Friday, 29 May 2009

Meeting God in Crash-diving

There’s a fascinating and amusing competition in which people attempt to achieve un-powered flight. No engine is allowed. Nor can the pilot be raised from the ground by a balloon or towed aloft, like a glider. All he can use is his own energy and ingenuity to get him off the ground and keep him in the air.

And so on TV we see weird and wonderful bird-men, with wings strapped to their backs, as they charge along a cliff top or jetty and leap over the edge –only to plunge ignominiously into the sea.

Let’s face it. We are not designed to fly. We don’t have wings, and those we may strap on our backs and flap can’t really enable us to fly like a bird. We are too heavy to fly without a powerful engine or a balloon to lift us from the ground and keep us in the air. We have to accept that in ourselves we are earth-bound.

These reflections reminded me that God is way beyond the reach of our creaturely limitations. By ourselves we can’t begin to draw close to him. Not that he’s high up in the sky and we don’t have the wings to fly up and reach him. The God of glory transcends our human, creaturely nature, so there’s an infinite gulf between his mode of existence and ours, between the creator and the creature.

And yet the wonderful thing is that God has empowered us to rise above our human limitations to share his own life and happiness. Theologians call this, ‘gratia elevans,’ –elevating grace. This gives us an inner dynamism, a divine vitality, energising us to soar upwards to God himself.

This is both exciting and humbling. Exciting, because it means that we can soar like a bird to be at home with God. Humbling, because we realise that we need God to raise us above our human limitations to share his divine life. With his assistance we cease to be mere earth bound-creatures and become his children, sharing his divine life.

Seeing on TV the futile attempts at un-powered human flight has taught me to accept my human limitations. But God has given me wings, which enable me to soar upwards on the thermals of his love. For that I am eternally grateful.

These musing came to me as I reflected on the feast of Pentecost. I realised that it’s the Holy Spirit who lifts us up on the thermals of divine love. Through the Holy Spirit we enter into the intimate life of the Blessed Trinity as we become God’s children and share his life. And it is the Holy Spirit who gives us the courage and eloquence to share the Good News we have received.

The birdmen’s futile attempts to fly made me realise that before we can reach God we must first recognise that we are earthbound. Only when we’ve accepted our limitations and have stopped trying to go it alone will the Holy Spirit be able raise us beyond our wildest dreams.

Isidore O.P.

Next week Peter will meet God in bargain hunting.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Meeting God at an Airport

It’s wonderful when Peter flies in from the W. Indies for a few weeks’ leave, after an absence of about three years. Similarly, when I visit him, it’s exciting to fly out of Gatwick and make the long journey to Grenada, and to find him waiting for me at Point Salines Airport. We have so much to talk about, and we seem to spark off a mischievous sense of humour in each other. Though we are very close, no quarter is given or expected when we play chess. I’m sure many of you will have had the same joy when family or friends have visited you, or you them.

But the time comes when we must return to our respective places of work. Then airports can become painful places. Our emotions are so mixed. Part of us wants to prolong the time before we are separated, while part of us wants to get it over. After all, we’ve said all that can be said. So why prolong the agony? And we both want to return to our respective homes and work. That’s where we find fulfillment. That’s what we want for each other and for ourselves.

These reflections occurred to me during Paschal-tide. First of all, there’s the disciples’ unbelievable joy when the risen Lord appeared to them after his death. Not surprisingly, Magdalene wanted to cling onto him. This seemed a little bit like how we would react towards a loved one returning after a long absence.

But then the time came for Jesus to ascend in glory to his heavenly Father. Although he would disappear from the disciples’ sight, there’s no sign of their being sad or depressed. That struck me as surprising. But they knew that in the ascension Jesus, the man, would be glorified. That was his reward for the fulfillment of his mission on earth. And this was not only a personal triumph for Jesus; where he has gone, we have been called to follow. He tells us he has gone ahead to prepare a place for us. That is what the disciples wanted for Jesus and for us. And that is why they rejoiced at his ascension. This is something like Peter and I being glad that each of us finds fulfillment in our work, even though that means our being physically separated by thousands of miles.

We’ve also found that distance hasn’t made us grow apart. Love and friendship can span the miles. True, the way we relate to each other has to be different. That’s what Jesus wanted to impress upon Magdalene, when he released himself from her embrace. This was not morally wrong, but she must learn to express her love for him in a new way after his resurrection. He was preparing her and us for the time when we would not be physically present to each other, and would be unable to see and hear each other.

