Compassion: The Golden Rule of Religion: Karen Armstrong

I have just re-read The Spiral Staircase by Karen, and of course I have read her book, The History of God. She and I sing from the same great root. So I am delighted to tease you towards this lady’s work; if you have not already come across her, with this short clip on Youtube. Her work is profound and in this day and age, perhaps more important than ever.

Be Still My Soul

 

Firstly a heartfelt welcome to all of you new ‘followers’ who pressed the follow button of late. Thank you for pressing the button, and I hope you find the time to browse and enjoy the rich storehouse of archived posts. You will find posts inspired from all faith traditions, all celebrating our Divine Source. They are as varied as each one of us human beings is unique. Together we make one big human family. Regardless of culture, faith, nationality, or colour we are all  Gods children, created equal and equally loved. In our variety we can choose to weave a beautiful blanket of love to wrap around our world. Let none divide us. 

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 In the frenzy of everyday life many become overwhelmed, and stress is a modern day epidemic. For all those of you who juggle life’s many and varied demands and challenges, and struggle to find time for your cell to sit within, or who yet have to discover their own cell to explore…this is for you. May it bring peace and a stilling of your Soul within. May it strengthen you and re-balance you so that you may re-enter your homes and workplaces, refreshed and balanced.

For those of us whom God has called to:

“Go, sit in a cell, and your cell will teach you everything.”
— Abba Moses (4th century)

May it strengthen us, and may God grant us the joy, courage and endurance to stay and witness its beautiful transformation.

Go To Your Cell, And Your Cell Will Teach You Everything

Go To Your Cell,

And your cell will teach you everything.

This saying is taken from a similar one pronounced by Abba Moses in the C4th; he said… “Go, sit in a cell and your cell will teach you everything.” This call of the Lord comes to the most unlikely of us it seems. For that we should offer great thanks for therein lies the hope that no matter how troubled our lives may be with their twists and turns, mistakes and sins…none of us are beyond redemption through the infinite tenderness and merciful Love of our Creator for His creation, and His infinite understanding of the human condition.

One person who found this to be true was Abba Moses, also known as Abba Moses the Robber, the Abyssinian, the Ethiopian and the Strong, who lived between 330 and 450 and became a notable Desert Father. Before he went to his cell, he had been a servant of a government official in Egypt who dismissed him for theft and suspected murder. On leaving employment he was the leader of a gang of bandits who roamed the Nile Valley spreading terror and violence. Reports say he was a large and imposing man.

On attempting a robbery on one occasion, a barking dog prevented him from carrying it out and he swore vengeance. With weapons in his mouth he swam the river to the owners hut. The owner alerted again by his dog, hid and so Moses had to hide from the local authorities and he took shelter with some monks in a colony in the desert of Wadi El Natrun, then known as Sketes, near Alexandria.  The dedication of these monks as well as their peace and contentment influenced Moses deeply, so much so that he renounced his former life, converted to Christianity and joined the monastic community at Sketes.

The path and experience of life in the cell is rarely a smooth one, the transformation of our personalities and human behaviours is a lengthy process, beset with periods of great inner turmoil and challenge. Moses’ flair for adventure remained with him and when he was attacked by a group of robbers in his cell, he fought back, overpowered them, and then dragged them to the chapel where the monks were at prayer. He asked what he should do with them, no longer feeling it was suitable to hurt them as a Christian. At this the robbers gave up, were themselves converted and joined the community. At another time, when a brother committed a fault, Moses was invited to discuss an appropriate penance and refused to go. When he was again summoned, he took a leaking jug filled with water and the other monks asked him why he was carrying it. He replied, “My sins run out behind me and I do not see them, but today I am coming to judge the sins of another?” The errant monk was forgiven.

The lesson of the cell is the turning of our attention inwards in order to hear the Lord and his teaching of us. It is also the place where trusting we are within His presence we may offer up ourselves in service and love, and offer our praises. In the cell there is no place to hide; no place to run, thus everything is magnified. In the cell we cannot turn on the TV, text or email or perform any number of distracting activities. We face the Lord alone and we face ourselves. It can be an extremely uncomfortable and challenging place to inhabit. The unkind words we have spoken, the lies we may have told, the injustices we have committed, the judgments on others we have passed…all come back to us magnified and clear as water for us to view and offer up to God for His infinite mercy and transformation. The cell is a transformative place of forgiveness and it is we that are being transformed in the fires of Love’s penance.  And yet it also offers ultimate freedom, as gradually we realise with our changing perception that its outward appearance of confinement is actually our gateway to unlimited freedom.

