Monday, December 31, 2012

The Seventh Day of Christmas

Seven swans a-swimming, moving over the face of the water. In Genesis we are told about the Spirit of God moving over the face of the water before the Creation. This is a strange statement that needs expansion in itself and perhaps I'll come back to that in a future post. Let us, however, concentrate on this seven.

Seven is the Hebrew number of perfection. There are many sevens in Holy Scripture and even in secular society! Seven days a week is certainly something that has an almost global appeal even from ancient times. In the early chapters of the Revelation to St John the Divine, we read of the Seven Spirits of God. One might get confused and believe that there are Seven Holy Spirits, after all the phrase "Spirit of God" occurs in several places to stand for the Holy Ghost, notably at Our Lord's Baptism. This is always in the singular.

This is not what is meant in the Revelation, these are the Seven Spirits given to the Seven Churches. They are not seven separate Holy Ghosts: there is only one Holy Ghost. Our Lord tells us such when He tells us to Baptise in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.

St Thomas Aquinas points us to Isaiah xi.2-3:
et requiescet super eum spiritus Domini spiritus sapientiae et intellectus spiritus consilii et fortitudinis spiritus scientiae et pietatis et replebit eum spiritus timoris Domini non secundum visionem oculorum iudicabit neque secundum auditum aurium arguet
And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge [and piety - this is not found in the KJV, but is present in the Latin Vulgate and in the Septuagint] and of the fear of the LORD; And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:
and identifies:
  1. The Spirit of Wisdom, (sapientia)
  2. The Spirit of Understanding,(intellectus)
  3. The Spirit of Counsel,(consilium)
  4. The Spirit of Might,(fortitudo)
  5. The Spirit of Knowledge,(scientia)
  6. The Spirit of Piety, (pietas)
  7. The Spirit of the Fear of the Lord, (timor Domini)
These are the Seven Spirits which rest upon the Root of Jesse, namely upon Christ and upon his followers. We receive these Spirits at our Baptism and they are strengthened by our Confirmation because they are all gifts from the Holy Ghost. Why then do we seem to be lacking?

The trouble with these gifts is that often we do not take off the wrapping paper and use them, but preserve them in their plastic cellophane and put them on the mantelpiece looking pretty and hoping that they will increase in value. We do need to exercise ourselves in using the spiritual gifts of our Baptism by living an examined and active Christian life. To use wisdom, we need to seek it. To understand, we must wrestle with things that we don't understand. To counsel, we need to understand our experiences in life and learn from those who counsel us. To be strong, we need to endure. To know, we need to question. To be pious, we need to be humble. To fear God, we need to look at how really very small we are and how feeble our efforts are and compare that with a God who loves us despite our smallness and whose love for us can burn with a ferocity enough to vaporise planets and throw galaxies around space.

These seven spirits have been given as gifts to us in addition to the wonders of all Creation which follow the Physical and Moral Laws of God, announced to us in the Gospels in the love of a Trinity who makes a two-fold Covenant with us, sealed and ratified in the Blood of Christ on the Cross. These are seven more gifts given by our True Love.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Sixth Day of Christmas

Six geese laying eggs. As we celebrate the birth of Our Lord, we are minded very much of the first Creation. He who created the world enters into Time from without to be born of the Virgin.

This last sentence is bound to upset many who cannot reconcile the Biblical account of the Creation with the evidence of Science pointing toward the Big Bang, or who do not see parthenogenesis as applicable to human beings. The real fact is that no-one actually KNOWS what happened at the moment of Creation. The Big Bang is still a theory, and very, very convincing it is too as it does fit observable facts. One can be justified in one's confidence in the theory.

The Biblical account could still be true, though then one has to reconcile the two Creation stories in the first and second chapters of Genesis. Perhaps that can be done. Whether it can be done or not is not really the point. Whether there were six days of Creation or a Big Bang is not the point either, but rather reasons for people to talk past each other. Genesis says that God created the Universe, but it doesn't say how except in figurative and poetic allusions to Man's affinity with the dust.

Six days of Creation - Light, Waters, Fecund Earth, Heavenly Bodies, Animals, Man - all relate to our common human experience of living. Our days begin when light falls on our eyes, blinding us temporarily as we fumble about from our slumber. We feel the water on our face as we freshen up, ready for the new day. We eat our bowls of cereal, the product of the Earth's fertility. We leave the house and see the sun in the sky. We stroke next-door's cat as she mews loudly at us passing by, and then we greet our fellow co-workers as we begin our working day. This is the point of our creation story: all this has been made possible by the coming together of elements from all over the universe. every atom in our bodies has passed through the heart of a star. According to our understanding, every proton in us has been forged in the first few seconds of the life of the Universe and is now present within us for a little while before it carries on its journey in spacetime.

Our everyday lives have their beginning in God in so many beginnings of which we are necessarily completely ignorant. Yet, God is behind our existence from the micro- to the macroscopic to the astronomical, having decreed the physical law as well as the Moral Law which is expounded and expanded by the Torah and Gospels of the great Incomprehensible Trinity who deigns to make a twofold covenant with us, unified and ratified in the blood of Christ on the Cross. Our Creation gives us the first glimpse of the gift of Life given by our True Love.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Blogday 2012 - Knocks and knocks

Well, today is the birthday of this little blogling! I know I don't have the largest readership in the world, but I am very grateful to those who do visit to see my paltry offerings. This time last year, I was ruminating upon my identity as an Anglican Papalist despite retreating somewhat from a more Ultramontane position that I held somewhat erroneously.

Of course, I am still an Anglican Papalist, but these days I feel less need to affirm it. The reason is because I am no longer as isolated as once I was. Indeed, this year has been a year of transformation and a great leap out of various types of solitude.

Solitude is certainly a good source of spiritual discipline, but one that does go against God's observation that it is not good for a man to be alone. Even the greatest hermits, such as St Anthony and St Julian of Norwich engage with their fellows albeit rather briefly. This is how we hear of them. Too much solitude, especially solitude untempered by the monastic discipline, can result in too much introversion and the adoption of positions which may be against the doctrine of Almighty God and which only another can truly espy.

This year, my natural isolation has been knocked and suddenly I find myself catapulted into a different life and a different role. When God knocks at the door and you open it, He can knock you for six as well. It's as if He forgets to stop knocking when you open the door! Perhaps God likes cartoons!

As it is, I am in a new relationship. I am now ordained and a curate for my parish in Rochester. It's a position in which I now have responsibilities and the happy duty to serve my title. It means that my eremitical life has had to change immensely. New relationships must be accommodated by jettisoning the things which, though good, prevent that relationship from growing properly and in a healthy manner. It's a painful process but not in any way unwelcome, in fact it is necessary for the health of the soul.

