Easter Lights


Lueurs pascales – Easter Lights

 A poem by Brother Roger of Taizé (with translation)

Toi, le Christ,
tu te charges de ce qui nous charge,
au point que,
débarrassés de ce qui alourdit notre existence,
nous reprenions à tout moment
la marche légère
de l’inquiétude vers la confiance,
de l’ombre vers la clarté de l’eau vive,
de notre volonté propre
vers la vision du Royaume qui vient.
Alors, bien que nous osions
à peine l’espérer,
tu offres à chaque être humain
d’être un reflet de ton visage.
(Le défunt Frère Roger Schutz de la Communauté de Taizé, dans Reff, Sylvie et Stern, André. Soleil de prières. Editions Albin Michel, 1989).
Prières à Taizé
You, dear Christ,
take all our burdens on yourself,
to the point that,
released from all in our lives that weighs us down,
at every moment we may step lightly again
from anxiety to confidence,
from the shadows to bright living water,
from self love
towards the vision of the coming Kingdom.
So, even though we scarcely dare to hope that it may be,
you offer each human being
to be a reflection of your face.[The late Brother Roger  – translation by Ted Witham]

Life After


Life after

I stand heart-still on bush-edge trail.
My height nothing next to bunched boughs
of sage green gums.  The great wedge-tail
eagle soars: all before it stoops, bows.

The eye zooms: the bird has stalled:
gravity forgot; upheld by thermal.
All potential at rest, just the air mauled
by fierce talons; wings held formal.

Then, straight down from pin-head highs
the eagle drops, wings tucked, a grey stone-streak.
The lizard struck and killed, in cold eye’s

wink.  Wings wide as Passion Week.
For all of us in God’s surprise
are taken alive in Christ’s dear beak.

The Parable


THE PARABLE

 

How sad the sower —
the thrower
of seed.
In bonding for ever
in life
is his need.
Yet the task
the Father asks
is to throw
Far from his heart
to death to part,
and perchance not grow.
It’s utter folly
to risk losing love
and throw life away.
Yet the melancholy
Jewish raconteur
enjoins you and me
to lose all,
and in the losing
not to know
if the prize is yours.

Ted Witham

 

 

 

Life After


Life after

I stand heart-still on bush-edge trail.
My height nothing next to bunched boughs
of sage green gums. The great wedge-tail
eagle soars: all before it stoops, bows.

The eye zooms: the bird has stalled:
gravity forgot; upheld by thermal.
All potential at rest, just the air mauled
by fierce talons; wings held formal.

Then, straight down from pin-head highs
the eagle drops, wings tucked, a grey stone-streak.
The lizard struck and killed, in cold eye’s
wink. Wings wide as Passion Week.
For all of us in God’s surprise
are taken alive in Christ’s dear beak.

Ted Witham 2010

Ratzinger and the Reason to be Christ-centred


1974 Theological College – (Trinity College, Melbourne)

A fellow theological student and I were arguing ferociously. I was 25, and presented the Left’s view of Aboriginal rights in the sharply political terms I had learned from the Campaign for Racial Equality.

