Saturday, 31 March 2012

Used to be

GospelMark 14:1-15:47
The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ

I have no need for you to be perfect, for you are incomparable. -anon

Palm Sunday always seems to invite me to look at the 'everybody else' of the Holy Week story. Trying to follow my feet and not live in expectation of either 'what I know' or 'what I would wish for' leads me to look at the edges - allowing myself to be distracted.

Mark is not big on distraction; except when his Jesus is accusing others of it. His characters have their place and discretely fulfil their roles - Mark's focus is Jesus.

Another feature of Mark is the pattern of threes; maybe it is simply a storyteller's device maybe it is linked to a triune truth trying to make itself known, But whether crossing the Galilee; evicting demons; feeding the many - all occur in this repeating, rythmic pattern giving seasons to Jesus' actions and deepening the intention, asking us to pay attention.

In the Long Gospel of Mark there is a Three  - they are the Simons.

Simon the Leper opens the Gospel; fortunate enough to have caught Jesus at his height of popularity, he is basking in the privilege of entertaining the notorious prophet. Simon the Leper is most likely 'Simon who used to be a Leper'. Although it is still a matter of debate it is certainly possible that this Simon's title is a reminder of a previous life; of a hopeless and excluded life before  the healing power came to him though an earlier encounter with Jesus. Certainly, if this is the case, you can appreciate why Simon would want to give thanks and Simon certainly does. But I wonder for whose benefit was this celebration - an opportunity to lay the old 'Simon' to rest? To let go of the 'used to be'? There is no empathy with the woman; no appreciation of all that Jesus risks to continue his ministry; no understanding of what it means to follow the road to Jerusalem.

Then Simon the Peter - Simon who loved the 'used to be'. Who with the very best will in the world  would steal Jesus back to the boats of Galilee where his accent would mean that he was home - and home for good.  This Simon who cannot be the rock that Jesus names him, stands in the middle of the Gospel with love, loyalty and hope fighting against the simplest of human fears -the fear of death - and cannot stand. The tears speak more than any words; the betrayal streaming down his face as the road to Jerusalem comes to an end.

Then, on the road out of Jerusalem - Simon the Cyrene; the stranger; the trader who had only come to Jerusalem to take advantage of the festival and found himself now part of the spectacle. Under Roman rule a soldier could force any citizen into carying their pack for one mile - the cross becomes the burden of a warrior - Simon a liegeman to the prince of peace. Simon, whose journey to Golgotha also ends in rebirth. Whose own children, named in the Gospel, become leaders of the early Followers of the Way; who turned his back on 'used to be'.

There are often smiles about the number of Mary's in the Gospel - even scholars finding it difficult to tell if they are all different or simply aspects of the same woman. The Simons could well be aspects of the same man; courage, fear, love, obedience, pride. But this would not fit with what we know about Jesus or his Father. 

Having the same name does not make you the same person; and whoever you are doesn't mean you can never change, or be changed. God's relationship with each of us is uniquely ours, our place in God's hand - uniquely ours, the Love God has for us - uniquely ours.

You may think that you are only one of the crowd - but in God's eyes there is only you.


Third Station

 Jesus falls the first time

As you fall to the ground
We see ourselves aquitted
Our weakness – your downfall
And easier for us to look down
And see the shadow of slave 

Fourth Station at Brigid's Mantle


Friday, 30 March 2012

First Station

Jesus is condemned to death

It is not just Pilate who condemns -
Hands stretch out from the crowd
Fingers point in accusation
The cry ‘Crucify him!’

Who wants to take the risk
Of setting Jesus free?
They want the life more ordinary
And so refuse to see
Three fingers pointing back
And the question
‘Do you know what you do?’

