Friday, February 27, 2009

Discipline...

Discipline is the other side of discipleship. Discipleship without discipline is like waiting to run in the marathon without ever practicing. Discipline without discipleship is like always practicing for the marathon but never participating. It is important, however, to realize that discipline in the spiritual life is not the same as discipline in sports. Discipline in sports is the concentrated effort to master the body so that it can obey the mind better. Discipline in the spiritual life is the concentrated effort to create the space and time where God can become our master and where we can respond freely to God's guidance.

Thus, discipline is the creation of boundaries that keep time and space open for God. Solitude requires discipline, worship requires discipline, caring for others requires discipline. They all ask us to set apart a time and a place where God's gracious presence can be acknowledged and responded to.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

If there were a theme I'd take for what God seems to be showing me this Lent, it's this.

I have been seeing so clearly recently that not creating boundaries, or else not respecting the boundaries I have created, is the greatest obstacle to keeping open time and space for God. Every time I make allowances for things, make allowances for my own tiredness, my preoccupations, or fail to factor in "protected times" for the prayer part of my Rule, things just swirl in and overwhelm that open time and space.

Perhaps it is just because it is open time and space it is vulnerable - just as the open heart is vulnerable, and yet it is the only door Christ has to enter by.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Silly picture!

I couldn't resist - here's a silly picture from the local paper of our Vicar, Rhona, and I larking about with my bass at a worship rehearsal!



Visible in our mortal flesh...

We all have dreams about the perfect life: a life without pain, sadness, conflict, or war. The spiritual challenge is to experience glimpses of this perfect life right in the middle of our many struggles. By embracing the reality of our mortal life, we can get in touch with the eternal life that has been sown there. The apostle Paul expresses this powerfully when he writes: "We are subjected to every kind of hardship, but never distressed; we see no way out but we never despair; we are pursued but never cut off; knocked down, but still have some life in us; always we carry with us in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus, too, may be visible in our ... mortal flesh" (2 Corinthians 4:8-12).

Only by facing our mortality can we come in touch with the life that transcends death. Our imperfections open for us the vision of the perfect life that God in and through Jesus has promised us.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

Here is hope. Through all that is not perfect the Spirit can find a way into the grieving that we can't escape...

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

We know that in all things God works for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose...

(Romans 8.18-28)

Perfection is not...

In a Navajo rug there is always an imperfection woven into the corner. And interestingly enough, it’s where "the Spirit moves in and out of the rug." The pattern is perfect and then there’s one part of it that clearly looks like a mistake. The Semitic mind, the Eastern mind (which, by the way, Jesus would have been much closer to) understands perfection in precisely that way.

Perfection is not the elimination of imperfection. That’s our Western either/or, need-to-control thinking. Perfection, rather, is the ability to incorporate imperfection! There’s no other way to live: You either incorporate imperfection, or you fall into denial. That’s how the Spirit moves in or out of our lives.

Richard Rohr, from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations, p. 228

I love this - somehow temperamentally I've always felt this way. I like buildings with lichened roofs and spalled brickwork, faces with the etchings of long thought and deep feeling. I like the feel of a played-in fingerboard, and I much prefer old clothes! I find it very easy to accept the idea that the Spirit moves in and out through such things; even through the bits of my life that I'm tempted to regret, to think of as loss and damage...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday

Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

Bless├Ęd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

TS Eliot, Ash Wednesday, VI

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Darkness cannot drive out darkness...

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction... The chain reaction of evil - hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars - must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

Martin Luther King, Strength To Love, 1963 with thanks to Inward/Outward

In all our thinking and praying about Guantanamo Bay, the War on Terror, and the ramifications of British and American involvement in torture, "renditions" and so on, this is a good paragraph to keep in mind...

Obedience...

The second temptation of Jesus: Satan takes him up to the pinnacle of the Temple, symbolizing the religious world, and tells him to play righteousness games with God. "Throw yourself off and he'll catch you" (Matthew 4:6). It's the only time when the devil quotes Scripture. The second temptation is the need to be right and to think of the self as saved, superior, the moral elite standing on God and religion, and quoting arguable Scriptures for your own purpose.

