Pentecost Reflection

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My 70th birthday fell on the eve of Pentecost, the celebration of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples and the church, the community of the Holy Spirit. On the day I have often used, the medium of dance, the appearance of red balloons, and the breath to inflate them, for breath is another word for “spirit” in the New Testament, and children playing with the gyrations of poi. I have always fancied using fire poi in swivelling circles. All of these is to capture the dynamic of the Holy Spirit, the breath and wind of God alive in the world!

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. And so it is with everyone who is given life by the Spirit. (John 3:8) I heard a mediocre sermon the other day about the Ascension which failed to stir very much in me. Then the preacher climbed down from the pulpit and the stopped at the lectern, and, as though he had forgotten something important, and said: “Here is a quotation from the Little Prince,” Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Ah, I thought if only he had started with that! Then things opened up for me. What are those invisible things from the heart, and you may make your own reflective meditation on this. I thought of the following:

Prayer/beauty/light/forgiveness/enduring unconditional love/honesty/inspiration/influence/joy/dedication/intuition/faithfulness/desire/trust/faith/nurturing/empathy/compassion/honour/friendship. You may want to write about each of those themes in your spiritual journal.

How is the Holy Spirit working in the world to bring about the ubuntu of humankind? I think there is the nudging of the Holy Spirit in the lives of great leaders and movements in the world, and there is also the nudging of our hearts, the hearts and minds of the ordinary people; to phone someone, say something, find something, acknowlege someone, encourage someone, listen to someone, and to act with compassion. There are little circles on the pond of the world that can grow, joining other circles of many peoples and cultures and faiths, that can embrace the world.

I have attached two poems on Holy Spirit which I found I had written in 2001.

May the rains arrive soon.

He breathed on them
St John 21:20-25
Jesus said again, “Peace be with you! As the Father sent me, so I send you”. Then he breathed on them, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit!”
You gently, very gently breathed on the disciples
The breath that woke the creation out of chaos
That set the pulse of day and night on its course
That brought the peace of Eden,
The dawn of freedom,
And a reaching out for the tree of knowledge,
Which brought beauty and suffering,
And left us broken.

The disciples gently breathe in your spirit
And feel a peace of the first day
Awakening in them,
A new poetry coming
For a new day
That already has an ending
And a power like a wind,
Present everywhere,
To move us beyond faith and hope
Into the ocean of love
Bob Commin

The Day of Pentecost
Acts 2: 1-13
We are all together in one place,
Though divided in our expectation,
Caught between waiting and irrelevance.

A driving wind breaks lose
Above our heads and a noise like a sea whirls
Through and over us until the whole house thunders
With the vibrations, as fire begins to tear through us
And flames leap into life like tongues
Bursting from the creation,
Then coming to rest
With a feminine gentleness
Upon each of us.

Something is bubbling and bursting in me,
Like the birthing of a new spirit,
Searching and finding a voice that cannot speak its praises
Fast enough, like a well springing into life,
Leaving me elated and babbling
In a language of sounds and sighs.

I am filled with new wine,
And am dancing in the market place
And speaking the tongue of love
As others coming rushing towards me.

Julian of Norwich

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All will be well
And all things will be well
And all manner of things will be well.
Julian of Norwich

We have been Looking at some of the words and thoughts of some of the great teachers of prayer within the Christian tradition, at our Wednesday Eucharists during Lent. Here is the talk and presentation by Heather Scott, one of our layministers on Dame Julian of Norwich.

