Tag Archives: Genesis

Where is God when our labour is invisible?

In case you need something less “over it” I will drop a link to what I wrote last time it was this gospel story…

Let’s talk about invisible labour. Let’s talk about pink collar jobs. Let’s talk about gaslighting, because it kind of feels like Martha gets gaslighted by Jesus in the gospel of the week and the lectionary does not help by it’s treatment of Sarah. We’ll start with Sarah, since that reading is the first.

So…three men visit Abraham. Because, you know our tradition is incapable of showing even the multiplicity and trinitarian nature of Godde without the masculine gender (rolls eyes). This is how we know that important things are happening in the public sphere

  1. It gets written down (logocentrism)
  2. The participants are men
  3. Women have to support this in ways that are trivialised or outright made invisible (eg preparing food, childcare)

“Let some water be brought” orders Abraham, claiming credit for the work of an ungendered, invisible servant. Class and gender privilege…there really is nothing like it! Abraham is happy to exploit the people of his household to gain blessings for himself (which will trickle-down to them supposedly too).

“Let me bring you a little food” says Abraham. “Me”, first person singular. The three men agree and he runs to Sarah and orders her to start baking.

We tend not to spot that in the reading, partly because we have grown up with a reluctance to really interrogate “holy” things, but also because this is such a common-place story that we forget to be angry or sad about it. Men achieve their self-interested networking by ordering women and lower-status men to do the shit-work for them. Whoever bakes the bread, only the male hands of the ordained priest is allowed to performatively break it.

Guess I am losing my faith again (don’t worry it’s behind the sofa or something, gathering lint).

So Abraham brings out the labour of Sarah’s hands, and finally this three-fold God (or is it just a bunch of men?) speaks.

“Where is your wife?” a liberative moment? A challenge to be reflexive? A call to examine the patriarchal/kyriarchal conscience?

Nah. Tucking my awkward feminist hopes back in where they won’t embarrass me…

The men are there to talk about Sarah not to her. They comment on her reproductive capacity and leave. The lectionary cuts it there so we won’t hear her give a little feminist snigger at their mansplaining (I am sure she knows about her own ovaries better than they do). Sarah laughs, but the patriarchal church is not keen to even give her that much voice. We will move on to see who else can be exploited, trivialised or dismissed…

The psalm extols the virtues of “he who does no wrong to his fellow man”. Bad translation? Maybe…we feminist certainly put in a lot of unpaid and underappreciated time trying to translate it better, dust it off, reclaim it and still love it unconditionally but today I am going to move right along…

The second reading is one of those sections that would make more sense with some context. I could probably labour to try to bring something liberative out of it but it’s not exactly jumping out is it? I probably get more useful theology from a feminist poem or a sunset. This by itself, is not going to keep me in the church.

So now the gospel. It has women in it, few gospel pericopes have that so I sort of feel excited…until I look closer. Do you know what? I will tell you how the gospel would look if it was not so gaslighty about women’s work.

Jesus and his disciples went and stayed at the house of Martha and Mary. Martha and Mary already had a very busy life, but were always happy to see their good friend Jesus and had asked him to take that liberty, nevertheless he was always conscious of the need to be a good guest, especially when bringing in 12 more mouths to feed.

Jesus was lounging around with his mates talking to Mary who was one of the smartest people he knew and always asked the right questions without making him feel dumb. Martha called from the kitchen, “Jesus can you get Mary to give me a hand?”

Jesus realised that Martha was not really even complaining about how hard she was working, she took pride in making the best food and in her wonderfully clean home but she felt like she was being taken for granted and was missing out on time with guests. He walked into the kitchen “what can I give you a hand with?” he asked.

Mary came in too as did a couple of the disciples. This way the meal still got made, but Martha was able to be part of the conversation as well!

This would actually be gospel, this would actually be good news. Instead of what we have here and the way the church has chosen to present it.

This is more than just whinging because I don’t like housework (although I REALLY don’t). This is about the fact that while women are unacknowledgedly and underpaidly (I don’t care autocorrect I will invent new adverbs if I want) doing all the caring and healing and feeding work and not getting fairly represented in the “public sphere” men are making an Icarus out of the human race. You think I am exaggerating? For the sake of macho things like GDP and military might we are all flying too close to the sun and conveniently forgetting that our wings are held together by wax. Already the wax is softened, even dripping and the buggers are refusing to turn back.

We will all die as a species if men are allowed to keep leading unchallenged and if only women who emulate them are allowed into the conversational spaces!

