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Journeying with John – Paula Gooder et al

jwjAt last, a book to put in the hands of laypeople who want to prepare for the upcoming Sunday’s readings, if not every week then at the start of each season of the Church’s year.

Each chapter has four parts: a section ‘exploring the text’, which gives some information on Luke’s narrative and connects it with the season; ‘imagining the text’ which is a poem or piece of imaginative writing from the perspective of a character in the gospel, or a modern-day re-working of the story

Quotation:

we learn that even in human nature God can be his essential self. This is good news because it has two implications for us as human beings. Whatever our technological cleverness, harsh experience might tempt us to despair of our moral and spiritual possibilities. But the reality of God as being one of us shows us that we can be true to our spiritual and moral character. This is true of all people as human beings. The gospel tells us that God has healing for all the diseases and distortions of our imprisoned selves. It teaches us that we should look for goodness and wisdom in all human beings, whoever and wher­ever they might be.

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Amazing Love: Theology for Understanding Discipleship, Sexuality and Mission Edited by Andrew Davison

alIt covers lots of new ground. It was sent, free, to members of the General Synod. I hope they read it.

It’s annoying that, despite giving a list of contributors, we don’t know who wrote what.

It isn’t true that ‘Leviticus 18:22… and …. Levitcus 20:13a … There is no question that these texts are referring to sexual acts between two men.’ Renato Lings’ work is cited in the bibliography but has the author read it?

Quotation:

An important way to describe what it means for the Bible to be true in this dynamic way, and a way to see why that is so, comes from John Calvin (1509-64). Good communication, he appreciated, speaks to its audience in a way that the audience can understand. It `communicates’ to them. In God’s revelation to us, God speaks in a way that we can assimilate. Calvin called this God’s ‘accommodation’ to our state:who is so devoid of intellect as not to understand that God… lisps with us as nurses are wont to do with little children? Such modes of expression… accommodate the knowledge of him to our feebleness. In doing so, he must, of course, stoop far below his proper height.

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Journeying with Luke by James Woodward, Paula Gooder & Mark Pryce

jwlAt last, a book to put in the hands of laypeople who want to prepare for the upcoming Sunday’s readings, if not every week then at the start of each season of the Church’s year.

Each chapter has four parts: a section ‘exploring the text’, which gives some information on Luke’s narrative and connects it with the season; ‘imagining the text’ which is a poem or piece of imaginative writing from the perspective of a character in the gospel, or a modern-day re-working of the story (how about ‘out-of-character’ story of ‘shepherds’ in their Portakabin office! Or see Satan’s monologue after the bruising encounter with Jesus in the wilderness?); ‘reflecting on the text’, which makes more connections with our life today; and finally some suggestions for ‘action, conversation, questions, prayer’ prompt personal connections between faith and experience.

Gooder seems surprised that the Pharisees warned Jesus that King Herod was seeking to kill him. She shouldn’t because Jesus was either a Pharisee or very sympathetic to their  movement.

Pryce is wrong to suggest that the reason why priest and levite hurried past the wounded man was because they had to abide by purity laws on their way to the temple. The parable of the Good Samaritan states that they were journeying from, not to, Jerusalem.

One of the best bits is the prodigal son’s story told from his mother’s point of view.

Quotations:

Each of the Gospel writers addresses the themes of Christmas (the birth of Jesus) and Epiphany (the revelation of who he was) differently. Mark omits them entirely. Matthew has Jesus’ birth followed by the adoration of the Magi, and Luke’s Gospel combines the themes into a single strand, so that the angels reveal who Jesus is to the shepherds at his birth. This revelation takes place at the feeding trough where Jesus was laid and reminds us of the unexpectedness of the God we worship. Luke’s Gospel calls us to recognize that no one could have expected that God would come to earth in this way. Nor indeed that he would have lived out his life and ministry quite in the way that he did. This theme of unexpectedness recurs in Luke again and again, not least in Luke 4, which is read on the third Sunday of Epiphany. There, as we shall see, the unexpectedness of Jesus’ message turned a receptive audience into an angry mob.

