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The Communication of Repentance

15th Jul 2012

It is now a commonplace observation that with the advent of a truly multinational London there is a sense that the world has arrived here in a way it never has before. The coming of the Olympic Games in less than two weeks’ time will serve to signify on the big stage what is already apparent in fact. It will be seen in the arrival of foreign nationals whose compatriots already live here and who already regard themselves as Londoners. We are becoming led to the vision of a future world in which will see the enlargement and the dominance of massive cities, which will become whole worlds in themselves and yet related through the communications with the greater world around them. And so the world will become in a way small and yet will communicate with itself as never before. The hope is that this will introduce a true globalisation of interests and intentions and hope and peace, like the Olympic hope. One example of this is the recent defection of the Syrian foreign minister who can speak out to the listening world about how things are in Syria. He can tell it like it is. And he will tell it through what we call ‘twitter’. In the press of a single button, messages of hope, of warning and of instruction can be delivered to millions. The scale and scope of these things is awesome. But the danger with this communication is that it will largely be communication for its own sake – it will be useful, but it will not speak to the heart and the soul.

Communications at the time of Jesus Christ were of a very different order. The Judaean society of which Jesus was a part greatly prized a tradition of religious faith and understanding which was based on an oral, spoken medium passed on through the generations and revealed in scripture. Moreover this was shared by clusters of what we would now consider to be very small communities over a very long period of time. This tradition, enshrined in the Old Testament, provided a sure guide in the understanding of a God who was unnameable and yet recognisable. He was recognisable in his dealings with men and women, and he revealed himself primary in his chosen people Israel, and in the promises he had made to protect them and provide them with a future. At the heart of this tradition of God’s involvement and promise was the existence of the Old Testament prophets. These individuals were called by God to speak on his behalf to the people. They existed as God’s voices, warning and directing the people. They were foretellers of the future : they called the House of Israel to a renewed sense of its own destiny, and this came very often in the form of dire warnings of terrible things to come if the people did not mend its ways. (Jeremiah 26.23) They would also instruct the people in their religious duty, whether and would openly voice the displeasure of God in a society that was going to bad, or turning away from what God had destined for them. When Jesus in Matthew 16.3 criticises the Pharisees he does so from their boasted ability to show the fate and destiny of people from the movement of the stars. “But” he observes “You do not discern the signs of the times”. So Jesus is saying that prophecy, once the powerful guide of the community, has become blunted and meaningless. He is calling for a prophecy which is the one which truly discerns ‘the signs of the times’ with a deep understanding of the presence of God and of how God’s present speaks to this world in its present state. The Church must surely need those prophets who can speak in this way, especially in an age when we communicate so much, but give ourselves less space and time to reflect upon the meaning of is said and shared. If words are to outlast their speaking they must speak to that part of our nature which is God-seeking.

John the Baptist put an end to prophecy as he proclaimed the coming of the Christ. It was because he, more than any other prophet, who embodied his message and died for it. He was confused in the popular mind as a Christ figure. But his communication was one primarily of command, much in the vein of the prophets before him. In this command was the stubborn and insistent message that he was not the One, the Christ, but the forerunner, ‘the voice crying in the wilderness’, the one who realised his role as subordinate to Jesus “He must increase but I must decrease” John 3.30.

And what lies at the heart of St John the Baptist’s prophecy? Well, it is not possible to make this any simpler than to say that it lay in his call to repentance, the call which is the one great incarnating and humanising call. The call to say ‘sorry’ married with the call to self-examination and to the confession of sins. The call to forgive and to receive forgiveness. The call to keep it real. This was a radical departure from the old religious observances and duties and the goal of righteousness. This teaching was for the transformation of the individual soul and of whole communities. This was the communication of healing grace.  This was lasting. It was a message which spoke directly to the heart and the soul of mankind. ‘Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand’ ‘Repent, for the transformation of body and mind and soul into the likeness of God your maker, the merciful One, the giver of all grace and peace’.

