Tag Archives: beauty

13 June. What do the Saints Know? IV: How do we Cultivate our Faith?

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How do we cultivate our faith? If faith is a ‘place’, as I asserted yesterday – my word and not St Thomas’s – then we need to discover where we are. It is not a place on a map. So, and this is St. Thomas now, faith is cultivated (the ‘place’ comes to be understood) through questions, says Thomas. Faith, he says, “involves the intellect in a kind of inquiry.” What kind? Not the kind demanding empirical evidence (cf. II.II.1,5). Nor, when we inquire about the object of faith are we setting ourselves up as judges of the object of belief. If so, then this is not the kind of inquiry that is an expression of faith. It is merely a pitiful attempt to out-smart God. Thomas says that the kind of inquiry that goes with faith is that which attempts to “grasp with greater understanding what God has revealed and how he has confirmed it.” Faith, then, concerns not a vacuum in our knowledge; indeed, it concerns something that already exists, something that God has revealed, something that we therefore already ‘know’ – even if we only know it obliquely.

For me, this teaching from St. Thomas helps to dispel that temptation to think that we have to have faith because we can’t know God. At all. Faith, in that case, becomes something that merely tries to plug up the vacuum, a vacuum that we might not like to acknowledge is there in the first place.

What do we know, then? What can we say about faith? St. Thomas asserts: we can say that we know about eternal life. Or at least, we know it a little. This is how he puts it: “Faith is a habit of the mind, whereby eternal life is begun in us, making the intellect assent to what is non-apparent (II.II.4:1). The little words ‘in us’ are so important, I think. They tell us that we are ‘in touch with’ eternal life. And, so eternal life is not ‘out there’ beyond our reach. It’s not in an unbearably dull theological book. It’s not across the sea. We ‘have it’ in us. Going back to the image of the vacuum, well, we simply don’t have one, because through faith eternal life is begun in us.

This word ‘begun’ is important. Faith is not about the completion of the knowledge of God – if there even is such a thing. Which I doubt. Faith is about something that exists as a beginning – a beginning of something beautiful. This is something we ‘know’, but in a different way, on a different level from what we usually say we ‘know.’

Now, I can live with that understanding of faith pretty happily. It will probably not convince a hardened sceptic, but it does help to make my act of faith intelligible to me. If faith starts with ‘a divine infusion’ then it starts with mystery. This coexistence of real knowledge with mystery is not something to dismiss but to validate, and St Thomas does. In his teaching, faith is a real connection with eternal life, not in its fullness, but in its beginnings; not in clarity, but in mystery; not in fantasy, but in reality.

SJC.

Cultivating or Ploughing near Beachy Head, Sussex.

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January 13. Temperance VII: Beauty, Reason and Will

Jack Lonnen Meadows in costume 1At last we may return to one of the key ideas in the first quotation I cited some days ago in these posts on temperance. The philosopher Josef Pieper says that the virtue of temperance is beautiful in itself and renders the human being beautiful. What can he mean? Isn’t temperance about self-control? Beauty belongs to some other virtue, maybe, but not to temperance.

But beauty, says St. Thomas Aquinas, is an attribute of temperance because temperance enables us to control ourselves in relation to those things which can most degrade us. When our passions are indulged in an intemperate way, they ‘dim the light of reason from which all clarity and beauty of virtue arises’, according to Thomas. Let’s linger over this a bit. St. Thomas mentions the ‘light of reason’. We are always being reminded by St. Thomas that the human being is a rational being. Our reason, as we have noted in all our posts, is a great attribute, a precious gift. It is, you might say, like a musical instrument that needs careful handling. A violinist carries his instrument in a specially constructed violin case that protects the strings and the wood from damage so that the violin is able to produce the sweetest sound. Our reason, too, is meant to be protected from damage so that it can function well. Intemperance can cause a kind of damage to our reason. It is not hard to understand this. Just think of someone who is drunk. What becomes of the light of reason and the clarity of thought in an intoxicated person? Or think of someone in a rage so intense that the mind stops functioning, and violence takes over.

