Tag Archives: life

Pondering the big questions

How dare I write about these things? How dare I “know” or even speculate about what other people are going through?

So long as I try to remember not to give answers, or try to understand that my answers won’t “work” for everyone. The big questions will remain and we will keep pondering them. But I want to find hope and comfort within the pondering, however fleeting and incomplete. So I will dare…

On Easter Day

“Something happened didn’t it.”

“It was all easier when I was a child and there it was all up in the sky and you had to be good to go there.”

“All the answers.”

“Yes. It was all quite simple really.”

“When my mum died, I went straight back into believing all that. I knew it was childish or something and I didn’t even care. I just went straight back into it. Heaven is for good people and she was good people.”

“Yes I can see why you would do that.”

“I didn’t want her to be gone.”

“They didn’t want Jesus to be gone either. Was that all it was? Just memory.”

“It might have been.”

“It might have been…we don’t really know… We’re not supposed to believe all that any more are we? We are supposed to view it symbolically.”

“But we don’t really know”

“No we don’t”

“Something happened.”

I haven’t put names, I don’t actually remember who said what and how we uncovered our thinking together but those were the themes of a conversation a very short conversation.

“Don’t you think something happened?” there was a frightening moment of looking down from the cliff and seeing a dizzying precipice under me, because in my life the older feminists are supposed to have more answers than me and I get the luxury of being opinionated and hot-headed and possibly often wrong and they are wise and peaceful and have seen more and know more.

And in this moment one of the wise people didn’t “know” and seemed to be feeling a kind of existential panic connected to being old without the certainties she deserved to have supporting her. And if she was flailing then what about me? If she was not certain then how could I believe anything? In a flash I saw that someone who  has spent her life working and fighting to make things better, to build something that may or may not be valued in a changing world with a shrinking and stubborn church. She is at a time to retire from some of it and to let go of things she has made happen and she can’t even know for sure whether the next generation will honour it; whether even in a real sense there is a next generation.

That could easily be me, although I have spent my life questioning everything and achieving nothing so I don’t even have anything much to let go of.

That impermanence that shows us a deeper futility in all our efforts, if anything my generation had an instinct for that sort of cynical despair and were afraid to even begin to achieve anything because all thing ultimately are made to be deconstructed and for failure. We had depression even as we rolled our eyes at the things our parents took for granted and we had a sort of negative arrogance in knowing how futile, how empty everything is and was and will be.

Some of that critical thinking is justifiable, like realising that even if I work hard and earn a lot I will just find a lifestyle to damage the earth more and to live off the exploited labour of the third world even more than I already do. And as I breathe out oppression inadvertently so I hate myself. The temptation is embracing the despair, desiring nothing- cynicism or escapism become the methods for living this dystopian dream. The lure of death is that it is the only cure for the guilt that is synonymous with existence.

It must be acknowledged that neither our parents nor our teachers intended to burden us this way, just as we did not mean to give the negativity a further twist before handing it to the “millennials” we parented and teach. Where my generation, in passing on this despair to our children is most to blame is in our denial- we sternly tell them that we never have felt or needed anything that we were “tough” in some way and that we have mollycoddled them when they should be tough. And yet all we have mollycoddled is our own emptiness.

The beauty of our children is that they do not fully believe us and they dream dreams we have not permitted.

Praise eternal Wisdom for our children- electronic devices and smashed avocado and all!

“Don’t you think something happened?” Oh something happened alright!

“We just don’t know. Something happened. Definitely something because they wrote it down.”

“They wouldn’t have listened to women unless it really was something.”

“Yes one way or another there is a miracle there. Oh I want to hope.”

I don’t know that we used so many words actually, possibly we didn’t. There were facial expressions and a story we had both heard again as we do every year. Somehow we communicated our vulnerability and our surprise at each other’s vulnerability. With that there was a refusal to accept in each other any need to despair- I saw her as definitely possessed by wisdom and destined for the good at the centre of the universe and she must have seen me the same way, because there was a moment of recognition of “Oh you have fears and struggles too, but I can see you being more than them therefore more than them exist” only we didn’t actually answer any of the big questions.

