Tag Archives: Jesus

Tasting and living

Are any readers still with me? If so please forgive me for my long gaps between posts. This week’s readings were about Eucharist AND about mental health and I felt a connection to them. Initially the discipline was to write about readings whether I felt a connection or not, but life has got busier. I write when I can now.
In the first reading, Elijah is depressed and/or fatigued. I know it is anachronistic to call something BCE “clinical depression” but the parallel is close enough to be useful. Elijah is worn out, demoralised, has self-esteem issues and wants to just sleep and pretend he is dead. Relatable!
An angel calls him, not to remonstrate with him but to bid him to eat (the angel has provided the food). If we consider the heart of our tradition, the Eucharist then we know that eating symbolically means love, companionship, presence, sharing, healing, holistically the good of the soul as well as the body. The angel offers Elijah something that may be material (actual food) and may be a form of moral support, probably both. Food is caring, being told to eat is being told to self-care and being provided with food is being supported by a person or a community.
So we have God’s response to a depressed person. God gives care.
Elijah eats and says “that is nice” and lies back down still depressed and lack-lustre. The angel reminds him to self-care properly and acknowledges that the journey is long. The food offered is what is needed for the specific challenge facing Elijah. He gets up eats and drinks and manages a forty day marathon walk to the place of God.
Notice he is not forced into some sort of capitalist work-ethic but he is fed for a journey to God. He is fed to become part of the life-force that will awaken and feed others. Our business here on earth is becoming angels of hope and encouragement. I have been fed by many such angels this week.
The psalm bids us to “taste” God’s goodness. Taste is the sense of abundance and plenty. God in the psalm is so materially and closely to us “good” that we can taste the goodness. The afflicted one has called out and has been heard and rescued (please God remember the afflicted refugees). The human in the psalm calls out God’s goodness and also calls out to God. We are noisy beings seeking connection. God is food and protection and presence.
The second reading challenges us to seek peace and non-violence. It is hard not to feel so consumed with rage that we act out violently. But it makes the Holy Spirit sad when we do so. To connect in with the spirit is to connect in with radical and courageous peace. For me such a thing is definitely still work in progress. God was peaceful and loving first so we do have a model however (this does not always come through in some parts of the bible). Christ as an offering was “fragrant” again the sensory connection.
Perhaps all the Christian denial of the body at many times in history is flawed thinking. God might love us in our embodied, actual selves in a physical, material world made of scents and tastes and sounds. Let us see if this holds true travelling into the gospel.
In the gospel the official church does not like Jesus’ outrageous claims that he is bread come down from heaven. Jesus says that there is something that draws people to him for teaching. Jesus’ teaching then is rich once more in material ideas- bread, life, moving “down”, flesh. Jesus’s giving is radical and risky. Jesus trusts people to come nearer, enter his presence and learn his peace. How can Jesus trust this? A cynical part of me sees only the cross as an end to someone who believes that there can be any good in human nature.
Are we supposed to hope and trust in people after Jesus did so and was killed? This I suppose is the test of our faith, whether Eucharist means anything, whether resurrection is a fact or an escapist myth. But what if we turn away from the bread from heaven? We can only live if we eat this bread of calling upon people’s better self and offering wisdom.
God is relational and physically immediate in the readings and I pray for my relationships and my physical world (the reef, the Murray, the Bight). God feeds us and I pray I will receive the sustenance I need. God calls me and I seek a path to respond. We are here to feed each other. Jesus comes not to give us rules or punishments but to set the table and be the bread.
Let’s not build more walls, let’s make longer tables. Let’s set a place for every Jesus, the one we underestimate. Let’s allow each person to become the bread that feeds our understanding. Let us be the bread that brings life to others.
Arise, eat, you will need the strength.

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Your abundance should supply their needs

I have had some internet and email problems this year and as a result, lost my roster for church (among other important things). I did not realise I was meant to be on the roster to lead at church this week until 9:30 last night when someone from the community called me to check up on what was needed this morning. She told me what the gospel for today was meant to be and I started thinking about what I might say.

 
When I got to church this morning, I was able to look up the rest of the lectionary readings and I had to do an “off the cuff” reflection. The fact I was able to do so at all, probably has more to do with this blog than with anything else, and of course God may well have helped me (I certainly asked her to).

