Tag Archives: repentance

30 December: Father Andrew at Christmas VII. Problems at the Manger

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Photo by CD

We face the same Problems at the Manger as Father Andrew pointed out eighty years ago.

O mighty God, O baby King,
Thyself must teach what welcoming
Thy children, old and young, should bring,
How each should make his offering.

For here are little boys and girls,
With tidy clothes and ordered curls;
A little Scout his flag unfurls,
His mother kneels in lace and pearls.

And here are faces pinched and white,
And men who walked about all night;
A soldier who has lost his sight,
A boy whose sums will not come right.

The young, the middle-aged, the old
Are gathered here, some gay with gold,
Some ragged creatures, starved and cold –
The fat and lean are in Thy fold.

And though our hearts at Christmas glow
With sense of shame that things are so,
Yet how to get the world to go
In Christian ways we do not know.

There’s nothing wrong in tidy boys,
It’s nice to give expensive toys,
It’s natural to make a noise,
And lovely things are perfect joys –

Yet still we kneel before Thy straw
In penitence and puzzling awe –
Show us our system’s vital flaw,
And that strong truth the Wise Men saw.

Love, Thou must teach us, every one,
To toil until Thy will be done;
So never in this world again
Shall child be housed in cattle pen.

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December 16. Zechariah: an Unlikely Advent Star: IV.

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Your son will be your joy and delight and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord; he must drink no wine, no strong drink; even from his mother’s womb he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, and he will bring back many of the Israelites to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him to reconcile fathers to their children and the disobedient to the good sense of the upright, preparing for the Lord a people fit for him (1:14-17).

Zechariah and Elizabeth had longed for a child. A child will be born to them, says the angel, but such a child as they could not possibly have imagined. The angel declares that their son will be “great in the sight of the Lord… in the spirit and power of Elijah. Their son will have a mission for all Israel: to bring them back to their God, to prepare for the Lord a people fit for him (cf. 1: 12-17).

This angelic utterance is really a rather long one, containing information that can only have been completely mind-boggling for Zechariah. Perhaps readers of this post have heard this story many times, and through familiarity have lost the sense of its being beyond fathoming – this prophecy from the mouth of a powerful and numinous being. Certainly for Zechariah, it is all too big to absorb. At first he is silent while the angel delivers his astonishing message.

When Zechariah does find power of speech, he comes out with the words that have earned him such criticism through the centuries: “How can I know this? I am an old man and my wife is getting on in years” (1:18). I rather doubt I’d have performed any better than Zechariah, and would probably have done far worse, but note well: this was an angel, after all, and angels generally know what they are talking about. Zechariah, however, seems to think that the angel might not realise how old he and his wife are. Even with my bias in favour of Zechariah, I must confess that I can’t help smiling here. It is almost as though he is asking the angel to check his divine instructions and make sure he has not come to the wrong temple and spoken to the wrong man.

So, what do we see here? Zechariah blurts out a question that is pretty daft in the circumstances. But is he really so bad after all? His question shows at least that he is a stable character, not easily diverted from the path of righteousness. And it has already been established that Zechariah is a good and upright man in the sight of God. He is not someone to curry the favour of men (or angels), or to give his consent, even to an angel, without deep conviction of heart. He is a man of depth. He wants to understand what is happening, but he is out of his depth now. He is used to having his prayer unanswered, we know. But he is not used to that same prayer now being answered.

SJC

John baptising Jesus – Zakopane Basilica of the Holy Family, Poland.

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November 30: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xxx – Pray!

samaritanwomanBaptistery, Abbey of St Maurice, Switzerland

Institutional Religion at its best needs incarnational living – you say it, now live it – otherwise we will let intimacy decay into orthopraxy. This is why contemplation has a social element. The openness of the prairie alongside living in my backyard. In this way every difference can find a hearing and enjoy respect, when all becomes one in the mystery. For to know God is vital – more important than what I am going to do about it. We have differences of all kinds – this should tell us that we cannot all see God in the same way! What matters is to hear what God is asking and respond uniquely: as God has shown me what it was mine to do may God show you what is yours to do. It is we who are threatened by differences, not God.

