Tag Archives: death

If this is faith, I should have ordered the spaghetti

Holy Saturday morning, I lay in almost until 8. I was lying there thinking of Jesus dead in the tomb and (probably inappropriately) envying him for having a full day with no thoughts.

I thought of myself- unproductive, discouraged, without much faith in the wake of world-events and the church’s really worse than inadequate response to sexual abuse. As good as dead, I thought but with racing thoughts. I wondered if Jesus really counted as “dead” if he was just going to come back anyway. It seems like rest then not death. But without thoughts.

In my lack of faith a prayer escaped me. God laughs I think at the way I make the world’s worst atheist. I prayed that none of this would be happening and God did not grant my prayer. I prayed that noone I know will die of COVID-19 and I know that God will not grant that prayer. There is a 0% chance that by the end of this noone I know will have died. I listed the people I particularly can’t afford to lose, and tried to bargain with God. I would rather it were me than any of them. Unlikely whispered the hollow silence at the core of the universe. And selfish it added knowing I would rather be mourned than mourn.

But I cannot afford to lose the ones I love the most. And I envied Jesus for being the one mourned not the mourner, although of course I would not want “Good Friday” to happen to me. But I wondered if our tendency in stories for centuries now to put men at the centre- achieving, acting, suffering, living, dying- and women at the margins- watching powerlessly, mourning, questioning, following, staying is the problem with the world (envy now for NZ who have a woman at the helm instead of a smirking idiot).

After the bushfires the pandemic and of course still the suffering caused by child-abusers in the church. How dare Pell act like some sort of an innocent victim, when at best he enabled the abuse with his lack of listening. He says “only God can judge me” making God partly to blame for his ability to walk free and keep spreading his unloving, uncompassionate words and deeds. I want to remind him that God is not mocked but I am actually shocked by the lack of faith in the “leadership” of the church like also our “Christian” prime minister who promotes churches but neglects the widow and orphan.

It turns out I must believe in God after all because the blasphemy of all these “Christian” men, these “Christian” leaders really disgusts and saddens me.

But who will hear my prayer for the ones I love, and the ones I would love if I knew them better? People are already dying, the fact that those people have not touched me is not the point. Who will guard the nurses and the childcare workers and the fast-food workers (like my son)? Who will guide us to see this plague as a call to turn away from the Pharaoh’s of this time? Who will be Miriam and sing and argue us out of bondage (I’ve had enough of Moses and Aaron’s posturing). Miriam means “bitter” and someone who I listen to told me to be “bitter” for as long as I need. But I know from experience I don’t make a good leader.

Maybe there will be more than one. Maybe we will lead each other with dancing and rolls of toilet paper for everyone.

May Jesus quiet my mind and may I be dead to the anxieties and even to the marking for a day

for a day

or even an hour would do…

Absence

When love is gone… For Jesus but also Felikss.

 

Just me alone with my own thoughts

remembering every mistake I ever made,

every persistent flaw that dogs my life and relationships

mea culpa

 

Just me in the dark waiting for dragging seconds

that make up eternal minutes,

of hours.

Trying to slow my breathing

wondering why I bother.

 

The night is dark and empty

and yet noises come to frighten me.

What would it feel like to be dead?

To be trapped under earth suffocating…

don’t be silly he is already dead.

 

His body was so wracked and so used up

he never even made it to 40

and it was so still and wax and tortured

I wanted not to recognise him

not to wonder what it meant

the expression on his face.

 

So still.

So absent.

Under earth, he can’t get out and I am scared.

I will die too.

This is what being human is- losing and fearing and dying.

 

Kyrie eleison

 

But the dark night still stretches ahead.

Stations of the cross III

This is my third year of doing only two stations of the cross and spending a bit of time on each one. You can check out stations 1, 2, 7 and 8 in previous years (one and eight), (two and seven)

  1. Jesus Falls the first time

When people are already beaten, already suffering, already beyond what is endurable and they are seeing in front of them still the long long road, uphill to more suffering and not even a friendly face in the crowd. Why do we sometimes feel disgust instead of pity for suffering people? We wih they would get out of our face. We wish we didn’t have to witness their indignity, as if we could catch it off them or something.

Or is it repressed guilt?

Or what about when it is me who falls? The problem with falling the first time is you realise how easily you can fall and how hard it is to get up again…and you see ahead of you many, many more falls and the aloneness of the struggle.

Is this why people sometimes give up? Jesus of course does not get the opportunity to give up, he is forced- whipped and threatened and kicked to get up and keep shuffling to doom and torment and death. This looks nothing at all like what we think of as “courage” or as “success”. Jesus in this scene is as much of a loser as we have ever been, and in the episodes of our lives where we can do nothing except shuffle along as someone forces us, or crumble under the weight are after all like Jesus.

Small comfort though because it hurts to be like Jesus.

