God of Love – Model for Evangelisation

Come and See for Yourself

Bishop Jake Owensby, of the Church of England, on his blog ‘Finding God in Messy Church’, has much to say about the need for a personal encounter with the God who is Love – like that of  Julian of Norwich, Hildegard of Bingen, Francis of Assisi and other Mystics of the Christian Tradition  Bishop Jake offers the example of American Franciscan and theologian Richard Rohr – whose understanding of the theory of ‘atonement’ I have mentioned already in a previous post of’ kiwianglo

The Mystics must often have been seen as ‘rebels’ by the Church authorities of their time, speaking of their experience of God as Love, rather than Wrath – a characteristic that seems to have been (and, in certain places, still is)  the subject of power over others that speaks more of harsh discipline than loving discipleship.

In his statement: “They will know you are my disciples by your LOVE”, Jesus showed the perfect paradigm of what it means to be part of the Body of Christ in the world.

Saint Francis is often quoted as being the author of the well-known prayer: “Lord, make me an instrument of your Peace”. However, whether he was the actual author or not, Francis’s whole life -after his experience of marks of The Crucified Jesus – was one of kenosis (self-emptying), in emulation of Christ on the Cross, exemplifying what God gave up for ALL people.

Julian of Norwich, contemplating the Love of God in her own experience made the amazing statement that in the end; “All shall be well, all manner of things shall be well”.

Hildegard’s awareness of God’s loving presence led her often to sing God’s praises in pure, ecstatic acknowledgement of the power and majesty her encounters with God. Such understanding is that which informs the hearts and minds of those ‘Religious’ whose whole lives are bound together into Christ. Their daily round of study, work, prayer and song is their offering to God. 

“The great love of God as revealed in the Son” are the words of a hymn which describes the tenor of the outworking of the Good News of the Gospel – a theme that should attract the attention of all who seek to love and serve other people in the world around us. Too often, the theme of God’s Wrath is offered to a world that needs, above all, a sign of God’s Love and Mercy. Pope Francis is one Church Leader who advocates this tool of radical evangelisation, and is often criticised by those whose motivation is different.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

(My wife, Diana and I will be taking a break on a Pacific Cruise for the next 2 weeks, so blogging will be at a minimum during that time. Blessings to all, Fr.Ron)

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Encounter with ‘God as Love’ – rather than Wrath

Star Wars fans have been mixed in their reception of “The Last Jedi.” My daughter Meredith and I saw it together. We both loved it, each for our own reasons.

Among other things, the role of holy texts in the Jedi religion caught my attention. Doing my best to avoid spoilers, I’ll just say that Luke Skywalker lives on a spare, remote island where the ancient texts governing Jedi belief and practice are hidden for safe keeping.

At a crucial juncture of the story, we’re invited to ask whether or not the words found on those ancient pages forever limit what it means to be a Jedi. Is there some deeper truth to which they have been pointing? And will Luke allow those deeper truths to emerge? To do so, Luke must open his heart and mind to a new encounter with the Force.

FCB99328-CFAF-4D8B-AB6F-AD48E1BDED3FIn the opening sequences of John’s Gospel, Philip tells his friend Nathaniel that he has found the one foretold by the prophets: Jesus of Nazareth. Nathaniel was unimpressed. “Can anything good come from a dump like Nazareth?” Philip wasted no time plying Nathaniel with arguments. He simply said, “Come and see.”

Some things you have to see for yourself. That’s the way it is with life’s most important truths. Lots of people—especially people in power positions in our churches—are willing to tell us the meaning of our lives, the moral value of how other people live, and even the mind of God. What somebody else tells us about any of this is mere hearsay. We have to see it, feel it, inhabit it for ourselves.

Organized religion can devolve into a system dedicated to enforcing second-hand accounts of the spiritual and moral life. Religion grows stale and even oppressive when it rests solely on creeds, dogmas, and moral rules.

Like you I’ve encountered Christians accustomed to pummeling others with Bible passages and moral codes without a glimmer of compassion. In my case, they’ve used questions as power plays and traps instead of invitations to an authentic, reciprocal exchange about life-altering experience and hard-won reflection.

