Tag Archives: God

Within/outside and overthinking it.

I was talking to a minister today after a somewhat uncomfortable session on the (lack of) inclusion of LGBTIQA+ people into the church(es). She was telling me that in Luke-Acts, Jesus is always stepping out of the centre, out to those who are marginalised. I had looked at this week’s readings earlier in the week and kind of made my housework-face, I didn’t feel very inspired to tackle them. The first thing I see is a patriarch handing on the cloak to another patriarch which we inherit as an all male clergy who neither listen nor speak for most of us. I can use agility to see in this me taking on the role of my former mentor or…no. I don’t feel so agile. I am sick of playing contortionist games to fit scripture.

Then the psalm so smug and secure…everything is fine in this psalmists life. There is a place for that of course but I am supremely NOT FEELING IT.

The second reading is a mix of many different ideas but for me that flesh-spirit dichotomy dominates. As a “female” in a patriarchy, imprisoned not just within my flesh but in all the symbolic and material things that has come to mean in the sort of society we have (vulnerable, over-responsible, rejected if aging) I don’t want my “flesh” to take the blame for what my spirit does not feel up to. My spirit seems the only thing in the universe that can potentially be friend to my single middle-aged, flabby and sometimes strong flesh, and I refuse to force an enmity on them when I have worked so hard to overcome my own internalisation of the patriarchal gaze.

So when I look in the mirror the automatic deal was to see a failure on two fronts. Failing to be a man (failing to be superior) and failing to be a “proper woman”. I saw a dykey, sarcastic, uncompromising lump of a something that I thought I could never love. I have worked to see something different. I see an echo of my beloved but deceased mother and her father too. I see the foreshadowing of my strong and principled sons. I see a sarcastic glint that will melt into compassion when needed. I see a slightly mad light of wanting to know things and pursue thing. I see wrinkles and hair that is kind of maybe…let’s not see that yet. I see shadows under tired eyes. I see reddened skin from running the shower too hot in this cold house. I see I should probably exercise more or forgo the glass of red. I see a good house for my spirit which is also connected to people and context, which is also tired, which is also frail, which is also interesting.

So much for the second reading. So folded carefully I hold in my hand the hope that Luke’s gospel will tell me the story of a Jesus who steps outside to talk to people who can’t quite get in through the door (to the lectionary, to the church). Will Jesus make conversation with me or mansplain me today? Let’s walk together into the gospel.

The Samaritans are a bit like me (a bit like a queer, a bit like a feminist). I feel suspicious of this Christ on his way to the centre of the patriarchal faith. I am not sure I want to welcome him in, not unconditionally. Should I burn for that? Some of his followers might think so. “Jesus rebuked them”. There seems to be compassion here, or at least a healthy observation of boundaries and consent. We travel on.

Jesus speaks of his vulnerability- homelessness, is he a rough-sleeper? Is he a refugee? He has nowhere. He has nowhere. Am I asked to disinherit myself from the world and follow that? What does it mean? How does this break my heart? What will I have to give up? There are difficult places in my life where my loyalties are conflicted and contradictions abound. How do I navigate this?

Is it perhaps that the theological certainties on which I used to lay my head will not ever be replaced with a new set of answers. I will never be guided in that step-by-step certain way that I have craved. I may be wrong. I may waste my life. I may suffer. I may be terribly and ultimately alone! But there is Jesus here, can I not trust community? The act of trusting is not a matter of guarantees and groundedness it is a matter of vocation and love.

Somehow we leave the past behind us. We do not have time to bury (or obey) the fathers of our faith. I can’t quite come at the anti-family idea here. I need Christ to stop and see what “women’s work” means both to the person doing it and if left undone to the rest of the world. Someone who leaves off feeding and cleaning to preach is not really a hero (says the woman who avoids housework when she can). No Christ, not even for you will I leave aside my beautiful children and the emotional labour of being “village” to others.

I cannot believe you ask that of me.

So I am left once more ambivalent. Am I called and wanted or not? Am I loved or surplus to requirements? Jesus looks me directly in the eye with the eyes of all the friends and activists and co-workers my week was filled with, with the students and children and even my cat. What a stupid question, has it not been answered a hundred times this week? My communities have embraced me with the arms of Christ. Body and Spirit, my place is here.

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Triptych of heart 3:

Dearest Spirit,

I was going to say something also to you, but instead I find myself needing to listen. What do I hear? Is it silence? Is it absence? I feel my distance from you, my unlikeness.

Why must I feel this now?

But I am impatient, in my listening I want to rush into a reassurance, I want you to let me know I am loved and secure that you will carry me. I want to hear the soundtrack of the Creator and Wisdom dancingly creating the world, the cry of relief at incarnation, skip all the events of persecution and suffering and death (who needs things like that) and listen to the triumphant cry of life restored.

I want a cop-out, for me to be a Disney princess and be saved but you wait and say nothing because you know I am not really able to take that role anyway. It’s not in me, it is not the name the Creator called me when she whispered to you the secrets, the integrity behind all things that as humans we are too hurried and sometimes miss.

