Tag Archives: life

November 20: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xx – ‘Self-serving paves the way for self-destruction’.

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The Eildon Hills in the countryside where Duns Scotus was born.

 

Land still is an object of exclusiveness and power – everyone has their private property, with some having far in excess of what they need, and others deprived of basic necessities. Land is gift to be shared openly and freely. No one owns the land; to do so undermines its giftedness. Land is one, with incredible diversity, but to be fully enjoyed needs to recover its primordial unity. Likewise with buildings – every religion has its special places. But as Jesus predicted, the ancient Temple was not destroyed by external forces; it destroyed itself.

Palm Sunday Sussundenga, Mozambique 2015 01

When any institution becomes self-serving it paves the way for self-destruction. [Note much of Jesus’ ministry took place outside!]. Presence is more important than location; and the primary Revelation is Creation. Jewish faith evolved to a point where law became its central value when meaning was equated with observance; observance of law which soon became laws! This inevitably led to division between the observers and the unclean. There is only one law – unconditional love. Law has a place, provided it serves life.

For patriarchal cultures, family is the basic means of control; where children learn to obey, first the adults and then authority beyond the house; but family also suffered from power games. Once again, Creation is our primary family. We all belong where there is no place for hierarchy. We get our ability to relate not from nationality, skin colour, religious affiliation, but from our primary belonging.

The Holy Spirit is the relating power of wisdom – and is reflected in every form of birthing in Creation – the Spirit is the fundamental Wisdom that permeates everything in Creation – human intelligence derives from it. But we need to learn how to channel it properly: too much of a good thing can oppress. We read of the need to test the Spirit that is in us, to make sure we are open to the gift and not misled by our own version of it. The Spirit comes first, impregnating and bringing forth what is new.

AMcC

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November 17: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xvii: ‘Human is unique.’

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Everything takes its identity from its relationships and not from self-first separateness. Jesus takes his identity from his mission – always pointing away from himself towards the Kingdom. This redefines human. Gone forever the lonely, isolated individual. For most of the 6 million years we have been around we were egalitarian, connected with the earth and cooperative in relation to other beings.

Original Creation is the source of living reality, including that of the earthly Jesus. The difference between Jesus and ourselves is that he was probably more aware of this. The ability to relate is a most noble quality – which has been severely impaired by the domination of patriarchal systems. It will be recovered more from the ground up than from the top down.

Story-telling is the most ancient form of communication – even before formal language emerged story-telling happened through gestures, pictures and skills of hand and eye. The purpose of story-telling was varied, but in the main as a search for meaning and purpose. Stories have their own compelling driving force, for which the teller becomes the creative agent. Time and again stories enable us to discover how individual lives blend with cosmic reality.

Is there a place for God here? World religions couch their truths within story, passed down from poets, prophets and messiahs [e.g. the Gospel parables]. However, institutional religion assures allegiance not through story but through procedures, rules and regulations, with God seen as the supreme ruler. We have formalised stories – Scriptures – which are meant to show the right relationship between the divine and the rest of creation. In fact in many contemporary situations these narratives tend to hide the divine reality, being overtaken by the views of the leaders of religious faith attempting to order and control. This subdues creativity and relegates people into a passive role that inhibits telling and hearing stories.

In Acts 16.2 Paul and Silas are in prison, shackled in chains. In the dark of night the whole prison is shaken by earthquake – gates are open, chains loosened. The governor panics and is for committing suicide; Paul restrains him, assuring him the prisoners are still inside. They are content just to be in their new-found freedom. Sadly, we hear no more about the prisoners, plenty about Paul – the opportunity for an example of liberating grace is lost. The writer is so taken-up with the hero, Paul, as to lose sight of the Gospel promise of liberation for the imprisoned and oppressed.

What is known as the Quantum Vision of the world: a world of endless possibilities, and it is real when there is openness to all of them; the really real is where all things are possible; it becomes unreal when we have to choose one or other option because we are limited in resourcefulness. The Jesus who brings abundant life transcends all structures; he abides not just in the human heart but in the heart of creation.

AMcC

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November 16: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xvi: ‘God is giving birth all day long!’

