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Deaf, blind and numb Christianity.

Deaf, blind and numb Christianity.

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One hundred years ago the Great War began and Europe lost a generation of young men in a cause which few of us now can understand.

Today, in Europe, young people travel to Warsaw or Belgrade to mingle with other Europeans who delight in the diversity,  the local foods and ales, ancient festivals and genuine friendship which each nation state offers.  They are not interested in past ideological differences but relish the nourishment offered by such inter-communion between nations once at war.

October 17th, 2013.

On this day, in his homily,  Pope Francis spoke very clearly about ideology.  It came as a shock to many Christians, especially many Catholics and those who have turned to catholicism for its “guaranteed truth”.

He said, “The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people, distances, distances the people and distances the Church of the people..”*

The call to prayer.

Pope Francis always balances his comments with a constantly repeated call to prayer.  In the same homily he asks,

“But why is it that a Christian can become like this? `[ ideological and moralistic] Just one thing: this Christian does not pray. And if there is no prayer, you always close the door.”*

Prayer opens our hearts

Starting a pilgramage of prayer.
Starting a pilgramage of prayer.

On a pilgrimage I have all day to pray and what everyone who prays a lot says is that prayer opens our hearts and God speaks to us in silence.  That is also my own experience and, in this silence, all ideology, all anger and dispute, all inner resentment or fear is slowly worn away.  Walking long distances helps me in this: the constant repetition of motions seems to bring into sharp focus just how wonderful it is to be in God’s hands,  There is a point when everything falls away, all anxieties, pre-occupations and fears and I begin to see differently, my heart opens and all there is, is Love.

Blind, Deaf and numb Christianity.

Love is the most powerful source of energy and the greatest symbol Christians have for Love, for our God, is in the breaking of the bread, in our shared communion.  So while walking it has kept coming back to me how important it is to let nothing come in the way of  the last command and great desire of Jesus just before his execution that we “do this in memory of me.”

Communion is the corner stone which we have made into a stumbling block.  It is by visiting each other and sharing the Lord’s meal with each other, in our diverse ways, that we will come close together in His Love.  This is the means he has given us.

I pray that Christians can be naïve enough to start sharing communion without being tripped up by sectarian laws and inter-church biggotry or the disapproval of their priests or bishops or pastors.  If secular Europe can achieve peace surely Christians, too, can remove their frontiers, which, in prayer, are seen to be nothing more than lines drawn temporarily in the sand. Ideologies which may once have served a purpose become no more than interesting junk or the flotsam and jetsam washed ashore by the waves.

Interesting doctrinal remnants washed up on the shore.
Interesting doctrinal remnants washed up on the shore.

*Text from page http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2013/10/17/pope_francis_at_mass_calls_for_greater_openness_/in2-738150
of the Vatican Radio website

Jesus is Baptised. Pouring cold water on my God thoughts.

Jesus is Baptised.  Pouring cold water on my God thoughts.

 

Baptism – the right to catechise a child.

 

I don’t remember my baptism but I do know that what I learned of the catechism, by heart, from the age of 5, has stuck.  Or it did stick until recently.  I’ve not forgotten it but I now see how the answers to questions nobody else asked me in the next 60 years have sat heavily and undigested in a corpulent, almost inert, soul.  Once I had been baptised, I could be catechised.

"This is my son, the beloved."  Children change us.
“This is my son, the beloved.” Children change us.

 

God is everywhere and unchanging.  Really?

 

I learned that God is the biggest and the best so much so that he is unchanging and everywhere.  I remember learning this when I was five.  The idea stuck and only now, sixty years later do I see how this concept of an unchanging God left little room for a living relationship with God.  It was not just because I lived my childhood in Glasgow that I was brought up in a fog.  The urge was felt by many to impart doctrine as if it were nourishment for the spiritual life .  I was fed a spiritual  Atkins’ diet – all meat and fat, no fruit or veg.

Four giant skyscrapers hiddden in the pollution, Madrid January 11, 2014
Four giant skyscrapers hidden in the pollution, Madrid January 11, 2014

 Doctrine became the sculpture of God in man’s own words.  This is now fully acknowledged in the new Catechism  which says that ” Our human words always fall short of the mystery of God. ” (42)  In this Catechism the only mention I have found of God as unchanging (260)  is a quote from Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, a mystic’s prayer where “unchanging” refers,  of course, to “constancy in love”.   A living relationship with God is constantly changing, forever directed to light and love and fresh air, in which we are formed and reformed by the Spirit and God is moved by us and grows with us.  God changes: we change.