Yesterday I visited one of our members, Joan, in a nursing home. I was led into a small sitting room where tea was being brewed. I had brought a Waitrose  lemon tart and we shared it out. The women, all of whom were there for respite care, were all fairly anxious about the future. I was not dressed as a clergyman but when asked told the ladies that I was Joan’s Vicar. And then something broke into the conversation and it immediately became a conversation about God, and of how each woman in turn was able to tell the rest of us about how important Christian Faith was to them and of how much the life of faith meant to them in the present. This was very moving because very unsolicited and very honest and poignant. The fact of the experience of a life of faith, which is also a life of trusting in God and of ‘telling it like it is’ as a routine and undramatic and practical repentance. A real relationship with a real God, which even from the point of view of older age and a certain weariness and resignation, still existed for them as a light and a hope and a joy. I could tell that this was so, because as they spoke their faces shone. It was for this that John proclaimed repentance and upon which faith is sustained and enlarged. It is this, I believe, which will carry us joyfully and hopefully into our future, come what may.

The Moon in Lleyn     RS Thomas

The last quarter of the moon
of Jesus gives way
to the dark; the serpent
digests the egg. Here
on my knees in this stone
church, that is full only
of the silent congregation
of shadows and the sea's
sound, it is easy to believe
Yeats was right. Just as though
choirs had not sung, shells
have swallowed them; the tide laps
at the Bible; the bell fetches
no people to the brittle miracle
of bread. The sand is waiting
for the running back of the grains
in the wall into its blond
glass. Religion is over, and
what will emerge from the body
of the new moon, no one
can say.

But a voice sounds
in my ear. Why so fast,
mortal? These very seas
are baptized. The parish
has a saint's name time cannot
unfrock. In cities that
have outgrown their promise people
are becoming pilgrims
again, if not to this place,
then to the recreation of it
in their own spirits. You must remain
kneeling. Even as this moon
making its way through the earth's
cumbersome shadow, prayer, too,
has its phases.

The God Particle

8th Jul 2012

‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’.

This week the ‘God’ particle was discovered. It claims to be the particle upon which all physics rests, and can be thought of as the mainstay of all creation, without which it would never have existed. But it is interesting that the Name of God should be called upon in this way. A little girl asked her father this week ‘Who made the world?’  He explained to her about the God particle and was not sure whether the earth had been created by God or sprang up out of a kind of physical chain reaction, all on its own. So then, the little girl said, with the kind of impatient finitude that young and learning children often exhibit ‘So the particle made the world, then, didn’t it?’ whereupon her mother intervened to say to husband and daughter. ‘Yes but remember who made the particle…’ The mother was speaking of course from the point of view of faith, but which nonetheless takes us beyond the limits of what can be proved.

When Paul speaks of these things he reminds us, that however we might choose to describe God, there is the realisation that he is the provider of our existence. His presence is over all his creation and yet also beyond it. His influence is both unfathomable and yet present. Yung once famously said ‘Bidden or not bidden, God is present’. When we speak like this we are seeing faith as a kind of waiting, as a gradual awakening to the possibilities that God holds out for each one of us. But above all we exist in a relationship of receptivity. There is nothing we can do or accomplish that will increase God’s love for us his creatures. As his creatures our attitude both in prayer and worship and in life is one in which we offer him as the words of the Confession tell us ‘…ourselves our souls and bodies to be a reasonable, holy and lively sacrifice unto God’. We empty ourselves in order to be receptive and to receive him.  It is in this way that St Paul reminds us that the power of God is made as he puts it ‘perfect in weakness’. The reminder is always given that we are, when all is said and done, very mortal, and our life’s experience belongs to our mortality, which is also our being in is natural and vulnerable state.

This week I have encountered two experiences of this mortality at opposite ends of the age spectrum. The first is the experience of an old woman whose health is breaking down under the influence of her own age and a multitude of medical conditions. More and more questions are being asked about how much care she will need, and she now has to admit that she has become entirely dependent upon others to shape her day and provide for its basic needs, even to getting up in the morning. It is both terribly sad, and speaks of a life being reduced to less and less freedom. However the God particle might be described or designed, aging is built into the created order at every level, and there is no escaping the cycle of living and of the end to a single life, whether it be a human life or a leaf on a tree or an exploding, dead star. As one man put it ‘ageing’s not for wimps’. But because we are not living in a laboratory, but a world of life and love we do not respond to these things without being deeply affected by them. An experience of another person’s mortality is also and inescapably an experience which speaks of our own mortality and it leads us to embrace the message of these things not only with our brains but also with our hearts. For the one coming to the end of a life under conditions of great trial and suffering we would want to show the love and the understanding that we should like to receive. We would want to offer our care. Whilst the particle might explain the physics, it cannot explain the meaning of life in all its strange depth and fullness.

