Wednesday 30 April 2014

Christian Meditation- Part Two

When I go into my house, I shall repose myself with her: for her conversation hath no bitterness, nor her company any tediousness, but joy and gladness.
Wisdom 8:16

The Lord hath heard the desire of the poor: thy ear hath heard the preparation of their heart.
Psalms 9:38

In Part One we looked at going into the house of our heart and reposing there by leaving the things of the world behind us. Now we shall look at the companion with whom we repose and her conversation. Or, to put the same thing differently, we shall consider that solitude and silence are not the objects of meditation. These two things are required in the same sense that a ticket and something to read might be needed for a long train journey. That is, we do not undertake such a journey because we want to buy a ticket and a magazine. Similarly we do not seek solitude and silence in order to be alone and quiet but in order to find our way into union with the divine. I am labouring this point because humans have a terrible habit of confusing means with ends. They are rigid and inflexible about things which are negotiable and try to negotiate with things which are fixed and unalterable. Silence and solitude are techniques no more and no less, they can be dispensed with. What we should not do without is our longing to be one with our Creator.

The author(s) of The Book of Wisdom and The Book of Proverbs (by convention King Solomon in both cases) personifies the Wisdom of God as female. We tend to think of the ancient Jewish religion as very male dominated and the God of Israel as very male indeed so this introduction of the feminine motif seems surprising. In the final part of the series I hope to look at the role of Mary in Christian meditation and will return to this aspect then (God Willing). For the moment I will observe that Christian writings on spirituality for a thousand years and more have characterised the human soul, whether it be of a man or a woman, as 'she' and conceived the union of the soul with God as the Bride being united to the Bridegroom or the lover with her beloved.

The intuition underlying both these approaches is that the complementarity between men and women is an apt comparison for the relationship between the spirit of a human and the spirit of the divine. In the light of current controversies there is a danger that insistence upon this point will distract people into the debate over same-sex relationships therefore, with regret, I will leave this to one side. In any event what Solomon was asserting was that when we have arrived at an accurate perception of our heart-house we realise that we are not alone. The guest, who has always been there, usually unnoticed, is not another aspect of ourself. It is another person. What is distinct about Christian meditation is the insistence firstly that its purpose is to deepen a relationship rather than to arrive at some abstract insight or some ideal state of serenity. Secondly, the relationship is with the specific person of the Holy Spirit of the Triune God. Our task is to invite heaven into our hearts, His task is to lift our hearts into heaven.

The mechanism of this process is described by Solomon as her conversation. It is not 'her monologue' we have our part too. As the psalmist notes His ear hears our hearts when they have been prepared for this encounter. At this point many writers on meditation would insist that the conversation though real is wordless. This is not necessarily true. It may be the case that at its highest level the encounter with the divine is an exchange without words. However as a young hobbit once remarked-

Dear me! We Tooks and Brandybucks, we can't live long on the heights.'
'No,' said Merry. 'I can't. Not yet, at any rate. But at least, Pippin, we can now see them, and honour them.
(The Return of the King, J.R.R. Tolkien)

There is a tendency in spiritual exercises to run before we can walk, to think that we can attain in a measurably short time the great experiences of ecstasy and divine union which the great Saints and Desert Fathers report. It is not so. Success or failure depends upon two things, our humility and the generous gifts of the Holy Spirit. On this subject Scripture notes unequivocally God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble (James 4:6) The insistence on wordless dialogue is another example of confusing means with ends. What is, I think, true however is that whether with words or without the conversation should involve thought but exclude thoughts. Each individual thought or idea, however brilliant or worthy it may be, forms part of the parade sent forth by the ego which was mentioned in Part One. If we become attached to it then it and not God or Spirit is the subject of our meditation. By thought is meant holding the attention fixed on the ladder which is leading us towards God and following it up rung by rung.

All of which is very abstract. Catholic tradition proposes a number of ladders to help us on our way. Some of these are simply continuations of the methods we used to arrive at the state of repose in the first place, frequent short prayers, gazing upon icons, holding a Gospel episode like the Passion before the eyes of our heart. An action can change its effect when we change our intention regarding it. If we begin using it to expel the world from our heart-house and then use it to draw closer to our divine guest then that is the effect that it will have assuming we do this humbly in hope and and subject to the will of the Holy Spirit. Another method is the form of Scripture reading known as Lectio Divina. We read a short passage of Scripture and then hold it, or a phrase from it, or one word from it in our thought while resisting as far as possible particular thoughts about it. This can form part of our conversation with the Spirit, it might be that a particular word or group of word speaks to us now, for the first time because the Spirit has selected it for us and brought it to our attention. Holding this word then raises us up nearer to Him. It may be that at some point we leave it behind and enter into the wordless exchange, it may not happen like that. Either way it is all gain, because we have been closer to God than we were at the beginning.

Another method, which in a sense is similar to each of the above or, arguably, is the essence of all the above is the simple repetition of the name of Jesus (we can use the name of Mary too but of that more in the final part.) Is this a mantra in the classic sense of the word? Again it would be a distraction to get into a discussion about that here but I would observe this. Christian thought asserts that the efficacy of the divine name rests in two things His response to being called and our co-operation with His initiative. We call on His name because we want Him and only Him. At His coming He drives away thoughts (whether generated by our ego or by malevolent spiritual powers) by His power and gives Himself to us in the form He thinks best for the duration He thinks best. During the course of the conversation our use of His name can be successively an invocation, and expression of our deepest desires, our assent to His initiative and an expression of gratitude for His gifts. As already mentioned the same action can proceed from different intentions and so have different effects.

In the next part I hope to write (sweetly and interestingly) about bitterness and tediousness.

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Monday 28 April 2014

Christian Meditation- Part One

                                                     Icon of Sophia, the Wisdom of God of Kiev

When I go into my house, I shall repose myself with her: for her conversation hath no bitterness, nor her company any tediousness, but joy and gladness.
Book of Wisdom 8

But thou when thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret will repay thee
Matthew 6

The 'her' referred to by the author of the Book of Wisdom (by convention King Solomon) is Wisdom itself, personified as female. There may be a literal sense in which Solomon considers that a peaceful domestic setting is a good place to seeks Wisdom. That sense if it exists, however, is secondary to the mystic sense in which one enters into ones heart and engages in a loving dialogue with the Spirit. Essentially both Solomon and Jesus are giving us advise about meditation in the Christian sense of the word.

