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Conversations with Jesus at Christmas

Posted on 20 December 2011, 20:56

As Christmas approaches, I thought we might turn to the subject of prayer and listen to what Jesus had to say on the matter when I spoke with him in ‘Conversations with Jesus of Nazareth.’

The conversation is imagined but Jesus’ words are all his own:

SP: Prayer matters to you, teacher. But then unlike most people, you have a profound trust in your heavenly father.

JN: See the birds of the sky who neither sow, reap nor store food in barns. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you of much more value than these birds?

SP: With such limitless trust prayer must be both easy and delightful.

JN: Or consider the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t toil, they don’t spin, yet I tell you that even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed like one of these.

SP: Your eyes are never far from creation, teacher. Indeed, I sometimes think it’s your scripture even more than the scriptures themselves.

JN: And if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is here today but tomorrow is thrown in the fire, then how much more will you be dressed,  you of little faith?

SP: We learn from what we see and hear, and I suppose some of us had bad teachers of prayer; people who replaced simple trust with something else like pomposity, fear or self-righteousness.

JN: Two men went up into the temple to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.

SP: Tax collectors know nothing about the prayer. I know you like to speak well of them but I’ve never met a nice one myself, and I’ve met many nice Pharisees.

JN: The Pharisee stood and prayed to himself like this: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of men.’

SP: Not a good start, I grant you. We’ll call him Proud Peter.

JN: ‘I thank you that I am not like other men - extortioners, the unrighteous, adulterers or even such low-life as this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give tithes of all that I receive.’

SP: It seems Proud Peter must feel superior to others to make himself feel good. He must always have a list of people less good than him.
JN: So then see the tax collector –

SP: - who we’ll just call Low-Life –

JN: - standing far away. He won’t even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beats his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

SP: Which he is, because all those tax-collectors are on the make. 

JN: Do not condemn and you won’t be condemned –

SP: - OK, OK -

JN: - yet I tell you, it was this man –

SP: - Low-Life? –

JN: - who went back to his house having made God smile, rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled but they who humble themselves will be exalted.

SP: Is that so? Then it’s not so much the act of prayer which is important, but the attitude we bring to prayer. If we’re full of ourselves, it’s an empty experience. But when trust is there –

JN: - ask, and it will be given to you.

SP: You do keep things simple, teacher, even if it’s simply impossible. 

JN: Your father in heaven knows your needs.

SP: Maybe, but as you know, that doesn’t stop a number of healers indulging in a few prayerful theatrics. They love all the ‘abracadabra’ stuff with their Jewish and pagan amulets.

JN: Do not use a lot of meaningless words, as the pagans do. They imagine that God will hear them merely because their prayers are so long.

SP: And it’s not just words with these healers; it’s much more theatrical than that. Young Tobit, for instance, burnt the heart and liver of a fish to keep the demon Asmodeus away from his bride. While the showman Eleazar, for his exorcisms, fills a bowl of water for the expelled demon to knock over on leaving - so the audience can see what’s happening! But not you, teacher – you apparently give a single command to the demon to quit, or the leprosy to disappear, the withered hand to stretch out, the deaf ears to open or the storm to abate. Just a single command. 

JN: ‘When you pray, say this:

‘Our Father in heaven, may your name be held holy,
your Kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us day by day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins, as we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

SP: And it’s that simple?

JN: Your father in heaven knows your needs.

SP: It’s the sort of simple prayer you could almost breathe throughout the day, and alongside side trust I notice another important attitude there –

JN: - Forgive us our sins as we forgive everyone who is indebted to us?

SP: Yes, forgiving others is never easy.

JN: Peter once came to me and said, ‘Master, how often should I forgive someone who hurts me?’

SP: Good question. I find once hard enough.

JN: ‘Up to seven times?’ he said.

SP: Seven times seems excessive. 

JN: Not seven times, I said, but seventy times seven.

SP: Seventy times seven is a ridiculous amount of forgiveness.

