Making a Mystery of a Real Presence.

1-3-20161023031044

Making a Mystery of a Real Presence.

The Institution of the Eucharist must have seemed one of the simplest and least complicated of Jesus’ instructions to his Apostles.

At the Passover meal there would have been:

Zeroah, the leg bone of a lamb, a reminder of the sacrificial lamb on the night of the Passover.

Charoseth, sweet rich mixture of fruit and nuts, a reminder of the building of the pyramids as slaves, being like mortar.

A hard-boiled egg whose exact significance is now disputed.

Mar’or bitter herb conveying the bitterness of slavery

Karpas, greens which represent the springtime.

A bowl of salt water symbolising the tears of slaves and slavery.

Matzos, unleavened bread, underlining the haste of the flight from Egypt.

Symbol after Symbol.

At the Passover meal four cups of wine were drunk, each with a special significance, as were the ritual libations, spilling wine onto a symbolic broken plate.  That last evening which Jesus spent with his Apostles was saturated in symbolism, each designed to bring alive an aspect of the greatest Jewish miracle of all, God’s liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt.

So what is utterly surprising to me is how the Catholic Church got hung up on denying that Jesus’ instructions to take and eat the bread and to drink the wine were not intended in the same spirit as the rest of the Passover symbols.  Jesus even says, “Do this in memory of me.”  Just as the whole Passover celebration is about remembering being freed from slavery.

Today, we understand the power of “symbols” much better.  We don’t need “sight, touch and taste” to be deceived for the words, “This is my Body” to have a full impact.  We know that symbols work powerfully on the subconscious.  The “Real Presence” road is bumpy and for today’s educated young, largely full of potholes. It is redundant and should no longer be a stumbling block for Christian Unity.

Perhaps, too, we might be freed by loosening our grip on Eucharistic doctrine which is a bit of a sacred cow for us Catholics. We might be freed to go from a Celebration of the Eucharist, the great celebration in communion and community of God’s Love really present among us, out of the church and into the streets, rejoicing to meet Christ himself in the poor, the bereaved, the meek, the wife or husband, the addict: indeed in other people.  That, after all, is where Jesus said he would be really present. And, as we know in our hearts, in our own selves.

Really New Evangelism. The 3 R’s

Really New Evangelism. The 3 R’s.  The First “R”.

We are all inside of our skin.

We are all inside of our skin.

Receive.

When we come across good news we long to tell it and to share it. The more it excites us the more urgent is our desire for others to listen, to hear our news. We want to impart, to give.

The reality is that we each live within our own skins.  People think I am always on the move, changing places.  Not at all: I’ve been inside my skin all the time, that’s where the real changes take place for me and for all of us – in our hearts, in our minds and also in this skin which contains each of us.  None of us want this place to be invaded: access should only be by invitation.

The men, after the Mass during the January fiestas in Acehuche, Caceres.
The men, after the Mass during the January fiestas in Acehuche, Caceres.  A cunning evangelical strategy.

Receiving the Word of others.

I have wondered and prayed for many years about how to talk, to know what to say, about God, the Gospel, Jesus, and everything which might make up an “Evangelical package”. I still know my Catechism answers and also accept that how I am in myself, expressed in what I do and say every day, is testimony or witness to God’s love, or so I would like it to be.  Yet words about God, Jesus and the whole bundle of Christian teaching do not flow easily from me.

Quiet places and silent prayer.
Quiet places and silent prayer.

I do tell people that I pray; that I give time to prayer.  Most people I meet on my travels take this as an opening to explain to me that they, too, pray but don’t like the churches or religions or priests. They add their horror stories of insensitive clergymen, sadistic nuns and judgemental neighbours.  Often they put in a good word for Buddhism and re-incarnation while various forms of paganism are held in high esteem for their embracing of Nature.

And who would not want to embrace Nature?
An equinoxal sunrise.                                                                                                                                                    And who would not want to embrace Nature?

Receiving, Receiving, Receiving.

I often wonder why atheists should bother about being Confirmed but I meet quite a few.  Every now and then my logical part is right with them.  Many atheists also pray and, strange as it may seem, are often outwardly loving, generous and Christian folk.  I receive what they say to me about their beliefs as a gift.