Please note, I am not claiming that all men are bad or that all women are innocent. This is far from being truth. But patriarchal ways of being and how casually we accept them are definitely part of the problem! If faith is at the centre of our lives, then how we perform faith will affect how we live. Many of my feminist friends are atheist (not all) but for me that is not the answer because I know a lot of CEOs and world-leaders are either atheists or have a “lip-service” faith that does not touch their eyes or their deeds.

We need more from church than the routine dismissing of women and everything women’s lives are burdened with, than the abuse and silencing of children, than ignoring the most underprivileged or lukewarm “thoughts and prayers” at best. We need to confront the climate catastrophe. Sarah, Martha and all the other silenced women are capable of so much. When will we actually take their concerns and their work more seriously. The “better part” is not sitting at the feet of a man, when there are children (or disciples) to be fed.

We know from experience that being kind and patient and just laughing quietly behind the lectionary won’t transform the church or politics. It might be time to be louder, less conventient, less compliant and call out patriarchy...even when inconveniently God seems complicit in it (but who got to present Godde to us?).

 

 

 

Advertisements

What has this to do with the body of Christ? What has this to do with me?

This was a reflection that I was privileged to be asked to give at my church. I will be doing that tomorrow (ie Sunday). The relevant readings are here.

 

Have you ever dumpster dived? I am not referring to finding some discarded and vintage bits and pieces to trendily upcyle. I mean for food.

You probably all know that Centrelink has not been increased in real terms since 1996, that’s more than two decades. Think of all the changes in those two decades. I didn’t have a mobile phone, or even want one in 1996, these days it is mandatory to have one in terms of staying in touch with Centrelink so they don’t cut you off. Many other expectations and needs have also changed. As a result of all this low income earners and welfare recipients in 2019 are a lot poorer than they were in the late 90s, when I struggled to look after my babies on welfare payments.

So dumpster diving these days is quote common, getting in amongst the rotting fruit, veg and dairy products and finding unopened packets that are barely past their useby date, bakery items that are a bit stale or broken and all the rest of it. Supermarkets throw out so much! I was shocked to be told that sometimes you can find a whole pallet of bottled water. Why does water need a use-by date?

Supermarkets often respond to dumpster divers by increasing security, padlocking dumpsters, watering the bread, slicing open packaging and at times pouring toxic chemicals or even human waste in to make the food not reclaimable. Even though this is food they can’t sell  or use in any way, they stop people from reclaiming it if they can. Thankfully this is not something that happens across the board, and dumpster divers reclaim what they can, combine it with food they grow (if they are able) and then the interesting thing is how freely they share it. In my experience people who find a lot of food, or something particularly good, or something they can cook up will immediately look for opportunities to feed each other. The contrast between those who can afford to share but do not, and those who are suffering themselves but want to share what they have always staggers me.

Eucharist reminds me that the bread of life is necessarily the bread that is shared, before God there are not those who deserve it more or less, but each of us comes to be fed and then to participate in the work of feeding.

Sharing.

This is the body of Christ.

It was refugee week this week, and many people participated in the refugee ration challenge. I’ve been marking which makes me want to eat all the time so I did not, I merely donated some money. I saw the rations that people were given- here there is no generosity or abundance- only the basics. People were given what was barely adequate and would not be very interesting over time. Keeping the body functioning is one thing, but God’s abundance is more than rations, more than the efficient fostering of physical life. Think what a meal can mean- it is not just nutrition, it is a time to stop and share and care for ourselves. Think of the house being filled with the scent of spices and good things warming. Think of bread rising. Think of the freedom to step away from work and to come together in each other’s beautiful homes and in our lovely church. Meals are not just rations, they are humanising celebrations of life.

We need to do better for the refugees, many of whom have an ethic of sharing, this is part of the Christian heritage but also a Muslim value. Sharing, giving, abundance, equality. Nourishment for the soul and for the human family rather than merely the stomach of the individual.

The body of Christ.

It’s significant to me that we add wine. There was a time in my childhood, where wine was almost never used at mass because we were told bread could symbolise both the body AND the blood. In terms of anatomy this is quite sensible and logical, no living flesh body ever existed that wasn’t also composed of blood. But there is a symbolic richness to wine that adds something to bread, that gives us a fuller more whole picture of what it is that Jesus has given to us.

Wine, especially in is a luxury not a staple as is bread. We are so surrounded by luxuries that we easily lose sight of this fact, but wine is not just stuffing something hurriedly in our mouth so we don’t collapse (not that I am advocating for bread to be so reduced). Bread can be part of charity, we might give crumbs to the less fortunate from a safe distance, we might speak of “human rights” and sustain them in life. Bread can be reduced to rations, it shouldn’t be but it can be.

