St John the Divine

I once tried to sum up why I love this feast:

Of all the Christmas feasts which follow thick and fast after the Nativity of Our Lord, I think I like St John’s best. He is the most poetic of the evangelists: a man who had learned ‘how to bear the beames of love’ and who reflects the beautiful light of the Word made flesh, as stars reflect the light of the sun. But there is more to John than beauty. There is grace and truth, again reflecting the grace and truth of the Word, and there is strength.

Truth needs strength otherwise it easily becomes something less — mere criticism, perhaps, or the kind of grumbling that achieves nothing except to make both grumbler and audience weary. St John is the most mystical of the evangelists not because he wrote beautifully, or because he reflected the grace and truth of the Word made flesh, but because he he was strong — strong in faith and love. It enabled him to see what others could only guess at, gave him the courage to explore what others might shy away from, kept him at the foot of the cross when he was tempted to run away. He was a true contemplative.

Whether we think of John as the young Galilean fisherman, the old man in Ephesus, the mystic on Patmos or simply ‘the author of the Fourth Gospel’ matters not a whit. John understood the nature of mystery. In secular parlance, mystery tends to mean no more than something we can’t fully grasp, a puzzle of little consequence; but to the Christian, mystery goes far beyond that. It is a secret we can know only because God has revealed it to us — a wonder and a joy, as in the holy Eucharist. John’s writings are full of mystery in this sense and take us very close to the mystery of God’s being. In his gospel, as in his letters, he expresses this through images of light and love, word and silence, hinting at what can be known only through faith. In our own lives, too, there must be something of the same light and love, word and silence, the same quest for God through prayer and sacrifice and fidelity to the covenant God has made with us.

All this — our understanding of the mystery and our eagerness to pursue it — comes to us as sheer gift, a gift given by our incorporation into Christ at baptism. It is the source of our strength, of the grace and truth by which we live, and it is our ultimate destiny, for one day we shall see Him as He really is. (1 John 3.2) That is a promise that goes far beyond anything we can think or dream of, but one we too often ignore. May the prayers of St John help us recognize it and respond wholeheartedly today.

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St John and the Third Day of Christmas

Of all the Christmas feasts which follow thick and fast after the Nativity of Our Lord, I think I like St John’s best. He is the most poetic of the evangelists: a man who had learned ‘how to bear the beames of love’ and who reflects the beautiful light of the Word made flesh as stars reflect the light of the sun. But there is more to John than beauty. There is grace and truth, again reflecting the grace and truth of the Word, and there is strength.

Truth needs strength otherwise it easily becomes something less — mere criticism, perhaps, or the kind of grumbling that achieves nothing except to make both grumbler and audience weary. St John is the most mystical of the evangelists not because he wrote beautifully, or because he reflected the grace and truth of the Word made flesh, but because he he was strong — strong in faith and love. It enabled him to see what others could only guess at, gave him the courage to explore what others might shy away from, kept him at the foot of the cross when he was tempted to run away. He was a true contemplative.

Today, the old carol has us singing of ‘three gold rings’, a symbol of the Blessed Trinity into whose life we are drawn through the gift of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. St John understood the gift to the Beloved and celebrated it with every fibre of his being, as a contemplative must. May we do likewise.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

On the Third Day of Christmas

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People often ask what Christmas is like in the monastery and are sometimes disappointed to learn that it is much like any other day, only with even more liturgy, and it lasts longer: twelve days rather than the one or two allowed in the secular calendar. It is a feast, but like all monastic feasts, eating and drinking are secondary to the liturgy.* It is also a time when many people turn to us for prayer or help, and our email prayerline and our telephone are kept busy with requests of various kinds. Despite that, I would still say that the most distinctive feature of the monastic Christmas is its silence. It is a silence that I think St John the Evangelist, whose feast we keep today, would have understood and shared. Before the Word of God we are all rendered dumb. But our dumbness is not the muteness of one who is embarrassed or ashamed. It is the quietness of wondering love and adoration; and even in a monastery, we have to work hard at focusing mind and heart so that no exterior noise or activity can disturb our inner stillness.

If your Christmas has, until now, been filled with activity and noise, try to find a moment or two today when you can simply lap up the love of God and know, as if for the first time, that he is your Saviour and Redeemer. Happy feast!

*BBC Radio 4’s Christmas Eve edition of ‘Woman’s Hour’ included a feature on our kitchen and monastic attitudes to food and drink:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03m79cl (starts about 11.48 in).Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail