Tag Archives: life

Teaching as slow and immeasurable

Teaching is not planting a market garden,

the point is not speed or productivity.

Teaching is the patient work of planting

a rainforest of which you will only ever see

a tiny, hopeful part

if that.

It’s not “crops” and it’s not “result”

and it’s misleading to discuss “what works”.

Learning is an act of beauty

like the many coloured mushrooms that spring up in a day

and drop their spores making litter

to feed insects who are there for little birds

feeding birds of prey

meanwhile a seed becomes a slow, small, sapling,

reaches toward the light patiently and with endless hope,

branching out when ready to bear fruit

so that small mammals may eat and live and experience joy

and then die and cast their remnant flesh and bones

upon the roots of the trees feeding for more generations

of trees nurturing mammals and yearning for the light, the sky,

the canopy teeming with every type of creature

and all the time in the world

for flowers and butterflies.

Time wasted on beauty and fragrance and the soft trickle

of water over moss.

Noone can measure the life of a rainforest,

noone can measure what has been learnt or will be known.

We hold back from our wish to control and carve and mould

and we enable. We provide. We challenge. We are all

trees, moss, flowers, birds, beasts insects and mushrooms

caught up in the life-breath and soil of being.

We are no just woodchips, we are not just fuel,

we are not for harvesting

we are just for being.

Yea though i have retreated to a valley to reflect.

I am feeling ill. I am fearing ill. There is a pillar of cloud overhead that (it is rumoured) used to be flame and it is not friendly. Easy childhood fairytales of chosenness have fallen away. The valley is no longer green like in the January of 1992. It is dry and brown with the grey-brown sky. At 1pm it is as dark as a winter evening.

“That’s not cloud cover” says the man in the general store, the one who has been to fight the fires.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;[a]
    he restores my soul.[b]
He leads me in right paths[c]
for his name’s sake.

It seems relevant to reflect on all this. I thought I came here to restore my soul but as a critical leftist feminist I have no time for “Lords” and as a vegan I see “shepherds” much the same way. I reflect on coffee with an atheist that I had recently. There was no room at all for my tenuous faith/doubt in conversation with her (and others but less recently). Are they right after all? Lords exploit the peasant. Shepherds make the ultimate exploitation and eat their flock (or sell it to consumers). I have little reason to follow such a one and less reason to love. My teenager was until recently uncommitted to believing or not believing but seems to have turned towards believing.

If there is a Lord who is my shepherd then I will rebel. I will practice civil disobedience. I will transgress, I will flee.

When was the last time I lay in green pastures without feeling guilty about my privilege and apprehensive that my days are numbered? I don’t mean death, I mean extinction which is different again. I have stopped feeling there is eternity for me and I gaze into a widening void. I can’t sleep except in fits and I wake with a clenched jaw. My gums bleed. I have been grinding my teeth.

But she is beautiful.

I don’t want to unpack the materialist here-and-now things I could mean by that. I see Wisdom like a silly little girl, like a monkey, like a possum, like a cheeky rainbow parrot hanging from every tree laughing at me and daring me to join her. I see the earth split open by the ocean, the once small blowhole at second valley now a roaring channel of white water. I reflect that it has been almost 30 years since I sat here in wonder and awe.

The awe of the child was somewhat naive, all things were my friend and none wished me ill except for humans. Now I know myself as a human not as earthling. Now I see the sheep and alpacas flee from me, the kangaroos hide and jump away. Predator. Vandal. Saboteur. Consumer. Human. My thin sandals are ripped by the rocks, my bad knee gives me trouble. Am I burning?

“UVs have never been higher” says my son and Googles the fire danger for all the places we want to visit.

“I am glad we did not go to Kangaroo Island” he says.

What is the right path, and whose name should I be invoking? Lead kindly light but then on the other hand we know these days “the hostile light, that does not warm but burn“. We Australians at the start of 2020 know it so much better than poor Emily ever did. But there is wisdom in taking only the one step. Pastures and quiet waters (or rapid white waters for that matter). The sheep will be eaten but perhaps a day under a shady tree is worth being born for.

But not if you can see the well-worn path to the abattoir.

