World Downs Syndrome Day 2018

INTERCEDING

 

On this day lift before God:

  • Every person gifted with an extra chromosome.
  • Every person whose life is enriched through contact with the Downs community.
  • All who work to improve the lives and opportunities of people with Downs Syndrome.
  • All who will find their lives changed by Downs Syndrome in this coming year.

The grateful Aspie

Another, in my Nick King inspired series. This time, after Luke 17.11-16:

On the way to Inchcolm Abbey, a nun was walking through the region between Glasgow and Edinburgh. She was filled with the Spirit of God, giving thanks that she might serve as part of Jesus’ body on earth. As she entered a village, ten people wracked with anxiety and despair approached seeking prayers for healing. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Pray Jesus, your Master, to have mercy on us!’ When she saw them, she said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to your priests.’ And as they went, they were made calm.

Then one of them, an Aspie, feeling the calmness seeping into all the extremities of his body, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He lay down at the Nun’s feet and thanked Jesus for taking away his anxiety, his shame about needing the help of a carer and the overwhelming pressure to be independent.

He was thrilled with gratitude for the knowledge that we are all made to be interdependent and that he has an important role to play in drawing God’s people together.

Then the Nun asked, ‘Were not ten people made calm? Where are the other nine? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this one man?’ Then she said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith and God’s love have made you well.’

 

INTERCEDING

On this day lift before God:

  • All who are wracked with anxiety.
  • All who seek healing.
  • All who do not recognise healing when it is given to them.
  • All who are grateful for their own sense of purpose or vocation.

The Alert Autiste – 20th February.

Today, I am going slightly off piste, inspired by Nick King’s approach to Samaritans when seeking an answer to the question, ‘Who is my neighbour?’. I heard him speak last night and have been writing a series of Bible Story re-tellings. I hope this one might speak into and out of the Astonishing Community. I live and work in the Lothians of Scotland, so I have set my stories in places familiar to me, yet appropriate to the story.

The Alert Autiste, after John 4.

Jesus had to travel home through Gorebridge. He came to Vogrie park and was tired out by his journey, so he sat by the adventure playground to rest. It was about noon.

A teenage boy came to climb, wearing a nappy and hooting loudly. Jesus said to him, ‘Give me a drink’. The boy glanced at Jesus, laughed and continued to climb. Once sat on top of the climbing frame, the boy looked at Jesus for longer. Jesus repeated, ‘Give me a drink’, this time miming bringing a cup to his lips. The boy copied the gesture and looked all around him, but he didn’t have a drink with him. So the boy made the gesture again, then he put his fingers on his chin, bringing them in arc to his knees.

‘Good signing!’, the voice came from behind Jesus, it was the boy’s carer. He said, our boy here doesn’t speak, he’s canny though. Now he’s asking you for a drink.’

Jesus smiled, ‘Exactly as he should,’ he signalled to the boy to come, ‘I’ll give him living water.’ The carer said to him, ‘Sir, you have no water bottle, and the shop is shut. Where are you going to get that living water? It’s not nice to tease him.’

The boy was now by Jesus’ side, enthusiastically signing, ‘please’. Jesus lay his hand in blessing on the boy’s head and said, you will never be thirsty again.

The boy stood staring deeply into Jesus, then he started to search in Jesus’ pockets. He found a crumb of bread and a small bottle with a drop of wine remaining in it. He smiled handed them to Jesus and put out his hands.

Jesus offered them to him, as a priest might offer communion at an altar rail. The boy stood up, roared with laughing, kissed Jesus’ cheek and ran off. He returned with visitor after visitor to the park in tow. Dragging each and showing them how to kneel before Jesus. Each one spoke to Jesus, trying to understand what had just happened to them. Had they been attacked? Why did the boy want them here? Those who listened received communion too, offering the bread they had brought for the ducks and wine hidden in brown paper bags.

Many people in Vogrie Park believed in Jesus because of the boy’s actions. So when the carers came to him, they asked Jesus to stay with them at their home; and he stayed there for two days.

FOR REFLECTION

In what ways do you feel challenged by this story?

Does this story ring true to the spirit of the gospel?

What questions does it raise in you?

 

INTERCEDING

On this day lift before God:

  • All who are weary from travelling.
  • All who live in this world without words.
  • All whose lives are given to caring for others.
  • All who notice details others might miss.
  • All who have infectious enthusiasm.
  • All who are willing to be led by the most vulnerable.

