I know what it is to live day in day with high levels of pain. My doctors tell me that, like 5 -10% of the population, my central nervous system is misfiring and produces chronic pain. For me, this pain seriously impacts my mobility. I appreciate the medical help that I receive. I also know that there are spiritual resources that I can use to live positively while still experiencing ongoing pain.
I describe many of these resources in my 56-page Living Well With Chronic Pain, a book structured around a 12-Step program. I have also written a Manual for the spouses and friends of people living with pain.
Chaplains, pain specialists and GPs approved of the ideas in the books. Over the last two years, many people living with chronic pain have found these books helpful. Read reviews here. and here.
Today the printer has dispatched the fifth reprint of Living Well With Chronic Pain. St John Books in Fremantle (WA) will sell these books, or they can be ordered directly from me for $22.95 +postage and handling.
I am also now making available a digital version of the book and the manual. These are in PDF format and cost $9.95 (the book) and $5.95 (the manual). Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to order either or both, and I will email them to you. Payment can be made to my PayPal account.
One toxic idea that has seeped into Christianity is the belief that individuals survive death. This cane-toad of an idea has been introduced into the Christian faith either in its Greek form of the immortality of the soul, or in its post-Enlightenment guise of individual personalities somehow living on after death.
These ideas poison by setting our hopes too low. They arise from a careless reading of scripture and impoverished imagining of God’s cosmos. I am certain that the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead has a great deal more life than pallid ideas of “me going to heaven”.
To reduce life after death to individual survival fails to do justice to the concept. Atheists like Richard Dawkins mock Christians for believing that I should survive death in some way and their objections have traction. Given our present time-bound experience of life, we have to ask:
• What would we do after death?
• How would we endure the boredom?
• What would it mean, if anything, to meet our loved ones after death?
There must be more to it than simple survival.
Paul tells us that we are “in Christ”. According to St John being in Christ is having “life more abundant.” (John 10:10) Life in Christ is attaining “to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13)
As individuals, we are cherished in Christ, and because Christ is eternal, then we too are eternal. But these New Testament ideas of more abundant life measuring up to the life of Christ show that we are the best that we can be not as atomised individuals but when we reach out to others and transcend our ego, our selfish nature.
Maturity in Christ means being more than just oneself. The next step in the development of human beings towards maturity is to stop being an inward-looking “I” and start becoming a functioning “we”. After death we lose our precious “self” and are caught up in the greater reality of humanity.
In Christ and Time, 20th-century Lutheran scholar Oscar Cullmann traces St Paul’s thinking on what impact Christ’s death and resurrection has on our own. He sees Paul begin with “primitive” ideas in I Thessalonians of being “caught up in the air… to meet the Lord” (v. 22) and developing into the more sophisticated “resurrection body” in I Corinthians 15.
Note what Paul actually writes: “we will be caught up”. The plural is used. “All will be made alive in Christ” (I Cor.15:22). We usually read these passages with post-Enlightenment eyes and so fail to see the significance of the plural.
To me, it indicates that our real life in Christ now is corporate: as his Body, We have glimpses of the love and unity that Jesus experiences with the Father (John 16, especially v.20). This oneness with each other and with God is the principal promise of the New Testament.
We can imagine different scenarios in which this promise will be fulfilled, all of them with far greater potential than individuals living for ever one way or another. Whatever we imagine resurrection to mean, however, it will be better than our imagination. Paul, paraphrasing Isaiah 64:4, assures us that “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived … God has prepared for those who love him.” (I Corinthians 2:9)
FRANCISCANS DISCOVER HOPKINS
5. The Franciscan idea of inscape
Hopkins liked Dun Scotus’ idea of haecceitas, but it was too abstract for him to use directly for his poetry. He took the idea of landscape, the way an artist arranges the exterior world and chooses colours, composition and frame to express herself.
Hopkins’ revolutionary idea of inscape was the interior verson of landscape. The poet asks a ‘thing’ to reveal its soul and then finds words to express that spirit.
On his daily walks, Hopkins filled his notebooks with sketches of inscape, phrases and words that described the essence at the heart of what he saw.
Concept of inscape
1. Based on knowing the haecceitas of a thing (“thing” was the word Hopkins used – again it means creature whether animate or inanimate, conscious or not.)
2. A thing’s inscape was firstly what is like within: its spirit or spirituality.
3. Inscape has secondly an aesthetic quality. What expresses the beauty of its inner spirit? How can its inner spirit be communicated artistically; in Hopkins’ case, in words?
Evelyn Wilson explores inscape in her article on Hopkins, “Self-Portrait: Reflection in Water.”