JN: So hear this. You have heard in the past that people were told ‘Do not commit murder’?

SP: Of course. 

JN: But now I tell you that who ever is angry with his brother will be brought to trial.

SP: The courts will be busy.

JN: And whoever calls his brother a ‘good-for-nothing’ will be brought before the council, while anyone who naming his brother a worthless fool will be in danger of the fires of hell.

SP: And quite unfit for prayer?

JN: Quite so. So if you’re about to offer your gift to God at the altar and remember that someone has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar, go at once and make peace with them –

SP: - and then come back and offer your gift to God?

JN: And then come back an offer your gift to God, yes.

SP: I’m learning.

JN: So whenever you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone –

SP: - anyone? –

JN: - yes, anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your stumblings.

SP: And now you remind me of Rabbi Hanna, ‘The commandment to love your neighbour is a commandment on which the whole world hangs,’ he says, ‘a mighty oath from Sinai. If you hate your neighbour whose deeds are wicked like your own, I the Lord will punish you as your judge. And if you love your neighbour whose deeds are like your own, I the Lord will be faithful to you and have mercy on you.’ You and the rabbi both see our treatment by God as reflecting our treatment of others.

JN: True. Set free and you will be set free, and one more thing –

SP: Yes?

JN: Don’t pray like the hypocrites.

SP: How do they pray?

JN: They love to stand up and pray in the houses of worship and on the street corners so that everyone will see them.

SP: They’re quite hard to miss when in full flow.

JN: But when you pray, go to your room, close the door and pray to your father who is unseen.

SP: As you do. Only you withdraw to the hills. Mark told me you went out long before daylight. 

JN: Your father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you. 

SP: So good prayer needs trust, a readiness to forgive others and seclusion.

JN: Close the door, yes.

Conversations With Jesus of Nazareth by Simon Parke is published by White Crow Books.

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Conversations with Jesus of Nazareth - Jesus of Nazareth & Simon Parke




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Family, eh?

Posted on 17 December 2011, 1:54

A successful but deeply-troubled man came to see me this week. After listening to his story, I made a few observations, all of which felt fairly obvious.
‘Why has no one said these things to me before?’ he asked. ‘Someone should have said these things to me a long time ago.’

In particular, I’d made him aware of one or two damaging family dynamics that he was unaware of. And now he’s starting his life again, from a fresh vantage point.

It’s remarkable how we ignore the effect of our family on us. For some, it’s a matter they dare not even consider, too frightened to go there. But the hard-wiring of our brain was complete by the age of four and it hard-wired in response to the adults around us. Almost all human suffering and unhappiness arises from this hard-wiring.

This is why I wrote Forsaking the Family, now published by White Crow. We’ll never be free until we have come to terms with our family. I offer a short extract from the opening chapter:

‘The great and good love family values; it’s a fine sounding phrase and always in season. Family values is sewn on the banner of all politicians, while remaining the insistent lobby of the religious also. It is, however, not only a meaningless phrase but a dangerous one. For families have the capacity to destroy people, being the single most manipulative force in the world today. Most families incorporate a well-organized set of prejudice, false assumption and discreet or blatant mistreatment. For evidence of their effects we need only look at the human race or, more pertinently, ourselves. We each live the damage done by our families, but do we question them? Not often, because it simply isn’t allowed.

The sacred cow of family deserves only worship, which leaves the crying child within us, desperate and unheard. The child thus smothered takes its revenge daily.

There is in fact no such thing as family. It is a word heavy with association but light on precision. Neither history nor the dictionary affords it a particular meaning or form written in stone. It describes a set of connections to do with parentage, ancestry or household. It describes a wide variety of structures of relating, from a medieval household including lord, lady, legitimate offspring, ladies in waiting, servants, illegitimate offspring, retainers, dogs and grandma, to a lay community of women on a windswept island; from a small flat in London where a white couple live with their two adopted children from Guatemala, to a native American settlement where the family is the tribe.