The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord – 2nd Feb

I hope you enjoyed coffee with Sister Vassa as much as I did the other day. Her take on the Benedictus or Simeon’s Canticle is rather good and worth watching.

 

INTERCEDING

On this day lift before God:

  • All who are approaching their death.
  • All who are going through times of transition.
  • All who are seeking blessings on their families.
  • Poets and Liturgists.
  • People who are aware of heaven and earth mingling and all who seek to share this mystery with others.

Nicetas of the Kiev caves – 31st January

A story of delusion and clarity…

nicetas-5

Sometimes it seems that the desire to be good, the desire to be close to God, is the very thing that leads us into times of trial. Nicetas was tonsured in the Kiev-Caves Lavra. Very early in his monastic life he secluded himself in a cave. The abbot Nikon refused to bless such an undertaking, saying:

“My son, at your age such a life will not benefit you. You would do much better to remain with the brethren. In labouring together with them you will surely gain your reward. You yourself saw how our brother Isaac was seduced by the demons in his seclusion and would have perished had he not been saved by the grace of God through the prayers of our holy fathers Anthony and Theodosius .”

“Never, my father,” replied Nicetas, “will I be deceived. I am resolved firmly to withstand the demonic temptations, and I shall pray to the man-loving God that He grant me the gift of working miracles as He did to the recluse Isaac who, to this day, continues to perform many miracles through his prayers .”

“Your desire exceeds your powers. Take heed, my son, that you do not fall on account of your high-mindedness. I would enjoin you rather to serve the brethren, and God will crown you for your obedience.” The abbot’s wise counsel could not tame Nicetas’s ambitious desire to be a recluse. The monastery’s elders, however, did not forsake the headstrong novice in his foolishness; they continued to keep an eye on him and to pray for him.

It was not long before the recluse’s cave became filled with a sweet fragrance and he heard a voice joining his in prayer. He reasoned to himself: If this were not an angel, he would not be praying with me, nor would I sense the fragrance of the Holy Spirit. The undiscerning recluse began to pray still more fervently: “Lord,” he cried out, “appear to me that I might see Thee face to face!” The voice answered: “I shall send you an angel. Follow his will in everything you do.”

Presently a demon appeared in the guise of an angel. First he told the novice to stop praying, that he himself would pray and that the recluse was to occupy himself with reading the Old Testament, and the Old Testament alone. The unfortunate novice was obedient to the demon: he stopped praying, falsely reassured by the constant presence of the “angel” praying at his side. The Old Testament he learned by heart.

The demon began telling Nicetas all that was going on in the world, and on this basis the recluse began to prophesy. Laymen would come to his cave to listen to him. The monastery elders, however, noticed that the recluse never cited the New Testament, only the Old, and they understood that he had fallen into a state of spiritual deception. They broke into the cave, chased out the demon by their prayers, and dragged the recluse from his place of seclusion.

No sooner was Nicetas parted from the demon than he forgot all he had learned of the Old Testament; he was convinced that he had never read it. Indeed, it appeared that he had even forgotten how to read, and when he came round he had to be taught all over again, like a child.

Nicetas understood his error and wept bitterly in repentance. He began to struggle on the true path of humility and obedience. And the Lord, seeing his fervour, forgave him, in token of which He made Nicetas a shepherd of His flock. Elevated in 1096 to the episcopal throne of Great Novgorod, Nikita was granted grace to work miracles. The Lord thereby assured the faithful that their archpastor had been fully cleansed of his delusion and that his labours of repentance had found favour with God. Once, for example, during a severe drought, God answered his prayer for rain; another time, a fire in the city was extinguished by his prayers. For 13 years St. Nicetas skillfully guided his flock before leaving this world on January 30, 1108 to enter into eternal and blessed repose with the saints.

(Based on a translation from 1000 Years of Russian Sanctity compiled by Nun Taisia; Jordanville, 1983.)

INTERCEDING
On this day lift before God:
  • All blessed with the desire to seek God.
  • All tempted to run before they can walk.
  • All who try so hard they become deluded.
  • Those who hear voices and see visions that do not guide them to the good.
  • All who faithfully pray for and support deluded people.
  • Those gifted with breaking delusions in healthy ways.

Athanasius of Alexandria – 18th January

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In 313 the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which changed Christianity from a persecuted to an officially favoured religion. About six years later, Arius of Alexandria began to teach concerning the Word of God (John 1:1) that

“God begat him, and before he was begotten, he did not exist.”

