Sunday, 13 March 2016

Thorns (5)

... and now to dealing with the thorns.....

my advice.... be very cautious!  You see, the thing is,  we ARE the thorns.  As Christ speaks to His beloved in the Song of Songs:

I am the flower of the field, and the lily of the valleys. As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.

And this is the whole point of Lent, something impossible has to happen.  The lily will be injured by the thorns, the lily will be be killed by the thorns, but the lily will rise again and will not stop loving us.  And somehow in true love, we become lily and leave our thornyness behind... and being lily, we too get injured by the thorns.... but now they cannot kill us because we truly love.

And one more thing; dry thorns have the terrifying ability to start a conflagration that will destroy everything in their path.  Are not dry thorns the sins of our past?  Surely it is nothing but the mercy of God that prevents our countless sins from devouring and destroying all that is good... go to Confession! And pray for mercy on us and on the whole world. 

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Thorns (4)

A quick search of the online D-R Bible reveals that the Bible makes 40 references to thorns.

The first is in Genesis 3:18 after the fall.

And to Adam He said, 'Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded  you 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life: thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. ....'

This sets the tone.  I think it is important to note that God does NOT curse Adam or Eve at all.  God explicitly says the serpent is cursed and the ground is cursed as a consequence of the fall but not humans.  God says our lives will be difficult, we will have to toil and much of that toil may appear fruitless and/or be painful, but this is surely not a curse, it is a necessary chastisement so that we can come to know God better.  And through Our Lord's willingness to embrace ALL the sorry consequences of the fall (though without any stain of sin Himself), ultimately our toil is elevated as a work of redemption and of glory. Indeed, if we too are willing to accept this toil for the love of God, especially where it is grossly unfair and not caused directly by our own sin, we can share in His work of redemption, because we are then in imitation of Him.  And surely that is the lot of the saints.

But back to the thorns.  The passage from Genesis seems to suggest that thorns and thistles are a consequence of the cursed ground.  There would certainly be no thorns and no thistles in the Garden of Eden.  They seem to be a part of God's creation that at best seems "useless" and at worst seem to be in direct conflict with the Tree of Life, strangling and blocking out all that is naturally good.  However, I am not a fan of arguments about "usefulness".  God doesn't seem to operate anywhere within the realms of "utility". Galaxies are too numerous to count and there are simply too many species of insects and plants most of which have yet to be discovered.  Beauty in nature is fractal and spreads from the microscopic to the galactic with no diminishing is the lavishnes and abundance of its creativity.  God is not interested in "usefulness".  Love is not a "useful" thing, it simply is, it simply has being and simply propagates itself as and how it chooses because it can, and its "fecundity" would be unstopable if it weren't for sin. Thorns are not sin, God does not create sin.

So thorns then seem to strangle what is naturally good but they are God's work, therefore they MUST bring about grace if we accept them for what they are; a necessary chastisement a necessary block to our notions of progress and what is best for us, they spring up just when we don't want them, just when we think things are doing well, just when we forget God.  So rejoice that we have been given thorns and rejoice that they are such a potent symbol of His plans for His stubborn, proud, little creatures.

How we should tackle the thorns that spring up in our lives will be the subject of my next post.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Bl Elizabeth of the Trinity

I rejoice at the news that Bl Elizabeth of the Trinity is to "receive her sainthood".  She is a dear dear friend to me and one I have great difficulty in getting others to appreciate.  There are even people very receptive to the Carmelite spirituality who find her dry and even boring, and in her writings nearly devoid of human characteristics.  So this is my post to try to enthuse my dear readers with a greater understanding of this amazing woman and all that God made manifest in her. I will not do this by giving you a biography of her life and inspiring you.  I will not do this by trying to explain her understanding of the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity and her own very special take on Carmelite Spirituality. I will do this by trying to show you what she means to me. I will try to show you how I have engaged in her friendship and how the misgivings of others are actually completely valid and actually the correct way to approach her and understand the amazing richness of what she has to give.

When she was asked what she thought her mission in heaven would be she said:

It seems to me that my mission will be to draw souls, by helping them to go out of themselves in order to adhere to God by a simple, wholly loving movement and to maintain them in that great inner silence which allows God to imprint Himself on them and transform them into Himself.

From her "mission" it ought to be obvious that we will not find her if we seek her, she is totally absorbed in the Blessed Trinity, she has forgotten herself. But that doesn't mean she isn't present to intercede for us and to guide us if we too wish to go where she has gone.  And guide she does, gently, but carefully, meeting the soul where they are and indicating the signposts along the way.

But that place she loves is scary.  She calls it the abyss.  God for her is the Infinite Solitude.  Loneliness is fullness of being.

To me it is all about how we love God, and her way of loving God may seem outrageous to you, but that doesn't make it wrong.  We are all different and naturally there are different genuine ways of loving God.  So taking some advice from Fr Faber's The Creator and the Creature, here are the some of the manifestations of our love of God, as listed by Faber, but with particular reference to how Bl Elizabeth's love shows itself.

