“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil.
Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956
MYW 2.1 HOW WE CAME TO GOD AWARENESS
We had some simply amazing conversations in this exercise.
Here is our feedback list off the whiteboard but what we discussed was so much more, as you probably expect.
We talked quite a bit about how we can be the “people” who influence others to seek God.
Unaided by anyone, knew God personally as a child
One day in a bookshop I just knew I had to find God, simple as that
Had a dream that disturbed me and sent me seeking
During long depression, I knew I was being held
While in a coma from m/cycle accident, Jesus came to me
Special music of a choir
Fell in love and my whole perspective changed
Art draws me close to the divine
Fellowship with other Christians
Events and camps
Hit the wall and didn’t know why I was here
Started wondering about death
Great injustice fired me up to want to make a difference, couldn’t do it alone
WHAT IS ‘SPIRITUAL’
By Ian Robinson
You can talk about ‘spiritual’ things today, even ‘spirituality’, but what do we mean? There is a variety of views about exactly what constitutes spirituality. To cut to the chase, J.A.Wiseman (2006) observed four approaches:
a. Spirituality is about Ultimate Meanings.
Spiritual Life occurs when a person is ‘consciously striving to integrate one’s life in terms not of isolation and self-absorption but … toward the ultimate value one perceives’; This definition suggests that ‘spirituality’ is happening where people are managing the meanings or priorities of their life, including the integration of ultimate values for their life. The question of integration leads to the second category, perhaps the most common use.
b. Everyone is Spiritual
Spirituality is a fundamental dimension of a human being, whether conceived as the whole of or as part of the person. This definition is usually conceived as an inward focus that is separate from the appetites of ‘the flesh’ or the structures of rationality in intellectual or public life. Perhaps an experience of ‘going beyond words’, this points to experiences of deep connection, such as between creatures, between human and nature, between human and divine and between the material realm of life and the spiritual realm of life. This leads to the third category.
c. Spirituality is about an experience of transcendence
Spirituality is the lived experience of striving for transcendence, for wholeness with others, however these terms are understood. ‘To talk about “the spirit” is to discuss what gives life and animation to someone.’ It is the experience of searching, ‘thirsting’ is a common metaphor. Central to this category, therefore is the focus on sources and resources, such as ‘spirituality of nature’. It is not all quest, but as Richard Woods defines, an experience of transcendence: ‘[Spirituality] is the self-transcending character of all human persons, and everything that pertains to it, including, most importantly, the ways in which that perhaps infinitely malleable character is realized concretely in everyday situations.’ This definition suggests that experimentation is typical, as distinct from holding a body of beliefs, even a body of beliefs of one’s own construction. Kaldor (2003) stated that transcendent experiences can just as easily arise from a person’s body of beliefs as vice versa, and that this is what has long been the experience of theology. Alister McGrath said: ‘Spirituality is the outworking in real life of a person’s religious faith- what a person does with what they believe.’ This brings us to the fourth category.
d. A body of interpretations can be called a particular kind of spirituality
Spirituality can also be described as an academic discipline that studies that experience described in (c). This definition suggests that human quests for meaning can be grouped and common practices analysed, even grouped for the purpose of study, adding ‘ism’ to the end of things, and defining ‘worldviews’. It has a useful place. Such worldviews need to be acknowledged, as in ‘Buddhist spirituality’. They have grown together as an aid to identifying the helpful and unhelpful aspects of one’s current practice and interpretation, and to provide ways for sustaining that spirituality as experience, as meaning, as values and priorities. In other words the goal of this definition is to support all the other definitions above. For many, the way they talk about spirituality is anything but academic, they may even hate the thought of being categorised, may even imagine that they are not subject to any philosophies or assumptions, but nonetheless their views, as assembled, are ‘a spirituality’. People may or may not seek coherence within their own views, but they usually value a valid congruence between experience and idea or metaphor. This validation enables further exploration.
In much of the western world, spirituality is often confused with ‘mysticism’. As the definitions below show, it may be confused with ‘irrational’ in a way that reduces mystical experience to the esoteric and unusual, say in visions, ecstasies, levitation or similar:
1: A religion based on mystical communion with an ultimate reality
2: obscure or irrational thought.
