Saturday, October 31, 2009

The love of Poverty…

The most honoured parts of the body are not the head or the hands, which lead and control. The most important parts are the least presentable parts. That’s the mystery of the Church. As a people called out of oppression to freedom, we must recognize that it is the weakest among us—the elderly, the small children, the handicapped, the mentally ill, the hungry and sick—who form the real centre. Paul says, “It is the parts of the body which we consider least dignified, that we surround with the greatest dignity” (1 Corinthians 12:23).

The Church as the people of God can truly embody of the living Christ among us only when the poor remain its most treasured part. Care for the poor, therefore, is much more than Christian charity. It is the essence of being the body of Christ…

Like every human organization the Church is constantly in danger of corruption. As soon as power and wealth come to the Church, manipulation, exploitation, misuse of influence, and outright corruption are not far away.

How do we prevent corruption in the Church? The answer is clear: by focusing on the poor. The poor make the Church faithful to its vocation. When the Church is no longer a church for the poor, it loses its spiritual identity. It gets caught up in disagreements, jealousy, power games, and pettiness. Paul says, “God has composed the body so that greater dignity is given to the parts which were without it, and so that there may not be disagreements inside the body but each part may be equally concerned for all the others” (1 Corinthians 12:24-25). This is the true vision. The poor are given to the Church so that the Church as the body of Christ can be and remain a place of mutual concern, love, and peace.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

St. Francis saw this so clearly: it was only by “focusing” on the poor to the extent that he embraced their poverty for himself, embraced it as closely as a lover, that he was able—without, at least to begin with, even realising what he was doing—to cleanse the corruption that threatened to destroy the Church in his day.

But how do we, in our own time, come anywhere close to this? I have always wondered how we might truly follow this part of our vocation as Tertiaries. The Third Order of the Society of St. Francis was founded by Francis himself in order to provide a way to live as radical Christians in the world, rather than by walking away from it. As the Principles state (Day 4): “When Saint Francis encouraged the formation of The Third Order he recognised that many are called to serve God in the spirit of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience in everyday life (rather than in a literal acceptance of these principles as in the vows of the Brothers and Sisters of the First and Second Orders). The rule of The Third Order is intended to enable us in the duties and conditions of daily living, and for us to carry them out in this spirit.”

This is all very good; but where, in our own lives, does the rubber hit the road? It would be so easy to fudge the call to simplicity, or to let it stand as a merely external exercise. Where is the reckless love Francis had for his Lady Poverty?

Richard Rohr has some thoughts:

God calls all of us to take the demanding and liberating path of our own inner truth (John 8:31-32) [Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (NIV)]—and that means taking responsibility for everything that’s in us: for what pleases us and for what we’re ashamed of, for the rich person inside us and for the poor one too. Francis of Assisi called this forgiving the leper within us and Therese of Lisieux called it “The Little Way.” It is always the way of courage and utter trust, recognizing both light and shadow within us.

If we learn to honour and claim our inner inheritance, we will grant others the same divine donation. If we learn to love the poor one within us, we’ll discover that we have room for compassion for all “outsiders” too, because we now know that we are all the same. Human solidarity now comes naturally.

Those who have enough space within them to embrace every part of their own soul can receive the fully human and fully divine Christ. And the good news is that Christ himself will lead us on this path.

Adapted from Simplicity, p. 174-175

I confess that I’m really quite excited about Rohr’s words here. If the discipline of interior prayer can lead us directly into the love of inner—and ultimately outer—poverty, then at last we have a handle on our calling, and a real understanding of why prayer is so central to our vocation. Certainly my own experience seems to be bearing out all that Rohr says.

I’ll try and write more on this as it (hopefully!) becomes clearer…

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Little Way…

God calls all of us to take the demanding and liberating path of our own inner truth (John 8:31-32)—and that means taking responsibility for everything that’s in us: for what pleases us and for what we’re ashamed of, for the rich person inside us and for the poor one too. Francis of Assisi called this forgiving the leper within us and Therese of Lisieux called it “The Little Way.” It is always the way of courage and utter trust, recognizing both light and shadow within us.

If we learn to honour and claim our inner inheritance, we will grant others the same divine donation. If we learn to love the poor one within us, we’ll discover that we have room for compassion for all “outsiders” too, because we now know that we are all the same. Human solidarity now comes naturally.

Those who have enough space within them to embrace every part of their own soul can receive the fully human and fully divine Christ. And the good news is that Christ himself will lead us on this path.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Simplicity, p. 174-175

I love this sense that we are all outsiders, in the end. If we see ourselves truly, we will realise that we “fit” only in what Rohr calls our “inner inheritance”—the way God has “prepared for us to walk in”.

