Tag Archives: Heaven

15 March: People in their thousands, IV.

The risen Jesus leading Adam and Eve to heaven, with the Cross and the Tree of Life.

Part IV

We are looking at Jesus’ words in Luke 12: 4, where he says, To you, my friends, I say: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. He is telling us more than we may at first realise.

I’d like to ask us to consider under what heading we usually think of Jesus. Maybe we think of him most often as a teacher, or a miracle-worker, or a prophet. Maybe we think of him most often as the one who rose from the dead. Maybe we focus on him as God and the Son of God; maybe we turn to the Creed, with full acceptance of everything that the Creed says about him. All of these ways of thinking of Jesus are wonderful and true. But perhaps we forget that he is also a lover. He is a different sort of lover, granted, to the ones that are celebrated in novels and films, but he is nevertheless a lover. And the authentic lover, who loves the beloved more than himself, wants to protect the beloved from pain and suffering – indeed, wants to remove it entirely.

The human person’s deepest suffering is in the knowledge that we must die one day. Jesus wants not only to deprive this suffering of its ‘sting’, to use St. Paul’s expression (cf. 1 Cor. 15: 55-57), but also to reassure us about the entire experience. He tells us in John’s gospel that when we die, he will take us to himself and we go to the place he has prepared for us in the Father’s house (cf. Jn 14:3). As God, Jesus is actually capable of doing this. He does not overturn the laws of nature by taking death away. Except in the case of the miracles he works, nature’s processes remain the same. But what happens after our death is something new – it is Jesus’ ‘territory’, you might say. That is what he knows about. And because of this knowledge he tells us not to be afraid.

Let’s take a day to reflect on some of the ways in which Jesus talks about our death. Tomorrow, we’ll be back for our final reflection.

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26 February: Samuel Johnson on Spring.

 Samuel Johnson wrote poetry as well as dictionaries - and all manner of literature that paid his way. Here in an extract from 'Irene' he reflects on Spring in England.  In the moonlight nature looks new from the maker's hand. Let's pray this Lent for an awareness of being created by a smiling, unoffended God, and be grateful for his ever-ready forgiveness. Irene means peace.

And let's look for a darker sky than in a well-lit street to see how the moon spreads her mild radiance!
 
See how the moon, through all th' unclouded sky,
Spreads her mild radiance, and descending dews
Revive the languid flow'rs; thus nature shone
New from the maker's hand, and fair array'd
In the bright colours of primeval spring;
When purity, while fraud was yet unknown,
Play'd fearless in th' inviolated shades.

This elemental joy, this gen'ral calm,
Is, sure, the smile of unoffended heav'n.

From Irene by Samuel Johnson.

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18 February: Changeable Skies and Uncertain Seasons.

Winter’s Afternoon, Old Ruttington Lane.

Another visit to the eighteenth century in the company of Doctor Johnson and James Boswell.

In The Idler, No. II, Johnson shews that ‘an Englishman’s notice of the weather is the natural consequence of changeable skies and uncertain seasons… In our island every man goes to sleep unable to guess whether he shall behold in the morning a bright or cloudy atmosphere, whether his rest shall be lulled by a shower, or broken by a tempest. We therefore rejoice mutually at good weather, as at an escape from something that we feared; and mutually complain of bad, as of the loss of something that we hoped.’

Boswell for once is quoting from Johnson’s written words rather than conversation. I found this text on the same day in winter that I took the photograph. My father called the piercing of clouds by sunbeams such as we see here ‘The Gate of Heaven’. A saying worth recording, as Boswell would no doubt have agreed.

I am reminded of the line of Chesterton: ‘The gates of heaven are lightly locked.’ But do we look up to see them? Dare we set a toe over the threshold, pausing even for a moment, to catch a glimpse of glory? What does the voice from the cloud tell us? I found myself hurrying the next moment, as my grandson’s school bell had rung and he would soon be out, scanning the playground for his adults. But the moment stayed with me.

From “Life of Johnson, Volume 4 1780-1784” by James Boswell

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30 January: Charles I execution

Charles_I_AR_Sixpence_722625.jpg (800×377)
Sixpence coin of Charles I, Public domain via Wikipedia

On this day in 1649, Bishop William Juxon of London stood by the side of Charles I on the scaffold and bade farewell to him in the words:

You are exchanging from a temporal to an eternal crown—a good exchange.

Cromwell deposed Juxon as Bishop but he became Archbishop of Canterbury at the Restoration of Charles II.

