Tag Archives: spirit

15 June, Heart VI: An angry young man.

The Wrath of Elihu, William Blake.

Of a truth, God will not do wickedly, and the Almighty will not pervert justice. Who gave him charge over the earth, and who laid on him the whole world? If he should set his heart to it and gather to himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust.”

Who’s speaking here? Who is defending Almighty God? This is when the Book of Job suddenly jolts. Elihu bursts in, full of wrath, full of anger, at the thoughts expressed by Job’s friends. They are blaming Job for being wicked, despite appearances, and deserving every misfortune that has come his way, or else blaming God for being unjust to Job.

We saw how the editors of Exodus wrote that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart – and also that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. God could be said to have made Pharaoh’s heart hard because he created him in the first place. You sense that Elihu would not stand for such hair-splitting. ‘God will not do wickedly.’

Who is this Elihu? He’ s not one of the original cast, he just bursts in. Some have suggested that he is the actual writer if the book, giving his own thoughts and opinions. He’s an ‘angry young man’ with no time for what he sees as interminable, sterile philosophising. Here William Blake shows him as young, not set in his ways (or other people’s ways) and naked: he’s naked because he is innocent – like Adam and Eve were before the fall, not diminishing God through overthinking.

God will not do wickedly, and the Almighty will not pervert justice. We are capable of both.

From “The Holy Bible, English Standard Version by Crossway Bibles, via Kindle

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6 May: Little flowers of Saint Francis LXXI: heavenly gifts.

St Francis at Ste Anne de Beaupre, Canada



Brother John of Alvernia, while yet a boy and living in the world, desired with all his heart to tread the path of penitence that keepeth pure both body and soul, whereby being still a little child, he began to wear the shirt of mail and iron girdle on his flesh, and to use great abstinence and above all, he shunned all carnal delights and mortified his body with great severity of abstinence but inspired of God he minded to leave the world with the lovers thereof, and to offer himself wholly unto the arms of the Crucified, in the habit of the crucified Saint Francis; and even so he did.

And being received into the Order while yet a boy, and committed unto the care of the master of the novices, he became so spiritually minded and so devout, that many a time hearing the said master speaking of God, his heart would melt like wax before the fire; and the love of God kindled in him such sweetness of grace, that not being able to remain still to endure such sweetness, he would get up, and as one drunken in spirit, would run, now through the garden, now through the wood, now through the church, according as the flame and the ardour of the spirit drave him.

The divine grace made this angelic soul to grow continually from virtue unto virtue, and in heavenly gifts, being uplifted unto God and rapt in ecstasy; so that at one time his mind was lifted up to the splendours of the Cherubim, at another time to the ardours of the Seraphim, at another to the joys of the Blessed, at another to the loving and ineffable embraces of Christ. And above all, once upon a time in exceeding wondrous fashion his heart was kindled with the fire of love divine, and this flame lasted in him for full three years, in which time he received marvellous consolations and visitations divine, and oftentimes was rapt in God, and in short, in the said time he seemed all on fire and burning with the love of Christ; and all this was on the holy mount of Alvernia.

Who today would counsel a young boy to wear penitential clothes? At least the Franciscans of the time let him run, run, run, like Zorba and his dancing. But things take a turn after three years.

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May 4, Little flowers of Saint Francis LXIX: a tree fair to see.

LXIX BROTHER JACQUES of La Massa, unto whom God gave perfect knowledge and understanding of the Holy Scriptures and of things to come was of so great sanctity that Brother Giles of Assisi, Brother Mark of Montino, Brother Juniper, and Brother Lucido said that they knew of no one in the world that found greater favour in the sight of God than this Brother Jacques.

Brother Jacques with great humility confessed that he beheld in a dream a tree fair to see and very great, whose root was of gold, and its fruits were men, and they were all of them Brothers Minor. Its main branches were distinctly marked according to the number of the provinces of the Order, and each branch had as many brothers as there were in the province whose name was written on the branch. And he saw Brother John of Parma on the highest point of the midmost branch of this tree, and on the tops of the branches round about were the ministers of all the provinces.