Athanasius was at that time a newly ordained deacon, secretary to Bishop Alexander of Alexandria, and a member of his household. His reply to Arius was that the begetting, or uttering, of the Word by the Father is an eternal relation between Them, and not a temporal event. Arius was condemned by the bishops of Egypt (with the exceptions of Secundus of Ptolemais and Theonas of Marmorica), and went to Nicomedia, from which he wrote letters to bishops throughout the world, stating his position.

The Emperor Constantine undertook to resolve the dispute by calling a council of bishops from all over the Christian world. This council met in Nicea, just across the straits from what is now Istanbul, in the year 325, and consisted of 317 bishops. Athanasius accompanied his bishop to the council, and became recognized as a chief spokesman for the view that the Son was fully God, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father.

The party of Athanasius was overwhelmingly in the majority. (The western, or Latin, half of the Empire was very sparsely represented, but it was solidly Athanasian, so that if its bishops had attended in force, the vote would have been still more lopsided.) It remained to formulate a creedal statement to express the consensus. The initial effort was to find a formula from Holy Scripture that would express the full deity of the Son, equally with the Father. However, the Arians cheerfully agreed to all such formulations, having interpreted them already to fit their own views. Finally, the Greek word “homo-ousios” (meaning “of the same substance, or nature, or essence”) was introduced, chiefly because it was one word that could not be understood to mean what the Arians meant. Some of the bishops present, although in complete disagreement with Arius, were reluctant to use a term not found in the Scriptures, but eventually saw that the alternative was a creed that both sides would sign, each understanding it in its own way, and that the Church could not afford to leave the question of whether the Son is truly God (the Arians said “a god”) undecided. So the result was that the Council adopted a creed which is a shorter version of what we now call the Nicene Creed, declaring the Son to be “of one substance with the Father.” At the end, there were only two holdouts, the aforesaid Secundus and Theonas.

No sooner was the council over than its consensus began to fall apart. Constantine had expected that the result would be unity, but found that the Arians would not accept the decision, and that many of the orthodox bishops were prepared to look for a wording a little softer than that of Nicea, something that sounded orthodox, but that the Arians would accept. All sorts of compromise formulas were worked out, with all shades of variation from the formula of Nicea.

In 328, Alexander died, and Athanasius succeeded him as bishop of Alexandria. He refused to participate in these negotiations, suspecting that once the orthodox party showed a willingness to make reaching an agreement their highest priority, they would end up giving away the store. He defended the full deity of Christ against emperors, magistrates, bishops, and theologians. For this, he was regarded as a trouble-maker by Constantine and his successors, and was banished from Alexandria a total of five times by various emperors. Eventually, Christians who believed in the Deity of Christ came to see that once they were prepared to abandon the Nicene formulation, they were on a slippery slope that led to regarding the Logos as simply a high-ranking angel. The more they experimented with other formulations, the clearer it became that only the Nicene formulation would preserve the Christian faith in any meaningful sense, and so they re-affirmed the Nicene Creed at the Council of Constantinople in 381, a final triumph that Athanasius did not live to see.

It was a final triumph as far as councils of bishops were concerned, but the situation was complicated by the fact that after Constantine there were several Arian emperors (not counting the Emperor Julian, who was a pagan, but correctly saw that the most effective way to fight Christianity was to throw all his weight on the side of the Arians). Under one of them Arian missionaries were sent to convert the Goths, who became the backbone of the Roman Army (then composed chiefly of foreign mercenaries) with the result that for many years Arianism was considered the mark of a good Army man. The conversion of Clovis, King of the Franks, in 496, to orthodox Christianity either gave the Athanasian party the military power to crush Arianism or denied the Arian Goths the military supremacy that would have enabled them to crush Athanasian Christianity, depending on your point of view.

 

Quotations from the writings of Athanasius:

We were made “in the likeness of God.” But in course of time
That image has become obscured, like a face on a very old
portrait, dimmed with dust and dirt.

When a portrait is spoiled, the only way to renew it is for the Subject to come back to the studio and sit for the artist all over again. That is why Christ came–to make it possible for the divine image in man to be recreated. We were made in God’s likeness; we are remade in the likeness of his Son.

INTERCEDING

On this day lift before God:

  • Those who recognise the likeness of God in others.
  • Those willing to take a stand to defend what they believe to be right.
  • All who are careful and diligent in their work.
  • All who are careful about their use of language.
  • Those torn between the desire to get along and a the desire to be clear.
  • Deacons.

