Tag Archives: John

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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She calls me (I have been lousy at answering lately): Pentecost

Sometimes I find other people challenging. I am tempted to avoid conflict, challenge, discomfort, potential criticism, giving offence and just trying to be radically self-sufficient (which if you know me at all is a laughable concept). I try not to emotionally “need” anyone (also laughable). I am an introvert, I could disappear forever into a rabbit-warren of books and writing and be perfectly happy…except it doesn’t really work that way.

Too little time being “bothered” by other people’s expectations and needs and opinions and ideas and blah blah blah blah can be even worse than too much. I become less and less productive. I can’t see the point of doing this or doing that. Why get out of bed? Why get dressed? why move? Why write things no one really wants to read? Why bother? Why breathe? Why be?

This is not a recent thing for me, but I have been at the extreme of the keeping-people-out cycle and sure I did it for my own protection but it hurt me more than it healed me. My longest-term friends are people who have been patient with my various inabilities to engage at various times and I am grateful for them. I will never be someone who can cope without the possibility of retreat and some alone time but I have learned that too much is as bad (or worse) than not enough.

Just when you thought none of this has anything to do with Pentecost, let me circle back to the first reading. Because for an introvert like me, a severe critic of the church, someone who often disagrees with what we are told to believe…there is a surprising truth in the first reading. The Holy Spirit did not come to atomised individuals, each locked in the safely self-perpetuating labyrinths of their own minds. She waited until they were all together, each having to deal with their own impostor syndrome, their own insecurities and awkwardness, each other’s loudness and stupidity and potential to be irritating and the way they all rubbed up against each other and had to constantly watch and redefine boundaries and feel left out or bored or angry or overwhelmed.

They were all “in one place together” an introverts nightmare and it gets worse, because the Spirit prompts them to reach out to OTHERS and include those who speak different languages. Significantly (and I have probably said this before) she did not work on the hearts of ears of the foreign listeners to change them so that they could understand, she changed the preachers to be heard and understood in people’s own languages. I believe this is something the church gets wrong very often. We say “here is my message now you change to understand it” instead of saying “how can I learn your language to preach love and good news in?”.

Obviously it is disingenuous to pretend that no change at all is demanded from hearers of the true gospel. I am not saying we should be preaching “Keep on competing and exploiting and buying and meaninglessly celebrating nothingness with you novelties and toys that you don’t even really like. Keep on overeating and trying to kill emotional pain by distracting yourself with addictions and fixations and replacements for real life. Keep on denying climate change and protecting borders and trying to return people to narrow and rigid “values” that never worked to begin with while you overwork and turn up your entertainment too loud and invest in brighter lights and flashier baubles and prettier words and hold up social media as a flattering mirror (beauty mode) to avoid facing your own damn loneliness”

I am not saying we shouldn’t call people (ie ourselves) to change.

But what if we stop sweating the small stuff, like what religion someone is or what sexual orientation. Many churches find such an idea controversial but I wonder if we could get further by finding the humanity and good intention in each other.

George Monbiot in his book Out of the Wreckage, asserts that altruism and a desire for connection is intrinsic to human nature to the point that humans are defined by these things. No other animal wants to do acts of kindness and generosity for no reason at all, but humans again and again over centuries (and in some truly horrendous situations) have been observed doing irrational things for the good of others, sometimes strangers, often completely peripheral to their own lives. That is a beautiful thing to be defined by and Monbiot is very persuasive about it.

If I read the bible about how Godde has walked with human-kind and how Christ became embodied with and in and for us then Monbiot’s idea makes perfect sense. He writes from a secular perspective but the eyes of faith see evidence also that he is right. Then I won’t listen to the people who tell us that kindness is about projecting the ego (or something) or that generosity is about passive-aggressive self interest or such nonsenses that try to deconstruct human relationships to transactions and affective bonds to something market-based. Those sorts of thoughts are strong now, they drive our politics. It never fails to amaze me that people can strongly advocate a “Christian” hegemony and a neoliberal one together as if Christianity did not specifically contradict the politics of self-interest and the reduction of the human person to a unit of the market.

But the Spirit has never been about units at all. She flows between and around us when we relate to others. She inspires us to LOVE to truly love each other and ourselves.

