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The vision still has its time

Ok I guess I am addicted/afflicted/called to this because I am missing it horrifically and need to come back to it. Every week at church I get strong words echoing through my mind about what I could have or should have said in the analysis I did not do, and actually i do waste a lot of time feeling helpless and not getting anywhere on the job seeking or the academic writing so I may as well continue to do my blog because at least that is something, even if it is not everything.
And today at feminist theology group I heard from braver more persistent women than me who have been silenced, mocked and reproved by the church for decades now and yet live to give life and wisdom to others. This made me realise that small as my voice may be I mustn’t let it be silenced, even by my own weakness.
So I google the lectionary and as soon as I see the first reading I think, I have made the right decision because it expresses my mood perfectly. I am puzzled as to why the bishops in their dubious wisdom chose to leave out verse 4 because I think it really well sums up the modern world, the refugee “crisis” and the attempts to prevent gay families from simply living and being.
And then God’s answer is actually sort of reassuring (if only we can believe this is God speaking and not just God’s publicity team via the bible):
” the vision still has its time,
presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint;
if it delays, wait for it,
it will surely come, it will not be late.”
“The vision” for me is of finding meaning in life, of finding my own dignity as the person I am and a place and way to help others be themselves in their own dignity too. The vision is the chance to really teach, not just hold a place for others and of being published. The vision is also bigger than me of course, the reign of God bringing justice and joy everywhere and including all creation in radical liberation. Eco-feminism and then some. And I would like to think that my own lack of energy and ability notwithstanding the vision is still pressing forward. Older people than me began it in my lifetime and before then there were foundations laid even further back. I do not have to finish it either.
“The just one because of her faith shall live” reminds me to be just, not to “sell out” to any of the seemingly easier paths. Of course this is easily talked about and more difficult to live out in every day decisions and courage. But the call is there. Let’s go to the psalm.
If today you hear Her voice harden not your hearts. Am I hearing the voice of God in my world? Who do I harden my heart to, because that may be a clue to where the voice of God is for me. Am I hardened against those who are suffering? Those who call me to put to one side my privilege and relate more authentically? Those who wish to give me the good news that I am loved and lovable? Those whose vision is greater than mine or those who lag behind in their fear? Where is the voice of Wisdom in my day?
The verses speak of joy, praise and thanksgiving; then of acknowledgement of God and of our belonging to God’s reign and community (I am deliberately overlooking the kyriearchal framing here); “oh that today we would listen” weeps the final verse, showing us the history of the “fathers” whose faith failed and who sought to control not receive God. How do we set ourselves apart from the failure in faith of our father and the reluctance to justice that they bequeathed to us too? What transformation is needed so that we would accept God’s offer and take her hand and walk to the somewhere of liberation and love?
The second reading reminds us that, that flame of God is already within us waiting to be stirred into life. I don’t agree that we have it from the imposition of hands of some patriarch, but we have it even before that (my capable child philosophy) through the womb walls that were our first ever touch and the midwifely hands that caught us and in a sense confirmed life. And yes then the patriarchal church has to make a ritual of the obvious that God is already in our everyday we are seeded with the flame, better we are small anam cara, twin flames of God herself (though imperfectly nurtured by our fears and our situation).
God is waiting for us to be true to our spirit of power and love and self-control not our spirit of privileged first-world and patriarchal cowardice. Our true nature is the flame, not the dying of light…and here I weep at myself and my inadequacy, even job seeking is too hard for me let alone the real work of salvation. And I scream to God a yearning need of help, tinder to keep the tiny flame alive, for God to stand between me and the winds of the world to keep the flame safe until it can grow to something. And that i suppose is one of the reasons why church communities are needed. None of us alone can keep the flame bright in such darkness of our own limits.
Paul (or whoever is claiming Paul’s identity to stir us) here offers us the solidarity. Yes there is hardship in the journey but so it has been for all the great ones of the faith. For Paul. For our flawed and silence mothers, our flawed and privileged fathers. Paul offers for this, not an easy answer but a reminder of “the strength that comes form God” and the “Holy Spirit” within, helping.
Reading this I think of a small child I saw yesterday, a two year old with “global delay” and yet so determined to communicate, so determined to walk. She held my hands tightly and refused to let go and walked many steps that looked painful, leaning heavily and almost falling and then smiled at me and said what I think must have been “Thank you” repeating it many times and only smiling when I finally realised what she meant and said “you’re welcome”. That flame to walk and talk, I need to kindle it within myself as a globally delayed child of God. I need to follow God around with the same determination and the same grasp and the same grateful persistence.
In the gospel Jesus is using hyperbole to remind us that faith is powerful and transformative. Reading his metaphor from the perspective of earth however jars. Should my faith be like a mustard seed (a weed) and should it uproot a fruitful mulberry tree into the sea? I’ve always been taught to try to rehabilitate this metaphor but as an eco-feminist I have to make a face and admit that it jars!
And then being told to simply consider myself a servant before God, I am too marxist and critical to be prepared to do that. I don’t see that there is an “obligation” to do God’s work, I appreciate that there is no great riches and status in it, but we are not just “servants” we are also members of families and communities and may be tired and hungry and expect to be paid fairly for our labour. Servants in a kyriearchy, wives in a patriarchy- I don;t see a need to accept being ordered around by some privileged individual even if that privileged individual were the almighty God. Jesus here is referred to as “the Lord” is that a clue of the caution needed with this gospel? I am not sure how to make sense of it, after such good readings this gospel seems kind of anti-climactic and less than useful. I will look forward to seeing how my church community makes sense of it (or perhaps remain uneasy).
But this is a week of St Vincent de Paul’s day (think of the poor) and of St Therese of the child Jesus (one of the very few female doctors of the church, think of women’s ministry and teaching) and I will seek to use my faith to make progress toward better life, not in the vanity of my admitted desire for security and success, but remembering that God’s vision of transformation serves all our interests as flames of that flame.
My heart sings to attempt this wrestling match again. Alleluia.

