Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.James 1:22-25
Veritas liberabit vos
All houses of God across this country have been closed for nearly two months. The doors of the beautiful, ancient churches and cathedrals of England are locked and bolted, closed to quiet contemplation and individual prayer as well as to organised forms of worship. As a novice bell ringer, a lover of gothic cathedrals and an enthusiast for bucolic church-hopping wanders, this irks me considerably. Although Christian culture in the UK is conspicuously on its last legs, there is something especially symbolic about this latest silencing of our spiritual heritage.
Under normal circumstances, I would not post petitions here, but ‘normal’ has now retreated so far from these shores that I can barely see it anymore. The wording of an appeal against the covid restrictions started by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò struck a chord. Here is a short excerpt:
“We have reason to believe, on the basis of official data on the incidence of the epidemic as related to the number of deaths, that there are powers interested in creating panic among the world’s population with the sole aim of permanently imposing unacceptable forms of restriction on freedoms, of controlling people and of tracking their movements. The imposition of these illiberal measures is a disturbing prelude to the realization of a world government beyond all control…
We are all called to assess the current situation in a way consistent with the teaching of the Gospel. This means taking a stand: either with Christ or against Christ. Let us not be intimidated or frightened by those who would have us believe that we are a minority: Good is much more widespread and powerful than the world would have us believe. We are fighting against an invisible enemy that seeks to divide citizens, to separate children from their parents, grandchildren from their grandparents, the faithful from their pastors, students from teachers, and customers from vendors. Let us not allow centuries of Christian civilization to be erased under the pretext of a virus, and an odious technological tyranny to be established, in which nameless and faceless people can decide the fate of the world by confining us to a virtual reality. If this is the plan to which the powers of this earth intend to make us yield, know that Jesus Christ, King and Lord of History, has promised that “the gates of Hell shall not prevail” (Mt 16:18).
Let us entrust government leaders and all those who rule over the fate of nations to Almighty God, that He may enlighten and guide them in this time of great crisis. May they remember that, just as the Lord will judge us Pastors for the flock which he has entrusted to us, so will He also judge government leaders for the peoples whom they have the duty to defend and govern.
With faith, let us beseech the Lord to protect the Church and the world. May the Blessed Virgin, Help of Christians, crush the head of the ancient Serpent and defeat the plans of the children of darkness.“
Please read the full text here, and sign should you feel so inclined.
The nearness of God
How do I experience God?
How do I experience His nearness?
The words presence and absence radiate strongly from my enquiries into these questions. In reaching for answers, I find myself embroiled in both of these qualities simultaneously. Approaching the divine enigma using the mechanism of language is an enterprise that continues to fascinate me, even in its inadequacies. The experience of God’s nearness comes wrapped in wonderful, tangled paradoxes. I’d like to share some of my rough cut paradoxes here.
- I feel God’s nearness as a certainty within an absence. The quality of certainty turns the absence inside out – it negates it.
- I experience God as a presence encompassed in an emptiness. ‘Emptiness’ is my brain’s best attempt at quantifying a temporal, bound perspective on the boundless and eternal.
- The abyss into which I surrender is the presence of God.
- The absence I feel is God.
How do I experience God in times of desolation?
In other words, how is God known and felt in challenging situations, when the drudgery of the mundane seems to blacken even the tiniest glimmer of the providential? The spiritually evolving individual understands that God’s perceived distance serves to test them. In stepping back, God is simply doing what all loving fathers do for their children: giving space for independent growth and learning. By not intervening, He offers us the free will choice to hone our skills, expand our capacity for love and deepen our wisdom – or not.
"For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another." Galatians 5:13
Above all, God wants to see if we continue to choose goodness and righteousness even when we feel that He is far away and we are standing alone on the most painful edge of solitary human experience. God gives us the gift of free will in honour of our potential, and the activation of this gift can only come through a journey of (perceived) separation.
It has turbo-charged my faith to understand that when God’s paternal presence is intangible, it is not an indicator of some great inadequacy on my part, but instead the sign of a loving manoeuvre made to aid my growth. When life is tough and I feel set adrift, I match these trials with a greater determination to cultivate humility and demonstrate my trustworthiness to our maker. Within this energy of perseverance and devotion, my faith flourishes.
"And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple." Luke 14:27
On the other hand, when the external setting surrounds me with joy and happiness, the efforts I make towards bettering my faith are naturally more light-hearted. In contentment and bliss, faith blossoms with minimal grit and enterprise on my part. Whatever the outer circumstances bring, I keep doing the work of seeking Truth. Divine bribery is not required.
My perception of God as present or absent is not what matters. What matters is the grounding of faith within my heart. This is where God lives in my individual experience. He is always that close, and it is only ever my individual-self-in-pain-goggles that hinder my seeing of this.
The constantly broadening certainty of my faith serves to assist in cleaning the lenses of these self-goggles on a daily basis. Faith in the heart as the seat of my relationship with God has also given me a greater sense of stability – it brings the possibility of being content in my own actuality as it shifts from one moment to the next. Nonetheless, I continue to remind myself that all expectations are hurdles, and that one of the more noble of these hurdles comes in striving to ‘achieve’ the feeling that God is close to me at all times.
The immensity of despair
In the excruciating monochrome of daily chores, the savage and the predatory feed. Ignorance and deception move hand in hand, enfolding their barren forms into human thought and action. Across the land, familiar pairings of victim and oppressor engage in their carnal battles of distraction. The avoidance of generations unravels at the seams. Fast, fleshy temptations slice through the hollow loop of the modern and the mundane - this mortal vessel is vulnerable to the call of oblivion. Parasitic, painful and strange: here is the splendour and obscenity of our descent into the material. We dwell in boundless landscapes of futility, stifled by the immensity of despair. In subservience, such fathomless sadness. In vanity, such beautiful diversion. The weight of the unfelt rests heavy on sensing shoulders - it is hard to be in this realm. Set apart in the intimacy of suffering, we remain at liberty to learn. 4th July, England.