Sunday, January 30, 2011


Joy is what makes life worth living, but for many joy seems hard to find. They complain that their lives are sorrowful and depressing. What then brings the joy we so much desire? Are some people just lucky, while others have run out of luck? Strange as it may sound, we can choose joy. Two people can be part of the same event, but one may choose to live it quite differently than the other. One may choose to trust that what happened, painful as it may be, holds a promise. The other may choose despair and be destroyed by it.

What makes us human is precisely this freedom of choice.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

This passage from Nouwen seems to reflect very accurately what I was saying in my last post, about the practical outworkings of what St Paul says in Romans 8:28, “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

If we will only trust him, God will “[work] with those who love him, those who have been called in accordance with his purpose, and [turn] everything to their good” (Romans 8:28 NJB). We cannot choose our circumstances. Ultimately, much as we may try, and however much we try to convince ourselves, we are not the masters of our fate, nor the captains of our souls. But we do have this choice, to pray or not to pray.

Faith comes by prayer, I think. Certainly it is a gift and not an accomplishment. But to pray at all is a kind of trust, however desperate. It may be the last shred left of trust—certainly it was for me at the darkest times last year—but it is trust, and in that naked remnant God can work, will work. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, ““To endure the cross is not tragedy; it is the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ.”

Saturday, January 29, 2011

As we forgive…

Forgiving does not mean forgetting. When we forgive a person, the memory of the wound might stay with us for a long time, even throughout our lives. Sometimes we carry the memory in our bodies as a visible sign. But forgiveness changes the way we remember. It converts the curse into a blessing. When we forgive our parents for their divorce, our children for their lack of attention, our friends for their unfaithfulness in crisis, our doctors for their ill advice, we no longer have to experience ourselves as the victims of events we had no control over.

Forgiveness allows us to claim our own power and not let these events destroy us; it enables them to become events that deepen the wisdom of our hearts. Forgiveness indeed heals memories.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

Only by the act of forgiving can we live in forgiveness—in forgiven-ness. This is surely what our Lord meant when he taught us to pray, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us…” He is describing a process—how it comes about, the way it is. He is not describing some kind of ultimatum of the Father’s, a capricious requirement he’s thought up to pester us with.

Only when we have forgiven, though, truly forgiven a real wound—years, maybe, of wounds—can we know this for ourselves. Otherwise it just doesn’t make any sense. I thank God for hurts and insults and betrayals, honestly, because if it weren’t for them I could never have learned how to forgive, and so I’d never have found the door into this particular blessedness, this wonderful freedom. Truly, “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Never has this been more true for me than now, as I write this.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Once to Every Man and Nation…

We used to sing this at school, and it stirred my heart as only a 13-year old’s can be stirred. I still love the tune, composed by Thomas Williams in 1890.

It’s James Russell Lowell’s words, though, that are worth thinking through. Lowell has caught something of the heart of Christian martyrdom that may have unconsciously led Martin Luther King to quote from these words in his Address to Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church on April 4 1967…

Once to every man and nation,
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with false-hood,
For the good or evil side;

Some great cause, some great decision,
Offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever,
'Twixt that darkness and that light.

Then to side with truth is noble,
When we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit,
And 'tis prosperous to be just;

Then it is the brave man chooses,
While the coward stands aside,
Till the multitude make virtue,
Of the faith they had denied.

Though the cause of evil prosper,
Yet the truth alone is strong:
Though her portion be the scaffold,
And upon the throne be wrong,

Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And, behind the dim unknown
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above his own.

Thomas Williams’ tune in a fine anonymous organ version

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Those of us who live in this century are privileged to live in one of the most momentous periods of human history. It is an exciting age filled with hope. It is an age in which a new social order is being born. We stand today between two worlds—the dying old and the emerging new.

Now I am aware of the fact that there are those who would contend that we live in the most ghastly period of human history. They would argue that the rhythmic beat of the deep rumblings of discontent from Asia, the uprisings in Africa, the nationalistic longings of Egypt, the roaring cannons from Hungary, and the racial tensions of America are all indicative of the deep and tragic midnight which encompasses our civilization. They would argue that we are retrogressing instead of progressing. But... the present tensions represent the necessary pains that accompany the birth of anything new. 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream (Speech given on May 17 1957) with thanks to inward/outward

I think Dr. King’s words may be as true for us in this century as in the last… He was, I believe, a true prophet—one of the truest in living memory—a man whose faith and passion for justice questioned all humankind, and whose love and courage enabled him to follow his Lord clean through the gate of the Cross into glory.

We cannot know, though, what the new thing is that is coming to birth, or how far advanced is our parturition. All we can know for certain is God’s love for us, and his mercy in Christ, as Paul explains:

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.

