The Unknowable purpose of God's Creation
Trinity Sunday, 15 June, 2014
Bishop John Bayton AM, One-time Vicar of St Peter's
Preached at St Peter's on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of his consecration.
"And know that I will always be with you, even to the end of [the age] - the end of time". Matt.28.16-20
- Granny stood at New Moon
- palming bits of silver, hand to hand
- and always bowing low;
- her still frail frame echoing that of Hecate's new life.
- Over and over, month by month, year by year
- on our back veranda,
- overlooking Brisbane's River.
- "What's she up to?" As kids we nudged and giggled.
- "Ask Grampy, 'What's she doing?! Go on!
- "Nonsense! " he reply. Some Irish superstition,"
- I should think. .
- Her Sinai moon began its monthly way
- from fingernail to Easter's Host.
- We never knew. Afraid to ask.
- Now Granny's gone and all
- that silver palming with her;
- nourishing her in that 'Other Place'.
- Her lovely secret world.
Einstein asked, "Does the moon exist if I do not look at it ? 'Is the moon real' in its own existence? What is REAL?
"Is my knowledge of God Real?" "Is the existence and Revelation of God as Trinity comprehensively REAL? Is my belief simply an aspect of Reality?" In the Mass we say, "Credo in unum Deo", not "Opinio in... Is Belief real? Is Faith Real?
What is real about my relationship with God, "He who has seen me has seen the Father." What of my relationship with others, Jesus response is, " I and the Father are One." And in Matthew 25 v 40 — "forasmuch as you have done it unto others you have done it unto me..."
I have searched many years for Reality, but never have I found it. What I have found is Images. An Icon is a two dimensional representation of a multi dimensional reality. Everything about which I write or teach or preach or paint is imaginary — Nothing is Real. Everything is Iconographic.
The reality is that to which I am, ordained — 'To keep alive Christ's Real Presence in the world in the Sacrament of the Eucharist'!"
Well, you might ask "What is so important about the Moon? It Is a reality in every day life, the tides, in the seasons of the year, the delineation of our Feasts.
When did you last look at the moon and wonder about the impossibility of understanding God's Creation outside of the Christian Faith ? Passover and the Exodus are fulfilled in the Paschal Mystery of Easter; the heart of our Faith which is celebrated at full moon. So also is it that the Feast of the Holy Trinity always falls at Full Moon. The Host we receive in Holy Communion is always white and round It is the symbol of the Paschal Moon Torah was given at new moon. Christ was crucified in the terrible winter eclipse of the Sinai Moon when darkness descended upon the face of the earth for three hours, It was a great, bitter cold end of winter. The Q'Ham S'ehn — which still blows wild every Easter-tide over Palestine
Twenty five years ago Anne and I were in Rome. At 2:00 on the morning following our audience with Pope John Paul 11, the phone rang. Archbishop David Penman said "Last night you were elected bishop". I said, "Bishop of what?" "Geelong". Ad lib...children...wardens...
Seven years in Geelong and the Western Region before I was 'called' by ABMA to go to Jerusalem as Episcopal Chaplain, Lecturer at St Georges. During my 12 years, coming and going there I regularly took students into the Sinai desert. At night I would lie in my sleeping bag on the desert sand, under full-bellied Hecate and the billions of galaxies, planets and stars, often afraid to go to sleep in case I should miss something of the Majesty of Artaxamaner's wheels.
If you embrace Faith you explore mystery. If you embrace presumption you explore misery. The creative process requires discomfort — "The wind blows where it will... you cannot know where it comes from or where it goes...." If you are a priest you are also an artist because art evokes Truth in the intentions of human consciousness. Art puts the soul into touch with her own origins. The essence of the creative process is Transfiguration — from one-dimensional existence to multi-dimensional reality. Art is always the work of prayer where prayer is the finest expression of solitude.
In contemporary society many people are concentrated on themselves, often moving from the objective Real into the subjective alternatives — religion, medicine, busisness — people sitting in front of computers talking to thousands of other people, with no intimacy.
The Christian Faith requires both intimacy and sacrifice — eg the good Samaritan!
The Unknowability of God's Creation
Nazareth, where the Angel Gabriel appeared, to evangelize the Virgin Mary; and where Jesus was brought up, has two Churches dedicated to the Annunciation. (1) The Great Roman Catholic Basilica and (2) The Greek Orthodox Church. The Basilica presents Gabriel appearing to the Virgin seated at a Prayer Desk spinning wool in the security of her father's house. Under the floor of the Orthodox Church, water flows. A Fresco depicts Mary with a pitcher on her head, on her way to draw the water of salvation from the well.