So the second reading continues with a celebration of difference, but also of connectedness (what good are severed body parts?). The gospel finishes the glory and triumph of the Easter season (alas over so quickly) with a reminder of the Risen One standing among us giving peace and breathing into us Spirit. It matters how we treat people. It matters what we label and call out as “sin” in ourselves or others. It matters what we let slide. Let’s think a little more about living an Easter reality, alive with the Spirit and attune to the needs and goodness of each other.

Let’s sing the traditional Pentecost sequence, or find our own:

 

Come, Holy Spirit, come!
Shed splendid radiant light
Come, Mother of the poor

show us how to better share the treasures

you have already brought us.

Shine in our hearts

let our intrinsic worth and desire to love

burst forth.

 

You love and cradle us,

comfort us and draw us out of despair,

inactivity, disengagement

be welcome in our souls

dancing within and setting us dancing.

Refresh us, for we are made for

more than toil or labour

show us how to refresh each other,

give us coolness in the heat

of our passions- anger, fear, desire, disgust.

 

Beautiful light that is Godde

shine within our hearts

let us be beacons of you to each other.

Let us forget our addictions

and know that only your light, your dance

can fill us.

 

Without you we have nothing

(but you are with us so we have all).

Heal our wounds, our strength renew

on our dryness pour thy dew

wash the stains of guilt away

(washerwoman God we know you in the waters)

bend the stubborn heart and will

melt the frozen, warm the chill,

(cast down the mighty from their thrones

and lift up the lowly)

guide us so we don’t jump off a cliff

and take so many species with us.

 

Give us the intrinsic reward of knowing you

let us remember that it is about love

not just saying “Lord. Lord” and bending a knee.

Pour out your gifts, your joys, your inspiration.

Make us embodiments of every radical hope,

make us reckless in generous love,

make us beautiful and light-filled

like YOU.

Amen. Alleluia.

Good or bad shepherds

This picture is The Young Shepherdess by Julien Dupre

People talk about “sheeple” and all of that these days. I have heard ministers refer to people who come to their church as their “flock” in a fairly demeaning way. I try to be vegan. All in all I find the metaphor of Christ as a shepherd something I am ambivalent about.

Another thing I was ambivalent about this week was having to lead a service and preach. Usually I love this (as regular readers would know) but I am kind of tired and depressed and have low levels of faith and it was my weekend for going away with some friends to relax and I wanted someone else to take it off my hands and run with it. I wanted to be organised enough ahead to write the whole thing and put it in their hands and be free.

But I had car trouble and computer trouble and money trouble and a cat with cancer and it did not happen and I was left having to cut my holiday short and come back. And I had to move on and WRITE SOMETHING so I could go on the holiday in the first place instead of using Saturday to try to finish it.

And I had no idea what to do with these readings.

Well I DID end up going camping with a whole bunch of lesbians and their children in a wine region and God was there with us in so many ways (even though half the time she was quarreling with me) so no regrets. And I had not written a reflection as such but I had written some questions and I played some Latvian music that speaks to me of Godde (even though the song itself is pagan I guess). I can’t find that track on internet so I will link one called (my terrible translation) “with god you have long tables“. I played the song that celebrated the diving in ordinary things (weaving, eating, being) but of course it was not in a language anyone there speaks so I gave them a sheet of questions focussing on the readings.

Initially I had many more questions but I cut it down to one page of largish font and tried to make them sort of fit together in a theme. I was also reflective as I wrote a slightly grumpy collect.  People prayed about all the things in the world that hurt and upset us. It was a very sad prayer time which fit where I am in my faith life but it was my job to lead so at the end I said “we have shared or pain, fear and sadness but we bring to you also love and laughter, good friends and beautiful meals shared” I really, really hoped noone thought I was trying to silence or invalidate their horror and honesty but I wanted them to be in a safe space too!

This is all I have this week, sharing a difficult job leading…made easier OF COURSE by the wonderful, supportive, participative people who taught me everything about liturgy so of course did it all with me and appreciated my work. I had apologised for the way I always “talk. talk. talk” at them and set up my lack of real preaching as a blessed reprieve from me when I wasn’t giving into the temptation to be always talking.