The attempt to ‘get to know’ any one of the Gospel writers is fraught with difficulty. So little is known about who wrote the Gospels that it is hard to discover much about their authors at all. This is partially due to their success in writing, since, after all, they were not writing a book about themselves but about Jesus. The Gospel writers, therefore, are skilled at merging into the background, fading from our sight as they point us onwards to the one they wish us to encounter – Jesus Christ. The author of Luke’s Gospel is no exception to the rule; beyond a few bald facts it is difficult to learn much about him.

He clearly acknowledges that his is a second-generation account, handed down by eyewitnesses and then crafted by a later writer. Thus we should look out in this Gospel, not for fresh eyewitness account, but thoughtful crafting of a tradition, carried out for a particular reason.

Many scholars believe that Luke was consciously adopting the role of ‘historian, both in this Gospel and even more obviously in Acts. There are interesting parallels between Luke and some of the famous Greek historians. So for example, the prologue to Luke’s Gospel bears very clear similarity to other prologues to historical works. It is particularly interesting to lay Luke’s prologue alongside that of the famous Jewish historian Josephus, who introduced his extensive Antiquities of the Jewish People as follows: Those who undertake to write histories, do not, I perceive, take that trouble on one and the same account, but for many reasons, and those such as are very different one-from another . . . Now of these various reasons for writing history, I must profess the two last were my own reasons also; for since I was myself involved in that war which we Jews had with the Romans, and knew myself its particular actions, and what conclusion it had, I was forced to give the history of it, because I saw that others per­verted the truth of those actions in their writings. (Antiquities 1.1-4)

Luke is well known for many things but perhaps the most important are his stories. Mark’s Gospel contains the fewest parables (only six); Matthew’s Gospel has the next in terms of numbers (17). But Luke’s Gospel not only contains the most parables (19 in all) but the best known. The good Samaritan, the prodigal son and the rich man and Lazarus, to name but a few, are all very well-known parables that appear only in Luke’s Gospel.

One of the themes which the passages we explore during Christmas and Epiphany bring to the fore is the question ‘Who is this Jesus?’ Who is the Jesus that the shepherds are summoned to visit? Who is the Jesus who can converse with his elders in the temple? Who is the Jesus recognized by Simeon and Anna in the temple? And who is this Jesus who one minute woos and the next minute infuriates the people at the synagogue?

We so often treat the Psalms as though they are entirely static, finished products but evidence from the Psalter itself (which contains versions of the Psalms in slightly different forms) and from the Judaism of the Second Temple Period (where we find non-canonical collections such as the Psalms of Solomon) indicate that the Psalms were seen more as dynamic texts. They were not so much like our hymns, which we turn to and sing as they are, but were explored, reflected upon and then adapted to people’s own lives. So that using the phrases, theology and ideas of this treasure trove of worship, new songs could be created out of old ones.

One of the major themes of Lent is, of course, temptation – or, more accurately, resistance to temptation. This theme arises from Jesus’ temptations but also challenges us to reflect upon our need to resist temptation in all its forms. One of the intriguing features of Luke’s Gospel, however, is that temptation is not restricted to Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. In Luke it is a much bigger theme than for the other Gospel writers. In Matthew and Mark, Jesus’ temptations are focused almost entirely on the one narrative of his temptation by the devil in the wilderness, an event which is described only very briefly by Mark but in much more detail by Matthew (Mark 1.12–13; Matthew 4.1–11).

 

In the previous chapter we noted the way in which the theme of temptation weaves its way through the whole of the Gospel of Luke, reaching its climax at Jesus’ crucifixion where he is tempted three times – first by the leaders, then by the soldiers and finally by one of the criminals hanging next to him – to demonstrate that he is able to save people by saving himself. This brings to the fore one of Luke’s storytelling techniques that we have not yet explored: irony. The irony of the exchanges at the crucifixion – which is made even stronger by the fact that they come three times – is that Jesus knows, Luke knows and we also know that it is precisely Jesus’ refusal to save himself that is bringing salvation to the world. By painting the picture as he does here Luke is highlighting the salvific nature of Jesus’ death on the cross and reminding, us, his readers, of why it was so important that Jesus did not give in to the temptations that had beset him throughout his life and ministry.