Firstly there is the love of benevolence: a loving kindness towards God, a wanting things to be better for God, wishing Him impossible perfections through the actions of His humble little creature who so loves Him.  This is a childish love and one that is expressed by many of the saints. Such a soul wants God to be happy and through their love, they do help impart His grace on others. They desire impossible things, like an empty hell and an empty purgatory, but their desire is always motivated by a desire for God's happiness and mercifully this prevents it becoming too cloyingly sentimental.

Next there is the love of complacence: a soul that loves in this way simply loves God as He is.  The soul has tranquillity.  As Faber says "it rejoices with Him in His unity, one of His own deepest and most secret joys". And Faber almost predicts Bl Elizabeth's "new song", her "praise of His Glory" when he writes "a new strain of music steels out from its inmost soul.  It rejoices that none else is like to God". Such love may appear a bit dull to others, but such complacent love is ecstatic.

I would argue that whilst St Therese's personality makes the love of benevolence more manifest, with Bl Elizabeth it is the love of complacence that shines through.  Bl Elizabeth forgets herself, she is disinterested in her own sufferings and consolations, but she has found the pearl of great price and she wants you to "come and see".

I advise you to read her two short retreats, "Heaven on Earth" and "Laudem Gloriae".  Forget about her as a person but, let her explain the depth of St Paul's writings to you, let her love of God lead you on, let her lead you like any good teacher, at your pace and with your own personal curriculum.... and she will not disappoint.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Thorns (3)

This post is about those mysterious words of St Paul in the second letter to the Corinthians:

And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given to my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated.  Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

My reflection is personal and based on my own experience of illness and all the world, the flesh and the devil like to throw at us.  I am not intending to speak for St Paul.

The more a person opens up to allowing God to let His will and His glory be their life, the more joyful they are.  It is that Christian joy, the joy that cares neither for suffering or sweetness, it is the joy of being in the Eternal Present, it is somewhat detached from the human condition. This person will walk in imitation of St Paul, as he walked in the life of Christ and not in his own. That level of peace, self mastery and generosity of spirit should be something we all ought to aspire to, rather than the somewhat lesser goal of trying to overcome temptations and sin.  In both cases we will fall short of the mark, but surely it is better to have aimed higher and not to succeed than to have aimed lower and to have landed somewhere very unpleasant.

There is no way we can sustain such a state with our wills.  There is no way such a state is in our control, we are passive to it, we have to be obedient to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  Such a state is a gift and often the receiver of such a gift is, I think, almost unaware that they have it.

So what about the thorn in the flesh?

Personally I agree with those commentators who say that it was some sort of bodily affliction and that St Paul does us a favour by not being specific.  It would be wrong to associate a particular ailment like cataracts, haemorrhoids or tennis elbow with a growth in holiness.  But it has to be some sort of medical ailment.  A temptation or a persistent sin simply in someone otherwise healthy doesn't make sense.  It has to be an ailment because ailments weaken us.  It is like a permanent Lent.  We are brought low, we are made helpless, we are frustrated and it is not of our doing, we have not tripped up, we have been tripped up, upended and are lying flat on our faces in the mud. Overcoming temptations makes us stronger. Illness weakens and weakens and weakens.....  Granted, such a state could lead to temptations within us to despair, to be filled with self-pity, to be horrid to others who seem to be better off than us, to lose our trust in God.  And when you are ill, these things are precisely what the devil will tempt you to do.  He is persistent.  He constantly whispers in your ear that everything is futile, that "your God won't save you", that life is nasty, brutish and short, that your love of the divine is a sham, that you have nothing of the sort, that you are deluded... and even if you are not tempted to give in and follow his advice and wallow in the misery of your own self-pity.... you are ground down by his persistence and the weakness grows and grows and becomes unbearable.

And yes, then you do cry out to God that you have had enough, that you want this to end.  For me this passage is not about suffering.  I don't think suffering has any intrinsic merit and I steer clear of the writings of saints that talk too much about "embracing suffering".  To me to suffer is to lose faith and to lose charity.  That is true suffering and a true abomination, and not something with any merit in itself.  This passage is about a physical affliction that will bring us low and then tempt the devil to kick us when we are down.

And because God's grace is sufficient, all that the kicking, screaming and petulance of the devil does is make us love God more.

A picture of a remedy for a solvable complaint.  I am now more than 9 years without a definite diagnosis.  I am being seen by my third set of consultants.  They are very interested in me and say my complaints are genuine, I have had more tests and trips to London than I care to recount and they still haven't got a clue what is wrong... hey, eh??? Illness is soooo boring.

"Rejoice I say again rejoice"  Phil 4:4.

......and the NHS, and the whole panoply of doctors and pharamacists and health care professionals can't touch that.....