Thursday, 26 May 2011

Step Twelve

GospelJohn 15:9-11 

Jesus said to his disciples:
‘As the Father has loved me,
so I have loved you.
Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments
you will remain in my love,
just as I have kept my Father’s commandments
and remain in his love.
I have told you this
so that my own joy may be in you
and your joy be complete.’

Step 12  Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

It hadn't been my intention to leave Step Twelve this long - but it has been one of those weeks - one of those weeks that I was happy to wrap up in newspaper and leave it to God to consign to the dustbin of Heaven. Then a whole lot of God-incidences made themselves known - the last being first....

I received a comment on Step Eleven from Phil at . Someone had answered a child's question "Is Jesus real?" with the answer : "Well, put it this way ; he isn't tangible." And wondered how do we convince others that Jesus is real without being pious? Good question. Don't know if this is anywhere near an answer...

We don't convince others by anything we can offer - we convince others by allowing  God to convince us - to love us as He loves his Son, even when we think we are unloveable. There is nothing harder than holding your heart open when you feel unworthy but that's what grace is for. It's a gift we cannot give ourselves - Jesus is the key. But first you have to meet him as the disciples, the women and all the saints that have gone before have met him - personally.

In a world of communication overload you would think it would be easy getting to know people but often all we do is act as exhibits; attention seekers; voices in the wilderness- counting 'friend's that we have never met, 'followers' who have never stepped in our footprints. As human beings we are always looking for relationship.  If we are fortunate (and I have been) a connection is made in the tone of a thought, a comment that means something more, a shared vision. A dialogue emerges that brings you closer - to people who are not 'tangible' but nevertheless 'real'.

If we believe God is real but not tangible - maybe we need to develop the relationship some more? Prayer and contemplation is my answer to this one - make connections, start the conversation, take time to listen. Even, as it has been this week, a real struggle; a case of just saying the words. As Julian of Norwich reminds me -

 Pray inwardly, even if you do not enjoy it. It does good, though you feel nothing. Yes, even though you think you are doing nothing.

Strangely, praying when I feel nothing has the right result eventually, because my logical   mind asks myself 'why would I bother if I really felt nothing - what I feel is absence - which means there is something, someone who is real.'

I try to remember to carry out an examen at the end of the day. That can depend on how fast my head hits the pillow - but this week I have committed myself to the simplicity of The Serenity Prayer - a keystone of any 12 step programme - and found the full prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as we would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If we surrender to Your will,
So that we may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

And then to read a Gospel which is all about Love but equally all about Service. 'Keep my Commandments', which asks us to Love and through Love to love and serve others.

Knowing God loves me as weak and unworthy as before, gives me no choice. Struggling, again, with people this week I realised that there are things I do that I would not or could not do if the Lord was not with me. I am just not that kind, forgiving or patient. I can't take the world as it is or not try to 'fix' things - that is not me. 

But hopefully by getting, even once in a while, as far as Step Twelve I know it is not about me. I have handed myself over; done what I can to enrich others lives and have tried to stay awake to the needs of others and the self-centredness of myself - I have experienced Grace; I have experienced God and they are to be shared - as best as I can- through Love and Service.


Saturday, 21 May 2011

Step Eleven

Gospel John 14:1-12 

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Trust in God still, and trust in me.
There are many rooms in my Father’s house;
if there were not, I should have told you.
I am going now to prepare a place for you,
and after I have gone and prepared you a place,
I shall return to take you with me;
so that where I am
you may be too.
You know the way to the place where I am going.’

Thomas said, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus said:

‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.
No one can come to the Father except through me.
If you know me, you know my Father too.
From this moment you know him and have seen him.’

Philip said, ‘Lord, let us see the Father and then we shall be satisfied.’ ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip,’ said Jesus to him ‘and you still do not know me?

