Saturday, 8 August 2020

You - the eye of the storm

Human is from humus, the soil, so to be human is eat from soil, to be going back to soil. But there is a longing in every human to know more, and if the only thing that you know is your body, you seek this more in more food, or sex, or stuff, or conquest, which are all trying to make something that is not you, you. It doesn’t last long, and if the only thing that you know is your body you might as well be dead, as St Paul wrote to the Romans; “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” As a Jew he knew Adam was called Adam because Adamah is Hebrew for mud. And so it is for all humans. Do we settle for just being mud?

 

But St Paul described something else called being ‘In Christ’. His first letter to Corinth, Chapter 15, verse 22, says “for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” He doesn’t mean the historical human Palestinian Jew called Jesus, but the boundlessly aware being that he embodied, and we embody. So boundless the New Testament tells us that the whole universe is in Christ. So what if we are not a human body, or even a human mind?

 

 Modern science has shown us everything physical is energy and nothing is the essence of energy, so Paul says; ‘Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will bear the image of the man of heaven.’ The language doesn’t matter, so Paul calls it mystery. ‘Listen, I will tell you a mystery’.

 

If you abandon your personality, the physical emotional mental boundary you are used to, but now, rather than at physical death, the source of the universe is the mystery you already are. I am not a sensory thing but one boundless consciousness, no longer identified with a human body or even a human mind. We humans seek this.

 

If we give up seeking it physically we try emotionally. If you are romantically in love this will widen your boundary with a very strong force. But emotions can and do turn negative, and they recede before the intellect too. Beyond the intellect is the boundaryless we call God, and stories of Jesus show he rarely respects natural boundaries everyone is so used to.  There is something scary about that, but liberating, so Peter’s desire to join Jesus on the water expresses our own desire to transcend nature from within the mud and water.

 

To have faith is to be willing to throw oneself into a disorderly world and to expect to encounter God and transcend the normal, wander into unfamiliar but wonderful terrain. In Matthew’s gospel, the story of Jesus walking on disorderly water becomes a story of Peter sinking into the same water.  Peter tells Jesus to call him, and over the centuries this has fed Christian reflections on what it means to have faith in difficult circumstances. As my favourite football song says it; ‘When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high.’

 

Peace is not the lack of a storm, it is the eye in the storm. The eye of calm at the centre of a hurricane of severely raging and tearing winds is God in us, breaking the natural boundary of sense emotion or intellect. None of this is about removing the storm.

 

In their search for the boundaryless in the storm Peter and his companions struggle as the storm batters their boat. The sea, in a Hebrew worldview, is unknowable chaos and danger. They hallucinate a ghost, terror is on them. Psychiatrist Carl Jung said the year of my birth “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure however is disagreeable and unpopular”  We humans do contain a lot of stuff that is very unpleasant to look at, but these natural storms are not just natural storms, they are God’s means of transportation, to reveal who I am. The Greek translation of the Bible understands God as the fullness of Being, our Being, all Being. This spiritual process is to go beyond boundaries we draw for ourselves to know the immensity we are. 

 

So when Peter steps out of the boat, of course he enters a tumult. His motive isn’t to escape threat, but to go to where Jesus defies and reorders the assumed boundaries. Incredibly turbulent places are thin places, to use a Celtic phrase, where God is seen to break through, and we appreciate how the energies of the universe have their source in an essence which is all of us. This participation in the divine nature the Orthodox Church calls Theosis, becoming God. But science has also shown everything is energy and nothing is energy’s essence. God isn’t a thing, but unlimited potential. 

 

Jesus in the storm is the first passage I preached, and if I had known then what I know now, I would have opted for safety instead. But boundaries are redrawn when chaos seems to get an upper hand.

 

It is only in the storm we see I am the boundaryless. I am not the body, I am not even the mind, I am who I am, as God tells Moses in Exodus. “Tell people I am has sent you.” People have expectations, so things rarely go as we want. But this boundaryless I am in each and everyone of us, this uncreated consciousness, this inner Christ, isn’t believing miracles, it is being one.  

 

Modern science has shown us everything physical is energy and nothing is the essence of energy, as Psalm 46 says, ‘Be Still, and know that I am God’. In the little boat of bodily experience, as waves and spray of emotion rise and fall, which they do, and the physical creaks and rolls, which it does, so all feels lost, which it will, the I am which cannot be experienced, but is still real, is in you and in your neighbour, in the wind and sea. Jesus said; ‘I am with you always, until the end of the world.’ 