Second Station at Brigid's Mantle


Saturday, 24 March 2012

Now, the hour has come

John 12:20-33 

Among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. These approached Philip, who came from Bethsaida in Galilee, and put this request to him, ‘Sir, we should like to see Jesus.’ Philip went to tell Andrew, and Andrew and Philip together went to tell Jesus. Jesus replied to them:
‘Now the hour has come
for the Son of Man to be glorified.
I tell you, most solemnly,
unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies,
it remains only a single grain;
but if it dies,
it yields a rich harvest.
Anyone who loves his life loses it;
anyone who hates his life in this world
will keep it for the eternal life.
If a man serves me, he must follow me,
wherever I am, my servant will be there too.
If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him.
Now my soul is troubled.
What shall I say:
Father, save me from this hour?
But it was for this very reason that I have come to this hour.
Father, glorify your name!’
A voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ People standing by, who heard this, said it was a clap of thunder; others said, ‘It was an angel speaking to him.’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not for my sake that this voice came, but for yours.
‘Now sentence is being passed on this world;
now the prince of this world is to be overthrown.
And when I am lifted up from the earth,
I shall draw all men to myself.’
By these words he indicated the kind of death he would die.

God has entrusted me with myself.  ~Epictetus

A prophetic and poignant Gospel of the most mysterious and fearful of transformations - death. 

There are many comments regarding life and death; comments that seem appropriate and realistic whilst life is having the upper hand but cliched and  cold when Death steps out of the shadows.

These very comments of Jesus - likening human life to a plant's seed would seem cynical if we didn't know that he knew the fate that is awaiting him. 

It is a challenge to see yourself as the work of the Sower; no more than a ear of grain, the produce of one spring and one summer. To be rooted in the earth and yet reaching towards the sun. To know your own struggles through storms and frost and bask in the joys of warm winds and gentle sunshine. Then to face the inevitability of the Reaper as the days begin to shorten. 

In this country the clocks go forward today into British Summer Time - an hour lost in our hurry towards the lengthening days. How often we throw such hours aways in boredom, procrastination and impatience? How much we claim mindfulness and stillness for our spiritual practices but live out our daily lives in the scurrying between here and there? 

How much we worry about the meaning of life and divert ourselves from the meaning of our death. 

Jesus knows that his death, as painful as it will be will take him into glory; will take him to his Father; and that through it the world will be changed, yet, despite all the promises he makes us; we share more readily in his fears. 

Maybe, for us, it is better after all that we concentrate on how we live. That our lives will involve more than being busy; being successful; being comfortable. Particularly, that our lives will not be self-centred; about us and our needs. 

Then, what is left after we have gone will be glorious -  the inspiration we have given others; the friends we didn't know we had; the good example we didn't realise we were setting; the hospitality we don't remember; the kind words we have forgotten. 

The true harvest of our lives.

Care less for your harvest than for how it is shared and your life will have meaning and your heart will have peace. 
Kent Nerburn 


Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Brigid's Mantle


I haven't had a project for a while; although thoughts have been going through my head - I love the idea of a prayer book, a Book of Days, a dedication to the Celtic saints and spirit that I feel very much a part of and inspired by. Somewhere the blessings and writings that I do and those I have been fed by.

For whatever reason, today, St Cuthbert's feast day, seems the day to stop procrastinating and start doing- maybe it's a part of the Lenten transformation - maybe it is just time.

To concentrate my mind - there is a new blog Brigid's Mantle that I would like to invite you to. No doubt I will be linking from one to the other as they develop. Like Brigid, I hope that the words, images and videos will offer hospitality and blessing to all who pass by.


Monday, 19 March 2012

Feast of St Joseph

Every year the parents of Jesus used to go to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up for the feast as usual. When they were on their way home after the feast, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem without his parents knowing it. They assumed he was with the caravan, and it was only after a day’s journey that they went to look for him among their relations and acquaintances. When they failed to find him they went back to Jerusalem looking for him everywhere.
Three days later, they found him in the Temple, sitting among the doctors, listening to them, and asking them questions; and all those who heard him were astounded at his intelligence and his replies. They were overcome when they saw him, and his mother said to him, ‘My child, why have, you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you.’
‘Why were you looking for me?’ he replied ‘Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?’ But they did not understand what he meant.
He then went down with them and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority.

