Tag Archives: Cross

September 17: the Stigmata of Saint Francis

More from the Letters of Fr Andrew SDC, pioneer Anglican Franciscan, 1869-1946.

As you know, the word ‘sacrifice’ … just means the thing that is made holy.

It could not be God’s will to desire a thing because it was painful; no pain, no sorrow, no evil can be His ultimate desire. The pain of sacrifice is for a while: the holiness is for all time.

But for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear … our life here is not only baptised but signed with the Cross. There never was yet an unscarred saint.

WT

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September 15. ‘Jesus beyond Dogma’, XIII: A structural change in the foundations of the world

 cave5

Jesus brought a structural change into the foundations of the world, and he called it the Kingdom. A very grand statement for one who ended up isolated and abandoned, nailed to a cross – with “My God, why have you deserted me?” on his lips.

After three days a most unexpected and unheard of event happened. God raised him up. He came to his disciples, not as one back from biological death, but as one who, though obviously Jesus, showed himself fully transfigured, in whom all the possibilities for the human and the divine were now fully realised. Not the revitalisation of a corpse but a radical transformation of the earthly reality of Jesus, this is what we mean by Resurrection.

Jesus is revealed in a life no longer under threat. The Resurrection is the realisation of his message of total freedom. It is direct evidence of what the Kingdom is meant to be: “Death is swallowed up… Death, where is your sting now?” If Jesus is not risen: “your believing is useless… we are the most unfortunate of people”. But a door has been opened for us into an absolute future, hope is real: God really does have the power to achieve in us what was always promised [this is what Hope means]. Faith cannot be sustained without this, for this is the only foundation of Christian faith.

Historians cannot help much at this level. The Resurrection is not an ordinary historical fact [though it is an historical fact]; since it is a fact available only to faith. No one saw the Resurrection actually happen. What we have are appearances and an empty tomb. On the basis of all these, the disciples came to the conclusion: “The Lord is risen and has appeared to Simon“. If we are to do what Peter recommended: “Have your answer ready for people who ask the reason for your hope“, we should have a brief look at what is involved.

The Gospel does not present the empty tomb as evidence of the Resurrection. Instead of giving rise to faith it caused fear and fright. Mary Magdalene saw it as evidence of theft. For the apostles it was simply rumour. By itself the empty tomb is an ambiguous sign, capable of various interpretations, only one of which might have been Resurrection. It is only with the apparitions that the ambiguity is resolved, and the empty tomb can now become a sign of the Resurrection of Jesus. As such, the empty tomb makes people think, it is no more than an invitation to faith, it is not yet faith, and something more is required.

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He is risen!

The “something more” is provided by an angel: “Jesus of Nazareth is risen, he is not here. See, here is the place where they laid him…” The sepulchre is empty, not because someone has stolen the body, but because he is Risen. This interpretation by the women is held to be a revelation from God. It is expressed in the language of the day as being a message from an angel [God].

What finally got rid of the ambiguity once and for all was the fact that the disciples saw Jesus, spoke with him; they spent time with him and he ate with them. The oldest Resurrection formulation, Chapter 15 of First Corinthians and Acts 2-5., with marked absence of pathos, suggest that these accounts are more than subjective visions, products of the faith of the community, but real and trans-subjective, a witness to something imposed from without and not conjured up from within.

How many apparitions were there? 1Corinthians 15.5. contains 5 apparitions. Mark.16.1. has none, but says that Jesus will be seen in Galilee. Matthew.28.16. refers to one. Luke.24.13. refers to two. John relates three, and all of them happen in Jerusalem! There are two tendencies evident: Mark and Matthew are interested in Galilee; Luke and John concentrate on Jerusalem, emphasising the bodily reality of Jesus and the identity between the Risen Christ and Jesus of Nazareth.

Exegesis tends to show the appearances in Galilee as being historically certain. The appearances in Jerusalem are the same as those in Galilee but transferred for theological reasons to Jerusalem, for in Scripture Jerusalem possesses a unique place in salvation history: “Salvation comes from Sion [Jerusalem]“. Jesus’ death, Easter and Pentecost occurred there.

Details of the appearances: they are described as a real experience of the Jesus they knew. He eats, walks and talks with them, allows himself to be touched. It is so normal that he is confused with a gardener or a stranger on the shore. Alongside this there are strange phenomena too: He appears and disappears; he goes through walls, the bruised and battered state of Friday has gone.

