A Stand-Alone Boy and the Utterly Profound Touch of Heaven

Arthur Lucas Jones, an Anglican bishop, has always been close to Jesus Christ. Born in the Western plains of New South Wales, about 500 kilometers West of Sydney, Australia, he grew up in a bush background. In sharing his story, he takes readers from his birthplace to Panama in Latin America, back to New South Wales, to the southern state of Victoria, and on to Uruguay, Peru, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines, where he did several stints as a professor in a seminary and parish priest of the Episcopal Church over seventeen years.

He also recalls his time in Singapore and India, encountering people of different cultures and languages as he shared the myriad benefits of meeting them and having a close relationship with Christ. His favourite books are the Gospels, and particularly the Gospels of Luke and that of John, which he rates as the most important book ever written. The shadowy figure of Christ that appears in the Gospels, speaking words cut in crystal-clear shapes out of the imprints of life’s experiences, has been with the author since his childhood.

Join the author on an incredible journey within Australia. in Latin America and in Asia (India, Singapore and the Philippines). The brand is Christian, but with great respect for other Faiths and those who are agnostic about such matters.

A STAND-ALONE BOY AND THE UTTERLY PROFOUND TOUCH OF HEAVEN

FROM THE WESTERN PLAINS OF NSW TO SOUTHERN SHEPHERD AND LECTURER IN ASIA AND LATIN AMERICA

Introduction

I was stand-alone in my family, stand-alone at school and stand-alone in the workplace. I felt cared for at home, deeply so, but it was always with a sense of being on my own, the pathway to standing alone.

I was stand-alone alone as a priest and stand-alone as a bishop. Yet the utterly profound touch of heaven has been a dominant thread of my life-story. I felt awed by it as a child and I still do. It has prompted me never to grow old, though inevitably I have aged. It is discernible. When people tell me that I still look the same after not seeing me for 15 years or so, it may be well meant, but I know that it is not true.

   The touch of heaven is utterly profound for several reasons. It cannot be explained, and we prize explanations. It cannot be measured or located, because it is everywhere. It is like a rainbow, in that seeing it depends on where one is standing. It is like love, in that it never falls to the ground empty: it always falls into a human heart. It ‘earths’ in human receptors. It cannot be described or dissected, only experienced. Yet the experience of it lends reality to our most artistic descriptions of creation and our role in it. Rudolf Otto was a perceptive and insightful thinker, and he described the utterly profound touch of heaven as the “numinous”.  It is light in darkness and wisdom and beauty and love beyond our imagining. It is what Eckhart Tolle describes as The Power of Now. It invites us to enter its ever-present shalom, or complete wholeness. Nothing can delete this Presence, and nothing can capture it. It requires deliberate effort to become aware of it, aligned to its enormously gifted lavishing of Presence from time to time. It has always been part of holy people’s lives and those who have shown it have left luminous signposts in the indelible tracks of history. That is, the unforgettable ones who reside in our psyche to remind us of what we can become. 

   What follows is my interaction with the touch of heavenly numinous which we flee and yet cannot escape. It is hard to bear because it is beyond us and yet within us. It is utterly profound because we cannot reach it and we cannot find our identity without it. The grief associated with this is exemplified in the cry of dereliction from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). Christ’s surely spoke those words because the Church would not have dreamed up the use of them unless they came from Christ himself. They are our cry as well in a world which is devastated by the anxiety that human violence and greed promotes.

   Christ clearly felt utterly alone at the Cross, stripped of his clothes and stripped of his humanity, and yet he committed himself to the Father of heaven.

   A boy with an awareness of being alone and an at times stand-alone man follows the Solitary One from Cross in the following pages. I hope that my journey may inspire others to become more aware of the utterly profound touch of heaven in their most stand-alone moments on their pilgrimage.

   There was a signal moment that I shall mention later when went I went from the Diocese of Ballarat in Victoria in 1982 to be the New Testament Lecturer at St. John’s College in Morpeth, New South Wales. I found the spirituality not as warm or as focussed as it had been when I was a student there in 1965-1966. It felt a little flat to me, and it added to my sense of innate alone-ness. One day the Bishop of Ballarat came to visit his students at the college. Bishop John Hazlewood was the most flamboyant Bishop in the Australian Church and not without discernible earthly foibles, yet he had the utterly profound touch of heaven within his person. He entered the beautiful stone chapel wearing a steeple mitre, and the touch of heaven came in with him. I burst into tears, because the inescapable presence touched me so much at a time of need.

   We cannot fully grasp the touch of heaven, but it aids us in the search of being human before God. Christ himself was the utterly profound touch of heaven and he was executed because of its innate ‘fatal attraction’ in his public life. It was unbearable for those who wore the mantle of religious people because the numinous reveals the shadow as well as the light of the human soul. The lapidary words at John 3:21 echo its haunting inner core: “But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God”(NRSV).

   As the Cross clearly shows, it is when the Shadow appears in its most sinister forms that the light appears, and it is charged with a brilliance that enlightens and transforms. It transforms darkness to light and inhumanity into the search for generosity of spirit. I must live by own life as a write my autobiography and try to make my deepest perceptions known to as many people as possible. Faith takes us to God, but faith is not blind. My faith is in the purest icon of God’s love that I can possibly envisage or report or invest my trust in, with the assurance of seeing and experiencing and believing. So much love packed into and overflowing from one human being! I truly believe in Jesus of Nazareth because I have found nothing comparable in the annals of history or in the pages of the multitudinous leaves that I have flicked over during all these years. I know that my belief is based on an intellectual foundation that is demonstrably strong, but not in terms of the many demonstrations of human strength in the world which are often tied to violence and greed and apathy for the have-nots. This power comes from a pure source, refined through wisdom touched by the Spirit of God, which lends love and perspicuity to its configurations.

   There is no real substitute for faith because it is in the end our most fruitful source of wisdom and our most dynamic understanding of God. Faith requires the dropping of all pretensions so that the humility of God in coming to us can be perceived. It removes us from our self-preoccupation to look at the vast wisdom traditions that stand behind it. The Buddhist writer Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel says, “You cannot remove faith from the equation of your earthbound relative condition. That you depend on the world in which you live keeps you living in faith, and there is no way around it”.[1]  I agree with her when she says that being right has never given her the true confidence that we seek. [2] When this leads to self-righteousness it can become a burden for oneself and others. It was in fact a constantly recurring matter in Jesus’ discussions with the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Jesus wanted to freshen the whole well of Israel’s wisdom and scriptural traditions without throwing out some of the essentials that needed to be retained. But this freshness drove them mad, especially when it was exemplified in his own person and way of life. They were well-intentioned, but blinded by their words about God, a common failing of both the religious and their negators.  


[1] Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel. Faith.  2.

[2] Ibid., 9