Soothe me wi' tidings o' Nature's decay or The Burning of the Leaves: Whitterings, December 2007


Come Autumn, sae pensive,
in yellow and grey,
And soothe me wi' tidings o' Nature's decay….

Robert Burnes

As I write this it is November, the Month of the Dead. In many cultures it is the month that families and communities spend time actively remembering the dead and cleaning graves and churchyards. These customs come from the Feast of All Souls and the traditional Blessing of Graves on that Feast. In our own time the theme is emphasised by the observance of Remembrance Sunday recalling the fallen of the two World Wars. In Rawdon we follow the Mass for All Saints Sunday with the blessing of the Graveyard. Afterwards individuals clean the stones and graves of friends and family and wait there to say a prayer with the priest for the repose of the soul of their loved ones. I always end the blessing of graves with a visit to the simple grave of the first Rector of Rawdon, The Venerable Kenneth Naylor. The following Sunday, for Remembrance Day, we use the propers for All Souls Day. Thus we keep the duel nature of the two day feast of All Saints and All Souls.

In Rawdon the dead have been even more on our minds recently as we have just dedicated our parish Book of Remembrance. It has taken us four years to complete the difficult task of researching the deaths of all of the members of this parish during our almost two hundred year history. The book is kept in a glass case in the narthex underneath the War Memorial. The book is open and the page turned to the day. The constant reminder of those friends and members of our families that have gone before us is fascinating and humbling. People continue to single out names in the book after the service and point out the name a great grandmother who died on that day fifty years before or an ancestor a hundred years ago.

For Christians this constant reminder of the dead is comforting and natural. We believe in the Communion of Saints and the resurrection to eternal life. Our fundamental identity is that of those Baptised into the death and Resurrection of Christ. We are comfortable with death. We still understand its inevitability. We understand the bitter sorrow of the death of the young as well as the beauty of death of one who lived a long and honourable life. We in the church simply know death. We are not afraid of it. However to many in our society today this mind frame seems morbid at best.

In the September 3rd edition of MacLean’s John Fraser wrote an article entitled ‘The Way We Morn’. In it he described our societies increasingly inability to deal with death at all. He describes the trend to avoid the word death ‘at all costs’, elaborate over the top death announcements in the newspapers, ‘celebration’ services of the departed in funeral homes and halls without the body present and the deterioration of the customs of wakes. He sees all of these trends as a sign of a deep unease with death. He is most uncomfortable with the modern eulogy which he claims in most often more about the eulogist than the one being eulogised. He goes on to say that traditional church funerals are an important reminder of reality.

“If a traditional funeral is held, it is often disconcerting or considered eccentric, even anti-social. This week in Toronto, for example, Richard Bradshaw was buried with astringent solemnities at Toronto’s St James’ Cathedral that left many people shaking their heads at its harrowing simplicity. Not only were there no operatic histrionics, there was no parade of favourite memories, no touchy-feely hymns and poems, no fond and amusing anecdotes to give us some comic relief from the tragedy of a life cut short from future promise. …The centuries-old Book of Common Prayer service, which focuses on the hope of redemption, salvation and resurrection, was directed at everyone at the funeral. For many it was a moving, solemn and beautiful spiritual farewell, imbued with tragedy, acceptance and the remission of earthly grief in anticipation of another life totally beyond mortal knowledge and assurance….” For others “you would have thought a major act of sacrilege had been committed…they saw in the spare and elegiac service all the proof needed to understand why mainstream churches are in decline. The service had made no concession to the mood of the times, and the mood of the times demands that the dead be celebrated, not mourned; made present instead of departed; reborn in verbiage rather than buried in a shroud.”

We are all aware that our modern society can not understand our perception of death. Those of us who regularly do funerals are consistently grieved by the attempt of mourners to turn funeral services into Hollywood style ‘celebration’ services with numerous eulogies, hallmark poems, Broadway and country songs on a CD player, and egocentric eulogies that assume that all that is left of the deceased is memories. We grieve because we know that this is all an attempt to avoid the reality of death itself. I could on to describe my sorrow at the loss of real wakes at which the dead are properly eulogised in a proper setting and with a drink in hand! I could rail at the encroachment of the unhealthy clinical nature of the funeral industry. However this is not why I have written this piece.

What I wish we could gift to our society especially to those who grieve and mourn the death of a loved one or who fear there own death is a particular experience. This experience mixes the feelings of pain and beauty, cross and resurrection into one feeling of pathos (SUNT LACRIMAE RERUM ET MENTEM MORTALIA TANGUNT - There are Tears in Things. Virgil). At a requiem mass, when the body lying in the casket in the chancel, and the priest is at the altar a wonderful and strange thing happens. The celebrant asks the congregation to ‘Join with Angels and Archangels and all the Company of Heaven’ in the great hymn of the universe - the Sanctus. We see the body lying in our midst and feel the pain of loss, yet when we lift up our voice in song we also know that we have joined our voices with those of the dead. With an act of pure will we push out of this world of minutes and years and death, Chronos, through to God’s time - eternity, Kairos, where ‘it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world without end’. We Christians know this bitter sweetness. This is sorrow in death and the joy of hope at the same moment. It is a beautiful experience and it makes life and death meaningful and beautiful. There is no room left in it for fear. I wish we could share it with the whole world.

The Burning of the Leaves

Now is the time for the burning of the leaves.
They go to the fire; the nostril pricks with smoke
Wandering slowly into a weeping mist.
Brittle and blotched, ragged and rotten sheaves!
A flame seizes the smouldering ruin and bites
On stubborn stalks that crackle as they resist.

The last hollyhock’s fallen tower is dust;
All the species of June are a bitter reek,
All the extravagant riches spent and mean.
All burns! The reddest rose is a ghost;
Sparks whirl up, to expire in the mist: the wild
Fingers of fire are making corruption clean.

Now is the time for stripping the spirit bare,
Time for the burning of days ended and done,
Idle solace of things that have gone before:
Rootless hope and fruitless desire are there;
Let them go to the fire, with never a look behind.
The world that was ours is a world that is ours no more.

They will come again, the leaf and the flower, to arise
From squalor of rottenness into the old splendour,
And magical scents to a wondering memory bring;
The same glory, to shine upon different eyes.
Earth cares for her own ruins, naught for ours.
Nothing is certain, only the certain spring.

Laurence Binyon

Vampires and Vultures or Every Minister's Monsters: Whitterings, November 2007

From Ghoulies and Ghosties
And Long Legged Beasties
And All Things that Go Bump in the Night
Good Lord Deliver Us.
Traditional Welsh Prayer

The pagan traditions surrounding All Hallows Eve were originally meant to ward off evil. By dressing up as nightmarish creatures one effectively scared the real monsters away, just like gargoyles on a cathedral. If only it were so easy.

