Tag Archives: relationship

Praying, yearning, struggling, working, dancing, being, caught up in prayer

O breathe on me, breath of God/ fill me with life anew/ that I may love what thou dost love/ and do what thou wouldst do. I am going to skip ahead in my walk through the liturgy, to the “Prayers of the Faithful” because I am reading Carter Heyward’s book, Saving Jesus from those who are right. I am going to reflect on the ideal we hold in praying together, what might we mean by the “faithful” and what is the point of praying anyway? Please don’t expect definitive answers to any of those questions but they are my reflecting questions today.

Heyward talks about relationality being the ground of our being when we pray, also the Spirit praying through us (a biblical concept) in a deeply emotive, yearning movement towards God. Can God yearn for God? If God is more than an individual then there is dynamics and relation WITHIN God and then our role within the dynamic that is God is the question. But the hymn above goes on to put a possessive and almost forceful spin on God’s work to assimilate us, to remake us better whereas I don’t think there is anything forceful or disrespectful in how God makes us one-with each other, the earth and Godself. Rather than a forcing or making (see eg Donne for a rape-battery metaphor for the process) the spirit blows through us (like in Winter’s beautiful hymn) and we like well-crafted musical instruments respond WITHIN THE NATURE THAT IS INTRINSIC TO US- making music of the breath of God.

So it is like a call from a lover, or child to remind us that our priorities need to line up with the love-of-our-life rather than being a coercive, conscriptive process to a good that goes against our selves and our personal good. We are not born to be individuals, we are not born into aloneness, birth itself is going from intimacy (within our mother) to intimacy (in the arms of a family and community). Death is going from intimacy (the people who’d much rather we weren’t leaving) into…what? Memory? Some new form of life? What we do know is we are relational/mutual by nature and we are called to be true to that by an eternal God. That means something for who we are.

“Who we are is how we pray.” That’s the title of a book by Charles Keating that I have never read but it seems to me there is a wealth of wisdom even in the short title. And so “prayers of the faithful” could also be called “prayers of the relational” or “prayers of the responsive” as we come together to respond to each other and to our world and to ground that being in God and God’s desire to call, relate and respond to us. I like it better in communities where everyone can pray- at times we talk about the trivial, the personal and at times we look widely to the world but we pray aloud and we hear each other’s prayerful preoccupations and the miracle is the way we are sometimes able to respond to each other, or at the basic minimum be with each other in the complexities of life.

Does prayer “achieve” anything? I tend to intellectually think that there is no interventionist function in God (otherwise surely s/he would respond more strongly to save refugees and other innocents and not bother too much with trivialities like where I put my car-keys or how hard it is to find a date). That said when I “need to be rescued” I do send up that clamour to God, whether God does anything much with my selfish requests is another issue. But not all requests are selfish. We want a better world for everyone. We want answers about how to make this possible. We pray about the big things in our lives and our world.

I suppose an analogy could be the tendency we have to take home whatever happened at work (or wherever) and talk it over with out lover or get on the phone to a close friend about it. Why do we do that? Rarely do we want practical “help” or “advice” and even when we want those we can’t always get them in the way we think we need. But talking things through with someone who loves us is intrinsically helpful an God loves us. But now I am almost sounding like God is our invisible, imaginary friend that reflects back at us whatever we want to hear. This is a dangerously individualistic and relativistic theology.

God loves me, but God is not all about me, me, ME: wrapped around my ego like some sort of flag or reinforcing layer. I read a horrible blog today by a woman who has cast out her own son for being gay. The blog was full of sadness but also a toxic form of self-congratulation that having made such a big sacrifice “for Jesus” she was some sort of a heroine. That decision too could have come out of a more-or-less genuine attempt to pray. Just because we piously reference “God” in our decisions does not guarantee their rightness. If I knew how to guarantee rightness I would share the secret- but until then I find it important to remember when dealing with people who are “wrong” that I am also “wrong” a lot of the time.