And thereafter he saw Christ sitting on a throne exceeding great and shining, and Christ called Saint Francis up thither and gave him a chalice full of the spirit of life, and sent him forth saying : “Go, visit thy brothers, and give them to drink of this chalice of the spirit of life; for the spirit of Satan will rise up against them and will strike them, and many of them will fall and will not rise up again.”

And Christ gave unto Saint Francis two angels to bear him company. Then came Saint Francis to give the chalice of life to his brothers; and he gave it first to Brother John of Parma: who, taking it, drank it all in haste, devoutly; and straightway he became all shining like the sun. And after him Saint Francis gave it to all the other brothers in order; and there were but few among them that took it with due reverence and devotion, and drank it all. Those that took it devoutly and drank it all, became straightway shining like the sun ; but those that spilled it ail and took it not devoutly, became black, and dark, and misshapen, and horrible to see; but those that drank part and spilled part, became partly shining and partly dark, according to the measure of their drinking or spilling thereof.

I rarely remember my dreams and the scraps and figments that linger barely make sense. But reading this one, we can pray that, like James and John, we can drink the cup that Jesus drank to the very end, and shine with him so that people will see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.

This picture, from Brother Chris, shows a tree of Francis’s life. John of Parma was the seventh Minister General of the Franciscans.

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22 December: the hidden work of incarnation.

attic.mary

The process by which the human personality is formed is the hidden work of incarnation.

The helpless infant is an enigma. The only thing we know about him is that he is an enigma, but nobody knows what he will be or what he will do. His helpless body contains the most complex mechanism of any living creature, but it is distinctly his own.

Man belongs to himself, and his special will furthers the work of incarnation. 

Maria Montessori, The Child in the Family, London, Pan, 1970, pp32-33.

Do we accept that there is more to being human than flesh and blood? That there is a will, soul or spirit animating each one of us?

We could say that parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers are charged with enabling the work of incarnation to take place in the child; not to break the child’s will but to provide a fertile ground for it to grow.

Of course we refer to the Incarnation especially in regard to Jesus. His humanity was shaped in his relationship with Mary and Joseph; we have to thank them for their part in his development, his incarnation.

In this statue from the church of Our Lord in the Attic, Amsterdam, Mary is supporting her Son as he reaches out into the world, to you and to me. Let us pray for the grace to perceive how to support the children we live and work with.

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24 May. Pilgrimage to Canterbury MMXIX, IV. Walking around Wales: a book review. (Relics XVI)

Before any planning for our walk, I read a book about pilgrimage. Anne Hayward’s A Pilgrimage Around Wales is subtitled in search of a significant conversation.1 Mrs Hayward set herself to have a significant conversation each day of her walk. In his foreword the Archbishop of Wales points out that the significant conversation can be a silent exchange with the people who made the place holy. He recalls a visit to Saint Peter’s in Rome, and being taken down to the niche holding the relics – beyond reasonable doubt those of the fisherman himself. ‘The presence of the Apostle, the witness of the Apostle, the courage of the Apostle, the love of the Apostle for the Lord, and much, much more were all around in an unspoken conversation.’(p7)

Measuring the significance of a conversation is surely impossible. Significant to me, or to the Other? At the end of her three months’ tramp, Mrs Hayward counted up more than 150 names of people she had such conversations with. That is not counting the conversations Archbishop Davies points us to, in the stones and windows of the churches she visited. (I wish she had identified some of the places, to let others find them.) She travelled alone, camping most nights; we will be in a group, with maybe 60 or 70 people walking anything from 100 metres to the full distance. A few people may camp out once or twice.

Tyndale the terrier will walk rather more than the rest of us. He may hold significant conversations with other dogs who leave messages for him, or who pick up his trail marks. We will hold conversations with each other, in words, in linked arms, or held hands, or a shared mint.

Mrs Hayward had conversations with bereaved people, worried mothers, campsite wardens, young hikers and churchwardens, among many others. We can expect significant conversations with the Lord that Peter loved, in song, in silence, in weariness, in landscape and seascape, in sky, tree, river and road. Even a ‘thank you’ to a bus driver may feel very significant at the end of a long walk!

