Through a glass darkly – 86

Maredsous

It is already more than two weeks since we were at Maredsous for the Men’s Retreat.. The retreat is an Anglo-German affair, embracing men from Holy Trinity, Brussels and from the German Protestant church in Brussels. It owes much to the energy and creativity of my friend Armin, with support from some of his German colleagues. In past years, before COVID, we have had as many as thirty men signed up. This year we were to be twenty, divided equally between the two churches.

The format is much the same from year to year: sessions for input, reflection, and group-work on Friday evening and Saturday; a decent walk on Saturday afternoon; a film on Saturday evening; and a Eucharist on Sunday morning. Before finishing shortly after lunch on Sunday. Past themes have included Male spirituality; Elijah at the mouth of the cave [1 Kings 19]; Friendship; Rock and roles: studies in the life of Peter,  Past films include Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino; On a clear day, set in Glasgow with Peter Mullen and Brenda Blethyn;  Pride; and Brassed Off.

The theme this year was Remembering the Future. We were blessed with glorious autumn sunshine. Maredsous is an enormous Benedictine abbey, built on a hill in the Ardennes. It is surrounded with trees and is good walking country. In past years we have enjoyed Sunday lunch with the monks in their dining hall, reminiscent of an Oxbridge college. But this year we ate only in the guest refectory; the dining hall being closed as an energy-saving measure. We walked on Saturday afternoon up small hills and through immaculate, well-kept villages. The film on Saturday evening was Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast. Which I take to be a more-or-less autobiographical look at the early days of the Troubles in the very late 1960s. It’s a good film.

Remembering the Future

We chose the theme nearly a year ago. It borrows a phrase I came across in a book by Herbert McCabe, a radical Roman Catholic theologian from Cambridge. In a book called Law, Love, and Language, published in 1968. [I wonder if the title is a deliberate echo of A.J. Ayer’s  Language, Truth, and Logic.] McCabe insists “the primary purpose of the church is to remember the future”. He identifies Jesus not just as a blueprint for a new kind of society, but as the centre of this new society. The New Testament, and Paul in particular, tells us that as followers of Jesus we shall all share in Christ’s resurrection. And rediscover our identity on the far side of death.

The business of the church then is ‘to remember the future’.  The sacraments are there as symbols of the presence of Christ in a future world. Baptism is not about church membership; it is the sacrament of  the membership of mankind [cf Romans 6:3]. The Eucharist shows the significance of all people eating and drinking together [1 Corinth. 11:26]. Sacraments are the intersection of the present world with the world to come. This is not an individual matter. “Those who share the sacraments form a community, or better a movement, in the world.”

This injunction is reminiscent of Jürgen Moltmann. Who in The Theology of Hope [1967] insists that Christian faith must start with the resurrection of Jesus. “A Christian faith that is not resurrection faith can be called neither Christian nor faith.” But [Moltmann suggests] the essence of the event is the Easter faith of the disciples. “The Christian hope for the future comes from a specific, unique event – that of the resurrection and the Easter appearances of Jesus Christ.” The appearances of the risen Lord were experienced “not as blissful experiences of union with the divine”, but as “a commission to service and mission in the world.

Christian Hope

Faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love” is a familiar verse from Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians. But while Christians talk quite a lot about love, which features in  countless sermons [of variable quality] I don’t hear a great deal about Christian hope. An omission which we sought to redress during our time at Maredsous..

Key biblical and theological truths can be a great comfort. But they need to be grasped before adversity comes. One of the books that I read at the beginning of COVID was Tim Keller’s Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. [As some may know, he is an American; founder of Redeemer group of churches in New York. And is himself terminally ill]. I like to pretend that Susie and I make a point of hearing him preach when we are in New York. In reality we heard him preach in Redeemer Upper West Side on our only visit to that city in 2016.

Keller insists: the best preparation for times of pain and suffering is a rich prayer life. Professor John Feinberg, an American academic and theologian, was a theological student who had written his thesis on the book of Job. But when his wife developed Huntington’s Chorea he wrote: “I had all these intellectual answers, but none of them made any difference as to how I felt.” Don Carson writes that Christians may have some theoretical idea of suffering, but when something jolts us to the core, it is not easy to know how to use our beliefs. In a much cited phrase of CS Lewis: ‘God whispers to us in prosperity, but he shouts to us in adversity’.

Back to the Retreat

Down at Maredsous we looked at our own lives. Armin had organised for us an exercise where we took time to draft our own obituaries; looking back,  and acknowledging both success and failure. And then we reflected, and shared a little, about how the exercise felt. Working in small groups and then in a plenary session. We agonised a bit over the concepts of achievement and legacy. And we recalled the [supposed[ dying words of Dorothy Parker: “Was that it ? “.

In subsequent sessions we looked at some of the Biblical reasons for hope; the glorious visions of the prophet Isaiah:

Behold I will create new heavens and a new earth.

The former things will not be remembered,

nor will they come to mind.

But be glad and rejoice for ever in what I will create;

for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.

I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people;

the sound of wiping and crying will be heard in it no more.

… … They will build houses and dwell in them;

they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit

… … they will be a people blessed by the Lord,

and their descendants with them.” [Isaiah 65: 17 et seq.]

 And the equally wonderful vision of the new Jerusalem in the closing chapters of Revelation:

“Then I saw and new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea … … Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe way every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death our mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” [Revelation 21: 1-4]

And we thought and talked about how this hope affects and infuses our Christian life in this world. I guess it was both comforting and challenging.

