Tag Archives: rules

November 16: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xvi: ‘God is giving birth all day long!’

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Relating says something crucial of God. Birthing seems to capture God’s activity. When asked what God does all day – Eckhart replied: God is giving birth all day long! The will-to-life always triumphs and always will – something primitive religions seemed to grasp with the worship of the Great Earth Mother Goddess. Despite all attempts to subvert this practice the sacredness of the earth itself and its ingenious capacity to survive surely calls for recognition.

This isn’t a gender issue – but about the human capacity and need to image God. Because we issue from the divine we must carry something of this. Obviously God’s continual birthing forth is more readily appreciated through the female rather than the male, while acknowledging that both genders contribute. Birthing is a motherly concept; and redemption does not come through mortality but through natality, celebrating the birthing of all Creation.

The universe is saturated with life in abundance – largely invisible to the eye and to science; becoming manifest through channels of energy in embodied forms of which the cosmos itself is the primary body and co-creates with the divine bringing forth the vast range of creatures, including humankind. God did not create a perfect world, which we spoiled and had to be repaired – God created a world able to become perfect by the way it is lived-in.

Embodiment is not just for humans. Creation is alive with a vast range of embodied expressions. Insofar as embodiment is a primary requisite for incarnation, God has been incarnating for billions of years. We have abused this by relegating embodiment to humankind. In a sense Jesus belongs to a timeless realm – he is forever urging us to transcend narrow and confining boundaries. The rational only considers real to mean what can be quantified and measured.

The Gospels speak of the Kingdom – royalty language doesn’t sit easily with us. Why does Jesus use this term, when he sought to transcend all confines. We have sanitised Jesus – making him a well-behaved adult of a middle class culture – through a felt need for convention, order and authority. Where is the Jesus of the Parables? The Kingly realm is now of a different character – now it is power with, not power over. No ruling classes, no privileges; simply equality through a love that gives unconditionally, inviting us to the greatest challenge we will ever face – to love as we are loved.

Discipleship is now different; no longer allegiance to an exalted figure at the top. Love is key, so too is justice, love without justice rapidly becomes sentiment. We have done great things in the name of charity, yet the poor remain poor, because they don’t know the justice which guarantees equality. The Kingdom is for practical change, for radical transformation. The Jesus story is not closed, it is open to the creativity of every succeeding generation.

AMcC

Picture from Missionaries of Africa

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November 14: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xiv – ‘ A place for everyone at table.’

 

Throughout the parables and miracle stories Jesus is forever flouting rules and tradition; and offers no apology for so doing. He certainly went to the Temple to pray, but often accompanied by outcasts whose presence defiled the holy place. Jesus was committed to fullness of life above and beyond any and every system. He made people search for God not only in holy books, but principally in daily life; he uses everyday language – calling on everyday experiences; he insists we are constantly in God’s presence, not just when we formally pray – he makes care and concern for the other the key factor for kingdom living.

The Twelve certainly expected the messiah to be heroic – and they were disillusioned when he didn’t live up to expectations. Saint Paul’s vision of Church is more in line – centred on the Word in service of the community – but by the Second Century the Church was rapidly becoming institutionalised according to a shape at variance with Jesus’ own vision. This was when ecclesiastical [ritualisation] became more important than ecclesial [community in faith]. However, the original vision was never lost, nor will it ever be lost. Truth always survives, despite efforts to constrain it. What came to be known as the dark ages was when the Church had difficulty in controlling what was happening – whereas from the perspective of the Spirit it was a time of creativity and growth.

Is the real Jesus the middle-class revolutionary we have inherited? Are we true to the prophetic figure from Nazareth? Was the following of Jesus meant to be via a respectable religion? Can the freedom of the oppressed, and the empowering of the powerless happen this way? We surely should be recognised as different – to live for Jesus demands much more of us than to die for him. It means seeking justice, inclusiveness and equality – a place for everyone at table. Kingdom living was not something Jesus inaugurated for others to embrace and follow. He is the Kingdom. The Kingdom is how he lives and relates. What was he seeing that captivated him so much?

