Tag Archives: vision

10 February: Nathaniel finds his heart, Part II.

Following Jesus in a wet Krakow.

Yesterday we were looking at the first meeting between Jesus and Nathaniel as recorded by the Gospel of John in chapter one, verse forty-three and following.  The two men seemed to be enjoying some friendly banter, initially.  But, as Nathaniel discovers, Jesus’ remarks were more penetrating than he was expecting.  Jesus – from Nazareth, of all places!  

After the ice is broken – and it breaks astonishingly quickly – Jesus drops the playful tone completely.  He comes out with a remark that is so profoundly mysterious that it found entry right into Nathaniel’s deepest centre – his heart.  Jesus says to Nathaniel, “Before Philip came to call you, I saw you under the fig tree.”  

I turn this over in my mind and undertake some research.  I find, unsurprisingly, that this remark has been the subject of deep reflection ever since the early centuries of the Church.  What could Jesus have meant by it?   Some of the fourth and fifth century Fathers of the Church offer the explanation that the fig tree represents the Law. Jesus is saying that he saw Nathaniel under the shadow of the Law, and that he, Jesus, is calling him into his own light.  Maybe this is true.  It is a beautiful thought, but I find myself more drawn to the interpretation St John Chrysostom, writing in the late fourth century, gives to Jesus’ words.  Chrysostom says that Nathaniel asks his question as a mere human being, but that Jesus gives his answer as God.  Chrysostom continues, saying that Jesus, by his words, is telling Nathaniel that he understands him deeply and beholds him as God beholds him – from above, as it were.  When Jesus says, ‘I saw you,’ he means, according to Chrysostom, ‘I understood you through and through, understood the character of your life and person’.  

John Chrysostom’s insight explains Nathaniel’s complete change of heart – to my mind, anyway.  Nathaniel was sceptical about Jesus at first, then he jokes a bit with him, but now he’s caught off-guard by something in Jesus that has moved him.  I ponder Jesus’ words and realise that when one is deeply understood by another human being it is a life-changing experience.  What’s more, Nathaniel has suddenly seen Jesus’ own character and spiritual power, even as he himself has been seen by Jesus.  His defensiveness, hesitation and jocularity all drop away.  With a seriousness as profound as Jesus’ own gravity, Nathaniel now says, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the king of Israel.”  He is in a totally different place from the one he had been in just moments earlier.  This is Nathaniel’s turning point – and it takes place not only because of what Jesus has said, but because of Jesus himself, because of the spiritual power of his person and presence, and because Nathaniel has been deeply ‘seen’ by this extremely unusual man – from Nazareth. 

Perhaps you who are reading this reflection already know the joyful truth that Jesus is the centre of existence, the centre of reality itself.  He is the Beloved of everything that has being, the loving heart of every molecule, every world, every galaxy, every bug and blade of grass and mote of dust.  Maybe you already know that every person is formed for Jesus and that Jesus alone is rest for our restless hearts.  Nathaniel, despite his initial scepticism, comes to understand this wonderful thing, too – as we see it happen in these words from John’s gospel.  For someone like Nathaniel, Jesus does not need to work miracles or do any sensational things.  All Jesus needs to do is show up.  And all Nathaniel needed to do was to be himself with Jesus, to engage with him honestly.  It didn’t take Jesus long to reach Nathaniel at his deepest level.  A short encounter is all Jesus needs.  

“Catena aurea: commentary on the four Gospels, collected out of the works of the Fathers: Volume 6, St. John. Oxford: Parker, 1874. Thomas Aquinas”

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23 January: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2022, Day VI.

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2022

Original photo of Nablus (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0): Dr. Michael Loadenthal

Day 6 They saw the child with Mary his mother, and they knelt down and paid him homage Matthew 2:11

Readings

Psalm 84 How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!

Mt 28:16-20 When they saw him, they worshipped him.

Reflection

When the Magi from their far-away countries arrived at Bethlehem and saw the child with his mother, they worshipped him. In the presence of this revelation of God among us, eyes were cast down and knees bent. Similarly, when the disciples saw the risen Christ on the mountain in Galilee, they were amazed and troubled. Yet they worshipped him.

Do we see? Are we amazed? Are we truly worshipping? How many times do we remain blind to God’s presence? How can we worship in truth if we do not really see first? In our narrow vision, too often we see only our tangled disagreements, forgetting that God’s saving grace is to all, and that we share in the one Spirit who draws us into unity. Often in our pride we follow human laws and traditions, disregarding the love we are called to share as one people justified by Christ’s blood.

As communities enlivened by the Holy Spirit, we are called to walk together towards the Christ-Child, offering homage as one people. The Spirit of compassion guides us to each other and only by following this guide will we be able to “worship in spirit and truth”.