Julian of Norwich
Julian of Norwich lived in the late fourteenth century, during the time of Chaucer and the flowering of the English language, during the time of the Black Death which claimed a third of the population of England. It was the time of great famine and the Peasants’ Revolt, which incidentally was led by a former priest, and the 100 Year War, as English kings laid claim to the French throne. – A time when feudalism was disintegrating and people were deserting villages and failing estates to seek opportunities in towns and cities.
It was a time of turmoil in the church, and the death by burning of John Wycliffe, scholar, philosopher and translator of the Bible into English, who was one of the forerunners of the Protestant reformation.
I noted that, in her writings, Julian often refers to Holy church, – ‘as Holy Church teaches’, and I wondered if she was a bit worried that her writings would get her into trouble too. She is the first woman writer in English whose work survives.
Other spiritual writings of the time were the Cloud of Unknowing – author unknown, the Scale of Perfection by Walter Hilton, and The Force of Character.
The common theme in all their writings was the loving relationship between God and the souls if the just, in an age when indulgences were big business.
Julian’s writings, ‘The Revelations of Divine Love’ were the result of visions, or ‘showings’ as she calls them, that she had during a severe illness, which she had in fact prayed for as an aid to her dedication to, and worship of God, asking through her illness to be granted three wounds: true contrition, kind compassion and an earnest longing for God.
She writes that she had also asked God that she would be able to remember Christ’s passion in a special way – and her writings include in detail these visions and emotions accompanying them.
Her experience determined the course of the rest of her life.
She wrote down ‘the showings’ soon after they happened, and spent the next twenty years delving prayerfully into the meaning of the visions, her ‘Revelations of Divine Love’ being the expanded result. She wrote to pass on the riches that she had received from God to those she called her ‘even Christians’ ‘that they be sped on the way of Salvation’. She writes for ‘God-lovers who find in their hearts this love-longing’, which is placed in their hearts by God and satisfied by God, asserting that, as we reach up to God, he reaches down to us.
Julian became an anchoress, living a solitary life of prayer and silence and self-discipline, in accommodation attached to the parish church of St Julian, in Norwich.
Norwich had a rich spiritual life, with many churches and religious houses, and it is thought that Julian may have lived the Rule of St Benedict. It was on a busy trade route, so she was not out of touch with current affairs, and penitents and pilgrims came to her for spiritual counselling. If my experience with the enclosed order at Masite is anything to go by, this would have been a very important part of her ministry, to pass on the love and acceptance that she had experienced in God.

There are echoes of Scripture in much of her writing. There are progressively deeper insights into the meaning of ‘suffering with the crucified Christ’, reminiscent of Paul’s prayer : what it means to share His sufferings, moulded into the pattern of His death. I found her writing on pain and suffering particularly interesting in the light on the debate around assisted dying.
She writes about sin and damnation, pain and suffering in the world, and returns again and again to the mercy, love and power of God, in which we can believe. – “All will be well’.
It is one of her most often quoted writings, which she includes in various ways.
This is one. God assures her:

All will be well
And all things will be well
And all manner of things will be well.
Julian of Norwich

Her awareness of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in all of God’s work with mankind comes through all of her writing. One revelation that she has is of the Trinity in the suffering Christ – all of God is involved, from before the beginning of time, in the redemption of man.
She gives the picture of, as Adam falls, Christ falling into the womb of Mary, which I found very powerful.
Julian speaks of Christ as Mother, and sees Jesus’ passion as the birth pangs of a mother. He suffered that we might be born, He nourishes us and cares for us and loves us as a mother loves her child.

Meditation using hazelnut reading and ‘We are created to be God’s dwelling-place’.

I saw that He is ceaselessly at work in everything, so well, so wisely, so powerfully, that it surpasses anything that we could imagine, expect or think.
He that was highest and most worthy was totally rejected and utterly despised. But the love that caused Him to suffer all this as far surpasses His agony as heaven is above earth. For His suffering was accomplished in time, through the activity of love, but love has no beginning and is and ever shall be without end.
We are His joy. We are His reward. We are His honour. We are His crown. This is so great a joy to Jesus that He disregards His suffering, His bitter Passion, and cruel and shameful death.
Contrition makes us clean
Compassion renders us ready
And desire for God makes us worthy.
So shame is transformed into joy and glory.
For our courteous Lord does not wish his creatures to lose hope. Our failure does not prevent Him from loving us. Peace and love are always present, living and labouring within us.

In our true Mother, Jesus, our life is grounded, in uncreated wisdom which foresees all, along with the Father’s almighty power and the Holy Spirit’s sovereign goodness.
By taking upon Himself our nature He restored us to life, and by dying upon the cross He carries us to eternal life.
And from that moment until the end of time He nurtures us and helps us on, just as the great loving concern of motherhood wishes, until we are brought to our Father’s joy. In that joy we will be shown: All will be well, and you yourself shall see that every manner of thing will be well.
As truly as God is our Father, so truly God is our Mother.
He reveals this in all things, especially in these sweet words:
It is I.
That is to say, It is I, the power and goodness of the Fatherhood,
It is I, The wisdom of the Motherhood.
It is I, The light and grace that is all blessed Love.
It is I, The Trinity
It is I, The Unity.
I am the highest good of all manner of things.
I am the one who makes you love.
I am the one who makes you long. It is I, the fulfilment of all true desires.

Do you wish to understand your Lord’s meaning?
Understand truly: Love was His meaning.
Who revealed it to you? Love.
What did He show you? Love.
Why did He show it? For Love.
Hold firmly to this and you will learn and know more of this. But you will never know or learn anything other than this. Ever.
It is God’s eternal will that we remain secure in love, and peaceful and restful as He is to us. Just as He is to us, so too is His will we should be to ourselves and to our fellow Christians.

Thoughts of Christmas 2014

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Jessica's Birthday and Christmas 2014 209A child asked her mother: “Mommy is God magic?” How close to St John, I thought, not magic but mystery.
In the beginning was the Word – the word is Love. God is Love- St John; Three things that will last for every, Faith, Hope, and Love. But the greatest of these is Love. Then we shall be known. Only Love can really know us.

Christmas is about Identity- God has become human for us. God has been born in every one of us. God is being born in us all the time. A Medieval theologian once said:

God is giving birth constantly. Not only physical in nature surrounding us, but also spiritual, in the inner soul of everything alive. God does not stop being the creator after physical birth. It goes on and on in giving birth. So the soul that has its roots in the God, is being born constantly, is like a new born baby constantly, as innocent and fresh as the One in the cradle of Bethlehem. Meister Echardt

Christmas is about connection- relationships. Not so much about presents, but about giving each other Presence of time and attention. At Christmas we seem to gather around us the most significant people in our lives. People we love, those who care about us. We may of course be asleep to this truth, too exhausted, too busy to appreciate this, or on the cell phone, or an asleep teenager. 15 of us sat down to dinner. Sounds lovely – if there is presence. And an awareness of a greater Presence, a presence that lovingly undergirds us all.

Christmas is about Wonder, awe – we see it in children-how we need to become a child again.

What children say about Christmas! I came across these a few years ago:
A Sunday school teacher asked the children to draw a picture of the Holy family. Many had drawn in the conventional way – the holy family in the manger, the hoy family riding on a mule. All rather straight.
Then she saw something interesting and asked a boy to explain his drawing. Which showed an airplane with four heads sticking out of the windows.
I can understand you drew three of the heads to show Joseph, Mary and Jesus, but who is the other person?
“Oh,” answered the boy, “That is Pontius Pilot!”
MY three-year-old son was learning the Christmas story at nursery school ready for the nativity play. He came home and told me very proudly that: “Jesus was born in a stabiliser.”

A FRIEND’S two little girls were looking at a picture of the Virgin Mary holding Baby Jesus.
“That’s Mary,” said the older girl, “and that’s her baby Jesus in her arms.” “Where’s Jesus’s dad then?” asked her little sister.
“Oh he is the one taking the picture,” replied her sister.

Give young people your presence this Christmas, find a genuine way to connect with them.
Christmas is about the other, the stranger, the refugee, the stranger, the other.

The world is a torn place. We hear and see so much of the abuse women and children, terror haunts the market places of so many countries, greed and corruption eats away at our hard won democracy and way of life. Millions of people are refugee’s in flight from their own people and countries.

But for us the message of Christmas is realistic, good inspiring news. God has entered into us, to encourage and raise us up. First to break through our own hardened hearts and habits, so that we can change from the inside. We first, we can be the change and presence that we want to see in the world.
Christmas seems to be saying that there is a river under the river of life. A spring of fresh creative energy within us, that we can tap. That will flow in and through us, and open us up to new and creative responses to ourselves and each other. So clear the muck, open up the well points.
This is happening to us now. And we must take it forward into our lives!
For our good, our family’s Good, our country’s good and the world’s good.

“The true source of joy is love – love of God, love of beauty, love of wisdom, love of another human being, it does not matter which. It is all one love, a joyful awareness of dissolving boundaries of our ordinary narrow self, of being with the reality beyond, of being made whole.
So while you are enjoying the company of your loved ones this Christmas, take a moment or two to glimpse anew into the stable of your being. Look again with the eyes of a child, with the eyes of wonder. Reconnect with the profound simplicity of it all. God is Love. ” Billy Kennedy

For me the poet e e cummings comes closest to the meaning of Christmas and incarnation when he says in a poem about love:

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

This is what God is saying to us in the Child of Bethlehem: You matter to me, I I carry your heart, I carry in in my heart. This is what we can say to others.

Bob Commin