Friday, 10 March 2017

Meditation: THE SPIRAL OF LOVE by Isobel de Gruchy

THE SPIRAL OF LOVE


John 19:16b- 19; 25b-30
 “I was taught that love is our Lord’s meaning.,”
(Showings  Julian of Norwich)

Julian of Norwich is the second Christian mystic I have chosen for our Lenten meditations.  Thomas Merton regarded Julian was one of  the greatest English theologians.  She was certainly the first.  As she is also Isobel's favourite, I have asked Isobel to write today's meditation, with a little bit of editing from my side.  Julian's character  is revealed through her writing, and both who she was and what she wrote have been very meaningful to Isobel since she first came across her in the 1980s.  Although her most famous saying is: "All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well." Her last words that have come down to us sum up what she discovered in contemplating Christ on the cross:  “I was taught that love is our Lord’s meaning,” An important reminded of the purpose of this Lenten journey to the cross.

Julian was a young woman, only thirty year old, living in Norwich in England in 1343 when she fell seriously ill. As she lay dying she had a series of visions in which she saw, as though she were present, Jesus being crucified, and other “showings“ as she called them. She recovered from her illness and entered a cell attached to the church of St Julian and became an anchorite, sealed in her cell for a life of contemplation, though frequently visited for counsel. She wrote down what she had seen in her visions and for the next twenty years meditated on their meaning, questioning what she had been shown, wrestling with the issues raised, and receiving other insights from God. These she recorded in a book in the language she spoke, the language of Chaucer, making her the first woman author in the English language.

The Medieval world Julian inhabited is not our world, and therefore it is sometimes difficult to relate to it, but once we break through that barrier, we discover a depth of spirituality that we often lack.  After all, her world was also much like our own.  It was a world of war and violence, of the plague, poverty and much suffering.  So keep that in mind as we listen to Julian speak.  She was a woman of her time, but she also speaks to our time.  Amid our busyness and noise, her contemplative life-style calls us to discover God in the silence.

Julian starts by telling us that she had three wishes or longings in her Christian life. In her own words,
My wish was for God to give me three graces: the first was to experience, as though I were present, Christ’s Passion; the second was a bodily sickness and the third was three wounds. I already felt deeply about Christ’s Passion but I longed for more. I wanted, by God’s grace, to feel as though I were actually there with Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ other friends – to see with my own eyes what he suffered for me. I wanted to suffer with him as others who loved him had done. (chap. 2)

The second grace she asked for strikes us today as very strange. She desired a ‘bodily sickness’, something just short of actual death. Being aware that even then this was unusual, she added that the first two graces should fall within God’s will for her.


On the eighth day of May in 1373, God granted Julian’s second ‘wish’ along with it the first. She fell seriously ill. When it seemed death was near, her curate was sent for; he gave her the Last Rites and held a crucifix in front of her. As she felt death closing in, she remembered her wish for the second wound - that Christ’s pains would be her pains - to lead her nearer to God. She then saw Christ on the cross as he hung in agony.  Her description is vivid and realistic, picturing Christ's blood streaming down his face from the crown of thorns.  She writes:  "It came to me, truly and powerfully, that he, who is both God and a man, and who suffered for me, was now showing this to me without any intermediary."  This is the first of Julian's Showings.  She saw the crucifixion as though she was there but didn’t exaggerate it for the sake of morbid effect. She simply, longed to “experience the Passion as though she were present”.  The hideousness of the crucifixion, brought her real physical pain, yet she also experienced great joy.



For in this death there is life,
In this suffering, joy,
in this hideous act,
the turning point of history:
and Christ who is highest and noblest,
mightiest and most honourable,
is also lowest and humblest,
and graciously our friend.

Rejoice and delight in this
and live with his strength and grace.
                                                           

                                                           
The vision affected her deeply as she contemplated its meaning and saw more vividly Christ’s agony and the blood flowing for the redemption of humankind. She even began to regret that she had ever even thought of asking to be present. Then she was pained at the thought that she wanted to escape from it.   When it all became too much to bear Julian wanted to turn her gaze away from the cross towards heaven to find solace.  We would surely do the same.  Isobel writes:


There is so much suffering,
for so many, for so long:
it disturbs us, depresses us,
threatens to suck us into its black depths.
Julian felt the same,
for she saw the suffering of Christ
on the cross,
...
It became too much to bear,
and she wanted to look away,


to look to heaven
for there was safety
and an end to grief.
But she did not.
She chose to keep on looking at Christ,
staying with his suffering.
So she came to see that
Christ was her heaven,
and the joy that came later,
came only because she stayed her gaze
on the crucified Christ.
                                

