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)

God walks everywhere incognito…

We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with God. God walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate. The real labour is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake.

CS Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, with thanks to inward/outward

In so many ways, this is what it’s all about. In fact, it may be all it’s about. If we really do remain truly awake in God—and that is only possible by his Holy Spirit, given that we are all living the wrong side of the fall—then we will recognise him in the least and in the most broken of his creatures, as well as in those who are least aware of their need for him. In that recognition is all our prayer.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Paul’s paradoxes…

If God is “crucified flesh” for Paul, and that is what he has fallen in love with, then everything is a disguise: weakness is really strength, wisdom is really foolishness, death is really life, matter is really spirit, religion is often slavery, and sin itself is actually the trapdoor into salvation.  People must recognize what a revolutionary thinker Paul was with such teachings as these; and we made him into a mere moralistic churchman.

So the truth lies neither in the total affirmation nor in the total denial of either side of things, but precisely in the tug of war between the two.  Hold on to that, and you will become wise and even holy.  But be prepared to displease those on either entrenched side.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Great Themes of Paul (CD)

It’s wonderful to read these words of Rohr! I so often find myself—as many Franciscans do—caught between entrenched positions. My heart is so impossibly Christ’s that I’m helpless to do otherwise. If I’m honest, I have to give my absolute allegiance, and obedience, to God’s word—which is, if we read and understand the opening of John’s Gospel, Jesus himself. Yet if I do that, I am brought up against his words at the institution of the Eucharist, “take, eat, this is my body given for you… this cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:19-20). Evangelical and Catholic—the classic paradox that Francis himself lived out, with a style of personal worship in the Holy Spirit that anyone in our time would identify as Charismatic!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Veridical paradox…

I don’t think the important thing is to be certain about answers nearly as much as being serious about the questions.

When we hold the questions, we meet and reckon with our contradictions, with our own dilemmas, and we invariably arrive at a turning point where we either evade God or meet God.

When we hang on the horns of the dilemma with Christ—between heaven and earth, between the divine and the human realms—it creates liminal space.  All transformation takes place when we’re somehow in between, inside of liminal space…

God is the only one we can surrender to without losing ourselves.  It’s a paradox.  I am increasingly convinced that all true spirituality has the character of paradox to it, precisely because it is always holding together the whole of reality, which is always “Both.”  Everything except God is both attractive and non-attractive, light and darkness, passing and eternal, life and death.  There are really no exceptions.

A paradox is something that appears to be a contradiction, but from another perspective is not a contradiction at all.  You and I are living paradoxes, and therefore most prepared to see ourselves in all outer reality.  If you can hold and forgive the contradictions within yourself, you can normally do it everywhere else too…

In paradoxical language, if you try to rest on one side and forget the other, you lose the truth.  The whole is always both-and.

We’ve seen some Christian cultures that are entirely centred on the Cross and they lose the resurrection.  In wealthy countries like our own we create the “prosperity gospel,” as it is called—all resurrection and almost no reference to the pain and suffering of the world. 

We lose the full mystery of God, and the mystery of our own transformation, when we stand on one side and refuse to hold the creative tension that Jesus held.  It is the horizontal line of two nailed hands, between the good and the bad thief, that crucifies Jesus and that liberates us…

When Christianity aligns itself with power (and the mindset of power) there’s simply very little room for the darkness of faith; that spacious place where God is actually able to form us.

So when we speak of paradox, I’m trying to open up that space where you can “fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31), because YOU are not in control.  That is always the space of powerlessness, vulnerability, and letting go.  Faith happens in that wonderful place, and hardly ever when we have all the power and can hold no paradoxes.  Thus you see why faith will invariably be a minority and suspect position.

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

Another paradox: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Rohr here is not talking about some “anything goes” extreme of liberality, or an outpost of the post-modern where Pontius Pilate has become as candidate for canonisation on the strength of his “What is truth?” remark (John 18:38). The paradox here is a totally Biblical paradox.

