Asking the big questions

I , along with half the world, watched Pope Francis’ inauguration yesterday. Beautifully filmed, it was a moving occasion, and compelling drama. ++Justin Welby will be enthroned tomorrow, and I am sure it will be an equally momentous occasion, though perhaps with a smaller crowd.

The last time both heads of the church changed, at almost the same time, was in 1294. They were two weeks apart.

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Both men seem to have a fair bit in common, and even look uncannily alike. They both demonstrate a humble, almost diffident approach to the positions of power they have been chosen to take on. They both eschew the ostentatious trappings of their roles, and embody Jesus’  foundational teaching of service – that ‘the first shall be last’.
Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and that the Pope too, when    exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross.
It is an upside down world view, that the world will never understand.

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It may be an apocryphal story, but it is said that St Francis was overheard at prayer. The cry to Heaven from Francis lips was in the form of a crucial question..
  “Who are you and who am I, that  you should choose me?”
I don’t know whether he ever received an answer, but certainly history has answered in full why God chose that particular young man.

It is a question that I imagine both Pope Francis, and ++Justin may have asked themselves of God, in recent days. Not only the inevitable ‘why me?’ cry, but the deep, important questions about who they are, and what is the nature of the God who has called them to serve.  History in time, will tell us too, what God has been about in selecting these men but the signs so far, would seem to indicate a  fresh wind of the Spirit blowing through the church.

St Francis’ prayerful cry was the subject of a talk given by the person leading my BAP (Bishop’s Assessment Panel)  three years ago. It struck a deep note within me, and I have never forgotten it. I am now approaching my priesting in the Summer, and the question is as relevant now as it was then. It is one I have to keep on asking, and keep listening for the answer. History, I suspect, will have very little to say about me, but what God has to say when I get through Heaven’s gates, is what really matters when all is said and done.

Stepping Stones

I was given this beautiful picture today, by a friend of mine. He is a fellow ordinand, and it is the picture on his Ember Card (cards sent out by people about to be ordained, asking for prayer for themselves, their families, their new parishes and  incumbent)

It struck a deep chord with me, and I have sat with it for some time, letting it speak to me. It is highly symbolic of just where I am, at the moment. I can see the other side of the river from here.  The far bank is suddenly, very close. There are still some ‘stepping stones’ to get there, of course.. and some of them have the potential of being quite wobbly. Like saying goodbyes to those I have lived with, learned alongside, laughed and cried with, in all the twists and turns of this crazy journey towards ordination.  I expect there maybe more wobbly ones too, and perhaps ones that catch me by surprise.

It has been a strange week in the Lectionary calendar. Several people have remarked to me how we have heard the same passage 4 or 5 times over the last few days. Very significant words too.

“You did not choose me, I have chosen you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” John 15:16 

They are especially significant, as we see them in chapel, two or three three times a day. Inscribed on the College icon, on the back wall of the chapel, the message of those words becomes almost a subliminal reminder, etching themselves in a deep place within. Since the icon was commissioned by the Common Room and written by Marianna Fortounatto in 1981, it will have been imprinted on many hearts through the years, in the ‘generations’ of students since then.

Rowan Williams, in his book, “The Dwelling of Light: Praying with Icons of Christ” (Canterbury Press, 2003) bases his chapter on the Pantocrator on the Westcott icon, writing, “the icon of the Pantocrator in the chapel of Westcott House, Cambridge, was and is for me and many others a profoundly significant image.” Of its meaning he writes,

“The point is simple: face to face with Jesus, there and only there, do we find who we are. We have been created to mirror his life, the eternal life of the one turned always toward the overflowing love of the Father; but our human existence constantly turns away. When we look at Jesus, we see in some measure what he sees, and are drawn to where his eyes lead us… we look at him looking at us, and try to understand that as he looks at us he looks at the Father. In other words, when he looks at us, he sees the love that is his own source and life, despite all we have done to obscure it in ourselves. When we look at him looking at us, we see both what we were made to be, bearers of the divine image and likeness, and what we have made of ourselves.”

If I hear the same passage four or five times in almost as many days, it feels like God is underlining something in red.. “This crazy journey was my idea.. and it is me who is sending you out from this place to go and bear fruit that will last” , perhaps?

Just as well He is going with us too.. ( I seem to remember Moses saying something similar.. ” If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here” Exodus 33:15 NIV) Amen, Moses.

This is my ember card. The images I have used are taken from my stoles.

I will, God willing, be ordained as a deacon on the morning of July 1st 2012 . As I mentioned in my last post, all prayer much appreciated for those steps across the river. There is another whole journey, of course, that begins on the far bank.