‘To have seen me is to have seen the Father,
so how can you say, “Let us see the Father”?
Do you not believe
that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?
The words I say to you I do not speak as from myself:
it is the Father, living in me, who is doing this work.
You must believe me when I say
that I am in the Father and the Father is in me;
believe it on the evidence of this work, if for no other reason.
I tell you most solemnly,
whoever believes in me
will perform the same works as I do myself,
he will perform even greater works,
because I am going to the Father.

Step Eleven: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for the knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”

At first glance, the Gospel of John seems so much more 'spiritual' that the other three Gospels. Certainly Mark, with his simple words, paints a much more down to earth Jesus; someone who most people could imagine sitting down for a meal with and having a decent conversation. 

It feels that you would have to have an 'ology' to have a chance of a conversation with this Jesus. His words twist together and he answers all questions with a question. No wonder the disciples struggle to follow what he is saying. A sign of the Divine Jesus? Or maybe a Jesus who knows the Divine; a mystic?

"Mysticism, according to its historical and psychological definitions, is the direct intuition or experience of God; and a mystic is a person who has, to a greater or less degree, such a direct experience -- one whose religion and life are centered, not merely on an accepted belief or practice, but on that which the person regards as first hand personal knowledge."
-Evelyn Underhill

Jesus certainly fits Evelyn's definition of a mystic. Yet YOU could also fit this definition - you do not have to be divine - you just have to have the experience of a  personal, intuitive relationship with God. 

Tales of the supernatural and the rise of the Age of Reason gave mysticism a reputation for being downright 'un-Christian', unless, perhaps, you were at the other extreme - a saint. 

Yet there is no magic involved, no otherworldliness, no secret societies. Mysticism could be, should be an everyday experience for everyone. A development of our personal, spiritual growth that we should aspire towards; as Karl Rahner wrote:

“the Christian of the future will either be a ‘mystic,’ one who has experienced ‘something,’ or  will cease to be anything at all.”

The Christian of the future, of now, should seek to follow the prayer and spiritual life of Jesus. John's Lord is the same man as Mark's but John reveals a different side to his character. The practical proclaimer of social justice is the same man who accepts the gift of anointing, who feels the power drawn from him by another. The Son of Man has to be human, through and through, he can't jump from one to the other- he can't be God when it suits him. Following the temptation in the desert, so long ago now, Jesus relinquishes that opportunity - he chooses humanity. 

The only difference between him and us, Jesus might say, is he knows who his Father is; he knows.

All of Jesus' miracles, healings and feedings have happened for one of two reasons - because the person who is healed has had faith enough to admit their need - or-  Jesus' own faith in his Father means that when there is need, he will ask and the Father will not say 'no'.  

Jesus never says - 'it was me'.

What Jesus is trying to tell us is that we can do the same - that his absolute faith doesn't come from being God himself but from being utterly human; from being vulnerable; from being powerless; from seeing his Father's hand in the world around him; from his confidence that God's Will is enough; from the experience of relationship that has no doubts. 

This should be our strength; this is the faith we must nurture. To want to belong to the Father, as Jesus belongs to him. To commit our lives through prayer and meditation to the desire to experience God,  praying only for the knowledge of His will for us and then, for the  power to live that out.”


Friday, 20 May 2011

Step Ten

Gospel John 14:1-6 
Jesus said to his disciples:

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Trust in God still, and trust in me.
There are many rooms in my Father’s house;
if there were not, I should have told you.
I am going now to prepare a place for you,
and after I have gone and prepared you a place,
I shall return to take you with me;
so that where I am
you may be too.
You know the way to the place where I am going.’

Thomas said, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus said.

‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.
No one can come to the Father except through me.’

 Step Ten; Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

The repeated message of comfort and assurance that Jesus is giving this week in the Gospel readings fits in very well with the ethos of the Twelve Steps. Even Thomas' requests for re-assurance show that no path is ever going to be without challenge or faltering along the way.

Thomas' anxiety shows how much he needs his Lord - he is not prepared,  he is not able,  to make this journey alone.

