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19 July, What is Theology Saying? XIX: The Eucharist 6, A Call to Simplicity

winchester crucifixWhen Jesus began his ministry he didn’t expect it to lead to this – it wasn’t the goal of his mission. What he challenged us with was totally radical – the way of non-violence, of not needing someone to blame. His death reveals both the compassion of God and the reality of sin. Faced with Jesus, his contemporaries, chosen as hearers of the Word – panicked. The Gospels don’t present the leaders as particularly evil; they used arguments we are still using ourselves – prudence, common sense, self-defence… This is why sin is so appalling, showing how our normal and accepted ways of living are so corrupt that they crucify the innocent – legally.

Some would argue for a proper distinction to be made between religion, politics and social living. Jesus didn’t invite people to be poor, but to be poor in spirit – detached enough from whatever possessions to notice the poor man at the door. There is no love for a hungry person which leaves the person still hungry – it is pointless to show how much is being spent here and there – when the poor remain unfed, unclothed and unhoused. The very point of the Eucharist is to free people from the oppression of such evil. It is naïve to think we help poor people simply by becoming poor ourselves. Our call is to simplicity – simple means uncomplicated, and is not synonymous with easy.

We come to the Eucharist to be involved in ways of everyday living that will bring change. We have the gift of the Sacraments to help us do this. It is easy to miss the point of the Sacrament of the Eucharist by seeing it as a very special ceremony celebrated in but distinct from everyday living. There can be no intimacy with God without seeking the well-being of others – we are told the Second Commandment is like the first; which cautions about eating and drinking unworthily – 1Corinthians 11.27.

Grace is not a commodity God has to give to those who do what they are told to do. In fact, it is not something – it is relationship. It is an invitation to intimacy along with the gift of courage to say yes. Grace cannot be seen but gracefulness can, in heightened sensitivity to the needs of others. We can love our own family to the exclusion of others, likewise for one’s country – but such is not love since love knows nothing of exclusions. Love means openness – no matter who no matter where. See this expressed in the way the local folk in Germany turned out to welcome the migrants. This is Eucharist beyond the table. We relate to God as community, because it is only in community [no matter how small] that relationships happen. We have little experience of covenant relationship with God when so many human hungers go unnoticed.

AMcC

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July 14, What is Theology Saying? XIV: Eucharist 1, We are invited to be present.

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Eucharist is how Jesus summed-up his life and death; something not nearly catered for by going to Mass! Let‘s be clear about Jesus’ life. The interpretations of the Gospel say nothing about his own experience of living in Palestine, nor indeed about the impact he made on the ordinary folk of his time. Freedom is of the essence of his presence. Unlike political liberators he didn’t have a goal to achieve. Part of the old devotions of the Way of the Cross – the Second Station – referred to him receiving the cross as the means whereby he would save the world. He didn’t come with a goal in mind – he came to live his life freely, and therefore differently – a new way of being human.

This new way – non-resistance to violence, no finger-pointing, not needing to blame – proved wonder to the few, but irksome to the many, especially the powerful, whose disenchantment turned to hate, and the compulsion to be rid of him. He didn’t come to die – nor did the Father send him to die – he came to live life and death in a new way. We tend to interpret his going to Jerusalem as seeing death as his destiny. Why are you going there, it’s full of enmity for you…? His answer makes no reference to a predestined fate – Jerusalem is where the prophets died – Luke 13.34. Prophecy is not foretelling the future but living life as it was meant to be lived.

We are invited to be present in the Eucharist as Christ is present to us – a person to be met and experienced. A Mozart Concerto can be analysed and dissected to illustrate its melodic and harmonious structure, but to be present to it as it is allows it to become an experience, a unique experience, and see how it satisfies a hunger within us; to be soothed with its harmony, surprised by its ongoing creativity.

It is not grasping the experience, but being grasped. This is what mystery means – a work of art, a unique person. Eucharist is mystery.

AMcC

Picture from Missionaries of Africa

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23 June: What became of …

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Simon had been a pupil at a school where I had once taught: that’s how we got talking about the disaffected lads I had worked with. Not that sunny Simon, whom I knew before I began teaching, ever had an ounce of disaffection in him in all those forty years.

But Luke did. He was ever ready to pick a fight with another child, then try to pin the blame on them when they gave him as much of a pasting as they could before they were stopped. One day he ran away on an outing to London, but was hiding in full view of the railway station cameras, so was soon rounded up.

‘Do you know what happened to these boys?’ asked Mary.

‘Luke’, I said, hesitating; ‘Luke met a teaching colleague years later, when he was a mental health nurse.

