Saturday, April 23, 2011


Limen is the Latin word for threshold. A “liminal space” is the crucial in-between time—when everything actually happens and yet nothing appears to be happening. It is the waiting period when the cake bakes, the movement is made, the transformation takes place. One cannot just jump from Friday to Sunday in this case, there must be Saturday! This, of course, was always the holy day for the Jewish tradition. The Sabbath rest was the pivotal day for the Jews, and even the dead body of Jesus rests on Saturday, waiting for God to do whatever God plans to do. It is our great act of trust and surrender, both together. A new “creation ex nihilo” is about to happen, but first it must be desired. . . .

Remember, hope is not some vague belief that “all will work out well,” but biblical hope is the certainty that things finally have a victorious meaning no matter how they turn out. We learned that from Jesus, which gives us now the courage to live our lives forward from here. Maybe that is the full purpose of Lent.

Richard Rohr, from Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent, Saint Anthony Messenger Press, 2010

Reading this passage from Rohr, I was suddenly reminded of an Easter Saturday poem I wrote many years ago. The weather’s wrong for this Easter – it was an early Easter that year on the North-East coast – but otherwise it says what I’m feeling better than I probably could today, in this glorious late spring sunshine…


Shallow sky’s thin edge
with sea and grey – lost
with pattern layers
into distance, thread cold
in no reckoned afternoon –
hatches its waiting
in a slow tide quick
with dunlin.

Stitched frail attributes
the day brought down
to no rain yet, or
given back over so long
to a rim the sea
asks across,
finding and finding
no thing to keep.

The land’s seasons fail
across surface, picked
over the rocks into stippled days.
Downshore, parallels repeat
out of seeing, as dim as far.
Wrack-line and sea’s edge,
limen and littoral hold,
patched and rotted with light.

Michael Farley, Lucy’s Ironworks, Stride Publications, 1990

Friday, April 22, 2011

How can God die?

PILATE: Claudia, Claudia, tell me—what was this dream of yours?

CLAUDIA: I was in a ship at sea, voyaging among the islands of the Aegean. At first the weather seemed calm and sunny—but presently, the sky darkened—and the sea began to toss with wind…

Then, out of the east, there comes a cry, strange and piercing…

(voice, in a thin wail:
”Pan ho megas thethnéke—
Pan ho megas thethnéke—”)

and I said to the captain, “What do they cry?” And he answered, “Great Pan is dead.” And I asked him, “How can God die?” And he answered, “Don’t you remember? They crucified him. He suffered under Pontius Pilate” …

(Murmur of voices, starting almost in a whisper)

Then all the people in the ship turned their faces to me and said: “Pontius Pilate”….

(Voices, some speaking, some chanting, some muttering, mingled with sung fragments of Greek and Latin liturgies, weaving and crossing one another:
“Pontius Pilate… Pontius Pilate… he suffered under Pontius Pilate… crucified, dead and buried… sub Pontio Pilato… Pilato… he suffered… suffered… under Pontius Pilate… under Pontius Pilate…”)

… in all tongues and voices… even the little children with their mothers…

(Children’s voices: “Suffered under Pontius Pilate… sub Pontio Pilato… crucifié sous Ponce Pilate… gekreuzigt unter Pontius Pilatus…” and other languages, mingling with the adult voices: then fade it all out)

…your name, husband, your name continually—“he suffered under Pontius Pilate”.

PILATE: The gods avert the omen.

CLAUDIA: This day is like my dream, Caius—this darkness at mid-noon… Hark! What was that?

PILATE: Nothing, Claudia, there is nothing to hear… Come away from the window.

Dorothy L Sayers: The Man Born to be King, Gollancz, 1943; Ignatius Press 1999

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Maundy Thursday…

The sacrificial instinct is the deep recognition that something always has to die for something bigger to be born… we gradually get closer to what really has to be sacrificed—our own beloved ego—as protected and beloved as a little household lamb! We will all find endless disguises and excuses to avoid letting go of what really needs to die. And it is not other humans (firstborn sons of Egyptians), animals (lambs or goats), or even “meat on Friday” that God wants or needs. It is always our false self that has to be let go, which is going to die anyway.

Richard Rohr, from Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent, Saint Anthony Messenger Press.