 

We noted in the last chapter that chapters 7—18 of Luke’s Gospel, from which are drawn the passages read during Ordinary Time, contain the vast majority of Luke’s parables. Luke is well known for many things but perhaps the most important are his stories. Mark’s Gospel contains the fewest parables (only six); Matthew’s Gospel has the next in terms of numbers (17). But Luke’s Gospel not only contains the most parables (19 in all) but the best known. The good Samaritan, the prodigal son and the rich man and Lazarus, to name but a few, are all very well-known parables that appear only in Luke’s Gospel.

Without a doubt the story of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples on the road to Emmaus must be one of the best-loved of the resurrection stories. Like so much else in Luke’s Gospel, its themes remind us of some of Luke’s major emphases throughout the Gospel and onwards into Acts.

 

Ordinary Time, the time that falls between Epiphany and the start of Lent and between Pentecost Sunday and the kingdom season, gains its name not from what we think of as the meaning of ordinary (i.e. everyday) but from the Latin term tempus ordinarium or ‘measured time’. The idea is that Ordinary Time is time that is measured or marked (i.e. first Sunday, second Sunday, etc. . . .). Given this, it seems somewhat appropriate that the major focus of the readings in Ordinary Time is that of Jesus’ life and ministry as he journeys to Jerusalem. Ordinary Time is a good time in which to reflect more deeply about the steps that eventually brought Jesus to the cross, resurrection and Ascension.

Equally important is the fact that Luke’s Gospel ends in the temple with the disciples continually praising God. The open­ing scene of the Gospel took place in the temple, with Zechariah, John’s father and a priest, and so too now does the closing scene. Luke’s Gospel may, as many have argued, be a Gospel to the Gentiles but it is not a Gospel that is either ignorant of or uncaring about its Jewish roots. The narrative of Acts will take the account onwards from the temple in Jerusalem to Rome, the heart of the Roman Empire, but Luke is clear that the origins of the story begin in worship of God in the temple and continue there until the day of Pentecost.

Luke leaves his story as he began it, in the temple, but it is very clear to all who have traced the narrative so far that although the beginning and the ending may be similar (with angels and worship and the temple), the world itself has changed for ever.

Ordinary Time, the time that falls between Epiphany and the start of Lent and between Pentecost Sunday and the kingdom season, gains its name not from what we think of as the meaning of ordinary (i.e. everyday) but from the Latin term tempus ordinarium or ‘measured time’. The idea is that Ordinary Time is time that is measured or marked (i.e. first Sunday, second Sunday, etc. . . .). Given this, it seems somewhat appropriate that the major focus of the readings in Ordinary Time is that of Jesus’ life and ministry as he journeys to Jerusalem. Ordinary Time is a good time in which to reflect more deeply about the steps that eventually brought Jesus to the cross, resurrection and Ascension.

He tells it beautifully of course, the tale about my husband and our two sons. But like any storyteller, he doesn’t say it all. He leaves me out of the picture, for a start! On the whole I preferred it that way, given the headstrong men in our family — outbursts of anger, storming off, even the occasional punch-up. I seem to have spent my married life keeping the peace (an art I learnt from my own mother, come to think of it!). But though I’m in the background in this version of events, you should be under no illusions, I had my part to play; I have my own interpretation too, though that changes with the years. Stories don’t stand still . . . some bits drop off, new bits accrue. Every story has a starting place, but even that’s a matter of selection — call it artistry if you will, choosing some facts and not others, empha­sizing certain aspects and staying silent about others.

Why my son wanted his inheritance and how he had the bare­faced cheek to ask his father for it there and then . . . well, I won’t go into the years of waywardness and rebellion we had to put up with from him, nor the curses and thrashings he got for it from his father. Let me say that the boy’s decision to take what was his and quit the farm didn’t exactly come as a surprise. How is it that you can teach Honour your father and mother from the very start — a code we’ve always lived by ourselves — and end up with a son like that, a wild thing, no respect, no self-discipline? My God, his father tried to beat some sense into him, but it just seemed to make the boy angry, even more wayward, more out of control. All we ever did was to try and teach him the virtues of hard work, respectable conduct, a decent way of life. And all we got for it was demand after demand, as if everything we’d built up together was for his benefit. No sense of gratitude. As parents, our son hurt us, shamed us. Why couldn’t he be like other people’s children, or like his brother? (His brother was no trouble, good as gold …) The strain of it all changed us, made us short-tempered, exas­perated. We were at our wits’ end sometimes. I’m not going to speak against my husband, he’s a good man; but there were times when he overdid the chastisement. He was at the end of his tether. We both were . .. and I wanted the boy to learn

his lesson too, so I said nothing; but now I see that the violence was too much at times, and afterwards my husband would become so distant, so turned in on himself. I suppose he was ashamed.