Eventually it was asked: Is the Jesus of glory the same person as Jesus of Nazareth? Assertions are made: Christ is totally transfigured, he is not a spirit, nor an angel. The one who died and was buried is the one who is risen. This is why there is preoccupation with, as well as emphasis on the wounds, and the fact that he ate and drank with them.

This helps clarify things a little: The Resurrection is not a theological treatise put together by an enthusiastic follower. Faith in the Resurrection is the direct consequence of the impact on the apostles of the apparitions of Jesus Risen. Without this they could never even dream of preaching a crucified Lord, itself an abomination to a faithful Jew, without this event there could be no church, no worship in the name of Jesus.

What is being asserted through faith like this is not just that Jesus is risen, but that this says something about the possibility of the total realisation of the whole of creation. This is a scandal to many. The early church proclaimed the significance of the Resurrection for us as hope of a future life; what is now for Christ will be the now for us. The Resurrection makes it possible to read reality very differently: the past, present and future take on a new significance.

Christ told the apostles that they would all lose faith in him. Now all this is changed: they return toaustin faith in him, this time no longer as the Nationalist liberator, but as the “Son of Man”. They believed that the Resurrection began the end times. The language is deliberately Apocalyptic. The end will be the Resurrection of the rest of the human race. The very same Spirit by which Jesus was resurrected is now given to everyone.

AMcC

 

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September 10: Jesus beyond Dogma, VIII. The Doctrine of Original Sin is the doctrine of unnecessary death.

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Dryburgh Abbey

The Doctrine of Original Sin is the doctrine of unnecessary death. Forgiveness is not an external absolution from what we have done or failed to do it penetrates to the very core of who we are, making us able to become what we are receiving. The crucified and risen Christ reveals how wrong we are about God and ourselves with God, not wrong as in mistaken but in such a manner that we can give thanks for the joy of being wrong, and showing the non-essential nature of our mortality.

Chapter 9 of John’s Gospel redefines sin for us, with an understanding worked by Jesus. He was asked about the blind man’s affliction [whose sin was it]. Blindness was believed to be a moral defect, barring the sufferer from sharing cultic life through being unclean. Jesus heals him on the Sabbath – so much for cultic barring – then comes his exclusion. To recognise the cure would mean acknowledging Jesus as coming from God. Instead they become more aggressive in their questioning and finally throw the man out. He had never seen Jesus, his sight only returned when he washed in the pool of Siloam; but his witness increases from saying Jesus is a good man to saying he is a man from God – superior to Moses.

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He comes more aware of Jesus during his exclusion – while the Sadducees are more and more hardened. Jesus says: for judgement I came into the world, so that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind. Jesus has made no judgement as yet – it is by being crucified that he judges his judges. Jesus is the cause of the blind man’s exclusion – which means the blind man shares Jesus’ role as judge of those expelling him. Jesus does not do away with judgement, but with the accepted notion of judgement.

What does this say about sin? The ever increasing history of expulsions culminates on Calvary. As the story begins blindness is seen as a moral defect, making the man ritually unclean. The story finishes with sin clearly in the act of expelling. What the Gospel refers to as the sin of the world is being involved in the work of your father, the devil. Sin is the mechanism of exclusion, and they are blind sinners whoever is complicit in this. There is no problem with the partially blind – they don’t know what they are doing. The sinners are those who are, by choice, part of the exclusion process, claiming to know [see] they are doing God’s work.

Jesus doesn’t abolish sin, rather he identifies it for what it is. Sin is not what excludes [blindness] but the act of excluding by those claiming to see, and are doing God’s work. There has been blindness in the world from the beginning; only now is it identified and shows itself able to be healed – when not blocked by those claiming to know what they are doing and who persist in excluding. Peter excluded Jesus in betraying, but discovered, albeit painfully, that he could be forgiven.

We are all blind about Jesus, the light of the world come to enlighten us. He is rejected by some who, though blind, claim to see what they are doing. When the blindness in which we all share is compounded by actively excluding by any claiming to see – then is it culpable. In this 9th Chapter of John we have at once the world view of sin and the way Jesus has come to heal us of it. Human culture from its very beginning – with Cain and Abel – through our saying no to God is both murderous and mendacious.

This is the insight from the Resurrection. To believe in Jesus is to experience the forgiveness of sin, the risen victim of exclusions is forgiveness. Being wrong can be forgiven through accepting a relationship with forgiveness, it is the insistence on claiming to be right without the relationship that brings us to having no need for forgiveness – I’ve done nothing wrong. I don’t need Jesus!