High Wycombe

Since Maredsous I have been dashing around in what might be a foolish manner. I flew back to Edinburgh [trouble-free flight with RyanAir out of Charleroi]; dashed down to Wycombe by train to see Susie and Joanna [train three hours late because of severe floods in Berwickshire]; flew to Paris to do locum work at St Peter’s, Chantilly; and am now back in Wycombe visiting Joanna again. 

She has been in Florence Nightingale hospice at Stoke for just over a week. She is wonderfully well looked after there; she looks great; tons of people are praying for her. Craig is trying to do a thousand things, and to regulate the flow of visitors. My sense of Christian hope is under aa lot of pressure. Please pray for Joanna and for us all.

December 1st, 2022

Published by europhilevicar

I am a retired vicar living on the south side of Edinburgh. I am a historian manqué, I worked in educational publishing for 20 years, and after ordination worked in churches in the Scottish Borders and then in Lyon in the Rhône-Alpes. I have a lovely and long-suffering wife, two children, and four delightful grand-children

One thought on “Through a glass darkly – 86

  1. Thanks Chris

    I love the photo of Joanna and I sense from it the hope that is in her as well as the family.

    Love Madge

    From: Through a glass darkly comment-reply@wordpress.com Sent: 05 December 2022 09:53 To: madgeolby@gmail.com Subject: [New post] Through a glass darkly – 86

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    europhilevicar posted: ” Maredsous It is already more than two weeks since we were at Maredsous for the Men’s Retreat.. The retreat is an Anglo-German affair, embracing men from Holy Trinity, Brussels and from the German Protestant church in Brussels. It owes much to the ener” http://europhilevicar.com Through a glass darkly

    https://europhilevicar.com/2022/12/05/through-a-glass-darkly-86/ Through a glass darkly – 86

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    europhilevicar

    Dec 5

    Maredsous

    It is already more than two weeks since we were at Maredsous for the Men’s Retreat.. The retreat is an Anglo-German affair, embracing men from Holy Trinity, Brussels and from the German Protestant church in Brussels. It owes much to the energy and creativity of my friend Armin, with support from some of his German colleagues. In past years, before COVID, we have had as many as thirty men signed up. This year we were to be twenty, divided equally between the two churches.

    The format is much the same from year to year: sessions for input, reflection, and group-work on Friday evening and Saturday; a decent walk on Saturday afternoon; a film on Saturday evening; and a Eucharist on Sunday morning. Before finishing shortly after lunch on Sunday. Past themes have included Male spirituality; Elijah at the mouth of the cave [1 Kings 19]; Friendship; Rock and roles: studies in the life of Peter, Past films include Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino; On a clear day, set in Glasgow with Peter Mullen and Brenda Blethyn; Pride; and Brassed Off.

    https://europhilevicar.files.wordpress.com/2022/12/maredsous-abbey-copy.jpg?w=490

    The theme this year was Remembering the Future. We were blessed with glorious autumn sunshine. Maredsous is an enormous Benedictine abbey, built on a hill in the Ardennes. It is surrounded with trees and is good walking country. In past years we have enjoyed Sunday lunch with the monks in their dining hall, reminiscent of an Oxbridge college. But this year we ate only in the guest refectory; the dining hall being closed as an energy-saving measure. We walked on Saturday afternoon up small hills and through immaculate, well-kept villages. The film on Saturday evening was Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast. Which I take to be a more-or-less autobiographical look at the early days of the Troubles in the very late 1960s. It’s a good film.

    Remembering the Future

    We chose the theme nearly a year ago. It borrows a phrase I came across in a book by Herbert McCabe, a radical Roman Catholic theologian from Cambridge. In a book called Law, Love, and Language, published in 1968. [I wonder if the title is a deliberate echo of A.J. Ayer’s Language, Truth, and Logic.] McCabe insists “the primary purpose of the church is to remember the future”. He identifies Jesus not just as a blueprint for a new kind of society, but as the centre of this new society. The New Testament, and Paul in particular, tells us that as followers of Jesus we shall all share in Christ’s resurrection. And rediscover our identity on the far side of death.

    The business of the church then is ‘to remember the future’. The sacraments are there as symbols of the presence of Christ in a future world. Baptism is not about church membership; it is the sacrament of the membership of mankind [cf Romans 6:3]. The Eucharist shows the significance of all people eating and drinking together [1 Corinth. 11:26]. Sacraments are the intersection of the present world with the world to come. This is not an individual matter. “Those who share the sacraments form a community, or better a movement, in the world.”

    This injunction is reminiscent of Jürgen Moltmann. Who in The Theology of Hope [1967] insists that Christian faith must start with the resurrection of Jesus. “A Christian faith that is not resurrection faith can be called neither Christian nor faith.” But [Moltmann suggests] the essence of the event is the Easter faith of the disciples. “The Christian hope for the future comes from a specific, unique event – that of the resurrection and the Easter appearances of Jesus Christ.” The appearances of the risen Lord were experienced “not as blissful experiences of union with the divine”, but as “a commission to service and mission in the world.”

    https://europhilevicar.files.wordpress.com/2022/12/mens-retreat-1-2022-copy.jpg?w=560

    Christian Hope

    “Faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love” is a familiar verse from Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians. But while Christians talk quite a lot about love, which features in countless sermons [of variable quality], I don’t hear a great deal about Christian hope. An omission which we sought to redress during our time at Maredsous..

    Key biblical and theological truths can be a great comfort. But they need to be grasped before adversity comes. One of the books that I read at the beginning of COVID was Tim Keller’s Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. [As some may know, he is an American; founder of Redeemer group of churches in New York. And is himself terminally ill]. I like to pretend that Susie and I make a point of hearing him preach when we are in New York. In reality we heard him preach in Redeemer Upper West Side on our only visit to that city in 2016.

    Keller insists: the best preparati

    Like

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