There is a Matt Maher song that says, “And forever and ever His heart is my home”. I have always liked that image: Jesus’ heart is my home! Maybe that is a form of the sacred heart?! Maybe it is simply me!?
I found this image today that reminded me and I thought I would share:
I have been meaning to write this for a couple of days. While having a coffee I was challenged (indirectly) by someone to move from “accept to expect”. And I have been reflecting on that for a couple of days.
I really like that! Not “I accept God will come to my help” but “I expect God to come to my help”. I think there is a sense of action in being “expectant” on God. As the shift from “choice” to “resolution” is a movement toward action, from possibility to actuality, so “accepting” to “expecting” is a movement.
I think, in a way, that is the movement that Kierkegaard expects (!!) in faith. The change from possibility to actuality. The movement from having faith in Jesus to imitating Jesus in my daily life. Maybe that is what the Brethren of the Common Life called “conversion”. From the head to the heart?!
Is that too over the top philosophical?
Every experience is a paradox in that it means to be absolute, and yet is relative; in that it somehow always goes beyond itself and yet never escapes itself.T.S. Eliot
I could not sleep so I read The Cloud of Unknowing during the night. My mind wandered while I tried to go back to sleep and I thought about how “living in the now” and “experiencing God” are very similar.
I struggle with “living in the now”. I feel the pull of yesterday and I am extremely anxious about tomorrow. So much so that I struggle to stay in the moment for any length of time. I try!
I have always liked the quote above from T.S. Eliot. There is something paradoxical about all experiences. Like the current moment, it is absolute. There is nothing else! And when the moment has passed, the next is absolute when I am in it. Augustine speaks about time in Book 11 of The Confessions – only the present has any existence. And so only the present is absolute.
Anyway, strange night and strange day ahead. I cannot concentrate to read. All I can do it sit in the moment.
So I have been reading some very different books. On the one side, I have been reading about the Sisters and Brothers of the Common Life and Thomas a Kempis. On the other, I have started Philosopher of the Heart: The Restless Life of Søren Kierkegaard by Clare Carlisle.
I have been struck by how, in the 1300s and 1400s, there was a movement of laypeople reading (for the first time) scripture and spiritual writings in their own language and “converting” fully to Jesus. Often these laypeople were women. Theology and spirituality had been “Latin” rather than vernacular – the domain of clerics, academics, and religious. People simply “did” – they followed the prescribed ritual and laws of the Church. Because that is what they were told. Yet in the midst of this culture, there is a group of faithful who not only read in the vernacular but who also write in their own language about spiritual things. Yes, the church saw these are “suspect” and even as heretical. Yet this group focuses on “inwardness”, on a real connection with Jesus, and on living this to the fullest as a layperson.
Carlise’s book on Kierkegaard is a great read. It shows that the “me” is part of the story that is told. Kierkegaard’s “oddness” is part of his writing and trying to understand his writing apart from his story is impossible. Every book, every story, has the author as a character. Our scientific world tries to proclaim “objectivity” as possible – a “truth” that is independent of context and people. Maybe that is possible? I can read about a mathematical formula (which I would not) and have no personal engagement in the formula. I would, however, be wondering why I was reading about the formula if I had no engagement in it? But when it comes to Jesus? Jesus is never independent of a response by me. We like to elevate “logic” or reason as the deciding fact. But reasonable logical individuals come to different conclusions on the same question. Personal engagement, personal story, is always a part of the logic and the reason. Ignoring the storyteller means we do not understand the story!
What does all of that mean? I am not sure! But understanding that the people whom I read all have an agenda means I read differently. Yes, a priest thinks the best way to serve Jesus is to be a priest; a monk to be religious. Just because a person is not “clerical” does not mean they are not proclaiming Jesus. A hierarchical church does not mean all truth resides with the clerical class, nor only with the learned. People throughout the ages have known this! People of faith – lay and clerical – have proclaimed “inwardness”, subjectivity, when it comes to our relationship with Jesus. Yes, that needs to be a lived engagement. But following the rules does not mean a relationship.
So maybe a quote from Aelred of Rievaulx (writing to an anchorite) about gossip, which could equally be applied to reading, to finish:
… their purpose no longer being to arouse desire but to gratify it.