Wine is only for friends. We do not give wine to people we look down on. We do not give wine grudgingly, if we give it at all then we share it with joy. One of the ways I realised when some of my university teachers had transitioned to be colleagues and comrades and (I am honoured to say this) FRIENDS is when we began to share wine together. Wine symbolises the part of meals which is not merely necessary- the joy and companionship. We bring out our best wine for our most honoured guests, we give wine as a gift to people we appreciate and admire.

The blood of Christ, cup not just of compassion but solidarity.

Significantly, when swamped by the demands of hungry crowds (5000 clamouring) Jesus did not let his apostles off the hook. He didn’t put the responsibility for self-care back on each individual.

It’s significant how we read this miracle, what we see here will affect how we live. If we think that Jesus (being god) produced magical, miraculous bread from the sky and gave it out to everyone, then we might be tempted to think that it is God and only God who can solve all our problems. Perhaps then we will think that all we need to do is pray for climate change to be solved, for the refugees to be set free, for governments to become more responsive and compassionate. But where do I draw the line? Should I even try to do the morally right thing, or do I wait for God to change me? Should I go to work or should I just pray? These extremes are silly of course, but it’s very easy to believe that if I personally am a reasonably good and kind person, the world’s problems are not my problem. I can give toxic politics, growing inequity and the climate crisis all to God and keep planning a wonderful holiday for my own family.

In this way of thinking, the bread of heaven never grew in the earth, the wine we share was never worked by human hands. But…think of the liturgy (work of the people) that we all grew up with. We assert that the bread and wine which are transformed into Christ’s real and living presence are exactly that- earth and human work. There is no getting away from this. Jesus’ insistence that all were responsible of all might have called out of people whatever they had brought for themselves alone. Those with a surplus shared with those who had nothing without getting to judge them for being “lazy” or “less organised”. There is a redistributive power to Eucharist, this is not co-incidental it is at the heart of it. It comes from a God who became embodied and entangled in humanity. It comes from a Christ who says “I want everyone to be fed, I want all at the table” not with threats or rules or overpowering us but with a deep enough commitment to become bread for us.

The generosity of Christ is here. Eat. Drink. Be the sacrament.

So let us reflect on the table we are coming to. Let us reflect that around the table we are a circle, all equal, all welcomed. Let us take the sacrament when Christ offers it, let us treasure it, hold it within ourselves, and let us open our hands to give out the things we are called to bring to the world.

Bread to feed and strengthen life and community.

Wine for joy, affirmation and solidarity

The body, the life-blood of our own dear, Wise Christ.

Fallenness…sin…human nature?

Are we “fallen”? Is there something really flawed and ruined about humanity? Do we need “saving”? Some theological perspectives would answer “yes” to these questions, or ones like them. In that sort of a theology, usually Jesus’ death is seen as the salvific act, the death is a necessary sacrifice, a good thing. I approach a perspective like that with extreme caution, even suspicion. What does it do to our collective psyche if some human deaths and suffering are necessary or “good”? I don’t like the implications of accepting the pain and sacrifice of another too blithely.

But we do need to grapple with understandings about our own nature and about who God is. These questions seem to me to go back to today’s first reading.

In the first reading Adam has sinned by listening to the “woman” who listened to the animal. He has embarked on a human pattern of othering any part of himself that causes him shame. He is hiding away from God, afraid and conscious of his own nakedness. Nakedness has ceased to be an innocent state, he needs a barrier between himself and the environment. Incidentally this is the first “nudey-rudey” self-shaming episode that many children internalise as parents battle them out of embarrassing habits.

God in this reading accepts Adam’s assertion that it was “the woman’s” fault and her assertion in turn blaming the serpent. God appears to be sanctifying the hierarchy we know so well. What is going on here? Why would an all-knowing and all-loving God create humans with not only the capacity but the yearning to “fall” in this way? Why give “Adam” such a flawed companion? Why allow the serpent to speak? The idealised “perfection” of Eden thus becomes reconstituted as a death-trap. Some theologies hold that God planned it all that way to make Jesus’ saving act all the more spectacular.

This also is problematic.

Let’s assume that God set up the fall and the resultant disconnection in order to make necessary and meaningful horrific violence and abuse many centuries later. At this point I can see some sense in the mocking atheists, the “spaghetti monster” people etc. If I understand my faith this way it does seem violent and compassionless. If I understand myself as so “fallen” I can see a need to repress my own emotions, my own impulses, my own over-loud heart.

I grew up with a faith related to that, and it didn’t do me much good.

