Tag Archives: Creator God

21 April, Easter Friday: “Who are you?”

Easter Friday
Image from: http://fatherkevinestabrook.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/homily-easter-friday-2016.html

Jn 21:1-14

‘None of the disciples was bold enough to ask, “Who are you?”

I was wondering why such a question would even arise? Didn’t the disciples know what Jesus looked like after going around with him for three years?

Then it occurred to me that perhaps Jesus’ appearance was different after the Resurrection. After all, the disciples on the road to Emmaus did not recognise Him either. It was only Jesus’ familiar actions – breaking bread, feeding and caring for them, creating miracles of abundance that gave Him away.

The lesson from this for the disciples is that, from now on, the Christ will be recognised not by an individual physical appearance but by what he does. That is why He asks Peter to feed and care for the people of God, continuing His ministry. It applies to us, His followers, who continue His mission today. People should be able to recognise Christ in us by our actions: breaking bread in the Eucharist, feeding and caring for people, trusting in the Father’s providence for our needs.

I ask God to keep reminding me that my actions should always be those of Jesus, to witness that He is alive in the world today.

Amen – alleluia!

FMSL

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11 April: The Temple: Housing God.

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The Temple and its rituals are never far from the surface in Holy Week. All those lambs to the slaughter would put many people off belief in God. But it’s mildly irritating – or mildly amusing – how the latest objections to belief turn out to be nothing new, such as the idea that God is a product of human imagination, therefore less than us, therefore not God.

When civil war had abated in Israel, about 3,000 years ago:

Hiram the king of Tyre sent messengers to David, and cedar trees, and carpenters, and masons for walls: and they built a house for David.

2 Samuel 5:11.

But when David wanted to build a temple for God the word of the Lord came to the prophet Nathan, saying:

Go, and say to my servant David: Thus saith the Lord: Shalt thou build me a house to dwell in? Whereas I have not dwelt in a house from the day that I brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt even to this day: but have walked in a tabernacle, and in a tent. In all the places that I have gone through with all the children of Israel, did ever I speak a word to any one of the tribes of Israel, whom I commanded to feed my people Israel, saying: Why have you not built me a house of cedar? 

2 Samuel 7:5-7.

God had been walking with his people on his own terms, not theirs. The tabernacle had been constructed and embellished by the people from their treasures during the Exodus (See Chapter 26 onwards) but it did not include any image of God. He was beyond human imagination, unlike the golden calf that Aaron manufactured when Moses was a long time on the mountain. (Exodus 32)

David was not about to confine God to a fixed house, although the Temple would be built and rebuilt before Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman:

 Woman, believe me, that the hour cometh, when you shall neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, adore the Father. You adore that which you know not: we adore that which we know; for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth. For the Father also seeketh such to adore him.

John 4:21-23.

Of course it is possible to imagine a god who is smaller than us, indeed any god we can understand will be smaller than us. But God is greater than all or any of us can imagine; we see him now ‘through a glass darkly’ and need to keep our eyes and hearts open.

MMB.

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April 9th, Palm Sunday 2017: Shropshire Daffodils

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Wordsworth may have the fame when it comes to daffodils in verse, but in Shropshire last Spring we saw drifts of daffodils beside the roads, beneath the hedges, shining along the footpath edges … apologies; William is too easily parodied.

But I wondered why such county-wide devotion to a Welsh emblem: surely not love of the western neighbour? Rather love of the flower itself, and its defiance of lingering resistance from Winter’s rearguard winds.

And then I picked up Houseman, and these lines from A Shropshire Lad:

The boys are up the woods with day
To fetch the daffodils away,
And home at noonday from the hills
They bring no dearth of daffodils.
Afield for palms the girls repair,
And sure enough the palms are there,
And each will find by hedge or pond
Her waving silver-tufted wand.
In farm and field through all the shire
The eye beholds the heart’s desire;
Ah, let not only mine be vain,
For lovers should be loved again.

 

The girls’ palms are of course the pussy willow, whose ‘silver-tufted wands’ set off the Easter daffodils so splendidly in the vase.

How good to be reminded, even by the morbid Houseman, to link our native flora and ourselves, to the ‘Hebrew children’ who went to meet the Lord carrying olive branches, and singing ‘Hosanna!’

