Our Biblical Blog /'Examined Life'
Our Biblical Blog /'Examined Life'
Pope Francis’ letter to young peple is a timely read. It speaks to all ages. On the one hand, it helps us to rejuvenate our love for the Gospels and the Kingdom of God. For there is ‘something’, a part of our soul, which is never aging. The Holy Spirit creates a ‘spark’ in us, as part of his presence, and stays with us. While listening to what the Pope says, we are brought back to this first love. We can even sense, how Francis is re-living those moments of youthful passion for Christ, now, through the lens of his wisdom.
There is a second reason as to why this is a timely reading. Psychology and common experience knows that fear and anxiety causes aging. The skin, the face, but most importantly, our internal organs, our whole body grews older under the years of stress.
Covid 19 has been an immense pressure on all of us. That’s why we need to lift up our souls. The experience of daily joy in the Holy Spirit is our ‘anti-aging of the soul.’ Cherishing and bringing surface to the ‘spark’ of the Holy Spirit will give fresh strength to our love.
In illustration of this ‘spark’, I found a beautiful detail in an icon of Saint Mark. The cover of the Gospel shows the rays of Christ teaching in our soul. These are the rays of joy and love, and charity.
There is an added meaning to this spark. This is how Pope Francis urges us to valuate and revaluate the present moment. Let the moments of our friendship, here and now shine in our lives, for ourselves (rejuvenation) and for others (charity).
I would like to share an image, the icon of the ‘Supreme Humiliation’. This is a very moving image of the dead Christ, when Jesus’ body is placed in the tomb. As an icon, however, it is incredibly rich in themes. This representation is also a great witness to all the mysteries of Christian faith. The reason I have chosen it is its immense therapeutic power.
At the crossroads of our life this image can be a ‘game-changer’. When a person, or a culture like ours being engulfed with unsolvable problems runs out of words, we should stop and contemplate the image of Christ. Let this image speak to us today.
The image is an endpoint of a life. However, it is also a totally new beginning. We see Christ’s body touched by the Light of the Resurrection. Seconds later, he is fully alive!
There is a pear-like glow of light in this icon. This light comes from within. This golden light, with its clarity is full of joy. Full of the anticipated joy of the Resurrection. It is in a stark contrast with the darkness of the Cross. With all the, literally, dead-ends, and failures of our love. This contrast of shadow and light resonates so well with today’s words of the Gospel: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.’ From the soil of our present moment something incredibly joyful can arise!
For me, this icon is about this moment of finding what is lost in our life. This image brings to the fore that Christian faith is about the joy of finding our Lord! Christian faith is to be marked by this positive thinking and experience: we rejoice, because we found the Messiah; because we are found by Him! That’s why the light dominates in this image.
Our icon, to link it to today’s readings, is a humble request for a ‘discerning heart’. An alive, beating heart of discernment which is fine tuned to good. Or, ‘God called and intended us ‘to be the true images of his Son.’ (Saint Paul)’ I would like to mention here that Saint Paul’s words also speak to those of us who are in need of healing. When you look at this pre-resurrection body of Jesus, we can recognsie ourselves in a kind of ‘paralysis’. When our hope, our emotions are stiff, motionless, when the soul and body is in the bondage of illness. This image is a powerful companion for those who feel low, struggle with depression, loss of purpose in life, even with break-down. The good news for us is our potential for rebirth. With that light of Life, by God, we shall come alive. Just as our Covid-19 stricken world shall and our hope, faith and love will emerge unharmed. Joyful again.
Contemplating this image together reading our lives and seeking our Lord as the source of our renewal and joy is important for another reason. Our entrance antiphon captures this beautifully. Drawing joy and health from this Healing Image will unite us. We will experience that our individual search is actually a common path. We are never alone. We are never meant to be alone in our joy. This fellowship of thanksgiving, and asking for healing, places us, catapults us, into God’s ‘holy place’. So we realise that God is our joy, that God ‘who unites those who dwell in his house; he himself gives might and strength to his people.’
Let this icon of ‘the light of the pearl’ bring us to the joy of looking at our brothers and sisters, as ones who share the same light and same joy. The greatest miracle that can happen to us is recognizing that we all belong to the Kingdom of God. Let us this recognition, with its consequences shape our lives and correct those things in us which need to be corrected.
