Tag Archives: eternity

February 25: Wonderfully unguessed at! Brownings V.

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I would hope Elizabeth Barrett’s piano was more tuneful than this Victorian specimen, on long-term loan at the Turnstone’s till its owner can give it houseroom. Elizabeth is writing to Robert of the consequences of her confinement to her room after her injury and illness. This seemed worth putting alongside Traherne’s scientific and theological reflections yesterday. And again, reflect: only this afternoon I was able to listen on the BBC to Brahms’s German Requiem; Elizabeth had not heard any vast choral work, except perhaps in a church service, despite living in London. We have much to be grateful for. And how ignorant are we?

If ever I am in the Sistine Chapel, what teaching I shall want, I who have seen so few pictures, and love them only as children do, with an unlearned love, just for the sake of the thoughts they bring. Wonderfully ignorant I am, to have had eyes and ears so long!

There is music, now, which lifts the hair on my head, I feel it so much, … yet all I know of it as art, all I have heard of the works of the masters in it, has been the mere sign and suggestion, such as the private piano may give. I never heard an oratorio, for instance, in my life—judge by that! It is a guess, I make, at all the greatness and divinity … feeling in it, though, distinctly and certainly, that a composer like Beethoven must stand above the divinest painter in soul-godhead, and nearest to the true poet, of all artists. And this I felt in my guess, long before I knew you.

But observe how, if I had died in this illness, I should have left a sealed world behind me! you, unknown too—unguessed at, you, … in many respects, wonderfully unguessed at! Lately I have learnt to despise my own instincts. And apart from those—and you, … it was right for me to be melancholy, in the consciousness of passing blindfolded under all the world-stars, and of going out into another side of the creation, with a blank for the experience of this … the last revelation, unread! How the thought of it used to depress me sometimes!

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February 24. Present in spirit with all Eternity: Thomas Traherne XVII.

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It’s worth reminding ourselves that this meditation was written before photography, cinema or human flight! Read it slowly, to absorb the language more fully.

The contemplation of Eternity maketh the Soul immortal. Whose glory it is, that it can see before and after its existence into endless spaces. Its Sight is its presence. And therefore in the presence of the understanding endless, because its Sight is so. O what glorious creatures should we be, could we be present in spirit with all Eternity! How wise, would we esteem this presence of the understanding, to be more real than that of our bodies!

When my soul is in Eden with our first parents, I myself am. there in a blessed manner. When I walk with Enoch, and see his translation, I am transported with him. The present age is too little to contain it. I can visit Noah in his ark, and swim upon the waters of the deluge. I can see Moses with his rod, and the children of Israel passing through the sea; I can enter into Aaron’s Tabernacle, and admire the mysteries of the holy place.

can travel over the Land of Canaan, and see it overflowing with milk and honey; I can visit Solomon in his glory, and go into his temple, and view the sitting of his servants, and admire the magnificence and glory of his kingdom. No creature but one like unto the Holy Angels can see into all ages. Sure this power was not given in vain, but for some wonderful purpose; worthy of itself to enjoy and fathom. Would men consider what God hath done, they would be ravished in spirit with the glory of His doings. For Heaven and Earth are full of the majesty of His glory. And how happy would men be could they see and enjoy it ! -But above all these our Saviour’s cross is the throne of delights. That Centre of Eternity, that Tree of Life in the midst of the Paradise of God!

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February 23. Thomas Traherne XVI: our Saviour’s cross exerciseth all the powers of his soul.

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Let’s revisit Thomas Traherne, always a challenging read. He accepts the New Testament and revels in its ideas and truths. He interprets the doctrine of the Body of Christ in this passage. ‘Our Saviour’s cross … taketh up his thoughts, and exerciseth all the powers of his soul.’ As it did with the artist of Strasbourg Cathedral, above.

You are His, and you are all; or in all, and with all.

He that is in all, and with all, can never be desolate.

All the joys and all the treasures, all the counsels, and all the perfections; all the angels, and all the saints of God are with him. All the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them are continually in his eye. The patriarchs, prophets, and Apostles are always before Him. The councils and the fathers, the bishops and the doctors minister unto him.

