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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Preparing for 'The Gate of the Year'



This week after Christmas is a so-called 'down-time' for a parish priest and also, though to a lesser extent, for a cathedral in this our holiday season.  No choir and a certain quietness falls; no PA and the pew sheets will be entirely prepared and assembled by the Dean; a bare string of volunteers keep the Cathedral open for visitors and pastoral care is summoned via the Dean's cellphone.  There is a strange sense of improvisation - and there are still the crib, tree and decorations to get down, sort  and store away by Epiphany.  I draft a note for the Cathedral pew sheet and am especially mindful of how the Sunday is also New Year's Day.  On New Year's Eve the Octagon will be rocking with celebrations and the Cathedral steps will be taken over as a viewing platform for the Town Hall Fireworks display; in the morning we will discover evidence of this 'occupation' and I will once again ponder how better we might use this privileged location for the gospel.  It would be nice to have some help ... but back to the pew sheet.

When I think about the new year I find myself drawn back to childhood and to remembering the quaint custom my mother had of staying up till after midnight and opening the front door to (as she put it) ‘let the New Year’ in.  More significantly, I also remember the framed text she had in the kitchen, ‘The Gate of the Year’ which read:

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:

“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”

And he replied:

“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. 
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.” 

The words are quite famous, being spoken by George VI in his Christmas 1939 broadcast to the Empire, certainly striking a chord to people facing the uncertainty of war (and I suspect that my mother’s fondness for the text may date from that particular Christmas message). The text comes from a poem God Knows by Minnie Louise Haskins (1875-1957) and her story is interesting in itself and I found good information on this from Sue Donnelly, the LSE Archivist. http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/lsehistory/2013/12/10/the-gate-of-the-year-minnie-louise-haskins-1875-1957/

We live in ‘interesting times’ and the juxtaposition of the secular ‘New Year’ alongside the sacred story of Christ’s birth always sets me thinking about the story by which we mark our lives. Haskin’s poem does not so much celebrate the New Year as enclose it within the greater narrative of our faith – and I (of course) feel comfortable with that. That, I think, keeps the so-called ‘New Year’ in its true perspective.


Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Day: Terrible and Glorious Ironies



Christmas Day 2016

Reading Luke 2:1-14

Reflection

Nearly every year there are terrible ironies at Christmas.  We speak of the season of peace and good will but we struggle with the dreadful ironies of war, terrorism and disaster.   We tell the story of how the Holy Family makes the uncomfortable journey to Bethlehem but finds itself homeless and must improvise some accommodation – and with that familiar part of the story we also recognise an aspect of our world: the plight of refugees barred from Europe; the dilemma of homeless people in our own country, unable to afford housing; the hardship experienced by those suffering from natural disasters – earthquakes and flood.  These realities stand in tension with the season.

Yet that’s not quite true is it?  The first Christmas is inseparable from these ironies.  (The peace and goodwill is the fiction, a part of the Christmas card sentimentality that we impose upon the season.) In the brief sketch Luke gives us of their circumstances, it is clear that the Holy family are at the lower end of the social scale: they are told to get registered and they comply.  They don’t plead special circumstances (Mary is pregnant); they don’t argue; they comply.   The hazards and discomforts of the journey for a young woman so close to delivery are not considered.  They don’t make a fuss.  Even the accommodation, though modest, meagre, and minimal, is at least, better than nothing.   This is a family who are transients – we could in modern terms think of them as street people and recognise them as our own marginalised people, sleeping in cars or garages.

To be like that, so poor, is to be vulnerable.  So much will depend on Joseph’s health and strength, on his ability to improvise and find employment.  The slightest accident or misfortune and they will be in trouble.  There is no social backup, so system of support.  They are vulnerable to the hazards of extortion and abuse.  How will they survive in a world where officials are corrupt and oppressive?  How will they survive the arbitrary use of power, the use of brute force?   The temple police, and the Roman soldiers are enforcers for the well off and the powerful – in this world, how can the Holy Family survive?  How is it that the great purpose of God in Jesus is entrusted to a family that is so vulnerable?

