Losing it and letting go

charles-e-brock-gulliver-is-shown-the-aged-struldbrugs

Living for ever

“Where did I put my keys?”

Why do I go out, lock the door, then have to unlock it to get something I’d forgotten? Not once, not twice, but three times.

“Yes, I rang you, but I’ve forgotten what about—oh, wait a minute, now I remember.”

Our brains are wired so that as we age, we remember 30 years ago better than yesterday. There are good reasons for this in terms of self- and species preservation. We remember what is good and bad for us. We remember what we learnt by experience.

In days gone by, the loss of recent memory didn’t matter much since we were unlikely to live long enough for it to become a problem. But now we live too long. Or some people do.

Remembering stuff from decades ago can be depressing. We tend to dwell on the days when we were fit and active, and when we grabbed life by the short and curlies. We become sad about what we can’t do any more. We need to grieve these losses: the loss of youth and energy and get-up-and-go. And we need to acknowledge that things we once thought important have turned out to be no more than seductive bubbles that have burst, leaving only a soapy mess.

11212629_835354123185770_7807558211314617443_oRather than moping, try mopping. Honour what you used to be able to do and absorb it into yourself. Accept that you can’t do it any more. Take up something you can. I’m very impressed with what SWMBO has achieved in a short time having taken up crocheting. I need to find something like that. Think how you might share your wisdom and experience with younger people. Talk to them as friends. One of the sadnesses about my relationship with my father was that before he died (I was then 37) we never reached the stage of talking to each other as friends. I dare say it was as much my fault as his, but at that time his words seemed only to be given as peremptory instructions.

Phibes

There comes a time to acknowledge that it’s someone else’s turn to carry the flag. We see people doing things that our experience tells us will come to grief, and we want to tell them why. If only we could plug a memory stick into a USB port on the side of our heads, transfer our wisdom to it for transmission to someone else’s brain. Maybe bodily USB ports will be the next stage of our evolution. Dr Phibes, the wonderful Vincent Price, seemed to have some such thing on the side of his neck.

Hindu sanyassi give up all their possessions and wander off to fend for themselves. I find this peculiarly attractive. I’ve lived my life backwards in a sense, each change of job in the last 10 years some sort of a renunciation, with less and less income (poor SWMBO). But I lack guts to go the whole hog (relieved SWMBO). Enjoy getting older. Acknowledge the right of others to cock up just like you did. Let go of the will to control and influence, and relax into life. Clutter, rank, things, attitudes, stuff, possessions—none of this matters. The only things that matter are relationships. Live in the present because before you know it, it’ll be too late.

Living in the past leads to depression. Living in the future leads to anxiety. Living in the present leads to peace.

Posted in Biology & theology, Pastoralia | 2 Comments

This do in remembrance of me

Leonardo_da_Vinci_(1452-1519)_-_The_Last_Supper_(1495-1498)Homily for High Mass on the Feast of Corpus Christi at S John the Divine, Horninglow, Burton upon Trent,

These words take us back to Jerusalem two thousand years ago. But they work the other way, too: they bring Jerusalem of two thousand years ago here today, to this place, in this place. And not just the words, but all the action and the whole occasion: the upper room, the meal, the celebration despite impending doom; the companionship of the disciples, even the one who had something to hide—and who doesn’t? ‘This do in remembrance of me’ brings it all into the present.

That is what sacraments do. They bring with them all the intervening years as well: all the Christians of the past, all the joys and sadnesses of history. The whole of the past concentrated into the words and action of the consecration prayer: we open the door of Dr Who’s Tardis and find ourselves in the vastness of history.

Every time the Lord’s supper is celebrated, the past is gathered up and presented to us, just as a snowball rolling down the slope incorporates the snow it has rolled over. Then in the heavenly banquet, past and present are refreshed, and launched into the world transformed. In an instant, the larva of the past becomes the imago of the future. Rebirth. Or, if you prefer astronomy, the entire universe is compressed, sucked into the infinitely dense black hole of crucifixion—the bloody, dirty hole of crucifixion—and propelled with infinite acceleration to create the glorious new universe.

This is a magnificent vision. All Christian theology and history concentrated into the moment at every Eucharist. No wonder we should celebrate it with all possible splendour and theatre and solemnity and joy. The entire cosmos gathered up and borne for an instant by the priest.

