God’s wrath?



Jessica has written eloquently on a question deriving from Mother Julian’s “showings” – God’s wrath. If we take away the idea of God’s wrath then one might well ask why it was that Jesus died upon the Cross. If, as Mother Julian states:

God is the goodness that cannot be angry, for he is nothing but goodness

Chapter 46

then our traditional theology needs a rethink.

One way of dealing with this dilemma is to do what both Mother Julian and Jessica do, which is to hold it in tension: we are sinners, God is love and loves us, how the two are reconicled by Jesus is a mystery; it is sufficient for us to know that it will be reconciled.

There is a level at which this must be true. It may be a “Man thing” but I want to worry away at it a little so bear with me.

Julian herself provides us with some clues for how we might proceed; so let us follow and see where, if anywhere, they might lead.

I saw no anger except on man’s part, and he forgives that in us; for anger is nothing else but a resistance and contrariness to peace and to love, and it comes either from lack of strength or lack of wisdom, or from lack of goodness – and this lack is not in God, but is on our part; for through sin and wretchedness we have in us a wretched and continual resistance to peace and to love, and he revealed this very often in his loving expression of pity and compassion.

Chapter 48

We are in what might be called classic Romans 7 territory – however much we will the good, we do the opposite. We know that this, by our standards, deserves condemnation – after all we are very free in condemning bad bahviour in others, almost as free as we are imaginative in finding excuses for our own. We cannot be in eternal bliss, as she goes on to say in chapter 49, until “we are all at peace and love; that is to say, in full contentment with God, and with all his works”.

Only through the working of Grace can we be made humble and gentle enough to surrender our will to God’s will:

Suddenly the soul is united to God when it is truly at peace in itself, for no anger is to be found in God

Chapter 49

As we receive the Lord in the sacraments, as we pray to Him, as we meditate on his life and teachings, as we try to follow Him, we are directed where we need to be, recognising in His love and compassion that we are loved, and responding to Him in return. The Holy Spirit is at work in us, in the Church, and as Julian puts it:

… the Holy Spirit, who is endless life dwelling in our soul, protects us most securely, and effects a peace in the soul, and gives it comfort by Grace, and accords it to God, and makes it compliant. And this is his mercy and the path on which Our Lord continually leads us, as long as we are in this changeable life

Chapter 48

God works with us in our daily lives, and so often it is here, rather than in the spaces we reserve for God, that we go wrong. Original sin, Chesterton said, is the one theological reality you can see by looking in the mirror. Is God wrathful, or do we, in our hearts, need Him to be because of our shame at our own sinful ways? Or is the idea of a wrathful God so central to our vision that even trying to understand what Julian is saying, is enough to cause wrath to rise at the very idea of a God who is not angry with us, but, saddened by our anger with ourselves, wishes to save us through Christ – to save us from ourselves and the work of sin within us?

There, I have worried away at it, not I think to any great result, but sometimes worrying away at things can be enough.

#lentbookclub is on Twitter as #LentBookClub, Facebook as https://www.facebook.com/groups/LentBookClub, and is using The Way of Julian of Norwich by Sheila Upjohn which can be bought here rather than Amazon. It runs from Ash Wednesday 20210219 to Easter Sunday-ish 20210404 and we are doing a chapter a week, roughly. Folk who are blogging about this are: Graham, at https://grahart.wordpress.com/, Andrew at https://www.shutlingsloe.co.uk/, Eric at https://sundrytimes2.wordpress.com/, Soobie at https://soobie64.medium.com/, Ruth at https://becausegodislove.wordpress.com/. Come join the pilgrimage with Julian to Norwich!

Vain Repetition?


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In the Facebook Lent Book Group one member has noted that Sheild Upjohn is very reluctant to take sides in the various theological issues she herself raises. In the chapter on “prayer” this is clearest on two issue which readers of this blog will recognise – praying the Rosary and praying with the Saints.

Our old correspondent, Bosco, was very hot on these issues. Like many Protestants of an Evangelical bent (if that is what he was), Bosco objected to praying the Rosary, reminding us that we had been warned against vain repetition, adding for good measure that we shouldn’t pray to the Holy Virgin (whose virginity he, in rather poor form even for him, denied) or the saints. Ms Upjohn’s delicacy is perhaps understandable. New readers here need only to put “Bosco” into the search bar on the blog to find some prime examples of prejudice uniformed by knowledge, allied to a firm refusual to rethink once informed. It’s a way of being, but not one which commends itself to anyone who does not already hold such views.

