Wednesday, 30 January 2013

St. Brigid of Kildare


February first is the day that the Anglican Calendar invites us to remember St. Brigid of Kildare. Some Christians run a mile when they hear talk of Saints days, afraid perhaps that it is a bit too Catholic like lighting candles or praying to the dead. I must admit to feeling that way at one time until I realised that when I read the Bible and felt inspired by people like Moses or David or Ruth I was in fact remembering saints. The fact that folk like Brgid or Teilo are not mentioned in the sacred pages does not take away from the fact that these men and women of God were every bit as inspired or Spirit-led as Paul or Barnabas.

This is certainly true of Brigid - also known as Bride or Bridget - who is one of my favourites. As with many of the early saints like her there are lots of miracles associated with her life and therefore many secular and Christian scholars have cast doubt on how much of what we have been told about her is fact and how much is fiction. So what I will just share is a few bare bones and add a couple of comments.

First, there are lots of biographies about her life and these generally agree on the following:

She was born around 451 probably in Dundalk, in County Louth in Ireland to a slave mother and a druid father who was probably a nobleman with royal blood. At an early age she decided to become a Christian—possibly after hearing St. Patrick preach—and eventually aged 14 (marriageable age) took vows to become a nun. With a group of other women she formed a nunnery in Kildare which was later joined by a community of monks. Kildare had formerly been a pagan shrine where a sacred fire had been kept burning continually as some kind of tribute to the gods. But instead of putting it out Brigid and her nuns kept it going but gave it a Christian interpretation instead, terming it a “fire of resurrection”. We are told that the fire—called St. Bride’s fire—was kept burning for a thousand years—with one brief interlude in 1220—until it was extinguished by order of King Henry VIII during the suppression of the monasteries.

This practice of taking pagan things and investing them with Christian meaning was a common practice by many of the early Celtic saints whenever they evangelised an area. For example many of the early churches were built on pagan sites and some of today's Christian festivals were plonked onto pagan ones - see Christmas and Easter - as a way of stamping out the old with the new. It was also a recognition that the ancient pagan religions had some grain of truth about them as they, in their ignorance, tried to reach out to the creator in worship.

The nunnery in Kildare became a centre of religion and learning and developed into a cathedral city. Brigid founded several monastic institutions and appointed another saint—St. Conleth as a spiritual pastor to them. And Brigid herself became a very influential figure in Christianity in Ireland.

She died on February 1st 525.

There are lots of miracles associated with her. Some are pretty straightforward like the healing of a leper on Easter Sunday. He had come to her to ask for a cow which she said she would help him with after she had a rest. But he wouldn't wait and said he would get one somewhere else. She offered to heal him but the man said that he would earn more money begging as a leper. But she convinced him otherwise and asked one of her nuns to fetch a mug of holy water which she poured over him and he was healed. From that day on he followed her.

Easter Sunday seems to have had a particular resonance with Brigid because miracles associated with her seem to have taken place on that day.

David Adam in his book The Cry of the Deer points out that many of the stories about her life link her with the Christ child. The most famous is when Brigid was young. There was a great famine in the land and Brigid’s parents were forced to leave home and look for food. She was left to look after the house with only a single stoup of water and a bannock of bread. Before they went the parents had warned her to be careful with the food—because that’s all there was—and not to let any strangers into the house. Later that night, as the light faded, two travellers came down the road, one an old man and the other a maid. It was said that the old man had brown hair and a grey beard. They asked for food and a place to rest. Brigid felt sorry for them but she knew she should obey her parents and not invite them in. But she shared with them her water and her bread and took them round the back of the house to the barn and helped make them comfortable.

When she returned to the front of the house she found the bannock of bread was whole again and the water stoup full. She then knew in her heart that she had been dealing with more than mere man. Then she looked out again, night had fallen, but the stable was surrounded by a brilliant golden light for Christ had come to earth.

