Sunday, January 28, 2007
I heard about a moment of grace today. One of those moments that meets you where you are but leaves you never the same again.
There's this couple who have been trying to have children for over fifteen years – you name it they have attempted it – all options and efforts have met with abject and heart-wrenching failure. Their sadness has been unspeakable. But just last week they adopted 3 children – they have all this love that for reasons not known to me they cannot give to a child born to them. So they are adopting an entire family. 3 children who no longer have their parents now have a new home and family. The children have been in care for some time since mum and dad died and this couple couldn’t bare to see the 3 of them separated so they took them all…
Just sometimes I am reminded that there is still a goodness in this world that I cannot put into words worth following, sometimes….
Monday, January 22, 2007
And suddely understand
That you, Deep Night,
Surround me and play with me,
And i am stunned...
Your breath comes over me.
And from a vast, distant solemnity
Your smile enters me.'
(Rainer Maria Rilke, "The Vast Night")
Here's a secret - the dark side of life is our salvation. I wise old priest just told me this with most of his breakfast still round his mouth. Old in years and carrying the scars of many a struggle, sill weary with his fight with the bottle this beautiful imperfect man makes me smile and think every morning when we share a coffee and a story of two. So this morning his wise words were that unless we become aware (that darkness is our salvation) of this fact, we are doomed to beware of it.
In his famous poem, 'The Dark Night of the Soul', St. John of the Cross suggests that our spiritual journey culminates in a freedom that allows us to live beyond the 'imprisonment of our own obsessions'. At the end of the poem he expresses this by saying:
'I abandoned and forgot myself...
Leaving my cares
Forgotten among the lilies.'
In my experience though it is not always easy for us to distinguish between a moment of dying and the moment of freedom given in new birth, and I think what my wonderfully eccentric friend was pointing towards was that our culture has a kind of collective blindness because it avoids the shadow side of life, and so consequently a pervasive loss of meaning ensues. He has gone off to walk his dogs now, though in truth I think they walk him...
For some reason this has got me thinking about epiphany, because this too has its dark side. I had a funny conversation the other day with someone whose theology is shall we say a little more to the right than mine. This person was talking to me about the 3 kings who brought wonderful gifts to the Christ Child. I couldn't help myself (I know I should try harder) but I said, yes but you know they weren't kings, and we don't really know how many of them actually travelled. They 'were' kings she replied, slightly indignant. What followed was a rather awkward bit of dialogue where I (without success) suggested that a better translation of the word 'Magi' was wizard or sorcerer, and that these strange visitors were probably more Tolkeinesque than we would like to recognise. Interesting isn't it that God should use a bunch of wizards (pagans) from somewhere probably around Baghdad to bring such important gifts for his son...a bit of a paradigm shift one could say.
I reckon Epiphany is a sort of paradigm shift. The long, slow history of Israel's relationship with God gave rise to advances in religion, gradually displacing polytheism and henotheism as the dominant models of the divine. It provided a platform for progressive political reckoning and drove forward advances in ethical reasoning, raising real concerns for truth and justice. But the framework in which it dealt with all these issues guaranteed that the solutions offered to the problems of human existence were so much wall-paper over the cracks of our godlesseness, sticking plasters over the wounds of our nature.
The cornerstone of Old Testament thinking thinking is obedience to a powerful lawmaker. Such thought builds an image of God that inspires awe and reverence - but fails to save us. It makes justice a matter of doing what you are told for fear of the consequences rather than doing what we should for love of our neighbour, and thereby undermines the very freedom that makes us human. And worse, it drives those who would be truly free to aim at the wrong goals. Sinful humans seeking to become like God become potent dictators with power and control.
So it should come as no surprise that, at a critical stage in the history of Israel, at the right moment, one man should turn the world upside down. God arrives, not with new improved laws designed to enforce a new way of acting human, but to demonstrate once and for all a new way, the right way, of being human. The lust for power is transformed into the commitment to service. Obedience to the law is replaced by integrity of the heart.
People making New Year's resolutions seems to reflect the desire for paradigm shifts in our individual lives. And we know how often they fail. I grew up with Dr Suess's 'The Grinch that Stole Christmas'. And I am still moved by the moment when that poor, twisted man stands on the mountain top, having achieved the pinnacle of his ambition, surrounded not by his own things, but possessing the property of all the people below. As the people arise with the dawn, and gather in the square, and sing for joy at the birth of the Christ-Child, something clicks. Epiphany happens. The Grinch's heart grew two sizes that day.
As a community, we still have our niggling problems but there are signs perhaps less dramatic than turning water into wine, but nevertheless signs of something new, paradigm shift, epiphany, call it what you will: Strange wizards from Baghdad bringing good news - our dark night of the soul becoming the very thing that sets us free......
Friday, January 19, 2007
'The Rose is without why
She blooms because she blooms
She does not care for herself
Asks not if she is seen.'
Father O'Donohue suggests that to participate in beauty is to come into the presence of the Holy - that everything we feel, think and do is already happening within the divine shelter. He concludes that to know this is to know one's real beauty.
