Tag Archives: compassion

Nothing is going to get better…without your work.

I find the way sinfulness and repentance is portrayed in the readings today problematic. Here I go again arguing with centuries of tradition, but it seems offensive to have to appease and angry and tantruming Lord, to consider ourselves condemned unless we humiliate ourselves- that seems to go against the idea of a loving God that wants us to thrive and grow.

But if I assume that a loving God wants us to thrive and grow, what am I left with of these readings?

  1. It’s not too late to repent. In terms of the extreme sins of society that we are entangled in. In terms of our personal investment in those sins (lifestyles reliant of environmental degradations, disgusting inequalities, consumerism, cowardice, addictions). In terms of the lack of hope in humanity’s future if we don’t repent quickly the readings have a few things to say.

“Even now…return to me with your whole heart…” Don’t just despair that it ought to have been done a decade ago, get busy saving the earth now. “Let your hearts be broken…” repentance is an emotionally honest process, not a performative one. The second reading tells us that “now is an acceptable time…a day of salvation”. The time we need to be doing any work of repentance is NOW. Not despair over a past when we “should have”, not wishy-washy trust in a nebulous future but the hard yards need to happen “now” (there is a promise that we will feel joy).

  1. This is urgent. The business of fixing the values that we live by as individuals and demanding better from our society is urgent- more urgent than getting married, or other cosy lifecycle practices of human beings. At the same time I realise that this reading was written many centuries ago for quite a different time, so the universal call to leave family and celebration and make a serious and urgent event of repentance comes around again and again and again. Hence we have lent. It’s exhausting to live in a serious-minded lent frame of mind for long, so we can’t blame ourselves for needing other parts of the liturgical year, however lent has a sense of urgency- we need to change how we relate to ourselves, each other and the world, therefore improving our relationship with God.

 

  1. This needs to be real. Performative holiness, looking like the person who prays more and fasts more and does more for the church or good cause does not fool God. God wants a deep commitment, that other people don’t even always need to be aware of. Having said that, recently a young man confided in me that because he has not got any children he uses a truly staggering part of his salary each week (which he works hard for) to support a cause he believes in. I did not feel he was telling me this to make me approve of him or admire him (though it did have a positive effect on my opinion of him), he was telling me as part of his need to share his journey and his fierce hopes and looming despair. I felt inspired and connected by him trusting me enough to tell me- so I don’t think giving ALWAYS needs to be a secret. It can be a model, and inspiration for others we may have all sorts of good reasons to let people see our light. It is just that the gospel is picking up the theme of the first reading.

 

The point of generosity and goodness is not to appear holy or admirable, it is to make an actual difference within ourselves and the world. Reading smug parenting blogs with a passive-aggressive judgemental tone has taught me to look for my motivation in sharing something I am good or successful at. Am I really trying to be “good news” when I talk about something I think I have got right? Sometimes the answer is “yes”, and I truly appreciate the young man’s confession of how generous he is. Other times all I am doing is trying to look better than others or shame them. God is not impressed.

Ove the years I have seen some unhealthy tendencies in my own relationship with God. One is dependence, this is the one that is often encouraged in some churches- where God’s role in the relationship is to know everything and order everything and fix everything for me from my economic woes to my mental health. This is a seductive idea because it takes the responsibility to act and grow away from me, I am simply a victim of the divine and need to trust more or surrender more to be fixed.

In my experience, no matter how hard people pray and believe they don’t always magically get what they need. Then people will try to tell you it must be “God’s will” that you suffer. I reject that idea also. What is the good of life if God plays creepy, psychotic mind-games with us to “test” us or something? Theologies like that give rise to unhealthy power-structures and all sorts of abuses.

So my final point about repentance, and it springs out from these readings is that it is an active verb. We repent, change our ways, “turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel”. We take radical responsibility for ourselves, including the responsibility to separate what is “sin” and what is “me” and not confuse the two. I can turn away from sin but I cannot turn away from myself (and in fact self-hate of various sorts has been a consistent and toxic sin that I have had to battle for many years). A measure of self-compassion needs to blend with our repentance, like that drop of water that brings out the flavours of a good whisky.