And whatever we want to say about the authenticity of this or any of the miracles let’s stop and think for a moment before we become too dismissive and superior in our 21st century sophistication. There is a lot we can learn from St. Brigid's life:

First, are they any less credible than the miracles that Jesus performed in the gospels and the disciples performed later in his name in the book of Acts? Didn't Jesus promise in John 14:12: “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”  Throughout the centuries therefore we find many other saints and Christians performing miracles of healing etc. right down to today.  

Second, if we believe that Jesus rose again from the dead doesn't that open the door for us to believe in other miracles in his name. Certainly Brigid—and the early Celtic saints—had a very firm and sincere belief in the resurrection and therefore had no problems believing in a God of miracles. The resurrection sets the bar at it's highest and makes every other miracle look very tame by comparison.

Third, hospitality is at the heart of the Christian message because of Jesus’ teachings. Remember in Matthew 25 where Jesus said to the righteous: “I was a stranger and you received me in your homes.”  Their reply was to ask when and where was that? And Jesus replies that when they did something for the least of his brethren then they did it for him. It’s that very close identification with the poor and the needy that underlines the story of Brigid and the two strangers and makes it very powerfully authentic to me.

In fact as I was reading and typing out the story I was so deeply moved I had to stop for a few moments which leads me to:

Fourth, what makes this 'true' for me is the way that the story resonates with my spirit. There is more to truth than literal truth. An example is Tolkien's attitude to his book "The Lord of the Rings" which he described as true. Not in the literal sense that there is a Middle Earth and the characters are real people, but that in some way the whole story embodies deep truths about God and about us. When we read of Brigid's encounter with God in the above account there is a "Ring of Truth" (J.B.Philllips) about it that goes beyond the story and moves us to gasp in awe and wonder at God. It inspires us - it did me - to look at life differently and to be more generous and loving to others as a result. In that case whether it was literally true or not is incidental to the story. What really matters is that through it I have glimpsed God as he calls me - like Brigid - to follow and obey Him and show my love to Him through my actions towards others. (Note: I do happen to believe it is literally true because it feels right somehow).

Fifth, the Celtic Christians had a wonderful belief in the Incarnation, that it was not just historical but contemporary and that God was always present in the various people or strangers they encountered. There is an old verse that captures this:

I sought my God
my God I could not see.
I sought my soul
my soul eluded me.
I sought my brother
and I found all three.

That idea has been a vital part of Christianity ever since as we find here from Michael Mannion a priest and friend of Mother Teresa:  "She was totally immersed in the experience of seeing Jesus Christ in the poorest of the poor and worshipping God through her love of them - Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, athiest, all childen of God."

So thank God for St. Brigid and her example to us today. Let me end with a poem attributed to her which speaks of her longing:

I long for a great lake of ale
I long for the meats of belief and pure piety
I long for the flails of penance at my house
I long for them to have barrels full of peace
I long to give away jars full of love
I long for them to have cellars full of mercy
I long for cheerfulness to be in their drinking
I long for Jesus too to be there among them.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Be silent

Abba Joseph asked Abba Nisteros, "What should I do about my tongue, for I cannot control it?" The old man said to him, "When you speak, do you find peace?" He replied, "No." The old man said to him, "If you do not find peace, why do you speak? Be silent, and when a conversation takes place, prefer to listen rather to talk."

Embodying the Word


"A camel needs but a small amount of food. It saves it until it comes to a stable, where it regurgitates it and chews it until it seeps into its flesh and bones. A horse, on the other hand, needs a lot of food. It eats constantly and immediately loses what it has eaten. Therefore, let us not be like a horse, constantly reciting the word of God yet without embodying it. Let us follow the example of the camel, retaining every word of Holy Scripture we recite until we have embodied it."
St. Anthony of Egypt

Friday, 25 January 2013

Let your light shine

A mother asked her little boy during a church service what a saint was. The boy looked up at the stained glass windows and replied: "A saint is someone who the light shines through."

That reminds me of Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:14-16) that his disciples are to be light to the world. Do we shine for Jesus in the way we live and speak? Can people see the Light of the World in and through us?

