MARY’S DRESS

BANK HOLIDAY weekend affords a happy extension to “left brain time.” There are always more books I want to read, more paintings I want to paint, more photographs I want to make, more writing to be done, more poems to unfold, more prayer to be celebrated, more people to share some time and stories with, more songs to be sung, more colours to be marvelled at, more silence to be revelled in – than time ordinarily allows. And that very fact is cause for thanksgiving! Life is indeed a rich tapestry. The signs of the reign, the joy of God, are all around me. And I’m immensely thankful for the connections that blogging makes possible with people all around the world.

Today’s artwork is inspired, in Eastertide, by Mary Magdalene, beloved apostle of Jesus, first witness to new life in the Resurrection, loyal provider of intimate and loving support and sustenance, someone generous, open-hearted and giving, someone who just “knew” instinctively, what Jesus’ mission on earth was about, someone released, by God’s goodness, from the kind of prison every one of us finds ourselves in from time to time.

All human persons are “bedevilled” by “Legion” the perpetually underlying and taunting belief that somehow we’re failing to make the grade, we’re unlovable, bigger and better “failures” than anyone else, destined to be “alone”, faithless, heartbroken, misunderstood, wretched. All human persons yearn for the kind of release that Jesus’ love and acceptance brought about in Mary’s life; for the kind of release that she brought about in his.

Mary Magdalene: someone cruelly maligned and abused by religious patriarchy and misogyny across the centuries, but all the while someone I’ve admired and looked to as an icon of life’s richness and fullness, of life’s goodness and generosity, of life’s being – under the vivifying reign of God – a beautifully, colourfully, gorgeously dressed dance with our Creator.

Sydney Carter described Jesus as The Lord of the Dance. In my heart I think of Mary of Magdala as Jesus’ dance-partner and she is clothed, dressed, like the environment all around and about her, in colour and glory. And theirs is a partnership, theirs is a dance that, far from being exclusive and excluding, invites you and I to join. “Shall we dance?”, Mary asks. “And shall we sing?”, asks the Lord of the Dance. And sometimes the colours blur a little in the swirling. And sometimes they’re blended by our tears …

Have you seen the wonder of it? Have you seen Mary’s dress?

A TENDER RECOGNITION

Mary stayed outside near the tomb, weeping. Then, still weeping, she stooped to look inside, and saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head, the other at the feet. They said, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ ‘They have taken my Lord away’ she replied ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’ As she said this she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, though she did not recognise him. Jesus said, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and remove him.’ Jesus said, ‘Mary!’ She knew him then and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbuni!’ – which means Master. Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go and find the brothers, and tell them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ So Mary of Magdala went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that he had said these things to her. John 20.11-18

THE MARY MAGDALENE of my own imagination doesn’t look at all like some of those depressing religious pictures. Not a haloed saint, not miserably gazing upon a skull set down in the middle of her dressing table, not wanton, bare-breasted, or mournfully reflecting upon her dreadfulness and that of others “of her kind”. No, my Mary Magdalene, first apostle, is an ordinarily beautiful, fully alive, self-aware, tactile, tender, practical, imaginative and lovely young woman. Human and humane. Someone possessed of an extraordinary ability to empathise, a bit of a loner perhaps, someone who “gets it” when Jesus speaks, someone who, just because she’s lovely – inside and out – is great to be around. And Jesus loves her.

I don’t know who made the gorgeous image above – (I’d love to know – and would gladly credit it) – but here’s the girl in my heart, using her own imagination to tell Jesus that she understands more than perhaps even he thinks she does; that she loves him; that loving him heals her and makes her whole; that her love might bring something of healing to him.

Here’s the Mary I imagine went on from this Prologue – this genesis, this in-the-flesh close-breathing, this out-of-the-ordinary, tearful, beyond-the-Law touching of the Word-before-time, this “costly” anointing, this first moment of tender intimacy, and wholly mutual acceptance – to have a thousand little conversations with Jesus, long before the ultimate events of what we’ve come to call Holy Week (“it’s no wonder they call you the Master, love. None of us have ever met or dreamed about someone quite like you”). A thousand little conversations about what was to be in the future, their future, everybody’s future (the future of R S Thomas’ “mirrors in which the blind look at themselves and Love looks at them back”) – after the “return” to “my father and your father”, to Where we came from.

