Happy New Church Year

Happy New Church Year to all. Today (29th November 2009) is Advent Sunday - the first day in the Church's year - and the first day in the Advent Season when we prepare for Christmas. Advent comes from a Latin word adventus, which means 'coming' or 'arrival'.

During Advent we think of two particular times of waiting for an arrival. We remember the people of God waiting for their Messiah (annointed one) to appear. As Christians, we believe that this waiting was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ into our world - the appearance of God into our human day-to-day messiness. The two jargon words that Christians use for this appearance of God in the form of Jesus are 'manifestation' and 'incarnation'.

Many Christians follow a prayer scheme during Advent. The one I shall use this year is shown here. However, if you're a bit slow off the mark, or missed the bookshop there are some excellent on-line resources to help.

You might like to try looking at Ignatian Spirituality's Advent resources
. In particular, I liked the look of the weekly on-line retreat at Making the Parts Whole.

The other waiting for an arrival that we remember in Advent is the Second Coming or Parousia, as it is technically named! The Bible teaches that one day Christ will come again in glory - we have no idea when - but Christians throughout the ages have yearned for this coming.

But I always feel a little anxious that, at this time, we do not forget Christ's other way of being manifest in the world - and that is through us. We are all made in the image of God and therefore bear many marks of God's identity. We can squash these down or build them up in our lives - we have choices.

Take a few minutes to dwell on the words of Paul of Tarsus - if we take these seriously, they are truly life-changing.

1 Corinthians 3.16:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

Colossians 1.27

To them God chose to make known how great... are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Christ in me, Christ in you - wow! We can be temples where God dwells within and like John the Baptist we can say, 'He must become more and I must become less'.

Enjoy Advent. (personally, I love all the lights!)

There is still time to slip out to your local bookshop and buy a book to guide you through Advent. The one I am using this year is:

But you could browse around and see what appeals to you.

As a starter - just before Advent - why not take a moment to wonder at the miracle of incarnation. Our God became an embryo inside Mary, which grew, was born as a baby boy in pain and struggle, was brought up in relative poverty and lived here amongst us human beings.

Is that amazing, or is that amazing?!

You might like to spend some time meditating on the following words taken from the New Living Translation of John Chapter 1.

In the beginning the Word already existed.
He was with God, and he was God.
He was in the beginning with God.

The Word became human and lived here on earth among us.
He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.

When you have taken this passage in, then take a little while to give thanks for the ongoing miracle of incarnation - Christ in you.

For we are living temples of God.

Praise him!

The Story of the Bible

Have you ever felt that you didn't really 'get' the Bible. What is it all about? What is the overall story? How does it all hang together?

If you have a spare hour and would like to listen to a well-presented overview then try this link:

The whole Bible in one hour

And in the meantime, here is a passage from Proverbs Chapter 8 that is mentioned in this talk. It is a beautiful passage about Wisdom - and it talks in terms of Wisdom being personified as a woman. Take your time with this passage. Read and re-read it and then let it swirl through your being.

Wisdom’s Part in Creation

The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth—
when he had not yet made earth and fields,
or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.

Isn't that last line beautiful?
Delighting in the human race.

God delights in us. God delights in you. God delights in me.

Yes - delights.

The History of Christianity

The BBC's series of programmes on the history of Christianity is being repeated on BBC4 and can you can still start at the beginning using BBC iPlayer.

Here is Episode 1 of The History of Christianity

This is a prayer taken from the writings of Hildegard of Bingen. It shows her holistic view of the world and our place in it. There is no 'dualism' here that separates body from spirit - we are a whole - our body worships God as well as our mind and our spirit.

A definite antidote to St Augustine!

A Prayer of Awareness

God is the foundation for everything
This God undertakes, God gives.
Such that nothing that is necessary for life is lacking.
Now humankind needs a body that at all times honors and praises God.
This body is supported in every way through the earth.
Thus the earth glorifies the power of God.

