Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Loving the little things…

If we dishonour the so-called inferior or unworthy members of creation, we finally destroy ourselves, too.  We cannot dismiss, pollute, or misuse animals, the earth, the trees, and the waters and pretend to love the Creator of all these things, or even to love ourselves in the midst of them.

St. Paul says “if one part is hurt, all parts are hurt with it. If one part is given special honour, all parts enjoy it … and it is precisely the parts of the body that seem to be the weakest which are the indispensable ones, and it is the least honourable parts of the body that we must clothe with the greatest care.” (I Corinthians 12:26, 22-23).

For some sad reason we humans thought that we were the only creatures that mattered, as if all of the rest of creation was just an arbitrary and throwaway part of God’s plan.  We took our narcissism to a cosmic level, it seems, and did not love and protect the weakest parts of the “Body of God,” nor did we “clothe them with the greatest care.”  Now we all “hurt” together, just as Paul predicted.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Hope Against Darkness, p.138

On this we must base the rest of our lives on this planet, we humans, if we are to survive. Perhaps we are just beginning to glimpse where we might have gone wrong?

I do encourage you to visit the Hilfield Project website. As the community states in their introduction:

Francis of Assisi, in his living the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the full, gives us an example of three ecologies:

  • an environmental ecology, living in harmony with creation
  • a social ecology, knowing all people as brothers and sisters
  • a spiritual ecology, in praise of God as Father and Creator of all things

The Hilfield Peace and Environment Project seeks to express and share this ‘integrated ecology’ for the sake of and out of love for the world.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The fingerprints of God…

The Great Chain of Being was a synthesis that held together for us one coherent world. It was a “cosmic egg” of meaning, a vision of a Creator and a multitude of creatures that excluded nothing (See Colossians 1:15-20) from holiness and goodness.

As the medieval Christians predicted, once the chain was broken, and one link not honoured, the whole vision collapsed. Either we acknowledge that God is in all things or we have lost the basis for seeing God in anything.  When we could not honour God in the earth, waters, plants, and animals, we soon could not see or honour the divine image in ourselves or in other humans…

St. Bonaventure (1221– 1274) took Francis’ intuitive genius and spelled it out into an entire philosophy.

God is “within all things but not enclosed; outside all things but not excluded; above all things but not aloof; below all things, but not debased.” Bonaventure was the first to speak of God as one “whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.”

Therefore “the origin, magnitude, multitude, beauty, fullness, activity and order of all created things” are the very “footprints” and “fingerprints” (vestigia) of God, according to this Doctor of the Church. Now that is quite a lovely and a very safe universe to live in. Welcome home!

Richard Rohr, Hope Against Darkness (p.136)

This is the ground of the kind of praying I keep writing about here. 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—and redeemed! (Romans 8.18-25)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Michaelmas and Harvest

What with Harvest Festival (which we neatly combined with Back to Church Sunday) yesterday, and Michaelmas today, I thought this from Richard Rohr was especially apt:

I would like to reclaim an ancient, evolving and very Franciscan metaphor to rightly name the nature of the universe, and to direct our future thinking: the image of “the Great Chain of Being.”  It was a metaphor not of hierarchy but of connection, thus the word “chain.”  The essential and unbreakable links in the great chain include

the Divine Creator,
the angels, saints, and ancestors,
the humans,
the animals,
the world of plants, trees, and vegetation,
the waters upon the earth,
the earth itself with its minerals and metals.

Each, in themselves, and in their union together, they proclaim the glory of God (Psalm 104) and the inherent dignity of all things. This image became the basis for calling anything and everything sacred.

(Adapted from Hope Against Darkness p. 135)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Practicing heaven now…

“Everything exposed to the light itself becomes light,” says Ephesians 5:14. In prayer, we merely keep returning the divine gaze and we become its reflection, almost in spite of ourselves (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The word “prayer” has often been trivialized by making it into a way of getting what you want. But here I use “prayer” as the umbrella word for any interior journeys or practices that allow you to experience faith, hope, and love within yourself. It is not a technique for getting things, a pious exercise that somehow makes God happy, or a requirement for entry into heaven. It is much more like practicing heaven now.

