Tag Archives: Isaiah

7 April: what do they see?

Not many Canterbury citizens would pause for a photograph here! I have cropped away some of the street furniture on this corner, but there are still bollards, a bin, contradictory road signs and a public toilet block. Oh, and a cherry tree.

A cherry tree so laden with blossom that these Japanese people have stopped to take each other’s photographs, despite the clutter. They see something we pass by on the other side.

There is beauty in places where we’d never look; sometimes it breaks out and hits us between the eyes. Sometimes we can be shown beauty by a friend, or as here, by complete strangers.

We will soon be celebrating the Man of Sorrows, ‘so disfigured that he seemed no longer human’.(Isaiah 52:14). Let’s cut away the clutter and stand beneath the Tree of Life. Cherry blossom will not take away the horror and evil in this world, and it seems that all we can offer to help is the wiping with a face cloth, the cup of water or vinegar, the money in the collecting bucket.

Let’s not scorn to offer such support, the Works of Mercy; it makes a difference, reminds people that we are one family, sharing one earthly home. There’s something about cherry blossom that touches the Japanese soul: my nephew saw Japanese people photographing each other beneath cherry trees; my wife saw the same in Rome some years ago. It’s a deep sign of home.

The Cross is a deep sign of home, in Heaven for Eternity; through suffering we can be one with the Man of Sorrows who will be lifted up; with him we shall see the light and be content.

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17 December: Advent meditation by Alice Meynell

from Bro Chris

MEDITATION

Rorate Cœli desuper, et nubes pluant Justum.
Aperiatur Terra, et germinet Salvatorem.

Mystic dew from Heaven
Unto earth is given:
Break, O earth, a Saviour yield —
Fairest flower of the field”.
 

Translation from Catholic Encyclopedia

No sudden thing of glory and fear
   Was the Lord’s coming; but the dear
Slow Nature’s days followed each other
To form the Saviour from his Mother
—One of the children of the year.

The earth, the rain, received the trust,
—The sun and dews, to frame the Just.
   He drew his daily life from these,
   According to his own decrees
Who makes man from the fertile dust.

Sweet summer and the winter wild,
These brought him forth, the Undefiled.
   The happy Springs renewed again
   His daily bread, the growing grain,
The food and raiment of the Child.

Alice Meynell, a mother herself, was adamant that Jesus was a real human child. She was right, of course. ‘One of the children of the year’: my mind goes back a few hours to when we picked Abel up from his primary school to take him home. There he was, our eyes on him, but also aware of the rest of his class, the children of year 2 by English school reckoning. He can expect to spend the next nine or so years in the company of many of them.

I can imagine the children of Cairo and later Nazareth, playing with their companion, Jesus, learning to read together, taking him for granted.

Where did he get this wisdom?

From the sun and dews, and the fertile dust: from the Creation feeding and strengthening him, just as it should, just as he willed it to be.

Let us reread this poem slowly, and resolve not to take Jesus for granted, nor indeed our own existence, dependent as we are on ‘the earth, the rain, the sun and dews’. Laudato si.

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6 December: The Heart of Advent.

Fr John McCluskey MHM gave this homily at FISC  in December 2015. The call to renew the face of the earth has not grown any the less urgent in that time, so I have kept the topical references.

  • Isaiah 35:1-10
  • Psalm 84
  • Luke 5:17-26

Today’s readings take us to the heart of what Advent is about: longing and preparing for the coming among us of our Saviour, God coming to save us from our sins and their consequences, to restore peace and right order in our world, balance and integrity to creation.

It’s a familiar theme, but one that surely rings out much more clearly and urgently this Advent, coinciding as it does with the crucial international conference on Climate Change currently meeting in Paris. As we reflect on the readings today we can without difficulty recognise how apt and relevant they are to the discussions and negotiations going on there between all the countries of our world, rich and poor.

We share a common concern about our future and the future of our planet. But that concern is expressed and experienced in quite different ways.

  • The meeting in Paris is focussing our attention on the drastic measures needed to save ourselves from the disaster that is waiting for us if we continue to create deserts as a consequence of the way we are misusing the resources of our common home.
  • The Advent readings acknowledge the deserts but hold out the hope and promise of a new creation, or a creation renewed. Isaiah assures us that a time is coming when desert land will be made fertile, wasteland will rejoice, bloom and sing for joy; the blind, deaf, lame and dumb will be healed and strengthened; peace and justice will flourish again (Psalm 84). In a word: our world will become God’s creation again.

What accounts for this difference – the difference between the Hope of Advent and the fear and near despair driving the discussions and negotiations in Paris?