If you think about it, paradox is implicit in the Gospel from beginning to end. Jesus said, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25), and “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:29-30)

The Beatitudes (Matthew 5) are entirely paradox. The idea that the persecuted and the poor in spirit are those who will be at home in the Kingdom, and that the meek will inherit the earth, must have seemed as ridiculous to the Jewish establishment as they did to the Romans and to the Zealot terrorists.

Jesus is “the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through [him].” (John 14:6) His way is the way of the Cross, a paradoxical victory if ever there was one.  He said (Luke 9:23-24), “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” Our path to life and victory is the same as his, and it runs through the gate of the Cross.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

True humility…

“It is almost impossible to overestimate the value of true humility and its power in the spiritual life. For the beginning of humility is the beginning of blessedness and the consummation of humility is the perfection of all joy. Humility contains in itself the answer to all the great problems of the life of the soul. It is the only key to faith, with which the spiritual life begins: for faith and humility are inseparable. In perfect humility all selfishness disappears and your soul no longer lives for itself or in itself for God: and it is lost and submerged in Him and transformed into Him.” Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation – with thanks also to Friar Rex.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Still hidden…

One of the reasons that hiddenness is such an important aspect of the spiritual life is that it keeps us focused on God. In hiddenness we do not receive human acclamation, admiration, support, or encouragement. In hiddenness we have to go to God with our sorrows and joys and trust that God will give us what we most need.

In our society we are inclined to avoid hiddenness. We want to be seen and acknowledged. We want to be useful to others and influence the course of events. But as we become visible and popular, we quickly grow dependent on people and their responses and easily lose touch with God, the true source of our being. Hiddenness is the place of purification. In hiddenness we find our true selves.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

We cannot know ourselves as long as we are constantly seeing ourselves as reflections in other people’s eyes. We can only begin to know ourselves as we turn away, to where our lives are hidden with Christ in God. But for that, we have to die to ourselves (Colossians 3:3), and live only to God (Romans 6:11).

Clinging to silence...

When we enter into solitude to be with God alone, we quickly discover how dependent we are. Without the many distractions of our daily lives, we feel anxious and tense. When nobody speaks to us, calls on us, or needs our help, we start feeling like nobodies. Then we begin wondering whether we are useful, valuable, and significant. Our tendency is to leave this fearful solitude quickly and get busy again to reassure ourselves that we are "somebodies." But that is a temptation, because what makes us somebodies is not other people's responses to us but God's eternal love for us.

To claim the truth of ourselves we have to cling to our God in solitude as to the One who makes us who we are...

How can we stay in solitude when we feel that deep urge to be distracted by people and events? The most simple way is to focus our minds and hearts on a word or picture that reminds us of God. By repeating quietly: "The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want," or by gazing lovingly at an icon of Jesus, we can bring our restless minds to some rest and experience a gentle divine presence.

This doesn't happen overnight. It asks a faithful practice. But when we spend a few moments every day just being with God, our endless distractions will gradually disappear...

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey
You cannot be too gentle, too kind. Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other. Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives. All condemnation is from the devil. Never condemn each other. We condemn others only because we shun knowing ourselves. When we gaze at our own failings, we see such a swamp that nothing in another can equal it. That is why we turn away, and make much of the faults of others. Instead of condemning others, strive to reach inner peace. Keep silent, refrain from judgement. This will raise you above the deadly arrows of slander, insult and outrage and will shield your glowing hearts against all evil.

St Seraphim of Sarov via Mind in the Heart - with thanks to FQOTD
This clinging to silence in the face of every inducement to do otherwise is very close to the heart of prayer. As St Seraphim points out, it is part of mercy too. Ultimately, all prayer must be for God's mercy to fall on his broken creation, his broken people, all the broken hearts in all that has been made. How is this possible except by clinging - clinging so closely - to silence, to the heart's own solitude that is the very place of God?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Hidden...

