Tag Archives: 1 Corinthians

What has this to do with the body of Christ? What has this to do with me?

This was a reflection that I was privileged to be asked to give at my church. I will be doing that tomorrow (ie Sunday). The relevant readings are here.

 

Have you ever dumpster dived? I am not referring to finding some discarded and vintage bits and pieces to trendily upcyle. I mean for food.

You probably all know that Centrelink has not been increased in real terms since 1996, that’s more than two decades. Think of all the changes in those two decades. I didn’t have a mobile phone, or even want one in 1996, these days it is mandatory to have one in terms of staying in touch with Centrelink so they don’t cut you off. Many other expectations and needs have also changed. As a result of all this low income earners and welfare recipients in 2019 are a lot poorer than they were in the late 90s, when I struggled to look after my babies on welfare payments.

So dumpster diving these days is quote common, getting in amongst the rotting fruit, veg and dairy products and finding unopened packets that are barely past their useby date, bakery items that are a bit stale or broken and all the rest of it. Supermarkets throw out so much! I was shocked to be told that sometimes you can find a whole pallet of bottled water. Why does water need a use-by date?

Supermarkets often respond to dumpster divers by increasing security, padlocking dumpsters, watering the bread, slicing open packaging and at times pouring toxic chemicals or even human waste in to make the food not reclaimable. Even though this is food they can’t sell  or use in any way, they stop people from reclaiming it if they can. Thankfully this is not something that happens across the board, and dumpster divers reclaim what they can, combine it with food they grow (if they are able) and then the interesting thing is how freely they share it. In my experience people who find a lot of food, or something particularly good, or something they can cook up will immediately look for opportunities to feed each other. The contrast between those who can afford to share but do not, and those who are suffering themselves but want to share what they have always staggers me.

Eucharist reminds me that the bread of life is necessarily the bread that is shared, before God there are not those who deserve it more or less, but each of us comes to be fed and then to participate in the work of feeding.

Sharing.

This is the body of Christ.

It was refugee week this week, and many people participated in the refugee ration challenge. I’ve been marking which makes me want to eat all the time so I did not, I merely donated some money. I saw the rations that people were given- here there is no generosity or abundance- only the basics. People were given what was barely adequate and would not be very interesting over time. Keeping the body functioning is one thing, but God’s abundance is more than rations, more than the efficient fostering of physical life. Think what a meal can mean- it is not just nutrition, it is a time to stop and share and care for ourselves. Think of the house being filled with the scent of spices and good things warming. Think of bread rising. Think of the freedom to step away from work and to come together in each other’s beautiful homes and in our lovely church. Meals are not just rations, they are humanising celebrations of life.

We need to do better for the refugees, many of whom have an ethic of sharing, this is part of the Christian heritage but also a Muslim value. Sharing, giving, abundance, equality. Nourishment for the soul and for the human family rather than merely the stomach of the individual.

The body of Christ.

It’s significant to me that we add wine. There was a time in my childhood, where wine was almost never used at mass because we were told bread could symbolise both the body AND the blood. In terms of anatomy this is quite sensible and logical, no living flesh body ever existed that wasn’t also composed of blood. But there is a symbolic richness to wine that adds something to bread, that gives us a fuller more whole picture of what it is that Jesus has given to us.

Wine, especially in is a luxury not a staple as is bread. We are so surrounded by luxuries that we easily lose sight of this fact, but wine is not just stuffing something hurriedly in our mouth so we don’t collapse (not that I am advocating for bread to be so reduced). Bread can be part of charity, we might give crumbs to the less fortunate from a safe distance, we might speak of “human rights” and sustain them in life. Bread can be reduced to rations, it shouldn’t be but it can be.

Wine is only for friends. We do not give wine to people we look down on. We do not give wine grudgingly, if we give it at all then we share it with joy. One of the ways I realised when some of my university teachers had transitioned to be colleagues and comrades and (I am honoured to say this) FRIENDS is when we began to share wine together. Wine symbolises the part of meals which is not merely necessary- the joy and companionship. We bring out our best wine for our most honoured guests, we give wine as a gift to people we appreciate and admire.

The blood of Christ, cup not just of compassion but solidarity.

Significantly, when swamped by the demands of hungry crowds (5000 clamouring) Jesus did not let his apostles off the hook. He didn’t put the responsibility for self-care back on each individual.

