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 …

IMAGINING

IMAGINING. I think that’s one of our chief works as humans. It’s how we co-create with the Source of all life. And imagining is what I’ve been doing all day. First in a fairly routine sort of early morning meeting, later in a scintillating encounter between an artist, Stephen Raw, an architect, John Prichard, two churchwardens, Ralph Luxon and Sue Taylor, and a photographing priest who thought he was in photographic heaven, moi …

I took many dozens of photos. Mindful of my manners though I will check with the artist before sharing too many more than the one above. This is a little trio of beautiful articles in a Stephen shaped cave. Not the work of the artist, but absolutely the work of the artist, if you know what I mean? Stephen’s studio feels like a coloured X-ray of his heart and soul and mind and body; a statement of faith and an act of imagination and creation. We came away energised at some profound level. We’d been standing on holy ground. I shall hope to stand there again. And there was good coffee! And cookies.

~

Later in the day I imagined a lovely local man being now in the nearer presence of God. I was deeply moved by his wife Sheila’s beautiful reading of Psalm 121 during a memorial service at nearby All Saints’ where Harry had been the organist until his sudden and unexpected death. The music, sung, played and listened to, together with Fr David’s quite simply superb shepherding of the service, and a fine address, made for one of the very finest funeral thanksgivings I’ve ever experienced. I’m deeply grateful for that and know that Harry’s family must surely be yet more thankful. Harry was an artist in his own distinctive and giving way. Perhaps all of us, in early morning meetings, artist’s studio, thanksgiving service in Church, or wheresoever we may be, are, each and every one of us, artists in our own distinctive ways.

How did  God bring about such an extraordinary work, I wonder? And I only come near being able to approach an answer when I make time in my life to imagine ….

Update: with Stephen Raw’s kind permission: my photos are here

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.

CENTRED

FROM MAY SARTON’S WELL is one of my favourite anthologies of her writing, a beautiful book richly illustrated by the photographs of her friend Edith Royce Schade. Each was herself a well, a deep well, and the springs of creativity and of life’s Spirit flowed freely within them. In writing and photography the life of Self rose up from the depths of their contemplative selves. May Sarton, writing of gardens

To the flowers we never have to say good-by forever. We grow older every year, but not the garden; it is reborn every spring.

There the door is always open into the “holy” – growth, birth, death. Every flower holds the whole mystery in its short cycle, and in the garden we are never far away from death, the fertilizing, good, creative death.

When I am gardening I do not think of anything at all; I am wholly involved in the physical work and when I go in, I feel whole again, centred. Why? I think maybe it is because when things pile up one does nothing with the whole of oneself. The next thing on the calendar is already moving in before one has finished whatever it is one is at. Then pressure builds up. Gardening empties the mind.

May Sarton

Emptying the mind. Always and everywhere at some time in every day I’m glad of the reminder, glad of the invitation to empty the mind. For I know that to draw upon the well in me (and I, like every other created thing have been graced with the gift of such a Well) I must enter into the depths of stillness and of silence. And I need to draw upon the well in order to do and to finish, later, “whatever it is one is at.” Though I love gardens I’m not actually a member of the fellowship of the green-fingered. All the more important then that I turn deliberately, daily, to the depths, to the silence, to the stillness, to the holy, fertilizing, mystery of prayer Where, and in Whom, all things live, and die, and live and die each day, and rise to spring.

 

FR RADCLIFFE WINS THE MICHAEL RAMSEY PRIZE

THREE CHEERS FOR FR TIMOTHY RADCLIFFE’S “What’s the point of being a Christian?” … which, it was announced yesterday, has won the 2007 Michael Ramsey Prize for Theological Writing. The five authors I most wish to see in the hands of my fellow Christians today are Rowan Williams’ “Tokens of Trust”, Timothy Radcliffe’s “What’s the Point of Being a Christian?”, Maggi Dawn’s essay “Whose Text is it Anyway?” in “An Acceptable Sacrifice”, Alan Jones’ “Re-imagining Christianity” and Elizabeth Liddle’s “Pip and the Edge of Heaven”. Amongst the most inspirational Christian thinking I’ve read in the past 25 years, I’d hazard that readers of all five will believe they’ve just been to a banquet … and might look forward to attending The Banquet come Sunday.