The Baptism of Jesus

Today on Pray as you Go (The UK Jesuit daily prayer/meditation page), in usual Ignatian fashion, listeners were invited to contemplate this unique event where Father, Son and Spirit manifest themselves  when Jesus tells John the Baptist that his Baptism is necessary: Jesus receives the Baptism, an acceptance of repentance, an acknowledgement of inner change.  Here, as with so many Gospel stories,  like the virginal conception of Jesus, doctrine makes contortionists of us all but prayer, the act of contemplation where words and thoughts are set aside, can fill us with light and love, peace and joy.

catechism

“Letting be” the doctrinal complications, pushing all logic aside, I am filled with wonder.  I sense an invisible current running through me when I listen to the Baptism story.  I know what it means to say, “This is my child, in whom I am well pleased.”  It is to say nothing, nothing in words.  It is an embrace of the heart full of love, acceptance and joy.  Love invades and flows through me for my own children, for all young people, for all of humanity.  I am swept up in an ocean of love which is alive with the movement of this God, of Father, Son and Spirit.

This Baptism drowns me in the Trinity which is changed by my presence, by yours and by all creation.

How do I know that my life is changing God?

I had a special, close relationship with a woman who had a son.  She read the Daily Mail faithfully in spite of which she had a quick, intelligent wit and was especially gifted with a discerning eye for fashionable clothes.  She was a great admirer of Margaret Thatcher.

Her son turned punk and shaved his head.  He became a central member of a graffiti team and an expert in planning night excursions to paint motorway bridges and train depots.

Graffiti, future fine art¿
Graffiti, future fine art¿

One day, on a train entering Paris she surprised me by saying,  “This work you see all around here, on the trains and the walls, will one day be treasured as fine art.”   She was referring to the graffiti which was everywhere.  Her eyes had been opened for her by the delinquent behaviour of her son.  Her love for him allowed her to discard her firm belief that graffiti was anti-social and see the beauty of the paintings sprayed onto the walls alongside the railway.

The Trinity, present at Jesus’ Baptism.

 

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I have no Idea what this is.

Immersing myself in the scene at Jesus’ baptism, there is no mystery to the Trinity, no intellectual puzzle.  Like a succulent strawberry cream cake it is as well not to linger on an analysis of the ingredients, just on taste and satisfaction.  The Trinity tastes good: just as it should.

Here present at this Baptism by John,  the Father, Son and Holy Spirit collaborate in John’s call to repentance.  In our being with them they change, or rather God is changed, just as a couple are changed when a baby arrives.  We enter into the Trinity and it is never again the same.

I can assent to all the official Doctrine as required,  but as Pope Francis said when baptising children on the Feast of Jesus’ Baptism, “Some of the babies are crying because they are uncomfortable or hungry.  Mothers, if they are hungry give them something to eat..” Let’s not feed children with doctrine, just with love and milk , preferably, from the breast in this wonderful communion to which we are all invited.

 

 

 

 

Pope Francis’ Epiphany Homily. Waiting for a child to return.

Waiting for a child to return.

 

"Love seeks you and waits for you, you who at this moment are far away."
“Love seeks you and waits for you, you who at this moment are far away.”

 

Departing from his prepared remarks,

the Pope appealed “sincerely” and “respectfully” to those who “feel far from God and from the Church” and to “those who are fearful and indifferent: the Lord is calling you too.” The Lord is calling you to be a part of His people and He does it with great respect and love.”
“The Lord does not proselytize; He gives love,” reaffirmed the Pope. “And this love seeks you and waits for you, you who at this moment do not believe or are far away. And this is the love of God.”

 

Waiting for a child’s return.

Identifying with God.

 

My children, 1998.
My children, 1998.

While not making any claim to be God,  I identify with Him as the Pope spoke of him on the Feast of the Epiphany.  Some of my children are far away and will not speak with me;  others have stayed close-by and,  for others,  new avenues of communication are opening up.

