Friday, December 28, 2012

Surrender?

The state of spacious heart openness is known in spiritual traditions as surrender. Not what you usually think about when you hear the word “surrender,” is it? We usually equate the word with capitulation and consider it a sign of weakness. But surrender, spiritually understood, has nothing to do with outer capitulation, with rolling over and playing dead. It has to do with keeping the right alignment inwardly that allows you to stay in the flow of your deeper sustaining wisdom—to “feel the force,” in those legendary words from the first Star Wars movie. In that state of openness you then decide what you’re going to do about the outer situation. whatever you do, whether you acquiesce or vigorously resist, your actions will be clear. 
Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus

Surrender, like peace, is misunderstood in our time particularly, when the aggressive and the extrovert (in the true sense of the word) is valued over the sensitive and the introvert. But true surrender is true courage, and the opposite of cowardice. All too often, those who are too weak to open their hearts to God, to their sisters and brothers, to their own deepest selves, are the ones who fight. Those who are “strong in the Lord” (Ephesians 6.10), or to continue the Star Wars metaphor, with whom the force is strong, are free to surrender to the loving purpose of God in all things—as Paul says, (Romans 8.28 NIV) “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Do note that none of the above is ever capable of being used as an excuse for evil, nor for submitting to it. Surrender is not in any case synonymous with submission—though submission to God may well be how it plays out in certain circumstances. It may indeed be necessary either to “acquiesce or vigorously resist.” Surrender to God in all things leaves one free to choose, and choose wisely.

Myself, I have had more than once to face situations of considerable unpleasantness, physically, emotionally and spiritually. In the event, surrender has not been all that difficult—a circumstance I can only attribute to the grace of Christ—it has been maintaining that surrender in the outworkings, even in the healing, of the disaster that has proved so hard!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Rejoice! Rejoice! (Advent 3 & 4)

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4.4-7)

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel…

Latin, traditional (tr. John Mason Neale)

What is this that comes at this time of year? Whose coming, and to whom?

Nothing is the same any longer; and yet each Christmas we pray the same prayers, celebrate the same rites, religious and secular, and the world goes on as before, corrupt, cruel and broken. The weak grow weaker; the masters thrive as they have always done.

And yet, for all we “mourn in lonely exile here”, the call is to “rejoice… [and] do not worry about anything, but [live] by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving…”

Somehow we know this. Even those most caught up in the commercial side of Christmas know, somewhere in their hearts, that there really is something going on. There is a gladness that rises even in the two sizes too small heart of the grinchiest among us…

As Mary prophesied herself (Luke 1 46-55),

[God’s] mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty…

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1.5). Steadily the light shines: love constant in pain, mercy relentless before cruelty. A tiny child brought it with him, long long ago. Defenceless, in occupied territory, the light shines still, and always will.

“Rejoice, rejoice, again, I say, rejoice!”

The Coming of the King–the ‘O’ Antiphons

O Wisdom,
O holy Word of God,
you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care:
Come.

O Sacred Lord of ancient Israel,
you showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush
and you gave the holy law on Mount Sinai:
Come.

O Flower of Jesse’s stem,
you have been raised up as a sign for all people;
kings stand silent in your presence;
the nations bow down in worship before you:
Come.

O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel,
you [not the systems of this world] control

at your will the gate of heaven:
Come break down the prison walls of death.

O Radiant Dawn,
splendour of eternal light, sun of justice:
Come shine on those who dwell in darkness

and the shadow of death.

O, King of all the nations,
the only joy of every human heart;
O Keystone of the mighty arch of humankind:
Come and save these creatures you fashioned from the dust.

O, Emmanuel,
God-With-Us, king and lawgiver,
desire of the nations, Saviour of all people:
Come and set us free.
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”

Amen.

Richard Rohr, from Daily Meditations

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Intuition...

...I decided to take responsibility for what I wanted, and to trust God to take it from there.

Intuition may be one way of speaking about how God does that - takes things from here to there, I mean. Since intuition operates lower down the frontal lobe, it is not easy to talk about how it works. In general, I tend to not pay much attention to it until I have completed all my research, compiled my lists of pros and cons, and made a rational decision based on facts. then, when I cannot sleep because the rational decision seems all wrong to me, I start paying attention to to gyroscope of my intuition, which operates below the radar of my reason. I pay attention to recurring dreams and interesting coincidences. I let my feelings off the leash and follow them around. When something moves in my peripheral vision, I leave the path to investigate. It would be a pity to walk right by a burning bush. At this point, reason is all but useless to me. All that remains is trust. Will I trust my intuition or won't I? The more I do, the more intuitive I become. This is as close as I can come to describing the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church

In the language of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I am an INFP, a personality type which is known to "engage the outside world primarily with intuition." (from the Wikipedia article) Barbara Brown Taylor's words here rang so powerfully true when I read them that I had to put the book down for an hour to settle the singing in my heart before I could bear to leave them to read on. For me, this quality of intuition is, as Brown Taylor describes, inextricably involved with my whole experience of the spiritual, indeed of the Holy Spirit.

