Most High, all powerful, good Lord,
to you all praise, glory and honor and all blessing;
to you alone, Most High, they belong
and no one is worthy of naming you.
Praised by you, my Lord,
with all your creatures,
especially Milord Brother Sun,
who brings day, and by whom you enlighten us;
he is beautiful, he shines with great splendor,
of you, Most High, he is the symbol.
Praised be you, my Lord, for sister Moon and the Stars:
in the heavens you formed them,
clear, precious and beautiful.
Praised by you, my Lord, for Brother Wind
and for the air and for the clouds,
for the azure calm and for all climes
by which you give life to your creatures.
Praised by you, my Lord, for Sister Water,
who is very useful and humble,
precious and chaste.
Praised by you, my Lord, for Brother Fire,
by whom you enlighten the night:
he is beautiful and joyous,
indomitable and strong.
Praised by you, my Lord,
for Sister our mother the earth
who nourishes us and bears us,
and produces all kinds of fruits,
with the speckled flowers and the herbs.
Interfaith Declarations and Worship Observance Resources; The North American Conference on Religion and Ecology; 5 Thomas Circle, NW, Washington, DC 20005
Today is the feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist, the only celebration of the birth other than the birth of Christ himself... Significantly it is 6 months before Christmas Eve! John is known as the "precursor" or "forerunner" of the coming Christ, he announces the coming of Christ and in some ways sets the tone of the ministry of Christ. The Orthodox Church sees John as the last of the Old Testament Prophets, sealing the old order and heralding the new. Saint Augustine of Hippo wrote...
The Church observes the birth of John as in some way sacred; and you will not find any other of the great men of old whose birth we celebrate officially. We celebrate John’s, as we celebrate Christ’s. This point cannot be passed over in silence, and if I may not perhaps be able to explain it in the way that such an important matter deserves, it is still worth thinking about it a little more deeply and fruitfully than usual.
John is born of an old woman who is barren; Christ is born of a young woman who is a virgin. That John will be born is not believed, and his father is struck dumb; that Christ will be born is believed, and he is conceived by faith. John, it seems, has been inserted as a kind of boundary between the two Testaments, the Old and the New. That he is somehow or other a boundary is something that the Lord himself indicates when he says, The Law and the prophets were until John. So he represents the old and heralds the new. Because he represents the old, he is born of an elderly couple; because he represents the new, he is revealed as a prophet in his mother’s womb. You will remember that, before he was born, at Mary’s arrival he leapt in his mother’s womb. Already he had been marked out there, designated before he was born; it was already shown whose forerunner he would be, even before he saw him. These are divine matters, and exceed the measure of human frailty.
Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior by preaching repentance: Make us so to follow his teaching and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and, following his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth's sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen
"the liturgy within the Liturgy", is essential for the Church, but it has to be understood in all its dimensions. There is a double movement in the Liturgy: on the one hand, the assembling of the people of God to perform the memorial of the death and resurrection of our Lord "until He comes again". It also manifests and realizes the process by which "the cosmos is becoming ecclesia". Therefore the preparation for Liturgy takes place not only at the personal spiritual level, but also at the level of human historical and natural realities. In preparing for Liturgy, the Christian starts a spiritual journey which affects everything in his life: family, properties, authority, position, and social relations. It re-orientates the direction of his entire human existence towards its sanctification by the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, renewed by the Holy Communion and the Holy Spirit, the members of the Church are sent to be authentic testimony to Jesus Christ in the world. The mission of the Church rests upon the radiating and transforming power of the Liturgy. It is a stimulus in sending out the people of God to the world to confess the Gospel and to be involved in man's liberation.
I led a meditation/worship last night for the MSM Gathering in Northampton... here's the info/liturgy as promised...
• Visualisation from "Navigatio - Safespace Pocket Liturgy" pg 39 + "Candle Hand" Video (both available from www.proost.co.uk - video from "VJLoops2")
Flame Breather, Life Teaser,
Sweet Essence, Hard Presence,
Pulsing Blood, Sweeping Flood
Storm Force, Water Source,
Deepest Kiss, Draining Bliss,
Motivator, Love Creator,
Hearts Gripped, Conventions Ripped,
Fire Poured, Winds Roar,
Blown Upon, Blown Away,
Burning Up, Burning Out,
Baraka, Ruach, Shanti, Shalom,
Life Spirit, Holy Spirit, Spirit.
