Saturday, 27 July 2013

The heart's prayer

Sunday GospelLuke 11:1-13 

Once Jesus was in a certain place praying, and when he had finished one of his disciples said, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘Say this when you pray:
“Father, may your name be held holy,
your kingdom come;
give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive each one who is in debt to us.
And do not put us to the test.”’
He also said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend and goes to him in the middle of the night to say, “My friend, lend me three loaves, because a friend of mine on his travels has just arrived at my house and I have nothing to offer him”; and the man answers from inside the house, “Do not bother me. The door is bolted now, and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up to give it you.” I tell you, if the man does not get up and give it him for friendship’s sake, persistence will be enough to make him get up and give his friend all he wants.

  ‘So I say to you: Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For the one who asks always receives; the one who searches always finds; the one who knocks will always have the door opened to him. What father among you would hand his son a stone when he asked for bread? Or hand him a snake instead of a fish? Or hand him a scorpion if he asked for an egg? If you then, who are evil, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’

Jesus must wonder if the disciples have been paying attention these past weeks. Or perhaps they have, and have come to a place where they can sit at Jesus' feet but can't quite make the connection with God the Father. However John taught his disciples, it certainly left an impression. Surely, there is some finer formula and sacrifice that God himself requires. Surely, it is not so easy as the conversations that they have with Jesus their friend. Jesus' answer is otherwise. In the Gospel of Luke, he teaches them the simplest and likely truest version of the Lord's prayer. 

The Lord's Prayer is our affirmation of our communal desire to follow the Great Commandments.

We affirm that our relationship is with a paternal rather than a patriarchal God. A Father, not a Master. A Dad whose love for us feeds us with all that we need; not once for the journey but what we need every day; enough to give us strength; enough to move us along the path. 

The Father's overwhelming care for us brings forth a love that is full of courage, perseverence and commitment.   To love our neighbour - without exception; to commit to 'do the right thing' and to trust others to do the right thing by us. And to hope, as any of us would hope, that we never end up in a position where the relationship is put at risk through our own foolish fault.


A simple prayer; the prayer that Jesus teaches us.

And a suggestion that surely it can't be that easy? 

Maybe it is easier for Jesus, having two fathers; the heavenly closely matched by the earthly.  The quiet man, Joseph, seems to have been the epitome of grace and blessing; an air of authority and diplomacy; a protective and valiant provider. For many, many people  - these images draw similarities with our own family background - forgiving the little things between us; knowing that there is much to treasure and be thankful for. But not always...

It's said that our image of God is firstly inspired by our parents. God the Father - the Father - God. Being a son for Jesus seems to have been  a delight and a privilege in both cases. Sadly this isn't always so. In my region there are areas where the number of 'fatherless' families reaches as high as 60%. There have always been single parent families within a community - here they often make up the community.  It can be imagined that, for some children, this means 'grandfather-less' too; in fact an utter lack of male role models; their 'lack' markedly negative in a world of gangs and high unemployment. 

In recent years, single mothers come to Baptism preparation unwilling to even name the father - they are not part of family life. 

How do you look up to 'absence'?

And for some children, the image of 'Father' is an image of fear and violence; not someone to be prayed to 'to deliver us from evil'.  

Yet there is something in the human psyche that understands the ideals of this prayer; the promise of Jesus that includes us in the family of God as beloved children; as brothers and sisters. That brings us together in love and forgiveness. Even when it is hard to be loving or to forgive; the intention is worth a thousand, more wordy, prayers. 

And for those of us whose family have been born through friendship and companionship; Jesus speaks of this too. Friendship is a hardwon gift; not to be taken advantage of or slighted. For the closeness and unfailing compassion of those who have become true friends runs deep with love.  If this is your journey into God; then there is joy at the realisation of such good fortune; the family you grow into;  something not to be taken for granted. 

When we wish only good for those we count as friends, or family - or both- or otherwise. When our desire is that relationships are enriching and filled with love; then each moment of that time is prayer; each moment is filled with the Spirit of God's Love.  


