Tag Archives: eternity

October 25, May we find Christ walking with us: II. On the way to church.

pilgrimsindunes (2) (800x342)

walking together – a chapel lies just over the hill

 

Sometimes we meet up with a friend on the way to Church for Mass. She tends to be bursting to tell us about her past week and her hopes for the week to come. On the way home she helps carry the food bank donations to be taken to the depot later in the week.

Listening to her talk about work, family and friends, and sharing our news; not the sort of preparation for Mass that would have been approved by those who taught me in primary school. As Christopher Chapman said on May 13, ‘The Christianity many of us grew up with was not big on laughs.’ But fellowship is part of the story; not just being in a big room together, performing the same actions, mouthing the same words, for an hour once a week.

In fact, here and now, fellowship is the story for all the other hours in the week. I may be sitting here alone, miss-typing this post; you may be in your armchair, on the train to work, scrolling through your messages. But together, even at a distance of time and space.

When we get to Church we are together with writers from two or three thousand years ago, as we can be in front of our screens with Bible Gateway and other sites. But that is to bring us together with the Eternal, in eternity. Listening to our friend talk about work, family and friends, and sharing our news as we walk; that is the sort of preparation for Mass that makes sense to me. Did not the Lord walk with Cleophas and his companion, talking of their news, hopes and fears, before they finally knew him in the breaking of bread?

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22 October: Readings from Mary Webb, XII: Time as the Shadow of Eternity.

 

trees-reflection-chris Near Bateman’s Sussex (National Trust)

When we look down into the blueness of some little pool, rejoicing in the birdlike passage of the clouds, and then look up to the wide sky, we realise that the finite is like a lake which, as far as its capacity allows, mirrors the infinite; and when we see the foreshortened image of a poplar stretched in pale colouring beneath it, we have a sudden vision of time as the faint, straitened shadow of eternity.

Reflections in a pool give rise to a reflection in Agnellus Mirror, 100 years since Mary Webb published Springs of Joy, from which this week’s thoughts are taken.

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3 October: The Transitus of Saint Francis

On the Eve of Saint Francis’ Day, his daughters and sons gather to honour his transitus – his passing from this world to Eternity with the God he loved. There is no fixed rite for this celebration, but this is the one I have joined in at the Franciscan International Study Centre in recent years. It was adapted by Sister Clare, now the Superior General of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Littlehampton. She has arranged it for different speakers, but feel free to adapt it to suit your group, or just to read it alone.

MMB.

Thank you Clare!

The service took place in the evening, in a darkened chapel. A Franciscan habit was spread on the floor before the altar, surrounded by candles. One candle would suffice to read this by at home.

candle

Transitus of St. Francis

(n1, n2, CANTOR, LEADER)

1.      [Narrator 1] At this time Francis was staying in the palace of the Bishop of Assisi, and he therefore asked the brothers to take him as quickly as possible to the place of St. Mary of the Portiuncula. For he wished to give back his soul to God in that place where, as has been said, he first knew the way of truth perfectly.

2.      [N 2] Then blessed Francis, despite the overpowering burden of his sickness, praised the Lord in a great joyful outburst of body and soul, saying to his companion: “Since I must soon die, have Brother Angel and Brother Leo come and praise our Sister Death for me.” Both arrived and, forcing back their tears, sang the “Canticle of Brother Sun” and of the other creatures, which the saint had composed during his sickness for the glory of God and for the consolation of his soul and of that of the others.

Antiphon: 

Cantor: Alleluia
Francis, poor and humble, enters heaven rich and is welcomed with celestial hymns.
Alleluia

1Most High, all-powerful, good Lord,

Yours are the praises, the glory, and the honour, and all blessing,

2To You alone, Most High, do they belong,

and no human is worthy to mention Your name.

3Praised be You, my Lord, with all Your creatures,

especially Sir Brother Sun,

Who is the day and through whom You give us light.

4And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour;

and bears a likeness of You, Most High One.

5Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,

in heaven You formed them clear and precious and beautiful.

6Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,

and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather,

through whom You give sustenance to Your creatures.

7Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,

who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.

8Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire.

through whom You light the night,

and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

9Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth,

who sustains and governs us,

and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs.

10Praised be You, my Lord, through those who give pardon for Your love,

and bear infirmity and tribulation.

