Tag Archives: praise

11 May: Honour the LORD with your wealth.

 
“Honour the LORD with your wealth and with the first-fruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.” Proverbs 3:9.
 
Christ Jesus would have approved of this mosaic in Broadstairs Baptist Church. The grapes, the wine, the bread could all be from very close by. There are still fishing boats working nearby, farms growing wheat and ever more vineyards as Kent’s climate favours the grape more and more. The mosaic brings to our consciousness the reality of where this church is sent.
 
The mosaic is honouring the Lord with the first-fruits of  the local community; presumably the Church used its collective wealth to commission the work from a local artist. A mosaicist used to live in our street, not so far away.
 
The church uses its wealth, in terms of the church, hall and meeting rooms, not only to worship and chat about the congregation’s business, but also open these up to local groups. They are conscious of other people’s needs and strive to meet them. I used to teach there: groups of teenagers who had fallen out of school for different reasons and who would not have been wanted in other halls because of occasionally unpredictable behaviour. But there was always something else going on in the building at the same time, or following on from us: playgroup, rehab exercises for older people, drop-in sessions of various sorts. 
 
Thank you to Broadstairs Baptist Church for honouring the Lord by sharing your wealth! 
 
In these last days of Lent, we can remember people like Mary Magdalene, Johanna, Susanna, and Mrs Zebedee who supported Jesus with their wealth, not forgetting Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathea who provided Christ’s tomb, newly carved from the rock. Am I supporting Jesus with my wealth of money, time, abilities?

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9 February: Nathaniel Finds His Heart, Part I.

from FMSL

A feast of Sister Johanna’s thoughts during these few days. Today and tomorrow she invites us to sit under the fig tree with Nathaniel. Will he become a disciple of Jesus? And let’s ask ourselves as well, will we follow him?

In the first chapter of the Gospel of John, starting with verse thirty-five, John gives us his account of the calling of the disciples.  I was pondering this well-known section of the gospel recently, thinking about what it must have been like to be one of those who were called.  Their life changed completely, from top to bottom, bottom to top, from the outside in and inside out – all in a matter of minutes.  The exact moment of each disciple’s encounter with Jesus, the moment when they realised that following him was the only thing that really mattered, must have been deeply inscribed within their memories.  In quiet times, they must have revisited the mysterious occasion, trying to understand its profound effect and meaning.  

I notice this time that in John’s gospel, the disciples are excited about Jesus in a way that is less evident in the other gospels.  Right from the beginning of their discipleship, they are already talking about Jesus’ identity as saviour.  Two of those called immediately tell others that Jesus is the Messiah.  Andrew, Peter’s brother, is the first to do so (see John 1:40f).  Then Philip makes the same declaration, and tells Nathaniel that they had found ‘him of whom Moses in the Law and the prophets wrote.’  And here I begin to slow down.  

Something about Nathaniel’s response to this news is absorbing my attention, and I want to explore this feeling.  Nathaniel is different.  Seemingly, he is not so ready to jump on this Jesus-bandwagon.  He is cautious.  He points out to Philip that Jesus comes from the lacklustre town of Nazareth.  Before we think how silly Nathaniel is being, let’s stop.  It can be quite a turn-off to discover that a person everybody is making such a fuss about comes from the kind of place where the only exciting thing that ever happens is… is nothing.  The people there are backward.  They have no style.  They all talk with their own uncultured accent.  They’re just losers, we might think.  In our day, such a town would probably not be a safe place to live – there’d be gangs, maybe drugs and weapons.  “From Nazareth?” Nathaniel asks.  “Can anything good come from there?”  I can think of quite a few places about which I’d be inclined to say that.  And that’s where Jesus comes from.  

