Archive for the ‘Mary mother of Jesus’ Tag

Thursday 22 December 2011 – “Turning the world upside down”   Leave a comment

The Bible passages set for today were 1 Samuel 1: 24-28; Luke 1: 46-56.

We are back with pregnancy and the huge potentiality of every new birth. Any child may be used to “turn the world upside down.” Today in Samuel we read of Hannah’s dedication of the young Samuel, who she had prayed for so long, to the Lord and bringing him to Eli to be brought up in the house of the Lord. Then in Luke we have the Magnificat, Mary’s beautiful song of praise uttered while she was pregnant with Jesus and when staying with her older cousin Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist. That is 3 babies that went on to change their worlds and in different ways many later and geographically spread parts of the world.

I have always loved the story of Samuel since I was a child. I wanted to be able to hear that voice of God and respond ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’ [1 Samuel 3: 10]. In my 20s I had the opportunity to learn yachting and longed to have a small yacht of my own. It was a period when I still made such prayer requests to God and I prayed for one, resolving to call it Samuel if I ever got one. Samuel went on to be a wise Judge of the people of Israel. There is a story in I Samuel 6 that provoked an insight that is important to me on my faith journey – but I’ll save the telling of that for another blog post. 

It was Samuel who anoints the first kings of Israel (Saul and David). The beginning of this story in 1 Samuel 8 for me is one of those points in history that to my view things would have gone better for God’s work on earth if different decisions were taken. Samuel counsels against having a king but in the end he (and apparently God) relents because of the people’s demands. From what I can tell at this historical distance and the biblical accounts the wise Judges and the tribal elders seems a lot more wholesome form of Government than an autocratic king. I also think that the subsequent images of God based on kingship give a distorted image of Him/Her that was particularly negative in influence through the medieval period of church history. 

There are two instances of Church history in particular that I wish had gone a different way. Firstly, when Constantine adopted Christianity as a state religion of the Roman empire (c. 313). This embroiled the church  in political power games that were to show many unChristlike attributes down the subsequent centuries. Christianity became Christendom. More nationalistically I am saddened that at the Synod of Whitby in 664 the indigenous Celtic church put itself under Roman authority. We would have had a very different national spirituality if that had not been the case. However here we are back at the point of Monday’s reflection. God takes risks with the unfolding of history by entrusting much of it to the decisions of His/Her conscious  creation.

How are we influencing the world in which we live?


Wednesday 21 December 2011 – “The season of glad songs has come”   Leave a comment

I have had a day of pre-Christmas blues and then come to a reflection entitled: “The season of glad songs has come”. The Old Testament reading is from one of my favourite books of the Bible: Song of Solomon 2: 8-14. The Gospel reading is Luke: 1: 39-45.

When a friend says something like the Bible is not relevant to modern-day life I like to point to the Song of Solomon.  It’s imagery is of an agrarian culture in the Middle East approximately 3,000 years ago. However to almost anyone who has known the joy of a deep and passionate love, the emotions that imagery conveys are very recognisable.  Many preachers and commentators have interpreted the Song of Solomon as an allegory for God’s relationship with his people. Indeed the notes for today’s reflection do this too. However I value the book particularly for reminding me that in more ways that we usually give credit the people of the biblical times are people just like us. To me that reinforces the validity of learning  from their spiritual journeys recorded in the Bible.

The story in Luke is where Mary visits Elizabeth and somehow (her baby jumps but quite how she makes the leap from that I don’t understand) Elizabeth recognises that Mary is expecting “her Lord”. She goes on to exclaim to Mary as will be familiar to catholics everywhere:

Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
[Luke 1: 42 KJV]

So we move in today’s readings from a passionate love poem to the story of a meeting of two pregnant women. What could be more earthy, universal and central to the experience of being human. And it is in this that God meets us.

Tuesday 20 January 2011 – “Pregnancy and promise”   Leave a comment

The Bible passages for today were Isaiah 7: 10-14 and Luke 1:26-38.

The passage from Isaiah foretells the virgin birth and in Luke the angel breaks that news to Mary. However I might struggle with what may be historical truth and what symbolic myth in the Christmas story there is one bit in today’s readings that is particularly meaningful to me:

… and will call him Immanuel
[Isaiah 7: 14 NIV]

Immanuel meaning in Hebrew “God with us”.

