Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas in Stroud and flying to Nelson

Christmas at Stroud was easy and relaxing. The crib (above) is made in PNG bush house style with Australian animals made from bottle brush. No angel or star on top but a koala.

Then over to NZ for time with family in Nelson - and particularly for my father's 80th birthday (photo above).

Other than that not much to write.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Finishing in the library

Am finishing the current batch of work today. The next can wait till I return here in September.

Came across a book of prayers Praying Through the Christian Year by D. W. Cleverley Ford. No old fashioned stuffy piety here.

From a prayer when a car doesn't start:
Lord, I am frustrated,
I went to the garage
and the car wouldn't start.
Such a silly thing,
such a small thing,
but it knocked me off balance
all the day long.

I could give you a summary of St Paul's theology.
I could offer a fair outline of Church doctrine
and something about Aquinas, Erasmus and Calvin, too.

But of what use are all these trappings of religion
when my car won't start
and I am out of gear?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sensible Evelyn Underhill

That great Anglican spiritual guide Evelyn Underhill may have been an expert on mysticism but she was also very practical. In The Mount of Purification (our edition here is the Longmans' 1960 reprint) she writes about the three chief factors in developing the life of prayer in the parish. The first is a parish priest who prays:
The priest who prays often in his own church, for whom it is a spiritual home, a place where he meets God, is the only one who has any chance of persuading his people to pray in their church. True devotion can only be taught by the direct method.
The second factor is:
the parish church, considered not as a convenient place for Sunday worship, but as a House of Prayer, a home of the Spirit, a place set apart for the exclusive purpose of communion with God; and therefore an abiding witness to His reality, His attraction, His demand.
The third is:
the formation of the praying group. I do not mean by this a hot-housy association of pious ladies, whose extreme exhibition of fervour too often tends to put everyone else off. This should be avoided at all costs. But there is surely no parish where it is quite impossible to find a few people, preferably quite simple and ordinary people, who care for their religion, and, if asked to do a bit of real spiritual work for it will respond.
She was one of the spiritual giants of the earlier 20th century.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

more from the library

And today - from the "other" Brother Roger - Br Roger Castle of the Community of the Resurrection in his book of aphorisms about prayer So Easy to Love (London: Longmans Green, 1957). [nearly as old as me!]
Do not bother about the past; it is past. And leave what is to come to God. The present moment is your concern. See that it is a part of the splendid orderliness of God.

The present moment is always an infallible indication of what God wants you to do now. It is possible he may only want you to be undecided. (p. 26)

We must be soaked in the Gospel. You should have a copy of at least one of the gospels in your pocket or in your bag. You can read the Penguin Four Gospels anywhere, and no one will know what you are doing. (p. 34)

What clear forthright advice. (The Penguin Four Gospels is an interesting translation by classicist E.V. Rieu - published 1953).

from Alan Jones "Soul Making"

From Alan Jones' book Soul Making: the Desert Way of Spirituality (San Francisco: Harper, 1989), 84.

Christianity is a shocking religion, although many of its adherents have managed to protect themselves from its terrible impact. Tears, an awareness of one's psychic fragility, and a deep sense of peace and joy are not the most obvious marks of believers today. Yet the shock of Christianity remains: the shock of its materialism and its particularity; the shock of its calling us to a messy and untidy intimacy. It claims that the flesh matters. It insists that history (the particularity of time and place) matters. Above all it claims that, in the end, nothing else but love matters.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Traherne & Taylor

Today's gleanings from the library are two voices from the 17th century:

The opening paragraph of Thomas Traherne's Centuries (in the 1958 OUP edition)
An Empty Book is like an Infants Soul, in which any Thing may be Written. It is Capable of all Things, but containeth Nothing. I hav a Mind to fill this with Profitable Wonders. And since Love made you put it into my Hands I will fill it with those Truths you Love, without Knowing them: and with those Things which, if it be Possible, shall shew my Lov; To you, in Communicating most Enriching Truths; to Truth, in Exalting Her Beauties in such a Soul.

And from Jeremy Taylor' s The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living:
As those meats are to be avoided which tempt our stomachs beyond our hunger, so also should prudent persons decline all those spectacles, relations, theatres, loud noises and outcries, which concern us not, and are beside our natural or moral interest. Our senses should not, like petulant and wanton girls, wander into markets and theatres without just employment; but when they are sent abroad by reason, return quickly with their errand, and remain modestly at home under their guide till they be sent again.
(Langford Press, 1970, p. 60)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Lilburn on rhythm

Philip Norman in his excellent book on NZ composer Douglas Lilburn quotes him as saying:
...the patterns of our landscape and seacoasts, the changing of our seasons and the flow of light and colour about us, that all these things show patterns of movement and characteristic rhythms. And these things in a subtle way affect our manner of living and I believe that they impress themselves on our minds in a way that will ultimately give rise to forms of musical expression.
Norman continues:
Rhythm, according to Lilburn, was the key to music as it determined the 'shape and vitality of any melodic line', and 'in its larger sense of movement or flow it is in the basis of musical form'.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

and today from Ireland

From a book about Irish monasticism, some Celtic nature poetry:

I have a bothy in the wood--
none knows it save the Lord, my God;
one wall an ash, the other hazel,
and a great fern makes the door.

The doorposts are made of heather,
the lintel of honeysuckle;
and wild forest all around
yields mast for well-fed swine.

This size my hut: the smallest thing,
homestead amid well-trod paths;
a woman (but blackbird clothed and seeming)
warbles sweetly from its gable.

This little sweet humble place
holds tenure of the teeming woods;
maybe you will come to see?--
but alone I like quite happy.

thought for the day from John Powell

At the top of the library pile was John Powell's "Through Seasons of the Heart" - a compilation of his writings arranged for daily use. From December 12:

We know God in knowing Jesus. Jesus is the Word that was with God from all eternity, the Word that is God: Jesus. St. Paul calls Jesus "the visible image of our invisible God." (Colossians 1:15) Theologians have called Jesus our "window into God."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

More Mozart

First book off the rank this morning was De Mello's The Prayer of the Frog. He writes:

A young composer once came to consult Mozart on how to develop his talent.

"I would advise you to start with simple things," Mozart said. "Songs, for example."

"But you were composing symphonies when you were a child!" the man protested.

"True enough. But then I didn't have to go to anyone for advice on how to develop my talent."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Mozart, Merton and Barth's Dream

A new plan from today, seeing I am browsing dozens of books every day for cataloguing the library, but not really reading much, is to quote from something which has grabbed my attention each day. Today is the anniversary of Thomas Merton's death in 1968, and now the day set aside for commemorating him in the Anglican Church of New Zealand.

It was a relief when the piles of turgid Columba Marmion (although I see he's been extensively reprinted recently; perhaps if he didn't smell so musty he'd be a more attractive read) gave way to Merton late this afternoon. First was "Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander." with its opening passage about Karl Barth's dream:

Merton writes:

Karl Barth had a dream about Mozart.

Barth had always been piqued by the Catholicism of Mozart, and by Mozart's rejection of Protestantism. For Mozart said that "Protestantism was all in the head" and that "Protestantism did not know the meaning of the Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi."

Barth, in his dream, was appointed to examine Mozart in theology. He wanted to make the examination as favorable as possible, and in his questions he alluded pointedly to Mozart's masses.

But Mozart did not answer a word.

I was deeply moved by Barth's account of this dream and almost wanted to write him a letter about it. The dream concerns his salvation, and Barth perhaps is striving to admit that he will be saved more by Mozart in himself than by his theology.

Each day, for years, Barth played Mozart every morning before going to work on his dogma, unconsciously seeking to awaken, perhaps, the hidden sophianic Mozart in himself, the central wisdom that comes with the divine and cosmic music and is saved by love, yes, even by eros. While the other, theological self, seemingly more concerned with love, grasps at a more stern, cerebral agape: a love that, after all, is not in our own heart but only in God and revealed only to our head.

Barth says, also significantly, that "it is a child, even a 'divine' child, who speaks in Mozart's music to us." Some, he says, considered Mozart always a child in practical affairs (but Burckhardt "earnestly took exception" to this view). At the same time, Mozart, the child prodigy, "was never allowed to be a child in the literal meaning of that word." He gave his first concert at the age of six.

