Tag Archives: Creator God

14 February, Ash Wednesday: Beware of Bland Faith!

monica9People talk about blind faith, but this Ash Wednesday I want to look at bland faith. Two posts last November 6th used the word: a thought provoking conjunction. Here’s Friar Austin:1

Jesus belongs to anyone struggling with faith – and how to live it truthfully. It is clear that many who would call themselves agnostic or even atheist actually live by values closer to the Gospel than do many Church-goers.

Jesus appeals to the imagination in ways that make official teaching about him seem very bland. What is the reality of Jesus beyond dogma? He was very imaginative, to a degree more suited to story than to doctrine. How would he tell his own story?

There never has been a time when God was not fully involved with Creation. The Book of Genesis states that God takes great pleasure in the creative process – and God saw that it was very good – everything is good because it is of God, good only comes from goodness. With evolution the time came for the break away from our primate ancestors, when God adds a new dimension with the arrival of the human.

And Fr James Kurzynski:2

Something I think theology can learn from science is the inspirational ethos that can be created when faith is not merely approached as an intellectual discipline to be understood, but as an adventure to be lived and explored with deep passion.

Yes, we need high intellects in the Church to further the academic exploration of theology. However, we also need voices in the pastoral field who can take the complexity of the scholar and present it to the people of faith in a way that inspires them to embrace an adventure of faith, hope, and love. Unfortunately, all too often, I encounter a bland faith of practicality in which adventure is lost and is replaced with paying bills, developing programs, and keeping tabs on the number of parishioners in the pews.

My fear is that faith is become so pragmatic that even the idea of pilgrimage, a sacred journey, is being dropped in favor of pressing play on the DVD player to watch the latest series on Catechetical instruction. Put another way, I fear that we are living in the midst of “Living-room Catholicism.”

What set me off about bland faith was this description of a Lutheran minister from Siri Hustvedt:3

He was well-meaning if somewhat narrow in his views and comfortable in his faith without being smug. At the same time, it has always impressed me that in the hands of men like Lund, the strange, bloody and wondrous Christian story inevitably turned rather drab.

Let’s take time this Lent to put a little more colour into our faith and how we live it.

3The Sorrows of an American, London, Sceptre, 2009, p173.

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January 28, Aberdaron VI: Take time.

aberdaron church leaflet2

This is the back cover of the Aberdaron leaflet we looked at yesterday. I guess they knew, when they put it together, that people would read the back before opening it.

The evening I posted this, we had family around looking at the flames of our front room fire; earlier in the day Abel had me stop by the river for a few moments of staring.

A time to be thankful.

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January 20: WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY: WELCOMING THE STRANGER.

church unity week poster pic.

The memory of a liberated people, that they were once enslaved, should compel us to welcome the stranger in our midst. The experience of Biblical Israel resonates with the experiences of the peoples of the Caribbean region, the majority of whom were once slaves. We remember how God restores the dignity of God’s people and the churches of the region play an important role in reminding their society of the duty to welcome refugees and displaced persons.
Leviticus 19.33-34 You shall love the alien as yourself

