Monday, 21 January 2013

Sunday, 1 January 2012

iCloud of Unknowing?

Happy New Year everyone! I looked back at my first ever post on this blog and found that I'd promised myself I'd post every week. I lasted - about a week! So this year, no resolutions. No promises. It gets done when it gets done. Which means there might be more of it. I've decided this year not to have any goals, just to take things a day at a time.

I recently signed up for 'Dropbox'. It's  one of those 'cloud' thingys. With Dropbox, instead of keeping all your files, photos, videos etc. on your computer, you keep them up in the sky somewhere and you can access them from any computer, tablet, android or iPhone. And you can get access anywhere, any time. So you don't have to worry about losing all your stuff from your computer, or losing a memory stick or card. (You just have to worry about it all being hacked into instead. But you never know who's looking into your computer these days anyway so I thought it's worth the risk.)

Well, all that information isn't up in the sky but it's as if it was, up there, out of sight, in and beyond the clouds. A bit like God, or how we think of Him. When we pray it seems a bit like getting access to your files in your Dropbox or other 'cloud'. God's 'up there' and we upload stuff to Him and we hope we can access and download a response.

In the 14th century an English priest wrote a book which was given the title 'The Cloud of Unknowing'. He said that basically, getting to know God is like going into a cloud; what he called a 'cloud of unknowing', meaning that the more you learn about God and get to know Him, the more there is to learn and get to know.

He said too that you can never know God through your rational mind, through your reason. The only way to know God is through loving Him. He said that we should 'pierce the cloud with the sharp dart of longing love'.  (that's a 14th century equivalent of your username and password.)  I think that sounds reasonable!!?? And I think would do to anybody who's tried to figure out God with their mind. He just won't be figured. The more you think you've grasped about God, the more there is to grasp. And you know that knowing about God isn't the same as knowing God. It's all just like walking into a cloud.

I wonder if that anonymous priest is now looking down from beyond the clouds and thinking 'Hey, that was my idea! Where's the royalties?!!

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Fast asleep? Classic avoidance.

Jonah
We've started to read the book of Jonah in morning prayer this morning. Here's a man who's asked by God to do a great work for Him. But Jonah isn't only reluctant, he runs as far away as possible from what God wants, both physically and figuratively.

It's quite an amusing story but it also contains a lot of truth about the way individuals and groups of people respond to God and to the big demands of life in general.

Jonah gets on a ship taking him in the opposite direction in which God wants him to go. And then he goes down into the bowels of the ship and falls fast asleep. He's even asleep when a storm brews up and threatens to sink the ship. You can't make out from the account whether or not he went asleep before or after the storm started. The point is that he was asleep through it.

Isn't this classic avoidance?

Most of us avoid what God calls us to do for Him; and we also avoid what life in general calls us to do. Maybe we are afraid; maybe we think we aren't up to the task. Both God and life call for faith; faith in God, life and ourselves. And our avoidance tactics are many and various. But they include tactics as simple as going in the opposite direction to the call or demand or just staying where we are and closing off from the clamour of the call. We really or metaphorically 'go to sleep.' Whichever way we choose to avoid the call, we do.

But, it's good to remember that as with Johah, God or life will eventually wake us up, or catch up with us!

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

It brings out the best - and the worst!

I always thought it's odd that out of 4 of the days following Christmas day, 3 are devoted to people who have died for the Christian faith or, in a sense, because of it. And on the remaining day we remember a saint who was exiled because of the faith which you could say is a death of sorts.

St. Stephen
26th December is the feast dedicated to St. Stephen, the first martyr. It's been celebrated since at least the 5th century on the day after Christmas day.

The Holy Innocents
28th December is the commemoration of the Holy Innocents; those children that Herod had murdered as, in his rage, he hunted down the infant Jesus.

Thomas Becket
29th December is the commemoration of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, murdered in his own cathedral on this day in 1170.

St. John, Apostle & Evangelist
On 27th December we remember St. John, Apostle and Evangelist, who was exiled on the island of Patmos, where he received and recorded his 'Revelation' which appears as the last book in the Bible.

As we think about these people and the birth of the Lord on Christmas day, it seems that the gospel brings out either the best or the worst in people. And it results in bringing out the worst in what should be the best of people. Today we've seen on the news, monks again brawling over 'territory' in a sacred place, the actual place where Jesus Christ is reputed to have been born. Not good enough brothers! The job's hard enough without such a poor display. Being credible as a Christian is difficult enough in the world today. But such behaviour is a very sad betrayal of those who we've  been thinking about and thanking God for in our worship this week. If you want to see the news item it's here It might make you want to laugh. It's not funny, it's pathetic.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Aaaarrgh! Falling & Being Fallen

I fell last Saturday, in the garage, getting ladders to get in the loft. I fell sideways onto a piece of wood sticking up from the floor. The piece of wood tried to break through my ribcage. It hurt.

It's the second time I've fallen, on the same side, just as heavily. Last time was three years ago, on Christmas Eve dashing out of the local Co-op supermarket. It was a rainy, dark, cold afternoon and I had the most demanding 18 hours ahead of me of the year.

I've fallen a little earlier this year, but the effect is the same. It hurts, and I can't sleep properly because the pain is worse when I'm lying down, for obvious reasons i.e. because it's my chest. Anyway, all of this has caused me to reflect on what happens when we fall and to make connections with THE Fall of Adam and Eve.

Falling hurts, it's painful, it causes incapacity. You can't live the way that's intended for a healthy body, mind and spirit. It can cause other complications, damaging organs inside the body as well surface injuries. You are never the same again. There are consequences of the fall. There's scars and scar tissue and impairment of function.

