Tag Archives: John

A commitment to joy

I decided not to “preach” this Sunday and not to ask anyone else to preach either. Instead we can all let the readings and music wash over us in silence and then discuss with people around us. If you want to take that option and ignore my words that is fine (we’ll be listening to “Tomorrow shall be my dancing day” but you may have your own favourite advent or Christmas joy music.

For those who actively seek out words to interact with, I will however post some thoughts and maybe an implied or worded prayer. It will be a good exercise for me to do this morning before I begin the jobs of an absolute marathon of a weekend.

The first reading finds God’s Spirit located within the one who has a vocation (hint: that means all of us). Think of modern versions of anointing. The closest I can think of are beauty routines or massage- ways of taking care of the body that come with the scent of essential oils, the pleasure of touch – oils are for embodies experiences, they honour the “here and now” beauty of the world we live in. To associate anointing with spirit is to break down the body/spirit dualism. Located in our bodies, honoured by oil is the Spirit (take that certain pesky Pauline texts).

For those of us who may have got the impression that this life on earth is inferior, that the body is a prison we wish to escape from or that (physical) pleasure is inherently bad this is revolutionary thinking.

And why has the Spirit indwelled into our all too human bodies? To inspire (the word kind of gives that away) us to “bring glad tidings to the poor (please note, no tidings are glad on a hungry belly), to heal the brokenhearted (hint refugees are brokenhearted, so are other people we systematically destroy), to proclaim liberty (and liberation) to captives……” all the good we can do in the world.

I had some drink with work-mates last night, with a group of committed, nurturing women who do childcare together and once the boss had had several glasses of wine, she started talking about her view of early childhood education.

“We are in it to make the world better” she said “that is the only thing it is about. Every child deserves a good childhood. Every child no matter where they are and we are in it to make a world where that happens.” She wasn’t intentionally talking about God but it seemed like anointed, inspired, prophetic talk to me (and we were all agreeing that that was our reason for choosing early childhood as a profession). We all had some thoughts about what sort of adults, what sort of societies might stem from a positive childhood for every child, because this idea of “childhood” wasn’t that sentimental, romantic appeal to an idea that children are innocents or terribly vulnerable, it was more our belief that a good society where everyone is treated right stems from children learning as early as possible in life to be active and caring citizens rather than simply cynical consumers.

Beginning to read Chittister’s “Wisdom distilled from the Daily” I get the same thought from her. Spirituality is something that imbues everyday life, it is not a novelty or set of commodities you can buy or “experience” or consume. Spirituality is not “therapy” it is life. The Spirit of God IS upon me, now in my everyday marathon weekend with parties and liturgies and doorknocking and housework and all the rest of it and God HAS anointed me to do good right now, today in some way…but not necessarily to talk about God, just to carry the Spirit into every place I go and allow her to show me how to be the good news, the liberation, the healing for any given situation.

We rejoice then, because God has beautifully clothed us in salvation and justice and makes justice and praise spring up like plants. This is who we are too, one with the plants, created to be dazzlingly beautiful in our God-clothedness (justice, salvation…again that vocation).

As the second reading tells us we need to keep this sense of joy going, not just for Gaudate, the third Sunday in advent but “always…in all circumstances”. Do not quench the Spirit by insisting that you have the only possible recipe for faith and anyone who disagrees with you is WRONG. Test everything (have some reflexivity and grace in your faith rather than dogma and certainty). The tet goes on to promise that perfect holiness is possible (through the work of God in our lives). Lucky then that we already know from the first reading that God is upon us, within us.

These two readings in this week’s liturgy get joined together by a lovely bridge, no less than Mary’s Magnificat. I like to think that Mary’s passionate and beautiful (and political) preaching in the Magnificat explains much about the man Jesus turned out to be…that while we assume he inherited all his goodness from God, Mary’s genes and teaching might also have been very formative in bringing us a wonderful embodied Wisdom-healer like him. And what of Joseph’s committed care…it takes a village to raise a child as God ought to know!

The gospel rounds off our call to joy and to embodying the Spirit of God. John the Baptist comes along not just to big-note himself but to point to something bigger and better – Jesus the living Wisdom and Word of God. John is not the light, but testifies to the light…it can be reassuring to remember that in our calling we are not alone. We are part of something bigger. We carry and show the light but we are not the light. We can rest sometimes, fail sometimes, leave it to others sometimes (though it is important to strike a balance and not assume that our work is unimportant or that we can slacken off too much, John didn’t just leave it all to Jesus).

