Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness’

h1

Maunday Thursday – Jesus Washes his disciples’ feet

April 5, 2012

Human hands gently clean human feet

Maunday Thursday

Traditionally, at this time of year, Christians from across the world gather together to remember the Biblical story of a man called Jesus, who led a group of male and female disciples in first century Palestine.

The story (or stories) of the Biblical Gospels tell us of how this young man spent time with a small group of close friends having a final communal meal before being arrested by the religious and political establishment of that time,  brutally tortured and executed. 

It is a story told that represents a prescient moment in the history of world religions and civilisation. In a traditional society with entrenched hierarchies of power and authority, the charismatic young leader, who has at times gathered crowds of thousands followers, prepares for an intimate dinner (possibly the Jewish Seda and Passover meal) with an estimated twenty to thirty close friends and family.

 Before eating, however, it is custom for people of that time and place to have their feet washed by a slave. Their feet are covered with dirt and sweat having travelled mostly on foot on dusty roads,  fitted only with simple sandals.

According to the historical texts, the disciples of Jesus should be at the peak of their knowledge, insight and training. Yet, predictably, like so many of us human beings, they expect a ‘lesser’ person to do the dirty work of feet washing.

As almost a final gesture of the young leader’s life,  Jesus, the man at the top of the hierarchy of the group of disciples, takes off his outer clothes, wraps a towel round him and begins to wash…to wash the disciples grimy feet.

The scene is described in chapter 13 of the Gospel of John.

In sparse words, a moment of scandalous epiphany in the history of human/religio relations is richly described. The man at the top gets down on his knees and takes the role (probably of a woman) at the lowest strata of society. For believers this scene represents even more than that…it is God Himself in human form washing dirt from the feet of human beings.

It is an often overlooked aspect of Christian teaching, that I think all of us, certainly myself, continually struggle with. Yet it shows forward a new idea in human beings relationships with one another and with God.  Here we see illuminated that the path to God is downwards not upwards. We encounter God not as ruler or king, but as a servant for blood and boned, fleshly humanity.

Artist Howard Banks captures in earthy hues and subtle light a  silent, close up of this scene. The figures and faces of the people involved are not revealed. We see (we believe) the hands of Jesus and the foot of one of the disciples in a tender gesture and gentle intimacy. Yet, the painting leaves open the viewer to question whose feet and whose hands are portrayed? Might they also be yours and mine? The painting is entitled Our Humble God.

 “Our Humble God”, by artist, Howard Banks, is reproduced with permission by Veritasse Ltd. More  Christian art work by other gifted artists can be found on the Veritasse site at www.veritasse.co.uk 

For a link direct to Howard Banks gallery see below:http://www.veritasse.co.uk/community/artists.html?artist_id=58

h1

Falling into the everlasting arms of God …

June 10, 2010

I have been pretty quiet for the last couple of weeks due to some personal news that has kind of ‘rocked my world’, but thankfully, actually in a good way! About a month ago I made an application to a church in the East Midlands to work as a member of the community’s leadership team. Although the whole application and interview  process couldn’t have been done in a more friendly and civilised manner, I have to admit it was a bit of a nerve-wracking experience. Perhaps, you can imagine my surprise, elation and disbelief when after a second interview I was offered the job two weeks ago today! I was certainly pretty stunned…and honestly, overjoyed!

Since then I have been making plans to move out of Sheffield area to near Leicester and have been involved in all the throes of decisions and preparations such a life change entails. I have hopefully found accommodation for which I am making a formal written application. It’s really all good – a new start, a new church community, new friends and a new job. I’m really thrilled about it, although I still catch myself thinking is this for real and then saying, “Yes, this the real thing. It’s actually happening!”

Regarding Dark Nights White Soul, I have had to pause to think about what happens next. Dark Nights White Soul was conceived, carried and born during a period of feeling an intense sense of God’s absence in my life and enduring a real period of alienation from established Christian religion. Now suddenly I have reached the end of the proverbial black tunnel to walk out into the light of day. It is a welcome release. The warmth of God’s light and life is penetrating me deeply through the loving welcome and embrace of this new Christian church and community. It’s a wonderful sensation and touching experience.

So, is this the end of Dark Nights White Soul?