Psalm 146 The Lord watches over the strangers

Hebrews 13.1-3 Some have entertained angels without knowing it

Matthew 25.31-46 I was a stranger and you welcomed me
REFLECTION We are good because we are loved, not loved because we are good. If it was up to each one of us to earn it, we might not be loved very much. Too much goat and not enough sheep. And yet loved we are, since God is in all things, even the bits we think are ugly and unmentionable. We are loved, but God wants us to give some love back, giving and receiving in a mutual relationship. Love makes us better holds us together reaching out to the other. Being in relationship with God means being with other people, doing some good. Looking after the creation and not seeing everything as being there for our enjoyment. It means being fair and not exploiting others. It means giving and not taking. It means being alongside not overpowering others. It even means welcoming and respecting the stranger in our midst since it may be the Christ unannounced.
QUESTIONS How have you experienced being a stranger? Have you visited another church (perhaps whilst on holiday)? How were you welcomed? How did you feel? How might being truly hospitable be challenging? What might hold us back from being genuinely hospitable?
PRAYER Barrier-breaking God, You embrace all cultures and lands, But keep a special place in your heart For the stranger, the widow and the orphan. Grant us the gift of your Spirit That we may become as You are, Welcoming all as brothers and sisters, Your cherished children, Citizens together in Christ’s kingdom of justice and peace. Amen
GO AND DO (see http://www.ctbi.org.uk/goanddo) The Caribbean Council of Churches has been involved in advocacy to challenge those nations that are restricting or stripping Haitians of citizenship rights.
Visit Go and Do to read Milciades story about being denied his rights in the Dominican Republic.
Visit Go and Do to find inspiration and encouragement to keep helping those who have been forced from their homes across the world.

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January 19: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity; Introduction to this year’s theme and background.

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The material for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2018 has been produced in the Caribbean.

There are 1.4 Million Christians living in the Caribbean region, across a vast geographical spread of island and mainland territories. They represent a rich and diverse tapestry of ethnic, linguistic and religious traditions, with a complex variety of governmental and constitutional arrangements.

The contemporary context is deeply marked by the history of colonialism which stripped people of their identity, dignity and freedom. Christian missionary activity, closely tied to the colonial system, seemed to support, encourage and excuse it. During five-hundred years of the colonial system, scripture was used to justify the enslavement of the indigenous people. In a dynamic reversal, those same scriptures became the inspiration and motivation for people to reclaim their liberty. 

Recognising the hand of God in the ending of enslavement, the Caribbean Christians offer Exodus 15, a song of triumph over oppression, as the motif of the Week of Prayer. The hymn, The Right Hand of God, reflecting the song of Miriam and Moses in praise of the liberating action of God, has become the anthem of the ecumenical movement in the region. Like the Israelites, the people of the Caribbean have a song of victory and freedom to sing.

Yet, contemporary challenges continue to enslave and threaten the dignity of the people. Many of the contemporary challenges are the legacy of the colonial past. The Caribbean economies have traditionally been based upon the production of materials for the European market – sometimes producing only a single commodity. They have never been self-sustaining and their development has required borrowing on the international market. The servicing of the debt has caused a reduction in spending upon the development that it was meant to facilitate.

The chosen passage from Exodus 15 allows us to see that the road to unity must often pass through a communal experience of suffering. The Israelites’ liberation from enslavement is the foundational event in the constitution of the people. Although our liberation and salvation is at God’s initiative, human agencies are engaged in their realisation. Christians participate in God’s ministry of reconciliation, yet our divisions hamper our witness to a world in need of God’s healing.

The themes of the daily material raise some of the contemporary issues addressed by the churches of the Caribbean. Abuses of human rights are found across the region and we are challenged to consider our manner of welcoming of the stranger into our midst. Human trafficking and modern-day slavery continue to be huge issues. Addiction to pornography and drugs, continue to be serious challenges to all societies. The debt crisis has a negative impact upon the nations and upon individuals – the economies of the nations and people have become precarious. Family life continues to be challenged by the economic restrictions which lead to migration, domestic abuse and violence.

The Caribbean Churches work together to heal the wounds in the body of Christ. Reconciliation demands repentance, reparation and the healing of memories. The whole Church is called to be both a sign and an active agent of this reconciliation.

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January 11: Temperance V: The Gift of Shame

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The virtue of temperance does not require the stoic abstention from all physical pleasures. Temperance is the virtue by which we are strengthened in the ability to decide how much is good for us, and to follow through on that decision on the level of behaviour. What helps us in our decision?

