Tag Archives: Saint John

27 December: Bird watching

 

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It’s been a while since we heard from Sheila Billingsley, but then we have three seasonal posts: Christmas morning and now two poems for consecutive feasts: saint John the Evangelist today, tomorrow the Holy Innocents. 

This is a fragment from an early papyrus copy of Saint John’s Gospel, held at the John Rylands Library, University of Manchester. Go and see it; it’s usually on show.  We are told in chapters 20 and 21 that the signs that Jesus worked were witnessed by the disciples and written down ‘that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you may have life through his name.


Bird watching

The evening sun has warmed the wall

At my back,

Soon to cool in the last of its light.

The eagle hovers,

Circling tirelessly.

All day it has been there

Circling ever higher, higher,

Wider, deeper,

Always above.

While I, sit like the ageing man that I am,

And wait.

Watching the great bird,

Surely the great bird watches me?

Oh lift me, bird, on strong wings

Until I can look into the sun.

I could write.

I should write.

But what to write?

And how?

Watching you, bird, in your calm drifting

His voice returns,

His nearness touches.

His command.

Write this!

Tell them that I Am the Beginning,

The start of everything.

Tell them that you knew me!

Heard me,

Touched me!

Tell, oh, tell of my Father and our Love.’

The sun is almost gone,

The bird, great eagle,

To its eyrie.

Now light the lamp,

Bring my papyrus,

Bring my pen …

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25 October. What is Theology Saying? XXXVIII: We have locked ourselves in the shadow of death

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The evil in unredeemed desire is far deeper than the law could engender – which is why we are told that anger = murder and lust = adultery. The way evil cannot touch is forgiveness. We need to learn to desire without the need to compete, blame or measure ourselves against. We need to be free to relish good wherever it is found – but who decides what is good?

God gave a prohibition for our protection – which we have consistently ignored – not to eat of the tree whose fruit is knowledge of good and evil. But seeing something withheld led to rivalry and envy – we’ll show him – we’ll do it our way. Paul tells us that the Law is not sinful – Romans 7.7. – I was once alive apart from the Law, but when the command came sin sprang into life and I died. Paul sees the Serpent not as the Devil but as sin. Desire is a gift of God, but not when disfigured by envy. We have victimised the Law making it an instrument of redemptive violence, and locking ourselves within the shadow of death.

Desire turned to envy made what should have been the irenic way to life into the sphere of rivalry, envy and exclusion. Now all life is infected [universality of OS] by such distorted desire – they saw that they were naked – all this through ignoring that prohibition that was there to ensure our well-being.

It is my awareness of me as “I” that results from knowing other than me. Paul insists that it is Faith that allows us access to desire redemption, to desire in ways that owe nothing to envious rivalry. Sin means my “I” is not in control but is itself controlled by distorted desire. What is needed is the way of living that Paul describes as: It is no longer I but Christ living in me [controlling my “I”] – Gal.2.20.

Jesus shows that Original Sin is not of our essence, it is simply evidence of a faulty foundational principle [way of life]. Paradoxically, what Jesus was founding was subversion of the notion founding – in the sense of achieving identity by comparison over against others. It is totally gratuitous in every way… something that existed long before our capacity for distorting desire ever happened. Before Original Sin there is Original Grace.

The tragedy of Original Sin is not that it is universal, but in the universality of the new people we discover what is possible for “I” – to become enabled to move from the universal to the particular; whereas conversion requires recognition of our equality as the foundation of human dignity; unity in diversity, equal but not the same. Original Sin is what we are leaving behind when we take new life seriously. We realise the reality of Original Sin through those who have been set free from it. As Jesus told Nicodemus – we must be born into a new way – not going back and starting again. – Jn.3.3. Death was seen as an extrinsic punishment for sin – we all sin, we all die! Death and sin are connected – distorted desire cannot bring life, since only God is life!

AMcC

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October 23: What is Theology saying? XXXVI: Resurrection and Original Sin.

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The formal doctrine of Original Sin is not present in the apostolic witness, no more than is the doctrine of the Trinity. What is crucial for understanding God-with-us in Jesus is the real presence to the disciples of Jesus at once crucified and risen. The only reason why there is Christianity is the Resurrection. Any doctrine that cannot trace its origin to the Resurrection is to be discarded – Galatians 1:8. – But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!

The Resurrection was not a mysterious event within a pre-existing framework for understanding God, but the event by which God recast the possibility of human awareness of God. God blew apart former understandings of God in the birth, life, death and Resurrection of Jesus. Death is a matter of complete indifference to God Mark.12.18, which has Jesus telling the authorities you are very much mistaken! Any understanding of God based on death cannot even begin to know God. God’s love in Jesus is totally unaffected by death; love carries on being reciprocal right through and beyond death.

