Saturday, 30 March 2013

The Condition of Waiting

A year and a week ago my mother died. It was a Friday, and in ways much like and unlike the Friday we have just experienced.

As hard as it is to say it - my mum had chosen to die; her long term illness had kept her in hospital debilitated and on dialysis. She chose to come home; she chose to come off dialysis; there was only one outcome. She wanted to see her birthday and Mother's Day; the timing was hopeful but not guaranteed. 

As it was - and I am not surprised by this -  she lived long enough to celebrate both special days and spent a few sunny and warm March weeks surrounded by her own mementos, flowers and cards with daily visits from friends and relatives. By the grace of God all four of us, her children, managed to get time from work; come from other countries and spend time together, taking our old familiar, family roles in the  home we had last lived in as teenagers. 

The night she died we had sat around the bed talking and laughing. It was my turn to be on watch; sleeping in the campbed next to her and within five minutes of my dozing off she had gone. Waiting, no doubt, for that quiet moment as people often do. 

What was important to my mum was her home, her family and her friends so we had already agreed that she would not be moved until we were ready. The doctor's visit was discrete and the night-nurses made her 'comfortable'.

The regular visitors, noticing the closed curtains, called in anyway - often staying just as long as before. The nurses had rang round the duty staff and some made a detour on their rounds to say goodbye. Sympathy cards mixed in with the birthday and Mother's Day cards. The flowers were joined by candles.

I was thinking this year, that this could well have been the death that Jesus would have prayed for; if only there had been another way. 

Then people realised that it was Friday; with the weekend ahead the phonecalls began. Registrars, funeral directors, booking churches and social clubs. The funeral directors arrived; compassionate but business-like. Appointments appeared to run like clockwork - her influence again, no doubt. 

Suddenly,  it was Saturday and the world that we had created in those few weeks began slowly to fall apart. The rhythm of the household unravelled. There was no need for the jigsaw pieces of travelling, shopping and caring to fit. The house could look after itself. Sitting quietly seemed self-indulgent when so many other things had been put aside for so long. Was it right to tidy up; to sit and talk; to clear away? What were the rules?

And the shift in perception - towards a person who filled the world with her presence and continued to do so. Was it wrong to be glad that the pain and frustration had ceased? Was it naive to believe that she was moving happily and freely in the garden she claimed Our Lady had promised her? Was it right to feel like an orphan, even at my age? To feel unable to honour all the promises she had wrung out of me?

That Saturday taught me the condition of waiting. A waiting that brought darkness to the days that followed. A waiting painfully full of questions that only time would answer. A waiting that seems to stop time. Emotions of grief, anger, frustration, even tears naming themselves but balanced in a vacuum of confusion whilst all around the world went on. I  needed this day even though it seems useless; needed to stand in the threshold of two worlds, patiently or otherwise, and recognise that one world had ended.

This Saturday the world goes on and I remember my mother and the person in the tomb that gave me joyful hope for her continuing journey. 

For Jesus who, year on year, will not have the blessing of a peaceful death, I will enter the condition of waiting. Sitting with the women who are waiting for the Sabbath to pass so that they can make their blessing. Waiting for the darkness to be over; for the Light to shine again. 

wordinthehand 2013 

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Good Friday Follower

I remember, Lord, the ‘Come and See’. Remember, I came; following, listening, learning. Full of joy, full of hope – the New Day was going to dawn, the Kingdom of God was near.

I did not come to ‘see’ this, Lord; standing ankle deep in the waste of the city, tears streaming silently down my face, my mouth full of blood as I bite down on my tongue to stop myself from crying out. For I do not want these others to know that I know you.

I don’t know you.

The fear, the demons, the hopelessness is back and you are not here to save me. The crowd shouts out to you ‘Save yourself’ and I truly believe that you could – even now, you could. But it seems you are taking yourself out of this world. Your light is too bright for them and they have closed their eyes against it.

What sort of plan was this? You had driven me here with the message of love and forgiveness. But who got the message? The plan has gone wrong. If not, how is it right? The meek were going to inherit but all I have is this hill, the town dump. Was this what I was supposed to see?