She had but herself to consider when planning her walks, her rests, her meals, we must bear in mind the needs of all our walkers and riders in wheelchairs, buses, cars or trains. Different pilgrimages. Whether you want to walk around Wales or make for Rome or Canterbury, God speed! And any day’s journey can be a pilgrimage, if you remember to pray, ‘Stay with us, Lord.’ Anne Hayward’s book could help a would-be pilgrim to be clearer about the journey. A very human book, and a book for the armchair pilgrim as well as the footsore one. More about ours soon.

1Anne Hayward, A Pilgrimage Around Wales: in search of a significant conversation, Y Lolfa, Talybont, 2018.

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7 December: Not a pious pastime.

fisc.window2

I have been reading Abbot Erik Varden’s new book ‘The Shattering of Loneliness, on Christian Rememrance’, and will review it in the next few months. I wanted to share this insight as we come towards Christmas. It follows nicely from Pope Benedict’s ‘sober inebriation’ remark about music, which certainly sustained his spiritual life. On p129.

The Spiritual Life is not, cannot be, a pious pastime. It is premised on a total surrender to the promise and demands of the Gospel. it bears the imprint of the Cross and is charged with the spirit of the risen Jesus.

 

 

 

 

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September 20: What is Theology Saying? XXX: I long for God who is freely given.

ams.fountain1

History is not just the logical narration of events, it is about human beings fashioning themselves within the places and cultures that surround them, making choices, relating, seeking to belong. There are two aspects to this: the one [Immanence] is literally living out things as we find them; the other [Transcendence] allows us to rise above what is – I can accept or reject what is the given situation, I can be open to a future that has never happened before.

These are not separate entities, but different dimensions of one life. We are beings already fashioned yet still in the making! To speak meaningfully of God can only happen from within such experience. “Experience” is a compound of two words: “ex” [from or out-of] and periri [try, attempt, risk…], it also is associated with the Latin word peritia [knowledge gained from experience]. Experience is risk, based on some form of justifying knowledge, the radical experiences of individuals attempting to face up to life. This is how St. John talks about his awareness of Jesus: “what I have seen, touched and held in my hands, this is what I preach”.

My spirit is not a reality alongside my body. My spirit is me, the whole me, my manner of being in so far as it is open to transcendence, a yearning for the infinite. I have a natural need for “God”. But if it is natural, why is there such talk about supernatural? God created me to be one with God, and my life gives evidence of this. This is gratuitousness, it does not have to be there, and it is put there, within me. The gratuity becomes apparent from the experience itself: I long for God who is freely given, it is from love, not command or force or coercion.

AMcC

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29 July: Without thinking?

People were receiving Communion without thinking, the preacher suspected. But how true is that? And does it matter?

I doubt that parents or nurses or carers are always consciously focussed on the task in hand when they change the nappy or soiled sheets of a child or elderly patient, but they will still do the job properly. Doing the job properly is what matters, not having the mind fully focussed or experiencing the ‘right’ emotions.

Lest anyone object to my comparison, I would argue that changing a nappy or soiled sheets could be counted as a work of mercy to rank with the other seven, It is an act of love, and it is life-saving, as any public health worker would tell you.

There are distractions enough at Communion time in church: apart from anything else, I find myself watching whether the person in front of me is going to kneel or genuflect: am I a safe distance from them?

There is though, a chance for all to spend time silently reflecting after Communion. If the priest allows it to happen of course, and to be fair, this preacher does.

In life there are times when the head must lead the heart, and indeed the body or the senses must also lead at times, perhaps when we are dog tired and still need to carry on. It can happen that way at Mass or prayers too: coming to Mass after working a long shift or enduring a broken night may lead to not hearing the readings, missing the consecration and lining up mechanically to receive the sacrament, even to falling fully asleep in the post Communion silence. But you can be there in body and spirit, if not in mind.

MMB

 

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12 April: A response to Christina Chase’s An Eve in Winter.

