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 …

WHAT’S GOOD NEWS?

I’M OFF TO A DAY CONFERENCE on “Catholic Evangelism” tomorrow. I’m not wholly sure whether it’s going to be about Catholic Evangelism (capital C, capital E) or catholic evangelism (small c, small e), and I’m rather hoping for the latter … hoping, that is to say, for a catholic evangelism that really is about good news (evangelism) universally applied (catholic), ie, for everybody – no matter their “faith tradition” or lack thereof – everywhere.

I’ve spent a very great deal of my life passionately pondering what exactly constitutes good news, and in particular why having some sort of acknowledged relationship to / with the Source of our lives might matter – to individuals, to communities, to nations, to our world, to the whole created order – some of these whole and healthy, some desperately broken, hurting, and in need of that Divine touch that brings healing. And I’m consistently finding that old definitions of what it means to be Catholic, or Protestant, or Christian, or shades in between all of these, don’t fit all sizes any more, if they ever did.

Christ everywhere …

What constitutes Good News in a ‘catholic’, pluralistic world? Where is an / our anointed Christ to be found? (as I’m sure such a Christ is indeed to be found, anywhere in the world, and across the world’s faith traditions). And the questions are so important to me because as a Christian priest, seeking always to live and learn – to be a disciple – after the pattern of Jesus of Nazareth, I have observed that some kinds of Catholic, some kinds of Protestant, and some kinds of “Christian” plainly do not represent very good news for many people at all. So catholic evangelism must be something quite different, something much more open, something prepared always to be held to account as to the reach of what it purports to be good news. Catholic evangelism will not, I think, be too prescriptive.

Feast of life for all

Catholic evangelism will offer the “feast of life” to people in the “highways and byways” won’t it? Catholic evangelists, personal and corporate, will have dismantled their drawbridges. Catholic evangelism will be less concerned (although not wholly unconcerned) with the Faith of our Fathers and hugely more concerned with Faith Being Received Today. When I’ve asked adults over the past thirty years whether they’d like to come to confirmation classes, so that they can be presented to the bishop, confirmed, and thereafter receive Holy Communion many have politely declined. When I’ve offered the Sacrament of Holy Communion “no questions asked” it has been the case, more frequently than I can count, that the recipient has ended up doing the asking, seeking to confirm a present and acknowledged reality – satisfied hunger – in their lives.

Let’s explore!

And I remember that Jesus was ever ready to go the extra mile for children, too. “Do not try to stop them for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these”. Catholic evangelists will work hard at becoming more, well … catholic – so that they’re more plainly seen to be, well … “Christian” or “Anointed”. Catholic evangelists will be interested in marginalised multi-tasking-capable women, tax collectors, prodigal sons, unimaginative but very opinionated men, quieter and more imaginative men, too, and in lost sheep. Catholic evangelism won’t chastise the lost sheep for having left the fold in order to “explore”, still less tell the poor creature that God forbids it. Instead truly catholic evangelists (like Jesus of Nazareth) will make the fold larger so that there’s the space for MORE sheep to engage in the business of exploration, to engage, that is to say, in their God-given Life!

The Sound of Silence

One of the biggest growth areas in our parish (liberal Catholic with blurry edges – a bit like my paintings!) – has been a call to shared and silent meditation in the parish church – arriving and departing in companionable silence. No coffee or handing out electoral roll forms afterwards. And numbers in excess of many a church’s entire Sunday congregation have responded to a call – we believe a Divine call – to dwell for a space, together in the “house for the Church”, to wait upon the Word that touches life in silence. (The Word – not words. There’s not “even” a Bible reading). It’s life-changing, say many participants. It’s the only occasion in my month when I’m really and deeply aware of the heartbeat of God, the pulse of life, say others. This silence, this “that’s not very Catholic” but absolutely catholic encounter is breathing into our common life new elements of what it means to bear good news in our lives today, what it means, first and foremost to BE the Body of Christ now on earth, what it means to be religious in the original sense of the word (religare) – reconnected, re-membered. Restored to what we’ve forgotten.

Old assumptions yield

So whether tomorrow proves to be slanted more to Catholic Evangelism, or to catholic evangelism, I hope we’ll be asking the same question – What is Good News? – at least sometimes. Because, remembering Louis MacNeice’s Mutations again:

… old assumptions yield to new sensations.
The Stranger in the Wings is waiting for his cue.
The fuse is always laid to some annunciation …

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.