I think not. Dark Nights White Soul is my personal blog and my hope is to reach out to those in whatever circumstances of life that find themselves relating to or fully submerged in the experience of a Dark Night of the Soul. My experience has taught me, that however you feel  – God is actually still with you, in the darkness and in the pain, even if practically speaking it seems that you are completely alone…you are not. It is when you feel absolutely abandoned and isolated from all comfort and consolation that you are actually closest to the love of God, although paradoxically it seems that you are experiencing the opposite. Hold on tight, don’t let go of your hope. Even if you do let go of some of the circumstances around you. I know when my ex-wife left me, I literally felt like the ground beneath me might give way and I would fall through the core of the earth out into space and into a bottomless abyss. I felt like I was falling…and I guess in a way I was falling…falling out of and through the shattered fragments of my previous life, with no firm place or solid fixtures of a new life to hold onto. A wise and godly friend told me at the time that although I felt like I was falling, actually beneath me were the ever lasting arms of God. At the time I listened and somewhat cynically dismissed such sweetly,sentimental and contrived pseudo-spiritual teaching. I was so overwhelmed by the circumstances and how I experienced them as effecting me. Yet, looking back, my kind and gentle friend was right…the everlasting arms were beneath me…and eventually when I hit bottom they caught me.

Two and a half years later through a long journey of meeting new people and trying different ways to forge my own new success programme… and repeatedly failing…the Grace of God has put me back on solid ground with a new life, a new horizon, a new task and a new hope. I am so excited…and thankyou God and to everyone one who has helped me in both small and big ways over recent years, I am so grateful. Am I allowed the chance to express myself a little in the colloquial language of Christian sub-culture? I think I am. I’m going to give myself chance to celebrate too. Hallelujah! Amen! Thank you God, thank you family, friends and acquaintances I have met and passed like ‘ships in the night’…Halelujah! Amen! God is Good…even when it hurts and the world seems covered in the blackness of night. Even especially during those times. Thank you so much for the lesson, I hope and pray I might be able to help and comfort others going through their own desert and dark.

David

h1

Spiritual Temperaments – Experiencing the Divine through the Senses (2 of 9)

April 14, 2010
 
 
‘Sensate(s)…want to be lost in the awe, beauty, and splendour of God. They are drawn particularly to the liturgical, the majestic, the grand. When sensate people worship, they want to be filled with sights, sounds, and smells that overwhelm them. Incense, intricate architecture, classical music, and formal language send their hearts soaring.’
 Sacred Pathways – Gary Thomas, P.23
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

A Mosaic of Christ the Pantocrator (Creator of All) from the Hagia Sopia Constantinople

 

 Thomas’ second group of people  are ‘sensates’.  These people find it first and foremost easiest to relate to the transcendent through the five senses – sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. Religious Traditions across the world have used practices which communicate through all of the senses, a vivid example being Hindu worship of Indian deities, which often involves fire, water, food, flowers, pictures and incense. Western culture, however, especially in Northern Europe has over the centuries  turned its back on sensuous practices for a more austere and bland kind of religion.  This development was firstly influenced by the Protestant Reformation’s rejection of Roman Catholic rituals and iconography in the sixteenth century, in favour of a religion based solely on the ‘Word of God’, i.e.  the preaching and singing of the Bible. Furthermore, it was also shaped by the industrial revolution and a modernistic emphasis on proving the rightness of ideas purely through rational argument. Even today many non-Conformist church buildings and services are very minimalistic and with little decoration. 

Yet, a very sensuous kind of worship in European culture has always been evident in the Eastern Orthodox church,where ornate architecture and vivid, stylised icons, combine with ritualistic liturgies and practices such as the burning of incense, lighting of candles, kissing of icons and annointing with oil.

 

Lighting a candle can be a special form of prayer

 

The above photograph depicts a scene from a Bulgarian Orthodox church, but it reminds me of my years spent liiving, studying and working in Romania. In every Orthodox church I visited in Romania there is a place to remember friends, family and hurting people by lighting a candle. When I was far away from home it felt to me like a powerful and touching way of praying for my distant relatives and friends. Sometimes when it was difficult to pray in long sentences, the gesture of lighting a candle in the darkness seemed to speak much more clearly and profoundly to God and to my soul than I could with mere words.

