Tag Archives: spirit

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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November 27: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xxvii – Incarnation is about being adult

syrian-gathering

A crucial issue about creation is the emphasis we tend to put on the divine coming into the world as a helpless baby – but the Incarnation is primarily about being adult, not being a child. The Incarnation of the divine in human existence happened 2000 years ago. Says who? The human species has been on earth for over 6 million years – and the 2000 years has tended to distort this. Incarnation did not begin with Jesus’ earthly dwelling 2000 years ago. It began 6 million years ago when the human species first evolved. The first 5 million happened in what we know as Africa.

Thus far our human unfolding has been largely of a biological nature, it has taken that long to bring our biological development to maturity. Biological development has reached a high point, we can’t evolve much further. The future will be spiritual development rather than physical growth, which we call the Kingdom of God. The days of hard graft with the focus on the material is changing; the future is about growth in mind and spirit. Which is what Jesus promised: if I do not go I cannot send the Spirit to lead into this fullness. Resurrection means humanity refashioned in the direction of the spiritual rather than the physical.

This transformation is global, not confined to the Christian religion. Because all religions suffer the desire for control, all have developed notions of incarnation that are alarmingly exclusive. None of them – including Christianity – have fully appreciated what unconditional love means. There is no such thing as a master species, each is unique in its capacity to give, and is equally co-dependent. Humanity has the responsibility for drawing forth the conscious dimension of creation especially through evolution which is crucial for our understanding of universal life.

This brings out the capacity for wisdom, necessary to keep us on the way to universal love. This is where things have gone wrong – wisdom became rational and mechanistic, serving the love of power rather than the power of love. Learning to love unconditionally is crucial if we are to have meaningful relationships; there can be no love where there is no justice. Sadly, many religions work hard at installing love – but too often neglect justice. Justice translates ideals into action, and engenders hope. Justice means holding no one and no thing in disregard. Mistakenly we link justice with just wages, just rights [rarely speaking of responsibilities]. Justice is all about fostering right relationships – a way of life that means empowering the powerless. Right relationships cannot exist where rivalry rules; where economies, health and education are based on competition.

Justice should be taken out of religious systems, because religions are tainted by association with oppressive regimes. Justice needs to be primary. We need to learn to think differently in order to see the bigger vision. Thinking should always be inclusive – we are expected not to think ourselves into a new way of living; but to live ourselves into a new way of thinking. Put simply, everything and everybody is included – no exclusions whatsoever. Indeed there are obstacles, we have been brainwashed about who to like and who to dislike, who to love and who to hate – all that has to be left behind.

Equally important, the Kingdom is not just about people – it’s also about systems and structures. The Cosmos is the womb of belonging – things either belong or they have no existence. Relating in the Kingdom is not possible without recognising we belong to the whole of creation – from where everything starts. In creation everything has its place and space, awaiting the warmth of hospitality; which allows for all kinds of possibilities.

As we have seen, God didn’t create a perfect world, but a world able to become what it was meant to be by the way it is lived in. For thousands of years we befriended creation in its birthing forth bringing new life through growth and decay – all this was spoiled when missionaries came and caused confusion by insisting that we were wrong to worship nature – when all we were doing was being at home with it. We need to recover awareness of the enormity and complexity of our beautiful world; only then do we have any hope of walking in tandem with Evolution.

Church is never to be equated with Kingdom. When it comes to Church we need to recall what Paul told us after visiting those infant Christian communities; that we relish what we have been given and don’t be over-concerned about structure and procedure. We must rid ourselves of all aspects on imperialism, with its regalia and pomposity and the accompanying legalism. The Kingdom is all about right relationships, not just in a religious or church context, but in fidelity to the wonder of and enjoying belonging. Every human structure needs to be called to give account of its stewardship.

AMcC

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November 23: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xxiii – Science has not invented beauty.

 

There is a tremendous wonder about the way creation works. Science has not invented the beauty in creation, merely discovered what was already there. Creation seems to have been on the brink of destruction so many times, yet things never come to nought. Birth, death, rebirth flourish at an astounding rate – forever to be reborn. The secret of miracle is not divine magic but the unlimited potential of cosmic energy. Miracles belong to the ordinary not the extraordinary – miracle is where life is lived fully – the baby gurgling and happy, the serenity of an elderly face… Where love and trust are cherished sharing is always the result – miracle is what happens when love, trust and truth are life’s guides.

