Tag Archives: Call

Inadequacy?

Dearest Wisdom,
Dutifully, I sat with this week’s readings every day. I thought about prophets- good and bad and my assumption (presumption) that I speak for you. I thought about being humble and reminding people to be suspicious of my words. I thought about how even if well meant, that was a sickly performance of humility that would come across as ironic.
I thought about talking about “fake news” in our world and also critiquing the church but I realised I was performing contortionism to make that what the readings were about. I have come to Saturday afternoon on a hot and busy weekend and I have nothing but my admission.
I don’t get along with these readings and the way they are juxtaposed and I didn’t really find you in them, no not at all!
Power, authority….seems typical of the church to go on and on about those things in a top-down way while meanwhile real ordinary people are suffering disillusionment and lack of representation and lack of material things (eg food, safety) and a rapidly dying environment.
If I have encountered you (true Word) in words this week, then perhaps it was in the words of Naomi Klein and Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Or was it that I encountered you in doors being openedin the sweet juiciness of mango- slightly tart about the seed, in sister’s returning from far away, in a meal shared with a former lover and his new partner, in the affirmations of people at work, in children taking my hand begging for a story, in dispossessed peoples telling us again that enough is enough and we should not be celebrating their dispossession.
Was it you I felt in the touch of an over-hot sun and in the cool breeze that blew through it, in the trickle of the creek and the fragrance of lemon myrtle in my refrigerated water? Were you in the purr of the naughtiest of kittens or in the voice of a son telling me he had no need of my mothering (shades of Cana as I asked others to listen to him and stepped back). But if it’s bread you were in then it was in fried potatoes because I ran out of bread this week and was too busy and hot to go to the shop after work. If it’s wine then it is white wine spritzers with ice in them- something I never thought I would try.
You were in the small self-denial of refusing to turn on the air-conditioner, and in the caring colleague who came out to swap because I had been outside too long. You were in the famous writer who offered me her support and affirmation and in the refugee I was pow.erless to offer real help to You were in the 5am rising and the midnight going to rest, in the memories of having been in love and in the stabbing pain whenever I move my knee.
As usual I have used many words to try to reach you, only Word. But you have been in life more than in structures. You have brought life and meaning into each day. My readers may fail to find you in my words, but will have their own bodies and moments and meanings to seek you out in and in the end a prophet (true or false) is not so significant after all. You made us to know you not to follow each other. You made us to touch truth for ourselves not to obey authority (or not blindly).
You made us to dance and sing.
You made us to love better than this.
You made us to be loved more fully than we have known yet.

You made us for love.

For love.

Love.

Teach me to love them- the ones who bring me joyous gifts and the ones who bring me challenge. Teach me to seek out the ones who are hurting. Open my eyes and ears and heart to know I am beginning from the place of love.

From being loved.

Loved by you.

Dearest Wisdom, I leave this week’s readings to someone more wise or more obedient.

In love (however flawed).

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Embodying “temple”

The readings this week are about being called. Samuel greatly admires his teacher, but outgrows his teacher and finds his own vocation. Eli here is wise enough to know his own limitation and to point Samuel to a direct communion with God, putting himself out of the loop when it is time. So it is with all mentors or teachers and students, the time comes when the learner needs to stand on their own feet and decide for themselves. But there is an inner voice of integrity, a call to be greater than just self-interest and ego. Another way of saying this is that our potential is grounded in the will and wor[l]d of God.

The second reading contains that old saying that many of us grew up with, that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. This teaching was often misused to make girls in particular feel fearful of their own sexuality and guilty of any sort of sensuousness. That interpretation however is not really borne out by the text itself. A temple is not a delicate and fragile thing, so prone to desecration- it is something that has integrity. If my body is a temple to the one true and beautiful God, then my body has integrity. If my body, in its bodiliness was sanctified then my body’s abilities and desires also can point to Christ/Wisdom. This is not to say that selfishness and overfocusing on the body itself, or giving into every impulse is desirable. People can work into a beautiful church and feel no sense of the sacred. They can admire the fine architecture and art. They can enjoy the singing of the perfect choir or find serenity in the colourful, scented flowers and incense and warm amber light through stained glass and yet never think that there is more here than pleasure and momentary peace.