Thus, to some degree, mysticism and spirituality have been as synonyms , sharing a focus on the inward experience of ultimate realities. Collectively, Mysticism is a set of disciplines for learning to remove all barriers to the fullest experience of the divine in which thoughts, emotions, doctrines, actions and even the sense of self is lost in Union. ‘The mystic speaks with God as a person with a Person, and not as a member of a group. He lives by an immediate knowledge far more than by belief; by a knowledge achieved in those hours of direct, unmediated intercourse with the Transcendent when, as he says, he [sic]was in “union with God”.’
Doctrine and Experience
Underhill (1920) sets out to look for commonalities in the conscious experience of mystics in many religious traditions. She finds unity not as theologians but in their experience of the divine: ‘…to communion with (the soul’s) source, the Absolute One. There you have the mystic’s vision of the Universe…’. She favourably compares the Upanishads of Hinduism, where Brahma is ‘other than the known and above the known’; medieval Christian mystics including Richard of St Victor, Ruysbroeck and Jacopone da Todi experiencing ‘the glorious and Absolute One’ who is ‘above reason and without reason’ though not others. She concedes that some doctrines are more help than others in reaching that point but that the art of mysticism is primarily not about doctrine.
In her day, Underhill was mostly concerned to counter the reductionist psychological view of ‘ecstatic religion’ arising from the work of William James in The Varieties of Religious Experience. (So too does Egan (1982) who spends two chapters on ‘Psychological Approaches’ to mysticism.) However, in her speed to bridge the gap between ‘transcendentalists’ like Barth and Brunner, and ‘immanentists’ with their pragmatic activism in charitable churches, she conflated what Egan (1982) later kept separate. ‘There seems to be an experiential – not merely interpretative – difference within Christianity between enlightenment and love mystical experiences.
St Ignatius’ famous vision on the banks of the Cradoner River is an example of Christian enlightenment through which he became ‘another man’. St Teresa of Avila’s famous ‘transverberation’ experience of being pierced by God’s love is different from her Christian enlightenment experience of how all things are in God’. Thus a ‘unitive’ experience, as later lauded by Dom. Bede Griffiths, had already by Underhill been distinguished from the transformative experience of mystical love.
In the post-modern era, where more credence is given to non-rational experience, McIntosh (1998) can cite a few sources from the early 1990’s who are beginning to theorise (theologise?) respectfully about mystical experience. It represents a step away from the custom among modern theologians of making far too little of the mystics’ relationship with God, and the custom among contemplatives to discover meaning only from their experience. Perhaps both wings of the bird are needed for flight – theology and experience, both head and heart.
Presence and Connection
Because of this four-fold definition of ‘spirituality’, and the similar history of ‘mysticism’, scholars often attempt to define something even more essential. James Wiseman follows Bernard McGinn when he suggests that ‘presence’ is a more useful category for describing the unifying characteristic in the various forms of spirituality or mysticism: ‘the preparation for, the consciousness of, and the reaction to what can be described as the immediate or direct presence of God.’ Likewise, Alister McGrath borrows from Brother Lawrence (c.1614-91) to affirm the concept of spirituality as the aim to ‘practise the presence of God.’
In the case of those whose conception does not include God as personal being, but an ultimate life force, the sense of presence would be a sense of ‘connection’ with the whole universe. Kaldor (2003) quoted a wide ranging UK survey which found ‘connection’ to be a powerful concept in various formulations of spirituality – ‘keeping in touch with, relating with, being filled with, engaging with, coming closer with, moving towards, and union with the Divine, in whatever way the Divine is envisaged, theistically or non-theistically.’
All four areas of the above definition are held to be important in the experimental nature of contemporary spiritual searching (see later appendices). One particular formulation of the essence of spirituality at one point in a person’s spiritual journey may be an inhibitor at another point.
While it is popular to set the existentially rich concept of ‘spirituality’ over against ‘religion’, ‘bible’ or ‘dogma’, the comments above show that they can be mutually supportive spiritual pursuits, simply when they are seen as such. When one is thought to trump the other both decay.