Let us commit today to be happy and to celebrate the nearness of the kindom of God. Let us witness to the good news (that God wants justice for the poor, the broken hearted, the captives, the prisoners) and be part of the movement to the light. Let us wear our kindom outfits: “robe of salvation, mantle of justice” with pride in how beautiful we become and joy as if we were marrying our truest love. Let us find the little acts of joy and love we can share with everyone we meet today and every “now” each day. May we entirely- spirit, soul and body be caught up in the deep holiness of God’s closeness to us. Amen.

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The Body of Christ

I tried to write about the thoughts and random connections that come to me when I approach communion (Eucharist). I had planned to put in more biblical details and allusions so maybe at some point I will rewrite this, but as soon as I focus on bread, then the mundane stuff of continuing to live as well as the real work of mothering and nurture comes to me and so the real world got into my sense of sacrament (as usual). So it came out less mythical and mystical and more down-to-earth than I had thought…I hope it makes sense. Add your own in the comments if you like.

The bread of life. Amen

The labour of my mother’s hands. Amen

The buried grain arisen. Amen

Cord blood to the baby. Amen

The scent of the turned soil. Amen

The seed scattered. Amen

The birds feeding. Amen

Waybread for the journey. Amen

Loaves, flatbreads, rice, tortillas, sandwiches, pastries. Amen

Starving children while we glut. Amen

Crumbs from the table. Amen

Staling crust, dryly sticks in throat. Amen

Children should be seen and not heard. Amen

Where then is the sacrament? Amen

If all of this will lead to crucifixion. Amen

I threw my leftover lunch out of the train carriage. Mea culpa.

My mother had worked all night kneading and proving the bread. Amen

My grandparents starved in refugee camps. Amen

There are homeless in my own city. Amen

I was only a kid. Amen

Your vocation is to feed hungry souls. Amen

To wash feet, to change nappies. Amen

To break bread and model table manners. Amen

The body of Christ. Amen, amen.

A mother’s body torn to give life. Amen

A mother’s blood flowing through the cord. Amen

A mother’s milk swelling, or inadequate. Amen

The father waking in the night to help feed the baby. Amen

The blessing of grandparents. Amen

Solace to the elderly parent. Amen

This too is my body. Amen

The battery hen. Amen

The lives that go into the abattoir. Amen

The lives that are held in limbo, on Manus. Amen

The lives that are born but not nurtured. Amen

The loves that remain a source of shame and exclusion. Amen

The oceans full of oil and sewage. Amen

The rice crops failing because seeds become patented. Amen

Food is a business, water and investment. Oh Lamb of God have mercy.

I told you this is my body. Amen

We eat you, we eat each other, we are failing to love. Amen

Save us Lord, we can’t walk on water. Amen

I told you you would deny me, but now I will feed you. Amen.

Whenever you make food for your workmates. Amen

Whenever you give food to someone hungry. Amen

Whenever you celebrate your own child. Amen

Whenever you remember to visit your great aunt or grandmother. Amen

This is my body. This is the bread that feeds you. This is flesh and earth and physical joy and strength. This is soul and spirit and the ecstasy of connection. Break this, give this, do this in memory of me.

The pod of dolphins leap for joy. Amen

The chili from a colleague’s generous harvest. Amen

My sister gets up early to make bread– her vocation. Amen

Bread and sacrament, our life and our heritage. Amen, amen.

The body of Christ. Amen

Mercy

Imagine if we all lived our vocation: “The Spirit of God is upon me, because “the Lord” has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted. S/he has sent me to bind up the broken(hearted). To proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners. To proclaim a favourable year of the Lord” Just imagine if that was our view of what our job is as Christians? Good news, healing, liberty, freedom? It seems quite relevant both in light of the marriage equality debates in Australia and of the next part of the mass, the Agnus Dei.

I have had so many thoughts over the years during the Agnus Dei, usually trying to get God to take initiative to change things in some sort of palpable way. “Take away sins” I want to be freed of everything that is wrong with myself or with others or the world. I want easy answers. I want…I want…

But perhaps I will try to sit with the words a little and reflect, bringing in whatever of my tradition or experience can help me live them…

Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world….