Whatever theological wrangling has gone on throughout Church history, or inside my own head, as to the exact nature of Jesus what he represents to me is “God with us”. It is one thing to believe in the existence of God, say as creator, but it is in fact quite a big further leap to then see Him/Her as “with us”. However through the eyes of faith I have “known” that all my life.

The stories of today’s readings and indeed the whole theme of Advent is expectancy. Given my faith in “God with us”, what is my own expectancy? What does that faith really mean in my life?

Thursday 8 December 2011 – “Title deleted”   Leave a comment

There are a lot of challenging even contentious issues raised by the notes and the Bible passages set for today.  I was planning a short reflection before heading into the office but … (I ended up going in an hour late and finishing off these notes in the evening).

The contention for me begun with the title.  My convention on these blog posts of my reflections has been to title them with the date followed by the title chosen by the author of the notes. I could not do that today for fear of wrongly presenting my faith to the world (well anyone who happened on this blog).  Hence the rather bizarre title of: “Title deleted”.

Today, in the Roman Catholic calendar is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (when Mary was said to be conceived free from original sin). Hence the authors of the notes for today had titled them “The immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary”.  Quite simply I do not believe in this dogma. Belief in Mary’s immaculate conception is not a doctrine within Anglicanism, although it is shared by many Anglo-Catholics. The tradition I was brought up in would have spoken of it as being “non-Biblical” and some would have spoken out quite vehemently against it.  Indeed it seems to be a doctrine not to have emerged in any part of the Church before the C11th or C12th [Frederick Holweck, “Immaculate Conception” in The Catholic Encyclopedia 1910].

While respecting that I have much to learn from Church history and the development of its formal doctrines I think this is a point where the church has got its “proverbial knickers in a twist”. The doctrinal “logic” goes something like this:

  • All men/women are born in a sinful state (the doctrine of original sin)
  • Jesus as God’s son came to save us from the consequences of that state and was Himself “free from original sin”
  • For Jesus to be free from original sin then his mother Mary must too have been “free from original sin”

This falls down for me on several points but there is a simple logical one.  Why then did not Mary’s mother (parents) not have to be born free from original sin and so on back to the first man and woman? Hence there would be no original sin.  My view is this is an example, and there are numerous,  where humanity in the limitations of its insight and intellect tried to tie up a divine mystery with a formulation of words.  The consequence is that you end up with a signpost (the doctrine) that is a poor, even misdirected, pointer to the sublime truth. [See my blog post: “Hello again Anthony de Mello“]

The Bible Passages Set for Today were Genesis 3: 9-15; Ephesians 1: 3-6, 11-12; and Luke 1: 26-38.

The Genesis passage is part of the story that gives rise to, or supports, the doctrine of original sin when Adam and Eve are found out for having eaten the forbidden fruit.  I have long liked a quote about this story (myth), I think by a former Bishop of Winchester: “whether or not there was a fall, man is certainly fallen”.

The passage in Luke tells of the angels announcement to Mary that she will bear Jesus.  If we read on a little, Mary goes and tells her cousin Elizabeth.  Then we get Elisabeth’s words that form part of the “Hail Mary” formulation:

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
[After Luke 1:42]

In response to Elizabeth’s exclamation Mary utters the beautiful hymn of praise usually referred to as the Magnificat.  The includes the words: “From now on all generations will call me blessed“.  As much as I might reject a lot of the Catholic doctrine around Mary I have a deep reverence for her.  I gladly say the “Hail Marys” when the Angelus bell rings when I am on monastic retreat. The Reformation, like most revolutions, probably over-corrected in matters concerning Mary and this has possible led to a neglect of Mary in most protestant churches.

The passage in Ephesians covers God’s ordination: “He destined us in Love …” [Ephesians 1:5]. This brought to mind when I read it the post-Reformation debates between pre-ordination and free-will (Calvinism vs Arminianism) that I wrestled through as a teenager. However I am going to conclude this reflection with Mary’s response to her sense of God’s destiny for her, the Magnificat:

My soul doth magnify the Lord,

And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.

And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.

He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.

He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.

He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;

As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.
[Luke 1: 46-55 KJV]