Thursday, April 29, 2010

A question of honour…

Either you see the Body of Christ everywhere or you don’t see it at all. There are finally no divisions, except in our ability to see.  This is a mystical and non-dualistic seeing that connects everything to everything. “There is one God from whom all things come and toward which we all go” (1 Corinthians 8:6), as St. Paul puts it.

God is perfectly hidden in this material world. And for those who have learned how to see, God is even more perfectly revealed. God shines through all things.  You want to kiss trees and honor whatever is, even though you know most will mock or misunderstand.

You are even brought to tears sometimes by the least of the brothers and sisters because the divine image shines through so clearly in those things that have no artificial glitter or self-evident glory.  When you discover it on your own, it is like a secret revelation, and all the more beautiful.

Richard Rohr, adapted from the CD Creating Christian Community

This is interesting. Those whom Rohr suspects will “mock or misunderstand” will probably suspect the Franciscan either of pantheism—imagining that God and the universe are really the same thing—or animism—imagining that inanimate objects have souls, and so are maybe worthy of worship in and for themselves. Of course we are neither of these things: all that is points us to God, and is to be honoured as transparent to him from whose hand it comes. It’s a bit like the old Protestant paranoia about Catholics worshipping Mary. Of course they don’t: they worship the Saviour to whom she gave birth, and to whom her whole life points… but as the lowly girl whom all generations call blessed (Luke 1.46ff), the one to whom the angel Gabriel was especially sent (Luke 1.26ff), she is most certainly to be honoured.

Don’t imagine that I’m saying, or that Fr. Richard is saying either, come to that, that trees and stones are to be accorded the same honour as the Blessed Virgin; but all that God has made is his, and is in that sense holy. And if that is the case, how might we relate to that creation, hurt as it is? Should we not honour and respect it as God’s handiwork, and pray for it with tears, seeing its beauty hurt and broken by our own human sin (Romans 8.18ff)?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

It wasn’t meant to be like this…

Natural things can’t be appreciated with a dualistic mind.  Nature almost naturally teaches you non-duality.  If you look long enough at anything in nature it is always non-dual.  It is both this and that.  It’s living and it’s going to die.  It’s gentle and it’s violent.  It’s useful and totally unnecessary.  It’s beautiful yet wild and uncontrollable.  It’s always a mixture of what seems like “good” and what seems like “bad.”

No wonder Jesus told us to learn by observing “the lilies of the field” (Luke 12:27), “the seeds falling to the earth” (Matthew 13:4), “the birds in the sky” (Matthew 6:26),” the red sky in the morning” (Matthew 16:2), and “the very stones crying out” (Luke 19:40).  Was Jesus a New Age tree hugger?  No, he was a Deep Seer of all things, who saw the souls of things.

The only way dualistic thinking is possible long term is if you stay inside of words, concepts, and ideas, as if they were reality itself.  Once you meet factual reality, it’s always non-dual or both-and, and it takes a merciful, compassionate, and often forgiving mind to receive it exactly as it is—and let it teach you whatever it has to teach you.

Richard Rohr, adapted from The Soul, The Natural World, and What Is

I know what Rohr is getting at, here, and yet somehow something gives me pause. I can’t help remembering Isaiah 65:25:

The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain…

and Revelation 21:3-4:

I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

For all that Rohr says here, sounding disconcertingly like the hip Americanised Taoism of Alan Watts, it wasn’t meant to be like this. It won’t always be like this. The story of the Fall in Genesis may not be the police report that young Earth creationists like to imagine, but it is true nonetheless. Something happened. We screwed up in some unimaginably profound way, and opened the door to evil across the earth. Creation is broken. It is beautiful, and glorious, and it speaks of God in every molecule, but here on Earth at least it is broken. Pain and grief and death and injustice stride the world like ghastly spectres, feeding where they will. We cannot celebrate this! Our desperate prayer must be for mercy, and justice, and healing, and one day our prayers will be answered, as glorious as God has promised. It is only through the Cross that this healing can flow; perhaps it wouldn’t be too presumptuous to suggest that this is the reason for the Cross, that this is what lies behind the Incarnation itself (Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 2:14-15; Romans 8:18-25)

St. Isaac of Nineveh, writing back in the 7th century, had it right:

An elder was once asked, “What is a merciful heart?” He replied:

“It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation.