Julian's language night not be everybody's cup of tea, but she takes us deeply into the meaning of Christ's passion as we struggle with our own pain.  She was a person full of good sense and warmth, whose vivid imagery expresses a gentle humanity.  Instead of the "spiral of violence" we encounter in the world, she offers us a "spiral of love."  But it all began as she stood in contemplation with Mary at the foot of the cross and  expressed in her final words:  “I was taught that love is our Lord’s meaning.”


Isobel de Gruchy
Volmoed 
9 March  
Lent 2


See Isobel de Gruchy  Marking all things Well: Finding Spiritual strength with Julian of Norwich (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2012)

Friday, 3 March 2017

Meditation: A RESTLESS HEART FALLS IN LOVE by John de Gruchy

A RESTLESS HEART FALLS IN LOVE


Matthew 11:28-30

"Take my yoke upon you...and you will find rest for your souls."
“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”
St. Augustine "Confessions"

On the Sunday before Lent some Christians celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration.  You know the story well.  Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a high mountain where they experience Jesus together with Moses and Elijah transfigured before their eyes.  They are overwhelmed by the presence of God.  But the vision soon passes and they go with Jesus down the mountain to begin their journey to Jerusalem and the cross.  Some would call their mountain top experience mystical, an experience in which the disciples are caught up in the Spirit just as Moses was on Mountain Sinai or Elijah on Mount Carmel.  These were overwhelming experiences of God as Moses led the freed slaves on their journey to their land of promise, and before God sent Elijah  back into the political maelstrom to speak truth to power.  So, too, Jesus and the disciples are overwhelmed by God's presence as they begin their journey to the cross.

I begin this promised Lenten series on the "Christian Mystics" on the Mount of Transfiguration in order to make it plain that Christian mysticism is not a way of escape from the world, but a profound sense of the presence of God that enables us to live life fully in the world.  It is not a religious experience that separates us from our fellows and our responsibilities, but an experience of God that enables us to live more compassionately, responsibly and justly.  Of course, mysticism means different things to different people and different traditions, but for Christians it is all about being overwhelmed by God in the midst of daily life, even though it may begin on a mountain top.  It is like falling in love.  It begins in ecstasy when we are overwhelmed by beauty, but being and remaining in love takes place in the daily, ordinary course of life with its hum-drum chores and inevitable suffering.  But that does not mean who have falled out of love, for it is that experience that sustains you over the long haul. This is the testimony of St. Augustine, the first of the "Christian mystics" whose journey into the mystery of the love of God  we will reflect on this first week in Lent.

Augustine was born in 354 in present day Algeria.  His father was a pagan and his mother, Monica, a devout Christian who ensured that he had a Christian education.  But soon after he went to university in Carthage , turned his back on Christianity and took a mistress to whom he was faithful for fifteen years.  Augustine was particularly interested in philosophy and became a member of the Manichaean religious sect.  But after nine years of seeking the truth he abandoned the sect and opened a school of philosophy in Rome.  Soon after he went north to Milan where he came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose.  But it took a while before he himself was converted as he struggled with his intellectual doubts and  his carefree way of life.  He was a restless soul searching for true love and peace.  Eventually, while reading Paul's letter to the Romans, he made his decision and on Easter Day 387 he was baptized.  He returned to North Africa and while visiting the city of Hippo (Annaba) he was suddenly seized by the people who presented him to the bishop for ordination!  Not too long after he himself became the bishop.  And thus began a remarkable career during which he wrote several books that have profoundly influenced the development of Christianity. Augustine died in 430 as the Vandals from the North were attacking Hippo, having already destroyed Rome.

