Monday, 12 January 2009

Let’s begin at the very beginning...

... the Baptism of Christ yesterday and Aelred of Rievaulx today. I was delighted to celebrate the Eucharist with a religious community this morning, Burnham Abbey. 750 years ago, Aelred wrote about the problem of “particular friendships” in the monastery. Of course monastics will have positive/ negative reactions to others in community, and preferences. G. K. Chesterton said the reason Christ bids us love our enemies and love our neighbours is that these are generally the same people. All the more so in Community. Here’s the Big Issue about this:
  1. On the one hand, If people pair off, where does that leave the common life of the house?
  2. On the other hand, all love is particular and if people hold themselves entirely aloof, how can it be said that the love of Christ dwells in them?

Aelred says that all love is particular; but chaste particular love will be generous, and increase our capacity to offer unconditional love, which does not seek its own. Selfish desire, however is always a narrowing thing. The kingdom has to be worked out in community with others; it cannot be done by ego in isolation.

Yesterday morning in Church, Rosie our Vicar took a penetrating view of the baptism of Christ as the place we have to begin if we want to be Christians. Descartes said “Cogito Ergo sum.” Really? Brains on sticks? Is it really worth getting up in the morning for that? How about “Amo ergo sum?

Mike Higton has found a starting point for understanding the theology of Rowan Williams, during a trying few hours, wasted in an airport lounge:
aware of the work-stale glances of the airport staff, of the quickly averted eyes of my fellow travellers, of the anticipated scrutiny of those I was going to meet, of the assessing gaze of my employers carried around in my head, and of my own anxious self-regard. What difference would it have made if I had let myself believe that, beyond all these, I was held in a wholly loving gaze... subject to a gaze that saw all my surface accidents and arrangement, all my inner habits and inheritances, all my anxieties and arrogances, all my history — and yet a gaze which nevertheless loved that whole tangled bundle which makes me the self I am, with an utterly free, utterly selfless love?

And what difference would it have made if I had seen each face around me in that departure lounge... as individually held in the same overwhelming loving gaze... if I believed each person around me to be loved ith the same focus, by a love which sw each person’s unique history, unique problems, unique capacity, unique gift?
Yesterday morning, Rosie quoted Raymond Carver’s poem “Late Fragment,” writen shorly before his tragically early death:
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth
This is my beloved Son...” Jesus begins by knwing that there is a God who loves us with open eyes, always there, in whose gentle but searching sight we live, and fear, and dream and hope, and fail and try again.

If our image of ourselves is degraded and impersonal, our image of God will be impoverished, shrill and graceless. Unless we know that he calls us his beloved children, religion can be no more than a harsh, sour business. Zeal for ideology compounds this problem. The only way out is loving relationships in a community of grace. We love because he first loved us; showing us how to love, by doing it. But when you try to love someone who finds themselves unlovable, they will initially do everything they can to prove their negative image of themselves was right...

Jesus warned pharisees against sincerely searching the Scriptures for God, only to find a vengeful idol of their own invention, reflecting their own self-absorbtion, personal insecurity and self-righteousness. Perhaps, for some people, this is the Idol they can only junk by boarding the atheist bus. One sign of knowing God for ourselves is the ability to let go of paranoid anxiety, the cornerstone of Pelagianism masquerading as faith.

So here is my personal checklist of de-personalising symptoms to watch out for this coming year, each of them far more spiritual perilous than “Liberalism” or “Conservatism” could ever be:

  • Temptation to treat God as either a vengeful Mikado or breezy disengaged “boys will be boys” uncle.

  • “Glass half empty” whining and self pity.

  • Greater allowance for my own failings than those of others, and its old friend, being an expert on the shortcomings of people who differ from me, but less of an expert on my own. The only answer to this is to seek out and listen carefully to the people whose presence makes me most awkward.

  • Sarcasm really is the cheapest form of wit.

  • Selective reading of the Bible, with the subtlety and paradox of the actual text surgically removed, reducing it to a series of soundbites which prove God, giess what, agrees with me and my chums.

  • Fixation on dogma as though it were, in itself faith. Which it isn’t. It’s just the aspect of faith that’s easiest to verbalise about, that’s all; and the most provisional.
I might also take another read of these:


Nicky said...

I have to agree with what you say about dogma, I am no theologian, but it makes sense to me.

Ann said...

Thanks - the poem is amazing - a keeper for next time I am up to preach on the Baptism or any baptism.

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