Repentance is not about holding myself to a higher and higher impossible standard, forbidding myself human weakness and moments of being trivial. But it is about trying to move away from “victim narratives” where the world is too awful to be born, or escapist and addictive behaviours and overfocus on the wrong things. God is calling us “now” to a fuller, deeper, richer, more meaningful life. We must care for ourselves AND others. This is not a chore but a fulfilment of our true nature in God. Look deep inside and allow yourself to care. Feel compassion for the child you were, the adult you have been, the adult you are currently and all the great and flawed things you will be tomorrow. You have been hurt. You have been harmed,

Then compassion needs to flow outwards as well. Who is suffering more than you? This is not to belittle the validity of your pain and scream of anguish, but simply to find solidarity and compassion for them, your God-given vocation. What do we all need for the best possible future? How do we look beyond our own private good to a “kindom of God” approach to life?

Rest up and heal if you need to but also stand up for things and give generously to others. Demand a world that does not crush your light (my light, your light are connected to every other light that God has put into creation). I won’t give words for a prayer today, it is too easy to hide behind words. I will look for my awareness of where my potential is to turn more fully to be facing God in the dance of life. I will look at where my understanding and compassion are needed. I will forgive myself for not being better, but I will do it with a joyful spark of knowledge that the “not better” is only a “not yet”.

I will work for the things that matter, giving up escapism (in my case dumb computer games) for the duration of lent and stop avoiding the deep reflective time that is needed for my growth. I will light a candle and contemplate without words (or try to).

 

 

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not” (Dr Seuss, The Lorax)

Advertisements

Lip service or life? Called to courageous loving

Preached today to my wonderful community that give me all the support and love and really are a family in faith to me…

As I prayed and reflected on today’s readings, it was very hard for me to separate out the escalating feelings of fear, grief and hurt I have felt over the last week from some of the homophobic comments and lies that are circulating at the moment. As a queer woman, some people would say that I am “going to hell” or am locked out of God’s community, yet I experience God as knowing me better than I know myself and loving me deeply- allowing for my slowness to learn how best to live and encouraging my good intention. I have tried to resist the temptation to make my journey with this week’s readings nothing more than an expression of the pain I feel in this time. Yet I will name the pain because it is there. And then I will try to move on…

The first reading is the last part of a longer discussion about the way that each person owns their own conscience. Within it, a person is not judged by their family, culture or community nor by how others around them choose to live but insofar as they themselves respond to God and do what is right their path will be always into life. This is both a liberating and a troubling concept in our historical context, where we are increasingly facing the reality of climate change that will take more than the actions of a handful of well-meaning individuals to reverse.

And yet this is the reality we live in, things are happening around us that we have limited control to halt or change and we must somehow keep finding hope and meaning. Perhaps what we can find here is an antidote to the sorts of thinking that see decreasing compassion and rising inequality as inevitable. God does not desire our death, the call is always into life. We must embrace hope so that seeing the fallenness, imperfection or powerlessness of ourselves or those around us we must look for the potential for liberation and healing.

In the psalm we cry out to God to be compassionate and to teach us, this echoes both the awareness that things may be wrong and the determination to hope of the first reading. In the verses, God’s nature is revealed to be goodness and kindness, love and compassion. We can and must depend upon that whatever else we are emboldened to do.

The second reading is a sort of counterpoint to the first. Just as in the first reading, each of us was asked to think for ourselves, and to do good even if we are surrounded by wrong-doing, the second reading calls us to be community, to seek harmony and connection with others and to work for the good of others, not just selfishness. Hope then, is no longer a lonely place and we do not stand and judge from a moral high-ground but seek to know and serve whatever is vulnerable in each other.

