Friday, July 27, 2012

To shelter and embrace the distressed...

In many ways, Jesus and Buddha were talking about the same experience of human transformation.

Suffering is the teacher of transformation for both of them. It is the only thing strong enough to grab our attention and defeat the ego. Suffering, for me, is whenever we are not in control. It is our opposition to the moment, our inner resistance that says, “I don’t want it to be this way.” The ego is always trying to control reality and therefore it is invariably suffering, because reality is never fully what we want.

Jesus’ suffering on the cross was a correct diagnosis and revelation of the human dilemma. It was an invitation to enter into solidarity with the pain of the world, and our own pain. Lady Julian of Norwich understood it so well, as if to say, “There is only one suffering and we all share in it.” That is the way all mystics eventually see it. That is the way the Buddha saw it. There is only one suffering, and for Christians Jesus personified that surrender to that cosmic mystery—a “non-resistance” to reality until we learn its deepest lessons. The ultimate lesson is always resurrection.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Jesus and Buddha: Paths to Awakening

I've been thinking a lot about this, recently. The first of the Buddha's Four Noble Truths is the truth of suffering; the last, that there is a path to the end of suffering.

The Buddha said, "Compassion is that which makes the heart of the good move at the pain of others. It crushes and destroys the pain of others; thus, it is called compassion. It is called compassion because it shelters and embraces the distressed."

The compassion of God is everlasting love and mercy: "By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." (Luke 1.78-79)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Surb, surb

Surb, Surb by Jan Garbarek with the Hilliard Ensemble. Some of the most glorious music I know. The translation is as follows:

Holy, Holy Lord of Hosts. The heavens and earth are filled with your glory
Bless all the works of the Lord, Praise the Lord.
Hosanna in the Highest.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Are you experienced?

The heart-stirrings of a good man are good; those of a wicked person are wicked; but everyone must learn how to combat intrusive thoughts, and turn the bad into good. This is the mark of the soul that is well versed.

How does this come about, you will ask?

Here is the way of it: just as a man knows when he is cold or when he feels hot, so does the man who has experienced the Holy Spirit know when grace is in his soul, or when evil spirits approach.
The Lord gives the soul understanding to recognize His coming, and love Him and do His will. In the same way the soul recognizes thoughts which proceed from the enemy, not by their outward form but by their effect on her [the soul].
This is knowledge born of experience; and the man with no experience is easily duped by the enemy.

St Silouan - with thanks to Glory to God for all Things

To be vulnerable to one's own heart - that's the thing. Only by being prepared to listen into the hollow of one's very being (a thing some Buddhists call  vipassanā) can we begin truly to allow the Spirit to pray in us, for us...

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8.26-27)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Feast of Mary Magdalene

...Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
John 20.11-18
Mary, love and faith have brought you here again to us today, remembering you as Apostle to the Apostles, she whom her Lord trusted to bear the Gospel to the disciples in hiding, and through them, to the world, to the long centuries: to us, here, today, again.

Blessed is she who believed, and herself, trusted: and went out from the garden...

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Jesus was broken on the cross. He lived his suffering and death not as an evil to avoid at all costs, but as a mission to embrace. We too are broken. We live with broken bodies, broken hearts, broken minds or broken spirits. We suffer from broken relationships.

How can we live our brokenness? Jesus invites us to embrace our brokenness as he embraced the cross and live it as part of our mission. He asks us not to reject our brokenness as a curse from God that reminds us of our sinfulness but to accept it and put it under God’s blessing for our purification and sanctification. Thus our brokenness can become a gateway to new life.

Jesus is given to the world. He was chosen, blessed, and broken to be given. Jesus’ life and death were a life and death for others. The Beloved Son of God, chosen from all eternity, was broken on the cross so that this one life could multiply and become food for people of all places and all times.

As God's beloved children we have to believe that our little lives, when lived as God’s chosen and blessed children, are broken to be given to others. We too have to become bread for the world. When we live our brokenness under the blessing, our lives will continue to bear fruit from generation to generation. That is the story of the saints - they died, but they continue to be alive in the hearts of those who live after them – and it can be our story too.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

The past three weeks have been a bit of a roller-coaster, health wise, and it has been difficult to find my blogging voice in the ups and downs. Nouwen is right, here, though: it is in our own brokenness that we become of use to others, in that peculiar way that God has of bringing good out of even appalling circumstances, as Paul describes so well in Romans 8.28.

For a long time now I have been moved, sometimes to tears, by the thought that the risen Christ, glorified to the point where some of his closest friends often did not recognise him (Luke 24.16; John 20.14-15), able to materialise and dematerialise at will (Luke 24.31,36; John 20.19,26) still bore the marks of his crucifixion (John 20.28 among other references) plainly visible and tangible. His was not a perfected, airbrushed resurrection, but a resurrection that carried within it the wounds that made us whole (Isaiah 53.5; 1 Peter 2.24).

We cannot expect any less. Forgiven for our cruelties, our callousness, our constant selfishness, healed from the wounds that have been given us by others, we still bear the marks, plainly enough, of what we have been through. It cannot be otherwise; if we were not so scarred, how could we bring solace to anyone else’s pain?

Monday, July 02, 2012

The perch of hope within the soul...

Hope takes us entirely out of this world while we remain bodily in the midst of it. Our minds retain their clear views of what is good in creatures. Our wills remain chaste and solitary in the midst of all created beauty...
Thomas Merton, No Man Is An Island
I wonder if a mental grasping after some such understanding is not the source of a misunderstanding that has dogged Christianity, in the form of various heresies, yet never far from warping orthodox teaching itself - the misunderstanding that spirit is good, while flesh (created things) is bad. (That, and the mistranslation of the Greek sarx as if it were soma!)
Hope is not something we do. It can never be grasped, and even to reach for it is to lose it, time and time again. Emily Dickinson said it well:
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
We can only await the perching of the "thing with feathers," receive it as a gift from the pierced hand of Christ himself, Our prayer, if it is true prayer, is a searching for God himself, for his sake; that is why the wide fields of contemplative prayer open onto that chaste solitude of which Merton writes. If we come to prayer with a clear view of what is good in creatures, we shall come with a clear view of what is not good for them, too, and so we shall come "with the needs of the world on our heart." (Michael Ramsey) and our prayer will be for the healing of all that is broken, all that weeps and is afraid, and suffers and cries out with no-one to answer. As our pain became Christ's, so their pain will become ours, and we shall lift it again to him, to the endless mystery of the Cross...
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner...