Easter Sunday

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For forty days and nights – and more – we have been in the desert. And now, on Easter Day as the sun rises we have put the most difficult part behind us.

The way we see the desert is now transformed. We see the same things, life’s routines continue as before, the trees and clouds are what they were before, politicians and bankers, artists and therapists and monks do their thing as before. Nappies still need to be changed and petrol tanks filled. The pilgrimage of meditation morning and evening continues.

But our Resurrection – and it is ours no less than his  –  has changed the way we see life in this realm of existence. The veil between us and all the other realms of the cosmos is now shimmering.

If we still have fear, we do not need to. If we are still clinging to resentment, we do not need to. To fully change, we need only to see him. Not hear about him or talk about him but see him. It is he who makes the new creation shimmer.

“For anyone united to Christ, there is a new creation.”

It has been good to travel with you through the desert this Lent. It is good now to see with you how we recognise the risen Jesus in all the shimmerings of life.

Three days ago we began the formal process for moving to Bonnevaux, our new home and centre in France. In the summer, we hope to begin the move and to begin the renovation work.

I look forward to seeing the shimmering Christ there in Bonnevaux with you one day. Please keep this step into a new life for our community in your heart.

Happy Easter and blessings on all the coming days!

With Love

Laurence

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Holy Saturday

HOLYSATURDAY

 

Death is always dramatic. It is the ultimate closure. The days after death may be anything but dramatic . They are often mundane and colourless, the beginning of a slow, relentless depression. Those who feel left behind on this empty beach of existence begin to adapt to the empty space, the void left to them by the one they loved. Their lives once revolved around that person in ways they were only half-aware of before, and at depths in themselves that they had never noticed before.

This must have been the case for those personally stricken by the death of Jesus on the Cross. The bystanders and bloodthirsty mob forgot him quickly, just another victim of the violent times they lived in. His family and friends would have moved backwards and forwards across a spectrum ranging from shame and guilt to disappointment, fear and anger.

We need this time to mourn and grieve and occasionally despair or rage. Holy Saturday symbolises this time, a watershed with no water, a bridge broken midway, an empty chair, a half-occupied bed.

Anyway, this is true on the surface. But, from the depths below, we hear the missile of Christ’s spirit penetrating into all the hidden, forgotten and buried layers of consciousness. They are present in us, if only we knew, from the beginning of the evolution of the human. But we would rather not know because it would confuse us to know how many stages of pre-human development still remain in us, how many ancestors we have.

As the not yet risen Jesus harrows hell, we wait for his resurgence into the human realm, where we recognize ourselves. But will we recognise him risen? Soon we will see how we have changed, how once heavy chains are lighter, loosened if we wish to test them.  We will begin, over the coming centuries, to feel how a new peace replaces the old fears, a new gentleness the ancient violence. We will see connections growing between the preconscious and the conscious. Insights into justice, human freedom and dignity, religion and human relationships emerge from this new consciousness as the human is understood in the light of its source and goal.

But will we recognise him risen? He who said ‘you and I form one undivided person’?

With Love

Laurence

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Good Friday

 

GOODFRIDAY

 

Do you remember Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent?

Good Friday is the end of the line we have been following since then. We need to feel its finality in order to enter into the epilogue which is a new beginning.

Many of those who remember why it is a Bank Holiday but don’t usually darken the doors of a church come to church for the special service. Like non-observant Jews with Yom Kippur, it has a religious mystique that cannot be ignored and demands some measure of devotion or recognition.

This is why we call this Friday Good. What is good about it? A good man and great teacher is arrested in secret, dragged through a quick fake trial, rejected by his people, deserted by his friends, crucified  by an occupying enemy force. He dies on the Cross with his mother and a handful of friends beneath him.

Why does such another tragic waste and failure deserve to be called good? Why do we line up, the great and the small of us, to kiss the cross in silence at the ninth hour, 3pm, today, aligning ourself in solidarity with its silent victim and his humiliation?

Do we see the smaller crosses of our own lives within this one great bare Cross that casts its shadow over the world, uniting its collective suffering in its anonymous embrace? In the simplification of this unifying symbol, do we not find a healing of depression, a redemption from the isolation and loneliness that death, suffering, rejection, failure and humiliation repeatedly plunge us into?

‘It is accomplished’, Jesus said, one of his seven sayings from the Cross. It is a relief to feel that the worst is over. From this relief, even in the dead end alley, comes a hope. For something we have as yet no imagination for.

For once, silence is easy.

With Love

Laurence

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Holy Thursday

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Bede Griffiths was a great advocate of the Second Vatican Council. However there was one  sentence in one of the documents with which he disagreed and which said that the ‘source and summit’ of the church’s life is the Eucharist. He loved the Eucharist and celebrated it beautifully, every day in his Benedictine ashram in India. But he felt it was better theology to say that the source and summit of the Church is the Holy Spirit.