So . . to be honest, it was something of a relief when he said he wanted to make his own way in the world. And the peace, once he’d gone, was bliss. We got on with our lives and hoped he would make a go of it. We hadn’t expected the weeks of silence to turn into months, a year .. . What he got up to you’ll know more about than me, and I don’t want to think about it . . but I remember how the quiet house began to feel too quiet, how our relief as parents gradually shifted to concern, and then to worry . . not hearing from him became an anxiety. I suppose we all knew it was a breakdown in the family, but we said nothing, talked business, steered clear of feelings: it was all too raw to bring out into the open. His father began to fret, lose concentration, became absorbed in his own thoughts. Perhaps it was regret: I wouldn’t accuse him of making a mistake, as such, but maybe for the first time in his life he had to think twice about his actions, his opinions, how he might have done it differently. He’s not a bad man, but he’s very determined. Once he’s made up his mind, nothing will change it. He and the younger boy are more alike than maybe they’d care to admit. It took that fracture with his younger son for my husband to learn that he too is vulnerable, and that sometimes in relationships, however wronged you feel, you have to accept a share of what’s gone wrong and find a new direction.

And all this time I was in the background, encouraging him to be patient, gently helping him to talk, trying to ease the sense of self-recrimination which took over from his fury. During those long months I was praying so hard that he would have his opportunity to show just how much of a father’s love he had for his boys, a love which could embrace as well as chastise.

And I was feeling so weary of the conflict, the rage, the self-pity. With my husband keeping silent lookout on the rooftop, and the young one sending not a word from wherever he was . .. it felt like it was only me doing the talking. The elder son kept his head down, doubled his efforts and worked hard enough for all three of them. He was there day in day out, so dutiful, so strong, but so frozen, so silent. Which is why, I guess, when the thaw came there was that great flood of bitterness and resentment when his brother returned to the rapturous welcome of his father. It was years of pent-up anger pouring out, years of ‘being good’, of not drawing attention to himself when we had our hands full with the other one, years of trying to make us happy, make things better, make everything all right. It seemed to him that he was taken for granted, and that his brother’s recklessness was met with indulgence. I see now that the older boy had been hurt too, had missed his brother, had felt the pain he caused us with his selfishness, had hated the conflict in the family, the beatings, the shouting and screaming, the sullen silences. But the love of a brother isn’t the love of a parent: he just couldn’t see that his father needed to show his profound relief, and to celebrate a change of heart — not just his wayward son’s return, but his own shift of character as a father and as a man.

Of course it was hard for him to see all that fuss being made of the reprobate. To hear the music after so many months of silence — the robe, the ring, the feast, the fatted calf — all the lovely things we had been preparing for his own wedding as our beloved son and heir, our fine, good, upstanding, success­ful son, all that indulged on a waster. I understand his hurt. Perhaps we could have used a little more discretion, and certainly we should have showed him more affection and appreciation. We just assumed he understood how we felt-about him, his father and I. But from my point of view his outburst was wonderful, the way he said to his father just what was in his heart, and how his father responded with such frankness, such love . . . such love for both of them. What a miracle that day, that there was so much love to go around, enough for each of them.

