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merton

Thomas Merton 1915 – 1968

Christianity is more than a doctrine. It is Christ Himself, living in those whom He has united to Himself in one Mystical Body. It is the mystery by which the Incarnation of the Word of God continues and extends itself throughout the history of the world, reaching into the souls and lives of all men, until the final completion of God’s plan. Christianity is the “re-establishment of all things in Christ.” (Ephesians 1:10)

Thomas Merton – The Living Bread [ix]

Second Sunday of Christmas

Jan 3, 2016 – Saint John’s Episcopal Church – Memphis, Tennessee

©John W. Sewell

At the end of the day they discovered Jesus missing

Today, we read the only story  in the canonical Gospels of Jesus between Christmas Eve and His baptism.Jesus stayed behind. Discovered he was not with Uncle Cleopas & Aunt Mary. (It takes a Village). Mary & Joseph turned in haste to find their son.

Meanwhile, Jesus was drawn to his home place, the Temple of the Living God, he learned to call Abba, Father. There he found the Elders of Israel debating like a meeting of the Supreme Court.

Jesus in Temple

James Tissot

Suppose this kid finds his way into the inner sanctum of the Court and asked the Justices a question that went to the very root of the question they were debating. They would begin to ask him questions, the matter at hand forgotten, as they marveled and whisper among themselves, “Chief Justice matter,” there. Jesus asked questions, endless penetrating, perceptive and prescient, such that the scholars of Israel may have never asked.

Three days his parents looked.  Note three prophetic days here at the beginning in Jerusalem. In twenty-one years falls three days, mysterious days of resurrection will occur. But not yet.

Meanwhile Mary and Joseph have looked high and low for Jesus and just when his mother was afraid she would see his picture on a milk carton, there he was in the Temple carrying on with the fathers of Israel and holding own, mind you.

william-holman-hunt-the-finding-of-the-saviour-in-the-temple

Jesus in the Temple – William Holman Hunt

How could you scare us like this? “I had to be about my father’s business,” Joe! What can you say to that? They went on home.

About this story, Saint Jerome wrote, “Jesus advanced in wisdom and grace, as his humanity was taught by his divinity.” Even Jesus had to learn the language of his Soul!

That being so, how can we not do the same? Morton Kelsey, in his book, Encounter With God, gives us some hints. He says:

1. ACT AS IF THE SPIRITUAL REALMS EXISTS.

Is there a supernatural that exists beyond our four senses? Most Christians in the country live functionally denying that such exists.

Question; “How many of you had a supernatural experience since Christmas?

Not sure? Afraid to say? Not sure you would know one if you had it? All over town in every church, if I asked that question, people would look at me like I’m crazy, even though the scripture readings for these Twelve Days of Christmas assume the spiritual realm exists!

Studies show that people outside the Church desperately want to experience God. They don’t come looking in the Church because they’ll not meet God there. People are leaving because they have not experienced God.

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At least we can cease from the interminable sermonizing … and tell the people in human speech as distinct from theological algebra, that the Church is where one comes to find union with God. [63] Behold the Spirit – Alan Watts

2. BEGIN ONE’S PILGRIM WITH SERIOUS PURPOSE.

A parish suddenly found itself with an infestation of mice. They were everywhere. One day the altar guild opened the drawer in the sacristy where the fair (translated: beautiful and very expensive) linen was stored finding that not only had mice invaded the holy place, but they had eaten holes all over the formerly fair linen, contaminated the drawer by their very presence.

The last violation was that about a half-dozen were still in the drawer finishing the job, because “muridae mus musculus” is nothing if not through. The startled mice leapt from the drawer scattering handmaidens of the Lord in every direction.

What had been annoying was now war! They looked for anything short of the nuclear option to get rid of them? After many suggestions, they asked the rector. He was then 40 years in service, “Oh that’s easy enough.

We’ll confirm them and we’ll never see them again.”

You got to show up, and keep on showing up.

