For the Love of God’s Creation

English: Transfiguration of Jesus

English: Transfiguration of Jesus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my church today we celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration.  There is a lot of debate about why the story of the Transfiguration [we used Mark 9.2-9 today] appears in the synoptic gospels and indeed where the Feast of the Transfiguration should occur in the church’s calendar, now or in August. Part of that debate is about the sense we make of the story, how it communicates to us today. The story has a simple truth. It is not about a distant God thundering from the heavens. There is great tenderness in this story. Great holiness. Holiness is a characteristic of God. This holiness expresses itself in self-giving. God takes delight in Jesus and when we gain a greater understanding of this delight, we gain a little more insight into God’s heart. In the words of the 1st Letter of John, ‘we love because God loved us first’ [4.19]. Creation is God’s gift given to us in love so I want to explain why I think it is important that we should cherish this gift.

We are approaching the season of Lent and in Lent we are called on to repent; to acknowledge what we have done wrong and how, directly or indirectly, we have dealt unjustly with our sisters and brothers across the world; and what part we have played in damaging God’s creation. But Lent is also a period of renewal. In Old English, the word meant Spring and comes from its Germanic root for the word long, because in Spring the days visibly lengthen. So Lent is a chance to renew our priorities, reorder our lives, to begin again, in the reconciling love and grace of God.

We know that Jesus enjoyed the beauty of the natural world; that he was knowledgable about the birds of the air, the flowers of the field, about ploughing, sowing and harvesting; all this is to be found in his teaching and parables. He taught in the countryside and by the lake in Galilee. He was at home in the deserted places where he could be alone with God and pray.  In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has gone with Peter, James and John “up a high mountain……And he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.” And the voice of God says, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him.” God is declaring his love for his Son.

Ascent is a metaphor widely used in the Christian tradition. It’s a symbolic expression that tells the story of the upward journey of the soul to God. In medieval thought, the idea of ascent became an allegory for a movement within, when the Spirit within you connects with God’s Spirit. The Romantic Movement in the 19th century externalised what stimulated the human spirit. Naturalists like John Muir and Henry Thoreau had a rich and ambiguous sense of awe about mountain landscapes. Poets, composers and painters revelled in the incomparable greatness of nature. The historian William Cronon says that they witnessed God “on the mountaintop, in the chasm, in the waterfall, in the thundercloud” [Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, 1996, p.73]. For these new naturalists and adventurers, to climb a mountain was an achievement of will against gravity. As vision increased with altitude, a spiritual dimension gave a new perspective of the whole earth, something beyond the perspective of the view, to a place where it was possible to understand the earth’s vastness, its mystery and beauty, expressed in the ‘doctrine of the sublime’ [ibid].

In our modern age we are in awe of the the power and achievement of modern science and technology. As our technologies evolve into more complex realities, possibly threatening realities, there has developed an almost religious hope, a reverence even, that like God technology is to be “loved for itself, apart from its fitness for human life and purpose” [Bronislaw Szerszynski, Nature Technology and the Sacred, 2008, p.63]. This has become almost messianic technological hope for the future that will usher in a better reordering of humankind. This too has become an ascent of the mountain, but now the objective is to tame God and finally replace God.

Christian scriptures inspire the changes we want to see, but do not hide the realities we need to accept. We want to safeguard our sense of the sacred, savouring our relationship with God. That is why Peter wanted to stay on the mountain. He wanted to hold on to his expectations of Jesus. To savour the moment and perhaps hold on to this moment, in this place, for ever.  Many of us have experienced that high moment in our lives when we have been transformed as a result of getting a glimpse of God breaking into our lives. Or we may have witnessed someone living life so intensely, so joyously that it seemed that light radiated from their face. This is transfiguration.

Paul Santmire explores in his book, The Travail of Nature: The Ambiguous Ecological Promise of Christian Theology, 1985]  the ambiguity of Christian thought in its attitude towards ecology. He quotes the 19th century philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, “Nature, the world, has no value, no interest for Christians. The Christian thinks only of himself and the salvation of his soul” [p.3]. There is some truth in this statement in that if people see themselves only in relationship to God, they will tend not to see themselves in community with God’s creation. Yet a spirituality that focuses on the community of all creatures may also be regarded as a partial vision. We need an integrated spirituality, one that is centred on the healing work of Christ who is bringing into being the saving process of a new Heaven and a new Earth. Santmire describes two motifs, the “spiritual motif” and the “ecological motif” which arise out of what he calls three “root metaphors”, the metaphor of “ascent”, the metaphor of “fecundity,” the metaphor of “migration to a good land”.  When we climb up the path of the mountain are we always looking straight ahead? Do we not pause for breath and turn round to see where we have come from? To see the fertile land below in every dimension, spiritually as well as materially? Then we become aware of the rich tapestry of earth’s beauty and perhaps the sense of God’s immanence in the world.

Christian discipleship is not about turning one’s back on the world and turning towards God. It’s not about rising above the world towards some ethereal realm. Transfiguration is about change. It is about embracing a new ethical relationship not only with other human beings but with the natural world as well, to commune with it in new ways.  So if we join Jesus in going back down the mountain, what will be the direction of our travel?  Are we prepared for this process, an ongoing commitment to transformation? A commitment that embraces honesty, integrity and care for others and God’s creation?

We face an crisis of existence that cannot be resolved politically. This much is clear from the ineffective climate change conferences that have been held regularly since the mid-1990’s. Our future is precariously balanced between hope and disaster. We are now threatened by swiftly moving changes to our environment about which we are painfully ignorant. We are heading into a ‘perfect storm’. So the coming season of Lent, gives us the opportunity to lament the damage that has been done, leading to a transformation of heart and mind that will provide example and moral leadership. Only this kind of vital spiritual response to deal with the ecological crisis we are facing, and the restraints on human life that it will impose will provide us with wisdom for our global future and shalom in God’s creation.