More evil has come into the world by people of righteous ignorance than by people who've intentionally sinned: Being convinced that one has the whole truth and has God wrapped up in my denomination, my dogmas and my right response (I am baptised, I made a personal decision for Jesus, I go to church).

It’s not wrong to be "right." Once in a while if something works out, that's sure nice. The spiritual problem is the need to be right. We are called to do the truth and then let go of the consequences. One stops asking the question of spiritual success, which is the egocentrism of the rich young man: "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17). Jesus refused to answer him because it is the wrong question. It is again "the devil" quoting Scripture and not really wanting an answer, only affirmation.

As Mother Teresa loved to say, "We were not created to be successful [even spiritually successful!] but to be obedient." True obedience to God won't always make us look or feel right. Faith is dangerous business!

Richard Rohr, from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations, p.295

I don't know about you, but I need to hear this advice daily! It's part of being fallen, I think, to feel like this, always questioning whether we're making a go of it, when all God really wants to know is if we're trying to follow after his Son... just because we love him.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The shadowed lands of the heart...

The basic and most fundamental problem of the spiritual life is this acceptance of our hidden and dark self, with which we tend to identify all the evil that is in us. We must learn by discernment to separate the evil growth of our actions from the good ground of the soul. And we must prepare that ground so that a new life can grow up from it within us, beyond our knowledge and beyond our conscious control. The sacred attitude is, then, one of reverence, awe and silence before the mystery that begins to take place within us when we become aware of our innermost self. In silence, hope, expectation, and unknowing, the man of faith abandons himself to the divine will: not as an arbitrary and magic power whose decrees must be spelled out from cryptic ciphers, but as to the stream of reality and life itself. The sacred attitude is, then, one of deep and fundamental respect for the real in whatever new form it may present itself.

Thomas Merton. The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation. William H. Shannon, editor (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2003): p. 55

I mentioned earlier today "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Ephesians 6.17) and it is the work of this sword the Merton seems to me to be describing here. Merton's language may seem unfamiliar to some who are more used to studying the Bible than psychology, but I am reminded strongly of the words of the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews:

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4.12)

To learn to exercise that discernment of which Merton writes is one of the most difficult things we can face as Christians. We so easily identify the hidden part of ourselves as the source of "all the evil that is in us" - and yet there is a part of ourselves which is forever unknowable, because it is the place where God touches us. To identify this with the evil that is part of the fallen human condition is so grave an error that it reminds me of the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Luke 12.10). (If you think my words are extreme, consider for a moment the fact that some conservatives consider speaking in tongues to be demonic.)

It is only in silence that we can allow God to reach out to the shadowed lands of the heart; and yet it must be a silence lit by a profound acquaintance with Scripture (1 John 4.1-3). By itself, Bible study will never more than a dry and legalistic accumulation of knowledge; by itself, silence can be a perilous, haunted desert. Only when the word and Spirit are one (e.g. 1 Thessalonians 1.5-6) is silence truly prayer - which is why a prayer like the Jesus Prayer, or the Holy Rosary, deeply rooted in Scripture, yet prayed as a doorway to silence, is such a powerful means of grace.

A Franciscan Benediction

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

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 from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.

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

(Source unknown - courtesy of Inward/Outward)

One for all...

We like to make a distinction between our private and public lives and say, "Whatever I do in my private life is nobody else's business." But anyone trying to live a spiritual life will soon discover that the most personal is the most universal, the most hidden is the most public, and the most solitary is the most communal. What we live in the most intimate places of our beings is not just for us but for all people. That is why our inner lives are lives for others. That is why our solitude is a gift to our community, and that is why our most secret thoughts affect our common life.

