Saturday, 5 September 2009

As white as...

Opening Prayer

Here I am Lord,
Listening
Speak to me
within my heart and soul.
I am listening.



James 1:22

‘keep oneself unstained by the world’

Reflection
‘Dirty Old Town?’

It is easy to see all that is wrong with the world. You have only to turn on the television to see terrifying pictures of what is going on all around us. And even the so-called entertainment often seems cruel and demeaning. The radio, the internet, the newspapers have the same focus – we question the decency and behaviour of others. We ask ourselves ‘what is the world coming to?’

Just reading that paragraph makes me feel old. I remember being young enough to be able to laugh off such comments, to wonder why anyone would spend their time worrying about things that did not concern them and that they could do nothing about. Because my life was fine, the lives of those around me were fine. My world was very small.

If you had said to me then ‘keep yourself unstained by the world’, I would have said ‘I do. I don’t get involved in anything illegal, I take care of myself, I love my family, I am doing my best in my work. I don’t think God would have many complaints about me.’ Little knowing that the stains were creeping in. What was my world coming to?

Because the world was starting to affect me; to direct how I thought, how I behaved. Making me believe that I was important; that my happiness, success, prosperity was a priority. I’m a cradle Catholic; I have been to church; I have listened to the Gospel; I have been confirmed as a follower of Jesus Christ; I proudly wore a cross and chain but I was not clothed in Christ. My clothes were reflections of what and who I wanted the world to see.

And I can use the excuse that at least I am not as bad as…; not as greedy as…; not as selfish as… but that is just an excuse. Because that means that I am not as good as I should be; not as sharing as I should be; not as compassionate as I should be.

The world accepts that some people suffer and some don’t; the world accepts that there are things you can’t change so don’t bother; the world accepts that some are better than others because that’s how it is; these are the stains we can carry on our hearts.

Jesus loves each person uniquely – or, as I said once, uni-equally. How do you think he managed to end up with such a variety of apostles? His Kingdom is built on service and humility. That’s what I should have been taught as a Christian and that’s how I should live. Knowing that somewhere under the stains of worldly stuff there should be the white garment of baptism – the sign that we have been reborn – the sign that we are not of this world.


Contemplation

‘Whiter than white?’

Let’s be honest, it’s not going to happen. We will never be the perfect Christian. Which is just as well, because the minute we start thinking ourselves perfect – we can be sure we are not.

But we should be aware of what is happening to us; what our influences are; where we get our role models, our attitudes, our judgement of others.

Then we have to measure them against what our faith asks of us. And pray for the guidance and support to makes changes where change is needed.

This won’t be just once in our lives but over and over again. Which is good, because that makes prayer useful; makes it real; makes it do what it is supposed to do - transform us and bring us closer to God.

Closing Prayer
May the blessing of the Sacred Three
The Father who gave us the Word
The Son who is the Word
The Spirit who opens the Word within us
Be with us today and evermore.Amen


wordinthehand2009

It's not what you say...

Opening Prayer

Here I am Lord,
Listening
Speak to me
within my heart and soul.
I am listening.

St Paul to the Ephesians 5:21


‘give way to one another in obedience to Christ’

Reflection
‘Who do you belong to?’

When the feminist movement got off the ground in the 20th century; one of their first actions was to remove the vow to ‘obey’ from the marriage vows. St Paul was derided as sexist and as someone who hated women; no-one would read him. Yet Paul’s writings refer over and over again to his admiration and reliance on women in their nurturing of the early church. But Paul is infamous for his ability to produce ‘soundbites’ - nuggets of a phrase that stick in the mind and can be used like virtual weapons in a discussion.

Please don’t read Paul in ‘soundbites’; his letters answer important questions that we don’t even know; yet hold enough in them to talk to us now.

But never mind obeying our husbands; as a society we don’t much like obeying anyone; unless we can see the sense in it. The zigzags on the road outside school are for other people; as are the double yellow parking lines and disability spaces. The need to pick up litter; recycle; behave in public; hold doors for others are all good ideas that we can choose to follow – but if we don’t want to….Because we have free will and this is a free society. ‘Free’ suggests that this attitude comes without cost but it doesn’t. The cost of this type of freedom – the freedom to do what we will – is high. Because what happens when you clash with another’s freedom? Does this attitude to life suggest a person who will compromise; who will see the common good; who is living a life based on the Christian message?

Jesus was no angel… He did not and would not obey laws that were wrong. He would not accept instruction from people that were wrong and, in fact, he told us not to accept anyone on this earth as teacher or rabbi. That we belong to God and should be obedient only to him.

So now where does that leave Paul and the rewriting of the marriage vows? How are we ever supposed to get things right; specially when Paul’s letter takes the union of two human beings and then compares it to the union of Christ and the Church?

Paul probably thought he was making it easy but Paul’s Christ was only about one thing – Love. For obey – read Love; for submit – read Love; for regard- read Love. The love of a Christ who loved the unwanted and unclean; the love of a Christ who persevered with his childlike disciples; who washed their feet and sacrificed his life for them. And then continues to love and serve them even after the resurrection; cajoling; teaching; feeding – a never-ending torrent of love, which we may not deserve and we may not always appreciate but that is always there.


