A Manifesto

I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.

John 10:10

 

The glory of God is the human person fully alive.

St Irenaeus

 

  1. God wants life for us.
  2. The purpose of our life is to learn how to love.
  3. Where the action in our life is, God is present and active.
  4. God does not send us pain and suffering, but works with us in them for good.
  5. The paradigm of death/resurrection is key to understanding our existence.
  6. God can and should be imaged in countless ways, no image being adequate to the mystery.
  7. God often appears in human form.
  8. We are neither naturally good nor naturally evil, but immensely malleable and ultimately responsible for our own becoming.
  9. God’s will for us is found within our own deepest wanting.
  10. Good people are tempted by what seems morally or spiritually good.

Thomas Hart, Hidden Spring: The Spiritual Dimension of Therapy

 

“I’m perfectly at ease with whatever comes… I’m looking forward to a new adventure.”

Jimmy Carter

31394571_10215375906812287_6637470974936960851_nRadical tea towels by The Radical Tea Towel Company

Reclaiming Our Past

Recall a time of consolation and go back to it in imagination.

Margaret Silf, “What do do in desolation” from Inner Compass

 

When we are—as it were—torn up by some new hole of need in our life, remembering and reclaiming our past will help us claim hope and help for the present and the future. The patch comes from old cloth. The present need can be sutured by hope drawn from your past.

Br. Curtis Almquist

 

But the point is, now, at this moment, or any moment, we’re only cross-sections of our real selves. What we really are is the whole stretch of ourselves, all our time, and when we come to the end of this life, all those selves, all our time, will be us—the real you, the real me. And then perhaps we’ll find ourselves in another time, which is only another kind of dream.

J.B. Priestly, Time and the Conways

 

Do not fear the beauty of memories!

The past, admittedly, can be a source of immense pain.

And yet, the past is our story, our treasure, our jewell box, our wisdom.

Even if subsequent events—an estrangement, for example, or a death—have made you feel that a particular story had a sad ending, don’t allow the loveliness of a memory to be robbed from you.

No matter what, the past retains its own integrity, and we can draw strength and direction from it, remembering the original dreams with which we embarked on life, and setting our course again, recalling our true north.

We can gather it all

—the beauty and the sadness—

into a circle that will be redeemed by love.

 

IMG_7514

Detail from a magazine advertisement for the perfume, L’Heure Bleu by Guerlain, c. 1974.

Give What You Have

Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee…

Acts 3:6

 

JEAN (the Juggler):

What a sudden ray of light,

And in my heart what joy.

He is right, the Virgin is not proud.

The shepherd, the juggler, in her eyes, par the King.

Virgin, mother of love, Virgin goodness supreme,

As on the shepherd’s tune smiled the God-Child,

If the juggler dared honor you the same,

Deign to smile from the sill of Heaven.

 

from Act II of Jules Massenet’s opera Le Jongleur de Notre Dame, lyrics by Maurice Lena, English translation by Jeffrey A. Klingfuss

 

“Le Jongleur de Notre Dame” is a legend included by Gautier de Coincy (1177–1236), a French abbot, in his collection, Les Miracles de Notre Dame. It is the story of a juggler who becomes a monk. Concerned that he has nothing to lay at the feet of the monastery’s statue of the Virgin Mary, and knowing his talents are viewed with suspicion by his fellow monks, he decides nonetheless to do what he does best for her. So he creeps in to the chapel in the dead of night, and, by moonlight, juggles before the statue to the point of exhaustion. Alas, he is discovered, but—just as the other monks are about to seize him and carry him away for blasphemy—a miracle! The Virgin steps down from her pedestal and wipes his brow with a handkerchief (for juggling is hard work). He dies, and is taken up to heaven, and the monks know they were in the presence of a saint.

De Coincy, a rather fascinating man, had an agenda. His stories champion outcasts and ne’er-do-wells and pursuits which, then and now, may not seem weighty to us. Jugglers still do not get the Nobel Prize. But in De Coincy’s world, as Marina Warner observes, the more raffish a character is, the better Our Lady likes him, or her. “Through her the whole gay crew of wanton, loving, weak humanity finds its way to Paradise…” (from Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary, 1976.) His Christianity was a soft-hearted, humorous, merciful, tolerant faith, and his Mary stood in gentle opposition to the more absolutist kind of morality that we still tend to uphold (and not only in Christian circles).

You may have the kind of talents our society values. But then again, you may not. If your talents are not considered weighty, pursue them nonetheless!

They were given to you by God.

You cannot give what you don’t have. (And Peter had something much better than silver and gold…) So don’t be concerned about the things you can’t give.

Instead, give what you have!

 

MASSENET: JONGLEUR, 1904. French poster, 1904, for Jules Massenet's opera 'Le Jongleur

The beautiful poster for the 1902 Paris premiere of Massenet’s opera, Le Jongleur de Notre Dame, which was based on the short story by Anatole France, itself based, in turn, on the 13th century legend by Gautier de Coincy.

