Fr Thomas Plant, Tokyo-based Anglican priest and comparative theologian

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Learn not to love?

“Pour out so that you may be filled. Learn not to love in order that you may love. Turn away, so that you may be turned towards.”

Sermon on Isaiah 50:4-9; James 2:1-5, 8-10, 14-18; Mark 8:27-38

Any guesses as to who these words came from? It all sounds rather paradoxical, maybe even a bit to Zen, no? The middle bit is particularly tricky, isn’t it: learn not to love? Something like the quote attributed to the Buddha, “he who has 100 loves has 100 sufferings?” Well, to give you a clue, it is in fact a Christian spiritual teacher I’m quoting here. You could be forgiven for thinking that it was Meister Eckhart, because it sounds like the sort of paradoxical thing that he might say, and I do quote him quite often. But it’s not. Nor is it one of the Eastern fathers.

And the answer is… St Augustine.

I know, in some circles Saint Augustine is blamed for all sorts of things, and particularly for his take on original sin, but I will persist in insisting that he is one of the greatest spiritual teachers of the Western Church, and well worth reading. Believe it or not, he can be very enjoyable to read, especially his famous Confessions, which is easily available, and doesn’t need higher degrees in theology to understand: I recommend it if you haven’t read it already, especially the accounts that he gives of his spiritual experience which drew him to the Christian faith.

But to come back to the quote at hand – pour out so that you may be filled, learn not to love in order that you may love, turn away so that you may be turned towards – I think S Augustine is really talking here about what Jesus calls being poor in spirit, taking up your cross, and so becoming like Christ, who, in the words of the ancient Christological him ii Philippians 2, “emptied himself and took the form of a slave.”

To quote Augustine’s Easter forefather S Athanasius, in Christ, God became human, so that we humans might become God: that is to say, as far as possible, to become one with God. And since Christ bears the fullest imprint of the divine nature, to become one with God we must become like Christ: that is to say, like the divine word who poured himself out, emptying himself all of his glory to become born a tiny baby, a nothing in the eyes of the world; who poured out even his Incarnate human nature, by the ignominy of execution on the Cross, the Lord of Creation a criminal among criminals; who poured out his divinity by descending to hell, and so reaching to the depths of utter absence of divinity, reality embracing nonbeing, absolute nothingness. And yet it is in that pouring out, that emptying, that becoming nothing, that Our Lord manifested the fullness of the Resurrection and eternal life. To take part in the Body of Christ is to be poured out, so that you may be filled.

But what about that difficult middle sentence? Learn not to love? Surely Christ is all love, all compassion? Well, yes, but that rather depends on what you love, and how you love it. Now there’s nothing parishioners hate more than when the clergy use Jesus is commands to take up your cross as a way of asking for more money, so that’s not what I’m going to do. It is, after all, not money that is the root of all evil, but the love of money, and by extension, the love of material things for their own sake rather than for the sake of the gospel. Neither James nor Our Lord command us to despise material things, but they do call us not to heed them. If we pay more attention to the man in the Rolex watch then the woman in stinking rags who wanders into our church, then this is a clear sign that we love the wrong things, or perhaps better, we love things wrongly. We have become trapped by them, or as the Elder Zosima in Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamasov puts it rather more forcibly, enslaved by them:

“which of the two is more capable of upholding and serving a great idea: the isolated rich man or one who is liberated from the tyranny of things?”

How clearly these words speak to us in an age which flaunts its addiction to material things, especially to the glowing rectangles which we carry in our pockets and tap away at to isolate ourselves from one another when we’re sitting on the train. All of these things can be put to good use: the question is whether we use them for our own glory, the glory of having the latest and the best things or having more than everybody else, or whether we use them for the glory of God. Because if it is the former, then we need to learn to unlove these things, so that we learn the love which gives us all things in the first place and which we call God.

This, I think, is where the pub or dinner party critic of the church comes unstuck, when they point that’s the fine buildings and works of art that the church owns, and say it should all be sold and given to the poor, not thinking for a moment that perhaps their luxury holidays, designer goods and expensive cars could be faced with the same accusation. I’d say that it is absolutely right to honour God in the church by offering him the finest and most beautiful things that human ingenuity can devise, whether it is richly ornamented vestments and gold candlesticks and stained glass windows, or the very best music that we can offer, especially since anyone, however rich or poor, can come in and enjoy it all. There can be no higher use of material things than to return them in thanksgiving to the one who gives us all. It is to learn to love things as gifts rather than as possessions:

If the loss of external things causes me pain, then this is a clear sign that I love external things and thus, in truth I love suffering and despair.