3. BE AS HONEST WITH ONESELF AS POSSIBLE

We must be honest before we are able to face and grow through many things. Honesty in our affairs is hard enough, but honesty to ourselves in ourselves is rare as well as hard as we prefer to trust ourselves and suspect others. We must be right.

4. BEGIN SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES

a. Keep a journal – 3 pages before we get honest.
b. Keep records of dreams. God still speaks to us from our unconscious.
c. Read and study the spiritual life.
d. Pray, experiment with prayer. Impression – speak to that one. Go another way.
e. Find a spiritual mentor.

merton

“A spiritual mentor wants to know our inmost self, our real self. He wants to know us not as we are in the eyes 0f men, or even as we are in our own eyes, but as we are in the eyes of God. He wants to know the inmost truth of our vocation, the action of grace in our souls. His mentorship is nothing more than a way of leading us to see and obey our real mentor – the Holy Spirit that is hidden in the depths of our soul.” Thomas Merton – Spiritual Direction & Meditation

5. SEEK GOD.

It is important to become as open to God as we know how and then expect him to meet us. As Scripture states if we draw near to God, will draw near to us!!”

The-Youth-of-Our-Lord-John-Herbert

The Youth of Our Lord – John Herbert

“And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.” Luke 2 : 5 2

2016 is our year to grow up and calm down in the power of the Spirit. We too must increase in wisdom and in years: in Divine and human favor. God by the Holy Spirit will make it so. Amen.

WHAT WE DO AFTER WE SAY WE BELIEVE.

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What does the life of a mature Christian look like to an observer? We ask people to grow in Christ. Actually this is exactly what we tell them when they are welcomed as newly baptized Christian, “We receive you into the household of God, Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.” [BCP 308]   That is lovely, but now what? So the next Sunday what would the newly baptized do? In service of clarity, let’s name our brother Arthur.

The first thing Arthur does the next Sunday is that he rolls out of bed and gets ready for Church. This is the day when the largest number of his new community gathers. They do what Christians have done since that first day of the week, when Mary told Peter the Lord is Risen!

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The Holy Thanksgiving is word, read & expounded and the sacred meal feeds the soul and equips Arthur to be a sign for others of what he received. If indeed he encounters the risen Jesus in the breaking of the bread, it is the single most important act of Arthur’s week.

Fed and equipped, now Arthur sets off into the marketplace on Monday morning. He is not a morning person, so he eats a bagel as he drives. He thinks about a report due that afternoon while listening to talk radio. Arthur arrives at his workplace having left parts of his psyche over half of East Memphis.

Having lost his center, he now is off and running; the day is a blur of emails, phone calls and demanding customers on every side. After a late consultation with his boss about a matter, he is on his way home by half past seven. He rushes to the drug store to pick up a prescription before it closes. By eight o’clock Arthur is home, settled into his chair eating a burger he snagged just past the drug store. He is exhausted, so much so that he does not sleep well.

Tuesday is another day, so what might Arthur do differently this morning? He rises earlier this morning, and while he has to get moving he is not as rushed. On the drive to work, the radio off, he thinks, actually he is praying, but he thinks he’s just thinking. He considers the challenges of the day and where the troubles may rise. Asking God to give him grace for the doing, he arrives at his office with almost all his psyche intact.

mission st clare daily offices

Mission Saint Clare

After greeting his co-workers, he goes into his office, shuts the door and fires up his computer. Getting online he surfs to the Mission of Saint Clare. On this site, the good Franciscans (Episcopal, by the way) make praying Morning and Evening Prayer ridiculously easy. Arthur follows the order for Morning Prayer from the prayer book, and all he need do is find the screen and add prayer. Having now centered in only 7 or so minutes, he is off and running. Tuesday goes better than Monday.

On Wednesday he meets with a few men from Saint John’s who meet weekly for lunch and Bible study. Though he is new to the group they are welcoming and clearly care for each other and there is a sense of trust in the room. He decides he will make this group a regular part of his week.

