Saturday, 28 August 2010


102. Der Weg zum Schöpfer
Du armer Sterblicher, ach bleib doch nicht so kleben
An Farben dieser Welt und ihrem schnöden Leben.
Die Schönheit des Geschöpfs ist nur ein bloßer Steg,
Der uns zum Schöpfer selbst, dem Schönsten, zeigt den Weg.

Book 3 102 The Way to the Creator
Alas, O mortal Man, do not set such vast worth
On baser appetites and colours of this earth.
The beauty of the creature is nothing but a bridge,
Which leads to the Creator, Who Himself Beauty is.

Angelus Silesius, The Cherubinic Wanderer 

German version


234. Wirkung der heiligen Dreifaltigkeit
Der Sohn erlöset uns, der Geist, der macht uns leben,
Des Vaters Allmacht wird uns die Vergöttung geben.

Book 6 234 The working of the blessed Trinity
The Son redeemeth us, the Spirit vivifies,
The Father omnipotent will make us divinized.

Angelus Silesius, The Cherubinic Wanderer 

German version

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Creation and Trinity

Thus, as Maximus the Confessor said later, to contemplate the smallest object is to experience the Trinity: the very being of the object takes us back to the Father; the meaning it expresses, its logos, speaks to us of the Logos; its growth to fullness and beauty reveals the Breath, the Life-giver.

Olivier Clément, The Roots of Christian Mysticism (London, 1993), p63.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Maintenance as Love


There is a kind of love called maintenance,
Which stores the WD40 and knows when to use it,

Which checks the insurance, and doesn't forget
The milkman, which remembers to plant bulbs,

Which answers letters, which knows the way
The money goes, which deals with dentists

And Road Fund Tax and meeting trains,
And postcards to the lonely, which upholds

The permanently ricketty elaborate
Structures of living, which is Atlas.

And maintenance is the sensible side of love,
Which knows what time and weather are doing
To my brickwork, insulates my faulty wiring,
Laughs at my dryrotten jokes, remembers
My need for gloss and grouting, which keeps
My suspect edifice upright in air,
As Atlas did the sky.

UA Fanthorpe, Collected Poems (2005).

Sunday, 8 August 2010

The Rose

1.289. Ohne warumb.
Die Ros' ist ohn warumb / sie blühet weil sie blühet /
Sie achtt nicht jhrer selbst / fragt nicht ob man sie sihet.

The rose is without why; it blooms because it blooms.
Forgetful of itself, oblivious to our vision.

Angelus Silesius (Johann Scheffler), The Cherubinic Wanderer (1657)

I find you

I find you, Lord, in all Things and in all
my fellow creatures, pulsing with your life;
as a tiny seed you sleep in what is small
and in the vast you vastly yield yourself.

The wondrous game that power plays with Things
is to move in such submission through the world:
groping in roots and growing thick in trunks
and in treetops like a rising from the dead.

From "The Book of Hours" 1 The Book of the Monkish Life--22, by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 - 1926)

Ich finde dich in allen diesen Dingen,
denen ich gut und wie ein Bruder bin;
als Samen sonnst du dich in den geringen
und in den großen gibst du groß dich hin.

Das ist das wundersame Spiel der Kräfte,
daß sie so dienend durch die Dinge gehn:
in Wurzeln wachsend, schwindend in die Schäfte
und in den Wipfeln wie ein Auferstehn.

Das Stunden Buch (1906): Das Buch vom mönchischen Leben, Erstes Buch (1899) 22
24.9.1899, Berlin-Schmargendorf

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Mystic Creation

264. Die Kreaturen sind Gottes Widerhall
Nichts weset ohne Stimm: Gott höret überall,
In allen Kreaturn sein Lob und Widerhall.

269. Bei Gott ist alles gleich
Gott gibet so genau auf das Koaxn acht
Als auf das Direliern, das ihm die Lerche macht.

270. Die Stimme Gottes
Die Kreaturen sind des ewgen Wortes Stimme:
Es singt und klingt sich selbst in Anmut und im Grimme.

264. Creatures are God's Echo
Nothing is without voice: God everywhere can hear
Arising from creation His praise and echo clear.

269. With God all Things are One
The croaking of a frog to God appears as fair
As does the Lark's sweet trill, which upward soars in air.

270. The Voice of God
Creatures are but the Voice of the Eternal Word:
It sings and sounds its self, in sweetness and in dread.