He didn't tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.  ~Clarence Budington Kelland

The Gospel reading for today says it all really. Joseph – who are you? Father with a small ‘f’ when I have a father with a big ‘F’. Jesus obviously was not a naturally diplomatic child.

The feast day is even called ‘Joseph the husband of Mary’. A bit like calling him ‘him indoors’. For a church so male dominated we could be accused of treating Jesus’ first male role model as a bit of an afterthought. 

Remember that it was not only Mary who said ‘Yes’ – it was Joseph’s ‘yes’ that avoided her being stoned to death or exiled from the community. He must have been an incredible man; utterly compassionate; to have been able to have faith to honour Mary; to refuse to bow under the undoubted slings and arrows of the doubting and gossiping neighbours; to persevere with giving Jesus the most normal of childhoods. So normal, this is the only snippet we ever get to hear.

Joseph, who must have been the role model that gave Jesus his compassion; his generosity; his respect for women and children; his knowledge of the working man. Jesus at thirty is a man of great character and personality; a man’s man who is able to have healthy relationships with women; to have them as his friends. No mean feat at any time; certainly suggestive of a family life that displayed mutual love, devotion and respect. And yet we know nothing about him.

These days it is not unusual not to know much about your father; long working hours mean fathers are absent from the normal family day; single parent families are increasing in number; police blame the rise in gangs on the lack of a positive male role model; men in the media are often famed for bad behaviour; male characters in our soaps are always a bit dodgy or pathetic. In many ways the understanding of what it is to be a man had got a bit lost.

But in the Catholic Church the domination by men remains intact and comes in for comment and criticism on a daily basis. Linked to this are the almost daily reports of abuse and misconduct by members of the clergy and religious; the last time I tried to find information on priests for a school project I had my computer closed down for breach of policy access to inappropriate content.

More and more I find myself getting uncomfortable about the whole thing. Not because I do believe that men are the root of all evil but because I believe that they are not. I am not going to talk about those that are guilty of abuse because they could be any men; such men know about finding positions of trust; know about secrecy and deception; know how to charm their way into people’s lives; know how to live a two-faced life – they fill the media screens and pages but they do not fill the church. 

We forget those who are taken for granted; the many,many good men who treat the role of priest; the role of 'Father' with integrity and honour.

Like Joseph they say ‘yes’ to a life based on faith and obedience rather than any desire for fame or career success. How can a twenty-odd year old man know what they are letting themselves in for whether it is fatherhood or priesthood, it’s a ‘yes’ to mystery. But the love that causes a priest to say ‘yes’ is Christlike – it is agape love – the love of the Good Samaritan who gives to strangers; whose love projects outwards without the need for possession.

But then, we are not strangers, we are family and they are ‘father’ with the small ‘f’ doing the work of the Father with the big ‘F’. These days, they may be not long out of seminary and occasionally lacking in wisdom or experience; they may spin themselves out across two or even more parishes but the sense of fatherhood is there; the responsibility; the commitment; the duty to care. And they grow, and grow beautifully, especially when supported by their ‘family’, becoming godfathers; favourite uncles and wise elders.

Just like family they do not get to choose their parish, their parishioners, but they do their best to love them. Like a good father they will have pride in their achievements; teach them the right path (sometimes by getting it wrong themselves); be there in sorrow and celebration. 

Priests will have thousands of children; many who will be older than they are; across miles of parishes and years of devotion. And people will remember them and the effect that they had on their lives and thank God for them. But they won’t make the news, the papers, the media hype and in years to come they may be as unrecognised as Joseph; but it won’t matter because they were there when they were needed and they did what they were called to do.

Happy Feast Day.

