Saturday, 30 October 2010

All Saints B Team

Gospel Matthew 5:1-12

Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up the hill. There he sat down and was joined by his disciples. Then he began to speak. This is what he taught them:
‘How happy are the poor in spirit;
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Happy the gentle:
they shall have the earth for their heritage.
Happy those who mourn:
they shall be comforted.
Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right:
they shall be satisfied.
Happy the merciful:
they shall have mercy shown them.
Happy the pure in heart:
they shall see God.
Happy the peacemakers:
they shall be called sons of God.
Happy those who are persecuted in the cause of right:
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you
and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account.
Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward will be great in heaven.’

These are the Beatitudes, part of the Sermon on the Mount, and possibly the most difficult of all of Jesus’ teachings to really take to heart. And yet the teaching that tells us more about God's love for us than almost any other.

Because they are ‘B’ attitudes- not ‘A’ attitudes.

Christians are meant to be in the world but not 'of' the world. The world has its own viewpoint  and that viewpoint is generally looking down on others. We are all taught from a very early age that we need to be aiming for the ‘A’s in life. The ‘A’ attitude makes us very single minded. There’s is nothing that we should be involved in where we don’t want to win; where the top is not the place to be. There is no price we should not pay to achieve it.

Which is fine and dandy for the straight ‘A’s or even the mostly ‘A’s.  But with the world’s sense of competition and ambition; that penthouse in the sky, top of the ladder, cream of the crop spot is not one that many people hold on to for long. In fact, the reality is that it will hold the equivalent of 15 minutes of fame even for the best of us. The reality is - there will be very little time before the next ‘A’ comes along.

And that’s for those of us who get there – what about the people who own the rest of the alphabet? Where is the celebration in being a D, M,S or Z?

But most of us – are a D, M, S or a Z. Most of us know we have failings and struggles and faults and that life is not easy. If we  imagine that God only has pride in his A team then we are going to be living a disappointed and despondent life.

The blessing is that God is not like that.

God has no sense of hierarchy; top or bottom, best or worst. And when God does seem to judge people – it never makes sense to us because it is the wrong way up… The ‘B’ attitudes tell us that there are blessings in not being good enough, rich enough, assertive enough; happy enough.
 When you are not ‘anything’ enough you know your life is not in your control and the less control you have the more you can give yourself up to God.

The saints, who we are celebrating today, are all on the B team; sometime in their lives many have been celebrated in their own way, have been rich, talented, desired, on a road to somewhere.

And then God got in the way and what is really important became more important.

Admitting our weaknesses is not a worldly attitude but it is a Godly attitude. The ‘B’ attitude lets you admit to God –‘ I am poor, I do mourn, I am hungry, I live in a world that struggles and I want peace and even trying to find peace causes suffering. To the world I am a failure and yet through all that I believe in you; I believe that you are the only one who can help me. So I am not relying on me – I am relying on you.

And that is why the Beatitudes tells us we are happy.

Because a ‘B’, or even less, will still get us into Heaven.


Saturday, 16 October 2010

On and on and on and...

Gospel Luke 18:1-8

Jesus told his disciples a parable about the need to pray continually and never lose heart. ‘There was a judge in a certain town’ he said ‘who had neither fear of God nor respect for man. In the same town there was a widow who kept on coming to him and saying, “I want justice from you against my enemy!” For a long time he refused, but at last he said to himself, “Maybe I have neither fear of God nor respect for man, but since she keeps pestering me I must give this widow her just rights, or she will persist in coming and worry me to death.”’

And the Lord said ‘You notice what the unjust judge has to say? Now will not God see justice done to his chosen who cry to him day and night even when he delays to help them? I promise you, he will see justice done to them, and done speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?’

A strange Gospel this; mostly because of the insinuation that we can get whatever we want from God just by nagging.

Or maybe it is just the image of the widow woman that makes it seem like that? Nevertheless, there is this impression that God never says ‘no’ just ‘not yet – because you haven’t prayed hard enough, you haven’t managed to attract my attention.’

And that seems odd to me.

From out of Gospel stories like these comes the practice of Novenas – a belief that if we say enough prayers; at certain times and in certain orders then our prayers will be answered. And there are the adverts in the personal column and the masses of thanksgiving that suggest that, at least some of the time, such methods work.

But how do you know?

The first (and only) Novena I ever said was in my early years; with a task even then that I knew only God could help with. It may not even count as one Novena because I said it over and over again; that was blind faith because as much as I prayed – nothing happened.

I gave up eventually; deciding that I was too far below God’s radar to attract His attention; even with all those prayers. But then, about twenty years later I was reminded of them and reminded that my prayers were answered – I had just been asking for the wrong thing and saying ‘no’ was what God had had to do.

Twenty years later…..

In that twenty years, I had learn a lot; about life; about me; about seeing the good when ‘bad things happen’; in the value of making mistakes and, I hesitate to say it, but even some of the reasons why we suffer.

