03 July 2020

Woundedness – 3 July 2020

The Oxford English Dictionary reluctantly admits that woundedness is a valid word, but says it is rare.  What is not rare is the fact of human woundedness.  We bear the legacies of wounding events or words – physical, mental, psychic, or simply fantasy, they can be open wounds or troublesome scars.    So, life for many entails finding ways, often heroically, to compensate for the limitations woundedness imposes.  

There is, just as real, a woundedness of spirit, a sense of defeat it may be, or of inferiority, or deprivation.  Any or all of this can manifest in anger, or in defensiveness, unwillingness to take risks… it may show up in euphoria, partying, misuse of alcohol and other drugs.  And there is the woundedness of ageing – it’s not only bits of us packing up like an old washing machine, but also, in far more cases than we think proper, the distressing facts of senility.

One reality of woundedness is that the more we try to hide it, the more it may be apparent to the discerning eye.  Denial is another ploy… “Everything’s going to be just fine”, you hear routinely in American movies... somewhere over the rainbow, I presume.  Send the children upstairs… lest they hear something that might suggest the world can be a nasty place… which they may be suspecting already.  The powerfully rich cosmetic industry is dedicated to denial, driving (botoxing) back the visible effects of ageing... with what we might call mixed results.
Jesus was wounded.  It is in the nature of love to share woundedness.  The ancient Hebrew prophecy said the Servant would bear our griefs and carry our sorrows[1].  Even the resurrected Lord invites his disciples to see his wounds[2]rich wounds, says the hymn writer, yet visible above[3].  He bore the wounds that go with simply living among people, in his case, an oppressed people brutally ruled by an occupying power… but also, his immediate company of disciples and friends had its tensions and defections, misunderstandings, needless alienations.  Kawau Bay some mornings is beautifully calm and unruffled... but an elderly Maori woman I met one day in a waiting room in Warkworth, when I said the bay looked nice, told me the taniwha – she actually called it Tangaroa – was getting restless and therefore dangerous.  Church meetings at times could be among the worst for wounding people.
When we come to the silence and stillness of contemplative prayer, we have come to a “place” where there can be no guilt or embarrassment about our woundedness.  There is no talk of blame here – no one says, “Well she brought it on herself” ... as though that contributes to the sum of understanding and compassion, or truth.  Any brokenness we may set to one side, because here at any rate we are living from wholeness and newness.  The grace that operates here, in love, is reconfiguring our relationships with the past.  What is asked from us is the willingness of the heart to be still, to cease the chatter and self-justification, and to say Yes to God who is always saying Yes to us, in love.

[1] Isaiah 53:3-6`
[2] Luke 24:39-40; John 20:20, 25-28
[3] Crown Him with Many Crowns, a hymn by Matthew Bridges and Godfrey Thring.

26 June 2020

Prophesying peace – 26 June 2020

One of the lectionary readings for next Sunday is from the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah, from the 6th century BC.  We know more about Jeremiah than about any other of the prophets.  He had a loyal scribe called Baruch, which means “blessed”, and it’s possible that we have Baruch to thank that thesirreplaceable wisdoms are preserved.  

Prophecy was big business in ancient times, vital to kings and rulers -- much as Presidents and Prime Ministers today surround themselves with Advisers, Consultants and Analysts, along with sycophants and nodders.  There were competing “schools” of prophets, some of them charlatans... which also has its similarities to our day.  Jeremiah however did not fit the popular mould.  He told the truth, which was less than career-enhancing, and he more than once found himself in prison, on one occasion thrown into a cesspit… it’s a lively story.  Meanwhile the military power of Babylon was rising in the eastmore and more threatening to Judah and Jerusalem.  

Jeremiah announces: 
The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times preached war, famine, and pestilence  As for the prophet who preaches peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet. (28:8-9) 

As we frequently have to say by way of reminder, the prophets’ task was not so much to predict the futureas to inform kings and rulers and the people what God required, God’s Word.  What does God require of you, said the Prophet Micah, but to do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly…  Here then is Jeremiah calling out the prophets who are advocating war, famine and pestilence… I think we may well say, in our time, those who think conflict is inevitable, who think disputes are resolved by violenceor enjoy violent sport as a celebration of manliness or power… those who think vast social and economic inequities are somehow God’s willin the nature of things … those who try to tell us that God sends disease or any adversity to punish people… those who believe the end justifies the means, those greedy for power, those who mutilate God’s Word into some divisive prosperity gospel…. 
Jeremiah says the true prophet speaks God’s shalom, God’s peace and wholeness, restoration and mercy.  That prophet is true.  And how do we know?  When the word of that prophet comes true… he says.  It comes true when by love and prayer we begin to see beyond what we imagine are our safety systems, what our ego finds familiar… when we are able to welcome newness, to let the past go, to let others be who they are when we find we’re not afraid any more, at any rate for ourselves. Richard Rohr calls this emancipation because it is more than the freedoms we normally assume we’re entitled tofreedom of speech, and so on.  It is an inner freedom, the company of Christ in the heart.  Jeremiah, and Jesus who was a Jew, called it shalom.   

19 June 2020

Being who we are - 19 June 2020

What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. (Matthew 10:27) 

Jesus speaks in aphorisms, and if you listen to the gospel for next Sunday you will hear a string of them.  They are all, one way or another, about what the great 20th century Catholic theologian Hans Küng called simply, Christ sein, Being a Christian.  For Hans Küng it means living one’s allegiance to Christ as a liberal and well informed Catholic.  For Donald J Trump it means Protestantism in the American version, propping up capitalism and white male supremacy.  One person I know, who never goes near the church, was however a boarder at a Christian college, and now therefore sees himself as a sort of Honorary Christian.  My point is that 10 people will have 10 differing concepts of what it means to be a Christian.

It differs also from one age to another.  In my youth it meant having been converted (as we understood the word) to Jesus, and witnessing in our lives... and, as I recall, being happy all the time.  Others around that time would have said it meant being baptised in the true faith and living according to its precepts.  It meant something else in the time of Henry VIII…  something else again in 1st century Rome or Antioch, Ephesus or Alexandria …  it meant one thing to the Pilgrim Fathers, and another to the Spanish invaders of Mexico and South America.
I don’t think Jesus ever heard the word Christian, but what he clearly expected was that his followers would be bound to him in love, and he would be bound to them.  Abide in me and I in you.1  He expected that the essential part of us would be inspired and led by him, given to God, inwardly, day by day.  He called it where your treasure is.  It is a quiet place where some things are settled, and ego has assumed its proper function which is not in charge.  In St Paul’s writings this relationship is called being in Christ;  in the writings of John it is described as abiding.  

And so Jesus says this aphorism: What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.  His followers have an inner life.  It is in this inner roomnourished by prayer, informed by scripture and by wisdom from other disciples of Jesus, that wounds are healed and the sting is drawn from memory, it is here that faith is renewed and humility reigns.  This is what he calls, what I say to you in the dark… what you hear whispered.  It is wisdom, imparted in love, it is steadiness.  In John we find Jesus calling it living water, bubbling up.   

This is who we are, who we are becoming, in Christ.  It is our truest self.  And discipleship is being who we are.  Tell it in the light, says Jesus, proclaim it from the housetops.  I think he means, don’t hide or pretend... if someone wants to know, then tell it in the light.  But in any case be who you are.  Don’t imagine that Christian discipleship can somehow be neatly harmonised with the culture of secularism, consumerism, hedonism or greed.  do, I admit, have difficulty with proclaiming it from the housetops maybe with a violin, if I could, like Fiddler on the Roof… on a nice sunny day… some quiet tune about love and loss, joy and sorrow.