results of our work. We want to be productive and see with our own eyes what we have made. But that is not the way of God’s Kingdom. Often our witness for God does not lead to tangible results. Jesus himself died as a failure on a cross. There was no success there to be proud of. Still, the fruitfulness of Jesus’ life is beyond any human measure. As faithful witnesses of Jesus we have to trust that our lives too will be fruitful, even though we cannot see their fruit. The fruit of our lives may be visible only to those who live after us.

What is important is how well we love. God will make our love fruitful, whether we see that fruitfulness or not.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

A Collect for the Feast of St. Clare of Assisi

God of mercy, you inspired Saint Clare with the love of poverty. By the help of her prayers may we follow Christ in poverty of spirit and come to the joyful vision of your glory in the kingdom of heaven. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Solitude as act…

Solitude as act: the reason no one understands solitude, or bothers to try to understand it, is that it appears to be nothing but a condition. Something one elects to undergo, like standing under a cold shower. Actually, solitude is a realization, an actualization, even a kind of creation, as well as a liberation of active forces within us, forces that are more than our own, and yet more ours that what appears to be “ours”. As a mere condition, solitude can be passive, inert and basically unreal: a kind of permanent coma. One has to work at it to keep out of this condition. One has to work actively at solitude, not by putting fences around oneself but by destroying all the fences and throwing away all the disguises and getting down to the naked root of one’s inmost desire, which is the desire of liberty-reality. To be free from the illusion that reality creates when one is out of right relation to it, and to be real in the freedom which reality gives when one is rightly related to it.

Thomas Merton, Learning to Love, Journals Volume 6, Christine M. Bochen, editor HarperSanFrancisco, 1997, pp. 320-321.

It’s a pity this is too long a text to have printed on a tee-shirt—otherwise it would save a lot of explaining!


Often we are preoccupied with the question “How can we be witnesses in the Name of Jesus? What are we supposed to say or do to make people accept the love that God offers them?” These questions are expressions more of our fear than of our love. Jesus shows us the way of being witnesses. He was so full of God’s love, so connected with God’s will, so burning with zeal for God’s Kingdom, that he couldn’t do other than witness. Wherever he went and whomever he met, a power went out from him that healed everyone who touched him. (See Luke 6:19.)

If we want to be witnesses like Jesus, our only concern should be to be as alive with the love of God as Jesus was.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and he said to him, “Abba, as far as I can, I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands toward heaven; his fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”

Abba James said, “Just as a lamp lights up a dark room, so the fear of God when it penetrates the heart of a man illuminates him, teaching him all the virtues and commandments of God.”

He also said, “We do not need words only, for, at the present time, there are many words among men, but we need works, for this is what is required, not words which do not bear fruit.”

Sayings of the Desert Fathers


Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5.3 NRSV)

What an opening line! And the reward is present tense! I always say this one liner is the beginning of Jesus’ inaugural address: “Congratulations to the poor in spirit.” It is a key to everything Jesus will teach and live. Your opening line often contains your main point or leads to your main point. I wonder if most Christians have seen a simple, humble spirit as absolutely central to Jesus’ teaching?

To be “poor in spirit” means to live without a need for your own rightness, or any sense of moral superiority to anyone else. It’s a free inner emptiness, with no outer need for advancing your own reputation or any opinionated one-upmanship. If you’re actually poor in spirit it won’t be long before you’re poor in other ways too. You won’t waste the rest of your life trying to get rich because you’ll know better on the inside. Inner poverty precedes and lays the foundation for a simple, non-consuming lifestyle.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Jesus’ Plan for the New World, p.130

I’m not sure about Rohr’s use of “congratulations” to translate makarios—blessed seems about right to me, better too than the “happy” in many translations. This word blessing here includes, implies, makes possible the freedom, the living in God’s hand, that allows real simplicity to develop in the un-grasping heart, the heart set free at last to love.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

On not babbling…

Often we ask: “What does it mean to pray?” For most people, it seems to mean to tell God about things we need—to make announcements to God. I guess we assume that God needs to be told about things. Jesus actually warned us about this: “Why are you babbling on to God, even the pagans do this? Don’t you know that God already knows what you need?” (Matthew 6:7-9). We don’t really have to tell God what is happening, although I guess it helps us somehow.