Thus we come to the gospel, and the difference between giving lip-service to faith and living it. The first son is foolish and rebellious, he does not like to be told. I relate to him a lot and I see my own children in him too. And yet, once he has given his tokenistic resistance to the authority of his “father” he realises that the vineyard is something he is involved in and responsible for and he quietly gets in and works for the harvest. The second son is all performative obedience and moral superiority but when it comes down to it does not contribute to getting the harvest in.

This is a theology that Jesus points out even the religiously impure ones, even the tax collectors and prostitutes, instinctively understand. So what of us? Are we brave and honest enough to argue with the “father” when we do not feel as committed or engaged as we are told we ought to be? Would we dare to refuse to do what we are told…and then give ourselves the chance to rethink what we are really being asked to do, and what our role may be in the vineyard of God.

Or would we opt to look “respectable”, to follow from as great a distance as possible, paying lip-service but avoiding getting our hands dirty? Do we only go along with the call to love and accept the vulnerable so far as they don’t challenge or disgust us? Is there a limit to our ability to transmit God’s grace, or is it simply that we are busy and there are higher priorities than loving? But the first son’s apparently sullen attitude masks a deep love. Sometimes things may be better than they seem at first sight.

All three of the readings seem very sure in telling us that we need to risk being authentic before God. God’s desire is to always keep the option open for us to return and return and return into the heart of the community, into the work of the harvest, into life.

If we are called today, then what is our direction? Let us become aware of God’s love and allow ourselves to be authentic before it. Let us reflect on the readings for a short time and then as is our custom you might share your thoughts with the people sitting near you.

The law? Integrity, liberation and who we really are.

I shred this reflection at church today based on these readings. It may have been too long but it represents about to weeks of agonisingly trying to reduce my complicated thoughts on this to a manageable size (and then trust others to fill in the blanks as well or better than I could).

 

What does it mean that the Spirit scrutinises even the depths of God?

 

I came to these readings with a feeling of suspicion toward their legalistic tone: long gone are the days when I could view any text as innocent. Everything that is written serves someone’s interests. I’ll leave aside the question of whose interests scripture might serve as that is a big question and one we probably wouldn’t all agree on, but the lectionary also is a text- the juxtaposition of particular readings is not inevitable and has helped to build the histories of interpretation that we are born and brought up in.

 

Ideas of law seem to me to be linked with power and I have not always experienced these positively from the church. People can find themselves outside the church for such trivial reasons. My great aunt could never receive communion again because she married for a second time while her first husband (taken away by an invading army years before) was never proven dead. As a child I learned that all the divorcees and gay and lesbian people in perfectly stable and functional relationships were considered to be in sin (and the outrage of some gossiping Christians that people “like that” come to church). We continue to hear with shame, hard-line rules against simple necessities like contraception, and we know there is a link between this and other archaic laws like barring women from being clergy.

But then it seems like the law that is so stringent on some, is more easy on others. George Pell seems very resistant to returning to face the secular law, which is interesting because his public voice has always been so legalistic in tone. When I consider the tendency for powerful men to escape consequences for whatever they do, then I realise I am not quite so anti-law in my own thinking and I can dive back into the first reading.

Think of all the calls for “de-regulation” these days, of the ideal that is preached of “freedom”. What a harsh sort of a freedom that is, the freedom of the market.  Basically in this world-view governments and societies will stop interfering with the flow of capital so that those who are rich and unscrupulous can be even more free to exploit, lie and cheat as they want. Protecting vulnerable humans or the environment would be a thing of the past in this terrible freedom.

The first reading compares law with fire and water. Fire can mean warmth, safety, togetherness, the ability to cook our food, light. Water can mean refreshment, cleanliness, peace, life. Law also can bring us together and build society fostering right relationship.

Fire can get out of control and mean burning, danger, death. Water can become storms, tidal waves, ruthlessness and also death. Law that is out of control we experience as oppressive power- it rips apart individuals and relationships. But despite the dangers of law it remains as significant as water and fire. Noone is to be given license to be unjust or harm each other.

