Tag Archives: fear

11 February: Today’s Lodging House Fires

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Eliot wrote in this seaside shelter in Margate, Kent.

Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Go, go, go!’ is one of two-year-old Abel’s slogans for living. He still needs his daytime sleep but is not inclined or programmed to torpor. He has been ‘always present’ until recently, but he can now talk about time past, telling his mother what he has seen, and can grasp that something is going to happen ‘later’ or ‘tomorrow, after your sleep.’

What sort of reality could he not bear? It’s certainly difficult when Things don’t work as he thinks they should, and he can perceive intervention as interference – helping him has to be done discreetly and sensitively. But Amor Vincit Omnia – love conquers all. He can forgive our heavyhandedness.

And the realities that the lodging house inmates could not bear? Or the men drinking at 8.30 in the morning? Or the self-harming teenager? People with no ‘go, go, go’? Or you or me? Is giving money to beggars helping or not?

Amor Vincit Omnia. But how?

As the blind John Milton reminds us, ‘They also serve who only stand and wait.’ (And listen, like the librarians.) Letting  a smile loose might also help. But the reality of others’ suffering can seem more than we can bear. The one end which is always present: death, or Omega, Christ’s eternal life?

Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to render to every man according to his works. I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.

Revelation 22:13-14.

 

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January 4: We Listen.

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New Year resolutions are all very well, but what if the new year looks bleak? Really hopeless?

I recently came across Tatiana Ketchum’s blog post, ‘If you have a pulse  God has a plan. She tells how she was helped by a sticker that said “There’s purpose in your pain.”

That particular slogan spoke to her at that moment; here is another, on the back of a train ticket. It’s encouraging that the railway companies are still promoting the services of The Samaritans. They listen. On 116 123. And face to face.

And so should we listen, whether it is someone in trouble calling for help, a fellow passenger or a child.

Perhaps especially we should be less lazy, less fearful of listening to children. A young person has every right to adult care and attention, even if it’s only Abel telling his grandmother that he had his nails cut. If they don’t feel listened to as children, it will take tremendous courage to seek a friendly ear later in life.

WT

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December 15. Zechariah: an Unlikely Advent Star: III.

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Then there appeared to Zechariah the angel of the Lord, standing on the right of the altar of incense. The sight disturbed Zechariah and he was overcome with fear. But the angel said to him, “Zechariah, do not be afraid, for your prayer has been heard” (1:11-12).

The gospels are sometimes discreet about their characters’ emotional reactions. The Holy Spirit must fill in such details. I imagine Zechariah suddenly feeling, with scalp-tingling certainty, that he is not alone in the Lord’s sanctuary. He looks up from the incense and gasps, his heart hammers in his chest, he trembles, he feels frozen to the spot. I imagine him telling this story long afterwards, every detail held fast in his memory. A magnificently beautiful angelic being is standing there on the right side of the altar of incense, radiant, solemn, and looking straight at him – looking straight into his eyes, and seemingly into his very soul. Zechariah stares back, shaking and wide-eyed. The splendour of the angel overwhelms him. He is frightened, feels he should cover his eyes or lower them, but he cannot stop looking at the angel’s majestic beauty. The angel tries to reassure him, calling him by name, “Zechariah, do not be afraid.”

How does Zechariah respond? Does his fear evaporate? I rather doubt that the fear disappears completely, but perhaps some aspects of it diminish a bit as the angel continues his message. “…your prayer has been heard.”

What prayer? Can it be the one so dear to his heart, yet so long unanswered? The prayer that was by now past praying for? That Elizabeth should conceive? And bear a son? Indeed, yes! Zechariah’s prayer had been heard: Your wife Elizabeth is to bear you a son and you shall name him John. (1:13)

But, Zechariah – even though he is a holy man, and upright in the sight of God – might not have been prepared for the fact that when we ask God for something in prayer, God hears not only the request of which we are conscious, but also that request’s most profound ramifications, of which we are not fully conscious when we first made our prayer. Perhaps, then, we need to be ready when we ask God for something – ready for the fact that God does nothing by halves. Our prayer will be answered, yes, but it will be answered so deeply, so completely that it will require of us a new level of surrender to the divine will, and a greater degree of courage than we had needed hitherto. This much is certain: when God answers a prayer, some mind-stretching is required in order to take it in.