Slowly the sun begins to set over the hills behind the sea. I cannot understand how I have been blessed to live in this most beautiful place, this little liminal town on the bay at the very tip of the Isle of Purbeck, filled with sea-change and the pure light of an endless sky.

In a few minutes I shall walk down to St Mary’s Church for the Maundy Thursday evening service. I’m a little hungry, and as puzzled as I always am about how the Lord of all could have gone through these days of Easter for someone like me, for people like us all. God’s good hand is there in all of the creation that lives around us, the air we breathe, the gravity that turns the worlds. Through Jesus all things were made – it was his hands, the maker’s, healer’s, gentle hands, that were nailed to stained and riven wood, in a real place, on a recorded date, in bloody fact.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The air has its own grain…

The air has its own grain,
its patterns the eye cannot follow.
Long ago the gulls learned to read
these maps our senses guess at best.

It seems we walk in ways the heart opens,
that the mind cannot follow,
does not even read.
We are blind to our own steps.

God’s arm lies across our shoulders
softer than air itself,
a thing we have no senses for
but strong as death itself.

God’s touch outlasts the act of dying,
remakes stars,
and yet we cannot read it,
only follow

blind to our own heart
that knows as sure as love
what God’s hand says,
loose about our shoulders,

piercèd though with grace.

Michael Farley

Saturday, April 16, 2011

What he is not…

Jesus’ whole life is a life that moves from action – from being in control, preaching, teaching, performing miracles – to passion, in which everything is done to him. He is arrested, whipped, crowned with thorns and nailed to the cross. All this is done to him. The fulfilment of Jesus’ life on earth is not what he did but rather in what was done to him. Passion.

Henri Nouwen, from a recorded conference

This is the essence of the Desert. The Desert is, spiritually as well as physically, a place of subtraction. In theology this is sometimes called apophasis, the process of describing God to ourselves in terms of what he is not, rather than trying to say what we conceive him to be. God is so far beyond our capacity to know him that any way we attempt to describe him to ourselves tends merely to limit our understanding still further. We cannot limit God, however we try to know him or speak of him, but we can limit ourselves. This way lies fundamentalism, religiosity and self-deception.

If we are trying to follow our Lord Jesus on the way of the Cross we must, like him, consent to being stripped of all that has defined us, all that we thought we were, all the good and useful things and talents and gifts that gave us value in our own and others’ eyes. This is a journey on which we can, truly, take nothing with us. It is a journey so like death that I’m not sure I can tell the difference. It certainly will not end except on the far side of the act of dying.

How am I worthy to follow my Lord so closely? I’m not. Only his grace leads me where I could not have conceived of walking; only his own blood can wash me clean enough to even see the stones of the path…

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy one me…

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Desperately seeking…

We could not seek God unless He were seeking us. We may begin to seek Him in desolation, feeling nothing but His absence. But the mere fact that we seek Him proves that we have already found Him.

Thomas Merton, A Merton Reader, ed. by Thomas P. McDonnell, Image Books 1989; Bantam Doubleday Dell 1994, p. 134

O God, you are my God, I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands and call on your name.

My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
when I think of you on my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.

(Psalm 63.1-8)

God is never hidden from us except by our own blindness – even though it may be the blindness of tears – but even then he comes asking, as Jesus asked Bartimaeus, ‘What do you want to me to do for you?’

Oh, Lord, let me always listen. Let me never turn away.

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

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Winter in April?

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvellous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.*

O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time on and for evermore.

Psalm 131

This is being a strange Lent. You would almost think Holy Saturday had come early. The Holy Spirit’s wind seems to scour a barren expanse, like the surface of some far off, unexplored moon. Christ’s warmth, his living voice, seems more like a memory…

So much is happening that I cannot name, cannot even see clearly. It’s as though there is a ferment of change, and something like growth, that is occurring in a place inaccessible to my mind – to my conscious mind at least. Can you imagine something that is going on illuminated by a light imperceptible to your eyes? Ultraviolet, perhaps, or lower down the frequency spectrum: infrared, or radio waves? Somehow, I know that I am not supposed to peer too closely, that I am merely to trust.