We now live in a society in which solitude is becoming the norm, and not an healthy solitude either. People are now isolating themselves, or are being isolated as Society's boundaries change to exclude in the name of a strange inclusivity. This strange inclusivity is borne of the wedding between scientific materialism and moral relativism. Scientific materialism denies the existence of anything outside the range of empirical observations; moral relativism denies the existence of any personal accountability beyond the indigenous legal system. This strange inclusivity narrows the individual down to the god of his own little world. This can only result in an isolation at the deepest level of our identity. We can have no connection with anyone if we do not believe that other people exist as individuals in themselves, and yet this existence of other minds defies empirical observation.

Shared belief creates communities, but only if that belief is allowed to play a role in society, to question its motives and probe its assumptions. Admittedly, shared belief also creates boundaries between believers and unbelievers. That needs careful management and goodwill, but if belief is not allowed to play an active, critical role in society, isolation will result as people shape their own lives according to their own understanding of morality and of what it means to be human that do not relate with anyone else. Identity is reduced to the level of the individual to be preserved in aspic rather than something that can be shared.

The knock of God at the door is an opportunity to break one's isolation and to relate with Him and with His Creation. It is often painful, but if one's love for God allows us to love others, that pain of readjustment, of jettisoning unnecessary but comfortable assumptions and precepts pales into insignificance in comparison with being part of a community with like-minded but not identical souls. It's worth being knocked!

The Fifth Day of Christmas

Five gold rings would seal five marriages, covenants between five couples to forge relationships built on mutual love and trust. For the Jewish people, the great covenant made between Israel and God is the source of much joy and inspiration. For the Jews, the Law gave them an identity unique among the tribes of the world and also a means to bind the community within that identity. This covenant is summed up in the Torah, the first five books in the Bible.

In this day and age, many see these books as being horribly proscriptive and prohibitive, denying some people rights and enforcing arbitrary and bizarre laws on ordinary people. They were not intended to be abitrary or bizarre and a careful reading of the context of the laws replaces that which modernity has taken away - a sense of reason and care for a fragile community which could have flown off the rails at any time (and often did!)

The Torah points to a God who truly cares about His Creation enough to make a covenant - a binding agreement with them. Human beings have not been faithful with our side of the agreement. A moment's check with the ten commandments will convince us of that. Yet, throughout, God has sought to fulfil His side of the agreement. He is faithful to His children, refusing to contravene what He has agreed and refusing to change the terms. God will not move the goalposts.

Human beings, however, have a tendency not only to move the goalposts, but also to change the rules to the game. Time and again, we have reinvented the terms of the covenant to renege on God's agreement and diddle Him out of His due honour.

Yet, the agreement is there and still in force. God will not allow anyone who truly seeks Him to fail or to fall away. The Golden Covenant still stands and the five rings of the Torah still remind us that we are meant to relate with God. This Law forms the framework of the Gospels in which we learn more of our relationship with the Triune God whose two-fold covenant is ratified in the blood of Christ on the Cross. This is indeed true love!

The Impact of Man and the Glory of God

Sermon Preached at St Mary and St Eanswythe, Dartford on 29th December 2012

What do you imagine when you hear tell of the Shepherds abiding in the fields watching their flocks by night? How does this familiar (perhaps a little over-familiar) passage strike us as we hear it for the umpteenth time? Think of it, a handful of Israeli shepherds huddled in the cool of the night, one playing his little reed-pipe, his tune punctuated by the bleating of the sheep and the gentle munching of clumps of grass. All is calm, all is bright. And then, the Glory of the Lord! How do you see that Glory in your head? Is it just a burning bright light? If so, then somehow, you must account for this light being specifically the Glory of the Lord. You somehow have to differentiate between that light and, say, the floodlights at Wembley Stadium or the glare of a 100W bulb being switched on first thing after a night’s sleep. How do you do that? How do you turn a brilliant light into the Glory of God – infinite, omnipotent, ineffable?

The Glory of the Lord!

Do we understand what Glory really is? [PAUSE]

The Israelites first meet the Glory of the Lord in the cloud following their Exodus, then later as a consuming fire on a mountain top. So Glory is not exclusively peculiar to a shining light, but Glory is certainly something we associate with God. We hit that usual problem: how on Earth can we talk about the Lord God in a way that we can understand and yet do justice to His Unique Being? As usual, we look at what “glory” means in the context of Man and then draw the analogy upwards as far as we can to Our Heavenly Father.

So what can we say about the Glory of Man?


Perhaps we think of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth. Perhaps we hear the trumpets and the sound of the choir singing Handel’s Zadok the Priest. Perhaps we see Archbishop Fisher placing the crown upon the head of a young woman - St Edward’s crown – weighing a hefty 4 pounds. What a weight! Is that an occasion at which we would say we had seen something glorious?

In fact, Her Majesty’s experience of the heavy crown gets us very close to what glory means. The root of the word in Hebrew is that of weight and impact. The glory of a boxer is the imprint of his fist in his opponent’s nose. The glory of an architect is the sense of awe that we feel when we stand at the bottom of The Shard in London and look up. The glory of a Queen is the impact the sight of her has on us when she is full regalia. These are, however, superficial factors – mere appearances. What is the true Glory of Man?


If we start to look closely at the impact that Man has had on the world, then we quickly see the problem. Most ecologists would quite readily attribute the climate change to the result of Man’s influence.

If we look at our glorious monarchs then, just this week, we see the murderous rage of a King so paranoid and intent upon holding on to his fleeting power that he kills little children. In the past few weeks we have seen that happen again in America!

Even today, we remember St Thomas of Canterbury, struck down in his cathedral for daring to stand up to the glory of a king armed only with the glory of God.

Look at how fleeting the impact of Man is, how readily it decays or is corrupted. Look at how the same Church that St Thomas of Canterbury tried to protect has become riddled with heresies and schisms and hatreds and political ambitions. The weight of Gothic architecture has had to give way to the more humble setting of the upper room or the municipal catacombs. This, then, is the Glory of Man.

Where, then , is the glory of God? How on earth can we find anything in our glory to associate with the Glory of God? Can there be any similarity?


Of course there is, but never where you’d expect to find it! God is not a tame god!

Where is the glory of God that the shepherds see?

A tiny baby in a donkey’s trough?

Oh yes! It might not look glorious in our superficial sense, but the impact of that baby is immense! How can it be that two millennia later, we are still talking about that baby. That’s glory! That baby has had more impact on this world than any other child born to woman. We still feel the full force of that birth and, some thirty years later in His life, we feel the force of His ignominious death on a Cross, followed by the greatest moment since the creation of the world, namely its redemption in the glory of the Resurrection! Now that is the Glory of God!

Does it shine? Well yes it does, because it illuminates our understanding and fires our hearts. It causes us to want to work and live and spread the word, even when we’re few in number and tired and disheartened by the glory of the world weighing on us. The glory of God does shine in us if we let it. The yoke of God’s glory is easy and His burden is light. We still have to lift this weight, this impact, this glory, but we do so with the support of the Christ-Child. The glory of God does indeed shine in our world. Does it shine through us?

