Tag Archives: Father

24 November: Jesus was Praying Alone, I.

Part I

Welcome back to Sister Johanna for three reflections on Luke 9:18ff

Jesus was praying alone, and his disciples came to him and he put this question to them, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ (Luke 9:18; New Jerusalem Bible, Study Edition)

We know how this passage goes on. After Jesus asks his disciples who the crowds say he is, he asks his disciples who they think he is – and Peter comes out with the magisterial statement, “You are the Christ of God.”

There is no way of calculating the number of times in my life I’ve read this passage, but as I was reading it today, I realised that I always pass over the line about Jesus at prayer, which I have quoted here, without thinking very much about it, because the lines that come after it seem so much more important. But today something about verse eighteen of Luke’s ninth chapter was tugging at me as I read it, and so I lingered over the line, repeating it to myself. As I did so, it became apparent to me that all this time I’ve been separating Jesus’ prayer from Jesus’ questions, as though their juxtaposition in the text was a mere accident; I’ve failed to note that Jesus’ questions flow out of his prayer. This made me begin to consider his questions in a different light – more as outward expressions of Jesus’ prayer and less as requests on Jesus’ part for information from his disciples.

So I returned to line eighteen, and the image of Jesus, alone with the Father, at prayer. At first it was the sheer mystery of it that filled my mind. It is not possible to get anyone’s prayer and see what it is like. Even less is it possible to imagine what the prayer of the Son of God was like. But then I thought that perhaps I might imagine, without being guilty of presumption, some of the effects of Jesus’ prayer. We know from all the gospels that Jesus would often go off by himself to pray, so, clearly, prayer gave Jesus something that he could not receive by any other means. We can assume that when Jesus emerged from prayer, he felt that he had been deeply nourished by the Father. I think we can also assume that he would come out of his prayer with a clearer mind about what he needed to do and how he should go about doing it.

As I went on to the next lines of this passage, I began to wonder, for the first time, why Jesus even needed to ask the questions he asks in this episode? It occurred to me that Jesus could have had his questions answered through prayer itself, and in solitude – but instead his prayer seems to have directed him to involve the disciples in these questions. This can only be because Jesus felt that these questions were questions of supreme importance for them – perhaps even more so for them than for him. I thought to myself: Jesus is not enquiring about something he doesn’t know here. He is teaching.

And so, Jesus’ first question – ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ – seemed now to have a different trajectory to the one I’d always given it. It occurred to me now that this would merely be second-hand information – of what use is that to Jesus? It’s rarely accurate, as Jesus would certainly realise. Also, it seemed hard to believe that Jesus didn’t already know what the crowds thought of him. He was too perceptive not to be aware of his audiences’ general opinion of himself. But Jesus does want to know something: he wants to know how the disciples perceive the crowds’ understanding of himself. He wanted to explore, with his disciples, what the disciples thought the crowds thought of him. This was really a question about his disciples, then, and not the crowd. Yes, he was teaching them something, I thought.  

What was it?

We can pause here, and ponder these things until tomorrow, when we will resume our study.

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October 27: Dylan’s Birthday

The view from Dylan Thomas’s study, Laugharne.

There was nothing God ever made that Dylan Thomas, the revolutionary, wanted to alter. The careful compounder of explosive imagery believed only in calm … The true tragedy of Dylan Thomas’s death is that he died. Everything else is secondary to that … He had the faculty of immediacy, of making everything present, and of becoming a part of people’s lives almost before he knew them; how much more did he do this when he knew them well.

Vernon Watkins on Dylan Thomas, from Tenby Museum and Art Gallery.

Vernon Watkins was a friend of Dylan Thomas from boyhood, when they encouraged each other’s writing. Watkins saw the man struggling beneath the chaos of Dylan’s life and remained his friend : even after Dylan failed to appear for Vernon’s wedding, when he was chosen as best man.

‘He had the faculty of … making everything present’, as we can gather for ourselves as we read his work. In Elegy he confidingly brings us to the bedside of his dying father, and shares the thoughts coursing through his mind as he keeps vigil, night and day, holding the hand of that cold kind man. Dylan’s faith that his father may grow young again and never lie lost drives the poem. It is truly a love poem.

