naked intent

You only need a naked intent for God. When you long for him, that’s enough.

I have been reading The Cloud of Unknowing which I have not really read previously. I think there are books that I am aware exist and have some idea about their content but that I have never really read.

So two things: there is such a thing as really reading something. Slowly and with intent. Allowing the words to penetrate and feed your inward person. I know that is true with the Scriptures but it is also true with other literature. And the difference, between reading for information and reading to be fed, is in the intent. A relationship is much more than information and hits the very centre of what it means to be “me”. It is this centre that reads with intent.

Second: “a naked intent”! A longing for God in every aspect of my life. Putting time aside is very much part of it. But every moment of my day (and night) is a continual longing for God. My intent today is for Jesus.

I think I like The Cloud of Unknowing. It is simple in its language but deep in its ideas.

Jesus began to weep

When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

John 11:28-37

Until very recently, I have never really understood (intellectually) what it means that Jesus wept. I guess I still do not understand it!? There is an awful lot of crying happening in the above text.

In weeping Jesus is truly human – the Incarnate Word is emotionally moved by the pain and suffering of others to tears. Something in his very core is moved, he has “compassion” for people. He truly suffers with individuals – he truly feels my pain and hurt.

I remember a preacher, when I was growing up, who used to cry during his sermons. I have often thought about that and dismissed it as “emotional manipulation”. But of all the preachers I have heard in my life, why do I remember that particular one?

I pray for the gift of tears! For my sins. But most of all: for the pure love that God is showing to me in Jesus. I am not sure any of that makes sense.

gift of tears

I have not written for some time. I guess one day in lockdown looks very much like the next. That is not bad – just the reality of life.

So I have been thinking about the gift of tears. Yes, a somewhat weird thought. I have cried more in the last six months than the whole of my life combined. Not always spiritual, but sometimes spiritual related.

Here is a quote by Ignatius of Loyola:

As for the third point, that is, inflicting hurt upon the body for our Lord’s sake, I would completely stop any practices that could draw even a drop of blood. And if his Divine Majesty has bestowed grace upon you for this and the rest that I have mentioned (as I am convinced in his divine goodness that he has), I think that for the future (without giving reasons or arguments for it) it would be much better to give all this up and instead of seeking to draw any blood, to seek the Lord of all in a more immediate way; that is to say, his most holy gifts—for example, an infusion or drops of tears, whether (1) at our own or other people’s sins, (2) at the mysteries of Christ our Lord in this life or the next, or (3) at the consideration and love of the divine Persons. These tears have greater value and worth in proportion as the thoughts and considerations prompting them are higher.

Ignatius on Prayer (1548)

Tears are signs of intense emotions. Often uncontrollable. But every tear speaks! And should we not have “intense emotions” towards Jesus? I cry during silly movies, why not during the gospel reading on Sunday? (Ok, I have cried a couple of times during sermons but that was out of frustration.)

So, final question: would you pray for the gift of tears?

manage people

… because everyone is drawn almost irresistibly back towards this urge to manage.

Rowan Williams. Silence and Honey Cakes, 26.

I have been reading Silence and Honey Cakes – a book by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams on desert spirituality. It was recommended to me by a lecture in history at a Catholic theological institute.

The above – “this urge to manage” – is a very strong image for me in the first chapter. The withdrawal into the desert is not a withdrawal from a sinful world but an opening of my own sinfulness. And at the core of this is my need to manage people. To set limits on other people’s access to God and to always place myself between God and people. To make myself the spiritual guru, the person with the answers, the person who has it all worked out. To place myself above the other is not an act of love but hubris.

But that is nothing but my sinfulness. And in silence, I hear that most clearly. The desert is not a place but part of my heart that I need to listen to intently. Only when I know what it means to be broken can I really appreciate what it means to be whole – or holy!

questioning

Spiritual guidance affirms the basic quest for meaning. It calls for the creation of space in which the validity of the questions does not depend on the availability of answers but on the questions’ capacity to open us to new perspectives and horizons. We must allow all the daily experiences of life—joy, loneliness, fear, anxiety, insecurity, doubt, ignorance, the need for affection, support, understanding, and the long cry for love—to be recognized as an essential part of the spiritual quest.

