Friday, April 05, 2013

'I said, "You are gods!"'

'. . .the tiny flock . . . the muddy, imperfect, tone-deaf, literary simpletons . . . many many different people with a whole range of hopes, needs, hurts and fears . . .' [phrases from recent comments on this blog]

What really upsets me about the approach summarized by the above statements—that 'we do the best we can with the hurt, flawed, etc. people'—is that it is such a snivelling, pinched, patronising view of the human person and the work of Christ. It is degrading it is most certainly not Christian anthropology at all! 

Rather, we should revere one another as Christ-bearers, as people capable of divinisation, who bear within themselves the divine nature, and encourage one another to behave accordingly. This is what we should be striving for as Christians, and if so, the rest follows! This is not to say that hurt and suffering go away, but they are no longer able to de-stabilise us. It doesn't happen overnight, but we can truthfully hold out this hope: the work of silence makes us self-forgetful, kenotic, instead of solipsistic.

What we realise in opening to the deep mind is our shared nature with God (John 14-17): divinity, theosis. Liturgies such as the Easter Vigil, done late at night and without any instruction are profound teachers of silence. The most fundamental resonances are there, which is why I find it absolutely shocking that in a place like Devon, which is so numinous, almost no one does it. Cyril of Jerusalem meant for his mystagogical catecheses to be taught after the rites—this was the wisdom of his old age. He understood as so many patristic writers did, that good liturgy is the best teacher.

Theosis is not just a New Testament idea; "I said, 'ye are gods'"; 'he has made you a little lower than the angels'; to quote just two verses from the Psalms.

As noted earlier in this blog (and as Peter Brown in The Rise of Western Christendom and Brock and Parker in Saving Paradise note), for the first thousand years, Christians understood that the veil between heaven and earth was lifted, that the new creation was present in the silence of their minds, in their liturgies that appealed to all the senses, in their programmes of social welfare, their beautiful churches which depicted people as noble, upright, beautiful, confident (parreshia) to approach God, life, and each other, celebrating the luminosity of the creation—not as fearful, hurting, bewildered, benighted downtrodden solipsists clutching closely the comfie blankie of folksy tunes, Taizé chants and stasis.

In The Farthest Shore, Ursula le Guin paints a devastating picture of our society obsessed with its short-sighted materialism and fear of death:

'...when we crave power over life—endless wealth, unassailable safety,  immortality—then desire becomes greed. And if knowledge allies itself to that greed, then comes evil. Then the balance of the world is swayed, and ruin ways heavy in the scale . . .'

'. . . to refuse death is to refuse life . . . For only that is ours which we are willing to lose. That selfhood, our torment and glory, our humanity, does not endure. It changes and it goes, a wave on the sea. Would you have the sea grow still and the tides cease to save one one wave, to save yourself? Would you give up the craft of your hands, and the passion of your heart, and the hunger of your mind, to buy safety?'

Stasis is idolatry, and if we are to call our selves Christian, then we must let our selves go to grow and change, out of our sight as we do the work of silence and realise our spiritual maturity, and our divinity.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few years ago I had a glimpse of what we are in God - and it terrified me - I didn't want to be that powerful, that important, that special - and, I realise, I chose instead to enslave myself to this world and to what the church teaches me I need to do to be 'a good Christian'. But the vision keeps drawing me, that pearl of great price, and I cannot deny what God wants to share. I have been so confused by the Christian teaching I have received and for years I have struggled to reconcile what I have been shown with what I see in church life. So often I have 'played the game' as it was expected of me. I am appalled that our true heritage is being hidden from us and so deeply saddened that I also have denied God because I wanted to belong to my church. All I can do is weep.

10:07 am, April 07, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't be too hard on yourself: we've all been afraid and we've all acted out of that fear.


7:56 pm, April 07, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Maggie,

Your blog so often inspires movement inside both my heart and my mind, as does the commentary.

I feel I can answer the question posed, "Would you give up the craft of your hands, and the passion of your heart, and the hunger of your mind, to buy safety?" with a heartfelt, "No, I would not sacrifice these things for 'safety'."

