Tag Archives: religion

Listen up: deep down you know it’s the Truth

Ok so three years ago I used a different lectionary. I think this was before I settled into my routine. But if you are curious (the gospel was the same) my post is here.

But I have found this week’s readings for 2019 here.

“If only you would heed the voice of God” says Moses. But there are so many voices clamouring, all claiming to speak for the Truth. I can’t always trust people who are more worried about “freedom of religion” meaning their right to exclude and slander than they are genuinely seeking the liberation (always more than market freedom) of the kindom of Godde). But they would claim to speak for God and to be defending Christian values.

They would say my attempts at preaching and at prophecy are ungodly.

So how do we choose? How do we know the voice of Godde?

We know that hearts and souls are at play here, we are returning with our heart and soul, body and intellect all of us, completely returning to the one truth. It is not some distant pie-in-the-sky to be worshipped. It is not coming from across the sea to colonise us. It is written into the integrity of who we are- it is our heritage, our makeup, our birthright whatever country or nation we came from, whatever sexual orientation we were created to be…yes whatever faith we have (or have not).

The irony of me preaching such a thing is if you don’t share my broadly Christian spirituality then you are probably not here, but the consolation for me is that preaching does not need to convert people, it simply needs to raise consciousness. I cannot put Godde into people, but I can try to get a spark from Godde already there. In the way we touch the lives of each other, the Godde in us can shine to the Godde (the same Godde, don’t worry) also in them. Even if they prefer to spell this phenomenon “God”.

The psalm has a “wanting to be rescued” fixation which I can really relate to. I spent most of my young years praying pretty much exactly that. I don’t know how Godde feels hearing that from us day after day after day after day. Should we maybe have more courage to make some positive changes ourselves? I don’t know. I guess the take-home message here is Godde will not abandon us even when we are completely pathetic (the plight of the refugees terrifies me though. How can I believe that Godde doesn’t abandon people when tiny Tharunicaa and her big sister and parents are STILL IN DETENTION and not even allowed to have the cake their Aussie neighbours baked for the little girl’s birthday) To be clear I want to feel that Godde will always be with me and watch over me. But for goodness sake’s Godde look at those little girls!!!! I know that it is humans not Godde who are torturing them, but it scares me to think that Godde can’t or won’t act against that. I suppose it was always thus, but my consciousness has increased.

The second reading tells us about Christ being really special. This pericope is part of a larger reading and frankly I think is pretty irrelevant without it’s context (within its context it makes sense). This is where I sometimes quarrel with the lectionary. What are we supposed to take home from that reading? Jesus is very mighty. Praise-praise. I mean I know some churches pretty much preach nothing else, but let’s be grownups. It’s worth reading the whole chapter if you want to actually get anything out of this reading and then you will see that chapter is just preamble setting up that Paul (or whoever wrote this) has authority and knows all the right things. And then you might need to read all of Colossians which is great, but for now I am off to the gospel!

Coming back to our theme of identifying the voice of Godde in our life, Jesus is very quick to connect the love of Godde to the love of neighbour! That’s pretty close. Bear in mind someone here is asking Jesus what the most important take-home message might be and Jesus COULD HAVE SAID- don’t be gay because that’s horrendous or he COULD HAVE SAID – don’t be an atheist, don’t have an abortion, don’t wear a short dress, blah, blah, blah a million rules like some churches try to tell us. He could have said “obey the bishop” pr “go to church every sunday” or “adam and eve not adam and steve” or “remember to put ashes on your head once a year”.

But what he DID say was….

well…

actually…

that’s the interesting thing. Because Jesus doesn’t answer, he turns back the question on the questioner. I imagine him winking, “you got this”.

Jesus is not going to get into controversies as if he made something up! So the guy talks about loving Godde and loving neighbour and Jesus says “yep that’s it”.

And that is it.

No addendum about “unless it’s a gay or Muslim neighbour”

That might be news to some Christians I think…

So then Jesus actually tells a story to make it more clear. Like “imagine the neighbour is someone you completely disrespect and want to avoid. Imagine the worst person in the world” I am talking a Crows supporter if you are Port supporter. I am talking someone who puts pineapple on pizza. I guess (if I am honest) I am talking a fan of Andrew Bolt.

Godde asks us to love that person.

Which is actually pretty hard isn’t it? I mean it would be easier if Jesus just said “don’t eat meat on Fridays” or “remember to genuflect when you go into a church” or “give a tithe to the rich minister” or something EASY like that. Something with rules. Something where we can identify people we want to keep out (single mothers and drug addicts, prostitutes…except Jesus had an unfortunate tendency to hang out with them and share food). This is looking pretty unavoidable. He really means it.