On Thursday he is out of the office on the road all day but arrives back in Memphis in time to make his appointment with one of the priests in their office. Arthur is not sure exactly what this is about but is interested in learning more. The priest explains that he wanted to sit together and see what questions Arthur had since his baptism. Arthur tells about his week and laughs when he tells how silly he felt at first praying in front of a computer screen. The priest tells him that the ancient practice is called constant prayer and quickly adds that all our thoughts are prayers.

“Well, God must have blushed after that driver cut me off in traffic on the Interstate this afternoon at Senatobia.” “I think we believe that God knows everything,” the priest says with a twinkle in his eye. “We are only fooling ourselves if we think we can somehow protect God from our meltdowns and outbursts. Just experiment by accepting that all your stream of consciousness is prayer. That way we can actually pray constantly.” Arthur is not sure about this but is willing to entertain the notion. He and the priest agree to meet one on one every other week on Thursday afternoon. In fact Arthur finds he is feeling a lot more relaxed on his drive home. The priest warned him that it takes more energy to keep the “rocks in the sack,” than to take them out. Maybe he’s right.

Friday is a catch-up day at work. There is a lot to do but Arthur takes time for the Clares. Even 5 minutes is better than nothing. In the afternoon he receives a call from his confirmation sponsor checking on him and inviting him to join him on Saturday morning to gather food for distribution. Arthur cannot do it but promises to help next time.

Saturday is taken up with errands, chores and preparing for the coming week. Arthur meets some of his buddies to watch the game, and even though they razz him for leaving early on a Saturday night, he goes on home, sober. It is much easier to rise on Sunday if you have no hangover.

Arthur particularly enjoys the music at the 10:30 Eucharist, and when the rector finished the announcements and before the peace, he asks if there is anything else. A man gets up, comes to the front and explains that a woman in the neighborhood near the church has broken her hip and needs a ramp built so she can come home from the hospital in a wheel chair. He needs help and it needs to happen immediately. “If anyone can help, I’ll be down by the pulpit after church,” the man said. While he is not all that handy, Arthur can hammer nails so he walked down, introduced himself and offered to work that afternoon to get the ramp ready for Monday.

When he finds the address and walks up to the house, three men are already there getting things together. Before they began to work, they stop and pray for the woman who lives in the house and that the ramp will not be needed for long. They end by offering this work to the glory of God and his work. By the end of the afternoon, the house has a sturdy ramp and Arthur, three new friends. We followed Arthur through a week of his new life as a Christian. This is of course fiction. That is a shame as I would welcome this man with open arms.

WHAT DO WE LEARN FROM SHADOWING ARTHUR?

SHOWING UP IS ALL THERE IS! Arthur has vowed to take maximum responsibility for his own soul. Everything follows from “showing up.” No one besides Arthur can make this happen. Clergy can will people to show up (making ourselves crazy in the process) but willfulness produces the opposite reaction, since protoplasm is perverse that way.

ANCIENT PRACTICES Early in the Christian experience believers discovered that certain practices nourished their vital union with the Risen Christ. One of the promises Arthur made at his baptism came directly from the practices described in The Acts of the Apostles.

Will you continue in the Apostles teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? Book of Common Prayer [304]

These practices serve as a check list of sorts. When Christians put a behavior in each of these categories they grow and mature.

READ THE SCRIPTURES DAILY The literature on spiritual growth stresses the essential nature that reading the sacred texts has for maturing faith. At Saint John’s we are embedding scripture in everything we do.

On the parish website http://www.stjohnsmemphis.org, on the Saint John’s Reads page are Bible reading resources.

  • Also on the website in the archive of sermons.
  • The Libravox Project (free app on ITunes) has free audio Bibles.
  •  www.Amazon.com has free texts of Scripture for free download to your iPad or PC.

