Tag Archives: Word

27 December: Bird watching

 

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It’s been a while since we heard from Sheila Billingsley, but then we have three seasonal posts: Christmas morning and now two poems for consecutive feasts: saint John the Evangelist today, tomorrow the Holy Innocents. 

This is a fragment from an early papyrus copy of Saint John’s Gospel, held at the John Rylands Library, University of Manchester. Go and see it; it’s usually on show.  We are told in chapters 20 and 21 that the signs that Jesus worked were witnessed by the disciples and written down ‘that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you may have life through his name.


Bird watching

The evening sun has warmed the wall

At my back,

Soon to cool in the last of its light.

The eagle hovers,

Circling tirelessly.

All day it has been there

Circling ever higher, higher,

Wider, deeper,

Always above.

While I, sit like the ageing man that I am,

And wait.

Watching the great bird,

Surely the great bird watches me?

Oh lift me, bird, on strong wings

Until I can look into the sun.

I could write.

I should write.

But what to write?

And how?

Watching you, bird, in your calm drifting

His voice returns,

His nearness touches.

His command.

Write this!

Tell them that I Am the Beginning,

The start of everything.

Tell them that you knew me!

Heard me,

Touched me!

Tell, oh, tell of my Father and our Love.’

The sun is almost gone,

The bird, great eagle,

To its eyrie.

Now light the lamp,

Bring my papyrus,

Bring my pen …

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14 October: Make Obedience Sweet! John XXIII

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John may have been the pope who began to modernise the Church but he was still using what sounds like archaic language in this passage from Il Tiempo Massimo, on Obedience. But we should still get the message!

Here We address Ourself to those who have duties of direction and responsibility.

Demand a most generous obedience to the rules, but also be understanding of your fellow Sisters. Favor in each of them the development of natural aptitudes. The office of superiors is to make obedience sweet and not to obtain an exterior respect, still less to impose unbearable burdens.

Beloved daughters, We exhort all of you, live according to the spirit of this virtue, which is nourished by deep humility, by absolute disinterestedness and by complete detachment. When obedience has become the program of one’s whole life, one can understand the words of St. Catherine of Siena: “How sweet and glorious is this virtue in which all the other virtues are contained! Oh, obedience, you navigate without effort or danger and reach port safely! You conform to the only-begotten Word . . . you mount the ship of the most holy Cross to sustain the obedience of the Word, to not transgress it or depart from its teachings . . . you are great in unfailing perseverance, and so great is your strength from heaven to earth that you open heaven’s gates” (Dialogue, ch. 155.).

 

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14 August. What is Theology Saying? XXV: Jesus is the sacrament of our meeting with God.

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We know exactly what we mean when we say Jesus is man, and in our experience of this we have come to understand that he is divine. This understanding is not as though we grasp something beyond our experience, but it is what we meet in our experience. He is the sacrament of our meeting with God. We can’t meet God as God, because God is transcendent – which really means unmeetable! The Apostles told us that to meet Jesus was to be present to the invisible and untouchable God. In Jesus people were and are brought into contact with God – he is the encounter with God, he is divine.

Jesus knew himself as the Messiah, that in him God shares himself and communicates his presence, bringing pardon and peace to the world. But when God utters himself in a created reality it will necessarily be provisional, something finite. Any reality in the history of the world as God’s creature, is finite. If God wishes to say something definitive through reality, this reality will have to have such an association with God as to be the reality of God himself though not identical. God’s reality and Jesus’ creatureliness remain unconfused.

In Jesus we have a human being intimately one with God and at the same time in solidarity with humankind. In his death he surrenders completely to God while showing total and unswerving love for humankind. The victory of God’s forgiveness is complete and irreversible; and in God’s acceptance – the Resurrection – Jesus is confirmed as God’s self-communication to creation. But what does this mean? Any revelation revealing God through finite means thereby remains open to revision – nothing finite is necessary. Which means that if this is so, the creaturely reality [humanity of Jesus] must in some way be God’s own reality. A prophet can speak in God’s name, but remains finite and can be surpassed; only God’s Word in person can be definitive.

AMcC

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13 May: What is Theology saying? VIII: Our faith confesses Jesus as Lord

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Our faith confesses Jesus as Lord, uniquely Son of God, and therefore the definitive Word of God spoken in history. Which only makes sense if we understand that it is a fully human word that is spoken. He struggled to express in the Aramaic words of his culture and his own experience, his human understanding of the divine meaning of his own life and existence in the world. Likewise with typical Jewish gestures and signs, and in the way he shaped his life and responded to the way others shaped it.

When the Apostles began passing on his message, they didn’t begin by reporting what he said. They first mention their own Easter experience, their experience of the Resurrection. What they saw was his way of meeting death and bursting its bonds. For them, the meaning of Jesus was something that could not be contained entirely in words; and Revelation could not be entirely communicated in words.

