Tag Archives: understanding

September 3. ‘Jesus beyond Dogma’, 1: What changed the disciples on Easter Day?

Easter Saturday

What changed the disciples on Easter Day? Their former understanding of God was gone, as was their awareness of what being human really meant. When disasters like the Tsunami strike – we don’t ask who is responsible; we ask what happened? We expect some kind of scientific answer rather than looking for someone to blame.

What happened to them on Easter Day was the same thing that made Jesus not be just another dead person, another victim of human violence – it was the Resurrection. An historical happening on the Sunday after his death – the same man they had buried is with them. What happened to this group of friends transformed them, took away fear and made them eager to share their experience. They had a change in perception of what being human means – but most especially, a revolution in their understanding of God. They shared their memories and wrote them down, from which we now have the New Testament. They talked of his life, living with him; his death and now this…

The Resurrection brought new insights – something Jesus had before his Passion and death; he had told them you do not understand now but you will… He spoke of God in an entirely new way, one which proved threatening to the Guardians of the Law, to Temple worship, to Sabbath observances and to ritual prescriptions. The last straw was calling God his father. The disciples were already unsympathetic to the authorities, but it is unlikely that when Jesus was executed that they dismissed the idea that maybe the priests were right after all, that Jesus was not from God; surely death is final, and puts an end to dissent?

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Two were walking to Emmaus with hopes shattered [we had hoped]. His death seemed to vindicate what authority was claiming. Jesus must have been a sinner for this to happen –he who hangs on a tree is cursed – Deuteronomy 21.23; Galatians 3.13. When he rose from the dead and appeared to them the whole system leading to his death is called into question. Jesus had been right, God is the way Jesus spoke of God; nothing like the description offered by his accusers.

The reasons they produced for getting rid of him were not reasons, but part of a sinful mechanism for getting rid of troublesome people – with nothing whatever to do with God. This leads to questioning the Law as not reflecting the true God, or as distorted by human violence. The Resurrection did not simply reveal Jesus’ innocence, not only was he right about God; it exposed the mechanism by which innocent victims are created by those who believe that in doing so they are doing God’s will.

We can now imagine the innocence of the victim and see the complicity in violence of the perpetrators. If we see things as the disciples first did, feeling uncomfortable that Jesus may not have been up to what he promised – and then see him back, how would we talk about it? Our stories have beginnings and endings, and, so they thought, was Jesus’ story ended – but now: how do we tell a story that has no ending? They tried telling this story which had no room for death – death which happens to everyone – and they didn’t know how to do it.

Resurrection has now burst into our storytelling. They couldn’t tell the story in the old way, and the new way they were inspired with we call the New Testament. It was not a question of eliminating death, but how death has its part in the story, but not as the ending. Jesus did not appear as someone who had been dead and is now better – like Lazarus. The risen Jesus was at once dead and alive – as the five wounds testify – and is now showing death as empty of its power. He is at once dead and alive. His whole life including death is present in its fullness. He has conquered death, not just for himself, but for all who share common humanity with him; death and its whole system by which all were held in thrall, is not necessary. Whatever death is, and it happens to all of us, it is not what dictates or shapes the pattern of life. It is an empty shell, a bark without a bite. We will die, but death cannot separate us from the source of the fullness of life.

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death – Hebrews 2.14.

We need to ponder those empty marks of death [5 wounds] within the splendour of his risen life, which enables them to be seen in new light. His life did not cancel death, but includes it, letting it be seen so that they be not afraid. All human history including violence has been taken up in his risen life. God does not require us to deny the violence all around in order to give praise – God is praised when we are fully alive – Irenaeus.

The presence of the crucified and risen victim says the divine story is related to the human story. God becoming man creates the real human story – a story that knows nothing of violence or the structures that seek to foster it. For this divine story to make sense to us it has to start from the story we know how to tell. The divine story is not just at a different level, and replacing the human story, it includes all that is capable of being transformed – such as violence and victimising.

AMcC

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28 April: Prudence V, Docility.

 

 ukc-fest-640x360

Somehow the concept of docility has received a rather bad press.  It seems to denote a quality of weakness, of wishy-washy meekness.  It’s not strong or dynamic enough, we might think.  But this is to misunderstand the word.  Another word for docility is teachability, and it’s vital for the growth of prudence.

Saint Thomas says (Summa Theologica , II. II:49:3) that prudence is concerned with matters of ‘infinite variety,’ and no one can consider them all sufficiently, nor can this be done with the speed we sometimes need in life.

Hence in matters of prudence man stands in very great need of being taught by others,

especially by those of sufficient age and with enough life-experience to have acquired a ‘sane understanding’ of what is really important.  He drives the point home by saying that a person’s own efforts are vital here.  We must ‘carefully, frequently and reverently’ apply our minds to the teachings of those who are truly wise and learned, ‘neither neglecting them through laziness, nor despising them through pride.’