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A lesson in reconciliation

I am one of those people that finds it hard to forgive. I find it hard to let go in general, of things good and bad and especially of control and predictability. To forgive is to allow the unpredictable in your life, to submit to the possibility that you have not foreseen and are not equipped for.

Recently I arrived into a room where I was working with 2 year olds. I was greeted by a little girl in tears. “She’s just been bitten” said one of my colleagues. There was a mark on the child’s hand and she was clearly in a lot of pain. She followed me quietly, showing me the mark again and again with tears flowing down her face. I comforted her of course but I could not make the terrible even not have happened. The child was very clear about wanting me to know that she was bitten, that there was a mark there and that it hurt. It seemed like all I could do was travel those facts with her again and again and allow her to stick close to me.

As the day progressed, a group of us- children and educators went for a walk to a beautiful garden nearby. The bitten child and the child who bit her both were there. In the beautiful garden we were all engrossed in the birds on the grass and in the trees, the flowers, the fish in the fountain, important things like that. We showed each other things, ran, rolled in the freshly grass until some of us were covered in green stains. The inevitable happened, another child fell and hurt her finger. She was comforted by one of the educators, assisted by all the children and suddenly the child who had been bitten ran up to the child who had bitten her and took her hand.

“Please don’t ever bite me again, is that ok?” she said in a half-stern, half-caring voice. I held my breath as it seemed almost rude of her to refer to the event so long after it had happened. The other child looked her in the eye, “Yes” she said calmly.

“Thank you very much” said the first child and it was as if the air sparkled, that was a definite sacramental moment and I caught the eye of another educator. Something amazing had happened. The two children hugged and ran off together in the friendliest possible way. These children were two, how did they know to keep it all so simple and so sacred?

The process of reconciliation in this true event was actually quite complex. The child needed the wisdom to move away and get comfort and acknowledgement, she needed a chance to feel a bit stronger in herself. She needed joy to have happened (play in the garden). Then as she approached the other child to heal the rift between them (notice it was the one who had been injured who began the reconciliation process) she did not make light of what had happened, but nor did she demand any sort of emotional show about it. She didn’t demand an apology, punishment or compensation from the other child she simply made it clear that she did not want to be bitten again. The other child appeared to have understood (at least in that moment) the need to have a better-care for their relationship. Both of them expressed a simple faith in the possibility of a better “from now on” and both were healed by the encounter.