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Fourth Day of Christmas

Four Collybirds - blackbirds. These make quite a noise in the spring. The jet black male has a bright golden beak and golden rings around its eye. Their plumage makes quite a statement and its call is certainly persistent. Not surprisingly then, the number four is associated with the Four Evangelists whose call still persists as they hold unique places among the prophecies, histories and epistles that make up Holy Scripture.

The cry of the blackbird can be quite irritating, especially the famous alarm call which is usually accompanied by the fluttering wings as the startled bird burst forth from the bushes. In the same way, many find the gospels an irritant. They do appear to be inconsistent; they do appear to have incorrect details; they do appear to be odd in their insistence at attributing too much to the miraculous. These irritations occur because we approach them with a different mind. These gospels were written to tell us good news and we are faced with a choice, to believe or to reject their testimony.

Since there is a great diversity of belief among scholars as to the reliability of the Gospels, one has to set up the criteria we require in order to believe the testimony. The trouble is that no-one is able to travel back and know the truth - we have no choice but to rely on testimonies. However, if we see the impact that the person of Jesus has had on Western Society, it becomes very difficult to see how one itinerant preacher's teaching overrides those of other contemporary itinerant preachers without some special circumstances that assisted its publication on so great a scale. There was no military might, nor influential approval, nor goodwill for the first three hundred years, so how an upopular sect spread and grew in the face of horrible tortures and executions is certainly remarkable.

There is clearly something contained in these gospels that give us a clue as to why. Their evidence cannot be ruled out just because they have been afforded a religious significance. However one regards the content, whether fact or fiction, these Gospels have shaped our society. Our Christmas is influenced by the great infancy narratives and we cannot celebrate Christmas without Angels and Kings and Mangers and Stars making their presence felt.

We have been given the gift of four remarkable texts which set up the context of the belief in the Triune God within the two covenants that God has made with us, unified and ratified in the Blood of Christ Crucified. This is a gift for which every Christian should thank the One Who Truly Loves.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Third Day of Christmas

Three french hens? There is a rather unfortunate tendency in the U.K. to be just a little bit racist when it comes to mentioning France. The UKIP is now trouncing the Liberal Democrats in the polls and seems to suggest that associating with Europe is not a terribly good idea. The history between France and England is peppered with wars, skirmishes and unpleasantness. It's the casual racism, the unconscious stereotype, often done in a spirit of playful teasing that can escalate and make foreign travellers to the U.K. rather uncomfortable.

Spare a thought, then, for the magi as they make their long long way to find the Christ Child. The traditional misreading of the gospels has it that there were three wise men, or three kings, allowing the counting of the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to enumerate the number of bearers. Nonetheless, these men came with ideas foreign to Jewish law from Persian lands which have been traditional enemies of Israel, with the sole purpose of seeking the Truth which they find in Bethlehem.

Christ accepts them because they seek Him honestly. It is Christ's ministry that tells us to love the foreigner and not to treat them as outsiders, but rather to seek that which is common to us all. After all, none is stranger than God who is Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity.

If we cannot comprehend the being of Almighty God, who nonetheless makes Himself known to us, and seek to worship and love Him, is it not easier to seek and love those foreign in culture but common in origin in God?

This Great Trinity has deigned to give Himself to us in a spirit of Love and we can find His love expressed to us in the Two-fold covenants that He has made with us which are united in the one body of our Lord Jesus Christ and ratified in His blood on the tree.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Second Day of Christmas

Two turtledoves - the sacrifice that a poor couple would make at the presentation of their firstborn unlike the rich who would offer a lamb and a pigeon. St Joseph and Our Lady are not rich or important in the eyes of this world and must make the lesser sacrifice. Of course they unknowingly bring the Lamb of God to the temple. We see here the confluence of the Old Covenant and the New seamlessly joined in the person of Jesus Christ.

Thus the two turtledoves represent the old and new testaments. The revelation that God brings us is not complete if one of these covenants is missing. The New Covenant makes no sense without the Old to make it clear why it is necessary, to bring to mankind the knowledge of Good and Evil and the awful realisation of the sin that is within humanity both corporately and individually. The Old Testament without the New brings us knowledge of sin, but of no redemption from that sin. Without the Old there is ignorance, without the New there is hopelessness.

The two are held together in Christ, the fulfilment of the Old and the beginning of the New. We find ourselves both enlightened and saved. Such is the respect of God for us. He wants us to understand. He wants us to have knowledge, understanding of the Truth, and also to be free from the concomitant death that comes with that knowledge. The serpent that infects human nature with sin has its head crushed by a little Jewish maiden just by her saying "yes" to God. The strength given to her to do so is provided by the Child she bares in her womb, brings into the world in a squalid cattle-stall, and presents in the temple according to her understanding of the Old Covenant.

It is Christ who holds Old and New together. In Him there is one Salvation for every human being who chooses Him.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The First Day of Christmas

In the Benedictine Tradition, we always begin again. Today, Christmas Day, we begin yet again that which has been begun again over two thousand times. We must begin at the beginning always and this means beginning with God.

There can be only one God. We Christians have always believed it to be true, Reason tells us that there can be only One God, and yet beginning with our One God, we find such richness pouring forth from His unity. In God there is something, and that something generates everything. Mathematically, once we have something, then we can start counting. One apple leads us into understanding two apples, et c. generating arithmetic, algebra, geometry and music as Pythagoras would have us believe. There are some folk who never get beyond two: one, two, some more. We must always begin with One but one leads us from the finite to the infinite too, into the mathematical spirituality of Cantor's infinities.

On the first day of Christmas, Our True Love gives us One thing - Himself! The true unity. He is the partridge, and the partridge can only be found in the pear tree. The tree is where Our True Love finds Himself at the end of the life He begins today. Bethlehem inexorably leads to Golgotha albeit at thirty years or so distant.

We human beings can get so obsessed by number one and attribute that number to ourselves, rather than to the One Who Is. We are the first person singular! In looking after number one, we find ourselves denying value to those around us. If we are the one who matters, then all must exist for us. We have seen this year such horror and misery caused by our attempts to own our own selves. This is the problem with such a small understanding of what one is. One is an enormous number and yet it is the smallest positive whole number. Likewise, Our God possesses humility and a desire to see all at unity in Him.

This is the property that we should seek from seeing ourselves as the first person singular - unity. For, in unity, we see our own personal oneness as a participation in the individuality of God. We can be number one and yet not alone because we should seek to be one with our fellow men.

At Christmas time, we converge on one trough containing one tiny, tiny little infant, squeaking and wriggling in His swaddling clothes amidst the straw. We converge there in order to be one as the Father is One with this little ball of reflexes who will grow up knowing the totality of the pain of humanity's tendency to diversity. We converge too, at Paschaltide, to the One cross, to the One tomb and then to witness One Resurrection.

