Category Archives: reflection on liturgy

Scylla, Charybdis, Trans-Jesus and identity by foreskin

We’ve circled back around, now week by week I am repeating writing on readings I have already written on. This is a good discipline for me, because I am forced to revisit and rethink what I thought I knew. My reflection for this week three years ago was here.

This time…

Let me try to find words for the unspeakable.

I did say “try”, be patient with me.

I’ve just finished reading Kimmel and Messner’s “Mens Lives (1989) and I am struck by something that’s kind of disheartening (bear with me this is relevant to the lectionary readings). Even pro-feminist make writers, thinkers, people I meet make presumptions about women. They want to keep women “safe” and allow them to “succeed” and all the rest of it, but generally implicit in their rhetoric about women is woman as necessarily heterosexual- responsive or defensive vis-à-vis men. There is a huge failure of the imagination when it comes to the idea of woman as having motivations, desires or concerns that do not centre on men, either positively or negatively. I don’t think this ought to be excused on the grounds that these male writers might be writing about men, what women think or feel about men might well be relevant to their writings, but the absences are still telling. Women are not conceived of as able to have any headspace which is not invaded in some way by patriarchy.

As women we all too often take this on board, and our reactions to things become responses to patriarchy. Thus a woman who does not love or nurture men is a “man-hater” etc. Even feminists are tricked into talking and thinking about men too often, and what is worse thinking of ourselves via the male gaze.

I want to try to reach a consciousness that is lesbian/asexual or at any rate one that is not defined by men or their absence. The lectionary is not an ally in this. Are you laughing at me at this point because I access my lectionary via bishops (ie an all-male group)? Should I perhaps not be responding to the lectionary at all? Is my faith heritage so patriarchal that as a woman I can only have an implicitly heterosexual or trans-impostor role within it (please note I do not think trans=impostor, but within patriarchy this is a common discourse. That is to say I can view myself as woman-victim or I can view myself as woman-object or I can take on a male lens and victimise and objectify other women but it is very difficult to find a genuinely female-affirming gynocentric or better a non-binary point of view. Pretending the gender binary does not exist or does not have power is naïve to the point of foolishness, deconstructive work is needed even to assume a non-binary perspective)?

Have my confusing thoughts lost you yet?

The first reading at first glance seems very female-friendly with rejoicing coming from the desire-object Jerusalem who is depicted as female. After last week’s incredibly patriarchal readings (everyone at church was grumbling at them) it is easy to take this as an oasis and not to question it. Feminist spirituality within the patriarchal edifice is so often this, determinedly not looking a gift-horse in the mouth. But when we stoop to be dogs and feed solely off the crumbs that fall from the Eucharistic table we are limiting ourselves and denying our true Godde-given dignity.

As a lesbian, it is very easy to draw me into relating to the desire for the breasts and lap of the wonderfully nurturing and voluptuous Jerusalem. The reading says “mother” but it says it with a knowing wink. The implied reader is not really thinking like a baby, apart from the temptation to surrender critical capacity and agency and simply be carried (by tradition, by habit). The last line (which we do not notice because we are excited to be flourishing like grass and wonderfully held) reminds us that there is still a “Lord” and we have not lost our “servant” status. “Power” can be part of motherhood too but we’d love to gloss over how oppressively that can be experienced by the pre-schooler. We want to idealise this comforting femininity and we forget that God in reference to this Jerusalem is still the patriarchal structure intact.

We have gained nothing but the command to close our brains off and rejoice.

Is this the Word of Godde? Praise, praise, praise. Tremendous deeds. The psalm comes in to keep us distracted (again like babies). Oh look a pretty bauble…oh look a consumer product… When the going gets tough the tough go shopping…glossy brochures advertising the “experience” of various educational institutions (if you want to know why this is a problem please see Thornton and Shannon)….God didn’t refuse my prayer or his kindness…

My prayer

His kindness

There’s asymmetry here and as a good (“good” lol…”good feminist” is surely an oxymoron) revisionist feminist I want to change the pronoun to female and close my eyes to the things that I don’t like. After all God is objectively greater than me- more powerful, wise and enduring than I can be. Isn’t s/he? Aren’t they?

