#AdventBookClub day 21: The glorified Christ

How do we see God glorified? St Iranaeus says: “the glory of God is a human being, fully alive.” I wonder where we have seen that living glory? I wonder how we have helped others to encounter that living glory in our own lives?

God’s glory is not the same as majesty. Glory is not about the trappings of kingship, or the spleandour of the unapproachable divine. The glory of God is found in everywhere that we sense life. Trauma theologian Shelly Rambo talks about the resurrection in these terms – as existing in all the ways in which – even in the midst of death – we sense life.

Sometimes that sensing life feels tenuous and delicate, and barely perceptible. But still, unseen, hidden, unexpected or unnoticed, God’s glory is present. May we catch glimpses of it where and when we can.

This year for #AdventBookClub we are reading ‘Music of Eternity: meditations for Advent with Evelyn Underhill’ by Robyn Wrigley-Carr. Join the conversation in the Facebook group, or by following the hashtag on Twitter.

#AdventBookClub day 20: The abiding Christ

I rather like the work ‘abide’. There’s a depth and a permanence to it. The one abides is not just ‘with us’ in a passing way, but in a lasting way. The one who abides remains with us always. The abiding Christ is among us always, seen or unseen, the presence of and testament to the steadfastness of God.

Sometimes we do not recognise Christ who abides, often quietly and hidden. Sometimes we do not hear the voice of Christ behind the conversations we have, or see the face of Christ behind the face of those we meet. Sometimes we catch glimpses which make us yearn more for the abiding knowledge of Christ’s presence.

Underhill’s prayer seems apt as we seek the abiding presence of Christ in all the changing and challenging circumstances of this season: “Lord, teach me to be more alert, humble, expectant than I have been in the past, ever ready to encounter you in quiet, homely ways.”

This year for #AdventBookClub we are reading ‘Music of Eternity: meditations for Advent with Evelyn Underhill’ by Robyn Wrigley-Carr. Join the conversation in the Facebook group, or by following the hashtag on Twitter.

#AdventBookClub day 19: The suffering Christ

As with servanthood (see day 18) suffering is one of the (many!) areas of life in which we need to remember that we are not Jesus. Being called to be Christ-like, being called to model our own lives after the pattern of Jesus, involves acknowledging too the ways in which we are different from Jesus. We are not God. We are not the saviour, and a ‘saviour complex’ is if anything an impediment to living a life orientated towards Christ, because it denies the singularity of Jesus’ saving love.

It should be possible to acknowledge that there is something in some sense salvific in Jesus’ suffering (though quite what that is and how it works is open to debate) without suggesting that our own suffering is salvific. So much of the human suffering in the world – and the suffering of our other-than human neighbours, come to that – seems pointless. And romanticising suffering as something noble, heroic, or even Christ-like is a deeply damaging and dangerous thing to do. It is essential that we find ways to speak about Christ’s suffering in ways which do not impose suffering on others – or ourselves.

This year for #AdventBookClub we are reading ‘Music of Eternity: meditations for Advent with Evelyn Underhill’ by Robyn Wrigley-Carr. Join the conversation in the Facebook group, or by following the hashtag on Twitter.

#AdventBookClub day 18: The servant Christ

There is a distinction between service and servility. It is not, I think, a distinction which Underhill draws particularly well. It would be easy to read some of her work and think that we are called to give of ourselves until there is nothing left of us, to give everything and expect nothing. That is not necessarily a healthy model of Christian service, and indeed has done considerable harm.

But there are hints in Underhill’s work that might draw us in a different direction. She emphasises Jesus’ servanthood, his willingness to lay down his life for others. But we are not Jesus. I am not Jesus and you are not Jesus. But together we are the body of Christ. That collective identity might point us towards something important: the idea of mutual service. Not conditional service – “I’ll do that for you if you do this for me” – but a relationship of mutuality and love which enables us not only to serve others willingly, but also to make ourselves vulnerable enough to be served.