Pueri Hebraeorum, portantes ramos olivarum, obviaverunt Domino, clamantes et dicentes, Hosanna in Excelsis.

The Hebrew children, carrying olive branches, went out to meet the Lord, shouting out and saying, ‘Hosanna in the highest!’

WT.

Sheet music and recording of ‘Pueri Hebraeorum’

 

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5 April: We who are made brave and afraid.

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God … Counts every tree, Makes every leaf.

Lent is a chance to sort ourselves out – a little at least. But as the first verse of Radclyffe Hall’s poem asks, ‘What can we do?’ I can remember understanding, from an early age, that there was a competitive edge to Lent: who could perform the most penances, collect the most pennies for the missions …WRONG!  the second verse reminds us to seek God in it all. Let’s not lose sight of that quest this Lent.

W

WE

 

We who are made
Brave yet afraid,
Happy yet sad,
Good and yet bad,
Sane and yet mad,
What can we do?
Turmoil and strife,
Passion and life,
Love and desire,
Can these inspire
Spiritual fire?
How can we live?
Stumbling feet,
Tasks incomplete,
Longings that kill
Even the will,
Left to fulfil,
How can we die?


Little have we
Bond and yet free,
Strong and yet weak,
Proud and yet meek,
Save but to seek
God in it all.
God with His hands
Holds all the lands;
Rules every sea,
Sets the winds free,
Counts every tree,
Makes every leaf.
Then shall we fear?
He placed us here.
If God commands
God understands,
Ponders, and plans;
Knowing it all.

 

 http://www.gutenberg.org/files/49277/49277-h/49277-h.htm

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23 March: Two mites.

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Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa with symbols of the gifts their congregation shared with the people of Zambia, where their Mission has been passed on to others.
Photo: Missionaries of Africa

Another word from Fr Andrew SDC:

My point about the widow’s mite was just that it is true of all things. God does not ask you to have much but to give what you have to give, if it is only two mites of money, or time, or character, or intellect, or anything else.

God bless and keep you.

Sometimes it does feel as though I need to dig deep to find anything to share with people, let alone with God, so today I’m grateful to receive Fr Andrew’s words, and glad to share them with you. And to relate his wisdom to the giving of the sisters symbolised in the picture above. My symbol today might be a hand scratching my head: I’m grateful to receive Fr Andrew’s words!

Will Turnstone.

Life and Letters of Father Andrew p98.

 

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March 14: Love Triumphant

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Another poem from Radclyffe Hall, sometime parishioner at Saint Anthony’s, Rye.

LOVE TRIUMPHANT

Ere the first grief was born
Love was.
And after griefs are gone
Love still shall triumph on.
Ere the first grief was born
Love was.
In Eden grief became
Love’s slave.
For in the dust and woe
Lost Adam still could know
Fond recompense, and so
Did grief become Love’s slave.
Grief as love’s slave: grief, Radclyffe Hall seems to suggest, did not keep Adam from loving God and Eve. His new self-knowledge, however incomplete, showed him he needed love. Fond recompense for his sin came in the shape of his love of God, his love of Eve; love in each case reciprocal. God’s love was there before Adam and Eve came to grief; God’s  love, humble unto death, continues to sustain their children.

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11 March, Human Will VII: The Will of God

 

 

What do we learn about the will of God for humanity when we ponder the sacred texts of scripture?  We find first in Genesis that we were created by God to share his life: this is his will for us.  We find that by sin we opposed God’s will and placed our will against God’s.  In consequence, we lost our closeness to God, we lost the harmony of our being, we became disordered within ourselves, and our relationships with each other became fraught and conflicted.  Our will, rather than being oriented toward God, turned in on itself.

Then began the long, long process by which God, without ever violating the freedom of our will, would lead humanity back to himself.  Scripture shows the stages in this process: the covenants with Noah and Abraham; the Exodus and journey to the Promised Land; the Law revealed to Moses; the growth of Israel’s identity as God’s chosen people, the organisation of Israel’s religious life, the building of the Temple.  In the midst of these stages, a theme emerges: God is faithful but the chosen people are wayward, contentious, fickle, heedless of God’s will, prone to idolatry.  The prophets and the psalms lament this.  Nevertheless, a new covenant is promised in which God will make possible a new depth of relationship with himself:

Look, the days are coming, Yahweh declares, when I shall make a new covenant with the House of Israel, but not like the covenant I made with their ancestors the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of Egypt, a covenant which they broke….  No this is the covenant I shall make with them, Yahweh declares.  Within them I shall plant my Law, writing it on their hearts. 