During this time of the Day of the Dead, I take the opportunity to warn you about some of the monsters that live among us, especially the vampires and the vultures. You all know them but perhaps you have never seen beneath their disguise to know their true and terrible nature.

The vampires slowly suck the life from you, drop by drop. You will know you have encountered a vampire when you begin by having a peaceful, lovely day and everything seems right in the world, hope remains constant. Then you meet someone who proceeds to sing to you a spell of their woe and the pain of the world. They need you to listen, you try to break free and run, but you can not get a word in edgeways and then suddenly it is too late. You have been bitten. You have been infected and you can no longer remember why you felt peaceful and hope has fled. The world takes on a darker, gloomier cast. Remember the folklore of our forbearers, if they bite you three times you are turned and become one of them. Watch out!

Vampires really do exist, but in reality it is not always easy to differentiate between them and those who are in true need of pastoral care. All of us go through dark and painful periods in our life and we need to talk to those who will listen and who will try and love us. The difference is that those who are in real need do not leave us feeling drained, no matter how much pain they share with us. They give back to you with their vulnerability; you can discern Christ in their eyes. The vampires, on the other hand, never seem to heal and do not seem to want to find new life. There is always a need for attention, a need to pull you down. Like a black hole, they are never filled. Their eyes give nothing back. It is always the cross and never the resurrection. They are truly creatures of the night. Those of us who do pastoral work know that we can not really avoid vampires, but we should be careful to limit our exposure lest we succumb and have nothing left for others. It is a good reminder that it is the cross, the hope of resurrection and freedom from death, that repulses them and protects us.

Vultures are another creature that we must protect ourselves from. Vultures soar majestically over the earth, taking in the fields, forests, rivers and lakes, and the cities of men. They see the clouds racing by and the sun go down with grandeur in the west. They see all of the wonder of God’s creation. Yet vultures possess a special kind of eye, an eye that sees extraordinary detail. The detail that a vulture sees is of a special character. A vulture would soar over the Grand Canyon, taking in the full scope of the wild grace of the landscape but all he or she will focus on is a single dead rat three miles away. The detail that a vulture’s eye focuses on is the dead, the dying, and the rotten: carrion. Their ability to pick out the weak, the dying, and the dead blind them to absolutely everything else. In the eyes of a vulture you can never do anything right, you can never succeed, you can never please. All of you will know vultures. Perhaps they can be turned into eagles, but I have yet to find the right spell. Until someone does, it is best to avoid them at all costs. They are not docile, they are strong and powerful creatures and after you have been savaged by their talons it takes a long time to heal.

The last creature I wish to warn you about is one that is very much in evidence in our Diocese and Communion these days. I am not sure what its name is and this worries me. We all know that a demon must be named before you can even see it let alone exorcise it. I have yet to see it and name it but I can reveal to you some of its characteristics. This creature lives on fear. I believe it must be physically weak because it seems to want to separate us from one another. The only rational conclusion is that it can only attack one person at a time and is afraid when people stick together in groups. So it sows seeds of disharmony, fear mongering and gossip to make sure that people are left alone and vulnerable. I know it is with us because of the hesitancy in people to speak their mind to one another and to share their feelings. I believe it particularly likes to prey on clergy and has a special fondness for Bishops. It certainly delights in feeding on Archbishops! Dark gossip filters its way through the highways and byways of our church filling people with dis-ease and leaving a haunted, hunted look. I know it is among us because I can see it in the unease in people’s eyes, when they want to speak, to trust and yet they don’t. I can see it in the quick surreptitious eye contact at meetings, the triangulation, and the lack of communication. I can see its footprint in the reluctance to share equally in conversations – to meet honesty with honesty. I can smell its presence in the increase of politics and scheming in the church. I can see its work in our disunity, in our individualism, our turning inward and not outward in mission, and our retreat back into our own safe castles by ourselves.

I also know it can turn you into one of its own kind because I can discern the effects of its attack already in me. I, as a Christian, should fear nothing in this world especially from other members of the Body of Christ. Yet I am having nightmares about power and malicious schemes in the church, Bishops against Bishops, clergy against clergy, and laity against laity. I feel consistently vulnerable and insecure, but I do not know why. It is as though something is watching me from the shadows, constantly judging me and my every move, waiting to catch me off guard. I often feel guilty even though I have done nothing to be ashamed of. I find myself looking at things from a purely political perspective and not with the generosity demanded of me by Christ. It already has its claws into me; I only hope that the wounds are superficial.

I am not alone in noticing this invisible and deadly demon amongst us. More and more people are waking up to the fact and beginning to search it out and seek a name for it. My brothers and sisters in Christ, now is the time when we should come back together around the fire, pool our resources and wisdom, and seek it, name it, and cast it out. We can only do this together as it fears us when we gather as family. If we remain isolated and alone, it will seek us out, and find us.

A Tribute to Mister Rogers, A Faithful Minister or I Want to Make-Believe: Whitterings, October 2007


I want to talk about one of my heroes. His photograph is in my sitting room where I keep pictures of many of my heroes: Archbishop Oscar Romero, Archbishop William Temple, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Trevor Huddleston CR, Archbishop Michael Ramsey, Archbishop Richard Holloway, Bishop Charles Gore, Bishop Frank Weston, Bishop James Patterson, Bishop Edward King of Lincoln, John Henry Cardinal Newman, Fr Maximilian Kolbe, Fr Alexander MacKonochie, Fr Hope Patton, Fr Teilhard de Chardin, Br Thomas Merton, Wittgenstein, Carl Jung, T.S. Eliot, Jimmy Carter, Ghandi, and, of course, Soren Kierkegaard. All of them were religious people. Most of them represented God through his Church in ordained ministry.

The man I want to talk about was a man of God who is much, much more famous to most people. He was a man who spent his entire adult life revealing, every day, the love of Christ to some of the neediest people in our society. I would argue that he is the best known and most loved North American Christian Minister of the second half of the twentieth century. He revealed the love of Christ to more people on this continent than any other minister, priest, Bishop or Pope. Yet, professionally, he never mentioned religion, theology, Jesus, or God. Almost no one knew he was a Christian let alone ordained. The man I am referring to was The Reverend Frederick McFeely Rogers, universally known simply as Mister Rogers.