‘And then there was Peter, who broke my ribs, aged 11. He was found to have a severe wheat intolerance and was a changed boy when he cut it out of his diet. He completed secondary school at least.

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‘I was called over to a bench on a major railway station by a young man who introduced himself as Alan West – formerly known by two completely different names. “And this is Jill, we’re getting married soon. But I’m not telling my family. Jill’s my family now – and her family accept me.”‘

prison wall

While it’s good to share these positive stories, not all were doing so well when last I heard. Tony, son of a London prostitute, was moved very much against his will and our advice, from a foster family of a different complexion to one that nearer matched his own. He was soon in a secure unit, not allowed out of the new ‘home’ he was assigned by the court. An abuse victim who came to us at 12 was incarcerated at 18 for abusing other children. A lad who won my heart was murdered by his stepfather.

Please pray for them all; may the Good Shepherd seek each one out and bring him home.

We meet another prisoner tomorrow.

MMB

 

 

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6 April: The Passover Sequence III: The Road.

winchester crucifix

As soon as we heard the news

We went to her,

To sit with her,

Hold her,

Protect her.

But she did not lament,

Falter.

No tears, her face was set ….

. her bearing!

Oh that you had seen her!

But the sorrow was deep in her eyes,

In the softness of her voice,

The finality of her hands

To embrace each one.

Then swiftly gathering her shawl

About her head she went …. out,

Out …

To meet her Son.

And we were left, bewildered,

Broken.

We could hear them coming,

Such noise,

Jeering, shouting,

You know what these mobs are like.

While she stood

In the middle of the road, alone,

Waiting!

Three crosses!

And so he came to his Mother,

Eyes, raised from the ground,

For her.

Steadily approaching.

The said he had already fallen twice

And they brought a man to help him.

He could have left them all

And run

To their meeting!

Oh that you had seen them! ….

The soldiers tried …. tried, to move them on.

While they stayed,

And looked,

And knew,

And parted.

She came to us at last.

He walked on,

Alone.

SPB.

Winchester Cathedral.

 

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5 April: The Passover Sequence, II. The Soldier.

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Enough, lads!

Leave it,

Go … go … leave it!

Why do they tell us to do these things?

Soldiers of Caesar … are we not human?

They had their fun

Till it sickened

And they laboured.

And I stayed.

Here! Put this back on!

See he shivers in the shock,

Such violence!

Not the usual cursing, angry vagrant,

Shouting, struggling,

Shivering. Yes,

Their bodies react like that,

But his eyes are calm.

He looked at me.

I am ashamed.

Here, let me help you.

Why do they do this?

Why mock the man?

Why strike?

Why spit?

No-one seems to know.

But for their satisfaction

And more to come I hear.

Well, I’ll leave you here … where else?

I’m off duty soon,

My wife will have my meal,

I’m hungry now.

But you!

What for you?

The hordes are ravenous,

Whipped up for blood.

Do you not have friends?

Family?

Who speaks for you?

Defends you?

I must go.

Someone will come for you soon.

But wait here ….

here ….

I’m sorry ….

SPB.

 

 

The Crowning with Thorns, Strasbourg Cathedral, West Front.

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4 April: The Passover Sequence, I. Yesterday.

 

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Yesterday we walked with him,

talked with him.

Tho’ he was quiet,

Wanting us there.

So much to tell us,

So much we could not understand.

Yesterday ….

He spoke often of his Father.

How could we know?

fishermen –

Caught within the rapture of their presence.

Unable to comprehend,

Held by the comfort of their closeness.

For it was, it was, … closeness.

More than himself,

A Son,

Submissive, obedient.

But what love, what love!

It touched us all,

Caught up,

Tax-collectors –

He told us that he would die,

Leave us

When all within was caught in that love.

What could we do?

Yesterday

We ate with him.

Oh! He wanted that!

We wanted that!

“… with desire…”

He spoke of his Father

Intimate …

With us, wondering men,

Not knowing how we should respond.

Embraced in such love.

I mean, people do not love like that,

Do they?

Such foreboding

As if this was the last time.

And it was.

He told us

But we didn’t understand.

So we walked in the quietness of the evening,

Walked with him …

what words can tell you?

If there were tears they did not flow,

Instead we, all of us,

Bore the weight of his leaving.

We came to the garden, deserted,

Full of dark shadows,

The lingering scent of thesun-filled day.

He went on alone to speak with his Father.

We were left,

Working men,

Fishermen,

Chosen by the Son of God,

His brothers,

Each weighed down by his own self’s grief.

We slept.

He came back to us and found us sleeping,

Such gentle reproach …

Could you not …

Even one hour … ?’

