Thursday, May 31, 2012

Poor in spirit…

May has been an odd month—in many ways scattered, through being away so much (we’ve just returned from hearing Cynthia Bourgeault speak in London)—but a glorious month too, full of beauty and discovery, and moments of extraordinary illumination that I cannot take the least credit for… but I have little time to organise any remotely coherent thoughts for this blog.

I have been typing up some notes on Cynthia Bourgeault, and trying to let her words settle into the frame of the rest of the month. As things gradually become clear, I’ll try and share some of them here over the next week or so.

Meanwhile, a couple of passages of Scripture that have haunted me this last couple of days:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death--even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2.5-11

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5.3

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Le Point Vierge

Back from Mull and Iona, I've been trying to catch up on things, with varying degrees of success...

At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak His name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship. It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billion points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely.
Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, p. 158

Merton's vision of the point vierge has been haunting me recently. Cynthia Bourgeault quotes this very passage, tying it to the sense of the present mercy of God, the hope that lies deeper than all fear and doubt, at the very bedrock of being itself (Romans 8.28-39).

We are waiting, with the first disciples, for Pentecost. Christ has gone before us, as he promised (John 17.11-13). His promised Holy Spirit (John 16.7-15) will come upon them, and unimaginable consequences (the Acts of the Apostles, and all history since then) will follow. Since then, each of us has had the means (Romans 8.24-27) to observe, inwardly, that "point or spark which belongs entirely to God."

There are many ways to that vision; or should I say there are many ways to wait for God to reveal it to us, since it "is inaccessible to the fantasies of our mind or the brutalities of our own will." For Bourgeault it seems to be centring prayer; for me, as it has been for years, it is the Jesus Prayer. Its words, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner," contain precisely that waiting, that emptiness that is the contemplative precondition itself.

The kind of awareness that the Jesus Prayer may lead us to is very simple... We believe – we know by faith – that God in Christ is here, with us and in us. Our task is to try to remember him and be attentive to him. It is this attentiveness that is the door to our experience of the presence of God. We cannot summon this experience at will. It is, like the Prayer itself, a gift. Ours is only a discipline of faith and perseverance. The experience, when it comes, will come of its own accord, and will be nothing like what we could ever imagine. God is immensely bigger than our imagination... And then, at last, we shall know what we longed and hoped for all these years when we called on Jesus' name again and again. 
Irma Zaleski, Living the Jesus Prayer, pp.30-31
The words of the prayer, too, contain within them that constant sense of trust in the mercy of God in Christ that Bourgeault sees so clearly. In Zaleski's words (ibid., pp.52-53) we meet God alone:

In a very real sense, we can only pray within the Church. When we say "Jesus," and ask for his mercy, we ask on behalf of his whole body, the Church, and by implication, on [behalf of] every human being who has ever lived. (See also Romans 8.12)
On the other hand, because the Jesus Prayer is a prayer of repentance, a prayer of a sinner, it must also be a prayer of each one alone... In the final analysis, we must make our own individual peace with God, find our own relationship with Christ, meet him face to face. Nobody can do it for us...

Wednesday, May 09, 2012


Sorry for the (temporary, I promise) hiatus in blogging here… just very busy one way or another. I’ll be back before you know it. Meanwhile, here is something I found beautiful:

At this time in history, the contemporary choice offered most Americans is between unstable correctness (liberals) and stable illusion (conservatives)! What a choice! It has little to do with real transformation in either case. How different from the radical orthodoxy of T. S. Eliot, who can say in Little Gidding,

You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel . . . .

There is a third way, and it probably is a way of “kneeling.” Most people would just call it “wisdom.” It demands a transformation of consciousness and a move beyond the dualistic win/lose mind of both liberals and conservatives. An authentic God encounter is the quickest and truest path to such wisdom, which is always non-dual consciousness and does not take useless sides on non-essential issues…

Read my favourite mystic, Julian of Norwich (1342-1420), and she will show you how to be a most traditional Christian, while breaking all the rules and orthodox ideas at the very same time. On the night of May 8, 1373, God "showed himself" to her and it took her more than twenty years to unpackage the experience. This English laywoman well deserves to be a doctor of spirituality. Her Revelations of Divine Love is a bottomless well of wisdom, love, and truth, and one of the few books I could return to every month and find something new—which, for me, is a sign of perennial and radical orthodoxy.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Contemplation in Action

Friday, May 04, 2012

Just letting it go...

To pray contemplatively is to abandon one’s idea of how and why it all works: God, justice, or prayer. It is to abandon ourselves to trust in the living presence and reality of the divine, mysteriously at work within the darkness of the human condition - a living presence apparently not in the business of straightening out everything we would do, or to our specifications.
Patricia Loring, with thanks to Greenpatches

Mercy is all we are given...

It seems to me, when things are quiet, that perhaps mercy is all we are given, all we have to give. I'm certain that this is at least one way in which we are made in the image of our God. All we are comes down to this...
He has shown you, O mortal, 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.
Micah 6.8 NIV

We are not supposed, with the greatest respect to the theologians, to be able to work it all out. Psalm 131 is closer, "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." (v.1)

Mercy is not an easy word to to pin down. It is in the very heart and essence of God, his steadfast love and his faithfulness. As we pray for his mercy, in solidarity, identification, with all that has been made, all our lovely and broken sisters and brothers, human and otherwise, we become through our prayer a part of this everlasting verb that is our Christ...

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

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Still thinking about Simone Weil…

God is not an object. How can we expect to test for his presence, expose him to investigation? He holds in the palm of his hand—or so we understand it—all that he has made. How could he be within it, susceptible to perception? Only the Incarnation makes possible the touch on the shoulder, the pierced hand against the tunic, bread and wine—that and the frail aerials of the prophets, picking up, through the hiss and stutter of culture and common knowledge the unmistakable signals of the Spirit…

All else, in our time, is as Eliot saw

…hints and guesses,
Hints followed by guesses; and the rest
Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.

(Four Quartets: The Dry Salvages)

Lord God, give us grace to persevere, discipline to keep on…

I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek out your servant, for I do not forget your commandments. (Psalm 119.176)