Mister Rogers was an Ordained Presbyterian Minister who was mandated by his presbytery to carry out his ministry in children’s television. His sole purpose was changing what he though was a violent destructive media into a means of “broadcasting Grace throughout the land”. He began his programming in 1963 on the CBC. His early Canadian shows gave Ernie Coombs, who would later go on to be ‘Mister Dress Up’, his start in TV. ‘Mister Roger’s Neighbourhood’ aired five days a week, every week. When he went off the air in 2003 he had written, produced, and hosted the longest running children’s television program in history.

His message was simple -you are special and you are loved. He said it many times every day. For those of us who grew up with Mister Rogers (those between 10 and 45) it is obvious why he was so important. He was genuine, he was real. He was gentle. He was loving. He said of TV broadcasting "The whole idea is to look into the television camera and present as much love as you possibly could to a person who might feel that he or she needs it,". He was the same off camera as he was on camera and children instinctively knew this. The respect that he commanded was astounding. For example, Mister Rogers drove a simple old Impala for years. One day the car was stolen from the street near the TV station. When Mister Rogers filed a police report, the story was picked up by every newspaper, radio and media outlet around town. Within 48 hours the car was left in the exact spot from where it had been stolen with an apology on the dashboard. It read, “If we’d known it was yours, we never would have taken it.” The only group ever to publicly denounce him was a fundamentalist evangelical group because he refused to support an anti-gay position. When asked at the time by the media what he thought about gay people he simply said, “God loves you just the way you are.” You can just hear him saying it.

When he died in 2003 the internet tributes were spontaneous and heart wrenching. Many wrote that during their childhood he was the only adult they trusted, and saddest, the only one that they really believed loved them. Many said he was their best friend.

“I grew up, like many people, with Mister Rogers. My mom was a single parent, and I was often alone while she worked to take care of my brother and I. Whenever I felt down or upset abut something, I knew I could always turn on Mister Rogers' Neighbourhood to make me feel better. Mister Rogers wasn't just a picture inside a TV tube. He was my friend, he was our friend.”

“When I was a child, I actually thought "Mister Rogers" was talking to me through the television. He taught me how to share, how to cry, how to tie my shoes, and most importantly, how to be a friend. Another valuable lesson Mister Rogers taught me was that it was okay to cry, and so I am crying now, for I have truly lost my first REAL friend. Goodbye Mister Rogers. I love you.”

“I am now 20 but I can still remember Mister Rogers in my very early childhood. He was always there to sing a song to me if I was lonely or scared. People may call him old fashioned, but he taught me that imagination is the basis of happiness. He was also one of the only people who would tell me everyday how much he cared even if he was just talking through the TV. I will never forget him.”

Mister Rogers received numerous honorary doctorates and awards including the highest civilian honour in the United States, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. On March 4, 2003, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed Resolution 111 honoring Rogers for "his legendary service to the improvement of the lives of children, his steadfast commitment to demonstrating the power of compassion, and his dedication to spreading kindness through example ." On March 5, 2003 the U.S. Senate unanimously passed Resolution 16 to commemorate the life of Fred Rogers."Through his spirituality and placid nature, Mister Rogers was able to reach out to our nation's children and encourage each of them to understand the important role they play in their communities and as part of their families. More importantly, he did not shy away from dealing with difficult issues of death and divorce but rather encouraged children to express their emotions in a healthy, constructive manner, often providing a simple answer to life's hardships." Early next year the city of Pittsburgh will unveil a statue of him in the city centre.

What impresses and touches me the most, and what must be the greatest honour, is that at the Smithsonian Institute in Washingtoon DC, the third most requested and visited exhibit is a simple glass case containg one of Mister Rogers’s famous red cardigan sweaters knitted by his mother.

Mister Rogers closed his Commencment Address at Dartmouth College a few months before he died like this:

"It's you I like.
It's not the things you wear.
It's not the way you do your hair
But it's you I like.
The way you are right now
The way down deep inside you.
Not the things that hide you.
Not your caps and gowns,
They're just beside you.
But it's you I like.
Every part of you.
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings
Whether old or new.
I hope that you remember
Even when you're feeling blue.
That it's you I like,
It's you, yourself
It's you.
It's you I like.

And what that ultimately means, of course, is that you don't ever have to do anything sensational for people to love you. When I say it's you I like, I'm talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed. So in all that you do, in all of your life, I wish you the strength and the grace to make those choices which will allow you and your neighbor to become the best of whoever you are.”

In an adult world Mister Rogers’s dialogue sounds like modern overly PC, warm, fuzzy, tripe. But those in his audience were children and they could hear and understand his message. When his children grew up they could still hear his message, even though it was still presented in the simple language of children. They could hear it because they knew the man who said it, they knew his voice and they knew he meant it. The message was simple, I love you. Even though he never met most of his neighbors you could tell he cared about them. By doing so he made many frightened children feel safe, he gave many lonely children a friend, he gave many with no self respect dignity, he gave hope to those who saw no future, and to many who did not feel loved he gave love.

A Christian’s goal is to use their life to point to something beyond themselves, to point to God. A Christian’s goal in loving is to reveal the love of Christ to people. I can not think of a better example of a beautiful Christian life than that of The Reverend Fred Rodgers. Mister Rogers' favorite passages of Scripture was from the end of the eighth chapter of Romans:

"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

That is what he believed. That is what he lived.

I feel that no matter what words I use, I can not do him or his ministry justice. The best I can do is to say, that although I never met him: I grew up with him, I counted him as a friend and I loved him. The day he died I wept.

Rest eternal grant unto him O lord
And let light perpetual shine upon him.
May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

The Danger of Christian Fundamentalism or Looking for a Place to Stand: Whitterings, September 2007


I am highly reluctant to wade into the controversial area of religious freedom. There is no safe way through this particular arena without becoming trapped in paradox and hypocrisy. However I can no longer ignore such a huge issue facing us as a faith community. Simply put I am unsure how a moderate religious voice, such as mainstream Anglicanism, can safely navigate between voicing its intolerance of fanatical, fundamentalist religiosity and not undermining its own claim to religious freedom.

I was taught at New College, Edinburgh, the great bastion of stoic Presbyterian academia, that the religious in the world were now separated in a way that is completely different from even a couple of decades ago. The denominations or schools of Christianity were no longer separated from one another by their theological beliefs but rather by their understanding of what religion is, or more precisely what religion does. The two sides can be simply described as believers in the literal and believers in the figurative. The literal religious person believes completely in the historical, linear, objective truth of revelation. The beliefs they hold are reinforced by an a priori philosophical system in which everything is self referring. The system is always a closed system that does not acknowledge claims to truth that fall outside of it. The figuratively religious person usually takes as a starting point the understanding that there is no linguistic or philosophical way to make objective truth statements using religious language. Their religious claims are more metaphorical, cyclical, and subjective. They concentrate more on what is meant, or what is pointed to or created by belief statements. The New College argument was expanded to include other religions as well. The argument in a nutshell says that it is no longer divisions such as Catholic and Protestant or even Christian and Jewish that separates us but rather the way we are religious. Therefore a figurative Rabbi and figurative Catholic Priest will be closer in their understanding of God than a literal Baptist and a figurative Methodist.

