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A New Year begins….

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.  I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. John 15

Well, here we are – 2020 has finished at last, but 2021 has been challenging even in it’s first week.
I want to recommence regular reflections in 2021 (thank you to those who wrote to me about reflections in 2020) and the passage I will return to continually is John 15 – I am finding this a rich resource for reflection and action for me as an individual and considering the church in general and St Paul’s in particular.
This passage from John is a wonderful picture of intimacy (and challenge). The deep connectedness between Jesus and us is graphic – the life giving, vital, sap of God in Christ flows into us who are the branches, enabling us to bear the fruit of the kingdom.

So profound is this, that St Teresa of Avila, the Spanish 16th century mystic wrote of this in these terms:

“In order to see Christ and to take delight in Him, we have no need to go to heaven. We need no wings to go in search of Him but have only to find a place where we can be alone and look upon Him dwelling within us.”
As we begin this year, I am not thinking of ‘new year resolutions’ but rather setting a course, a direction of travel. While we may still be limited in who we can meet up with and the simple pleasures of travel, concerts and the like….important meaningful work can still be done. We can choose to continue the deep work of transformation – to allow God’s sap to increasingly flow in and through us and to bear the fruit we were chosen to produce.

As we set this course for the year, as individuals and as a parish, Thomas Merton’s reflection on this theme seems appropriate.

True Christianity is growth in the life of the Spirit, a deepening of the new life, a continuous rebirth, in which the exterior and superficial life of the ego-self is discarded like an old snake skin and the mysterious, invisible self of the Spirit becomes more present and more active. The true Christian rebirth is a renewed transformation, a “Passover” in which [a person] is progressively liberated from selfishness and not only grows in love but in some sense “becomes love.” The perfection of the new birth is reached where there is no more selfishness, there is only love. In the language of the mystics, there is no more ego-self, there is only Christ; self no longer acts, only the Spirit acts in pure love. The perfect illumination is, then, the illumination of Love shining by itself. To become completely transparent and allow Love to shine by itself is the maturity of the “New Man.”

This is an exciting, if challenging, course. I am excited because it provides an anecdote to the anxious and divided world we live in right now. Returning to Merton, in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, he writes about the moment when “we realize that I am yours and you are mine, and that we could not be alien to one another even if we were total strangers. It would be like “waking from a dream of separateness,” to realize not only that we are one with God and can commune with the angels in our spirits, but that in our bodies we commune with all matter, and with our souls we embrace all humanity.”

The profound unity is in sharp contrast to the toxic divisions and rampant individualism in the world – it is truly counter cultural and provides welcome relief. How is this abiding to be achieved? Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message):

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Amen! Let’s walk with Jesus and work with the Spirit and learn to live freely and lightly this year.
With love, Philip

"Let nothing perturb you, nothing frighten you. All things pass. God does not change. Patience achieves everything." St Teresa of Avila



[1] Thomas Merton, ed. Naomi Burton Stone and Brother Patrick Hart, “Rebirth and the New Man in Christianity,” Love and Living (Harcourt Books: 1979), 199.