Some think of an enclosed life as an escape, a lying down of responsibility to the world and yet in this more formal form, the cell is the place where the foundations of all life are laid and all is up for challenge and overcoming. It is an extremely intensive experience; some describe it as a battleground. In a sense it can be a battleground, between the renunciations of small individual will and the laying over of Gods Will in order to meld with, unite with and act as God created us to be before we got distracted. In this cell we are called home by Love, invited to cease being the prodigal son, to take our rightful place at the feast in our honour.

Monk

In The Last Battle by CS Lewis, the individual creatures are invited to step through what appears to be a random doorway. It is a request that involves ultimate trust that what lies on the other side is beneficial, without having any way of knowing. It is a metaphor for passing through death into paradise. Aslan [Christ] knows what lies beyond but the creatures do not. They must trust but they must also accept the invitation. And so it is with the cell. We enter the cell by Christ’s invitation, we submit to its fires of transformation by our own free choice and we must trust that all will indeed be well, for Christ it is who knows what is beyond it. The cell teaches us, it transforms us into living lights of the Highest Holy of Holies.

Aslans door

We are all invited….

Aslan

Bless The Lord My Soul: Oh Lord Hear My Prayer: Taize

 

I offer these to you in the quietude of the compline hours because these are beautiful prayers.

 

The Taizé Community is an ecumenical monastic order that invites people of different Christian faiths to worship together. They are well known for their contemplative hymns in many languages
http://www.taize.fr/en

“Since my youth, I think that I have never lost the intuition that community life could be a sign that God is love, and love alone. Gradually the conviction took shape in me that it was essential to create a community with men determined to give their whole life and who would always try to understand one another and be reconciled, a community where kindness of heart and simplicity would be at the centre of everything.”

Brother Roger: “God is love alone”

Love Was Our Lord’s Meaning: Mother Julian of Norwich

Wouldst thou learn of thy Lord’s meaning in this thing?

Learn it well:

Love was His meaning.

Who shewed it thee?

Love.

What shewed He thee?

Love.

Wherefore shewed it He?

For Love.

Hold thee therein and thou shalt learn and know more in the same. But thou shalt never know or learn therein other thing without end. Thus was I learned that Love was our Lord’s meaning.

And I saw full surely that ere God made us He loved us; which love was never slacked, nor ever shall be. And in this love He hath done all His works; and in this love He hath made all things profitable to us, and in this love our life is everlasting. In our making we had beginning; but the love wherein He made us was in Him from without beginning; in which love we have our beginning. And all this shall we see in God, without end. 

Revelations of Divine Love.

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For the first 30 years of my life I lived within 10 miles of the City of Norwich, where Julian of Norwich had lived as an anchoress in a tiny cell attached to St Julians church. The City of Norwich suffered much bomb damage during the Second World War, with much of its medieval architecture lost, but as a sign of the fondness of the people for their anchoress…it was decided by public subscription to rebuild St Julians Church, one of only two churches to be rebuilt. Today visitors from around the world visit the church and tiny cell, to pay homage and give thanks for this woman’s dedication and life and the wonderful mystical work she left us through time.

Julian 3

Julian of Norwich (c. 8 November 1342 – c. 1416) was an English anchoress who is regarded as one of the most important Christian mystics. She is venerated in the Anglican and Lutheran churches, but has never been canonised or beatified. Written around 1395, her work, Revelations of Divine Love, is the first book in the English language known to have been written by a woman. Julian of Norwich lived in a time of turmoil, but her theology was optimistic and spoke of God’s love in terms of joy and compassion, as opposed to law and duty. For Julian, suffering was not a punishment that God inflicted, as was the common understanding. She believed that God loved everyone and wanted to save them all. Popular theology, magnified by catastrophic contemporary events such as the Black Death and a series of peasant revolts, asserted that God punished the wicked. Julian suggested a more merciful theology, which some say leaned towards universal salvation.

Julian of Norwich

Her manuscript was protected and hidden by the Nuns of Carrow Priory, in Norwich and was copied and passed on via their sister houses in Europe. This is the simple way in which it was protected from the power structures of the Church by small groups of women and it survived. What Julian wrote was dangerous, on the absolute edge of acceptable faith doctrine; and she could have been put to death for it. Many who wrote or spoke of such things were. Such words as she spoke below, can be dangerous even today.

