Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Giving us his own Name…

We in the western world are a circumference people, with little access to the centre.  We live on the boundaries of our own lives, confusing edges with essence, too quickly claiming the superficial as substance.  The superficial level of things is largely useless and leads us to do evil without knowing it.  To plumb the depths and substance of things, even our sin, is to be led to God.  Perhaps the greatest sin of our time is superficiality itself.

Maybe there was an earlier age when people had easy and natural access to their souls and openness to transcendent Spirit.  If there was such an age, it must have consisted of people who were either loved very well at their centre or who suffered very much around the edges—probably both. 

The path of prayer and love and the path of suffering seem to be the two Great Paths of transformation.  Suffering seems to get our attention; love and prayer seem to get our heart and our passion.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Everything Belongs, pp. 13-15
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)
Have you ever noticed the odd spiritual law that seems to govern us, that the more we are afflicted, the more honestly and (com)passionately we can pray for others—and its parallel, that the better things seem to be going for us, the harder it is to pray?

Perhaps this is why we have been given, in our various degrees, the gift of empathy, “the capacity to share the sadness or happiness of another sentient being through consciousness rather than physicality.” (Wikipedia) But we have to be prepared to be open: we have to be prepared to see others as they are for themselves, and not as they might potentially serve our own needs.

The Principles of the Third Order of St. Francis state: “Members of The Third Order fight against all injustice in the name of Christ, in whom there can be neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female; for in him all are one. Our chief object is to reflect that openness to all which was characteristic of Jesus. This can only be achieved in a spirit of chastity, which sees others as belonging to God and not as a means of self-fulfilment…” We are called, as Christians, to battle in prayer, as Ephesians 6 in particular explains—but we can only do so as long as we are pure in heart (Matthew 5:8) and keep ourselves from the lust (and here I mean economic, social, political lust as much as sexual) that views others as means to our own ends, and thus blinds us to the empathy that God has placed in the heart of each of us.

We are all sinners. But Christ died for each one of us, and so far as we love him, he will heal us. We have just to turn to him concealing nothing, and by his Holy Spirit he will restore us, giving us his own pure heart for our stone one, opening our blind eyes to see the brokenness of our sisters and brothers, opening our ears to hear their crying, and giving us his own Name in which to pray…

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

Out of the ordinary…

One does not always have to wait for something out of the ordinary. The all-important thing is to keep your eyes on what comes from God and to make way for it to come into being here on the earth. If you always try to be heavenly and spiritually minded, you won't understand the everyday work God has for you to do. But if you embrace what is to come from God, if you live for Christ's coming in practical life, you will learn that divine things can be experienced here and now, things quite different from what our human brains can ever imagine.

Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt, Action in Waiting, with thanks to inward/outward

And wasn’t the birth of a son to a young Jewish girl, miles from home on a trip to register for the occupying power’s census, just the most ordinary event, devoid of dignity or ceremony, even of the distinction of marriage? Wasn’t the place all part of it, a cramped and smelly stable attached to an overcrowded inn? What could be less spiritual, less exalted or rarefied? And yet here, now, the Son of God was born on earth, Emmanuel, God with us, the promised Saviour…

The ancient prophecies were fulfilled, the great day come at last.

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
   who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
   one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
   from ancient days.

(Micah 5:2)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

O Emmanuel…

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)


Emmanuel. God with us. Could one ever want anything better for Christmas? I mean ever, in all eternity?

O Rex Gentium…

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.

O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2:4)

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. (Ephesians 2:14)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

O Oriens…

O Oriens,
splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Morning Star,
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

The people who walked in darkness
   have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
   on them light has shined.

(Isaiah 9:1)

O come, Lord Jesus, come and save your people, for we grieve for what we cannot remember, and our hearts are broken for what we have never seen. We are full of emptiness, and all our days are dark. Come Lord, for all we have loved is broken, and the night is so very cold.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,
have mercy on me, a sinner…

Monday, December 20, 2010

O Clavis David…

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me…he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.” (Isaiah 61:1)

In this reading from Isaiah, the prophet describes the coming Servant of Yahweh.  It is precisely this quote that Jesus first uses to announce the exact nature of his own ministry (Luke 4:18-19).  In each case Jesus describes his work as moving outside of polite and proper limits and boundaries to reunite things that have been marginalized or excluded by society:  the poor, the imprisoned, the blind, the downtrodden.

Jesus’ ministry is not to gather the so-called good into a private country club but to reach out to those on the edge and on the bottom, those who are “last” to tell them they are, in fact, first!  That is almost the very job description of the Holy Spirit, and therefore of Jesus… and for that matter of us as bearers of Emmanuel, God with us!

Adapted from Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr, pp. 36-37

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

(St. Teresa of Avila)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

O Radix Jesse…

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

There is no mention of any moral worthiness, achievement or preparedness in Mary, only humble trust and surrender.  She gives us all, therefore, a bottomless hope in our own little state.  If we ourselves try to “manage” God, or manufacture our own worthiness by any performance principle whatsoever, we will never bring forth the Christ but only ourselves.

Mary does not manage, fix, control or “perform” in any way.  She just says “Yes!” and brings forth the abundance that Isaiah promises (Isaiah 48:17-19).  This is really quite awesome, and counters any economic notion of earning or performing.

Adapted from Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr, p. 32

I think that we have hardly thought through the immense implications of the mystery of the incarnation. Where is God? God is where we are weak, vulnerable, small and dependent. God is where the poor are, the hungry, the handicapped, the mentally ill, the elderly, the powerless. How can we come to know God when our focus is elsewhere, on success, influence, and power? I increasingly believe that our faithfulness will depend on our willingness to go where there is brokenness, loneliness, and human need.

If the church has a future it is a future with the poor in whatever form. Each one of us is seriously searching to live and grow in this belief, and by friendship we can support each other. I realize that the only way for us to stay well in the midst of the many “worlds” is to stay close to the small, vulnerable child that lives in our hearts and in every other human being. Often we do not know that the Christ child is within us. When we discover him we can truly rejoice.

Henri Nouwen, Sabbatical Journey: The Diary of His Final Year (Sunday December 24, 1995, Freiburg, Germany). © Henri J.M. Nouwen. Published by The Crossroad Publishing Company.

I love these words—I am reminded of St. Bonaventure’s devotion to the poverty of the Blessed Virgin (see e.g. The Life of St. Francis, Ch.7) who brought nothing to her encounter with the angel, and asked for nothing, but simply surrendered. How can we respond, except in silence?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

O Adonai…

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel,
qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

O Lord and ruler of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

Jesus said it to us quite clearly: “Why do you worry like the pagans do?  What shall I eat? What shall I drink?  What shall I wear?”  (Matthew 6:31).  But for some reason, the human mind feels most useful when it reprocesses the past and worries about the future.  