Over the centuries we have put this burden on Jesus that he is carrying the whole weight of the world, that he is carrying our sins (there is that link to Julian of Norwich’s idea that Jesus is like a mother again). Perhaps Jesus does not want or need to carry everything for us. Perhaps it is not very helpful theology to put that on him so that we can avoid examining the sins of our society in too much detail.

Does the falling Jesus feel he has let everybody down?

Do we let “the least of his sisters” feel the humiliation and pain that we believe we would not have heaped on Jesus, himself?

They ought to stop blaming him, hitting him, forcing him. Someone ought to help him. Someone ought to rescue him. Someone ought to protest against this huge injustice.

But we are all too cowardly and aware of our own limitations.

So Jesus still falls.

Dear One, Jesus,

A few days ago I saw a three year old fall from a pile of blocks she had climbed on. She showed me her scraped knee, her grazed hand and she asked me to hold her and make it right.

“Falling is part of life” I told her and she looked at me and kept crying.

“It hurts doesn’t it” I said and she burrowed into my arms for comfort.

But no one comforted you, and your falling was not a natural part of life, it was something that the injustice of others caused to happen. It was something we should have prevented. It was something that still happens.

What would it have taken the first time you fell for it to be the last time you fell? What could people have done better?

How do I confront suffering and falling in others? What can I do? How can I respond?

Jesus, I am inadequate. I do nothing but weep.

Amen.

 

  1. Jesus is stripped

Like the soldiers who gambled for Jesus’ clothing, we profit from the misfortunes of others. We in a competitive, capitalist economy. We in the “developed” world. We the privileged.

We protect our borders by locking out the hopes and security of refugees. We choose the cheapest items, the best schools, the flashiest cars and stuff the fact that the environment or other people have to go without. It’s not our fault, we are not the powerful ones.

The soldiers, the foot soldiers. People doing an honest day’s work. They may well have had mouths to feed at home. They did the job that was available, they were soldiers, possibly underpaid. Part of the deal was getting the clothing of the “criminals” they helped execute.

Jesus however was left stripped, naked, humiliated and uncomfortable (well he was dying anyway so you can rationalise it can’t you?). He becomes a non-person in the system- just a set of procedures, just part of the job the soldiers have to do.

They didn’t make the rules.

Can you imagine what chaos the Roman Empire would have been in if no one enforced the rules? It wasn’t the soldiers’ job to find Jesus innocent or guilty.

And by this stage he is not even really a human any more. He has been “processed” he hangs between life and death, there is no remedy. There is no redemption possible.

So they may as well cast dice don’t you think?

And we may as well continue shopping and complaining about the cricket while the environment hangs on the cross of our over-consumption and while the refugees suffer dehumanisation and lack of hope.

There is no alternative. There is nothing we can do against a system so much bigger than us.

Even God has abandoned him.

Jesus,

I see you. I want to rehumanise you.

I cannot see the hope in his situation but I would cover you if I could. Even that!

Jesus, the small things I can do for people- the donation of money to a beggar, the meal cooked for a depressed friend, the non-judgemental smile for someone who feels cast out. Small acts of wishing I could take you down from the cross and let you choose from all my clothes.

I feel so powerless. I am complicit in evil systems. I benefit from unjust economics. I can’t find the answers to how we should live or what we should do to end this suffering.

Jesus remind me to seek integrity in all my life…not to give consent to systems that take away more and more and more from those already suffering.

Jesus, they never stripped away your goodness and your truth. Who we are goes deeper than trappings. Teach me to be filled with your truth to my core, to be more than my place in society.

Let us restore hope.

Amen.

Conclusion

I really struggled to get into the spirit of Good Friday today, and I really struggled to write something. I was too exhausted to make it to church, I could possibly have worked harder to get my body there but I felt I would not contribute anything (perhaps I ought to have tried).

Loving God, forgive me for being off-task. I long for hope and it seems impossible, and yet my immediate situation is alright. Perhaps I feel guilty not to be suffering more. Perhaps I have worn myself out with all the wrong things.

Today I am not like the faithful women at the foot of the cross, I am like the denying and cowardly disciples. I have run away. But even those ones, you continued to love and call.

I will do better when I can.

Amen.