The first part of the process involves a withdrawal from the world. Or rather, since we are talking about the heart, firstly we must expel the world from it. The world, in the sense of all our worries and concerns, earthly hopes and ambitions, colonises and dominates our internal realm. We are restlessness in search of repose and Solomon proposes that we go into our house as the preliminary step to achieving this rest. What primarily distracts us is that a succession of thoughts and desires parades before our mind and every so often we reach out and grab hold of one, clutching it to ourselves and focussing our regard upon it. There is little we can do about this parade but we are completely in charge of the decision to grab or let be. We must become aware of our the difference between the "I" who watches the parade and the ego which generates it. And whenever the "I" becomes aware of engaging with the ego then it should just gently let go.

The period between entering the house and achieving the state of repose is simply the time it takes for the "I" to become aware that it is no longer paying attention to anything of the world, worldly. There are various ways to achieve this state. The recommendation of Jesus is that we petition for help on the grounds that the Father will send us precisely the assistance which we require. Eastern Orthodox Christians tend to use the Jesus Prayer. This practise has become quite common in the West also in recent decades but in a flawed way. The Orthodox teaching can be found summarised in the Philokalia: On Prayer of the Heart At it's core is the repetition of a short invocation of the name of Jesus coupled with a petition for assistance. However, this is advice given to monks who will be be using the prayer within the framework of a whole structured life dedicated to God and revolving around the liturgy and sacraments of the Orthodox Church. When Westerners appropriate the prayer and use it as a mantra what they are trying to do is use a Buddhist/Hindu practise and put a Christian gloss on it. It as if it was the stilling of the mind alone that is important.

A still mind is no doubt a good thing by comparison with a troubled one but it is a stage on the path to union with God it is not an end in itself for Christians. Catholic tradition has proposed a number of different ways for detaching attention from the tumbling flow of worldly thoughts and desires. One is to consciously focus your mind and engage your heart on a single topic, the Passion of our Lord is the most common one. This does not mean simply to repeat the narrative to yourself or to think discursively about its role in the economy of salvation. It does mean that you hold the Passion before the eyes of your heart, not analysing it but entering into it and responding to the love and the suffering of Jesus with emotions  of sorrow, contrition, gratitude, love. Even a short meditation of this kind leaves the world far behind and prepares you for repose in  spiritual sense.

The intuition behind the Jesus Prayer is not false. Praying can also lead us into the state we seek. Christian belief suggests that this is so primarily because God answers prayers. When His name, or that of the Blessed Virgin, is invoked He drives away the thoughts and temptation, conventionally described as demons, that otherwise would crowd in. That is, the success of prayer is a free act of the Grace of God not the mechanical consequence of frequently repeating a few words. Christian life, Christian prayer and Christian meditation are entirely about relationship it is never "all about me." Catholics could pray the Rosary which combines prayer and focussing the mind on a divine mystery like the Passion in a wonderful manner.

Distractions can come to us from all our senses. Many of the things the ego sends clamouring before the doors of the "I" will come attached to memories of sights and sounds, tastes, smells and sensations. For some of us this will be more so than for others. What many find helpful, then, to counter this, is to have non-wordly rivals to these things which will lead us towards the things of the spirit and away from the things of the flesh. Most commonly used, I would think, are crucifixes, icons and holy pictures or statues since our sense of sight is so important to us.  Turning our eyes towards images of our Lord, our Lady, the Angels and Saints and looking at them not as objects of analysis but as so many sparks from the divine fire of love brings us ever more fully into our heart-house and leaves the world ever further behind. The use of incense, candles, sacred music and the like can also help. It depends how distractible we are and what it is that distracts us.

The important thing to remember with any technique is that it is only a tool that we use. If we find ourselves going on ever longer expeditions to find just the right icon or getting irritated because we have the wrong set of rosary beads then we have missed our way. We wish to enter our house fully. We wish to repose fully. But we only wish to do these things because otherwise we cannot be face to face and heart to heart with divine wisdom. We empty ourselves of ourselves in order for her to fill us with the gifts which flow through her hands.

In part two we shall look at the conversation of Wisdom

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Saturday 26 April 2014

Of Toads and Twelve Year Olds

A man offered to pay a sum of money to his 12 year old daughter if she mowed the lawn. The girl went at the task with great zest and by the evening the whole lawn had been beautifully mowed – well, everything except a large uncut patch of grass in one corner.
When the man said he couldn't pay the sum agreed upon because the whole lawn hadn't been mowed, the girl said she was ready to forego the money, but would not cut the grass in the patch.
Curious to find out why, he checked the uncut patch. There, right in the center of the patch, sat a large toad. The girl had been too tender-hearted to run over it with the lawn-mower
Where there is love, there is disorder.
Perfect order would make the world a graveyard.
From The Prayer of the Frog by Anthony de Mello

10 Then the Lord said, ‘You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labour and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?’
Jonah 4

The little parable comes from a collection of such stories by the Indian Jesuit Tony de Mello. Catholics have been advised to approach his works with caution but this at least strikes me as a delightfully innocent story. It impressed me from the first time that I read it which was, I think, in 1996 as I was preparing to be received into the Catholic Church. I am always a bit wary about being overly autobiographical because, the Lord knows, I am a dull enough person who has led a suitably dull life. Nonetheless, I will make an exception here because I think there is a more universal point to be made.

The essence of the toad and the twelve year meme old is that if we want to allow toads to be toads and to do toady things then we have to sacrifice things that we ourselves may desire but do not need. The daughter did not need the money, the father did not need a perfect lawn the toad did need to be left in peace. Although the little creature can do us no good it feels instinctively the right thing to do to leave her to get on with her life and let the other things slide. Of course sometimes the desire for money or for outward perfection will prompt people to override their instincts and decapitate their tiny guest. The instinct which we either accept or override has a name, it is called Love.