We are One Church, proclaiming One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. If we truly seek God, then we must seek His uniqueness in others and be united with them in Him.

I wish you all a very happy, fulfilling and glorious Christmas.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Twelve days of Christmas

This year, I thought I'd reflect on the song "the Twelve Days of Christmas". There is a bit of mythology surrounding it, in that there are people who believe that it is a catechetical song written by suppressed Catholics in the 16th Century. As it is, there is nothing particularly Roman about the encoding - indeed the points that might be attributed to enumerating articles of belief can be happily affirmed by Protestants as well as Catholics.

Despite this inaccuracy,  I do find it a very joyful piece of catechesis, just as I love the attribution of idas to the four candles on the Advent Wreath (patriarchs, prophets, John the Baptist, Our Lady and Christ in the centre), which appears to be more an English method than global.

Studying the numbers, we do see that the rather wealthy True Love does give 364 presents in total. Who is this True Love? You can probably guess already, especially given the lavishness of the gifts and how they accumulate, that there is only One who Truly loves us and so...

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Clear Midnight in Oldcombe

Sermon preached at the Carol Service at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis, Rochester.

“No white Christmas again, this year,” says Enid as she pulls on her thickest winter coat, “but then that’s not such a bad thing when we go out carol singing.”

The other members of the St Nicholas Church Choir nod in agreement as they too ready themselves with coats and hats and scarves and gloves.

When Sid has finally got his Christmas wellies on, the little motley band of carol singers hit the streets of Oldcombe City Centre.

It’s not an edifying experience.

Seven out of every eight houses do not even open the door. At least three times, the Choir notice the lights go out in the windows just before they get to the door. When the door does finally open, it’s shut pretty quickly again, usually with a word of abuse:

“We don’t believe that old story anymore.”

“Change the tune, it’s not relevant.”

“Charity begins at home!”

“Shut that row! I’m trying to watch the X-Factor Final.”

“Boring! Sing some Lady Gaga instead!”

And then it starts to rain.

But St Nicholas’ Church Choir struggle bravely on, despite the fact that Sid’s wellies are rubbing him raw, Barbara’s Santa hat has blown away in the wind, and Pauline is in sore need of a sit-down.

Finally, they come to a rather dingy part of town.

They knock on the door of a particularly shabby house and it’s answered by a young man holding his eighteen-month old daughter, who seems to be a very smiley baby.

The choir strike up with “It came upon the Midnight Clear” which makes the baby smile more, especially when Sid hits the wrong note.

Noticing their rather bedraggled state, the young man invites the group in for a warm-up.

It’s not an especially nice place at all.

The fire is really an old three-bar heater, there’s a strange smell coming from the sink in the kitchen and there are several patches of damp on the wallpaper.

“Please,” says the young man, “warm yourselves a little.”

Sid gives a sigh of relief as he pulls off the offending welly. Pauline sets herself down on a packing case which appears to be doubling up as an extra chair.

“Will you sing that song again about the Midnight clear?” says the young man.

The choir oblige, Sid even deliberately singing off-key occasionally to make the baby laugh. She does so very easily.

When the choir finish, the young man pulls out a wallet which has very few notes. It jingles a bit with lots of copper coins.

“Thank you,” he says and then looks confused. “Where is your collecting tin?”

“Oh we don’t bother with collecting tins,” says Pauline from her packing-case throne, “we don’t sing to collect money. Do we always have to do something expecting to be given something in return? There are lots of good charities out there collecting for needy people. We just sing to give the folk some Christmas Spirit, and we enjoy it!”

“But isn’t that a lot of effort for so little?” says the young man, trying to prevent the baby from posting her lego bricks in Tom’s beard, “I bet you come in for some stick!”

“That’s true,” says Tom, “so many people are so over-familiar with the words that they seem to have forgotten what they mean. People are always looking for new things, new tellies, latest phones, the speediest computers, so the old tunes and old songs just don’t matter to them.” “Why then do you do it, if your old ways are so irrelevant?” “Ah,” says Enid, “the old ways are not irrelevant! The old story may be getting older, but it is not getting less true. The Carols don’t need to change. For us, the Birth of Jesus is a great joy, even more so in times when it seems to be the least relevant. We go from house to house and are refused for exactly the same reason that St Joseph and Our Lady were refused. People just do not have room for Christ, so they don’t have room for us. But if we do not sing, how will folk hear the songs that the Angels in Heaven sing?”

“If God is so important, why do people not listen to Him?” asks the young man.

Tom shakes another lego brick from his beard, “Because people look but they do not see; they hear and they do not listen. Some people even go to church and sing the words but do not want to understand their meaning. Indeed, some songs that people sing in church these days are utterly meaningless because they change the story. God is important, but He gives us the choice as to whether to hear Him or not, whether to see Him or not, even whether to sing His song, or not. That’s because He sees us as important – so important in fact, that He comes to be born among us as a baby just to be one of us. Immanuel –God with us!”

“So we have to look for God in Christmas?” says the young man. “Well, he does come knocking,” says Sid, his feet now toasty warm by the fire and his carol sheet almost dry. “He often presents Himself with a knock. It’s your choice as to whether to open the door to Him or not. If only more folk would turn off the X-Factor and listen! If they did, then they’d hear something that would make much more of their lives. For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

“Wow,” says the young man.

“This old story’s worth the sore feet,” says Sid;
“It’s worth getting tired,“ says Pauline;
“It’s worth the abuse,” says Tom;
“It’s worth all this,” says Enid, “because it’s true! The ageless God is with us and He always will be.”

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

The baby coos and smiles.

She knows the song these angels really sing.

Do you?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

What went ye out for to see?

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the Third Sunday in Advent.

Is it a silly question to ask what you have given up for Advent? After all, it’s Lent that we’re supposed to give things up, isn’t it? Or meat on Fridays and that sort of thing. Should we fast for Advent?


The season of Lent is associated with Our Lord going into the wilderness and, during that time, He faces up to His temptations. This is a time of spiritual stocktaking, and Our Lord uses His wrestle with the cares of this world as a pattern for us to follow. He makes it clear that fasting, praying and almsgiving are to be part of our lives:

“when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth… when thou prayest , enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret… when thou fastest , anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast…”

Thus our time in Lent is supposed to be very much an wilderness experience – a stripping away of the spiritual fat that clogs the arteries of our soul. That is something that St John the Baptist certainly endorses. Should Advent be a wilderness experience? Well, what would we go into the wilderness to see?


We wouldn’t go into the wilderness for no reason. Advent is not just another time of year, and we should not enter it without some desire to see something arrive in our lives. Why go into the wilderness just to see the grass blowing in the wind? Our Lord makes it clear that the wilderness experience has a point. We are not to fast, to give alms and to pray for no reason. The landscape alone is not edifying. We cannot find wisdom in the vast expanse of very little. There has to be more than something, than windswept grass. St John the Baptist certainly thinks there was more in the wilderness than the indigenous flora.