God’s vision goes beyond minor lifestyle changes that are well within our comfort zones. We proclaim a ‘green gospel’ of tree planting, recycling and solar, wind and tidal energy. ‘Reduce, reuse, recycle’ is our mantra, but we recycle because it is a useful, profitable or beneficial thing to do. We need to do more than this. We must speak out on behalf of creation. For too long we have accepted violence against creation and against one another. We must have a compassionate anger that energises action for environmental justice. And must ensure that God’s justice is brought to all those who are most in need. For all creation, solidarity with all its creatures.

The dazzling light of the Transfiguration shines in our faces. We are not without hope and confidence. Creation is God’s gift. Like the gift of his Son, made in love. And we have been commissioned as co-creators in the interrelationship between God, humanity, and the natural world. We have to give voice to the glory of God in the beauty of creation. We are the eyes that see the divine splendour in creation. We are the heart that beats for the love of God’s creation.

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‘We will remember them’ are words we hear and say each Remembrance Day. We dutifully repeated them at our Remembrance Service in All Saints yesterday afternoon. In remembering, and in looking back to the First World War, informed by the poetry and other writings of that time, we held before God those who had died, those who had been injured, and those who have been mentally scarred by this tragic event in human history. But we also recommitted ourselves as followers of the Prince of Peace.

The new politics of today are bringing about new perspectives of war largely because the nature of warfare is also changing. Armies are smaller and there is a greater use of more powerful weapons guided by computer technology. But technology seduces us. Sadly the casualties will not change. There has been little change in the jus in bello. Sixteen million human beings died in the 1914-18 war of whom 7 million were civilians. There may be fewer combatants killed but now the balance of collateral damage is disproportionate.

In our remembrance we must truthfully reflect the experiences of those who took part in war and were directly affected by it. How else can we honour those we seek to remember? One of the pieces of writing we used in our service was the story from Emilio Lussu’s book A Soldier on the Southern Front (translated by Gregory Conti in Pete Ayrton’s anthology of writings from WW1 No Man’s Land). It described a scene on the Southern Front.  Some Italians were facing an Austro-Hungarian patrol,

They were seven of them, walking in single file. Convinced they were nowhere near our line, out of sight, they were proceeding parallel to our own trench, walking straight up, rifles in hand, packs on their backs. They were exposed from their knees up. The captain of the 9th gestured to the sharpshooters, gave the order to fire, and the patrol crumbled to the ground.

War is like big-game hunting. Lussu said this elsewhere in his book. When the captain of the 9th went to inspect the bodies, a sound of rustling was heard in the trees. The sharpshooters aimed their rifles…. The sound came from two squirrels,

Quick and nimble, they chased each other, hid, chased each other again, and his again. Short little shrieks, like uncontainable laughter, marked their encounters each time they launched themselves with little hops from opposite sides of the trunk, the one against the other…..
One of the sharpshooters….muttered,
‘Shall we shoot?’
‘Are you crazy?’ the captain answered in surprise. ‘They’re so cute.’

Why is a squirrel ‘cute’ but not a fellow human being? I am reminded of a story about St Patrick and his peaceful invasion of Ireland. An ambush had been laid for him by King Leary to prevent St Patrick spreading the faith in Ireland. As Patrick and his followers approached they were singing the hymn or lorica known as St Patrick’s “breastplate” of faith, recited for the protection of body and soul against all forms of evil. Instead of seeing St Patrick the King and his men saw only a herd of wild deer and let them pass by.

How are we to learn not to kill? How do we step back? Violence is in each and every one of us. We speak of peace. We pray for peace.  But resolutions to conflicts seem to be difficult to find. Does peace requires something from us that we’re not willing to give up? Remembrance has to be about a commitment to peace – a commitment to do all in our power prevent the tragedy of war that is witnessed by so many generations. Peace must become a greater reality and sought more tenaciously than war.

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November 10, 2014 · 10:47

Why the Church must learn to speak about the ecological crisis

P1000370I have just returned as the Scottish Episcopal Church representative at the Anglo-Scandinavian Pastoral Conference, hosted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland, in the town of Seltjarnarnes close to the City of Reykjavík. The theme of this year´s conference was ‘Theology and the Environment’.

We heard from a meteorological scientist who made it clear from his scientific record that the enormity of the evidence leaves no room for the unsubstantiated opinion of those who deny the existence of global warming, so we must accept that accelerating climate change is in the main caused by human activity and that its effect will not be universal or linear.

The response by the theologians put into context the physicality of Iceland, an island with wild landscapes geologically still in formation (the Barthabunga volcano was rumbling to the east). Also one of the main livelihoods is fishing and the sea is evidence of the indifference of nature to human life. This physicality and its inhabitants’ way of life, with the sea as symbolic of ambivalence of nature, makes Iceland a place of radical uncertainty but also provides relevant connections. What is interesting about Lutheran ecological spirituality is that it is averse to seeing nature, objectifying it in other words, and consequently devaluing creation. The prayers, psalms and hymns sensitively hear the Word of God, giving a rich perception of communication from God, revealing that God is in, with and under all things. Lutherans therefore hear the sighs and groans that St Paul speaks of in Romans 8, renewing their hunger to do what is right and good.

Some of us were not convinced by the ecofeminist arguments put forward in one of the papers. The core concept of women being identified with nature and suffering the same devaluation, risks essentialising women and creating the same dualism that women seek to overcome. This said, the second paper which focused on the influential work of Sallie McFague, a mainstream Protestant, helped to restore some balance.

P1000402I was asked to preach at Áskirkja and this is a part of what I said [the readings were Isaiah 29: 17-24, 2nd Letter to the Corinthians 3: 4-9, Gospel of Mark 7: 31-37]

We are at the mid-point of our conference considering ‘Theology and the Environment’ and I have been reflecting on the Christian view of humankind’s role in nature. Creation is not solely for the benefit of humankind. Its value is in relation to God directly, to glorify God and to bring our Creator delight. We are at the centre of God’s creative purpose and we have been assigned a specific role of steward.

If then I am a steward of nature, whilst I see nature from a human perspective, I am unlike those who wish to dominate nature. I recognise definite limits. I am entrusted with the use of nature, not with its entire consumption. And this stewardship role has a servant dimension because I have a duty of care for organisms other than humans, so I set limits on my use. Unfortunately there has developed a perspective within the Christian tradition that has encouraged some to adopt a more human-centred view that has led them to abuse the environment.

