Tag Archives: Creator God

January 28, Review: Extreme Pilgrim

Letters from an Extreme Pilgrim: Reflections on Life, Love and the Soul

Does sitting in one place qualify as being a pilgrim? Perhaps it does if you are a Sussex vicar, and that sitting place is a grotto in the Egyptian desert, home to hermits, monks and nuns since the earliest days of the Church.

Peter Owen Jones borrowed the cave of Father Lazarus, forty-five minutes’ walk from the cell of Saint Anthony, first of the Desert Fathers, to ‘live a very strict life of prayer, eating only one full meal a day.’ (p. ix) And part of this life of prayer was the writing of letters to people who helped make him the man he is today.

These include our would-be master and prince of this world, Satan, who rules by fear. Owen Jones’s signing off with, ‘all my love, Peter’, suddenly makes sense if we remember that ‘perfect love casts out fear’ (1John4:19).

Many things seem to have made sense when seen from the perspective of the desert, though at times a sense beyond logical thought, a sense of wonder. What was it you went out to see? A memory of a hedge sparrow’s (or dunnock’s) nest, described in a letter to God.

As you know, for their nests they weave  grass and hair precisely into a small deep bowl, which they line with moss to the point where it shines. And there they were  four varnished blue eggs sitting in this deep smooth green … we were both in a state of wonder and whilst I was alone, I realised I wasn’t alone – you were there in that state of wonder, you were present.’  (p45)

To his adoptive father he writes, ‘It was only when your eldest granddaughter was about three years old that I realised that being a father was something separate: it is a love all of its own’ (p15)

What did you go out to see? A good deal of seeing, of realising, is recorded in this little book. Every chapter represents a challenge that Owen-Jones faced; a chance to realise how other people had influenced his life for better or worse, and to accept himself, his own mortality as well as the loss of family and friends.

My wife read Letters from an Extreme Pilgrim through and enjoyed it almost before I had brought it into the house. I know who I will pass it on to. She’ll have it in time for Lent, and so will you if you buy on line now.

WT

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16 January: Thomas Traherne XXV, a little Heaven in the creatures.

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Entering thus far into the nature of the sun, we may see a little Heaven in the creatures.

Were all the earth filthy mires, or devouring quicksands, firm land would be an unspeakable treasure. Were it all beaten gold it would be of no value. It is a treasure therefore of far greater value to a noble spirit than if the globe of the earth were all gold. A noble spirit being only that which can survey it all, and comprehend its uses.

The air is better being a living miracle as it now is than if it were crammed and filled with crowns and sceptres. The mountains are better than solid diamonds, and those things which scarcity maketh jewels (when you enjoy these) are yours in their places. Why should you not render thanks to God for them all?

You are the Adam or the Eve that enjoy them. Why should you not exult and triumph in His love who hath done so great things for you? Why should you not rejoice and sing His praises? Learn Adam&Eve (391x640)to enjoy what you have first, and covet more if you can afterwards.

Meditations 2:12

Adam and Eve had been given all that was in the garden, except that they might not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, covetable though it was.

How long does the pleasure last when we get hold of the riches or other things we desire? 

We like the idea of the living air, so we’ll return to Thomas Traherne, since his reflections challenge as well as please us; apologies that we left it so long since last time.

Will T

Images: NASA; stone at Dryburgh Abbey, Scottish Borders, MMB.

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15 January: Thomas Traherne XXIV, Did the Sun stand still …

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Did the Sun stand still that you might have perpetual day, you would not know the sweetness of repose: the delightful vicissitudes of night and day, the early sweetness and spring of the morning, the perfume and beauty in the cool of the evening, would all be swallowed up in meridian splendour: all which now entertain you with delights.

The antipodes would be empty, perpetual darkness and horror there, and the Works of God on the other side of the world in vain.

Meditations 2:9

Traherne anticipates Pope Francis in this reflection, or should I say he brings to mind Saint Francis and his Canticle of Creation. Difficult, now, to say whether he knew that text, but he invites us to join all creatures of our God and King and sing his praises. Take time to absorb his way of speaking and let the light sink in.

 

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14 January: Thomas Traherne XXIII, more glorious than millions of Angels

sunrise.sjc

[The sun] raiseth corn to supply you with food, it melteth waters to quench your thirst, it infuseth sense into all your members, it illuminates the world to entertain you with prospects, it surroundeth you with the beauty of hills and valleys. It moveth and laboureth night and day for your comfort and service; it sprinkleth flowers upon the ground for your pleasure; and in all these things sheweth you the goodness and wisdom of a God that can make one thing so beautiful, delightful and serviceable, having ordained the same to innumerable ends.