THE REAL PERSON

ONE OF OUR STUDY GROUPS has been reading The Raft Is Not The Shore – Conversations Toward A Buddhist-Christian Awareness – and I’m going to hear about their findings and reflections this evening. The book’s title alone provides ocean’s-worth of material for meditation and contemplation! By all accounts I’ve heard to date the group has been much taken with both the book and the notion of this kind of conversation – in this case between the Jesuit Priest Daniel Berrigan and Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. That heartens me immensely. I’m confident that Jesus of Nazareth would value encounter with both men.

I think that my contribution to the building of community life is to say, do not judge each other too easily, too quickly, in terms of ideology, of point of view, strategies, things like that. Try to see the real person, the one with whom you live. You might discover aspects that will enrich you. It’s like a tree that can shelter you.

Communities fail because they lack imagination and spiritual contact and soul and a sense of others and staying power and courage to move together and to live together.

Thich Nhat Hanh – The Raft Is Not The Shore, page 138

TELEPHONES FOR ONE THING …

Bede Griffiths (17 December 1906 – 13 May 1993), born Alan Richard Griffiths and also known as Swami Dayananda (Bliss of Compassion), was a British-born Benedictine monk who lived in ashrams in South India.

I READ FR BEDE GRIFFITHS’ A New Vision of Reality way back in 1989 when it was published. Formerly a Benedictine monk at Prinknash Abbey, Fr Bede, the book’s dustjacket informs, left England in 1955 to travel to India to assist in the foundation of Kurisumala Ashram, a monastery of the Syrian rite in Kerala. In 1968 he moved to Saccidananda Ashram in Tamil Nadu by the sacred river Cauvery. This Ashram (founded in 1950) was a pioneer attempt to found a Christian community in India which would incorporate the customs of a Hindu ashram and the traditional forms of Indian life and thought. It seeks to become a centre where people of different religious traditions can meet together in an atmosphere of prayer and grow together towards that unity in Truth which is the goal of all religions.

I’m a devotee of Brother David Steindl-Rast whose website Gratefulness pointed me to the old VHS tape footage of Fr Bede (above) which is simply priceless …

You see, for me, coming to America from India – the complexity of life! All these telephones for one thing, you know, and cars and tv and so on. It’s very wonderful in its way but [in India] in the simplicity, you seem to get an integrity, your whole life becomes more whole … if people can learn to simplify their lives, you know, at least in part – some sphere of simplicity where you can let go and be simple in the presence of God …

Bede Griffiths never lost his grip of the most fundamental requirement for a child of God: living in the presence of God. His / her entire life story arises therefrom. But we human beings are forgetful as Bishop Kelvin Wright of Dunedin (another prophet possessed of “a new vision of reality” in our own day) wrote a day or two ago …

These empty worship shells scattered around the countryside are the signs of the death of a particular religious infrastructure. I look at them with such fascination, I think, because they represent a process which is still continuing. A particular way of meeting the spiritual needs of our society is disappearing because it no longer meets the needs of our society, and still we are preoccupied with preserving it: keeping our buildings open and making sure our functionaries are paid and making sure the committee structures which kept the whole system turning over are filled with the fewer and older and wearier people who still give us allegiance. I think we have missed – are missing – the point.

The role of the church is to introduce people to the Living God and open them to the transforming power of the presence of God. Gradually we have forgotten to do this. We have forgotten how to do this. We have forgotten, even, that we are supposed to do this. And quite naturally, and quite rightly, the infrastructure we have created precisely to help us to do this crumbles and dies.

The old churches tell me one thing and they tell it to me clearly and loudly: The church must facilitate personal transformation or it must cease to exist. It is time to forget the infrastructure except to the extent that it facilitates the one essential task of the Church. As my Lord tells me, “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all the rest will be added to you as well.”

Personal transformation before ecclesiastical transformation,  that’s the secret. Jesus changed individual hearts before he changed church. Personal transformation begets ecclesiastical transformation, and thereafter societal transformation. Bede Griffiths, Roger of Taizé, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Kelvin Wright … might all have worn the name badge Swami Dayananda (Bliss of Compassion). And that’s where personal transformation begins: in compassion, first for oneself, and then for all other created persons and things, and that (Christ-like) compassion leads to “some sphere of simplicity” where we can “let go and be simple in the presence of God.”

In other words, we re-member. How lovely that an old VHS tape (oh, the simplicity of such things!) should bring Fr Bede to hearts and minds in 2011. How glad he might be to read Kelvin’s Available Light, even from the perspective of his now living entirely within it. Brother David, I’m grateful.