Richard Rohr, The Naked Now, pp.22-23

Henri Nouwen once said, “Those who live in communion with Jesus have the eyes to see and the ears to hear the second coming of Jesus among them in the here and now.” We don’t have to look forward to eternity as some kind of treat reserved for us against our death. Heaven, eternity, the presence of God, are with us now, if only we will look.

Jesus himself said, “…remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20 NRSV) Look, the present tense!

It is not your own life…

To live [in cooperation with God] is to live inside of an unexplainable hope, because your life will now feel much larger than your own. In fact, it is not your own life, and yet, paradoxically, you are more “you” than ever before.

That is the constant and consistent experience of the mystics—their vision that can also be your own. “God, you were here all along, and I never knew it” (Genesis 28:16).

Richard Rohr, The Naked Now, p.24

I have been in a slightly strange place these past days, working through what this call to the Franciscan life could possibly mean for me in practical terms. I suppose these words of Rohr’s come closer to expressing what I’ve been feeling than anything else. Paradoxically, perhaps, as the call to prayer and to silence becomes stronger, so does my commitment to this parish, to the life of Christ in the church in all its day-to-day presence: Emmanuel, God with us…

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Festival of the Stigmata of St. Francis

Andy Wilkes has a superb post on the Stigmata of St. Francis over on a man breathing… I have no intention of trying to do anything like as well here, so I’ll just suggest you click over and continue reading from:

In September 1224 Brother Francesco Bernadone climbed Mount Alverna in Umbria, in order to spend some time alone in prayer. Francis was tired and had the beginnings of the illness which would lead to his death within two years. He was also sad that his little order of friars was no longer what he intended it to be. He had just returned from a peace mission to the Holy Land to find that the itinerant preachers now owned property of their own. He had relinquished his leadership and now needed to spend some time in retreat and prayer…

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Required Reading

If you read nothing else today, read Susan Pitchford's post Too Catholic (for the Protestants), Too Protestant (for the Catholics) on her blog, Florilegium.

She says, ‘Lately I’ve been beset by a raging case of denomination fatigue. It’s been said that Jesus holds the record for the longest-running unanswered prayer in history: “That they all may be one” (John 17:21). How he longed and prayed for the unity of his followers, and how we have broken his heart over and over ever since. Like many others, I’ve had the gift of grieving with him over our pathetic divisions, and while I used to feel the purest pain over it, lately I’m getting more and more fed up.’

Do read the rest of it!

Monday, September 14, 2009

All my trials, Lord, soon be over…

Many people live with the unconscious or conscious expectation that eventually things will get better; wars, hunger, poverty, oppression, and exploitation will vanish; and all people will live in harmony. Their lives and work are motivated by that expectation. When this does not happen in their lifetimes, they are often disillusioned and experience themselves as failures.

But Jesus doesn’t support such an optimistic outlook. He foresees not only the destruction of his beloved city Jerusalem but also a world full of cruelty, violence, and conflict. For Jesus there is no happy ending in this world. The challenge of Jesus is not to solve all the world's problems before the end of time but to remain faithful at any cost.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

An old friend died last night, after a long struggle with Parkinson’s. At last, he is at peace, home with the Lord he loved and faithfully served all his life. In this world there was no happy ending for him, for his children and grandchildren, or for his wife who cared for him so selflessly at home for so long. But for him… for him the best is only just getting started. All his trials are behind him now…

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Who you really are…

“I will give them hidden manna and a white stone—a stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” (Revelation 2:17)

God gives you two names: yours and God’s. Listen for that place deep within where God has given you God’s own name; that name lovers reveal to one another in intimate moments, where God has told you who God is uniquely for you. It’s unlike anybody else’s experience of God. How could it not be? You reflect a part of God that no one else will ever reflect. You reflect back to God a part of the human mystery that no one else can fully understand, and they don’t need to.

It takes awhile; it takes some listening, some silence, some suffering, probably. It takes some waiting, desiring; it takes some hoping. But finally we discover that place where we know who we are, and then God’s deepest will is written in our very genes and our deepest desiring. All God wants back from you is who you really are! All you need to do is return the white stone that was given to you—as it is.

This big/small self is not egocentric, self absorbed, or individualistic at all, but he knows that he is everyman and she knows that she is everywoman.

Richard Rohr, from his Daily Meditations email.