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It concocteth minerals, raiseth exhalations, begetteth clouds, sendeth down the dew and rain and snow, that refresheth and repaireth all the earth. And is far more glorious in its diurnal motion, than if there were two suns to make on either side a perpetual day: the swiftness whereby it moves in twenty-four hours about so vast an universe manifesteth the power and care of a Creator, more than any station or quiet could do.

And producing innumerable effects it is more glorious, than if millions of Angels diversly did do them.

Century 2.8

 

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11 January: Thomas Traherne XX: the world opens his nature.

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The Services which the world doth you, are transcendent to all imagination. Did it only sustain your body and preserve your life and comfort your senses, you were bound to value it as much as those services were worth: but it discovers the being of God unto you, it opens His nature, and shews you His wisdom, goodness and power, it magnifies His love unto you, it serves Angels and men for you, it entertains you with many lovely and glorious objects, it feeds you with joys, and becomes a theme that furnishes you with perpetual praises and thanksgivings, it enflameth you with the love of God, and in the link of your union and communion with Him. It is the temple wherein you are exalted to glory and honour, and the visible porch or gate of Eternity: a sure pledge of Eternal joys, to all them that walk before God and are perfect in it.

From the Second Century of Meditations, 1. (Meditations 2:1)

This meditation follows on well from yesterday’s poem: those bubbles of joy may take us to Eden, but they are fed to us by the world in which we have been created.

Let us reflect on how we can make this Porch of Eternity in which we live more transparent to the eternal joys that the God who walks with us is waiting to pour out for us.  WT.

Goatsbeard seed head, a sphere of joy, a lovely and glorious object.

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16 December: His saving hope.

hands pray dove

This is one of those pictures that say a thousand words. It is in Saint David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire. Last time we were there, one of the canons was addressing a group of schoolchildren in Welsh, but this sculpture could speak in any language including its own.

Try holding your hands that way, and you’ll see that if they belong to one person, it is the viewer, and the dove is looking you in the eye; and the dove is symbolic of the Holy Spirit. Of course, for the vast majority of us, for the overwhelming proportion of our time, we do not see such a sign of God when we pray. Is it all wishful thinking? Paul addressed the question in his letter to the Romans (8:24-28).

We are saved by hope. But hope that is seen, is not hope. For what a man seeth, why doth he hope for? But if we hope for that which we see not, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings. And he that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what the Spirit desireth; because he asketh for the saints according to God. And we know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints.

Instead of racking our brains for the right words to pray with, let the Spirit utter our feelings and desires – the hopes and fears of all our years.

Between gurgles, crying, eye contact and all body movements, my new grandson conveys his needs and desires efficiently enough for his adults to jump to meet them. He prays as he ought, to make known his hopes, needs and love.

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13 December: You have to help me IV.

nightwarsaw

Winter meant it was dark at 5.00, but the letter to Mrs Turnstone Senior needed to catch the post. Would Abel like to help with that? Of course: warm coat, wellingtons, and we were ready to face the night.

There was a red light next to the box: the postman was there, waiting to empty it; Abel urged grandad to be quick, so quick we reached the box before the postman got out. He said he was waiting till the right time to open the door. So we waited.

Open the sack,find the right key, open the big door, then the little one at the bottom of the cage; scoop out the mail, shut the inner door, shake down the bag so no letters spill. And then:

This is where you have to help me! Can you push the big door really hard for me, so it goes bang? Put your hands there and mind your fingers, 1, 2, 3, bang! And the door locked itself.

That of course made Abel’s evening. ‘Thank-you’s all round, and something to tell Mummy.

postbox.clitheroe

We are privileged to help our Creator in many ways that engage our gifts and enthuse us. We may well go back home and share the joy we had in doing God’s work, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking it’s our efforts that matter most in the big scheme of things, what we used to call God’s Plan.

But Abel did post the letter, and he did slam the door tight shut. We each have our vocation which is basically to tell people they are loved by God and by us, which latter may be easier to absorb. We can write a letter,  send an email, smile, sweep the damp leaves off the street, accompany grandad to the postbox … As the Father might well say, you have to help me!

It was a much bigger box than this, and Queen Elizabeth, not Victoria.

 

 

 

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23 November: The King VII, Jesus.