I might have hoped that the second reading would tell me what the good law is- how to recognise it and maybe seven easy steps to follow to always be right. Not so. The law in this reading is according to a mysterious and hidden Wisdom of God. My heart leaps there she is again, we know Wisdom from other readings her values seem to be liberation and generosity although she is hard to follow and impossible to pin down.

It was unawareness of Wisdom which resulted in the death of Jesus. The need to put to death opposition, to silence critical voices and to maintain the status quo against all threats is a need counter to the agenda of renewing refreshing Wisdom. This is good news when I am the critical voice but the challenge is to remember it when I have worked hard to make something that seems to me good and someone else has an unpalatable opinion to share. It is significant that the reading talks about “this age” in the present tense. It is always “this age” when the voices that try to bring Wisdom’s compassion and liberation to a hurting world are silenced, trivialised or in extreme cases persecuted (content warning on the last link).

So there is no blueprint for knowing Wisdom, no infallibility given in any power that sets itself up over us. But the Spirit works for us to scrutinise all things, even the depths of God. Within Godself we find a deep integrity and an ability to be reflexive and process questioning from “the other”. We find that “otherness” even within the very identity of who God is. To anyone who has experienced being the “outsider” in some way this is unbelievably good news.

 

This gospel sometimes gets read as a sort of divine nit-picking by Jesus, a raising of standards for who can qualify as “good”. I don’t think this is an entirely fair reading. Jesus may be inviting us to reflect on the purpose behind a law, to enter into the spirit not just the letter of a law that coming from Wisdom must be aimed at transforming who we are to the depths of our being. The key here seems to be right relationships- responding to people in all situations with respect and love, speaking with honesty and not letting negative feelings fester and eat us up from the inside.

There may be hyperbola in the specifics, (as an enneagram 4, I see a sort of grandiose over-the top desperation to be heard here) but aside from that, the connection between what we do and who we authentically are may apply.

 

If you are on facebook and linked in with the left-side of politics you might have seen how the growing fear and dissatisfaction with many leaders has fostered a gleeful slogan: “punch a nazi”. This expresses the despairing frustration of many, as xenophobic and regressive ideas gain a foothold in society but it glorifies violence and reifies a “good guys vs bad guys” view of the world which probably does more harm than good.

The gospel acknowledges that the temptation within us can be to let anger and despair change who we are and how we treat people. Most of the people saying this awful slogan, would probably not really punch another person but Jesus in today’s gospel seems to be saying something that Foucault would agree with that we construct ourselves within discourses (both in our own heads and outwardly) and we become the ideas we circulate.

I hope you will enjoy entering into a moment of silence with these readings, or in whatever way is best for you.

We have an opportunity now to think over our own reactions and relationship to the law and Wisdom of God! We have a chance to think about our identity within ourselves and our dealings with others. Relationship moves from within each of us to others, so after some time in silence please if you wish share your thoughts with each other.

 

 

If today you hear God’s voice…

If today you hear her voice, harden not your hearts!

The voice of God is everywhere calling us to a life based on compassion (e.g. here), equality (e.g. here) and depth (e.g. here). She calls to our sense of humanity (e.g. here) and for us to seek wisdom (e.g. here).

All the readings this week decry the life lived according to the lowest common denominator- worldly wealth and worldly success. I don’t want to get stuck into a Spirit vs Body binary, because I think if we focus too much on ideals of “spirit” and the “next life” we can miss the politics of the reign of God, calling us to a meaningful life HERE and NOW.

We feed our spirits, not by neglecting our own bodies but by looking out for the bodies of the others who are Christ in our lives (refugees, homeless people, children from low-income households, disabled people). We invest in God’s eternity not by hiding in warm houses praying and chanting praise while our brothers and sisters freeze, but by remembering that we connect with God through how we treat other members of creation (true images of God).

But in 2016, the logic of tearing down the existing barn to build a larger one to store wealth more than needed for one lifetime does not really even shock us anymore. The greed of hoarding and wasteful living while others suffer is exactly what our society and our economic system are based upon. We are the fools in the parable and Jesus calls us to pursue a different form of enrichment.

