Monday, 23 February 2015

Whole new world?

Mark 1:12-15

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness and he remained there for forty days, and was tempted by Satan. He was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after him.

After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee. There he proclaimed the Good News from God. ‘The time has come’ he said ‘and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.’

As it's half term, Lent has begun with grandchildren duties and  many viewings of Disney's Aladdin. Amazing where you get inspiration from. 

Hopefully, many of us will have the opportunity sometime during Lent to step outside the mundane path of life and take a retreat. There are so many different ways these days, literally spending the time in a secluded space, guided by courses, reflective books or on-line encouragement. Lent's lengthening of the days offer us a little more daylight that could be turned to our advantage given our desire and a little luck. 

This is a spiritual practice I look forward to so much and bemoan when it doesn't come along.  How much I wish for a weekend, a day, an hour - even five minutes solitude. So forty days is nothing more than a fantasy.

Interesting then, that Jesus didn't ask to go. The Spirit does not take Jesus, or even drive Jesus, the word used is ἐκβάλλω - expulsion, the same word that describes Jesus' exorcism of demons. Jesus is dragged out of whatever intention he may have had. It seems that, just after his baptism, Jesus is not in the best of places.

And who would be, if the knowledge of who you were brought with it , as Robin Williams' Genii would say 'Phenomenal cosmic powers! a itty bitty living space'. 

Scripture tells us of all the times God is disappointed in us, in how we behave, how we let God down. How much more raw would it feel if it was your mother who was slandered, your father who was given the cuckold sign, your stomach that was empty, your village that was impoverished and oppressed? Given what is going on in our world today - if someone gave you three wishes wouldn't you be setting some people straight, whether they liked it or not? 

This makes Satan's task so easy.  The real temptation makes so much sense, seems so holy. To create that world that the Father can only dream of. Turning human beings into the pawns of a Kingdom of God that is only a mirage of God's true desire.

In the desert Jesus learns of God's relationships in the world - with Satan, with the beasts, with the angels. For a man out of Nazareth it is a whole new world and one only the Spirit can guide him through. Never mind the cosmic powers, here in the desert Jesus is reminded of his humanity and the people he has come to share his life with, as well as to serve.

The rest of his ministry, Jesus will live with the temptation of our lives given into his hands. How notable that he only acts on request and with discretion. One of the first miracle requests in Mark reminds him,  'If you are willing.' 

At the end of the film, Aladdin learns that his human gifts are enough, a promise is kept, the Genii is set free. Jesus is set free with the knowledge and acknowledgment that he is his Father's son and it is his Father's Kingdom that he is building. And for that task - he is willing. 


Thursday, 19 February 2015

Lamentation After Ash Wednesday

Joel 2:12

Due to a whole cacophony of family duties and distractions I came upon Ash Wednesday utterly unprepared and unfocused. 

By the time I curled over into sleep, i had drunk coffee and alcohol, eaten meat and chocolate, spent too much time on the computer, too much time driving around, forgotten to turn the radio off, forgotten to go outside to pray. Not one Lenten observance even considered. 

That evening I had ran into Mass late, only to be tutted by the priest. As I was the reader this was not the best of beginnings. Chastened, I approached the lectern not at all surprised at the Lord's sense of timing.  Joel's reading resounded 
'Now, now...Come back to me with all your heart'. 

It's not my heart, Lord. It's the world that surrounds it. 

It's the responsibilities that come with being a full-time working, studying, wanting to work in the vineyard, grandmother, mother and wife. It's the inability to bilocate and the assumption that you can. It's knowing that every time you say 'no' to something it is usually the one thing you wanted to do.

I do intend to try. I've got my Lenten read, signed on to a few on-line retreats, subscribed to my favourite Lenten daily postings. I have art materials and journals and ideas that spin out in my sleep-starved nights.

The bookmark hasn't moved a page in the last few days and I expect I will be sorting the retreats and emails into the 'one day folder' more often than not. 

I will 'like' other people's offerings with minimal envy and try to keep up with the blog. I'm sure that this Lent, like every Lent, has a mind all of its own and by the end, I will have learnt a little more. 

But for now.

My heart is weary, Lord. If you want it you had better come to me.


Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Lenten Psalms 51

O, Divine have mercy
Heal me with compassion
And swaddle me with your love

I fear to be in your presence
knowing how many times I have turned
Treating life as a dead-end street
Whilst you waited for memory to return

Take me again in your arms, O Divine
With hyssop, purify me as a holy place
As bright as the mountaintop snow  
As a tabernacle of scented blessedness 

O Divine create within me, a new song 
A rhythm of heart beating truth
Let the breath of your Spirit renew me 
And my days bear the joy of your word

All I can offer is me, O Divine 
All the sorrow that cannot be carried
The brokenness that won't hold any longer
And a heart that cries out to be held

O, Divine have mercy
Heal me with compassion
And swaddle me with your love


Saturday, 24 January 2015


Gospel of Mark 1:14-20

After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee. There he proclaimed the Good News from God. ‘The time has come’ he said ‘and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.’