I think today’s Gospel points to the answer, since it clearly shows the difference there is between the way we see our problems and the way Jesus/God sees them.

  • A crippled man’s friends go to no end of trouble to bring him to Jesus, because they believe he can cure him. Jesus does cure him, but not right away. First he does something they hadn’t expected or even thought about. Seeing their faith, he said to the crippled man, ‘My friend, your sins are forgiven you.’
  • They received something they hadn’t thought of asking for, because they had a limited view of what they needed, and equally limited expectations. They simply wanted their friend to walk again. Jesus went much further, freeing him from everything that bound him, healing him through and through. Jesus saw sinfulness as much more deep-rooted that sickness.

I think there is a parallel here with our expectations of what will come out of the Paris meeting. We know that much more is needed than what we are asking for.

  • We need brave decisions, major changes in policy and practice around the world.
  • But we know also that whatever is decided will be limited, not enough – compromises, steps along the way, and there is a long way still to go.

We know that changes of policy will never of themselves be enough. Something much more radical and demanding is required: a recognition of the sinful, wasteful ways of modern living; and not only recognition but repentance and a real change of heart, and of the values by which we live – a conversion.

It is down to us – as individuals, families, communities – to make the changes in our way of living that anticipate and even go beyond what we expect and hope for from Paris. As the CAFOD slogan has it, ‘Live simply, that we may simply live.’

This means seeing with the eyes of faith what is really wrong, and acting accordingly. As Jesus always said, in response to those who asked for healing: It is your faith that has saved you.

It is that faith that he looks for and responds to in each of us; a faith that may begin by our turning to God for help as we experience some specific need, but that grows into something stronger, deeper; grows into a daily awareness of God’s life-giving, healing presence in our lives and in our world.

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28 May: a Little Child shall lead them, Before the Cross XXVI.

Elham Church, Kent.

We walked to Elham on the recommendation of our daughter; we were not disappointed. Firstly, to find the King’s Arms open and ready to sell us good beer which we enjoyed in the square in the full Spring sunshine. And then there was the church, also open, ready to sell us good second-hand books, and ready to give us plenty to reflect upon.

These Easter Lilies were placed before a Madonna and child, but a very Paschal, Easter-minded Madonna and child. Two years ago we looked at a portrait of Mary and baby Jesus in a pieta-like pose, and I urge you to revisit that post now, to complement this one.

That old post considered two paintings from the studio of Rogier van de Weyden, of the mid-XV Century, the Madonna and a Pieta. In each Mary is tenderly holding her son, whose pose as a baby matches that of his lifeless corpse. This is not what our artist in Elham has in view. Jesus may be four years old here, a boy, not a baby, but still dependent on Mary and Joseph for everything.

The boy is very much alive, yet he is standing as if practising for his work on the Cross. He is lightly supported by his mother; at this age he can walk for himself, but that gentle uplift is reassuring. As for Mary, not for the last time she ponders these things in her heart, the heart pierced by the sword of sorrow.

Jesus is about to step forth from her lap. Any parent will know the excitement and trepidation of following a small child, where are they going, what dangers can we perceive that they do not? But letting them lead us is part of growth for the child and also for the parent who is offered the chance to see the world through fresh eyes.

Mary could not prevent the death of Jesus on the Cross but she was there to welcome him on the third day. Isaiah tells us that a little child shall lead them: may we follow him through all life’s trials to our resurrection in his Kingdom.

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22 July: A Morning meeting, Feast of Mary Magdalene

easter.morning.frara.venice

This picture reminds me of the Song of Songs Chapter 2:

Behold he standeth behind our wall, looking through the windows, looking through the lattices. Behold my beloved speaketh to me:

Arise, make haste, my love, my dove, my beautiful one, and come. For winter is now past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers have appeared in our land, the time of pruning is come: the voice of the turtle is heard in our land: The fig tree hath put forth her green figs: the vines in flower yield their sweet smell. Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come: My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hollow places of the wall, shew me thy face, let thy voice sound in my ears: for thy voice is sweet, and thy face comely.

A contrast to the suffering servant in Isaiah 53:

there is no beauty in him, nor comeliness: and we have seen him, and there was no sightliness, that we should be desirous of him.

Mary Magdalene was there on Good Friday, she knew how true that verse was. Now on Sunday she is in the garden, and through the lattice, with the spring leaves growing over it, she sees – the Gardener?

Eyes blurred with tears, heart in utter confusion, that is her first thought.