But I’m sure that, like Peter and me, you have found that we can be much closer to each other, than some, who are physically near to each other, but, with bitterness and resentment, have become very distant.. For them being together can be a source of tension.

Obviously, if we are to remain close, it’s important that we should keep in touch through phone calls, letters and if possible e-mails. Otherwise we could drift apart.

These ways in which we keep close to those who are far away reminded me of what Jesus had said before his departure. He assured his disciples that he would still be with them, but in a new way. He would be in their love, and they in his. That is much more intimate than simply being physically together. In fact Jesus disowned those who simply claimed a nodding acquaintance with him, without any commitment to him.

Like any friendship, we must work at it to keep it alive. We must make a point of keeping in touch –with Jesus through prayer.

The comings and goings at an airport and how they effect our love for each other have helped me to have a better understanding of how we can be close to the risen Lord, now that he’s no longer physically present here on earth.

Isidore O.P.

Next week Isidore will reflect on 'Crash Diving.’

Friday, 15 May 2009

Through a Stunning Invention

I want to tell you about a wretched relationship between me and a certain object. Almost every day of the year and every year of my life it is the focus of my deep resentment. Long ago it made it very clear to me who was in control, and in a stunning way.

In the early hours of silence and darkness, long before any bird had thought to chirp or dog to bark, into this blessed calm broke forth a piercing, shrill racket that filled my room. In my drowsy confusion I was unable to locate where the din was coming from. Frantic, desperate, I lurched forward in an attempt to suppress my tormenter. I had turned the wrong way. Instead of scrambling out of bed I had crashed my head against the wall. No wonder I describe my alarm clock as a stunning invention! Even an alarming one! And now, every single day some member of this troublesome breed jerks me into consciousness – mercifully, rarely in the stunning way I have just described.

The awful thing is I can’t do without it. I can’t afford to get rid of it. This is one of the necessary evils in my life. I resent every time it asserts its necessary existence at my expense. I despise the fact that it was designed to disrupt the peace of that most blessed gift from God – the sleep I need. And I paid good money to provide it with the opportunity to do so

I haven’t yet finished grumbling about alarm clocks. Time was when they expended all their energy and exhausted their malicious intent in one single assault. Now, because of modern technology, the wretched things make their clamorous row for a short while, and then allow me to relax and recover from the trauma of being forced into consciousness. Just when my guard is down, it resumes its onslaught with yet another bout of jangling sound. And so the cycle continues – start-stop-start stop… These are the tactics of the torture chamber – pain-respite-pain-respite. They throw me off balance for the rest of the day.

As you’ve probably guessed, I’m grousing about the snooze devise that has converted a single-strike weapon into a successive strike one! Is this progress? All I can say is that this ghastly invention has the saving grace of providing for one of the most urgent necessities in my life.

It is only my noisy alarm clock, with its repeated attempts to catch my attention that will get me to rise at unfashionable hours for something that is important, even precious, in my life. I mean the Prayer of the Church that we recite together every morning – it seems like night- in the Cathedral, Barbados. Let no-one speak to me about over-sleeping or about feeling too tired to go to church. I know all about this. The only recourse is to a certain stunning, alarming, invention.

Drastic tactics? Necessary tactics? I Reach God ….My Way…Through My Alarm Clock.

Next week Isidore will reflect on Meeting God at an Airport.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Aged to Perfection

I was officiating at a funeral. There, at the graveside, was an elderly man wearing a T-shirt on which was inscribed ‘Aged to Perfection.’ How I longed to turn him round to see if anything was displayed on the back of his shirt! Propriety made this impossible.

So I speculated. Wines, spirits and cheeses mature with time. They age to perfection. Could this be said of us human beings - indeed, of myself? Surely, this ought to be the case. But I wonder. I am no longer a spring chicken. Some would describe me as an old bird. I can detect a ‘peaking’ some time back and then a gradual decline. Up to a point, fruit ages to perfection, to perfect ripeness. Beyond this it gradually goes into decay.