So have you asked yourselves what happened next? Well, it depends whose story you want to tell. As far as I’m concerned, ‘happy ever after’ doesn’t come without effort, if it ever comes at all. As it turned out, the younger son had learned his lesson and settled back in quite nicely. My husband recovered some­thing of his old self again, but better: he listened more, asked our opinions, he got us talking. And my perfect elder son? He’s a work in progress, the next chapter you might say. Yes indeed, he learnt a lesson that extraordinary day when his father welcomed back his reckless brother. He learnt that he can say what’s on his mind without it turning into an argument, make demands of us without causing a fight, that he can enjoy his father’s company and not always be trying to win his approval. He’s learning to be a son, not just a servant. He’s learning to be a brother, someone who also has his needs, not just a consolation for his parents’ disappointment and distress. Such a fundamental change of heart takes time, and trust, and the courage to write his own story.

The story continues …

Most of what remains beyond the telling he leaves to you, if you have ears to hear. The art of story is to unlock doors, pull back shutters, open up perspectives,

to create a world from nothing and leave its future in your hands.

You are free to tie down his words as solutions, but what he has unleashed in you is possibilities.

For the story is free as the heart’s freedom.

Each one is a garden which he leases for just the peppercorn rent of your soul’s attention.

Then: all yours!

What will you do with this gift of space?

Play in it?

Trace its boundaries?

Find its hidden places?

Run wild there like a child to discover your many selves?

Till it and tend it through seasons for the strange fruits it will bear?

Listener, reader, imaginer, do anything with what is yours, if you have heart and mind and soul and strength, do anything except wall it up and keep trespassers out.

If it’s rules you like, then for God’s sake make up a game and pretend to be a trespasser yourself, so you can see how it feels to be in the wrong, to be chased out, or welcomed in with the surging grace of forgiveness.

For the story is a live thing, to be nurtured; it is a crafted thing to be worn; it is a fund to be traded.

To enter a story is to set out on a journey and be put at risk.

Buried treasure thrills no hearts, throws no parties, wins no friends, buys no pleasure.

All he asks of you is to accept that he has made you rich, and to be generous with your own tales spilling over from life’s full cup.

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The Gate – F. Bizot

tgFrançois Bizot (born February 8, 1940 in Nancy, France), is the only Westerner to have survived imprisonment by the Khmer Rouge.

Bizot arrived in Cambodia in 1965 to study Buddhism practiced in the countryside. He traveled extensively around Cambodia, researching the history and customs of its dominant religion. He speaks fluent Khmer, French and English and was married to a Cambodian with whom he had a daughter, Hélène, in 1968. When the Vietnam War spilled into Cambodia, Bizot was employed at the Angkor Conservation Office, restoring ceramics and bronzes.

Bizot, at first, welcomed the American intervention in Cambodia, hoping that they might counter the rising influence of the Communists. “But their irresponsibility, the inexcusable naivete, even their cynicism, frequently aroused more fury and outrage in me than did the lies of the Communists. Throughout those years of war, as I frantically scoured the hinterland for the old manuscripts that the heads of monasteries had secreted in lacquered chests, I witnessed the Americans’ imperviousness to the realities of Cambodia,” wrote Bizot in his memoirs of the time

Bizot observes early on that he wrote his book out of ‘a bitterness which knows no limit’. The bitterness which propels his memoir is a bitterness at the ideology which propelled the supporters of the Khmer Rouge: the zealous utopianism which so cheapened their regard for human life, and cauterised their compassion. Bizot reserves his greatest contempt for those Western intellectuals who expressed their approval of the Khmer Rouge, and whose high-profile fellow-travelling was in part responsible for the West’s failure to intervene in the Cambodian genocide once it had begun. These were the people, Bizot suggests, who should have known so much better.

No incident he describes in the camp is more terrifying than his account of a little girl he tried to help with food and friendship. At first it seemed to work, and “the sight of this child under my protection filled me with immense courage”. Then, one evening, when his foot had been chained up as usual, the child came to see him and slipped her finger under the iron links on to his bruised ankle. Bizot was moved and encouraged. But: “she skipped away and returned with a bunch of keys in her hand. I looked at her with astonishment. She undid the padlock and…carefully retightened the chain.”