Elegy

Too proud to die; broken and blind he died
The darkest way, and did not turn away,
A cold kind man brave in his narrow pride

On that darkest day, Oh, forever may
He lie lightly, at last, on the last, crossed
Hill, under the grass, in love, and there grow

Young among the long flocks, and never lie lost
Or still all the numberless days of his death, though
Above all he longed for his mother’s breast

Which was rest and dust, and in the kind ground
The darkest justice of death, blind and unblessed.
Let him find no rest but be fathered and found,

I prayed in the crouching room, by his blind bed,
In the muted house, one minute before
Noon, and night, and light. the rivers of the dead

Veined his poor hand I held, and I saw
Through his unseeing eyes to the roots of the sea.
(An old tormented man three-quarters blind,

I am not too proud to cry that He and he
Will never never go out of my mind.
All his bones crying, and poor in all but pain,

Being innocent, he dreaded that he died
Hating his God, but what he was was plain:
An old kind man brave in his burning pride.

The sticks of the house were his; his books he owned.
Even as a baby he had never cried;
Nor did he now, save to his secret wound.

Out of his eyes I saw the last light glide.
Here among the liught of the lording sky
An old man is with me where I go

Walking in the meadows of his son’s eye
On whom a world of ills came down like snow.
He cried as he died, fearing at last the spheres’

Last sound, the world going out without a breath:
Too proud to cry, too frail to check the tears,
And caught between two nights, blindness and death.

O deepest wound of all that he should die
On that darkest day. oh, he could hide
The tears out of his eyes, too proud to cry.

Until I die he will not leave my side.)

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25 July: A Child’s Grace

Thank you God, for Father’s hand.
Thank you for the world so sweet,
Thank you for the food we eat,
Thank you for the birds that sing,
Thank you God, for everything.
                                                      Edith Leatham

in 1937 Ernest Claxton published a photograph album by Harold Burdekin based on this grace, all six verses illustrated by scenes from childhood in soft photogravure.* He wrote: ‘This simple grace … is so full of praise, so beautiful, that it at once brings home the joyful message of the Giver of all good things.

‘Natural and happy hours in a child’s life may be linked up with the realisation of God’s love. If this is done at an early age, children will learn to know that He is a loving Father.’

Two years on, children were being evacuated to the countryside from London and other cities; similar scenes were played out across Europe. The war in Ukraine is by no means the first since then with families forced into refuge away from home, away from their native land.

At this holiday time, let us pray for the wisdom to know how to bring natural and happy hours to the lives of children in our families, among our neighbours, at home and across the world.

*E. E. Claxton, H Burdekin (photographer), A Child’s Grace, London, Dent, 1937;

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21 July: Another view of eternity.

Yesterday we advocated butterfly’s days: no set agenda, no targets, no business, no busy-ness. Today we open the Book of Common Prayer to read a collect that is complementary to Emily Dickinson’s poem ‘The Butterfly’s Day’. It makes explicit that we are passing through this life, and need God’s guidance and rule to survive passing through things temporal, but we can keep a hold on things eternal with Our Father’s mercy.

Our picture from Saint David’s Cathedral invites us to be still – Emily might say ‘idle’. And knowing that Our Father is God will follow; we will be given a hold on things eternal

O God, the protector of all who trust in you,
without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy:
increase and multiply upon us your mercy;
that with you as our ruler and guide
we may so pass through things temporal
that we lose not our hold on things eternal;
grant this, heavenly Father,
for our Lord Jesus Christ's sake,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.


			

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4 June: Make your home in me.

Some years again when reflecting the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector, I imagined, in my prayer,
that I was Zacchaeus in the tree and Jesus stood looking up at me and saying to me “I want to stay at
your house”. My reply to him was “I have no home”.

It is true that as a priest I have moved from presbytery to presbytery, from place to place. The last place I called home was when I lived with my Mum and Dad and brothers and sister in Clapham, before I went away to school. I was part of a family. I had a sense of belonging.

Many people in life move many times, because of their job or perhaps they have traveller blood in them and are always on the move.

‘If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him.” The loving Father, Jesus our brother and the Advocate, the Spirit desires to
make their home with us. They wish to abide or live in us. Home is a relationship of love. Am I willing
and ready to welcome God into my home, that is into my heart.? Am I prepared to allow God to live or
abide in me?

