Tag Archives: Trinity

15 October, Little Flowers of Saint Francis LXXXVI: that exceeding love.

Cross in cave at Zakopane, Poland; Greyfriars’ chapel, Canterbury.

Saint Francis caused the book of the Gospels to be brought unto him; for God had put it in his mind that, by the opening of the book of the Gospels three times, that which it was the will of God to do unto him should be revealed. And, when the book was brought unto him, St. Francis betook himself to prayer; and, when he had finished his prayer, he caused the book to be opened three times by the hand of Friar Leo, in the name of the Most Holy Trinity; and, as it pleased the Divine Providence, in those three times ever there appeared before him the Passion of Christ.

The next day came, to wit the day of the most Holy Cross, and St. Francis, betimes in the morning, or ever it was day, betook himself to prayer before the entrance of his cell, and turning his face towards the East, prayed after this manner: “O my Lord Jesus Christ, two graces do I beseech Thee to grant me before I die: the first, that, during my lifetime, I may feel in my soul and in my body, so far as may be possible, that pain which Thou, sweet Lord, didst suffer in the hour of Thy most bitter passion; the second is that I may feel in my heart, so far as may be possible, that exceeding love, whereby Thou, Son of God, wast enkindled to willingly bear such passion for us sinners”.

And, when he had continued long time in this prayer, he knew that God would hear him, and that, as far as was possible for a mere creature, so far would it be granted to him to feel the aforesaid things. Having this promise, St. Francis began to contemplate with very great devotion the Passion of Christ and His infinite charity.

We were celebrating the Season of Creation during September, so these posts are about a month later than the events they record.

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4 July: The Lord of the Dance

My goddaughter dancing at her first Communion

Another blog by Eddie Gilmore of the Irish Chaplaincy in London. Thank you Eddie, as always.

“You don’t realise how much you’ve missed something until you have it again.”

I’d only gone down to the newly re-opened library to return the couple of books that I’d had out since last year and to borrow a new one. As I came out of the main entrance onto Canterbury High Street I was greeted by an unusual sight. There were seven elderly-looking ladies about to start some kind of performance. They were dressed identically in grey headscarves and billowing black shawls and each had a zimmer frame. To the accompaniment of a slightly eerie soundtrack, they began to push their zimmer frames around one another and were looking more and more distressed and agitated. Their expressions then softened, as did their movements, and suddenly they all pushed away their zimmers and began to dance. Next, they undid their headscarves and flung them into a captivated crowd and ripped off the black shawls to reveal colourful dresses. A solitary man appeared with a large drum, onto which he was beating a flamenco rhythm. The spectacle ended with the setting off of party-poppers and the women throwing rice over the bystanders, before disappearing, dancing, round the corner. I was utterly enchanted and deeply touched. It was the first live dance performance I’d seen in over a year, the first live anything, and it was so good to experience it again.

As I went round to the other side of the library to get my bike I came across the women in their flamenco dresses, looking very pleased with themselves. “That was wonderful,” I gushed. “Thank you so much.” And I added, almost in tears, “You don’t realise how much you’ve missed something until you have it again.” One of them asked if I’d like more rice strewn over me. “Oh yes!” I replied, and was duly anointed. I felt truly blessed.

The day after that I was having a well-earned coffee with a couple of the guys I’d done my Saturday morning club cycle ride with (and what a treat it is to be riding in a group again). We were basking in the sun by the Argentinian café in the Dane John Gardens in Canterbury, and it was great to see people out and about again. I’d been chatting with Conor en route about coming out of lockdown and I’d told him about how much I’d enjoyed seeing a live dance performance again. Just then I spotted a couple in the nearby bandstand doing a tango. “Look!” I exclaimed to Conor and Chris, “there’s a couple dancing.” Chris then told us of how he had practised for months the first dance, to an 80s song, he did with his wife at his wedding, and the conversation went onto other songs from the 80s. Then I told Dublin-born Conor about a nice scene from the film ‘Sing Street’ in which the protagonist, a boy who forms his own band, gathers a load of fellow-pupils at his Dublin school to be dancers at the first gig and implores them to “dance like it’s the 80s!”

