Thought for the Week – A simple message

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“And he summoned the twelve, and began to send them out in pairs; and he gave them authority over the unclean spirits; and he charged them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no bread, no wallet, no money in their purse; but to go shod with sandals: and, said he, put not on two coats.” Mk 6: 8-9

In this short section from Mark’s unified Gospel message – we have the disciples being ‘sent out’….…..

‘Sent out’ – what to take with you? – nothing to pack other than a simple message – a message free from spin, not cloaked in fancy packaging – repent!

What has to be done, what we have to do as God’s chosen ones, is to be aware of the ‘good news’, spread the message of truth, of freedom and this requires no-thing, no possessions, no bread, no money, no haversack.

Yet our culture tells us different  –  tries to convince us that we need lots of things, tries to convince us to use our every waking moment gathering more and more stuff to take with us – possessions, money, cars, a haversack….weighed down – too full to be sent  –  and stripped of these possessions what are we left with – an empty shell with nothing to deliver.

Jewish culture sees things differently. It urges us to use our every waking moment not working to accumulate more and more stuff but to gain time – working to harvest time, time for family, for God, time to spread the Good News, to discover the truth.
While we are busy building great cathedrals in space, Judaism builds great cathedrals in time – festivals, sacred moments, the Sabbath – one day in the week – time guarded.
Mark, the Jew, echoes this emphasis – if you enter a house stay while you are welcome, but don’t waste time with those who don’t listen – walk away, wipe the dust from your under your feet…

And they went out proclaiming a message of Repentance – turn – wake up – don’t be fooled- taken in – become alert, attentive to what is happening – for attentiveness, as Nicephorus the hermit puts it,  is the sign of perfect repentance. Attentiveness the sign of perfect repentance.

Without the Sabbath day, Sabbath times in our days, time to pay attention, we remain slaves in Egypt, slaves to the Pharohs in our lives….and the whips and chains of busyness and possessions.

Repent, become aware – turn – value time, not as a commodity but as a moment to share with your neighbour, with God and to spread the good news! Valuing time over space – a necessary corrective for us all.

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Thought for the Week – Angels anytime anywhere

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“You might see an angel anytime of anywhere. Of course you have to open your eyes to a kind of second level but it is not really hard. The whole business of what’s reality and what isn’t has never been solved and probably never will be. So I don’t care to be too definite about anything. I have a lot of edges called Perhaps and almost nothing you can call Certainty. For  myself, but not for other people. That’s a place you just can’t get into, not entirely anyway, others people’s heads. I’ll just leave you with this. I don’t care how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. It’s enough to know that for some people they exist and that they dance.” Mary Oliver

My confidence in angels is based on their steady presence in my life. They come in all sorts of disguises – as a parent, a sibling, a friend, a teacher, a helper….good people dotted round the landscape of my life …and they come is all sorts of acts too – acts of kindness and of generosity – we can miss these angels but they are there to help us turn the sometimes bitter water of our lives into vintage wine…

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Thought for the Week – Remaining close to Nature

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When the plough was invented in neolithic times, the straight line became necessary and so Neolithic people began to shape the landscape. They made square fields – for when you plough you need to go in straight lines. Having invented the square for ease of agriculture the next step was a square house. This may have altered our way of looking at the universe.

Straight lines are rare in nature and right angles are practically non existent…the earth is a globe and so are the planets.

When we began to think and feel in straight lines we took a big leap towards separating ourselves from nature- to feel that we were not a part of nature but something different.

Until the white man came, the Bantu tribe in Africa did not have a plough.  Cultivation was done by women once the men had cleared the ground using fire. They used a simple hoe or digging stick. The shape of the area didn’t matter and they had no need for straight lines or corners. In Africa everything is a circle – their cultivated land, their huts, pots and they remain closer to nature.

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Thought for the Week – Perfectionism

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Perfectionism is the story of our times and channels much of what we do  – from the search for the perfect home, the perfect partner, the perfect body, striving to be the perfect monk, the perfect woman – our culture packages and sells it effectively …skinny, thin, beautiful,  great relationship, work is great too,  life is perfect – it conforms to the all the norms.
This striving for perfection, conforming to the standard of this world, makes us ill at heart – we loose touch with our truth and become like everyone else – with our many dull vices – the general, the ordinary rotten mud of human meanness and cowardice and cruelty and evil and hate- we are all the same. Saints resist this temptation – they are virtuous – unique – in touch with their truth.  It is in their virtues that saints are original – hating what is evil, holding fast to what is good, ardent in spirit, offering hospitality to strangers.
It is in our virtues that we are original and unique  – virtues are particular, vices are general. We too can become saints – in touch with our truth  – but truth is a risk that most of us find hard to face.
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Thought for the Week – be filled with enthusiasm.

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‘Nothing great was every achieved without enthusiasm’, according to Ralph Waldo Emerson

At one time enthusiasm was a religious term but not any more. Now one can be enthusiastic about almost anything from water skiing to good food, without religion entering it at all.

At Pentecost the followers of Jesus were filled with enthusiasm – the word comes from the Greek ‘en theos’, God within.

They were filled with the spirit, the life giving breath of creation – and they were transformed from being terrified people into people of enthusiasm and commitment.