 
I will try to remember what it was I said. These were the readings, and I said something like this:
I remember going through a time in my life, when the patriarchy of the church and the male-centredness of the stories and beliefs we were taught made it very difficult for me to continue in the faith. It got to the stage where the maleness of Jesus himself was a problem for me- I felt a strong disjunction about who I was created and called to be with God and the church’s seeming insistence on the MALENESS of priesthood grounded in the maleness of the one we follow. I nearly fell away from the church over this, I could only bring to God my female body, my female-centred way of loving, my female experiences of life and work. If these were not holy then how could I approach God?

 
Today’s gospel perhaps speaks to those yearnings and questions I had as a young woman. I experience Jesus in this gospel within my own life where I have been a mother, and early childhood worker and in some degree and activist and I can relate to the way Jesus is being pushed and pulled and pressured every which way. So many different people demand things from him and each person’s need is urgent and real. Jesus sets off to help one person, is interrupted by another and as a result of stopping to help the second one, the first- a little girl dies.

 
Being Jesus he can make something of this, he can turn death into life which is certainly more than I can do. I don’t have the capability or the patient grace of Jesus in my own life as I juggle competing demands (all important) and try to discern where to turn my attention, where to channel my love. I often drop the ball, neglect something I should have done or arrive too late to something else.

 
I take heart then from the second reading that reminds me that God is not asking us to deprive ourselves for the sake of others, or to give more than we have. God is challenging us as relatively wealthy and comfortable people to give of our surplus. All it takes is allowing God to turn our greed and our fear into generosity and openness. Is that not an important lesson for our time?

 
How can we not pay heed to this call to share from our abundance? How can we bear to be part of incarcerating people and families on Manus or at Nauru? We are not just starving their bodies, we are not just taking away their lives we are starving them of hope. Of hope itself. I almost began to cry at this point as I often do when I consider the mother who lost her son or the man dying of cancer or the hundreds of others.

 
This cruel way of treating people, it really needs to be said is a sinful direction for our society to be going.

 
It is against God. The same goes for what is happening in the US where little children are being pulled away from their mothers and fathers (I didn’t mention our own stolen generations but I should have). I read this week about small children, some as young as three being forced to go to court to be sentenced and deported- all alone these children face this without even a loving adult by their side.

 
This is an evil beyond words, an extreme evil. I feel that word is not an exaggeration.

 
I have been reading bell hooks this week, “all about love”. In it she talks about our yearning for love and the way so many of us grow up not getting what we need from our families- not experiencing the emotional security of being loved. She talks about romantic relationships also frustrating this need and not delivering the love that is needed. I could relate to what she was saying the desperation and the lovelessness that she said is characteristic of people in the world today.

 
She said that people yearn to be loved but have never experienced it. That they do not know what it would feel like to be really loved and as a consequence they do not know how to love.

 
While I could see that there was some truth in what I was saying I could not agree with her that I had never experienced being loved. I feel that this is a community that has taught me a lot about love. I have been loved here and encouraged to grow into a more loving human being. I have had my gifts honoured, and my lack of giftedness forgiven. This is a place where we come to be loving and to heal each other’s capacity to love and to hope. How can we pour out our love to the world? How can we be the loving people that the world needs?

 
Let us think about that. Let us remember that God does not ask from us more than we are capable of giving. How can we be the love the world needs? How can we ask for and teach love to others? When we are pulled this way and that by the needs of others; and are poured out and fragile, how can we trust God to fill us up? How do we bring love, healing, and new life also to each other?

Easter sequence with revised theology

This just kind of wrote itself in my head (as they do). It’s not perfect but I wanted to (begin to) address the tension between the remembered excitement of the Easter sequence when I was a child and my current unease at some of the imagery and unhealthy power-relations in the version I grew up with. Younger Stef, little Stef would be unhappy that my version has fewer verses but most people these days would not use so many in any case. With thanks to the one I grew up with which you can take a look at here

All people so diverse now bring

all that you are; together sing

alleluia alleluia

Jesus the lamb, the sacrifice

lives now forever, now death dies

alleluia, alleluia

 

The Human One who walked our ways

who broke our bread, now he is raised

alleluia, alleluia

Say happy Madgalene oh say

What did you see there by the way?

alleluia alleluia

 

I saw the tomb of my dear Friend,

to preach the gospel I am sent

alleluia, alleluia

I saw he glory, heard the Word

Love lives anew to heal the world

alleluia, alleluia

 

We now with hope-filled heart and voice

know you as risen and rejoice

alleluia, alleluia

to love you in the poor we seek

our hearts burn in us when you speak

alleluia, alleluia

You’re risen but what am I?