There are many whose poverty is ill health of body, mind and spirit; and it is short-sighted to equate curing with healing. We can and we do wonderful things in curing bodily illness – but we need also to attend to the need for overall healing of body, mind and spirit. There has to be inner healing from pain, abuse, and hurt… to set free a spirit longing for wholeness. Many people experience this new found freedom whilst still being constrained by physical limitation. I can be fully alive while being severely constrained physically.

For centuries there has been awareness of spirit power – especially to do with air, wind and water – with the rhythm of the seasons and the cycle of birth-death-rebirth. For ancient folk the Spirit was at once benign and fierce, near and distant, tangible yet ethereal – totally unpredictable. Because those ancient folk lived in tune with Creation they accommodated to life with the spirit world. But once we became owner occupiers with the agricultural revolution, and broke up the land into possessions, we lost contact with Creation and its Spirit centre, replacing it with the man-made spirit of divide and conquer – and having disconnected from the cycle of birth-death-rebirth, death was seen as the supreme evil.

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November 4: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: iv – Jesus Ignites a Spark

 

How does Jesus fit into our ever-changing world? This is a question many are asking; instead of the more helpful: how does our ever-changing world fit with Jesus Christ? There is a difference of emphasis between talking about the cosmic Christ and the Christic cosmos! How does Evolution sit with Christian faith, for example?

From a Christian point of view, those seeking this new truth tend not to be Church-goers, they are familiar with the Christian story, but suspicious of institutionalised religion being able to address this in a creative and liberating way. They say that the Jesus story is for scholars and theologians; whereas Jesus belongs to all who are struggling with faith. There is something about Jesus that is bigger and more embracing than the formalised Jesus story.

For many, Jesus grips creative imagination in ways that make formalised religion less than relevant. He ignites a spark within that seeks for much more than formalised dogma – which obviously has its place. Instead of simply reading the Gospel, use imagination and see if Jesus telling his own story has something revolutionary to say. Hear the facts about him, and let them take you beyond the words. After all, the Gospel Jesus gets rid of boundaries and conditions apply!

It is a first principle of education that we learn first from experience, and from the dialogue resulting from experience. The human search for genuine spiritual living is as old as 70,000 years – well before the 4,500 years of the existence of formal and institutional religion. This is why we must begin by appreciating the very real difference between the two. Religion refers to formally, institutionalised structures, rituals and codes of belief which are to be found in one or other of the official religious systems. Spirituality is about the ancient search for meaning and is as old as humanity itself and is part of the evolutionary process.

In modern times spirituality has been seen as an off-shoot of religion; however, research has shown that no less than two-thirds of adults have a personal spirituality, whereas fewer than one in ten go to church regularly. Spirituality is more akin to human experience than is institutional religion. There is need to reinstate true spirituality, highlighting its vital role in our search for the meaning of life. What is seen as the moral and spiritual breakdown in our time has more to do with religion than with spirituality. Spirituality today is alive and well and worth fighting for.

AMcC

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August 18: An Appreciation of Francis Thompson by W.H. Davies.

fthompson.pic.1

Francis Thompson turned up again after I’d put his series to bed, so I’ll share this now. W. H. Davies was another poet who lived on the streets, though he was to find friendship and marriage and a long life span.

In this Davies uses his memories of seafaring and tramping to imagine Thompson’s life before he was welcomed into the life of the Meynell family. The Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head when he was travelling the dusty roads of Palestine. Can we see him in the homeless people we meet in the street? How best to give them bread and not stones?

Francis Thompson by W. H. Davies

Thou hadst no home, and thou couldst see
In every street the windows’ light:
Dragging thy limbs about all night,
No window kept a light for thee.

However much thou wert distressed,
Or tired of moving, and felt sick,
Thy life was on the open deck—
Thou hadst no cabin for thy rest.

Thy barque was helpless ‘neath the sky,
No pilot thought thee worth his pains
To guide for love or money gains—
Like phantom ships the rich sailed by.

Thy shadow mocked thee night and day,
Thy life’s companion, it alone;
It did not sigh, it did not moan,
But mocked thy moves in every way.

In spite of all, the mind had force,
And, like a stream whose surface flows
The wrong way when a strong wind blows,
It underneath maintained its course.

Oft didst thou think thy mind would flower
Too late for good, as some bruised tree
That blooms in Autumn, and we see
Fruit not worth picking, hard and sour.

Some poets feign their wounds and scars.
If they had known real suffering hours,
They’d show, in place of Fancy’s flowers,
More of Imagination’s stars.

So, if thy fruits of Poesy
Are rich, it is at this dear cost—
That they were nipt by Sorrow’s frost,
In nights of homeless misery.