Is this human-centred view a true representation of God’s commission? Does it not ignore the earth’s essential interrelatedness? Are not animals sentient creatures, conscious, aware, capable of feeling? Nature is an complex interplay of life forms, having its own expressiveness and intrinsic value. Although I am separate from nature and free to have a conscious relationship and ethical attitude towards it, if my view is a partial one, being human-centred, am I competent to deal with all the different life forms interacting at different levels of complexity?

Take for example the issue of climate change. There is a significant, though diminishing body of public opinion, that is in literal denial. They ignore the growing body of scientific evidence that climate change is happening. Others, shifting a little from this position, now accept that climate change is happening but utterly reject the idea that that it is being caused by the activities of humankind; while others say, “There’s nothing that can be done.”

Perhaps even more alarming, in my view, are those who advocate global geo-engineering projects to resolve the crisis. This alarms me because it suggests that they are still locked in a culture that taught them to believe they are almost godlike, blessed with all the answers to our planet’s problems. The earth is not a scientific or technological problem to be solved; it is a living being and if it has become damaged because of our exploitation, if it is wounded because we have failed to respect its sacredness, then we must go back to the root of our relationship with the earth.

I am an integral part of nature. I respect other organisms, not only because of their intrinsic value but because of the countless relationships and balances that exist between them that have a value greater than their use to me. I recognise that God is revealed in creation, clearly seen and understood because, as the lesson from Isaiah reveals, God does not dwell in splendid isolation but is the Holy One of Israel, active and with us.

When the disciples brought the deaf man with the speech impediment to Jesus, he “put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue”. Then Jesus spoke to the man saying in Aramaic, “Ephphatha!” which means ‘be opened’. Jesus is opening all the senses of the man. He can now hear and ‘speak plainly’ so that all can understand him. Once again, Jesus is being revealed as the sign of God’s love breaking into the world, breaking down barriers and conventions. The Word is out and 1st century Palestine is astonished.

God is a creator of unlimited love and compassion. The destiny of humans, as of all intelligent creatures, is to ‘be opened’, liberated in other words, to share in the divine nature. Science tells us that we live in the midst of a new consciousness that the microcosm and the macrocosm are one. We are becoming aware of life’s interrelatedness. What we do to nature, we do not do in part. We do it to the whole. We are joined together in a common purpose.

Mark’s Gospel is about the kingdom of God coming on earth through the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is a political Gospel. Jesus wanted to keep the healing of the deaf man secret because he did not want the news to leak out just yet. He wanted to wait until the right moment.

The Christian faith offers a distinctive perspective on political issues and the Church has every right to articulate such reflection on matters concerning care for creation, economic justice and world peace. But the secular world does not want to hear us. They would prefer that we retreat into our private devotions. However, the earth is in distress and is calling to us to respond, as individuals and communities with ideas and action. And we can do this with confidence, as Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, because our qualification to speak comes from God, and God alone.

But it is not all about politics. There is the spiritual dimension of life, knowing that we are all part of one spiritual being. It seems to me that the new spiritualities focusing on stewardship, justice and ecology, all help us to repair our broken relationship with nature. This is a universal spirituality. It is shared by other religions and with larger social and environmental movements and science. We need to be in conversation with all of them.

Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God unmasked ‘the powers that be’ that would conquer and ultimately destroy us. Peace and wholeness in creation is has been embodied in Jesus Christ. The biblical witness to Jesus the Christ reveals the true extent of our human potential. It is Jesus who calls us to this radical discipleship. In Him is life.

The sacrificial generosity of self-emptying, the death of the ego-self, and the regenerative possibilities of the incarnational story, nourished through liturgy and worship, allow us to make connections with structures of meaning and value in the universe. Our imaginations have been captured by the story of Jesus and through our imagination and reason, informed by biblical wisdom, we can learn to reverence one another and reverence creation. Jesus lifts the veil of dominance from our eyes, gives us ears to listen and unstops our mouths. We are called from a place of sacred wholeness and reverence to take up again our ancient and sacred duty of guardianship of the physical world.

 

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September 10, 2014 · 17:26

“We were not meant for this”

Sir Edward Grey (1862-1933) Lizenz: Public Dom...

Sir Edward Grey (1862-1933) Lizenz: Public Domain en:Image:Ed Grey.jpg sv:Bild:Edward Grey.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the House of Commons, this day, one hundred years ago, the Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, said,

“Last week I stated that we were working for peace not only for this country, but to preserve the peace of Europe. Today events move so rapidly that it is exceedingly difficult to state with technical accuracy the actual state of affairs, but it is clear that the peace of Europe cannot be preserved. Russia and Germany, at any rate, have declared war upon each other.

He went on to say,

“We have consistently worked with a single mind, with all the earnestness in our power, to preserve peace. The House may be satisfied on that point. We have always done it.….In the present crisis it has not been possible to secure the peace of Europe: because there has been little time, and there has been a disposition — at any rate in some quarters on which I will not dwell — to force things rapidly to an issue, at any rate to the great risk of peace, and, as we now know, the result of that is that the policy of peace as far as the great powers generally are concerned is in danger. I do not want to dwell on that, and to comment on it, and to say where the blame seems to us lie, which powers were most in favour of peace, which were most disposed to risk war or endanger peace, because I would like the House to approach this crisis in which we are now from the point of view of British interests, British honour, and British obligations, free from all passion as to why peace has not yet been preserved…”

I believe that this was a speech made by a sensitive man and no warmonger. He expresses the tension and gravity of the situation. Grey’s speech describes the pros and cons of the imminent war in Europe and whether Britain should intervene. Later in the day Grey reported to the House of Commons concerning a note he had received from Belgian Legation in London, about an ultimatum they had received from Germany.  Belgium could not accept the German proposal as to do so would be to sacrifice the honour of their nation. Belgium’s neutrality had been guaranteed by Great Britain as far back as 1839 and so, on August 4th 1914, we declared war on Germany.