Feeding, washing, serving, LOVING

“I give you a new commandment, love one another as I have loved you.”
To work out what loving each other means, we have to look to the readings. Love like the woman from Mark’s gospel last Sunday who used costly perfume to anoint Jesus for his ordeal? Love like the fickle crowds who acclaimed him into Jerusalem and then chose Barabbas? Love like the disciples who could be sleepy and slow to understand and even cowardly and denying Jesus but had the emotional honestly to weep when they could do nothing else?
But Jesus didn’t say love as much as humanly possible, he said love like I have done.
I, God, I am. The radical and faithful love of a God who passes over the houses of his people to protect them, who calls them out from slavery into wandering in the desert even before they are fully ready for liberation. God who feeds (see also the gospel) and washes (see also the gospel) and enjoy the company of “us”, the church, the human race, creation.
I don’t think “you” is only the church in the narrow sense. It could be argued from the texts that God only loves the insiders, apart from when you look at the abundance of God with Wisdom as accomplice making everything and delighting in everything, when you look at Wisdom’s great feasts.
We are called to be loved. We are called to love. Loving is about eating and washing (women’s work we are told every time except when it becomes church ritual).
Does Jesus love Judas after betrayal? Does Jesus love Peter after cowardly betrayal? What of the woman with the jar of ointment, what became of her? What of Mary Magdalene, Mary his mother, Mary and Martha, Peter’s mother-in-law, the woman at the well. This part of the gospel gives us only hints of presence but lots of tears coming- the tears of Peter, the tears of the women, the bitterness which is likely repressed tears of the thieves on the crosses to either side of him.
But how do we love, feed, wash, serve, warn, forgive as Jesus did. How do we call to consciousness a sleeping and cowardly world (and ourselves)? Who do we feed at the suppers “in memory” of the ultimate lover of all? Can we feed the poor better? Feed the children of single-parents? Feed refugees? Feed the elderly? Feed the disabled? Feed the disengaged? The anarchists? The artists? The sick? The lonely? The queer?
What hope and joy do we feed “millennials” a whole generation that feels unloved and unwelcome in society? How to we kneel to assist those who cannot help themselves, who need the balm and acceptance of being washed –touched and refreshed?
All Jesus says is “as I have loved you” therefore persistently, therefore patiently, therefore save some for the sinners and tax-collectors and prostitute as well. This is love not judgement. This is food not a stone. This is washing not sorting.

Jesus,
I need love. Help me to see that my world is infused with your love and service of me.
Thank you for the church communities that offer practical and emotional support to me, or show me how to do it to others.
Thank you for the seeming atheists that secretly work hand-in-hand with you, even if they don’t say your name.
Show me how to bless and distribute what people need to be fed- bread and wine, word, and acceptance. Show me how to serve by doing the unglamorous tasks- washing feet (or dishes). Show me how to revere the people who do the most menial jobs for the good of us all.
Jesus I am afraid of being broken and shared out so that I have none of me, left for myself. Your courage in this act is a mystery to me. Show me how to have the deepest integrity and judgement and to keep nurturing even when conflict, violence or death hang over my head.
Jesus, truly you are my mother.
I enter your presence through food and washing and friendship, through service today and always.

Amen.

Becoming and Begoing

Priscilla Alderson in Childhoods Real and Imagined, looks at what critical realism can offer researchers in the field/s of childhood. One of the very significant points she makes is in reference to the way childhood is often seen as a time of becoming, a future oriented “not yet” time that assumes that some adult point (perhaps middle-age) is the destination. She reminds us that every becoming has a related series of begoings, that to become one thing (an adult) you have to cease to be something else (a child). So when a baby learns to walk they are “begoing” from their identity as someone who is carried. When a child learns to tie their own shoelace they are begoing the person who has those brief one-on-one interactions with a caring, shoe-tying adult…although this reminds me of a time when I was thurifering in church and the priest who was also a very well-regarded lecturer knelt to tie up my undone shoelace instead of merely pointing it out to me, this was a moment of surprising ministry that stayed with me in my wish NOT to always have the humble service role forced on me but also to think I am able to minister.

But every becoming according to Alderson has inbuilt loss and change and absence (ask why mothers cry on the first day of school, ask why mothers feel loss as well as pride and relief when their child reaches 18, or marries, or moves out).

Begoing is a theme very relevant to Holy Week, and very much already present in the glorious becoming of Palm Sunday. This is possibly why we read the passion through on that day…in the becoming of Jesus into Messiah, the sacrifice or else the one who stands out openly as a challenge to the powers of the day, there is a relinquishing of any comparatively safe identity, of the ability to melt back into the non-event of Nazareth and be just a carpenter’s son. When we act, there will be consequences, when we follow God’s call we will offend the powers of injustice and they will punish us if they can.

I am rereading Bernadette Kiley’s, Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, as we are in the year of Mark and I wish to focus on the whole gospel not just the separated out torture and death scenes in Holy Week (ok so I started early), to try to grapple with a wholistic concept of the life and death (and Life) of Jesus. Bernadette (since I know her in the real world it makes sense to use her first name) writes: “”If then, Jesus will be misunderstood and hated, the disciple must expect the same response. Mark’s community knew this only too well. Persecution and dissension were realities they had to deal with in their commitment to proclaiming the reign of God. For us, too, there will be a similar Jerusalem winter, when we, like the disciples of Mark’s Gospel and the Christians of Mark’s community, know something of the suffering that was part of Jesus’ life.” (p31)

My mother had some of this theology, but to her the fact that so many people hate and criticise the Catholic church was proof that the church was “right”. I want to be cautious in seeing those sorts of truths in my own experience, however much after a rough election where I only got 7.8% of votes and the worse of the two “major parties” got in statewide, it is tempting to see my own work in that light. Rejection by the world is no more proof of being “right” than its acceptance would be. However the rejections, struggles and disappointments we experience find meaning both in our integrity in doing our very best regardless of the risk and weariness and humiliation and also in the struggles and fleeting triumphs of Jesus.

