Saturday, 31 December 2011

Something about Mary

Gospel
Luke 2:16-21 

The shepherds hurried away to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw the child they repeated what they had been told about him, and everyone who heard it was astonished at what the shepherds had to say. As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds went back glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; it was exactly as they had been told.
  When the eighth day came and the child was to be circumcised, they gave him the name Jesus, the name the angel had given him before his conception.






Sometimes you could imagine that God chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus partially because she was this young, innocent, obedient young woman with no authority or status to call her own. Virtually no more than a living 'Ark of the 'Covenant'; a tabernacle (as some of her other titles name her).


It is an easy place to put Mary - to name her no more than a mother - a necessary component in the divine becoming human. 


But there was something about Mary.


Remember that before she said 'Yes', she said 'How?' Mary accepted God's Will but she also became  a willing, active participant in the Incarnation; in the life of her Son from the very beginning. 

 God's Will is meant to change the world; accepting our role in that means we have to want to change the world too; it is hardly a role for the faint-hearted.

The wisdom to ask the searching question is echoed time and time again from Jesus' first visit to the Temple. At the end, Jesus speaks again his mother's words 'Thy will be done'. Who taught him that women and outcasts are people too; who taught him that there are some things worth the risk of dying for?

Is it any wonder that, when Jesus is heard speaking out of turn and with authority; he is identified as his mother's son?


Mary's first title was Theotokos - God Bearer. 

It is all she is

It is ALL she is

wordinthehand2012
















Family Ties

Luke 2:22,39-40
When the day came for them to be purified as laid down by the Law of Moses, the parents of Jesus took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.
  When they had done everything the Law of the Lord required, they went back to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. Meanwhile the child grew to maturity, and he was filled with wisdom; and God’s favour was with him.
 
God's favour seems to mean something different to God than it does to us.


Jesus does not have the fostering of Moses; the charisma of Joseph or even the prophetic hope of John. It is much simpler than that.


God's favour seems to grant him parents that love him; the curiosity of youth and the encouragement to grow outside the prejudices and assumptions that a small town can label you with. 


Even though, as a man, he is still only 'Mary's son' to the locals; being Mary's (and Joseph's) son seems to have taught him all he needed to know - but it couldn't have been easy. 


The woman lifts her veil and settles it over her head trying to make a deeper shadow across her face; shelter from the unforgiving afternoon sun. Not the best time to be collecting water from the communal well- but then the sun was not the only unforgiving thing in this village.

The clay pot is now full, but rather than make her way home she stands with arms clasped around it; cradling its coolness to her as she watches and waits. Across the square, a man stands at a doorway; his shoulders set with a determination that she recognises; by his side a young boy doing his best to stand equally as tall and as still. At the door the silhouette of another man; she sees him shake his head; lowers her eyes and shakes her own.

'I have no argument with you, Joseph, but the other families will not accept him being taught with their sons.' the Rabbi gestured to the young boys already sitting within the cool room.

'Then your argument is with me, Teacher, because my son is now five years old and under the Law should be studying scripture. I am only asking you to do your duty.'

The Rabbi considers the man and boy standing in front of him. He remembers Joseph as a young and thoughtful student and feels regret for the life that he has chosen but also admiration for his loyalty and dedication.

'We both understand 'duty' in our own way, Joseph. I will do what I can. He can sit in the doorway, to keep the dogs and goats from joining us; whatever he learns, he learns. That's all I can offer.'

Joseph recognises the gift; 'Thank you Rabbi; just as well he has good ears.' He puts his head down to the boy's ear. 'Listen well, little man.' Then gently pushes him towards the threshold, turns and walks towards across the square.

As he passes the well; the woman lifts the clay pot onto her head and falls into step behind him.
'This is not right', she murmers under her breath, 'why should he have to go through this?'

Joseph answered 'If he is going to change the world then he has to see the world for what it is. He will meet people far less sympathetic than our Rabbi, far more judgemental than our village - he needs the skills, the knowledge, he needs to know the Law and what we have done to the Law. Even this day is a victory for him, for us. I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't believed in him.'