11Blessed are those who endure in peace

for by You, Most High, shall they be crowned.

12Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death,

from whom no one living can escape.

13Woe to those who die in mortal sin.

Blessed are those whom death will find in Your most holy will,

for the second death shall do them no harm.

14Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks

and serve Him with great humility.1

All:

Alleluia
Francis, poor and humble, enters heaven rich and is welcomed with celestial hymns.
Alleluia

3.      [N 1] While therefore the brothers were weeping very bitterly and grieving inconsolably, the holy father commanded that bread be brought to him. He blessed and broke it and gave a small piece of it to each one to eat. Commanding also that a book of the Gospels be brought, he asked that the Gospel according to St. John be read to him from the place that begins: “Before the feast of the Passover.” He was recalling that most holy supper which the Lord celebrated as his last supper with his disciples. He did all of this in reverent memory of that supper, showing thereby the deep love he had for his brothers. John 13:1-17 

4.      [N 2] Then Francis spent the few days that remained before his death in praise, teaching his companions whom he loved so much to praise Christ with him. He himself, in as far as he was able broke forth in this psalm, “I cried to the Lord with my voice: with my voice I made supplication to the Lord.” He also invited all creatures to praise God. He exhorted death itself, terrible and hateful to all, to give praise, and going joyfully to meet it, he invited it to make its lodging with him. 

5.      [N 1] Francis then said to the brothers: “When you see that I am brought to my last moments, place me naked upon the ground just as you saw me the day before yesterday; and let me lie there after I am dead for the length of time it takes one to walk a mile unhurriedly.” The hour therefore came, and all the mysteries of Christ being fulfilled in him, he winged his way happily to God.

LEADER: Hail, holy father, light of your country, model of your friars,  mirror of virtue, path of rectitude, rule of conduct. From this exile of the flesh, lead us to the realms above.

ALL: Poor and humble Francis enters Heaven laden with riches.

LEADER: We pray to God our Father in the words Jesus himself taught us … Our Father who art in Heaven…

Let us pray. O God, Who this day gave to the soul of our holy father Francis the reward of everlasting bliss, be pleased to grant that we who, with loving hearts celebrate the memory of his departure, may deserve to obtain the same happiness for our reward. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

End of Transitus. [Quiet music: while all depart]

1Francis, The Canticle of the Creatures, FA:ED, vol, 1, pp. 113-4.

FMSL

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September 4. ‘Jesus beyond Dogma’, 2: Living God

Harrowhell

Jesus saves each one from Hell.

According to the Parable of the lost sheep – Luke.15.3 – mercy is not shown to the group but to the lost member, the excluded. Mercy is changed from our ways – covering up violence, to something that exposes it. In God there are no outsiders, and any mechanism that would create outsiders is shown to be purely human, having nothing of God in it.

This is the new perception. When Jesus debated with the Sadducees – who deny the resurrection – Mark.12.18; Matthew22.23; Luke.20.27 – we discover how Jesus sees God. They hold that if there was resurrection God would have told Moses and it would have been written into the Pentateuch. It isn’t there, so it didn’t happen. Deuteronomy speaks of the obligation of a brother to marry his dead brother’s widow – if he died childless – and have children to ensure posterity, the only way of getting round death.

Jesus turns to their ignorance of the power of God. At first glance his answer seems to have no reference to the Resurrection: I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – Lk.20.37 quoting Exodus.3.6. He is saying who God is – God is totally alive, has nothing to do with death and seems to be saying to Moses he is the God of three dead men. Jesus isn’t speaking of a special power to do something miraculous, like raising from the dead. Living is who God is – completely and eternally alive without any reference to death. What seems obvious to us – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are a long time dead – cannot be so for God in whom there is no death. For us, being alive means not being dead – for God death is not, and nothing can be contrasted with it, as it can for us.

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For Jesus God is alive always – I am does not mean I exist, but I am fully alive and ever present. His adversaries did not share this awareness. When he said you are very much mistaken, he wasn’t saying you have made a mistake – but your whole perception is wrong because it is influenced by death, and this is part of the human condition.