“She kept asking if the stories were true. I kept asking her if it mattered. We finally gave up. She was looking for a place to stand and I wanted a place from which to take flight.” B. Anduas

I want to elucidate on couple of points that are often misunderstood. Those of the figurative school do not say that language is useless or that it can not describe truth at all. However they do assert that language is very limited and by its nature and is created to categorise and dissect. It is completely dualistic and so is not suitable for the discussion of God. As a matter of fact it can not be used to discuss God in any real way. For example, if you are asked if you believe in God the only truthful answer for a faithful person is ‘no’. This is because if you say ‘yes’ you are assenting to the belief in a God that can be reduced to the subject of a sentence. This limits God by having Him be part of the created order and therefore limited so that he can be described. The God believed in is only an idol. So we tend to concentrate more on the teleological (what a thing does as opposed to ontology which is what a thing is) side of language, what does it do to us, how does it change us? So questions such as the literal historical Resurrection of Christ from the dead are simply not useful questions. As a matter of fact the only answers to that particular question go in the opposite direction of the purpose of faith. “Why seek ye the living among the dead. He is not here He is risen.” This does not mean that Jesus of Nazareth did not literally and historically rise from the grave on Easter morning. What it does mean is that a historical, literal, linear belief says nothing of worth about the nature of Resurrection, what it means, or who we become when we hold this belief in faith. As language does not work when we get close to God we must rely on faith, which is a state of openness to God, and it’s language which is prayer.

What most marks the figuratives is their rationality and pragmatism. They believe that religion is true only insofar as it produces results: Soeteriological efficacy, or by their fruits you shall know them. They believe that all things that are true somehow fit into the same system. Another way of saying this was suggested by Simone Weil. If you must choose between Jesus Christ and the truth you must always turn from Jesus and choose the truth. If you choose Jesus you are only picking an idol of Him that reflects the understanding of Him that you already have. By choosing the truth you choose who He really is and in wrestling with the expanded image of Him you grow more into Him.

Both are highly criticised: the figurative because they seem too abstract and mystical, the literalist because they seem to believe in Christ in such a linear way as to be little different from the beliefs of the pagan, mythological world.

However one thing has become increasingly clear, the figuratively religious in this world are not responsible for rise of religious hatred and intolerance or for psychologically destructive or abusive belief systems. There is a difference. This is not to say that the literalists are always destructive or intolerant, what it does say is that the danger from religion comes from this area. By its nature its truth claims are exclusive and eventually lead to, at best, a stalemate with another belief system of the same literal type.

I have already written about linguistics, teleology, and soeteriological efficacy in other columns. What I have not explored is how to witness to healthy religion in a world that is becoming either increasingly religiously fundamentalist or increasingly intolerant of religious fundamentalism. Unfortunately those who are starting to see religious fundamentalism as a kind of social evil seldom distinguish moderate, rational religion from fundamentalism. We all end up tarred with the same brush. We tend to be silent about joining our voice too loudly against religious intolerance in the world because we know that in the end if religious extremism is found to be too destructive by our culture and religion itself is attacked we will lose our own religious freedom.

I believe that is coming to the point where moderate religious voices must join in the debate about religious freedom for our own integrity. It will mean being accused of intolerance for other religious points of view. So be it. If we keep silent we deny our own witness to truth and allow ourselves to be caught in the crossfire between extreme religiosity and extreme secularism. There is no way to do this without being accused of hypocrisy and stepping over and over against into paradox. So be it. I remember The Most Reverend Richard Holloway, former Primate of the Scottish Episcopal Church, coming out of the fog at five in the morning after a terribly intolerant and hatful day at the Lambeth Conference of 1998. He had not slept and had been up all night thinking and walking. He seemed defeated and said to me that it was always the fault of the moderates that the extremists won. The moderates were too nice and thought too highly of people and assumed a degree of decency and middle class, educated, respectability that simply did not exist. We were the ones to blame because we were na├»ve. Martin Luther King Jr said something similar, “It is not the bad people in this world that are the problem, it is the good people who do nothing.”

I end with an example. There is in North American Christianity (although seldom in Anglicanism) a strong belief in a doctrine of the Atonement that says: there is a God, he is an angry God, he is angry at us because we are sinful and fallen, he demands a sacrifice and blood to be appeased, we are not good enough for the sacrifice, so he tortured and killed his own Son to appease Himself, and now although we are still sinners there is a chance by believing in this truth that we can escape everlasting damnation, which is our true birthright. Those of us who believe that God is loving and that He “Loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son”, and that the Atonement is only understood through this love need to take stock. It is time to speak up and say that to teach children and young adults about the reality of a wrathful God is actually a form of psychological abuse that seriously hinders childhood and adolescent development.

I have a tract by the Evangelical Tract Distributors from Edmonton Alberta entitled “What Every Young Man Should Know”. It is short, it simply says “Fools Make a mock at Sin (even their mind and conscience is defiled. Titus 1:15), The Wages of Sin is Death (Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell. Mathew 23:33), God Shall Bring Every Secret Thing into Judgement (Depart from Me, ye cursed into everlasting fire! Math 25:41). It ends with a non scriptural sentence “Will Jesus say this to you, ‘Christ died for your sins that you might spend eternity in Hell?’” This is not a straw dummy, if you doubt it please see the new documentary ‘Jesus Camp’ which depicts the formation of young Americans as militaristic Christ warriors. Which would be worse to live with this fear and belief and grow old or to die young as another type of fundamentalist, such as a teenage suicide bomber? Although the outcome of one kills the body the other surely kills the soul. A suicide bomber takes other lives with them, so it is by far the worst kind of intolerance. The question is how much of a difference is there? A difference in kind or simply a difference in degree? I wonder.

“The greatest danger for a child, where religion is concerned, is not that his father or teacher should be an unbeliever, not even his being a hypocrite. No, the danger lies in their being pious and God-fearing, and in the child being convinced thereof, but that he should nevertheless notice that deep within there lies hidden a terrible unrest. The danger is that the child is provoked to draw a conclusion about God, that God is not infinite love.”
Soren Kierkegaard

They've Found Out, Run! or Rilke's Book of Hours: Whitterings, June 2007

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
II Corinthians 12. 7-10

Christians are marked by their particular emphasis on the strength of weakness: the weakness of the incarnation of God as a helpless infant, the weakness of Christ as a nomadic non-violent preacher instead of a mighty warrior king, the weakness of the Messiah crucified and dying as a common criminal, the weakness of the command to love our enemies, and the weakness of faith as submission to the will of God in meekness and humility. Yet even for those who understand weakness in these terms, St Paul’s assertion that “when I am weak, then I am strong” is often difficult to relate to.