I do not ask to be made blind, I tried that and it wasn’t for me. I was not born for opioids. I was born to have a loud voice and a fighting attitude. When I try to be other things everything falls apart. I have played the prodigal too. If I say I was “born for this” then I am acknowledging some purpose, some call. Still she plays in the trees just out of sight and refuses my interrogation.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,[d]
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

“if this is Second Valley then where is the first valley?” My son’s question is identical to the question I asked at his age. I begin to speculate as does he. But fear is the darkest valley and we walk it now the whole human race. It seems naive and criminal to trust in “rods” and “staves”, in authority and phallocentrism at a time like this. Our “Christian” prime minister wants the freedom for “Christians” to bully people like me. In any case he would sell us all for a lump of coal and a week in Hawaii.

Come on then Godde? I am here in the valley of the shadow of death. My brother is in a capital city where the air for weeks has been orange-brown with dust and the people wear masks if they go outside. A woman died after her lungs went into shock when she flew to the city. The air quality is not fit for humans and my lovely little nephews and nieces are living in it. “Yeah though I walk” we all walk. Am I my brother’s keeper? I am the eldest and I feel I should do something. I feel so powerless. I honestly don’t know what to do. Better to face death fighting and with the children behind me if I knew which direction it was coming from more precisely.

Oh I fear evil.

I fear the apathy and ignorance that will open it’s ears and its heart to evil and blame the Greens or the climate strikers for the sins of the powerful rich, white men. I am no sheep but a scapegoat, still hardly a silent one. Why have I not blogged lately? I meant to reflect on Christmas and on the Eucharist. The body of Christ…we are all marching toward crucifixions some of us don’t yet want to talk about. Will it be easier on the ignorant? Even so I do not ask for that.

How does she live, the atheist? What motivates her to do good? Am I inherently corrupt because I need a “Godde” to exist to give my moral code meaning. I need a relationship I don’t see anything objective about who I am as a human being. I don’t see a natural “right” and “wrong” but it becomes right through love and wrong through selfishness. She lives what she mockingly asserts she does not believe…I know very little about her really, but if she were not good then I would not sense her goodness.

I say I question everything but there are things I “know”.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Surely[e] goodness and mercy[f] shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.[g]

But privileged folk have always been so smug about their “chosenness” and to me this goes against the radically unsettling Godde preached by the authoress of the Magnificat. “My table…my cup”

“She sends the rich away empty”

“You anoint my head with oil” but John the Baptist lost his head following beautiful Wisdom even into the barren and uncomfortable places. I am an overthinker, there is no chance I will come out of this unscathed. Goodness and Mercy follow me? I am looking who/what to follow but perhaps that is the wrong way around. When I lie on the rock in the sun a monarch butterfly lands on me. Stillness is worth something (still the gritted teeth and the wheezing). The animals in the fields still don’t want a bar of me although I have dutifully eaten chickpeas and mushrooms instead of “slice of their brother”.

I shall dwell in the house of (call her what you will I will not say “Lord”) my whole life but how long is life? Somebody told me she really didn’t want eternity. A few voices joined in mocking the preservation of aging bodies and meaningless stretches of time forever. What is life for? Why would we want eternity? Why would we not? I miss my family who have died. I am in a blind panic at the thought of certain other people dying. I suppose if I died I would not notice it after the event unless there is something more,

 

I don’t know the answers but I know it matters how we treat not just Life (my life or a moral principle) but lives. Your life and autonomy must not be sacrificed to my grand narratives. Your life human, woman, disabled person, animal, maybe even plant (I am not advocating that we stop eating plants). We could leave the coal in the ground if we saw it as earth’s organs. Or would we? Reading Foucault makes me doubt that the powerful are ever humane. Would I be so corrupted?

 

Would I think it was my “duty” to defend the structures that gave me power and privilege. What have I done this week against my own race and class privilege in any case. Fine words “Lord, Lord, Lord”. What right to I have to live? What right to I have to question living? What do the old people experience seeing what we have wrought? Why is everyone not on the streets protesting? Why am I not “holding my hose” toward the fires?

 

Starfish hill wind-farm and my son’s opinions on renewable energy and ethical crops (we share a joke about hemp even though there is truth in the jest). A government that wants to take us closer to armageddon/rapure/extinction. Meaning death as Eliot said but also there is grace dissolved in (this?) place. My baby is a teenager. I have never been so lonely in my whole life. This time, unlike the loneliness of the past I don’t feel needy for others I just feel that connection would ground me to life having meaning. I yearn to connect and feel and BE. I am self-sufficient AF but also useless and empty.

 

What good am I? What good am I? I will look for work to throw myself into and stop questioning.

 

Sheep used to think they could safely fucking graze!

