Friday, November 27, 2009

Where it's due?

Why is it so difficult to receive praise?

Someone comes up to you and says, "thank you, you did that so very well." How do you respond?

I'm sure that you respond very politely and graciously, but how does receiving prayer make you feel? Awkward? Embarrassed? Desirous to change the subject?

Why? Isn't it nice to get praise?

Part of the awkward feeling is, "well what do you do with it?" as if you've been handed some mystery gadget with bells, whistles, a sink plunder and a hooter attached and have been told to go away and master it. Criticism you can deal with more obviously. You can defend yourself, your methods and your actions, or you can listen and note what you need to do in future to prevent further criticism. But beware; preventing further criticism might lead to praise!

Then, of course, there are the suspicions. "What is she after?" This is a typical response in an age of cynicism when folk are not to be trusted. You question the sincerity of the person - are they after something, or are they trying to poke fun behind your back?

Another reason for this awkwardness is guilt. "Well done," they say and you think, "ah, if only they knew the truth" and then begin to enumerate every possible way in which your praiseworthy action fails to satisfy your demands on your own ability. Christians are particularly good at the latter, particularly those with a good sized guilt complex. Other Christians fear that receiving praise might injure their reward in heaven. You can imagine the vicar being battered by an irate parishioner for publishing his name beside his sizable donation on the grounds that he was hoping for a Ferrari in Heaven.

Or else, there is the fear that praise will tempt fate to cause some major catastrophe. If one is being praised, then one is receiving something to be proud of, and pride goeth before destruction! This is faulty logic based on equivocation on the word pride. We can think of Wesley (Was it Wesley? I've forgotten.) being told how brilliant his sermon was and replying, "I know, the Devil told me on the way down the pulpit steps."

Isn't it nice to be praised? Someone has found something you did to be brilliant and wants to tell you that it's brilliant. Why not take this at face value? The Christian praises God and rightly so, for God has caused all things to be, and while they do not make sense and may appear dismal and distressing, other things do possess an obvious beauty which gladdens our hearts? And what does God do? Go red and say, "aw shucks, 'tweren't nothing"? He enjoys it and lets others share it. We see him in Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and the Apocalypse sitting while all around him offer their praises, and He responds by enjoying that praise with those who praise Him. The praise becomes its own reward.

One might say that since we are mere vessels of God's Holy Spirit that we are due no praise whatsoever. A clay pot holds water and is due no praise for what it does, because, that's what it does. If, however, the clay pot has a choice to hold the water and not to leak, warp or spill, then it has actions which can be deemed good and thus praiseworthy.

Praise is better if we don't try to possess it. All our fears above occur because we try to hold onto praise - we don't know what to do with it when we've got it; we hold it up to the light to see if it's genuine; we feel guilty for having it, or try to measure ourselves with it. Praise is about sharing our enjoyment of the good that has been done. Try to possess it, and we lose any joy in it.

Of course Humanity is capable of great evil, but it is also capable of great good from our own free choice. That Good needs to be acknowledged for the simple reason that it is Evil that seems to be predominant in the World and more obvious when it ain't necessarily so. Evil may sell newspapers, but perhaps that is because Good is so abundant that it isn't as noticed.

Thank you for reading so far. Very kind of you.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Another couple of blogs for your perusal.

Here is Christian Campbell's blog. Unlike this little blogling, Christian's blog seems more news-oriented, so worth a read.

The other is my good friend and Old Catholic Priest, Canon Jerome Lloyd at Deus Caritas Est.

Please do take some time to visit their blogs.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Trick or Triskaidekaphobia?

Homily preached at Eltham College on Friday 13th November 2009, based on Acts xvii.22-31 and Romans viii.28.

It’s Friday 13th!

Your alarm-clock fails to go off
at the correct time
causing you to oversleep
by half an hour.

You leap out of bed
only to find that
the cat’s been sick on your school shirt
and the only clean one you have
isn’t technically clean
but has been lying under your bed
for the past week
where it has been discarded
after a very overactive game
of Wii tennis and has acquired
a smell that can curdle milk
at three metres.

You race downstairs only to find
that your sister has eaten
the last of the Coco Pops,
the milk has curdled having been
in close proximity to your shirt,
leaving you only with toast
which you have to eat quickly
because you’re late for the coach.

You hurtle to the coach stop
only to see it disappear
into the distance as you arrive.

When you finally get to school,
you find that you’ve left at home
the Latin homework
due in to the Headmaster today
without fail.

And here you are now,
sitting here listening
to a catalogue of your woes on Friday 13th,
worrying about
just how the day has it in for you.

What are you going to do
about all the bad luck that lies in store today?


Perhaps you try to ward it off.

Make sure that you don’t walk under a ladder.
Check your Horoscope.
Hope that you’ve packed your lucky rabbit’s foot.

Mug a horse for its shoe.

How do these things really affect your luck
for good or bad?


It is possible that there is
some Harry Potter magical connection
between a rabbit’s foot
and having good luck,
but let’s be frank:
it wasn’t terribly lucky for the rabbit,
was it?

A horseshoe may bring good luck,
but not if it falls off the wall
and bounces off of your head.

In our culture today,
there seem to be many
of these superstitions
that still exist.
People are frightened by Friday 13th,
others knock on wood,
or cringe when they cross on the stairs,
others are afraid to tread on the cracks
in the pavement
and so wend their way down the street
skittering about like a sparrow with fleas.

Literally the word “superstition”
means “standing over”
and describes the sense of foreboding
that we get when we know
that something’s not quite right
but cannot put our finger on it.

So, you see,
all superstition has its root in fear,
especially fear of the unknown.