Jesus says, "No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house" (Matthew 5:14-15). The most inner light is a light for the world. Let's not have "double lives"; let us allow what we live in private to be known in public.
Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey.
This is another way of putting the universality of contemplative prayer. As Brother Ramon said:
Thus we can say that the "prayer of the heart" unites us with the whole order of creation, and imparts to us a cosmic awareness of the glory of God in both the beauty and the sadness of the world. The process of transfiguration for the whole world has begun in the Gospel, but it will not be completed until the coming of Christ in glory. And until that time we are invited, through prayer, to participate in the healing of the world's ills by the love of God. And if we participate at such a level, then we shall know both pain and glory.
We do not stand alone, despite the myths of a hundred movies and more: we are all part of one organism, creation, and our least breath, our most secret longing, affects all the other parts. How else can we pray? Why else would Jesus say that the two greatest commandments are commandments to love?

The full armour of God...

I believe that all would-be ministers must face the same three temptations as Jesus before they really can minister. The first temptation of Christ, to turn stones into bread (Matthew 4:3), is the need to be effective, successful, relevant, to make things happen. You've done something and people say, "Wow! Good job! You did it right. You're OK." When the crowds approve, its hard not to believe that we have done a good thing, and probably God’s will.

Usually when you buy into that too quickly, you're feeding the false self and the system, which tells you what it immediately wants and seldom knows what it really needs. You can be a very popular and successful minister operating at that level. That is why Jesus has to face that temptation first, to move us beyond what we want to what we really need. In refusing to be relevant, in refusing to respond to people’s immediate requests, Jesus says, Go deeper. What's the real question? What are you really after? What does the heart really hunger for? What do you really desire? "It's not by bread alone that we live" (Matthew 4:4).

Richard Rohr, from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations, p.294

When Rohr speaks of feeding the false self and the system, I'm reminded of what Paul says about rulers and authorities (Ephesians 6.12) - there is a real sense in which the "system" is the enemy's stronghold in human society, just as the "false self" is its stronghold in the heart of an individual.

We need, as even Jesus did in the desert, to put on the full armour of God, and particularly "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." (Ephesians 6.17)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Comfortably numb, still?

The Hebrew people entered the desert feeling themselves a united people, a strong people, and you'd think that perhaps they would have experience greater strength as they walked through. But no! They experienced fragmentation and weariness; they experienced divisions among their people. They were not the people they thought they were.

When all of our idols are taken away, all our securities and defence mechanisms, we find out who we really are. We're so little, so poor, so empty - sometimes, even so ugly. But God takes away our shame, and we are able to present ourselves to God poor and humble. Then we find out who we are and who God is for us.

from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations, p. 130


This morning I was struck all of a heap by the thought that in the Gospels, Jesus doesn't say that the issue keeping us from the Kingdom is sexual immorality, or sexual orientation, or violence, or gambling, or any of the things that so occupy the minds of so many of us within the church, but the three P's, power, prestige and possessions.

I keep thinking about this. All the energy that goes into these concerns, all the anguish caused to people, the disruption and disgrace caused by factions and parties over issues like sexual orientation, and yet we miss the real problems that are under our noses. I seem to remember Jesus making some remark involving gnats and camels...

And yet we are still God's people, even if we turn out not to be the people we thought we were. We may be broken, and misguided, mistreated and mistreating, and our sights may be set on things no child of God ought even to glance at; but we are his people. We were bought at a price. Who are we to call ourselves unworthy, when Christ died for us the way he did?

One thing though - if we don't wake ourselves up out of our comfortably numb condition, we'll be woken. Isn't that what Jesus keeps on saying, throughout the Gospels? We have to stay awake. We have to shake ourselves, and keep watch (Mark 13.34-37) Comfortably numb won't cut it. Only when we know ourselves through and through as poor, and little, and empty, will we be fit for the Kingdom.

The Three P's

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says there are three basic obstacles to the coming of the Kingdom. These are the three P's: power, prestige and possessions. Nine-tenths of his teaching can be aligned under one of those three categories.

I'm all for sexual morality, but Jesus does not say that's the issue. In fact, he says the prostitutes are getting into the Kingdom of God before some of us who have made bedfellows with power, prestige and possessions (see Matthew 21:31-32). Those three numb the heart and deaden the spirit, says Jesus.

