Saturday, 10 October 2015

"There is light full high"

In the evening, and morning, and at noon-day will I pray ... and he shall hear my voice.

Psalm 55:18.  Psalm 55 is appointed to be said or sung at Evensong on the 10th day of the month in the BCP 1662.

For the end is at noon-day; that is to say, whence there is no going down unto setting. For at noon-day there is light full high, the splendour of wisdom, the fervour of love. In evening and in morning and at noon-day. In evening, the Lord on the Cross; in morning, in Resurrection; at noon-day, in Ascension. I will recount in evening the patience of Him dying, I will tell forth in morning the life of Him rising, I will pray that He hearken at noon-day sitting at the right hand of the Father. 

Augustine on Psalm 55:18.

Friday, 9 October 2015

"Deliver us from evil": the powers of darkness and the Church of Jesus

At the Holy Eucharist on the Friday of the Eighteenth Week after Trinity

Joel 1:13-15, 2:1-2 - Ps. 9:1-7 - Luke 11:15-26

"If it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the Kingdom of God has come to you" [1].

It is impossible to read the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke without coming across Jesus casting out demons - exorcisms.

And yet, despite these episodes being impossible to ignore, the response of many in the mainstream Christian traditions is often one of embarrassment, seeking to explain them away.

But the Gospel accounts are stubborn - they stubbornly, again and again, point to the reality of evil, to Jesus confronting the powers of evil, and liberating those possessed by the powers of darkness.

Our too-often sanitised readings of these Gospel accounts miss the power of their insights ...

For they demonstrate the insidious nature of evil, the way it can disorder lives and relationships, impacting on the well-being of body and soul.

This is why the Church's prayer shares none of our embarrassment about those passages from the Gospels, such as today's Gospel reading.

The prayer of the Church stands in profound continuity with Jesus confronting and casting out the powers of darkness.

Day by day we pray in the Lord's Prayer, "deliver us from evil" [2].

In the liturgy of Baptism, after the candidate or their sponsors reject the Evil One, we pray:

"May Almighty God deliver you from the powers of darkness ..." [3].

In the sacraments of the sick, when hands are laid on the sick person, we pray:

"May Christ bring you wholeness of body, mind and spirit, deliver you from every evil ..." [4].

And at Compline, the office which brings the day to a close, we pray in the words of ancient collect:

"Visit, we beseech thee, O Lord, this place, and drive away all the snares of the enemy ..." [5].

Each of these prayers flow from Jesus' acts of confronting and casting out the powers of evil and darkness.

They are based on the same realism we find in the Gospels.

The realism which recognises that evil is no abstract force 'out there' ...

But a presence with a "sinuous influence" [6], deceiving, disordering, enslaving.

Now, of course, it is possible to reject this realism not just through embarrassment but through an emphasis on the spectacular ...

The sort of thing that Hollywood horror movies focus on.

By contrast, what we see in the Gospel accounts is the banality of evil.

Not the stuff of movie special effects ...

But ordinary, daily lives shadowed and rent asunder by the powers of darkness.

And this is what we still experience.

Evil manifested in daily choices to hurt others, to renounce love, to deny dignity ...

In addictions and destructive behaviours which appear beyond rational control ...

In the lies which are the foundations of abuse, extremism, racism.

C.S. Lewis said:

"Evil can be undone, but it cannot 'develop' into good,  Time does not heal it.  The spell must be unwound, bit by bit" [7].

Which is what we, the Church, do as we pray.

"Deliver us from evil."

"Visit, we beseech thee, O Lord, this place, and drive away all the snares of the enemy."

This is how we encounter today this ministry of Jesus, so prominent in the Gospel accounts ...

This is how this ministry of Jesus continues to touch our lives, to deliver us from the disordering powers of darkness ...

To restore us - day by day - to light, to love and to communion.


[1] Luke 11:20.

[2] Note how the Catechism in BCP 2004 understands this petition of the Lord's Prayer: "that he will keep us ... from our ghostly enemy".

[3] BCP 2004 Holy Baptism Two, p.363.

[4] BCP 2004 A Celebration of Wholeness and Healing, p.463.

[5] BCP 2004 Compline, p.161.

[6] The phrase is taken from Malcolm Guite's sonnet for Michaelmas.

[7] In The Great Divorce.


It is the custom of catholicity and covenant to end posts dealing with such matters with the traditional prayer to St Michael:

St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

"Colour me ..."

On National Poetry Day, Rowan Williams' 'Rublev':

One day, God walked in, pale from the grey steppe,
slit-eyed against the wind, and stopped,
said, Colour me, breathe your blood into my mouth.

I said, Here is the blood of all our people,
these are their bruises, blue and purple,
gold, brown, and pale green wash of death.

These (god) are the chromatic pains of flesh,
I said, I trust I shall make you blush,
O I shall stain you with the scars of birth

For ever, I shall root you in the wood,
under the sun shall bake you bread
of beechmast, never let you forth

To the white desert, to the starving sand.
But we shall sit and speak around
one table, share one food, one earth.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Why I pray the Rosary

I'm what used to be described as a 'Prayer Book Catholic'.  Old English surplice, not cotta.  Gothic chasuble, not fiddleback.  Richard Hooker, not Alphonsus Liguori. Book of Common Prayer, not Missale Romanum.

The Rosary, then, should not be part of my devotional life. 

