Saturday, 24 February 2018

A modern Madonna

A modern take on an ancient theme: a Madonna a child. But this child is bored and told to be quiet while his mother looks online, scrolling and changing pages. The child's mouth is stopped with a bottle as his mother looks away, more interested in virtual reality than the real thing. Real reality does not lead to salvation but it's a good anaesthetic.

Mother Julian

The Church in this image is the medieval masterpiece of All Saints, North Street, in York.

Thoughts during a Lenten fast

I’ve almost forgotten the days of plenty before Lent, and see that Easter now lies almost within reach. As usual, I’ve given up many things for Lent but also taken things up to replace them. I’ve given up many of the luxuries that cost so much and damage my body, mind or spirit. And I’m reading more, praying more, and meditating on the loving purposes of God.
    The initial shock of renunciation has now faded into some thing between dull resentment and the realisation that it’s actually doing me a lot of good. I’m recognising afresh that the reason behind Lent is a spiritual equivalent of circuit training before a race or cramming before an exam. I’m getting myself ready: I’m doing it all for an achievable end goal.
     My twin Lenten tasks of giving up and taking up are done with intent. It can be easy to forget how the main focus of Lent is not to watch my purse or my waistline, or to feel satisfaction at any growing sense of self discipline. I’m doing it to enhance my chances of salvation.
     We don’t gain eternal life through fasting and prayer. They are merely a means to an end. The principal purpose of Lent is to know God better and thereby serve Him better; to love Him better and thereby show Him to a needy world; to aim for Christ likeness and thereby make ourselves available to Him.

Maundy Thursday, by Malcolm Guite

Here is the source of every sacrament,
The all-transforming presence of the Lord,
Replenishing our every element
Remaking us in his creative Word.

For here the earth herself gives bread and wine,
The air delights to bear his Spirit’s speech,
The fire dances where the candles shine,
The waters cleanse us with His gentle touch.

And here He shows the full extent of love
To us whose love is always incomplete,
In vain we search the heavens high above,
The God of love is kneeling at our feet.

Though we betray Him, though it is the night.
He meets us here and loves us into light.

Malcolm Guite

Robert Llewellyn

Fr Gilbert Shaw, contempalative

Fr Gilbert Shaw SLG

God so loved the world

Julian of Norwich

We don’t know much about the woman known to history as ‘Julian of Norwich’. She was probably born in November 1342 and was certainly dead by 1416. We don’t even know her name.
    The city of Norwich was the second largest in medieval England. The Church of St Julian in the centre of the ancient city contained an anchorite’s cell, as was common in those days — a sort of flat for hermits. The hermits who lived there took the name of the Church, hence ‘Julian of Norwich’,
although ‘Julian’ was also a fairly common name for women in the Middle Ages and could possibly have belonged to the anchoress as well as to the church.
     Julian may have been from a privileged (wealthy) family residing in or near Norwich. It is quite possible that she received her early education with the Benedictine nuns at nearby Carrow Abbey.
Epidemics of plague were common during most of the fourteenth-century so Julian may have lost her family in the plague and become a hermit after being widowed. Becoming an anchoress may have served as a way to quarantine her from the rest of the population.
    When she was thirty, and while living at home, Julian suffered a serious, unknown, illness. She was close to death so on 8 May 1373 her curate came to administer the last rites. As part of the ritual, he held a crucifix above her bed. Julian said later that she was losing her sight but, as she gazed on the crucifix, she saw the figure of Jesus begin to bleed.
     Over the next few hours, Julian had a series of sixteen visions of Jesus which ended by the time she recovered from her illness a week later on 13 May 1373. Julian immediately wrote about her visions in a text we now call the Revelations of Divine Love. It’s a remarkable book of twenty-five chapters. To the modern reader it seems a little unstructured as it describes her visions. It rambles delightfully.
     The Revelations of Divine Love is the first known theological book in the English language written by a woman. Two versions exist of this important Christian text: the first is Julian’s first draft, written soon after her illness in 1373. The second, longer text was written much later, and offers a sustained meditation on Julian’s visions.
     Julian’s mystical theology is often expressed daringly. She likens God’s love to the love of a mother, a theme found in the Biblical prophets, as in Isaiah 49:15. According to Julian, God is both our mother and our father.
 Indeed, most of her themes relate to love. Even when talking of sin, she sees good. She says that sin is ‘behovely’, which is often translated as ‘necessary’, ‘expedient’ or ‘appropriate’. By this phrase, Julian means that God can even use evil to create a greater good, because love always seeks what is good.
    In another vision she said, ’I saw that our Lord is to us every thing which is good and comforting for our help. He is our clothing, who wraps and enfolds us for love, embraces us and shelters us,
surrounds us for his love, which is so tender that he may never desert us. And so in this sight I saw that he is everything which is good.’
     The poet T.S. Eliot famously used another of Julian’s quotes, saying ‘… All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well’ into the poem Little Gidding in his great book Four Quartets.

A Maundy meditation

Three motifs run through the history of the chosen people. The first is Law. God made a contract with the people and the signature on that contract was the Law given to Moses. This same Moses also said that God would raise from among their number a prophet like himself. A millennium later, Jesus was anointed as this prophet. Just as Moses’ laws were intended to show our love for God, so Jesus gives us a law, a new commandment. We are to love one another as Jesus loves us. This new law has the same force as forbidding theft or murder or lying or idolatry. Jesus chose love as the key because scripture tells us that God himself is love.
    Second, law always requires interpretation, so we need a barrister of the faith. Jesus was such a teacher; in Aramaic, he was a ‘rabbi’. Like all rabbis,
    Jesus had a close group of nomadic followers who followed him everywhere. A Rabbi could ask his disciples to do anything. If they didn’t like it, they simply ‘tore up the contract’ and left. We see some of Jesus’ first disciples doing that when Jesus told them they must eat his flesh.
    The only thing a Jewish rabbi could not ask of his disciples was for them to wash his feet. Only a slave could be asked to do that. In context, then, the story of Jesus washing the feet of his own disciples is odd. The Bible tells us the disciples were confused. They knew Jesus was saying something radical. Some were afraid to face it, others too embarrassed at his unorthodox approach; maybe some did not understand.
    It’s obvious to us what Jesus was saying: love makes a servant everyone. Loving servant­hood is an central part of being a Christian and there is nothing that we cannot be asked to do.
    And there’s a third seam running through the granite of faith that underpins the history of the chosen people. We don’t know when it started, but there arose the idea of grapes, a vineyard and therefore wine. Jesus wanted to show that he was the next chapter of the story, so he took bread and wine, blessed them, ate and drank, and said, ‘Do this in remembrance of me’.
    We immerse ourselves in our own Holy Week and as we do so we see the outworking of these same ideas:–
  • Jesus' New Commandment to love and his invitation to use love as the sacred cement that binds us together.
  • Love is a form of servanthood to the extent that we are slaves to Him who was love.
  • To prevent our forgetting the new commandment to love, we break bread and drink wine each day as a way of remembering the way that love became incarnate — God became a man to show us the outworking of this love.
So let us return to Jerusalem, and observe the first Holy Week, as the powers of love prove to be the only defence against the forces of evil.