Perhaps this is all too obvious to state, I cannot seem to find words to express how profound it was to witness it. I do not think I forgive so ungrudgingly  or with so much honesty (I probably try to avoid talking about it unless I am laying blame). I do not think I take the hand of the person I want to forgive before they have even given me any sign of possibility. I do not think I (even metaphorically) roll in the grass and get grass-stains with the ones I feel injured by. And do I so simply without guilt or excuses agree to do better when I have hurt someone? Often not.

I did not say a word to those two children about their encounter, they had already used all possible words and few of them at that. But I was challenged to try to believe that life won’t “ever bite me again” that the church “won’t ever bite me again” that we will understand each other and move on.

So mote it be.

Word and bread and that thing that starts with “l”

So I visited my great aunt this week, and she is missing the mass. At times I can bring her some communion, but because it is a 45 minute drive to her and I work during the week this is not always easy to organise. She has a little Latvian prayer book and prays a prayer that is called “spiritual communion”. She showed it to me “God understands” she kept saying anxiously. “It’s in the tradition because this happens to people” I said to her (along with trying to plan how I could get her to mass which is tough because the church I go to isn’t “mass” as such.

I thought then of my last two weeks missing church (mainly out of tiredness and discouragement). I thought how I had the “What’s the point anyway?” feeling as I forced myself to go this morning. I wondered if my lack of enthusiasm for church and prayer is because I am not in severe hardship anymore, just the ordinary greyness of dissatisfying life? Or maybe because I don’t have time for my blog, maybe my blog was providing the motivation to connect?

But I decided to tell myself I needed the expensive spice mixes that are sold to raise money for refugees to have a stockpile of “presents” now that several birthdays in my circles of friends are coming up. I decided I “owed” it to the community who kept me emotionally alive in my four hideous months. I had a text from a friend. Family after all are not the people you just see when you are in the mood, they are the people you check in on in case they needed you to. God in that sense is family.

The service was melancholy because there had been a couple of deaths that touched members of the community (and therefore all of us) but it was also facing out into a beautiful sun-filled garden complete with trees in blossom and many fluttery white blossoms that turned out to be butterflies that danced out their morning’s “worship” to remind us that sometimes the short, fleeting moments in life (like a butterflies whole lifespan..though I would be more accurate if I used a Latvian word here) have meaning and beauty.

And we had lillies and candles and a very warm atmosphere of love. So that I began to reflect on what it was that I had missed for two weeks (feeling a dissatisfaction but not realising its source).

And the gospel was short but full of meaning. It was John 15: 12-14 About love and friendship and commitment and I thought about how my life has changed since I realised I was a lesbian (that is not the “l” word but it is another one). I thought about how I was a very repressed and standoffish person and how falling in love with a woman transformed me to be less afraid of the loves I felt for all the women in my life, from my departed mother, to my sisters and the friends who have known me longest. I have always loved and wished to be close to (and at times hated and feared of course) my sisters, those little babies I used to get told off for cuddling and carrying too much until they grew old enough not to appreciate or even allow it. And how I feel closer to them now.

I thought of a party I went to (somewhat reluctantly) last night and how my best friend resolved a conflict by putting her arms around everyone involved in it and starting to sing “We are family, I have all my sisters with me” which she then paused and demanded I and my sister join. And I would have needed to be drunk to cope with that before I knew I was gay. But on this occasion I remembered the warmth of everyones arms and the terrible singing and it mixed with a somewhat sweeter and quieter church:

“All around us we have known you/ all creation lives to hold you”. Held by my friends, holding my friends. Holding little two-year olds over the week and “These are holy hands” that have changed nappies and needed to be washed and rewashed before they could cut the fruit which in the toddler room is an important ritual that you have to do just right and involve each child in! Which I thought (as communion approached) is the bread of my life, within the mundane the love-things that feed my soul.