 

So in scripture none of this requires the absence of the storm, it is not identifying with the storm. You are the eye of the storm. Isaiah 54:10 says; ‘the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my loving kindness and covenant of peace will not’. John 16:33 says; ‘In the world you will have trouble, but cheer up, I have overcome the world.’ John 14:27 says; ‘I give you not as the world gives you so do not let your heart be troubled or afraid’  

 

Biblically speaking then the heart isn’t a fleshy beating pump that dies, a collection of human emotions to eulogise even as they go wrong, but who you really are. Truth, consciousness, bliss, the Experiencer, the experience of God in creation, or as St Gregory of Nyssa described, a trinity of being, knowledge, and love. This is not about the love of someone else, that is still so full of our expectations. It is Love itself, yourself. Be still, and know that I am. 

 

FSHS +

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Contemplating Covid


Ours is an extraordinary time, and it isn’t over. Over the last few months I have experienced a sense of unity with harassed Doctors surrounded by death, who stop me in the corridor and half seriously ask if I am busy, admitting apologetically there is nothing they can do for Covid patients but put them on oxygen and wait for the inevitable.   

I have experienced a sense of unity with exhausted nurses weeping when I lay hands on them half way through a gruelling shift of dying Covid patients, or put on prayer meetings for nurses facing the anxiety of caring. I’ve seen those broken up by nervous staff for being gatherings of more than two. 


I have felt seen and heard the palpable anxiety of the pandemic alongside the dying and their relatives refused permission to be with them, and those who are with them called heroes. I have wondered if heroes really means they can be expected to die in service, rather than do a job protected by adequate PPE.


I have felt the anxiety of coming home and showering and hanging my clothes on the line and going for a three-hour walk so as not to infect my family. I have not been allowed to visit parishioners or conduct full funerals.  You will have your own stories of alienation anxiety isolation and strangeness. And it is not over. 

 
Christ said "Come unto me all who carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest, for my yoke is gentle and my burden is light." Yoke means union.  A yoke makes two things one, it connects a strong cow to a plough, or a nervous human to God. Yoke is related to Yoga, an experience of unity, realising there are not two but one, breaking the boundaries you draw between yourself and God, experiencing the immensity that you are, in any experience, any. To become an inclusive intelligence, that does not distort the intelligence which is the source of creation within you and in everything else.

Mother Julian knew this. She was an English anchoress, like a hermit or a female monk who shut herself away near St Julian’s Church in Norwich to contemplate, to be silent, to meditate, and to be one with the One. She wrote the earliest surviving English book by a woman, Revelations of Divine Love.

Julian lived from 1342 to 1416; surviving the bubonic plague which arrived in Europe in 1347 on ships and ravaged England from 1348 to1350. It was known as the Black Death, the most fatal pandemic in history. It killed up to 200 million, covering them in black boils that oozed blood and pus, and Julian became gravely ill and felt she was about to die. She was passed a crucifix and given last rites, but began to see wonderful things.

“God is our clothing, that wraps, clasps and encloses us so as to never leave us,” she wrote. She saw something very small, about the size of a hazelnut, lying in the palm of her hand. “What can this be?” she asked. “It is all that is made,” was the answer God gave to her.
 
Julian worried that because it was so small, might the hazelnut, like the creation, disappear or be obliterated? Again came an answer: “It lasts, and ever shall last, because God loves it.” Her sense of smallness in sickness became a sense of wholeness in God. She reports Jesus say, “I may take all things well; I can make all things well, and I will make all things well; and you shall see for yourself that all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” 
 
Julian used the phrase one’ing a lot.  A contemplative, she thought one’ing was the purpose of life, one’ing with God, the one in whom we live move and have our Being, as the book of Acts says, or as our gospel says, take my yoke on you, my union, my yoga, my one’ing.

So, remember her words. Julian wrote this; “Faith is nothing else but a right understanding of our being… trusting and allowing things to be. We are in God and God who we do not see is in us. Just as every ray of the sun is the sun, every child of God is God.”

 
The poster on my hospital office wall says; "Contemplation. If today was perfect there would be no need for tomorrow." And they say it will all be alright in the end, so if it not alright, it’s not the end. It’s not over yet.  But that’s OK. All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. fshs +

Thursday, 26 December 2019

Two letters, to a friend


Jesus was born of a virgin. If we take this literally, Joseph must have felt pretty useless, like in the cartoon above. But if we take it deeply, virgin birth applies to us too. Do we dare accept this?

As many as receive him, he gives power to become children of God, born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (Jn 1:12).

Born of a virgin means a spiritual Self contains a body/mind, even if it makes you feel physically useless. There is a healing power in uselessness. We should be, in a certain sense, useless, to return to the joy which is our true nature, where we do not need to struggle with the world, or try to force happiness to occur.

None of us see this with our physical eyes, hear it with our ears, feel it with our hands, taste it with our tongue, yet here it is, in the depths of the atomic structure prior to all our sense impressions, at the heart of the universe. That is Jesus’ nature, and ours.