But now I'm confused by the commentary. What are my next steps in order to travel to this deeper state of mind, to live in anonymous' vision?



8:56 pm, April 07, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Ask her. Help each other.

9:02 pm, April 07, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Anonymous,

Can you tell me more about this vision? What do you mean by "I didn't want to be that powerful, that important, that special"? And can you describe more the "choice" you made "to enslave [yourself] to this world"?



9:10 pm, April 07, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

" A few years ago I had a glimpse of what we are in God - and it terrified me - I didn't want to be that powerful, that important, that special..."


This happened to me as well and I was as you were, terrified. I dont know why it should be othrwise. Not a week goes I dont think about what happened.

I handle this by recounting what happened if/when it comes up... not often at all... language is useless but, I think something of the truth comes through in the words I can find ... and those who have heard the story are ALL, all supportive and encouraged in going on ... Its good news after all

Theo is right. Be compassionate with self even when it is "yours"


10:24 pm, April 07, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've had moments where I felt the lines between Heaven and Earth disappear, but I didn't necessarily feel "powerful" or "important" during them.

Amber - I will pray for your journey.



11:29 pm, April 07, 2013  
Blogger happy pearl said...

I think the church should be a Base Camp from which people are sent out to climb mountains, instead of which it is a rather poorly-equipped first aid station. Those who would climb mountains are burnt out and disillusioned from trying to cope with recurring aches and pains and the noisy complaints that go with them, and they give up on their aspirations or go elsewhere.

As for the clergy - many are afraid of being too daring because the aforesaid aches and pains pay their stipend and whinge to the bishop. We try to ignore economics, but they do pay a part

7:57 am, April 08, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have always been wary of putting things into words because of the dangers of words being (mis-)interpreted. So, although I have read this blog and Maggie's books for some years, before my 'Anonymous' post on Sunday I had never ventured to make any comment. Now, having broken my silence, I just wanted to say to Maggie how much solace and encouragement your writings have given me, particularly when I have doubted my sanity! I lived for a number of years in an Anglican Religious Community and, having left, I now live as an 'unofficial' solitary in Devon (and thank you for acknowledging the numinous quality of this wonderful county).
My sense of being 'important, powerful and special' only originates in knowing that God wants to give himself wholly and unreservedly to me; by myself I am nothing. I think that it is always easier, like St Peter at the Transfiguration, to rush around 'building booths' than to stand before God and allow his majesty to undo and re-make us. When you touch Reality there is nothing you can do except allow it to change you. So much of what I see in Church life is about what we are doing rather than about what God is doing: we either get in the way or out of the way. Amber, I really don't know what to say to you. Perhaps it isn't until we are sufficiently sickened or wounded by this world that we crave 'another way' and are opened to seeing the truth: then prayer becomes a simple cry for help and a thirst for Reality/Truth. I am a great believer in the wisdom of 'sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything'; we want so much to have power and control, to be the ones who are 'doing' rather than surrendering to the beautiful way of beholding or 'being held by', which simply allows God to be God and us to be what we are meant to be in him. So, 'sit, sit, sit' in silence and stillness - and wait - probably feeling useless and helpless - and everything will be given to you!

9:22 am, April 08, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Thank you, thank you, and may I say what a joy it is to read your comments and what encouragement there is to hear from another solitary with the same focus—so often I feel that I am groping alone in the dark, so it is great comfort to know you are there!

9:37 am, April 08, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Maggie - Following your latest really helpful posting and the ongoing comments may I tell a little of my story? For the last 5 years I have been holding together my priestly orders with a deepening practice of silence and solitude. I am not in parish ministry, but have general license given to enable me to do just this. I have no local status or role and am self-supporting. Stability - staying put - and uselessness are constant companions - along with the inner cry which I have learned is as much God's cry for me as mine for God. Slowly, from within a very hidden life, opportunities have grown, one of which is to lead monthly sessions of silent prayer at the local church as well as the Service of Silence and Beholding which you helped me shape. There is also the nagging voice that tells me I am naive to even try to follow in this way and yet despite all the difficulties the idea of renouncing my vows doesn't feel life-giving. This Christ-path is one of kenosis - and I am encouraged in the midst of doubt by what feels like a shared struggle to, as you say 'realise our spiritual maturity, and our divinity.' Thankyou to all - with love and prayer

11:42 am, April 08, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Tessa,
Please say more about the service of silence & beholding. THanks.