We are so used to speaking about the growing gap between rich and poor in our own society that we are almost trapped in platitudes and our moral imagination is numbed.  The bill that can’t be paid; the paralysing fear of the destitute who have nowhere to turn and no one to care: this is not just for the people in the failed economies of nations such as Zimbabwe or Venezuela but for many in a globalised economic system where wealth is controlled by the powerful.  As we contemplate the problems of our world now and the fragility of the lives many live, the vulnerability of the Holy Family shocks us.

When St John talks about the mystery of the Incarnation, how the Word became flesh and dwelt among us we can be shocked by the idea, the absolute mystery of God confined and concentrated into human flesh, our substance – that is conceptually shocking – but in Luke, when we see the circumstances into which the Christ comes, the shock is of another dimension altogether.  The great purpose of salvation is entrusted to the barest flow and flux of human contingency; entrusted to life in a family living at the edge; set into circumstances where anything could go wrong and the scope for misfortune and disaster seems utterly unfenced.  This seems a terrible gamble, a desperate wager; you could even say that it seems irresponsible and foolish!

Is this in effect the great risk of creation?  That the love of God embraces the risks of the incarnation so utterly that there is no safety net and Jesus is truly and most profoundly ‘Emmanuel’ or ‘God with us’ because he is subjected to the hazards of a disordered and dangerous world.

I talk of risks and vulnerability, of God wagering everything in a venture that seems so unprotected and uncertain, but alongside that I also find the tradition of the church and the memory it holds – as we see in various icons: I think of Mary and Joseph and their extraordinary care and protection of the infant Jesus. 

I began by speaking of the terrible ironies we confront in the Christmas season; and yet, the more we attend, the more we become aware of the glorious ironies of this season.  Against chance and probability, in the Holy Family we catch a sense of a wisdom, grace and strength beyond all expectation.  The child is in good hands.  The great purpose of God holds firm.


Saturday, December 24, 2016

The light shines in the darkness


Reading: John 1: 1-14

Reflection

I was in Auckland a week or so ago and had a few hours to catch up with some of my family. In the drive from the airport I was briefed about the exploits of my grandson Archie (age 6).  His parents are sending him to one of our church schools.  He starts next year.  It seems the family attended an interview and a tour of the school with the headmaster: at the end of this process they were asked if they had any questions.  Archie did.  He asked the Headmaster (1) Who made God; and (2) who made the man who made God.  It was reported that the Headmaster (clearly thinking on his feet) promptly referred Archie and these questions to the Chaplain for first term next year.   I am very proud that Archie asked such searching questions and I would love to be a fly on the wall when the chaplain has that promised discussion with him; and, to be honest, there is a part of me that is rather thankful  that Archie has not asked his grandfather those questions - yet.  These are questions that our gospel this evening engages.

I have always loved this gospel for the midnight mass at Christmas.  It is one of the most famous passages in the New Testament.  It is about the mystery of the universe and why anything exists at all.   You could say that, for a moment, it has us gazing into the vast darkness of the cosmos while the gospeller tells an old story in a new way.   He tells us of this unimaginable absolute reality that he calls The Word and that this summons the cosmos into being – forming matter, space and time – and all that is.  Only from the action of the Word can we speak of a beginning and from there on all time exists and the world is full of beginnings, full of creation, of causes, and consequences.   Where scientists have suggested ‘the big bang’ as the point of creation, time and space, John speaks of The Word and of a universe formed and sustained by purpose and (ultimately) by what we may describe as love.

We come to the Christmas midnight service for all sorts of reasons and, underlying all the reasons, my hunch is that we come because we are drawn by this light the gospeller talks of.  We are drawn by a thread of love sensed in the world and deeply embedded in our memories, traditions and intuition. We come because this is the service where despite the darkness of the world and the darkness of our minds, despite our uncertainty and questioning, there is the promise of light and understanding.  The gospeller says:  “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.”

