Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Days of Future Past

Another superhero event hit our cinema screens this weekend as the X-Men (and women) fight to save the annihilation of the human race by re-writing history. 

Not wishing to be a 'spoiler' - you can read after you have seen - the basic premise is that the fear of the unknown and still largely unseen 'mutants' has inspired the development of hunter robots. Not only can they 'scent' the mutant gene in humans but, thanks to a captured mutant, they have the ability to mutate themselves to overpower anything they come up against. As they become better at what they do, they begin to anticipate the genetic possiblities in pretty well anyone they meet. So, yet again,  humankind are under threat from the very devices that were meant to protect them. How tempting to reflect on how self-destructive we seem to be. Not only passing control of our bodies and minds to hi-technology and doomsday peddlars but insisting on the sense that the enemy is always the 'other' and the 'other' is always to be feared.

The last of the mutants, some of whom had been sworn enemies, gather in a remote temple. From the gifted ones that are left standing, the only hope is to send Wolverine back to the 1970's to prevent the capture of the mutant, Mystique, so sticking an spanner in the works of this particularly destructive thread of time. Unfortunately, none of the players were on good terms in the 70's and Wolverine is certainly not famed for his sensitivity or diplomacy. With no other option, and no guarantees, Wolverine heads back to a time before he reached his adamantium best - to do what he can to heal hurts and hearts, to build a future where hope still has a chance.

During their attempt to change events, Hank, one of the mutants, refers to the early twentieth century philosophical theory that Time was immanent. That in the great stream of Time, our actions and experiences are no more than the ripple of a pebble. That despite everything, we are helpless, in the flow of something greater. 

That's as far as I am taking the plot - because it is this sense of how the past affects us that resonates with the Good News that Jesus tries to teach us. 

On the way to the cinema, we had been talking about a contemporary theory that the lives we live now are imminent. That the world encourages life 'in the moment', judged only on what is now, on the brink of what is next. The past - and future - are nothing we have control over. So why should they concern us? Except they do.

The Good News comes at the beginning of the most imminent of Gospels. 

“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. 
Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1:15

As imminent people we have trouble with the need to repent. Can't we just believe the good news? If we get that right won't the rest just follow?

Yet there are few days that pass without a conversation about resentments and  bitterness about events and encounters from the past. Conversations in work, school, in church, over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee. The recent Lenten Reconciliation brought memories of 'what if's' and 'if only's' back racing back to the surface demanding attention. I wonder how many people truly found peace of heart this year. Or, more likely, continued to imagine the life they  could have had, carrying the memories to beat themselves and each other. 

Repentance correctly translates as metanioa - change of Mind, a change in the action of the whole inner nature, intellectual, affectional and moral. The change in humankind that has to take place to reach the Kingdom. In its way a mutation, towards the good, of who we truly are. 

Part of this has to be dealing with the past. 

Revisiting -  not to change, but to accept and forgive. 

Revisiting -  not to blame, but to offer compassion to our brokeness

Revisiting - not to condemn, but to free us in the journey of life.

Free to live in the stream of God's Time, loved, beloved and loving. In the life we live, in the people we live with, in the world we live in. Compelled in our hearts by the words that Jesus teaches most of all - 'Do not be afraid'.

Professor Xavier, the younger, answers Hank's immanent theory with his own. That our paths are not set, that our efforts are not worthless. 

That, whoever we are, we are bound to stumble. But that is not the end. Our stumbling leads to recovery, leads to new strengths, leads to new paths. 

Leads to hope. 

Why ever should our past deny us hope?


Sunday, 25 May 2014

Spirit of Family

Gospel of John 14:15-21 

Jesus said to his disciples:
‘If you love me you will keep my commandments.
I shall ask the Father,
and he will give you another Advocate
to be with you for ever,
that Spirit of truth
whom the world can never receive
since it neither sees nor knows him;
but you know him,
because he is with you, he is in you.

I will not leave you orphans;
I will come back to you.
In a short time the world will no longer see me;
but you will see me,
because I live and you will live.

On that day you will understand that I am in my Father
and you in me and I in you.

Anybody who receives my commandments and keeps them
will be one who loves me;
and anybody who loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I shall love him and show myself to him.’

John's Jesus speaks in a labyrinth of words. Whether they are meant to reassure or compel, it hard to tell. It is clear that Jesus is trying to get his message across that where he is going - there is Love. A love that flows freely with, through and in all of those who follow the Commandments of Love.

Here is the suggestion of God as, not only Father and Son, but as Trinity. In one breath Jesus speaks of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; three Persons in One God that give Christians a deep assuredness of God’s presence in all of their lives. 

God fusses over us, as Jesus reminds us, like a hen with her chicks. So much so, that even with the tragic foreboding of the end of Jesus' earthly life, it is the spiritual wellbeing of his friends and his followers that concerns him most. Since he drew them to his side they have belonged to him; the nearness of his death elevates his sense of responsbility to that of a parent and child. He has only just promised that he will not leave them orphans. 

His desire to always be among us in the everyday and the everywhere can now be fulfilled by his gift of the Holy Spirit; the Paraclete - the One who walks Beside - an eternal companion offering unconditional love, wisdom and guidance. 

For the Jewish disciples, committed to a belief in one God, this seems the opposite of everything they were taught to believe in. Yet they had witnessed for themselves that Jesus regarded his Father as intimately as a son would love a human father. And he had taught them to do the same.

And now, the Holy Spirit – sent from both the Father and the Son to be our Advocate. Sent by the Father to stand beside us at the seat of Judgement, whilst the Son pleads our case from his right hand.  

Everything that Jesus has, he gives to us - a whirling enfolding of Love.


Sunday, 18 May 2014

Judgement Call

Sunday - First readingActs 6:1-7 

About this time, when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenists made a complaint against the Hebrews: in the daily distribution their own widows were being overlooked. So the Twelve called a full meeting of the disciples and addressed them, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the word of God so as to give out food; you, brothers, must select from among yourselves seven men of good reputation, filled with the Spirit and with wisdom; we will hand over this duty to them, and continue to devote ourselves to prayer and to the service of the word.’ The whole assembly approved of this proposal and elected Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus of Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
  The word of the Lord continued to spread: the number of disciples in Jerusalem was greatly increased, and a large group of priests made their submission to the faith.

The Book of Acts needs a publicity agent. It occupies a tiny space in the Lectionary during the Easter season and when we tried studying it at Scripture we quickly tired of the to-ing and fro-ing. But we were captured by these early chapters as the stage is set for the infancy of the church we were to become. How joyful we were when we read of the ideals of sharing and reconciliation. How quickly it seemed that the culture of the world raised its objections. How hard it was to fight against what had always been.

This was my reading at church this weekend, and whether it was the 
Spirit or not, the thought came to me with the 'Thanks be to God' that this is where the Church that Francis so often imagines, went into hiding.

It would not be right for us to neglect the word of God to give out food?

Did Jesus not say that as much as you do to the least of these, you do to me?

Did Jesus not say to these friends of his - 'Feed them yourselves'?

Did Jesus Jesus not say - Be a servant, like me?

But instead, they designated others. 

Others, who spread the word by their actions.

The hierarchy was created.

And the priests joined.

The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials. Pope Francis 


The future beckons

GospelJohn 14:1-12
Jesus said to his disciples:
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Trust in God still, and trust in me.
There are many rooms in my Father’s house;
if there were not, I should have told you.
I am going now to prepare a place for you,
and after I have gone and prepared you a place,
I shall return to take you with me;
so that where I am
you may be too.
You know the way to the place where I am going.’
Thomas said, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus said:
‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.
No one can come to the Father except through me.
If you know me, you know my Father too.
From this moment you know him and have seen him.’
Philip said, ‘Lord, let us see the Father and then we shall be satisfied.’ ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip,’ said Jesus to him ‘and you still do not know me?
‘To have seen me is to have seen the Father,
so how can you say, “Let us see the Father”?
Do you not believe
that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?
The words I say to you I do not speak as from myself:
it is the Father, living in me, who is doing this work.
You must believe me when I say
that I am in the Father and the Father is in me;
believe it on the evidence of this work, if for no other reason.
I tell you most solemnly,
whoever believes in me
will perform the same works as I do myself,
he will perform even greater works,
because I am going to the Father.

I've been dealing with a lot of troubled hearts this week as my students enter the last straight of the journey towards the end of their school life and the suddenly realised uncertainty of 'what next?'

The examinations have started and part of my group are ernestly playing catch-up with their studies. When I tried to send them to specialist tutors for revision they declined saying, 'but we can ask you anything, even if it's stupid'. Which, of course they can because I know that everyone brave enough to ask a stupid question is asking it on behalf of the silent majority. I have a feeling Philip and Thomas took the lead in exactly the same way. 

And they were brave to have a go. It feels that you would need an 'ology' of some kind to have a chance of a conversation with John's Jesus. His words twist together and he answers all questions with a question. No wonder the disciples struggle to follow what he is saying. 

A sign of the Divine Jesus? Or maybe a Jesus who knows the Divine; a mystic?

"Mysticism, according to its historical and psychological definitions, is the direct intuition or experience of God; and a mystic is a person who has, to a greater or less degree, such a direct experience -- one whose religion and life are centered, not merely on an accepted belief or practice, but on that which the person regards as first hand personal knowledge."
-Evelyn Underhill

Jesus certainly fits Evelyn's definition of a mystic. Yet YOU could also fit this definition - you do not have to be divine - you just have to have the experience of a  personal, intuitive relationship with God. 