The first fruits of the Resurrection bring a new way of seeing God, along with a new undersaustintanding of humankind situated within death’s parameters – by our own choosing – prone to exclude in order to justify; but now revealed as capable of forgiveness for any who will accept this new way of seeing. At last, no longer clinging to I believe in God…but discovering how and why God believes in me.

 AMcC

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June 21: Shared Table IV, Bread and Wine?

800px-Caravaggio_-_Cena_in_Emmaus

Herbert McCabe O.P. was always thought-provoking. Nicholas Lash once laid these quotations of Herbert’s before his own readers:

Christ has a better right to appear as food and drink than bread and wine have. The doctrine of transubstantiation, as I see it, is that the bread and wine become more radically food and drink.

I am suggesting that the consecrated host exists at a level of reality at which questions of whether it is bread can not relevantly be asked.

Nicholas Lash, ‘Traveller’s Fare’, New Blackfriars, May 2007, pp129, 131.

Lash warns against the ‘reification’ of Christ in the wheaten host. In other words, I think, we must not see the host as a thing we can call Jesus. Despite the old hymn it does not ‘my very God conceal’, but it reveals him.

It reveals him as humble, as nourishing,  as one  who,

though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:6-8

 MMB.

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20 May: About an Icon.

Croix Rousse large

This is my last blog of the week and I would like to write a little about an icon I have written.

This Croix Rousse was written as a gift for Bishop Chad in Harare, in response to a talk I heard on the persecution of the Christian church there. It took a good eight months to complete and I had never written an icon of the crucifixion before.

There are elements to working with icons that are unexpected – insights; deep feelings; new ways of seeing and in one case, a continual stream of quantum physics (when writing an icon of Elijah!)

Christ’s emaciated body hangs on the cross in a pose of absolute peace and composure. He bears the wounds of the nails and the spear. The vinegar dipped sponge is being hoisted to his lips. Jerusalem is in the background by the bar at his feet and the cross rests on ground where Adam was purported to have been buried. Golgotha, the Place of the Skull.

Mary, Mother of God, weeps by his right hand and John, his favourite, stands at his left. Above his head is the inscription INRI and above that an empty throne with an open Bible and angels around it, awaiting his Resurrection. The Sun and Moon are symbols of the Old and New Testaments and the circle of the cosmos is at the very top. The power of Almighty God.

Iconographers work form dark to light and each pass of the icon is a level of refinement from rough to smooth and more exquisite detail.

During one profound moment before I parted with this gift I looked at the holes in Christ’s hands and for a nanosecond I seemed to be able to travel across the whole of space through a deep black pinprick of emptiness. The holes in his hands have now become a symbol for me as a gateway leading to Christ. Our Franciscan habit of adoring Christ Crucified has taken on a deeper meaning.

CW.

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12 May: Reflection: The river of life

river.monnow. 

I remember spending a week in the house of a friend, on the bank of the river Monnow, in the Welsh borders. The sky arches over rich pastureland and rising hills. As the light of day fades, bats tumble and spin across the darkening sky. And night and day the river runs, playing over the rocks and shaping the land. I remember and am stilled by the sound of that river. The river is movement and presence: always new, yet older by far than I who hear it.

The prophet Ezekiel, writing in exile from his homeland, wrote of another river, flowing from the Temple, the dwelling place of God:

water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple…and it was a river that could not be crossed…This water flows towards the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. Wherever the river flows, every living creature that swarms will live…everything will live where the river goes. On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food…their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing.

  Ezekiel 47

The river of the life of God brings life to the place of death and decay; it is always creative, fruitful and medicinal.

Perhaps one way of thinking about the incarnation is as the pouring out of the life of God into all being like Ezekiel’s river. This river of the Word made flesh flows not only through green pastures but desert places, and because of the river, barren wastelands live. Because of Christ’s life, suffering, dying and rising there is no place of human struggle and despair where the river of hope will not and does not flow. This does not mean that we do not continue to experience pain, or no longer struggle to make sense of suffering. Christ still feels the pain of nails in his hands and the rejection of those who had been his followers; yet Christ is also risen, the tombstone rolled definitively away. In the Gospel of John, as Jesus dies, blood and water flow from his side. This moment of death is also the outpouring of life. A river flows.