I will not speak of any potential Easter event, even though having read the gospels it is tempting to place that “spoiler” in the picture to find meaning in the sufferings of Holy Week. But n our life we are not privy to any miraculous “happy ending” when we are caught up in struggle and suffering (our own or that of someone we love). Jesus at Palm Sunday, can feel the gathering storm, on Holy Thursday he knows it may be his last chance to influence his friends with some worthwhile Wisdom, on Good Friday nothing is real except suffering and loss. Any hope that we have makes no sense yet when we are caught up in the despair of true death (climate change, austerity, growing conflicts in the world, personal aging, difficult job markets, bad health). All we have is our soul’s confidence that we are from God and to God and cannot fall away from that destiny, even now.

Somehow.

Without seeing a clear pathway.

Jesus in becoming the feted star of Palm Sunday, becomes the abandoned victim of Good Friday. His Easter becoming will come after some extreme begoing. You and I are called to leave behind our comfort zone and to take on Jesus’ mission to call the world back from the brink of destruction, to bring compassion and criticism wherever they are needed. To be greater than we are and to be a challenge to the mighty.

Instead of a prayer, I will leave this on a quote by Marianne Williamson, that is often misattributed to Nelson Mandela

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

We accept this challenge and this call.

Amen.

The looming darkness

I don’t know what to think about these readings and about the recent election which made me cry tears of grief and despair (and sheer exhaustion it must be admitted).

On the one hand the first reading is promising a change in relationship- to God dealing more directly with an individual rather than through teachers and leaders. Nevertheless the words of the reading are authoritarian and the tone kyriearchal. I don’t want to be like the voters who fell for a slogan like “strong change” without asking what that will look like.

The God-voice in the reading seems grumpy and bitter about some sort of disobedience in the past and so the offer of a changed relationship seems like God having more direct oversight rather than a more respectful closeness.

Reading it leaves me in a spiritually empty space- resentful and without joy or hope. Is such barren terrain perhaps necessary to traverse in lent? But for what purpose?

It really is like being stuck in the wilderness with no idea of the destination.

In the psalm we have the refrain “create a clean heart in me O God”. Once again what strikes me is both an individualism (in “me” not “us” or “society”) and a being found to be flawed and failed. God is asked to “fix” me, the implication is that I am uncreated, dirty.

The implication is also that it does not matter what social world or time I live in God is interrogating “me” not inspiring or taking part in human society. These readings and the disappointing election led me to pray at church that we are earthlings after all. We are made from carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and minerals as much so as dreams and traces of Wisdom and free-will and tears. We are not just made to “rise above” everything and be so heavenly that nothing bodily matters.

I have a life on earth and I am concerned with politics and food and how messy my house is (though I don’t do enough about it) and how arms feel around me, and what my hands can (or can’t) touch. I dream of writing fiction or academic work as much as prayers. I desperately want to feel that my children and their children will find joy and pleasure (as well as work and responsibility) in bodiliness and earthliness.

Isn’t this what God made for us? Is this not God’s will? If so how do we follow God’s will to keep these goods?

The second reading equates prayer with tears (relateable) but talks about obedience and necessary suffering. I am not completely on board with that but I suspect it has more to do with trying to make meaning in incredibly hard times than any sort of universal truth. Anyway the word “obedience” rankles most feminists because of the way it has been used against us. No I will not obey institutions that do not understand me, represent my best interests or even let me know my own inner truth.

If I am stuck in the wilderness forever because of my lack of desire to submit and obey then I will never enter the holy city but will look for what flowers and fruits may grow in the wilderness, what streams there might be. I am reminded of the time Miriam (the singer, historian, psalmist of the people) was thrown out of the camp and people were in an uproar.

I feel beloved enough to risk disobedience, as obedience is a kind of death (which I used to know when I lived it).

In the gospel the way to Jesus is through two male gatekeepers. Same old, same old. Obeying…serving…following.

The reader in church this morning made me listen by using both the words “father” and then “mother” in the reading. But will Jesus’ suffering and death really glorify God? What sort of a God is that? What sort of a father (mother)? Growth is only possible through the death of the grain which sounds wonderful in theory unless you are the grain. Who are we in the story?

The gospel stays dark to the very end, and I am puzzled how it is “good news”. I wish Jesus had not been persecuted and tortured actually -secretly I have always wished it and I have become stubborn and outspoken enough to say it (as if God didn’t know how I felt). We have suffering and death in our lives, but I don’t feel we should celebrate that fact, though naming it may be useful.