The different implications of each version are great. If it is the Eucharist , which is a sacrament whose form of celebration the church authorities control, this means the source and summit of the Church is dependent on church law and its lawmakers. But if we say the Holy Spirit is the source and summit – well what a lot of dangerous freedom that releases. Where the Spirit is, there is liberty

Today, Holy Thursday, we remember – we make present through a concentrated act of recall – the moment when Jesus took bread and wine and called them his body and blood. He was reclining at table for the Passover meal with his companions, not standing behind an altar. The ancient ritual of this living transmission of wisdom was also a meal for friends and family. The meal opened with a surprising and for some shocking event, when Jesus insisted on washing the feet of his disciples, whom he called his friends not his servants or disciples. This reversal of hierarchy mirrors the flip that takes place in what became the agape meal of the early Christian house churches and eventually the more formal sacrament of the Eucharist. The sacrificial protocol was flipped around; it was not, as was customary with sacrifices, offered by the priest to God on behalf of the people. The sacrifice was the person offering the sacrifice and it was self-offered to the people around the table, none of whom were refused the bread and wine. Even Judas was not excluded, was he?

If we don’t approach the Eucharist conscious of this radical reversal of roles and unexpected flip in the archetypal idea of sacrifice we may easily turn it into another religious ritual, affirming group identity, with predictable roles performed in front of a passive audience. Sadly this often happens. This misses its mystical nature. One way to rescue the nutritional spiritual value and transformative power of the Mass from this banality is to open up its contemplative dimension – to add silence, to share the readings two-way not just one way downward from the pulpit; and to meditate  after the highest mystical moment after the bread and wine have been consumed.

Some Christian churches downplay the importance of the Eucharist, others have over-exploited it at the expense of other aspects of Christian prayer. My own experience has been that over the years I have come to love and grow in wonder at the ever fresh mystery of the Eucharist. The more I share it in a contemplative way, giving it sufficient time, holy leisure, listening to the readings and breaking the Word as we break the bread, linking the real presence in the bread and wine to the same presence in the heart of each person present, the more it touches and satisfies my spiritual hunger and thirst. It is meditation made visible.

With Love

Laurence

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Wednesday Holy Week

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Jesus was popular for a while and then rejected. He seems never to have courted the crowd, only to have loved the ordinary people whom he saw to be mistreated, demeaned and manipulated by their leaders. Like a modern western electorate the people projected their hopes for a strong leader onto him for a short while. Success breeds success. The more people praise, the more the bandwagon starts rolling. But then it crashes as it did for him.

Modern populism, which is as fickle as any mob has always been, raises and pulls down its great leaders once they fail to deliver on its dreams. Love can turn to hate as quickly in politics as in romance.

Jesus shatters the myth of the strong leader who habitually needs to create a myth around and about himself. It is this myth that leads to self-corruption. Jesus is an incorrupt leader who does not pretend to be what he is not. He carefully and guardedly reveals the full truth about himself because it is so easily misquoted and exploited.

In today’s gospel, as we approach the climax to the story, we are given another angle on the central theme of betrayal. In the reading from Isaiah we are given an unexpected insight into the nature of the suffering servant who is to lead us to a better life through the paradoxes of failure and rejection. This insight sheds light on the mystery. Strange or offensive as it sounds, the great leader is a servant who suffers and a teacher who is a disciple.

The Lord has given me a disciple’s tongue. So that I may know how to reply to the wearied, he provides me with speech. Each morning he wakes me to hear, to listen like a disciple. The Lord has opened my ear.’

He has been telling us this about himself all along. ‘For I have not spoken from my own authority, but the Father himself who sent me has commanded me what I should say and what I should speak… My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me.’ This doesn’t sound like the Christ of the Sistine Chapel or the stern Pantocrator (‘Almighty’) of later imagination. It is the opposite of the great leader’s inflated ego.

Modern management theory tends to dismiss the great leader idea, preferring the more corporate and collaborative model. If any one model can, this one fits Jesus better. He wishes to empower those he leads and to show the way and blaze the trail by example rather than by coercion. He is the kind of leader who transforms the landscape he is working in, to open new horizons and to lead by a force of inspiration interiorised by his team rather than imposed from outside.

This is not how the church has always understood it; and it is not an easy model for anyone to follow. Power seduces us all. It is why the church is most like Jesus when it is most lacking in ego.

If we can hold onto this truth about him, we can confidently follow him wherever he leads.

With Love

Laurence

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Tuesday Holy Week

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In today’s gospel (Jn 13:21-38) St John describes the discussion of betrayal that took place at the Last Supper. We need to remember this dark side of the story if we are to recognize the light that dawns at the end of the story. It is as disturbing to us as Iago, the corrupter and traitor in Shakespeare’s Othello, is to watchers of the play. At the end of the play, after he has destroyed his master, Iago is exposed and condemned but refuses to explain his motives. He only says: ‘Demand me nothing. What you know, you know. / From this time forth I never will speak a word.’ If we want meaning we have to look deeper than mere motives. The truth of this mystery is not found in explanations.