Nevertheless, despite the potential to make big mistakes in everything we do an decide, it remains important to do things- to confront the dilemmas and injustices of the world and to seek to be more loving and also to insist that everyone be treated with love, inclusion and fairness. We can’t simply acknowledge that “everyone has their own opinion” and retire from the debates and struggles over social goods and access to them. Nor can we “give it to God” in any sense that undercuts our own responsibility to respond and to work toward answers. God isn’t going to magically save the earth from environmental disaster and the unfair thing is many of those who make/made the decisions to degrade the earth so much either won’t live to grapple with the fallout or will be rich enough to be protected from the worst of it (initially). I’d love God to “cast the might from their thrones” and heal the earth but God is looking to us, “the faithful” to pray more actively than just with words of resignation but to enter the social and political arenas of our lives.

“Lord hear us” we used to say, as if we were bringing supplications to someone higher in status that ruled over us and even when we do tweak it to try to make it less kyrierchal the imperative “hear us” seems to still separate the “us” praying from the more powerful “Thou”, God. How else could we put it? Love you hear us (indicative not imperative). Love you stand with us. Love infuse us. We pray in the Spirit. We pray together. We pray in God. We pray in Love.

Or sometimes I think just the old “Amen”. Just a way of bringing ourselves into the words and beyond the words, making the “words” part of prayer, part of conversation and whatever else the sharedness of the presence of God in our lives entails.

It is not “my” individual prayer or faithfulness that is at stake here. It is the way we take up each others prayers that makes us faithful and brings us into God. God pours Godself into whatever is other and when we are “the faithful” that is the work/dance we also engage with.

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Eleison

So I skipped over the “Kyrie” and did not even notice until I was trying to contextualize the “Gloria“. Part of the reason for that I suppose is the way I grew up seeing it as part of the penitential rite, because it is tacked onto the end of it and at times you don’t “have to” have the Kyrie if it is embedded in the way the rite is worded (with the “Lord have mercy..,.Christ have mercy” used as a refrain within the list of things we are sorry for. So then when viewed that way the “have mercy” sounds like a plea to not punish us…or not too much…like a plea for forgiveness or clemency out of a knowledge of sinfulness. Or at any rate that was how I read it as a child.

And then of course the Kyrie is inherently problematic to me as I try to avoid “kyriearchal” thought and language and a cringing relationship with God. But when I have worked with liturgy I have been able to change the words to “Sophia eleison, Christe eleison” (Wisdom have mercy, Christ have mercy) to dispense with the Kyriearchy.

But is “have mercy” problematical too? What are we really asking? Is it a cringing in our sinfulness and awareness of a basic dirty worthlessness? It has been used that way. Or is it a request to be “saved” or rescued, a sort of damsel-in-distress positioning toward God the shiny saviour? How do we ask for liberation but not for rescue? It seems to me to be a fine line.

Then I wonder if I need to be more actively involved in this idea of “mercy” and I think back to my time in schools, two schools in the “mercy” tradition and their motto “Loyal en tout”. Loyal in everything. But loyal how and to what or whom?

And we deconstructed ideas of “mercy” at school and talked about how individual acts of “mercy” were only a start but social action was also needed to get rid of injustice instead of always just seeking a bigger bandaid to put over the hurts of this world. So “Sophia inspire justice, Christ teach liberation” becomes the intent of my cry in my heart. How do we deconstruct the injustices inherent in the system and how do we come to shared understandings that are more just and inclusive (and then again more just and more inclusive and again…as humans always having to renegotiate, never having found the silver bullet against all social ills).

But then can we sit back and ask God the holy ATM to dispense us parcels of this mercy or inspiration? Or is the cry more complex?

“Sophia show me how to be more merciful to myself

Christ teach me to extend a respectful merciful hand to others

Sophia integrate me with the earth’s mercy in more reciprocal ways.”

I met an atheist today, who seems to do my instinct what I need God and faith to inspire and teach in me. I see a lot of ethical atheists who honestly I can see have little or no need of religion, they seem to have an instinct for goodness and justice and I wonder why I do not have that. Why do I need God to call and motivate me out of my basic meaninglessness and lack of “good” action. If I did not believe I would not follow, I would just eat, drink and try to enjoy my time on earth and not worry about injustices too big for me to handle on my own.