Before my conversion to Catholicism I was a radically left wing political activist. The notion that 'you cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs' was a practical working axiom for me. The eggs which required to be broken were many and various but shared one common thing, none of them were eggs, all of them were people, the bourgeoisie, the Conservatives and especially those radical leftists who disagreed with my faction, whoever. Had I at that point come across the de Mello parable I suspect that I would have ridiculed it as sentimental tosh. Or, at least, my head would have ridiculed it whatever my heart might have thought about it.

But now, a bare few months into my Catholic journey, I received the story with joy and have treasured it ever since, lo these 18 years or so. What had changed and why? The most truthful answer to that is "I don't know?" The transformation was one of these hidden things and long years would pass before I could express in words why the philosophy which underlies the story was essentially right and the one which I had abandoned was essentially wrong. But I will have a stab at guessing what had gone on deep within my younger (but not very young) self.

It had seemed to me that what was required to make the world into a better place, a place without poverty, war, hatred or any of the evils we fear, was the exercise of power. By the powers of ideas a critical mass of the population could be persuaded to take control of the State. By the power of the State not only could unjust structures and systems be forever changed and replaced with just ones but those sections of the population as yet unconvinced by the revolutionary ideas could be encouraged to accept them, one way or another. The ideas, I was convinced, were right and only those who were either ignorant of them or who had a vested interest in the status quo could oppose them. In the service of those ideas no action could be wrong which furthered them, no action could be right which hindered their furtherance.

I realise that I have made myself sound like an unpleasant extremist but, naturally enough, I did not habitually portray things to myself in such stark terms. Be that as it may, from the moment that I came to accept the person who exercised power by allowing Himself to be crucified as my Lord and the Saviour of the world then my perspective underwent a dramatic shift. First my heart then trailing behind it my head realised something crucial about the nature of power. It was summarised by the then Cardinal Ratzinger in these words-

"This is the question that I would ask of God: Why does he remain so powerless? Why does he reign only in this curiously weak way, as a crucified man, as one who failed?" But apparently that is the way he wants to rule; that is the divine form of power. And the non-divine form of power obviously consists in imposing oneself and getting ones way and coercing."

The mystery of evil is at work in the world and so is the mystery of good. The mystery of good will triumph in the end and, indeed, does triumph even now in hundreds of ways only not definitively and finally. But this triumph can never come about by using the weapons which the mystery of evil has made peculiarly its own and power is one of those weapons. Evil has no time for toads or twelve year olds except when they can serve as means to an end. Good, which is to say Love, values toads just because they are toads and twelve year olds just because they are twelve year olds.

Those Christians who are in positions of authority, who can command and expect to be obeyed, have a responsibility to follow the path of wisdom which our lawn mowing girl has shown as. Or at least the example set by God in declining to destroy Nineveh. The two 20th Century Popes canonised in April 2014 each in their different way exercised this kind of wisdom. John XXIII presided over a Church involved in deep soul searching and anguished re-examination of its fundamental way of doing things. He did so with a light touch and a gentle voice. John Paul II although often considered to be a much more authoritarian figure nonetheless presided over an era of unprecedented expansion of New Ecclesial Movements often led by lay women or men, approving indeed a constitution for the Focolare movement which ensures that its leader will always be a woman. He also extended the ecumenical hand of friendship to many beyond the strict bounds of the Church such as Brother Roger of the Taize movement who was the first layman to receive Holy Communion at St John Paul's funeral.

In our lives, then, it is always important to look out for toads. They may be the very creatures who lead us to heaven. Procrusteanism is the enemy of sanctity.

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Thursday 24 April 2014

Listen & Learn

...Everyone who has listened to the Father and learned from him comes to me.
John 6:45

Once upon at time, long ago and far away, I was a more than usually rebellious schoolboy. One of the things against which I kicked was the way that texts were, in my youthful opinion, ridiculously over-analysed. It seemed to me that the most important thing about a piece of writing, prose or poetry, was the reaction that it provoked within the person reading it. Poring over words in order to discern what the author may have meant by this or that phrase or what we could learn about his (always a 'his' in my day) life and state of feeling when he wrote them seemed altogether besides the point. I was, I now realise, an unconscious Platonist. I was looking for the invisible reality concealed within the visible form.

My attitude was not, I think, entirely without merit. The intellect, which is the tool we use in text criticism, is a means of describing or analysing an experience or phenomenon but it is not the experience or phenomenon itself. The notion that we can understand something just because our intellect has thoroughly categorised it is not only false but is actually a misleading delusion. If I grasp today's lunch with my mind but not with any other part of myself then I remain hungry. Each of us has a mind but we are not mind alone. To understand something it is necessary for our feelings and emotions to enter into that thing and for it to enter into ours as well as for our discursive thought to be allowed to process information relating to the object concerned.

Having said all of which, my teachers had a point. Applying our powers of analysis and synthesis to a text and bringing in knowledge about historical context allows us to re-present that text to ourselves so that the experience it provokes can be continually altered in the light of new information gained. That is, textual analysis is not an end but a means. It is like adjusting the light in an art gallery. The more light there is the more clearly we can see the picture but when we look at it in the new light it is still the picture and not the light that we respond to.

All of which is a long and complicated apology for my next sentence. In the short saying by Jesus which I have quoted we can see at least three separate but interlinked links in a causal chain that leads to a life of faith. First, we must listen to the Father. Second, listening alone is not enough we must also learn from what we hear. Thirdly, if we sincerely listen and genuinely learn then we will inevitably come to Jesus. I realise that non-Christians read this blog but panic not if you think the last proposition is gratuitously sectarian I will talk about that point in due course.

The audience to whom our Lord spoke knew who the Father was but they, for the most part, had only a hazy idea what listening to Him actually entailed. Today many people are vague about both parts of the Father-listen equation. What I think the Saviour meant was hinted at in His earlier dialogue with a Samaritan woman God is spirit, and it is necessary to worship God in spirit and truth. (John 4:24) The Father is the Creator of all things who is not an abstract ideal but a Living and personal God who is in and through all things and who has revealed Himself in Creation and in human history. To listen to Him is, in a sense, to both respond to His presence and analyse His manifestations as if He was the primary text, the text without which there would be no other texts. Concretely, truths about Him can be seen and thought about in Creation itself, in the records of His interventions in human history recorded in the Sacred Scriptures and in the lives and teachings of those Saints who have walked with Him and passed on to posterity what they have learned from Him. But amassing all this information and holding it in our heads is insufficient. Mind is mind, not spirit. We must wordlessly hold all these pieces of data before our spirit so that it can feed off them and then refreshed by them soar on its wings up towards the One Spirit. It is in that communing with the Spirit, beyond words and thoughts that the true listening will take place.