For some reason, the mind cannot just be present to the moment, where it could find delight in the “birds in the sky” and the “lilies of the field” that Jesus has just described as the simple antidote to all of our “worrying.” He says “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself” (6:34).

Jesus clearly lived in the now or he could not have talked so foolishly.  When we live in the present we tend to notice the natural world, when we live in our heads, we compare, worry, and judge.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr, p. 35

It is only in knowing Jesus’ Lordship, in knowing his great love for us, the endlessness of his mercy and his grace, that we can possibly find the faith to live within these words of his. Now, in the last days of Advent, he is all our hope, and all our longing…

O Sapientia…

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.

The marvellous vision of the peaceable Kingdom, in which all violence has been overcome and all men, women, and children live in loving unity with nature, calls for its realisation in our day-to-day lives. Instead of being an escapist dream, it challenges us to anticipate what it promises. Every time we forgive our neighbour, every time we make a child smile, every time we show compassion to a suffering person, every time we arrange a bouquet of flowers, offer care to tame or wild animals, prevent pollution, create beauty in our homes and gardens, and work for peace and justice among peoples and nations we are making the vision come true.

We must remind one another constantly of the vision. Whenever it comes alive in us we will find new energy to live it out, right where we are. Instead of making us escape real life, this beautiful vision gets us involved.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

Sitting here this snowy evening with the two cats, I keep thinking of this. I so long for that day described in Isaiah 11, and yet the only way there is through this present darkness, by the way of prayer, illuminated by the little lamp of God’s word, that sheds only enough light for the next step (Psalm 119:105) and yet is (v 89) eternal. After all, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God…

As Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:6,7)

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Not Ashamed!

Regardless of your tastes/prejudices regarding modern Christian music, give this one a listen—carefully!

And while you’re about it, you can read about the Not Ashamed campaign here, and the Church Mouse’s intelligent comments on the campaign here.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Pax et bonum…

Jesus does not demand
great actions from us
but simply surrender
and gratitude.

(St. Therese of Lisieux)

Why does this just fill my heart with such joy and peace, as though I’d been waiting for I don’t know how long to hear just these words?

Our only hope…

“Come, Lord Jesus,” the Advent mantra, means that all of Christian history has to live out of a kind of deliberate emptiness, a kind of chosen non-fulfilment.  Perfect fullness is always to come, and we do not need to demand it now.  This keeps the field of life wide open and especially open to grace and to a future created by God rather than us.  This is what it means to be “awake,” as the gospel urges us (Matthew 24:42)!

We can also use other a words for Advent: aware, alive, attentive, alert, awake are all appropriate!  Advent is above all else, a call to full consciousness and a forewarning about the high price of consciousness…

“Come, Lord Jesus” is a leap into the kind of freedom and surrender that is rightly called the virtue of hope.  The theological virtue of hope is the patient and trustful willingness to live without closure, without resolution, and still be content and even happy because our Satisfaction is now at another level, and our Source is beyond ourselves.

We are able to trust that the Lord will come again, just as Jesus has come into our past, into our private dilemmas and into our suffering world.  Our Christian past then becomes our Christian prologue, and “Come, Lord Jesus” is not a cry of desperation but an assured shout of cosmic hope!

Richard Rohr, adapted from Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr, pp. 4-5

This kind of Advent life is the only thing that makes any sense of my own Christian living. My heart is so continually torn by all that is broken in this world, by the death of friends—including my little cat Ruby—and the death of strangers, by the suffering of strangers, by all those to whom Advent means nothing, holds no promise, that I can never truly be content, full, at rest, until the Lord Jesus comes. And yet, somehow, somewhere, even that is all right. He is coming—he has promised. Our calling is simply to pray…

I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart;
   before the “gods” I will sing your praise.
I will bow down toward your holy temple
   and will praise your name
   for your love and your faithfulness,
for you have exalted above all things
   your name and your word.
When I called, you answered me;
   you made me bold and stout-hearted.

May all the kings of the earth praise you, O LORD,
   when they hear the words of your mouth.
May they sing of the ways of the LORD,
   for the glory of the LORD is great.

Though the LORD is on high, he looks upon the lowly,
   but the proud he knows from afar.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
   you preserve my life;
you stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes,
   with your right hand you save me.
The LORD will fulfil his purpose for me;
   your love, O LORD, endures forever—
   do not abandon the works of your hands.

(Psalm 138)

Our hope is only in him…

Monday, November 29, 2010

The persistence of what we must still call faith…

The best metaphor for our world of today is astronauts speeding through the cosmos, but with their life-supporting capsule pierced by a meteorite fragment. But the Church resembles Mary and Joseph travelling from Egypt to Nazareth on a donkey, holding in their arms the weakness and poverty of the Child Jesus: God incarnate.

Carlo Caretto, The God Who Comes, with thanks to inward/outward

Our waiting is always shaped by alertness to the Word. It is waiting in the knowledge that someone wants to address us. The question is, are we home? Are we at our address, ready to respond to the doorbell? We need to wait together, to keep each other at home spiritually, so that when the Word comes it can become flesh in us. That is why the Book of God is always in the midst of those who gather. We read the Word so that the Word can become flesh and have a whole new life in us.

Henri J.M. Nouwen, Finding My Way Home, p.107, The Crossroad Publishing Company

Our waiting is what the world calls weakness. The world wants action, decisiveness, assertiveness, alacrity—these are the strengths it admires and nurtures, demands.

Our Lord was hidden in his mother’s womb for 9 long months, and then hidden, as Caretto tells us, in her arms all that long and vulnerable journey into exile in Egypt. His early life, back in Nazareth, was hidden among sawdust and stacked planks, down some dusty unrecorded narrow street.

Our life in Advent is hidden in the darkness of unknowing, our eyes turned to the pain in which we are, by our plain createdness, hopelessly implicated. Or it would be hopeless, were it not for the rumour of prophecy, the persistence of what we must still call faith…

Friday, November 26, 2010

Keep hoping…

More Kristene Mueller. I simply can’t stop listening to that woman’s voice:

There is a love hidden inside your borders
Just waiting to be free, just waiting to be free.
There is a hope hidden inside your borders
Just waiting to be realized, just waiting to be realized…

Sometimes the hope hurts more deeply than its absence.

Trust. Fear. Worship.