My other experience of mortality at the other end of the scale was of meeting a very small child whose daddy was taking her for a walk down Whidborne Street. The child was obviously not quite used to walking and though on her feet, she was still a bit wobbly, but seemingly delighted at this state of affairs. I spoke to her father and then held out my hand towards the girl for a handshake. At first she refused, a bit confused, took two paces, turned back towards me and held out her hand. There must have been a time, almost eighty years ago, when the sick and suffering old lady would have held out her hand and wobbled about on funny little legs which had started to walk.

In Jesus we believe that the divine compassion for all our lives has been made real and apparent. This is not like the scientists to speak merely of existence, however marvellously or exactingly. The Letter of Paul reminds us of the power and purposes of God expressed in our human weakness and of the God who speaks to us in and through our humanity in all its facets and perhaps especially in the truthfulness of our own being, which is also the vulnerability of our condition.  ‘Bidden or not bidden; God is present’.

This saying may stand as a very proper message for the existence of this church, in which so many visitors, week by week come into this holy place to be with God, to say prayers. We cannot tell what these prayers consist of; what is  their shape and form and content, but we can tell that these prayers come from the heart, from the deepest part of the person, that place where God’s own love and influence may touch those places of our deeper vulnerability, and of our love and longing.

It may suffice that these prayers are said, and their meaning and content are left behind in the form of a burning candle; a mark and sign of the reality of faith and the existence of another kind of God particle.

The Bright Field

by R. S. Thomas

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receeding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

Jarius' Daughter

1st Jul 2012

The Healing of Jairus’ Daughter

He took her by the hand and said to her “Talitha cum” which means ‘Little girl, get up!’ and immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was about twelve years of age).

This morning’s gospel tells us of two of Jesus’ miracles, the raising of the daughter of Jairus, the synagogue leader, and the curing of the woman with the haemorrhage – the one who touched the hem of Jesus’ garments. Both miracles tell us about Jesus approach to the taboos of his day : the ones to do with the routine treatment of women as ‘unclean’, the ones to do with touch, and the ones to do with death or dead bodies. In certain parts of the world women are still regarded as at certain times unclean. In this part of the world there are less resources for the average citizen to cope with a death. It does not occupy the place it once had in relation to past observances and customs regarding the death and funeral rites. There is less common knowledge and less reliable custom. Many people no longer have a Christian faith through which death can be mediated. It is more unusual than it was in the life of families and particularly of communities. My grandparents on my father’s side had nine children of which five survived, four having died either in childbirth or in infancy. This was not uncommon a hundred years ago. My mother at the age of 6 was brought into the small parlour to see the body of her grandfather laid out in his coffin on a large dining table. In Hoxton as recently as the early 1980s a small group of local women attended every local funeral as professional mourners. They were always expected and always given an invitation to the wake afterwards. Their present helped to emphasize the closeness of the community. In the Caribbean community it is still customary to have an open coffin and in many cases to have a single woman come and sing over the coffin as it is lowered into the ground. Hence the phrase ‘it ain’t all over ‘til the fat lady sings’. But the final song, and the men and women of family and friends who fill in the grave rather than employed and anonymous grave diggers, give the burial a significance which would otherwise be missed or forgotten…of a real oneness of intention and a passionate commitment to the honouring of the dead person.

Jesus is a breaker of the existing social and religious taboos of his day and especially the ones governing the segregation of women and girls. In these two enfolding miracles of healing Jesus establishes new practices and new understandings. He breaks the taboos concerning their ritual impurity and establishes what would have been for the day a radical closeness and compassion toward those around him , and especially those in need, and he commends those who dare to step forward and ask for healing; commends them for the strength of their faith. The healing of the little girl is important in that her age is mentioned. She is twelve and therefore considered in those days to be of marriageable age. That a man, and especially a rabbi should hold her hand was considered taboo, and also that he held the hand of someone they believed to be dead. 