Thinking of this idea sets of all kinds of biblical resonances from the shining face of Moses after he meets God on the mountain in Exodus 34:29-35 to the passage in 2 Corinthians 3:18 where Paul, talking about the transformation of the Christian "from one degree of glory to another" uses the same word for "transform" as the one used by the gospel writers of Jesus in Matthew 17:1-7. Here the word is "transfigured" but its the same in the Greek. The word means "luminous" like a glass bulb is made luminous by the light from within. Are we too, to become "transfigured" like Jesus?
(John Wesley, above, is sometimes portrayed as having a shining face. Artistic license or faithful portraiture?)

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Heaven - perceptions and misconceptions

As part of my calling I speak rather a lot about heaven and the hope we have as Christians. By the way when I say the word 'hope' I mean it in the Christian and New Testament sense of the certainty rather than the uncertainty of something. But what do we mean by heaven and just as importantly, what are people's perceptions of heaven?

I remember the atheist comedian Dave Allen saying something about how boring Heaven was sitting on clouds all day playing a harp and singing! Of course he was being tongue in cheek but he was also repeating one of the common misconceptions about heaven as being a place "up there" somewhere. And so death - for some who are on the edges of belief - is somewhere where mum, dad, gran or granddad have been taken and are now watching over us.

Obviously one does not challenge or contradict this misunderstanding or wishful thinking at the time of visiting the bereaved, but it is not a Christian perspective and is both inaccurate and wrong. But what is the Christian view? Amongst the more interesting - and biblically convincing - views put forward in recent years is that of Bishop N.T.Wright now 'retired' bishop of Durham. In an interview with Time Magazine in February 2008 he puts forward a different view than has been commonly accepted. Here is an excerpt from the Magazine:

TIME: At one point you call the common view of heaven a "distortion and serious diminution of Christian hope."
Wright: It really is. I've often heard people say, "I'm going to heaven soon, and I won't need this stupid body there, thank goodness.' That's a very damaging distortion, all the more so for being unintentional.

TIME: How so? It seems like a typical sentiment.
Wright: There are several important respects in which it's unsupported by the New Testament. First, the timing. In the Bible we are told that you die, and enter an intermediate state. St. Paul is very clear that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead already, but that nobody else has yet. Secondly, our physical state. The New Testament says that when Christ does return, the dead will experience a whole new life: not just our soul, but our bodies. And finally, the location. At no point do the resurrection narratives in the four Gospels say, "Jesus has been raised, therefore we are all going to heaven." It says that Christ is coming here, to join together the heavens and the Earth in an act of new creation.

TIME: Is there anything more in the Bible about the period between death and the resurrection of the dead?
Wright: We know that we will be with God and with Christ, resting and being refreshed. Paul writes that it will be conscious, but compared with being bodily alive, it will be like being asleep. The Wisdom of Solomon, a Jewish text from about the same time as Jesus, says "the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God," and that seems like a poetic way to put the Christian understanding, as well.

TIME: But it's not where the real action is, so to speak?
Wright: No. Our culture is very interested in life after death, but the New Testament is much more interested in what I've called the life after life after death — in the ultimate resurrection into the new heavens and the new Earth. Jesus' resurrection marks the beginning of a restoration that he will complete upon his return. Part of this will be the resurrection of all the dead, who will "awake," be embodied and participate in the renewal. John Polkinghorne, a physicist and a priest, has put it this way: "God will download our software onto his hardware until the time he gives us new hardware to run the software again for ourselves." That gets to two things nicely: that the period after death is a period when we are in God's presence but not active in our own bodies, and also that the more important transformation will be when we are again embodied and administering Christ's kingdom.

TIME: That is rather different from the common understanding. Did some Biblical verse contribute to our confusion?
Wright: There is Luke 23, where Jesus says to the good thief on the cross, "Today you will be with me in Paradise." But in Luke, we know first of all that Christ himself will not be resurrected for three days, so "paradise" cannot be a resurrection. It has to be an intermediate state. And chapters 4 and 5 of Revelation, where there is a vision of worship in heaven that people imagine describes our worship at the end of time. In fact it's describing the worship that's going on right now. If you read the book through, you see that at the end we don't have a description of heaven, but, as I said, of the new heavens and the new earth joined together.

