Thursday, October 27, 2011


Forgiveness is the answer to the child's dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is again made clean. The dream explains why we need to be forgiven, and why we must forgive. In the presence of God, nothing stands between God and us--we are forgiven. But we cannot feel God's presence if anything is allowed to stand between ourselves and others.

Dag Hammarskjold: Journal 1956

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those
who sin against us…

I don’t know of a clearer or more beautiful explanation of how this works than Dag Hammarskjold’s words here. No wagging fingers, no hard bargains; just the truth…

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Indwelling Presence…

In the Judeo-Christian creation story, humans were created in the very “image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1.26). Our DNA is divine.

The Divine Indwelling is never earned by any behaviour whatsoever or any ritual, but only recognized and realized (Romans 11.6, Ephesians 2.8-10) and fallen in love with. When you are ready, you will be both underwhelmed and overwhelmed at the boundless mystery of your own humanity.

Without that underlying experience of God as both abyss and ground, it is almost impossible to live in the now, in the fullness of who I am, warts and all, and almost impossible to experience the Presence that, paradoxically, always fills the abyss and shakes the ground.

Richard Rohr, adapted from The Naked Now, p. 22

We waste so much time seeking God, as though he were a distant land, or a lost object of desire, when he is in every cell and fibre of what we are. What is needed is perhaps harder than any quest: to get out of the way.

I’ve been praying about this chemically-induced depression I’ve been struggling with recently, and I think that part of the problem—as indeed it is with any serious or long-term illness—is that our inner eyes become fixed on some image of ourselves, rather than on our essential image-bearing humanity.

Of course, the part that is left out of the passage from Rohr’s book that I’ve quoted above is the part about our fallenness. We are made in the image of God, all right, but that image is tarnished and obscured by sin. My present tendency to self-obsession and self-pity is no more than an exaggeration of something that is common to us all, which is only overcome by grace.

Grace itself is always there, like the sun’s light. The earth may turn away; clouds may cover the sky, but the faithful sun shines on still. So it is with the grace of Christ: his love never falters—we do.

But now, irrespective of law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets,the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction,since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed;it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.

Romans 3.21-26 [my emphasis]

Oh, God, give me the grace to get myself out of the mirror, and watch only for your reflection. Give me the love to care only for those others in whom you have placed your image; give me the strength to weep with them, dance with them, pray for them… for without you I am far too weak.

And yet… Paul also wrote (2 Corinthians 12.9): “[the Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Four-fold Franciscan Blessing

May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really CAN make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God's grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

And the blessing of God the Supreme Majesty and our Creator,

Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word who is our brother and Saviour,

and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Guide,

be with you and remain with you, this day and forevermore.


[I’ve been unable reliably to trace an original source for this—if anyone knows, I’d appreciate a comment!]

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Bible Sunday

Today is Bible Sunday, and the collect for today reads:

Blessed Lord
who caused all holy scriptures
    to be written for our learning
help us so to hear them,
to read, mark learn and inwardly digest them
that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word,
we may embrace and forever hold fast
    the hope of everlasting life,
which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.


Sometimes our hearts feel closed and dry—and yet, if we will just listen, or read, quite passively and without examining how we may be taking in what we read or hear, the living water of God’s Word (who is, after all, our Saviour Jesus Christ) will secretly soften and heal us. Its working may be unknown and unrealised, and yet it is true and sure beyond our fallible senses.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Believing in the Church…

The Church is an object of faith.  In the Apostles' Creed we pray:  “I believe in God, the Father ... in Jesus Christ, his only Son – in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”  We must believe in the Church!  The Apostles’ Creed does not say that the Church is an organization that helps us to believe in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  No, we are called to believe in the Church with the same faith we believe in God.

Often it seems harder to believe in the Church than to believe in God.  But whenever we separate our belief in God from our belief in the Church, we become unbelievers.  God has given us the Church as the place where God becomes God-with-us.