For me the First World War is a sequence of dates, of battles and campaigns. But I also have the advantage of my mother’s memory, particularly of childhood, who remembers two soldiers from a Scottish regiment being billeted at her home in Norwich, one a chaplain. Neither returned from the front, which was very distressing for her family, especially her father. I also have the Distinguished Service Medal awarded to an uncle as a result of his bravery in naval action on the River Tigris in present day Iraq. Of course there is much else to guide our understanding. We have archives of film, art and writings documenting the shocking magnitude of the maiming and the slaughter and we have the memorials of the former battlefields to constantly remind us of the pity of war.

At the time however, the majority in Britain were unaware of the true conditions and scale of the war. It was only when the casualty lists started appearing in the newspapers that the horror of what was happening across the Channel and elsewhere became clear. Telegrams, letters and postcards were the principal means of communication from the Front. Diaries were forbidden but some kept a secret journal. Many expressed their feelings in poetry. There are many distinguished WWI poets, but one less well-known is Charles Sorley, born in Aberdeen.

English: Cropped and retouched version of a po...

English: Cropped and retouched version of a portrait of British soldier poet Charles Hamilton Sorley (1895-1915). Photo dated to 1914 or 1915 as subject is in uniform and enlisted in 1914 and was killed in 1915. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anne Powell has collected poems and letters of sixty-six published poets in a book ‘A Deep Cry’. Captain Charles Hamilton Sorley of ‘D’ Company, 7th Battalion Suffolk Regiment is one of them. He was born on 19 May 1895 in Aberdeen. His father was Professor of Moral Philosophy at Aberdeen University and later transferred to Cambridge University, which is why Charles was educated at King’s College Choir School and Marlborough College. Charles won a scholarship to University College, Oxford in 1913 but in his gap year went to Germany and for a short time was a student at the University of Jena. He developed a deep affection for Germany so his immediate reaction was fiercely critical of the intensifying war-fever.  At the outbreak of war he returned home and said this,

…But isn’t all this bloody? I am full of mute and burning rage and annoyance and sulkiness about it…..And ‘serving one’s country is so unpicturesque and unheroic when it comes to the point….

But then his mood changed after he was commissioned in the 7th Battalion Suffolk Regiment,

…So it seems to me that Germany’s only fault…is a lack of real insight and sympathy with those who differ from her. We are not fighting a bully, but a bigot… [ then he says] In training to fight for England, I am training to fight for that deliberate hypocrisy, that terrible middle-class sloth of outlook and appalling ‘imaginative indolence’ that has marked us out from generation to generation. Goliath and Caiaphas – the Philistine and the Pharisee – pound these together and there you have Suburbia and Westminster and Fleet Street.

In March 1915, he wrote to his mother,

…After all, war in this century is inexcusable: and all parties engaged in it must take equal share in the blame of its occurrence….I do wish also that people would not deceive themselves by talk of a just war. There is no such thing as a just war. What we are doing is casting out Satan by Satan…

In June he wrote again,

We have taken over a new lot of trenches and have been having a busy time this past week; our exertions have been those of navvy rather than those of the soldier. And – without at all ‘fraternizing’ – we refrain from interfering with Bother Bosch seventy yards away, as long as he is kind to us…..Our chief enemy is nettles and mosquitoes.

On 12 October the Battalion went into the front line trenches near the Hohenzollern Redoubt and during heavy machine-gun fire Sorley was shot in the head and died instantly.

This sonnet was found in his kit and is believed to be the last poem he wrote,

When you see millions of the mouthless dead

Across your dreams in pale battalions go,

Say not soft things as other men have said,

That you’ll remember. For you need not so.


Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know


It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?

Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.

Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.

Say only this, “They are dead.” Then add thereto,


“yet many a better one has died before.”

Then, scanning all the overcrowded mass, should you

Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,

It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.

Great death has made all this for evermore.

To me this poem presents one of the most powerful critiques of those who were the living at the time, the society that promoted such mis-guided zeal in sending millions to their death. It describes a dream encounter between the living and those killed, suggesting that we should avoid pity or praise when speaking to the war-dead: they have been transformed by death into ghosts of the people they once were, and there can be no meaningful conversation. There is bleak despair in this poem, a nightmare vision of powerlessness on both sides of the conversation.

It is said that a soldier on the Western Front turned to one of his mates in the hell of their rat-infested muddy trench, with shells exploding around them, and said, “We were not made for this”. The same is true when ugliness keeps the full glory of God in creation from being revealed, whether that is the heap of ash that was once a Malaysian aeroplane, or the contorted body of a child who had been playing football on a Gaza beach, or the mass graves of innumerable scenes of genocide worldwide.

We were not made for this.

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A ‘thin place’

Celtic monks were keen to find ‘thin places’ having the proximity of liminal awareness, where the elemental rock, water and air comprised no more than a permeable membrane, beyond which, is a living presence that is ultimately good.  I was on retreat, a self-directed retreat, renting a National Trust for Scotland cottage  called Beaton’s Croft, lying in the crofting township of Borneskitaig, about 6 miles north of Uig.  Liminal is from limen, Latin for threshold – a place between places or a point of transition.  I had come here because I felt that I had to leave behind a previous way of life and build a new structure.  The details had not yet been settled.  My motive in choosing Beaton’s Croft was somewhat more prosaic than the original monastic search for the spiritual liminality of the wilderness.  It was a romanticised retreat influenced more by the novelty of the cottage. What I had not bargained for however was a new conversation with this place.

 

English: Beaton's Croft House A property of th...

English: Beaton’s Croft House A property of the National Trust for Scotland, used as a holiday cottage. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Borneskitaig is a thinly populated crofting community on the Trotternish peninsula at the extreme north-western tip of Skye and Beaton’s croft is a rare example of a thatched house that had been a family home until 1981.  The NTS won an award for its conservation work when it took over the ‘A’-listed cottage in the 1990s and it is now a warm and comfortable holiday let with superb views across the Minch to the Isle of Harris.

My life was in transition in the sense that I had surrendered responsibility for looking after my ancient mother (104 and counting) to a care home in my village, after what had been a very stressful period when her physical frailty and psychological problems had been increasing.  The carer service had been excellent, even in the straightened circumstances of these austerity times, and my sister and her husband had been supportive, until that is, my brother-in-law became ill and died at the turn of the year.  It was one morning after I had transferred my mother from the commode to her bed that she said, in a moment of grace, “This is not good for either of us.”  Within a short time she was settled in the care home and I was thinking about some personal rest and recuperation.  Easter is a quiet time for lay ministers, it’s when the clergy get stressed out, so I took my opportunity and booked the cottage.