I was asked to be Jesus in the reading of the passion next week and despite my fear of the violence and horror of any sort of passion story (or any sort of corresponding reality) I was sort of star-struck and honoured to play the hero, Jesus. Since then I have worried over all the ways my voice and expression are not up to the task (but of course noone expects me to actually “be” Jesus). But much as I would never want to be Jesus in a reality version of suffering, shame and death, much as I would lack courage and strength for such a thing I think the worst role in the story is that of Mary.

That is the part of the passion that is the worst suffering, the most awful thing possible.

That makes the story even darker, when I consider that Mary was there.

And we are called like Mary to open our hearts to the whole world and have a maternal and patient love for all humanity, all creation. Well to work toward it anyway. We are told that God/Jesus has that maternal love for all creation and for each of us, that it is in the nature of God to care, nurture and protect. How does God bear the harm we do to humans and nature? How do we claim to be following God if our hearts do not break from the pain of our neighbour?

Lost in these hurts and our own helplessness how do we live? Where is the healing?

I am not looking forward to four years of my state moving away from renewables (before we were properly started) and to the “strong change” of the Empire’s soldiers.

My mood is dark, in the church year the cross is beginning to loom. All I can summon up before God is my honesty about how uncomfortable the darkness is. I don’t want anything to get worse.

 

 

 

 

Pondering the big questions

How dare I write about these things? How dare I “know” or even speculate about what other people are going through?

So long as I try to remember not to give answers, or try to understand that my answers won’t “work” for everyone. The big questions will remain and we will keep pondering them. But I want to find hope and comfort within the pondering, however fleeting and incomplete. So I will dare…

On Easter Day

“Something happened didn’t it.”

“It was all easier when I was a child and there it was all up in the sky and you had to be good to go there.”

“All the answers.”

“Yes. It was all quite simple really.”

“When my mum died, I went straight back into believing all that. I knew it was childish or something and I didn’t even care. I just went straight back into it. Heaven is for good people and she was good people.”

“Yes I can see why you would do that.”

“I didn’t want her to be gone.”

“They didn’t want Jesus to be gone either. Was that all it was? Just memory.”

“It might have been.”

“It might have been…we don’t really know… We’re not supposed to believe all that any more are we? We are supposed to view it symbolically.”

“But we don’t really know”

“No we don’t”

“Something happened.”

I haven’t put names, I don’t actually remember who said what and how we uncovered our thinking together but those were the themes of a conversation a very short conversation.

“Don’t you think something happened?” there was a frightening moment of looking down from the cliff and seeing a dizzying precipice under me, because in my life the older feminists are supposed to have more answers than me and I get the luxury of being opinionated and hot-headed and possibly often wrong and they are wise and peaceful and have seen more and know more.

And in this moment one of the wise people didn’t “know” and seemed to be feeling a kind of existential panic connected to being old without the certainties she deserved to have supporting her. And if she was flailing then what about me? If she was not certain then how could I believe anything? In a flash I saw that someone who  has spent her life working and fighting to make things better, to build something that may or may not be valued in a changing world with a shrinking and stubborn church. She is at a time to retire from some of it and to let go of things she has made happen and she can’t even know for sure whether the next generation will honour it; whether even in a real sense there is a next generation.

That could easily be me, although I have spent my life questioning everything and achieving nothing so I don’t even have anything much to let go of.

That impermanence that shows us a deeper futility in all our efforts, if anything my generation had an instinct for that sort of cynical despair and were afraid to even begin to achieve anything because all thing ultimately are made to be deconstructed and for failure. We had depression even as we rolled our eyes at the things our parents took for granted and we had a sort of negative arrogance in knowing how futile, how empty everything is and was and will be.

Some of that critical thinking is justifiable, like realising that even if I work hard and earn a lot I will just find a lifestyle to damage the earth more and to live off the exploited labour of the third world even more than I already do. And as I breathe out oppression inadvertently so I hate myself. The temptation is embracing the despair, desiring nothing- cynicism or escapism become the methods for living this dystopian dream. The lure of death is that it is the only cure for the guilt that is synonymous with existence.

It must be acknowledged that neither our parents nor our teachers intended to burden us this way, just as we did not mean to give the negativity a further twist before handing it to the “millennials” we parented and teach. Where my generation, in passing on this despair to our children is most to blame is in our denial- we sternly tell them that we never have felt or needed anything that we were “tough” in some way and that we have mollycoddled them when they should be tough. And yet all we have mollycoddled is our own emptiness.

The beauty of our children is that they do not fully believe us and they dream dreams we have not permitted.

Praise eternal Wisdom for our children- electronic devices and smashed avocado and all!

“Don’t you think something happened?” Oh something happened alright!

“We just don’t know. Something happened. Definitely something because they wrote it down.”

“They wouldn’t have listened to women unless it really was something.”

“Yes one way or another there is a miracle there. Oh I want to hope.”