There is a great sense of achievement in reaching this moment; like the first few weeks of a diet or exercise regime; it's energising to make changes; to see improvements; to make amends; to look back and know that life is better. The Steps are not meant to be a 'once and for all' cure for what has ailed us. We are more complicated than that.

A roller coaster of a life, with alienation, anxieties, anger and accusations, provides it's own theatrical 'thrill'. Like 'adrenelin junkies' - what's happening may be bad for you but at least it's 'happening'. Ask any middle of the road, well behaved student - it's much easier to be caught being 'bad' than being 'good'.

Learning to live with the quiet satisfaction of being 'good' is a skill we need to nurture. Every day we need to remind ourselves of our vulnerablility before God and before others; to let God Love us so that we can be guided towards the place that has been prepared for us.

We have to keep our hearts and minds open. Having come to a point where we know who we are; when we have made our amends; we can truly take each day as it comes using the guidance we have already received to inform how we live our lives rather than rebuilding barriers of grievances and regrets.

There may be days when the only answer is to return to Step One -

but Step One will be the answer -

and there may be guilt but there should be no shame in that journey either.
'Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in me.'

wordinthehand 2011

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Step Nine

Gospel John 13:16-20 

After he had washed the feet of his disciples, Jesus said to them:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
no servant is greater than his master,
no messenger is greater than the man who sent him.

‘Now that you know this, happiness will be yours if you behave accordingly. I am not speaking about all of you: I know the ones I have chosen; but what scripture says must be fulfilled: Someone who shares my table rebels against me.

‘I tell you this now, before it happens,
so that when it does happen
you may believe that I am He.
I tell you most solemnly,
whoever welcomes the one I send welcomes me,
and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.’

Step Nine;  Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

In the spiritual life there is much talk and thought about the idea of an Eternal Now - Paul Tillich wrote in 1963 -

The mystery is that we have a present; and even more, that we have our future also because we anticipate it in ‘the present; and that we have our past also, because we remember it in the present. In the present our future and our past are ours.

The future and the past are ours to fix as wounded forever or imagine as unable to heal.

Our other choice is to use the now, to use the present, to make amends. There is a less common definion of amend which means to enrich, as soil is enriched by digging or adding goodness.

Adding 'goodness' seems such a lovely idea. That those we love, that those who love us in spite of the hurt we have done can be enriched because they recognise that we have changed. Because we have become the people that they have seen beneath the need to control and the temptation to seek for more. And not for a moment of 'sobriety' but, hopefully for the eternity of 'Now'.

 How much more powerful the  prayer - 'just for today'.

The truth is we can only change ourselves - meaning that we can only make amends, we can only enrich without injuring others by acting in obedience, in listening to and living out what the Greater Power, what our God asks of us. So that whatever harm we have caused them can be cast into the Forever Gone, because it will not happen again. For we have been redeemed by Love.

Paul Tillich again:-

One cannot be strong without love. For love is not an irrelevant emotion; it is the blood of life, the power of reunion of the separated. Strength without love leads to separation, to judgment, to control of the weak. Love reunites what is separated; it accepts what is judged; it participates in what is weak, as God participates in our weakness and gives us strength.


Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Step Eight

GospelJohn 12:44-50 

Jesus declared publicly:
‘Whoever believes in me
believes not in me
but in the one who sent me,
and whoever sees me,
sees the one who sent me.
I, the light, have come into the world,
so that whoever believes in me
need not stay in the dark any more.
If anyone hears my words and does not keep them faithfully,
it is not I who shall condemn him,
since I have come not to condemn the world,
but to save the world.
He who rejects me and refuses my words has his judge already:
the word itself that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day.
For what I have spoken does not come from myself;
no, what I was to say,
what I had to speak,
was commanded by the Father who sent me,
and I know that his commands mean eternal life.
And therefore what the Father has told me
is what I speak.’

"We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all."

How do we harm others? 