I think part of the reason I find this so exciting is that it resonates deeply with two concepts that fascinated me when I was young, the Tao of the Chinese philosophers Lao Tzu, Lieh Tzu and Chuang Tzu, and Colin Wilson's idea of The Outsider. Yet somehow although they allowed me to see where the deep longing I felt almost continuously might be located, they couldn’t help me actually to find what I might be longing for.

It wasn’t until my own conversion between the ages of 30 and 31 that I began to find what they had been calling out to me through the fog: that all our times are in God’s hand, all our ways carved into the very being of us, and we have only to trust that the God who made us made us this way advisedly, and accept ourselves, as he accepts us in Christ, with open arms. In doing that, our arms are open to all without question, for in the end we are all little, and we sleep, and love, and weep, all alike.

“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (Jesus said this, John 8:31-32 NIV)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bible Sunday

The rich young man in Mark 10:17-22 isn't personally a bad guy; he's simply a normal part of the system in which he's stuck. Thus Jesus calls him to distance himself, or even separate himself from it for his own liberation. Most people are not personally bad or evil, but they are often a part of structures that make it impossible for them to see correctly or wisely. Personal blindness and structural blindness are two different things, although they often overlap.

"Jesus said, 'You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor.' At that saying, the man's countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions." We can tell that he is personally a good man from Jesus’ response to him: the text says, "He looked intently at him and loved him."

When Jesus challenges people, he usually does not call them personally evil or malevolent. Instead he points to the fact that they’re structurally blind, that they can’t see from their present vantage point. Thus he tells them they have to change positions (tax collectors, rich people, people trapped in victimhood, etc.) because otherwise they will never learn to see. Up to now, we have largely addressed evil on a personal level with rather poor results. Jesus addresses evil by also critiquing the invisible loyalty systems which demand most of our allegiance.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Simplicity, p. 139

I sometimes think this is what we are up against in our churches. We believe, we worship, but like the rich young man in the Gospel account, we don't accept the consequences of Jesus' challenge to the systems that undergird our lives.

Today is Bible Sunday. As the writer to the Hebrews says (4:12 NIV), "the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." If we are to be able to receive the gift of eternal life, of freedom now, from Jesus, we have to approach and accept the Bible as more than just a collection of interesting old stories and poems, as more than a liturgical ornament that fits between the collect and the sermon: it is the Word of God, with all the beauty and all the terror that that should convey.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Luther said this...

I seem to be in a Lutherish kind of a mood today. Maggi Dawn just reminded me of one of my very favourite Martin Luther quotes:
I have no use for cranks who despise music, because it is a gift of God. Music drives away the Devil and makes people gay; they forget thereby all wrath, unchastity, arrogance, and the like. Next after theology, I give to music the highest place and the greatest honour.
Yes! - preach it, Brother Martin!

Loving the Church...

Loving the Church often seems close to impossible. Still, we must keep reminding ourselves that all people in the Church - whether powerful or powerless, conservative or progressive, tolerant or fanatic - belong to that long line of witnesses moving through this valley of tears, singing songs of praise and thanksgiving, listening to the voice of their Lord, and eating together from the bread that keeps multiplying as it is shared. When we remember that, we may be able to say, "I love the Church, and I am glad to belong to it."

Loving the Church is our sacred duty. Without a true love for the Church, we cannot live in it in joy and peace. And without a true love for the Church, we cannot call people to it.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

I thought this was a good chaser for my last two posts!

A foot in both camps...

It seems to me that the emerging church is emerging because people are finding the ability to have a grateful foot in both camps - one in the Tradition (the mother church) along with another foot inside of a support group that parallels, deepens, broadens, grounds, and personalizes the traditional message. But you don't throw out the traditional message, or you have to keep rebuilding the infrastructure or creating a superstructure all over again.

The emerging church becomes an accountability system for the Tradition, which is needed to keep us honest and not just lost in words. This is a new kind of reformation in which we don't react, we don't rebel, we don't start from zero again. You can't start a spiritual reformation by spinning wheels, particularly not angry wheels. You have to be for something - totally - or it is not religion.

And so the appropriate questions are: What are you in love with? What do you believe in? What is the heaven that you have already discovered? What good thing do you need to share? This is the only work of soul.

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

This is a deeply Franciscan point of view that Rohr is expressing. St. Francis himself, born into a period when the church of his day was not in a good state, wasted no time in criticising either its leadership or its laity, but simply got on with following the Christ he loved as closely as he possibly could, collecting around him those who caught his vision of a truly radical life according to the actual Biblical teachings of Jesus, and lived in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. In doing so, he did far more to rebuild the church than any of its critics and rebels like Frederick II.