Tales of the supernatural and the rise of the Age of Reason gave mysticism a reputation for being downright 'un-Christian', unless, perhaps, you were at the other extreme - a saint. 

Yet there is no magic involved, no otherworldliness, no secret societies, no select cults. Mysticism could be, should be an everyday experience for everyone. A development of our personal, spiritual growth that we should aspire towards; as Karl Rahner wrote:

“the Christian of the future will either be a ‘mystic,’ one who has experienced ‘something,’ or  will cease to be anything at all.”

The Christian of the future, of now, should seek to follow the prayer and spiritual life of Jesus. It isn't either/or - it's both/and.  The practical proclaimer of social justice is the same man who accepts the gift of anointing, who feels the power drawn from him by another. 

The Son of Man has to be human, through and through, he can't jump from one to the other- he can't be God when it suits him. Following the temptation in the desert, so long ago now, Jesus relinquishes that opportunity - he chooses humanity. 

The only difference between him and us, Jesus might say, is he knows who his Father is; he knows.

When the miracles of healing and reconciliation occur, Jesus never says - 'it was me'.

Jesus is trying to tell us is that we can do the same - that his absolute faith doesn't come from being God himself but from being utterly human; from being vulnerable; from being powerless; from seeing his Father's hand in the world around him; from the experience of relationship that has no doubts. 

This should be our strength; this is the faith we must nurture. To want to belong to the Father, as Jesus belongs to him. To commit our lives to the desire to experience God,  praying for the knowledge of His will for us and then, for the  power to live that out.


Sunday, 4 May 2014

Sometimes you have to walk

GospelLuke 24:13-35 

Two of the disciples of Jesus were on their way to a village called Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking together about all that had happened. Now as they talked this over, Jesus himself came up and walked by their side; but something prevented them from recognising him. He said to them, ‘What matters are you discussing as you walk along?’ They stopped short, their faces downcast.

  Then one of them, called Cleopas, answered him, ‘You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days.’ ‘What things?’ he asked. ‘All about Jesus of Nazareth’ they answered ‘who proved he was a great prophet by the things he said and did in the sight of God and of the whole people; and how our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and had him crucified. Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free. And this is not all: two whole days have gone by since it all happened; and some women from our group have astounded us: they went to the tomb in the early morning, and when they did not find the body, they came back to tell us they had seen a vision of angels who declared he was alive. Some of our friends went to the tomb and found everything exactly as the women had reported, but of him they saw nothing.’

  Then he said to them, ‘You foolish men! So slow to believe the full message of the prophets! Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory?’ Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself.

  When they drew near to the village to which they were going, he made as if to go on; but they pressed him to stay with them. ‘It is nearly evening’ they said ‘and the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them. Now while he was with them at table, he took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognised him; but he had vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?’

  They set out that instant and returned to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven assembled together with their companions, who said to them, ‘Yes, it is true. The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.’ Then they told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognised him at the breaking of bread.

People walk away from community all the time. In frustration, anger, boredom, busyness. Emmaus beckons with all its self-centred temptations and time consuming distractions. You can't blame the community for closing ranks and feeling justified.  It's true that some people need to find their own way.

 The definition of Emmaus is 'warm spring' so it has been suggested by some that these disciples were on their way to a spa town to 'cheer themselves up' - to clear the smell of tragedy and fear from their skin.  The road makes they feel homeless and downcast. Keen to share their grief; eager to speak of Jesus as their leader; open about their shattered dreams and more than willing to walk with a wandering preacher who can give them some hope through the words of scripture. And happy to bring this stranger to the place where they were going to spend the night.

They are not cowards then or running away - they simply do not know what to do with themselves. As a reaction to grief this is probably one of the healthiest - to go to a place where you are safe - to share your grief with a sympathetic ear - to allow yourself to be comforted. They sound like good people.

We 'living in hindsight' people suggest that they should have stayed in Jerusalem - the Holy Place; should have waited it out; should have had some faith in the words of the women. Jesus calls them foolish but are they any worse than the others? And it would appear that his exclamation is more exasperation - as it has been many times with the other disciples. They are certainly worth tracking down and bringing home. 

The two have taken the journey of those who seek him with yearning hearts and without certainty. Their hearts are still eager for the Word and full of the gift of hospitality for the stranger, as Jesus had asked of them.  What a surprise it must have seemed that it was the stranger who was the answer.

The welcome encounter...the sorrow healed...understanding in sharing... relationship in table fellowship... courage in enlightenment.  

The road to Emmaus assures us that Jesus is always afoot; that there are always places to be community; there is always time to take a walk and there is always time for eucharistia.