Tag Archives: sign

November 5, Jesus Beyond Dogma II: v – ‘the danger of reducing God-in-Jesus to our own image and likeness’.

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It is far from true to say that the majority of thoughtful young adults today have abandoned religion. My experience is that it is the denominational that is the issue. They want spiritual relevance and ethical responsibility, but cannot see it in any us-and-them ideology that has accompanied so much institutional religion. While formal religion seems to be on the wane, there is certainly a resurgence of interest in things spiritual.

For many, spiritual realities do not happen apart from some kind of formal belief; whereas human experience suggests otherwise. But how do we recognise these signs, and what are they telling us? Is it possible for a genuinely spiritual person to see institutional religion as irrelevant? We have inherited formal structures which seem to suggest they are a sine qua non – monogamous marriage, the nuclear family, formal work place and religious institutions with dogmatic boundaries. These boundaries translate as rules and regulations controlling personal behaviour. On the one hand, without these boundaries there would be anarchy; on the other hand, leaving such boundaries unquestioned is a prescription for disintegration.

Personal relationship with Jesus is regarded by spiritual guides as the ultimate criterion of genuine spirituality. I have experienced the closeness of God when walking in the countryside, or meandering along the coastline, or sitting quietly in chapel. I hesitate to use a human analogy to explain this experience, because it feels as if something greater, more profound is here. My hesitancy is the possible danger of reducing God-in-Jesus to our own image and likeness, and in some way alien to the freedom of the children of God.

Does this sound a little pagan, worshipping the elements as in primitive times? Such statements seem to carry an element of certitude and clarity of faith – we know what is right and this isn’t it. We are so much part of the system that we easily adopt its labels. Take the word pagan. It is used frequently to denote not just opposition to formal religion, but devoting one’s time and energy to worshipping what are seen as replacements for the real God. Jesus said: do not be like pagans, those who make their authority felt – Mark.10.42.

It alleges that ancient worship of sun, moon and stars is primitive when seen from our civilised times. True worship of God is only possible in a civilised world, and is monotheistic. The ability and freedom to see our past in a more favourable light is one of the spiritual challenges facing us. It is not exonerating the past, but widening our horizons and seeing the unity in creation in ever new light.

AMcC

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8 July: The Scandal of Disunity

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There are signs of hope. Here is Francis, Bishop of Rome, receiving a blessing from Justin, Archbishop of Canterbury. No charade, surely? The Pope would not bring about scandal by seeking a blessing from a heretic schismatic. When Bishop Nicholas Hudson joined Bishop Trevor Willmott in blessing the congregation at Canterbury Cathedral, what were we to make of the implied recognition of value in Anglican orders?

The scandal is not that these isolated events happen, but that we lack the courage of our convictions, so they remain isolated. Forty years ago I was assured that, juridically, Anglican orders were all valid since Old Catholic bishops had taken part in enough ordinations to ensure recognition of Anglican Apostolic Succession.

In another church, a good distance from Canterbury, a Catholic bishop was ordained recently, with his friend, co-worker and Anglican bishop, robed on the sanctuary. It was good to see him there, but he was not invited to join the Catholic bishops by laying hands on the ordinand.

And the announcement that day deterring non-Catholics from receiving the Eucharist? If a bishop being ordained is not one of those special occasions when Eucharistic hospitality is to be encouraged, I’m not clear when it may be grudgingly permitted. Put out into the deep!

WT.

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June 19: Shared Table II, the Dignity of the Child.

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Maria Montessori was one of the greatest Italians of modern times. Young Abel makes me think of this passage from The Child in The Family. Montessori tells how a baby wants to be at table with the family.

If we are at dinner and the child is in another room and he weeps because he is left out, we have withheld the respect we would have given to an adult. We ought to be pleased by his presence and keep him near us. Do not worry about food hurting him – ignoring him is an offence.                             p52.

