Tag Archives: idolatry

June 5: A windy day in Canterbury.

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Eleanor captured a misty day in Canterbury. 

It was a windy day in Canterbury, so windy I did not light up the L’Arche garden incinerator (and who doesn’t like a fire outdoors?).

Home at the end of the morning to hang out the washing: Saint Stephen’s bells are ringing, and a bagpipe playing, blown on the wind which had changed direction so that I had to cycle against it going out and coming in.

Opening the emails, here was part of the day’s reading. Nebuchadnezzar had set up his golden statue:

“Be ready now to fall down and worship the statue I had made,
whenever you hear the sound of the trumpet,
flute, lyre, harp, psaltery, bagpipe,
and all the other musical instruments;
otherwise, you shall be instantly cast into the white-hot furnace;
and who is the God who can deliver you out of my hands?” Daniel 3:4-6

Of course we know what happened: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to worship the statue, were thrown into the furnace, and were joined by a fourth person,  identified as the angel of the Lord.

I guess the music of the bells and pipes was for a wedding. Let’s hope that the angel of the Lord will be with the couple in all their trials and all their joys.

MMB.

 

 

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May. What is Theology Saying? LIV: Salvation outside the Church III.

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If there is to be no distinction between Jew and Gentile, this means more than the emancipation of Christians from Jewish ritual laws. There can be no prejudice exercised against Jews, no persecution on account of religion or race. If we see any of this we know that the signs of the Messianic times are not being realised, and the Gospel is not being lived. The Nazi holocaust and austinthe silence of Christian nations in the face of it proclaimed to the Jews that Messianic times are not yet. Because the Jewish community continues to be faithful, God is faithful to them.

Because the case of Judaism is unique, theologians have had to ask what about other religions? What should be the Christian reaction? From the beginning it was always seen as apostasy for Christians to take part in worship of pagan gods, to offer incense before idols, even before the statue of the Emperor. No distinction was made between the use of incense in a ceremony that symbolised civil obedience and loyalty, and the use of incense in what is strictly worship. On account of such a lack, many Christians died.

Anthropology came to our aid by distinguishing between what is actually religious ritual, and what is merely a civic ritual. In modern times this distinction was made in China and Japan so that Christians could take part in honouring ancestors.

It is interesting to see that Christians did not see these things as so terrible when done by pagans, as when done by those enlightened by Christ. Saint Justin Martyr (died 165 AD) saw pagan philosophies and religions as ways that were leading people forward and would eventually converge on Christ, bringing everyone to worship the Father. This understanding faded in time due to a general distrust of foreign people and cultures – which led to Western Crusaders even killing Eastern Christians! With such a background we can see how the view of non-Christian religion as inherently evil arose.

AMcC

Door of Mercy from Doug in San Antonio

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3 April. Before the Cross XIX: The Presence.

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“The Presence” is a reflection on God’s dwelling among his people down the ages, and upon how, wherever he truly is might be regarded as a “temple”. John’s Gospel records Jesus referring to his own body as the temple. It was only through the destruction of that “temple”, and its being raised up after three days, that the dark powers of this world could be brought down.

The chains keeping us bound to those powers and to their dehumanising influences have been broken, and so we, as we respond to him, find ourselves becoming “temples”; God chooses to dwell in our own lives. It is when we turn our faces towards him in thankful praise and true worship (as would be appropriate in a temple of God) that “the blessing”, once given to the Israelites in the wilderness, becomes for us a healing, present reality.

The Presence

Where Presence filled each sight and sound

With harmony and life,

And one who, fashioned from the ground,

Delighted in his wife;

Where grace and kindness filled their days

And joy was in the air,

As all creation joined in praise

To Him who’d set it there.

 

To Him, who walked the very space,

Who knew and loved his own,

Where they could gaze upon his face

And wouldn’t feel alone.

The One who spoke as loving friend,

Who shared his perfect will,

Was pleased to dwell where all was well

And everything was still.