In which our heroine/vilainess changes tack…

This week quite a lot of things happened. On the micro-scale… I managed to offend someone whose good opinion I really care about. My most trustworthy and hardworking colleague suddenly chucked a sickie and I got to teach a class I don’t usually get. I realised more about my own privilege. We finally got what felt like some winter weather (and I didn’t like it).

On the slightly broader scale- levels of discontent are rising. One of my friends got a job she really deserves. One of my children applied for an exciting job. Vegan diets and composting are on the increase and people are turning away from plastic bags. But only some people, and this is sad. Extinction rebellion staged a “die in” in work hours and it was well attended (but not by me).

On the larger scale. We have a “Christian” prime minister and a small and beloved Tamil family is being squeezed out of their loving neighbourhood and out of the country. The children are being traumatised even more than they have been. Another “Christian” man is trying to get out of serving his prison sentence for child sex offences. It is hard to believe him innocent given the weight of the evidence and his own lack of insight about sex-crimes within the church hierarchy. I am not reassured by our “Christian” leaders as the sea levels rise. I am stunned that we would “protect our borders” against bright little girls and their parents but open the gate and put the welcome mat out for Adani and Equinor.

I don’t know where to turn for faith this week though, because the lectionary mumbles anachronisms and dogma- dangerous to an aware woman. If I even am a “woman” which is a whole other question. I feel I should make an effort to go “back” to church this week, to recapture something I used to love. I have marking and editing and writing and even a lecture to plan. I have laundry and shopping and cleaning and admin work to do.

I am sitting here drinking coffee and feeling adrift because it is not like I didn’t try the lectionary but it is abjectly failing to speak to me. It’s not reassuring. It’s not challenging. It’s just off-key and sort of smug at me. So where do I take this doubt and this still desire for goodness and love? Where do I take this floating, unmoored feeling? So many psychs over the years have told me to “trust myself” more, but that is hard enough with earthly things. How unsafe, even narcissistic it seems to have the “self” as an authority in spiritual things.

So if not myself, then what can I become aware of? The scrabbling of tiny rodents in the walls when I am trying to sleep? The orange and glorious sunset I can just glimpse from my “hot desk” as I leave work later and later each night? The reed that encircle the shining lake? The student who mentions Paolo Freire before I even do? The paragraph in a paper that I am marking that sounds like it was written by an expert? The bitterness of the too dilute coffee because I am neglecting household tasks like shopping? That elusive reference just outside the reach of my growing but still slow brain? The…(but no some things I should not dwell on even if they seem divine).

Is the net of ripples and circles that I call my “experience” of the world also a sort of lectionary? Can I read the life of God in it? How do I orient myself, in which direction is this “God/Godde”? Is it behind my back in the brave personal battles of one of the other casuals? Is it behind a closed door in an office of one of the “real academics”? Did it leave when we had the restructure? No. It is here. It is always where I am and I am happy to be here even when the hard work almost kills me. I bring it with me, like the roses from my garden that I put in the lunch room, but others bring it with them too. Others I think I know but that have hidden depths. It is in the “care” of teacher for student, senior staff for newer. It is in the enthusiasm of the first-year whose family never went to uni. It is in the ability to quickly understand of the Masters student. It is in the way I thought I was something remarkable, odd or special but everywhere here there are people like me.

It is in the laugh at myself for having been less (and more) than I thought. It is in the student who catches my eye and knows that I know that there is more to life than the four walls of the classroom. It is in temptation (dumplings, mexican food, chocolate brownies and the tavern). The life of Godde is our life.

It is in the fluffy ducklings who do not know the world they have hatched into. It is in the koalas who will be desperate for water by high summer. It is in the brown snakes who wreak such havoc just by appearing. It is in the dying trees and the grapefruit trees, giving their bounty to all and sundry (who can reach). It is in the view of the ocean and the too-blue for winter skies. It is in the library, in the hidden corners and rustling pages and even the annoying blip of someone’s mobile phone. The life of Godde may be beyond humans, but when we touch it then it is here in our lives. If it can be in a cultural text (bible or lectionary) then it can be in other texts too (email asking me to take a class, me trying to fairly word my response to someone asking for an extension).

I thought all this focus on “reality” would go somewhere that I would talk myself out of this spiritual dryness into some sort of “relationship” or some sort of ability to “believe” but the world appears to be dying and my children are in it. I am lost. I do not know how to find Godde or faith in any of this after all. I do not know what meaning any of this has apart from the twisted and difficult pleasure I get from my work. Am I becoming a workaholic? Maybe. I am pursuing this academic dream partly because it gives me joy but also because I cannot see Godde. Can Wisdom be here somewhere? I miss feeling like I knew where she was.