Jesus 'born of a virgin' also means not belligerent or defensive or anxious for power. You may or may not know, many in his time were said to have been born of a virgin. Alexander the great, who lived 300 years before him, and the man who was emperor of Rome at the time of Jesus, Augustus, were said to have had a virgin birth.

Modern people don’t realise it, but Jesus born of a virgin is a political claim – he is our leader, not someone who needs to dominate. Not one full of pride and purpose, but peace and healing. Not one born to divide conquer and rule, but born to unify human and divine.

So, Jesus born of a virgin, and Mary was happy to allow it, because we need to be, in order to know the wisdom of God made flesh, not just in Jesus, not just in the flesh of the universe at the beginning, at the Big Bang, not just in my flesh, but yours, because wherever we touch reality, we touch God, relating to us in the most intimate way.


Here is no needy tyrant demanding a sacrifice, but original goodness through a human body, as helpless as a baby, emptying itself into our human nature and plight, if we are empty enough to receive it.

As St Gregory of Nazianzus said: “The very Son of God, older than the ages, invisible, incomprehensible, incorporeal, beginning of beginning, light of light, fountain of life and immortality … perfect likeness … he it is who comes to his own image, and takes our nature, for the good of our nature, and unites himself to an intelligent soul for the good of my soul, to purify like by like ... he takes on the poverty of my flesh, that I may gain the riches of his divinity. He who is full is made empty … so that I [who am also empty] may share in his fullness".

Rather than have emotional expectations of others, we can embrace what actually is. The reason it is OK to be useless is because it reveals this non-anxious presence. This healing is then picked up by others, despite the life and death pressures of this world. Here is an example, written by a doctor, initially very sceptical about this.


“I was a lifelong atheist, from a family where the parents read their children the shorter essays of Bertrand Russell while others were telling Bible stories. As a medical student, I was inclined to bracket chaplains in the same category as homeopaths – they might make a few people feel better, but we’d get along just fine without them. In other words, useless.

Years of medical practice have done nothing to alter my lack of religious conviction, and the compatibility of a benevolent deity with appalling human suffering is not an issue to address in this short letter, but on the matter of chaplains I am happy to acknowledge I was completely, 100 per cent wrong. I still have no idea what their official duties comprise of or how they spend their time but time and again I have watched them step in and provide a service no one else could offer.


In my foundation year 2, I called the priest at 4am for an older woman who was bleeding to death from her upper GI cancer. The medical team, myself included, were fussing ineffectually about, wondering if there was any point giving a transfusion and whether it was too late to try cryoprecipitate.

The chaplain stayed discreetly in the background while there was any chance that our efforts might succeed but as the futility of our interventions became apparent, he stepped quietly forward and began to recite the prayers for the dying, the patient joining him in a whisper whenever she felt strong enough.

The contrast between our frantic bustle and the calm of those extraordinary words ‘Go forth, Christian soul, from this world…’ has stayed with me ever since. In some hospitals a number of different chaplains, each representing different faiths, can be found.

That was far from the only time I saw chaplains prove their worth. From keeping a lonely old man company during a long admission to reassuring a nervous teenager before surgery, to that most poignant of all sacraments, the emergency baptism for a dying child, I have been impressed by their ability to help where all our efforts are useless.

The most unusual service I ever saw a chaplain provide was on an intensive care unit where a particular consultant tended to get more and more agitated and sharp-tongued whenever we were especially busy, to the considerable discomfort of his team. On the very worst days, when we’d all missed lunch and stress levels were approaching critical, the chaplain would appear as if by magic and discreetly slip him a bar of chocolate.

It never failed to improve matters and everyone on the unit breathed a sigh of relief. We never discovered how the chaplain knew there was a problem or worked out how to fix it. Perhaps that’s what they mean by God working in a mysterious way”.

So, I commend to you the healing power of uselessness, a spiritual Self containing a body/mind, it is true of you, even if it makes you feel useless. You are in God’s image, get behind the light that casts this image into your soul, it is full of healing, potential, and power, to make you, like Mary, a channel of God’s peace, pregnant with bliss, grace, consciousness, and truth.

Before I sign off, one more letter, this time from a Friar, written to a perplexed person in 1513. People in 2019 may not believe in angels, but we do believe in messages, and angels are messengers. (And remember too - “I am” is actually God’s name).

“I am your friend, and my love for you goes deep.  There is nothing I can give you which you have not. But there is very much, that, while I cannot give, you can take. No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant. Take peace!

The gloom of the world is a shadow. Behind it, within our reach, is joy. There is radiance and glory in darkness, could we but see. To see, we have only to look. I beseech you, look! Life is so generous a giver.

We, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering-you will find beneath it a living splendour woven of love by wisdom with power.

Welcome it. Grasp it, and you touch the angel’s hand that brings it to you. Everything we call a trial, a sorrow or a duty, believe me, that angel’s hand is there because the gift is there. The wonder of an overshadowing presence. Your joys, too, be not content with them as mere joys. They, conceal diviner gifts.

