God’s kingdom of justice, of peace, of laughter, of joy, of caring, of sharing, of reconciliation, of compassion

Desmond TutuSome quotes from Desmond Tutu’s God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time.

On ‘a deep reverence’ for this world:

… all is ultimately holy ground and we should figuratively take off our shoes for it all has the potential to be ‘theophanic’ – to reveal the divine. Every shrub has the ability to be a burning bush and to offer us an encounter with the transcendent.

On a church that is too focused on the world to come:

A church that tries to pacify us, telling us not to concentrate on the things of this world but of the other, the next world, needs to be treated with withering scorn and contempt as being not only wholly irrelevant but actually blasphemous.

On prayer, government and the kingdom of God:

It is dangerous to pray, for an authentic spirituality is subversive of injustice. Oppressive and unjust governments should stop people from praying to God, should stop them from reading and meditating on the Bible, for these activities will constrain them to work for the establishment of God’s kingdom of justice, of peace, of laughter, of joy, of caring, of sharing, of reconciliation, of compassion.

On peace, justice and terrorism:

… instability and despair in the third world lead to terrorism and instability in the first world. … there is no way in which we can win the war against terrorism as long as there are conditions that make people desperate. […] there is no peace without justice, and safety only comes when desperation ends.

Wise words!

An idea so far not accepted

‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.’ … It is an idea given to our civilization but so far not accepted.

Wendell Berry, ‘Peaceableness toward Enemies’, in Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community

Friendship and intimacy

I urge you … to open your heart to friendship and intimacy, remembering that your friendships are an extension of your contemplative prayer. They are indeed contemplative friendships. As mystical contemplation necessarily brings suffering and emptiness, dark nights and enlightenment, so too will intimate friendship bring suffering and emptiness, dark nights and enlightenment. As mystical contemplation leads to human authenticity so does mystical friendship; as mystical contemplation leads to self-transcendence so also does mystical friendship. You will find that deep purification takes place, and that you become transparent to another person and she to you …

I came across this statement from William Johnston’s Being in Love: The Practice of Christian Prayer at a quiet day at Tabor Carmelite Retreat House, Preston, on Saturday. I simply couldn’t believe it when these words were read out by the retreat leader. I was just stunned, utterly stunned …

Secret places inside this violent world

Time for some more of Rumi’s poetry, again in the translation of Coleman Barks, from Bridge to the Soul: Journeys into the Music and Silence of the Heart.

I am sure I have said this before, but Rumi has been an amazing discovery for me. There is profound spiritual insight in the words of this Sufi master, and there is so much here that speaks to me at such a deep level. Some of it puts into words my own recent journey in ways that I could never have managed myself. Other parts express some of my deepest hopes and longings. And then there are many wonderful insights about God, love, friendship etc.

If only more people would read Rumi’s poetry. It would open their eyes to quite a different side of Islam. But then, he apparently is the most widely read poet in America today. There is still hope then …

We must die to become true human beings.

From gardens to the gardener,
from grieving to a wedding feast.

We tremble like leaves about to let go.
There is no avoiding pain,
or feeling exiled, or the taste of dust.

I can truly relate to those reflections on dying, grieving, letting go, experiencing pain and the taste of dust.

When someone feels jealous,
I am inside the hurt and the need to possess.

When anyone is sick,
I feel feverish and dizzy.

This I find comforting: that God is inside the hurt of those who need to possess others. And that he is inside our sickness.

For the grace of the presence, be grateful.

Imagination cannot contain the absolute.
These poems are elusive
because the presence is.

‘Imagination cannot contain the absolute’. Quite. No point to even try!

No more holding back. Be reckless.
Tell your love to everybody.


Stand up. The prostrating
part of prayer is over.

the beloved is absence
as well as this fullness.

I love that attitude to praying and loving God.

Be a helpful friend,
and you will become a green tree
with always new fruit,
always deeper journeys into love.

Worth aspiring to …

Learned theologians do not teach love.
Love is nothing but gladness and kindness.

When you see a scowling face,
it is not a lover’s.

Rumi really does understand true love.

Lovers find secret places
inside this violent world
where they make transactions
with beauty.

Reason says, Nonsense.
I have walked and measured the walls here.
There are no places like that.

Love says, There are.

Lovers feel a truth inside themselves
that rational people keep denying.

This is just brilliant stuff, so true and so well expressed. Secret places in a violent world where you make transactions with beauty – that’s truly wonderful and how I wish to live.

Best Reads 2013. III: Belden C. Lane, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality

Belden C. Lane, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain SpiritualityThe Solace of Fierce Landscapes, says Frances Young in Brokenness and Blessing, is the kind of book she would have liked to have written herself. Published by Oxford University Press, this is a well-informed exploration of desert spirituality. But it offers more than that. Talking about ‘the permeable boundaries between critical scholarship and lived experience’, Belden Lane also reflects on his own experience of spending time in wilderness places; and he gives a very personal account of his journey alongside his dying mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s and cancer as well as his attempt to come to terms with his father’s somewhat mysterious death earlier on in his life.

The book is in three parts, which reflect the traditional three stages of the spiritual life: Purgation: Emptiness in a Geography of Abandonment; Illumination: Waiting in a Silence Beyond Language; and Union: Love as the Fruit of Indifference. These three stages, notes Lane, are symbolised by the desert, the mountain and the cloud.

There are chapters on:

  • spirituality and the environment,
  • wild terrain and the spiritual life,
  • prayer without language in the mystical tradition,
  • the symbolism of Mounts Sinai and Tabor in the Christian tradition,
  • the landscape and theology of early Christian monasticism,
  • the desert Christians’ counter-cultural spirituality of attentiveness, indifference and love.

And, to give you another list, which is the only way I can even begin to do justice to the book’s richness without giving an extensively long account, Lane offers insightful thoughts on:

  • abandonment of control (and the desert as teacher of renunciation and abandonment),
  • letting go and the emptying of self,
  • loving that which cannot be understood,
  • the power of compassion as the fruit of indifference (the notion of indifference might require some explanation, but you have to read Lane for that),
  • a new harmony with the land,
  • learning to pay attention,
  • the transformation of desire into love,
  • meeting love in the most unlikely places,
  • the power of silence to connect and heal,
  • liturgy and the reaffirmation of ordinariness.

Woven into the fabric of the book are interludes, called ‘mythic landscapes’, in which Lane takes his personal account of the journey with his dying mother as well as his repeated experiences of wilderness places as the starting point for further reflections on issues such as a spirituality of brokenness, the gift of nothingness in a desert landscape, the unexpected gifts of grief, and a spirituality of desire.

Having had some recent desert experiences myself, I have found this a rich and rewarding read.