One of my favourite scenes from ‘Mamma Mia’ is where all the women, young and old, dance down to the harbour to the tune of ‘Dancing Queen’ and then leap into the sea. An especially touching bit of that scene is an older woman casting off the large pile of sticks she’s been carrying on her shoulders, joining the joyful procession, and crying out, “Oh YEAH.” A few months ago my ninety-one year old mum was sent a wind-up dancing leprechaun by one of her sisters in Newry. The care home where she lives sent a gorgeous video of her standing up and doing a little jig alongside the leprechaun. This from someone who needs a zimmer frame these days to get around.

The day after the Argentinian coffee and tango in the park was Trinity Sunday and Yim Soon and I were at our customary zoom Mass. Part of a reflection from one of the women present was the playing of a Nina Simone song ‘I wish I knew how it would feel to be free.’ During the song several of us present began to sway and dance, and David the priest was moving from side to side the icon of the Trinity, so that it looked as if the Trinity themselves were dancing. It was a special moment.

I’ve always been taken by the Hindu belief that the Lord Shiva danced the world into existence. On this theme, the most well-known song of Sydney Carter is ‘The Lord of the Dance’, whose lyrics go ‘Dance, dance, wherever you may be; I am the Lord of the dance, said he.’ As a child I was convinced that this lyric was, ‘I am the Lord of the dance settee.’ When we were young my sister and I used to jump up and down on the settee in the living-room, and it seemed to me very fitting that God would be jumping up and down with us! The image of the dance settee has, happily, never really left me.

Yim Soon and I are delighted to have just been invited to a wedding, the first such invitation in ages. It’s friends who are musicians and as well as the prospect of good music one of my first thoughts was that we’ll hopefully be able to have a good dance as part of the celebration. I’ve written before of my August holiday in Barmouth, which is an annual reunion of old friends (who met in the 80s!), plus their now mainly adult children, which began in 2000. One of the traditions of the week is a concert night and one of the traditions of the concert night is the singing of ‘500 Miles’. At what was to be the final performance before Covid, the song turned into a long conga of people snaking around the concert room and that led in turn to everyone dancing, old and young together, to other 70s and 80s classics. It was one of the highlights for me of Barmouth 2019.

To finish, here again are the immortal words of Sydney Carter, at least how I remember them:

‘And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be; for I am the Lord of the dance settee’!

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11 January, Going Viral LX: the armour of light.

Greetings to all,

 This came in an online URC* newsletter. It reminded me a little of watching priests prepare for Mass as they donned the various vestments. Hope you find it useful………..

God bless….Tim

The Revd Richard Bolt, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Canada, an international partner of the URC, has written this prayer for putting on a face mask.

Creator God, As I prepare to go into the world, help me to see the sacramental nature of wearing this cloth. Let it be a tangible and visible way of living love for my neighbours, as I love myself.

Christ Jesus, since my lips will be covered, uncover my heart, that people would see my smile in the crinkles around my eyes. Since my voice may be muffled, help me to speak clearly, not only with my words, but with my actions.

Holy Spirit, as the elastic touches my ears, remind me to listen carefully and caringly to all those I meet. May my simple piece of cloth be a shield and a banner, and may each breath that it holds be filled with your love. In your love and in that love I pray. Amen

“The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.” Romans 13:12.

Tim is Maurice’s brother, who has found a home in the Methodist Church, a partner of the URC in England; the church he attends is a shared one. I find it interesting that such a sacramental prayer as this should come from a Reformed Church, finding a very Roman Catholic style, though in better English than most of our texts. I’ll never remember this whole prayer every time I mask up, but Dr Bolt has planted a seed. I hope it reminds you why we wear the wretched things and makes it less of a burden to do so. Especially, as in the photograph. if it is a white garment, symbol of Easter and eternal life.

Maurice

*URC: United Reformed Church

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February 14, Little Flowers LXIV: a Reflection on Brother Conrad’s prayers.

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We read yesterday how the prayers of Brother Conrad, an early Franciscan, opened the gates of heaven for a dead brother through his prayers. It was tempting to miss out this story from the Little Flowers, because the soul of that young brother who died went to Paradise through the merits of Jesus Christ, according to the Theology I was taught. I wasn’t looking for an argument! It comes naturally to Catholics to pray for the dead, but even so, where does Brother Conrad come in?

