Saturday, 29 May 2010

Trinity Sunday

John 16:12-15

Jesus said:
‘I still have many things to say to you
but they would be too much for you now.
But when the Spirit of truth comes
he will lead you to the complete truth,
since he will not be speaking as from himself
but will say only what he has learnt;
and he will tell you of the things to come.
He will glorify me,
since all he tells you
will be taken from what is mine.
Everything the Father has is mine;
that is why I said:
All he tells you

will be taken from what is mine

There are many challenges to Faith. We know that some of them come from outside; from those whose only faith is in what can be proved; scientifically, mathematically, logically. But the challenges within are even stronger; the challenge not to rely on science, mathematics or logic. To have faith; to believe in a God that contains all that but is beyond all that; who made us in His image but who cannot be imagined. An explainable God is really not a God at all.

A God who named himself ‘I am’ (himself/herself – even our language conspires against us) and left us to imagine an Almighty Father, Creator of the Universe God ruling over us, who loved his people from some distant Paradise; an ancient Presence seemingly unconcerned with the minutiae of our lives; until Jesus....

And here we have God; a son; a brother; a friend; a storyteller; a healer. A man who loves so deeply that he will die for the least of us; who loves his Father so much that he willingly surrenders to the need for this sacrifice. A God who, having risen from a cruel death and the knowledge of the betrayal by his friends, still cannot bear to be parted from us; until the Spirit....

God alive in the world but undefined by it; except in words of fire, water and air. A God that brings gifts of Grace and Wisdom. A God that gets in your hair; in your lungs; under your skin and fills the world with Her joy and creative power.

This is the God that Jesus, the storyteller, speaks to us about. God that we call the Trinity.

But wouldn’t it be as easy to believe that we were mistaken? That there isn’t just one God; that we belong to a Family of God – a mother, father and child God; it was certainly easier for the early civilisations to do this – to create even more gods to rule the elements, the hills, the trees and the waters.

Yet Jesus states clearly ‘the Father and I are One,’ that the Spirit comes through him. That the Trinity is One God; and the One God needs to be Triune.

Because the One God is all about Love.

Imagine God with a single face. Where would Love have come from? Self-love is dangerous; the alternative even worse. To create humanity out of loneliness is somewhat pathetic; to create humanity so as to love God is selfish and manipulative; and ill conceived - especially as we are not very good at it.

Give God two faces and love becomes imaginable. The delightful memory for those who have been there – looking into the eyes of the One, the grace of knowing that you are also the One; a love that mirrors itself; basking in its perfection. Complete in themselves; a God with two faces would have had no need for us; no time to even consider creating distractions such as ourselves.

God with three faces always has somewhere else to look; another image to gaze upon with wonder and awe; Love that grows and strains to find more to love. A love that is drawn from one to another in a pattern, a dance of Grace. This God is able to look at each other and say ‘this Love needs to be shared’.

And so us, not as a Creator’s plaything; as a distraction; but as children invited to the dance; to take our place, joyfully, in the mystery of faith. And to be glad that it is so big, so beyond us, that it must be God.


Saturday, 22 May 2010

Catch 22

John 20:19-23
In the evening of the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’, and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again,

‘Peace be with you.
‘As the Father sent me,
so am I sending you.’
After saying this he breathed on them and said:
‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven;
for those whose sins you retain,
they are retained.’

We usually hear this Gospel as part of the Resurrection visitations. Although many of us may not hear it properly, as it is part of the Sunday reading where Thomas’ doubts are answered by the Lord’s appearance. The interplay between the Lord and Thomas tends to grab the attention and, just like witnesses after the event, we can be left wondering ‘What was that other thing that was said?’ ; and thinking maybe it was not that important? So it’s good that the Church takes us back to that time – to remind us of what was said; to remind us that the Spirit has actually been with us all through the Easter time.

And this is more than important – nothing is in the Gospel without purpose; but this - this is the first and most crucial gift of the Holy Spirit; the gift that Jesus had won for us– the reconciliation of the world to the Father.

The prayer of absolution begins:
"God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins;

This prayer is said by the priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation but forgiveness is not just for ordained priests; the Lord's gift of forgiveness is given to each and every one of us; breathed into us; yet again, not just the apostles, not just the chosen few but the disciples; everyone of us who chooses to answer his call. We cannot leave it to someone else, saying we are not worthy – maybe we are not, but we still have the responsibility to use this gift.

As disciples it is our mission to take the peace of Christ out into the world and to give it to others; as Therese said, he has no hands, eyes or feet but ours. We are clothed in Christ and gifted with the Spirit so that we can offer the Father’s forgiveness to those we meet; to bring peace to others; to reconcile our brothers and sisters to their neighbour; their family; their friends and enemies; and even to themselves.

A gift and a responsibility then, and not easy to do, which is why the Spirit returns again with the specific gifts that will help us grow.