In our day most of us cannot, or do not, aspire to Francis' purity of vision - but we can be faithful to the leading of the Holy Spirit; we can go back to the Gospels and fall in love again with the Son of the Living God who died to save us, and by whose mercy we have been set free; and we can try our honest best to live in the Light of Christ regardless of what may be said of us by those who are embarrassed by the truth.

I love this sense of having a foot in both camps. I simply cannot live any other way myself. I know there are plenty of friends of mine who find this habit slightly difficult. Some of my evangelical / charismatic friends find my devotion to our Lady, my (very) high view of the Eucharist, and so forth, deeply peculiar if not downright suspect. On the other hand, I have Anglo-Catholic friends who not only cannot understand my taste in worship music, but who find my (very) high view of the role of the Holy Spirit in the church in general and in prayer ministry in particular, deeply peculiar if not downright suspect. I don't think either group of friends readily understands the depth of my devotion to God's Word.

I can't help that. Here I stand, as Martin Luther is reported to have once said, and I can do no other. Actually I think it is terribly important that, like Brother Francis before us, we adamantly refuse to be recruited by any camp in opposition to any other. We have good precedent. Throughout the four Gospels we can find accounts of Jesus refusing to be recruited by the Pharisees, the Zealots, or anyone else who would gladly have called him "one of us", slipping away through the crowd anytime anyone tried to make him king (John 6:15).

We must keep a foot firmly, I'm coming to believe, in both camps - and we must, gently but firmly, resist anyone who tells us that our views are internally contradictory, mutually incompatible, or any of that. We must go our own way, or rather Jesus' way, even when it costs us, as it cost him, dearly.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Simple competence...

Another exciting piece of Emerging Christianity is that, really for the first time, we've stopped idealizing or being preoccupied with the top. We have turned to a search for actual gifts, real service, and proven holiness. What we need now is simple competence in doing the job of revealing, healing, and reconciling this pained humanity and this suffering world.

The first question is not, "Is she trained in theology?" or "Is he ordained?" The first question is "Can she do the job? Is he changing lives? Is it working?"

For centuries we have argued about bishops, ministers, priests, and protocol, with few results and more divisions. Now we realize that it is simple competence and holiness that finally matters. Are lives being changed? Are people meeting God, themselves, and one another in good and healing ways? All the rest is window dressing. Jesus had legitimization from no formal institution, but he sure did the job.

Adapted from the CAC webcast, Nov. 8, 2008:
I have to confess that this idea of simple competence is one of the things I miss about the Vineyard. Admittedly, in the UK at any rate, it's never been much more than an idea, or an ideal at best, but it is a beautiful idea. When God's call is filtered through years of vocation conferences, study, assignments and examinations, its edge is often blunted if it isn't lost altogether. All this may help provide a firewall against potential abuses (though tragic events have often enough proved that it isn't an impenetrable one) but it most certainly loses vocations, and breaks hearts longing to serve God.

The theology of holy orders, and the traditional roles of Bishop, Priest and Deacon are deeply attested to in the history of the Church since the earliest days - some would argue, from the apostles themselves. Perhaps the old concept of Minor Orders was intended to extend this, and in many ways roles within our own Church of England such as Licensed Lay Minister (or Lay Reader), Lay Pastoral Assistant (or Lay Pastor) are a modern equivalent. Certainly they provide a welcome and useful path to service within a disciplined ecclesial structure.

It would however take a hardy Catholic, whether Anglo- or Roman, I think, to assert that the Holy Spirit should be limited by the structures of church governance. I am excited and challenged by Rohr's words here. And Rohr, remember, is a Priest in the Roman Catholic Church, and a Franciscan (OFM).

Things are moving and changing in the church (I use the small 'C' advisedly) in ways I don't understand. Some I know feel terrified, as though the earth itself were shifting under their feet, and I sympathise. But Aslan is not a tame Lion, as Mrs Beaver observed, and we are only human. The world has changed out of all recognition in the few years I've walked around on it; should the church not change too, since it is made up of ordinary people trying to follow Christ? It is still the Body of Christ in the world, but it must be flexible in order to serve in the world, just as my hand must flex to turn a sick person's door handle if I am to be able to visit them.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

All together now...

As Jesus was one human person among many, the Church is one organization among many. And just as there may have been people with more attractive appearances than Jesus, there may be many organizations that are a lot better run than the Church. But Jesus is the Christ appearing among us to reveal God's love, and the Church is his people called together to make his presence visible in today's world.

Would we have recognized Jesus as the Christ if we had met him many years ago? Are we able to recognize him today in his body, the Church? We are asked to make a leap of faith. If we dare to do it our eyes will be opened and we will see the glory of God.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey
What is remarkable is that we are, ourselves, our own frail broken selves, the Body of Christ in the world. Of course we can't do it by ourselves. Could I? Of course not. Could you? Hardly. But together... all together...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What have they done to the rain?