It’s significant how we read this miracle, what we see here will affect how we live. If we think that Jesus (being god) produced magical, miraculous bread from the sky and gave it out to everyone, then we might be tempted to think that it is God and only God who can solve all our problems. Perhaps then we will think that all we need to do is pray for climate change to be solved, for the refugees to be set free, for governments to become more responsive and compassionate. But where do I draw the line? Should I even try to do the morally right thing, or do I wait for God to change me? Should I go to work or should I just pray? These extremes are silly of course, but it’s very easy to believe that if I personally am a reasonably good and kind person, the world’s problems are not my problem. I can give toxic politics, growing inequity and the climate crisis all to God and keep planning a wonderful holiday for my own family.

In this way of thinking, the bread of heaven never grew in the earth, the wine we share was never worked by human hands. But…think of the liturgy (work of the people) that we all grew up with. We assert that the bread and wine which are transformed into Christ’s real and living presence are exactly that- earth and human work. There is no getting away from this. Jesus’ insistence that all were responsible of all might have called out of people whatever they had brought for themselves alone. Those with a surplus shared with those who had nothing without getting to judge them for being “lazy” or “less organised”. There is a redistributive power to Eucharist, this is not co-incidental it is at the heart of it. It comes from a God who became embodied and entangled in humanity. It comes from a Christ who says “I want everyone to be fed, I want all at the table” not with threats or rules or overpowering us but with a deep enough commitment to become bread for us.

The generosity of Christ is here. Eat. Drink. Be the sacrament.

So let us reflect on the table we are coming to. Let us reflect that around the table we are a circle, all equal, all welcomed. Let us take the sacrament when Christ offers it, let us treasure it, hold it within ourselves, and let us open our hands to give out the things we are called to bring to the world.

Bread to feed and strengthen life and community.

Wine for joy, affirmation and solidarity

The body, the life-blood of our own dear, Wise Christ.

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Tryptich of heart 2: Back to the Source

How wonderful your name creator God through all the earth!

When I look at the heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars which you have arranged. I ask what are humans, do you even remember we exist? “Mortal man”, “son of man” our language so androcentric, our presumption that we are the heart and the crown of creation.

We think we are “little less than angels”, “little less than gods” but we behave with all the awareness of an amoeba. The first rule of survival is don’t soil where you will eat. We ignore it. Intent on “biggering and biggering and biggering and biggering” (Dr Seuss) making things that nobody needs, turning our backs on the things that everyone needs.

Remember you have told us what we “need”. Not bread along of course but every Word who is Life. We need you, we need the relationship that is the basis of you, we need to return to our source and be made one with all creation as you are one in your three-ness ever-creator source and partner even of Wisdom and Spirit. All we need is love, not in a wishy-washy way but all we need is you.

And we need to do justice, love each other with kindness, we need to walk humbly WITH not against you. We need to nurture and treasure other humans and the earth’s finite resources. Perhaps you made them all, perhaps you could remake them (oh I hope so) but that is no reason to squander the beauty and intrinsic goodness of earth, air, water nor to misuse fire in killing and destroying.

I don’t agree with the psalm, I think there is residue of our sinfulness in the way it has been transcribed from your Word. All of them under our feet? Hardly your will is it!

All of them beloved by God- All sheep and oxen,
yes, and the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air, the fishes of the sea,
and whatever swims the paths of the seas.

And then “justified by faith” but what is faith? Elsewhere you told us that saying “Lord, Lord” was insufficient, you constantly repeated that we must love, nurture and not judge each other. What is faith that obeys the letter and ignores the substance of the message? What is faith that twists Word into a sedative away from the wholesome Bread that it was for us. If we will not eat your Word and hold it deep inside us, let it circulate it’s nutrients in our blood and in our soul…if we will not love the neighbour which is Wisdom dancing toward us…then we will eat our own words and love only emptiness, then money will be our god and the market will have it’s way with us.

Creator have mercy. How do I dare to ask you to save us from ourselves?

We can boast of our afflictions can we? Then I boast of sadness, of rage, of frustration and fear. I boast of feeling disempowered and finding hope too small and elusive to grasp. I boast of needing help. I need your help God.

Affliction produces endurance,
and endurance, proven character,
and proven character, hope,
and hope does not disappoint.

