Tuesday 29 July 2014

The Samaritan Woman

I have been reflecting on the Samaritan woman at the well, and her encounter with Our Lord; prompted by Sheed, but deeply informed by a meditation on the subject I heard some fifteen years ago, by Fr Dominique of the Community of St John.

The first thing to notice is the place: it was at Jacob's well that the meeting took place: that is, where Jacob gave water to his people and his flock: bear that in mind when meditating on Christ's words. These details are not coincidences!

The second significant detail is that it was in the heat of the day (the sixth hour, that is noon). That means that the woman was an outcast; which is why she was on her own at the well.  The women of the village would come together for their water (and chat, no doubt) in the early, cooler, hours of the day.

So Our Lord touches this, perhaps the most superficial of her wounds, first: he talks to her. It is easy to miss the full significance of that alone; she was a Samaritan, and ever since the Samaritans' offer to help re-build the Temple after the Babylonian captivity was so rudely refused, the Samaritans and the Jews were hostile to each other. Moreover, she was a woman, and Jewish rabbis avoided talking to women in public, even their own wives. And, as we have noted, she was an outcast - a social leper. Moreover, he placed himself in a position of dependency on her will, by asking her to give him a drink.

It is not surprising that she was astonished that he should ask her for a drink. 

His answer surprised her yet further: he offered her living water, that is the life of grace. Here he touched her second level of woundedness: the lack of grace in her soul. And she, just as Nicodemus had done not long before, misunderstood him, by being too literal in her interpretation.

Our Lord persists, despite her protestation that he has no bucket, in his claim to be able to give her water that will well up to eternal life. And in her response, 'give me some of that water,' full of misunderstanding though it be, there is enough of a request of Christ for him to be able to work at a still deeper level.

He addresses the barrier to grace in her soul: she is living in sin, and has clearly forgotten how to love, having got through five husbands before her current man, whom she has not even bothered to marry (we see now why she was an outcast).

This revelation of his knowledge of her, prompts her to reveal the deepest wound of all, that she does not know how to worship God. For the Jews say it must be at Jerusalem, whereas the Samaritans worship on mount Garizim.

He then reveals the true way to worship, in spirit and truth; and then, astonishingly, reveals himself as the Messiah: replacing the temple of the Old Covenant. 

This is the first record of Our Lord revealing himself as Messiah. He had refused to respond to Satan's attempts to draw him on the subject, or to Nathanael's declaration; and throughout his public life, he deliberately avoided the direct statement, and even warned the Apostles to tell nobody that he was the Christ.  It was only under oath to the High Priest that he made so clear a declaration.

And many Samaritans came to believe in him; not just because of the woman's testimony, but because they listened to his word. 

But I am particularly moved by the progression of Our Lord, touching each wound with his healing love until he had reached the deepest wound of all, prompting that saving self-revelation.

Without right worship, we are lost...

Monday 21 July 2014

Going underground

I have, for some reason I cannot quite fathom, been meditating on the Underground Map. It is widely recognised as an iconic and genius representation of the London Underground's complex network.

But it raises several interesting questions.  For example, is it truthful?  As a teenager and young adult, I used to cycle around London a lot, and I navigated by a mental tube map which I carried in my head. It worked: but it did take me on some strange routes at times; and it was certainly very misleading if one thought that the stations were equi-distant, as they are on the map.  Cycling out to Watford or Epping soon disabused one of that illusion.

But of course the map is not designed to designate distance (nor to be used by cyclists). It conveys the information it is designed to convey very accurately: which lines stop at which stations, in which order; and where connections may be made.

Which reminded me of, say, Fundamentalists (and atheists, come to that) reading Genesis. It teaches precisely what it is intended to teach, but reading it in the wrong way may take you round the houses...

It is very popular in some circles to parrot: the Map is not the Territory; a mantra made popular by the pseudo-psychology known as NLP. At one level this is a truism: of course a representation is not the thing it represents.  However, frequently people make the illogical leap to: therefore, as we all have different maps in our head, there is no such thing as objective reality. Yet somehow, when I emerge from Oxford Circus tube station, there is Oxford Circus: and it is when you do, too.  And we know, as a matter of everyday experience, that we rely on objective reality being there, and on maps of various kinds as guides to it.

Thus the questions to ask about any map, whether a tube map, Wainwright's sketches of the Lakeland Fells, or the Ordnance Survey, is firstly, what are they trying to convey; and secondly, how well do they do that.  And the same applies to the religious and philosophical maps which we use to make sense of life.

But, of course, the real reason for this post was an excuse to link to the sounds of my youth, here:

and here:

Saturday 19 July 2014

The Hidden Life

I have been reflecting on Our Lord's hidden life: that period between His infancy and His public ministry, with help (naturally) from Frank Sheed's To Know Christ Jesus.

Apart from the Finding in the Temple, we know almost nothing, of course. But almost is the operative word.

We do know a little, and can deduce a little more, and even speculate a bit beyond that.

What we know is that 'He went home and was subject to them.'

We also know where home was, a village called Nazareth, and that He was raised there by the Blessed Virgin and St Joseph.  We know that they will have taught Him, by word and example, as He grew up; and we can assume that He went to the village school, probably in the synagogue (or perhaps outside in hot weather) where the curriculum would have been reading, writing and knowledge of sacred Scripture.

As a good Jewish family, they would certainly have observed the Sabbath, and heard the Shema read at the start of each synagogue service: three passages of scripture that they would also have recited twice a day at home (two from Deuteronomy, and one from Numbers).

 We can safely assume that He worked with St Joseph, the Carpenter.  After all, He remained at home till the age of thirty.