We are called to overcome our dislike for people and just bloody well help them!

We can help the refugee from war or from climate crisis. We can accept the person fleeing from domestic violence. We can care about the person suffering from mental illness. There is no end to these damn neighbours. Always with the neighbours. Next thing you are going to tell us even non-human things might be our neightbours!

Might they?

Jesus, the good teacher does not give the answers, he asks provocative questions. He asks the scholar and you and me what we saw in the story who was the neighbour. Well it’s obvious “the one showing him mercy”

“Go” says Jesus “Do the same thing”

That would seem to me to be the truth Moses claimed was already in our hearts. That would be the voice of Godde.

If only we would heed that voice

 

 

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Dust and remembering

“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” I don’t think they say that on Ash Wednesday anymore and in many ways I guess the change is progressive. I do remember the first time I came across that particular statement. I was new to English speaking and there was a very tall priest in a red chasuble (I am sure it was red though usually they seem to wear purple)…he looked like a scary wizard to me standing there so aloof and severe looking with his little grey bowl and I had to go up to him, it felt like all by myself though considering I was 5 or so years old I am sure my parents would have accompanied me.

“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” he said, he sounded utterly forbidding, even angry. I felt “told”. I knew lent was all about thinking about how sinful we all were and how much we deserved God’s punishment and I was already feeling unworthy. But he could dismiss a little five year old girl as “dust” without even eye-contact. It shocked and frightened me. Now of course I know he was telling the truth because that is exactly what this world does to little girls. They are dust, stripped of a name and identity and incarcerated in Manus. They are dust, targets for marketing practises that clearly see them as less than boys and potentially always less than men (but pretty), or as nonentities. The patriarchal church was quite honest in reminding me that I am always and necessarily dust and to dust I shall return.

So what is dust?

I was interested some years ago when my children got into this series by Philip Pullman. He had one interpretation of the possibilities in “dust”. Going back further I remember bus-rides to Broken Hill and the willy-willies, the little spinning pillars of dust. Dust there was something that could dance. Dust is dry earth, being material, being here, belonging to this planet. We live our material lives and our bodies decay and return into the earth- rich dust, plant food, the stuff of life. The star-dust that our earth was originally made of, transformed into living, breathing, hoping, loving but transient beings.

Remember then that you are stardust and to stardust you will return.

So there is star-dust also gold-dust. We dust our cakes with sugar or cocoa for sweetness and to make them look prettier. Are we dust in any of those ways? Can I choose what I am “fine, dry, particles” of? What if I can be God-dust, little particles of a greater reality? What is the dust that is my true essence and to which I shall return?

What sort of dust I am will affect how I begin and keep my lent. If I am a meaningless entity, “dust” in the sense of useless or waste matter (like I used to think) then I should probably ignore lent and just be as hedonistic as possible, for the short time I am. A willy-willy is no good for growing things in, so it doesn’t weigh itself down with water, it simply dances and dances without care for the others it is useless to.

This I think is the path many despairing people have gone down in our first-world “sty of contentment”. There is no longer any sort of certainty or meaning to be found anywhere so we may as well eat, drink, be merry and keep our “different” people. You make yourself pretty unpopular if you ever say anything that is biased or political. Being “apolitical” means living in unexamined privilege, it is a luxury we have convinced ourselves we can finally afford. There the authentic Christian becomes dust in a different way, we may have a conscience that clings to the surface of things and makes it impossible for the luxurious escapism to be pure and gleaming. Our dust is the awkward questions we bring to our society, not “can we afford the refugees?” but “what gives us the right to even consider not taking them in?”

As Isaiah has pointed out, there are a lot of very religious people caught up in this wilful ignorance. We can all spend one more Ash Wednesday “humbling ourselves” but not noticing.

Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”

So it’s not just a case of giving up chocolate for a slimmer waist-line (worst luck). God is actually holding me responsible for the state of the world. This is where it would be easy to give up because it is all too big and too hard and anything grandiose I attempt is doomed to failure.

So in all honesty, I will break it down and make a lenten commitment that I hope I can actually stick to.

  1. In my leadership positions at work and elsewhere to consider “my” workers and be a consultative, considerate and nurturing leader who shows a lot of patience toward the children and adults I work with. This includes being more careful not to let my frustration against them turn into nasty talk about them.
  2. I will actually give up buying books and takeaway coffees for lent AND USE THAT MONEY for an organisation that tries to redress imbalances, particularly imbalances of race, class or gender. I will also attend at least 2 protests or send at least 2 emails (it is all too easy to make excuses)
  3. I won’t give into the temptation to think badly of myself and adopt a sackcloth and ashes attitude toward my failures, incapabilities and weaknesses. I will seek more constructive ways to redirect myself into a purposeful life (I have been so depressed lately but wallowing in self-hate is NOT what God asks of me)
  4. I will share as generously as I can with people who are in my life who can benefit from my generosity especially if I discreetly help them without them having to feel grateful or indebted. I know how that is done because I have had people do it to me. At least once a week I will contact either my great aunt or my grandmother both of whom I neglect.