But does this work? I am afflicted, but am I enduring? I endure with gritted teeth, but what is my paper-thin and wavering character? How will I be firm enough to hold the seed of hope and grow it deep within myself.

Pour out your love then God of pouring. We have made ourselves a wasteland, we have created a drought.

Pour, pour, pour,

flood the earth with your goodness and with your inspiration. Be the love we need, shine in and out of each of us.

“Love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”

Well I will try…

The fig tree, the burning bush and my lenten call.

I have been absent, and yet my graphs show that readers have checked in here (thanks for doing that). after a busy and somewhat stressful few weeks, my body and mind exhausted beyond belief I am seizing some time to rest and self-care. And so, with a sense of luxuriating in the thing I love, I turn back to the lectionary, trying to feel guilty neither about how long it has been since my last blog post, nor about the things I am leaving undone to write this. This after all is a better use of my time than any sort of procrastination would be (and I am so tired I would not be more productive).

The first reading is the story of Moses encountering the burning bush. Is that what it would take to make me fully human again? A great phenomena like a burning bush, a place to take off my shoes and know mystery? A reminder that activism is all very well but encounter is where God happens. I have an hour and a half to choose something and I choose this. Pondering the readings, taking off the shoes of my roles as teacher, co-ordinator, bread-winner and politician. Here I am just Stef the human, here I am small and confused and trying to listen to a voice. The voice is the God who liberates, telling Moses of specific moments in salvation history and reminding me that I am called to fullness of life not just busyness.

But God is also the God who will send Moses out into the struggle to liberate a people, a God who will put me back into the struggle with all the good activists and advocates and seers and comrades. This space is not a place of escape or retreat, it is a place of sustenance FOR THE STRUGGLE. God ultimately refuses naming, refuses to be owned or branded. God is loyal to her own values not to an institution. The bush burns but it is not consumed, rules may be broken. The Spirit blows wherever she will and I do not own, control or parcel her out. This is perhaps a warning to all would-be theologians and preachers (noted).

The psalm celebrates God’s kindness, commitment to justice and strengths-based approach to humanity (pardoning sins and restoring life and liberation). I weep with gratefulness at the thought of kindness and mercy- yes give me that as a relief from politics and the negative speeches of so many. But kindness and mercy are not just gift but also call. I am asked to be the kindness and mercy of God, as human beings we are meant to embody the divine, not just anger (even when we are sure it is righteous). The kindness is stressed again and again, as sure and surpassing as the sky itself. God is kind so I must be kinder. As my exhausted mind ponders this I feel that maybe this kindness could even extend to myself, not to pander myself in inactivity but at least to allow rest and joy back into the mix.

Always back to the good things, back into the struggle for justice and also back into the solace-point, the “home” that God is to our hearts.

The second reading seems to be reminding us that tradition and institutionalised religion are no guarantees against error. Admittedly the recent events around “Cardinal” Pell have led me to embrace this interpretation. We must remember the values of the family of God (mercy, kindness, justice, advocating for the little) instead of just following rules and rituals or relying on our history and tradition. Our tradition/s are not a place to stand secure and judge others (other religions, sexual orientations or lifestyles) they are places to take off our shoes and gain some humbleness about what we have…and what in justice we ought to share. I have no patience with people who abuse power and privilege to harm others, as shepherds called to tend the people of God we have a vital DUTY OF CARE. This is true for all of us, the unofficial and petty shepherds as well as the ones considered “great” by the institution. That mercy and kindness of the psalm needs to be shared to the last and the least and the one who we do not think has the strength to answer us back (you’d be surprised what is possible with God).

The verse before the gospel tells us to repent (be radically transformed for the better) and to see the kindom of God.

The gospel begins with Jesus threatening dire things to anyone who refuses to repent and be transformed. This could be as true for an institution/church as for an individual (maybe more so). Just when we are sure that the gospel is a terrible judgement, the parable at the end switches it. God is endlessly patient, tending and calling and giving the fig-tree more time (though beware because at some point even the extra time may run out). If we have not borne significant fruit YET then this lent comes to give us another chance and our lives may be cultivated and fertilized that we might finally bear fruit.

