A precious moment

14 Sep

I had a dream one night, that was more like a re-call of a ‘precious moment’ because it was a memory of an actual event in my life (circa 60 years ago). I was an adult in the city of Birmingham, the big centre of my childhood. I was with a beautiful girl whom I later married. After showing her around the city I took her to a ‘posh’ restaurant (most unusual place for me to be). We were met at the door and asked for a table for two, the gentleman led us to a cosy corner and gave us the menu, but then – what really exposed this a s a special moment – he tipped the seats on the surrounding tables as though they were reserved, so that we would in no way be disturbed. It must have been that he recognised the relationship between us even more than we ourselves might have thought of it at the time. What this has brought to my notice is the love between the two of us obviously recognised as very special! Now I think to myself that just like that man, we all should try sometimes to recognise the remarkable beauty in the world around us, the goodness of people we come across or just observe. It might well take us by surprise, but, you know, God is surprisingly there in so much (in fact in all of the world around us) that reveals God. So let’s try to recognise it and respect the situation appropriately. Consider it and look out for a special appreciation of the presence of God in our environment , in events and especially in other people!

Don’t be beastly

7 Sep

Don’t be beastly

 

I think that often we may use the phrase ‘animal instincts’ about human behaviour, to mean inclinations to do wicked or ‘naughty’ (sinful)l things. Of course we are ourselves animals, even if we are ‘higher’ animals and with immortal souls, yet we have to admit that humans often have such unsuitable instincts and behaviour which we might just call bad habits or ‘to be expected’. However, those who study animal behaviour, assure us that across the wide range of animals (not to say even insects) there are fascinating instances of admirable behaviour. An example might be the co-operation of bees and their ‘queen,’ and there are many other examples… which we are learning more about all the time. However don’t we, as higher animals, normally have good and beneficial instincts like caring for our offspring, aiding others in trouble etc. Hopefully however, as ‘higher’ animals we have also (or ought to have) some more thoughtful ones, like caring for the planet, and researching better ways of living in this universe and learning from our history to form a better future for later generations etc. Hopefully these instincts would dominate any hurtful or just useless ones – let’s develop our good and beneficial ‘super-natural’ instincts.

 

The unexpected

31 Aug

Our experience is of a world that is both chaotic and well-ordered – we try to make sense of it but often as not we fail. On the one hand it is chaotic, unpredictable and surprising; much of what we experience is unexpected, sometimes just not what we thought would be the case, sometimes pleasantly surprising but, alas, at times painfully disappointing – like the weather. But on the other hand, we see order and what we expect in the natural world around us and largely in the environment we have created – the regularity of day and night; and we generally have an ordered pattern to our lives, though sometimes the orderliness of events is more or less imposed upon us. The way of human life is an attempt to control and make sense of our world and our experience of it. But we, and even our sciences for example, always have an admixture of confidence and uncertainty; you can easily find examples of this though ‘mistakes’ are not welcome or admitted. We live with this duo of order and uncertainty, we make use of logic but also make guesses, we do what is sensible but also have daring – take risks; the best and least of us conform to expectations and convention but rejoice and benefit at times from unconventionality – surprises – and that is often a good thing. The followers of Jesus in His public life at first saw it as good, rewarding and satisfactory – but it turned out in an unexpected way.

The sacred meal

24 Aug

With a scheme at the Edinburgh University my wife and I began to ‘befriend’ two Chinese students each year. In 2016 when Ann was dying the students at that time were very caring and sympathetic. They were not Christian or even religious in the ordinary sense but were invited to her funeral at the church in Pathhead, south of Edinburgh. One of the two was unable to come, but afterwards she invited me to her flat for a meal. She told me she had consulted her father about what and how to cook, and when I arrived I watched her cooking as she told me this and spoke of the joy she had from meeting me and Ann. Before we began eating she gave me a gift and I had brought one for her. I greatly appreciated all this as I was still in an emotional state. We spoke and listened to each other and eventually I left – with the memory of a wonderful sensation of the real presence of God in that meal and it’s thanksgiving (in Greek ‘eucharist’). We still keep in touch – as I try to with God. As I think about this I want to sing ‘Where love is and loving-kindness, God is sure to dwell.’

There is a theological book about this at https://litpress.org/Products/8458/Eating-Together-Becoming-One by Tom O’Loughlin on Nottingham university who has spoken twice at Edinburgh Newman Society meetings.

Sing to the Lord

17 Aug

One of the things I miss during this covid-19 period is the singing in church with others. However I have always sung alone, around the house – some you would call hymns others just songs. Of the hymns there are some of which I really love the tunes but find the thoughts not how I see God (such as Jesus dying to appease the wrath of God). There are others of which I particularly like the words and some I like both words and tune – I might be thinking now of ‘Will you come and follow me…’ and in some there are beautiful images and comparisons like ‘The stars shine only in darkness’ in the hymn ‘Be still and know I am with you.’ But there are so called secular songs that I sing too for the tunes or the words – I hope my neighbours aren’t disturbed by my singing! I have a CD with one song whose chorus I particularly like: it’s about love – I think of the engagement of the lovers as my baptism and the chorus can be taken very ‘religiously:’

    You’re my bread when I’m hungry      –      you’re my shelter from the troubled wind  My anchor in life’s ocean   but most of all you’re my best friend!

And perhaps just as a bonus it is sung by a Scottish lass and you can dance a Strathspey to the tune.