I wonder what the widow had been doing with her time in between haranguing the judge. Had she been learning lessons in patience? Had she tried to work things out herself; had she become an advocate for others; a seeker of justice for more than herself? All the time becoming more and more convinced that what she was asking for was justice; and more and more determined to get it. Knowing more and more that there was no other way; convinced that the only person who could help was the Judge.

Was the waiting a part of the answer?

Ever since realising God’s part in ‘that’ Novena I have always found asking God for things quite difficult – even good weather! Because how do I know I am asking for the right thing?

Am I being selfish; impulsive; am I saying that I know better than God?

But that doesn’t stop me praying; giving God what is in my heart; in my life. Giving God my tears, my frustration and my anger. And still losing my temper on occasion ‘Am I really going to have to wait twenty years again! I may not have twenty years this time!’

But praying; praying because I know God’s there; praying because I know God knows I’m here.
Praying because there is a time and place for everything and in the meantime there’s a lot to do and a lot to learn.

Praying because me and God are in a long term relationship – and we both know – there are no quick answers to hard questions.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Sunday Gospel - Luke 17:11-19

Psalm 23

You care for me as a shepherd for a lamb;
Finding fields of  fragrant clover;
Pools of clear water;
A haven for my soul.
With You I walk in ways of truth.

Death holds no fear for me;
Depths of despair will not bind me;
For you have not left me alone;
You guard me with weapons of truth and justice.

You feed me with the Bread of Life;
Despite those who rage against me;
Blessed by your Love;
I can ask for no more.
Every day of my life is filled with You;
My resting place in Your arms

wordinthehand 2010

in response to the Round Robin Challenge

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Night Prayer - Psalm 15

As for the holy and noble men of the land,

in them is all my delight.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Monday, 4 October 2010

Footsteps of Francis

The Hermitage - Assisi

Who knows how long a walk?
Wrong shoes, no directions,
no water in the middle of the day-
the faith of a fool.

But there is an intent for this walk -
a journey towards a leaving behind.
The ego, the little I,
 the needy needing to be needed;
 and for what?
To prove that I am ‘good for something’;
that I have a right to exist?

God’s been doing the hard work again –waiting - waiting for me to recognise myself in Him.

To realise that I may be an outsider but I am not outcast –
not from God’s Love;
not from Christ’s Body.

To know that being ‘useless’ means
being available to the Spirit’s desire.
To understand that I can only be ‘useful’ to God by being empty,
 by being vulnerable.
And. Lord, seeing this, knowing this,
does not make it easy.
 Not for a Martha like me.
But in this sacred space
filled with the humility and devotion of Francis
 I may find my own place at your table.
So I thank you, Lord,
for the challenges and errors that got me here.
For showing me that nothing is impossible;
that I am braver than I thought I was;
that I have such precious friends;
that I have You.

Take my life Lord, fill it with Yourself.


Saturday, 2 October 2010

To be who you are

Gospel Luke 17:5-10 

The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith.’ The Lord replied, ‘Were your faith the size of a mustard seed you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it would obey you.

‘Which of you, with a servant ploughing or minding sheep, would say to him when he returned from the fields, “Come and have your meal immediately”? Would he not be more likely to say, “Get my supper laid; make yourself tidy and wait on me while I eat and drink. You can eat and drink yourself afterwards”? Must he be grateful to the servant for doing what he was told? So with you: when you have done all you have been told to do, say, “We are merely servants: we have done no more than our duty.”
A friend of mine gave me some acorns that he had collected at sacred places whilst on pilgrimage. The idea was that I would make them into prayer beads. A lovely idea, I thought -a connection with place, heart and spirit.
As soon as I had the opportunity I took the bag to my worktable, tipped them out and started to drill holes from tip to bottom; and there, amongst them all, was an acorn with a crack in its golden shell and the palest green shoot beginning to sprout.
This acorn had attitude; it was not a bead; this acorn knew exactly what it was; knew why God had created it and what God intended it to be and wasn't going to let a few hundred miles and the total absence of either light, soil or water from distracting it from its purpose. It was on a growing curve; one inch to 100 plus feet in however many years it may take. It had to start somewhere and the paper bag was enough.
Unable to argue, I found a pot and some soil and placed the acorn in as near a 'natural' habitat as I could.Then, guiltily went back and checked the rest. But all of them lay dormant.
So what was it about this acorn?  Was there a sense of consciousness; a sense of will that makes one acorn fight against the odds? That allows the others to give up?
Is faith just as basic; or meant to be as basic, as an acorn, as a mustard seed? The acceptance that this is who you are; who you belong to; where you are meant to be. That you don't even need nurturing or opportunity; that faith, on its own, is enough? It will live and will grow purely in the knowledge of what it is. 
Although it won't. The acorn would have died in its paper bag eventually. It needed to find a place to grow,to be fed, to be.
 Faith, true faith, doesn't really ask for much either; just the resouces and opportunity to grow. To know who we are; to recognise our vocation; to desire, against all odds, to fulfill our calling; to find a place to realise that vocation.
 The strength of faith is that it may measure only an inch but in it's mind it is a hundred feet tall.