But it is.

Despite my dislike of the Baroque, Tridentine spirituality of 'Rosary crusades', my unease with many aspects of popular Marian devotion (especially in Ireland), and how utterly alien I find much of the iconography surrounding the Rosary, I pray the Rosary.

Why?  Because, with Austin Farrer, I have found it to be an aid to prayerfully inhabiting the mysteries of the Creed.

Because, in the words of John Paul II, "the Rosary, though clearly Marian in character, is at heart a Christocentric prayer".

As I pray the Hail Mary over each plain wooden bead, I am brought again and again into the mystery of the Incarnation - in joy, light, sorrow, glory.  God the Word fully assuming our humanity, that our humanity may fully share in the life of God.

Here the reserve of the Anglican tradition's reverence for Mary coheres with the Rosary.  This woman is sign of and witness to the flesh and blood reality of the Incarnation.  From her swollen belly, to breast-feeding the infant, to holding the sometimes giggling, sometimes crying toddler, to observing the teenager, to wondering about the man, to holding her son's corpse, to being caught up in his resurrection - she is witness to the Word. 

And I ask her prayers that with her I too may enter into the mystery of God's love and life poured out in flesh and blood for me.  That, with Mary, my love and life may be caught up in that of the Triune God.

Cally Hammond's works on praying the Rosary - her Joyful Christianity, Passionate Christianity and Glorious Christianity - are the most striking and compelling contemporary reflections, and not just from within the Anglican tradition.

Here, in a 2014 paper, she gives a wonderful summary of how devotional life can be enriched through the Rosary:

I started praying the rosary at the age of 20: because I knew that I was not praying 'right'.  I now know that I had been stuck in the same Slough of Despond as many others, looking at the public worship of the Church and trying to use that public type of prayer for private devotion.  It didn't work.

The rosary did work, for me.  I have been praying it ever since; it has been the source of some of my deepest insights into our common faith in Jesus Christ.  I have taught it as a personal devotion to many people, both Roman Catholic and Church of England, Methodists, free church; and sold it to 'Protestants' as a way to pray the life of Jesus.  (Cf the Methodist spiritual writer J. Neville Ward.)

I don't teach teach it as a corporate prayer but as a prayer for individual use.  I tend to avoid the more schmaltzy stuff about Mary.  For Anglicans I pare it back to 'why does become Mary become so important in the Christian tradition so fast?' - answer: because she stands for us; the first of redeemed humankind, the one who have living physical contact, even unity, with Jesus from the first moment of his conception, the icon of obedience to God's will.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

A Great Silence

Receiving the great gifts of the various monastic traditions should be one of the joys of the parish.  The Benedictine and Franciscan traditions have, perhaps, the most easily identifiable gifts that can be nurtured in the parish.

But what of the Carthusians, the feast of whose founder - St Bruno - falls today?  How is it possible for the gift of Carthusian silence to received and nurtured in the parish?

Perhaps once a week at a weekday Eucharist, or at weekday Eucharists in Advent and Lent, or a monthly contemplative Eucharist, what the Church of Ireland BCP 2004 terms "The Great Silence" (the silence after the reception of the Holy Eucharist) could be observed after the Carthusian fashion:

After Communion, which is taken as the entire community gathers around the priest and encircles the altar, there comes ten minutes of silent, private prayer of thanksgiving, with everyone, including the celebrant, seated in their stalls.

(From John Skinner Hear Our Silence: A Journey Into Prayer - emphasis added.)

Monday, 5 October 2015

"Where we stand can be the gate of heaven"

From the sermon preached by Mthr Anna Matthews at yesterday's Dedication Festival in St Bene't's, Cambridge:

Jacob sets up a pillar to mark this place of divine encounter and blessing. Bethel, as it would come to be known, was second only to Jerusalem among Israel’s shrines. For generations to come this place on which angels had tiptoed would serve as a physical reminder of God’s promise to Jacob. For those who came after, it would mark out not just the remembrance of Jacob’s encounter but the reminder that God shows up in places that look very ordinary and improbable, and makes lives that seem hopeless the ground of his blessing.
This same motivation is, or should be, behind every church building. We don’t build churches to contain God, or to keep him pure and unsullied from the world ‘out there’. This place, which has stood for nearly 1000 years, alongside the grandest basilica or the roughest wayside chapel, stands as a witness to the God of Jacob, who is also the God and Father of Jesus – the God who has promised to make his dwelling with us.
Jacob’s pillar became a shrine at which people remembered God’s promise, and the place where that promise was renewed in each generation. So too our churches can speak of the faithfulness of God, of his presence with his people. Of course, they have the capacity to become museums to a dead religion, of interest mainly to historians and anthropologists and architects. But where they continue the worship of the living God; where the story of his promise and presence is remembered and told; where he continues to be Emmanuel, God-with-us, in bread and wine, then our churches invite us, with Jacob, to recognise that our lives can be holy ground; that where we stand can be the gate of heaven.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

"Where he may lie hidden"

He made darkness his secret place.

Psalm 18:11.  Psalm 18 is appointed to be said or sung at Evensong on the 3rd day of the month in the BCP 1662.

"And has made darkness His hiding place." And has settled the obscurity of the Sacraments, and the hidden hope in the heart of believers, where He may lie hidden, and not abandon them. 

Augustine on Psalm 18:11.