This week quite a lot of things happened. On the micro-scale… I managed to offend someone whose good opinion I really care about. My most trustworthy and hardworking colleague suddenly chucked a sickie and I got to teach a class I don’t usually get. I realised more about my own privilege. We finally got what felt like some winter weather (and I didn’t like it).
On the slightly broader scale- levels of discontent are rising. One of my friends got a job she really deserves. One of my children applied for an exciting job. Vegan diets and composting are on the increase and people are turning away from plastic bags. But only some people, and this is sad. Extinction rebellion staged a “die in” in work hours and it was well attended (but not by me).
On the larger scale. We have a “Christian” prime minister and a small and beloved Tamil family is being squeezed out of their loving neighbourhood and out of the country. The children are being traumatised even more than they have been. Another “Christian” man is trying to get out of serving his prison sentence for child sex offences. It is hard to believe him innocent given the weight of the evidence and his own lack of insight about sex-crimes within the church hierarchy. I am not reassured by our “Christian” leaders as the sea levels rise. I am stunned that we would “protect our borders” against bright little girls and their parents but open the gate and put the welcome mat out for Adani and Equinor.
I don’t know where to turn for faith this week though, because the lectionary mumbles anachronisms and dogma- dangerous to an aware woman. If I even am a “woman” which is a whole other question. I feel I should make an effort to go “back” to church this week, to recapture something I used to love. I have marking and editing and writing and even a lecture to plan. I have laundry and shopping and cleaning and admin work to do.
I am sitting here drinking coffee and feeling adrift because it is not like I didn’t try the lectionary but it is abjectly failing to speak to me. It’s not reassuring. It’s not challenging. It’s just off-key and sort of smug at me. So where do I take this doubt and this still desire for goodness and love? Where do I take this floating, unmoored feeling? So many psychs over the years have told me to “trust myself” more, but that is hard enough with earthly things. How unsafe, even narcissistic it seems to have the “self” as an authority in spiritual things.
So if not myself, then what can I become aware of? The scrabbling of tiny rodents in the walls when I am trying to sleep? The orange and glorious sunset I can just glimpse from my “hot desk” as I leave work later and later each night? The reed that encircle the shining lake? The student who mentions Paolo Freire before I even do? The paragraph in a paper that I am marking that sounds like it was written by an expert? The bitterness of the too dilute coffee because I am neglecting household tasks like shopping? That elusive reference just outside the reach of my growing but still slow brain? The…(but no some things I should not dwell on even if they seem divine).
Is the net of ripples and circles that I call my “experience” of the world also a sort of lectionary? Can I read the life of God in it? How do I orient myself, in which direction is this “God/Godde”? Is it behind my back in the brave personal battles of one of the other casuals? Is it behind a closed door in an office of one of the “real academics”? Did it leave when we had the restructure? No. It is here. It is always where I am and I am happy to be here even when the hard work almost kills me. I bring it with me, like the roses from my garden that I put in the lunch room, but others bring it with them too. Others I think I know but that have hidden depths. It is in the “care” of teacher for student, senior staff for newer. It is in the enthusiasm of the first-year whose family never went to uni. It is in the ability to quickly understand of the Masters student. It is in the way I thought I was something remarkable, odd or special but everywhere here there are people like me.
It is in the laugh at myself for having been less (and more) than I thought. It is in the student who catches my eye and knows that I know that there is more to life than the four walls of the classroom. It is in temptation (dumplings, mexican food, chocolate brownies and the tavern). The life of Godde is our life.
It is in the fluffy ducklings who do not know the world they have hatched into. It is in the koalas who will be desperate for water by high summer. It is in the brown snakes who wreak such havoc just by appearing. It is in the dying trees and the grapefruit trees, giving their bounty to all and sundry (who can reach). It is in the view of the ocean and the too-blue for winter skies. It is in the library, in the hidden corners and rustling pages and even the annoying blip of someone’s mobile phone. The life of Godde may be beyond humans, but when we touch it then it is here in our lives. If it can be in a cultural text (bible or lectionary) then it can be in other texts too (email asking me to take a class, me trying to fairly word my response to someone asking for an extension).