It is a comfort when the bigger “other” also needs the comfort, then my own lack of knowing is normalised and not a deficit in me. I cannot believe that her life and work are emptying of meaning in the aging process, she cannot believe that my being born in the first place is an unfortunate mistake. That is a gift that generations can give to each other- the belief in each other’s significance. That is why we learn history and that is why nurture and mentor those younger.

I thought today about people who have died- some were younger than me and many were significant. I thought about how I have not achieved anything with this life I have been given and now I am beginning to get little wrinkles and touches of grey already- without having decided what to do or how to do it. Resurrection does not solve the way we suffer and grieve each other’s suffering and loss nor does it give us a blueprint for “what next in six easy steps”.

When I was a little girl I was so scared I would go to hell. I remembered that today as I drove through the twisty country roads. I felt quite secure that even without being a solved and perfect being there was God in me.

“If I do go to hell I will just bring you in there God for all the people who need you most.”

“You really think you can do something like that?” I could hear God laughing at me as usual.

“No” I admitted, “I think I just feel confident that you wouldn’t send me there.”

“You want to believe there is some point to everything don’t you.” Said God

“Yes” I said, “Is me talking to you a psychological trick I play on myself to try to believe there is a point to existing?”

“You need to learn to trust me.” God said and my car came over the hill and the tree-trunks were gold.

“Is this why you wanted to go via Clare?” I asked my son seeing the gold trees.

“I don’t know” he said, “we’ll just find stuff. Can I change the CD now?” and I realised we were not going to “end up” any particular where on this holiday. We’d deal with tailgaters and pot-holes and take detours to lookouts and if we were really lucky see an echidna. And then the day would be over without anything having been achieved.

So I may as well love the sight of the golden trunks of trees as not; and yes it was fine if he changed the CD.

 

 

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.

Ways of (not)Knowing

Is it good to bite into

the crusty, doughy wheatiness

of Word made Flesh made Bread;

to drink the cup- the complex bouquet

of birth and stars and long roads,

friends, stories, long roads,

betrayal, suffering, short road to death

but also hearth-fires and washed feet?

 

Is it good to remember

that love had courage

to speak out, stand tall,

stand with, be told;

learn and grow;

to hold firm and die?

Dare we shed a tear?

 

Is it “him” and is it even me?

Where is the place on earth

where love bakes, breaks bread

and wine is shared;

where suffering is acknowledged?

What does it mean

to have “life”?

Prayer

I was trying to copy down some of the liturgy resources from church into a dropbox and as I always do when I work with liturgy resources I felt a need to make my own. I am thinking of doing my blog a bit differently for a time and this might be a good transition to it. It feels like a change I need and I will try it out and if it isn’t right will return to what I have been doing. My intention here was to use some humans apart from “mother” and “father” and also get away from the anthropomorphism to show it’s a metaphor not a literal “truth”. But still to honour the human experience of the world because we are humans and life and body are good things.

Author of the ongoing story:

history, herstory, earthstory, lovestory;

Midwife of our better selves

taking us forth from the earth out mother

and placing us in her arms;

Living water running through our veins,

Spirit: wild wind of change, exhaled breath,

kiss of life;

Fire the yearning in our spirits for liberation,

the passion for justice and to be in beauty;

Word and Wisdom,

Way, truth and life;

we reach for you

hold us.

Amen.

New Year’s Resolution

I haven’t checked this week’s readings, I have been pondering John 10:10.

I am still writing and I am desperate to be published so I will keep this short.

