Tag Archives: relationships

February 13: Have your ELECTRIC BLANKET serviced … II

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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

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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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November 22: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xxii – loved, endowed, persuaded.

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Without the earth we are nothing – earth is the womb where there is nourishment for growth. Love is responsible for bringing everything into existence; and through the potential love brings there are arise infinite possibilities – characteristic of the Kingdom. The Kingdom moulds my identity in becoming a relational being; at times seemingly random and even chaotic, yet always sourced by love, and when it is unconditional it leads to healing, wholeness and new life.

Children love stories, and there are plenty of them – so do adults, but there’s a dearth of stories here. What about the Gospel stories? Stories free up the imagination – especially inclusive stories. Where love is responsible there can be no in and out. Everybody is in – otherwise love is not unconditional. This is not saying everything is perfect – perfection is an ideal that inhibits growth, it creates elitism and privilege. When I’m aware of my sinfulness and want to be left alone – what good is that? Yet my sinfulness is why God came looking for me… all I need is just a little more loving.

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We are loved unconditionally, endowed with the Spirit and persuaded to love God and neighbour; we can only do the one by doing the other. When we look at all Ten Commandments we tend to lose sight of the important one, without which the rest are meaningless. Society functions on a multi-layered structure. At one end the patron holding the monopoly, and the clients at the receiving end with the brokers in the middle – who were clients themselves while negotiating on behalf of others.

God’s concern is for those permanently at the bottom. Enabling love was nowhere to be found, everything was conditional on having some kind of power. Is this advocating communism? Only if communism means the presence of all-pervading unconditional love. Utopia is all right for dreamers, but we have to live in the real world. But ask – am I surviving in this real world, or am I just about surviving in a world that wants me to thrive?

AMcC

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19 November. Did you know? What do you think?

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November 19: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xix – ‘Our identity is the sum of all these relationships.’

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The ability to relate is our gateway to meaning. Everything in creation evolves, grows and dies, in a process of birth-death-rebirth. Stars exploded, radiating out vast dust containing various gases – especially carbon. This is where our story begins; the stars are our ancestors. Carbon gets entwined with the wonder of photosynthesis as a source of nourishment. All those energies relating to tides, water, and vapour – even the menstrual cycle – owe their origin to the moon.

Long before procreation dreams existed, yearnings, longings and desires; and when creation was ready to welcome yet another creative gift – through the lure of erotic love, procreation happens. Parents are the biological channel through which this energy of the ages is transmitted into a new creature. A process reactivated every time a flower blooms, a seed dies and sperm and egg meet. What constitutes our identity is the sum of all these relationships.

But what about the soul? We tend to ask where the soul fits in this process. In a relational universe things don’t just fit – it is creative energy flowing in interweaving patterns. The soul is energy, holding together the movements of creative possibilities. Dualisms like body/soul, body/spirit, are not helpful. There is no distinction between body, soul and spirit; everything is pregnant with spirit-power. Bodies don’t need to have souls inserted to make them live [batteries included!]. It is not the soul that gives identity/character to the body. The erotic is the creative energy through which we connect within creation. What is the point of incarnation if the body cannot enjoy?

The Kingdom has to do not with heroes but with lovers. Ask what did the women at the tomb miss – and what did the disciples miss? One was relational, the other – we’ve lost a leader. Any wonder Jesus needed to ask: who do you say I am? Does Peter really answer this with – you are the Christ, Son of the living God? What problems it caused! Christ never called himself that; he didn’t like titles. Christ has nothing to do with power. What we are all about is quality relationships. Nothing makes sense in isolation, not even Christ. I am because we are!

Free will and intelligence are wonderful gifts, but become liabilities if we divorce them from imagination and intuition. We belong to the whole creation, not just one part of it. Breaking the planet into segments called nations is a purely human invention – belonging more to the divide and conquer vision of reality [as history has proved]. Creation is essentially undivided. This is why Jesus could not live up to the messianic expectations he met, which were very much in line with divide and conquer.

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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 15: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xv – ‘What now?’

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What has happened thus far is following the maxim: the whole equals the sum total of the parts – whereas the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The implications: the fixed character of reality gives way to a fluid flowing, driven by energies of which we know nothing, which we cannot control. Rational argument doesn’t work anymore – cause and effect do not work as we presumed they did. Creation is relationally friendly. Quantum vision can be summarised: Creation manifests itself; energy exists; time begins; space expands; events are uncertain; only probabilities can be measured; cause and effect are fluid; birth and death happen at the speed of light; information is to be found in energy.

No room here for power-over, only power with. Power games are alien to life. Thirst for control makes no sense, where everything exercises its own sense of control – everything is out of our control. We live in a self-organising universe, which calls for humility on our part, to submit our plans to the greater wisdom of Creation.

How do we see Jesus in this context? Maybe Saint Paul can help: So, from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone the new is here… 2Corinthians 5.16.

Paul is inviting us to regard Jesus differently from the prevailing norms. Christ’s coming has changed all this. All the great religions grapple with our relationship with the divine – but the desire for power gets in the way. The understanding of God as relationship is the oldest humanity has ever known – and from this issue notions of Trinity. Christian history has seen Trinity from a mathematical angle in which the individuality of the persons became more significant than their relatedness. Jesus seen as closer to the Father than to the Spirit – though New Testament has nothing of this.

Jesus belongs to the realm where the whole is greater than the sum total of the parts; he belongs to the whole Creation – he is the primary expression of divine creativity. How Jesus differs from Father and Spirit could well be a meaningless question. The need for a difference is a human patriarchal need, which gets in the way of our befriending God in a Creation-wide way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

AMcC

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