By Ian Robinson
Alongside western romanticism, the twentieth century witnessed within Christianity a growing counter-cultural resurgence of contemplation. It encountered resistance from more activist and more rationalist forms of Christianity. However this un-orchestrated emergence is mostly motivated by a felt need to depart from that form of rationalism with which the Western worldview is saturated. It is God out of the box. Let us take a tour of these developments.
In the pre-World War 2 era, interest in contemplation followed the parallel routes of ‘mythology’ and ‘mysticism’, and was pursued by some remarkable and original persons.
In the first half of the twentieth century, a number of brilliant minds explored mysticism. McDaniel contrasted two different viewpoints of this topic. In Western terms, mysticism is ‘other-worldly’ or ‘super-natural’. But if seen from an indigenous perspective, the ‘unseen’ is just another aspect of nature operating on several levels, just a part of life. The writers listed briefly below were not the only persons to explore this aspect of life, but they illustrate the argument for a ‘renascent’ contemplative spirituality. Their writings received a wide readership, and still do.
Rudolph Otto (1869-1937) was a German systematic theologian. In 1911-1912 he visited North Africa, South Asia, and East Asia – after which he published his best known The Idea of the Holy – an inquiry into the non-rational factor in the idea of the divine and its relation to the individual. (1917) In 1927-28 he also visited South Asia and the Middle East. He coined the Latin phrase mysterium tremendum et fascinans et majestas – the profound, fascinating and majestic sense of mystery.
Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) was an educated English woman, a gifted writer, and later a sought-after retreat leader in an era where she was the only non-ordained person, and a woman, to be so authorised by the Anglican Church. Archbishop Michael Ramsey is quoted as saying that ‘Underhill did more than anyone else in Anglicanism to keep the spiritual life alive in the period between the wars.’ Her self-confessed tendency towards ‘pure mysticism’ was balanced by concrete expressions of Christian community service among the poor. In the USA, the former Communist, later Catholic Worker Movement’s Dorothy Day (1897-1980) was also thus doubly engaged.
In France, Simone Weil (1909-1943), whom Malcolm Muggeridge called ‘the most luminous intelligence of the twentieth century’, lived a short but brilliant life in radical solidarity with the poor during Europe’s fascism. Her adult body was racked by frequent severe migraine, but in that desolation her spirit grew into mystical ‘attentiveness’ (Fr. Attente) to the Christian God (though it is maintained that even at death she refused baptism). She died in England from malnutrition, which she voluntarily entered into through a desire to identify with the war-ravaged hungry of her homeland. At the same time, Sr Edith Stein (1891-1942), also a Christian Jewess like Simone Weil, was taken from the Netherlands and exterminated at Auschwitz. She had been a writer and theologian on the mystical writers St John of the Cross (sixteenth century), Thomas Aquinas (thirteenth century) and Pseudo Dionysius the Areopagite (c. 500CE), all of whose writings had been indebted to the Desert Fathers and Mothers, to which we shall return below.
The authors above wrote in the days when anything that was not schematized and rational was considered ‘mystical’. This breadth of meaning is still in use. For this reason perhaps, in the social sciences of this period, the focus was not upon mysticism but mythology, pursued on the one hand from the point of view of psychology, and on the other by anthropology.
Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) was a Swiss who developed concepts in clinical psychology that described unconscious archetypes in individuals, collective consciousness in societies and synchronicity in events. He favoured the use of dreams and mythology in interpreting our conscious and unconscious (the shadow) dimension, believing that spiritual emptiness was at the heart of much psychological distress. Because of his affirmation of spirituality, and to some degree his integration of it into his philosophy, his psychological analyses are often used by contemplatives like Bede Griffiths (see below) to describe the interior workings of the contemplative life, especially the concepts of the Shadow self (‘the Other’) and the Archetypes. 
