OVER ALL

2014-01-03 Gitanjali - Tagore

THE LOST AND THE FOUND – this is the stuff of the stories we’ve heard and we’ve lived from our earliest infancy. And all that we’ve “lost” terrifies and sickens us. And we somehow forget all the “found” that, remembered, we might be healed by. Such are the constraints of TIME. But not forever. Not forever. Over all there is “the deepest silence of the night” and a smiling there, and a whispering. And perhaps a somehow familiar song on the wind: “rejoice with me! – for that which was lost is found”. Again and again and again … whispering, smiling …

When the creation was new and all the stars shone in their first splendour, the gods held their assembly in the sky and sang ‘Oh, the picture of perfection! the joy unalloyed!’

But one cried of a sudden – ‘It seems that somewhere there is a break in the chain of light and one of the stars has been lost.’

The golden string of the harp snapped, their song stopped, and they cried in dismay – ‘Yes, that lost star was the best, she was the glory of all heavens!’

From that day the search is unceasing for her, and the cry goes on from one to the other that in her the world has lost its one joy!

Only in the deepest silence of the night the stars smile and whisper among themselves – ‘Vain is this seeking! Unbroken perfection is over all!’

Rabindranath Tagore
Gitanjali – the 78th Song Offering

CONSIDER

candle-in-the-darknessFOR YEARS I’VE RETURNED, at some time in the course of cold and windy Advent evenings, to the same poem. I’m not usually expecting the remembrance. It’s something that just turns up, sometime, every year. William Stafford’s “inviting the quiet by turning the face” moves something in me deeply – over the beckoning hue and cry of the “last opportunity” cash registers. I’m waiting, the world – the whole world – is waiting for something to “touch us too from that other place.”

Listening

My father could hear a little animal step,
or a moth in the dark against the screen,
and every far sound called the listening out
into places where the rest of us had never been.

More spoke to him from the soft wild night
than came to our porch for us on the wind;
we would watch him look up and his face go keen
till the walls of the world flared, widened.

My father heard so much that we still stand
inviting the quiet by turning the face,
waiting for a time when something in the night
will touch us too from that other place.

William Stafford

Beneath the dome of the firmament, I consider.

GOD OR THE BOOK?

rainbow

Rainbow – Oxbridge Biotech

I’VE SQUARED UP TO A BIT OF A CRISIS about words in recent months. Does humankind sometimes (too often?) mistake humanly shaped words and phrases for GOD? Does the Bible take precedence over the “still, small voice of calm” or “the breath of life” [come] “sweeping through us”?

I’ve loved the Bible for as long as I can remember. The words about God between its covers have guided my life, provided comfort and sustenance, and the proper chastisement that we may “hear” when we company with Wisdom.  Words about God fill my bookshelves, my contemplation and my writings. Words about God fill the silent poetry and prayer of my heart and soul and mind and body. But at the end of 21 chapters St John needed to report that

… there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written – John 21.25

Much the same might apply to the lived lives of any and all of the human race. Life is an ongoing, perpetually unfolding project.

Poets amongst my friends will understand my very great love for the (Anglican Common Worship) phrase in one of our eucharistic prayers, a line that speaks, eloquently, of

the silent music of your praise …

Silence is golden

Latterly I’ve found myself disinclined to heap the contents of my febrile mind upon people of goodwill. Especially when I’m depressed about the painful, tangled machinations of the Church I love, and the world I love, and have loved long.

Sometimes, and more frequently with every year’s passing, I yearn for silence in my own soul – even whilst loving, needing, and recognising the importance of words. Would that we could make a better poetry of words together: humankind, I mean. Co-creators with GOD THE WORD. Would that we could make a better poetry, a living poetry, a better creativity, of our words.

Religious machinations – like The House of Bishops Working Group on human sexuality – the Pilling Report – continue to leave me gasping for air. Even whilst there are pages and pages of great stuff in this one it’s the implications of church-crafted power over other people’s lives and loves that troubles me. Two of Jesus’ own apostles once asked “shall we call down fire upon their heads, Lord?” (wrong-thinking Samaritans in this case) and then spent the rest of their lives reflecting upon their Lord’s rebuking them! (Luke 9.54).