Yet he was always a child "in the higher meaning of that word."

Fear not, Karl Barth! Trust in the divine mercy. Though you have grown up to become a theologian, Christ remains a child in you. Your books and mine matter less than we might think! There is in us a Mozart who will be our salvation.
For me one of the revelations of the divine in Mozart is what's going on in the background, in the "accompanying" parts - for they are never routine space filling formulae, but filled with flashes of divine inspiration.

Friday, November 28, 2008

life at the hermitage

After six weeks of Franciscan based programmes in NZ I am now in Australia, at the Hermitage of St Bernardine until Christmas. My main work is to start re-cataloguing the hermitage library. So I have reverted to (some) of my former life and skills, except this time sitting in front of a computer to do it. After about three weeks I'm nearly through up to the end of the scripture section - 220s for those who know their Dewey numbers. But there's still a lot to go. It's satisfying work, calling for great focus and concentration. So that's not a bad thing to be doing at a hermitage!

The satisfaction is in seeing completed books once again on the shelves, and knowing that this time they can be found, unlike the previous cataloguing which was very hit and miss.

So - I have some of my former life - but not all of it. And without library colleagues to have tea breaks with there is none of the opportunity to gossip about exciting Dewey numbers.

Next phase in my itinerant life will be a few months in Korea early in 2009.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

blogger returns

It's been a long time since the last entry but this friar has been busy with many things. A First Order Chapter at Stroud in Australia in August/September. Now for 6 weeks in New Zealand conducting Franciscan programmes in parishes, schools and leading some retreats. But oddly enough a few people have said that they read this blog so it's time to start writing again.

I won't write about everything since the last blog. It's too much!

Earlier this week I was taken by my host in Temuka, Andrew Starky, on a drive up to Lake Pukaki. This is the lake at the other end of New Zealand's highest peak, Mt Cook. A few photos from round there:
near Fairlie - a town at the eastern end of the Mackenzie country - an inland sheep farming district.
Approaching Tekapo. Tussock ground with the Southern Alps in the background.

Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo

Lake Alexandrina

Lake Pukaki, with Mt Cook on a perfectly clear day (and it's not like this everyday). Mt Cook is the triangular one in the centre, standing a bit on its own. The lake really is that blue - it's caused by small particles of stone carried in the water.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Vanishing Dogs

Last Saturday was Chobok - the beginning of the hottest part of summer. It's a day, traditionally, for eating special food for summer. So far though it hasn't really been hot - just lots of rain and a typhoon. I took the bus to visit a friend a few hours away, settled on cold noodles for lunch - not particularly a summery food, but it's refreshing. And it kept on raining. Returned by bus in the rain.

The next day walking our dog past the neighbouring farms it was amazingly quiet. All their dogs had vanished since Friday. The most traditional food for eating in this early summer season is ... yes. That's why it was so quiet.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Summer in the Friary

A hot summer's day here. Humid. Wall paper sagging and damp floor humidity.

Do we do good things for the environment?

Yesterday backing the car up the driveway I ran over a large green frog. Spectacularly.

Last night while moving some papers on the floor of my room a large centipede ran out, and scuttled under through a gap of several millimetres under the wardrobe. This is just in the very position where I put down my mat for sleeping. Not wishing to wake up with a centipede crawling over me, I sprayed fly spray under the wardrobe. Fly spray doesn't kill centipedes; just makes them groggy and cross. It staggered out but I was ready with a fly swat. Fly swats are very ineffective also against centipedes. Eventually it was dead, by which time the greater silence had been well and truly shattered.

(Centipedes have been around since the Silurian age. No wonder they're hard to kill.)

This morning one of the toilets was blocked, so I had the joy of unblocking it with a plunger bearing the proud slogan, "With as slogan of 'Clean Environment' we wish to be a good citizen to the Human Life."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

more cold tongue - another sermon

Sermon preached at Seoul Cathedral, English Language Mission – 22 June, 2008.

OS 12: Mt 10.24-39.

24‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

26 ‘So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

32 ‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

34 ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Reading the bible can be a dangerous thing. Perhaps a Bible should come with safety manual; or maybe a manufacturer’s disclaimer! One of the points in that manual should be that single verses cannot be taken out of context! The problem is that because the Bible is a sacred scripture, and we hear it read in a special context in worship, that we can unthinkingly imagine that every word in it is of equal value. This approach can lead us to regarding the Bible as a collection of verses, each of which has an instruction or message for us. And these verses are somewhat like trees; we can get so preoccupied with the individual trees that we cannot see the whole forest.

Today we just heard the words of Our Lord as recorded in Matthew’s gospel, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (10:34). How can we deal with that? Do we conclude that the way of Christ is not one of peace? That those who follow Jesus should carry swords? Or do we then look at other things said by Jesus, such as, “Blessed are the peace-makers”, and then say that as the Bible contains things which contradict each other that it’s either unreliable or totally untrue?

The problem comes when we think we can take every word in the Bible out of its context and that somehow there is the word of God.

Another problem is in the way we read words in a context that gives them authority. A bible carries a layer of authority because of what it is and because of the way in which we read it. An instruction manual has a sort of authority too, but if, for example, if I just bought a toaster and page one of the manual said it was only for 110 volts, and page 2 of the manual said it was only for 220 volts then I might ask myself how could I believe anything in the manual at all. (Or perhaps we could start two rival groups here – the “220 volt” group and the “110 volt” group; and each would denounce the other as being false; until perhaps one day we tried to plug the toaster into the mains to see what happens!)

And yet another problem in interpretation is how we understand words such as “you” or “we.” We hear these read out in a bible passage, and often without thinking we take them as applying to us. But it makes a difference if “you” means “the disciples”, or “a crowd”, or “the Pharisees”. Perhaps we can apply them to ourselves as well, but we need to be careful before making that jump because by interpreting the meaning of the original passage in that way we could be making some change in its meaning.

Let’s return to the gospel passage first. Actually this whole chapter of Matthew, part of which we heard from last week, is about the instructions Jesus gave to his first missionaries, the twelve disciples. If we read chapter 10 we can see the authority Jesus gave them, who they were, where they were to go, how they were to go out, some of the problems they might encounter and how they were to deal with those problems. That’s the immediate context of this passage. Instructions to the twelve disciples.

Part of the wider context is the situation in which the gospels were being written. Division had arisen between Christian and Jew. At the time Matthew’s gospel was being compiled Christians of Jewish origin were being excluded from the synagogues. To be a Christian could put you on a collision course with your family or friends.

The disciples’ mission, we are told in Matthew 10.5 was to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The task of their mission was to proclaim that the kingdom of heaven was near; and to show this by curing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing lepers and casting out demons. (Mt 10.8).

These were all fundamentally signs of healing. They were signs that what had been broken though illness, or disease, or death, or demonic possession was to be restored—made whole. Brokenness was not part of the kingdom of heaven. Wholeness was. In fact the kingdom could be described as a kingdom of peace. The Hebrew word “shalom” carries that meaning of wholeness, more than just “peace”. Peace is not just the absence of conflict—rather it’s an active wholeness.

So, returning to this problem verse, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword,” and placing it in its context of instructions to the twelve disciples for their work of mission of proclaiming the good news of the coming of God’s kingdom of peace, I think we can see that this verse is not telling Christians to get out with swords and start fighting.

We can often get a clue in interpreting the gospels by looking at the parallel passages in the other gospels, and in this case Luke has a parallel. He says, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Lk 12.51). We can see that for Luke the sword is a symbol of division, rather than an instrument of war.

This also fits with the verses which follow in today’s gospel. Family members will be divided, one against the other; and Jesus sets the challenge for his followers of loving him more than family members. Remember the time in which this gospel was being compiled. Christians were being excluded from Jewish circles. To be a follower of Christ required a radical decision and could result in separation from family.

Overall the context of this chapter is about the proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven, and that kingdom is one of peace and wholeness. It is a kingdom which radically rejects the way of violence. Peacemaking in a context of violence only provokes more violence from the forces of authority; but to be people of peace and healing is the only way to be people of the kingdom of heaven. The disciples should not be surprised if the powers of violence oppose the Prince of Peace and his message, but Jesus reassures them not to be afraid, God cares for them and will protect them.