Too many words. I need to make a space to listen. To listen slowly and without jumping to conclusions.

Tryptich of heart 2: Back to the Source

How wonderful your name creator God through all the earth!

When I look at the heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars which you have arranged. I ask what are humans, do you even remember we exist? “Mortal man”, “son of man” our language so androcentric, our presumption that we are the heart and the crown of creation.

We think we are “little less than angels”, “little less than gods” but we behave with all the awareness of an amoeba. The first rule of survival is don’t soil where you will eat. We ignore it. Intent on “biggering and biggering and biggering and biggering” (Dr Seuss) making things that nobody needs, turning our backs on the things that everyone needs.

Remember you have told us what we “need”. Not bread along of course but every Word who is Life. We need you, we need the relationship that is the basis of you, we need to return to our source and be made one with all creation as you are one in your three-ness ever-creator source and partner even of Wisdom and Spirit. All we need is love, not in a wishy-washy way but all we need is you.

And we need to do justice, love each other with kindness, we need to walk humbly WITH not against you. We need to nurture and treasure other humans and the earth’s finite resources. Perhaps you made them all, perhaps you could remake them (oh I hope so) but that is no reason to squander the beauty and intrinsic goodness of earth, air, water nor to misuse fire in killing and destroying.

I don’t agree with the psalm, I think there is residue of our sinfulness in the way it has been transcribed from your Word. All of them under our feet? Hardly your will is it!

All of them beloved by God- All sheep and oxen,
yes, and the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air, the fishes of the sea,
and whatever swims the paths of the seas.

And then “justified by faith” but what is faith? Elsewhere you told us that saying “Lord, Lord” was insufficient, you constantly repeated that we must love, nurture and not judge each other. What is faith that obeys the letter and ignores the substance of the message? What is faith that twists Word into a sedative away from the wholesome Bread that it was for us. If we will not eat your Word and hold it deep inside us, let it circulate it’s nutrients in our blood and in our soul…if we will not love the neighbour which is Wisdom dancing toward us…then we will eat our own words and love only emptiness, then money will be our god and the market will have it’s way with us.

Creator have mercy. How do I dare to ask you to save us from ourselves?

We can boast of our afflictions can we? Then I boast of sadness, of rage, of frustration and fear. I boast of feeling disempowered and finding hope too small and elusive to grasp. I boast of needing help. I need your help God.

Affliction produces endurance,
and endurance, proven character,
and proven character, hope,
and hope does not disappoint.

But does this work? I am afflicted, but am I enduring? I endure with gritted teeth, but what is my paper-thin and wavering character? How will I be firm enough to hold the seed of hope and grow it deep within myself.

Pour out your love then God of pouring. We have made ourselves a wasteland, we have created a drought.

Pour, pour, pour,

flood the earth with your goodness and with your inspiration. Be the love we need, shine in and out of each of us.

“Love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”

Well I will try…

Blessings and woes

Dedicated to the women (and some men) who have co-created my future and my hope with me. Who have mentored and encouraged me. With thanks, with every blessing.

“The will of God is always an offer of co-creation.” (Joan Chittister, 1990, 49). I have no desire to replace any part of the gospels, and especially not that activist manifesto that we usually call “the Beatitudes”. What I do feel the need to do, is bring the gospel into my life and world and bring my life and world into the gospel. So I will have a go at co-creating some Beatitudes that are secular, but grounded in gospel values. I will endeavour to be faithful to the original but express my specificity.

I invite you to either pray mine with me, or use them as a departure point for your own. Let’s affirm the way the people who inspire us are following God. Let’s recognise their work (love) as deeply transformative…

Blessed are the angry feminists, because they shall make daughters and sisters of all women,

Blessed are those who are underpaid and undervalued, for they call into question our striving after money and shiny things,

Blessed are those who put aside or demolish their own privilege, because they shall have right relationship.

Blessed are the queer ones and the misfits, those who are judged, excluded, misunderstood or lied about, they will become lights to the world.

Throughout history prophets (and especially prophetesses) have always been mistreated and rejected by the reluctance of the collective consciousness to grow.

Woe to you if you live by the exploitation of others, you will always fear losing what you unfairly have,

Woe to you if you gaze with joy on inequality and label it “meritocracy”, you will be found wanting and discarded

Woe to you if you hate those who are different from you, you will imprison yourself in certainty and fail to connect with others

Woe to you if you are defined by what you own, what you can buy or your success, the triviality of your life will overwhelm you and you will always be exhausted.

But we are all partly in the “woe” category” by virtue of the society in which we live. I pray for grace to heal our woe. I pray for God’s loving voice to nag us out of our discontented compliance with capitalist half-lives. I pray that the blessing will flow from the blessed ones, the saints of our time also to us. I pray that we will bring healing and hope to each other.

God’s kindom come.

Lips, life and liberation

“…this has touched your lips” said the angel.

As a sociologist I find the first reading tantalising. It’s not possible to be purged of the “unclean” discourses of your context in time or space. I think the cultural errors of any age boil down to what “original sin” is, the way that some grace-filled possibilities are shut off, rendered unsayable or drowned in a mire of the “inevitable”, we cannot even see our error because out language sets up binaries and misleading questions with closed off answers.

