Monday, 31 December 2012

Incarnation and atrocity

Of all the stories in the news this Christmas period, the news of the student who died after being raped in New Dehli, and  that of the church organist who died after an attack on his way to church on Christmas eve, must surely rate as among the most harrowing and disturbing.  I wrote earlier of the impossible message of peace on Earth, goodwill towards men, and perhaps it is to temper this message that straight after Christmas we have Holy Innocents and St Stephen's day;  human cruelty and atrocity continues to flourish in spite of Christmas.
To attack another human being, someone simply going about their business and living their life, and to so to end their life in a violent and traumatic way bringing untold sadness to their friends and relatives, creates a sense of revulsion in most people. We might wonder what the message of the Incarnation- of God with us- says to the perpetrators of evil as well as to its victims. I believe that the Incarnation dignifies humanity. God becoming human speaks to us of a God who sees in human kind, in spite of its fallen nature, a place where the divine can reside and where love can transform our tendency  to seek to have power over others, to the point sometimes of brutality and hatred.
What of those who perpetrate acts of cruelty against others? They certainly lack empathy, they lack a sense of others as human, but more than this I think they lack a sense of self, a sense of themselves as human beings and of the dignity inherent in this. My hope for this coming year is that we might have a sense of the dignity of being human and to see in all others and in ourselves whatever it is that God sees in us that makes Him love us so much that He chose to do the unthinkable and incomprehensible and make his dwelling with us.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Prince of Peace

"For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6).

Saturday, 22 December 2012

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— Wendell Berry

I heard this poem on Radio 4 this morning and thought about  the impossible but lovely Christmas message of peace on Earth and about how sometimes we need to  believe in and to rest in the grace of the world. The picture above was taken at  a place I go to when I need to feel peace.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The Risk of Birth

This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war & hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour & truth were trampled by scorn-
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn-
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

Madeleine Engle

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Christ the tiger

This interesting post from the  i-Benedictine blog asks whether we live in a society which is too angry for its own good. We do live in times when instantaneous comment on events can be immoderate and show a lack of wider awareness or a consideration of different perspectives or other’s feelings. However, anger is not necessarily always a negative or an unchristian emotion and I think we have to avoid straying into the trap of thinking that Christianity does not or cannot involve a range of emotional responses. In today’s gospel reading, John the Baptist presents Christ in terms that are far from sweet and gentle. John says that Christ will come with a “winnowing fork in his hand to burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire”, and Jesus was certainly more than capable of anger, he overturned the money tables in the temple and spoke out when he saw injustice – and when he saw religious abuse and narrowness he used immoderate terms such as “brood of vipers” and “whited sepulchres.” Today’s reading brought to mind for me a quote from T.S.Eliot’s poem Gerontion,

In the juvenescence of the year, came Christ the tiger.”

So what are we to make of a Saviour who was not afraid to show anger and who wields a winnowing fork? The Catholic Church proclaimed anger to be one of the deadly sins, yet it is an emotion that is not wrong in itself but only in how we deal with it. It is true to say, in fact, that when we do not acknowledge anger then it can cause us most harm. We need to understand that there is a time for anger just as there is a time for forgiveness. Anger which is suppressed can ultimately boil over in irrational and excessive rage, anger which is not controlled can lead to hatred and violence, anger which we hold on to but feel impotent in the face of can cause us despair and bitterness. Anger which is not well managed is destructive to ourselves and others.

I think it is important to acknowledge anger as this can in itself be healing, then we need to decide whether we can use our anger in productive ways to bring about change or whether, if the situation is outside of our control, we will ultimately have to let that anger go. I love this hymn written by John Bell of the Iona community, and I don’t know why churches don’t sing this more often, because it gives us a challenging and realistic picture of a Christ who could encompass the extremes of emotion – from righteous anger to a healing compassion and tells us that, in this Advent season, that he came to be with us fully, and to rage as well as to suffer.
( the lyrics are so meaningful that I have posted them below.)

Jesus Christ is waiting,

Waiting in the streets
No one is his neighbour
All alone he eats.
Listen, Lord Jesus,
I am lonely too.
Make me, friend or stranger,
Fit to wait on you.

Jesus Christ is raging,
Raging in the streets,
Where injustice spirals
And real hope retreats.
Listen, Lord Jesus,
I am angry too.
In the Kingdom’s causes
Let me rage with you.

Jesus Christ is healing,
Healing in the streets;
Curing those who suffer,
Touching those he greets.
Listen, Lord Jesus,
I have pity too.
Let my care be active,
Healing just like you.

Jesus Christ is dancing,
Dancing in the streets,
Where each sign of hatred
He, with love, defeats.
Listen, Lord Jesus,
I should triumph too.
On suspicion’s graveyard
Let me dance with you.

Jesus Christ is calling,
Calling in the streets,
”Who will join my journey?
I will guide their feet.”
Listen, Lord Jesus,
Let my fears be few.
Walk one step before me;
I will follow you.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Padlocked freedom

OK, OK... I said I wasn't going to blog about women bishops or gay marriage - and I won't for long- but I can't help mulling a few thoughts about the latest announcement that it will remain illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to conduct same sex ceremonies.

1. First of all, I do feel relief on behalf of those priests I know who would not want to carry out same sex marriage ceremonies as I  do agree that it would be appalling if anyone should face legal threats as a result of acting on their conscience in respect of  refusing to conduct a same sex marriage.  Overall, I think this is a sad decision but the right one given the circumstances and I  sincerely hope it will offer reassurance.