We are brought up through co-dependency – some are in charge, most aren’t. Our role is largely passive obedience. God is father, the Church is mother, making our relationship that of children. In such a setting the discipleship of equals has no chance. Adult is reserved for those in charge. Compassion is a fascinating quality in Jesus – it is always a verb, not a noun. Compassion means entering into the suffering of another, not just being there to help; and has nothing to do with pity and mercy.

AMcC

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November 8: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: viii – ‘ A radically new way of being human.’

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Putting Jesus on a divine pedestal leaves no room for a radically new way of being human.

Why are we preoccupied with the divinity of Jesus? Presumably we believe this enhances our faith. But is this what Jesus wanted to bring? Was the salvation of the immortal soul his prime concern? The Synoptics, Matthew Mark and Luke, interpret Jesus as a divine figure – corresponding to their contemporary expectation of a divine liberator from Roman oppression. But what was in Jesus’ mind? He certainly promised liberation and new life; was this freedom the expected liberation, or was it a great deal more than that?

I was asked on numerous occasions do I believe in the divinity of Jesus – but never once: do I believe in his humanity. Jesus was offering a radically new way of being human – one totally disconnected from a way dominated by the thirst for power. We know from the Gospels that the disciples had problems with this – preoccupation with messiah-ship became a series of obstacles to seeing what Jesus was really about. Ignorance of the great human story meant they were unable to see the human face of God revealed in that story, reaching its apex in the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus.

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Relishing and appreciating the full story, and appreciating God’s creativity at its core gives us a more credible and authentic appreciation of Jesus’ divinity – insisting that we attend much more to the new way of being human that this inaugurated, of which Jesus is the first disciple. We condemn Jesus to divine captivity – so divinely holy and remote – that his new way of being human is seriously compromised. Our preoccupation with his divinity is a distraction from knowing the real Jesus.

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We picture Jesus as a loyal and faithful Jew, whereas the sources suggest something different; and the following of Christ was seen as fidelity to divine rules and laws. The Jesus story came to be known as a set of facts around which his life was written. Yet this shape doesn’t figure strongly in his life and mission – his stories testify to this: he defied convention, social and religious – and flaunted the hopes of the establishment by calling for equality based on inclusiveness.

AMcC

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August 10: Francis Thompson IX: In Darkest England.

In Darkest England

Thompson, a century ago, saw conditions that needed addressing. Having been homeless, he knew the life from inside. Here he compares the Salvation Army with the Franciscans, lamenting that there are not more of the latter. In view of the closure of the Franciscan Study Centre and the diminishing numbers of professed religious Franciscans, we can learn from the Salvation Army, and stand shoulder to shoulder with them with the Food Banks and other ecumenical ventures. The state of ecumenism, at least, is an advance on Thompson’s day.

Tomorrow is the Feast of Saint Clare, friend of St Francis and founder of the Franciscan sisters known as Poor Clares. Happy Feast to all our sisters!

Consider what the Salvation Army is. It is not merely a sect, it is virtually a Religious Order, but a Religious Order of a peculiar kind. It consists of men and women living in the world the life of the world, pursuing their businesses, marrying, bringing up families; yet united by rule and discipline, and pushing forward active work of charity and religious influence among the forsaken poor. It possesses, moreover, the advantage of numerous recruits from the ranks of the poor, through whom it can obtain intimate knowledge of the condition and requirements of their class.

May it be that here, too, the Salvation Army has studied St Francis? Here, too, the Assisian has left us a weapon which but needs little practice to adapt it to the necessity of the day. Even so… The Franciscan Tertiaries are this army. They are men and women who live in the world the life of the world – though not a worldly life: who marry, rear their families, attend to their worldly vocations; yet they are a Religious Order, with rule and observance.