Angelus Silesius tr Maria Shrady, The Cherubinic Wanderer - Book 1 (Classics of Western Spirituality, 1986)

German version:

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Everything Holy

For every thing that lives is holy, life delights in life;

William Blake, America: A Prophecy (1790-3), part 8, line 13

For every thing that lives is Holy.

William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1793), last line

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Bonaventure on Creatures

Aperi igitur oculos, aures spirituales admove, labia tua solve et cor tuum appone,8 ut in omnibus creaturis Deum tuum videas, audias, laudes, diligas et colas, magnifices et honores, ne forte totus contra te orbis terrarum consurgat.

Open therefore your eyes, alert your spiritual ears, open your lips and apply [appone] your heart,8 to see, hear, praise, love [diligas] and worship [colas], glorify and honour your God in all creatures, lest perhaps the whole circle of the earth rise together against you.

Bonaventure, Journey of the Spirit into God, 1.15

Significant autem huiusmodi creaturae huius mundi sensibilis invisibilia Dei,8 partim quia Deus est omnis creaturae origo, exemplar et finis, et omnis effectus est signum causae, et exemplatum exemplaris, et via finis, ad quem ducit: partim ex propria repraesentatione; . . . Omnis enim creatura ex natura est illius aeternae sapientiae quaedam effigies et similitudo.

Moreover, these manner of creatures of this sensible world signify the invisible things of God,8 partly because God is the Origin, Exemplar and End, of every creature, and (because) every effect is a sign of a cause, and an example [exemplatum] of an exemplar, and a way for the end, towards which it leads . . .  For every creature by its nature [ex natura] is a certain likeness and similitude of that eternal Wisdom.

Bonaventure, Journey of the Spirit into God, 2.12,

Saturday, 17 July 2010


I turned back to this book of late poems by R S Thomas, an Anglican priest in Wales, having read it first in 1994. Could the poems be read and used devotionally to nourish the life of prayer? Reading just two poems a day for a few weeks gave each a better chance to speak for itself. It was still quite possible to admire the architecture of the whole collection, beyond the obvious divisions in BC, Incarnation, Crucifixion and AD.

Published when R S was 77, Counterpoint is about so much more than 'an old Christian meets modern life', and 'the machine' - though that could be important enough as a theme. At times brutal, and always determinedly honest, his metaphors twist and turn the reader into new thoughts. Nor is it an easy spiritual ride. Most poems do not convert into a comforting devotional read, though they do have something in common with bracing Psalms. R S is good at lamenting, with just suggestions of a glimmer of light.

My feeling was that he was writing through spiritual crisis, with vast experience of life and religious tradition upon which to draw. Few of the poems are longer than half a page, some as short as eight lines, and the writing seems even sparer of expression than poems of his younger years.

I take them to be a major achievement. To continue to be creative into your eighties is relatively unusual, but it may be that the spiritual life can be a brighter flame inside a weaker body. I found the last two poems very moving. With so much exploration of emptiness and the destructive forces of modern life in previous poems, these comparatively shine with hope.
When we are weak, we are
strong. When our eyes close
on the world, then somewhere
within us the bush

burns. When we are poor
and aware of our inadequacy
of our table, it is to that
uninvited the guest comes.
and, with a very fine simplicity:-
I think that maybe
I will be a little surer
of being a little nearer.
That's all. Eternity
is in the understanding
that that little is more than enough.

That's all.

What a Job

From Job 29, some words which recalled me to the priestly calling:
I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame ... (v15)
 Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Reading Underhill

Evelyn Underhill in all her writing (that I have read so far) never strays far from her main point, which these quotations will make clear, from The School of Charity, Meditations on the Christian Creed -- The Mystery of Sacrifice, A Meditation on the Liturgy (combined edition published by Longmans 1956):

from The School of Charity
For Christianity is not a pious reverie, a moral system; it is a revelation .. of the realities that control life [p8]

God, as Brother Giles said, is a great mountain of corn from which man, like a sparrow, takes a grain of wheat: yet even that grain of wheat ... contains all the essentials of our life. [p8]

... a reality revealed to us in three ways as a Creative Love, a Rescuing Love and an Indwelling, all-pervading Love. ... Meister Eckhart, "Where I left myself, I found God; where I found myself, I lost God." [p9]

We believe that the tendency to give, to share, to cherish, is the mainspring of the universe ... and therefore when we are most generous, we are most loving and most real. [p10]

Humble self-abandonment is found and declared to be enough to give us God. [p42]