 2.  I can't help feeling  the Church has been sidelined; it has been granted the protections it requires and will be regarded as having less stake in the whole issue. I also can't help feeling that the Church doesn't belong to us all - but then I felt that already.

3. Mrs Miller promised a "quadruple lock" to protect religious freedoms. The image of a quadruple lock is not an appealing one and the language of a padlocked freedom seemed strangely paradoxical and the image of that lock immediately made me think of that Advent theme of prisons.

God of justice and mercy, we look to you to teach us your way of love that offers us the only key which can release us from the prisons we create for ourselves and the prisons we inflict upon others. Amen.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Advent Prison

A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes … and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.”

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Today's reading from Philipians is so upbeat, so full of thanks, praise and confidence that the God who "began a good work in us with carry it on to completion"  that it is easy to miss the fact that Paul wrote it "in chains". There are many kinds of prisons in our lives, those we create for ourselves and those we create for others out of our abuse or privilege. We only have to read the news to see on a daily basis the fact that humans are often better at creating prisons than in allowing freedom to flourish. Part of the promise of Advent is the promise of freedom, or as Isaiah put it, " to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness  the prisoners." Light in darkness and freedom from chains when seen as metaphors for a release from worldly woes create an inspiring ideal -  one which a cynic might well reject as pie in the sky.  Paul's words are those of a man who may be physically captive but who has achieved a mental and spiritual freedom because of his dependence on God. The next paragraph goes on to explore the paradox that Paul's chains advance the gospel and might make us consider that the Good News does not promise us freedom from our difficulties but rather freedom in spite of them. Paul's imprisonment is a metaphor for Advent because he waits with hope, with trust in God and in the knowledge that ,even while held captive to difficulties and constraints, God can still complete a good work in us if we rely on Him.

Advent Prayer

As streets fill with shoppers
Bright lights and tempting offers
Christmas songs and children’s laughter
You lead us along a different path
To a desert river and a Prophetic voice
A call to repentance
A call to service
A call to immerse ourselves
In living water that will never run dry
A call to prepare a way in our own lives
For the Saviour of the world to enter in
To know the touch of tender mercy
And rest in your forgiving love
For your faithful prophets
And your Living Word
We give you thanks. Amen

Attribution : Christian prayers and resources

Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Peaceful Shepherd

I am not going to blog this Advent on anything to do with women bishops, gay marriage or the conflicts within the church and between church and state. These things will still be there and still be being fought over long, long after the angels have brought their tidings of great joy!
You may know the works of Robert Frost, one of his best loved poems is The Road Not Taken , this one below may be less familiar but I though of it when a  recent Advent calendar door bore the message, "His name shall be called the Prince of Peace."

The Peaceful Shepherd

If heaven were to do again,
And on the pasture bars,
I leaned to line the figures in
Between the dotted starts,

I should be tempted to forget,
I fear, the Crown of Rule,
The Scales of Trade, the Cross of Faith,
As hardly worth renewal.

For these have governed in our lives,
And see how men have warred.
The Cross, the Crown, the Scales may all
As well have been the Sword.

At Advent, John the Baptist exhorts us, although in less than peaceful terms, to take the road less travelled, while Mary's Magnificat shows a God whose power is not simply a grander and cosmic reflection of human power but something entirely different.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The risk of trust

The almost embarrassingly common recurrence of barren women in the Old Testament is a brilliant metaphor for “I can’t do it, but God can—and will!” This is summed up and personified in the Virgin Mary, but it is still the same Jewish symbol. In Mary, and in us, we see our own incapacity to make spiritual things happen by our own devices, by our own intelligence, and with our own bodies, but we can receive, trust, and allow God to do it in us and through us.

Many translations of Luke’s Magnificat use the wonderful phrase “God has regarded me in my lowliness” (Luke 1:48). This French-based word regardez means to look at twice, or look at again, or look at deeply. Mary allows herself to be looked at with God's deeper and more considered gaze. When we do that, God’s eyes always become more compassionate and merciful. And so do ours if we regard anything.

The reflection above was written by Richard Rohr and it seems to tie in with the idea  I've been pondering this year of  Advent as teaching us about our dependence on God. Mary is often depicted as  passive in a rather sappy looking way, which is strange as anyone who accepts the commission she does would have to be made of pretty tough stuff. Preparedness or receptiveness is not quite the same as passivity but is rather about openess, and part of that is openess to intimacy with God, openess to change and to transformation. “The Incarnation”, has been described as, “not only the work of the Father, of His Power and His Spirit: it was also the work of the will and the faith of the Virgin” (St. Nikolas Cabasilas). And so for us as well, reliance upon God is not a spineless passivity but rather  a conscious act which engages us heart, mind and soul and involves courage and risk.

Monday, 3 December 2012

This dark world's light

    "The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light"
So read the scripture verse behind the first window of my Advent calendar on Saturday. I love the season of Advent with its awe, mystery and promise and I thought what a lovely verse this one is to begin with and to proclaim the hope of Advent. I've been thinking about that verse from time to time since then and the line, " I heard the voice of Jesus say, I am this dark world's light" from the hymn below came to mind. I thought about how the hymn reflects a longing for Christ in the face of weariness with the world.

This evening I also read  this reflection on light in the darkness from the i-Benedictine blog. I hope you find it meaningful.