AN ADVENT ‘HOME RETREAT’

You are invited to use the resources below – reflections and Scripture passages – as part of your prayerful celebration of this beautiful Advent Season. These find there origin in St Nick’s Parish Day Retreat on the last day of the ‘Year of Prayer’ ad the eve of the ‘Year of Communion’. They unite Prayer, Mission and Communion as an integrated whole, based on the theme of “Being and Communion”. Fr Richard McKay and Mrs Mary Hopper, who jointly led this Day of Retreat hope and pray that these reflections will help all who pray them to encounter God and find themselves in prayer, in mission and in community.

SESSION ONE:

INTRODUCTION TO THE  THEME

                                                  ‘BEING AND COMMUNION’

We live in a world of activity – we are valued by our achievements – we get caught up in the drive to succeed.

To get in touch with our deepest core we need to challenge the drives – Advent is an opportunity to create space to see and to hear anew! Advent is a period in the Church’s Year when we seek deeper ‘Enlightenment’. Jesus, like Buddha and so many other great religious leaders, guides us on a journey from darkness into light, from ‘partly living’ to ‘the fullness of life’. Entering into the silence of waiting means we hear those inner driving voices for what they are: blinding us to ‘the true God’; suppressing awareness of our true value and the diminishing of our true self; hiding from us our real purpose in the world.

Prayer is not about lots of words – but a deeper listening and a new seeing. It is not about becoming more ‘spiritual’ or ‘religious’- but about getting in touch with our deeper self, truer self in that silence and light that heals and sets free. This in turn will lead us to see God, self, others and all creation with new Vision, in a new Light. 

The Christian Church, together with many other Faith traditions have the practice of a rhythm of prayer through the day – times to stop and reflect, to lift our gaze in wonder at the glory and to feel the pain that needs the transfiguring touch of Divine Light; and to listen to the divine speaking through the world around us.

We invite you to engage in that ancient rhythm of prayer scattered through the day, as pegs on which to hang our silences during which the Light can grow. We invite you to stop awhile, ‘watch with Him’ awhile, and enter into the rhythm of the Church’s prayer, the rhythm of your own life in Christ. We ask you to surrender yourself to periods of silence and let God be with you, speak to your heart, lead you into the wilderness that is the place of love, betrothal and a sending out!

SOURCE OF BEING: WHO IS GOD REALLY? 

If God is God, then God is infinite – beyond the capacity of the mind to comprehend. All language about God (‘Theo-logos’) is essentially metaphor, helping us to approach and reflect upon Ultimate Truth that is beyond us. So the ‘metaphors’ are essential and meaningful but always limited, open to development to something more. In the end we cannot comprehend the Divine, but we can experience something of the Divine by allowing the ‘mind to sink into the heart’ (as the Russian tradition of prayer describes it). That is what contemplation is – allowing the ‘mind to sink into the heart’. 

The Hebrew and Christian Scriptures are at once the story of humanity’s developing and maturing understanding of the God we experience and God’s unfolding revelation of the Divine Self. These Scriptures are the story of a people growing in the Light. What does this ‘revelation’ tell us about the Divine: that all creation comes from the explosion of love into the nothingness – the  astronomers’ ‘big bang’ is this divine explosion of love. God is to be found in every atom of creation, God is at the heart of our evolving universe and the dynamism of the evolutionary process. But God is not simply creative power, but is loving relationship. The Divine, the Ultimate Truth and the Ultimate Power is absolute and infinite 

Love: Love is not a ‘thing’ but the dynamic of relationship – a ‘being in love’. Hence God is the pattern or network of loving relationship – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This ‘triune’ Love is the source of all creation and this Love is embedded in every atom of creation and the magnetism of all evolution. 

