Tag Archives: growth

30 August: Gardeners’ Union

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I think most gardeners would line up with the one in Christ’s parable of the barren fig tree:

A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung itAnd if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down. 

Luke 13: 6-9

Four years ago that  I rescued this bench from being demolished by a willow tree falling across it.

Now, the bench would be sittable-on, were it not for the weeds, and the willow is doing its job as part of an informal hedge against the field behind and above it. A change of crop in the field beyond, and fewer rainstorms,  may both have contributed to its not being further undermined, but those vertical shoots are still vertical and almost thick enough to become fence posts if needed.

A good spot to curl up with a book, especially if you bring a scythe along with you!

And a job well done, if I say so myself.

But what happened to the fig tree, I wonder? I can’t help feeling that a few vigorous shoots would spring up from the base – as happened when I had to take out a fig some years back – and it would be inspired to fruit again. Maybe I could use some summer pruning before I enter my autumnal years?

WT

 

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13 August, What is Theology Saying? XXIV: In the Image of God

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We are imago Dei not in some external, visible way but in the depth of our experience when we look in on ourselves and share ourselves with others. To think of Jesus as the hollow shell of a man with a divine inside we would miss the real channel of divine revelation – the human inside.

Jesus experienced a gradual consciousness of himself, his ordinary human feelings about friendship and loneliness, loyalty and betrayal, life and death and sharing a common destiny for all. Jesus learned to speak, think and pray and to figure out the will of the Father from the Hebrew Scriptures, from the faith of those around him and from what was happening in the larger world. He exercised his prophetic mission in different ways and by trial and error, followed through with those that best served his purpose.

He knew there was a price to pay for this: he would be arrested and got rid of. He freely chose to stand his ground and continue his mission; through prayer and reflection he came to see his coming death as an innocent sacrifice for the lives of others.

How could his consciousness be that of God and man at the same time? God does not think conceptually, nor does God know the way we know, when we speak of God as a person we are using analogy. God is mystery, we have no idea of knowing how God knows. When we speak of Jesus as human we know what we mean, when we speak of Jesus as divine we do not know what we mean. We know we do not mean a simple equation like Mrs Jones is the former Susan Smith because God is more beyond personhood than simply person.

AMcC

Photo from Monica Tobon

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28 July: The Beating Heart of Strasbourg

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The Cathedral is a heart

The Cathedral is a heart.

The tower is a bud.

Have you counted the steps

that lead to the platform?

Every night they become more and more numerous.

They grow.

The tower turns turns

and turns about itself.

It turns, it grows,

it dances with its saints

and the saints dance with their hearts.
Will it fly away with the angels,

the tower of Strasbourg Cathedral?

Strasbourg Cathedral is a swallow.

The swallows

believe in the angels amid the clouds.

The swallows don’t believe in ladders

to climb in the air.

They let themselves fall into the air

into the air interwoven

with the blue of infinity.

Strasbourg Cathedral is a swallow.

She lets herself fall into the winged sky

into the air of the angels.

 

I don’t claim to know what the sculptor Jean Arp meant by this poem; it is a poem that he let fly away once written. I did see an interview where he spoke about the saints on Strasbourg Cathedral. ‘We cannot surpass the work of the old masters’, he said of the cathedral dominating his home town. I read it as a love song.

Mediæval Cathedrals are well-loved. One expression of this is the continuing schedules of works to preserve these treasures, Canterbury always has scaffolding somewhere about its sides. We were not tempted to launch into the air from the roof platform at Strasbourg, but to have built the place so high was an act of faith by the architects, a duc in alto, putting out into the depths of space.

We should imitate Our Lord at his temptations in not taking irresponsible risks to impress the devil in us or in other people, but we should also trust him to hold us safe as we fly, ever in danger of falling, ever seeking the infinite blue of heaven.

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July 6: What do the Saints know? Part II: 6, Love and the Gift of Wisdom.

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So God makes it possible for me to love. And he has done this so well that love, in fact, is our greatest delight. Normally human beings love to love much more than we love to have faith or we love to have hope. As St Thomas puts it: “…no virtue has such a strong inclination to its act as charity, nor does any virtue perform its act with so great pleasure” (II.II.23.2).

Yet, although charity is infused into our hearts, we are nonetheless the ones who love. As St Thomas says, “Love of its very nature implies an act of the will” (II.II. 23.2). Grace makes it possible for us to love, and even connatural, but it is not inevitable. We must freely choose to do our own loving.

St. Thomas goes on to explain that the Holy Spirit augments our capacity to love by the gift of Wisdom. How does this Wisdom help us? Wisdom, says St. Thomas, “denotes a certain rectitude of judgment according to the eternal law” (II.II.45.2). With Wisdom, we begin, in other words, to evaluate experiences not according not to the transitory things of this life, but according to what really matters, what will matter in eternal life.

Thomas says that there are two aspects of Wisdom: one, of course, is the ability to think clearly, as we would expect. The other is to do with “a certain connaturality with the matter about which one has to judge. ….It belongs to Wisdom as a gift of the Holy Spirit to judge rightly about [divine things] on account of connaturality with them.”

