Tag Archives: Benedictines

19 July: Mite

sjc burnt forest.png

I would know her hands anywhere:
they’re tough and lumpy as rocks,
and lined with cracks – cracks
black as rills in a harsh land,

cracks thin as gossamer silk
hand-spun for a shawl. All

her nails are black, broken.
I have never seen her eyes.

We have never spoken.
But look – she clutches
something in her palm. Now:
she lets two coins fall
into a box marked Alms.

She bows her head,
then, limping down the disabled ramp,
returns to the refugee camp.

SJC

Thank you Sister Johanna.

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July 18: Cowboy

sjc crowEver notice crows
walk like cow-boys,
toes in, wide stride,
tough guys of the garden?

Sparrows scold
from a distant tree – safe
they think. I watch
from the window over
the kitchen sink.

I suppose
crows must hatch, wet, needy
and fragile, like other birds,
but now full grown, I half expect
my crow to chew tobacco and spit,
he seems so full of bravado,
compared to prissy little tits.

Does size mean power?
A swagger, a loud caw?
Animals seem to think so.

SJC

 

 

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17 July: Music

sjc music

Music
Lines: only five
evenly spaced and ongoing
there is always room in the universe
for infinity’s seed to germinate, and on the left
of the five lines, the treble sign, inward and reverent,
moves roundly, a pregnant woman, her sweet baby coiled
in her sheltered space: music of life, notes tip-toe on their lines
and spaces, sharps, flats, trills and runs patter and boom, blooming and falling.

SJC

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July 15: Thunder Rock

 

sjc. big wave
I stood on the cliff – gale and rain
roared and bellowed, strange duet.
Thwack and thunder, warrior waves,
dropped like bombs on rocks below,
then spewed sea shrapnel up
twenty feet and higher.


Today’s war-storm flooded our lust
for nature’s drama. Oh! Oh! Delight
at every wave-crack.
But this was not
a show.


Better to have moaned
in shame and covered my
face as I faced a faceless
rage that could, with only
minor adjustments in light
and temperature, destroy us:
snap.

SJC

I hope you enjoy the next few poems from Sister Johanna. This is one for the sea-side holiday, if the weather turns fierce and the children insist on enjoying the storm; parents and grandparents can reflect after all are safe indoors. Is our planet becoming more angry with our destruction of its blessings, and on course to destroy us?  

Thank you once more, Sister Johanna. 

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27 May: Pilgrimage to Canterbury VII: the reluctant pilgrim.

We owe to Venerable Bede, whose feast was the day before yesterday, the stories that bring Augustine of Canterbury alive. So far as we know, Bede (d.735) was a stay-at-home scholar and monk, who lived in monasteries around Sunderland but corresponded with popes and fellow scholars across  Europe. He perhaps understood some of Augustine’s great reluctance to leave Rome for England.

Despite his dilly-dallying, Augustine made it to Canterbury in 597, at the repeated and insistent order of Pope Gregory, following the invitation of King Ethelbert and his Christian wife, Bertha the Queen. She had taken over the old Roman church of Saint Martin on the edge of the city where her chaplain celebrated the Eucharist for her and her French entourage.

Now Augustine met Ethelbert a few miles away, near where Minster Abbey is today, the home of Sister Johanna, our writer.

Bede tells us:

they came endued with Divine, not with magic power, bearing a silver cross for their banner, and the image of our Lord and Saviour painted on a board; and chanting litanies, they offered up their prayers to the Lord for the eternal salvation both of themselves and of those to whom and for whom they had come.

When they had sat down, in obedience to the king’s commands, and preached to him and his attendants  the Word of life, the king answered: “Your words and promises are fair, but because they are new to us, and of uncertain import, I cannot consent to them so far as to forsake that which I have so long observed with the whole English nation. But because you are come from far as strangers into my kingdom, and, as I conceive, are desirous to impart to us those things which you believe to be true, and most beneficial, we desire not to harm you, but will give you favourable entertainment, and take care to supply you with all things necessary to your sustenance; nor do we forbid you to preach and gain as many as you can to your religion.”

Accordingly he gave them an abode in the city of Canterbury, which was the metropolis of all his dominions, and, as he had promised, besides supplying them with sustenance, did not refuse them liberty to preach. It is told that, as they drew near to the city, after their manner, with the holy cross, and the image of our sovereign Lord and King, Jesus Christ, they sang in concert this litany: “We beseech thee, O Lord, for Thy great mercy, that Thy wrath and anger be turned away from this city, and from Thy holy house, for we have sinned. Hallelujah.”

Antonela’s picture shows Augustine baptising the King from a window in St Martin’s church. Bede’s text from Project Gutenberg.