It’s been raining gently but steadily since the early hours of the morning; I went for a nap this afternoon, and woke up with this heartbreaking song, which I haven’t sung, or even heard really, for many years, going through my head. Now it’s become a full-grown earworm I thought I’d pass it on. Malvina Reynolds wrote it, but the version I remember, of course, was Joan Baez’, which changes a couple of words here and there:

What have they done to the rain?

Just a little rain falling all around,
The grass lifts its head to the heavenly sound,
Just a little rain, just a little rain,
What have they done to the rain?

Just a little boy standing in the rain,
The gentle rain that falls for years.
And the grass is gone,
The boy disappears,
And rain keeps falling like helpless tears,
And what have they done to the rain?

Just a little breeze out of the sky,
The leaves pat their hands as the breeze blows by,
Just a little breeze with some smoke in its eye,
What have they done to the rain?

Just a little boy standing in the rain,
The gentle rain that falls for years.
And the grass is gone,
The boy disappears,
And rain keeps falling like helpless tears,
And what have they done to the rain?

Malvina Reynolds

Being part of it…

Over the centuries the Church has done enough to make any critical person want to leave it. Its history of violent crusades, pogroms, power struggles, oppression, excommunications, executions, manipulation of people and ideas, and constantly recurring divisions is there for everyone to see and be appalled by.

Can we believe that this is the same Church that carries in its centre the Word of God and the sacraments of God’s healing love? Can we trust that in the midst of all its human brokenness the Church presents the broken body of Christ to the world as food for eternal life? Can we acknowledge that where sin is abundant grace is superabundant, and that where promises are broken over and again God's promise stands unshaken? To believe is to answer yes to these questions.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

I’m aware that for some of my readers yesterday’s post will have raised difficult questions. This reflection from Nouwen might go some way to explaining why, no matter what, I can’t walk away from the Body that I am part of… and if things are not always comfortable, that’s part of it, part of the whole process, part of being the Body of Christ in a wounded world.

When I write these things it all looks so cold and “pious” (in the colloquially pejorative sense) on the screen, and yet it’s all shining with tears and energy in my own mind and heart. I wish I could somehow convey how all this is alive with the gentle heartstopping desire the Spirit has—how real it is. Christ, have mercy, is about all I can say these days…

Monday, October 19, 2009

Believing in the Church…

The Church is an object of faith. In the Apostles' Creed we pray: “I believe in God, the Father… in Jesus Christ, his only Son, in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” We must believe in the Church! The Apostles’ Creed does not say that the Church is an organization that helps us to believe in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. No, we are called to believe in the Church with the same faith we believe in God.

Often it seems harder to believe in the Church than to believe in God. But whenever we separate our belief in God from our belief in the Church, we become unbelievers. God has given us the Church as the place where God becomes God-with-us…

Our faith in God who sent his Son to become God-with-us and who, with his Son, sent his Spirit to become God-within-us cannot be real without our faith in the Church. The Church is that unlikely body of people through whom God chooses to reveal God’s love for us. Just as it seems unlikely to us that God chose to become human in a young girl living in a small, not very respected town in the Middle East nearly two thousand years ago, it seems unlikely that God chose to continue his work of salvation in a community of people constantly torn apart by arguments, prejudices, authority conflicts, and power games.

Still, believing in Jesus and believing in the Church are two sides of one faith. It is unlikely but divine!

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

If this is true, then we as Franciscans have an enormous responsibility given us by our founder, to whom Christ spoke from the crucifix at San Damiano, saying, “Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin.” We are called to such gentleness and concern, such compassion and longing, for the broken body of Christ, the Church (Colossians 1:24) as was shown by Joseph, Nicodemus, Mary Magdalene and the others (Luke 23:55; John 19:38ff) to Christ’s own body broken on the Cross. Only through such love and self-giving as theirs, and as Francis’ and Clare’s, will we at last see all things made new in Jesus (Revelation 21:5).

Saturday, October 17, 2009

This is true…

I thought this was wonderful—Country Parson attributes it to the Iona Abbey Worship Book:

It is not true that this world and its inhabitants are doomed to die and be lost;

This is true: For God so love the world that he gave his only Son to that everyone who believes in him shall not die but have everlasting life.

It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction;

This is true: I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

It is not true that violence and hatred shall have the last word, and that war and destruction have come to stay forever;

This is true: For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given in whom authority will rest and whose name will be prince of peace.

It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil that seek to rule the world;

This is true: To me is given all authority in heaven and on earth, and lo, I am with you always to the end of the world.

It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted, who are the prophets of the church, before we can do anything;

This is true: I will pour out my Spirit on all people, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young people shall see visions, and your old folk shall dream dreams.