In a comment on my post "God's Doorway", Sue of Discombobula wrote, unforgettably, "And yet, when you taste the delights of contemplation, what an honour to "stand in the gap". Sometimes I feel like I have done amazing, wonderful, reams of things and haven't even left my front door, and not a soul knows about it..."

Paul know about this too: "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." (Colossians 3:1-4) and Henri Nouwen thought deeply about it. I had better just let him carry on...

The largest part of Jesus' life was hidden. Jesus lived with his parents in Nazareth, "under their authority" (Luke 2:51), and there "increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and with people" (Luke 2:52). When we think about Jesus we mostly think about his words and miracles, his passion, death, and resurrection, but we should never forget that before all of that Jesus lived a simple, hidden life in a small town, far away from all the great people, great cities, and great events. Jesus' hidden life is very important for our own spiritual journeys. If we want to follow Jesus by words and deeds in the service of his Kingdom, we must first of all strive to follow Jesus in his simple, unspectacular, and very ordinary hidden life...

Hiddenness is an essential quality of the spiritual life. Solitude, silence, ordinary tasks, being with people without great agendas, sleeping, eating, working, playing ... all of that without being different from others, that is the life that Jesus lived and the life he asks us to live. It is in hiddenness that we, like Jesus, can increase "in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and with people" (Luke 2:51). It is in hiddenness that we can find a true intimacy with God and a true love for people.

Even during his active ministry, Jesus continued to return to hidden places to be alone with God. If we don't have a hidden life with God, our public life for God cannot bear fruit...

If indeed the spiritual life is essentially a hidden life, how do we protect this hiddenness in the midst of a very public life? The two most important ways to protect our hiddenness are solitude and poverty. Solitude allows us to be alone with God. There we experience that we belong not to people, not even to those who love us and care for us, but to God and God alone. Poverty is where we experience our own and other people's weakness, limitations, and need for support. To be poor is to be without success, without fame, and without power. But there God chooses to show us God's love.

Both solitude and poverty protect the hiddenness of our lives.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

God's doorway...

Prayer is largely just being silent: holding it instead of even talking it through; offering it instead of fixing it by words and ideas; loving it as it is instead of understanding it fully.

That may be impractical, but the way of faith is not the way of efficiency. Much is a matter of listening and waiting, and enjoying the expansiveness that comes from such willingness to hold. It is like carrying and growing a baby: all women do is wait and trust, and hopefully eat good food, and the baby is born.

Richard Rohr, August 2010

Rohr has said far better than I something that I'm always writing about here. True prayer doesn't consist in informing God of our, or others', problems. Do you honestly think he doesn't know unless you tell him? True prayer is still less telling God what needs to be done about these problems, and then "claiming" that solution with the magic formula, "In Jesus' name..."

Intercession is not the process I've rather unfairly derided above. The word comes from the Latin for "go between", and that is all we are asked to do or to be. We "stand in the gap" (Ezekiel 22:30) before God, on behalf of the lost and the suffering and the heartbroken, feeling what they are feeling (that is the meaning of the word "compassion") and longing with their longings. As Michael Ramsey said somewhere, "Contemplation is for all Christians... [It] means essentially our being with God, putting ourselves in his presence, being hungry and thirsty for him, wanting him, letting heart and mind move towards him; with the needs of the world on our heart."

As Rohr points out, none of this is very practical. There is nothing here to feed our appetite for getting things done. There is nothing in a woman's pregnancy to feed her, or her husband's, appetite for getting things done; yet what is accomplished is nothing less than the coming into the world of a new human being, full of all the possibilities and wonders of God's most glorious creation. Truly the power of silence and waiting is far greater than all our plans and programmes, for it is the doorway to the power of God himself...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Blessed among women...

The most simple spiritual discipline is some degree of solitude and silence. But it's the hardest, because none of us want to be with someone we don't love.  Besides that, we invariably feel bored with ourselves, and all our loneliness comes to the surface.