Catholic actually pray “with” the Saints, not to them; the same is true of the greatest of the Saints, Our Lady. If you do not believe there is a “great cloud of witnesses” then so be it, but at least do fellow Christians the courtesy of informing yourself what they say they believe. Can devotion be misinterpreted? It can, and those Anglo-Saxons who feel uneasy with overt displays of emotion, may well find themselves feeling that way about some of the devotions practised by those whose culture makes them very easy with such displays; but they might like to reflect that understanding requires more than observation uninformed by knowledge. Empathy matters, and before we rush to judge others, we might think to exercise it.

It raises the issue of what prayer is for? Mother Julian is a good guide here, writing in chapter 41:

Our Lord himself is the first to receive our prayer, as I see it. He takes it, full of thanks and joy, and he sends it up above, and sets it in the treasury, where it will never be lost. It is there before God and all his holy ones – continually heard, continually helping our needs. When we come to heaven, our prayers will be given to us as part of our delight – with endless joyful tasks from God.

chapter 41

I have found praying the Rosary whilst walking an excellent way of taking two forms of exercise, and I know Jessica has found it useful after I recommended it to her. In so praying it helps my mind focus on the Scriptural passages behind each part of the Rosary. The idea that it somehow raises Our Lady to divine status could, I suspect, be raised only by one who brought it with them because of a suspicion that Catholics do that. There has been a very long history of anti-Catholicsm in the Anglo-Saxon world, and even though we are now in a more secular age, traces of it linger, and added to that we have the aggressive secularism which finds all religion a survival of what it dismisses as medieval superstition, without ever understanding it.

Here, again, Julian is helpful. In chapter 25, Jesus offers her a vision of the Blessed Virgin in heaven:

And with this very same expression of gladness and joy, our good Lord looked down on his right side and brought my mind to where our Lady stood during his Passion, and he said, ‘Would you like to see her?’ … as if he had said, ‘Would you like to see how I love her, so that you can rejoice with me, in the love that I have for her and she for me? … Would you like to see in her how you are loved. For the love of you I made her so exalted, so noble and of such worth; and this delights me, and I want it to delight you.

Chapter 25

Sheila Upjohn’s approach is irenic in the best way. Experience has taught he what it has taught others, which is that you cannot really argue about this issue, all you can do is to try to enter into an understanding of why, for so many of us, Our Lady is so loved. That is not a bad pattern for us during Lent.

#lentbookclub is on Twitter as #LentBookClub, Facebook as https://www.facebook.com/groups/LentBookClub, and is using The Way of Julian of Norwich by Sheila Upjohn which can be bought here rather than Amazon. It runs from Ash Wednesday 20210219 to Easter Sunday-ish 20210404 and we are doing a chapter a week, roughly. Folk who are blogging about this are: Graham, at https://grahart.wordpress.com/, Andrew at https://www.shutlingsloe.co.uk/, Eric at https://sundrytimes2.wordpress.com/, Soobie at https://soobie64.medium.com/, Ruth at https://becausegodislove.wordpress.com/. Come join the pilgrimage with Julian to Norwich!

A Journey through Lent: Universalism & Julian of Norwich


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“In love did God bring the world into existence; in love is God going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of the One who has performed all these things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised.

St Isaac the Syrian Discourses II.38.1-2

Holy Church teaches me to believe that all these shall be condemned everlastingly to hell. And given all of this I thought it impossible that all manner of things should be well, as Our Lord revealed at the this time. And I receioved no other answer in showing from our Lord God but this: “what is impossible to you is not impossible to me. I shall keep my word in all things, and I shall make all things well.”

Revelation of Divine Love, Chapter 32

The best known of all Mother Julian’s sayings is that “all will be well, and all manner of things shall be well”. But we see here how conflicted she was after the “showings”. The Church taught one thing, the experience of God seemed to teach her another. Her anxiety is clear in chapters 32 and chapter 50. In the latter she wrote:

My good Lord, I see that you are truth itself and I know for certain that we sin every day and deserve to be bitterly blamed; and I can neither give up the knowledge of this truth, nor can I see that you show us any kind of blame. How can this be?

Revelation, Chapter 50

She could not find in any of the “showings” that the omniscient and omnipotent God was “angry” with his finite creation. Indeed for her, our very existence proved that God was not angry, not least since he could simply have annihilated all of us at a stroke:

It seems to me that if God could be even slightly angry we could never have any life, or place, or being

Revelation Chapter 49

If God is, as we are told, “love” then how can he also be angry and want to exact vengeance on us?

