artwork by Stephen Raw | slides at photo/simonmarsh
THE SPIRIT is activity and creation and freedom
artwork by Stephen Raw | slides at photo/simonmarsh
THE SPIRIT is activity and creation and freedom
I’M STILL THINKING about what to give up for Lent, my friend said this morning. And I wasn’t much help. I’m not much of a giver-upper for Lent these days. More of a take-something-upper. But let it not be some heavy or miserable task. Let it be something of Lent, something “to lengthen” Spring days. Something to widen the smile. Something to put a spring in a lengthening stride. Something that’s outward looking, life enhancing, broad and wide.
I imagine that Jesus was “guided by the Spirit” into the “wilderness” so that he had a chance to weigh up what was really important in and about his own life before encouraging others to “consider” what was important about theirs. I wonder whether he was even aware of his vocation to the preaching life at this stage?
And it seems to me that his grappling must have worked. And to good effect. For the preaching, teaching and healing ministry that followed his Lent, though brief in years, was to prove “lengthening” in a hundred thousand million ways – or more! Having lived Lent Jesus was patently charged, fizzing with life-changing “good news”, and – more than that – with good life for those who wanted to hear it and live it and for those who didn’t or couldn’t.
Jesus taught and lived healing and liberating stuff: Love life – especially, perhaps particularly, the life in others first. And so transform your world. Your world. And that of those around you.
Not so much a churchy-sort-of-a-Lent in Jesus’ mind then? More a case – in the first instance – of being glad to be alive, of being glad to be in God. And sharing that gladness. That’s transforming. That close and connected relationship with God, and with the life God breathes into us. That’s what makes flowers bloom in wilderness and in deserts … especially the deserts of our hearts.
IT’S WHAT NATIONS WANT, on the larger canvases, and what individual persons want, on the smaller ones. Nations like yours and mine. People like you and me. Minds without fear … heads held high … where knowledge is free. “I do not put my faith in institutions”, wrote Rabindranath Tagore, “but in individuals all over the world who think clearly, feel nobly and act rightly. They are the channels of moral truth”. Winner of the The Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1913, the citation read … “author of Gitanjali and its ‘profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse’”. It’s what nations want, and persons want. And Tagore encapsulated the desire in a prayer:
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action -
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
born in Calcutta, 7th May 1861
died there, aged 80, 7th August 1941
Egypt. Libya. Just two among the many peoples of the world who, yearning to know, yearning to be free, have taken the risk to stand up, to stand out, and to make their peaceful dreams known. And then there’s you and me, people of faith, peacefully seeking our own way to be free. “Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection”. This is what faith, this is what love, this is what life is for. “Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action”.
I mentioned the other day that I’ve been reading Gerald G May’s The Awakened Heart. He and Tagore are kindred spirits. “We dull and occupy ourselves so completely”, says May, “that we stifle our desire, anesthetize our yearning, restrict the energy of our passion”. Can we imagine a day, and better than just imagining, can we pray with Tagore for the living of Life “Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit.”? “It is truly a matter of choice”, to return to Gerald May. “From love’s perspective, everything is a matter of choice”. This is grace. A risky business for Egypt, for Libya, for you and me. But this is grace. Gift. It’s what we’re all stretching out our arms for. Grace, pure gift, makes it possible for hearts, here and now in this world, to have a foretaste of what it means to be free. And beyond the grace given to us in this world? I hope to to know Grace, “the depth of truth”, with Tagore and May, in eternity.
IT’S PROBABLY AN AGE THING, but at the end of a day like today, a back-to-back-sort-of-a-day, a full of busyness sort of a day, I sometimes feel more of unease than I do of satisfaction. Every tired fibre in me calls me back to silence and reflection. I can barely be of much use to myself or to others if I don’t remember who and what undergirds the vocational call. Sister Wendy Beckett has written -
I wanted to belong totally to God and it seemed that being a nun was the way. This was narrow thinking. Anyone can belong totally to God, in any way of life and at any age. All he asks is our desire.
And in Ron Hanson’s Mariette in Ecstasy we meet a young woman who joined a convent because she was in love with Jesus – but was eventually asked to leave. Many years later she wrote to an old classmate from those convent days …
Christ stills sends me roses. We try to be formed and held and kept by him, but instead he offers us freedom. And now when I try to know his will, his kindness floods me, his great love overwhelms me, and I hear him whisper, “Surprise me”.