One of the leaders who is a fantastic thinker and one of the best preachers there said to me at the end she hopes (and that everyone hopes) I WILL keep on giving into the temptation to preach. Which was a beautiful affirmation. It was honestly the kindest thing to say.

So having over-explained the piecemeal blog this week I will post the shortened sheet of questions :

“all of you … should know
that it was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean
whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead;
in his name this man stands before you healed.

He is the stone rejected by you, the builders,
which has become the cornerstone.”

 

What might we have rejected, that in fact contains God’s grace and God’s word to us? How do we overcome our prejudices and our need to draw lines to find Jesus in the “stone rejected”?


“There is no salvation through anyone else,
nor is there any other name under heaven
given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”

 

Given this sort of statement, how do we work with other faiths in the world? If Jesus is the “only name” then what is his relationship to other faiths? How do we avoid having a colonising attitude to others?

 

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.
These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice,
and there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

How to work toward this with respect not chauvinism? How to achieve unity without erasing culture and diversity? Science and creation tell us that diversity is a good thing- let us reflect on the difference between “unity” as control and true unity based on trust and connection.

“what we shall be has not yet been revealed.
We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is.”

Sit with the mystery and the potential and resist the temptation to formulate answers. We shall be more…

 Those were the shortened set of questions. If anyone is curious as to the other questions comment and I will post them as a reply.

I would also like to share my penetential rite and collect.

Penitential rite

God of all kindness, when at times we are heartsore, apathetic, rudderless, downcast, empty, defensive, lonely or hungry.

Teach us to take refuge only in you.

If when we look at our neighbour and we see difference, folly, laziness, lack of worth, overwhelming need or shallowness,

show us that what we reject has worth to your better way of seeing.

Risen one we can see ourselves as weak and irrelevant.

When at time we live as if what we do has little importance

teach us your power of knowing and caring.

God of all love, you have created, companioned

and continue to call us.

Teach us to know you in one another.

 

Opening Prayer

But we are more than sheep oh Risen One

(or perhaps it is that we have underestimated ourselves

along with sheep)

we know your voice because you called us-

out of the abyss of rejection and gave us purpose;

out of the dimness of unbeing and gave us breath.

we know your voice and we know your presence.

When we face down wolves

you stand with us and for us.

 

Anyway this was my attempt this week. It’s a community where I am and I am a participant not the leader or the star so all was well. I think anyone would do well in a community like that. I pray that for everyone, that they find God with/in people who teach, support, commission and then again support their ministry.

And I will try to write a “proper” reflection next week.

 

 

 

Believers, doubters, questioners: one heart and mind?

I have been writer’s blocked off late but thank God I went to church and could soak in some wisdom from people around me and experience the readings without being distracted as much I have been.

 

The first reading is so Utopian, I am almost 100% sure it is fiction (sorry to tell you that). It shows us an idealized view of the early church when all of us know that despite our best intentions organisations become filled with disagreement and mistrust, resentments flare and people feel taken for granted. Even without anyone meaning to do the wrong thing, this can happen (and some people are less than ideally motivated as well).

 

Having said that, I like to sink into that first reading, early church beautiful idyll and let it reassure me about the VALUES that our faith is built upon.

 

If you get all your information about Christianity from Facebook or other popular media sources, you could be forgiven for thinking Christianity is a very right wing and harsh religion. People styling themselves “Christians” are always attacking left-wing, pinko, tree-hugging, hippies like me. A couple of times in my political campaigning people said they liked my policies but wanted to vote for something “Christian” as if redistributing wealth and having a sense of the common good was something invented by Marx.

 

No offence to Marx, but take a careful look at this reading, so many years earlier, where they are holding property in common and redistributing any surplus to the “have-nots”. It doesn’t say they are forcing people to work or in some way humiliate themselves to receive the help either, they work for the good of all and they share generously with all.

 

If only this is what it meant to be a Christian. That would definitely be a redeemed post-resurrection reality wouldn’t it? That would inspire hope. Let’s move through the happy psalm full of the sorts of reversals (the stone which the builders rejected) that seem to be a hallmark of Jesus’ transformative ministry (and speak to me of social justice) and take a look at the second reading then.