'You are a wise man, husband.' Mary commented. They both laughed and Joseph lifted the pot from her head and carried it the rest of the way to their home. After all, at this time of the day, there was no-one to see.

Just before supper, the boy flung the door curtain aside and stormed into the house. His mother looked up and saw the vertical frownline in the forehead, round eyes close to tears and the clenched hands; she said a blessing under her breath. He walked through to the workshop at the back of the house without a word. At the worktable he picked up a chisel and started gouging pieces out of a length of wood. Joseph called to him from his seat in the corner near the fire. 'How did it go today?'

Jesus dropped the chisel and walked across to stand at his father's knee; arms held strapped to his side.
'They asked me what the Seventh Commandment was,' he muttered 'I knew the answer - thou shalt not commit adultery. And they laughed - the Rabbi said 'at least I knew the Law' but I don't understand what he meant.'

'But it made you angry? Angry enough to take it out on that poor piece of wood?'

The words burst out; 'it wasn't fair; why would they laugh at me? They don't even know me. And there was another boy who came and sat at the doorway. His name was Eli; they wouldn't let him in because his father is a tax collector. They made fun of him too but he said he never shows that he is upset; that that gave them power over him and they have no right. I am going to try to be like Eli but I didn't like them making fun of me and you and mama. Saying we weren't a real family. That's not true; we are a real family.'

Joseph drew his son to him. 'We are a real family. Families aren't decided by rules. Family are made by love and belonging. I cannot imagine being without you and your mother; you know that you will always have the two of us and the tone in your mother's voice when she calls us in for supper tells the both of us that we belong to her. Love holds us together, Jesus, not blood, not tradition, not the Law, just Love. Remember that.'

On cue, his mother's voice was heard calling them to the table. Jesus laughed and his arms went around his father's neck. 'After supper will you tell me the story about when the angels came?'

'Of course I will,' Joseph replied ' I think it's the perfect night for that particular tale.' He lifted the boy onto his shoulders. 'But first you go and tell your mother you love her.'

'

Friday, 30 December 2011

Family

Luke 2:22,39-40
When the day came for them to be purified as laid down by the Law of Moses, the parents of Jesus took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.
  When they had done everything the Law of the Lord required, they went back to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. Meanwhile the child grew to maturity, and he was filled with wisdom; and God’s favour was with him.
 
God's favour seems to mean something different to God than it does to us.

Jesus does not have the fostering of Moses; the charisma of Joseph or even the prophetic hope of John. It is much simpler than that.


God's favour seems to grant him parents that love him; the curiosity of youth and the encouragement to grow outside the prejudices and assumptions that a small town can label you with. 


Even though, as a man, he is still only 'Mary's son' to the locals; being Mary's (and Joseph's) son seems to have taught him all he needed to know - but it couldn't have been easy. 


The woman lifts her veil and settles it over her head trying to make a deeper shadow across her face; shelter from the unforgiving afternoon sun. Not the best time to be collecting water from the communal well- but then the sun was not the only unforgiving thing in this village.

The clay pot is now full, but rather than make her way home she stands with arms clasped around it; cradling its coolness to her as she watches and waits. Across the square, a man stands at a doorway; his shoulders set with a determination that she recognises; by his side a young boy doing his best to stand equally as tall and as still. At the door the silhouette of another man; she sees him shake his head; lowers her eyes and shakes her own.

'I have no argument with you, Joseph, but the other families will not accept him being taught with their sons.' the Rabbi gestured to the young boys already sitting within the cool room.

'Then your argument is with me, Teacher, because my son is now five years old and under the Law should be studying scripture. I am only asking you to do your duty.'

The Rabbi considers the man and boy standing in front of him. He remembers Joseph as a young and thoughtful student and feels regret for the life that he has chosen but also admiration for his loyalty and dedication.