But other people have a more evolved humanity than me and seem to do so much good without “believing”. So then my cry from the heart is,

“God give me meaning

Wisdom teach me to instinctively live love

Love go more deep in me than my overthinking”

because my ethical framework is still so deeply rooted in an understanding of being loved and accepted and called by God who is “other” to me, I have not fully integrated my ethics in myself. I am not fully independent and I admiringly wonder at people who can spontaneously find that within.

But let’s say at the end of the day that I can let go of “believing” in an other consciousness that is bigger and better and more loving than me and just do what is right and just for no real reason, just as an expression of my true being. Would I do that? Would I make my “goodness” my own if it meant losing the sense of being loved externally? I think of the loneliness I felt as a child and a young woman, my inability to access the imperfect love of other people or to respond or initiate love (and still I really struggle to express affection and affirmation towards others). Maybe I would not chose to isolate myself from the one ongoing relationship that has allowed me to dance back to other people I had alienated at various times.

There is something of the romantic in me after all, I crave intimacy and the acceptance of an “other”. My gratefulness when anyone likes me, wants my company or sees my worth is grounded in my growing reliance that God always likes, wants and sees me. There are bigger reserves of “goodness” accessible to me than my own. Perhaps the “good” atheists are also wrapped in this GOD that they don’t have to see or articulate (I would not try to tell them so).

God’s love is more than “mercy” it is grace and gift and growth.

P.S. I woke up in the middle of the night, knowing I hadn’t completely got it right. Trying to reduce faith to a dyad (God and me) is an indication of my own attempt to deal with being single for so long but it’s inappropriate to put that on God and anthropomorphise God in the process. That is, maybe it is Ok to get through day to day in this way but as an insight it isn’t really the whole picture. I lay there and remembered that I was linked in with refugees, and people trying to survive on centrelink; with old flames and elderly relatives; with fundamentalists who fear for my soul and rainbow youth who crave acceptance. With a little kitten who needs his litterbox changed and with the spiders, slaters and millipedes my preschoolers are obsessed with finding. With hurricanes and stars and sudden changes in weather.

To ask God to respond with “mercy” authentically, to attempt to be caught up in the act of “mercy” is to want to transform it for all of us- not just for me. I felt the very real fear of the way society seems to be descending into more and more injustice as we begin to face the consequences of not looking after the environment.

And then “have mercy” , also “may we have mercy” was a more fear-filled cry at three in the morning. And still asking for grace and gift and growth, but quickly and for all of us and in the knowledge that I would have to try harder to get caught up actively in bringing these things to myself and others.

A transgressive, transformative masculinity

This week’s readings are hereI only consciously used the gospel (Matthew) but I read all of them.

Joseph was a man, a tradesman- perhaps a small business owner. He was working class, though probably not poor, his son Jesus seems to have received a decent sort of an education and had the freedom to wander as a street-preacher/magician rather than being desperately needed to support the family. I guess what I am trying to portray is a man with a vested interest in the status quo, a man with some privilege but also precariously enough placed that “honour” was a concern.

It was a patriarchal world. Men’s honour especially around “their” women’s sexuality was a significant thing. For Joseph to act as a man of his time, do the “right” thing, the “rational” thing, the “common-sense” thing would be to break off his engagement to Mary. In his time and place, it may not have been seen as unusual or unduly harsh if he made a big fuss (which might have led to her being cast out of the community or stoned I suppose) but he is “righteous” and unwilling to expose her to shame. Nevertheless there is no real question within his place and time (and his role as a man, a potential head of a household) of continuing a relationship with a young woman who is pregnant with someone else’s child.

It’s easy then to view what happens simplistically, God speaks and Joseph obeys. If we go further and view God as “male” then it becomes a meeting between two males to discuss the fate of a woman and child. If we read it this way, then nothing very radical happens, though we breathe a sigh of relief that Mary and that important baby are safe.

But what does our experience tell us about God speaking? An “angel” appeared to him in a “dream”. Without wanting to keep God out of the equation, I want to bring in a more modern understanding of what dreams are. Our “subconscious” communicates our deeply held and sometimes hidden from desires and truths to us in dreams. Science around natural processes like evolution, tells us that God’s influence over the world works with the nature of what the world is, with the cause and effect (and free will) of processes, organisms, lifecycles, webs of relationality. God can only communicate to the person whose heart is open to God (otherwise we have no free will). God calls us into right ways of being with each other- yes- but never against our deepest self. Joseph’s call from God and unhesitating response to it reveals something deeply true about Joseph’s nature and inner being.

