On Radio 4, in the morning, prime time, familiar faces. Like the all too familiar voice of modern angels (occupying a city, a radio stations, a culture), Brian Cox. With his infinite smile, physics seems to have stolen the show. On the programme they are chatting as to whether not quantum physics is the ground of life. I am struck by their infinite confidence in their ‘infinite monkey cage.’ (By the way, the phrase, ‘infinite monkey cage’ as a reference to the universe betrays utmost hubris. The Russian film director, Tarkovsky was right in his (seemingly)sci-fi, Solaris when saying that our objective is not to know the cosmos but to colonise it. So here we are with our new colonisers.)
I am taken aback by the fact how easy it is for these spokesmen of the new ‘infinite good news’ to fill up the vacuum which was created when religion was evacuated from our brave (infinitely) new world.
Why do they think that ‘what physics can describe’ is the ultimate reality? As the reality? While soaring as high as the illusions of explaining the origins of human life with their new (infinite) theory of everything, we should just pause for a while. Not so much about our being puzzled as to how an earth is it that Christians, with their theology, remain silent and dazzled by this new ‘angelic’ quantum show. Rather, instead, we should stop and be challenged by prophet Jeremiah: what is really real?
It turns out, that history, human history as a continuum of past, present and future, is that very reality which should humble us. In contrast to our responsibility and accountability for what happens in it, the omni-science of Brian Cox and his new role-model friends seems to be infinitely small.
Quite possibly, it may quietly turn out that the voice of the twenty fist century was not their newly canonised discourse (by BCC). Instead, it is the brave stance of Jeremiah who wants us to spend quality time in understanding how God is the Lord of History. ‘Then the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth.’ We can find it far more challenging to see God’s words, complexly interwoven with the living tissue of history as the ‘condition of life’. There is little hope, but nothing is impossible, our quantum physicists will have the imagination to see their laws are part of that flow of matter and life which itself comes from these Words.
Just as a last word of our being puzzled by the Coxian infinite confidence. Why do these chatty new high priests of the totalised (monkey) self think that religion and faith is as light as their morning chat-show? Why does not it occur to them that engaging God requires time? Yes, and that is the great lesson of Jeremiah, Christian faith requires time just as research does. Nay, perhaps it requires infinitely more than science spends with the ‘real’?
Suddenly a chapter from Jeremiah (1:1-19) starts speaking in a startling clarity. It offers a fresh definition of what 'religion' is. Faith is not simply about individual salvation. There is a deeper, even richer motivation for believing in God. What is this?
God reproaches the prophet and does not accept his excuse that 'Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child.' Instead, God tells Jeremiah: 'Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord.'
This sending and accepting the sending is the key. Religion is about taking responsibility for our history. The prophet, our example of faith, is motivated by being accountable for the course of history... How it is (it was) shaped by us, and how it can be altered... purified, transformed, as it were, 'milligram by milligram', healed.
What the prophet teaches us that mature faith is not the narcissistic extension of the ego. 'I want to be saved' or 'I fear hell', etc. Faith, according to Jeremiah, is a healing dialogue: a commitment to heal history. Without this type of faith history remains mono-dimensional. It is like a growing, gigantic iron-ball, a closed past.
The fantastic news is that this cast-iron-rigidity, history, can be shaped. Though it is a painful clash when melting our complicity in this rigidity, history, when touched by God's word filtered through the human heart, is impressionable. Impressionable by grace!
Part of the healing desire, which we acquire through building a habitat for God’s desire for us (our churches), is what prophet Habakkuk speaks about. It is only seemingly a bitter complaint about a God who is experienced as ‘silent’ in the midst of adversities. ‘O Lord, how long shall Ii cry, and thou wilt not hear! Even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save! Why doest thou show me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance?’
The point is not blaming an ‘inattentive God’. Rather, we need to focus on the value of crying out to God. It turns out to be a crucial ability of the human person. We still crying out in pain and desire for justice - or our examining the world has ceased? This type of reflection/communication with God, even in the form of complaint and argument, is a vital function within our culture. And on an individual level, too.
Without it, life remains unexamined, unsprayed for. Consequently, unredeemable.