'We both understand 'duty' in our own way, Joseph. I will do what I can. He can sit in the doorway, to keep the dogs and goats from joining us; whatever he learns, he learns. That's all I can offer.'

Joseph recognises the gift; 'Thank you Rabbi; just as well he has good ears.' He puts his head down to the boy's ear. 'Listen well, little man.' Then gently pushes him towards the threshold, turns and walks towards across the square.

As he passes the well; the woman lifts the clay pot onto her head and falls into step behind him.
'This is not right', she murmers under her breath, 'why should he have to go through this?'

Joseph answered 'If he is going to change the world then he has to see the world for what it is. He will meet people far less sympathetic than our Rabbi, far more judgemental than our village - he needs the skills, the knowledge, he needs to know the Law and what we have done to the Law. Even this day is a victory for him, for us. I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't believed in him.'

'You are a wise man, husband.' Mary commented. They both laughed and Joseph lifted the pot from her head and carried it the rest of the way to their home. After all, at this time of the day, there was no-one to see.

Just before supper, the boy flung the door curtain aside and stormed into the house. His mother looked up and saw the vertical frownline in the forehead, round eyes close to tears and the clenched hands; she said a blessing under her breath. He walked through to the workshop at the back of the house without a word. At the worktable he picked up a chisel and started gouging pieces out of a length of wood. Joseph called to him from his seat in the corner near the fire. 'How did it go today?'

Jesus dropped the chisel and walked across to stand at his father's knee; arms held strapped to his side.
'They asked me what the Seventh Commandment was,' he muttered 'I knew the answer - thou shalt not commit adultery. And they laughed - the Rabbi said 'at least I knew the Law' but I don't understand what he meant.'

'But it made you angry? Angry enough to take it out on that poor piece of wood?'

The words burst out; 'it wasn't fair; why would they laugh at me? They don't even know me. And there was another boy who came and sat at the doorway. His name was Eli; they wouldn't let him in because his father is a tax collector. They made fun of him too but he said he never shows that he is upset; that that gave them power over him and they have no right. I am going to try to be like Eli but I didn't like them making fun of me and you and mama. Saying we weren't a real family. That's not true; we are a real family.'

Joseph drew his son to him. 'We are a real family. Families aren't decided by rules. Family are made by love and belonging. I cannot imagine being without you and your mother; you know that you will always have the two of us and the tone in your mother's voice when she calls us in for supper tells the both of us that we belong to her. Love holds us together, Jesus, not blood, not tradition, not the Law, just Love. Remember that.'

On cue, his mother's voice was heard calling them to the table. Jesus laughed and his arms went around his father's neck. 'After supper will you tell me the story about when the angels came?'

'Of course I will,' Joseph replied ' I think it's the perfect night for that particular tale.' He lifted the boy onto his shoulders. 'But first you go and tell your mother you love her.'

'

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Babe in arms



A lovely telling of the Christmas Story. A beautiful crib. There is comfort in the repeating of this tradition year after year and it’s not always easy to see the awesome wonder of it.
Our God, a child in the arms of a young woman.

The Christian faith is rooted in the fact that ordinary people do extraordinary things.
That Mary accepted her part in her relationship with God and said ‘Yes’.
That Joseph accepted his part in his relationship with God and said ‘Yes’.
That shepherds, innkeepers, kings and philosophers found some way in their hearts to say ‘Yes’ .
And that these and all the other ‘Yes’s’ from the most unlikely people, throughout Jesus’ life gave God the opportunity to be born among us, to live a life with us, to laugh and cry with us, to make his own choice to die for us and to be with us now.

Listen to a baby cry. Left in a cot or pram sobbing for attention, for reassurance.
How long can you bear it before you make the choice?
To move out of earshot hoping someone else can deal with it,
or, to go to the child, to hold it in your arms, to comfort, to give and receive love.