We could also read this paragraph:

Those who do not care brutally shove the spoon into the child’s mouth – but observe and the child will try to help himself. One must simply sacrifice cleanliness to the justifiable impulse to act. The child will perfect the movements in time. When he has satisfied the need to help himself he will let the adult help.                  p124-5.

Young Abel was so keen to help himself on the occasion of this photo that he had spoon in one hand, fork in the other, and also a special spoon for the helpful adult. (Al fresco dining meant pickings for Robin and Mrs Tittlemouse, eager to clear up Abel’s mess.)

So why does the Church refuse to give the Eucharist to baptised babies? What message does that give them; and the rest of us? Are we not withholding respect? Abel’s mother as a baby used to extend her hand when carried up to the altar, and when I was little, one parent would often stay with the little ones in the bench and await the other’s return before  receiving the Sacrament themselves.

Beware of counter-signs; often they are so established that we never see them; disrespect of children runs deep in Church and Society.

MMB

 

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2 January: Mary, Queen, Mother of Mercy

Mary Queen of Africa at Bobo diolasso from MAfr W Africa

Picture from Missionaries of Africa, West Africa Province.

This statue of Mary is at Bobo Dioulasso in Burkina Faso, a modern, West African expression of the crowned statue of Our Lady of Africa in Algiers.

We pray, ‘hail, holy  Queen, mother of mercy.’ Here we see a queen crowned and wearing the gold collar-necklace associated with West African Kings. That crown would be impossibly heavy in real life, but she is erect, neck straight. The serene half-smile suggests that Shakespeare’s words ‘uneasy lies the head that wears the crown’ do not apply to this Lady, Our Lady.

And why is she a queen at all? True, she was of David’s line, but the crown, like the British crown, bears the Cross as its crest – not a serpent as in ancient Egypt, the only African country we know she lived in. She is under her Son’s protection but she knows suffering and it does not weigh her down.

Those open hands could be welcoming a child running home from the playground or school (a place that sometimes can feel like an exile from home). Her hands are open, a gesture of peace.

Mary’s eyes are looking down at whoever is approaching her, but her whole being is under the sign of the Cross. What does she tell us?

‘Do whatever He tells you.’

And if you do, signs of his Kingdom will be seen. (John 2).

Mary was the catalyst for a great sign at Cana; what will people discern when they listen to us and observe us this year? Will they see us, or will they see him, or perhaps, like the wedding planner at Cana, they will see something marvellous but not take it in. But we are children of Eve, not glorious unless by reflection: non nobis Domine!

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9 May Monday: Make his paths straight

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Sometimes the Bible seems to contradict itself. For example we read that God wants sacrifice, or else that he insists that he does not. Well, I rather enjoy one minor contradiction, setting:

‘Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough ways plain’ (Isaiah 40:3) against: ‘I have lifted up my eyes to the mountains, from whence help shall come to me.  My help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.’ (Psalm 120:1-2)

Where would the world be without mountains? I don’t want them all bulldozed, though I am glad of the tunnels, cuttings, banks, bridges and viaducts that make a highway or a railway through them: a colossal feat of human ingenuity and hard work to conceive, construct and maintain them. But lest we get above ourselves by taking too much pride in our works, or give in to the self-improvement temptation and set about to construct a self-designed ‘real me’, let us look to the mountain top.

DSC_0309 (373x640)Unlike Moses, we do not need to go up there to see God. And even when we have our moments, like the Apostles with Jesus on the mountain of Transfiguration (Matthew 17), the daily round soon awaits us.

Those special moments are gifts, most of them not obviously religious in nature. Time spent with a loved one, a walk by the sea or in the hills; even the journey home from work: that acquaintance who greeted us, a smile and good news on their lips? Did you hear the thrush? Or notice the rainbow? As Paul tells us, there are diversities of gifts, including that of discernment! (1Corinthians 12).

Let us be thankful for the gifts we have received, and let us look up and pray, every day, for discernment.

MMB.

Buttermere Chapel, English Lake District. Rain outside.

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