the extraordinary venture

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei


(a protion of the paitning The Sacrificial Lamb / Josefa de Obidos / 1670-1684)

There is so much I wish to share after having watched the 2nd Sunday in Epiphany
posting by Bishop Gavin Ashenden, but time will not permit me to do so.

I am however including the video clip of his homily at the end of this post, which is really so lovely, so welcomed and so needed.
For as the good Bishop reminds us—our pursuit of God, or perhaps that should be God’s pursuit of us, is that of an extraordinary venture…

I will, however, touch on just a portion of what I’ve taken away, as I will do so
over the next day or so, as his words have touched me deeply.

The good Bishop, at one point during his homily, recalls having, not long ago, having attended a reunion of his schoolmates. He had actually attended a Christian School and remembers quite vividly attending the chapel services and how often as a boy,
listening to the words of the Gospel, or a reading from the Epistle,
or even words of the hymns…just how deeply touched and moved he was—
his words— “I felt my spine tingling.”

So at this reunion of sorts, he knew that some of his now grown classmates were Christians and some were not. He asked if they remember the hairs on the back of their necks
standing on edge or getting goosebumps or feeling a tingling in their spine during parts
of the service…

And their response was one of incredulous bewilderment.
They told him that chapel was merely a time to be endured,
nothing earth-shattering as he seemed to recall…
and I, in turn, was keenly moved by this tale because I too have felt that tingling.

Bishop Ashenden went on to conclude that he felt perhaps that God’s hand was on his life
heavier and more direct, for whatever reason than at that same time of that of his mates.

And I too have felt that heaviness, and it was also at a much younger age.

He goes on to relate a tale of the notion of sin and the fact that there is a Christian perception of sin and that there is what is considered a secular perception sin…
Christian sin, to the Christian, is more evident as it is a brokenness that separates
the sinner from God.

A secular sin is more or less a cultural perception of correctness—
and if you are on the wrong side of that correctness, then that is the true sin…
An example would be a person who opposes same-sex unions/marriage.
Secular society condemns anyone who is against same-sex unions by not viewing such
unions as perfectly acceptable.
That’s all there is to it.
One has broken the cultural code of what is right, and therefore there is no help for you…for you have sinned. You are castigated.

The Christian perception of sin is different in that there is one key component…
That component is forgiveness.

In a politically correct society, there is no room for forgiveness.

And whereas “we are fractured from God by our appetites, by our flaws, by our behavior,”
we are in desperate need of forgiveness.
And that forgiveness comes in the form of Jesus
on the cross.

The homily was opened with the reading from the book of Revelation 5:1-10

Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals;
and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice,
“Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?”
And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open
the scroll or to look into it.
And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the
scroll or to look into it. Then one of the elders said to me,
“Do not weep.
See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered,
so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the
elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered,
having seven horns and seven eyes,
which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.
He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. When he had taken the scroll,
the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb,
each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense,
which are the prayers of the saints. They sing a new song:
“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals,
for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints
from every tribe and language and people and nation;
you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God,
and they will reign on earth.”

Bishop Ashenden makes note of John and of his weeping over the fact that there is no one
who can or is worthy to open as well as read the scrolls.
He is then told that first, it is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David
who is also, in turn, is the Lamb…and it is this sacrificial yet triumphant
Lamb who will open and read the scrolls.

It is the Lamb who is key to the forgiveness and cleansing we are so desperately
in need of as our fracturing from God is now rejoined and made whole…

More tomorrow….

putting words in one’s mouth…

“The word of the Eucharist makes us part of the great story of our salvation.
Our little stories are lifted up into God’s great story and there given
their unique place. The word lifts us up and makes us see that our daily,
ordinary lives are, in fact, sacred lives that play a necessary role
in the fulfillment of God’s promises.”

Henri J.M. Nouwen


(the most famous mouth—detail of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa)

God’s word….
We alter it to suit our purpose, our lives, our desires, our pursuits
our agendas, our lies…

We hear it, we read it, we change it…
then…
we claim it, we speak it and everyone believes it…

I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying,
‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’
How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies,
and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart,
who thinks to make my people forget my name by their dreams which they tell one another, even as their fathers forgot my name for Ba′al?…

Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, says the Lord, who steal my words from one another.
Behold, I am against the prophets, says the Lord, who use their tongues and say,
‘Says the Lord.’
Behold, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, says the Lord,
and who tell them and lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness,
when I did not send them or charge them; so they do not profit this people at all,
says the Lord.

Jeremiah 23:25-28,30-32

Truth

We shall advance when we have learned humility;
when we have learned to seek truth, to reveal it and publish it;
when we care more for that than for the privilege of arguing about ideas in a fog of uncertainty.

