Tag Archives: belief

Not finding it in the lectionary this week

Edit: When I wrote this I was unaware that this week is reconciliation week. I feel a bit ashamed that I was unaware but I think some of my points work for that occasion. At church we reflected of reconciliation week, the need to decolonise, the recent arrest of the Catholic archbishop of Adelaide for covering up child abuse, our desire to move away from any model of church that is a “boy’s club” (a man said this), and our tears and love for the people suffering the fall-out of these toxic cultures. I also reflected on the fact that in the week gone we celebrated Pansexual and Panromantic visibility day and that people whose love is outside the box (but respectful, equal and between consenting adults) show the dance of the Trinity in their being.

The idea of “chosenness” that comes through in the first two readings and the psalm this week seems cosy and comforting but it actually if we look closer deeply problematic.

I speak with the anger and bitterness of the outsider- chosen last at team sports, excluded from games and parties and a child, ganged-up on, teased, criticised, harassed, written on with pen and then punished by parents for being written on. I speak with the pain of the eldest child in a large and dysfunctional family- although my feelings of being replaced and passed over were not (I now as a parent myself realise) a completely accurate reflection of reality, the feelings were real. I speak as the child who couldn’t speak English, the teenager who wore hand-me-downs from old people, the young single mother in a primary school where everyone else seemed to be comfortably middle-class. I speak as someone who has suffered mental illness, mild alcoholism, chronic dysphoria around sexual identity.

The minute someone is the “chosen people” you are also creating outsiders, the excluded ones, the ones who do not measure up. I felt this only on a gut level as a child – something about the presumed “chosenness” of the people of God (and lets not blame the Jews this idea is just as rife in the so called “New Testament”) something there seemed a bit off, even when I was a pious little child who assumed my inability to grasp this idea as “fair” and my desire to feel empathy for the ones who were not “chosen” was something I had to try to repress or grow out of (I spent my childhood repressing many things and got quite good at it, not so much now).

I speak with the amusement of the queer, feminist, deconstructive, almost post-Christian (except God doesn’t quite let me slip away). I speak as the outsider who no longer tries to fit in and be “normal”. My hermeneutic of suspicion is triggered by this first reading where we are supposed to believe that no one else ever experienced God until it could be done in the proper patriarchally approved and religiously institutionalised way in the correct sort of fire. This is what the Christian missionaries believed, the ones who worked tirelessly to aid colonialism, at times putting a slightly more benign face of it with gifts of food and clothing but nevertheless destroying cultures and families in the name of this great and good and only Lord and his structure of “rightness”.

Because if we are right then the others are wrong. If we are chosen then the others are rejected. If we have the only and one truth then the others have nothing of value.

And so it begins.

The gospel on this occasion gives no relief. Jesus is the proper rubber-stamped figurehead of the new world-order they worship him repressing their doubts and he commissions them to go out and reach everyone with his marketing message. We can try to cosy up to this, try to read the commissioning as preaching a gospel of liberation and justice, because that fits our theology it fits who we know God is and who we experience Jesus as.

What/who we know experientially and sacramentality is all we really have.

But the church has not necessarily read it this way, when they have seen “make disciples of all the nations” that has fed a deficit view of nations that are not already Christian and an expansionistic mission. Many missionaries no doubt meant well and some were kinder than secular colonists (mind you these colonists also would have considered themselves “Christian”) but this expansionistic mission did huge harm to many people, including perhaps my own people in Latvija colonised by German “Lords” and including certainly Indigenous Australians taken over and used as slaves by the English.

All of this was considered a faithful reading of today’s gospel. All of this is the shame I feel if I admit to anyone that I am a “Christian”.

I am not finding life or Godde in these readings (though perhaps a wiser preacher at church will glean something). I wanted to reflect on the Trinity, on difference and loving “other” or “thou” within God. I want to reflect on the diving dance “peripatesis”, as I learned at theology college the movement of the Trinity is in and out and through and around each other. There is love and beauty, there is relationship and great complexity at the heart of God.