So, having said that the crucial listening experience takes place in a zone beyond words can I use words to say what 'learning from the Father' means? I think I can. In communing with the Spirit you learn that He exists and that He loves you and that that love calls forth a responding love within yourself that longs to express itself. These are things that you now know to be true because your whole being has experienced them. You can use your intellect to analyse and describe these truths but neither your analysis not your description is the truth itself. This means that a person reading your description does not share your experience and is at leasts as likely to disbelieve you as she is to accept what you say. Thus, I have described what 'learning from the Father' means but nobody will actually learn from the Father simply by reading my description and applying their mind to the meaning of my words. Herein lies the reason for the huge gulf in understanding between believers and non-believers. Those with faith taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8) Those without try to grasp today's lunch with their mind alone and so remain hungry.

That the fruit of listening and learning from the Father turns out to be becoming a disciple of Jesus is one of these truths which is self-evident to Christians but obscure if not insulting to sincerely religious persons from non-Christian traditions and/or deeply spiritual people who do not consider themselves religious at all. As a Catholic I make no apologies for believing that one cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven, either in this life or the one to come, by any means other than by going through the door of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary. There is a 'however' though. As you do not need to have any explicit knowledge of electricity to use an electric light so it is possible, under certain narrowly defined circumstances, to derive the benefits of the saving power of Jesus without an explicit faith in Him. The analogy only goes so far, incidentally, you can reject the whole idea of electricity and still use an electric light but if you explicitly reject Jesus then He is of no avail to you.

Catholic thought has a tremendously handy concept with the splendidly un-PC name of 'Invincible Ignorance.' In a previous controversy the Church summarised the effect of this state that one may obtain eternal salvation, it is not always required that he be incorporated into the Church actually as a member, but it is necessary that at least he be united to her by desire and longing. However, this desire need not always be explicit, as it is in catechumens; but when a person is involved in invincible ignorance God accepts also an implicit desire, so called because it is included in that good disposition of soul whereby a person wishes his will to be conformed to the will of God. If part of the action of listening to the Father includes access with an open mind to the Christian Scriptures and the teachings of His Saints then those who have no such access, either because these things are not available to them or because their minds have been closed off to them from an early age because of upbringing or ingrained personal characteristics, then they can only listen to Him through the media which are available to them. If their response to this listening is to learn all that they can and follow through on that learning then they are implicitly following Jesus. As I was an unconscious Platonist so they are unconscious Christians.

It is necessary to add though that explicit faith in Christ and incorporation into His Body the Church does have an effect in strengthening faith and in expanding greatly the truth we can hear and respond to. To know Him under a veil is less good than to know Him face to face and so the Church has a duty ever to evangelise everyone who is outside her fold. She has no reason not to seek to convert Muslims, Jews or those of other faiths. As the letter  already cited put it they are in a condition "in which they cannot be sure of their salvation" since "they still remain deprived of those many heavenly gifts and helps which can only be enjoyed in the Catholic Church"

In the figure of Mary, the mother of Jesus, we can see a perfect illustration of one who listens, who learns and who comes to Jesus. She is first introduced to us in the Gospels in the act of listening to the Archangel Gabriel (Luke 1) who has been sent by the Father as an ambassador. She does not only listen she thinks over what she hears she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Having heard more she then responds with her whole person Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word literally so in this case as she from this moment becomes the mother of the Incarnated Son of God. She also illustrates that this listening, learning and coming to Jesus is not a one off event but a process. Thirteen years later after hearing her Son speak she did not understand what He had said but His mother treasured all these things in her heart. (Luke 2:41-51) That is, Mary was always listening, always learning and always going to Jesus. She was, indeed, the first Christian. In a sense she went to Him before He was conceived by giving her joyful consent to the Fathers will. In this she is our example and our inspiration, our guide and our teacher, the pioneer of our faith. With Mary and through Mary we ourselves can also come to Jesus if, with her we listen to the Father and ascending to Him in the Spirit truly learn from Him.

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Monday 21 April 2014

A Christian Country?

David Cameron the Prime Minister of the UK, it must be noted, is first and foremost a politician. This means that his words generally mean more than, or less than they appear to mean but practically never mean what they appear to mean. So when he says-

"I believe we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country, more ambitious about expanding the role of faith-based organisations, and, frankly, more evangelical about a faith "

It is worth asking the question 'what meaning or meanings does this conceal?' 

To my mind, such as it is, Mr Cameron has, no doubt intentionally, hopelessly confused three different strands of thought only one of which is unquestionably true. The fundamental ambiguity rests in his use of the word 'we.' To whom does it refer? The individual believer? The State? UK society at large?

What is true is that each Christian as an individual is called upon to bear witness to their faith. This is primarily expressed by the way they live their lives. The fruits of the transformative power of Christ should be manifest in the way that Christians are pure love to each person whom they encounter. 

The first confusion lies in the use of the word 'evangelical.' By virtue of their vocation to the faith a believer is to be evangelical which is not the same thing as 'an evangelical.' Evangelicalism is a particular form of Christianity, it believes certain things and acts in certain ways which other parts of the Christian family have difficulty in accepting as authentic manifestations of the Holy Spirit. It is, however, a current of opinion which has sometimes been more or less easily co-opted by the political Right and I suspect that Mr Cameron used the word intending to defend it in the first sense but also to send a signal to Evangelicals that he is on their side if not in their tribe.

The second confusion and that liable to cause most offence is in the possible application of the 'we' to the State. The State has no business to be Evangelically Christian. Not because, or not just because, we are a multicultural, multi faith, diverse country. But because State functionaries are appointed on their ability to perform their statutory tasks and it would be absurd to apply a religious belief test in addition to a competence test in giving people these appointments. It would be still more absurd to expect non-believers to fulfil a Christianly evangelical role if they themselves are not believers. The best that the Christian Church or the ecclesial communities of the Reformation can expect from the State is a recognition of the special role they have played and continue to play in UK and European society.