I can trust myself because God trusts me. Nothing about me will be used against me – even my sin is forgiven! Sin shall not be your shame, but your glory – Julian of Norwich. If this isn’t good news what is? The Samaritan woman with 5 husbands doesn’t get a lecture on Canon Law; Jesus joins her where she is – by listening to her; and then invites her into freedom, and asks her to spread it around – he told me all about myself… and not just what she already knew! Do not be afraid – your life is respected and is working for your well-being. Nothing within us is as bad as our denial of it, since everything belongs.

To be aware of the presence of God is to be forgiven, to be cherished exactly as I am. To be holy [whole] is know God as total love and self as loved by God totally: You will enjoy the mystery of salvation through forgiveness of sin – cf. Luke 1.77. There is no room for forgiveness in a world of meritocracy, it can’t breathe in an atmosphere of rights. How can you have a quid-pro-quo where love and compassion are already given without the asking – fore-given!

The early Church believed universal salvation – apokatastasis – but it was never defined [or condemned]. Since I have brought good from the worst-ever evil, I want you to know I bring good out of lesser evils too – Julian of Norwich. God is the only teacher and the only lesson is love. Do I want Isis to be loved and forgiven? With the 11th hour labourers and the Prodigal along with his brother there’s no question of having to deserve. God cannot be where forgiveness is not welcome. It sets logic aside – what is appropriate is a time of quiet to make room for regret and repentance – not to gain forgiveness, but to recover self-respect.

A common feature of personal sin is the delight we seem to take in highlighting the sins of others. Forgiveness is costly, it is taking on a powerlessness by allowing nothing to keep me from being with – as God is freely and always with me – even when I am decidedly not with God [take up your cross daily]. What is at the heart of physical attraction, why are we fascinated by the image of another? How we relate to one person sets a pattern for my relating. It is bringing together our differences – human and divine, male and female, sin and forgiveness. So, who are sinners? Anyone who keeps all these things apart from each other – Religion – re-ligio means to reconnect; reconciling opposites. Christianity is the only religion believing in the full enfleshment of God – yet we seem to have problems with it.

AMcC

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15 April, Vigil of Easter : O Living Water!

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Holy Name Church, Manchester

Water is everywhere at the Easter Vigil, from Creation (Genesis 1) to the Exodus (Chapter 14) and the rain making the land fertile in Isaiah (35:1-11) to Paul’s ‘When we were baptised in Christ Jesus we were baptised in his death … so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life. (Romans 6:3-11)

The water is blessed by immersing the Paschal Candle in it, as we pray that all who are buried with Christ in the death of baptism may rise to new life with him. New Christians are baptised; we are all sprinkled with holy water.

The Church is serious about death, the church is serious about the Resurrection. As you enter the Holy Name church in Manchester you cannot avoid their magnificent holy water fonts: this particular church is very serious about the death of baptism.

If we are to be raised from the dead, then despite all our trials and troubles, everything is basically all right. All will be well, all manner of things will be well. If you cannot quite believe in Easter and everlasting life, ask yourself, if this story were indeed true, what difference would it make to me today? How would it change my life? Then try starting that change in behaviour, and see if it makes sense.

WT

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March 14: Love Triumphant

Adam&Eve (391x640)

 

Another poem from Radclyffe Hall, sometime parishioner at Saint Anthony’s, Rye.

LOVE TRIUMPHANT

Ere the first grief was born
Love was.
And after griefs are gone
Love still shall triumph on.
Ere the first grief was born
Love was.
In Eden grief became
Love’s slave.
For in the dust and woe
Lost Adam still could know
Fond recompense, and so
Did grief become Love’s slave.
Grief as love’s slave: grief, Radclyffe Hall seems to suggest, did not keep Adam from loving God and Eve. His new self-knowledge, however incomplete, showed him he needed love. Fond recompense for his sin came in the shape of his love of God, his love of Eve; love in each case reciprocal. God’s love was there before Adam and Eve came to grief; God’s  love, humble unto death, continues to sustain their children.