Read Luke's Gospel. Read the Sermon on the Mount. Read Matthew's Gospel and tell me if Jesus is not saying that power, prestige and possessions are the barriers to truth and are the barriers to the Kingdom.

I'm not pointing to Church leadership, I'm pointing to us as the Church. The Church has been comfortable with power, prestige and possessions for centuries and has not called that heresy. You can't see your own sin.

Richard Rohr, from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations, p.18

Perhaps we in the Western churches need to think this one through a bit. We are so often at ease with the structures of power, keen on (ecclesiastical, even) prestige, and desperately concerned with our own, and our churches', possessions. We have become comfortably numb. Our ears are stopped, our eyes clouded, and our hearts... I don't even want to talk about our hearts.

[We] have gone astray like lost sheep; seek out your servant,
for [we] have not [yet] forgotten your commandments.

Psalm 119.176

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Keep on keeping on...

Related to keeping a rule is maintaining the balance between attachment and detachment, between activity and reflection. It is probably fair to say that, without an intentional focus on maintaining such a balance, most of us will end up out of balance most of the time... The fact is, most of us are too heavily weighted on the side of attachment. Necessary periods of self-reflective "space" are largely missing. It is good to remind ourselves that what we are seeking to "claim" when we seek solitude is not an unworldly lifestyle as an alternative to our own but rather a balanced lifestyle, one in which the inner and the outer are in creative harmony.

How do we maintain such a balance in the face of constant intrusions? The answer is, we do what Jesus did: we keep working at it. There were times that Jesus withdrew to a "deserted place" to pray but was pursued by his disciples and the crowds. At such times Jesus responded to the human needs of the moment, telling the disciples, "let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do" (Mark 1:38). But afterward Jesus inevitably returned to the prayerful silence and solitude that renewed him...

If you experience solitude as a familiar rhythm, you will gradually strengthen your ability to experience a solitude of the heart regardless of your external circumstances. Even in the midst of active engagement, you will be able to enter into a silent space inside yourself.

From Solitude: A Neglected Path to God by Christopher C. Moore (Cowley Publications, 2001) with thanks to Vicki K Black.

I so need to hear Moore's comment about "keep working at it". Whatever rule we follow, whatever discipline of prayer we undertake, we will be interrupted, derailed, taken away from it by the needs and wants of the world around us and its people. And so we should be. We cannot be holier and more spiritual than Jesus - but we can be grumpier and more unloving! But allowing ourselves to be called away is not a reason to give up on the whole enterprise of solitude, or of a discipline of prayer. The enemy will of course suggest it should be - but we have our Saviour to turn to, and his example with which to confront our tempter. Ultimately, it is in his mercy, by his grace, that we can pray at all.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Subtraction...

Soul knowledge sends you in the opposite direction from consumerism. It's not addition that makes one holy but subtraction: stripping the illusions, letting go of the pretence, exposing the false self, breaking open the heart and the understanding, not taking my private self too seriously.

In a certain sense we are on the utterly wrong track. We are climbing while Jesus is descending, and I think in that we reflect the pride and the arrogance of Western civilization, always trying to accomplish, perform and achieve. We transferred all that to Christianity and became spiritual consumers. The ego is still in charge. When the self takes itself that seriously, there's no room left for God.

All we can really do is get ourselves out of the way, and we can't even do that.

Richard Rohr, from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations, p. 46

To be able to enjoy fully the many good things the world has to offer, we must be detached from them. To be detached does not mean to be indifferent or uninterested. It means to be nonpossessive. Life is a gift to be grateful for and not a property to cling to.

A nonpossessive life is a free life. But such freedom is only possible when we have a deep sense of belonging. To whom then do we belong? We belong to God, and the God to whom we belong has sent us into the world to proclaim in his Name that all of creation is created in and by love and calls us to gratitude and joy. That is what the "detached" life is all about. It is a life in which we are free to offer praise and thanksgiving.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

The Buddhists speak of non-attachment, of not clinging to what we imagine to be our possessions, including our own bodies, our life on this earth. It's only when we are free from attachment that we are free to live: "For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it." (Matthew 16.25) And yet it's only by grace that we can let go.