The second part of this has always puzzled me; the idea that we can retain someone’s sins? Seems like far too much power to me.

It certainly suits the judgemental side that we all have; the idea that ‘they’ do not deserve to be happy; to be forgiven; to be able to move on. It’s the way a lot of us think – seeking retribution; wanting to see people suffer for what they have done. Being hard hearted and carrying a grudge is something we can identify with – why would we want to see ‘those people’ in heaven. Being able to retain sins seems a very good idea. Believing that we know best; and that we have the authority of God behind us.

But it’s not very Christ-like.

And this is where I struggle; Jesus forgives everyone, everyone. Even when they don't deserve it, even when they don't ask for it. And the prayer of absolution makes it clear that God intends to forgive the whole world. We are meant to be Christ-like - so why would Jesus say this? Why give us this authority to retain sin? Is it that it’s just a bad translation?

But my feelings(and this came to me only recently) is that it is one of the Lord’s word games, something of a trick; a challenge; a Catch 22 situation that Jesus has allowed us the option of entering into.

If we accept this authority, rubbing our hands together with delight that now it is up to us; that we have been given permission to choose not to forgive, then what does that say about us?
That we know the rules; that we have the right to be judgemental?
Most certainly.
That we know better than God?
If we cast our minds back to the woman caught in adultery; how many of us will find ourselves still standing with our stone in our hand?

Jesus gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit but She is not forced upon us. We cannot be forced into compassion, love and forgiveness of our fellow companions. Jesus tells us we are friends, brothers, sisters not slaves; with all the freedom that suggests. If we want to, we can let Her breath blow right through us and carry on with our old lives; our old judgements; with tree trunks in our eyes and pockets full of stones.

Or we can carry Her breath within our own;we can speak with Her words; Her voice in our hearts - telling of God’s love and peace and desire for reconciliation; knowing that God wills that all will be saved. Knowing that we all belong to the Kingdom and that it is through the desire, sacrifice and gift of the Trinity and the actions of our own hands and heart that we will get there, together.


Tuesday, 18 May 2010

God Mother

We are the apple of our God Mother’s eye.

Nestled outside Time in the velvet warmth of Her womb
Our lives a filigree painted on the palms of Her hand
Names forever on Her lips.

We are the children She dreamed;
before She dreamed of anything else.

The Word spoke
And the Word drew Creation out of Darkness
A home for Her beloveds.

Then God Mother saw that it was good
And the Light of the Word
Became light for Her children
And shone even in darkness.
So we would know She was near.

Know She is near-

In the breath of the morning breeze
Feel Her caress
In the dread of fear
Feel her Wings around you
In the sound of laughter
Know Her joy
In the release of tears
Accept Her healing
In the dark of being alone
Bathe in Her light

She will never leave us orphans
God and Mother of us all
beyond the counting of the stars
Each and every one of us

A god child.


Saturday, 15 May 2010

Going Home

Luke 24:46-53

Jesus said to his disciples,
‘You see how it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to this.
‘And now I am sending down to you what the Father has promised. Stay in the city then, until you are clothed with the power from on high.’

Then he took them out as far as the outskirts of Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. Now as he blessed them, he withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven. They worshipped him and then went back to Jerusalem full of joy; and they were continually in the Temple praising God.

You are witnesses to this

It seems then, at last, the disciples have learn to listen; have got the message. The time spent with them after the Resurrection has been all worthwhile as the Lord is able to teach them how everything really had come together; how the pieces fitted and that it was all true.

In Luke’s account the disciples seem perfectly happy with this; joyful even, as they accompany the Lord on this last walk together to the outskirts of the town. Their uncertainties have been answered; they have seen, heard, touched and ate with the Resurrected Christ. They, who have known him as man, have accepted him (in some way or another) as God.

And Luke, who is very much the plain speaking Gospel writer, records this unique event with mundane simplicity. ‘he was carried up to heaven’, as though it were any normal happening; as if he had been waved off on the next caravan going east.

Where is the fanfare, the trumpet blast? Where is the wonder of the Transfiguration when the Lord became unnaturally brilliant and transformed or even his Baptism with the visitation of the Father and Holy Spirit.

The disciples have the Word in their heart and they are confident in their faith. The Lord is simply carried into Heaven and off they go in thanksgiving and praise. Is it that the Lord has not only become so much more than human; the disciples have had the time to get used to it?

Perhaps, there is no need to impress anyone now. Perhaps it was necessary that his going was as simple as going home; it was going home and he has told them that they would have a home there too. A big event would unbalance them again into uncertainty and fear; would make Heaven into a place not meant for them. And then it would all have been a waste of time; a waste of a life and a waste of a death.

Christ is the Pathfinder; a journey from Divinity into humanity; through life; through suffering and death; through Hell and into a new life that is Divine. A path that was grown over, gated and guarded and now revealed. Through him, with him and in him the journey home is signposted and the door is open.