As he was walking along by the Sea of Galilee he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net in the lake – for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you into fishers of men.’ And at once they left their nets and followed him.

Going on a little further, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John; they too were in their boat, mending their nets. He called them at once and, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the men he employed, they went after him.

Jesus follows his traces from the desert to find the spring rains have filled the Jordan to overflowing, birds and animals are gathered along her banks, dancing in territorial skirmishes and shrieking in mating rituals. The rhythm of waves have swept the nestlings of firewood and cooking pots from the margins. Where pilgrims jostled in the eddying shallows, grasses and reeds grow tall again in their patient, waving crowds of green and yellow.

He follows the richness of his Father's world towards the wide basin of the Galilee. Along the way, he reads the signs in the human world. Sees John's followers sitting in despair in the shadows of their homes. He sees the forgiven once again at their begging bowls. He sees the redeemed holding their cloaks across downturned faces. He hears the whispers of defeat, the rumblings of rebellion, the sighs of failure.

John's riverside castings are already beginning to fail. The net of grace, of new beginnings, is no longer held by skilled hands and a strong back. The shoal of believers, no longer held in the whirling promise of the Spirit's son, return to their rockpools and crevices. To honour John's ministry Jesus must learn from it. Who could foretell how long he would have? The net needed to be wider and held in many hands. 

Recognising the faithful Andrew from his own baptism, Jesus makes his way to the quayside. Andrew's brother, Simon, has a boat and a dislike of authority. But there is something in the invitation - 'fishing for men' - that challenges both their interest. And no one, not even their father, could deny the Sons of Thunder a quest to change the world.

As their feet found purchase up the shingle path towards the town, the wind rose in swirls of olive scented dust, sending a jangle of tones through the drying nets. Simon lifted his head and mused, 'The tide's on the turn'.


Thursday, 25 December 2014

Welcome, stranger

Gospel Luke 2:15-20
House shrine Assisi
When the angels had gone from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they hurried away and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw the child they repeated what they had been told about him, and everyone who heard it was astonished at what the shepherds had to say. As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds went back glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; it was exactly as they had been told.

It may be a surprise to learn that the word ‘hospitality’ doesn’t mean what we think it means –like many words it has lost something in translation and in tradition.
These days we imagine that it means having friends and loved ones around the table. To be generous to those we love; to celebrate togetherness. As hopefully many of us are able to spend the Christmas season.

But, the reality is that hospitality means to welcome the stranger; to treat a stranger with warmth,  as a friend-

-as the innkeeper found it in his heart to welcome Joseph and Mary despite the fact he had no room 
-as the angels welcomed the shepherds – despite the reputation of shepherds
-as the wise men were welcomed, despite being from another country and other faiths.

Hospitality means taking risks; ignoring the natural human instinct to fear the unknown, to be wary of the other. Instead, to reach out; to put another’s needs and comforts before your own. Something it is difficult for many of us to do at this or any other time of the year.

There are many theological discussions about where, when and how the birth of Jesus truly came about but what the Gospel tells us is this – that from this very first moment the world is changing; people are changing; the rules are changing. 

The Nativity story heralds the birth of a brave new world – brave because it means living a life that is not about you; that means creating experiences of love; love that gives without expectation of getting back; a re-creation of God’s love.

From before he is even born, Jesus is stirring hearts and minds to this; he brings kindness from a profiteer; shepherds from their duties; wise men from their studies; he brings us from our warm houses and many other 'things to do' to  places of gathering; to be together - friends and strangers sharing in witnessing a new life; praying that the coming of Emmanuel will see  new life; new love within of us.

Let us pray that we will be hospitable with that love.
Every blessing of the Season.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

No-one was there

Another back story

The shadows are  where you are safest. These long nights at the turning of the solstice are a boon to me. From the shadows of the inner wall I watched with measured breath as the soldiers set their weight to the city doors, silencing the rasping hum of the desert winds. I waited as one man flexed the muscles in his chest and biceps, a preening gladiator, whilst the other picked up the longspears and held one arms length, a javelin against the other's chest. Words were spoken, rumbling laughter, then they strolled off with the rolling gait of the weary, arms circling their helmets like baskets of bread or fruit. Guards with their guard down, for there was no-one left on the midnight streets of Bethlehem. 