In our society we are expected to be always strong, and not only strong but also rich, clever, beautiful, sexually appealing, funny and most of all successful. Every advertisement emphasises the need to fulfil these unrealistic goals. We relate to events as successes or failures. We relate to people as making the grade or falling short of it. We attach impact reports to projects and have formulas for arriving at realistic viability projections. I believe that many of these things are necessary and even helpful for good management and stewardship. Without them we lower the standards to the realm of mediocrity. However, as a spiritual outlook, a success based value system is deadly. The reason is simple: if we feel we must always be strong and successful then we do not rely on the grace of God to sustain us but on our own will. It is the ancient heresy of Pelangianism fought against so passionately by St Augustine of Hippo in the fourth century. The Prophet Malachi reminds us that no one can stand on their own merit before God; “But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?”. The Psalmist in Psalm 130 also reminds us of the same thing “If thou, Lord, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss, O Lord, who may abide it?” as does St John in his first letter “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

We know in our minds that we are only justified and able to approach God because of our redemption by Christ. Atonement theology, in all of its various forms, is a working out of this one belief. Yet even those of us who know this do not necessarily feel it. I have long known that I am a Pelagian workaholic that tries to justify myself and my ministry by the production of good works.

I believe many of us forget more often than we remember it, that it is the grace of God alone that frees us and makes us able to accept love and forgiveness. From youth we have learned to hide our weakness and mask our failures. We struggle with anxiety about how other people perceive us and worry whether they like us or respect us. We wonder if those who say they love us actually do. Part of us thinks that if they really know who we were they would turn away. The former Primus of Scotland, The Most Reverend Richard Holloway, used to say that if you leaned over to a stranger in the street and whispered urgently “They’ve found out! Run!”, most would. These fears are the chains that bind us and keep us from taking chances, the fears that keep us from reaching out to others.

Ich bin nur einer deiner Ganzgeringen

No one lives his life.

Disguised since childhood,
haphazardly assembled
from voices and fears and little pleasures,

we come of age as masks.
Our true face never speaks.

Somewhere there must be storehouses
where all these lives are laid away
like suits of armour or old carriages
or clothing hanging limply on the walls.

Maybe all paths lead there,
to the repository of unlived things.
From The Book of Hours: The Book of Pilgrimage, II.xi, 1899-1903 by Rainer Maria Rilke

I believe the Christian path of Transformation, The Way as Christianity was called in the earliest church, is to come to realise with our hearts what we already know in our minds: that we are loved by God just as we are. That there is nothing we can do, nothing, that will make him love us any more or any less and that the same is true for your worst enemy. Often this transformation can only come when we have been battered to within an inch of our limit. Complete and utter failure and humiliation is often the greatest of gifts as it opens our hearts to need help, to need love, to need forgiveness. This desperate, overwhelming desire is the way to ask, it is the way to knock at the door. “Ask and it shall be given unto you, seek and ye will find, knock and the door will be opened unto you.” The only reason it seems that what we are asking for is not given is that we ask in the wrong way, the asking, the way to knock upon the door, is to drop the pretence that we can justify ourselves or make ourselves worthy of love and forgiveness, the way to ask is to speak out from behind the mask. Psalm 51 tells us “The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt thou not despise”.

St James is perceptive in his letter when he reminds us to be thankful for trials and worldly failures. This weakness helps us realise our real weakness. When we realise that we can not do it ourselves, and that we need the Lord, then we are free.

Wenn etwas mir vom Fenster fallt

How surely gravity’s law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of even the smallest thing
and pulls it toward the hearts of the world.

Each thing –
each stone, blossom, child –
is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
push out beyond what we each belong to
for some empty freedom.

If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.

Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.

So, like children, we begin again
to learn from the things,
because they are in God’s heart;
they have never left him.

This is what things can teach us:
to fall,
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.
From The Book of Hours: The Book of Pilgrimage, II.xvi, 1899-1903 by Rainer Maria Rilke

Many people hide their weakness, they hide their failures. They are ashamed because they are not beautiful and sexy, cleaver and witty, wealthy and powerful. They also are afraid because they know deep down that they are guilty. These people hide in the shadows because they are afraid. There are children of the light, who I believe are few, and there are also children of the dark, which I also believe are few, then there are the children of the shadows – those who have not yet made a choice, and they are legion.

"And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God."
St John 3.19-21

We, however, are the redeemed, the children of God. We may be ugly, poor, lame and blind. We may lack power or respect, and we may be foolish and awkward. We may be weak. The difference is that for us none of this matters. We are not afraid to be seen in the light of God, we are not ashamed by our weakness, we glorify in it. We do not despair of our own death for we know he lives in us and we have our life only in him. We know that in the eyes of God we are beautiful and attractive, we are forgiven, we are loved, for we are the redeemed. “Once you are loved you can never be ugly, except to those who do not understand.”

"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you."
II Corinthians 4. 7-12

Jarndyce & Jarndyce: Whitterings, May 2007


Jarndyce & Jarndyce

Bleak House is undoubtedly one of Charles Dickens’s finest works and C.K. Chesterton believed it was by far his greatest novel. The story revolves around a generations long protracted court case in the High Court of Chancery to settle the matter of the Last Will and Testament of a Mr Jarndyce. The case is known as Jarndyce and Jarndyce or Jarndyce verses Jarndyce. The estate left by the will is enormous and so the winners of the case will be immensely wealthy. There are two Wards of Chancery that might be the direct beneficiaries, Richard Carstone and Ada Clare. Mr John Jarndyce, another potential beneficiary, has long sense given up hope that the matter will ever be settled in court mostly as a reaction to his beloved Great Uncle committing suicide out of frustration over the case. He has turned his attention to ‘getting on with things’ and not worrying about the outcome of the case. He, out of kindness, attempts to mentor the two wards of court and attempts to disuade Richard Carstone from placing his hopes on the outcome of it. In this he fails and Richard, mistrusting Mr Jarndyces good motives, becomes more and more drawn in to the devious and financially runious world of unscrupulous lawers. At the end of the book The Lord High Cancellor, having confirmed the legitimacy of a newly found will of the origional Mr Jarndyce, finally closes the case and finds in favour of the two wards. Thus it ends happily ever after and Richard Carstone is justified in his attempt to settle the case and the serious risks he has taken with his health whilst doing so. Well, actually the book does not end like this. The Lord High Chancellor has one more announcement, the decades long court case has produced such significant legal fees that the entire estate has been consumned. There is nothing left. Richard, his health broken, collapses and dies in classic Dickensian fashion.

