All orators, from Cicero to Hitler, intuitively knew the power of oratory, not least in the presence of a crowd. But this self-transcendence born of worship can take more sinister forms, as in the drug culture or even in violent, sadistic sexual activity. In short, whether we like it or not, worship we will, in one way or another.
The ultimate question to ask, then, is: What is the appropriate and authentic object or persons to which our worship and all our desires and longings should be directed?
Just when we think we are riding the waves, we experience an undertow pulling us down, with the potential to destroy us. On the other hand, the worship of the one, true God gives back to us our freedom, as best we can bear it and exercise it. So it is with God.
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As we worship him and give our hearts more and more to him, drawn and attached to him in worship and self-transcendence, so in turn we catch the family likeness of the Trinity with all the freedom of the true love and life of the Father and the Son in the love and freedom of the Spirit. For the irony in all of this is that we become what we worship: we take on something of that transcendent Other, which is why we sometimes observe that those who keep pets can begin to look a little like their pets, as well as the other way about!
As we transcend the limitations of our natural self, we lose ourselves — that is to say the old, false self in ever-expanding experiences of freedom: the freedom to be our true self as God is free to be God. Gerald D.
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Something more radical than a mere cosmetic makeover is required. Of course such counsel is most understandable where a totally pragmatic worldview holds good, yet such a worldview is the very opposite to that of the Kingdom of God, according to the teachings of Jesus and the practice of Abrahamic faith. Paradoxically, the parallels between the process of birth and birthing are strikingly analogous to the process of death and dying.
In both cases there is a sense in which birth and death are traumatic. The entry into the larger world initially requires a narrowing and restriction of the way. The challenge to Nicodemus is for him to see the need for a second kind of birth, detaching him from the old and delivering him into the new.
Incidentally, so powerful did that imagery of the camel and the needle prove to be, that the phrase appears in all three of the synoptic Gospels, undoubtedly remembered as the exact words from the lips of Jesus. Similarly, C. Lewis in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe relates how the passage from the back of the mythological wardrobe into the larger dimensions beyond is through a very narrow way — but a narrow way that grows larger the further you go.
Perennially, the seasons of the year play out before our very eyes, the drama of this exchange of death for new life — of displacement and replacement — on the branches of trees and in our gardens. With the increase of light, in only a matter of weeks and with the dawning of spring, so the apparently dead branches break open with shoots of new life and fresh foliage. This can only happen by letting go of the false self.
Consciousness is the only reality, Vortrag – Nevillepedia
Suffering and death are not enemies, but doors leading to new levels of knowledge and love. We grow by dying and rising again; by dying to where we are now and being reborn at a new level. For those who rely on the intellect and on analytical reasoning — as Nicodemus in his early life clearly did — all this business of detachment and attachment, of dying and being reborn, is extremely hard to take in, let alone to follow as a way of life. Of course we prefer to write books about it, to preach and talk about it; but the ultimate challenge is to walk the talk and to live as we pray or as we aspire to pray.
Most of us have to learn this the hard way — out on the road. Take, for example, those Greeks who came to Jesus for some kind of theological or philosophical discussion, perhaps seeking information about that Kingdom of God which people at the time were beginning to talk about. Clearly Jesus, however, was not willing to go down that road or to offer new information in reply to their questioning. The prime concern of Jesus was and always is to search the hearts of all seekers and enquirers to see whether they are ready to receive not so much information, but costly transformation; the kind of transformation that only comes through the death of the old, and the willingness to open hearts and minds to receive the new.
Were those Greeks ready for that upheaval? Are we? So the only retort Jesus has for those who seek theology, philosophy or the study of God apart from a relationship with God through prayer, liturgy and scripture, is summed up in his reply to those enquiring Greeks. Then at last we will outwardly look like what we are and be what we appear to be. No more of that business of keeping up appearances. Yet beneath the outward form of an institution, and to the eyes of faith, the Church exists on earth as a sign, pointing to its ultimate and abiding identity as the Body of Christ.
