Thursday, December 29, 2011

Who is there to trust?

Life is unpredictable. We can be happy one day and sad the next, healthy one day and sick the next, rich one day and poor the next, alive one day and dead the next. So who is there to hold on to? Who is there to feel secure with? Who is there to trust at all times?

Only Jesus, the Christ. He is our Lord, our shepherd, our rock, our stronghold, our refuge, our brother, our guide, and our friend. He came from God to be with us. He died for us, he was raised from the dead to open for us the way to God, and he is seated at God's right hand to welcome us home. With Paul, we must be certain that “neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nothing already in existence and nothing still to come, nor any power, nor the heights nor the depths, nor any created thing whatever, will be able to come between us and the love of God, known to us in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

Let my trust be in Your mercy, not in myself. Let my hope be in Your love, not in health, or strength, or ability or human resources.

Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude. (New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux), p.29

The Jesus Prayer is for me the most perfect, tiny encapsulation of this. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner…” In those words lie all the trust, all the security, of faith itself.

Of course we won’t always feel like that. The worms of doubt and the sinkholes of despair will always be there waiting. Years of learned responses, years of self-denigration, will claim the day as their own. That’s what is so good about a prayer like the Jesus Prayer. Praying in the Spirit is all very well, but the enemy of our souls can so easily set up impenetrable barricades in our hearts before we can react, or even notice. But a prayer that is so simple, that has been repeated formally and informally day after day, month after month, doesn’t need consciousness of the Spirit’s presence. We can say those words however dry, however broken we are, however meaningless they seem.

They are not meaningless. This is not some pattern of nonsense syllables: this is a prayer to the Son of the living God, and he will answer. He will. Nothing else could have brought me through some of the darkest days of the last ten years or so.

For all that I’ve written so often here about the intercessory and contemplative aspects of the Jesus Prayer, we mustn’t be too high-minded to remember its sheer usefulness as a lifebelt. But, and it is perhaps a big but, it won’t be as much use as it should be if we merely keep it on a shelf for emergencies. The Jesus Prayer is a way of life, a practice as demanding in itself of faithfulness and mindfulness as any path of Christian prayer. Only when it becomes a habit as close as one’s own heartbeat can it open the door of our broken heart to the Lord who stands at the door and knocks, whether we know it or not…

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

St John, Apostle and Evangelist

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was in the beginning with God.All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it… And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

(John 1.1-5; 14)

Today we celebrate the feast of St John, Apostle and Evangelist. The Lectionary reading today focus on his letters—but it is the sheer, staggering metaphysics of his Gospel prologue that gets me every time. The mere existence of anything, let alone our ability to perceive it, relate to it, be at all in ourselves, sometimes gives me attacks of vertigo just thinking about it.

I remember, when it was first beginning to dawn on me that there might be something in the Christian faith after all, reading this passage for the first time in a modern translation, and thinking, “Why does no-one teach this at school? This changes everything!” It answered at a stroke all those aching questions that kept me awake in the early hours: at last all the wonderings and speculations and fretful study and inadvisable experiments were superseded by 96 words that were as solid and true as a steel bolt… In a sense, the rest of my life has been an outworking of that moment.

I didn’t then read the opening of John’s first Letter (if letter is what it was supposed to be) but after the immediacy of his Gospel, which I read right through after that experience with the prologue I somehow knew what he meant. If what he had experienced with Christ those three years in Judea and Samaria meant anything, they meant just what he said, and that meant there was no going back, no matter how I struggled:

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us—we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true;but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

(1 John 1.1-10)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas night…

Sometimes people assume that ‘good’ Christians have no doubts, never ask questions, never experience a sense of bewilderment in the face of cruelty or disaster. That is demonstrably untrue. To be a Christian is surely to live with uncertainty, relying on the gift of faith to bridge the gap between our understanding and our questioning…the God we seek is not a God afar off, but God-with-us, one who has shared our humanity and calls us to share in his divinity…