Harden not your heart.

Recently I met a woman from interstate who for some years now has been working with refugees: supporting, advocating, seeking, justice. When she heard I was an unemployed single mother she bought a bowl of chips “to share” and placed it in front of my son (who was happy to work hard at emptying the bowl). We had a few views in common so I added her on Facebook. To meet her in the flesh, you would not think of her as a rich woman: she has a hard-working job that pays and average amount. She is well enough to live but not dazzlingly rich.

When I added her on Facebook I got a completely different impression. The friends this woman has! The many culturally diverse and rich in wisdom contacts that share love and insights with her all over her page. I began to see, how my new friend’s life choices HAVE in fact made her dazzlingly rich, but with something better than just money and the paranoia that goes with an overemphasis on money. The same story could be told of many of the people I go to church with. When I look at friends who have chosen to pursue compassion, creativity, tolerance, courageous living, sustainability and love I see rich people.

Greed really is idolatry, as we are told in Colossians. How often do you hear religious-sounding language used about “the economy” and are we treated as heretics if we believe that we ought to preserve values of sharing and supporting each other instead of competition and malignant “growth”. And yet in Christ we are not Indigenous Australians, colonial Australians and asylum seekers; we are not Christians, atheists or Muslims; we are not men, women or trans; we are not hipsters or bogans; private or public school; leafy suburbs or Elizabeth. In Christ we are called to the meaning that is only found through un-othering, through seeing that wealth is what we do toward the reign of God, how we open ourselves to meaning and transformation and above all love.

In an Islamophobic, paranoid, climate-threatened Australia of 2016 so many of us have anxiety disorder and burnout. We spend the whole day working hard, the whole week swelling our bank account to save for the school fees or the holiday or the investment property and then we fear existential angst and can’t sleep at night. Vanity of vanities. Or we have inadequate income and we schedule our dehumanising Centrelink appointments and toss and turn and can’t sleep at night. Vanity again.

We spend thousands of dollars on weddings and funerals, but don’t have time to talk to the elderly relatives or play with the children. We shop to try to dull the pain. We go to the hairdresser every six weeks and the gym or pool twice a week and look so damn beautiful that someone should put us in a movie- but the wrinkles we know will keep upon us and the regrowth shows the grey as well. We are not born to live and glitter forever. Vanity of vanities.

My addictions are reading and writing. Not bad things per se, but at times I retreat into them to try to shut out the world of other people’s needs. I stare at the screen, trying to make my words beautiful so others will like and approve of me. I am intentionally clever, or disingenuously humble or funny, or wise or virtuous as I spill words out hour after hour and lap up the joy of sharing them with others. Vanity.

Nothing that we do is bad, but if our ONLY focus in life is eating, drinking, adorning ourselves or our homes, performing our talents, gratifying our vanity and escaping into fantasy worlds while our brothers and sisters starve and the overburdened earth weeps then all the good things that we have become dust. It’s a question of where in our lives (and our nation) do we make room for the reign of God?

No “if” about it you will hear his voice today. Will you harden your heart?

Shout for joy- daughter, sister, beloved

 

I have nothing against the Sunday readings and if I had more energy would do two blogs this week. But Tuesday was the feast of the Visitation, the one day of the year when the church lectionary passes the Bechdel test (Ruth and Naomi could be argued too I suppose), and the one Feast day of the year that actually talks about God’s work working not just through men, not even just through an individual woman, but at times also through women’s relationships and networks of support. This is such good news it ought to be on a Sunday! The reading from Luke is so rich in prophecy, in affirmations of women’s prophetic, leading, teaching and sacramental role in each other’s lives and in the lives of significant male members (Jesus and John though unborn) as well. So much richness here that writing once a year I could never find it all, and I hope each person finds even more in the readings than I can say. But let’s make a beginning.