‘Come back and talk to me when you can argue as a Christian,’ my friend told me.
~~~~ ~~~~ ~~~~

I remember clearly the challenge he put to me that day, although I know he looks back on that statement with embarrassment at the priggishness of his former self.

Unless Christ is central, goes the argument, it’s not Christian. And unless Christ is central to your thoughts about any subject, then they are sub-Christian. All these decades later, I am still challenged by this position, and even more so by my reading of Joseph Ratzinger’s The Theology of History in Bonaventure.

I have wanted for some time to read this exploration of Bonaventure, and I am enjoying the experience. Ratzinger is learned and lucid, a teacher whose range is so wide that he includes the reader by providing enough backstory. For example, he shows how Bonaventure differed from Thomas Aquinas in his treatment of Aristotle, because Bonaventure wanted to preserve the primacy of Christ in his philosophy. Ratzinger delights by showing not only where they disagreed but the courtesy with which Bonaventure attacks the arguments and never the person of Thomas.

And the central challenge Bonaventure throws to us is to argue for a radically Christian view of history, in which Christ is the central point, and in this age of the Holy Spirit, we are returning to the Father. As Ratzinger diagrams it: Father > egressus > Christus > regressus > Father. (To read Ratzinger, your Latin needs to be reasonably tuned.)

In our age, we have become so used to secular versions of history and time, notably the past-centred view of conservatives; the apocalyptic view of ruptured time promoted by the Green movement and the various views of time implicit in scientists’ narratives around cosmic and biological origins.

Bonaventure’s challenge to us is to see history in God’s terms. The victory of Jesus on the cross and his sending of the Spirit change the direction of history – not just salvation history, but political history, human history and the history of creation. Bonaventure is a medieval scholar; he does play with different schema of sevens (seven days of Creation, seven days of Redemption, seven aeons of the new Creation), threes (Creation, Redemption, New Creation), and twos (Old and New), but these elaborate and fascinating frameworks all point back to the centre-point who is Christ.

We are rightly enthusiastic for inter-faith dialogue and the ways other faiths can deepen our own. But how do I deal with Bonaventure’s insistence that the final word is Christ’s? We fear ecological destruction, but does the confidence of our return to Christ sharpen our concern or bolster our hopes for the future? We worry about the imbalance of the world between a wealthy West, a rising China and poverty and violence. Do Bonaventure’s certainties reduce those worries?

Sometimes the Pope’s present pronouncements seem to come from another world. Maybe they do. His love for Bonaventure and the place of the Franciscans in history indicate that Ratzinger’s views have been heavily shaped by the ‘other world’ – that of medieval theology.

I am glad to be challenged again to argue as a Christian, and to place Christ at the centre in all my thinking.

The ghost of Melchizedek


At my ordination as a priest in 1975, one of my Anglo-Catholic friends gave me a card congratulating me that I was ‘a priest for ever, after the order of Melchizedek’. This is quite a common sentiment among the more catholic of my friends; and, as far as I can judge, for many of them, is no more than a sentimental statement that priesthood is for ever, or ‘indelible’ in the jargon of sacramental theology. And for Anglo-Catholics there is the additional frisson of belonging to an ‘order’.

I know enough Hebrew to know that the Psalmist (in 110:4) was not thinking of a religious order. ‘You are a priest forever according to the word of Melchizedek,’ is the literal translation, and in this case the Hebrew dibrati דִּ֝בְרָתִ֗י (from dabar) more likely means ‘in the manner of’, than any idea of a company or group.

But to be a priest ‘for ever’ binds one psychologically in a fascinating way. From the moment Archbishop Sambell laid his hands on my head, my identity changed. From then on, whatever else I might become, I would be always a priest. That sense of being called to communicate God to people has indeed remained with me for these 36 years.

And so has Melchizedek, that strange priest-king who appears to Abram to offer him bread and wine. (The account appears in Genesis 14:18-24). Melchizedek has been haunting my prayers, not least because I am reading through Hebrews at Morning Prayer and Melchizedek has quite a role there.

When I re-read Genesis, I am struck by how little can definitely be said about this king. His name, made up of two parts, means literally ‘my king-righteousness’. Some of the Rabbis take this to mean ‘Righteousness is my King’, and I would be proud as priest (for ever) and a human being (for ever) to take this a motto.