SJC

 

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November 30: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xxx – Pray!

samaritanwomanBaptistery, Abbey of St Maurice, Switzerland

Institutional Religion at its best needs incarnational living – you say it, now live it – otherwise we will let intimacy decay into orthopraxy. This is why contemplation has a social element. The openness of the prairie alongside living in my backyard. In this way every difference can find a hearing and enjoy respect, when all becomes one in the mystery. For to know God is vital – more important than what I am going to do about it. We have differences of all kinds – this should tell us that we cannot all see God in the same way! What matters is to hear what God is asking and respond uniquely: as God has shown me what it was mine to do may God show you what is yours to do. It is we who are threatened by differences, not God.

I can trust myself because God trusts me. Nothing about me will be used against me – even my sin is forgiven! Sin shall not be your shame, but your glory – Julian of Norwich. If this isn’t good news what is? The Samaritan woman with 5 husbands doesn’t get a lecture on Canon Law; Jesus joins her where she is – by listening to her; and then invites her into freedom, and asks her to spread it around – he told me all about myself… and not just what she already knew! Do not be afraid – your life is respected and is working for your well-being. Nothing within us is as bad as our denial of it, since everything belongs.

To be aware of the presence of God is to be forgiven, to be cherished exactly as I am. To be holy [whole] is know God as total love and self as loved by God totally: You will enjoy the mystery of salvation through forgiveness of sin – cf. Luke 1.77. There is no room for forgiveness in a world of meritocracy, it can’t breathe in an atmosphere of rights. How can you have a quid-pro-quo where love and compassion are already given without the asking – fore-given!

The early Church believed universal salvation – apokatastasis – but it was never defined [or condemned]. Since I have brought good from the worst-ever evil, I want you to know I bring good out of lesser evils too – Julian of Norwich. God is the only teacher and the only lesson is love. Do I want Isis to be loved and forgiven? With the 11th hour labourers and the Prodigal along with his brother there’s no question of having to deserve. God cannot be where forgiveness is not welcome. It sets logic aside – what is appropriate is a time of quiet to make room for regret and repentance – not to gain forgiveness, but to recover self-respect.

A common feature of personal sin is the delight we seem to take in highlighting the sins of others. Forgiveness is costly, it is taking on a powerlessness by allowing nothing to keep me from being with – as God is freely and always with me – even when I am decidedly not with God [take up your cross daily]. What is at the heart of physical attraction, why are we fascinated by the image of another? How we relate to one person sets a pattern for my relating. It is bringing together our differences – human and divine, male and female, sin and forgiveness. So, who are sinners? Anyone who keeps all these things apart from each other – Religion – re-ligio means to reconnect; reconciling opposites. Christianity is the only religion believing in the full enfleshment of God – yet we seem to have problems with it.

AMcC

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September 27, Fortitude IV: Fortitude and Mortality.

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At Manchester City War Memorial, MMB.

The ultimate danger is death. But most of us are not required to die for a good cause. Yet, there are other forms of death. We are apt to say, with feeling, “Oh, I would die if such and such happened.” Most of the time, when we use that expression, we know we would not actually die if that thing happened – but the expression bears some truth after all. We would not physically die, but whenever we feel threatened emotionally, we feel that some important part of us would receive a mortal wound if that thing happened. To be rejected by someone we love, for example, does not cause physical death, but the emotional hurt is very deep. If the relationship with the loved one comes to an end, then the part of us that was brought to life through that relationship feels like it is coming to an end. A death of sorts does occur. And so, fortitude is about coping with these kinds of very painful human experiences. It may be that in fact, the relationship in question should change, or even come to an end. Clinging to a relationship out of fear of the loneliness and hurt that will follow once the person is no longer in our life can sometimes perpetuate a relationship that is causing greater harm to oneself that the loneliness we fear. Fortitude would counsel a person in this situation to bring the harmful relationship to an end, and to bear the pain that will ensue for the sake of a deeper level of healing and growth.

