Sometimes a candle can speak where words cannot.
As here in Canterbury Cathedral, on a cake, or at a memorial site.
Sometimes a candle can speak where words cannot.
As here in Canterbury Cathedral, on a cake, or at a memorial site.
Of Brother Bernard of Quintavalle , first companion of St Francis
THE first companion of Saint Francis was Brother Bernard of Assisi, who was converted in this wise: While Saint Francis was still in the secular habit, albeit he had already despised the world, and went about being wholly held in scorn of men, mortifying his flesh by penances, in so much that by many he was thought foolish and was mocked at as a mad fellow, and was driven away with stones and foul abuse by his kinsfolk and by strangers, yet bore himself patiently amid all manner of ignominy and reproach, as though he were deaf and dumb: Bernard of Assisi, the which was of the noblest, and richest, and wisest in the city, began wisely to take heed unto Saint Francis, how exceeding strong his contempt of the world, how great his patience in the midst of wrongs, so that albeit for a two years’ space thus evil intreated of all persons and despised, he ever seemed the more constant; then he began to ponder and to say within himself: “In no wise can it be that this brother hath not abundant grace from God”; so he called him one evening to sup and lodge with him: and Saint Francis consented thereto and supped with him and lodged.
And thereat Bernard set it in his heart to watch his sanctity: wherefore he let make ready for him a bed in his own proper chamber, in the which at night-time ever a lamp did burn. And Saint Francis, for to hide his sanctity, when he was come into the chamber, incontinent did throw himself upon the bed and made as though he slept: and likewise Bernard after some short space set himself to lie down and fell to snoring loudly, in fashion as though he slept right soundly.
To be continued. But did Francis sleep?
I looked up from my mother’s garden to see these windows glowing in the winter’s sun. Those are weavers’ windows, raised up high and facing South to catch the sun, ‘that it may shine to all that are in the house’. Daylight was the more precious when there were only oil lamps to work by as the shades lengthened. Those sycamores would not then have been there to cast a shadow.
You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house.
We can forget what a precious gift light is, with our street lights blotting the stars from view. And we are in danger of forgetting how precious our sisters and brothers are when we are encouraged to want an excess of earth’s goods for ourselves.
Deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the needy and the harbourless into thy house: when thou shalt see one naked, cover him, and despise not thy own flesh. Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy health shall speedily arise, and thy justice shall go before thy face, and the glory of the Lord shall gather thee up.
Isaiah 58: 8-9
Human stories happen around a beginning, a middle and an end – not so his story – we have had a human version of his story for 2000 years – it could be called his earthly dwelling.
Jesus’ whole being is caught up in relationship; he belongs to a web of relationships – ancient religion refers to this as Trinity. We all actually lived from this reality long before scholarship named it. We see ourselves over against creation – the game of divide and conquer. We have reduced reality into three human-like figures – Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Jesus is the hub of all relating throughout infinity and so there is no beginning or end – we need such parameters, but creative reality knows no boundaries.
Jesus’ special connection with us did not begin 2000 years ago, with his earthly dwelling. He has been around far longer than that. The Incarnation happened at the very start – there was never a question of waiting 6 million years for redemption and salvation to take place. Redemption is with us from the start. If only we had Jesus’ humanity right we would have no problem with his divinity. Things can’t be clear cut in an evolving universe. It is a condition of creative freedom for everything to be open and fluid.
Christian tradition has seen to it that what has been passed on with regard to the Kingdom has suffered from the desire for control; and so the Kingdom became a spiritual/ecclesiastical [not ecclesial!] way of containing God’s power through sacred institutions. Christ brought the Kingdom – his new way of being human, through celebrated inter-dependence with the earth. The Kingdom was never a project apart from the self of Jesus. He did not bring the Kingdom, the Kingdom brought him.
He tried to explain it through story and parable – stories left wide open, inviting our creativity and innovation. All he wanted was to sit at table, share stories and break bread together; without the baggage of not being worthy, or feeling unclean. The Kingdom is not about laws but values. There is no room for exclusions or favourites, just a willingness to welcome everybody irrespective of creed, race or reputation. Kings and kingdoms of this world welcome hierarchies and preferential living. The Kingdom is a new kind of real presence that desires to be open to all creation.
Doctrines, codes and creeds don’t need a mother, persons do! Motherhood is how we all give birth – something we have from our common mother earth; that became individualised for Jesus through Mary, his biological mother. We belong to one earth, come from the same stardust; share the same flesh and blood – we all need to laugh, to work, to play, to enjoy love. Without bodies Spirit cannot flourish.
Jesus is inclusive in his relationships, especially at table. Tax collectors and sinners feel at home with him – not a male with soft edges, but one who is radically different – relational rather than rational. But there’s more – a dimension that has eluded scholars for centuries. His is a presence that transcends space and time. The stereotypical dualism of male and female is transcended in favour of an integration that relativises both the male and female as seen in basic biology.
