Fr Robin Gibbons writes: As I approach my fortieth anniversary of Ordination, it seems prescient and appropriate as a priest, who has not trodden the straightforward path of parish life, but instead has had a 'variety of experiences' in ministry, being a monk, curate, community dweller, chaplain, academic, a constantly ecumenical pastor, and finally transferred into the eastern rite-to prepare for that celebration by journeying into the solitude of memory and place.
This is because I sense that this rich variety of different ministries needs to be examined carefully, and I need to reflect on all of them and share what I find with others. Why? Because in this present age of battered church and rather demoralized clergy, some signs of hope are necessary and desperately wanted not least by myself. as I pause for breath on the Gospel road. I would hope to share some sign of God, it's not so much the sign of Jonah I am looking for, but that of St Benedict's vision of God as light, described in the Dialogues of St Gregory:
Benedict, being diligent in watching, rose early before the time of matins (his monks being yet at rest) and came to the window of his chamber where he offered up his prayers to almighty God.
Standing there, all of a sudden in the dead of the night, as he looked forth, he saw a light that banished away the darkness of the night and glittered with such brightness that the light, which shone in the midst of darkness, was far clearer than the light of the day.
During this vision a marvellously strange thing followed, for, as he himself afterward reported, the whole world, gathered together, as it were, under one beam of the sun, was presented before his eyes. While the venerable father stood attentively beholding the brightness of that glittering light, he saw the soul of Germanus, Bishop of Capua, in a fiery globe, carried up by Angels into heaven.
Benedict and his Rule were formative in my monastic and priestly life and though I do not live in a monastery, I still use the Rule as a guide-and the Dialogues of St Gregory as a visual reminder of the personal quest Benedict undertook, that finally led to his inspirational Rule becoming so formative and important for so many of us! His mystical vision of God as light is a pattern of encounter found throughout Christian peoples experiences. Those who know the writings of Julian of Norwich will immediately think of her 'hazel nut' and that similar interior vision of God, that neither blinds nor kills but instead distils itself into something small, in order that we can glimpse, even if only for a moment, a touch of God. I hope in my reflections to dare to open out with you those moments of God's touch as I have found them, or as you might discover for yourselves through my reflections. To do this I have chosen a diary model, taking the month of March as my pattern, for my ordination day was the 31st of March and each day writing something under the heading of a letter from the alphabet, but grouping them in six chapters for easy access. Each letter will also be illustrated with various aspects of the great Cistercian ruins of Kirkstall Abbey, Leeds, founded in 1152 from Fountains, for this place, associated with my birth and childhood, has perhaps seeped into my bones like nowhere else. Its ruins echo with so much of God's voice even now.
Theme: Priesthood is a deep but also very human calling
A is for Adam
Why Adam? Don't get me wrong, this is not any discussion of man versus women but on that much deeper and needful understanding that all of us on this earth, humans of all genders, animals and life-forms, come from the same source, yes God, but in a real sense that dust, earth, clay, which is the true meaning of Adam as a name. In that sense we are also all Eves, because we stem from Adam, maybe that might be a better image, but at any rate the rich description of those two sources of origin and creation in the biblical accounts of Genesis, takes us back, not to a time of nothingness, but to a time of 'some-thing', to a time of formlessness, shifting darkness and deep, deep, space. There even in the pause before that moment when Creator loves creation into being by the power of desire, for the starting point of new worlds and life, there is the loving Word which shapes the forms by naming, and the Spirit hovering over all to cough it into life, already a complete image of Trinity. Here is the eternal community of love at work in the dance of creation, which gives to this world that Spirit of God, that mystery of life, which is the 'something' of God! The more I think about creation and its connectedness, which seems to be borne out more and more in those wonderful scientific discoveries and seen in those brilliant documentaries on them, the more I marvel at the sheer audacious truth of the song of Genesis, 'it is good' sings God, 'it is good' we reply!
Yet this connection between all life on this planet has always been part of the religious spirit of humans, for despite our best efforts at atheism and agnosticism, something always breaks through the human barriers we place to hide God from sight. Some people seem to suggest that they can accept nothing after death and that view I must accept as their truth, but for me, now in later life, I wonder more about the immensity of God, hidden yet, as I have seen, so close like Benedict's light, and wondering I can only guess why I am here, and where I will be going to. Despite any doubts that may have come into my thoughts during this 40 year long priestly trek, or those terrible moments of dark suffering we all have to face, I keep coming back, not to scientific proof but a deeper, more genetically linked insight, that somehow I belong- somewhere and to something!
This is why Adam, yes and Eve take on another meaning, not just the first humans but a bit more, they stand for a completeness which will be ours again. For as Adam and Eve walked with God in that first Eden, and remember are created not as vassals or subjects but as friends of God, so despite the mystery of their sin they are not abandoned, but promised redemption, given a covenant which God cannot break, and in the coming of the second Adam, God in Christ taking on our dust to share not only mortality but as these words of John of Damascus who in his work on "Those who attack the Holy Images ", reminds us, came to transform our poor star dust into the heavenly stars of divine life: "I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake, and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honouring that matter which works my salvation."
So Adam, star dust, the beginning of our lives and also the ending: as we hear on Ash Wednesday, "remember mortal, you are dust and unto dust you shall return" but not forever. My thoughts on my priesthood have to begin in the dust, not as a refection on sin, that comes later, but on our common source in God, who does not leave us dust but transforms us. So, A is for Adam, who in vocation and calling tills the soil of life. That ditty from the Peasants revolt says it wonderfully: "when Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?" Well, we all are in God's eyes. So my first remembering is this, I as priest belong not in any special place but as one who is born like everybody else, my calling begins in the first Adam, one of the human family and with them, as one of them, journeys to the second Adam, the risen and glorified Christ. Amen.
'A Series of Moments' is going to be published in a blog format later this week. URL to follow soon.
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