Tag Archives: relationships

6 October: The Beggar by the station: what would you do?

Usually the only people wanting to stop passers-by on Station Road are Jehovah’s Witnesses, and they do not sit in the middle of the pavement (sidewalk) with a hat on the flagstone beside them.

Often these beggars mumble a few words, asking for change. They may look at the floor, but they do not turn away their heads. This young woman did. She looked like Ruby, but with more flesh on her bones than when I taught her; I wasn’t sure.

Deliberately, I slowed down. She twisted herself even further away from any eye contact. She did not want to speak to me. A few metres on, and I turned about. Again she was turned away from me, deliberately, in the opposite direction this time.

I felt obliged to respect this decision, whether or not it was Ruby there. But if it happens again …

Other ex-pupils have crossed the street to avoid me; some have even crossed the street to  say hello. But such friendliness is a precious gift that they can withhold or offer as they see fit. I felt obliged to respect Ruby’s decision. If it was Ruby. Or even someone else.

I shared this story with Christina, who commented: 

In my encounter with the poor man on the street, I don’t believe that I chose wisely because I made my decision based on all of the wrong reasons. I was thinking of myself more than of him. In your encounter with Ruby, however, you made your decision based on all of the right reasons, thinking of her and of what she wanted, whether she was Ruby or not. There is that saying, “Beggars can’t be choosers,” but you gave her the dignity of choice. You may have wished very much that she had chosen differently, so that you could help her in some way… I wonder if this is like God in his relationship with us. So many times, He wishes that we would look over to Him, to let Him into our lives. But sometimes we sense our nakedness too sharply and would rather hide our faces from Him. In His love, He allows us this choice, though it breaks His heart.
Pax Christi

 

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September 20: What is Theology Saying? XXX: I long for God who is freely given.

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History is not just the logical narration of events, it is about human beings fashioning themselves within the places and cultures that surround them, making choices, relating, seeking to belong. There are two aspects to this: the one [Immanence] is literally living out things as we find them; the other [Transcendence] allows us to rise above what is – I can accept or reject what is the given situation, I can be open to a future that has never happened before.

These are not separate entities, but different dimensions of one life. We are beings already fashioned yet still in the making! To speak meaningfully of God can only happen from within such experience. “Experience” is a compound of two words: “ex” [from or out-of] and periri [try, attempt, risk…], it also is associated with the Latin word peritia [knowledge gained from experience]. Experience is risk, based on some form of justifying knowledge, the radical experiences of individuals attempting to face up to life. This is how St. John talks about his awareness of Jesus: “what I have seen, touched and held in my hands, this is what I preach”.

My spirit is not a reality alongside my body. My spirit is me, the whole me, my manner of being in so far as it is open to transcendence, a yearning for the infinite. I have a natural need for “God”. But if it is natural, why is there such talk about supernatural? God created me to be one with God, and my life gives evidence of this. This is gratuitousness, it does not have to be there, and it is put there, within me. The gratuity becomes apparent from the experience itself: I long for God who is freely given, it is from love, not command or force or coercion.

AMcC

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14 August. What is Theology Saying? XXV: Jesus is the sacrament of our meeting with God.

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We know exactly what we mean when we say Jesus is man, and in our experience of this we have come to understand that he is divine. This understanding is not as though we grasp something beyond our experience, but it is what we meet in our experience. He is the sacrament of our meeting with God. We can’t meet God as God, because God is transcendent – which really means unmeetable! The Apostles told us that to meet Jesus was to be present to the invisible and untouchable God. In Jesus people were and are brought into contact with God – he is the encounter with God, he is divine.

Jesus knew himself as the Messiah, that in him God shares himself and communicates his presence, bringing pardon and peace to the world. But when God utters himself in a created reality it will necessarily be provisional, something finite. Any reality in the history of the world as God’s creature, is finite. If God wishes to say something definitive through reality, this reality will have to have such an association with God as to be the reality of God himself though not identical. God’s reality and Jesus’ creatureliness remain unconfused.