Life, beneath its covering, is so full of meaning, purpose, and beauty that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage then to claim it; that is all you need! But courage you have, and the knowledge, knowledge that we are pilgrims together, wending through an unknown country, but on our way home”.

FSHS +

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

I am the Oneness of God, the soul, and the universe


Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said; “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Luke 18;1-8

Next week I begin an NHS job on children’s and neo natal wards. There may be children with cancers, terminal illnesses or injury, babies dying, unbearable heartbreak for parents, so life will be experienced as a very unjust judge, just like it was for the widow in the above parable.

In my previous NHS role people also experienced life as an unjust judge, just like the widow. They spent a lifetime, sometimes following traumatic abuse, being forced to take immobilising drugs which hastened an early death.

When I was writing this, I had a quick look at the news and found more examples of life experienced as an unjust judge. War, the UK refusing to take back children trapped in Syria after their parents joined Islamic State and died. Climate change, homeless people being turned away from Typhoon shelters because they do not have an address. I even read a story about the rotting remains of an elderly lady found in her apartment three years after she died. The television was still on. No-one had called. She may as well have not existed.

All these people are the widows in the parable, because all are experiencing life, or death, as an unjust judge. They seek something different, but day after day it is the same, nothing changes. It is not right. They know it, we know it, God knows it. People live this way, and some die this way, and the experience is an unjust judge who neither fears God nor respects people. People may feel small, powerless, and alone, and there is no one to defend or represent us. Like the widow, we may stand by ourself unsure what to believe about life or ourself. Day after day we may cry out, not knowing what else to do. That is the widow, in today’s world and our life. 

But she did not become hardened, or as unjust as the judge, or give up, believing this is all the final reality, or blame and accuse God of being the unjust judge. No.

Day after day, she just showed up, spoke of injustice, held pain, prayed and did not lose heart. Why? Jesus was saying that for her, like for him, the central experience that the time is now, the Kingdom of God is at hand, and we can be converted to the good news here, the news that the transcendent Holy One, the absolute infinite Other, is so intimate with us that we call him Abba, which means Daddy, it has all the emotional charge of Mummy. So Jesus said to pray always and not lose heart, which does not mean giving God a to do list and expecting God to magically fix everything, convincing, cajoling, persuading, or wearing down God so God will do what we ask.  What does it mean?

To pray means that we offer our cry and do what we can to bring the change we seek, trusting God is doing it too, making our case with God, joining God. Maybe we just listen, honour someone’s truth, seek support, feed the hungry, offer compassion, speak against hatred and prejudice, respect the dignity of every human, strive for justice and peace, but whatever, we show up, day after day, and don’t lose heart. This may be some of the most difficult and necessary work, but Jesus does not ask us to go where he has not.  He is the archetypal widow, his life and faith is deep within each of us. We already have all that we need to face the unjust judge of this world. Take the Lord’s prayer, where Jesus calls God Abba, not Father. Abba in Aramaic, means Daddy, intimacy, a familiar nearness, an unconditional love. Not just human love but the love of the infinite source of the universe in matter, like the Dad in the Prodigal Son, who can’t do enough to come to meet us first before we can ever get to him, Abba is more like a Jewish Mummy than a Daddy, the infinite One from whom all reality comes, which makes all humans brothers and sisters. 

If we pray thy Kingdom come, it is this total closeness at hand, even though eternal. This kind of Kingdom is understood in the book of Samuel when David is presented to the people as King, and the people cry this is flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone, the same closeness as Eve made of Adam. Hallowed be thy name means we set ourselves apart from the dog eat dog unjust judge world for Abba. For knowing we get our daily bread in the same one household, forgiving not taking offence, acknowledging the endless power and glory we do not lose heart with, even in the face of an unjust judge. 

For having the same Abba as Jesus, knowing God is closer to us than we are to ourselves, and that the whole natural universe, not just this worldly human society, is our household. For being mystics turned social reformers, for knowing prayer, as the philosopher Plotinus said, is flying from the alone to the All One, to Abba, and this allows us, like the widow who won’t give up, to accept ourself as totally alone and yet still limitless, and place ‘aloneness’ in an entirely different light, independent, and free from the world, and for the Kingdom. 

To call God Abba then, is to see all creatures in ourself and ourself in all creatures. To call God Abba is to have the courage to say I am all inclusive, I am the Oneness of God, the soul, and the universe, worship in spirit and truth to set us all free. To call God Abba is to see ‘I’ and the beloved are one. I alone am.  So next time we see someone alone or desperate or in need of company like the widow, or feel we are the widow, perhaps we can remember Abba not just as an act of kindness to pray and act, but an intimate recognition that the beloved ‘neighbour’ presented to us is our own Self, one without a second, in One Kingdom, Abba’s, and not lose heart, there is intimate closeness, despite the unjust judge of this world. 