We won't have the courage to go into that terrifying place without Love to protect us and lead us, without the light and love of God overriding our own self doubt.  Such silence is the most spacious and empowering technique in the world, yet it's not a technique at all. It's precisely the refusal of all technique.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Radical Grace p. 106

Hiddenness is an essential quality of the spiritual life. Solitude, silence, ordinary tasks, being with people without great agendas, sleeping, eating, working, playing ... all of that without being different from others, that is the life that Jesus lived and the life he asks us to live. It is in hiddenness that we, like Jesus, can increase "in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and with people" (Luke 2:51). It is in hiddenness that we can find a true intimacy with God and a true love for people.

Even during his active ministry, Jesus continued to return to hidden places to be alone with God. If we don't have a hidden life with God, our public life for God cannot bear fruit...

One of the reasons that hiddenness is such an important aspect of the spiritual life is that it keeps us focused on God. In hiddenness we do not receive human acclamation, admiration, support, or encouragement. In hiddenness we have to go to God with our sorrows and joys and trust that God will give us what we most need.

In our society we are inclined to avoid hiddenness. We want to be seen and acknowledged. We want to be useful to others and influence the course of events. But as we become visible and popular, we quickly grow dependent on people and their responses and easily lose touch with God, the true source of our being. Hiddenness is the place of purification. In hiddenness we find our true selves.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

Sometimes we forget, especially we Anglicans, just how extraordinary a model of the contemplative life Mary is. So much of her life was lived in hiddenness - in the Gospels we only see brief, illuminated glimpses, as it were, of 30-odd years of life, during which, "Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." (Luke 2:19) No wonder she is known, in the words of Elizabeth, as "blessed among women"! (Luke 1:42)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Humility and spiritual warfare

Thus the whole of spiritual warfare wages round humility. The enemy fell from pride, and would draw us to perdition by the same means. The enemy praises us, and should the soul listen to his praise grace withdraws until she repents. Thus throughout her life the soul is occupied with the lesson of Christ-like humility. So long as she has not humility wrong thoughts and impulses will always torment her. But the humble soul finds the rest and the peace of which the Lord tells.

Fasting and abstinence, vigil and withdrawal into silence, and other exploits of spiritual discipline all help, but humility is the principal power.

Humility is not learned in a trice. That is why the Lord said: ‘Learn lowliness in heart and meekness of me.’ To learn takes time. And there are some who have grown old in the practice of spiritual endeavour, yet still have not learned humility, and they cannot understand why things are not well with them, why they do not feel peace and their souls are cast down.

From the Elder Sophrony’s Wisdom from Mount Athos, with thanks to Fr. Stephen

The Feast of St. Clare of Assisi

Place your mind
before the mirror of eternity!
Place your soul in the brilliance of glory!
and transform your entire being
into the image of the Godhead Itself
through contemplation…

St. Clare of Assisi

God of peace,
who in the poverty of the blessed Clare
gave us a clear light to shine in the darkness of this world:
give us grace so to follow in her footsteps
that we may, at the last, rejoice with her
    in your eternal glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Collect for St. Clare of Assisi

O God, whose blessed Son became poor that we through his poverty might be rich: deliver us from an inordinate love of this world, that we, inspired by the devotion of your servant Clare, may serve you with singleness of heart, and attain to the riches of the age to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Nagasaki Day

Why do the innocent suffer?  Why are there genetic defects in newborn children?  Why have so many died before they had a chance to live?  If God is good, why is there so much that seems un-good?  The dying one who shouldn’t be dying is always the acid test for our faith.  What happens when life doesn’t work?  Why did so many die on every side of every war, as 65 years ago today in Nagasaki?

Sooner or later we all have to deal with the issue of unjust suffering, since it exists at every level of creation: substances, plants, animals, and humans—and maybe even God.  Could God suffer?  Even with us, in us, and through us?