Nouwen, Spiritual Direction

I have been listening to Henry Nouwen’s book on spiritual direction. I have not read much by him so I am super impressed with this book. Especially as an audiobook that I can listen to while doing other things.

So I thought I would share the above. Questioning is important and very much part of the journey into Jesus.

being utter nothingness

I have been reading Julian of Norwich: Revelations of Divine Love. Just a couple quotes:

BEING A NOBODY in a society obsessed with prestige and prosperity is a challenging position; and yet embracing a state of utter nothingness, renouncing the clutter of worldly possessions and the preoccupation with social status, can, in fact, be a totally liberating experience. 

Yes, being utter nothingness is very countercultural. There is a sense that being nothing is about being a person – a “no thing”. But in a world of objects that can be measured and valued, being a person is often being nothing.

For if I look at myself, I am really nothing; but as one of mankind in general, I am in oneness of love with all my fellow Christians; for upon this oneness of love depends the life of all who shall be saved; for God is all that is good, and God has made all that is made, and God loves all that he has made.

Yes, being nothing is about oneness with everyone else who is nothing. And about oneness with God who is above all a “no thing”.

this is between Jesus and me

Christianly, struggling is always done by single individuals, because spirit is precisely this, that everyone is an individual before God, that “fellowship” is a lower category than “the single individual,” which everyone can and should be. And even if the individuals were in the thousands and as such struggled jointly, Christianly understood each individual is struggling, besides jointly with the others, also within [themselves], and must as a single individual give an accounting on judgment day, when [their] life as an individual will be examined.

Practice in Christianity (slightly modified)

I think people sometimes misunderstand Kierkegaard on the issue of being “the single individual”. I have heard him quoted as an individualist who promotes absolute subjectivity. Hardly! The context into which he speaks is Christianity properly understood. The people I have heard accuse him of being an individualist tend to be Biblicists or fundamentalists (even the Catholic variety) who place the individual below doctrine – or, as Kierkegaard might say, “place the abstract over the individual”.

Yes, other people can help – they can be examples, share their insights, and support me within my struggles and journey. I have felt that reality and I am thankful to God for the faithful people He has placed in my life. And I need to be encouraged (and reminded) to be that person for others – to seek spiritual friendship and to allow my gifts (and struggles) to help others. But in the end, I cannot answer for another when Jesus returns. I cannot answer for their life and no one can answer for my life. Maybe the best way is to think of it in terms of being “alone together”?!

God became a Single Individual in Jesus and went to the cross alone for me, so I come before God alone, seeking His love and mercy.

getting out of the cave

What must be the first step of the self upon this road to perfect union with the Absolute? Clearly, a getting rid of all those elements of normal experience which are not in harmony with reality: of illusion, evil, imperfection of every kind. By false desires and false thoughts man has built up for himself a false universe: as a mollusc, by the deliberate and persistent absorption of lime and rejection of all else, can build up for itself a hard shell which shuts it from the external world, and only represents in a distorted and unrecognisable form the ocean from which it was obtained. This hard and wholly unnutritious shell, this one-sided secretion of the surface-consciousness, makes as it were a little cave of illusion for each separate soul. A literal and deliberate getting out of the cave must be for every mystic, as it was for Plato’s prisoners, the first step in the individual hunt for reality.

Underhill, Mysticism

Double points: Absolute sounds like Kierkegaard, and Plato’s cave is a great metaphor for the spiritual life.

wilderness road

I read the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8) at Morning Prayer and was struck by this:

(This is a wilderness road.)

Philip proclaims Jesus on a wilderness road. Not in a cultural setting or a religious community – in the wilderness.

I have been reading a book about desert spirituality. The author makes the point that fundamental to this form of asceticism is the relationship between mentor and student, abbot and disciple. It is a personal teaching by example. I guess we would call it spiritual mentoring. I really like that picture and that approach – a spiritual relationship with a mentor that is personal and practical. A wilderness road for the modern context?