Meister Eckhart

We must learn to unlove external things in order that we may love Love Himself, the divine word of love who dwells unutterably beyond us, and yet more intimately within us than we dare to imagine.

And this is why, finally, we must turn away, so that we may be turned towards. As we say at our Baptism, we turn away from the world, the flesh, and the Devil. In the ancient liturgies of the Church, those about to be baptised words literally turned away from the West door towards the mystical East, where the altar stands, where the body and blood of Christ are made present before us, and where the Sun of Righteousness dawns. Spiritually speaking, yes, we turn away from the things of this world which, as it were, exercise a gravitational pull our souls away from God and down towards Hell and nonbeing. We turn away from the external things and instead we turn within, so that in truly knowing ourselves, we might know the One in whose Image we are made. And yet here is a great paradox. For it is precisely in turning away from the world, the flesh, and the devil, and towards their luminous Source, that we come to turn towards them, and to see them in the light of the love that will transform them, and make them lovable in turn: the world, the flesh, and yes, even the Devil, cannot escape the loving, transfiguring luminescence of God.

This, I think, is something of the meaning of James’s discourse on faith and works. As Meister Eckhart puts it,

“insofar as it is something external that prompts you to act, to that extent your works are dead, and even if it is God who prompts you to act from outside, then such works too are dead.”

Like material riches, the external riches of the Law are to be loved not for themselves, and not for the pride of possessing them, but for the virtue of their internal assimilation, which comes only from self-emptying and illumination by God. Self-emptying, rather than mere obedience to externals, is the Christ-like faith which emptied and filled the hearts of S James, S Paul, and all the great mystics and martyrs. Without it, all our works are dead.

If we want the God who creates from nothing to make anything of us, then we must become nothing. To take up the Cross is to empty the self that we might receive, to pour out that we might be filled, to silence and to still our desires that we may truly love, to turn away from the world that we may become vehicles and instruments of its redemption, to turn from the Devil and to offer him our back. The salvation of the world does not begin with the redistribution of external goods and the rearrangement of the social order: it begins with the inward turn and the emptying of our hearts.

Taking up the Cross is an act far more radical than giving away all our money and every material thing that we own, though for some Christians it does include both of those things.

It is the absolute and unconditional gift of self – body, soul, heart, will, imagination – that we may become one with the One who is giver, gift and the very act of giving, in Whom we live, and move, and have our being. Amen.

Ascend downwards, descend upwards

They say it’s best not to start with an apology, but perhaps the gnomic titles of my sermons demand if not apologies, then at least a word of explanation. I wish that I could boast that the phrase “ascend downwards, and descend upwards” was my own, but in fact it comes from the pen of the 17th century Anglican priest and Cambridge Platonist, Ralph Cudworth, in a sermon he preached to the House of Commons at Westminster in 1647. Perhaps as I read a brief extract, you might imagine the faces of modern parliamentarians if it were preached to them:

The “divine purposes … they wrapped up in everlasting darkness, and covered in a deep abyss… The way to obtain a good assurance indeed of our title to heaven, is not to clamber up to it, by a ladder of our own ungrounded persuasions; but to dig as low as hell by humility and self-denial in our own hearts … we must send downward, and descend upward, if we would indeed come to heaven.”

Ralph Cudworth

Cudworth could assume in his time that the parliamentarians of England would agree with him that the good is to be found in the heights of heaven and the depths of the soul. Now some modern parliamentarians may privately agree with this, but it is not a matter many would nowadays see fit to discuss in the public square. With invisible and eternal gods relegated to the realm of a private conscience, all that is left for the public servants to do, is to argue about the best way to carve up and distribute visible, material goods. The social and environmental results of this approach have not, I think it is safe to say, been entirely encouraging.

I’ll be in that out, the Gospel teaches us to pay attention to the matters of this world, to visit the orphans and widows, as it were. It cools has to be doers as well as heares of the Word. But – and this is desperately important – we must be serious and heroes first, before we can be speakers and duos. We must be contemplatives before we can be activists. Miss the first step, and the results will be disastrous.

So, in what does this contemplation consist? How are our ears to be opened that our tongue may be released? Well, James tells us. We must look upwards to the unchanging reality of the Father of Lights from whom all perfection comes; yet a passage to the light is through entering into the depths of my soul is where the Word is already and always implanted in the darkness. We must ascend downward and descend upward.

You may know that there is quite a lot of Plato’s philosophy in John and Paul, but Christian Platonists ranging from Origen of Alexandria and St Gregory of Nyssa in the East, through to St Augustine, Meister Eckhart, the Cambridge Platonists and the likes of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien in the West, have long found great spiritual value in today’s passage of James. I recently came across some words of the 20th century Anglican spiritual director Evelyn Underhill which I thought really resonated here:

“You know how Plato spoke of this life as a cave in which men were imprisoned and could only judge reality by seeing the shadow cast by light outside. But for Christians the cave has become a great shrine in which we are taught and moulded for the purpose of our creation – a sacrificial life in union with God.”

Evelyn Underhill

Doesn’t this so succinctly capsulate the Christian life of prayer and action, contemplation and service? For Plato, arguably, the cave of this world, even the cave of our bodies, was a kind of prison, shutting our souls off from the light. But for Christians, this can’t be quite right. The word of God, the mind and wisdom of God, the light of gods, decay in the flesh and dwelt among us: by the same spirit with which he was conceived in the virgins empty room, still he dwells within the emptiness of our souls, as long as we do not clutter them up with devices and desires.

Contemplation is our spiritual training to see everything in this world as a manifestation of the mind of God and of his glory. It is to learn to see through the imperfect things around us the perfect blueprint in the realm of the father of lights whether is not a variation or shadow or decay. It is to learn to see water gushing in the desert. It is to learn to make our dumbness speak with the greatest eloquence, our ears hear the most profoundly moving symphony in the mutest of matter.

The alternative is to see this world, and all its creatures, including other people, as just so much stuff, as resources to be used. This is the worldview of secular modernity. This is the result of the application of merely human justice. Fruits yields are bitterness, envy, resentment and division. If you don’t believe me, just scroll through Twitter one of these days. Or better, don’t! – because it’s full of the voices of people who (and some of them are professing Christians) are not willing to wait for what Isaiah calls “the retribution of God” and his salvation, but think that they can force it for themselves, by sheer will. Elder Zosima, in Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, has some sobering words for keyboard warriors:

“If the wickedness of people arouses indignation and insurmountable grief in you, to the point that you desire to revenge yourself upon the wicked, fear that feeling most of all.”

Dostoyevsky, Brothers Karamazov

It’s something I certainly feel from time to time: and it’s a sure sign that I’ve been neglecting my life of prayer.

Imagine the alternative. We set aside time each day for contemplation of the implanted word which anchors us to the Father of Lights. We bask in the dappled light of the words of scripture, Prayer Book and Bible out for morning and evening prayer each day. We had some minutes of silent contemplation to that, perhaps using a prayer rope or rosary. We make an honest confession before we go to sleep, and pray God to empty the detritus from the cave of our hearts. When there is a boulder that needs an extra push, we go to a priest for formal absolution.

In this way, we prepare ourselves, we make clear the way for the living Word to be born in us as we receive the blessed sacrament of the altar. No empty ritual, no social habit, but illumination from within. Descending into our souls, we ascend to heaven. Ascending to heaven, we descend to the needs of the world.

And then – in God’s time, which may or may not be in sync with our own – we act.

Be afraid.

Immediately after the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.

When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

Mark 6:45-52

Today’s supplementary texts: 2 Kings 2:1-15; Ephesians 4:1-7,11-16

“Do not be afraid,” Jesus tells his disciples, as he walks over the water and calms the waves. But of course, they are afraid. They were afraid of the sea, and we can understand that well in Japan. How much more afraid should they be of someone who can tame the sea. As afraid as Moses when God spoke those same words, “I am,” from the flaming bush, or when God “passed him by” on Mount Sinai. As afraid as Elisha, when Elijah was lifted up by the wind of God. “The power that yields to no power of nature,” as Kant put it, is truly terrifying.