Hildegard of Bingen

From: Interfaith Declarations and Worship Observance Resources; The North American Conference on Religion and Ecology.
This prayer was used for Earth Day, 1990

Hildegard of Bingen was an amazing woman! In a male-dominated medieval world, she made her voice heard and stood resolutely for those things she believed in - yet still managed to keep the support of those in authority who she needed on her side. Overcoming many odds, resisting any temptation to self-pity or bitterness, she worked determinedly to grow, develop and lead a fulfilling life within her very restrictive setting.

Hildegard was born in 1098 and grew up the tenth child of a wealthy family. Sometimes, the wealthy families of that time would ‘tithe’ their tenth child to the church, and that is exactly what happened to Hildegard! There is some uncertainty about the age at which she was, in her own words, ‘offered for a spiritual way of life’. What can be stated is that, either at age eight or fourteen, she was given over to a life of monastic seclusion with the wealthy and clever Jutta, her senior by only six years, within the walls of the Benedictine monastery at Disibodenberg in what is now Germany.

The two remained in seclusion but were joined through the years by other daughters of wealthy nobility, until 1136, when the strongly ascetic Jutta died in Hildegard’s 39th year. Hildegard was immediately chosen by the sisters to be the head of their community – a fact which seems to imply that she had already shown leadership and organisational skills whilst Jutta was alive.

It is from this time that Hildegard's life began to blossom as she developed her writing and musical composition skills. Later, she became a noted and public figure - giving the medieval equivalent of speaking tours - and writing letters, sometimes quite critically, to leading political and religious figures alike. Around 1147, she moved her community to their own site at Rupertsberg, near Bingen.

Hildegard never appears to have held the same extreme ascetic views as Jutta. Her interest in human physiology (including sexuality), which are shown in her medical writings, appear to stem from a balanced and harmonious view of the world, human life and the body. In fact her view of humankind as part of a whole, integrated cosmology echoes much in 21st century thought.

”For man has the heavens and earth and other created things within him. He is one, and all things are hidden within him”

Hildegard in 'Causae and Curae'

Hildegard had a series of vibrant visions - documented mainly in her book 'Scivias'. She clearly viewed herself as having a prophetic ministry – shown in her use of phrases such as ‘I heard a voice from Heaven, saying to me…’. This ministry was accepted by those in authority in the church. In 1147 Pope Eugene III sanctioned her work on 'Scivias' after reading some of the completed parts, and her known letters show her growing confidence in challenging some of the leading figures in both secular and religious life at that time.

Hildegard’s ‘rediscovery’ in recent times has allowed us to learn how this remarkable woman lived a full and unusual life even in medieval days. Removed from her family at a young age, placed in a restrictive and narrow environment, given the close example of an obsessional woman, Hildegard still managed, despite all this, to become what we would consider a ‘self-actualised’ and fulfilled person.

She managed to come to terms sufficiently with her environment to grow and develop effectively, and yet resisted it in those areas where such resistance would prove effective. In doing so, she must have been a powerful role model for the sisters who shared her community life and can be an equally powerful role model for 21st century women.

Well done, Hildegard!

Here is a lovely old Celtic blessing which I found on this site. It is both very simple and very profound.

I think the first line is particularly deep - there is something of God in all things calm and serene. We can reach out and 'touch' that calm when we come across it - and we can reach and touch God in the peace and quietness of silence.

If you are one of those people who are frightened or wary of silence, take this simple prayer with you into just five minutes of silence. Read it silently and dwell on the part that speaks to you most. And I pray that you will be enfolded in the presence of God and the serenity of God's spirit.

Old Irish Blessing

You are the peace of all things calm
You are the place to hide from harm
You are the light that shines in dark
You are the heart's eternal spark
You are the door that's open wide
You are the guest who waits inside
You are the stranger at the door
You are the calling of the poor
You are my Lord and with me still
You are my love, keep me from ill
You are the light, the truth, the way
You are my Saviour this very day.