Let’s leave behind colonialist traditions after seeing them for what they are and realising we will be called to account as a culture. Let’s reflect on how we are invited into the peripatesis of the Trinity, the respectful and madly joyful dance of God, the eternal turning toward the other. We are the image of God and as such are called to turn to the image of God in thoughtful listening like Jesus in prayer, in admiring love like the creator at Jesus’ baptism, in nurturing care like the spirit who flows in and through Jesus to the world.

I was hoping that the feast of the Trinity would remind us that “Wisdom has built a house” and invites all to celebrate. There is room then not to colonise, but to meet on equal terms the “others” who are not “Christians” but may have met Wisdom in another place because she likes to get out there- she is no enclosed victim-lady. Wisdom of course, the pre-existing companion of God the Creator is the one embodied as Jesus in the “New Testament”.

But if the lectionary has let me down, then I will dance right out of it to all of scripture and to the ultimate aim in life to understand and heal others. And I will pray:

Father, Mother, Creator of all, Midwife of each life that comes into being. Teach us to know ourselves in your image and see each other in your image. Teach us reverence for all your creation, showing us how to nurture seeds and stones and polar ice caps better. Thank you for naughty kittens and waddling penguins. Thank you for the clever things humans say. Thank you for the richness of which we see only a part. Call us deeper into the connection and love at the heart of your creative work.

Jesus, Christ, Wisdom, Sophia, Son, Word, Mother-Hen, Vine, Way, Truth, Life. As Wisdom you have the eye for detail and for joy. As Jesus you showed unbelievable courage and commitment. You are the one who seeks to protect, heal, scold, reform, feed, teach, guide, send-out and suffer for us and for all creation. You feed us your body and blood, you call us to honour what we eat and to live. Death cannot claim you because your nature is to live always. You bring us transformative possibilities and radical hope but nor without hard work and possibility of suffering also. If the whole world would love you then we would find newness of life. We will seek you and we will find you if we seek with all our heart.

Holy Spirit, dove, flame, fire, love, flow. Giver of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, reverence and respect of God. Pour out your gifts to us. Show us the Creator and the Word in our lives. Help us to read the gospels in the right frame, receptive to your Wisdom and closed off to hatred and abuse. Inspire us with life, fire us with pregnant possibilities like Mary pregnant with the Christ. Remain with us when we are troubled or suffering or even in death. Bring us back to our vocation to love. Bring us back into your presence giver of life.

Trinity of God may I see the love poured out in you each to the others and may I live my life in divine dance, seeking to connect as you connect, seeking to unconditionally love as you love, seeking where the hope is and strengthening there. May my life find meaning, joy, love, peace in you.

Amen.

 

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Collecting our thoughts: opening prayer

 

The part they never seem to remember to do in the “opening prayer” (also called the collect in some churches) is the part where everyone prays silently for a while. What I didn’t realise as a child, is silent prayer is the part where noone can tell you what to pray, you do not have to conform to anyone else’s idea of God or priorities so there is a possibility to be very genuine and liberated in the silence (which is often not observed). I am irritated that the missal says “celebrant and people pray silently for a while” so that the celebrant is not “people” and there is a line drawn even when everyone is doing the same thing and could theoretically be on the same level.

Although the collect is not placed within the liturgy of the word in the missal, it always seemed part of it because it referenced the readings and because that was the point where I had to turn to the blue ribbon (readings of the week) instead of the red ribbon (order of service). When you turn to the mass of the day the collect is set out like this.

The celebrant says, “Let us pray” and then in the silence there is a bit in square brackets that tells you what to pray for. The irony here is of course that not everyone is a pious little eight year old who got a missal for their first holy communion so most people have no idea what is in the square brackets, so it controls the thoughts only of the priest and little girls like me…except little girls like me and perhaps some priests used to sometimes rebel against what they were told to pray…but then again I was too pious to do it on purpose usually (I am a bit disgusted at my former self).