1:55 pm, April 08, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maggie - if it is ok with you please post this response to Alison's request:

Hi Alison - the 'service of silence and beholding' is my name for the shortened version of Maggie's 'A Rite for Contemplative Eucharist' which can be found in her blogpost for January 2006. I am reluctant to say anything more at the moment about the liturgy other than to echo Maggie's words from the current post - that 'we must let our selves go to grow and change, out of our sight as we do the work of silence.' Tessa

6:49 pm, April 08, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Again your commentary on this blog has warmed my heart.

We are not naïve to let ourselves be held by God.

I will pray that both of us listen to God's cry rather than the "nagging voice" of doubt.


11:25 am, April 09, 2013  
Anonymous Penny Warren said...

We are hurt flawed peple and every one us gloriously made in Christ's image. Everyone us welcomed at the feast, everyone of us hungry for the depths that Christ takes us to. I find that God who is present with us in this beautiful numinous place that is my home - Devon. I live here, pray here, work here, live a quiet rythm of life here. People come to us, we laugh with them and weep with them and we worship together. It hurts that what we give is not seen as good enough.

All else you write is a blessing for one whose heart is very much in the place of silence and solitude. Thank you.

2:20 pm, April 09, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From the introduction to 'Wisdom Songs' by Priest-Monk Silouan:
'The orthodox tradition of the Christian East imparts integral wisdom by means of liturgical rites and prayer of the heart. Name and Wisdom communicate communion, KOINONIA, by means of spiritual states: turning: METANOIA; seeing: THEORIA; deification: THEOSIS, also called glorification. This ancient Way of Transformation flourished as wisdom in the desert when the Christian tradition became the religion of the Roman Empire, and consolation rather than transformation became the prevailing convention in the cities.'

Maggie - I wonder if in the commentary to your current blog there is a distinction to be made such as Silouan makes here - between the 'consolation rather than transformation'. I had to leave parish ministry to be free to be in silence and to be able in the darkness of unknowing let myself go into the transfiguring fire of God. Rather than railing against the clergy, surely it is the whole system (including religious communities)which needs reformation as well as the 'convention of consolation' - and I would also add a theology of damnation - which pervades so much liturgy and teaching. I admire those who pour their whole selves into enabling consolation which seeks to heal - but so often there are those who seem to have no perception of the healing and transforming work of God when silence is taught - or even allowed - as a necessary, rather than an optional add-on. This is a tragedy. Time and again I have asked, cried into the dark and silence, how is it possible to stay, to hold to the path of priestly vows without becoming bitter and giving in to the pressure to conform to the 'convention of consolation'. I know for myself, having let go of so much (and this is ongoing work), that it is in silence and beholding that God's work of transfiguration occurs - turning becomes seeing, seeing becomes being and in being there is FIRE! For people like me - called to be at the edge in the liminal solitary places, please keep writing, keep teaching, stay passionate and and on fire with tears (- which maybe are both ones of grief and healing?) And I implore those who have responsibility in the churches for teaching and liturgy to ensure that silence is welcomed - not as an interlude before the next song - but as the place in which we truly become alive with the power and light of Christ. Peace be with you. Tessa

5:18 pm, April 09, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Penny, NONE of what ANY of us does is good enough, but whinging means we're going in the opposite direction. The goal, as the old prayer says, is 'to give and not to count the cost' or, as scripture says, the right hand should not know what the left hand does. Maggie

5:33 pm, April 09, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is there a way to do ‘A Rite for Contemplative Eucharist' (as described in the Jan 2006 post) by myself?

5:51 pm, April 09, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Why would you want to? In silence and solitude we ARE Eucharist!

5:53 pm, April 09, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Tessa, for the link to the silence & beholding liturgy in 2006.

8:03 pm, April 10, 2013  

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