I will wash my clothes as early as possible and take the bus into work to do marking and other things. I love this. I want this. But I feel I ought to understand or touch something bigger in it all. Right now this is all I have.

Becoming and Begoing

Priscilla Alderson in Childhoods Real and Imagined, looks at what critical realism can offer researchers in the field/s of childhood. One of the very significant points she makes is in reference to the way childhood is often seen as a time of becoming, a future oriented “not yet” time that assumes that some adult point (perhaps middle-age) is the destination. She reminds us that every becoming has a related series of begoings, that to become one thing (an adult) you have to cease to be something else (a child). So when a baby learns to walk they are “begoing” from their identity as someone who is carried. When a child learns to tie their own shoelace they are begoing the person who has those brief one-on-one interactions with a caring, shoe-tying adult…although this reminds me of a time when I was thurifering in church and the priest who was also a very well-regarded lecturer knelt to tie up my undone shoelace instead of merely pointing it out to me, this was a moment of surprising ministry that stayed with me in my wish NOT to always have the humble service role forced on me but also to think I am able to minister.

But every becoming according to Alderson has inbuilt loss and change and absence (ask why mothers cry on the first day of school, ask why mothers feel loss as well as pride and relief when their child reaches 18, or marries, or moves out).

Begoing is a theme very relevant to Holy Week, and very much already present in the glorious becoming of Palm Sunday. This is possibly why we read the passion through on that day…in the becoming of Jesus into Messiah, the sacrifice or else the one who stands out openly as a challenge to the powers of the day, there is a relinquishing of any comparatively safe identity, of the ability to melt back into the non-event of Nazareth and be just a carpenter’s son. When we act, there will be consequences, when we follow God’s call we will offend the powers of injustice and they will punish us if they can.

I am rereading Bernadette Kiley’s, Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, as we are in the year of Mark and I wish to focus on the whole gospel not just the separated out torture and death scenes in Holy Week (ok so I started early), to try to grapple with a wholistic concept of the life and death (and Life) of Jesus. Bernadette (since I know her in the real world it makes sense to use her first name) writes: “”If then, Jesus will be misunderstood and hated, the disciple must expect the same response. Mark’s community knew this only too well. Persecution and dissension were realities they had to deal with in their commitment to proclaiming the reign of God. For us, too, there will be a similar Jerusalem winter, when we, like the disciples of Mark’s Gospel and the Christians of Mark’s community, know something of the suffering that was part of Jesus’ life.” (p31)

My mother had some of this theology, but to her the fact that so many people hate and criticise the Catholic church was proof that the church was “right”. I want to be cautious in seeing those sorts of truths in my own experience, however much after a rough election where I only got 7.8% of votes and the worse of the two “major parties” got in statewide, it is tempting to see my own work in that light. Rejection by the world is no more proof of being “right” than its acceptance would be. However the rejections, struggles and disappointments we experience find meaning both in our integrity in doing our very best regardless of the risk and weariness and humiliation and also in the struggles and fleeting triumphs of Jesus.

I will not speak of any potential Easter event, even though having read the gospels it is tempting to place that “spoiler” in the picture to find meaning in the sufferings of Holy Week. But n our life we are not privy to any miraculous “happy ending” when we are caught up in struggle and suffering (our own or that of someone we love). Jesus at Palm Sunday, can feel the gathering storm, on Holy Thursday he knows it may be his last chance to influence his friends with some worthwhile Wisdom, on Good Friday nothing is real except suffering and loss. Any hope that we have makes no sense yet when we are caught up in the despair of true death (climate change, austerity, growing conflicts in the world, personal aging, difficult job markets, bad health). All we have is our soul’s confidence that we are from God and to God and cannot fall away from that destiny, even now.

Somehow.

Without seeing a clear pathway.

Jesus in becoming the feted star of Palm Sunday, becomes the abandoned victim of Good Friday. His Easter becoming will come after some extreme begoing. You and I are called to leave behind our comfort zone and to take on Jesus’ mission to call the world back from the brink of destruction, to bring compassion and criticism wherever they are needed. To be greater than we are and to be a challenge to the mighty.

Instead of a prayer, I will leave this on a quote by Marianne Williamson, that is often misattributed to Nelson Mandela

“…Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

We accept this challenge and this call.

Amen.