In the same way we can live in our bodies in a way that focusses us on narcissism, lust, gluttony and all the rest of it and never touch Godde in ourselves or others.

But how unhappy to try to correct this possibility by smashing stained glass, banning choirs, throwing out art or defacing architecture, banishing incense and flowers and denuding the altar an sanctuary of anything that is beautiful or that adds pleasure to the experience of the sacred. Granted we strip the church (partially) for Good Friday, but this is an expression of our loss and grief and solidarity with Godde’s loss and grief in this time- it is not the ordinary way we approach Godde through a rejection of all the good things of the earth.

Why does communion flatbread have to taste of cardboard? I like that Anglican churches tend to have a good quality port as communion wine. God is in pleasure of the senses as much as in the strength of being able to face deprivation.

My body in its beauty and capability is a place where I or others can encounter Godde. I was deeply aware of this, this week as I returned to work at the childcare centre and had children clamouring for a cuddle and a story and I told them that my arms were long enough to cuddle more than one friend at a time (this was necessary). Then they measured their arms too by how many friends they could reach and we laughed together at the joy of being human with long arms that long to embrace. We told stories, the older children who are on the threshold of leaving for school have listened to my stories and asked me to stop and listen to theirs for a change. In church we do story-telling, and it is called the liturgy of the Word. In church we touch with affection and claim ourselves as part of the “otherness” of God no less than the other (each other in the sign of peace and penitential rite and Godde herself in the Eucharist). I am sure other professions too can find parallels with worship (nursing comes to mind, but even politics has something).

In the gospel Jesus is being cosy and friendly and giving nicknames. To be friends with Jesus is to go out of our way and to get to know him, this includes going to visit him in the elsewhere mentioned “least of my siblings”. To be part of Jesus’ group is to be changed, to gain a new and more difficult identity to learn to be a “rock”- strong and dependable in the tides of life. I think I have mentioned before how much I relate to the flawedness and well-meaning bumblings of Peter- his impulsivity and excess of emotion. Jesus in the readings calls Samuel and Peter but he calls each of us- the female body is a temple no less than the male and the Holy Spirit dwells in the specificity and even the limits of beautiful human architecture.

I am a temple

I am a rock

I am a reassuring touchstone for those

who need to come to God’s presence.

 

I can embody liturgy

I can embody prayer and praise

I can bring a moment of sanctity

of challenge and reassurance to the days

of God’s beloved

 

You are temple,

You are rock

You are there to show me something

bigger than myself

 

You embody Godde

You channel Wisdom

You are a lovely work of art

depicting her beauty

 

They are temple

They are rock

They are something firm and sacred

that we much treasure and preserve

 

They embody our call

They embody our sacrament

They call us to the altar

of the one we yearn for

 

…they are part of “we”…

 

We are temple

We are rock

We are stones together building

something bigger than just “I”

 

When you’re Samuel

I am Eli

getting ready to allow you

to hear more than I can tell you

to be yourself and speak with God.