Physically, it’s the same thing with us. After a certain stage we don’t run faster, jump higher, get stronger. We are grateful if we are still mobile and fairly self-sufficient. We regret having less energy. All the same, there is an ageing, which is a progress towards a kind of perfection. Experience has enriched us. We have gradually come to terms with our limitations, our failures, even our sinfulness. And to be more positive, we have had the satisfaction of recognizing that we have had our uses and that even now we are not totally useless! We mature as we find we are able both to celebrate joyful events and to cope with sorrowful ones. This is how it should be, with the vagaries of life seasoning us, not hardening us; mellowing us, not embittering us. I wish it always happened like this. I know, you know, there have been times when it has been far, far from this. And there will be such times in the future.

We have ‘Aged to Perfection’ if in the last chapters of our lives we remain intent on sharing with God our very selves and all that life offers us; if we still find ourselves continuously eager to accept and do His will. Time alone affords the joy and consolation of knowing what it means to live in lasting friendship with God – the serenity of knowing that He has always been there with us. We haven’t become tired of our relationship with God, nor bored with this. What there is between ourselves and God has acquired a comfortable familiarity about it. Dare I suggest we have aged into God?

By the way, the slogan on the old man’s shirt referred to a popular brand of Caribbean rum. On the back of his shirt was a picture of a bottle of this golden liquid. Inscribed on the label was, ‘Aged to Perfection.’ How I delight to compare my spiritual maturing to that of this sublime spirit! Surely an impish spirit caused me to find mywaygodsway to all these rambling thoughts at the graveside, of all places! Could the Holy Spirit be described as being impish?

Peter Clarke O.P.

Next week Peter will meet God in a ‘Striking Invention’

Friday, 1 May 2009

These Foolish Things....

There was a crazy incident when I visited Grenada in the W. Indies. Imagine me at 5.00 in the morning. I'm dripping wet and wearing only a towel after a cold shower to wake me up for morning prayers and Mass. To my delight and surprise I saw an enormous crapaud -a toad the size of my fist -hopping down the corridor. As I pursued it with my camera my twin brother, Peter, a fellow Dominican, sang, 'These foolish things remind me of you.' I bet that's not how you imagine us priests!

Such foolish things also reminded me of an important truth. The great Dominican saint and scholar, Thomas Aquinas, wrote that having a sense of humour is a mark of being human. No brute beast can laugh at itself or at life. It has no sense of the ridiculous. And however close a computer may resemble human intelligence it can't crack a joke or laugh at one. True, it can make me feel ridiculous when I can't work a simple programme any child can manage. But that's frustrating, not funny.

At best a computer can produce amusing coincidences, resulting from the way a human being has programmed it. This is most likely to occur in the spell check. I used to have an Amstrad PCW. When this didn't recognise the name 'Bathsheba' it suggested 'bathrobe' -the very garment the lady wasn't wearing when king David ogled her while she took a bath! Perhaps my PCW was dropping her. a hint. Incidentally, the alternative for my name is, 'Isotope Clack.'

Since Jesus was fully human, he must have had a sense of humour. There's an example of this in his conversation with the Syro Phoenician woman. He seemed to delight in her witty argument that if dogs were allowed to eat the crumbs children dropped from the table, she, a pagan 'dog,' had the right to ask Jesus, a Jew, to cure her daughter.

The parable about a great banquet gives us another example of Christ's humour. One of the guests was so full of his own importance that he grabbed the most prestigious place at table. But to his embarrassment and everyone else's amusement his host asked him to move down and make room for someone more important. An exaggerated idea of our own importance only makes us appear ridiculous. Certainly God is not impressed by our posturing. I bet Jesus told this story with a twinkle in his eye, and caused his listeners great amusement, as they knew who he was getting at. But then it could be you or me! Then I hope we would be able to laugh at ourselves.

And what about my encounter with the crapaud? Well, this reminded me that while I must take Christ seriously I shouldn't be too solemn about myself. We discover what it means to be a Christian, not only in prayer, but also in play. And we all know that a sense of humour can relieve many a tense situation -if we are not too pompous to admit that we are being ridiculous and can laugh at ourselves. Any way I have a good precedent in king David, dancing in his loincloth before the ark of the Lord. His very prim wife was shocked. God was not pleased with her!

Thank God for my crazy encounter with the crapaud. Hopefully this will help to keep me sane! And if this foolish incident reminded Peter of me, it should also remind me to seek Christ both in the serious and amusing incidents in life. Incidentally, I have drawn this cartoon of a ridiculous elderly priest -me -meeting a crapaud early in the morning in the W. Indies. I'm not sure which of us is more bewildered! Me or the crapaud?

Isidore Clarke O.P.

Next week Peter will reflect on “Aged to Perfection”