The light pleating
               the rain. Coming from Hitchin
               the way twisted under some

trees & I met there the Shining One. No
conversation or investment followed, the
rain was incessant; there was a completely
steady flow of change. The damp was ionised,

               with charges slipping down quite
               unmatched paths, it was a most
               beautiful and painless night.


JH Prynne, from Into the Day (1972)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Living in the end-times…

We are living in the end-time! This does not mean that creation will soon come to its end, but it does mean that all the signs of the end of time that Jesus mentions are already with us: wars and revolutions, conflicts between nations and between kingdoms, earthquakes, plagues, famines, and persecutions (see Luke 21:9-12). Jesus describes the events of our world as announcements that this world is not our final dwelling place, but that the Son of Man will come to bring us our full freedom. “When these things begin to take place,” Jesus says, “stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand” (Luke 21:28)… The terrible events surrounding us must be lived as ways to make us ready for our final liberation.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

It is so easy to lose sight of what Jesus said about times like ours, in the fear, uncertainty and doubt surrounding us from the media and virally, on Facebook and Twitter and countless forums up and down the intertubes… I even had an email from the Christian card company CrossCards today, promoting a “free book” by a Messianic Jewish group, claiming to explain the appalling consequences facing the world as a result of the US President’s Middle East policy.

The Beatitudes contain their own hints—“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me”—of the difficulties we are likely to face, yet they also contain the assurance that all is indeed in Jesus’ Father’s hands (Romans 8:28), and will lead in the end to healing and to glory.

But the healing and the glory come only by way of the Cross. It is only Jesus' obedience, death and resurrection that make any of this possible. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (I Corinthians 1:18) “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:19-20) and it is only as the Cross becomes mine that I can be part of this great outpouring of mercy “in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14)

When we come to understand this strange identification, both with the crucified Saviour and with the broken world, then we come into the intercessory dimension of the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Blessings not curses...

It is an ongoing temptation to think of ourselves as living under a curse. The loss of a friend, an illness, an accident, a natural disaster, a war, or any failure can make us quickly think that we are no good and are being punished. This temptation to think of our lives as full of curses is even greater when all the media present us day after day with stories about human misery.

Jesus came to bless us, not to curse us. But we must choose to receive that blessing and hand it on to others. Blessings and curses are always placed in front of us. We are free to choose. God says, Choose the blessings!

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

I think this connects with the Internet Monk's article I reposted the other day... It also connects with a tendency among some evangelical / charismatic people to give far too much credit to the enemy. Jesus Christ is Lord, and we who are saved my his death on the Cross are adopted into his family. We are not under a curse. We are not called to burn away our lives ferreting out cursed ideas, people or places. We may have to deal with these things if we walk slap into them, as Jesus did, but we do not have to look under every bush, behind every headline, in the subtext of every song, novel or painting, for lurking demons. "What is that to you?" says Jesus, "Follow me."

Sunday, September 06, 2009

On not giving up prayer...

He who does not give up prayer cannot possibly continue to offend God habitually. Either he will give up prayer, or he will stop sinning.

There’s something right happening…

When there’s something right happening between two, it invites life into it, and it expands. This is how both the natural family and the spiritual family grow. A man and a woman can put their two bodies together and bring a child into the world. But if it is not loved, guided, and taught, the child will fail to thrive. Likewise, we in the Church can gather people together and pour water over their heads, and church them. But there will be no spiritual life for them if no one is an actual family, sponsor, spiritual friend, confessor, teacher or mentor for them in the ways of Jesus.

Many of us have “failed to thrive” within the Church: We have been neither fathered nor mothered in any actual Christian experience. It is all words, but little or no inner awareness of God or grace. It’s nobody’s individual fault but the sin of all of us together. We have a Church that is largely held together by administrators, held offices, and programs. It’s not all bad. It’s just not enough. As many have said, “Faith is caught much more than it is taught.” It is caught from those who are already there, who have been transformed themselves; not just “Churchianity” but lived Christianity. We ourselves must be that “something right happening between two”!