Firstly, it was his young friend who sought out Brother Conrad and asked him, not just to pray but to pray the Pater Noster – the Our Father – given to us by the Lord

‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,          and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’

It is as members of Christ’s body, the Communion of Saints, that the two Franciscan brothers come together in Conrad’s vision. It is as members of Christ’s body that they pray together: if the young brother requested that Conrad should say the Lord’s prayer for him, then that same prayer was at the front of his mind and heart: he was praying it himself, alongside Conrad; and where two or more are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them. So the youth, Brother Conrad, and the Lord himself were praying together to the Father.

Conrad had a gift of being able to encourage the lad and help him to fit into the earthly community where he had chosen – and been called – to live. Perhaps, then, that same gift exercised by 100 Pater Nosters recited within the Communion of Saints, helped the brother to free himself from his remaining pains of fear and guilt to be fit for heaven.

Conrad’s merits? I’m still not sure, but if you suggested that Conrad’s gifts as mentor on earth to this young man were still effective after the young man’s death, I would not argue with you. Let’s place before Jesus all those who relied on us in this life, and would ask for our sympathetic prayers, could they speak to us now; and with Jesus let us pray:

OUR FATHER …

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3 August, Traherne IV: the goodness and wisdom of God made manifest.

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Two shorter meditations today, 9 and 10, that seem to sit well together. It is worth pondering on the idea that God wants us to enjoy creation ‘sensible of its use and value – in Divine, not financial terms. Laudato Si’!

Is it not easy to conceive the World in your Mind? To think the Heavens fair? The Sun Glorious? The Earth fruitful? The Air Pleasant? The Sea Profitable? And the Giver bountiful? Yet these are the things which it is difficult to retain. For could we always be sensible of their use and value, we should be always delighted with their wealth and glory.

To think well is to serve God in the interior court: To have a mind composed of Divine Thoughts, and set in frame, to be like Him within. To conceive aright and to enjoy the world, is to conceive the Holy Ghost, and to see His Love: which is the Mind of the Father. And this more pleaseth Him than many Worlds, could we create as fair and great as this. For when we are once acquainted with the world, you will find the goodness and wisdom of God so manifest therein, that it was impossible another, or better should be made. Which being made to be enjoyed, nothing can please or serve Him more, than the Soul that enjoys it. For that Soul doth accomplish the end of His desire in Creating it.

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November 15: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xv – ‘What now?’

fallsupward

What has happened thus far is following the maxim: the whole equals the sum total of the parts – whereas the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The implications: the fixed character of reality gives way to a fluid flowing, driven by energies of which we know nothing, which we cannot control. Rational argument doesn’t work anymore – cause and effect do not work as we presumed they did. Creation is relationally friendly. Quantum vision can be summarised: Creation manifests itself; energy exists; time begins; space expands; events are uncertain; only probabilities can be measured; cause and effect are fluid; birth and death happen at the speed of light; information is to be found in energy.

No room here for power-over, only power with. Power games are alien to life. Thirst for control makes no sense, where everything exercises its own sense of control – everything is out of our control. We live in a self-organising universe, which calls for humility on our part, to submit our plans to the greater wisdom of Creation.

How do we see Jesus in this context? Maybe Saint Paul can help: So, from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone the new is here… 2Corinthians 5.16.

Paul is inviting us to regard Jesus differently from the prevailing norms. Christ’s coming has changed all this. All the great religions grapple with our relationship with the divine – but the desire for power gets in the way. The understanding of God as relationship is the oldest humanity has ever known – and from this issue notions of Trinity. Christian history has seen Trinity from a mathematical angle in which the individuality of the persons became more significant than their relatedness. Jesus seen as closer to the Father than to the Spirit – though New Testament has nothing of this.

Jesus belongs to the realm where the whole is greater than the sum total of the parts; he belongs to the whole Creation – he is the primary expression of divine creativity. How Jesus differs from Father and Spirit could well be a meaningless question. The need for a difference is a human patriarchal need, which gets in the way of our befriending God in a Creation-wide way.

AMcC

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July 3, Readings from Mary Webb, II: Unless latent loves are developed …

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We listen, hearing a faint call from afar. It is this sense of mystery – unfading, because the veil is never lifted – that gives glory to the countryside, tenderness to atmosphere. It is this that sends one man to the wilds, another to dig a garden; that sings in a musician’s brain; that inspires the pagan to build an altar and the child to make a cowslip-ball. For in each of us is implanted the triune capacity for loving his fellow and nature and the Creator of them.