St. Thomas teaches that the spontaneous reaction of shame that surfaces when we have over-indulged in the physical pleasures is both healthy and helpful to us. At first this might be hard to believe: shame is such a miserable, intensely uncomfortable feeling. We don’t like it, and often try to suppress it, or to defend against it by laughing it off and telling ourselves not to be so morbid. Yet, it is better for us to face our feeling of shame. It is a useful reaction whereby we recoil psychologically from the disgrace that comes from intemperance.

Excesses on the level of our physical appetites give us a feeling shame that is usually more intense than the shame we feel over our other moral failings and sins. St Thomas explains that this is because our bodily appetites are what we share with animals, and when we over-indulge them we feel deep down that we have lost something of our innate dignity as human beings.

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Shame, again, surfaces spontaneously. In the masterful book Love and Responsibility, written by Karol Wojtyla*1 in the 1960s, the phenomenon of shame is one of the topics he studies in depth. Here is a brief passage from his book:

Shame is a tendency, uniquely characteristic of the human person, to conceal sexual values sufficiently to prevent them from obscuring the value of the person as such. The purposes of this tendency is self-defence of the person, which does not wish to be an object to be used by another… but does wish to be an object of love (Chapter III).

Perhaps this requires some unpacking. First Wojtyla affirms that shame is part of our in-built moral equipment, as it were – uniquely characteristic of the human person. As such, it is a gift, and it has an importance and a purpose in our spiritual and human lives. Then, he speaks of ‘sexual values.’ Again, an important notion. We see here that he is not trying to say that our sexuality is bad. Then why does he talk about ‘concealing’ this value? Simply because this value has a tendency to loom larger than it should, so much so that it can ‘obscure the value of the person.’ There is a hierarchy of values here, he is saying: the person is of greater value than sexual values. Through shame we actually protect ourselves as persons, so that we do not become an object of “use”. According to Wojtyla, then, shame is not the result of prudish conditioning by repressive religious teachings, or over-strict authority figures. It is inherent in our nature, and surfaces spontaneously with a message for us. That message is that we are created to be loved and to give love in a manner that always affirms the unique beauty and dignity of the person – both our own person and that of the beloved.

This beautiful insight by Karol Wojtyla shows us something that helps us to moderate our physical appetites, by reminding us that we were created to love and be loved. This is the fulfilment we crave most deeply. But we must love and be loved rightly, with great respect for ourselves as persons and for the unique personhood of our loved one.

1 Karol Wojtyla was elected pope in 1978, and was known as Pope John Paul II. His papacy lasted until his death, twenty-five years later.

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January 8, The Virtue of Temperance: II. What is Temperance?

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The word temperance, like the word fortitude, is perhaps another of those words that aren’t used much in ordinary conversation. But, the idea of temperance is suggested in some words that are used in every-day speech. Balance is one of those words, I think. We speak of wanting to lead ‘balanced’ lives, of wanting our judgments to be ‘balanced’, our big decisions in life to be the result of ‘balanced reflections.’ We speak of a person being unbalanced. We speak of balanced diets. We try to balance our professional lives with our personal lives. We know what people mean when we hear these phrases. Balance is something like the virtue of temperance. Something like it, but not identical to it.

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Temperance ‘…has a wider significance and higher rank,’ according to Pieper. ‘It is one of the four hinges on which swings the gate of life’ (see The Four Cardinal Virtues, 4,1). This is high praise, indeed. We wouldn’t usually think of ‘balance’ in such lofty terms. Temperance, however, delivers a greater reward than does mere emotional balance. Emotional balance is concerned mostly with making our lives run smoothly in this world. Temperance, however has a broader reach, encompassing our mind, extending to the very soul of the human being, and reaching up to heaven. Temperance seeks to order our earthly existence in such a way as to fit us for eternal life with God. We shall look at this more closely in our next post.

SJC

The door of Mercy, the Gate of Life.

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New Year’s Eve, Father Andrew at Christmas VIII: The Holy Night

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‘How still that little sleeping town’ – somehow I doubt it tonight! But the homeless One Reveals God’s Face. There will be a welcome at one or other of Canterbury’s Churches each night during the coldest months.