I don’t know that we used so many words actually, possibly we didn’t. There were facial expressions and a story we had both heard again as we do every year. Somehow we communicated our vulnerability and our surprise at each other’s vulnerability. With that there was a refusal to accept in each other any need to despair- I saw her as definitely possessed by wisdom and destined for the good at the centre of the universe and she must have seen me the same way, because there was a moment of recognition of “Oh you have fears and struggles too, but I can see you being more than them therefore more than them exist” only we didn’t actually answer any of the big questions.

It is a comfort when the bigger “other” also needs the comfort, then my own lack of knowing is normalised and not a deficit in me. I cannot believe that her life and work are emptying of meaning in the aging process, she cannot believe that my being born in the first place is an unfortunate mistake. That is a gift that generations can give to each other- the belief in each other’s significance. That is why we learn history and that is why nurture and mentor those younger.

I thought today about people who have died- some were younger than me and many were significant. I thought about how I have not achieved anything with this life I have been given and now I am beginning to get little wrinkles and touches of grey already- without having decided what to do or how to do it. Resurrection does not solve the way we suffer and grieve each other’s suffering and loss nor does it give us a blueprint for “what next in six easy steps”.

When I was a little girl I was so scared I would go to hell. I remembered that today as I drove through the twisty country roads. I felt quite secure that even without being a solved and perfect being there was God in me.

“If I do go to hell I will just bring you in there God for all the people who need you most.”

“You really think you can do something like that?” I could hear God laughing at me as usual.

“No” I admitted, “I think I just feel confident that you wouldn’t send me there.”

“You want to believe there is some point to everything don’t you.” Said God

“Yes” I said, “Is me talking to you a psychological trick I play on myself to try to believe there is a point to existing?”

“You need to learn to trust me.” God said and my car came over the hill and the tree-trunks were gold.

“Is this why you wanted to go via Clare?” I asked my son seeing the gold trees.

“I don’t know” he said, “we’ll just find stuff. Can I change the CD now?” and I realised we were not going to “end up” any particular where on this holiday. We’d deal with tailgaters and pot-holes and take detours to lookouts and if we were really lucky see an echidna. And then the day would be over without anything having been achieved.

So I may as well love the sight of the golden trunks of trees as not; and yes it was fine if he changed the CD.

 

 

Stations of the cross II

Once again this year I will confine myself to two stations of the cross, so I actually think about them. Please feel free to check out last year’s post which was stations one and eight.

  1. Jesus carries his cross

The crosses we carry, we might start to think of as part of ourselves, but in fact they are external to us. For example my cross is not that I am female, or a lesbian, or a low-income earner but my cross is that people around me value women and lesbians and low income-earners less. In the same way, we learn to have a deficit model of (for example) Indigenous students in schools but this is simply wrong. The disadvantage (cross) is not their identity but the value judgements we make about some types of people (refugees, disabled people, old people) that make their way of being valued less, work to make a cross for people to suffer on.

Jesus carries his cross. Traditionally we have been told that it is part of his “goodness” not to resist and that we should not resist the crosses placed on us. I don’t think so. I think he does not resist because he is tired and beaten down and knows it is ultimately futile- he is also possibly scared for himself or his apostles. How awful the parts of church history where Jesus’ carrying of his cross has licensed sadism or masochism in Christians (sadism by the powerful, masochism of the weak) because “we all must carry our cross”. It makes me wary of seeing Jesus as a role model. What if instead we view him as a lover or friend? What if it pains us to see him suffer? What if your instinct is to alleviate his suffering and put and end to the injustice that caused it? Is this not more constructive?

But Jesus is also radically committed, in this I suppose we can see him as a role model. He would rather accept the cross than fail in his liberative mission. His integrity and critical voice are more to him than the easy life. So  are the crosses we must accept, the crosses we don’t particularly want, but that are part and parcel of our solidarity with others- the loss of our privilege and security the danger of being honest. If Jesus is carrying his cross, we are called to walk with him as fellow-resisters of the system not as soldiers and cowardly bystanders. And that is the hardness of the Christian message because there may well be consequences for living with integrity and at best it is uncomfortable.

Where does Jesus draw strength to carry his cross? How do we alleviate or cancel unnecessary crosses of others or ourselves? How do we walk with courage and resist unjust systems? How do we find dignity and joy even in facing the weight of our burdens and the long road of suffering?

Jesus teach me how to bear some of the weight to alleviate others?

Holy Wisdom show us better ways to be humanity so that no one has to carry a cross.

Lover of the universe, make me one with Jesus, not part of the cross that must be carried.

 

  1. Jesus falls a second time

Once we could have forgiven, but there he is losing again, failing again- hopeless and helpless more than once. Once we could have got him back on his feet but he squandered that, he wasn’t wise with the help he was offered. There is a limit to how much you can help people. He must have made a bad choice somewhere. My ability to walk upright is because I make good choices and wise investments, not because of luck or privilege.