It is not that Jesus, and the message of the Kingdom, provokes violence. It is rather that his life, as an innocent and forgiving victim, and his preaching of the message of God’s kingdom, challenge the status quo and uncover the networks of power and oppression. He uncovers the violence and division which is already present.

To broaden the context now to this present age and ourselves.

We also are called to continue the mission of Jesus and to be people who proclaim the nearness of God’s kingdom. We also live in a society of deep divisions; a world much in need of good news and of healing. The instructions to the twelve disciples also can inspire us with a vision of how to live as people who proclaim the kingdom of God.

The disciples were told as they went about their mission to “acknowledge Jesus before others.” (10.32). How can we continue that today? Who is the Jesus we acknowledge? The gospels show us Jesus who is an innocent victim, Jesus who doesn’t take revenge, Jesus who breaks the circles of violence, Jesus who forgives his murderers and persecutors and betrayers. Ultimately Jesus dies for us, and in so doing, breaks the power of death.

The decision to be a follower of Jesus is the decision to follow this way; and that calls for rejecting the way of violence and for standing against the powers of destruction. But following Jesus is yet more than that. It is more than opposing the ways of destruction and violence; it is working to transform them with love and forgiveness.

The image of beating swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks in the prophecies of Isaiah and Micah is a striking example of such transformation. There are movements today, for example in areas which have had high levels of militarization, for transforming former weapons into instruments of peace. An example is from Liberia where a Christian group makes crosses from empty shell and bullet casings. Other groups take old guns and make sculptures from them.

However, more important than transforming the hardware of violence, is transforming the thoughts and impulses and all that leads to violence. The hardware of violence is easy to notice; it’s something “out there”; but the inner thoughts of violence are not; they are internal and normally hidden, and so are, in a way, more dangerous. They can trip us up when we least expect it.

Transforming hidden thoughts of violence can seem impossible but we have the example of Christ, the innocent victim, who occupied the place of destruction, who overcame the power of death. The forces of violence need not frighten us. Christ has gone ahead, has drawn the sting of death and pioneered the way of salvation.

In the Anglican Church these days we have many concerns, to put it mildly! People have many fears about the future. The challenge we face, I think, is not so much about structures or decisions about boundaries, but rather how to be followers of Christ, who broke down boundaries, who called sinners to fellowship with him, who forgave his murderers, and who challenged all his followers to live by this same radical love.

And now, we prepare to gather round the altar for this meal of fellowship with our Lord and with one another, and to proclaim the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. We remember that we follow the Son of Man, who lived the way of God’s Kingdom; a way of peace and reconciliation. We carry such wonderful good news, news which is so good that we cannot keep it to ourselves but must share it with others.

May God, whose kingdom we proclaim, be with us.

May Jesus, the healer and reconciler, lead us.

May the Holy Spirit ever inspire us to be people of the gospel of peace.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Trip to the South-East

Last week a few days away in the south east (mainly Kyeongsando) with John Kater (recently retired from CDSP, Berkeley and visiting professor at Sungkonghoe University for the last semester; travelling with Jeremiah Yang, vice-president of SKHU. Staying with Benedictine Sisters at Yangsan, near Pusan.

the garden of the sisters' convent near Yangsan.

With Sisters Martha and Michaela visiting Tongdosa.

At one of the smaller hermitages near Tongdosa.

Pots of lotus in the temple gardens at Tongdosa.

Monks working hard in the gardens

Lotus blossoms at a small hermitage near Tongdosa.

A typical East Coast scene. A fishing village with tourist facilities built on top of it.

Positive thinking indeed - to the extent that pigs might fly.

This seems to be a clove of garlic - a sculpture at a roadside stop on the Jungang Expressway heading north to Chuncheon.


115,000 won to fill a tank with diesel. (About 110 USD, 58 GBP, 147 NZD). Diesel is now about 2,000 won a litre, up from 900 won a litre about 5 years ago.

President Lee already has the signs up advertising his hometown in the conservative belt of the southeast, near Pohang.

The mountain pass (I forgot the name) on one of the roads running westwards from the East Coast.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

learning to fly

I am learning to fly. Not in imitation of a bird, but on Microsoft Flight Simulator. So far I am very good at taking off, can change direction (but not to where I want to) am not so good at flying in straight lines, but occasionally manage to land on the runway and not on the terminal building.