And my friendships have got warmer, my ability to deal with casual and affectionate touches without jumping into the air and becoming awkward. I speak with close friends sometimes about feelings, we have started being honest about the “l” word, because what we feel for all our friends is “love”. Why is it hard to say that? And we are honest too about our vulnerabilities, anxieties, passions and we accept more and mock less. Love is in the words like “love” like “thank you” like “I missed you” and in the withholding of words like “that’s stupid”, the words of judgement and censure.

And word/words are central too in the toddler room when we support each other’s work by saying to the children “listen to her words” and we encourage the children instead of tantruming to “use their words”. And we try to lay the foundations for a two way listening and trust relationship based on clear and respectful words. Words are the building blocks of meaning, culture, literacy and therefore thought and meaning (I am reading Bourdieu too who sees words and ways of using them as “capital” and am dabbling with discourse analysis where words are what make up reality, so many things exist BECAUSE we have found words to actualise them.

And I miss the time I used to have for words that were authentically mine, I have so much I want to write and think and read and know. And my email from an editor told me my words were not yet strong enough to leave home, but with major work they may be soon. There were a lot of positive words among the criticism after all like “We do hope…” and “Thank you” and “look forward”, “interesting”, “nicely-written” and “enjoyed”. I need to hold that intention with the “not particularly strong” and “issues” and “inconsistent” and all the hundreds of other painful words.

So my words today have been meandering and self-indulgent but as the service moved from the liturgy of the word to the Eucharist (the bread) all of the mundane and meaningful moments of life were encompassed. the movement was always into love as we honoured the moments of each others lives and brought in the spectres of the people in our hearts by alluding to them in various ways.

Then I had some moments on my own in the afternoon to put together words and bread for the week/s ahead. And to be grateful for the (yeah I’ll say it) LOVE in my life.

 

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Foolish Blossoms

I write creatively (stories and poems) whether I am supposed to or not. Mostly these connect in some way to my spiritual life. While I was unemployed I had time to share them in a couple of groups, but now I have nowhere to share them but I still write. So I will share them here in view of my blog (and not necessarily every week). My church is near a garden and I have a tendency to run early. As a result I had a chance to walk in the garden and think about life, nature and being.

Sometimes I am like a tree

impatient for spring in August,

which at the first sign

of mild weather bursts into blossoms

too early, overenthusiastic

and frail against winter’s last

strong breaths of frost.

 

Resilient plants know

to put forth only hope at first;

to hold the singing birds gently, lightly;

stay bare-branched and watch

knowing something will awaken

even without the desperation.

 

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Apology, sick-leave or maybe a holiday

To the few but valued readers I may have,

I have decided to follow through on some awkwardly bossy things I said to God in my teacher-voice this morning and focus on my career and thesis pretty much exclusively for the next indefinite time period that will be something between two weeks and the rest of the year. If I am struck by crazy inspiration I may still post but at the moment blogging is hard work and when I spoke sternly to God about not getting enough support with my life (ie career and thesis) this morning then I unexpectedly bumped into a lecturer who told me to be more focussed (and she is right).

I made a commitment to do this weekly and I did my best but this is unpaid work and I need to focus on some other things so I can thrive again (the last four months have been very difficult and i have leaned too heavily on other people).

So there is no blog this week. If you are praying people pray for me to get a wonderful thesis inspiration. Clearly if this happens I will get the help I need from lecturers and I am more than willing to work hard at this. Also pray for me to get actual teaching work (paid as a teacher- which sounds greedy but I don;t think being poor necessarily makes me a better person anyway).

If you have a look at this week’s readings (I did before I decided this) they are again very heavy on the patriarchy and the kyriearchy. How many weeks in a row is that? So maybe don’t pray for me, pray for the church. It needs an intervention pretty badly!

love, prayers and blessings

Stef

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Treasure, but well buried

Finished and posted late because I had a lot of work last week

We start off this week confident in “our fathers” so in the middle of a patriarchal society, following God in secret and waiting for the “salvation of the just and destruction of their foes”. So one of those religious nut groups that feels superior to society around them and smugly think they will be vindicated. The way this comes across is a good reminder to me in the midst of all the things I don’t like about my world and my society that I am part of it too, that I do not have special knowledge and special purity. I am in this world to struggle and to love not to feel superior and resent and not to blindly follow “fathers” either. Though in my case my blind faith in “mothers” is more likely to be my stumbling block…nevertheless I will start from a determination to think for myself, and be reflexive about my privileged place in the society I criticise.

