Sunday, 27 November 2011

On guard

GospelMark 13:33-37 

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come. It is like a man travelling abroad: he has gone from home, and left his servants in charge, each with his own task; and he has told the doorkeeper to stay awake. So stay awake, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming, evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn; if he comes unexpectedly, he must not find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake!’

There are many servants doing many things but only one of them is told to 'stay awake' - the doorkeeper.

When I first read this passage this year, I thought, surely, the doorkeeper must be really important - they have the responsibility of who does and doesn't have access to the Master's house - they have the keys; they are ones who guard the threshold. In Celtic and other native spiritualities, the threshold is an blessed place; a place of transition; a place of guarding. And yet - the paradox of the Gospel as usual - no-one is a doorkeeper.

 The doorkeeper, in Roman times, in Jesus' time, was the lowest of the servants, tied to the post in more ways than one - literally part of the furniture - certainly part of the door furniture. Found at every threshold from the family home to sacred temples; no more than human watchdogs.

In Latin the title is Ostiarius, and the tradition found a place in the house churches of the early Christians - presumably volunteers by this time - there was a lot to guard against - and then as guardians of church buildings. Ostiaries - the lowest of the minor clerical orders before Vatican II suppressed them.

The suppression, I am guessing, came about because their duties were simplistic and practical and didn't need academic or intellectual skill. Contemporary clerics are expected to be both academic and intellectual, at least throughout their formation - it must have made sense to leave these duties to the laity as sacristans and sextons.  So this is a Gospel for all of us and especially for the least of us.

The greatest of all duties is given to the least and.... there are so many doors.

As Paul tells us, we have our own temple;  our Godspace within. How do we acknowledge that?  Do we wait in expectation at the portal, taking time in contemplative prayer to bring ourselves to the place where we will recognise the approach of our Beloved?

We are surrounded by others in need of God's grace; do we notice them? Do we invite them into the experience of God's love for each of us? Do we see our Master in them?

Personally,  in the Advent of recent years, I have been called back to the last month of my first pregnancy - a long awaited child that had require both medical and Divine intervention that had made every month a milestone; every twinge a concern. Then in the eighth month, as part of the antenatal care, I had visited the maternity ward and all of a sudden realised that this child would be making an appearance; would need to move from the protective safety of my enfolding body to the wide world with all its risks and insecurities.  In that last month I learnt how to 'stay awake', to pay attention to the world and everything in it; to look forward to the promises made months before; to know that I had a place in the scheme of things and, more importantly, to know that it would never again be 'all about me'.


Thursday, 24 November 2011


If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, "thank you," that would suffice. ~Meister Eckhart

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Ever Ready?

GospelMatthew 25:1-13

Jesus told this parable to his disciples: ‘The kingdom of heaven will be like this: Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were sensible: the foolish ones did take their lamps, but they brought no oil, whereas the sensible ones took flasks of oil as well as their lamps. The bridegroom was late, and they all grew drowsy and fell asleep. But at midnight there was a cry, “The bridegroom is here! Go out and meet him.” At this, all those bridesmaids woke up and trimmed their lamps, and the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, “Give us some of your oil: our lamps are going out.” But they replied, “There may not be enough for us and for you; you had better go to those who sell it and buy some for yourselves.” They had gone off to buy it when the bridegroom arrived. Those who were ready went in with him to the wedding hall and the door was closed. The other bridesmaids arrived later. “Lord, Lord,” they said “open the door for us.” But he replied, “I tell you solemnly, I do not know you.” So stay awake, because you do not know either the day or the hour.’
During this Liturgical year I have come to realise that the more I hear from Matthew the more I am unsettled by his Gospel.  Sometimes, it seems to be so full of resentment and judgment that there seems to be little to choose between the critical Pharisees and the challenges that are being made against them. Scripture always has something to say to the individual - reading us as we read it- and the most fearsome element of the last few weeks is the feeling that all this finger-pointing has a particular something to say to me.

I admit that I have been part of the education system that taught Jesus as being nice and kind and seemed to often gloss over his more challenging attributes and now I know better; I admit that I do believe that Jesus, his Father and the Holy Spirit have it in their minds that we should all make it to the Kingdom and if we don't then maybe we have to accept that it is our fault; I admit that I believe that there is nothing that is unforgivable and that this all-forgiving love is God's default position.

I have come to realise that I believe all of this because of John, Mark, Luke and Paul - but Matthew? Not so much.

Matthew, as he gets nearer and nearer the end of his Gospel becomes more and more threatening in his language - 'You had better be good or else'; warning after warning after warning. And I do want to be 'good' but the likelihood of me managing it becomes more and more remote - the standards are just too high; the suggestion that there will be a 'them' and an 'us' becomes more frightening as I come to realise that I am likely to be in the 'them' group.

I have found it hard to read the accusations thrown at the Pharisees for being hypocrites -  how much is that like me; I find it hard to read about the arrogance of the teachers -how often have I done the same; today I find it hard to read about the unreadiness of the servants  -  when I know there are times I have been distracted or unable to be there when I am needed.

I find Matthew makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable and maybe that is the point. I don't feel able to write about 'others' - the people who do...; the people who don't... the people who should ...- I am all those people. Why should I look outside myself for what is 'not good enough' ?

In past years I have wondered why the bridesmaids don't share -surely that would be more Christian than this very sensible reply? If they have given the right answer, what do they mean?

Perhaps the answer is there is only so far you can go to help anyone - but to help a fool? I have lamps and candleholders around the house - looking beautiful. I even  have torches and storm lanterns in the drawer and garage - in case of emergency. If I am a fool then once the emergency comes - I may know where the lamps and the torches are but where are the candles, the oil, the matches, the batteries?

Getting ready is only part of the work-  if all I have done is build an exterior that looks the part-  if all I have done is fulfill an initial expectation and then pretended it might never happen - isn't that my fault?

I may be proud that I had everything in place for last year's cold winter - but what about this year?

In my past I have felt God calling and have had the desire; taken the time, made the opportunities to deepen my faith; to find a place to live out what I believe God wants of me -

and what about now? Do I believe I've done enough; has complacency set in; am I a fool?

Perhaps I should thank you after all, Matthew, for the wake-up call.