It’s a week now since I last saw Ruby, my little fluffy tortoiseshell cat. Hard to keep the balance between grief and hope, trust and imagination. I’ve done all that I know to do—asked around, put up posters, activated her microchip, and called and called, alone and with company…

And I’ve prayed, continually. Waking up in the night to pray often leads into long prayer for all the lost and wandering, for the hurt and bewildered of every race and species, for the seemingly endless pain of this broken world. Christ’s mercy is our only refuge, his making all things new the only light on our horizon (Romans 8:18-27).

Ruby’s sister Ftifa and uncle Griffin haven’t been looking for her, or obviously grieving, though they have both been spending rather more time indoors than they had, and both sleep on my bed most of the night.

A friend’s daughter posted a beautiful song by Kristene Mueller on Facebook this morning, and it brought together so much of God’s way with us in times like this. We cannot but worship, despite our fear. Listen, carefully, to the whole song:

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Truth, freedom and gratitude…

Re-reading yesterday’s post, I was struck by a sentence from Victoria Boyson’s article: “Our thankful heart will produce an honest and accurate view of God.”

We I wonder how many others, like me, carry within us a curious little seed of doubt, that would have us sometimes wonder if all we know of God is not wishful thinking, so kind of illusion of the heart? Yet 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.” (John 8:31-32)

This morning I attended, for the first time, the regular Saturday prayer meeting at my new church. Someone quoted these words of Jesus’ there, and they’ve been on the edge of my mind ever since.

It is God’s longing for us that we should know him, and that we should know his blessings as his, as in some way a glimpse of who he actually is. When Jesus healed ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19) on the border between Samaria and Galilee, only one turned back to give thanks to God, and Jesus said to him, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?… Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) and to the Colossians he wrote, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:6-7)

It seems to be that as we live in Christ, as we try to follow him, and depend on him for healing and forgiveness when we fail, that we know who he really is. Every time I hear that remark of Jesus’ from John 8, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”, I can’t get over the fact that Jesus didn’t say, “Learn the truth, and the truth will set you free” or even, “Confess the truth, and the truth will set you free.” He said, “If you hold to my teachings… you will know the truth…”

“Our thankful heart will produce an honest and accurate view of God.” It does seem that way.

CS Lewis wrote somewhere, that “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.”

While we’re on the subject of Lewis, that great scholar and apologist of the last century whose life is commemorated in the Episcopal Church calendar on Monday (though curiously not in our Church of England Calendar, when we remember St. Cecilia only) I can’t help but remember his book about the death of his wife, Joy Davidman Gresham, and of the process of his grieving. If I am tempted to be what a dear friend of mine calls “precious” about the potentially confessional side of this blog, I should remember that deeply personal, agonisingly raw piece of confessional literature from a man I admire, even love, as much as any writer I have read! Perhaps others may even be helped by what I may write here, in some small reflection, perhaps, of the way I have been helped by A Grief Observed.

Friday, November 19, 2010

What to do with blessings...

The other day I wrote that I was having difficulty knowing what to do with blessings, having grown so close to God during some of the most difficult times.

I keep remembering the children of Israel in the Old Testament, who learned (sort of) to trust God in the bad times, but who wandered away after false Gods and loose living when the good times came.

Thinking it over, I remembered reading a remarkable recent article by Victoria Boyson, where she discusses just this question.

"Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). A person with a thankful heart is a person of great power. A thankful heart is a victorious heart, which sees victory in the face of defeat.

In the course of battle, we can often get frustrated and find ourselves wrestling with God instead of contending the mountains in our lives. Through our frustration we end up rebuking God, instead of rebuking principalities and powers. We can get caught in the cycle of complaint with God concerning how long it is taking Him to meet our need; instead of thanking Him for all that He has already done for us. Our unhappiness can keep us continually seeking explanations from God, instead of thanking Him for the mountains He has already moved and the seas that He has parted to get us this far.

How soon we lose sight of all the miracles He has performed to bring us the victories we have already been given. While waiting for God to do the "big" thing for us, we forget to be thankful for the little victories along the way. I believe the small blessings we receive from God are a special test of our heart; He wants to know if we will be thankful even for the smallest gift.

On the other hand, Satan wants us to become dissatisfied with the victories God has given us, for a dissatisfied heart is easy for him to manipulate.  When we are frustrated, he can get us to do and say things we would not otherwise and attitudes can develop that hurt our faith. Jealousy and selfish ambition are both rooted in an ungrateful, dissatisfied heart. For a dissatisfied heart is like a hunger that is never filled, or a fire that never dies out. If we allow it, it will eat away at the enjoyment we find in this life...

Our thankful heart will produce an honest and accurate view of God. We will see that He alone holds the world in the palm of His hand, and that He alone is the creator of all things. As this awesome God blesses us everyday, we simply need to take the time to renew our minds by thinking of the blessings and victories He has given us. When we do this, we enlarge our capacity to believe in Him to do even greater things, and then we will trust Him more and lean more on the power and authority He has given us...

Victoria Boyson, 'A Heart of Thanksgiving'

If giving thanks to God even in the bad times opens the door to God's blessings, how much more will we be able to trust God if we can remains thankful in his blessings? After all, they are his blessings, not ours, and in offering them to him in our thankfulness, we are, in the words of the liturgy, giving him of his own.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My grace is sufficient for you…

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Prayer clarifies our hope and intentions. It helps us discover our true aspirations, the pangs we ignore, the longings we forget. It is an act of self-purification... It teaches us what to aspire to, implants in us the ideals we ought to cherish. Prayer is an invitation to God to intervene in our lives, to let God’s will prevail in our affairs; it is the opening of a window to God in our will, an effort to make God the Lord of our soul. We submit our interests to God's concern, and seek to be allied with what is ultimately right.

Abraham Joshua Heschel

Prayer simplifies things. When all around us, within and without, is desperately complicated, ambiguous and contradictory, prayer is one thing. Contemplative prayer, in whichever way, is very close to Jesus’ “one thing needed” (Luke 10:42). What is surprising, always, is how hard it is to remember this—to turn to prayer first, rather than as a last resort. We are so deeply marked by that original sin of wanting to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5) that we turn first to our own strength, cunning, experience, and to God last of all. Perhaps that’s why Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…” (Matthew 5:3) Only those whose internal resources are spent and drained—or who through long discipline have learned their own emptiness—are open enough to receive from God his limitless blessing, his endless strength. As the Lord said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

It’s quite remarkable, looking back over the past few years’ extraordinary difficulties, just how close God has been to me at those times when I have had nothing left. I have actually seen for myself what Paul meant when he wrote, “That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)

We are called to “imitate Christ” as Thomas à Kempis put it. It is surely at the Cross that we see most clearly where this is likely to lead. Jesus did warn us (Matthew 16:24, among other references) and it is here that we come closest to him, as he drew close to us in that appalling act of redemption.