Yet fear of God, said Solomon, is the beginning of Wisdom. God is a vast ocean of love so wide that we can never see beyond the horizon, and so deep that we can never reach the seabed. And while love offers comfort, certainly it is a fearful thing. The unknowability of its depths is what makes Love so terrifying. Did the Buddha not say, he who has a thousand loves has a thousand sufferings? Yes, and we Christians embrace all thousand of them, we swim among them, even at risk of drowning; because we, like Saint Augustine, know that our hearts are restless until they their rest in God. When we fear God, we are at rest, because we need fear nothing in this world.


かつて、フランス人の哲学者サルトルは「L’infer, c’est les autres」、つまり「地獄は他人だ。」と言いました。しかし、私はそうではなく、イギリスの作家で『ナルニア国物語』の著者、C.S.Lewisが言い表す、「地獄は自分で作る牢獄であり、その鍵はドアの中にある。」という考え方のほうがずっと好きです。そうです、地獄とは自分の心を牢獄にしてしまうことにほかなりません。私たちを地獄に閉じ込めるのは神様ではなく、私たち自身なのです。そしてその一方で、私たち自身の心の中に牢獄の扉の鍵があります。その鍵は自分自身と他人との関係そのものであり、私たちの周囲にいる他人は「地獄」ではなくて、むしろ天国への鍵なのです。











Judge not・人を裁くな

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; because the judgements you give are the judgements you will get, and the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given. Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the plank in your own? How dare you say to your brother, “Let me take the splinter out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own? Hypocrite! Take the plank out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye.’

Matthew 7:1-5

Out of all the four gospels, it is in Matthew’s Gospel that Jesus is presented foremost as a rabbi, a teacher of the Jewish law. Today’s passage follows a typical pattern of ancient Jewish argumentation: a heading followed by three examples.

How literally should we understand these words? In Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us to tear out our eyes and cut off our hands to prevent scandal. Clearly these are hyperbole and are not meant to be taken literally.

So when Jesus says, “do not judge,” does he really mean that we should never judge anyone for anything at all? That everything is permissable? Some Christian groups do claim to understand Jesus’ words in this way, but even they will not permit certain things, and do cast judgment on those who oppose their idea of “justice.”

Rather, I think that the three sayings can be understood as follows. Christians are meant to be brothers and sisters, and should behave as such. Observing the splinter in your brother’s eye means talking about people behind their backs. Telling your brother to take the spinter out of his eye means being critical to him face-to-face. Finally, taking the plank out of your own eye means that you have to confess your own sins before you can judge other people for theirs. It is a a warning against hypocrisy.

We all pass judgment all the time. It is impossible to live without making judgments. But before we express those judgments, we need to think about them, to look within, and to make due confession of our own sins.

At the end of our lives, we will stand before one judge, our Lord Jesus Christ, and he will ask us, individually, how well we loved him in the poor, the troubled, and the vulnerable. We will be judged on our love by Love himself: but we can love only when our own hearts are healed and reconciled.

4つの福音書の中で、 イエス様がラビ(ユダヤ教の律法を教える人)として最もよく紹介されているのは、 マタイの福音書です。 今日の箇所は、 見出しの後に3つの例を挙げるという、 ラビの教えかたの伝統的な模範に従っています。 では、どのように解釈すればよいのでしょうか。 マタイの山上の説教の記録では、 イエスは罪を防ぐために、 目を引き裂き、 手を切り落とせ と言っています。 これらは明らかに誇張表現であり、 文字通りに受け取るべきものではありません。

では、イエスが「人を裁くな」と言ったとき、 それは本当に、 何があっても、 人を裁いてはいけない ということなのでしょうか? すべてが許される ということでしょうか? イエスの言葉をこのように理解している キリスト教団体もありますが、 彼らも あるものは 許さないし、 自分たちの考える「正義」に反対する人を 裁くこともあります。

この3つの例えは このように理解できるのではないでしょうか。クリスチャンは 兄弟であるべきだから、 そのように振る舞うべきである。

まず、兄弟の目の中の「おがくず」を観察することは、 人の陰口を言うことです。 それはダメです。

兄弟の目に刺さった「おがくず」を取るように言うのは、 面と向かって批判することを意味します。 それもダメです。

最後に、 「自分の目の中の板を取る」とは、 偽善に対する警告です。

人を判断しようとする時には、 まず、自分の罪をざんげこと を意味します。

私たちは皆、毎日、 判断を下しています。 判断しないで生きていくことは 無理です。 しかし、 判断する前に、 そのことについて考えて、 自分の心を見つめて、 自分の罪を きちんと ざんげする 必要があるのです。