The first reading (Zeph 3:!4-18A gives away that what is coming is unusually good news “shout for joy” and that this is specifically for women “daughter of Zion”. Even this begins a bubbling up of joy. Women we are not invisible in this Feast, we are valued by God and the silencing, dismissal of our needs and attacking us as “vain” for wanting for ourselves the basic dignity and consideration that we extend to others has been dismissed by God. God is onside with us. We “have no further misfortune to fear” and God sings joyfully because of us. This is a profoundly healing thought, the idea of being so beloved by God that we are not only vindicated but the cause of joyful singing. Here we reclaim our birthright since the opening of Genesis to be part of God’s creation, made in God’s image and assessed as “good”.

But if God is singing for joy, then we know that more good news is in store so we move on to the next reading. Once again the canticle (ie like a psalm but not in psalms) from Isaiah prophesies good things “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation”. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the New Testament we see the drawing of water as “women’s work” and the well as a place of meeting and socialising for women (well maybe we don’t see the latter in the text so much and are indebted to historians for reconstructing the world around the text for us). So that nexus of women’s social life and relationships, the well becomes symbolically a place of “salvation” a sacramental place, a place where the truth of God is joyfully encountered. Among us is the Holy one of Israel. The ancient promises of God are fulfilled in the mysterious depths of women’s flesh, the womb.

This is NOT to return to a view of womanhood as solely being fulfilled in motherhood. Clarissa Pinkola Estes has written about “wild mothers”, the way older women sometimes support, mentor and teach younger women, the way younger women find their own role models and need more than one. Even this is only a fraction of the whole truth. The patriarchal promise that can only be fulfilled in the male body of Jesus may come into the world through the female body of Mary, but if that is all that matters then why the Visitation? Why does Jesus also need the “Auntie” or “Wild mother” Elizabeth in his life? Why does John leap for joy at the voice of Mary? The voice is about more than flesh, it is about opinion and agency. The canticle goes on to bid us to sing praise to God for “his” glorious achievement. Well that seems only fair, in the context of the first reading where God was singing on account of us. The glorious achievement here seems to be a nurturing and reciprocal relationship with us who are lovingly created and affirmed. This will be shown in the gospel to have world-changing, radical possibilities – unseating the unjustly powerful and bringing in a new reign of God.

The other first reading (which I am going to treat as a second reading as I think the Visitation ought to be a Sunday) gives instructions on the “good life”. Even though usually I am feeling a bit like saying “give me a break” when I have these long and complicated responsibilities placed on me, by allowing the other readings and the feast-day to contextualise it, it takes on a non-oppressive meaning. In fact the God who has celebrated and affirmed my existance and our relationship in the first reading and psalm has every right to ask for this respectful reciprocation of that gift. The instructions in this reading are really a call to be authentic, to honour who we are as God’s beloved and as sacramental, priestly people. We are called to be sincere, loving, committed, critical, resilient, courageously forgiving and compassionate. We are called to be “more than” those who oppress us, not to cooperate with oppression but also not to retaliate with bitterness and hatred. We are called to be humble in ourselves too, not to put ourselves down but to see our good like our imperfections within a context of God’s love and God’s call and the shared dignity and humanity of others also.

This reading, within a context of good news for “daughters” and the gospel that is coming is for me a powerful call to remain in the imperfect church and to trust in God’s ability and desire to find me there and sustain me. The grace of God in actual fact cannot be stopped or blocked by patriarchy but we must continue to bless even those who have not blessed us. We are called to a holy partnership with God where we pour out love to the world. I turn to the gospel to see what possibilities for transformation this call may hold.

In the gospel, Mary is not wise in her own estimation, that is she is not complete outside of her ability to reach out to others. Her good news needs to be reflected by Elizabeth’s good news. She has a need to support and be supported, to be in a community where each can rejoice in the other being blessed. Each has a relationship with a husband that in some Christian circles would be assumed to be the most appropriate arena of rejoicing. But each is part of a larger network of support, each needs also the ministry of women in her sacramental life (and don’t we all?). Mary, pregnant though she is goes on a journey that would possibly be dangerous and certainly be difficult. There is something in Elizabeth’s company that calls to her, something precious in the relationship or some need she sees in Elizabeth and responds to.

