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.