Advent’s Four Last Things: HEAVEN I


‘Twenty thousand kilometres; two thousand dollars.’

Like us, the signora in the pensione had travelled to Assisi for Christmas. Her annual highlight was driving herself 60 kilometres. She had never been further from home than her annual trip south.

She kept wondering aloud in Italian the statistics of our journey:

Venti mila chilometri, duemila dollari. Venti mila chilometri, duemila dollari. 

The world is a big place, and our overnight flight from Perth to Italy had disguised how huge the distance to Assisi is. It is, as for our friend the signoraa cause of wonder.

Scientists tell us there are 300 billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy. The size of one star, one sun is hard to imagine. The trip from Perth to Assisi would take only a fraction of the sun’s circumference. 300 stars are hard enough to imagine, but 300 billion… Then, astronomers estimate, there are between 100 billion and 200 billion galaxies. How many stars there must be.  My digital calculator puts it at 4.5e16 stars. The number is meaningless, staggering in its scope.

Many scientists then tell us that our universe may be one only of an infinite procession of universes, coming in and out of existence at a fantastic rate. At this point, I’ve lost the power of imagination completely. The best I can do is stand outside and gaze at the night sky. I see red Mars, 10 years of rapid travel away. I see bright Southern Cross 350 years ago, its light just now reaching me, light that started on its journey when Charles II finally became king and the 1662 Prayer Book was promulgated.

This colossal creation can be a starting point in our journey searching for heaven. No, I am not suggesting that heaven is a place, perhaps hiding behind one of Saturn’s moons or in a 10-lightyear distant galaxy! But such a startling and amazing universe can flex our sense of wonder. Like the signora at Assisi, we can contemplate over and over the complex and awe-inspiring cosmos of which we are part, and yield to wonder.

This is the universe our God is creating. Spectacular and lovely.  A Creator God of such power has intentions. He has an agenda that his beautiful universe should more and more reflect God’s own qualities of love and goodness.

And if God is prepared to pour Godself into the making of such a spectacular and lovely universe, we can begin to imagine how wonderful are God’s intentions for you and me: to be more and more the love, goodness and beauty we discern in the physical universe. In fact, God promises it. God promises that we shall see face to face. (I Corinthians 13:12) God promises that his agenda for us is better, more delightful, more caring than anything we can imagine, just as his universe is more than we can imagine (I Corinthians 2:9)

Venti mila chilometri300 billion stars, God of a wondrous universe. Let us find heaven in our wonder.

Advertisements

A Water-Hole Gushing Up To Eternal Life


I’m a proud Noongar woman. I belong to this country. And I know how to open the gnamma hole to get water. I know what to sing to the spirits. I shout loudly to tell them that I’m coming. “Kaya! Ngany nidja!” I call, “Hello! I am here! Woolah! Ngany nidja!”  I’m about to throw sand down the gnamma hole to purify the water, when this wadulah man appears.

He’s a wadulah and he’s a man. He thinks he knows everything and he thinks he owns our country.

But he waits, back where I called the spirits, and says to me, respectful-like: ‘Can you get me some water, Aunty?’

I’m a bit surprised. I’ve never heard a wadulah ask before. For anything. If they know where the gnamma hole is they rip the top off and help themselves. I’m a bit suspicious too. ‘What wadulah asks a Noongar woman to get him a drink?’ I ask.

‘If you knew who was asking you,’ he says, ‘you would ask him for living water.’

‘Where would you get living water?’ I ask him, ‘You got no gnamma hole and you got no spirits here. Our ancestors told us how the gnamma hole was made, and how the Wagul passed through the country. You’re not greater than the ancestors, are you?’

He said, ‘When you drink your water you get thirsty again. But whoever drinks the water I give will never get thirsty again. The water I give will be a water-hole gushing up to eternal life.’

I didn’t know whether to laugh or run away from this wadulah. ‘You’d better give me some of your water,’ I says, ‘so I don’t have to come out to the gnamma hole to get it no more.’

So he said to me, ‘Go and get your husband and come back here.’

‘Ain’t got no husband.’

He says, ‘Too right you’ve got no husband. You’ve had five husbands. But the man you’re living with now is not your Law husband.’

I swallowed. ‘Uncle, you must be a prophet. Our ancestors called on the spirits on this mountain and you wadulahs say people should worship in church.’

He replied, ‘Believe me, Aunty, time is coming when you will worship the Father not on this hill nor in church. You worship spirits you do not know. We worship God because he brings salvation. But time is coming when true worshippers will worship the Father in a real true spirit. The Father is looking out for people to be his true worshippers. God is spirit.’