Maybe that’s why a baby.
Because every Christmas we are reminded that this is what our God did.
That as much as he is our Loving Father in Heaven, our wild hearted Sister in Creation
he has also been a tiny, vulnerable, beloved child of earth.
And every Christmas we are asked if we are prepared to enter that relationship of love,
To take on that responsibility.To decide that when the angel puts God into our arms, will we be able to say ‘Yes’?



wordinthehand2011

Friday, 23 December 2011

God with me

O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, 
the Expected of the nations and theirSaviour.  
Come and save us, O Lord our God.


If I hear ‘How long have you got?’ one more time – someone may get hurt.

Less than a week, actually…which has been the longest week of my life.

Never mind the nine months that went before; the 'Yes'; the waiting and wondering; the protection  of Joseph; the comfort of Elizabeth; the knowing that there is no going back.

Never mind the ever-spreading ‘everything’, insomnia and nesting urges; listening to the older womens horror stories (why do they do that?); making space; finding room; fearing that you you will be born in the dust at the side of the road. O, yes, the realisation that  soon, you will be born.

Because, really, I’d be quite happy for you to stay right where you are: to carry on being ‘the Bump’. I’ve got used to being this shape; living in a pregnancy time zone; cradling your weight in my arms; resting my hands on your bottom (or head); trying to identify if it’s an elbow or a knee that’s trying to make it’s escape. We are two but we are one, we are self-contained and complete - a perfect relationship, perfect love, perfect belonging. You are, already, all I have ever wanted.

But you are growing; you need your own ‘space’; to become more; to find your own place in the world. So in a few days you will make that journey; become ‘real’; become separate. We will look into each other’s eyes and see ourselves, I will smell your skin and know you forever, I will hear you cry and feel your pain. And I will still know you inside me – an eternal umbilical cord of love between us.

And no matter what the future, the distance, the trials and triumphs of the years ahead, that will not change. When I think of you, I will simply have to close my eyes, put my hand on my stomach and remember - you were here and part of you will never leave.



wordinthehand2011




Wednesday, 21 December 2011

'O'nward



O Rising Dawn, Radiance of the Light eternal and Sun of Justice: come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.


As a rule; I am not particularly afraid of the dark; in fact it has been a solace and a haven for me in much of my life. Strange noises and the suspicious shapes in the shadows tell me that there are many  things outside my imagining and they are often not to be feared. Those of you who share the experience of these periods of insomnia and broken sleep may or may not agree with me but it is in those times that I have generally got to know myself, and my God, better. 

it is in the darkness that we reveal our little selves, without embarassment or shame - we weep until our eyes throb with the saltiness of grief - grind our teeth with anguish or anger  - groan at our helplessness- for who is there to see?

In the darkness we are able to hurl our fears and regrets at what may feel like a closed door or a strong embrace. It is the confessional darkness that allows us to pretend that God may not be able to distinguish us from our daylight self full of confidence and contrived sense of control.

i wondered about the Angel leaving Mary; how, through his presence, the light of God must have burned so intensely in that room that her eyes were seared with angelfire- that the brightness allowed her to see the truth of Gabriel's message. That she really could be the mother of the God Child; for who would dare to say such a thing in the light?


And when the Angel left her; and the room plunged again into night; what were the thoughts that then began to race through her mind?  The totally rational fears of what, if it were true, she had got herself into. The enlightenment that came then was not from the worldly dawn but from a flicker of light that caught her soul aflame and reached down through the darkness showing her her strength; her courage; her perseverence that had never been revealed to her until this moment. 

Surely she could not have gone to Joseph eyes downcast;  an apology on her lips and shame in her dragging footsteps? 