It has seemed to me that they’re sure that how they think will save them, will meet with God’s approval. They’re apparent goal has been to show me their disapproval of me and, by extension, God’s rejection of me. Underlying that goal seems to be a frantic impulse to preserve their way of thinking just as it is. To annihilate any insight or experience that might require deep and serious rethinking.

I’ve walked away from moments like this wondering what sort of personal encounter the other person has had with the holy, since my encounters have almost always left me realizing how much more there is to the divine than I had imagined or can yet fathom.

As a way to bring new vitality to religion, Richard Rohr and others have reminded us again and again of the mystical dimension of faith. The Church has always been a bit suspicious of mystics.

Ecclesiastical authorities feel the need to authenticate mystical experiences. And while I recognize that some pretty loopy stuff can pass for encounters with the divine, it’s also important to note that Church leaders are quick to test profound personal experiences with previously approved dogmas and slow to allow experience to revitalize and transform how we think about God in our midst.

8109925A-0F03-45A7-9365-3391E99E99A9Julian of Norwich, Hildegard of Bingen, and Francis of Assisi each had mind- and heart-stretching encounters with the Holy One. Julian had visions. Hildegard’s theological imagination yielded challenging images. Francis received the stigmata. Their lives pulsed and flickered with the presence of the divine. And while they are accepted by the Church, Julian, Hildegard, and Francis were and remain a puzzle and a challenge to the dogmatic, stabilizing impulses of organized religion.

Each of these mystics saw for themselves. Their lives stand as an invitation to each of us to do the same. To follow Christ—to really follow him—on this planet, we will have to let a personal, unique encounter with him change who God is for us, who we are, and who others are in God.

In other words, we have to hear Philip’s words to Nathaniel as a challenge to us today. Come and see for yourself.

My new book Your Untold Story: Tales of a Child of God is now available from Church Publishing and from Amazon. – Jake Owenby

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Bishop Jake Owensby, of the Church of England, on his blog ‘Finding God in Messy Church’, has much to say about the need for a personal encounter with the God who is Love – like that of  Julian of Norwich, Hildegard of Bingen, Francis of Assisi and other Mystics of the Christian Tradition  Bishop Jake offers the example of American Franciscan and theologian Richard Rohr – whose understanding of the theory of ‘atonement’ I have mentioned already in a previous post of’ kiwianglo

The Mystics must often have been seen as ‘rebels’ by the Church authorities of their time, speaking of their experience of God as Love, rather than Wrath – a characteristic that seems to have been (and, in certain places, still is)  the subject of power over others that speaks more of harsh discipline than loving discipleship.

In his statement: “They will know you are my disciples by your LOVE”, Jesus showed the perfect paradigm of what it means to be part of the Body of Christ in the world.

Saint Francis is often quoted as being the author of the well-known prayer: “Lord, make me an instrument of your Peace”. However, whether he was the actual author or not, Francis’s whole life -after his experience of marks of The Crucified Jesus – was one of kenosis (self-emptying), in emulation of Christ on the Cross, exemplifying what God gave up for ALL people.

Julian of Norwich, contemplating the Love of God in her own experience made the amazing statement that in the end; “All shall be well, all manner of things shall be well”.

Hildegard’s awareness of God’s loving presence led her often to sing God’s praises in pure, ecstatic acknowledgement of the power and majesty her encounters with God. Such understanding is that which informs the hearts and minds of those ‘Religious’ whose whole lives are bound together into Christ. Their daily round of study, work, prayer and song is their offering to God. 

“The great love of God as revealed in the Son” are the words of a hymn which describes the tenor of the outworking of the Good News of the Gospel – a theme that should attract the attention of all who seek to love and serve other people in the world around us. Too often, the theme of God’s Wrath is offered to a world that needs, above all, a sign of God’s Love and Mercy. Pope Francis is one Church Leader who advocates this tool of radical evangelisation, and is often criticised by those whose motivation is different.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

(My wife, Diana and I will be taking a break on a Pacific Cruise for the next 2 weeks, so blogging will be at a minimum during that time. Blessings to all, Fr.Ron)

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SEC Stands By Appointment of Female Bishop

Scottish Episcopal Church slams rebel clergy’s revolt over controversial appointment

The Scottish Episcopal Church has hit back strongly at rebel clergy who protested at the appointment of their new bishop.

