Contentment amid life’s circumstances   Leave a comment

Today is Sunday but Jackie (my wife) and I have decided to skip church.  However I write this little spiritual reflection as a thought for today.

image of the word contentment

[Photo credit: Victory Church, 201 US-441, Micanopy, FL 32667, United States]

For the last month or so my overarching feeling has been a sense of contentment; contentment amid life’s circumstance not because of them.  Now, I have bipolar and my mood is currently on the up side which is doubtless a psychological basis for this but there is also strong spiritual component.  Life is full of uncertainty at the moment with a lot of unexpected change going on for several family members and my wife and I in particular.  However, I keep recalling the Biblical phrase: “underneath are the everlasting arms”.  Here is the full quote in context:

Deuteronomy 33:26-28New International Version (NIV)

26 “There is no one like the God of Jeshurun,
    who rides across the heavens to help you
    and on the clouds in his majesty.
27 The eternal God is your refuge,
    and underneath are the everlasting arms.
He will drive out your enemies before you,
    saying, ‘Destroy them!’
28 So Israel will live in safety;
    Jacob will dwell[a] secure
in a land of grain and new wine,
    where the heavens drop dew.

So despite the facts that: my Dad has terminal cancer; my job is unexpectedly coming to an end in December; my younger son is amid his A levels and needs very good results to get into university he wants; my wife’s job is overly stressful but she has not been able to secure alternatives; … ; in the words of Julian of Norwich I have a deep assurance that:

All will be well, all will be well and all manner of things will be well.

This perspective leads to contentment – the feeling that amid the uncertainty and stress I am where I am supposed to be and God is taking care of me and my family.  In the words of a response in the liturgy of the Eucharist:

Blessed be God forever.

Posted June 14, 2015 by Martyn Cooper in Random notes

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First week of Lent   Leave a comment

The first week of Lent has coincided with the first week of Spring here in the UK. I did not go to church Sunday but spent the morning in the sunshine that bathed my garden – nature, all be it tended nature, was my temple. I have not started any of my Lent reading yet either; and I had collected at least 3 books I was going to use, and will use, in this period.  So I just want to leave you with today a beautiful piece of music, that I learnt as a teen from my father’s record collection, an extract from Beethoven’s 6th Symphony:

Ash Wednesday 2014   Leave a comment

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, and I went to the traditional administering of ashes service at my church.  During the marking of a cross on everyone’s forehead the choir sang one of my favorite pieces of sacred music: “God so loved the world” from Stainer’s Crusifixion.

For this first blog post of my Lent 2014 Reflections I just refer you to a recording of it by the St Paul’s choir on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5Akz6J8Rw0.

Below is the artwork I stood in front of while it was being sung, you can read about it here: http://www.stmatthewsnorthampton.org.uk/art_history_the_crucifixion.shtml 

the_crucifixion

Lent 2014 Reflections – Introduction   Leave a comment

Today is the Sunday before Lent, which then starts with Ash Wednesday this week. I propose to try and do a blog post each day through Lent this year reflecting on what I read and think that day. This blog post is an introduction to that series.

Parish Mass Today

I went to the 10:15 Parish Mass today at my church: St. Matthew’s Northampton. The Anglican Lectionary set two readings about mountain top experiences; one from the Old and one from the New Testament – the giving of the Law and the Transfiguration.  The Vicar said in his introduction that we all know mountain top experiences but then have to come down to face everyday life again.

In Exodus we read the following:

Exodus 24:12-18

New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

12 The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.’

13 Then Moses set out with Joshua his assistant, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. 14 He said to the elders, ‘Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.’

15 When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, 16 and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. 17 To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. 18 Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

I smiled at that reading because I had not remembered that Joshua accompanied Moses up the mountain in this story. A dear spiritual friend, Brother Nicholas of Alton Abbey, always used to call me Joshua because he thought I faced life bravely.