David Cameron remains a politician. The debate he has stirred up really does nothing to help the Christian faith or to impress upon the minds of those who hear him the Good News about Jesus Christ. But it probably does help the Conservative Party bring on board Evangelicals and those for whom the words 'Christian values' is a shorthand way of saying 'everything was better in the 1950's'. And that is all he cares about. 

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Sunday 20 April 2014

Friday 18 April 2014

It Shall Not Return to Me Void

10 And as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return no more thither, but soak the earth, and water it, and make it to spring, and give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:
11 So shall my word be, which shall go forth from my mouth: it shall not return to me void, but it shall do whatsoever I please, and shall prosper in the things for which I sent it.
Isaiah 55

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God
John 13

Jesus, and after Him the Apostles and Evangelists, was very insistent that His life and mission were a fulfillment of the prophecies contained within the Old Testament Scriptures in one form or another. Given that His and their audience was in the first instance Jewish that made perfect sense. Is it really a matter of any importance to us who are not Jewish now 2000 years or so later? For Christians the sequence has become somewhat reversed. The Jews already believed in the Scriptures and could then go on to believe in Jesus, Christians believe in Jesus and then go on to believe in the Old Testament. Most of the world, however, is neither Christian nor Jewish so what do the words of angry old Jewish men from 3000 years or so ago mean to them? Well, one answer might be that if we can discern in the prophecies genuine predictions about events which were only fulfilled much later we could conclude that there is indeed a supernatural power at work in the world and that the things which Christians say about that power have some basis in human history. Which means that their claims are worth paying earnest attention to.

 There has been much learned discussion about who the author(s) and editor(s) of the Book of of Isaiah might have been. What is beyond doubt is that it was written a very long time before the Gospel events took place. It could be argued that Jesus and the Evangelists consciously modelled events or their descriptions of them in order to appear to fulfil well known passages of Scripture which the Jews had, perhaps, previously applied to the Messiah whom they were expecting. I think this did to some extent happen, it was no accident that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey after Zechariah had written his prophecy about the King doing just that. However, I do not think that this can apply here to this particular prophecy of Isaiah since the elements within it correspond to the internal truths of our Lord and His mission which would make them applicable even if He has behaved in significantly different outward ways.

In the prologue to his Gospel account St John wrote "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...And the Word became flesh and lived among us." So Jesus is the Word that went forth from the mouth of God. He did not return void.

The Word, like the rain, 'gives seed' in this fashion- Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (John 12:24) Jesus, before He could return to the Father had, like the wheat grain to go into the earth, the Sepulchre where He was laid on the first Good Friday, before He could become fruitful and then ascend to where He had been 'in the beginning' As the rain soaked the earth to make this possible for the seed so did He pour out His Precious Blood like torrents to make the seed sprouting from that earth suitable to be harvested by His Church.

If He is the seed He is also the sower "He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man"(Matt 13) That is, Jesus is both the High Priest who offers the sacrifice and He is the sacrifice which is offered. As Isaiah wrote "So shall my word be, which shall go forth from my mouth: it shall not return to me void, but it shall do whatsoever I please" so the Letter to the Hebrews responded  ‘See, I have come to do your will.’ is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."(Hebrews 10)

Isaiah also talked about giving 'bread to the eater.' And what is Jesus? " I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’"(John 6) The seed which is sown and then dies becomes fruitful and transformed into the true bread that nourishes. Life proceeds, and proceeds abundantly, from out of that one death. And to whom does it proceed? "To the eater." We all eat and need to eat and that bread is made available to all, though not all choose to eat it. Some prefer death to life because the bread is not to their taste.

But to those who choose life Isaiah continues with his prophecy. And as his words about Jesus came true let us hope that these words about you also come true-

For you shall go out in joy,
    and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
    shall burst into song,
    and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
    instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle

Isaiah 55

The Lord says 'I sent it' The rain, the seed, the sower, the bread and the joy and peace all proceed from God. Mary sang "he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty." (Luke 1) Which is to say that He sends freely but only those are fed who know themselves to be hungry, only those who are aware of their nakedness are clad, only the ones who know that they are dead can be made alive, The seed was first sown in the virginal heart of Mary when she said behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word (Luke 1) only after this was the Word incarnated in her womb. She is in this an example to us all. For there is this difference between us and the earth in which the seed falls. The seed grows or fails to grow in the earth in response to purely mechanical factors, the nature of the soil, the temperature, the amount of rainfall and so on. The seed of the Word grows or fails to grow within us to the extent that we echo or fail to echo these words of the Blessed Virgin 'be it done to me according to your Word'

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Tuesday 15 April 2014

Wisdom and Bitter Tears

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
    and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

Psalm 51:6

61 The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.’ 62 And he went out and wept bitterly.
Luke 22

There is an idea that the acquisition of Wisdom is a feelgood thing. The purpose of acquiring it is to affirm our own essential goodness and rightness. Peace of heart is the result of discovering that actually we are not the sum of our failures but truly good people. Over against this Christianity with its desperately unfashionable insistence about the need to repent and repudiate our own wickedness is seen as an enemy of Wisdom and self-affirmation. And yet, somehow, many of these seekers after Wisdom are happy to say that Jesus was a wise teacher whose followers have misrepresented His teachings.

I think that it is true that we learn the deepest and most valuable wisdom in the secrets of our heart and that in a way without words. When Jesus looked silently at St Peter He imparted a wisdom teaching to the Apostle. The fruit of that Wisdom was tears. Here we come to the crucial difference between the Wisdom of the Christians and the wisdom of self-affirmation.

The heart is a secret not only to outsiders but also in no small measure to the one who possesses it. A silent wisdom can enter into it and grow and we can be unaware of it until the moment it suddenly bursts forth into flower-
26 He also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.  
Mark 4
The eyes of Jesus conveyed a message to Saint Peter that had the effect of bringing to its culmination that process of growth which had for so long been taking place within his secret heart. A memory is a more complex thing than we often allow for. Every single thing that is recalled carries with it a host of other things that are associated with it.