So I guess we have a pretty fucked up understanding of what real beauty is and looks like - i reckon it's about divine identity - the freedom and clarity of simply being yourself. Nothing else is needed.
Pip is right, no-one is ugly, just beautifully imperfect...
Thursday, January 18, 2007
And even when the trees have just surrendered
To the harvest time
Forfeiting their leaves in late September
And sending us inside
Still I notice you
When change begins
And I am embraced for colder winds
I will offer thanks for what has been and what’s to come
You are autumn
And everything in time and under heaven
Finally falls asleep
Wrapped in blankets white, all creation
And still I notice you
When branches crack
And in my breath on frosted glass
Even now in death, you open doors for life to enter
You are winter…
(Nichole Nordeman, 2000)
In a tender moment of decision Gandalf gently, but with strong purpose, turns to Frodo and says, ‘All you have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given you.’
Sometimes our demons shout down the better angels in our brain…
Sometimes there is a sadness so deep no tears will come…
Sometimes in the night there is a deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars…
As I find myself at the threshold of a new year, one question remains at the forefront of my psyche; what am I to be? As 2007 begins, I realise that I am no further forward, just further along. Every year seems to pass with greater speed and my concern as each closes has to do with what both I and we as a community have accomplished in those 365 days. After all life is not about just being good, surely its purpose has to do with being good for something.
So as we quite naturally pause and reflect at the beginning of this New Year on the issues of the day so, just maybe, we can put more energy into the more cerebral aspects of life. We are by nature ritual makers and there is something profound in that rite of passage that allows us to learn from and let go of the past. I am not talking here about some emotionally charged resolution that will be disregarded when normality once more reigns come mid January. Rather I am speaking of our duty to the soul. It is not just culture which is trying to balance religious obligation with secular freedom; there is a paradigm shift of the soul occurring where we wrestle with principles of inner reform. Intellectual ambivalence, cultural dismissiveness, and prioritization of our values have alienated us from the road less travelled. Modern Christianity has, unfortunately, provided us with a worldview that polarizes reason and faith, and so limiting (in Bunyan speak) the progress of pilgrims.
I meet too many spiritual refugees who have connected to something they believe to be true, yet know no longer know where to go to explore and develop that connection; people who, in the final analysis, are fearful that they may find themselves just beyond the love of God. So, is there a rhythm of worship, of living, that has roots, but is not too ‘churchy’, that reflects the human concerns of our time yet also lets heaven into our everyday world? - A rhythm that exposes the brutal reality of public life in the world of socio-political and economic darkness.
Yet for us to make holistically moral judgements for the betterment of the weak we may need to nurture connectors with that part of us which most of us dare not visit – the soul. For the Christian community to be the salt and light Jesus hoped for there must be a return to the deeply stirring art of lament and meditation, whereby the experiences and reflections contained are generated by a stirring which is not of our making.
My worry is that we so easily suburbanise our souls with theological band-aids out of a duty to be faithful to Christianity, and as a consequence our faith becomes parched and dry. Theologian Walter Bruggemann prudently observes that, ‘in Christian practice it is worth noting that in this season of cultural displacement in the Western church, the “exilic” voices of the Old Testament take on new authority and pertinence, among them the lament tradition that was never needed before in a Western church tradition that characteristically enjoyed hegemonic support and favour.’ New rhythms rooted to rich traditions of the past, yet expressed contextually for post-modern people must be encouraged and experimented with. We must have the courage to journey into the emerging church.
I guess all I am saying here is that we will have to find new expressions of church in order that the Incarnation might be made apparent and real to people. The post-evangelical debate makes the point that relevance involves almost constant willingness to reshape the tradition, given the rapidly changing nature of our current context. Furthermore it stated that if the church neglects the reshaping then consequently we preserve a gospel which says something quite different from what Jesus actually communicated.
Whilst reading Exodus the other day, and I was struck by a comment made by God to Moses. Whilst in dialogue concerning the people of God in the wilderness, He says this; ‘Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward.’ When we look back at the history of the movement of God there have always been those wanting to return to bygone halcyon days (which I’m not sure ever really existed). Perhaps that should not surprise us. Faith though requires both courage and risk. To use the analogy from the story of the Exile, it just might be that we are called to enter the new land to tell the inhabitants the story of the Christ. And so it is at the genesis of 2007 we inhabit opportunity. It may be time to go back to the drawing board, and begin to reconcieve church as a by-product of following Jesus rather than a multinational with a gospel franchise.
I know that's all very theological, but it is rooted in human opportunity. You remember when we were young? Everything seemed possible and our future almost limitless, dreaming came without effort. Yet I guess most of us look back now and look at life more with sober reassessment, and perhaps we must look at our dreams realsitically even - who knows.
Often, not always though, our results bring a sense of disappointment the older we get - the things we were going to do and become but never managed. Clearly, and I suppose this is the essence of my ramble, there is a need to confront the reality of our lives and dare I say it, destinies, but to do it in such a way that it enhances our lives rather than limit them. In and amongst all this realism though I can from time to time when I'm still enough, hear the child who used to dream...
As Emily Dickinson so truly tells us…we dwell in possibility.
ps, happy birthday dad x