Tag Archives: Psalm

Tasting and living

Are any readers still with me? If so please forgive me for my long gaps between posts. This week’s readings were about Eucharist AND about mental health and I felt a connection to them. Initially the discipline was to write about readings whether I felt a connection or not, but life has got busier. I write when I can now.
In the first reading, Elijah is depressed and/or fatigued. I know it is anachronistic to call something BCE “clinical depression” but the parallel is close enough to be useful. Elijah is worn out, demoralised, has self-esteem issues and wants to just sleep and pretend he is dead. Relatable!
An angel calls him, not to remonstrate with him but to bid him to eat (the angel has provided the food). If we consider the heart of our tradition, the Eucharist then we know that eating symbolically means love, companionship, presence, sharing, healing, holistically the good of the soul as well as the body. The angel offers Elijah something that may be material (actual food) and may be a form of moral support, probably both. Food is caring, being told to eat is being told to self-care and being provided with food is being supported by a person or a community.
So we have God’s response to a depressed person. God gives care.
Elijah eats and says “that is nice” and lies back down still depressed and lack-lustre. The angel reminds him to self-care properly and acknowledges that the journey is long. The food offered is what is needed for the specific challenge facing Elijah. He gets up eats and drinks and manages a forty day marathon walk to the place of God.
Notice he is not forced into some sort of capitalist work-ethic but he is fed for a journey to God. He is fed to become part of the life-force that will awaken and feed others. Our business here on earth is becoming angels of hope and encouragement. I have been fed by many such angels this week.
The psalm bids us to “taste” God’s goodness. Taste is the sense of abundance and plenty. God in the psalm is so materially and closely to us “good” that we can taste the goodness. The afflicted one has called out and has been heard and rescued (please God remember the afflicted refugees). The human in the psalm calls out God’s goodness and also calls out to God. We are noisy beings seeking connection. God is food and protection and presence.
The second reading challenges us to seek peace and non-violence. It is hard not to feel so consumed with rage that we act out violently. But it makes the Holy Spirit sad when we do so. To connect in with the spirit is to connect in with radical and courageous peace. For me such a thing is definitely still work in progress. God was peaceful and loving first so we do have a model however (this does not always come through in some parts of the bible). Christ as an offering was “fragrant” again the sensory connection.
Perhaps all the Christian denial of the body at many times in history is flawed thinking. God might love us in our embodied, actual selves in a physical, material world made of scents and tastes and sounds. Let us see if this holds true travelling into the gospel.
In the gospel the official church does not like Jesus’ outrageous claims that he is bread come down from heaven. Jesus says that there is something that draws people to him for teaching. Jesus’ teaching then is rich once more in material ideas- bread, life, moving “down”, flesh. Jesus’s giving is radical and risky. Jesus trusts people to come nearer, enter his presence and learn his peace. How can Jesus trust this? A cynical part of me sees only the cross as an end to someone who believes that there can be any good in human nature.
Are we supposed to hope and trust in people after Jesus did so and was killed? This I suppose is the test of our faith, whether Eucharist means anything, whether resurrection is a fact or an escapist myth. But what if we turn away from the bread from heaven? We can only live if we eat this bread of calling upon people’s better self and offering wisdom.
God is relational and physically immediate in the readings and I pray for my relationships and my physical world (the reef, the Murray, the Bight). God feeds us and I pray I will receive the sustenance I need. God calls me and I seek a path to respond. We are here to feed each other. Jesus comes not to give us rules or punishments but to set the table and be the bread.
Let’s not build more walls, let’s make longer tables. Let’s set a place for every Jesus, the one we underestimate. Let’s allow each person to become the bread that feeds our understanding. Let us be the bread that brings life to others.
Arise, eat, you will need the strength.

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Your abundance should supply their needs

I have had some internet and email problems this year and as a result, lost my roster for church (among other important things). I did not realise I was meant to be on the roster to lead at church this week until 9:30 last night when someone from the community called me to check up on what was needed this morning. She told me what the gospel for today was meant to be and I started thinking about what I might say.

 
When I got to church this morning, I was able to look up the rest of the lectionary readings and I had to do an “off the cuff” reflection. The fact I was able to do so at all, probably has more to do with this blog than with anything else, and of course God may well have helped me (I certainly asked her to).