Then John records the conversation that takes place between Nathaniel and Jesus.  It is an unusual one.  Interpreting it can be difficult.  I ask the Holy Spirit to inspire my imagination and then I let my thoughts play with this scene.  I first imagine Jesus speaking to Nathaniel in the rather jovial tones we often adopt in social situations when we meet a new person.  I hear Jesus now.  He’s saying in a friendly voice to Nathaniel – maybe even clapping him lightly on the back – “Nathaniel!  An Israelite in whom there is no deception!”  They’re smiling.  And they are also sizing each other up.  As I think about these words, I realise that there is a subtext here in Jesus’ introductory remark.  Jesus seems to be telling Nathaniel that he senses his hesitation about him.  But that’s not all.  Jesus’ words are not words of correction.  There is nothing threatening in them.  On the contrary, Jesus’ friendliness suggests that he likes the fact that this Israelite will think for himself and will not deceive him by pretending to be impressed just because everyone else happens to be. 

What does Nathaniel make of this?  I think he’s secretly pleased.  He’s been complimented by Jesus of Nazareth – but in an understated way.  We are usually quick to notice compliments, even understated ones.  Nathaniel is no different.  Probably taking up Jesus’ own joking tone, Nathaniel says to him, “How do you know me?”  When we receive an unexpected compliment, sometimes we try to deflect it with a little joke.  It isn’t that we don’t like praise.  We always do – but it can make us feel momentarily bashful, slightly confused.  We’re apt to cover this awkwardness with some bravado.  “Of course I’m the admirable human being you think I am!  How did you happen to find this out about me?” is what Nathaniel’s playful remark suggests to me.  

Those of you who have read my posts before know that I’m apt to take time to develop these lectio reflections so that we can enter more deeply into the sacred text by prayer.  I think we should stop here for today.  As Jesus and Nathaniel are getting to know each other perhaps we can turn to Jesus in prayer as if meeting him for the first time.  What have we heard about him?  What does he say to us?   Are we playful?  Or serious?  Tomorrow we will return to this reflection. 

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28 January: Praise creation, praise the Creator.

Another reflection from Chesterton on Saint Francis*, who among many other things, could be called a Performance Poet today.

Saint Francis hails the elements with an old familiarity that is almost an old frivolity. He calls them his Brother Fire and his Sister Water. So arises out of this almost nihilistic abyss the noble thing that is called Praise; which no one will ever understand while he identifies it with nature-worship or pantheistic optimism.

When we say that a poet praises the whole creation, we commonly mean only that he praises the whole cosmos. But this sort of poet does really praise creation, in the sense of the act of creation. He praises the passage or transition from nonentity to entity; there falls here also the shadow of that archetypal image of the bridge, which has given to the priest his archaic and mysterious name.

We in the West may be over-familiar with stories of Francis calling up his Brother Fire and his Sister Water, and this partly because we have lost touch with fire and water. How many households are all-electric and possibly only light candles on birthday cakes? Many have nowhere to light a fire, keeping warm and cooking without a flame, at the touch of a switch.

In our everyday lives water is tamed to flow through pipes, to be heated in a closed boiler, disposed of when dirty through more pipes; not the way to treat a sister. Still less the pollution in rivers and the ocean. Maybe we need to listen again.

We praise you, Lord, for all your creatures,
especially for Brother Sun,
who is the day through whom you give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour,
of you Most High, he bears your likeness.
We praise you, Lord, for Sister Water,
so useful, humble, precious and pure.

*Saint Francis of Assisi: The Life and Times of St. Francis” by G. K. Chesterton

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1 January: Francis teaches the gift of thanksgiving.

Ste Anne de Beaupre

Are you worried about the coming year? Are you happy to be alive? What would make you happy? Are you grateful for your existence? Chesterton calls us to learn from Saint Francis how to accept life as a gift from our Creator.

The full and final spirit in which we should turn to St. Francis is the spirit of thanks for what he has done. He was above all things a great giver; and he cared chiefly for the best kind of giving which is called thanksgiving. If another great man wrote a grammar of assent, he may well be said to have written a grammar of acceptance; a grammar of gratitude. He understood down to its very depths the theory of thanks; and its depths are a bottomless abyss. He knew that the praise of God stands on its strongest ground when it stands on nothing. He knew that we can best measure the towering miracle of the mere fact of existence if we realise that but for some strange mercy we should not even exist.”