The image of God as vengeful father is one at odds with the image of him as a loving mother. Speaking personally, I have always had a problem with the idea of an angry God, and the first time I read Mother Julian, as with the first time I read St Issac the Syrian (whom I quote above) it made me crystallise my discomfort. Like Mother Julian I can do nothing with it, but what she taught me was that I don’t need to do anything with it.

This is where the fact that she was an “unlettered” woman helps. A Schoolman would have wanted to come to a resolution of the difficulty and would have ended by agreeing with the condemnation of Origen’s (supposed) teaching at the second council of Constantinople in 553, that we cannot believe in “universal salvation”. Mother Julian, not confined by the rules of debate, could. according to taste, do what mothers often do when it comes to their children and discipline, which is exercise what (to some men) looks like muddled thinking, or what (to others) is a sensible acknowledgement of limitations. She could not, and did not, go outside what the Church taught, any more than I could or would.

But what she could do was to express what she was shown, which is the God of love who fits St Paul’s definition of love:

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not [a]puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, [b]thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

1 Cor, 13-4-7

If this is “love” then St Paul omits to mention that the God who is love is “angry’, and will wreak vengeance on those who fail him. That was as far as Mother Julian could go. But without ever having heard of St Isaac, she found herself in the same place in terms of how the God who is love would bring creation to a place where it would be true that “all shall be well”:

there is a deed which the Holy Trinity shall do on the last day, and when that deed shall be done and how it shall be done in unknown to all creatures under Christ and shall be until it has been done … This is the great deed ordained by our Lord God from eternity, treasured up and hidden in his blessed breast, only known to himself, and by this deed he shall make all things well; for just as the Holy Trinity made all things from nothing, so the Holy Trinity make all well that is not well.

Revelation, Chapter 32

Just as God made everything at the beginning of the world, like a mother birthing a child, so at the end of things he will match that with another motherly action. We do not know what it will be, and anyone who claims they do claims too much, but we know it will make “all things well.” And after all, when it comes to seeking comfort, it is, perhaps, more usual for a child to go to her mother for that than to go to her father.

Mother Julian goes no further than St Isaac. But both mystics did not see God as an angry father whom we should obey because of fear of punishment. That idea might, of course, pose a problem for some, and as Mother Julian was the first to acknowledge, cannot be squared with the official teaching of the Church. But I, for one, come to God because I can do no other than to respond to the love he has shown me. A God who would behave in a manner which, in an earthly father, would have him banged up for child abuse (“if you don’t behave you will burn forever”) is one who is too frail and human to die upon a Cross for me. That he did, that he did it because he loves me is why I love him; I can do no other.

As for hell, for sure, we have Scriptural authority for knowing it exists, but what is it? Here I quote St Isaac again:

As for me I say that those who are tormented in hell are tormented by the invasion of love. What is there more bitter and violent than the pains of love? Those who feel they have sinned against love bear in themselves a damnation much heavier than the most dreaded punishments. The suffering with which sinning against love afflicts the heart is more keenly felt than any other torment. It is absurd to assume that the sinners in hell are deprived of God’s love. Love is offered impartially. But by its very power it acts in two ways. It torments sinners, as happens here on earth when we are tormented by the presence of a friend to whom we have been unfaithful. And it gives joy to those who have been faithful.

That is what the torment of hell is in my opinion: remorse. But love inebriates the souls of the sons and daughters of heaven by its delectability.

 St Isaac the Syrian, Ascetic Treatises, 84

What could be worse than cutting yourself off from love by closing your heart to it?

Mother Julian and St Isaac have a lot in common, and I just wish I had the time and the ability to compare and contrast, but for our purposes this Lent, perhaps this will suffice? To some I shall be thought to have said too much, to others I shall be held to have been too cautious. In these matters the latter is perhaps the better charge.

#lentbookclub is on Twitter as #LentBookClub, Facebook as https://www.facebook.com/groups/LentBookClub, and is using The Way of Julian of Norwich by Sheila Upjohn which can be bought here rather than Amazon. It runs from Ash Wednesday 20210219 to Easter Sunday-ish 20210404 and we are doing a chapter a week, roughly. Folk who are blogging about this are Graham, at https://grahart.wordpress.com/, Andrew at https://www.shutlingsloe.co.uk/, Eric at https://sundrytimes2.wordpress.com/, Soobie at https://soobie64.medium.com/, Ruth at https://becausegodislove.wordpress.com/. Come join the pilgrimage with Julian to Norwich!