And what sort of a relationship can I base upon a knowledge like that? That all I can really know of God (praise Him, praise Him) is the idea of my own inferiority and God’s superiority. God’s unknowability stresses my limitedness. God’s power my weakness, God’s omnipresence my weariness, God’s wisdom my lack of knowing anything. Is this God? Or is this a great projection of my own existential terror?

And if the latter then what does it mean for faith? If I don’t believe in God’s “tremendousness” then can I believe anything? Could I survive as an atheist? Experience tells me not. I seem to be caught between a Scylla and a Charybdis of my own spirituality here. Patriarchy has told us that Scylla and Charybdis are both female. Alright then, as a truly transgressive lesbian feminist my mission is to make sisters of them. I have not yet found a way to steer safely through, but I know from having flesh-and-blood sisters that discomfort and reluctance to engage does not mean we are not kin. Come with me Scylla, take my hand Charybdis, we need to confront the second reading!

In the second reading difference is being undone- that is the difference between the circumcised and the uncircumcised. I have often taken this on glibly to think about how progressive this unification of opposites is. No matter what sort of a penis we have we are now all equal. Yes the foreskin is no longer a bone (pun intended) of contention.

See what sleight of hand the smiling lectionary has pulled on us now? We are all equal as males. What does this mean to non-males, non-penis-bearers? What have we been “pricked out” (Shakespeare) for? Nothing. We are absent. We have to read this from our own absence, to construct our own being with no building blocks. I am not circumcised, but neither can I properly refer to myself as “uncircumcised” therefore as usual the lectionary has not spoken to me or about me. What are we going to do about this girls (Scylla and Charybdis)? I can see why you wish to devour them all now!

So is that what a woman becomes? The wish to devour? A vagina dentata? A big mouth? How easily this view of womanhood (hole, chalice, receptacle, womb, urinal, kiss) is colonised back into patriarchal smugness where they think everything that exists comes from their seed (this is as true in intellectual work as traditional discourses of baby-making). And how do we answer that? Patriarchy has so colonised the whole globe and the whole language(s) that I know if no place outside of it. Besides bell hooks (in Kimmel and Messner) shows that any attempt as separatism works against feminism and reinforces/reifies inequality.

I am left not knowing where to even stand, how to begin to speak (and yet all these words).

So here we are in the gospel- Scylla, Charybdis and I. We’re being sent out now like lambs among wolves (no kidding, Jesus). We are here to bring peace, we’re are we meant to get this peace from? Is it more unpaid, unacknowledged women’s labour to fashion this peace out of crumbs and discarded foreskins or something? We are meant to accept whatever is offered. Oh this again! Against this preaching I am the bad woman who left the (heterosexuality that was) offered and asked for something different. And failed to find/obtain it. What am I but the queer art of failure (Halberstam)?

I cannot explain why, but I see trans-Jesus wink at me. We are both caught up in this charade but they are not bound completely by the role and invite me also to see the joke. Respectable, tame, church-going Jesus suddenly spreads his/her/their wings and reveals themselves in drag (or is the respectable “passing” the drag?). Jesus is also caught up in the necessity of making sisters of Scylla and Charybdis. Jesus here is a human queer -vulnerable, rejected, made invisible, the sign that is opposed (Luke 2: 34; cf Acts 28:22). Am I wrong to catch a glimpse of a Jesus I can identify with? Who may claim this?

Then this happens:

“Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you,
go out into the streets and say,
‘The dust of your town that clings to our feet,
even that we shake off against you.’
Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand.
I tell you,
it will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day than for that town. “ (luke 10:10-12)

What does this mean to us queers, feminists and critical voices? What does it mean for the church’s reluctance to receive us? We are treading on snakes and scorpions when we attempt to even begin to articulate our experience. A far cry this is from the breasts and comforting lap of “Mother” Jerusalem. We are both and neither, something the writers of scripture and compilers of the lectionary never considered. The question remains whether God considered us?

Everything hinges on that.

 

 

Halberstam, J., & Halberstam, J. (2011). The queer art of failure. Duke University Press.

Kimmel, M. S., & Messner, M. A. (1998). Men’s lives. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Thornton, M., & Shannon, L. (2013). Selling the dream: Law school branding and the illusion of choice. Legal Educ. Rev.23, 249.

