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A commitment to joy

I decided not to “preach” this Sunday and not to ask anyone else to preach either. Instead we can all let the readings and music wash over us in silence and then discuss with people around us. If you want to take that option and ignore my words that is fine (we’ll be listening to “Tomorrow shall be my dancing day” but you may have your own favourite advent or Christmas joy music.

For those who actively seek out words to interact with, I will however post some thoughts and maybe an implied or worded prayer. It will be a good exercise for me to do this morning before I begin the jobs of an absolute marathon of a weekend.

The first reading finds God’s Spirit located within the one who has a vocation (hint: that means all of us). Think of modern versions of anointing. The closest I can think of are beauty routines or massage- ways of taking care of the body that come with the scent of essential oils, the pleasure of touch – oils are for embodies experiences, they honour the “here and now” beauty of the world we live in. To associate anointing with spirit is to break down the body/spirit dualism. Located in our bodies, honoured by oil is the Spirit (take that certain pesky Pauline texts).

For those of us who may have got the impression that this life on earth is inferior, that the body is a prison we wish to escape from or that (physical) pleasure is inherently bad this is revolutionary thinking.

And why has the Spirit indwelled into our all too human bodies? To inspire (the word kind of gives that away) us to “bring glad tidings to the poor (please note, no tidings are glad on a hungry belly), to heal the brokenhearted (hint refugees are brokenhearted, so are other people we systematically destroy), to proclaim liberty (and liberation) to captives……” all the good we can do in the world.

I had some drink with work-mates last night, with a group of committed, nurturing women who do childcare together and once the boss had had several glasses of wine, she started talking about her view of early childhood education.

“We are in it to make the world better” she said “that is the only thing it is about. Every child deserves a good childhood. Every child no matter where they are and we are in it to make a world where that happens.” She wasn’t intentionally talking about God but it seemed like anointed, inspired, prophetic talk to me (and we were all agreeing that that was our reason for choosing early childhood as a profession). We all had some thoughts about what sort of adults, what sort of societies might stem from a positive childhood for every child, because this idea of “childhood” wasn’t that sentimental, romantic appeal to an idea that children are innocents or terribly vulnerable, it was more our belief that a good society where everyone is treated right stems from children learning as early as possible in life to be active and caring citizens rather than simply cynical consumers.

Beginning to read Chittister’s “Wisdom distilled from the Daily” I get the same thought from her. Spirituality is something that imbues everyday life, it is not a novelty or set of commodities you can buy or “experience” or consume. Spirituality is not “therapy” it is life. The Spirit of God IS upon me, now in my everyday marathon weekend with parties and liturgies and doorknocking and housework and all the rest of it and God HAS anointed me to do good right now, today in some way…but not necessarily to talk about God, just to carry the Spirit into every place I go and allow her to show me how to be the good news, the liberation, the healing for any given situation.

We rejoice then, because God has beautifully clothed us in salvation and justice and makes justice and praise spring up like plants. This is who we are too, one with the plants, created to be dazzlingly beautiful in our God-clothedness (justice, salvation…again that vocation).

As the second reading tells us we need to keep this sense of joy going, not just for Gaudate, the third Sunday in advent but “always…in all circumstances”. Do not quench the Spirit by insisting that you have the only possible recipe for faith and anyone who disagrees with you is WRONG. Test everything (have some reflexivity and grace in your faith rather than dogma and certainty). The tet goes on to promise that perfect holiness is possible (through the work of God in our lives). Lucky then that we already know from the first reading that God is upon us, within us.

These two readings in this week’s liturgy get joined together by a lovely bridge, no less than Mary’s Magnificat. I like to think that Mary’s passionate and beautiful (and political) preaching in the Magnificat explains much about the man Jesus turned out to be…that while we assume he inherited all his goodness from God, Mary’s genes and teaching might also have been very formative in bringing us a wonderful embodied Wisdom-healer like him. And what of Joseph’s committed care…it takes a village to raise a child as God ought to know!

The gospel rounds off our call to joy and to embodying the Spirit of God. John the Baptist comes along not just to big-note himself but to point to something bigger and better – Jesus the living Wisdom and Word of God. John is not the light, but testifies to the light…it can be reassuring to remember that in our calling we are not alone. We are part of something bigger. We carry and show the light but we are not the light. We can rest sometimes, fail sometimes, leave it to others sometimes (though it is important to strike a balance and not assume that our work is unimportant or that we can slacken off too much, John didn’t just leave it all to Jesus).