  1. As a person with low self-esteem at times God is not calling me to change. At times God is honour me to continue what I already am/do but with more confidence and joy. All my resolutions will be what I hope to get out of my life WITHOUT necessarily claiming I don’t already partly or fully do it.
  2. I will be a source of love and a place where love can find a home in the world. Kindness, hope, joy – all the things that come out of love are the things I will seek to let in and out.
  3. I will look after my health, home and family including looking for enough work to pay the bills
  4. I will seek to discern and follow God’s call to me. I will seek to trust God even in a world that seems to deny my call.
  5. I will seek to make a positive difference to the world around me, to carry a warm fire of compassion into a cold world. I will use my time, energy, money and support to construct a better future.
  6. I won’t be perfect but I will seek to know that God sees my good intentions and that I am enough. I will sit with hope.
  7. I will live life to the full

Where do we go with all this?

Wow this first reading and I go back a long way. It was in my children’s bible and I remember reading it and being traumatised all day at school thinking about it (I was only little) and having massive nightmares. I literally thought when I was a child that stuff like this would happen to me…so I can’t find any theology in there (I know good or bad there is some in there) because I feel sort of triggered and yuck from the story. Sorry about that. Not very professional!

I always imagined myself as the mother in the story (probably because it was the only female character). JUST AWFUL!!!! Even now. Maybe especially now.

But it’s been an unusually tough week in a particularly hard year and I am hearing in the second reading that the world can be kind of hostile to people who try to live according to God’s values (I didn’t say I succeed) and who call into question the “common sense” of the world in who they are or what they do. I’d like to be delivered, if not from perverse and wicked people then at least from perverse and wicked systems (but there are people behind the squeeze on low income earners and welfare recipients, it does not happen naturally lets remember).

So the second reading recommends me to be inspired by the love of God and the endurance of Christ. But really, what else is this world and many of its people going to be asked to endure? I love that at Standing Rock so many people are supporting the environmental stance of the local Indigenous people but as we send support from Australia (a good thing to do) Celeste Liddle reminded us that there are parallels over here  We hear less about our own country, the continued injustice and colonial grinding down that is happening in our name. We need to bring the love of God to the face of that Christ-like endurance and not be the wicked and perverse oppressors as outlined in the second reading.

The gospel seems relevant to me in a society that is trying to protect a supposedly “Christian” model of marriage from flowing out to embrace more diverse people’s expressions of love and family. Jesus here is not putting on the serious face about the “sanctity of marriage” or the “sacrament of marriage”. I am not belittling married people who may have lived a sanctified and sacramental life (whether the church recognises it or not). But it seems to me that here Jesus is saying something along the lines of “marriage is a made-up human thing and the greater reality isn’t a particular narrow model of marriage but is eternal life, marriage is sort of a distraction or side issue for the real question.

Now I have to confess I am fairly agnostic about anything happening after we die. I am reading Marie Turner’s book God’s wisdom or the devil’s envy finding themes about life and death in the book of Wisdom, but that is based on Derrida’s version of deconstruction so there are not going to be any iron-clad conclusions there are there? All I can take from it is an idea of this attempt by humanity to dance with God and Wisdom in the face of evil and “the devil” and death and we are pretty clueless in it all. But then maybe we can trust Wisdom to lead the dance and just hold on and not know where we will end up. Can we do that? Sometimes it seems easier than other times!

That sort of positive theology certainly flows out of Elizabeth A. Johnson’s Abounding in Kindness which is full of eco-feminist frustrated but relentless hope.

Yes that is where I want to head in this messy week when I was almost sure I wouldn’t write a thing. All the ways the world tries to colonise and torture us but there is some sort of radical crazy hope. And we need to stop putting rules on other people, stop taking their land or erasing their families or denying the validity of their love. And we need to stop being so hard on our own battered selves too.

Love of God, endurance of Christ. Radical hope that doesn’t yet know itself fully.

 

If today you hear God’s voice…

If today you hear her voice, harden not your hearts!

The voice of God is everywhere calling us to a life based on compassion (e.g. here), equality (e.g. here) and depth (e.g. here). She calls to our sense of humanity (e.g. here) and for us to seek wisdom (e.g. here).