Henri Nouwen

I am so grateful for this! I know that a some people who feel quite spiritual believe that they can find God in country walks, or sitting by the sea, better than they can in a church, but somehow the point is missing here.

Christ is “God-with-us”, Emmanuel, and the Church is the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12.22ff) at whose centre is the Eucharist, where the Body of Christ becomes real and present among us. How can we not be fractured, lost, outside the Body of which we are a part? We cannot live alone; members of any living body, if severed, do not live a wild and fruitful life: they die and shrivel. We must remain in community even when it hurts, even when we cannot for the life of us think what we’re doing there—only as part of a Eucharistic community can the life-blood of Christ, bearing the oxygen of the Spirit, flow freely in our veins.

Thank God for the Church—for each of us, frail and fallible as we are, living in this messy and glorious community of ours, and for the eternal Church “spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners…” (CS Lewis)—our home and our refuge, and our sign…

Friday, October 21, 2011

On struggling…

Last year I wrote that I didn’t see The Mercy Blog as a confessional platform, full of chatty accounts of what I’d been eating, listening to, wearing, worrying about… I’ve tried to stick to this rule, with a few notable exceptions, since I first started the blog in 2005.

I was struck, then, by Jane Sigrist’s comment, when she most generously made TMB her Blog of the Week, that I had “been brave enough to share some of the joys and struggles of [my] journey honestly, often at great depth, yet with a humble simplicity that's an inspiration to others.”

Encouraged, then, by Jane’s remark, I have to confess that I’ve been struggling a bit lately. I suffer from a condition called sarcoidosis, which was first diagnosed back in 1972, and which has been going through a cycle of remission and activity in multiple organ systems ever since. Recently it has been making a nuisance of itself again, and I have been on the usual treatment, high doses of steroids. One of the side-effects of this has been depression, of the “I can’t be bothered to do anything, I’m useless at everything anyway” variety. Reluctant to blog about this, I’ve blogged about nothing – which has contributed another arc to the vicious circle.

By God’s grace things have improved to the point where my consultant feels it’s safe to reduce the dose of steroids, while she keeps a careful eye on the chemical markers. I feel it’s important to try and break out of this grey cotton-wool trap I’ve been in; to resume blogging anyway, regardless of whether I make any sense or not, may be part of this.

I am quite certain that I remain in the palm of Christ’s own pierced hand, however much I may feel like something floating in the bottom of a washing-up bowl. He will make something of this, have no doubt, for “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 NIV) He does. It’s important to remember this, much as the Psalmists remembered (e.g. in Psalm 77) the past glorious deeds of God, even in exile and captivity:

Your way was through the sea,
   your path, through the mighty waters;
   yet your footprints were unseen.

Psalm 77.19

Pray for me, though, that I may cling tight to that memory, even when his footsteps do remain unseen…

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The Feast of St. Francis of Assisi


Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you delight in your whole creation with perfectness of joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.


Nothing I could write here would better Padre Mickey’s marvellous post. Click over there and read the whole thing…

Monday, October 03, 2011

Breaking Bread…

The two disciples whom Jesus joined on the road to Emmaus recognised him in the breaking of the bread. What is a more common, ordinary gesture than breaking bread? It may be the most human of all human gestures: a gesture of hospitality, friendship, care, and the desire to be together. Taking a loaf of bread, blessing it, breaking it, and giving it to those seated around the table signifies unity, community, and peace. When Jesus does this he does the most ordinary as well as the most extraordinary. It is the most human as well as the most divine gesture.

The great mystery is that this daily and most human gesture is the way we recognise the presence of Christ among us. God becomes most present when we are most human…

When we gather around the table and eat from the same loaf and drink from the same cup, we are most vulnerable to one another. We cannot have a meal together in peace with guns hanging over our shoulders and pistols attached to our belts. When we break bread together we leave our arms - whether they are physical or mental - at the door  and enter into a place of mutual vulnerability and trust.

The beauty of the Eucharist is precisely that it is the place where a vulnerable God invites vulnerable people to come together in a peaceful meal. When we break bread and give it to each other, fear vanishes and God becomes very close.