God Has No Pride

“God and humanity are like two lovers who have missed their rendezvous. Each is there before the time, but each at a different place, and they wait, and wait, and wait. He stands motionless, nailed to the spot for the whole of time. She is distraught and impatient. But alas for her if she gets tired and goes away. The crucifixion of Christ is the image of the fixity of God. God is attention without distraction. One must imitate the patience and humility of God.”

Simone Weil

 

God has no pride.

He does everything our mothers advised us not to do. He chases us like a puppy. He hangs around waiting for us to text, or email, or phone, and when we do he always picks up, or texts back, or replies immediately. When we deign to visit him he’s always pleased to see us. He tries to get our attention, every moment. He gazes at us, doe-eyed and love-struck. He does not play hard to get.

Perhaps God would be better off taking our mothers’ advice. Perhaps he is just so available, we take him for granted.

Sometimes, it’s true, God seems hard to find. That is why we must chase him back. But in fact he has never stopped chasing us.

A love affair with God is like a chasing game in which nobody really knows who is It.

 

IMG_7466.jpg

 

 

The Hidden Cross

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. 

Matthew 16: 24

 

In Zuiho-in, a Zen temple within the Daitokuji Monastery in Kyoto, Japan, there is a place called The Garden of the Cross. There, rocks placed irregularly on a bed of sand form an asymmetrical cross. Under a stone lantern below it, a statue of the Virgin Mary is buried. The garden honours the patron of the monastery, Otomo Sorin, and his conversion to Christianity shortly after dedicating the temple in 1546. It is a cryptic meditation on the hidden Christians whose faith survived Christianity’s brutal suppression, and the two hundred years during which Christianity was outlawed.

The cross is very hard to make out. But if you are truly looking, you will see it.

“Take up your cross and follow me” may seem like grim advice, coming from a man who died by crucifixion. But in truth, each of us is already carrying a cross. If your cross is hidden to you, it may help to recognise it, and to name, for yourself, the things of which it is composed.

Then Jesus’s challenge becomes a heartening one. “Come on! Don’t lose heart! Take it up—that sorrow, that disappointment, that fear, that inadequacy, that illness—and follow me!”

Then, carrying our baggage, we will be on the road to somewhere, with the Companion who is both the journey—the Way—and the destination.

 

26685281_10214392064016832_7567354312959677651_oThe Garden of the Cross,  Zuiho-in Temple, Daitokuji Monastery, Kyoto.

Don’t Read The Comments

Stand still and remember your compass points.

Margaret Silf, “What to do in desolation”, from Inner Compass.

 

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God… that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God… 

Ephesians 6: 10-20

 

Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit ye like men, be strong.

1 Corinthians 13

 

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things pass away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
He who has God
Finds he lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

Teresa of Avila

 

Don’t read the comments.

But if, after reading an article you have found interesting and helpful or beautiful and moving, your eye drifts down and you should accidentally see something vicious, or mean-spirited, or reductive, or withering, don’t lose the will to live!

Stand still, and remember your compass points, as Margaret Silf says.

Remember that there is a Kingdom hidden in the folds of this one, and that it is the only Kingdom that matters, and that in this Kingdom, a land whose citizens are every loving heart, vicious, mean-spirited, reductive, withering assertions have no weight.

What matters, in the end, is not what people say, but what is true.

Stand on the firm ground of that Kingdom, whose very soil is love.

 

Nada_te_turbe

“Nada te turbe…” (“Let nothing disturb you…”) The famous prayer of Teresa of Avila (1515- 1582), written in vernacular Spanish, in her own handwriting. It is often called St Teresa’s Bookmark, because it was found in her prayerbook after her death.

Back story back story back story

A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench…

Isaiah 42:3, Matthew 12:20

 

kindness, noun. quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.

Oxford Dictionary

 

Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.

Henry James to his nephew Billy, quoted in Leon Edel’s Henry James: A Life

 

 

Have you ever dropped into Facebook, or any kind of social media, in a fragile state of mind, only to be attacked, unexpectedly, by someone who has taken exception to an article you have shared, or a comment you have posted? You know the person does not really know you, and you know they cannot possibly be aware that you are recently bereaved, or have just had a bitter disappointment, or are sad or anxious. But you have been wounded further nonetheless.

Have you ever observed someone else being attacked, someone whose story you know, all the while realising that the person attacking them doesn’t know what you know about that person’s struggles or misfortunes, and is assuming things about them you know to be untrue?

A wise person once said, “Facebook is all back story back story back story.” It is hair raising indeed to consider, even for a moment, just how little you may know of the lives of the people you are interacting with online.

Behind the profile picture, infinite mystery. And it is that mystery that is informing everything they say and do.

But wait—there’s more. Have you ever visited Facebook, feeling empty and worthless at the end of a terrible day, only to be moved to tears by the kindness of someone showing genuine, detailed interest in something you have said or shared? That, also, has happened to me.

Our kindness, or unkindness, can mean so much to people whose struggles we can never know.