But outside of this pericope, Genesis also tells us that we are made in God’s image. There must be some inherent beauty and goodness (ie grace) in our identity, whatever about “original sin”. How can we be made in God’s image and yet made only to fall and be fragmented and driven asunder? How can we be made in God’s image, yet in our very nature demand and need the violent death of another? What is “God” then?

Last week I mentioned George Monbiot’s assertion that human beings are intrinsically altruistic. While the bible does not specifically say so, this idea fits with many biblical stories and thoughts. It fits with the idea that we are made in God’s image. It fits with the idea that God loves us (why would God love the irretrievably fallen?). It fits with Jesus’ tendency to spread food and wine and joy together with his wisdom; to spread healing together with forgiveness; to spread love and hope in the world. To take blame and judgement as the main products of our faith is to miss the point.

“Out of my depths” of yearning to be more than some narrative of “fall”, I pass through the psalm where all things are redeemable into the second reading. Like the author of the second reading “I believe therefore I speak”. I may be wrong in what I say, but my theologising comes from a position of faith- my faith in God is important enough for me to have made this commitment. I am called to put in the hard work every week and write something, sometimes also to preach it. I often fail at this and other vocations in my life, but I also often break it into small enough steps to succeed at some of it.

There is more than fallenness and passivity and waiting in my relationship to God. I sweat real sweat of hard work over the computer each week. I shake with real anxiety when I stand up before people to preach. My collaboration with God is imperfect because I am a still growing-toward God little unfinished image, not because I am completely without hope and “fallen”. I sin less (I believe) when I think about what I am doing, when I focus my motivations on others (particularly on God) and when I make an effort. It is very easy to slide into all sorts of unhealthy relationships with myself, others, food, money, work and leisure. While I can’t make myself perfect through an act of will, or a decision or even through hard work I can make myself better or worse by trying or not. I need God sure, but God also requires of me a commitment of will and effort.

Seems like I am in a more complicated relationship with God than merely “fallen” or “saved”, each day I make choices (some without noticing) about who to be and how to be. I am like the babies I work with, I sometimes over-reach and other times I am tired or lazy or angry and do not try enough. I am human. I am flawed. I am imperfect. But I am intrinsically good.

I am made in God’s image.

The gospel cautions us against sin against the Holy Spirit. This is a debated text, but for an every-day reading I like to reflect on who the Holy Spirit is and where we encounter her? In the context of the reading, the Holy Spirit is to be encountered in Jesus who therefore should not be mocked or dismissed. We know from Jesus that we find him (therefore also the Holy Spirit) in our neighbour.

We are called to look for traces of good in each other and to recognise and honour the Holy Spirit in all. Are we willing to see these traces in our Muslim neighbour? In our lesbian neighbour? In our politician neighbour? In our militant vegan neighbour? In our private-school educated neighbour? What about the noisy child? The strangely dressed or pierced teenager? The overly talkative old neighbour? We are all made in the image of God and the good things we do (however fleeting or however consistent) all come from God’s Spirit. God’s creation cannot fail to have goodness at its core.

It is a denial of God’s spirit to dehumanise others, even others we disapprove of or disagree with. It is a denial of God’s spirit to be so cynical about humanity that we advocate violence or nihilism. It is a denial of God’s spirit to only value animals, plants or rocks only by how much money we can extract from what we do with them. Are these ways of thinking unforgiveable? I hope not. I hope God’s Spirit dwells so tangled and burrowed deep into our DNA that it is impossible to completely de-Spirit us.

That is what I hope, but Jesus DOES caution us not to be too small-minded to recognise and honour the Holy Spirit. If we mock Jesus, or if we mock those who have hope and idealism then we are doing a dangerous thing to our souls. Perhaps it’s not about getting our theology or our creed right in the end, it is about getting our relationship right.

Because if we manage to live according to the Holy Spirit- for a moment or a lifetime then we ARE Jesus’ family. That is what we are made for and always called back to as human beings, as earthlings. Let us pray that we know and do the will of God. Let us trust in God, our souls trusting in God’s Word. Let us love generously, recognising the family resemblance in all creation.

Small signs toward peace

I am tired and busy and have too much on my plate at the moment. But each time I log on I see that every day I seem to have had at least one reader, usually more. I am filled with love and gratefulness that someone is looking at my words and thus motivated to try to write at least something short even this busy week. It is more prayer than reflection this week…

Peace giving, peace leaving Wisdom,

But I confess my heart is troubled and at times I am afraid.

What is peace in a world where some children are starving, “must starve” they tell us? What is a quiet heart in a night where others are being rained on and driven away by homeless spikes?

If you give us “peace” why do your followers start wars, and abuse children, oppose human rights for people made queerly in your image? If you “leave” us peace as a legacy does it mean you have already left the building?