These writings secure a distinctively Christian Gospel which challenges and then transforms the existing Jewish tradition and its mores. It is important that the Gospels tell us not just about what Jesus did but about the essential character of the Christian message which emerged out of his life. For Jesus the existence of faith is not something seen to be commendable in the life of the individual, though it is that. Faith exists closely alongside the healing of those who are imprisoned and trapped as the customs of their society impede their lives and stigmatise them. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is for the healing of the whole person and of the giving of that freedom which is seen to be come from the Father as that life which is truly liberated and experience as eternal in the present. There is a ready relationship which is drawn out by Jesus’ healing acts which is the indivisibility of the soul with the body. No wonder then that Christian witness is always for life and for the living, while we are in this world. The Christian ministry from the very beginning was one which ‘held all things (including money) in common’ for the relief of widows and orphans, and St Paul writes today in his letter to the Corinthians on the delicate matter of raising the funds. Likewise  the founding of monasteries and hospitals for the sick and dying was a Christian staple in the early centuries, to be developed by Christian pioneers in more recent times in the forms of the Hospice Movement for the care of the Dying and the L’Arche Community in the care of the severely handicapped. Theirs is not just a work but also as for Christ in today’s parables a proclamation. It is the proclamation of the need to see the care and the healing of the sick and dying as the breaking of the age old taboos which would have such conditions swept under the carpet and placed out of town, like the old asylums.

In raising the little girl from the dead, Jesus puts a cap on those familiar words ‘old habits die heard’. This healing and the healing of the woman with the haemorrhage are ‘breakthrough’ events which take h our understanding of the need for healing into new levels of understanding. In the breaking of ancient taboos, Jesus is the One who makes it possible for all Christians, in all times and in all places, to understand the human condition as it is found, and of the abiding need for the receiving of his grace for the healing of our minds and bodies and souls. But this is something, as the poet says, which must emerge out of a life of faith ‘in the laboratory of the spirit’, but in the meantime we may be called to love that which the world rejects, as the hymn says “love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be”…


Not as in the old days I pray,
God. My life is not what it was...
Once I would have asked
healing. I go now to be doctored...
to lend my flesh as manuscript of the great poem
Of the scalpel. I would have knelt
long, wrestling with you, wearing
you down. Hear my prayer Lord, hear my prayer.
As though you were deaf, myriads of mortals
have kept up their shrill
cry, explaining your silence by their unfitness.

It begins to appear
this is not what prayer is about.
It is the annihilation of difference,
the consciousness of myself in you,
of you in me...I begin to recognize
you anew, God of form and number.
There are questions we are the solution
to, others whose echoes we must expand
to contain. Circular as our way
is, it leads not back to the snake-haunted
garden, but onward to the tall city
of glass that is the laboratory of the spirit.

R S Thomas

John the Baptist's New Terrain

24th Jun 2012

Today is dedicated to John the Baptist, following the feast day of his birthday yesterday.

Our readings today from Isaiah and Luke exist as voices which proclaim the coming of the Incarnation of Christ as something alive, active and ground-breaking. Christ is for our re-making and for our transformation and an expanding of our horizons.  Change is in the air! At the heart of this there is the figure of John the Baptist who is also the forerunner; the strange and terrible ‘voice crying in the wilderness’. This voice speaks, proclaims, that Christ will come ‘in no uncertain terms’, and come to transform the terrain of this world’s imagining:

Every valley shall be exalted
And every mountain laid low.
The crooked straight
And the rough places made plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
And all people shall see it together.

In only six years of living in King’s Cross, I have seen the physical surroundings change markedly, with the building of the Brunswick Shopping Centre, the complete refurbishment of the former Grand Midland Hotel and St Pancras Station and the regeneration of whole swathes of formerly poisoned land behind the stations. The grey and frightening backdrop for ‘Prime Suspect’ in the 1990s emerges as the nation’s gateway to Europe and with it wide open, fresher, lighter and liberating spaces. We are told that a new and modern village will emerge in the area behind St Pancras International Station, and a new part of the village has opened in an area bisected by the Canal and facing the massive University of the Arts Building. And there will be more to come: I can’t wait for the demolition of the ugly dark green prefabricated shed which has covered the old concourse of King’s Cross stations since the early nineteen eighties. A new piazza will emerge and provide for the first time in 150 years, a large and airy open space. The terrain will be transformed, and what will come with it is a transformed King’s Cross, both recognisable and hardly recognisable from what has gone before it. What would Brunel have thought of the new large open areas now covered almost entirely by glass? I think he would have rejoiced in his own buildings which still stand proud and elegant five generations later and which form part of a newly expressive architectural freedom, pleasing on the eye and, as they say, ‘user friendly’.

