The Idea of God

6 Jul

When in John’s gospel Jesus is referred to in the opening poem as the word of God, it is a faltering attempt to name the nature of Jesus as divine and human. Our human standpoint changes with time, so in the OT the word of God is seen only as human speech, albeit ‘inspired’ by God. However the first reading (Isaiah 55) recalls the creation poem in which God speaks His words for each item of creation and from that word things come into being. But in the poem at the opening of the fourth gospel ‘word’ is used to express the divine reality of God. I think this is related to the philosophy of that time and in that area of the globe, where ‘word’ is the order and ‘meaning’ that there is in the realities of our world seen as a way of expressing the ‘sense behind it all.’ Nowadays this way of thinking about our universe is not normal. Today those (perhaps apart from Christians) who see some sense or purpose in creation would refer to it as a plan or an organised pattern – thinkers everywhere want to ‘make sense’ of the universe as a whole. We have no generally accepted term for this and in English the word ‘word’ just doesn’t capture this meaning. Other translations of what was written in the opening of John’s gospel might be ‘the plan’, ‘the idea’ or some such notion. I know that in Chinese what we translate as Word, is expressed from their world of philosophies, using ‘dao’ which might then be translated for us as the ideal or idea behind creation. In English I might interpret Genesis (Chapter 1, the creation story) as God had the idea for light which dispels darkness, and a similar idea for each of His daily creations – and this idea materialised. And coming to the NT I might say ( from John chapter 1) that God’s idea was for day and light etc. but this idea came to fruition in the person of Jesus – the ideal idea of what a human should (could) be.

Wise guys

29 Jun

The first part of the Sunday gospel (for the 14th Sunday year A) represents a prayer of gratitude from Jesus to His Father. It is a passage occurring in both Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels. Indeed the two are so close in wording that it is thought they are each using the same earlier document which has not survived.  This document would be closer to the actual time of Jesus than either of these gospels, and may even reflects the language (Aramaic) which Jesus would have used.  Because languages and their words can have overtones beyond the literal (dictionary) meaning of the words, it could give a different nuance from the original in Greek and also in our English translations. In the gospels Jesus had initially spent his public life among a mixture of ordinary village working folk and educated religious ‘professionals’ like scribes and Pharisees. It may well be that in this recorded prayer He is referring to these two sets of people – “At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants“.  But this fairly literal translation may be meaningfully expressed in our language today as “Jesus was thankful that although good folk and wise guys didn’t have the right idea of God, yet ordinary folk did” (Mtt 11:25). Although I have studied theology and are generally a church-goer, I hope I can be at least somewhat like the ordinary folk – how about you, where do you stand?

The lassie Rose

22 Jun

Some of our experiences are calling out to be passed on to latter generations. They are, however, likely to be altered, either unknowingly or in order to give a desired impression to the recipients. Luke is writing in the Acts of the Apostles about events sometimes based on what he has heard as the experiences of others. Such is this story about the prison escape of Peter and the delightful story about Rhoda, the young girl in Mary’s household in Jerusalem, who may well be translated for us as the lassie Rose. It is a delightful account that gives us some knowledge of one of the earliest gatherings, congregating to pray as followers of Jesus – which in the language we use today would be a local church/congregation. There is surely truth in the tale of the lassie going to the door she heard knocked, recognising Peter’s voice and so excited forgetting even to let him in. I think we can just enjoy the obvious ‘atmosphere’ of the prayerful gathering and probably the sharing of thoughts, prayers and food in a time of persecution of Jesus’ followers. See the whole story here – the last paragraph is Rhoda’s.

Do something about it

15 Jun

There is a unsuitability that one feels or ought to feel, with regards to how things are even in one’s own life as well as in the world around one and in the whole universe. It is a feeling, and a reasonable one, that arises because of one’s hopes, expectations and, to some extent, a vision of an ideal. What brings about this dissatisfaction is an indication of its ‘nature.’ It’s a disappointment or absence: a lack of fulfilment, a shortfall of what should be.