There in a nutshell is what Christmas is about. In his compassion and love, God wills to take our human flesh and blood and redeem us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. Our salvation is very near. It began with Mary’s generous-hearted consent to be the Mother of God. It will take physical shape with the birth of Jesus on Christmas night. It will be completed only when all are one with Him in the Kingdom. Truly, this is ‘a mystery hidden from long ages, a secret into which even angels long to look!

from Digitalnun’s iBenedictines blog

Each Christmas might be our last on earth. There is such a glorious fragility about this season, when we celebrate the birth of a tiny, vulnerable baby—who just happened to be the Son of God—to a young Jewish girl far from home in the middle of occupied territory, Her faith, the loyalty of her husband Joseph, the kindness of strangers, opened the door to eternity in the person of that little new-born lad.

Christmas night is holy. Of all nights of the year there truly is an uncanny glory about this one. This is no myth, no fairy-tale to hold back the dark. This is God, touching all that he has made with the most tender love, the most glorious power of mercy—with his saving grace made Mary’s Son…

Friday, December 23, 2011

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 to save us, O Lord our God.


O Virgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud?
Quia nec primam similem visa es nec habere sequentem.
Filiae Jerusalem, quid me admiramini?
Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.

O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be?
For neither before you was any like you, nor shall there be after.
Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel at me?
The thing which you behold is a divine mystery.

(Alternative Antiphon in English Medieval usage, up to and including the New English Hymnal)


Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7.14)

O come, Lord Jesus, and heal what is so broken. Restore the places long desolate; make young again the broken hearts. What we cannot understand, make clear. Where there is no justice, let your judgement bring us mercy.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

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.


Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7.14)

I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
              Is immortal diamond.

('That Nature is...' Gerard Manley Hopkins)

Don't say goodbye (I know you can save us)
Don't wave goodbye (and nothing can break us)
Don't say goodbye (I know you can save us)
You can bring us back again
You can bring us back again

('Save Us', Feeder)

(2008’s post, slightly reheated)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Daring to speak?

The experience of the fullness of time, during which God is so present, so real, so tangibly near that we can hardly believe that everyone does not see God as we do, is given to us to deepen our lives of prayer and strengthen our lives of ministry. Having experienced God in the fullness of time, we have a lifelong desire to be with God and to proclaim to others the God we experienced.

Peter, years after the death of Jesus, claims his Mount Tabor experience as the source for his witness. He says: “When we told you about the power and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, we were not slavishly repeating cleverly invented myths; no, we had seen his majesty with our own eyes ... when we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:16-18). Seeing God in the most intimate moments of our lives is seeing God for others.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

I think this may be one of the most valuable things we can do as Christians, both for those who don’t know Christ, and for those of our sisters and brothers who find themselves astray in shadowed places, and wondering if their faith was just a story they were telling themselves, long ago…

It’s hard, though, sometimes to convey the immediacy of encountering God without seeming to “boast”, as Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 11 & 12. I don’t know what the answer to this is; if St Paul tied himself up in knots about it, I can’t imagine what I could do. Still, sometimes the only thing that matters is the eye-witness account, the person who can stand up and say, “I was there: I saw that…”

We are in a season of miracle; angels threaded the skies over Bethlehem those 2,000-odd years ago, and we must not be surprised to meet them even now. God has not ceased to speak with humankind, even if not many listen. (Did they then?) We must dare to speak, perhaps (even though we feel as foolish as our brother Paul felt) of things that so far beyond our understanding that our words fall like bright flecks of ice, and are lost in “snow on snow, in the bleak midwinter, long ago…” Perhaps if we try, we shall find the words are given to us, and the Holy Spirit will speak what needs to be said… I don’t know. I am way out of my depth…

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.

Pre-industrial people were far more connected to the natural cosmos and seasons than we are today, and were very aware that today is the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, and not really the death of the sun—but its rebirth! The liturgical year was easily connected to the seasons of nature. The Latin word was Oriens, also translated “The Dayspring” (see Luke 1.78), and used as an image of Jesus, the Rising Son/Sun who is always leading us into the future horizons of time and history.