For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns with without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.”

Saturday, April 17, 2010

An unexpected consequence…

Joy is not a requirement of Christian discipleship, it is a consequence. It is not what we have to acquire in order to experience life in Christ; it is what comes to us when we are walking in the way of faith and obedience.

Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

I never realised this in the early years of my Christian life. Strangely, it was not until I had followed Christ long enough to become “familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53.3), until I could say with the writer of Psalm 119 that “it was good for me to be afflicted” (vv. 67-71) that I realised the truth of what Peterson is saying here. But it is true, every word of it; and the joy of Christ is a joy no-one can take away… As Paul says,

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
   we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Romans 8.31-39)

A prayer…

Loving God, we love how you love. We love how you free us. We love what you have given and created. Help us to recognize, Holy One, and to rejoice in what is given, even in the midst of what is not given. Help us not to doubt, Good God, what you have given us, even when we feel our shortcomings. We thank you for the promise and sign of your love in the Eternally Risen Christ, pervading all things in the Universe, unbound by any space or time. We praise you for sharing this One Life, your Spirit with all of us.

We offer you our lives back in return. We offer you our bodies, our racing minds and restless hearts into this one wondrous circle of Love that is You. 


(Richard Rohr, adapted from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations )

Out of the ruins…

Is there proof of the resurrection? Why can we not glance at what is going on in the church and, staggered by spectacular grace, believe? The problem can be stated bluntly: The church is all too human. We scarcely see some mystical vision of the “invisible” church marching through time and space “like a mighty army.” No, to us the church is a human organization that lives in peculiar, mortgaged buildings, several of which are to be found in any American village competing like Wendy’s and McDonald’s for the American religious consumer.

The church wears a human face; it breaks store-bought bread, preaches into microphones, sings remarkably trite poetry in hymns, and puts up signs to attract customers like liquor stores or gas stations. Was it not C.S. Lewis who had the devil remark that the best way to disillusion Christian people was to keep their minds flitting back and forth between high-sounding phrases, such as “the body of Christ,” and the actual human faces of people in church pews?

Church affairs are seldom soul-sized; they tend to be tedious. Although we strain to jazz up church services with storytelling sermons and so-called creative worship, trivial is still trivial. Perhaps in South Africa or in regions of South America martyrs may blaze, but here in America we seem to be stuck with what Søren Kierkegaard described as “the caricature of Christianity.” The church we see is all too human…

When church is reduced to church management and the soul is scaled down to psychological promptings, who can speak of resurrection or spot surprising signs of redemptive power among us? No burned martyrs light our skies; ministers burn out instead. No Christians are persecuted; they merely perish from boredom. Where there is no significant cross, how can resurrection have meaning?…

In preaching the reality of resurrection today, we must begin by being scandalously honest about the church. It is not merely a matter of not being smart, prominent or wealthy--we may have all of these types in our congregations. But certainly we stumble along at the brink of apostasy and would sell out Jesus Christ for a good deal less than thirty pieces of silver any day. We may make biblical noises, but are usually bored silly by biblical study. We praise the Lord but, increasingly, long for leisurely Sunday bathrobed brunches with coffee, fruit and the ponderous Times… We must begin with an open-eyed acknowledgment of our corrupted Christian communities.

Then, just maybe, we can be surprised by the life of Christ living in the midst of our common lives. Look, we continue to break bread--women and men, labor and management, black and white—at the table of the Lord. We preach, and oddly enough the good news seems to be heard through our inept testimonies. And once in awhile, backed up against the wall, we are forced to speak for peace or justice. To be honest, we know everything is happening in spite of our natural inclinations. We can begin to name grace in the midst of our brokenness, and sense, even today, that the risen Christ continues ministry among us.

David Buttrick is professor emeritus at the Divinity School of Vanderbilt University. This essay is excerpted from his book, The Mystery and the Passion, with thanks to inward/outward.