Evil appears to us often as something quite positive, powerful and strong, yet it is really more like a vacuum (a particular absence of something.) You can experience the strength of a vacuum in the suction of a vacuum cleaner. But it is not (you may have learnt at school) the vacuum that is strong, it is the pressure of the positive reality that is outside it, pressing against it. In a similar way sin and ‘catastrophes’ are the absence of or incompleteness of creation and the deficiency of human behaviour. But you know ‘all creation is from God – is good’ – after all He is the creator and sustainer of every thing and nothing can exist without Him; so it is that evil is the absence of something. But there are two ‘kinds’ of this absence in our world, its unfinished nature – creation is in process, and our behavioural deficiencies (our sins) when we don’t do what we should!

This way of viewing human misbehaviour and reality is consistent with the view of wickedness and sin in the Bible and particularly in the New Testament, where the Greek word for sin means ‘missing the mark’ i.e. not being or doing what you should. Less people nowadays take the story of Adam and Eve and the stolen apple literally true, as did Jeremiah, and Paul when writing the letter to the Romans. Even now the story can be taken somewhat literally and what is called original sin is viewed as a positive reality that ‘infects’ all humans at birth and needs to be ‘purged’ in some way. But sin is an absence (a powerful vacuum) in our world and the deficiencies in human behaviour are sin or mistakes. However though this way of thinking might be less straightforward, it is better than viewing sin as some actual reality – positively a part of creation – of our universe. And we mustn’t forget that we can do something about it – with God’s assured help! The natural disasters and diseases can also be seen as the incompleteness of God’s creating over a very long period of time though perhaps agravted by our negative behaviour.

The body of Christ

8 Jun

Staying at home during this corona virus period, I started sorting out old photos.  I came across a photograph of 20 of us parishioners from St Mary’s Pathhead.  It was Maundy Thursday 2012 during a period of several years when we had no priest to serve us.  But we were still a community of believers (the body of Christ) celebrating together every Sunday.  However to celebrate the Last Supper in a more special way at that time, during that holy week we went out for a meal together.  We were joyfully celebrating the community of believers that we were, despite our Sunday situation.  Like the Church worldwide, we were a unity, the body of Christ worshipping together, but more importantly living as best we could as Christians, each of us in our own place, but together each Sunday supporting and celebrating our Christian lives.

The feast of Corpus Christi from the 13th century until the 20th had isolated Christians from the practice and meaning of community (body) and made the presence of Christ in the eucharist almost an untouchable mystery.  The Second Vatican Council opened the possibility of seeing the community of believers as the body of Christ and communion during mass more like the Last Supper than a ritual sacrifice observed by onlookers.  This photo showed me that there is still hope that we might celebrate the community of people as the body of Christ this day, rather than some mysterious untouchable sacrifice.

Not alone

1 Jun

In order to fully become a someone in this universe, a person must express herself to others and open up to the situation she is in. For a person, becoming herself (growing up) means revealing and giving of herself to all that she encounters – other persons and even the environment. In addition she will be fully herself only if there is some response or reaction from her surroundings and the people she encounters.   A personal response from another makes her more who she is at her best. Even as I write these jottings, I show something of myself to you – how I think and the attitudes that I have. And when you react in some small way (even replying with a comment sometimes), that makes a difference. These three sides to this process hopefully effect positively on me, on you and on the ‘spirit’ of these jottings.

This may be an earthly and inadequate image of the Christian mystery of the Trinity – of the mystery of the three persons in God. And like all our beliefs it impacts on how we are, how we live or should I say try to live. It is the pattern for the growth in our relationships – our life with God, with others and even with ourselves and the environment. This gives us a minimal participation in the supreme case of this revealing, and responding – Father, Word and Spirit. We are especially just now learning to think of all the people who play a part in the smooth running of things – like, the health workers and carers, workers in a building project, the arrangements for an online communication, the interactions in education at all levels… And so when each person plays her part well, then the final result is satisfying – each ingredient affects the whole.

The Spirit

25 May

There was this lad, brought up by his parents to have high ideals. They were a relatively poor family but devoted to the moral teachings of their religion. They were in a land which was run by people whose religion seemed to be about grasping power over others and gaining wealth for oneself at all costs; and sadly, even their religious leaders got caught up in this spirit of selfishness, and were more concerned with the petty rituals and rules of their religion than with its high ideal: a vision of a perfect and happy community.

When he grew up and after he had spent sometime working in his local village, this lad became a young enthusiast, working for the ideal community of love and exemplifying it in his own life. The more he spoke of his ideas and the more he showered love on the people he met, so the number of people who followed him grew, and he hoped that they might understand what he was about; but many of them liked the idea as long as it didn’t upset their own way of living – so some of the scholars and religious leaders didn’t much go for what he had to say.