As a bishop struggling to deal with powerful heresies that were dividing the church, and living in a time of tumultuous political change, Augustine was deeply engaged in the life of the world.  But his involvement was profoundly shaped by his deep mystical spirituality which he describes in the pages of his Confessions, one of the most significant books ever written in the history of Christianity.  It is a very personal book in which he tells us the story of  his search for truth over the thirty years before he finally decided to become a Christian.  But looking back over his life he discerns how it was the God in whom we “live and move and have our being” who was actually always seeking him!  “I should not have sought you unless you had already found me!” Augustine cries out.  He also comes to the realization that God's truth is not to be found in the proudly wise, but in the humble of heart.  And, he confesses, his search for truth only came to fulfillment when his restless heart found rest in God. “You have made us for yourself, O Lord," he says in his most often quoted words,  "and our hearts are restless until they finds their rest in you.”

Several times in his Confessions Augustine relates his experience to the words of Jesus: "Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."  This is precisely what Augustine discovered.  In taking up Jesus' yoke, or the discipline of discipleship that we are reminded about each Lent, Augustine found that it fitted him perfectly, and in following Jesus he discovered that his restless heart was finally at peace, finally happy and filled with joy.  Such joy is not just the starting point of Christian mysticism, it characterizes it all the way on the journey ahead.  For it is all about falling in love with the one who first loves us, and loves us with the passion of Calvary.  We can't explain it in carefully constructed words, only in poetry and praise; we cannot say precisely what has happened to us, because such love defies analysis.  But the first thing to learn about  Christian mysticism is that it is about falling in love with the source and fount of love.  Here is how Augustine describes it:


Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you. And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things which you made. You were with me, and I was not with you. The lovely things kept me far from you, though if they did not have their existence in you, they had no existence at all. You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.


John de Gruchy
Volmoed 
1 March 2017

First week in Lent

Monday, 27 February 2017

Meditation: TAKE COURAGE by John de Gruchy

TAKE COURAGE

I Corinthians 16:13-14 John 16:32-33

Be courageous, be strong

But take courage, I have conquered the world


In many respects, last year, 2016, was a very good year for Volmoed. It was the year in which we celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of the beginning of our community in 1986 when Bernhard and Jane Turkstra came to live here, and the present day history of Volmoed began. It was the year in which we began looking towards the future with new vigour, the year in which the first Volmoed Youth Leadership Training Programme course was held, and we had an injection of youthful enthusiasm and commitment into our daily life. It was also a year in which an increasing number of people came to visit or stay on Volmoed, and in which Alyson Guy's art programme gathered fresh momentum.

Last week I gave a talk at the Hermanus History Society on the " Volmoed Journey." In preparing to give it, I was struck again by the fact that the story did not simply begin thirty years ago in 1986, it goes far back to the earliest beginnings of human habitation. After all, the story of humanity, so we are told, probably began in the caves at Blombos further along the coast, and in all likelihood we can surmise that people migrated from there to here in those prehistoric times. But even if that is something of a flight of my imagination, we do know for sure that in the fourteenth century there were Khoi hunter gatherers living here alongside the Onrus river that runs through Volmoed. We know this because this place we know as Volmoed, waspreviously called Atta's Kloof, and Atta was the well-known name of a Khoi chief of that period. But what attracted Atta's clan to this place?

Probably the same thing that attracts most people to Volmoed still today. Its beauty and tranquillity, and the sense of well-being that people find here. Even the rocks geologists tell us have a special magnetism that has healing properties. Maybe that was the reason why lepers also came to live here during the eighteenth century. They came not just because they were forced to live far away and apart from others, but presumably because they had found a place where their spirits and bodies could be sustained at a time when there was no cure for their horrible disease.

But then, in 1817, the story of Volmoed took a new turn. That year, the governor of the Cape, Lord Charles Somerset, sent his medical superintendent, Dr. James Barrie, from Cape Town to find out how the lepers could be helped by the colonial government. Those who know her story, yes she was a woman who had to masquerade as a man in order to practice as a doctor, will know what a remarkable person she was. After all, she rode all the way here on horseback! And she is key figure in the story of Volmoed for it was at her request that a Moravian missionary from Genadendal, Peter Leitner, was appointed the resident missionary to the lepers in 1825. Leitner had been here before then. In fact, in 1817 on his first visit he evidently gave the name Hemel en Aarde to the Valley, and called this part of the Valley, Volmoed. If that is so, then Volmoed -- the place full of courage and hope known by this name is two-hundred years old this year! So, what began here in 1986 when Bernhard and Jane arrived, was the continuation of a story that goes back over many centuries. Volmoed, a place where God has renewed and healed people, restoring hope and giving them courage for the journey, is at least two hundred years old, if not much, much older. It is not we who have made Volmoed what it is, but rather, as we often say, Volmoed is a place God has set apart from the beginning for his ministry of healing and wholeness.