This is a night charged with hope and promise; a night when we are invited to contemplate the awesome and outrageous proposition that the gospeller grasped: that this cosmic reality, source of all that is, the Word, is not just an abstract philosophical concept for debate, but has entered human experience and more than that, has taken on our flesh and shared our life in Jesus Christ.   This breaks all the philosophical boundaries and is such a staggering claim that we can’t conceptually quite see it – it “blows our minds.”  Yet behind this claim there stands a memory and an experience, the experience of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.    John sums it up in these words: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

This is a night when we come with our anxieties for ourselves, our loved ones and our world.  Against all those fears stands the gospel’s firm statement that in Christ is “the light of all mankind and this light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”  This may be a night when we come with mixed feelings – because along with hope and joy we may miss loved and familiar faces from the table or there are issues that trouble and distract us.  Truly, the joy of the season is never quite untouched by sadness but still “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” At the heart of all there is, is a purpose and a love beyond all our imagining.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Transillumination & Theology of The Living Christ



A member of the cathedral congregation (and a medical professional) has responded to the Sunday sermon with a fascinating reflection on De la Tour's use of light.  He found another of his paintings

St Joseph the Carpenter
(Joseph the Carpenter) that illustrates the use of light and, as it happens, a  medical phenomenon.

He writes: "The imagery here is even more compelling I fancy, because the candle appears to have been recently extinguished (noting the wisp of smoke rising from the wick, rather like the snuffing of the Cathedral candles!), and the source of the light appears to be in the Christ child's left hand. Even more spectacularly, and consistent with our theology of the living Christ, is the extraordinary depiction of 'transillumination' of Christ's fingers. Medically, this phenomenon only occurs in living tissues, the circulation of oxygenated blood lending the pinkish tinge to the light from the fingers!"

That has set me thinking again.  Theology, medicine, art and scripture in an intriguing interplay that extends us.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Faith in the Shadows


Thinking about Advent 4

Its the painting 'Joseph's Dream' by Georges de la Tour (c.1640) that really holds my imagination when I read Matthews account of the birth of Jesus - in the gospel for this Sunday (Mt.1:18-25).   I first encountered the painting through its use as the illustrated cover for George Steiner's Real Presences (a brilliant instance of the literary critic wagering on meaning and asserting the possibility of transcendence within the utterly immanent).


Its the sheer ordinariness, the raw domesticity, of the human dilemma that Joseph confronts and has somehow to endure, even just survive, that catches us once we allow it to touch our hearts and work in the imagination. De la Tour reinvents the moment in his own terms and time, to show a man alone at night, poring over the scriptures, weary and drowsy. The play with light (chiaroscuro) so that the source is obscure  means that the shadows are everything - this perfectly images a state of uncertainty, doubt and incomprehension. But it is also more than that, through this sense of light amidst the shadows, De la Tour also creates an impression of a mystical experience and revelation.  All of which is a way of introducing what I found myself engaging as I prepared to think about the gospel for the day ...


So our Advent readings have at last brought us to the story of Jesus birth. We have heard the story of John the Baptist (Advent 3); we have been reminded of the winnowing of the harvest at the end of time (Advent 2); we have been reminded to be ready for when the Lord comes (Advent 1); and now, at last in Advent 4, our focus changes, the gospel lens fixes on the story of Jesus – the sweep of eternity is reduced barely to this man Joseph, and his bride to be, Mary.

Except that the panorama of eternity has been reduced to a couple who are caught up in a difficult and compromising predicament: Mary is pregnant and Joseph has not had sexual relations with her. So, who is the Father? What has happened to the dreams that Mary and Joseph have shared and spoken about?

Does Joseph fear that his dreams have been a fantasy; that he has been wrong about Mary? That he has placed his hope in the wrong person? That is a tormenting thought. We can all understand that and how at this turning point of the gospel story there is this seed of doubt, fear and uncertainty -which could have blown the whole enterprise to nothing. What must Joseph do?

Well the fact is irrefutable. To labour the point: Mary is pregnant and Joseph knows that he is not the Father. There is a moment when that realisation hits so brutally that it takes his breath away. He can’t put his world back together again; still less pretend nothing has changed; yet what can he do? Can he live with a lie?  Dostoevsky brilliantly catches the anguish of betrayal when ideals and dreams seem to be lost ...


