Inside Out

inside-outMarion Sinclair-Simpson (C)

Our deepest inner spiritual longing is to be reunited with the One who created us and to be healed and become whole through the uniting of our fragile temporal human beings with His perfect eternal beautiful deity.

Christian Spirituality changes us from the inside out. When we open ourselves to receive Jesus we invite Him inside our sacred spaces. Gently and lovingly He uncovers our hurts and our fears, and the healing process begins. The world is corrupt and selfish filled with arrogance and pride and we must not deny that we have been affected, tainted by our exposure to the corruption, that has been eroding our Christian values tiny bit by tiny bit until we begin to question whether sin is really sin. We hesitate to correct our brothers/sisters who we know are actively sinning as we are all too aware of our own sinful natures.

The world tells us that we should not judge others, (which is of course biblical, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5) (NIV). We are aware above all things that we are flawed. We are creatures – created beings. We recite in liturgy, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive You but only say the word and I shall be healed.” Temporarily at least we are healed of our unworthiness until the next anticipated reception of the Eucharist. (It is good that we don’t receive lightly that we do contemplate the immensity of the sacrament.)

As we receive Jesus inside our beings we are transformed mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

When we contemplate scripture we meditate on the life of Christ. We also meditate upon the lives of the saints that followed Him. We desire to be made holy as Christ is holy – impossible for man – only possible with an outpouring of God’s grace. Jesus tells us that there is only One who is good that we have all fallen short of the glory of God. The only way for us to find redemption and to become good is through uniting ourselves to Christ who mediates with God for our salvation this is accomplished by the work of the Holy Spirit sanctifying us, teaching, and prompting us forward on our journeys towards salvation.

John 15:5 – “…He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” Jesus tells us that He is the Vinedresser and He has to cut away all that is in us that is dead, all our old mindsets, unhealthy behaviours and unproductive habits must be cut out of us so that new ideas, healthy habits and life producing conduct can take root and grow. Holding on to what is familiar blocks the work of renewal that Jesus needs to do to enable our growth.

Suffering is the antecedent to growth. Growth comes through surrender to the plan of Christ for our lives. We die to self in order to live for Christ; this sacrifice enables our holiness, a task that is impossible when we are trying to stay in the familiar. No growth can be accomplished without pain. Our sanctification demands suffering. The cross must be endured. As Jesus was nailed onto the cross we must nail our narcissistic human desires onto the cross.

To truly embrace Christ as He embraced us we must embrace the sufferings of others. To open ourselves up to know, experience and carry the pain of others forces us from self-focus to focusing on God and others which is the beginning of the maturation process. As stated in Christian Spirituality, Themes from the Tradition, “Christian growth holds in balance the two great commandments of love of God and love of neighbor. To the degree that we can look outside of ourselves toward another we learn our connectedness to everyone else who is created, like us, in the image of God. By the continued acts of “forgetting the self” we recognize, in those very acts, others and the Other.”**

The process of becoming can be described as an unfolding of our selves as we journey which causes us to meditate on our lives and experiences including our relationships with God, ourselves and others.  At the end of the process we know more fully who we are and why we are here and most importantly we realize our dependence on the One who created us and cares for us. Being fully one with God brings us into our true purpose and as we grow in Him and He grows in us we reach and teach others lovingly, as Christ reaches and teaches and loves us completely.

Spiritual maturity is the fruit of dying to self and embracing the unknown future which God has envisioned for each of us. He has prepared the path. We must seek it and with all diligence persevere until we have the surety that this is indeed the path He has prepared for us and not the false one of our own vanities.

Also Spiritual maturity comes through trial and error when we let go of the familiar and allow God to reach us in new and unexplored ways – when we decide to take the road less traveled. Personal integrity is when we choose to do that which we know is right for God, for others, ourselves and all of creation. When we decide to take responsibility and to do the right thing no matter if anyone else chooses the same path that we do, we are honouring ourselves and our God. Our Christian witness and loving example may one day be the light of Christ to those who are still walking in the darkness. To be more compassionate to others through deed and example is to follow in the footsteps of Christ. The more we imitate Christ and allow Him to use us the more others are drawn to the light in us that emanates from His Spirit indwelling our beings and permeating every aspect of our humanity and spirituality.

It is only possible to please God when we have earnestly sought Him and allowed Him to speak to us through prayer, scripture, sacraments and contemplation. The Rule of Benedict teaches us to “Listen with the ear of our hearts”.  I am a Charismatic Catholic Christian and spirituality to me is very much about being open to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit of paying attention to His still small voice and observing His work in my life and the lives of others. We cannot have a relationship with any human being of any depth if we don’t spend time listening to them and the cry of their hearts. How much more so do we have to shut out the world and take time to be silent before our God to hear what He is actually saying to us?