Isn't that what happened to we humans when Adam and Eve succumbed to the temptation to eat that fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Their fall from Grace, into sin had the same sorts of results in a manner speaking that my falling in the garage and outside the Co-op has. We only need to look at ourselves to see, as our sinfulness carries the same sorts of injuries and consequences.

We hurt, boy do we hurt, in all sorts of ways, all the time because of our fallen nature. We hurt psychologically, spiritually and even physically because of our sin. We are almost permanently disabled by it, not able to live to the full, to enjoy the fullness of life that Jesus Christ came to bring us. We carry the marks of sin in our bodies in the form of disability and sickness. We have psychological illness in the form of stress, neurosis, psychosis and plain old worry and anxiety. And there are consequences for our relationships as well, with one another, with God and with the whole of creation.

In the depth of sin we are in a pretty bad way. So we should be grateful to God for the medicine of the gospel and Jesus Christ our great Physician who heals us from our sin and all unrighteousness, through forgiveness and His saving love. We thank Him for the Church and for healing balm of the Holy Communion and other sacraments that manifest Christ's healing.

In the meantime, I'll carry on taking pain-killers for my aching ribs and hope I can get a good night's sleep soon!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Born to Run!??

I can't believe it's 3 months since my last post. Time flies and things change. I've lost some weight (a stone) and started running again after about 3 years of idleness and some illness. But I'm older and I can feel it. Nevertheless I'm doing my best to get back into running after spending four months walking my way back to a better level of fitness. Anyway, to cut a long story short and to get to the point.....

I was on Jury Service in June and spent 5 days out of 8 just mind-numbingly waiting in a locked room, to be called. To relieve the boredom I read a book entitled 'Born to Run' by Christopher McDougall. It's worth reading out of interest, especially if you are fond of sport or generally keeping fit. It's written in a very light hearted style and tells of the author's pursuit of pain and injury-free running after being injured and subsequently advised by 2 doctors out of 3 simply to stop running. He explores the hypothesis that cushioned and supportive running and training shoes, produced over the last 30 years, have done nothing to lessen the incidence of pain and injury in runners and have actually in some cases exacerbated it. And also that those who run barefoot or in shoes without cushioning and support experience far less pain and injury. His argument seemed pretty convincing to me as I read the book. At the time Chris McDougall wrote the book most of the evidence was anecdotal but since then there has been increasing scientific evidence that the hypothesis is borne out in fact.

What the hypothesis says also is that in shoes with cushioning and support, your feet aren't exercised in a natural way if at all, and so the bones, muscles and tendons aren't built up and strengthened as they should be. Also, those shoes promote a running form that puts much more strain on the feet, legs and even the whole body, as usually with those shoes you are more likel to the strike the ground first with your heel before the mid or fore foot. Try running barefooted and striking with the heel first and you find it's almost impossible to run that way and very painful. The natural way is to put the mid or fore foot down first.

Vivobarefoot Neo Running Shoe
As I said, as I read the book I was more and more convinced by the argument. I'd run with injuries in the past and as I thought about it, it seemed like most of my running time had been spent nursing one injury or another. So, I thought I must have a go, not at barefoot running but running in the new 'minimalist' shoes that are now available, that is, without cushioning and support. I'm currently in the process of 'transitioning' to Vivobarefoot Neo running shoes and it's quite an experience.

It's quite impossible to run in the way I ran in my previous trainers, which are 'motion control' i.e. specially constructed to help support my arches as my left one drops after a couple of miles. What running in the new shoes has shown up especially is weakness in my left ankle which obviously needs strengthening. I think now that the problem wasn't my foot's arch at all, but my ankle. It's amazing too how feeling the ground beneath your feet, instead of half an inch or more of padding feels so 'natural' and even invigorating. The new shoes are much more roomy especially around the toes which allows my feet to move easily. Wearing my old trainers now makes my feet feel very constricted and bound up when I'm running. I'm wearing the new shoes as much as possible for walking about in as well as running to help my feet and legs build up strength in a natural way before I run in them continuously.

After just 4 or 5 weeks my feet and lower legs are beginning to feel much stronger and as I've been running, when I've got a twinge of pain it's signalled the need for me to remember the change in running form that's needed to one that is more 'natural' in itself and puts less strain on the body. I can explain better what I mean if you want to get in touch and ask (colin@agrainofwheat.net)

But what's all this got to do with one's spiritual life? I remember telling the bishop once that I've learned more about spirituality from running than from no end of theological and spiritual writings! He seemed 'interested.....'

Well, life is tough. We need courage, fortitude, patience, resilience, resolve. I love that old word for patience you read in older translations of the Bible - 'long-suffering'. You need huge amounts of long-suffering if you are going to negotiate life successfully and fruitfully and in sound mental, physical and spiritual health. But because life is so tough we find ourselves inclined to soften our experience as much as we can so that we don't suffer the pain and anguish that life brings to every one of us in different ways. People turn to all sorts of things and people for comfort. Sometimes these turn into addictions; addictions to objects, substances and indeed, people. All of these we use to ease the way.

And I'm reminded of this by the cushioning and support in my running shoes. When we try to soften the experience of life, that in itself can have a deletrious effect. If at every turn we take hold of something to ease the way, something to make the going easier, we don't then build up our natural resources of resilience, courage, fortitude and yes, long-suffering. One of the reasons for the spiritual disciplines of prayer and fasting for longer and shorter periods of time is to help us to develop the sorts of resources that give us the wherewithal to live life well; which is quite different from getting through with the greatest of ease and comfort.

I bet you hadn't realised there was so much in a pair of running shoes! Or even so little in the best.