29 December 2010

Reflection: 12-10

Because of God’s tender mercy,
the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
and to guide us to the path of peace. (Luke 1.78-79)

As I am writing this, we are counting down the days and waiting with bated breath, our hearts filled with hope and anticipation, for the arrival of God in our midst. While we are waiting for this, my mind quickly jumps to how God arrived so long ago - a babe in a manger - and a question comes rushing to the fore: What does this tell us about God? What does this tell about our images of God? What does this helpless child lying in swaddling clothes tell us about our understanding of God’s nature and character? And to go just a bit further, how do these questions (and their responses) shape us who are followers of this God whom chose to be seen as a helpless babe in a manger?

It is with these questions in mind that I reflect on my latest reading, The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. It is stated that this book is ‘second only to the Bible in sales and popularity among religious readers’ (pg. 8). And I can see why. Though ‘dry’ in spots, it has some good insights and practical wisdom that I recommend it highly but with a word of caution.

The book is actually a collection of four books that Fr Thomas wrote in the early fifteenth century while serving with the Brethren of a Common Life in the Netherlands.

The imitation comprises four subsections, or “Book”: (1) Counsels of the Spiritual Life, (2) Counsel on the Inner Life, (3) On Inward Consolation, and (4) On the Blessed Sacrament. Each section is made up of a series of short meditations that lead the novice deeper and deeper into the union with Christ. Unity with Christ was to be realized not only through contemplation, but also through inward and outward imitation of Christ, as well as sacramental oneness with him. These four books circulated separately prior to being circulated as a unified work (pg 11).

Before we get into some of the practical wisdom of this book, I want to just touch upon the part that makes me cautious about to whom I would recommend this book. Over and over again, the careless reader would get the impression that Fr Thomas believes that life here is not important, even less sacred. Through various statements, the reader may understand that the ‘real’ life is to be found outside of this existence ‘in heaven’. This can be seen very early in the first book.

Endeavour therefore to withdraw thy heart from the love of visible things, and to turn thyself to things invisible. For they that follow their own sensuality, defile their conscience, and lose the grace of God (pg 20).

Without thinking deeply on this, one could see how one would start to believe that this world is to be forsaken in place of the heavenly one. Further...

He therefore that intendeth to attain to the more inward and spiritual things of religion, must with Jesus depart from the multitude (pg 61).

Here again, if one is not careful, one would see that the best thing to do would be to become a hermit or leave this world altogether by death since it is here that one is tempted and can not attain ‘inward and spiritual things of religion’.

But this really isn’t what Fr Thomas is stating. The whole theme of this book is to imitate Christ - and Christ was all about being here, on earth, in all of its’ muddledness. Through Jesus, God chose humility and became human, became a created being of the earth. To me, this speaks volumes about the sacredness of life in our worlds realm. And it is to this humility that Fr Thomas goes to over and over again. For example:

The deepest and most profitable reading is this, the true knowledge and contempt of ourselves. It is great wisdom and high perfection to esteem nothing of ourselves, and to think always well and highly of others (pg 22).

And...

If there by any good in thee, believe better things of others, that so thou mayest preserve humility. It doth no hurt to thee to set thyself lower than all men, but it hurteth thee exceedingly if thou set thyself before even one man. Continual peace is with the humble; but in the heart of the proud is envy and frequent indignation (pg 33).

And...

Learn to humble thyself, thou earth and clay, and to bow thyself down under the feet of all men. Learn to break thine own wishes, and to yield thyself to all subjection. Be fiercely hot against thyself, and suffer no swelling of pride to dwell in the: but shew thyself so humble and so very small, that all may be able to walk over thee, and to tread thee down as the mire of the streets (pg 145).

On more than one occasion, I have stated that the ‘will of God’ for those who follow Jesus is to be found in Matthew 5 - 7 (cf. Luke 6), a passage we call the ‘Sermon on the Mount’. In that sermon, Jesus clearly stated that we who follow him are to be humble, that we are not to judge others, that we are too think more highly of them than ourselves, that we are to love our enemies, that we are to be people of non-violence and on and on and on.

Furthermore, The Way of Living, our Prayer Book in the Lindisfarne Community, contains this quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

The restoration of the church will surely come from a new kind of monasticism, which will have nothing in common with the old but a life of uncompromising adherence to the Sermon on the Mount in imitation of Christ. I believe the time has come to rally people together for this.

This shows me at least one thing - for us as a community, we are on the right track. I am convinced more and more each day that St Paul was correct when he wrote, ‘[Creation] looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time’ (Romans 8.21-22). That is, ‘creation’ is yearning for humble honesty; for people who are authentic and, yes, Christ-like. There are too many of us who put ourselves above others. sadly, we serve our own wills rather than serving the community: ‘He doeth well that serveth the community rather than his own will’ (pg 49).

So, let’s go back to our questions. God came to us as a child; a helpless infant born in a manger among livestock. The Creator God, the one who made all that is seen and unseen gave us a key into how we should be. And it didn’t stop there. During Jesus’ pubic ministry, he stated more than once to let the children come to him ‘For the Realm of God belongs to those who are like these children’ (Matthew 19.14).