Joseph resolves on the “common sense” course of action but his sleep is troubled by his inner need for relationship, to be a nurturer of something he neither owns nor controls. God speaks into his potential for unselfish love and asks for the impossible. Lay aside your patriarchal ownership of your family and follow Mary’s vocation, nurture a child of God. Significantly the angel says “Do not be afraid” indicating that the only thing stopping Joseph from this radical course of love, was fear. God takes away the need to fear, the need to know, the need to control.

Oftentimes men who claim to be “feminist” or “pro-feminist” or “anti-sexist” expect women to be very emotionally nurturing of them, to explain everything and open up everything to them and to keep on every step coaxing, seducing and rewarding them for the slightest pro-feminist leaning. Let’s not get side-tracked into “not all men” because that sort of a debate is actually part of the pattern I am speaking about. Men then, within patriarchy often expect women to be the keepers and sorters of their emotions one way or another, to constantly reassure and encourage them and to take emotional responsibility for a relationship.

Within that context, this is a good week for me to remember that even though I often use the female pronoun for God, God is in fact NOT FEMALE just as much as I have previously asserted that God is NOT MALE. I need to underline that in preface to looking at who does the “emotional labour” of this encounter.  Initially I was suspicious of the way Mary gets talked about and does not get to speak in this story, and in fact far too much of the bible is phallocentric and features women only in semi-objectified roles. But when I remember the way Mary comes across in Luke and John’s gospel as very much having her own mind and motivations, her own feisty relationship with God and deep trust in her child. When I remember how little Joseph is featured in the gospels except as a background to Mary and the baby or in a “Mary and Joseph” sort of a scene where they both fail to fully understand Jesus then I am keen to see the value of this episode.

Then I begin to see that what we have here is a man taking emotional responsibility for himself and his own difficult feelings, sitting with the situation instead of rushing to take it out on “his” woman and letting God speak and advise him instead of expecting to be emotionally babied. Then I get to see that the angel’s “explanation” to Joseph is no sort of an explanation really, that ultimately he is still in the dark about a significant event in Mary’s life. His choice to love and trust her unconditionally remains a choice, it is not at all made easy or logical by the angel quoting scripture at him!

So Joseph takes the pregnant Mary into his home and becomes one of those heroic people who loves a child for some reason other than a desire for your own genes to continue. Jesus is born into a home that transgresses the hetero-sexual matrix (in the way his parents fail to stick to the strictest versions of their gender roles, in the loss of patriarchal “honour” by Joseph accepting him, in the unorthodox way he has been conceived- although we actually know very little about that we know it wasn’t something that happened within marriage). God as Jesus’ co-parent relates to Mary and brings Joseph into the equation too. I like to think that after all this courage, Mary and Joseph had a loving and warm relationship and I certainly am not trying to undermine the idea of a man loving a woman or a woman loving a man. It is significant though, in a time when we are as a society asking questions about whether there is one shape of family only that God has mandated to recall that Jesus’ own situation was somewhat transgressive and not entirely respectable for his place and time. His parents had to show great courage to bring up this child of God.

So add this one last miracle to the lead-up to Christ’s birth. A man follows his heart (stirred by God) to courageously love and follow what he cannot control. A family is made outside the narrowly patriarchal tradition of what counts. God is with us!

What do we mean when we ask for “mercy”?

I am (re)writing my article and job seeking and putting together a liturgy for a few weeks’ time so no proper reflection this week. I am sort of sorry but also conscious that probably noone will miss it. But I will share here a prayer I wrote.

As part of putting together the afore-mentioned liturgy I was reading through reams of “penitential rites” full of “Lord have mercy” (sometimes in Latin “Kyrie eleison”) and not feeling ok about how glibly even feminists take on Kyriearchal language (or at least accept it so long as it is in a dead language).

Even though in my liturgy my theme for reconciliation will be Reconciliation (as in the unfinished business colonial Australia has with the real owners of this land) I wrote an alternative that I may use another time to help me reject the idea that kyriearchy is needed for repentance (which means turning around) and transformation.