These loves may be latent, but they are there; and unless they are all developed we cannot reach perfect manhood or womanhood. For the complete character is that which is in communion with most sides of life – which sees, hears, and feels most – which has for its fellows the sympathy of understanding, for nature the love that is without entire comprehension, and for the mystery beyond them the inexhaustible desire which surely prophesies fulfilment somewhere.

We would not encourage a child to make a cowslip ball today, though there seemed to be an abundance along the motorways this Spring, but that’s not a place to set a child gathering flowers!

Interesting how Mary Webb sees a complete human as having a triune nature, being ‘in communion with most sides of life’, not denying illness, frailty or failing. Let us not exclude the unfading sense of mystery, but be open to our sisters and brothers, our fellow creatures and the One who created all.

 

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11 June: The Holy Trinity – still a bone of contention!

In an earlier post about the art at Chichester, I discussed some of oldest works in the Cathedral – the Romanesque reliefs depicting scenes from the raising of Lazarus. This post brings us forward, to the twentieth century, and a work which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary last year – the tapestry by John Piper at the high altar. A photograph of the piece is available on the Cathedral’s website.

 

Known simply as ‘the Piper Tapestry’, this piece was commissioned by Walter Hussey, Dean of Chichester (1955-77). As parish priest at St Matthew’s in Northampton, and then as Dean of Chichester, Hussey was a great champion of the arts in the round – commissioning works of art and musical compositions, and inviting figures such as writers to give sermons.

 

The Piper Tapestry was part of a reordering of the quire in the 1960s. Hussey decided that an injection of colour was needed at the high altar and in 1963 approached Piper to produce a design to adorn the sixteenth-century Sherbourne screen. Hussey insisted that whenever something was added to a church in centuries past, it was executed in the contemporary style, and so it should be in the modern age.

 

Piper explored a number of different mediums before deciding upon tapestry – a medium which would sit comfortably alongside the screen, but which he could make his own. In fact, the piece consists of seven tapestries, hanging in each of the bays of the screen, which are read as a continuous design. This was Piper’s first work in this medium.

 

The subject of the tapestry also went through various iterations before the final conception, consisting of symbols of the Trinity (the dedication of the Cathedral) in the central portion, and on either side depictions of the four classical elements (earth, air, fire and water) and the beasts associated with the Evangelists (the man for Matthew, the lion for Mark, the ox for Luke and the Eagle for John). Piper had prepared a version of this scheme by the end of 1964, but at this point Lancelot Mason, Archdeacon of Chichester, raised an objection: in the central portion, Piper had included a Tau cross for the Son, a flame for the Holy Spirit, and a triangle for the Father. Mason objected that the triangle was a symbol of the Trinity and could not represent the Father; Piper would, Mason insisted, need to add another symbol.

 

Piper was unhappy about this request at a late stage in the process, having felt that the design had reached final form, but eventually he decided to add a white light, in addition to the triangle, giving the composition of elements that we see in the final design.

 

The tapestries were woven by Pinton Frères in Felletin near Aubusson in central France and installed in 1966. Their dedication took place at Evensong on 20 September. Hussey had certainly achieved his desired injection of colour into the space, but although he was delighted with the result, the public reception was rather mixed.

 

Both Hussey, and the local press, received numerous letters about the tapestries – some delighting in this bold introduction to the Cathedral interior, but others claiming that it was too garish; some even wrote that they could not take Communion before it. Perhaps the most famous objector was Cheslyn Jones, Canon Chancellor at the Cathedral, who reportedly wore dark glasses to the dedication service.

 

Fifty years later, in September 2016, the anniversary was marked with a prayer from the dedication service being read at Evensong, which was followed by a talk in which I told the story of the tapestry and shared some contemporary responses to it. The current Chancellor, Anthony Cane, dug out his own dark glasses for the occasion in a nod to his predecessor.

 

The occasion brought to life the richness of this piece and the regard in which it is held by the Cathedral community; at the end of the talk, I invited the audience to share their own thoughts on the tapestry.

 

A popular interpretation of the ‘air’ motifs – the most difficult element to depict in visual form – was that there is something of Sputnik I (the first artificial satellite, launched in 1957) in Piper’s choice of forms. Although I have not come across Piper mentioning this inspiration, this interpretation certainly resonates with the era of early space exploration at the time when the tapestry was created.