I thought all this focus on “reality” would go somewhere that I would talk myself out of this spiritual dryness into some sort of “relationship” or some sort of ability to “believe” but the world appears to be dying and my children are in it. I am lost. I do not know how to find Godde or faith in any of this after all. I do not know what meaning any of this has apart from the twisted and difficult pleasure I get from my work. Am I becoming a workaholic? Maybe. I am pursuing this academic dream partly because it gives me joy but also because I cannot see Godde. Can Wisdom be here somewhere? I miss feeling like I knew where she was.
I will wash my clothes as early as possible and take the bus into work to do marking and other things. I love this. I want this. But I feel I ought to understand or touch something bigger in it all. Right now this is all I have.
The lectionary this week is my friend, these readings are perfect for encouraging an activist and someone who would do good in the world, without allowing for smugness or self-righteousness. Given the church’s capacity for “I am right and you are damned” thinking, I will start with what these readings do NOT tell me. They do not tell me that I am right and everyone else is wrong or inferior. They do not tell me to go about judging individual “sin” and nitpicking others. They do not answer all questions, give us a blueprint for living or make it easier. They do reassure us, call to us, tell us our work is meaningful and needed and remind us to focus on WHAT MATTERS. I will get to what matters but spoiler alert, the second reading pretty much spells it out.
There is a popular quote that is often incorrectly attributed to Nelson Mandela, but I will start with that:
“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.” (Marianne Williamson)
Williamson is brilliant, because she has made so many people sit up and take notice of this truth, but in a sense she is (intentionally or not) paraphrasing today’s first reading. The reading says the same thing, but puts it in a context of faith as relationship with God. God knows us full well. God knew us before we were born and is intimately familiar with both our capacity and our limitations. God loves and calls out of us the light that we are. God loves, soothes and forgives our brokenness and too tiredness.
God is asking us to have the courage to speak out against oppression- the oppressions of ourselves or others. God is asking us to take an ideological stand for the kindom of Heaven not for the economy of only money while children suffer and human beings work too hard for too little. Kin-dom, sometimes people tell me I spell that wrong, but I am making a choice to critique putting a human oppressive structure like “kingship” on our God of subversive love who preferences the poor. Charity then is reframed not as generosity given to the lesser “other” but as justice, giving people back what is rightfully theirs. We are KIN, we are family to God and therefore to each other. Everything we have was first of all God’s and as God has shared it with human-kind it is equally for all, not for one of us more than another.
Interesting also that as well as Kings and Princes (secular oppressive powers) we are also told we will have to stand against priests and people. I don’t see this reading asking us to unquestioningly follow or be inappropriately loyal to the clergy. We must demand from them what we demand from anyone in power- integrity, wisdom, humility and the dignity of those they claim to lead. Those below us are our kin and those above us are also our kin. Noone deserves less than me. Noone “deserves” more than me. We must give and demand full respect. There is no excuse for clergy abusing people or lording it over them.
The psalm is a call to God, because if we take out vocation to stand against injustice and oppression seriously then we have a daunting task before us. There will be a time when we feel unequal to the task. The psalm begs for God’s support and strength and hints that these are available to us. What if as well as calling on God we call on each other for solidarity and look for and support those in whom God’s call shines strongly? The womb is mentioned again, I notice this week’s readings really stressing our origin in a mother’s womb and God’s midwifely care for us to be born. Our material lives, our bodily realities (with messy female bodies involved in the creation of life) is known and blessed and companioned by God. I am menstruating as I write which makes my relationship with my own body difficult. But I came messily from my mother and my children came messily from me. The Word of God is in each of us and the power to declare God’s justice and salvation. These days I am not birthing children but words. It is also a difficult and messy process. God knows me before I speak and before my words are articulate. God is in the mentors that try to help me fix my words (whether or not they are “believers”).
If God companions us then God is also the companioning and mentorship that we bring to each other. Praise God in the messiness of human love and wisdom. Praise for the sacrament of community!