I also reflected on the idea of “mercy”. What do we mean when we ask God/Jesus?Wisdom to “have mercy” on us. Are we still invoking those interpretive traditions where God wants to punish us for our sins unless we grovel? Or where God will “save” us from anything unpleasant? So I wondered how to put into words what we might mean by “have mercy” when I feel that the point of a penitential rite is to reconnect ourselves to a more positive relationship with God (as manifest in our lives and relationships with ourselves, others and the earth).

So here is my imperfect attempt, which I may or may not use or improve further down the track.

 

For making you our “Father” so that we might hide behind the helplessness of a child,

for making you our “Lord” so that we might put down ourselves and others in your name,

for expecting you to lead us into battle when you came offering peace:

we are truly sorry.

 

For the anxieties and mistrust that stop us living more genuinely,

for the despair and retreat that stifle our response to your call,

for the profound loneliness of a life focussed on comfort and privilege:

we ask healing and transformation

 

For the days of our life yet unlived,

for our suffering brothers and sisters that call out for us to join our voices and hearts to theirs,

for the good news that has not yet opened every heart:

we promise to enter more deeply when you invite us.

 

Loving God we accept your healing and your call

as we know you accept our good intentions and our love. Amen.

Stef Rozitis 2016

Ask, seek, knock…but why?

I was asked to give the “reflection” this week and this was it

What is the point of prayer?

 

As a child I got taught the “right” prayers to say, the “right” words to use. I was told to use my own words to ask God for things (but this was set up as a somewhat pointless exercise in which I needed to add “if it is your will” and God would do whatever God had already decided either way). I was told to constantly apologise for all my sins and the ways I didn’t measure up, to be ever aware of my unworthiness before God and the likelihood that even in using words I probably wasn’t “paying attention” or “listening” to God properly. I was told to thank and praise God unconditionally, no matter how I was feeling or what was going on in my life or the world around me.

 

Sometimes people would say that prayer was “not just words” but they would make it sound like a harder and harder discipline where we were meant to empty ourselves completely of our contexts, desires, agendas and even identity and just be empty before God. I think I was born feminist (without knowing the words for what that was) and the idea of making myself nothing but a container for someone else’s ego and importance did not sit quite right with me no matter how many times I was told that God was important and I was not. So for me the first reading is very liberating, Abraham does not have the sort of obedient “blind trust” in God but worries about his nephew Lot and manages to nag and reason at God in prayer, trying to bargain God down from the extreme idea of destroying cities. I like this Abraham a lot better than the far-right Abraham a few chapters later who agrees to sacrifice his child blindly to the same God, but even here I feel he wimps out of saying what is really on his mind.

 

How often do we bite our tongue and retreat into the “right words” and liturgies instead of daring to have necessary conflict with God?

 

Yes conflict.

 

If we present a falsely compliant face that is not an honest relationship.

 

In the second reading we are reminded that God is not out to test us, or trap us into proving we are “unworthy” of love or anything like that. Even if there was ever a time when we were unworthy, ignorant, unaware, uncaring or distracted from the reign of God (and most times we have some of this “deadness” somewhere in our lives) even then God was already working to call us and raise us and make us one in redeemed life. So then we need to get courageous about our faith and about our prayer. We need to dare to seek joy and justice from God. We need to really speak our mind in prayer.

 

Then we can trust in God’s willingness to work with our limits, and transform our half-heartedness.

 

I want to read the gospel as simply as I did as a child. I want to believe that if I pray long enough and persistently enough and fervently enough God will fix all my problems and make life on earth a Utopian dream. I’ll mention that to avoid the pious clause “if it is God’s will” because when I pray I am NOT going to fake submission to things I don’t like. It is NOT alright with me that an increasingly irrelevant magisterium of the church puts limits on how the rest of us are supposed to live with God, while too often blinking at the very real problems of climate change, wide-spread inequality, abuses and disenfranchisement of the faithful. I am NOT going to be philosophical about the difficulties of finding work, or the fears for my children or the terror for the children on Manus Island. Not to God. Never again will I hide behind doormat-dispositions with the God who knows me better than that.

 

But we know that we don’t always get what we ask for. So why do we ask for it?

 

What do we get out of prayer?