From the moment of that 'yes' she was the Mother of God - God's Beloved- He was her Light. The darkness was still there - the shadow of death still hovered - but the Light; even the promise of the Light was enough - trust in the God who sees you in the darkness and the shadows - trust in the God who sometimes sends you into the darkness and the shadows - because that too is a Godly place. 

wordinthehand2011

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Come, Child

Key of David and Sceptre of the house of Israel; you open and no one closes; you close and no one opens. Come, and deliver from the chains of prison those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.


lost gloves2011

God sits on a chair of darkness in my soul.
He is God alone, supreme in his majesty 
I sit at his feet, a child in the dark beside him;
my joy is aware of his glance and my sorrow is tempted
to nest on the thought that his face is turned away from me.
Jessica Powers


Someone made the comment recently that Christmas should be where it was before the calendar changed - about two weeks ago or so. I have to say, I disagree. There is something viciously Lenten about waiting through these dark days and especially tomorrow, the darkest of days when the sun barely finds the desire to raise its head from the horizon.


There is something in the thought that in a few days Joy will enter the world and it won't be enough; because it wasn't last year and I have the darkest fears that, in part, it's my fault. 


'Be gentle with yourself' is my usual penace after Reconciliation, I admit to finding that hard. This evening it was to 'count my blessings' - this I could do - quite methodically but without much joy.  Whilst it isn't a mood that I would ever wish on myself or any other; I have experienced this enough by now to know that this is a ennui that will be defeated by the Child.


Child of Light
The Child has no chair of darkness - his bed is fodder for animals 
and he has often 'nested' in my arms.
I never need to wonder at the expression on his face because 
our eyes meet often and full of love. 
Shadows are no more than resting places 
and his key opens the heart.




As in the last few days of my own pregnancy - I want this Child and I want him now.


wordinthehand2011



Saturday, 17 December 2011

In the Biblical Sense



Luke 1:26-38






The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, ‘Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’
She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.’
Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?’ ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you’ the angel answered ‘and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God’ ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary ‘let what you have said be done to me.’
And the angel left her.


Last year I considered this last sentence with a sense of abandonment - that Gabriel was somehow uncomfortable with this messenger business and, once getting his 'yes', was eager to return home; mission completed. Last year, maybe, my soul sighed at my lack of romance.


'God's beauty, too, surrender seeks and takes in the will's lull 
whatever lets itself be changed into the beautiful' 

                                                                          Jessica Powers


Gabriel has just spoken for his Lord, spoken words of endearment, of desire, of promise -
the Bridegroom waiting anxiously for an answer in the antechamber of eternity - the eternity that this seemingly ordinary, young woman holds in her hand.


And Mary?


Mary has said 'Yes' -


not 'I'll think about it',


or 'it's just there's this other guy...'


or 'you do know I am likely to get stoned to death....'


but 'Yes - I am His and whatever He asks, my answer will be Yes because I am His.'


And the fulfillment of this promise is that Mary is 'overshadowed' by the Holy Spirit.


Can you imagine in God the delight, the gratefulness and,if it could be imagined, the impatience of a bridgegroom?


Can you imagine then as the mystics have tried to describe in their own experiences, knowing God's Love that physically; that uttterly; that intimately? So intimately that a spark of Life is created deep in the shadows; in the life-giving sacred space within you?


No wonder Gabriel got out of the way.


wordinthehand2011











Saturday, 10 December 2011

A man came...


Gospel
John 1:6-8,19-28 

A man came, sent by God.
His name was John.
He came as a witness,
as a witness to speak for the light,
so that everyone might believe through him.
He was not the light,
only a witness to speak for the light.
This is how John appeared as a witness. When the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ he not only declared, but he declared quite openly, ‘I am not the Christ.’ ‘Well then,’ they asked ‘are you Elijah?’ ‘I am not’ he said. ‘Are you the Prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ So they said to him, ‘Who are you? We must take back an answer to those who sent us. What have you to say about yourself?’ So John said, ‘I am, as Isaiah prophesied:
a voice that cries in the wilderness:
Make a straight way for the Lord.’
Now these men had been sent by the Pharisees, and they put this further question to him, ‘Why are you baptising if you are not the Christ, and not Elijah, and not the prophet?’ John replied, ‘I baptise with water; but there stands among you – unknown to you – the one who is coming after me; and I am not fit to undo his sandal-strap.’ This happened at Bethany, on the far side of the Jordan, where John was baptising.