What was this Revelation? It was first and foremost the full experience of his presence, his companionship and friendship giving meaning to their own lives. Only secondarily, and within the embrace of friendship, did they receive explanations in which Jesus gave his own prophetic interpretation of why he was present with them. They received his words through living with him and living as he lived. Only by doing this did they come to reflect on what he said, and because of this proclaimed the reality in their own words; a further prophetic interpretation – extending the presence of Christ further into the world.

We have the classic collection of these words – the New Testament. We also have a collection of prophetic interpretations of what the apostolic community was like passed on to us by tradition; consisting of liturgical and catechetical formulae of all kinds [e.g. the Creeds]. These testimonies are more elusive because they have been worked out and refined through the centuries. This asks an important question about Revelation. If a text or prayer is written after the time of the apostles, does this make it less sacred or less revealed? Did Revelation stop when the last apostle died? Obviously, the interpretation of the apostles is special, indeed unique, simply through their personal presence at the heart of the Christian event.

If Jesus is the Revelation of God because of the conversation we now have with God – which he achieved during his life as it unfolded, and because of the way he met and overcame death, then those who walked with him had an experience definitive for all time. He changed radically our understanding of life in a way that will never change again. The Apostles are witnesses in a way no one else can be.

AMcC

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12 May: What is theology saying? VII: Scripture speaks of God’s self-revealing

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There are three important aspects to the biblical understanding of Revelation. A progressive understanding of what Revelation is about – God is becoming more and more personal in the demands he makes. These demands find their concrete definition in Jesus, who speaks clear words in a human language with ordinary signs of love and trust. It is the nature of Revelation to be progressive – with signs that become clearer and demands become more specific for us individually and all of us together.

Scripture speaks mainly of God’s self-revealing – but keeps referring back to the Word already spoken in creation – and not just Genesis, but Psalms and the Wisdom literature – Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiasticus [Ben Sira], Wisdom of Solomon – all make references to God self-revealed in Creation. The New Testament writers frequently echo this.

Prophetic interpretation – the events of history by themselves do not constitute revelation, nor does the simple narration of them – it is only by prophetic interpretation they become revealing. The prophet speaks for God, telling the meaning of events that are happening. This is why Roman or Syrian records of the Maccabean wars would not be testimony of God’s revelation to us, while the Jewish accounts do give such testimony.

This raises the question as to how people come to speak of God, how they know what to say, and how specific words and expressions become canonical – binding for the whole tradition. Revelation is a constant dialogue/conversation between God and us, and the focus is Jesus Christ. Jesus is in the world not simply to bring revelation, like a message from above. He is in the world to be Revelation. He is a happening and gives his own prophetic interpretation of himself. As a happening he is a human being totally open to all possibilities of being and love offered by God. As a prophetic interpretation he explains the nature of God as a huge welcome to all existence and becoming.

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As a happening he is fully alive among us – which makes him the first recipient of God’s self-revealing. The Gospels show him constant in prayer with the Father, growing in wisdom, admitting there were things he did not know, gradually becoming more aware of his own mission and destiny. The New Testament shows him living his life in such a way as to become more constantly aware of what being human really means, and sharing this with his followers.

Our faith confesses Jesus as Lord, uniquely Son of God, and therefore the definitive Word of God spoken in history.

AMcC

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February 2, Aberdaron XI: Air.

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Words on the air? Heard, half-heard?

The same words speaking a different truth on a different day.

The toddler’s joy in words.

The venom of trolls who would not dare speak their words on the air.

 

We will return to R. S. Thomas, and after tomorrow, we will no doubt return to Aberdaron. Meantime, let us speak words of peace.

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Please support Sister Rose for her sleep-out in Littlehampton on Saturday 24th February to raise funds for Worthing Churches Homeless Project. Sister now has a website for donations:

https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/rosearden-close1

Thank you, Maurice.

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November 21: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xxi – ‘Challenged to respond unconditionally’.

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NASA

Faith has more to do with getting the right question, not necessarily the right answer. Nature has its own unique way of asking questions. Everything from galaxies to people is gifted in love. This is so because the relating in everything is attracted by goodness. God is unconditional love; don’t waste time trying to persuade God to love – we have always been loved. We tend to seek and offer love with conditions attached – so that unconditional love is unknown territory for us. Jesus is God’s Word that we are loved unconditionally. If I am loved unconditionally, I am being gently challenged to respond unconditionally.

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This was a step too far for the rich young man who went away – sad! This is not a request [command] from God that we must respond in the same way – what matters is that we love whatever unconditionally; there is no real experience of love where there are conditions. Loving God means being one with God in loving without conditions – notice loving, not necessarily loving God. The only way we can co-create our world is by becoming unconditional lovers.

Love changes everything – says the song [Les Miserables]. The major change is that where there is unconditional love there can be no hierarchical living, so we are now living by mutually empowering partnership. Co-dependency based on child/parent modelling has no place where adults relate inter-dependently. See the flowers of the field, the birds in the sky, they trust unconditionally so why can’t I? Love is not something to be performed, love is the unconditional response to unconditional gift.

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

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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

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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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