len on February 23rd, 2018

beautyJohn O’Donohue writes,

I love the imagination of light!
How gradually light will build a mood for the eye
to discover something new in a familiar mountain.
This glimpse serves to deepen the presence of the mountain
And to remind the eye that surface can be subtle and surprising.
Gathered high in silence and stillness,
The mountain is loaded with memory that no mind or word can reach.
Light never shows the same mountain twice.
Only the blindness of habit convinces us that we continue
to live in the same place,
That we see the same landscape.

In truth, no place ever remains the same
Because light has no mind for repetition; it loves difference.
Through its illumination,
It strives to suggest the silence depths that hide in the dark.
Light is always more fragile at a threshold
An island is an edged place, a tense threshold between ocean and sky,
Between land and light.

The West of Ireland enjoys magnificent light.
The collusion of cloud, rain, light and landscape is always surprising.
Within the space of one morning, a whole sequence of different landscapes
Can appear outside the window.

An absolute servant, light conceals itself within its own transparency.
Yet confronted at evening by the finality of darkness,
It turns on every last lamp of color.
At twilight the light succumbs to wonder and reveals the inner colour
With which daylight had invested each object.

Twilight is a fascinating threshold,
For it is then that light finally falls away
and the dark closes on the world.
This is a frontier of tension: it is at once beginning and end.
These edges reveal beauty.

The beautiful can exist at the edge precisely because
It has nothing to lose and everything to give away.

Our time is hungry in spirit. In some unnoticed way
We have managed to inflict severe surgery on ourselves.
We have separated soul from experience,
Become utterly taken up with the outside world
and allowed the inner world to shrink.

Like a stream that disappears underground, there remains on the surface
Only the slightest trickle.

When we devote no time to the inner life, we lose the habit of soul.
We become accustomed to keeping things at surface level.
The deeper questions about who we are and what we are here for visit us less and less.

If we allow time for soul,
We will come to sense its dark and luminous depths.
If we fail to acquaint ourselves with soul,
we will remain strangers to beauty –
And strangers in our own lives.

34-39. London: Harper Perennial, 2003.

len on February 17th, 2018

Michael Krause writes in the Foreword —

In response to my efforts to engage seminary students with the concept of a world beyond Christendom, I see everything from knowing nods to blank stares. Some of the students have experienced the disorientation of the Postmodern context while others think that post-Christendom is just about people not coming to church anymore. I struggle to find language to express to them the massive shift that we are currently experiencing in our culture. On the one hand, I want to fan into flame their passion for God and for mission. On the other hand, I want to open their eyes to the reality that the entrenched models they rely on are from a different time and no longer communicate effectively. Are we truly in a new world where the old rules no longer apply or do we just need to try harder and be better Christians? Maybe both are true to some extent. Broken Futures expresses it this way:

“It’s difficult enough to recognize we are lost when the territory is obviously unfamiliar. How much more difficult when the familiar markers of church, home and community seem intact? Our physical environment has not changed, but our social and cultural environments are shifting like quicksand. Are we lost, or are we not?” (Hjalmarson, p. 37)

Read the rest of this entry »

len on February 14th, 2018

Chris Erdman opines, “Christendom afforded the church and its pastors many advantages, but those advantages … blinded the church to the many ways the Word of God became compromised to causes subversive and many times antithetical to the reign of God.” Of course this isn’t a new thought to you if you are familiar with Walter Brueggemann or someone like Stan Hauerwas.

Maybe we think we are immune to some of these forces, particularly when we look to our neighbour to the south. And then I would recommend an excellent piece of work titled “Reframing Our Conversation with Paul,” by the Australian writer Mark Strom. Erdman later writes that,

“Christendom is no more, and the church, like it or not, must go into exile and there find its true missional identity. But pastors—themselves frightened by the chaos, unclear about what it means for the future—may opt to try to hold the center and deny the reality of collapse.”

And that’s us, right? We are the responsible ones, so if the church is broken its up to us to fix it. As Alan Roxburgh is fond of saying, it’s the same old fix, reform, return narrative. It’s a tired and threadbare response that is simply no longer convincing, but within the imaginative framework of Modernity we simply have nowhere else to go.

Or wait – we have the Bible. Except that we read it through the lenses of Modernity and it no longer speaks to us outside that same narrative. C Kavin Rowe’s The World Upside Down: Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age (2009). Rowe proposes that Luke, the author of Acts, does not view the early Christians as intending to ‘tweak’ (read ‘fix’, ‘return’, ‘reform’ or ‘make work again’) religious life but to effect ‘the destruction of an entire mode of being religious’

len on February 14th, 2018

len on December 24th, 2017


len on December 21st, 2017


len on December 18th, 2017

Back then to the essential message of Christmas which is Emmanuel, God with us, and to the questions it raises:
Who is this God and how is he with us?

“The high and lofty One who inhabits eternity” is the answer to the first. It is the answer to the second question that seems “folly to the Gentiles” and “a stumbling block to the Jews,” because the claim that Christianity makes is that at a particular time and place God came to be with us himself. When Quirinius was governor of Syria, in a town called Bethlehem, a child was born who, beyond the power of anyone to account for, was the high and lofty One made low and helpless. The One who inhabits eternity comes to dwell in time.

In the winter of 1947 a great snow fell on New York City. It began slowly, undramatically, like any other snow. The flakes were fine and steady and fell straight, with no wind. Little by little the sidewalks started to whiten. Shop-keepers and doormen were out with their shoves clearing paths to the street. After a while the streets began to fill and the roofs of parked cars were covered. You could no longer tell where the curb was, and even the hydrants disappeared, the melted discs over manhole covers. The plows could not keep up with it, and traffic moved more and more slowly as the drifts piled up. Businesses closed early, and people walked home from work.

