Following Immanuel …

Another Christmas season will soon end.

With great nostalgia and sentiment we recalled the birth in Bethlehem.  We set up mini stables within our churches complete with statues of cattle and oxen and wise men.  For the twelve days of Christmas the baby Jesus lies in a manger to remind us of the Christmas story.

Epiphany – the visit of the Wise Men to the manger – is the official close of the Christmas season.  The decorations are taken down, the tree is packed, and the statues and the Baby Jesus wrapped in newspaper or bubble wrap and put away. We return to the Ordinary Time in the liturgical year whilst in our worship Jesus returns to the Tabernacle.

It often seems to me we are missing something. Something does not seem to fit.  

The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us – ” (John 1.14)

The Lord of all exchanged his glory above for humble surroundings. God desired to live amongst us – not in splendid isolation in the heavens. He did not even, in a sense, remain in the Holy of Holies – the Sanctum in the  temple at Jerusalem built according to His own decree for the Ark of the Covenant.

With the Incarnation, the glory of God -The Shekinah – now resides in Jesus Christ who walked amongst his people.

He had no fixed dwelling place – “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests,  but the son of Man has no place to lay his head” was Jesus’ response to the rich young man. (Luke 9.57).  The message is clear. If you wish to follow Him, you would find Him amongst his people.

Yet ironically we seem determined to put God back where we think He belongs – in cathedrals and temple  edifices. The wise men found him amidst his family and Creation;  Shepherds heeded the call to go to the manger.   We seek Him in buildings of stone.

I do not deny our need for sacred places, sacred spaces, to help us transcend our secular world.  Yet is there a vague possibility that we build our churches to satisfy OUR needs, rather than for the glory of God – the God  who gave up all grandeur  to get his feet dirty and walk amongst us?

As we put away the statue of Baby Jesus  carefully protected with bubble wrap until next year,  let us also not lock Him up in a box in a church.  Rather let us  go out and find him amongst this people  – for he dwells amongst us still.

Foxes have holes ... but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head

No Crib for a bed

Credit : https://manyalaphotography.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/the-son-of-man/#comment-158

Bury me in ….

Seems like a strange topic to write on … but a post by Annarashbrook on the death of her friend Paggy set me thinking.

Anna’s question on the fate of our possessions, reminded me of one of my pet peeves … how I wish to be buried !! 🙂

But let me deal with Anna’s question first.  I have a twin plus two siblings who have six children between them.  Since my twin and I have no direct heirs, we leave everything in trust for ‘the six’ to share as they think fit. ‘Everything’ for me consists of a property and some ‘investments’ to live on since I retired.  Not a fortune but sufficient for the day …

I have no idea how my other day to day possessions will be disposed of.  I do not have much in any case except books, books and more books – theology mainly.  Maybe they might give them to a library or keep them as keepsakes of their aunt, who they teased would be a ‘popess’ 🙂  … MAYBE !!!

Now to my idiosyncrasy – my anathema of local tradition to bury females in a long dress with socks on!  I do not wear long dress and can’t stand to think of being so dressed with white socks.  Uggghs!  But I am yet to see a female corpse in – denims or pants. (It did make me wonder how they dress women in other countries?)

So I have said I would like to be dressed in a sarong: viz. a couple of yards of cloth wrapped round me somewhat like this:  the first an olde world style, and the next a trendier version.

My siblings say it is “not allowed/ nice/ practical/ polite/ ’done’ ” for a corpse to have her shoulders and legs bare … and toes sticking out …  so I have said, in that case, wrap the sarong like a shroud. That should take care of both shoulders and toes 🙂   I could not find a picture to show this except this ‘sculpture’ – which my sister says won’t work either as I will have to die in a seating position!  I suspect she is laughing, but you get the idea …

Option to sarong

Then put me in the cheapest box you can find with no frills or fancy work – just straight chip board box …. and lay me down in the family grave.

That is how I would like to be buried.

Oh …  I took for granted the Catholic rites but with more ‘upbeat’ hymns.  I’ve been thinking that it would  be nice to have a marching band with cymbals clanging and trumpets blowing.  Or at least a whole lot of voices singing lustily and heartily something like Glory Glory Hallelujah – for my life’s hope is that I will be in the presence of my Creator, My Lord  … Transcendent Almighty Triune God.

And I will be finally and totally ONE  – “May all be one.  As you, Father are in me and I in you”  John 17:21

And that I believe is a moment for the greatest celebration of all.

