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…