February 27, 2010

 From upon his prominent mount of humiliating public display and execution… from within his ripped and torn, raw, bloodied flesh  -dehydrated and suffocating from his own fluids – the soul of the historic man Jesus of Nazareth cried out in agony :

“I thirst!”

To mention this utterly barren, comfortless and tortured cry of a revolutionary, religious genius without a deep sense of awe and respect seems, to me at least, profane. To go further and compare it the cravings of an overfed, over caffeinated, comfortable 36 year old man sitting in an arm chair in Star Bucks, risks being dangerously banal, self-delusional and idolatrous, at the very least.

Yet, I think about that cry as I sit here in this familiar cafe. This afternoon I have wandered around the bookshops I haunt in my home town, searching for a morsel of tender healing words; having spent all my spare money on books that offer some  fragments of ‘status quo-piercing’ prose or shards of illuminatory poetry…I feel inside a driveness… an unsatiated hunger: “I thirst, I crave, I hurt!”

What do I ‘hurt’ for? What could I possibly be craving for in a life of such idle, leisure and luxury? What is the source of these cravings: I want …I want… more…

But if I pause…if I wait, and just sit, become aware of my existence… my cramped breath.. The taste in my mouth…the warmth and softness of my clothes…the tightness of my jeans around my waist line and the quietly bustling conversations of strangers that go on around me… If I pay attention for a moment to the strange, yet familiar cover recordings of popular music from the past decades …and begin to breathe slowly, enjoy the well worn splendour and richness of the environment around me…I gain a sense of a yearning…not for coffee or sugar or sex or affection or respect, status and privilege…but a thirst for the sublime. I hunger for something beyond…an energy that reaches out and is not commoditised like the quid pro quo monotonous pay-backs of the normal, routine, everyday life. This is something else…something More.

“I thirst…I hunger…I long …for More…More, Lord”

“More of You”

Is this God’s glory? I wonder whether anyone in the cafe I sit with could care about the idea of something as ephemeral and abstract as: ‘The Glory of God’. How pompous and quite possibly deluded to speak of …THE GLORY OF GOD!!!  Who could care I guess, if they haven’t been bitten by this particular ‘monster’…if the notion of God doesn’t really enter into the everyday vocabulary of their active and productive lives. I don’t know. There are years, 16 years that separate me from the days when I was a ‘care-free’ student frequenting the pubs in Central London with big-hearted friends and enthralled by my girlfriend’s enrapturing perfume, the latest cut of her hair and how darn good she looked in that short black skirt. In those days, worry free days, I rarely thought about God, let alone God’s Glory! Yet even then, there were moments when a deeper call tugged on my heart  – the grubby poverty of the homeless man or woman on the street…hungry and cold…in the same metropolis of London, where designer handbags, shoes and watches were displayed and sold, for £100s, £1,000s to  those who routinely travelled by luxury, sports car or limousine. Those moments of pity for a young or old person, who I felt could so easily be me…had I not been loved…had I not been ordained to be born into a loving, caring middle class family…well, I realised that could me be…so easily it could have been me.

But apart from such memories, I can’t remember thinking too much about God, let alone HIS Glory. Yet, this sublime power, this energy that showers from the very givenness of material life…that sometimes simmers in the background or in other moment’s bursts forth from within the nature and culture of life…what is it? It permeates our every cell, every molecule of water within our bodies and upon the earth, every atom alive…every dream of the subconscious, every connection between synapses, every cognitive process, every visual perception, every taste, every smell  or audio frequency…every vibration in the air. Our lives , we live in this world saturated with energy and light…could this be the Glory of God, amongst us?  Beauty abounds. Only sin…that old religious word for an in turned, inward growing malignant self-centredness at the expense of others…perverts, degrades, defaces, denies the abundance, the superabundance of beauty that shines on this earth; vibrating through the damaged, yet splendid physicality we live in.

Glory (Part 2)

I first became a Christian in the great city of London in 1995, during the same heady student days I mentioned before, when the glisten of the drinking and the socialising and the relationship began to darken and turn into a chaotic and nightmarish whirlpool of broken-love and burgeoning mental illness. When that happened, I was as they say ‘but a child’. I was a naive, self-centred and ignorant young man …finding God. In those quite disturbing days, discovering ‘The Faith’ was like opening a door into a new world of God powered magic. I was quickly, and disorientatingly, introduced into a new world of  charismatic religious meetings…African drums … loud soft-rock and passionate incantations,  in makeshift sanctuaries in small, badly lit, untidy community centres or primary school halls…as well of course as traditional hymns that hadn’t changed since I was a kid. Prayers and supplications were made to a schizoid God in my mind who I knew was both all-loving, but also feared was capable of great violence and damnation for those who fell outside the carefully defined parameters of THE will of God. I was at once suddenly and overwhelmingly in love with this amazing new encounter with a supernatural being and deeply fearful of invoking its wrath by failing to pedantically keep his rules…at best, in moments of clearness, I feared God would only begrudgingly forgive me.