The second reading seems to agree with me. No amount of eloquence, dedication to a cause or force of charisma is worth anything if I lose the focus that God has set for all my meaningful labours. The focus is LOVE. Justice is for LOVE. Hope is for LOVE. Human relationships are for LOVE. Education of children is for LOVE. Politics ought to be for LOVE. Protecting the environment is work of LOVE. Love to the stranger and the refugee. Love to the queer kid and the dysmorphic teen. Love to the socially awkward, the disabled, the unemployed or the grieving. Love to the articulate, the successful, the polished too. Love to the prickly, love even to the hollow and love always back to myself. I am here to know my belovedness not guilt at what I have not (yet) achieved. I am beautiful for being created so, not as an attainment in a dazzling career of some sort. But I also don’t have to devalue my achievements, just refocus through them on love. All worthwhile aims are love and all that makes us fully actualised is love.
When it is hard to find a path then we must love more. When we are doing well then we must consciously refocus on love.
Love is that perfect and resilient thing that is expounded in this reading but please note that love is NOT a quiet doormat. Patient and kind yes but also ready to advocate for the beloved (and all are God’s beloved). All other things will ultimately fail us and leave us feeling empty but love will always triumph. Love will always call us back to the centre of being. Love is the safest place to invest our efforts and our identity and reap joy. When grief is real and joy is difficult, nevertheless the meaning of the universe lies within love. Love is unavoidable if our lives are to be meaningful and our personhood complete.
In the gospel, I “only a single mum”, “only a student”, only a this or only a that smile at Jesus being “only the son of a carpenter”. This past week I heard someone who I experience as a hero, a courageous and intelligent leader and thinker describe herself as “a girl from….” (a country town). Behind all the great prophets and teachers there is a very ordinary reality (like wombs again) of growing up somewhere with some ordinary folk and gaining extraordinariness through the call of God/love, through the fact that within every single one of us is the seed of liberation for ourselves and each other (Williamson again). I find Jesus’ words about some people being chosen and some not puzzling. I cannot believe that God plays favourites and this has not been my experience either.
It is the “widow” or the “leper” or the “carpenter’s son” that we must look to, to be fed and taught and called. It is the ordinary in us that gives rise to our vocation to work not only FOR God but WITH God in our world and beyond. And beyond, I say, not giving ourselves permission to neglect the realities of climate change and inequality here on earth, but hoping always radically hoping for greater meanings than we can yet know.
“So faith, hope and love remain, these three. But the greatest is love”. Our faith and our being hold such a truth at the heart because elsewhere we are reminded that “God is love”. Let us answer that call, let us be defined by always greater commitment to love.
Someone asked me (well not just me, a group of us) to articulate how/why we believe in God. I am tired and it is a hard thing to articulate, but I will set down here what I said and try to start to polish it to understand it better. I think it was Elizabeth Adams St Pierre that said she only knew what she was going to say AFTER she wrote it. It’s a bit like that for me and this is my process for trying to understand my inner truth.
I think I will classify this as one of my “creeds”
I think my belief in Jesus is just me needing a framework for my belief in God
that is the framework I grew up with,
sort of the God-language that I am fluent(ish) in.
There is not rational reason to believe in God
I feel a presence
that is what a relationship is, a presence I can feel and trust
I need values and meaning to be fully alive
and sometimes struggle to know what they are
or define them.
People define them wrong, rules break down,
systems oppress someone
I need more
a presence I can trust
that will travel the beyond-ways with me
and love and trust me into
my better self.
God is “other” to me
so that I might not be God to myself
which would be narcissism
I find myself
in bouncing off an “other”
sometimes people are the “other” but also God
to remind me that the “other” is as great and greater than me
and reaching for me in love
to wrap me
my “self” is not all, is not the reason
but even my “Self” is also wrapped in the great love.
I know God.
I mean I know love.
I am loved.
I know the sight of the tawny eyes that make me feel tender
and I say “I am in love”
and I can ask all the texts in the world to explain this thing to me
can deconstruct and disbelieve
but I see the face, the smile
and I am in (human) love.
And that is what knowing boils down to.
I know the taste of mango.
I know the sweet and the sometimes too sour
and the inconvenience of skin and seed
and the pleasure/irritation of dripping
and the juice in a thirsty mouth
and the wrong season so I have apple instead.
There is reason, there is science
but that is not really how I know the curve and the scent
that is mango.