By a supreme exercise of humility, the deep purposes of God are worked out through man's natural life with all its powers, humiliations, conflicts and sufferings, its immense capacity for heroic self-giving, disinterested love: not by means of ideas, insights ... [p53]

Those who complain that they can make no progress in the life of prayer because they 'cannot meditate' should examine, not their capacity for meditation, but their capacity for suffering and love. [p54]

It is useless to talk in a large vague way about the love of God. [The Cross] is its point of insertion in the world of men, in action, example and demands. [p59]

The incarnation of the Holy in this world is social. [p92]
from The Mystery of Sacrifice
The history of the soul is marred throughout its course by cheap and unworthy oblations, which look impressive, but have not cost enough: by efforts to avoid the price of holiness, the totality of its obligation to God. [p22]

The mystic Erigena looking out on the world said, 'The loss and absence of God is the torment of the whole creation; nor do I think there is any other.' The full presence of God in His creation would mean the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. ... So the Eastern Church, adoring the humble oblation of bread and wine, sees in this the sign of a cosmic mystery, the consummation of all things, the transfiguration of the world in Christ. [p44]
By all accounts, she was an outstanding retreat conductor. But that is clear from her written legacy.

Sunday, 5 August 2007


Such a gentle book, and so perceptive. I particularly appreciate the way Marilynne Robinson introduces a subject with a short description which seems adequate at the time, but then returns, sometimes more than once, to add further detail and depth.
It feels as though your vision is being continually enlarged as you read. I suppose it is the essence of a reflective method, but it is instructive to see it being used so well in a novel.
This is the first book for many years which I have felt I had to read again. Short but so complete and poetically and humanely written. It is also a considerable achievement to portray a good man.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Just getting on with the job

Interesting review by Philip Welsh in the Church Times of 13th July, ( ) quotes an unnamed country vicar
who was exasperated at being expected to jump in response to another centralised episcopal initiative, or else to say what he was intending to do instead. “I’m just getting on with the job,” he replied.
Having heard the shameless and very public confession of his source last week, I would agree that it obviously is not seen by some as being enough simply to get on with the job. There must be some new project initiative under way, something which says, "Look at this -- something is really happening here!"

Yet in a rural parish, the age old giving of real attention, prayer and love is what is needed - which is very far from being a project!

Thursday, 26 July 2007

The priest's cure

I'm continuing to be spiritually nourished and surprised by R S Thomas' poems. From one I read today:-
The priest's cure, not a prescription, is
that love's casualties must be mended by love.

Parables, from Collected Later Poems, p224

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Christmas Presence

The secret of the Christmas celebration is presence: both being present ourselves to the baby, and recognising God's presence in the tiny form of the new-born child of Bethlehem. 'In', not 'with'. But it is the contemplatives' insight that God is found in the silence within each of us, without in any sense our being God ourselves. 'Within' turns out to be transcendent, and so most completely outside of us, but encompassing all we are, and all our relationships of concern and love.

In the rush and turmoil of the celebration (for a parish priest very demanding indeed), how might it be possible to be present at the centre, while working at the periphery? By using the moments that present for prayer and offering all that I am to him. It will never feel completely satisfactory, but it is so important to keep renewing the glimpse of God in Jesus, and so beginning to hold in mind and spirit what cannot be fully held in this life. Somehow it becomes enough.

This paraphrase from Augustine Confessions, 11.20 comes close to explaining what I am trying to express: "The time of the past is memory, the time of the present is contemplation, the time of the future is expectation. These three exist in the soul of the person -- I see them nowhere else. In the innermost place of our humanity there exists no time -- there it is pure present. There God allows us to discover our true selves."

Friday, 21 December 2007

On the High Downs

Walking during the weekend on the downs from Inkpen towards Oxenwood, with the steep hill down to the plain on the right, we heard the quite beautiful sound of a skylark singing over a field to the left. The wind was strong and cold, it was no time to stop and listen for long. Just as we stopped, however, the bird also stopped singing. The clouds were so bright it was difficult to see the lark, but suddenly it was as if it started falling like a stone towards the ground. This was some way off, but it looked as though the fall were vertical until it disappeared from view behind a fold in the ground out of our sight, but then just for a moment and reassuringly it flew back into vision and down again. This was astonishing, something to wonder at. The singing which just seems to emanate mysteriously from the sky lifts the heart: it is just present, without visible source, until that moment ...