Salvation in Christ’s name



A Sermon by Pastor Gervase Charmley, Bethel, Hanley

Bethel, Hanley

Christ came to save sinners! The miracles of Christ are signs, and so are the signs of the Apostles. The healing of a disabled man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple was the prelude for a sermon about the sin of man and the salvation that is in Christ. The text is Acts 3


A Journey through Lent: God as Mother & Julian of Norwich


My thanks, as ever, to Chalcedon, who has stepped in when illness has, once more, prevented my writing. But on the road to recovery (I hope) I have not only had time to read his excellent opening post, but to collect some of my own thoughts. I want to come at this from a female perspective, not out of some feminist desire to claim Mother Julian as one of us (she wasn’t), but because I think (along with many far better qualified to comment) that her femininity brought a different perspective to our thinking on Christ. It is not one that our Lent Book gives too much space to, but it’s one worth exploring in the context of our reading of it all the same.

Women in the Middle Ages were not part of the formal academic/theological space. They were neither invited to contribute to theological conversations, not expected so to do. As Mother Julian says of herself:

God forbid that you should say or assume I am a teacher, for that is not what I mean, nor did I ever mean in; for I am a woman, ignorant, weak and frail. But I know well that I have received what I say from him who is a supreme teacher … Just because I am a woman, must I therefore believe that I must not tell you about the goodness of God, when I saw at the same time both his goodness and his wish that it should be known?

Revelations of Divine Love, Short Text, Chapter 6

She had internalised what St Paul had said about it not being a woman’s place to teach. But she knew what she had seen, and she knew she had to tell others.

Here the fact that she was by the standard of the day “unlettered”, helped. “Unlettered” did not mean illiterate, but it did mean that she was not educated in scholastic methods of debate and of writing. From our point of view this was a bonus. Scholars, and others, still read Aquinas and some of the medieval schoolmen, but it can be a wearisome task. There were set methods of writing and debating, and it makes for dry reading. With Mother Julian we get the woman herself. Whether she wrote herself, or dictated it, we hear her cadences. She does not use Latin, neither does she employ technical terminology or cite authorities. No, what we get here is a woman’s voice – and one which speaks of God as mother.

Unless you happened to be a very important aristocratic woman, women in the Middle Ages seldom strayed outside the domestic sphere. Their space was the domestic space. We see this in the language and images Mother Julian uses. She describes the drops of Christ’s blood dripping down from the crown of thorns as pills, compares them to herring scales or raindrops falling from the eaves of a house. The dead body on the cross resembles a “sagging cloth” left out to dry. Mother Julian’s Christ is one who fits into that domestic sphere, who is one of us. She stresses God’s “homeliness” with us – that is his familiarity, his intimacy, his love – he is, she says in chapter 5, “everything we find good and comforting”.

One interesting development which follows from this is that Mother Julian sees Christ as

“our true mother in whom we are eternally born and by whom we shall always be enclosed”

chapter 57

“God all wisdom is our mother by nature”, she wrote in chapter 58, and:

“The great power of the Trinity is our father, and the deep wisdom of the Trinity is our mother, and the great love of the Trinity is our Lord.”

Chapter 58

Jesus was “our true mother by nature” both because he created us, and then “by grace” for redeeming us. The crucifixion itself, she likened to the travails of child-birth, because through his agonies he opened to us the possibility of heavenly bliss. She sees the sacraments as his feeding us, as a mother does her child – and as the medievals believed that milk was reprocessed blood, the parallel with the consecrated wine and a mother’s milk would have been very real to Mother Julian.

This is a Christ who becomes motherly, welcoming, initimate with us as a mother is with her children – and that image extends to his dealings with us as sinners:

But often when our falling and our wretched sin is shown to us, we are so terrified and so very ashamed that we hardly know where to put ourselves. But then our kind mother does not want us to run from him, there is nothing he wants less. But he wants us to behave like a child; for when it is hurt or frightened it runs to its mother as fast as it can: and he wants us to do the same, like a humble child saying, ‘My kind Mother, my gracious Mother, my dearest Mother, take pity on me. I have made myself dirty and unlike you, and I neither may nor can remedy this without your special help and grace.’

Chapter 61

As Our Lord said, we must become like little children to receive him, and here Mother Julian brings a mother’s insight to that saying. In this, she follows Our Lord himself who likens himself to a mother hen gathering her chicks under her wings (Matthew 23:37) as well as Isaiah (49:15). What is absent from her revelation is the usual, male, image of God as the angry father.

“God is the goodness that cannot be angry, for he is nothing but goodness.”

This, of course, presented her, as a good Catholic who believed in hell and purgatory, with a problem, and it is to that I shall, God willing return.

