Lent Book Club: The Way of Julian of Norwich

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Jessica set out some of the background to Mother Julian in posts a few weeks back, and for those starting afresh on this, I would recommend starting there.

I want to start with the old Commination prayer which, when I was a child, would be said at Morning Prayer on Ash Wednesday:

BRETHREN, in the primitive Church there was a godly discipline, that, at the beginning of Lent, such persons as stood convicted of notorious sin were put to open penance, and punished in this world, that their souls might be saved in the day of the Lord; and that others, admonished by their example, might be the more afraid to offend.

Instead whereof, until the said discipline may be restored again, (which is much to be wished,) it is thought good that at this time (in the presence of you all) should be read the general sentences of God’s cursing against impenitent sinners, gathered out of the seven and twentieth chapter of Deuteronomy, and other places of Scripture; and that ye should answer to every sentence, Amen: To the intent that, being admonished of the great indignation of God against sinners, ye may the rather be moved to earnest and true repentance; and may walk more warily in these dangerous days; fleeing from such vices, for which ye affirm with your own mouths the curse of God to be due.

This would seem rather at odds with what Mother Julian says about the anger of God, but I think Jessica deals well with the seeming tension when she wrote:

Mother Julian saw with insight that if God were to feel what we call “anger” even for a moment, he would cease to be the creator and become the destroyer, and we should cease to exist. Anger is what happens inside us and we attribute it to God. We are, we say in some circumstances, “standing up for God”, as though he needs our anger; well it’s an excuse isn’t it? It was human anger which crucified Christ; it is our own anger which crucifies us. It holds us in an atmosphere of conflict and fear which keeps us from peace – and from atonement and repentance;

It may be indicative of where we are in more than one way that the Commination service seems to be a rarity (though one may be had here) and that the Church, whether Anglican or Catholic, seems reluctant to talk about “wrath”. It is easier to talk about God’s “love”, not least because love is a pleasanter topic for reflection and for sermons than “wrath’. That is, in some quarters, a natural reaction, to be deplored by some of a traditionalist bent, and to be celebrated as “progress” by those of other minds.

Julian of Norwich has become something of a beacon for those who wish to emphasise love and not wrath, and she should not be held responsible for some of the things some of her latter-day admirers load upon her. Her understanding was deeper than a surface perusal sometimes allows for. But that should not be read as indicating that it’s time to go on about “wrath” more than we do. Those who lament the decline of wrath-related preaching might wish to reflect on why it has happened? Here Mother Julian has much to help us with.

“God”, she tells us, “enfolds us in love and will never let us go.” (Chapter 5). How do we react to that? It is easy to say we love God, but this Lent is an opportunity to ask ourselves a question we ought to ask of all our close relationships – how much time to we spend on it?

Our prayer makes God happy (Chapter 41) we are told by Mother Julian. But how often to do pray? I used to have three main reactions to prayer: I prayed when I felt I needed something or wanted help for someone; I didn’t feel in the right frame of mind for prayer; or my prayers felt “dry”. It became an excuse for not praying. A few years back I decided to follow the lectionary and prayed morning, evening and compline prayers – in season and out, however I “felt”. Once it stopped becoming about me, it could become about God. I recommended it to Jess, and others, who seem to have benefitted from it. Praying the Rosary while walking also helps me.

There, I was pleased to see, were among the steps recommended by Sheila Upjohn (pp. 5-8) in the first chapter of our Lent Book. She poses some interesting questions about prayer at the end of the chapter, and to this, I shall turn on the morrow.

But as we enter Lent together, let us remember that: “dust you are, And to dust you shall return.” But into that dust God breathed life, and through His Son He offers us forgiveness for all our sins. As we ponder and wonder what we should give up, let us give ourselves and each other something positive instead – like a break! – And let us take up regular prayer.

Back Again Into the Wasteland

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The Hollow Men 5A note from Neo

Well, I’m back again, not that I really left, I’ve been posting on the Neo blog, as many of you know, because that has been more appropriate to my thoughts lately. I have been thinking of you though, there are a fair number of us here, but we tend to be, I suspect a good bit alike, and if you’re like me, you feel very much like a sojourner in a strange land.

Today is, of course, Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, when we traditionally give up things by which we commemorate Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, as we prepare ourselves for Easter.

I first republished this article of Jessica’s on Ash Wednesday in 2015, it is from 10 March 2013 originally on NEO and is quite similar to the one here also on 10 March 2013 called Mere Anarchy. I found the NEO version a bit more understandable, but I link them both because you may well differ. At the time I reblogged this well, it was a troubled time in my life, you who knew Jessica then will know that this was while she was at the Convent recovering from cancer, and our contact was severely limited. But God be praised that worked out. Here is Jessica’s post.