The Lord is certainly starting to sound like his Father. ‘Stay in the city until someone else comes.’ Knowing that without each other their faith could still be fragile; that doubts could creep in. Even then, another blessing – just in case: leaving them no easier than being left. How he loves us. ..

You may notice that the Gospel refers to the disciples accompanying the Lord to his Ascension. No names at all are mentioned, this is everyone; everyone who has seen and believed; the apostles, the women; the followers; the families; the Jews and the Gentiles.

There is no hierarchy; no special asides or individual messages; this is something they all have to see.

This is the faith that they all believe and in a week they will all receive the same gift of the Holy Spirit.

This is the first community of believers; the first Church; witnesses to a simple faith – that by Christ’s death and resurrection; repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached starting from Jerusalem (because God keeps His promises) but to all nations; to everybody.

This is the simple faith that saints call us back to time and time again;
Eight hundred years ago, St Francis sought to rebuild a medieval Church that thought more of its buildings and finery by reminding them of the poverty and love of Christ. And all the other saints down the ages who call us back to simplicity - to serve in just two ways – Love God and each other; the Great Commandments.

There is always a lot going on in the Church, in parts it is an organisation like any secular one; with the need to organise, define and exclude. There will always be things that go wrong; there will always be things we don’t agree on; culturally or socially there will be doubts and disagreements. As human beings some of this we have not and may not grow out of.
But as witnesses to the faith Christ gave us, we have responsibilities of our own, we have our own work to do and that work belongs to a simpler community; a community of equality; a community of Love; a community that exists without the need for a building called Church.
wordinthehand 2010

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Queen of the Holy Ordinary

It’s Mother’s Day today in America and through some of my friends, I received Happy Mothers Day wishes - which I have gratefully accepted, two Mother’s Days a year seems like a very good idea to me.

One of the good wishes was a prayer of blessing –from the Queen of the Holy Ordinary – Mary herself. A title that delighted me; because it reminds me of why Mary is so important to me.

There is very little about Mary in the Gospels; how much do we need to know about the girl that became the Mother of God? There are some who believe that her only duty was to be the human ‘incubator’ and there is nothing else to thank her for. If this is the case, Jesus may as well have sprung fully formed, like Venus, from the sea. There is a lot more to motherhood than incubation!

We have come to understand about the courage that Mary needed to say that first ‘yes’. How the culture and tradition of the time could have meant her death, or at least exile, there and then. This was not going to be a fairytale or a girlish dream of being whisked away to a castle and a life of ease.

This ‘yes’ was stepping off a cliff with the faith that God would catch her; accepting a life she had not imagined; taking a path with no signposts. Mary put herself in God’s hands – Your will be done – and her Son makes the same surrender in the Garden of Tears.

When Mary speaks the Magnificat to her cousin Elizabeth; you can’t help but wonder where these words came from; hardly the turn of phrase of a young peasant girl. It’s a reminder that God is still with her; she speaks the words that will change the world order; that will challenge tradition; that will lead to the Kingdom; this is the faith she will teach her Son.

Mary, the Mother of God challenges all expectation; that God would speak to a woman; that God would lie helpless in her arms; that God would live as one with the poor and the outcast; that God would bring mercy and not judgment; that it is the lowly that are blessed. When Jesus speaks the Beatitudes – he speaks the faith of his mother as well as the Will of his Father.

Mary influences Jesus’ life as any mother does, in word and action; in the little things. That he is good with children; that he is considerate with women; that he notices the widow and beggar; that hospitality is important; that people need to eat; that we should not be afraid. His humanity reflects the courage and humility that was hers. And his pride and trust in her gives him the confidence to leave us in her hands; children who need to be cared for as he was.

The Marriage Feast is my favourite dialogue between the two– a real mother; a real son - with all the eyebrow raising, tutting and deep sighs that is nuanced behind these few words. A dialogue that moves God from a being who was beyond the ordinary to a man who is in the thick of it. And the best line of all - ‘Do as he tells you’.

That is Mary’s role now. Having accepted the mantle of Mother, Mary asks us to listen to her Son and to say ‘Yes’. And to do it in our own daily lives; in practical and compassionate ways; with the people we love and those we don’t; to show mercy and to be peacemakers; to live by Love and not by Law.

Mothers don’t do that from a pedestal but through being a living example and loving presence in all that we do. I am sure that Mary is Queen in Heaven but she is worth far more to us as a family as Queen of the Holy Ordinary.


with thanks to

Friday, 7 May 2010

As I love you

John 15:12
love one another,
as I have loved you.

To throw a quote back at you, Lord
You do not know what you ask…
To love one another as you love
and to make it sound so simple –
one law; one commandment.
But Love, Lord?
I don’t even know how you love me.
And yet you say the Word
And I am healed.
So the least I can do
Is try.