Mircia Eliade (1907-1986) was Rumanian, and a post-war exile in France, who revived the status of mythology after the popularity of Frazer’s (now discredited) The Golden Bough. He showed the religious dimensions of the rituals and symbols that were in common life and culture, and not necessarily associated with religion or deity. He sought to show that the irreligious had nevertheless unconsciously substituted other rituals, and that a ‘ritual dimension’ was nevertheless being expressed. For Eliade, ritual was the focus of spirituality which was quite distinct from the inward mysticism of other thinkers. Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) has been his successor in the widespread interpretation of all religions in terms of archetypal myths, especially the heroic archetype. This contrasts sharply with the review of Australian colonialism above which found the ‘heroic’ archetype to be egoistic. Campbell and Eliade did not have the only assured outcome of scientific anthropology. Another anthropologist, Victor Turner studied the change-process in cultures which he expressed in terms of liminality and communitas. He later went on to a study of the process of pilgrimage, to which we shall return.
These viewpoints on the power of myth and mysticism were living and working with notoriety in mainstream culture. Others, however, attracted both wonder and scorn for their spiritually-motivated stance on the margins of twentieth century society – one in the deserts of Algeria and one in the ‘deserts’ of the oceans around Iona.
Charles de Foucauld (1858-1916) served as a Captain in the French colonial military in Morocco and Algeria and had a reputation ‘for indiscipline and notorious conduct’. Five years later he was converted: ‘The moment I realized that God existed, I knew I could not do otherwise than to live for him alone.’ He joined the Trappists, one of the most ascetic of Catholic Orders but then in Nazareth and Algeria he placed himself amongst the poorest of the poor, practising ‘the life of poverty, hiddenness and abjection’. He drew up a Rule for a new Order, a desire which was not realised in his lifetime, ‘to carry the Gospel to the most abandoned… not by preaching it but by living it.’
Living in danger for seven years in a hotly contested colonial rule, at Tamnassaret in the Hoggar Mountains, he was murdered by some of the Tuareg people he had befriended. The Little Brothers and Little Sisters of Jesus was the Order established after his death. Little Sister Magdeleine, who founded the Little Sisters of Jesus, quoted brother Charles when she said:
Be patient as God is patient, loving as God is loving…reject harshness, bitterness, condescension, the militant spirit which sees those who differ as enemies… The Christian programme is simple: love, love; goodness, goodness…see in every human being a beloved brother/sister and friend.
There are many books about Foucauld’s life, and he has been beatified by the Vatican.
One of Foucauld’s Little Brothers was Carlo Carretto (1910-1988). From an activist Catholic youth role in Cold War Europe, Brother Carlo reports that he was propelled by the Spirit to go to the Little Brothers of Jesus in the Sahara in 1954. He heard God say to him: ‘Leave everything and come with me into the desert. It is not your acts and deeds that I want; I want your prayer, your love.’ After ten years as a hermit, he returned to Italy to ‘take the desert to the streets’, and through retreats and publications his message spread around the world. As one example of the influence of the desert, it is noted that Ivan Illich, who wrote the famous social polemic De-Schooling Society in 1960, was in 1959 on retreat in a desert cave under Carlo’s direction. The Little Brothers and Sisters are the closest in recent centuries to the original Desert Fathers and Mothers.
Another recent liminal form took place in the Celtic equivalent of the desert – the Irish Sea. The small island of Iona off the west coast of Scotland holds a cherished place in Scottish history, indeed of the history of European Christianity. It is where in 563CE Columba founded a Celtic monastery that was instrumental in later evangelising Scotland, England and northern Europe. In the middle ages it was a pilgrimage site, the burial ground of the Scottish kings including Macbeth, and had a Benedictine abbey. The ‘Iona Community’ was re-founded in 1938 by the Rev George MacLeod (1895-1991), a social activist and later pacifist. In 1933, he resigned his stipend (church salary paid to clergy) in order to re-establish a revitalised missionary community on Columba’s island of Iona.
At that time, only the parochial system was an acceptable form of ministry and therefore Iona was a radical step in the ‘training’ of leaders. He took student ministers and the unemployed to work together to rebuild the medieval abbey as well as to find common ground both in work and in spirituality. As the group worked, they began to reinvent a contemporary monastic life, a mixture of prayer, hard labour and study.
Iona is today an ecumenical Christian community spread across the world, which seeks new ways of living the Gospel ‘in today’s world’, including the common life.Their common rule includes obligations in four areas:
* common life
* disciplines in daily Bible-reading, prayers and tithing to the needs of others
* participation in regional meetings and an annual meeting
* commitment to peace and reconciliation.