I know my children have suffered as a result of things I have done and that they have felt abandoned and uncared for.  What I can say, without any hesitation or doubt, is that my love has been seeking and waiting for each of them without cajoling or demanding.  It is the love of a father and is without conditions or limits and quite unchanged by my behaviour or theirs.  It simply is, as it has been since each life began, through good times and bad.

“And this is the love of God.”

 

This is simple love, enduring and even growing through human weakness.  I can recognise, in my own love, God’s love.  “Love melts into love,” said St Teresa of Avila.  We look everywhere for God’s love, but we already have it.  Famously St. Augustine looked everywhere for God and then found him already nearer than he could imagine, in his own heart.

Epiphany
Epiphany

No matter how imperfect we are this Love is perfected within us.

The Epiphany is the making public of this Love.

Naivety for the Nativity.

UnityNaïvety for the Nativity.

 

How much Christology, how much Ecclesiology and how much Sacramental

Theology did Mary have as she brought Jesus into this world?

 

This nativity I want to be simple and naïve.  This child is born and the night before he died he prayed, 

“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one.” John 17. 20-22

 

This was just after the institution of the Eucharist.

 

How is it then that we can sit down and share a meal with people who hold different beliefs from ourselves on politics or economics or gay marriage and, without aggression, talk and enjoy sharing the meal.  In our pluralistic society we do this frequently and we can do so in love, not confusing love with differences of opinion.  This is in the “world”: unbaptised and materialistic.

 

Why is it, then, that those who believe fully the fundamentally in

“the personal love of God who became man, who

gave himself up for us, who is living and who

offers us his salvation and his friendship. ”  [Evangelii Gaudium 99]

cannot share the same table and eat His body and drink His blood together as he asked us to do?    

                 

 

I want to let the child in me be naïve, to accept in love and trust my fellow Christian, whatever his/her colour, however they understand the Trinity or dislike statues, or think in their human heads that the bread and wine changes substantially or represents symbolically the body and blood of Jesus.  To the child in me these things make no sense, they are things which adults argue about and war over.

All I want is to love, to belong to this great family that God cares for, to give joy to the world, to let God live in me and me in Him and to celebrate this life I have, to take care of the world into which I have been born, to contribute what I can from where I am, to share the Good News and to eat at the same table as he told me to.

In my naïvety I listen to Francis saying,

“Spiritual worldliness leads some Christians to war with other Christians

who stand in the way of their quest for power, prestige, pleasure and economic security.

Some are even no longer content to live as part of the greater Church community but stoke

a spirit of exclusivity, creating an “inner circle”. Instead of belonging to the whole Church in

all its rich variety, they belong to this or that group which thinks itself different or special.” (Evangelii Gaudium 98)

In my naïvety, I went one summer to Iona.  Nobody asked me if I was a Catholic or Protestant, Episcopalian or Orthodox, or Calvinist or Lutheran.  The priest was a woman, the Eucharist full of love and unity, the preparation a work of the heart directed in compassion towards the needs of others throughout the world and, after a week gathered together, we left, scattered to America, Australia, Asia and Europe to continue by prayer and by example to share the Good News so that others might believe in Him.

In my naïvety I don’t see any need for more commissions, dialogue or debate before  we share the Eucharist.  We need to share the Eucharist first and around the table learn from each other the wonderful richness of our differences which in reality do not divide but complement.  Let us be one in all innocence.

 

 

 

Iona Abbey, ecumenism at work, hosted by the Church of Scotland.
Iona Abbey, ecumenism at work, hosted by the Church of Scotland.

 

Richard Rohr – Jesus most ignored statement.

Richard Rohr –  Jesus’  offensive and shocking teaching.

 

I’ve just begun to read “Wild man to Wise man” by Richard Rohr, the Fransiscan priest.  For us in the Rich “North” of the planet it does strike me as scandalous that we can have ignored Jesus’ teaching on wealth so comprehensively.  He was writing pre-Pope Francis.  There are signs that, at last, we may be listening to the gospel.
Here is the quote from ch5 “Wild man to Wise man”  – On Men’s Liberation:

 

 

x-god-of-prosperity-and-wealth

“No wonder Jesus made what is his most ignored statement, and is certainly one of the most offensive and shocking: ‘It is harder for a rich man to know what I am talking about, than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.’  Why don’t popes and priests ever make infallible and doctrinal statements about that?  Maybe because we are rich men ourselves, enjoying too much the fruits of the system that we are supposed to call into question.”