From “Saint Francis of Assisi: The Life and Times of St. Francis” by G. K. Chesterton.

Photo courtesy of Christina Chase.

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30 September, Season of Creation XXXI: Laudato Si’ XV.

More wisdom on Creation and our part in it, as distilled by Pope Francis

86. We understand better the importance and meaning of each creature if we contemplate it within the entirety of God’s plan. As the Catechism teaches: “God wills the interdependence of creatures. The sun and the moon, the cedar and the little flower, the eagle and the sparrow: the spectacle of their countless diversities and inequalities tells us that no creature is self-sufficient. Creatures exist only in dependence on each other, to complete each other, in the service of each other.”

87. When we can see God reflected in all that exists, our hearts are moved to praise the Lord for all his creatures and to worship him in union with them. This sentiment finds magnificent expression in the hymn of Saint Francis of Assisi:

Praised be you, my Lord, with all your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
who is the day and through whom you give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour;
and bears a likeness of you, Most High.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
in heaven you formed them clear and precious and beautiful.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather
through whom you give sustenance to your creatures.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Water,
who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night,
and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong”.

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18 September: The world is a joyful mystery, Creation Season XIX; Laudato Si’ III.

In this section Pope Francis looks to Saint Francis of Assisi as an example to follow.

I do not want to write this Encyclical without turning to that attractive and compelling figure, whose name I took as my guide and inspiration when I was elected Bishop of Rome. I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically. He is the patron saint of all who study and work in the area of ecology, and he is also much loved by non-Christians. He was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and outcast.

He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, his openheartedness. He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.

11. Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human. Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. He communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them “to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason”. His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists. His disciple Saint Bonaventure tells us that, “from a reflection on the primary source of all things, filled with even more abundant piety, he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’”. Such a conviction cannot be written off as naive romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behaviour. If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.

12. What is more, Saint Francis, faithful to Scripture, invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness. “Through the greatness and the beauty of creatures one comes to know by analogy their maker” (Wisdom 13:5); indeed, “his eternal power and divinity have been made known through his works since the creation of the world” (Romans 1:20). For this reason, Francis asked that part of the friary garden always be left untouched, so that wild flowers and herbs could grow there, and those who saw them could raise their minds to God, the Creator of such beauty. Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.

Of course, the temptation is never far away to see the world as a problem to be solved. It is perhaps then that we need to stop thinking and start singing! We must refuse to turn the world about us into an object to be used and controlled for short term gain. Creatures are our sisters and brothers.

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10 August: Some people pray …

Frank Solanki is a perennially productive poet with a great sense of humour that does not hide his serious side. I thought I’d share this poem with you. Just click on the link below, and let’s pray that the gift of gratitude be given to us all and received and shared by us all.

The tradition of using the funny side to approach a profound message goes back to the parables of Jesus, in fact to the crazy things the prophets did, like Elijah or Jeremiah.

So click on the link, for here comes Frank!

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18 May: Environment Novena – Day V

Red Sussex calves

Environment Novena – Day 5

The fifth of nine days of prayer and readings for tangible action to respond to the urgent climate change issues we all face. Here is the whole posting.

Bless the Lord, all things that grow on the earth,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.
Daniel 3.

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25 March: As Jesus was Speaking Luke 11:27-28

Sister Johanna was not thinking solely of the Annunciation when she composed this reflection, but the whole relationship between Jesus and Mary is there, as a newly germinated seed.

The woman who engages Jesus in this story receives his attention, respect, and a challenge. Our picture from the Baptistry of the Abbey of St Maurice, Switzerland, shows another encounter between Jesus and a woman – the Samaritan at the Well. Jesus is shown as the Word, his book showing Alpha and Omega, symbols to be engraved upon the Paschal Candle in ten days from now.

