More potentially useless thoughts

Ordinary Time 14/Trinity 4 – Tuesday
Commemoration of Ss. Thomas More, martyr & John Fisher, bishop and martyr (Australian Anglican Calendar)

So I blogged about the vids that Bryan put up on his blog entry a week or so ago.

I have to agree that the formal liturgies for the Eucharist and Daily Prayer have definitely played a huge part in my spiritual formation over the last few years. Anglicanism at its best promotes a sacred rhythm to each day (at its worst, it promotes a rather pietistic form of legalism). Where there is at least one or two heartbeats that exist to remind the lover of God that the time of each day should be given up to God, even in the midst of the chaos of work and life.

The silence that plays a part of the liturgies, whether done communally (as I did today at the lunchtime Eucharist and when joining a small group at St. John’s to pray evensong this afternoon) or alone (most of the other time), creates a space whereone can listen out for what God is trying to tell us amidst the millions of voices and sounds that are in our heads and around us.

The comments made by Todd Hunter about Anglicanism being very self-consciously ‘catholic’ and ‘sacramental’ ring very much true to me. The last few years I have found myself becoming increasingly ‘catholic’ in my study of Scripture, theology and liturgy. To look beyond mere Reformation resources. To go back and look at the resources from the period of the undivided Church along with modern Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant resources too. It’s been incredibly enriching and on (many) occasions, provoking lots of questions that I will ask all of these dead guys when and if I make it to hang out with Christ and his buddies after I’m dead and gone.

The same thing about being ‘sacramental’. For too long, I haven’t really heard too much about the material being good given that I keep hearing that original sin has tainted every single aspect in the world around us and how evil this world is. The emphasis on the spiritual and using our mind to love God (you could call this an unintended after-effect of the Reformation emphasis on preaching and listening to the Word of God but neglecting the other part). It’s almost a quasi-form of dualism. Spirit good, body/material bad (as Christopher West put it at his WYD08 talks last year).

But how can this be true if God created us and in the creation account, he called all that he had made ‘good’. Yes, we screwed up, but innately, every person on this earth is still created in the image of God and that everything around us reflects the glory and majesty of God. I see it in clouds that form each day now in winter. In the smiles of people on the train and in my office. That the material can be used by God as a means of grace (a term that is bandied about in Methodist circles but which I have yet to actually hear explained from any pulpit seriously) for the believer. I mean, the ultimate example of that was Christ’s incarnation. And you can’t call God becoming man bad. At all. Period.


I have been very slowly reading “What Is The Point Of Being A Christian?” by Dominican friar, Timothy Radcliffe OP. It has been a huge book for lectio divina. Sure he writes from a predominantly Roman Catholic viewpoint, but he does quote quite frequently from Anglican, Eastern Orthodox and Lutheran viewpoints as well (definitely an ecumenical read). Along with plenty of secular quotes to get his point across. A very nice melding of faith and the surrounding culture in one book. And dang it, now I really want to read more of John Donne & William Blake’s poetry!

A few quotes now follow (and they are worth reading).

In retort to my own thinking that I wish much happiness for others, but none for myself (this comes up in my thoughts more often than you would think):

(p. 51) Human beings are made only to thrive as the receivers of a happiness that is beyond our nature. So seeking happiness is not selfish, but rather it transforms the self. Thomas is right to maintain that we cannot will to be unhappy (Summa Theologiae, I.II.13.6), but we can turn away from the immeasurable happiness to which we are summoned, since it will demand our death and resurrection, and that is frightening. Christianity is the good news that God created us for happiness, and ultimately for the happiness that is God being God. But we cannot be convincing witnesses to this if Christians are seen as miserable and inhibited. Nietzsche wrote that Christ’s ‘disciples should look more redeemed’. Otherwise we shall be no more convincing than a couch potato extolling the benefits of keeping fit.