Christian Spirituality can be defined in as many ways as the human beings who have experienced it. It can be described as a relationship with God, ourselves, others and God’s creation, and I also believe that to have an authentic Christian spirituality we must be walking with the Holy Spirit, not to would be foolishness. As St. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:10-18:

‘Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His power. Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.’

This world is filled with temptations and distractions designed to draw our focus away from God. The luxuries that we have can become blockages to spending time alone with God. Our souls are longing to spend time being refreshed and infilled with the Spirit of God but our minds, hearts, human spirits and bodies get entangled in the busyness of the world we live in and the constant noise about us deadens us to the realization that God is speaking and His still small voice will not be heard above the cacophany of daily life, the TV, Internet, the traffic, the phone, the worries of life. Yet He calls us to stop and listen.

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)

When I am trying to meditate I try to quiet my own thoughts and words to pay attention to what God is saying to me, what others are saying to me and how I can use that gift of listening to enhance the quality of my relationships. Sometimes I listen to the problems of others and pray for them and care for them and realize that I have not taken time to deal with my own problems. I have not taken time to listen to the voice within that also needs to be heard. I struggle with putting myself on my prayer agenda.

Loving God’s Creation

Loving God’s creation, planet earth and all that inhabits it is a daunting task. Taking care of our environment is vitally important – the earth is not self-sustaining – we must be good stewards because we are only tenants God is the owner. As God declares in Genesis: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Gen. 1:26-28).

This statement alerts us to the great responsibility that has been placed upon all of us to love and protect our planet and all that inhabits it. When we are doing this we are obeying God’s instructions.

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), who was an abbess, a prophet, a mystic visionary, a healer and a theologian who lived during the middle ages, has said that “Everything that is in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth is penetrated with connectedness, penetrated with relatedness.” This truth was revealed to her in a vision in which she saw the Universe in the form of an egg with everything inside the egg dependent on all the other parts. We are all part of God’s great cosmic plan and vision. We must always be mindful of this great truth.

Reflecting Heaven on Earth – Inclusiveness

Inclusiveness to me means that all people are welcomed under the broad umbrella of Jesus Christ’s true Gospel. Sinners of all genders, races, income levels and states of life are welcome. We are all sinners. Jesus said we have all fallen short of the glory of God. Even a good man sins seven times a day. So all of us are works in progress.

Also I believe thatinclusive means that no-one is excluded – all are welcome. The mentally challenged, the physically disabled, racial minorities, gays and lesbians, transgendered persons, the poor and all those who have been wounded by the church itself, all are invited to eat at God’s table. In a neighbourhood church that I used to attend it was not the case that all are welcomed. There are poor people standing outside in the cold who are not invited in to celebrate. A woman who was crying loudly one day was escorted out because she was disturbing the service. Women are not allowed to read the Gospel or preach homilies. It is a patriarchal church where women are not included in the decision making process. We are patronized but not included.

Women are allowed to run most of the service organizations in the church in the capacity of unpaid volunteers. However our opinions are not sought when policy making decisions are made by the hierarchy of the church. My church preaches that it honours women yet the hollow words are not backed up with actions. The church I belong to is not inclusive. In fact I would even go so far as to describe it as an exclusive boys club which I can presently never be fully a part of because of my gender. I am a woman God made me this way and I am happy with my gender but if I felt that God was calling me to serve Him more fully by becoming a priest I would have to leave my church and pursue this calling in another church.

The Catholic Church teaches that women cannot be priests because Jesus was a man and not a woman. So using this logic if Jesus had come as a woman all priests would now be exclusively women? No! Because women would have understood that we are all one in Christ. Our sexual appendages or lack thereof speak nothing of our worth to serve God in the capacity of priest, only God’s call in our hearts and our own willing spirits should be deciding factors in this matter. The calling God places in our hearts which we discover through much time in prayer and discernment cannot be ignored and indeed must not be ignored. If need be we must remember the words of the psalmist that we must obey God not man. Jesus came into the world only because a woman, His Mother Mary, said yes to God, without Mary there would be no Jesus, they worked together to promote the Gospel. His ministry would not have existed without his Mother. It is time the church opened its eyes and accepted that men and women are both called to preach the Gospel and should be allowed to be obedient to whatever call to ministry God places in their hearts.