I see a man and I know he is the baby
that I used to watch breathing in joy and fear
that I used to hold close and allow to move away
that began words and thought I was everything,
then a person, an “other”.
I know the baby still in the man
but the baby is long gone
and I love the man the same and not the same.
The breath that meant love.
My cat purrs and I know her and she knows me.
My hand on her velvety fur brings the purr
and she is old
and she knows I am far from perfect
but also trusts that I will feed her,
she rarely reminds me.
I know she purrs not for any reason
but because we are together.
I know the velvety rose petal.
I know its caress and I know its fragrance.
Roses have thousands of petals and they curl and dry up and disappear
and I have to try to remember
to dead-head them.
If I pick a rose
and put in in a vase in my warm house
it will last a day perhaps
But the petal is fresh if I rub it, unless I crush it,
the rose smells like something I can’t prove.
And why does the scent of a rose
call to mind those eyes again?
Something like faith, making connections
that reason cannot sustain.
I would hope everyone feels some such thing.
The bible for me is not fact,
or rules for living,
or instructions or warnings.
It is a photo-album of
communities of God within my faith-family.
They got some stuff right and some stuff wrong.
And some of it I just plain wasn’t there and I don’t understand.
And then God comes along like a burst of music
through my head and echoing in my memory,
reverbating in my body, in my bones
making me dance and haunting me forever after.
Sometimes I get the moves or the rhythm wrong
or I strain to hear and miss my cue.
I hope the music is still moving me even then.
I hope but I can’t prove it.
Somewhere in my hope, my good intention
I must have been touched by God
I must be right
(not about the facts or the mechanics or to tear others down)
but right to live and move and have my being
coming to know GODDE.
“whoever lives the truth comes to the light,
so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.”
How do we live the truth and change direction always to be heading into the light. In the midst of the lenten negativity of the readings I am finding this questioning of the integrity of my own life. I want to smugly point to this good work or that moment of clarity in my life and say “see I am all about light” but the point of this reading is not to brag (nor to self-condemn) but to realise that we can’t and don’t live 100% light-illumined and truthful lives but we are always striving to “come to” a light which in its completeness is unapproachable (the bible is full of the transcendence of God just as much as the immanence).
No one person or organisation is fully “the truth” or “the light” none but Jesus of Nazareth perhaps in his claims to be one with Divine Wisdom herself. The best we can do is turn toward God, be influenced by the same Holy Spirit that lived perfectly within Jesus.
How do we know the light of God in a world where there are so many lights clamouring for us to follow them…lights of supposedly infallible authority (which over time reveal themselves to be contaminated with exploitative uses of power); lights of manufactured desires and the consent to turn a blind eye to injustice that go with it (that glitter at the peripheries of our privileged vision even when we strive to be better than that); the light of reason, “the enlightenment” all things rational, efficient, proven, positivist and ultimately reductive of the human complexity to a set of algorithms and chemical reactions?
We live in a dazzling cultural shopping mall of neon lights and fairy lights and lava lamps and light up running shoes and goodness knows what other lights that stake a claim on our need for security and soothing, our hollowness and anxiety, our preference for easy answers.
And God is not just one such easy answer.
The first reading tells us that God sends us messengers to urge us to turn away from the wrong and dangerous things we do. Which practices are “abominations” however? Ideas of right and wrong are hotly contested and each person feels that it is “everybody else” that is failing to listen to the word of God.
In qualitative research we talk about “reflexivity”, being honest about who we are, what our bias and standpoint are and why we might believe what we believe. Relexivity in practice can also involve looking at our own behaviour and habits to find ways to be as coherent as possible (morally coherent, intellectually coherent) when we are teaching or leading others. An obvious example of bad practice is adults using hitting as a punishment, while trying to teach a child to value peaceful and non-violent strategies to their problems; refusing to listen to honour promises while trying to teach the child respect and honesty…etc…One sentence that sums up this lack of coherence that I have heard actually used is “Don’t you fucking swear at me.”
These ways of teaching or leading show that I am more concerned with my own power over you, than with the content of what I claim to want to teach you. Jesus as the intimate, barefoot-walking word of God came to break bread with us and lie down on our earth and suffer dishonour and death in solidarity with those who seek liberation. Jesus did not just preach, but also modelled. The light in our lives is that which gives us more than escapist distraction, more than certain authority, more than a freaking display of colour – however beautiful- but the light comes to take us a step toward something permanent and another step and another. The light is something transformative of our darkness, more than a night-light for our terrors but a beacon to come closer and be healed (and sent out).
