Tag Archives: Word

September 6. ‘Jesus beyond Dogma’, 4: Creation and Christ

Croix Rousse large

We have God totally alive, without violence or death; who has revealed himself as loving humanity so much as to give himself to us so that what is God’s life can be ours for the receiving – to live outside and beyond the culture of death – even now. But he reveals something else as well – God is Creator-God.

We have become accustomed to speak of creation and salvation as two separate realities: first there was creation which happened at the beginning; then the fall from grace in which we fell, needing someone to lift us out; God sent Jesus to save the situation. Looking at this model, it doesn’t look as though Jesus has made much difference; so we struggle and wait hoping finally that we’ll get the visa.

This model does nothing to encourage people to take seriously what they might do to improve things for themselves and others – other than treating symptoms by works of charity and overlooking the cause; seeing Christianity as promoting social progress. The problem with creation-fall-redemption-heaven model is not between redemption and heaven, but in the relationship between creation and heaven. There is a very big difference between a factory that makes cars and a garage that repairs them. If creation and redemption are two different realities it makes it difficult to see a relationship between Creator and Redeemer – in this scenario it’s not clear what God has to do with Jesus.

The Apostolic witness tells us there is a clear relationship, and that to say that God so loved the world that he sent is Son is not sufficient. This certainly reveals God as love but doesn’t show how that love has anything to do with creation. The hints we get from the apostolic group that there is something more are to be found in New Testament passages about the pre-existence of Christ, most notably –

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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made – John.1.1-3.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power – Hebrews 1.1-3.

Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live – 1Corinthians 8.6.

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross – Colossians 1.13-20.

We must ask: what was it that enabled the apostolic group to see this, to link creation and salvation in such a way that they come to be seen as the same thing? They weren’t asking questions, they were affirming something they already knew, from the Jesus they knew, that he was in some way involved in creation.

It seems that the Resurrection not only changed their perception of God by removing any remnant of violence, allowing God to be understood as total love, but it also brought a change in perception of God Creator. Jesus didn’t just add salvation to the already existing Jewish understanding of God Creator. The human perception of God as Creator is not a simple concept. There are austinmany accounts of gods creating and Genesis seems to suggest creation not from nothing but from a chaos needing to be ordered. This means that God is responsible not so much for creating everything out of nothing as for producing the order of the world. One of the things the Resurrection actually did was to separate God from any link with the order of this world, which has become a violent order based on death.

A McC

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31 May: The Visitation: Mary, Mother of God.

 

360px-Church_of_the_Visitation_IMG_0637On the feast of the Visitation, here is Fr Austin’s reflection on Mary, mother of God, and what that means for us.

When God chose to become part of Creation through the Incarnation, the motherhood of Mary was already implied. The Church says nothing about the course of her life from the day it began until the Annunciation. What happened during that time, what it meant to start life full of Grace we don’t know. It will have been ordinary, if only because ostentation and grace do not belong together.

Scripture does not primarily tell us of the dignity of Mary by recounting facts about her physical motherhood of Jesus, or say that Mary is Mother of God as a consequence of a physical event. It tells us what Mary did, and this shows her importance and dignity. Luke shows us Mary, becoming through free consent one who is blessed. Because the divine motherhood is described from the start, not simply as a biological event, but as taking place through a free, personal and grace-inspired act of faith, Mary is seen not simply with a private relationship to Jesus, but as inserting her into the wider story of redemption. She appears as a figure in history, like Abraham and other characters in the historical dialogue between God and Israel. We are simply told that this person was asked, and replied: be it done… Because of her consent, the Word became flesh, and Mary is Mother of God.

God created the world, and so everything belongs. But this creation can stand forever distant, or it can belong. Which of the two possibilities is actually realised is not finally decided by the fact of creation; it is only decided in the course of history. God created a world of free persons, and so a drama develops between God and the world. For God is not the only one who is active, producing the drama as though through puppets. God creates in freedom, so there actually does arise a dialogue between a free God and free human beings. From God’s point of view it is a dialogue always open; we can act freely as long as our history lasts, we can freely choose to respond in any way we like.