What strikes me here is the difference between charity on one hand and faith and hope on the other. In faith and hope the Beloved is known, yes, but he is known, it seems to me, as the one who is sought. Here, in this teaching on connaturality with divine things, there is a glorious sense of finding, of possessing the Beloved. “Now this sympathy or connaturality for divine things is the result of charity, which unites us to God,” says Thomas simply. And he brings in 1Corinthians: “…he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.” This loving union, then, gives us a connaturality with God that encompases everything about us.

Moreover, in the gift of Wisdom, one not only learns about divine things, Thomas says, but also ‘suffers’ divine things – suffering in the sense of undergoing divine things. So these ‘divine things’ become not extrinsic to our deepest being, but are experienced and known right there in our deepest core, our heart of hearts.

SJC

St Francis Embraces Christ, Ste Anne de Beaupre, Canada, Christina Chase.

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3 July: What do the Saints Know? Part II, 3: HOPE: Hope and Divine Assistance

SCAN0066What does this have to do with our question as to what the saints know? Perhaps it is that saints, steeped in hope, are aware of what kind of answer to look for when they turn to God in prayer. What father would give his child a scorpion when he asked for an egg, as Jesus points out. Or, to turn this question slightly, what millionaire father would give his child only an egg when he asked for an egg? Would he not give him a share in his fortune? So, when God answers my prayer for an egg by giving me his fortune, it means that I get my prayer answered on a much deeper level than the one I am prepared for. A level that usually requires a new depth of obedience to the divine will, and a deeper level of faith. It can be very scary for an egg-sized mind to receive a heaven-sized answer. Perhaps we’ve all been there. But, here is another encouraging thought from St. Thomas (II.II. 17:7): “The object of hope is in one way eternal happiness and in another way divine assistance”. For the attaining of eternal life then, “divine assistance is ready for us,” he says. This line from Thomas seems to say that God knows how hard it can be for us to allow our egg-sized hopes to become wide – indeed, heaven-sized. But, don’t worry, he seems to say. Divine assistance will get us to that wide place.

This brings us back to Thomas’s idea of ‘leaning on’ God. He seems to be saying that God is always supporting us from the wide place. The idea is simple enough: keep leaning on His help, and be at peace – something like the weaned child on its mother’s lap, as one of the psalms puts it. God’s lap is wide.                                       SJC

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15 June. What do the Saints know? VI: Gifts of the Holy Spirit

HARVESTCHAPEL

Harvest

We have been pondering some wonderful things about the theological virtue of faith and using St. Thomas Aquinas as a guide. Consider this: in St. Thomas’ system, each theological virtue is attended by corresponding gifts of the Holy Spirit, which enable the virtue to exist more profoundly within our mind and heart. The idea is that no virtue is static. So faith does not just ‘sit there’ accumulating dust in our mind. It grows, deepens, flowers, bears fruit. We can count on this.

Thomas says that the gifts of Knowledge and Understanding attend the virtue of faith. In the gift of Understanding, he explains, we are supernaturally enlightened in order to penetrate further into the very essence of faith, and gain a sound grasp of the things to be believed (II.II. 8:1, and 9:1). And, the gift of Knowledge is a spiritual enlightenment by which we acquire a “sure and right judgment” about matters of faith. This knowledge, he says, is a ‘participated likeness’ to God’s own knowledge, and to God’s way of knowing. And God’s way of knowing? It is “not discursive, not argumentative, but absolute and simple” (II.II. 9:1).

So, in the gift of faith we are not given something that will ‘wear out’, that can be ‘used up’, go out of style, grow stale. We are given something that participates in God’s very life, in his way of knowing, and is sustained by further gifts of the Holy Spirit: Knowledge and Understanding. And these gifts continue to work within us, leading us to a participated likeness to God.

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13 June. What do the Saints Know? IV: How do we Cultivate our Faith?

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How do we cultivate our faith? If faith is a ‘place’, as I asserted yesterday – my word and not St Thomas’s – then we need to discover where we are. It is not a place on a map. So, and this is St. Thomas now, faith is cultivated (the ‘place’ comes to be understood) through questions, says Thomas. Faith, he says, “involves the intellect in a kind of inquiry.” What kind? Not the kind demanding empirical evidence (cf. II.II.1,5). Nor, when we inquire about the object of faith are we setting ourselves up as judges of the object of belief. If so, then this is not the kind of inquiry that is an expression of faith. It is merely a pitiful attempt to out-smart God. Thomas says that the kind of inquiry that goes with faith is that which attempts to “grasp with greater understanding what God has revealed and how he has confirmed it.” Faith, then, concerns not a vacuum in our knowledge; indeed, it concerns something that already exists, something that God has revealed, something that we therefore already ‘know’ – even if we only know it obliquely.

For me, this teaching from St. Thomas helps to dispel that temptation to think that we have to have faith because we can’t know God. At all. Faith, in that case, becomes something that merely tries to plug up the vacuum, a vacuum that we might not like to acknowledge is there in the first place.