Both these Images challenges us to consider our ecclesiology. Is the Church a 'Safe House'? or is the Church a 'Place of Pilgrimage'?
On the Wall of the great basilica we find these words cast in Bronze —
VERBUM FACTUM CHRISTUS EST
The Architect originally had the word HIC in his Plan. HERE the Word was Made Flesh. 'Here' In Nazareth, is the Incarnation .... but 'HIC' was effaced, So we believe The Word was Made Flesh in Bethlehem.
Consider the implcations of this in the context of debates about Pro Life!
HIC — Here, on the Altar of this church The Word is Made Flesh. He dwells among us. 'We are the Body of Christ; His spirit is with us".
The Unknowable purpose of God's Creation becomes knowable from the moment of the Incarnation. Here. Right now, HIC — HERE in Nazareth — for "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son to the end that all who believe in him might not perish but have everlasting Life"
I look back on 25 years of Episcopal ordination in Australia, Israel-Palestine ; Egypt, Cyprus, Walsingham UK, Chicago, Brisbane, Melbourne and remember many things. eg A drug deal in a South Chicago parish church. The destruction of the Chapel of our Anglican Hospital in Gaza by an Israeli rocket. Two wars! So much dying and death. Saint Paul's words to his Roman friends (Rom 8 v38). "Nothing shall separate us from the Love of God which is in Christ Jesus." This is my mantra.
The great dinner-plate Sinai Moon of our Paschal Mysteries casts its spell over everything where it sits above, in this unknowability of God's Creation.
Sin was the Babylonian Moon goddess — Sin-ai (the Mountain of the Moon). She was known to Arabs prior to Muhamed as Allah (the moon goddess) and is still, to this day in the Moslem world, where her symbol is the Crescent Moon.
Other things stand out. Eg. Whenever the Bishop was out of his Diocese, I represented the Anglican Communion in the Middle East, particularly in the exchange of greetings twice a year between Anglicans, Armenian, Greeks, Latins, Syrians, Romanians, Russians, Copts and Ethiopians.
Sitting with the Armenian Patriarch one day (as he was translating some of Shakespeare's Sonnets from French into Armenian, out of the blue he asked me, "What are the origins of the Gothic architecture". I replied, "My friend the Professor of Gothic Architecture at University of California, Berkley — Jean Bony, once told me that Armenian architecture was hijacked by the Crusaders and taken to Europe." Cluny was its first example.
One Saturday I entered the courtyard of the Syrian Patriarchal vicar. There was a bag-pipe and drum band. They stuck up "God save the Queen". Good old C of E.
One Saturday afternoon driving from Nazareth, to Jerusalem through Samaria I was detained by the IDF. I rang Anne ,"I will be late for dinner". "Why". "I have just been arrested by the Israeli Defence Force." Eventually with my Palestinian driver we escaped.
I wrote to Alexander Downer about this intrusion into my Ministry. I had an Australian Passport and a Vatican Passeur designating me 'Professor". I complained.
Three weeks later I received a phone call from a 3rd Secretary of our Embassy in Tel Aviv saying, "Don't worry, this happens all the time". I said "Have you ever been unlawfully arrested at gun-point?". "Well, No actually". Point taken.
Anne regularly smuggled food and clothing into Deheisha Refugee Camp. The Israeli soldiers always looked the other way. She often sat in the hot sun waiting for passes for our Palestinian Staff.
I well recall the day Prime Minister Netanayahu opened up a tunnel under the Temple Mount. War broke out. 76 Palestinians were shot down like dogs from helicopter
gun-ships two hundred metres away from us. The British embassy offered to air-lift us to Britain but we refused. "We need to stay with our people".
One Saturday evening on my way to Cyprus. Prime Minister Rabin was assasinated.
I was given the privilege of delivering a lecture on "The Icons of Cyprus" in the Icon Museum in Nicosia.
One Saturday afternoon in Cairo, after I had prepared him for ordination, we made the sixth son of his father's fifth wife a Deacon in the Cathedral.
I conducted a Retreat for the clergy of North Africa — Libya, Ethiopia, Egypt in Pope Schenuda's Palace in Wadi Natrun where the Abbot is a fellow Australian.