Then a sound, perhaps just a cry on the wind; ‘Abba’. That you still call Him this, now, when surely, if He were here, He could just reach down and lift you out of this. Under my breath, I begin to say the words, the prayer you taught me. And at the end, ‘deliver us from evil’ - if you are here Abba, take your Son –deliver him from the evil that we have all done this day.

The wind drops and this time I know it is your voice – ‘Father, into your hands’. The wind rises, hot and as sudden as a sirocco; and you are gone. And, at that moment, I know in my soul - there is no power on earth that can save; at the end, not even you. Only the Father has that power, only the Father can call us home.

Father, into your hands…


Saturday, 23 March 2013

And the stones will cry out

Sunday GospelLuke 19:28-40 
Blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord.
Jesus went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. Now when he was near Bethphage and Bethany, close by the Mount of Olives as it is called, he sent two of the disciples, telling them, ‘Go off to the village opposite, and as you enter it you will find a tethered colt that no one has yet ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” you are to say this, “The Master needs it”.’ The messengers went off and found everything just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owner said, ‘Why are you untying that colt?’ and they answered, ‘The Master needs it.’

  So they took the colt to Jesus, and throwing their garments over its back they helped Jesus on to it. As he moved off, people spread their cloaks in the road, and now, as he was approaching the downward slope of the Mount of Olives, the whole group of disciples joyfully began to praise God at the top of their voices for all the miracles they had seen. They cried out:

‘Blessings on the King who comes,

in the name of the Lord!

Peace in heaven

and glory in the highest heavens!’

Some Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Master, check your disciples,’ but he answered, ‘I tell you, if these keep silence the stones will cry out.’

 Wouldn't it be lovely, just one year, not to have the horror of Good Friday looming over this event? For some paradox of time to switch the ending of the week to something less guilt-ridden. One of the hardest parts of the Gospel for me to read without shuddering at what was going to happen next. 

Ignatian Spirituality embraces the practice of imaginative meditation as well as contemplative prayer. Placing yourself in the Gospel can teach, heal and inspire. 
This year, the thought occurs to me that Pope Francis may well be joining Jesus in having a Palm Sunday moment or two. 

For both of them, all that time in the desert, the message was being passed, believed, ignored, dismissed. Until the summoning of the Spirit brings them out of the soul thirsting, dryness and the unending struggle of the darkened and dry valleys of hopelessness and poverty. 

As they teeter on the tipping point of their lives a decision is made - how am I going to do this? How do I subvert the expectations of the world.

Jesus, for the first time ever (and against the desire of the authorities) accepts a position of honour and the homage of the crowd. Pulling together prophecy and  expectation, he creates the image everyone was waiting for. And they react in kind. Rephrasing the usual pilgrim's welcome to bless the King who comes in the name of the Lord; they deafen the onlookers with their praiseLuke's Gospel does not limit the frenzied adoration to the Jews, the nationalism of the palm leaves are not referred to here. The world is present in Jerusalem. The crowd, overcome by the spectacle, are giving him the clothes off their backs.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, for the last time ever (if the authorities have anything to do with it) makes his way in 'in the presence of Jesus'  - as a pilgrim, a priest, a man. Public transport, the company of his brothers, a room with or without a view. As Francis, he stands as a servant; with borrowed clothes and second hand jewellery; he speaks to the faiths and cultures of the world; the crowd pour blessings onto him. The media delights in daily discourse and uncovering one more fact or fancy. 

In the next few days for Jesus, and the following years. with God's grace,  for Francis, life is going to get much more uncomfortable. 

How easy it would be to keep Jesus on his colt; how easy to keep Francis up on his pedestal - letting them challenge the status quo whilst we wave our flags from the sidelines. How easy to be the onlooker; the critic; the cynic; believing that these challenges are surely not made towards us. 

The authorities will have little patience now with Jesus; a threat to the spiritual and the imperial leadership, he has put his head in the lion's mouth and it is only a matter of time. Even his followers of three years will turn on him in one way or another.    

 For Francis - asked to build a living church - a different culture; a different time; a different set of values - two thousand years of faith and tradition- surely we are better prepared? 

We will see.

The crowds will fade taking their memories with them; the media will pack up and go home; the flag will be used as a duster and the only people left will be those for whom the Gospel is a living truth. Those who want to build it and those who want to destroy it.
And the stones will cry out.

And our reply?