Change the metaphor. A gardener prepares his vegetable plot. He marks out the ground, digs it over, breaks down the clods with his fork, and finally rakes the soil level. Now he can sow his seeds. He covers them over, waters them in. Now it is late autumn, getting on towards winter. For months now, he will do nothing. The beds lie quiet under frost and wind, rain and snow. There is nothing to see. And yet the gardener must trust the long process of vernalisation. How can do nothing. If he digs up the seeds to see what’s going on he will destroy them. He must wait, leaving it all up to weather and time. Come the spring there will be shoots. In the end, harvest.

How hard it is to wait! How I long to answer the anxious questions of friends, to speak of purpose and intention, to say something inspiring. I am dumb and helpless, foolish and indecisive. This seem not to worry God.

Pray for me – I’d appreciate that.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Falling into tears…

Only the tears of repentance are able to cleanse the soul – St. Anthimos of Chios

A soldier asked Abba Mius if God accepted repentance. After the old man had taught him many things he said, ‘Tell me, my dear, if your cloak is torn, do you throw it away?’ He replied, ‘No, I mend it and use it again.’ The old man said to him, ‘If you are so careful about your cloak, will not God be equally careful about his creature?’

Abba Sarmatas said, ‘I prefer a sinful man who knows he has sinned and repents, to a man who has not sinned and considers himself to be righteous.’

St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

All too often we forget the power of tears. Claire Bangasser has a wonderful post on the gift of tears, in which she writes:

‘Tears are another way, a tangible way of addressing our pain and our panic,’ explains John Chryssavgis. So, on many occasions, tears are the very best prayer I can tell my loving Beloved Godde. Tears are a grace, and not just a sign, as some think, that I am feeling sorry for myself.

Tears are also a sign of repentance, helplessness, or complete surrender to an impossible solution; an indication that my wilfulness leads me nowhere.

But more than that, tears are the moment when I fall in the arms of the Beloved, admitting powerlessness and my inability at controlling the overwhelming challenges in my life. They are a blend of shame, confusion, repentance, call for help, end of the rope, cul-de-sac, – you name it.

A few years ago now, I wrote myself on this strange gift:

I am slowly coming to realise that my perennial soppiness, or brokenheartedness, is just exactly the way God wants me to be, and that's pretty much that.

What do I mean by "perennial brokenheartedness"? Well for me, it appears outwardly in the way that I cannot ignore suffering, real  or fictional, human or animal, which gives rise to my rather antisocial inability to watch or read much in the way of TV, films or novels. Inwardly, it is an inability, especially in prayer, to turn my heart away from pain.

It gets embarrassing too. Once, years ago, appalled at my own hard-heartedness in prayer, I prayed for the gift of tears. Bad idea. That's the kind of prayer God seems to take a particular delight in answering. Now, of course, I can't stop my helpless tears when I pray, or get involved in certain sorts of conversations.

Of course I've often tried to minimise such things. Even these days, it's embarrassing enough for women to be this way. When men do it it's downright odd. Besides, the more I can minimise it to myself, the more I can insulate myself from the transferred suffering of others, as well as from whatever internal suffering of my own is going on.

This Lent God seems to be removing pretences from me like a shipwright scraping barnacles off an old trawler. It's most uncomfortable. It's also scary, since, accepting it, as I have to, as being from God, I have no alternative but to accept where it may lead. It's out of my hands.

You see, for me at any rate, this process seems to have a lot to do with what Jesus meant when he spoke of taking up one's cross to follow him. Jesus' accepting the way of the Cross is the original pattern. When we accept to follow where he leads, we cannot avoid this pain. It is the same as love. Naming evil as the absence of love, our only weapon against it is love, and love, confronting evil, is pain; ultimately, traced to its very root, it is the pain of the Cross.

I think this is even more true for me now than it was when I wrote it. Certainly what is clearer is the implication of my own repentance. It is not enough to grieve for, pray for, the sufferings of others. I need to repent also. I am of the same material as those who suffer, yes, but I am also of the same material as those responsible for their sufferings. I cannot stand aside and judge them, or even consider myself as separate from them. They breathe the same air, stand upon the same earth; if we are wounded, our blood flows equally red. What I pray for them, I pray for myself; if I pray for myself, shall I not pray for them also?

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