Tag Archives: Exodus

August 4, Francis Thompson III: THE HOUND OF HEAVEN II.

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THE HOUND OF HEAVEN: II

I tempted all His servitors, but to find
My own betrayal in their constancy,
In faith to Him their fickleness to me,
Their traitorous trueness, and their loyal deceit.
To all swift things for swiftness did I sue;
Clung to the whistling mane of every wind.
But whether they swept, smoothly fleet,
The long savannahs of the blue;
Or whether, Thunder-driven,
They clanged his chariot ’thwart a heaven,
Plashy with flying lightnings round the spurn o’ their feet:—
Fear wist not to evade as Love wist to pursue.
Still with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
Came on the following Feet,
And a Voice above their beat—
“Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me.”

I return to ‘unperturbèd pace, / Deliberate speed’ as an image of God at work which makes sense to one who would be his ‘servitor’. Thompson did like his words!

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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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11 April: The Temple: Housing God.

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

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

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

2 Samuel 5:11.

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

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

2 Samuel 7:5-7.

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

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

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

John 4:21-23.

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

MMB.

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February 17: The Healing Gift

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Only two of the gospels encourage us to see our prospect of celebrating new life as something which began when Mary’s child was a presence in Israel. The gospels begin with the death and resurrection of the Saviour. However, this is a saviour who has been incarnated before he was excarnated. The vulnerability of fleshed existence was for him a struggle to celebrate, because of the layers of heart and mind consciousness, which every child finds difficult to coordinate. None of us is sure what kind of new life God wants us to celebrate, when we acknowledge there are genuine gifts of forgiveness and healing, for instance. We feel our way, half-blind, to a greater awareness of how God acts through us. We seek to be less blind.

We are to be grateful that Jesus’ temptations, re-dramatising the Hebrew Exodus in him, were his solidarity with our half-blind condition. So was his journey with his parents through the desert to find refuge in Egypt. He beckoned to the first followers to challenge their often childish fears by feeling closer to his mission, and the courage it required. When a child beckons to us, asking us to give our full loving attention to them, we must smile with delight at such trust. Our smile of delight at oneness with the wholeness of love in Christ is the gift we need, both for our own healing, and for becoming sources of healing for others. We must delight at the potential which God has made present in each new stranger entering our lives. If we love their potential, we also love the healing which makes it real.

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July 15: Saint Bonaventure

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Saint Bonaventure at St Anthony of Padua, Rye, SX.

Someone should mark the feast of the  Seraphic Doctor, Saint Bonaventure. He is shown above with book and quill and two lamps, no doubt for burning the midnight oil in his studies and writing. His head is bathed in heavenly light, suggesting he is inflamed by the Holy Spirit. In this passage from ‘The Mind’s Journey to God’ he tells us, paradoxically for a researcher, to seek for God not in daylight but in darkness, not in research but in sighs of prayer.

This reminded me of the poet Dylan Thomas, for whom darkness was a creative space, even as a child. He tells us that at day’s end in A Child’s Christmas in Wales, ‘I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.’[1] And remembered, for thirty years.

And so to Bonaventure, writing poetically with many  images:
Christ is both the way and the door. Christ is the staircase and the vehicle, like the throne of mercy over the Ark of the Covenant, and the mystery hidden from the ages. A man should mercylogoturn his full attention to this throne of mercy, and should gaze at him hanging on the cross, full of faith, hope and charity, devoted, full of wonder and joy, marked by gratitude, and open to praise and jubilation. Then such a man will make with Christ a passing-over. Through the branches of the cross he will pass over the Red Sea, leaving Egypt and entering the desert. There he will taste the hidden manna, and rest with Christ in the sepulchre, as if he were dead to things outside. He will experience, as much as is possible for one who is still living, what was promised to the thief who hung beside Christ: Today you will be with me in Paradise.

For this passover to be perfect, we must suspend all the operations of the mind and we must transform the peak of our affections, directing them to God alone. This is a sacred mystical experience. It cannot be comprehended by anyone unless he surrenders himself to it; nor can he surrender himself to it unless he longs for it; nor can he long for it unless the Holy Spirit, whom Christ sent into the world, should come and inflame his innermost soul. Hence the Apostle says that this mystical wisdom is revealed by the Holy Spirit.

If you ask how such things can occur, seek the answer in God’s grace, not in doctrine; in the longing of the will, not in the understanding; in the sighs of prayer, not in research; seek the bridegroom not the teacher; God and not man; darkness not daylight; and look not to the light but rather to the raging fire that carries the soul to God with intense fervour and glowing love.

 

[1] Dylan Thomas: ‘A Child’s Christmas’, pages not numbered.

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March 25, Good Friday: Dying with Christ.

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We are all called to die with Christ.

