HOLINESS

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DON’T BE AFRAID OF HOLINESS said Pope Francis in St Peter’s Square, Vatican City this morning –

Let us not be afraid to respond to Christ’s call, to trust in the working of the Holy Spirit and to pray and strive for that holiness which brings true joy to our lives.

And in company with 35,000 pilgrims, from countless faith traditions and from all around the world, gathered peacefully around this most charismatic of pastors, I greeted him and was greeted by him.

But I am a sinner, Father, you may say. Brothers and sisters, I say to you, the Pope is a sinner too. And the Church’s doors are wide open, for me and for you.

I prayed for the Universal Church and for my own beloved St Michael & All Angels Bramhall  – thanking God for the angels in my own life, some of whom know who they are and of how dear they are to me, and some of whom perhaps don’t.

And I thanked God for his servant Francis. And for my own bishops and colleagues. And for all women and men and children of goodwill in all the world. Blessed be God!

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More slides here

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 …

THE SPIRIT’S GIFTS

PENTECOST is a great day to engage with a group of wonderful, gifted people preparing for Confirmation. We’ve 11 candidates this year and amongst the many present day gifts, hopes and aspirations represented in the group are languages / interpreting, veterinary surgery, counselling, law, physiotherapy, university teaching, mothering, good family life and friendship.

Each candidate is a delight in his or her own right and the Life and gifts of God’s Spirit are individually and uniquely tailored in, upon and for each of them – as for each and every living person. Confirmation will honour, affirm and confirm the unique gifts in each, and – perhaps most especially – the gift of faith, of confidence and trust in this wonderful Life’s provision. As God once revealed God’s name to Moses as “I AM” so, sharing in the same “family name”, each of this year’s candidates will continue to go and to grow in the strength of that familial relationship: “I am ….” and “I am ….” and “I am ….”.

And this morning we celebrated the sacrament of Holy Baptism in the context of the Eucharistic celebration – joyfully acknowledging connection with another young Christian, and hers with us. And we further celebrated my colleague Fr David’s 45 years of service as a deacon, and 44 years as a priest. Added to that we celebrated the life and vibrant witness of Christ’s Church across 2000+ years, and our own blessed vocations within the universal family of the God who made and sustains each and every one of us.

I AM

I AM smiles upon us, calling us to ever deeper greatness, compassion, grace and love. I AM smiles upon us, calling us in the power of the Spirit to more and more Christ-like-ness, to more and more Anointed-like-ness. I AM smiles upon us, calling us to be gracious and loving and compassionate with ourselves – so that we’re built up in strength and in confidence to be all these things and more for others. I AM smiles upon us, calling us to open our hearts and souls and minds and bodies in loving and compassionate prayer and concern for brutalised people in Syria, in Stockport, and in many places all over the world. I AM smiles upon us, summoning us to care for the sick and the sorrowing.

I AM smiles upon us, gifting all human persons with unique blessings that may be put to good and creative use, contributing immeasurably to the sum total of faith and hope and love and healing hugs and peals of laughter in a beautiful, but in places torn and damaged world; in our spectacularly beautiful, but in places torn and damaged hearts. I AM smiles upon us, and at Pentecost, fifty days after the Feast Day of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus, we are, most decidedly and assuredly, celebrating anointed LIFE.

I am alive and thriving in the Life and Love of I AM. And I am profoundly thankful.

ASCENDING ALLELUIAS

I OFTEN SPEAK about life’s being, for me, a colour-full affair. I’ve read on several occasions that some blind people can “see” in their dreams. This doesn’t surprise me.

