Dear readers, thank you very much for putting up with me through this time of sporadic posting. It makes my heart sing to see that people have looked in on my blog nearly every day. This is what I will “preach” at church in a few hours. I hope you enjoy it. I used the lectionary for the second reading (1 Thess 2:7b-9,13) and the gospel (Mt 23: 1-12) but for the first reading I used Marina by TS Eliot because I wanted to undercut some of the kyriearchy in the readings taken together (although I would not presume to CENSOR the bible, I do call into question the way the church juxtaposes various readings). For the psalm I used a bit of Disney (Hunchback of Notra Dame) although Disney is not something I would ever recommend uncritical consumption of.
In the second reading today, apostleship is compared to being a nursing mother. Let’s just sit with that a moment. Gentleness, affection, tireless work, radical self-sharing. And then the joy and thanks-giving to have the living word received. Because that sort of preaching really works, we are always inspired when people live and work their love not just speak about it!
I had an opportunity this week to go to uni, and speak about my “Activist journey” about what over the years has politicised and motivated me. I kept God out of it, because it was a mainly atheist audience, but to my surprise they started mentioning “love, courage, justice, right relationship, being authentically human”. People everywhere in every context are looking for meaning even if they would say they don’t “believe” in God.
There is a goodness and a beauty in people when they seek the truth that makes life better for others, when they work tirelessly for something bigger than themselves. I tried to get away from “motherhood” as the main theme and metaphor of my talk, but other people clung to it with determination and then here it is even in the bible. The idea of “mother” is so evocative for so many people.
Imagine leaders who come to us like that. Not as authoritarian judges, but as nursing mothers. Imagine the trust that could be fostered, the community we become when we encounter that sort of a leader…well perhaps here it is not so hard to imagine.
The gospel flips over this vision to show us what happens when it all goes wrong. Sometimes leaders do not put the people first- we have all seen what happens when leadership is about ego or power or greed or even cowardice. The gospel gives us permission not to be overly obedient, not to be trusting- to remain faithful to whatever is true in the message channelled through such leaders, but to view the leaders themselves with a critical lens.
Having told us this, Jesus then moves the lens back to us, knowing that we must also be leaders. We are not to seek a higher status as a “teacher”, a “father”, a “master” setting ourselves over and above the people we serve. There is liberation for both sides in equalising the relationship- the leaders can have the support of an active, capable community where everyone contributes just as much as members of the community gain a voice and dignity and agency.
All of this by the way strikes chords with me in terms of early childhood where the higher our respect for the capability and dignity of the child, the easier our work becomes as children work with us to build a positive culture in the centre.
But these readings seemed to me to mesh with TS Eliot’s Marina because life is about more than status and responsibility, even for those of us who are leaders or activists, teachers, or healers. The poem goes through several movements, some of them dark in a journey over water and into memory. The driving force here is relationship, “my daughter” as well as the mysteriously intimate and distant presence that I think is God (or the atheists might call the same thing consciousness).
All the different empty things we could focus on are listed and dismissed as meaning “death”- the need for power and domination, the need to be noticed and glamorous, the need for escapist pleasures and an easy life, the need for meaningless encounters. So many things we are supposed to focus on to advance us in the eyes of the world or to make life easy in some way.
So many things we can waste all we have on, all meaning death.
And even working hard for a good cause in and of itself can be meaningless, can be about ego and about how others perceive us. But there is (as Eliot points out) also grace dissolved in this place, the face of God becomes less clear and clearer. We remember connection, we remember meaning, we remember hope. Hope is what we need as we wonder how to articulate our humanity in the face of some very cruel happenings in our world.
Esmeralda the gypsy experiences life as part of an outcast people– she herself is capable and resourceful but her heart hurts for her people. In her song she comes out of herself to radically desire God’s blessing and healing for others. She begins tentatively “I don’t know if you would listen” and ends claiming “We all were children of God”.
How do we be nursing mothers to a hurting world? How do we practice the gospel and not just use it to make identity claims? Where is the movement that means something more than death? And considering the people heartlessly abandoned on Manus Island and others whose suffering is very urgent, how do we uphold our common identity as “children of God”.
Please take whatever inspiration you can from the readings, and after a short time to reflect share with each other as is our habit.
Please if you did not already, go back and click the hyperlinks to find out about the awful things happening on Manus Island. I usually put the links there with no issue whether people choose to use them or not but I would really urge you to look at the three in the final paragraphs anyway. May God give us all an active wisdom!