In all this God has blessed me in ways I couldn’t possibly have imagined, and often these days I just don’t know what to do with all the blessings! That, as much as anything, has been the reason I’ve been so quiet here. Maybe I shall have to share some more of this, loath though I am to go in for “confessional blogging…” Because it really is strangest thing. Why is it so hard to learn that God is good, to learn to trust that, to learn that there is such a thing as plain, honest joy, at the end of it all?

Monday, November 08, 2010

There’s No One Like You…

Charismatic songwriters are often criticised by traditionalists, and by the more grimly reformed of worshippers, for writing “God is my girlfriend” songs: songs of intimacy and longing, like Eddie Espinosa’s There’s No One Like You:

There’s no one like you my Lord
No one could take your place
My heart beats to worship you
I live just to seek your face
There’s no one like you my Lord
No one can take your place
There’s no one like you my Lord, no one like you…

I can’t help but think that this criticism is based in a very short-sighted kind of mystical illiteracy. Richard Rohr writes:

Any true experience of the Holy gives one the experience of being secretly chosen, invited, and loved. Surely that is why bride and bridegroom, invitations, and wedding banquets are Jesus' most common metaphors for eternal life… This is religion at its best and highest and truest. The mystics know themselves to be completely safe and completely accepted at ever-deeper levels of trust, exposure, and embrace. It is a spiral that goes ever deeper and closer. How different than the normal fear of hell or punishment, which keeps us on the far edge of the only dance there is…

Mysticism begins when the totally transcendent image of God starts to recede; and there's a deepening sense of God as immanent, present, here, now, within me. Augustine's line was "God is more intimate to me than I am to myself” or “more me than I am myself." St. Catherine of Genoa shouted it in the streets, "My deepest me is God!"

So you must overcome the gap to know—and then Someone Else is doing the knowing through you. God is no longer "out there."  At this point, it's not like one has a new relationship with God; it's like one has a whole new God! “God himself is my counsellor, and at night my innermost being instructs me,” says the Psalmist (16:7).

The mystics are those who are let in on this secret mystery of God's love affair with all souls, and recognize the simultaneous love affair with the individual soul—as if it were the only one God loves. It's absolutely our unique affair, and that sets the whole thing on a different and deeper ground than mere organized religion can ever achieve by itself…

We have put our emphasis on trying to love God, which is probably a good way to start—although we do not have a clue how to do that.  What I consistently find in the mystics is an overwhelming experience of how God has loved them.  God is the initiator, God is the doer, God is the one who seduces us.  All we can do is respond in kind, and exactly as Meister Eckhart said, “The love by which we love God is the very same love with which God has first loved us.”

The mystics' overwhelming experience is this full body blow of the Divine loving them, the Divine radically accepting them.  And the rest of their life is trying to verbalize that, and invariably finding ways to give that love back through forms of service, compassion and non-stop worship.  But none of this is to earn God's love; it's always and only to return God's love.  Love is repaid by love alone.

This is neither selfish nor solipsistic. Francis of Assisi was simultaneously one of the greatest of mystics and one of the greatest of evangelists. His paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer illustrates perfectly the blend of prayer and action, contemplation and evangelism, that characterised the man throughout his short life:

Our Father: Creator, Redeemer, Saviour and Comforter.

In Heaven: In the angels and the saints. You give them light so that they may have knowledge, because You are light. You inflame them so that they may love, because You are love. You live continually in them so that they may be happy, because You are the supreme good, the eternal good, and it is from You all good comes and without You there is no good.

Hallowed be your name: May our knowledge of You become ever clearer, so that we may realise the breadth of Your blessings, the extent of Your promises, the height of Your majesty and the depth of Your judgements.

Your kingdom come: So that You may reign in us by Your grace and bring us to Your kingdom, where we shall see You clearly, love You perfectly, be happy in Your company and enjoy You for ever.

Your will be done, on Earth as in Heaven: That we may love You with our whole heart by always thinking of You; with our whole mind by directing our whole intention towards You and seeking Your glory in everything; and with all our strength by spending all our energies and affections of soul and body in the service of Your love alone. And may we love our neighbour as ourselves, encouraging them all to love You as best we can, rejoicing at the good fortune of others, just as if it were our own, and sympathising with their misfortunes, while giving offence to no one.

Give us today our daily bread: Your own beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to remind us of the love He showed for us and to help us to understand and appreciate it and everything that He did or said or suffered.

And forgive us our sins: In Your infinite mercy, and by the power of the passion of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, together with the merits and the intercession of the Blessèd Virgin Mary and all the saints.

As we forgive those who sin against us: And if we do not forgive perfectly, make us forgive perfectly, so that we may truly love our enemies for love of You and pray fervently to You for them, returning no one evil for evil, anxious only to serve everybody in you.

Lead us not into temptation: Hidden or obvious, sudden or unforeseen.

But deliver us from evil: Present, past or future. Amen.

God is love. John the Evangelist wrote to his people (1 John 4:7-18):

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

How can we know this love, and not sing of it? Eddie Espinosa’s beautiful lyric sums it up for me. Here it is in full:

        There’s no one like you my Lord
        No one could take your place
        My heart beats to worship you
        I live just to seek your face
        There’s no one like you my Lord
        No one can take your place
        There’s no one like you my Lord, no one like you

        You are my God, you’re everything to me
        There’s no one like you my Lord, no one like you
        You are my God, you’re everything to me
        There’s no one like you my Lord, no one like you

        There’s no one like you my Lord
        No one can take your place
        I long for your presence Lord
        To serve you is my reward
        There’s no one like you my Lord
        No one can take your place
        There’s no one like you my Lord, no one like you.

        (Copyright © 1987 Mercy/Vineyard Publishing. All rights reserved.)

Friday, October 29, 2010


I’m sorry there have been so few posts on the Mercy Blog recently. Moving has meant lots to do, most of it good, some of it very good! I’ve been settling into my new church, exploring the town, getting the new flat to rights, and helping the cats settle into a new neighbourhood, not to mention seeing friends, and going places, and generally finding my feet in a new place and new circumstances.