… their purpose is no longer being to arouse desire but to gratify it.Alred of Rievaulx, Rule of Life for a Recluse
I remembered the above quote as I was reading today. I think Alred is thinking in terms of speech – especially for those who have chosen to live a life as an anchorite – but I think it equally applies to reading.
When people say that they like to read I often wonder what they mean?! I think there is a strong desire for escapism in reading. It can take you to faraway places and to situations very different from the one you find yourself. Reading can also be used to pass time, to see what the rich and famous are doing, or to catch up on the latest gossip. I wonder what the “end” of such reading is?
I think when I think of reading I am thinking of something very different. Reading is about “arousing desire” for Jesus. It is not always the Bible or the Prayer Book that arouses that desire. Traditional literature on spirituality, or modern, can move the heart as well as the head. I often read only a few words of a good book and allow them to float around my head. (Yes, plenty of space for floating!)
The religious life can be very self-indulgent. Solitude is not the absence of people – a religious form of misanthropy – but being alone with God. Solitude is a desire to be alone with Jesus. Solitude is a luxury to enjoy the presence of Jesus, to live in the Son, to sit and listen to Jesus.
You only need a naked intent for God. When you long for him, that’s enough.
I have been reading The Cloud of Unknowing which I have not really read previously. I think there are books that I am aware exist and have some idea about their content but that I have never really read.
So two things: there is such a thing as really reading something. Slowly and with intent. Allowing the words to penetrate and feed your inward person. I know that is true with the Scriptures but it is also true with other literature. And the difference, between reading for information and reading to be fed, is in the intent. A relationship is much more than information and hits the very centre of what it means to be “me”. It is this centre that reads with intent.
Second: “a naked intent”! A longing for God in every aspect of my life. Putting time aside is very much part of it. But every moment of my day (and night) is a continual longing for God. My intent today is for Jesus.
I think I like The Cloud of Unknowing. It is simple in its language but deep in its ideas.
When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”John 11:28-37
Until very recently, I have never really understood (intellectually) what it means that Jesus wept. I guess I still do not understand it!? There is an awful lot of crying happening in the above text.
In weeping Jesus is truly human – the Incarnate Word is emotionally moved by the pain and suffering of others to tears. Something in his very core is moved, he has “compassion” for people. He truly suffers with individuals – he truly feels my pain and hurt.
I remember a preacher, when I was growing up, who used to cry during his sermons. I have often thought about that and dismissed it as “emotional manipulation”. But of all the preachers I have heard in my life, why do I remember that particular one?
I pray for the gift of tears! For my sins. But most of all: for the pure love that God is showing to me in Jesus. I am not sure any of that makes sense.
Those who sow in tears ♦ shall reap with songs of joy.
I have not written for some time. I guess one day in lockdown looks very much like the next. That is not bad – just the reality of life.
So I have been thinking about the gift of tears. Yes, a somewhat weird thought. I have cried more in the last six months than the whole of my life combined. Not always spiritual, but sometimes spiritual related.
Here is a quote by Ignatius of Loyola:
As for the third point, that is, inflicting hurt upon the body for our Lord’s sake, I would completely stop any practices that could draw even a drop of blood. And if his Divine Majesty has bestowed grace upon you for this and the rest that I have mentioned (as I am convinced in his divine goodness that he has), I think that for the future (without giving reasons or arguments for it) it would be much better to give all this up and instead of seeking to draw any blood, to seek the Lord of all in a more immediate way; that is to say, his most holy gifts—for example, an infusion or drops of tears, whether (1) at our own or other people’s sins, (2) at the mysteries of Christ our Lord in this life or the next, or (3) at the consideration and love of the divine Persons. These tears have greater value and worth in proportion as the thoughts and considerations prompting them are higher.Ignatius on Prayer (1548)
Tears are signs of intense emotions. Often uncontrollable. But every tear speaks! And should we not have “intense emotions” towards Jesus? I cry during silly movies, why not during the gospel reading on Sunday? (Ok, I have cried a couple of times during sermons but that was out of frustration.)
So, final question: would you pray for the gift of tears?