Quotations:

A boy of fourteen! We all knew his parents, who came from a nearby village. He had begun his ideological instruction only a few months before. Seeing the boy hesitate in front of everyone, one of the leaders — his instructor, probably — came up, put his arms around his shoulders, and urged him on in a low voice. Now, comrade, I saw this with my own eyes: the young boy gathered his courage, moved forward, and one by one, in no sort of a hurry, he took hold of each baby by its foot, and smacked its little body firmly against the trunk Of the tree, the old mango tree on the west side of the square . . . Two or three times, each one. He was congratulated for his efforts by the leader, who hailed his example of zeal and composure. That’s what the Khmers Rouges are doing to our children! They are transforming them into shameless creatures who can no longer tell good from evil!”

“Comrade Douch!” I continued, raising my voice before he could start speaking again. “The resoluteness of the teachers who speak in the name of the Angkar is unconditional! Sometimes it is even devoid of hatred and is purely objective, as if the human aspect of the question did not come into consideration, as if it were an intellectual concept. They mechanically carry out the impersonal, absolute directives of the Angkar, even going to extreme lengths. As to the peasants who come under your control, they are subjected, purely and simply, to a sort of purification rite: new ‘teaching’ (rien sutr), new mythology and an amended vocabulary that no-one initially understands. Then the Angkar is adopted as family, while true kin are rejected. And after that the population is divided into `initiates’ and ‘novices’. The first constitute the true people, that is to say, those who have been won over; the others are those who have not completed the period of preparation and training; only after that can they be admitted into the former group and acquire the superior status of accomplished citizen. Need I go on?”

“That has nothing to do with it!” Douch repeated. “Buddhism benumbs the peasants, whereas the Angkar seeks to glorify them and build the prosperity of the beloved homeland on them! You attribute scholarly ravings to bogus ideologues when they belong only to yourself Buddhism is the opium of the people. And I don’t see why we should draw our inspiration from a capitalist

past, which is the very thing we want to abolish! When we have rid our country of the vermin that infect people’s minds,” he went on, “when we have liberated it from this army of cowards and traitors who debase the people, then we will rebuild a Cambodia of solidarity, united by genuine bonds of fraternity and equality.

First, we must construct our democracy on healthy foundations that have nothing to do with Buddhism. Corruption has seeped in everywhere, even among families. How can you trust your brother when he accepts the imperialists’ wages and employs their arms against you? Believe me, Comrade Bizot, our people need to rediscover moral values that correspond to their deeper aspira­tions. The revolution wishes nothing for them besides simple happiness: that of the peasant who feeds himself from the fruits of his labours, with no need for the Western products that have made him a dependent consumer. We can manage and organise ourselves on our own to bring radiant happiness to our beloved country?’

“Consumer?” I asked, opening my eyes wide. “I don’t remember the fishermen from Kompong Khleang using many imported products. I don’t know who you’re talking about, unless perhaps it’s yourself, comrade. Did your grandmother pamper you as much as all that?” I whispered mischievously. “You are the ones who are totally dependent! You fell into a trap by taking up the cause of the North Vietnamese. They are using your men to advance on the battle front of a war that is not yours. You are armed by the Soviets, your speeches are written in Peking, your songs and your music — which nowadays are accompanied by the tambourine, violin and accordion — no longer have anything Khmer about them! Is that what you call ‘national integrity’ and the ‘sovereignty’ of the people? I see nothing of traditional Cambodia in your plans for society. To me everything seems imported. When the North Vietnamese have made use of you and, thanks to your sacrifices, gained their victory against the `imperialists’,” I said, stamping my foot and with a note of hatred in my voice, “they’ll take control of your country and subject you to an even harsher yoke.”

“Indeed,” I replied at last, nodding my head in a resigned way. “Man is made that way; he seems to accept anything and to forget everything. The fact that he has created works like those at Angkor will always be to his credit, however much inhumanity may have been involved in their construction. You see, comrade, for me the great question in life is the suffering we cause to others. We have no rights — nobody does — over each other. That’s why I reject, from the very core of my being, the idea that spilling blood is a bloodletting needed to strengthen the patient. How can we let some people decide their own salvation by enforcing the sacrifice of others? Where does this apportioning come from? Does the land of the Khmer now follow the law that requires one fish to devour the other?”

The peasant to whom you and your leaders constantly refer, comrade, has no connection with the events on the front pages of the international newspapers; he is the hero whom no-one could care less about in a war that has nothing to do with him.”