Richard Rohr, adapted from Letting Go: A Spirituality of Subtraction

I think what Rohr is engaging with here is very much what I feel is happening in the Church of England at the moment, and it is a groundswell of potentially far greater significance than the attitudes of extremists at either end of the ecclesiological spectrum, far more important than rumours of schism, or incursions by alien bishops. Back to Church Sunday, new services like our Revive! here at Holy Rood, Wool, and the new services planned for the Wareham churches, are helping to build a “church without walls” where those who feel themselves outside the church community can feel welcomed and loved just as they are, without having to put on their "Sunday Best” and pretend to be something they are not in order to be accepted.

This seem to me a profoundly Franciscan thing: in his own day, St. Francis opened his arms to lepers, paupers, and outcasts, and drew them tenderly into the love of the church, leaving the Holy Spirit to do the long and careful work of penitence in each one’s heart. The Church itself he revered, and loved—but he knew that Christ’s mission, and his mercy, do not stop at the church porch…

Of course, all this work, whether it is these local and national initiatives, courses like The Y Course and Alpha, or anything else, will only bear fruit if the church can go on faithfully loving those it has wooed. But faithful loving is something the Anglican church is rather good at—and by preserving and nurturing all that is good in the practical ways that we are the way we are, we can do that, and more besides, just by being ourselves.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Jesus, Faith and a Universe of Fear

I don’t usually go in for re-posting wholesale from other people’s blogs, but the Internet Monk wrote one the other day that I thought so important it should be re-posted in full:

When I started studying Mark’s Gospel many years ago, I learned that, in Mark, faith is not contrasted with unbelief, but with fear.

The command to “not be afraid” was common in Mark. The disciples are constantly choosing between faith and fear as they journey with Jesus. It is fear, not unbelief, that cripples the community of Jesus-followers.

I don’t believe Christianity is a mind-game where we force ourselves to think happy thoughts. Far from it, I believe Christianity allows- even insists on- a full embrace of the difficulties, obstacles and deadly realities of life.

What does concern me, however, is the response of disciples to the media universe we live in, a media universe that uses fear in ways that are crippling to the mission of Jesus and detrimental to the work of the Holy Spirit.

1. I am concerned that many Christians do not understand the media’s financial stake in creating an atmosphere of crisis about as many stories as possible. They will do anything to keep you watching and reading.

2. I am concerned that many Christians do not understand the manipulation that a diet of fear-mongering makes possible. The media seeks influence and audience. A constant crisis creates that atmosphere.

3. Without in any way taking a skeptical attitude toward science, I have to wonder how many Christians realize media science reporting on many of the popular television and internet venues is exaggerated and quite “unscientific?” Loch Ness this hour, asteroids the next, swine flu at 6, followed by a special on alien DNA.

4. I am concerned that the multiplication of “fear factors” has powerful impact on some Christians, to the point of challenging fundamental aspects of how we as Christians face the painful, unpredictable and evil aspects of existence.

Am I alone in this? Is anyone else feeling that the thermostat of corporate fear is being turned up by media and its echo chamber for all the usual reasons- profit, influence, audience addiction, government empowerment- and many Christians are becoming the victims of an atmosphere not unlike what we saw at Y2K?

Anyone else see Christians becoming easy fodder for this, and failing to relate what they hear to the sovereignty of God, a moderate skepticism of media and the truths of the faith we live by in scripture?

When I heard a guy making motions about the Mayan calendar and 2012 at this year’s SBC, I thought….we’re over a line here. Now I’m seeing many more evidences of the same thing and its getting worse. Those of us who don’t have televisions are at risk for being “unbelievers.”

Is it just me?

I have often struggled with these perceptions myself, but I have never been able to organise my thoughts and misgivings as coherently as the Monk has done here. I’m honoured to be able to pass his thoughts on!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

It was good for me to be afflicted…

If religion is not primarily a belonging system, but is truly a transformational system, one would need, it seems to me, a very different kind of authority. One would need the guidance and conviction of one who has actually walked a journey of transformation himself or herself. One would need the authority of a person who can say, “I know what God does with pain. I should be blaming or bitter, but because of God and grace, I am not.” Not just the authority which says, “You must believe in this and you must believe in that” when often there is no evidence that the authority has ever drunk “of the cup that I must drink” as Jesus put it.

This utterly changes the nature of all true spiritual authority. I will offer you a simple litmus test to determine whether a person has healthy or unhealthy religion. What do they do with their pain—even their daily little disappointments? Do they transform their pain or do they transmit it? People who are practiced in transforming actual life pain, like Jesus on the cross, are the only spiritual authorities worth following. They know. They can lead and teach. The rest of us just talk.

