The Fifth Lenten talk at SS Anselm and Cecilia, London, in three parts.
Although my book –‘Wisdom from the Western Isles’, charting the journey from first beginnings to the heights of Mystical Contemplation was selling well, and had received such wonderful reviews, I couldn’t help wondering what it would mean to outsiders, who knew little if anything of the Christian faith. How could I reach these people; after all the Good News of the Gospel is for all, and what I had written was only for the few. These were the thoughts that were going through my mind as I waited for my train on London’s Waterloo station .
I watched all the commuters, all the tourists, all the retail therapists and all the other miscellaneous men and women rushing past me. They were of all ages, of all colours, and of all different shapes and sizes, but they all seemed to have one thing in common; they all seemed to be busy, in a rush, all totally preoccupied. I felt as if I were caught up within a Lowry painting watching all the people pass to and fro, but these people were not burdened or bent with manual labour, their souls had not been sedated into submission in the ‘dark satanic mills’. They were upright and busy about their own business, they all seemed to be moving with purpose and intent, but what oh what, I thought, would they make of what I had written. What on earth would it mean to them, how could it enrich their lives even if they stopped long enough to listen. What had I in common with them? I felt like an outsider, an interloper who had just landed on platform one from planet Zog. Then a young man of no more than eighteen or nineteen started to walk towards me smiling. I began to get worried when he quickened his step, and opened his arms as he approached. Before I had time to take evasive action, the girl sitting next to me jumped up to be enfolded in his arms. Like a flash of lightening I saw the light, everything made sense that had made no sense before
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that we had everything in common. They weren’t soul-less zombies after all. What did each one of them really want, what did they all have in common? Deep, deep down beneath the surface, they all wanted to love and to be loved. They all wanted to have a family or at least to be part of a loving family, where they could feel safe and secure. They all wanted to have a place that they could call home, where all the personal selfishness, the petty jealousies, the small mindedness, and the pernicious prejudices in themselves and in others could be ‘spirited away’ so that nothing would come in the way of the perfect love, the perfect family, the perfect home for which they had always yearned. Finally, they would not only want to live in this perfect new world forever, but ideally they would want it to become ever more enjoyable, ever happier and for this happiness to go on forever. If this could be offered to them, wouldn’t they listen, wouldn’t this be good news, the best news they’d ever heard. I became broody on the train home at the prospect of giving birth to another book. I thought of Dietrich Bonheoffer’s famous letters written from his prison cell shortly before Hitler had him hanged for opposing his particularly hideous form of Fascism. He had written about the need for, what he called, ‘a religionless Christianity’. By that he meant , a pure and simple presentation of the teaching of Jesus, free of all the religiosity, the religious jargon and the questionable religious practices that have defaced it over the centuries, making it only accessible to the few. I wanted to try and translate the essential meaning of the Christian message in such a way that post modern secular men and women could understand it.
Although it may be sometime before I can produce the book that I felt I had been inspired to write on Waterloo station, I feel I must make a start now. In future therefore I will try to write with as much simplicity as I can, and with the ‘human touch’ that can make the Gospel message as appealing to as many other human beings as possible, who more than anything else want to experience what it means to love and to be loved in this life and in the next, and to enjoy the consequences for all eternity.
Wisdom from the Classical world
I was distracted by a middle aged man, who was sitting opposite me reading Homer’s Iliad. It reminded me of my childhood and of the heroes who had first inspired me. It reminded me of the words of Homer speaking through Helen of Troy to Hector’s wife Andromache :- “But don’t we all know that the gods have made us to love and to be loved?” In stating her faith in the essential meaning of life, Helen was speaking for all, with eyes to see and with hearts to respond.
Three centuries after Homer wrote his great Epic works, Plato was born into a world where every properly educated Greek citizen was expected to know both the Odyssey and the Iliad off by heart. The great philosopher Plato would have been no exception. As he grew up he would have mulled over the home- spun philosophy that was contained in these great works, and been inspired to emulate the virtues that were embodied in its heroes, just as I did two and a half thousand years later. Plato eventually rejected the pantheon of gods in favour of just one, like his mentor Socrates, who had died for his belief by drinking a poisonous cup of Hemlock for teaching the youth of Athens to reject the polytheistic religion in which they had been brought up. Plato taught that, in the one and only God, everything on earth had its origin. But in God everything was to be found in its original and perfect ‘embodiment’. So for him, the love that is found as embodied in two on earth, i.e. in male and female, is found as one in God. You find a similar idea in the Old Testament when God is at one time referred to as Father at another as Mother. There is a similar idea in the writings of the Fathers of the Church when they refer to the anima and the animus, the masculine and the feminine in God. In God therefore you find the fullest possible realization of love, which is both masculine and feminine. Despite his obvious maleness, in Jesus you can find the perfect human embodiment of male and female love. This becomes more and more evident from a careful examination of the text and in similes that he uses such as the one when he likens himself to a mother hen yearning to gather her chicks around her (Luke 13:34).
The Inner Nature of Love
St Paul tells us that the joy, the bliss, the ecstatic loving that is generated in the love that bonds the Father to the Son, and the Son to the Father, produces pure unadulterated goodness. This goodness must needs express itself in another dimension of space and time, of matter and form, of flesh and blood, and of male and female. This human loving reflects on earth the source from which it came in heaven and also gives birth to new creatures to share, not just in the joy of being alive, but in the ecstasy of loving and being loved ‘from here to eternity’ – where God’s Secret Plan (the Mysterion) has determined that our ultimate destination should find its ultimate destination.
The loving that generates pure unadulterated goodness in God, is being poured out by God at every moment, so that his love may generate that same goodness in us. Prayer is the traditional word used to describe how a person freely chooses to receive it. That is why prayer has been the be all and the end all of all these Lenten talks. It is not just the only way to enter into the fullness of love in the next life, but to experience the fullness of love, as much as that is possible, even in this life too, so that the goodness of God may dwell in us.