Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Feast Day of St Chiara of Assisi


"Totally love Him, Who gave Himself totally for your love."


Assisi

Undeniably, one of the most beautiful places on earth. Medieval buildings of pink granite, turned golden in the sun. Hot red geraniums, bold against the dark blue of a Northern Italian sky: the scent of olive groves, rosemary and lavender, and good coffee. Magical, an inspired setting for the romance of ‘Romeo and Juliet’.



And if you had only a passing awareness of Saints Francis and Chiara you would well imagine a romantic union between them; two young noble people in love.



And they were; but not with each other; or rather, yes, with each other, but with the vision of Christ that they saw in each other’s eyes. A love for a Christ who is both Romeo and Juliet. Whose love is so all-consuming that he would sacrifice his life rather than live without us. A love for a Christ whose love is undeniable and eternal. Chiara and Francis, lovesick in their desire to live in the shadow of that love.



St Chiara died 800 hundred years ago, holding the document that confirmed the vow of poverty for her order and thanking God for letting her be a human being - Her sisters continue in her footsteps...



In medieval times the entrance to the House of the Poor Ladies was guarded by the most formidable of the Sisters and could only be reached by a ladder. Imagine having to make such an effort, to actually need, actually want to climb a ladder to reach a place of such poverty and sacrifice.

Not the sort of ladder we would usually be interested in.

Because in these times we know about ladders; the ladders of success, of promotion, of fortune. The rungs that mean the move from second-hand car to shiny 4x4; from two-up two-down to two bathrooms and a second home; from punch card to platinum card; from GCSE to PhD. We need to know that we are on our way up; vertically challenged is not good enough; we want our heads in the clouds.

And it isn’t just how we measure ourselves, we survey everyone else on our horizon – are they higher or lower than us? Envy or ridicule makes us dizzy as we not only strive to raise our own position but to keep tabs on those around us. Top or bottom, way up or way down, high or low – this is what matters. Our place in society; our place in the grand scheme of things; our point of balance flimsy and tottering; always on the brink.


If this is important, if this is what matters, then how could we measure our Christ, our Lord who started at the bottom, climbed a couple of rungs then fell off into the ditch where he died? If we are ladder people then we have to consider what that says about Christ – what that says about us – and why we still don’t get it.


And why it is so important to hear the words of those saints who have gone before us. Sometimes to move forward, first we have to go back to our roots.


wordinthehand2009

To be fed by Angels

Opening Prayer

Here I am Lord,
Listening
Speak to me
within my heart and soul.
I am listening.


Kings 19:4


‘I have had enough’

Reflection
Enough

This is one of those two-tone phrases that you can read so much into. You imagine that to have enough is to be satisfied – to be without need – a good thing; but not always.

When I was a child - ‘I have had enough’ told me and my brothers that we had overstepped the mark. It is the phrase my nan and my mum would shout out as the final straw descended. As children we knew it was time to grow up a bit, and to try to make ourselves as invisible as possible! It was a phrase that could make my nan actually physically, truly, disappear.

My nan, had the minuted routine of the woman of the fifties – Monday – Washing; tidying; shops – Tuesday- ironing; beds and upstairs carpets. Everything done by hand and on foot and woe betide anything or anyone that got in her way – until ‘I have had enough’.

Then carpet slippers changed for court shoes, the wraparound apron came off, the headscarf and coat went on, the handbag was draped over one arm and she was off. And no-one said a thing, no-one mentioned it, we were in disgrace. We just tried to get through the rest of the day without her matriarchal presence until we woke in the morning to hear her bustling around cooking breakfast and carpet sweeping as though nothing had ever happened. Whoever she went to visit certainly made her feel better.

I was about ten before I even dared to bring it up. As reply, my granddad sent me to fetch her; she was in church. How had I never guessed? Our church was at the end of the street and as much as part of my home life as visiting my aunty opposite or the ‘other nan’ across the road. It was open all the time, as churches used to be. My nan was sitting by Our Lady’s chapel – two women having a chat about their families. I went and sat beside her and made myself just half visible in case I wasn’t welcome.

And in that way that women had, and probably Elijah would agree with, she said without looking at me but loudly enough for me to hear,

‘Life is hard – sometimes all you can do is get on with it and do your best and hope that that’s enough. But sometimes ‘enough’ is too much. So you bring it here and your give it to God and let God swap it for some peace and quiet. You can always trust God to know what to do with it.’
Then she did look at me and said ‘ And then you carry on.’


Contemplation
‘Along the way’

Whether good times or bad – there is always a point when you say ‘enough’ and you stop. Because you think the day can’t get any better or worse. You can’t be any more or less. It has a finality to it – enough; stop.

But very rarely can it be the end of anything – if you are full – you will be hungry again; if you are tired- you need to recuperate; if you are down-hearted - you need to find inspiration.

‘Enough’ could be taken as a marker to take the journey into the labyrinth. Remember our meditation journey during Lent and even into Pentecost where we found that winding path that took us away; took us within to God’s space within us.