All temples are open before him, the melody of all quires reviveth him, the learning of all universities doth employ him, the riches of all palaces delight him, the joys of Eden ravish him, the revelations of St. John transport him, the creation and the day of Judgment please him, the Hosannas of the church militant and the Hallelujahs, of the Saints Triumphant fill him, the splendour of all coronations entertain him, the joys of Heaven surround him, and our Saviour’s cross, like the Centre of Eternity, is in him; it taketh up his thoughts, and exerciseth all the powers of his soul, with wonder, admiration, joy and thanksgiving.

The Omnipotence of God is his House, and Eternity his habitation.

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10 January: Little Flowers of Saint Francis XLIV: The Temptations of Brother Ruffino, 1.

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Let’s return to the Little Flowers of Saint Francis with a story that illustrates his insight into his companions’ feelings. We might be tempted to label Brother Ruffino’s temptation as a mental illness, but the thought of being on the road to eternal perdition is enough to unhinge anybody. At the end of the story we will see that Brother Ruffino was an exceptional person – and so of course was Francis, who saw his need and guided him through it.

BROTHER RUFFINO, one of the most noble citizens of Assisi and a companion of Saint Francis, a man of great sanctity, was on a time most grievously assailed and tempted in his soul, in respect of predestination; whereby he became altogether melancholy and sad; for the devil put it into his heart that he was damned and was not of those predestined to eternal life; and that all that he did in the Order was lost. And this temptation continuing day by day, he for shame told it not to Saint Francis, yet ceased not to observe the wonted prayers and fasts: wherefore the enemy began to heap on him sorrow upon sorrow, over and above the battle within, assaulting him also from without with lying apparitions.

Wherefore on a time he appeared to him in the form of the Crucified, and said to him: O
Brother Rufiino, why dost thou afflict thyself in penance and in prayer, seeing that thou art not among those predestined to eternal life? and believe me that I know whom I have elected and predestined, and believe not the son of Peter Bernardoni,1 if he tell thee the contrary, nor question him concerning this matter, for neither he nor any others know, save I alone, who am the Son of God: Brother therefore believe me of a surety that thou art of the number of the damned: and the son of Peter Bernardoni, thy Father, and also his father are damned, and whoso follows him is led astray.”

And said these words, Brother Ruffino began to be so overshadowed by the prince of darkness that he lost all the faith and love he had had for Saint Francis, and took no care to tell him aught thereof. But that which Brother Ruffino did not tell the holy father, the Holy Spirit revealed to him: wherefore Saint Francis, seeing in spirit the great danger of the said brother, sent Brother Masseo to call him; whom Brother Ruffino answered chidingly: “What have I to do with Brother Francis?” Then Brother Masseo, all filled with divine wisdom, perceiving the deception of the devil, said : “O Brother Ruffino, knowest thou not that Brother Francis is as an angel of God, who hath enlightened so many souls in the world, and through whom we have received the grace of God? wherefore I will that thou by all means come with me to him; for I clearly see that thou art deceived by the devil.”

1That is Saint Francis.
Image: Strasbourg Cathedral, the Last Judgement. MMB.

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December 2: Traherne XIII: that He might be good and wise and glorious.

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As we begin Advent and prepare to remember Christ’s coming at Christmas, we return to Thomas Traherne with a challenging reflection: God willed his Creation into existence in order to be himself, and he became man, to be himself. As he told Moses,  ‘I am’.

God willed the Creation not only that He might Appear but Be: wherein is seated the mystery of the Eternal Generation of His Son. Do you will it as He did, and you shall be glorious as He. He willed the happiness of men and angels not only that He might appear, but be good and wise and glorious.

And He willed it with such infinite desire, that He is infinitely good: infinitely good in Himself, and infinitely blessed in them. Do you will the happiness of men and angels as He did, and you shall be good, and infinitely blessed as He is. All their happiness shall be your happiness as it is His. He willed the glory of all ages, and the government and welfare of all Kingdoms, and the felicity also of the highest cherubims.

As we get nearer to Christmas, Sister Johanna will be sharing her reflections on Jesus as God’s wisdom. Today Thomas Traherne challenges us to be good and wise and glorious too, as Jesus is, eternally.