As Columba saw the sea as a desert, and as his community emulated the lifestyle perfected in Egypt, so Iona today has the same global mission in mind, though with far less reliance on the ascetic practices of the Desert Fathers and Mothers. Members practise ‘liminality’ in the form of solidarity with the socially marginalised and through works of social justice and pacifism. ‘Thirteen years on from its foundation, it (Iona) has an impressive track record in terms of directing able and committed men into frontline situations of parish ministry and industrial chaplaincy in Scotland.’
Iona does not stand alone. The rural French village of Taize has also become an ecumenical community of peace-making, worship and contemplation, not in the Reformed tradition of Iona but in the way of European Catholicism.
These two geographically marginal locations have had global impact. They both share with other contemplative traditions the insistence that ‘the final goal of the life of faith is not contemplative enjoyment of God in itself but ‘consists in taking on Christ, and therefore returning from ecstasy to loving service of neighbour’’.
There are several other ways, after World War Two, that a desert spirituality of contemplation developed in its mainstream forms. Several contemporary contemplatives have raised the church’s awareness of contemplative spirituality, now broadly being called ‘meditation’, though strictly speaking that is a narrower term. This happened largely through a renewed attention to medieval mysticism (Hildegard, Meister Eckhart, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Cloud of Unknowing), but also through a new interest in the spirituality of East Asia (Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism). Three representative figures are Thomas Merton, Bede Griffiths and John Main.
Thomas Merton (1915-1968) became a Christian and a Catholic in his twenties. He met a Hindu monk named Bramachari who suggested that he read the ‘many beautiful mystical books written by the Christians. You should read St Augustine’s Confessions’. Like Charles Foucauld, Merton entered the Trappist Order in 1941. This was to be his home for the rest of his life. His many books, articles and speaking engagements took him to many parts of the world, but in 1965, after many years of being refused, he was granted the right to live in solitude on the monastery grounds in Kentucky.
In 1968, during a visit to India and Thailand in dialogue with Buddhist monks, he had several interviews with the Dalai Lama, who later said that Merton changed his opinion on Christianity. On this journey, he died of accidental electrocution in Bangkok. His society has continued publications from his extensive journals posthumously.
Merton’s major works were on contemplation and solitude. His first works, in the late forties, including his autobiography Seven Story Mountain,  were about the spiritual provocation of the materialistic modern person that was presented by the ongoing existence of monasticism. In the fifties he wrote in a more personalised and inward way. The social and political implications of eremiticism emerged throughout the early sixties. He found that solitude unmasked the false self, and destroyed the effect of ‘the great regression to the herd mentality that is taking place now.’ He had compassion for those who were trapped in a society that rejected solitude and who had no way to find their true self:
The real wilderness of the hermit is the wilderness of the human spirit which is at once his and everyone else’s. What he seeks in that wilderness is not himself, not human company and consolation, but God.
Merton became famous as a priest for his writings against the Vietnam War, which were written soon after his book on the Desert Fathers and Mothers in 1960 – The Wisdom from the Desert:
These were men [sic] who believed that to let oneself drift along, passively accepting the tenets and values of what they knew as society, was purely and simply a disaster. The fact that the Emperor was now a Christian and that the ‘world’ was coming to know the Cross as a sign of temporal power only strengthened them in their resolve… for them the only Christian society was spiritual and extramundane: the Mystical Body of Christ.
But he was not simply repeating their life in the desert; he had a social engagement that spoke from the desert. In this he echoed Jesus Christ himself, as we shall see in later chapters. He challenged modernity on many fronts. He saw himself on a journey.
He had a wide influence but he was not alone. His contemporaries the Jesuit Karl Rahner and Von Balthasar were writing theologies based around the medieval mystics at the same time.