Mary, imagine …, Mary, turn around …, Mary, can you feel it? …, Mary, the colours …, Mary, the joy of it …

Yes, I can imagine. I want to imagine. We all do. But if you died first, Jesus, God knows what I’ll do. You must be careful. We need you. Don’t strain so. O God. I know you’ll have to go. And I shall want you to, of course. Yes, we’ve talked about it often enough. But will you really come back to me? From the inside out? Jesus, I believe. Help me when my heart breaks. Help me in my unbelief …

Mary, Mary, Mary. I will. I will. I truly believe we’ll find each other on the inside …

If fully human Jesus was Everyman then Mary of Magdala is Everywoman. To prostitute her memory is wicked calumny – (how many unseeing men, half-dead, dull-in-heart-and-mind-and-head, have done that through the centuries?) – calumny of a kind that has led, and still leads, to immeasurable sickness of head and heart and soul and mind and body. Masculine and feminine, each needs the other. ( Both traits found in both women and in men, heterosexual or homosexual – it’s an “other” that’s the key requirement here). Thank God that the crisis wrought by precisely that sickness, and agonisingly recognised as the “hole in the heart” not just of the Church but of humankind generally today, can hardly help now but to point humankind everywhere on earth towards the light of a “more excellent”, a wholly more natural, and healthier, God-given way.

Human relationships, as much as for any of the ways we relate to the Divine, are not to be patronising, patriarchal, law-bound, or shame-laden. Human relationships will thrive, and the reign of God come to be felt among us, when they instinctively include, and resist exclusion. Love is not to be imprisoned or entombed. And, post-crisis, then and now, a wider-reaching Love is here to stay. Though patience is still required, though sin and death appear yet, in places, still to prevail, a new way of loving is here to stay. A new Way, a new Truth, a new Life.

Mr Vernon Dursley to Harry Potter about a certain (Wise old? Dove-like?) owl:

‘If you can’t control that owl, it’ll have to go!’
Harry tried, yet again, to explain.
‘She’s bored,’ he said. ‘She’s used to flying around outside. If I could just let her out at night …’
‘Do I look stupid?’ snarled Uncle Vernon, a bit of fried egg dangling from his bushy moustache. ‘I know what’ll happen if that owl’s let out.’
He exchanged dark looks with his wife, Petunia.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J K Rowling

On Resurrection Day, “when it dawns on us”, in Mary and in Jesus, Wisdom is encountered entre deux. Wisdom’s used to flying around outside, she’s done so since the genesis of things, and before that, too; she carries messages home – for the inside, the God-side. Yes, there’s real intimacy here, a communicating communion sort of a business. But an early lesson in wisdom for all humankind is “do not cling”. Let him, let her, fly. Let the Spirit blow where She listeth. Something’s dawning. Look at the sky.

Ascension – returning – to the fullness of God lies yet ahead, though this very Resurrection morning it is an energising Hope. A hope that will ultimately change the course of the history of worlds. For there will be a returning, a tender returning, a deeply intimate, glorious, colourful, joyful, prayerful, fulsome returning for Everyone to the One who is both “my father and your father”. Don’t cling today beautiful Mary. But, believe me, lovely, knowing, wise and giving Mary, the day will dawn when we may cling, and we may laugh, and we may talk and pray and sing “We’re an Easter people! All of us! And alleluia is our song”.

And on that day I believe Jesus will be heard greeting his Mary of Madgdala as Rabbuni. Teacher. Master … She’s beautiful. Just like this painting. An ordinary, beautiful girl. Just sometimes a little bit wild. And she gets it, perhaps she is, Wisdom.