And once again

Our hearts’ heaviness

Forbade his comfort.

His friends!

One of the others said later,

An angel had come to him.

I did not see.

I was asleep.

Ashamed.

But when he stood

Facing the mob in their torchlight

His features were beaded with blood.

We could have fallen back into the shadows,

And we did,

We could have run,

And we did.

We could leave him

And we did.

But that Love!

Who are you?

Who are we?

So we fell back into the shadows.

And he went on, alone,

With the mob.

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3 March. Little Flowers of Saint Francis, XV: Francis the Peacemaker

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Now as they went along this way, Brother Masseo marvelled within himself, wherefore Saint Francis had made him do as do the children, before the worldly folk that passed that way: howbeit for reverence sake he dared say naught to the holy father.

As they drew nigh unto Sienna, the people of the city heard of the coming of the saint and hied them out to meet him ; and of their devotion bore him and his companion right to the bishop’s house, in such wise that they touched not the ground at all with their feet.

Now at that same hour certain folk of Sienna were at strife with one another, and already two of them lay dead. Saint Francis having won there preached to them in so devout and saintly a fashion, that he brought them one and all to peace and close unity and concord together. For the which cause the bishop of Sienna, hearing of the holy work that Saint Francis had wrought, bade him to his house and received him with high honour that day, and eke the night.

And the next morn Saint Francis, who with true humility sought naught in all his works save only the glory of God, rose up betimes with his companion, and without the bishop’s knowledge was away. Whereat the said Brother Masseo went by the way murmuring within himself.

 

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January 19: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity; Introduction to this year’s theme and background.

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The material for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2018 has been produced in the Caribbean.

There are 1.4 Million Christians living in the Caribbean region, across a vast geographical spread of island and mainland territories. They represent a rich and diverse tapestry of ethnic, linguistic and religious traditions, with a complex variety of governmental and constitutional arrangements.

The contemporary context is deeply marked by the history of colonialism which stripped people of their identity, dignity and freedom. Christian missionary activity, closely tied to the colonial system, seemed to support, encourage and excuse it. During five-hundred years of the colonial system, scripture was used to justify the enslavement of the indigenous people. In a dynamic reversal, those same scriptures became the inspiration and motivation for people to reclaim their liberty. 

Recognising the hand of God in the ending of enslavement, the Caribbean Christians offer Exodus 15, a song of triumph over oppression, as the motif of the Week of Prayer. The hymn, The Right Hand of God, reflecting the song of Miriam and Moses in praise of the liberating action of God, has become the anthem of the ecumenical movement in the region. Like the Israelites, the people of the Caribbean have a song of victory and freedom to sing.

Yet, contemporary challenges continue to enslave and threaten the dignity of the people. Many of the contemporary challenges are the legacy of the colonial past. The Caribbean economies have traditionally been based upon the production of materials for the European market – sometimes producing only a single commodity. They have never been self-sustaining and their development has required borrowing on the international market. The servicing of the debt has caused a reduction in spending upon the development that it was meant to facilitate.

The chosen passage from Exodus 15 allows us to see that the road to unity must often pass through a communal experience of suffering. The Israelites’ liberation from enslavement is the foundational event in the constitution of the people. Although our liberation and salvation is at God’s initiative, human agencies are engaged in their realisation. Christians participate in God’s ministry of reconciliation, yet our divisions hamper our witness to a world in need of God’s healing.

The themes of the daily material raise some of the contemporary issues addressed by the churches of the Caribbean. Abuses of human rights are found across the region and we are challenged to consider our manner of welcoming of the stranger into our midst. Human trafficking and modern-day slavery continue to be huge issues. Addiction to pornography and drugs, continue to be serious challenges to all societies. The debt crisis has a negative impact upon the nations and upon individuals – the economies of the nations and people have become precarious. Family life continues to be challenged by the economic restrictions which lead to migration, domestic abuse and violence.

The Caribbean Churches work together to heal the wounds in the body of Christ. Reconciliation demands repentance, reparation and the healing of memories. The whole Church is called to be both a sign and an active agent of this reconciliation.

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12 January, Temperance VI: Temperance, Restraint and Anger.

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One of the important aspects of the virtue temperance is that it is not just about our physical appetites. It is about all our appetites, and develops our ability to handle such emotions as intense fear, desire and anger. And so, it complements moderation with something that uses perhaps more ‘muscle’ – and that something is restraint. Restraint is that power of soul whose act is to choose. In so doing, it curbs the desire for immediate gratification by showing us that we may fulfil our being more truly by making a reasoned choice than by gratifying an impulse that is coming (as in the case of anger) from a hidden desire for vengeance.