We say “look not on our sins” as if you can overlook the ageless call of Abel when we are jealous and kill our brother (our sister, our own mother Earth). “Look not on our sins but on the faith of your church” as if the church itself were not riddled with doubts and cynicism and legalism and the petty politics of the determinedly patriarchal.

And when we pray for peace, do we want it for our enemies too? Do we want peace for those who hammer at our gates demanding that we stop averting our eyes from the unpalatable truth that we have failed to love? Will peace replace or answer the tough questions about how to make room at the table and how to live with difference- of culture, belief, outlook and idea? Will the “unity” of your kindom be genuinely open to complex understandings or simply a sullen silence and obedience?

When this prayer comes up every week, ever time I can’t help smirking, that if liberation from my own (individual) sin depends upon the “faith of the church”…what peace is there? A church that self-righteously keeps out women from leadership, gays from marriage and gives sanctuary, even encouragement to child abusers…

“Yes but…” you say dear ever-challenging Wisdom and you turn my face to look around the circle, at people who give their lives for others. You show me people who work tirelessly for refugees, for the imprisoned, for human rights, for the hope-filled education of youth and care of the old. You show me people who have fed and welcomed me and gifted me hope and feminism.

“Is this not your church?” you gently ask, without pointing out my obvious hypocrisy in having considered only that large, patriarchal monolith “church” and ignoring the community of faith.

We are all overtired and fearful and troubled. We are lonely and needy and carrying baggage of our years. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of Godde.

Let us spend this day, this week, this lifetime offering peace and welcome. Let us tear down ill-conceived walls and build longer tables. Let us offer each other and beautiful Wisdom, signs of an orientation toward peace.

Amen.

Easter Vigil

Such a good rebel I am (sarcasm warning), that when I “run away” from church this is what I do. First I thought about the “new fire” of the Easter Vigil. The words of Christ be out Light by Bernadette Farrell ran through my head as I unwrapped one of the candles my son and I had bought for Earth Hour, placed it in a vase and said a quick prayer to God who as both the “alpha” and the “omega” is best placed to subvert binaries and undo inequities. Then I rewrote the Easter proclamation, leaving out things that seemed either kyriearchal, patriarchal, meaningless or bad theology (yes a subjective judgement but please read the verse in brackets about your right to write a different one if this one doesn’t do it for you). Then it was too short so I reread all nine lessons of the Easter vigil (surprising how many I remembered considering it has been a few years since I went to an Easter vigil) and I wrote a verse or half a verse based on my interpretation and response to each reading (once again you are free to read the readings more carefully and write your own). I tried to stay true to what I think the Easter proclamation and lessons do for us, grounding us in tradition and helping us access the mystery of the resurrection in historically grounded ways (but as usual I had a focus on my place at the margins as a woman and I tried to be mindful that there may be other people at the margins of story too).

So I will post my long poem/proclamation and then I will go shower off all my long journey (I camped at Mt Gambier last night and we climbed a small hill or two on the way home) and I will remember my baptism and birth and the way I passed through waters to be made a part of God’s family that has unlimited access to hope and a constant call to love. And then I will have some dark chocolate and scotch which also follows the pattern of a traditional easter vigil although I wouldn;t really claim it is “Eucharist” since I am doing this alone and more contemplating than celebrating (but I will go to church tomorrow). I can’t be sure that anyone is both estranged enough from church to need an alternative version and has been engaged enough in catholic church life to need or want a revised version. But for anyone else I guess it is a curiosity. Nevertheless to me fire, water and food are powerful symbols of LIFE.

Rejoice heavenly powers, sing out planets, stars and all that is,

take heart creation and join the heavenly dance,

for God’s promise is unbroken, no power can reign over us;

Christ shatters even death to bring all to newness and liberation.

 

Spin slowly earth through light and darkness,

through mornings filled with joy and light and meaningful work,

evenings bringing peace to us and joy to all nocturnal creatures

as light and dark both join hands and embrace the globe together.

 

Open you ears, oh church, to hear the cries of all the oppressed;

open your doors and open wide your hearts to hear,

how Wisdom breaks down binaries and lifts up any we’ve cast down.

Rejoice to learn anew the radical and liberative gospel.

 

(My dearest friends, if you consider me unworthy

to bring these words of praise and hope and happiness

then seek the Easter message in your own hearts and the love you bear

and in creation radiant with the brightness of the colours of God’s depths.)

 

May the resurrected life be with us.

We lift our hearts in hope.

We celebrate the risen life of one who was greater than all oppression

and calls us into liberation.

