HOLY, HOLY, HOLY

FR RICHARD ROHR is one of the great inspirations of my life and I’m grateful to my friend Ivon Prefontaine for reminding me recently of Richard’s Daily Meditations.

In a series of Meditations on his “lineage”, whilst planning the opening of a new Living School for Action and Contemplation Fr Richard’s meditation on Sunday read

Orthopraxy in much of Buddhism and Hinduism

Orthopraxy is usually distinguished from orthodoxy. Orthodoxy refers to doctrinal correctness, whereas orthopraxy refers to right practice. What we see in many of the Eastern religions is not an emphasis upon verbal orthodoxy, but instead upon practices and lifestyles that, if you do them (not think about them, but do them), end up changing your consciousness.

This was summed up in the Eighth Core Principle of the Center for Action and Contemplation: We don’t think ourselves into a new way of living; we live ourselves into a new way of thinking. I hope that can be a central building block of the Living School.

And – joyfully – today I’ve been chestily croaking ALLELUIA! upon reading today’s thoughts about the witness of art

Unique witness of mythology, poetry, and art

My earliest recordings often included mythological stories, poetry, or art to make the point. Many people are more right-brained learners than left-brained. When you bring in a story, or a poem, or refer to a piece of art, you can see people’s interest triple: “Wow, I’m with you!” Whereas, if you stay on the verbal level all the time, their eyes glaze over, they lose interest, they lose fascination and identification with the message.

I don’t think Western preachers and teachers have really understood the importance of art in general. Until people can “catch” the message with an inner image, it usually does not go deep. We’ve also been afraid of myths that weren’t Christian. In fact, we were afraid of the very word “myth.” We thought it meant something that wasn’t true when, in fact, it’s something that’s always true—if it’s a true myth. This will be a very important substratum of the Living School curriculum.

One of the things I most love and admire about Richard Rohr is his generosity of heart, mind, soul and body. He’s open to seeing the Divine all around us, open to contemplation and to receiving the Wisdom from traditions other – though as he shows us, not always so very “other” – from his own. I love that Fr Richard balances the importance of both orthodoxy and orthopraxy; that he both thinks deeply and feels profoundly. That, it seems to me, is what the call of Jesus Christ – and of other great spiritual masters and teachers – is really all about. As Richard has it, “living ourselves into a new way of thinking”. That’s something all of us can do, all of the time, with or without particular religious frameworks – though many, in the living, will thrive in the kind of religious environment that seeks – as the word religion intends (from Latin religare – “to reconnect, to bind together”) – to bind up the whole.

My friend Mimi is a generous contemplative – Between Night And Day; as is the marvellous Rebecca Koo – Heads or Tails; and Bill Wooten’s – The Present Moment brings a wonderful word from Thomas Merton – and a stunning photo; Francesca Zelnick is as special as her Today’s Special; David Herbert is one of my diocesan friends and I love his latest post (and we share affection for Parker Palmer); and Rachael Elizabeth’s been having a good time doing Christology and incense-sampling ( ! ) in Durham; James Fielden – always showing us “The Way Home” – meditates exquisitely upon Time; Ginny at “Chasing the Perfect Moment” writes about Re-creation; Ria Gandhi has been wondering about who and what’s Beautiful and has flagged up one answer here; Jenni has been Watching the Symphony here.

What are we looking at in all these human “works of art”. What do I see as I reflect upon the colours, upon the wide spectrum that arches over the whole of my life?

Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus

Holy, Holy, Holy

Multi-coloured and blessed sanctity – God’s art: whether we’re always aware of it – or not …

EMERGING

The yearning for holiness remains alive today. We live with a sense that we can be more than we are. We feel the pull of the transcendent and live with a call to be the person God intended. The ammas [the ‘Desert Mothers’, Christian ascetics in the 4th and 5th centuries] understood that holiness was founded upon wholeness. They teach us that we must shed our false self and allow our true self to emerge.

Laura Swan, The Forgotten Desert Mothers, p 157

WHOLENESS. What constitutes our wholeness? This is the question that lies at the heart of all questions, at the heart of all relationships and right living, and the saints who trod the path of life before us were women and men who recognised that we’re all of us caught up in a process of emerging. The pursuit of holiness and wholeness cannot be a rushed exercise. It’s our lifetime’s task. We shouldn’t be too quick to arrive at answers, still less to “provide” answers for others!

Wholeness and holiness will emerge in human persons at different times, in different places, and at different rates. Quick fix “evangelism” can be misleading, even dangerous at times, and destructive. If any of us need “saving” from anything it’s from those who want to draft out the terms and conditions of our wholeness for us. Wholeness will involve being our deepest, truest selves … and will therefore involve us in being distinctive, unique – and necessarily different.