Mark Strange
Scottish Episcopal ChurchMark Strange is the new primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church and a strong supporter of gay marriages in church.

Christian Today revealed that half the paid clergy in the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney wrote an open letter to Scottish bishops on Friday accusing them of fostering ‘disquiet and division’ by nominating Canon Anne Dyer, the first female bishop in the SEC who is also strongly in favour of gay marriage, to be bishop of the largely conservative diocese.

Now the head of the SEC, Bishop Mark Strange, has hit back with a strongly worded response to the clergy involved and a press release published on the Church’s website insisted ‘preparations are underway’ for the consecration service which will be held in St Andrew’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, and live streamed online.

In a letter responding to the open letter signed by seven stipendiary clergy as well as several non-ordained senior officials and churchgoers, Bishop Strange, primus of the SEC, said it was ‘particularly regrettable’ they had chosen to protest publicly without speaking to him first.

‘We are dismayed at the invidious position in which it places Canon Dyer as the Bishop elect of the diocese,’ the hard-hitting response read. ‘We deplore that you have sought to subvert the outcome of the canonical process which led to Canon Dyer’s election.’

He added: ‘You have chosen the mechanism of an open letter to endeavour to undermine Canon Dyer’s election. You give us no option but to respond similarly.’

Anne Dyer
Scottish Episcopal ChurchAnne Dyer is the first female bishop in the SEC. 

The letter insisted the Scottish bishops were ‘unanimous’ in their approval of Canon Dyer and the appointment would go ahead.

The manner by which she was appointed was the key aspect to the clergy’s original protest but Bishop Strange said the bishops’ decision to take over the process, usually made from within the diocese, was ‘entirely in accordance with the procedure’ and urged the clergy to support Canon Dyer.

Her consecration service will be attended by ‘a large number of clergy’ as well as ‘representatives from civic, political, business and education interests across the city and beyond’, the press release on the SEC’s website said.

Canon Dyer said: ‘I continue to look forward to my consecration and ministry as Bishop of Aberdeen & Orkney with great anticipation. As the date approaches, I am becoming increasingly aware of the demands of leadership in the diocese and of my new role within the wider church, and am grateful for the prayerful support in my preparation for this.’

It comes after the Dean of the Diocese, Dr Emsley Nimmo, and Canon Ian Ferguson from the Cathedral Chapter in Aberdeen, both quit in November accusing the Church of being ‘not only insensitive but disrespectful’.

Last year the Scottish Episcopal Church became the first Anglican Church in the UK to permit gay weddings, removing its understanding of marriage as being between ‘one man and one woman’. Now clergy can opt in to a register to carry out same-sex weddings if they want to.

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Bishop Mark Strange, the new Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) – the first Anglican Church in the U.K. to legislate for Same-Sex Marriage –  has hit back at those in his Church who have signed an Open Letter disapproving of the unanimous choice of SEC’s Bishops for its first female bishop-elect (Canon Anne Dyer) to become the next Bishop of Aberdeen & Orkney, Scotland.

Dean Dyer – along with the House of Bishops – is known to be a supporter of the Church’s decision to allow Episcopal clergy in Scotland to officiate at Same-Sex Weddings if they so desire. However, the Church has legislated for this option to be open only to those clergy who wish to officiate at such weddings – with no expectation of any penalty being incurred by those who do not wish to avail themselves of this ministry.

Despite this caveat allowing dissenters to refuse to take Same-Sex Weddings, there have been resignations – of the Dean of Aberdeen and a member of the Chapter, who both accused the bishops of insensitivity – as well as threats of resignation from other diocesan clergy if the planned consecration of Canon Dyer goes ahead.

One does wonder whether the fact that the proposed new bishop is a woman being appointed to a conservative diocese, is more of a problem to the dissenters, than the fact that she happens to be a supporter of Same-Sex Marriage. The situation is that, whether the new bishop is female or male, this would not alter the doctrine of SEC on Marriage, which is no longer based on the premise that marriage is reserved only for the relationship between a man and a woman.

In accordance with the decision of the House of Bishops, which was unanimous, there will be no change in the planned procedure of ordination which will take place in Aberdeen’s Episcopal Cathedral of Saint John.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Embracing an Alternative Orthodoxy – Richard Rohr

Greetings to anyone who logs in on kiwianglo in this New Year of Our Lord,2018.