Henri Nouwen

Something like this strikes me at every celebration of the Eucharist. “Though we are many, we are one body, because we all share in one bread…”

We who share in this most blessed sacrament are truly one, one community, one body of Christ, through the Body by which he is made present to us, this Blood he shed for us. This is real, not some man-made symbol; this uniting is something far deeper than anything that could ever separate us, and far deeper than anything we could ever do ourselves to bring us together. The very act of God is here among us each time we celebrate this most glorious event; how could we ever have thought otherwise? Jesus himself told us, “This is my body… This cup… is the new covenant in my blood…” The verb is clean, present, real. In this moment, so are we – for an instant, at least, we can glimpse the shores of heaven; for a moment, we can be who we were made to be. This “amen” is for each of us, just for a shining second, our own surrender, our “let it be to me according to your word.”

Christ in each of us, the hope of glory…

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Medjugorje and after…

It’s the first of October already, and I’ve been putting off posting here simply because, after a full week back home, I’m still fairly speechless about the Medjugorje pilgrimage.

Google will very quickly introduce you to many pages (probably the Wikipedia article already linked here, and its internal links, provide the best place to start, especially for the unfamiliar or sceptical (!) enquirer) dealing with the village, and with the history of Marian pilgrimage to the area. You will easily be able to trace the various controversies surrounding the site, from the early disagreements with the Communist authorities of Yugoslavia, through the Bosnian War of the early 1990s, to the current inquiry by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

But none of these – and as you may imagine I had read plenty before we travelled – had prepared me even slightly for the impact that most Franciscan of places would have on me. It is hard to explain how this came about, and it is this difficulty that has made me strangely reluctant to begin this post.

Certainly I experienced nothing “supernatural” in the external way. The widely reported and well-attested miracles of healing still go on, but I did not experience these directly during our stay. The experiences I did have were entirely spiritual and internal, and too private to write of here or anywhere.

What has remained, apart from a greatly deepened love of our Lady herself, is an odd kind of spiritual certainty – a sureness of heart, if I can use such a phrase. This life that I have lived, its twists and turns, the many things I would have wished otherwise, is a gift from God’s own hand. It is thoroughly permeated by the Holy Spirit, and so lived-in by Christ. I cannot choose the best bits. All that I have lived through works in the end together for my own good (Romans 8.28!); somehow for the healing of my tangled heart.

Yet again the call is to prayer, to the simplification of life. I seem to be incapable of living without getting caught up in stuff. Increasingly I’m coming to understand why men and women are called to live in community, where “stuff”, physical and social, is owned by the community, and they themselves are not caught up in it in such a personal way as we are who live in the world.

I know too how easily trying to live with less stuff can in itself become a hobby, can become “stuff” in its own right. Try entering “minimalist blog” into your favourite search engine, and you will find a legion of (mostly) young (mostly) American women and men whose waking hours seem to be devoted to working out how to live with increasingly less stuff – not all of it physical stuff, by any means. That isn’t what I’m getting at.

There is a passage in the Principles of the Third Order Society of St. Francis which reads, “Those of us who have much time at our disposal give prayer a large part in our daily lives. Those of us with less time must not fail to see the importance of prayer and to guard the time we have allotted to it from interruption.” I have made a fairly poor showing on either count, on the whole, and it is mostly to do with my attachment to stuff: social, intellectual, even spiritual stuff quite as much as physical stuff.

I am rambling. Medjugorje has been for me about far more than un-stuffing. It is, though, about living one-pointedly. The mistake some Protestants make is to imagine that Catholics worship Mary. They love her, honour her, turn to her; but she herself is continually pointing them to her Son. Medjugorje has been for me an experience of being called to leave everything and follow him, being called far deeper into the place Paul describes in the opening verses of Colossians 3:
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.
In the end, it’s simply about trust – trusting Jesus enough actually to believe the Beatitudes, I suppose…