Belief in practice

10 Aug

Christians generally hold certain beliefs (of which they feel certain) – they are the teaching of the church. These beliefs have developed over time from fairly simple ones about Jesus as Son of God and our saviour by His life, death and resurrection. Later we had a creed formulated which many Christians still recite. Preachers and teachers can talk about these and the implications, but if one was to stop and consider them one would find that they are all really a bit of a mystery. We mustn’t be too sure that we know what they mean but we should live out what they imply for our behaviour as Christians. We know what it is for a person to be the offspring of a mother, but when Jesus is also the Son of God it is a mystery. As the church developed it used the terminology of the philosophy of the time – such as the use of body and soul. And it used the literal interpretation of Scripture when naming original sin – which we all are born with (on our soul) because of Adam and Eve. What we should do, is not bother too much about such statements but be very concerned about how we should live our lives as Christians – believing is not so much accepting doctrines as living with the attitude Jesus exemplified. Consequently I can celebrate but don’t have to bother too much about the freedom of Mary from original sin (defined in the Catholic church in 1856) or the assumption of her proclaimed by the Pope in 1950. My practical faith should encourage me to try to live free from any impact of ‘original sin,’ and live so as to be acceptable to God when I leave this life here.

Belief is not the creed that you say but the practical way that you live.

Heed the whisper

3 Aug

When I read the first reading for 19th Sunday of the year cycle A ( 1 Kings 19), I began to reflect on the number of times a good idea of what I should do in some situation in my life just popped into my head like a gentle whisper – this reading seemed to say that God communicates with us in the most gentle and unobtrusive ways. But there is a context for this story about Elijah experiencing God whispering. His country had somewhat turned from Yahweh, their God, to the exciting sacrifices to the pagan god Baal – a craze that had arisen from the pagan queen (Jezebel) taken by king Ahab. But to make the point of Yahweh’s superiority the prophet Elijah challenged Baal’s supporters to pray asking him to bring down fire on their sacrifice. When they had given up praying to no purpose – with no result – Elijah’s God, Yahweh, demonstrated his superiority with a dramatic blaze! (1 Kings 18:20-40),  – the God, Yahweh, was seen in an exuberant blaze on that occasion. So God is not just in a gentle whisper, but can also be in a dramatic revelation. But when I might forget God, or even feel his absence I should be like Elijah (who was suicidal before this experience of his) and we in our turn should heed the insignificant thoughts that might impinge on us and come to mind from ‘out of the blue.’

This is my 60th jotting – you can scroll down to see them all and can always make a comment.

Know you don’t know

27 Jul

Earlier this month a very noted Catholic theologian died. It was Professor Nickolas Lash a retired Professor of theology at Cambridge university. Tributes were written by famous people in the church including Rowan Williams. He was at Seminary with me for 5 years, unlike me was ordained but eventually quit and later got married and eventually was offered the post of Norris-Hulse professor of Divinity, and in 2017 Pope Francis made him a knight of St Gregory. Looking back at some of his writings, a section in Theology for Pilgrim (2008) made me think of Lao Tsu, the Chinese philosopher who wrote about the Way (dao). Chapter 7 of this begins with “knowing you don’t know is best.” I am reminded that from Abraham on, the Jews generally did not believe in any life after death – there were always humans, but not always you. Then at the time of Christ and for early Christians there was definitely belief in the after-life – for example the Resurrection of Jesus. Although most thought the dead were dead at least until the future – end of the world – when the good ones would be ‘raised.’   As Christian thinking grew over time, there was ‘clearer’ belief in life after death – though linked to the philosophical distinction of body and soul – so that until the End-time, the dead were referred to just as souls (the holy souls). Now in our scientifically dominated times, there is either denial or questioning of this ‘after-life.’ I have already jotted saying ‘Don’t be too sure’ (scroll down to see) but now I want to be more certain – but more certain that we don’t really understand this world of ours never mind understand the mystery of life after death and of God. It’s how you live that counts not what you know or think you know. If you were absolutely certain you would be bound to do what was right, but instead you know you don’t know yet live as you ought.

Fr Brown

20 Jul

I like to watch Father Brown (the interfering priest who solves many crimes) on TV, based on the stories of the writer G K Chesterton in the early nineteen hundreds. My Dad told me that he was taken with his class to hear Chesterton speaking in Birmingham Town Hall. After the introduction by the mayor to the crowded hall, in walked slowly this rather ‘obese’ and almost scruffy looking chap who awkwardly mounted the steps to the lectern. Schoolboys had already made their judgement about this character and others were quite surprised. Chesterton stood there in silence and the hall was quiet not knowing what to make of this chap.   Then he gradually took the cushion from under his clothing and amazement began to brake the silence in the hall. After that had subsided and everyone’s attention was on him Chesterton opened with this memorable sentence – “things are not always what they seem!”

Sophie

13 Jul

There are in some believers’ bibles, books that are called apocryphal (of doubtful authenticity). Within this group is a book called Wisdom. It is a book from about 200 BC, attributed, as some writings were in those day, to a wise person – in this case to King Solomon, noted for his wisdom. The advice and teaching that it has is in the context of Greek culture and its learning, to which the Jewish community in Alexandria in Egypt were exposed. Instead of just treating that culture as pagan and erroneous, the writer sees in it something of the wisdom of God that is in all creation. We can learn something from this approach for we, as Christians, live among people we might think of as ignorant to some extent certainly with some different ideas.

In many ways the wisdom of God is personified in the bible, and when it is in Greek (the language in Alexandria and beyond) it is a female word and I know a couple (Chinese and Scottish) who have named their daughter Sophie which is the Greek word for wisdom . Indeed, just as we believe God is Father and Jesus His Son, so also the Holy Spirit is His Wisdom. Let us try to see Her (a feminine word in Greek) wherever she is. Like those ancient recipients of the book, our world comprises people of different or no religious belief, but we shouldn’t judge their ideas and morality, because God is the creator and in every thing and everyone. Indeed, just as we believe God is everywhere as Father (creator) and Son (Saviour), so also the Spirit is Wisdom wherever she is.