 

 

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11 March. Jesus and Zacchaeus V: Healing through Friendship

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When someone undergoes a sudden conversion, time seems to be derailed from its usual track of swift seconds and minutes, and to slow down. Every moment of the conversion experience has an overflowing content of grace. So much grace that it cannot all be absorbed at once. This is what happened when Zacchaeus hears Jesus call him by his name.

How powerful the use of our name can be. In one of the more subtle forms of bullying, the bully pronounces our name with an accent of mockery, making our very name sound contemptible. We feel the insult intensely. It is very hard to shake off the sense that the bully is right, that we are contemptible. In Zacchaeus’s case, he suddenly wakes up to the fact that he himself had been such a bully. But, no time to dwell on this now, for he hears the syllables of his own name ring out not in the tones of contempt, nor in the tones of formality and coldness that people used when speaking to the chief tax collector – if they spoke to him at all. Now, Zacchaeus’s name is called by the person of Love incarnate. Probably for the first time ever, Zacchaeus hears his own name resound in warm tones ringing with delight, friendliness and affection. It sounds as though Zacchaeus were dearer to Jesus than life; as though Jesus had now found the one he had been searching urgently for – for years.

Zacchaeus has rarely been at a loss for words in his adult life. He usually responds to whatever is said to him with a witty remark. In business affairs, his sarcasm was dismayingly prompt and devastating. But suddenly, he cannot think of what to say to this man whose very aura is compelling and whose face is radiantly welcoming. He stares at Jesus, feeling like a young child. He so wants what Jesus has, so wants to be part of who Jesus is.

After a moment, Jesus continues in the same glad and hearty tones, Come down! Years later, Zacchaeus will tell how he knew even at that moment that those words meant more than simply “Come down from that tree.” They meant, re-evaluate your whole way of being. Come down from this pseudo-tough, rich-man persona you have created and think you need. You don’t need it. You don’t even want it any more. Come down to where I am.

But at this particular moment in the encounter, Zacchaeus continues to stand on his tree-branch like a statue. He is shocked. He doesn’t stir. So Jesus urges him, Hurry! This word is also a resonating word for Zacchaeus. Slaves hurried. Zaccheus was a wealthy man and didn’t need to hurry. It wasn’t fitting. He was too important. But he longs to hurry now. He still doesn’t budge. He is too confused, too startled. Too happy. He desperately wants to jump down from his branch, but he is momentarily stuck.

But here now, Zacchaeus, Jesus is speaking to you without ceremony, and with urgency, as a man speaks to a close friend: he is smiling and telling you to get moving. He has something to ask of you. Here it is: Because today I must stay at your house!

Jesus is also offering something to you. He is offering himself. He is offering you his greatest gift: his healing friendship. He’s saying, “I, Jesus, am your friend, and I invite myself and my followers to your house for dinner. Only friends make so bold. Only friends are fearless enough with each other to admit that they need each other. I need you now! I am tired and so are my companions. And we are all hungry. You have a big house and a lot of servants. But it’s not merely your house and your food we need. We need you to be uniquely you. You have a sad history, it is true, but you are more than your history. You have human capacities that will grow and blossom when planted in the soil of friendship. Well? Will you be you? Will you offer yourself in friendship to us? I offer you a place among my friends. Isn’t this exactly what you long for?”

At last Zacchaeus seems to come out of his trance. He looks dazed, but he suddenly comprehends something of what it all means. Jumping from his branch like a boy, he hurries down and welcomes Jesus joyfully. He is not the same man who had swung into that tree a short while before. Everything is different now. He knows that this is not simply about dinner. Zacchaeus is getting ready to shed years of pain – emotional pain he had lived with for so long that he had ceased to regard it as pain at all. He had thought that what he felt inside was simply the price of existence itself – if he thought about it at all. But now he sees that there is a different way to exist. He was barely able to articulate this difference just yet, but as he strode ahead, excitedly pointing out the way to his house, and talking now with a ready flow of words, he was inwardly planning how he would be the friend of Jesus; how he would be the new person he felt he had suddenly become, and not merely today, but for the rest of his life.

SJC

 

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9 March. Jesus and Zacchaeus III: Personal History

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We all have a history, including Zacchaeus. We do not know what his history was, but it is probable that this friendless man had an unhappy one. Why choose a profession that guarantees the hatred of one’s fellow-man otherwise? Perhaps he was tossed out of the home at a young age by an abusive parent, or perhaps he ran away from a situation of poverty and violence, had to fend for himself, become street-wise, learn to manipulate situations to his advantage. Whatever happened, he became, for reasons we will never know, a rich man, but also a dishonest man in a despised profession. No doubt he was intelligent and competent – too competent, maybe, at getting money – but wealth and the power to ruin people does not attract friends. Sycophants, maybe, but not friends. And not even these were with him that day. He was alone, unsupported. No wife, no servant. No colleague. No one.