Not all of us are called to join the Franciscan Tertiaries, but there are many openings for us to ‘meet the necessities of the day’. Something to ponder on.

MMB.

See The Works of Francis Thompson, Prose: Volume III, p57-58. Burns Oates, 1920.

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July 31, Inter-galactic encounters XXX: the wrong seats, II

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Ajax was telling the Director about something that had happened while the two Ossyrian researchers, disguised as Chihuahuas, had been staying with their friends, the Turnstones.

‘Abel had just had his birthday, so he’s now two. He and his parents came round while we were at Will’s, and when Will brought the tea tray into the front room, Abel pulled his mother off the armchair. He said, “Grandad chair, Grandad chair!’

‘He was quite agitated’, said Alfie, ‘as if the whole world depended on everyone being in the right place. He sat on his own little green chair when he’d got his grandparents sorted.

‘Mrs T was laughing, but Abel was too intent on getting things right to notice.’

‘What do we take from that?’ Pondered T, the Director. ‘An inborn desire for order, security, perhaps. But Abel does not always want a rigid routine. He also wants adventure. Remember when he went paddling in the pool last winter?’

‘Don’t remind us!’ said Alfie, ‘and don’t expect us to come swimming with you just because the air temperature is above 20° Celsius.’

‘He was wearing a ski suit and boots. But do I take it that you guys are ready to go back to pod life? I’m sure it could be arranged in a couple of earth months.’

The pseudo-chihuahuas buried their heads under their common blanket. There were thoughts they did not wish to share with the Director.

 

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July 30: Inter-galactic encounters XXIX, the wrong seats: I.

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‘Hey, T’, beamed Alfie, as the train pulled out of Canterbury, ‘Can’t you read English?’

T had just jumped off the train, said ‘Hi’ to Will Turnstone, grabbed the dogs’ travelling bag and scooped up the pseudo-chihuahuas’ leads and leapt back on board, all in 30 seconds flat. No wonder he did not notice he had trespassed into the First Class compartment.

‘Oh, Come on Alf,’ he beamed back. ‘I’ve been away for three days: what kind of a greeting is that?’

‘Just warning you, T. Here comes the guard to check tickets. Look at that little white antimacassar.’

‘What Alfie’s trying to say,’ interrupted Ajax, ‘is that we are in First Class and I bet you have a standard class ticket.’

‘Sure I do’, T was saying as the guard came by.

‘Hello again sir,’ she said. ‘And who are these fine creatures? Do they mind being petted?’

‘No, go ahead, they’ll take any amount of fuss.’ So for the rest of the ride, in between her duties of platform watching, whistle-blowing and flag-waving; ticket inspection and sales, the guard spent her time in First Class, chatting to T and stroking Alfie and Ajax.

Back home, T said, ‘Will told me how all the old ladies and teenage girls homed in on you two. A babe magnet, he said.’

‘It’s just a chihuahua thing,’ Ajax replied. ‘But you sitting in the wrong seat reminds me of something that happened.’ (to be continued)

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27 February: Full Stop.

trees-reflection-chris

Full stop,

where my sentence ends.

I have run out of words again.

Again my sentence ends

at a full stop.

Will you not take my waiting pen

at this full stop?

Then you and I shall write again.

But all I can give you

is my full stop,

and my waiting pen.

Sometimes life seems to come to a full stop. Something ends and we don’t know what comes next. Or perhaps we just recognise the need for a pause before we set out again

In something written – as with this piece – a full stop marks the end of one line of thought. If we are reading aloud, a full stop allows a breath – a pause – before we begin again. Full stops might seem to oppose the natural flow, but we need that breath. When writing it gives space to consider what it is we want to communicate and the ways we might do so. When reading we gain the time to take in what we have read: what is being said and what is its significance?

