Monday, 18 February 2013

Lenten Reflections - week 1

In his famous series of paintings entitled "Christ in the Wilderness" Stanley Spencer is very insightful about Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness

Traditionally we imagine Jesus as a solitary figure in a barren landscape where the landscape recedes into unimportance and with Jesus an heroic solitary figure doing battle with the spiritual powers of darkness.  Stanley Spencer provides a different emphasis by having Jesus well and truly grounded and in communion with nature. Stanley Spencer' Jesus is a big earthy man 

In one of the series Jesus is sitting on the ground on his haunches gazing at a scorpion in the palm of his hand.  The scorpion is in the pose that scorpions take when they are ready to strike – tail arched and pincers raised.  The bulk of the man sits interestingly with the quiet and deep reflective expression on his face.
I wonder what he is contemplating?  That is clearly the question the artist is inviting us to explore.

I see him exploring his own potential to be poisonous, to do damage and harm to himself and to others. His potential to undermine his own best intentions and hopes. He's reflecting on who he is and is gaining important self-knowledge, including knowledge about his darker side.  This is happening through the temptations – it is the purpose of temptations.  

 Through such testing our consciousness is brought more deeply into the foundations of our own personality in a way that we become more aware of our frailties and fragilities and how the spiritual world connects with our own spirit and importantly how our own particular propensity for evil is engaged.  And this is all facilitated by the Holy Spirit by whose light self-knowledge is given and by whose accompanying guidance our lives are deepend and strengthened.

Spencer is right in depicting this as a very ordinary human activity.  The process Jesus went through during those 40 days of solitary and intentional time with the Father is no different to our journey towards God.

Our journey towards God also needs seasons such as Lent and time away when we go on retreat.

By placing Jesus in the midst of creation and communing with nature Stanley Spencer gives us an insight that much of the traditional iconography of Jesus’ temptations has completely overlooked. 

Jesus is hearing God's voice through his contemplation of nature.  Is not this what we do when we go on retreat or set intentional time aside to be alone with God?  For most people I would say being in the midst of nature is an important ingredient in hearing the voice of God at such times.

In the story of Jesus in the wilderness we can tend to forget that there is a third player in this drama.  We have Jesus, we have Satan the tempter, and we have the Holy Spirit.  With Jesus immersion in the waters of the River Jordan the creator has entered the depths of creation.  In a way that is really beyond our comprehension Jesus baptism was the major event in the history of the mission of the Holy Spirit.  Remember, it is the Spirit who at the very beginning of creation brings creation to birth.  It is the Spirit who maintains creation and the cycle of recreation and renewal in the earth.  Wherever there is life in this cosmos the Holy Spirit generates, sustains and is present to it.  And so at Jesus baptism the Spirit, already at work in creation and in the histories and cultures hearts of humanity from the very beginning now descends to inhabit and fill the second person of the Trinity, the Word made flesh.  Now the beachhead of the Spirit's mission into creation has been established.  God reveals God’s love and God’s being to creation in Jesus Christ.  So by placing Jesus in the midst of nature Stanley Spencer is helping to expand our understanding of the Holy Spirit, not only in Jesus life but in our lives as well.  It connects us with creation and by connecting with creation we are connecting the very life of God through the Holy Spirit.

The story begins with Jesus full of the Holy Spirit after his baptism and being led by the same Spirit into the wilderness.  Now, after the 40 days he emerges, this time in the power of the Holy Spirit.  All this time Jesus, by the Holy Spirit, is communing with the mystery of the divine, certainly in the depths of his own subjectivity but also through creation.  While it is a solitary time for Jesus, he is not alone in the wilderness, but is in deep solidarity with creation around him.
In our Lenten journey, let us follow the master in connecting with creation as an integral part of our spiritual practice.


Saturday, 19 January 2013

something of an introduction...

I am a priest and the vicar of the Anglican parishes of St George the Martyr, Queenscliff and St James, Point Lonsdale in the Diocese of Melbourne, Australia.
My spiritual awakening and life in Christ began in the early 1970s when travelling in S.E. Asia.  The ensuing desire to be a minister of the gospel has, from the very beginning, been accompanied a deep desire for and call to prayer.  I will be forever grateful to the Anglican Franciscans who, during the 1970s, by the example of their own practice, introduced me to the mystical traditions of the church. These living traditions have sustained me over the decades and for 10 years, 1984 to 1994, I had the great privilege of being a member of the monastic community of Tarrawarra in the Yarra Valley.
Now, after 40 years of spiritual practice which has been nourished by these great living traditions I am convinced that a contemplative stance in life is not an idiosyncratic optional extra for a few odd people like myself but is simply ordinary Christianity, with Our Lord being the great exemplar.  My current hero of the contemplative stance is St Paul who is often miscast as primarily a thinker/systematic theologian but whose words and actions always come directly from the abiding consciousness of his union with God in Christ in the depths of his own subjectivity.
I believe that all Christians need this dimension of life opened up so that once again it becomes part of normative Christianity.
These days it is sometimes described as a journey from living our lives predominantly in ‘the head’ to living in and from ‘the heart’ – without leaving the mind behind.  St Paul being a wonderful example of this.
This insight informs my life and ministry.
Since being ordained in 1981, as well as my years as a monk, there have been 15 years in parish ministry and 6 years as Senior Anglican Prison Chaplain leading a state wide team of 13 Chaplains during the time when the older prisons, including Pentridge Prison, were closed and the new generation of private prisons was opened.
My lifelong interest in and association with traditions of spiritual practice within other faiths has led to greater involvement in the inter-faith scene and I was a founding member of the Geelong Interfaith Network in 2003 of which I am still an active member.