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Discreet and Wary

Then the Priest shall take the Child into his hands, and shall say to the Godfathers and Godmothers, Name this Child. And then naming it after them (if they shall certify him that the Child may well endure it) he shall dip it in the Water discreetly and warily, saying, N. I baptize thee in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
In this country area, some couples still request the Prayer Book Ministration of Publick Baptism of Infants for their child’s Christening. While some of the phrasing sounds quaint to modern ears, the Service retains a dignity and directness. I chuckle inwardly over the rubric’s idea of ‘warily and discreetly’ dipping the Child in the Water as I pour water on the head of the little one: a much more personal concern than the bland rubric in Common Worship suggests. Our infant forebears were much hardier, surely, to be dipped in the cold standing water of the unlocked font. The enacted theology of dipping appealed, as a real sign of being buried in Christ that we may rise with him in resurrection. The practice and its practical implications however did not much appeal to me, nor, when they were asked, to many parents. Yet the sense that I have is that pouring water on an infant is a theological also-ran compared with immersion, and introduced mainly for practical reasons.

The medieval font of one of these churches is very large, and the basin has the capacity of a large baby’s bath. Architecture can constrain or release, and there is a need for theological reflection and imagination to see the possibilities opened in any particular building. I began to imagine an immersion in the font, and would mention to parents in preparation discussions that it was possible to offer immersion baptism here, not least because of the size of the font. Indeed, I would add, this was the preferable way and sprinkling the second choice. Parents looked lovingly at their baby as we spoke and decided warily and discreetly that they and the assembled family would much prefer the normal sprinkling. This was completely understandable and in a line with the compelling anxieties of our age and society about children and risk. Perhaps there also sounded something daring and ‘new’ about the immersion rite. I persevered in mentioning the two ways for a number of years without any parents choosing immersion of their infant.

Two years ago, however, a couple took up the suggestion very thoughtfully and generously. For them it seemed completely right, and I sensed their excitement as we discussed it. I don’t think any of us were fully aware of the practical preparations which were necessary, but knowing we were going to do it focussed our planning. Hannah would come into church in ordinary baby clothes, and would be dressed in the family baptismal gown when she had been towelled down and powdered dry. On the afternoon, I began to regret the sheer physical work of carrying the water to the font – much more than for a pouring. Yet we prepared everything and joyfully began the service, following the parents’ preference for the Common Worship Order.

In terms of feelings, to see little Hannah naked, and to hold her tiny human form cupped in my two hands, was deeply moving and fulfilling as a return to something much more obviously foundational in Christian practice and human life. That is our real, creaturely vulnerability and defencelessness. Hannah was much smaller naked than she had seemed clothed, also she seemed closer to her birth. Members of the family participating told me afterwards that seeing her nakedness had also affected them much more powerfully than they had expected. Our common humanity was revealed, only to be buried in Christ under the water in order to be raised in him. The dipping left the two of us much wetter than we had anticipated. I don’t know how, but my grip changed as I lifted her out and she was now held under her armpits, lifted up for a moment to all of us before being swaddled, now protesting loudly, in deep towelling in preparation for being clothed in the white baptismal robe.

We all had a sense of event, that something of deep significance and meaning had taken place. Some of the images of the wordy service had been given flesh. As a drama and picture of the whole Christian life, it is much fuller and satisfying than what usually is experienced. Personally I was very grateful for Hannah’s parents’ encouragement and generosity. They did not regret the choice for a moment, and so it was two years later that we immersed her younger sister, Grace, in her baptism. The word about Hannah’s immersion baptism had meanwhile got around the villages and a few other parents were encouraged to choose dipping, though most still did not.

If the understated act of sprinkling reflects in some way our fears for our children and narrows down the imagery of washing, the act of faith by Hannah and Grace’s parents stands out on many levels. It required more than the usual trust in the minister, for one thing: a true handing over to the church of the child – foreshadowing the later handings-over of marriage and funeral. Infant immersion is a counter-cultural act of theological imagination, and I am very grateful to the girls’ parents for opening up what was for me a vivid insight into and experience of the Pauline tradition of death-burial-raising, and being clothed with Christ. The fact is also that the parents and local family are more committed to the regular worshipping church than some, and I think that gave them all a deeper appreciation of the living theology we were drawing upon, which I have heard described as ‘the divine parabola’ of Philippians 2. The baptism seemed more Christological, drawing us all closer to the heart of faith. While this is a powerful insight from adult believer’s baptism by immersion, the baptism of infants introduces allusions also to birth, weakness, humility, dependency upon the gentleness of the strong.
I am aware that this is hardly new, nor indeed possibly even noteworthy. However, I was encouraged by a friend to write about this, as it really has refreshed my baptismal practice and thinking about it.
 Thursday, 21 February 2008

Preparing for Easter

I was guided to the poems of William Stafford by a friend. To my ears, Stafford has a distinctive , sure voice. His words are simple, his observations humble, yet the combination very telling. The titles always seem to matter.