St. Joseph was an ordinary sort of man on whom God relied to do great things. He did exactly what the Lord wanted him to do, in each and every event that went to make up his life.


Friday, 16 March 2012

Love, anyway

Sunday GospelJohn 3:14-21 

East Window Rhug Chapel
Jesus said to Nicodemus:
‘The Son of Man must be lifted up
as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.
Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost
but may have eternal life.
For God sent his Son into the world
not to condemn the world,
but so that through him the world might be saved.
No one who believes in him will be condemned;
but whoever refuses to believe is condemned already,
because he has refused to believe in the name of God’s only Son.
On these grounds is sentence pronounced:
that though the light has come into the world
men have shown they prefer darkness to the light
because their deeds were evil.
And indeed, everybody who does wrong
hates the light and avoids it,
for fear his actions should be exposed;
but the man who lives by the truth comes out into the light,
so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in God.’

“Everyone, and I do mean everyone, has to fight. Every single person you see struggles with addictions of some kind, private sins, being lonely, weaknesses.. Christ sees all, and loves anyway”
― Ryan Crowe

Nicodemus comes to Jesus as a learned man of faith. He knows both scripture and the Law; he has lived his life by it; a teacher himself - he is a good man. But he has questions. There is something new in what Jesus says and, although the teaching is outside Nicodemus' experience, it has truth in it and he wants to understand; desperately wants to understand.

The bronze serpent of Moses protected the Isrealites from the poisons of snakes sent by God himself. An attempt, by God,  to bring them back to him once again. 

It seems a bit surreal - not the actions of a God that we are used to. 

An act of God that is a punishment and a trial. 

Once bitten, there was only one way to save themselves from an agonizing death; they were saved by looking on the bronze serpent held high on a pole by Moses. It was 'tough with a taste of jealous' love that  worked; but with a cost. Where is the integrity in faith born from fear; from obeying the Law - or else?

Of course, this is still early days in the relationship between God and his people; still very much a learning process. But, as in many relationships, if you don't have the right understanding at the beginning, you are going to struggle. It becomes easier to ask for a set of rules; a measuring stick; a sense of either/or. But then it comes down to being 'good' and who can be 'good' enough?

In the Book of Malachi, the Old Testament ends with a God filled with frustration - it opens with - 

“I have loved you,” says the LORD.

   “But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’

No wonder the Lord went quiet.

And here Nicodemus is still asking that same question.

I have met many people like Nicodemus who find this Love idea too good to be true. People whose idea of God is a judgemental father waiting to catch us out; reinforced by spiritual leaders who find the promise of damnation a little too attractive. People whose lives are tormented by the idea that in everything that they do they are found wanting; who can't go to Reconciliation because of the shame of being 'found out' or who constantly go to Confession because they cannot believe they have been forgiven. People who do not realise that the only one who stands in judgement of them - is them.  

Cannot believe Jesus' own words;

God so loved the world

That he gave his only Son

So that everyone who believes...may have eternal life

Not to condemn the world but to save it.

Along with every other piece of Lenten scripture this is a journey of transformation -  Nicodemus walks away under cover of night in confusion; this is a good thing, a very good thing - the crack in the armour of certainty  allows the Light to enter. And we know that this is only the beginning - Nicodemus appears again - a public supporter at the trial;  and again - a sorrowful witness at the foot of the Cross. 

We are asked to have faith but it cannot be a passive faith. Jesus asks us to be aware of what action our faith calls us to. We must struggle, like Nicodemus, with what we already believe; struggle with the ties that bind us to tradition and convention. 

Allow ourselves the freedom to accept the glimpse of light; the invitation of Love; the call to truth. 

Have courage to step out of the shadows and stand beside the call to love; beside the outcast. 

To have the compassion to take into our arms, into our lives,  a God who so loved the world that he gave us himself. 