 

Your abundance should supply their needs

I have had some internet and email problems this year and as a result, lost my roster for church (among other important things). I did not realise I was meant to be on the roster to lead at church this week until 9:30 last night when someone from the community called me to check up on what was needed this morning. She told me what the gospel for today was meant to be and I started thinking about what I might say.

 
When I got to church this morning, I was able to look up the rest of the lectionary readings and I had to do an “off the cuff” reflection. The fact I was able to do so at all, probably has more to do with this blog than with anything else, and of course God may well have helped me (I certainly asked her to).

 
I will try to remember what it was I said. These were the readings, and I said something like this:
I remember going through a time in my life, when the patriarchy of the church and the male-centredness of the stories and beliefs we were taught made it very difficult for me to continue in the faith. It got to the stage where the maleness of Jesus himself was a problem for me- I felt a strong disjunction about who I was created and called to be with God and the church’s seeming insistence on the MALENESS of priesthood grounded in the maleness of the one we follow. I nearly fell away from the church over this, I could only bring to God my female body, my female-centred way of loving, my female experiences of life and work. If these were not holy then how could I approach God?

 
Today’s gospel perhaps speaks to those yearnings and questions I had as a young woman. I experience Jesus in this gospel within my own life where I have been a mother, and early childhood worker and in some degree and activist and I can relate to the way Jesus is being pushed and pulled and pressured every which way. So many different people demand things from him and each person’s need is urgent and real. Jesus sets off to help one person, is interrupted by another and as a result of stopping to help the second one, the first- a little girl dies.

 
Being Jesus he can make something of this, he can turn death into life which is certainly more than I can do. I don’t have the capability or the patient grace of Jesus in my own life as I juggle competing demands (all important) and try to discern where to turn my attention, where to channel my love. I often drop the ball, neglect something I should have done or arrive too late to something else.

 
I take heart then from the second reading that reminds me that God is not asking us to deprive ourselves for the sake of others, or to give more than we have. God is challenging us as relatively wealthy and comfortable people to give of our surplus. All it takes is allowing God to turn our greed and our fear into generosity and openness. Is that not an important lesson for our time?

 
How can we not pay heed to this call to share from our abundance? How can we bear to be part of incarcerating people and families on Manus or at Nauru? We are not just starving their bodies, we are not just taking away their lives we are starving them of hope. Of hope itself. I almost began to cry at this point as I often do when I consider the mother who lost her son or the man dying of cancer or the hundreds of others.

 
This cruel way of treating people, it really needs to be said is a sinful direction for our society to be going.

 
It is against God. The same goes for what is happening in the US where little children are being pulled away from their mothers and fathers (I didn’t mention our own stolen generations but I should have). I read this week about small children, some as young as three being forced to go to court to be sentenced and deported- all alone these children face this without even a loving adult by their side.

 
This is an evil beyond words, an extreme evil. I feel that word is not an exaggeration.

 
I have been reading bell hooks this week, “all about love”. In it she talks about our yearning for love and the way so many of us grow up not getting what we need from our families- not experiencing the emotional security of being loved. She talks about romantic relationships also frustrating this need and not delivering the love that is needed. I could relate to what she was saying the desperation and the lovelessness that she said is characteristic of people in the world today.

 
She said that people yearn to be loved but have never experienced it. That they do not know what it would feel like to be really loved and as a consequence they do not know how to love.

 
While I could see that there was some truth in what I was saying I could not agree with her that I had never experienced being loved. I feel that this is a community that has taught me a lot about love. I have been loved here and encouraged to grow into a more loving human being. I have had my gifts honoured, and my lack of giftedness forgiven. This is a place where we come to be loving and to heal each other’s capacity to love and to hope. How can we pour out our love to the world? How can we be the loving people that the world needs?

 
Let us think about that. Let us remember that God does not ask from us more than we are capable of giving. How can we be the love the world needs? How can we ask for and teach love to others? When we are pulled this way and that by the needs of others; and are poured out and fragile, how can we trust God to fill us up? How do we bring love, healing, and new life also to each other?

Thanksgiving: more than an insipid “inspiration”

 

It’s so fashionable now to practice “gratefulness” as a means of self-care, a sort of niceness and middle-classness inner-beauty routine and a cynical part of me can’t help wondering if a purpose of it is also to dull down our radical edge, to quiet down our critical possibilities and manufacture apathy and consent to the oppression of others. At the very least the saccharine sweet “gratefulness” that I am fortunate and relatively wealthy and superficially beautiful seems like an exercise in shallowness. I have a handful of friends who sneer at it, pointing to the parsimonious attitude toward others present in some of the most smarmy advocates of “gratefulness” as a five-minutes-a-day lip service.

Gratefulness that is grounded in inequality, the celebratory attitudes of the class war winners is like fundamentalist Christianity. It is something ugly made out of what originated as a call to deep beauty. It is a hypocrisy, a whited sepulchre.

The danger, when looking for a deeper, truer gratefulness (real thanks grounded in a two-way relationship with a God we touch) is that it is all too easy to fall into other forms of superiority like the Pharisee in this parable. But sourness and ingratitude is also not the answer; after communion there is a dedicated time to sink into thanksgiving.

I am going to struggle to articulate a thanks that is not complacent, not superior and has the grittiness and tears of solidarity. If I am better than “the least of these” then I am better than the God I claim to thank. If I am thanking God for elevating me above others, then I have lost sight of who God is in salvation history and my life.

I thank you God for being present in glimpses and grace-filled moments. For being present in the challenge and affirmation of community.

I thank you for responsive and accepting people. I thank you for the anger of those I ought to stand with and help. I thank you for my identity as one oppressed, one who stands with you. I thank you for the awareness you call me to of my own privilege, for the insistent asking that I remove my foot from your neck (you are present in my sisters and brothers and the earth herself).

I thank you for the call to do good. I thank you for other labourers in the vineyard who insist I rest and self-care at times. I thank you for my ability to nurture and support others. I ask you not to ask me to lead. I thank you for giving me the resources to do what needs to be done (the bare minimum perhaps) and your call for me to stretch and be more than I have been. I thank you that greater and wiser people surround me so that I can fail and fall without catastrophe (I hope).

I thank you for feeding me and for demanding that I feed others. I ask you to teach me to feed others better by sharing what I have and my gifts and even my anger. I ask you to show me the grace to be a friend, a mentor and an affirmer of others. I ask you to place Wisdom in my heart so that no words get past without her influence.

I ask you how I might love myself without being complacent and a parasite? I ask you how I may critique myself without losing necessary self-acceptance.

 I thank you for loving me regardless of the questions around who I am and what I do. I thank you because I largely know I am beloved. I thank you for the people who show this to me. I thank you for the beauty which is in the world. I ask you to scatter beauty to every corner, to the eyes of any that might be moved or supported by it. I ask to be part of the beauty in your way.

I thank you that the bread is broken and has crumbs. I ask to be the hands that break and distribute it. I ask not to be broken, I lack the courage.

I thank you for wine, and the way it has no purpose except sensuous beauty and pleasure. I thank you for being the wine in the world. I thank you that wine is better shared wider. I thank you for plump purpleness and bursting sweetness of grapes. I thank you for the miracle of fermentation.

I pray that your bread and wine will enter the experiences of all, and that your call will reach every heart. I pray with a heart open to being called into the movement. I pray tiredly with an apology for not being more. I pray with gratefulness for being loved and for feeling love.

This is not my five-second “gratefulness” exercise, a trick I play on myself between bouts of consumption and tears. Show me God how to make my life an act of gratefulness that you loved me enough to touch and call me. Breathe on me breath of God, and make us one. Thank you for knowing the “me” you love and loving the “me” you know.

In love, in deepening gratefulness.

Amen.

The Body of Christ

I tried to write about the thoughts and random connections that come to me when I approach communion (Eucharist). I had planned to put in more biblical details and allusions so maybe at some point I will rewrite this, but as soon as I focus on bread, then the mundane stuff of continuing to live as well as the real work of mothering and nurture comes to me and so the real world got into my sense of sacrament (as usual). So it came out less mythical and mystical and more down-to-earth than I had thought…I hope it makes sense. Add your own in the comments if you like.

The bread of life. Amen

The labour of my mother’s hands. Amen

The buried grain arisen. Amen

Cord blood to the baby. Amen

The scent of the turned soil. Amen

The seed scattered. Amen

The birds feeding. Amen

Waybread for the journey. Amen

Loaves, flatbreads, rice, tortillas, sandwiches, pastries. Amen

Starving children while we glut. Amen

Crumbs from the table. Amen

Staling crust, dryly sticks in throat. Amen

Children should be seen and not heard. Amen

Where then is the sacrament? Amen

If all of this will lead to crucifixion. Amen

I threw my leftover lunch out of the train carriage. Mea culpa.

My mother had worked all night kneading and proving the bread. Amen

My grandparents starved in refugee camps. Amen

There are homeless in my own city. Amen

I was only a kid. Amen

Your vocation is to feed hungry souls. Amen

To wash feet, to change nappies. Amen

To break bread and model table manners. Amen

The body of Christ. Amen, amen.

A mother’s body torn to give life. Amen

A mother’s blood flowing through the cord. Amen

A mother’s milk swelling, or inadequate. Amen

The father waking in the night to help feed the baby. Amen

The blessing of grandparents. Amen

Solace to the elderly parent. Amen

This too is my body. Amen

The battery hen. Amen

The lives that go into the abattoir. Amen

The lives that are held in limbo, on Manus. Amen

The lives that are born but not nurtured. Amen

The loves that remain a source of shame and exclusion. Amen

The oceans full of oil and sewage. Amen

The rice crops failing because seeds become patented. Amen

Food is a business, water and investment. Oh Lamb of God have mercy.

I told you this is my body. Amen

We eat you, we eat each other, we are failing to love. Amen

Save us Lord, we can’t walk on water. Amen

I told you you would deny me, but now I will feed you. Amen.

Whenever you make food for your workmates. Amen

Whenever you give food to someone hungry. Amen

Whenever you celebrate your own child. Amen

Whenever you remember to visit your great aunt or grandmother. Amen

This is my body. This is the bread that feeds you. This is flesh and earth and physical joy and strength. This is soul and spirit and the ecstasy of connection. Break this, give this, do this in memory of me.

The pod of dolphins leap for joy. Amen

The chili from a colleague’s generous harvest. Amen

My sister gets up early to make bread– her vocation. Amen

Bread and sacrament, our life and our heritage. Amen, amen.

The body of Christ. Amen

Mercy

Imagine if we all lived our vocation: “The Spirit of God is upon me, because “the Lord” has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted. S/he has sent me to bind up the broken(hearted). To proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners. To proclaim a favourable year of the Lord” Just imagine if that was our view of what our job is as Christians? Good news, healing, liberty, freedom? It seems quite relevant both in light of the marriage equality debates in Australia and of the next part of the mass, the Agnus Dei.

I have had so many thoughts over the years during the Agnus Dei, usually trying to get God to take initiative to change things in some sort of palpable way. “Take away sins” I want to be freed of everything that is wrong with myself or with others or the world. I want easy answers. I want…I want…

But perhaps I will try to sit with the words a little and reflect, bringing in whatever of my tradition or experience can help me live them…

Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world….

I am in the world, I am of the world. Is it “my” sin that you take away? How do you take it away? How do you find and identify it? What is my role here?

have mercy on us…

Mercy. I went to a “Mercy” school, and the motto was “loyal en tout”, loyal in everything. Mercy then was not a condescending quality but a loyal one. I am not pleading with a forbidding authority figure for a “mercy” that simply means withholding or tempering punishment. I am asking for a loyal mercy, a mercy of friendship- be my friend despite it all, take my side.

Of course all of God’s creation has God’s loyalty, so I don’t get off the hook for having wronged whoever I have wronged. Because God is loyal IN everything and TO everything that she has made.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

Lamb, innocent and relatively powerless part of the world. One who is raised to be eaten. One who is vulnerable. Historically used as a sacrifice. Non-human part of the beauty of the earth. Enjoyer of green pastures and sunshine. Joyful, vulnerable one.

I am sinned again in the world and by the world. I am oppressed, trapped, made powerless, voiceless, impoverished or given unacceptable choices. I am exhausted and overthinking, anxious and sleep deprived, hollow and lonely. I am the refugee. I am the queer family. I am autistic. I am too female to follow my vocation. My welfare payment has been cut off. I can’t understand the paperwork. Noone will employ me. Noone will love me. I am addicted. I am cold. I am hurting.

Have mercy on us. Once again back to my school’s version of “mercy” where we were encouraged to see individual acts of kindness as insufficient for real “mercy”. Real mercy we were told was about a transformative justice not just to bind up the wounds of the broken but to create change so that no one need be broken any more. Real mercy happens in tandem with the initial mercy, the kindness from one individual to another but becomes a movement- requires people to debate terms and have the courage to remake and renew.

Mercy not just on me, but on us. Mercy is not an individual grace but one that is lived in communities and given (in loyalty and love) to each other. Mercy (hesed) and faithfulness have met. Justice and peace have kissed each other. Truth springs from the earth and justice gazes down from heaven. Even the virtues themselves are written thus as community of love, living both within earth and beyond it at God’s wherever.

They generally forget to tell you that any of this is about kissing.

Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

Lamb of God we are entangled in the webs of sin in the world. We are privileged and blinded by it. We feel powerless to demand that oppression in our name cease. We are conscripted into sin, at times against our will and at other times without our full and comprehending consent.

This calls for the mercy that smashes down walls and breaks chains. This calls for the mercy that strikes the zealot off his horse and makes a physical blindness as an improvement on the blindness of the soul. This is a mercy that can turn the sword of our lives into the plowshare of feeding all creation. This mercy is never without resources and turns water into wine and tax-collectors into friends.

This mercy may be put to death but insists on springing up to have the last Word.

Grant us the peace of forgiving ourselves for our slowness to grow. Grant us the peace of understanding that others are insecure or ignorant rather than malicious. Grant us the peace of a message of love, an affirmation from the heart, a quiet night’s sleep. Grant it to us, and grant it to them. Grant us the peace of a ceasefire and a recognition of our common humanity, our common earthliness.

Grant us the peace of the almond blossoms that are determined to bring us into longer and balmier days. Grant us the peace of the little babies of every skin colour reaching tiny arms for their parents. Grant us the peace of knowing we have enough to share. Grant us the peace of knowing that tomorrow you will call us again into your justice, into your love. And all those kissing virtues!

Small signs toward peace

I am tired and busy and have too much on my plate at the moment. But each time I log on I see that every day I seem to have had at least one reader, usually more. I am filled with love and gratefulness that someone is looking at my words and thus motivated to try to write at least something short even this busy week. It is more prayer than reflection this week…

Peace giving, peace leaving Wisdom,

But I confess my heart is troubled and at times I am afraid.

What is peace in a world where some children are starving, “must starve” they tell us? What is a quiet heart in a night where others are being rained on and driven away by homeless spikes?

If you give us “peace” why do your followers start wars, and abuse children, oppose human rights for people made queerly in your image? If you “leave” us peace as a legacy does it mean you have already left the building?

We say “look not on our sins” as if you can overlook the ageless call of Abel when we are jealous and kill our brother (our sister, our own mother Earth). “Look not on our sins but on the faith of your church” as if the church itself were not riddled with doubts and cynicism and legalism and the petty politics of the determinedly patriarchal.

And when we pray for peace, do we want it for our enemies too? Do we want peace for those who hammer at our gates demanding that we stop averting our eyes from the unpalatable truth that we have failed to love? Will peace replace or answer the tough questions about how to make room at the table and how to live with difference- of culture, belief, outlook and idea? Will the “unity” of your kindom be genuinely open to complex understandings or simply a sullen silence and obedience?

When this prayer comes up every week, ever time I can’t help smirking, that if liberation from my own (individual) sin depends upon the “faith of the church”…what peace is there? A church that self-righteously keeps out women from leadership, gays from marriage and gives sanctuary, even encouragement to child abusers…

“Yes but…” you say dear ever-challenging Wisdom and you turn my face to look around the circle, at people who give their lives for others. You show me people who work tirelessly for refugees, for the imprisoned, for human rights, for the hope-filled education of youth and care of the old. You show me people who have fed and welcomed me and gifted me hope and feminism.

“Is this not your church?” you gently ask, without pointing out my obvious hypocrisy in having considered only that large, patriarchal monolith “church” and ignoring the community of faith.

We are all overtired and fearful and troubled. We are lonely and needy and carrying baggage of our years. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of Godde.

Let us spend this day, this week, this lifetime offering peace and welcome. Let us tear down ill-conceived walls and build longer tables. Let us offer each other and beautiful Wisdom, signs of an orientation toward peace.

Amen.

It’s only words

 

Continuing my travel through the order of the mass, after the Eucharistic prayer comes another rich moment, “the Lord’s prayer”. I love this gorgeous and honest version from New Zealand. But I want to grapple myself with my own meditation with “the prayer Jesus taught us”. Travel my thoughts with me if you like.

I remember as a child, a reoccurring theme was how dangerous “the Lord’s prayer” was. Dangerous because it was so familiar, we could say it without really meditating on what it meant, simply as empty words and that would be sinful, negate the power of praying at all or even be blasphemous. Nevertheless that was a “given” prayer that was supposed to be superior to other prayers so we had to always say it- at church, at home, in the rosary, in our own prayers as a family or as individuals.

I remember much more recently at work, debating with some colleagues the merits or otherwise of insisting that children apologise when they have done something to someone. “Sorry is an empty word” one of my colleagues said, positively AGAINST children being taught to say it when harm has been done. In a way she was right of course, the “sorry” of our nation toward Indigenous people has not completely achieved the change of heart we need, and many scoff that it has done anything at all. Nevertheless when Prime Minister John Howard refused to give “them” even the satisfaction of an apology that was seen as hurtful, as an obstacle to the way forward.

Words may be empty but giving or with-holding them has some power after all.

Perhaps it is that words are always as empty as containers, and we infuse them with contexts- with our identities and actions and intentions. Perhaps also while at times familiarity of words can obscure meaning, at times words can make meaning, call a reality into being. “I have called you by your name you are mine” with words we make each other part of our family, a person recognised and nurtured.

Perhaps it is not even always sin when familiar words simply wash over us, when we are at peace and connected in with our faith family rather than overthinking. I worked so hard as a child to overthink prayer, to avoid the blasphemy of praying without deep intention but I think I have missed one of the points of prayer/love/intimacy. In prayer we do not strive to be correct, we simply orient toward the other that is God (and that is God’s beloved) and we simply BE in love. We “waste time” with God.

Jesus as the “Word of God” did not always seek to be understood. Who has ever understood the loaves and the fishes, but thousands went away satisfied. What exactly happened at Cana? There was no wine and then there was. Not all words can be grasped in a logical way, some slip through like poetry, like the quiet breathing of a loved one, like a sunset.

Then there is this bit of wisdom. That took my fancy when I was in my mid-twenties (yeah back last century), although even then I had some quarrels with parts of it, and ever since then now and then I have made up my own meditations that attempt to make my praying of this prayer meaningful and intentional, to try to identify and avoid potential hypocrisy in it.

So here is a feminist version, not by any means finding all the potential pitfalls of meaning but one possible meditation on the prayer:

Don’t say “Our Father” as if God was only ever a father or were literally male. Don’t say “Our” unless you are ready to broaden the group of “we” to embrace whoever has been left out. Do not say “who are” if you will behave as if your own wealth and privilege is more important than the kindom of God. Do not say “in heaven” if by it you mean absent and not also here in my life, in me.

Don’t say “hallowed be your name” if you think other faiths cannot hallow God’s name. Do not say “hallowed” if you think religion is a set of rules and judgements rather than a living, holy place of encounter. Do not say “your” if your God has been recast in your own image…white? male? straight? cis? middle-class? educated? human? Do not say “name” if you are afraid to be named and known in return.

Or then again say it all, say it and learn to mean it. If God will parent you into this “heaven” way of being, if God is a sacred, named and known encounter then dare to say it all and be transformed!

Don’t say “thy kingdom come” as if God is an archaic form of oppressive government. Dare to demand and commit to “your kindom come”. Don’t say “your will be done” if you don’t have the courage to accept that God’s will is for a deeper, broader love for all…for the refugee, the single mother, the queer, the homeless, the welfare recipient and yes even for the right-wing bigot. Don’t say “your will be done” without accepting that God’s will, will radically transform you, and then transform you again! Don’t say “your will be done” without remembering that God’s will for you is joy and fulfilment. Say it! Trust it! Dance it!

Don’t say “on earth” without valuing food and water, music and cuddles and sex and conversation and your own bleeding, aging, beautiful body. Don’t say “on earth” without committing that all God’s children have access to the gifts of God on earth. Don’t say “on earth” without kissing the earth and calling her “mother” and loving her for she too is a child of God. God’s will on earth is love.