#lentbookclub is on Twitter as #LentBookClub, Facebook as https://www.facebook.com/groups/LentBookClub, and is using The Way of Julian of Norwich by Sheila Upjohn which can be bought here rather than Amazon. It runs from Ash Wednesday 20210219 to Easter Sunday-ish 20210404 and we are doing a chapter a week, roughly. Folk who are blogging about this are Graham, at https://grahart.wordpress.com/, Andrew at https://www.shutlingsloe.co.uk/, Eric at https://sundrytimes2.wordpress.com/, Soobie at https://soobie64.medium.com/, Ruth at https://becausegodislove.wordpress.com/. Come join the pilgrimage with Julian to Norwich!

A Journey through Lent: Prayer & Julian of Norwich

St Mary the Virgin, Tunstead, Norfolk

If we are to enter into Mother Julian’s understanding of prayer as part of Sheila Upjohn’s invitation to discuss prayer in our Lent Book, The Way of Julian of Norwich then it might help to reflect on what that would have meant for her and her contemporaries. That, in turn, invites us back to a way of praying – and worshipping – which we lost at the Reformation, and which latterly practices such as Lectio Divina have revived.

Mother Julian’s world was not one where lay people read the Scriptures, it was one where they listened to them. Julian was literate, but it is unlikely that she had a copy of the Bible or read it herself. Her engagement with prayer would have come through her experience of church. A rood-screen such as the one illustrated above, from the Norfolk church of St Mary the Virgin at Tunstead, would have provided a rich source for prayer, illuminated as it was with pictures of the Saints. Above it would have hung a cross with the crucified Christ upon it – just the sort of crucific which her curate would have shown to her on what all assumed was her death-bed. It is the first thing which catches your eye if you enter a church which has one.

It is there because it was at the centre of the devotional life of the ordinary church goer in fourteenth century England. Christ was the “man of sorrows” who took upon Himself the burden of our sins. In contemplating the Cross, which usually had upon it an image of the suffering Christ, the church goer was invited to enter into His suffering. The medieval Church, prompted by St Anselm and others, counselled people to think upon the Passion of Christ as a means of evoking His love and, thereby, contemplating how we might respond to a love that great. The Franciscan St Bonaventure, and the Cistercian, St Bernard of Clairvaux, both understood from personal experience the intense feelings which could be inspired by the contemplation of Christ’s suffering upon the Cross. By this process our sinful nature could be moved to a more fitting spiritual state where we could more readily see ourselves as recipients of Divine Love. There was an encouragement to meditate on the words of Scripture by concentration on the Holy Rood. This, it was held, would encourage each of us to enter into an emotional engagement with Christ. The imagery in the church was an aid to meditation. Much was lost when a churchmanship which took words to be the be all and end all, destroyed such images

If we know this, we can see Julian’s “showings” not as some strange vision, but rather as part of what was then a devotional norm. She would have been used to meditating on the sufferings of the Lord. She herself tells us that as a girl she had wanted to receive the “three gifts” of Christ, namely: to have the “mind of his passion”; to have:

“bodily sickness in my youth at 30 years of age”; and to “have God’s gift of three wounds”. She had wanted “a bodily sight wherein I might have more knowledge of the bodily pains of our saviour and of the compassion of our lady and of all his true lovers who saw him in his pains, for I wanted to be one of them and suffer with them.”

In this, she would have been at one with many pious lay people. She sought no special vision, just to enter into the “true mind” of the Passion. This her near-death experience gave her.

But instead of her “true mind” coming from contemplation of the Rood and its Screen, it came in the form of a mediation on the crucifix shown her by her priest. Viewed in that context, we can see Julian’s “showings” as themselves the finest example of late medieval contemplative prayer. The whole of her book is a prayer.

As we enter into Lent, we shall explore how we can make use of Mother Julian’s prayers to enrich our own.

#lentbookclub is on Twitter as #LentBookClub, Facebook as https://www.facebook.com/groups/LentBookClub, and is using The Way of Julian of Norwich by Sheila Upjohn which can be bought here rather than Amazon. It runs from Ash Wednesday 20210219 to Easter Sunday-ish 20210404 and we are doing a chapter a week, roughly. Folk who are blogging about this are Graham, at https://grahart.wordpress.com/, Andrew at https://www.shutlingsloe.co.uk/, Eric at https://sundrytimes2.wordpress.com/, Soobie at https://soobie64.medium.com/, Ruth at https://becausegodislove.wordpress.com/. Come join the pilgrimage with Julian to Norwich!

Lent Book Club: The Way of Julian of Norwich


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