Category Archives: Advent

The Advent Reboot

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Brother Ivo enjoys occasional listening to Melvyn Bragg’s radio programme ” In our time” as he explores a variety of eclectic issues with the help of specialists in a variety of disciplines.

In the latest edition, the panel were discussing “Complexity” and although Brother Ivo missed much of the programme he enjoyed the use of a striking phrase during the explorations.

Complexity can apparently lead one towards -and doubtless over – the “edge of chaos”.

They might have been reviewing some of Brother Ivo’s sermons!

That is, perhaps a little harsh, but if Advent is a time for reflection and self examination,  it is no bad thing  to develop self-awareness.

One of the great things about Mr Bragg is that he and his researchers have well furnished minds and a wide range of intellectual curiosities. Doubtless it makes him good company and a stimulating questioner, for the more one knows, the wider the perspective from which questions may be asked.

In Brother Ivo’s teaching and preaching, he has used a variety of both starting points  and reference points when exploring biblical passages. Sometimes he suspects that he is like the military officer whose men would follow him anywhere, largely out of curiosity.

We should not, however, apologise for refreshing well known stories by approaching them from unlikely angles. When Jesus taught in parables, which some have described as “visual aids”,  he approached the nature of the divine through a disparate variety of images. Faith could be likened to new wine, God could be pictured as a housewife sweeping the house in search of a lost coin, and as soon as we hear of a sower, we are with him in the field broadcasting the seeds into the wind.

They are images which still engage us, so Brother Ivo does not feel too bad when he invites folk to think about God and His nature from a new starting point; some of those starting points have included a country and western song, an Eschler drawing or more recently a doughnut!

Perhaps there are two types of preacher. There are those who see a theological boundary and enforce it, and those who see it and wonder if it can be pushed.

Jesus pushed boundaries all the time, but he of course had the authority to do so.

There is a time to follow in his footsteps, and to seek new ways of engaging modern people with old ideas.

There was much boundary pushing in the early centuries of Christianity as many documents emerged of varying weight and authenticity, each claiming to have captured elements of Jesus’ teaching. Some texts and ideas came to be recognised as very reliable, others as less so and some as frankly deviant. The lengthy process of discernment led us eventually to an orthodox theology and a largely agreed biblical Canon.

Yet the boundaries are still surveyed, evaluated and expressed in modern forms and liturgies which delight some and trouble others. It is a constant source of tension and relaxation within the Church.

Even those of us who feel called to be open to innovation however, need to recognise that as every generation reflects upon the Gospel, and adds another layer of scholarship, interpretation or expression, we do risk approaching that “edge of chaos”.

For those bold souls, Advent comes as a sound reminder to draw us back to simplicity.

That simplicity need not be ancient.

Brother Ivo is constantly attracted to that simplest article of faith offered by Bishop Michael Jenkins who offered the 14 word creed.

” God is, He is as He is in Jesus Christ, so there is hope”

Some folk exploring faith for the first time, can find its narrow focus helpful in keeping to the big issues.

In similar form the return to the Jesus prayer at this time has much to commend it.

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner.”

The minimalism of such approaches, the austerity, is appropriate for the penitential season which is Advent.

We shall soon come to Christmas Eve and our Crib Services where richness of imagery and the complexity of the story of redemption will return and we shall again begin to explore what it all means in 2014. Complexity will always return to our theological systems, with each new contribution.

The approach to the Nativity at Christmas  is however best done with simplicity.

Brother Ivo has a fond memory of holding the hand a a two year old and walking with her through a darkened Church towards the light in which the crib came into focus. That sense of wonder, simplicity, and trust during the approach remains with him as a source of inspiration and delight.

Complexity and sophistication can come later, but to begin with the simplest approach is the best

We need to distance ourselves from the edge of chaos and use our Advents productively if we are to do so.

If Brother Ivo may revert to his eclectic style, Advent needs to be  is like rebooting one’s computer in the face of a glitch caused by over complexity in the operating system. One decides to close it down with a degree of trepidation, there may be an anxious pause, but suddenly all the familiar icons begin appearing in their proper place and confidence is restored.

So we shall find our faith after our Advent reboot.

The poor will arrive first having been the first to receive their invitationst; the wise will kneel; the ox and the ass will be content to just be, whilst the heavens shall mark the occasion by being extraordinary.

It all starts however by looking over the edge of chaos, realising that a clean up is required and deciding that, despite the risks, it really is time to start again

A tiny heartbeat

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Brother Ivo spent the early part of Advent praying for and supporting a young couple whilst they waited for a second pregnancy scan.

The first scan had revealed nothing, they were warned that “things were not looking good ” and that an ectopic pregnancy was a real possibility.

One can imagine the emotions when the second visit detected “a tiny heartbeat”.

Those who casually refer to babies in utero in terms of pure “biological tissue” have clearly never been with families in such circumstances. The bonding with a child begins early and is both powerful and deep.

Despair was banished; those three little words “a tiny heartbeat”, rekindled hope and meaning.

It is worth a moment’s Advent thought to reflect upon them. As we approach the Christmas season we may think of redemption, silently making its way into the world; fragile hope carried by a tiny heartbeat.

We can only imagine the relationship of Mary with her baby at that time. She may have been told great things at the Annunciation, but it was in the time of waiting that Mary doubtless came to love her baby and be prepared to sacrifice all for him. She might have been promised a great role to play in the cosmic drama, she might be stepping into the honourable role of Theotokas, but surely she was focused towards that primary relationship which developed in those early weeks.

Brother Ivo occasionally likes to remind his friends that to “understand” is also to “stand under”.

Like one gazing up into the vaults of a great Cathedral, or into the boughs of an ancient oak tree, one secures a different perspective when one stands under, -understands- a great truth as Mary did.

So great was that truth, and so important was its implication for the whole of creation, that Mary came to move from her personal commitment to her child, to place herself under that greater truth. She sacrificed when she accepted the infant Christ, she sacrificed again when she gave him away.

During this Advent season we should remember Mary for these reasons, but in her generous compassion she would also have us call to mind the many other mothers who enter this time with sorrowful hearts.

There will be those who have lost children in many tragic ways, those who are estranged from them, those whose children are seriously disabled sick or terminally ill. Some will not know where there child is or even if s/he is still living. Few will find this time more difficult than those whose views, circumstances, or misfortune led them to end a pregnancy, stilling the tiny heartbeat and now bitterly regret that choice.

Foremost amongst this group may be Norma McCorvey

whose personal circumstances led her to be used and abused in litigation to the US Supreme Court to establish the legality of abortion in America, which would never have been passed by the elected legislators.

She was the nominal plaintiff in the groundbreaking case of Roe v Wade. She is now a  practicing Catholic and campaigns to change that law by telling her story. Living with such a legacy must be hard for her and the many others who live in regret. May her good work and their shared contrition bring them all comfort.

Our culture does not truly value children as it should but nevertheless indulgently focuses closely upon them at this time. As that priority raises sad recollections we should bring all these mothers to mind during this Advent Season and pray for them.

Sometimes the contemplation of such sadnesses cannot be touched upon by counselling, and are deeper than philosophy or theology. When this point is reached, it is time to have recourse  to the poet and so Brother Ivo offers to any who might need it, the ethereal sound of the Webb Sisters and the words and voice of Leonard Cohen as they pray ”Come Healing”