Hopkins captures the inscape of a kestrel in “The Windhover”, a poem which takes my breath away on every reading:
Questions to ask to find the inscape of a thing
1. Notice the haecceitas of this creature. Ilia Delio told the story of Hopkins gazing at a tree for three days for its haecceitas to be revealed.
2. What is unique about this creature’s inner nature? What is its spirit/spirituality?
3. This creature praises God in the way appropriate to its inner nature. What is the song it sings, or the poem it makes, or the sculpture it carves, or the picture it paints to praise God?
Work with a thing, a similar creature to last night. Explore its haecceitas. As you gaze at it, let it reveal its inscape to you. Use the questions above. Write down words which express this inscape.
Hopkins acclaims Duns Scotus in Duns Scotus’ Oxford
Towery city & branchy between towers;
Cuckoo-echoing, bell-swarmèd, lark charmèd, rook racked,
The dapple-eared lily below thee; that country & town did
Once encounter in, here coped & poisèd powers;
Thou hast a base & brickish skirt there, sours
That neighbour-nature thy grey beauty is grounded
Best in; graceless growth, thou hast confounded
Rural, rural keeping — folk, flocks, & flowers.
Yet ah! this air I gather & I release
He lived on: these weeds & waters, these walls are what
He haunted who of all men most sways my spirits to peace;
Of realty the rarest-veinèd unraveller; a not
Rivalled insight, be rival Italy or Greece;
Who fired France for Mary without spot.
Hopkins’ poetic and spiritual interest in Duns Scotus was in his concept of haecceitas.
Duns Scotus’ spirituality was deeply Franciscan. He absorbed the Franciscan idea of prayer as gazing, which was discerned in the prayer of St Francis by St Clare. Clare wrote not only about gazing on Christ the mirror, but also more generally on gazing as prayer.
Sister Ilia Delio in Franciscan Prayer traces how gazing as a way of prayer becomes Duns Scotus’ philosophical concept haeccietas.
1. “Thisness”: this creature (thing, animal, person) is different from all other creatures like it.
2. This creature is unlike all other creatures.
3. This creature was uniquely made by God.
4. This creature is a unique expression of the Word.
Spend some time with a creature. Explore its haecceitas. Engage in dialogue with the Word communicated by the creature.
Suggested creatures: tree, flower, rock.
[A more “advanced” exercise would be to explore the haecceitas of a person, or love, or a kind action.]
Questions to ask about this creature.
1. What makes this creature different from all other creatures like it?
2. What makes this creature different from all other creatures – i.e. what makes it unique?
3. What is there about this creature that reveals God’s special love uniquely directed at this creature?
4. What Word does this creature speak to us? (What revelation of God’s nature is in this creature?
2. WHY SHOULD FRANCISCANS BE INTERESTED IN GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS?
Gerard Manley Hopkins was a poet-priest, that is, he wrote poetry as part of his vocation as priest. His poetry is ministry.
Hopkins is in a long line of priest-poets. George Herbert was one.
Hopkins looked back to the Dominican geniusThomas Aquinas, a serious teacher and writer of theology until five years before his death, when his writing stopped – except for a series of beautiful poems celebrating the Eucharist. The most famous of the Thomas Aquinas poems is Adoro Te Devote .The original Latin as Thomas wrote it is here. Gerard Manley Hopkins translated Adoro Te Devote into a moving poem.
Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
see, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.
Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived;
how says trusty hearing? That shall be believed;
what God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth himself speaks truly, or there’s nothing true.
On the cross they godhead made no sign to men;
here thy very manhood steals from human ken:
both are my confession, both are my belief,
and I pray the prayer of the dying thief.
I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
but can plainly call thee Lord and God as he:
this faith each deeper be my holding of,
daily make me harder hope and dearer love.
O Thou our reminder of Christ crucified,
Living Bread the life of us for whom he died,
lend this life to me then: feed and feast my mind,
there be thou the sweetness man was meant to find.
Jesu, whom I look at shrouded here below,
I beseech thee send me what I thirst for so,
some day to gaze on thy face in light,
and be blest for ever with thy glory’s sight.
[Latin original attributed to St Thomas Aquinas, English translation by Gerard Manley Hopkins]
Priest-poets puts their craft at the service of God. Thomas Ken (one of the non-juror bishops) headed every letter and every page of poetry Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam – to God’s Greater Glory, and this is the heart of the priest-poet’s vocation.
Like George Herbert, Australian priest, Elizabeth J. Smith finds that many of her poems work well as hymns, and she is known firstly for her fine hymns.
Words in the hands of the priest-poet become instruments firstly to fathom God’s nature, and then to sing God’s praise.