I’m trying hard to bring a bit of order to the thousands of loose words flying around in my head – because I need, and always and everywhere really do NEED, to ask just one question of contemporary Christianity, and it’s this

WHO’S THE LIFE and hope of the world? Is it GOD – the “still small voice” who “praises” in Creation silently? Or is it the Bible – humanly set down words – however poetic or inspired?

To be clear – I believe that the Christian tradition (or any faith-in-God tradition) is on a hiding to nothing if by GOD (or worse – “what GOD wants”, or “GOD longs for”, or “GOD says”), is meant a BOOK – even a world-bestseller of a book.

Salve in silence 

The silent Shalom of GOD is where salve for the world’s wounds is to be found: in faith and hope and love. And faith and hope and love are uniting facets of the breath of God in every human person – indeed in every living thing – without exception.

That, surely, was and is the message of “the anointed”, the Christ, the Living Word, whose Body now on earth we’re each and every one of us – the knowing and the unknowing – made to be. I believe that the Church needs to be encouraging silence enough, often enough, that the inner Word at the heart of all life be heard and lived. If GOD’S every word, on every subject, for all of life, for all of time is to be found only in the Bible (and particularly, according to some, the “Christian Bible”) then I’m dumbfounded. Why would Jesus of Nazareth ever have needed to encourage the people of God to pray?

How dearly I thank God for the millions that make an altogether better job of being God’s anointed in the world, ministering to the lives of the world’s forgotten people, living and loving in ordinary and unsung ways, than some who have claimed for themselves, as though it were a medal, the description “Christian” – catholic or evangelical. God is not absent where the Church’s pursuit of power and control over others finds no foothold.

Prophetic retort! 

For GOD’S creative sake, let us put an end to these weighted reports and pronouncements and LIVE the gift of life’s spectrum – softer, rounder, wider, more generous, more glorious, more grateful. Some of the world’s imaginative youngsters speak just exactly the kind of concise and prophetic word the Church needs most to hear today:

“get a life!”

GOD is not a book. The Bible is not inerrant. GOD is the Source of life’s spectrum – of every thing that is. And God the Eternal, silent, unwritten Word – is not disappointing.

No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

Nelson Mandela – Long Walk to Freedom

AN ABSOLUTE JOY

Philip with Dareena (i)

photo/simonmarsh

GLORIOUS WEDDING – the “house team” at St Michael’s are all still glowing with the warmth of it all, even on a cold day. Today’s was a simply wonderful bringing together of Buddhist, Christian and Hindu traditions from Mauritius, Greece and England.

THE PRAYER from the Hindu tradition used in the celebration is here

Listen to the salutation of the dawn.
Look to this day;
in its brief course lie all the verities
and realities of our existence:
The bliss of growth, the glory of action,
the splendour of beauty.
For every yesterday is but a dream
and every tomorrow is only a vision,
but today well lived
makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
and every tomorrow a dream of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day,
for such is the salutation of the dawn.

THE GROOM’S MOTHER read from 1 Corinthians 13.1-13

The Gift of Love

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogantor rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

THE BRIDE’S MOTHER offered the following readings

The four immeasurables, also known as the Brahma Viharas (Sanskrit) are found in one brief and beautiful prayer

May all sentient beings
have happiness and its causes,
May all sentient beings
be free of suffering and its causes,
May all sentient beings never
be separated from bliss without suffering,
May all sentient beings
be in equanimity, free of bias, attachment and anger.

The Buddha taught the following to his son Rahula 

Rahula, practice loving kindness to overcome anger. Loving kindness has the capacity to bring happiness to others without demanding anything in return. Practice compassion to overcome cruelty. Compassion has the capacity to remove the suffering of others without expecting anything in return. Practice sympathetic joy to overcome hatred. Sympathetic joy arises when one rejoices over the happiness of others and wishes others well-being and success. Practice non-attachment to overcome prejudice. Non-attachment is the way of looking at all things openly and equally. This is because that is. Myself and others are not separate. Do not reject one thing only to chase after another. I call these the four immeasurables. Practice them and you will become a refreshing source of vitality and happiness for others.