The Holy Night

How still the night,
How still the stars,
How still that little sleeping town,
How like a jewel in God’s crown
That Star of stars
That shines so bright.

How silver sweet
The moon doth shine;
Lo, yonder little cattle-shed
Shall lend a straw-strewn manger bed
To Babe divine
And Mother sweet.

To all our race
The light hath come;
For He Who lies ‘neath quilt of straw,
That homeless One Whom shepherds saw
Himself our Home,
Reveals God’s Face.

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21 December: Zechariah.

 

ossyrianfire

 

On glowing coals your incense plumed and rose,

and tendrils, wisps of smoke, entwining vines

of perfume circled round the holy throne,

round holy presence, round what faith enshrines.

O Zechariah, priest of God and seer,

in God’s eyes good, so good and true, yet you

were unprepared for Gabriel’s appearing:

you balked. But some, condemning, misconstrue.

Before the angel’s majesty and mien,

before unfathomed worlds spirits behold,

to me, your doubts, your dread – how right they seem:

before your silence gained what he foretold.

O Zechariah, made mute, but little flawed,

you shall live to see, to see your God.

(Luke 1:5-25)

SJC

Sister Johanna sent us this sonnet that distills the essence of her reflections on Zechariah. Thank you Johanna!

Will.

 

 

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3 December, 1st Sunday of Advent: Star of Wonder?

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Last Christmas we saw one bright star in the sky -but it was far more to the West than the East – so it most certainly was not the Star of Bethlehem! 

In fact it was not even a star, but our planetary neighbour, Venus.

But there she was, a perfectly good reminder of the Babe of Bethlehem. Really though, reminding people of God is our job:

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Matthew 5:16

No-one can prepare the way of the Lord without light, so let’s get on quietly with those good works that our daily lives demand, and hope that people will see through the imperfect beings that we are to the Good One whose grace sustains us. After all, Venus shines with a reflected light, not her own, and that’s exactly what is asked of her.

And let’s look up to the stars – at least when the cloud cover allows – and just wonder.

MMB.

 

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December 2: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xxxii – Francis could not fall very far, but he was free.

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The second half of life usually consists of what we have denied in the first half – our shadow; which is not some form of addiction, but failure. We can’t entertain the powerlessness of loneliness, impoverishment, boredom and generally not being in charge. We settle for a kind of pleasure that lacks joy, and even involves denial of joy. We can’t imagine being happy without money, without many options. We have replaced freedom of spirit with freedom of choice.

Why did Francis move into a life of non-power, non-aggression and sine proprio? He was so close to the bottom of life that he could not fall very far, but he was free. He knew that God doesn’t look at our faults and failings, but at the many ways we have been determined to try and say yes [which is what parents hope for seeing their children]. Once experiencing being fully alive we will never fear death, because we will know that we have not just lived but have come alive, and that such life is eternal and another form of it is waiting for us. Which is what Paul urges: reproducing the power of his Resurrection – Phil.3.10.

If I have not lived fully, death will terrify me, not knowing that this is not the end. Working in Zambia showed me a village people who lived – by our standards – with next to nothing. The children played, parents scratched a living from hard ground; but they had something we lack. An attitude with no room for cynicism. When they came together their singing was spontaneous – no hymn sheets; and they smile, with nothing to smile about. Like loving, smiling enjoys its own justification, is not dependent on having a reason to smile.

What do we think about when all else is gone? What did those victims who had no access to computers and phones on the aircraft speak about before the aircraft hit the twin towers? The language we heard was love, nothing else mattered. Life’s only purpose is to live lovingly by choice, and die in the same way. How can this become life’s norm? Be careful of a too ready recourse to detachment. Those victims were far from detached from what mattered. Life’s purpose is not to become detached but attached. For this to be real, other things have to be gently set aside.

AMcC

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