(Jeremiah. 31:31-34) 

 

The other great theme that emerges in tandem with this is the prophecy of an individual man who will inaugurate this new covenant in his very person.  He will be the messiah.  He will be a king, yet he will also be a servant who will suffer.  Above all, he will be the faithful son that Israel, in her sinfulness and waywardness, had not been.  He will come for the poor and humble of God, and will himself be gentle and humble (see Isaiah 11:1-9, 42:1-9, 61:1-9; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Psalm 72; Zephaniah 2:3).

Jesus himself said that he was the fulfilment of this hope in Luke 4:16-21:

 

Jesus came to Nazara… and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day as he usually did.  He stood up to read, and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.  Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written:

            The spirit of the Lord is on me,

for he has anointed me

to bring the good news to the afflicted. 

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives,

sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord.

He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down.  And all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him.  Then he began to speak to them, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even while you are listening.’

Christianity is built on the belief that what Jesus said in the synagogue that day was true, that he was the anointed one of God who would be, in his very person, the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy, and indeed of all the prophecies.

Christians see that the truth of Jesus’ claim is subsequently borne out in his public ministry, in everything he said and did, in his death, resurrection and ascension.  Where Israel had been a faithless and fickle son, Jesus remained faithful to the will of God, even unto death.  He, and he alone in all history, did his Father’s will.  And his own will?  It was completely united with the Father’s will, so much so that Jesus could say, ‘My food is to do the will of the one who sent me’ (John 4.34).

Jesus, by his life and his very being, shows us the love with which he unites his will to the will of the Father.  Through his Spirit, we are able to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus, a relationship written on our hearts, by which we journey to the Father.  We cannot fully fathom Jesus’ love for us in this life, but we can love him in return.  We can strive to follow him.  We can give him our will.  To do this is to do the will of God.

SJC.

 

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10 March, Human Will VI: Renunciation of the Will?

 

 

Yesterday’s post ended praising the will as a vital faculty of the soul.  Today we are considering the notion of renouncing the will.  But why would we want to renounce something as wonderful and necessary as our will?  Didn’t we establish that the will is good?  That it is an ally of the reason and an enabler of the life of virtue?

It is important to reflect that when the idea of the renunciation of the will occurs in spiritual writings, the literature is not talking about the will in this vital sense, nor in the sense of willingness, as we discussed in yesterday’s reflection.  The recommendation to renounce the will is referring to that in us which is turned away from God in an ongoing attitude of wilfulness.

Perhaps if we look at the use Holy Scripture makes of the concept of the will we might better understand what we are doing when we renounce the will.  In both the Old and New Testament, the concept of the will is used predominantly of the will of God.  In speaking of the ‘will’ of God, we mean his designs, his plan for humanity.   But the bible isn’t a text-book, explaining God’s will in the abstract, as though God were one thing and his will another.  As an inspired text, Scripture gives the prayerful reader an encounter with God himself.  This is, in fact, an encounter with his will, for God’s will is not separate from himself: it is himself.

In the daily practice of lectio divina, which is the slow and prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture, we have the unspeakable privilege of encountering God.  This is why lectio has the power to speak to us on such a deep level.  This encounter with the living God elicits a response of awe, reverence, love, and above all, faith.

It is faith that is the important word in this reflection as we consider the concept of the renunciation of the will.  In the faith-filled encounter with the Holy One through lectio divina we are led by the Holy Spirit to give our very self to God.  This surrender of the self is not an agonised act.  On the contrary, it is a spontaneous response of love to the encounter with Love himself.

Giving our very self to God: this is what is meant by the renunciation of the will.  We place our whole being at God’s disposal – we give him our will.  But in giving God our will, we are certainly not left with a void inside.  In giving our will to God, we unite our will with God’s will, and we live from that “place” of union and love.  It is the “place” the Lord himself described when he says in the Gospel of John, ‘Anyone who loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home in him’ (John 14:23).