It has taken me most of a lifetime to recover the sense of myself as who I am. Growing up as the only child of a painter and sculptor (my father, a musician and RAF officer, was absent for most of my childhood) in a beautiful village on the Sussex coast, I was a happy loner, a lover of life and of all that lived, until I found myself at a notably harsh boys' prep school, where I was taught to forget all that foolish trustingness, and to become as cruel and hard as any of my classmates - more so, since, to keep to the Myers Briggs typology, a personality type denied becomes its own shadow. I became defensive, and hid my real nature so deep that I all but forgot its existence. It was only the endless patience and ingenuity of God, mediated through so many people over the years, that allowed me back out into the sunlight and warmth, to the sound of the bees in the lavender, the touch of the long stamens of the Roses of Sharon.

How essential it is that we keep hold of who we are; how much more essential that we help each other to do so. Intuition, at least for those of us for whom it is a major function, is just as Barbara Brown Taylor describes, a gyroscope. More, for me at least, a gyrocompass that, set free by understanding and acceptance of what it is (and here the Myers Briggs indicator can be such a liberating thing) will, if I let it, keep me on a heading to God's purpose. I may not understand at all what that is, rationally, but "[a]t this point, reason is all but useless to me".

"All that remains is trust." And so it is. To trust, to open, to fall back into the everlasting arms of the God who made me part of all that is, is the sweet centre of what has come to be faith. "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..." (Psalm 131.1)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Another Franciscan View of Jerusalem...

Brother Clark Berge, Minister General of the Society of St. Francis, has a most glorious post on his recent visit to Jerusalem here. I can only say "Amen" to his experiences, which he's managed to put into words far better than I could have done...

Monday, December 10, 2012

Advent 2

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.” (Isaiah 35.1-4)

Our final homecoming involves not just ourselves and our fellow human beings but all of creation. The full freedom of the children of God is to be shared by the whole earth, and our complete renewal in the resurrection includes the renewal of the universe. That is the great vision of God's redeeming work through Christ.

 Paul sees the whole created order as a woman groaning in labour, waiting eagerly to give birth to a new life. He writes: "It was not for its own purposes that creation had frustration imposed on it, but for the purposes of him who imposed it - with the intention that the whole creation itself might be freed from its slavery to corruption and brought into the same glorious freedom as the children of God"  (Romans 8:20-21).  All that God has created will be lifted up into God's glory...

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 snowcapped 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...

Henri Nouwen, with thanks to the Henri Nouwen Society

This is the subtext of Advent, that there is an end to the nightmares and the grieving. There will come a time when the darkness will be rolled back, and the new day will dawn, when the pain and hunger of the animals, and mankind, will be forgotten, and the light of Christ will sing in a new sky, and there will be no night, nor tears, nor any longer loss...

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Advent!

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

Jeremiah 33.14-16

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

Isaiah 2.1-5

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Genesis 12.1-3

In the hill country of the Judean Wilderness, the dust blows across the bare stone, the grey, scrubby vegetation, the land scoured with light.

Paula Gooder, in her book The Meaning is in the Waiting, writes that,

Abram is commanded to leave… all from the greatest to the smallest. All of Abram’s ties are to be cut from the universal to the specific, from the abstract to the concrete, from general living to day to day existence. Abram is to leave them all and ‘go’… With God the command is both to go and to come. The ‘go; element involves leaving behind many things; the command to ‘come’ involves knowing that God will accompany us on the journey… Abram’s call is really a call to waiting… Abram is promised great things, but he doesn’t really see the fruits of this promise in his lifetime.

Waiting. It seems to us passive, a hanging around on someone else’s time, nothing to do. Waiting on God is anything but hanging around. Paula Gooder says (ibid. (introduction)):

Advent, then, calls us into a state of active waiting: a state that recognises and embraces the glimmers of God’s presence in the world, that recalls and celebrates God’s historic yet ever-present actions and the speaks the truth about the almost-but-not-quite nature of our Christian living, which yearns for but cannot quite achieve divine perfection. Most of all, Advent summons us to the present moment, to a still yet active, a tranquil yet steadfast commitment to the life we live now…

What is holy in the land stands, more steady even than the limestone bones of the place, the karst frame the even so seems to fragile to support the weight of God’s presence over so many years.