I says, ‘The Mission told us Christ will come and when he comes, he will tell us everything.’ Then he turns to me and puts it to me: ‘I, this one talking to you, I am he. ‘

Just then, his followers came back. They looked shocked to see him talking to me, but they didn’t say to me, ‘What are you after?’ or to him ‘Why are you speaking with her?’ I dropped my water-can and ran down into the camp shouting to everyone, ‘I’ve met someone who’s told me everything I’ve ever done. Could he be Christ? Whoever he is, he’s made me proud of being me!’ https://i2.wp.com/hillcountryoutdoorguide.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/krause-2.jpg

Visible & Invisible


The Creed, as we recite it in the Eucharist week by week, proclaims the Father as the ‘Pantocrator’, the Maker of all things visible and invisible. The original Greek looks like this:

παντοκράτορα: ποιητὴν οὐρανοῦ καὶ γῆς ὁρατῶν τε πάντων καὶ ἀοράτων·.

Pantocrator

Wonderful words, often translated into wonderful art in Greek churches with Christ as Pantocrator painted in a huge dome dominating the church building as the Trinity is believed to dominate the Universe. The description of God’s creation as everything ‘seen’ (oratōn) and ‘unseen’ (aoratōn) shows that the writers of the Creed had a mighty insight into the nature of the Universe that scientists are only just unravelling.

SBS recently screened a documentary How Big is the Universe? This BBC documentary answered the question in three ways. It is bigger than we can see, one, because we can see only the objects that generate light. Scientists believe that there must be much more matter than can be seen: they call this invisible matter ‘dark matter’. The metaphor used in the program is of flying over the United States at night. You can see an outline of roads and streets lit up; but there is much more going in the dark than shown by the scaffold of light.

Second, telescopes can only ‘see’ 15 billion light-years into the past. What happened beyond is unseen, but that does not mean for scientists that it does not exist. This universe is in principle infinite in size.

Thirdly, it was initiated rather like a bubble, and the energy required to make one bubble could well have made many bubbles. There could be an incalculable number of unseen universes as well as our own. Proof of collisions between our own Universe and another of these ‘bubbles’ has been detected, giving credence to this theory.

In some ways, these distances are simply unimaginable, although in the past hundred years, most human beings have gone from imagining 20 miles as an impossibly long trip to imagining long-haul plane travel around the planet – 20 thousand miles from Perth to Québec in Canada.

The scientists ask us to stretch our imaginations to the size of the Universe: the writers of the Creed ask us to stretch to the size of God. In simplistic terms, if the Universe is so big, then God is bigger. God is celebrated as the Maker of the all things visible and invisible. Poiētēn is the Greek word for ‘Maker’, and you can see its connection to the English word ‘poet’. To be the Maker of all things visible and invisible requires not just a builder, but a Maker with huge imagination; a poet of the extremes.

Both science and creed move us to wonder. The question ‘How big is the Universe?’ morphs into an exclamation of joy, ‘How big is the Universe! How wonderful the Universe!’ And many of us would proclaim, ‘How amazing the Maker!’

courtesy BBC (“How Big is the Universe”)

Why Should Franciscans be interested in poetry?


FRANCISCANS DISCOVER HOPKINS
1. SHOULD FRANCISCANS BE INTERESTED IN POETRY?

• St Francis was influenced by the troubadours. His interest in troubadours probably started on journeys to France as a child.
The troubadours:
o Sang in Italian or Provençal (French) and not Latin.
o Broke convention by singing love songs to ladies beyond their status.
o Used popular harmonies and rhythms.
St Francis wanted to be able to sing love songs to God with the same language of intimacy. He liked the fact that ordinary people could enjoy popular song styles and understand both words and music. Churchy Latin was remote.
Brother William SSF (Can it be True) was a modern Franciscan troubadour. In the late 60s and early 70s in Queensland William wrote ballads and songs and performed them at rallies with thousands of young people.
• Saint Francis was influenced by Sufi poetry. He wanted to travel to Morocco, Spain, and he succeeded in travelling to Damietta, all centres of Sufi poetry.
The Sufis:
o Wrote love poetry to God.
o The “whirling dervishes” got themselves into an ecstatic meditative state.
o Lived in covenanted communities.
Saint Francis asked Leo to whirl to determine which way to proceed at a crossroads. He was intrigued by ecstatic prayer, and he wanted to know more. Some scholars like Idres Shah believe that he came away from his meeting with the Sultan in Damietta having quizzed the sufis there.
Poetry expresses deep insights about God. The best theology is poetry. Good poetry is theology.
It is often difficult to discern the boundary between hymns and poetry. The poet-priest, George Herbert wrote Let All the World in Every Corner Sing, as a poem, but it makes a great hymn.

Sufis
Sufis

Meditating with the Aware Ego


Our minds are capable of standing back from ourselves. With the power of imagination, our minds can invite beneficial influences to reduce pain and to increase endurance.
Imagination is fun to use, and images begin their magic by engaging our emotions.
You can download this week’s Meditation (Level 2 – using the mind to reduce pain) from http://www.blognow.com.au/manager/add_entry.php?t=pod&up_id=83432