Tag Archives: Passion

The looming darkness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Unsilenced: like the rocks and the stones

Palm Sunday. I want to interrupt my current project to focus on Holy week because it is so central to the tradition. And because I have so little time I will do very short reflections (possibly to the relief of my readers).

At church the readings what stayed with me was the idea that the rocks would call out and praise God. That the natural world will take part in the conversation about what is right and important? Maybe but what other rock is there in the gospels? Peter. A close friend of Jesus, one with a vocation, one who often gets it wrong, one with a destiny to radical apostleship.

We are called to be like rocks- unsilenceable. I sat there thinking of Jesus’ prophecy/call to be unsilencable in the face of the priests (his priests of the church he was member of not some exotic “other”) and I thought of the recent Pope’s command to be silent on the question of women’s ministry. Seems like priests are always telling people to be silenced!!

But we refused to be silenced and we couldn’t. And when we do not speak as loudly as we could within the church the secular world of sociology and science and even the natural world speak things. The natural world is telling us that something is terribly wrong. That capitalism and militarism and patriarchy have not been what God’s creation needs. We know this in our female bodies our forbidden sensuousness, our secret places of beginning and nurture, our quiet loves – this is not to claim that no man can have known this, I think there are so many men also who are silenced who know crucial things.

And even the rocks shout to us of the origins of the universe and a long slow history without rapid change and then suddenly human arrogance and greed.

But we are supposed to be silent and say that Jesus’ wounds have healed us echoing Isaiah 53: 5. And the earth’s broken body gives us precious metals. And the broken body of the rape victim or refugee gives us some sort of moral high-ground. And the broken body of the mother denied the right to contraception or abortion gives us population. And the broken body of the refugee gives us economic security and cultural purity. We used that as a response in our prayer before communion “by his wounds we are healed” and I couldn’t say those awful, awful abusive words. Because I don’t require a scapegoat. If God hates me then I will be broken (God doesn’t hate me), I will not accept the abuse of someone else, I will not feel joy in the torture, humiliation and death of one who loves me.

Who would?

How do we theologise so blithely about such a horrifying thing?

Is this the same sort of denial that allows us to think that human rights has become “too expensive” that inequity can be labelled “choice” and that abuse victims are “asking for it”? If God can send “his” son to suffer and die for us then the upright Christian can throw his gay son out on the street to avoid “contaminating” and “shaming” the rest of the household. If God required the piercing and mocking of an innocent then a woman who is beaten and penetrated by force has only herself to blame and must be forced to carry any resultant pregnancy to term. If God was so keen to protect the sanctity and purity of some sort of state of being that was undone by Adam, then we can force people to convert to our religion or die.

But what if we are the mothers of the sons who die, what if we are the bodies broken for others and taken from the feeding and mocked and pierced? What if we are the stones that cry out and the possibility of liberation (while the other parade entering the same city that day was one of military might, conquest and repression). And the church is cowardly to try to silence the welcoming in of the subversive reign of God. Where were the clergy from my church at the march for refugees today (kudos to Uniting church and Quakers for having such a strong presence as well as at least 3 different groups of marxists, St Vinnies, various women’s peace groups and mainly very old and very young people (my generation was represented but barely).

But if we could have hoped that the celebratory feel of Palm Sunday was some sort of short-cut to the triumph of justice and God’s reign then think again. Jesus came in to clash with cowardly church leaders and threaten powerful world leaders and to ultimately be attacked for daring to challenge the powers that be. The misinformed masses mulled around between supporting his charisma and popularity but ultimately turning away to protect what security they had within the repressive political system and their respectability among their neighbours. Jesus’ closest friends were scattered in fear. The movement will soon collapse into the worst case scenario that is “Good” Friday.

Will we ever radicalise or will we leave it to the rocks and stones to protest against the constantly tightening injustice? How do we stand for Jesus in a world that is still chaotic and misinformed and a church that allies itself with worldly power and cowardice? Wouldn’t it be nice if this time there did not have to be a crucifixion…if the “gentle, angry people” quietly stopped cooperating with things that are not right and besides not in our best interests either.

But through the grace and love of God and our solidarity to our neighbour, every neighbour even in Manus, Bob Marley will be right that “Every little thing going to be alright” (that song too was in the pro-refugee Palm Sunday march). It won’t happen in a hurry though, and we’ve all got some work to do…

Bit parts in the story?

Palm Sunday, the big things begin.

At first I thought I was going to write about the idea that Jesus is more than a popular movement or a celebrity. There is this huge movement into Jerusalem to popular acclaim, they are all screaming their welcome like all the ticker tape parades and whatever we do these days to make a big deal out of a popular or important someone. It irritates the leaders of the temple and Jesus says:  “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

I have focused on this in the past, the idea that God’s saving good news is essentially unsilenceable. For me that is proved in the way (for example) the church has at various times tried to silence women and especially feminists, and yet somehow there bursts within us always through many, many generations a wellspring of hope and the need to call out and critique. At times it may have slowed to a trickle (or just been hidden from posterity) but at times it gathers momentum into a flood of reforms. That is one example, but there are many. God’s people seek the gospel of liberation and human dignity. God’s people who believe in Christianity and also God’s people who are in indigenous cultures or who find God somewhere other than the scripture (however much you love the scriptures they are only books of human writing after all and God is in them and beyond them).