The second reading is that one about faith through grace and not works. It gets misused at times to claim that it doesn’t matter what we do, only whether we “believe” as if belief is a state you can switch on at will a magical spell against having to try to grapple with the real world. The flip-side of this is that we can never really be “good” or deserve credit for our work or our choices. I largely grew up with such a depressing view of my own unconditional unworthiness, even when I have done everything I can all the credit belongs to God and I should still do better.
The word “grace” should surely evoke something more full of joy and beauty than this scenario. We can agree with the reading, we do not “earn” grace, we are not “saved” (or loved, or called or come into being) through any work we have achieved. Life is a gift and the kindom of God also is a pure gift. This does not mean that God does not call us to also give, to be agents of grace to others (and to ourselves). Grace is like a light that can bathe our lives with holiness, that can slowly spread to banish shadows of fear and hatred. So we are always/already loved and saved but then we are caught up in the desire to grace the world, to grace ourselves just as a baby is already beloved before it can even make eye-contact or smiled, but this love bathes their sense of what it means to be and the baby is moved to want to participate in the family and learns all sorts of amazing things (how to sit up, how to form words, how to use humour) not because the baby only becomes human through these “works” or learning but because the humanity the baby already possesses drives them to desire to participate in connection and social agency.
It is the same with the kindom of God. We are loved and treasured no matter how fast or slow our “development” is within God’s call to us. We are called and challenged to participate as we become able, because it is only fair to do that and because it gives God joy and pride in us when we take notice of the work of creation and learn to dance it with her. Perhaps it is convenient to talk about “belief” as the ingredient that brings out our loving response to God but there is also a danger that belief becomes a talisman against having to really, deeply care and do.
Moses lifted up a serpent in the desert for everyone to look upon and be saved. We want it to be that easy don’t we? We want to ignore every other part of salvation history where the people continued to quarrel and contest the meaning of various teachings, continued to make mistakes and had to be called back again and again to look after the widow and the orphan and the foreigner. Symbols bring us together but it is the “together” not the symbol that enacts change. Symbols point to deeper truths, belief is one of those “works” that is incidental to the grace which really saves.
Faith is a relationship, an orientation not an act of will, a contract or a set of tick-boxes.
Seeking light this International Women’s Day I visit the grave of my mother and read the bible-verse that we decided summed up who she was for us and summed up also where she drew her wisdom and loveliness (as we saw it) from.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5)
God’s light is not a competing light display in the shopping mall of shallow dreams. It goes out to where the darkness is and stubbornly shines there. We look for the light in the parts of life we are afraid to face. We know the light will be there and we come to it. The darkness has not overcome it…not then, not now, not ever.
The light shines.
What with my right to exist being debated all over the country at the moment. I felt the need to throw in a little extra post affirming my faith and the continuity I see between being this God-created lesbian that I am and my faith in God’s endless love.
Let us pray to the God who is love as we consider what rights to grant our brothers and sisters (and ourselves)
I believe in God, who out of love made the universe;
who made all creation in her own image
who called humankind to know that we are made in the image
imperfect mirrors of perfect grace and and loveliness.
This God created me and knows me, knit me together in my mother’s womb
brought me out into the world and called me “beloved daughter”.
And God saw that creation was good, even humanity.
I believe that divine Wisdom, became flesh, became Jesus Christ in human history.
Jesus spoke a lot about love and acceptance;
Jesus had more tolerance for honest sinners than for judgemental hypocrites.
We don’t know whether Jesus loved anyone romantically
it is possible he was straight, it is possible he was gay.
He had at least one “beloved disciple” though we are not privy to what went on there.
Jesus was put to death, for being more interested in human rights, than personal purities.
He was against the way religion can distract from God’s kindom.
He called people to be fair and loving.
Wisdom has always done this, but Jesus did it in human flesh
so that we would relate to her/him.
I believe in the Holy Spirit who loves me and calls me to be kind and authentic.