In today’s reading from Isaiah we are reminded of the identification of Jesus with the ancient prophetic, indeed archetypal figure of the suffering servant and the wounded healer. Isaiah says:

..pay attention, remotest peoples.
The Lord called me before I was born,
from my mother’s womb he pronounced my name.

The secret we are looking for is always about our origin. Who am I? means Where do I come from? And, only then, ‘why?’ But just as the answer to our origin lies in a pre-linguistic state, before I was born, so the question of meaning lies in the silence that follows after language.

Like ours, the story of Jesus enters time with his conception and birth, with his body that was formed in a womb and was then pushed out into the world. The same story, like ours, ends with his last breath and burial, when he was pushed back into the womb of mother earth. In no faith tradition is the body more important. It is true that western Christian moralists often gave the body a junk bond credit rating. It was full of temptations and drives. These ran counter to an idea of holiness, which was itself so far removed from the vision of wholeness that the angelic, bodiless state seemed higher.

There were exceptions as any theology of the Incarnation made inevitable. The puritanical, gnostic impulse in Christianity could never wholly denigrate the body. Jesus was raised ‘in the body’. ‘In  my flesh I shall see God’. Angels were closer to God, but we were more like God ‘because we had a body’. And so, in Jesus, did God. In him, too, God wept, got tired and impatient, drank wine and loved, was betrayed and suffered.

Other wisdom traditions take the body more seriously as an instrument of spiritual development. Yoga, Tai Chi, Tantra have a practical, body-based wisdom that Christian spirituality has generally undervalued. But the Asian traditions, while also conceiving of some kind of transformation, tend to see the physical body as a packaging, a vehicle, an aggregate that dissolves back into its elements. The body of Jesus, evolves into the Body of Christ. It evolves through a resurrection that reveals the bodily destiny of each of us. We have a spiritual body to look forward to. But, as Teilhard de Chardin , says ‘spirit is matter incandescent.’ We will glow and we will be embodied for eternity.

Sounds good. But then, who knows for sure, until we know?  For now we reflect on Jesus as a bodily person: like us anchored in the world and the present moment through a changeable body that does not work like a machine and that is always our interface with the deepest nature of reality.

With Love

Laurence

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Monday Holy Week

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I was at the theatre recently and half way into the first act a latecomer was allowed in. She caused general consternation as we made way for her to squeeze past everyone to get to her seat in the middle of the row. Once the show is underway, we should try to keep our attention focused because it is the uninterrupted flow of events that leads to the fullness of our response when the climax comes and the curtain falls.. and rise again. The same applies to Holy Week. If we get distracted from the quickening pace of the story, don’t waste a moment complaining but restore your attention to its focus.

Looking at a number of paintings of the Last Supper recently I noticed the different ways that Judas is positioned. In Leonardo’s famous mural, he is sitting, with a very criminal look fifth from the left, holding a revealing bag of silver (Peter is holding  dagger with which he will later cut off the servant’s ear). In Ghirlandaio’s, Judas is sitting alone facing the rest of the group. In some pictures Judas is stereotyped as the most Jewish looking of them all. Generally, Judas is singled out as an unattractive and isolated figure, although in the narrative he has the moment of strongest, even mysterious intimacy with Jesus who knows what he is going to do and who quietly tells him to get on with it. (‘Night had fallen’)

Faces reveal and expose us. We recognise with happiness a familiar face in the airport crowd of welcomers waiting at Arrivals. Suddenly the crowd of strangers dissolves as a smiling face and friendly wave dispel the anonymity which is the worst part of travelling .

When we see a photo of ourselves we think, do I really look that like? From our faces, we understand uncomfortably, people may know us better, or at least differently, from how we know ourselves. If differently, who is more right?

In an instant a face may morph from a tense and anxious dark look into a radiant and childlike joyfulness. A wave of emotion sweeps over the soul and the muscles of the face involuntarily mirror it within moments. It takes time before we can regain control over what our facial expression is telling the world.

Even when our face is in repose and we are in between strong feelings of any kind, it always shows to everyone, though maybe least of all to ourselves, the sum total of all we have been. Formed over decades through countless muscular contractions, through frowns, tensely held jaws, phases of anger and sadness, pain and grief – and good things too – we have the face we deserve. It is all we have lived through. No amount of cosmetics or surgery can really hide the character of our face. Ageing is the least we have to worry about.

The face of Judas is our own worst fear about ourselves and it can therefore trigger the deepest, most transformative compassion. True conversion happens from a place far from the control of the will, a redemptive place of grace. When it happens we are rejuvenated and, if only for a moment, our original face, our truest self is visible to ourselves and to those who may still be looking at us with any interest after all those years.

In the face of Judas as of less obviously complex people, the face of Jesus Christ can suddenly flash forth, like a treasure held in earthen vessels:

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Cor 4:6)

With Love

Laurence

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