I’ve been a slow-bloomer in anything I have ever tried in my life. I have both a slowness to understand, a reluctance to really back myself and am endlessly ready to quit and concede failure. God bids me garden myself more carefully, give myself time to grow (amidst the great role-models and mentors who always told me this was possible). Noone says that it doesn’t matter that the fig-tree is barren, noone suggests that it should keep failing to thrive, failing to produce. But Jesus suggests that if all that is needed is more time and caring then that can be provided by a patient and relentlessly loving God.

This lent we are given the time and kindness to grow, and the warning that we must encounter God ourselves, not rely on ritual and tradition. I will seek the quietness of lent, the gathering dark of autumn, the parrots in the fig-tree, the super-worm moon and the promise that something will come again out of all the deaths of the world. I will give myself time.

Rushed thoughts from the midst of the chaos

Welcome to the sieve that is life, that will shake you up and demonstrate what quality you are as a person, as a God-being-image, as an agent who thinks and speaks and embodies values. So goes the first reading. I have seen much of this lately, people being shaken and the best or worst of them appear. I am working on being kind and tolerant of people who are flawed when shaken and thus able to cope with my own limitations too. Some people surprise and inspire me even under the greatest pressure. I would like to have that sort of courage and integrity. Based on picking up values from people we choose to spend time with and listen to I guess I have a chance of developing that way.

The psalm continues in this vein, telling us to be grateful to God and to keep our integrity because ultimately we will thrive or perish according to the health of our values and our inner self. I am not sure that real life always demonstrates this well, but on the other hand I was cheered when in answer to a question about her “legacy” at Writers Week Gillian Triggs said “I don’t think I am anywhere near finished yet”!!!

Maybe this is what: “They shall bear fruit even in old age” means.

I myself feel so week and fearful and dependant on others but maybe I can learn. Triggs talked of being mentored and supported at times, she talked of benefitting from systems that were there to support her. None of us can do it alone and I need to have some faith in the integrity (spoken and lived) of the people who are in my life.

The second reading talks about our human preoccupation with the deaths and hurts of this life but claims that through God we can hope through that to a greater depth of meaning and success. We have to find the incorruptible, immortal things to clothe ourselves in, and the implication is that these are values. We must be “firm, steadfast and fully devoted” to God’s work, but let’s remember that God’s work is not nitpicking the lifestyles of others but upholding the vulnerable (the “widow and orphan”) and loving those who need our love, calling to account the powerful (see eg the Magnificat), feeding and healing the world in LOVE. We must have integrity even in how we treat our enemies, we can attack the position and corruptibility of people like Cardinal Pell and decry the words of people like Andrew Bolt, but it is not God’s work to personally attack these people (although when victims of their crimes do it we should be understanding).

Death is swallowed up in the victory, the immortality (“legacy” if you like) of the good work we do. I want to think of immortality as some good people have left or are leaving the university I got work at, where I would have liked them to continue on and mentor and befriend me. Some people do remain who understand what has been achieved and my task is to hold firm. Things of value are larger than one person, they are larger than human cycles of loss and death. Meaning is never something we hold forever but always something we must chase and wrestle with and contest with others and find in fragments.

I don’t like that it is always so difficult, but the tone of the readings is comforting, that God will reward all our efforts even if the world does not.

The gospel mocks me for my reliance on my teachers. They also are human and “blind” as I am and I must learn to be equal to them and work like them not simply follow them (not even heroes like Gillian Triggs). The other side of the coin is that I as a teacher and a leader should not be grand about my own status, but should accept the rights of people to disagree with me, challenge me and find their own way to work alongside and not beneath me. It’s easy to always criticise others instead of looking at how we can contribute something of worth, or at what is blocking us from doing better.

But reassuringly if we are good and healthy on the inside (grounded in values) if we are fruit of a good tree (a tradition, a person, a way of being) then we in turn will produce good fruit. We will speak the truth of what we truly believe which is what we truly are. I will seek to embody (and ensoul) in myself love and radical, healing hope.

I am afraid for the future but God’s will be done. I will learn to stand fast!

Overflowing measures

We are made in the image of Godde.

Admittedly that is easier to see in some people than others but every human, all creation in fact somehow reflects the sacredness and beauty of God. The human has intrinsic worth and dignity and life is therefore a good. I think that is how I have to read David’s grandiose refusal to slay “the Lord’s anointed” because in fact I am frustrated by this King, by this rich and powerful man choosing to prolong war (ie ultimately killing so many people who I suppose he deems as less worthy) instead of quickly putting an end to it by killing Saul. Instead David is reconciled with Saul, predictably has to flee for his life again and carries out raids (on invisible others) to sustain himself.