 

How do we continue to believe that God loves creation enough to give us what we need, not a snake or a scorpion?

 

If I had an easy answer here I would share it with you. The gospel to me seems clear that we DO need to pray and we do need to bring our real agendas to God. The first reading reminded us that it is ok to get out of pious formulas of the “right words” and make it real.

 

The second reading reassures us that God wants us enough to do some of the work of relating, that it is not all down to us to get it right.

 

I invite you now to sit with these readings, and your own experiences of prayer in any way that seems best to you, and then take a moment to share your reflections with the people around you.

Love one another

I had the opportunity to preach (or offer a reflection if you prefer) this week at my church. As always I felt privileged to do so. This week’s gospel and my reflections on it have been poignant for me because I am very aware that it is the love and generosity of others that puts me back together when I am broken, weak or lost. The liturgy I was privileged to lead today would also have fallen apart without the loving support of a whole lot of people who know more than me and particularly of my youngest son who came back from his “holiday” at his dad’s house just to help me do the liturgy 🙂

For the sake of brevity I am going to pass over two of the readings and dive right into this radical and stirring gospel. Jesus here is teaching us something about relationships, is calling us to a courageous way of relating that involves our trust and the autonomy of the other. If we accept what Jesus is showing and telling us here, it could revolutionise both the structure and working of the church and our personal lives.

Jesus, quite beautifully begins by giving us a glimpse into his own life with God. There is a relationship here that is not about control and obedience but such implicit trust that whatever Jesus does glorifies God and God responds immediately by glorifying Jesus in Godself. We recognise this complete alignment of interests when we refer to Jesus as the “Word” of God. Jesus’ doings and very being constantly express God’s inner thoughts and agenda. Neither seeks to control the other, neither is required to obey, simply the good of one is identical with the good of the other.

We don’t quite achieve this in our relationships with others. We do not have perfect understanding and are reluctant to trust. Sometimes the closer we are to a person, an institution an idea or a way of life the more we are tempted to take ownership over it, to exercise control, to see deem others as inferior in understanding, morals or ability as a way of justifying our own control. At the same time, and particularly for women who get a lot of pressure to consider themselves inferior, there is the opposite temptation to shirk responsibility by clinging to the wisdom, ability or authority of another.

It could be tempting here to see the perfection of union between God and Jesus and decide that this is Ok for them because they are perfect and are always right. But we are not always right and neither are our fellow humans. And yet Jesus moves from this ideal and perfect relationship to turn to us, to flawed and clinging humanity and offer us too that trust and that freedom to breathe and grow.

“Little children” Jesus acknowledges our feelings of vulnerability and ignorance. We face big mysteries like our own mortality, like infinity, like the complex, rich, diverse life of our planet. We try to sort out the important from the trivial but our perspective changes even as individuals. How do we reconcile what we think we know with what others seem to believe? Jesus admits we will feel alone with this, but then Jesus himself will be heard to cry out that God has “abandoned” him.

This is the price of being trusted and treated as an equal. Is it good news? That we cannot stand back and cling to an idea of Jesus doing all the work of salvation and struggle that we are called to. We are invited into an independence of thought an action, to seek to glorify God through our choices in love not in mere obedience. We are called to be so committed to the reign of God, that all of God’s agendas of justice are what glorify us too.

How reckless of Jesus to first pour everything out for us and then trust us with the precious seeds of a better world. Human history is full of our failures as church and society to do this work, to relate in this way. My own personal history mirrors this constant failure in a microcosm. I would expect Jesus to know better than to keep trusting me, but Jesus says “Just as I have loved you, I want you to love one another” not recalling the reckless and trusting love but showing it as a model for how I ought to be.

Those times that we get this right, that we love each other with the reckless and undemanding love of God then we are a powerful sign of God’s reality. The world sees that our discipleship has meaning when we do not turn our backs on abuse victims, or asylum seekers, or the elderly or struggling families. The world sees that we believe in something greater, when we stop trying to control or narrow others and instead work to understand, affirm and liberate all into the good news and justice of God.