TIME: Why, then, have we misread those verses?
Wright: It has, originally, to do with the translation of Jewish ideas into Greek. The New Testament is deeply, deeply Jewish, and the Jews had for some time been intuiting a final, physical resurrection. They believed that the world of space and time and matter is messed up, but remains basically good, and God will eventually sort it out and put it right again. Belief in that goodness is absolutely essential to Christianity, both theologically and morally. But Greek-speaking Christians influenced by Plato saw our cosmos as shabby and misshapen and full of lies, and the idea was not to make it right, but to escape it and leave behind our material bodies. The church at its best has always come back toward the Hebrew view, but there have been times when the Greek view was very influential.

If you want to read the full interview go to: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1710844,00.html#ixzz2IuFmLcnt

St. Francis de Sales 1567—1622


In Paul's Letter to the Ephesians Chapter 4 he is talking about the purpose of the different ministries in the body of Christ, the Church. In verse 13 he tells us that the ultimate aim of them is to help every Christian grow "to mature manhood” or full maturity—which for the Christian means “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”. (RSV)

Of course this isn't something required of us in isolation from what God in Christ has already accomplished for us on the cross. As Paul reminds us in Chapter 2 Christians are Christians because through faith they have become the recipients of God's wonderful love and grace: “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive with Christ (by grace you have been saved). Ephesians 2:4-5 RSV)

So Chapter 4 comes after, not before, we have experienced his love and grace and as a response to the revelation of that love and grace seen in Jesus and experienced through the Spirit working in our hearts. What follows in Ephesians 4 then is an outworking of that in a longing to be more and more like Jesus.

All this is seen in the life of one of the great Christians from the late 16th, early 17th Century Francis de Sales. He was born as one of six children and destined by his father to become a lawyer like him. He was sent to the best schools and sent to university. But when he was 17 he experienced a spiritual crisis. He had been attending a theological discussion about predestination and became convinced that he was not one of the elect and therefore damned to hell. For a long time he struggled with this until visiting a local church to pray he came to an understanding that whatever God had in store for him was good, because God is love.

This understanding of the love of God not only dispelled his doubts, but also influenced the rest of his life and teachings. He joined the priesthood, went on to become a bishop and was known for his wise counsel and his spiritual direction to Christians everywhere. He wrote a wonderful spiritual classic called “An Introduction to the Devout Life” which is still in print today. One of his biographers wrote of him:

His gentle character was a great asset in winning souls. He practised his own axiom: “A spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrel-full of vinegar.” He says later: "Francis de Sales took seriously the words of Christ, “Learn of me for I am meek and humble of heart.” As he said himself, it took him 20 years to conquer his quick temper, but no one ever suspected he had such a problem, so overflowing with good nature and kindness was his usual manner of acting. His perennial meekness and sunny disposition won for him the title of “Gentleman Saint.”"

Francis de Sales once wrote: “The person who possesses Christian meekness is affectionate and tender towards everyone: he is disposed to forgive and excuse the frailties of others; the goodness of his heart appears in a sweet affability that influences his words and actions, presents every object to his view in the most charitable and pleasing light.”

What we see then in Francis de Sales' life is an outworking of Paul’s teachings in Ephesians. As he searches for God he discovers His love for him and it changes his life. As he engages with God in love and devotion he slowly changes showing love, humility, gentleness and patience in his relationships with others. In other words he becomes more and more like Jesus.

And that is God’s will for us. But we won’t do it—we can’t do it—unless first we have experienced the love of God in Jesus and our hearts have been made tender through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit who has removed our heart of stone and substituted a heart of flesh instead. And then as we give ourselves more and more to God, responding in prayer, worship and service, we unconsciously find ourselves becoming more and more like him just as Francis did.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Do not judge

Jesus was always using the created world to illustrate God's providence or drive home his teaching. The Desert Fathers very much followed in his footsteps and did the same thing. Here is Abba Xanthius talking about Jesus' teaching not to judge othere. As a dog lover - and former dog owner - I really relate to this saying. He said, “A dog is better than I am, for he has love and he does not judge.”

What shall I do?