To that, even I would agree. It has occurred to me before now that 'No-one' is a very fitting name. The curse of a misbegotten body has refused my humanity. Beggar, homeless, unclean, it is all very much the same. No-one that matters. And so I live and I survive, by the wits few would honour me with. In shadows, by darkness, in quiet streets and the afterwards of city life. 

And so the census is no friend, filling streets with wandering incomers, glassy eyed at the markets, synagogues and fine houses. Filling up the nooks and crannies of every alleyway and courtyard with tents and awnings. Strange that in all this chaos their eyes still pick out 'No-one', their hands still reach to pick up a ready stone, still point the finger to warn others to get out of the way. This old nightwatch alcove near the gates is a refuge, a place to see and not be seen, but there no point being safe if you are freezing and your stomach is pleading for food. Hoping that the revelry at the end of a long day's travel will have sent everyone to bed, I leave my lair.

The blessing of a new moon offers some comfort though the night is full of stars so bright I could reach up and grasp one in my hand. Parched with thirst I head first to the nearest well. With the confidence of familiarity I circle the courtyard. Then I see her. A shadow in shadows. Another beggar? But no, without the fear that any beggar would have, she opens out her cloak to clear the dust and I see the outline of a heavily pregnant woman. As my eyes pick out the details, I recognise her. I remember her and a man, her husband I imagined, coming in on the tails of the last caravan of the day. But she is alone now. I can hear her breathing, laboured, deliberate. It seems this woman is about to give birth in the dirt and dust of a city street. 

My feet carry me forward before my thoughts do. I crouch by her side and whisper to her that she is not safe, that she must have someone, somewhere to go. But she is not listening,intent on the movement within her she is rocking with each keening breath. She reaches out and grabs my hand. It has been so long since I have even been near another human being, the touch is like lightning, firing through me. I hold on. Then, footsteps turn to the sound of running as the man enters from one of the side streets.   'Miriam,' he calls desperately, and kneels to cradle her, 'there is nowhere, nowhere.' He looks across at me. Even in the light of the new moon he can see the scars and sores of my suffering. He lifts his cloak across his face, the whites of his eyes showing disgust and tries to pull the woman away. But she is holding on to my hand; fingers pulsing with the contractions that are getting closer and closer. 

'You have to get her somewhere safe,' I tell him. Rocking himself now with fear and apprehension, the man gasps, 'There is nowhere. No room anywhere.' 

My wonderful, hospitable city that cannot find a room for a man of the line of David and a woman about to give birth. My heart screams out to the God who has forgotten the outcast, the stranger and the weary. My mind races, searching for answers I have given up on.

I tell him 'There is somewhere. Somewhere close. If you can carry her. I can find you somewhere.' He lets the cloak fall and sets his face in a way that, even I can see, speaks of courage and determination. 'Thank you,' he says and lifts her into his arms. 

I race ahead. There is a house owned by a kinsman of mine with a stable nearby where the animals winter. As I approach the building, the dogs bark a warning. 
Their owner peers warily from the door curtain. 'Any closer and the dogs can have you.' His bark far worse than the animals but no bite. 'No nearer, cousin, I promise. Just a favour, a call for the hospitality of old, a call to your heart.'

'If it's shelter you're after you can sleep round the back, just be gone in the morning.' He pulled his head back into the warmth of his own home and fastened the curtain so that not a glimmer of light escaped. I took it as all the permission I needed and led the man to the lean-to and the cave within. I tethered the animals together at the front rail and gathered the straw for the woman to lie on then dragged one of the feeding mangers over, thinking it would be a place for a baby to avoid being stepped on. I could tell that it wouldn't be long. 

I stood calming the animals and staring into the starry night. After so many years as an outcast here I was in the most intimate of moments. I wondered what sort of sign God was offering. Then a cry like the bleat of a lamb. The baby boy gleamed with new life, I prayed that he would never again know what it was to be unwanted and alone. The man looked up from wiping his wife's brow - a gesture so lovingly helpless. 'I'm sorry,' he said. And then as I made to leave, 'You don't have to go'.

'I shouldn't be here,' I replied,' after all, that baby will need all God's blessing.' 

'Well, he has that already.' There was a smile on the man's lips. 'But thank you again. When we tell him of this night can we tell him your name?' 

'No-one,' I answered,'tell him that No-one was there on the night he was born. 


Saturday, 20 December 2014

O Antiphon - O Clavis, Key of David

O Antiphon - O Clavis 

"O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel
controlling at your will the gate of heaven:come, break down the prison walls of deathfor those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death."

O Come, O Clavis
and free your people

Locked in the darkness
of doubt
of fear

Trapped in boxes
of control
of ego

Walled in the tombs
of resentment
of 'if only'

Behind shadow doors
of left alone
of exclusion

O Clavis
O Come