Oh, Jesus, give me the grace to know this for myself. "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 119.105) and yet I am weak and disobedient, longing to know your truth, longing to be set free...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Losing it...

Real holiness doesn't feel like holiness; it just feels like you're dying. It feels like you're losing it. And yet, you're losing it from the center, from a place where all things are One, where you can joyously, graciously let go of it. You know God's doing it when you can smile, when you can trust the letting go.

Many of us were taught the no without the yes, the joy. We were trained just to put up with it, to take it on the chin. Saying no to the self does not necessarily please God. When God, by love and freedom, can create a joyous yes inside of you - so much so that you can absorb the no's - then it's God’s work

Richard Rohr, from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations, p. 334.

I don't know much about real holiness, but I certainly know about the feelings Rohr describes here. I've often described the feeling as being a little like sitting at the top of a water flume at a swimming pool - once you let go of the rail, you've no effective control left, and the only thing to do is to say yes to gravity and low friction, and enjoy the ride. We have to trust God's hand beneath us, even when humanly there is every reason not to trust - and that's hard. That's when it does feeling like losing it, like dying. But one day it will be dying. What will we do then?

Father, give me grace always to trust you, through impossible times, through that last river, to the far and golden shore... through Jesus Christ, our only Saviour. Amen!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Let it be...

A favourite saying is, "God helps those who help themselves." I think the phrase can be understood correctly, but in most practical situations it is pure heresy. Scripture clearly says God helps those who trust in God, not those who help themselves.

We need to be told that so strongly because of our entire "do it yourself" orientation. As educated people, as Americans, our orientation is to do it. It takes applying the brakes, turning off our own power and allowing Another.

What the lordship of Jesus means is that first we come to him, first we put things into his hands. Our doing must proceed from our being. Our being is "hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3).

Richard Rohr, from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations, p.77

Risk all for love, Jesus tells us, even your own life. Give that to me and let me save it. The healthy religious person is the one who allows God to save.

If this is the ideal Christian attitude toward God, then Mary is the ideal Christian of the Gospels. She sums up in herself the attitude of the poor one whom God is able to save. She is deeply aware of her own emptiness without God (Luke 1:52). She longs for the fulfilment of God’s promise (1:54); she has left her self open, available for God’s work (1:45, 49). And when the call comes, she makes a full personal surrender: "Let it be!" (1:38).

Rohr, ibid., p. 322

It's strange, but when I've really come into some dark place, when it seems as though the risk is too great, and the cost too hard to bear, and I've turned, as always, to the Jesus Prayer, then this is precisely what I seem to hear from God. His love, his mercy, is so great that there truly is nothing to fear, and all we are called to do is surrender, in those words of Mary's, "Let it be". His longing for our good, for our utter and final welfare, is so great that he will bring us through anything, even through the gates of death itself...

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. Because you are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you...

Isaiah 43.2-5

I don't know of any contemporary writer who has put this as clearly or as movingly as Paul McCartney, in his song "Let it Be", written in 1969 but not released, with the Beatles, until the following year. Paul wrote the song following a dream, and sang it live at the memorial service for his wife Linda, at St. Martins in the Fields, 1998:

When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

Let it be, let it be,
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.

And when the broken hearted people
Living in the world agree,
There will be an answer, let it be.

For though they may be parted there is
Still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be.

Let it be, let it be. Yeah
There will be an answer, let it be.

And when the night is cloudy,
There is still a light that shines on me,
Shine until tomorrow, let it be.

I wake up to the sound of music,
Mother Mary comes to me,
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

Let it be, let it be.
There will be an answer, let it be.
Let it be, let it be,
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.
Let it be, let it be.
There will be an answer, let it be.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The need for mercy...

At the root of all war is fear: not so much the fear men have of one another as the fear they have of everything. It is not merely that they do not trust one another; they do not even trust themselves. If they are not sure when someone else may turn around and kill them, they are still less sure when they may turn around and kill themselves. They cannot trust anything, because they have ceased to believe in God.