F, S, H, S. +

Sunday, 28 July 2019

Heart Soul Mind Strength Mercy


I wonder if you ever wonder how wonderfully amazing and limitless you are?

Science tells us if we leave hydrogen gas alone for 13 billion years it will become giraffes rose bushes and humans. But to have a human body means before it was even conceived, your body was too tiny for a human to see, but you wanted human life so much, you won a race against 200 - 250 million competitors.

These sperm cells were all flushed down the toilet instead of you because you were too fast, too strong, too agile, too determined, you repeatedly pushed on an egg that chose to open up to become your body. How badly you must have wanted humanity, to be chosen. But do you ever want eternal life that badly? 
That means to die to self and bring forth wings and feathers like an angel, soar higher still, to what no human can imagine, and be that. How badly do you want that? As much as you wanted human life? As much as Jesus, in whom God became human so humans could become God? Becoming human took single mindedness, becoming God takes single minded prayerfulness. Do we bother?

St Paul tells us to in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, 'Pray without ceasing'. Why? What is it? Do you even think God even answers prayer? No, says James, Jesus brother, in chapter 4 verse 3 of his letter,. “When you ask,” he says, “you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives. What is a wrong motive for prayer? 

A childish notion says the harder you squeeze your hands, the tighter you shut your eyes, the better God hears your wish list. Even adults have this idea. Like the student who sits an exam, but the professor requires him to hand in a form saying he has not sought outside help. So the student admits that he prayed, and the professor in turn asks to see his exam paper. On reading it, the professor says no, don’t worry, it’s OK, you definitely did not receive any help.

If the motive for prayer is to pass our exam, fix our problem, our finance, our job, our children, our marriage, our health, make life easier, more comfortable, we are seeking something from God, not seeking God. We are not greeting God at all, we are treating God like a vending machine. So the ancients didn’t say; “How are you?” they said; “How is your prayer?” Prayer was a sign of spiritual life. As the body has breath, so it lives; and if the breathing stops, that body comes to an end, so with a spiritually powered body, a soul. If there is prayer, the soul lives; if not, it doesn’t. No prayer, no soul. No soul, no God, no shifting the centre of life from me consciousness to God surrender. If we are asking for one thing after another, we do the opposite. The issue of prayer is not prayer; the issue of prayer is God. And if we are not praying, we are forcing a gap between us and God. To live without prayer is to live without a soul. Therefore, not to pray is not to be fully human. It is to want something else more.

When Jesus says; “Everyone who asks receives, everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door is opened,” he means how badly do you want to be God?  He is not talking about opening the door at the bottom of a vending machine, as if we tell God what we want and expect to get it. 
Vending machines are great until they take your money but give you something you don’t want. Then you start complaining.  The door Jesus wants us to open is not a door below a vending machine, it is the door to God perception within us. Through it isn’t something for us, through it is God. So, prayer is not begging. It is concentration and surrender. If we want to live, we take it seriously, not like someone who came to me in an old persons’ home to ask if I prayed for the lottery numbers. Prayer is not making life more comfortable. 

Jesus prayed for a trial to pass and was crucified the following afternoon.  But don’t be scared either. I will come back to that. God is not an object we relate to through prayer, but the subject of experiencing it. We’re not telling God something God does not know. We are not reminding God we exist, but reminding ourselves who God is, has been, and will be. God does not give us any answers, God is the answer; in our soul. God is presence, love, beauty, generosity, compassion, forgiveness, wisdom, justice, mercy, not I, me, mine. 

Jesus tells us that in Luke 11, 1-13, he says if you know how to give your children good things how much more will the heavenly Father give you the Holy Spirit. You are children of the living God.  So when you pray, if you do, say: 'Father, hallowed be your name.’ Meaning what?

Meaning if we hallow God's, we no longer have to hallow our own names, we are free to know God the way Jesus did, as Abba, Daddy – intimate, loving, caring One, who fills divine children, holy sons and daughters, with his own very Self. That’s a given. Before we even have a thought or say a word, our life, our being, comes from One without whom we are as good as dead. 

Jesus says “When you pray, say: Your Kingdom come.’ What does he mean by that? God’s dream in this world, God’s kingdom, comes because if we pray “your kingdom come” it means “my kingdom go.” In letting go of our kingdom we entrust ourselves to God in surrender. That means we naturally and un-self-consciously feed the hungry, clothe the naked, speak justice for the oppressed, and tend the sick because it is no longer about us and what we will get out of it.


Jesus says “When you pray, say: Give us each day our daily bread.’ What does he mean by that? He means we think we are me-sufficient, but if every day me acknowledges God’s sustenance, me sufficiency dies.