It would seem that John has not wandered far from Mark's account, yet there are some significant moments in John's retelling that meant something then and so, mean something now.

The calling out into the wilderness from the sacred space of the Temple is an incredible event. The Temple meant everything to the Jews; holding onto the centre of their faith particularly during the occupation was immensely important. Yet people left and went into the desert and down to the riverbank to listen to a disheveled preacher.

John had something; and it was enough of a something to give people hope that their prayers had been answered. The prophets often appeared out of nowhere; voices in the wilderness; voices crying against the empty hearts of those who do not want to hear.

But people did want to hear; they came to hear and stayed to listen. John speaking against the authorities and yet the authorities taking no action against him ; Herod admires him. The Pharisees are asking their questions out of the hope that it could be true- this could be the Prophet - the Messiah.

Would they have know the story of his own miraculous birth? The signs are there.

John has his reply. In John, John is not the Baptist - he is the Witness; the first witness; the pre-natal witness. The Coming of the One has been a part of his genetic patterning; he could not deny it if he wanted to. As great a light as John is - in every cell of his being - he knows he is not the Light.

But he probably would have 'done'. The authorities may well have rallied around him; his followers were clearly devoted to him -  the recorded criticism and exclusion of Jesus and his friends. He may have had his idiosyncrasies but there was something familiar in his ministry - 'are you Elijah?' He fits the profile; there had been many, many years of God's silence before John but  there is little difference between him and the prophets that had come before.

John's followers were rebels but not radicals. They wanted the Messiah that the Jews had always wanted; they wanted to topple the enemy; to have their land and their place in it. It was about them and their God; for them John was enough.

A true prophet; John knew he wasn't; knew that Jesus would be so much more than he could imagine - couldn't image - remember his message from prison - 'are you the One?'. John (and John) warns us - don't be distracted; look beyond; don't settle for 'enough'.

But we often do; we become captivated by something just a little out of the ordinary; just enough of a challenge. Sometimes we connect with the personality of others who are making the spiritual journey beyond; writers; theologians; priests and retreat leaders and we follow them. We grant them authority through lineage and tradition. We listen to what they say and read what they think; we rely on them to do the 'witnessing' and attach ourselves to their coat-tails.

To paraphrase St Paul we follow Rhor or Merton or Fr so-and-so; but they are just human beings on the same journey as us; we are meant for Jesus. For that personal calling, holding, healing relationship that seems too good to believe; that we don't believe is for us; but that John wants us to believe truly is.

We admire the many that we recognise as witnesses; John himself, the saints, the 'wise' people; we must never forget that we are intended to be witnesses ourselves.

But first we too must 'see' the Light. 

wordinthehand2011

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Complines - Psalm 15

Wasteland sunset

I will hold the Lord for ever in my sight:
  with him at my side I can never be shaken.
Thus it is that my heart rejoices,
  heart and soul together;
  while my body rests in calm hope.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Night Prayer - Deuteronomy 6:4-7


Listen, Israel: the Lord our God is the one Lord. 
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength.

Let these words I urge on you today be written on your heart. 
You shall repeat them to your children and say them over to them whether at rest in your house or walking abroad, at your lying down or at your rising.



Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Night Prayer - Psalm 142



Show me your mercy at daybreak,
  because of my trust in you.
Tell me the way I should follow,
  for my soul is drawn towards you.



Monday, 5 December 2011

Night Prayer



St Melangell 
Psalm 85 
Turn your ear to me, Lord, and hear me,
  for I am poor and destitute.
Keep my life safe, for I am faithful;
  O God, save your servant, who trusts in you.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Beginning - 2nd Sunday of Advent


Gospel
Mark 1:1-8 

Another Place - Anthony Gormley


The beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is written in the book of the prophet Isaiah:
Look, I am going to send my messenger before you;
he will prepare your way.
A voice cries in the wilderness:
Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight.
and so it was that John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. All Judaea and all the people of Jerusalem made their way to him, and as they were baptised by him in the river Jordan they confessed their sins. John wore a garment of camel-skin, and he lived on locusts and wild honey. In the course of his preaching he said, ‘Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals. I have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’


Nearly two years ago now our Scripture group began studying Mark's Gospel - we are still spending time with him and his and Simon Peter's telling of the Good News. Having kept notes as we have gone along I thought it may be worth sharing our thoughts - for what they are worth.