It was after I had banged my head on the door lintel and scraped the skin on the thatch for the nth time after arrival that I was beginning to doubt the wisdom of my decision.  But the next day I sat out in the garden on the picnic bench with my mug of coffee planning my stay.  The transcendental experience of the natural world encompasses wonder and awe and this location was blessed with far horizons to gaze on and sturdy hills to climb.  There was also wall-to-wall sunshine which was to last the entirety of my week-long stay.

English: Camas Mor - the big beach - near Born...

English: Camas Mor – the big beach – near Bornesketaig, in Trotternish, Skye (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rejoicing in the resurrection of my solitary life, I sensed on the horizon a creative ‘edge’ of fragility and unknowing, raising thoughts about the Creator; the self-evident goodness of God hidden in what was the historical vestige of the original volcanic chaos.  The malevolent tone of a hooded crow’s call as it listlessly patrolled the fields was unsettling, but the thin notes of the meadow pipit in the garden, “ist, ist, ist” were more confiding, whilst insisting I should listen attentively.

The power of silence is an awesome experience.  The birds’ cries eventually dissolved into the other side of nothingness. Time stood still.  Only the soft breeze on my cheek, ruffling the flowers in the garden, gave any sense of movement.   There was no other human presence.  I closed my eyes and the world disappeared.  My thoughts slowed down to a glacial pace as I slipped into contemplative prayer.  The sacred word or phrase that I had been accustomed to using in this transitional phase of centring prayer served no useful purpose, as I opened myself to God’s presence, which was beyond all thought, image or emotion.  Whereas previously ordinary thoughts would have intruded to interrupt the flow and thus require a re-centring of  my attention, all that I sensed was a sinking into a deep peace of interior silence.  Had I tried to capture the moment in my internal camera, in an attempt to possess what was happening, I would have lost it.  The air that I was breathing was the presence of God.

I do not know how long this trance-like state of mind lasted but it was brought to an abrupt end by a neighbour starting up his strimmer.  Bzzzzzzzzzz!  Oddly my short fuse did not explode.  I was at peace and brimming with gratitude.  Since then a change has taken over my life.  Contemplative prayer has become a central feature of my daily routine rather than an occasional pause in saying the Daily Office.  And I am enjoying greater peace.  All the distressing negativity of past events seem to have drifted away on the soft Borneskitaig breeze.  They are still present in my memory but without the soap opera script.   I sense new growth in my spiritual life.  Who am I?  But more fundamentally, “Who are you, Lord?”

 

 

 

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Why I am giving up supermarkets

As an irredeemable chocoholic, addicted to the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug, the annual ‘what shall I give up for Lent’ is a bit of spiritual discipline that requires more serious thought that simply denying myself a fix of Montezuma’s dark chocolate. And in any case God does not want me to be unhappy. Some say we should ‘take on’ rather than ‘give up’. Well I’ve tried that and took up vegetable and fruit-growing one year and it was an unmitigated disaster of botrytis, blight, greenfly, slug invasion and avian robbery.

So my choice this year was a bit of both. Give up supermarkets and take on independent local shops. By supermarkets I mean the Big Four, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and the Co-op. It is not so much their size that troubles me, but their business model. Brighton now has a hiSbe – standing for ‘how it should be’ and on the continent there are Social Supermarkets. I fully expect commercially sustainable social enterprises will emerge out of the proliferation of foodbanks as the austerity years and general feeling of being fed being ripped-off by the Big Four, make people look round for alternatives.

I have been giving up supermarkets gradually for a number of years. Tesco infuriated me when they almost doubled the size of their store in my local town of Inverurie and the last straw was their introduction of self-service tills that have psychologically scarred me for life after an embarrassing incident. I tried Morrisons for a time as they stocked some good quality organic good and locally produced lamb and beef, until that is I discovered that ‘locally’ meant sourced from one of the biggest abattoirs in the country at Turriff that takes animals from as far south as Peterborough. I have two small Co-op self- service stores in my village but the Co-op is a fallen angel. Selling three bottles of wine for a tenner, to their tag line of ‘good with food’ is not the sign of an ethical grocer.

That supermarkets are cheap, convenient and offer choice is a widely held but false belief and many are now turning away. Aldi and Lidl are undercutting them on price and close analysis of the majority of goods the Big Four offer come from a handful of industrial scale suppliers. The ‘horsemeat’ scandal of last year debunked the supply chain policy that was found to be not worth the paper it was written on. And the Big Four proved susceptible to the pro-GM agribusinesses’ propaganda that non-GM feed supply is drying up. It did not take me long to check with the Association of Soy Producers of Brazil, the world’s largest producer of GMO-free soy beans, to disprove the pro-GM pressure.

I suppose I am fortunate that my village has, apart from the afore-mentioned Co-op stores, a Costcutter store (different business model), two butchers, a baker and a chemist that now sells a small range of whole foods, the source of my Montezuma organic Easter Egg, as well as some eco-cleaning products. Once a week I go to Inverurie for an hour’s shopping which has become a pleasure.

Starting with The Green Grocer, who supplies a veg-box for collection or delivery, an astonishing range of whole foods and local dairy and butchery products, teas and coffees and organic processed foods, as well as their own cold pressed locally grown virgin rapeseed oil. An award-winning butcher Davidson’s also sells vegetables and fish, though I buy my fish from the ‘fish lady’ who parks her van near my house and is good for a gossip. Moving down the High Street, I call into The Kilted Frog for his cheeses, pastries and a cafe that rocks. And finally there is Mitchell’s Dairy where I can complete the gaps in my shopping list.