Masochism and the saints…

Yesterday Sue Owen made a helpful and thought-provoking comment on Geneviève of Paris, which I would like to respond to here.

Thank you for these daily readings on the lives of different saints. I have always found it very difficult to read about some saints’ lives. Especially those that self-inflict mortification or punishment. It seems very unhealthy in mind and spirit. There seems to be enough suffering in the world without inflicting it on oneself! The Holy Spirit can be found in beauty and simplicity – so I really don’t understand why masochism is so revered in the saints. I’d appreciate your views on this. Thank you!

I think there are a number of things going on that lead to an apparent reverence for masochism in the life of the saints. It certainly isn’t something I’m trying to promote by sharing their stories.

A misleading biblical interpretation…

The early church blossomed in a Greek-speaking culture. All the ideas we can have are shaped by the language or means we have to articulate them. In Hebrew culture body and soul are inseparable. We are ensouled bodies. In Greek thinking bodies are vessels in which souls are carried for a time, before escaping to their true bodiless state. St Paul (A Hebrew living in this Greek-speaking world) used the language of body and flesh (soma and sarx) throughout his letters, contrasting them with life in the Spirit. In Paul’s letters neither body nor flesh is inherently negative in itself these are simply characteristics of being human; we are embodied, made of flesh.

When thinking about being saved however, Paul uses body and flesh as shorthand for describing how we are choosing to live. Flesh is usually contrasted with Spirit to describe whether we choose to live as if the world were created and ruled by human beings (in the realm of flesh) or in a world created and ruled by God (in the realm of the Spirit). Body is usually contrasted with psyche, asking whether we orient our being towards the outward, physical pleasures, desires and needs (definitely base considerations in Greek thought) or to the interior intellectual and spiritual concerns of prayer and learning. In strictly Christian terms these are contrasts between life lived in an earthly way or life lived according to the ways of the Kingdom of God; life lived with a heart aligned to humanity’s values or life lived with hearts aligned to the will of God.

People of a largely Greek mindset, who believed Jesus would come again soon, appear to have heard this teaching as the message that forsaking physical needs in favour of spiritual and intellectual ones is the surest path to heaven. There was a rejection of earthly society by the mothers and fathers of the desert and a desire to live on prayer alone, following the example of Elijah, John the Baptist and Jesus in the Desert. These were the early monastics whose patterns others followed.

It seems to me that this developed into a kind of spiritual athleticism, which misses the main point of what Paul was talking about. I have no doubt that those who were alone for long periods of time and without food, were more likely to see visions or even have near death experiences. I don’t think this is why we revere them though.

Entering into the suffering of others…

I think fasting and self-mortification, at their most prayerful, are bodily ways of entering into the suffering of others. We fast alongside those without food, alongside those in poverty, alongside those in need of healing or too deep in mourning to eat. I believe the self-mortification was supposed to help a monastic enter into the suffering of Christ during the passion, but it is a tradition much abused. Again, I don’t think these are the reasons why people are revered, even though they were taken to be signs of someone trying to live a holy life. I entreat any readers to avoid all practice of self-harm as this is not the way we treat a beloved child of God.

My personal understanding, which has no scholarly ground to stand on…

I have included saints, within this neurodiverse community’s calendar, who amongst other things have used fasting, self-mortification and isolation in their spiritual journeys. This is not because I revere these practices, but because I see them as symptomatic of how vulnerable and broken even those we revere as holy were.

I hope you have noticed through the emphasis of the intercession pointers, where I see people disappearing into isolation through grief, I wonder at how God made them founders of communities.

I know myself, that I have a daily struggle with anxiety to go about my daily living and regularly fantasise about being able to move to an isolated island. Some days I function quite well and at other times, even the ringing of the telephone is terrifying. I often wonder why I wasn’t called to a monastic life, but that was not where God wanted me. So those entrusted to my care struggle with me as I manage my hermit-like tendencies against the public-demands of a priest’s role. (Not an uncommon story.)

When I see people starving themselves, I wonder how someone who has such a difficult relationship with food can achieve such remarkable things. I don’t mean to glorify the extreme fasting, but to say: ‘here is a person who despite feeling that they did not deserve to eat for whatever reason, was used to show the glory of God in the world’.

Self-harming is one of the most widespread problems faced by teenagers in Britain at this time. Here are people who felt just as desperate, doing much the same thing and yet they are revered as holy – not because of the self-harm (it is always an incidental to the story) but because of some amazing act of courage, love, kindness or imagination that led others to God.