 

Dear Christina,

It’s an editor’s privilege to respond or comment on contributions sometimes: bear with me!

Your poem connects. It reminds me of  John Betjeman, writing in prose:

“Many people, when they enter a quiet room, automatically – even before shutting the door – rush to turn on the wireless as though quiet were as unhealthy as a cold draught.”

And there is Dylan Thomas’s ‘Bible-black night’ in Under Milk Wood, which is a time of creation, as is the dark you reference in Genesis. ‘Let there be light’ indeed, ‘Kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom, Lead thou me on.’ (Newman, of course.)

Your light that is poor for hearing secrets is from the same well as Shakespeare’s,

The eye
of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not
seen, hand is not able to taste, his tongue
to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream
was.

(Midsummer Night’s Dream, IV:2).

These lines are not slap-stick comic, however slap-stick Bottom is elsewhere. When we are challenged, do we admit it and explore it, or turn on the bright lights or loud music?

A lighthouse cannot lead if the captain is dazzled by floodlights.

I mentioned R.S. Thomas in my introduction. We read how he prayed at his holy well on 17 October 2016:

 Ignoring my image I peer down

to the quiet roots of it, where

the coins lie, the tarnished offerings

of the people to the pure spirit

that lives there.

 

Connections! Thank you again, for an offering by no means tarnished!

Will.

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December 1: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xxxi – We have problems

carvingwomanchichChichester Cathedral

Christianity is the only religion believing in the full enfleshment of God – yet we seem to have problems with it.

Even a cursory look at our tragic sexual state, our pollution of the planet, our out of control consumerism… suggests a problem. In practice sex seems to be the only sin we worry about, when Jesus reminds us of the weightier matters of faith, peace with justice, mercy and compassion – Matthew 23.23. The Incarnation tells us to trust our in-body experience – it is the way God provides for us to meet. Our spirit is illusory without body and soul. See it in religious practice that is all head. Soul is the lost sense of the Holy Spirit; and the body is rejected. This wasn’t always the case, though passion, father, mother, sister, brother have now become no more than titles instead of real experiences. Ritual has become safe!

If we encourage co-dependency on system [ritual] we are simply doing what the world does. An over-emphasis on personal prayer has left folk bereft of the intimacy of personal prayer. We are meant to experience the presence of God, not just acknowledge the value of it. Felt religion needs to be reclaimed. We are well aware of the anguish and ecstasy in relationships; can we say the same about prayer? Without the sense of presence anguish becomes anger and accusation. We seem to hear much more about annulments, excommunications and dispensations than about healing.

Praying in words helps me express my dependence on God – praying in silence lets me experience it. Watch a mother hold a feverish child – see the child calm down and even sleep, because it is experiencing safety and not just hearing about it. There is vastly more to living than my private life. Contemplation needs underpinning by belonging [community]. Social prayer recognises that there is only one goodness, one suffering, and even one sin! So much about life can neither be explained nor fixed, but it is felt, enjoyed and suffered. Crying is not manly! A man who cannot cry is not fully alive. We can’t relish life until we experience its tears – happy and sad.

If laughter and tears are not around, I’m on the wrong road. God heals our brokenness and our weakness. When we venture into sacred space there is an element of discomfort, if only because it isn’t where I usually am. It is the prophetic in life that lures me – showing me the inadequacy of the normal. Reality begins to arrive when death is experienced as integral to life, and failure and success are the same; and I no longer need to leave the secular to find the sacred – the veil of the Temple was torn from top to bottom – Matthew 27.51.

There is no natural world where God is not present. But I need the eyes to see this. It is a move from simple consciousness into enlightenment – I have to let go, through some disillusion with what is. We seldom freely go there – it is usually thrust upon us by suffering, injustice, sin and bereavement. Normal tends to mean rejecting weakness and over-working strengths. By claiming to be in control I reveal my weakness, becoming who I am supposed to be rather than who I am.

While most problems are psychological, most answers are spiritual. Which tells us to stop trying to solve them – we need to forgive and integrate them.

AMcC

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