I had the privilege of preaching at Beir Sheva on the 75th anniversary of the Cavalry Charge led by Charles Chauvel whose memorial is in St. Paul's Cathedral.
While teaching a Course on St Paul in Athens, I was invited to meet with the Greek Orthodox Primate of all Greece, who at the end of our two hours dialog discussing matters of Church Unity, about the Ordination of Women (he had no theological objection, but is constrained by Greek culture).
An Inter-Church Retreat in Ein Kerem with a Spanish Bishop. Pre and Post Lambeth Conference Courses of Lectures at St. George's College which included a visit with the Lambeth Bishops to President Arafat in Gaza. [+Peter H +David Moxon now in Rome, Bp Nigeria, Cyprus, Jerusalem, N.Z. et al.] We were detained for four hours at the checkpoint.
One night near Bier Zuriah' (the 'Village of the Second Wives"), having quickened my pulses and counted down, and now able to distinguish individual stars
from the slipstream of airplanes; listening to the great silence of the nerves of my fingers, I saw 42 shooting stars before I fell asleep. What majesty. What mystery.
More galaxies than all the sands of earth's sea-shores; and the promise made to Abraham by God's Elohim and his seed forever. No noise except the odd slippering of a serpent about my bed and the snoring far away of an eccentric English priest in his shorts, T shirt black sox and sandals! My feet, as always, shod with green and red socks against the invasion of nasty creatures, my head covered by Felix Arnott's Canterbury Cap; my hands embraced with gloves against the myriad of mosquitoes.
As always, I woke at 6am and roused the students to another exciting day on the Pilgrim way from Cairo to Damascus.
Mornings brought scalding black Egyptian tea (a euphemism for something long banned in Australia, but very stimulating); a boiled egg, a tin of fish, chick peas, humous, tinned tomato and Pita.
Any one who has climbed Mount Sinai and watched the sun rise over the vastness of this place of fire and cloud knows this to be a mythic place, a mysterious and majestic place — the place of the apophatic imagination. Mythological.
Here God's Yahweh is encountered in the dark cloud of the Unknowing. A wild place, an unknowable place. The place of inner landscape, of desert, mountain, thunder and lightning.
The beauty of the mountain itself is an embrace of terror. I often celebrated Mass in the Basilica of St. Catherine. One day the Abbot gave me permission to enter the Chapel of the Burning Bush. Later that morning I drank coffee with him. He told me, "We have withstood the Jelibir, the Moslems, the Crusaders, Napolean's French, the British, but I fear we may not be able to withstand the tourists.
At 4am from my cell window one morning I saw a vixen playing with her cubs.
What more? To be called "Beloved Brother" by an ancient Moslem guide — Musa — Great mystery, great majesty. Mystery — 'not that which is hidden' but 'that which has yet to be revealed.' For we live by apprehension and by revelation. Apprehension — by the use of our five senses — and by 'revelation' that which God reveals to us. I give thanks for quarter of a century of revelation. I commemorate the lives of wonderful people. From Homilies and Eulogies I have learned much about the departed, their familial, cultural, religious and personal lives. Yet, rarely have I ever heard any reference to their mystical lives.
What is the reality of YOUR life in mine. Can I ever really know you!
Perhaps I may know a little about you but in fact nothing REAL. In Shakespeare' "Macbeth" Act 1 Scene 4, Duncan reminds us "There is no art can read the mind's conception in the face." In each one of us there is that 'unknowability'. We are God's Creation.
Some years ago I conducted a spiritual workshop for the Anglican Bishops of Australia at Gilbulla. I paired the bishops off and gave each of them the task of drawing a portrait of his companion. This meant a period of time during which each bishop had to study the face of his opposite number.
At the end of the day one of the Bishops said to me, "In all my life I have never given twenty minutes of quality time to anyone! I said, "Anyone, not even your wife?" to which he replied, "Not even to my wife".
To gaze into the infinity of another person is to discover the knowability of God's Creation, because God is known only in the Unknowing. God is Unknowable.
St Paul reminds us, "Now we see only in part, but then...."
Such is the nature and mystery of 'contemplation'. We seek the Face of God by discerning the mind of God's Christ in the face of others.
Apart from the Real Presence in the Eucharist, everything is unknowable.
