30 December 2008

Through 2009 with John Calvin

Next year is the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin and to mark the occasion Princeton Theological Seminary is inviting Christians around the world to read through his Institutes of the Christian Religion in the course of the year. And to make the challenge a little bit easier, they will be dividing the standard English translation into daily portions, which will be available by RSS feed. (More information here.)

I have to confess that I have never read The Institutes in their entirety in spite of the fact that one of the chapters of my PhD thesis focused on Calvin. So I am looking forward to adding this to my daily routine.

24 December 2008

Ero cras

O Emmanuel
O Rex gentium
O Oriens

O Clavis David
O Radix Jesse
O Adonai
O Sapientia
Ero cras: Tomorrow, I will come.

23 December 2008

O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel our King and law-giver, for whom the nations wait, O Saviour of all people: Come, Lord our God, and save us.
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. (Psalm 46.7)

the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7.14)
Emmanuel – God with us – the radical fulfilment of the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament: a divine Messiah. Though the promises all refer to and fit Jesus, the Messiah expected by the Israelites was not divine; a great human general, yes and in some traditions a supernatural angelic being, but not God himself. In their view, no one could be literally divine, really the Son of God. Their expectation of a saving ruler did not assume that God would share His very nature and essence with the Anointed One.

Emmanuel means something entirely new and unexpected: incarnation, God with us, sharing every hardship of humanity in His own flesh, dwelling not in a Temple spiritually, but as flesh and blood among humanity, wishing to remain with us until the end of time. This is a dramatic contrast to the affection, yet distance with which the Lord was regarded in the Old Testament.

In the prayer, we ask him to save us. In Greek and Latin the word for salvation is closely related to the word for health. When Jesus says to the woman with the haemmorhage, ‘your faith has made you whole’, it could equally well be translated ‘your faith has saved you’. When we ask for salvation we are not just looking for pie in the sky when we die. It also involves a measure of healing and wholeness now – greater well-being of body, mind, and spirit – leading ultimately to being made perfect, fully whole and sound: something only God can do!

Lastly, the prayer and thus the entire set of antiphons closes by directly calling Jesus ‘our Lord and our God’: the crowning acclamation of faith after a long season of expectation.
O come, O come, and be our God-with-us
O long-sought With-ness for a world without,
O secret seed, O hidden spring of light.
Come to us, Wisdom, come unspoken Name
Come Root, and Key, and King, and holy Flame,
O quickened little wick so tightly curled,
Be folded with us into time and place,
Unfold for us the mystery of grace
And make a womb of all this wounded world.
O heart of heaven beating in the earth,
O tiny hope within our hopelessness
Come to be born, to bear us to our birth,
To touch a dying world with new-made hands
And make these rags of time our swaddling bands.

22 December 2008

O Rex gentium

O King of all nations, Lord for whom they long, O Cornerstone that binds in one Jew and Gentile: Come and save mankind, save the men and women you have moulded from the earth.
To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed. (Daniel 7.14)

you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. (Ephesians 2.19, 20)
Great and amazing are your deeds, Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, King of the nations! Lord, who will not fear and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your judgments have been revealed. (Revelation 15.3, 4)
Just as Christ has broken down the walls dividing us from the Father, so is He also the cause and source of our unity with all humanity. This is a very Pauline view, expressed for example in Galatians 3.29: ‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free, no longer male or female; for all of you one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, you are the issue of Abraham and so heirs by promise.’ Here we see not only the wall dividing Jew and Gentile torn down, but even the customary way of becoming Jews and heirs to the promise overthrown. No Jewish male could confer membership in Israel. It travelled through the mother. But now instead it is Jesus who makes us heirs of the promise. He unites all in a new dispensation, one which supersedes the old.

The Church, in its delight that the Messiah has come, often forgets that it, too, must wait for the fulfilment of the promise and that the waiting is terrible, painful frustration. One of the points of Advent is precisely to remind us that we are still on the way. No one can read that quotation from Galatians and smugly assume that we have arrived. Anti-Semitism, racism of all kinds, religious intolerance, misogyny, unthinking hatred of sexual minorities too often colour our world and our Church.