Each of us is a sacrament. Each of us has all our past within us. We are the sum of our memories. All our past is included in our genes: material from the primeval soup at the moment of creation are in every one of our cells. All this is sanctified in this sacrament. We are cleansed. We are fed. We are forgiven. We have the meal set out by the gracious father for the prodigal son. We are accepted. We are loveable and loved. We are launched for future service.

Lancelot Andrewes: a beautiful mind

Lancelot Andrewes: a beautiful mind

In the old Ritual of the Church we find that on the cover of the canister, wherein was the Sacrament of His Body, there was a star engraven, to shew us that now the star leads us thither, to His body there. So what shall I say now, but according as St John saith, and the star, and the wise men say ‘Come’. And he whose star it is, and to whom the wise men came, saith ‘Come’. And let them that are disposed ‘Come’. And let whosoever will, take the ‘Bread of Life which came down from heaven’ this day unto Bethlehem, the house of bread. Of which bread the Church is this day the house, the true Bethlehem, and all the Bethlehem we have now left to come to for the Bread of Life – of that life which we hope for in heaven. And this our nearest coming that here we can come, till we shall by another Venite come, unto Him in His Heavenly Kingdom to which He grant we may come, That this day came to us in earth that we thereby might come to Him and remain with Him for ever, ‘Jesus Christ the Righteous’.  (Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, Christmas 1620)

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Life abundant

A little brown bird

A little brown bird

A homily for the Sunday after Ascension

Did you enjoy the reburial of Richard III down the road at Leicester? What a load of claptrap. Is that what the church is for now: heritage industry, pageantry, posh dresses, and anodyne addresses? That’s what people seem to want. Is this worship of the past all that we’re about. I hope not.

Evidently not for Jesus. In St John’s account of Easter morning, he says to Mary Magdalene ‘Don’t cling to me, Mary, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.’ I would be ashamed to confess how recently it dawned on me why this matters. I used to think that it was in Mary Magdalene’s interest not to cling to Jesus, and couldn’t work out why. Then I realized. It’s not for her sake, but for his (which in the long run is hers, but bear with me). ‘If you cling to me, you’ll stop me doing what I have to do’. Not for Jesus any idea of sticking with the past or even the present, but for him—and it could have been said brusquely—‘let go of me, I have work to do.’

We’ve waited 40 days since Easter to celebrate the Ascension and now, thank God, we’ve done so with great joy. Life that has been on hold, as it were, for 5+ weeks now resumes. I’d like to look at the Ascension in three ways.

First, the cosmic event. At the incarnation, God takes human form and enters into all human experience. These events take place at one time and in one place. At the Ascension the Christ-event becomes available to the entire cosmos, unlimited by space and time. Outside time—ex stasis. The cosmos is redeemed.

Second, the personal event. God returns into the Godhead. God returns to Godself, goes deep inside himself. This is a model for the way we can journey into ourselves, a call to searing self-examination, the better to gain wisdom and insights in the service of others. Paradoxically the more one goes into oneself, the more one is free from oneself. It is painful, as the crucifixion was. The blackening of the forge (Jung’s nigredo) before the transformation to new creation. Personal blackening, personal crucifixion, personal resurrection, personal ascension as we learn to fly—yes, fly. We become unlimitedly available for service to others, as Christ was unlimited by the Ascension. We do not impose ourselves on others, as Christ never did. It is a leaving behind of self, just as Christ left behind human flesh. An ascension beyond self.

Third, the salvation event. We are human beings. There is nothing shameful about this. If there were, why would the Ineffable God have taken the trouble to become one? At the Ascension all human experience was lifted up into the Godhead. The ascended Christ is the wounded Christ, the wounded healer, insulted, spat at, nailed, kicked, beaten, thirsty. By his wounds, we are healed. Through our woundedness we can act as channels of healing for others. We do not need to pretend to be what we’re not—that’s the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden where they tried to cover up who they were. Humanity with all its imperfections is divinized: ‘God became man so that man might become divine’—the interpenetration of divine and human. Rising above is always a metaphor for release, for a yearning (eros) for better things. Such yearnings are part of the human condition. The abused people I have dealt with ache for better things, and look forward to a better life. Ascension as something to aim for.

So what?

God became man in order to raise man to God. Christ takes human-ness to the Divine Godhead. The Ascension unites earth to heaven, humanness to divinity: sanctification, divinization, redemption, theosis, call it what you will.