Live and let live

The world’s religious and philosophical traditions, and the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion that I love and seek to serve, have no choice but to continue to grapple with the life issues that some find it so hard to be reconciled with, issues that are largely to do with diversity. We really do need to learn to live and let live. We really do need to be reconciled to the processes of emerging.

“We live with a sense that we can be more than we are. We feel the pull of the transcendent.” We are emerging – and we’ll know we’ve arrived in the fullness of the reign of God, or, if religious language isn’t helpful, we’ll know we’ve arrived in the state of wholeness, when we’re genuinely and wholly able to revel and delight in our gloriously gifted diversity.

Meanwhile, to return again to the wisdom of Sonny Kapoor, the young hotel proprietor in the fabulous The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel –

Everything will be alright in the end, and if it’s not alright now then it cannot be the end …

MANIFESTO FOR A NEW SOCIETY?

HOW MANY HUMAN PERSONS find themselves imprisoned and bound by other people’s stories, other people’s temples, other people’s “safe houses”, other people’s notions of right or wrong or truth?

The Church endeavours perfectly properly to follow the pattern of Jesus in seeking after truth. But where does truth reside? Is truth vested in one story, one faith, one man, one experience of God? Is truth a pre-packaged product, something fabricated in what Archbishop Rowan described last Sunday in Rome as a ‘religion factory‘. Or does Jesus’ Manifesto For A New Society (a lovely sub-title in Alison Morgan’s The Wild Gospel) point to different facets of truth in different individuals? Alison Morgan writes:

[Jesus] was not found standing on soapboxes in Tiberias and Sepphoris, or demanding audiences in the palaces of Jerusalem and Caesarea, or seeking election to the Council of the Sanhedrin. Rather he was found speaking to individuals whenever and wherever he encountered them – in their homes, on their sickbeds, at their tables, in the street, in the fields, in the synagogue; out on the lake as they fished, and by the well as they drew water.

Of what then did he speak to these individuals? The astonishing answer is that to each one he spoke the truth. And that for each one, the truth was different, because it penetrated differently into the untruth by which they were bound.

I suggest that Jesus assaulted the norms of his culture not as an end in itself, but in order to reach out to individuals within the culture, to shake the faulty foundations on which they were building their lives, and to issue a new challenge for thinking and living. He ministered into the culture, but for the individual – ibid page 83

Other people’s stories, temples, manifestos and laws are intended as good and necessary frameworks in which individuals can learn to live in community. But we do well to remember that whilst Jesus frequently criticised culture he offered only love and encouragement to individuals – he recognised brokenness in all human persons and consistently called forth acceptance, compassion, healing and restoration in them and in all creation.

SET FREE the distinctive giftedness and grace in the glorious multiplicity and diversity of human persons individually – male and female, of every creed and race – and you release the highest and the best raw materials for building up community. That, indeed, in this 21st century, is a Manifesto For A New Society.

ALMOST SPELLING ‘HOLY’

WRITING ABOUT stained glass fragments “blown apart in wars” and haphazardly reassembled later, the priest poet David Scott, in the second stanza of his A Window in Ely Cathedral, tells of

A leering bit of face with twisted lips,
a bit of beard, and letters almost spelling ‘holy’,
a sheaf of corn, a leaf, and then the sun dips,
lighting Mary in her simple glory.

Piecing Together
A Window in Ely Cathedral,

stanza 2 of 3, page 29

In the economy of God there’s something afoot. I can feel it in my bones. The downtrodden, the dispossessed, the shattered, the fragmented and the forgotten, wherever they are in the world, are raising their voices. They cry for the reconciliation, resurrection and restoration of a humane humanity – for people of every race and nation, and of every creed (or lack thereof), or “class”, or colour. Too much has been blown apart by wars and for too long. But days wear on, the sun dips in her course, illuminating that which speaks of life’s real glory, and is thereby truly holy.

This is exciting. This is the stuff of the reign of the Source of all of our lives, to whom we have prayed, and with whom we have yearned, in every time and place, in every political and religious tradition, for so very long. Whether we’re speaking of ordinary Libyans standing up to be counted, intent on “occupying” their own entitlement to a bit of their own space as human beings; whether we’re speaking of Occupy New York, or Occupy London, or occupy-a-space-in-the-queue for fresh air, or clean water, or a bowl of rice, something is most assuredly afoot. The sun dips, lighting Mary in her simple glory, and because at evensong we’re rather quieter than usual we may hear her softly say and pray

he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble and meek

Come Christ-Mass this year the stable and the tent will not be featured only in hand-picked and glossy Christmas cards. Tents and stables are being raised up alongside cathedrals and churches. Tents and stables are being raised up in our dreams and in our slowly-awakening hearts. Here are opportunities to catch real glimpses for the possibilities of life’s glory, opportunities that are thereby truly holy. Some amongst us, nonetheless, will not look any more kindly upon such fragmented opportunities than they would ever have looked upon the teenage mother in the stable of Bethlehem.