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12 March, Human Will VIII: An Unexpected Reward for being less than 100% committed.

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I trust Sister Johanna will allow me to continue reflecting on human will from another angle. WT.

Litter-picking is one of those fatigues that children in school resent. It’s one thing to pick up your own litter, another when it comes to other people’s. I try not to be resentful when I do my turn around our locality – turning over scraps of paper, bottles and cardboard coffee cups, instead of stones on the beach. But that’s more difficult when it comes to cigarette ends. (GRRRR!)

I tell myself the parable about the son who didn’t want to do what his father asked, while the other just made promises. Well, the first one: ‘afterwards, being moved with repentance, he went’. (Matthew 21:29).

My repentance was less than 100%! But a little reward came my way one day just before Christmas. Shining in a ray of winter sun, a very early snowdrop.

And better, surely, to do the job with a degree of anger than not at all? I was doing what I would have done had I been 100% repentant – and the job got done.

WT.

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Just Say No!

Adam&Eve (391x640)

A homily worth reading!

Just say No

Follow the link to Fr Christopher Shorrock’s wake-up call as we start Lent.

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5 March, 1st Sunday in Lent: The Human Will.

 

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O God, who are the light of the minds that know thee,

 the warmth of the hearts that love thee and the strength of the wills that serve thee, help us so to know thee that we may perfectly love thee,

so to love thee that we may worthily serve thee, whose service is perfect freedom.

 Saint Augustine

Saint Augustine, in the beautiful prayer given here, mentions the human will and says that God is ‘the strength of the will’.  I would like to reflect on this notion of the human will in a few posts.  The Church has always given the will an important place in her teaching on the dignity of the human person, but the human will isn’t an easy thing to define.

Perhaps we don’t think about our will very much or very deeply.  We may think about our emotions, or our mind.  But the will tends to be forgotten.  So let’s start with a simple definition that may not be completely adequate, but at least is easy to understand.  The will is the part of us that assists us in sticking with our good resolutions.  But as anyone knows who has tried to stick to a diet, the will isn’t always very effective in its task.  Just when I might want my will to give me some real backbone, it is nowhere to be found.  What is going on?

I find Saint Augustine to be a great help in understanding this kind of problem.  His Confessions, written in the late fourth century, show us that some things about human nature never change: Augustine, too, had plenty of experience with the weakness of his will.  During the period in his life when he was exploring Christianity but had not yet become a Christian, Augustine felt that his will was not merely weak, but split in two.  This is how he describes it:

The enemy had my power of willing in his clutches, and from it had forged a chain to bind me.  The truth is that when [vice] is pandered to, a habit is formed; when habit is not checked, it hardens into compulsion.  These were like interlinking rings forming what I have described as a chain, and my harsh servitude used it to keep me under duress.

     A new will had begun to emerge in me, the will to worship you disinterestedly and enjoy you, O God,… but it was not yet capable of surmounting that earlier will strengthened by inveterate custom.  And so the two wills fought it out – the old will and the new, the one carnal, the other spiritual – and in their struggle tore my soul apart.

[Confessions, VIII:10].

Is our will really split in two?  It can seem so, and certainly seemed so to Saint Augustine.  What of these two wills, then?  And what of Augustine’s declaration that ‘the enemy’ controlled his power of willing?  Augustine gradually came to realise that his moral problems could not be blamed on an external ‘enemy’ of any sort.  What he found when he felt that his will was split in two, was that conflicting desires within his soul led him in conflicting directions.  But his insights were even deeper than that.