Anger, anxiety,
adoration and awe,
celebration, communion,
confession, consolation,
consternation, contemplation,
dying, fear, joy,
lamentation, loneliness,
longing, love,
Magnificat, meditation, mediation,
passion, poetry, prayer and prose,
sadness, sleepiness, silence, song

– any and all forms of worship – often translate for me into vivid and fluid colour. The movement is gentle and healing. And thankfully, for a minimalist like me, the colour sometimes involves shades of plain and lovely uncluttered white. Neither the movement nor the colours are loud or aggressive or overwhelming. But they are bright. And each represents someone, some emotion, or some thing. A bit of time spent with “Alleluia” above may reveal some faces and one or two particular spaces …

In common with many artists, pray-ers and writers I think of our ultimate Heaven as fullness of life expressed in colours hitherto beyond our wildest seeing and dreams, but utterly reminiscent, too, of experiences we’ve known throughout our incarnate lives, here, in “this world”. Our hymn book contains a (much too long) version of the Ascensiontide “Hail the day that sees him rise”. Printed service orders (our Sunday usage) allow for discreet pruning. Not so when we use the hymn book, as we did on Thursday. So lots and lots of alleluias! For me though the words sometimes become the means of transport to a different level of seeing and / or hearing.

This “Alleluia” developed whilst humming “Hail the day” on and off over a period of about 48 hours. Sometimes these paintings start out with canvas or paper, paint and brush, and are photographed and digitally developed later. For this one the “medium” has been entirely my miracle iPad with BoxWave stylus. Have a great Sunday-after-Ascension. And may your Alleluias be colour-full and joyful.

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 …

THE POWER OF A MYTH

NEVER UNDERESTIMATE the power of a myth, advises Diarmaid MacCulloch, a Professor of History of St Cross College, Oxford, towards the end of BBC2’s How God Made The English. (available at iPlayer until 8.59pm 7th April 2012)

THE BBC writes: Professor MacCulloch chronicles the roots of the idea that the English think themselves better than others and duty-bound to play a leading role in world affairs. He argues that the roots of this attitude lie in a tangle of religious motives. He traces its origins to the notion of a ‘chosen people’ – a Biblical idea which the monk and historian, the Venerable Bede, took lock, stock and barrel from the Jewish scriptures and applied to the early English.

This is fascinating and, I believe, salutary viewing. Enough material in this hour long programme for a Decade of Lent Courses! Professor MacCulloch, a wholly engaging presenter, has described himself as “a candid friend of Christianity”, but has moved away from an earlier Anglican “orthodoxy”. Fascinating, salutary and also important viewing for 21st century English Christians because the “tangle of religious motives” here presented requires some untangling!

The “received Christianity” that some forms of “orthodoxy” hang on to for dear life needs constantly to be reassessed in the ever changing light of historical perspective sharpened with hindsight. The proper exercise of untangling myths – seeking to understand their power and worth in our narrative, whilst at the same time being appraised of their destructive potential – is a task, I believe, of crucial importance. Thinking of men like Pope John XXIII, John Robinson and Richard Holloway – to name but a few – reminds me that the Church does not always show herself overly fond of those who set about the untangling task, though some of them are supremely good at it. Excitingly, television of this standard and quality is one of the most potent resources we have at our disposal to do just such a work. Still more excitingly for this English parish priest is the possibility that a “Church of England in (much reported) Crisis” might, for that reason alone, be nudged and encouraged into doing some of the necessary untangling.

We need a new myth so that in our day, as yesterday, the eyes of the blind (mine, and those of other churchmen and women) might be opened to fresh vision, and that the restoring and reconciling word and works of Jesus of Nazareth might yet be brought to deep fruition in us: “You will see greater works than these” (John 14.12) – for, like him, we’re all “going to the Father” – to the Mother and Father of everything that is.

Archbishop Rowan, speaking to the Press Association the other day, said:

Over the last few years, there have been all kinds of ideas about the Church, about the faith, which I have longed for more time to explore and write up a bit.  So I’m hoping for more space to write and to think in that way.

So, all is not lost. Even the exhausting Archbishopric of Canterbury will not have prevailed over the life and soul of this pilgrim, and the richness of humanity is seen as pure gift in Diarmaid MacCulloch’s willingness to explore – before the very eyes of a million armchair critics.

Men and women in our time “seek peace and pursue it”. Letting go of one myth, and then another and another – grateful for all that they have taught and graced us with in their time – leads us on into the light of another and another until all our humankind has been set free, and all the fullness of God is seen in us and in all creation’s having evolved, “from glory into glory”, into all that mothering Wisdom herself has – over aeons – untangled us to be.

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.