For further study:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church ,Geoffrey Chapman, London, 1994

The Four Cardinal Virtues, Joseph Pieper, University of Notre Dame Press

http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/aquinas/summa/

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September 26: Fortitude III, Fortitude and Things that Threaten.

thursday-9-pansy-pavementSo, fortitude is about things, people, circumstances that threaten us. We speak easily nowadays about finding something “threatening.” We might use the word to describe our feeling about someone’s personality, and confide to a friend, “I don’t know why, but Sam threatens me.” Or, it might be that some actions are scary for us. We might admit to someone we trust, “The very idea of getting up in front of an audience and giving a speech is much too threatening. I couldn’t possibly do it.” We all know what it’s like to feel threatened, and it is very uncomfortable. No one likes it. That churning feeling in the stomach. That inability to behave naturally, to find the right words to converse normally. The trembling hands, the racing pulse. Something elicits these symptoms of anxiety because it is perceived as dangerous. Fortitude is what governs our fear of danger. This fear needs to be kept under control, because if it is allowed to get the upper hand, we will simply run away.

Now, there are times when running away is the wisest thing to do. No one contests that. But what if the person who “threatens” us happens to be our employer in a job we know we can do? If we run away every time we feel threatened by someone, we will not be able to negotiate the pressures of the professional world. It is fortitude that counsels us to stick it out, explore our insecurity, try to determine why these feelings are surfacing and then take steps to overcome them. We do this because earning a living requires it. Financial independence is one of the requirements of adulthood, ordinarily. We need fortitude not only for things that are obviously big and difficult – like perhaps running into a burning building to rescue someone. Even in order to realise the goals entailed in living as an adult we need the strength that fortitude develops within us.

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Père Jacque Hamel’s last earthly audience included his murderers.

Or, take our other example, that of feeling threatened by having to speak before an audience. This is not something that is required of everyone, but, once again, what if your job requires you to lead a seminar from time to time? Your future in the company might depend on it. It is fortitude that counsels us to learn how to address an audience by perhaps taking advice from someone who is accustomed to public speaking, by planning your talk well in advance, by noting that smiling and making eye-contact with the audience is important, and so on. Fortitude is what comes into action when we might prefer to run away, wiggle out of something, or back out of situations that are of importance to our personal, professional or religious lives.

For further study:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church ,Geoffrey Chapman, London, 1994

The Four Cardinal Virtues, Joseph Pieper, University of Notre Dame Press

http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/aquinas/summa/

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September 9: Jesus Beyond Dogma VII. Hope and System

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Every aspect of life is monitored and controlled by systems and their norms which we know and try to observe. System is effective in how we think, act and comport ourselves. Hope emerges from within all this not as an escape from dead-end living, nor as the natural completion of what we are already doing but as an unexpected breakthrough, an open door where there seemed to be no way out – because it is not where we tend to look.

The common understanding of hell is the violent separation of the good from the bad – where we have lost the Good News. This is system – a story already told, and when based on the final redemption of all – through God’s mercy: a drama with a beginning and a happy ending. There is no need for hope! If the story is already known – there is no place for it. The Good News is that system is not essential, we can leave it and discover what hope really means.