Secure in your faith?

Towards the end of his excellent little book, “Contemplative Prayer”, Thomas Merton warns, in the strongest of terms, against Mull from Iona, W.Scotland methods of meditation which don’t lead us face to face with our own emptiness and “dread”.  In the following passage the context ( in which Merton may have had in mind the popular meditation of the Beatles) gives way to a caution which is still relevant to us all today, especially those of us who desire to have a life based in contemplative prayer.

 

“…a form of contemplation that merely produces the illusion of “having arrived somewhere”, of having achieved security and preserved one’s familiar status by playing a part, will eventually have to be unlearned in dread – or else we will be confirmed in the arrogance, the impenetrable self-assurance of the Pharisee.  We will become impervious to the deepest truths.  We will be closed to all who do not paricipate in our illusion. We will live “good lives” that are basically inauthentic, “good” only as long as they permit us to remain established in our respectable and impermeable identities. The “goodness” of such lives depends on the security afforded by wealth, recreation, spiritual comfort, and a solid reputation for piety. Such “goodness” is preserved by routine and the habitual avoidance of serious risk – indeed of serious challenge.  In order to avoid apparent evil, this pseudo- goodness will ignore the summons of genuine good.   It will prefer routine duty to courage and creativity.  In the end it will be content with established procedures and safe formulas, while turning a blind-eye to the greatest enormities of injustice and uncharity.”

Thomas Merton.

Thomas Merton                                                                                                                                                       

Thomas Merton - from Seven Storey Mountain
Thomas Merton – from Seven Storey Mountain

“Contemplation is essentially a listening in silence, an expectancy. And yet in a certain sense, we must truly begin to hear God when we have ceased to listen.  What is the explanation of this paradox? Perhaps only that there is a higher kind of listening, which is not an attentiveness to some special wave length, a receptivity to a certain type of message, but a general emptiness that waits to realize the fullness of the message of God within its own apparent void. In other words the true contemplative is not the one who prepares his mind for a particular message that he wants or expects to hear, but remains empty because he knows he can never expect or anticipate the word that will transform his darkness into light.  He does not even anticipate a special kind of transformation.  He does not demand light instead of darkness. He waits on the Word of God in silence, and when he is “answered”, it is not so much by a word which bursts into his silence.  It is by his silence in itself suddenly, inexplicably revealing itself to him as a word of great power, the full voice of God.”

 

The great pre-requisite: Silence.

In my desire to learn about contemplative prayer I read and I pray and I wait.  There is no particular technique for contemplation  which “does the trick” although I’ve tried several and followed advice which I have always found useful until I begin to get used to one or other of the practices and then, like driving or walking, I develop my own style, not deliberately but more like wearing clothes till they fit, perhaps untidily but comfortably.  There is one condition for contemplation on which all agree, I think, and that is silence.

Thomas Merton, in the passage above from his classic book, “Contemplative Prayer” expands on the emptiness of true silence in a way which echoes his attraction to Zen Buddhism.  For me, as a novice in prayer, I am just learning about what silence actually feels like.  I have been greatly helped by finding myself attracted to walking long distances.  The routine and simplicity of walking and keeping walking on and on for hundreds of miles is one way of entering silence. Having a lot of time, some form of routine and the most basic simplicity are good conditions for incubating silence and stilling competing voices and urges within us.

When I have walked many days I become more silent within.  This means that I have few worries or fears or resentments or urges: in general I am not in reactive mode but rather responsive mode.  The more silent I become the more aware I am of what remains as noise within me because there is less and less of it.  The rhythm of footstep after footstep shakes down and out the junk accumulated in a world of competition, deceit and false promises with battles for power and money and influence which create conflicting desires and confuse my sense of inner direction.  My compass becomes fixed on the Way and with regular, continuous prayer I begin to know where I am heading.  Yes, I have to keep alert , to notice when I am off my track, but the conditions of not being rushed, repeating the same routine and having little baggage are liberating and free me to note the disturbances which interrupt my silence.  Silence grows.

As silence grows it is possible to start listening…………….