The role of the will is important here. ‘The will,’ says Thomas, ‘stands between the reason and the passions and may be moved by either.’ Our will, then, is a bit like a traffic policeman, allowing some things through and making others wait. The traffic policeman commands obedience from drivers in the same way that the will, directed by the reason, can command obedience from our passions. If our passions do not obey will, the will can be run over by them, and this causes havoc for us. Thomas goes on to say, ‘Although the passions are not in the will, it is in the power of the will to resist them.’ We are not at the mercy of our passions, regardless of their seeming strength. Just because we may passionately want to do something that we know is not good, our will need not capitulate.

It is always possible for the passions to respond to the will’s directives. The passions are not all-powerful. The will, moved by the light of reason, is able to resist them.

Yet, the beauty of temperance is not merely that it protects us from going hay-wire with regard to the physical pleasures of food and drink and sex. It has a positive effect on our entire being, body, soul and spirit. Temperance is not directed only to our physical appetites. We have a host of emotional appetites also: the craving for control, for popularity, for possessions, for acceptance, for love, for attention, for money, for safety, for comfort – the list goes on and on. We cannot treat all of them here. But from all of them in their extreme and intemperate form, temperance is liberating and purifying.

The particular beauty of temperance is ‘the glow of the true and the good’ radiating from within the temperate person. Temperance, you might say, works on us to bring about the purification of our entire being. How? By submitting our most intensely personal feelings and desires, our most passionate impulses and cravings to the light of divine truth.

As Pieper says, temperance is ‘that purity by dint of which the selfish and furtive search for spurious fulfilment is abandoned.’ He continues:

A new depth here opens to our view: purity is not only the fruit of purification; it implies at the same time readiness to accept God’s purifying intervention… to accept it with the bold candor of a trustful heart, and thus to experience its fruitful and transforming power.

SJC

Maurice’s great-great-grandfather was an actor.

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January weather: beauty under a grey sky.

.woods.jan

Do we call her the Silver Birch or the Diamond Birch on a grey, drizzly day in January? This is our next-door tree, an exiled Lady of the Woods, her jewels bright against the dark bricks. Open your eyes when you go out, whatever the weather, and Laudato Si’!

WT

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November 23: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xxiii – Science has not invented beauty.

 

There is a tremendous wonder about the way creation works. Science has not invented the beauty in creation, merely discovered what was already there. Creation seems to have been on the brink of destruction so many times, yet things never come to nought. Birth, death, rebirth flourish at an astounding rate – forever to be reborn. The secret of miracle is not divine magic but the unlimited potential of cosmic energy. Miracles belong to the ordinary not the extraordinary – miracle is where life is lived fully – the baby gurgling and happy, the serenity of an elderly face… Where love and trust are cherished sharing is always the result – miracle is what happens when love, trust and truth are life’s guides.

There are many whose poverty is ill health of body, mind and spirit; and it is short-sighted to equate curing with healing. We can and we do wonderful things in curing bodily illness – but we need also to attend to the need for overall healing of body, mind and spirit. There has to be inner healing from pain, abuse, and hurt… to set free a spirit longing for wholeness. Many people experience this new found freedom whilst still being constrained by physical limitation. I can be fully alive while being severely constrained physically.

For centuries there has been awareness of spirit power – especially to do with air, wind and water – with the rhythm of the seasons and the cycle of birth-death-rebirth. For ancient folk the Spirit was at once benign and fierce, near and distant, tangible yet ethereal – totally unpredictable. Because those ancient folk lived in tune with Creation they accommodated to life with the spirit world. But once we became owner occupiers with the agricultural revolution, and broke up the land into possessions, we lost contact with Creation and its Spirit centre, replacing it with the man-made spirit of divide and conquer – and having disconnected from the cycle of birth-death-rebirth, death was seen as the supreme evil.

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23 July: In the eye of the beholder?

mermaidrose (542x408)

Is a beach, a forest, a flower beautiful when nobody is looking at it? I remember such questions being laid before us at school to get us to think. 

The answer can be many layered, from ‘of course it is always beautiful’ to ‘God sees it, and everything he made is good’, to ‘We must train our eyes to see just as we must train our brains to think.’