“How else but through a broken heart may Lord Christ enter in?”
― Oscar Wilde


Friday, 9 March 2012

Love for Sale

John 2:13-25 

Just before the Jewish Passover Jesus went up to Jerusalem, and in the Temple he found people selling cattle and sheep and pigeons, and the money changers sitting at their counters there. Making a whip out of some cord, he drove them all out of the Temple, cattle and sheep as well, scattered the money changers’ coins, knocked their tables over and said to the pigeon-sellers, ‘Take all this out of here and stop turning my Father’s house into a market.’ Then his disciples remembered the words of scripture: Zeal for your house will devour me. The Jews intervened and said, ‘What sign can you show us to justify what you have done?’ Jesus answered, ‘Destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this sanctuary: are you going to raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the sanctuary that was his body, and when Jesus rose from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the words he had said.
  During his stay in Jerusalem for the Passover many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he gave, but Jesus knew them all and did not trust himself to them; he never needed evidence about any man; he could tell what a man had in him.

What if I should discover that the poorest of the beggars and the most impudent of offenders are all within me, and that I stand in need of the alms of my own kindness; that I myself am the enemy who must be loved-- what then?
Carl Jung 

Odd thing about this part of the Gospel - this incident when Jesus (Jesus!) seemingly loses it - human maybe but hardly divine - is how very vindicated we can feel about it - 

that if Jesus can lose his temper then it is ok to lose mine...

that there are people who deserve Jesus' anger...

that we are not one of those people...

or, that we are.

Vindication is a sharply honed, two edged sword that we imagine divides the right from the wrong; the swing of this event manages to divide Jesus from pretty well everyone. But who would believe that they were in the wrong?

It is permissable for the market sellers and moneychangers to trade in the Temple. People are required to make sacrifice; to pay tithes and offerings. Sacrifices and tithes have to meet the customs of the community; the purity laws; the tradition. The traders are breaking no laws; it is simply supply and demand. How better to do this than within the Temple itself? There may be some profit involved and money does 'talk' - even 'pray' - but it is for the common good. 

The 'good' ... even as Christians we often talk about the need to protect and to consider the common good. It sidles its way into conversations about social justice and just societies. The common good protects the interests of the many; of the majority; it makes the most of things; it supports the status quo. 

Jesus does not believe in the common good; it is not for the common good that he forgives the woman caught in adultery; heals the lepers or makes  disciples out of tax collectors, prostitutes and widows. It is not for the common good that he blesses the meek, the grieving and the merciful; it is not why he stands at the margins with those who have been rejected - for the common good - and abdicates the throne of power that the entry into Jerusalem had promised. 

It is not for the common good - it is for the Good that is his Father.

His Father who desires that nothing will stand between him and his children. So much so that, in a few days, the sacrifice of his own Son will crack open the Curtain that keeps them apart; so that the Father's heart, held deep within the Holy of Holies may bleed into the world and never again been contained within walls of either stone or Law.

It must have been a heartbreaking scene for Jesus - a microcosm of a world that is not interested in what a person has in them except to see their 'market value' - as status; as usefulness; as entertainment; as distraction; as exploitation; as profit. A world that offers salvation based on what you have to offer. The very people he had come to Jerusalem to redeem, bartering away their integrity.

Hardly loving your neighbour as yourself; hardly loving God with all your heart.

What a temptation it must be to walk away; to let the signs and portents fade; the words of prophecy fail.

And yet Love stayed in Jerusalem; stayed whilst the demand increased; until the market forces set the price. 

Thirty pieces of silver.

Love for sale?

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” 
 C.S. Lewis


Saturday, 3 March 2012

No more fear

GospelMark 9:2-10 

Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone by themselves. There in their presence he was transfigured: his clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than any earthly bleacher could make them. Elijah appeared to them with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus. Then Peter spoke to Jesus: ‘Rabbi,’ he said ‘it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say; they were so frightened. And a cloud came, covering them in shadow; and there came a voice from the cloud, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.’ Then suddenly, when they looked round, they saw no one with them any more but only Jesus.
  As they came down from the mountain he warned them to tell no one what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They observed the warning faithfully, though among themselves they discussed what ‘rising from the dead’ could mean.