 
I will try to remember what it was I said. These were the readings, and I said something like this:
I remember going through a time in my life, when the patriarchy of the church and the male-centredness of the stories and beliefs we were taught made it very difficult for me to continue in the faith. It got to the stage where the maleness of Jesus himself was a problem for me- I felt a strong disjunction about who I was created and called to be with God and the church’s seeming insistence on the MALENESS of priesthood grounded in the maleness of the one we follow. I nearly fell away from the church over this, I could only bring to God my female body, my female-centred way of loving, my female experiences of life and work. If these were not holy then how could I approach God?

 
Today’s gospel perhaps speaks to those yearnings and questions I had as a young woman. I experience Jesus in this gospel within my own life where I have been a mother, and early childhood worker and in some degree and activist and I can relate to the way Jesus is being pushed and pulled and pressured every which way. So many different people demand things from him and each person’s need is urgent and real. Jesus sets off to help one person, is interrupted by another and as a result of stopping to help the second one, the first- a little girl dies.

 
Being Jesus he can make something of this, he can turn death into life which is certainly more than I can do. I don’t have the capability or the patient grace of Jesus in my own life as I juggle competing demands (all important) and try to discern where to turn my attention, where to channel my love. I often drop the ball, neglect something I should have done or arrive too late to something else.

 
I take heart then from the second reading that reminds me that God is not asking us to deprive ourselves for the sake of others, or to give more than we have. God is challenging us as relatively wealthy and comfortable people to give of our surplus. All it takes is allowing God to turn our greed and our fear into generosity and openness. Is that not an important lesson for our time?

 
How can we not pay heed to this call to share from our abundance? How can we bear to be part of incarcerating people and families on Manus or at Nauru? We are not just starving their bodies, we are not just taking away their lives we are starving them of hope. Of hope itself. I almost began to cry at this point as I often do when I consider the mother who lost her son or the man dying of cancer or the hundreds of others.

 
This cruel way of treating people, it really needs to be said is a sinful direction for our society to be going.

 
It is against God. The same goes for what is happening in the US where little children are being pulled away from their mothers and fathers (I didn’t mention our own stolen generations but I should have). I read this week about small children, some as young as three being forced to go to court to be sentenced and deported- all alone these children face this without even a loving adult by their side.

 
This is an evil beyond words, an extreme evil. I feel that word is not an exaggeration.

 
I have been reading bell hooks this week, “all about love”. In it she talks about our yearning for love and the way so many of us grow up not getting what we need from our families- not experiencing the emotional security of being loved. She talks about romantic relationships also frustrating this need and not delivering the love that is needed. I could relate to what she was saying the desperation and the lovelessness that she said is characteristic of people in the world today.

 
She said that people yearn to be loved but have never experienced it. That they do not know what it would feel like to be really loved and as a consequence they do not know how to love.

 
While I could see that there was some truth in what I was saying I could not agree with her that I had never experienced being loved. I feel that this is a community that has taught me a lot about love. I have been loved here and encouraged to grow into a more loving human being. I have had my gifts honoured, and my lack of giftedness forgiven. This is a place where we come to be loving and to heal each other’s capacity to love and to hope. How can we pour out our love to the world? How can we be the loving people that the world needs?

 
Let us think about that. Let us remember that God does not ask from us more than we are capable of giving. How can we be the love the world needs? How can we ask for and teach love to others? When we are pulled this way and that by the needs of others; and are poured out and fragile, how can we trust God to fill us up? How do we bring love, healing, and new life also to each other?

Fallenness…sin…human nature?

Are we “fallen”? Is there something really flawed and ruined about humanity? Do we need “saving”? Some theological perspectives would answer “yes” to these questions, or ones like them. In that sort of a theology, usually Jesus’ death is seen as the salvific act, the death is a necessary sacrifice, a good thing. I approach a perspective like that with extreme caution, even suspicion. What does it do to our collective psyche if some human deaths and suffering are necessary or “good”? I don’t like the implications of accepting the pain and sacrifice of another too blithely.

But we do need to grapple with understandings about our own nature and about who God is. These questions seem to me to go back to today’s first reading.