Jan Richardson and her husband Garrison Coles have made the
exquisitely beautiful The Hours of Mary Magdalene. Enjoy it here

 

IMAGINING

IMAGINING. I think that’s one of our chief works as humans. It’s how we co-create with the Source of all life. And imagining is what I’ve been doing all day. First in a fairly routine sort of early morning meeting, later in a scintillating encounter between an artist, Stephen Raw, an architect, John Prichard, two churchwardens, Ralph Luxon and Sue Taylor, and a photographing priest who thought he was in photographic heaven, moi …

I took many dozens of photos. Mindful of my manners though I will check with the artist before sharing too many more than the one above. This is a little trio of beautiful articles in a Stephen shaped cave. Not the work of the artist, but absolutely the work of the artist, if you know what I mean? Stephen’s studio feels like a coloured X-ray of his heart and soul and mind and body; a statement of faith and an act of imagination and creation. We came away energised at some profound level. We’d been standing on holy ground. I shall hope to stand there again. And there was good coffee! And cookies.

~

Later in the day I imagined a lovely local man being now in the nearer presence of God. I was deeply moved by his wife Sheila’s beautiful reading of Psalm 121 during a memorial service at nearby All Saints’ where Harry had been the organist until his sudden and unexpected death. The music, sung, played and listened to, together with Fr David’s quite simply superb shepherding of the service, and a fine address, made for one of the very finest funeral thanksgivings I’ve ever experienced. I’m deeply grateful for that and know that Harry’s family must surely be yet more thankful. Harry was an artist in his own distinctive and giving way. Perhaps all of us, in early morning meetings, artist’s studio, thanksgiving service in Church, or wheresoever we may be, are, each and every one of us, artists in our own distinctive ways.

How did  God bring about such an extraordinary work, I wonder? And I only come near being able to approach an answer when I make time in my life to imagine ….

Update: with Stephen Raw’s kind permission: my photos are here

ALMOST SPELLING ‘HOLY’

WRITING ABOUT stained glass fragments “blown apart in wars” and haphazardly reassembled later, the priest poet David Scott, in the second stanza of his A Window in Ely Cathedral, tells of

A leering bit of face with twisted lips,
a bit of beard, and letters almost spelling ‘holy’,
a sheaf of corn, a leaf, and then the sun dips,
lighting Mary in her simple glory.

Piecing Together
A Window in Ely Cathedral,

stanza 2 of 3, page 29

In the economy of God there’s something afoot. I can feel it in my bones. The downtrodden, the dispossessed, the shattered, the fragmented and the forgotten, wherever they are in the world, are raising their voices. They cry for the reconciliation, resurrection and restoration of a humane humanity – for people of every race and nation, and of every creed (or lack thereof), or “class”, or colour. Too much has been blown apart by wars and for too long. But days wear on, the sun dips in her course, illuminating that which speaks of life’s real glory, and is thereby truly holy.

This is exciting. This is the stuff of the reign of the Source of all of our lives, to whom we have prayed, and with whom we have yearned, in every time and place, in every political and religious tradition, for so very long. Whether we’re speaking of ordinary Libyans standing up to be counted, intent on “occupying” their own entitlement to a bit of their own space as human beings; whether we’re speaking of Occupy New York, or Occupy London, or occupy-a-space-in-the-queue for fresh air, or clean water, or a bowl of rice, something is most assuredly afoot. The sun dips, lighting Mary in her simple glory, and because at evensong we’re rather quieter than usual we may hear her softly say and pray

he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble and meek

Come Christ-Mass this year the stable and the tent will not be featured only in hand-picked and glossy Christmas cards. Tents and stables are being raised up alongside cathedrals and churches. Tents and stables are being raised up in our dreams and in our slowly-awakening hearts. Here are opportunities to catch real glimpses for the possibilities of life’s glory, opportunities that are thereby truly holy. Some amongst us, nonetheless, will not look any more kindly upon such fragmented opportunities than they would ever have looked upon the teenage mother in the stable of Bethlehem.