In remembering the words that Jesus had uttered He also recalled, consciously, unconsciously or subconsciously, the person who had uttered them, their friendship, His many acts of kindness and healing, the meals they had shared, the friends they had in common-not least the Blessed Mother of the Lord- the teachings, the baptisms, the journeys, the love He had freely given. For memory is not a thing of the discursive mind only, with feeling we remember feelings, with emotion we recall and re-experience feelings. In a moment of time, or perhaps in an experience wholly outside of time and space, the Apostle felt all these things rushing upon him. And over and against all this was his act, now three times repeated of denying that he knew the man Jesus or had anything to do with Him.

The Gospels are insistent in recording that this Prince of Apostles did not simply weep but that he wept "bitterly." These were tears of a man whose heart was breaking. His worldly human heart was being broken on the rock of his secret spiritual heart. He was growing in wisdom. He had heard many months before the words that so many of us have heard since Whosoever shall seek to save his life, shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose it, shall preserve it.(Luke 17:33) Perhaps, like many of us, he had nodded along to it and thought 'yes, thats right'  but had left that thought in his head and not driven it down into his heart. But in that secret interior place of his the seed did fall and silently grew. Now, here on the very night his Lord was betrayed and arrested he had sought to save his life and had surely lost it by his own triple denial. The sad eyes of Jesus conveyed to him that truth but they conveyed something else too. They unfolded to him the wisdom in his secret heart. His bitter tears were not only a sign of regret, a sterile thing, they were his birth into a new kind of life.

It is not wisdom to affirm that we, as we are, are basically alright. We may do good things, cherish good feelings, have good thoughts be, in the conventional worldly sense, good people. But that is not enough. The pain that we feel, the wrongs that we do, or desire to do, are not always or even often the fault of somebody else. We are broken and need to be fixed. We are imperfect and cannot make ourselves perfect. We are small and weak and, however many friends or loved ones we may have, we are ultimately alone inside our own heads and hearts. Or, at least, alone as regards others of our species. The unfashionable wisdom of the Christians teaches you what you already know to be true, self-affirmation is not enough, and also what you may not yet know to be true. There is One whom you can invite into your life. He will come when you ask. And then you will no more be alone or weak or small, your imperfections will be transformed into perfections, in eternity if not in time, and your brokenness will become wholeness now and forever. He will delight in you and you will delight in Him. His affirmation is all that you need.

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Saturday 12 April 2014

A Gentle and Peaceful Spirit

3 Your adornment should be not an exterior one, consisting of braided hair or gold jewellery or fine clothing,
4 but the interior disposition of the heart, consisting in the imperishable quality of a gentle and peaceful spirit, so precious in the sight of God.
1 Peter 3

This comes from the advice that St Peter gives to Christian wives. If I was offering a literal response to the passage then I would be obliged to explain it, if I were a Conservative, or explain it away, if I were a Liberal. Since I am responding to it at a spiritual level then I can cheerfully ignore these vexed questions altogether. I have, I think, some warrant for doing so. Ancient Christian tradition has characterised a number of things as feminine. The soul of each believer, male or female, is referred to as 'she' with the notion that the soul is a bride to the bridegroom Jesus. The Church too is often referred to in similar terms. Scripture itself characterises Wisdom as a woman (Proverbs 8) And, of necessity, Mary the Mother of God is a woman. So it is reasonable to suppose that these words from the Prince of Apostles have universal applicability.

The central point of the passage is, I would suggest, to be found in the words  the imperishable quality of a gentle and peaceful spirit . These qualities are the leaven which leavens the whole disposition of the Christian heart which is adorned by them. It is an interior beauty which bears fruit not only in the relationship between a person and their God but also in the outward actions of that person-
 The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good
Luke 6

A peaceful spirit is not only one that is peaceable and at peace she is also peace itself. She manifests her peaceableness through deeds and words. A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Proverbs 15) Where voices are raised she speaks softly, where tempers are hot she is cool, when demands are insistent she is undemanding. She serves peace before she serves herself. She is at peace because wherever she is and whatever she is doing she has within herself what St Catherine of Siena called the interior cell into which she can retire at will. Catherine suggested that the advice of Jesus would be this  “Dearest children, if you wish to discover and experience the effects of My will, dwell within the cell of your soul”  (Letter 41) A heart which communes with Jesus as with a friend cannot but be serene and still and at peace.

When asked by St Bernadette what her name was our Lady of Lourdes replied I am the Immaculate Conception (Que soy era Immaculada Concepciou.)  She might have said 'I am she who was immaculately conceived' but she did not. This suggests that there was such an inextricable link between herself as a person and the phenomenon of the Immaculate Conception that the two could be identified as one. When I say that a peaceful spirit is peace itself I am suggesting a similar identity between the spirit and the phenomenon. This would be hyperbole if we were merely to consider the spirit of a person as being both unique to them and wholly independent (autonomous in the favoured word of our era.) But we cannot so consider a person. Unique, yes certainly. Wholly independent, no, never. A person is always in bondage either to their desires in this world or to the transcendent love who is ever present in all worlds and times. And she who casts herself unreservedly as a bride into her beloved Divine Bridegroom's arms becomes one person with Him. As He is peace itself in His essence she becomes peace itself through participation in Him. As St John of the Cross put it-
 the soul seems to be God rather than a soul, and is indeed God by participation; although it is true that its natural being, though thus transformed, is as distinct from the Being of God as it was before.  
Ascent of Mount Carmel

A gentle spirit is not only gentle in what she does but she is gentling and also gentleness itself. Gentleness is a thing of delicacy. It is a light touch, it allows another person to be themselves yet offers them the strong external support which they need to be just that. In some ways it is a quality easier to define by what it is not. It is not harsh, or authoritarian or cruelly judgemental. It is the softest of the human qualities and requires great strength to be lived out. The gentling qualities of the gentle spirit may have been at the forefront of St Peters mind when he recommended this as the path for Christian wives to convert pagan husbands. However that might be it is a spirit which has an effect on all those whom it encounters. One effect on the hard and the obdurate is that they seek to bully and dominate all the more, they mistake gentleness for weakness. In this they display not only their wickedness but their lack of wisdom. The reed may bend but she does not break.