In the first reading Adam has sinned by listening to the “woman” who listened to the animal. He has embarked on a human pattern of othering any part of himself that causes him shame. He is hiding away from God, afraid and conscious of his own nakedness. Nakedness has ceased to be an innocent state, he needs a barrier between himself and the environment. Incidentally this is the first “nudey-rudey” self-shaming episode that many children internalise as parents battle them out of embarrassing habits.

God in this reading accepts Adam’s assertion that it was “the woman’s” fault and her assertion in turn blaming the serpent. God appears to be sanctifying the hierarchy we know so well. What is going on here? Why would an all-knowing and all-loving God create humans with not only the capacity but the yearning to “fall” in this way? Why give “Adam” such a flawed companion? Why allow the serpent to speak? The idealised “perfection” of Eden thus becomes reconstituted as a death-trap. Some theologies hold that God planned it all that way to make Jesus’ saving act all the more spectacular.

This also is problematic.

Let’s assume that God set up the fall and the resultant disconnection in order to make necessary and meaningful horrific violence and abuse many centuries later. At this point I can see some sense in the mocking atheists, the “spaghetti monster” people etc. If I understand my faith this way it does seem violent and compassionless. If I understand myself as so “fallen” I can see a need to repress my own emotions, my own impulses, my own over-loud heart.

I grew up with a faith related to that, and it didn’t do me much good.

But outside of this pericope, Genesis also tells us that we are made in God’s image. There must be some inherent beauty and goodness (ie grace) in our identity, whatever about “original sin”. How can we be made in God’s image and yet made only to fall and be fragmented and driven asunder? How can we be made in God’s image, yet in our very nature demand and need the violent death of another? What is “God” then?

Last week I mentioned George Monbiot’s assertion that human beings are intrinsically altruistic. While the bible does not specifically say so, this idea fits with many biblical stories and thoughts. It fits with the idea that we are made in God’s image. It fits with the idea that God loves us (why would God love the irretrievably fallen?). It fits with Jesus’ tendency to spread food and wine and joy together with his wisdom; to spread healing together with forgiveness; to spread love and hope in the world. To take blame and judgement as the main products of our faith is to miss the point.

“Out of my depths” of yearning to be more than some narrative of “fall”, I pass through the psalm where all things are redeemable into the second reading. Like the author of the second reading “I believe therefore I speak”. I may be wrong in what I say, but my theologising comes from a position of faith- my faith in God is important enough for me to have made this commitment. I am called to put in the hard work every week and write something, sometimes also to preach it. I often fail at this and other vocations in my life, but I also often break it into small enough steps to succeed at some of it.

There is more than fallenness and passivity and waiting in my relationship to God. I sweat real sweat of hard work over the computer each week. I shake with real anxiety when I stand up before people to preach. My collaboration with God is imperfect because I am a still growing-toward God little unfinished image, not because I am completely without hope and “fallen”. I sin less (I believe) when I think about what I am doing, when I focus my motivations on others (particularly on God) and when I make an effort. It is very easy to slide into all sorts of unhealthy relationships with myself, others, food, money, work and leisure. While I can’t make myself perfect through an act of will, or a decision or even through hard work I can make myself better or worse by trying or not. I need God sure, but God also requires of me a commitment of will and effort.

Seems like I am in a more complicated relationship with God than merely “fallen” or “saved”, each day I make choices (some without noticing) about who to be and how to be. I am like the babies I work with, I sometimes over-reach and other times I am tired or lazy or angry and do not try enough. I am human. I am flawed. I am imperfect. But I am intrinsically good.

I am made in God’s image.

The gospel cautions us against sin against the Holy Spirit. This is a debated text, but for an every-day reading I like to reflect on who the Holy Spirit is and where we encounter her? In the context of the reading, the Holy Spirit is to be encountered in Jesus who therefore should not be mocked or dismissed. We know from Jesus that we find him (therefore also the Holy Spirit) in our neighbour.

We are called to look for traces of good in each other and to recognise and honour the Holy Spirit in all. Are we willing to see these traces in our Muslim neighbour? In our lesbian neighbour? In our politician neighbour? In our militant vegan neighbour? In our private-school educated neighbour? What about the noisy child? The strangely dressed or pierced teenager? The overly talkative old neighbour? We are all made in the image of God and the good things we do (however fleeting or however consistent) all come from God’s Spirit. God’s creation cannot fail to have goodness at its core.