Let us commit today to be happy and to celebrate the nearness of the kindom of God. Let us witness to the good news (that God wants justice for the poor, the broken hearted, the captives, the prisoners) and be part of the movement to the light. Let us wear our kindom outfits: “robe of salvation, mantle of justice” with pride in how beautiful we become and joy as if we were marrying our truest love. Let us find the little acts of joy and love we can share with everyone we meet today and every “now” each day. May we entirely- spirit, soul and body be caught up in the deep holiness of God’s closeness to us. Amen.

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The discomfort of camel-hair and the pleasure of washing.

I said this at church for advent 2. The readings were here. 

I bring uncomfortable words, but it is advent and John the Baptist urges me to be courageous and honest. Hopefully there are no Herods here, but in any case I attempt to find a truth greater than my own thoughts and experience. The truth (God) is also greater than the text, because the text is not God.

The first reading begins by promising us “comfort” and initially my heart sang at the thought, but then I read on.

I find no comfort in the gendered relation of power that is revealed, between a guilty (feminine) Jerusalem and her punishing Lord, however much in this reading he is staying his hand. This smacks of a cycle of abuse.

Reading on there is ecological disaster, the earth turned upside down for the sake of this “Lord”, mountains and valleys eroded. This version of “power” is all too familiar in the modern world and I find terror, not comfort if I attempt to identify God with it. The shepherd imagery at the end is tender, however we know that in reality shepherds exploit and eat their sheep who they tend to view as “stupid”. Similarly at times in political debate, people who naively accept what they are told are referred to as “Sheeple”.

I love my tradition and I want to find God in it but I am wary of how I will view myself, others or the world if I accept this reading too casually. I am sure wiser people than me might rehabilitate it somehow, I would rather sit with John the Baptist in camel hair, foraging for survival and not accept the precarious comforts of living in the shadow of abusive power- even when it claims kinship with God.

But we know God, we know her from the entire scriptures not just this one passage and we know her from the saving and companioning work of Jesus, from the heart-lifting vision of radical justice of Mary in the Magnificat, from the desperate call for repentance of John the Baptist, from the well-meaning, impulsive bumblings of the apostle Peter and from our own lives and meaningful connections.

In the second reading, Peter (if this is in fact he) is uncharacteristically humble, admitting that he does not have all the answers. We are urged to hope in God’s desire for universal salvation- whatever that will finally mean and however that will finally look. We can’t control the conditions around us, we can neither hurry nor delay the grace of God but what we can do is make ourselves ready, make our own conditions ideal for God’s presence.

There is a form of spiritual self-care that I think is being suggested here, which if we think of advent as a time of pregnancy, a time of bringing into being radical possibilities for the whole liturgical year starting with a birth at Christmas, then by nurturing ourselves and our inner life we are also nurturing the Christ-possibilities within. In that sense we can leave behind anything that defines “repentance” as responses to punishment or guilt, and see it instead as a call to a better, more hopeful, joy-filled life- what has sometimes been called “right relationship”. I frankly did not see a good example of right relationship in this first reading.

Across all three readings, there is a clear call to admit our sin and then a suggestion that baptism will wash away some sort of spots or dirt marks. Even then if sin is what makes us or our ways of being dusty and dirty then it originates from outside of ourselves from abusive patterns in the world. Thus to turn away from sin, to wash ourselves is self-care and associated with rest and even the pleasure of hot water and fragrant soap– repentance does not have to be about self-blame we can deeply understand and forgive our own imperfections (as a way of helping us be more tolerant and forgiving toward others). Instead we can turn toward God for the love of the divine “otherness” of God and for the joy of our potential to sink into and become one with that otherness as a deep affirmation of our own truest being.

John reminds us that when we act as “church” we enact sacraments that are shadows of the real sacrament of the real Christ. The priest, the prophet, the enacter of the mystery is no more worthy than the one who repents and accepts sacrament.

Let us sit and ponder a moment

What is the camel-hair, the uncomfortable reality we need to grapple with this advent?

How do we wash ourselves, be our best and most cared for selves? What do we repent from? What do we turn ourselves toward or into?

As we do this, let us stay with the idea of being gift and having gifts that is also part of our advent reality. Let us be brave and critical in our faith as we share our thoughts with each other. Let us trust our own experience of God in love and joy.

It’s all over. It’s not over

Sometimes at church they used to say “The mass is ended go in peace” to which the correct answer was “Thanks be to God”. I remember as a child fervently meaning “thank God that boring part of my week is over and looking over to my brother and catching him just as fervently also thanking God and there was a moment of eye contact where we both gleefully knew each other was thinking the same thing.

Why, I wondered, are they so honest that we are all grateful it is over, and if they all know this is a common experience why don’t they make it shorter?

I will try to make this blog post short so my readers don’t relate to that too closely.

Now of course the marriage survey (also variously known as “the plebby-shite” or “the huge waste of tax-payer money”) is over. 61.6 % people out of the 79.5% who even participated, ticked “yes”, 38.4% ticked “no” that gay and lesbian people, couples, families should not have the same legal recognition and rights as they enjoy. 20.5% of people were either apathetic, disorganised or in some way incapable of answering (this is a very low percentage actually considering it was a voluntary survey).

What does it all mean? Well hopefully it means all the campaigning is over “thanks be to God” and people like me won’t need to keep feeling like we are advocating for our right to exist. Hopefully the outright lies equating us to pedophiles and malfunctioning seat-belts will be forced to stop.

I feel there is a connection here between the last part of the mass, that I have not deconstructed as yes and the marriage survey results which are both positive (a clear-cut “yes”) and negative “almost 40% of respondents hate or fear us more than they love equality and justice). I can’t pretend my “group” is the most hated in society. Noone has locked me on Manus island or starved, beat or stoned me. Noone has spat on me and the words that have hurt me have rarely been said to my face. There are other groups that need support even more than I do at this time, at any time. At all times of history someone is hurting from exclusion, injustice or hatred.

So the work of the “Mass”, the work of bringing together in reconciliation, reflexivity, shared stories, preparing and sharing food, company and gratefulness is always unfinished business. Sacramental moments finish and there is something we are grateful to take with us into daily life. Surveys come back in an anticlimactic set of numbers and we make sacrament by holding in our thoughts and words and sometimes arms (I need a hug) all the people who are feeling something, or horridly nothing.

Cause I feel sort of a cross between numb and crying.

But sacrament is not a survey, we look beyond numbers to souls that need comforting, including, loving and even calling to repentance (yes the “no” voters have spiritual needs too, just not necessarily the ones they claim).

The survey is ended, relief and thanks for small mercies.

The struggle continues.

The Eucharist must imbue our days somehow. This is unfinished business, we will gather together and talk together and pray together again (and again)

Thanks be to God.

Nothing but lame excuses, and a picture

Dear readers,

There may not be many of you but it seems some of you check back here often so I really regret that this is the second week I have nothing for you.

In my defence I wrote and presented two conference presentations this eek (short and relatively simple ones though), I wrote a creative piece for my Mum’s anniversary (of her death). I worked most days, I looked after (a little bit) a sick son and spent quality time with another son (and plotted with the third).

I networked and campaigned because I am trying to be a good political candidate. I got around without a car and agonised how to visit elderly relatives (I didn’t get to do that). I grieved my brother who died to years ago and a friend who suicided the year before that. I tried to support friends who were hurting for a host of reasons.

I was supported, loved and even gifted by the friends I have.

I hurt a lot over the marriage equality debate, the lies and hatred turned toward the queer community. I should not let it hurt me this much. I revisited old hurts.

I didn’t sleep- but my wakefulness was largely unproductive.

I began on my next liturgy and my next talk I have been invited to do, both labours of love. I did not manage (once again) to work on my article.

I wish I had something to say in my blog this week, I feel so much I need to say on forgiveness, so much has happened in my prayer life but I am tired and weak and for and introvert I need to switch off I think or I feel I ill never sleep again

“I have left undone what I ought to have done and there is no health […no untrue there is a little spark of health and beauty after all thanks to the friends who love me. There is health and there may be more] in me.”

God bless you for your patience with me. I will try again ASAP

Sabbatical

My friend Pauline Small, who has a blog you may like to check out gave me permission to take a week off blogging to catch up on all the things I should be doing (like work, sleep, parenting etc and also bearing in mind my son’s confirmation is coming up really soon).

So I have decided that even though I love to blog, this will be my week off. I apologise if anyone actually reads every week but I do promise to be back soon 😉

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!

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.