Lip service or life? Called to courageous loving

Preached today to my wonderful community that give me all the support and love and really are a family in faith to me…

As I prayed and reflected on today’s readings, it was very hard for me to separate out the escalating feelings of fear, grief and hurt I have felt over the last week from some of the homophobic comments and lies that are circulating at the moment. As a queer woman, some people would say that I am “going to hell” or am locked out of God’s community, yet I experience God as knowing me better than I know myself and loving me deeply- allowing for my slowness to learn how best to live and encouraging my good intention. I have tried to resist the temptation to make my journey with this week’s readings nothing more than an expression of the pain I feel in this time. Yet I will name the pain because it is there. And then I will try to move on…

The first reading is the last part of a longer discussion about the way that each person owns their own conscience. Within it, a person is not judged by their family, culture or community nor by how others around them choose to live but insofar as they themselves respond to God and do what is right their path will be always into life. This is both a liberating and a troubling concept in our historical context, where we are increasingly facing the reality of climate change that will take more than the actions of a handful of well-meaning individuals to reverse.

And yet this is the reality we live in, things are happening around us that we have limited control to halt or change and we must somehow keep finding hope and meaning. Perhaps what we can find here is an antidote to the sorts of thinking that see decreasing compassion and rising inequality as inevitable. God does not desire our death, the call is always into life. We must embrace hope so that seeing the fallenness, imperfection or powerlessness of ourselves or those around us we must look for the potential for liberation and healing.

In the psalm we cry out to God to be compassionate and to teach us, this echoes both the awareness that things may be wrong and the determination to hope of the first reading. In the verses, God’s nature is revealed to be goodness and kindness, love and compassion. We can and must depend upon that whatever else we are emboldened to do.

The second reading is a sort of counterpoint to the first. Just as in the first reading, each of us was asked to think for ourselves, and to do good even if we are surrounded by wrong-doing, the second reading calls us to be community, to seek harmony and connection with others and to work for the good of others, not just selfishness. Hope then, is no longer a lonely place and we do not stand and judge from a moral high-ground but seek to know and serve whatever is vulnerable in each other.

Thus we come to the gospel, and the difference between giving lip-service to faith and living it. The first son is foolish and rebellious, he does not like to be told. I relate to him a lot and I see my own children in him too. And yet, once he has given his tokenistic resistance to the authority of his “father” he realises that the vineyard is something he is involved in and responsible for and he quietly gets in and works for the harvest. The second son is all performative obedience and moral superiority but when it comes down to it does not contribute to getting the harvest in.

This is a theology that Jesus points out even the religiously impure ones, even the tax collectors and prostitutes, instinctively understand. So what of us? Are we brave and honest enough to argue with the “father” when we do not feel as committed or engaged as we are told we ought to be? Would we dare to refuse to do what we are told…and then give ourselves the chance to rethink what we are really being asked to do, and what our role may be in the vineyard of God.

Or would we opt to look “respectable”, to follow from as great a distance as possible, paying lip-service but avoiding getting our hands dirty? Do we only go along with the call to love and accept the vulnerable so far as they don’t challenge or disgust us? Is there a limit to our ability to transmit God’s grace, or is it simply that we are busy and there are higher priorities than loving? But the first son’s apparently sullen attitude masks a deep love. Sometimes things may be better than they seem at first sight.

All three of the readings seem very sure in telling us that we need to risk being authentic before God. God’s desire is to always keep the option open for us to return and return and return into the heart of the community, into the work of the harvest, into life.

If we are called today, then what is our direction? Let us become aware of God’s love and allow ourselves to be authentic before it. Let us reflect on the readings for a short time and then as is our custom you might share your thoughts with the people sitting near you.

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

It is good for us to be here

I wrote this reflection and gave it at my church. I used the lectionary readings, which slightly differed from the ones used in the service, but it worked OK. I feel very supported and inspired by my faith community, thank God for them!

Without taking more time than usual I want to do two readings of today’s gospel. The first way of reading it, is not one that I like but it is one that seems to be invited by the context of these first and second readings, and by the way we know our church is structured. I will as usual read through a feminist lens, although it may seem like safety goggles in this case.

Women do not appear in the gospel reading. Jesus, takes three men with him only and they go up a high mountain to have a secret “inner circle” experience that others are not yet allowed to know about. This earmarks them as leaders of the future community after his death. While there he gets the seal of approval from two dead men from the patriarchal tradition. Even the voice of God stresses masculinity, uniqueness and power “this is my beloved son”.

Peter behaves quite logically. Upon seeing Jesus with Moses and Elijah, he humbly puts himself at the service of the more powerful alpha-male and offers to build some sort of semi-permanent structure to preserve the power and glory of this moment. Why should there be struggle and weakness and dissent when we can have certainty? Why not establish a religion based on rules and answers and infallibility? “It is good for us to be here”, it is good to be the powerful and the privileged and the inner circle, rather than being rebels against the system- rather than risking social ostracism and hardship and crucifixion. Given that their ministry has already meant blistered feet and hungry stomachs as well as being dogged by crowds and not allowed to rest, I don’t completely blame Peter for wanting to consolidate the shining, certain moment.

A voice from the cloud interrupts Peter, the vision fades and Jesus tells them to tell no one just yet.

Rereading, I want to insert my own “what ifs” into the story. What if this story is somehow relevant to me, who am not male and am not a leader within the church? I need to put aside my childhood baggage of Peter the stern first Pope and forbidding gatekeeper of Heaven, and shake the hand of the Peter I actually encounter in the gospel stories, to see if he lets me into the story a little more readily. Peter in gospel stories is actually a lot like me. He frequently gets things wrong. He is well-meaning, passionate, impulsive, at times his courage fails him and his vision is always at least one step behind Jesus. But he is persistent, reflexive, ready to be wrong and to bounce back and throw his enthusiasm in again. He follows Jesus with all the eagerness of a teenage girl with a crush (I hope that doesn’t offend anyone). He wants to impress Jesus with his commitment, his readiness to bounce into action, his willingness to see and know new things. Like anyone who really wants to impress their hero this makes him at times quite inept.

I feel this Peter can bring me up the mountain, part of a larger group of believers- men? women? As Judith outlined last week in her reflection the point is not to pick a gender but we are all children of God.

Peter’s motivation for offering to make tents may still be suspect- he may crave an easy road without the cross at the end of it, but don’t we all? He may want to have certainty and to feel that connection to tradition and to God that we all only feel in fleeting moments. A softer reading of Peter may allow him to be worrying not for himself only but for Jesus. He has spent time on the road, watching a beloved person who is utterly committed to his vision of better ways of being. He has watched people demand miracle after miracle from Jesus, and Jesus wear himself out and make enemies of the religious and secular powers of the day.

If he can make tents for his heroes- Jesus, Moses, Elijah- he can keep them near to nurture them and keep them safe. Peter can probably see the cross beginning to loom over Jesus’ fiery words. I imagine he could feel about Jesus, the way I feel letting my adult children out into the world (not that I can stop them). They bite off more than I think they can chew and face hurts and disappointments I wish I could cocoon them from.

Sadly for Peter, whether he wants the power of being an insider of an exclusive club or whether he wants to keep himself or his friend safe the moment fades. As the second reading reminds us, this isn’t some cleverly devised myth of “happily ever after”.

We also have this experience of life. There are bright, shining moments when we feel uniquely connected in with deeper realities and with the meaning of life itself. These moments may come in church, or through prayer, they may come in relationships or through experiencing the beauty of nature or art. Sometimes they come through our talents, when we feel really good about something we are doing or expressing or through having our work recognised by someone, especially someone we admire.

Those moments are fading and elusive, while every-day routines of paying bills and washing dishes take over. Nevertheless, the fading is not total. The memory of these moments infuses life to allow faith. We carry in our lives traces of meaning, the passion of knowing “it is good for us to be here”. We are reminded of that momentary joy in little things, in a beloved-one’s smile or words, in the flick of a dolphin’s tail, in the evocative soar of a piece of music, in the scent of the earth on our hands when weeding, in the taste of food shared, in the knowledge that today we have given something to God, achieved something for God, chosen the path of love and justice for God, noticed beauty that is God. Even in the greyest and most ordinary of moments there is always something of this, some echo of transfiguration.

I have spoken as if we are Peter, but through the sacraments we are invited also into being Jesus. Through our Eucharist, and through more mundane meals made from the miracle of earth and shared in love we take in mystery. The glory of Christ-Sophia cannot be preserved in a tent or a museum, as a reassurance to “us” or a sign to “them” that we are right. Instead it spills over in our opportunities to love our neighbour, and to walk gently and lovingly upon the earth itself.

We too are the beloved children of God. Let us know that God is well-pleased with our capacity to fulfil that identity. Let us sit with that a short while and then listen to each other.

 

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”?