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Should we understand Pilate’s question as a signal that he is now ready to listen? I don’t think so. Had Jesus detected even a hint of sincere open-mindedness in Pilate, he would have responded to it. But now, he is too weak and Pilate’s question about Jesus’ origin is far too big. Jesus remains silent. Pilate is not accustomed to such treatment and chooses this moment to remind Jesus of his power over him – once again, the power fixation – ‘Are you refusing to speak to me? Surely you know that I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you.

Even in the extreme weakness of his physical condition, Jesus cannot allow these ill-conceived words to stand uncorrected. He somehow manages to dredge up the strength to find breath and say, ‘You would have no power over me at all if it had not been given to you from above; that is why the one who handed me over to you has the greater guilt’ (John 19: 11). Another highly enigmatic statement which would have seemed incomprehensible to Pilate – and maybe seems so to us, too. When Jesus says that Pilate’s power over him is ‘given from above’, what does he mean?

Jesus’ statements are always multi-layered. Each time we reread scripture prayerfully we can find new depths in Jesus’ words. This statement is one of his most profound utterances. I would like to pause for a moment to consider its implications. Here, Jesus is saying an enormous amount in very few words. What Pilate understood by them cannot be ascertained, but we ourselves can reflect on them. We can recall that in John’s gospel, ‘from above’ refers to God, the Father and creator of all; it refers to the origin and perfection of all that exists and of all that is truly good and loving. This God, whose very being is goodness and love, cannot will what is evil. And, clearly, Jesus’ execution and all that led up to it, including Pilate’s complicity with the forces of darkness, is evil. The Father did not will this particular evil, or any other evil. But he does will human freedom – with the consequence that human beings are free to love God and each other, and to create or respond to all that is good and true in the world. Love is only love when it is given freely. But, by this same freedom, the human person can conceive the convoluted and tragic structures of sin – hatred, jealousy, slander, falsehood, murder, death, and so much more. The political power wielded by Pilate is part of the complex working out of human freedom on a world scale.

We can also reflect that Jesus knew that his mission was to confront, single-handed, sin and death at its source in a titanic battle against Satan. He understood its demands profoundly, and accepted it absolutely. He never shirked his mission*; he walked resolutely towards it, foreseeing and predicting that the consequences of his teachings and of his very presence in the world would lead to this moment he was now undergoing. He knew that, in fact, his mission was one with his very identity. He gave himself completely to it, holding back nothing, out of his unfathomable love for his Father and for the whole human race. This is why Jesus could say that Pilate’s power had been ‘given from above’ – inasmuch as Pilate was an unwitting instrument of the salvation of the human race.

Jesus’ words to Pilate, however, tell us here that, in Jesus’ estimation, Pilate plays only a very small part in a drama of cosmic proportions – ‘given from above’. And, once again, Jesus pays Pilate the profound compliment of interpreting Pilate in the best possible light, when he tells Pilate that the one who handed him over ‘has the greater guilt,’ for Pilate is the quintessential pawn, not merely of the Roman government and the hysteria of the Jewish authorities baying for his execution, but of the entire history of human evil, culminating in the pathetic, confused, self-absorbed political manoeuvres Pilate was trying to make with regard to Jesus. Jesus sees that Pilate is not fully to blame for his actions. His spiritual blindness and his preoccupation with power are moral failings that he has inherited from the human condition time out of mind. But, Jesus also wants to make it clear to Pilate that Pilate’s so called power is the power of a minnow as compared to a whale. It is no power. Pilate’s threats are only a tiny factor in the greater pattern of primordial evil that Jesus has been confronting all his life, and in his divine nature he would ultimately overthrow it, like a great whale overturning the whaling vessel and the crew that is trying to harpoon it. God’s infinite power ‘from above’ will turn evil on its head through Jesus. He is able to, and will, bring good out of what seems to have fallen completely beyond the furthest reach of goodness, for God’s arm is longer still. Indeed, it will reach into Jesus’ very tomb.

Probably all of this is way beyond what Pilate could consciously grasp. But, clearly, something came home to him, for the other gospels indicate that Pilate is thoroughly shaken now and wants to put as much space between himself and this intense and enigmatic preacher as he can. In Matthew’s account Pilate, at this point, publicly washes his hands of Jesus and of the whole situation. But in the gospel of John, Pilate continues to interact with the crowd, bringing Jesus out again before them, broken and bleeding. Pilate’s action elicits only an intensification of mob-hysteria, as they scream for Jesus’ execution. Again, Pilate challenges them: ‘Shall I crucify your king?’ They answer with the blatant hypocrisy Jesus had challenged in them repeatedly throughout his ministry: ‘We have no king but Caesar!’

