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 …

MARY’S DRESS

BANK HOLIDAY weekend affords a happy extension to “left brain time.” There are always more books I want to read, more paintings I want to paint, more photographs I want to make, more writing to be done, more poems to unfold, more prayer to be celebrated, more people to share some time and stories with, more songs to be sung, more colours to be marvelled at, more silence to be revelled in – than time ordinarily allows. And that very fact is cause for thanksgiving! Life is indeed a rich tapestry. The signs of the reign, the joy of God, are all around me. And I’m immensely thankful for the connections that blogging makes possible with people all around the world.

Today’s artwork is inspired, in Eastertide, by Mary Magdalene, beloved apostle of Jesus, first witness to new life in the Resurrection, loyal provider of intimate and loving support and sustenance, someone generous, open-hearted and giving, someone who just “knew” instinctively, what Jesus’ mission on earth was about, someone released, by God’s goodness, from the kind of prison every one of us finds ourselves in from time to time.

All human persons are “bedevilled” by “Legion” the perpetually underlying and taunting belief that somehow we’re failing to make the grade, we’re unlovable, bigger and better “failures” than anyone else, destined to be “alone”, faithless, heartbroken, misunderstood, wretched. All human persons yearn for the kind of release that Jesus’ love and acceptance brought about in Mary’s life; for the kind of release that she brought about in his.

Mary Magdalene: someone cruelly maligned and abused by religious patriarchy and misogyny across the centuries, but all the while someone I’ve admired and looked to as an icon of life’s richness and fullness, of life’s goodness and generosity, of life’s being – under the vivifying reign of God – a beautifully, colourfully, gorgeously dressed dance with our Creator.

Sydney Carter described Jesus as The Lord of the Dance. In my heart I think of Mary of Magdala as Jesus’ dance-partner and she is clothed, dressed, like the environment all around and about her, in colour and glory. And theirs is a partnership, theirs is a dance that, far from being exclusive and excluding, invites you and I to join. “Shall we dance?”, Mary asks. “And shall we sing?”, asks the Lord of the Dance. And sometimes the colours blur a little in the swirling. And sometimes they’re blended by our tears …

Have you seen the wonder of it? Have you seen Mary’s dress?

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 …

A TENDER RECOGNITION

Mary stayed outside near the tomb, weeping. Then, still weeping, she stooped to look inside, and saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head, the other at the feet. They said, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ ‘They have taken my Lord away’ she replied ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’ As she said this she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, though she did not recognise him. Jesus said, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and remove him.’ Jesus said, ‘Mary!’ She knew him then and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbuni!’ – which means Master. Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go and find the brothers, and tell them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ So Mary of Magdala went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that he had said these things to her. John 20.11-18

THE MARY MAGDALENE of my own imagination doesn’t look at all like some of those depressing religious pictures. Not a haloed saint, not miserably gazing upon a skull set down in the middle of her dressing table, not wanton, bare-breasted, or mournfully reflecting upon her dreadfulness and that of others “of her kind”. No, my Mary Magdalene, first apostle, is an ordinarily beautiful, fully alive, self-aware, tactile, tender, practical, imaginative and lovely young woman. Human and humane. Someone possessed of an extraordinary ability to empathise, a bit of a loner perhaps, someone who “gets it” when Jesus speaks, someone who, just because she’s lovely – inside and out – is great to be around. And Jesus loves her.

I don’t know who made the gorgeous image above – (I’d love to know – and would gladly credit it) – but here’s the girl in my heart, using her own imagination to tell Jesus that she understands more than perhaps even he thinks she does; that she loves him; that loving him heals her and makes her whole; that her love might bring something of healing to him.