 

It is truly right,

That with full hearts and minds and voices

We revisit as much of salvation history as we can

To trace the origins of the one who became Jesus of Nazareth and showed radical commitment

bleeding like a woman giving birth, and dying helpless, human to the end.

 

And so we remember our origins, in your breath creator God

who made the heaven and the earth, the waters also the land,

plants, animals, humans in all their variation and diversity. (Gen 1:1-2:2)

 

We had free will, yet we did not always listen to your voice of reason.

We did not live in love with one another and the earth.

We set up systems of oppression, and ways to rule over each other

and would even have sacrificed our own children for power. (Gen 22: 1-18)

 

Your beloved people were enslaved and called to you to rescue them;

You called forth leaders and activists, parted the sea, fed them with bread          (Ex 14:15-15:1 also some reference to subsequent events)

and gave us moral codes so that we would consider how we live.

You came to us as a lover, claimed us as your family

and renewed us in every age again and again.    (Isaiah 54: 5-14)

 

Hope is the eternal pattern of our journey with you

And the reign of evil is never inevitable, and cannot drive you out of us.

 

You bid us listen to you and enjoy food and water without having to pay;

You filled up your barns and set your tables and invited us to feast;

You bid us feed each other, abandoning corruption and competition

and then sent your Word that cannot return without fulfilling itself. (Isaiah 55: 1-11)

 

You bade us seek Wisdom and cling to her, (Baruch 3: 9-15; 32-4:4)

To see her move among us on the earth which she co-authored with you.

You gathered us together from where we were scattered and quarrelling

And you bade us know that we are yours and you are ours. (Ezekiel 36: 16-28)

 

Like a deer that longs for running streams, my soul thirsts for you

The music wells up within me when you draw near and touch me             (Ps: 41)

With Easter joy.

 

In our human life we are baptised, born through water

and touch your life as you touched ours

You showed solidarity and love in walking with, touching us

and dying with us.

We will follow you through our lives and deaths and beyond. (Rom 6: 3-11)

 

This is the night, when we remember Mary of Magdala’s grief; (Matthew 28: 1-10)

Her deep love and loyalty to come to tend to you

when all hope seemed gone.

 

We remember the guards, tools of the Empire, shaken and scattered,

the stumbling-block, every inequality rolled away,

the faces of angels who took her hand and affirmed her ministry

so that she went and called her sisters and together they saw…

 

The Risen One,

The rebirth of all their hopes,

The triumph of the creative powers of God,

and the sacred continuation of their love and power to touch the mystery.

 

Jesus sent the women to tell all the apostles,

ahe apostles to tell all the world

and us to continue to preach the gospel of tombs opened, oppression undone

and a great feeding regardless of ability to pay.

 

Therefore God our creator, receive with Jesus our thanks

as we move from contemplating what has hurt us

to remembering that you come to heal and renew us in yourself.

 

Accept this Easter candle, symbol of the fire in our hearts

undimmable spirit you have placed in us,

unquenchable inevitability that we will always break our chains,

also our willingness to break the chains of others

 

Let it mingle with the lights of the stars you created

mirroring the love of Jesus who broke all boundaries

even opening up the boundary between death and life

to call us back into right relationship with God.

 

Jesus, Sophia, the morning star that never sets,

will shine in our hearts this night and always,

will guide us and all creation into your peace

and call us more deeply than ever into life and love.

 

Amen.

 

Ask, seek, knock…but why?

I was asked to give the “reflection” this week and this was it

What is the point of prayer?

 

As a child I got taught the “right” prayers to say, the “right” words to use. I was told to use my own words to ask God for things (but this was set up as a somewhat pointless exercise in which I needed to add “if it is your will” and God would do whatever God had already decided either way). I was told to constantly apologise for all my sins and the ways I didn’t measure up, to be ever aware of my unworthiness before God and the likelihood that even in using words I probably wasn’t “paying attention” or “listening” to God properly. I was told to thank and praise God unconditionally, no matter how I was feeling or what was going on in my life or the world around me.

 

Sometimes people would say that prayer was “not just words” but they would make it sound like a harder and harder discipline where we were meant to empty ourselves completely of our contexts, desires, agendas and even identity and just be empty before God. I think I was born feminist (without knowing the words for what that was) and the idea of making myself nothing but a container for someone else’s ego and importance did not sit quite right with me no matter how many times I was told that God was important and I was not. So for me the first reading is very liberating, Abraham does not have the sort of obedient “blind trust” in God but worries about his nephew Lot and manages to nag and reason at God in prayer, trying to bargain God down from the extreme idea of destroying cities. I like this Abraham a lot better than the far-right Abraham a few chapters later who agrees to sacrifice his child blindly to the same God, but even here I feel he wimps out of saying what is really on his mind.