I am so excited by this video presentation of Richard Ruhr, an American R.C. Franciscan  teacher and theologian, whose writings about the Christian Faith are currently circulating around the blogosphere, that I have decided to advertise his presentation of a compelling dramatic turnaround on the subject of The Atonement by Jesus – as ‘At-one-ment’ – rather than the ‘quid-pro-quo’ classical understanding.

I have cause to thank my colleague, fellow commentator Bowman Walton, on Dr.Peter Carrell’s website ADU – ‘Anglican Down under’ –  for his link to this video, which so precisely and clearly gets to grips with the problem I (and many others) have with what I call the classical ‘Wrath of God’ paradigm, in Richard Rohr’s compelling exposition of an ‘alternative orthodoxy’ embracing a more eirenic understanding of the Mercy of God.

In this video, Ruhr explores the idea that the traditional understanding of ‘Retributive Justice’ – which required the sacrifice of Jesus to be viewed in the light of God as Father ‘requiring’ the sacrifice of Jesus in order to balance the scales – is grossly misinterpreted; ‘selling God short’ on God’s determination to, Himself (in Christ), fulfil the need to ‘pay the price of sin’ -a paradigm of ‘Restorative Justice’, rather than exacting that price from the sinner, himself.

This ‘amazing grace’ is the free will action of a God of Love – rather than a God of Wrath – who, in the words of the Liturgy; “desires not the death of a sinner, but rather that the sinner should repent of his wickedness and live”. The paradigm of ‘Retributive Justice’, through God’s own positive action, thus became translated into ‘Restorative Justice’ – not wrought by the action of the sinner, but of the sinned against – God’s-self.

Those of you who are interested in hearing Richard Ruhr’s persuasive arguments in the vein will no doubt also be interested in the remarks of his, mostly Evangelical, audience in this presentation. They are clearly interested if taken aback by the sheer simplicity of this very Franciscan view of what is often seen as a ‘transactional’ dispensation – rather than the Gospel view of the great MERCY of God as presented through the Incarnation, Life, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ.

Comparing the theories of St.Anselm and Dun Scotus (a Franciscan scholar) on the subject of Atonement, Richard Rohr is challenging the former ‘scape-goat’ theory of understanding, in order to espouse the later New Testament idea of God’s provision of salvation out of pure Love and Mercy, without requiring us sinners to try to ‘pull ourselves up by our own boot-straps’. In Christ’s example of self-emptying, we are encouraged to let go of any false understanding of our own capability to achieve our own redemption – by good works or any other humanly-generated artifice.

This is where Luther’s ‘Justification by Faith’ (and Grace) has a very real application in our understanding of the message of the Gospel: God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten son Son, that all who believe in Him should have eternal life. Deo Gratias!

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Evangelical support for Trump not justified

Evangelical support for Trump is not justified, says Bishop of Liverpool

28 DECEMBER 2017 – ‘CHURCH TIMES’

 

DIOCESE OF LIVERPOOL

Critical: the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes

THE Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, has criticised conservative Evangelical Christians in the US for their “uncritical support” of President Donald Trump.

Bishop Bayes told the Guardian that he did not think it was “justifiable” for Christians to support “a system that marginalises the poor”.

He said: “Some of the things that have been said by religious leaders seem to collude with a system that marginalises the poor, a system which builds walls instead of bridges, a system which says people on the margins of society should be excluded, a system which says we’re not welcoming people any more into our country.

“Whenever people say those kinds of things, they need to be able to justify that they’re saying those things as Christians, and I do not believe it’s justifiable.”

He acknowledged that not all Evangelicals in the US were supporters of President Trump, saying that there were “many, many Christians who are trying to proclaim the gospel as we’ve received it, even if that means political leaders have to be challenged.”

But, he said, “some quite significant so-called Evangelical leaders are uncritically supporting people in ways that imply they are colluding or playing down the seriousness of things which in other parts of their lives [they] would see as really important.”

Last month, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that he could not understand Christians who supported President Trump (News, 1 December Features,10 November). In his Christmas sermon, he criticised “populist leaders that deceive” (News, 27 December 2017).