Picture credits : 1worldsarongs.com;   www.3dartistonline.com/

Letting God work on us

Prayer has far more to do with what God wants to do in us than with our trying to “reach” or “realize,” still less “entertain,” God in prayer.

This truth eliminates anxiety and concern as to the success or non-success of our prayer, for we can be quite certain that, if we want to pray and give the time to prayer, God is always successful and that is what matters.

What we think of as our search for God is, in reality, a response to the divine Lover drawing us to himself.  There is never a moment when divine Love is not at work.

This work is nothing other than a giving of the divine Self in love.

The logical consequence for us must surely be that our part is to

let ourselves be loved,
—let ourselves be given to,
let ourselves be worked upon by this great God
and made capable of total union with Him. “

This reflection extracted from Ruth Burrows Essence of Prayer  so closely resembles my Advent wish ‘Receive His Love’  from a different perspective that I thought I would share it as my Christmas post.

My wish for my Christian brothers and people of all faiths is that we will let God – whoever you conceive Him to be – to work on us this Christmas so there is peace on earth,  good will and love amongst men.

See more at: http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-spiritual-exercises/an-ignatian-prayer-adventure/week-1/#sthash.4vWR0i0k.dpuf

Why the Cross? A Postscript …

Velazquez_Christ

Philip Yancey in his book ‘The Jesus I never knew’ refers  to speculation by  John Howard Yoder on what might have happened if God had intervened to grant the request “take this cup from me.”

‘ As Yoder reminds us, the cross, the “cup that now seemed so terrifying was the very reason Jesus had come to earth.  Here at the cross is the man who loves his enemies, the man whose righteousness is greater than that of the Pharisees, who being rich became poor, who gives his robe to those who took his cloak, who prays for those who despite-fully use him.  The cross is not a detour or a hurdle on the way to the kingdom.  Nor is it even the way to the kingdom; it is the kingdom come.

Awesome words !!!!

Can we ever  say enough on the wonder of the Cross?  We can only grasp slivers of the truth as we meditate on 1  Corinthians 1.17 cf) .

Photo Credit : http://www.jesus-story.net/painting_crucifixion.htm

WHY THE CROSS?

"The Son of Man came ... to give his life as a ransom for many."  Mark 10:45.

“The Son of Man came … to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45

With all thy getting, get an understanding  (Proverbs 4:7)

 On his death bed, Pope John XXIII (whose vision convened Vatican II) had stated:

“It’s not the Gospel that has changed, it is just that we can understand it better.” 

I find this statement so comforting when I grapple with questions like the meaning and purpose of the Cross – for I am a Doubting Thomas by nature.   I could not accept a+ b = c in Algebra without questioning why a or b etc. .. so it is no surprise I had difficulty accepting the statement of faith that Jesus died to save us from our sins: that he gave his life as a ransom for many that so many Christians accept without question.

Sure, I accepted it as a child.  But when the age of  so called reason hit me, what was black and white became grey, cloudy, and foggy. I realized I could not give a proper explanation if a non-Christian asked me how Christ’s death on the cross saved us from our sins  – and why God wanted such a sacrifice from his Son. I found myself fumbling to explain what I did not understand.

  1. He gave himself as the perfect sacrifice as a ransom for many. 
 I wondered if was just and fair.  Did God really want this sacrifice ?
  1. We are “saved” by his death. 
How exactly can his death ‘save’ us?  I sincerely wanted explanations. Could we not have been “saved” another way?  
  1. What is my sin that deserved such a death?
I don’t  think I commit any big sins that warrant Jesus dying on the cross for me. Maybe that alone makes me a sinner! 

Like the Jews, I too had  questions on the scandal of the cross, (1 Cor. 1.18-21) so I dug deep for answers.

  • I learned about the Jewish/Old Covenant tradition of sacrificial atonement, the unblemished lamb and the scapegoat tradition linked with the Passover.
  • I understood much more the beautiful connection to the Paschal mystery of the New Covenant.
  • I realised that the Hebrew people, though saved from death by the cross marked in blood on the lintel of the  doorpost (Exodus 12.7),  still had to journey to the Promised Land.
  • I accept that we too,  even though marked by the blood of the Cross of Jesus, still have to undertake our own Exodus from this life to the next.
  • I am also now closer to understanding that it was not only by Christ’s death on the Cross that we have been saved but by his whole life and works. His passion and death was a culmination of his life and mission.