Then from the Gospel of St. Matthew we heard the following:

Matthew 17:1-9

New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

The transfiguration

17 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

4 Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’

5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’

6 When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. ‘Get up,’ he said. ‘Don’t be afraid.’ 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, ‘Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’

There was not a formal sermon but a question and answer session between Fr. Peter (retired priest) and the children and teens about the below icon.

Image

It is an Egyptian ancient icon rediscovered in the C19th see: http://stephintaize.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/the-icon-of-friendship.html. The key lesson for me from this icon was that Jesus puts his arm around us but gives us space.

So that summarises my preparation for Lent. I have a lot of reading lined up and if you wish you would be welcome to follow me on this blog as I journey through Lent towards Holy Week and Easter.

Reflections on today’s service: preaching, salt and light.   Leave a comment

Today was an ordinary service (mass) at my church, but several things stood out for me and captured my thoughts.  I briefly note them here.

I am not St. Paul’s biggest fan.  It is not his fault but I regret in some parts of the church it seems that his teachings dominate over Jesus’.  However, today’s reading from 1 Corinthians caught my attention afresh and I quote it here in full:

1 Corinthians 2:1-12

New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

2 And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.[a] 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

God’s wisdom revealed by the Spirit

6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.9 However, as it is written:

‘What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived’[b] –
the things God has prepared for those who love him –

10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.

Footnotes:

  1. 1 Corinthians 2:1 Some manuscripts proclaimed to you God’s mystery
  2. 1 Corinthians 2:9 Isaiah 64:4

The sermon, based on this and the other readings set for today, was about preaching.  The Gospel reading was part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:13-20].  It begins with Jesus’ call for us to be salt and light in the world.

I have not had any formal role in the church for about 10 years now.  Sometimes this causes me to question: What is the purpose of my faith journey? What am I supposed to be doing in the church?  However, these passages, and the service more generally, reminded me that it is my whole life that is the purpose of my faith journey.  It is in how I live my life I am called to be salt and light. That that is a form of preaching, a role, and one that is an enormous  challenge.  I continually fail to live up to that challenge which God continually forgives.  However, that is my purpose, to be salt and light.  If God uses that to influence anyone, to preach as it were, that is His/Her business.

I felt blessed and encouraged by this morning’s service.  (Oh and I got to meet the new archdeacon who will live in the parish.)

Posted February 9, 2014 by Martyn Cooper in Random notes

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Pause in Journey through Christian Thought   1 comment

Sorry there has a long pause in my blog series “A journey through Christian thought”.  I experienced a protract period of depression throughout much of last year (I am bi-polar).  That journey was not something I even found possible to do in that mood and thought patterns.  It would probably not have been the most helpful thing at the time if I tried.

Image

Photo credit: http://alwaysbobswife.wordpress.com/2012/10/10/nurture-photography-greenjourney/

I am much better now but have decided not to resume the series just yet.  This is because I want to participate in and blog about a Lent course being offered by my church: “Build on the Rock – Faith, doubt and Jesus”.  This looks like it will ring with the themes I was visiting on the “Journey in Christian Thought” as the early Christian writers wrestled with the question: “Who was Jesus?”

A thought on: “Who was Jesus?”

Attending Parish Mass at my church last Sunday, for the first time for quite a while, we sung a hymn I didn’t know:

In the second verse there is a statement about Jesus that stood out for me.  In all my own wrestling with who Jesus was, over the decades and on going, it was a statement I could happily rest with and own for myself:

Jesus, … , who trod faith’s road before us and trod it to the end.

 

 

Further Reflections on Clement and Ignatius: Authority and Doctrine   Leave a comment

[This post is part of a personal reflective journey through Christian theology.  An introduction to this project was given in the first post of this series.]

Why this blog post

In the previous posts in this series on Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch I did not discuss much a key theme in both of their writings that was highlighted in Daryl Arron’s book.  That it is authority and doctrine in the church. Here I mean authority over the body of the church’s teaching not discipline of the behaviour of individuals.   In fact, this theme is inherent in the very title of Arron’s book “The 40 Most Influential Christians Who Shaped What We Believe Today“.