 

In the second reading, love of God and love of other humans is linked. Obeying God’s commandments inevitably leads to love. Obedience here is not a burden or a discipline, it is a life-hack that leads to victory and right relations. When John tells us so insistently that Jesus came through water and blood I think of every birth ever where slippery little babies squeeze out of their mothers in a watery, bloody mess. Jesus’ passage through death then is a birth, some artists and poets speak of the tomb as a womb, the earth springing open to birth him.

 

Fuel for ecofeminist thought I guess.

 

Forward to Jesus, coming back to see his “disciples” and the story of doubting Thomas who I have always had a sneaking sympathy for but now the more so because I am trying to reconcile critical realism and feminist standpoint theory and think about epistemology and do we really “know” what we think we “know”? And besides given all the fake news and innuendo that abounds it would be well for people to be a little more cautious and doubting and critical.

 

Notably, Jesus is not angry at Thomas. Maybe amused, maybe having to force himself to be patient but he works with Thomas’ doubt.

 

Thomas needs experience as proof, Jesus allows him to experience through his senses the truth. Look. Touch. But also by implication (since he speaks to him) Listen.

 

It is frustrating when we know that something is true and we need people to believe us and to jump on board with it and they simply refuse. They may have a stereotypical news that what we are saying is an “old wives tale” unreliable because it is by or for women. They might think we are kidding ourselves or exaggerating or imagining what we say we know. People are reluctant to believe.

 

It is good to be sceptical like Thomas, to not try to erase truth with pretty fairytales. It is good to be cautious and demand evidence and stand back from the bandwagon. But it can hold back progress too to be over-cautious or to be overstuck in what we have always known rather than new possibilities, the “good news” in life. So there is some middle-ground that we all constantly need to negotiate and renegotiate (see my problem with the disciples in the first reading believing and knowing all things in agreement?). We need to be open but not naïve. We need to welcome, to show, to prove, to humour the unbelievers (when we believe we have some truth). We need workable middle-grounds but we also need human interactions.

 

Imagine if Thomas had switched off so much he did not speak to the other disciples any more or if they had cast him out for his unbelief? Then he either would never have encountered the risen Jesus or they would not have witnessed his encounter. If our truth is life-giving we need to constantly invite people into it. If our critical questions are valid we need to try to have some loyalty and link (as far as possible) with our communities that need the challenge. It’s easy to say, much harder to show exactly where and how and who has to give way to preserve peace.

 

It helps to believe that Jesus will come and/or send the Holy Spirit to inspire our connectedness and our constructive critiques.

 

It helps to hold out some measure of the flickering hope that resurrection is possible. Even now.

 

Maranatha.

 

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.

The looming darkness

I don’t know what to think about these readings and about the recent election which made me cry tears of grief and despair (and sheer exhaustion it must be admitted).

On the one hand the first reading is promising a change in relationship- to God dealing more directly with an individual rather than through teachers and leaders. Nevertheless the words of the reading are authoritarian and the tone kyriearchal. I don’t want to be like the voters who fell for a slogan like “strong change” without asking what that will look like.

The God-voice in the reading seems grumpy and bitter about some sort of disobedience in the past and so the offer of a changed relationship seems like God having more direct oversight rather than a more respectful closeness.

Reading it leaves me in a spiritually empty space- resentful and without joy or hope. Is such barren terrain perhaps necessary to traverse in lent? But for what purpose?

It really is like being stuck in the wilderness with no idea of the destination.

In the psalm we have the refrain “create a clean heart in me O God”. Once again what strikes me is both an individualism (in “me” not “us” or “society”) and a being found to be flawed and failed. God is asked to “fix” me, the implication is that I am uncreated, dirty.

The implication is also that it does not matter what social world or time I live in God is interrogating “me” not inspiring or taking part in human society. These readings and the disappointing election led me to pray at church that we are earthlings after all. We are made from carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and minerals as much so as dreams and traces of Wisdom and free-will and tears. We are not just made to “rise above” everything and be so heavenly that nothing bodily matters.

I have a life on earth and I am concerned with politics and food and how messy my house is (though I don’t do enough about it) and how arms feel around me, and what my hands can (or can’t) touch. I dream of writing fiction or academic work as much as prayers. I desperately want to feel that my children and their children will find joy and pleasure (as well as work and responsibility) in bodiliness and earthliness.