I love the pithy sayings of the Desert Fathers such as Anthony who had this amazing ability - a little like Jesus - to encapsulate great truths in small sentences. Here's one of my favourites and a good outline for a three point evangelistic sermon:

Pambo said to Antony, "What shall I do?"
Antony said, "Do not trust in your own righteousness. Do not go on sorrowing over a deed that is past.
Keep your tongue and your belly under control."

1. "Do not trust in your own righteousness."  The Gospel clearly reminds us that because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and no one can save themselves but must throw themselves, in humility, on the grace of God (Ephesians 2:8).
2. "Do not go sorrowing over a deed that is past." Jesus said "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
Matthew 4:17) We enter the kingdom repenting and then accepting the forgiveness that Jesus gives. This means that "as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us." Psalm 103:12
3. "Keep your tongue and your belly under control." We then have to go on from there and "work out
(y)our salvation in fear and trembling." (Philippians 2:12)

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

St.Francis de Sales 1567-1622


I am always fascinated by the examples of men and women of God who took to heart the teachings of Jesus and showed in themselves Christ-like qualities - the fruit of the Spirit. One such person was Francis De Sales  who on 23rd January the Anglican Church asks us to remember. This 17th century saint was known for his love of Jesus. He took very seriously the words of Christ, “Learn of me for I am meek and humble of heart.” As he said himself, it took him 20 years to conquer his quick temper, but no one ever suspected he had such a problem. He was always good-natured and kind.

He once wrote: “The person who possesses Christian meekness is affectionate and tender towards everyone: he is disposed to forgive and excuse the frailties of others; the goodness of his heart appears in a sweet affability that influences his words and actions, presents every object to his view in the most charitable and pleasing light.”

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Patience

Out of all the fruit of the Spirit I would say that patience is the most lacking in me. And yet it is the key to so much in the Christian life. Without patience we give in too easily to besetting sin. Without patience we give in to temptation. Without patience we make hasty decisions. Without patience we do not grow in wisdom. Without patience we do not effectively evangelise. Without patience we will not succeed in ministry. Without patience we do not pray or grow in prayer. No wonder Abba Evagrius one of the Desert Fathers of the earlier centuries once said: "If you know how to practice patience, you shall always pray with joy". What is true for prayer is true for everything.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Forgiveness and the healing it can bring


A number of years ago the Daily Telegraph ran a story about how a Christmas card led to an enduring friendship between an armed bank robber and the policeman he shot in the face. It is an example of how forgiveness can lead to healing.

Billy Burns, a former constable, nearly died when a bullet ripped through his mouth, destroying five teeth and lodging in the back of his throat. His wife was pregnant with their third child and the attack ended his career.
But he nevertheless sent a Christmas card to the robber Stephen Korsa-Acquah who was serving his sentence in Broadmoor.

The gesture was a turning point in Mr Korsa-Acquah's life as a career criminal. He asked to see Mr Burns at Broadmoor - the first time there had been such a meeting between a victim and his attacker at the hospital - and the two began their friendship.

On Christmas 2003 Mr Korsa-Acquah was allowed out on free on licence after Mr Burns spoke up for him at his parole hearings and Mr Korsa-Acquah went on to use his experiences to persuade teenagers not to enter a life of crime. He was working with school pupils in Haringey, north London, as a member of Peace Alliance, a group campaigning to stop gun crime in the area.

"He totally changed the way I perceived things," said Mr Korsa-Acquah, 41. "If he could be so open towards me then surely, whatever I'd done, I could deal with it just as openly."

Mr Burns was shot on April 6, 1983, when he investigated a robbery at a Lloyds Bank branch in Bristol. Mr Korsa-Acquah fled, hijacked two vehicles and was chased through three counties before being caught on the M4. He served two decades in prison, much of it in Broadmoor, for the attempted murder of Mr Burns and 17 armed robberies.

Mr Korsa-Acquah, brought up in Tottenham, north London, one of four boys and six girls, was expelled from school at 16 for cutting another pupil with a knife. His father died when he was 17 and his mother lived in Ghana. He had no qualifications and had to look after the younger children.