“For, after all, you do grow up, you do outgrow your ideals, which turn to dust and ashes, which are shattered into fragments; and if you have no other life, you just have to build one up out of these fragments. And all the time your soul is craving and longing for something else. And in vain does the dreamer rummage about in his old dreams, raking them over as though they were a heap of cinders, looking in these cinders for some spark, however tiny, to fan it into a flame so as to warm his chilled blood by it and revive in it all that he held so dear before, all that touched his heart, that made his blood course through his veins, that drew tears from his eyes, and that so splendidly deceived him!”

- Fyodor Dostoevsky 1821-1888
White Nights




In the coded language of scripture we are told that Joseph has a dream in which an angel of the Lord assures him that he is not to fear being mistaken and or betrayed but that this pregnancy is within the purpose of God. The Emmanuel, the Saviour, is near at hand. Well, the paraphrasing is my own, but that message which may work in a dream leaves the question of how it will appear when one awakes to the cold clear light of day?

This moment is a pivot in the story of scripture. Is the dream illusion or truth? This is an agonising dilemma. One dreams; one wakes up – and what will Joseph think and do? Is it more likely, that Mary experienced sexual relations (whether welcome or unwelcome) OR that she is pregnant by the Holy Spirit? However that question is engaged, the messenger in the dream sweetens the message through a scripture passage familiar to the dreamer: (Isaiah 7:14) “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us."

Joseph chooses to trust his dream – the dream that draws him back into the story of Israel and the promise of the prophets, back into a story larger than himself but nonetheless his story also .

What I see in Joseph’s story is a reflection of our own story of doubt and faith: the constant dialectic played out in our lives day by day. Sometimes our faith seems so unreasonable, irrational, and it is as if we are clinging to an illusion, clinging to a story to reassure ourselves against the frightening prospect of a universe that has no meaning. Joseph, trusts the dream, the story of Israel, and chooses to take his part in the great story of God.

This may help us to see Joseph as an icon for Advent. His dream gives him the light he needs to proceed amidst the darkness of incomprehension and uncertainty. 


Monday, December 5, 2016

Ahab in Advent


It is nearly always a bit of a problem quite how to tie Evensong (or Matins) readings with the liturgical season and to do so within the very limited scope of a brief reflection (approximately 400 words).  It may be argued that such linking is unnecessary, and even an imposition, but if a congregation has to endure the readings - then there seems to be some obligation to try and make sense of them.  What do you think?


Choral Evensong Advent 2 2016

Readings:  1 Kings 18:17-39;
John 1:19-28.

We are frequently told that Advent is a time of waiting; of expectancy; of getting ready for the coming of Christ.   As children some of us understood that only too well: Christmas never seemed to come.  We had waited and watched: we had seen presents carefully smuggled into the house; we knew the favourite places of concealment; we might even have shaken the box on the top of the tall wardrobe in the spare room and guessed at the contents.  But none of this made the great day come any sooner and there was always some uncertainty about what we hoped for.

Uncertainty prevails in the readings for this evening.  Each reading has elements that resonate between the texts.  So, for instance, Ahab sees Elijah and appears to check that it really is Elijah he is dealing with, though his words are more rhetorical gesture than a genuine inquiry: “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?”  Elijah makes it plain that the boot is on the other foot and the troubler is Ahab himself.  All of Elijah’s actions that follow show him appearing to act against his own cause: the pouring of the water is to douse any possibility of fire; and yet conversely, any fire will have to be the action of God and the irrefutable confirmation of Elijah’s status.

John the Baptist has impressed Jerusalem and the officials about the Jerusalem temple.  His character and style have stirred old cultural memories and legends of Elijah: has Elijah come again?  Who are you?  The questions are real, not rhetorical.  John flatly denies that he is in any way the one they are waiting for.  Yet his actions recall Elijah: as Elijah doused the sacrifice with water so John baptizes with water in the Jordan River: different actions but using the same element - water always being used for cleansing and to signify commitment. 

Both Ahab and the Pharisees had to manage uncertainty; had to clarify who they were dealing with; had to recognise the activity and agency of God.  Those are typically Advent questions and issues.  Similarly our preparation for the coming of Christ at Christmas demands our attention and our discernment.  We see Ahab as reluctant and fearful; the Pharisees as unsure who they look for; or quite what they look for;  and we ourselves may feel puzzled at the prospect of Advent – a confusion and hope that Archbishop Rowan Williams voices in his poem ‘Advent Calendar’.