I believe that all love is from the Holy Spirit
and that God is consistently calling me to love.
For love we are supposed to give up all things,
even traditions if they go against love.
We are uncompromisingly called to love.
Sometimes we fail, and yet we are still deeply loved by God’s loving Spirit.
I believe that “marriage equality” is a secular matter
and needn’t threaten the church, whether or not we agree
that the love between two women, or two men may be sacramental.
I believe that we need to protect families from hate and exclusion.
I believe that the loving and authentic Christian has no need to fear.
I believe that I am fearfully and wonderfully made
yes even as a lesbian
yes even if you consider my flaws as a human being.
I believe that no one ever went to hell for loving too much.
I believe that at the present time God is calling the church
to be great-hearted and loving, courageous and generous.
I believe in “yes”.
I believe in broadening our definition of sacramental love to protect families.
I believe in God who out of love
made us, walks with us, calls us to deeper life and love.
There is never a contradiction between godliness and unselfish love.
This is my faith. I feel the need to try to put it into (imperfect) words. Amen.
My youngest was confirmed and I was privileged to be allowed to speak (preach?) on the day. There were also two baptisms and so I wanted to tie the confirmation in with them. Here is what I said…
Sebastian was baptised a long, long time ago. We had all the same hopes for him that parents do at baptisms. We didn’t feel we needed God to “change” him or “fix” him in any way, but we wanted to show our commitment to bringing him into the Christian community.
His community of faith was a joyful, accepting one. I had been asked NOT to step down from serving at the altar when I was pregnant (although I was allowed to sit down and take breaks when I needed to)- we celebrated the baptism at the Adelaide College of Divinity, intentionally choosing ecumenical territory, Matthew and I bringing our families and our friends together and Sebastian was not for a moment short of arms that wanted to hold him and faces that wanted to smile at him.
It was like any baptism of a baby that way. There were the symbols- water- death and resurrection, oil, candle, white garment. There was the love and the welcome in everyone’s hearts. I felt sure that baptism for Sebastian would not be a one-off event but would be the beginning of a journey. Over the years we have been part of several church communities- but what Sebastian has found there has been people who offer to babysit him and bake him sausage rolls, people who sewed a tiny cassock so he could be boat boy and people who made sure there were some kids drinks at morning tea after the service. He has been taught about the bible and about the sacraments and about how precious is God’s creation- human and otherwise.
At Cabra chapel Sebastian has been accepted with enthusiasm but also respect for his boundaries as he gets older. He often gets asked to help out in various ways, but the asking is never forceful. When I have the temerity to walk into the church without Sebastian, I always know people are going to ask me where he is. He has been allowed to become an important part of this community, because that has been his baptismal right. Baptism makes a place like this, a church community “home”. The baptised Christian is always called back by God to be amidst the love, support, inspiration and nurture of their community and that has been the case with us.
But now Sebastian is ready to be confirmed and confirmation works together with baptism as a sort of divine circle of security. You probably all know about the circle of security where parents work with the child on separating and reconnecting easily with trust and for the needs of the child –reassurance and encouragement to be met as the child manages to do more and more for themselves, but returns to that safe base. The sacraments work similarly, and in confirmation we receive the Holy Spirit as our mentor and inspiration. The Holy Spirit already knows Sebastian well I am sure and will work with Sebastian’s deepest God-given nature to find Sebastian’s unique work in this world. We all have unique work for God’s kindom and a unique (though sometimes difficult to understand or respond to) call.
In baptism, Sebastian has been called into the nurturing heart of his Christian community, in confirmation he will be sent out, commissioned to walk with God in the world. There is no contradiction here, any more than there is in the circle of security. He is simultaneously sent out and called back in. So are we all. Sebastian is no longer the baby he was and we must trust him and God to decide exactly how he will follow his sending out and his call inward. But we are pleased that he is our family, we are pleased that he is our church.
His journey of faith reminds us to look to our own ongoing journey of faith and his young flame of Wisdom and Courage, Joy and all the fruits of the spirit is one we will still nurture with our prayers, acceptance and community life.
We are privileged to assist God in nurturing these young lives and welcoming them into our midst. Come Holy Spirit. Fill our hearts today and always.