Into the Wasteland

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

The opening lines of T.S. Eliot’s 1925 poem speak with eloquence to any age and people who feel disconnected from what they feel is a calamitous and collapsing socio-political world.

Eliot was writing in the aftermath of the most catastrophic war in the history of the Western world. It was the war when hope died. How could one believe in progress after the Somme and the horrors of the Western Front? And what had all of that slaughter been for? A settlement at Versailles which few believed would really bring peace to the world.  Men like Wilson and Hoover, or MacDonald and Baldwin, seemed small men facing giant problems, and sure enough, within fifteen years the world had once more descended into the abyss.

Does the fault lie in our leaders? They do, indeed, seem to be hollow men, with heads stuffed with straw. The words of Yeats’ Second Coming seem apposite to our times:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

Writing in 1919, Yeats wondered:   

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand

But it was not so. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo tells Gandalf that he wishes he did not live in the time he did, when such dreadful things were happening. Gandalf’s reply is for all of us:

So do I,’  said Gandalf, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’

It is not for us to decide such things. All each of us can do in the end is to decide how we live our lives and by what star we steer. Those of us with a Christian faith, like Tolkien himself, know we are strangers in this world, and we know by whose star we steer. We can rage all we like against the way the world seems to be going, so did our forefathers, and so will our descendants. Eliot ends with a dying fall:

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.

But Yeats, in best prophetic mode wondered:

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

For me, Eliot’s words in Ash Wednesday ring truest:

Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us


That’s pretty much what the world feels like, increasingly to me, at least, it seems that we may have to simply burn it down and try to rebuild in the ruins. but I continue to hope not, so we will see.

In many ways, Kipling asked the question I think our political, and a fair share of church, as well, leadership should have to answer

I could not dig; I dared not rob:
Therefore I lied to please the mob.
Now all my lies are proved untrue
And I must face the men I slew.
What tale shall serve me here among
Mine angry and defrauded young?

But as Jess said above, we don’t get to pick the era in which we live, we are simply called to do the best we can. And so we shall, God willing.  NEO

Sicut in caelo et in terra

In reading through the posts here I am often reminded that the Reformation was both painful and irreversible. As an Englishman I never cease to be struck by the role it played in forming a national identity that distanced itself from continental Europe, such that the phrase “the Pope in Rome” became a sneer about a perceived tyrant, rather than the invocation of a pastor charged with the care of Christ’s flock.

The Reformation unleashed civil strife and discord that lasts even to this day. Chalcedon has written about “the last acceptable prejudice” and one only has to trawl the comments section of Cranmer’s blog to find anti-Catholic passages.

Unfortunately there is no going back to a common outward worship shared by all Englishmen. We are called to see through the veil to the spiritual reality that we all partake of the heavenly worship depicted in Revelation 4, whether we use incense and vestments or not, whether we use the Old Tongue or not, whether we tread the ancient stones where prayer has been valid or not. Christ in us the hope of glory is all that ultimately matters. If we truly love Him and each other then satis est.

But seeing with spiritual eyes and being content are hard for us. Nor are we required to pretend we do not have feelings, passions, and convictions. An important question when churches are eventually permitted to assemble once more is how we can express that ineffable spiritual sorrow we are all experiencing at present.

The ancient Israelites donned sackcloth to express repentance and grief. Our churches are in mourning for the sadness of the nation in the face of so much death and hardship. There is a sense in which we need to say before God, “The LORD giveth and the LORD taketh away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”

As I ponder what it means for us to emerge from this and to face the coming challenges of the end if the age that my heart tells me lie in store, I find myself wishing for something but I know not what. “Miserere Domine”. There will be no gathering of all English Christians into the Anglican Church or the Catholic Church. But perhaps there will be some flame burning gently in our hearts perhaps some inner voice saying “You are all My Children. Hold fast until I come.”

The Church of Pentecost

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A sermon by Pastor Gervase Charmley, Bethel, Hanley

On the day of Pentecost, Christ sent his Spirit upon the Church. The Spirit gives power to witness, preaching Christ, and establishes the Church in fellowship as disciples. Acts 2

https://www.sermonaudio.com/solo/gncharmley/sermons/214211159293326/?fbclid=IwAR3tZsTnaT1bswM5rhSxD6UX7vGP513_wbLw4PivmZnY2sQVdcEzUb004Ao

George Herbert: seeking the face of God

This excellent post by Chalcedon bears revisiting. In the midst of our tossing and turning and as we await the Lenten readings from Julian of Norwich, we must turn again to rouse the faith that holds God wills good for us. This good that God has in store may lie at the end of a road of discipline, hunger, thirst and heavy clouds, but it is not diminished by all that.

