Tag Archives: eternity

Starring Wisdom and justice

33rd Sunday Ordinary time, year b      November 18, 2018      Stef Rozitis

Am off to use this reflection at church. I hope it will be OK
“A time unsurpassed in distress!” Sadly one of the themes of human history is this great distress. Persecution. Oppression. Dispossession. Disorienting change and now climate change confronts us. These times stare us in the eye and remind us how fragile we are and can make us feel horribly insignificant, even as though everything we do is futile. Daniel’s view of the end-times is horrifying, of course he was of a prophetic tradition where substances were used to aid the seeing of visions.

 
The point of consolation in all this is the wise who will shine brightly, those who lead many to justice being like the stars. I think of the turbulent world events, my hopes and often fears for a future for myself or my children. I think of times of great despair and desolation in my own life and of the bright stars, the people who come with consoling wisdom- not to trivialise or dismiss my fears, not to try to silence or repress the negative things we see and experience and our heart’s need to cry out against them- but just to show us God’s face amid the strife. To shine.

 
I could cry when I consider some of those stars, because the world does not always treat people like that kindly. I consider all my heroes- the people who speak out so courageously about human rights, the abuse that gets hurled at them. It’s well documented how in particular women who advocate for others get rape threats, or threats against the safety of their children “Those who lead many to justice” walk a risky path- they may lose their job, their security, their peace of mind.

 
After the psalm reminds us that we have everything we need in God, the second reading talks about how human religions are in some measure obsolete. This does not mean that we should not gather, that we should not break bread and word in memory of the real sacramental action of Christ’s being born into us; of facing our unsurpassed distress to its logical conclusion- the cross. I need to be here. It does however call into question the structures we build around our sacraments- the way we try to imprison some people in various identity cages(1) within overly rigid church structures, while simultaneously keeping people out- out of participation in this way or that, out of democratic leadership, out of allowing their embodied human experiences to inform theology, rather than iron-clad theologies limiting and labelling human experience in narrowing ways.

 
Whatever it is that we celebrate here together- the one we call Jesus has already acted. Wisdom has already set the table and prepared the banquet. We have no right to try to control the flow of grace in this direction but not in that. Sacrament is for all, and the sanctuary is our place to be- women, men and children and perhaps a broader sweep of creation too. The earth’s resources also are prepared by wisdom for all creation and for itself. The amassing of wealth in pockets while so many starve goes against Jesus’ sacrificial action of trying (in history and in the now as well) to open up heaven to the human heart, and open up the human heart to heaven. If all our sins are forgiven dare we enter a new and engraced way of being?

 
The gospel also speaks of dark and turbulent times, but of the coming near of God within these times. We see signs of what is coming. We are asked not to be naïve in our spirituality, or our politics, or our daily living but read the patterns and face reality with courage. Nothing is inevitable, nothing is sure, all things can pass away except God’s Word. The Word has already spoken to us today through the first two readings (and speaks through our hearts and bodies also). Wisdom and justice are the signs of the Word’s bright indwelling in a person, all sins are forgiven and we are free to be part of a new reign of God.

 
Some of the imagery in these ancient texts seems militaristic and kyriearchal to me and it took me a long time this week to look beyond that to the invitation in them. I look from the readings to my world, to the people who give wisdom, the people who lead me to follow justice in everything I choose. They are indeed like stars. The joy and love in my life is always from the goodness of others, from the beauty of someone who is radically oriented toward a redeemed way of being human. When I see those people at times devalued by the world, small voices in a growing clamour of consumerism, greed and corresponding hunger and desperation then I see also what my call is.

 
It is my call to be one of the stars for the people who are stars to me. The darkest night has beauty when we look up and see the pureness and twinkle of stars. We connect them together into pictures, we see them as constellations as relationships. The wise and justice oriented people in our lives, the true stars hold out their hands and call us to join them. Star to star we bring light to a world following the first and last star, the Morning Star, the Christ.

 
Let us sit now and think of the stars who have shone wisdom and justice into our dark nights. Let us think of the ways we are called by God to do the same; to lead others to the justice they thirst for and “shine like stars forever”. Let us know that no darkness is ever complete. Let us resolve to connect and support the networks of light, the communities of hope, the constellations of stars in the image of our loving and healing wise God.

 

1. Morley, L. (2013). The rules of the game: Women and the leaderist turn in higher education. Gender and education, 25(1), 116-131.

Advertisements

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).