Paul was heavily involved in persecuting Christians and would have sided readily with the Sadducees. He came to know that being mistaken is not the lot of the few, but of all of us. Being mistaken in this way led him – and us too – into finger-pointing, blaming and even killing through ill-formed rivalries, simply to keep the system clean: It is good that one should die for the sake of the nation – Caiaphas John.18.14. In Chapter One of Romans – we have become futile in our thinking with darkened hearts; and in Chapter Two he says whoever dares judge others judge themselves. Excluding, eliminating is the action of futile minds and senseless hearts.

We are all greatly mistaken – Jesus came to tell us, and help us believe that God is entirely different from what we imagine. The Good News is not just about Jesus; not even about the Resurrection, nor how we should behave – it is about the nearness of God who is I am here for you. No matter whether I am there for God or not, God is always there for me: God loves me; will never stop loving me; and loves me exactly as I am! No conditions apply – never I will love you if you turn away from sin, or if you keep and commandments, or if you go to Church… no preconditions. Once I am able to be still and know this – all the rest will happen – or not; that depends on me.

We can’t see who God is, not because we are stupid, but because our minds and imagining are darkened – never is it change your behaviour and see God – rather, see God and all else follows. Jesus was able to say all this to the Sadducees because his mind and imagining was free and crystal clear, he did not share that condition we all share which Paul referred to: how is it I cannot do what I would like to do, and always do what I would prefer not to do – Romans.7.15. Paul also tells us how to get there – who will rescue me from this wretched condition, thanks be to God Christ Jesus – Romans.7.24. When this happens we will know what he meant by: I live now not I, but Christ lives in me­ – Gal.2.20. Jesus said what he said not because he is divine, but because he is fully human – made to receive the presence of God as God is.

Jesus possessed this imagination before he suffered and died – and the disciples had difficulty in following his teaching, as he said they would: this you cannot understand now, but later you will – John.13.7; 1Corinthians 2.16. It was through his imagination being fixed on God that he could move towards death without being moved by death: For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God – Hebrews 12.2.

Not so the disciples who, like us see death as the stumbling block. If life is to be eternal, something has to happen to death. If Jesus was killed, he must have done something against the Law. We are very much Job’s comforters.

But if God has nothing to do with death, then death is merely a cultural reality with no reflection on what I’ve done or who I am. Goodness cannot be defined by death. See what has happened when someone executed by the death system, apparently punished by God, appears alive beyond death. This is what the disciples were facing. God’s plan for the undoing of death in Jesus happened because his imagination is untarnished by death and so could extend through it and beyond it.

This is the new perception of God they were receiving – one which Jesus always had, even before his death. Human attempts to define God are wrong as also any attempt to shape moral life by those hemmed-in by death. Jesus began teaching this to them, but at the time it was beyond their understanding and would be until confronted by the Resurrection.

He spoke about the sun shining on the good and the bad, as also the rainfall. God is beyond the sphere of human morality – no judging or condemning. Look at the instinctive reaction to the Parable of the workers, when the latecomers receive the same wage as those who have borne the day’s heat – who has not felt sympathy with them? We are not to separate wheat and weeds – Matthew13.24 because we do not know how to judge. God can never give less than all, and give to all, irrespective.

Paul had persecuted someone he saw to be leading people astray from the God revealed to Moses. Now he sees God has raised this man up, and that he was persecuting him in the name of God. Jesus had been right in what he did and said about God.

As Paul saw it God is known and served through observing the Law, and killing transgressors was doing God’s will; since God is kind to the insiders and vengeful in punishment of the others. The Law had become simply a way of separating people – an instrument of death. Paul’s conversion happened through his being enabled to see Jesus, not as a vengeful God but as the Good Shepherd.

The fully alive presence of the executed victim shows that there is no violence in God, as well as uncovering the violence in all of us. Genesis shows us being expelled from the garden for eating when we were told not to. S John answers this: it is not God who expelled us, we expelled God – He came to his own, and his own gave him no welcome – John.1.11.

AMcC

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September 3. ‘Jesus beyond Dogma’, 1: What changed the disciples on Easter Day?

Easter Saturday

What changed the disciples on Easter Day? Their former understanding of God was gone, as was their awareness of what being human really meant. When disasters like the Tsunami strike – we don’t ask who is responsible; we ask what happened? We expect some kind of scientific answer rather than looking for someone to blame.

