Saturday, 28 January 2012

Sitting uncomfortably

GospelMark 1:21-28 

Jesus and his followers went as far as Capernaum, and as soon as the sabbath came he went to the synagogue and began to teach. And his teaching made a deep impression on them because, unlike the scribes, he taught them with authority.
  In their synagogue just then there was a man possessed by an unclean spirit and it shouted, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus said sharply, ‘Be quiet! Come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit threw the man into convulsions and with a loud cry went out of him. The people were so astonished that they started asking each other what it all meant. ‘Here is a teaching that is new’ they said ‘and with authority behind it: he gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him.’ And his reputation rapidly spread everywhere, through all the surrounding Galilean countryside.

A good teacher is like a candle - it consumes itself to light the way for others.  ~
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, translated from Turkish

The scribes were undoubtedly learned men with an knowledge and an understanding of scripture and law. But they were primarily bureaucrats with a need and a requirement to 'know' so as to preserve the status quo; so as to support the Temple and its leaders. That this exists in every organisation is undeniable - knowledge is a valuable commodity - but knowledge is not wisdom. 

The Word requires discernment- a personal relationship with scripture that takes time and conversational prayer - including a certain amount of silence and stillness - to find its meaning. And its meaning will change - day to day - person to person. That's a big commitment; sometimes it seems easier to get someone else to do it. 

We do this ourselves - sitting through the Sunday homily -  distracted by the newsletter or fidgety child on the row in front. But we will believe we have heard God's Word. 

The people have spent so much time hearing a mere dictation of the Word of God and now here is the Word being broken by the Holy One himself.  But although the people realise that there is something about this man, seemingly the wisest of them is the demon - the unclean spirit. 

Wise; because it is not like the people talking amongst themselves trying to work out what Jesus is all about; could they trust him; does he make sense; how can this be?   

Mark talks a lot about 'ears that hear' and 'eyes that see'. These onlookers see an authority, a power in Jesus, yet, they are unable to make the distinction between the authority of a clever man and the truth of God's Word. Their ears and eyes see the results; not the source.

The demon simply trusts its instincts. For all this time, perhaps, it  has been 'sitting comfortably' in the synagogue; the prayers and the words of the scribes washing over it because there has been no conviction, no authority. Because the words and the prayers have been learned by rote and not by heart and, in fact, fear, uncertainty and exclusion have only added to its power. 

But the demon was listening, and now, it is afraid.

There is power in names and the demon calls out with both of Jesus' titles - recognises him as human and divine - but, amongst all of the listeners, there is no-one to hear except Jesus. 

It is easy to allow ourselves to be blinded by the wrong kind of authority; to think that if we read enough books; learn enough chapters and verses; listen to enough talks and lectures then we will 'know'. Like the scribes we will have a phrase for for every eventuality and a quote for every topic - perhaps it is part of our humanity that we strive to try. 

As Augustine says 'faith seeks understanding' or Aquinas "I understand in order to believe."

...and there- to prove it - is me quoting! 

But that is not the end or even the beginning of it.

 As the demon saw its own destruction in Jesus so we should see our life - we must know him as he truly is - our Lord and our God.

Each has its lesson; for our dreams in sooth, come they in shape of demons, gods, or elves, come with deep hearts of truth that tell us solemn secrets of ourselves. 
-Henry Timrod


Saturday, 21 January 2012

The First Step

GospelMark 1:14-20 

After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee. There he proclaimed the Good News from God. ‘The time has come’ he said ‘and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.’
  As he was walking along by the Sea of Galilee he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net in the lake – for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you into fishers of men.’ And at once they left their nets and followed him.
  Going on a little further, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John; they too were in their boat, mending their nets. He called them at once and, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the men he employed, they went after him.

The Big Question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty “yes” to your adventure.
— Joseph Campbell

Two Sunday Gospels with very similar tales to tell - the calling of the first apostles. 

John concentrates on the sense of sight - a recognition that comes from within - the look across a crowded room - a seeing into the self - the depth of which seeks out anam cara - soul friends. Between them a sharing of the vision that is the Kingdom - a love that is not looking at each other but looking in the same direction. There is a perfection and a simplicity in John that is underlines the divinity, the charism of Jesus from the very beginning.

Mark is about the disciples; the waiting and longing that lives within us just waiting to be called; even when we don't know it's there.

There are suggestions that the fishermen were already known to Jesus - perhaps he had had a days work on their boats; perhaps they had listened to him preaching on the pier whilst they folded their nets; perhaps they had shared a meal and talked about a better future. So when the day came they were ready.

Or, perhaps not. John tells us that Andrew is a follower of the Baptist but there is no mention of the others. Andrew is seeking but he hasn't found what he was looking for: and now John is gone...

For some of us there is a calling that discomforts us. Especially when we think we are settled; when our lives are in our control; when we are doing  reasonably  well. Sometimes we try to silence the discomfort with more 'stuff' and more 'control' - sometimes, unfortunately, that even works.

But others still hear the small voice telling us that it's not enough - the world and all its promises are not enough - and one day the small voice invites us to do something about it.

The calling of the fishermen was not easy; in the middle of their day; with things to do and people relying on them - it was not meant to be. 

Perhaps this is one of the differences between the Father and Jesus? God who is Father and Mother knows that we all belong anyway; that we have always and will always belong; that time is a very flexible concept; that God's Will will be done.

Jesus of Nazareth knows the ticking of life; knows the temptation to wait until a better day; knows that there is always somewhere else to be - but if you - you-  want to be part of this Kingdom building then that is a decision you have to make sometime. Eventually,  the sometime will be now. 

The first step across the threshold; out of the box or into the shadows is always the hardest - every journey begins with that first step. 

And the call; the call asks for that leap of faith and only then is  the promise that Jesus will be with you - every other step of the way.

My journey is to be one of recognizing God, always, already present, and surfacing that presence in my daily life.— Edwina Gateley


Saturday, 14 January 2012

Where do you live?

Gospel- John 1:35-42 

As John stood with two of his disciples, Jesus passed, and John stared hard at him and said, ‘Look, there is the lamb of God.’ Hearing this, the two disciples followed Jesus. Jesus turned round, saw them following and said, ‘What do you want?’ They answered, ‘Rabbi,’ – which means Teacher –’where do you live?’ ‘Come and see’ he replied; so they went and saw where he lived, and stayed with him the rest of that day. It was about the tenth hour.
  One of these two who became followers of Jesus after hearing what John had said was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. Early next morning, Andrew met his brother and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ – which means the Christ – and he took Simon to Jesus. Jesus looked hard at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John; you are to be called Cephas’ – meaning Rock.

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.C. S. Lewis

Where, I wonder, would you expect the Lamb of God to live? A strange question... although - what would you ask of someone named as God's chosen?

And in the end, the right question because, where Jesus lives, is the centrepoint of how he gathers his disciples around him. 

He looks at them.

We know that in John, everything that happens, happens on many levels; that seeing and looking has hardly anything to do with physical sight. 

Yet, how often is it the first response? We do judge books by the cover; we rarely take a second look; beauty is mostly skin deep and what you see is often what you get. 

But not with Jesus; Jesus has his Father's eyes that sees the world he created and knows that it is good; 

Jesus has his mother's eyes when she looks at the child in her arms and sees the Sacrifice God has asked her to carry; 

Jesus has Joseph's eyes that see innocence and integrity amidst claims of sin and betrayal. 

This is the place where Jesus lives. The place of truth, of Love - without artifice, without judgement. Jesus looks; and the layers crumble - the show, the shields, the scars, the stubborn need to 'do it by myself'. 

For many of the people Jesus meets, this is enough. That, from nowhere, there is a connection -  a sense of being loved; being healed; being made whole - is enough. We see the healed gathered back into their community; sometimes without even a thank-you. 

But that is alright; after all we are all brothers and sisters and that's what family are like. 

And then, there are the others, Andrew, Peter, Levi, Mary - those who are called; those who are looked at and those who, in their own way, try to look back. 

Today, we might say this is the gift of contemplative prayer - to see and be seen in Love.

And there grows relationship; that despite being very ordinary people with mostly no comprehension of why he is really here and few talents except for getting things wrong - they follow him - the defend him- they risk stoning and exclusion for him - eventually they will die for him.  

They become the family he may choose- they become friends. 

Perhaps it's worth looking back?

"Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born."
- Anais Nin


Saturday, 7 January 2012

The Epiphany

GospelMatthew 2:1-12 

After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east. ‘Where is the infant king of the Jews?’ they asked. ‘We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.’ When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem. He called together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, and enquired of them where the Christ was to be born. ‘At Bethlehem in Judaea,’ they told him ‘for this is what the prophet wrote:
And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
you are by no means least among the leaders of Judah,
for out of you will come a leader
who will shepherd my people Israel.’
Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared, and sent them on to Bethlehem. ‘Go and find out all about the child,’ he said ‘and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.’ Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising; it went forward, and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.

We do a great disservice to the Magi. We dress them up in pantomime finery; give them unpronounceable names and smile at them for the incongruity of their gifts. The (small 't') traditions have stifled the importance of the Magi's visit: made them straitlaced. Their appearance (and especially the inclusion of their royal status) lends a respectable finale to a tale that certainly includes some characters with dubious backgrounds. We imagine them picking their way gingerly through the mud and straw to assure Mary that her Son really is someone important – because - they would know. 

They did know - but not because of their status; their wealth or their position in society. 
They knew not because they had blind faith - but because they had reason to believe. 

'In the beginning' God spoke a tiny spark into life - a word that, 14 billion years later, flared into the constellations surrounding our earth - a word that said 'Here is the One'. 

God spoke a promise into the ears of Micah that little Bethlehem would be the place.

The promise that the chosen people knew - the scribes knew - the Temple knew -  but did not live in anticipation of; did not watch for; did not expect - did not want. They remained in the darkness. 

There were other chosen people to sought the Light- strangers to the promise but with open hearts; watchful minds; people who were awake to the vibrations of the angels wings; to the pulse of the watchful star; to a baby's cry.

Those who were prepared to stake reputation; to leave family; to risk the dangers of travel; to risk the hospitality of strangers. To follow more than a star and for more than two weeks - they arrive at the house, not at the stable and Mary has a child, not a baby. 

Jesus invites us all 'Come and See'. The Magi accepted the invitation and despite their wisdom, knowledge and status - knelt at the feet of a child - greater than gold, frankincese and myrrh - God's gift.