So the prayer itself would be sort of a spoiler for the readings which I think is Ok in so far it tells us what readings are coming up (we all watch TV where ads serve roughly the same purpose and we are used to our attention being grabbed with teasers) but it is a bit of a pity actually that an official interpretation of what we are supposed to take out of our readings is put upon us before we even get the readings.

I like having the readings so close to the beginning of the service and even though I do choose a theme, hymns etc when I write a liturgy (I guess all that is also colonising how people hear the readings) I try to avoid giving them a commentary (as used to be done when I was a kid) either at the beginning of the service or just before the readings (as I suspect my community wouldn’t allow me to do in any case). But I say that about being told how to interpret and then I read the collects for this week (the second week of Easter) and they are actually worded to be reasonably broad. Apart from the kyriearchal way of addressing God we are pretty free to read whatever we want into the prayer that tells us this is all about our own “eternal life” journey within through the Jesus story. Then the gospel is all about Thomas and his suspicion that the resurrection was “fake news” (can you tell I was tempted to neglect the project I started and just do the readings this week?).

So anyway, I decided not to “do” the readings but perhaps I can try to write a collect. Not because there is all that much wrong with the official collects in the book, but because I just feel liturgy really should be “work of the people” and we should all always be struggling for meanings and articulations instead of just accepting what is handed down (the eternal line drawn between celebrant and people and the celebrant even only obeying the way he is told to celebrate).

So then, let us pray

[each seeking to see past the possible fake news to real hope in our world…but also each free to pray without anyone else’s command]

God of truth,

Was it because a woman brought the news that it was so hard for some to believe? Is it harder to believe what disreputable people tell us? What greenies, or lefties, or bleeding hearts say? What refugees, or Muslims, or queers wish is to remember about our shared humanity? Are we too frightened to listen to the scientists who tell us in their secular way to “repent” because we believe we have killed you and that God is forever dead in our history now?

Would it be easy to simply believe in everything and allow all truths to comfort us that God will make a kingdom of rescuing and all we need to do is sing “alleluia, alleluia” and remain blind? Is it also too easy to listen to the people who claim to have seen things with their own eyes and claim to “know” that people on welfare are rorting the system, and people on low wages are greedy and people with darker skin are a threat to our way of life? Is it easier to punish than to try to understand and to look for “strong values”?

How do we weave our honest fabric of human love between Thomas’ skepticism verging on despair and every truth that jumps out to reassure us that everything is ok and we can stay in our cocoon? Be alive to us. Touch us with the truth that still bears wounds, but also wants to eat with us and honour the human way of being. Show us how to resurrect the hope that commissions us to preach and heal and love the world.

Amen

Ok, I gave it my best shot. My collect is far too long and complicated and biased (just when I finished saying keeping it vague so people encounter the readings themselves is better). Also I think a collect is meant to be a statement of focus rather than a bunch of questions. I will leave it as part of my “learning journey” here but this is a rare occasion when I acknowledge that it might be best to go “back to the book” (with adustments to make language more inclusive of course).

Eleison

So I skipped over the “Kyrie” and did not even notice until I was trying to contextualize the “Gloria“. Part of the reason for that I suppose is the way I grew up seeing it as part of the penitential rite, because it is tacked onto the end of it and at times you don’t “have to” have the Kyrie if it is embedded in the way the rite is worded (with the “Lord have mercy..,.Christ have mercy” used as a refrain within the list of things we are sorry for. So then when viewed that way the “have mercy” sounds like a plea to not punish us…or not too much…like a plea for forgiveness or clemency out of a knowledge of sinfulness. Or at any rate that was how I read it as a child.

And then of course the Kyrie is inherently problematic to me as I try to avoid “kyriearchal” thought and language and a cringing relationship with God. But when I have worked with liturgy I have been able to change the words to “Sophia eleison, Christe eleison” (Wisdom have mercy, Christ have mercy) to dispense with the Kyriearchy.

But is “have mercy” problematical too? What are we really asking? Is it a cringing in our sinfulness and awareness of a basic dirty worthlessness? It has been used that way. Or is it a request to be “saved” or rescued, a sort of damsel-in-distress positioning toward God the shiny saviour? How do we ask for liberation but not for rescue? It seems to me to be a fine line.