It occurs to me that we would do well, here in England, to read this carefully. We are concerned, and rightly so, with threats to our freedom to exercise our religious conscience, preach the Gospel, witness to our faith, pray for people, and so on. But perhaps out of this atmosphere of suspicion, the abuse of law, and political correctness gone malignant, new energy, and a new sense of Christian identity, may emerge. God has a disturbing way of bringing the best out of the worst, as Paul describes in Romans 8.28ff, and as the Resurrection supremely demonstrates. Perhaps it would be right to pray that out of the ruins of a demoralised and marginalised church a new and glorious thing may arise, fuelled by the very forces that had hoped to finish it off once for all?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A word in season?

Reading often means gathering information, acquiring new insight and knowledge, and mastering a new field. It can lead us to degrees, diplomas, and certificates. Spiritual reading, however, is different. It means not simply reading about spiritual things but also reading about spiritual things in a spiritual way. That requires a willingness not just to read but to be read, not just to master but to be mastered by words. As long as we read the Bible or a spiritual book simply to acquire knowledge, our reading does not help us in our spiritual lives. We can become very knowledgeable about spiritual matters without becoming truly spiritual people.

As we read spiritually about spiritual things, we open our hearts to God’s voice. Sometimes we must be willing to put down the book we are reading and just listen to what God is saying to us through its words.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

Perhaps this is something we bloggers, tweeters and Facebook posters need to consider very carefully. Certainly, for myself, I’ve been finding that I need to be liberated from the self-imposed tyranny these things can inflict (with all the paradox inherent in that sentence). I find it’s far too easy to become conditioned to a way of reading that involves filleting and gathering in a very similar way to how Nouwen describes academic reading. Being prepared to lay this down involves a sort of humility, a poverty of results, that we may find as difficult as would the scholars Nouwen is writing about…

Saturday, April 10, 2010

On being a part of it all…

Henceforward, I hope your belief can be in the Cosmic Christ.  We believe in Jesus Christ.  Did anyone ever tell you those are two distinct faith affirmations?  To believe in Jesus is to trust and love the man who walked on this earth.  To believe in Christ is to include absolutely everything in creation, and most especially our own self, which is the receiver station that HAS to get it right.

If we can receive it within us and believe that we are simultaneously son of God and son of earth, daughter of heaven and daughter of this world, and they don’t cancel one another out, we’ll fall in love with Jesus like never before.  Because we’ll realize that he did human incarnation first; he trusted this mystery first—and was kind enough to include us in the process! (Read Ephesians 1:3-14 and hear it perhaps for the first time!)

That’s what Paul means when he says in various places that Jesus is the "first of many brothers and sisters.”  He is leading “the great triumphal parade.”  He is at the beginning of a universal procession.  But WE’RE the procession!

Richard Rohr, adapted from The Cosmic Christ

We so need to hear this. Well, I do anyway. How can we pray unless we realise this kinship with all creation?—a kinship which exists in and through the living Christ, through whom all things came into being (John 1.3) and in whom all things coinhere (Colossians 1.17). We are not islands, as John Dunne realised: our lives are interwoven in Christ with all that is—and it is in Christ that our prayer encompasses, in his mercy, whether we realise it or not, all that is.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me (and on all that has been made), a sinner…

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Who will separate us from the love of Christ?

The resurrection does not solve our problems about dying and death. It is not the happy ending to our life's struggle, nor is it the big surprise that God has kept in store for us. No, the resurrection is the expression of God's faithfulness to Jesus and to all God's children. Through the resurrection, God has said to Jesus, "You are indeed my beloved Son, and my love is everlasting," and to us God has said, "You indeed are my beloved children, and my love is everlasting." The resurrection is God's way of revealing to us that nothing that belongs to God will ever go to waste. What belongs to God will never get lost.

Henri Nouwen, Our Greatest Gift,  HarperOne, 1995, 2009, with thanks to inward/outward

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

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

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

'For your sake we are being killed all day long;
   we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.'

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8.18-39 (NRSV)

Coming to meet us…

I am the Christ.
It is I who destroyed death,
who triumphed over the enemy,
who trampled Hades underfoot,
who bound the strong one
and snatched man away to the heights of heaven;
I am the Christ.

Come then…
It is I who am your ransom, your life,
your resurrection,
your light,
your salvation, your king.
I am bringing you to the heights of heaven,
I will show you the Father who is from all eternity,
I will raise you up with my right hand.