Thus the phrase Jarndyce and Jarndyce has become synonymous with anything that consumes ones life by enticing one to use all of ones time and energy perusing a future reward that never arrives. I do not think I need to be very persuasive to put the case that for most in our society a better epitaph than ‘Jarndyce and Jarndyce’ would be hard to find. We are always looking to the future, hoping for the day ‘when’. When we are young we worry and hope about what we are going to do with our lives, in middle age we wonder why we are doing what we are doing with our lives and look forward to better days, in retirement we wonder why we did what we did with our lives and look forward to finding the time to do things promised by retirement (often those in retirement are busier than they ever were before), and in our declining years we hope that the next life will be better. No matter what stage we are in we look forward to the day when there will be enough time to do what we want or find a way to be happy. We look forward to the day when we can spend quality time with our children. We bewail the fact that everything is so rushed and that there are always a million things to do. When we finally do have the time, our children are grown. We work ourselves into exhaustion to save the money to survive and ‘do something special’ but in the meantime our days are frustrating and meaningless. Even priests spend exorbitant time on administration and buildings and policy so that ‘one day’ they can have the time to have a healthy prayer life and be pastors to their people. The endless pursuit of escapism in recreation relationships and passive entertainment in reality eats up our hours and our days to such an extent that we often can not remember what we have actually done with our days. If we are not sure what we have done with our days it really means we do not really know what we have done with our lives.

The prince of this world holds the carrot of ‘tomorrow’ constantly before us so that we do not live ‘today’. We know that God is found only in the eternal present and never in the past or in the future.
St Teresa of Lisieux said:
“If I did not suffer minute by minute, it would be impossible for me to be patient, but I see only the present moment, I forget the past and take good care not to anticipate the future. If we grow disheartened, if we sometimes despair, it is always because we have been dwelling on the past or the future.”
St Francis de Sales said:
“Do not look forward to what might happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today, will take care of you tomorrow and every day. Either he will shield you from suffering or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginings.”

Mr John Jarndyce learned this lesson through the pain of seeing his Great Uncle, who was like a father to him, waste away in despair in Bleak House. The pain of loss made him, as the Prayer Book says, “deeply sensible of the shortness and uncertainty of life.” This realisation created in him a turn of heart that made him strive to live the way he wanted to live in the future, today.

There is little in this world that we need to live simply and in a relationship with God. Most of what we think we need to be happy actually leads us further away. Think of the happiest people you know. Do they not, for the most part, spend lots of quality time with those they love? Do they not laugh a great deal about things that others would be anxious about? Do they not have a simplicity in their way of living? Most of all, do they not march to a different drummer?

If the deceiver were to have his way all of us would get tangled up in our own Jarndyce and Jarndyce. We would never be happy with what we have but would sacrifice it all for a promise of a future glory that never comes. By so doing we would never be in the present and by never being in the present we would never know God. By never knowing God we would walk eternally in darkness.

The Church in today’s society is comparable to Mr John Jarndyce who took his uncle’s Bleak House and made it a place of life and beauty and truth. We have given a glorious hope to this age of darkness and, through the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ, have showed forth beauty and nobility in our fallen humanity. He has triumphed over Death and Darkness and the Bleak House of this world has been utterly changed. The Church continually tries to convince people that it is ruinous to pursue the paths of darkness that are renounced in our Baptism: the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of this world, and the sinful desires of the flesh. We tell Richard over and over again to turn away from Jarndyce and Jarndyce and live.
Memento Homo Quia Pulvis Es: Remember man that thou art dust and to dust shalt thou return, repent and believe in the Gospel.
From the Service of the Imposition of Ashes on Ash Wednesday Liturgy

The Church stands as Moses on the plains before Sinai and says to the world
“I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life..”
Deuteronomy 30.19

Richard, as often as not, refuses to hear. Still it is our call to continue to preach the Good News and seek to be heard even if we feel that all we have is to
“Stand on street corners with nothing to sing but the songs which no one wishes to be heard sung.” T.S. Elliot, Choruses from the Rock

But for those of us who have heard the words of eternal life let us continue to call the case for what it is and let us disentangle ourselves from it and let the outcome of Jarndyce and Jarndyce be nobody’s business but God’s alone.

All Flesh is Grass or Wabi-sabi: Whitterings, March 2007


Since I was a boy I have been fascinated by traditional Japanese art. My father lived in Hokkaido in the North of Japan after the Korean War and my mother collects Japanese pottery and ceramics. My mother is an interior decorator and designer and is known for her ‘Japanese’ style. When I was a teenager my brother gave me The Book of Tea, written by Okakura Kakuzo in the early twentieth century, which lays out the basic philosophical and aesthetic principles that lie behind the Japanese tea ceremony. I was hooked but I did not know why.

Most people know that there is something about traditional Japanese art, you just know the style when you see it. The simplicity and the rustic beauty and the asymmetry give it away. Most do not know that there is a deep religious purpose that lies behind it. That principle is known as Wabi-sabi. The word refers to comprehensive world view that take sits origin in the first Noble Truth of the Buddha – Anicca know in Japanese as Mujyou. The first Noble Truth is that of Impermanence. All that is passes away. Nothing remains the same. Wabi-sabi as an aesthetic is beauty that is imperfect, impermanent and incomplete.

Japanese traditional art, music, poetry and literature all reflect the principle of Wabi-sabi. It is as central to the Japanese aesthetic as Greek art is to Western art. It is characterised by transmitting to the beholder a sense of tranquil melancholy. It awakens a peaceful spiritual longing for that which is always just beyond our grasp. Three simple spiritual truths lie behind the art: nothing lasts; nothing is ever finished; and nothing is perfect.

Wabi origionally meant the isolated feeling of living alone in nature. Sabi meant something withered or frozen. In the 14th century began to take on a changed meaning. Wabi is now taken to mean something that shows the characteristic of rustic simplicity and serenity while Sabi now means the beuty that comes with time, in the wear and tear of the use of an object. Both words evoke a sense of isolation and melencholy. To the Buddhist mind these are eccential truths about the nature of life and the universe. Wabi-sabi is, however, more of an aethetic feeling than a concept. This traiditional Haiku by Basho (1644-1694) invokes the feeling.