Then I wonder if I need to be more actively involved in this idea of “mercy” and I think back to my time in schools, two schools in the “mercy” tradition and their motto “Loyal en tout”. Loyal in everything. But loyal how and to what or whom?

And we deconstructed ideas of “mercy” at school and talked about how individual acts of “mercy” were only a start but social action was also needed to get rid of injustice instead of always just seeking a bigger bandaid to put over the hurts of this world. So “Sophia inspire justice, Christ teach liberation” becomes the intent of my cry in my heart. How do we deconstruct the injustices inherent in the system and how do we come to shared understandings that are more just and inclusive (and then again more just and more inclusive and again…as humans always having to renegotiate, never having found the silver bullet against all social ills).

But then can we sit back and ask God the holy ATM to dispense us parcels of this mercy or inspiration? Or is the cry more complex?

“Sophia show me how to be more merciful to myself

Christ teach me to extend a respectful merciful hand to others

Sophia integrate me with the earth’s mercy in more reciprocal ways.”

I met an atheist today, who seems to do my instinct what I need God and faith to inspire and teach in me. I see a lot of ethical atheists who honestly I can see have little or no need of religion, they seem to have an instinct for goodness and justice and I wonder why I do not have that. Why do I need God to call and motivate me out of my basic meaninglessness and lack of “good” action. If I did not believe I would not follow, I would just eat, drink and try to enjoy my time on earth and not worry about injustices too big for me to handle on my own.

But other people have a more evolved humanity than me and seem to do so much good without “believing”. So then my cry from the heart is,

“God give me meaning

Wisdom teach me to instinctively live love

Love go more deep in me than my overthinking”

because my ethical framework is still so deeply rooted in an understanding of being loved and accepted and called by God who is “other” to me, I have not fully integrated my ethics in myself. I am not fully independent and I admiringly wonder at people who can spontaneously find that within.

But let’s say at the end of the day that I can let go of “believing” in an other consciousness that is bigger and better and more loving than me and just do what is right and just for no real reason, just as an expression of my true being. Would I do that? Would I make my “goodness” my own if it meant losing the sense of being loved externally? I think of the loneliness I felt as a child and a young woman, my inability to access the imperfect love of other people or to respond or initiate love (and still I really struggle to express affection and affirmation towards others). Maybe I would not chose to isolate myself from the one ongoing relationship that has allowed me to dance back to other people I had alienated at various times.

There is something of the romantic in me after all, I crave intimacy and the acceptance of an “other”. My gratefulness when anyone likes me, wants my company or sees my worth is grounded in my growing reliance that God always likes, wants and sees me. There are bigger reserves of “goodness” accessible to me than my own. Perhaps the “good” atheists are also wrapped in this GOD that they don’t have to see or articulate (I would not try to tell them so).

God’s love is more than “mercy” it is grace and gift and growth.

P.S. I woke up in the middle of the night, knowing I hadn’t completely got it right. Trying to reduce faith to a dyad (God and me) is an indication of my own attempt to deal with being single for so long but it’s inappropriate to put that on God and anthropomorphise God in the process. That is, maybe it is Ok to get through day to day in this way but as an insight it isn’t really the whole picture. I lay there and remembered that I was linked in with refugees, and people trying to survive on centrelink; with old flames and elderly relatives; with fundamentalists who fear for my soul and rainbow youth who crave acceptance. With a little kitten who needs his litterbox changed and with the spiders, slaters and millipedes my preschoolers are obsessed with finding. With hurricanes and stars and sudden changes in weather.

To ask God to respond with “mercy” authentically, to attempt to be caught up in the act of “mercy” is to want to transform it for all of us- not just for me. I felt the very real fear of the way society seems to be descending into more and more injustice as we begin to face the consequences of not looking after the environment.

And then “have mercy” , also “may we have mercy” was a more fear-filled cry at three in the morning. And still asking for grace and gift and growth, but quickly and for all of us and in the knowledge that I would have to try harder to get caught up actively in bringing these things to myself and others.