It is a denial of God’s spirit to dehumanise others, even others we disapprove of or disagree with. It is a denial of God’s spirit to be so cynical about humanity that we advocate violence or nihilism. It is a denial of God’s spirit to only value animals, plants or rocks only by how much money we can extract from what we do with them. Are these ways of thinking unforgiveable? I hope not. I hope God’s Spirit dwells so tangled and burrowed deep into our DNA that it is impossible to completely de-Spirit us.

That is what I hope, but Jesus DOES caution us not to be too small-minded to recognise and honour the Holy Spirit. If we mock Jesus, or if we mock those who have hope and idealism then we are doing a dangerous thing to our souls. Perhaps it’s not about getting our theology or our creed right in the end, it is about getting our relationship right.

Because if we manage to live according to the Holy Spirit- for a moment or a lifetime then we ARE Jesus’ family. That is what we are made for and always called back to as human beings, as earthlings. Let us pray that we know and do the will of God. Let us trust in God, our souls trusting in God’s Word. Let us love generously, recognising the family resemblance in all creation.

Not finding it in the lectionary this week

Edit: When I wrote this I was unaware that this week is reconciliation week. I feel a bit ashamed that I was unaware but I think some of my points work for that occasion. At church we reflected of reconciliation week, the need to decolonise, the recent arrest of the Catholic archbishop of Adelaide for covering up child abuse, our desire to move away from any model of church that is a “boy’s club” (a man said this), and our tears and love for the people suffering the fall-out of these toxic cultures. I also reflected on the fact that in the week gone we celebrated Pansexual and Panromantic visibility day and that people whose love is outside the box (but respectful, equal and between consenting adults) show the dance of the Trinity in their being.

The idea of “chosenness” that comes through in the first two readings and the psalm this week seems cosy and comforting but it actually if we look closer deeply problematic.

I speak with the anger and bitterness of the outsider- chosen last at team sports, excluded from games and parties and a child, ganged-up on, teased, criticised, harassed, written on with pen and then punished by parents for being written on. I speak with the pain of the eldest child in a large and dysfunctional family- although my feelings of being replaced and passed over were not (I now as a parent myself realise) a completely accurate reflection of reality, the feelings were real. I speak as the child who couldn’t speak English, the teenager who wore hand-me-downs from old people, the young single mother in a primary school where everyone else seemed to be comfortably middle-class. I speak as someone who has suffered mental illness, mild alcoholism, chronic dysphoria around sexual identity.

The minute someone is the “chosen people” you are also creating outsiders, the excluded ones, the ones who do not measure up. I felt this only on a gut level as a child – something about the presumed “chosenness” of the people of God (and lets not blame the Jews this idea is just as rife in the so called “New Testament”) something there seemed a bit off, even when I was a pious little child who assumed my inability to grasp this idea as “fair” and my desire to feel empathy for the ones who were not “chosen” was something I had to try to repress or grow out of (I spent my childhood repressing many things and got quite good at it, not so much now).

I speak with the amusement of the queer, feminist, deconstructive, almost post-Christian (except God doesn’t quite let me slip away). I speak as the outsider who no longer tries to fit in and be “normal”. My hermeneutic of suspicion is triggered by this first reading where we are supposed to believe that no one else ever experienced God until it could be done in the proper patriarchally approved and religiously institutionalised way in the correct sort of fire. This is what the Christian missionaries believed, the ones who worked tirelessly to aid colonialism, at times putting a slightly more benign face of it with gifts of food and clothing but nevertheless destroying cultures and families in the name of this great and good and only Lord and his structure of “rightness”.

Because if we are right then the others are wrong. If we are chosen then the others are rejected. If we have the only and one truth then the others have nothing of value.

And so it begins.

The gospel on this occasion gives no relief. Jesus is the proper rubber-stamped figurehead of the new world-order they worship him repressing their doubts and he commissions them to go out and reach everyone with his marketing message. We can try to cosy up to this, try to read the commissioning as preaching a gospel of liberation and justice, because that fits our theology it fits who we know God is and who we experience Jesus as.

What/who we know experientially and sacramentality is all we really have.