“Scared and sacred are spelled with the same letters. Awful proceeds from the same root word as awesome. Terrify and terrific. Every negative experience holds the seed of transformation.”
― Alan Cohen

Strange; the memories that Scripture finds  - and as far away from a high mountain as you can get. 

My earliest experience of transformation was when my dad decided to teach me how to swim in that time honoured method of 'throwing me in the deep end'. In the echoing chambers of the Victorian public swimming pool I can still remember falling into deep, cold nothingness then flailing against the ceramic tiles until I got a purchase of the lip of the gully that drained away the water. I hung on, coughing on the burning sensation of the chlorinated water and retching as little dead bugs floated by, legs and wings akimbo, rocking in the tidal currents caused by panicking children and resolute 'laners'. 

I had really wanted to learn to swim; I had felt the water calling for a long time and had persuaded my mum and dad that the fact that we were 4 children under five should not stop us from going. The 'sink or swim' methodology was a disaster. One brother remained afraid of water for years to come. I persevered, although the riotous melee of public swimming baths was not what I had envisioned and I would never, ever, take a stroke that would put me out of my depth. The very thought that I might put my foot down into blank, unsupporting coldness filled me with dread - the idea of being able to float, to relax in this foreign but desired atmosphere was outside the imagination of the big, clumsy, awkward me that I was. Eventually I gave up.

The next transformation came when I started to travel abroad - in Britain we may be surrounded by sea but it has a quality all of it's own - a quality called 'cold'. Off the Greek islands or the shores of Portugal, this was a different matter. This was nearer to what I had imagined; although I still never swam any further than my feet would reach.

Until one day when I swam out on a beach where the bottom fell away quite dramatically only a few yards from shore. As my feet relaxed down and didn't find either rock or sand  It was another sink or swim moment. In seconds, every physical and emotional memory of the first encounter with the 'deep' returned; foolish or not - I panicked.

Then something made me stop panicking; something made me stop. It was virtually a surrender; a submission. And, for the first time in my life I floated. It was amazing that doing nothing could feel so free. That 'doing nothing' made me part of everything - the mixture of temperatures as I was wrapped in the warm and cold currents of seawater; the taste of the wind; the heat of the sun; the hum of nature's silence (which isn't silence at all); the holding and the belonging and the timelessness. I was captivated, held in the palm of the Creator God; captured by the gentle awesomeness of a loving parent.

It's an experience I love; although it never quite surpasses that first time when I realised that  all my fears; all my fears were unfounded. And, even out of the water, I have become someone who tries not to let fear live too easily within me.

And so to the mountain.

Part of the Lenten journey is to grapple with our fears. Jesus tells us not be afraid over and over again. But at this time in his journey, in his humanity, was this a mantra he was also saying to himself?

The thing about mountains is that once you are up you have to come down; so this is a step away from the path towards Jerusalem - a detour. 

Could it have been the place where the devil tempted him, not that many years before, to use his divinity to save his life?  Was this an acknowledgment of his human frailty; his need of his Father; of the One who lives in him? The need of friends; on both side of the darkened mirror. Even in his frailty, perhaps because of it, his Father is delighted; exclaims his pride and his joy.

Einstein made a remark that you cannot solve a problem with the same consciousness that created it - you must learn to see anew. 

Fear is much the same; we are changed more by fear than by lack of it - and for the better if we want to be. But we need to change our mindset; we need to see with new eyes; we need to become more than we were. And we cannot do that by ourselves; we need to find the high place; we need to move, like Jesus, closer and closer to the Father.

Then we, also, will become transfigured.


A vision is not just a picture of what could be; it is an appeal to our better selves, a call to become something more. 
- Rosabeth Moss Kanter