He gave up looking for a job and found it easy to obtain a weapon. His gang robbed banks and ambushed security vans, financing a "fantasy life" of fast cars, drugs, and parties, he told the Bristol Evening Post.
Recalling the shooting of Mr Burns, he said: "At that moment we were two people on opposite ends of the spectrum. The logic I had in my head at the time was: 'Well, I didn't ask him to chase me.' We were both in these roles and I just reacted. Shooting him was a reflex, panic reaction because I was prepared to do what I had to do to avoid being caught."

During his time in prison, he started "wanting to do something positive". "Part of that turned out to be to apologise to Billy and explain that what I'd done hadn't been personal." Despite being seriously injured and medically retired from the police force, Mr Burns agreed to meet his attacker and accepted his apology.
Mr Burns, who runs a security business, said: "I had no issues with forgiving him, that was the very essence of my Christian faith. It's not about condoning or justifying someone's actions, but it releases you from what can actually be a very cancerous bitterness."

He praised his attacker for his work against crime. "Stephen has been there and can speak from experience. Kids respect that. I've seen him working with 15- and 16-year-olds, who are difficult to get through to at the best of times, and you can tell they're listening to what he's got to say.  "It's so satisfying seeing Stephen moving on. It's good to feel I've done something to help that happen. "But it's not a one way thing. Stephen has contributed to my quality of life. He's a true friend."
The Telegraph 23rd December 2003

Christ the Truth

Just got back from a two day conference in Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Swansea entitles "Eccentrics". Not sure why the title - maybe its because its the way the world sees Christians nowadays or is it another word for other-worldly? Either way it was good opportunity to listen to some excellent speakers expounding the Bible and meet other men in the ministry and talk about their triumphs and struggles in the ministry.

One of the speakers was a man called Glen Scrivener who is an Anglican Clergyman working in the Church of England based in Eastbourne. I mention him because he has an excellent blog called 'Christ the Truth' which can be accessed here. It's well worth a visit and if you can access any of his sermons I commend them to you.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Holy Fire

I have quoted the poet R.S.Thomas once before on this blog but I want to do so again from his poem simply entitled "The Chapel". R.S. Thomas, as you probably know, was an Anglican clergyman serving in the Church in Wales, my own denomination. He can be a little depressing and sometimes gives the impression that he doubted more than he believed. However here in this wonderful little poem he speaks with a combination of nostalgia and longing for the time when the Christian faith set it's followers on fire for God:

A little aside from the main road,
becalmed in a last-century greyness,
there is the chapel, ugly, without the appeal
to the tourist to stop his car
and visit it. The traffic goes by,
and the river goes by, and quick shadows
of clouds, too, and the chapel settles
a little deeper into the grass.

But here once on an evening like this,
in the darkness that was about
his hearers, a preacher caught fire
and burned steadily before them
with a strange light, so that they saw
the splendour of the barren mountains
about them and sang their amens
fiercely, narrow but saved
in a way that men are not now.

Here is what one commentator wrote (I am afraid I can't remember where or who):

"Am I alone, I wonder, in being moved by the truth about the way in which preachers used to catch fire and burn steadily before their congregations, ‘saved in a way that men are not now? And why is it, I wonder, that neither preachers nor congregations are so readily moved these days? Is it because we have tamed the Gospel and made it too safe, too comfortable, too respectable? Up and down the country in our churches and chapels, passions are inflamed and hearts set on fire not by the Most High God and his infinite mercy and graciousness, but by petty grievances and small complaints, who's sitting in my pew and I don't know that tune and it's not my turn to do this and she shouldn't be allowed to do that."