I am trying to get my (cyber) pilot's license but it's depressingly like the driver's license test I was doing a year ago. Except that each time I fail I can just start again and I am spared having to wait another week!

Monday, May 05, 2008


Koreans love wearing t-shirts with English words on them. Seen a few days ago by City Hall a young couple, presumably on a date. His shirt bore the words: "You'd be better off without me".

Now, this expression usually means "I'd be better off without you", but the speaker tries to soften the blow by putting it round the other way.

I've been entertaining some of the possible scenarios here:

(1) Neither of them understands what it means - it's just cute English words to decorate a shirt.

(2) He is wearing it as a hint for her. She hasn't taken the hint because (a) she doesn't understand what the shirt is saying, or, (b) she does understand it but she thinks he can't - therefore she's taking no notice of it. He is thinking women are very hard to understand.

(3) She gave it to him as a hint. The hint backfired because he doesn't understand it. He is just so happy to have a t-shirt his girlfriend gave him. Perhaps he can understand it a little but construes it with an opposite meaning. She is going quietly mad over the whole stupid business.

(4) Most positively, they both understand it, but their relationship is strong enough to take it all as a joke, or maybe as an ironic comment on modern life.

(5) Perhaps "You'd be better off without me" is the name of a rock group.

Monday, April 28, 2008

fixing the water

The water supply is more or less fixed. It wasn't installed properly originally because the builder didn't know what he was doing, and in any case was trying to do things on the cheap. So we've had to get it fixed. It's better but still not a proper repair since it will inevitably fail again next winter when the pipes freeze. Why not get it fixed properly? That would be too easy really.

Monday, April 21, 2008

blogger returns

Yes - I am back in Korea after nearly five months away. I've unpacked my bag for the last time and sorted out the pile of stuff it carried round the world. There are still three packets coming from England by surface post.

Back at the friary I've been organising my work for the next few months.

Apart from my share of the housework and dealing with the usual crises (the latest is the friary water supply and we are reaping the consequences of a system which was cobbled together on the cheap by the retreat house construction company) my goals are:

study: more of the Franciscan stuff and in particular the hurdles which are set by the Univeristy of Wales, Lampeter for its MA students - a short essay and an encyclopaedia article. And also reviving my nearly defunct Latin study.

SSF stuff: preparation for the First Order Chapters in Stroud in August/September.

Other things: writing blog entries (of course); putting photos online (maybe in Flickr); continuing teaching myself to fly (in Microsoft Flight Simulator - not in real planes) and maybe even managing a complete flight one day.

cold tongue

Someone once said that old sermons are cold tongue. So in that spirit here's some cold tongue which was once hot - or at least slightly warm - two Sundays ago at St Peters Eastern Hill in Melbourne.

3rd Sunday of Easter - (April 6th, 2008)

Gospel: Luke 24. 13-35.

Over the past two weeks we’ve been hearing the various gospel accounts of the resurrection. These accounts are like witnesses, each showing us one of the ways in which the disciples came to know the risen Christ.

This morning’s gospel is often called “The Road to Emmaus”, but let’s think of it as “The Stranger on the Road”.

Who was this stranger on the road? We of course know the answer to that. We know how the story turns out and so we read it backwards as it were, as being those whose eyes have already opened. But try to imagine we are those whose eyes have not been opened. We are like those disciples on the road to Emmaus who did not recognize Jesus. Why? We can imagine that fear, ignorance and unbelief “kept their eyes from recognizing him.” But more deeply, perhaps, this shows the difficulty of ever recognizing Christ, except in brief moments. God is, for us, so often a hidden God.

So who is this stranger? Our knowledge of the end of this story tells us that of course it is Jesus. We know that he has somehow come back from death, and is here on the road. Just like old times, except that he is harder to recognise.