The mistake of ecclesiasticism through the ages has been to believe in the Church as a kind of thing-in-itself. The apostles never regarded the Church as a thing-in-itself. Their faith was in God, who had raised Jesus from the dead, and they knew the power of His Resurrection to be at work in them and in their fellow-believers despite the unworthiness of them all. That is always the true nature of belief in the Church. It is a laying-hold of the power of the Resurrection. Contemplative living is a challenge to both individual disciples as well as to the Church at large, for the cult of individualism has no place in the life of the Body of Christ.
Others make a grudging concession to the need for church membership, but add that they have given up the ecclesiastical institution as hopeless. Every church in every place at every time is in need of reform and renewal. But we need to beware lest we despise the church of God and are blind to its work in history. Only in this way, as the Church corporately is re-centred again in Christ, can it be raised to new life.
Otherwise, if we seek to preserve the outward forms and the status quo, both form and substance alike will die together. Contemplative prayer and contemplative living are essential at the heart of the Church, corporately as well as at a congregational level. Often renewal has been seen as a form of sectarianism and the reassertion of individualism.
This will always occur when the Church corporately has not taken on board the challenge of the contemplative gospel. Without this contemplative basis to our preaching, our apostolate is no apostolate at all, but merely proselytizing to insure universal conformity with our own natural way of life. If, however, we were to follow such an inclination during the course of the journey, the whole undertaking would most likely end in disaster.
While we are travelling and navigating, all information along the way is invaluable and indispensable: only a fool would ignore the road signs and the signposts, let alone seek to dispense with road maps, even compass bearings and perhaps even more the odd piece of advice, born from experience and offered by fellow travellers who have previously taken the same or a similar journey.
So it is with the spiritual journey. Theology, tradition, church doctrine and the experience of the saints and those who are further down the road, can all offer useful information concerning direction, correction and choice of routes. The maps and signposts are only helpful to those who are willing to get out on the road and to pursue their destination. For the Christian pilgrim on the spiritual journey, the destination is self-evident from the outset: the new Jerusalem, the Kingdom of Heaven and the vision of God. Of course we need our theologians, but, may I suggest, theologians with a difference.
In an age of information-overdrive and not least since the Enlightenment in the west, the theologian speaks primarily from within the environment of the library and the lecture room, or from the pages of the written word in the environment of academia. His or her information is imparted and communicated in and through books about God. Similarly with the training of the clergy.
For many of our clergy, trained in the culture of theological academia, there is the real danger that the end product of Christian or ministerial formation is a brain full of Christianity! The theologian is someone who knows God. In the west we speak of orthodoxy more in the sense of constituting right belief — ticking all the right boxes in the ecumenical creeds of the Church. So the theologian in that sense pursues his or her craft more in the context of the liturgy than the library and more in the context of prayer and worship corporate as well as personal than in the lecture room.
Lex orandi: lex credendi — right belief and right prayer are two sides of the same coin. There is a crying need in all the churches today for both a renewal of theology in this sense, together with a theology of renewal, both alike arising from a Church rooted in contemplative prayer and contemplative living, resulting from the double grip of both word and sacrament. There is the kind of information that rightly informs the mind, and that has its place: we should never seek to bypass the mind but rather to go beyond it or rather more deeply within our cognitive awareness. The same promise holds good for us on our spiritual journey.
For the spiritual journey, properly understood, is the longest journey in the world, leading from mind to heart and from heart to the will where it is ultimately tested and vindicated in the everyday world of life and action. We need to know from the outset, however, that right information and even good education, in themselves, will not do the trick and lead to a change of heart and outlook, let alone the re-direction of our lives to which Christ calls us — in a word, repentance.
I always remember staring across the tax-free shop in Heathrow Airport where large packs of cigarettes were prominently displayed. Clearly, experience would tell us that neither information nor education by themselves necessarily lead to transformation or to a change in the direction of our lives.
For repentance understood as re-direction or even the much-maligned U-turn is one of the most positive and creative words in the human vocabulary. Repentance, however, should have little or nothing to do with guilt, for guilt is so often little more than wounded pride. St Paul contrasts two very different kinds of repentance.