The vision still has its time

Ok I guess I am addicted/afflicted/called to this because I am missing it horrifically and need to come back to it. Every week at church I get strong words echoing through my mind about what I could have or should have said in the analysis I did not do, and actually i do waste a lot of time feeling helpless and not getting anywhere on the job seeking or the academic writing so I may as well continue to do my blog because at least that is something, even if it is not everything.
And today at feminist theology group I heard from braver more persistent women than me who have been silenced, mocked and reproved by the church for decades now and yet live to give life and wisdom to others. This made me realise that small as my voice may be I mustn’t let it be silenced, even by my own weakness.
So I google the lectionary and as soon as I see the first reading I think, I have made the right decision because it expresses my mood perfectly. I am puzzled as to why the bishops in their dubious wisdom chose to leave out verse 4 because I think it really well sums up the modern world, the refugee “crisis” and the attempts to prevent gay families from simply living and being.
And then God’s answer is actually sort of reassuring (if only we can believe this is God speaking and not just God’s publicity team via the bible):
” the vision still has its time,
presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint;
if it delays, wait for it,
it will surely come, it will not be late.”
“The vision” for me is of finding meaning in life, of finding my own dignity as the person I am and a place and way to help others be themselves in their own dignity too. The vision is the chance to really teach, not just hold a place for others and of being published. The vision is also bigger than me of course, the reign of God bringing justice and joy everywhere and including all creation in radical liberation. Eco-feminism and then some. And I would like to think that my own lack of energy and ability notwithstanding the vision is still pressing forward. Older people than me began it in my lifetime and before then there were foundations laid even further back. I do not have to finish it either.
“The just one because of her faith shall live” reminds me to be just, not to “sell out” to any of the seemingly easier paths. Of course this is easily talked about and more difficult to live out in every day decisions and courage. But the call is there. Let’s go to the psalm.
If today you hear Her voice harden not your hearts. Am I hearing the voice of God in my world? Who do I harden my heart to, because that may be a clue to where the voice of God is for me. Am I hardened against those who are suffering? Those who call me to put to one side my privilege and relate more authentically? Those who wish to give me the good news that I am loved and lovable? Those whose vision is greater than mine or those who lag behind in their fear? Where is the voice of Wisdom in my day?
The verses speak of joy, praise and thanksgiving; then of acknowledgement of God and of our belonging to God’s reign and community (I am deliberately overlooking the kyriearchal framing here); “oh that today we would listen” weeps the final verse, showing us the history of the “fathers” whose faith failed and who sought to control not receive God. How do we set ourselves apart from the failure in faith of our father and the reluctance to justice that they bequeathed to us too? What transformation is needed so that we would accept God’s offer and take her hand and walk to the somewhere of liberation and love?
The second reading reminds us that, that flame of God is already within us waiting to be stirred into life. I don’t agree that we have it from the imposition of hands of some patriarch, but we have it even before that (my capable child philosophy) through the womb walls that were our first ever touch and the midwifely hands that caught us and in a sense confirmed life. And yes then the patriarchal church has to make a ritual of the obvious that God is already in our everyday we are seeded with the flame, better we are small anam cara, twin flames of God herself (though imperfectly nurtured by our fears and our situation).
God is waiting for us to be true to our spirit of power and love and self-control not our spirit of privileged first-world and patriarchal cowardice. Our true nature is the flame, not the dying of light…and here I weep at myself and my inadequacy, even job seeking is too hard for me let alone the real work of salvation. And I scream to God a yearning need of help, tinder to keep the tiny flame alive, for God to stand between me and the winds of the world to keep the flame safe until it can grow to something. And that i suppose is one of the reasons why church communities are needed. None of us alone can keep the flame bright in such darkness of our own limits.
Paul (or whoever is claiming Paul’s identity to stir us) here offers us the solidarity. Yes there is hardship in the journey but so it has been for all the great ones of the faith. For Paul. For our flawed and silence mothers, our flawed and privileged fathers. Paul offers for this, not an easy answer but a reminder of “the strength that comes form God” and the “Holy Spirit” within, helping.
Reading this I think of a small child I saw yesterday, a two year old with “global delay” and yet so determined to communicate, so determined to walk. She held my hands tightly and refused to let go and walked many steps that looked painful, leaning heavily and almost falling and then smiled at me and said what I think must have been “Thank you” repeating it many times and only smiling when I finally realised what she meant and said “you’re welcome”. That flame to walk and talk, I need to kindle it within myself as a globally delayed child of God. I need to follow God around with the same determination and the same grasp and the same grateful persistence.
In the gospel Jesus is using hyperbole to remind us that faith is powerful and transformative. Reading his metaphor from the perspective of earth however jars. Should my faith be like a mustard seed (a weed) and should it uproot a fruitful mulberry tree into the sea? I’ve always been taught to try to rehabilitate this metaphor but as an eco-feminist I have to make a face and admit that it jars!
And then being told to simply consider myself a servant before God, I am too marxist and critical to be prepared to do that. I don’t see that there is an “obligation” to do God’s work, I appreciate that there is no great riches and status in it, but we are not just “servants” we are also members of families and communities and may be tired and hungry and expect to be paid fairly for our labour. Servants in a kyriearchy, wives in a patriarchy- I don;t see a need to accept being ordered around by some privileged individual even if that privileged individual were the almighty God. Jesus here is referred to as “the Lord” is that a clue of the caution needed with this gospel? I am not sure how to make sense of it, after such good readings this gospel seems kind of anti-climactic and less than useful. I will look forward to seeing how my church community makes sense of it (or perhaps remain uneasy).
But this is a week of St Vincent de Paul’s day (think of the poor) and of St Therese of the child Jesus (one of the very few female doctors of the church, think of women’s ministry and teaching) and I will seek to use my faith to make progress toward better life, not in the vanity of my admitted desire for security and success, but remembering that God’s vision of transformation serves all our interests as flames of that flame.
My heart sings to attempt this wrestling match again. Alleluia.