Jesus says “When you pray, say: Forgive us our sins, as we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.’ What does he mean by that? He means if we think it is not for us to forgive, we do not allow our own forgiveness, which is our freedom. Our relationship with God is visible in how we relate to others.  If we forgive neighbours, friends, family, enemies, we know they are as much God’s children as we, we mirror each other, forgiveness polishes this mirror.
 
Jesus says “When you pray, say: And do not bring us to the time of trial.’ What does he mean by that? As I said earlier, Jesus prayed for a trial to pass and was crucified the next afternoon.  So, we are to live with our eyes wide open to trial, knowing that apart from God every trial, temptation, or stumbling block is more than we can handle. With God, it is a way for us to know more resurrection greatness, here, now, and here-after, and to be more than conquerers, as the gospel says we really are.
 
So now, how badly do you want God? Perhaps the greatest difficulty with prayer is that we don’t want really want God, we want something from God. That is not prayer according to Jesus' brother James, it is just wanting God to change our circumstances, but God changes us. God’s self-giving sustains, nourishes, strengthens, empowers, emboldens, and enables us to face the circumstances of life. If we only want to offer coins and push a button on a vending machine to have our desires met, 2nd Peter chapter 1 verse 4 says; “God has given us precious and very great promises, so that we may escape the corruption in the world due to desire, and participate in the divine nature.”
 
Divine nature is not about testing God, but like Jesus in the wilderness, seeking God by refusing to use God to satisfy greed or thirst for power, and instead of testing God, as 'the devil' advises him, becoming God. So, when a disciple says to Jesus, “Teach us to pray,” as in Luke 11, 1-13 we can be pretty sure the disciple is asking for more than words. The disciple has seen the effect of prayer, seen Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening, concentrating, heard Jesus say Mary has chosen the better part just by being fully present. That prayer is more than doing a chore like Martha was, or just turning up to a preferred building. 

Childish prayer tries to align God with childish concerns, and Jesus is teaching us to align ourselves with God’s concerns. That does not mean God is unconcerned, but the concerns of our lives work out as we surrender to God’s life. Jesus is calling us to a place of being with God not of taking from God.

To conclude then, life didn’t start with the birth of our physical bodies and it won’t end with the death of the same. Eternal life is having a soul, and it really does have to be wanted cease-less-ley, because your soul in God’s image struggles to be born as much as your tiny body struggled to beat off 250 million competitor sperms. Freedom is the best argument for the struggle of prayer. Pray if you want freedom. If there is prayer, there is freedom.

There is a prayer I say each morning, it starts, One thing I have asked of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord, all the days of my life; to behold the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple. Scripture tells us our body is God’s temple, we come to know the Holy One is born in it. One within and behind the whole universe is you. Do you seek God with all your heart? Do you seek God with all your soul? Do you seek God with all your mind? Do you seek God with all your strength? Amen, Lord have mercy.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

ALL IS THREE



Once upon a time a dandelion came to be growing in a meadow.  The dandelion whispered to amino acids and nutrients in the soil: “You need only to allow yourselves to be dissolved in a drop of water and I will suck you up through my roots.  You won’t feel a thing. Afterwards, you will be able to grow and flower and fly away in the wind as 1,000 miniature parachutes carrying seed.”
“OK,” said the amino acids and other nutrients, let themselves be dissolved in rainwater, and sucked up through the roots, and became dandelion.  

The next morning a rabbit came hopping along the meadow. “Good Morning!” the rabbit said to dandelion. “How would you like to become rabbit?  You’ll have to allow yourself to become nibbled and swallowed.  It hurts a little, but then you will be able to jump bounce and romp in the moonlight, wiggle your ears, have baby rabbits.” The dandelion was not overly enthusiastic, but the idea of hopping sounded like a lot more fun than just being stuck, in one place. “Okay,” said the dandelion with a sigh, and allowed itself to be munched, and become a rabbit. 

Toward evening a hunter came by, “Good Evening!” said hunter to rabbit (for he was an unusually polite hunter). “How would you like to become human?  You must allow yourself to be chased, shot, skinned, cooked, and eaten. It isn’t pleasant I admit, but afterwards you’ll be able to play yoyo, sing in a shower and fly in a jet plane.”  The rabbit was scared, but flying in jet plane seemed so exciting that the idea was irresistible.  So, sniffing a little and wiping away a tear, the rabbit mumbled “OK,” went through that ordeal, and became human. 

The next morning the human became aware of a unifying presence just beyond any personal reach: “Tell me, how would you like to become God?”  It is a whimsical story but the point is not. Worldy life is Being in communion.  God sleeps in the rock, dreams in the plant, stirs in the animal, and begins to awaken in the human.  Proverbs celebrates this divine wisdom delighting in the human being before creation even began, so we are a soul in God’s image, one with the one who is One, Jesus, in whose spirit we can awaken to overcome the world.