Palm Sunday Lumimba 2015 03

Relating says something crucial of God. Birthing seems to capture God’s activity. When asked what God does all day – Eckhart replied: God is giving birth all day long! The will-to-life always triumphs and always will – something primitive religions seemed to grasp with the worship of the Great Earth Mother Goddess. Despite all attempts to subvert this practice the sacredness of the earth itself and its ingenious capacity to survive surely calls for recognition.

This isn’t a gender issue – but about the human capacity and need to image God. Because we issue from the divine we must carry something of this. Obviously God’s continual birthing forth is more readily appreciated through the female rather than the male, while acknowledging that both genders contribute. Birthing is a motherly concept; and redemption does not come through mortality but through natality, celebrating the birthing of all Creation.

The universe is saturated with life in abundance – largely invisible to the eye and to science; becoming manifest through channels of energy in embodied forms of which the cosmos itself is the primary body and co-creates with the divine bringing forth the vast range of creatures, including humankind. God did not create a perfect world, which we spoiled and had to be repaired – God created a world able to become perfect by the way it is lived-in.

Embodiment is not just for humans. Creation is alive with a vast range of embodied expressions. Insofar as embodiment is a primary requisite for incarnation, God has been incarnating for billions of years. We have abused this by relegating embodiment to humankind. In a sense Jesus belongs to a timeless realm – he is forever urging us to transcend narrow and confining boundaries. The rational only considers real to mean what can be quantified and measured.

The Gospels speak of the Kingdom – royalty language doesn’t sit easily with us. Why does Jesus use this term, when he sought to transcend all confines. We have sanitised Jesus – making him a well-behaved adult of a middle class culture – through a felt need for convention, order and authority. Where is the Jesus of the Parables? The Kingly realm is now of a different character – now it is power with, not power over. No ruling classes, no privileges; simply equality through a love that gives unconditionally, inviting us to the greatest challenge we will ever face – to love as we are loved.

Discipleship is now different; no longer allegiance to an exalted figure at the top. Love is key, so too is justice, love without justice rapidly becomes sentiment. We have done great things in the name of charity, yet the poor remain poor, because they don’t know the justice which guarantees equality. The Kingdom is for practical change, for radical transformation. The Jesus story is not closed, it is open to the creativity of every succeeding generation.

AMcC

Picture from Missionaries of Africa

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November 14: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xiv – ‘ A place for everyone at table.’

 

Throughout the parables and miracle stories Jesus is forever flouting rules and tradition; and offers no apology for so doing. He certainly went to the Temple to pray, but often accompanied by outcasts whose presence defiled the holy place. Jesus was committed to fullness of life above and beyond any and every system. He made people search for God not only in holy books, but principally in daily life; he uses everyday language – calling on everyday experiences; he insists we are constantly in God’s presence, not just when we formally pray – he makes care and concern for the other the key factor for kingdom living.

The Twelve certainly expected the messiah to be heroic – and they were disillusioned when he didn’t live up to expectations. Saint Paul’s vision of Church is more in line – centred on the Word in service of the community – but by the Second Century the Church was rapidly becoming institutionalised according to a shape at variance with Jesus’ own vision. This was when ecclesiastical [ritualisation] became more important than ecclesial [community in faith]. However, the original vision was never lost, nor will it ever be lost. Truth always survives, despite efforts to constrain it. What came to be known as the dark ages was when the Church had difficulty in controlling what was happening – whereas from the perspective of the Spirit it was a time of creativity and growth.

Is the real Jesus the middle-class revolutionary we have inherited? Are we true to the prophetic figure from Nazareth? Was the following of Jesus meant to be via a respectable religion? Can the freedom of the oppressed, and the empowering of the powerless happen this way? We surely should be recognised as different – to live for Jesus demands much more of us than to die for him. It means seeking justice, inclusiveness and equality – a place for everyone at table. Kingdom living was not something Jesus inaugurated for others to embrace and follow. He is the Kingdom. The Kingdom is how he lives and relates. What was he seeing that captivated him so much?

We are brought up through co-dependency – some are in charge, most aren’t. Our role is largely passive obedience. God is father, the Church is mother, making our relationship that of children. In such a setting the discipleship of equals has no chance. Adult is reserved for those in charge. Compassion is a fascinating quality in Jesus – it is always a verb, not a noun. Compassion means entering into the suffering of another, not just being there to help; and has nothing to do with pity and mercy.

AMcC

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November 12: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xii – ‘Violence against violence.’