I am in the world, I am of the world. Is it “my” sin that you take away? How do you take it away? How do you find and identify it? What is my role here?

have mercy on us…

Mercy. I went to a “Mercy” school, and the motto was “loyal en tout”, loyal in everything. Mercy then was not a condescending quality but a loyal one. I am not pleading with a forbidding authority figure for a “mercy” that simply means withholding or tempering punishment. I am asking for a loyal mercy, a mercy of friendship- be my friend despite it all, take my side.

Of course all of God’s creation has God’s loyalty, so I don’t get off the hook for having wronged whoever I have wronged. Because God is loyal IN everything and TO everything that she has made.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

Lamb, innocent and relatively powerless part of the world. One who is raised to be eaten. One who is vulnerable. Historically used as a sacrifice. Non-human part of the beauty of the earth. Enjoyer of green pastures and sunshine. Joyful, vulnerable one.

I am sinned again in the world and by the world. I am oppressed, trapped, made powerless, voiceless, impoverished or given unacceptable choices. I am exhausted and overthinking, anxious and sleep deprived, hollow and lonely. I am the refugee. I am the queer family. I am autistic. I am too female to follow my vocation. My welfare payment has been cut off. I can’t understand the paperwork. Noone will employ me. Noone will love me. I am addicted. I am cold. I am hurting.

Have mercy on us. Once again back to my school’s version of “mercy” where we were encouraged to see individual acts of kindness as insufficient for real “mercy”. Real mercy we were told was about a transformative justice not just to bind up the wounds of the broken but to create change so that no one need be broken any more. Real mercy happens in tandem with the initial mercy, the kindness from one individual to another but becomes a movement- requires people to debate terms and have the courage to remake and renew.

Mercy not just on me, but on us. Mercy is not an individual grace but one that is lived in communities and given (in loyalty and love) to each other. Mercy (hesed) and faithfulness have met. Justice and peace have kissed each other. Truth springs from the earth and justice gazes down from heaven. Even the virtues themselves are written thus as community of love, living both within earth and beyond it at God’s wherever.

They generally forget to tell you that any of this is about kissing.

Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

Lamb of God we are entangled in the webs of sin in the world. We are privileged and blinded by it. We feel powerless to demand that oppression in our name cease. We are conscripted into sin, at times against our will and at other times without our full and comprehending consent.

This calls for the mercy that smashes down walls and breaks chains. This calls for the mercy that strikes the zealot off his horse and makes a physical blindness as an improvement on the blindness of the soul. This is a mercy that can turn the sword of our lives into the plowshare of feeding all creation. This mercy is never without resources and turns water into wine and tax-collectors into friends.

This mercy may be put to death but insists on springing up to have the last Word.

Grant us the peace of forgiving ourselves for our slowness to grow. Grant us the peace of understanding that others are insecure or ignorant rather than malicious. Grant us the peace of a message of love, an affirmation from the heart, a quiet night’s sleep. Grant it to us, and grant it to them. Grant us the peace of a ceasefire and a recognition of our common humanity, our common earthliness.

Grant us the peace of the almond blossoms that are determined to bring us into longer and balmier days. Grant us the peace of the little babies of every skin colour reaching tiny arms for their parents. Grant us the peace of knowing we have enough to share. Grant us the peace of knowing that tomorrow you will call us again into your justice, into your love. And all those kissing virtues!

Small signs toward peace

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

Peace giving, peace leaving Wisdom,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Collecting our thoughts: opening prayer

 

The part they never seem to remember to do in the “opening prayer” (also called the collect in some churches) is the part where everyone prays silently for a while. What I didn’t realise as a child, is silent prayer is the part where noone can tell you what to pray, you do not have to conform to anyone else’s idea of God or priorities so there is a possibility to be very genuine and liberated in the silence (which is often not observed). I am irritated that the missal says “celebrant and people pray silently for a while” so that the celebrant is not “people” and there is a line drawn even when everyone is doing the same thing and could theoretically be on the same level.

Although the collect is not placed within the liturgy of the word in the missal, it always seemed part of it because it referenced the readings and because that was the point where I had to turn to the blue ribbon (readings of the week) instead of the red ribbon (order of service). When you turn to the mass of the day the collect is set out like this.

The celebrant says, “Let us pray” and then in the silence there is a bit in square brackets that tells you what to pray for. The irony here is of course that not everyone is a pious little eight year old who got a missal for their first holy communion so most people have no idea what is in the square brackets, so it controls the thoughts only of the priest and little girls like me…except little girls like me and perhaps some priests used to sometimes rebel against what they were told to pray…but then again I was too pious to do it on purpose usually (I am a bit disgusted at my former self).

So the prayer itself would be sort of a spoiler for the readings which I think is Ok in so far it tells us what readings are coming up (we all watch TV where ads serve roughly the same purpose and we are used to our attention being grabbed with teasers) but it is a bit of a pity actually that an official interpretation of what we are supposed to take out of our readings is put upon us before we even get the readings.

I like having the readings so close to the beginning of the service and even though I do choose a theme, hymns etc when I write a liturgy (I guess all that is also colonising how people hear the readings) I try to avoid giving them a commentary (as used to be done when I was a kid) either at the beginning of the service or just before the readings (as I suspect my community wouldn’t allow me to do in any case). But I say that about being told how to interpret and then I read the collects for this week (the second week of Easter) and they are actually worded to be reasonably broad. Apart from the kyriearchal way of addressing God we are pretty free to read whatever we want into the prayer that tells us this is all about our own “eternal life” journey within through the Jesus story. Then the gospel is all about Thomas and his suspicion that the resurrection was “fake news” (can you tell I was tempted to neglect the project I started and just do the readings this week?).

So anyway, I decided not to “do” the readings but perhaps I can try to write a collect. Not because there is all that much wrong with the official collects in the book, but because I just feel liturgy really should be “work of the people” and we should all always be struggling for meanings and articulations instead of just accepting what is handed down (the eternal line drawn between celebrant and people and the celebrant even only obeying the way he is told to celebrate).

So then, let us pray

[each seeking to see past the possible fake news to real hope in our world…but also each free to pray without anyone else’s command]

God of truth,

Was it because a woman brought the news that it was so hard for some to believe? Is it harder to believe what disreputable people tell us? What greenies, or lefties, or bleeding hearts say? What refugees, or Muslims, or queers wish is to remember about our shared humanity? Are we too frightened to listen to the scientists who tell us in their secular way to “repent” because we believe we have killed you and that God is forever dead in our history now?

Would it be easy to simply believe in everything and allow all truths to comfort us that God will make a kingdom of rescuing and all we need to do is sing “alleluia, alleluia” and remain blind? Is it also too easy to listen to the people who claim to have seen things with their own eyes and claim to “know” that people on welfare are rorting the system, and people on low wages are greedy and people with darker skin are a threat to our way of life? Is it easier to punish than to try to understand and to look for “strong values”?

How do we weave our honest fabric of human love between Thomas’ skepticism verging on despair and every truth that jumps out to reassure us that everything is ok and we can stay in our cocoon? Be alive to us. Touch us with the truth that still bears wounds, but also wants to eat with us and honour the human way of being. Show us how to resurrect the hope that commissions us to preach and heal and love the world.

Amen

Ok, I gave it my best shot. My collect is far too long and complicated and biased (just when I finished saying keeping it vague so people encounter the readings themselves is better). Also I think a collect is meant to be a statement of focus rather than a bunch of questions. I will leave it as part of my “learning journey” here but this is a rare occasion when I acknowledge that it might be best to go “back to the book” (with adustments to make language more inclusive of course).

Encountered at the well

After what I wrote about water in the service, this week, today’s gospel reading happened to be Jesus debating the feisty Samaritan woman at the well. I love this gospel because I wrote one of my earliest HD papers on it and because it was the second gospel I ever preached at. Shallow of me. I ought to love it for the message and the contents and instead I love it for the road it has travelled with me. As I listened to it today I had words in my head from one of my friends who had told me Jesus was just ordinary “like you” and I thought about and ordinary Jesus offering “living water” and being told he has nothing to draw it with and the well is deep. And isn’t that just how ordinary old us feel most days? That people need things from us but we have nothing to draw it with and the well is deep. And I burst into tears (everyone was either too deep in thought to notice or tactful and looked away). But this poem is my musing on the “ordinary” burdened Jesus meeting this woman who refreshed him with her honesty and her reluctance to let him get away with things. May we all meet such women!

 

Encountered at the well

 

You are right,

I have nothing to draw with and the well is deep,

nothing to draw with and the well…

yes well I hadn’t planned on being

any sort of a Messiah, had I?

I could have done without the early mornings,

the lonely roads

the misunderstandings

 

frankly

 

and it is not like I am trying

to force something down your throat

rightly cynical fellow-traveller

but I am thirsty and you should be also

for the transformation that makes meaningless

your previous life.

 

Yes, call them all

come…come…come to the freakshow.