Let’s fill in some other details about this man. Working backwards from what the text tells us, it’s not too far-fetched to imagine Zacchaeus as a wiry little boy, able to run fast and scale obstacles easily as he escaped from the angry adults who wanted to thrash him for some misdemeanour – or none. I think he knew what hunger meant as a child, and although he survived by his wits, perhaps his nutrition was dubious, and bodily growth was affected. Now he is a well-to-do adult, but Zacchaeus is a small man. He is abundantly energetic, though, and is both crafty and agile enough to solve his current difficulty without reference to anyone else (it is the story of his life): he cannot see Jesus because he is too short and the crowd is too big and unyielding. Fine. He dashes ahead and swings easily into a sycamore tree, as the text tells us – a tree well furnished with thick branches radiating from a central crown. Here is a resourceful person with few inhibitions. Here is someone determined never to allow his desires to be thwarted. Here is a man who has never cared what people thought of him as he ruthlessly made his fortune – why start now? He climbs higher on the sturdy branches. Yes, excellent view, he thinks smugly. He can see Jesus perfectly now.

And what is happening with Jesus? What is Zacchaeus apt to be seeing? St Luke tells us in the immediately preceding passage that Jesus, on entering Jericho, had healed a blind man, and that ‘all who saw it gave praise to God.’ The formerly blind man then followed Jesus, we are told. He was probably now part of Jesus’ joyful entourage walking down the main road of Jericho. I expect this group might have included many of the people who had known the blind man all his life and had now witnessed his healing. They would have joined Jesus’ group, already consisting of the Twelve, without whom he rarely went anywhere. The gospels also report that there were women among Jesus’ constant supporters and followers, and I image that some of them would have been there now, too. Chances are, the collection of people coming down the road with Jesus was a large one.

As we have seen in our gospel passage, Jesus already seems to know Zacchaeus’ name when he starts the conversation with him. No one introduces them. We do not need to assume that this is a demonstration of Jesus’ divine omniscience. Zacchaeus was infamous. The apostle Matthew, reformed tax collector himself, probably knew him, even if Jesus didn’t. He would probably have warned Jesus about Zacchaeus as he approached the town: “Rich man, but the very devil for getting tax money from people – and then some. Ruthless,” Jesus might have been told. He was probably also told that Zacchaeus lived a big house. I can see Jesus listening quietly to such information, and forming his own plans. Jesus had nothing to fear from notorious individuals.

SJC

Favella image from CD.

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8 March. Zacchaeus and Jesus II: The Chief Tax Collector.

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There is seemingly an unimportant phrase at the end of the first sentence of the gospel passage from Luke (19:1-10) given in yesterday’s posting. If you missed it, I recommend scrolling back to it. There are a few words in the beginning that are very easy simply to skim over. The text tells us that Jesus was going through Jericho when ‘…suddenly a man whose name was Zacchaeus made his appearance.’ It’s the words ‘made his appearance’, that are so telling, I believe. They are an English interpretation of the original Greek text, rather than a literal translation of the Greek words, but I believe the translators of the New Jerusalem Bible are using the phrase in order to introduce the reader subtly to the theme of suffering in Zacchaeus’s life. There is a sub-text in these words. Usually when we say So and So “made his appearance” we are smirking. We are putting a negative spin on the words because we are talking about someone who is not very likeable, someone whose actions may have harmed us or a person we love, someone who never enters a public scene without having some ulterior motive. The phrase implies, “Oh no. What’s he doing here?” On this particular occasion a crowd has gathered in order to see Jesus, who was known to be a holy man and a healer. This is an occasion in which a dishonest person and a swindler would not be expected even to be interested.

And, yet, Zacchaeus – a chief tax collector, as the Greek text tells us – was there. Tax collectors were notorious in Jesus’ day for being dishonest, callous, thieving characters, who took more money than they had a right to, in order to line their own pockets. These were Jews who were employed by Rome, the occupying power, and who were therefore considered by devout Jews to be apostates from their own faith, and loyal to ‘the enemy.’ Zacchaeus was no different. If anything, he would have been considered to be worse than many tax collectors, an ‘arch-enemy’, because as chief tax collector, he was in charge of a whole district, and doubtless was responsible for ensuring that those under him did not become too lenient toward those owing tax money. And this man ‘makes his appearance’ – here, of all places.

The people in the crowd probably glance at Zacchaeus warily, then exchange looks with one another. Maybe the only thing that prevents some of the men in the crowd from confronting Zacchaeus is the thought that this, after all, is an event in which a holy man will be present. It would not do to have a brawl. In any case, Zacchaeus had power to ruin anyone who made his life difficult. So, the people in the crowd try to act as though Zacchaeus isn’t there.