The important thing is to get some scripture into your inner life. Just a few verses and the Holy Spirit will begin to enlighten your soul.

CONSTANT PRAYER

Saint Paul tells us to 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

While this seems impossible, it is holy multitasking. It is possible to ask a part of our psyche to take up constant prayer to pray while we are working and tending to business.

The Jesus Prayer is one way to enter constant prayer.

  •  Mysteries of Jesus Prayer – Norris J. Chumley (iTunes).
  •  The Pilgrim (classic work on the Jesus Prayer) – unknown.

The Daily Offices of Morning & Evening Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer has nourished Anglicans for centuries.

The Anglican Rosary

Anglican rosary

Anglican Rosary

Praying constantly requires a shift in consciousness. While it is wonderful to have a period of quiet in the morning before the demands of the day grab us, my suggestion is simple and requires a shift in consciousness. When we realize that our stream of consciousness is a conversation with God, then everything changes. As you go along, you will learn to recognize the different textures of thought and from time to time sense the presence of the Triune God.

SPIRITUAL COMMUNITY (INTENTIONAL GROUP) Find a place where you can be yourself and tell your story with the expectation that it will stay in the group. There are several groups at Saint John’s, and they welcome newcomers. If you can’t find one that suits you, then start one! The clergy can help you do that very thing.

ATTEND EUCHARIST WEEKLY Christians are malnourished. It is a common malady. While carefully planned liturgies are always to be the norm, entertainment is not the point on Sunday. None of us are there to passively watch anyway. The folk up front in Third Century street clothes are not performing for our entertainment; they are not the players and we the audience. In fact all of us are the players and God is the audience, as Soren Kierkegaard once said. Liturgy is literally the work (of the) people, and no one can do your work for you. If you are out of town, go to Eucharist. You can almost always find a parish, and they will be glad to see you.

SPIRITUAL MENTOR It is important to have someone trustworthy to share the thoughts of your heart. Begin by reading about this practice. Thomas Merton wrote a wonderful little book called Spiritual Direction and Meditation. That is a good place to start.

The director is one who knows and sympathizes who makes allowances, who understands circumstances, who is not in a hurry, who is patiently and humbling writing for indications of God’s action in the soul… In a word, the director is interested in our very self, in all its uniqueness, its pitiable misery and its breathtaking greatness {27] – Thomas Merton – Spiritual Direction and Meditation

• Choose carefully. The counsel of one who honors confidences and gives kindly and sensible advice is a rare gift. • Call your priest. Even if mentoring is not his/her charism they can point you in the right direction. • They need not be ordained,

 
Christ of the Homeless  - Fritz Eichenberg

Christ of the Homeless – Fritz Eichenberg

SERVE THE POOR

Ministry to those who cannot repay us is good for our souls. It may or may not feel good and even if does that will not last. I assure you of that. We are not going out to fix the poor. That is not to say that they have spiritual and physical needs that need meeting. We are to meet the poor as we would meet Christ, as he told us we could find him there. There are many opportunities in Memphis (and where you live). • Manna House – radical hospitality for the homeless • MIFA – Memphis Inter-Faith • Emmanuel Center • Hospitality Hub Call the office. Deacon Emma will be happy to help you find the ministry suited for you. I believe that getting our hands into the mire is as important for our souls as anything we accomplish for others. Money is needed. Hands are needed also.

Sir Peter Paul Rubens - The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek, 1626

Sir Peter Paul Rubens – The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek, 1626

TITHE The Tithe (10%) is the Biblical standard for giving. Do you give 10% before or after taxes? That is up to you. Most people cannot give 10% at once so how to get there? The way forward here is to begin to give proportionally. If you are giving to the church already, take the dollar amount you gave last year and turn it into a percentage of your income. Whatever that is, you can move toward a tithe in stages. If you have never given before, decide on the percentage you can give and then move toward the tithe.