I was not really annoyed, just piqued by the cook’s lack of awareness of the impact of such negligence: I had acquired a sacred relationship to food during my imprisonment. At this solemn moment, when I was resuming contact with existence, meals had attained the rank of a divinity, and I did not want to hurry the worship. I had sacrificed too much, too painfully, over the past months to be satisfied now with nonchalantly gulping down cold soup, as though it were unimportant, as one might in normal daily life, joking about it politely.

And then there was the Thai woman who had lost her passport and was insisting that she would manage to seduce a handsome revolu­tionary who would look after her. But deep in all their eyes we could see their terror.

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The 15-Minute Prayer Solution: How One Percent of Your Day Can Transform Your Life – Gary Jansen

the15I don’t have time to pray. I don’t know how to pray. I don’t know what to pray for. Perhaps you identify with one or all of these statements; most people do. But with Gary Jansen’s The 15-Minute Prayer Solution, anyone can learn to turn those “I don’t” statements into “I do” declarations— and be transformed in the process.

Drawing on spiritual practices from the Christian tradition throughout the centuries, Jansen offers numerous and wide-ranging prayer exercises that can be completed in less than fifteen minutes. The Jesus Prayer, lectio divina, the Examen, imaginative prayer, and many more ways to joyfully encounter the Living God are explained. Deeply personal stories, thought provoking modern-day parables, and even humorous anecdotes bring spiritual ideas down to earth, revealing the practical side of prayer.

And, as Jansen himself discovered, if you’re willing to take just fifteen minutes a day to pray, you may soon find that the entirety of your life has become a prayer, a relentless desire to place God at the center of everything.

In an interview, the author said: One percent of a day is roughly 15 minutes. Once I looked at the math and imagined looking at a scale where 1 percent was on one side and 99 percent was on the other, I thought, Oh, wow. I have to stop making excuses. I’m being kind of selfish. But I understand the struggles that come with prayer. It’s sometimes hard for me to sit still, so I started to find ways to pray throughout the day. I would pray while walking to work. You can pray when you’re washing dishes or when you’re taking a shower. You can thank God for running water. You can pray at red lights or pray the rosary on your fingers while eating lunch. There are two things I don’t believe in (and I’m open to a lot of things): leprechauns and someone saying they don’t have time to pray. There is always time to pray. Sometimes you just have to get creative.

Quotations:

We were called by God to greatness. As much as I love my Christian and Catholic faith, we believers, as a group, have spent too much time focusing on how vile human beings are. We need to shift that focus. I’m not saying to ignore sin, but when we focus on something, we become that thing. If I focus in my mind on the idea that I’m a loser, I will become a loser. If I focus on becoming a great student, I will become a great student.

So, at the start of a new year how can you get started? Here are three short and simple exercises that have helped me in my prayer life, and I hope they will help you turn your attention to God, with the hope that one per cent of your life will turn into two per cent and then three per cent and so on. I promise your life will never be the same (in a good way).

1) The Holy Name What is the most beautiful word in the world? Well, that would be Jesus. So, let the Holy Name become a prayer for you. How do you do this? By repeating Jesus’s name over and over again to yourself. Do this silently when you wake up in the morning and right before you go to bed at night. Allow the name of Jesus to be the first thing you think about in the morning and the last thing you think about before you go to sleep. During the day repeat Jesus’s name when you’re commuting to work or washing dishes or waiting in line at the bank.

2) Breathe the Lord’s Prayer This is a basic meditation where you apply a simple breathing pattern to prayer. For instance, breathe in the first line: “Our Father.” Pause a few moments. Then breathe out: “Who art in Heaven.” Pause. Breathe in: “Hallowed be thy name.” Pause. Breathe out: “Thy kingdom come.” Pick a pattern that works best for you and connect the physical with the mental and spiritual.

3) Call on the Advocate There will be moments throughout the day where you might feel stressed or maybe you just lack energy and focus. Instead of reaching for a cigarette or a whisky or coffee or tea, call on the Holy Spirit for a boost of sacred fire. Repeat “Come Holy Spirit” to yourself throughout the day when challenges arise or when you’re feeling depleted. Invite the Holy Spirit to guide your actions and thoughts and then relax, let go, and see where God brings you.