All the readings this week decry the life lived according to the lowest common denominator- worldly wealth and worldly success. I don’t want to get stuck into a Spirit vs Body binary, because I think if we focus too much on ideals of “spirit” and the “next life” we can miss the politics of the reign of God, calling us to a meaningful life HERE and NOW.

We feed our spirits, not by neglecting our own bodies but by looking out for the bodies of the others who are Christ in our lives (refugees, homeless people, children from low-income households, disabled people). We invest in God’s eternity not by hiding in warm houses praying and chanting praise while our brothers and sisters freeze, but by remembering that we connect with God through how we treat other members of creation (true images of God).

But in 2016, the logic of tearing down the existing barn to build a larger one to store wealth more than needed for one lifetime does not really even shock us anymore. The greed of hoarding and wasteful living while others suffer is exactly what our society and our economic system are based upon. We are the fools in the parable and Jesus calls us to pursue a different form of enrichment.

Harden not your heart.

Recently I met a woman from interstate who for some years now has been working with refugees: supporting, advocating, seeking, justice. When she heard I was an unemployed single mother she bought a bowl of chips “to share” and placed it in front of my son (who was happy to work hard at emptying the bowl). We had a few views in common so I added her on Facebook. To meet her in the flesh, you would not think of her as a rich woman: she has a hard-working job that pays and average amount. She is well enough to live but not dazzlingly rich.

When I added her on Facebook I got a completely different impression. The friends this woman has! The many culturally diverse and rich in wisdom contacts that share love and insights with her all over her page. I began to see, how my new friend’s life choices HAVE in fact made her dazzlingly rich, but with something better than just money and the paranoia that goes with an overemphasis on money. The same story could be told of many of the people I go to church with. When I look at friends who have chosen to pursue compassion, creativity, tolerance, courageous living, sustainability and love I see rich people.

Greed really is idolatry, as we are told in Colossians. How often do you hear religious-sounding language used about “the economy” and are we treated as heretics if we believe that we ought to preserve values of sharing and supporting each other instead of competition and malignant “growth”. And yet in Christ we are not Indigenous Australians, colonial Australians and asylum seekers; we are not Christians, atheists or Muslims; we are not men, women or trans; we are not hipsters or bogans; private or public school; leafy suburbs or Elizabeth. In Christ we are called to the meaning that is only found through un-othering, through seeing that wealth is what we do toward the reign of God, how we open ourselves to meaning and transformation and above all love.

In an Islamophobic, paranoid, climate-threatened Australia of 2016 so many of us have anxiety disorder and burnout. We spend the whole day working hard, the whole week swelling our bank account to save for the school fees or the holiday or the investment property and then we fear existential angst and can’t sleep at night. Vanity of vanities. Or we have inadequate income and we schedule our dehumanising Centrelink appointments and toss and turn and can’t sleep at night. Vanity again.

We spend thousands of dollars on weddings and funerals, but don’t have time to talk to the elderly relatives or play with the children. We shop to try to dull the pain. We go to the hairdresser every six weeks and the gym or pool twice a week and look so damn beautiful that someone should put us in a movie- but the wrinkles we know will keep upon us and the regrowth shows the grey as well. We are not born to live and glitter forever. Vanity of vanities.

My addictions are reading and writing. Not bad things per se, but at times I retreat into them to try to shut out the world of other people’s needs. I stare at the screen, trying to make my words beautiful so others will like and approve of me. I am intentionally clever, or disingenuously humble or funny, or wise or virtuous as I spill words out hour after hour and lap up the joy of sharing them with others. Vanity.

Nothing that we do is bad, but if our ONLY focus in life is eating, drinking, adorning ourselves or our homes, performing our talents, gratifying our vanity and escaping into fantasy worlds while our brothers and sisters starve and the overburdened earth weeps then all the good things that we have become dust. It’s a question of where in our lives (and our nation) do we make room for the reign of God?

No “if” about it you will hear his voice today. Will you harden your heart?