Isn’t this what God made for us? Is this not God’s will? If so how do we follow God’s will to keep these goods?

The second reading equates prayer with tears (relateable) but talks about obedience and necessary suffering. I am not completely on board with that but I suspect it has more to do with trying to make meaning in incredibly hard times than any sort of universal truth. Anyway the word “obedience” rankles most feminists because of the way it has been used against us. No I will not obey institutions that do not understand me, represent my best interests or even let me know my own inner truth.

If I am stuck in the wilderness forever because of my lack of desire to submit and obey then I will never enter the holy city but will look for what flowers and fruits may grow in the wilderness, what streams there might be. I am reminded of the time Miriam (the singer, historian, psalmist of the people) was thrown out of the camp and people were in an uproar.

I feel beloved enough to risk disobedience, as obedience is a kind of death (which I used to know when I lived it).

In the gospel the way to Jesus is through two male gatekeepers. Same old, same old. Obeying…serving…following.

The reader in church this morning made me listen by using both the words “father” and then “mother” in the reading. But will Jesus’ suffering and death really glorify God? What sort of a God is that? What sort of a father (mother)? Growth is only possible through the death of the grain which sounds wonderful in theory unless you are the grain. Who are we in the story?

The gospel stays dark to the very end, and I am puzzled how it is “good news”. I wish Jesus had not been persecuted and tortured actually -secretly I have always wished it and I have become stubborn and outspoken enough to say it (as if God didn’t know how I felt). We have suffering and death in our lives, but I don’t feel we should celebrate that fact, though naming it may be useful.

I was asked to be Jesus in the reading of the passion next week and despite my fear of the violence and horror of any sort of passion story (or any sort of corresponding reality) I was sort of star-struck and honoured to play the hero, Jesus. Since then I have worried over all the ways my voice and expression are not up to the task (but of course noone expects me to actually “be” Jesus). But much as I would never want to be Jesus in a reality version of suffering, shame and death, much as I would lack courage and strength for such a thing I think the worst role in the story is that of Mary.

That is the part of the passion that is the worst suffering, the most awful thing possible.

That makes the story even darker, when I consider that Mary was there.

And we are called like Mary to open our hearts to the whole world and have a maternal and patient love for all humanity, all creation. Well to work toward it anyway. We are told that God/Jesus has that maternal love for all creation and for each of us, that it is in the nature of God to care, nurture and protect. How does God bear the harm we do to humans and nature? How do we claim to be following God if our hearts do not break from the pain of our neighbour?

Lost in these hurts and our own helplessness how do we live? Where is the healing?

I am not looking forward to four years of my state moving away from renewables (before we were properly started) and to the “strong change” of the Empire’s soldiers.

My mood is dark, in the church year the cross is beginning to loom. All I can summon up before God is my honesty about how uncomfortable the darkness is. I don’t want anything to get worse.

 

 

 

 

Light

“whoever lives the truth comes to the light,
so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.”

How do we live the truth and change direction always to be heading into the light. In the midst of the lenten negativity of the readings I am finding this questioning of the integrity of my own life. I want to smugly point to this good work or that moment of clarity in my life and say “see I am all about light” but the point of this reading is not to brag (nor to self-condemn) but to realise that we can’t and don’t live 100% light-illumined and truthful lives but we are always striving to “come to” a light which in its completeness is unapproachable (the bible is full of the transcendence of God just as much as the immanence).

No one person or organisation is fully “the truth” or “the light” none but Jesus of Nazareth perhaps in his claims to be one with Divine Wisdom herself. The best we can do is turn toward God, be influenced by the same Holy Spirit that lived perfectly within Jesus.

How do we know the light of God in a world where there are so many lights clamouring for us to follow them…lights of supposedly infallible authority (which over time reveal themselves to be contaminated with exploitative uses of power); lights of manufactured desires and the consent to turn a blind eye to injustice that go with it (that glitter at the peripheries of our privileged vision even when we strive to be better than that); the light of reason, “the enlightenment” all things rational, efficient, proven, positivist and ultimately reductive of the human complexity to a set of algorithms and chemical reactions?