That Zacchaeus was ‘blanked’ by the people, that all were complicit in an act of passive aggression against him can be inferred from the text, where it says, He kept trying to see who Jesus was, but he was short and could not see him for the crowd. In other words, the crowd closed ranks against Zacchaeus. They would not let him through. He was a well-known figure not only in Jericho, but in the district. In this setting, had he been a public person of some other profession, with a reputation for kindness and philanthropy, surely he would have been allowed to pass through. A little murmur of recognition would have gone through the crowd, and Zacchaeus would have found a pathway opening up for him, making it possible for him to move forward. But nothing of the kind happens. He is ostracised.

SJC

 

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7 March. Zacchaeus and Jesus – A Different Kind of Healing, I: Introduction.

Palm Sunday Sussundenga, Mozambique 2015 01

At 1m76, 6ft3.5, I am not vertically challenged as Zaccheus was, and my tree-climbing days are less frequent than once they were. But we can all sympathise with Zacchaeus in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus does not add to his physical stature, but instead provides an opportunity for Zacchaeus to grow in heart and mind. This week’s posts are from our friend, Sister Johanna Caton of Minster Abbey in Thanet, Kent. This reading opens the season of Lent in the Eastern Church, so this week we bow to our Orthodox sisters and brothers as we reflect on Zacchaeus’s transformation.

The New Testament story of Zacchaeus has always been a delight to me. It is told only by Luke (19:1-11), and is a story that I love to reread. And, although I had done so many times, I recently began to find new depths in Zacchaeus’s character, and new drama in his story. That is the way lectio divina tends to work. Lectio divina is an ancient Latin term meaning sacred reading, and refers to the daily practice of a slow and prayerful reading of the bible. I have found that in this daily form of prayer, a passage in scripture that I think I understand well will one day suddenly open up further, and new aspects of the text will reveal themselves.

In the story of Zacchaeus, we find a story of healing. But we are not dealing here with the healing of leprosy, blindness, paralysis or any of the other physical disabilities that are usually brought to Jesus for a cure. Zacchaeus is healed on a different level. We know well that the body isn’t the only thing that needs healing. Our spirit, our emotions, the personal history with which we are burdened all need to be healed by the Lord. Oh, we try to cover up these wounds by deploying whatever coping mechanisms we can find in our attempt to survive in an unkind world. Sometimes we have learned to cover up so effectively that we convince even ourselves that these wounds are not there. This, no doubt, is what Zacchaeus had to do, too, and St Luke more than hints at this in his telling of Zacchaeus’s story. I would like to try to look at the encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus from this perspective over the next few days in a series of posts.

First, I’d like to review the passage. This translation is from the New Jerusalem Bible.

Jesus entered Jericho and was going through the town and suddenly a man whose name was Zacchaeus made his appearance; he was one of the senior tax collectors and a wealthy man. He kept trying to see which Jesus was, but he was too short and could not see him for the crowd; so he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus who was to pass that way. When Jesus reached the spot he looked up and spoke to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry, because I am to stay at your house today.’ And he hurried down and welcomed him joyfully. They all complained when they saw what was happening. ‘He has gone to stay at a sinner’s house,’ they said. But Zacchaeus stood his ground and said to the Lord, ‘Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham, for the Son of man has come to seek out and save what was lost.’

Until a few weeks ago, I saw Zacchaeus as a loveable and slightly comical character. In my mind, he was an older man, short and maybe a bit pudgy – a rich man with a rich man’s girth – a bit of a joker, an extrovert playing to the gallery. But now, I have revised my whole picture of him. We will begin to explore this further tomorrow.

SJC

Zacchaeus would have been unable to see past this crowd. (MAfr)

 

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March 6, Ash Wednesday: A prayer for Faith

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‘Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief,’ but let no part of it stay in me.

If my life brings me darkness, help me to meet it with faith; if pain, with courage; if bereavement, with hope; if joy, with gratitude; all things with love and patience.

So let my life indeed be the expression of my faith.

This prayer comes from Father Andrew, the pioneering Anglican Franciscan, who was a hard-working parish priest in East London during the Blitz. A good prayer for the start of Lent; we cannot live up to those resolutions without the grace of God.

Help me to meet and embrace my life, Lord.

This Lent we will start with a series of reflections from Sister Johanna Caton OSB on the Zacchaeus story. This is an early Lenten text in the Eastern Churches. There will be a number of reflections from regular and guest contributors which place us before the Cross. Writers have been invited to respond to an image of the crucifixion of their choice.

Finally, during the last fortnight of Passiontide, we will follow the Way of the Cross with Saint Peter, written as if he were reflecting in the prison cell in Rome, linking events in his life on the road with Jesus to the stations, scriptural and traditional, that are celebrated in this devotion. Stay with us and pray with us!

WT

Charlottenberg, MMB.

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