 

How often do we bite our tongue and retreat into the “right words” and liturgies instead of daring to have necessary conflict with God?

 

Yes conflict.

 

If we present a falsely compliant face that is not an honest relationship.

 

In the second reading we are reminded that God is not out to test us, or trap us into proving we are “unworthy” of love or anything like that. Even if there was ever a time when we were unworthy, ignorant, unaware, uncaring or distracted from the reign of God (and most times we have some of this “deadness” somewhere in our lives) even then God was already working to call us and raise us and make us one in redeemed life. So then we need to get courageous about our faith and about our prayer. We need to dare to seek joy and justice from God. We need to really speak our mind in prayer.

 

Then we can trust in God’s willingness to work with our limits, and transform our half-heartedness.

 

I want to read the gospel as simply as I did as a child. I want to believe that if I pray long enough and persistently enough and fervently enough God will fix all my problems and make life on earth a Utopian dream. I’ll mention that to avoid the pious clause “if it is God’s will” because when I pray I am NOT going to fake submission to things I don’t like. It is NOT alright with me that an increasingly irrelevant magisterium of the church puts limits on how the rest of us are supposed to live with God, while too often blinking at the very real problems of climate change, wide-spread inequality, abuses and disenfranchisement of the faithful. I am NOT going to be philosophical about the difficulties of finding work, or the fears for my children or the terror for the children on Manus Island. Not to God. Never again will I hide behind doormat-dispositions with the God who knows me better than that.

 

But we know that we don’t always get what we ask for. So why do we ask for it?

 

What do we get out of prayer?

 

How do we continue to believe that God loves creation enough to give us what we need, not a snake or a scorpion?

 

If I had an easy answer here I would share it with you. The gospel to me seems clear that we DO need to pray and we do need to bring our real agendas to God. The first reading reminded us that it is ok to get out of pious formulas of the “right words” and make it real.

 

The second reading reassures us that God wants us enough to do some of the work of relating, that it is not all down to us to get it right.

 

I invite you now to sit with these readings, and your own experiences of prayer in any way that seems best to you, and then take a moment to share your reflections with the people around you.

Some parenting tips for God

(yes I am making fun of myself in the title)

This is one of those weeks when the readings are alienating and my tradition seems inaccessible at best and oppressive at worst. I wasn’t sure whether to refocus on something more liberating, ignoring the texts (or just referring to them in passing) or whether even to take a week off as I should focus on job-seeking.

But there is a commitment here. I will grapple. I will read in painful detail as it seems to be that, hoping to glean something…or outright dismissal.

The first reading, Abram’s story begins unpromisingly with references to rewards and shields. These quasi-militaristic symbols are scattered not just through the bible but through all aspects of our culture so that they provoke usually a mild cringe or less, often we just gloss over them, don’t even notice them. I have been glossing over such details for weeks and heading into the main point (as I see it) of a reading. But the main point of this one does not become immediately apparent (not if we assume that it is definitely going to be good news).

Abram is whinging about his childlessness- not from the point of view of wanting to nurture (although even this has aspects of selfishness) but purely from resentment that all his property and acquired wealth and privilege will be inherited by a slave. Where do I even start with that? Slaves? The non-entity of the women of the household? The patriarchal preoccupation with fathering children you then don’t look after…and the way it plays out in modern anti-abortion movements?

So you’d expect Abram’s selfish and immature whinging to get short shrift from God who elsewhere claims to be an advocate for the downtrodden- slaves and women surely? I want God to say “Get your hand off it you privileged, wealthy male.” But God seems to see a need to soothe and pamper the already spoilt brat Abram. I really want to give God some parenting tips here for Abram’s own good!

God makes outrageous promises based on a sort of arrogance “I am the one…” a bit like “Who’s the man?” Even then Abram asks for surety and the (imperfect) vegan in me really wants to skim over the wasteful killing that happens next (yes that was a different time but nevertheless). God then gives the land (currently inhabited by other people but you know…Terra Nullius) to Abram’s descendants. This is such a significant part of our cultural thinking, and sadly we have to blame our Judeo-Christian heritage for it. God gives land to specific people- this thinking leads to nationalism, xenophobia and lack of compassion for others.

We fear relinquishing land to another nation, another faith, another God. We feel that we have some rightful claim to the land God has “allowed” us to take away from the others. Look at the sorts of things American’s were saying about God’s favour in the wake of 9/11? Look at how reluctant we are in Australia to “let them stay”.