We are too obsessed with the puritan mentality of the BCP, miserable sinners and so on. We wallow too much in self-flagellation. This is self-obsession, a kind of inverted pride. We are obsessed with what we are saved from. We need to lift our eyes to what we are saved to: glory and splendour of Ascension. This is why we need the Ascension: to rekindle, restore, our sense of hope in a world where we hear and see too much of the nastiness of humanity, where we hear of people who ignore that longing for the divine, who shut it out. We need this when we hear the bad news that the media seem to like to concentrate on and when we are, as I have been this week, dealing with people for whom life is not worth living.

God the Logos became what we are, in order that we may become what he himself is. The glory of God is a living person and the life of man is the vision of God.

Harry Williams, author of

Harry Williams, author of “Life abundant or life resisting?”

The mission Jesus gave the apostles was simple. It was to teach others what he had taught them. So what are you going to do about it?

Let’s put heaven on earth. Let’s ascend to new possibilities. Let’s do what we can to enable others ascend to the heights of humanity. This is sharing in divinity.

You write a new page of the gospel each day, through the things that you do and the words that you say. People will read what you write, whether faithful or true. What is the gospel according to you?

What is the gospel according to you? Mine is life abundant, not life resisting.

Posted in Inner kingdom, Theology | 1 Comment

Funerals

296-1226348580VH2IIrish funerals are big. And soon—rarely later than the third day. On the two or three evenings before, there are prayers over the coffin in the house, even a Protestant house. Not something I was used to in Chesterfield, but I found the pocket-book of Pastoral Offices bought in a Catholic shop does the trick. The place is full, with tea, sangwiches and Uisce beatha. A real good do, people drifting in and out to see the guest of honour laid out in Sunday best.

Just before the church funeral, we gather in the funeral parlour for more prayers round the coffin. Lots of people again. Church is packed, and there’s a crowd outside. The full liturgy, an hour by no means unusual, is relayed over the loudspeaker.

Then comes the wake. The whole day is soon gone. There are so many people involved in even one funeral, I wonder when they get any work done.

Funerals in England are small, late, and brief. People have had a week or two to chat and grieve. Since most are not regular churchgoers, and wouldn’t think of involving clergy in these early stages, undertakers do what in Ireland the clergy still do. I’ve learnt what’s expected of me in England, and that to exceed those expectations is neither necessary nor usually welcome. The Vicar is ‘hired’ for the ritual magic stuff, and the family isn’t bothered about which Vicar.

Church of Ireland clerics rarely bury people they don’t know. Church of England clerics rarely bury people they do. I averaged four a year when I was a C of I Rector. So far here, I’ve done three a month;  some colleagues do that many a week. Late and brief they may be, but I do them as well as I can, antennae sensitive to atmosphere, sounds, and sights. Only 25 minutes maybe, but 25 minutes in which dignity and professionalism are paramount.

Irish colleagues were incredulous at English ways. I can live with both.

Posted in Pastoralia | 3 Comments

False Prophets

This is not mine. It comes from the website of the Association of Catholic Priests http://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie. If I knew whom to acknowledge, I would.

It contains this wonderful line: Often the gospel is diluted to accommodate the prejudices and lifestyle of the parishioners.

Oscar_Wilde_portraitAdmirers have suggested that the brilliance of Oscar Wilde’s plays was only surpassed by that of his conversation. He was a superb raconteur whose conversational offerings were heavily laced with irony. He had a particular penchant for parables, often recounting them in the style of the gospel narrative. Here is one of them. “One day, an unknown man walked down the street. It was the first hour of daylight and people had not yet gathered in the market place. The man sat down by the wayside and, raising his eyes, he began to gaze up to heaven. And it came to pass that another man who was passing that way, seeing the stranger, he too stopped and raised his eyes to heaven. At the second and third hour, others came and did likewise. Soon word of this marvellous happening spread throughout the countryside and many people left their abodes and came to see this stranger. At the ninth hour, when the day was far spent, there was a great multitude assembled. The stranger lowered his eyes from heaven and stood up. Turning towards the multitude, he said in a loud voice: “Amen, amen~ I say unto you. How easy it is to start a religion!”

To start a religion, as Wilde observed, may not be that difficult, but to ensure its survival is quite another matter. People are gullible. Futurists predict a growth in religious activity in the 21st century. For them it forms part of the leisure industry which is expected to expand dramatically. Whether one should greet this prediction with joy or apprehension is a matter for debate. A purely statistical increase in church membership is a dubious gain. What counts for Christianity — indeed, what ensures its survival — is not external but internal growth. What is required is not more members of the Catholic Church, but better disciples of Jesus Christ.