But the church has not necessarily read it this way, when they have seen “make disciples of all the nations” that has fed a deficit view of nations that are not already Christian and an expansionistic mission. Many missionaries no doubt meant well and some were kinder than secular colonists (mind you these colonists also would have considered themselves “Christian”) but this expansionistic mission did huge harm to many people, including perhaps my own people in Latvija colonised by German “Lords” and including certainly Indigenous Australians taken over and used as slaves by the English.

All of this was considered a faithful reading of today’s gospel. All of this is the shame I feel if I admit to anyone that I am a “Christian”.

I am not finding life or Godde in these readings (though perhaps a wiser preacher at church will glean something). I wanted to reflect on the Trinity, on difference and loving “other” or “thou” within God. I want to reflect on the diving dance “peripatesis”, as I learned at theology college the movement of the Trinity is in and out and through and around each other. There is love and beauty, there is relationship and great complexity at the heart of God.

Let’s leave behind colonialist traditions after seeing them for what they are and realising we will be called to account as a culture. Let’s reflect on how we are invited into the peripatesis of the Trinity, the respectful and madly joyful dance of God, the eternal turning toward the other. We are the image of God and as such are called to turn to the image of God in thoughtful listening like Jesus in prayer, in admiring love like the creator at Jesus’ baptism, in nurturing care like the spirit who flows in and through Jesus to the world.

I was hoping that the feast of the Trinity would remind us that “Wisdom has built a house” and invites all to celebrate. There is room then not to colonise, but to meet on equal terms the “others” who are not “Christians” but may have met Wisdom in another place because she likes to get out there- she is no enclosed victim-lady. Wisdom of course, the pre-existing companion of God the Creator is the one embodied as Jesus in the “New Testament”.

But if the lectionary has let me down, then I will dance right out of it to all of scripture and to the ultimate aim in life to understand and heal others. And I will pray:

Father, Mother, Creator of all, Midwife of each life that comes into being. Teach us to know ourselves in your image and see each other in your image. Teach us reverence for all your creation, showing us how to nurture seeds and stones and polar ice caps better. Thank you for naughty kittens and waddling penguins. Thank you for the clever things humans say. Thank you for the richness of which we see only a part. Call us deeper into the connection and love at the heart of your creative work.

Jesus, Christ, Wisdom, Sophia, Son, Word, Mother-Hen, Vine, Way, Truth, Life. As Wisdom you have the eye for detail and for joy. As Jesus you showed unbelievable courage and commitment. You are the one who seeks to protect, heal, scold, reform, feed, teach, guide, send-out and suffer for us and for all creation. You feed us your body and blood, you call us to honour what we eat and to live. Death cannot claim you because your nature is to live always. You bring us transformative possibilities and radical hope but nor without hard work and possibility of suffering also. If the whole world would love you then we would find newness of life. We will seek you and we will find you if we seek with all our heart.

Holy Spirit, dove, flame, fire, love, flow. Giver of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, reverence and respect of God. Pour out your gifts to us. Show us the Creator and the Word in our lives. Help us to read the gospels in the right frame, receptive to your Wisdom and closed off to hatred and abuse. Inspire us with life, fire us with pregnant possibilities like Mary pregnant with the Christ. Remain with us when we are troubled or suffering or even in death. Bring us back to our vocation to love. Bring us back into your presence giver of life.

Trinity of God may I see the love poured out in you each to the others and may I live my life in divine dance, seeking to connect as you connect, seeking to unconditionally love as you love, seeking where the hope is and strengthening there. May my life find meaning, joy, love, peace in you.

Amen.

 

Good or bad shepherds

This picture is The Young Shepherdess by Julien Dupre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Penitential rite

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

Teach us to take refuge only in you.

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

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

Risen one we can see ourselves as weak and irrelevant.

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

teach us your power of knowing and caring.

God of all love, you have created, companioned

and continue to call us.

Teach us to know you in one another.

 

Opening Prayer

But we are more than sheep oh Risen One

(or perhaps it is that we have underestimated ourselves

along with sheep)

we know your voice because you called us-

out of the abyss of rejection and gave us purpose;

out of the dimness of unbeing and gave us breath.

we know your voice and we know your presence.

When we face down wolves

you stand with us and for us.

 

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

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

 

 

 

Believers, doubters, questioners: one heart and mind?

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Fuel for ecofeminist thought I guess.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Maranatha.

 

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.