Ouch! A little near the bone methinks! However although I am sure that many a clergyman can attest to the painful truthfulness of that observation, as a clergyman myself I am more disturbed by the picture of a lukewarm preacher, dull in his unbelief, spouting platitudes and inanities than I am about what happens in the pews. True there is nothing worse than the widespread religious nominalism that masquerades for current day Christianity in the West. True too that church congregations are alarmingly adept at majoring over minors or kicking up a storm over something innocuous or insignificant. But - and it's a large 'but' - dry wood needs a spark and if the preacher isn't on fire then all the complaints in the world are not going to revive the Church again. So my prayer - and I hope yours - is simple. Please Lord send down your fire from heaven again and set our preachers alight with the power of the Holy Spirit. Or, in the wonderful words of Charles Wesley:

O thou who camest from above
the fire celestial to impart,
kindle a flame of sacred love
on the mean altar of my heart.
There let it for thy glory burn
with inextinguishable blaze,
and trembling to its source return
in humble prayer and fervent praise.


Monday, 7 January 2013

Making space for God


In the Pope's Christmas appeal he urged people to find room for God in their lives.

"Do we have time and space for him? Do we not actually turn away God himself? We begin to do so when we have no time for him," he said.

"The faster we can move, the more efficient our time-saving appliances become, the less time we have. And God? The question of God never seems urgent. Our time is already completely full."

The Pope lamented the way in which God "has to be explained away" by some people.

"If thinking is to be taken seriously, it must be structured in such a way that the 'God hypothesis' becomes superfluous," he said.

"There is no room for him. Not even in our feelings and desires is there any room for him.

"We want ourselves. We want what we can seize hold of, we want happiness that is within our reach, we want our plans and purposes to succeed.

"We are so 'full' of ourselves that there is no room left for God."

He encouraged people to "become vigilant for his presence".

"Let us ask that we may make room for him within ourselves, that we may recognise him also in those through whom he speaks to us: children, the suffering, the abandoned, those who are excluded and the poor of this world," he said.

Another yard on the slippery slope?


Recently it was announced that the Church of England is to allow clergy in civil partnerships to be bishops.

In a statement issued by the House of Bishops it said: "The House has confirmed that clergy in civil partnerships, and living in accordance with the teaching of the Church on human sexuality, can be considered as candidates for the episcopate."

There had been a moratorium on clergy in civil partnerships being considered as candidates for the episcopate over the past year and a half while the working party undertook a review of the issue.

The statement from the House of Bishops continued: "The House believed it would be unjust to exclude from consideration for the episcopate anyone seeking to live fully in conformity with the Church's teaching on sexual ethics or other areas of personal life and discipline.

"All candidates for the episcopate undergo a searching examination of personal and family circumstances, given the level of public scrutiny associated with being a bishop in the Church of England.

"But these, along with the candidate's suitability for any particular role for which he is being considered, are for those responsible for the selection process to consider in each case."

While it does on the surface seem to be a right move in terms of doing justice to those who are in a celibate relationship with a member of the same sex and it does try and be seen to be non-judgemental I am afraid it is not a wise move. Why?

First, of all it is rather naive as it assumes that people who previously were engaged in sexual activity could somehow switch off their desire for one another.

Second, in some ways this is just as unfair as previously denying those in a same sex relationship ordination to the priesthood and consecration as bishops as it denies one 'right' in order to provide another. Two wrongs don't make a right and neither - in this case - do two rights make a right! Sexual attraction is a very powerful thing and whatever the rights and wrongs of its expression to deny its exists or to assume that it will no longer exist is foolishness.


Third, how can anyone possibly be able to enforce it, a question raised by the former Bishop of Rochester, the Right Reverend Michael Nazir-Ali. He says: "In the context of same-sex relationships, what exactly does ‘celibacy’ mean?" he said.

"Does the admission of those in civil partnerships to the episcopate, who state they are celibate, include those who were previously in actively homophile relationships including with their present partner?

Fourth, I am afraid it is the thin end of a very large wedge that will further fracture, if finally not break, the Church of England. And where the Church of England goes my Church, the Church in Wales, will not be far behind.

On a personal note this latest development is putting further strain on my relationship with a church I was baptised in, confirmed in, came to faith in and have served as an ordained member of the clergy in for 26 years. Is there a place for people like me who, although progressive in many ways and committed to making the Gospel relevant to an unbelieving society is very much committed to the traditional teaching of the Church on matters of doctrine etc. as well the authority of the Bible. At what point will enough be enough?

(See article in Christianity Today by clicking here.)

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