As Jesus was Speaking (Luke 11:27-28)

It happened that as Jesus was speaking, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said, ‘Blessed the womb that bore you and the breasts that fed you!’ But he replied, ‘More blessed still are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’ (see Luke 11:27-28).

Jesus’ behaviour to women is a study that goes far beyond what I can do in a short reflection. But I think it might be safe to say that in his conduct toward women Jesus is both straightforward and courteous. At times he is more the first than the second, and becomes surprisingly frank – but only with those women who reveal in the course of the conversation that they are capable of dealing with his frankness – and he seems to be unerring in knowing who they are ahead of time. Something in their glance, maybe? Or the way they stand? I don’t know. But in this instance, recorded by St Luke (11:27-28), Jesus takes the other approach. He is very gentle here in the way he corrects this woman’s words.

She is clearly a well-meaning person, but nonetheless, she only gets it partially right and Jesus is not really happy with what she says. This passage has often puzzled me; at first glance, I couldn’t find anything really wrong with her words. I wondered why Jesus found it necessary to add his bit. Why couldn’t he just let it go? After all, his mother was blessed. As I was pondering this seemingly small exchange and asking the Lord to enlighten me about it, it occurred to me for the first time that the words the woman uses in praise of Jesus’ mother may very well have been an expression that was common among pious Jewish women at that time – almost formulaic. A bit of research revealed that my hunch was correct.* It’s likely that these words were a saying used when it was clear that some woman’s grown son had turned out well. Even so, what is wrong with it?

As I pondered, the matter began to clarify. First I realised that, yes, Jesus’ mother deserves praise, always and everywhere, but Jesus was not content to let his mother be praised in words that failed to take in the full scope of her blessedness. She was not blessed merely because she bore Jesus and fed him. Such a blessing could apply to every mother who succeeds in bearing and feeding her child. But Jesus knew well and truly that no one had ever been or would ever be like his mother. Such faith as hers was unprecedented in religious history. The archangel Gabriel visited her, proclaimed her ‘full of grace,’ and gave her God’s message. She, in turn, gave her entire being, body and soul, to God in her response to the angel’s words, and she conceived Jesus miraculously, not by sexual intercourse, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. In every sense, and throughout her entire life, Jesus’ mother lived her faith in a way that was beyond the power of ordinary words to praise. And yet, here she was, being praised in a mere commonplace. Jesus knew he needed somehow to adjust the inadequate words that were cried out by this well-meaning woman – and without hurting her.

But even more needed to be said. (I wonder if Jesus groaned a bit inwardly on first hearing the woman’s words.) Although the words were mainly about Jesus’ mother, Jesus himself was misrepresented by them. He – unlike us in our wandering life-journey – never lost sight of his identity as Son, and of his mission to the world. Therefore, anything implying that he could be properly understood as, say, his mother’s ‘pride and joy,’ was so wide of the mark that it could not be allowed at all. It would confuse matters, not so much for Jesus, but for his followers. Because of who Jesus and Mary are, they had a unique relationship in an absolute sense. Jesus did not live in such a way as to fulfil an ordinary mother’s ordinary expectations – the episode of finding Jesus in the temple when he was twelve years old makes that clear (see Luke 2: 41-50) – if any clarity was needed after the extraordinary revelations of glory surrounding Jesus’ birth. Jesus loved his mother – and provided for her care with his last breath as he died on the Cross (see John 19:26-27) – but he is not the doting son in any common sense. And surely, by this time in Jesus’ adult life, his mother will have grasped – somehow – the unfathomable truth that her son was the Father’s Beloved Son, and that his mission as saviour of the world superseded all other claims, hers included. So, as I reflect, I become aware that we are not meant to pigeon-hole Jesus as this woman’s words seem to do. His identity and mission, as well as his mother’s identity and mission, are matters for deepest contemplation. We will never plumb their depths – certainly not in this life. Therefore Jesus and Mary exist, then and now, as a challenge to our cultural mores, our family customs, and even some of our religious categories. These woman’s words of praise unwittingly “shrink” both Jesus and Mary down to a size that seems more manageable, but, in doing so, she also makes Jesus and Mary too small even to recognise.