It is not true that our dreams for the liberation of humankind, our dreams of justice, of human dignity, of peace, are not meant for this earth and this history;

This is true: The hour comes, and it is now, that the true worshippers shall worship God in spirit and in truth.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Freedom!

The Church is the people of God. The Latin word for “church,” ecclesia, comes from the Greek ek, which means “out,” and kaleo, which means “to call.” The Church is the people of God called out of slavery to freedom, sin to salvation, despair to hope, darkness to light, an existence centred on death to an existence focused on life.

When we think of Church we have to think of a body of people, travelling together. We have to envision women, men, and children of all ages, races, and societies supporting one another on their long and often tiresome journeys to their final home.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

I think this is why any model for the Church other than Christ’s is bound to fail, and fail by causing the greatest misery to those who try to find God through it. We are called by Christ out of those bondages—how then can a church do Christ’s will that imposes them all over again?

This is why St. Francis was so insistent on poverty, chastity and, yes, obedience: only so can we be free from the chains of obsession the world puts about our feet. As Tertiaries we live, as The Principles state (Day 4), in the spirit of those Evangelical counsels, but if we do so we are no different really from any who follow Christ, who are called out of the bondage of wealth, lust and self-will that the world peddles as the greatest good, yet which the young man who came to Jesus seeking eternal life would not be liberated from… (Mark 10.17ff)

Rediscovering Christ…

Emerging Christianity seems to be willing to recognize that it is at the energetic level, the life level, the love level, the lifestyle level that the living mystery of God and Jesus is passed on. It is not just getting the words right, and making a verbal affirmation of your belief in words and creeds. Verbal belief systems ask almost nothing of us in terms of actual change of mind and heart and lifestyle.

The broader Jesus scholarship that we are now enjoying widens the view to include previously neglected perspectives: the essential Jewish lens, the feminist/womanist lens, the lens of the poor, the unique lens of every minority, and the lens of sincere secular seekers, who often point out our own blind spots to us. You cannot see what you were never told to look for from inside.

I personally do not think Jesus ever intended to create Christianity as a new or separate religion. I think he was trying to reform and restore the Jewish religion, and in that he offered us the criteria by which to reform all religion forever…

The contemplative mind is really just the mind that emerges when you pray instead of think first. Praying opens the field and moves beyond fear and judgment and agenda and analysis, and just lets the moment be what it is—as it is.

We really have to be taught that mind. We now are pretty sure that it was systematically taught—mostly in the monasteries—as late as the 13th and even into the 14th century. But once we got into the oppositional mind of the Reformation and the rational mind of the Enlightenment, the contemplative mind pretty much fell by the wayside. The wonderful thing is that it is now being rediscovered across denominations, and there is no select group that holds it or that teaches it. Catholics still use the word “contemplation,” but usually have not been taught the practice, even monks and nuns and priests…

The contemplative mind does not need to prove anything or disprove anything. It looks for wisdom by saying, “What does this text ask of me, what do I need to change in me?” Not, "how can I change others?"

The contemplative mind lets the terrifying/wonderful moment be what it is and primarily ask something of me, not always using it to convert others.

The contemplative mind is willing to hear from a fresh beginner’s mind, yet also learn from the old and solid Tradition.

The contemplative mind has the humility and patience to think “both/and” instead of “all or nothing.” We call this non-dual thinking. It easily leads to a “Third Way” mentality, neither fight nor flight, but standing in between where I can hold what I do know together with what I don’t know. And then I let that wonderful mix lead me to wisdom instead of easy, quick knowledge which largely just creates opinionated people instead of wise people.

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

I can’t help but feel that Rohr has put his finger here on something very important for us to realise as we look at the Church at the beginning of the 21st century, shaken by internal strife and the rumours of schism, increasingly threatened from without by the minions of political correctness and jobsworthery, yet strangely full of new life and hope on the level of individual fellowships, congregations and groups.

The political model of doing church, just like the Thatcherite business model of running public services, is beginning to fall apart at the seams, showing the creaking framework of false assumptions that holds it all together. We are rediscovering Christ, after all these years!

The Principles, Day 5, reads: “The [Third] Order [Society of St. Francis] is founded on the conviction that Jesus Christ is the perfect revelation of God; that true life has been made available to us through His Incarnation and Ministry; by His Cross and Resurrection; and by the sending of his Holy Spirit. Our Order believes that it is the commission of the church to make the gospel known to all and therefore accepts the duty of bringing others to know Christ, and of praying and working for the coming of the Kingdom of God.”

That is our simple calling. If we do that, if, like Francis himself, we drop everything and follow our Lord, taking him at his word, then all else will fall into place, and as the Lord commissioned him, we will help rebuild his Church. What Rohr calls “the contemplative mind” is in many ways just that: being prepared to look from within outwards to the suffering and broken world with the eyes of the indwelling Christ, who said, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17.20ff NRSV)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Pax et bonum!