LOVE

The definition of love in Buddhism is “wanting others to be happy. This love is unconditional and it requires a lot of courage and acceptance – including self-acceptance”

What a joy! What an absolute joy.

Philip with Dareena ii

photo/simonmarsh

ROYAL WISDOM

Screen Shot 2013-05-30 at 20.48.34

ROYAL WISDOM

King Solomon’s Prayer of Dedication

Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven. He said,

‘O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart, ‘Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name — for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm—when a foreigner comes and prays towards this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling-place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and love you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built – 1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43

Sixty years ago Queen Elizabeth the Second received her Coronation, and amongst the roles she assumed was that of Supreme Governor of the Church of England and Defender of the Faith. Having served her office, full-time, for longer than any bishop, priest or deacon, I think it may be said of Her Majesty that she has fulfilled her royal task with a wisdom and grace comparable to that of the great King Solomon. That great King had a concern that human persons all over the earth should come to know the greatness of one God. What a marvellous, extraordinary and gracious prayer:

then hear in heaven your dwelling-place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and love you

Queen Elizabeth’s Address at Lambeth Palace

And at Lambeth Palace, on the 15th February 2012, our own great Queen addressed her Archbishop of Canterbury and other religious leaders thus:

Prince Philip and I are delighted to be with you today to pay tribute to the particular mission of Christianity and the general value of faith in this country. This gathering is a reminder of how much we owe the nine major religious traditions represented here. They are sources of a rich cultural heritage and have given rise to beautiful sacred objects and holy texts, as we have seen today.

Yet these traditions are also contemporary families of faith. Our religions provide critical guidance for the way we live our lives, and for the way in which we treat each other. Many of the values and ideas we take for granted in this and other countries originate in the ancient wisdom of our traditions. Even the concept of a Jubilee is rooted in the Bible.

Here at Lambeth Palace we should remind ourselves of the significant position of the Church of England in our nation’s life. The concept of our established Church is occasionally misunderstood and, I believe, commonly under-appreciated. Its role is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions. Instead, the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country.

It certainly provides an identity and spiritual dimension for its own many adherents. But also, gently and assuredly, the Church of England has created an environment for other faith communities and indeed people of no faith to live freely. Woven into the fabric of this country, the Church has helped to build a better society – more and more in active co-operation for the common good with those of other faiths.

This occasion is thus an opportunity to reflect on the importance of faith in creating and sustaining communities all over the United Kingdom. Faith plays a key role in the identity of many millions of people, providing not only a system of belief but also a sense of belonging. It can act as a spur for social action. Indeed, religious groups have a proud track record of helping those in the greatest need, including the sick, the elderly, the lonely and the disadvantaged. They remind us of the responsibilities we have beyond ourselves.

Your Grace, the presence of your fellow distinguished religious leaders and the objects on display demonstrate how each of these traditions has contributed distinctively to the history and development of the United Kingdom. Prince Philip and I wish to send our good wishes, through you, to each of your communities, in the hope that – with the assurance of the protection of our established Church – you will continue to flourish and display strength and vision in your relations with each other and the rest of society.

Wisdom is to be found in the heart, at the very centre, of the lives of every child, woman and man upon earth. But it’s a Wisdom that need uncovering. It’s a Wisdom that requires stillness. It’s a Wisdom that requires a silencing of our little thoughts – in order that we may recognise the presence of something far, far greater than we ourselves at the heart of every living thing.