My vocation, I now feel, is neither to teach nor to preach.  I practise as best as I can  passive evangelism – a form of contemplation in inaction. I receive and welcome, without either moral or intellectual judgement, the musings, the stories, the beliefs, the angers and fears and joys of those I meet.  It is an easy yoke after all. I am enriched by so many and would be quite struck dumb if I didn’t frequently encounter a strong affinity with others in my deepest core, in the place where  Love has begged to be invited in and has always been hiding.  It’s then that conversation begins and I am  converted: over and over again.  It all happens inside my skin.

Affinity in a chord.
Affinity in a chord.

Receive.

To be touched, to be moved,  to be silent, to be present, to let be and to love: to be hungry for all of these is to tell the Good News.  Of course there are a fair number of really boring people – that’s the bad news. Some of them even preach in our churches.   That ministry, I think,  is a very special calling.   However, the really Good News for evangelists is that there is no need to preach or teach or mention God, as the second “R” will confirm.

The second “R”  click here

REALLY NEW EVANGELISM. THE 3 R’S (2)

REALLY NEW EVANGELISM. THE 3 R’S. The second “R”.

W see, through a glass, darkly. (1 Corinthians 13: 12-13)
We see, through a glass, darkly. (1 Corinthians 13: 12-13)

Recognise.

(the first post in this series is here)

In the context of New Evangelisation I often hear the phrase..”In this de-Christianised world of ours…”  or something similar.  When people say this what are they seeing?  How do they see the world?  Very darkly indeed, I presume.

Maybe they are seeing the sharp decline in church attendance, the changing patterns of lifestyle and relationships and the global rise in consumerism.  Perhaps such things obscure their vision.  The first premise, surely, of all Evangelisation is that God is present here among us now. We are all his children: already.

When I was in teaching I used to say to my teachers, “Your job is not  to teach so much as to recognise and celebrate the learning that you discover in your pupils.”  The challenge to the staff was to offer experiences in which the learning of pupils could be recognised by them and celebrated by all.  To evangelise is to recognise Christ in all people, in each person we meet.

memories for the 79 people who died on the rails below this bridge in Santiago de Compostella, July 24th 2013.
Little recognitions for the 79 people who died on the rails below this bridge in Santiago de Compostella, July 24th 2013.

Recognise God in all things and all of his children.

I struggle with my prejudices.  My skin, like all human skin is transparent and more or less soft but I inhabit another shell which is thick and solid and opaque: it protects me and imprisons me.  It excludes those I distrust because they seem to be different from me and might damage me.  It prevents me from recognising others as my bothers and sisters.

I struggle with my selective intellect.  My world is defined by what I already know and understand.  My preferred authors are those in whose books I can read what I already think.  I want others to obey the rules of the logic my Scottish, Catholic culture wrote into my cells from their inception.

Seeing the whole picture is not easy.
Seeing the whole picture is not easy.

Though you have eyes, don’t you see: though you have ears don’t you hear?”

I have found the advice of Ignatius Loyola very effective when it comes to dealing with my solid outer crust and love of familiarity and comfort which dulls my vision.  It is simple: to correct an imbalance lean in the other direction. So at table I avoid those I would prefer to sit beside and talk with people to whom I am not attracted or even find distasteful.  Nearly always I see much which I hadn´t seen and hear things I would not normally hear. I begin to recognise Christ’s presence where I would not have chosen to look.

At first sight we do not see the treasures in the other.
At first sight we do not always see the treasures in the other.

Recognise God in all people.

The task is not as much to preach as to recognise and celebrate God’s presence in every person.  If we start with the premise that some people don’t know God and that we do, we are blind.  The challenge to the evangelist is to offer a shared space of communion in which he or she can recognise and celebrate God’s loving presence in the other and in all people.  This happens especially by Receiving the other into our open hearts and open minds.

As noted in The first ¨R¨¨,  ” the really Good News for evangelists is that there is no need to preach or teach or mention God,”  We might even see that  there is a strong correlation between the decline in church attendence and the unprecedented growth in christian values and practice in the past 100 years by people of all faiths and none.   We all accept the decline of church attendence in the USA and Europe – and just Google “Is the world getting better or worse?” to see masses of evidence that as the prayer of the Iona Community affirms, “God’s goodness is planted more deeply than all that is wrong.”