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Autumn Evening Lectures at FISC: “What is theology saying?”

austinFr Austin McCormack will be speaking on Thursday evenings this term. I recommend these lectures to any Christian, including those from Reformation traditions who may wonder what we Catholics are all about. Please feel free to come to as many of these lectures as interest you.
Start time 19.00. You are asked to make a donation to cover expenses.
WT.
The subject of the course is:

“What is theology saying?”

6. 17/11:  What difference does Grace make?
7. 24/11: What about Original Sin?
8. 01/12: What morality did Jesus teach?
9. 08/12: Should we renounce the world or change it?
10. 15/12: Is there salvation in other religions?

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October 10: CONSCIENCE III: Under the Microscope

gate,broken (800x487)

There is good news and bad news about our conscience.  The good news is that our conscience has an affinity with what is good, and on this level of our being we “are alone with God whose voice echoes in our depths,” as The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us [no. 1776].  This wonderful “sanctuary” is given to us by God, we only need to put aside our many distractions in order to enter it.

But, if that is so, then why do good people sometimes go off the rails?  Surely, so much God-given moral integrity should keep us pretty steadily on the right path in life, once we have made the decision to take it.  Thus, the bad news about our conscience is this: its wisdom can be ignored, as St. Thomas Aquinas remarks [Summa Theologia, I, 79, 13].  He points out that conscience is not like our intellect and our will, because these two faculties of the soul have permanence; the powers of our mind and will are always functioning and cannot be laid aside.    Conscience is something else again.  It requires, St. Thomas implies, a certain depth of spirituality in order to do its work well; otherwise, its promptings can simply be tuned out.

Why is this so?  Recall, we do not live in a state of harmony within ourselves.  The true voice of conscience can be out-shouted by other parts of ourselves: our emotions, for example, can, and often do, overwhelm us and can make the judgement of conscience difficult to discern.  My emotion of anger, say, when someone offends me, might cause me to fail to take into account the fact that the offender did not intend to cause hurt.  I may find myself lashing out unreasonably, without listening to my own conscience telling me to give the other person a chance to explain.  Or, say, my greed for a new, stylish pair of shoes might be more insistent than the voice of my conscience telling me that I cannot really afford these designer stilettos, and I shouldn’t add the price of them to my credit card debt.

What do we do about this state of affairs?  Perhaps we need to view our conscience as we view our muscles.  Weak muscles need exercise in order to become strong.  Our conscience is something like that.  Ignore its voice and the voice becomes weaker and harder to hear.  Seek to follow the voice of conscience, and its guiding voice will strengthen and become easier to discern.  

SJC.

 

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9 September: After a Death

bench (800x600)

rebel rivers coil, uncoil

mountains jut and wail

range roiling range

even trees bleed

but it is finished

 

the shroud of sky remains a blank

no dialogue with the final call

no commerce with such completion

 

but the wind is fair

and the Paraclete

sails out into the deep

trawling time and more

hauling fish enough

to shift the axis

of existence

answering us

in a tongue of his own

greyfriarsaumbry (639x800)

across the spheres

planets coalesce

to pierce our sighs

dropping a silver thread

of purest song

its note alightmercy.carving. (328x640)

with the laughter

of the Son

SJC.

 

 

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August 9: In and Out of Focus

lifefrancis (2)

The past goes in and out of focus according to which features we attempt to see more clearly. Here is a composite artwork showing the beginning of the pilgrim journey that was the life of St. Francis of Assisi. This is on a wall of the French Franciscan church, Notre Dame des Graces, in Brussels. In one scene we see Francis naked, having returned his clothes to his father, a cloth merchant, in order to become a humble, powerless follower of Christ. A herald of the gospel but also a pilgrim, dedicated to the merciful preaching of peace. He travelled on foot, not by horse.

Twelve years after the early friars came to Canterbury, and settled at Greyfriars, off Stour Street, they arrived in Brussels (in 1238). The friary in which they lived has, in recent times, been excavated. What remains is a few walls and ruined structures, preserved as a museum. No community lasts forever, especially in regions where wars have been frequent and destruction a large-scale reality. It is good for us to have reminders of how easily our religious ideals and convictions become casualties of mortality or a loss of spiritual liveliness.

 

But we need to remind each other of what brings us together to pray, collaborate, and set up a viable shared life of conversion for our own day. Community does not happen purely by accident, nor does it stay vigorous simply through the availability of a few organisers.

This is a view of that location now:

brusselsfriaryCD.

 

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