The Spirit is really One reality.  Universe means One changing, we breathe the same air, like it or not, as St Paul said, members of one another. The trees breathe out, we breathe in, both of us made of the same matter as stars.  We are one. But, if you have travelled on a tube train you will know we forget this and think we are separate instead.

A BBC news report last week called the surprising benefits of talking to strangers suggested people stay in isolation, believing that reaching a stranger would make both feel uncomfortable, and we underestimate the positive impact of connecting with others, for our own, and others', wellbeing.

Instead, we distract ourselves with entertainment and control, with television about my body, my house, my garden, as if the limit of what we can do stops in the mirror or at the garden fence.  Educated as individual bundles of genetic patterns deployed by a controlling independent ego, we think we are opposed to other controlling independent egos, we think we are autonomous consumers, we are reduced to what we can measure, aspiring to our purchases and lifestyle choices, in the technological bondage of a closed human conceptual system. This is also called sin.
So, true religion reminds us a person is part of one greater more than personal whole.  Life is beyond us, within us, and between us, and each of these is One. Trinity means the Big Bang source of the universe, the inspiration found in Jesus, and the energy God sends now, the Holy Spirit, are one.

Rublev’s icon of the Trinity, above, painted in 1410, shows Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three androgynous beings, heads bowed, deferring to one another. A space in the front of the picture welcomes you to sit, and join in their eternal life.  Another way to say this is that knower, known and knowing are One. This mutual indwelling reminds us we have one mutual source, one true Self, one dynamic dance.  Such is the spiritual intimacy between Father beyond, Son within and Spirit between, that they enter into each other, permeate each other, dwell in each other. The Greek term for this is perichoresis, but it means God knows God in you and I as a shared being, love and knowledge, as Gregory of Nyssa said. Christian writer David Bentley Hart calls Experience of God truth consciousness and bliss. St Francis of Assisi said: you are looking for what is looking.  Christian mystic Meister Eckhart said the eye with which I see God is the eye with which God sees me. Ephesians says, One Lord and Father of all, above all, through all, and in all, to bring unity to all things in heaven on earth under Christ.  Jesus said: “You Father are in me, I am in you and they in us.”   

This Trinity took centuries to argue over and formulate. People had a problem saying Jesus of Nazareth was divine because it threatened their Jewish belief that God is One, so they resolved it by saying God governs from Heaven, Jesus of Nazareth revealed this in person and the Spirit communicates it now, and these three are one being, Homo-ousious to use Greek language of the day, in three co-eternal persons, ie. none of them came first.  

Like us, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are a personal process in relationship with one spirit. We think we have a static skeleton, but our personal skeleton is regularly replaced by new material, so we are not static, even beyond death. Like us, persons of the Trinity are not distinguished by different hair colour or likes and dislikes but relating differently, Fatherhood beyond, Son-ship within, holiness between.

God is not a thing, so St Augustine said as soon as you start counting you are in heresy. In the Bible One spirit descended on Jesus like a dove to confirm him Son of God, but that one spirit bears witness with our spirit we are heirs of God with him. This is the challenge, to release the very autonomy we use in the world.

But releasing a personal grasp is also participating in divine life. We have a personality, but we are a soul, we cannot live until we let our soul indwell mutually in God the spirit, because life is more than genes and psychological patterns. So….. in the name of the Trinity I invite you to become still.  Feel your breath rise and fall, ask yourself if you are making it happen, or is God breathing you.  Feel the weight of your body. Notice colour. Hear sound. Notice silence from which they rise, to which they fall. Rest alert, with your neighbour, in presence beyond person, and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all +

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

ALL IS ONE


‘As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they be one in us … so they may be one as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one.’ That is Jesus, in John 17. 

 
You might think his language has nothing to do with ordinary life, but last weekend I was in Liverpool to see the Champions league final, and as psychiatrist Carl Jung described, it was a pool of Life, all life, one life. At one moment, towards the end of the game, I looked out of the window to see a one legged man in a wheelchair wearing a big red joke wig and a grin, fans waving red flares and air horns and flags, bouncing, singing and throwing beer, hen party women letting it all hang out, beggars drinking, and it struck me that in all this ordinary life only one life was being lived through all these lunatics, and I was one of them, of course.


That night, rules did not apply. Cars were driving through red lights and stopping at green, people were shouting from cars, and the next day three quarters of a million people welcomed the team and the European cup home, all pulling each other onto the top of buildings and road signs and traffic lights to get a view. The police were hopelessly outnumbered, but they didn’t mind, in that moment all of us were as One, one pool of life. But you don’t have to be a football fan to know oneness is more obvious as you move from the most important but most disconnected thing in the world, me, to wider concerns, friends, family, team, county, country, continent, cosmos.  Some people say religion is irrelevant to this truth of unity. For such people, here is a story. 

