Friday, 31 August 2012

Understanding Revelation

I want to direct your attention to a wonderful series of commentaries on a Dominican blog where the Book of Revelation is unpacked and explored in easy stages and in great depth. OPENING THE BOOK OF REVELATION by Leo Checkai OP contains enough material for reflection and meditation to carry you right through Advent to Christmas.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Secret of the blackberry

This is the nearby riverside where I pick blackberries. The river is the Thames running through Oxford, where we call it "Isis", a name redolent of ancient mystery. But the blackberry has mysteries of its own.

In long-ago days my brother and I would climb the fence and reach into our neighbour's garden for the fat blackberries that grew there, which (I suppose we imagined) she had no use for. Sometimes we would even venture to place a foot to the ground, thus technically trespassing in her little paradise with its round brick-walled pond containing huge goldfish, under the spreading pear trees that, as in our garden, were the remains of an ancient orchard, and which in springtime became towering clouds of white blossom.

"I am black but beautiful"
The blackberry is bold. Amongst all the other flowers and fruit competing for attention with a riot of colour, she does the opposite and decides to be completely black. (Ironically the old lady who lived next door was a Mrs DuSoir.) Making herself black by absorbing all the colours of the rainbow, she transmutes them within herself and gives them back to us in the form of flavour. A flavour that for me, like that of fresh strawberries or peas raw from the pod, evokes the wonder of being a child in a world that has been newly made and beckons to be explored. It is a flavour, now, that heals and consoles. And the danger of the prickles does nothing but make it more enticing. The blackberry cannot be taken easily but must be won, at great personal risk.

There are sacred numbers at play in the blackberry. The leaflets number five, seven, or three; the petals five. (Pythagoras would get my drift.) But then, there are sacred numbers everywhere in nature – they are just the way she works. Any yet the blackberry is despised, for growing, all too quickly, by the roadside and in gardens where she is not wanted – gardens where the gardener thinks all must be soft and gentle to the touch. The blackberry is by her nature wild, and therefore she is a revelation of nature's heart, of Sophia, of the beauty that calls to us from the end of the world.

As I wander along river paths lined with wildflowers and watch the swans drifting idly under the drooping willows, as I pick the abundant blackberries that others ignore, I feel like Dante in Canto XXX of the Paradiso: "The loveliness I saw surpassed not only/ our human measure – and I think that, surely,/ only its Maker can enjoy it fully."

Thursday, 9 August 2012

The ground of the soul

In her final book, The Science of the Cross, completed just before she was taken to be killed by the Nazis, St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross – the philosopher Edith Stein – whose feast is celebrated today, described the human spirit as the inmost region of the soul, St Teresa of Avila’s “seventh dwelling place”, where God lives “all alone” as long as the soul has not reached the perfect union of love.

At this depth the life of the soul “precedes all splitting into different faculties”. “There the soul lives precisely as she is in herself, beyond all that will be called forth in her through created beings. Although this most interior region is the dwelling of God and the place where the soul is united to God, her own life flows out of here before the life of union; and this is so, even in cases where such a union never occurs. For every soul has an inmost region and its being is life.”

This life in the spirit is hidden even from the soul herself, and often our “I” dwells outside it, having been drawn out from this ground of the soul to a more

Monday, 6 August 2012

Spiritual warfare: 4

"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (Heb. 4: 12)

Do we see Holy Scripture as a "sword"? More often we treat it as a blanket.

The remark is by David Hicks, speaking about the way the Church Father read the Bible. But the author of Hebrews continues: "And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account." Thus the Sword of the Spirit is not an "it" but a "him", it is the Lord himself. The sword we must pick up is not merely the words of the Bible, which are marks on paper, but something "living and active". The Sword is able to pierce to the very heart, to the spirit within the soul, to the "marrow" in the bones.

The quotation comes from the end of a passage where the author is talking about the Sabbath rest of God, the seventh day, the day when God and his people cease from their labours. But what is the connection with spiritual warfare? The Sword is the warrior's weapon. It brings an end to the fight, in victory. It does so by bringing our energy and will to a point. It does so through enabling the ultimate discernment. Cutting away everything worldly, including the soul and the joints and the hypocrisy under which we hide our true intentions, it leaves us "naked and exposed" before God. But this is the only way to enter his rest, to be with him in his glory.

Prayers for a New Chivalry

This is the last of a series of extracts from my notes for a future book. For more on spiritual warfare right away, read the CTS booklet by Vivian Boland OP, which in turn recommends the classic Spiritual Combat by Lorenzo Scupoli. See also the Angelic Warfare Confraternity of the Dominican Order, and the Knights of Our Lady for a contemporary manifestation of spiritual chivalry.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Spiritual warfare: 3

A warrior is never too busy to pray. God creates time for those who pray. And the substance of prayer is attention.

"The Fathers define prayer as a spiritual weapon. Unless we are armed with it we cannot engage in warfare, but are carried off as prisoners to the enemy's country. Nor can we acquire pure prayer unless we cleave to God with an upright heart. For it is God who gives prayer to him who prays, and who teaches man spiritual knowledge." (Philokalia, 2, p. 15)

"God never refuses the first grace which gives us the courage to overcome ourselves. If the soul corresponds with that grace, she finds herself immediately in the light. The heart is strengthened and she goes from victory to victory." (St Therese of Lisieux)

"I bind to myself this day
The power of Heaven,
The brightness of the Sun,
The whiteness of Snow,
The splendour of Fire,
The speed of Lightning,
The swiftness of Wind,
The depth of the Sea,
The stability of the Earth,
The firmness of Rock."
         (St Patrick's Breastplate)

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication." (Eph. 6: 10-18, ESV)

NEXT: The Sword of the Spirit.