By condemning them to sadness; to insecurity; to inadequacy. 
By taking advantage of kindness, of vulnerablity, of willingness
By denying them peace of mind, fullness of life, a chance to sing.

By keeping them in the dark so that we can move further to the light.

By wanting to be the one in control.

And the more we do this; the more we continue to do this so that we don't have to face the fact that we do do this. 

This can be particularly true of the people we are or were closest to. Particularly true of those who love, or try to love us. 

To take advantage of love is the greatest of injuries; to realise, at some point, what we have done bring the greatest guilt and shame.

Our redemption being that, once we have realised it; once we make the decision to let go of control; to acknowledge what has gone before. Then to give ourselves into the healing hands of the Greater Power is to be bathed in the true Light. 

This Light throws up the shadows of all our wrongdoings and the shadows will be in the shape of the people we have hurt;not the acts themselves.

We have to hold those people before us; open our eyes to the consequence of our actions; to the dignity of each person; to the harm we have done - in relationship.

Our willingness to make amends may be more than speaking to these people; may not even mean speaking to these people - we may not get the opportunity; it may not be the right thing to do. But we can own our responsibiity; we can be awake to to our actions; we can take ourselves out of the shadows. 

Out of the darkness we can truly grow; our amends - that we can bear to listen to the truth - that we can stand in the Light.


Saturday, 14 May 2011

Step Seven

GospelJohn 10:1-10 

Jesus said: ‘I tell you most solemnly, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold through the gate, but gets in some other way is a thief and a brigand. The one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the flock; the gatekeeper lets him in, the sheep hear his voice, one by one he calls his own sheep and leads them out. When he has brought out his flock, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow because they know his voice. They never follow a stranger but run away from him: they do not recognise the voice of strangers.’
  Jesus told them this parable but they failed to understand what he meant by telling it to them.
  So Jesus spoke to them again:
‘I tell you most solemnly,
I am the gate of the sheepfold.
All others who have come
are thieves and brigands;
but the sheep took no notice of them.
I am the gate.
Anyone who enters through me will be safe:
he will go freely in and out
and be sure of finding pasture.
The thief comes
only to steal and kill and destroy.
I have come
so that they may have life and have it to the full.’

Step Seven: "We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings."

When I was little, before the need for a Vocations Sunday, Good Shepherd Sunday was a time to think about the mission work of the Church. I remember that this used to upset me a great deal - strange child that I was - the idea that there would be people unable to go to heaven because they hadn't been baptised. 

I had a book of Greek and Roman myths and fables that told me that the dead lived in a grey underworld of forgetfulness and, at the time, there was the tradition of Limbo  within the Church for those, mostly babies, who died in original sin. 

That didn't seem right either; a subversive from the very beginning it seems. 

Doesn't Jesus say that there were many rooms in his Father's house? Didn't he say there will be those who have never known him who will get to heaven before those who call him Lord? Yet here he says that he is the only way to the Father. Sometimes the message seems too complicated to comprehend and at other times so simple it can't be true. 

The relationship between Jesus and his Father and the Holy Spirit is a relationship based on Love and gift and the desire to do the Will of the Other. They are not a Triad; they are not conspiring against each other or competing for the top spot. They are a creative intimacy that is so powerful that creation is an undeniable response. 

Or, at least, that is the God I believe in. If they are true then to know any face of God is to know Love. Perhaps to know God in this way; rather than the God of anger; judgement or hierarchy is what's important. Maybe to know Jesus through deeds and actions; the parable of the sheep and the goats; the Beatitudes; the giving of self is what is important whether or not you have heard the actual stories. Maybe you can follow Jesus without ever hearing about him? That there is something, there is a genetic 'Godly' message if you choose to hear it - to try to live it.  'To love God and your neighbour as yourself'. How simple; how complicated.

Christianity is not just loving Christ but being Christ-like; which strangely translates as being a sheep...