When I first got to know the Mermaid rose it was in a pot in the garden centre, but just asking to be grown against our house wall. It is happy there, despite its being a dry spot; so happy I had to prune it quite heavily last autumn before it scratched too many passers-by. Mermaid has vicious thorns!

So the blossom is a little late this year, but plentiful. However, there is another beauty to be seen: the shoots of new growth where the bush wants to regain lost territory. What a beautiful red, but it will last no more than a few days.

The answer to the question?

Laudato Si’ !

MMB

rose.mermaid.new.shoots.red..jpg

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July 6th: Readings from Mary Webb, V: we cannot see – we never see.

periwinkle

Today’s reading and tomorrow’s invite us, as Mary Webb challenged us yesterday, to be merely receptive. Laudato Si’!

The story of any flower is not one of stillness, but of faint gradations of movement that we cannot see. The widening and lengthening of petals, the furling and unfurling of leaves, are too gentle for our uneducated eyes. The white convolvulus that flowers only for a day meets the early light folded as if with careful fingers, and dusk finds it folded in almost the same way. You would think that the stillness had never been broken; yet between dawn and twilight the flower’s lifework has been completed in one series of smooth, delicate motions. The hour of the pointed bud has been followed by hours of change, until the time of the open blossom and the feeding bee; and even in that triumphant moment a faint tremor shook the spread corolla, and the final silent furling had begun. During the whole drama the flower has seemed stationary – and we never see.

Watch a bank of periwinkle on an early summer morning. The fresh blue flowers are poised high on delicate stalks, and seem aloof from the leaves. Absolute stillness broods over them; no tremor is discernible in leaf or petal; the wide blue flowers gaze up intently into the wide blue sky. Suddenly, without any breath of wind, without so much stir as a passing gnat makes, one flower has left her stem. No decay touched her; it was just that in her gently progressive existence the time for erect receiving was over. Some faint vibration told her that the moment had come for her to leave off gazing stilly at the sky; and so, in silence and beauty, with soft precipitation, she buried her face in the enfolding evergreen leaves. This pale shadow of a gesture is as lovely, as inevitable, as the flight of wild swans beating up the sky.

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30 June: Transfigurations

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I didn’t expect

those stars in the wide

black Colorado sky

to be so bright

that ancient night

beauty yes but this

 

 

was bounty

so close

to earth so close

to me marvelling

open mouthed

almost as though

night rained light

almost

as if heaven’s shower

reversed the measure

of black to bright

forever

 

 

and

 

 

I didn’t expect

that little girl’s

first communion

to be so bountiful

that young summer day

sweet yes but this

 

 

was bliss

was heaven so close

to earth so close

to me wordless

and wedded

almost as though

the chapel were

host to glory

almost

as if Tabor

lit everything

evermore

as if Tabor

lit everything

evermore

sun-clouds-golden

SJC

See Matthew 17 for his account of the Transfiguration of Jesus.

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8 April: Edward Thomas’ Anniversary

The Cherry Trees

The cherry trees bend over and are shedding,

On the old road where all that passed are dead,

Their petals, strewing the grass as for a wedding,

This early May morn when there is none to wed. 

The photograph shows an orchard of new cherry trees at Amery Court, Canterbury. They will spend their spring-times protected from ravages of wind, rain, and birds and squirrels by nets rolled out on frames overhead. Few petals will reach the old road, now part of Cycle Route 1 from Dover to Scotland. But the farmer trusts that the expense of planting these trees will be repaid with many a harvest.

Edward Thomas and so many like him trusted that they were putting their lives on the line to help save England and bring about the end of War…

Also tomorrow we remember the Prince of Peace coming into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, not a tank or armoured car. And it is still not too late to pray and strive for Peace, starting by sowing a seed of love and peace in our own hearts.

And may Edward Thomas and all who fell in War, through the mercy of God, rest in Peace. Amen.

MMB

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27 March: “Is Christianity Dead?”- Our Response to BBB: II, Look up!

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Dear BBB,

Will continues our reply to your lament.