“When you pray,” Jesus said, “go into your closet and shut the door.” He is speaking of going into a private space, or “inner room” as some translations call it (6:6). (Most unlikely, by the way, in the one room houses which most people would have had.) When Jesus went into the desert alone, he did not say Hail Marys and Our Fathers for forty days. In fact, remember when the apostles asked Him to give them their own prayer? (Luke 11:1). The disciples did not have their own public, spoken prayer like John the Baptist’s people did. Groups were identified by a prayer that was spoken formally together, just as AA has its Serenity Prayer today. That the disciples had to ask Jesus for a verbal prayer means that very likely they did not have one previously.

Perhaps Jesus understood prayer primarily as the prayer beyond words or the prayer without words. Prayer is a state of communion and inner unity before verbal prayer ever begins. Hence Paul could say in two different places, “Pray always,” anywhere, while doing anything, as it were. We are praying whenever we live in conscious union with God and when all of our self is present. That is primary prayer, and is probably much harder than merely reciting words.

Richard Rohr, adapted from the CAC Webcast, Contemplation AND Action, March 2009

Monday, August 03, 2009

God does not forget his little ones…

Jesus is the door to a life in and with God. “I am the gate,” he says (John 10:9). “I am the Way; I am Truth and Life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Still, many people never have heard or will hear of Jesus. They are born, live their lives, and die without having been exposed to Jesus and his words. Are they lost? Is there no place in the Father’s house for them?

Jesus opened the door to God's house for all people, also for those who never knew or will know that it was Jesus who opened it. The Spirit that Jesus sent “blows where it pleases” (John 3:8), and it can lead anyone through the door to God’s house.

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

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight.

Jesus (Luke 12.6)

God does not forget his little ones, not even the ones we big important Western white men never so much as notice. God’s Spirit gives life to every living thing (Ps 104.30), and God does not abandon the work of his hands (Psalm 138). Who are we, I mean, just who do we think we are, to say that this man is worth more than that woman, that that animal is worth more than this one? How can we look into another’s eyes, and not feel reverence for God who gave that spirit, and love and care for the home he has set it in?

Sunday, August 02, 2009

A Gospel Reflection for 2nd August

More than eight centuries ago, in the dark recesses of a dilapidated and forgotten chapel, St. Francis received the call of our Lord Jesus to his life of service and devotion. From those humble beginnings in the tiny Portiunucula chapel, the work of Christ has reached across the globe to touch the lives of millions. Today we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of the Angels of the Portiunucula and remember the call of Christ on St. Francis.

Today the Portiunucula is no longer forgotten, but situated and restored within the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli where millions of pilgrims visit every year. Despite the grandiose beauty of the surrounding cathedral, the simple chapel remains as a reminder of the humble beginnings of the Order. In the same way, in today's Gospel reading, Jesus reminds His followers not to follow Him because of extravagant signs and wonders. While He obeyed the will of the Father through miracles of power, Jesus knew that people would be left hungry if they followed Him for these miracles alone.

Jesus said to them: "Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world." When they still demand this miraculous bread, He tells them: "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst." Not long after He spoke these words, Jesus drank from the cup, giving Himself to all as the Bread of Life, calling His followers to give their lives at the Cross with equal devotion. It is not hard to imagine that many who sought a sign that day, looking for a miracle of power to prove Jesus was on the "winning" side, fled at the price required at the Cross.

John Michael Talbot says of this feast day: "We must live the Gospel radically like they did in that first community... We live this Gospel way of life- radical contemplative prayer, radical charismatic high praise, radical Gospel living." Just as the simple Portiunucula remains amidst the grandeur of the Basilica as a reminder of humility and suffering, so too does the Eucharist stand within the beauty of the liturgy, calling us to embrace the costly sacrifice of the altar in our lives. St. Francis love for Christ out weighed his desire for self-preservation and glory, embodied so beautifully when he kissed the leper. While we give thanks to the Father for the power and beauty of His Church, we never forget the simple, poor Messiah who loved the poor, embraced the leper and went willingly to the suffer and death of the Cross.

Jamie Arpin-Ricci, with thanks to Franciscan Journey

Love your own insignificance…

“Be careful to give no credit to yourself for anything; if you do so, you are stealing from God, to whom alone every good thing is due. Strive to be lowly, to love your own insignificance, and to be ready to accept contempt and disgrace in defiance of human nature, which always longs for success and celebrity. This is the means beyond all other to become the servant of God, and to draw down the special blessing of heaven upon all your labour.”