“Standing in Kyoto
I long for Kyoto
O sweet bird of time.”

The feeling one has when one returns to a place where one once belonged and finds it changed and empty. Thomas Wolfe said that you can never go home again. People change and more importantly you change. You stand in the very place you remember and find it occupied by the ghosts of your past life.

Basho describes it like this: "Sabi is the color of the poem. It does not necessarily refer to the poem that describes a lonely scene. If a man goes to war wearing stout armor or to a party dressed up in gay clothes, and if this man happens to be an old man, there is something lonely about him. Sabi is something like that."

The Japanese flower arranging art of Chado is another example. Unlike the formal flower art of Ikebana, Chado usually involves the simple arrangement of one flower or one flower and a twig, frshly picked and placed in a simple and rustic vase. The arrangment reflects the simple beauty of nature in such a way to focus the mind on that which we never notice. By drawing attention to just a couple of things such as a single flower or a simple vase one becomes aware of the swiftly flowing stream of time all around us. Wabi-sabi pottery is always hand made and is produced in a way to allow imperfections in texture and shape. This shows the individuality and imperfectness of all things.

All of these elements are present in the Japanese tea ceremony. The cememony is a meditation in action with the purpose of invoking in the participant an awareness of time and the futility of trying to hold onto it. The concept is that if one allows oneself to stop struggling against time then one can appreciate the universe for what it is. It is quite similar to the Western philosophical concept of death consciousness found in the writings of Heidegaar. It is also what lies behind the service of the impiosition of ashes on Ash Wednesday: Remmeber man that thou art dust, and unto dust shalt thou return; Memento Homo Quia Pulvis Es.

I would interpret the purpose of being a way to help one become aware of God. God is not found in the past nor is he found in the future. God is only found in the eternal present. God simply ‘is’. “I am that I am.” Most of us spend most of our time either dwelling on the past or anticipating the future. Neither the past or the future is actually real. It is always the present and has alweays been the present. Wabi-sabi is not only an aethetic response to that reality but it is also a way to transend it. The three priciples behind it prys our fingers off of the edge of the bridge of control and allows us to fall into the flow of the river of time. Nothing lasts: if we really understand this then we are able to let go of trying to control everything in our lives. Nothing is ever finished: this allows us to step back from that sense of desperate control freakness that poisons so much of our daily activity. Nothing is perfect: reminds us that God alone is the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer – not us. Wabi-sabi helps us avoid the heresy of Pelagius that we can accomplish salvation by our own will alone.

“All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people is grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; bu the word of our God will stand for ever.” Isaiah 40: 6-8.

Lying behind the ever changing reality of the universe lies the one thing that does last, the one thing that is perfect, the one thing that is finished: God.

Don Quixote the Lord of La Mancha or All Saints: Whitterings, February 2007

We celebrate the feast days of the Saints every week. On these days we concentrate on their special ministry. On All Saints, one of the seven great Feasts of the Christian year, we look at the Saints as a whole. It is the Church’s memorial day. It is the day that we remember all of those who went before us empowered with the knowledge of God and the love of the Christ and transformed the world, laid down their lives and pointed us towards the kingdom of heaven. Some of these men and women we know and we remember them on their death days, or their birthdays into heaven throughout the year. On those days we remember them individually. On All Saints Day we remember them collectively; known and unknown.

There are three ways that we can believe in God. One is to have a direct transformative revelation of the Godhead. One must be very lucky to have this experience. Most of us must be content with glimmers, the occasional rays of light that break through the clouds. Yet people do; through near death experiences, extremes of pain, extremes of joy, and through deep meditation and prayer. Yet this very personal experience comes only by the grace of God. St Augustine said that grace was like lightening sparking across the horizon and striking as it will with no predictability. Yet those who are struck with this grace are given an unshakable faith which gives them the strength to lead God’s people and to follow the will of God wherever it may lead them.

You can try and force it but it does not work. Or at least not in the long run. When I was a teenager I accompanied a couple of the Franciscans from Edinburgh to the West Coast of Scotland on a preaching tour. We stayed at Auchenellan House in Logilphead. When I was staying there no one had lived there since the late seventies when the old Laird, a chieftain, had died. The house had not been touched. The library was fascinating and was filled with books on religion and books on the supernatural. The laird's niece, who had inherited the house, would not live there because of a wraith that consistently appeared in the upstairs hallway where the old part of the house joined the new. I was fascinated. Also a little scared, I must say. I stayed up every night for three days waiting for it to appear. I was longing to see something that I could not explain. Something that would almost force me to accept the realm of the supernatural. Then if I could do that would it be such a big step to a firmer more rock solid faith in God? Well I all ended up doing was missing a lot of sleep. No apparition. I no longer think that having such an experience has anything to do with the existence of God. But I would still like a sign. A sign that would prove my faith once and for all.

The second way of believing in God is to believe in the faith of the Saints. We look at their lives, we read their works, and we see that their lives, in and of themselves, point at something larger than themselves. Their lives evoke in us a trust that they knew what they we talking about.

The third way is more complicated and has to do with a feeling of emptiness and an indirect suspicion that there must be more to the universe than this small futile existence. The whole of creation and our mind and our heart niggles at us. There just must be more than the meaninglessness of endless rounds of life and death. To put it another way we feel an empty place and instinctively know that something is necessary to fill it.
In the Saints we honor those who strengthen our faith in the second way. We remember and give thanks for all those who laid down their lives and shed their blood for the church of god. In the early years of the church the only Saints were the martyrs, those who shed their blood and lives for Christ. It was only in the second century that other people were given the title of Saint. It is difficult for us to imagine what it must have been like for Christians in the first few hundred years of the Church’s life when she was persecuted by the Roman Empire. It is even difficult to imagine the early missionaries who trekked out into the unknown expecting to be killed for the faith.

I wonder how many of us in this church this morning would have a strong enough faith to go willingly to our death for Christ without wavering. I am pretty sure I would have my doubts. I would like to think that I would do it anyway, but would I? Could I face torture? Having my eyes plucked out, having my skin flayed from my body (I would go on but I have no wish to turn anyone’s stomach)? Yet thousand upon thousands of our forebearers did just this. They died for the faith. They died willingly for the Christ and went to their death with joy so sure were they that they were following the path of righteousness. We remember and honour these giants of men and women. Let us not forget that without them the Church would not be here. Again as St Augustine said, the Church has grown from the ground of faith watered by the blood of the Martyrs. I am reminded of the story of the Armenian Bishop and his Deacons who traveled to a remote Northern parish during the persecution that had not had a mass for years. The local faithful knew that if they attended their lives would be in danger. They came and filled the church. If I recall rightly they were boarded up in the church with their Bishop and burned alive. How many of us would go to church next Sunday if there was even a remote possibility we would be killed for it?