Jesus used the culture of his time to tell the disciples this. We laugh at the thought of being sheep but we also know that the devotion of animals to their masters can't be overstated. And, at the time, it was sheep that portrayed this. Sheep are devoted to their shepherd and to each other; they know each others fears and sees the flock, the community, as the most important thing in the world. The shepherd knows that keeping them close - from birth, through first steps and brave leaps; by words and whistle and songs and midnight stories under starry skies - that those sheep become his; bleating hearts and shaggy souls. 

When they are lost - it is the end of the world - the bleating of a lost sheep would drive you mad. Last year I remembered a time when I rescued a sheep caught up in barbed wire. The bleating had been the signal - as incessant as a car alarm - calling, calling, calling. And as much as I was the one to hear I wasn't the right one - hence the headbutt down the scree slope. They do not follow the voice of strangers - if  I had been the voice the sheep recognised ...

So... Step Seven... to call out for help from the heart; knowing that you cannot help yourself. Having already committed yourself to the Higher Power and given up the egocentricity of knowing what is best. To know the grace of belonging. To have the humility to know that being unique does not make you better; and wanting to be better.


Monday, 9 May 2011

Step Six

GospelJohn 6:22-29 

Refuge posts on the causeway to Lindisfarne

After Jesus had fed the five thousand, his disciples saw him walking on the water. Next day, the crowd that had stayed on the other side saw that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not got into the boat with his disciples, but that the disciples had set off by themselves. Other boats, however, had put in from Tiberias, near the place where the bread had been eaten. When the people saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into those boats and crossed to Capernaum to look for Jesus. When they found him on the other side, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’
  Jesus answered:
‘I tell you most solemnly,
you are not looking for me because you have seen the signs
but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat.
Do not work for food that cannot last,
but work for food that endures to eternal life,
the kind of food the Son of Man is offering you,
for on him the Father, God himself, has set his seal.’
Then they said to him, ‘What must we do if we are to do the works that God wants?’ Jesus gave them this answer, ‘This is working for God: you must believe in the one he has sent.’

Step Six - Became entirely ready to have God remove all our defects of character

In school we have been discussing saying 'sorry'; particularly saying sorry when you don't mean it. Not lying exactly; but sometimes the word is an automatic reflex (which I have often used on lamp posts and post boxes) or the magic word to get the response you are looking for. The students particularly related to this one; the threat of being grounded, to   get a situation over with, to avoid having to address the real issue.  Using 'sorry' as a end word so that you can get back to what you were doing without actually learning any lessons, changing behaviour or seeking reconciliation. Just like bread, it can serve only to fulfill the needs of the moment. 

Truly sorry is so much more;regret, remorse, a desire for reconciliation and redemption.
To know, without doubt, that you have wandered far from home and taken the darker path.  To be redeemed is to be bought back from this shadow place you have ended up in. 

It is very rare that you are able to buy yourself back - memories of Grimm's fairy tales and deals with the devil - which are never a good idea - usually it involves a rescue. Fair maiden or gallant knight - someone else has to come and get you back; to give the kiss of grace so that you may live happily ever after. 

Jesus tells those who follow him that he is the rescuer; that the words that he brings will change us, will heal us and will feed us with the desire to live in God's light. 

But there is no good in hiding in the corner, or pretending that you can make it out on own -  you have to shout it out - 'I want to be rescued'.