Bishop Bayes, who is currently on a sabbatical until March went on: “If people want to support right-wing populism anywhere in the world, they are free to do so. The question is, how are they going to relate that to their Christian faith?

“And if what I believe are the clear teachings of the gospel about love for all, the desire for justice and for making sure marginalised and defenceless people are protected, if it looks as though those teachings are being contradicted, then I think there is a need to say so.”

He was speaking at the launch of the Ozanne Foundation, a charity that aims “help educate and advocate on LGBTI and gender rights around the world, particularly within religious organisations that are opposed to non-heterosexual relationships”.

It will be led by Jayne Ozanne, an Evangelical member of the General Synod who in July prompted a debate that led to a vote to call on the Government to ban conversion therapy (News, 14 July).

Bishop Bayes, who will chair the foundation, said: “We need to find appropriate ways of welcoming and affirming LGBTI people who want their love recognised by the Church.

“I have long been an admirer of Jayne Ozanne’s strong clear advocacy for LGBTI people and other groups who have suffered hurt and abuse — not least at the hands of the Church — and I believe her work should be actively supported and encouraged.”

Other trustees include the Dean of St Paul’s, the Very Revd Dr David Ison; the Archdeacon of Rochdale and the Prolocutor of the Lower House of the Convocation of York, the Ven. Cherry Vann; and the editor of the Church of England Newspaper, Colin Blakeley.

The foundation is currently being registered with the Charity Commission.

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It is significant that the Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, in his inaugural speech at the opening of the Jayne Ozanne Foundation in the U.K., should criticise the support of U.S. Evangelicals behind the U.S. President Donald Trump’s marginalisation of the poor and the disenfranchised in the U.S.

The Jayne Ozanne Foundation (named in honour of a Church of England General Synod campaigner for the LGBTQ movement) was recently launched to provide education for Anglican Churches around the world on matters of gender and sexuality. Bishop Bayes has agreed to be its inaugural Chair.

A strong Evangelical Bishop himself, Bishop Paul is keen to encourage the Church of England and other Anglican Churches around the world to embrace people on the margins of the Church and to work for justice and peace in every place where it is being resisted.

It should not be surprising, then, that he has used this occasion to point to the inequities of the Trump regime in the United States of America, and to the inconsistency of the support given to Donald Trump by certain Evangelical supporters – especially those of the Pentecostal Churches that have sought to gain special benefits from their open support.

In this particular situation, Bishop Bayes is following up on the remarks made by the Archbishop of Canterbury, ++Justin Welby, as mentioned here:

“Last month, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that he could not understand Christians who supported President Trump (News, 1 December Features,10 November). In his Christmas sermon, he criticised “populist leaders that deceive” (News, 27 December 2017).

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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England’s Nazareth – Walsingham

National Pilgrimage, Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham

 

Go on pilgrimage with our Mystery Worshipper to one of the UK’s most sacred places, the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. Recline with him on the springy North Norfolk earth to hear a sermon preached by none other than the Preacher to the Papal Household. Sing with him a variety of hymns ranging from the slushy to the vulgarly robust. And judge for yourself whether the nun leading the Rosary could count to ten! Be all that as it may, the experience was close to heaven for our Mystery Worshipper. Reminisce with him in a nearby pub (passing up tea and vespers) how he felt happier to be a Christian than he’s been in a long time!

Close to heaven: National Pilgrimage, Walsingham, UK

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Christmastide is as good a time as any to be reminded of the place of Our Lady (The Blessed Virgin Mary) in our Christian Tradition.

Having, in 1961, myself journeyed to the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham, in Norfolk, England; I am aware of the differences that have been made in that place – which has long been a choice for the pilgrimage of many people – not only in the British Isles but from around the Christian world.

In 1961, what was then the ‘Slipper Chapel (owned by the Roman Catholics) – where pilgrims removed their shoes to walk barefoot to the Shrine – was a very small sanctuary about a mile away from the Shrine itself, which was located not far from the Anglican parish Church of Walsingham.

Now, that small chapel has been converted into a very large Church, which is still owned by the R.C.s and has become the main focus of their pilgrimage.