What would we go into the wilderness to see?


We should not expect anything grand or spectacular from Advent. All around us, Christmas decorations are going up; the Advertising industry has launched into hyperdrive; Office parties are in full swing. Christmas is getting dressed up in its red, fur-trimmed finery and adorned with garlands of holly and ivy. Did we come into the wilderness to see this garish creature strutting across Christmas to revive our economy, bringing us good cheer at the bottom of a beer glass and in the stretching of our credit limits?

But then again, did we come into Advent because we like the trappings? There is something very magical about Advent array - the purple frontals and hangings, the advent wreath and its candles, the darkening night and the sound of “O Come, O Come Emanuel” echoing in the chapels. These certainly do help us focus our minds on waiting for Our Lord Jesus Christ. However, like everything else, it’s very easy to fall in love with Advent for its own sake, with being expectant for the sake of being expectant. If we’re not careful then Christmas Day becomes a big disappointment, because we have enjoyed too much the build-up to Christmas Day.

All these things have no place in the wilderness. Christmas pudding and Christmas carols and Christmas cheer belong to Christmas Day; Advent hymns and Advent wreaths belong in churches; our hearts and our devotions belong only to Our Lord Jesus. Being in the wilderness reminds us of how all these wonderful Christian things point us to God and to Him alone. We appreciate them more because we do not make Christmas depend on presents; we do not make our festivities depend on roast turkey; we do not make our Advent depend on Rose coloured chasubles on Gaudete Sunday! Our Advent and Christmas depend solely on Our Lord Jesus Christ. St  John the Baptist certainly does not regard long robes and golden crowns as making any difference to his ministry whatsoever.

So what would we go into the wilderness to see?


Just as in Lent, we come into Advent to prepare ourselves for the coming season full of travail and of joy. Ironically, we come into Advent to rejoice, as the commandment “Gaudete” tells us. “Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say, Rejoice! Be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known before God!”

In speaking like this to the Philippians, St Paul is also telling us about our approach to Advent and the build-up to Christmas. We should be careful for nothing. As St Teresa of Avila tells us, “Let nothing disturb thee; Let nothing dismay thee; All thing pass; God never changes. Patience attains All that it strives for. He who has God Finds he lacks nothing: God alone suffices.”

All the more for us to seek the purity and simplicity that being in the wilderness of Advent can provide. A purity of vision and of heart allow us to see the world for what it is and contrast it with the Eternal face of the baby lying in the manger. A purity of listening and of heart allow us to hear clamour of the voices contesting for our attention and contrast them with the Eternal song of the Angels worshipping God. A purity of voice and of heart allow us to turn from empty worldly talk and join in that song and proclaim to the world what Eternal Truth God tells us. St John the Baptist certainly extolls purity, both in his life and in the figurative purity of the water with which he baptises.

Advent helps us to seek purity and, in attaining it, we find ourselves to be prophets of God, speaking His word to a wintry world, shining His light through our hearts which His burning love purifies and refines.


Like the great forerunner, St John the Baptist, we find ourselves waiting for the Christ to come. Many go into wilderness to see him, to hear his prophecy and receive Baptism.

If we, the Church, are to become, at His command, Prophets of God, will they come into the wilderness to see us?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Exegesis and Eisegesis: a typical example.