But this is supposedly God’s word. The privileged and powerful shall be pampered and inherit the earth. Onward to the psalm!
The Lord is my light and salvation. I can be a fat-cat basking in the kyriarchy and see myself as above reproach. God is a stronghold for me to protect my wealth and privilege. I need not think of others

When those I oppress say “eat the rich” I can laugh because they will fail.

When war breaks out (incited by me?) I can rejoice in my protected status while other people suffer and die.
But then as the psalm continues, what if the less privileged…Abram’s wife or concubine or slave seek to live in the house of God and enjoy God’s beauty and God’s favour? What happens then? What if little refugee babies seek to be hidden in the shelter of God’s grace in their day of trouble?

If our head is lifted up above our “enemies” then it suggests that there is not equal treatment, not equal favour…that curse of “chosenness” is back and in lent too when we ought to be examining our way of life not creating smugness over it!

And my heart really and truly does seek her face. Desperately! But it seems these readings are determined to hide it from me. Within tradition I feel God has forsaken me (a mere woman) and has even more forsaken those that need her even more). This is a grave charge to bring against tradition, so I better keep sifting the evidence hoping to be proven wrong…

“27:10 If my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me up.” But for many the issue is not their loving, impoverished mothers and fathers forsaking them, the issue is that the world is an unjust, racist and hurting place for whole nations of people!

“27:11 Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.” Because of my enemies? Not a Lenten idea at all. There is no repentance here, no attempt to seek justice, kindness and right relationship. All that is here is a sort of spiritual pride, a vain excellence like the horrible teacher’s pet who hides behind their goody-goody status to oppress and bully others. Like the worst excesses of abuse we have witnessed (as a community) from the clergy.

27:13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.

I wish I could still believe

27:14 Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!

I am mindful of last time I went to church and one of the thinkers and key people of the community reminded us to try to avoid the metaphor of “Lord” for our loving and equalising God. Who shall I wait for? Can I rephrase a better message to myself?

“Wait for liberation; be strong and let your heart take courage, hope in liberation”
“Wait for Wisdom; be strong and let your heart take courage, hope in Wisdom”

“Wait for transformation; be strong and let your heart take courage, hope in transformation”

There is something of God that we be strong and hope in…even now…even when the tradition is so oppressive and excluding!

The second reading, which at first seemed to self-righteous to me, now that I have put into words my distaste for many aspects of the tradition, seems to seek into that. Because once again (like the Philippians did) we are living in a decadent age.

Enemies of the cross of Christ might worship the belly, seeking to pursue “bucket lists” of pleasure and novelty and sumptuous food while we arrest people offshore for the sin of wanting basic food and education. Glorying in “shame” a society might build bigger and better buildings, technologies, arts and consumables all for the benefit of those who can afford them…might pursue excellence in education (for the elite few) and immortality through cures from everything (for the elite few) and beauty of environment and the individual human body (once again with a price-tag that not everyone can pay) and say “too bad” to the many who labour and are exploited or are cast off as useless by a profit and novelty-seeking world. Out glory is the shame of “consumer choice” in all things even education.

Earthly things that the Christian churches glory in (to their shame) such as opposing Safe Schools Coalition and defending Cardinal Pell. Save us God who has any more wisdom than this, the flower of our civilisation! Transform the body of our humiliation into something that does not dazzle with glitter and sequins, but glows with genuine goodness to overcome all obstacles to love.

But here again words of the great Lord coming to save and conform and subject us to “himself”. The language itself makes difficult faith in liberative intepretations. How to stand form in a faith that is so riddled with kyriarchal, exploitative and power-abusing metaphors? Is not the tradition itself partly responsible for many of the things we want to be saved from?

How to stand firm?

In the gospel Jesus wants to gather us together like a hen gathering the baby chickens under her wing. I used to play this game with my children when they were little, in winter when they were all shivering I would put my coat over them and say “under my wing”. Recently when I was feeling cross and sad my youngest put the corner of his hoodie over my shoulder and said “under my wing” to remind me of the love and comfort we can give each other.

If Jesus yearns to have that sort of maternal, nurturing relationship with the hurting world, how do we enter into that relationship? How do we put under our wing all the poor and vulnerable and anyone who needs us? How do we find the safe wing to hide under when we are lost little chickens and there are predators about? “Under the wing” is the place of nurture, mentoring and closeness to warmth and a beating heart.

Perhaps the only vaguely hopeful direction for this week is looking to see who is in my life for friendship, who has emotional needs that I could help with and who is offering the hope I crave. There is that, and there is widening that circle to make a safer world that is more like under mother-hen’s roomy wing and less like a competition.

Mother-hen hear our prayer.