Yes, if Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15)—and God is never more nakedly revealed than on the cross (1 Corinthians 1:2-31)—then we have to admit that our suffering is somehow one with God’s eternal suffering that is birthing the new creation (Romans 8:18-23).  We are “making up in our bodies all that still has to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body” (Colossians 1:24).

Richard Rohr, August 2010

We must not minimise to ourselves what Rohr is saying here; whether or not we agree with his conclusion, it is utterly essential that we come to a conclusion for ourselves, faced with the horror of what was done in 1945, and what has been done, somewhere, on every day since. Without facing this, how can we pray?

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Into the heart of God…

The Gospel was first heard by people who were longing and thirsty, who were poor and oppressed in one sense or another. They knew their need and their emptiness. So we must go to the same place within ourselves to hear the Gospel. We must find the rejected and fearful parts within each of us and try to live there, if life has not yet put us there. That should allow us a deeper communion with the oppressed of the world, who are by far the majority of the human race since the beginnings of humanity.

If we wish to enter more deeply into this mystery of redemptive suffering—which also means somehow entering more deeply into the heart of God—we have to ask God to allow us to feel some of their pain and loneliness, not just to know it intellectually. It is what we feel that we finally act on. Knowing is often just that, and nothing more.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Job and the Mystery of Suffering, p. 15

In many ways, this passage from Richard Rohr follows on from what I was saying the other day. The identification I spoke of there, that enables our prayers to be truly intercession, is precisely what Rohr so memorably describes as asking “God to allow us to feel some of their pain and loneliness, not just to know it intellectually.”

We cannot know, intellectually, how to pray (see Romans 8:26,27): our minds simply are not equipped for understanding on that level. We cannot know the full dimensions of the needs for which we pray, and we cannot begin to understand how God may answer (Romans 11:34). But we can feel. We can weep. Our hearts, however hardened, can be broken for the creation that (Romans 8:22,23) cries out in pain and longing, and for all our suffering fellow-creatures, human and otherwise.

May we be broken ourselves, so that the crucified and risen Christ may find in us channels for his grace, his mercy, to bring healing and freedom, for “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

Friday, August 06, 2010

In the way of tears we become prayer…

In the way of tears we become prayer; we no longer labour under the illusion of prayer as technology. As ClĂ©ment says, we are “offering the world on the altar of (our hearts)”:

“The condition of space-time which gives rise to the beating of the heart, is no longer an endless prison, but a temple walled with light. The man “feels” (taking the apophatic meaning of the “feeling of God”) the risen Christ, who is the face of the Father, in the light of the Spirit.”

We do not pray, we are prayed. And only when the last element of creation has become transfigured through the tears of Christ living in humankind will tears cease.

But there is more. We must remember that these are not tears of sorrow only, but of both sorrow and joy. As Isaac says, “here is sweet and flaming compunction”; or, mixed sorrow and joy like honey and the comb, to use an image of John Climacus. Mixed because in this singularity we somehow come to know more and more (in the most intimate biblical sense) that we gaze upon the face of God (Matthew 18). The promises made for us in baptism are fulfilled in us by this new and unceasing pouring out of fiery tears through our life within the blessed Trinity, whose love has become the polarity in this unending exchange of kenosis. This is the baptism of tears. The dark glass though which we see is washed by tears that magnify the face of God as we gaze upon it. And the only sin of which we need repent is the turning away from this gaze.