Each month a farmers’ market comes to Inverurie and, as I am out and about in Aberdeenshire quite a lot, I am collating a list of delicatessens, food emporiums and country stores selling local food and choice delicacies if I am feeling extravagant. And this is the thing. My expenditure on food and other household essentials is within 10% of what it was with my supermarket weekly shop. Now I know that my pattern of shopping would not meet the needs of a busy family, and I am in an advantageous financial position but often, when I have watched the ‘family’ shop being loaded on to the conveyor belt, I have noted how much of it was processed, packaged goods, end-of-aisle temptations succumbed to and BOGOFs.

So ‘how should it be’? Is it too much of a stretch of the imagination and pre-shopping preparation to support ethically produced food, from sustainable fairly traded sources, that will not end up as waste (30-50% of food for human consumption globally is wasted). If a growing number of successful businesses can make themselves more transparent about every product they sell and accept responsibility for dealing fairly with their suppliers, and there is no one more accountable than the shopkeeper you can engage in conversation with about what they sell, why can this not become a universal model?

Oh and by the way, I am resurrecting my plans for a ‘grow your own’ plot.

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In the Temple….Candlemas

Candles in Lourdes

Candles in Lourdes (Photo credit: Lawrence OP)

Unlike the spectacular theophanies in the Pentateuch, in the succeeding books of Samuel , the working out of the divine will in the historical process was generally achieved inscrutably in the background. This was a time of spiritual desolation, priestly corruption, and military danger through a failure of leadership, ‘The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.’ [I Samuel: 3.1b] God was speaking to a settled people who had become complacent and more concerned with the institutions of land management and particularly the notion of kingship.

English: Plan of Solomon's Temple

English: Plan of Solomon’s Temple (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Israel aspired to nationhood and King David wanted to build a temple but David was stained with blood, so he was prevented from fulfilling his wish. It was his son Solomon who built a temple as a permanent reminder of the presence of God among his people but it was not to be permanent. When the Jews were taken into exile in Babylon, the first temple was destroyed. When they returned, Nehemiah set about rebuilding the temple.

In the Book of Malachi, Malachi in Hebrew means ‘my messenger’, the Lord had a powerful message for the corrupt priests in charge of the temple, who were not honouring God. Malachi warns, ‘The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears….?’ [Malachi 3.2] However, when God did come to this Temple, he did not come like ‘a refiner’s fire’ in destructive judgement, as Malachi had predicted. God came to his Temple not in power and great glory, but as a helpless baby, in the arms of a poor young woman.

English: The Second Jewish Temple. Model in th...

English: The Second Jewish Temple. Model in the Israel Museum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesus seems to have been ambivalent towards the Temple in Jerusalem. On the one hand he called it the ‘House of God’ [Matthew 12.4], a sacred place sanctified by God’s presence. But he was also critical of the Temple, or rather the authorities who were responsible for it, and he evicted the traders from the Temple. The veil in the Temple was rent in two [Mark 14.38] at the moment of his death upon the Cross and forty years after that, Herod’s Temple was destroyed, never to be rebuilt.

Our Christian origins of church are closely linked to Jesus’ gathering of a community of followers, ‘For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them’ [Matthew 18.20]. Here church becomes a school of discipleship in which Christians are formed through proclamation of the Word and are transformed through the Eucharist. But what about Paul’s question in his First Letter to the Corinthians, ‘Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?’ [I Corinthians 3:16].

The Latin word contemplare means ‘in the temple.’ From this we have the meaning of contemplative prayer which has come to signify the prayerful practice of attending to the Divine presence. Thus, for Christians, contemplative spirituality is about our efforts to spend time ‘in the temple of silence’ with God. Beverly Lanzetta says, ‘When we are capable of bearing witness to the theology of the heart, there are no concepts, forms, or names that divide and segregate. Only love, communion, openness. Silence.’ She goes on, ‘Out of the depths of emptiness, when all that distinguishes and divides melts away and we are left with the disappearance of identity, a new theology of dialogue and unity blooms in the moist quietness of the heart [Lanzetta, Beverly J., The Other Side of Nothingness: Toward a Theology of Radical Openness, p. 96].

The name ‘Candlemas’ focuses our attention on candlelight, which evokes the light-mysticism in the contemplative power of the human mind.  This, illuminating the Christ-light within us, moves us, in some sense, towards a greater knowledge of God.  St Luke tells us that while Jesus is being presented in the Temple, the revelation of the Light came to Simeon and Anna, who recognised Jesus as their Lord. But in this moment of their celebration with the Holy Family, a poignant note is struck in the personal canticle of Simeon who, when holding the child in his arms says, ’This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ [vv. 34b – 35]

These powerful words spoken to Mary and Joseph take them beyond the context of celebration of a birth, and obedience to the ritual of cleansing, to an experience of God at work in their lives.  So as we take away the candles that have been in church since Advent, we turn away from Christmas and have to face Lent.  It is a time for us to reflect on God’s plan in our lives, whether this is in meeting the practical needs of our family and community or in deepening our prayerful life for God. Perhaps to reflect too, on how we seem to have become a settled people, complacent about the corrupting influence of money in the institutions of democracy, the media and the economy, and our overuse of the world’s finite resources.

When we expose our hearts and souls to the light of God, we discover both amazing love but also the capacity for pain; sometimes we experience a period of darkness and not knowing, where secret thoughts are laid bare.  These are periods of light and shade in our own story, shining light into the dark corners of our own egos, where we have we have a tendency to be self-centred, pre-occupied with our own thoughts; but also providing light and warmth, opening up what Martin Laird calls the ‘luminous vastness that is interior silence’ [Laird, Martin, A Sunlit Absence, p.6].

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Magi detail

Magi detail (Photo credit: JoetheLion)

It is now the Eve of Epiphany. The Magi have travelled by camel in a starlit night. As many Christmas cards depict, they arrive on the crest of a hill overlooking Bethlehem and one star dominates the sky. They link the star to where its light tells them they will find the new-born King of the Jews. They wait, they see and they wonder.

The popular astronomer Heather Couper had a series of programmes on BBC Radio about the ancient associations of stars and planets with astrological predictions of the future and has written extensively on her subject [co-author of A History of Astronomy]. She has some speculative comments on the story of the wise men, about the identity of the star and the date it appeared. It’s a fascinating subject and it’s very helpful when experts explain things in a way that laypeople can understand. But despite all we have learned about the origin of the universe, there is still a great deal more we have to find out.