Prayer

Compassionate God, 
in your mercy, remove the scales from our eyes
and lead us to repent and to worship you.
In the midst of our sorrow and despite the depth of our sin,
give us the capacity to love you with all our hearts.
As we journey together with one heart and mind,
may we glorify you in the Spirit’s fellowship,
and witness to those around us.Amen.
Hymn Verse
Finish, then, Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be;
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in Heav'n we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.
                          Charles Wesley, 1747

Questions

Global: What are you doing as part of your own pattern of worship to pray for the worldwide church?

Local: Within your worship as a local Christian community what are the barriers you face to greater unity and how might they be overcome?

Personal: Can you remember a time when you were able to worship “in spirit and in truth”? What was it like?

Go and Do

(see www.ctbi.org.uk/goanddo)

Global: Use the ecumenical prayer cycle to pray with communities across the global Church – https://www.oikoumene.org/resources/prayer-cycle

Local: Partner with churches in your area to participate in a biblical dialogue to learn with a church community across the world. Visit Just Scripture to find out more – https://www.christianaid.org.uk/pray/join-in/just-scripture

Personal: Find and join an online service from a church of a different tradition. Join in this act of worship and reflect on what riches God has shown you through this different experience of worship together.

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14 January: Clouds over London, III.

Alice Meynell was much happier in London than either Mary Webb or Elizabeth Barrett, but she and her family spent plenty of time in the Sussex countryside, where the clouds can be seen and appreciated. London is different in this regard, possibly more so than in the late 19th Century. Today’s buildings cut the sky into ever smaller packets. Greenwich Park allowed us to take a step back and see the clouds of summer.

Needless to say, the cloud of a thunderous summer is the most beautiful of all.  It has spaces of a grey for which there is no name, and no other cloud looks over at a vanishing sun from such heights of blue air.  The shower-cloud, too, with its thin edges, comes across the sky with so influential a flight that no ship going out to sea can be better worth watching. 

The dullest thing perhaps in the London streets is that people take their rain there without knowing anything of the cloud that drops it.  It is merely rain, and means wetness.  The shower-cloud there has limits of time, but no limits of form, and no history whatever.  It has not come from the clear edge of the plain to the south, and will not shoulder anon the hill to the north.  The rain, for this city, hardly comes or goes; it does but begin and stop.  No one looks after it on the path of its retreat.

From The Colour of Life; and other essays on things seen and heard.

Do we take gifts for granted, without asking where they come from, without gratitude? Have we lost our sharpness of vision and imagination? What can we thank God, or someone for, today?

WT

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9 October, Little flowers of Saint Francis LXXXV: In a light of contemplation.

Picture from Christina Chase: Ste Anne de Beaupre.

Then Friar Leo, obedient, stood still and waited for him, with such fear that, as he afterwards told his companions, he would rather, at that moment, that the earth had swallowed him up than wait for Saint Francis, who he thought was angered with him; because with very great diligence he took heed not to offend his fatherhood, lest, through fault of his, Saint Francis should deprive him of his company.

When he had come up to him, Saint Francis asked him: “Who art thou?” and Friar Leo, all trembling, replied: “My father, I am Friar Leo”; and Saint Francis said unto him: “Wherefore didst thou come hither, friar little sheep? Did I not tell thee not to come and watch me? For holy obedience, tell me whether thou sawest or heardest aught.” Friar Leo replied: “Father, I heard thee speak and say many times: ‘Who art Thou, my most sweet God? What am I, most vile worm and Thine unprofitable servant?'” And then Friar Leo, kneeling down before St. Francis, confessed himself guilty of disobedience, in that he had done contrary to his commandment, and besought his pardon with many tears. And thereafter he prayed him devoutly that he would explain those words which he had heard, and would tell him those which he had not understood.

Then, seeing that to the humble Friar Leo God had revealed or granted to hear and to see certain things, by reason of his simplicity and purity, Saint Francis condescended to reveal and to explain unto him that which he asked; and he spake as follows: “Know, friar little sheep of Jesus Christ, that when I was saying those words which thou heardest, then were shown unto me two lights for my soul; the one of knowledge and understanding of my own self, the other of knowledge and understanding of the Creator. When I said: ‘Who art thou, O my most sweet God?’ then I was in a light of contemplation wherein I saw the abyss of the infinite goodness and wisdom and power of God; and when I said: ‘What am I?’ I was in a light of contemplation in the which I beheld the depth of my baseness and misery; and therefore I said: ‘Who art Thou, Lord of infinite goodness and wisdom, that deignest to visit me, that am a vile worm and abominable?’