All evening it continued falling and much of the night. There were skiers on Park Avenue, children up way past their bedtime. By the next morning it was different city.

More striking than anything else about it was the silence. All traffic had stopped. Abandoned cars were buried. Nothing on wheels moved. The only sounds to be heard were church bells and voices. You listened because you could not help yourself.

“Ice splits starwise,” Sir Thomas Browne wrote. A tap of the pick at the right point, and fissures shoot out in all directions, and the solid block falls in two at the start. The child is born, and history itself falls in two at the star. Whether you believe or do not believe, you date your letters and checks and income tax forms with a number representing how many years have gone by since what happened happened. The world of AD is one world, and the world of BC is another. The very bells and voices of our world ring out on a different air, and if most of the time we do not listen, at Christmas it is hard not to.

Business goes on as usual, only moreso. Canned carols blast out in shopping malls, Salvation Army tambourines rattle, and street corner Santas stamp their feet against the cold. But if you have an ear for it at all, at the heart of all the noise you hear a silence, and at the heart of the silence you hear – what do you hear?

F. Buechner – Who is This God? – “A Room Called Remember” 61-63

len on December 5th, 2017

Scot McKnight once noted that one of his favorite Christmas hymns is, “O Come, O Come Immanuel,” a 12th Century hymn originally penned in Latin. It wasn’t until 2008 that I heard the Latin version and since then have heard two more renditions in Latin – the most recent being a version sung by Enya, “And Winter Came” .. an album that is rapidly becoming an Advent season favorite for us).

It’s not just that the poetry or the raw beauty of “Veni, Veni Emmanuel,” but the way it evokes both the joy of Jesus coming, and the longing for the arrival of the new world. We live in between the times. Some days we feel the presence of the kingdom in our friendships, at a table with family, or sitting in front of a warm fire while the snow is falling. At other times, we long for the arrival of the new world.. aware of our own failures, the darkness in the world, the hunger and loneliness and pain. Read the rest of this entry »

len on December 2nd, 2017

In the first centuries the Church had a beautiful custom of praying seven great prayers calling afresh on Christ to come, calling him by the mysterious titles he has in Isaiah, calling to him; O Wisdom! O Root! O Key! O Light! Come to us!

The evening prayer, also know as Vespers, always includes the great prayer of Mary known as the Magnificat. Each day, the Magnificat is preceded by a short verse or “antiphon” that links the prayer to the feast of the day or the season of the year. In the last seven days of Advent (December 17-24), the antiphons before the Magnificat are very special. Each begins with the exclamation “O” and ends with a plea for the Messiah to come. As Christmas approaches the cry becomes increasingly urgent.

These moving “O Antiphons” were composed when monks put together texts from the Old Testament, particularly from the prophet Isaiah, which looked forward to the coming of our salvation. They form a rich, interlocking mosaic of scriptural images. The great “O Antiphons” became very popular in the Middle Ages when it became traditional to ring the great bells of the church each evening as they were being sung.

Each of the O Antiphons highlights a different title for the Messiah: O Sapientia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O Rising Sun), O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations), and O Emmanuel. Also, each one refers to the prophecy of Isaiah of the coming of the Messiah. A particularly fascinating feature of the O Antiphons is that the first letter of each invocation, when read backwards, forms an acrostic in Latin: the first letters of Sapientia, Adonai, Radix, Clavis, Oriens, Rex, and Emmanuel in reverse form the Latin words: ERO CRAS. These can be understood as the words of Christ, responding to his people’s plea, saying “Tomorrow I will be there.”

This sonnet based on the first antiphon is composed by Malcolm Guite.

O Sapientia

I cannot think unless I have been thought,
Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken.
I cannot teach except as I am taught,
Or break the bread except as I am broken.
O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,
O Light within the light by which I see,
O Word beneath the words with which I speak,
O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me,
O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me,
O Memory of time, reminding me,
My Ground of Being, always grounding me,
My Maker’s Bounding Line, defining me,
Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,
Come to me now, disguised as everything.

Elsewhere, a Celtic Advent

len on November 9th, 2017

For neither circumcision counts for anything,
nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.

Gal. 6.15

John 1 is a recapitulation of Genesis 1. But now its Word and Spirit in creation. John does not mention the fall but assumes it. Time is compressed and fluid in this creation account. But John is clearly leaning toward restoration – all things will be summed up in Christ and God’s original purpose for creation restored. The light will shine on all humankind. Those who receive him will be renewed in God’s original design – that we should rule (Gen. 1.26).
John 2 we join a wedding feast. That should trip our memories of the broad movement of history toward another banquet in Rev. 19 – the marriage supper of the lamb. John’s vision is very broad – from creation to new creation, Genesis to Revelation. John 2 – water to wine. This is what new creation looks like: God’s power comes on ordinary things and they are made new! A new heaven and a new earth are coming and we will all be dancing!

John 3 the feast comes to Israel. But what is flesh is flesh and what is spirit is spirit. Israel’s teachers have been immersed in a textbook, but divorced from the Spirit. Suddenly renewal is coming to God’s people, who failed to recognize the Messiah when he arrived (Jn 1.11). Now the light dawns on God’s people Israel. The placement of the story of John the Baptist in this chapter allows John to cue us again to where this story is going – “bride and bridegroom” v. 29.

John 4. In ancient Israel the well was the place where weddings were celebrated. This time the marriage feast is not just for Israel but the universal banquet table opens up to include foreigners and outcasts. Isaiah’s vision of a universal gospel is fulfilled. All peoples and tribes and tongues will come to the new city, and all the nations will be healed (Rev 21-22)