Jesus here is like a welfare recipient, bowed under immeasurable weight and falling and then having shuffled to his feet he is tired and beaten and the road gets steeper and the rocks get sharper and maybe so do the taunts or whips of the soldiers. And he falls again. “What a loser” says the system and also “he deserved this”. This is how we view the people who come into this country to find a new life, they are rejected once, twice, again and again. This is how we view welfare “recipients” who have more and more taken away from them and then are expected to keep battling on and on in steeper and steeper conditions with less and less empathy from those who do not struggle as they do.

And in our weakness also, we fail to respond to the person who needs our help or we fail to make ll our commitments, or we fail to be the shining perfect person we want to be.

And we live right now in a society that judges and punishes failures.

What is the stumbling block in my life? Where do I fall again and again? Do I have enough compassion for the falling, struggling Jesus to also learn to have compassion for myself and my imperfections? Can I learn to see Jesus instead of failure in those who need my compassion?

Jesus I see you fall again, teach me to understand how hard your road is.

God who calls me, I hear your voice but the world comes in with burdens and stresses and I fall again and again.

Holy Spirit teach me to know for real that there is no limit or due date on grace.

Conclusion

It is not yet Easter in our lives. All wrongs are not yet healed. This is an eternal truth that we encounter in Good Friday. Pain and suffering and even death are real. God’s grace sometimes seems in short supply and we cannot anticipate the fullness of grace when we are trapped in the “not yet” of our lives.

Jesus remember me, when you find a way through to liberation. Show me how to hold your hand and hold mine.

Where do we go with all this?

Wow this first reading and I go back a long way. It was in my children’s bible and I remember reading it and being traumatised all day at school thinking about it (I was only little) and having massive nightmares. I literally thought when I was a child that stuff like this would happen to me…so I can’t find any theology in there (I know good or bad there is some in there) because I feel sort of triggered and yuck from the story. Sorry about that. Not very professional!

I always imagined myself as the mother in the story (probably because it was the only female character). JUST AWFUL!!!! Even now. Maybe especially now.

But it’s been an unusually tough week in a particularly hard year and I am hearing in the second reading that the world can be kind of hostile to people who try to live according to God’s values (I didn’t say I succeed) and who call into question the “common sense” of the world in who they are or what they do. I’d like to be delivered, if not from perverse and wicked people then at least from perverse and wicked systems (but there are people behind the squeeze on low income earners and welfare recipients, it does not happen naturally lets remember).

So the second reading recommends me to be inspired by the love of God and the endurance of Christ. But really, what else is this world and many of its people going to be asked to endure? I love that at Standing Rock so many people are supporting the environmental stance of the local Indigenous people but as we send support from Australia (a good thing to do) Celeste Liddle reminded us that there are parallels over here  We hear less about our own country, the continued injustice and colonial grinding down that is happening in our name. We need to bring the love of God to the face of that Christ-like endurance and not be the wicked and perverse oppressors as outlined in the second reading.

The gospel seems relevant to me in a society that is trying to protect a supposedly “Christian” model of marriage from flowing out to embrace more diverse people’s expressions of love and family. Jesus here is not putting on the serious face about the “sanctity of marriage” or the “sacrament of marriage”. I am not belittling married people who may have lived a sanctified and sacramental life (whether the church recognises it or not). But it seems to me that here Jesus is saying something along the lines of “marriage is a made-up human thing and the greater reality isn’t a particular narrow model of marriage but is eternal life, marriage is sort of a distraction or side issue for the real question.

Now I have to confess I am fairly agnostic about anything happening after we die. I am reading Marie Turner’s book God’s wisdom or the devil’s envy finding themes about life and death in the book of Wisdom, but that is based on Derrida’s version of deconstruction so there are not going to be any iron-clad conclusions there are there? All I can take from it is an idea of this attempt by humanity to dance with God and Wisdom in the face of evil and “the devil” and death and we are pretty clueless in it all. But then maybe we can trust Wisdom to lead the dance and just hold on and not know where we will end up. Can we do that? Sometimes it seems easier than other times!

That sort of positive theology certainly flows out of Elizabeth A. Johnson’s Abounding in Kindness which is full of eco-feminist frustrated but relentless hope.

Yes that is where I want to head in this messy week when I was almost sure I wouldn’t write a thing. All the ways the world tries to colonise and torture us but there is some sort of radical crazy hope. And we need to stop putting rules on other people, stop taking their land or erasing their families or denying the validity of their love. And we need to stop being so hard on our own battered selves too.

Love of God, endurance of Christ. Radical hope that doesn’t yet know itself fully.

 

Are you a saint or a soul?

This week’s readings represent the age-old struggle to make meaning and hope after loved ones have died. This is a time of year when I naturally remember my mother and my brother anyway as well as other loved ones that were not as close to me but whose deaths impacted me or those I loved. If we follow the lead of the readings in how to interpret the concept of “All saints”, for me that is more helpful than trying to draw some line between “all saints” and “all souls” (but I will try to unpack that a little…

In the Wisdom reading, we are talking about the “souls of the righteous” whereas Isaiah has an even more inclusive “all peoples”. I want to reflect on both readings in tandem as a kind of “All saints” reading and an “All souls” reading together (I haven’t actually looked to see what the lectionary says for all souls. So if we consider our beloved who have died as “righteous” in any way, as in some way subscribed to the radical justice and utopian vision of the reign of God then we label them “Saints” and that is all that it takes. So really everyone is covered under the idea of “All saints” because there is some good in everyone and God can work with that and call more out of them (this is assuming anything happens after death, although I generally prefer to hedge my bets and try to turn to justice in this life in case it is all my individual soul gets).

“All souls” is not an implication that some people don’t qualify for some sort of entrance exam to be “saints”. Instead it is a move from talking about the “righteous” to talking about “all peoples”. In the end God’s radical inclusivity and hope will challenge all our notions of justice and deserving. Justice is a starting point for aligning ourselves with God but God is everything and can afford to be reckless. God even loves and saves and gives bountifully to those who don’t deserve it. I used to see this as good news when I was young and naïve, but the more I have read about politics and economics in the world the more I wish God would call all the oppressors to account more than she does.

“Even you?” asks God, “will you still like me calling them to account when I show how you are implicated?” We who participate in society, especially we who benefit from inequality must work for the justice we thirst for. The dead are the “righteous” in so far as they worked for justice and kindness with God; but God isn’t ultimately interested in whether we judge them as worthy, before we begin the pious tradition of “praying for their souls” god has already swept them up in whatever hospitality is possible in whatever reality looks like after death.

So then having anxiety about whether God would accept as “saints” my brother, my mother, my good friend who suicided or anyone else is also beside the point. If I can feel this love and feel this loss then that soul that is lost from my presence had value and God sees that value more clearly than I do and welcomed them into Godself with more love and passionate longing than I could ever begin to ask for.

This is not to say that their deaths are God’s will or something that I should celebrate. God consistently has that longing to be one with us, but gives us many opportunities in this life to begin to move into that union. Life is a great blessing, it is not cheap or trivial and even when we think about the meaning of eternity and the “what comes after” we do it within a framework of our bodily and conscious experiences of this life. We simply can’t imagine any way of being apart from alive. We tend to cling to childish hopes of “Another world” or a perfect place called “heaven”. I don’t know what “happens” really, I just hope that God’s love means something and I try to trust that.

The psalm seems at first glance less inclusive than the picture I have just painted. In the psalm it is those with clean hands and pure hearts who haven’t soiled themselves with lies and falseness. This seems to speak into my fear that evil is allowed to simply thrive no matter its effect on others. In this psalm God in some way honours the efforts of those who do make the effort to be sincere and honest. This psalm is less reassuring because in a word of capitalism, commodification, performativity can any of us really claim not to have lied and cheated out way into things? Do any of us have hands unsoiled by market goods that are made by exploited labour in sweatshops and are part of the denuding of the earth for trivial reasons such as to match decorations.

The King imagery at the end puts me off somewhat and I was going to steer clear of it, but what if the “ancient doors” and gates need to brow higher and bigger to let in this “king of glory” because of the radical inclusivity, the infinity of his entourage. Just as recently we had the reading about the eye of the needle, those of us who cannot under our own merit “climb the mountain of the Lord” need to rely on the endless possibilities of the infinite love of God. We seek to be what God wants us to be, but the movement is not one person, it is all of us with God- with the King of glory. To become the radical justice we dream of we must connect with others. Our love keeps those who have died within the reign of God and our love can also reach out to take more of the earth with us into God.

There is more idealistic imagery in the second reading, about a future time of consolation. The caution here is not to use it as an escapism from the immediacy of all that is wrong with this world. It is wrong to read an implication here (as some do) that this life and this earth are disposable commodities and that God will give us a new one just like that. There is something unique and precious about this life on this earth and we need to be better stewards of what we have been given.

Instead this reading is a call to hope that somehow God’s presence will be “among mortals” that the grace and possibility of the reign of God will be made somehow accessible to us. It doesn’t say how and it doesn’t tell us to passively wait for it, but God is the beginning and end of all that we are and strive for and become and love. Whatever happens in this world and in this life God will be with us, reaching out to give us possibilities and solace. I refuse to be a Pollyanna about it, the things that are happening to some of God’s beloved (eg entire families of refugees) are painful and real and hard to find hope in (likely even harder for them than for me). Grief and loss are real. Human sins such as exploitation, envy, bullying, unkindness, greed are also real. We can’t erase that. What we are called to do is stubbornly cling to a radical hope (in the context of Jesus having had to carry and die on a cross…and the real crosses we see and build and suffer on around us).

I am going to consider the gospel separately, because to me it speaks of a completely unrelated issue. But as we remember and mourn and celebrate our beloved family and friends around all saints/souls days let us cling to radical hope. Let us use this life to orient ourselves ever more firmly toward God’s justice, kindness and faithful presence. Let us never let go of our loves (though our mission is still to live fully and with joy).