During those first days, my spiritual birth was much like the experience of a child born in foetal distress. My entry into this new ‘glorious’ spiritual world of light, out of the darkened world of the physical passions, was distressing. I used to pray repeatedly with mixed success to this new God to remove the darkness that terrorized my heart, soul and mind.

At that time, faith in God spoke of a heavenly ‘glory’ – a majestic radiance beyond the skies – ineffable – above even the transient beauty of the ever changing clouds, which hydrated with white vapours the perfect blue of the sky. God’s glory was beyond and outside this world. However, as the specially initiated ‘believers in God’…we Christians could have access to this supernatural glory. That is, if we were persistent enough – in self-denial, in the manipulation of carefully chosen Scriptural words to entreat the Almighty.

I don’t want to disparage such well meant and sincere practices. To be honest, in a less obsessive way I still use them myself today. They have their own intrinsic value and beauty as religious customs, which can at times achieve uncanny results. But as a young Christian and a young man swaying under the blustering winds and waves of emotional and mental breakdown this perspective on the Glory of God did not always help. In a real way, it led to a ‘divided life’ – a schizoid relationship with the Divinity of Heaven and the material world of earth – Britain in the 1990s. It was an existence where I was never one hundred percent sure whether I was on the right side of God…or not. Occasional moments of self-forgetfulness, tranquillity in nature or heightened emotion, could cast burning light onto a heart and mind dominated by the cold, darkness of fear. Fears of stirring the wrath of this capricious God would intemittently fade…but these moments were not lasting and I could never be quite sure.

I hated this fear. It terrorized me at times and hour by hour weighed me heavily down – groaning under the bulging sack of distrust, fear, self-condemnation and hate. And yet, during the same period there were also recurrent moments of tenderness …a gentle, but tearful submission.  I felt at times an incredible sense of peaceful warmth and release of fear that emanated from my experiences of prayer and study of the stories of Jesus, this in-credible character who didn’t fit the box of my fears or notions of a dictatorial God. I eagerly, but not uncritically, listened to talks and discussion about this man. I devoured books about him (William Barclay’s The Daily Bible Study were favourites) and I sang songs to magnify him, to ‘glorify’ in my conception his name amongst the World. So, in spite of the at times terrorizing anxiety and condemnation, I carried on believing, searching, finding and exploring.

Today, much of that fear has gone…

At the same time, my early days of religious conformity have also disappeared. I have fallen outside of the systems of traditional religion. After many years of faithful service, I was rejected by my home church as a spokesman and teacher of the faith. I stand outside the city gates…not within the temple with those ‘happy’ (but perhaps, numbed and waning crowds) singing choruses to the ‘glory’ of God. I am an outsider. Yet, here after all that time I find my peace. I find my vocation…outside on the edges…together with the lost and the lonely. And it is here that this energy, the so-called ‘glory’ of God seems so much more present…so much more tangible and in every moment…in every morsel of life. Here there is no rigid divide between religious and secular, even the secular can glow with the sacred.

The potential for revelation…the discreet unveiling of manifestations of a boundlessly generous energy – the love of a God we can only know through being loved, being forgiven and encouraged. Living not in a minute by minute fear of crossing the line from good to bad in the trip-wired matrix of Divine rules. Instead, living with a sense of  set-apart reverence and awe at the potential for each of us to grasp the glorious giftedness of life. To pursue the thirst for the sublime, for the ‘glory’, to the exclusion of hurting others. So that, we become ever more aware and sensitive to the beauty, the intense and radiant value of each and every living creature…especially our fellow human beings. The brothers and sisters…who according to the ancient writings are made in the image of God. ‘The glory of God is a human being fully alive’, said Saint Ireneaus.

Hallelujah! Yes, yes and even more than that.

‘The Heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands.’ Psalm 19:1

‘What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?’ Psalm 8: 4

“My cup over flows” Psalm 23:5




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