As his ideas developed and the crowds began to follow him towards the capital and centre of religious and secular authority, he realised that the people there, were not just going to be upset, but they would connive to silence him once and for all. So he tried to say to people, that to follow him was daring and dangerous and could upset their lives – it would be really hard, though it would be for the overall good. He himself was possessed by the spirit of the ideal he had received as a child – by the call from God to show love to others, and he began to establish a community of love for all – the kingdom of God.

Yes, he was arrested and executed, but, you know, he lives on in us who have the same Spirit; and we find it hard also, yet we must pray, and live to make this Kingdom come.

Gospel truth ?

18 May

The word “Gospel” in common parlance may well mean it’s true, but in a Christian context it means (also) good news (which is it’s etymological meaning).  It always refers to some statement, and surely must be true if it is good news.  However we can be quite confident that John’s Gospel written late in the 1st century is not historically accurate through and through.  The passage we have today which is part of a much much longer section is presented as a sermon of Jesus, which surely is not literally what He said.  However it is an important part of the New Testament inspired by God and is from one of the four gospels – the Good News.

Notice that there is a ‘challenging’ statement in the passage John 17:9, which can help us think carefully about what the Good News means.  Jesus in this sermon says ” I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.”  If we are not careful this could mean that Jesus is not concerned about all people but only these disciples (or even only Christians)  and surely we wont take this to mean that only such people belong to God,  Noticing this can strengthen our belief that God loves all people (every thing) not just the Church goers.  This we know but can overlook.

Mass on the world

11 May

When I was third year in Seminary in 1960, wrongly thinking that I wanted to be a priest, an order came from Rome that a certain book, just translated into English was not to be read by seminarians. That was when I first got and read “The future of man” by Pere Teilhard de Chardin. I was reminded of this by our present lock-down.  At one time he was in a desert in northern China working with other scientists.  Instead of mass as we know it – for which he had no facilities and which would have meant nothing to his co-workers – he ‘offered’ what he called a “mass on the world.”  He was a great enthusiast for the idea of evolution – of God’s work of creation being, from our standpoint, an ongoing process. In this process, which we experience ourselves, there are what seem to us like ups and downs, some beauty in the world, some positives for example in human development, but also some opposite experiences what we see as damaging and painful.

As pere Teilhard voiced his thoughts that desert morning they fell under two appropriate headings – of joy and pain which can be thought of as bread and wine, or as sustenance and suffering, body and blood. So we can celebrate this kind of ‘mass’ by rejoicing in the goodness in the world, in the universe, in our planet and its inhabitants – even in ourselves – the body.  But also we take part by recognising the unfinished, the mystery of space, the suffering of living creatures and of ourselves – blood. In this way we take to ourselves the bread and wine, both of which are Christ – God in action – in the process of creating and sustaining our/His world. People have sometimes used this example for their own celebration of all that is and that should be – it becomes a thanks giving which is what the word eucharist means. We could use it for ourselves in our present situation.

Who are we

4 May

The reading from 1 Peter, reminded me of the organisation of the church. The leaders needed to have pointed out to them people they should be caring about. Even then I notice that the helpers (deacons) they commission to do this are all men, and are set apart with some sort of ritual ‘ordination.’ But the structure isn’t that important, it is the vibrancy of the response to peoples’ needs that counts. And nowadays, especially in our Catholic church, it is the people who show the gentleness and concern of Christ for others -and I guess a good number of them are female.

Some of us miss our weekly prayer service – the mass -, but while that needs an ordained priest, we can still ‘meet’ (digitally) and celebrate and pray. Indeed who would even deny that in this online community there is a real presence of Christ gathered. This has been revealed (more clearly) in our present ‘lock-down’ situation.   We do believe, as Christians, that by taking on humanity (at the incarnation) and dying and moving on to the risen life, Christ is in all humanity – in all but sin. So especially as we care for all others to the extent that we can, we are the presence of Christ in the world – sometimes called the body of Christ, like the body of workers in our parishes who pray together and help others as far as they are able. Yes, let our ‘leaders’ worry about deacons, and deaconesses – about hierarchy and structure and married priests – but don’t forget who we are – truly the real presence of Christ in the world.