An example of simulated data modelled for the ...

An example of simulated data modelled for the CMS particle detector on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s been a lot of Big Bang Theory lately, and I don’t mean the festival of the American comedy series lately on E4. The Nobel Prize has been awarded to the English physicist Peter Higgs with the confirmation of the existence of the Higgs’ boson. According to The Guardian (see below), the cosmologist Stephen Hawking made the cryptic comment that physics would have been “far more interesting” if scientists had been unable to find the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider in Cern. This may have been just a piece of Hawking whimsy and while we admire the elegance of Stephen Hawking’s mathematical language, even this wise man cannot explain why we are here at all.

But Hawking said something else that was interesting. He said, “Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and hold on to that child-like wonder about what makes the universe exist.”

The Prologue of the Gospel of John tries to take us beyond ‘a history of time’ to the mystery of ‘in the beginning’. The Prologue echoes and continues the Genesis story of creation, and is written in beautiful and puzzling language. It attempts to describe the shattering, time breaking moment in the history of the world when the God of all creation became a human being.

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” [John 1.14]

The Redeemer of the earth entered the world of darkness and became the Light and eventually, in humility, was baptised in the River Jordan.

This fusion of light and water is essential for life on earth. Water interacts with the entire cycle of nature to help things grow and light is essential to photosynthesis, the process behind every growing plant.  We are complex human beings created in the image of God to ‘till and keep’ [Genesis 2.15] the earth, but if God commissioned us to serve nature as God’s qualified and able stewards, then we have failed to live up to our job specification. The problem for us is that some of our Christian forebears developed a train of thought that saw this world as simply instrumental to humankind’s needs and it became the dominant narrative.

Sir Francis Bacon (1561–1626)

Sir Francis Bacon (1561–1626) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“No item in the physical creation had any purpose save to serve man’s purposes,” said Francis Bacon, the seventeenth century statesman, philosopher and scientist. As humankind imposed its rational standards our rebelliousness grew. At the heart of our self-awareness we love ourselves more than we love God and others, or conversely we think too poorly of ourselves, or we are many shades of grey in between, all the time making ourselves vulnerable, and distancing ourselves from our Creator.

If we loved creation enough to notice the needs of the planet itself, to be aware of its rhythm of life, we would be more likely to live in harmony with God’s gift of creation than try to dominate it. Of course we need an earthly dwelling place, but if we try to geo-engineer the world, we should not be surprised if the world reminds us how elusive and complex the physical world is collectively. Our world is not static, but moves and changes, because otherwise it would not sustain life.

But humankind is overriding the natural rhythm of life. Whilst extreme weather events are, at least in part, a result of climate change, the overwhelming scientific evidence is that human activity is magnifying the effects of climate change. To date the average rise in global temperature has only been 0.8 degrees C above pre-industrial times. Imagine how things might be if average global temperature rose more than 2 degrees C, which is the complacent view about where we are heading in the next few decades.

The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change warns that keeping global warming below 2 degrees C is beyond our grasp and 4 degrees C is challenging. Latest scientific evidence (see below) suggests that by 2100 that figure may be reached and life on earth will indeed be challenging. Unless we understand the size of the problem, it will be too late to develop avoiding action.

What will 2014 hold? If forecasts are correct, then we’ll see more hurricanes, droughts, floods, crop failures, diminished biodiversity, and further drift into our overcrowded cities where desperate people are attempting to escape poverty. Are we heading for a perfect storm where ecological and economic factors collide? As our resource depletion accelerates, perhaps the scarcest commodity of all is hope. What hope can we have for the future of the earth, and in particular our own species?

For there is yet hope. The ethics of hope that will drive the kind of co-operation we need to conserve our world for future generations. But it will be costly. As Chris Polhill of the Iona Community says, [The Heart of Creation: Worship Resources and Reflections on the Environment] “it will require us to grow as disciples, to struggle both within and without, and to seek that transformation that God alone can bring.”

So at this Eve of Epiphany, to celebrate the gift of creation, we need to begin our journey out of the wilderness. And like the journey of the

Scapegoat Wilderness

Scapegoat Wilderness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

wise men following the Bethlehem star it will not be easy. We shall have to contend with ‘the powers that be’ as the wise men did with King Herod. We will be confronted by authoritative structures that will seek to bend our will, and will be subverted by our natural instincts for affection and esteem making obeisance to the providers of security and survival who will try to enslave us.

But the overarching problem, as the philosopher and novelist Iris Murdoch writes [Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature],  “Love is the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real.” So the spiritual journey will be quite challenging, but eventually we will come to a fuller understanding and acceptance of our belovedness by God.

When we encounter the presence of God, our lives become en-livened, and I mean this in its original 17th century sense of ‘restored to life’and ‘give life to’. The outward expression of this new life will be the way we will live in the world, through acts of voluntary service to each other and to all living creatures. In this way we become co-creators with God. As Chris Polhill says, “Together we celebrate, and together we become a force for change.”

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January 5, 2014 · 12:01

The one who shook the tree, and others

Jesus meets John the Baptist

Jesus meets John the Baptist (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The charismatic leader John the Baptist is a lone prophetic voice, who by the River Jordan, nourished the shrivelled roots of what became the resurrection people of our Lord Jesus Christ.  His ministry was highly charged, with its disturbing warning of judgement and calling for national repentance. It was much more political than some of the previous prophets, foretelling that the tree of the Herodian regime would be shaken with an axe [Matthew 3.10]. Because he lived in the desert, ate harsh food and wore the clothes of rejection, he appeared to be like Elijah the Prophet, whom Queen Jezebel had described as the ‘troubler of Israel’. The Jewish historian Josephus said that John the Baptist was ‘a good man who bade the Jews practise virtue, be just to one another, and pious toward God, and come together by means of baptism’.

