Tag Archives: contemplation

23 June, Today this is my vocation, IX: Practise the humble works.

This book was given to my grandmother by my aunt who predeceased her.

Today’s post is from The Imitation of Christ, chapter LI. I thought we might look at a traditional work on the Christian life while developing the subject of ‘my vocation today’. Any of us who carry out even the most cursory examination of conscience know only too well that we must bear the burden of this daily life and suffer weariness and heaviness of heart. And there just is not the time or opportunity to give myself unceasingly to spiritual exercises and divine contemplation. Someone has to do the necessary tasks around the home or go out to work to be able to feed the family. It can get to be drudgery at times, but let’s get on with our humble, outward works, and Christ will come to us and give us peace among the cooking, gardening, washing and nappy-changing; and in the toils of work that is not always fun.

The Imitation imagines what we could hear from

THE VOICE OF CHRIST

MY CHILD, you cannot always continue in the more fervent desire of virtue, or remain in the higher stage of contemplation, but because of humanity’s sin you must sometimes descend to lower things and bear the burden of this corruptible life, albeit unwillingly and wearily.

As long as you wear a mortal body you will suffer weariness and heaviness of heart. You ought, therefore, to bewail in the flesh the burden of the flesh which keeps you from giving yourself unceasingly to spiritual exercises and divine contemplation.

In such condition, it is well for you to apply yourself to humble, outward works and to refresh yourself in good deeds, to await with unshaken confidence My heavenly visitation, patiently to bear your exile and dryness of mind until you are again visited by Me and freed of all anxieties. For I will cause you to forget your labours and to enjoy inward quiet. I will spread before you the open fields of the Scriptures, so that with an open heart you may begin to advance in the way of My commandments. And you will say: the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the future glory which shall be revealed to us.

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18 September: Y is for York

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York Minster, as the Cathedral is known, was built over the remains of the Roman Garrison. It was here in the year 306 than Constantine was proclaimed Emperor. This late 20th Century statue shows the Emperor dressed for battle, gazing at his broken sword.

The hilt or handle of the sword forms a cross with the blade. In hoc signo vinces – in this sign you will conquer – were the words that accompanied Constantine’s vision of a cross in the sky before the decisive victory that took him from contender for the throne to acknowledged Emperor of Rome.

Constantine, seventeen centuries on, seems to us more of an action man than a contemplative, but if his adoption of Christianity as the religion of the Empire was politically expedient, it must also have spoken to his heart. We can follow his gaze and, looking at the broken sword, ask ourselves under what sign, what banner do we strive? Which Kingdom do we serve? What are we aiming for? And how would we recognise victory? Are we like the man in the background, too busy on our phones to stop and stare? Let’s look at the broken sword and say:

We adore Thee O Christ and we praise  Thee, because by thy Holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world. Amen.

MMB.

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February 26. Thomas Traherne XVIII: Our eyes must be towards the Cross.

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Our Saviour’s cross is the throne of delights. That Centre of Eternity, that Tree of Life in the midst of the Paradise of God. There are we entertained with the wonder of all ages. There we enter into the heart of the universe. There we behold the admiration of Angels. There we find the price and elixir of our joys.

As on every side of the earth all heavy things tend to the centre; so all nations ought on every side to flow in unto it. It is not by going with the feet, but by journeys of the Soul, that we travel thither. By withdrawing our thoughts from wandering in the streets of this World, to the contemplation and serious meditation of His blood sufferings. Where the carcase is thither will the eagle be gathered together. Our eyes must be towards it, our hearts set upon it, our affections drawn, and of thoughts and minds United to it. When I am lifted up, saith the Son of Man, I will draw all men unto me.

Traherne was able to reconcile science and faith with his remarks on gravity.

The Cross as the door of Mercy

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February 24. Present in spirit with all Eternity: Thomas Traherne XVII.

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It’s worth reminding ourselves that this meditation was written before photography, cinema or human flight! Read it slowly, to absorb the language more fully.