  Archbishop Jerome Lloyd posted this Fifteen Arguments for Gay Marriage which he had received from a pro-Gay "Marriage" organisation on a Facebook group for someone to comment on and make a rebuttal. Since no-one did (presumably because they had better things to do) I thought I’d make some comments, especially as I have already written on the subject for the Diocesan Magazine. My thesis here is principally to condemn no-one. I am not in the business of convicting people of sin. I am rather trying to demonstrates that these arguments for Gay Marriage are not sound. Fifteen Theological Arguments for Gay Marriage
1. The fundamental purpose of marriage is companionship:
Then YHWH said, "it is not good for the Earth Creature to be alone. I will make a fitting companion for it." Genesis 2:18 The reason God creates Eve is solely to alleviate Adam's isolation. God's overriding concern is for Adam's/our well-being. God wants him/us to thrive and flourish and realises that this will not happen unless his/our loneliness is relieved by a soulmate. If God did this for Adam it is not credible that God would create homosexual people and then subject them to the pain of lifelong loneliness. For gay people the fitting companion, the soulmate, is necessarily somebody of the same sex.
I answer that: This does not speak about SEXUAL Relationships!! God crtainly created companionship and human beings to be companions but this argument says nothing about the relationship needing to be of a sexual nature.
2. A lifelong companion has to be someone compatible. Gender is not important.
The Earth Creature gave names to all the cattle, all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals. But none of them proved to be a fitting companion. Genesis 2:20 At first God tries to find a companion for Adam by creating the animals, but then realises that he needs someone like himself, another human being. So the essential point about Eve is not that she is female but that she is human. She is a human person like Adam.
I answer that: There is no actual argument for Gay Marriage here. The author is reading his interpretation into the text. There is no evidence to demonstrate that Eve’s humanity is the essential point over her femininity. In fact, the verse can be taken the other way. The companion for man has to be fitting. Why, then, is a female companion created to form a “fitting companion”?
3. The essence of marriage is mutual commitment and faithfulness
Adam exclaimed, "this time, this is the one! Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh! Now, she will be woman, and I will be man, because we are of one flesh. Genesis 2:23 What matters here is that the human pair should commit totally to each other in a relationship of mutual dedication and faithful support. Widows, widowers and bereaved partners often say they feel only 'half a person' after the death of their spouse. 'One flesh' does not crassly imply the sexual act but rather the entire human union which the two people together created. Two men or two women can equally make such profound mutual commitment.
I answer that: Again, here is a blatant non sequitur. The scripture is talking about Male and Female. Again, the author is performing eisegesis, not exegesis: he is reading into one verse the question of gay marriage where there is only the notion of male-female relationships being spoken of in Scripture.
4. Procreation is not essential
There is no reference to procreation in the story of Adam and Eve until chapter three of Genesis, and even then it comes only as a sort of incidental afterthought. Its only mention is as a minor detail in the story of God's punishment of Eve for eating the apple proffered by the snake. To the woman God said, I will greatly multiply your pains in childbearing, you will bear children in pain. You will desire union with your man, but he will be bent on subjugating you. Genesis 3:16 Childbearing is therefore not an essential part of marriage. And indeed the Christian churches have long been happy to marry couples who cannot have children by reason of infertility or age. And of course protestant and reformed churches all approve of contraception which clearly demonstrates their view that marriage is not about having children. There can therefore be no objection to same-sex marriage on the grounds of inability to procreate.
I answer that: Sex only occurs AFTER the Fall, it does not happen before. By the same argument, sex is not essential in a marriage, yet sex is essential for children. Before the Fall, there is no mention of marriage either. All we know is that Eve is a fitting companion for Adam who, after the Fall has sex with him and bears him children. We know there is no marriage in Heaven either from the words of the Lord Jesus. The Fall changes the state of the relationship between Adam and Eve as the above scripture demonstrates. Childbirth occurs after the Fall, because Death enters into the world (“dust thou art”). Where there is death there must be new life with all the concomitant factors to protect that life.
5. There is no Biblical injunction on individuals to reproduce
There are two accounts of Creation in Genesis. In the first account there is no mention of Adam and Eve. God creates the heaven and the earth and then everything else including humanity, and then the text says: God saw that this was good and blessed them. saying, "Bear fruit, increase your numbers, and fill the waters of the seas! Birds abound on the earth!" Genesis 1:22 This injunction is addressed to whole species of creatures, and by implication to the whole of humanity, not to individuals. So there is no necessary implication here that every single person is supposed to be heterosexual or produce children. Indeed in the present circumstance of global overpopulation where the earth has been more than replenished, this commandment has been fulfilled and not having children might be considered the more godly act.
I answer that: Again, by the same argument, there is no injunction for a relationship to include sex. If we were to apply the Kantian categorical hypothesis, if everyone were to abstain from reproducing, there would be no propagation of the species. This argument is the same as saying “I won’t vote as my vote won’t make a difference.” That attitude cannot be morally supported. One may certainly find themselves called by God to marry, or called to be celibate, but that is God’s decision and not ours. God makes marriages and God makes eunuchs. However God is faithful and does not contradict Himself. One gives up good things for something better.
6. If marriage is a 'remedy for sin' for opposite-sex couples then it is equally so for same-sex couples
St Paul's view was that the sexual drive is so powerful that most people (he of course meant men) have difficulty restraining it, and so it is better for them to marry in order to avoid the sin of fornication. But if you cannot control yourselves, then you should marry, for it is better to be married than to burn with passion. 1 Corinithians 7: 9 Homosexual people are as much in need of this institutionalised channel for sexual expression as heterosexuals, and it is therefore as good a theological justification for the marriages of lesbian and gay people as it is for those of straight people.
I answer that: The author assumes what he is trying to prove and, further, his argument is not supported by the text. St Paul is talking about marriage between man and woman specifically. The author is taking the verse out of context, since verse I Cor vii.2-4 says, “But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife.” One might quibble and say that one partner of a homosexual paring is the “husband” and the other is the “wife” but the Greek genders make it clear that one is male and the other is female. The text then does not support the theological justification of gay marriage. Indeed, St Paul specifically warns against the practice of homosexual sex in I Cor vi.9.
7. Marriage is a partnership of equals
St Paul is usually read as a defender of patriarchy and female subjugation, but on the question of marriage he advocates equality, with each partner owning the body of the other. The husband's body belongs not to him alone, but also to the wife, and the wife's body belongs not to her alone, but also to the husband. 1 Corinthians 7:4 He even goes further to suggest that there should be equality in the sexual pleasure enjoyed by both partners, placing a duty on both to ensure that they think of the satisfaction of each other: Do not deprive each other (of sex), except by mutual consent and within a time frame, so that you can devote yourselves to prayer. But come together again lest you invite Satan to tempt you through your weakness. 1 Corinthians 7: 5 Since there is no gender differentiation in these injunctions they apply equally well to a faithfully committed same-sex couple. Some Christians, particularly evangelicals, believe that in Genesis, and in some of the writings of St Paul, God establishes what they call 'complementarity' between the sexes. This concept, for which in practice there is very little actual Biblical support, leads them to overemphasise the differences between males and females and ignore manifest historical and cultural variation, to believe that God ordained men to rule over women, and of course to argue that monogamous heterosexuality is the only divinely sanctioned erotic. They overlook both Paul's important statement that 'in Christ there is no male or female' and Christ's own words that there will be no marrying in the Kingdom of Heaven. This discredited idea is an interpretive imposition on the Biblical text and is not a sound basis for opposing gender equality and same-sex marriage."
I answer that: The author is assuming that a “faithfully committed same-sex couple” is permitted without proof. To say that there is very little support for “gender” [sic] differentiation, is not true. The words used to describe the couple are different - husband and wife, man and woman. The implication is that there is a difference between the couple, i.e. that they are not the same sex. The statement in Galatians that in Christ there is no male or female is a reference specifically to the salvation of all, not of the arrangements of marriage nor of ordination. The traditional Biblical injunctions have only been discredited by those who are assuming the things that they wish to prove, namely that two people of the same sex can be married.
8. The diversity of human sexuality is a gift of God
Paul believed that the second coming of Christ and the end of the world were imminent in his own times. He therefore thought it best that people should remain celibate in order to work for the coming of God's Kingdom, although he acknowledges that this does not suit everybody. Let me make a suggestion - it is not a decree. I would hope that everyone could be like me. But we all have our own particular gifts from God. One has the gift for one thing and anfother has the gift for another thing. 1 Corinthians 7:6 There seems to be an implicit recognition here that not everybody is the same. Some theologians have seen in this text an implicit acknowledgement of human sexual diversity as a gift of God. Not everybody is heterosexual and these differences should be respected because they are part of God's creation. The logic of the argument is that if marriage is the solution for heterosexuals then it is also the solution for those with other 'gifts of God', lest they too fall into sin.