But something of and from the divine is afoot. The leering bit of face with twisted lips, a bit of beard, and letters almost spelling ‘holy’, must give way to the sun’s dipping

lighting Mary in her simple glory.

MAXIMILIAN’S BAPTISM

THE FULL HOUSE for the joy-filled Baptism of Maximilian this morning gives me (another) opportunity to head up this post with my very favourite account, by a simply wonderful narrator, of Jesus’ Baptism! But more than that, it’s always such a joy when our House for the Church is full of people come to celebrate the goodness of God and the richness of the gifts we revel in. And there’s no greater gift to a family than that of an infant. Nor, perhaps, any greater responsibility laid upon older shoulders. Bringing infants to Baptism in and into the House of the Lord provides glorious opportunity for all of us to reflect upon the giftedness and gratuitousness of our lives, upon our hopes and our aspirations, what – in co-creating with, and in, and surrounded by God – we want to make of our world, our humanity, our society, our church – for Maximilian, for ourselves, and for God.

“I baptise with water”, said John the Baptist. One who will come after me will baptise with Holy Spirit. And so it came to pass. Today and every day humankind is baptised “new every morning” by the Spirit of Divine Grace and Love. Perhaps that’s why Maximilian and his wonderful parents were smiling so much in our sacramental celebration of the fact this morning. Perhaps that’s why people had travelled from far and wide to celebrate the gift and the treasure. Yes! – wherever and whenever humankind is “baptised” in the Spirit of God we can rest assured that the Source of our Life continues to turn the world upside down. “Whoever has seen (this human) me has seen the Father” said the anointed Jesus to Philip. And this morning he might have said “whoever has seen Maximilian has seen the Father”. What a joy, what a commission, what a responsibility – this living of the Life and Love of God in and through each one of us, dear created people.

DIVINE PARENT,
Mother and Father, Sister and Brother of us all,
in company with Jesus,
in the power of your Spirit,
with prophets, priests and royal leaders,
and with every woman, man and child
upon the face of the earth,
we bless you for the gift of life and of abundance.
And as we bless you we also ask
your blessing for ourselves that we may be
inspired, strengthened and encouraged daily
to share that life and that abundance
throughout the world.

JACKAL HOWLS AND STARRY NIGHTS

BAGUETTE LUNCH TODAY with a priest colleague who’s one of my most inspirational pals. Over a quarter of a century Jerry and I have regularly nattered away over coffee and sandwiches and I’ve always come away inspirited, often challenged, always happier, invariably enlivened, and usually with a renewed booklist since, as with all my closest friends, we natter largely about the people and the books that have been teaching and delighting us since we last met. Energising encounters. Ours, and those we engage in with others. Life-friendships of this kind are our richest gifts.

We talked about pretty much anything you could mention today. And about Carlo Carretto, the Little Brother of Jesus who, to quote the bumph on the back of I Sought & I Found (DLT, London, 1984) …

… burnt his address book, left Catholic Action and set out for the Desert. Carlo Carretto, the son of poor Italian peasants. Carlo Carretto, the great and inspired spiritual writer. Here he is again, mature but ourageous as ever, as outrageous as Jesus of Nazareth. He gives us his own story and along with it his prayers and his help.

‘The desert – the real desert, the one made out of jackal howls and starry nights – was the place of my encounter with God.

‘No longer did I wish to discuss him. I wanted to know him.

‘I sought the God of all seven days of the week, not the God of Sunday.

‘It was not hard because he was there ready waiting for me.

‘And I found him.

‘And this is why I say with joy, and dare to testify to my brothers and sisters in the Spirit: I Sought and I Found’

There ready waiting for me. Sometimes I find him in ‘the desert places’ of my own life. Sometimes I find him in Jerry. Sometimes I find him in you, dear reader. And in these encounters I am most fully alive. I seek and I find. I am sought and I am found. God is ready waiting for me – to find and to be found. And I am ready waiting – to find and to be found. So’s Jerry. And you. And the people manning Alimentos Gratis at St Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco. We are, as we said over lunch, “on the cusp of something”. Laus Deo!