Tag Archives: 2 Peter

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.

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It is good for us to be here

I wrote this reflection and gave it at my church. I used the lectionary readings, which slightly differed from the ones used in the service, but it worked OK. I feel very supported and inspired by my faith community, thank God for them!

Without taking more time than usual I want to do two readings of today’s gospel. The first way of reading it, is not one that I like but it is one that seems to be invited by the context of these first and second readings, and by the way we know our church is structured. I will as usual read through a feminist lens, although it may seem like safety goggles in this case.

Women do not appear in the gospel reading. Jesus, takes three men with him only and they go up a high mountain to have a secret “inner circle” experience that others are not yet allowed to know about. This earmarks them as leaders of the future community after his death. While there he gets the seal of approval from two dead men from the patriarchal tradition. Even the voice of God stresses masculinity, uniqueness and power “this is my beloved son”.

Peter behaves quite logically. Upon seeing Jesus with Moses and Elijah, he humbly puts himself at the service of the more powerful alpha-male and offers to build some sort of semi-permanent structure to preserve the power and glory of this moment. Why should there be struggle and weakness and dissent when we can have certainty? Why not establish a religion based on rules and answers and infallibility? “It is good for us to be here”, it is good to be the powerful and the privileged and the inner circle, rather than being rebels against the system- rather than risking social ostracism and hardship and crucifixion. Given that their ministry has already meant blistered feet and hungry stomachs as well as being dogged by crowds and not allowed to rest, I don’t completely blame Peter for wanting to consolidate the shining, certain moment.

A voice from the cloud interrupts Peter, the vision fades and Jesus tells them to tell no one just yet.

Rereading, I want to insert my own “what ifs” into the story. What if this story is somehow relevant to me, who am not male and am not a leader within the church? I need to put aside my childhood baggage of Peter the stern first Pope and forbidding gatekeeper of Heaven, and shake the hand of the Peter I actually encounter in the gospel stories, to see if he lets me into the story a little more readily. Peter in gospel stories is actually a lot like me. He frequently gets things wrong. He is well-meaning, passionate, impulsive, at times his courage fails him and his vision is always at least one step behind Jesus. But he is persistent, reflexive, ready to be wrong and to bounce back and throw his enthusiasm in again. He follows Jesus with all the eagerness of a teenage girl with a crush (I hope that doesn’t offend anyone). He wants to impress Jesus with his commitment, his readiness to bounce into action, his willingness to see and know new things. Like anyone who really wants to impress their hero this makes him at times quite inept.

I feel this Peter can bring me up the mountain, part of a larger group of believers- men? women? As Judith outlined last week in her reflection the point is not to pick a gender but we are all children of God.

Peter’s motivation for offering to make tents may still be suspect- he may crave an easy road without the cross at the end of it, but don’t we all? He may want to have certainty and to feel that connection to tradition and to God that we all only feel in fleeting moments. A softer reading of Peter may allow him to be worrying not for himself only but for Jesus. He has spent time on the road, watching a beloved person who is utterly committed to his vision of better ways of being. He has watched people demand miracle after miracle from Jesus, and Jesus wear himself out and make enemies of the religious and secular powers of the day.

If he can make tents for his heroes- Jesus, Moses, Elijah- he can keep them near to nurture them and keep them safe. Peter can probably see the cross beginning to loom over Jesus’ fiery words. I imagine he could feel about Jesus, the way I feel letting my adult children out into the world (not that I can stop them). They bite off more than I think they can chew and face hurts and disappointments I wish I could cocoon them from.

Sadly for Peter, whether he wants the power of being an insider of an exclusive club or whether he wants to keep himself or his friend safe the moment fades. As the second reading reminds us, this isn’t some cleverly devised myth of “happily ever after”.

We also have this experience of life. There are bright, shining moments when we feel uniquely connected in with deeper realities and with the meaning of life itself. These moments may come in church, or through prayer, they may come in relationships or through experiencing the beauty of nature or art. Sometimes they come through our talents, when we feel really good about something we are doing or expressing or through having our work recognised by someone, especially someone we admire.

Those moments are fading and elusive, while every-day routines of paying bills and washing dishes take over. Nevertheless, the fading is not total. The memory of these moments infuses life to allow faith. We carry in our lives traces of meaning, the passion of knowing “it is good for us to be here”. We are reminded of that momentary joy in little things, in a beloved-one’s smile or words, in the flick of a dolphin’s tail, in the evocative soar of a piece of music, in the scent of the earth on our hands when weeding, in the taste of food shared, in the knowledge that today we have given something to God, achieved something for God, chosen the path of love and justice for God, noticed beauty that is God. Even in the greyest and most ordinary of moments there is always something of this, some echo of transfiguration.

I have spoken as if we are Peter, but through the sacraments we are invited also into being Jesus. Through our Eucharist, and through more mundane meals made from the miracle of earth and shared in love we take in mystery. The glory of Christ-Sophia cannot be preserved in a tent or a museum, as a reassurance to “us” or a sign to “them” that we are right. Instead it spills over in our opportunities to love our neighbour, and to walk gently and lovingly upon the earth itself.

We too are the beloved children of God. Let us know that God is well-pleased with our capacity to fulfil that identity. Let us sit with that a short while and then listen to each other.