I can’t bring myself to believe that this militaristic, elitist attitude is the word of God (no, not even if we talk about historical context), but I can see how we ended up with clergy who think that being “anointed” they are above the law and can get away with atrocities.

Sorry lectionary, I tried to let what you said have some good in it, but I am too angry. I have to speak truth for the people who have left “the faith” because of our refusal to confront what is unhealthy in our tradition. Some parts of the bible just tell me about toxic masculinity and militarism and I see something so sinful being aligned with Godde and I must be honest that THIS IS NOT THE GODDE I KNOW.

I met Godde again this week through some human beings and birds splashing around in bird-baths and in the taste of a single perfect fig and the bitterness of wonderfully brewed coffee as well as in meaningful work (too much of it). Through the voices of my wise children and one beloved and generous voice. Godde looked at me and said “you know me, I am here” and I can’t unknow that to believe patriarchal words written down centuries ago.

But the psalm reassures me that God is kind and merciful and will pardon all my “iniquities” even perhaps if I accidentally or through stubbornness write heresy (I can only be honest about what come through in my prayer life). As a mother wants to see the best in her children and gently teach them to think more deeply, so God will have gentle teaching-instinct toward me.

The second reading also puzzles me coming across as a “typical man” (apologies to my male adult children who are not like this), compartmentalising things that should flow together, making a false binary only in order to hold it in tension. Earthliness and spirit should not be two different things and I though that was precisely the point of the Jesus story. Of course Eve (usually blamed for Adam’s sin) does not even appear in this argument, Jesus is the “second man” a representative only of Adam and not of Eve. I will stick to my rainbow lorikeets and my sarcastic feminist friend as images of God and remember to add to them the gleaming sun slipping into the ocean, people opening their door and offering me a glass of water on a hot summer’s day when I am being a politician, and the adjective “amazing” used to reassure a new worker. God is in earthly spiritual things and in spiritually earthed things too. God is in the generosity of Eve as much as in the curiosity of Adam and if there is sin, the sin is throwing each other under the bus and forgetting that God is love.

I work with naughty toddlers, delightful toddlers, toddlers we have to reprove one minute and comfort and affirm the next (or quicker) so I think I know these things. In a beautiful church garden this week they ran straight to the “forbidden” tree of unripe apples and when we pulled them back they still found a way to sneak back there and each grab one. Earthly toddlers like Eve, like Adam. Their teachers and parents still love them AND SO DOES GOD. Jesus was born a baby as a toddler he must surely have stretched his plump and tiny hand out to forbidden things and cried when he was told “no” and done it anyway. It’s not a sin to yearn to know the world and to discover your own agency. It is a sin though when curiosity and desire for self-actualisation becomes greed and cruelty and that can happen too. Jesus chose not to go down the path of “power at the cost of others” and that is where we too must draw the line. Adam was new to all this let’s remember (and Adam’s first admission was how dysfunctional he was without an “other” so it makes no sense to write Eve out of the story). Let’s move on to the gospel.

Jesus in the gospel is not (I hope) advocating for a doormat disposition but for a courageous attitude that is radically peaceful and loving. Jesus himself showed anger at times (in context) and spoke out against wrongdoing and injustice in the strongest possible terms. But Jesus here is saying that to love those who massage our egos is easy and no sort of a virtue at all. The challenge is to love the difficult ones, the impossible ones, the hurting and hurtful ones, the so broken they can damage us ones. I am reminded that really I do not love Scott Morrison. I could try to paint an insincere smile on my face and talk about his “intrinsic worth” as a human being but I am not feeling it. I think I was better at that when I was younger, I sincerely loved everyone, even people who I didn’t think were very good. I don’t know what to do now except challenge myself that I am supposed to love, that I can express needed critical perspectives but need to leave room for people to be called by God to do the right thing after all. I challenge myself to keep my criticism measured and relevant to the issue and not to let hate be my motivating factor. I need to see the humanity in Nicole Flint’s eyes when we have to meet for various forums. I have been asked not to “go easy on Nadia Clancy” and I won’t, but at the end of the day she is a human being and possibly trying to do her best as I am trying to do mine.