Like a piece of writing our life with God will have plenty of full stops. They exist not to impede our activity but to empower it. Some are like the ending of a chapter. We retire or change jobs, or move home, or experience the difficult ending of a relationship. Or perhaps the full stop feels more as if it is inside us: we sense it’s time to stop something that has been significant in our life. It’s time to move on. But to what? The pause invites us to let God in. We might be tempted to rush on to the next sentence – any old sentence – to avoid this uncomfortable halt in progress. But that would be a mistake. We need a deep breath of God; it will help us see where we have been going and where the road might now lead us.

Some full stops are smaller: not the end of a chapter or even a paragraph but a break within the activity of reading or writing. ‘Sometimes’ Etty Hillesum wrote in her journal, ‘the most important thing in our whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths or the turning aside in prayer for five minutes.’ These full stops are the intentional way we abide in Christ and draw life from Christ’s abiding in us. We have space to listen to the events of our day and what has been happening within us. We remember that we move forward together. As on the written page the stops are small but frequent. They help rather than hinder the flow of our activity, giving meaning and shape to what we do.

So as you write, or read, or live this day, put in the necessary punctuation.

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6 October: Franciscans Observing the Gospel.

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Observing the Gospel

Francis did not set out to found an Order, people just followed him.  As you will know there are three Franciscan Orders founded by Francis:

Three First Order: Order of Friars Minor, Order of Friars Minor Conventual, and Order of Friars Minor Capuchin.

Second Order: The Poor Clare Sisters (founded by Francis and St Clare of Assisi).

The Third Order: Third Order Secular and the Third Order Regular, including many communities of sisters.

The First Order follow the same Rule but have different Constitutions.

The Second Order has its own Rule.

The Third Order Secular has its own Rule.

The Third Order Regular have their own Rules.

Why am I telling you all this?  Because I want to make one point.  Each of these Rules has one statement in common which reads:

To observe the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Note that the word observe has two meanings:

First meaning

Observe – keep the rule – e.g. keep off the grass; keep the Rule and the Rule will keep you!

Second meaning

Observe – look at and see – and what you see put into practice.

It is the second meaning that Franciscans vow to observe when they make their vows and promise to observe the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ

As did Francis: he looked at the Gospel, he looked at Christ and he endeavoured to put into practice what he saw in the Gospel, in Christ.  That is the meaning of following Christ after the manner of Francis.  That is being Franciscan.

 

Margaret McGrath FMSJ

8th August 2016

 

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24 September: Intergalactic Discoveries, XII: Going Native.

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Alfie and Ajax were certainly changing, as T had observed. Inducing the Builder’s Dog to walk on duckweed was almost saying that which was not, and without Mrs Fox’s kind-hearted motive. Indeed motivation and emotions had bubbled up more and more frequently for the dogs as well as for T, frustrated in his mission to California.

On his return to Kent he was philosophical about it. ‘Not worth losing sleep over it. Let’s get back to Margate and regroup.’

For the dogs – or pseudo dogs – life was exhausting. People wanted to touch them, dogs wanted to chase them, cats hissed and spat. A far cry from the Ossyrian way of life, in atmospherically controlled dwelling pods, eating a scientifically designed diet, performing the social protocols according to seasons no-one had experienced since the Great Descent to the SubOceanic Halls and Pods.

Surface life on earth was painful and joyful in ways unknown in the plankton-lit world of Ossyria but how could they explain this to their co-citizens? How to describe an ache that was not a result of injury? The taste of forbidden food – and why was it forbidden? ‘A little of what you fancy does you good!’ Mrs Fox had said. The sensation of physical contact – at first unsettling, then craved. Alfie had grown to seek out Abel’s touch, and had taught Abel to be gentle by relaxing himself and thinking in tune with the little boy. There was little room for such fellow-feeling in the Pods, designed in long-ago desperate times for survival, not thriving. Why were all three less than anxious to return to their lives as Director, Droghmirrxz and Bogmerlg?

 

This follow-up report would be much more difficult to write than their first two had been.

WT.

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