We are very familiar with the Holman Hunt’s painting “The Light of the World.” A copy can be seen in St. Paul’s Cathedral. It shows the figure of Jesus preparing to knock on an overgrown and long-unopened door, illustrating Revelation 3:20 “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will eat with him, and he with Me”. The door in the painting has no handle, and can therefore be opened only from the inside. Jesus might be persistent in his knocking at the door of our heart but will come in when invited. We need to open the door.
Before he returned to the Father, Jesus promised that the disciples would receive the power of the Holy Spirit. This is an ideal time to invite the Father, Son and Spirit into us so that they make a home in us.

You could pray this prayer of St Augustine to the Holy Spirit.


Breathe into me, Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.
Move in me, Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy.
Attract my heart, Holy Spirit, that I may love only what is holy.
Strengthen me, Holy Spirit, that I may defend all that is holy.
Protect me, Holy Spirit, that I may be holy.

From Canon Anthony Charlton, St Thomas’, Canterbury.

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1 December: Over the stile with Emily

Stile near Silverdale, Lancashire, England.

Once more I find myself disagreeing with Emily: this time with her possibly tongue-in-cheek condemnation of science. However, her light-hearted, joyful acceptance of creation and of death are refreshing and appropriate for Advent. Refreshing too, her final image of the Father lifting her over the stile of pearl into Heaven. I can almost feel those hands, half circling my chest to lift me to himself, though now it is my privilege to lift grandsons to where they need to be. ‘You have to help me’, even when the child is ‘helping’ you.

No pearls on the stiles shown here, but good, solid, dependable limestone, that humans and dogs can get over, perhaps with a little help; that deer can leap with grace, but sheep are too woolly to manage. Not the best image for Heaven’s gate, perhaps, but there again, the stile is not the gate, not the official entrance where the sheep go in. This is a short cut, and it is not Peter or Michael but the Father himself that is watching here, ready to lift the naughty ones into his everlasting arms.

XX. OLD-FASHIONED.

 Arcturus is his other name, —
I'd rather call him star!
It's so unkind of science
To go and interfere!

 I pull a flower from the woods, —
A monster with a glass
Computes the stamens in a breath,
And has her in a class.

 Whereas I took the butterfly
Aforetime in my hat,
He sits erect in cabinets,
The clover-bells forgot.

 What once was heaven, is zenith now.
Where I proposed to go
When time's brief masquerade was done,
Is mapped, and charted too!

 What if the poles should frisk about
And stand upon their heads!
I hope I 'm ready for the worst,
Whatever prank betides!

 Perhaps the kingdom of Heaven 's changed!
I hope the children there
Won't be new-fashioned when I come,
And laugh at me, and stare!

 I hope the father in the skies
Will lift his little girl, —
Old-fashioned, naughty, everything, —
Over the stile of pearl!" 

(from “Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete” by Emily Dickinson)

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26 June: Today this is my vocation, XI: the Lord’s Prayer.

THE LORD’S PRAYER

Audemus dicerePater Noster.”*—canon of the mass.

      There is a bolder way,
There is a wilder enterprise than this
All-human iteration day by day.
Courage, mankind!  Restore Him what is His.

      Out of His mouth were given
These phrases.  O replace them whence they came.
He, only, knows our inconceivable “Heaven,”
Our hidden “Father,” and the unspoken “Name”;

      Our “trespasses,” our “bread,”
The “will” inexorable yet implored;
The miracle-words that are and are not said,
Charged with the unknown purpose of their Lord.

      “Forgive,” “give,” “lead us not”—
Speak them by Him, O man the unaware,
Speak by that dear tongue, though thou know not what,
Shuddering through the paradox of prayer.


Alice Meynell, from A Father of Women and other poems, Burns & Oates, London, 1917

* We dare to say ‘Our Father’. The words would have been recited in Latin in 1917.

A warning against taking ourselves and our assumed virtues without a good pinch of salt. We only begin to see what the Lord’s Prayer means when we put the words back onto his tongue, avoiding our short-sighted, self-serving distortions.

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28 January: Consider the flowers of the wayside.

violets.ct27en.4.1.20

And for raiment why are you solicitous? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they labour not, neither do they spin. But I say to you, that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these. And if the grass of the field, which is to day, and to morrow is cast into the oven, God doth so clothe: how much more you, O ye of little faith?