Julian 2

For those of you who would like to know more…here is a link.

http://juliancentre.org/

Tyger Tyger, Burning Bright : William Blake

Tiger tiger

 

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?
And what shoulder, and what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? and what dread feet?
What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!
When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
Rather than believing in war between good and evil or heaven and hell, Blake thought each man must first see and then resolve the contraries of existence and life. In “The Tyger,” he presents a poem of “triumphant human awareness,” and “a hymn to pure being,” according to Kazin.
And we are put on earth a little space, that we may learn to bear the beams of love.
William Blake
 William Blake (1757-1827) was a poet, painter, engraver and mystic. He was an omnivorous reader of the classics.
Born in London, Blake lived almost his entire life there. As the second son of a working-class hosier he was never able to go to school. Instead, at the age of fourteen he was apprenticed to an engraver and for the remainder of his life it was through this craft that he earned a somewhat precarious livelihood.
His deep mystical intuition and his skill and genius as an artist and poet went almost unrecognized during his lifetime. He was able to sell very little of his own artistic output, and his letters which we have are primarily thank you notes to his patrons. 

“William Blake is one of the great mystics of the world; and he is by far the greatest and most profound who has spoken in English. Like Henry More and Wordsworth, he lived in a world of glory, of spirit and of vision, which, for him, was the only real world. At the age of four he saw God looking in at the window, and from that time until he welcomed the approach of death by singing songs of joy which made the rafters ring, he lived in an atmosphere of divine illumination.”Spurgeon, Caroline F. E. (1913). Mysticism in English Literature

When he was very young, Blake began to experience spiritual visions. When he was nine he saw “a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars.” These mystical visions and his spiritual inspiration remained with him for the rest of his life.
     In his mid-40s Blake lived for three years in a small cottage at Felpham on the Sussex coast where he saw angels descending on a ladder from heaven to his cottage. It was also at this time that he often saw fairies and once experienced what he understood to be a fairy’s funeral.
According to Blake, most of his work as a writer and artist was done under the direct inspiration of spiritual guides. In the introduction to his book on Milton, he explains:

“I have written this poem from immediate dictation, twelve or sometimes twenty lines at a time, without pre-meditation and even against my will. The time it has taken in writing was thus rendered non-existent, and an immense poem exists which seems to be the labour of a long life, all produced without labour or study.”


 Everything Blake created–his poems, his engravings, his illuminated books–were for the purpose of revealing to people the Higher Reality.

“I rest not from my great task!
To open the Eternal Worlds, to open the immortal Eyes
Of Man inwards into the Worlds of Thought, into Eternity.”

The God of Small Things

william_blake_quote

The Infinite Love that we name God, created us and all that is; in its own image and likeness, cradling us, nurturing us and walking beside us in our infinite eternal journey towards fulfillment of its Purpose and Reason…Love. This is our Creator, whose magnificence and beauty is beyond our human imagining and reasoning. This Divine Creator who created from itself universes of billions of stars, of planets teeming with diverse life such as ours, of vast spaces where time and gravity are infinitely poised in harmony and space for Love’s expression of Itself.  Each tiny thing is accounted for, loved into existence and cared for. Every grain of sand, every cell in your body, every possibility and presence is known. Such tenderness, such care, such beauty. Such Love. This is what I have been given to understand, and shown over the years. It is our task to look deeper, look closer at everything that presents itself to us each day, for reflected in this is our Creators desire and Reality for us, even when appears deeply hidden behind the outward human masks of confusion and misunderstanding that we often mistake for life’s experiences. In our first impressions we can often not cross what seems to be a bridge too far, a gulf between what we see which can often appear conflicted and sometimes ugly experiences and what we know to be the true Light and Beauty gifted to us by our Creator which abide within us. This is when we must look harder, deeper, until we find that which our Creator urges us to see. We are worth more than shallowly accepting falsity and masks…we are capable of seeing Infinite Reality. Blake captured this in the poem below.

williamBlake_poem

To illustrate the hidden nature of things and our God of the small things who cares so profoundly and deeply for each and every on of its magnificent creations, no matter how simple and humble, I have chosen to show things under the microscope….First sand…

sand 1

Grains of sand

And flowers

wild flower meadow

Wild flower

And now to me and you…firstly our red blood cells

Your blood

Our brain cells

Brain cells

And our DNA circles

DNA circles

Praise therefore is a natural act of Love, to acknowledge and thank our Creator of the small things which are beyond anything we could see or imagine. And praise can ensue from our hearts, our lips, our  work, and our interactions, showing itself in our relationships with each other, ourselves, a stranger, our communities and nations in the respect and honour we afford each other when we know in our hearts that we are all children and creations of the same One Living God. Then it matters not which way we choose to praise, nor which culture  we entered into this world through. It matters not what colour our skin is, whether we are materially rich or poor. What matters is how we treat each other and all that is created and whether in our actions and thoughts we are truly living the Love that we embody as children of Love itself for Loves purpose. Below is a beautiful praise…the Prayer of the Soul. Our Soul knows no cultural or religious boundaries as its truth, for it knows they do not exist. What exists is the Infinite Love. Perception.