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.