We live in a dazzling cultural shopping mall of neon lights and fairy lights and lava lamps and light up running shoes and goodness knows what other lights that stake a claim on our need for security and soothing, our hollowness and anxiety, our preference for easy answers.

And God is not just one such easy answer.

The first reading tells us that God sends us messengers to urge us to turn away from the wrong and dangerous things we do. Which practices are “abominations” however? Ideas of right and wrong are hotly contested and each person feels that it is “everybody else” that is failing to listen to the word of God.

In qualitative research we talk about “reflexivity”, being honest about who we are, what our bias and standpoint are and why we might believe what we believe. Relexivity in practice can also involve looking at our own behaviour and habits to find ways to be as coherent as possible (morally coherent, intellectually coherent) when we are teaching or leading others. An obvious example of bad practice is adults using hitting as a punishment, while trying to teach a child to value peaceful and non-violent strategies to their problems; refusing to listen to honour promises while trying to teach the child respect and honesty…etc…One sentence that sums up this lack of coherence that I have heard actually used is “Don’t you fucking swear at me.”

These ways of teaching or leading show that I am more concerned with my own power over you, than with the content of what I claim to want to teach you. Jesus as the intimate, barefoot-walking word of God came to break bread with us and lie down on our earth and suffer dishonour and death in solidarity with those who seek liberation. Jesus did not just preach, but also modelled. The light in our lives is that which gives us more than escapist distraction, more than certain authority, more than a freaking display of colour – however beautiful- but the light comes to take us a step toward something permanent and another step and another. The light is something transformative of our darkness, more than a night-light for our terrors but a beacon to come closer and be healed (and sent out).

The second reading is that one about faith through grace and not works. It gets misused at times to claim that it doesn’t matter what we do, only whether we “believe” as if belief is a state you can switch on at will a magical spell against having to try to grapple with the real world. The flip-side of this is that we can never really be “good” or deserve credit for our work or our choices. I largely grew up with such a depressing view of my own unconditional unworthiness, even when I have done everything I can all the credit belongs to God and I should still do better.

The word “grace” should surely evoke something more full of joy and beauty than this scenario. We can agree with the reading, we do not “earn” grace, we are not “saved” (or loved, or called or come into being) through any work we have achieved. Life is a gift and the kindom of God also is a pure gift. This does not mean that God does not call us to also give, to be agents of grace to others (and to ourselves). Grace is like a light that can bathe our lives with holiness, that can slowly spread to banish shadows of fear and hatred. So we are always/already loved and saved but then we are caught up in the desire to grace the world, to grace ourselves just as a baby is already beloved before it can even make eye-contact or smiled, but this love bathes their sense of what it means to be and the baby is moved to want to participate in the family and learns all sorts of amazing things (how to sit up, how to form words, how to use humour) not because the baby only becomes human through these “works” or learning but because the humanity the baby already possesses drives them to desire to participate in connection and social agency.

It is the same with the kindom of God. We are loved and treasured no matter how fast or slow our “development” is within God’s call to us. We are called and challenged to participate as we become able, because it is only fair to do that and because it gives God joy and pride in us when we take notice of the work of creation and learn to dance it with her. Perhaps it is convenient to talk about “belief” as the ingredient that brings out our loving response to God but there is also a danger that belief becomes a talisman against having to really, deeply care and do.

Moses lifted up a serpent in the desert for everyone to look upon and be saved. We want it to be that easy don’t we? We want to ignore every other part of salvation history where the people continued to quarrel and contest the meaning of various teachings, continued to make mistakes and had to be called back again and again to look after the widow and the orphan and the foreigner. Symbols bring us together but it is the “together” not the symbol that enacts change. Symbols point to deeper truths, belief is one of those “works” that is incidental to the grace which really saves.

Faith is a relationship, an orientation not an act of will, a contract or a set of tick-boxes.

Seeking light this International Women’s Day I visit the grave of my mother and read the bible-verse that we decided summed up who she was for us and summed up also where she drew her wisdom and loveliness (as we saw it) from.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5)

God’s light is not a competing light display in the shopping mall of shallow dreams. It goes out to where the darkness is and stubbornly shines there. We look for the light in the parts of life we are afraid to face. We know the light will be there and we come to it. The darkness has not overcome it…not then, not now, not ever.

The light shines.