I’ve had the chance, too, to think about The Mercy Blog, and what it’s for. It never was intended to be a chatty, slightly confessional account of day-to-day events (“Bought a new phone today – way cool! And I had the just best supper ever. I cooked beans, and rice, and…”). Not that I’ve anything against blogs like that, but it just isn’t me, somehow…

I think maybe The Mercy Blog should stop trying to be quite so regular in posting, and wait till it really has something to say. I’ve been thinking of a series of longer articles, looking seriously at this whole issue of contemplative and intercessory prayer, and why they are occasionally seen as mutually exclusive, or at least one is seen as somehow “better” than the other. This bothers me, since as I’ve said before, I see them as inextricably linked through the love, and mercy, and presence, of Christ… So watch this space. I’ll try not to keep you waiting unreasonably long!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Blog Action Day 2010 – a call to prayer, again…

Today is Blog Action Day once again. This year the theme is water, something we all too easily take for granted in the developed countries. We turn a tap, even the poorest of us, and out it comes, clean, sparkling and life-giving, good to drink and lovely to look at. You can even wash in it.

And yet it isn’t so for so many of us. African women walk over 40 billion hours each year carrying cisterns weighing up to 18 kilograms to gather water, which is usually still not safe to drink. Every week, nearly 38,000 children under the age of 5 die from unsafe drinking water and unhygienic living conditions. Many scholars attribute the conflict in Darfur at least in part to lack of access to water. A report commissioned by the UN found that in the 21st century, water scarcity will become one of the leading causes of conflict in Africa.

Some of us live in water, use it to breathe, to bring us all our food. Our sisters and brothers, the fish and the whales, are like this. Yet their homes, the world’s oceans and rivers, are terribly polluted. There is an excellent educational website I discovered here, too.

There are many ways to help. One of the best ways to start is by clicking on the widget you’ll see just to the right of this post, in the blog sidebar.

There are people working on solutions and new tools that help us to do our part to address the water crisis: Organisations like and charity: water are leading the charge in bringing fresh water to communities in the developing world. We can all take small steps to help keep pollution out of our rivers and streams, like correctly disposing of household wastes.

But all this information is gleaned from other sources. I’m no expert in water pollution, though I did need to know the basics in order to run a profitable, environmentally responsible dairy herd, as I did for years. But I wrote a piece for 2008’s Blog Action Day (which was all about poverty) in which I said some things I don’t think I could better today:

I'm not an ingenious person, economically, and I've never been any use to any fundraising initiative, beyond holding the odd collecting tin. Kiva Loans and the economics of poverty in marginalised communities make my head spin. But I can pray.

Prayer is so often seen as a last resort: "We've tried everything, and nothing works. All we can do is pray!" But if we are Christians, if we really believe Jesus' words in Matthew 7, "Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened…" prayer should be our first resort.

I've said so often in this blog that most of my readers will know what is coming next before I type it, but it isn't even necessary to know what to pray for, in order to pray. Yes, of course we can, and should, inform ourselves in every way possible, about poverty, and the many global initiatives to combat it; but we don't need to frame in thoughts and words what we feel God should do about it. We need only to hold the needs of the world on our hearts before God, remembering that "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." (Romans 8.26-27)

God will use our tears, our bafflement, our frustration, in ways we cannot imagine, and may never know.

Please pray. Please don't think, as I am tempted to think sometimes, "It's no use, I can't do anything about this." But be prepared, always, to be part of God's answer to your own prayers. He may have uses for you, for me, that we've never even begun to think of…

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Praying as a butterfly over the Grand Canyon…

The world is aflame with evil and atrocity; the scandal of perpetual desecration of the world cries to high heaven. And we, coming face to face with it, are either involved as callous participants or, at best, remain indifferent onlookers....

We pray because the disproportion of human misery and human compassion is so enormous. We pray because our grasp of the depth of suffering is comparable to the scope of perception of a butterfly flying over the Grand Canyon. We pray because of the experience of the dreadful incompatibility of how we live and what we sense.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Wisdom of Heschel, with thanks to inward/outward

Heschel died in 1972, yet these words have a dreadful up-to-the-minute quality about them. You will not need me to catalogue the immensity of suffering that we do know about—a glance at the BBC or MSN News website will do that all too well—and it will be immediately apparent that if our knowledge of what we should be praying for is so meagre (Romans 8:26) then we need a way to pray that will allow the Spirit free reign to “intercede for us with sighs too deep for words…”

There are many references online and in physical libraries to contemplative prayer, and to praying in tongues, and other means of praying in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18), but for me the Jesus Prayer has for half my life nearly been the way God has led me. Princess Ileana of Romania explains it well:

The Jesus Prayer can be used for worship and petition; as intercession, invocation, adoration, and as thanksgiving. It is a means by which we lay all that is in our hearts, both for God and man, at the feet of Jesus. It is a means of communion with God and with all those who pray. The fact that we can train our hearts to go on praying even when we sleep, keeps us uninterruptedly within the community of prayer. This is no fanciful statement; many have experienced this life-giving fact. We cannot, of course, attain this continuity of prayer all at once, but it is achievable; for all that is worthwhile we must “…run with patience the race that is set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1) …

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Word of God…

Jesus is the Word of God, who came down from heaven, was born of the Virgin Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit, and became a human person. This happened in a specific place at a specific time. But each day when we celebrate the Eucharist, Jesus comes down from heaven, takes bread and wine, and by the power of the Holy Spirit becomes our food and drink. Indeed, through the Eucharist, God’s incarnation continues to happen at any time and at any place.

Sometimes we might think: “I wish I had been there with Jesus and his apostles long ago!” But Jesus is closer to us now than he was to his own friends. Today he is our daily bread! …

When we gather around the Eucharistic table and eat from the same bread and drink from the same cup, saying, “This is the Body and Blood of Christ,” we become the living Christ, here and now.

Our faith in Jesus is not our belief that Jesus, the Son of God, lived long ago, performed great miracles, presented wise teachings, died for us on the cross, and rose from the grave. It first of all means that we fully accept the truth that Jesus lives within us and fulfils his divine ministry in and through us. This spiritual knowledge of the Christ living in us is what allows us to affirm fully the mystery of the incarnation, death, and resurrection as historic events. It is the Christ in us who reveals to us the Christ in history.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

I think perhaps we might want to add that since Jesus is indeed the Word of God, he is with us too in that Word, by his Holy Spirit. I sometimes think that we Christians, both the ones who take the Eucharist very seriously, and even the ones who take the Word very seriously, miss out on this sacramental aspect of God’s word. It is “living and active” in all truth, just as the writer to the Hebrews describes it (4:12), “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.” When we take up the Bible in faith, prayerfully asking for the presence and help of the Spirit, we are taking Jesus by the hand. More than that, we are taking him, through his word, into our heart—at least as much as in the Eucharist we take him as our daily bread. No wonder St. Francis was prone to picking up stray scraps of paper from the Scriptures that he found discarded, and carrying them reverently to a place of safety!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

A belated post for St. Francis…

Most High, all powerful, good Lord, 
to you be praise, glory, honour and all blessing.