And when we look at the Christian Church in King’s Cross we find that it, too, is markedly different from what had gone before, recognizable and yet transformed and changed and shaped by the times in which it has lived. Two important markers provide for us a good measure of hope in the present. Firstly Camden Council is restoring and enhancing the emphasis upon Christian teaching and formation in all its schools. Secondly London’s churches have risen in number and are reversing the national trend of a downward turn in numbers. Thirdly, churches are now no longer minding their own business but turned outward in anticipation outward and into the local communities that they serve. In one week, I have been involved in a theatre workshop in Cromer Street run by the YMCA and looking at the human ethical issues involved in neuroscience with a panel of scientific experts and young adults from local schools. I have also attended an ordination and a first Mass. At first sight these two events might seem to occupy two vastly different terrains, but in fact they conjoin where the abiding questions remain in a world of great change and sophistication. I mistakenly took home a sheaf of papers belonging to a visiting professor of science and an avowed atheist. He has done some scribbling on the back of these papers and he asks in the scribbled notes ‘ What kind of people do we want to be? What should we do about this? What is the difference between the mind and the brain?’

John the Baptist comes from a very particular environment – the desert. It is out of the desert that he emerges with a prophecy and an action which will be ground-breaking, and life-changing. The prophecy is the foretelling of the-one-who-is-to-come and the action in the Baptism of Jesus. We know that John has been specially chosen by god to perform these things, and the Gospel writers give him special prominence, not only as the last of the prophets, the prophet whose prophecy makes and end of the Old Testament prophecy, but also the One who even before his actual birth, kicks in his Mother’s womb as she meets her cousin, Mary. This is an echo of the Old Testament identification with the God who has known the prophet in the womb and even before he was born.

For the Church, we move from the proper acknowledgement of the physical world we live in and all its demands and constraints with the openness to the freedom which is given to the one who has come to life in Christ. What the Gospel writers and St Paul tell us is that anyone who is in Christ has become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5.17). The emergence of the Christ for Old Testament Man is repeated in the emergence of the Christ in the one who has truly ‘come to Christ’ and has life no longer from circumstance and fate, but through him. This for the Christian is a call to be in the world but not of the word, a summons to a terrain in which the leveling of the valleys and the bringing down of the mountains is a striking image for the transformation which Christ will bring about. This is the call for the realization of the human being before God as we are, ‘as God made us’. And as God made us we shall say we are made to be loved. The summons of the Baptist to repentance is the one which allows us to be more of what we were most truly made to be. And that ‘more’ is the more of our own compassion, the enlargement of which in the life of the Church is what I would call ‘the influence of God’ which advances us in our understanding of one another and of the world around us. Made, built, fashioned to be loved. And we as Christians are to show this in how we decide to treat one another, and to cultivate the kindness which will always make a permanent difference and establish a new terrain.

On Jordan's bank the Baptist's cry
announces that the Lord is nigh;
awake and hearken, for he brings
glad tidings of the King of kings.

Then cleansed be every breast from sin;
make straight the way for God within,
prepare we in our hearts a home
where such a mighty Guest may come.

For thou art our salvation, Lord,
our refuge and our great reward;
without thy grace we waste away
like flowers that wither and decay.

To heal the sick stretch out thine hand,
and bid the fallen sinner stand;
shine forth and let thy light restore
earth's own true loveliness once more.

All praise, eternal Son, to thee,
whose advent doth thy people free;
whom with the Father we adore
and Holy Ghost for evermore.

Words: Charles Coffin, 1736;
trans. John Chandler, 1837

He did not speak to them except in parables

17th Jun 2012

Sermon for Trinity 2 Year B

There are so many aspects of human life that cannot be put into words. But that has not stopped us from trying! Words can convey so much. But what underlies language is also important. The deeper resonances. When John speaks of Jesus speaking in parables, he is saying something to us that we already know. We love a story, and a story is a very good way of communicating an important truth. Much of the early Christian witness was based on this kind of truth telling or witness. The truth telling was of lives which had found their reason for being in Christ; Gospel.

So many of the bestsellers lists are of books of biography. The word ‘bio’ and ‘graphy’ aiming to combine two contrasting elements -  that of life as it is lived;  and the setting down of that life graphically, descriptively, in words. When we look at the Gospels we are not looking at the biography of Jesus, even though the Gospels have biographical elements in them, and the four Gospel writers agree on many of the same happenings in the life of Christ. The Gospels are just that, they are ‘gospel’ and the aim of they treat biography as a necessary but secondary consideration. The first consideration is that the Gospel is theology. It tells us about God, and of how we see and experience God in the life of Christ. With this lies also the Gospel as Christian teaching, and Jesus this morning likens the faith of the Christian to the planting of a mustard seed, the tiniest of the seeds, which may grow into a vast tree. This of course is a simple figure of speech, and paints a picture in the mind’s eye.  It sets forth the Christian teaching in a way which gives the individual space and scope to imagine and to assimilate. This is not dictation. It is far removed from ‘literal truth’ or ‘fundamental truth’. It does not treat the individual reader or listener as a foil or a dummy. It expects a human response which is unpredictable, like the parable of the rich young man whom Jesus advises to sell all he has. The Gospels do not tell us whether he goes on to do this!