What do we know, then? What can we say about faith? St. Thomas asserts: we can say that we know about eternal life. Or at least, we know it a little. This is how he puts it: “Faith is a habit of the mind, whereby eternal life is begun in us, making the intellect assent to what is non-apparent (II.II.4:1). The little words ‘in us’ are so important, I think. They tell us that we are ‘in touch with’ eternal life. And, so eternal life is not ‘out there’ beyond our reach. It’s not in an unbearably dull theological book. It’s not across the sea. We ‘have it’ in us. Going back to the image of the vacuum, well, we simply don’t have one, because through faith eternal life is begun in us.

This word ‘begun’ is important. Faith is not about the completion of the knowledge of God – if there even is such a thing. Which I doubt. Faith is about something that exists as a beginning – a beginning of something beautiful. This is something we ‘know’, but in a different way, on a different level from what we usually say we ‘know.’

Now, I can live with that understanding of faith pretty happily. It will probably not convince a hardened sceptic, but it does help to make my act of faith intelligible to me. If faith starts with ‘a divine infusion’ then it starts with mystery. This coexistence of real knowledge with mystery is not something to dismiss but to validate, and St Thomas does. In his teaching, faith is a real connection with eternal life, not in its fullness, but in its beginnings; not in clarity, but in mystery; not in fantasy, but in reality.

SJC.

Cultivating or Ploughing near Beachy Head, Sussex.

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11 June: What do the Saints know? II, What is connaturality?

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What does St. Thomas mean by the idea of connaturality? Does he use the word at all? How does it fit into his teaching?

The latin word connaturalitate comes easily sixty or so times throughout the Summa. And, it means what you would expect it to mean: it is not a mysterious or complicated concept. A connatural abililty refers to something that a being does or thinks which comes naturally to it, although the ability may not be an original part of its nature. It may be an acquired ability. Say, cooking! Or the way an actor acts a part. Or the ability to play an instrument well. Such abilities may feel strange at first, but eventually proficiency is achieved and the ability becomes connatural – or second nature. But, the level of connaturality we are considering here has to do not only with a set of physical abilities, or even mental ones. For St Thomas, connaturality goes much deeper, into a kind of sympathy with something (compassio is the latin term used by St Thomas), or a participation in something, a union with something to the point of undergoing what that thing undergoes, suffering what it suffers (patiens); an understanding of it from within.

St. Thomas uses the word connaturality a lot. He seems to like it. It is even possible to miss the use of the word connatural some of the time, because St Thomas uses it fairly unsensationally. But, eventually, when he begins to talk about faith, hope and charity – the famous ‘theological’ virtues – and to describe the effects of grace, he uses the word connatural again, to show that participating as fully as possible in our supernatural end – which is God’s very life – can become just as natural to us as living merely according to our natural tendencies. Here he is making a profound point, because he says many times that although we were created with an ‘inbuilt’ tendency toward our supernatural end, that end is beyond the reach of our fallen, un-graced, abilities. So, when he says that life with God can become connatural to us, it is something to notice. In fact, to my mind, whenever he is talking about the transforming power of grace, the idea of our arriving at a state of connaturality with divine things is implicit in an overarching way, even when he is not actually using the word.

The theological virtues, faith, hope and charity, are the root of all virtue for Thomas (II.II.4.7). They are at the beginning of the journey, not the end; they are our capacity for salutary action, and they fit us for connaturality with God, or better, they communicate God’s life to us. You might say that in the theological virtues, God is very ‘busy’ on our behalf, in Thomas’s teaching. Tomorrow we will begin to explore the virtue of faith.

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10 May: What is theology saying? V: Development of doctrine is a work in process

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Life is always in process, and all possible developments cannot be foreseen; there is a time-lag between the first experience of a new way and the discussions of theologians, and then the new way of formulating a doctrine. This means that the practice of the faithful will be in place before official pronouncements; which means that even when the pronouncements are made, life will again have moved beyond that point and the theologians will be trying to follow life.

However, some seem to think that the developments that happened in the past completed everything, save a few minor points. Before Vatican II this was a widely accepted view; but anyone who has taken care to read the documents of Vatican II will see how development of doctrine is very much a work in process; with any issue being revisited for further discussion. As regards the past we can judge what in fact true development was. For the present and the future we must live with risk, not having access to absolute certainty. This means remaining open to truth, no matter from whom or from what it may come. Just another way of saying – we live by faith and not by sight.

Life and growth of the Church, including the development of her teaching, cannot be without conflict; sometimes conflict is painful, but need not involve bitterness or hostility – exclusions and condemnations are not necessary. Those who have most furthered the doctrine of the Church have usually been persons who acted discreetly and patiently, without fearing the truth of their own experience, insight and learning.

AMcC

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As you were saying, Austin.

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Yesterday our walk in the woods with Abel involved hide and seek, as it always does. And then came a moment when he spoke volumes in a single word: ‘Where’s my grannie?’  I cannot begin to dissect that ‘my’.

As Austin was saying in today’s main post:

The written word can only tell us about love. Experience lets us know it ever more deeply.

 

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