However, at the site of the original Shrine (owned by Anglicans but now shared by the Catholics), the most splendidly decorated church is that of the Anglican Church administered by a team of Guardians of the Shrine, with the Roman Catholics having their own chapel within the grounds. There is also a small Orthodox chapel in the Anglican Shrine – as well as an Orthodox chapel in the Village of Walsingham

At certain times of the year – especially on Feast Days of the BVM – both Anglicans and Roman Catholics have their own parish and national pilgrimages, but there are also occasions of a joint pilgrimage, such as is described here, in the linked article – above.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Eternity wrapped in a span – Catherine Fox

21 DECEMBER 2017 – Church Times

Catherine Fox finds it a struggle to grasp the magnitude of what happened in the Bethlehem stable
SUPERSTOCK

Lift up the latch: a byre door at the Palloza Museum, Casa do Sesto, Ancares, Spain

Here is the little door, lift up the latch, oh lift!
We need not wander more but enter with our gift.

BEFORE I received my musical education in the English cathedral tradition, I had never come across this carol (words by Frances Chesterton, music by Herbert Howells). Springing as I do from good Nonconformist stock, I knew the carol section of the Baptist hymn-book. I also waited eagerly each year for the new Bethlehem carol-sheet to be distributed at primary school. There was considerable overlap between the two publications, but the carol sheet always included more pagan nonsense than we Baptists had any truck with (three ships, holly and ivy, etc.).

These carols were a jolly good sing, of course, but we were aware they weren’t biblical. I dare say we were encouraged in this by our father, who mischievously made up extra verses: “The holly bears a branch as tall as a pylon. And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ, who was wrapped up in nylon.”

Nylon. You tell that to young people nowadays, and they just look at you. What even isnylon? Ah, a whole generation has grown up not knowing the pleasure of creating a static storm in the privacy of your own nightdress! Much has changed since the Christmases of my youth, but traditional Christmas carols are still a staple. Like family, a proper tree, and Brussels* sprouts, carols crop up on the list of Christmas sine qua nons. (Or perhaps — bearing in mind my erudite readership — I should say sine quibus non.)

Carols are everywhere: in churches and cathedrals; on the radio; on your doorstep; in schools, hospitals, and old folks’ homes. They are also on the high street, where they are promiscuously mixed with secular schmaltz, and poured like Bailey’s over our festive retail experience. We slog through the shopping mall with Mommy kissing Santa cheek by jowl with the incarnate deity. I find this disorientating.

But perhaps that’s the point? The deity did not become incarnate in some rarefied space, hermetically sealed off from the slog of daily life. The magi discovered this. They started with the obvious. Where is he who is born King of the Jews? Where kings belong, presumably: in the palace in Jerusalem. But no. Here is the little door. It’s not some vast imposing door found at the end of a sweeping drive, up marble steps, set between pillars on hinges of gold. Just a little door to a humble house.

SOMETIMES, a phrase lodges in my head and I turn it round for months, pondering. I try not to do this aloud in public (though I have caught myself in the car thoughtfully repeating place names — Clatterbridge, Strines Moor — for several minutes). It’s a by-product of the writing life, I expect, this obsession with words: the sound and meaning of them, their curious networks of association.

Here is the little door. We have no means of knowing what the door of the house looked like, the one that greeted the magi when they finally arrived in Bethlehem, and found the child with his mother. Did they have to stoop to enter with their gifts?

Our gift of finest gold,
Gold that was never bought nor sold;
Myrrh to be strewn about His Bed;
Incense in clouds about His Head.

I need it to be a little door. It feels right that these travellers — full of knowledge, full of treasure — should have to lower their sights in their quest for the King, and finally bend to get in.

OLD houses can be charming, but low doorways are not. (“Duck or Grouse” as pub signs put it.) If you live in an old house, the brute fact is that you will have to adapt. The doorway is not going to change, no matter how many times you clout your head on it. Here is the little door — deal with itIn my pondering of that phrase, I begin to sense a spiritual truth I keep clouting my head on. You are overlooking the obvious. It’s not that difficult. The door to life is very small and very low. Ditch your dignity and stoop.

This reminds me of Naaman. He travelled in state from Aram to Israel, to be healed of his leprosy. Like the magi, he started with the king in the palace. Powerful men like to deal with powerful men. Like the magi, he came laden with gifts and treasure. Like them, he was bounced. He was forced to make a detour and call on the prophet Elisha, who didn’t even do him the courtesy of stirring from his house.

