Sunday, August 26, 2012

Fasting of the heart…

Fasting of the heart means hearing, but not with the ear... The hearing that is only in the ears is one thing. The hearing of the understanding is another. But the hearing of the spirit is not limited to any one faculty, to the ear, or to the mind. Hence it demands the emptiness of all the faculties. And when the faculties are empty, then the whole being listens. There is then a direct grasp of what is right there before you that can never be heard with the ear or understood with the mind. Fasting of the heart empties the faculties, frees you from limitation and from preoccupations. Fasting of the heart begets unity and freedom... If you can do this, you will be able to go among men in their world without upsetting them. You will not enter into conflict with their ideal image of themselves...

Look at this window. It is nothing but a hole in the wall, but because of it the whole room is full of light. So when the faculties are empty, the heart is full of light. Being full of light, it becomes an influence, by which others are secretly transformed.

The Way of Chuang Tzu Thomas Merton, with thanks to Diane Walker

Fasting of the heart… I have hesitated to post here, because I haven’t had the words for what has been happening within by own heart. Perhaps a kind of fasting is the best way to describe it. So much that we mistake for certainty is in fact preconception, and we cling to our preconceptions as to lifebelts in the great wash of God’s presence.

We do not realise the vastness of God – at least, I don’t – the sheer appalling otherness of this istigkeit we presume to worship.

Aslan is no tame lion, as CS Lewis reminded us. Our Lord’s incarnation is often said to dissolve the distances between God and man, but what kind of a man was it his disciples, the women and men who walked and ate and drank with him day in and day out, actually knew? He terrified them on occasion (Matthew 14:22-33), struck them witless with awe (Luke 9:23-33), baffled them (John 6.43-68), and, after his resurrection, was at times simply unrecognisable (Luke 24.15-16; John 20.14-15).

“…what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” as the Psalmist (8.4) says. A presence so great that he encompasses the galaxies, the vast interstellar chasms, and yet knows and cares for the fall of a sparrow… What can we know of such a presence, except what we are shown by him?

Tiny and broken, what can we cry but, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner?

Monday, August 13, 2012

The George Smileys of the spiritual life…

Hiddenness is an essential quality of the spiritual life. Solitude, silence, ordinary tasks, being with people without great agendas, sleeping, eating, working, playing ... all of that without being different from others, that is the life that Jesus lived and the life he asks us to live.  It is in hiddenness that we, like Jesus, can increase “in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and with people” (Luke 2.51).  It is in hiddenness that we can find a true intimacy with God and a true love for people.

Even during his active ministry, Jesus continued to return to hidden places to be alone with God.  If we don't have a hidden life with God, our public life for God cannot bear fruit.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

It’s tempting to think of hiddenness as more dramatic than it is: heroic journeys to the depths of the wilderness, hermits whose very doors have been bricked up. And yet that isn’t really hiddenness—extreme eremitism brings its own fame.

Hiddenness, especially in today’s society, is much more likely to consist in being plain and unremarkable, George Smileys of the spiritual life…

I don’t find this easy. I’m as drawn as the next person to getting up to things that may show me in a favourable light, to getting involved with visible stuff to a point where I can no longer remain hidden. A lot of these things are good and useful in themselves, and yet they don’t seem to help with the life of prayer at all. I’ve explored these things before in this blog, yet I don’t seem any closer to an answer. Meanwhile, I still long to live like ivy, constant in the shadowed places…

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A blessing of St Clare of Assisi

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord bless you and keep you. May he show his face to you and be merciful to you. May he turn his countenance to you, my sisters, and daughters, and give peace to you, and to all the others who come and remain in your company as well as to others now and in the future, who have persevered in every other monastery of the Poor Ladies.

I, Clare, a servant of Christ, a little plant of our most holy Father Francis, a sister and mother of you and the other poor sisters, although unworthy, beg our Lord Jesus Christ through his mercy and the intercession of his most holy Mother Mary and blessed Michael the Archangel and all the holy angels of God, of our blessed Father Francis, and all men and women saints, that the heavenly Father give you and confirm for you this most holy blessing in heaven and on earth. On earth, may he multiply you in his grace and his virtues among his servants and handmaids in his Church Militant. In heaven, may he exalt you and glorify you among his men and women saints in his Church Triumphant.

I bless you during my life and after my death, as I am able, out of all the blessings with which the Father of mercies has and does bless his sons and daughters in heaven and on earth and a spiritual father and mother have blessed and bless their spiritual sons and daughters. Amen.

Always be lovers of your souls and those of all your sisters. And may you always be eager to observe what you have promised the Lord.

May the Lord always be with you and may you always be with him. Amen.

The Testament of St Clare

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The very earth of Heaven...

All great spirituality teaches about letting go of what you don’t need and who you are not. Then, when you can get little enough and naked enough and poor enough, you’ll find that the little place where you really are is ironically more than enough and is all that you need. At that place, you will have nothing to prove to anybody and nothing to protect.
That place is called freedom. It’s the freedom of the children of God. Such people can connect with everybody. They don’t feel the need to eliminate anybody because they’ve come to the place where, as I like to say, everything belongs. To live from this place cuts the roots of violence at their very foundation, for there is not even any basis for fear or anger or protection or hatred. Negativity must be nipped in the bud—that is to say, in the mind.
Richard Rohr
I often think of this strange freedom - as regular readers will remember, there have been times over the seven years I've been blogging here when things have been very much stripped away - and of how often I have found these words of Rohr's to be quite concretely true. (This post details the beginning of these things, and this one the continuation.)

CS Lewis, in The Great Divorce, puts these words into the mouth of one of the saints in Heaven, "There is no meantime... All that is over. We are not playing now..."

Indeed. This is the kind of place Fr Richard's "little place" is, and as he points out, "At that place, you will have nothing to prove to anybody and nothing to protect."

This is not "a" freedom. It is not one of several we may choose amongst. It is freedom, and eventually, it will be all we have. It is, as Lewis saw so clearly, the very earth of Heaven...

Monday, August 06, 2012

The Ground of Mercy

...True solitude is selfless. Therefore, it is rich in silence and charity and peace. It finds in itself seemingly inexhaustible resources of good to bestow on other people.
The true solitary must recognize that he is obliged to love other men and even all things created by God... Love is his solitude
Thomas Merton, No Man Is An Island pp.248, 251

What we think we are, the things we use usually to define our identities, will not outlast us. They are nothing but straw in the wind, less than the blown spray of the rising waves: for we have died, and our lives are hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3.3).

In her book Living the Jesus Prayer, Irma Zaleski writes:
The way of the Jesus prayer has been called “white martyrdom.” It is the way of the Cross, because there is no greater pain than to stand in the total poverty of our human weakness,to see clearly our misery, our inability to be good. The temptation to judge ourselves, to hate ourselves, would be irresistible if we did not know and had not experienced the merciful, healing power of Jesus.  (pp.42-43)
It is a mistake, though, to see it as something outside ourselves, or something that could be imposed by a superior on another. Only God can call us, as Irma Zaleski points out:
How do we know that we are called to this way of prayer? In a way, we don't. If we feel drawn to try it, we should try it. It doesn't really matter what our motives are. If our motives are not pure (and whose ever are?), God will purify them. If it is not God's will for us, we shall not persevere, but if it is God's will, we shall soon know. The Jesus Prayer, like any true love, is never imposed on us. It never does violence to our deepest spiritual desires and longings, but instead fulfils them. (ibid., pp.16-18)
Lord, lead us each, lead me, into the way of true repentance. Show us the condition of being human; lead us back to the Ground of our being...

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner...