22 Oct 2017
What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger
15 Oct 2017
This Too Shall Pass
8 Oct 2017
The Simple Truth: Head, Heart and Hands
1 Oct 2017
Humility – Staying close to the ground
2 Jul 2017
Welcoming the Silence
25 Jun 2017
18 Jun 2017
Are you ready for harvest?
11 Jun 2017
Don’t Blame it on the Snake
4 Jun 2017
Words Beyond Words: Breath Beyond Breath
28 May 2017
Seeing with new eyes
14 May 2017
Grace, Gracious and Graceful
30 Apr 2017
A Time for war and a time for peace
23 Apr 2017
16 Apr 2017
God became human so that we could become divine!
12 Mar 2017
Wind of the Spirit
12 Feb 2017
From the Mountainside: The Impossible Dream?
22 Jan 2017
Grounding our Life and Faith
25 Dec 2016
That Humanity should become Divine
11 Dec 2016
Joy is for Everyone
4 Dec 2016
The Mingling of Water and Spirit
27 Nov 2016
Living Fully in the Present Moment
16 Oct 2016
Persistence and Justice
9 Oct 2016
Gratitude and Thankfulness
2 Oct 2016
Standing in the Tragic Gap
25 Sep 2016
Rich Man, Poor Man
4 Sep 2016
The Gift of Freedom
21 Aug 2016
A Hidden Wholeness
14 Aug 2016
We all need wise words to live by
31 Jul 2016
When Less is More
24 Jul 2016
Developing Healthy Relationships
17 Jul 2016
10 Jul 2016
Meeting Strangers on the Road
3 Jul 2016
On the Road Again
29 May 2016
Faith is the Answer
22 May 2016
The Way of Wisdom
15 May 2016
Icons and Stained Glass Windows – Inner light
8 May 2016
Unity and Oneness
1 May 2016
A Hidden Wholeness
24 Apr 2016
Lest we forget: What?
17 Apr 2016
God became human so that we could become divine!
3 Apr 2016
Thank God for St Thomas!
27 Mar 2016
Living life’s great contradictions
20 Mar 2016
Message of Peace
13 Mar 2016
Living Fully, Loving Wastefully
6 Mar 2016
Come Home, all is forgiven
28 Feb 2016
Simply, leave it alone
21 Feb 2016
Why do we “kill” our prophets?
7 Feb 2016
Keeping your Head in the Clouds
|07 February, 2016||Transfiguration Sunday||By Rev Dr Christopher Page|
And come forth from the cloud of unknowing and kiss the cheek of the moon
The New Jerusalem glowing why tarry all night in the ruin
I have had a brief opportunity to thank everyone for their support and kindness following my accident and
during my leave. Could I also thank you for your support of Anne. It is not easy having a husband like me. So she is grateful for all the help she can get!
The last 2 months has been a time of reflection and even an evaluation of the priorities in my life. I mentioned in the Update this week that I recently finished Oliver Sacks’s autobiography. If you would like more information about this remarkable man, go to the source of all 21st century wisdom….. Wikipedia. Oliver Sacks’s book was only one of the books I read. There were other books I read that caused me to ponder my own life.
Last month I read a brief book by the Jewish scholar and Rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel. Heschel wrote many books around the middle of the 20th century. Two of the titles were Man is not Alone and I Asked for Wonder. In fact Heschel singlehandedly reintroduced the notion of “wonder” back into some of the dry theological discussions of fifty years ago. His desire was that religion was not some recitation of received beliefs or theological notions, but what we may call spiritual. It must be appropriated through experience; and the primary religious experience is wonder! Here is a paraphrase of what he wrote almost seventy years ago:
Spiritually we cannot live by merely reiterating borrowed or inherited knowledge. Inquire of your [own] soul what does it know, what does it take for granted? It will tell you only “no-thing” is taken for granted; each thing is a surprise; being [itself] is unbelievable. We are amazed at seeing anything at all, amazed not only at particular values and things but at the unexpectedness of being…in fact that there is being at all.
~Man Is Not Alone
I wonder how often today we are amazed. I wonder how often do we wonder. Sadly, our wondering, our pondering and even our brooding and contemplation is so often cut short in our lives by the rational desire for an answer and explanation to the questions posed, or by being told, “this is what you are to believe!” Why is it seen that believing something is more important than wondering about it? Maybe it’s our quest for certainty.