Revelation shows us how hope was born for the women at the tomb – out of what made them run away in fear [how often do we hear Jesus say don’t be afraid?] Nothing could ever be the same again after Easter Day. There is no system that can show us how to experience life that survives death and actually includes death. Jesus did not die and then come back to life, he is at one and the same time dead and alive – which is why there is such emphasis on the five wounds. Death has been emptied of its power by love at its very best. This is how the women’s fear was transformed [not ignored] into hope. When Revelation concludes with Maranatha [come Lord Jesus] we are asking that the forgiving victim be present with us – do not be afraid, it’s only me and I love you.

Is not our deepest desire to be desired by another for who we are, just as we are? This may be true but there is much more. We grow into desiring in imitation of what he have seen in others. They have a nice car, I’d like something like that. We are recreated, not by someone desiring us, but by what that desiring brings about in us – the Resurrection urges us to love as we are being loved. It means having the freedom to accept God’s love. Love creates only lovely things, love created me so I can rejoice that I am lovely, lovable and able to love.

For this to happen I need to let go of all concerns about worthiness. How awkward this can be comes out when we reflect: if you give a friend a present and then you say thank-you, how much do I owe you? We would be taken aback – so why do we do it with God? He has given us to ourselves as gift – why do we ask what do we owe – keep the rules – go to Church? We need to become less concerned about our reputation to make room for being loved and wanting to love. This love will know nothing of revenge or needing to blame, and so embraces the persecutor as well as the persecuted [with God it is always all] no matter how late we turn up for work. No mortgage.

When we stand free of concern for reputation, and from the need to settle old scores through our minds now fixed on things above – then we are beginning to love our neighbour without discrimination [which is what things above means].

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The central theme of Easter is that Jesus was present to them as forgiveness – and more, it is resurrection in the flesh not just a purely spiritual happening. Jesus walked with them entirely imbued by the ever present love between Abba and the Son – the Spirit. Such living is totally removed from any shadow of death – death has no place in this way of life [as is the case with the life we know now].

The only reason there is Christianity is Easter. The Resurrection was not a miracle happening within our understanding of God, but the way God makes it possible for us to respond to the presence of God. This is the Resurrection, Jesus enjoying this way of living including his death. This is why he told the Sadducees: You are very much mistaken. Every reality from within the death culture cannot speak adequately of God. God’s love is totally unaffected by death, also death was not a necessary separation – love carries on being mutual and complete even through death.

With the Resurrection we receive the grace [gift] to experience the presence of God, not just know about it. Access to God’s way of revealing is not ours by nature but by grace. This is revealed through the Resurrection, not because it never existed before, but we cannot understand with minds clouded by death. This man who is dead is alive. It is the total immanence of God – God totally involved with us – that is God’s transcendence.

This has something to say about sin. The Resurrection reveals there is no divine necessity for death; death is present as something that is – but now we see it does not have to be. Not only is our understanding of God very much mistaken, but contrary to the understanding God desires us to have. Death is a human reality; and as such is sinful. Putting Jesus to death shows how we are actively involved in death-dealing. The necessity of human death is a necessity born of sin. For us death is not just passive to be endured, but also what we actively deal out.

God did not raise Jesus simply to show his immunity from death, or to rescue him. Jesus is raised for us. The victim of our death-dealing ways is raised up as forgiveness:  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him – John.3.16-17. Death is seen as a human reality infected with sin, but it is a human reality capable of being forgiven by exposure to love – greater love there is not than you die for another.

None of this happens for the benefit of God – it is all for us, when forgiveness enters into human death. Forgiveness, the fruit of the Resurrection is not about what we have done or failed to do, but what up until now we had believed what was natural for us. If death is something that can be forgiven, we are wrong, not just about God but also about ourselves.

If God can raise someone from the dead in human history what we thought as being inevitable [death austinas the end] is clearly not so. It is not just a biological reality but a cultural one – and so is capable of change. Sin as related to death need not be. God created us mortal – mortality means experiencing death – we need to ponder on how death would have been experienced if there had been no sin. This has implications for understanding Original Sin – what we are as human beings moving towards death – now seen as capable of forgiveness.

 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?

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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 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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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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