I was moved by this one in the early pages.

Easter Morning
Maybe someone comes to the door and says,
“Repent,” and you say, “Come on in,” and it̓s
Jesus. That̓s when all you ever did, or said,
or even thought, suddenly wakes up again and
sings out, “I̓m still here,” and you know it̓s true.
You just shiver alive and are left standing
there suddenly brought to account: saved.

Except, maybe that someone says, “I̓ve got a deal
for you.” And you listen, because that̓s how
you̓re trained—they told you, “Always hear both sides.”
So then the slick voice can sell you anything, even
Hell, which is what you̓re getting by listening.
Well, what should you do? I̓d say always go to
the door, yes, but keep the screen locked. Then,
while you hold the Bible in one hand, lean forward
and say carefully, “Jesus?”
 Sunday, 17 February 2008

Gregory Nazianzen, Hymn to God

μνος ες Θεόν.
πάντων πέκεινα τί γρ θέμις λλο σε μέλπειν;
Πς λόγος μνήσει σε;

σ γρ λόγ οδενητόν.
Πς νόος θρήσει σε;
σ γρ νό οδεν ληπτός.
Μονος ἐὼν φραστος·
πε τέκες σσα λαλεται.
Μονος ἐὼν γνωστος· 
πε τέκες σσα νοεται.
Πάντα σε κα λαλέοντα, κα ο λαλέοντα λιγαίνει.
Πάντα σε κα νοέοντα κα ο νοέοντα γεραίρει.
Ξυνο γάρ τε πόθοι, ξυνα δ' δνες πάντων [508] μφ σέ·
σο δ τ πάντα προσεύχεται·
ες σ δ πάντα Σύνθεμα σν νοέοντα λαλε σιγώμενον μνον.

Σον πάντα μένει· σο δ' θρόα πάντα θοάζει.
Κα πάντων τέλος σσ, κα ες, κα πάντα, κα οδες, 
Οχ ν ἐὼν, ο πάντα· πανώνυμε, πς σε καλέσσω, 
Τν μόνον κλήϊστον; 
περνεφέας δ καλύπτρας 
Τίς νόος ορανίδης εσδύσεται; 
λαος εης, πάντων πέκεινα·
τί γρ θέμις λλο σε μέλπειν; 

"You alone are unutterable,
from the time you created all things,
that can be spoken of.
You alone are unknowable,
from the time you created all things
that can be known.
All things cry out about you;
those which speak,
and those which cannot speak.
All things honour you;
those which think,
and those which cannot think
For there is one longing, one groaning,
that all things have for you...

All things pray to you
that comprehend your plan
and offer you a silent hymn.
In you, the One, all things abide,
and all things endlessly run to you,
who are the end of all.",_Gregorius_Nazianzenus,_Carmina_dogmatica,_MGR.pdf

Gregory Nazianzen (329-389 AD), Hymn to God from
Gregorius Nazianzenus - Carmina dogmatica [00880-00902] ΚΘʹ.

Monday, 14 June 2010


Faith for her was habit and family loyalty, a reverence for the Bible which was also literary, admiration for her father and mother. And then that thrilling quiet of which she had never felt any need to speak. Her father had always said, God does not need our worship. We worship to enlarge our sense of the holy, so that we can feel and know the presence of the Lord, who is always with us. He said, Love is what it amounts to, a loftier love, and pleasure in a loving presence.

Marilynne Robinson, Home (Virago Press, 2009), p115

Home and Gilead, such lucid writing and such loving, careful attention to the characters. The beauty is in their flaws and failures, and the graces hidden and revealed.

Friday, 14 May 2010

The Words of God

A certain Philosopher asked St Anthony: Father, how can you be so happy when you are deprived of the consolation of books? Anthony replied: My book, O philosopher, is the nature of created things, and any time I want to read the words of God, the book is before me.