If you have seen the film The Big Short, a dramatised approach to the Global Financial Crisis, you may have noticed the quote by Mark Twain, “It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.” The only antidote to debilitating beliefs is wonder. My mentor the Quaker scholar Parker J Palmer says, When the going gets tough, turn to wonder.
The Great Cloud of Unknowing
The story this morning of Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah and a cloud wrapping them in a great mystery is, I think, almost the beginning point of every religion and… life in the Spirit. As Heschel in his books has argued, religion and faith are not rational, that is, they are not primarily a product of thought; nor is faith irrational, that is, insane or crazy. Rather they are non-rational; that is, religion, spirituality and faith transcend our beliefs and even our theologies, and what we think we should know about God. The spiritual life begins in wonder. As the Psalmist said, Taste and see that the Lord is good. Wonder and experience must always precede belief.
I have a strong memory of growing up in Queensland and on a Sunday afternoon watching the storm clouds roll in from the east coast. The clap of thunder; the lightning strike and then the torrential rain. Wonder at the power and beauty of the storm; the beauty of this earth. I know there are some who have the knowledge to explain in scientific terms what I was seeing. But no one can explain, nor put into words, what I was experiencing. If I advance in this story to when I am 18 years of age: I am a young cadet surveyor working in the Simpson Desert in Queensland and one night I gaze into the night sky. Is there any place on this planet where the universe is more visible that on the border of Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory? Wonder, sheer wonder and for those who have experienced it, the sound of silence!
As the cloud descended on Jesus and his companions, the disciples became fearful. And that is a good response, because they had no reference points to explain or understand this experience. The narrator of Matthew’s Gospel tells us:
Now about eight days after these sayings, Jesus took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.
Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him.
While Jesus was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. And later in the story it says they are speechless. When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
They enter what could be called The Cloud of Unknowing. As the title of my message this morning suggests, perhaps there is a time and place to keep your heads in the clouds. It is not an easy thing to live in that place of not knowing; to recognise that silence may speak louder than words. But it may have been one of the most important lessons these early disciples learned. “It is better to have your head in the clouds, and not know where you are... than to breathe the clearer atmosphere below them, and think that you are in paradise”, said the poet and philosopher Henry David Thoreau.
Keeping your head in the Clouds
It was the great church reformer Martin Luther who said, God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and stars and in the clouds. While he meant this in the literal sense of clouds, I believe that there is a very important place in our lives where we must keep our heads in the clouds… and of course at the same time, our feet firmly placed on the ground. That is the wonderful paradox of the spiritual life. It is not an either-or, but a both-and.
We talked long and hard yesterday about our ministry at TUC. We discovered our common views and those on which we differed. We had the chance to explore with others what we valued about our community and what were some of the things we regarded as less important. In one sense our facilitator John Thompson asked us to keep our heads in the clouds, but also our feet on the ground. What do we imagine our future could be like? For many of us a cloud of unknowing. What steps could we take to get there? Well, that may take a little time for us to work out.
To use the word in a somewhat different sense, we wonder about the future. But it is not really that different from Abraham Heschel’s use of the word wonder. To gaze into the cloud of unknowing is to be confronted with the truth that in the life of the spirit we really don’t know the way ahead. If wonder is the beginning of the spiritual life, then surrender to the unknown mystery is the first step. Writing about the famous book The Cloud of Unknowing, a commentator says:
The underlying message of this work suggests that the way to know God is to abandon consideration of God's particular activities and attributes, and be courageous enough to surrender one's mind and ego to the realm of “unknowing”, at which point one may begin to glimpse the nature of God. …
And we know that at the heart of our faith, our religion and our spirituality is the “unknowable” God. Do you know that priests and theologians throughout the centuries have been executed for making that obvious statement? God is unknowable!
But that doesn’t mean that we are paralysed into inactivity. Nor left to wallow in an endless, incomprehensible mystery. For even in the silence, the inner word of God is spoken. Even in the incomprehensible mystery of life and all it brings, we are given glimpses of the divine enough to live and work for each day.