Don’t say ”as it is in heaven” without radical hope. Don’t say “as it is in heaven” if you are going to argue that it is impossible to strive for fairness, sustainability and equity. Do not say “as it is in heaven” if you think it does not matter that other people suffer. Do not mention heaven unless you are willing to hammer on its gates and demand its graces spill out through you. Yes I said “demand”, did you think prayers were for cowering and grovelling?

Say it, learn to mean it. Shout it, sing it, celebrate it, touch it, be it. The prayer our lovely Jesus-Wisdom man told us. A prayer we learn, a prayer we grow into.

Don’t say “give us” without knowing that God can and does become involved in human life and history. Don’t say “give” without being prepared to share. Don’t say “give” without opening your hands and hearts to welcome and receive. Don’t say “us” if your circle is too small for the stranger and the orphan. Don’t say “us” if you cannot be kind to “them”. Don’t say “this day our daily bread” if you think this life does not matter and people can “wait until heaven”. Don’t say “this day” if you think it doesn’t really matter what you choose moment to moment. Don’t say “this day” if you will not work for a world that is still here tomorrow.

Don’t say “bread” if you mean a particular culture’s version of bread is the only one. Don’t say “bread” if your loaf is perfectly risen and soft and fluffy while your neighbour subsists on stale crumbs. Don’t say “bread” without being broken and shared. Don’t say “bread” without meaning rice, pasta, quinoa, mealie, chapatti, tortilla and every type of Jesus. Don’t say bread and skimp of the wine. Don’t turn away those who are ill or old or female, those who are Indigenous or foreign or have a different faith, those who are broken or on welfare or ill, those who are depressed or imprisoned or seem just plain lazy. Bread is for everyone. Break it!

Don’t say “forgive us” if you are afraid to forgive yourself. Don’t say “forgive us” unless you are truly sorry. Don’t be sorry without trying to understand. Don’t assume you understand without listening. Don’t say “forgive us” until you have committed to keep listening to the oppressed even when they begin to bore. Don’t understand without committing to change. But do be daring and start somewhere. Start somewhere and let it make you change. Bread and forgiveness go together in the prayer. Eat the daily bread of the work we have done, take it as gift. Commit to change as a response to the bread. Be broken in your privilege. Be broken in your brokenness. Be fed together- oppressor and oppressed.

Don’t say “trespasses” if you mean nitpicking about individual peccadilloes. Don’t say “trespasses” if you violate other people’s space or right to be themselves. Say “as we forgive” and learn to forgive. Say “as we forgive” and agree to being forgiven slowly and to have listening and recompense demanded of you. Say “as we forgive” and cry with relief when forgiveness is given freely. Say “as we forgive” and do not cast the first stone. Say “as we forgive” and learn to love and forgive yourself.

“Do not put us to the test” because life is a journey not a standardised test. “Do not put us to the test” because we want a holistic and respectful way of learning. “Do not put us to the test” because we want to love, not perform our way into your kindom. Do not say “deliver us from evil” if you want to be delivered primarily from other people- unbelievers and sinners. Do not say “deliver us from evil” if your own inability to love is above questioning. Do not say “deliver us…” if you still cling to easy answers and easy theologies. Do not say “evil” without striving to see the good in the world.

“Deliver us God from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your loveliness keep us free from sin (hatred?) and protect us from all anxiety (despair?) as we live in joyful hope the sacramental presence of your living Word (also known at one time as Jesus)”

What do we mean by saying “the kindom, power and glory are yours” how are they God’s? Where do they flow from to exist and belong to someone? What is it to us? Do we simply recognise this reality or help accomplish it? Should we be relieved or frightened at it? Are we perhaps the kindom, power and glory of God in our own lives? Not all of it, but the part we can access?

God transform my desires so that they actualise joy. Teach me to be radically in touch with myself in the familiar prayers, in the tradition, in the things I ask from you. Call me out of the escapism that harms me or my neighbour. I pray all these things as I make ready to eat with you and your creation, to be washed and fed, to be caught up in the spilling out of Eucharist in all things.

I come to your banquet as a typical middle-aged Latvian woman asking, ”what can I bring? how can I help?” and gossiping with you in the kitchen as we set the table. Let me be part of the trusted friends whose contribution is welcome.