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January 2, Tagore XVI: My day is done.

margatesunset-21-1-17

My day is done,

and I am like a boat drawn on the beach,

listening to the dance-music of the tide in the evening.

from “Stray Birds” by Rabindranath Tagore
And very gentle music it was, this winter’s evening in Margate. At the turn of the year, let’s pray that we may enjoy such evenings in this life, with a warm home to return to.
And may He support us all the day long, till the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in His mercy may He give us a safe lodging, and a holy rest and peace at the last.
Amen.
John Henry Cardinal Newman
Apologies that the Tagore’s numbering has got out of sequence.

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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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29 November: Heaven below, from Emily Dickinson.

Apartment residences, Canterbury: two have Christmas lights already!
 Who has not found the heaven below
   Will fail of it above.
God's residence is next to mine,
   His furniture is love.

A note on the same theme as Stefan's of yesterday. If we don't have room for our neighbours, how can we have room for Jesus?

from “Poems by Emily Dickinson, Third Series.

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21 November, Christ the King: Great Little One.

The Infant Jesus is supported by his mother – whose heart was pierced with Sorrow – as he adopts the stance of a crucified King. Elham Church, Kent.

Jesus was not the King that people thought they were looking for. The Gospel reading for today makes that clear: we hear Dismas, the repentant thief, accept Jesus’ paradoxical claim, beseeching, ‘Remember me when you come into your Kingdom’, and being told, ‘today you will be with me in Paradise.’ (Luke 29:35-43).

But 33 years before that, it was hardly a typical royal arrival in Bethlehem.

Welcome, all wonders in one sight!
       Eternity shut in a span;
Summer in winter; day in night;
       Heaven in earth, and God in man.
Great little one, whose all-embracing birth
Lifts earth to heaven, stoops heav’n to earth.

This is a verse from Richard Crashaw’s ‘In the Holy Nativity of Our Lord.’ He was an Anglican priest and academic, living from 1613-1649. He was ejected from Cambridge in 1643 by Oliver Cromwell, who famously did not approve of Christmas. Crashaw became a Catholic in exile, and died a canon of Loreto, Italy in August 1649.

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15 August: The Virgin Mary to the Child Jesus, I.

Holy Family Window, Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Saddleworth.

It’s Mary’s feast today. She matters because she is the mother of Jesus. Let’s read the thoughts of a 19th Century Protestant Englishwoman.

Elizabeth Barrett published this suite of twelve verses in 1838, before she met Robert Browning. I say ‘suite of verses’ for each one can stand as a poem in its own right. In these first two verses Mary speaks tenderly to her Son, trying to establish what their relationship will become. Jesus new-born, sleeps on, exhausted. What will become of them both? We will publish a further selection of the verses over the next three days.

In the stained glass window Jesus is old enough to learn to read and be in Joseph’s workshop, with a rose bush and a palm tree outside.

THE VIRGIN MARY TO THE CHILD JESUS

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

But see the Virgin blest
Hath laid her babe to rest.
Milton's Hymn on the Nativity.
I.
Sleep, sleep, mine Holy One!
My flesh, my Lord!—what name? I do not know
A name that seemeth not too high or low,
Too far from me or heaven:
My Jesus, that is best! that word being given
By the majestic angel whose command
Was softly as a man's beseeching said,
When I and all the earth appeared to stand
In the great overflow
Of light celestial from his wings and head.
Sleep, sleep, my saving One!
II.
And art Thou come for saving, baby-browed
And speechless Being—art Thou come for saving?
The palm that grows beside our door is bowed
By treadings of the low wind from the south,
A restless shadow through the chamber waving:
Upon its bough a bird sings in the sun,
But Thou, with that close slumber on Thy mouth,
Dost seem of wind and sun already weary.
Art come for saving, O my weary One?

More from EBB tomorrow; the whole suite can be found on line.

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5 August: Traherne XLIV, a life within eternity

It ought to be a firm principle rooted in us, 
that this life is the most precious season in all Eternity, 
because all Eternity dependeth on it. 

Now we may do those actions
which hereafter we shall never have occasion to do. 
And now we are to do them in another manner, 
which in its place is the most acceptable in all worlds: 
namely, by faith and hope,
in which God infinitely delighteth, 
with difficulty and danger, 
which God infinitely commiserates, and greatly esteems. 

So piecing this life with the life of Heaven, 
and seeing it as one with all Eternity, 
a part of it, 
a life within it: 
Strangely and stupendously blessed 
in its place and season.

‘This life is the most precious season in all Eternity, because all Eternity dependeth on it.’ I still find myself shaking my head at the piercing simplicity of this idea.

Lord, help me to see this life as a part of eternity,
strangely and stupendously blessed
in its place and season.

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