Video for 13th July, 2022
Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.
I’m standing here by a rather large unpleasant hole in the Palace garden. There has been a blockage in the sewer for months and the investigation has finally got far enough up the Welsh Water food chain for some serious work. This sewer carries a goodly proportion of the waste from West Hereford and blockages are a bad idea. I have high hopes it will be done before the river starts the annual round of flooding.
It’s remarkable how a little blockage can cause so much mayhem and inconvenience. In our spiritual lives such removals can open the way to very rapid spiritual growth. I remember a friend at school who became a Christian but never really got going in his Christian life.
One Monday, after just a few minutes conversation, it became apparent that everything had changed. There was a new spiritual spring in his step, a love for God and changes in his life. The key for him was that over the weekend he’d sold his motorbike. He realised he loved it more than he loved God. I use this as an illustration and want to reassure you that I love a lot of things more than my motorbike, God amongst them, so fortunately, I’m OK. But for him it was a blockage and to progress in his relationship with God he had to get rid of it.
Of course, not all spiritual life progresses in leaps and starts. Even if there are distinctive experiences, or great leaps forward, they will be followed by a longer period of integration and reflection if they are to have a lasting effect.
Tuesday of this week was the feast day of Benedict of Nyssa the founder of modern monasticism, who lived from 480 - 547. His rule remains the yardstick for the life of many religious communities. We have two within a few miles of here. The Rule of St. Benedict has been adapted for a life in the world outside religious communities and many of us find its guidance helpful as we seek to grow more like Christ.
For Benedict, as for many great spiritual writers, the root virtue to be cultivated was humility. Anything that blocked its formation was to be rooted out as a means by which God’s grace may be channelled to a surrendered heart. Bernard of Clairvaux said, “humility is a great virtue because the majestic Godhead himself condescends to it so readily.”
The cultivation of humility does genuinely require us to be in relationship with others. It is an attitude of heart viz a viz our relationship with others and with God. Our ordination retreat director this year, Guy Bridgewater, summarised some of the practices Benedict and Isaac the Syrian commended to develop it. I am still thinking about these. All are quite painful and counter intuitive.
He summarised their teaching in five points: hide your efforts, use the Ignatian prayer of examen at the end of the day for ruthless self-examination; enjoy giving credit and praise to others; be loathe to correct or contradict people, and welcome correction yourself. All are drawn from the teaching of Jesus and the wisdom of the Bible. Matthew 6: 3, “when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” Hardly the mantra of social media influencers. Matthew 7: 5, “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Ephesians 1: 12, “In order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” Paul did some wonderful things, but he always sought to pass the glory for his achievements onto God untouched. Proverbs 25: 12, “Like an earring of gold or and ornament of fine gold is the rebuke of a wise judge to a listening ear.”
This is all part of the Christian road of denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following him. This is not a form of masochism, but a self-forgetfulness, a crucifying of the ego; a becoming less that Christ’s light may shine more clearly out of us. The new vision statement for the Church of England is simpler, humbler, bolder. Perhaps the middle one is the best place to start.