Archive for July, 2005
To be honest, after a week or more of Matthew on the kingdom I still don’t know what or where or how it is. I’m sure I’ve learned something along the way with all those metaphors of sowing, planting, growing, reaping. From the people who nurture the crop or maliciously mess it up. From the weeds as much as from the wheat. But exactly where in all that is the kingdom?
The kingdom of heaven is like …, says Jesus. Like a mustard seed. Like the yeast a woman took. Like a man sowing seed. But how is the kingdom like any of that?
Today I thought it was easier. I was fooled by Moses, all radiant from talking to God. The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure. It’s like a lucky merchant. And I thought the key, was the joy of finding something your heart hasn’t even had the chance to long for, something so great and wonderful you’ll gladly make yourself destitute to have. Is that the kingdom of heaven? The dazzling delight of discovering your life’s desire hidden in plain sight there under your nose. Or is the kingdom the price you’ll gladly pay to have it—costing not less than everything, handed over unstintingly, heedless of caution and good sense?
You see, I wonder, is the kingdom like the treasure or like the one who finds it? Those two little parables work against each other. The one is a fine piece of unscrupulous, financial skulduggery: the cost is high but it’s a bargain really, a con, a swindle—and the calculated payoff immense. You can see the pound-signs in the guy’s eyes.
The merchant though … I wonder about him. He’s had the delight of discovery—that shimmering pearl of such value—but has he seen a chance for a fast buck or is he beguiled by beauty? Does he sell everything he owns just to have it, to gaze on it, to be part of it. I wonder if he sits there ecstatic, adoring, unable to believe his luck, in a house emptied of all his livelihood. Grinning in the dirt.
So are you any the wiser, deep as you are in retreat? Have you found the treasure? The finest pearl? Do you know the delight? Are you thoughtless of the cost or are you counting it? Will this bankrupt you or make your fortune?
The kingdom of heaven is like … us.
July 27th, 2005
This end-of the-day slot and its title, ‘Talk on Theology and Experience’, poses a bit of a problem: isn’t there something contradictory or at least a bit disjointed about ‘talk’ and ‘experience. We talk before an experience and we talk after it but when our experience is underway we are somehow too busy to be talking about it–we are doing it, being it, living it. If we keep stopping to analyze our experience we never get to have any. But if we never talk about our experience we never really understand it, we never grasp its significance, or let its significance shape our lives.
Anyway, it’s my task to introduce the sessions that will follow on the other afternoons this week by saying something today to get you thinking and talking about theology and experience and the relationship between the two…
Continue Reading July 25th, 2005
Where should we look for our own epiphanies? Should we wander the far side of the wilderness waiting for a bush to burn for us? Should we shun learning and cleverness and strain to be mere children ripe for revelation?
Elizabeth Barrett Browning sees God hidden in plain sight under every interested nose:
Earth’s crammed with Heaven—she says—
and every common bush
afire with God.
And only he who sees
takes off his shoes
The rest sit round it
and pluck blackberries.
Only he who sees takes off his shoes. Is that the secret? Is every common bush afire with God and only our blindness dousing the flame?
Poets wonder about such things:
I have seen the sun break through—says R. S. Thomas—
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
the treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, …
I think Thomas has the better of it—it’s not just seeing that makes the difference but the turning aside, a certain stopping, standing in the present, a willingness to be here where God has been waiting forever for us.
I knew nothing about St. Henry before today but I’ve rather fallen for him. He was Holy Roman Emperor at the birth of a new millennium—kind of George Bush on steroids—but he wanted to abdicate and be a monk instead. The Abbot of Verdun wouldn’t have him, so he had to stay on as ruler of the world. And that’s where he had his epiphany, like Moses, just doing his day job guarding the goats.
Someone has to pluck the blackberries. Moses wasn’t looking for spirituality: he was a murderer on the run, hiding out on the far edge of nowhere. It was only his curiosity that got the better of him. And his unwanted epiphany sent him back to the world he’d run from. It took an unburning burning bush to catch Moses’ eye—but that’s just God on holiday—God’s day job, where God really lives and breathes from day to day, is in the politics of a people crying for freedom.
July 13th, 2005
Promises, promises… Both our readings promise a lot to those who do not fear but act boldly and decisively. To Jacob and his tiny tribe straggling into Egypt. To the Twelve and the little band who will come after them struggling in a hostile society. Do not worry—you have God on your side. Do not worry—God is coming soon.
But we live in a worrying world and on the whole our worries are very different. On the whole we worry not because we are strangers in a strange land but because we are the settled majority. We have order, we have power, we have all the odds stacked in our favour. We want things to stay the way they are. We are on the winning side. Our fears are the fear of the rich: that what we have will be taken away. And rightly so. We fear terror. We fear those who have conquered fear to act boldly and decisively for the promises of their God.
But it isn’t entirely true that we worry along with the majority. There’s a minority spirit in us too that will not let us rest. We too dream dreams of a different world. We too hear the echoes of distant promises. We too are stirred to the heart by a voice that knows our name.
And that’s our dilemma and that’s our call. To follow Jesus on his wild quest for a better world. To be sheep among wolves. To be cunning as serpents yet harmless as doves.
What if we were to listen? What if we were to follow?
July 8th, 2005