Here’s the Mary I imagine went on from this Prologue – this genesis, this in-the-flesh close-breathing, this out-of-the-ordinary, tearful, beyond-the-Law touching of the Word-before-time, this “costly” anointing, this first moment of tender intimacy, and wholly mutual acceptance – to have a thousand little conversations with Jesus, long before the ultimate events of what we’ve come to call Holy Week (“it’s no wonder they call you the Master, love. None of us have ever met or dreamed about someone quite like you”). A thousand little conversations about what was to be in the future, their future, everybody’s future (the future of R S Thomas’ “mirrors in which the blind look at themselves and Love looks at them back”) – after the “return” to “my father and your father”, to Where we came from.

Mary, imagine …, Mary, turn around …, Mary, can you feel it? …, Mary, the colours …, Mary, the joy of it …

Yes, I can imagine. I want to imagine. We all do. But if you died first, Jesus, God knows what I’ll do. You must be careful. We need you. Don’t strain so. O God. I know you’ll have to go. And I shall want you to, of course. Yes, we’ve talked about it often enough. But will you really come back to me? From the inside out? Jesus, I believe. Help me when my heart breaks. Help me in my unbelief …

Mary, Mary, Mary. I will. I will. I truly believe we’ll find each other on the inside …

If fully human Jesus was Everyman then Mary of Magdala is Everywoman. To prostitute her memory is wicked calumny – (how many unseeing men, half-dead, dull-in-heart-and-mind-and-head, have done that through the centuries?) – calumny of a kind that has led, and still leads, to immeasurable sickness of head and heart and soul and mind and body. Masculine and feminine, each needs the other. ( Both traits found in both women and in men, heterosexual or homosexual – it’s an “other” that’s the key requirement here). Thank God that the crisis wrought by precisely that sickness, and agonisingly recognised as the “hole in the heart” not just of the Church but of humankind generally today, can hardly help now but to point humankind everywhere on earth towards the light of a “more excellent”, a wholly more natural, and healthier, God-given way.

Human relationships, as much as for any of the ways we relate to the Divine, are not to be patronising, patriarchal, law-bound, or shame-laden. Human relationships will thrive, and the reign of God come to be felt among us, when they instinctively include, and resist exclusion. Love is not to be imprisoned or entombed. And, post-crisis, then and now, a wider-reaching Love is here to stay. Though patience is still required, though sin and death appear yet, in places, still to prevail, a new way of loving is here to stay. A new Way, a new Truth, a new Life.

Mr Vernon Dursley to Harry Potter about a certain (Wise old? Dove-like?) owl:

‘If you can’t control that owl, it’ll have to go!’
Harry tried, yet again, to explain.
‘She’s bored,’ he said. ‘She’s used to flying around outside. If I could just let her out at night …’
‘Do I look stupid?’ snarled Uncle Vernon, a bit of fried egg dangling from his bushy moustache. ‘I know what’ll happen if that owl’s let out.’
He exchanged dark looks with his wife, Petunia.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J K Rowling

On Resurrection Day, “when it dawns on us”, in Mary and in Jesus, Wisdom is encountered entre deux. Wisdom’s used to flying around outside, she’s done so since the genesis of things, and before that, too; she carries messages home – for the inside, the God-side. Yes, there’s real intimacy here, a communicating communion sort of a business. But an early lesson in wisdom for all humankind is “do not cling”. Let him, let her, fly. Let the Spirit blow where She listeth. Something’s dawning. Look at the sky.

Ascension – returning – to the fullness of God lies yet ahead, though this very Resurrection morning it is an energising Hope. A hope that will ultimately change the course of the history of worlds. For there will be a returning, a tender returning, a deeply intimate, glorious, colourful, joyful, prayerful, fulsome returning for Everyone to the One who is both “my father and your father”. Don’t cling today beautiful Mary. But, believe me, lovely, knowing, wise and giving Mary, the day will dawn when we may cling, and we may laugh, and we may talk and pray and sing “We’re an Easter people! All of us! And alleluia is our song”.

And on that day I believe Jesus will be heard greeting his Mary of Madgdala as Rabbuni. Teacher. Master … She’s beautiful. Just like this painting. An ordinary, beautiful girl. Just sometimes a little bit wild. And she gets it, perhaps she is, Wisdom.