But something of and from the divine is afoot. The leering bit of face with twisted lips, a bit of beard, and letters almost spelling ‘holy’, must give way to the sun’s dipping

lighting Mary in her simple glory.

ADULT FAITH … AND BELONGING

I’VE RETURNED time and time again in the last couple of years to the writings of Diarmuid O’Murchu in the quest I’ve engaged in all my life: the search for Adult Faith. In his book of that name O’Murchu quotes the late John O’Donohue:

Our modern hunger to belong is particularly intense. An increasing majority of people feel no belonging. We have fallen out of rhythm with life. The art of belonging is the recovery of the wisdom of rhythm.

John O’Donohue, cited by Diarmuid O’Murchu

Adult Faith, Growing in Wisdom and Understanding, page 139

I’ve witnessed a spiritual hunger in young and old alike in the past thirty years – along with a reluctance to partake of a “spiritual” diet grown old and stale (albeit that the kind of theological staleness I’m thinking of is too often dressed up as “contemporary”, or “for the young”, or “modern”). Many would rather remain hungry than have to suffer indigestion wrought by leave-your-brain-outside coercion. Me amongst them sometimes. O’Murchu, though, whets my spiritual appetite in these early years of the twenty-first century in much the same way that John Robinson reawakened interest, debate and dialogue mid-way through the twentieth.

There is a tendency in all the great religions to pass on religious wisdom through doctrines and creeds, with emphasis on knowing the verbal formulations. Adults are judged to be religious if they can pass on those beliefs to future generations just as they have been passed on to them. But this transmission is often lacking in internalized understanding; the neophyte learns the formula, and frequently is unable to apply it to daily life in an integrated way.

The bigger challenge is the realisation that we are all endowed with an inner transparency for the holy, for the mystery we popularly call “God”. We are programmed internally in the power of living spirit, always inviting us to attune more deeply to the Great Spirit who infuses the whole of creation. Whether we adopt a religion or not, we are innately spiritual and will remain so throughout our entire lifespan. For contemporary adults, this awareness is quite widespread and is raising formidable challenges for the meaning and place of formal religion in human living.

ibid. page 14

It was precisely Jesus’ own raising formidable challenges for the meaning and place of formal religion in human living that attracted me long ago to follow him. I’m still attracted, and still formidably – albeit willingly – challenged. When we’re able to rise to Jesus’ challenge to rid ourselves of outdated and outmoded shibboleths on the one hand, and perpetually to align ourselves with Divine Mystery on the other,  we begin to roll away the stone from the tomb. And in doing so begin to glimpse new ways of belonging, in an altogether more “catholic” universe. We wean ourselves away from the life of the “whited sepulchre” and find ourselves nudged towards the joy and belonging of perpetual resurrection.

MAXIMILIAN’S BAPTISM

THE FULL HOUSE for the joy-filled Baptism of Maximilian this morning gives me (another) opportunity to head up this post with my very favourite account, by a simply wonderful narrator, of Jesus’ Baptism! But more than that, it’s always such a joy when our House for the Church is full of people come to celebrate the goodness of God and the richness of the gifts we revel in. And there’s no greater gift to a family than that of an infant. Nor, perhaps, any greater responsibility laid upon older shoulders. Bringing infants to Baptism in and into the House of the Lord provides glorious opportunity for all of us to reflect upon the giftedness and gratuitousness of our lives, upon our hopes and our aspirations, what – in co-creating with, and in, and surrounded by God – we want to make of our world, our humanity, our society, our church – for Maximilian, for ourselves, and for God.

“I baptise with water”, said John the Baptist. One who will come after me will baptise with Holy Spirit. And so it came to pass. Today and every day humankind is baptised “new every morning” by the Spirit of Divine Grace and Love. Perhaps that’s why Maximilian and his wonderful parents were smiling so much in our sacramental celebration of the fact this morning. Perhaps that’s why people had travelled from far and wide to celebrate the gift and the treasure. Yes! – wherever and whenever humankind is “baptised” in the Spirit of God we can rest assured that the Source of our Life continues to turn the world upside down. “Whoever has seen (this human) me has seen the Father” said the anointed Jesus to Philip. And this morning he might have said “whoever has seen Maximilian has seen the Father”. What a joy, what a commission, what a responsibility – this living of the Life and Love of God in and through each one of us, dear created people.

