EX MARIA VIRGINE

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ON THE FEAST OF ST JOSEPH OF NAZARETH: ex Maria virgine. Out of the virgin Mary. What an epic tale. What an extraordinary and glorious incarnation – putting-flesh-on-the-bones-of – the story of God’s Life-giving creativity from the lifting up of clay to the Potter’s Wheel in the Genesis – onwards and upwards and outwards and inwards through the generations until our time; and onwards and upwards and outwards and inwards through rank upon rank of angels and archangels and the whole glad company of heaven, through all eternity.

WE – every single “you and me” are “The Body of Christ”, the Anointed, the shaped and moulded and breathed-into, the taken, the blessed, the broken and the given. ALL of us – in the farthest flung reaches of the Universe. Now that’s an exciting kind of a “catholic”. Anointed Jews and Muslims and Hindus and Christians and Sikhs and Agnostics and Atheists. Yes! – an exciting kind of “catholic” – and good news, too, so a vivifying kind of “evangelical”. Anointed. Breathed-into. That’s Divine. Ex Maria virgine.

SCATTERING DARKNESSES

I LOVE TO PRAY an advent blessing …

Christ the Sun of Righteousness shine upon you
and scatter the darknesses from before your paths

… and I also love Mary Oliver’s poetry, that knows the Sun so very intimately. “Why I wake early” speaks to the Eternal Warmth:

dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light –

Here’s the Advent message! ha, ha! – intended for every living, breathing product of Divine Love:

Good morning, good morning, good morning

Thank God for the poets. Thank God for the poets. Thank God for the poets! And read them, and hear them, and be present with them, and pray with them, that every other living thing, whosoever they may be, and wheresoever they may be, and whatsoever their present circumstances – they may thrive both after and Before The Sun Rises (Stay put, just for a moment; click this link to share a good morning with one of my friends).

Good morning. Good morning. Good morning. Thank God for the poets in every time, and in every tradition, and in every place.

Jesus of Nazareth came to be known by some as Christos or “Anointed” – because God breathed in him, and because he both knew and prayed for dawning and good morning, for everyone, always, “on earth as it is in heaven”. The Life of the Life-Giver breathes in you and me too, we, the anointed in our day, who sing in every tongue to the sun of righteousness and –  learning to breathe as one – say and pray

Christ, whose glory fills the skies,
Christ the true, the only Light,
Sun of Righteousness, arise!
Triumph o’er the shades of night:
Dayspring from on high, be near;
Daystar, in my heart appear.

Dark and cheerless is the morn
unaccompanied by thee;
joyless is the day’s return,
till thy mercy’s beams I see,
till they inward light impart,
glad my eyes, and warm my heart.

Visit then this soul of mine!
Pierce the gloom of sin and grief!
Fill me, Radiancy Divine;
scatter all my unbelief;
more and more thyself display,
shining to the perfect day.

Charles Wesley

CELEBRATING THE SPIRIT

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THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD GOD is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners – Isaiah 61.1

Thus spoke the prophet Isaiah, looking towards the Christ who later, in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, quoted him! – in company with millions since.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me. This is what it means to be a child of God. This is what it means to be religious:

Sent to bind up. Sent to bring and to be good news. Sent to speak of freedom. Sent to open the jailer’s gate. Sent and Anointed to anoint.

All’s well and good then, we might say, or even pray: the Spirit of the Lord is upon “me”.

But what makes this good news? – for the oppressed, or for the broken- hearted, or for the imprisoned, as well as for “me”?

Pentecost gives us our answer. The Spirit of the Lord God is upon “me”, certainly, but also upon every other human person:

Here we are “Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia” – Acts 2.9

Rather like one of Pope Francis’ sermons, the Spirit of God, Creator and Christ, rests upon everyone and wanders where She wills.

Pentecost, the new life, the multi-lingual, multi-racial, multi-religious, universal life makes Divine appeal to all the world.

The Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of Jesus of Nazareth, recognised as being at work in all persons, in every time and place, opens the jailer’s gate.

Cue for the critics: “They’re drunk! – At 9 in the morning. They’re histrionic. Take no notice. Stick with the old rules”

And the critics are still around. But so’s God’s Spirit – now and ever shall be, world without end. Blessed be God!

Happy Pentecost – for all the world.

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 …

ALL WAYS. NEW LIFE!