[The somewhat artificial date for Jesus' birthday was chosen to be December 25, because it was not until a few days after this that early astronomers could assess the rebirth of the sun, and so this became the Roman celebration of the birth of the sun and for Christians—Jesus' birth day!]

So go outside on this shortest day of the year (or longest if you live in Australia, New Zealand, Bangalore, or Singapore!), and know that whatever it appears to be, it is about to change! But who would suspect? The great change is totally hidden from us because we are still inside of it and too close to it.

Richard Rohr, December 2011

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 9.2 )

…for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.

(Malachi 4.2)

We cannot know what God is doing—his ways are not our ways, and his paths are beyond understanding. But God is faithful and just, slow to anger and full of compassion and steadfast love. If only we would trust him!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

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.

I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David;
he shall open, and no one shall shut;
he shall shut, and no one shall open.

(Isaiah 22.22)

His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onwards and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

(Isaiah 9.7)

I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.

(Isaiah 42.6-7)

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)

Come, Lord Jesus, Holy and Anointed One, and lead us out from darkness into your everlasting light…

Monday, December 19, 2011

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, who stands a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will fall rapt in prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no more.

Jesus is the fulfilment of the prophecies of Isaiah (11.1,10) and Micah (5.1), the one who was to come, as Paul explains in Romans 15.12. But he is the one who is still to come, to bring healing and restoration to all of Creation – which is why we still pray, "Come and deliver us, and delay no more."

All that we are cries out for healing, justice, restoration, and only in Christ are these things finally possible. Advent draws down to this longing, this cry.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus, come!

Hail, space for the uncontained God!

(from the Akathistos Hymn, Greece, VIc)
We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.
But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
God waited.
She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.
Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?
Some unwillingly
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
More often
those moments
when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.
She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child – but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.
Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
only asked
a simple, 'How can this be?'
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
perceiving instantly
the astounding ministry she was offered:
to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power –
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.
Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love –
but who was God.
This was the minute no one speaks of,
when she could still refuse.
A breath unbreathed,
She did not cry, "I cannot, I am not worthy,"
nor "I have not the strength."
She did not submit with gritted teeth,
raging, coerced.
Bravest of all humans,
consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
and the iridescent wings.
courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly.

Denise Levertov, with grateful thanks to Catholic Ireland

Sunday, December 18, 2011

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.

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
ponder nothing earthly minded,
for with blessing in his hand
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
as of old on earth he stood,
Lord of lords in human vesture,
in the Body and the Blood
he will give to all the faithful
his own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
spreads its vanguard on the way,
as the Light of Light descendeth
from the realms of endless day,
that the powers of hell may vanish
as the darkness clears away.

At his feet the six-winged seraph;
cherubim with sleepless eye,
veil their faces to the Presence,
as with ceaseless voice they cry,
”Alleluia, alleluia!
Alleluia, Lord Most High!”

Words: Liturgy of Saint James (fifth century);
trans. Gerald Moultrie (1829-1885), 1864

Music: Picardy (French carol as in The English Hymnal, 1906)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

O Sapientia

Starting in the first millennium of Christianity, there was a build-up to the feast of Christmas. Each day an antiphon was sung dramatically at Vespers (sundown prayer) presenting central and alluring metaphors for the Incarnation of the Eternal Christ. (Remember that the Jewish tradition had all feasts begin at sundown on the previous day. Religious feasts were originally observed sundown to sundown. They transitioned to midnight to midnight with the invention of the clock.)

In these O Antiphons, when read backwards in the monastic illustrated Psalters, the opening letters of each day spelled across the page ERO CRAS, or “Tomorrow I will be.” It was an ancient form of very effective religious theatre and presentation.