Jan Richardson and her husband Garrison Coles have made the
exquisitely beautiful The Hours of Mary Magdalene. Enjoy it here

 

HOW SHALL I SING? ii

SOMETIMES OUR SINGING needs to be silent, simply a standing in awe. I love to use a camera, but I’ve never forgotten the delightful nun I companied with on a silent retreat, many years ago, who told me afterwards – “I take photographs with the lens of my heart”.

Anyway, standing in awe before tonight’s sunset I thought that whoever and whatever God is, God is indescribably generous, the Supreme Artist. The lens of God’s Heart lies beyond description – albeit that we see shining facets of that love in Jesus, who told humankind – through his own loved ones – that we may see more and more of that love in and through one another.

How Shall I Sing That Majesty? – probably primarily by being fully and consciously alive …

TOBIAS AND THOMAS

THOMAS AND TOBIAS were baptised this morning – when, on the first Sunday of Lent, we recalled Jesus’ own baptism by John: (I absolutely love the little snippet above, beautifully narrated here, from the film The Miracle Maker, and used on this blog before)

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. – Mark 1.9-15

What was John up to? What were we doing with Tobias and Thomas this morning? And does the doing matter?

Well, I think the first thing to say about this morning’s baptism is that it certainly appeared to matter, very much indeed, to the supporting families and friends. It’s true that the novelty value appears to have worn off for many a contemporary weekly churchgoing Anglican. Some of ours discreetly hive off back home if they get wind of the idea that “their” service will face the challenge of newcomers. On such occasions, with all due respect to John the Baptist, I thank God that I’m their parish priest rather than he. I understand a bit, I think, where they’re coming from, in that I am myself very fond of a bit of liturgical p and q. But I think they’d be given pretty short shrift from J the B, don’t you?

Back to the opening question. What was John up to? Why would baptism be important for Thomas and Tobias, or for me and you?

The keyword, for me, is “repent”. John called his hearers to repent – a process described in Greek as metanoia – a turning around. Not a sandwich-boarded doom-laden “you’re on the road to hell” sort of a “repent” but nevertheless a turn-around-sort of a repent. A stopping-in-our-tracks sort of a repent. And that’s what I was up to this morning, too: inviting people to take a moment to “turn around”, to have a bit of a rethink. Repentance: a few moments practice in our daily lives – (as wholesome and as necessary a daily-renewed baptism as the practice of having lunch or dinner) – when we turn around to look inside ourselves instead of outside.

And I think that that’s what Jesus’ Lent, his “days in the wilderness”, tempted as we are, were and are all about. Lent’s not just about Jesus in “wilderness” (in the tempting, perplexing, question-provoking aspects of life) but about you and me needing to grapple with those places and those temptations, perplexities and questions, in our time, too.

Who am I? Whose am I? What’s my life for? Am I on the side of right or of wrong? And do my life and actions – does my practice – reflect my answer? And do I feel the same today as I did yesterday? And how am I hoping to feel tomorrow? (Heavens! This is a process that’s gonna take some time. Probably a lifetime. I’d better set some time aside every day – and it would be as well for me to “train up” children to start this practice in their own child-like sure-footed and imaginative way). There’s going to be need to hive off up a mountain on my own from time to time, or take a boat away from the crowds and out into the bay, if I’m really going to find my Way.

Am I at peace with what, having repented, I observe within myself? Do I have the inner resources not only to survive but also to thrive when the Spirit of Life “drives” me into the wilderness spaces and places of my own ordinary day to day life and experience? Does my engagement with this liturgical act, this Baptism, this honouring, and raising and welcoming of two little British boys have anything at all to say to what I feel about the “heaving little tummy” of the 2 year old Syrian boy whose tragic death was witnessed by Marie Colvin, shortly before her own untimely death, the other day?

Baptism? What was John doing? What was Jesus doing? Why did the “Good News” writers notice? Why was I engaged in baptising Tobias and Thomas today?