SJC.

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9 March, Human Will: V Clarification of Terms

 

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In our reflections so far, we have been considering the will as a faculty of the soul, which, when guided by our reason, moves us in making choices that align with what is truly good, with what is directed to God and to others in charity.  In this sense, the will itself is something good, something vital for the functioning of our spiritual life.  It is the locus of the true self.  By its work, our emotions become integrated and our decisions and actions gradually align with what is good and true.  We need to know that our will is there – and appreciate it.

But, on the other hand, the will has also received some rather bad press.  ‘Oh, my little Jimmy is so wilful,’ an exhausted mother of a two-year-old might say.  Used in this way, the notion of the will can seem to be something problematic, stubbornly chained to the disordered cravings of our emotions and allied to our selfishness.  Is our will something good or something bad, then?

In a superb book, Will and Spirit, written in 1982 by the psychologist Gerald May, an important distinction is made between being wilful and willing.  This distinction focuses on the will not only as a faculty of the soul, but as an operation.  According to May,

Willingness implies a surrendering of one’s self-separateness, an entering into, an immersion in the deepest processes of life itself.  In contrast, wilfulness is the setting of oneself apart from the fundamental essence of life in an attempt to master, direct, control, or otherwise manipulate existence.  More simply, willingness is saying yes to the mystery of being alive in each moment.  Wilfulness is saying no….

     Willingness and wilfulness…reflect the underlying attitude one has toward the wonder of life itself.  Willingness notices this wonder and bows in some kind of reverence to it.  Wilfulness forgets it, ignores it or at its worst, actively tries to destroy it [Will and Spirit, Harper Collins, 1982, Ch. 1].   

Perhaps, simply put, when we are talking about the will in terms of wilfulness, then, we are speaking of an aspect of our interior life that is self-involved, determined on its own agenda, closed to God.  When we are speaking of the will as a faculty of the soul, then we are usually speaking of it in terms of willingness, as Gerald May describes.  And more, we mean the will as an ally of our reason, giving us an ability to make wise decisions and choices, as well as motivating us to carry them out.

SJC

 

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7 March, Human Will III: The Will and the Emotions.

 

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Let’s explore St. Augustine’s ideas a bit more.  We are trying to understand the will.  In the late fourth and early fifth century, when Augustine lived, the issue at stake with regard to the understanding of the human person would have been a question about the locus of the true self.  Is the true self in the mind, the intellect, the soul’s rational power?  At that time, the answer to this question would probably have been yes.  The self that knows, believes, speculates, reasons would have been considered the self’s core.  But, we have Augustine to thank for shifting this emphasis.  With Augustine, it becomes the morally responsible ‘I’, who loves, fears, struggles and chooses – in other words, the will – that is the centre of the personality and the true self.*  This means that for Augustine, the emotional life is an aspect of the will.

The emotions, however, must be rightly ordered, and not running away with us, helter-skelter, all over the place.  What do I mean?  Perhaps a two-year-old is the best example of emotions that run all over the place.  Whatever the two-year-old wants is what she intends to get, even if it means grabbing a toy from her playmate one minute, with a fierce, ‘Mine!  Gimme!’, and throwing it down the next moment in disgust, ‘Don’t want it!’ and proceeding to an operatic-style tantrum the next moment, and so on.  Although adults usually acquire social skills that cover such emotional chaos, we can often become aware that our emotional life has only become more sophisticated with time, but its two-year-old tendencies are still alive and well within us.

For Augustine, the good news is that the will and the emotions can work not in opposition to each other, but as one.  But there is a requirement here: St. Augustine saw that the will is not able to be healthy, choose rightly or be strong without God.  On the first day of these postings I quoted a prayer attributed to St. Augustine.  In this prayer, he testifies that God is the strength of our will, and the unifier of our emotional life.  If our will is able to be strong, if our emotional life is able to be rightly ordered, it is because we have allowed God into our life – indeed, into our very soul.

*These ideas are explored in a beautiful article by Bonnie Kent, ‘Augustine’s Ethics’, in The Cambridge Companion to Augustine, edited by Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann, Cambridge University Press, 2001.

SJC

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