All Along the Watchtower

Yesterday was is the 500th anniversary of the birth of George Herbert, a favourite poet of Jessica, and one of the greatest of theologians, if, as we ought, we define the term as being to talk about God. We proceed, as Herbert saw, from the consequences of the Fall. Once, mankind walked with God and saw His face, but we pursued the devices and desires of our own hearts, we thought to be as wise as God – an endeavour showing how foolish we are as a species. So we were banished, and we no longer see Him face to face. One consequence is that, like Isaiah we fear to see His holiness for we know we are men of unclean lips. And yet the Psalmist expresses what is in the hearts of all Christians when he writes

‘My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” /  Your face, Lord, I…

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What Brought You to Faith?

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I have a conversation currently still in process that started on Facebook and moved to private messaging with an atheist from Australia. He is very respectful, and to get me talking, that’s all I really need from a person. So his initial comment has stretched into multiple comments spanning everything from how we know what we believe is true, to progressive revelation, to secular morality, and more. We’re not even done yet, but I’m waiting for him to finally say, “All right, Jesus man. That’s enough.”

It’s gotten me thinking again about why I believe what I believe. More than that, why do those reasons work for me and not someone else? I guess we can all chalk it up to the Holy Spirit, but I’m sure we all have our own story here about how we got from no belief to belief, or how we grew up believing and got through the gauntlet of secular culture to the faith we are in now.

I put this out as a question to all of you who write on here – and I guess to anyone else, as well, but mostly to all of you who write here. What did it for you? What brought you to the faith or kept you there when you were teetering on the edge of doubt?

For me, it’s miracle stories. I know that might sound weird, but it’s true. In community college, I took an Intro to Philosophy class and had a crisis of faith. But I reflected on the life of George Muller of Bristol. He was a pastor who was frustrated that all the businessmen in his congregation were cutthroat and unscrupulous in their business practices. Their excuse was that their jobs were cutthroat. Unless you cheated, you would never be able to support yourself and your family.

Muller did not agree and decided to embark on building an orphanage from the ground up solely on prayer. He never asked anyone for money. He never asked for supplies. But by the end of his life, he had taken care of around 10,000 orphans and had established 117 schools that gave Christian education to more than 120,000 children. All on prayer. All on faith.

In his diary are stories of the children never having to wait more than half an hour for their three square meals each day – even when the cupboards were bare. Once, they were out of milk, and a milk truck or carriage broke down right in front of the orphanage. The man who rode it said the milk would go bad anyway, so the orphanage might as well have it. Another time, a baker couldn’t get any sleep because God kept telling him to bake bread for Muller’s children. His life is full of these stories.

Every time my mind would wonder, “Could I be wrong? Could this philosopher be right? Is my faith a sham?” I would immediately think, “But what about George Muller?”

It is his story and other miracle stories from other people’s lives that help keep me in the faith. I know great men and women have argued back and forth about whether God exists or not and whether Christianity has enough historical evidence to back it up. I know those discussions lead many to faith as well. But for me, it’s the direct action of God in the world in ways that cannot be easily explained away that inspire me to keep going.

Well, that and the donuts after Mass.

©2021 Catholic Anonymous. You can get to my other blog here.

Jesus continues to do …

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Jesus continues to do … a sermon by Pastor Gervase Charmley, Bethel, Hanley

The Gospels tell the story of what Jesus began to do and to teach, but he continues to do and to teach. Acts 1 shows us Christ’s promise of the Holy Spirit, the persecrtive of his second Advent, and the preparation of the Church.

https://www.sermonaudio.com/solo/gncharmley/sermons/272112531360/?fbclid=IwAR0KK2xGQUAH2QXjahVcz-bz6RDgEOXT62X5MLweUV4zEd4M7rtTK3V-OM4

Who are we?

I have been going through the archives again here, reading pieces by Jess, Chalcedon, and Geoffrey (who is missed). As I looked at the pieces and noted the dates of publication, I thought about the debates and arguments this place has seen. I thought about the changes in our personal lives. Then I thought about how I stumbled upon this place and became a contributor.

I believe my first post ever on this site was about how wonderful it is to be part of a local congregation. If one scrolls far back enough in the archives, one can find it here.

That seems an eternity ago now and jarring in the age of church by Zoom and YouTube. Indeed, I personally struggle with the idea of “virtual church” and have not taken to it as others have. I suppose there are various reasons, which I shall not delve into here.

But looking at the old posts which so frequently raised denominational differences, I was struck by the fundamental question of who we are as Christians. Having been involved in the Christian Union and reading a fair amount of apologetics material, as well as having to defend my faith when I was a teacher, I oftentimes think of the differences between Christianity and Judaism and Islam.