It was lovely when churches where open all the time – to have Godspace inside and out. But God is with us always and if it is just a quiet part of the house it is enough to deal with the ‘enough’.

It is the optimistic soul who can see the good in everything – especially when you are in the everything and it isn’t good.

But if the outside world is causing you to say ‘ enough’, perhaps you can take the opportunity for this retreat within yourself – to go to the Lord when you don’t know what else to do or where else to go, then you will find that place to be fed by angels, to empty your troubles and to be filled with the grace that you need so that you can carry on.



Closing Prayer

May the blessing of the Sacred Three
The Father who gave us the Word
The Son who is the Word
The Spirit who opens the Word within us
Be with us today and evermore.
Amen


wordinthehand2009

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Go with what you know?

Opening Prayer

Here I am Lord,
Listening
Speak to me
within my heart and soul.
I am listening.



Ephesians 4:20


‘Your mind must be renewed by a spiritual revolution’


Reflection


Ambition is a wonderful thing they say. To be more than you are – to have a vision of something more – and to want to achieve that vision.


We are encouraged to be this way.

In worldly ambition we are meant to be on an uphill journey; and to be confident of success we follow the mountaineers rule of safety – maintaining the ‘three points of contact’.

So, when climbing the ‘ladder of success’ we keep one foot on the lower rung; our experience; the job we’ve already got; the places we already know; everything that we are happy and secure about.

Then we reach out, knowing the we have the support network in place; both hands holding on to friends; co-workers and supporters; knowing they will be there for us in our climb.

Only then do we reach the other foot towards the next rung; confident that it will be there; in expectation that having done everything right we will be moving on up. It’s a brave soul who would do it any other way.

Yet in faith we are meant to be brave souls – having come to some point in our lives when we realise that the world isn’t always right; the rules don’t always help and security is not always for the best – we need to consider another route.

Jesus was never good at keeping rules, considering the safe thing to do or climbing ladders; in fact he never even got on the first rung. His success meant surrender and descent; A revolutionary path that meant there is more to life than this, even if this is all I have ever known, because now I have faith.

To have the faith and trust to jump off a ladder into a swirling mist trusting that God will catch you. How hard is that? Not a thing I manage to do very often.


Yet Jesus did it for us and God caught him.

Contemplation
‘Gonna be a revolution’

It is always strange to me – which is why I mention it so often – that the Christian faith has such a comfortable feel to it.

We can be moved by the efforts of the early church to live within the Jewish and other cultures and how they need the encouragement of Paul’s letters to keep them true to the faith.

But we need Paul’s letters too. We can easily be misled by the world around us into accepting a way of life that leads nowhere. Spending money on the ‘next best thing’. Living out hours of imaginary lives on the TV. Setting our sights on a life that collects ‘stuff’ when we don’t need ‘stuff’.

The achieving and collecting that marks us out in the world is not what will help us in the Kingdom. It is how Jesus teaches us to be that we need to listen to. Like the Beatitudes which make a desire out of being poor and meek, we need to see the world as revolutionaries.

Think about what there is in your life that marks you as a Christian – are these the things that ‘society’ seems to value?

Do you ever question them or feel you have to defend them?

How do you feel about the idea of preparing for a life beyond this one?


Closing Prayer
May the blessing of the Sacred Three
The Father who gave us the Word
The Son who is the Word
The Spirit who opens the Word within us
Be with us today and evermore.
Amen


wordinthehand2009

Let them eat cake

Opening Prayer

Here I am Lord,
Listening
Speak to me
within my heart and soul.
I am listening.



John 6:12


‘Pick up the pieces left over, so that nothing gets wasted’.

Reflection
‘Pick up the pieces’

It was a foolish thing to do; to walk knowingly into the hills without food or water. We should have all known better.

Yet listening to the Rabbi we became entranced - by his vision; by his words; by his promises. This kingdom of his was where we wanted to be; It was a vision that we did not want to walk away from; knowing the life that waited for us back in the cities and towns. Knowing that there - there would be no honour in being meek, sad or downtrodden. We may have trusted him but we had lived in a different world.

So we followed; like some great flock of sheep pushing to stay in sight of their shepherd. And like sheep sitting in the meadow grass of the early spring and suddenly realising that our spirits were full but our bellies were empty. Then wondering if this had all been a trick; a real enchantment; for what were we to do now? Children crying out and if anyone had food they were too scared to take from their robes under the hungry eyes of their neighbours.

Until the miracle, and that is what it was – there was no sudden sharing from the crowd; a caravan didn’t suddenly appear; the offering of food by the young boy was all the Rabbi needed and I watched as his friends carried basket after basket of food to everyone on that hill. There seemed to be no end to it yet it was all I do not to push forward to make sure I had my share.

As I ate I thought about how easily my life is tossed by circumstance. I am poor; I have nothing; I beg; I blame; I hear the Word spoken to me; suddenly I believe - but a simple ache in the stomach turns me again to worldly wants; to greed; to resentment. I turn to wondering why I am here; what really can these words do for me? I am nothing, I have nothing to give. These Words are maybe meant for another better, holier, more powerful person – I am not even worth the crumbs that lie scattered on the floor.