Only to you, Most High, do they belong 
and no one is worthy to call upon your name.

May you be praised, my Lord, with all your creatures,
especially Sir brother sun,
through whom you lighten the day for us.

He is beautiful and radiant with great splendour.
He signifies you, O Most High.

Be praised, my Lord, for sister moon and the stars: 
clear and precious and lovely, they are formed in heaven.

Be praised, my Lord, for brother wind; 
and by air and clouds, clear skies and all weathers,
by which you give sustenance to your creatures.

Be praised, my Lord, for sister water,
who is very useful and humble and precious and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, for brother fire,
by whom the night is illumined for us.
He is beautiful and cheerful, full of power and strength.

Be praised, my Lord, for our sister, mother earth,
who sustains and governs us 
and produces diverse fruits
and coloured flowers and grass.

Be praised, my Lord, by all those who forgive for love of you 
and who bear weakness and tribulation.

Blessed are those who bear them in peace: 
for you, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, for our sister, the death of the body, 
from which no one living is able to flee.
Woe to those who are dying in mortal sin.

Blessed are those who are found doing your most holy will, 
for the second death will do them no harm.

Praise and bless my Lord and give him thanks 
and serve him with great humility.

(The Canticle of the Creatures, or Canticle of the Sun, by St. Francis of Assisi)

Saint Francis is said to have composed most of the Canticle in late 1224 while recovering from an illness at San Damiano, in a small cottage that had been built for him by Saint Clare and other women of her order. The final section, in praise of Sister Death, was written shortly before his death.

The Canticle, written by St. Francis of Assisi in 1225, is best sung or recited. It can be read as an affirmation of Francis’ personal theology, as he often referred to animals as brothers and sisters to Mankind. Francis invokes all of creation to praise its Creator. Francis’ teachings about creation as a manifestation of God have impacted the Church’s theology about creation to such an extent that Pope John Paul II declared St. Francis the patron saint of ecology in 1980.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

All in the end is harvest…

Christianity has many things in common with the other religions of the world.  But we are the only religion that says that God became a body, that God became a human being, that God became flesh as John’s Gospel says (John 1:14).  Our fancy theological word for that is the Incarnation, the enfleshment.
So we have material reality being the hiding place and the revelation place of God; where God is at the same time perfectly hidden and perfectly revealed.
The same scandal that the Jewish people had to deal with 2000 years ago, we have to keep dealing with—that the hiding place of God, the revelation place of God is the material world.
Richard Rohr, adapted from Eucharist as Touchstone (CD)
The beauty of this morning’s Harvest Festival service at St. Mary the Virgin, my new Parish Church, was an almost perfect example of this. We celebrated not only Christ’s sacrifice and his resurrection, but his presence with us in the creation that was made through him, his feeding us with the true bread that came down from heaven, the real drink of his shed blood (John 6:48ff). His presence was hidden, in the bread and the wine, in plain sight—and yet his presence was in us and with us and among us. Truly, we are all members of the one Body, and each one of us is a part of it (1 Corinthians 12:27), and all creation is coming into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Romans 8:21). We are free, free! If the Son sets us free, we are free indeed!

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Whoever eats this bread…

The two disciples whom Jesus joined on the road to Emmaus recognised him in the breaking of the bread. What is a more common, ordinary gesture than breaking bread? It may be the most human of all human gestures: a gesture of hospitality, friendship, care, and the desire to be together. Taking a loaf of bread, blessing it, breaking it, and giving it to those seated around the table signifies unity, community, and peace. When Jesus does this he does the most ordinary as well as the most extraordinary. It is the most human as well as the most divine gesture.

The great mystery is that this daily and most human gesture is the way we recognise the presence of Christ among us. God becomes most present when we are most human.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

What Jesus, the Bread of Life, is telling us is who we are underneath our clothes, who we are before we did anything right or anything wrong, who we are from the first moment of our existence.  And that self is the true life, the life that cannot be destroyed.  It cannot be given to us and it cannot be taken away.  Do you know why?  Because we have it, and it’s largely a matter of awakening to it! 

And when we do, when we know as Paul knew one wonderful day:  “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20), then we will kneel and kiss the ground and be in touch with the Really Real.

As St. Therese of Lisieux said, “It’s all about confidence and it’s all about gratitude.”  May we be drawn into that confidence and gratitude that come from knowing I’m God’s son, I’m God’s daughter!  And God is in me and I am in God.  It doesn’t get any better than that!

Richard Rohr, adapted from Eucharist as Touchstone (CD)

All we are is fed and healed and shaped in the Eucharist, in the real encounter with the risen Christ. All we have been is forgiven, all we could be is nourished and made real. Whoever eats this bread will live forever (John 6:51).

I’m back online. The move has gone better than I could have hoped, and BT have excelled themselves getting the phone enabled, and the broadband active, within 24 hours. It’s good to be home—and tomorrow is Sunday…

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Bread of Life

When Jesus says he's giving himself to you as the bread of life, and if you eat this bread you will live forever (John 6:51), he’s saying, "Find yourself in me." Eat this food as your primary nutrition, your primary food, and you are indestructible, because you live in what Thomas Merton would call the True Self - who you are in God.

And who you are in God is who you are. In fact, that's all you are. Everything else is passing away. The world of fame, the world of titles and roles, the world of who we think we are is precisely what we're not. It's precisely what will die when we die.

But who we are in God will live forever.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Eucharist as Touchstone (CD)

I couldn't resist posting this, just before I pack the PC away. All this: this moving, this rearrangement of lives and locations, these hopes and fears, griefs and longings, will somehow be wiped clear, or at least changed and purified beyond anything we know here, so that only what is true remains, in that one perfect longing, for Christ's love and mercy, for our beloved Bread of life himself.

I'll be back as soon as I can...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Moving tomorrow...

I had meant to fill this last week with posts, but instead I've been filling cardboard boxes with everything from coffee mugs to audio interfaces... If all goes well, I should have an Internet connection by the weekend, and then I'll try and post some of the things that have been rattling around in my heart these last days...

Pray for dry weather, and clear roads, please!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

St Matthew's Day

The reign of God has much more to do with right relationship than with being privately right. It has much more to do with being connected than with being personally correct. Can you feel the total difference between these two?

