Tag Archives: ritual

September 16: What is Theology Saying? XXVI: What is Grace and what does it do?

somers.town. holy spirit

We live in secular times – in the course of the ages we have taken more and more possession of the earth and all it contains; we control much more than people of ages past. We also have better self-awareness – realising that customs, rules and ideas of order and beauty are not always shared by other societies. Customs and traditions are not the inevitable and only right way of doing things.

When we understood less we tended to see the transcendent God as the all-powerful organiser. This God made thunder when he was angry, sent plagues and disasters to punish and redressed everything that had gone wrong. God worked in unseen ways. Outwardly a man might seem good and virtuous, inwardly he could have lost God’s grace and be out of sorts with God and living in darkness. Lost God’s Grace – outwardly, before and after baptism there might be no difference in a person – inwardly there can be all the difference between night and day in that realm where God is active and inaccessible to our experience. As we began to take more control of the world, we also took more responsibility for what was going on – in the external world. We have lightening conductors replacing the sign of the cross; we have air traffic control instead of prayers for travellers; we have learned to seed clouds from the air instead of novenas for rain.

This has also made its way into the inner world of our spiritual life. We are starting to distrust ritual ways of obtaining God’s favour. We have reasoned that a person can’t receive additional charity unless we are really loving more and more. Accounts of the spiritual life, the redemptive work of Christ and the service of the Church are now sounding more like common sense psychology than strictly Christian teaching. Some are even doing away with the idea of Grace.

AMcC

Mosaic from S Aloysius, Somers Town, London, (near Euston, St Pancras and King’s Cross). While I know trains are very safe, I like to make a pilgrim’s prayer if I find this church open. MMB.

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July 16, What is Theology Saying? XVI: The Eucharist 3: No way can creature = Creator.

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Jesus told Nicodemus of our need to learn to live differently – to realise that we are gifted with ourselves in order to become gift for others – a way often called tough love; not counting the personal cost involved in being concerned primarily with mutual well-being and not just me alone. A child walks because adults wait for and expect this – often before it is physically possible! Love means not just self-giving, but expressing confidence that you will be all the better for it, and flourish accordingly. But to challenge like this presupposes trust – the trust of a child for its parents.

Our Eucharistic celebrations look very churchy and remote from everyday living – carefully choreographed rituals, strange attire worn by leaders sitting apart, scripts for designated readers only – all well-intentioned to enhance the beauty and centrality of the Eucharist – but does it? It certainly is central in our worship – but what about our everyday living? Does your Sunday Mass impact noticeably on your social, political, economic involvement?

We are celebrating the hospitality of God in a gathering in which we are invited to be co-hosts; and this happens in the real presence of Jesus. He told his disciples to continue celebrating the Last Supper, interpreting his death and Resurrection in the light of the Passover. The Exodus is central for Jewish faith – the setting free from oppression – since love depends on equality. But this not simply a one-off event of long ago – it is a permanent reminder of how God is with us, as equals.

Do we have a problem here? Equality is of the essence of love – but God cannot have any equal by definition; does this mean God cannot love? Revelation is clear about the gulf between us – no way can creature = Creator. So we seem destined for an infantile authority/obedience relationship with God through keeping the rules. There is no equal to God. However kind, benign and compassionate the Creator is, we remain creature and Creator.

AMcC

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November 29: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xxix – Spirituality belongs to the earth and its people

darkevening

Throughout history spirituality has been linked to specific convictions and values, calling for a particular life-style, with regular devotion and ritual worship. Christian spirituality cherishes highly the values and virtues of the Gospel: love, compassion, peace with justice … the Beatitudes in Matthew 5.1-12. How these values are appropriated into everyday living is the mission of the Church; to this end the Church provides a repertoire of prayers and devotions along with a sacramental system, to help us engage meaningfully with personal and cosmic living.

Over time competition arose between the different religions, each with its own priorities. In recent years, however, there has been a noticeable commitment all round for coming closer together. As we have seen, there was the presumption that religion and spirituality are essentially the same. In every age the meaning of spirituality and its influence has evolved in cosmic proportions. It is crucial that engagement with spirituality calls for engagement of current cosmic awareness – resulting from multi-disciplinary exploration.

This is showing us that spirituality belongs to the earth and its people and not to some far-away god, or to a state of Nirvana. Above all, it transcends what individual religions claim to represent and as such becomes all-embracing. It is a challenge to break away from human centred systems – religious and political – and claim all creation as home.

Scientists such as Eliade and Jung… among others claim that value is based on an innate and universal desire everyone experiences; values such as: unconditional love, truth, honesty integrity and peace with justice. The Christian ethic quotes the Canticle of Mary to see Jesus as epitomising this: He came to his people to set them free – Luke 1.68. All world religions seek to embrace these values within their own cultural expressions. For the Christian faith this is what is meant by the Kingdom – seen stunningly in Jesus as king riding a donkey – on which, in those days, anyone could ride.

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Strasbourg

Spirituality is concerned with such values as foundational. Religion, however, is the name we give to the enculturation of such values. Christianity as religion is very much the product of a patriarchal culture, with familiar oppressive results: market competition with the poor side-lined, female suppression… which have no place in the Kingdom Jesus brings. If this is so, it would seem that religion is a temporary reality. Involvement with spirituality is to be enabled to reclaim who we really are through engagement with living the basic values which alone can satisfy every human hunger – this is why Jesus refers to himself as the bread of life – satisfying every hunger. We cannot avoid being people of value.

Not all value is necessarily good, the influence of light and dark is always at work. Value is geared towards life being experienced as whole – as promised by all religions. But our attempts to embody value is influenced by the temptation to selfishness, greed and power-seeking. The person who robs and steals is doing an evil act – not for the sake of evil, but for a perceived good! In a world of so much suffering and evil such an example can seem trivial. Our human desire for fullness of life can be distorted, while the ultimate goal is always good. Which is why Paul cries out: who will rescue me from this wretched state – Romans 7.24?

AMcC

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Reflections on Living Together, VII: Wise Words and Wise Gestures from Lemn Sissay.

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Just before our travels we attended NAIB’s doctoral graduation in Manchester, where we were addressed by the Chancellor, the poet Lemn Sissay. Eloquently, he urged the graduands to remember those who had made their higher education possible: their parents, their parents’ parents, and their parents before them.

He brought a tear to my eye. In my own family, my generation were the first to have that opportunity, though my mother completed her BA in her sixties. Both my parents left school at fourteen; poverty and ill-health limited life chances for them and many more.

I noticed, as the graduands stepped forward, the great diversity of backgrounds they must have come from. Some were overseas students, attracted to Manchester’s engineering expertise, but many were home grown, including some Muslims. Although the ceremonial expects the graduand to shake the Chancellor’s hand as token of receiving the degree, this gesture would have been an embarrassment for some; but Mr Sissay gracefully received and sent each one into the world with a bow, a smile, a gesture of total acceptance and goodwill.

What kind of world will a Muslim woman engineer be building? What understanding of classical civilisation will her veiled fellow graduate share with her own students?

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Let us trust that God is working in strange and wondrous ways among the people (Psalm 96:3) and let us heed the call to make his paths straight (Isaiah 40:3; Matthew 3:3). Meeting the graduands half-way was the University and Lemn Sissay’s response to that challenge.

Even if we have little or no opportunity to foster interreligious dialogue, we can each of us rejoice in a neighbour’s accomplishment, or make even a couple of seconds of their lives more wondrous. That is part of our calling as children of God.

MMB.

Lemn Sissay by Philosophy Football

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