Are you another one that will call me

“King” and “Lord” and “Master” even while

missing the point?

 

I like you when you argue,

as if we were simply determining

whether you will address me as “Comrade” or “Adversary”.

To tell you the truth

I struggle with the same question.

Preparing for mass

 

So I found my battered old missal and I hope I will find some surprisingly good and lifegiving things in there. The bent spine and falling off cover are the evidence of how far this book has travelled with me, since I celebrated my much anticipated “first holy communion” when I was seven, nearly eight.I will be critical of the old words and the old format, because I have a lot of baggage with the church and the patriarchal and kyriearchal words and my own exclusion from ministry against I am certain, God’s will and for no good reason.

Things might get a little bit catholic and weird as I move between my early memories of “church” the words of the liturgy as I was taught them and my current understanding/s of theology. If anyone is reading from a different tradition I guess you can have a sort of ethnographer’s view (or skip bits). I know there have been some minor changes to wording since I was a regular at mass. I don;t know them in details but as far as I know the few inclusive changes our progressive bishop brought in, in the 80s or 90s were removed and the changes that were made in no way made the mass less exclusive, or remediated the problems I had growing up…so I will speak of the old words and if I am wrong on some of the details someone can tell me if they really want to but it won’t make much difference I am sure.

I was going to start at the very beginning, with the greeting but when I opened the missal the first thing I saw was the “preparation for mass” prayers and I remembered that we got to church about half an hour or more early because my brothers were altar servers and this was really important (after spending all saturday following them to their sport and being on the sidelines there, I got to come to church and sit on the sidelines). But this was meant to be a wonderful opportunity for me to engage in contemplative prayer (at the age of about 7 or so) and I was encouraged to read over the readings of the mass that was coming- I never got out of this habit actually as this blog attests) and think about what they mean, and what they mean for ME and also read over the 3 pages (4 if you count the illustration that was also dense with words) of my missal that were prayers for preparing for mass. There were bible verses (John 6:51; 1 Cor 11:23-26,28; 1 Cor 10:1; Rom 12:1) and there were prayers by some of the “church Fathers”- St Thomas Aquinas, St Ambrose, and The Apostolic Constitutions from the 4th century.

It was heavy and hard going for a little girl but I struggled on because it seemed the right thing to do and I really did think I “loved God” and I was terrified I would have to be a martyr when I grew up like all the ones in the stories so I was willing to just read heavy stuff instead of that!

And really, if they want boys to grow up wanting to be priests, they should let the girls go out the back and miss half the mass “serving” and having a great time with their mates like my brothers did and make the boys read the heavy stuff and sit there with nothing to do but think about it. It’s all written by important leader types who think they are the last word in priesthood (that is how the prayers come across) so I was being encouraged to pray in a way as if I was actually making the whole mass happen by invoking the Holy Spirit to come in and “declare this bread that we shall eat to be the body of Christ”.

There was also a lot of very unhealthy bragging about how unworthy “I” was and unclean and fully dependant on God to make “me” worthy and clean. Rereading it in middle-age I still struggle with the heaviness of the language and ideas. I feel burdened again by the self-hate I felt as  child. And yet then there is a lovely black and white print of some wheat growing and some vines and sun and birds and the words on the print are “The love of Christ has drawn us here together” and goes on to ask that we “exult” and find “joy” and gather ourselves together and become one from all the corners of the earth.

I may have changed what I (with my post-structuralist little mind and liking of diversity) mean as “one”; but then I can return at the beginning of “mass” “church” “eucharist” “the service” “prayers” to refocus myself on the joy and relief that I had finished the long and patriarchal prayers and had reached the wheat, vines, sun and birds. Nature. Food. Life. Joy and exultation. Difference and coming together.

I want to do some more serious and careful prayer writing or liturgy writing this year. Maybe I can start there. Maybe back to where the reflection started with John’s Jesus proudly proclaiming that he has come to be “bread” for “life”., through all the unworthiness into the fresh air and the fields where we grow bread and share it with wildlife.

Today I shared felafel with some excellent friends who support me when I am hurting and poor and who today needed a felafel and someone to laugh with. I shared a dance in front of an audience with a group of people I had felt estranged from. I walked down a crowded street where African people generously shared their culture with us. I made plans for the birthday of one son and an outing for another son. I also washed dishes, emptied kitty litter, hung out clothes. Joy was everywhere. Bread/felafel was broken. It was a day of life for my blessedly work-tired body at the end of the week.

Your kindom come.