But the desire to rise above our context and to liberate others from it, this is utterly relatable and I like to think of God as the one who burns through the crap that bogs us down and sends us out to make sense of things after all. “My eyes have seen” something, some beautiful reflection of God’s presence, some possibility for liberation for us all…this is what it means to have “faith” perhaps. The eyes of our spirit yearn not to be enslaved to sin and the overbearing meaningless of the consumerist “life”. We want life to mean something, but meanings elude us.

The drive to speak is familiar, I first felt the need to be a voice, first heard the call I suppose when I was a little girl. “Here I am, send me” or when I try to be humble and not say that, then things fall apart into greyness and fear. Perhaps at times my motives have been mixed with the less than ideal, I have craved status, wanted to be “special” but over the years I learn what hard work it is to be a truth speaker, how easy it is to get it all wrong and how alone you can feel. I learn (with joy) that God has never called only me, not even mainly me. And then I can reclaim pride not as an individualising sin “I am better than the others” but as a virtue “I am made in God’s image like you, and you, and you, and our sister”.

The apparent pride that put me off in the first reading, has served instead to interrogate and redeem me as still called (among others).

I am feeling that psalm today, partly as I reflect on my call and my co-travellers with their calls too. God has answered my prayer and whenever I think of God listening to me and bringing me out of despair it brings me back to the huge transformation of my life when I realised the obvious (that I was a lesbian) and the way this identity has increasingly been a blessing in my life. I haven’t had lovers but I don’t want to make a virtue of that or pretend that “celibacy” is the only or best option for queer folk. I will be honest there is nothing celibate about my mindset I just have not found someone I can share and celebrate this with in that way.

Ironically the “uncleanness” that I needed a coal set to, to burn away, was not my lesbian identity at all but my inability to see God’s grace and act of co-creation in who I was. My being PRAISES God in a way that my self-hate never did. As the psalm rejoices at God “you built up strength within me” oh yes she did and she has not finished. Through the grace of God and the grace of everyone I travel with I am getting STRONGER. I can depend on Wisdom within and outside of myself (in both places for balance). God has placed gentle hands on me, like a sort of spiritual chiropractor or masseur, repairing and working with what is there to bring out the best in me. As the psalm tells me I will not be abandoned, I am not yet my perfect being but God is still working on that with me.

Some of this may sound arrogant but it is as true for an ant or a blade of grass as it is for me. We are extremely significant and “special” but not more so than each other. We have the responsibility to respond authentically and to grow with God into the gentle movements of God’s healing hands on us. Someone smiled at me this week and God was absolutely in her smile and I saw my own goodness and beauty in this wonderful person’s face. Everything reminds me of that moment. I saw God in a person, who is objectively probably as flawed as me. But who wants to be objective when they see God?

I won’t spend long on the second reading (read it) but I feel it is paraphrasing the same thing I am trying to say. Paul (or someone) is finding his place in the community of transformation, he is trying to articulate the pride and joy of that without coming across as arrogant. He is working to show that God is behind all these feelings of belonging and hope, God’s beautiful face shines out at us in the communities that accept us (and sometimes one person).

In the gospel Jesus uses the identities of Simon and the sons of Zebedee as the places where they can encounter God. He makes following God about being a fisherman (just as Wisdom makes following God for me about motherhood, writing, being queer or caring). In a way there is a “leaving behind” that happens, after the encounter with Jesus the fishermen are transformed but they are “fishing for people” their vocation is still a continuation and celebration of the way they know themselves.

I have always found this reading terrifying and mysterious because there is no flesh-and-blood Jesus I can unambiguously follow down the coast and away…I have to always find my way and strain to hear an ambiguous call. Perhaps I underestimate the leap of faith (and questioning and at times depression) of the apostles, who are portrayed as just “knowing” Jesus, recognising him in a flash. Perhaps it was not so easy (it is not so easy for any of us except the sociopaths who end up doing untold harm). What is the “everything” that I have to leave? I cannot speak to people if I make myself too alien to them. I cannot set myself apart from the world I must live in for practical reasons (I need to feed and home myself or die) and for spiritual reasons (separateness leads to vanity and irrelevance). The question of faith is the same as the question of politics. How do we authentically be with others (a splintered individualist approach achieves nothing) but do not become “sell outs”? When do lines need to be drawn? Where is the most honest place to draw them? How do we leave everything and yet bring everything with us?

The fact that all my spiritual “insights” lead to unanswered questions is frustrating but simply means I am not dead yet. This week I am a person who was smiled at. I want to curl up in a little ball and do nothing ever again and simply save that moment to myself…that is not how it works. Within the full net is not solace forever but a call further. God provides for us so that we can grow to be the ones who bring it. The moment of grace is always that, always the moment of having to stretch ourselves and follow more deeply.

I can only try.

I can only try.

From the womb out to the universe: love

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.

Knowing

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

but wiser

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 nothing,

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

not long.

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

live music

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.