What was Jesus to do in this awkward situation? How to respond?

Masterfully, brilliantly, Jesus, in one sentence, managed to achieve everything. First, he was able to use some of the woman’s words, as if to tell her, ‘Yes, what you say is good. But together we can make it even better.’ (Few of us would object to that.) So Jesus keeps hold of her desire to give a blessing (thereby affirming her) and says, ‘More blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.’ In these words, Jesus praises his mother rightly, for she alone of all women heard the word of God through the Angel Gabriel’s message and opened her heart and body to a depth that was and remains unprecedented. She ‘kept’ the word of God by literally giving birth to the word of God. Jesus does not want to give a theology lesson to the woman here, but he leaves us with words of such profundity that they are still yielding treasures to us two millennia later. Second, Jesus opens up this blessing to apply it to all people, men and women alike – even the hapless speaker in our text. The motherhood of Mary is, in fact, a vocation open to every person who hears the word of God and keeps it. Jesus had, after all, been speaking to a crowd of people. (‘As he was speaking,’ the text says, ‘a woman in the crowd’ cried out.) Jesus is always keen to invite all people into the state of blessedness and joy that is one of the signs of the presence of the kingdom now, on earth. This situation gave Jesus the opportunity to teach a deep truth about the kingdom and invite everyone in. And lastly, there is an implication about Jesus himself contained in his words. Jesus is the word of God. To ‘hear’ the word of God and ‘keep’ it is to be in a dynamic relationship not merely with a biblical text, but with the person of Jesus. There is no greater joy, no greater blessing than that.

This is a biblical text of only two lines. Look at it closely and it tells a story, which, had it happened to anyone else, would doubtless have ended rather awkwardly. But it happened to Jesus, and without distressing any well-meaning actor in this story, he broadens its message to praise his mother rightly, and include all men, all women, and all time in a salvific blessedness that will endure even in heaven. Blessed be He!

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25 January. Week of Prayer for Church Unity, Day VIII: Reconciling with all of creation

“So that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” John 15:11

Colossians 1:15-20 In him all things hold together

Mark 4:30-32 As small as a mustard seed

Meditation

The hymn to Christ in the epistle to the Colossians invites us to sing the praise of God’s salvation, which encompasses the entire universe. Through the crucified and risen Christ, a path of reconciliation has been opened up; creation too is destined for a future of life and peace.

With the eyes of faith, we see that the kingdom of God is a reality that is very close but still hardly visible – like a mustard seed. However, it is growing. Even in the distress of our world the Spirit of the Risen One is at work. He encourages us to become involved – with all people of good will – in tirelessly seeking justice and peace, and ensuring the earth is once again a home for all creatures.

We participate in the work of the Spirit so that creation in all its fullness may continue to praise God. When nature suffers, when human beings are crushed, the Spirit of the risen Christ – far from allowing us to lose heart – invites us to become part of his work of healing. The newness of life that Christ brings, however hidden, is a light of hope for many. It is a wellspring of reconciliation for the whole of creation and contains a joy that comes from beyond ourselves: “so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).

“Do you wish to celebrate the newness of life that Christ gives through the Holy Spirit, 
and let it live in you, among us, in the church, in the world and in all of creation?”
                                                            Second promise made during profession at the Community of Grandchamp.

Prayer

Thrice-holy God, 
we thank you for having created and loved us. 
We thank you for your presence in us and in creation. 
May we learn to look upon the world as you look upon it, 
with love. 
In the hope of this vision, may we be able to work for a world 
where justice and peace flourish, 
for the glory of your name.

Questions

  • How much does your life declare God’s salvation? What view of God would others have from how you live?
  • What could your church(es) and community do together to make justice and peace flourish in your locality?
  • How does your church or group of churches care for God’s creation? What changes, large or small, could you make which would make that care more effective?

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