Sadly, historians have discovered that the gospels themselves have been tampered with to downplay the teaching and preaching roles of women in the ministry of Jesus, and in the early church. There has even been evidence uncovered that the gospel of John may have been authored by Mary Magdalene and that she indeed was the ‘disciple Jesus loved’. This discovery of manuscripts dating back to the first century, was made by archaeologists in 1945 at Nag Hammadi which is a city in Upper Egypt the papyrus documents written in the Coptic language which has been the language of that area since the first century to the present day.

I believe the voice of Mary Magdalene has been muted, as I have experienced my own voice being muted, it makes it difficult to feel part of an organization that is male dominated. God has given me a voice and it is important that I use my voice to serve God and my fellow human beings in whatever capacity God calls me to. I am a woman who is in love with Jesus. Jesus loved women, He honoured them, He restored to them the dignity that had been stolen from them for many centuries by the men who held power over them and yet when He left it didn’t take very long for the church to go back to its old ways, as it says in Proverbs 26:11 “As a dog goes back to its vomit, [so] a fool repeats his stupidity.” It is always so much easier to please people by reverting to the old familiar ways. Jesus was too radical for them when He was on earth and apparently the Gospel as it really exists is too radical for the church leaders of our day.

The church teaches that priests cannot marry because they say that Jesus was not married, yet there is no evidence to prove that He was not. Required celibacy for the Roman Catholic clergy is a man made teaching that does not have its origin in God or Christ or the Holy Spirit. God said in Genesis, “It is not good for man to live alone.” Many of the scandals that have come to light in the past decade or so recently are only the tip of the iceberg because man made teachings have been set above the laws and set above the will of God. No the church I attend is not inclusive it claims to be but has definitely fallen short. A woman attending the Catholic Church today has no greater voice than Mary Magdalene whose voice was taken from her by scholars and church leaders uncomfortable with her true role in the Gospel of Christ. When we hear about Mary Magdalene today she is chiefly credited with being the woman who had seven demons exorcised from her.

I do not like the word ‘feminist’ because I believe that labels limit people, both the person using the label and the person who accepts the label. I think of myself as a person who values all people especially those whose voice is taken from them. The unborn have no voice, the elderly, the homeless, the mentally ill, the poor, the imprisoned, the unemployed and those whose opinions differ from the hierarchy. To be an independent thinker in a patriarchal organization is to risk expulsion. Yet not to speak, not to think, is not to live and worse is not to love. Jesus came for the downtrodden and the marginalized and He loved them to His death. His harshest criticism was for the church leaders of His day.

“Christian feminists, particularly Catholic feminists, have a heavy burden because of the ways in which theology and church structures of ministry, leadership, authority, and decision making still block the fullness of human flourishing among women. Some have found Christianity, pre-eminently the Catholic Church, so hopelessly sexist and oppressive that they have moved outside or beyond it for their spiritual survival. Other committed feminists are working for the transformation of the churches from the inside out, so that the liberating gospel can be handed down to the next generation, to our daughters as well as our sons. This sort of Christian feminism has become for an ever-increasing number of women and men a very clear and compelling sign of God’s abiding presence in the church and in the world.” **

Downey uses the term “liberating gospel’ and I prefer to think of myself that way as being a person who chooses to work towards liberating myself and others, all the others who are oppressed so perhaps the term ‘liberator’ is preferable to the word ‘feminist’ as all of us who are truly called to live the Gospel of Christ are not interested in only one segment of the downtrodden obtaining freedom from oppression but are working towards the goal of making the actual Gospel of Christ a lived reality in our lives, our homes, our workplaces and surprisingly, yet of great necessity, also in our churches and places of worship.

Jesus loved all people, men, women, tax collectors, sinners, lepers even the thief on the cross experienced the inclusive love of Christ. There was no hierarchy with Jesus it was ‘love one another as I have loved you’ and somehow sadly that message has been lost in the sad and desperate need to cling to the old ways, the old ways that didn’t work, the old ways that Christ spoke so vehemently against, the old ways that crippled the souls of those who followed them.

“How we view and understand ourselves, very much depends on how we view the larger reality or realities to which we belong, and without which our lives are seriously deprived, humanly and spiritually. Our isolationism, our sense of separation which our patriarchal consciousness cherishes so stubbornly, is our greatest anomaly. It pitches us into that alienation and loneliness that breeds so much despair, destruction and spiritual emptiness in our world!” *

I would like to belong to a church where my opinion matters and my voice is heard. The church is called the Bride of Christ and I think that the bride should be in preparation for the return of the Bridegroom and she needs to do a lot of soul searching about why she is in such disarray. Could it be that the Holy Spirit is speaking through the pain of the people, the disenfranchised and marginalized people who have been hurt and excluded by the hierarchy?