Part of loving others is holding on to the knowledge that I too might be wrong and flawed and full of sin and nevertheless loveable and beloved. I have been my own enemy, when I was younger and loved others so easily then my one enemy that I couldn’t love was myself. My call to challenge myself to love more was my call into not neglecting the needs of the child of God that was myself. Somebody I once read long ago wrote that the bible was written for men, but women sometimes commit the equal and opposite sin, instead of emphasising the self over other they may idolatrise the other (especially the man) and neglect the self. Of course being an intersectional feminist I can understand this as being about privilege and see that I can simultaneously oppress some others and idolatrise others. My love needs to flow to whoever is neglected in my understanding of Goddeness.

Thus loving self and loving other are twin challenges and as we perfect our love for one of these we may also discover a better means to the other.

I wrote these words this morning before church, but at church I discovered that the person preaching had also wrestled with the first and second readings and had discovered she found a much better grounding for the gospel in an except from John O’Donohue’s Divine Beauty. I have run with a picture of that book in which O’Donohue finds (much as I did above) that any act of caring that we engage with or that we are blessed by shows us the presence of God.

As we challenge ourselves (earthly ones, spirit-filled ones) to be more loving, to care in real and practical and sacramental way; as we see that all of creation is God’s
anointed” and able to break our bread and bring us to life; as we find the gorgeously glowing beauty that is God within our capacity to love and within the capacity of the world to surprise us with beauty we forgive the flawedness of our history at church. We do not forgive as doormats who will allow it to happen. We do not stand idly by while others are oppressed. There is space here for anger.

But there is a space here also to redeem what is good in our tradition- while the Buddhists may talk of karma and the Wiccans have their rule of three we can know that they are right. We too are told the same thing by our own Wisdom (Christ), that the measure which we measure will be measured out to us generously. Abundantly. What we give is what will overflow in being given back to us. May we give love.

Amen. Z�3�����

Lips, life and liberation

“…this has touched your lips” said the angel.

As a sociologist I find the first reading tantalising. It’s not possible to be purged of the “unclean” discourses of your context in time or space. I think the cultural errors of any age boil down to what “original sin” is, the way that some grace-filled possibilities are shut off, rendered unsayable or drowned in a mire of the “inevitable”, we cannot even see our error because out language sets up binaries and misleading questions with closed off answers.

But the desire to rise above our context and to liberate others from it, this is utterly relatable and I like to think of God as the one who burns through the crap that bogs us down and sends us out to make sense of things after all. “My eyes have seen” something, some beautiful reflection of God’s presence, some possibility for liberation for us all…this is what it means to have “faith” perhaps. The eyes of our spirit yearn not to be enslaved to sin and the overbearing meaningless of the consumerist “life”. We want life to mean something, but meanings elude us.

The drive to speak is familiar, I first felt the need to be a voice, first heard the call I suppose when I was a little girl. “Here I am, send me” or when I try to be humble and not say that, then things fall apart into greyness and fear. Perhaps at times my motives have been mixed with the less than ideal, I have craved status, wanted to be “special” but over the years I learn what hard work it is to be a truth speaker, how easy it is to get it all wrong and how alone you can feel. I learn (with joy) that God has never called only me, not even mainly me. And then I can reclaim pride not as an individualising sin “I am better than the others” but as a virtue “I am made in God’s image like you, and you, and you, and our sister”.

The apparent pride that put me off in the first reading, has served instead to interrogate and redeem me as still called (among others).

I am feeling that psalm today, partly as I reflect on my call and my co-travellers with their calls too. God has answered my prayer and whenever I think of God listening to me and bringing me out of despair it brings me back to the huge transformation of my life when I realised the obvious (that I was a lesbian) and the way this identity has increasingly been a blessing in my life. I haven’t had lovers but I don’t want to make a virtue of that or pretend that “celibacy” is the only or best option for queer folk. I will be honest there is nothing celibate about my mindset I just have not found someone I can share and celebrate this with in that way.

Ironically the “uncleanness” that I needed a coal set to, to burn away, was not my lesbian identity at all but my inability to see God’s grace and act of co-creation in who I was. My being PRAISES God in a way that my self-hate never did. As the psalm rejoices at God “you built up strength within me” oh yes she did and she has not finished. Through the grace of God and the grace of everyone I travel with I am getting STRONGER. I can depend on Wisdom within and outside of myself (in both places for balance). God has placed gentle hands on me, like a sort of spiritual chiropractor or masseur, repairing and working with what is there to bring out the best in me. As the psalm tells me I will not be abandoned, I am not yet my perfect being but God is still working on that with me.