What Merton engaged in Buddhism, another engaged in Hinduism. Bede Griffiths (1906-1993) was a student of CS Lewis at Oxford. He became a Catholic and made his first naïve experiment in ascetic community life in the Cotswold Hills. After joining the Benedictines, he eventually received permission to go to India. He eventually came to the ashram in Tamil Nadu dedicated to the most Holy Trinity. He entered into the customs of Hindu India as much as possible and engaged in dialogue with Hinduism. In later years he travelled the world widely on speaking tours, even in frail health, and wrote twelve books. He was propelled by a love of both Indian interiority and non-duality and his own Christian experience to join the two in reclaiming the ancient tradition of wonder and wisdom:
That absolute Reality, or unitive principle – which lies at the core not only of Hinduism but of Buddhism and Taoism – becomes the heart of Bede’s vision. Identified with ‘God’ or ‘Father’ the Source and first divine Person, it becomes a key for opening Christianity to its depths.
‘Wisdom Christianity’, as he called it, was not based on the Western philosophical tradition, a specialty, but about ‘breaking out from the confinement of our over-specialized consciousness…the critical breakthrough into a greater consciousness, which has long been beginning in the modern west.’
He sought to bring the worshiper from a state in which faith is objectified to an experience of personal participation in God. He practiced and taught renunciation, contemplation, poverty, submission, celibacy, and what he saw as the hardest renunciation, that of the ego. ‘The problem with human existence is that we all have a self-centred personality,’ he said. He saw that a true detachment from egoism had been practised by Gandhi:
What Gandhi saw so clearly is that this detachment was not a way of escape from the world but of a freedom from self-interest which enabled one to give oneself totally to God and to the world.
Griffiths laid the groundwork for a society, now called the Bede Griffiths Association, to promote the renewal of contemplative life in the contemporary church and world. This vision has perhaps been carried out by another, someone whom Griffiths himself was to describe as ‘the best spiritual guide in the church today’, John Main.
John Main (1926-1982) was in colonial service in Malaya in 1954, when he was impacted by a Hindu holy man. ‘I was deeply impressed by his peacefulness and calm wisdom. He asked me if I meditated.’ For eighteen months they practiced and discussed meditation in ways that were then regarded as ‘eastern’, where meditation is focused into silence, as distinct from ‘western’, where reflection is focused upon scripture. Main grew a special interest in Christian traditions of silence and mantra. Much later, Main found the same practice in Cassian in Gaul in the fourth century, who had learned it first-hand from the Desert Fathers and Mothers.
When he joined the Benedictines in London in 1959, upon his return to the UK, this practice was forbidden to him, something he struggled with but learned from:
I learned to become detached from the practice of meditation that was most sacred to me…but I always went back to the obedience which was the foundation of my life as a monk.
In 1975 he began to teach meditation to groups, which quickly spread. In 1976, in a period of meditation at the hermitage of the late Thomas Merton, ‘the Spirit moved deeply in his heart and called him to the work of teaching meditation.’  Where Merton had written personally about prayer in the modern world, Main was to teach how to do it, and to organise the way to do so, centred on the ‘attentive wakefulness’ of the saying of one’s mantra. Surprisingly, he lacked the social engagement of Merton, Underhill, Day, Griffiths and McLeod. His opening prayer, still in use by meditation groups is:
Heavenly Father, open our hearts to the silent presence of the spirit of your Son. Lead us into that mysterious silence where your love is revealed to all who call, ‘Maranatha…Come, Lord Jesus’.
He emphasised that this is not a technique but a personal journey. Harris, a Canadian public servant, and one of his earliest students said:
‘Meditation is a gift of such staggering proportions that we must respond to it gradually, gently. When we begin we cannot fully understand the sheer magnificence and wonder of it.’
Main died of cancer in Montreal in 1982, and his leadership was taken up by Fr Lawrence Freeman. In 1991, the World Centre for Christian Meditation (WCCM) was inaugurated. In this movement, hundreds of small groups in many nations now gather for weekly meditation sessions, buoyed by personal practice and taught from WCCM resources. From these groups thousands gather biennially in world conferences.
Many groups and courses on Christian meditation exist outside WCCM, and two other simultaneous leaders can be mentioned – David Ray from Mississippi and Morton Kelsey in the UK: ‘…neither the Western novices in Zen or Yoga or Transcendental Meditation nor the more experienced writers about them seem to realize that there is a powerful and unique Christian method of meditation available to any ordinary person who wishes to use it.’