On the other hand, all that we need for the fulfilment of the promise is already in place. These changes have already been effected, perfectly, in Christ. Christ has already broken down these barriers on the cross. That is the reality. All that stands in the way of its fulfilment is our unbelief.
O King of our desire whom we despise,
King of the nations never on the throne,
Unfound foundation, cast-off cornerstone,
Rejected joiner, making many one,
You have no form or beauty for our eyes,
A King who comes to give away his crown,
A King within our rags of flesh and bone.
We pierce the flesh that pierces our disguise,
For we ourselves are found in you alone.
Come to us now and find in us your throne,
O King within the child within the clay,
O hidden King who shapes us in the play
Of all creation. Shape us for the day
Your coming Kingdom comes into its own.

21 December 2008

O Oriens

O Morning Star, O radiance of the everlasting Light, O sun of righteousness: Come, shed your light on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. (Isaiah 58.8)

for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. (Malachi 4.2)
It is surely no coincidence that this antiphon was appointed to be sung at evensong on 21st December. What better day than the winter solstice to focus on the image of Christ as the rising sun? As the natural sun is setting on the shortest day of the year, the Sun of righteousness, who will never diminish, is proclaimed.

The message today is the end of darkness, the end of shadow, the end of death. The Messiah, the Sun of Righteousness, the Second Person of the Trinity who is truly ‘Light from Light’ has dispelled them all.

Those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death are not just a group of outsiders. There are many dark shadows in our own souls. With this prayer we invite the Sun to illuminate even those recesses, to leave us no place to hide from Him in the damp and chill of selfishness.
Paradiso XXX:61
First light and then first lines along the east
To touch and brush a sheen of light on water
As though behind the sky itself they traced
The shift and shimmer of another river
Flowing unbidden from its hidden source;
The Day-Spring, the eternal Prima Vera.
Blake saw it too. Dante and Beatrice
Are bathing in it now, away upstream…
So every trace of light begins a grace
In me, a beckoning. The smallest gleam
Is somehow a beginning and a calling;
“Sleeper awake, the darkness was a dream
For you will see the Dayspring at your waking,
Beyond your long last line the dawn is breaking”

20 December 2008

O Clavis David

O Key of David, Sceptre of the House of Israel, what you close none shall open, what you open none shall close: Come, lead forth from prison those who lie in chains, who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9.6)

I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open. (Isaiah 22.22)

These are the words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens: ‘I know your works. Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.’ (Revelation 3.7, 8)

As the Key of David, Jesus has the authority to open the door for us to infinite possibilities. Thus this antiphon asks him to open the door of our self-made prisons of darkness and unlock the chains of sin and death that bind us still. And if he opens, none may close. Once he has freed us from sin and death, from the various prisons of darkness we languish in, none may send us back there, save ourselves alone.

Even in the darkness where I sit
And huddle in the midst of misery
I can remember freedom, but forget
That every lock must answer to a key;
That each dark clasp, sharp and intricate,
Must find a counter-clasp to meet its guard.
Particular, exact and intimate,
The clutch and catch that meshes with its ward.
I cry out for the key I threw away
That turned and over turned with certain touch
And with the lovely lifting of a latch
Opened my darkness to the light of day.
O come again, come quickly, set me free.

19 December 2008

O Radix Jesse

O Root of Jesse, standing like a banner before the nations, in whose presence kings fall silent, whose praise all peoples shall sing: Come, set us free, do not delay.

In days to come Jacob shall take root, Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots, and fill the whole world with fruit. (Isaiah 27.6)

The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope. (Romans 15.12)

Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’ (Revelation 5.5)
The Root of Jesse: all that remained of the once-powerful Kingdom of Judah; a promise nurtured by the hopes of the Israelites during centuries of oppression. They expected a new Davidic king, a charismatic general who would lead them to victory over their oppressors.

Enter Jesus: child of an unmarried mother engaged to a carpenter, born in a stable, soon to be a refugee in Egypt, destined to become an itinerant preacher and be executed for blasphemy and treason. Hardly the victorious leader expected by the Jews of his day, but this is the paradox of the gospel: the apparent weakness, smallness and vulnerability of a new shoot is the embodiment of the greatest power imaginable.
All of us sprung from one deep-hidden seed,
Rose from a root invisible to all.
We knew the virtues once of every weed,
But, severed from the roots of ritual,
We surf the surface of a wide-screen world
And find no virtue in the virtual.
We shrivel on the edges of a wood
Whose heart we once inhabited in love,
Now we have need of you, forgotten Root
The stock and stem of every living thing
Whom once we worshiped in the sacred grove,
For now is winter, now is withering
Unless we let you root us deep within,
Under the ground of being, graft us in.