Volmoed is, in fact, a sacred space that over time has meant a great deal to many people, and continues to do so. And that is why part the fundamental mission of the Volmoed Community is to ensure that this place called Volmoed remains a place set aside by God for God's ministry of healing and wholeness. We are caretakers not owners of God's place of hospitality for all in need of God's grace and renewal. That is what Volmoed is all about, its core business. It is not in the first instance, a conference centre, a place of retreat, a youth centre, a place for sabbatical reflection and writing, a wedding venue that we have built-- it is all of these -- but it is only these because it is foremost a place God has set aside for God's ministry of healing and wholeness.

For two hundred years then, the name Volmoed has become linked to this sacred space and is now inseparable from it. Volmoed is a place where people, where we ourselves, discover the truth of Jesus' words to his disciples: "Take courage, I have conquered the world." This courage is not the courage of Stoics who bravely face death without faith, nor is it the bravery of soldiers on the battle field who risk their lives without always knowing why, but the courage which comes through faith in the God of grace whose peace is present and at work in this place. It is the courage to believe that God is at work in the world overcoming evil, bringing love where there is hatred, hope where there is despair, and reconciliation where there is division and brokenness. It is the courage to believe that God is with us in Christ whether in life or death. Such faith is itself an act of courage, some would even say it is an act of folly. It is certainly not an intellectual exercise, the clinging to a set of propositions come hell or high-water, but the courage to live life as an adventure in trust, to live as those who accept that God's has accepted and forgiven us. Such faith gives us the courage to reach out to the stranger and the alien and invite them to share with us in God's hospitality. Such courage enables us to stand in solidarity with the oppressed and speak truth to power. It is the courage to be truly human and become the people God wants us to be.

Yes, Volmoed is a place that God has set aside for God's ministry of healing and wholeness, but it is, to add a necessary footnote, more than a place, it is a people that stretches back to Atta's clan and the Lepers of old and their Moravian carers, to the Volmoed Community of today. Without this community of people of courage and hope, without all of us who gather here week by week, without our many prayers partners around the world, without the wider Community of the Cross of Nails, there would be no Volmoed, only a farm, a beautiful flower farm no doubt, or a developer's dream, but not the place of courage in which God is at work. And that defines our mission of hospitality and who we strive to be as the present day Volmoed community. Helping each other to discover not only God's healing and peace, but also God's gift of hope and courage for our lives in a world that is broken, despairing and seeking a way to wholeness. Courage for living even if we are often buffeted by disappointment, pain and grief. "But take courage," Jesus says, "I have conquered the world." That is the word of the Lord for all who come and belong to Volmoed.


John de Gruchy

Volmoed 
23 February 2017 

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Meditation: TAKE COURAGE by John de Gruchy

TAKE COURAGE


I Corinthians 16:13-14
John 16:32-33

Be courageous, be strong
But take courage, I have conquered the world

In many respects, last year, 2016, was a very good year for Volmoed.   It was the year in which we celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of the beginning of our community in 1986 when Bernhard and Jane Turkstra came to live here, and the present day history of Volmoed began.  It was the year in which we began looking towards the future with new vigour, the year in which the first Volmoed Youth Leadership Training Programme course was held, and we had an injection of youthful enthusiasm and commitment into our daily life.  It was also a year in which an increasing number of people came to visit or stay on Volmoed, and in which Alyson Guy's art programme gathered fresh momentum.

 Last week I gave a talk at the Hermanus History Society on the " Volmoed Journey."  In preparing to give it, I was struck again by the fact that the story did not simply begin thirty years ago in 1986, it goes far back to the earliest beginnings of human habitation.   After all, the story of humanity, so we are told, probably began in the caves at Blombos further along the coast, and in all likelihood we can surmise that people migrated from there to here in those prehistoric times.  But even if that is something of a flight of my imagination,  we do know for sure that in the fourteenth century there were Khoi hunter gatherers living here alongside the Onrus river that runs through Volmoed.  We know this because this place was known as Volmoed, it was called Atta's Kloof, and Atta was the well-known name of a Khoi chief of that period.  But what attracted Atta's clan to this place? 

