Jim Cogley: Reflections Tues 19th Dec – Mon 25th Dec

Contributor (19th -23rd) Tessa Gallagher UK

Tue 19th Dec – Creation

I have spent a great deal of time trying to get a handle on God, to understand God. I have looked at the clouds, in the darkness, in books, in the shadows and in the church. Gradually or suddenly, I am not quite sure which it is I came to meet God. Everywhere. In the faces of people, in nature, in life experiences and in myself. It became a liberation from myself; from the impossible standards that I set, from my sense of shame, of perfectionism, inadequacy and of futility. I was then ready to become another part of myself. These little deaths meant there was both an ending and a beginning. God, I came to realise, carries on creating us, constantly inviting us into life from everlasting to everlasting. Who am I to refuse the invitations or to try to finish what is unfinished? Becoming is a continuing process and not a one-off event.

Wed 20th Dec – Constraints

Rules and regulations, orders and the demand for obedience may control us but they do not lead to fullness of life, nor do they open hearts. Sometimes we create constraints ourselves. I have erected walls and imposed boundaries which have prevented me from living beyond my capabilities. The problem with building walls is that they provide not only protection but also a prison, a place of isolation, solitary confinement and self-pity. No one understands we exclaim, no one cares we cry, no one listens we sigh. This is not true. There are people who hear the pain beyond the pain. They work with us to find a way through, leaving us free to then think things through for ourselves. There are those who have listened to me ,who have touched and enhanced my life, inviting me to develop deep and meaningful relationships. Without them I would be consigned to an empty and humdrum existence.

Thurs 21st Dec – Relationships

At its core life at any age is about relationships. Some are soul enhancing turning the drudgery of every day into life giving golden highlights. Some can be soul destroying and toxic testing us to our limits. When those we love and cherish leave us, we find ourselves at another crossover point. What do we do now? Do we disengage and withdraw or take a risk to launch out into the deep? After the losses that I suffered I did not have the energy motivation or zest for life to forge new relationships. The dead, those we have lost in any way, seem to take with them the energy of the living. Good loving relationships are a blessing adding vitality and a rich dimension to our lives. Relationships are visible signs of a powerful loving presence in life. They are like mirrors which show us ourselves.

Fri 22nd Dec – ‘I am not myself’

“Who in the world am I”? Alice asked, “Ah that’s the great puzzle.”

I pose this question cautiously. The ego can trick me and send me on a fruitless narcissistic journey. The masks the ego struts around in are endless. The ego looks for certainty not truth. It’s not the question but a statement that matters to me. I AM. It is really who I am in the Divine that is important. I think it was a saint who said something like I am the one who acknowledges that the distance between God and me is me. I can be obstructive and mean spirited. I try to block the Light. In John 8:12, Jesus claimed to be the ‘Light of the World.’ If we follow Jesus and his teachings which is no easy task there will be light for our entire lives. We have all encountered darkness sometimes so dense that the light seems to vanish completely. When it returns no matter how dim it is such a relief. I am not the ‘Light’ only a witness to the ‘Light’.

Sat 23rd Dec – Witness

We find in the gospels many examples of people who were witnesses to Jesus, John the Baptist being one. It comes at a price being a witness. We give witness by the way we live our lives in a way that demonstrates how much we believe in the message of Jesus. It means that I must practice what I preach. I don’t, I fail, I fall often. It is encouraging to remember that the Light who dwells in the darkness waits for us to get up and start again. It is the Light who reveals us to ourselves inviting us to become who we were meant to be. To be a witness I must, as Saint Paul says, put on the mind of Christ. When things are unbearable it is the light bearers who make a difference. True witnesses restore us by their compassion, their listening hearts, healing love and understanding. I am eternally grateful to light bearing witnesses.

Sun 24th Dec – Advent 4th Sunday ‘23

The day of the funeral of Shane McGowan I wasn’t free to look at it but no sooner was it over than I had phone calls to saying how wonderful and uplifting it was. That it was a breath of fresh air and quite prophetic about the way we need to move with our liturgies in the future in order to make them relevant for a younger generation. It was three hours long with no one complaining and people were even dancing in the aisles. Needless to say, there were a few negative voices. One Belfast priest went on a rant about it being a thundering disgrace and the songs quite inappropriate in a Eucharistic celebration. I’m not going to give my opinion, having been around long enough, you can guess it, but how did you react yourself?

It should be more than apparent to everyone at this stage that the old form of religious practice, as we have known it, is not going to survive much longer, and stands radically in need of renewal. Its condition could only be classed as terminal. Church attendance is dropping fast everywhere, priests are becoming an endangered species, and the days of clericalism, and a clerical church, are well and truly over. We now find ourselves in an uncomfortable transitional space where the old is dying fast and the shoots of new life are only just appearing. It’s not anyway clear what a new church is going to look like. The challenge is not to throw out the baby Jesus with the bathwater but more to find that baby and rescue him from drowning in what was some very muddy water.

That old religion we grew up with was far more focused on morality than spirituality and in particular it went over the top in relation to sexual sins. Sin almost equalled sex. It also equated moral evil with the breach of man-made rules and regulations. It portrayed a God of fear who was ever ready to punish even the most trivial of offences. How preposterous it was to even suggest that a loving God would send one of his own creations to the eternal fires of damnation for eating meat on Friday or not fasting before going to Holy Communion. Our old-styled Catholicism beyond doubt was a guilt-ridden religion where no one felt good enough. This is something we need to let go of gracefully and be thankful that it is more or less gone.

Any attempt to renew and recover a vibrant faith must bring us back to the Scriptures. If we reflect on the Gospels, especially in these Advent times, we find something very interesting: That the most persistent command from God is not about sex, breaking of rules or religious observance, but rather about not being afraid. Throughout the Bible the command ‘Do not be afraid’ occurs 366 times. That’s once for every day of the year, and one for a leap year. In the Nativity stories alone, it is staggering how many are told not to be afraid – practically every character in the story.

Mary is told by the angel ‘not to be afraid’, that she has found favour with God.

Joseph is told ‘not to be afraid’ to take Mary as his wife.

Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father is told ‘not to be afraid’.

Later, he is told God is visiting his people that they might serve him without fear.

On Christmas night the shepherds are also told ‘not to be afraid.’

In each of these cases fear is presented as the biggest and only obstacle that would prevent these good people from carrying out God’s will. And is it not just amazing that no other obstacle is even mentioned. Just contrast that truth with what we grew up with and draw your own conclusions.

Why do you think the Gospels focus on fear so much? It probably holds us back much more than we realize and is the motivation behind much of our actions or our failure to act when we should. Here I’m talking about unhealthy fear and not the kind that makes me keep my mouth shut when I have nothing to say. Fear of failure doesn’t allow us to start something and so compounds our sense of failure. Fear of losing a relationship means that I give in and never stand up for myself but in so doing lose the respect of the other. Fear of speaking our truth means that we live a lie. Fear of rejection makes us people pleasers who can’t say ‘no’. Fear of facing issues from our past, means that we live in the past. Fear of sickness is to be sick, and fear of the future make us live worst possible scenarios that will never happen.

While ‘not to fear’ is a negative Divine command, it is also balanced by the positive command to have faith. In fact, Faith and Fear are presented as polar opposites. To paraphrase just a few:

Have faith and you will be healed and all will be well.

Have faith in God’s providence and you have no need to worry.

Have faith and you can move mountains.

Without faith you can’t please God.

Having faith allowed Peter to walk on water while fear made him sink.

I rather like what a great mystic once said that ‘Faith is what allows God to dream in me, while fear is what allows the devil to give me nightmares’. Both have a remarkable power to create our reality. Faith expands our world while fear makes it smaller. Faith gives us courage while fear makes us falter.

No wonder the dual commands of the Scriptures are ‘not to be afraid’ and ‘to have faith’. Only with the latter can be do the will of God and enjoy the fullness of life that He wants for us.

Mon Dec 25th – If You Look for Me at Christmas

If you look for me at Christmas,

you won’t find a special star.

I’m no longer just in Bethlehem,

I’m right there where you are.

You may not be aware of me,

amid all the celebrations.

You’ll have to look beyond the stores

and all the decorations.

But if you take a moment,

from all the things to do

And listen in your heart,

you’ll find I’m waiting there for you.

You’re the one I want to be with,

you’re the reason that I came.

And you’ll find me in the stillness

As I’m whispering your name.

Christ is the reason for the season

Happy Christmas to you all

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