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For Jesus, non-violence is at the heart of his message, in which we are called to love – even our enemies. This was so threatening to the Roman and Jewish authorities that they eliminated Jesus, hoping his way would die with him. But the message was more enduring. However, early catechesis missed out on the dynamic power of life fully lived even to death. Missing the significance of life resulted in death being seen as the primary constituent for redemption. This led to the notion of redemptive violence: salvation coming through the cross, by the one made perfect through suffering even to the last drop of blood in obedience.

My desires are in imitation of the desires of others. My “I” depends entirely on those who surround me. If I recognise my dependence on other for my desiring, I will be at peace with this other. But as soon as I insist my desire is original I am in conflict with the other. Someone appears wearing a new fashion; someone I like and admire: I’d like to be like. I buy the same item – others comment on my doing this in imitation I reply yes I like what he’s wearing. However, by far the majority of us would resent the implication – insisting my desire has nothing to do with him. The world of advertising seeks to seduce us by showing someone/thing attractive – if you buy X you can be like Y!

We all desire through the eyes of another. The promising protégé soon experiences alienation from the teacher when the latter fears his standing is being eclipsed by this brighter student – and wonders what has happened – what have I done wrong to merit this reaction? Friends have become rivals.

In an attempt to patch things up we seek for a common scapegoat – this would never have happened if he’d never come here – get rid of him and all will be well again. Having achieved this, we experience a kind of peace – but not real peace. It is peace based on deceit, and the covered-up rivalry will emerge eventually, leading to an eventual exclusion of somebody else, to restore such peace.

In this scenario we have to establish 3 things to maintain peace: 1. forbid all sorts of behaviour that would disturb the peace and lead to conflict; 2. repeat where possible the original exclusion or expulsion, which led to our peace, which consists of ritual actions ending in the immolation of a victim – originally human, later animal; 3. and tell the story of how we were visited by the gods and founded a people – so giving birth to myth.

So, social exclusion is a violent form of protection against violence, made possible by murder – disguised through being ritualised. This universally accepted way is a blind justification of what we are actually doing – cultivating a belief in the guilt of the innocent victim. Cultivating such blindness is the only way to resolve conflict and to avoid social self-destruction [it is good that one person die…].

There is only one way this can be challenged. When someone with an entirely different perception, one not dependent on such a lie, comes to the group and points it out. The Jewish story is a long, slow discovery of the innocence of the victim. Look to the foundation of human culture – Cain and Abel – so too with Romulus and Remus – the two brothers who fight about who is the founder of Rome. They organise a competition to see who has received the blessing of the gods. Remus sees some birds, Romulus sees some more impressive birds. In the fight that ensues Romulus kills Remus and becomes the founder of Rome. Remus was accused of impiety towards the gods and for that reason Romulus was right to kill him.

So too with Cain and Abel [Genesis] – the same thing happens – Cain kills Abel; but there is a difference of interpretation: God says to Cain – where is your brother? A – His blood cries out to me! This declares that the murder is no more than that; a sordid crime, and God is on the side of the victim.

AMcC

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November 11: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xi – ‘ sinners feel at home with him’.

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Jesus is inclusive in his relationships, especially at table. Tax collectors and sinners feel at home with him – not a male with soft edges, but one who is radically different – relational rather than rational. But there’s more – a dimension that has eluded scholars for centuries. His is a presence that transcends space and time. The stereotypical dualism of male and female is transcended in favour of an integration that relativises both the male and female as seen in basic biology.

Redemptive Violence – Women shed blood to give life; men tend to shed blood in order to take life. Ancient cultures saw blood as containing the life force – a force often misused and abused for an angry god. Thus emerged the notion of sacrifice. Shedding blood as an act of appeasement can be traced back to shedding animal blood so that humans could survive. It is said that humans have always hunted for food and killed animals to get it. But research going back 40,000 years has uncovered evidence that the initial gathering of food was from plant life, and animals were killed only when such was unavailable.

Slaying animals does not seem to have been practised during early agricultural times [around 8,000 BC]. Although more food was gleaned from the land, the desire for meat was also present; and during this time the shedding of blood acquired religious significance. Governance was by fiercely aggressive males, who validated what they did through belief in a sky god, who rapidly became like themselves – domineering and demanding; and so pacifying strategies came into play. Animals were the primary victims along with first fruits of the seasons. On rare occasions humans were sacrificed. In this way the notion of the scapegoat came to the fore.

René Girard traces the notion of scapegoating to mimetic [imitating] desire leading to rivalry and violence; it was extensively used to counter threats of aggression. Girard and others see the death of Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice that renders the scapegoat redundant forever. The notion of blood sacrifice is a child of the patriarchal system of around 10,000 years ago. Bloodletting and sacrifice evolved under an anthropocentric world view that man is the measure of all things. In the human, blood seems to be life’s energy, and so must be the life-blood of everything in creation, including God.

Blood sacrifice was seen as restoring the balance, setting things right with the offended one. The notion of victory crept into language for the vindictive God and his earthly representatives. The Hebrew Scriptures reveal a God who is pleased at the slaying of enemies, and whose glory is enhanced by victory through the sword. This is a far cry from the earlier Goddess whose bloodletting was at the service of life-creating.

These two become confused in Jesus. New life was the key-word for Kingdom living, but this tended to be lost with the understanding of salvation through death on the cross – hence understandings like obedience through suffering. For Jesus, non-violence is at the heart of his message, in which we are called to love – even our enemies.

This was so threatening to the Roman and Jewish authorities that they eliminated Jesus, hoping his way would die with him.

AMcC

I had not planned that this post should appear on Armistice Day, but it is worth pondering why violence and war happen, today of all days. WT

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November 2, Jesus Beyond Dogma II: ii- Jesus Knew the Way

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All of us search for moral truth – and we find ourselves in agreement with folk of other faiths on values like peace with justice, truth and honesty, with respect for human life and above all – the primacy of love.

Jesus came as one who appeared to know the way to all this; and the Resurrection told them he had succeeded. Relief and excitement followed – he’s found the way out! This is the Good News – the Lord is risen! Jesus has entered the new life where death and sin are not there; and he offers the same invitation to all – come and see.

When those first disciples proclaimed Jesus is Lord, they were saying they had witnessed the moment when all this became clear. They had seen him suffer and die, they had been there at his burial – but now he is here, fully alive. What was reassuring was he seemed to be simultaneously dead and fully alive – he carried the marks of death yet was fully alive – death had been stripped of its power to frighten. The Son of God “loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). By suffering for us He not only provided us with an example for our imitation, (cf. 1 Peter 2:21; Matthew 16:24; Luke 14:27) He blazed a trail, and if we follow it, life and death are made holy and take on a new meaning. (GS.22)1

To believe Jesus is Lord means that life is no longer hovering on the brink of absurdity. No goodness is wasted and there is no ultimate defeat of human values. They are the building blocks for making all things new, to be transformed, as was the peak of human endeavour, in the Resurrection. This is what makes Christianity unchangingly always new, he has found the way through – the Lord is risen! What they were saying was some of them had seen him, walked and talked with him. Yahweh had kept his promise in this one man, who was saying to everyone – come and see.

This is telling us that the deaths of people like Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero… are only tragic in the way Calvary is tragic. With Easter morning death has lost its sting. The Resurrection reveals the divine intention with regard to everything that is good, anything that reflects the full human response to God is doing the Father’s will – i.e. creating the kind of world of the Messianic promises: peace with justice; coming to the help of the poor and powerless; universal fraternity and the freedom to worship the one God in whatever way is appropriate.

AMcC

1Gaudium et Spes – Joy and Hope – is the Second Vatican Council’s Document on the Church in the Modern World. http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_cons_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html.

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November 1, Jesus Beyond Dogma II: i – Creeds, Codes and Dogmas

relief-1Chichester Cathedral

Reading the Book of Acts we see clearly how different was the Apostles’ sense of mission to that of today’s Church. We have Creeds, Codes and doctrines – systems to follow to preach the Word – they had none of this. They went out and shared their experiences of living with Jesus, especially after the Resurrection; what it was like to be with him. This mission hasn’t changed, though how we go about it has. We no longer have people to listen to who lived with him – nor even do we know of people who were with him.

We are weighed down with centuries of doctrine and speculation. The theologian speaks a language strangers do not know. So much of what is said and written seems far removed from everyday life. Can we do anything to recapture the powerful simplicity of those early days? The answer is the same – it is Jesus whom we share. The first Christian profession of faith was not I believe in God… but Jesus is Lord! Is this my experience, or is it what I am told to say? The Jesus they shared was a man they had known and lived with – they had experienced his enthusiasm, witnessed his frustrations. He enjoyed his life, along with him they knew excitement and disappointment – he wept on hearing of a friend’s death; and died violently while still a young man – with hope seemingly shattered and promises gone.