Thomas Merton, The Wisdom of the Desert (1961) CIII

Sunday, 11 April 2010


Confronted by the wistful, the half-believing and the seeking, we know what it is to minister to those who relate to the faith of Christ in unexpected ways. We do not write off hesitant and inadequate responses to the gospel. Ours is a church of the smoking flax, of the mixture of wheat and tares. Critics may say that we blunt the edge of the gospel and become Laodicean. We reply that we do not despise the hesitant and half-believing, because the deeper we look into human lives the more often we discern the glowing embers of faith.

Robert Runcie, 'Comment', Church Observer, June 1962, quoted by Martyn Percy in ed. Bell, Hopkinson, Willmott, Reshaping Rural Ministry – A Theological and Practical Handbook, p151

Friday, 2 April 2010


Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east,
More brightening her, rare-dear Britain, as his reign rolls,
Pride, rose, prince, hero of us, high-priest,
Our hearts' charity's hearth's fire, our thoughts' chivalry's throng's Lord.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, Wreck of the Deutschland, lines 277-280

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Love and worth

As far as Julian is concerned, feelings of guilt and worthlessness are far more serious than the moral failures which are usually called sins. Partly this is because unresolved feelings of these sorts prevent us from living in the joy and freedom of God's loving presence. Partly also it is because they represent unhealed fracturing and pain at the core of the personality. The result of such pain will inevitably be pain-behaviour, actions arising out of the depths of our wounded psyche which only serve to deepen the hurts even further, and in the process hurt others as well. Indeed it is from this source that sins in the sense of moral failures usually arise. If the deep wounds are cured, the sins which are symptomatic and expressive of them need no longer occur.

The deep sense of worthlessness, like our blindness to the love of God, can already be healed in part, though in part it still waits for consummation. The face of God is seen by Julian as the face of the compassionate Christ; and his face is our face. Looking on Jesus Julian sees the dignity and value of humankind demonstrated in his humanity. If once it is fully accepted that Jesus was truly man, then it is no longer possible to despise human nature, because Jesus is the manifestation of what that nature truly is. … Contemplation of Christ enlightens us so that we are able to see the worth of our own selves in the love and delight which God has for us.

Grace M Jantzen, Julian of Norwich – Mystic and Theologian (SPCK, 1987) p208

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Not enough, but not nothing

As I write these notes, my wife is lying on the settee at the other end of the room, to safeguard against her getting pressure sores. She has multiple sclerosis. Twenty years ago, she worked as a psychiatrist. Just last week we had a Christmas card from one of her psychotherapy patients, who remembers the sessions she had with Ann and looks back on them as a decisive shaping influence on her life. Today Ann cannot remember what country she lives in, nor what day it is, nor what are the names of the two carers who have shared in looking after her for over two years, nor what is the name of the grandson who brought her such joy when he was here a few weeks ago. She is virtually unable to swallow (she eats via a feeding tube) or to speak. She is watching the television news, though I am not sure how much she takes in. On that news we have been hearing of the terrible cost of the Russian invasion of Chechnya, of the suffering of the local people and of the Russian bodies surrounding their tanks. The pictures were too grim to show us. In a moment I will take her out for a walk in her wheelchair in the warm January sun, and we will have an ice-cream, and if we are lucky she will be able to eat a little of it, and as I push her back up the hill to our apartment I will sing silly songs and pretend I am not going to make it to the top, and she will laugh. It is not enough, but it is not nothing, and it is certainly not to be despised. It is a gift from God. That is what Ecclesiastes says. It is also a wonderful gift from God that this book should be in the canon of scripture. I cannot imagine how it got through some community screening procedure. Actually I can. I do not think they were fooled by the reference to Solomon. I think they were overcome by the truth it speaks.

John Goldingay, David Allan Hubbard Professor of Old Testament
at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, in BRF Guidelines Jan-Apr 2001, Ecclesiastes

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

One accompanying

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together 360
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
- But who is that on the other side of you?

T S Eliot, The Waste Land, V. What the Thunder Said , lines 359-365

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Wisdom lost

O perpetual revolution of configured stars,
O perpetual recurrence of determined seasons,
O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of The Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.

T S Eliot, Choruses from The Rock (1934)

Thursday, 11 February 2010

The Unbusy Pastor

Hilary of Tours diagnosed our pastoral busyness as irreligiosa sollicitudo pro Deo, a blasphemous anxiety to do God's work for him.

I (and most pastors, I believe) become busy for two reasons; both are ignoble.