+ "Fire Breather" Video ("VJLoops2") + Music Track "I Feel It" - Urban Myth Club
• Pentecost Movie (made by Safespace also available from Proost)
Kindle in us a love for the wild beauty of the creation of God.
Fan the flame of passion for community.
Heat us to white hot with yearning for culture to be transformed
And people to know the God who breathed life into them and the world they walk upon.
Spark in us a fire which rages with all consuming heat against injustice, oppression and evil.
Bright flame, for whom Aidan of Lindisfarne was named,
Passed on from generation to generation,
From winter to winter,
From day to day,
Set alight in us the love of the Christ who walks in the world,
Blow on us with the wind which filled the sails of the Perigrinati and spread the Gospel throughout the world.
+ "Sky Lanterns" Video ("VJLoops2")
• Closing Prayer
my dearest lord,
you are a bright flame before me,
a guiding star above me,
a smooth path beneath me,
a kindly shepherd behind me,
today and evermore,
st columba - abbot of iona
Merton found in Celtic Monasticism and in The Voyage of St. Brendan, in particular, a way of understanding monastic life and his own monastic life and this was why he was so fascinated by this subject and saw in it, as he says in a letter to Dame Hildelith Cumming, a "symbolic tract on the monastic life."
The metaphor of journey is widely used in understanding the Christian life and it is also a metaphor frequently used by and about Merton. It is a metaphor that covered his physical travels of his early life before entering the monastery and his final pilgrimage to the East, it covered his continuing conversion of life as a monk, his conversion to compassion and his conversion to his fellow human beings. Journey was also the metaphor he used to understand his search for God and for his true self.
Alongside such metaphors as solitary explorer, guilty bystander, stranger, wanderer, marginal person, Merton also used the metaphor of pilgrim of himself. In his Asian Journal Merton refered to himself as a pilgrim - "I have left my monastery to come here not just as a research scholar or even as an author. I come as a pilgrim...to drink from ancient sources of monastic vision and experience."
This is part of our worship tonight - along with using our labyrinth and St Patrick's Breastplate.
Liturgy (The Eucharist) is always the entrance into the presence of the triune God and always ends with the community being sent forth in God's name to transform the world in God's image... Mission is concieved, in other words, as the "the liturgy after the liturgy," the natural consequence of entering into the divine presence in worship. - Bevans and Schoeder “Constants in Context”
The liturgy after the liturgy.
There is no breathing out without breathing in,
There is no flow without ebb,
There is no outpouring without drinking deep of life.
We cannot be love for the community without being drawn deeper ourselves into God,
We cannot bring change to the world without our lives being realigned,
We cannot forgive each other without knowing the freedom of forgiveness ourselves.
We ache for the loneliness of the world and are known by a God who is family,
We cry for a world trapped in greed and are loved by a God who gave up everything,
We fight against a world with little justice and are embraced by a God of mercy.
Forgive us Lord for not taking the time to know you more,
Forgive us Lord for not taking the time to know each other more,
Forgive us Lord for not taking the time to know your world more.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD;
O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are worshiped.
I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
O Israel, put your hope in the LORD,
for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.
You welcome us back with simple open arms, forgiven, restored ready to begin work again
You stand naked, mocked and bleeding with the love of a proud parent on your face,
You move in and amongst us with un-ignorable force, yet tenderly,
This moment is a not the end of the road, it is the beginning of a new stage of the journey,
A party is being prepared to send us back into the world in joy, let’s eat and drink!
Sharing the Bread and the Wine
For God so loved the world - may we naturally follow suit,
That he gave his only son - may we learn the wonder of sacrifice,
That all who believe - may our love for one another be the crucial evidence,
May not perish - may we work to halt the collapse of lives, of communities and of creation,
But have eternal life - may we point to the hope you bring now and for the future.
It is time to walk on, this time we walk together, with each other and with God.
We are one body because we share in one bread and drink from one cup.
Great to have our new Bishop, +Mark Rylands, with us last night at our community meal/worship - The Table. It was a good night, I think some were surprised at his openness and relaxed nature. We were reflecting on 2 Samuel 6 and the idea of what it means to be undignified in a way which does not draw attention to ourselves but rather points to God, how humility could be a strong act of proclamation... +Mark seemed to enjoy the evening and was a great encouragement to us all and left us with some challenges for our mission. Some words from his first "pastoral letter"...