This is the Wisdom Solomon celebrated in his life and royal task:

when a foreigner comes and prays towards this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling-place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you

This is the Wisdom that was in Jesus of Nazareth and is in Jesus, and will forever be in Jesus. Having heard the prayer of a centurion who humbly sought healing for his slave Jesus was amazed and said:

“I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

This is the Wisdom Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second has celebrated in her royal task and witness across these past sixty years:

may you continue to flourish and display strength and vision in your relations with each other and the rest of society

This is the Wisdom that you and I must look to and gladly call upon, and it is a Wisdom, THE WISDOM, that reminds us all of our smallness in the scheme of all Creation – even whilst giving us cause for the most profound joy – for along with King Solomon, with Jesus Christ and with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, we, all humankind, are called to turn, to recognise with delight that we’re each and every one called and made to be vessels of the immortal, the invisible, the only Wise God: to whom we ascribe all glory and majesty – together with most marvellous and promise-filled Creativity, now and for ever. Amen.

THE COMPASSION QUEST

CompassionQuest

TRYSTAN OWAIN HUGHES opens chapter 3 of his The Compassion Quest with this exquisite quote from Rilke

Only one space extends
Through all beings: innerworldspace.
Silently, the birds fly within us.
and I, who wants to grow, I look outside,
But find within me grows the tree.

Rainer Maria Rilke
Nearly everything calls us to connect

What a joy and a relief to me, and a challenge too, that Trystan Owain Hughes has offered the world what Tony Campolo calls “a book that was waiting to be written”. Some books baptise us with both tears and smiles. And make us stop, look, listen. And make us turn around.

Pope Francis, thank God, calls humanity to “go out into the world”. Yes! Absolutely. But with what?

Rilke, Francis  and Trystan Owain Hughes bring something OUT into the world that has grown, and is forever growing, WITHIN them and us.

Interconnectedness. Thank God. There’s God. There’s the future.

FROM GOD-NESS

20130301-231807.jpg

photo/howardgerrard

For Bramhall, March 2013

A HANDWRITTEN CARD found amongst the papers of the late poet Sally Purcell bears the following anonymous and unsourced quotation:

Y sobre todo tendras / los regalos de mi pecho, / las finezas de mi amor, la verdad de mi deseo …

a translation of which is

And above all you have / gifts from my breast, / the subtleties of my love, the truth of my desire

  • the Epigraph in Sally Purcell’s Collected Poems

It’s possible, sometimes, to fall especially for anonymous poetry. The world’s sacred scriptures are full of it. Our ancient forebears believed that poetry (from the Greek for “to make”) carried the Word of the un-nameable maker, the breath, the creativity, the encouragement, the enthusiasm (the from-God-ness), the feeding, the fire, the grace, the glory, the hearing, the hope, the knowing, the order, the passion, the seeing, the voice, the will, the work and the yearning of the divine. So, for me, with this little anonymous Epigraph. And I wonder whether it is the very key to Sally Purcell’s life and poetry. And I wonder, too, whether I’m so attracted to it because it holds a key to what I want to be mine.

Writing for The Times of 19 November 2002, Libby Purves remembered her friend: “like Spender’s archetypal poet she was born of the sun, walked a short while towards the sun, and left the vivid air signed with her honour.” Ah! – notwithstanding my many frailties and failures I’d like to think that a beloved friend, some day remembering my life, might be able to say such a thing of mine. The home and the love we all long for will surely be the place where all the vivid air is signed with honour, God’s honour, your honour, and mine.

Here in this exquisite Epigraph is a hint of that Kingdom come, here, today, in us, on earth, in our breasts, in our souls, in our most intimate known and knowing depths – as it is in heaven. It’s an extra-ordinary sort of a love that tells someone that they have “gifts from my breast”. There’s warm and life-sustaining intimacy in the suggestion that another has some understanding of “the subtleties of my love”. An achingly beautiful reaching and being reached in “the truth of my desire”. I can imagine Jesus whispering these words to Mary Magdalene in Easter-morning Resurrection light. (Or perhaps they’d be her words whispered for him) …

And above all you have / gifts from my breast, / the subtleties of my love, the truth of my desire

… Yes, inwardly, perhaps more intimately than outwardly, poetic life creates resurrection-life in the same wonderfully incarnate, intimate and fully in-the-flesh way as did His. And you and I may smile and bask in Easter’s light. Warmed inside. The subtleties of love. The disciple’s delight.

May you soon celebrate just such a joy-filled Easter Feast!