And I think we can speculate a little, too.  For example, it is unthinkable to me that these carpenters of Nazareth would have turned out anything less than the very best they could. He would necessarily have been skilled at, and I surmise would have loved, his craft.

Likewise, they will have sold fairly; in that culture, that would have necessitated bargaining - for that is the process by which fair deals were reached.

We can also deduce that He did nothing spectacular: His neighbours were astonished when He suddenly came to prominence.

And He did not marry. Sheed points out how unusual that would have been for a man of His age, to be still a bachelor: but He had a different vocation.

So what light do we gain from this? I think it valuable. A certain type of Christian will often say 'What would Jesus do?' I am generally wary of that approach; apart from anything else, what He did was always the action of God Incarnate. Moreover, His public life is so different from the situation in which we normally find ourselves.

However, in the Hidden Life, there may well be things to apply to our daily lives: fair dealing, doing the very best we can in our work, commitment to prayer, obedience to our lawful superiors, and fidelity to our vocation.  And the fact that He chose to spend thirty years living a very ordinary life in a village, but always ready to turn His hand to God's work, is a wonderful reminder of the value of the everyday - when offered to God.

Monday 14 July 2014

Not Angels, but Anglicans...

    On the occasion of the Anglicans deciding that they can make bishops of women, and prompted in particular by Nick Clegg's comment on Twitter, I thought it appropriate to post GKC's great poem, composed on a similar occasion...

        Antichrist, or the Reunion of Christendom: An Ode

        'A Bill which has shocked the conscience of every Christian community in Europe.' Mr. F.E. Smith, on the Welsh Disestablishment Bill.

        Are they clinging to their crosses,
                                        F.E. Smith,
        Where the Breton boat-fleet tosses,
                                        Are they, Smith?
        Do they, fasting, trembling, bleeding,
        Wait the news from this our city?
        Groaning 'That's the Second Reading!'
        Hissing 'There is still Committee!'
        If the voice of Cecil falters,
        If McKenna's point has pith,
        Do they tremble for their altars?
                                        Do they, Smith?

        Russian peasants round their pope
                                        Huddled, Smith,
        Hear about it all, I hope,
                                        Don't they, Smith?
        In the mountain hamlets clothing
        Peaks beyond Caucasian pales,
        Where Establishment means nothing
        And they never heard of Wales,
        Do they read it all in Hansard
        With a crib to read it with --
        'Welsh Tithes: Dr Clifford Answered.'
                                        Really, Smith?

        In the lands where Christians were,
                                        F.E. Smith,
        In the little lands laid bare,
                                        Smith, O Smith!
        Where the Turkish bands are busy
        And the Tory name is blessed
        Since they hailed the Cross of Dizzy
        On the banners from the West!
        Men don't think it half so hard if
        Islam burns their kin and kith,
        Since a curate lives in Cardiff
                                        Saved by Smith.

        It would greatly, I must own,
                                        Soothe me, Smith!
        If you left this theme alone,
                                        Holy Smith!
        For your legal cause or civil
        You fight well and get your fee;
        For your God or dream or devil
        You will answer, not to me.
        Talk about the pews and steeples
        And the Cash that goes therewith!
        But the souls of Christian peoples . . .
                                        Chuck it, Smith!

        G. K. Chesterton

    Tuesday 8 July 2014

    Hot off the Press

    I have just been told of this great new resource in support of Chant, by Marc Puckett (@marcpuck on Twitter).  

    It looks good already, and is a collaboration between the Abbeys of luscarden, St Cecilia, Solesmes along with the Chruch Music Association of America, the Schola Sanctae Scholasticae and the Society of St Bede. 

    We are promised more to follow, so it is probably worth re-visiting regularly.

    Sunday 6 July 2014

    More on the Quilisma

    I blogged recently about the Quilisma, here. In response to a request in the Combox, I have now recorded the different versions: in each case, I sing the usual interpretation (note before the quilisma lengthened) first, then the new hypothesis (following note lengthened) second.  I hope that this makes it clear what I was on about.

    In the meantime, I have had an interesting conversation with Dr Beale (@Dr_Teacake) on Twitter. He commented: A brief trill might be right. We lengthen the previous note, *and* often the subsequent notes. When I asked how he decided, he referred me to the Graduale Triplex.  I also asked for examples of people employing a trill, and he directed me to two fabulous and fascinating recordings on Youtube, here and here

    Yet again, blogging my ignorance has led the wise to teach me.  I love this!

    Saturday 5 July 2014

    Our Lord as Yokel

    I have been re-reading Sheed's superb To Know Christ Jesus,  and have just been struck afresh by his point about Our Lord having been raised in Galilee, and therefore (doubtless) having a local accent.

    Sheed writes: Provincial accents vary; some we admire, some we smile at. The Galilean was of this latter sort. The men of Juda mocked it, very much as St Augustine's African accent caused his Italian friends to mock his speaking of the Latin which he wrote so superbly. In synagogue services, it was customary for a member of the congregation to give an explanation of one of the Scripture passages just read: in Judea, Galileans were discouraged from giving it: to have the congregation giggling would not have been seemly.

    In other words, Our Lord is likely to have spoken with the kind of provincial accent which we tend to laugh at. 

    At first, that seems almost an irreverent thought, Our Lord talking Mummerset... But on further reflection, it is perhaps typical. Not only did he descend from the Heavenly Heights to become Man, but he became Man in poverty, in a stable; and not only that, but chose to be male, rather than female ( Sts Augustine and Thomas Aquinas both saw the female as God's masterpiece). And not only that, but he chose to present as a rustic...

    All of which led me to reflect on how quick I am to judge people by how they talk rather than by what they say.  And who does that remind me of: 'Can anything good come out of Galilee?...'