Strasbourg Cathedral 

We are all called to die with Christ. One way of doing so is the way of red martyrdom, bearing witness (the meaning of the Greek marturō, from which the word ‘martyr’ derives) with our blood, as more Christians than ever before are doing.

There is also a white martyrdom, originally exemplified by those who withdrew into the Egyptian desert after the example of Anthony of Egypt. This is a death to all that separates us from God. By following the threefold way of purification, illumination and union the white martyr reconnects with the interior silence in which we know God face to face.

This death, which is also a journey, is traditionally imaged, after the Book of Exodus, as the soul’s ascent of the mountain of God. We ascend by allowing our perspective to expand. We ‘rise’ from self-centredness to other-centredness. This means allowing all of our habitual ways of seeing and thinking, however cherished, to be changed by the inflowing (the in-fluence), of grace.

bonaventure.ryeBonaventure saw that at the apex of the ascent we ‘behold Christ hanging on the Cross’ and ‘celebrate the Pasch, that is, the Passover, with Christ.’ We –

‘rest with Christ in the tomb, as one dead to the outer world, yet experiencing, in as far as possible in this pilgrim state, what was said on the cross to the thief who was hanging there with Christ: This day you will be with me in Paradise.’

The face of God is the face of Christ crucified. Our face, too, is the face of Christ crucified.

St Bonaventure from St Anthony of Padua, Rye.

 

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20/12 This Little Light of Mine – I

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When he was adapting the novel ‘Wolf Hall’ for BBC Television, Peter Kominsky used the latest camera lenses to be able to film by candlelight alone. We who have electricity at the touch of a switch all too easily forget the power of one candle to disperse the darkness. We risk knowing truly neither dark nor light.

Yet in chapter three of the Book of Exodus it was the light from the Burning Bush that first led Moses to listen to the Lord God, the God who spoke out of the light, the God who charged Moses to set his people free, the God who called himself ‘I AM’.

At the very beginning ‘I AM’ created light to sustain the Universe he was fashioning. What is more, he left his fingerprints even upon light, so that scientists today can study ancient light from far-flung galaxies to learn how and when that first creation took place. Somehow, we are: we are because ‘I AM’ created light more light years ago than ever we could imagine.

MMB.

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Startled mortality

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FISC Dining Room, by CD.

Startled mortality

Mealtimes are reassuring. We don’t want fire alarms to go off when we settle to enjoy food and conversation. We feel sure that God nurtures us, by providential patterns of life, including gentle involvement in thoughtfully prepared food. We can express our concern for the health and inner peace of those at the table, making the meal a time of creative bonding.

But dining rooms are also places where moments of confusion or excitement might leave their mark, and be remembered as a little vulnerable. Here in the Giles Lane Study Centre, Canterbury, the refectory has brought together a number of religious families: Franciscans and Redemptorists, Sisters of Mercy, Little Brothers and Sisters of Charles de Foucauld, Benedictines, Carmelites and others, generally for special feast day celebrations at Christmas or on the feast of St. Francis. Liturgical joyfulness beforehand spills over into the meal, raising spirits and stirring up kindly laughter.

The prayerful aspect has sometimes become more adventurous, around Eastertime, for instance. For some years, we had held a Christian ‘Passover Seder Meal’ in Holy Week, an echo of the Jewish celebration. One time, our community Guardian, who had diabetes, was reciting a prayer about the Exodus and the tumult of the Crossing of the Red Sea. He suddenly seemed to freeze, and repeated the same phrase three or four times consecutively. He had lapsed into a diabetic ‘hypo’, in danger of entering a coma. It was a very sobering development. But it fittingly highlighted our mortality.

CD.

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Through New Eyes

We used to sing, ‘When every eye shall see Thee / In deity revealed.’ Moses only saw ‘the back of God’ for a few moments on top of the mountain, a sight too awesome for anyone else, until we learn to see.

Centuries after Moses, for a few moments on top of the mountain, three apostles saw Jesus transfigured. Too awesome for Peter at the time but after the resurrection, as Jesus had suggested, the vision made sense.

Recently I received a minor revelation, not on a mountain top, but on top of a bus – not the Oxford one where C.S. Lewis had a personal epiphany, but the East Kent No 6 to Canterbury. In the front seats were a middle-aged Japanese couple and their teenage daughter; I’d guess father or mother or both were visiting academics, since they later got off at the university. Their daughter was the unwitting angel of revelation for me. She stood up, wrapped her arm around the grab rail, and took a rapid series of photographs. ‘There she goes’, I thought. ‘They love their cameras.’

She sat down, enthusiastically sharing the pictures with her mother. Through new eyes she had seen a place I had passed hundreds of times, seeing and not seeing.

If I need a revelation to see my home county, it’s time to pray, ‘Lord that I may see’, and learn to see Him or his angel, even on top of a bus.

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