The contemplation of Eternity maketh the Soul immortal. Whose glory it is, that it can see before and after its existence into endless spaces. Its Sight is its presence. And therefore in the presence of the understanding endless, because its Sight is so. O what glorious creatures should we be, could we be present in spirit with all Eternity! How wise, would we esteem this presence of the understanding, to be more real than that of our bodies!

When my soul is in Eden with our first parents, I myself am. there in a blessed manner. When I walk with Enoch, and see his translation, I am transported with him. The present age is too little to contain it. I can visit Noah in his ark, and swim upon the waters of the deluge. I can see Moses with his rod, and the children of Israel passing through the sea; I can enter into Aaron’s Tabernacle, and admire the mysteries of the holy place.

can travel over the Land of Canaan, and see it overflowing with milk and honey; I can visit Solomon in his glory, and go into his temple, and view the sitting of his servants, and admire the magnificence and glory of his kingdom. No creature but one like unto the Holy Angels can see into all ages. Sure this power was not given in vain, but for some wonderful purpose; worthy of itself to enjoy and fathom. Would men consider what God hath done, they would be ravished in spirit with the glory of His doings. For Heaven and Earth are full of the majesty of His glory. And how happy would men be could they see and enjoy it ! -But above all these our Saviour’s cross is the throne of delights. That Centre of Eternity, that Tree of Life in the midst of the Paradise of God!

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29 January: From the Franciscans of Zimbabwe, I.

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We haven’t heard much from Brother Chris Dyczek for a while. After leaving the Franciscan International Study Centre, he’s been busy studying and working in Oxford, but is now off to teach in Zimbabwe. The friars have had a custody there for sixty years; this picture shows them all (bar Brother Chris!) in a boat, reminiscent of the one on the L’Arche emblem.

Chris hopes to send us some reflections from Zimbabwe, but in the meantime he has sent us their house journal from which we’ll share a few extracts.

This passage sets out their philosophy and vision.

The Franciscan Friars of the Custody of The Good Shepherd- Zimbabwe are called by Christ, in the footsteps of St. Francis. We are a Missionary and Contemplative Fraternity, striving towards a Self-Sustaining life, in Minority and Simplicity, in continual Formation, and being adaptive to the needs of our times.

How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony! (Psalm 133:1)

The challenge for anyone wanting to follow Francis set out very clearly! Let us pray for the grace of minority (or an attitude of deep humility and brother- or sisterhood), and simplicity, wherever we are called to meet the needs of our times.

 

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11 October: Feast of Saint John XXIII

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I thought we would celebrate the Feast of Good Pope John with an extract from his writings. In 1962 He wrote to women religious – sisters in other words – a letter called ‘Il Tiempo Massimo’. Here he talks about prayer. 

The Church will always encourage its daughters who, in order to conform more perfectly to the call of the Divine Master, give themselves in the contemplative life.

May all of you meditate on this truth, beloved daughters, who are justly called “quasi apes argumentosae” (like industrious bees), because you are in the constant practice of the fourteen works of mercy in sisterly community with your other fellow Sisters. You also who are consecrated to God in the secular institutes must derive all the efficacy of your undertakings from prayer.

The life offered to the Lord entails difficulties and sacrifices like any other form of coexistence. Only prayer gives the gift of happy perseverance in it. The good works to which you dedicate yourselves are not always crowned with success. You meet with disappointments, misunderstanding and ingratitude.

Without the help of prayer you could not continue along on this hard road. And do not forget that a wrongly understood dynamism could lead you to fall into that “heresy of action” which was reproved by our predecessors. Having overcome this danger, you can be confident that you are definitely co-operators in the salvation of souls, and you will add merits to your crown.

All of you, whether dedicated to a contemplative or an active life, should understand the expression “life of prayer.” It entails not a mechanical repetition of formulas but is rather the irreplaceable means by which one enters into intimacy with the Lord, to better understand the dignity of being daughters of God and spouses of the Holy Spirit, the “sweet guest of the soul” Who speaks to those who know how to listen in recollection.

May we all learn how to listen to the Holy Spirit in the silence of our soul. And let’s be grateful for the prayer and work of all the sisters upholding the Church throughout the world.