My thoughts were directed to think about this further by two events this week.

Firstly, a friend posted a link on Facebook to a London talk by Joseph Atwill, author of “Caesar’s Messiah”.

Then, wanting something to eat my dinner in front of one evening, I watched a repeat of an old TV documentary I saw years ago on the Gnostic and other non-biblical Gospels. [Discovery Channel, “Lost Gospels”]. (I have seen better documentaries covering the same ground e.g. the BBC documentary of the same title presented by Pete Owen Jones.)

Personal Reflections

I am not going to discuss Atwill’s writings in any detail here. (I am preparing a separate blog post on the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth). However, Atwill’s hypothesis (he would put it stronger than that) is that Christianity was a fabrication of the Flavian Imperial Roman dynasty (69 to 96 CE) to help suppress Jewish revolt.  There is plenty of discussion of this on the WWW with some scholarly debunking from biblical and historical scholars of both Christian and non-Christian standpoints.

What Atwill’s claims made me think, in light of my reading about Clement and Ignatius, was how difficult such a fabrication would be and how unlikely an explanation it is for what we know about the first century or two of Christian history.  Both Clement and Ignatius show the lineage of the Christian message from Jesus, to the apostles and then to them who are the next generation of Christian leaders.  It is important in their understanding of the handing down of authority.  Indeed there is a whole web of characters mentioned both in the canonical Bible and other early Christian writings.  Many of these like Ignatius were martyred because of what they believed and taught.  Not many people would be martyred for what they think to be a fabrication.

This blog series is not a set of apologetics, for what the church (or different parts of it) have taught and thought through history, but a recording of personal reflections on reading or re-reading through a selection of that.  Nor, should it be apologetics for what I believe at this point in time, but the record of a personal reflective journey.  I am going to have to keep reminding myself of this as I do here.  Hence I ended the theme of the previous paragraph where I was tempted to research into details of source documents and earliest extant manuscripts etc.

The existence, in addition to the canonical ones, of numerous other gospels, in fragment or complete versions,  is indicative to me of this period following Jesus’ life where numerous people, in different groups, were groping with the questions of who was Jesus and what meaning did he have for them.  A few of these gospels, are possibly contemporary with Clement and/or Ignatius but most are thought to be from later in the 2nd through to the 4th century CE. Of course much of the teaching, and discussion at this stage would have been oral and we have no record of it.  It is in this context we have Clement and Ignatius being concerned about unity and false doctrine and noticeably in Clement’s writing love (or arguments about doctrine not showing love).

My reflection at this point was how did they discern what they considered to be true or false doctrine, and more relevant to this exercise how do I?  For myself, firstly this is not a simple black and white issue.  Perhaps a better expression of such questions would be:

  • “What is the truth in that?”

Truth for me, – how shall I phrase it?, let’s say – about matters of the divine and his/her interaction with creation, is sublime and of necessity often only understandable allegorically.  I use the term , without defining it, “poetic truth”.

A key part of the process of “discernment” for me is working through tensions in my world view.  A process I recently captured in a phrase that jumped into my head (I think I have coined it):

Now, I have been subject to decades of Christian teaching from different traditions, from people who I think honestly with St. Paul would say “what I received I passed on to you” [1 Cor 15:3].  I imagine this being very much how Clement and  Ignatius thought of their roles as Bishops in their respective churches.  However, certainly since my early teen years, and probably before, this has been received by me with a questioning mind.  How does this bit fit with that other bit of Biblical or Church teaching?  How does this fit with my scientific or historical understanding of the world?  What about these insights from other religions of philosophies?

My wife would tease me that I think too much and more seriously ask about my relationship with God as opposed to my thinking about Him.  There is some wisdom in that.  However, for me a key factor in that relationship is this continual thinking though my understanding.  Sometimes this thinking is stormy, and the cognitive dissonance remains for a long time.  However, I usually find a place of rest with the thoughts that reminds me of an Old Testament account of the one of the prophet Elijah’s encounters with God:

And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
[1Kings 19: 11-12, RSV]