 

A memorable impression shared by another person was that the dramatic shard of red background in the central portion of the design can be seen as the opening of the veil in the Temple in Jerusalem, torn in two at the moment of Jesus’ death (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45). This biblical moment represents God’s presence bursting forth into the world, and the speaker who proposed this interpretation of the tapestry felt that the symbols in the central portion seem to burst from the surface of the hangings. Extending this reading to consider the other symbols included in the tapestry, we have a vision of God’s presence embracing all Creation – the world, beasts and humankind.

 

After fifty (one) years, Piper’s tapestry still feels daring and challenging, and doubtless does not please all. But, to paraphrase a participant in a discussion group I held about the tapestry, Christianity is not safe and wishy-washy, and so the tapestry continues to do important service to the Cathedral.

 

Further reading

 

Naomi Billingsley, ‘“A Magnificent Adornment to this House of God”? The Piper Tapestry at 50’, Lecture at Chichester Cathedral (22 September 2016).

 

Paul Foster (ed.). Chichester Tapestries. Lurçat – Piper – Benker: A Sequence of Exploration (Otter Memorial Paper 7) (Chichester: Bishop Otter College, 1991).

 

Walter Hussey, Patron of Art: The Revival of a Great Tradition Among Modern Artists (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1985).

 

Simon Martin, John Piper: The Fabric of Modernism (Chichester: Pallant House Gallery, 2016).

 

Frances Spalding, John Piper. Myfanwy Piper. Lives in Art (Oxford: OUP, 2009).

 

A version of this post was published by Transpositions on 23 November 2016. 

NAIB.

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June 3rd: The Uganda Martyrs – Saints for Today II

WestminsterAbbey-Martyrs

Modern Martyrs Commemorated at Westminster Abbey: L-R: the Polish Franciscan, Maximilian Kolbe, killed in the concentration camps; Manche Masemola, a South African teenager, murdered by her parents, ‘baptised in her own blood’, for converting to Christianity; and Janani Luwum, Anglican Archbishop of Kampala, Uganda, assassinated by order of President Amin, a modern Uganda martyr. Jean-Christophe Benoist, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:WestminsterAbbey-Martyrs.jpg

How did the Uganda Martyrs come to be Christians? Young men from France and Britain, overflowing with the same love that springs out of the Triune God, had gone there to bring them the Good News about Jesus. Sadly, the two camps did not always see eye to eye and imported to Africa the divisions that the Church in Europe had long taken for granted. Now Pope Francis speaks of the Ecumenism of Blood, in the light of the thousands of modern martyrs of all denominations. This new Unity had been recognised by the Dean and Chapter of Westminster who commissioned the statues of modern martyrs for the facade of the Abbey in 1998.

Both Anglican and Catholic Christians died for the Faith, and as St John Paul II said in Uganda in 1993,

the Uganda Martyrs became light in the Lord! Their sacrifice hastened the rebirth of the Church in Africa. In our own days, all Africa is being called to the light of Christ!  All that is truly African, all that is true and good and noble in Africa’s traditions and cultures, is meant to find its fulfilment in Christ.

Your Martyrs joyfully shared with others the good news about the One who is “the way and the truth and the life” (Jn. 14: 6). They understood that “faith is strengthened when it is given to others” (John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, 2).The effects of Christ’s light must clearly be seen in the goodness of your lives! 

How best can we share the Good News in a very different world to that of Nineteenth Century Uganda? For most of us, most of the time, there are small steps we can take. Doing whatever we can as Churches Together, praying together for unity within and between Churches; looking happy, as though we believe the Gospel is Good News, a friendly word with whoever we meet.

You can find the text of Redemptoris Missio here:  http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_07121990_redemptoris-missio.html

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June 1st – Home is where the Hospitality is.

warmwelcome

Whenever my train runs by the flat where Andy and Jenny used to live, darkening the guest room as it passes, I am reminded of their hospitality. They were just starting married life but generously offered me a place to eat well, to crash out, to talk or not to talk, to sing or to watch television together, when too much was going on inside my head and my heart.

There was room in their happiness for other people, embraced by their friendship, their hospitality and their singing. Such love is part of the creative outpouring that the Trinity cannot help but generate. It is indeed like singing or dancing, where you never know quite how the performance is going to unfold. Spontaneous descants and cadenzas flowed from Andy and Jenny’s interpretations of folk and sacred song. So too with creation: no two of us are the same, and even twins grow up different, like the rest of us continually recreated through everyday life experiences.

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