Matthew 6: 28-30.

The photo is from January last year, but could have been taken today, had the skies not been so grey. I always enjoy our early violets that bloom before their season. They put me in mind of this Gospel passage. I don’t think this was just a throwaway line of Jesus; he wants us to give our attention to the flowers and how they grow and are provided with sunshine, soil and water. That includes solid science.

These violets did not appear by magic, nor do they survive by magic. The bed they grow in was created at the edge of a footpath maybe 20 years ago, with shrubs lining a brick wall and violets providing ground cover beneath, shadowing out any weed seeds that might try and grow there. It’s almost a self-sustaining habitat now, requiring annual pruning of the bushes, and an occasional thinning of the violets.

I once declined to look after the garden of a lady who wanted me to uproot the violets carpeting her rose bed. The combination struck me as one of the most attractive prospects of her plot and she wanted to be rid of it! Removing the violets would have been against nature. Other plants would have come along to fill the space, requiring repeat weedings in turn. Working with nature allows our violets to do what they do best, bringing a smile to the faces of passing humans.

Pat, a girl I once worked with, had no money on her mother’s birthday, but had never noticed the bank of violets by their front fence. We gathered a fine posy to mark the day. Consider the flowers! They can speak of our love for each other as well as God’s love for us. Let’s work with him to restore beauty to our world.

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19 January: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Day II. “Abide in me as I abide in you”

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Ephesians 3:14-21 May Christ dwell in our hearts
Luke 2:41-52 Mary treasured all these things

The encounter with Jesus gives rise to the desire to stay with him and to abide in him: a time in which
fruit matures. Being fully human, like us Jesus grew and matured. He lived a simple life, rooted in the practices of his Jewish faith. In this hidden life in Nazareth, where apparently nothing extraordinary happened, the presence of the Father nourished him.
Mary contemplated the actions of God in her life and in that of her son. She treasured all these things in her heart. Thus, little by little, she embraced the mystery of Jesus.
We too need a long period of maturation, an entire lifetime, in order to plumb the depths of Christ’s love, to let him abide in us and for us to abide in him. Without our knowing how, the Spirit makes Christ dwell in our hearts. And it is through prayer, by listening to the word, in sharing with others, by putting into practice what we have understood, that the inner being is strengthened.
“Letting Christ descend into the depths of our being … He will penetrate the regions of the mind and the heart, he will reach our flesh unto our innermost being, so that we too will one day experience the depths of mercy.” [The Sources of Taizé (2000) p. 134]

Holy Spirit,
May we receive in our hearts the presence of Christ,
and cherish it as a secret of love.
Nourish our prayer,
enlighten our reading of Scripture,
act through us,
so that the fruits of your gifts can patiently grow in us.

Questions
• The Bible tells us very little about Jesus’ youth and early adulthood, when he seems to have lived an ordinary life in Nazareth. How are you conscious of God’s presence with you in the everyday things of life?
• In your church or group of churches how do you nurture your children and young people to walk with God in their everyday lives, and how could you do this better?
• What does the churches having a ‘presence’ together in the community look like in your area?

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4 January: The man with a father’s heart

Pope Francis has declared this to be the Year of Saint Joseph, the Man with the Father’s Heart. Here is the thinking behind that, from his letter, Patris Corde – with a Father’s Heart.

Now, one hundred and fifty years after his proclamation as Patron of the Catholic Church by Blessed Pius IX (8 December 1870), I would like to share some personal reflections on this extraordinary figure, so close to our own human experience. For, as Jesus says, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Mt 12:34).

My desire to do so increased during these months of pandemic, when we experienced, amid the crisis, how “our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people, people often overlooked. People who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines, or on the latest television show, yet in these very days are surely shaping the decisive events of our history. Doctors, nurses, storekeepers and supermarket workers, cleaning personnel, caregivers, transport workers, men and women working to provide essential services and public safety, volunteers, priests, men and women religious, and so very many others. They understood that no one is saved alone… How many people daily exercise patience and offer hope, taking care to spread not panic, but shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday ways, how to accept and deal with a crisis by adjusting their routines, looking ahead and encouraging the practice of prayer. How many are praying, making sacrifices and interceding for the good of all”.[6] 

Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble. Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation. A word of recognition and of gratitude is due to them all.

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