In the face of such a challenge what are we to do? The Gospel and example of Jesus compels us not to turn our backs on the poor and vulnerable. So, redouble our efforts, strengthen our cooperation and solidarity. Yes. And as part of that effort what about a new start with an old habit? Prayer. Many of us struggle to keep a daily discipline of prayer and quiet when we are open to God and the direction of the Holy Spirit. However, if individually and corporately our relationship with God is weak, what do we have to share with the world? I have a feeling that to be better pray-ers we need to learn to be more natural – to simply plonk ourselves down before God and be ourselves; to come as we are with our concerns and those of others on our heart and mind. Somehow we get the idea that to do it properly, we must screw ourselves up and be so neat like the first page in those books. And because we don’t think we can really do it, we don’t try! God loves his world and his people and the Bible tells us that he has a special place for the marginalised in his affections. Part of our apathy may be that we feel useless faced with so much need and our own weakness and lack of resources. However, as some wise person said: ‘God is not concerned with our ability or our inability but only with our availability’. The lesson of the feeding of the 5000 is that God can make a lot out of a little. He longs to work through us for his good. So, like the small boy with his picnic by the lake, offer what little you have to God and ask him to make a miracle of it.”
This is the last meditation from the week of fasting and reflection. Yesterday I was speaking at St Paul's Tupsley in Hereford... The Old Testament reading they chose was one of if not my very favourite passages...
With what shall I come before the LORD
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
(Micah Chapter 6)
I love the matter of fact simplicity of the Prophets words, the way it encapsulates our calling, even the ministry of Christ! It blows away all notion of Religious observance - the sense that there is a right way to worship - and refocuses us on what these days is called a missional dynamic and our willingness to step out WITH our God.
To act justly - for me means three things 1) to be honest and fair in the way we live our lives - I guess in today's world this means a huge amount, and is very practical! It means paying our taxes and not doing all we can to minimise (however legally) how much we contribute to society, it means not trying to get as much from others as we can, it means being very very careful about the way we shop and trade - about not just buying a few fair trade items but doing all our business in a way which is and is seen to be rigourously fair and just. It means allowing others to truly be themselves and taking their concerns and struggles seriously, making time beyond our selfish concern for others, it means stepping back and allowing others to lead when we know they have the gifts - not being in love with power - even creating space for others to contribute equally even if we think we can do it better! 2) acting in a way which intends to transform injustice in society, standing firm against inequality and abuse - locally and globally. Yes, this has a political aspect but it also has a relational aspect, it does mean big things - campaigns and charity work - but it also means how we change society by our local actions and involvement... how we act and live as peacemakers where we are! 3) to give others what they deserve - what they are worth! I don't think there is some sliding scale or metre for this, it's simple - we treat others as they where made, as creations of God, as made in the image of God. So, as hard as it may seem we have to begin by looking through what life has made them to see the reflection of the divine which may be deep, deep within... that is not to excuse or condone behaviour but to try to love them as God made them and to demand from others that everyone is treated with the same justice, the same starting point, the same rights, the same respect and the same freedoms.
To love mercy - Whilst we demand justice for all and live justly we are called at all times to act with mercy - not to seek equality or rights for ourselves but to live servant lives, in the way of the Christ - the servant king - and to relish, to love doing it! It also means that our way needs to be God's way, way of compassion. As Shakespeare wrote in "The Merchant of Venice" (a play about demanding "justice")
The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath... It is an attribute of God himself; And earthly power doth then show like God's When mercy seasons justice.
So Justice and Mercy go hand in hand - we demand justice for others and put aside our own demands for justice, instead acting with total mercy. We fight for the rights of others and lay down our own rights.