If I tried to make a creed “I”

I have been reading Why Weren’t We Told? by Rex A. E. Hunt and John W. H. Smith. I would have called myself a “progressive Christian” on days when I can stomach the Christian label at all prior to reading this, but some of the more dogmatic articles about “progressives believe this” and “progressives don’t believe that” chafe at me as much as the original orthodoxies of the church(es) did to begin with.

Why may I not believe in the Virgin birth sometimes on days when I need to reflect on the creative power and possibilities females may have untouched by males? Why may I not believe there is a life after death when I remember my darling mother and my brother, my first playmate? Faith/belief can be mystery and mystical. I guess it is a matter of epistemology (sorry I know people hate that long word) and I am not a naïve realist or a logical positivist.

There may well be scientific facts about what exists and doesn’t exist and how the universe exists and all of that. I accept that. I have no real quarrel with science. But I have a huge quarrel with the “that’s all there is” argument because ultimately there is a huge amount of unknowing linked to scientific facts and to the “real world” we inhabit. And that is not to say I have some sort of naïve belief in a santa-claus like God and a place in the sky and magical fairytales. But faith to me is a different way of knowing and being known. For me to say “I believe…” is more akin to saying “I trust you…” to the great relater. And yes I anthropomorphise God because I need to relate, I need to grapple with my loneliness and the potential meaninglessness at the heart of my life and my being. There is a huge and unending dark night of the soul and emptiness and my heart cries into it “Please exist, please love me” to the One.

And sometimes I hear a frightening lack of response and the stars whirl like cold orbs above me whispering “you are so small, so insignificant” and I cry and fall upon the earth and kiss it and want to know love. And that is the “real world” where my mother is dead and I will die too and the rich get richer and the poor suffer for ever and for always and we might as well try to be as comfortable as we can and climb on one another’s head because there is no inner meaning, all is futile we die and we are gone and nothing happens afterward.

And why would you want to know for sure that that was the case?

I can’t accept that. I need love to have meaning. It matters a lot if today I hold my son in my arms, or smile at a baby bird ot notice the colours of a rainbow. It matters if I want the refugees to be set free and I say so, and I learn a couple of words in Chinese to delight one of my four-year-old students and I fall in love with an intelligent woman and the taste of bitter-dark chocolate in my mouth keeps me awake while I read words of fire. It matters because God exists. Yes God. Someobody who loves me. And it is not contradicting or trivializing 100 other faiths and religions and spiritualities to say that my God is real and embraces me.

So for me “progressive” means justice. It means reason but not the cold, heartless fluorescent light of being so rational you don’t bother to hope in things anymore. Meaning is not always tangible things we have evidence for, or even can put into words. She dances and nine times out of ten I am too tired or stressed or sad or selfish to follow. So she turns and dances back to me again and again and she is real. And the tenth time I may take a tentative step in her dance.

I couldn’t do that if she wasn’t real. I couldn’t love. I wouldn’t really be alive.

So here is a creed I wrote that I could pray instead of a whole lot of archaic imperialistic and patriarchal nonsense (please note the book I mentioned above is good for cutting the ground out from under some of the oppressive nonsense)

I believe,

My beliefs change from day to day

but I am human

and I need to relate.

 

I listen for traces (in creation) of a loving God.

I invite that God to touch me,

to empower and empassion me,

to draw me toward deep unknowable Wisdom,

healing stillness,

Godly action.

 

I quiet myself to hear her voice

because of my need to know her love.

I bring my gifts, my questions,

my failures and desires all to her;

to try to make meaning with her.

 

I yearn for a scent of Wisdom

in all my comings and goings.

 

I read about Jesus, Wisdom embodied in humanity.

I reflect on his teachings,

his courageous commitment to the oppressed,

hope for the broken hearted,

world shaking, empire destroying social justice.

 

Jesus,

his courage, his death, his continued meaning-making

for millennia after death.

 

Perhaps after all I am not called

to belief

instead she calls me always to dare

to love.