But then I found out about this page. The idea that “stones will shout” can also be mobilised for reactionary purposes. The “stones” here does not mean the natural environment, mother earth screaming out her pain at the foolishness and abuses of humanity. The “stones” are now reconfigured as a wall, creating law and order and keeping out the non-compliant. The bible readings in and of themselves are double edged weapons and anyone it seems can wield them in any way…or can they?

Where is the evidence in the text?

Yes there IS the links with tradition in how the story unfolds and the kyriearchal language. I must say, this is sort of a manifesto statement but if the kyriearchy really is as intrinsic and necessary to faith as more conservative voices in the church claim then with tears I have to depart. There is nothing for me in a dazzling kingdom of privilege and dominion. Who are the Pharisees then telling the disciples to stop shouting, stop praising Jesus. I know the website I linked to above would have it that the “liberals” within the church, especially more progressive clergy are attempting to silence the eternal “truths” of tradition.

If we stop at Psalm Sunday we are then at a stand-off. “We” are authentically praising God and “They” are trying to silence us, claims each side. Perhaps I have finally realised why the passion reading also takes place on a day when I would have though the palm story was enough! We look to the Passion for clues to who Jesus is. To find out some deep “truths” about a person look to what they are accused of by their enemies, and where they stand when they are less than glamorous.

Jesus in the Passion is accused of crimes against the state (the colonists, the ruling class) and of crimes against the established church. He is accused of upsetting the comfortable lifestyles of the wealthy and the privileged. He is not known for judging and constraining the poor, the gospels echo with his raucous criticisms of those who are powerful, hypocritical and judgemental. Those who are powerful and rich need to use hypocrisy and judgements to retain their privileged place in their society and this is how Jesus becomes a threat. And so he is put to death shamefully.

To me this answers the question on whose side he is on. The answer is he is on the side of love and justice; equality, compassion and whatever makes us uncomfortable within our consolidated “Sties of contentment”. So when we turn to judge our opposition, we do not have Christ with us, except if we are being a genuine voice for the liberation of the poor and oppressed. As an ego-trip no one gets to win the argument, no one gets to claim the Christ. Christ never follows us, but always leads. My sometimes anger and focus on what the patriarchal church does wrong needs to be reconfigured into the love that walks the way of the cross NOT AS A DOMESTIC VIOLENCE VICTIM…not anymore silenced, unaware or self-harming. Not compliant or subservient. However I am equally not there to assume some sort of moral high ground and feed my ego. I am there to orient myself in love toward Christ (Wisdom), always to make my interests align with Wisdom’s interests of justice, kindness and right relation. I can trust that the love of God is better than worldly success and more long lasting even than life itself.

This does not mean I abuse or neglect myself or my worldly life- I think that can be misguided too. But my focus is radically the Word of God, the living love-driven manifestation of God that became a person in Jesus’ human story of friendship, words, political activism, acclaim, betrayal, suffering, death and faithfulness (we’ll get to that). In research there is a growing emphasis (started by the feminists- who else?) on reflexivity, in knowing who I am as I state my point of view and interrogating my motivations and interests and the power networks that allow me to say some things and not others. I think faith needs a measure of reflexivity too, even when we are opposing oppression we need to bear in mind who we are, what our emotional baggage is and reorient ourselves toward the justice of God rather than point-scoring and anger.

So I began my reading of the Palm Sunday even, thinking that this was a case of a popular celebrity being picked up one moment and spat out by popular support the next because where are they when he is arrested and tried and killed for goodness sakes? But Luke tells us that “All” his acquaintances” and particularly underlines the presence of a core of supporting women, all of these were at the cross, standing some way away and perhaps awkwardly wondering whether they dare say anything, what all this means and whether they are next.

And in a society that is steadfastly refusing to radicalise despite HUGE and unfair reforms that take away our little and redistribute it upward to the already rich, that pick on the refugee, the elderly, the low-paid worker, the unemployed, the mentally ill and the single mother; in a society like that can we not relate? We love justice but we don’t want to “start trouble”. We don’t want to be accused of being “selfish” or “naïve” by demanding a better, kinder, happier society. We will add ourselves to great parades and popular shows of believing in causes, but who among us actually moves toward the foot of the cross to wipe the face of Christ, or dare lift him from the cross. Who speaks a word to try to halt the crucifixion? Who takes him into our arms preventing his capture? We all look for leaders to do that for us, we are all “only the crowd” or “only the women” and our role is feeding, supporting, following. Noone dares to begin what could be a large movement of resistance to the ongoing crucifixion of Indigenous communities, public education, disability supports, the earth itself.

When I say “nobody” I of course mean people like me, because in fact some few individuals DO give their time and effort to oppose injustice and the chaos of killing Wisdom. But why do they stand so alone? Why do we as a whole lack the energy and courage to stand against unfair shows of power by the ruling class? What does it take? Must our God always be sacrificed to the status quo? Have we nothing more than tears to give? I don’t know what it is that stops me living more faithfully, not precisely. But the deep emotional response I feel to follow Jesus on Palm Sunday and then the deep tears of Good Friday, the many current parallels to the way of the cross tell me that SOMEHOW I must break out of that background place that the followers of Jesus have in Luke’s account of the passion. If we love, why do we stand back bracketing our religious life so far outside our REAL life, bracketing ourselves into mere passive spectators in the story of Jesus?

In Luke’s gospel there is the teasing hint of an untapped potential and there are significantly constant women who might start something. Might they? Might we? In between chanting “Hosanna this, hosanna that” might we listen for the call inside us of Sophia. Wisdom who has suffered more than enough through our inaction. How will she stir us this time?