The second reading finishes with the instruction: “let us celebrate the feast,
not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

Challenge accepted. How do I clear out and renew my life? What malice and wickedness lurks in corners of my (mostly) good intention? How can I be sincere and true to my calling, ready for the unknown hope after all the deaths and disappointments of life?

The suggested gospel of the day stops short without the abrupt ending to Mark’s gospel. I feel the abrupt ending speaks for me. I am caught up in a sort of Holy Saturday stupor- for me, for me the resurrection has not really sunk in, life is not really changed. You can see this, because it took until Wednesday to write last Sunday’s blog (for no good reason, I was just dry and empty). Good news needs time to be processed and finding safe people to debrief with is sometimes difficult.

Prayer life is a bit like any other relationship, if we merely chase what “feels good” we miss most of it. But I am left supposedly rejoicing and transformed and in fact feeling a profound sense of anti-climax. How do I change myself or gain some sort of understanding?

I feel a great deal of anger towards the church, and for a while I was expressing it in my blog, but I became to feel uncomfortable with the excess of my negative emotion, and especially the way it might contain traces of selfishness within it (or seem to). So I have tried to go further inward and transform myself. I have tried to focus on the positive and call myself to account rather than ranting at external forces. This was the next cycle and I feel that cycle too is exhausted.

By too much navel-gazing and piety I have become perfunctory about faith, I am not “feeling it” but then at odd moments I feel resentment or passive aggression toward the idea of even being at church (and my specific church community are so lovely and have done so much for me that this is completely irrational). I think rather than rising above my anger, like I thought I was going, I have merely repressed it (again). What is the answer? I don’t know. What is the next step?

Christ is risen.

“He” is risen indeed. Or so I am supposed to respond.

Is rising like getting up in the morning, because it seems significant that lately I have been uncharacteristically slow and reluctant to get out of my bed (or is that just the approach of winter?). I ache inside, some deep emotional hurt that isn’t so easily healed by a few Hallelujahs!

Did Jesus still hurt from the crucifixion? Physically? Mentally? Emotionally? Spiritually? Are we really supposed to see him post-resurrection as so renewed that pain is absent (and yet witness the wounds). What did he do with the pain? Isn’t death meant to be the only solution for that absoluteness? If he triumphed over death itself then at what cost? No cost?

Is this a “happily ever after” moment?

I live in the real world, what on earth am I supposed to do with that?

 

Jesus,

How do I hold a post-resurrection reality? How do I soothe a pain denied, a death reversed?

What am I when I am not dying?

How do I reach out to pain, numbness and confusion in others? How do I keep moving forward? I want some sort of meaning!

What do you want from me?

Is there something we can work on together?

I feel horrifyingly alone and insignificant within all this alienating “glory”. Connect me in somehow with resurrection.

Amen

Absence

When love is gone… For Jesus but also Felikss.

 

Just me alone with my own thoughts

remembering every mistake I ever made,

every persistent flaw that dogs my life and relationships

mea culpa

 

Just me in the dark waiting for dragging seconds

that make up eternal minutes,

of hours.

Trying to slow my breathing

wondering why I bother.

 

The night is dark and empty

and yet noises come to frighten me.

What would it feel like to be dead?

To be trapped under earth suffocating…

don’t be silly he is already dead.

 

His body was so wracked and so used up

he never even made it to 40

and it was so still and wax and tortured

I wanted not to recognise him

not to wonder what it meant

the expression on his face.

 

So still.

So absent.

Under earth, he can’t get out and I am scared.

I will die too.

This is what being human is- losing and fearing and dying.

 

Kyrie eleison

 

But the dark night still stretches ahead.