What is it about an infant that God wants us to see? What picture or image or sign post is God trying to show us about Godself? Is it complete helplessness? Is it the total dependence on others? Is it that an infant does not know of things like hate or evil or enemies or war? It seems that all that a baby knows is the good of others. She does not think of herself more highly than others. She does not think that she is always right and everyone else is wrong. She does not see any difference between political parties or men and women or persons of color or persons of different sexual preferences. All she knows is that others take care of her. When she is hungry, others feed her. When she is dirty, others clean her. When she is naked, others clothe her. When she is cold, others warm her. A baby only knows of the actions of others and through those actions she knows love. Is this what God is saying to us? I believe it is.

As we are continuing our celebration of the coming of God, remember that it is through our acts of kindness and love that we are known as children of God.

Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. In that way you will be acting as true children of your Father-Mother in heaven. (Luke 6; Matthew 5)



~~~
In the Love of the Three in One,

Jack+, LC

26 December 2010

Collect for the First Sunday After Christmas Day

Loving God, you have poured out upon us the new light of your incarnate Wisdom: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine fourth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Saviour, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

25 December 2010

Collect for Christmas Day

Loving God, you have given your only-begotten Child to take our nature, and to be born this day of a virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Savior Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

19 December 2010

Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Purify our conscience, Loving God, by your daily visitation, that your Child Jesus Christ, at the coming in glory, may find in us a home prepared for Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

12 December 2010

Collect for the Third Sunday of Advent

Stir up your power, O God, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Savior, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever.  Amen.

07 December 2010

Wordle


This is the Wordle for my blog. I like the font (Gentium - it’s my favorite) and I really like the fact that God is the largest word with Jesus, Nature, and One, pretty much tying for second.


~~~
In the Grace of the Three in One,

Jack+, LC

05 December 2010

Collect for the Second Sunday of Advent

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

01 December 2010

Reflection: 11-10


‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’

So goes one of the most famous quotes of all time. It was given by Julian (or Juliana) of Norwich. She lived in England during the mid to late fourteenth century and died in the early fifteenth century (roughly a hundred years before Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses). When she was thirty, she suffered a terrible illness for which she was bed-ridden. What is interesting about that is that she prayed for this,

These Revelations were shewed to a simple creature unlettered, the year of our Lord 1373, the Thirteenth day of May. Which creature had afore desired three gifts of God. The First was mind of His Passion; the Second was bodily sickness in youth, at thirty years of age; the Third was to have of God’s gift three wounds.

Apparently, God answered her prayer - so let’s be careful for what we pray! But what is fascinating  to me is that she was even allowed to publish her book, Revelations of Divine Love (which may have been the first book published by an English speaking woman) and was not even debated or labeled a heretic for her views. At the time, and even now, her views would be considered heretical. She believed that God was all loving and not wrathful; that sin was necessary; and, perhaps most shockingly of all, she called Jesus ‘Mother’.

As I was reading this book, in the back of my mind, I wondered how this would have read if Julian was not ‘trapped’ in the six-line story?* That is, if she was not a child of the Greco-Roman reading of the biblical narrative, how different would her understandings of her visions been? At first, I thought they would have been greatly different. However, the further one gets in the book, the more one sees that her understandings of the ‘shewings’ were not really tied to the Greco-Roman way of seeing. More often than not, they were tied to the Celtic way of seeing and, in my mind, more of the biblical way of seeing. For example, on page 85 and 86 she wrote,

God is Nature in His being: that is to say, that Goodness that is Nature, it is God. He is the ground, He is the substance, He is the same thing that is Nature-hood. And He is very Father and very Mother of Nature: and all natures that He hath made to flow out of Him to work His will shall be restored and brought again into Him by the salvation of man through the working of Grace...

Nature is all good and fair in itself, and Grace was sent out to save Nature and destroy sin, and bring again fair nature to the blessed point from whence it came: that is God; with more nobleness and worship by the virtuous working of Grace. For it shall be seen afore God by all His Holy in joy without end that Nature hath been assayed in the fire of tribulation and therein hath been found no flaw, no fault. Thus are Nature and Grace of one accord: for Grace is God, as Nature is God: He is two in manner of working and one in love; and neither of these worketh without other: they be not disparted.

And when we by Mercy of God and His help accord us to Nature and Grace, we shall see verily that sin is in sooth viler and more painful than hell, without likeness: for it is contrary to our fair nature. For as verily as sin is unclean, so verily is it unnatural...

Here we see what many ‘post post-modern’ theologians are saying: Creation is good, indeed ‘very good’ and that buried deep within humanity is the Light of God. This light is our true and ‘fair nature’ and sin is foreign to us and all of creation.

Nature, working with Grace, should be leading us back to God because the goodness of Nature is God. However, I believe deeply in my bones, the reason that a lot of people miss this is because of what has been ingrained within us from the Western churches: we and all of creation are lost; we and all of creation are enemies of God; we and all of creation are good for nothing save the pits of hell itself.  It is because of this belief - this way of seeing - that we can not believe that God is in Nature. This is one of the reasons for we have such a low estimate of the environment. We don’t see it as sacred. We see it as something that is to be exploited for our own benefit. We would not be in such a global mess if we took such a sacred understanding of Nature.