From a natural point of view God is free to choose to respond in whatever way; we do not know God will act in our regard. God could dissociate from us, or invite us closer. Happily, everything is very different from that. God has spoken clearly, definitively and irrevocably. This word has been spoken into creation, and it will not return to the Father without achieving its purpose. God’s intention has become flesh in our world. God has determined that the world itself shall be taken into eternal mercy, and that it now has a destiny that transcends its own natural one. Judgement is not God’s last word, but compassion; not isolation but intimacy.

The Word was made flesh because a girl of our race, listened, was apprehensive but cooperative and said yes, freely. This is the way God chose to become part of creation. Of course, Mary’s consent her willingness freely given is itself the fruit of grace. Yet though all this is the fruit of grace, yet it remains Mary’s own freely given consent. When God gives gifts they become precisely what is our own, completely identified with us. God gifts me with the ability to love worthily, yet with a love that is truly mine! It is as much mine as my life – since it is gifted from the same source.

Mary’s motherhood is by the grace of God alone, and her own free act, inseparably; and since this belongs intrinsically to the story of Redemption, it gives Mary a real relationship with us, since we are living within the history of redemption. To praise her motherhood is not to honour something belonging to her private life, but in the light of the context of the Incarnation, she is also mother to us.

Saint Francis tells us we are all mothers of the Lord – we have conceived through word and sacrament, now bring him to birth by the way you live.

AMcC.

 

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12 May: Reflection: The river of life

river.monnow. 

I remember spending a week in the house of a friend, on the bank of the river Monnow, in the Welsh borders. The sky arches over rich pastureland and rising hills. As the light of day fades, bats tumble and spin across the darkening sky. And night and day the river runs, playing over the rocks and shaping the land. I remember and am stilled by the sound of that river. The river is movement and presence: always new, yet older by far than I who hear it.

The prophet Ezekiel, writing in exile from his homeland, wrote of another river, flowing from the Temple, the dwelling place of God:

water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple…and it was a river that could not be crossed…This water flows towards the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. Wherever the river flows, every living creature that swarms will live…everything will live where the river goes. On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food…their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing.

  Ezekiel 47

The river of the life of God brings life to the place of death and decay; it is always creative, fruitful and medicinal.

Perhaps one way of thinking about the incarnation is as the pouring out of the life of God into all being like Ezekiel’s river. This river of the Word made flesh flows not only through green pastures but desert places, and because of the river, barren wastelands live. Because of Christ’s life, suffering, dying and rising there is no place of human struggle and despair where the river of hope will not and does not flow. This does not mean that we do not continue to experience pain, or no longer struggle to make sense of suffering. Christ still feels the pain of nails in his hands and the rejection of those who had been his followers; yet Christ is also risen, the tombstone rolled definitively away. In the Gospel of John, as Jesus dies, blood and water flow from his side. This moment of death is also the outpouring of life. A river flows.

The river always runs, and we are caught up in its flow; more than this, through the gift of God we discover this same river flowing within us. As Jesus told the Samaritan woman:

If only you knew what God is offering…you would have been the one to ask, and he would have given you living water…Whoever drinks this water will get thirsty again; but anyone who drinks the water that I shall give will never be thirsty again; the water that I shall give will turn into a spring within, welling up to eternal life.

John 4: 10-14

It was at night, when the last sheep call faded into the twilight, and the earth stilled that I heard most clearly the river running. Not that it wasn’t always flowing, but the sounds of the day, and the noise of my own activity prevented me from hearing it clearly. There are moments in the world of here and now when we hear the river flowing within all things and know this same river is the source of our own being, becoming and giving.

The river flows from the Temple of God, and sometimes, sometimes even at night, we hear it running. Wherever the river flows, through our own meanness and narrowness of heart, through the pain of loss or cruelty of others, unexpected trees grow with fruit for healing: – for our own easing, and to be shared with others.

CC.

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From 24 April: Spring Talks at the Franciscan International Study Centre.

samaritanwoman

Friar Austin’s Spring and Summer talks on Jesus beyond Dogma begin on Monday 24th April at 7.00 p.m. at the Franciscan International Study Centre, Giles Lane, Canterbury.

All are welcome to attend and join in the discussion!

There is ample parking at the Centre.

WT.

Mosaic at the Abbey of St Maurice, Valais, Switzerland.

 

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18 February: Convivial Grace.