Advent Calendar

He will come like last leaf's fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud's folding.

He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.

He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.

He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.


Saturday, December 3, 2016

Advent 2 Thinking about Chaff and Winnowing



Reflection Advent 2


How might you describe the ‘mood’ of the readings set for this Sunday?  The language of Isaiah is charged with hope – but the righteousness, faithfulness and judgement he speaks of are virtually subverted by the strangeness of his language.  We neither expect the wolf to live with the lamb; the leopard to lie down with the kid; or the calf and lion to reside together; neither do we imagine the bear to graze or the lion to eat straw.  In the natural order as we know it, these are carnivores.  Isaiah knows this of course and his language takes us into another world and another order, another way of being. He alerts us to this other world and the purpose of God beyond time.

John the Baptist refines this vision by warning of a cosmic judgement, a holocaust and at the same time speaks of a harvest that is the point of judgement where chaff is burned but the grain is preserved and stored. There is also hope here but alongside warning and judgement.

3:7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

3:8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance.

3:9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.

These texts draw me to the painting we know as The Gleaners by Jean-Francois Millet (1857). You may recall it shows three peasant women collecting straws of grain missed in the harvest.   This is survival agriculture, back-breaking work by people at the bottom of the social and economic order. In the far distance, in a golden light, we catch a glimpse of huge haystacks, many workers at an abundant harvest and, apart from it all, a mounted supervisor.  When exhibited, The Gleaners attracted hostile criticism from polite society because they thought it glorified workers, criticised upper classes, and was the sort of revolutionary thinking that had led many to the guillotine about 60 years earlier.   I react to the painting in that way.  It asks a social question – where is the justice in a world where so many struggle to survive and others are so privileged and indifferent? Where is the revolution?  That is of course not just a social question but a moral one and as relevant now as then.

In Matthew we see how the people of Jerusalem and Judea responded to the Baptist’s Advent challenge to set their house in order: “Prepare the way of the Lord.  Make his paths straight”.  We hear of many going down to the Jordan to be baptised and to confess their sins.  At an hour of judgement and crisis – what does one do?   Those going to the scaffold make their peace – they prepare the way; they straighten things up; if this is the end, the critical moment when all one’s life is weighed and judged, what else can one do?

John notices the religious, social and political leaders of Judea have also heard the warning and have taken it seriously enough to head to the Jordan for baptism with everyone else.  He is not impressed.   These are leaders and role models; they hold power and influence.  What does he mean when he shouts “Bear fruit worthy of repentance?”  My guess is that he means ‘Change your life.”  Live in such a way that we all see who you are, the changed person that you are – or even the person you were created to be.

Now we know the story of Dismas, you may recall he was the repentant thief who died on the cross next to Jesus and asked Jesus to remember him.  But is repentance that simple?  Can the habits of a lifetime simply be shed?  Can a lifetime of selfishness just be walked away from; one’s formed and habitual way of thinking and acting just be disengaged?  May that not require some time, some focus and careful attention?

The Baptist speaks of the coming one as having the threshing floor cleared and his winnowing fork in hand: this is early agriculture – requiring a threshing floor (a flattened and cleared space) for the grain to be deposited and then trampled by cattle or beaten so that the husks are loosened from the kernels.  Then everything is tossed into the air with the winnowing fork and the air flow separates the chaff from the grain – blowing it away.

What is the chaff in our lives?  Are we aware of the dead stuff that it seems must take a lifetime to get past?  We should not judge too hastily.  The chaff was the husk that held the grain and brought it to ripeness; it had its purpose.  What we may call chaff and long to be rid of, may have had its part in forming us; but who are we becoming and who will the winnowing show us to be?




Thursday, December 1, 2016

Thy Kingdom Come ... be careful what you pray for


I have ambiguous feelings about this time of the year.

There are some famous lines in Book 11 of Augustine’s Confessions where he tries to explain the nature of time.