A man prayed “Lord, show me the truth.” The Lord said: “Yes but I am thirsty. Can you fetch some water first?” “I will,” replied the man, and he went. 

A little distance away was a village. He entered in search of water and knocked at a door, which was opened by a beautiful girl. At the sight of her the man forgot his Lord waiting at home for water. He forgot everything and began to talk. All day he did not return to his Lord. The next day he was again talking to the girl. The talk ripened into love. He asked the father for the daughter, and they were married and lived there and had children. Twelve years passed. His father-in-law died, he inherited property. He lived, as he thought anyway, a very happy life, with his work, his wife and his children.

But one night the river rose until it overflowed its banks and flooded the village. Houses fell, men and animals were swept away and drowned, and everything was floating in the rush of the stream. The man had to escape. With one hand he held his wife and with the other, two children. Another child was on his shoulders, and he was trying to cross this tremendous flood to get to safety. After a few steps he found the current too strong, and the child on his shoulders fell to be borne away. A cry of despair came from the man. In trying to save that child, he lost his grasp on the others, and they were lost too. At last, his wife, whom he clasped with all his might, was also torn away by the current. He was left weeping and wailing on the bank.

Behind him there came a gentle voice: “My child, I am still waiting for the water, and you have been gone for half an hour.” “Half an hour!” the man exclaimed. Twelve years had passed in his mind, and people had been born and died. This is the truth behind the unity of nature. As 2 Peter 3 says; “Dear Friends, with the Lord, a day is 1,000 years, and 1,000 years, is just a day.” So….

Even if you do have a good life, which many of us do not, nature, good as it is, makes slaves of us, the natural world swept away before eternity. Without God, we put patches on human nature until it is a hopeless ruin. Who has not felt this?  And yet, a voice inside tells us we are free, and that the truth shall make us free.  This is God’s voice.

Come unto me all that are heavy laden, and I will give you rest, said Jesus. In the world you will have trouble, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. This freedom is why there is struggle, difficulty, competition and cruelty in the natural world, because it is moving us on to freedom, that truth that we really are one with God, not just nature. And I don’t mean when we die.  As President Macron said the other day commemorating the D Day landings, whatever it takes we will stand together, because it is our common destiny.

So Jesus does not pray for us to be nice to each other, to get along, to eliminate difference, to agree a common plan, to be tolerant, to be unanimous, to have consensus, but to be one, just as he and the Father are also one. Jesus’ prayer that we be and live like God means we go beyond the most important thing in the world, me, my body mind and intellect, to friends, family, team, county, country, continent, cosmos, to the ultimate unity in our own soul, boundless being, knowledge, love, oneness with God, so the finite and the infinite are one.

Then life is beyond mere birth and death. Life is not the opposite of birth or death, it transcends both. I was not born, I will not die, because, I am the soul, in God. Oneness means transcending the opposites of birth or death, good or evil, male or female; old or young, rich or poor; gay or straight; conservative or liberal; educated or uneducated; theist or atheist, Christian or Muslim; heaven or earth.  Anything less than eternal life is playing with opposites, like a man in Belfast in the 1970's who feels a gun at his head. A voice says; “Protestant or Catholic?” “Jew” he replies. “I must be the luckiest Arab in Belfast!” says a voice

Jesus, fully divine, fully human, invites us into the same sacramental presence embodied in the flesh of the physical word, which is a shadow of infinite light. Jesus’ prayer echoes the ancient Jewish prayer in Deuteronomy 6:4, Shema Yisrael, “Hear, O Israel: the LORD is our God, the LORD is one. That means nature is a unity behind whom is God and we are created in God’s image, who commands do not worship other Gods, which means there is One, and if we think our idea of God is better than someone else’s it isn’t God at all, it isn't One differentiated consciousness.

The differences
and divisions, like us and them, Brexit, America first, the Indian Nationalist party, do not exist out there in the world, but in the human heart. We project fragments to see fragments. Jesus prayed instead we could be One.

Jesus knew Oneness is not eliminating difference but seeing that it is not separation. Jesus told us to Love God, Love neighbour, Love self, and Love enemy, because he knew the one Self we call God is manifested in nature as many personalities. The un-manifest God-likeness is oneness. There is only God. You don’t need to be persuaded to love someone who is also you. People who do not do this have not yet shed the veil of the senses, but it will happen.

In the meantime, they still believe separation is normal, which is what sin stands for.  Wholeness has to be fully realised because it is a practice of letting anything less fall away to reveal the whole which is still waiting for us. Jesus’ prayer that we are one as he is one with God is the very moment we meet the glory of God and know that it is us. So go on, in the name of one Truth, the Father, one Son, his Consciousness, and one Bliss, the Holy Spirit. +