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Where should we look for locations in which we experience Christ’s presence as healing, and thus as overcoming the bewilderment and fears which are too typical of our modern circumstances? Table fellowship, as some call it, table friendship, or the conviviality of a living community, happen better in some Christian settings than others.

This scene is one where barbeques have gone well, summer picnics have lasted for hours, and the spilling out of indoor celebrations have all been excellent occasions for informal interactions, concerned with inner peace and changes of direction. Unthreatening circumstances for sharing fears and bewilderment are essential for moving beyond fantasies and into strong life-affirming relationships.

But in such circumstances we must decide to put our religious self-awareness into convincing words and phrases. Perhaps we want a more sincere account of who we are than we had a month earlier. We alter our choice of adjectives. The novelist David Lodge claims that “the frequency of coincidence in fictional plots… is related to how much the writer feels he can ‘get away with’,” in order to show how vivid certain encounters or events were. Our stories told to friends may be altered also, to show how much God lets us get away with, in terms of kindness and forgiveness. On this point, David Jasper quotes Emily Dickinson: “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant… The Truth must dazzle gradually/ Or every man be blind.”

What is more life-affirming: vivid wickedness admitted, and partly abandoned, or vivid new expressions of compassion taken totally to heart? Grace has multiple versions.

Chris D.

January 2017.

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2 February: According to Thy Word

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Simeon

One cold January day I was informed that my student ‘was in a bad place’ and  had gone to  see a counsellor. Father Andrew’s words here would not resonate for them just now but this can be a difficult time of year for many people. As we come to Candlemas when Simeon met Mary and Joseph at the Temple, only to recognise Jesus as the Saviour, let us take to heart his words, accepting his own coming death in peace, while warning Mary of great hurt to come.

The Queen of Saints said, ‘Be it unto me according to Thy word,’ and old Simeon said, ‘Lord, now lettest thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word.’ The unfolding of what God’s word was to be for her meant, as Simeon told her, that a sword should pierce her own soul. It may be that you and I have to know the unfolding of God’s word in a soul-piercing. It does not cloud our joy really that it may be so, nor does it trespass upon our peace.

The Life and Letters of Fr Andrew p120.

Let us pray for all who feel broken hearted, desperate and desolate that they may find true peace even in great adversity.

 

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18 January: Relics VIII- Some stare with bewilderment.

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Fr Daniel Weatherley, a Kentish Man, is assistant priest at Saint Thomas’ parish in Canterbury. We welcome him to our team and look forward to more posts from him. He resumes our occasional series reflecting upon relics.

The stream of pilgrims and tourists to see the place of Thomas’ martyrdom continues – becketcarvingburgateand many come into our Church to see his relics. Some stare with bewilderment as to why we should pay honour to a piece of finger-bone! But let us think just what a finger that was! The finger of a hand which was extended in peace to friend and foreigner, to kings and serfs; which held the sacred texts of psalms chanted in long hours of pray; the hand raised in admonition and correction – even unto the King; which was raised in blessing and in the absolution of sins; the hands which offered to the Eternal Father the Body and Blood of His Son, whom Thomas served with such zeal and devotion.

May those who visit us here at St. Thomas’ own parish witness the invisible yet real testimony of lives lived every more consciously and deeply-immersed in the light of God’s Word, revealed in Scripture and explained in the teaching of the Church, and wonderfully strengthened in us by the Holy Spirit and humble participation in the Sacred Mysteries. And then might the earthly realm be seen in its true context: as the willing servant of and, ultimately, reflection of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Canterbury Cathedral, Eleanor Billingsley
Carving of St Thomas at his church, MMB

 

DWY

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April 7: Station IV – The Stranger Takes Over.

Was it not necessary…? [25-27]

The stranger now ‘takes over’. His listening has played an important part in ‘opening them up’, and making it clear just how badly shaken they are, especially in ‘their faith’, their confidence and trust in God and in Jesus as the Promised One, the Messiah. It is now time to call them back to the truth, and to the hope, that they had believed in when Jesus was with them, but which they clearly had never understood or accepted. But notice he does not tell them who he is—how could they have made sense of that? What he does is what he must have done many times before, while he was with them. Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in the scriptures, showing how it was necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory.