Today, December 17, begins with the letter S for sapientia. Wisdom—sophia in Greek, sapientia in Latin, sabiduria in Spanish—was the feminine metaphor for the Eternal Divine, as found especially in the books of Proverbs and Wisdom. One might partner or compare Sophia with Logos, which is the masculine metaphor for the Divine. It is interesting that Logos was used in John's Gospel (1.9-14) and became the preferred tradition, but Sophia was seldom used outside of the monasteries. On December 17 we invoke the feminine image of God as Holy Wisdom.

Richard Rohr, December 2011

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 to teach us the way of prudence.

The sun is gilding Swanage this early afternoon with peace and beauty. It is easy to remember these words today, how Wisdom “mightily and sweetly order[s] all things.” One day, it will be so forever, and “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well…”

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Peaceable Kingdom…

When we think of oceans and mountains, forests and deserts, trees, plants and animals, the sun, the moon, the stars, and all the galaxies, as God's creation, waiting eagerly to be “brought into the same glorious freedom as the children of God” (Roman 8:21), we can only stand in awe of God's majesty and God's all- embracing plan of salvation. It is not just we, human beings, who wait for salvation in the midst of our suffering; all of creation groans and moans with us longing to reach its full freedom.

In this way we are indeed brothers and sisters not only of all other men and women in the world but also of all that surrounds us. Yes, we have to love the fields full of wheat, the snow-capped mountains, the roaring seas, the wild and tame animals, the huge redwoods, and the little daisies. Everything in creation belongs, with us, to the large family of God…

All of creation belongs together in the arms of its Creator. The final vision is that not only will all men and women recognise that they are brothers and sisters called to live in unity but all members of God's creation will come together in complete harmony. Jesus the Christ came to realise that vision. Long before he was born, the prophet Isaiah saw it:

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the panther lie down with the kid,
calf, lion and fat-stock beast together,
with a little boy to lead them.
The cow and the bear will graze,
their young will lie down together.
The lion will eat hay like the ox.
The infant will play over the den of the adder;
the baby will put his hand into the viper's lair.
No hurt, no harm will be done
on all my holy mountain,
for the country will be full of knowledge of Yahweh
as the waters cover the sea.

(Isaiah 11:6-9)

We must keep this vision alive…

Long before Jesus was born the prophet Isaiah had a vision of Christ’s great unifying work of salvation. Many years after Jesus died, John, the beloved disciple, had another but similar vision: He saw a new heaven and a new earth. All of creation had been transformed, dressed with immortality to be the perfect bride of Christ. In John’s vision the risen Christ speaks from his throne, saying: “Look, I am making the whole of creation new. …. Look, here God lives among human beings. He will make his home among them; they will be his people, and he will be their God, God-with-them. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness or pain. The world of the past has gone” (Revelation 21:5; 21:3-4).

Both Isaiah and John open our eyes to the all-inclusive nature of Christ’s saving work…

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

We are all together in this now, we followers of Christ. This is the judgement we await at Advent, a judgement of mercy, of endless grace.

We feel so helpless when we look at the suffering in the world, the misunderstandings, the betrayals, the tragic confusions behind each suicide, the cruelty and rejection faced by those who love and trust, the small, the weak, the dependent—children, animals, the poor.

Nouwen’s words here remind us that there is always something we can do, small as it may seem to us. It is love that matters. “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” (1 John 4.16) However poor, however baffled, we can love. This very emptiness, this helplessness we feel may be our greatest asset in the economy of Christ, who said himself that, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…”

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Multitudes of obligations?

Much of our acceptance of multitudes of obligations is due to our inability to say No. We calculated that the task had to be done, and we saw no one ready to undertake it. We calculated the need, and then calculated our time, and decided maybe we could squeeze it in somewhere. But the decision was a heady decision, not made within the sanctuary of the soul.