 

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7 June: Little Flowers of Saint Francis XXV: How Saint Clare ate with Saint Francis, 2. (Shared Table XIX)

800px-Caravaggio_-_Cena_in_EmmausAnd the hour of breaking bread being come, they set themselves down together, Saint Francis and Saint Clare, and one of the companions of Saint Francis together with the companion of Saint Clare, and all the other companions took each his place at the table with all humility.

And at the first dish, Saint Francis began to speak of God so sweetly, so sublimely, and so wondrously, that the fulness of divine grace came down on them, and they all were rapt in God. And as they were thus rapt, with eyes and hands uplift to heaven, the folk of Assisi and Bettona and the country round about, saw that Saint Mary of the Angels, and all the House, and the wood that was just hard by the House, were burning brightly, and it seemed as it were a great fire that filled the church and the House and the whole wood together : for the which cause the folk of Assisi ran thither in great haste for to quench the flames, believing of a truth that the whole place was all on fire. But coming close up to the House and finding no fire at all, they entered within and found Saint Francis and Saint Clare and all their company in contemplation rapt in God and sitting around that humble board. Whereby of a truth they understood that this had been a heavenly flame and no earthly one at all, which God had let appear miraculously, for to show and signify the fire of love divine wherewith the souls of those holy brothers and holy nuns were all aflame; wherefore they gat them gone with great consolation.

Emmaus: another meal where Christ  was present. 

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December 1: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xxxi – We have problems

carvingwomanchichChichester Cathedral

Christianity is the only religion believing in the full enfleshment of God – yet we seem to have problems with it.

Even a cursory look at our tragic sexual state, our pollution of the planet, our out of control consumerism… suggests a problem. In practice sex seems to be the only sin we worry about, when Jesus reminds us of the weightier matters of faith, peace with justice, mercy and compassion – Matthew 23.23. The Incarnation tells us to trust our in-body experience – it is the way God provides for us to meet. Our spirit is illusory without body and soul. See it in religious practice that is all head. Soul is the lost sense of the Holy Spirit; and the body is rejected. This wasn’t always the case, though passion, father, mother, sister, brother have now become no more than titles instead of real experiences. Ritual has become safe!

If we encourage co-dependency on system [ritual] we are simply doing what the world does. An over-emphasis on personal prayer has left folk bereft of the intimacy of personal prayer. We are meant to experience the presence of God, not just acknowledge the value of it. Felt religion needs to be reclaimed. We are well aware of the anguish and ecstasy in relationships; can we say the same about prayer? Without the sense of presence anguish becomes anger and accusation. We seem to hear much more about annulments, excommunications and dispensations than about healing.

Praying in words helps me express my dependence on God – praying in silence lets me experience it. Watch a mother hold a feverish child – see the child calm down and even sleep, because it is experiencing safety and not just hearing about it. There is vastly more to living than my private life. Contemplation needs underpinning by belonging [community]. Social prayer recognises that there is only one goodness, one suffering, and even one sin! So much about life can neither be explained nor fixed, but it is felt, enjoyed and suffered. Crying is not manly! A man who cannot cry is not fully alive. We can’t relish life until we experience its tears – happy and sad.

If laughter and tears are not around, I’m on the wrong road. God heals our brokenness and our weakness. When we venture into sacred space there is an element of discomfort, if only because it isn’t where I usually am. It is the prophetic in life that lures me – showing me the inadequacy of the normal. Reality begins to arrive when death is experienced as integral to life, and failure and success are the same; and I no longer need to leave the secular to find the sacred – the veil of the Temple was torn from top to bottom – Matthew 27.51.

There is no natural world where God is not present. But I need the eyes to see this. It is a move from simple consciousness into enlightenment – I have to let go, through some disillusion with what is. We seldom freely go there – it is usually thrust upon us by suffering, injustice, sin and bereavement. Normal tends to mean rejecting weakness and over-working strengths. By claiming to be in control I reveal my weakness, becoming who I am supposed to be rather than who I am.

While most problems are psychological, most answers are spiritual. Which tells us to stop trying to solve them – we need to forgive and integrate them.