Sunday, 8 May 2011

Step Five

pilgrim's walk to lindisfarne
GospelLuke 24:13-35

Two of the disciples of Jesus were on their way to a village called Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking together about all that had happened. Now as they talked this over, Jesus himself came up and walked by their side; but something prevented them from recognising him. He said to them, ‘What matters are you discussing as you walk along?’ They stopped short, their faces downcast.
  Then one of them, called Cleopas, answered him, ‘You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days.’ ‘What things?’ he asked. ‘All about Jesus of Nazareth’ they answered ‘who proved he was a great prophet by the things he said and did in the sight of God and of the whole people; and how our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and had him crucified. Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free. And this is not all: two whole days have gone by since it all happened; and some women from our group have astounded us: they went to the tomb in the early morning, and when they did not find the body, they came back to tell us they had seen a vision of angels who declared he was alive. Some of our friends went to the tomb and found everything exactly as the women had reported, but of him they saw nothing.’
  Then he said to them, ‘You foolish men! So slow to believe the full message of the prophets! Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory?’ Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself.
  When they drew near to the village to which they were going, he made as if to go on; but they pressed him to stay with them. ‘It is nearly evening’ they said ‘and the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them. Now while he was with them at table, he took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognised him; but he had vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?’
  They set out that instant and returned to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven assembled together with their companions, who said to them, ‘Yes, it is true. The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.’ Then they told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognised him at the breaking of bread.

Step Five -  Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

We have just had this Gospel as part of the apparition stories just after Easter. My last reflection thought about the feelings of loss and bereavement that sent these two out of the city just days after the finding of the empty tomb.  

Sudden loss can cause extreme and uncharacteristic behaviour. Whether it is a person, a home, a dream, a belief; what seems certain and eternal  becomes fragile and tenuous. When the ground is taken from under your feet - what can you do? Huddle together in  hiding as the disciples in Jerusalem did or run away in fear. Is one really any more wrong than the other?

These two disciples are no worse than the others, except that they only have each other. 
In the city, the disciples have the witness of the women, can remind themselves of the empty tomb, can share the scriptures and look for the signs that Jesus has, after all, spent three years pointing out to them time and time again. In each of them a spark of hope that they can nurse until the time comes for the fire to blaze.

But for the two - their hope is turning to despair until the Lord joins them. At first they blame everyone but themselves for their loss of faith, the journey to Emmaus likely to be a spiral into a blackness of 'what if's and 'if only's and maybe a denial that it had ever happened. 

The Risen Lord is as exasperated with them as he ever has been during his ministry, but he loves them and is not going to let that happen - not one hair, not one sparrow, not one sheep. To talk about their wrongdoings, their misunderstandings, their abandonments, with the one who is both God and Man -  no wonder their hearts burned within them. 

When I first went back to Confession it was only a few months before I realised that most months I was admitted to faults that were all variations on a theme. I was assured that this was a good thing - after all, how would it be if I came back with a different set of sins every time? 

It was by talking through my wrongdoings, in the presence of God and another human being, that I was able to see myself as I am. The more open I was about that 'me' the easier it became to face the wounds and the shadows that cause me to, as St Paul would say, to do what I would not and not do what I should. 

And why God? See Step Three. 


Thursday, 5 May 2011

Step Four

Gospel John 6:1-15 

Jesus went off to the other side of the Sea of Galilee – or of Tiberias – and a large crowd followed him, impressed by the signs he gave by curing the sick. Jesus climbed the hillside, and sat down there with his disciples. It was shortly before the Jewish feast of Passover.

Looking up, Jesus saw the crowds approaching and said to Philip, ‘Where can we buy some bread for these people to eat?’ He only said this to test Philip; he himself knew exactly what he was going to do. Philip answered, ‘Two hundred denarii would only buy enough to give them a small piece each.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, ‘There is a small boy here with five barley loaves and two fish; but what is that between so many?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Make the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass there, and as many as five thousand men sat down. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and gave them out to all who were sitting ready; he then did the same with the fish, giving out as much as was wanted. When they had eaten enough he said to the disciples, ‘Pick up the pieces left over, so that nothing gets wasted.’ So they picked them up, and filled twelve hampers with scraps left over from the meal of five barley loaves. The people, seeing this sign that he had given, said, ‘This really is the prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, who could see they were about to come and take him by force and make him king, escaped back to the hills by himself.