Furthermore, we don’t see God in the Other therefore we do not look for God. We hold to the old way of seeing that we are the only ones God loves and all the rest are lost. Not so with Julian:

For the fulness of joy is to behold God in all: for by the same blessed Might, Wisdom, and Love, that He made all-thing, to the same end our good Lord leadeth it continually, and thereto Himself shall bring it; and when it is time we shall see it (pg 38).

‘[The] fulness of joy is to behold God in all’. That is truly a key. It is a key to unlocking many doors in our time. For so long we have been told that it is only within Christianity (and by that we are to understand our brand of Christianity) that God can be found. But, more and more of us are finding God in the Stranger. It reminds me of a story Jesus told about a person who was robbed and left for dead (Luke 10.30-37). A priest happened upon the poor man and crossed the street so he wouldn’t have to deal with the man. Next came a Temple assistant who did likewise (maybe the assistant saw what the priest had done and followed that example). But next came a ‘despised Samaritan’. When he saw the poor man, the Samaritan treated his wounds, rescued him, and took the wounded man to a place of healing. The Samaritan then paid the man’s medical bill and stated that he would pay any incurring costs when he came back. As we know, this story was told to answer the question of ‘Who is my neighbor?’ After telling the story, Jesus asked those listening who the neighbor was in the story. ‘The one who showed mercy’ was the reply.

What is important about that story is that the hero was the ‘despised Samaritan’. It was the ‘Other’ that exemplified the character and nature of God. Not the religious people. They treated the injured man as someone less than human. In other words, God can be found in the least expected place. We are invited to look for God in those around us. We are invited to see that there is no difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’. We are all one. We are all God’s people. Some are further along the journey than others. But we are still on the same journey. Where does this journey take us? Back to God from whence we came. ‘All natures...shall be restored and brought again into Him...He made all-thing, to the same end our good Lord leadeth it continually, and thereto Himself shall bring it...’

To sharpen this point a little further, Julian states,

Truth seeth God, and Wisdom beholdeth God, and of these two cometh the third: that is, a holy marvellous delight in God; which is Love. Where Truth and Wisdom are verily, there is Love verily, coming of them both.

In the Lindisfarne Community, I have heard it said that ‘all truth is God’s truth’. And since that is so, those who are seeking Truth are seeking God. Therefore, we should not be surprised to find God within those people who are seeking Truth.

The last point I want to ponder is Julian’s idea that gender is not an issue with her understanding of God. In fact, she often used different nouns/pronouns within the same sentences when referring to God and/or Jesus. Here are some examples.

Jesus Christ that doeth good against evil is our Very Mother: we have our Being in Him, -- where the Ground of Motherhood beginneth, -- with all the sweet Keeping of Love that endless followeth. As verily as God is our Father, so verily God is our Mother; and that shewed He in all, and especially in these sweet words where He saith: I it am (or ‘It is I’ - J+) (pg 81).

And,

[Our] high God is sovereign Wisdom of all: in this low place He arrayed and dight (prepared - J+) Him full ready in our poor flesh, Himself to do the service and the office of Motherhood in all things (pg 82).

In particular, she saw in the very life and Passion of Jesus the preeminent example of Motherhood.

The Mother’s service is nearest, readiest, and surest: [nearest, for it is most of nature; readiest, for it is most of love; and surest] for it is most of truth. This office none might, nor could, nor ever should do to the full, but He alone. We know that all our mothers’ [bearing of] us to pain and to dying: and what is this but that our Very Mother, Jesus, He -- All-Love -- beareth us to joy and to endless living? -- blessed may He be (pg 82)!

I had never looked at the Passion in this way (and by Passion, I mean the events and suffering of Jesus in the hours before and including his trial and crucifixion). But as soon as I read those words from Julian, it made a lot of sense. The image became more clear when I read this passage:

The mother may give her child suck of her milk, but our precious Mother, Jesus, He may feed us with Himself, and doeth it, full courteously and full tenderly, with the Blessed Sacrament that is precious food of my life; and with all the sweet Sacraments He sustaineth us full mercifully and graciously.

Here again, the sacrifices of a mother giving of her own body are but a glimpse of the true Nature of God.

But this way of seeing begs the question: Where has this been the whole of Christians history? How many lives have been discarded by only a Paternal understanding of God? How many more lives could have - would have - been rescued if this type of understanding was allowed to be heard? I would say the numbers are countless. Thank God that they are still made available! Thank God that common folk can find and read them. That we can have our eyes opened in new and exciting ways. That our understanding of God is not limited to one way of seeing - even if we are banished and scolded and told there are no other ways of understanding God. My prayer is that these types of writings, these ways of seeing, will continue to be made manifest. And because of them we will get a better understanding of God.

~~~
In the Love of the Three in One,
Jack+, LC

~~~
*The ‘six-line story’ and the ‘Greco-Roman’ reading refers to Brian McLaren’s book, A New Kind of Christianity.