FRANCISCANS DISCOVER HOPKINS
1. SHOULD FRANCISCANS BE INTERESTED IN POETRY?
• St Francis was influenced by the troubadours. His interest in troubadours probably started on journeys to France as a child.
o Sang in Italian or Provençal (French) and not Latin.
o Broke convention by singing love songs to ladies beyond their status.
o Used popular harmonies and rhythms.
St Francis wanted to be able to sing love songs to God with the same language of intimacy. He liked the fact that ordinary people could enjoy popular song styles and understand both words and music. Churchy Latin was remote. Brother William SSF (Can it be True) was a modern Franciscan troubadour. In the late 60s and early 70s in Queensland William wrote ballads and songs and performed them at rallies with thousands of young people.
• Saint Francis was influenced by Sufi poetry. He wanted to travel to Morocco, Spain, and he succeeded in travelling to Damietta, all centres of Sufi poetry.
o Wrote love poetry to God.
o The “whirling dervishes” got themselves into an ecstatic meditative state.
o Lived in covenanted communities.
Saint Francis asked Leo to whirl to determine which way to proceed at a crossroads. He was intrigued by ecstatic prayer, and he wanted to know more. Some scholars like Idres Shah believe that he came away from his meeting with the Sultan in Damietta having quizzed the sufis there.
Poetry expresses deep insights about God. The best theology is poetry. Good poetry is theology.
It is often difficult to discern the boundary between hymns and poetry. The poet-priest, George Herbert wrote Let All the World in Every Corner Sing, as a poem, but it makes a great hymn.
I wake on Easter morning with my wife’s kiss. “Christ is Risen!” she smiles. I hesitate before responding, “He is risen indeed.” it is a great day, but I feel just pain behind and in front. The Psalmist’s words were louder in my mind than Easter’s liturgical cry: ” Fat bulls of Bashan surround me on every side.” Back pain behind and gastritis before fill my consciousness. in the same breath, I pray, “You are behind me and before: such knowledge is too wonderful for me,”, and I feel the truth of Psalm 139 deep within.
But it is not enough to get me to celebrate the Great Feast in the company of fellow-Christians. I deal with disappointment by turning to the gospel account of the first Easter morning.
I have been reading Brendan Byrne’s “theological reading of Mark’s Gospel” – A Costly Freedom, and it being in the Year of Mark, I turn to Mark 16. It is exciting to re-read the Greek: so much new is there!
Three women leave for the tomb “very early in the morning” (verse 2), between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. This, according to my hospice nurse wife, is the low time, the time when death often creeps through the house of the dying and claims those who are ready. It is a time of intense dark, and for most, the deepest sleep. Yet in Mark’s Easter story, they arrive “just as the sun was rising.” Easter is a dawn that arrives before expected, the good news that tears away the deepest darkness! The first Easter, and all those that follow, are extraordinary dawns.
The story moves on. I smile at the colloquial translation of verse 4(c) that springs to mind. The women are amazed that the stone is rolled away: it was a “bloody great boondie”! This whole business with the stone is amazing. The women discover that it has been moved by “lifting up their eyes and gazing” – the word theoriein calls to mind both wonder and the deep seeing of meditation.” its removal is literally “apocalyptic”, a heavenly revelation.
And then verse 5: “they enter into, into” – the preposition is repeated – the tomb, the realm of death. This detail sets Mark’s resurrection narrative apart from Matthew’s and Luke’s. The three women here enter deeply into the experience of death (“baptised into his death ” (Rom.3.6 perhaps?)) This is more than grief, although the grief is profound, like Jacob’s at the supposed death of Joseph.
This is a mythical experience of the profundity of death; Orpheus going into the place of the dead to retrieve Eurydice, and the lost possibility of new life with her. This is the place where many of Mark’s original readers may have been – in the hell of persecution or martyrdom. This is the place where true disciples must take shelter before they can shout the joy of Easter.
In my pain and disappointment this morning, I can identify some way with the women going into, right into, the place of death.
This also means I can identify with the hope put into the angel’s mouth: I too am looking for Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified One, the Risen One. Any emptiness I experience is because “he is not here” (verse 6). I too can experience the thrill of being called again to discipleship and mission, “go and tell the disciples that they will see him again.”
Best of all Mark’s “shorter ending” with its abruptness restores to me the sense of being included in this ongoing mission of God. The other Gospels describe many Appearances of the Risen Jesus. Mark doesn’t crowd me out with the experiences of others. Mark trusts that my experience will be authentic on its own terms.
Even though I struggle with pain that takes my breath away, I can feel his breath filling me with new life. He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!