Stop, look, listen. That’s the content of John’s preaching. Consider. Look left, look right, look left again before you cross, are the themes picked up and developed and run with by Jesus, then and now. Jesus takes preaching a step further. Jesus turns preaching and teaching into living. So let me repeat: Stop, look, listen. Look around you. What’s to be seen in the wilderness of this life – your life? Stop, look, listen. Look inside you. What’s to be seen in the wild places of your own heart? And how, if at all, does the one affect the other?

Baptism isn’t about filling the Church’s pews (so in that sense it shouldn’t matter too much if “we never see them again”). Baptism is more of an invitation to oasis in wilderness, a daily-repeated invitation to a place where we may be assured of welcome, our morning shower and refreshment, the place of preparation before receiving the bread and wine of life itself; Christian Baptism matters because it is sacramental sign and symbol of an invitation to a place, and to a challenge, where we may grow into the discipline and practice of asking questions – and grappling with them until we come upon some answers. Though there may be more questions about questions before ever we arrive at answers.

I heard it suggested recently that the “Good Shepherd”, seeking to keep his whole flock safe, discourages single sheep from going out to explore. They’ll automatically trip up, automatically fall down a hole. He’ll then have the (very worthy but inconvenient) task of setting out to rescue the naughty explorer. But I believe exactly the opposite. I believe that we’re set down in the wilderness of life precisely to ask questions, to employ our inner resources to make sense of what we know exists beyond the walls of our own little (maybe ecclesiastical) sheep pen, and to explore. Co-creators with the Source of our own lives, we won’t necessarily live in perpetual clover, but we’ll be alive! Fully alive – building a home in the heart of humankind for “the reign of God”. And trusted by the Divine parent who’ll wait patiently forever on the lookout for our safe (and better informed) returning.

Baptism matters because it washes the dust of desert from our souls, refreshing and awakening and dawning and calling. Baptism matters – even infant baptism – because the questions it raises and the confidence it inspires are addressed and gifted to the whole community. Baptism matters because it has an eye to everything that’s going on around us, to the future security and mutual society of Thomas and Tobias, and because it calls us, every day of our lives, to be quiet enough, for long enough, to hear the Word that God speaks into every fibre, cell and atom of all creation. “YOU – all of you – are my Beloved …” You, all of you are, as the great hymn of the incarnation puts it: Of the Father’s Love begotten.

Yes: Becoming the Beloved – or, more accurately, recognizing that we are the Beloved of God. That’s what we’re up to, or should be up to, in Homs and in Bramhall equally. All of us.

 

 

GOD’S FUTURE

ONE THING LEADS to another. The creation of one world leads to another. Questions and answers lead to more answers and questions. And so we grow towards the future. God’s future. Our future.

And I’ve returned again and again since yesterday’s Enough Nattering to Archbishop Rowan’s “question and answer” in a homily addressed to the General Synod on Wednesday morning – (text and video here)

What does God’s future look like? Well, one thing we can say is that it looks like Jesus.

So the fact that next Sunday’s epistle reading is to be from Colossians feels like a fairly substantial gift.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible – Colossians 1.15-20

We’re relatively more familiar with ‘things visible’ than with the ‘invisible’. And what we’re able to ‘see’ of Church, of God, of humankind, of future, can at times be rather depressing – or at the very least a bit slow and ponderous (“Like a mighty tortoise moves the Church of God; let’s preserve in aspic where the saints have trod”).

So I shall spend some time in the next few days remembering that there’s an entire universe of created order that lies quite beyond either my imagination or my sight. And that was in the beginning. And is still growing. We haven’t seen the End. So in the meantime we can cheerfully engage in being “changed from glory into glory” – confident that the author of the change is none other than the author of our life in the beginning, and that She looks and breathes life into adamah, mere dust like me. She looks and breathes life into the Body of Christ now on earth. Like Jesus.

I’m much taken with a line from a forthcoming film I’ll definitely be heading to the cinema to see; in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Trailer) the would-be perfect hotelier and host says

Everything will be alright in the end, so if everything is not alright now it’s not the end!

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