It is not only our hatred of others that is dangerous but also and above all our hatred of ourselves: particularly that hatred of ourselves which is too deep and too powerful to be consciously faced. For it is this which makes us see our own evil in others and unable to see it in ourselves.

Thomas Merton. New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions Press, 1961) p. 112
Kyrie Eleison; Christe Eleison...

Friday, February 13, 2009

No fear...

Have no fear of being thought insignificant or unbalanced, but preach repentance with courage and simplicity. Have faith in the Lord, who has overcome the world. His Spirit speaks in you and through you, calling men and women to turn to him and observe his precepts. You will encounter some who are faithful, meek, and well disposed; they will joyfully receive you and your words. But there will be more who are sceptical, proud, and blasphemous, and who will insult you and resist your message. Prepare yourselves, therefore, to bear everything with patience and humility.

Saint Francis of Assisi
Legend of the Three Companions - 36
(with thanks to Our Lady's Little Scribe)

I need so much to hear this! It's very easy, especially when one's trying to follow Francis, to fear things like this. And yet Jesus said, over and over again, do not be afraid.

It does seem to be a matter of patience and humility, for if we are truly patient and humble, what is there to fear? For it is the Father's good pleasure to give us the Kingdom! (Matthew 5.3; Luke 12.32)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The power of redemption...

Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, "Love your enemies." It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. That’s why Jesus says, "Love your enemies." Because if you hate your enemies, you have no way to redeem and to transform your enemies. But if you love your enemies, you will discover that at the very root of love is the power of redemption.
Martin Luther King, Jr., Loving Your Enemies
If we love, we are in Christ, and it is Christ's love with which we love our enemies (John 13.34), even more somehow than our friends (Matthew 5.43-48) - that is why it holds the power of redemption.

But this is dangerous; we can only love like this if we are entirely without defences. This is what the Cross means, as far as I can see.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What moves the sun, the moon and the other stars...

The saints are so aware that love is not something to be worked for - to be worked up to or learned in workshops. It breaks through now and then, in ways suddenly obvious.

Maybe it's looking at a sunset or a beloved one; maybe it's a moment of insight or a gut intuition of the foundational justice and truth of all things. But when we discover love, we want to thank somebody for it. Because we know we didn't create it. We know we didn't practice it; we are just participating in it.

Love is that which underlies and grounds all things. As Dante said, love is the energy "that moves the sun, the moon and the other stars."

Richard Rohr, from Enneagram II: Tool for Conversion, p.189

I think this is beautiful - beautiful in the way that things that are entirely true are always beautiful. There is such refuge and mercy in these words: we do not need to be responsible for somehow generating, or, since that is impossible, for not generating, love. All we have to do is realise that it is; and that it is in the end greater than all the evil and all the despair that the enemy can set up against it. God is love; and God is sovereign... though the peculiar form of his sovereignty - mercy - can only truly be seen at the Cross.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Snow and health and things...

Stuck indoors with a bad chest I discovered this excellent article by Nick Baines, the Bishop of Croydon. His article (you really should read the whole thing - one of the best and most constructive criticisms of media negativity you're likely to read) finishes with this wonderful paragraph and a bit:

I haven't yet seen the news reports of nurses and doctors who struggled into their nearest hospitals. Or ordinary people instinctively helping their elderly neighbours, checking on their well-being and doing their shopping. Or the people who struggled to get to work so that the trains and buses might be able to run later and the roads be gritted. Or the fact that millions of people resigned themselves to being stuck and spent the day playing (with their kids?) instead of believing that the Stock Market is all that matters in life. All they get is a kicking.

And we wonder why the children think the world is rubbish and it might not be worth putting yourself out.

Doing it better for God...

Don't waste the next 20 years of your life being against anybody, anything, any group, any institution. Just go ahead and do it better. It's so common sense when you hear it.

Richard Rohr, from the CAC webcast, Nov. 8, 2008:
What is The Emerging Church?

Monday, February 02, 2009

Learning the meaning of mercy...