The reign of God is not about a world without pain or mystery but simply a world where we would be in good contact with all things, where we would be connected and in communion with what Mary Oliver calls "the daily presentations." Then all the world is your temple and church.

This is living in the big, full, and final picture - and we can begin to do it now!

"Why do you reject the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and good faith, while offering your pious sacrifices in the temple? You strain out gnats while you swallow camels!" (Matthew 23:23b, 24b).

Richard Rohr, adapted from Jesus' Plan for a New World, p. 11

I love it that the St. Matthew we know, and whose Gospel we read so often in church, is a man whom most of us would have given a wide berth were we around in Capernaum when he was at his tax collector's booth. Jesus' grace, and the utter precision of his discernment, are some of the things about him I find most reassuring. If he calls us, he really calls us. We don't have to worry if he's got it right, or if we can manage to hold it together. His grace is sufficient for us, for his power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). If that is so, then if the Son sets us free, we are, like Matthew, free indeed! (John 8:36)

St. Francis & friends

A new painting by Jan Oliver - notice all the doves, and Jan's little black cat!

I just love the sense of new beginnings here, the sun rising on a new day: Francis standing in his saint's niche, alive!, and the peaceable kingdom breaking through into the world we know:
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spiritof the LORD will rest on him - the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD - and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest. They will neither harm nor destroyon all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:1-9)
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. (Romans 8: 18-27)
 This painting, like so many of Jan's, makes that prayer, that longing of our hearts ("sighs too deep for words" NRSV) concrete and visible. Thank God for the openness of artists like Jan to the Spirit's searching...

Monday, September 20, 2010

On not being thankful for little things...

We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts He has in store for us, because we do not give thanks for daily gifts. We think we dare not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience, and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly be looking forward eagerly for the highest good. Then we deplore the fact that we lack the deep certainty, the strong faith, and the rich experience that God has given to others, and we consider this lament to be pious. We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts. How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
A friend sent me this - it is so uncomfortably true that I felt I ought to post it here without further delay...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Plus ça change...

"These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own." (G. K. Chesterton, with thanks to Friar Rex)

White Stones...

God gives you two names: yours and God's. That is why we end most prayers with the phrase "in the name of."

Listen for that place deep within where God has revealed to you that secret name that lovers reveal to one another in intimate moments, where God has told you who God is for you. It could be unlike anybody else. You receive and reflect a part of God that no one else will ever reflect. You receive and reflect back to God a part of the eternal mystery that no one else ever will.

Where God has given you God's intimate name, you can also receive your own deepest name. 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 our secret name, our deepest identity, our real “name” in God.

I hope someone has given you freedom and permission to trust your own inner experience, to listen and to live from this place where God’s name and your name are the same "I Am." That is the only goal of all religion: to finally join Jesus in trusting and saying that "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30).

Adapted from Radical Grace, Daily Meditations, p. 291, Day 304

This is scary stuff. We mustn't misunderstand what Fr. Richard is trying to say here. Scripture is full of these callings-out, markings-off, re-namings. Ezekiel 9:4, Matthew 16:18, and especially Revelation 2:17. We are not who we think we are.

CS Lewis once wrote: "There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously - no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption."

Our new name is not less than this. It may be much more. But at the very least our new name calls us out of our ordinary assumptions, and shows us for the children of God we actually are. And that in itself is deeply scary to beings who are used to commerce and sleaziness, sickness and success. None of those things, none of the things we measure ourselves and each other by will last. They will be burnt away, every one, and then where will we be, standing in the wind on the shores of all eternity, clutching our white stones...?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

On the move...

I do apologise for the shortage of posts here recently - the cats and I are moving to the other end of the Isle of Purbeck at the end of the month, and I've been overwhelmed with all those delightful administrative details - you know, utilities, bank direct debits, all that form-filling, phone-security-question-answering goodness we know and love so well. Irony? No, would I?

However, the new place will be lovely - one of God's truly great works of geography:

Meanwhile, pray for me that all goes smoothly with the move, and that everything that's supposed to happen - like an Internet connection, for instance - happens the way it should...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

What's a tau cross?

I'm always being asked this, and when I found this note from Sr. Julie Ann, I thought I'd re-post it here, since it was better and more concise than anything I could have written. (I've added the image and the links myself.)

Francis used the 'tau' in his writings, painted it on the walls and doors of the places where he stayed, and used it as his only signature on his writings.

The first recorded reference to the 'tau' is from Ezekiel 9:4, "Go through the city of Jerusalem and put a tau [cross] [mark (NRSV)] on the foreheads…"

The tau is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet and looks very much like the letter 'T'.

At the Fourth Lateran Council, on November 11, 1215, Pope Innocent made reference to the tau and quoted the verse from Ezekiel. It is widely accepted that St. Francis was present and that he heard the words of Pope Innocent III when he said, "The tau has exactly the same form as the cross on which our Lord was crucified on Calvary, and only those will be marked with this sign and will obtain mercy who have conformed their life to that of the Crucified Saviour."

From then on, the tau became Francis' own coat of arms.

(With thanks to Sr. Julie Ann FSCC)

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


Sometimes doesn't it appear that we have nothing to offer the Lord? All we see is our failings, our fumbling, imperfections and especially our sins. But our greatest gift to the Lord, believe it or not, is not our talents, not our virtues or our so-called gifts. All those are really God's gift to us. The most precious things we can give to the Lord are our failings, our sins - pride, anger, sensuality, jealousy, whatever we tend to hide from ourselves and our wounded self-image. These are exactly what the Lord wants from us, for the same reason Jesus was so attracted to sinners and law breakers. He touched them, ate with them, call them his friends. He loved to spend time with them. Our strength comes not from conquering ourselves, but rather realizing that in giving ourselves to the Lord as we are, we allow him to forgive, strengthen and heal us. He can handle our sins and weakness. For heaven's sakes, he bore the sins the whole world on the cross. His arms were outstretched not just because they were nailed to the cross but also so that he could receive the sins of the whole world - including ours.

To say we are truly sorry is to give up what we have done wrong, give up those moods and snits that we experience, those angers and jealousies that keep reminding us of our failings. We give them to the Lord, and, in so doing, we gain strength to get through those difficult times.

We think, mistakenly, that it's up to us to get ourselves cleaned up, so to speak, when, in reality, the Scriptures say that we are washed clean in the blood of Jesus. (Heb 9:14). We get discouraged when we don't know how to face those struggles that seem to stick to us like glue. What Jesus says to us from the cross is: "Come to me, you who are weak and weary of heart; bring your burden and your sins to me" (see Mt 11:28). He really does want them. You would be surprised how that offering can bring grace and strength to begin again....