The Gospel of the Sermon on the Mount gives us a glimmer of the vastness of the task we are called to. The Christ ascends a great mountain, and sits down, faces the people and teaches the beatitudes. The very epitome of the religious figure. The beatitudes turn everything on its head. “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth”. Blessed are they that mourn. For they shall be comforted” He refers to that great mystery of the universe. All things turn and become their opposites. These teachings make a mockery out of our world, our respectability, our comfort. What happens to one who follows this completely different drummer? What happens to one who tries to follow the commandments of Christ? History has certainly given us the answer. So does the Christ. He refers many times to the fact that his followers will be persecuted. He even foretells the death by torture of the eleven. Here he gives encouragement to those who will die for him.

“Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”

The words that Cervantes, that great Spanish Contemporary of Shakespeare’s, put into the mouth of that mad old man of la Mancha, Don Quixote paraphrased in the Man of La Mancha give an voice to the cry of the Saint. Here we can hear the greatness of the vision of the Saint and the courage of hearts that are wider than we, in our humility, can ever reasonably hope to have. In these words we give thanks for idealism, strength, greatness, and the unshakeable faith of the Saints in Glory.

“Here me now O thy bleak and unbearable world,
Thou art as baste and debauched as can be,
And a knight with his banners all bravely unfurled
now hurls down his gauntlet towards thee.

I am I Don Quixote, the Lord of La Mancha,
my destiny calls and I go.
And the wild winds of fortune shall carry me onward
whither so ever they blow onwards to glory I go.
To dream the impossible dream,
to fight the unbeatable foe,
to bear with unbearable sorrow,
to run where the brave dare not go,
to right the unrightable wrong,
to love pure and chaste from afar,
to try when our arms are too weary,
to reach the unreachable star;

This is my quest to follow that star,
no matter how hopeless, no matter how far.
To fight for the right without question or course,
to be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause.

And I know if I only be true to this glorious quest
that my heart will lie peaceful and calm
when I am laid to my rest.

And the world will be better for this,
that one man scorned and covered with scars
still strolls with his last ounce of courage
to reach the unreachable star.”

The Venerable Edward Simonton OGS
Priest of the oratory of the Good Shepherd

Corpus Christi: Whitterings, January 2007


In the earlier part of the 20th century the priests at St Mary’s Bourne Street in London, where Viscount Halifax was Church Warden, had visiting cards printed that they would put through the doors of those in the parish and pin up in pubs. There are still a few withered copies in the Black Bull Pub in Walisingham. They read simply

“The Holy sacrifice of the Mass; All the good works in the world are not equal to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass because they are the work of God. Martyrdom is nothing in comparison for that is the sacrifice of man to God. The Mass is the sacrifice of God for Man."
The Cure d’ Ars, Saint Jean-Baptiste Marie Vianney, 1786 - 1859

It seems a bit extreme today but it is only the use of the language not the truth of the matter. The Rev’d Dr Eric Mascall OGS, one of my Oratorian brothers, says (Corpus Christi p. 112)
“What takes place in the Eucharist is not a new separation of the Body from the Blood, not a new immolation, but the identification, by that unique mode of efficient causality whose name is sacramental signification, of the bread and wine and the Body and Blood. Thus every Eucharist is the same sacrifice as every other one, and all of them are the same sacrifice as that which was offered by Christ in his earthly life.”
This is one point about Eucharistic theology that would help balance the overly social view of the sacrifice of the Mass common today.

It leads to that subtle mistake of separating the material from the spiritual. We are human and in the created order are neither the complete spiritual entities as the angels nor are we simply the material of the world. We are both. That is our nature. We are NOT spiritual souls trapped in material bodies. That is why our hope is the resurrection of the body. The duality of many thinkers divorce these two which makes a mockery of what we do at our main services, to partake of the sacramental presence of Christ. Christ shared our nature in the flesh and that is how we are to sense his presence in the Blessed Sacrament. Charles Gore (in his book The Body of Christ) always emphasized the social nature of the sacrament. That the Mass was given to the Church and not just to individuals. The gift was objective and social. Gore says,
“The more and more we dwell on the social meaning of the sacrament, the more profoundly satisfying an answer does it supply to the difficulties raised by such false spiritualism as resents the attachment of spiritual gifts to outward conditions.”

So we begin to see that the duality that separates bread and wine as material and Body and Blood as spiritual must be denied. Dr Maschall again:

“When we get the material equated with the natural, and the supernatural equated with the spiritual, two consequences follow. The first is that the material realm escapes altogether from the over-arching control of religion, and the second is that religion becomes entirely concerned with the culture of the soul.”

The two are unified into one single nature. The sacrament does not nourish just our souls but our whole nature so that we may live in him just as he lives in us. The social nature of the sacrament gives life to this concept. We are all partakers of the one gift; we being many are one body for we all share in the one bread.

And this, of course leads us to the last important point. That, Christ in the sacrament is the same Christ we perceive in our fellow men. Catholic piety without Catholic social action is meaningless and can even be seen as idolatrous. The social nature of the sacrament must be used for the transformation of society and the world. I end with that great quote by Frank Weston, Bishop of Zanzibar given at the end of his address ‘Our Present Duty’ to the Anglo –Catholic Congress of 1923.

“Now mark that—this is the Gospel truth. If you are prepared to say that the Anglo-Catholic is at perfect liberty to rake in all the money he can get no matter what the wages are that are paid, no matter what the conditions are under which people work; if you say that the Anglo-Catholic has a right to hold his peace while his fellow citizens are living in hovels below the levels of the streets, this I say to you, that you do not yet know the Lord Jesus in his Sacrament. You have begun with the Christ of Bethlehem, you have gone on to know something of the Christ of Calvary—but the Christ of the Sacrament, not yet. Oh brethren! if only you listen to-night your movement is going to sweep England. If you listen. I am not talking economics, I do not understand them. I am not talking politics, I do not understand them. I am talking the Gospel, and I say to you this: If you are Christians then your Jesus is one and the same: Jesus on the Throne of his glory, Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus received into your hearts in Communion, Jesus with you mystically as you pray, and Jesus enthroned in the hearts and bodies of his brothers and sisters up and down this country. And it is folly—it is madness—to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the Throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children. It cannot be done.
There then, as I conceive it, is your present duty; and I beg you, brethren, as you love the Lord Jesus, consider that it is at least possible that this is the new light that the Congress was to bring to us. You have got your Mass, you have got your Altar, you have begun to get your Tabernacle. Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.”