walk humbly with your God - First and foremost we are told that God is not some distant Deity who needs appeasement by ritual and observance, no, God is here to be walked with - God is an intimate and immanent God, a God who does not want to dictate to us from "on high" but journey with us on a daily basis. Walking with God in God's world is not a discipline but a privilege! 1) Belief in God is not a means to an ends or even the end of a process, rather it is an ongoing relationship - we are always learning, always discovering more about God and the possibility of God. That relationship is not a located one but a lived one - we don't "go to Church" each week to get our God fix or boost rather it is one port on a 24/7 voyage, a place to share and pray with each other about what we have been doing with God the rest of the week... and to thank and honour God for all God has done with us and for us. Many people today are exploring/discovering how we develop a "rhythm" of worship/prayer that is woven through daily life and living rather than it being focussed on one moment each week. 2) John V Taylor said "Mission is not an activity of the Church but an attribute of God" - God is a God who engages with people, with all aspects of people in the midst of their living - it is God's very nature and passion... thus Evangelism is not calling people to a place to meet God but to open their eyes and recognise that God is right here and closer than they could possible realise! 3)Doug Goins writes that the Hebrew root of "humbly", "describes a lifestyle that is not proud, not self-willed, and not arrogant" so a life that is not "self-willed" but given to another will, another purpose. So life is a journey which is lived according to God's purpose - merged in God's purpose - in a rhythm of humble relationship with God and with others, not a dualism of "spiritual" and "secular" life - church life and work life etc.
This for me is the heart of the pilgrim, the inspiration of Brendan, Aidan, Chad, a man called Jesus who walked the roads of Palestine 2000 odd years ago and of the calling on us to be peacemakers, disciples and children of God. This, it seems to me is the core of the journey we are committing to take, all the rest is simply how each one of us lives each stage of it. I guess that's what I pin my hopes and dreams on, and why I commit to walking with God, a God who chose to walk with me, who came to live amongst us and live and die for us. Whatever happens, happens! I can do nothing but walk humbly with my God... may the way be led by your will God, not mine.
We finished the service on Sunday with the Hymn "God is looking for a people" (which I've never heard before) the words of which are as follows...
The God we love is looking for a people,
who will allow his Spirit full control,
within whose hearts the truth will be established,
and fan the flames of worship in the soul.
He looks beyond our calculated duty
for lives alert to all the joys of grace -
may we be found among their honoured number,
a people eager for the warmth of his embrace.
The God we serve is looking for a people,
Who will give due attention to his word,
approaching scripture with a prayerful stillness,
prepared to wait until is voice is heard,
and who will move from hearing into action,
allowing Christ to shape them day by day:
may we be found among their honoured number,
a people who will listen to him and obey.
The we preach is looking for a people,
who will proclaim his kingdom to the poor;
who will not flinch when aced with opposition;
who find the cross to potent to ignore.
They will explain the hope of resurrection,
yet work for justice now for all the earth:
may we be found among their honoured number
and show our neighbours how much Christ says they are worth.
The God we love is looking for a people,
who will be knit as one community;
who will be glad to bear each other's burdens
and whose commitment fuels their unity.
In lives like these the Spirit's gifts are nurtured;
by love and joy and peace their faith is known;
may we be found among their honoured number.
a holy people Christ is pleased to call his own.
A strange one today in one sense because is some ways the title seems anachronistic to me... of a world that has passed. A world of Tabernacles and Temples, of Mountain tops and Buildings... a world when we needed to go to God. I wonder if the world began to change back in the days of the time of Exile.
This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: "Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper." Yes, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: "Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them," declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 29)
When the exiles had to learn how to sing the Lord's song - how to live and worship God - in a strange land. How to relate to God, to "enter his presence", when none of the cultural tools where available. Moreover, the peace of the people of God is dependant on the peace of their captors... their faith has to be rooted in relationship (with each other, with the people they live amongst and with God) rather than in religious observance.
Skipping forward we reach the moment when the Tabernacle system is finally over... in Matthew 27 we read "the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split" for me this has always been the part of the story which makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, the part which has most affected me. Because this is catastrophic moment, a rupture in the whole God/Man system... the moment when we no longer have to enter in to God's presence in the old sense. Romans 8 goes on to say that "The Spirit of God dwells in you... if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you"... so rather than it being we who need to enter into God's presence rather God enters into our very living... who we are, where we are.
I guess for me then the challenge is not to enter God's presence but to be with God in the everyday living, to allow God to dwell in my ordinary experiences... my everything.
Great God, who constructs the cosmos,
dwell in me. who sets the stars,
dwell in me. who paints the planets,
dwell in me. who separates the seasons,
dwell in me. who dictates the days,
dwell in me. who times the tides,
dwell in me. who made mankind,
dwell in me. dwell in all my being, dwell in all my walking, dwell in all my crying, dwell in all my loving, dwell in all my thinking, dwell in all my living.