Those who have problems with Friday 13th
are associating a particular day with bad luck
because they have a fear of the unknown future.

It’s true to say to a certain extent
that Friday 13th is statistically unluckier
than other days for the simple reason
that people expect it to be unluckier
than other days.
They engineer their own bad luck,
just as you did when you forgot
to set your alarm last night,
or take your clean shirt off of the floor
out of the way
of a fur-ball ridden moggy.

At the heart of every superstition
lies a great paralysing fear
that can seize control over our lives,
cause us to behave irrationally
and make life less enjoyable for us.

Let’s face it,
we’re going to have some days when things go well,
and days when everything seems to go wrong.

That’s what life is like,
and we cannot escape it.

The best thing we can do
is to look rationally about what we can do
to make the best of the bad times.

We are all afraid of the unknown
– that’s natural.
But think of the fears you’ve already conquered.

Arriving here at Eltham College for the first time,
meeting new faces,
and most chilling of all,
coming face to face with Mr Roberts.

But you got over them,
and you did not need a lucky horseshoe
to get you through them.


life’s bad luck can get very hard,
and lots of people turn to God for guidance.

It’s true that some people think that
if we please God,
then we’ll get good luck.

Christian worship of God is not about
trying to gain His good favour
like some kind of grovelling little toady,
but rather it is about entering into
an active relationship with God.

Christians believe that
because the Lord Jesus has died on our behalf,
there is no need to appease God.

We are already in His good books
if we truly work at a
and loving relationship with Him.

that doesn’t mean we escape
bad luck in this life.

There is nothing wrong
in praying to God for good fortune,
but it may be more important for our benefit
that we do not receive what we want in life.

We do not pray to God
just to get our own way
and in order to avoid the bad things
that happen to us.

We do not get good luck
just because we have been good,
or bad luck when we’ve been bad.

God is not a genie,
and our belief in Him has evolved
from this primitive idea.

Christians know that in all things
God works for the good of those who love Him.

This means that even the worst luck
has the potential for making us happy
by making us better people.

It hurts,
but so does having an injection at the dentist.


It is Friday 13th today.

Is today really going to be unlucky for you?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Proximity and Consciousness

It seems to me that we are often plagued by this feeling of being far from God.

I'm wondering whether this distance between us and God is simply an illusion. Actually, delusion would be the better word.

God gives us a choice whether to believe in Him or not, and, to preserve this choice, He creates a world which apparently runs without Him, in which His actions are apparently invisible, yet produce startling effects. The existence of the Church populated by sinners is one of the most miraculous things going! The choice is that of Faith which we can adhere to or reject. As I posted below, Science seems to suggest that we have free-won't rather than free will, and this simply demonstrates the presence of temptation that is part of our make-up.

I am convinced that while our mind may indeed be the product of chemical and electrical activity in the brain, our awareness of simply being points to an unobservable existence of ourselves and ourselves as an image of God. But humans tend to reduce ourselves so terribly. If we possess this image of God then how do we really deface this image? Surely it's indelible.

I am inclined to believe that sin isn't so much a defacing of the image of God that we possess (and perhaps we possess it as a single humanity) and rather more a deliberate blinding of ourselves as vessels of God. The final and most awful sin is that we blind ourselves eternally to God. What is Hell but bearing God's image but being eternally unaware of possessing it, searching aimlessly for that which is so close, but never, ever finding it.

I am often told that we are like leaky pots into which the Spirit is poured, but it seeps out again. This doesn't ring true to me. The sacrament of Confirmation is indelible, and for the Holy Spirit to leak out goes against the notion of a God who is always with us until the end of the age.

It seems that it is sin that turns us away from the truth of our spiritual identity. We become more aware of ourselves only as a biological organism which just operates according to the thoughts and feelings that may bubble up in our brain. We lose that sense that we are not all these labels of teacher, student, gas-fitter, fat, bald, straight, gay, homophobe, physicist, learned, stupid, effeminate, coward, happy, sad, man woman or even human being. We are not labels because that is not where our identities lie. These labels we have to give up if we really want to find ourselves.

In sin we become less aware of being aware of who we are, because we are less aware of God, the source of our being and the sole reason we continue to be. We may be clay vessels of the Holy Spirit, but that Spirit will not leave us, indeed He will always strive to convince us of His presence within us, but never coerce us into making a choice which doesn't come from this heart of our very being. Somehow these little clay pots have to turn around and make ourselves aware of the oil that we possess already within us by being still and knowing that God is, and that in Him we live and move and have our being. least as far as I am aware.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Elmore or less

It seems that the community at Elmore are looking to leave the overly large house in Newbury for more manageable premises in Salisbury.

I really admire these monks for their embodiment of persistence, a particularly Benedictine virtue, I'm told.

Of course, it's sad in many ways, and one could get sentimental about ends of eras and what is the future of Monasticism, but this is clearly a community decision in the best interests of the community in order that the community may continue to grow.

Of course, the modern era is obsessed by numerical size, the number of bums on pews. It would have been marvellous if the community had continued to grow in numbers, and I don't believe that this is entirely ruled out, but growth in spirituality is of greater value than the crude head count.

Unfortunately, too many of our Parishes seem intent on trying to increase their numbers (and thus their collection takings) rather than focussing on the spiritual health of the nation which is not very good if all be told. There are many out there who have some spiritual need which isn't being met by Parishes which sell themselves out for the quick pound.

This can't be said for the quartet of Benedictines beetling about Speen who have simply kept on keeping on and just keep growing. In some way, it can be said that they have out-grown Elmore Abbey! Please pray for them, and continue to pray for monastic vocations so that the number of real monks like these will grow as a result of, and further in, good spiritual growth.