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5 November. Little Flowers of Saint Francis XXXXII: Two Gentlemen of Bologna, 1.

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How Saint Francis converted in Bologna two scholars, who became brothers.

SAINT FRANCIS coming on a time to Bologna, all the people of the city ran together to see him; and so great was the press that scarce with great difficulty could the people reach the square and the square being all full of men and of women and of scholars, Saint Francis stood high up m the midst of them and began to preach whatsoever the Holy Spirit taught him; and preached so marvellously that it seemed rather that an angel was preaching than a man: and his celestial words appeared even as sharp arrows piercing the hearts of them that heard him in such sort, that in that preaching a great multitude of men and women were converted into penitence. Among the which were two students, nobly born, from Ancona;and the one was named Pellegrino and the other Rinieri; the which twain by divine inspiration touched in the heart by the said preaching, came to Saint Francis saying that they wished wholly to abandon the world and be of the number of his brethren.

Samt Francis, knowing by revelation that they were sent of God, and that in the Order they would lead a holy life, and noting their great fervour, received them joyfully, saying:  “Do thou, Pellegrino, live in the Order the life of humility, and thou, Brother Rinieri, serve the brethren”; and even so it was; for Brother Pellegrino wished not to live as a priest but as a lay brother, albeit he was a great scholar and right learned in the canon law; through the which humility he attained unto such great perfection of virtue, that Brother Bernard, the first-born of Saint Francis, said of him that he was one of the most perfect brothers in the world.

And at the last, the said Brother Pellegrino, full of virtue, passed from this miserable life unto the life of the blessed, and wrought many miracles before his death and thereafter. And the said Brother Rinieri devoutly and faithfully served the brethren, dwelling in great sanctity and humility: and he became Saint Francis’ close familiar friend. Being afterwards made minister of the Province of the March of Ancona, he ruled it for a long time with the utmost peace and discretion.

Photograph: Christina Chase

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October 30: Traherne XIII: Extend your Will like His.

Let’s return to the good Thomas Traherne. This is from Century I:53. Challenging ideas, that God willed Creation in order to let himself have fuller being in his Son, and that we are called to extend our good will to all people and all Creation; to will their happiness into being. Laudato Si!

God  willed the Creation not only that He might Appear but Be: wherein is seated the mystery of the Eternal Generation of His Son. Do you will it as He did, and you shall be glorious as He. He willed the happiness of men and angels not only that He might appear, but be good and wise and glorious.

And He willed it with such infinite desire, that He is infinitely good: infinitely good in Himself,and infinitely blessed in them. Do you will the happiness of men and angels as He did, and you shall be good, and infinitely blessed as He is. All their happiness shall be your happiness as it is His. He willed the glory of all ages, and the government and welfare of all Kingdoms, and the felicity also of the highest cherubims.

Do you extend your Will like Him and you shall be great as He is, and concerned and happy in all these. He willed the redemption of mankind, and therefore is His Son Jesus Christ an infinite treasure. Unless you will it too, He will be no treasure to you. Verily you ought to will these things so ardently that God Himself should be therefore your joy because He willed them. Your will ought to be united to His in all places of His dominion. Were you not born to have communion with Him? And that cannot be without this heavenly union. Which when it is what it ought is Divine and Infinite.

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October 26. What is Theology saying, XXXIX: What Morality did Jesus teach?

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The humiliation that we all carry is that we are a mass of contradictions. Yet we are, before all else, a blessing; but we are well aware it is a mixed blessing – Original Sin, a doctrine many dislike – whatever we call it, we do have a sense of being inadequate. The word sin implies culpability, which is not what the doctrine wants to say! The precise meaning is that we are not culpable for it, but that we are wounded by it. It names my inner conflict so that I will not be shocked or surprised when it shows itself.

Paul sees both Adam and Christ as summaries of humanity. What happens in them must happen in all; not just then but always now. If you know you are a mixed blessing, filled with contradictions, a mystery to yourself, you won’t pretend to eliminate all that is unworthy, but heed Jesus’ advice: let them both grow together until harvest time – Matthew 13.30.