It is interesting that our Lord didn’t say, “You can’t serve God and the evil one.” He said, “You cannot serve God and money!” Our Lord knew money was his chief competitor. It is good for our soul to give money a black eye by giving up control of ten percent. It can also do a lot of good.

Bernard preachingSHARE THE GOOD NEWS YOU ARE DISCOVERING There is no necessity for Arthur to set off and assault the unsuspecting passersby in the streets of Memphis with the Gospel. This approach is not generally received as good news.   What will happen is that Arthur will not be able to contain his excitement at seeing his life change for the better. As he feeds his soul, people will notice, and he will share his source of bread with his friends. The Right Reverend John Finney, Suffragan Bishop of Pontefract (retired) in his book, RECOVERING THE PAST: CELTIC AND ROMAN MISSION, warns us to get out of our heads and abandon our conflicts over doctrine. Few outside the church understand the arcane sensibility of doctrinal debate. It is foolish to fight about the hardware of the front door when the house is on fire. Here experience trumps doctrinal “facts”.

“Christians should be more prepared to explain the spiritual life they have already begun to enjoy than to seek to persuade others of doctrinal truth [43]”

GET MOVING It is easier to steer a moving than a stalled car. Walk to edge of the light/understanding you have, trusting that when you reach the edge of the dark there will be more light and further understanding. You will not know this until you move. I know it is true because I experience it almost daily.

John W. Sewell June 26, 2014 – Memphis, Tennessee

 

Mystical Theology

Greg Spalenka

Greg Spalenka

 “Mystical theology[i] is an experiential[ii] knowledge of God [iii]that comes through the embrace of unitive love[iv]” (theologia mystica est cognitio experimentalis habita de Deo per amoris unitivi complexum).

Jean Gerson quoted by William Harmless. Mystics (Kindle Locations 153-154). Kindle Edition.

Gerson recognized what has become obvious to us: that scholastic theology, in its efforts to be scientific, unwittingly severed the intimate link between theology and spirituality, between theologians’ public thinking about what the Church believes and believers’ personal encounters with God in prayer and worship. Scholastic theology seemed abstract, devoid of devotion, cut off from the heart and from the personal. As Gerson argued, “It is better to have the knowledge of God through a repentant affectivity than through an investigative intellect.”6 William Harmless. Mystics (Kindle Locations 182-184). Kindle Edition. [I am struck that in every book I pick up deplores, it its way,  the split/opposites/duality of belief & devotion.]

 Thomas Merton

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[i] Theology here means a “speaking of God”

[ii] The saints use various names to describe these interior forms of experiential knowledge of God … They speak of contemplation, ecstasy, rapture, liquefaction, transformation, union, exultation. They talk of a jubilation beyond the spirit, of being taken into a divine darkness, of tasting God, of embracing the bridegroom, of kissing him, of being born of God, of obeying his word, of being brought into the divine cellars, of being drunk in a torrent of delight, of running into an odor of his perfumes, of hearing his voice, and entering into the bedroom, and of finding sleep and rest in peace in him.4 William Harmless. Mystics (Kindle Locations 158-161). Kindle Edition.

[iii] Where scholastic theology was public and exterior, mystical theology was personal and interior. Where scholastic theology focused on the mind, mystical theology sprang primarily from the heart, the affectus. William Harmless. Mystics (Kindle Locations 172-173). Kindle Edition.

[iv] The mystic possesses his or her knowledge of God not from books or academic study, but from experience, from the experience of being loved intimately, intensely, by God.”. William Harmless. Mystics (Kindle Locations 178-179). Kindle Edition.

 

 

 

 

… The trouble …

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… The trouble is that when you run a supernatural society like a natural society, it goes dead, When you run a supernatural society it goes dead – period. Only God can make live a supernatural community, and here all the work is being done, perhaps, by men: of course, the individuals all pray – but they need a sort of reform.

Thomas Merton
Run to the Mountain – (Advent I November 30, 1941 pg. 463)