人生の終わりに、 私たちは主イエス・キリストの前に立って、 貧しい人、 困っている人、 悩んでる人を どれだけ愛したか を個人的にに問われます。 私たちが、どのぐらい愛を与えたことによって、 愛という神の子に判断されます。 しかし、 私たちは自分の心が癒され、 和解して初めて 愛することができるのです。

主が教えられたように、 神に許せれますように 祈りましょう。

The Eyes of Christ キリストの目

マタイ619−24Homily on Matthew 6:19-24 (English follows the Japanese)












池袋キャンパスの第一食堂の扉の上に書かれていることにお気づきでしょうか?”Appetitus rationi oboediant.” このラテン語の言葉は、聖書ではなく、キリスト教以前のローマの、弁護士でプラトン派哲学者キケロの言葉です。意味は、”欲望は理性に従え “ということです。基本的には、食堂のドアに「食べ過ぎないように」とジョークとして書かれていますが、この言葉には深い哲学的な意味があります。プラトンは、私たちの魂は二頭の馬を乗せた戦車のようなものだと言いました。理性は運転手です。二頭の馬とは、欲望と感情のことです。どちらかに主導権を握られてしまうと、私たちは道を踏み外してしまいます。欲望は理性に従わなければならず、その逆はありません。逆なら、困ります。”Appetitus rationi oboediant.” 今度、食堂を通りかかったら、見てみてください。







In this age of masks, we are looking at one another’s eyes more than ever. Since I am new, there are many people whom I have met only with their masks on, and when we meet on Zoom and they take the masks off, I am sometimes surprised that their real faces are not the faces I imagined. But that’s another story.

In today’s reading, Jesus makes three points. The first and last are about what you value most and what you serve. The connection is obvious. You become a servant, or even a slave, to whatever it is you treasure most. You cannot take money with you to heaven, so if you spend your life focussed on that, you are wasting your time. Worse, you will ignore the more important things, the invisible things, like love and friendship. If you lose your money, you end up with nothing. But if you make God your treasure, then it will not matter to you whether you are rich or poor. You will have invisible riches and abundance of love in this world and in heaven. Jesus is not saying that money is bad: only that being obsessed with money is bad. You have to use your money properly, for the love of God and his creation.

So, the connection between the beginning and the end is obvious. But what about the middle, the part about the eyes? We think of eyes as things which receive images, but Jesus talks about eyes as things which transmit. Looking at people wearing masks, perhaps we can understand this better. Our eyes show our personality, our mood, sometimes even our secrets. There are kind eyes, laughing eyes, compassionate eyes; cruel eyes, mocking eyes.

Then there are the greedy eyes. I wonder whether you’ve noticed what is written above the door of the university canteen? “Appetitus rationi oboediant.” This Latin saying is not from the Bible, but from the pre-Christian Roman lawyer and Platonic philosopher, Cicero. It means, “let your desires follow your reason.” At a basic level, it is written over the door of the canteen as a joke: “don’t eat too much.” But it has a deeper philosophical meaning. Plato said that our soul is like a chariot with two horses. Reason is the driver. The two horses are our desires and our emotions. If we let one of them take control, they will drag us off the path. Our desires must follow our reason, not the opposite. “Appetitus rationi oboediant.” Look at it next time you are near the canteen.

So here is the connection between the three parts of the readings. We need to drive our desire towards the things we know are good, and true, and eternal, not towards things like money, which will pass away; and our eyes show our true desires.

I would like to end by showing you an icon of the face of Christ. Of course, we do not know what Christ really looked like. But it is good that we do not know, because it lets us imagine. Icons are works of the imagination in prayer. Drawing icons is a vocation which takes years of training. The artist uses expensive ingredients and says special prayers while making the icon. In the end, the icon is supposed to give you a sense of the presence of the saint it depicts.

This is a 6th century icon of Christ from a monastery on Mount Sinai, where Moses received the ten commandments. I chose it because of Jesus’ eyes. I wonder what kind of eyes you see when you look at them? As the organ plays, and you meditate, look at the eyes of Christ. What emotion do you see in them? What are the eyes of Christ trying to tell you, individually, today? Let us pray that we may have the mind of Christ, and that our eyes may come to resemble the eyes of Christ.





水の面を動いていた霊/The Spirit that hovered over the face of the waters




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