God is everywhere, even in the church

It is difficult for me to find a path into this week’s readings. They seem patriarchal and colonising (God will give other countries as hostages to ransom you chosen privileged ones) and alienating. I can see the modern-day fundamentalists standing and cheering at this week’s images of powers that seem almost magical, charismatic male leaders and the chosenness and power of baptism. Because the readings can and have been read like this, it is very important to come back with a more liberative reading of a tradition we dare not ignore.

I myself was brought up with the idea of baptism as sacred but I remember my son at age five asking me what God’s attitude was to one of his friends who wasn’t bapitsed. I didn’t know what to say, but I couldn’t imagine that god throws out the unbaptised like rubbish, nor that we should desperately pray that they can be “saved” by a priest throwing water on them. I floundered.

“God is everywhere”, I told my son, “Every shower of rain is a baptism if you love the earth and love all people, every swim with friends is baptism, every bath or shower. We don’t know at which point a person goes under the water and comes out into God but it isn’t just for church people, God loves everyone.” It must be obvious where the flaws in my oversimplified answer are and I don’t offer it as an adult understanding of baptism, but simply a starting point. How do we take the recent epiphany on board as we return into more formalistic, ritualistic ideas of church? How do we broaden and deepen ideas of “church” and “sacrament” to be as large as the all catching, all nurturing grace of the real God (as opposed to some stiff church icon).

John in the gospel today is speaking with much better humility than the priests and leaders of our church usually manage. He offers a baptism in water, a symbol of repentance and a door into a greater and more mysterious reality. But John knows that he is not the Messiah and that his ritual of baptism is not the real or only baptism. John’s celebration of what we have later come to understand as “sacrament” is merely an entry point into something deeper and uncontrolled by him. He is not a gatekeeper for Christ who may also act on his own behalf.

Jesus also comes into the scene with humility. If we wish to find in here an individualistic and wholly independent model of faith we can be disappointed. Noone more so that Jesus could see beyong the limits of the church or could criticise the flaws of the church. And yet Jesus does not reject John’s baptism. Jesus finds within church, within his connections and following of imperfect people and their imperfect rituals a place of encounter with God and here God acts to seal and proclaim Jesus’ unique ministry. Maybe here is part of the answer why I so strongly feel called and tricked back into the church by a compassionate yet persistently nagging God. When we allow ourselves the pride of “giving up” on the church what good do we really achieve? Do we run off and start a dazzling ministry of our own? Generally no, in my atheist and anti-church phases I have turned to hedonism and escapism and individualism. Imperfect though our families are we cling to them in a difficult mixture of love, loyalty, duty and exasperation. The church also is one such family and we are called to transform it through struggle not to drop out and disengage.

Having said that, I feel that I have done the right thing by finding the most resisting and least oppressive pocket of the church that I can and hiding within that. Within the mainstream church I am supposed to act as if I have no vocation beyond the capacity to bear children (and not even that since my marriage ended)…the mainstream church is like a bushel placed over the light of many woman, to stop their vocation shining for the world. I regularly watch how one of my friends whose call is apparent to anyone comes up against the repressive and hurtfully silencing might of the church and I feel no envy for someone still battling that after all these years.