Psalm 132 has a strikingly honest revelation about the human condition. Also, it tells us something even more. We know that pain, challenges, even crises, frame our life. So seemingly there is nothing new at the heart of this Psalm. We know that when pain comes, we turn to God, we need to turn to Him. That is why Psalm 132 starts with the words: ‘Lord, remember David: and all his trouble’ (v.1)
The striking revelation is a positive teaching. The desire to build a temple for the Lord, and working it out, does counteract all the pain and existential crises that can befall on us. ‘I will not suffer mine eyes to sleep, neither the temples of my head to take any rest… Until I find out a place for the temple of the Lord: an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob.’
If challenges find us in the midst of building that Temple, we are in a better position to bear them. If not, for those of us, this Psalm is a remedy and resource for rebirth. Why? Because the moment we lift up our eyes to this ‘need of building/creating a dwelling place for God’, our life, we cannot explain how, is given a renewed focus. Inwardly, we become erect, supported by a personal presence. Our life energies return, and there our inner strength, as a gift, is revived.
That is why, this desire to ‘build a habitation for the mighty God of Jacob’, is a core-existential-programme in us. It is constitutive of being fully human; of being a fully functioning human being.
It is a task. It is a pulsating commandment in us. We can live it, we can forget about this task. This building an habitation for God can mean different things, though all are related. Creating that home for God in our souls, in our prayers. It can mean our physical coming to the church, to the building, where God dwells – visiting Him in the Eucharist, and in our services.
And all this, because God wants to heal is, to heal is into a fluent, continuous life. This ‘life being healed’, the building-work on the Temple is to prevent us to be completely discharged, like a battery that reaches 0 %.
At the heart of this constant healing is not our desire for the temple of God. That is why this Psalm is a revelation. It is God’s desire for us to be healed which sustains in us life uninterrupted by spiritual death. ‘For the Lord hath chosen Sion to be an habitation for himself: he hath longed for her.’ What a truth, what a recognition! This healing desire of God, in order to be manifest, needs the physical place of a church, of an altar, of a worship, of an opened Bible. Without the House of God, well looked after spiritually and physically, God’s healing desire will always stay out of reach. There is no other explanation for David’s ‘obsession’ to build the Temple.
(It is worth thinking about this life-giving desire the way in which Freud understood the significance of ‘drives’. Without this inner charge, desire, language, psychological functioning, rational reasoning will arrive to a stalemate. That is why ‘faith in God’ is a life-function of the human being. The life-function.)
What predates this passage few chapters earlier is Nehemiah’s moving account of the sight of the ruined Jerusalem. Her gates are broken, her walls are fallen, her streets are abandoned. There is such an intense presence of pain and wounded awe when Nehemiah stays awake and overlooks the city at moonlight. This is one of the most moving parts of the Bible. This sight moves him to compassion; this sight moves God to compassion. A future is born during that night, when the human soul and the Divine Soul (‘God’s Glory’) contemplates a broken past.
Today’s passages are equally moving though in a different way. The people in Judah had forgotten to keep the Sabbath. They ‘were treading the winepress on the Sabbath, and carrying sheaves and loading them onto their donkeys, as well as wine an bunches of grapes and figs and all kinds of burdens; and they were bringing them into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day.’
Because of the long exile, people have forgotten to remember God’s covenant by giving thanks for the Creation which they are part of. The chain of this holy remembrance is broken… The danger could not be greater: the people cannot retain their identity (and knowledge of God) unless it keeps holy what God has already made holy.
This abyss of forgetting needs to be filled up. This life saving memory needs to be reignited. The recovery of Tradition and making Law-observance alive again is the core event of Jewish history. It equals a second creation. However painful it was for all parties to reinforce the forgotten practices, this re-learning the Sabbath day was the foundation for the future. It is from this effort of Nehemiah’s generation that we owe not only the survival of Jewish religion, but the revelation of Divine Love in Jesus Christ. This period of re-generation sustained the future wisdom, and further developments of the Jewish and Christian traditions.
In practical terms, the local synagogues and Christian parishes owe a debt of gratitude to this event. Their prayer life, their charity is rooted in this event of recovering the Sabbath.