But here was not just a young man, full of promising potential – here was the reality of what being human means. Made in the image of God, the perfection of the human consists in the degree to which it truly reflects its origin. He claimed to be one with the Father, indeed he said to see him was to see the Father – he didn’t simply reflect divine perfection, he is this perfection. His disciples – even on Good Friday – knew they had seen the premature death of a man in whom they saw no trace whatsoever of evil. They saw the question all of us ask – even the best of lives must end, even the most special people must die, is life meant to be so absurd? Are our ideas, hopes and visions a promise of something wonderful to come or is it all a delusion?

These questions were answered by the Resurrection. This man, who had lived an exemplary human life, trusting himself entirely in the providence of Abba, was not deluded; and the chasm of death was no longer impassable. His friends remembered how they first met him, when he invited them when they asked him where he lived – come and see, he said. We may not know what they actually saw, but we know what they discovered from his passing from this life into a new world was not for him alone, but a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth – Ephesians 1.10.

Just as his death asked the vital question about the meaning of life; so the Resurrection provided the answer. God’s saving plan has finally earned the response in the most perfect way possible. The human Jesus has shown the fidelity which is the only reply God was waiting to receive. Now the human race began to be glorified through one of its members entering in to the new heaven and new earth. The way was clear for the disciples, our destiny and how to achieve it is wide open to anyone sharing the same humanity. Hopes and longings were always present for some kind of happiness beyond death – but God’s plan was recognised only in vague ways. Like a group of weary and hungry people lost in a forest; hopes were occasionally raised by some who set-out to find it, but there was no news of how they got on.

AMcC

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23 October: Readings from Mary Webb XIII: sticky brown hope

horse chestnut bud

As a sick young child I was sent to a prison-like convalescent home in Worcestershire, hoping that fresh air would do me good. My best memories are of celandines and crocus, those early spring flowers; and sticky buds of horse chestnut which the teacher brought in and allowed to open in the classroom. Mary Webb was thinking of these same buds in autumn when they come into prominence.

MMB

Curiosity is awakened by the small brown bud at the end of a chestnut twig in autumn, a little farther on than this year’s fruit. How much of the future form is hidden in that small sphere? How much embryo tree is wrapped in its inner cases of wool and velvet? What hint of next summer’s white chalice and green finger dwells in its innermost recesses?

Long before the unfolding of these buds in April, when the downy leaflets uncurl, you can see, if you open one, the compressed cluster – each yellowish ball about the size of a pinhead – which is the future flower, and the faint dawnings of leaves all wrapped in soft wadding.

The thought of the sap forming itself into these marvels, of the skilful, silent artistry going on without hands at the end of every bough and at the heart of every root makes the world a place of almost unbearable wonder.

Laudato Si’!

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October 16: Readings from Mary Webb, VIII – Tranquility deepened by sounds.

barley-sea-waves-b-w-2-640x477Barley, one of the heavier grains, dancing in the wind

 

Just before autumn the oat fields begin their dry-throated song, louder than that of the grass, and the heavier grains keep time with fairy castanets. Sounds of reaping begin to haunt the air; the prelude of autumn has begun.

On still, September mornings, when a sweet warm wind blows under the grey sky, sounds carry far – the bleating of sheep, calls from far-off fields, the sharp trot of a horse on a hard road, the hum of threshing. The rooks fly in a long black thread across the uplands to the stubble-fields, and the sense of tranquillity is deepened by their erratic cawing.

Some of the harshest tones of nature bring the deepest rest. Few things are so unmusical as the voices of rooks, yet a home with a rookery is a very peaceful place. Perhaps the continual cawing, like the ticking of a clock in a quiet room, emphasises the surrounding hush; perhaps it is the associations of childhood and calm days; or is it something deep and old as earth that lurks in the harsh voices and comes poignantly to our hearts?

Hear them on a windless evening, winging homeward heavily through the rain, with desultory cawing! Listen as they settle clamorously for the night and you will know how well they fill the pauses made by departing sweetness.

From Springs of Joy: The Joy of Music.

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