Today's reflection is on "entering the quiet" place... I guess the obvious place to start with this is Elijah in 1 Kings 19 - When in fear the prophet runs to the wilderness where after listening to the earthquake and the fire he hears the voice of God as a low whisper a "still small voice"... but for some reason today I'm being drawn to a different kind of silence, the one experienced by Job. I guess it's no surprise we don't read much from Job, it aint nice! In these consumerist days do we really want to read - IN SCRIPTURE - a story of a righteous man who feels not only let down by God's silence but "withered" and "used up"... there is no comfort for Job in the right answers and platitudes of his friends rather to him they only seem to deepen his sense of being let down, his feelings of abandonment even torture! He accuses his friends of "lying 'to do God a service' and making up stories to "'get him off the hook'". In all his pain and frustration he sees through their words and challenges them saying...
He'd reprimand you on the spot, if he detected a bias in your witness. Doesn't his splendour put you in awe? Aren't you afraid to speak cheap lies before him? Your wise sayings are knickknack wisdom, good for nothing but gathering dust." (Chapter 13)
What I find myself pausing on are two thoughts..
1) Entering the quiet place may be as much about running out of energy to keep shouting at God as it is about a "nice" quiet place. A few weeks ago I found myself running out of steam, feeling as if my prayers where pointless, my treatment unjust. I reached a point when I felt I could go no further. When it felt like the cry of our community echoed the words of Job in Chapter 14...
We're all adrift in the same boat:
too few days, too many troubles.
We spring up like wildflowers in the desert and then wilt,
transient as the shadow of a cloud.
Do you occupy your time with such fragile wisps?
Why even bother hauling me into court?
There's nothing much to us to start with;
how do you expect us to amount to anything?
Mortals have a limited life span.
You've already decided how long we'll live—
you set the boundary and no one can cross it.
So why not give us a break? Ease up!
Even ditchdiggers get occasional days off.
In fact my actual prayer that night was "Give us a break"! I felt too the injustice of Job when he looks at others and sees that, "Crooks reside in high-security houses, insolent blasphemers live in luxury" (Chapter 12)... why was their no justice? Why did God seem to so cruel? His friends find all sorts of reasons - Bildad says "but God IS faithful", Zophar that "If you scrub your hands of sin... you'll look around, sit back and take it easy", Eliphaz acuses Job or "trivialising religion" and that is is all part of God's plan. Then Bildad again calls Job selfish and self-centered and Eliphaz that he simply needs to "give in to God, come to terms with him and everything will turn out just fine"... and so it goes on. Unsurprisingly non of this gets to the heart of where Job is. In fact he says he simply cannot find God in all of this...
I travel east looking for him - I find no one;
then west, but not a trace;
I go north, but he's hidden his tracks;
the south, but not even a glimpse.
His great cry is "What did I do to deserve this?" Finally, not in a still small voice but in a great storm God speaks! (Chapter 38) He reminds Job of the wonder and design of all creation, the cosmos and the insects and everything in between... finally Job cries,
I'm speechless, in awe - words fail me.
I should never have opened my mouth!
I've talked too much, way too much.
I'm ready to shut up and listen. (Chapter 40)
I admit I once lived by rumours of you,
now I have it all first hand -- from my own eyes and ears!
I'm sorry - forgive me. I'll never do that again, I promise!
I'll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumour. (Chapter 42)
I wonder if that is the point Elijah reached too, he had beaten the 400 prophets of Baal, done what he thought he could to convince Jezebel and still she wanted him dead... so perhaps feeling betrayed by God as Job did he ran. I guess the question for me then is when all, including God seems arrayed against us to whom do we listen? Do we listen to the "wise words" of others, telling us it shouldn't be like this, that we shouldn't think like this and that God isn't really like this?... or are we honest? God in the end rebukes the friends, saying "You haven't been honest either with me or about me - not the way my friend Job has." So for me the meditation today is, can I be honest, can I scream and shout at God, can I enter the quiet place not by suppressing my struggles but by running out of steam.. running out of words... running out of easy answers? Can I get to the point when I simply dry up and have no choice but to be quiet and listen? I guess that's not far off where I am... be patient with me Lord!
2) An after thought really, through this I've associated with Job, but I know I am often one of the friends... Lord, help me to shut my mouth and allow others to make their own journey and to reach their own point of quiet.