AMcC

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November 30: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xxx – Pray!

samaritanwomanBaptistery, Abbey of St Maurice, Switzerland

Institutional Religion at its best needs incarnational living – you say it, now live it – otherwise we will let intimacy decay into orthopraxy. This is why contemplation has a social element. The openness of the prairie alongside living in my backyard. In this way every difference can find a hearing and enjoy respect, when all becomes one in the mystery. For to know God is vital – more important than what I am going to do about it. We have differences of all kinds – this should tell us that we cannot all see God in the same way! What matters is to hear what God is asking and respond uniquely: as God has shown me what it was mine to do may God show you what is yours to do. It is we who are threatened by differences, not God.

I can trust myself because God trusts me. Nothing about me will be used against me – even my sin is forgiven! Sin shall not be your shame, but your glory – Julian of Norwich. If this isn’t good news what is? The Samaritan woman with 5 husbands doesn’t get a lecture on Canon Law; Jesus joins her where she is – by listening to her; and then invites her into freedom, and asks her to spread it around – he told me all about myself… and not just what she already knew! Do not be afraid – your life is respected and is working for your well-being. Nothing within us is as bad as our denial of it, since everything belongs.

To be aware of the presence of God is to be forgiven, to be cherished exactly as I am. To be holy [whole] is know God as total love and self as loved by God totally: You will enjoy the mystery of salvation through forgiveness of sin – cf. Luke 1.77. There is no room for forgiveness in a world of meritocracy, it can’t breathe in an atmosphere of rights. How can you have a quid-pro-quo where love and compassion are already given without the asking – fore-given!

The early Church believed universal salvation – apokatastasis – but it was never defined [or condemned]. Since I have brought good from the worst-ever evil, I want you to know I bring good out of lesser evils too – Julian of Norwich. God is the only teacher and the only lesson is love. Do I want Isis to be loved and forgiven? With the 11th hour labourers and the Prodigal along with his brother there’s no question of having to deserve. God cannot be where forgiveness is not welcome. It sets logic aside – what is appropriate is a time of quiet to make room for regret and repentance – not to gain forgiveness, but to recover self-respect.

A common feature of personal sin is the delight we seem to take in highlighting the sins of others. Forgiveness is costly, it is taking on a powerlessness by allowing nothing to keep me from being with – as God is freely and always with me – even when I am decidedly not with God [take up your cross daily]. What is at the heart of physical attraction, why are we fascinated by the image of another? How we relate to one person sets a pattern for my relating. It is bringing together our differences – human and divine, male and female, sin and forgiveness. So, who are sinners? Anyone who keeps all these things apart from each other – Religion – re-ligio means to reconnect; reconciling opposites. Christianity is the only religion believing in the full enfleshment of God – yet we seem to have problems with it.

AMcC

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March 27, Easter Sunday: Awakening into Love

 

The resurrection of the white martyr takes place in this life. The death of the physical body has no part in it. It is a resurrection from brokenness to wholeness, from alienation to connectedness, from ignorance to knowledge. It is an awakening into love; when Paul speaks of the raising of the dead, the Greek verb translated as ‘raise’ also means ‘to awaken’.  We are raised into the ability to love ever more expansively, to receive love ever more deeply, and to see ever more clearly the omnipresence of love throughout creation.

nasaM81galaxyIf you gaze at the sky on a clear moonless night, the longer you do so the more stars you see. Gradually it becomes apparent that the whole sky is luminous, and as you continue to hold your gaze, ever greater luminosity is disclosed.

The contemplative gaze enables us to see that love permeates reality in the same way that light permeates the night sky; that love is the substratum of being, the most basic stuff of all that is. It enables us to see that appearances notwithstanding, God is all in all.

The next life is, in the first instance, the present life seen in the light of love. This is an awakening into a new way of seeing which reveals a world of boundless wonder and unspeakable beauty. It is awakening into true life with Christ.

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The tomb of sin, of ignorance and error, in which we were buried, is now empty.

Strasbourg, Anglesey, NASA, Anglesey.

 

 

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