Redemptive Violence – Women shed blood to give life; men tend to shed blood in order to take life. Ancient cultures saw blood as containing the life force – a force often misused and abused for an angry god. Thus emerged the notion of sacrifice. Shedding blood as an act of appeasement can be traced back to shedding animal blood so that humans could survive. It is said that humans have always hunted for food and killed animals to get it. But research going back 40,000 years has uncovered evidence that the initial gathering of food was from plant life, and animals were killed only when such was unavailable.
Slaying animals does not seem to have been practised during early agricultural times [around 8,000 BC]. Although more food was gleaned from the land, the desire for meat was also present; and during this time the shedding of blood acquired religious significance. Governance was by fiercely aggressive males, who validated what they did through belief in a sky god, who rapidly became like themselves – domineering and demanding; and so pacifying strategies came into play. Animals were the primary victims along with first fruits of the seasons. On rare occasions humans were sacrificed. In this way the notion of the scapegoat came to the fore.
René Girard traces the notion of scapegoating to mimetic [imitating] desire leading to rivalry and violence; it was extensively used to counter threats of aggression. Girard and others see the death of Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice that renders the scapegoat redundant forever. The notion of blood sacrifice is a child of the patriarchal system of around 10,000 years ago. Bloodletting and sacrifice evolved under an anthropocentric world view that man is the measure of all things. In the human, blood seems to be life’s energy, and so must be the life-blood of everything in creation, including God.
Blood sacrifice was seen as restoring the balance, setting things right with the offended one. The notion of victory crept into language for the vindictive God and his earthly representatives. The Hebrew Scriptures reveal a God who is pleased at the slaying of enemies, and whose glory is enhanced by victory through the sword. This is a far cry from the earlier Goddess whose bloodletting was at the service of life-creating.
These two become confused in Jesus. New life was the key-word for Kingdom living, but this tended to be lost with the understanding of salvation through death on the cross – hence understandings like obedience through suffering. 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.
Dogma helps hold people together in faith communities – but it does not inspire or animate. Faith is in the heart rather than the head. We grow in faith through relationships with others whose fidelity to Christ is a living experience. If we judge each other by what we believe in, we are setting up in and out groups – responsible for so many -isms; blood has been shed through this, and witch-hunts become inevitable – in no way conducive to Jesus’ stark love your enemies. But if we are to let-go the way of dogma – what do we replace it with? The new Evangelisation that Pope Francis is calling for! To set Jesus and ourselves free from the captivity of absolute dogma.
All over Africa, where Christianity is preached, churches are adorned with a white Christ, bearded and robed like an ancient Roman. Both Jesus and Mary were ethnic Palestinian – dark-skinned, of non-European features. Jesus as white and male became indisputable facts. Biologically no one can dispute the gender of Jesus. This isn’t attempting to create a patchwork quilt making Jesus all things to all people. This is not reinvention but rediscovery. If Jesus is God-incarnate – then Creation tells us that there is something of God in being male and female.
Most of our story as God’s people [6 million years] belongs to Africa; yet the demonising of blackness still feeds cultures of racism. Darkened skin is a powerful symbol of what it means to be human; it is the primary pigmentation that humans have known for most of our time – created, blessed and loved by God. We need to honour Jesus who belongs, not to the land of Israel, and even less to Western Europe, but to the primary soil of East Africa – just as the earthly Jesus belonged to every creed, colour and cultural condition.
The heart of the problem is not that Jesus was a man, but that men are not like Jesus! For thousands of years before Jesus males alone were considered to be fully human. They possessed the seed through which new life would be procreated – a view endorsed by Aristotle, Aquinas and Luther – with male offspring more valued than female. This is why Jesus, to be Messiah, had to be seen as descending through a male line.
But Jesus proclaiming the Kingdom is clearly not male in the conventional sense. He adopts none of the typical male behaviour characteristics: dominance, control… he engages with people, especially with the powerless made so by Church and State. Instead of protecting power he gives it away; instead of reasoned argument he tells stories – he is inclusive in his relationships, especially at table.
This post is more explicitly about the Eucharist than some others in this occasional series; but they are all about the Eucharist, which includes every meal shared in love.
I have been reading an article Facing the Lord’s Table by Thomas O’Loughlin1 where he discusses the positions taken up by priest and people in the Catholic Eucharist: either one man on one side of the altar-table and the rest facing across it to him, or in the older tradition, the priest facing the altar but also away from the people.
Neither of these is ideal, he argues. If two of us are eating together, we will usually face each other, the better to communicate; if there are more of us, we will sit around the table. Thus, in the first picture above, you’ll see how we have re-arranged ourselves for the photo, and we returned to our plates a moment later. In the Last Supper from Strasbourg Cathedral, like so many others, artistic licence dictates that those present are facing us – but we Christians share that same table in Strasbourg, in Canterbury, or wherever we may be in the world, so the gathering around the table is symbolically completed by the onlookers’ presence.
Dr O’Loughlin reminds us that at Mass, rather than in front of a carving, we are a community when we gather round a table; that is when we say Grace to bless the food and drink.
Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.
My brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together.
1 Corinthians 10:17; 11:33
Dr O’Loughlin also suggests that an accurate translation of the First Eucharistic Prayer would have us standing around the table rather than just standing before God, and that this is borne out by ancient liturgical instructions about how the broken pieces of the loaf were to be set out on the paten for distribution.
He closes with these words: The theological bottom line is this: if the Logos has come to dwell among us (John1:14), then every table of Christians is a place where one could rub up against him at one’s elbow.
Now there’s a thought! Do read and digest the article if you can find the journal.
1In The Furrow, October 2017, p554-560.
Back in July, I wrote about the bumper harvest on the apricot tree. over the next four weeks I was up that tree a few times, harvesting and pruning. We made more than 100 jars of jam. That’s not really a boast, just a measure of the bounty from our tree this year.
Some of those jars have found their way to other people’s breakfast tables. We’ve had appreciation from family and neighbours, ‘best ever’, ‘lovely jam’ and so on. Those of us who have undergone the after-effects of surgery will empathise with the friend of Mrs T, recovering from her op who really enjoyed the jam with her breakfast toast. So good to receive the sense of taste again! What a gift it is, and how healing.
Where else can we spread a little apricot-flavoured happiness, I wonder?
Are there any people out there who might treasure a small gift from you, far more than perhaps you’d expect on first thoughts?
It was snowing and Tommy was really happy. This was the real Christmas scene. It was soft fluffy snow which made really good snowballs. Moreover, it was holidays so perhaps he would be able to go tobogganing with his brothers and sister. Perhaps even Mum and Dad would come too. That would be great. He loved it when they did things together as a family. It filled him with a warm glow. He heard his father singing in the bathroom whilst he stropped his razor.
Then he went down to breakfast and was glad to see it was porridge with honey. His Mum came in and kissed him. She looked very fit and he knew she did exercises every day and went to the pool twice every week so hopefully she would feel OK about tobogganing. ‘I must check my sledge, Mum.’
‘Yes, you should because last year we didn’t have any snow to speak of and you didn’t use it, but it looks fine for tobogganing today. I wish I could come but I have to go Christmas shopping with your Aunt Clara in Canterbury.’
‘You might not be able to get to Canterbury’, said Tommy hopefully.
‘Yes the busses are running. However, your Dad’s not going to work today and he really likes tobogganing. He can use the old tin tray. It’s under the draining board’.
Tommy went to get ready and join his brothers and sister. Dad came down full of merriment and eager to get going. Soon they were all kitted out in their warmest clothes with scarves, winter boots and gloves.
Outside it was pretty cold but they did not have far to go to the snow covered slopes of the hill behind their house. They met lots of people they knew and when they arrived at the slopes it was packed so they decided to go for a walk first.
They went for a long walk and came back home hungry and cold. Tommy’s sister and brothers prepared some lunch whilst Dad lit the log fire in the lounge. Then feeling a bit drowsy, they all dozed off until Mum returned.
They had tea together and were revived. As they became more animated Tommy’s brother Ralph went outside and said it had stopped snowing and was a beautiful moonlit night. So they all decided to go tobogganing and Tommy was very excited about the prospect of hurtling down the run in the moonlight with all his family all around.
There were still quite a few people about but nothing like as many as in the morning. The run was still smooth and hard because it was beginning to freeze. Tommy watched as his brothers and sister started their runs. He heard his father, who was an engineer say to him: ‘Son, remember it’s all about using your body weight effectively,’ but he knew instinctively what to do and enjoyed his first run down and joked with his brothers and sister at the bottom of the run.
Some people had brought flasks of hot chocolate and buns which were very welcome. Then the younger folk started to organise races in which Tommy did very well. However, his Mum seemed rather anxious and asked Tommy if he had seen his Dad recently. Tommy remembered his Dad’s last remark to him before he set off on his first run. He had not seen him since so he started to ask around but none of his family or friends had seen him for at least half an hour. So they started a serious search at the bottom of the run and in the bushes on the side thinking he might have veered off course.
But there was no sign of Dad and Tommy was very worried. He kept calling, ‘Dad! Dad!’, but there was no response. Suddenly the front door of a house to the side of the run was opened and there was Tommy’s Dad, all merry and bright. Dad described what had happened, somewhat contritely for despite what he told Tommy about weight distribution, his own weight was too much on one side; consequently he slid off course and into the house at the side of the track.
The crowd which had gathered were highly amused by Dad’s account of what had transpired and thought that perhaps they should have a ‘whip round’ to buy him a proper sledge rather than allow him to go sliding on a tin tray virtually into people’s living rooms, with the obvious intention of getting a Christmas drink.
Dad took all the ribaldry in good part and to show his sportsmanship decided to go for one final slide on his tin tray.
Tommy was very proud of his Dad, though the phrase about weight distribution would always be remembered as a reminder of the old adage, ‘practise what you preach’.