• by Belinda Croft

The Fruits of Paradise


I read a quote recently by a man named Phillips Brooks. It was one of those quotes that I could not simply pass by. I needed to sit with it, re-read it and envisage what Brooks was endeavouring to say, and how it would play out in reality if we all applied his words.

Be such a person, and live such a life, that if every one were such as you, and every life a life such as yours, this earth would be God’s paradise.

~ Phillips Brooks

Phillips Brooks, an American Episcopal Clergyman, (1835 – 1893) served in differing roles within the Orthodox Church. He was known as one of the greatest (and controversial) preachers of his time and also, the lyricist of “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” (one of my favourite carols). Phillips decided to go to Theological Seminary after a failed stint as a teacher. His first student practice sermon was described as “an unqualified disaster”. A man I would invite for dinner Powel Mills Dawley from General Theological Seminary, New York suggests that Brooks became great, at least in part, because of six significant factors: (1) his "wide human sympathies" (perhaps the loneliness of an undesired bachelorhood contributed to his awareness); (2) his "passionate yet undogmatic style of preaching"; (3) his "power and clarity" in presenting "the verities of the Christian gospel"; (4) his "integrity of mind"; (5) his "tolerant spirit"; and (6) his "compelling personality, [which] won the confidence and affection of all who came into contact with him." ministrymagazine.org

A compelling man Although he despaired of Anglo-Catholic ritualism, he championed many aspects of the liturgical movement including congregational singing at the liturgy. Brooks’ “broad view” was brought into question by High-Church bishops and diocese. In 1890 Brooks proposed in a paper that orthodoxy should be regarded only as a “working hypothesis”, that is; ‘a suggested explanation for a group of facts or phenomena, accepted as a basis for further verification.’ collinsdictionary.com Brooks was not denying conventional beliefs, as he detested the “cheap notoriety and the disgusting partisanship” (cheap fame and prejudice in favour of a particular cause) of controversy. But rather he explained that orthodoxy is an imperfect and partial expression of the perfect and infinite truth of God, a perfection toward which human knowing is consistently moving but which is never fully realised. (From the book: One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism: Studies in Christian Ecclesiality and Ecumenism in Honor of J. Robert Wright) In his sermons, Brooks frequently criticised the stifling that formal doctrine had affected on the Christian life in previous decades. He spoke against the Puritan and Evangelical traditions such as: the literal inspiration of scripture, the limitation of the church to the elect (e.g. - only some are ‘chosen’ by God), the absoluteness of the atonement theory (Jesus being the substitution and payment to an angry vengeful god) and the focus on an emotive confession of faith over the development of character and will.

Phillips Brooks

By unattributed (Kentucky Digital Library) [Public domain],

via Wikimedia Commons

Another man I would invite to dinner Franciscan Priest Richard Rohr teaches, “God refuses to be known intellectually. God can only be loved and known in the act of love; God can only be experienced in communion. This is why Jesus “commands” us to move toward love and fully abide there. Love is like a living organism, an active force-field upon which we can rely, from which we can draw, and we can allow to pass through us.” cac.org Rohr and Brooks have led me to ponder Ephesians 3:18, “…how wide, how long, how high, and how deep God’s love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.”

A living organism. Unable to be understood fully.

Certainty restricts The Dance Humanity has attempted to describe and capture God, acting out “in His name”, inappropriately and inadequately across the ages. We have tried to grasp hold of Him intellectually, attempting to make sense of Him, and making note of it in our own personal “Certain Knowledge of God” diary. We hold on to our little diary, afraid of joining The Dance that encourages us to jump into a doubt and mystery-filled abyss. The Dance that beckons us into a new journey, which continues to set us free and reveals more of the God of love than we ever imagined being permissible. His love surpasses knowledge and understanding. (Ephesians 3:19) And we, the church, constantly cut his love short or put conditions on it. I would suggest that Jesus was ‘dispatched’ from God to enlighten us as to who God essentially is. To demonstrate to us the intention and motion of God, through a gradually revealing pile of mysteries, parables and symbolism.

Life is a human experience interrupted by the Divine. Humans always see “through a mirror indirectly . . . and we only know things in part.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

The Fruit for the Universe Right Reverend Phillips Brooks was full of life, love, passion and character and became one of the most popular preachers of the 19th century. His funeral caused Boston and Cambridge to close for the day. His death was a major event in local history. One observer reported: "They buried him like a king. Harvard students carried his body on their shoulders. All barriers of denomination were down. Roman Catholics and Unitarians felt that a great man had fallen in Israel.” In 1978 a school in California was named after Phillips Brooks. wikipedia.org Perhaps God is a loving God who is, in fact, restoring all things to Himself. (Acts 3:21 and Revelation 21:5) Perhaps we live in a love-filled Universe and God is completely safe and able to be trusted by humanity. Perhaps we (the people of the world) haven't fully realised the power of the Fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control - which are within each of us. Perhaps we can connect to the fruits, making conscious heart choices in our everyday lives. For the benefit of ourselves and others. And subsequently, Brooks’ quote might just get closer to becoming a reality. Imagine the healing power. Imagine world peace.

Be such a person, and live such a life, that if every one were such as you, and every life a life such as yours, this earth would be God’s paradise.

~ Phillips Brooks

Belinda has always enjoyed expressing herself. Her mediums have included dance, painting, writing, text messages and performing for local theatre companies. In 2010 she was invited to write comment articles for Press Service International which culminated in her winning the 'Basil Seller's Australian Young Writer of the Year' in 2015. Her writing is now published at cinemafaith.com, patheos.com and periecho.com. Belinda lives on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia.



See previous articles by Belinda Croft

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