Family describes connections and structures. It says nothing, however, about the quality of those connections or structures and in the business of life, it is only the quality of relationship which matters. If the sacred cow of family is worth anything, it will be because of the quality of relationship created.

The unconscious will see no need for this book for being strangers to themselves, they will be strangers also to the need to discover what created them. They will not wish their sleep-walking disturbed and will be angry at this unnecessary muck-raking. But for those stirring from sleep; for those glimpsing the possibility of consciousness and beginning to smell the coffee of life in their own particular way - they will be most interested to reflect on the institution which created us all, and in particular, the one which created them.

Life is not complicated. It’s difficult but it’s not complicated, for it is about two things and two things only. First, there is the discernment of where life lies for you and second, there is the choosing of it.

It’s simple really: true discernment followed by brave action. We feel our way towards what is life-giving for us in the world, which may take time; and then we consider how it best may be achieved and begin to act on this inner encounter with hope. There can be few arenas in life where these twin callings of discernment and action are more pressing than in the territory of family.’

Forsaking the Family by Simon Parke is published by White Crow Books

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Learning to take pain lightly

Posted on 05 December 2011, 16:33

Julian of Norwich was the first woman to be published in English, with her book Revelations of Divine Love. It’s a marvellous work, written in Norwich in the 14th century. Unlike the church at the time, Julian wrote of a kind God, a ‘courteous and homely’ God who cares passionately for us, and who’s love knows no end or limit.

I recently produced a modern version of this book, originally written in Middle-English (like Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales) for White Crow. In the passage below, Julian reflects on how we cope with pain – and promises that this too will pass:

‘It is far better we are taken from pain, than that pain is taken from us; for if pain is taken from us, it may come again. It is therefore a sovereign comfort and sweet realisation in a loving soul that we shall be taken from pain. For in this promise I saw the marvellous compassion our Lord has for us in our woe and a courteous promise of complete deliverance. For he wills that we are comforted in our death and passing, which he showed in these words: ‘And you shall come up above, and you shall have me as your reward, and you shall be filled with joy and bliss.’

  It is God’s will that we set the point of our thought in this blissful contemplation as often as possible, and for as long a time as we can with his grace; for this is a good contemplation for the soul led by God and most honouring for him while it lasts . And when we fall again into our depression and spiritual blindness, and   feel pain and frailty, both spiritual and bodily, it is God’s will that we know he has not forgotten us, as he makes clear in these words:

‘And you shall never more have pain; no manner of sickness, no manner of discomfort and you will want for nothing, no wanting of will; but rather, joy and bliss are yours without end. Why then should it upset you to suffer awhile, seeing that it is my will and my honour?’

It is God’s will that we receive his promises and comfort as openly and as powerfully as possible. He wills also that we take our waiting and our troubles as lightly as possible, and regard them as nothing. For the more lightly we take them and the less price we set on them, out of love, then the less painfully we feel them and the more thanks and recompense we shall have for them. 
And so I understood that whoever wilfully chooses God in this life, for love, may be sure that they are loved without end; and that this endless love works grace in them. For he wills that we are as certain in hope of the bliss of heaven while we are here, as we shall be in certainty when we are there. And the more pleasure and joy that we take in this certainty, with reverence and meekness, then the better he is pleased, as was shown. This reverence that I speak of is a holy and courteous fear of our Lord, allied with meekness, when a creature sees the Lord as marvellously great and themselves as marvellously little.’

Revelations of Divine love by Julian of Norwich and Simon Parke is published by White Crow Books

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Revelations of Divine Love - Julian of Norwich

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“Life After Death – The Communicator” by Paul Beard – If the telephone rings, naturally the caller is expected to identify himself. In post-mortem communication, necessitating something far more complex than a telephone, it is not enough to seek the speakers identity. One needs to estimate also as far as is possible his present status and stature. This involves a number of factors, overlapping and hard to keep separate, each bringing its own kind of difficulty. Four such factors can readily be named. Read here
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