This year for #AdventBookClub we are reading ‘Music of Eternity: meditations for Advent with Evelyn Underhill’ by Robyn Wrigley-Carr. Join the conversation in the Facebook group, or by following the hashtag on Twitter.

#AdventBookClub Day 17: The costly Christ

I really appreciated Underhill’s attentiveness to the particularity of the cost of following Christ in today’s reading. What is costly for one may not be so for another. And what one person is called to give up as a distraction from the life of faith, may be the very means through which another encounters God. A good reminder that we can never judge one another’s spiritual lives from the outside.

I appreciated too Underhill’s emphasis on “God’s ceaseless, inconspicuous invitations and suggestions to our souls”. This is not God who berates or cajoles, or coerces us into paying a high price. This is God who is ever-present, ever-patient, always inviting us to set down what weighs us down and holds us back, so that we can more easily join the endless dance of Love.

This year for #AdventBookClub we are reading ‘Music of Eternity: meditations for Advent with Evelyn Underhill’ by Robyn Wrigley-Carr. Join the conversation in the Facebook group, or by following the hashtag on Twitter.

#AdventBookClub day 16: The transfigured Christ

As I read Underhill’s description of the transfiguration as disclosing the light which changes the landscape of our lives, I remembered something which happened to me a few years ago, which had something of that quality.

A colleague and I were leading a Quiet Day. It was a beautiful crisp, freezing winter’s day. We decided to send everyone else for an awareness walk – walking slowly and becoming aware of their surroundings and God’s presence with them. And we invited everyone to bring something back which reminded them of God’s presence to share at our closing Eucharist.

So out I went into the winter sunshine. And as I walked, I suddenly saw the most beautiful patch of glimmering, glittering stuff, reflecting a multitude of shimmering colours. It was so stunning, it brought me to an abrupt halt, and I stared at it for a long time, suddenly aware of the shining presence of the unseen God reflected. When I looked more closely, I saw that it was on the surface of a log – quite a big log – so I carried it back for our Eucharist, and popped it in front of the radiator.

Perhaps you’ve already guessed the punchline! By the time we came to share our finds, what I had was one very soggy log. The stunning, shimmering stuff had melted away. And I was so disappointed! It had been such a powerful encounter, I hadn’t even realised that what I was looking at was frost.

I laughed it off, but for some reason I still carried the log home with me, and kept it outside my front door for years until it slowly disintegrated. Perhaps like Peter, James and John at the transfiguration I was trying to hold onto something too transcendent to be caught and contained. But every time I passed that unremarkable old log, I remembered that one moment of strange, dazzling glory.

This year for #AdventBookClub we are reading ‘Music of Eternity: meditations for Advent with Evelyn Underhill’ by Robyn Wrigley-Carr. Join the conversation in the Facebook group, or by following the hashtag on Twitter.

#AdventBookClub day 15: The rescuing Christ

Underhill’s meditation on Jesus stilling the storm reminded me of Julian of Norwich saying “God does not promise that we will not be tempest-tossed, but that we will not be overwhelmed.” That’s helpful when we encounter situations which are difficult but surmountable/survivable. It’s not so helpful, perhaps, when we do feel overwhelmed.

Then, I wonder whether Underhill’s other description of God’s action in the world – as “continuous, but usually unseen” – is more helpful than the image of interventionist rescue. When we are overwhelmed, God is still acting in the world. That does not mean the overwhelming is any less, but only that it does not have the last word. Even the overwhelming finality of death cannot have the last word in a world in which God who is Love is continually present and active.

However we understand the rescuing Christ, one of the things I take from reflecting of God’s saving power is that it is Christ, and not me, who rescues. I hope that helps me to resist the temptation of trying to rescue others, and instead to find space to look for the often unseen power of God already at work in even the most overwhelming situations.

This year for #AdventBookClub we are reading ‘Music of Eternity: meditations for Advent with Evelyn Underhill’ by Robyn Wrigley-Carr. Join the conversation in the Facebook group, or by following the hashtag on Twitter.