 

Then all was lost to pride and death

And sickness, lies and shame;

The very ones he’d given breath

Now trembled at his name.

And fear and hate and hate and fear

Would hold the nations bound

To lifeless idols, sword and spear,

And blood upon the ground.

 

If love with love could be revealed

And life with life remade,

And broken, hurting souls be healed

Because a debt was paid;

And those forgiven could forgive,

And angry hearts could mourn,

And if the dead began to live

Because a veil was torn –

 

The Presence on an ancient hill,

Beaten, nailed and speared –

But stubborn will rejects him still,

And sneers as once they sneered.

The Presence, whose ways and thoughts

Lift bitterness and care:

Better one day in his courts

Than a thousand spent elsewhere.

Rupert Greville

Image: Worship by Jun Jamosmos

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December 11: Things in the night that monstrous seem

crypt.monster Take far away each hideous dream,

Things in the night that monstrous seem …

Two lines from the compline hymn came to mind when I read about the Christmas TV Ad which shows a boy who has a monster under his bed. Not a lot to do with the real meaning of Christmas, I hear you say.

This monster above has lived in the crypt, or basement of Canterbury Cathedral for many hundreds of years, along with a few more of different kinds, not unlike the imaginary beasts in the margins of ancient manuscripts. This fellow is within sight of Mother Concordia of Minster’s Mary and Child.

Ancient writers imagined the infant Jesus creating living creatures from the mud of the ground. I can imagine him playing with toy monsters and dinosaurs as so many children do today. After all, there were plenty of monsters to be seen among the deities of ancient Egypt where he grew up!

Can we not play, and play fairly, in the world created for us and be grateful? Let’s play fairly by some of our less favoured sisters and brothers this Christmas – we all know several ways of helping. Let’s not be selfish monsters!

 

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November 5, Jesus Beyond Dogma II: v – ‘the danger of reducing God-in-Jesus to our own image and likeness’.

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It is far from true to say that the majority of thoughtful young adults today have abandoned religion. My experience is that it is the denominational that is the issue. They want spiritual relevance and ethical responsibility, but cannot see it in any us-and-them ideology that has accompanied so much institutional religion. While formal religion seems to be on the wane, there is certainly a resurgence of interest in things spiritual.

For many, spiritual realities do not happen apart from some kind of formal belief; whereas human experience suggests otherwise. But how do we recognise these signs, and what are they telling us? Is it possible for a genuinely spiritual person to see institutional religion as irrelevant? We have inherited formal structures which seem to suggest they are a sine qua non – monogamous marriage, the nuclear family, formal work place and religious institutions with dogmatic boundaries. These boundaries translate as rules and regulations controlling personal behaviour. On the one hand, without these boundaries there would be anarchy; on the other hand, leaving such boundaries unquestioned is a prescription for disintegration.

Personal relationship with Jesus is regarded by spiritual guides as the ultimate criterion of genuine spirituality. I have experienced the closeness of God when walking in the countryside, or meandering along the coastline, or sitting quietly in chapel. I hesitate to use a human analogy to explain this experience, because it feels as if something greater, more profound is here. My hesitancy is the possible danger of reducing God-in-Jesus to our own image and likeness, and in some way alien to the freedom of the children of God.

Does this sound a little pagan, worshipping the elements as in primitive times? Such statements seem to carry an element of certitude and clarity of faith – we know what is right and this isn’t it. We are so much part of the system that we easily adopt its labels. Take the word pagan. It is used frequently to denote not just opposition to formal religion, but devoting one’s time and energy to worshipping what are seen as replacements for the real God. Jesus said: do not be like pagans, those who make their authority felt – Mark.10.42.

It alleges that ancient worship of sun, moon and stars is primitive when seen from our civilised times. True worship of God is only possible in a civilised world, and is monotheistic. The ability and freedom to see our past in a more favourable light is one of the spiritual challenges facing us. It is not exonerating the past, but widening our horizons and seeing the unity in creation in ever new light.

AMcC

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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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22 December: This birth was hard

 

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It’s easy to feel smugly indignant at the commercialisation of Christmas and attempts to create an official Winter Holiday instead. I wonder whether that is a greater threat to the truth of Christmas than sentimental carols, sung unheedingly? Christmas is, as Mary herself said when she met Elizabeth before their sons were born:

He casts the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly;

He fills the starving with good things, sends the rich away empty.

Luke 1: 52-53.

Here is one mighty one, years later, most uneasy on his throne, cast down even:

 … this birth

Was hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to  our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people, clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

T.S. Eliot, Journey of the Magi.

Clutching their gods? We are tattooed on God’s hand (Isaiah 49:15); he hold us, gently. May we know his presence  every day, seeing him in the eyes of every person we meet.

MMB.

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14 November: Another Polish Door of Mercy

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As we entered this Door of Mercy at Krakow Cathedral, we found ourselves processing, or at least moving at a processional speed, pressed in on every side. It seemed that half of Poland was there, visiting the national shrine, site of royal coronations, resting place of saints, Poland’s Westminster Abbey.

Is a royal shrine the place to look for mercy? This Church is a baroque fantasia: silver, gold, marble wherever you turn. Where could I sit quietly to pray, as I can do in Canterbury Cathedral crypt?

Later I noticed this inscription along the external wall below a golden dome:

non nobis2

NON-NOBIS-DOMINE-NON-NOBIS-SED-NOMINI-Tuo.

This comes from Psalm 115:9:

 At the presence of the Lord the earth was moved, at the presence of the God of Jacob:

Who turned the rock into pools of water, and the stony hill into fountains of waters.

Not to us, O Lord, not to us; but to thy name give glory.

 For thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake: lest the gentiles should say: Where is their God?

But our God is in heaven: he hath done all things whatsoever he would.

The idols of the gentiles are silver and gold, the works of the hands of men.

They have mouths and speak not: they have eyes and see not.

They have ears and hear not: they have noses and smell not.

They have hands and feel not: they have feet and walk not: neither shall they cry out through their throat.

Let them that make them become like unto them: and all such as trust in them.

Puzzle this out: Glorify your name for the sake of your mercy – or for Israel to earn the respect of the gentiles? Would we not be better channels of mercy if we were humbler than that?

mercy.carving. (328x640)And Yet.

Saint Jadwiga, a young Queen of Poland buried within  this church, was called the spiritual mother of the poor, weak and ill: where she has passed is therefore a Door of Mercy. We can learn mercy from her, getting alongside the poor, weak and ill.  And that is half an answer to the conundrum; do what we can, where we are. And ‘non nobis, Domine’ indeed!

MMB.

 

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* Monday 1st February God is not Small-minded – 2

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Presence: The Lord meets Mary Magdalene on Easter Morning: York Minster.

David wanted to build a Temple in Jerusalem, no doubt intending to honour God with the best views in the city from a plot just next door to the King’s new palace. But the Lord was not in favour.

I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. (2Samuel7:6)

He is not a God to be domesticated, like the creature whose name is god spelt backwards, always ready to be idolised in a controlled and limited way. We must not idolise our Creator.

We can bring the best of our best to honour him in our church buildings: stained glass, soaring columns, glorious colour. They add nothing to him. But they can add something to us if we use them as doors to contemplation and prayer, and for that we need to move beyond art appreciation and learn to see and enjoy.

Celebrating Galway Cathedral at Fifty years, Fr Michael A. Conway writes:

To be attentive and to wait in such a place, to pray in this sense, is to be shaped by absence, by no-thing, in perfect freedom, beyond any conditions whatsoever; and so, ultimately, it is to be shaped by love. To pray in such a way in this kind of place is simply to enjoy God’s presence.

 In The Furrow, LXVI, 11; November 2015, p580.

May we enjoy that presence wherever we are all through this new month.

MMB.

 

 

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