In Jesus we have a human being intimately one with God and at the same time in solidarity with humankind. In his death he surrenders completely to God while showing total and unswerving love for humankind. The victory of God’s forgiveness is complete and irreversible; and in God’s acceptance – the Resurrection – Jesus is confirmed as God’s self-communication to creation. But what does this mean? Any revelation revealing God through finite means thereby remains open to revision – nothing finite is necessary. Which means that if this is so, the creaturely reality [humanity of Jesus] must in some way be God’s own reality. A prophet can speak in God’s name, but remains finite and can be surpassed; only God’s Word in person can be definitive.

AMcC

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12 August, What is Theology Saying? XXIII: Jesus was alive and present to the disciples

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We can see in the Nicene Creed two kinds of information. Jesus born of Mary, executed by crucifixion and buried. This account comes from observation. But the facts are set within a different recital, which says: before the beginning of time Jesus was born as the only Son of God; at a point in time he became incarnate. It is only in recent times we have asked if religious statements were literally true – verifiable by observation. Our technology minded age is in danger of thinking that such verification is the only criterion of truth. As a result, new questions are being asked. One item in the Nicene Creed’s account of Jesus causes a special problem. It is not self-evident that and on the third day he rose again belongs to the first or second account. Saint Paul says if Christ is not risen then our hopes are in vain. We do not know whether Paul was thinking of the resurrection in the first or second recital.

We know that everywhere in Scripture, where we have testimonies of the risen Christ, mystery language is used – dazzling light, white garments, sudden appearances, ecstatic joy. No unbelievers had seen Jesus, and the guards told a different story. In effect, it doesn’t matter whether the resurrection belongs to the first or second recital, because the important issue is that it does hold the two recitals together. The apostles spoke from a faith experience, Jesus alive and present to them: something that changed everything for them. The evidence they gave was their own lives; alive in hope, joy and freedom – no longer cringing in that locked upper room – they were now living as a community of love and trust. Because they never asked was the Resurrection true as an observable fact, it never occurred to them to answer the question, and because they never asked or answered, we shall never know.

How could Jesus be truly human? Theology is never the study of God, but the study of man and his experience of God, because this is the only experience open to us. Focussing on Jesus is on a man in whose existence we have glimpsed the invisible God whose only image is man. In the experience of the man Jesus, especially in the way he met his death and his triumph over death, we have met the image of God who gives life and gives himself in a shocking and unique way, once and for all.

AMcC

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July 5: What do the Saints Know? Part II, 5: The Theological Virtue of Charity – All Gift

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I would like now to explore how the virtue of charity sheds light on our quest to understand what the saints know. [Cf. Summa Theologiae II, II, 23:1 for much of what follows.] St. Thomas speaks of charity, both toward our neighbour and toward God in terms of friendship, not only because Aristotle does, but because Jesus does: and he quotes the gospel of John, ‘I no longer call you servants, but friends.’ Yet, his is an exalted idea of friendship, as it refers to a depth of love that brings about an experience of mutual indwelling. This friendship, to be authentic, says Thomas, must be more than mere companionship. It must be directed to what is best for the loved one, and not for the self. It must also be a relationship of mutuality, so that the communication goes both ways. And, it must reach beyond the loved one to include what the loved one loves.

Thomas points out that charity is different to faith and hope. They allow us some participation in the divine life, but at a certain ‘remove.’ Charity, on the other hand, is not ‘removed’ from God. It is God.

Going through my notes as I prepared these posts, I found myself thinking with some impatience, ‘Yes, yes. God is love. I know that.’ But then I said, ‘Do I?’ If God is love, how do I even dare to ‘go there’? St. Thomas himself even says, in effect, if you take a good, long, hard look at the human person’s un-graced capacities, we should not be able to love like this (II.II.24. 2, 3). We tend to love in a way that relates to our own need, selfishly. So often, if we are really honest with ourselves, we discover that that apparently generous thing we did for someone was actually all about me. St. Thomas calls this kind of love concupiscence and not charity. God is supremely loveable alright, but, Thomas points out, our capacities tend toward what we can see, and our self-centeredness means that we often see ourselves more than we see anything else. What to do? In one of his most important uses of the concept of connaturality, Thomas explains, “No act is perfectly produced by an actor unless it be connatural to him by reason of some inner capacity to perform that action (II.II.23.2). Therefore, the love of God must be infused into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who is the love of the Father and the Son.”

