Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Giving us his own Name…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

Out of the ordinary…

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

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

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

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

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

(Micah 5:2)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

O Emmanuel…

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

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

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


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

O Rex Gentium…

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

O Oriens…

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

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

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

(Isaiah 9:1)

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

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

Monday, December 20, 2010

O Clavis David…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(St. Teresa of Avila)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

O Radix Jesse…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 18, 2010

O Adonai…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

O Sapientia…

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

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

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

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

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

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

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

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Not Ashamed!

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

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

Friday, December 03, 2010

Pax et bonum…

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

(St. Therese of Lisieux)

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

Our only hope…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Psalm 138)

Our hope is only in him…