I believe we could have been saved even without a death on the Cross if we had accepted Him and His message.  But fickle human beings that we are, we may not have accepted his message of ETERNAL LIFE or more importantly, believed in the resurrection from the dead, unless we witnessed it for ourselves.  So his very visible death was for those like me  -like Thomas -who loudly, arrogantly  proclaim that we have to ‘see’ to believe.

The consolation is that He my creator, knows our weaknesses and he gently invites us to probe deeper into Him,  to put our distrusting fingers in his wounds as he responded  to Thomas  … “Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe !! ” 

"You have believed because you have seen.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe."  John 20:29

“You have believed because you have seen. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” John 20:29

And I also believe that His suffering and ignominious death  underscored His fundamental message – the paradox of  ‘death for life’:

 “Most assuredly I say to you … unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:23-25)

“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)

The Cross underscores the message of giving up to your life to find new life with the Father  “… for what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and suffers the loss of his own soul?” (Mark..36)   and is thus the ultimate and perfect symbol of :

  • Standing up for truth and justice –  for GOD –  even at cost of your life.
  • Moving away from the things that separate us from goodness and moving towards the source of all goodness
  • Restoring lives created in the image and likeness of God,
  • Exchanging a shallow living for eternal abundant life – DIVINE EXCHANGE .

His detractors thought they could quell his message by his death ….  yet even his death, Jesus’ message was the paradox of LIFE – for he lives amongst us still:

“Saul Saul .. why do you persecute ME”  Acts 9:4

No room for doubt here. He lives amongst his people. 

——————————-

So I found some answers to my question … “Why the Cross?   I can’t say that I have found all the answers, but I have found enough to embrace  – to wrap my arms around, to cling to that precious Cross.

What then of the answer taught in catechism that “he died to save us from our sins” ?

I would respond it is a doctrinal answer given – the wondrous paschal mystery explained in a brief dogma,  until you can find the answer and the meaning of the Cross for yourself.

And when you do, chances are you too will give the same answer  …  for there are few words that can capture the glorious essence of the saving power of the Cross.  

I would like to invite you to share your experience, love and hope in the Cross with other believers to strengthen and help fellow travellers.

Reflections on the Cross of Christ from the early church fathers
What Happened on the Cross, by John Damascene
A Few Drops of Blood Renew the Whole World, by Gregory Nazianzen
What We Behold on the Cross, by Augustine
Contemplating the Lord’s Passion by Leo the Great
The Lamb that was Slain by Melito of Sardis
The Power of the Blood of Christ by John Chrysostom
By One Death and Resurrection the World Was Saved by Basil
The Life-giving Cross of Christ by Theodore the Studite
Let us too glory in the Cross by Augustine
The Cross of Christ by Leo the Great
The Body of Christ Gives Life to Those Who Receive It, by Cyril of Alexandria
The Death of Death by Augustine

Photo credit:  The Cross – divinemercychurch.com.

Doubting Thomas – numerous sites; source unknown.

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How should I pray?

Should I pray, petition, plead ?

The question has been on my mind these past few days.  A  loved one in pain has been asked to do a full bone scan to check for recurrence of the dreaded C cell.  Yes, Cancer.

It was discovered early and she was operated 18 months ago.  Everything  seemed fine but this pain and the doctor’s request has me worried.  Should I just trust that God the Healer and Loving Father will surely take care of his child?  Or should I pray, petition and plead for healing?

The answer depends on who I conceive God to be.   “Who do you say I AM?”  A benefactor who answers our petitions?

Continue reading

Sorry … no ‘Rewind’ button.

The house doctor was listing my options once the angiogram is done. I had already heard it from the Cardiologist and had time to think about it in the quiet of the ICU.

“Is it too late to start walking?” I asked when she finished.  She moved her lips in a half smile. I suddenly felt foolish for asking the question with all the machines surrounding me.  She relented.  “Maybe in a few months. You have to recover first.” .

Oh! I knew that by now  but my deeper question was … is too late to start walking .. EVER?! Continue reading

Becoming what I want to be …

Six months since I set up a blog site  … almost in self defiance –  challenging myself to write  despite the fact that I was just about to give up the idyllic life and re-enter the commercial world.  It was perhaps  a way of putting up a sign post, a land mark, making a promise to myself that I would return to write. Continue reading