Walter Lippmann, c.1917

We do not err because truth is difficult to see.
It is visible at a glance.
We err because this is more comfortable.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

DSCN0504
(Rock of Cashel, the Rock of St Patrick / Co Tipperary, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

What is truth?

It is man’s most eternal quest…

We have often wondered if it was buried somewhere in the mix of stone and mortar,
those tangible breadcrumbs to man’s exhausting pursuit at leaving his mark.

Yet stone and mortar, as now wire and cable, each with time, are eventually left to erode and rust.

Truth is not found in the rusting or rotting of decay.

We have wondered if it is found in the intellect of thought and speech.
The defiance and defense of man’s existence…

Yet there is no truth to be found in fighting and fretting.

However for a certain percentage of humankind, those oft looked upon as foolhardy souls,
those who have openly accepted a fateful day as the hallmark of Truth,
Truth is found beyond the building blocks of civilizations,
beyond the liables and legalities…
and far from the might and power of man.

Truth, rather, is found in a most odd place…
A place no one had thought to look…

For Truth is found not in the vibrancy of life and in the yearnings of mere mortals….
but rather in the loss and darkness of the seemingly emptiness of death.

Albeit so sad and empty as this quest may all but seem,
This is not just any death in which Truth plays hide and seek…

For this Truth, this elusive wisp of shadows, is not found in our death…not yours and mine…
but rather in just one single death…

A single death experienced only once…not at all repeatedly…
Only singularly experienced for all of mankind.

“Our old man was crucified with him,
that the body of sin right be done away,
that so we should no longer be in bondage to sin”
(Romans 6:6)
That is not an exhortation to struggle.
That is history: our history, written in Christ before we were born.
Do you believe this?
It is true!

For the secret of deliverance from sin is not to do something but to rest on what God has done.
When you cease doing, then God will begin

Watchman Nee

So truth, it seems, is found in a single deed on a single day…
long ago and seemingly far away.

Yet is it really that far away….

“God is waiting for your store of strength to be utterly exhausted before He can deliver you.
Once you have ceased to struggle so hard, he will do everything.
God is waiting for you to despair.
He has done it all.”

Watchman Nee

The pursuit of purity

“I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.”
― Mae West

DSC01074
(azalea bloom / Julie Cook / 2015)

I suppose if anyone could exude a rather racy, even wanton lifestyle, it would be the famously baudy actress Mae West. Mae was considered a maverick well before her time as she was a fierce woman of independence long before such was fashionable. She began her career acting in Vaudeville and continued writing, producing, singing, appearing, performing for the next 7 decades.

Her famous line full of buxom appeal and coy shift of shoulder, “why don’t you come up sometime n see me” left audiences, in 1933, a bit shocked as well as intrigued by this overt coquette of an actress. Wholesomeness, innocence and purity were not virtues claimed by Mae West.
She made no bones about it as her life reflected, up to her death at age 87, a woman who didn’t seem to care much for social norms.

Whereas Mae West was always up front and honest about basically being bad or a pushing the envelope sort of individual, there are today so many others who wish to project an image of pure goodness without much regard for honest self examination. Meaning, the best foot forward may be well intended or even purposely placed, yet the truth of the matter is that it is actually greatly soiled.

Projecting a persona of humility and squeaky clean living while actually racing toward the polar opposite would or should certainly require a bit of self reflection and introspection. Who among us wouldn’t benefit from a little delving into our hearts? Examining our intentions, our desires, our ambitions, our drive, the pursuit of our goals—questioning our true motives and asking the hard questions as to whether our desires, pursuits, lives, thoughts are as pure and as good as we project and actually believe, or rather are they not perhaps a bit soiled? We work so hard trying to fool others, yet are we not the ones who are truly fooled?

It is to each of us, each single individual, to consider the purity of our own lives and heart.
Some of us will claim we don’t have time to bother with a life where purity or wholesomeness is involved.
Some of us will even wonder why we should dare take to the time to even consider such.
Some will argue that the idea of a pure life equates to a boring life. . .and by world standards,
I suppose that might be true.

Purity equates to wholesomeness, chastity, and innocence. Not exactly popular virtues by way of Hollywood’s or the Entertainment industry’s standards. It’s a sad observation that virtues consisting of the positive and of goodness simply don’t sell like vices such as sexual promiscuity, violence, greed, self absorption, etc.
Yet there remains buried deep within our hearts a desire to seek that which is pure.
That which is whole, clean, virtuous, good . . .

To be washed clean.
To be given hope.
To be made whole.
To be turned around.
To find true peace.
To be made pure

Life changing.
Life altering.
Life saving.

And it is to the One who is Pure. . .it is He who calls our name and to whom we all long.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
John 14:6

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21