Jesus himself is not yet used to this body renewed, is not ready to meet her. Presumably he throws his cloak over himself before walking round to meet her. ‘Noli me tangere’, do not touch me, is completely understandable from a human point of view at this moment. But we know he later invited the disciples to touch him.

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22 March. Before the Cross IX: Fresh, accessible and slightly subversive.

lego X

Bearing of the Cross

 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ekjohnson1/25761762410/in/photostream/

My son is now 14, and thinks he’s much too grown-up for Lego. But I’ve really enjoyed these years of revisiting the world of long six-ers and square flat four-ers, finding myself far more creative now with the pieces than I ever was as a child.

This crucifixion scene is an image designed to appeal to the younger Bible student, of course, as much as to adults. The quotation from Peter’s first epistle connects the death of Jesus with our response in dying to sin and living for righteousness (covenant justice, that is, lest we lapse into moralism). It indicates that its production by EK Johnson was an act of faith and this is important to me, as it is with all Christian art.

But shouldn’t a subject as serious as this be treated with more gravitas than Lego can offer? My inner conservative complains that “Lego Jesus” just seems wrong, diminishing his lordship, maybe, or infantilising his mission.

My inner iconoclast replies that this Lego scene represents a gentle mocking of religious art – with all its trappings of patronage and power; pride; ill-gotten wealth and elitism – and not of the cross itself. Wasn’t the cross always meant to serve as a massive lance to the boil of religious pomposity?

I like this image because I believe that the gospel story should be communicated meaningfully by every possible means. Fresh, accessible and slightly subversive, a Lego representation of Jesus connects and engages with today’s culture in ways that renaissance art and stained glass simply cannot.

EK Johnson is clearly keen for us to grasp the solemnity and significance of the event he depicts. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross … by his wounds you have been healed” reads the text. The apostle Peter is alluding to Isaiah the prophet, making sense of Christ’s crucifixion through the lens of the Hebrew scriptures and the promised “suffering servant”. If we find the Lego distracting or overly provocative, this text should leave us in no doubt that this was the most profound, powerful and momentous event in all of human history. It was the day the God of Israel worked his salvation for the world; for our lives.

Lego might not give us everything we want in a crucifixion scene, but it communicates its historical truth simply and clearly. Every age in religious art has provided its own distortions and distractions, however well-intentioned the artist. We inherit notions of the “sublime” from the Romantics, for example, but it’s a misguided ideal, because it lacks humility. There is certainly humility in Lego. Simple blocks and simple figures remove much of the element of human sophistication. And with that gone, we can begin to grasp – and be overwhelmed by – the love of God demonstrated on a hill in West Asia, two thousand years ago.

Rupert Greville.

Photo credit.

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8 January: An Epiphany Celebration with L’Arche Canterbury Pilgrims.

cathedralbyellie2

Six times a year a mixed gathering of L’Arche core members, assistants and friends meet as the Pilgrims’ Group to pray, eat, and enjoy each other’s company. Pilgrims? Well we are in Canterbury, where every footstep is on the traces of pilgrims to the Shrine of Thomas and saints like Alphege and Mildred from Saxon times, less well known now but great witnesses.

We make no claim to greatness but we do witness together with Scripture, prayer and fellowship at a shared table. This time we were remembering the wise men who made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to meet an infant king – but found him in Bethlehem.

Our celebration – and we are good at celebrations – took the form of a mini-mystery play around the office and workshop. The wise men left their cosy way of life behind, to try another way: the pilgrim road, seeking for the new born King, and being pointed to Jerusalem.

pilgrims way

And they had to try another way to go home, after they all had the same dream. Here is the text we followed, and the figures that we used to act out the story. After that, we prayed around the table, made ourselves crowns, and feasted. We are good at celebrations!

The lines in blue are repeated by all; red for rubrics means stage directions, not to be read aloud.


The readings are from Isaiah and Saint Matthew.

Isaiah wrote about people going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem before Jesus was born.

Shine out, Jerusalem, your light has come! Kings will come to your shining light. They will bring gold and incense and sing the praise of the Lord.

All: Sing the praise of the Lord.

Our scented candle can stand for the frankincense and myrrh, and the flame is the same colour as gold.

candle

The wise men were pilgrims following the star.

Mark to take up star to first station where magi are waiting.

After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in the time of King Herod,  some wise men came from the east.

 

Wherever they went they asked: ‘Where is the baby king of the Jews?’

‘Where is the baby king of the Jews?’

pilgrimscrib1

On the way they told people: We saw his star and have come to honour him.’

We saw his star and have come to honour him.’