To see Christ in others and to be Christ to them means obeying the only Commandment Jesus ever gave us – ‘Love’.

Contemplation
‘Listen’

Actually that’s what ‘obedience’ means; the ability to listen; pay attention – nothing about blindly doing as you are told; or refusing your own ideas or opinions.

But mostly what worries us about Paul’s letter is no more than ego; no more than false pride; that we can be instructed to do what someone else wants us to do, and remember that this was regarded as a lifelong commitment.

If we regard ourselves as Christians then we are making a lifelong commitment too. A commitment to Christ who doesn’t have ego; who doesn’t show pride; who regards himself as no more than his Father’s son and his Father the centre of his life. Knowing that God is present in each one of us – he loves us ‘that much’ too.

If you have spent time in contemplation developing this personal and loving relationship with Christ then you know how this feels. We are not meant to be alone with this feeling – like Grace it grows when it is shared.
To share with our immediate partner, our loved one seems obvious but often isn’t, especially if they are not church-goers or consider themselves spiritual.

But spirituality is a lot like mirror writing – you see and what you see reflects back on you; with two mirrors it becomes infinite. So it is not about preaching to the other person but about being and seeing Christ in you and in them. The committed couple are part of the foundations of Christian life; of a healthy society. And when the mirrors reflect again….

Closing Prayer

May the blessing of the Sacred Three
The Father who gave us the Word
The Son who is the Word
The Spirit who opens the Word within us
Be with us today and evermore.
Amen


wordinthehand2009

A Woman's Faith

Opening Prayer
Here I am Lord,
Listening
Speak to me
within my heart and soul.
I am listening.


Luke 1:45

Blessed woman, who believed what God said,
believed every word would come true!

Reflection
‘Who do you trust?’

You would imagine that for God to decide to come to us as a human being, He must have had something in mind; must have had a Grand Plan. Yet, when you consider the circumstances of Jesus’ arrival; surely, even now, we must wonder why God decided to do it this way.

Why such a people? How long had Israel belonged to God yet look how low they had come – had He not been paying attention?
Why such a place? The Galilee was a place you ‘overlooked’ if you had any sense. Perhaps He hadn’t been paying attention.
Why such a person? To have had less rank in the community would have been difficult, although Mary managed that by her ‘questionable’ condition. You’d imagine He didn’t want the attention.

Even though the writings are there, the archaeologists; the cultural historians, the social scientists all tell us how poor, how unremarkable, how ‘bottom of the barrel’ the life of Jesus was – at the time of the life of Jesus; something in us cannot believe.
We prefer the Victorian hymns, the artist’s impression of a peaceful, contented family surrounded by the comforts of home to the reality of a couple and their child living as refugees in a foreign land; as a widow and child on the outskirts of the community.
We prefer the gliding image of Jesus and his disciples cheerily walking the highways and by-ways of a garden Palestine rather than the rag-tag vagabonds relying on charity and often hiding from the local Temple or Roman officials that they had managed to upset.

We prefer the image of a Mary blissfully accepting her motherhood and then the miracle of it preserving her in child-like beauty all her life and into her death. But
I wonder if that sort of Mary would have been able to deal with the world that she brought that life into. Because there was something about this Grand Plan that meant that no-one in the world would ever be able to say to God ‘You don’t understand’.

In his humanity, God became poorer, more despised, more alone, more rejected that anyone had ever been.


‘The Son of Man has no place to call home’ and probably neither did his mother. Mary’s eternal beauty came from a faith, a trust in a God that did not promise to change her life, did not promise her gold or wealth; did not promise to take her ‘away from all this’ in fact did not promise her anything except a son whose Kingdom would never end. And the miracle isn’t that she believed it at the conception but that she continued to believe it all of her life.

Contemplation
‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’

I was telling you about my nan last week – due to being an older mother I never knew my nan as anything but old – nearly sixty when I was born – but she was always beautiful right until she died at eighty-nine. Beautiful blue eyes and pure white blond wavy hair and a heart that still worried about the old people and young children, that remember birthdays and anniversaries, that wondered if I was warm enough and insisted that I had an apple to take home after every visit.

That is beauty, not the hanging onto to girlish, childhood fantasies and images; not wanting to always be young again; but to be full of life and love and experience rather than criticism, envy and regret.

Getting older does not automatically mean getting wiser – that is up to you.

We are born with the promise that God has made us – that we are precious in His sight, that we are Her works of art, that we are worth more than a million sparrows. It is called upon us to have the faith to believe it and to live it.

To follow Mary’s example and believe it even when it doesn’t seem possible, when it seems like a dream and even when life seems like a nightmare.

You get no proof with faith


Closing Prayer
May the blessing of the Sacred Three
The Father who gave us the Word
The Son who is the Word
The Spirit who opens the Word within us
Be with us today and evermore.Amen


wordinthehand2009