In 2014 the Church is a remote Icon of the Church of 1989. The only constant is 'Change'. Dioceses are becoming more and more Bureaucratic. 'Management', not 'Leadership": is the mode. Fewer and fewer Anglicans are speaking of their spiritual experiences. Parishes are becoming more and more like Rotary clubs where people speak of 'careers', rather than of their spiritual and pilgrim journeys.
One Sunday after Evensong and Benediction, I went across to the Chapel to say my late evening prayers. I knelt. In my deepest mind I saw a vision of Angels and Archangels, (why should we not, for we join with them every day as we sing the Sanctus) . Beyond this, beyond the "whole company of heaven" I perceived a Vision of extraordinary Wonder — what I would as describe as "a vision of God'.
This 'vision' passed all understanding. It was beyond all images, beyond the poetry of my religious language; It was an indescribable unknowingness; constellating everything I had before ever held in my Imagination.
It was 'there' but 'not there'. It was a predella to all those years when my Granny palmed her threepenny bits from hand to hand, bowing low to something way and far beyond the Sinai moon, into that world beyond understanding, the Place of the Holy Trinity. What she taught me was that this world is but a small 'three-penny bit' of eternal reality. Far and away in the Sinai Desert, which she never knew, I 'saw' in the Moon, that which is "A Vision of the Most High" the One whose face is eternally that of Jesus Christ to whom now I give all praise and honour.
And without Anne, all would simply be 'adventure', not pilgrimage. Amen.
I had been there six months when Anne and I were married. We lived in what once had been "Brotherhood House" a ramshackled old place with splintered crows ash verandah boards, congoleum on the Kitchen and lounge room floors, a Coolgardie safe, a wood stove and a dunny up the back. Apart from the regular Sunday Services in Longreach and Ilfracombe, I celebrated the Eucharist at the Post Office in Stonehenge; at Jundah in the Church of the Ascension, dedicated to Fr Hulton Sams who was killed bringing water to the wounded in WW1; in Wool-sheds for graziers, drovers, farmers, boundary riders, stockmen, jackaroos often with congregations of up to a hundred.
Often, after Mass, I would set out with drovers to their camps where, lying on an old grey blanket, I would gaze up at the infinity of the heavens and marvel at the unknowability of God's creation. Once in the light of the full moon I caught a glimpse of Christ in the face of an old aboriginal stockman, one of the few people in my life to call me Johnno. He had never heard of Jesus!
Two of our children — Jonathan and Jane — were born in Longreach. The day after Janey was born, Longreach had a visit from a very young Malcolm Frazer. I said to him, "You can't go in there", "Why not" "Because that is the Labour ward"!
- Nothing but the straw of Mitchell grass
- as far as one can see.
- Beyond the farthest scope of sight
- horizons move in endless passages of straw
- against ceurelian skies.
- Far way above where eagles prey on lambs
- another world is hidden from our sight;
- where new roots grasp the opals from the ancient inland sea.
- Transfigured things lie there that swam,
- lived long with curious beasts\who drank and fell themselves into their fossils.
- The straw-flat land is not so now.
- Its rise and fall mark signs of long forgotten waves,
- ploughed as it were, by Dreaming sheares.
- Straw lived. Straw died
- a million, million times
- Since opaled creatures drowned
- in their own evolving.
Torres Strait followed. I visited the fifteen Islands of Torres Strait as well as Somerset Cape York, Cooktown, Weipa, the Mission Stations, Mitchell, Edward and Lockhart Rivers. On my way to the distant Islands I would say the daily Mass for
the crew of the Mission lugger. My vestments — khaki shorts, a Chesty Bond singlet a white stole and bare feet. By night as I lay on the bare boards of the ship's deck I would listen to the myths of Torres Strait as the skipper recited the story of Creation as it had been handed down for generations. He would point to the stars by which they still today, navigate. The incomprehensible, incredible beauty of the heavens.
The day before we left Thursday Island I buried a three month old parentless girl-child wrapped in palm-branch fronds. She died of malnutrition. There were three of us at her burial — the Protector of Aborigines, the sexton and myself. I named her Mary and poured water over her baptizing her in the name of the Holy Trinity. of her tiny life in the midst of 20th century community affluence. Her grave overlooks the fantastic beauty of Torres Strait Islands and she adds to its beauty by her unremarkable Presence. Mary.
As we moved away, from her tiny grave I picked a flower. I have it in my Prayer Book to this day. Unknown to mortals, she is eternally known to God. How do I consider the incomprehensibility? How do I consider the incomprehensibility?