Nobody else thought the star was special. They all said:

pilgrimscrib2

 

‘Go to Jerusalem to see the King of the Jews.’

Stop at  three ‘stations’ and repeat this scene.

At Jerusalem station we see Herod flanked by hid guards.

pilgrimscrib3herod

When they got to Jerusalem, they went to see King Herod. He was worried. He asked the priests and the teachers where Christ was to be born. They told him ‘At Bethlehem .’

At Bethlehem .’

‘for the prophet wrote:

Bethlehem! Out of you will come the shepherd of my people Israel.’

Bethlehem! Out of you will come the shepherd of my people Israel.’

Then Herod called the wise men. He asked them when the star had appeared, and sent them to Bethlehem. ‘Come and tell me when you find the baby, then I may go and worship him.’ They listened to the king, and they set out. And the star went forward, and halted over the place where the child was.

To final station, the crib.

pilgrimscrib4

They saw the child with his mother Mary, and they fell to their knees. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.

gold and frankincense and myrrh.

But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and they went home a different way.

they went home a different way.

Magi depart.

When I was at L’Arche Edmonton, I visited one of the activities where core members worked. The man in charge of it was a wise teacher. He taught me something I’ve never forgotten. Don’t tell someone they are doing something wrong when they are doing their best. Say, Try another way.

That is what the wise men did. First of all they left their home and their work to follow a star. And then, instead of going back to report to King Herod, they went home a different way. If they all had the same dream, they would have taken it seriously! Let’s try another way with the people we live and work with this year.

With thanks to Christina Chase who helped crystallise some of the ideas in this celebration, and thanks to Abel for the loan of his people.

pilgrims.diners.7.1.19

WT

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October 26. What is Theology saying, XXXIX: What Morality did Jesus teach?

barley-sea-waves-b-w-2-640x477

The humiliation that we all carry is that we are a mass of contradictions. Yet we are, before all else, a blessing; but we are well aware it is a mixed blessing – Original Sin, a doctrine many dislike – whatever we call it, we do have a sense of being inadequate. The word sin implies culpability, which is not what the doctrine wants to say! The precise meaning is that we are not culpable for it, but that we are wounded by it. It names my inner conflict so that I will not be shocked or surprised when it shows itself.

Paul sees both Adam and Christ as summaries of humanity. What happens in them must happen in all; not just then but always now. If you know you are a mixed blessing, filled with contradictions, a mystery to yourself, you won’t pretend to eliminate all that is unworthy, but heed Jesus’ advice: let them both grow together until harvest time – Matthew 13.30.

Jesus told us not to pull out the weeds – Matthew 13.29 – lest we also pull out the wheat; this is both sound spirituality and psychology. In Genesis 1.26 God says Let us make humanity in our own image – note the use of the plural form, as if intuiting the Trinity, God as relationship, the perfect mystery of total giving and receiving. It is interesting that physicists, molecular biologists and astronomers are more in tune with this universal pattern than Christian believers.

God isn’t looking for servants or contestants to play the game – God is looking simply for images to walk around the earth. This is as if God is saying all I want is some out there who will communicate who I am, what I am about and what is happening in God: You are my witnesses, says the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he – Isaiah 43.10. All morality is simply the imitation of God – not those who do it right go to heaven, but those who live like me are already in heaven.

AMcC

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8 March: Not Listening? Me?

‘As I was saying …’

‘You just don’t listen!’

I overheard this brief exchange in the street, and offer it as a reflection for Lent. Do I listen? Do I let the Lord get a word in edgeways? Is my heart open to the Lord, in whatever guise he may present himself to me?

As Jesus himself said, quoting the prophet Isaiah:

This people honoureth me with their lips: but their heart is far from me.

(Matthew 15:8).

‘As I was saying …’

 

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4 December: Light to see by.

weavers-cotts-upmill-640x565

I looked up from my mother’s garden to see these windows glowing in the winter’s sun. Those are weavers’ windows, raised up high and facing South to catch the sun, ‘that it may shine to all that are in the house’. Daylight was the more precious when there were only oil lamps to work by as the shades lengthened. Those sycamores would not then have been there to cast a shadow.

You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house.

Matthew 5:14–15

We can forget what a precious gift light is, with our street lights blotting the stars from view. And we are in danger of forgetting how precious our sisters and brothers are when we are encouraged to want an excess of earth’s goods for ourselves.

 Deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the needy and the harbourless into thy house: when thou shalt see one naked, cover him, and despise not thy own flesh. Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy health shall speedily arise, and thy justice shall go before thy face, and the glory of the Lord shall gather thee up.

Isaiah 58: 8-9

WT

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