Mere membership and full discipleship are worlds apart. Christianity has always suffered from a surfeit of members and a shortage of disciples. Humans are social animals and crave to be associated. In a world grown cold and depersonalised the churches offer a comfortable ambiance of friendship and security. Often the gospel is diluted to accommodate the prejudices and lifestyle of the parishioners. Few preached fearlessly enough, like St Paul, to risk their livings, let alone their lives. The radical Christ is made into a benign bishop and the collection plate registers members’ approval. Too many withered branches remain un-pruned.

St John tries gently to prod us into discipleship. “My children, our love is not to be just words or mere talk, but something real and active.” You won’t meet Christ in your Sunday liturgy, if you haven’t rubbed shoulders with him in the office, in the factory or in the kitchen. You won’t hear his message from the altar, if you were deaf to his call at your office desk. Jesus put it simply and bluntly: “It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit and then you will be my disciples.”

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Knowing one’s worth

You would think this would do for the ABC

You would think this would do for the ABC

In today’s Church Times, The Archbishop of Canterbury seeks a Diary Manager, salary between 23K and 30K. My stipend is 23K, so when you add in the cost of housing I suppose the Diary Manager might be costing much the same as a parish priest. It’s good to know one’s worth in the eyes of the Pope of Canterbury.

The Diocese of London is thinking about having a seventh bishop. The Diocese of Leeds (formerly Bradford, Ripon and Wakefield) is appointing a sixth bishop. This diocese has four bishops. And if you’re regular C of E kind of guy or gal, you’ll know that each year the Dioceses ask for more and more of your money. You might think that there are questions to be asked about how the church spends its money. The place to ask them is … well, I can’t answer that. There isn’t one.

Deanery Synod might be the place, though a recent meeting I attended seemed concerned only about writing a mission statement. Deck chairs and titanics spring to mind. Nevertheless, Deanery Synod is the nearest to the decision makers that hoi polloi like you and me get, and it would be good to see meetings become a teeny bit relevant.

Some of my friends thought that the ad was asking for a ‘Dairy’ Manager. Quite a nice job, some said, looking after the Archbishop’s cattle, herding them, feeding and watering them, milking them. Well it might be in rolling Staffordshire perhaps, but in Lambeth I suspect it would be udderly tedious. Boom, boom.

We plod on. There were 12 people at today’s 1230 Mass. No gimmicks, just the work of the church in all its glory and tradition and continuity.

Posted in A great future behind me, Ecclesiology | 1 Comment

Awesome

The Tetons, Wyoming, Truly awesome

The Tetons, Wyoming, Truly awesome

An email today from a church administrator begins “I am hugely excited about the prospect …”

I think I remember being hugely excited when I was younger, probably about visiting Auntie Lily in Bradford. I was quite excited about being able to spend York Minster Evensong in the organ loft with Francis Jackson. That was over half a century ago. Have I been hugely excited since then? I rather doubt it.

I have looked forward to a rail journey to Prague, to playing Schnitger organs, to visits to the US, even to a Carlisle jaunt last week to relive my mis-spent youth on the Cathedral organ. I look forward to our autumn trip to Houston, even to watching a few films on the way.

Hugely excited? No. Is this because I am a grumpy old man? Is it simply a matter of semantics? Is the fault, if fault there be, in me?

A quick random trawl of a few church websites just now yields:

  • fantastic venue, fantastic celebration (same site). Fantastic means unreal – mind you, they use that too.
  • inspiring vision. Who does it inspire? It clearly inspires them, but for them to tell me that it does or will inspire me is presumptuous.
  • fabulous space. Really? Do they really mean the stuff of fables?
  • stunning public space. Rail journeys, hotels, views, décor, cosmetic … all these are now stunning. They knock you out.
  • vibrant church. Ye Gods.
  • amazing. So remarkable as to elicit disbelief? I don’t think that’s what they mean.
  • awesome. My granddaughter with her Texan accent uses this in a way that sounds entirely natural. It is charming. But used by aged hipster ‘worship leaders’ it is an embarrassment,

I am turned off by word-inflation in any context, but the church should know better than to indulge in it. It speaks of insecurity, desperation, panic and, worst of all, insincerity. People are not stupid – they see through it.

There are no words left to express real admiration, awe and excitement.

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