Imperishable quality. The longer I have been ill the more I have come to see the difference between that which perishes and that which does not. Even those without a belief in God, or specifically the God of the Christians, may see that while our insignificant human lives might come and go peace and gentleness remain forever as qualities which lie at the heart of what it means to be a good man, a good woman, to be goodness itself. The things which pass away are spasms, the passions of anger, envy, spite, lust and so on. That which endures, the kindnesses we remember, the heroes who have captured our hearts, is founded not on passion but upon values which flow from the steadfast spirits of gentleness and peace. Where the fruit is tranquility the tree on which it grows is the true Tree of Life.

Over the years I have read many (too many?) spiritual books, articles and guides. One feature they often have in common is that they spend a lot of time describing in glowing terms the beauty of the destination and very little time giving you practical advice on how to get there. Now I am writing I begin to see why that might be. The destination is not a place, it is a relationship. We are all different, unique as I said earlier. How can I say what the best way for you, the unique and only you, might be to enjoy the closest possible relationship with the One who made you to be what you are? It might help if I told you what works for me you say. Well, it would be presumptuous to say that anything has worked for me. I have done so much that is foolish and wrong, I have lived so long in darkness. Tomorrow might see me, for all I know, plunged into ever deeper darkness, ever more culpable follies. Besides, it has often been borne upon me, sometimes painfully so, that I am not like other people. I am odd, although the word 'weird' has been used with rather more frequency. So my guidance might be worth less than nothing.

I will, notwithstanding, make a recommendation. I do so not because I place any confidence in my own judgement, I am not at least that foolish, but in the judgement of those great Saints before me who have made the same recommendation. It is towards the figure of Mary, the Virgin Mother of Jesus, that I look. She is the gentle and peaceful spirit par excellence. She, the Immaculate Conception, is so at one with her divine Son that she is Gentleness, she is Peace and she leads us to Him and points us towards Him, and pleads for us with Him and for Him with us. Invite Mary into your heart and you will be invaded by peace, occupied by gentleness. She will lift you up from this perishing world and place you into the embrace of the imperishable and Divine  Bridegroom.

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Thursday 10 April 2014

What I Desire

Psalm 27:4
Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)
4 I have asked one thing from the Lord;
it is what I desire:
to dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
gazing on the beauty of the Lord
and seeking Him in His temple.

The sound, and sometimes the fury, generated by 'muscular Christianity' and its activists can sometimes conceal the fact that the Christian faith has at its heart a contemplative dimension. This psalm points us towards that dimension and reminds us that the Temple cult in Jerusalem, which also has a reputation for activism often involving swords, had a gentler aspect also.

 The word 'desire' has various connotations, not all of them good. In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna says 'Be a warrior and kill desire, the powerful enemy of the soul.' The Buddha suggested that desire was the cause of all suffering. Christianity tends to look upon emotions or feelings in relation to their objects rather than in isolation. Anger, for example, is a cardinal sin unless it is directed against a legitimate object where it becomes a source of strength for a succeeding action. Desire, then, when it is directed towards the possession and enjoyment of a temporal and material object as an end in itself is bad or at best neutral. When directed towards a transcendent and spiritual object or Person then it is not only an unqualified good but it is a strengthening factor in helping us to secure that object or Person and therefore to be secured by it or by Him.

This kind of desire is spoken of elsewhere by the psalmist 'As a deer longs for streams of water, so I long for You, God. I thirst for God, the living God.' (Psalm 42) 'God, You are my God; I eagerly seek You. I thirst for You; my body faints for You in a land that is dry, desolate, and without water.' (Psalm 63) This is desire expressed as urgent necessity, as dehydration prompts a person to seek water so a realisation of our spiritual barrenness should prompt us to seek Him who can 'turn a desert into a pool of water, dry land into springs of water.' (Psalm 107)

To achieve his object the psalmist has one powerful instrument- 'I have asked.'  He prays. To ask is to receive. To want to ask is to have the assurance of success when we do ask. The desire for God comes from God and it is inconceivable that He would thwart His own wishes. Only we have the power to do that. Once we recognise His presence in our hearts urging us towards Him in an ever more intimate union and exchange of love then we can choose to accept His gift and respond to it or we can reject it. The desire to preserve this life and its passing glories is, indeed, a powerful enemy of the soul. 'whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it' (Luke 9)

The 'house of the Lord' referred to in the psalm is the Jerusalem Temple. In the most sacred part of that building, the Holy of Holies, the Ark of the Covenant was situated. And the One God of the Universe abode within the Ark in a special way. That is, although He was everywhere and upheld everything His awesome glory and power was manifested in a singular, concentrated fashion in this one place. When the psalmist spoke about dwelling within that house all the days of his life whatever literal meaning he had in mind his spiritual intention was perfectly clear. He wished to be, heart and mind, body and soul in the most intimate possible contact with the beloved object of his most powerful of desires all of the time. And when his energies flowed into that relationship the beloved's energies would flow back in return. These would bear a powerful fruit as the psalmist wrote elsewhere 'Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me
all the days of my life.' (Psalm 23)

The form this relationship, which I have described in active (not to say sensual) terms, takes is quite literally contemplative 'gazing on the beauty of the Lord.' The God of the Israelites was invisible, the Ark of the Covenant was concealed from all but the High Priest and that only once a year. So the psalmist was describing a spiritual reality in the form of a material metaphor. It is difficult for us to describe such realities in any other way. Later in the psalm he invoked another such image which the King James Version renders as 'When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.' (Psalm 27:8) The what of the relationship is thus made clear. The how of the relationship the same version subsequently describes in these terms 'Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.' (Psalm 27:14)

The Jerusalem Temple has long been destroyed yet the call for Christians to seek Him in the Temple is not an historic curiosity but a current vocation. And this in two ways 'Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body.' (John 2) Contemplating Jesus in the Gospels, in prayer, in meditation, in His Saints is one way that we can seek Him. 'Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you.' (1 Corinthians 6) Looking inwardly to 'that of God in everyone,' as the Quakers put it, communing silently with the grace of God at work within our souls is another way of seeking Him in His Temple.