Yes, whatever the circumstances of our “way of life” we have to desire to belong to God. And we’re called to respond to his invitation to freedom. So there’s always a need to place our institutional and personal busyness in the proper context of his invitation to “surprise me”, a need to make the time to notice that “his kindness floods me”. May my heart, soul, mind and body be a little more finely attuned to that whisper and to that kindness tomorrow.
JOY IS EVERYWHERE! Here’s proper counter to the bad taste of Anglican disharmony, conservative theologising, parsimonious judgments about who’s in and who’s out, who’s staying and who’s going.
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not let yourselves be slaves again. Galatians 5.1
Joy is everywhere because the Maker of the World has made it to be so. Joy is everywhere. Some of it in the Church and some of it outside of it. So let us be done, for God’s sake, with anger, mounting hatreds, prejudices, and the destructive demolition of an arm of Christ’s Church that ought to be rejoicing in God’s delight on the road to paradise. Let’s get back to the gospel – the goodness, gladness, generosity, graciousness, glory, grandeur and greatness of the joy of God …
And joy is everywhere; it is in the earth’s green covering of grass; in the blue serenity of the sky; in the reckless exuberance of spring; in the severe abstinence of grey winter; in the living flesh that animates our bodily frame; in the perfect poise of the human figure, noble and upright; in living; in the exercise of all our powers; in the acquisition of knowledge; in fighting evils; in dying for gains we never can share. Joy is there everywhere; it is superfluous, unnecessary; nay, it very often contradicts the most peremptory behests of necessity. It exists to show that the bonds of law can only be explained by love; they are like body and soul. Joy is the realisation of the truth of oneness, the oneness of our soul with the world and of the world-soul with the supreme lover. Rabindranath Tagore
Dr Kevin Thew Forrester’s election as Bishop of Northern Michigan has failed to receive the necessary consents to his consecration, and the election has, therefore, been described as “null and void”. Concerns were aired around the question of whether his practice of Zen Buddhist meditation diluted his commitment to the Christian faith, making him unsuitable to serve as a bishop. I’m personally not at all sure that would have been the case, but leaving that aside for the moment, of all the ecclesiastical statements I’ve read and heard in recent weeks there’s something in Dr Thew Forrester’s grace-filled response to what must surely have been heart-breaking news for him that fills me with hope for the future of religious faith – and of God-centred contemplation:
I have been extraordinarily blessed and honored to walk with my friends from the Diocese of Northern Michigan over these past months as their bishop-elect. I treasure the support they have extended me and my family, as well as that I have received from Hong Kong to Holland and from Great Britain to New Zealand, and indeed from so many throughout The Episcopal Church. As we live and move and have our being in Christ, there is truly a Holy Wisdom in all that is unfolding, and as St. John of the Cross affirms, a grace in ‘all that happens’
Joy exists to show that the bonds of law can only be explained by love. O Lord, open thou our lips. And our mouth shall show forth thy praise.
God has laid upon man the duty of being free, of safe-guarding freedom of spirit, no matter how difficult that may be, or how much sacrifice and suffering it may require.
PURE FM 107.8 -Thought for the Day – Sunday 10 August 2008
THESE ARE THE WORDS of the Russian philosopher and theologian Nicholas Berdyaev, and they’ve been a kind of lodestar, or guide, for me, across many years in Christian ministry.
The 2nd century church father St Irenaeus said that “the glory of God is a person fully alive”.
And philosopher John Macmurray wrote in the 1940s that “any morality which is against freedom is a bad morality”.
You know, I thank God that there are signs in this broken world of ours that some of us humans are becoming a little more humane. Maybe a little closer to the image of God. In many parts of the world human beings have come to recognize that God intends us to be free; to breathe his good air without fear or the need constantly to be looking over our shoulders. In many parts of the world human beings across the religious traditions have heard a call to work for the things of justice and shared peace; to work for the provision of food for the hungry, water for the thirsty and welcome for the outcast.
The Bishop of Colombo, addressing fellow bishops at the recent Lambeth Conference, said:
The Church is called to be: an inclusive communion, where there is space equally for everyone and anyone, regardless of colour, gender, ability, sexual orientation. Unity in diversity is a cherished Anglican tradition – a spirituality if you like, which we must reinforce in all humility for the sake of Christ’s Gospel.
And I say “Amen” to that. For I believe, with the Dutch scholar Erasmus, that God preserves the ship, but the mariner conducts it into harbour. We’re all in this together. God, together with every man, woman and child upon earth. Let’s take care to safeguard freedom of spirit. God is big enough to absorb our little mistakes and creative enough to have made us to be free. Grace and peace for you, as always.