Here is what he says later in the Confessions

When I was making up my mind to serve the Lord my God at last, as I had long since purposed, I was the one who wanted to follow that course, and I was the one who wanted not to.  I was the only one involved.  I neither wanted it wholeheartedly nor turned from it wholeheartedly.  I was at odds with myself, and fragmenting myself.  This disintegration was occurring without my consent, but what it indicated was not the presence in me of a mind belonging to some alien nature but the punishment undergone by my own

[Confessions VIII:22].

Note the repeated use of the pronoun ‘I’ in that passage.  Augustine takes personal responsibility here for all his actions.  That no alien being could take the blame for Augustine’s weakness was a crucial realisation for him – and for us as we strive to understand what our will is like.   Furthermore, Augustine sees a sort of ‘justice’ in his personal struggles, for he realises here that the weakness in his will that he deplored was the logical consequence of living a life in which he gave priority to the pursuit of selfish pleasures.  A weak will was what he called ‘the punishment’ appropriate to and consequent upon the lifestyle he had chosen for so many years.  No one was to blame but himself, and he finally realises that clearly.  Now, all this may seems rather heavy and dreary.  But, St. Augustine shows us that there is always the possibility of the will growing stronger as we grow in grace.  In the next post, I hope to develop this idea further.

SJC.

 

 

 

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28 February: Shrove Tuesday: Dad Dancing.

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We played the flute for you

and you did not dance

Matthew 11; 17

I have begun to dance more, drawn by the space in our kitchen and the bounce of the painted floorboards. For beholders it is a startling example of dad dancing in all its glory, a creative freestyle that fails to win the plaudits of the judging panel. But I dance on, moved by Elvis or Ella Fitzgerald or whatever music has the rhythm to speak to my feet.

Why now?’ I wonder [and perhaps those who witness the spectacle cry].

Perhaps it is a form of repentance: a turning from my tired, self-determined ways of thinking and being, and allowing the Spirit to stir my soul. Dancing is a release from worry, from self-absorption and from taking myself too seriously. Dancing is a movement to the moment: there is no space for the past or the future as the feet twist and twirl. Everything is about the music and how it works on the soul [and the soles!].

Even when I am on my own the dance is never solitary: it is always a response to the music. Someone is summoning me to move, not determining the shape of that movement but inviting me to answer as only I can answer. Slow and swift, through pain and joy, the music weaves through our days. Those who respond listen to the beat; there is stillness at the heart of their dancing. Freedom comes not from walking our own steps but dancing to the music of the Giver of Life. Would there be such violence in the world if we dared to so dance?

So for Lent I resolve to repent. It is time to leave the seats at the side of the room, move away from the drinks table and take to the floor.

CC

Not Dad Dancing but god-daughter dancing; much more graceful! MB.

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18 February: Convivial Grace.

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Where should we look for locations in which we experience Christ’s presence as healing, and thus as overcoming the bewilderment and fears which are too typical of our modern circumstances? Table fellowship, as some call it, table friendship, or the conviviality of a living community, happen better in some Christian settings than others.

This scene is one where barbeques have gone well, summer picnics have lasted for hours, and the spilling out of indoor celebrations have all been excellent occasions for informal interactions, concerned with inner peace and changes of direction. Unthreatening circumstances for sharing fears and bewilderment are essential for moving beyond fantasies and into strong life-affirming relationships.

But in such circumstances we must decide to put our religious self-awareness into convincing words and phrases. Perhaps we want a more sincere account of who we are than we had a month earlier. We alter our choice of adjectives. The novelist David Lodge claims that “the frequency of coincidence in fictional plots… is related to how much the writer feels he can ‘get away with’,” in order to show how vivid certain encounters or events were. Our stories told to friends may be altered also, to show how much God lets us get away with, in terms of kindness and forgiveness. On this point, David Jasper quotes Emily Dickinson: “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant… The Truth must dazzle gradually/ Or every man be blind.”

What is more life-affirming: vivid wickedness admitted, and partly abandoned, or vivid new expressions of compassion taken totally to heart? Grace has multiple versions.

Chris D.

January 2017.

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