We need silence in our lives. We even desire it. But when we enter into silence we encounter a lot of inner noises, often so disturbing that a busy and distracting life seems preferable to a time of silence. Two disturbing "noises" present themselves quickly in our silence: the noise of lust and the noise of anger. Lust reveals our many unsatisfied needs, anger or many unresolved relationships. But lust and anger are very hard to face.

What are we to do? Jesus says, "Go and learn the meaning of the words: Mercy is what pleases me, not sacrifice" (Matthew 9:13). Sacrifice here means "offering up," "cutting out," "burning away," or "killing." We shouldn't do that with our lust and anger. It simply won't work. But we can be merciful toward our own noisy selves and turn these enemies into friends.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

Here, though Nouwen is not, intentionally anyway, referring to it, is one of the key issues for me in using the Jesus Prayer. Our mercy, for ourselves as for anyone else, lies within Jesus' mercy and depends upon it, whether we realise that or not. For me at any rate, the Prayer is so gentle and yet so insistent - there is no need to fight, to attempt to crush, our lust and our anger - we just turn again to the Prayer. They will reappear, these "distractions" (the word doesn't do justice to their insistence) - or some other, perhaps - but there is no need to worry. Turn again to the Prayer, to Jesus, and ask again for his mercy. He is the very mercy of God, and he is never tired of our prayers for that mercy.

I sometimes think that God permits us to be plagued, within measure (1 Corinthians 10:13), by things like this, just in order that we should learn the meaning of mercy, in its entirely simple and direct application to ourselves!

Oh, thank you, dearest Lord, for the Prayer!

Awakening...

At five-thirty in the morning I am dreaming a very quiet room
when a soft voice awakens me from my dream.
I am like all mankind awakening from all the dreams
that ever were dreamed in all the nights of the world.
It is like the One Christ awakening in all the separate selves
that ever were separate and isolated and alone in all the lands of the earth.
It is like all minds coming back together into awareness
from all distractions, cross-purposes and confusions,
into unity of love.

It is like the first morning of the world
(when Adam, at the sweet voice of Wisdom
awoke from nonentity and knew her),
and like the Last Morning of the world
when all the fragments of Adam will return from death
at the voice of Hagia Sophia,
and will know where they stand.

Such is the awakening of one man,
one morning,
Awakening out of languor and darkness,
out of helplessness, out of sleep,
newly confronting reality and finding it to be gentleness.

It is like being awakened by Eve.
It is like being awakened by the Blessed Virgin.
It is like coming forth from primordial nothingness
and standing in clarity, in Paradise.

Thomas Merton, with thanks to Barbara

Sunday, February 01, 2009

More hidden joy...

Joy is hidden in compassion. The word compassion literally means "to suffer with." It seems quite unlikely that suffering with another person would bring joy. Yet being with a person in pain, offering simple presence to someone in despair, sharing with a friend times of confusion and uncertainty... such experiences can bring us deep joy. Not happiness, not excitement, not great satisfaction, but the quiet joy of being there for someone else and living in deep solidarity with our brothers and sisters in this human family. Often this is a solidarity in weakness, in brokenness, in woundedness, but it leads us to the center of joy, which is sharing our humanity with others.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey
I think it's this understanding of joy which lies at the heart of following Francis. Franciscan joy is far from being defined by happiness or fun, or even contentment - though it most certainly can contain all those things - and it is found sometimes in the most unlikely of places. As the Principles state (29,30):
[Franciscan] joy is a divine gift, coming from union with God in Christ. It is still there even in times of darkness and difficulty, giving cheerful courage in the face of disappointment, and an inward serenity and confidence through sickness and suffering. Those who possess it can rejoice in weakness, insults, hardships, and persecutions for Christ’s sake; for when they are weak, then they are strong...

The humility, love, and joy which mark the lives of us as Tertiaries are all God-given graces. They can never be obtained by human effort. They are gifts of the Holy Spirit. The purpose of Christ is to work miracles through people who are willing to be emptied of self and to surrender to Him. We then become channels of grace through whom His mighty work is done.