And this is an ongoing task: our present celebrations of the Eucharist and the Sacraments, within the same dynamic, ground the life of future generations of believers. Faith without the present observance cannot remain alive.
The most prosperous king in the history of Israel was king Solomon. It was not David, the warrior, but his son under whom Israel enjoyed status, peace, and prosperity. And it is striking how the success of Solomon is rooted in the Temple, which he built. From our readings these days (1 Kings 8; 9) it is clear that the most important thing for Solomon was the life of the Temple. He prayed a lot in it. He made it beautiful. He supported it. All his political affairs were consulted with the divine Presence in it. He warned his people time and again that their prosperity will depend on the ‘quality of life’ which they live with God in their Temple. Forgiveness for capital failures, new beginnings will start from the Temple – this is their sole resource and sustenance.
This is a great teaching for us, too. The life and prayer we bring to our church, God will reciprocate it! If we bring forgiveness, attention to one another, if we welcome the stranger, we run our nursery, lunch club, bible group, and other social events: God is going to add to this his own life. Our life, our joys will be doubled.
So let us explore, what can we bring and add to the life of the House of God? Queen Sheba’s visit to Solomon highlights an important ‘element’ in the life of the church. This is personal spirituality. The queen ‘came in to Solomon, and told him all that was in her heart. And Solomon told her all her problems; there was not a problem overlooked by the king which he did not tell her.’ Solomon is so one with God’s wisdom and Holy Presence, that he becomes a ‘concessioner’, who listens, forgives, releases the queen from her worries. That is the ‘model’ of the sacrament or reconciliation. This is a sacrament (confessing our sins and sharing our hopes with God) which gives the person integrity. Just as the queen of Sheba was confirmed in her integrity with this holy conversation with Solomon.
This joy of our truer self, when we are truly who we are supposed to be, is so fresh in our reading. ‘The word is true then, which I heard on my country about your speech and your intelligence, and I failed to believe what those who spoke to me told me, until I came, and my eyes saw, and look! The half was not told me. Your good qualities utterly surpass the fame of which I had heard in my country.’
It is profoundly symbolic that King David, before his death, buys a site for the future Temple. He realises that he has committed sinful acts, he was involved in bloody wars. What is remarkable is that he knows that he is accountable, and accepts God’s judgement upon him.
Today’s world, and its leaders, have lost this sense of accountability. In a sense, democracy, for a long time, has reached its decadent phase. Countries go to war, leave a mess and total destruction of infrastructures, zero accountability. Some people create ‘Brexits’ in their countries, and the mess in the aftermath of their unaccountable manipulations – again: zero accountability. But before pointing fingers on others, let us not deceive ourselves. Everyone, without exception, is being caught up in the web of ‘unaccountability’, if they live ‘outside the Temple’, without that firm ground for the future that David has.
It seems that it is only God as the God of history who takes it seriously. For God, indeed, a moral continuity does matter! He offers this bond to us, as he offered it to David among his options (the closing of 2 Samuel). And David understood the significance of a new beginning. That is why he purchased a land for the Temple. He knew, because he always had a soul kept alive in him, that expiation for sins, a sacred place where the community can pray for its future is like a vital organ. So let us ‘keep the Temple open’. Otherwise, eternal winter is just a couple of minutes walk from us.
The peace of Gregorian singing and John’s Letter (1 John 4,7-21) /Matins, Third Wednesday after Trintiy Sunday, BCP /
‘God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.’ The most beautiful ‘rhythm’ and harmony emanates from this line of the Gospel. There is an unsurpassable peace which captivates us immediately.
There is an inherent music in this verse which we can compare best to the tunes of Gregorian singing. The closing antiphon of the night prayer, is a twin sister of John’s line. It is our response, yearning for, and being transformed by the same peace: ‘Save us, Lord, while we are awake. Protect us while we sleep, that we may keep watch with Christ and rest with him in peace.’
This parallel with Gregorian singing offers a challenging thought. Our world, and this is our daily experience, has broken and fallen apart into thousand of pieces. The sense of unity, at all levels of life, is lost… In this modern culture, we are forced to live with an unmanageable ‘diversity’. Space, time, love, personal life, machines, gadgets, regulations, processes, news, excitements, de-centre us continuously – and keep our truer self in exile.