The river always runs, and we are caught up in its flow; more than this, through the gift of God we discover this same river flowing within us. As Jesus told the Samaritan woman:

If only you knew what God is offering…you would have been the one to ask, and he would have given you living water…Whoever drinks this water will get thirsty again; but anyone who drinks the water that I shall give will never be thirsty again; the water that I shall give will turn into a spring within, welling up to eternal life.

John 4: 10-14

It was at night, when the last sheep call faded into the twilight, and the earth stilled that I heard most clearly the river running. Not that it wasn’t always flowing, but the sounds of the day, and the noise of my own activity prevented me from hearing it clearly. There are moments in the world of here and now when we hear the river flowing within all things and know this same river is the source of our own being, becoming and giving.

The river flows from the Temple of God, and sometimes, sometimes even at night, we hear it running. Wherever the river flows, through our own meanness and narrowness of heart, through the pain of loss or cruelty of others, unexpected trees grow with fruit for healing: – for our own easing, and to be shared with others.

CC.

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11 May: Getting in the Way

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There are times when life doesn’t go our way. We make plans, and unanticipated events unmake them. It can be as simple as a delayed train, or as devastating as sudden ill health. We are going along, with some idea at least of what shape our day might take, or what form our life might take, but then everything unravels in the face of something we didn’t expect. We are left asking, ‘Where am I? Where do I go now?’

The unexpected happening gets in the way. If it’s a pleasant surprise we’re happy to be diverted, but even then we might feel a little thrown. But when something painful, difficult or threatening crashes in, we can be shaken to the core, bewildered by the turn of events and left with no clear sense of our bearings. I remember sitting down on a London bus and looking up to see the notice by the door: ‘NO WAY OUT’…not the sort of message you hope to receive when life feels uncertain!

There is another sense in which we sense something or someone stands in our way. We have a good intention, even one we sense comes as gift of the Spirit; but we also see an obstacle and it seems formidable. Perhaps it’s about finding work that is meaningful and makes a difference but the jobs don’t seem to be there. Or perhaps we sense we have something to give but doubt that it will be valued by others. Or perhaps it is a persistent call we sense to place our daily life more deeply in God, but we can’t seem to find the time or the means to pray.

Seeing the barrier on our mental map we might not even begin the journey. Or when we walk right up to it and see its size and hear its noise we might give up the task for hopeless. But what if the pull to make the journey continues to be strong? And what if this desire seems to come not just from our self-will but from some inner place where God’s Spirit dwells? Then we might be willing to go on walking trusting that in time we will arrive. But where will this arrival point be? It might be the place we imagined or somewhere entirely different and surprising. God knows.

I recently went for a walk, having planned my route on a map showing all the footpaths, I knew where I wanted to get to. But what stood in the way was a busy dual carriageway. The map showed a footpath running up to its edge and another starting on the other side immediately opposite. There had to be an underpass or a bridge… There wasn’t…

I understood how Moses and the Egyptians must have felt when faced by the waters of the Red Sea. There are no zebra crossings on motorways…

I might have turned back, but the lure of the destination was strong, and so I trudged along the road’s noisy edge for a long mile, searching for a crossing point and finally – when almost at the point of giving up – reached a turning that took me to the other side. I wasn’t on the path I first thought of but now new possibilities for the journey opened up for me. This, rather than the route I had imagined in the beginning, was now my path.

Jesus says, ‘I am the Way’. The Way moves on from where we are, and not from some other place. We don’t know where in detail it will lead us, but it will lead us somewhere. The obstacles we perceive are not barriers to this way; in Jesus they become the Way. All that has happened to us is part of the Way. All that might happen in the future – wanted or not – will also takes its place within the Way. Our part is to pluck up our courage and take hold of our desire and walk: a Way has to be travelled.

This Way might not after all, follow the path we envisaged and may not lead to the destination we imagined. But a Way that can lead someone through the dead ends of betrayal, ridicule and death on a cross, and yet lead to unbounded risen life, is always to be trusted.

CC.

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9 May: Letting go and letting God

open-hands-prayer

Whether we are seeking to grow in prayer, or become free of what we have come to recognise as life-diminishing ways of acting or thinking, or to know what it is God wants us to do, it is in letting go that we make room for God. It is the Spirit that roots and grounds us in God, draws us into wholeness and guides us along the way that leads to life. If we try too hard, believing that it is only through the sheer force of our will and effort that change can happen, we leave little room for God. Everything is gift.