 

Let us not break the reed already bruised by life.

Let us not snuff out the candle already struggling to give light.

 

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Dr Catherine Hamlin, who enjoys knitting, has been working for women with obstetric fistula in Ethiopia for over fifty years.

 

 

 

 

 

A Hundred Yellow Ribbons

Now the whole damn bus is cheering

                     And I can’t believe I see…

                     A hundred yellow ribbons

                     Round the old oak tree!

                 —Irwin Levine/L. Russell Brown, “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree”

 

I do not normally feel any anxiety about going to Holy Communion, but there was one occasion when I did. There had been a shortage of Hosts for several days, so that I had received only a small piece, and on this particular morning I most foolishly said to myself: “If I only receive part of a Host today, I will know that Jesus does not really want to come into my heart.” I went up, and to my joy, after a moment’s hesitation, the priest gave me two complete Hosts…

Therese of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul

 

 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!  I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. 

Luke 15: 17-24

 

God is like the girlfriend of the man who has just got out of prison in “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree”.

You’re worried you’re not even going to get one; but instead he gives you a hundred.

 

 

 

1200px-Rembrandt_Harmensz_van_Rijn_-_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_ProjectRembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son

Love in a Time of Migraine

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lacked anything.

“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here”:
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.

George Herbert

 

“In 1938 I spent ten days at Solesmes, from Palm Sunday to Easter Tuesday, following all the liturgical services. I was suffering from splitting headaches; each sound hurt me like a blow; by an extreme effort of concentration I was able to rise above this wretched flesh, to leave it to suffer by itself, heaped up in a corner, and to find a pure and perfect joy in the unimaginable beauty of the chanting and the words. This experience enabled me by analogy to get a better understanding of the possibility of loving divine love in the midst of affliction. It goes without saying that in the course of these services the thought of the Passion of Christ entered into my being once and for all.  There was a young English Catholic there from whom I gained my first idea of the supernatural power of the sacraments because of the truly angelic radiance with which he seemed to be clothed after going to communion. Chance—for I always prefer saying chance rather than Providence—made of him a messenger to me. For he told me of the existence of those English poets of the seventeenth century who are named metaphysical. In reading them later on, I discovered the poem of which I read you what is unfortunately a very inadequate translation. It is called “Love”. I learned it by heart. Often, at the culminating point of a violent headache, I make myself say it over, concentrating all my attention upon it and clinging with all my soul to the tenderness it enshrines. I used to think I was merely reciting it as a beautiful poem, but without my knowing it the recitation had the virtue of a prayer. It was during one of these recitations that, as I told you, Christ himself came down and took possession of me… Moreover, in this sudden possession of me by Christ, neither my senses nor my imagination had any part; I only felt in the midst of my suffering the presence of a love, like that which one can read in the smile on a beloved face.” 

Simone Weil, from a letter quoted in the anthology Waiting on God

 

 

When George Herbert died, in 1633, at the age of 39, “Love” was unpublished.

Shortly before his death, he sent a collection of poems to his friend, Nicholas Ferrar, asking him to publish them if he considered that they might help “any poor dejected soul”. Ferrar, it seems, thought they might, for they were published that same year.

Herbert could not have imagined that, some three centuries later, in 1938, one of them could have found its way into the hands of an anguished young French intellectual named Simone Weil.

It is as if he reached across the centuries to hand it to her, and thus they became friends across time.

Now we are challenged and inspired by both George Herbert and Simone Weil.

 

Anything we write

anything we do

—no matter how small, no matter how obscure—

has the possibility of doing good in ways we cannot possibly imagine.

Do the next good thing!

 

Simone_Weil_05herbert

Simone Weil (left) and George Herbert (right, detail of a portrait by William Dyce).

 

 

Be Yourself

BRIAN: You’re all individuals!

                  FOLLOWERS: Yes, we’re all individuals!

BRIAN: You’re all different!

FOLLOWERS: Yes, we are all different!

DENNIS: I’m not.

ARTHUR: Shhhhh.

FOLLOWERS: Shhh. Shhhhh. Shhhh.

from Monty Python’s Life of Brian

 

It is true to say that for me sanctity consists in being myself and for you sanctity consists of being yourself and that, in the last analysis, your sanctity will never be mine and mine will never be yours, except in the communism of charity and grace. For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self.

Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

 

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.”

Martha Graham in conversation with Agnes de Mille, 1943, recounted in Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham, 1991.

 

We will never find our vocations by trying to figure out whether we are better or worse than others. We are good enough to do what we are called to do. Be yourself!

Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey

 

 

Only I can know who I truly am

Only I have all the relevant information

Only I can say what it would mean for me to live in authenticity

But God knows too.

I am called to be the person God created me to be.

And it is when I am most truly myself

that he is most surely working through me.

 

A_Selection_Of_Scenes_From_Monty_Python_s_Life_Of_Brian_-_YouTube“As poignant as it is funny and satirical.” Graham Chapman as Brian Cohen in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, 1979.