I am busy because I am vain. I want to appear important. Significant. What better way than to be busy? The incredible hours, the crowded schedule, and the heavy demands on my time are proof to myself — and to all who will notice — that I am important. If I go into a doctor's office and find there's no one waiting, and I see through a half-open door the doctor reading a book, I wonder if he's any good. A good doctor will have people lined up waiting to see him; a good doctor will not have time to read a book. Although I grumble about waiting my turn in a busy doctor's office, I am also impressed with his importance.

Such experiences affect me. I live in a society in which crowded schedules and harassed conditions are evidence of importance, so I develop a crowded schedule and harassed conditions. When others notice, they acknowledge my significance, and my vanity is fed.

I am busy because I am lazy. I indolently let others decide what I will do instead of resolutely deciding myself. I let people who do not understand the work of the pastor write the agenda for my day's work because I am too slipshod to write it myself. The pastor is a shadow figure in these people's minds, a marginal person vaguely connected with matters of God and good will. Anything remotely religious or somehow well-intentioned can be properly assigned to the pastor.

Because these assignments to pastoral service are made sincerely, I go along with them. It takes effort to refuse, and besides, there's always the danger that the refusal will be interpreted as a rebuff, a betrayal of religion, and a calloused disregard for people in need.

It was a favourite theme of C. S. Lewis that only lazy people work hard. By lazily abdicating the essential work of deciding and directing, establishing values and setting goals, other people do it for us; then we find ourselves frantically, at the last minute, trying to satisfy a half dozen different demands on our time, none of which is essential to our vocation, to stave off the disaster of disappointing someone.

But if I vainly crowd my day with conspicuous activity or let others fill my day with imperious demands, I don't have time to do my proper work, the work to which I have been called. How can I lead people into the quiet place beside the still waters if I am in perpetual motion? How can I persuade a person to live by faith and not by works if I have to juggle my schedule constantly to make everything fit into place?

Eugene H Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor (Eerdmans, 1989) pp18-19

Wednesday, 10 February 2010


Honour to those who in their lives
have defined and guard their Thermopylae.
Never stirring from duty;
just and upright in all their deeds,
yet with pity and compassion too;
generous when they are rich, and when
they are poor, again a little generous,
again helping as much as they can;
always speaking the truth,
yet without hatred for those who lie.

And more honour is due to them
when they foresee (and many do foresee)
that Ephialtes will finally appear,
and that the Medes in the end will go through.

Constantine P Cavafy (1903)

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

For those I have hurt …

I offer up to you my prayers
    and intercessions,
for those especially who have
    in any matter
hurt, grieved, or found fault
    with me,
or who have done me any damage
    or displeasure.
For all those also whom,
    at any time,
I have vexed, troubled, burdened,
    and scandalised,
by words or deed, knowingly
    or in ignorance;
that you would grant us all equally
    pardon for our sins,
and for our offences against each other.
Take away from our hearts, O Lord,
all suspiciousness, indignation,
wrath, and contention,
and whatsoever may hurt charity,
and lessen brotherly love.

Thomas à Kempis (c.1380-1471)

The glory of God is a human being fully alive

Gloria enim Dei vivens homo: vita autem hominis visio Dei. Si enim quae est per conditionem ostensio Dei vitam praestat omnibus in terra viventibus, multo magis ea quae est per Verbum manifestatio Patris, vitam praestat his qui vident Deum.

For the glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God. For if the manifestation of God which is made by means of the creation, affords life to all living in the earth, much more does that revelation of the Father which comes through the Word give life to those who see God.

"Life in man is the glory of God; the life of man is the vision of God."

Another translation says: "The glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God"

Irenaeus (c125- ) Adversus Haereses Book 4, 7:28

Poetry Snips

Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east …

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89).  Poems  1918.   The Wreck of the Deutschland, line 277

What a piece of worke is a man! how Noble in Reason? how infinite in faculty? in forme and mouing how expresse and admirable? in Action, how like an Angel? in apprehension, how like a God? the beauty of the world, the Parragon of Animals; and yet to me, what is this Quintessence of Dust?

William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (Act II, Scene ii, 293-8)

Monday, 8 February 2010


"What I am and how I am, in nature and by grace, I have it all from you, Lord, and it is you. And I offer it all to you, above all for your praise, and for the help of my fellow Christians and my self."
      Book of Privy Counsel, p109

Grant me to recognise in other men, Lord God,
The radiance of your own face.
     Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955)

Hold our minds still,
Keep us from running off into the past or the future,
So that we can meet you where we are –
In happiness or in grief,
In confidence or in anxiety,
In life and in death. Amen.