Out came the servant instead, with a terse message: “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” What?! I thought he’d at least come out and wave his hands over me. The Jordan? We’ve got better rivers at home!

Sometimes the path to life is so very small and low, it looks like a deliberate insult. Here is the little door. Get over yourself. I smile in recognition at the words of Naaman’s servant: “If the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” Can it really be that simple? Is there nothing I can contribute to this process? What about my talents of silver, my shekels of gold? Come on, guys. Look at my ten suits of clothing.

The oddity of the life of faith is that it is simultaneously all too small and all too big.  I am simultaneously too small and too big. How does it all fit together? How does it work? There is a tiny girl I am longing to meet. She’s due to arrive at Epiphany, and the building-blocks for her body come partly from me: she is my granddaughter. Or to look at it another way, the building-blocks for her body — like the building-blocks for everything in our physical universe — were forged in supernovae millions of years ago.

How can I take in the enormity of that? My brain is too puny to accommodate it. (To be honest, half the time it’s too puny to keep hold of my car registration, or to recall where I hid those Christmas presents I so brilliantly bought back in August.) And yet my brain — any human brain — is the most complex structure in the known universe.

How does it fit together, this incompatible vastness and tininess? What does it look like? Hail the incarnate Deity! Hail the God-programme running on human hardware, on our flesh-and-bloodware; stripped of omniscience and omnipotence, scaled down and down and down, until it’s earth-compatible and won’t crash our system.

This is what it looks like: it looks like a baby. (Such tiny hands and Oh such tiny feet.) Seriously? Can it be that simple? It looks like a child growing, learning, “waxing strong in spirit”, as the old translation says. It looks remarkably like one of us. It walks and laughs and weeps like one of us. It speaks our human dialect, drinks our wine, knows our songs. It gazes at us uncalculatingly. Like a friend. “They’re hurting. Let me go to them.” It looks like faithfulness, unwavering to the bitter end. And then it looks like death.

I THINK a lot about death. I try not to chant it out loud in lifts, as this can be disconcerting for my fellow lift-passengers. Death, that final door I will pass through. Into what? Sometimes it feels like a bottomless abyss, one I stare down into with my atheist friends. They think there’s nothing, and I hope there’s God. I can’t prove my case. I can only talk about what I experience, and what faith feels like. It feels as though there’s something like a God programme, downloadable to any human heart.

But how? Here is the little door. Instal now? How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of heaven. Here is the little door. Here, where the playing field is level. The more you have, the harder it is to get through — or even to believe that the way could be so ridiculous, so low down. You must become like little children to enter. The only requirement is to believe that it’s this simple: that grace is a free gift to the undeserving poor. Then we can bend and enter with our gift.

I’m guessing it’s rather like “Mummy, look, look, I made you a Christmas bell!” To which no loving mother on earth ever replied, “What is this crap? It’s just glitter on a yogurt pot! Get out of my sight.” That bell will be hung on the tree, and the child scooped up and hugged to bits.

He stooped down first to show us how it works. No more wandering. Get over yourself. Enter. Here is the little door. Here. Here.

Catherine Fox is the author of The Lindchester Chronicles, published by Marylebone House and available through the Church Times Bookshop.

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Hat-tip to ‘Thinking Anglican’ for this link to the Church Times article by Catherine Fox.

Moving from her ruminations about the amazing humility of God in the action of Christ’s Incarnation – and the humility of Mary and Joseph at His Conception – Catherine speculates on the equally amazing story of Christ’s Epiphany to the Three Kings – representing the Gentile population of the world outside of Judaism.

Speaking of the ‘smallness’ of the door to the manger, Catherine extends that thought to our inability to understand our own need of humility in order to encounter the majesty of God’s dignity in small spaces, places, and the people God chooses to inhabit – regardless of our human tendency to respect only the grandeur, rather then the humbleness of God in our midst.

The smallest scrap of humanity – as given to us in the Babe of Bethlehem – requires us to ‘bend low’ in order to encounter and appreciate the presence of Christ in others. This, then, can be our ‘aha’ moment – the Epiphany – that we need to understand that “God was never so great as when God became so small”.

A Happy Epiphany to all my Readers. “Kalo Epiphania!”

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

 

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