I would rather lurk on the margins and minister to people like me who are also marginal and somewhat bitter. I am at the point where it is easier for me to see sacrament in a three year old passing me a bowl of rice than in any ritual involving an ordained “father”. This Sunday is a challenge to people like me poised on the margins of the church like stray cats ready to fell back into the shadows beyond the margins. It is also a challenge to the church not to take the easy path of seeing this week’s readings as rubber-stamping the privilege and authority of the church elites but to be like John and avoid that narcissm and humbly refrain from even claiming to undo the strap of the sandal of the real reality.

The Christian life done properly is ALWAYS ministry. Will we ever see a church that looks at the priesthood of every single believer and says: “you are my daughter, my beloved; in you I am well pleased.” God asks us to accept and affirm them all, “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

Wisdom is at the end of her tether

If my tongue is like a rudder and far from flawless in its steering (and I accept that) then the voice of the bible too pulls us this way and that, not always moving in a God oriented direction partly because it was designed to compensate for social currents that have changed but also because created by people as flawed as ourselves in a flawed time and a flawed society it is in itself the flawed instrument. The miracle is that God’s magnetic pull is somehow strong enough so that even with our flawed instruments and flawed selves we somehow can orient and correct and recorrect and attempt to return to the place where the buried treasure is.

My tongue is capable of great evil, I may well be inept in speaking God’s good news, but lately she has let me feel that she can speak through me in a range of ways to a range of people. Imperfect, flawed but not useless. In the same way the bible always attempts to respond to the pull of God. As I travel toward God, the boat I am sitting in is my place in society a whole lot of social expectations and created needs and desires and subjectivities that can obscure the Way. My boat is patched together with bad habits, assumptions, unhelpful thoughts, self-loathing, apathy and escapism. God’s siren call comes to strike terror in my heart and capsize me and that is my only salvation from drifting past the true centre where the treasure eternally is.

I had drifted into the doldrums of an apathetic half-life but again I feel irresistibly attracted to an unsettling God. When I breathe in this reality I feel truly alive.

Meanwhile Wisdom has her nagging voice on. Last time we heard her she was seducing with wine- sending out her maid-servants to invite but I guess by now she has realised (as the refugees are also forced to realise) that we are slow and unresponsive, selfish and stubborn. Now she is threatening to laugh at us when it all comes unpicked and I can’t blame her. But I don’t want to be one of the fools who cannot find her- I don’t want to be left alone without her. How do I convert sufficiently to her Way not to lose her? How do I offer more than the reconciliation that is part of the cycle of abuse, but genuinely listen to what she asks and change my life?

I do not yet feel beyond the pale, at least I desire to respond to Wisdom. Will that be enough?

But I look to Jesus and he tells me about Wisdom’s way in an unjust world and the radical commitment to Jesus, to Wisdom is a commitment to be a threat to society. It comes not just with risk but for a true follower of Jesus there is, or will be a cross. Is my faith enough for this? I am reading Dancing with God by Karen Baker-Fletcher and she talks about God transforming the world back to good constantly and calling us forever to turn aside from evil. But she is quite realistic about evil, when she portrays lynchings of black people and similar hate-crimes. It’s naïve in a time like this (perhaps in any time) to practice a feel good Valium of a faith and ignore the hard path to Calvary that is built into the liberative preaching of Jesus.

The way of the cross.

If you don’t like what I am saying, I don’t blame you. I don’t much like it either. But imagine if the crowd at the crucifixion had been lovers of Wisdom, not cowardly Christians like ourselves? Imagine if they had spoken out, if they had all put aside fear of the oppressive regime for a minute and together DEMANDED that Jesus and his two friends not be crucified. For the lone activist Christian the end might be crucifixion, but what of the courageous community? Can we grow a Christ that is bigger than one of us? I am not trivialising resurrection, at least I don’t think I am but like Baker-Fletcher I think Jesus died to say “enough with the crosses, love one another with a radical and courageous love”.

I am scared of my call some days, because I know it is something bigger than me and will never lead to comfort and ease but will swallow me up. But not to follow it is another sort of death, it is to force myself little by little to exist a little less. We do that so easily in the first world, we sit in our “sty of contentment” and we forget the next part, “meaning death”.

And Wisdom may be out on the streets, haranguing me and threatening to leave me but at least she has not yet given up on me. What would it profit me to gain the whole world, and lose her who authentically is my life?