The latest version of yWriter has gone public at last. For anyone who doesn’t know it, this is a free outlining program for novelists written by an Australian SF author and computer programmer. I have been using earlier versions of it for a couple of years now and have been looking forward to its latest incarnation for some time. (For my initial impressions of yWriter, see this entry.)

18 December 2008

O Adonai

O Adonai, O Prince of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and delivered to him the law on Sinai: Come, deliver us with outstretched arm.

the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our ruler, the Lord is our king; he will save us. (Isaiah 33.22)

I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. (Isaiah 42.8)

Adonai is the Hebrew word meaning ‘Lord’, which Jews traditionally substitute for the divine name when reading the Old Testament. Here it is applied to Jesus, implying that Jesus is the God of the Covenant. In Greek, Adonai became Kurios: a title with great political significance in first-century Palestine. Only Caesar was Kurios. To say, ‘No. Jesus is Kurios, is Lord’ is to say both that he is God and that none of the powers of this world are worthy of our ultimate allegiance. It is to say that our allegiance to him takes priority over our allegiance to any nation, ethnic group, political party or cause.

According to the antiphon, it was this Adonai – Jesus – who spoke to Moses in the burning bush, and who gave the Law on Mt Sinai.

Finally the image of the outstretched arm again identifies the Messiah with God. St Irenaeus spoke of Jesus and the Holy Spirit as the two hands of God, but the image goes back to the Old Testament. With ‘outstretched arm’ God showed his power and might, led his people out of Egypt, and delivered them from dangers.
Unsayable, you chose to speak one tongue
Unseeable, you gave yourself away,
The Adonai, the Tetragrammaton
Grew by a wayside in the light of day.
O you who dared to be a tribal God,
To own a language, people and a place,
Who chose to be exploited and betrayed,
If so you might be met with face to face,
Come to us here, who would not find you there,
Who chose to know the skin and not the pith,
Who heard no more than thunder in the air,
Who marked the mere events and not the myth.
Touch the bare branches of our unbelief
And blaze again like fire in every leaf.

17 December 2008

O Sapientia

O Wisdom coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, and stretching from end to end of creation, setting all things in order with strong and gentle hand: Come and teach us the path of true judgement.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.(Proverbs 1.7)

He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’ (1 Corinthians 1.30, 31)

In the Old Testament Wisdom is presented as a divine attribute, often personified as the beloved daughter who was with God before creation. She is the breath of God’s power; the shining of God’s (transforming) glory: images that are often applied to the Holy Spirit.

By addressing Jesus in these terms, this antiphon recalls the opening of John’s Gospel where he is presented as the divine Logos, the Word/thought/reason of God, who is intimately involved in creation; the one who sets ‘all things in order with strong and gentle hand’. If God can be said to have had a blueprint for creation, that blueprint was Christ.

And in response to this affirmation of Christ as the Wisdom of God, the antiphon concludes with the petition, ‘Come and teach us the path of true judgement.’ It recognizes that genuine human wisdom is rooted in the terrifying but fascinating mystery of God.

I cannot think unless I have been thought
Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken
I cannot teach except as I am taught
Or break the bread except as I am broken.
O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,
O Light within the light by which I see,
O Word beneath the words with which I speak
O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me
O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me
O Memory of time, reminding me
My Ground of Being, always grounding me
My Maker’s Bounding Line, defining me
Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring
Come to me now, disguised as everything.

The O antiphons

The O antiphons are a set of short prayers traditionally sung before and after the Magnificat during the week before Christmas. The antiphons are based on seven scriptural titles of the Messiah and gradually build up a picture of the one who is to come.

This year they were the theme of our diocesan Advent quiet day and it occurred to me that I could use this blog to make some of my notes for the quiet day available during the period when the antiphons would normally be in use. If time permits, I plan to post one each day between now and Christmas Eve.

It is also an opportunity to share a series of thought-provoking poems written by Malcolm Guite reflecting on the antiphons. Malcolm is Chaplain of Girton College, Cambridge. He is also a poet, rock musician, biker and expert on Dante. You can find out more about him and his work at his website.