From Melito of Sardis, quoted in Seeking Life: The Baptismal Invitation of the Rule of St. Benedict by Esther de Waal, Liturgical Press, 2009, with thanks to Episcopal Cafe.

It is Jesus we meet during Lent, whom we follow into the darkest valley of his humanity; and it is the risen Christ, whose home is with the Father beyond time and space, who comes to meet us at Easter, as he came to meet Mary in the garden at dawn. We may not recognise him for a moment—but though he is our Lord and our Saviour his hands and feet and side are still pierced, and he is our friend and our brother, still and always.

Monday, April 05, 2010

The victory of love...

The series of events which were worked out to their inevitable end in Holy Week sum up and express the deepest secrets of the relation of God to men. That means, of course, that Christianity can never be merely a pleasant or consoling religion. It is a stern business. It is concerned with the salvation through sacrifice and love of a world in which evil and cruelty are rampant. Its supreme symbol is the Crucifix - the total and loving self-giving of man to the redeeming purposes of God.

Because we are all the children of God, we all have our part to play in God's redemptive plan; and the Church consists of those souls who have accepted this obligation, with all that it costs. Its members are all required to live, each in their own way, through the sufferings and self-abandonment of the Cross, as the only real contribution which they can make to the redemption of the world. Christians, like their Master, must be ready to accept the worst that evil and cruelty can do to them, and vanquish it by the power of love.

(Evelyn Underhill, from The Fruits of the Spirit, with thanks to inward/outward)

Friday, April 02, 2010

A Dream of the Rood

I will disclose      the deepest vision
that came in a dream      at night’s centre
when all human voices      rested in sleep.
It seemed I beheld      the tree of the Mystery
rise in the heavens,      spinning out rays
of perfect light.      That beacon glowed
spattered with gold,      shining with jewels,
clear to earth’s corners:      five gems
defined the crossbeam.      All God’s angels were witness,
splendid throughout eternity.      This was no common gallows.
Many observed it:      both angelic hosts
and men on earth:      it ran through creation.
The victory wood was a marvel,      and I, stained with my sins,
cut with my shame,      saw the glory tree
robed in its honour,      radiating splendour,
decked with gold,      magnificently cased
in precious stones,      the axle of power.
Yet through that radiance      I could witness
the primal agony      when it first began
to bleed on its right side.      I was overwhelmed with sorrow,
afraid of this terrible vision.      I saw the moving beacon
change the nature of its raiment:      sometimes it was soaked through,
drenched with heavy blood,      sometimes it blazed with treasure…

I prayed to the tree,      glad in spirit,
strong in zeal,      though I was alone,
small in my solitude.      Then my soul
urged me forward;      I had to endure
my hour of longing. Now my life’s hope
is to seek out      that triumphant wood
as a lone pilgrim      so that all souls
may fully adore it.      This is my hope,
the strength of my heart:      my purpose comes
straight from the Cross.

(from A Dream of the Rood, (Anglo-Saxon) tr. Karl Young)

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The leastness of Christ...

We live in a debilitating dichotomy. We hear the images of Jesus being the lamb, the lamb led to slaughter; and Jesus being the servant kneeling with a towel and a basin, washing feet as he gets ready to go to the cross; and the weeping Christ, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. We want to believe we, too, are moving toward this sort of surrender of power and control, wanting no person to feel the weight of our authority. But we don't yet embody it. We don't yet live as though the way to God, the way of fulfilment, is the downward way. We spend our best thinking and energies on the upward way and are distressed if we are not recognized or appreciated.

The closer we get to the end of life, the more meaningful the symbols of weakness become. I've noticed this time and time again: people of power, the closer they get to the end, the more they appreciate the images of weakness. Jesus didn't live a great life but end that life poorly. No, the crowning of his life was the death that he died. The poverty, the leastness of those final hours, the death, is the glory.

N. Gordon Cosby, from a sermon on September 24 1989, with thanks to inward/outward
I haven't found anything that has so clearly described what God has been showing me during this strange and at times terrifying Lent!

Once again, apologies for being so bad at keeping up this blog. Jan has been in hospital for major surgery, and is coming home this afternoon. This isn't a confessional type of blog, which is why I haven't said more day by day about the extraordinary mixture of emotions this has involved - but I would be grateful for your prayers, for us both...