Today I’ll start with your question: I couldn’t help but ask myself, as I looked around and saw several dozen teenage boys counting the ceiling tiles, looking as though they wanted to die…is our faith on life support?

My faith is on life support all the time. It’s called Grace. God’s breath within me. As Doug was describing yesterday, Grace cannot be defeated.

But as for the lads looking at the ceiling: I too sometimes switch off, especially from ‘cut and paste’ sermons, and compose my own thoughts. Not that that’s needed with Franciscan sermons!

I feel it’s a shame if all there is on the ceiling is tiles. Our ancestors decorated churches in more or less good taste, but there was always something to look at! I read this morning that one of the gifts the Church has given the world is colour. Maybe our ceilings should be colourful so that drifting eyes have something to look upon; the one above is from Zakopane in Poland.

Christopher M. Graney, professor of physics and astronomy  in Louisville Kentucky reminds us: It is funny how we learn about our surroundings when we start looking carefully for something.  Scientists have this experience a lot. He’s right, of course, but he would agree that Christians should look and learn about the beauty that surrounds us.

Seeing, noticing, beauty is part of Laudato Si’ – Pope Francis’s letter named after Saint Francis’s hymn of praise – bringing Creation into our prayer. Pictures are concrete prayer. Better to have something good to look at than bare ceilings and walls. We are body and soul: the body is called to worship by standing, kneeling, signing with the Cross, but also by receiving God’s gifts.

We should have something for each sense. A sermon and hymns for the ears, but please go easy on piped music when the Church is quiet; some of us like quiet. A handshake of welcome as well as the sign of peace for touch; an open and a warm building if it can possibly be afforded. Eye-to-eye contact at the welcome; the readers, Eucharistic ministers and priest looking at the people they are addressing. For taste: a genuine welcome to approach the altar, and communion under both kinds; then refreshments after Mass – we have a tradition of English mince pies and mulled wine after Midnight Mass. Maybe even some incense for the nose, but flowers make a difference too – and so does their absence in Lent.

karins-flowers

All this is part of the welcome. But I have been in Catholic churches where I would hesitate to bring any non-churched friend to what I know would be a less than joyful and welcoming gathering. As Catholic Christians we are not called to worship in an 18th Century Lecture theatre, and not with our minds only.

Zakopane Ceiling by MMB; flowers by Karin.

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2 March: We take time and love to develop…

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Once upon a time if you used a camera you’d have to wait a good while to view the final image. The method was different from the one we’re used to in a digital age. The click of the camera button exposed the photographic film to light, forming a latent image, at this stage invisible to the eye. Further exposure to light at this stage would ruin the image, so the film had to be developed in a dark room. The process involved soaking the film in a tank of developing fluid. Slowly the hidden image would be revealed, and a ‘negative’ created. Once washed, fixed and dried the image on the film was projected onto photographic paper and the image, once seen through the eye of the camera lens, was made visible in the print.

Not being someone who could do all this, I remember the long wait between taking the photos and retrieving the finished product from the chemist. That was a long time past. It’s so much more convenient and instant now. But I wonder whether the old ways are truer to our experience of development than the instant ‘click and view’.

In looking with love God creates us, each one full of the beauty and life-giving capacity that belongs to those made in the image and the likeness of the Creator. The image is there but latent, unseen by any eye but God’s. It’s going to take time, darkness, and soaking for this image to develop.

Through the years of our life God labours patiently to develop the image. We take time. We develop in the dark room of trust in God. The darkness envelops and protects us, though it might not seem that way. When we cannot see our way and when we have no means within ourselves to manage our experience, trust moves us into God, and God moves us into who we are

And there we need to soak. Prayer is not only the saying of words, or the making of requests; it is also resting our life, our times and our experience in God. Not once for all, but hour by hour, and day by day.

Slowly the image, always there but latent, begins to form. To our own eyes the image may appear to be a negative. We become more, not less aware of our frailties and our capacity for destructiveness. But now light is needed, not of our own understanding but of the love of God: the eye that first looked through the camera lens and that joys in what it beholds.

We know that more development is needed.

And it will take time, and much love.

CC.

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