People might comment that “so and so only learns the hard way.”  She won’t listen to anyone, she just goes off hard-headedly, and makes a mess of things.  Only then does she learn – when much damage has already been done.  While this may well be a stage that many of us go through in adolescence, Thomas would say that it’s not really a necessary stage in the journey to individuation.  Through our capacity to learn from others, it is possible to make important decisions that both affirm our independence and are the result of our teachability.  We do not have to learn the hard way in order to mature and attain the virtue of prudence.

SJC

 Picture by CD.

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27 April: Prudence IV, Understanding.

 

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The next step in the dance of prudence is understanding, for Saint Thomas.  Understanding gives us the ability to see how this principle applies to this case.  Each event is different from the one before.  Understanding helps us to see the differences – especially those that are not immediately obvious.  This usually requires us to think something through, and not simply react on the basis of how something appears on the surface.

Let’s go back to Jack, our small-business owner about whom we were thinking yesterday.  Let’s say he has a bookshop.  Let’s say his down-and-out employees help themselves to the cash.  Now Jack had better think this through.  He wants to help the needy – this is an important principle.  So he turns a blind eye to the disappearing cash.  But sooner or later, this is going to have an adverse effect on his business.  Sooner or later other principles, that are arguably more important, get buried – such as his obligation to support his family.  If the business suffers, he will soon be in a position to help no one, including himself.

Good people are not usually attracted to doing bad things, but to doing a good thing in an immoderate way, at the wrong time, under the wrong conditions.  With understanding we acquire the ability to set priorities, to determine which good thing I need to be doing now, to say no sometimes to one good thing in order to safe-guard a greater good, and to see what is really at stake in a given situation.

SJC

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26 February: The Most Natural Thing in the World.

heart

Continuing with Father Andrew SDC.

It is to me a comfort to think that the most natural thing in the whole world is also the most supernatural, and that is love.

The Life and Letters of Father Andrew, p159.

And turning now to the Welsh poet, W.H. Davies, to amplify that thought.

Love is a staff, and Love’s a rod,
A wise man and a fool;
I thought that I was wise, until
Love sent me back to school.

The Song of Love IV, 1926.

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Let’s pray for the humility to go back to school and learn from those we meet. God loves us, ‘supernaturally’ as we used to say, through their natural love for us, whether as spouse, parent, child, friend, or the one who smiles at us in the ticket office.

MMB.

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28 December, Holy Innocents.

 

toy-car-hand

I suggested yesterday that there is something ridiculous – humanly speaking – about the whole Christmas story. But we love stories! Books, TV, films, The Archers on the radio, all have their followers – and their detractors. We learn who we are through stories.

When training as a teacher I reviewed a children’s  picture book about the Rhine,  a few words and some rather good photographs, including the Lorelei Rock. After the story of the sirens luring boats to destruction was told the young reader was asked, Do you think this story is true?

Wrong question!

Abel is now eighteen months, a little young to listen to stories, but not too young to tell himself some. Among his words are digger, car, and brrrrm. Enough to start conversations in what some people call the real world, as he points to his Dad’s or his grandmother’s car. Enough to recognise a toy digger as a digger, and push it along, brrrrm. Enough to recognise a cartoon of a car on a tiny sticker given to me by one of his Auntie’s pupils. Is it a true car?

The idea of a car does not depend on size for Abel. Yes, some will dismiss the toy and sticker as unreal. But as Fr Kurzynski suggested yesterday, we are in danger of just not getting it. Small and big may well look different from a divine point of view. Or even from a deeply human one – see our post “A World of my own?” last May 14.

In this life, Jesus started off very small … Be grateful for small mercies.

And let’s pray today for mercy on innocent children suffering in war zones in Congo, Syria and elsewhere.

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26 November: Inter-Galactic Discoveries: XIX In the Back of a Thanet Taxi

car-lights

The fact-finding agents of the Ossyrian Confederation would have loved to stay at the monastery in Minton much longer but ‘T’ had a dental appointment back at Margate to have a crown replaced the next day. Fond farewells were said by all and promises made for a speedy return. Immediately after vespers a taxi was called and what seemed to be a very contented man with two Chihuahuas rode the flat expanse of the Thanet landscape apparently in silence, but actually in intense telepathic conversation.

‘Have you ever seen a dik-dik, ‘T’?’ Ajax continued to be fascinated by the notion of a diminutive deer no larger than himself. ‘Can’t say that I have,’ The director yawned, ‘but, then again, I’ve never been to Africa and, by all accounts, that’s where they live.’ ‘T’s never seen a dik-dik because there is no such thing!’ Alfie snorted, at which point an over-sensitive (and most likely overtired) Ajax burst into forlorn (telepathic) tears. ‘Don’tflags-welsh be so certain, little guy,’ the Director’s tone was mild but the set of his jaw boded ill for quarrelsome Chihuahuas. ‘Who would have believed in a pint-sized dog your size before Columbus discovered America?’ ‘Right,’ Alfie still wasn’t convinced, ‘And I suppose that somewhere there are dragons and maybe a herd of unicorns? (he had found a book of terrestrial fairy tales in one of the monastery guest rooms). ‘Have you ever read the Book of Job, Alfie?’ ‘No,’ beamed in a stubborn whisper. ‘Then listen carefully,’ the Director said,

         ‘I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

         Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand; things too wonderful for me which I did not know.

         Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask you and do you instruct me. I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees you.  

Job 42:3-5

The one truth, nevertheless, tells itself in many ways,’ the Director continued, ‘like colour or a sound; like a hot day or a cold night, like one bright star to rule the day and a hundred billion madly dancing to rule the night…and, make no mistake, my dear Chihuahuas; noble legends may contain truths inaccessible to newspaper reporters.’ ‘Well,’ Alfie beamed (but the fight had left him), ‘I still don’t understand.’ ‘But Alfie!!’ It was the Director’s turn to laugh, ‘recognizing that is the beginning of understanding!’

Postscript

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A week after the return of ‘T’ and the Chihuahuas from their visit to Minton, the city council of Margate- elected on promises to curb immigration (among other things)- advanced an ordinance aimed at detaining and deporting every parakeet in Thanet since, clearly, they were not native to the British Isles and, certainly, had not entered the country legally. Thankfully, the ordinance was quickly overturned due to popular outcry and it is possible to visit Hartsdown Park on All Saints Avenue for a parakeet safari (best done in the late Autumn and Winter) to this very day. dik-dik

Editor’s note: Hartsdown Park on All Saints’ Avenue: this sounds suspiciously like the territory  of a deer – perhaps the legendary and holy Boanerges?

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April 6, Station III: Our Own Hopes Had Been…

Our Own Hopes Had Been… [19-24]

We now come to the account the two disciples give to ‘the stranger’ of what happened. What the stranger/Jesus is doing is listening to their experience of what happened, and as we listen with him—which is what we try to do at this station—we can become aware of several things.

    • The first is that in pouring out their experience it is clear that they cannot understand it, still less accept that it makes any sense at all. It should not have been allowed. The unspoken question, their cri de coeur, is: Where was God? Why did God allow it to happen?
    • That’s not a million miles from the way we might have experienced it if we had been there. All the more reason then to pause a little longer at this Station.
    • If we pay closer attention to what they say we will surely recognise the Gospel story, only it is not ‘Gospel’/Good News! It is their experience of the story, told from ‘a purely human’ point of view, and it is heavy with the weight of failure and ‘loss of faith’.
      • First, there is the failure of the religious authorities [our chief priests and rulers] to recognise and accept Jesus of Nazareth as the prophet he had shown himself to be: ‘mighty in word and deed before God and all the people’. And not only that: They had delivered him up to be condemned to death.
      • And now they admit to a faltering in their own faith: ‘But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.
      • They then go on to talk about something else that has happened, something that seems to have disturbed them even more than the death of Jesus, and which has probably driven them to leave Jerusalem: ‘Some women of our company have amazed us’. They say they have been to the tomb and did not find his body but that they had ‘seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive’. Some others [presumably men!] had gone to check for themselves ‘and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see’.
  • It is at this point that the stranger ‘breaks in’, upbraiding them for their lack of faith, so slow to believe. But before going there we should allow ourselves to be questioned also, and to hear what we might say in reply.

What is this like for us today?

  • How do we try to ‘make sense of’ the crucifixion of Jesus, and of the apparent powerlessness of Jesus—and of God—to prevent it?
    • This is not about theology but faith, about trusting and accepting that God’s power, and way of doing things, is very different from ours.
    • Do we believe/accept that? What difference does it make to the way we actually live, and make decisions?
  • When we talk—argue, complain—about what is happening, or not happening, in the Church today do we hear ourselves like these two disciples, telling it as we see it: needing it to make sense [our kind of sense]; and, of course, finding someone to blame [our chief priests and rulers]?

 JMcC.

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April 2: The Apostles’ Dog and the Doors of Perception.

upperroom tomdog

We have seen most of this picture before: the disciples crowding around the risen Jesus with Thomas among them, touching him, supporting each other as they come to grips with this unlooked-for reality. The Church comes to birth in solidarity.

The right hand frame though shows how determinedly the disciples kept themselves safe: that massive door, fit for a castle keep, and their dog, faithfully guarding the threshold. His ears are pricked; he knows something is going on inside, but wears the resigned look of a puzzled dog who knows he does not understand, although he’s been among them on the road, eating the scraps that fell from their table (Matthew 15:26).

Just once open the door and watch him bound in, greeting his old friend without inhibition, without question, without needing to understand. He would know with every doggy sense; now, with the door shut, he knows that he does not know!

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

So, let us pray that we may open ourselves up, or better allow the risen Lord to come in through the chinks of our cavern, bringing with him eternity, infinity, joy; that we may rejoice, even if we do not understand.

Strasbourg Cathedral.

MMB.

 

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