However ‘letting go’ is in itself a work, for our natural inclination tends towards keeping life in our minute control, depending entirely on our own resources rather than being open to another’s help, and bringing about change by the strength of our will and endeavour. To go against this instinct for self-sufficiency and self-definition can feel daunting; yet we let go not into nothingness but to ‘let God’ be active in our lives. In doing so we find that we too are alive in a way we have never been before.

  • Put a stone in your hand to represent what you desire to let go to God.
  • Place a candle or cross nearby to symbolize the place of letting go.
  • Use the reflection below may help you to identify what you want to put in God’s hands:

We let go to God our regrets about the past – the choices we have made however we now feel about them, whatever has happened to us for good and for harm. God is in the place where we are, however we got there.

We let go to God our anxiety about the future. We cannot control what is in essence beyond our control – instead of torturing ourselves with fears that begin ‘what if…’ we let go to God who will always be alongside us in ‘what is’.

We let go to God what hurts. True we cannot switch off our painful feelings; they flow into our lives, but if we do not cling to them they will flow from us again, carried in the stream of God’s presence and care.

We let go to God our resentment. Even though the anger may not die down in our hearts we consent not to hold on to our need to get even; we give to God to heal what we cannot heal by ourselves

We let go to God our need to be good enough. God gives freely what we can never earn. We are valued, loved and believed in as we are.

We let go to God our desire for growth. It is God who continues to create us and who works to make us whole.

We let go to God the choices we face today. Though we do not know what to do, as we choose to listen, God will lead us along the unseen way.

We let go into God’s working: We consent to be drawn this day into the stream of God’s life: to become the activity of Love in that part of the world that is ours.

  • As you sense something you want to let go to let God, put down your stone by the candle or cross.
  • There may be feelings you need to share with God before you feel ready to let go: fears, hopes, doubts, desires or pains. You may sense you are not ready yet to let go and let God in this area of your life. If so, let go at whatever level you are able to today, with your ambivalent feelings and doubts.
  • You will probably find that on another day you will need to let go in this area all over again. Letting go is rarely a ‘done deal’; it is a process where little by little we allow God to become the source of our life.

 

CC.

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6 May: Confidence in God’s Mercy.

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The beach at Rye Harbour.

The writer Radclyffe Hall was a parishioner at the Franciscan parish of St Anthony, Rye and donated its great crucifix. Let her short verses contemplating God’s Mercy be our introduction to tomorrow’s Good Shepherd Sunday.

Confidence

The faintness of my heart
When strife and evil rose,
The worse and lesser part
Which it for ever chose,
God knows.

The passions that have bound
My soul with chains of earth.
The sorrows that have found
Their home with me since birth.
The dearth

Of all these nobler things
That make existence fair,
The stain of sin that clings
Until we cease to caremercy.carving. (328x640)

For prayer,

All this must I atone:

And though eternal woes
My banished soul alone
Must bear without repose,
Yet I am not afraid
To know God knows. 

This is the prayer of a lost sheep who knows she is lost but wants to be found. The tension building towards the last couplet is resolved in the person of the child of Bethlehem, the crucified, risen Lord; the God who knows our humanity from the inside. He is the Good Shepherd who knows us and is ready to carry us home.

MMB

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April 23, 2017: Be Grateful to Thomas!

Last Easter – well last Low Sunday – we visited Plowden, a small country church which would have been crowded if seventy people had gathered there. It was comfortably full, and comfortably friendly.

The priest, Fr David, was a visitor as well. If his homily had been written down, I would have published it here, but he said that he prepares his homilies and then lets them flow, hoping that the Holy Spirit can get a word in edgeways.

Well, the Spirit made an impression. One thing I will share. I paraphrase, wishing I could have recorded Fr David’s every word:

Saint John wrote for us, knowing that a different sort of Faith would be needed after Jesus had gone. We should be grateful to him for showing the disciples not understanding Jesus, betraying him – except John himself who stood by the Cross to the end. And we should be grateful to Thomas for his doubts – people do not come back to life, do they? Saint John tells us what we need to hear, that the twelve, whom Jesus had trained up for three years, doubted, let him down.

But Jesus came back, smiling, with no recriminations, just ‘Peace be with you’, and ‘touch my wounds.’

+  +  +  +  +

And those are two excellent mottos for our task of spreading the Good News.

MMB.

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