Crude perhaps, but gives thumbs up to goodness.
Crude perhaps, but gives thumbs up to goodness.

Recognising and celebrating such growth is the work of evangelisation.  It is nothing more than “seeing” God’s Love present with us now, as it always has been and will be. This, after all, is the Good News.  Let us shake off the need to have others think like us and believe what we believe.  That, for me, is not evangelisation.  Instead let us recognise and celebrate, without pause, God’s loving presence in every aspect of our lives and in the lives of others.  The third “R” shows how effortless this task is.

Evangelising on the beach.
Evangelising on the beach.

further reading: from Lausanneworldpulse.com  which I recommend highly

 

The third “R” – click here

The first “R” – clicl here

REALLY NEW EVANGELISM. THE 3 R’S. (3).

REALLY NEW EVANGELISM. THE 3 R’S. The third “R”.

Relax
Relax

Relax.

“Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.”  Mark 4:27

I occasionally feel that some who wish to evangelise don’t trust in God enough to leave Him to get on with His own work.  Evangelists can appear to see their job as sowers of the seed, as in the parable of the sower.   Of course, it is God who is the sower: it is his Word which He scatters.  We are the recipients – the bushes, the weeds, the stones and the earth.  At best we are fertile soil.  That is why the work of evangelism is to Receive and to Recognise the Word as it rains down randomly upon us.

He ploughs the fields and scatters.
He ploughs the fields and scatters.

Relax –  it is not about sales.

God’s love is what is.  We already have it with us, inside our skins.  The Gospel does not need promotion or urgent campaigns  for recruitment.

Receiving and Recognising are about communion and praising God; not about selling what we believe to others. Receiving is an act of communion in which I am the one who is converted, over and over again.  This means that our acts of communion, thanksgiving and eucharist are also acts of inclusion.  Nothing is more scandalous in Christian Churches than when the Eucharist is weilded as a means of exclusion. “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” Mk. 10:14

"Build bridges, not walls." Pope Francis.
“Build bridges, not walls.” Pope Francis.

In schools “praise” is recognition of a person who is learning.  The Gospels exhort us to recognise Christ in all men and women, especially those who are different from us.  Relaxing is about being able to let go and allow God to do his sowing, especially in ourselves.  Our job is to be fertile soil, turned over and over, churned and mixed with the soil around us.  Let Him do the digging, the moving and the furrowing.

An ecumenical landscape.
An ecumenical landscape.

Relax, “Let it be done unto me.”

When I was in rehab, 15 years ago, I accepted that I had no control over my life and my drinking.  When I acquiesced I had no idea just how much I would be clay in the hands of the potter when I said my “Let it be”.  Many people say, “You must have a lot of will-power”.  Actually, no, I have hardly any will-power but I do feel as if I have been worked and worked and worked by a potter.

The question, I suppose, for evangelists is whether to be like clay or whether we think God’s will for us is that we become potter’s on His behalf.  I suppose it’s a bit of both but the Church seems to have lots of potters around and not a lot of putty.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves 2Cor4:7
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves 2Cor4:7

Receive, Recognise and Relax.

Often I feel that all I need to do is flop down into the sofa of God’s Love; to relax in Him and trust.  This is especially so when life seems threatening or dull, or fraught or useless. This is the very time to receive and recognise Christ in the stranger who will undoubtedly be sent to us. If we are rooted in prayer we may not need to say a word.   “…. do not worry about what to say or how to say it.  At that time you will be given what to say.” Matt. 10.19.

To sum up these mini-blogs on passive Evangelisation, I’m grateful to David Torkington for reminding me of the words attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”

 

Easter – praying with our body.

Easter –  praying with our body.

 

Remember Jonathan Livingstone Seagull?
Remember Jonathan Livingstone Seagull?

Sleeping together.

Contemplative prayer is a term which covers many sorts of prayer but is distinct from prayers of asking for things and thinking prayers, wordy set prayers, liturgical prayer etc.  Sometimes it is called “Prayer of the heart” because without words we simply take rest in letting go of everything and just being with God, in his Love, just like a loving couple can be in each others’ arms sleeping together, or like the apostle John reclining, resting his head on Jesus’ chest, or a mother holding her child.  I have just come to know how physical prayer can be.