This Gospel is meant for missionary work; short enough to be written on just one scroll; short enough to be memorised; action packed enough to grab the interest within a few starting sentences. The original text reads like a graphic novel 'and then...and then...and then...' 

Every time I hear the opening verses I imagine a disciple entering a house or village 
square and capturing his audience with those first few words; delivered theatrically
as a prologue; a promise of action. In fact, I often think of Frankie Howerd at the beginning of 
the tv series 'Up Pompeii' (for those old enough to remember)  


It is a Gospel that names fear and answers it with Love. Mark speaks to people who are 
on the margins – in Jesus’ time this was both a cultural,religious, deeply 
personal and uncrossable margin; these days we have different ideas of who are the
outcasts - but there are always outcasts. 

The people seem to live in judgement of each other. Jesus will repeated challenge
how we believe we can do this. Mark is always asking us  where do we stand – 
with (or as) the outcast or in judgement of the outcast? And if we say we stand for 
justice and inclusion - then what are we doing about it? 

And we asked ourselves where we would put ourselves as we hear this – did we believe 
ourselves living on the margins and in desperate need of God’s grace or, 
as a churchgoer/believer did we imagine we already know this message?

John the Baptist preaches repentance and offers forgiveness to even those who have 
become excluded by Temple law. John, the archetype of the great Old Testament 
prophets; he is both graced and doomed - for the end is coming and he is precursor 
of all that will be and he won't even be sure that he has the right man.  
John brings a promise of redemption for everyone. But it is not him that will bring peace. 

The people leave Jerusalem; a radical statement already for people to leave the ‘organised’ 
church to listen to John, because they know, they feel that there is something missing. 

Our faith life usually begins when we are very young; to begin our faith as 
institution and culture is normal - a part of growing up - we have to learn the basics. 
From this we develop our own rules and expectations; we build a picture of the God we 
believe in  and the life we would follow and we bind that up within the rules of the church. 
As we grow the time comes when we must reconsider where we stand and what we 
believe in; are we happy with our faith; are we content -  should we be? 

John is a man of the desert; wild and unconstrained; full of the Spirit. 
And yet he warns us that when we encounter Jesus he will ask more- and give more - 
than we could ever imagine. 

Then we will be asked the question put to the Rich Young Man - 
to leave everything behind; to move away from what is comfortable; 
to put ourselves on the margins; to turn again.  

Jesus will follow John.  The question is - will we follow him?

wordinthehand2011

Friday, 2 December 2011

Lost and Found

Another Place - Anthony Gormley
Compline Reading                                                                                                Jeremiah 14:9


 Lord, you are in our midst, we are called by your name. Do not desert us, O Lord our God!


Strange that our natural inclination seems to be believing ourselves abandoned....



Your heartbeat a prayer
for a God shaped space within
to be filled by grace.

Still now, breathe, listen
You have your place - in God's hand
Be at one with Love



wordinthehand2011



Thursday, 1 December 2011

The Quickening

Complines Reading1 Thessalonians 5:23 



May the God of peace make you perfect and holy; and may you all be kept safe and blameless, spirit, soul and body, for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sometimes Advent does not begin on the nearest Sunday to 30th November. 

Sometimes, like a pregnancy, it makes itself known in imperceptable, internal movements. Movements that are sensed but not seen. 

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. (Martha Graham)

The Advent journey is unique - it is a girl dreaming in the dark after the Angel has left; it is a man staring into the fire wondering if dreams can be believed; it is an older woman knowing that they can.


It is whatever it needs to call you into the anticipation of waiting.  

wordinthehand2011