What happened to them on Easter Day was the same thing that made Jesus not be just another dead person, another victim of human violence – it was the Resurrection. An historical happening on the Sunday after his death – the same man they had buried is with them. What happened to this group of friends transformed them, took away fear and made them eager to share their experience. They had a change in perception of what being human means – but most especially, a revolution in their understanding of God. They shared their memories and wrote them down, from which we now have the New Testament. They talked of his life, living with him; his death and now this…

The Resurrection brought new insights – something Jesus had before his Passion and death; he had told them you do not understand now but you will… He spoke of God in an entirely new way, one which proved threatening to the Guardians of the Law, to Temple worship, to Sabbath observances and to ritual prescriptions. The last straw was calling God his father. The disciples were already unsympathetic to the authorities, but it is unlikely that when Jesus was executed that they dismissed the idea that maybe the priests were right after all, that Jesus was not from God; surely death is final, and puts an end to dissent?

800px-Caravaggio_-_Cena_in_Emmaus

Two were walking to Emmaus with hopes shattered [we had hoped]. His death seemed to vindicate what authority was claiming. Jesus must have been a sinner for this to happen –he who hangs on a tree is cursed – Deuteronomy 21.23; Galatians 3.13. When he rose from the dead and appeared to them the whole system leading to his death is called into question. Jesus had been right, God is the way Jesus spoke of God; nothing like the description offered by his accusers.

The reasons they produced for getting rid of him were not reasons, but part of a sinful mechanism for getting rid of troublesome people – with nothing whatever to do with God. This leads to questioning the Law as not reflecting the true God, or as distorted by human violence. The Resurrection did not simply reveal Jesus’ innocence, not only was he right about God; it exposed the mechanism by which innocent victims are created by those who believe that in doing so they are doing God’s will.

We can now imagine the innocence of the victim and see the complicity in violence of the perpetrators. If we see things as the disciples first did, feeling uncomfortable that Jesus may not have been up to what he promised – and then see him back, how would we talk about it? Our stories have beginnings and endings, and, so they thought, was Jesus’ story ended – but now: how do we tell a story that has no ending? They tried telling this story which had no room for death – death which happens to everyone – and they didn’t know how to do it.

Resurrection has now burst into our storytelling. They couldn’t tell the story in the old way, and the new way they were inspired with we call the New Testament. It was not a question of eliminating death, but how death has its part in the story, but not as the ending. Jesus did not appear as someone who had been dead and is now better – like Lazarus. The risen Jesus was at once dead and alive – as the five wounds testify – and is now showing death as empty of its power. He is at once dead and alive. His whole life including death is present in its fullness. He has conquered death, not just for himself, but for all who share common humanity with him; death and its whole system by which all were held in thrall, is not necessary. Whatever death is, and it happens to all of us, it is not what dictates or shapes the pattern of life. It is an empty shell, a bark without a bite. We will die, but death cannot separate us from the source of the fullness of life.

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death – Hebrews 2.14.

We need to ponder those empty marks of death [5 wounds] within the splendour of his risen life, which enables them to be seen in new light. His life did not cancel death, but includes it, letting it be seen so that they be not afraid. All human history including violence has been taken up in his risen life. God does not require us to deny the violence all around in order to give praise – God is praised when we are fully alive – Irenaeus.

The presence of the crucified and risen victim says the divine story is related to the human story. God becoming man creates the real human story – a story that knows nothing of violence or the structures that seek to foster it. For this divine story to make sense to us it has to start from the story we know how to tell. The divine story is not just at a different level, and replacing the human story, it includes all that is capable of being transformed – such as violence and victimising.

AMcC

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August 26: We’re just passing through.

trees-reflection-chris

Yesterday I alluded to ‘naught for your comfort’, hope against hope, citing this stanza from Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse. You’ll find it on the Web.

“I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.”

The words are given to Mary, mother of Jesus, appearing to King Alfred in a vision. Later Alfred calls for support from his ally Mark, a Roman living a Roman life in Wessex, who drank his own wine when all the kings drank ale.

Xtvinedresser

“These vines be ropes that drag me hard,”
He said. “I go not far;
Where would you meet? For you must hold
Half Wiltshire and the White Horse wold,
And the Thames bank to Owsenfold,
If Wessex goes to war.