The doctrine of Original Sin is that death is not a necessity. The presence of Jesus crucified and risen reveals that we were wrong about God and wrong about ourselves; not wrong as in mistaken, but that we were going the wrong way. Divine forgiveness makes known the accidental nature of mortality. In John 9 we read Jesus’ response to who is the sinner: this man or his parents… I have come that those who do not see may see, and those who see – become blind – 9.39. The conversation starts with sin being the cause of his blindness, through which he is excluded. By the end sin is the act of exclusion.

AMcC

The design of the Canterbury Cathedral Easter Garden is entrusted to an apprentice.

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October 8: Harvest Festival at Saint Mildred’s.

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The Glebe at Saint Mildred’s Church in Canterbury is where L’Arche Kent have their garden, and this year we were able to contribute some produce to the church for Harvest Festival. Then some of us joined the congregation for the Festival Eucharist and lunch.

Rev Jo Richards, the Rector, has quickly become a friend to L’Arche, looking in to say hello. She kindly agreed to our publishing the bare bones of her sermon, and with it her photos from the day. Thank you Jo, and welcome to Agnellus Mirror. (Blessed Agnellus would have been a member of one of the city centre parishes when he lived in Canterbury, so on Jo’s patch!)

MMB.

harvest18.3 obeliskJulian of Norwich was born in 1342, We do not know Julian’s actual name but her name is taken from St. Julian’s Church in Norwich where she lived as an anchoress for most of her life. An anchoress, that is someone who lives in a cell attached to a church, and leads a prayer focused life.

 

When she was 30 years old, Julian contracted a grave illness and came so near death they gave her last rites. At the end of her illness, she had a series of 16 visions, or showings, that she understood to have come from God. She spent the next 20 years reflecting on these visions and writing down what she had learned from them. Perhaps, the most famous of those showings is this one, which I felt was particularly adapt for today:

 

And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God.”

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Julian made three reflections relating to this vision:

The first that God created us and all creation. However big or small everything throughout the universe and beyond is created by God. As we look at the conker in our hand, we acknowledge that God created this – the tree from which it fell, and the sun that made it grow, and the rain that encouraged it to grow.

The second observation was that God loves everything that God created; and that is unconditional love, everything and everyone, and that includes you and me, whatever our background, what ever our colour; ability or disability, as it says in 1 John “God is love”.

The third observation that Julian made is that God keeps and sustains – not just us but all of creation.

These reflections raise the question of God’s omnipresence, that is the understanding that God is everywhere, nothing is without the presence and activity of God; God is present with us, here and now; in all that we are and all that we do; in the incarnation the Holy Child; in the Eucharist and the bread and the wine.

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Consider these lilies – created by God, loved by God and sustained by God….they neither toil or spin.

Consider God’s harvest – to share – the word share is found in harvest; as these gifts are given to Catching Lives (Canterbury’s homeless charity) may we remain ever mindful of those whose circumstances are such that they do not have anywhere to call home, other than the pavement of our city streets.

What about us. Our Gospel passage tells us that if God provides for all of God’s creation, why worry about what to wear. God will provide, for all God’s children

You just have to look in our shops bursting with the autumn range of clothing – subliming telling us what we need to be wearing and what colours are in – without which we might be felt to feel inadequate ; perhaps we should draw on our text from our second reading – it is the love of money (not money, but the love of money, that is at the root of all evil.

But look again at your conker, and feel it beautifully created, loved and sustained by God.

Now take your hand in the other, this too is beautifully created, loved and sustained by God.

You and me are beautifully created, loved and sustained by God, for this day and for ever more.

 

 

 

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24 August: Saint Bartholomew

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It was Saint Bartholomew’s church, so I had half expected to see him represented there. But the church at Richard’s Castle in Shropshire is redundant, a sad old place. There are traces on the walls of pre=Reformation murals, and fragments of ancient glass, the images no doubt destroyed by zealous iconoclasts. Yet it was here in the Marches that our Saint of two days ago, John Kemble, worked as a Catholic priest until he was denounced in the wake of the Titus Oates debacle.

Well, of the five earthbound men in this image of the Ascension of Jesus from a Shropshire hill, the front right is Peter, with his keys; opposite him, next to Mary, is the beardless John. We can take Peter’s neighbour to be Bartholomew, why not? He was close to Jesus. He was soon huddled away in the Upper Room, until, filled by the Spirit, he made his way to India and Armenia with  the Good News, and was eventually put to death.

John Kemble, after training on the Continent, served the people of his own district as pastor; Bartholomew served far from home. Who will hear the Good news from me today? Who will I hurt through mistaken zeal? Who will feel my faith is redundant because of my poor example?

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2 August, Traherne III: Two worlds.

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This is Thomas Traherne’s Seventh Meditation. He is grappling with the dilemma posed by Jesus’ words on loving the world alongside the Genesis story of creation as God’s good work. Here is Saint John:

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. (2:16-17)

That is the King James Version which Traherne would have used. And  here is his meditation: to contemn is to hold in contempt, to despise.