I don’t know how to make this more explicit without being triggering for people. Doubtless this post is very clumsy. Any ideas readers may have are very welcome.

Anne Catherine Emmerich

🙁 Oh, unfortunately nobody has helped us to tell Anne Catherine’s story yet.
Could that be you?

In the meantime, here’s a piece I wrote that explains some of what inspires the astonishing community, drawing as ever on great people already living the life we dream of.

Through the noise and the pain, hope…

Last year, this word from Jean Vanier dropped into my inbox and a number of ideas began to coalesce.

Belonging Together

Living with men and women with intellectual disabilities has helped me to discover what it means to live in communion with someone. To be in communion means to be with someone and to discover that we actually belong together. Communion means accepting people just as they are, with all their limits and inner pain, but also with their gifts and their beauty and their capacity to grow: to see the beauty inside of all the pain.

Jean Vanier, From Brokenness to Community, p.16

I had been reading a lot. Reading peoples hopes, fears and responses to the primates meeting of the Anglican Communion. Reading Neurotribes and learning more about the history of the neurodiverse community in which I live, horrified at the brutality with which so many autistes have been treated over time. I’ve been reading other people’s blogs about the life of the church in the holy land and this piece sent to me by a friend, knowing that I’m the mother of a non-verbal child: Why you should talk with non-verbal people.

This is the part which I want everyone to hear:

You do it for them–to show them they’re worth talking to.

Think about it. What do you communicate to someone by talking to them, or by refusing to talk to them? Imagine *that* boss everyone’s had who thinks talking to lowly little you is a waste of time.

But what if it wasn’t just your boss who wouldn’t look at you and talk to you because you’re not worth it? What if it was…(oh my gosh) everyone?…

And that’s the moment that I realized how much of the conversation I conduct is selfish, selfish, selfish.

Not that we shouldn’t enjoy those friends whose conversation is balm to the soul. Let’s be thankful for those people. But when I decide who I sit next to, when I let a conversation fall off so I can excuse myself and chat with someone else, those decisions are driven by what I can get out of it.

When I look at it closely, I realize the horrifying truth.

I seek to be encouraged, entertained, provoked, challenged, and flattered. And it’s not that I wouldn’t do that for someone else, but perhaps it’s at least slightly conditional upon whether or not they can repay the favor.

By making a simple, though complicated shift in my goals, it changes everything…

If my goal is to communicate to him that I love him, what I’m willing to do changes completely.

To communicate love, sure, I’ll work for it. I expect to. Anyone would.

I’ll take an hour and a half instead of an hour to make dinner, and expect a much bigger mess. It’s cool, because I’ve shown him I like him to be a part of what I’m doing.
Posted by MAURAOPRISKO on JANUARY 18, 2016

So much of what I had been reading, especially of the conversations taking place within the churches speak out of the pain that they are experiencing and out of a longing to be loved and accepted. People writing and speaking are so aware of the pain they are experiencing that they listen selfishly and respond to point out the plank in the other person’s eye.

I hear conversations where the meaning is lost as the rallying cries of differing tribes are raised and objected to: sexism; heteronormative; surely poverty is more important; traditional values; climate change; ageing spirituality; hearing friendly churches, accessible churches, Generation Y, and I find it hard not to join in, shouting for the inclusion of Autistes and their recognition as human beings, worthy of love and acceptance regardless of gender, sexual orientation, intellectual ability, theology, politics…

I’m trying not to do that. I’m trying to step back, to see the bigger picture. Each of these causes is worthy, has its place. Each person’s pain is real. Each person is loved and created by God. Each voice is telling us something about the bigger humanity God created.

I always come back to the passage that presiding bishop Michael Curry quoted following the primates meeting that sanctioned The Episcopal Church:

for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. Galatians 3.26–29

If this is a vision of life in the kingdom of God, then the ever increasing complexity of non-binary genders, multiple neurological constructions, a spectrum of sexualities, differently abled individuals… leads me to believe that we are drawing closer to the inauguration of the kingdom of God.

It feels chaotic, its bound to really. Complexity theory tells us that new life springs into being on the margins of an organism. So perhaps the church really is beginning to live where it should live again, on the margins.

It is in these chaotic margins that The Astonishing Community seeks to stand.

Interceding

On this day, lift before God:

  • those who do not feel valued by our society.
  • all who casually exclude others by failing to spend to time with them.
  • all who are desperate for their voices to be heard.
  • all whose lives are dedicated to listening (with ears or in other ways).