And Pilate gives up. There is nothing for a politician to do but appease this group, give them what they seem to want and hope they will go away and give him less trouble in the future. And Pilate is first and last a politician. He orders Jesus to be taken away and crucified.

*The other gospels tell of Jesus’ agony in the garden of Gethsemane – but this is not a ‘shirking’ of his mission. Rather, it shows the reality of Jesus’ suffering, and of his human psyche instinctively recoiling from an excruciating death. But, through his prayerful communion with his Father, Jesus received the strength he needed to carry on.

SJC

 

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8 October: Mary Webb’s Franciscan generosity.

Mary_webb

The poet Henry Moult, in his biography of Mary Webb, describes her nature mysticism as ‘pagan’. I feel ‘Franciscan’ would be better; certainly she was Franciscan in her generosity. Moult shares the testimony of relatives:

‘Her charity often did more credit to her heart than her head, for she gave extravagantly, with an abandon which sometimes left her own real necessities unsupplied … A friend of Mary’s said: ‘She might have twenty pounds in the morning, and hardly ten shillings at night.’ (Ten shillings became 50p)

‘Whatever was asked of her by those who sought her help she joyously supplied.’

Moult quotes a friend telling how she asked the Shropshire village children what they would like for Christmas, and a farm labourer’s daughter ‘ambitious as well as presumptuous’ and no doubt unaware of the monetary value, asked for a piano, and received it. Let’s hope she learnt to play! Another time a windfall came her way, which she used to send a sick child and his family out of their single room in London’s East End to the coast in Essex.

Any attempt, says Moult, to explain her ‘chivalrous actions’ would be ‘as futile as to seek an explanation why St Francis devoted so much of his affection to the birds.’

I suggest that the actions of Mary Webb, like those of Saint Francis, were not chivalrous. Francis, after all, renounced his ambition to become a knight, he embraced poverty. Mary Webb’s generosity was not a matter of noblesse oblige, but stemmed from the sympathy with poor people that pervades her novels. Both of them loved Creation and the Creator; both loved their fellow human beings. There is the explanation for their generosity and their mysticism.

Mary Webb died this day in 1927.

 

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4 October, the Franciscans come to Mount Alvernia, VII: Welcome, Francis!

dec 23 pic birds in flight4bc7872c090c71da62a65f182c7c3ff1

And when that they were come about halfway up the mountain, as the heat was very great and the ascent was weary, the peasant became very thirsty, in such sort that he began to cry aloud behind Saint Francis, saying : “ Woe is me, for I die of thirst; if I find not something to drink, I shall choke outright.” Wherefore Saint Francis got down off the ass and fell on his knees in prayer and remained so long kneeling with his hands lifted up to heaven, until he knew by revelation that God had heard his prayer. Then said Saint Francis to the peasant; “Run quickly to that rock, and there shalt thou find the living water, which Jesu Christ in this hour, of His mercy, hath made to come forth from out that rock.” So he ran to the place that Saint Francis had shown him, and found a fair spring that had been brought out of the hard rock by virtue of the prayer of Saint Francis: and he drank his fill thereof and was comforted.

And it doth well appear that this spring was brought out by God in miraculous fashion at the prayers of Saint Francis, seeing that neither before nor after was there ever seen in that place a spring of water, nor any living water near to that place for a great space round. This done, Saint Francis with his companions and the peasant gave thanks unto God for the miracle shown forth to them, and then went they on their way.

And as they drew near to the foot of the rock of Alvernia itself, it pleased Saint Francis to rest a little under the oak that was by the way, and is there to this day; and as he stood under it, Saint Francis began to take note of the situation of the place and of the country round. And as he was thus gazing, lo! there came a great multitude of birds from divers parts, the which, with singing and flapping of their wings, all showed joy and gladness exceeding great, and came about Saint Francis in such fashion that some settled on his head, some on his shoulders, and some on his arms, some in his lap, and some around his feet.

When his companions and the peasant marvelled, beholding this, Saint Francis, joyful in spirit, spake thus unto them: “I believe, brothers most dear, that it is pleasing unto our Lord Jesu Christ that we should dwell in this lonely mountain, seeing that our little Sisters and brothers the birds show such joy at our coming. And said these words, they arose, and went on their way and came at last to the place that his companions had first chosen. And this is the first reflection, to wit, how Saint Francis came to the holy mount of Alvernia.

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