 

Thomas writes in his book Sacred Pathways (pages 51-61) that he percieves Dutch Roman Catholic priest, Henri Nouwen to be a sensate Christian. He is struck by Nouwen’s description of his encounter with Rembrandt’s painting – The Return of the Prodigal Son – described in his book by the same title. Nouwen writes how he was visiting a friend after a busy and exhausting lecture tour. While sitting in his friend’s office he was taken aback by a poster of  Rembrandt’s painting on the wall. Nouwen describes how at that point in time the painting communicated to him deeply exactly what he felt that he needed. Simply, to kneel in front of a Father God and be embraced. Moved by the encounter with the picture, Nouwen then set about trying to arrange a visit to Moscow, where The Return of the Prodigal Son is exhibited, to see the painting at first hand.

 

For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' Luke 15:24

 

Rembrandt’s painting has a very sensuous presence. Painted in rich colours, subtle tones and hues, with dim lighting surrounded by deep shadows. A blood red robed elderly Father gently envelopes the destitute son barely covered in rags, as other characters from the story and the Gospels look on. As viewers we might take in some of the senses involved in this picture. Touch especially, is winsomely communicated. The softness of the Father’s luxurious clothing, the human, non-threatening warmth of  both Father and Son’s  reunion embrace. Perhaps, we might also imagine the scene effecting our sense of smell as the woody fragrant spices the Father is wearing and the unpleasant reeking of the son -unwashed and unclean, having worked in a farm feeding pigs, blend together in a very human scene of  a wealthy father welcoming a poor son. At the same time sight is obviously involved. The lighting is intimate, bathing the scene of familial reconciliation in gentle amber light while all around is in darkness and shadow.

If a painting such as the one above and traditional religious devotion inspires you then you may well be a Sensate. Thomas asks the following questions (page 66). Marking each question 1 to 5, with five being very true and one being not true at all.

  1. I feel closest to God when I’m in a church that allows my senses to come alive – when I can see, smell, hear and almost taste his majesty.
  2. I enjoy attending a “high church” service with incense and formal Communion or Eucharist.
  3. I’d have a difficult time worshipping in a church building that is plain and lacks a sense of awe or majesty. Beauty is very important to me, and I have a difficult time worshipping though second-rate Christian art or music.
  4. The words sesnsuous, colourful and aromatic are very appealing to me.
  5. I would find a book called Beauty and the Transcendent interesting to read.
  6. I would like to explore prayer through drawing, art and music.

 A high score between 15 and 30 would indicate that you have a disposition oriented towards experiencing the world and God through the five senses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

h1

Easter – One Spring for all, One Resurrection for all

April 6, 2010

  10Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no-one else can share its joy. 

Proverbs 14:10 (NIV) 

Some times it is just a word or two, from a great text, such as the Bible, that can open up a person’s heart to the deeper feelings locked inside. 

For me the above quote from the book of Proverbs, is one that speaks to me today. If you weren’t aware of their existence, they might be difficult to find in the ample writings of the Bible. Sometimes there are sayings that seem so timeless and poignant to the human situation, one is amazed that they were written so many thousands of years ago. Finding them too, as with many books from the Bible can be quite difficult for the unexperienced reader, they are like pearls stuck in the mud of the author’s preaching about morality, foolishness and wisdom.  Looking at the whole you can get one message, looking at the words in detail selectively brings another. 

Still, this is what Proverbs 14:10 states: 

10Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no-one else can share its joy. 

These words resonate with me deeply this Easter, an Easter I have consciously chosen to celebrate alone, and with my faithful and loving parents and ailing grandmother. I guess at the outset it is important to say that – I am so very, very fortunate to be in the situation I am with such loving and caring family living close by, as well as money in my pocket, a nice place to live, in a peaceful and stable democratic country such as England in the United Kingdom. 

I feel it is worth stating at the outset that compared to most people in the world today, I live in paradise. It is so easy to forget this when we compare our successes and failures to our neighbours and peers or media stereotypes and expectations. So, I thank God for how lucky I am. I am very fortunate. 

At the same time, this year’s Easter celebrations have been difficult and challenging. It has been difficult to be stood in the gap between the World and the Church, trying to be faithful to God and at the same time staying aware of the great hidden and secret pains so many people have outside of the Church. People that all, my Bible reading since I was a child, tells me that God dearly, dearly cares about even though for many it must seem God is a bitter illusion and a sick joke amidst their pain and suffering. Yet, not always so. 