Some of this may sound arrogant but it is as true for an ant or a blade of grass as it is for me. We are extremely significant and “special” but not more so than each other. We have the responsibility to respond authentically and to grow with God into the gentle movements of God’s healing hands on us. Someone smiled at me this week and God was absolutely in her smile and I saw my own goodness and beauty in this wonderful person’s face. Everything reminds me of that moment. I saw God in a person, who is objectively probably as flawed as me. But who wants to be objective when they see God?

I won’t spend long on the second reading (read it) but I feel it is paraphrasing the same thing I am trying to say. Paul (or someone) is finding his place in the community of transformation, he is trying to articulate the pride and joy of that without coming across as arrogant. He is working to show that God is behind all these feelings of belonging and hope, God’s beautiful face shines out at us in the communities that accept us (and sometimes one person).

In the gospel Jesus uses the identities of Simon and the sons of Zebedee as the places where they can encounter God. He makes following God about being a fisherman (just as Wisdom makes following God for me about motherhood, writing, being queer or caring). In a way there is a “leaving behind” that happens, after the encounter with Jesus the fishermen are transformed but they are “fishing for people” their vocation is still a continuation and celebration of the way they know themselves.

I have always found this reading terrifying and mysterious because there is no flesh-and-blood Jesus I can unambiguously follow down the coast and away…I have to always find my way and strain to hear an ambiguous call. Perhaps I underestimate the leap of faith (and questioning and at times depression) of the apostles, who are portrayed as just “knowing” Jesus, recognising him in a flash. Perhaps it was not so easy (it is not so easy for any of us except the sociopaths who end up doing untold harm). What is the “everything” that I have to leave? I cannot speak to people if I make myself too alien to them. I cannot set myself apart from the world I must live in for practical reasons (I need to feed and home myself or die) and for spiritual reasons (separateness leads to vanity and irrelevance). The question of faith is the same as the question of politics. How do we authentically be with others (a splintered individualist approach achieves nothing) but do not become “sell outs”? When do lines need to be drawn? Where is the most honest place to draw them? How do we leave everything and yet bring everything with us?

The fact that all my spiritual “insights” lead to unanswered questions is frustrating but simply means I am not dead yet. This week I am a person who was smiled at. I want to curl up in a little ball and do nothing ever again and simply save that moment to myself…that is not how it works. Within the full net is not solace forever but a call further. God provides for us so that we can grow to be the ones who bring it. The moment of grace is always that, always the moment of having to stretch ourselves and follow more deeply.

I can only try.

I can only try.

From the womb out to the universe: love

The lectionary this week is my friend, these readings are perfect for encouraging an activist and someone who would do good in the world, without allowing for smugness or self-righteousness. Given the church’s capacity for “I am right and you are damned” thinking, I will start with what these readings do NOT tell me. They do not tell me that I am right and everyone else is wrong or inferior. They do not tell me to go about judging individual “sin” and nitpicking others. They do not answer all questions, give us a blueprint for living or make it easier. They do reassure us, call to us, tell us our work is meaningful and needed and remind us to focus on WHAT MATTERS. I will get to what matters but spoiler alert, the second reading pretty much spells it out.

There is a popular quote that is often incorrectly attributed to Nelson Mandela, but I will start with that:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” (Marianne Williamson)

Williamson is brilliant, because she has made so many people sit up and take notice of this truth, but in a sense she is (intentionally or not) paraphrasing today’s first reading. The reading says the same thing, but puts it in a context of faith as relationship with God. God knows us full well. God knew us before we were born and is intimately familiar with both our capacity and our limitations. God loves and calls out of us the light that we are. God loves, soothes and forgives our brokenness and too tiredness.

God is asking us to have the courage to speak out against oppression- the oppressions of ourselves or others. God is asking us to take an ideological stand for the kindom of Heaven not for the economy of only money while children suffer and human beings work too hard for too little. Kin-dom, sometimes people tell me I spell that wrong, but I am making a choice to critique putting a human oppressive structure like “kingship” on our God of subversive love who preferences the poor. Charity then is reframed not as generosity given to the lesser “other” but as justice, giving people back what is rightfully theirs. We are KIN, we are family to God and therefore to each other. Everything we have was first of all God’s and as God has shared it with human-kind it is equally for all, not for one of us more than another.