Christian theology and popular devotion have neglected the spirit’s crucial role in the world – kept it off stage. And yet the spirit was promised to all and belongs primarily to our world and not to any church and religion. It is defined most by its movement – it blows where it wills.

The truth is that this life giving spirit is available to us all. What we need to do is tune into its promptings and be prepared to follow its nudges and so be filled with enthusiasm.

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Thought for the Week – Scarcity

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We live in a culture where the clear message is that there is never enough.  We  always need to get more/buy more to be happy.
Images and feelings of this scarcity surround us – we are not good enough, safe enough, can never be certain enough, nor perfect enough,  not extra-ordinary enough…..we worry about having enough food, enough money.
This attitude and the felt sense it generates acts as a block to the flow of life and of grace.
And the search is on for more – life becomes a scramble to accumulate in case of a shortage.  We find it difficult to imagine the infinite – abundance – especially the infinite love of God.
The many multiplication stories in the gospels should give us some confidence even though the apostles who were constantly worried about scarcity advise Jesus against feeding the multitude.  Jesus wants them to change from a world view of
scarcity to one of abundance – to believe that there is enough manna in the desert for all of us.
A distinguishing feature of saints and the current Pope is that they know abundance – infinite love – that there is enough.
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Thought for the Week – the gift of forgiveness

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Today, we find it hard to believe in grace and the gift of life – the gift of forgiveness.  We are more and more  convinced that we can make everything happen including forgiveness  – a new metaphor permeates our day to day lives.

Rather than our lives growing and developing naturally we are convinced we can  “make” them.  We talk about ‘making time’, ‘making friends’, ‘making meaning’, ‘making money’, ‘making a living’, ‘making love’, even ‘making babies’,  we can make it all better.

Eda Gorres in her book, ‘The Hidden Face’, suggests something different – that forgiveness is “in large part, a gift and the result of grace and we who are advancing in age, need to be aware that, ‘Grace goes further in youth as it meets less opposition’. Old men and women are in soul as stiff, as lean, as bloodless as their bodies, except so far as grace penetrates and softens them. And it requires a flooding of grace to do this.

What is required of us is a gesture, an opening to this flooding of grace and that gesture could be to confess our failures to another and ask forgiveness – we all need to confess according to Dostoyevsky. It is a human need.

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Thought for the Week – Listening, paying attention

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At this time of year it is good to pay special attention to nature and listen to its varied and wonderful sounds. Last week a cuckoo landed on an electricity poll beside me and started to ‘cuckoo’ and then flew off. The wonder of it all!

Listening, paying attention is not something I do very well despite my ears being switched on all the time. In out culture we tend to be swamped by images and our sense of sight dominates all other senses.

Somewhere I read recently that neglecting the aural ‘de-spiritualised existence’.  Neglect of the aural pervades theology and spirituality – God is dealt primarily from a visual perspective, largely ignoring the transcendent possibilities of hearing.

Yet in Genesis, Adam and Eve “ heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day”

And the great obstacle the Israelites faced during the journey from Egypt toward freedom was their ‘hardness of heart’; they were a stiff necked people who did not listen to God but to themselves.

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Thought for the Week – recognise the presence of God active in your life

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There is an perplexity among those who meet Jesus after His resurrection – they fail to recognise him.  It was only once the Holy Spirit came among them at Pentecost that the apostles understood who had been in their midst – in other words it was in hindsight that they knew who it was and not at the time. Something seemed to prevent them seeing who it was.

Newman suggests that this reveals, “the trace of a general principle which comes before us again and again both in scripture and in the world, that God’s presence is not discerned at the time when it is upon us but afterwards when we look back upon what is gone and over.”

Jesus’ life gives us evidence for this law. Philip asked to see the Father, failing to grasp the privileged access he had already enjoyed; ‘Have I been with you so long a time and yet you do not know me, Philip?’

It is true for me too that it is only some time after an event that I recognise the presence of God active in my life.

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Thought for the Week – Hope is the most essential quality for our future as a species

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The message of Easter is one of hope
and not just hope in some distant utopia or fulfilment in an after- life.
It is the conviction that our world and my life
has meaning and is guided
and not simply at the mercy of chance
or the invisible hand of crude economics.
Hope leavens the life of a believer – and permeates every aspect
of  our life as planetary, cosmic creatures.
It acts as an antidote to desperation and helps us to keep our feet moving forward facing the future with courage.
We are not talking about optimism.
Optimism is about  the future- how we would
like things to turn out – how we would like to win the lotto.
It is a desire for things to be different.
Hope is about now, this present moment -it is the conviction
that there is meaning now despite what it might look like – that
something is worth doing however it turns out.
It allows us to give up trying to control everything in our lives
which can so inhibit our vision of a larger possibility and
it means we don’t have to exhaust ourselves trying to mint significance
every moment of  every day.
Hope is the most essential quality for our future as a species
because without hope none of us would
even believe in the possibility of a different world,
let alone work towards it…
St Paul in his letter to the Ephesians says, “My death defying ‘no’ to despair and my life affirming ‘yes’ to seemingly insurmountable problems in the midst of my life are both animated by hope in the invincible might of the risen Jesus and in the immeasurable scope of his power in us who believe”. (Eph 1:19) 
A friend once said to me, “of all my possessions be that material, spiritual or relational, the only one I pray I never lose is hope”.
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