To contemn the world and to enjoy the world are things contrary to each other. How, then can we contemn the world, which we are born to enjoy? Truly there are two worlds. One was made by God, the other by men. That made by God was great and beautiful. Before the Fall it was Adam’s joy and the Temple of his Glory. That made by men is a Babel of Confusions: Invented Riches, Pomps and Vanities, brought in by Sin: Give all (saith Thomas à Kempis) for all. Leave the one that you may enjoy the other.

Mention of Thomas à Kempis reminds me that my grandmother’s Imitation of Christ turned up recently. Another text to be shared sometime soon. But I like the term ‘Adam’s Joy’! Would we be happy to show our ancestors and our creator what we are doing to the Temple of his Glory? Can we dare to say, Laudato si?

Image from NASA

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17 July, What is Theology Saying? XVII: The Eucharist 4: he is the beloved.

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There is no equal to God. However kind, benign and compassionate the Creator is, we remain creature and Creator.

Scripture will have none of this – it is totally refuted by Jesus. One of the most significant comments Jesus made was the seemingly simple – the Father loves me – John.15.9. et al. Indeed his total identity as we hear at his baptism and the Transfiguration is that he is the beloved of Abba – Galatians 4.4. So, Abba can love! But God cannot love a creature as such: as we have seen, there is no equality; but there is a reality in Jesus which is beyond creaturehood. To say God loves me is to say he is divine.

Where does this leave us? In telling us that the Father loves him, Jesus – who is truly human – is telling us that the father loves everything about him – and especially the common humanity we share with him: to all who believe he gave power to know God as Abba – i.e. we are loved by God as Jesus is loved, as equals yet each one uniquely; which is why the Church always concludes worship and prayer with ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’.

Saint Paul writes that it is the re-shaping of community that allows us to see the presence of Christ. Eucharist fails in its purpose if it allows any form of discrimination for whatever reason: 1Corinthians.11; Romans.12; Galatians.2. The Eucharist asks us individually and collectively where we are as regards God’s unconditional hospitality.

AMcC

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26 May: I must go away.

A final reflection on Pentecost from ‘The Life and Letters of Father Andrew’, Anglican Franciscan and parish priest.

This morning I was meditating on our Saviour’s words, ‘It is expedient for you that I go away.’

The Apostles’ faith in our Lord, when they were dependent on his visible presence, did not stand the challenge of the Cross. They all forsook him and fled. But a very few weeks after, those very same men were calmly facing authorities, ‘counting it all joy that they were allowed to suffer for the Name of Jesus.’

When he was with them they failed, when, by the power of the Holy Spirit, he was in them, they overcame.

The Life and Letters of Father Andrew, London, Mowbray, 1948 pp201-202.

The Cross of Triumph at Our Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge.

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13 May: The one who was lost.

judas

Father Daniel Weatherley was saying that today was, he thought, the only time that poor Judas is mentioned twice in the Scripture readings, in Acts 1: 15-26 and John 17:11-19.

Judas is described as the one who chose to be lost; we read elsewhere how he hanged himself. Father Daniel described him as refusing Christ’s – God’s – love and so getting into a dark place. Fair comment, but the sculptor of Strasbourg Cathedral doesn’t expect the Lamb of God to be merely fair. Here he is shown, determinedly untying the former apostle, right at Hell’s mouth.

Even before Jesus descended into Hell, this artist has  him rescuing his friend.

Thank God the Church is more merciful to suicides these days; but we still have much to learn about mercy.

MMB

 

 

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8 April: The Passover Sequence, The Morning.

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It was still dark when John came,

Tho’ the women had already gone,

With their bowls and their cloths,

Their herbs and oils,

Their spices and ointments.

Busy!

Fit for the King, they said.

John met them on the way,

Hurrying,

Worrying,

Fearful their strength would not move the great stone

Enclosing their Lord.

John came with news of Mary,

Safe,

Protected in his home.

John said, she had kept vigil

All the long hours,

Silent,

Sleepless,

Still.

Taking only a little water.

Waiting ….

Until, as dawn approached

She stood, at last.

Facing the death of the night,

The birth of the day.

John was exhausted,

He too had kept vigil

Beside her.

His charge – his mother.

We made him rest,

Take some food.

And so we sat,

Wordless,

Wondering,

Waiting, together.

Until, the darkness broken by the dawn,

The silence broken by the women.

Returning.

Breathless,

Breathing their unbelievable tale

Of an open, empty tomb,

All tidy and neat,

And of a young man in white

Waiting for them.

He must have been an angel, surely?

He had a message,

From the Lord, he said,

The Lord, Our Lord! would see us soon.

I heard John, beside me, breathe so softly …

He promised, oh, he promised,

We must go to him, now, now.”

And gathering us like chickens,

we ran to him,

Ran to our Lord.

SPB

Angel from Wreay, Cumbria.

 

 

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