Monday, 22 July 2013

Feast of Mary Magdalen

She awoke from a curse of sleep; uncertain that she was truly awake or  dreaming of a 'might have been' the demons had denied her. Keeping her eyes closed she waited for the shudder of reality and the shrill laughter that meant she was still forsaken. The world remained but still she did not open her eyes - she had become used to the dark - casting her senses out she felt the warmth of the evening sun weighing down the air in the room; a stillness that suggested a closed door, a curtained window. Voices in the next room; friendly voices sounding back and forth. The tinny clatter of bells and the grumbling of chickens signalled that she was near the back of the house - a storeroom or a workshop perhaps? 

She opened her eyes. The curtain she had rightly imagined,  did not completely shut out the light; feather scraps and dust motes danced in the gentle rays of a setting sun. The light was good enough to see that she was, indeed, in a storeroom of sorts - pots of preserves bound closed with waxed seals, baskets of fruit and vegetables standing guard near the door, wine jars collecting dust in the cool corner. Only just enough room for the cot she was lying on. Simple but far, far better than she was used to. 

She took a slow breath and relaxed the clenched fists resting on her stomach. She felt the soft, spun texture of the robe she had been dressed in. 'An old one of mine' his mother had said gently. When she had resisted the woman had added 'after all you are family, now. Why, we even have the same name.'
She reached one hand up to her hair and ran a length through her fingers; no longer matted and oily, it smelt of rosemary and sunshine. The woman had commented that hair as dark as hers needed rosemary to make it shine; she wondered if her mother had ever known that.

She felt as if she had been scalded; but even as she felt it- she felt healing taking place within and without. She lifted up her arms - smooth now and shining with oil - still crisscrossed with scars where talons had raked into her despair. 'Better leave those,' she thought  'or I will never remember who I am.'
Then laughed at the thought that she had any control over the healing; and laughed again at the sound of her own laughter. 

The sound must have disturbed the group in the outer room; the doorcurtain  moved to one side; the mother came in and sat on the edge of the cot; smiling softly as her eyes scanned her noticing the blossoming wellness in her. 'When you are ready, please come and join us.' The woman returned to the outer room and goodbyes and blessings were passed to and fro - and then quiet.

After a time she pulled herself to a sitting postion and then twisted her legs off the bed. The soles of her feet picking up the warmth of the sandy floor and the gritty texture against the skin. She ran her tongue around her mouth and across her teeth - she was thirsty- perhaps there would be a jug of water just the other side of the threshold. 

As she moved the curtain aside she saw the woman and her son sitting together; their heads nearly touching as they whispered to each other. When they looked up, they both had the same smile. The woman stood up to leave, put her hand on her son's head and kissed him; saying the words of a childhood blessing. 

The water was cool; with sparkles of liquid light and tiny rainbows reflecting off the glaze of the cup. She couldn't remember noticing that about water before but then there was very little that she trusted her memory to. 

She sat on a cushion near the room she had left. The silence held; she relaxed her weight and took a drink. As she lifted the cup she caught his eye.

'You are well.' it was a statement; not a question. He had made her well; she knew that much. Her concern now was what would it cost her.

'Where did they go?'

'The others have gone to stay in my friend Simon's house. We thought you would prefer some quiet.'

She shook her head. 'Not them; the demons. Where did they go?" She shuddered at the thought that some other poor soul may have opened a door to their possession. 'Did you kill them?'

'No,' He gave just a slight shake of the head; a question no-one else had asked, 'they do not die; but they have a place and that is no longer with you; you are safe now.'

She believed him; she knew the spaces where they had lived -  eyes, heart, womb - were cleansed and filled now with something both light and heavy and infinitely good. The silence returned; restful as a summer's night. That she could feel at peace this close to a man...but as soon as she thought it; it faded. It felt that she stood apart as every moment of cruelty, misplaced passion, rage or loss found release with each outward breath -shades into mists.

What next? What could she offer as thanks for this salvation? What could she say that would keep her close to this man and his quiet healing presence?

A whispered plea; 'I know I can never repay you; but perhaps if you would take me as a servant? There are so many others such as me. I know where they live; where they suffer as I have. If you can heal me then maybe,  if you were willing,you will let me take you to them. I could care for them... with you.'

How did she dare?

He gazed at her. In his heart, a silent prayer of thanks to Abba. 'Mary, you and I are both servants; perhaps though,  you could take me as your friend.