Then I see him again walking with his friends, bending down here and there, a basket under his arm. And I hear him say ‘ pick up all that is left over’ – then he bends and looks into my eyes as he adds ‘ nothing gets wasted’,

Contemplation
Crumbs

We are very fond of extravagance. It is lovely to have too much; to not to have to worry if there is enough. At best it is a sign of welcome and hospitality – a party buffet where everyone is catered for and the dishes just keep on coming.

Some may think that it is good to have a spiritual life that is like that too.
If we have been in that place where we were hungry for God’s presence and then, we find ourselves invited to the feast.

Where every Mass and service fills us with God’s light, where we can spend time on retreat and come back replenished with the Spirit; where we read and study and feel that every day we are growing closer to being the person God wishes us to be – that we are growing closer to God.

We can be so full of God then that the little moments stop becoming important. We have cake so we don’t need bread.

But this is not true, one day the time will come; and no-one can say why, if, when – but God’s presence becomes absence. And party people feel abandoned; deprived – the thrill has gone – it is all over. They sink into despair or try to find another party.

But the housekeepers; the ones who remembered the ‘before the invitation’ will have a store; a jar of ‘crumbs’ to turn to, to see them over the lean times, in faith that these times won’t last.

Think about times when a moment of grace has passed you by because it was only a small thing (a smile, a word, a gesture saying that ‘God is present’) and gather it up. Do not let these moments go to waste. Find a place in your heart and mind and keep them safe.

Closing Prayer

May the blessing of the Sacred Three
The Father who gave us the Word
The Son who is the Word
The Spirit who opens the Word within us
Be with us today and evermore.Amen

Challenge

Opening Prayer

Here I am Lord,
Listening
Speak to me
within my heart and soul.I am listening.


St Paul to the Ephesians 2: 14

‘he is our peace, who made both one’

Reflection

It has become clearer that, the simpler the words, the more challenging the message. Paul, the champion of the gentiles, is telling his people that they are no longer left out – they probably didn’t even know they were left out - living as they had been, obliviously outside the Judaic bubble of promise.

But when the invitation comes they grasp it with both hands and hang on for dear life despite the protests of their ‘older brother’, who consider themselves ‘there first!’


But in time, for many, two became one, as Paul loves to put it, in Christ. There is no difference – all of us can, if we wish, live happily in the knowledge that Christ’s peace is our promise too.

But Paul’s writings aren’t just Paul’s words –like the rest of the New Testament, God has had a guiding hand. That’s why these words are still so relevant today. Because Christ’s peace didn’t come along just once, or for just a few; Christ’s peace is eternally creative in the world and still making both one, except now, all too often, we are the older brother.

And this is where simple becomes difficult. That sense of judgement that we all have - of who deserves, who doesn’t; who is better, who is not?

I may believe that I have peace through Christ;
I may believe that I have peace with others who believe what I believe;
I may believe that I have peace with people that I love.
Do I believe I have peace with people who don’t believe?
Do I believe I have peace with those that I do not love?
I have to say not easily – in my heart I judge where that peace should be.

But Christ didn’t die for the either/or of my opinion but the both/and of his. When Christ died he took in all in – he died for Peter and for Pilate; he died for the lepers and the Pharisees; he died for the Romans and the Jews. He died for those who threw stones and for those who wept.

Both became one – the worthy and the unworthy, the believer and the doubter, the sinner and the sinless.
The both that became one – the human and the divine – brings all humanity to the Divine peace.



Contemplation
Judgement Day

A scary thought – to be judged.

And I don’t know if it is better to be judged by those who we consider against us or our peers. Either way there is always that worry that we will not measure up to their standards. And that worry comes from knowing that often they do not measure up to ours.

Jesus does not condemn people – even when he criticises them and warns them that there would be some not making it into heaven – he doesn’t name names. As far as he is concerned forgiveness, healing, repentance was always there. Particularly for those who feel that it isn’t.

It is those who feel worthy and justified that he has the warnings for. After all, next to Jesus who is worthy? Can you be proportionately worthy?
Ten, fifteen, thirty percent better than someone else – how do you judge?
Really you can’t – you have to accept that perhaps that person on the bus, in the shop queue, on the end of the phone, lying in the street has just as much chance of getting into heaven as you do.

Because that’s how God wants it.
And the biggest sin – in fact it might be all sin is – is to think you know better than God.

So maybe try thinking about how you look at people, maybe just one person and instead of the difference and the division and the judgement calls, try to find what it is that makes you the same, ask God to open your heart and your eyes to the grace that makes you one; that can bring you both to the peace of Christ.


Closing Prayer
May the blessing of the Sacred Three
The Father who gave us the Word
The Son who is the Word
The Spirit who opens the Word within us
Be with us today and evermore.
Amen


wordinthehand2009