Before all else God is Love. Divine Power is Divine Love; Divine Creativity is Divine Love; Divine Justice (and Judgement) is Divine Love. Divine Love is not remote but involved – Love that creates, transforms and fulfils. This loving involvement of God in creation reaches its pinnacle, its deepest expression,  in ‘The Word made Flesh, dwelling among us’ (John 1: 14) So why do we fear God, who comes to share our humanity in all our frailty and weakness in the flesh of Bethlehem’s baby, in the vulnerability of the refugee child and family, in the Jesus who empties himself becoming a ‘slave’ condemned and executed as a slave on a Cross? 

And where do we find this Divine Presence? Embedded in Creation – yes; in the processes of Evolution (into Christ Omega) – yes; in the dynamic of human and social and political development – yes. And by entering into the inner sanctuary of the human person, into the core of our being, the ‘cave of the heart’. Infinite Love is the very centre of our being and there we enter into the Divine Dance and Dialogue  of Love. 

SCRIPTURES FOR REFLECTION

Exodus 3: 7-8a, 9-10, 13-14

The Lord said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. i have heard them crying for hep on account of their taskmasters. Yes, I am aware of their sufferings. And I have come down to rescue them, to bring them out of that country to a country rich and broad, flowing with milk and honey.’

And Moses said to God, ‘ If I go to the Israelites and and say “the God of your ancestors has sent me to you” they will ask, “What is his name?” 

And God said to Moses, ‘ “I am Who I am!”. Say this to them, “I am has sent me to you” ‘.

Matthew 16: 13-15

And Jesus asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say I am?’  [and then] He asked, ‘But you, who do you say I am?’

 

SESSION TWO:                  BEING: WHO AM I REALLY?

We have the joy of being made from dust and clay as well as divine breath (Genesis c2). We are the unity of body, mind and spirit. We are called to venture upon the journey of inwardness, walking to rhythmic beat of the divine heart at the core of our being.

Hindu spirituality speaks of the journey deep into the ‘cave of the heart’ there to discover the Divine Presence. The English country parson speaks of plunging into the cloud of unknowing there to know beyond knowledge. The Carmelite way speaks of climbing the Mountain to be transfigured or entering into the Interior Castle to find the King. Jesus undertook this journey – in the self-emptying of the incarnation, in being carried to the Temple to be acclaimed the Light of the Nations and Glory of Israel – not without cost! In journeying through the discovery of adolescence, finding a home in the Father’s House. In the trek to the Jordan River and the breakthrough of the Spirit. And then into the desert! Before His ‘going out’ – to the poor and broken, the despairing and hungry – there is this ‘going in’. Without inwardness there is no authentic mission, no true ‘being for others’, just the loss of self in a driven and faithless activism. 

Eric Fromm defines the human person as a ‘Freedom for Love’; the Judaeo-Christian tradition believes passionately that we are made in the ‘image and likeness of God’ – a God ‘Who is Love’. 

The inner person calls us to enter the cave of our hearts there to dialogue with the Divine – a dialogue of silent presence. Our contemporary world so often seduces us into superficiality or prizes only power, wealth, success and the sovereignty of the intellect: God delights in our drinking from the well of love that the Spirit creates deep within our inner cave. The Russian tradition of prayer speaks of the Mind sinking into the Heart and from that place ‘in the Heart’ being attentive to God – not an anti-intellectualism, but a nourishing of that within us that is beyond the intellect and therefore informs the intellect with a deeper wisdom.

Prayer, the prayer of stillness and silence, the prayer of being and gazing, the prayer of being and being with – this prayer immerses us into the Divine Mystery, the Cloud of Unknowing. This prayer leads us to our true self, our real humanity – our new humanity. From this Centre we can begin to radiate love, breath love into our torn world. The world may never know, never realise – but the world becomes a more loving place because you have gone to the Well in the Cave of the Heart and there drunk deeply of love – love to  be poured out as Jesus did.