Light and Darkness in Us
There is something puzzling in religion, particularly when it is practiced regularly. Many noticed this, literally, painful paradox. When we catch ourselves in this situation, we feel confused. What I am talking about is the ‘split’, or what we experience as a split, between our ‘Christian self’, and our downfalls. When, in the very next moments to what is our ‘better self’ -attentive to and yearning for God, thinking as one should according to the Gospel -we fall. This is the situation which is often judged by the outside: ‘he/she drinks wine but preaches water.’ This moment of underachievingis what disturbs me. Is it because I am that bad, and what is not good in me, is unmasked in terms of an inevitable fall? Is the falling Christian person indeed that shallow, even a ‘liar’? Our environment, when this shadow-side of our surfaces, rightly judges that moment. The pain we feel is double. We have fallen, yes, and on top of that we feel shame because we are seen as one with our manifest fall. The complexity of that shame could be examined in length. Is it a genuine remorse what we feel? Or is it a narcissistic shame, that we don’t want to be seen negatively? Being crucified for good for that one, totalized mistake.
Or, despite the objective wrong, what we did, there is another way of seeing our mistakes? I would like to believe that there is room for a more positive reflection. While it is true that religious repetitive practices and rituals are inevitably building up in us ‘our religious superego’. And true, that superego (our ego-ideal) can, and inevitably fails. As we never coincide with our ideal (or desired) self. If we think that we do, that vision will necessarily and spectacularly fail.
So how can we see our failures in a different light? Practicing Christians inevitably intake a ‘regular dose of light’, as it were. Which light, as mentioned above, can be a building block of both a rigid (unchallenged, merciless) superego and a humbler, though failing, reflective self. The point I am trying to outline is that the failing Christian should not be disheartened. Divine Mercy -grace, Jesus’ teaching, and love -enters into our heart for a different purpose. The regular intake of this light inevitably will bring to surface our ‘shadows’. It touches, provokes, disturbes that whole web of negativity, sin, wrong thinking, bad motivations, mistrust, even hatred which is part of our fabric.
Regular prayer and communion aim at precisely this regular disturbance. Our ‘failures’, of course, are in the possible starkest contrast with the Light. Yet, grace wants to constantly remind us that there is a living volcano of ‘non-love’ seething in us. We need to be aware of it, and grace will surely make it know, however painful this encounter is.
I do think that without this encounter with grace, one also would fail. Most probably that failure would be less painful, if not unnoticed. So, there is no point of gloating over Christians’ failure and pointing fingers to. We should keep ‘taking the light’, the Holy Communion and the Word of God. The Light will do its wok in us. Hopefully disperging and removing the thickest core of darkness in us. What we can benefit of it most is learning mercy towards those who fail, even cause harm, or sin against, us.
There is never a perfect answer to mystery of the chaos and the life of darkness in us. This ‘split’ in us always requires a Loving Messiah.
The history of humankind is marked by cultural revolutions. Time and again, a new paradigm occurs. And that new aim with its force starts organizing the whole life of society. This ‘main agenda’ often consists in a new technological invention, like the steam machine, electricity, nuclear energy, information technology, which then, ‘revolutionise’ how economy and trade works, and how people think. To these major shifts we can also see how a counter-reactions occur, with an equally revolutionary force. They try to understand, to critique, or correct the ‘zeitgeist’. We can mention for example, Marxism, Fascism, Communism, different forms of philantrospism, the green-thought, and new political and religious movements.
One of the major revolutionary responses to our modern world was Freud’s psychoanalysis. In a world which ignored women’s experience, which enforced a competitive and rationalist mindset, Freud turned to the unconscious. His great discovery was the analysis of dreams. In a hyper-rational world, which was governed by unexamined sexual desires and power aspirations he listened to the unconscious. Dreams, free associations, which are not under the control of the ego and the mind, or other forms of authority, became the medium of healing and self-understanding. Listening to what is oppressed in us, oppressed creativity, oppressed yearning for tenderness, equality, and freedom remains our deepest need. So the agenda of Freud has not disappeared at all.
In our crazy, and in many ways oppressive world, we need a similar type of comprehensive understanding. But who will listen to us? Who will help us to tell our stories? Not only ‘what we are’ but who we are. With our deepest desires for flourishing?