Stations of the cross III

This is my third year of doing only two stations of the cross and spending a bit of time on each one. You can check out stations 1, 2, 7 and 8 in previous years (one and eight), (two and seven)

  1. Jesus Falls the first time

When people are already beaten, already suffering, already beyond what is endurable and they are seeing in front of them still the long long road, uphill to more suffering and not even a friendly face in the crowd. Why do we sometimes feel disgust instead of pity for suffering people? We wih they would get out of our face. We wish we didn’t have to witness their indignity, as if we could catch it off them or something.

Or is it repressed guilt?

Or what about when it is me who falls? The problem with falling the first time is you realise how easily you can fall and how hard it is to get up again…and you see ahead of you many, many more falls and the aloneness of the struggle.

Is this why people sometimes give up? Jesus of course does not get the opportunity to give up, he is forced- whipped and threatened and kicked to get up and keep shuffling to doom and torment and death. This looks nothing at all like what we think of as “courage” or as “success”. Jesus in this scene is as much of a loser as we have ever been, and in the episodes of our lives where we can do nothing except shuffle along as someone forces us, or crumble under the weight are after all like Jesus.

Small comfort though because it hurts to be like Jesus.

Over the centuries we have put this burden on Jesus that he is carrying the whole weight of the world, that he is carrying our sins (there is that link to Julian of Norwich’s idea that Jesus is like a mother again). Perhaps Jesus does not want or need to carry everything for us. Perhaps it is not very helpful theology to put that on him so that we can avoid examining the sins of our society in too much detail.

Does the falling Jesus feel he has let everybody down?

Do we let “the least of his sisters” feel the humiliation and pain that we believe we would not have heaped on Jesus, himself?

They ought to stop blaming him, hitting him, forcing him. Someone ought to help him. Someone ought to rescue him. Someone ought to protest against this huge injustice.

But we are all too cowardly and aware of our own limitations.

So Jesus still falls.

Dear One, Jesus,

A few days ago I saw a three year old fall from a pile of blocks she had climbed on. She showed me her scraped knee, her grazed hand and she asked me to hold her and make it right.

“Falling is part of life” I told her and she looked at me and kept crying.

“It hurts doesn’t it” I said and she burrowed into my arms for comfort.

But no one comforted you, and your falling was not a natural part of life, it was something that the injustice of others caused to happen. It was something we should have prevented. It was something that still happens.

What would it have taken the first time you fell for it to be the last time you fell? What could people have done better?

How do I confront suffering and falling in others? What can I do? How can I respond?

Jesus, I am inadequate. I do nothing but weep.

Amen.

 

  1. Jesus is stripped

Like the soldiers who gambled for Jesus’ clothing, we profit from the misfortunes of others. We in a competitive, capitalist economy. We in the “developed” world. We the privileged.

We protect our borders by locking out the hopes and security of refugees. We choose the cheapest items, the best schools, the flashiest cars and stuff the fact that the environment or other people have to go without. It’s not our fault, we are not the powerful ones.

The soldiers, the foot soldiers. People doing an honest day’s work. They may well have had mouths to feed at home. They did the job that was available, they were soldiers, possibly underpaid. Part of the deal was getting the clothing of the “criminals” they helped execute.

Jesus however was left stripped, naked, humiliated and uncomfortable (well he was dying anyway so you can rationalise it can’t you?). He becomes a non-person in the system- just a set of procedures, just part of the job the soldiers have to do.

They didn’t make the rules.

Can you imagine what chaos the Roman Empire would have been in if no one enforced the rules? It wasn’t the soldiers’ job to find Jesus innocent or guilty.

And by this stage he is not even really a human any more. He has been “processed” he hangs between life and death, there is no remedy. There is no redemption possible.

So they may as well cast dice don’t you think?

And we may as well continue shopping and complaining about the cricket while the environment hangs on the cross of our over-consumption and while the refugees suffer dehumanisation and lack of hope.

There is no alternative. There is nothing we can do against a system so much bigger than us.

Even God has abandoned him.

Jesus,

I see you. I want to rehumanise you.

I cannot see the hope in his situation but I would cover you if I could. Even that!

Jesus, the small things I can do for people- the donation of money to a beggar, the meal cooked for a depressed friend, the non-judgemental smile for someone who feels cast out. Small acts of wishing I could take you down from the cross and let you choose from all my clothes.

