Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Earthenware Vessels

Our Christian life is such a paradox.

On the one hand, at times so painfully aware of our failures and sin. On the other hand, already, in our union with the Lord, sharers in his fullness.

Paul expresses this fundamental paradox in an enduring image: “We are only earthenware jars that hold this treasure.”  We seem so ordinary, made of the dust of the earth, and our bodies will return one day to that dust. And yet, and yet, this human vessel is breathed into by God, filled with his life. We have been bestowed with a divine wealth and beauty we have not even begun to understand.

St Francis understood that holding in delicate balance the full truth of who we are is the way to live Spirit-filled, Spirit-guided lives. This means acknowledging I am an earthenware vessel with nothing to boast of, but also rejoicing that I carry a precious treasure, everything has already been given to me in Christ.

In my experience many don’t get that balance right. The most common fault is to be so aware of failings, sins, and mistakes - just how cracked, chipped, and broken the vessel is - that there is no recognition of, no delight in the splendour that is ours by the gift of God.

Friday, 25 November 2011

False Humility!

True humility is an attractive quality that adds beauty to the Christian life. But how it is misunderstood! So much of what passes for humility is often just low self-esteem, a turning from our God-given gifts.

It is not Christian humility when we despise what God has created good, and has made his beloved.

It is not Christian humility when we reject ourselves as useless, unchangeable, unlovable.

It is not Christian humility when we ignore all that Christ has done for us, gained for us, shared with us.

Yes, indeed, we are called to live honestly before the Lord, and not to try to hide from self and God our fragility and brokenness. But we are also asked to celebrate our God-given greatness and potential.

Look upon yourself as God looks on you – with generous, patient love.

Treat yourself as God treats you – with gentle compassion.

Speak to yourself as God speaks to the you – with words of hope and encouragement, words that speak of daily new beginnings, of possibilities, words that reveal vast interior spaces filled with grace and light.

Beware of false humility!

Monday, 21 November 2011

The Love That Heals Our Shame

Recently I have being accompanying a person who is struggling with terrible shame; the past is a ball and chain dragged behind him. He finds it so hard to accept God's pardon and to pardon himself. Until he can, he remains unfree.

My prayer is that he will hear deeply in his heart the words the Lord spoke to the woman caught in adultery: "I do not condemn you; go and do not sin again."

The solution to sin in our lives is not to beat ourselves with the stick of harsh self-condemnation, not to burden ourselves with an ever-stricter moral code, not to try to summon a fierce will power to bring about change.

The Gospel solution to sin is to know God and the power of his love. Divine love, accepted and received deep within, heals the wound of shame and self-rejection. Then we are free enough to love in return. His love experienced and let loose in our lives brings about our transformation.

Until we grasp this we do not really understand the Gospel.  We can know the law of God by heart, but not know the heart of God. As you read this you may be particularly burdened by sin, by a sense of failure, by discouragement. God already loves you as much as an infinite God can possibly love, and that will never change.

Christians in Africa have a beautiful song:  “Come to me brother, come to me sister, there is no condemnation in my heart.”  It is Christ who sings this to us. Then we in our turn, having received his mercy and forgiven yourselves, must sing it to our brothers and sisters. “Come to me, there is no condemnation in my heart!”

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Community: what we can offer

Jim Wallis, the American Christian activist and writer, believes that the Christian community needs to be very clear what dimension of the Gospel the world most needs to hear and experience in our time.

Writing in his book The Call to Conversion, he holds that the greatest need is “not simply for kerygma, the preaching of the Gospel; nor for diakonia; service on behalf of justice; nor for charisma, the experience of the Spirit’s gifts; nor even for propheteia; the challenging of the King. The greatest need of our time is for koinonia, the call simply to be church….to offer to the world a living, breathing, loving community of church. This is the foundation of all answers.”

"A living, breathing, loving community" - he is so right!  It is within a community that expresses the faith in worship, love, service and action that Christ is encountered and the Spirit is active.

My experience has been that people who have experienced the church in their lives, at a local level, as a vibrant, loving church, are the people who "catch" what it is all about. This experience of church as communion can take place in a dynamic parish, a prayer group, a bible study group, a social justice group, or any of a myriad such small communities.

Ron Rolheiser, OMI, puts it bluntly: "In the end, people are as agnostic about faith, Christ, and the church as they are about the experience of community. When there is a strong experience of community there is generally a strong faith... Christianity, in the end, is a communal endeavor. We believe in it when community works, we stop believing in it when community and family break down.  Our primary task today is to live community. If we can do that, then the visible body of Christ, the Church, will have an incredible resurrection."