#AdventBookClub day 14: The tempted Christ

“Give me tranquil courage – content to await your gift.” This is the line which leapt out at me from today’s reading, and which I will be taking with me as a prayer into the coming days.

I like to think that I am not particularly tempted by power or status. Several years of researching and writing about power have made me all too aware both of the power I have and of the damage power does when it is misused or not acknowledged. But the temptation to do things, to fix things, to sort things out, to do pretty much anything except wait? Oh yes, that I recognise.

Waiting rather than doing is counter-intuitive for me, and counter-cultural for all of us in a world which values activity. And yet, it is part of what God calls us to. That waiting which resists the temptation to do acknowledges our dependence on God – that all our doing amounts to nothing if we are not attentive to God.

But not-doing, waiting, being still and silent when there is (as there always is!) stuff to be done, feels risky. This is where the “tranquil courage” of which Underhill speaks comes in. As we reach this halfway point in Advent (and in #AdventBookClub) and the busy-ness of pre-Christmas preparation ramps up, I know that I need to hang onto that courage and find space still to wait and wonder.

This year for #AdventBookClub we are reading ‘Music of Eternity: meditations for Advent with Evelyn Underhill’ by Robyn Wrigley-Carr. Join the conversation in the Facebook group, or by following the hashtag on Twitter.

#AdventBookClub day 13: The incarnate Christ

The contrast inherent in Christ incarnate, God ‘transcendent and homely’, is something Underhill articulates beautifully. That “the God of nature makes that natural life the material of revelation” is one of the most distinctive and startling features of the Christian life. This God, who makes themself present – fully and transcendently, transformatively present – in the ordinary stuff of life really can turn up anywhere. As Madeline l’Engle puts it, “there is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred.” I’m pretty confident Evelyn Underhill would have agreed.

Sometimes the incarnate revelation of God comes to us in a sudden, startling moment. At other times it emerges more gently. Underhill’s understanding that “the Spirit fills us as we grow and make room, keeps pace with us” echoes Jesus’ promise that “the Spirit will lead you into all truth” but not at a pace that is more than we can bear. This is part of the joy and the mystery of incarnation, that it can come in sudden flashes and slow dawnings, and both can reveal to us the incarnation of Christ, around and within us.

This year for #AdventBookClub we are reading ‘Music of Eternity: meditations for Advent with Evelyn Underhill’ by Robyn Wrigley-Carr. Join the conversation in the Facebook group, or by following the hashtag on Twitter.

#AdventBookClub day 12: Advent contemplation

I was struck today by Underhill’s image “of a forest tree – the vast unseen system of roots, and their power of silently absorbing food. On that profound and secret life the whole growth and stability of the tree depends. It is rooted and grounded in a hidden world.” That rings true to me of my own experience of contemplation, as something hidden, working unseen to sustain and root my whole being.

It also reminded me of some verses from Jeremiah (17.7-8) which have been following me around for a few years:

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,
    whose trust is the Lord.
They shall be like a tree planted by water,
    sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
    and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious,
    and it does not cease to bear fruit.

That image of the rooted tree, nourished by living water, is an image of contemplation, of a life rooted in God. The tree does not rush around after the stream, nor does it panic when it encounters a dry spell. It remains, steadfast, in the place where it is planted. So it is with the life of contemplation.

When I was a fairly new Christian, trying to work out how to pray, I would have spoken of contemplation as something I did (and something I often worried I didn’t do very well!). Over time, contemplation has become for me less a matter of doing and more a matter of being. Like the tree, I do not need to be anxious, do not need to chase after God, or a particular experience of God, in order to be nourished. All I need to do is remain, immersed in the living water.

(A further reflection on Jeremiah 17.7-8 is available here.)

This year for #AdventBookClub we are reading ‘Music of Eternity: meditations for Advent with Evelyn Underhill’ by Robyn Wrigley-Carr. Join the conversation in the Facebook group, or by following the hashtag on Twitter.