So abandon yourself to this inner journey – so that journeying inward to God and Self, you might journey outward to your sister, your brother, your world with greater humanity, deeper love and more joyous hope. Jesus sends his disciples (us) out into our world, but without this inner journey there can be no Christian Mission – and without Mission and Service the journey inwards decays into an obsessive God-greedy alienating luxury. May  the God of endless loving always be in our Going out and our Coming in.

SCRIPTURE FOR REFLECTION

Ephesians 3: 14-21

This then is what I pray, kneeling before the Father from whom every fatherhood in heaven and on earth takes its name. In the abundance of his glory, may he, through his Spirit, enable your inner self to grow strong, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and then planted in love and built on love, with all God’s holy people you will have the strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth; so that knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond all knowledge, you may be filled with the utter fullness of God.
Glory be to him whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine …

 

SESSION THREE   BEING FOR: ‘WHO IS MY NEIGHBOUR?’

Our Parish throughout its 171 years has welcomed different migrant groups. Today it welcomes over 60 different nationalities from all over the world – from every continent.  We touch the great challenge and gift of our time – the global phenomenon of migration. There are over 67 million refugees world-wide. What is it to be human, to be Christian in this context? Being human is to be in community, to find ourselves in the journey outwards enabling others to find themselves. To be the neighbour to the other is our identity. The Church is called to be just such a community, a sign of what community, what humanity can become . Being Community is being true to the God who is the Community of Love – being community is the essential ground of Mission, of being for, being the Neighbour. Made in the image and likeness of God we are made for ‘Otherness’, we are only whole and we find our centre in the ‘Other’, the Other at the core our being, the Other in the people, the society, the world around me.

Who do I not want to be in community with? Who do I refuse to be neighbour with? Our favourite parish hymn is ‘All are welcome in this place’ – we were challenged by the Holy Spirit to ask ourselves ‘Who are not welcome in our church?’ We rejoiced in our multi-cultural and multi-ethnic make-up; we were used to welcoming the poor, homeless, addicted, the refugee through our doors, not only to serve them, but to be with them, alongside them. But… what about the LBGT+ community? That was God’s challenge to us.

Who is God challenging you to welcome, to engage with? Who do you prefer to shun, avoid, judge, condemn? The migrant? the Muslim? the homeless? the mentally ill? the addict? the Gay? the young? the old? What are my fears? Jesus comes to bring a perfect love that will cast out all fear (1John 4: 18). He calls us to ‘cross over to the ‘other side’ to a land that seems dark to us, our Zebulun and Naphtali (Matt 4: 15-16) (that we might bring light, find light!). He left his Nazareth, his familiar ‘comfort zone’, to ‘be with’, an Emmanuel, to accompany, serve, protect. Pope Francis talks so much about the gift that the migrant is to us, that we are poorer in humanity if we build walls against the ‘stranger’. 

Jesus, the Word made Flesh, reveals to us who God is and who we can become, who we truly are at our deepest! He is the Flesh of a God whose love is truly Universal; he is the flesh of a humanity who risks having a heart as large as this God. The Word was made Flesh in the poverty and misery of Nazareth, the homelessness of Bethlehem and the refugee journey to Egypt. This is where and how God entered fully into the human drama, the human condition – in a place of turmoil, oppression, injustice, conflict. The Light of the World came to guide us into the darkness of poverty to discover the true light of love and humanity. We are challenged by this God, this brother who lives the ‘Option for the Poor’. The rich, comfortable and powerful will only find their true humanity by reaching out and receiving the gift the poor will give them. The poor, if we live with them, for them, gift us with our true selves. They bring us more light than we bring them! We cannot find ourselves, come into the Light unless we allow the poor to reveal to us our darkness, our poverty of heart.