The telling of stories has always been with us and its beginnings are lost in the mists of time. We know the Bible to be not one book but many books, and also letters, diaries and eye witness accounts. But mostly the Bible is bound by the story of human salvation as we begin with Genesis and human origins right through to the dream in Revelation of the vision of a heavenly city, a new Jerusalem. ‘It begins in a garden and ends in a city’. But what drew me as a child to the Bible was the way in which good stories are for the growing child as well as the adult a vital part of come to terms with what makes us human and what makes God God - Daniel in the lion’s den, Noah and the ark, David and Goliath, the Crossing of the Red Sea, the witness of Job, the raising of Lazarus all emerge out of a body of story-telling which provides the scale and the scope for us to imagine these as not just quaint stories.  Rather, they communicate in the endless telling and re-telling, the eternal and priceless truths concerning our existence. For the writers and readers of the Bible, they trace the patterning of the history of human salvation. The statue of David in the Accademia gallery in Florence and the Mona Lisa in the Louvre , Paris are works of art which have an everlasting quality. They stand for the truth of our everyday existence as they marry their amazing reality with their understanding of the salvation history of which the Bible speaks. And these works can only be understood when both are realised. They stand for us as ‘real presences’ which communicate a deep truth which has an everlasting quality. No amount of seeing and re-seeing, reading or re-reading can ever exhaust the meaning of what is being conveyed or intended. We see through what has already been provided for us to see.

It became necessary in a recent exhibition of reliquaries and paintings in one London Gallery to state that such and such works of art were loaned from places of worship, Cathedrals and churches, and were therefore not to be solely regarded as art objects, but as objects of veneration. It is in this sense the when Jesus speaks in parables he is communicating in a language which speaks of this world  but which also establishes the existence of faith and as that which reaches out beyond itself to find itself. It is part of our knowing and recognising but also it lies beyond this. But this also allows us to understand that we see not only with our eyes or our brains but with deeper instincts.

The Bible can be regarded as just a type of religious text or it can be regarded as The Book of Life. If we choose the former then we relegate the Bible and its teaching to one of those posh volumes, with fake leather binding that you can order in instalments and sit on your shelves trying to look grand, never read, but largely ornamental. If we see the Bible on the other hand as a Book of Life, then there is no limitation. It may speak to us in our own lives and human states as found. Many Christians I know supplement their church going and their prayers for a small booklet which can be easily ordered and which provides for daily readings from the Bible  with brief commentaries. Many have discovered by these means that Bible is not relegated to the ‘dry as dust’ section but waters and nourishes and provides a seed-bed into which the mustard seed of our growing and perhaps hesitant faith may find watering and refreshment.

In speaking in parables Jesus is admitting the need for a deeper understanding of the truths of our existence. It was Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell who observed that

We live I believe in a world of surfaces.

The speaking in parables provides a way of apprehending what St Paul described as the ‘length, the breadth, the height and the depth’ (Ephesians 3.18) of our existence and to know it through a lifetime’s study and pondering. Jesus is the One who allows someone like TS Eliot to see this as a never ceasing from exploring over a lifetime. This holds for us the promise of finding that place where we started from, the place of our own origin and truth, and of arriving at that place perhaps for the first time. But nonetheless to see the truthful things of God, whether or not embedded in mystery, whether seen through a glass dimly or whether enjoyed in the re-reading of old and worn parables, is for us the implantation of the mustard seed. In faith and intrust we pray that the Creator, the Giver and the Sustainer who is God will provide for the increase.

R.S. Thomas (1913–2000)

Via Negativa

Why no! I never thought other than
That God is that great absence
In our lives, the empty silence
Within, the place where we go
Seeking, not in hope to
Arrive or find. He keeps the interstices
In our knowledge, the darkness
Between stars. His are the echoes
We follow, the footprints he has just
Left. We put our hands in
His side hoping to find
It warm. We look at people
And places as though he had looked
At them, too; but miss the reflection.




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