Of course, as the regulars here know, it all comes down to the person of Jesus. In Him we find our identity. He is the image of the invisible God, one of my favourite passages if Scripture.

Here we talk about Jesus, but in our prayer closets we talk to Jesus. For me the question of who Jesus is was a driving force in my journey of faith. And as we talk to Jesus, sometimes we ask Him who we are, lost in the waves of our busy lives.

God renamed people in the Bible. Abram became Abraham, Jacob Israel, Simon Peter. Looking at the community here and asking who we are as a community and as individuals, I should like to say that I am grateful to have you in my life and hope that God has used and will use this place, among His various ways, to change us all for the better and make us confident in who we are in Christ.

Saturday Thoughts

All things end

When we look at history, our human nature, our vainglory is impressed by our great achievements: economic, legislative, scientific, architectural, musical, artistic, literary, and so on. But a broader view reveals impermanence.

My righteousness is near; my salvation is gone forth, and mine arms shall judge the people; the isles shall wait upon me, and on mine arm shall they trust. Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished. Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law; fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings. For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool: but my righteousness shall be for ever, and my salvation from generation to generation.

-Isaiah 51:5-8

Dynasties and empires end. The plants die and species become extinct. Languages are lost, cultures destroyed, and economies unravelled. We always stand on the precipice of ruin. It is the hand of the Lord that protects us. He is the I AM, and He will raise us up at the Last Day. It is only in the resurrection and the new heavens and new earth that we will find the Sabbath Rest and permanence we seek.

Ruling the nations

Believers are promised that they will one day rule the nations.

And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father. And I will give him the morning star. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

-Revelation 2:26-29

And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.

-Revelation 20:4-6

History reveals year after year of unrighteous rule in some part of the world or another. We long for righteous government, but we also know that we are sinners, unable to perfectly keep God’s law. The answer to this problem is in Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God. He knows both the righteousness of God and the weakness of man. He has kept God’s law and He has redeemed a people for God who, through the mystery of grace, are being transformed into the image of Christ. When God’s people are perfected, they will be ready to rule, to realise the purposes of God on this earth.

Looking back and looking forward

Looking back at the works of God strengthens our faith for the future. The great deeds that He has done give us confidence that He will complete His plan and bring in everlasting righteousness, as was promised to Daniel.

We know that things will never be the same again. The world changes and we are marching towards the consummation and restoration of all things. As in times past, the path to the promised hope lies through darkness – but we have been given the light of Christ.

Candlemas thoughts

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Christmas ends today!

This will come as a shock to the secular world, which started doing Christmas about October and finished it long ago. This is an illustration of how far our society is from its Christian roots. Although, until relatively recently, we kept the twelve days of Christmas, that is from 25 December until 6 January, which the Church still does before moving into Epiphany, that season prolonged the celebrations until now – and there was a good reason for it. Not only did it keep up peoples’s spirits in the darkest time of the year in the northern hemisphere, it allowed for Candlemas to be the hinge – because it is a celebration of light and hope.

It is so, literally, marking as it does the presentation of the Christ child in the Temple, but it does so literally in another sense. The evenings have just started to get lighter – and as illustrated above, the first snowdrops are showing their pretty white heads – Candlemas bells as they were known of old. On my lunch-time walk there was actually some warmth in the sunshine for a while, and amidst the fields sodden with far too much water, you could see things beginning to grow. It was a sign that the world turns and spring is on its way.

Never, in my short lifetime have we needed that hope more.

As we celebrate the Purification of the Blessed Virgin (Jewish law provided for the ritual purification of new mothers forty days after birth – I know, don’t go there, and don’t get me started) and Christ’s presentation in the Temple, we say in our service today with especial passion the worderful words of Symeon in the “Nunc Dimittis”

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace :

according to thy word.

2    For mine eyes have seen :

thy salvation;

3    Which thou hast prepared :

before the face of all people;

4    To be a light to lighten the Gentiles :

and to be the glory of thy people Israel

As the old man sees the “consolation of Israel” hope is renewed in him – and in us.

In the English-speaking world the celebration of candlemas goes back to Anglo-Saxon times, at least that’s our first record of it. It refers to the custom of bringing candles to church to have them blessed, and then processing back home – again, literally, light in the dark times. Our faith moves most wonderfully with the rhythmns of the year, and if we keep to the seasons of the Church caldendar, then we find ourselves wonderfully in tune with the light that came into the world only forty days previously.

I am not qualified to say anything about the American custom of Groundhog day – though I know those who are, but I will leave you with an old rhyme – and my best wishes for a holy and happy Candlemas.

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,

Winter will have another flight;

If on Candlemas Day it be shower and rain,

Winter is gone and will not come again.