There is no real conflict between the notion of an activist 'muscular Christianity' and that of a contemplative one. Some individual are drawn more towards one path than another yet it is always the case that we only drink at the fountain of His grace in order to give us the strength to do that which we must do, and we can only know what that doing is to be if we have drunk at that fountain. The body of Christ is always in balance, although often enough that balance gives the appearance of tension. It is however not the tenseness of a conflict, a Pope Benedict versus a Pope Francis, it is the tension of a creative process forever giving birth to Jesus in the world and in the hearts of believers.

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Tuesday 8 April 2014


38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8

The Apostle Paul is very quotable and these two verses from his Letter to the Romans is an example of him at his expressive best. What is, I think, seldom noticed is the absolutely crucial role played by the words "I am convinced." Everything that follows depends upon them and could not be uttered without them. Nor could we the readers give our assent to them, always supposing that we do which is not a given, unless we also were able to utter the same three words.

It is to my mind significant that the Apostle preferred to say 'convinced' or as it is sometimes rendered 'persuaded' rather than saying "I am certain" or "I know" or "I believe". Some translations, it is true do miss out on that shade of meaning, and God knows I am no expert on Greek, but the consensus seems to be that the original word used pepeismai conveys the same sense as the one I am using. Why is that important? Well, because it carries certain implications. Firstly it suggests that St Paul required persuasion, that is he was resistant to the conviction which he now advances. Second that the idea has a persuasive power backing it up, that is evidences which can change the mind of a person. Thirdly, and finally, that the idea once accepted has the power of an accepted fact, like gravity or the need to drink when thirsty, to become one of the foundations upon which we ground our way of being alive in this world, because a conviction is not just a belief but it is a belief for which we are willing to die. 

How did the Apostle become convinced and is there anything in his path to conviction which is relevant to those of us today who seek to know whether the quote at the top of this page is a truth statement or not? If the answer relates to probably the most famous Pauline incident of them all then the answer to the relevance question would seem to be a resounding No-

‘While I was on my way and approaching Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone about me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” I answered, “Who are you, Lord?” Then he said to me, “I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.” Now those who were with me saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me. 10 I asked, “What am I to do, Lord?” The Lord said to me, “Get up and go to Damascus; there you will be told everything that has been assigned to you to do.” 11 Since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, those who were with me took my hand and led me to Damascus.
Acts 22

Granting that God does from time to time intervene in such ways it is certainly only rarely that He does so and if we refuse our belief in the proposition that our union of love with God through Jesus is unbreakable by any outside force (our own unfaithfulness can break it in a heartbeat though) until we ourselves have such a Damascene experience then we are effectively ruling out such a belief altogether.

But was this the only evidence, compelling as it might be to its recipient, which St Paul relied upon? Probably not. There is also this-

I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. 
2 Corinthians 12

It is generally accepted that the Apostle was here speaking about his own mystic experience. At first glance this seems as exotic an evidence as the first and therefore equally redundant so far as ordinary folk go. Such raptures though are, I think, rather more common than you might suppose. The vividness of the Saint's experience and its visual nature make it simply an heightened example of a more frequent occurrence. Many quite ordinary people are rapt up through prayer or contemplation into spiritual experiences or encounters which carry with them every bit as much the power to convince, to persuade, as that which the Corinthians heard about some 2000 years ago. The weakness of all this, viewed from the outside, is that in order to be engaged in such prayer or contemplation in the first place you require either a basic level of faith or the desire to possess it. So the encounter simply confirms what you already believed or wanted to believe. This is not, may I say it, a weakness viewed from the inside because these encounters are so solid and so real that it would be irrational to resist conviction in the truths they convey.

Additional forces operated to persuade the Apostle. He writes about them in the verses preceding those we are discussing-

24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Romans 8

The idea of hope as proof seems startling but the idea is summarised neatly in the Catechism The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man. Or as the philosopher Simone Weil put it-
At the bottom of the heart of every human being, from earliest infancy until the tomb, there is something that goes on indomitably expecting, in the teeth of all experience of crimes committed, suffered, and witnessed, that good and not evil will be done to him. It is this above all that is sacred in every human being.  
Human Personality
The idea being that the feeling described by the Apostle as hope is an universal one, each human person experiences it and seeks to find something in life which will correspond to it, and in Jesus we find the only figure who meets that need fully. The universal existence of hope suggests that it must be implanted (or evolved) within us for a reason and that there must be something in the world we encounter which corresponds to it and fulfills it as food to hunger and water to thirst. Against this it can be argued that hope as here defined is far from universal or alternatively that other figures, the Buddha, Krishna, Karl Marx or the founder of Islam for example can be found who in their philosophies or through their personalities meet this need at least as well as Christianity.

Did anything else work to persuade the Apostle? Well, there was this-
14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.
Romans 8
It was a basic assumption in the primitive Church and since that each member of Christ only becomes so because they have first received the gift of the Holy Spirit. St Peter described it in this way-
15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 17 If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?’ 18 When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.’
Acts 11
Underlying all the previous evidences that worked to convince the Apostle was this one fact. God sent His own Spirit into St Paul's heart. The response intellectually and emotionally of Paul to that encounter continued to unfold itself over time as that encounter prolonged itself over time. What, ultimately, persuaded him about the nature of God's love was God's love itself. He experienced it and then he tried to understand it and then he tried to express it. The fruits of that loving exchange are to be found in the words that stand at the head of this blog. Is that persuasive for anyone apart from the Apostle himself? No. Somebody elses internal experience might be interesting to read about (or deadly dull) but it carries no power to convince unless it corresponds to something within ourselves. If the Holy Spirit was the agent of conviction for St Paul then He must also be the agent of conviction for us if we are to believe the Apostle. And if we don't have Him what are we to do? Ask ourselves if we desire Him. Do we want to be convinced? Do we possess that universal hope, the aspiration to happiness, the expectation that ultimately good and not evil will be done to us? If the answer is Yes then we can only implore from our depths that we receive this most sweet guest. He will surely come.
Turn ye unto me, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will turn unto you, saith the Lord of hosts.
Zechariah 1:3 

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