St. Vincent de Paul, Some Counsels of St. Vincent de Paul, tr. E.K. Sanders, with thanks to Gerry Straub

I couldn’t have found a more perfect complement to my post of yesterday if I’d tried!

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The way downward…

In the Gospel it is quite obvious that Jesus chose the descending way. He chose it not once but over and over again. At each critical moment he deliberately sought the way downward. Even though he was without sin, Jesus began his public life by joining the ranks of sinners who were being baptized by John in the Jordan. If you were especially gifted, don’t you think you would have said to John, “I’m going to bypass this little arrangement. It’s all right for these other characters but, you know, I’ve got hold of this”? But Jesus said, “I want to join the others in this rite of baptism.” And even though he was full of divine power, he believed that changing stones into bread, seeking popularity, and being counted among the great ones of the earth were temptations. Again and again he opted for what is small and hidden and poor, and declined to wield influence.

In all this it becomes plain to us that God has willed to show love for the world by descending more and more deeply into human frailty. The more conscious Jesus becomes of the mission entrusted to him, the more he realizes that mission will make him poorer and poorer.

God is the descending God. The movement is down, down, down, until it finds the sickest, the most afflicted, the most helpless, the most alienated, the most cut off… Being with the least is difficult enough, but even more difficult is that other step of becoming the least of the least. Our trouble is that we live in a debilitating dichotomy. We listen to this “weakness” stuff, this “servant” stuff, but we just do not believe that the way to God, the way to fulfilment, is the downward way, the way of descent.

We spend our best thinking and energies on the upward way and are distressed if we slip a bit and are not recognized or appreciated. And if sometimes through God’s help we manage a miracle, we hope the recipient will tell everybody. We do not tell the person not to tell. We want our reputation to be enhanced, we want to be known as the one who can perform miracles in Christ’s name.

We do not say that Jesus lived a great life but ended that life poorly. The crowning event of his life was the death that he died, the poverty, the leastness of those final hours. The death is the glory… This expression of total poverty—the dying on the cross—was the total descent and thus the height of the glory. This life, when it reaches the depths, as it reached those depths in Jesus, explodes into infinite newness. The only man ever resurrected was the one who hit the bottom and knew total poverty. He was the one who was resurrected, no one else. And so we have a new injection into the life stream of humanity—a totally new enhancement of the common good.

The ascending way never explodes into newness. We hold on to certain names, remember and sometimes envy their accomplishments and write much of our history around those names. We don’t write history about the poor, the real people… Suppose the only God that exists is the descending God. Suppose the only way to be reconciled to God is to be reconciled with the least, who are at the bottom. If God is going down and we are going up, it is obvious that we are going in different directions. And we will not know him. We will be evading God and missing the whole purpose of our existence.

N. Gordon Cosby, from the Potter’s House, with thanks to Inward/Outward

This is so clearly what God has been showing me lately. The way to life is through the Cross, through that leastness. All of me hungers for that: for littleness, for hiddenness—not for any reasons of perversity, inverted ambition, still less denial or avoidance, but simply because I hunger for God. I hunger for him more than I’ve hungered for anything, and that is where he is—in the little ones, the hidden places, the unsung, the unheard-of, the unwanted.

Honestly, what I have been coming to see is all wrapped up in this. All the stuff we learn to need, to hope for, plan for—fame, popularity, prosperity, satisfaction—are all temptations. So often we misunderstand the idea of temptations. We think of them as delightful, “tempting” naughtinesses, sweet indulgences that we are denied by some austere regulations, but that would be simply yummy once we cast off those shackles and dived right in. But that’s not what temptations are. Temptations are things that lead us away from God, “going up in the world” as they used to say approvingly when I was a kid, away from the littleness, the poverty, the emptiness.

If Christ “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave” (Philippians 2.7) then how else are we to follow him who said,  “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.” (John 12.26)

The slow work of God…

Above all, trust the slow work of God.
We are, quite naturally,
impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip
the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on
The way to something unknown,
something new,
and yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stage of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually—
let them grow,
let them shape themselves,
without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today
what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting
on your own good will)
will make them tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of
feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.

Teilhard de Chardin, with thanks to The Parish Blog of St. Edward the Confessor