The funeral of another ‘troubler’ of the political status quo, the ‘troubler of apartheid South Africa’ is taking place today. His second African name, Rolihlahla means ‘stirring up trouble’. Some also translate this as meaning ‘the one who shakes the tree’.  Mandela spent 27 years of his life incarcerated, sleeping on the floor, with a bucket for a lavatory, forced to do hard labour in a quarry, allowed one visitor a year for 30 minutes, and to write and receive a letter once every six months. Far from silencing him he became a voice in the wilderness, and something of a mystery. As a result, his presence in that Robben Island jail became a beacon of hope, while South Africa battled with its inner demons. Prison can crush the spirit and while John the Baptist was in prison in Machaerus he appears to have lost his faith. “Are you the one who is to come?”[Matthew 11.3] he asks hesitantly of Jesus, unable to contain his doubts in the darkness of his prison cell.

Mandela too had doubts and many dark moments when his faith in humanity was sorely tested.  He began his long walk to freedom on a sunny day in February 1990.  I wonder at the thoughts and crushing weight of conflicting expectations that were weighing on his slender frame. He had started a journey that was daunting; how to unite a divided, angry and fearful nation. Many expected some fiery winnowing-fork-wielding-Messiah. Instead his message was of reconciliation and forgiveness.  What extraordinary prophetic insight Mandela’s mother had in naming her son, ‘the one who shakes the tree’. Did she see his potential to bring an end to oppression and inequality? Mandela became a political firebrand and was never a saint but neither was he the devil that his opponents made him out to be. One cannot fail to bring to mind, especially at this time of the year, another mother whose song, the Magnificat, we celebrate at Evensong. Ultimately Mary’s son shook a different kind of tree, when Jesus took his long tortured walk to Calvary.

The message that John the Baptist brought was that Israel needed to go through a time of penance and purgation in preparation for the “Coming One’.  In Advent, we need to listen to the vox clamantis. The vibrating wind that ruffles our tangled thoughts, like the reeds. The inner voice that upsets every expectation. What are our expectations for Christmas? Celebration is important. Of course it is. But singing carols and eating mince pies is not enough. We need to set aside the soft robes of Santa Claus and open ourselves to the true gift of Christmas, the loving, healing life that God is offering.

My ‘tree’ was shaken last week. I was chatting with the ‘fish lady’, as one does, other customers waiting patiently in the queue by her van, when I discovered that she and her husband are going to forgo present giving this Christmas. Instead they will give the money they would have spent on each other to a local children’s charity. Now there is nothing unusual about this. Lots of us take this option, particularly when the choosing of a present is going to be difficult, like for my big sister, for example.  But what shook me was when she revealed that on Christmas Day they will travel down to Dundee to volunteer in a soup kitchen.

In casual conversation she had spoken to me in God’s power. I was shocked not because they were doing a generous thing, I knew she and her husband were regular supporters of many good causes. I was shocked because I had never thought of spending Christmas in this way.

Just then, the face of the ‘fish lady’ shone with the light of Christ.

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From darkness to light….

Red light buld in darkness

Red light buld in darkness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a child, I was afraid of the dark. I never told my parents about my fear so they did not have a chance to indulge me and let me have a nightlight. But when I was ill, a fire was lit in the grate in my bedroom and a candle placed on the mantlepiece. That was a great comfort.

Of course, as the apostle Paul would say, we grow out of childish things. Or do we? I have no interest in horror films, for example, or any of the supernatural-action-with-aliens we see so often on television these days. I have never watched Dr Who. Perhaps they still hold a deep fear for me that I do not want to come to the surface.

What is darkness? The word ‘darkness’ evokes a number of ideas. There is the literal meaning of a physical absence or lack of light, the opposite of day, which itself implies impairment of vision, where something may not be within one’s field of view. Or even worse a ‘blindness’ of all the senses, with nothing to see, nothing to touch, no sound, no smell, no sense of direction. Or it can be a mental state of confusion with no frame of reference and a rush of competing thoughts; and in this vulnerable state, darkness is imbued with a sense of something unpleasant, a space where a malign force may be in control. Here the imagination goes into overdrive.

Spiritual darkness is not very different. In the Bible, darkness is sometimes a metaphor to describe the absence of God, or a lack of understanding about God. Job complains, “If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face!” [Job 23.17 NRSV]

Yet darkness can also be a place of discovery as in the Exodus story. ‘While the people stood at a distance, Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.’ [Exodus 20.21 NRSV] And even more strangely, darkness is also a metaphor where there is an excess of light of God, where God seems to be beyond anything we could possibly conceive, a dazzling darkness.

The good news is that God dwells in the darkness. The darkness was prior to the light; it was, and is, God’s home. In this darkness, the promise is that we will never be alone. In this darkness there is nothing to be afraid of.

T S Eliot describes a comforting darkness of anticipation, in his poem ‘East Coker’ –

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

Well you may saying, this is all very well for poets like T S Eliot. We yearn for stillness as the ultimate good; communion with God in the silence of the heart. But how do we get there? There is no map. No ‘satnav’ invented will deliver you to this destination. But we can all get there, though some skill is required, as otherwise it could just turn out to be an exercise in escapism.

We begin our journey in a state of wakefulness. But it is not the kind of wakefulness when we awaken from sleep. Spiritual wakefulness is different. It is a state of being fully awake in the present moment, aware of all the thoughts and feelings passing through us but not being dominated by them. Aware of a stillness, but a stillness that is vibrantly alive. A stillness that allows us to become witness to our thoughts instead of being imprisoned by them. We experience a depth to our thoughts that we have never known before.

There are many occasions when this stillness can be realised; in silent prayer; in meditation; in the ritual of worship and sacrament; in the study of Scripture, known as lectio divina. The key aspect of this stillness is watchfulness or awareness. The process of watchfulness is about realising the presence of God in our lives.

Advent is a time of darkness, of expectant waiting, of preparing for the Christ Child to be born in our hearts. Christ is bringing back the light. The light we must allow into ourselves. Into the heart of our deepest darkness.

Like Lent, Advent is a time of repentance. A time to examine ourselves. To consider ourselves deeply, honestly. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says, “If then your whole body is full of light, with no part of it in darkness, it will be as full of light as when a lamp gives you light with its rays.”[11.36]  The importance of the Luke passage, to our contemporary hearing, is not that light is a searchlight we throw out onto an object, as the ancient philosophers believed. It is what happens when we allow the Light into ourselves.

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