Time and again I am brought to the point of realising that it's only in my own helplessness that I can be any help to anyone. I think we often - well I do, anyway - imagine that we ought to feel competent, healthy, strong, clean, in order to be able to be used by God. And it just isn't so. As Van Vurst points out earlier in the piece I've quoted, Jesus didn't choose as his disciples the kind of people who habitually feel like that. The ones he did choose were just as fallible and imperfect as any of us. After all, it in our weakness that his strength is made perfect (2 Corinthians 12:9), not in any qualities of our own...

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Our other sisters and brothers...

For both men and women through the ages, it was in the wilderness that they discovered the soul. The civilized or domesticated world was of our making; wilderness was God's making - the first and natural cathedral.

But now we have created a society that idealizes civilization and runs away from wilderness. Many people are actually afraid of nature. Not only have we succeeded in taming the wilderness; we have ended up taming the soul.

Yet nature continues to speak to something deep within each of us. Have you ever been transfixed while looking into the eyes of an animal? When an animal looks into our eyes, the sensation is almost numinous. The world beyond the human is somehow communicating something essential to us. Carl Jung said, "When religion stops talking about animals it will be all downhill." Being in wilderness brings us back to our senses, back to our deep selves.

We can easily take this kind of thinking too far - for one thing, we are ourselves made in the image of God, and our own making is a little bit of God's own creativity working through us - but Rohr has nailed something which is deeply true. The soul of an animal (Psalm 104:30; Ecclesiastes 3:18-21) is not like ours. There is something about it that feels almost as though it is fresh from the hand of God, clean and wholesome, full of a eagerness we have long forgotten. Even the donkeys recognised Jesus (Luke 19:29-38) and the foal who had never been ridden carried him quietly through the roaring crowds. Truly, as Francis saw, the animals are our sisters and brothers; we worship the one God, together.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Prayer is not a stratagem…

Prayer is not a stratagem for occasional use, a refuge to resort to now and then. It is rather like an established residence for the innermost self. All things have a home: the bird has a nest, the fox has a hole, the bee has a hive. A soul without prayer is a soul without a home.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, with thanks to inward/outward

Over the years, praying the Jesus Prayer becomes like this: a refuge, a place to stand however rough things get, leaning close to the heart of Jesus, with one’s head against the wood of the Cross itself. Bishop Kallistos Ware has a long, excellent article entitled The Jesus Prayer—Inwardness, if you’re interested to read more about this. Highly recommended reading.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The goodness of earth and sky and sea…

The way you perceive the world affects the way you live within it. Many people see the world as a dangerous, bad, even evil place. They live with fear and carry hostility and suspicion with them wherever they go.

If you see the world as a dangerous place, a dangerous place it will be. Life will be a struggle, and from the moment you rise each day you’ll find yourself pitched into a battle. The struggle might energize you. You might find pleasure in the competition, the fight, the need to win, to be right or better or wealthier than others. There’s no question that such a view of the world motivates. But there’s also plenty of evidence that viewing the world as dangerous, bad, or evil takes a toll on you—on your relationships, your body, your spirit. Such a view feeds the wars, economic woes, and the environmental troubles we’re facing on this planet.

(reposted unedited from Chris Erdman’s blog)

Bare necessity…

Contemplation is the awareness and realization, even in some sense experience, of what each Christian obscurely believes: “It is now no longer that I live but Christ lives in me.”

Hence contemplation is more than a consideration of abstract truths about God, more even than affective meditation on things we believe. It is awakening, enlightenment and the amazing intuitive grasp by which love gains certitude of God’s creative and dynamic intervention in our daily life. Hence contemplation does not simply “find” a clear idea of God, and confine him within the limits of that idea, and hold him there as a prisoner to whom it can always return. On the contrary, contemplation is carried away by him into his own realm, his own mystery and his own freedom. It is a pure and a virginal knowledge, poor in concepts, poorer still in reasoning, but able, by its very poverty and purity, to follow the Word “wherever he may go.”

Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, New Directions Books, 1961, pp. 5-6

It is that poverty and purity towards which we must always be straining, it seems to me. It’s that which underlies all Francis’ romance with Lady Poverty, and all the Franciscan teachings regarding simplicity and poverty. We sometimes forget, Franciscans as much as others, that simplicity is far more about purity and contemplation than it is about lifestyle. St Francis was, for all his preaching, and his founding of the Orders that bear his name, a contemplative at heart.

Even saying this somehow muddles what I’m trying to say. This is why, perhaps, this inescapable muddle-headedness of mine, God has called me so clearly to the practice of the Jesus Prayer. Here, for me at least, is the very definition of “a pure and a virginal knowledge, poor in concepts, poorer still in reasoning, but able, by its very poverty and purity, to follow the Word ‘wherever he may go.’” It is as necessary to me now as the air I breathe; perhaps, even, rather more necessary in the long run…

The power of powerlessness…

…we don’t know how to include, how to forgive, how to pour mercy and compassion and patience upon events as God apparently does. Augustine, a man filled with contradictions, was a master at holding those contradictions within.  For example, in his Homily on Psalm 99, he says, “Before you had the experience, you used to think you could speak of God.  Once you have the experience of God, you can never say what you have experienced.”  This is the powerlessness and yet the deep inner power of true faith experience.  Faith absolutely knows and yet it does not know at the very same time.  Thus true believers are always humble and yet quietly confident.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Holding the Tension: The Power of Paradox (CD)

St Augustine hit the nail on the head, it seems to me. Isn’t it extraordinary how someone who lived 1700 years ago can perfectly articulate one’s own experience in the 21st century?

Sometimes my heart is so full with what God has given me that I can hardly speak at all, let alone speak of God. And yet, continuing the paradox, I must speak, since nothing so marvellous has ever happened to me!

Perhaps this is why, with Augustine, we must turn back to the Psalms:

The Lord is king; let the peoples tremble!
   He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!
The Lord is great in Zion;
   he is exalted over all the peoples.
Let them praise your great and awesome name.
   Holy is he!
Mighty King, lover of justice,
   you have established equity;
you have executed justice
   and righteousness in Jacob.
Extol the Lord our God;
   worship at his footstool.
   Holy is he!

Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
   Samuel also was among those who called on his name.
   They cried to the Lord, and he answered them.
He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud;
   they kept his decrees,
   and the statutes that he gave them.

O Lord our God, you answered them;
   you were a forgiving God to them,
   but an avenger of their wrongdoings.
Extol the Lord our God,
   and worship at his holy mountain;
   for the Lord our God is holy.

(Psalm 99)