Charity is founded on a supernatural friendship of God with the human person. It is God who enables us to love. The initiative is God’s: God loves us first, God gets there first, to rephrase the First Letter of John slightly. He communicates his happiness to us, says St. Thomas, and the love that we experience in response is charity. God makes love possible for us. It is all gift.

SJC

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23 June: What became of …

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Simon had been a pupil at a school where I had once taught: that’s how we got talking about the disaffected lads I had worked with. Not that sunny Simon, whom I knew before I began teaching, ever had an ounce of disaffection in him in all those forty years.

But Luke did. He was ever ready to pick a fight with another child, then try to pin the blame on them when they gave him as much of a pasting as they could before they were stopped. One day he ran away on an outing to London, but was hiding in full view of the railway station cameras, so was soon rounded up.

‘Do you know what happened to these boys?’ asked Mary.

‘Luke’, I said, hesitating; ‘Luke met a teaching colleague years later, when he was a mental health nurse.

‘And then there was Peter, who broke my ribs, aged 11. He was found to have a severe wheat intolerance and was a changed boy when he cut it out of his diet. He completed secondary school at least.

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‘I was called over to a bench on a major railway station by a young man who introduced himself as Alan West – formerly known by two completely different names. “And this is Jill, we’re getting married soon. But I’m not telling my family. Jill’s my family now – and her family accept me.”‘

prison wall

While it’s good to share these positive stories, not all were doing so well when last I heard. Tony, son of a London prostitute, was moved very much against his will and our advice, from a foster family of a different complexion to one that nearer matched his own. He was soon in a secure unit, not allowed out of the new ‘home’ he was assigned by the court. An abuse victim who came to us at 12 was incarcerated at 18 for abusing other children. A lad who won my heart was murdered by his stepfather.

Please pray for them all; may the Good Shepherd seek each one out and bring him home.

We meet another prisoner tomorrow.

MMB

 

 

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June 9th, Shared Table XXI: Eating at Your Desk.

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Last summer we wandered across Manchester City Centre to see crowds sitting on the grass in Piccadilly Gardens, eating lunch-time sandwiches, some in small groups, other singletons often on their phones. Perhaps they too felt the need to be sociable when eating.

And good for them all, to have taken advantage of a comparatively rare sunny day in Manchester to get out of the office or whatever their workplace, and make a picnic of it.

I was reminded of a time years ago. Muddy boots were a  bone of contention at morning break where I was working. The indoor workers wanted their space to be clean and tidy. The gardeners wanted to get indoors for ten minutes, and some of them had real bother getting their boots on and off.

The boss, an office man through and through, said that he had always had a coffee brought to him at his desk, so maybe the indoor workers and the outdoor workers should sit down on the spot and take a quick refuelling break and get on with their work.

I don’t know that he ever saw the point the rest of us were arguing: it was not just a refuelling stop, but a together time. Like the coffee break I enjoyed at the Glebe this morning, with my L’Arche friends. Maybe the boss missed out on ‘milk and biscuit’ time when he was of an age to go to nursery school. Milk and sugar? Bourbon or pink wafer?

MMB.

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February 13: Have your ELECTRIC BLANKET serviced … II

electricblanket

Here’s that bookmark, mentioned yesterday. Anyone who lived through the seventies will recognise the spiky typeface.

I cannot resist a simple take on the message though, combining Valentine’s and Lent in one post.

Winter warmth and safety – winter will come, in various forms, to any relationship. The other side of the bookmark has a few ideas on how to keep a blanket going. ‘Never use if overheating’ is one that applies to tongues as well as electric blankets. You might also like, ‘Return to the maker for checking at least once in two years.’

Lent, they used to tell us, means Spring, so let’s return to our maker for checking and servicing. Let’s pray that we have a fruitful Lent: not so strange an idea as it first sounds, for it’s time for the blackthorn to flower, and the fruit will be ready in Autumn. Let’s sow now for a future harvest.