We Christians are given a powerful image (powerful images) of self-understanding. ‘The Spirit comes to help us in our weakness. For when we cannot choose words in order to pray [think, feel] properly, the Spirit himself expresses our plea in a way that could never be put into words, and God who knows everything in our hearts knows perfectly well what he means, and that the pleas of the saints expressed by the Spirit according to the mind [love] of God.’ The Holy Spirit is stated here as both: our unlistened unconscious and our helping friend.
Why have I drawn the parallel with Freud method? Covid 19 caused, and has been causing an unparalleled trauma in us. There have been many things unexamined and unresolved in our lives before the pandemic. They caused illness, inflicted upon us wounds, and generated similar wounds in society in terms of oppression, social injustice, harm to nature, etc. Now, with Covid 19, all these burning issues were even deeper suppressed. We buried a volcano of problems which, if unexamined, will ‘distort us’, and make us crippled psychologically and morally. Like Freud’s patients had been a century ago.
‘May the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ enlighten the eyes of our mind, so that we can see what hope his call holds for us!’, we sang in our Gospel antiphon. The parable of the darnel (the suffocating week) sowed among the good seed is a powerful ‘psycho-analytical’, in our context, ‘soul-analytical’ image. The moral of the story is that discernment and careful treatment is needed. Meditating on, and praying through ‘our unconscious’ is required. ‘First collect the darnels and tie it in bundles to be burnt, then gather the wheat into my barn.’
We can see that spiritual life is a serious business. It is joyful but it requires daily toiling. We need to ‘submerge’ into something what is more powerful than our capacity for self-healing. We need to descend into the depths where the Spirit prays in us ‘in a way that could never be put into words’ on our own.
If we want to have healing for ourselves and for our world, we must enter into this larger see of Love, charity and prayer. Think of the vast sea of the Psalms. Think of our long readings from the Bible in the Morning and Evening Prayer. Think of receiving the Communion and celebrating the Mass weekly, if not daily. Think of your days and meals, which you, in a conscious way, share with Christ.
Let this Christian revolution of self-understanding, in our post-Freudian world, in our covid-19 world, begin with us, today, from this very hour.
Sowing the Seed of Truth
‘O God, who show the light of your truth to those who go astray, so that they may return to the right path, give all…the grace to reject whatever is contrary to the name of Christ and to strive after all that does it honour.’ (Collect)
Yesterday, on my way driving to home, I was listening to ‘Summer with Greta’ on Radio 4. The young climate activist shares with us the story of her past tumultuous year. I was struck by an image, particularly, while driving my car. ‘Space is our ocean, and our planet is our boat. Our only boat.’ On my journey, back from Cambridge, I was drawn to her passion about saving Planet Earth. She kept repeating, it is not she who is important but the message. She only wants people to take the crisis seriously, as crisis. He keeps us warning, though she adds recurringly,‘nobody listens’, and it is so important to listen till there is time.
What made me think, from the point of view of faith, is similarity to the crisis of faith. The two, as Pope Francis warns, run parallel, and actually, the ecological crisis is rooted in humankind’s broken relationship with God. If faith -friendship with God -disappears, our moral defense system vanishes. With the worship of God that strength disappears with which we could say no to mindless consumption, violence, social injustice, harm to nature, to our fellow human beings, and to ourselves. Sailing through the dangereous waters, prayer is our only boat, faith is our only boat, God is our only boat: our friendship with God is our only boat.
A similar campaign should sweep through our unexamined life as a society. The same passion for saving our friendship with God should be exhibited by all the baptized, like the commitment of young Greta. There is something Christ-like in her passion, in her single-mindedness. Thereis a connection between her prophetic voice, and that of our Lord, who is our judge. ‘Thus says the Lord: “As the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating, so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeednd in what it was sent to.”’ (Isaiah 55:10-11)
So, in view of the parable of the sower in today’s Gospel, let us think about, what are the ways of clinging to this fertile Word? What should we do, on a daily basis, that ‘the glory of God might be revealed in our lives’, that truth, care and justice for one another and the created world, for which ‘the whole creation is eagerly wating for God to reveals his sons’?
What is your daily form of sowing the seed? What are these conscious practices, as part of your moral and spiritual life? For what Jesus implies in his parable, that our relationship with the word of God should be conscious. It should be regular, something daily, as our daily bread.