Jara pringosa growing among rosemary.

Jara pringosa resting among rosemary.

 Bodily resurrection.

On Holy Saturday I was mediating on a the story of Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb when I began to feel as if my body was praying.  I was aware of my own body as if it were very close to other bodies, touching, skin to skin, as if one but each distinct -and, in the empty tomb; sensual, safe and loving but not sexual or even gender related.  I was praying through my body – not in my head, or even my heart.  The experience is difficult to convey in words but it became a deep, wonderful peace which flowed through my arteries and veins into each cell of my body.  These moments  of grace are a gift which keep me yearning for more.  I have no idea what  this was all about – like the Resurrection itself , and like many other Gospel stories which seem highly improbable. Yet now and then, one seems to touch me and make sense in a way I could never have imagined.   Prayer can take us to some strange places.

The Spiritual Canticle of John of the Cross.

Later on that day before Easter I listened to the beautiful rendering of the great poem of Love of St. John of the Cross by Amancio Prada. The poem is in Spanish and all the translations I have come across in English don’t uplift me in the same way as the Spanish.  Even in Spanish this is another text I don’t understand much but I do know it spoke to me about that experience of praying with the body earlier in the morning.

Amancio Prada has set it to music.  Here it is in 4 parts (click on Playlist for parts,2,3 and4):

I’m going to take my body with me now, wherever I go.

Praying for tears: Good Friday.

Praying for tears: Good Friday.

P1110650I packed this little book when I went walking last month working through the first week of Ignatius’ Exercises.  I am very familiar with the Exercises having spent weeks on short retreats in my younger days and have worked through the full long retreat (30 days) once and an even longer immersion of about six months several years ago.

Delayed reaction to prayer.

God gives us what we need just at the right time.  On this occasion it was related to the second meditation in the first week – on one’s personal sin.  My upbringing on sin was scanty and thinking myself pretty honest and not in any way belligerent, except with telephone companies, my sins are all to do with sex.  However, with my body aging, my heart suggests that the Catholic emphasis on sexual sin seems largely misplaced in the universe of human relationships and much sexual sin is pretty trivial, if not actually rather good for us.

So I spent a day examining my conscience in the way Ignatius suggests – finding in my memory places I have sinned, people with whom I have sinned and the jobs in which I have sinned.  The trouble I have is that I know I re-write my own history all the time, so I don’t even turn out to be a real “baddy”.

This mediation begins with asking for what I want and, in this case, it is “ for a mounting and intense sorrow, and tears for my sins.”  Not once, in going through these Exercises over the years have I got near to tears.

A mounting and intense sorrow, and tears for my sins

Three days after I had returned home from my walk, feeling fitter and pleased with myself, I was going to bed when I began to be aware of a surge of emotion within me which grew and grew until I was sobbing uncontrollably.  My whole life was before me, not in any details, but with a profound sense of waste, of my failures to take the opportunities and graces and love I had received and the barriers I built to prevent God working through me.  But the experience was not at all in my head, nor in my conscience. It was physical, in my body and my heart, my stomach and my lungs.  I was not feeling guilty, just an intense, cramping sorrow at my own waste, a profound chest-tightening expiration of toxins.  My prayer was being answered, and I now relate it to the answer to my prayer for more compassion.

God works deep within us, like the seed planted in the ground which grows, day and night, just on its own, as Jesus said.  Like compassion, sorrow for my sins came into flower and it was not like anything I could have expected nor when I expected.  Moreover, I was certain, absolutely sure that I was in God’s hands, loved and cared for.

Revealed through prayer: what I hide from myself.

Since it was lent I hung on to this gift of sorrow for my sinfulness still able to access it easily in prayer.  Maybe I was a bit complacent about receiving the gift.  Then I visited one of my children who asked me straight out about my divorce 15 years ago, “During the divorce did you want to hurt mum and get her into trouble when you told the people in England things?”  This was all over messy financial and property complications.

As I answered him I realised I was re-writing the story again, certainly putting a positive gloss on my behaviour and justifying what I had done.  The matter could have rested there.  However, I was still in this second meditation and could see my self manipulation, my self deception at work.  I had a “mounting sorrow” for my actions and a growing awareness of how often I rely on my skill in covering-up for myself my real capacity to damage others. How false was my premise, ” thinking myself pretty honest and not in any way belligerent”!