And in that flame which thou sawest was God; who in that form spake with me, even as of old He spake unto Moses. And, among other things which He said unto me, He asked me to give Him three gifts; and I made answer: ‘Lord, I am all Thine; Thou knowest well that I have nothing beside the habit and the cord and the breeches, and even these three things are Thine; what then can I offer or give unto Thy majesty?’ Then God said unto me: ‘Search in thy bosom, and give Me that which thou findest therein’. I searched and found a ball of gold; and I offered it to God; and thus did I three times, even as God three times commanded me; and thereafter I kneeled me down three times and blessed and thanked God who had given me wherewith to offer Him. And straightway, it was given me to understand that these three offerings signified holy obedience, highest poverty and most resplendent chastity; the which God, through His grace, hath permitted me to observe so perfectly that my conscience accuseth me of nothing.

And as thou sawest me put my hands in my bosom and offer to God those three virtues symbolised by those three balls of gold, which God had placed in my bosom; so hath God given me such virtue in my soul that, for all the benefits and all the graces which He hath granted me of His most holy goodness, I ever praise and magnify Him with heart and mouth. These are the words which thou heardest when I thrice lifted up my hands, as thou sawest. But look to it, friar little sheep, that thou watch me no more; but return to thy cell with the blessing of God, and do thou have diligent care of me; because, a few days from now, God will do such great and marvellous things upon this mountain that all the world shall wonder thereat; for He will do certain new things, the which He hath never done unto any creature in this world.”

And, when he had spoken these words, he 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. 

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8 October, Little Flowers LXXXIV: A voice from the flame.

We have not read from the Little Flowers of Saint Francis for months, perhaps because we have been nearing the end of the book. Let’s make up for that by starting the account of the imprinting of the Stigmata. Francis at this time is living solitary a little way from the rest of the order. Brother Leo is his chief point of contact with his brethren; he used to recite the office with Francis – if Francis responded to his salutation …

Coming to the third reflection on the seraphic vision and the imprinting of the most holy Stigmata; as the time of the feast of the most holy Cross drew near, (14 September), one night Brother Leo went to the wonted place and at the wonted hour for to say Matins with Saint Francis, and when he said Domine, labia mea aperies* from the bridge-head as was his wont, Saint Francis made no answer. Brother Leo did not go back again, as Saint Francis had given him commandment; but with a good and holy intention, he crossed the bridge and entered softly into his cell, and not finding him, he thought that he might be praying somewhere in the wood; wherefore he came out again, and by the light of the moon went softly searching through the wood. At last he heard the voice of Saint Francis, and, drawing near, saw him on his knees in prayer, with face and hands raised up to Heaven; and in fervour of spirit he was saying: “Who art thou, O most sweet my God? What am I, most vile worm and Thine unprofitable servant?” And these words he said again and again, and spake no word beside.

Brother Leo, marvelling thereat, lifted up his eyes unto heaven, and as he looked, he saw coming down from heaven a torch of flame exceeding beautiful and bright, which, descending, rested on the head of Saint Francis; and out of the flame there came a voice that spake with Saint Francis, but Brother Leo could not understand the words. Hearing this, and deeming himself unworthy to stand so close to the holy place where that wondrous apparition was revealed, and fearing moreover to offend Saint Francis and disturb him in his contemplation, if perchance he should perceive him, he softly drew back, and standing afar off, waited to see the end: and gazing with eyes fixed, he saw Saint Francis stretch out his hands three times to the flame: and after a long space of time he saw the flame return to heaven.

Gladdened by the vision, he softly turned away to go to his cell again. And as he was going softly, deeming himself unseen, Saint Francis was aware of him by the rustling of the leaves beneath his feet, and bade him wait for him, and not to move.

* The first words of Morning Prayer (Matins): Lord, open my lips (and my mouth will declare thy praise.)

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26 August: final gain

Break upon our blindness with Thy light.
Show us, whatever we deem loss,
That love is final gain.


Alistair Maclean gathered the reflections we have shared these last few days from the ordinary people of the Hebrides where he was a Church of Scotland minister, and clearly a good listener. His mysticism is not superficial feel-good stuff, but is born of love of God and the world he has entrusted to us.

from Hebridean Altars, 1937.

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28 May: a Little Child shall lead them, Before the Cross XXVI.

Elham Church, Kent.

We walked to Elham on the recommendation of our daughter; we were not disappointed. Firstly, to find the King’s Arms open and ready to sell us good beer which we enjoyed in the square in the full Spring sunshine. And then there was the church, also open, ready to sell us good second-hand books, and ready to give us plenty to reflect upon.

These Easter Lilies were placed before a Madonna and child, but a very Paschal, Easter-minded Madonna and child. Two years ago we looked at a portrait of Mary and baby Jesus in a pieta-like pose, and I urge you to revisit that post now, to complement this one.