Young Greta, and you can listen to her diary, helps us to see the prophetic strength of Jesus. What we can also see and recognize is the strength of this love. Let us listen again to his words, as the sustenance which will enable us to live and witness to Him in a more conscious way; on a daily basis. ‘You will listen and listen again, but not understand, see and see again, but not perceive. For the heart of this nation has grown coarse, their ears are dull of hearing, and they have shut their eyes, for fear they should see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their heart, and be converted and be healed by me. ‘But happy are your eyes because they see, your ears because they hear! I tell you solemnly, many prophets and holy men longed to see what you see, and never saw it; to hear what you hear, and never heard it.’ (https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000kwcc)
Our readings give an answer to an important question that all of us have been facing these days. For three months, this is the first time that we can celebrate the Eucharist together in our beloved church. The question is: ‘What is the church and wher is it to be found?’
There have been important implications on how people worship God. Let us think and pray about it together. Many of us have discovered the benefits of a streamed service. For many who spend most of their time online, it was a great discovery that ‘God is online.’ For others, again, it is a prothesis, like a clutch: it does not give the full joy and the personal interaction which we enjoy, and which is part of our Sunday prayer life. There are refreshing observations. Like, ‘God is found, not just in the physical expression of church, mosque, temple, synagogue, but in the very experience of searching for God online. God inhabits the digital.’ Or, today ‘digital ecclesial communities emerge.’ In author of the book, The Distanced Church says: The Second Vatican Council already spoke of the ‘base ecclesial communities’. Now, owing to the global epidemic, therae are new ways to explore worship in the local community. It seems that our understanding (for many) of what the church is and how God is present in it and to us is changing fast.
Now, our community, just like many other local churches, is at crossroads. We need creativity, but we also need faithfulness to the core values of faith. We can, and need to be creative, and listen to some of the new ideas. As it were, we are called to exercise ‘a Eucharistic imagination’. Personally, I loved idea that ‘everyone who is taking part in, for instance, a Zoom act of eucharistic worship should bring their own bread and wine to the feast. By doing this we would recognise that through the powerful medium of the internet the virtual community is actually more than just a virtual community.’
I think, this is the key. We have to prove that we are not a virtual community. God is not a virtual reality. Love and religion need to be kept real. The sense of the church building, the effort of a weekly pilgrimage, or even the burning desire to return to the church from our exile must be kept alive. We should never forget that we are not a virtual community. The idea of ‘Digital Ecclasial Communities’, even if we face the digital challenge, is not the answer. It cannot be. There are tempting romantic ideas in theology. Some say that for God ‘the digital space is the same space’ as the phsyical space, surely, the Holy Spirit has this ability to extend the Incarnation into the digital world. True and not true. True that there is a missional opportunity here. ‘Casual observers of our church activities on Facebook have begun to attend livestreamed services.. People are dipping their toes into worship because of our ready availability in their poecket or on the laptop in front of them.’
So, you can see, there is so much to think about. However, for me, the answer lies in our readings, and the very fact that we are here. The first is the dominant theme of joy over our faith. ‘Fill your faithful with joy.’ ‘Rejoice heart and soul, daughter of Zion! [daughters of the lock down]. See now how you king comes to you; he is victorious, he is triumphant, humble and riding on a donkey.’ For me, the humbling answer is our gentle and humble return to church on this Sunday. This is the experience of the faithful remnant. Yours is an important witness, that the desire to meet our Lord physically can be and must be kept alive! Your pilgrimage to here is an important form of prayer, an important petition to God: with his help, Covid 19 can be overcome!
Our second reading calls us to act out that ‘Your interests are not in the unspiritual, bu tin the spiritual, since the Spirit of God has his home in you.’ Our coming to God’s tangible altar, is a confession of this. We need to come to the Lord. The Gospel itself answers our question: where is the church? ‘Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.’ We should stay -despite the odds -with ‘The Temple’. With the celebration of the Eucharist. Of course, the question is, and this is the task of our Eucharistic imagination, how to make ‘the digital worship real’, how to keep it connected to what we have been celebrating phsysically here and now. (quotes froom John Schofiled, ‘Communion and Community in a Digital Age.’ https://www.crconline.org.uk/resources/articles/communion-and-community-digital-age
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..