SCRIPTURE FOR REFLECTION

Luke 10:  29-37

But the man was anxious to justify himself and said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ In answer Jesus said,

‘A man was once on his way down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of bandits; they stripped him, beat him and then made off, leaving him half dead. Now a priest happened to be travelling down the same road, but when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite who came to the place saw him, and passed by on the other side. In the same way of Samaritan traveller who came on him was moved with compassion when he saw him. He went up to him and and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. He then lifted him onto his own mount and took him to an inn and looked after him. Next day, he took out two denarii and handed them to the inn-keeper and said, “Look after him and on my way back I will make good any extra expense you have.”
Now which of these three, do you think, proved himself a neighbour to the man who fell into the bandits’ hands?’
He replied, ‘The one who showed pity towards him.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise yourself.’

 

SESSION FOUR

BEING IN CREATION:  ‘COMMUNION OR DOMINANCE?’

Our Scriptures begin with a prophetic vision of the garden of harmony that God intends for all humanity and all creation – but that harmony we are constantly rejecting, we cannot cope with. So we spoil it and leave to build our own self-centred and wounded world. 

In our urban world we hardly notice the glorious rhythm of the seasons – the death of winter beginning to yield the flowering of New Life; the springtime of beauty and growth giving way to the harvest of fulness as the sun reaches its summer zenith; the transitoriness of fulfilment as the decaying and declining of autumn sets in; and finally the onslaught of the deep death sleep of winter when we touch emptiness and meaninglessness. The ancients were so at one with this rhythm of creation that they saw in it the struggle of the gods, their dying and rebirthing and the endless, meaningless struggle between light and darkness, death and life continues. As Pope Francis has reminded us (in the recent Pan-Amazon Synod), we need to rediscover and learn ‘communion with Creation’ from our indigenous sisters and brothers (eg of the Amazon basin), in order to ‘heal’ creation from the the ravages of human exploitation.

We are the people whose faith speaks of hope: that creation has purpose and goal. (see John 1: 1-5; Romans 8: 14-25; Eph 1: 8-10; Col 1: 15-20; Christ Alpha and Omega in Rev: 1: 8 & 21: 1-6) That our little lives in this great cosmos are indeed significant, God-touched, God-loved. Yet this very life-giving faith, this burning hope, this embrace of creating love of which we are  a part, has too often led us to control and dominate, rather than to walk in harmony and feel the rhythm of creation within and around us. And so our precious gifts and talent for science and technology has too often not enhanced but wounded our earth, polluted our seas, and starved our sisters and brothers. We are obsessed with ‘development’ for profit, rapid return on investments and ignoring the suicidal harm we are inflicting on ourselves and future generations by not living in harmony with the ‘rhythms of creation’. We call the indigenous peoples of forest and savannah, of coast and desert – primitive. Yet they listen to the trees and the wind-swept deserts and bend to their call and walk to their rhythm. Perhaps too late and too little we are to learn from them. 

In the silence listen to the earth – it is in your heart, your body, beneath your feet, before your eyes – let it enter your soul that you might live again. Worship the Creator who is still creating and wants to draw you into sharing the divine task of co-creating. Listen to the call of creation for in it you will hear the voice of the Creator and the cry of your own creativity.

SCRIPTURES FOR REFLECTION

Genesis 1: 27 and 2: 7-9, 18-20

God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them…

The Lord God shaped man from the soil of the ground and blew the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being. God planted a garden in Eden, and there he put the man he had fashioned.. From the soil the Lord God caused to grow every kind of tree, enticing to look at and good to eat…

And the Lord God said ‘It is not right that the man should be alone. I shall make him a helper.’ So from the soil, the Lord God fashioned all the wild animals and all the birds of heaven. These he brought to the man to see what he would call them; each one was to bear the name the man would give it. And the man gave names to all the creatures.

Romans 8: 18-23

In my estimation, all that we suffer in this present time is nothing in comparison with the glory which is destined to be disclosed for us, for the whole creation is waiting with eagerness for the children of God to be revealed. His intention is that the whole creation itself might be freed from its slavery to corruption and brought into the same glorious freedom as the children of God. We are well aware that the whole creation until this time has been groaning in labour pains. Not only that: we too, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we are groaning inside ourselves, waiting with eagerness to be set free.

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