Contemplative Christian has a thoughtful and important post, A New Kind of Christian Politics, which I do urge you to click over and read. He says:

It’s a very interesting time to be a young Christian in America, for there are many others who find the old divisions and stale arguments largely irrelevant. I think there is a movement toward contemplative spirituality within the developing church. In some ways, this movement is apparent within the Emerging Church, the term given the interesting change within the church in recent years…across denominations. But really, it’s bigger than that. There is a fundamental difference between a spirituality based on relationship with God (grace-based) and spirituality based on rightness before God (shame-based). In grace-based spirituality, we become intimately aware of our own smallness, and the largeness of God’s capacity to love. In shame-based spirituality, we are caught in the cyclical struggle to maintain control of where we stand with God, to maintain our position as keepers of knowledge about God. The former can accept unknowns and gray areas. The latter is often defined by black and white thinking…

I guess what I’m saying is that contemplative Christianity… a spirituality of Christ defined by prayer and mystical union… is an answer to fundamentalism and its shame-cycle. I read an article a while ago about conflict in an Islamic country, where the fundamentalist Muslim majority was seeking to silence and control the Sufi minority. Sufis are the contemplatives, the mystics, of the Islamic worldview, and have historically (in this context at least) been peace-seekers, where the majority has continued to wage war and control. Its interesting to see the same dynamic play out in so many contexts. Mysticism challenges black and white thinking, just as Christ challenged the black and white thinking of the religiously certain of his time. The reaction to Christ was violence. We see the same today.

When your world is built upon tightly controlled rules and systems, then you fight to protect your control. The story of the prodigal son illustrates the dynamic beautifully. The oldest son had his world fairly well under control…he had earned his fathers love and respect with hard work and dedication. When the prodigal son returned home and was received with such joy… the love given away for free… the brother’s response was anger. We cannot control God. Yet, when the worldview of conservative Christians is challenged, even if challenged by undeniable logic (such as proof the earth is older than 5000 years) the response is anger and defensiveness…if you’re not with us, God is not with you…

But you really should read the rest. It’s a very interesting time to be a Christian, period, not just a young one in America. Richard Rohr writes:

I want to share with you this week the spiritual genius of St. Francis and how severely, seriously, and wonderfully he wanted to imitate Jesus. That is why so many commentators have called Francis “a Second Christ,” because he tried in so many ways to be exactly like Jesus. Jesus, and what Jesus loved, was his only love and his only concern.

Both Jesus and Francis, by their lifestyles and by their words, expose and undercut the superficial “honour/shame systems” that define most human cultures. They both refuse to live inside of such a falsely constructed world, where the private ego is the primary reference point for what is called morality.

Almost all of the unwritten rules of behaviour in any honour/shame- based society are meant to protect and enforce social class and social order, and to properly humiliate and exclude those who do not conform. It is much more about love of self-image than love of God. Both Jesus and Francis are about inclusion and not exclusion, about protecting the indwelling divine image more than any superior self-image.

(adapted from Francis: Subverting the Honour/Shame System)

We have, as Franciscans, much to share with the wider church; yet we are, the Third Order at least, all too prone to hide Francis’ and Clare’s—and therefore Christ’s—light under a bushel of Anglican reserve, forgetting that Francis himself was anything but reticent about the Gospel! It has often been said that Franciscans are either evangelical Catholics or Catholic evangelicals. Maybe we need to be a little more open about both sides of that equation, so that we can truly contribute to this increasingly powerful current that God has set in motion, far deeper than any faction or fashion, or rumours of schism and betrayal…

Pax et bonum, peace and all good, is the archetypal Franciscan greeting—we need to say it, firmly, to all the Church!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Listen, listen, listen!

‘I Shall See God’—utterly glorious music from John Patitucci, Phil Keaggy & Nick Manson…

Major hat-tip to Mark Laurent, who posted the link on Facebook.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Francistide Area Day at Hilfield

It’s been a long day, but a marvellous one, at our TSSF Francistide Area meeting at Hilfield Friary. The midday Eucharist in Chapel was, as usual, incredibly moving, incorporating as it did our annual renewal of vows in the company of my dear sisters and brothers from across the Blackmore Vale Area.

We spent much of the day discussing the role of the Third Order in relation to the rest of the church, and to the First and Second Orders, and it was remarkable to see the way the Holy Spirit led the different groups—yes, group discussions!—to similar and interlocking conclusions. More of this later, when the results of this consultation throughout the Order are published…

Bedtime now – I’m tired in the best way!