DIVINE PARENT,
Mother and Father, Sister and Brother of us all,
in company with Jesus,
in the power of your Spirit,
with prophets, priests and royal leaders,
and with every woman, man and child
upon the face of the earth,
we bless you for the gift of life and of abundance.
And as we bless you we also ask
your blessing for ourselves that we may be
inspired, strengthened and encouraged daily
to share that life and that abundance
throughout the world.

HOW CAN I SERVE?

FRANK BENNETT IS OUR CHIEF SIDESPERSON. He arrived in Church the other day and greeted me, as he very frequently does, with the words “what can I do?”. Frank’s entire life as a churchman arises from the fundamental question he asks of God. “How can I serve?”. And this morning he will have celebrated the fact that his wife was serving the gathered Church in the office of Reader, his daughter (our former Young Church leader) and son-in-law were away in Cambridge (at Ely Cathedral) spending time with other friends engaged in ministry, before Paul begins training for the priesthood at Mirfield in September.

One of Frank’s grandsons served alongside him as a sidesperson today. Another grandson read the Epistle. When I thanked one of these grandsons for the encouragement he and his brothers are providing for their parents, at what is a time of upheaval in their family life, his reply was “Thanks. But it’s time we stepped out of our comfort zones isn’t it? And with Dad you can see the call written on his face”. I honour Grandfather Frank and his whole family.

One of the signs of spiritual maturity in the life of any church is a steadily growing number of vocations to ministry – in its many and varied forms. Tonight I heard the Reverend Gill Newton – our local Methodist Superintendent Minister – tell a large gathering that “we Methodists believe in the ministry of the whole people of God.” It was good to hear the murmurs of approval and assent, for we Anglicans do, too. So it’s an especial joy when we see the fruits of God’s call in our very midst.

I’ve mentioned already that Paul Deakin’s off to Mirfield in September. Verger John Baker will, in the same month, be licensed as a pastoral assistant. Ralph Luxon and Sue Taylor are getting stuck into new ministries in the office of churchwarden. Yvonne Hope and Jill Elston have just completed a marvellous first year as Young Church leaders (aided warmly by a very substantial team of willing voluntary ministries). Bob Munn is serving a term as Chairman of our Diocesan Advisory Committee. Graham Knight, our Treasurer, asks how the ministry he offers might be of service to others beyond St Michael’s. PCC Secretary Ann Walker is interested in furthering the work of prayer and meditation. Tracy Ward has just been accepted on the Diocesan Foundations for Ministry Course, following in Verger John’s footsteps. Tricia Munn is overseeing Growth Action Planning. Administrator Janet Ketteringham continues to undergird and sustain all of our ministries every day of the week. Bryan Goodwin clipped the fearsomely difficult and unfriendly holly hedge at the vicarage. Dianne Goodwin acts as unpaid assistant verger. David and Maureen Want tend the church gardens assisted by a large team of helpers. Joanna Yeates folds pew sheets – every week of the year. Sexton John Hanlon will turn his hand to pretty much anything … the list of ministries numbers over 200 volunteers at St Michael’s alone so it rarely seems appropriate to single out particular individuals. And yet it also seems important to try to describe what’s happening sometimes.

Rachael Hunt, baptised only two years ago, already has an established pastoral ministry among us, at the age of just 17, with a special and hugely appreciated concern for older members of the church family particularly – and every member and non-members more generally. Rachael, who hopes to read Theology at University and eventually to become a priest, is well known in our local churches as she has a keen interest in ecumenism and in fostering respect and understanding between different religious traditions. Rachael invited me to hear her first ever sermon this morning. Delivered with only scant reference to her notes, I was spellbound. Rachael will be preaching for the benefit of all of us, as will ordinand Paul, in September.

All of these wonderful people, and many more, seen and unseen, upfront and quietly in the background, leading public prayer and praying at home, have a passion for Gospel. Good News for a world in need of good news in a million different situations. (Eleven and a half million starving situations in East Africa). And as I pray for them, each and every day, I thank God for the miracle in our midst of a host of “angels and archangels”, on earth as it is in heaven, who are responding to the Divine call with the hallowed words “How Can I Serve?”. God is good and no word that comes from the Divine mouth ever returns to its Source unused or unheard. The Church today is not the same as it was. The Church today is not the Church it will be. But tonight I offer heartfelt thanks to God for the Church – and the many-membered Body of Christ that constitutes the Church – that is.

How Can I Serve? …

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