This Easter, I have to admit I have felt the Resurrection very much absent in my life in my limited engagement with the Church and the people of the church, save for a few often marginalised followers who feel deeply the world’s gaping alienation and God’s desire to tend to those wounded scars on the souls of every day people. 

Bare winter woods feel the first taste of Spring sun

Resurrection has been present to me through the beauty, new birth and light of Spring. A blessing that has struck me particularly this year as a completely Universal phenomenon. There is only one glorious spring for all people, regardless of their values, beliefs or behaviours. There isn’t one spring for Christians, another for Muslims, another for atheists (or perhaps they really don’t deserve a spring at all?!), another for Jews, Buddhists or Hindus.

I mean: “Is there?!”

There’s just one wonderful, warm, vibrant new season where grass bursts into growth and buds appear in trees, and the sun shines through the branches of the trees or through the gaps in the sky line.

One Spring. 

One Resurrection? 

This year, I felt a profound sense of how the Resurrection of Jesus which Christians generally celebrate at least in the Northern hemisphere, in the season of Spring. Is and was always meant to be a new start for humanity or even for all creation. I don’t think it was ever meant to be the birth of another religion or sect. I’m pretty sure it was meant to be God intervening in history through Jesus, to wipe the debts of people free, and give the opportunity for a new divinely infused life – combining in nature and human beings, a new kind of heaven and earth combination. 

New green shoots burst through the dead leaves of winter

Heaven and earth renewed together. A new gift, a new start for all of life to begin again, actually not trapped in the power systems of religious or political elites or social stigmas. 

As Christians, over the centuries have spoken about this New Life, as being ‘Born Again’. Not I would argue to become a new kind of religious fundamentalist of whatever colour – Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Sectarian. But rather just a new start at life, with a new relationship with the Divine that is based completely on God’s acceptance and forgiveness of us as human beings – NOT ANGER, JUDGEMENT, CAPRICIOUS, VINDICTIVE PUNISHMENT… 

No, this Resurrection thing is about new birth, and the human person being in a mutual relationship with the Creator, the Divine, like a Mother and Child, like a Father cooing over his baby. 

And just like Spring, it’s meant for ALL of us. God doesn’t distinguish between the good, the bad, the ugly and the indifferent when the earth turns closer to the Sun and warms under its fire and light. Nor, I believe is Easter and the Resurrection meant to be an invitation to become religious or a cog in the religious establishment, which so many people find difficult to agree with. 

It’s simply New Life for everyone through Jesus. A complete cancellation of debts and a $100 million dollars in the bank, if you like. 

All the rest of it, the religious side if you like is simply meant to be about how we can learn and grow to make the best of this wonderful new start and gift. Anything else is an encroaching attempt by misguided people to try to impose conditions and requirements, fences and boundaries around what God has supplied and provided for so freely. So that certain human beings and certain organisations set an agenda for how and what, and whom and when people can receive this blessing. 

For me this behaviour which is common to all religions and all societies and all traditions is the opposite of the Resurrection, even though it might be widely dressed up and decorated as such, to speak plainly, it is not. In a way it’s Anti-Resurrection. It’s a return to rules and regulations and conditions and approval/disapproval by established ‘authorities’ – the exact thing the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth, came to do away with. 

I guess this kind of institutionalisation and regulated administration of a Divinely, freely given gift is part of my pain in my heart…and without going into very personal details, “No one understands it”. It has been a lesson taught through experience (what better teacher?) and unless you have experienced it at first hand, you would find it difficult to believe. 

I finish for today on this note: roughly 7% of the population attended church on EAster sunday to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, (it could be more possibly 9 or 10%). On the other hand, approximately 100% of the population are experiencing the new life of Spring in these weeks in one way or another. Would it be unreasonable to assume that: if there is a Creator God, who fashioned the seasons of nature for peoples’ and the earth’s benefit, and if this Creator God is also the same God that raised Jesus from the dead, then maybe this God doesn’t want only a fraction of the population to experience the benefits of the Resurrection this year or any year? Perhaps, the Resurrection was really not meant to be the beginning of a new sect administered by priests, bishops, authorities and councils, traditions and rituals, but simply a new season of life and peace with God for humanity and all of nature.

What do you think?