Praying for Squirrels…

I couldn’t resist posting a quick link to a wonderful post on Episcopal Cafe

It is as if scales began to fall from my eyes just a bit. Who pauses to mourn a squirrel? To think anew about how we drive without care of our surrounds and those who inhabit them with us? There are countless millions of these pesky rodents. Yet, this squirrel was a fellow creature, a unique creation of flesh and blood whom God declared “good, indeed, very good.” He too is a subject of God’s care and concern in his own right irrespective of how he stands in relation to us human beings. God hears his “Holy, holy, holy” with our own, as the Psalmist reminds: “All thy works shall give thanks to thee, O Lord, and all thy saints shall bless thee!”

Do click over and read it—tremendously important stuff, really, not just about squirrels but about all of creation.

(Profound hat-tip to Lee at A Thinking Reed)

More Francistide fun…

I'm just off to our Francistide Area Day at Hilfield Friary in a few minutes, so, damp chilly autumn though it is, my heart's singing with anticipation! I do love my sisters and brothers in the Third Order more than I can say—more, somehow, than I can properly explain to myself…

HillfieldFriary

[picture courtesy of Ship of Fools]

Friday, October 09, 2009

Woolly photoblogging…

My recent post, Autumn, and Sue’s post about it on Discombobula, generated all sorts of interest in the comments, so I thought I’d better post a few pictures…

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This is the old village of Wool, looking along Spring Street (each house has its own little bridge over the Spring)

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and here is the church where I worship, The Church of the Holy Rood (the building dates from the 14th century)

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Where I live is more modern, though

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but the view out the back is nice

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Now, this is the view from Maggot Hill that I wrote about (picture taken in springtime…)

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and here’s the little stream at Giddy Green

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but here be orcs!

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(The boundary fence of UKAEA Winfrith)

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and so, Back to the Light!

Monday, October 05, 2009

We do not pray for the sake of praying…

We do not pray for the sake of praying, but for the sake of being heard. We do not pray in order to listen to ourselves praying but in order that God may hear us and answer us. Also, we do not pray in order to receive just any answer: it must be God's answer…

The solitary, by being a [person] of prayer, will come to know God by knowing that his prayer is always answered.

Thomas Merton. Thoughts in Solitude, Farrar, Straus, Giroux pp. 104, 105

This is so important for anyone to remember who is called to anything resembling a contemplative path. It’s also of course an answer to the concerns of those who fear that contemplative prayer is some kind of solipsistic programme of self-improvement, or exercise in “mind-emptying”. We pray in Christ (John 15.7) and it is Christ we are heard…

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Being exactly like Jesus…

I want to share with you this week the spiritual genius of St. Francis and how severely, seriously, and wonderfully he wanted to imitate Jesus. That is why so many commentators have called Francis “a Second Christ,” because he tried in so many ways to be exactly like Jesus. Jesus, and what Jesus loved, was his only love and his only concern.

Both Jesus and Francis, by their lifestyles and by their words, expose and undercut the superficial “honor/shame systems” that define most human cultures. They both refuse to live inside of such a falsely constructed world, where the private ego is the primary reference point for what is called morality.

Almost all of the unwritten rules of behavior in any honor/shame- based society are meant to protect and enforce social class and social order, and to properly humiliate and exclude those who do not conform. It is much more about love of self-image than love of God. Both Jesus and Francis are about inclusion and not exclusion, about protecting the indwelling divine image more than any superior self-image.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Francis: Subverting the Honor/Shame System

St. Francis’ Day

This world’s no blot for us,
Nor blank; it means intensely and it means good…

(Robert Browning, from ‘Fra Lippo Lippi’)
It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching…

Where there is mercy and discernment, there is neither excess nor hardness of heart…

Where there is inner peace and meditation, there is neither preoccupation nor dissipation…

St. Francis of Assisi

Today is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. I had meant to write something erudite here about the way that St. Bonaventure interpreted Francis’ teachings, and applied the mystical and Platonizing mode of thought to his experience of the living power of Christ in the heart of mankind. But, as it is our Revive! all-age service this afternoon, I walked down to church for the 8am Communion, which is always from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

On the way, I was half-thinking, half-praying about St. Francis, and thinking of the events of his early life, and of the way Francis received, and showed, God’s mercy and his grace in all he did and said. Surely if there was one great reformer and theologian of the church who embodied Christ’s mercy for a broken world, it was Francis of Assisi.