On the liturgical year and how we find ourselves in the story told of someone else:

(p. 53) Each year we re-enact that story, moving from Advent to Pentecost. Part of our joy now lies in letting ourselves be carried by that story, knowing that it bears us on towards ultimate beatitude when we shall see God face to face. Now we may be sorrowful and incomplete, but already we may rejoice with glimpses of arrival. As St. Augustine said:

Let us sing Alleluia here below while we are still anxious, so that we may sing it one day there above when we are free from care … Let us sing Alleluia, not in the enjoyment of heavenly rest, but to sweeten our toil. Sing as travellers sing along the road: but keep on walking … Sing up – and keep on walking. (Sermon 256, translation from the breviary)

On Christ’s acceptance of us even as he sees who we really are:

(p. 62) Jesus’s gaze is not just a vague warm blind benevolence. He looks at people as they are. To be seen by Jesus is an experience of truth. Think of the Samaritan woman at the well: ‘He told me all that I ever did’ (John 4.39). St Augustine wrote that happiness is ‘gaudium de veritate‘ (Confessions x, 23), ‘joy in the truth’. Jesus’ delight in us is not a vacuous affirmation: it is our painful joy in being stripped of pretension, of stepping into the light. In the presence of that face we discover who we are. The gaze of Jesus peels away the masks that we wear, and deconstructs the false faces we show the world.

On joy, its opposite (something I fear I am on the cusp of falling into) and what sorrow really is all about:

(pp. 64-65) The opposite of joy is not sorrow but the numbness of heart that makes us incapable of any feeling. Suffering can give us stony hearts. Simone Weil describes how labouring in a factory kills the soul: ‘Upon taking up your post at your machine, you must kill your soul for eight hours a day, kill your thoughts, feelings, everything … You must suppress, purge yourself of all your irritation, sadness or disgust: they would lessen the pace. You must even abolish joy.’ (La contition ouvrière, Paris 1951, p. 28). But sorrow can also sometimes hollow us out so that we are capable of a deeper joy. It can break our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh. When you wish to make meat tender, then sometimes you must hammer out the knots in it. This is what God seems to do to our hearts.

The most joyful saints are therefore also the most sorrowful. St Dominic laughed in the day with his brethren, but he wept at night with God. St Francis of Assisi was a man of exuberant joy, but he also bore the stigmata. … If we would share God’s joy then we must share his sorrow at the suffering of the world. If one insulates oneself against the pain of the world, then one can never be deeply joyful. William Blake wrote:

Man was made for Joys and Woe / And when this we rightly know / Thro the World we safely go / Joy and Woe are woven fine / A clothing for the Soul divine / Under every grief and pine / Runs a joy with silken twine.

On the body:

(p. 89) Jesus’s utter freedom was expressed in the gift of his body. The happiness that is a sharing in God’s life is not just some interior mental state. It needs to find bodily expression if it is to be truly human. It is a delight in the particularity of people and their ‘sweetly ordinary’ faces. Courage requires that we face our bodily death. The body is central to all the major Christian doctrines. We believe that God creates our bodies and drew near to us in Jesus Christ, flesh and blood like us. Our central sacrament is the sharing of his body. We believe that he was raised bodily from the grave and that we shall be too. We cannot progress any further in exploring the point of being a Christian until we have reflected upon what it means for us to be bodily.

How grace makes us graceful (though I sure don’t look like that!):

(p. 93) Grace may make us graceful. Eastern Christians sometimes insist that grace can even make us beautiful. This might be a new selling point for Christianity! Grace forms our faces to smile. Dom Enzo Bianchi, Prior of the monastery of Bose, wrote that ‘Personally I am convinced that the spiritual life has a deep effect on the physical appearance of a person, on their face. The Greek tradition talks of spiritually mature monks as the kalógeroi, the “beautiful old men”. Yes, the dimension of beauty is part of the synergy between grace and nature.’ (Ricominciare nell’anima, nella Chiesa, nel mondo, Genovia 1999, p. 58, Fr. Radcliffe’s translation). The idea of these beautiful old men makes me smile, and I admit I have never yet been especially struck by the beauty of my brethren. I must look again!