FROM TIME TO TIME somebody seeks to assure me that there’s “no future for the dear old C of E”. And I recall reading the authors who, at the beginning of the 20th century, found it hard to imagine the Church of England surviving much beyond the next ten years or so. But we’re still here! In the early and exciting years of the 21st century. And that’s the point, isn’t it? Here we are still. And wherever people are to be found, even if the entire edifice we’ve known and loved as the “dear old Church of England” has been razed to the ground, yet will the Church of England survive and thrive, in our inner lives, the home – as Jesus taught us – or the temple of the Holy Spirit, in hearts and souls and minds and bodies that have discovered the joy of resurrection, in human and in humane persons anointed by a knowledge of The Anointed—the Christ—who has displayed a consistent habit of showing up quite simply all over the place, before as well as throughout time, as St John puts it so eloquently

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men.  John 1.1

All God’s people today live in the light—and amidst the evidence—of daily resurrection. And Jesus assured his disciples that it would be so. “Today you will be with me in paradise” said Jesus to the thief who was crucified alongside him. Today. Luke 23:43. Now the world is full of cynics about Church and Nation let alone the concept of paradise. The difference between cynic and saint however is just a little one, just a question of which direction you’re looking in. And once you’ve found the resurrection, the ‘paradise’ right there in the heart of your own inner life, you can’t help but to join in the glorious task of co-creating. Prayer—inner life—empowers, informs and directs our moving outwards. All ways. New life. Happy resurrection days!

 

for Bramhall Parish News, April 2011

INVITATION …

TIME AND TIME AGAIN THIS LENT I’ve come across some wonderful people who’ve told me of the strong sense of invitation they’ve received from God. Invitation to a new quietness and time for reflection. Invitation to a new sort of “loving as (God) loves”. And I delight in engaging with people who, in the very midst of “being healed” in the wilderness are nonetheless, just like me, forever planning the exit route. Forever planning the next reason to avoid just being.

And I delight in these encounters because we can encourage each other, you see. The more of us who recognise the call to “be led by the Spirit into the wilderness” – to “be led into times of contemplation, reflection, self-examination, a facing up to our own demons”  the more of us will experience healing Life. Over 50 people entered into that kind of quietness with me yesterday. Right here in midweek Lenten Pause in St Michael’s, Bramhall.

This “wilderness”, this place “not interfered with by human hands” is the very home of prayer. This is the place of direct encounter with God. This is where we meet Life “in all its fullness”. This is where we encounter the ladder between “heaven” and “earth” and the angels of God ascending and descending upon it. Or within it.

And experience of this Life, this Divine Life, makes us more willing instruments of it … makes of learners in God’s Kingdom, makes of disciples (from the Latin word for “to learn”) what has been called “the Body of Christ” … or to widen the language circle – wider still and wider – a body of “Anointed” people. (Christos = “anointed”). So what Mary, see below, calls “a basic Christian”, is what all of us are called to be. Mary’s right. It does all boil down to loving God and loving other people (together with all created things).

How do we get to the “heart of the matter”? Well, by following the example of Jesus, and just about every great spiritual teacher that ever lived: we start, like them, by “going into the wilderness”. Whether we understand it in the church-type language or not, we start by entering into Lent. And the word Lent, of course, originally spoke of the “lengthening” of the days. The Spring event. Wilderness lengthens our view of God’s world. Lent stretches us.

I’m a basic Christian. For me it boils down to loving God and loving other people. Whenever I talk about God at church or with family, friends or in the community I always talk about his love. Recently I was leading prayers at the day centre and my prayer included a confession that we have failed to love God properly – and failed to love other people. I’ve been thinking about this since then, and it is the reason I’m entering into Lent. I want to love better. When I became a Christian my prayer was “Teach me to love as you love.” I’m a very very long way from getting close to that.

Six days into Lent I think I am learning some stuff. I am learning how very weak I am and that I can’t sort this out for myself. Rather than asking for God to give me strength I am asking him to come into my weakness. I am telling him all my feelings all the time and not running away when things are painful. He has given me an amazing amount of calm and healing and has helped me to where I am now, despite me wanting to follow the signpost pointing out of Lent and back to the World of Mary. Even as he is with me healing my wounds I am looking for the exit.

via All Now Mysterious.

The whole of Mary’s LENT post is worth a good long read … maybe with a cuppa close at hand, maybe with a lighted candle nearby, or in the company of  someone else engaged in silent prayer, any of which might help keep your attention focused in the one place, just for a while.

Thanks Mary …