12 December 2008

New look

As you can see, I have given the blog a bit of a makeover. I finally got fed up with the old template’s apparent inability to display numbered lists properly. Anyway, I hope you like the new minimalist look.

11 December 2008

Theology in the twenty-first century

Yesterday was the fortieth anniversary of the death of Karl Barth, arguably the greatest Protestant theologian of the twentieth century. Since his death, there has grown up an enormous ‘Barth studies’ industry among systematic theologians. Precisely what Barth himself would have made of that is summed up nicely in the following: ‘The angels laugh at old Karl. They laugh at him because he tries to grasp the truth about God in a book of Dogmatics. . . . and they laugh about the men who write so much about Karl Barth instead of writing about the things he is trying to write about. Truly, the angels laugh.’

As it happens, I started reading David Ford’s Christian Wisdom: Desiring God and Learning in Love last night. In his introduction, he offers a list of twelve theses outlining the main elements of what theology should be like today:
  1. God is the One who blesses and loves in wisdom.
  2. Theology is done for God’s sake and for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
  3. Prayer is the beginning, accompaniment and end of theology: Come, Holy Spirit! Hallelujah! and Maranatha!
  4. Study of scripture is at the heart of theology.
  5. Describing reality in the light of God is a basic theological discipline.
  6. Theology hopes in and seeks God’s purposes while immersed in the contingencies, complexities and ambiguities of creation and history.
  7. Theological wisdom seeks to do justice to many contexts, levels, voices, moods, genres, systems and responsibilities.
  8. Theology is practised collegially, in conversation and, best of all, in friendship; and, through the communion of saints, it is simultaneously premodern, modern and postmodern.
  9. Theology is a broker of the arts, humanities, sciences and common sense for the sake of a wisdom that affirms, critiques and transforms each of them.
  10. Our religious and secular world needs theology with religious studies in its schools and universities.
  11. Conversation around scriptures is at the heart of interfaith relations.
  12. Theology is for all who desire to think about God and about reality in relation to God.
I think ‘old Karl’ would have approved.

03 December 2008

Some classic insults

One of my fellow editors has just posted a list of classic insults on SfEPLine (the Yahoo Group for professional editors and proofreaders). Some of them are pretty good:

"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary." - William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway).

"Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?" - Ernest Hemingway (about William Faulkner)

"Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it." - Moses Hadas

The exchange between Churchill & Lady Astor: She said, "If you were my husband I'd give you poison," and he said, "If you were my wife, I'd drink it."

A member of Parliament to Disraeli: "Sir, you will either die on the gallows or of some unspeakable disease." "That depends, Sir," said Disraeli, "on whether I embrace your policies or your mistress."

"He had delusions of adequacy." - Walter Kerr

"He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire." - Winston Churchill

"A modest little person, with much to be modest about." - Winston Churchill

"I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure." Clarence Darrow

"He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know." - Abraham Lincoln

"I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it." - Mark Twain

"He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends." - Oscar Wilde

"I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend.... if you have one." - George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill
"Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second... if there is one." - Winston Churchill, in response.

"I feel so miserable without you; it's almost like having you here." - Stephen Bishop

"He is a self-made man and worships his creator." - John Bright

"He is not only dull himself, he is the cause of dullness in others." - Samuel Johnson

"There's nothing wrong with you that reincarnation won't cure." Jack E. Leonard

"He has the attention span of a lightning bolt." - Robert Redford

"In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily." - Charles, Count Talleyrand

"Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?" - Mark Twain

"His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork." - Mae West

"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go." - Oscar Wilde

"He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts... for support rather than illumination." - Andrew Lang (1844-1912)

"He has Van Gogh's ear for music." - Billy Wilder

"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening but this wasn't it." - Groucho Marx

01 December 2008

Word Dogs VI

Word Dogs will be biting the hand that feeds it again on Wednesday 3rd December. The sixth outing of the Glasgow spoken word writers event begins at 8 p.m. in the 13th Note (opposite King Street car park in Glasgow city centre).

The theme this time is Invasion and the line-up will include Michael Collins, Ian Hunter, Gavin Inglis, Duncan Lunan, Kevin McCabe, Richard Mosses, and Phil Raines. Sounds like fun.