The great prophet John hears the voice of Mary, who is about to offer one of the great prophecies of liberation and hope. John recognises in this voice the same call that is already whispering into his baby heart the potential for a committed spirit-filled life. He leaps for joy! Elizabeth recognises this leap and knows what it means. Mary’s preaching will shake the church and the world. Elizabeth says that Mary is “blessed” for hearing and heeding the call of God. She recognises Mary’s priesthood. Elizabeth and John become church to accept Mary’s priesthood as Mary both literally and sacramentally carries Christ into their lives. Mary preaches her joy and hope in a God who reverses oppression and liberates. There are strong forces in a world where Mary’s people have been colonised by the brutal Roman army, she lives in a patriarchal society with limited opportunities. But her hope is in God’s power to be greater than the powers of the world.

Mary aligns herself with a utopian view of radical justice and voices her commitment to God’s power to bring this about. She grounds this vision in faith history. Then she stays with Elizabeth for three months. The relationship of sacrament is about more than words. She is there for practical support and shared affection. Faith and ministry are not about a ritual once a week but are about companioning and loving our fellow humans on the journey.

My heart like unborn baby John leaps for joy at the good news of the Visitation. I want to shout it aloud and sing it, this dignity and hope in the reality of God’s call to me as daughter and sister. My response needs to be loving and faithful to the dream of transformative justice. My spiritual hunger is filled with this good thing. I can look to the unofficial priests, when the official church leaves my pastoral needs unmet. No wonder these readings mentioned singing and joy so many times!

A poem (not by me)

I like this poem bar the last stanza (really?? You are going to ask to be smitten for not being better?). I always doubt that sentiments like that are sincere, however if they are the person thinking it needs urgent mental health help. But if there was less self-hate and masochism in the last stanza then it was a bid to be rehumanised by witnessing the suffering of “other”. To see God in the condemned and the suffering. To feel more. To be returned to a state of compassion. So because of that last bit I did not use this poem in my liturgy. However I am saving it here so when I look back on my spiritual ups and downs of the year i remember the call to compassion too!

Good Friday
Christina Rossetti

Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?

Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;

Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon –
I, only I.

Yet give not o’er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.

Stations of the cross

Rather than do all the stations of the cross (I would if this was my day job) I will look at two this year and God-willing will continue my blog another year and reflect on different ones.

1. Jesus is condemned to death

Often I look on this from the point of view of the one condemning. It is a worthwhile reflection to look at who and how we condemn, exclude and victimise others, but I want to see Jesus as walking in solidarity with us in our deep pains. I want to generate not just guilt (don’t we sit with more than enough of that?) but healing for the deepest pains. Because one way or another we are also condemned.

Condemned like the blind young man I saw this morning who was talking too much, because he is condemned to go through life without the grounding and reassurance of eye contact and facial expression so that to connect he must make conversation.

Condemned like a friend of mine who has to parent with a man who emotionally abuses her every time there is contact, who she used to love and perhaps still loves but is hurt and harmed, unfairly accused and burdened by. The way of her cross is to bear his insults and my temptation is to disengage from the whole thing and forbid her to show me all his text messages. But if I see her pain as related to the pain of the suffering (and also abandoned) Christ then I can walk with her the unpleasant and repetitive road of her ex-partner’s harmful words.

And can I not also speak of how I am condemned to despair and envy whenever I consider my vocation? That my vocation is a burden that can never go away, it is my life’s reason and greatest love but it is blocked by the necessity of doing other things and I am not strong enough or intelligent enough to fit it well around the mundane burdens of “women’s work”. I feel envy, yes, because I see “priests” living and working in comparative ease and while I am flawed, I am no more flawed than those who are found worthy. My life, my experiences, my flawedness is so different from theirs that there is little understanding that they can offer me (to be fair some occasionally try a little). It is my difference that makes my call urgent though, because there are so many other disciples trapped in “women’s work” and mundane matters who can relate to the temptations that I face, who I would be a more appropriate minister to (just as those who we have ordained may be better at ministering to some that I would not reach so well). So my pain is doubled because I see a church in need of a diversity of ministry that I am largely powerless to offer my contribution to.