A better history of this renaissance could be written. It is sufficient to notice that, just as in the years of Constantine, simultaneous and separate sparks of spiritual renewal have been growing in many places through a revival of various forms of Christian contemplation. The relation between eastern and western forms of contemplation is still being debated.
Makes You Wonder Resources
The Napalm Photo Girl
She is known around the world as the girl covered in burning flames as she ran from the terror of a Napalm Bomb. This is her story:
The American’s were fighting some Vietcong soldiers near her village, and decided to bomb the area rather than engage in combat. By the time the area was marked and American troops withdrawn, there was no longer any sign of the enemy, but the order to bomb remained and reporters nearby told of watching the village being decimated. Soon the surviving locals came running down the road out of the village and as they ran towards the reporters vehicles the famous photo was taken of Phan Thi Kim Phuc, her clothes blown off and the jellied napalm searing her skin. The photo (which later won a Pullitzer Prize and helped turn the heart of a nation against war) shows the little girl’s arms stretched out as though in supplication, her face contorted in a scream of pain and horror.
The photographer rushed her to hospital where she was treated for 3rd degree burns. Her wounds were so severe that every time they were cleaned and dressed the pain caused her to lose consciousness.
Later the Communist Vietnamese government discovered she was the girl in the picture and paraded her endlessly in anti-American propaganda.
Then as an adult her life changed dramatically. A group of believers introduced her to the joy of new life in Christ. She married a young man who shared her faith and on their honymoon they defected to Canada. “God guide me, I go by faith” she told a reporter.
Since then her name has been used to promote peace. She was named a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization three years ago, and she has established the Kim Foundation, which trains doctors and supplies artificial limbs to help child victims of land mines in Cambodia.
The more recent photos of Ms Kim Phuc in the media show her extending forgiveness to those who had once bombed her family and countrymen. I have suffered a lot from both physical and emotional pain, Kim said “sometimes I thought I could not live, but God saved my life and gave me faith and hope.”
Describing the terror she felt seeing the American uniforms and the memories they brought back, she says she prayed for strength to offer words of grace and hope.
”We have to move on to help each other,” she said. ”I really want to say, ‘Thank God I’m alive.’ I want to forgive the people who caused my suffering. I did. And so I am free from hatred and bitterness.”
Makes You Wonder Resources
ON THE FATHERHOOD OF GOD
AND THE HEART OF JESUS
By Ian Robinson
Fathers are sometimes abusive and destructive, often absent and neglectful, often nurturing. The social scientists tell us that presence of an active father is an essential in a person’s development, even into advanced years. It’s a high stakes risk, being born.
Equally, there are two huge claims that Christianity makes about God as a kind of father.
God creates a problem for us.
He calls himself “Father” quite a lot. For those who have had an abusive father, this is a serious parent-trap. Much thinking has gone into this in recent decades. A study of scripture will reveal feminine attributes of God too. Yet, Jesus himself made “Dad” the ultimate prayer-statement in the “Our Father” prayer. “Abba” in Jesus language meant “Dad”. What it means in practise is best seen by looking into the moments where Jesus describes his Dad in the gospels. Read for instance Luke 15.11-32
Perhaps he picked that title in order to make the blokes raise their game! One of the single greatest issues affecting Australians today (was it always so?) is the father who is emotionally or physically absent. With the Abba title, God is hitting the mark for us all and we didn’t see it – “there is a Father in heaven who absolutely adores you, loves and likes you, and has time for you!”
What it has done for me, as a parent, is a sacred resolve never to allow any thing I do to be a stumbling block to my children’s growth (or my future grandchildren, nieces and so on) in love and trust! That’s the kind of everyday spirituality thing that God is very interested in.
THE SECOND CLAIM
There is more if you journey onwards.
Faith is mostly passed on through families. There are at least two consequences to this. As in good family arguments, you can really have it out with God, call him all sorts of things, get to the bottom of what is happening and sort it all out. He prefers this to a chilly silence of disconnection and apathy. Secondly, the church is a family, and “love one another” is meant to be personal. These two things can really open us outwards.