I won’t do any of these things because I feel guilty, or because I am a “bad” person or because I link the way I am “dust” to worthlessness. I will do it because it is a way of empowering myself to repent from my unhappiness and be filled with life again. I will be happy at the opportunity to give these gifts to God knowing they are really appreciated. This is my light breaking. This is my ruins being rebuilt.

So publically “bragging” about my Lenten discipline, not such a good thing to do in light of the gospel? But I hope it is obvious that I am not attempting to be particularly holy or try anything too immense. I hope that by being open about the weaknesses I struggle with and my attempts to move back toward God, I will be kept honest, I will feel I have to follow through and actually do these small things.

I am dust, I am fine particles of earth I am embodied and dependent on my physical substance. I return to dust, constantly, to the small interactions and physical moments of every second of my transient embodiment here. Perhaps there is something in me, a “soul” dust also of God. My body will return to the dust of the earth, my soul yearns always toward reunification with the star-dust of eternity, of meaning, of right relationship. Omnipresent dust which calls me to return.

God has touched us

Ah those moments of transfiguration! Those fleetingly eternal moments when our faith is an almost tangible reality, when we feel at one with our family, our world, our God. The times when we don’t have to rationalise or believe or understand anything because we experience some sacramental reality. Are we going to live for those times, to try to make choices that bring us into a cosy proximity with an incandescent transfigured Jesus?

It’s tempting isn’t it? To make religion into a sort of ecstasy pill that can dispel the pain of reality! To give up striving because God only will achieve all things and to loll back on the cushions of a contemplative (and somewhat disengaged) lifestyle. The people who have this full reliance on a loving God- is it any coincidence how often they are white, male and/or middle class, living in privileged societies and whether they acknowledge it or not relying on the labour and anxiety of less “holy” others.

This is not an argument against prayer, contemplation, meditation, mindfulness, self-care. Going inward for peace is vital just as sleep and food, friendship and exercise are vital for our bodies and souls. Significantly Moses takes the veil (interesting imagery) off his face to speak to the people of Israel. You cannot lead the people by being other or more than they are. If only our church leaders would enter into the lived realities that most of us cannot escape from. If only there were some women priests who have to bleed and perform household tasks and deal with everyday sexism and can show us a Christian life in that real-world. But more than that, because we are all priests. We are Moses, we are the apostles.

We have experience of standing in the presence of God, awash with the ecstasy of God’s proximity. We can have a sort of “boldness” about this according to the second reading. Yes it is real!

When I was in my mid-twenties, or even before in my teens I suppose; I first came across feminist theology and it challenged, frightened and empowered me. I wanted to have “all the answers” about God and the problem with feminist theology was that it complicated everything, problematised easy answers like abject humility. I wanted a new set of “all the answers” and frustratedly I prayed, went to mass as many times a week as possible, read everything I could get my hands on and tried, tried, tried to know where God was in my life, in the women’s subjectivity that I had never asked for or wanted but was stuck in.

I had a dream then, which at the time seemed like a confidential thing that I shouldn’t talk about too much but it was a long time ago now and I feel I have “permission” to be more open about it. I think I have posted about it before, but I only once had such an experience so I do return to it quite often. I dreamed I was in the church that I was brought up in, where my brothers were much valued altar-servers. I dreamed that I remembered that time I was eight years old and dragged to a mass praying for more vocations and I really clearly heard the call right there in the service and I first had angry words with God about the futility of making me female AND calling me to priesthood. It seemed that God ought to have been smarter and made me male to begin with.

In my dream that came up again, but I was stuck in the porch of the church and couldn’t get the doors open to go into the actual church. They were stuck closed even though my brothers had got in. I was frantically looking for any sign of God’s “femaleness” because everywhere there were forbidding male statues and pictures and icons of God. And I had a frantic thought that if only I could find “proof” that god was also “female” I would be able to get back into the church.

There were sort of blinds I could pull down with pictures, each of them turned out to be bearded and severe looking when I pulled it down. In tears with sore hands I checked every single one more and more frantically and finally one came down and showed a divine face as female for a split second before rolling itself up again. I cried out in frustration and tried to grab it again but it was stuck.