Step Four - Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves

Who are these people that Jesus has fed; the nameless crowd that followed the tales of healing and exorcism? People who wish only to be entertained; to be shown the signs and wonders and then wonder what it means? Thrill seekers or maybe truly seekers of the Truth? With ears that hear and eyes that see. 

The light of Jesus has called to many - the crowd, a mass of humanity - good, bad and indifferent, Drawn away from their day to day existence; knowing that here is something else, something greater. Leaving behind their past; but not prepared for their future. They  have wandered far from home and are now standing, waiting, hungry; wondering what's going to happen next. 

This miracle is on the grandest of scales but Jesus could have fed these people with a wave of his hand - he didn't; there were other lessons for the disciples to learn. 

And as for the crowd; he made them sit down. Getting five thousand men plus women and children to do anything - no small task; with ripples of incredulity, questions, demands and entreaties until they are sitting down - waiting. 

Sitting down gives them an opportunity to come to stillness; to reflect on why they are here at all in the heat of the day with rumbling stomachs and parched lips. Eyes turn towards Jesus as he plays out his scene with the disciples; back towards the town. Sitting on the grass like so many sheep; feelings of foolishness, impatience scratching at their minds - how did we get to this?

And in the waiting, the thoughts go through their minds; their lives so far. What was it that the light had called to? What was missing, damaged, so hurt that dreamt it could be healed?Remembering, with regret,  those whose hearts were hungry because of their neglect; those whose dreams lay tattered because their dreams had come first.

What was good, honest, pure that knew the call? Who did they love? Where did their own light shine?
 Maybe for the first time,seeing themselves revealed; reflecting off the wide azure sky; no winding streets of excuses or dead ends of denial. Saying to themselves 'This is who I am and who I am is hungry for something more.

And from nowhere a hand reaches down  'Eat'. Fresh crumbly barley bread, crisped skin and soft flakes of fish; scent of charcoal, lake water and clay ovens; a bountiful tapestry of golden,  bronze and cream. A feast and more that a feast; a promise of more for those who wait; for those who believe; for those who know why they are here.


Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Step Three

Gospel John 3:31-36 
John the Baptist said to his disciples:
‘He who comes from above is above all others;
he who is born of the earth is earthly himself
and speaks in an earthly way.
He who comes from heaven
bears witness to the things he has seen and heard,
even if his testimony is not accepted;
though all who do accept his testimony
are attesting the truthfulness of God,
since he whom God has sent
speaks God’s own words:
God gives him the Spirit without reserve.
The Father loves the Son
and has entrusted everything to him.
Anyone who believes in the Son has eternal life,
but anyone who refuses to believe in the Son will never see life:
the anger of God stays on him.’

Step Three: Make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God 'as we understand Him'.

John was popular; far more popular than Jesus for many,many years. The gatekeeper between what had been and what was yet to come.  His aggressive, prophetic stance against the Temple enhanced by the fact that, through his father, he belonged to the Temple and was yet was called away by a different vision of God.  Called into the desert as a little child; called to challenge authority no matter what the risk. 

John had not been given the privilege of making his own choice - he was God's - like it or not. 

There were others who were God's but never knew, sinners, outcasts, unclean; people who were unwelcome; who didn't belong in polite society. People who believed that they lived far from God; unworthy of his gaze; unable to 'afford' his attention.

People who believed they had nowhere to go until they found themselves at the river's edge listening to the Baptist's words of truth - 'change who you are and know God's love'. 

 'turn your will and your lives over to the care of God '

'as we understand him'

John's message - change your understanding - God is not a vengeful monster visiting sins upon sins upon generation upon generation. God is a family; a relationship; a embrace of love within love within love and you - you are held in that love.

John, who acts with the vision of the prophets of old; who belongs to the Rock of Ages; tied to the land of his fathers, will spend his last days with the fear that he has been wrong. He is not wrong. Jesus, he who comes from above, will take away the sins of the world, the sins of the unworthy and the unclean. All we have to do - is turn ourselves over to him.