The theologian James Allison has pointed out something so obvious that we perhaps don’t see it. This man on the road, he says, is a dead man walking. To quote from his book, Faith beyond Resentment:

“I think it very important that we don't make the separation which we are accustomed to when talking about the risen Jesus, imagining that he is alive, and for that reason, not dead. No, what is fascinating about the doctrine of the resurrection is that it is the whole human life of Jesus, including his death, which is risen. The life of God, since it is totally outside the order of human life and human death, doesn't cancel death, as if it were a sickness which is to be cured, but takes it up, assumes it. Luke offers us a vision of a risen Jesus who has not ceased to be a dead man, and who, starting from his living-out-being-a-crucified-man, teaches and empowers his disciples by his presence.

To put that in other words, Christ’s resurrection was not some cancellation of his death or an undoing of his suffering. It was not a spiritualised otherworldy experience, nor was it the act of a deus ex machina coming down out of the skies to fix everything up at the last moment. The resurrection was the transformation, and the rising to new life, of the crucified corpse of the man Jesus of Nazareth; the man who had been killed by the power of the Roman Empire for daring to say that God his Father was the ultimate authority, and for asserting the primacy of God’s kingdom over Empire and especially over the corrupt collusion of that Empire with the Temple.

He was killed, and three days later, his body although still carrying its wounds was filled with life, and once again walking and talking. What did he talk about? Revenge on his persecutors? An armed rising against those who had executed him? The eternal damnation of those who killed him? Punishment for those who had betrayed him? None of these.

To borrow another key word from James Allison, the risen Christ was free from resentment. The innocent victim became the innocent victor and, totally free from resentment, he now was teaching his disciples, opening the scriptures so that they too could live with the same lack of resentment.

And what is a life free of resentment? It is a life of grace, a life which no longer needs to protect itself against the powers of death. Christ has drawn the sting of death. We no longer need erect barriers, or live in fear. How is this possible? Christ’s resurrection was nearly 2000 years ago. But what did God raise in resurrecting Christ? It was human flesh and bone, the same stuff of which we are made. Christ was raised so that we too might be raised to eternal life. That is God’s supreme gift of grace to us.

Resentment and the way of vengeance and the endless circles of violence – these are the forces of death which Christ has overcome. Resurrection is so much more than a happy ending to a sad story or the vindication of the innocent victim. Resurrection is not just Christ being alive again. It is the undoing of the powers of destruction.

But let us return to that road, and the stranger walking on it. The disciples cannot recognize Christ. Their hearts are broken as they pour out their grief. They had hoped that Jesus, a mighty prophet, would have been “the one to redeem Israel.” Not only has he seemed to fail in this, not only has he died, but he has been killed by the very powers he challenged. Their grief both cripples and blinds them. It is now three days since his death – in Jewish thought three days was the longest period that a soul might still inhabit or wait around a body – and they are further disturbed, rather than reassured, by the news of the empty tomb.

Jesus begins to teach them, as he must have already done many times, drawing on Moses and the prophets – the books of Law and Prophecy – which were counted as the Hebrew Scriptures. But still they do not see.

How can we see Christ? For if we see his body, our preconceptions of who he is and of his mission will cloud our vision. We will see not Christ, but rather our own projection of who we imagine him to be. The disciples had heard the teaching of the stranger on the road, but still they were confused and disquieted. Their projection of who and what a Messiah should be was that of a political Messiah who would use force to redeem Israel, lead it back to independence from Roman control, and restore it to the imagined glories of the days of King David.

Their projection had blinded them and left them without life. Their view of how things should be just couldn’t accommodate what had happened, and so in their confusion they couldn’t see the truth in front of them. Jesus had suffered and was killed, and this wasn’t in their vision of what should happen to a Messiah. Other people’s gods didn’t suffer. They were powerful, and if you were lucky your god would be more powerful than the others. The God those disciples were still struggling to know was a God who allowed himself to be weak and to suffer. This is the foolishness of the Cross.

When we cannot see that “the Christ must suffer”, and that God not only permits this, but that is it fundamentally at the heart of God, then we are blind. When we cannot accept human suffering because it seems a sign of imperfection, then we too are blind. And when we ignore the suffering of others we also are blind because we cannot see God.

And why this suffering? Surely suffering is negative and destructive. Certainly it can be, and often is, but it’s important to see it in a wider context – that of love – which gives it a meaning which it would not otherwise have. In and through love, suffering can be transformed and made redemptive.