The results might be unexpected, but they are so good for your soul.

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The Bass Saxophone by Josef Škvorecký

tbs2The two haunting, poetic novellas that comprise The Bass Saxophone brilliantly evoke the comedy and sadness of life under the Nazi and Soviet dictatorships. They are prefaced by a remarkable memoir of Skvorecky’s jazz-obsessed youth. Jazz is a symbol of freedom in both these novellas.

In Emoke, which is set in the shadow of the Communist regime, jazz becomes the means by which a jaded young man plots the seduction of a mysterious girl enmeshed in superstition and the occult. Spurned, but fascinated, he is drawn into her tortured existence until catapulted into the final bitter comedy.

In The Bass Saxophone a young Czechoslovakian student living under the rule of the Nazis is lured by his love of jazz – the “forbidden music” – into secretly and dangerously playing in a German band, with bizarre and unexpected results.

tbs3Quotations:

In the days when everything in life was fresh — because we were sixteen, seventeen — I used to blow tenor sax. Very poorly. Our band was called Red Music which in fact was a misnomer, since the name had no political connotations: there was a band in Prague that called itself Blue Music and we, living in the Nazi Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, had no idea that in jazz blue is not a colour, so we called ours Red. But if the name itself had no political connotations, our sweet, wild music did; for jazz was a sharp thorn in the sides of the power-hungry men, from Hitler to Brezhnev, who successfully ruled in my native land.

tbs– a set of regulations, issued by a Gauleiter — a regional official for the Reich — as binding on all local dance orchestras during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. Get this:

  1. Pieces in foxtrot rhythm (so-called swing) are not to exceed 20% of the repertoires of light orchestras and dance bands;
  2. in this so-called jazz type repertoire, preference is to be given to compositions in a major key and to lyrics expressing joy in life rather than Jewishly gloomy lyrics;
  3. As to tempo, preference is also to be given to brisk compositions over slow ones so-called blues); however, the pace must not exceed a certain degree of allegro, commensurate with the Aryan sense of discipline and moderation. On no account will Negroid excesses in tempo (so-called hot jazz) or in solo performances (so-called breaks) be tolerated;
  4. so-called jazz compositions may contain at most 10% syncopation; the remainder must consist of a natural legato movement devoid of the hysterical rhythmic reverses characteristic of the barbarian races and conductive to dark instincts alien to the German people (so-called riffs);
  5. strictly prohibited is the use of instruments alien to the German spirit (so-called cowbells, flexatone, brushes, etc.) as well as all mutes which turn the noble sound of wind and brass instruments into a Jewish-Freemasonic yowl (so-called wa-wa, hat, etc.);
  6. also prohibited are so-called drum breaks longer than half a bar in four-quarter beat (except in stylized military marches);
  7. the double bass must be played solely with the bow in so-called jazz compositions;
  8. plucking of the strings is prohibited, since it is damaging to the instrument and detrimental to Aryan musicality; if a so-called pizzicato effect is absolutely desirable for the character of the composition, strict care must be taken lest the string be allowed to patter on the sordine, which is henceforth forbidden;
  9. musicians are likewise forbidden to make vocal improvisations (so-called scat);
  10. all light orchestras and dance bands are advised to restrict the use of saxophones of all keys and to substitute for them the violin-cello, the viola or possibly a suitable folk instrument.

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The Lion Companion to Church Architecture – David Stancliffe

tlctcaAs with all Lion books, this is beautifully presente4df and lavishly illustrated.

Unlike most of their books, it isn’t written by an evangelical, whoch is good.

I knew the author when I was on the executive off Affirming Catholicism and he was our president. Like himself, the book is broad, expansive and generous.

He traces development from the early Roman house churches through Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic structures is addressed, as are the significant changes brought about by the Reformation.

Gods‘s house or the meeting place for his people?  Pointing beyond itself to the transcendent or welcoming God as imminent?  Altar-cenrred or pulpit contered?

His old cathedral at Portsmouth is held up as a model or reordering.

But he doesn’t cover mega-churches – auditorium for entertainment with cinema seats and drum kits.

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