“Guthrum sits strong on either bank
And you must press his lines
Inwards, and eastward drive him down;
I doubt if you shall take the crown
Till you have taken London town.
For me, I have the vines.”

“If each man on the Judgment Day
Meet God on a plain alone,”
Said Alfred, “I will speak for you
As for myself, and call it true
That you brought all fighting folk you knew
Lined under Egbert’s Stone.

“Though I be in the dust ere then,
I know where you will be.”

And indeed the vines are not enough to hold Mark back when his duty lies with his King; after great bravery in battle he was killed and ‘died without a sound.’

Mark recognised, in rather more dramatic circumstances than Roger Deakin in yesterday’s post, that we are only passing through this world, though he dearly loved his corner of it – as Roger Deakin did.

Do read his book as well as GKC’s! Wildwood, a journey through trees, Penguin, 2008.

MMB.

 

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August 25: The truth about a camp

 

milkyway

Pattie said that morning, ‘Do you know the opposite of Faith? It’s certainty.’ Perhaps, in a ‘naught for your comfort’ way, certainty belongs to hope – or deep hope against hope – rather than faith?

But this passage from Roger Deakin’s inspiring book, Wildwood – A Journey Through Trees (Penguin 2008, p 14) makes Pattie’s case very well. The writer is describing sleeping in a shed in an orchard on an August night.

To sleep half a field away from the house, tucked into the hedge, with an open door facing south into the meadow and plenty of cool night air, must surely add very much to the chances of sleep.

…There’s more truth about a camp than a house. Planning laws need not worry the improvising builder because temporary structures are more beautiful anyway, and you don’t need permission for them. There’s more truth about a camp because that is the position we are in. The house represents what we ourselves would like to be on earth: permanent rooted, here for eternity. But a camp represents the true reality of things: we’re just passing through.

And as Saint Francis would say, welcoming Sister Death: Laudato Si’ !

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August 7: Francis Thompson VI. THE HOUND OF HEAVEN: V

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My freshness spent its wavering shower i’ the dust;
And now my heart is as a broken fount,
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
From the dank thoughts that shiver
Upon the sighful branches of my mind.
Such is; what is to be?
The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind?
I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds;
Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of Eternity,
Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then
Round the half-glimpsèd turrets slowly wash again;
But not ere him who summoneth
I first have seen, enwound
With grooming robes purpureal, cypress-crowned;
His name I know, and what his trumpet saith.
Whether man’s heart or life it be which yields
Thee harvest, must Thy harvest fields
Be dunged with rotten death?
Now of that long pursuit
Comes on at hand the bruit;
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
“And is thy earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!

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July 28: Odyssey of Love and love

mercygate (640x469)

Gate to Jesus Hospital, Canterbury

 

Love entered love and became love,

because Love has always been in love.

love can never find self outside of Love;

And to remain Love,

love must go, go out to become Love,

Whilst all the time remaining in Love;

And for Love alone,

yet for everyone, because of Love.

VE

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1 December, Jacopone da Todi 5. Eternity lies within You.

water-river-park-477x640

There are obstacles within us to a more loving range of encounters. The frequent longings felt in our five senses to own this, do that impressive feat, travel to some famous sight or other, are all capable of misleading us. We forget the peace so greatly needed in our hearts. We place other goals and satisfactions in its place. Jacopone, in his poem, The Five Senses, reminds himself of the flat and tasteless reality of a world in which only physical experience is taken seriously.

“Each of the five senses argues heatedly

That his is the most short-lived joy,

That his delights fade fastest away.

The first to speak is Hearing.

‘The contest is over,’ he announces.

‘The sound I just heard is no more –

It touched the ear and vanished.

You can’t deny that.’

‘Hold on,’ argues Sight, ‘I am the winner.

When I closed my eyes just now

I blotted out all shapes and colours.

How short-lived the vision!

Can there be any doubt who has won this contest?’

…. Consider the risks of the game carefully:

For the one move you’re intent on making,

You appear willing to give up your soul.

My soul, eternity lies in you,

And eternal are the joys you seek.

The senses and their delights do not last.

Climb up to God: in happiness that knows no end,

In infinite joy, He will give you fulfilment.”

 

Our inner flowing mirror of light and wonder has its strength through the companionship of prayer. Even if our practice of prayer is a ruin.

 

Chris D.

October 2016.

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