Jesus told us not to pull out the weeds – Matthew 13.29 – lest we also pull out the wheat; this is both sound spirituality and psychology. In Genesis 1.26 God says Let us make humanity in our own image – note the use of the plural form, as if intuiting the Trinity, God as relationship, the perfect mystery of total giving and receiving. It is interesting that physicists, molecular biologists and astronomers are more in tune with this universal pattern than Christian believers.

God isn’t looking for servants or contestants to play the game – God is looking simply for images to walk around the earth. This is as if God is saying all I want is some out there who will communicate who I am, what I am about and what is happening in God: You are my witnesses, says the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he – Isaiah 43.10. All morality is simply the imitation of God – not those who do it right go to heaven, but those who live like me are already in heaven.

AMcC

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October 22,What is theology Saying? XXIV, Original Sin 3.

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Why are we here? What are we like? What are we here for? Karl Rahner’s explorations went much further, by showing that God is an essential part of our lives and we are all related, whether we realise it or not. God is at the core of every aspect of our experiencing. We are never satisfied. We never reach a point where we know all that there is to know or experience all that there is to experience because we are always open to newer and more fulfilling experiences. Our thirst for knowledge and new experiences is never quenched.

We can always go beyond what we know. But we need to remember that this transcendence includes our knowledge of the finite; we go beyond every finite object thanks to our openness to the infinite, in order to recognise a limit, we must transcend it. Imagine the fence around an area. You might think that when you reach that fence, you don’t need to go beyond it to recognise it as a limit. On a physical level, you’re right. However, in thought you’ve already transcended the fence. You’ve realised that there’s something beyond it but that you can’t go beyond it. In the same way, though we can only take hold of the finite, we aspire to the infinite. In supposing that we’re limited by a finite horizon of questioning, we go beyond this and experience ourselves as able to transcend. So, the fact that we know the finite requires the existence of an infinite.

Original Sin shows us to ourselves. It is natural to assume that my desires are mine! This presumes that I am me before I decide to desire; whereas my desires make me. Something is triggered in me when I experience another person desiring something. I too can begin to desire like this. Eventually and inevitably this leads to rivalry – mine’s better… and then I am set against the other, which is how I experience me as different. This rivalry is simply me against you, the way I establish myself.

Desire has become my desire and what makes it mine is that it is not yours! Some call it friendly rivalry, or competitive spirit. In fact the “me” that is now opposed to the not me is the product of my desiring. Much time and energy is spent on fostering and preserving this artificial self; whereas, as we discover from the Incarnation, real self is total gift. My own sense of self is me in contrast to you, whereas my real self sees other as total gift to me.

Society becomes possible through imitation by keeping humans together while forming individuals psychologically. The infant imitates the adult, reproducing what the adult does; there is no me in the infant independent of the model that fashions it. The adult plays with a toy to get the infant to do the same; eventually this will lead to desire, which tends to detach us from the model and seeks autonomy.

However, much more than imitation is needed to make me. This results in my wanting to be who the other is. This in turn can lead to an unequal rivalry. Rivalry tends to be resolved by the exclusion of the victim, asserting my emerging self against the other. It is the tension set up between my sense of being as given, and my acquiring of it by more or less violent means that is at the heart of theology of Original Sin.

AMcC

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October 17: Thomas Traherne XII: an happy loss to lose oneself and to find GOD

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The WORLD is not this little Cottage of Heaven and Earth. Though this be fair, it is too  small a Gift. When God made the World He made the Heavens, and the Heavens of Heavens, and the Angels, and the Celestial Powers. These also are parts of the World: So are all those infinite and eternal Treasures that are to abide for ever, after the Day of Judgement. Neither are these, some here, and some there, but all everywhere, and at once to be enjoyed.

The WORLD is unknown, till the Value and Glory of it is seen: till the Beauty and the Serviceableness of its parts is considered. When you enter into it, it is an illimited field of Variety and Beauty: where you may lose yourself in the multitude of Wonders and Delights. But it is an happy loss to lose oneself in admiration at one’s own Felicity: and to find GOD in exchange for oneself: Which we then do when we see Him in His Gifts, and adore His Glory.

A scientist as well as a poet can happily lose himself or herself in comtemplation.

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