The psalm buys into discourses of chosenness and being saved. God will favour us and preserve us we need to have greater faith. This can function as a seductive sort of an escapism away from taking personal or social responsibility for the state of our lives and our world. I am good at seeing when others do it (eg tell me to cure my depression with better faith and trust) but I also need to be on the lookout for my tendency to hope God will solve my problems of directionlessness and ignorance and being paralysed by fear.

It’s not wrong to look to God for comfort and to ask for guidance. However in the meantime we do need to get our hands dirty. Chosenness is problematic, why would God love me more than a refugee or a victim of crime or homeless person? I don’t think it is fair or wise even to treat our (human) species as “chosen” let alone groups within it. So “you just”, maybe it is better to be cautiously happy and keep on supporting each other and working toward liberation trusting that God works with us, rather than “saves” us. People wiser than me have written and spoken to criticise the concept of being “saved” but the one I remember best was never published.

I don’t relate to the sort of blind faith of Abraham outlined in the second reading. I particularly don’t see anything to celebrate in a man who puts his religion before his child/ren nor in a God who commands or rewards this way of being in the world. That sort of God is not anything for women or children, I would hope not even all that accessible to men (but I do wonder sometimes at the endless selfishness and lack of commitment to relating that men seem capable of- I hope I mean “some men”. I hope). I think the reading is trying to tell us to see faith as a bigger picture thing than just my little life and just my little specificity and work for the reign of God in and of itself, not in a self-interested way. Which is all well and good but Abraham gets to accept realities on behalf of himself and his silent and backgrounded wife and then runs out to sacrifice his son.

For me that sort of “kingdom” is too dystopian to even consider commitment to (s0rry God).

I wonder if there is any grain to be gleaned from the gospel?

One lovely little saying I can immediately pull out of the gospel is that “where your treasure is there your heart will be also”. That somehow what we value defines who we are. That leads me to reflect- what is my treasure? My children? My writing? The hopes for a more just and sustainable world? The kindness of my friends and community? At church yesterday we celebrated St Dominic’s day, and it was clear that for many in the community their Dominican heritage was their treasure. I did not feel it in the same way (with ties to a past I did not experience) that many of the people there seemed to, but that one community of courageous and kind women (and some men) is surely “treasure” in my life. Then I went with an artist friend to a SALA exhibition, and visited two lonely and isolated people. Art, sunshine, cider, conversation, a newborn baby, Nepalese food. Treasure is in sharing and inviting and connecting.

But I had to think also of the practical things of life. Why am I not more excited by my work?

The values of the reign of God are something that need to begin now, at a time long before we consider our death or the end of our species (so then really even before now). It won’t be enough to “look busy” when Christ comes. But the references to beating and overworking servants are alienating. I can’t consider myself to be a particularly “faithful and prudent servant” and even the people I admire have their off days. Then again a “bad” servant in the reading uses their power abusively against other servants. That definition of what God asks of us I can relate to. The whole thing is very violent and classist.

I think I will return to considering the treasure of my weekend, the treasure of the people who care for me. I will try to find ways to balance my heart between different treasures, to find more meaningful work, continue developing as a writer and try to be a better support of friends and family. My faith too, instead of being a blind obedience to tradition and patriarchy can seek treasure…a sunny day, the scent of clean work-clothes, a sudden hug from the small children I work with, an essay to write.

Back to all the other stuff now, treasure is still there even when we fill in forms and write job applications.

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If today you hear God’s voice…

If today you hear her voice, harden not your hearts!