Maggie Ross, from her blog Voice in the Wilderness

The truth of this is summed up in some words Maggie Ross quotes in her recent post on Walter Bruggemann’s An Unsettling God:

At the centre of reality is a deep, radical, painful, costly fissure that will, soon or later, break every self-arranged pattern of well-being… It cannot be helped, and it cannot be avoided…

This insistence on the reality of brokenness flies in the face of the Enlightenment practice of denial. Enlightenment rationality, in its popular, uncriticized form, teaches that with enough reason and resources brokenness can be avoided. And so Enlightenment rationality, in its frenzied commercial advertising, hucksters the good of denial and avoidance: denial of headaches and perspiration and loneliness, impotence and poverty and shame, embarrassment and, finally, death. In such ideology there are no genuinely broken people. When brokenness intrudes into such an assembly of denial, as surely it must, it comes as failure, stupidity, incompetence, and guilt. The church, so wrapped in the narrative of denial, tends to collude in this. When denial is transposed into guilt—into personal failure—the system of denial remains intact and uncriticized, in the way Job’s friends defended the system.

It is the brokenness that Bruggemann refers to that is the source of the tears; its mending is the promise from Isaiah 61 that Jesus quotes at the beginning of his ministry (Luke 4:18-19) that he has been sent to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…

The Kingdom is here, in the fellowship of believers and in the presence of Christ himself among them (Matthew 18:20, and the High Priestly prayer from John 17); yet it is still to come (Matthew 24:14; Luke 19:11, etc., and the entire book of Revelation). Until that day, when the last wounds is healed, and the last tear dried, we must be content to weep—be content, too, with our “failure, stupidity, incompetence, and guilt.” Our victory in Christ is our willingness to be crucified with him (Galatians 2:20), and our forgivenness is our willingness to assume the guilt inherent in our humanity (Daniel 9:5ff; Romans 3:21-28).

It is here that our identification enables us to intercede for the brokenness that is ours as well as the world’s (Romans 8:26-27), and here that our cry “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” calls down his mercy on all of his broken creation (Romans 8:22) and here that our own tears wash the pierced feet of Christ himself (Matthew 25:40).

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Lord of co-incidence...

It is necessary that we find God, and God cannot be found in noise and unpeace... See how Nature - trees, flowers and grass - grow in stillness; how stars, moon and sun run their course in silence. The more we receive through quiet prayer, the more we can give in the activity of our daily lives. In essence, it is not what we say, but what God says to us and through us. All our words are useless if they do not come from within. Words that do not carry the light of Christ only increase the darkness.

Mother Teresa, with thanks to inward/outward

Talking with a friend over coffee this morning, we were discussing how we could know whether we had been given, or even whether we would be given, a word for someone for whom we were praying. Only a few minutes earlier, another friend and I had been discussing after mid-week Communion how we could be certain whether we had heard from God, or merely from our own hopes and fears, when we felt we had received from God a solution to an issue we'd been praying about. I arrived home to find this quote in my inbox, one of the regular ministry emails from inward/outward. God is not only Lord of Heaven and earth, he is Lord of co-incidence as well!

Monday, August 02, 2010

A vast and fruitful loneliness…

Life may be brimming over with experiences, but somewhere, deep inside, all of us carry a vast and fruitful loneliness wherever we go. And sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths, or the turning inward in prayer for five short minutes.

Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life: the Journal of a Young Jewish Woman, 1941-1943, with thanks to inward/outward

The great mystery of the incarnation is that God became human in Jesus so that all human flesh could be clothed with divine life. Our lives are fragile and destined to death. But since God, through Jesus, shared in our fragile and mortal lives, death no longer has the final word. Life has become victorious. Paul writes: “And after this perishable nature has put on imperishability and this mortal nature has put on immortality, then will the words of scripture come true: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?’” (1 Corinthians 15:54). Jesus has taken away the fatality of our existence and given our lives eternal value.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

I seem to be writing a lot about solitude and loneliness at the moment. I’m truly not sure quite why. I do know, though, that for me these words are close to the centre of where I’m living from at the moment.

One of yesterday’s lectionary readings was the following, from Paul’s letter to the Colossians: “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1-4)

Those words, “your life is hidden with Christ in God”, just fill me so strongly with that longing, that loneliness that is somehow the very presence of God, that it’s as though he were there, in the very words themselves. Hardly surprising, perhaps, given Jesus’ own prayer for us,

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)