Romans 8:18-25

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Martin Luther King, prophet…

We have before us the glorious opportunity to inject a new dimension of love into the veins of our civilization. There is still a voice crying out in terms that echo across the generations, saying: Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you, that you may be the children of your Father which is in Heaven. This love might well be the salvation of our civilization.

Martin Luther King, I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed the World (Speech given to the First Annual Institute on Nonviolence and Social Change in Dec 1956) with thanks to inward/outward

Over all the Christian centuries, civilisations have grown in justice and in peace to the extent that they have lived out this love. We might reflect that the converse seems also to be true…

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

A mediation on the Eve of Epiphany…

This is the fullness of time –
when the Son of God
is begotten in you.
What is the test that you have indeed undergone this holy birth?
Listen carefully.
If this birth has truly taken place within you,
then no creature can any longer hinder you.
Rather, every single creature points you
toward God
and toward this birth.
You receive a rich potential for sensitivity,
a magnificent vulnerability.
In whatever you see or hear, no matter what it is,
you can absorb therein nothing but this birth.
In fact,
everything becomes for you
nothing but God.
For in the midst of all things,
you keep your eye only on God.
To grasp God in all things,
that is the sign
of your new birth.

Meister Eckhart, translation by Matthew Fox, from Meditations with Meister Eckhart    (p. 84, 83), with thanks to Barbara

…And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

I keep thinking about this. Surely the reading of Romans 8:28 preferred by the translators of the NIV is the correct one. It is an insult—or at least an invitation to misunderstanding—to the bereaved, the critically ill, the abused and the neglected to say that “all things work together for good for those who love God,” as the excellent NRSV has it. They demonstrably don’t, at any rate not in this world. But to say that God works in them—ah, that is different. As Eckhart says, “Listen carefully. If this birth has truly taken place within you, then no creature can any longer hinder you. Rather, every single creature points you toward God and toward this birth. You receive a rich potential for sensitivity, a magnificent vulnerability. In whatever you see or hear, no matter what it is, you can absorb therein nothing but this birth.”

Let us pray, this Epiphany, that it is truly an epiphany for us, personally—that Christ is truly begotten in each one of us by faith, and that we know it! Then truly, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39)

Monday, January 03, 2011

Adult Christians?

I founded the Center for Action and Contemplation in 1987 because so many peace and justice people, frankly, disappointed me.  They were angry, pushy, and often dualistic thinkers on the Left. They too often perpetuated the problem in new form instead of healing it at any deep level.

As adult Christians, we need to do things from the heart space, not from the ego’s need to assert itself or win any argument.  We do not need to be better than or holier than anybody else.  There’s no long term moral advance if we merely please our own ego or if the energy is oppositional.

To purify our own motivation, and to be honest about our intentions, is the big hump between the first and second halves of life.  In the second half of our spiritual journey, we might continue to do the same things but now from a very different place:  We don’t need to win or need to be right.  We just do what we are called to do, but then let go of the results, and leave that to God.  This is what some call “pure action,” where I act without demanding any particular response or results.  One can only do that when they are doing God’s work and not just their own.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Adult Christianity and How to Get There (CD/MP3)

Rohr reminds me so clearly of one of the things that drew me to the Franciscan way in the first place—that following Francis following Christ is a way to draw together the threads that are so often disparate, disjointed and at odds with each other in the church, and yet which, in me, are as necessary, though as different, as air and water.

As Rohr says of “peace and justice people” sometimes we in the church can be angry, pushy, dualistic thinkers. Evangelicals and Catholics, Charismatics and Reformed churchmen (yes, mostly men!) are too prone to suspect each others’ doctrine and ecclesiology, spirituality and outreach, while maintaining their own style as the only way to go.

One of the marvellous things about Francis was that he transcended all these barriers. He was a man of deep passionate Scriptural knowledge and devotion, a Spirit-filled worshipper who danced along the woodland lanes playing an old twig like a fiddle, and making up praise songs in the troubadour style; yet he had a deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin, and his Eucharistic spirituality was so given over to the crucified Christ that he, Francis, eventually ended up marked with the stigmata. He was a man who had no patience with empty, corrupt tradition, yet he would never allow himself to be ordained Priest since his view of the priestly calling was so high as to make him feel forever unworthy of such a role.

As followers of Francis in our own time, perhaps we need to keep these things in mind. Only by examining ourselves with total honesty, passionately refusing every excuse for angry, pushy, dualistic thinking; and pledging ourselves, as our Principles state, “to fight against the ignorance, pride, and prejudice that breed injustice or partiality of any kind.”