Interesting also that as well as Kings and Princes (secular oppressive powers) we are also told we will have to stand against priests and people. I don’t see this reading asking us to unquestioningly follow or be inappropriately loyal to the clergy. We must demand from them what we demand from anyone in power- integrity, wisdom, humility and the dignity of those they claim to lead. Those below us are our kin and those above us are also our kin. Noone deserves less than me. Noone “deserves” more than me. We must give and demand full respect. There is no excuse for clergy abusing people or lording it over them.

The psalm is a call to God, because if we take out vocation to stand against injustice and oppression seriously then we have a daunting task before us. There will be a time when we feel unequal to the task. The psalm begs for God’s support and strength and hints that these are available to us. What if as well as calling on God we call on each other for solidarity and look for and support those in whom God’s call shines strongly? The womb is mentioned again, I notice this week’s readings really stressing our origin in a mother’s womb and God’s midwifely care for us to be born. Our material lives, our bodily realities (with messy female bodies involved in the creation of life) is known and blessed and companioned by God. I am menstruating as I write which makes my relationship with my own body difficult. But I came messily from my mother and my children came messily from me. The Word of God is in each of us and the power to declare God’s justice and salvation. These days I am not birthing children but words. It is also a difficult and messy process. God knows me before I speak and before my words are articulate. God is in the mentors that try to help me fix my words (whether or not they are “believers”).

If God companions us then God is also the companioning and mentorship that we bring to each other. Praise God in the messiness of human love and wisdom. Praise for the sacrament of community!

The second reading seems to agree with me. No amount of eloquence, dedication to a cause or force of charisma is worth anything if I lose the focus that God has set for all my meaningful labours. The focus is LOVE. Justice is for LOVE. Hope is for LOVE. Human relationships are for LOVE. Education of children is for LOVE. Politics ought to be for LOVE. Protecting the environment is work of LOVE. Love to the stranger and the refugee. Love to the queer kid and the dysmorphic teen. Love to the socially awkward, the disabled, the unemployed or the grieving. Love to the articulate, the successful, the polished too. Love to the prickly, love even to the hollow and love always back to myself. I am here to know my belovedness not guilt at what I have not (yet) achieved. I am beautiful for being created so, not as an attainment in a dazzling career of some sort. But I also don’t have to devalue my achievements, just refocus through them on love. All worthwhile aims are love and all that makes us fully actualised is love.

When it is hard to find a path then we must love more. When we are doing well then we must consciously refocus on love.

Love is that perfect and resilient thing that is expounded in this reading but please note that love is NOT a quiet doormat. Patient and kind yes but also ready to advocate for the beloved (and all are God’s beloved). All other things will ultimately fail us and leave us feeling empty but love will always triumph. Love will always call us back to the centre of being. Love is the safest place to invest our efforts and our identity and reap joy. When grief is real and joy is difficult, nevertheless the meaning of the universe lies within love. Love is unavoidable if our lives are to be meaningful and our personhood complete.

In the gospel, I “only a single mum”, “only a student”, only a this or only a that smile at Jesus being “only the son of a carpenter”. This past week I heard someone who I experience as a hero, a courageous and intelligent leader and thinker describe herself as “a girl from….” (a country town). Behind all the great prophets and teachers there is a very ordinary reality (like wombs again) of growing up somewhere with some ordinary folk and gaining extraordinariness through the call of God/love, through the fact that within every single one of us is the seed of liberation for ourselves and each other (Williamson again). I find Jesus’ words about some people being chosen and some not puzzling. I cannot believe that God plays favourites and this has not been my experience either.

It is the “widow” or the “leper” or the “carpenter’s son” that we must look to, to be fed and taught and called. It is the ordinary in us that gives rise to our vocation to work not only FOR God but WITH God in our world and beyond. And beyond, I say, not giving ourselves permission to neglect the realities of climate change and inequality here on earth, but hoping always radically hoping for greater meanings than we can yet know.

“So faith, hope and love remain, these three. But the greatest is love”. Our faith and our being hold such a truth at the heart because elsewhere we are reminded that “God is love”. Let us answer that call, let us be defined by always greater commitment to love.