“Unless it receives a new blood transfusion from matter, Christian Spirituality may well lose its vigour and become lost in the clouds” Teilhard de Chardin “. Could it be that the ‘new’ blood will be the voices of the many faithful and called women who are waiting to be heard? Paul the apostle tells us in Galatians “It is through faith that all of you are God’s children in union with Christ Jesus. You were baptized into union with Christ, and now you are clothed so to speak, with the life of Christ Himself. So there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, between slaves and free people, between men and women: you are all one in union with Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are the descendants of Abraham and will receive what God has promised.” (Galatians 3:26:29).  So Paul clearly states that race, state of life, imprisoned or free, male or female none of these are barriers – we are all equal in the eyes of Christ. Inclusiveness means no one is left outside in the cold, the Spirit speaks through all of us.

A truly Christ based church would give voice to all those called to membership. In a truly inclusive church which practices real Christian Spirituality my voice would be heard, cold and hungry people would be invited into the warmth and people who are crying in pain would be comforted and not put outside with their pain unanswered.

Wholeness

Holiness is the quest for wholeness, which we can only find when we are immersed in God’s will for our lives. Wholeness is when we are living our true God given purpose. We can only come to find this purpose when we have experienced sanctification through our relationship with Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit coming into us and filling us, teaching us, purifying us and setting us apart for God’s purposes. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said; “If you would lift me up you must be on higher ground.” We all know that there is no-one higher or with more influence and accomplishment than the Holy Spirit. “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8). To me this scripture defines holiness because when we are acting in these ways we are walking with God and more than that, pleasing God as we journey.

I know a man who tries to be holy. (Sometimes I am that man.) He rushes from here to there to witness the gospel to others. He is always on the move. He believes he has a limited time on the earth to accomplish the work of God and must work at a frenetic pace to do all he can in the time allotted to him. How often we fall into this trap! We believe that we must rush around – we become human doings and forget that God called us human beings. We are so busy doing what we believe God wants when we have not taken time to pray and ask Him what He wants. It is arrogance masked in self-deception to anticipate God’s desires before taking time to be alone with Him in silent contemplation and allowing Him to teach us and show us what it is He actually desires of us.

Holiness is a state of life, a grace filled life. Human beings can only achieve holiness through being united to Jesus and being infilled with grace from the Holy Spirit who dispenses all graces. No one can be holy when separated from God and holiness dissipates when sin enters into our hearts. To remain in a state of grace we must remain united to Christ. We must become one with Him. Seeking Him with all of our hearts, and obeying whatever call He places on our lives. We were born for service and we must live our lives in service of God and others for this is God’s will for us. Praying at all times for all things with the right attitude trusting in God’s goodness and His providence. Praising and thanking God for everything we experience believing that whatever happens in our lives is God’s will for us.

Sometimes we think we are holy already and know from past experiences we have had what God requires of us. We put aside the truth that God is constantly remaking us that we are on a journey and as long as we are on the earth we are changing and growing. God tells us in Isaiah 43:16 “I am going to do something new. It is already happening. Don’t you recognize it? I will clear a way in the desert. I will make rivers on dry land.” God is Creator, He is innovator, He is miraculous, and He does not repeat Himself. When we are looking to the old ways of doing things, He is not there, when we are looking ahead to see what is coming, He is not there, “The Lord was not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire” (1 Kings 19:12). Where was He then? He was the still small voice.

To experience holiness we have to be submissive to God’s will, we have to search the scriptures and know them, we must pray without ceasing, we must study and learn, we have to be thankful, we have to be earnest and persistent, we must exhibit faith and we have to become comfortable with silence. God is in the silence.

 

Marion Sinclair-Simpson (C)

 

Bibliography:

Michael Downey, Understanding Christian Spirituality, p133, Paulist Press, 1997

*Diarmuid O’Murchu, Reclaiming Spirituality p85 The Crossroads Publishing Company, 1998.

Lawrence S. and Egan, Keith J., Christian Spirituality, Themes from the Tradition, Paulist Press, 1996 p61

Downey, Michael, Understanding Christian Spirituality, Paulist Press, 1997, p68

Fox, Matthew, Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen. Sante Fe: Bear and Company, 1985.

Downey, Michael, Understanding Christian Spirituality, p133, Paulist Press, 1997

O’Murchu, Diarmuid, Reclaiming Spirituality,p85, The Crossroads Publishing Company, 1998

Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre, Reflections on Happiness,Lecture given by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in Peking, 28 December I943, www.users.globalnet.co.uk

Emerson, Ralph Waldo, The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson – Volume VII – Society and Solitude (1870)New York, Sully and Kleinteich

 

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