Restraint has particular relevance to the passion of anger. Anger can be a very strong passion indeed, and it is worth dwelling on it for a moment. St. Thomas grants that some forms of anger are useful: the anger that surfaces in regard to injustice, for example, and any kind of abuse. Anger is a necessary passion in these circumstances. I would go even further and say that there are some situations to which anger is the only healthy response. But, once again, anger must be directed by the light of reason. Intemperate anger can be destructive and abusive itself, and St. Thomas would not allow that it is good to fight violence with violence. This is where restraint comes in. Blind wrath, bitterness of spirit, revengeful resentment: these forms of anger are highlighted by St. Thomas as being the most dangerous aspects of anger and therefore most in need of the curbing powers of restraint. Blind wrath, he says, is anger that is immoderately fierce and destructive. Bitterness of spirit is to do with a state of anger that lasts so long that it becomes a part of one’s very character and personality. In this case the offence remains in one’s memory, and gives rise to what Thomas calls ‘lasting displeasure’ that does not stop until punishment has been inflicted. Revengeful resentment is an aspect of this ongoing bitterness in which the disposition becomes chronically sullen and the mind is endlessly preoccupied with taking revenge.

When these aspects of anger are delineated here in writing, it is easy to see how harmful they can be – to ourselves and to others – but let’s face it: we have all been there and probably done it. I don’t doubt that many of us have at times been swept away by the intensity of our feelings and indulged in precisely the kind of angry behaviour Thomas describes. These temptations are part of the weakness we have as fallen beings. But the virtue of temperance brings good things to bear on this state of affairs. Through gentleness, justice and charity we can restrain the onslaught of anger.

Gentleness, contrary to what we might think, does not mean that we never feel angry, or that if we do, we can get over it almost before we feel the full force of it. Rather, gentleness is what makes a person master of herself, and therefore master of the power of anger, according to St. Thomas – for anger is a power, and as such is capable of accomplishing something good. Gentleness is about channeling that power rightly, dealing with the cause of the anger fairly, addressing the whole situation that gave rise to the anger in such a way as to change it for the better.

In order to do this, of course, we need to enlist the aid of our reason. We are back to the need to think. Our reason then, brings justice and charity to bear upon the situation that has caused our anger. Justice and charity working together with gentleness enables us to focus on something other than our own pain. We become able to focus on the feelings of the one (or ones) who offended us, on seeing the situation from the other side, and on effecting the changes that will lead to the establishment of peace – even if some of those changes are changes that need to take place within our own heart.

SJC

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November 28: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xxviii – And So

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There is no end. Earthly existence comes and goes – yet everything lives on in a creative universe like ours. Everything works in a cooperative fashion as it is designed to do, within a great deal of freedom and choice. The point of relationships is to have no end. Creation resembles a musical instrument being tuned to ever higher vibrations until they weave together in the orchestra called creation. For this to happen we need to vacate our heads and move into our hearts and see with new eyes what really is waiting to be seen.

The fact that many relationships are not right is not Creation’s fault. It is the fruit of the way of redemptive violence we have universally installed. Mother Earth is weary of our adolescent aggression. We have a choice – between life and extinction. We need to awaken to a new dawn in the warmth of the rising sun which will lead us out of the darkness of exclusions and aggression.

Not many will forget Boxing Day 2004 – the Tsunami in South East Asia, claiming 250,000 lives. Devotees of all religions asking what the divine is up to; was this a punishment for evil, why did God not intervene? The day started like any other, holiday time, bright sunshine – some did notice that the water had receded from the shoreline – very few noticed the absence of bird-song and animal life. A tribe of gypsy people in Thailand did notice – and they discerned that the receding waters would return with a vengeance – they took to the hills and no one was lost. These people did not try to take control. They listened to the deeper wisdom from their lived history – as did the animal kingdom.

Earthquakes have been well described as Mother Earth in the birth pangs of new possibilities; without them all would be arid and lifeless – no animal or plant life, no human beings. Without the paradox of creation and destruction there is no freedom, wonder or mystery. Many of them are highly destructive of human life – the result of ignorance and injustice. Research has enabled us to build earthquake resistant towns and cities – with minimal loss of life. Why hasn’t this facility been universally shared, so that the poor can benefit also? If we refrained from polluting the atmosphere hurricanes and tsunamis would not be so ferocious.

Governments and religions call the gypsy folk of Thailand primitive – and ignore them, as we did with Jesus who reminded us: they did it to me and they will do it to you!

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older

The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated…

We must be still and still moving

Into another intensity

For a further union, a deeper communion

Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,

The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters

Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning. Eliot

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