Looking around, I see people here who live this reality, and I acknowledge that I have been drawn to Christ and back to Christ repeatedly not by constricting traditions and heavy-handed language about “Lord, Lord” but by the way individuals and families reach out to each other or reach out to me. We are all called to follow the radical call to trust, to liberate and to love. We are fortunate to have each other as examples of how powerfully a kind word or deed can preach hope and life. Let us take up the challenge to glorify God by how we love each other. Let us always seek to broaden our circles of influence, not with control but with trust and support of each other’s discipleship and a determination to bring love to others.

I now invite you to reflect on any aspect of the readings that speaks powerfully to you, and when you turn to speak to the people sitting near you to sense in their loving discipleship the presence of GOD.

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh

I am humbled and grateful for the people reminding me to post each week. I apologise that it is late. I had the opportunity to put together a little liturgy including this reflection at my church. Like a miracle, the minute (ie after a few months) I committed to writing this blog weekly God started throwing me back in the way for little opportunities to do the work I love! That connects with the reflection itself as the frankincense of my life that I am finding to offer after all!

I want to keep the words I use short as I think the readings have already given us a rich tapestry of images to work with. So I will just briefly highlight  a couple that strike me…

… images of people from far away, with different cultures and beliefs yet drawn to the beauty and transformative power of God embodied in Jesus. I think it is very important to note that they come, give their gifts to Jesus and then return to their own country and presumably their own way of life. This is not a conversion story giving us permission to colonise others, it is a story of trusting, as believers, that God is big enough to be noticed by people from other places, people who will use their own beliefs and traditions to come to the one we call Christ in their own way.

Another image is of the smallness and vulnerability of God in this story: Jesus is a tiny baby, passive and waiting and receptive for the action of others. In a world that tells us that what is active and acting and ruling is important, Jesus dares to be the weaker half of a relationship.  God here as a tiny baby draws people in, presence is shown to be greater and more mysterious than mere power.

So what of us? As the magi we can travel to be in the presence of God and stop asking what God will “do” or trying to have beliefs or rituals or to justify that thing we call faith. We are simply drawn into presence by God as we are by babies who wrap their tiny fingers around our larger fingers and bring our chattering hearts to silence in awe and adoration. We come into the presence not just to ask for something, not to cower as before an overlord or to appease God. We kneel down to the baby’s level and we simply love, we simply gaze in love.

We are called to be like the magi and leave aside the “rational” in order to waste a lot of time following an elusive star to bring our gifts to this baby who neither tries to control us not is really owned by us.

The gifts are gold- sometimes this is said to symbolise kingship. What else might it symbolise? All the material wealth that we have, all of our resources that we control and decide about. All the status and power and influence we have in society and in our smaller communities. This we bring and gift to Jesus. What if we used the gold of our resources and our influence for God’s reign? I am not advocating some sort of radical giving-up of the good things in life: far from it. But how can we enjoy the great things we have in the fairest way that most furthers God’s interests?

Then there is frankincense sometimes seen as a gift of priesthood. Do we bring our priesthood to Jesus? By priesthood I mean our call to take Christ and break with Christ and distribute the body of Christ to feed people’s spirits. Our spiritual gifts, our identity, our deepest desires and knowledge brought to the waiting, patient baby-who-is-God. Each of us has some sort of a call to minister to the spiritual reality of our church and we do that well here by sharing the ministry. Where else are we called to be priests? In our workplace? In our daily struggle?

Finally there is myrrh, often said to symbolise death. Do we bring the myrrh of opening our eyes and hearts to noticing suffering and darkness and death in the world? Do we refuse to let faith be simply escapism as we bring myrrh to the human suffering one, the one who will die a horrible death rather than turn aside from integrity. I wouldn’t want to look for suffering and death – I certainly don’t want to be crucified. But perhaps I am called to walk with the Christ who suffers oppression, exploitation, silencing or death?

The Herods of this world would prevent us bringing these gifts to God. It would be more convenient for rulers like Herod if we did not dare to connect all that we have and all that we are to God’s interests. And yet we are here at the epiphany, yearning toward the quietly waiting baby- arms and hearts aching to hold the tiny bundle of fullness of life.

You may wish to reflect upon the gifts that are implicit in the gold of your life, frankincense of your identity and myrrh of your compassion. Or there may be other images in today’s readings that grab you more and after reflecting you may wish to share a small part of your thoughts with others.