We hope we can walk with you through Lent.

 

MMB.

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February 12: Have your ELECTRIC BLANKET serviced … I

blackthorn

It’s a good headline isn’t it! Poor Saint Valentine gets supplanted by Ash Wednesday this year. Let’s remember him in advance!

One day last October we were out foraging for sloes, those sharp, purple little wild plums, the fruit of the blackthorn, one of the earliest spring flowers. Something reminded Janet of this passage in the old ‘Dutch Catechism’ which was part of her journey into the Church. Appropriate reading for Saint Valentine.

People begin to suspect that they are meant for each other when they experience the marvel of falling in love. A young man and a young woman discover something in each other that no outsider can fully see. The hope and the need of giving themselves to each other completely take over and grow and grow.

The heart has its reasons which the reason does not quite know, according to Pascal, nor is it necessary that it should. But if one is to give oneself to another totally and for ever, one must make a decision with one’s whole person. Hence reason and conscience cannot be left out. The enchantment of love opens the eyes to the uniqueness of the other, but it can also be blind if it remains a superficially sensual or romantic attachment.

A New Catechism, Catholic Faith for Adults, London, Search Press, 8th impression, 1978, p 385

And that headline was on the bookmark Janet was using all those years ago.

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December 1: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xxxi – We have problems

carvingwomanchichChichester Cathedral

Christianity is the only religion believing in the full enfleshment of God – yet we seem to have problems with it.

Even a cursory look at our tragic sexual state, our pollution of the planet, our out of control consumerism… suggests a problem. In practice sex seems to be the only sin we worry about, when Jesus reminds us of the weightier matters of faith, peace with justice, mercy and compassion – Matthew 23.23. The Incarnation tells us to trust our in-body experience – it is the way God provides for us to meet. Our spirit is illusory without body and soul. See it in religious practice that is all head. Soul is the lost sense of the Holy Spirit; and the body is rejected. This wasn’t always the case, though passion, father, mother, sister, brother have now become no more than titles instead of real experiences. Ritual has become safe!

If we encourage co-dependency on system [ritual] we are simply doing what the world does. An over-emphasis on personal prayer has left folk bereft of the intimacy of personal prayer. We are meant to experience the presence of God, not just acknowledge the value of it. Felt religion needs to be reclaimed. We are well aware of the anguish and ecstasy in relationships; can we say the same about prayer? Without the sense of presence anguish becomes anger and accusation. We seem to hear much more about annulments, excommunications and dispensations than about healing.

Praying in words helps me express my dependence on God – praying in silence lets me experience it. Watch a mother hold a feverish child – see the child calm down and even sleep, because it is experiencing safety and not just hearing about it. There is vastly more to living than my private life. Contemplation needs underpinning by belonging [community]. Social prayer recognises that there is only one goodness, one suffering, and even one sin! So much about life can neither be explained nor fixed, but it is felt, enjoyed and suffered. Crying is not manly! A man who cannot cry is not fully alive. We can’t relish life until we experience its tears – happy and sad.

If laughter and tears are not around, I’m on the wrong road. God heals our brokenness and our weakness. When we venture into sacred space there is an element of discomfort, if only because it isn’t where I usually am. It is the prophetic in life that lures me – showing me the inadequacy of the normal. Reality begins to arrive when death is experienced as integral to life, and failure and success are the same; and I no longer need to leave the secular to find the sacred – the veil of the Temple was torn from top to bottom – Matthew 27.51.

There is no natural world where God is not present. But I need the eyes to see this. It is a move from simple consciousness into enlightenment – I have to let go, through some disillusion with what is. We seldom freely go there – it is usually thrust upon us by suffering, injustice, sin and bereavement. Normal tends to mean rejecting weakness and over-working strengths. By claiming to be in control I reveal my weakness, becoming who I am supposed to be rather than who I am.

While most problems are psychological, most answers are spiritual. Which tells us to stop trying to solve them – we need to forgive and integrate them.

AMcC

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