That old post considered two paintings from the studio of Rogier van de Weyden, of the mid-XV Century, the Madonna and a Pieta. In each Mary is tenderly holding her son, whose pose as a baby matches that of his lifeless corpse. This is not what our artist in Elham has in view. Jesus may be four years old here, a boy, not a baby, but still dependent on Mary and Joseph for everything.

The boy is very much alive, yet he is standing as if practising for his work on the Cross. He is lightly supported by his mother; at this age he can walk for himself, but that gentle uplift is reassuring. As for Mary, not for the last time she ponders these things in her heart, the heart pierced by the sword of sorrow.

Jesus is about to step forth from her lap. Any parent will know the excitement and trepidation of following a small child, where are they going, what dangers can we perceive that they do not? But letting them lead us is part of growth for the child and also for the parent who is offered the chance to see the world through fresh eyes.

Mary could not prevent the death of Jesus on the Cross but she was there to welcome him on the third day. Isaiah tells us that a little child shall lead them: may we follow him through all life’s trials to our resurrection in his Kingdom.

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9 May, Little flowers of Saint Francis LXXIV: returned to himself

And as Brother John with such words lay at the feet of Christ, his prayer was heard, and he received from Him the first grace, to wit the flame of love divine, and he felt altogether renewed and comforted and knowing within himself that the gift of divine grace had returned to him again, he began to give thanks unto the blessed Christ and devoutly kiss His feet.

As he rose up, to gaze upon the face of Christ, Jesu Christ stretched out His most holy hands for him to kiss; and when that Brother John had kissed them, he drew near and leaned upon the breast of Jesu and embraced and kissed Him; and Christ in like manner embraced and kissed him. And in this kiss and this embrace, Brother John perceived ao divine a fragrance, that had all the fragrant spices and all the sweet-smelling things of ail the earth been gathered together, they would have seemed but as a stench in comparison with that fragrance. Brother John was right well illumined and consoled, and that fragrance remained within his soul for many months. And thenceforth, from out hia mouth that had drunk of the fountain of divine wisdom in the sacred breast of the Saviour, there came forth marvellous and celestial words, that change the hearts of men and brought forth rich fruit of souls in those who heard them.
And in the little path in the wood, whereon the blessed feet of Christ had stood, and for a great space all around, did Brother John always perceive that fragrance and behold that splendour, whene’er he fared thither, and for a long time thereafter. When Brother John returned to himself again after this ecstasy, and the bodily presence of Christ had disappeared, he remained so illumined in his soul, from the abyss of His divinity, that albeit he was not a man learned through human study, yet in marvellous fashion he solved and explained the most subtle and lofty questions touching the divine Trinity, and the deep mysteries of the Holy Scripture. And oftentimes thereafter, when he spake before the pope, and the cardinals, and the king, and his barons, and the masters, and doctors, they were all amazed at the lofty words and the profound thoughts that he spake.

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8 May, Little flowers of Saint Francis LXXIII: fervour and desire.

the narrow ath

But since the desire of holy men, when God delays to hear, doth kindle in them greater love and merit, Christ, the blessed One, departed without hearing him, and without him speaking to him aught at all, and he went by the little pathway aforesaid. Then Brother John arose, and ran after Him, and once again threw himself at His feet, and with holy importunity held Him back, and with most devout tears besought Him, and said: “O most sweet Jesu Christ, have mercy upon me in my trouble; hear me for the multitude of Thy mercies, and for the truth of Thy salvation, and give back to me the joy of Thy countenance and Thy glance of pity, for the whole world is full of Thy mercy.
And still Christ departed and spake naught unto him, nor gave him any comfort; and He dealt with him even as a mother with her child, when she makes him desire the breast and makes him run behind weeping, to the end that he may thereafter receive it the more willingly. Brother John still followed Christ with greater fervour and desire; and when he was come close up to Him, the blessed Christ turned and looked upon him with a glad countenance and gracious; and opening His most holy and most pitying arms, embraced him very tenderly; and as He opened thus His arms, Brother John saw streaming from the most sacred breast of the Saviour rays of shining light, which illumined all the wood and him likewise, both in body and soul.
Then Brother John kneeled him down at the feet of Christ, and the blessed Christ of His loving kindness gave him His foot to kiss, as He did to the Magdalene; and Brother John holding it and with all reverence, bathed it with so many tears that he seemed a second Magdalene, saying devoutly:

‘I pray Thee, Lord, that Thou look not on my sins, but by Thy most holy passion and by the shedding of Thy most holy blood, revive my soul in the grace of Thy love, sith this is Thy commandment, that we love Thee with all our heart and with all our soul, the which commandment none can keep without Thy help. Help me then, most beloved Son of God, that I may love Thee with all my heart and with all my strength.”

This is a prayer any Christian could make their own; we do not ask to see the distant scene, let alone be assumed into it.

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

St Francis at Ste Anne de Beaupre, Canada



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

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

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

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

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