I feel so powerless. I am complicit in evil systems. I benefit from unjust economics. I can’t find the answers to how we should live or what we should do to end this suffering.

Jesus remind me to seek integrity in all my life…not to give consent to systems that take away more and more and more from those already suffering.

Jesus, they never stripped away your goodness and your truth. Who we are goes deeper than trappings. Teach me to be filled with your truth to my core, to be more than my place in society.

Let us restore hope.

Amen.

Conclusion

I really struggled to get into the spirit of Good Friday today, and I really struggled to write something. I was too exhausted to make it to church, I could possibly have worked harder to get my body there but I felt I would not contribute anything (perhaps I ought to have tried).

Loving God, forgive me for being off-task. I long for hope and it seems impossible, and yet my immediate situation is alright. Perhaps I feel guilty not to be suffering more. Perhaps I have worn myself out with all the wrong things.

Today I am not like the faithful women at the foot of the cross, I am like the denying and cowardly disciples. I have run away. But even those ones, you continued to love and call.

I will do better when I can.

Amen.

Feeding, washing, serving, LOVING

“I give you a new commandment, love one another as I have loved you.”
To work out what loving each other means, we have to look to the readings. Love like the woman from Mark’s gospel last Sunday who used costly perfume to anoint Jesus for his ordeal? Love like the fickle crowds who acclaimed him into Jerusalem and then chose Barabbas? Love like the disciples who could be sleepy and slow to understand and even cowardly and denying Jesus but had the emotional honestly to weep when they could do nothing else?
But Jesus didn’t say love as much as humanly possible, he said love like I have done.
I, God, I am. The radical and faithful love of a God who passes over the houses of his people to protect them, who calls them out from slavery into wandering in the desert even before they are fully ready for liberation. God who feeds (see also the gospel) and washes (see also the gospel) and enjoy the company of “us”, the church, the human race, creation.
I don’t think “you” is only the church in the narrow sense. It could be argued from the texts that God only loves the insiders, apart from when you look at the abundance of God with Wisdom as accomplice making everything and delighting in everything, when you look at Wisdom’s great feasts.
We are called to be loved. We are called to love. Loving is about eating and washing (women’s work we are told every time except when it becomes church ritual).
Does Jesus love Judas after betrayal? Does Jesus love Peter after cowardly betrayal? What of the woman with the jar of ointment, what became of her? What of Mary Magdalene, Mary his mother, Mary and Martha, Peter’s mother-in-law, the woman at the well. This part of the gospel gives us only hints of presence but lots of tears coming- the tears of Peter, the tears of the women, the bitterness which is likely repressed tears of the thieves on the crosses to either side of him.
But how do we love, feed, wash, serve, warn, forgive as Jesus did. How do we call to consciousness a sleeping and cowardly world (and ourselves)? Who do we feed at the suppers “in memory” of the ultimate lover of all? Can we feed the poor better? Feed the children of single-parents? Feed refugees? Feed the elderly? Feed the disabled? Feed the disengaged? The anarchists? The artists? The sick? The lonely? The queer?
What hope and joy do we feed “millennials” a whole generation that feels unloved and unwelcome in society? How to we kneel to assist those who cannot help themselves, who need the balm and acceptance of being washed –touched and refreshed?
All Jesus says is “as I have loved you” therefore persistently, therefore patiently, therefore save some for the sinners and tax-collectors and prostitute as well. This is love not judgement. This is food not a stone. This is washing not sorting.

Jesus,
I need love. Help me to see that my world is infused with your love and service of me.
Thank you for the church communities that offer practical and emotional support to me, or show me how to do it to others.
Thank you for the seeming atheists that secretly work hand-in-hand with you, even if they don’t say your name.
Show me how to bless and distribute what people need to be fed- bread and wine, word, and acceptance. Show me how to serve by doing the unglamorous tasks- washing feet (or dishes). Show me how to revere the people who do the most menial jobs for the good of us all.
Jesus I am afraid of being broken and shared out so that I have none of me, left for myself. Your courage in this act is a mystery to me. Show me how to have the deepest integrity and judgement and to keep nurturing even when conflict, violence or death hang over my head.
Jesus, truly you are my mother.
I enter your presence through food and washing and friendship, through service today and always.

Amen.