On Christianity’s views about sex and sexuality:

(p. 94) Christianity’s views about sexuality should be strikingly different because we cherish sexuality as fundamental to our humanity. Once, when St John Chrysostom was preaching about sex, he noticed some people blushing and he was indignant: ‘Why do you blush? Is it not pure? You are behaving like heretics.’ (12th Homily on the Eph to the Colossians, Translation from the breviary). To think that sex is repulsive is a failure of true chastity and, according to no less than St Thomas Aquinas, a moral defect! (Summa Theologiae II.II.142.1)

On love, the Last Supper and fantasies (and a section that really shook me to the core of my being and which continues to shake me to the core of my being!):

(pp. 96-97) The Last Supper is the story of the risk of giving yourself to others. That is why Jesus died, because he loved. But not to take the risk is even more dangerous. It is deadly. Listen to C.S. Lewis:

‘To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.’ (The Four Loves, London 1960, p. 111)

Mark Patrick Hederman OSB wrote, ‘Love is the only impetus that is sufficiently overwhelming to force us to leave the comfortable shelter of our well-armed individuality, shed the impregnable shell of self-sufficiency, and crawl out nakedly into the danger zone beyond, the melting pot where individuality is purified into personhood.’ (Manikon Eros: Mad Crazy Love, Dublin 2000, p. 66)

Human beings are very clever at taking refuge in fantasy and I hope to have come fully down to earth before I am buried in it.

On being alone and, love and God:

(p. 105) … I must learn how to be alone. I cannot be with people happily unless I am able to be alone contentedly. If I am terrified of loneliness, then I will grab other people not because I delight in them, for their own sake, but as a solution to my problem. I will see people just as ways of filling my void, my terrifying loneliness. I will therefore not be able to rejoice in them for who they are. So when one is present with another person, then be truly present, and when one is alone, then love the solitude.

… In every love one may open the space for God to inhabit. Rather than seeing our loves as competing with God, they offer places in which he [God] can pitch his tent. There is only one love, and that is God, who is present, recognized or not, in every love.

If we separate our love for God from our love for people, then each will go sour and unhealthy. That is what it means to have a double life.

And finally, on reverence in our speaking, but also generally applicable for showing our reverence for anything we own (this quote is for you Sven!):

(p. 119) When the priest has read the Gospel he kisses the text. Our reverence should extend even to our everyday words. Salman Rushdie, in a lovely article called ‘Is Nothing Sacred?’, wrote,

‘I grew up kissing books and bread. In our house, whenever anyone dropped a book or let fall a chapatti or a ‘slice’, which was our word for a triangle of buttered leavened bread, the fallen object was required not only to be picked up but also kissed, by way of apology for the act of clumsy disrespect. I was as careless and butter-fingered as any child and, accordingly, during my childhood years, I kissed a large number of ‘slices’ and also my fair share of books. Devout households in India often contained, and still contain, persons in the habit of kissing holy books. But we kissed everything. We kissed dictionaries and atlases. We kissed Enid Blyton novels and Superman comics. If I’d ever dropped the telephone diretory I’d probably have kissed that, too. All this happened before I had ever kissed a girl. In fact it would be true, true enough for a fiction writer, anyhow, to say that once I started kissing girls, my activities with regard to bread and books lost some of their special excitement. But one never forgets one’s first loves. Bread and books: food for the body and food for the soul – what could be more worthy of our respect, and even love?’ (Granta, Issue 31, 1990, p. 98f)

It’s taken about 3 weeks to go through 121 pages of this 212 page book. But every word has been savoured and mulled over. This will be a book that I will come back to over and over again for years to come (like what Norwegian Wood and Holy Scripture are to me also). It is well worth the purchase if you can find it in a bookstore (online or bricks-and-mortar).

+ 2255hrs


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