“What are you doing?” God asked

“I saw it” I said in tears, “I know it was there. Show me”

“It’s not that easy” God said “This is how it is for you. You are always going to bother me with your questions and your insistence in seeking answers that can’t be found.”

“So it’s pointless then?” I asked in despair

“There’s no end to it” God said “But you’ll always do it. You will never find it for sure but you will always almost find it and it’s your quest to always keep looking.”

“Why?” I asked. It seemed pointless. I don’t think my question was answered. If it was then I didn’t hear it. Then God caught me up in loving arms and we flew through the air, out of the church and over all sort of spectacular landscapes.

“Why?” I asked again, this time in enjoyment of the experience.

“You need to know I love you” God said, “But knowing you, you will expect this all the time and it doesn’t work that way. It’s just this once. You will have to be stronger and remember.”

I felt immense grief and panic at the idea of the experience ever finishing and not being a regular and predictable thing. I knew there was no point trying to bargain with God and to be more “good” or more “holy” like when I was a child because it wasn’t about whether I was or wasn’t good, it was sort of God cutting me a break because of how close to suicide my depression had got me and I wasn’t called to kill myself, I was called to struggle on for the sorts of fleeting moments of happiness that I hadn’t yet learned to believe in. Even writing about it makes me cry…but it was a happy experience.

Then God said, “There is more” and drew me into the base of a mountain, deep into the heart of a mountain in a dark place with a warm fire and female figures dancing about the fire and they welcomed me into the dance and I became one of them. I knew they were somehow of God but they were outside the church in my dream they were simply being female and dancing, I don’t think they had clothes on but in my dream that wasn’t a big deal.

It was sort of a primitive scene, hard to describe without using cliches and stereotypes. But it was all one, the frustration and inklings of meaning in the church and the flying through the air in the arms of God and the community of wise dancing women (they were wise and they spoke but I don’t remember the details of that) and God said “remember I am everywhere. When you are searching and when you are just going to people who welcome you. It’s not about answers it’s about searching and flying and being in darkness and dancing.” But I don’t remember the exact words. It was comforting and frightening at the same time.

Not long after that I went to church (in the real world where I was able to open the door in my new church) and it was transfiguration Sunday and I had to “preach” to the children that week and I played them a song: Permission to Shine and we stuck gold stars over ourselves because children don’t need to be brought up with quite the same fear of their own sinfulness that I had, it needs to be balanced with a sense of call and of being loved.

But I thought of the apostles wishing they could create a tent to live in the transfigured reality forever and I shed some quiet tears over my dream, although I was grateful too. But I tried to focus myself on the humility of “not expecting” transfiguration in the every day. And this reflection this week started with that too, because really when people think they are so special to God that nothing matters apart from maintaining their spiritual high; that is an awful thing for the poor of this world who Jesus actually called on us to serve.

Our vocation is not to stand forever radiant on a mountain top but to come down and suffer and die and walk with and transform through our labour and our patience a world that needs our embrace as surely as we need to be embraced.

But in all these years of struggling with the “quest” of ever more questions and doubts and a real measure of despair at the suffering not only of myself (which I could try to rationalise) but people I love, in all these times of trying to “not expect” the consolation and solace of my dream again I have missed the point.

Those moments in our lives- the mystical dreams but also the first time our child smiles at us or the day we realise someone fantastic loves us, or the time we get acknowledged for a talent or the favourite hymn after a particularly connected experience of communion or even just a sunset or piece of music that moves us to tears at its beauty. They are our moments of transfiguration and they are not for always, they are not repeatable but the point of them is also not to cast “ordinary” moments into shadows.

We are called into radiant connectedness with God’s creation for a fleeting moment only (like the apostles, like Moses shining) and then we come down from the moment and become “ordinary”. But were Peter, James and John ever again “ordinary”? Can we ever again be “ordinary” once we have been touched fleetingly and forever by a loving God? Isn’t there somewhere in our lives, our thoughts, our possibilities and our relationships still the thumbprint of God, the teasing possibility of a more-liberating icon, the memory of radiance and intimacy. Because Jesus is not an ecstasy tablet, it’s not for us to get depressed and lost in the “morning after” coming off some unsustainable high, into real life.

In the darkness, we are called to connect with other believers and to dance, to share wisdom and to know God’s presence without having to be constantly spoon-fed. We don’t follow our call perfectly, just like Peter will post-transfiguration deny Jesus and James and John won’t believe the women who see him risen. Transfiguration isn’t an “always tent” of all the answers and security. But it’s not beside the point either to have bathed in the radiance even fleetingly. God loves us eternally, in transfigurative moments, and in returning to our lives and in the trial and burden of the cross and through the deaths that happen as part of the human experience.

God has touched us.