During the general confession in the BCP Communion service, I always stumble over the words, “Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us.” They always conjure up for me an image of my headmaster at my Preparatory School, speaking in Assembly about some new transgression on the part of the boys, and spluttering, “I will not tolerate it…!” God as my old headmaster? What better argument for secular humanism! The trouble is that I usually find myself so caught up in inner arguments, and in remembering the words of Julian of Norwich, “Suddenly is the soul oned to God when it is truly peaced in itself: for in Him is found no wrath. And thus I saw when we are all in peace and in love, we find no contrariness, nor no manner of letting through that contrariness which is now in us…” that I miss the glorious statement of trust and abandonment to God that follows: “Have mercy upon us, Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, Forgive us all that is past…”

It is on the Cross that we see the mercy of God, and the healing of Creation. It is in the blessed wounds of Christ that our peace is found, and our reconciliation. In his death is our life, for as he rose we shall also rise with him! Francis lived this truth from the day of his conversion to the day of his death, to such an extent that he was eventually marked himself with the wounds of Christ.

For me, Francis, like Christ, is all about mercy. Seeing that, I can’t but try and live out my life as a Franciscan. The Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” is a prayer that originated long before St. Francis walked the hills around Assisi, back in the days of the Desert Fathers and Mothers; but it so perfectly encapsulates the heart of Francis that it is no surprise that Brother Ramon SSF, and many other contemporary Franciscans, have taken it as their own prayer. It is perhaps no coincidence that I was myself taught the Prayer, back in 1978, by another Francis, Fr. Francis Horner SSM, whom I remember today with joy and thanks along with Little Brother Francis himself.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Autumn

Just walked up over Maggot Hill, down to Giddy Green, and back across the fields to Wool. Autumn is properly here now, and the wind across the high ground was collar-turningly cold. The hedges, though, are filled with the last of the blackberries and sloes, fat and almost overripe, to the point that even the sloes are almost sweet. Delicious!

The grey stubbles are green now with aftermath or undersown grass, and in these dry October days the maize harvest is going full speed. Here in England we don’t grow much maize as sweetcorn for the table, but we grow ever more acres of forage maize for silage making, and the lanes around Wool are full of tractors and trailers hurrying back and forth from forage harvester to clamp with loads of sweet-smelling yellow-green chippings of chopped whole-crop maize. Cows love it.

This season always makes me nostalgic. Bringing the cows indoors for the first time in the autumn, just overnight first, as the nights get chilly, is an almost festive time. The cows are delighted with their fresh, warm, fluffy straw beds, and their first taste of winter rations. By spring they’ll be totally fed up, of course, and longing to be out—but this time of year nothing could be farther from their minds!

Winter isn’t far off now, and the edge in the wind is a keen reminder, as are the poor flies settling on the black tarmac of the road, trying to eke out another few hours of life from the dying warmth of the weakening sun. The few squirrels I met were busy and preoccupied, collecting acorns against snowy days. It’s a good year for the squirrels—the oak trees are laden with plump acorns, just turning now from green to gold to rust.

Somehow autumn’s always been my favourite season, and my long silent walks alone around this lovely countryside are the best ones of the year…

Picking up the worms…

We’ve got to give the material world back its power, its importance, its soul, and its sacredness.  This whole earth is indeed a “land of enchantment” as we here call New Mexico.  St. Francis would not step on a little worm knowingly, but would pick it up and place it by the side of the road.

Francis of Assisi is the first known Christian to openly address creatures with the relational titles of “brother” and “sister.”  Animals, sun, moon, plants and the very air were soulful and mutual subjects for him and not just objects for his use.  One cannot overemphasize the importance of this to a world that severely suffers from what Richard Louv calls NDD, “nature deficit disorder.”  We forgot how to read and reverence the first Bible of God.

Such reverential seeing will lead to the beginnings of true enlightenment, love for that tree, joy in that animal, awareness in that breeze, God in that pain.  Soon you yourself wonder what this communion is that is passing back and forth between you and everything else.  I will tell you.  It is the largest and the very best “communion of saints.”

Richard Rohr, adapted from the Medicine and Ministry conference (out of print)

It seems to me that this is the basis for all we do as Franciscans in relation to the creation in which we find ourselves. It contains no easy answers, nor pre-packaged solutions, to questions about vegetarianism, sustainable agriculture, or environmental renewal—but it does give us room to think, to try things out, with God’s word his lamp to our feet, his light for our path. Truly God has not left us all alone in the world. The blind watchmaker is just a nightmare. The creation in which we live may be broken and wounded since its very beginning, just as we ourselves are, but by the cosmic healing of the Cross (Colossians 1:20), we who are redeemed become floodgates through which God’s love, and his mercy, can flow into the world (Romans 8:18-25).

I find myself thinking yet again of the Hilfield Project: it is tiny, sometimes messy, always hard work and always joyful. By itself, it is next to nothing compared with the huge acreages of commercial agriculture, and the endless harm of the petrochemical industry—and yet it is of far greater significance than its surface appearance. It is God’s little laboratory in the Dorset hills—a place where we can see what might happen when his mercy extends to our life on the land and in the world.