And so another chip comes off the ego which cracks a bit more.  I begin to make sense of Ignatius’  mediaeval imagery “I look at myself as though I am a running sore.” How long will this go on and how many more times on the Exercises?  It doesn’t seem to matter.  In God’s hands these things happen just at the right time.  Good Friday is all about His love for sinners.

Happy Easter.

 

The need to feel God’s love.

The need to feel God’s love for me.

I have wondered if God loves me and what would that mean, anyway.  There are moments when I am filled with love and wonder at the beauty and goodness of all creation.  In large cities like Paris or Madrid I often marvel at the harmony in which so many people share such a small place, with huge systems of transport and sewage and food supply and at how rarely people bounce off each other in busy shopping places like Oxford Street.

I marvell at how we can live so closely together so harmoniously.
I marvell at how we can live so closely together so harmoniously.

There have been times, even, when I have glimpsed and tasted the absolute and infinite love of God which renders everything else unimportant.  Recently, though,  I’ve been aware that experiencing God’s love for all His creation is not the same as experiencing God’s love for me.  I even wondered if I have ever been aware that God loves me.

For most of my life the message, from the Church, from teachers and from employers, and latterly from my own children has been about how they would prefer me to be.  In particular, people closest to me, whom I know love me, are those who most want me to be clever, hard-working, tidy, attentive, rich and generous (together), good fun, helpful, omnipresent and understanding.  I am often nowhere near how people would like me to be.  Add to this a comprehensive training in examining my conscience and confessing my sins – from the age of 6 – and it is not surprising that I have lived a life trying to be what others tell me they want of me.  And worse, failing even in this, for most complain that I am incompliant.

Solitude and silence.

Sunrise over the Rio Sil on the Camino de Invierno.
Sunrise over the Rio Sil on the Camino de Invierno.

It has taken me all my life to discover silence and taste the deep peace of solitude.

“In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself. Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.”                                                                                                              Mother Theresa

It is in this silence, this nothingness and emptiness that self is picked out and picked up like the pearl without a price.  In that moment I am just who I am,  the work of a craftsman who looks at the work of his hands in delight.

 

The Addiction of Prayer.

The Addiction of Prayer.

 

" a photograph of the garden of the spirit........."
” a photograph of the garden of the spirit………”

I wonder sometimes if I have any idea of what is going on when I pray.  This is especially true when lapsing into God’s presence I find myself tumbling, as if in a washing machine,  (or, often, in a clothes drier) in muddied waters or arid confusion.  I try to settle down and wait, sit it out or walk it off, for as long as it takes.  I do nothing other than be: helpless and trusting that there is more to prayer than this.

I know I have had rewards in the past, little miracles, touches of love and moments of pure grace.  These intermittent rewards keep drawing me on, promising more.  And always, I keep on hoping for more, addicted to the glimpses of light I have seen.

Journeying on in search of "The glimses of light I have seen"
Journeying on in search of “The glimpses of light I have seen”

A Reading of R.S. Thomas, “Somewhere”

 

R.S. Thomas is a poet who, for me, makes twilight wordfalls, which generate faint illuminations and direct my inner sight to the deeper world within.  This poem, “Somewhere” loosens within me the knottedness of my prayer life and seems to speak of this obsessive journey for the “one light”, possibly the only addiction we need.

Somewhere

Something to bring back to show

you have been there: a lock of God’s

hair, stolen from him while he was

asleep; a photograph of the garden

of the spirit. As has been said,

the point of travelling is not

to arrive, but to return home

laden with pollen you shall work up

into the honey the mind feeds on.

 

What are our lives but harbours

we are continually setting out

from, airports at which we touch

down and remain in too briefly

to recognise what it is they remind

us of? And always in one

another we seek the proof

of experiences it would be worth dying for.

 

Surely there is a shirt of fire

this one wore, that is hung up now

like some rare fleece in the hall of heroes?

Surely these husbands and wives

have dipped their marriages in a fast

spring? Surely there exists somewhere,

as the justification for our looking for it,

the one light that can cast such shadows.

R.S.Thomas
"The one light that can cast such shadows".
“The one light that can cast such shadows”.

Sighted by The Raft of Corks.