The voice of God is everywhere calling us to a life based on compassion (e.g. here), equality (e.g. here) and depth (e.g. here). She calls to our sense of humanity (e.g. here) and for us to seek wisdom (e.g. here).

All the readings this week decry the life lived according to the lowest common denominator- worldly wealth and worldly success. I don’t want to get stuck into a Spirit vs Body binary, because I think if we focus too much on ideals of “spirit” and the “next life” we can miss the politics of the reign of God, calling us to a meaningful life HERE and NOW.

We feed our spirits, not by neglecting our own bodies but by looking out for the bodies of the others who are Christ in our lives (refugees, homeless people, children from low-income households, disabled people). We invest in God’s eternity not by hiding in warm houses praying and chanting praise while our brothers and sisters freeze, but by remembering that we connect with God through how we treat other members of creation (true images of God).

But in 2016, the logic of tearing down the existing barn to build a larger one to store wealth more than needed for one lifetime does not really even shock us anymore. The greed of hoarding and wasteful living while others suffer is exactly what our society and our economic system are based upon. We are the fools in the parable and Jesus calls us to pursue a different form of enrichment.

Harden not your heart.

Recently I met a woman from interstate who for some years now has been working with refugees: supporting, advocating, seeking, justice. When she heard I was an unemployed single mother she bought a bowl of chips “to share” and placed it in front of my son (who was happy to work hard at emptying the bowl). We had a few views in common so I added her on Facebook. To meet her in the flesh, you would not think of her as a rich woman: she has a hard-working job that pays and average amount. She is well enough to live but not dazzlingly rich.

When I added her on Facebook I got a completely different impression. The friends this woman has! The many culturally diverse and rich in wisdom contacts that share love and insights with her all over her page. I began to see, how my new friend’s life choices HAVE in fact made her dazzlingly rich, but with something better than just money and the paranoia that goes with an overemphasis on money. The same story could be told of many of the people I go to church with. When I look at friends who have chosen to pursue compassion, creativity, tolerance, courageous living, sustainability and love I see rich people.

Greed really is idolatry, as we are told in Colossians. How often do you hear religious-sounding language used about “the economy” and are we treated as heretics if we believe that we ought to preserve values of sharing and supporting each other instead of competition and malignant “growth”. And yet in Christ we are not Indigenous Australians, colonial Australians and asylum seekers; we are not Christians, atheists or Muslims; we are not men, women or trans; we are not hipsters or bogans; private or public school; leafy suburbs or Elizabeth. In Christ we are called to the meaning that is only found through un-othering, through seeing that wealth is what we do toward the reign of God, how we open ourselves to meaning and transformation and above all love.

In an Islamophobic, paranoid, climate-threatened Australia of 2016 so many of us have anxiety disorder and burnout. We spend the whole day working hard, the whole week swelling our bank account to save for the school fees or the holiday or the investment property and then we fear existential angst and can’t sleep at night. Vanity of vanities. Or we have inadequate income and we schedule our dehumanising Centrelink appointments and toss and turn and can’t sleep at night. Vanity again.

We spend thousands of dollars on weddings and funerals, but don’t have time to talk to the elderly relatives or play with the children. We shop to try to dull the pain. We go to the hairdresser every six weeks and the gym or pool twice a week and look so damn beautiful that someone should put us in a movie- but the wrinkles we know will keep upon us and the regrowth shows the grey as well. We are not born to live and glitter forever. Vanity of vanities.

My addictions are reading and writing. Not bad things per se, but at times I retreat into them to try to shut out the world of other people’s needs. I stare at the screen, trying to make my words beautiful so others will like and approve of me. I am intentionally clever, or disingenuously humble or funny, or wise or virtuous as I spill words out hour after hour and lap up the joy of sharing them with others. Vanity.

Nothing that we do is bad, but if our ONLY focus in life is eating, drinking, adorning ourselves or our homes, performing our talents, gratifying our vanity and escaping into fantasy worlds while our brothers and sisters starve and the overburdened earth weeps then all the good things that we have become dust. It’s a question of where in our lives (and our nation) do we make room for the reign of God?

No “if” about it you will hear his voice today. Will you harden your heart?