A Testament of Devotion by Thomas R Kelly, with thanks to inward/outward

So much of our Christian life, not to mention elsewhere, is taken up with this “acceptance of multitudes of obligations” that we assume that this is the natural, right and inevitable way to be a Christian. Well, I all too often find myself making that assumption, anyway. It is so hard to turn around, and allow God to look at the whole thing from within us. But it was Jesus himself who said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Dear Mary of Bethany, I think she must have been a particular favourite of Jesus’. Her devotion, her single-mindedness, her willingness to step right outside her culture, her final and absolute faithfulness—it isn’t hard to see why she would have a particular place among his followers. Whether or not you accept the Catholic identification of her with Mary Magdalene, Mary is the woman of tears (John 11.33), the one who saw, where her brothers had so clearly failed to see, the Cross standing directly across the path of her Lord (John 12.1-8), and anointed him for that journey, and as Matthew and Mark (26.13; 14.9) record, he recognised her for it. “Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

Truly, there is need of only one thing. Mary got it right where her sister, and most of us, fail. No wonder we pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner…”

Monday, December 05, 2011

The life that is most truly and wholly ours…

The contemplative finds God not in the embrace of “pure love” alone but in the prophetic ardour of response to the “Word of the Lord”: not in love considered as essential good but in love that breaks through into the world of sinful men in the fire of judgment and of mercy. The contemplative must see love not only as the highest and purest experience of the human heart transformed by grace, but as God's unfailing fidelity to unfaithful man…

The contemplative life will therefore need to be understood... in terms of living experience and witness...

Thomas Merton, Contemplation in a World of Action (Notre Dame, Indiana: Notre Dame Press, 1998) p.133

I think this cannot be emphasised strongly enough. We need to understand that our life of prayer, especially if we are called to the contemplative life, is not a solipsistic, “self-actualising” activity, or some kind of relaxation technique aimed at producing a pleasant, stress-free state of mind, still less a quest for psychedelic experience. The contemplative vocation is a call to battle, a call to prophetic witness, and to a life lived in the shadow of the Cross.

We cannot all be, like Thomas Merton, widely published and influential in and beyond the religious life. We are not all called to martyrdom like Maximilian Kolbe or Charles de Foucauld. God does not call us to imitate others, except possibly his Son or his blessed Mother, he calls us to the life that is most truly and wholly ours. We may be surprised, when we ourselves arrive at the throne of grace, to discover that some of the most highly blessed of the saints in glory are those who were most easily overlooked in their life on earth. It is enough to serve in the place in which God has placed us, married or single, in work or out of work, in sickness or in health, in a village church or in community, as a humble if prayerful servant like Brother Lawrence or in the life of a Doctor of the Church.

God’s call to us is a call of love; to love someone is to desire most passionately all that is good for them, all that leads them home to love Itself. Even for us humans the purest love is like that—what must God’s love for us be like? Perhaps we can see, if we live our lives in the light of the Cross…

Sunday, December 04, 2011

One perfect vessel…

The Annunciation story (Luke 1.26-38) is the crescendo point to scripture’s theme of total grace and gift. Did you ever notice that Mary does not say she’s “not worthy”? She only asks for clarification: “How can this happen? I am a virgin” (Luke 1.34). She never asks if, whether, or why!

That is quite extraordinary and reveals her egolessness. Mary becomes the archetype of perfect receptivity. It takes the entire Bible to work up to one perfect vessel that knows how to say an unquestioning yes to an utterly free gift.

Richard Rohr, from Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, pp. 31-32

Rohr here puts his finger on what I have felt about our Lady ever since I’ve been a Christian. In one sense she appears to be an ordinary, humble Jewish girl, engaged to a village craftsman; yet she is as Rohr says, “one perfect vessel that knows how to say an unquestioning yes to an utterly free gift.”

Paradox. God’s dealings with his creation seem to be wrapped in paradox; he through whom all things were made came to be born of a virgin, a helpless baby at the very hinge of history…

Amen. Even so, come., Lord Jesus

Friday, December 02, 2011


"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!
Adapted from Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr, p. 5

I think this may be one of the longest lessons to learn in this life of prayer. To relinquish the longing for closure, resolution, satisfaction is a fierce kind of poverty; Lady Poverty can be a passionate, and unexpected, lover!