Tag Archives: Taize

Chastity – what’s your definition?

So what is your definition of chastity? For me the clue lies in these two short passages of Matthew’s Gospel chapter 6:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…..but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven….For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (verses 19 – 21)
“No one can serve two masters…..You cannot serve God and wealth.” (verse 24)

“But,” I hear you say, “they are not talking about sex!” That is because I get my definition of chastity from the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (executed by the Nazis for his part in the plot to assassinate Hitler). For him chastity is the total orientation of my life towards a goal. And the goal? You might call it the single heart. Stanza 18 of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, The Wreck of the Deutschland, puts it with heart wrenching drama. In December 1875, as the Deutschland founders in a storm off the Kent coast and the sea swamps the ship, one of the passengers, a nun, calls out ‘O Christ, Christ come quickly!’ Hopkins writes:
“Sister, a sister calling
A master, her master and mine! –
And the inboard seas run swirling and hawling;
The rash smart sloggering brine
Blinds her; but she that weather sees one thing, one:
Has one fetch in her: she rears herself to divine
Here is the single heart – “Has one fetch in her: she rears herself to divine ears”
Later, in stanza 29, Hopkins combines the single heart and the single eye
“Ah! There was a heart right!
There was a single eye!”
Perhaps he had in mind the three short sayings I have been focussing on in these last two blog posts.

BUT – aren’t jihadists in Iraq and Syria also single-minded – even to the point of martyrdom?! Weren’t Christians single-minded in the medieval crusades to liberate Jerusalem and the ‘Holy Land’ from ‘infidel’ Muslims? Do we not have to admit that religions of all kinds can get it seriously wrong? How do we distinguish? How do we discern the true from the false? By their fruits, says Jesus. We don’t gather figs from thistles, he adds. Brother Roger of Taize said, “Nothing is more important than the loss of love”. You might say that the whole of these three chapters of Matthew’s Gospel could be summed up in those words from the Prior of the Taize Community.

Not one of us acts alone. We are all part of a wider community. To quote John Donne, “No man is an island, entire of itself.” We can all get swept up by a communal tide of unexamined assumptions, fears, anger and hopes. They can blind the healthy eye, create division in the single heart. To help counteract this blindness (especially in the religious person) there are three checks and balances within the Christian tradition. One of them is just that – tradition; the tradition of thinking and spiritual practice that has mapped out down the centuries the dangerous byways that religious zealotry can tread. The second is scripture: for Christians, the Bible. The third is reason: just plain old rational thought. These three, interacting with each other, no one of them dominating the remaining two, can provide a supporting framework within which my heartfelt desire to live a life of chastity can find proper expression, and that includes my fifty five years of marriage!

Two Gardens.

There are two significant gardens in the Gospels. In Gethsemane you find Jesus agonising over the prospect of imminent death. John’s Gospel gives us the other garden: a place vibrantly alive with a vast, pregnant silence.

“I am deeply grieved,” says Jesus in Gethsemane, “Remain here, and keep awake,” he says to Peter, James and John.

There’s a lovely reflective Taize chant, ‘Stay with me; remain here with me. Watch and pray.” The words and the music have stayed with me since Easter. As I hear it in my head, the words become mine. It’s me saying, stay with me. As I try to watch and pray, the betrayer appears accompanied by a crowd armed with swords and clubs. My anxieties and fears crowd round, menacing, threatening. Betrayal! Judas! But deeper than this dark, crowded place in me is that other, silent, vibrant, spacious garden – Christ in me the hope of glory, as Paul puts it.

Re-discovering that ever present place of growth is only possible if I don’t try and fight that crowd of ruffian anxieties and fears. There’s nothing they like more than a fight. “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword,” says Jesus to Peter. Surrender is the only way to deal with this ruffian crowd. It’s not an abject cowardly surrender. It is a calm non-judgemental gaze at all that is going on in my head. Only thus do I suddenly find myself in that other, spacious, powerful place of Resurrection – Christ in me the hope of glory.