However, while this family/father thing is supposed to LEAD you to somewhere on your own spiritual journey, it is not supposed to LEAVE you there. In our adulthood, God can appear to be a very childish sort of figure, because we are hanging on to images from our past. A doting Santa, a cosmic insurance policy, an ageing old tyrant, etc.. Many people quite rightly refuse to believe in such a God, and I don’t believe in it either.
Here is the big deal on this – to tune in to God in reality is to tune in to Jesus’ relationship with God the Dad. There is nothing more true, more challenging nor more cherishing.
The question: HOW do you want your relationship with God to be BETTER than your relationship is or was with your parent?
From Power to Choose Challenge to Change, Mark John Horton Enterprises Pty Ltd 1999.
- Grew up on a farm about 20kms south of Canberra. Loved playing sport and by the age of 16 was playing first grade rugby union for Queenbeyan and was captain of the ACT Combined High Schools’ first rugby side.
- won a vocal scholarship to study at the Canberra School of Music.
- Age 23 married high school sweet heart, was the New South Wales state sales manager for the multi-national food giant Campbells’s Soups.
- Age 24 was diagnosed with diabetes which would later go on to be insulin-dependent.
- Age 27 was appointed Australasian group sales director with Campbells’s. To reach the milestone age 27 in the Australian grocery industry was almost unheard of.
The tragedy – Mark’s story
“My life was perfect. I had a happy marriage, an excellent career with a succession plan in place, I was earning good money and I had a wonderful family and fantastic friends. My dreams were coming true.
Three weeks after my appointment as Australasian group sales director my world came crashing down. My world was about to change forever!
I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. MS is a debilitating disease of the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system). It is called ‘multiple’ because many parts of the brain and spinal cord are affected. Sclerosis is a Greek word meaning hardened tissue that interrupts the messages travelling down the spinal cord. This interference affects the brain’s ability to control such functions as walking, vision, bladder and bowel functions, sexuality and speech. I’m proud to say I fought on with the disease for 4 more years and achieved three more promotions. But after 6 years of continual recurring attacks and going through rehabilitation numerous times, I was finally convinced by my neurologist to take some time for me.”
The monumental change in Horton’s life involved losing his career, his wife, his health, his capacity to tie his shoe-laces and his ability to talk and write. Horton
- struggled to find energy to face each day, and his suffering has been intense. “From time to time when the pain increases and the disability becomes more pronounced, I do sit and cry. I cry for the life I once had. I want to share the love of a partner that MS has feared away. I want to have a family to love and watch grow up. I want to run once more until I can run no more. I want to be me once more. I feel I’ve lost what I once was.”
MARK PART TWO –the hope discovery
- But Mark persevered, developing a method of power talk where he talks with himself and agrees that this is his day, it belongs to him. He says “MS has no claim on me or my life unless I choose to give it the authority. I choose to have a great day”.
- Horton also discovered more about who he is. He explains “It has given me an immediate awakening to all the wonders of the world. I now see the birds and smell the freshness of the air. I love to sit in the park and enjoy being a part of the universe.”
- Instead of getting bitter about his disability Mark rose to the challenge. “MS has changed my life forever. Whether it is a good change or a bad change depends on how I choose to look at it. If MS is going to be a part of my life then I will make it work for me. MS is not going to get an easy ride with me. I have chosen to accept the challenge to change. If what I’ve experienced so far is anything to go by it
will be a rough and tough journey. But I am committed to becoming the person I was born to be. If any obstacles, be they MS or diabetes, stands in my way I will choose to deal with them one at a time, day by day, using a healthy attitude. MS and diabetes are not my most pressing concerns. My most pressing concern right now is I still have hundreds of things to do and only about 40 years in which to do them.”
That is a glimpse into the mind of a man dealing with the evil of illness and disability, and choosing to overcome it. His book is an inspiration and he continues to inspire others by speaking at conferences and sharing his wisdom.
The story continues…
Through this Mark met Samantha Permezel (also with MS) and they married. They have Samantha’s son Owen and Owen’s dog, and they live in the Blue Mountains. Mark has recently lost the use of his feet and has had his car fitted for hand controls.He is still unstoppable.
Look up www.markhorton.com.au