I answer that: The problem here is simply labelling someone as homosexual emphasises just one aspect of their personhood, and even then not a well-defined aspect. One cannot label a human being as "homosexual" without examining every single attraction in their head. Not all are called to marriage as both the Lord and St Paul point out. Having homosexual desires, if God-given, are a sure sign of the call to celibacy which is by no means a miserable state, principally because there is a Biblical injunction against homosexual sex. There are many, many Catholic priests and Religious folk who simply do not believe that sex is a necessary part of an intimate and loving relationship between people.
9. Marriage is the union of two people who find each other sexually attractive, love each other and wish to commit to each other. It is not necessarily the union of one man and one woman.
A person does not marry somebody because they are the opposite sex. A man does not choose to marry a woman because she is female. He marries her because he is sexually attracted to her and loves her. Marriage is the union of two people who are sexually attracted to each other and who love each other. This works in exactly the same way for two homosexual persons as it does for two heterosexual persons. There is no difference. If God blesses the union of a man and woman who love each other and marry he will also bless the union of two men or two women who get married because they love each other. There is no 'missing ingredient' in homosexual unions which is present in heterosexual unions. Also, because marriage is the union of two human persons there is no 'slippery slope' into disorder. Marriage is an I-Thou relationship in Martin Buber's sense. This rules out all the usual claims about the recognition of same-sex marriage leading to the legalisation of pederasty, bestiality, polygamy etc.
I answer that: This, again, assumes what is trying to be proved. Since the earlier arguments do not stand, this one also has no basis in fact. There is no proof here that marriage is not necessarily the union of one man and one woman.
10. 'Traditional' marriage is constantly evolving
Historically marriage was seen in a socio-political and economic context. In Biblical times daughters were effectively owned by their fathers, and then 'given' in marriage to a husband who took over ownership. The main concern was control of property and obedience to authority. A thousand years ago most marriages were not celebrated in church. Right into the twentieth century many states in America prohibited interracial marriage. Being divorced used to be a barrier to remarriage. Now almost half of all marriages end in divorce, and serial monogamy has become normal, so in practice marriage is no longer a lifelong union of two people to the exclusion of all others. It is simply not the case that there is a 'traditional' concept of marriage which same-sex marriage threatens to destroy. On the contrary, the devotion and commitment of same-sex marriages will help to strengthen the institution.
I answer that: Traditional marriage does not evolve because sex has not changed. A homosexual relationship is as biologically sterile now as it always has been. Just because people get divorced easily does not mean that divorce is a moral right. There is a very simple fact that is being ignored: There are no biblical same-sex marriages!
11. The Bible does not support models of 'traditional marriage and the family'
The modern advocacy of the happily married heterosexual couple with two children is an invention of nineteenth century protestantism. Marriage appears nowhere in the Nicene Creed. Any claim that the Bible presents anything approaching consistent teaching about marriage is frankly incredible. Biblical men have multiple wives and many concubines, they marry and have sex with their relatives, they engage in forcible sexual conquest, and all apparently with the approval of the almighty. Jesus was certainly no nuclear family man. He sought no wife and had a particularly loving relationship with one of the disciples. He told his disciples to leave their families and said that nobody could be a disciple unless they hated their own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters. It is therefore simply not possible to argue that the Bible endorses heterosexual marriage and condemns gay marriage. There is no eternal divinely ordained form of marriage and therefore same-sex marriage is as Christian as opposite-sex marriage.
I answer that: Again, the point is missed that every marriage described in the Bible is between opposite sexes. The example of Jesus is that of love without the necessity of sex. Further, Our Lord was not in a same-sex marriage either! Since there is nothing specifically pro same-sex marriage, it is also impossible to argue that the Bible does not condemn gay marriage. In fact, we know that it does condemn fornication and homosexual activity.
12. Tradition and Christian Love: Orthodoxy and Empathy
Even if it were possible to demonstrate a continuity of tradition in marriage, the Christian approach would still be to consider the needs and wellbeing of those outside the orthodoxy. Many protestant and reformed churches believe in divorce, yet there is arguably a very clear Biblical injunction against it, and a centuries long tradition of legal prohibition. These churches have accepted divorce because of the pastoral need, and because they empathise with the pain of those caught up in it, whatever the orthodox teaching might say. On every occasion when Jesus had to choose between orthodoxy and empathy he chose empathy. The task of Christians is to proclaim the gospel afresh in every generation. In our generation empathising with the genuine love lived out by a faithful same-sex couple is a greater Christian imperative than rigidly adhering to a supposed traditional set of rules governing who can marry whom. The Christian churches therefore should recognise and celebrate the fruits of the Spirit evident in these faithful same-sex unions - love, joy, peace, patience, fidelity, kindness, goodness, constancy, tenderness, gentleness, self-control etc.
I answer that: Jesus did hold orthodoxy as well as empathy, he did not choose between the two. For the woman caught in adultery, there is forgiveness, but there is recognition that adultery is a sin. To the penitent thief, there is forgiveness of sin. Christ teaches to repent for the kingdom of God is near. The author does not seem to be aware that the Jewish Laws and Commandments were a joy to the Jewish people, and they still are to our present day Jewish brothers and sisters. Jesus came to fulfill the law and to obtain for us pardon from sin, not to abolish the Law whereby we know that we are in need of His grace being fallen human beings. He does not do this by forgetting what sin is, but by taking that sin onto Himself.
13. The LGBT communities need same-sex marriage
The LGBT communities suffer disproportionately high rates of problems relating to self-esteem, social integration and psychological security: alcoholism, drug abuse, mental illness, social isolation, self-harm and suicide etc. This cannot be God's will if we are to believe the Gospel. These sad statistics arise out of attitudes towards LGBT people in the wider society but they are also influenced by a lack of the sort of stability which marriage can provide. Marriage is good for the individual and good for the community. Including same-sex couples in the institution of marriage will help to strengthen it and will help also to stabilise networks of relationships within the LGBT communities themselves. It will also send a message that LGBT people are fully loved and valued as God intended.
I answer that: No-one “needs” marriage, yet marriage is necessary for society. Look at what Jesus tells us to do: fast, pray, give alms. We need food, but Jesus tells us that there are times we should abstain from eating. We are told to give away our money even if we need it (the widow’s mite). Some men make eunuchs of themselves, of each other and some God makes eunuchs. As long as sex is seen as a right in every intimate relationship, then there will always be this problem. Nowhere in the pages of the Bible is sex seen as a right for everyone. Indeed, in Nature, the vast majority of organisms die without breeding. Religious communities have demonstrated patterns of non-sexual societies for centuries. Why can’t the LGBT communities learn from them?
14. Civil Partnerships are not marriage
The term 'civil partnership' is essentially about a legal and financial contract. Marriage is also a legal contract but it carries a superstructure of social and cultural meanings about personal commitment, dedication, devotion and mutual love. with which many same-sex couples wish to identify themselves. And for gay Christians it is important that they make these marriage vows before God. Furthermore, while same-sex couples are barred from the institution of marriage there is still the implication that they are second-class. It is a form of segregation and discrimination, it is a manifestation of inequality, and it is a denial of the Christian birthright of all, evident in Christ's great commandment that we love our neighbour as ourselves. We are all God's children, gay or straight, and we should be treated accordingly equally.
I answer that: A homosexual “marriage” could not be seen as equal with a heterosexual “marriage”. A homosexual “marriage” is biologically sterile and theologically meaningless as Holy Scripture demonstrates. Marriage was given so that human beings do not fall into fornication which is a sin. Homosexual sex is precisely the same as fornication and those who enter into one-night stands are committing the same sin as two men who have sexual relations.
15. Same-sex marriage as much as opposite-sex marriage models the self-giving character of God
Any faithful loving relationship finds its raison d'etre, meaning and purpose in self-giving love for the other person. To enter into such a relationship is to experience at first hand the kind of self-giving which is characteristic of the three persons of the Trinity and characteristic also of the relationship between God and his Creation. In reality it has never mattered what the genders of the two people are. Many scholars believe for example that the relationship between the Roman centurion and his boy servant, whom Jesus healed, was a gay one (Matthew 8: 5-13) . What mattered was that here was true love and commitment. Everything therefore that the church has taught about opposite-sex marriage mirroring the love of God applies equally to same-sex marriage. The church also conceives of itself as the Bride of Christ awaiting the (second) coming of the bridegroom Christ. As a number of queer theologians have pointed out, this is in itself a decidedly gender-queer notion if we take it seriously from a traditionalist standpoint, since it implies that Jesus is going to marry the men in the church as well. Actually a stronger implication is, as has been said above, that gender is of no ultimate significance. All that matters in the end is the committed love of the church for the Creator and the reflection of this in the here and now in the loving commitment of two spouses of whatever gender.
I answer that: Why cannot the self-giving love of God be demonstrated in the same way as God Himself showed us in a celibate life filled with love but without the issue of sex ever becoming a problem? The author is displaying equivocation as to what he means by “love.” If sex is equated with love then there is a big difference between what Love God is and what we expect Him to be. The love that forms a marriage (eros) is fundamentally different from the self-giving love that God wishes us to display for everyone. Many scholars may indeed speculate on the relationship between the Centurion and his servant, but this is not clear in Scripture and so was not intended to teach us anything about the nature of homosexual relationships, but rather about the faith of the Centurion in his approach to Our Lord.