But other commentators differ: for them, ‘Melchi-‘ refers to the priest’s actual status as a King. He is named as King of Salem. No-one knows where this ‘Salem’ is. Is it Mount Gerizim (the sacred mountain of the Samaritans), or is it what Jerusalem, Jeru-Salem, was known as before David named it? In any case, the word ‘Salem’ is related to ‘shalom’, the peace and prosperity that we will know when God restores Israel.

So for me, a priest after the manner of Melchizedek, the second connection is with ‘peace’. I am to be one who is a catalyst for God’s peace. I am called to bring people together – with each other and with God, to be a channel of God’s peace, as that wonderful Franciscan prayer expresses it.

Righteousness, peace: these accompany the ‘ghost’ of Melchizedek, and I am glad of their company.

Melchizedek offers Abraham ‘bread and wine’. These are the common tools of my priesthood too. The Eucharistic bread and wine, and the hospitality that they symbolise, are the means by which I can live in righteousness and peace. My purpose in life is to invite people to feed on the rich generosity of God Most High.

In a striking image, the Rabbis also believed that Melchizedek brought to Abram the letter he (ה֥) which completed Abraham’s name. As a priest after the manner of this Melchizedek, I may also have the opportunity to reveal to people their true name, to complete something about their self-understanding. What an extraordinary privilege! God Most High, help me discern the letter ה֥ when I need to bring it into a person’s life.

In Psalm 110, and on my Anglo-Catholic friend’s card, I was told I was a priest ‘for ever.’ That is a wonderful affirmation. For all of us, the new identities God gives us in baptism, in ordination, in confession and reconciliation are not passing gifts: they are permanent. I rejoice in the ongoing nature of my priesthood. But the text is not as clear-cut as that. ‘For ever’, in Hebrew le-olam (לְעוֹלָ֑ם) can indeed mean ‘eternal’. But is also means ‘for the Eternal one’. I can grasp too greedily at God’s gifts. God is generous and will not revoke his gifts; but it’s not all about me and my status before God. My service as a priest is for God, le-olam, and it is God who benefits first from it.

Melchizedek sits with me in my prayer-room recalling me to the generosity of the Most High. His presence speaks to me of:

• The righteousness and peace that I receive from God and am to channel in the service of God’s people.
• The hospitality I am invited to bring to others; in some people’s lives, maybe even bring the letter that will complete their name; and
• the privilege of serving the Eternal one.

May I be grateful that the Most High calls me to be a priest for ever in the manner of Melchizedek.

Meat and Right for Lent


We Believe

Meat and Right for Lent

John Warner, We Believe: studies in the Nicene Creed, Perth: John Warner, 2011
(available from St John’s Books, Fremantle)
68 pages, A4 paperback

Reviewed by Ted Witham

The Rev’d John Warner believes that “Christians should say what they mean and mean what they say”. The question raised by these substantial Lenten studies is whether most Anglicans do have a spiritual and intellectual grasp on the Nicene Creed, or whether we rattle it off Sunday by Sunday unheeding of its meaning.

One school of thought says that we don’t need to understand all the philosophical ramifications of our central statement of faith. It is expressed in the philosophical categories of the 3rd Century, not in a contemporary framework, so we should recite the Creed believing that we believe the same things about God as Christians did 1,700 years ago. There is a grain of truth in this, but if we rely on it as a reason for not trying to understand the Creed better, then Fr Warner would say we are guilty of hypocrisy – not to mention sloth.

Fr Warner divides the Creed into 30 days collected into 5 sections of various lengths. At the end of each section is a series of discussion starters. The sections are traditional — Belief in: God the Father, God the Son, the saving work of Jesus, God the Holy Spirit, and The Church and the Last Things.

The teaching for each day is both solid and solidly orthodox: meat and right for Lent. The teaching is seasoned with some helpful analogies, metaphors and anecdotes. Fr Warner is aiming to reach thoughtful parishioners, though some readers may need a little encouragement and support to get the most of out the materials.

(On a personal note, I was Associate Priest in Claremont parish when John was Rector. We have worked together in study groups and in Education for Ministry (EfM), so I am accustomed to John’s teaching style.)

The five sets of discussion starters will stimulate worthwhile discussion both on the intellectual understanding of the Creed and on the practical and spiritual implications for life in the Church. I would have preferred more discussion starters and more guidance on how best to use these materials in a group, but restricting the amount of questions will keep group participants focused on the Creed.

There are too few educational materials directing us to know and understand the central teachings of our faith. John Warner’s new studies fill a real need. I hope many parishes will want to use them this Lent.