“What is time? Who can explain this easily and briefly? Who can comprehend 
this even in thought so as to articulate the answer in words?
Yet what do we speak of, in our familiar everyday conversation, more than of time?
We surely know what we mean when we speak of it.
We also know what is meant when we hear someone else taking about it.
What then is time? Provided that no one asks me, I know.
If I want to explain it to an inquirer, I do not know”
(Confessions,11.14.17, p. 230)

We start a new Church year this Advent Sunday. We mark the moment and the expectancy of the season with the Advent candle stand and the ring of candles that will count us to Christmas Day.  So this Sunday shows us all engaged with the great mystery of time: (1) we start a new church year and (2) we have a candlestand that counts us through the time of Advent to Christmas.

There is of course a practical problem – something that we really impose upon ourselves; perhaps something that we need to ask ourselves?

Is our countdown to Christmas really a preparation for Christmas or are we really rehearsing and waiting for something more?  I hope I am not going to sound like someone who puts Christmas down – I love Christmas and the intolerable wonder of the Word made flesh.  But I will admit to times on Christmas Day, after all the joy and far too much to eat and drink, that I sense that the longing of the season still lingers unsatisfied … and at the back of the mind one senses the pressure of that rather frightening and awesome prayer “your kingdom come”.  Amen, ‘Come, King Jesus.”

Of course we do prepare for Christmas: in the proper sense of heart and mind and contemplating the mystery that beggars all our thought; in the proper sense of understanding the love of God toward us and all creation as the Word takes form and substance in our matter.  There is enough in all of that to ponder and wonder at – and we need to do that or else the familiar stories can be reduced to the colourful but sentimental images too often associated with a children’s Christmas pageant.

But I will be frank, I think at Advent our preparation for the Christ event, the birth in Bethlehem, is really a rehearsal for the end of time and the return of the King.  This means that our enthusiastic preparations for the season are also threaded with our longing for the end; for the kingdom – as dreadful and as terrifying a thought as it may be.   That thought does give a certain edge to our Christmas shopping and preparations – we prepare to celebrate the day of course, but in our hearts we are looking further ahead.  The mince pies, the Christmas cake, the turkey and the ham, the endless little presents, the cards: the whole vast train of things we do at Christmas start to become a little less important at the thought of Christ’s return – and whatever that may involve.

That looking ahead aspect accounts for the edginess and the warning tone of all the Advent readings.  We are cautioned to be ready for the return of the King; to be ready for the end as the great purpose of God (we can put it no more clearly than that) is drawn to completion.  The apocalyptic language of scripture with its talk of flood and famine, wars, disasters – and of course earthquakes, of which we know something – confronts us with our mortality, our finitude, our temporality in the vast abyss of time. 

And yet, against that cosmic unease, we continue with the simple human tasks of preparation for the feast and we light our Advent candles: holding both our hopes for the day of celebration and the day of the kingdom that will come.

Further Notes


“This morning during Matins I had a ‘jolt of happiness, of fullness of life, and at the same time the thought: I will have to die! But in such a fleeting breath of happiness, time usually ‘gathers’ itself. In an instant, not only are all such breaths of happiness remembered but they are present and alive—that Holy Saturday in Paris when I was a young man—and many such ‘breaks.’ It seems to me that eternity might be not the stopping of time, but precisely its resurrection and gathering. The fragmentation of time, its division, is the fall of eternity. Maybe the words of Christ are about time when He said: ‘…not to destroy anything but will raise it all on the last day.’ The thirst for solitude, peace, freedom, is thirst for the liberation of time from cumbersome dead bodies, from hustle; thirst for the transformation of time into what it should be—the receptacle, the chalice of eternity. Liturgy is the conversion of time, its filling with eternity. There are two irreconcilable types of spirituality: one that strives to liberate man from time (Buddhism, Hinduism, Nirvana, etc.); the other that strives to liberate time. In genuine eternity, all is alive. The limit and the fullness: the whole of time, the whole of life is in each moment. But there is also the perpetual problem: What about the evil moments? Evil time? The terrible fear before dying of the drowning man, of the man falling from the tenth floor about to be crushed on the pavement? What about the tears of an abused child?”

(The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann 1973-1983, p.78)