The running theme here in many of these arguments is the fallacy of assuming the conclusion. The author wants Gay Marriage to be right and so he reads everything in that light and thus finds what he believes to be support. This is eisegesis. Of course, one may say that I am doing something very similar in that, because I do not believe in Gay Marriage, I read Scripture in that vein. However, considering that I do not believe in Gay Marriage because it is not supported in Scripture and Tradition, I believe I escape the same mistake as has been made here consistently. This approach, I believe to be fair exegesis. There are times when Our Lord’s statement, “seek and ye shall find,” is true when one is deliberately seeking one’s own agenda. The Pharisees sought recognition and importance and they found it, much good this “reward” did them. Holy Scripture will tell you everything you want, if you choose to read only the words that suit you.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Advent and the ever circling years.

For lo! the days are hastening on
By prophet bards foretold,
When, with the ever circling years
Shall come the age of gold;
When Peace shall over all the earth,
Its ancient splendours fling,
And the whole world give back the song,
Which now the angels sing.  
(Edmund Hamilton Sears)

And so the year ticks over. Back into the ceaseless round we go as the days shorten and the cold grasps the noses and ears of all who are foolish to enter into the winter atmosphere.

One of the most fundamental shapes of the universe is the circle. Being a topologist by nature, circles are not always geometrically circular, but all have the same quality - they have no start or end. For a mathematician, it is this unique property of circles which helps us to understand spaces both the abstract spaces of mathematics and the real spaces of the Universe. Whether a loop pulls tight or not tells us a lot about the space we live in.

We watch the planets circle through the sky, looping and dancing in conjunction and opposition. Our ancients tell stories of the Sun and Moon held in chariots chased by wolves or dragons above the horizon before setting only for the chase to begin again the next day. We used to model our atoms as micro-solar systems. Our marriages are made with a circular band of gold.

So why do we regard Time as being circular, after all it rather seems to be linear? 2012 is not likely to come again unless Cosmologists prove that the Universe has a cyclic quality. The reason is of course that the circling of the Earth around the Sun as it rotates on its axis forces us to see our days as circles and our years as repetitions. We have fixed our routines based on the circling of years, of weeks and of days. It's easy for things to be seen to be a bit samey.

No wonder then that some people look toward to The End. There's always a frisson of excitement in reading a prophecy of Doomsday that it might break a cultural ennui. We are, after all, at the end of the prophecy od St Malachy who lists Pope Benedict as the Glory of the Olive and predicts the last pope as being Peter the Roman. The other prediction of Doomsday is set for 21st December this year (so not long to go!) according to the famous Mayan Calendar.

What believers in a Mayan doom forget is that when we come to the end of one calendar, we turn the page and find ourselves back to square one! January 1st always follows 31st December, so why is this not the case with the Mayans?

If we look for Doomsday, we will always find it., but what joy will it give us? Harold Camping has already given us two failed predictions based on arcane Biblical calculations. What has that achieved?
And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. (St Matthew xxiv.4-8)
Our Lord tells us that He will come again, and we look for that coming - the new Advent.
For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together. Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fallfrom heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken :And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (ibid. vv 27-30)
Many of us try to predict it, fed up with the suffering of many human beings, and the lunacy of others. The end cannot be predicted as Our Lord Himself confirms in the same chapter.
But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. (ibid. v36)

If we cannot know, then we cannot predict. Yes, we can look at our world and predict our demise due to climate changes, or volcanic activities. We can look out into space and know that our little planet will be boiled to nothing in the death-throes of the Sun. We can even look long term and predict that our matter will become so spread out into the fathomless expanse of an ever-expanding space that there will beyond scattered sub atomic particles. What does that do for us?

Well, it does remind us of our mortality, that life is not circular, and that someday our circle will break throwing us into the great unknowable. Beyond that, what more does an obsession with The End achieve? Does it really throw us into a life of "eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die"? Then life becomes somewhat meaningless and all search for meaning just illusory. Why search for meaning if meaning is irrelevant?

Well perhaps our search for meaning is indeed an evolutionary by-product. Is that what we really feel, though? If we look into our hearts, do we really feel, act or think that all our intelligence, our appreciation of life, our sense of elation, pathos, misery, loves and hates is nothing more than evolutionary illusions conjured up from the chemical firings of some biological components?

We can't just dismiss our feelings. If we make sense of our world with our senses then do we not also make sense with our feelings? They can lie to us as much as our senses, and yet they can tell us much about ourselves. One might say that our gut feelings are just the product of our senses, but they seem to tell us more than just what the external world tells us. Our feelings can succeed where our senses fail, and vice versa. However, we don't disregard our eyesight's testimony just because they're fooled by the odd optical illusion. If we feel like there is meaning, then perhaps our search for meaning does mean something!

Our lives do not circle; they spiral like the groove in an old LP or like the turns in a spring. In Advent we start our year anew and focus once more on the Birth of Our Lord. We have the opportunity of moving along our spiral appreciating the turns and the progression if we see ourselves in the Light of Eternity. Our search for Doomsday may be a cry for the way out of a circular existence, but there is no need to look for the exit sign because our cycles tell us much more than just the constant turning would suggest.

Just as in topology, where the circles characterise the space, so our constant cycling can tell us much about the character of Eternity. The structure of our lives is based upon the return to the same place. Always, always we begin again. If we are bored by life, or seeing no way out then our field of vision has narrowed and we fail to see that which lies beyond our lives. This is often not our fault but the tendency of the world to force us to consider its point of view. We can and should find time to return to our default position, to find out where God has moved to and whence He beckons us.

This is why the Church Year starts at Advent. The reset button is pressed. The year begins again. We recognise ourselves to be on the new coil of existence and look to our origins. Christ will come again and draw us beyond our mortal coil into that which lies beyond - into the Age of Gold.