Richard Rohr, OFM, Adapted from The Authority of Those Who Have Suffered

I had been meaning to write some notes on this, but I find that not only has Missy at St. Anne Pray for Us posted it also, but Fran has written an excellent meditation. You should click over and read.

“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word. You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees… It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” (Psalm 119:67-68;71 NIV)

Mastering Evil with Good

The apostle Paul writes to the Romans: “Bless your persecutors; never curse them, bless them. ... Never pay back evil with evil. ... Never try to get revenge. ... If your enemy is hungry, give him something to eat; if thirsty, something to drink. ... Do not be mastered by evil, but master evil with good” (Romans 12:14-21). These words cut to the heart of the spiritual life. They make it clear what it means to choose life, not death, to choose blessings not curses. But what is asked of us here goes against the grain of our human nature. We will only be able to act according to Paul’s words by knowing with our whole beings that what we are asked to do for others is what God has done for us.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV)

For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength. (1 Corinthians 1:25 NIV)

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Creative maladjustment…

This hour in history needs a dedicated circle of transformed non-conformists. The saving of our world from pending doom will come not from the actions of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a dedicated minority.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with thanks to Inward/Outward

Not one of us…

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth: it is not peace I have come to bring, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).

Wow! If Jesus said this, he was surely not expecting the religion of niceness, of pretty words and feel-good experiences that we have become. He knew that Big Truth always divides before it can unite a few at a deeper level. I think most of the thousands of sermons I've heard in my life have been about “being nice” in one way or another. That's how domesticated the gospel has become—as if Jesus were a Divine Miss Manners, and the Church existed to maintain proper social order and class. Yet many are entirely content at the level, and Church has not usually been a passionate search for God. The word nice isn't found anywhere in the Bible, to my knowledge.

There's nothing more dangerous to true religious thinking than conventional thinking, easy conformity, being like everybody else in our social group. There's no depth or power at that level. Mass consciousness is never going to be ready for anything that asks them to “die” or that does not make them feel secure and superior. So we have settled largely for civil religion and cultural Christianity. It's so much more comforting to be nice and “moral” at a small level—than to be faithful to Big Truth—which cuts us all open like a sword.

Richard Rohr OFM, adapted from Letting Go: A Spirituality of Subtraction

I recently spoke with a Christian who had arrived in the UK from Vietnam. Having been here for 18 months, he explained that he had not heard a sermon or any discussion on the subject of suffering.

For many Christians in the West, our model of the Christian life implies that we should be riding high on a success-oriented spirituality. We rarely reflect on the tribulation which Jesus predicted would be our normal Christian experience (see John 16:33; 1 Thessalonians 3:3)…

…suffering is part of our Christian calling (1 Peter 3:9). Peter is repeating what he said earlier, that we are following the example of Christ (1 Peter 2:21). Just as the psalmist predicted, God’s people will face pressures of all kinds, but to experience God’s care and blessing we should refuse to allow evil to set the agenda (1 Peter 3:10–12; Psalm 34:12–16).

Jonathan Lamb, WordLive

Fond as I am of Fr. Richard Rohr, he always makes me uneasy when he uses expressions like, “Mass consciousness is never going to be ready…” There is a thread in his writing sometimes that sounds almost Gnostic, though I am sure from his deep and rigorous treatment of Scripture that he doesn’t mean it in anything like the way it comes across. Maybe it’s just my own over-sensitivity, but I am always very conscious that as Franciscans we must continually be sure that we are on the side of the little folk, the plain people who don’t have the advantages of education, or standing in the church; the poor, in fact: those who suffer.

But as our own Vicar here in Wool, Rhona, said on Sunday as she preached on Mark 7:1-23, our hearts must always be open to precisely those people who don’t meet our expectations, who seem to reflect “mass consciousness” all too uncomfortably. We cannot allow (James 2:1-7) our own ideas of what conforms to our social or religious expectations to get in the way of the vast scandal of the Gospel, that the first shall be last, and the hearts of little children will teach us, and those who are not “one of us”, in Margaret Thatcher’s phrase, are our sisters and brothers in the Kingdom of God (Mark9:34-40).