But Cleopas and his companion are still blind. Perhaps for company, or out of friendship they invite Jesus, “Stay with us, for night is at hand.” And now sign and symbol and action bring those disciples to the realization which words and rational explanation could not do. He took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them. And then their eyes were opened.

This bread is more than just bread. It is the very life of Christ. Christ takes it, in thankfulness acknowledges God’s blessing in it, breaks it and gives it up for others. And here is the moment of recognition.

The commentary for today in the excellent website , uses a shocking phrase to express what is going on here.

“True cognition of Jesus takes place when we as a Christian community gather round our sacred victim and acknowledge what we are doing, the symbolic ritual activity of mob cannibalism. This is the Eucharist. This is where, even as we re-enact the murder of Jesus, we are told we are forgiven. If we would do this to Jesus, we would certainly do it to others. And we do, and knowing this, we can also choose to no longer participate in processes that lead to death. We become aware that we are the Forgiven Ones. We have come under the reign of Life. We become the Forgiving Ones. And this is the joy of Eastertide.

At the very heart of the Eucharist is service and self-emptying. It is Christ’s giving of himself, and his invitation to us to join him in this self-emptying. The Eucharist cannot be reduced to a private moment alone with God. It is a thanksgiving meal for the whole Christian community in which we draw strength from the presence of Christ among us, and are fed for the journey. Not just fed for our comfort, or to relieve our hunger, but fed with the bread of justice and love which drives us out into the world to proclaim the Kingdom of God.

Luke’s account of the last supper links the eating of that supper with the fulfilment of God’s kingdom. That kingdom is recognizing that God is present in this world, transforming it, overcoming injustice, and leading us as his forgiven and forgiving people, living in grace and free from resentment.

That is our Good News.

“It is true, the Lord is risen and has appeared to Simon.”

May we know the love of the Father,
the Risen Life of the Son,
and be led by the Spirit.


Friday, March 28, 2008


Ages have passed since my last blog entry. That doesn't mean I've been doing nothing. Rather it means I've been doing too much.

My time at Canterbury finished up with a bit of a rush to get my papers completed and handed in. After that I had a few days in London. I'm now in New Zealand and am about to fly to Australia.

So what's been happening? A reunion of my 7th form class from Nayland College (as the final year at secondary school in NZ used to be called). And now I'm in Auckland about to check SSF records at the diocesan archives.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

travels in the UK

Last weekend I took a few days off study to visit friaries in London and Dorset (particularly to interview the older members) and to Ringwood in the New Forest to meet some cousins.

The English weather was is it always seems to be these days - wet and windy.

Here a few photos.

Salisbury Cathedral

With cousins Nick, Peter and Carol, and Jeannie (Peter's wife)
Carol with Gambit walking in a rather boggy heath

Hilfield Friary in Dorset

The Friary of the Divine Compassion in Plaistow, London

Brothers Donald and Arnold, two of the older ones I interviewed

Friday, January 11, 2008


After the various adventures of rail travel in Poland it was good to have a few extra days back in Prague. Camels on the feast of the Epiphany were a bonus. As was the snow which freshly fell that morning. And then at the Anglican church, totally by chance, I ran into an acquaintance from Australia - he's a member of a youth community in Canberra which has visited the hermitage at Stroud several times when I've been there. So I had some company for the final day of sightseeing. Mostly at the (former) convent of Agnes of Prague - the Poor Clare sister, and contemporary of St Clare and recipient of several letters from her. The convent is now an art gallery for medieval Czech art and certainly worth visiting.

Boarding a little plane from Prague to Vienna

Not a very interesting shot really

St Christopher - in the Agnes of Prague Convent

The former convent church

Some of the devotional works in the former convent

The camels arriving at the friary

The friary in the snow

Friars and postulants

There must be millions of photos of scenes like this in Prague

It was a surprise to run into someone I know from Australia at St Clement's Anglican Church in Prague. Toby is part of a youth community which has been to our NSW hermitage for programmes to reflect on community life and spirituality.

The following day, totally without problem, I travelled to London and then to Canterbury. I'm now at the friary and beginning my studies for this term. So far I've been collecting a pile of books to read - and very impressive they look - but haven't opened them yet.