They must have had strange and wonderful feelings of having heard all this before. It was all coming back to them, and it was almost too much to take in. As they realised afterwards: Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us? He is revealing himself to them ‘through the Word’, even though their eyes are still ‘held’ and they do not recognise him. And an even more important point to make, perhaps, is that he is not revealing himself so much as re-awakening the faith they had previously had in him, and bringing them to see in a totally new way—God’s way—the true meaning of what has happened.

What is this like for us today?

Where might we have experienced something like this? Or where might we expect to experience it?

An experience of hearing/seeing in a completely new way something that we thought we could never understand or accept.

If, like these two disciples, we have tried to be honest about how we feel and what we struggle to accept in the Gospel message [or in the Church’s teaching/practice], how do we hear the stranger/ Jesus when he questions/challenges us: Was it not necessary…?

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Rood, Our Lady and English Martyrs, Cambridge.

  • Are we also ‘slow to believe’?
  • How do we hear him telling us that ‘the Way of the Cross’ is necessary—not just for him, but for anyone who accepts to follow him?
  • St Paul [1 Cor 1:18ff] spells out what it means to follow Jesus on the way of the cross: ‘The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God’. Do we accept that? How do we understand it?
  • We want to respond, but we need to hear how we are being called, and how we are to act—following the Way of the Cross, seeking always to choose/decide and act according to what God values: ‘what is foolish in the world…what is weak…low and despised…’ [1 Cor 1:27ff].
  • And here we can surely hear the clear call of the Gospel as Pope Francis is proclaiming it: The Church of the poor, for the poor…

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24 March: Bread and the Word.

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Christ himself told us that he is “the bread of life”, and scripture attests he is the Word who was with God, and who was God. 

These two claims that are the basis of our faith are statements woven throughout scripture and our theological beliefs.  They echo from Advent, when God’s salvation plan for His people is foretold by the prophets with the promise that the Messiah would come from the City of David, and continue through the earthly ministry of Christ from his birth, death, and resurrection.

Christ’s existence as the bread of life and the Word come together, in identical words, twice in scripture.  First in the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy (8:3) : “…man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord”, which the Evangelists Matthew (4:4) and Luke (4:4) both tell us Jesus quotes, verbatim, to his tempter after 40 days of fasting in the Judean wilderness.

More significantly, the two synonymic terms for Christ come together in the Holy Eucharist.  In the Blessed Sacrament, proclaimed by Blessed Pope Paul VI and the Council Fathers in Lumen Gentium 11 as “the source and summit of our faith” where through the mystery of transubstantiation, bread becomes the body of Christ, and the faithful receive the Word as this life giving bread.

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Indeed, prophecy was fulfilled with the birth of Christ in the City of David.  Even more amazingly, the Hebrew name of that town where Jesus was born, bêt-leḥem, means House of Bread!

DW.

The Rood at Our Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge. Note at the feet of Christ the host and chalice of the Eucharist. There are many scripture references in this portrayal, even though it does not show a ‘realistic’ crucifixion in earthly terms. This could be a meditation on Hebrews: notice the pallium on the Lord’s shoulders: a sign that he is the Lamb as well as the Good Shepherd; he is also priest and King … look on, and see more.

A different festive bread to that of Passover, the traditional English harvest loaf expresses thanks for the crops safely gathered in, and the offering of ourselves and all that sustains us in God’s earth. 

MMB.

 

 

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13th March – Revelation lets us into the love story between God and Creation

Forget-me-nots by the Forth and Clyde Canal, and in Lincoln Cathedral, MMB

God became as we are so that we can become as God is! But what have we done about this? We ignored the fact that we do not just need God’s Word, but also God’s meaning of God’s Word. What we have done is reduce it to a narrow and legalistic encounter between God and Humankind – keeping them apart from each other.

The Incarnation became an emergency service, a rescue operation; Jesus’ death was part of a bargain. This happened because of the mistaken view that the Incarnation happened because of sin. Instead of an awareness of God in the very heart of Creation, there has been concern [albeit unintentional] to keep Nature and Grace apart from each other; with negative consequences for understanding Church and Sacraments.

Thank God the time is now here when we can accept Revelation for what it is and not for what we make of it. Revelation lets us into the love story between God and Creation, through God’s determination to become one among us. Our basic humanity is the raw material for noticing this presence among us. It starts from appreciating human history as Original Grace and not Original Sin. In other words, God is totally with us in Jesus: this is who I am for you.

AMcC

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