So what has remained of the experiences of ‘unity’? Literally hardly anything. Even our personal memories, photos, letters have vanished into the ‘digital’. Yet, there is something, one thing that remained unbroken. This is our ancient prayers, particularly the ‘timeless’ purity of Gregorian tones. These words have remained un-manipulated. The unity of the world is pulsating in every word of this singing. They heal, they re-ignate our lost desire to yearn for God. Our truer self can return to us through the inner peace and humble energy of this singing.
A resource for divided communities (Friday After Second Sunday After Trinity, 2 Mamuel 2,1-3,1; 1 John 1,1-2,6)
A resource for divided communities (Friday After Second Sunday After Trinity, 2 Mamuel 2,1-3,1; 1 John 1,1-2,6)
The pair of today’s readings is a powerful resource for communities torn by division. They hold a truth-telling mirror to us. In it, we can exactly see, what a serious crisis it is when the distance between mistrust and violence gets dangerously thin. The bitter ‘civil war’ between the house of Saul and the house of David, with its endless victims, must sadden us, when we read it. They recognise where they are, temporarily reconcile, then violence blows them away again. ‘How long shall it be then, ere thou bid the people return from following their brethren? And Joab said, as God liveth, unless tho hadst spoke, surely then in the morning the people had gone up every one from following his brother. So Joab blew the trumpet, and all the people stood still, and pursued after Israel no more.’ It is, however, only a temporary relief. We can see our divisions in this very sad mirror: ‘Now there was long war between the house of Saul and the house of David: but David waxed stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul waxed weaker and weaker.’
Reading John’s letter gives a permanent relief: we can sense the healing power of medicine stemming from our entering Triune life. It is a healing contrast. Let us contemplate the strength of the fellowship created by Divine Life. ‘We have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.’ The radiance of this medicine immediately separates what is darkened of our hearts, the cause of a community’s inner divisions. ‘God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.’
The circling violence in the human heart cannot be stopped by rational reasoning. This is only the power of the Eucharist, the blood of Jesus Christ, which can put a stop to deadly talks and deeds.
I just wonder, how the news of our digital age that invade our life, alter our moral profile. Projected onto our faces, into our very eyes, day and night, can the clinical level of mistrust of the powerful politicians (mouthpieces of the violent and oppressive superego of culture) make us captive? Outside the Eucharist, there is no escape from this permanent soul-poisoning. It is almost like living and working in a division-factory.
‘My little children, these things I write onto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sense of he whole world.’ It is high time, Christians, to realise what a powerful ability to heal our world we have!
Towards a Creator (and Creation) centred behaviour (2 Peter 3) /Matins, Wednesday after Second Sunday of Trinity, BCP/
‘But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements melt with fervent heat… Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot and blameless.’
The knowledge of the second coming of God at the end of times – is the core of what makes us Christians. We have an ultimate reference point of our life: the coming judgement of Divine Love. The fullness of Life will come to judge.
This sense of the end-times, is more significant than one would think. Pointing to, and anchoring our present life in something ‘outside’ our present is like a vital organ. Following our model of the ‘brain’ from yesterday, this awareness of God’s coming, is like a crucial brain-function. This ‘centre of history’ is responsible to keep rational arguing alive in the community, in our culture. This function needs to be activated and functioning as the centre of ‘inhibitions’, moral reflections, which corrects our behaviour.
Saint Peter’s letter raises the question: is the Second Coming something that you worry about today? He is addressing Christians: are they, we, waiting for the Lord? If this sense is lost, there is no way out of moral inertia, nay, inevitable corruption. Without this desire and waiting, Christians are deeply lost to the extent of forgetting themselves.
But without the sense of that our truer self always need to measured by the Coming Judgement (of our genuine life), a culture cannot exist either. Without the sense of Revelation, without the sense of the Second Coming, our culture forgets the question of questions: to whom does history belong? To whom does my life belong? That is why ‘revitalising the Christian centres’ of social consciousness is vital. This is the only way to prevent the falling back into an unreferenced collective narcissism, the hells of consumption. The sense of the Second Coming is a vital stimulus in the direction of correcting our self-centred behaviour.
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..