I have lived with this pain since I was a small child. The pain of being called to an impossible vocation (not impossible, only difficult and I am a flawed and exhausted person). The job I do is women’s work which means miserly pay and humiliating, exhausting work-life.

Condemned to gender. Condemned to race. Condemned to be not taken seriously as youth or dismissed as old. Condemned to poverty and struggle and lack of choice. No end-point in sight, this is all you shall know until you die. If there is a meaning to life then it shall be beyond your grasp, it will exist in the dreams you are too tired to dream in colour and in the oasis which every time you see it is a mirage only. You are not valued, you are undesirable. You are too little, too late. You are unpopular. Away with her! Crucify her!

How does Jesus face this way of the cross? How does Jesus enter into every condemnation, every sentencing of every victim of systems of power and abuse and commit to walk with each of us the whole long, wearying road of heartbreak and failure?

Jesus give me grace not to be defined by those who reject and condemn me.

Holy Wisdom walk with me through insults and failures and pain and the fear of meaningless death.

Beloved truth, show me how to enter into the condemnation of others to disrupt the victimisation, to transform and to liberate.

 

8. The women of Jerusalem weep for Jesus

Jesus said to the women “weep for yourselves”, did he know how easily we get derailed into offering more compassion to a man’s suffering than in serving our own interests. Jesus’ words seem profoundly pro-feminist to me that even in the midst of real fear, real pain, real death he refuses to take the spot-light off women’s experiences, or to take women’s focus off themselves. How different from the many men who claim to be pro-feminist but constantly shift the focus to their own experiences and sometimes imagined slights.

Jesus, the Wisdom of God knows that a system that can torture and put to death an innocent man, deals less than fairly also with women. Women are silenced, alienated from their own children, raped, made dependent, trivialised, dismissed, beaten, exhausted by the demands of others and then gaslighted by male faux feminist “allies”.

Jesus makes no claim to “understanding” the experience of women, merely demonstrates the most important point, that women need to focus back on their own experiences, their own dispossessions, their own griefs and pains. Here, within the deep suffering of Jesus, far on the path to crucifixion we are given permission (more than permission vocation) as women to look at ourselves, to give voice to ourselves, not to feel like we are being “arrogant” or “narcissistic” (accusations often made by church people toward women who seek recogntion or equality) when we bring our own interests into the conversation.

Jesus has said “here in my moment of suffering I am calling you as women to reflect on your own suffering with compassion, with grief, with the authentic feelings you offered to me”.

Jesus I am weeping for my largely wasted life and learned cowardice.

Holy Wisdom if my pain as a woman held back by patriarchy, is by your comment akin to your carrying of the cross, then make me with you a sign of the emptiness on the cross. Give me courage when I am poured out to be reborn in resurrection.

Beloved humility, show me who I am gaslighting or overshadowing and teach me to be as courageous, honest and inclusive as you.

In conclusion

Year by year we face the honesty and confrontation of Jesus’ way of the cross. Day by day we suffer small reminders that the cross is also in our lives. We must not give in to the temptation to celebrate suffering, our own or that of others. It is a terrible thing that Jesus was abused in this way and felt all this and experienced so much degradation and pain. Next time we see Jesus condemned and suffering will we recognise him? How will we respond? What transformative power might we have at the foot of the cross?

But it is not yet Easter. We may be empty and frightened and grieving. This time let us not skip ahead to the “spoiler” of knowing that the resurrection will happen in a cloud of chocolate and celebrations. Let us face and feel the emptiness without escapisms. What deeper consolation might God give to us?

Jesus remember me when you find a way through this seemingly endless darkness and come into your own.