Grant me, O Lord, throughout this day
    Faith to love,
    Love enough to forgive,
    Forgiveness enough to value those I find difficult;
Even as I am valued, forgiven, loved and trusted,
    By your Son Jesus Christ.

Activism redefined

The fuller version of the quotation by Timothy Radcliffe below:-

"There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist … most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful."

Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (1966, Doubleday, p. 73)

Sunday, 31 January 2010

I feel a presence …

I feel a presence of delight and fear,
Of love and majesty far off and near;
Go where I will its absence cannot be,
And solitude and God are one with me;
A presence that one's gloomiest cares caress
And fills up every place to guard and bless.   

John Clare (1793-1864)

The midsummer cushion, by John Clare, edited Anne Tibble and Ronald Thornton. Published in 1978, Carcanet Press [for] Mid Northumberland Arts Group (Manchester), p473

Forgiving earth for not being heaven

The prayer of forgiveness is precisely for preventing such impoverishment of one's life. But it involves the recognition that we are not proficients at loving and that where we cannot organise our aggression productively, by faith or with the help of others, we shall just have to be angry.

Some of our unwillingness to forgive is due to our unreadiness to accept this, to see that we have feet of clay like everyone else. It is created and fed by unacknowledged perfectionism. For various reasons (a pietistic upbringing, an inability to take failure, a need to be above criticism) we expect too much of our selves and consequently too much of other people, too much of life altogether so that it kicks back in one disappointment after another. It would be good if we could make a pact with our selves not to blame ourselves or others or life for not meeting the obsessional hunger for the absolute that God has planted in us. It would be an agreement to forgive earth for not being heaven. Every relationship, pleasure, ambition, piece of work done, must have its core of discontent, must at some point fail us, because we are made to want something always just beyond it. What it is God alone knows. All we know is that if we had not this infinite want we would settle for the here and now, and, loving it, necessarily hate death, or else disapprove of it all.

J Neville Ward, Friday Afternoon (London, 1976), pp31-2

Saturday, 30 January 2010

The Importance of the Truth

John 8:31—46; 14:1—6

'What's the worst thing about being in a prison camp in Siberia?' Irina Ratushinskaya put this question to one of her fellow inmates who had experienced severe cold, near starvation, forced labour, various punishments and much more. Her companion replied without a moment's hesitation, 'The perpetual lies' (Grey is the Colour of Hope, Hodder & Stoughton, 1989, p. 156). She comments, 'It's impossible to tolerate brazen lies, told straight to your face. Human nature rebels against it.'

Mike Butterworth, Deceit in God's Service BRF Guidelines Jan-Apr 2010

Friday, 29 January 2010

Violence & Activism

Jesus promises rest for our souls. Often we priests are consumed by a destructive activism in our service of the people. Indeed, this crisis of sexual abuse may aggravate the temptation to show that we at least are wonderful priests incessantly devoted to our work, always available on our mobile phones. That is salvation by works and not by grace.
Thomas Merton believed that this hyper-activism was a collusion with the violence of our society: "The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate 'violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence."

Timothy Radcliffe, Tablet 2 Jan 2010 Towards a Humble Church

Professor Edward Schillebeeckx

It was, however, only in the 1970s with his companion volumes Jesus: An experiment in Christology and Christ: The Christian experience in the modern world that the full extent of his radicalism was made apparent. Although he was prepared also to offer his own metaphysical account of Christ's divinity, dogma and doctrine are made strictly subordinate to experience, both in respect of how biblical revelation should be interpreted and what it means for us today. So what sets Christ apart, he suggests, is his unparalleled intimacy with his Father ("Abba"), and the experience of vibrant new life that he gives to all around him ("the kingdom of God").
In similar fashion, he contends that to look to the empty tomb or even visionary experience on the part of the disciples is to look in the wrong place. With both of these, experience has already been transmogrified into doctrinal story. The real heart of those first encounters was an overwhelming conviction among the disciples of Jesus's forgiveness of their desertion stretching out to them from beyond the grave, and thus empowering them to live anew.
David Brown, CT 22 Jan 2010

Love and Duty

COPENHAGEN's most famous philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, argued in his Works of Love that Christianity is the world's greatest philosophy because it makes of love the supreme duty, the "royal law" of the philosopher king Jesus Christ.
No other philosophy -pagan or rationalist -marries love and law, and so turns desire into duty, in this way. By so doing, Christianity secures love as humanity's end; for "only when it is a duty to love, only then is love eternally secured against every change:'
Michael Northcott CT 22 Jan 2010