Archive for 2005
I’ve been pondering the Incarnation and what it says about the God who became incarnate. I’ve been realising that in my gut I have a deep-seated sense that it is somehow natural that God should take human form. As if God were in some sense already human-shaped and just needed pouring into a particular womb, there to be at home.
Theologically, I know God has no shape in that sense, that God is no more human than God is a wasp.
December 30th, 2005
There’s an interesting discussion about liberation theology going on over at Steve Bogner’s blog. I’ve been adding my own comments.
December 30th, 2005
Happy Christmas (belatedly) and a Hopeful New Year (prematurely?).
I’ve just upgraded to the latest version of WP and, after an hour or so of fiddling with plugins, everything seems to be running normally. Let me know if you find any glitches.
December 27th, 2005
Last weekend our team worked with a retreat group of gay Christians. The Vatican’s recent instruction on criteria of admission to priestly training was an unavoidable topic of conversation. In the course of the weekend we did an exercise asking the group to surface the kinds of consideration they felt were applicable to choosing ministers. What qualities and values and talents fit someone for Christian ministry?
The answers weren’t surprising, ranging from practical financial acumen through the capacity to communicate well, affective maturity, etc. to living, prayerful faith. All in all, the kind of recipe for a super-minister that puts actual ministers to shame. The exercise got me thinking about something I was given to pray with when I was a Jesuit novice praying through my 30-day retreat. The context was the Last Supper. My director gave me something written by another Jesuit, Michael Buckley, for some guys about to be ordained. I’ll quote a bit:
December 10th, 2005
Just published in the January 2006 edition of The Way is an article of mine “Receiving and Rejecting: On Finding a Way in Spiritual Direction”. Thanks to the publisher it is available for download at no charge. Have a look if you are interested.
It is a reflection on how we, as spiritual directors, navigate: what we look for, what we pay attention to, what we receive and what we reject. And on what lies at the heart of the art of spiritual direction.
December 9th, 2005
Whenever Jesus starts talking about sheep all I can think of is mint sauce. I know I’m supposed to be thinking warm, woolly thoughts about care and concern, finding and feeding. But deep down what I think is ‘gravy’—why is Jesus comparing me to an animal being fattened for the slaughter? I don’t want to be a farm animal. I don’t want anyone eyeing me up for the table, nicely roasted with a sprig of mint on the side.
That’s the problem with words—you speak them meaning one thing but they get heard in ways you couldn’t imagine.
Saint Nicholas has accrued some strange stories on the way to becoming Santa Claus. One of the early ones places him, against the evidence, at the Council of Nicea. Once, when Bishop Arius was expounding his views, Saint Nick couldn’t contain himself and punched Arius in the face. He was thrown into prison but released the following day after the bishops were visited in dreams by the Virgin Mary telling them he meant well—it was only love for her son that made Nicholas so rough with heretics.
Then there’s the benevolent Nicholas. There’s the story of the three sisters too poor to have a dowry. Their father was on the verge of selling the eldest to make ends meet when Saint Nick got wind of it and quietly threw a bag of gold in the window while they were sleeping. The young girl married and moved on but still the family struggled and the father started eyeing up the next oldest for sale. Again, in Nicholas threw a bag of gold and another happy marriage was made. But by now the man of the house is seeing a pattern. He lets it be known the youngest daughter is on the market and then lies in wait through the night to catch the mystery gold flinger. In flies the gold and a chase ensues through the streets ending up with a breathless bishop and a properly penitent father. And this time the story gets its happy ending.
The saint’s icons show him with three bags or balls of gold—from which pawnbrokers get their sign—but a later story says they are the heads of three children caught and murdered and stuffed in a pickle barrel by a wicked innkeeper. Saint Nicholas comes calling and receives lavish hospitality from the landlord but before the saint will tuck into his dinner he asks for a pickle with it. It’s better than Columbo. The saint in magic mode resurrects the children and the baddie gets his comeuppance. … Though in some versions the three children grow up to be ruffians and murderers themselves.
Maybe that’s the root of other stories about St Nick in which he rounds up naughty children and takes them away in his sack to be drowned.
So who is he, Saint Nicholas? Hitter of heretics? Benefactor of poor? Wonder worker? Scourge of naughty boys? Or red and round usurper of Father Christmas? And why am I wasting your time with these tangled tales?
Who knows the meaning of any life till all the stories have been told? But are nothing more than the sum of the stories told about us? Nicholas must be squirming in heaven on days like this, protesting it wasn’t like that, that’s not what happened, that’s not me. Or at least he would if it wasn’t for God knowing him through and through and telling his story truly, deeply. That’s something we all have to look forward to, that and the look on God’s face as he tells it.
December 6th, 2005
Listen to two of the principal prophets of the Judeo-Christian tradition: Isaiah and John; Old Testament and New Testament.
Isaiah delivers his message as consolation to the people aching in their exile; John shouts his as last-minute, change-your-wicked-ways warning. But they speak with a single voice. What do they want? What do they promise? What do they demand?
December 4th, 2005
“I could have been a contender” says Sylvester Stallone in the film “Rocky”. And most of us know what he means.Did you spot the ‘deliberate’ mistake? D’oh! I really meant Marlon Brando in ‘On the Waterfront’
One of our team, trained long ago as a zoologist, was reading the TV guide this afternoon and sighing wistfully at the thought of a new David Attenborough extravaganza about creepy crawlies—“That could have been me”, he muttered. I don’t think he meant the insects…
November 24th, 2005
I run the risk of appearing a groupie by offering a second“The long slow victory of gnostic over catholic christianity” link in a few months to an interview with John Dominic Crossan but it seems so relevant to our celebration of Christ the King. Here he is, comparing the imagery surrounding the Imperial cult with the titles and understanding the earliest followers used for Jesus.
Today, if you talked to most people and said there was a human being in the first century who was called Divine Son of God, God from God, Lord and Redeemer, and Liberator and Savior of the world, 99.9% of people would say it’s Jesus we are talking about. But Caesar Augustus was called all of those titles before Jesus was ever born. Those were his titles.
November 20th, 2005
Both readings raise a question of purity: the purity of our worship, the purity of our worship spaces, the purity of our prayer.
Judas and his brothers set out to purify the sanctuary of Jerusalem from the defilement of their enemies. They make their sacrifices, re-dedicate their altars, offer their communion; they adore, they adorn, they sing, they feast.
November 18th, 2005