Probably the same thing that attracts most people to Volmoed still today.  Its beauty and tranquillity, and the sense of well-being that people find here.  Even the rocks geologists tell us have a special magnetism that has healing properties. Maybe that was the reason why lepers also came to live here during the eighteenth century.  They came not just  because they were forced to live far away and apart from others, but presumably because they had found a place where their spirits and bodies could be sustained at a time when there was no cure for their horrible disease.

But then, in 1817, the story of Volmoed took a new turn.  That year, the governor of the Cape, Lord Charles Somerset, sent his medical superintendent, Dr. James Barrie, from Cape Town to find out how the lepers could be helped by the colonial government.  Those who know her story, yes she was a woman who had to masquerade as a man in order to practice as a doctor, will know what a remarkable person she was.  After all, she rode all the way here on horseback!  And she is key figure in the story of Volmoed for it was at her request that a Moravian missionary from Genadendal, Peter Leitner, was appointed the resident missionary to the lepers in 1825.  Leitner had been here before then.  In fact, in 1817 on his first visit  he evidently gave the name Hemel en Aarde to the Valley, and called this part of the Valley, Volmoed.  If that is so, then Volmoed -- the place  full of courage and hope  known by this name is two-hundred years old this year!  So, what began here in 1986 when Bernhard and Jane arrived, was the continuation of a story that goes back over many centuries.  Volmoed, a place where God has renewed and healed people, restoring hope and giving them courage for the journey, is at least two hundred years old,  if not much, much older.  It is not we who have made Volmoed what it is, but rather, as we often say, Volmoed is a place God has set apart from the beginning for his ministry of healing and wholeness.

Volmoed is, in fact, a sacred space that over time has meant a great deal to many people, and continues to do so.  And that is why part the fundamental mission of the Volmoed Community is to ensure that this place called Volmoed remains a place set aside by God for God's ministry of healing and wholeness.  We are caretakers not owners of God's place of hospitality for all in need of God's grace and renewal.  That is what Volmoed is all about, its core business.  It is not in the first instance, a conference centre, a place of retreat, a youth centre, a place for sabbatical reflection and writing, a wedding venue that we have built-- it is all of these -- but it is only these because it is foremost a place God has set aside for God's ministry of healing and wholeness.

For two hundred years then, the name Volmoed has become linked to this sacred space and is now inseparable from it.  Volmoed is a place where people, where we ourselves, discover the truth of Jesus' words to his disciples: "Take courage, I have conquered the world." This courage is not the courage of Stoics who bravely face death without faith, nor is it the bravery of soldiers on the battle field who risk their lives without always knowing why, but the courage which comes through faith in the God of grace whose peace is present and at work in this place.  It is the courage to believe that God is at work in the world overcoming evil, bringing love where there is hatred, hope where there is despair, and reconciliation where there is division and brokenness.  It is the courage to believe that God is with us in Christ whether in life or death.  Such faith is itself an act of courage,  some would even say it is an act of folly.  It is certainly not an intellectual exercise, the clinging to a set of propositions come hell or high-water,  but the courage to live life as an adventure in trust, to live as those who accept that God's has accepted and forgiven us.  Such faith gives us the courage to reach out to the stranger and the alien and invite them to share with us in God's hospitality.  Such courage enables us to stand in solidarity with the oppressed and speak truth to power.  It is the courage to be truly human and become the people God wants us to be.

Yes, Volmoed is a place that God has set aside for God's ministry of healing and wholeness, but it is, to add a necessary footnote, more than a place, it is a people that stretches back to Atta's clan and the Lepers of old and their Moravian carers, to the Volmoed Community of today.  Without this community of people of courage and hope, without all of us who gather here week by week, without our many prayers partners around the world, without the wider Community of the Cross of Nails, there would be no Volmoed, only a farm, a beautiful flower farm no doubt, or a developer's dream,  but not the place of courage in which God is at work.  And that defines our mission of hospitality and who we strive to be as the present day Volmoed community.  Helping each other to discover not only God's healing and peace, but also God's gift of hope and courage for our lives in a world that is broken, despairing and seeking a way to wholeness.  Courage for living even if we are often buffeted by disappointment, pain and grief.  "But take courage," Jesus says, "I have conquered the world." That is the word of the Lord for all who come and belong to Volmoed.


John de Gruchy

Volmoed  
23 February 2017